Guilty As Charged (1991, directed by Sam Irvin)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Kalin (Rod Steiger) is a crazy old religious fanatic who is rich enough to own a meatpacking plant and hire goons to work for him.  Underneath the meatpacking plant, he has a secret prison and an electric chair that he uses to electrocute people who he feels have escaped justice.  Helping out Kalin is a crazy preacher, played by Isaac Hayes (!), who waxes philosophically about how much he loves the smell of burning flesh.

While Kalin and the gang are executing people below ground, parole officer Kimberly (Heather Graham) is above ground and wondering why so many ex-cons are mysteriously vanishing.  Kimberly is worried that someone may be executing them but then she gets distracted by a politician named Stanford (Lyman Ward).  Stanford wants Kimberly to work on his campaign because she looks like Heather Graham and he’s a sleazy politico.

Meanwhile, a man named Hamilton (Michael Beach) has escaped from prison.  Hamilton claims that he was framed for a murder that he didn’t commit but no one is willing to believe him.  However, Hamilton is telling the truth and the murder was actually committed by Stanford!  The only people who know that Stanford is the murderer are Stanford, his wife (Lauren Hutton!!), and his maid (Zelda Rubinstein!!!).

It all leads to one question: How did all of these talented people all end up in this crappy film!?

The strange thing about Guilty As Charged is that, even though the film is centered around the death penalty, the film itself doesn’t seem to have any opinion on the issue.  Kalin and his followers are crazy religious fanatics who claim that they’re doing God’s work by executing people and Hamilton is an innocent man who has been marked for death so you would think that the movie is against the death penalty.  But then, in a twist that makes no sense, Kalin reveals that he knows that Hamilton is innocent and he’s only using him to get to Stanford and suddenly, the film is for the death penalty.  Kimberly is worried that someone is targeting ex-cons but, by the end of the movie, she’s targeting ex-cons herself even though nothing’s happened that should have made her change her mind.

Guilty as Charged is technically a comedy, though most of the jokes are too thuddingly obvious to provoke even the slightest of a smile.  Hayes wins some laughs, just because he seems like he’s having fun.  Rod Steiger bellows as if he’s getting paid by the decibel and doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all.  Guilty as Charged isn’t funny and it’s not thought-provoking but at least it’s got Isaac Hayes.

Let’s Talk About Deep Blue Sea 2 (dir by Darin Scott)


So, today was the first day of SyFy’s final Sharknado week.  Leading up to next Sunday’s premiere of The Last Sharknado, SyFy is not only going to be rebroadcasting some of their classic shark films but they’re also going to be premiering a new film every night of the week.

(I’m in Killer Shark Heaven!  Yes, the real one…)

They got things started tonight with Deep Blue Sea 2.

Now, before anything else, I should clarify that Deep Blue Sea 2 made its television premiere tonight but the movie itself has actually been out for a while.  As opposed to the Sharknado films, Deep Blue Sea 2 was not specifically produced for or by the SyFy Network.  Instead, the production honors go to Warner Bros, the same company that distributed the first Deep Blue Sea.  Way back in April, Deep Blue Sea 2 was released on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, and VOD and it actually did quite well for a straight-to-video release.  There were enough fans of the original film that the sequel was able to rank in the top 10 of VOD releases for two straight weeks.

So, Deep Blue Sea 2 was not produced by the Asylum.  Perhaps it would have been better if it had been.

Deep Blue Sea 2 retells the basic story of Deep Blue Sea, just on a much smaller level.  Whereas Deep Blue Sea featured an army of big, scary sharks, the sequel features one really big shark and a bunch of baby sharks, all of which are cute but deadly.  Whereas the first film was distinguished by detailed set design that gave the underwater laboratory a lived-in feel, the sequel features a lab that is frequently so dark and underlit that I often had a hard time distinguishing one actor from another.  Whereas the first film features recognizable actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Stellan Skarsgard getting eaten by sharks, the sequel features a cast that, with the exception of Michael Beach, is largely unknown.

And while the entire cast is undeniably talented and does the best that they can with what they’ve been given to work with, everyone in the film is playing a type.  Michael Beach is Durant, the pharmaceutical billionaire who, despite what happened in the first film, is breeding super intelligent sharks and drinking their blood.  (You read that right.)  Danielle Savre is Misty Calhoun, the shark conservationist who thinks that mankind is to blame for all the troubles in the world.  Rob Mayes is Trent Slater, the Navy SEAL who knows how to fight sharks.  Nathan Lynn is Aaron, the nerdy virgin computer guy.  Kim Syster and Jeremy Jess Boado are the obviously doomed married couple.  Darron Myer is the guy who you know is going to die as soon as you notice that he doesn’t take off his tie, even when he’s in an underwater lab.  And then you have Cameron Robertson as the guy who sticks his arm down a shark’s throat and Adrian Collins as the diver who thinks it’s a good idea to taunt sharks that can literally jump out of the water and bite your head off.

Of course, as soon as everyone’s in the lab, the super smart sharks rebel and the majority of the cast ends up getting eaten.  There’s no big shock there.  Some of the gore effects are well-done.  Faces are ripped off with panache and one unfortunate victim falls apart as soon as he’s pulled out of the water.  Michael Beach has a lot of fun with the role of the ranting Durant and it was impossible not to smile whenever he would smirk off Misty’s outrage.  For the most part, though, Deep Blue Sea 2 moved too slowly and didn’t feature enough shark action.  That said, I think this is the first shark film that I’ve ever seen in which the sharks actually growl at people and that’s got to be worth something.

Catching-Up With Two Courtroom Dramas: Suspect and 12 Angry Men


As a part of my continuing effort to get caught up with reviewing all of the movies that I’ve seen this year, here’s two courtroom dramas that I recently caught on This TV.

  • Suspect
  • Released in 1987
  • Directed by Peter Yates
  • Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco, Fred Melamed, Bernie McInerney, Bill Cobbs, Richard Gant, Jim Walton, Michael Beach, Ralph Cosham, Djanet Sears 

Suspect is a hilariously dumb movie.  How dumb is it?  Let me count the ways.

First off, Cher plays a highly successful if rather stressed public defender.  And don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that Cher is a bad actress or anything.  She’s actually pretty good when she’s playing Cher.  But, in this movie, she’s playing someone who managed to graduate from law school and pass the DC bar.

Secondly, Cher is assigned to defend a homeless man when he’s accused of murdering a clerk who works for the Justice Department.  The homeless man is deaf and mute, which isn’t funny.  What is funny is when he gets a shave and a shower and he’s magically revealed to be a rather handsome and fresh-faced Liam Neeson.  Liam doesn’t give a bad performance in the role.  In fact, he probably gives the best performance in the film.  But still, it’s hard to escape the fact that he’s Liam Neeson and he basically looks like he just arrived for a weekend at Cannes.

Third, during the trial, one of the jurors (Dennis Quaid) decides to investigate the case on his own.  Cher even helps him do it, which is the type of thing that would get a real-life attorney disbarred.  However, I guess Cher thinks that it’s worth the risk.  I guess that’s the power of Dennis Quaid’s smile.

Fourth, the prosecuting attorney is played by Joe Mantegna and he gives such a good performance that you find yourself hoping that he wins the case.

Fifth, while it’s true that real-life attorneys are rarely as slick or well-dressed as they are portrayed in the movies, one would think that Cher would at least take off her leather jacket before cross-examining a witness.

Sixth, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the homeless man is innocent.  We know he’s innocent from the minute that we see he’s Liam Neeson.  Liam only kills who people deserve it.  The real murderer is revealed at the end of the film and it turns out to be the last person you would suspect, mostly because we haven’t been given any reason to suspect him.  The ending is less of a twist and more an extended middle finger to any viewer actually trying to solve the damn mystery.

I usually enjoy a good courtroom drama but bad courtroom dramas put me to sleep.  Guess which one Suspect was.

 

  • 12 Angry Men
  • Released 1997
  • Directed by John Frankenheimer
  • Starring Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Mary McDonnell, Tyrees Allen, Douglas Spain

The 12 Angry Men are back!

Well, no, not actually.  This is a remake of the classic 1957 film and it was produced for Showtime.  It’s updated in that not all of the jurors are white and bigoted Juror #10 (Mykelti Williamson) is now a member of the Nation of Islam.  Otherwise, it’s the same script, with Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon) trying to convince the other jurors not to send a young man to Death Row while Juror #3 (George C. Scott) deals with his family issues.

I really wanted to like this production, as it had a strong cast and a strong director and it was a remake of one of my favorite films.  Unfortunately, the remake just didn’t work for me.  As good an actor as Jack Lemmon was, he just didn’t project the same moral authority as Henry Fonda did the original.  If Fonda seemed to be the voice of truth and integrity, Lemmon just came across like an old man who had too much time on his hands.  Without Fonda’s moral certitude, 12 Angry Men simply becomes a story about how 12 men acquitted a boy of murder because they assumed that a woman would be too vain to wear her glasses to court.  The brilliance of the original is that it keeps you from dwelling on the fact that the accused was probably guilty.  The remake, however, feels like almost an argument for abandoning the jury system.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #87: One False Move (dir by Carl Franklin)


One_false_moveWho doesn’t love Bill Paxton?

Seriously, he’s just one of those actors.  He’s appeared in a countless number of films and he’s played a lot of different characters.  He was a psycho vampire in Near Dark.  He was the underwater explorer who got stuck with all of the worst lines in Titanic.  In Frailty, he was a father who was driven to murder by heavenly visions.  He was the sleaziest of sleazes in Nightcrawler.  And, of course, in Big Love, he was an unrepentant polygamist.  In all of these roles, Paxton showed the quirkiness that has made him so beloved to film lovers like me.  Much like Kevin Bacon, it doesn’t matter what role Bill Paxton is playing.  You’re going to like him and you’re going to be happy to see him onscreen.

And yet, considering just how many popular films that he’s appeared in, it’s interesting to note that Bill Paxton’s best performance can be found in a film about which not many people seem to have heard.  That film is the 1992 Southern crime drama, One False Move.

Actually, it does the film a disservice to refer to it as merely being a crime drama.  I mean, it is a drama and it even has a properly dark ending to prove that fact.  And it is about criminals and police officers.  But ultimately, the film’s plot is just a starting point that the film uses to examine issues of culture, race, and guilt.  In the end, One False Movie is an unexpectedly poignant and penatrating character study of 5 very different people.

We start out with three criminals.  Ray (played by Billy Bob Thornton, who also co-wrote the script) is a career criminal, a white trash redneck who is not particularly smart but who is dangerous because he’s ruthless and he’s willing to whatever he need to do to survive.  (If you’ve lived in the country, you will recognize Ray’s type as soon as you see him.)  Ray’s girlfriend is Fantasia (Cynda Williams), a beautiful but insecure woman.  And finally, there’s Ray’s partner and former cellmate, Pluto (Michael Beach).  Of the three of them, Pluto is the most menacing, a knife-wielding sociopath with an IQ of 150.  Even though he’s working with Ray and Fantasia, Pluto always makes it clear that he considers himself to be both separate from and better than both of them.

Ray, Pluto, and Fantasia have just brutally murdered 6 people in Los Angeles, all of whom were friends of Fantasia’s.  Now, they’re making their way to Houston, planning on selling stolen cocaine.  Pursuing them are two LAPD detective, Cole (Jim Metzler) and McFeeley (Earl Billings).  When Cole and McFeeley come across evidence that the three criminals might have a connection with the tiny town of Star City, Arkansas, they call up the local sheriff.

And that’s where Bill Paxton shows up.

Paxton plays Sheriff Dale Dixon.  Dale’s nickname is Hurricane and it’s soon obvious why.  Like a hurricane, Dale never stops moving.  He’s a well-meaning but hyperactive good old boy who has a talent for saying exactly the wrong thing.  When he first talks to Cole and McFeeley over the phone, he amuses them with his enthusiastic bragging and briefly offends them with his casual racism.

Cole and McFeeley eventually end up taking a trip to Star City, so that they can investigate how the three criminals are connected to this tiny town.  When Dixon meets up with them, he asks them if they could help him get a job with the LAPD.  The two cops initially humor Dixon and laugh at him behind his back.  When Dixon’s wife (a wonderful performance from Natalie Canerday) asks Cole to keep Dixon safe, Cole assures her that Ray, Fantasia, and Pluto are probably not even going to come anywhere near Star City.

However, Dixon soon reveals to the two cops that Fantasia’s name is Lila and that her family lives in Star City.  What he doesn’t tell them, however, is that he and Lila have a personal connection of their own…

One False Move is a twisty and intense thriller, one that’s distinguished by strong performances from the entire cast.  (Even Metzler and Billings bring unexpected shadings to Cole and McFeeley, who, in any other film, would have been portrayed as being stock characters.)  But the film is truly dominated by Bill Paxton.  When we first meet Dixon, he seems like a joke.  We’re sure that he’ll somehow end up being the film’s hero (because that’s what happens in movies about small town sheriffs being underestimated by big city cops) but what we’re not expecting is that Dale is going to turn out to be such a multi-layered and fascinating character.  Just as Dale eventually starts to lower his defenses and reveal who he truly is, Paxton also starts to reign in his initially overwhelming performance and reveals himself to be a subtle and perceptive actor.  It’s a great performance that elevates the entire film.  Al Pacino won the 1992 Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Scent of a Woman.  That award should have gone to the unnominated Bill Paxton.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal One False Move‘s secrets.  It’s a film that you really should see for yourself.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #112: Megachurch Murder (dir by Darin Scott)


Earlier tonight, I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Megachurch Murder!

MCMWhy Was I Watching It?

First off, it was on Lifetime.  And secondly, I had read that the film was supposedly based on Hamlet!

What Was It About?

Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark … Denmark, Georgia that is.  Shortly after resisting the efforts of Michael Beach to expand his church, Pastor Malcolm Jamal-Warner dies under mysterious circumstances.  Soon, Beach is having an affair with the pastor’s widow (Tamala Jones) and the pastor’s daughter (Shanica Knowles) is convinced that there’s been a murder.  Complicating things: Knowles is dating Beach’s son, Romeo Miller.

What Worked?

To be honest, the best thing about Megachurch Murder were the tweets.  This is one of those films that seemed to bring out the best of twitter.

I appreciated that the film pretended to be based on Hamlet, even though the story itself had next to nothing in common with Shakespeare’s play.  That said, two youth group leaders did show up as the Megachurch Murder equivalents of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Most of the actors seemed to just be going through the motions but Michael Beach did a good job in the role of Clay King.  He made for a great villain.

What Did Not Work?

All through the movie, whenever Hannah had to get away from it all, she always went to the exact same bridge.  At first, it was funny that she was always standing on that bridge.  But, after the 20th scene on that bridge, I started to wonder why nobody else in the town of Denmark ever seemed to use the bridge.  Finally, by the time that Clay was demanding to know where Hannah was, I found myself shouting at the TV, “She’s on the bridge!  She’s always on the damn bridge!”

Plus,  Romeo Miller … actually, to be honest, I think Romeo Miller could give a good performance if cast in the right role.  But, in this film, I kept expecting him to start talking about ICDC college.  Whenever he was comforting Hannah, I kept waiting for him to say, “You can major in criminal justice or homeland security…”

Finally, I was surprised to discover that, at the end of the film, people were still attending the church.  After three violent deaths, I’d probably change parishes.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

To be honest, and no one is more shocked by this than me, this is probably the first Lifetime film that I’ve ever watched that featured absolutely no moments that made me go, “Oh my God!  Just like me!”  I guess it’s because I was raised Catholic and didn’t have to deal with any murders while I was growing up.

It is true that, much like Hannah, I did go through my rebellious phase and I would snap at any adult who tried to speak to me.  However, Hannah had an excuse.  She was dealing with her father’s murder whereas, in my case, I was just a brat.  So, it really doesn’t count as a “OMG!  Just like me!” moment.

Lessons Learned

Big church = murder.

Megachurch-Murder-Shanica-Knowles-and-Romeo-Miller