Tag Archives: John Beck

Mesmerize Me (2009, Kate Hackett)

Mesmerize Me is frustratingly middling. It keep seems like it has to be going somewhere, only for it to go nowhere. It’s not a short short—it’s twenty-four minutes—and there’s a disjointed act structure. The third act is way too short, leveraging the “twist” ending way too much. Only it’s not a twist ending. It’s not exactly predictable, but only because it’s such an unbelievably tepid finish you don’t want to anticipate it. You’re hoping for something better.

The short is a period piece set in the late 1800s California. Good costumes, okay locations, not great attention to detail on making things dirty—clothes and people, competent direction, shallow but not inept cinematography (by Cat Deakins), and good music (by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum). If it were even slightly sensational, Mesmerize Me might at least come off as a romance novel cover turned into a movie. But it’s not sensational. At all. Even when it ought to be, like when lead Natalie Smyka seduces her opium-addicted fake doctor Cameron Cash while her parents are asleep elsewhere in the house.

Me opens perfectly solidly with Smyka seeing the ghostly apparition of her dead fiancé (Ned Hosford). Smyka’s really good running around in a panic and she’s got great expressions throughout the short. She doesn’t have any good line deliveries, but her expressions are awesome. Though it’s never believable she likes Cash at all because Cash is unlikable. Not because of the opium or because he’s a know-it-all. Cash is a mesmerist. Either Mesmerize Me takes place in a fantasy world where mesmerism isn’t bullshit or it takes place in some kind of reality. Writer (and director and editor) Hackett implies the latter a lot, but never definitely says the former is out. If we’re supposed to accept the ending, we also have to take Cash believing in his own “powers” too.

It’s problematic.

Also problematic is how it always seems like the characters are going to have a good conversation than Hackett cuts the shot. After a while (where the runtime works against the short)… it seems like Hackett’s cutting away from even worse line deliveries. Like it’s obvious Smyka and Cash couldn’t handle more.

Sarah Lilly plays Smyka’s mom. She’s kind of disappointing too. John Beck is fine as the dad, though his lack of interest in his daughter’s condition doesn’t come across right.

Hackett’s direction and editing instincts are often good; they can’t save Me from itself.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, and edited by Kate Hackett; director of photography, Cat Deakins; music by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum; production designer, Matthew C.W. Page; produced by Nora Gruber, Hackett, Brian Maddox, Bette Stockton, and Christopher Stockton for Sonambula Productions.

Starring Natalie Smyka (Estella), Cameron Cash (Daniel), Sarah Lilly (Eliza), John Beck (Lawrence), and Ned Hosford (Stephen).


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Rollerball (1975, Norman Jewison)

Somehow, it’s impossible to find an actual Tarkovsky quote regarding 2001 online, just tidbits about Solaris being his humanist response to that film.

Damn.

I wanted to open with a comment about Norman Jewison sharing the opinion about the science fiction genre.

Rollerball‘s a technical masterpiece. Jewison’s sense of composition and editing have never been better. It’s unfortunate, very unfortunate, the script isn’t up to snuff. During scenes, some more than others, but during actual scenes and not the frequent exposition scenes–Rollerball seems like it should be fantastic. The film’s a series of vignettes imprisoned by William Harrison’s poor transitionary scenes and endless exposition. Harrison bashes at the viewer with a rubber mallet at every opportunity, when instead–given the film’s distanced view of the future (the viewer never gets to see the rollerball fans outside the stadium, the common people)–just sitting back and letting Jewison try to loose his inner Fellini on a Hollywood movie, would have let the film achieve its full potential.

Jewison’s choices aren’t all perfect, of course. The use of classical music is a serious mistake. The choices are poor and, occasionally, comedically bombastic.

James Caan’s performance is okay. He plays the character ultra-shy at times, murmuring to the point he’s unintelligible. He gets better as the movie goes on.

Rollerball runs just over two hours and, sometime before the first hour’s up, the film’s suffocated the viewer. It’s not exciting, it’s not intriguing, but it’s somehow captivating.

The other performances are generally decent. It’s amazing to see John Houseman play his role straight-faced and well. John Beck and Moses Gunn are both good. Maud Adams is terrible.

Though Jewison’s take is highly derivative–I guess he even owns up to the Kubrick influence–he does a great job. It’s just too bad he didn’t get a good screenwriter.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by William Harrison, based on his short story; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Antony Gibbs; production designer, John Box; released by United Artists.

Starring James Caan (Jonathan E.), John Houseman (Bartholomew), Maud Adams (Ella), John Beck (Moonpie), Moses Gunn (Cletus), Pamela Hensley (Mackie), Barbara Trentham (Daphne), Shane Rimmer (Rusty) and Ralph Richardson (Librarian).


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