Tag Archives: NBC

Wonder Woman (2011, Jeffrey Reiner)

When it gets to the conclusion, Wonder Woman finally distinguishes itself. Until this point, it has major problems—mostly acting, which I’ll get to in a second—and some great ideas. But there’s no balance between writer David E. Kelley’s thoughtful “reality” with a superhero and the day to day of Adrianne Palicki’s Wonder Woman. Until the finish, when director Reiner delivers a truly fantastic, exciting action sequence.

It’s completely unexpected and it works beautifully.

Except it’s starring Palicki and she’s bad. Sadly, she doesn’t even give the worst performance. Elizabeth Hurley gets that honor.

Rather good performancess from Tracie Thoms and Cary Elwes can’t save it. Kelley’s pointedly writing the role for a female actor with Christopher Reeve’s ability. Palicki can’t convincingly talk to a cat.

There’s no way for it to succeed with Palicki. And it’s too bad. Kelley’s got insight, just not the actor to deliver it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Reiner; teleplay by David E. Kelley, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Colin Watkinson; music by Chris Bacon; produced by Tommy Burns; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Adrianne Palicki (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), Cary Elwes (Henry Johns), Tracie Thoms (Etta Candy), Pedro Pascal (Ed Indelicato), Justin Bruening (Steve Trevor), Elizabeth Hurley (Veronica Cale) and Edward Herrmann (Senator Warren).


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In the Arms of a Killer (1992, Robert E. Collins)

Someone with a lot of time–and a low propensity for retching–could probably do a fine comparison between television cop movies of the late twentieth century and b-movies of the decades immediately prior. In the Arms of a Killer is absurdist in its portrayal of police investigation, between John Spencer’s disgruntled detective smoking cigars first thing in the morning (at crime scenes, ashing over evidence, I’m sure), Jaclyn Smith’s rookie detective being promoted from… I think it’s some kind of civilian job, Spencer breaking and entering (with his handy, leather-bound lock pick kit), to I don’t know what. It’s a constant assault on the sensible.

But none of these elements, or even the ones my brain has (thankfully) already expunged), are particularly damning. Any number of solid police thrillers have such elements. What’s different about this one is the writing. Robert E. Collins is an old TV director, so the technical competence shouldn’t be surprising (it is surprising, while watching the movie, since the events transpiring on screen are so stupid). Collins has a nice moving camera, gets away with the impression of a lot of long takes, uses color to symbolize. He’s absolutely solid as a director. As a writer, he’s a joke.

Spencer hates rich people. From Smith’s character’s last name (Quinn), he can tell where she’s from on Long Island and her family’s financial history. I’m not familiar with the Quinns of Long Island (are they descendants of Dr. Mike?–Arms of a Killer is badly written to the point I’m admitting I can make “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” references… wow). I’m not sure what else Spencer has as a character except that constant and goofy hatred. He’s a good guy underneath it all of course, I’m sure. Watching Spencer have to chum out one liners at every scene break is painful enough, but having to listen to him deliver that wretched dialogue is painful. It’s clear Spencer’s a good actor, even if this performance is bad–due to the script–and, given I watched the movie because of him, it’s terrible he never got recognition until so late in his career.

As for Smith… she’s just awful. Her hair never moves and neither does her face. Every delivery is wooden (and unbelievable). I can’t believe Smith made a career out of being in lousy TV movies, especially given the incompetence of her performance. You’d think someone would have realized how stupid the dialogue sounded when she delivered it.

Unfortunately, it isn’t Spencer who manages to rise above the material. Instead, it’s Michael Nouri, who also did a lot of similar garbage, who turns in a reasonable performance. Nouri seems disdainful of the material as he delivers it and maybe it endears him to the viewer. It’s like he’s the viewer’s friend, acknowledging the viewer–just like he is–is wasting time on this movie. Precious time never to be recouped… except for Nouri, of course, since he at least got paid for it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Robert E. Collins; director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond; edited by Robert K. Lambert; music by Lee Holdridge; production designer, Anthony Cowley; produced by Ronald A. Levinson; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Jaclyn Smith (Maria Quinn), John Spencer (Det. Vincent Cusack), Nina Foch (Mrs. Venible), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Art Seidensticker), Sandahl Bergman (Nurse Henninger), Linda Dona (Chrissy), Kristoffer Tabori (Dennis) and Michael Nouri (Brian Venible).


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The Beast (1996, Jeff Bleckner)

The Beast is, like most television miniseries, engineered to be watchable without being compelling. It’s like a McDonald’s milkshake (are they still called milkshakes or are they back to shakes?)–you’re in the mood for a milkshake, so you figure it can’t be too bad and order one… only to finish it and discover you should have waited for a real one. The Beast is never real–it’s incredible how many opportunities the movie misses, mostly out of laziness, but also out of disinterest. It’s a TV miniseries about a giant squid, which is–according to wikipedia–a real thing. So I guess it’s a little real, anyway.

But it’s never too terrible, just like most event miniseries. There are sturdy, recognizable cast members. William Petersen does his TV leading man thing here, the working class guy–just look at his beard, but he’s well-groomed enough for the viewer to know he’s not any working class guy… he’s the soulful, quietly intelligent working class guy who’s going to get the job done. While battling his demons, of course. Petersen doesn’t have many demons in The Beast–though a scene where he impales his daughter with a stake (and Missy Crider does have some exceptional talons on her fingers here, scarier than any of the rubber squids) sadly did not make it into the film. It must have been in my imagination, since Crider’s one of the worst actors I think I’ve ever seen. And in a TV miniseries from the 1990s, the acting’s not supposed to bottom out… it’s supposed to be where the network showcases its actors who aren’t leads on popular shows. You know, so viewers will follow them from the event miniseries to the weekly show. (This entire system has all changed and I have no idea why, so I’m not even going to bother hypothesizing–but it worked to a degree).

In other words, most of Petersen’s fellow cast members are good. Karen Sillas is somewhat wasted as the Coast Guard officer who can’t get any respect because she’s a woman. Her really good moments just remind how Sillas never really found a great role. Charles Martin Smith’s in it a bit–he’s fine, though the character’s poorly written. Ronald Guttman is goofy. Both Sterling Macer Jr. and Denis Arndt are good. As Crider’s friend, Laura Vazquez doesn’t have enough scenes (and should clearly have gotten the bigger part). Larry Drake’s funny as a drunken moron, kind of an incompetent Quint.

The comparisons to Jaws are legion. Peter Benchley only has so many scenes he can do, regardless of what characters he can fill them with. The scenes generally move the same way, with a lot of the same props. I remember when Beast first aired, Entertainment Weekly pointed out it didn’t just rip off Jaws, but also Jaws 2 and Jaws 3. The Jaws 3 rips are stunning. I missed the Jaws 2 stuff.

Oh, I forgot to mention Murray Bartlett–he’s awful too.

Bartlett’s one of the movie’s Australian cast members (where it shot). Occasionally accents are iffy, but the production values are good. The special effects are lame. I kept wondering how it couldn’t look better than the original Jaws, given the developments in special effects in the twenty years between the two adaptations. Maybe because giant squids just look dumb. But there’s only one really terrible CG shot and there is one good sequence with a miniature boat.

The Beast kind of made me miss miniseries. Strangely, there’s an exceptional amount of potential for the format–the abbreviated third act in the first half and the abbreviated first act in the second half, it changes the pace of the storytelling… maybe even in good ways. There’s also the opportunity for a lot of character development. It’s just too bad the source material (I’m guessing) wasn’t very good here. With a lot of the cast–and maybe minus a giant rubber squid or two–it would have been fine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeff Bleckner; screenplay by J.B. White, based on the novel by Peter Benchley; director of photography, Geoff Burton; edited by Tod Feuerman; music by Don Davis; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by Tana Nugent; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring William Petersen (Whip Dalton), Karen Sillas (Lt. Kathryn Marcus), Charles Martin Smith (Schuyler Graves), Ronald Guttman (Dr. Herbert Talley), Missy Crider (Dana Dalton), Sterling Macer Jr. (Mike Newcombe), Denis Arndt (Osborne Manning), A.J. Johnson (Nell Newcombe), Larry Drake (Lucas Coven), Murray Bartlett (Christopher Lane), Laura Vazquez (Hadley), Robert Mammone (Ensign Raines), David Webb (Jameson) and Marshall Napier (Commander Wallingford).


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Frankenstein: The True Story (1973, Jack Smight)

While Frankenstein: The True Story singularly credits Mary Shelley as source material, the actuality is a little more complicated. A Universal-produced TV mini-series, True Story actually mixes some of the Shelley (basically, the end in the Arctic and a brother for Frankenstein), with Universal’s 1930s films, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (with a little of The Ghost of Frankenstein thrown in too). It also goes so far as to play Frankenstein as a bit of the patsy–he’s not particularly smart, just an assistant to a couple mad scientists. There’s also a serious homoerotic subtext to the film–first, Frankenstein rejects his fiancée for his mad scientist buddy, then becomes obsessed with the Creature’s physical beauty, rejecting it once it becomes ugly. The subtext disappears around the first hour mark, which is incidentally when Leonard Whiting, as Frankenstein, starts acting well. Until the point of betraying the Creature, he really doesn’t do anything but plead with his mad scientist friend to let him play too. However, once there’s some conflict, Whiting has something to work with, so much so, by the end, I was wishing True Story was a better story, just so Whiting’s acting wouldn’t be wasted.

There are a lot of good performances in True Story, but most of them follow the same pattern as Whiting’s. Slight in the first part, better and great in the rest. For example, Nicola Pagett was annoying as could be as Elizabeth (Frankenstein’s fiancée) in the beginning, but then she went from good to great in about twenty minutes. David McCallum as the first mad scientist is amusing, but nothing more. As the Creature, Michael Sarrazin is good once he starts getting ugly. When Frankenstein’s primping him around London (yes, True Story moves the setting to England for some ludicrous reason), Sarrazin looks like David Bowie glammed out. Once he gets ugly, he gets to show some emotion. Agnes Moorehead, unfortunately, gets stuck with this terrible housekeeper role with an awful accent. Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud both turn in small cameos (Richardson as the blind woodsman). Richardson’s terrible, but Gielgud’s great. However, whenever he’s onscreen, True Story belongs to James Mason. He’s playing this absurd, handless mad scientist (based on the one from Bride) but this time he’s got Chinese assistants and plans to takeover Europe. Mason realizes how crazy it is and he thoroughly enjoys it.

Unfortunately, True Story is a technical mess. The costumes seem to be intended to emphasis the men’s butts (given Whiting’s famous butt shot in Romeo and Juliet, I doubt it’s unintentional), while the set decoration looks like something out of the 1930s… at the latest. As True Story should be set in the late 1700s, I doubt I should recognize a chair as one I’ve sat in. Some of the sets are mildly interesting–like the lab–but once Mason’s pseudo-Chinese mysticism lab shows up, True Story‘s sets look like a farce. Jack Smight’s direction is, unsurprisingly, uninspired, but rarely bad.

For a mediocre three-hour film, True Story is actually pretty good. It moves fast and when it doesn’t have good performances, it has moments (the sets, the homoeroticism) to amuse the viewer in other ways. At times, in small ways, it comes close to being something special, particularly with Frankenstein and Elizabeth’s relationship, but more often than not, the writing stomps the life out of those moments.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Arthur Ibbetson; edited by Richard Marden; music by Gil Melle; production designer, Wilfred Shingleton; produced by Hunt Stromberg Jr.; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Mason (Dr. Polidori), Leonard Whiting (Victor Frankenstein), David McCallum (Henry Clerval), Jane Seymour (Agatha), Nicola Pagett (Elizabeth), Michael Sarrazin (The Creature), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Blair), John Gielgud (the chief constable), Tom Baker (the sea captain) and Ralph Richardson (Mr. Lacey).


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