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Dark Hearts (2014)
stunningly boring and thoroughly static
This film was remarkable for its lack of movement. There is indeed something of a story line, but it has no motion or tension to it. The feeling is flat and inconsequential from beginning to end. The giveaway is that you are not drawn into either the story or the characters. The idea of blood as an essential component of this artist's work has a "so what" resonance to it, i.e. it's a fact but there is no reason to care. The writing is embarrassingly ridden with clichés, and are lines are delivered by characters with no depth and actors with no breadth. While on the face of them certain developments are dramatic, you are consistently left with the feeling that nothing is happening. You want to be drawn in, but the story and the writing won't let you.
Take a chance if you feel like it, but I found this film to be one of the worse I've seen in a very long time. Not at all recommended.
The Good Mistress (2014)
unexpected ending not enough to save this movie
This is an utterly undistinguished Lifetime movie, the same one you've seen many many times if you watch Lifetime. The actors are uninteresting, the direction is pedestrian and the writing is bland and amateurish. This movie could be the template from which all Lifetime movies are made. The relatively high rating is almost certainly due to one or both of two things: either some reviewers were associated with the production, and/or some were impressed with the twist which was truly unexpected. The question is: was the movie good enough to make the twist worth watching the film? I say NO. You will find the film tedious in the extreme, you will not expect the ending, and you will still regret having watched this howler.
A Woman Betrayed (2013)
very nice plot, one fine actor, trite ending
The first ten minutes of this movie lead you to expect another very poor Lifetime movie - sluggish pace, wooden acting and embarrassing dialog. But things soon take a felicitous turn and the film ends up worth watching, notably better than standard Lifetime fare. Remember now, it's a Lifetime movie and certain heights will not be attained. That said, the plot turns out to be more layered than you might expect - usually it's a heroine and a bad guy, two characters interacting in a manner supposed to generate tension and thrills. Here we have 5 or 6 characters interwoven in a way that keeps your interest. The female lead's performance improves after the first 10 minutes and Natalia Cigliuti, playing a central character, proves herself to be a first rate actor (not actress - why call a female actor an "actress"?), far superior to the rest of the cast here. I was quite surprised to find myself fully engaged with the story. The other reviewers are right: the ending is a total bust - trite, unimaginative, implausible - as if the writer couldn't come up with a conclusion as interesting as the plot. As usual, the heroine cannot be left without a romantic prospect in Lifetime, so the story had to written with a character who could perform that function in the final seconds of the movie.
a fraud from head to toe
Identity is a shaggy dog movie. You have seen a few other movies of this kind. The writer and the director convince themselves that their twist is so very clever, conceptually mind-bending and original that the viewer will be bowled over by the big revelation. The most extreme and offensive form this can take -it is not the form taken in this movie- is the discovery that "it was all a dream." That is, what you were looking at for 1.5 hours never happened. Cheap and disgraceful. Identity has a tad more integrity than that, but not much more. You eventually learn that, as the New York Times reviewer put it, "the movie you were seeing is not the movie you were seeing." You are set up with what appears to be a complexly plotted thriller/whodunit/horror movie. There are a number of sharply defined characters; each has a special story to tell; it turns out that they are all related in some way. They get killed off one by one - most of them anyway. You are drawn in by the way the film is shot and cut. It's very professional, and the thing moves along very nicely - no fat, no wasted footage. You look forward to a satisfying resolution, something along the lines of the original Ten Little Indians, which is referenced by one of the characters.
Your expectations will be in vain. None of the relationships and plot developments are relevant to what you have been led to expect. The twist is a tribute to the writer-director's laziness. The movie isn't the one you thought you were watching. It wasn't all a dream, but it might as well have been. Junk on stilts. - If you must watch this movie, do not watch the trailer, which contains a major spoiler.
Fugitive at 17 (2012)
surprisingly good Lifetime flick
While bearing the stamp of a Lifetime movie, Fugitive at 17 is quite a few cuts above standard Lifetime fare. The story is not terribly original, but the writing, plotting and acting is a good deal more than you might expect. There are virtually none of the standard Lifetime tropes: sentimentality, amateurish performances and warm, upbeat, sappy smiles and chuckles exchanged among characters. The two leads are real actors. Marie Avgeropolous is a convincing and compelling performer with a focused intensity that is not overdone. Christina Cox's performance style is more reserved, but very professional and carefully crafted. We also get production values that exceed Lifetime's bland low-budget output. The pacing and well done suspense scenes in this movie should keep you away from the fast forward button.
Stranger at the Door (2004)
far better than you think
Every few months -not more frequently than that- a quite good Lifetime movie turns up. This is one of them. Especially surprising is that the movie is directed by Lifetime's most frequent director, Douglas Jackson, usually an uninspired, unimaginative, pedestrian director. Perhaps this movie shows that Jackson is capable of decent work when he is given a screenplay much better than standard dull Lifetime fare and actors superior to Lifetime's potted amateurs. This movie is relatively well written, the plot moves along nicely and the performers are quite good, up to the standards of the consistently reliable Linda Purl. With the exception of Lifetime's ubiquitous and wooden Sophie Gendron, the actors here are professional and create interesting characters. In spite of the derivative nature of the plot and the unavoidable Lifetime tropes, I suspect that you will be pleasantly surprised by this movie.
Crimes of Passion (2005)
much better than standard Lifetime thriller
The bare outline of this story is familiar, as several reviewers have noted. But many successful theatrical thrillers also tread familiar narrative ground. The thriller is a genre that covers a relatively limited range of plot lines, but we don't mind, provided the story has some element of originality, the characters are engaging and the direction is well paced and properly suspenseful. It's unfortunate that the brief description of the plot contained on some venues already gives away the central twist. Still, there's enough left to keep the viewer engaged. The acting is uneven, from the typical Lifetime amateurishness to a few professional performances, especially in this case from Amy Sloan, playing the wife of the male lead. But what kept this viewer engaged was the story line, which was good enough for a theatrical release - IF a bigger budget, a better director and better actors were provided. Nonetheless, this movie is far better than what we expect from Lifetime. The plot line, even when sometimes predictable, never drags and the twists, even when anticipated, somehow work. Crimes of Passion is worth your time.
Willed to Kill (2012)
the movie gives away its own secret
It should be said from the start that this is a notch above the typical Lifetime movie. The lead actress is far better than most, and the story is above average. The film employs a familiar trope: the detective is contacted by the murderer during the course of her investigation. The murderer uses a voice distorter and speaks regularly with the detective by telephone. The bad guy is filmed in such a way as not to reveal his identity: from behind, in a shadow, from non-revealing angles. You've seen this many times before. Sometimes the viewer is allowed a bare glimpse of the murderer's chin or nose, but not enough to enable you to recognize the character. - Well, that's how it's supposed to work. But incredibly, the murderer is filmed in several shots so that his identity is clear. The filmmaker shows too much. This is clearly unintentional - you're not supposed to know which character, who, as in all these movies, turns out to be a character you're already familiar with but are not supposed to suspect, will turn out to be the culprit. But you do know, well before the final reveal, if you've been watching with only casual attention. This strikes me as a huge blunder. If you want to be kept in suspense, don't look at the murderer in the scenes in which he is on the telephone with the detective. If you do look, you'll recognize him.
Stranger in the House (1997)
uncommonly well put together classic thriller
Thrillers on IMDb tend to be evaluated by standards appropriate either for Orson Welles or Hitchcock, or for contemporary high-budget endeavors. This movie has been rated as a mediocre, implausible contribution to the genre. I find this hard to comprehend. The movie has almost everything lacking in the vast majority of thrillers turned out these days (going back decades), and is far more artfully assembled -editing, direction, acting, pacing, modulated but effective suspense, and narrative leanness, not a trace of fat- than almost everything that's come out since the turn of the millennium. The movie moves at just the right pace, the interweaving of the characters' motives and behaviors is artfully executed and the musicality of the picture's dynamics is professionally effected. - It's more engaging than most popcorn entertainments and a welcome addition to a genre that in these times seems to be in an advance state of decline. If you like well toned classic thrillers with an updated '70s touch, you'll like this.
The Surrogacy Trap (2013)
Is Lifetime advancing s step or two?
Something remarkable may be afoot at Lifetime: movies that are not aggressively chintzy. Recently the network aired Dark Desire, released by The Asylum -notable in itself- , and very much unlike the typical Lifetime dreck. This was well acted, nicely directed by a director with a few above average pictures to his credit, and written in a way that kept up the pace and sustained the tension. The Surrogacy Trap is at least as good, with an acting and directorial style unlike what we've come to expect from Lifetime. The female lead does not have a smiley, wholesome friend with whom she shares cute, warm, folksy quips. The forced upbeat, uplifting character interactions are entirely absent. The patented ending remains though - it is a Lifetime movie after all. But this does not detract from the quick pace, engrossing story, snappy pace and actors quite unlike the usual Lifetime mediocrities. The performances are quite nice and sometimes actually interestingly subtle. (The male lead happens to be a dead ringer for SNL's Seth Meyers.) No Douglas Jackson directing this one. This is not the same old Lifetime movie you've seen a million times.
Let's hope something is changing at Lifetime.
The Frozen (2012)
starts promisingly, turns into a very poor film
The Frozen starts off promisingly, with an intriguing and watchable female lead and a better than decent male lead. Their interpersonal dynamics are ridden with ambiguous tension and the situation, a snowmobile accident that leaves them stranded, is grist for the mill of suspense, thrills and maybe horror. This goes on for two thirds of the film. Thereafter, the movie gradually reveals itself to be none of these, neither thrilling, suspenseful nor scary. It begins to drag. Badly. Nothing happens. Nothing keeps happening. The woman wanders, discovers a wedding ring intended for her, lights a fire, and on and on. But nothing engages, nothing moves forward and nothing comes together. This goes on -or off- for a good (actually bad) twenty minutes.
Then comes the finale. A trite, amateurish, bad film student's conception of a "cool" resolution. In fact, what we are treated to is a caricature of a prototypical Twilight Zone conceit. it's the one you were convinced no one would ever try again for its embarrassing familiarity and pretension.
I don't think you'll like this film.
A Dark Plan (2012)
big surprise for a Lifetime movie
We all know about Lifetime movies -or should I say Lifetime movie? These are variations on the same movie, which can admittedly take a (small) number of forms. Perhaps the most typical of these is the apparently ordinary but actually deranged individual who insinuates him- or herself into a family of innocents. Frequently the sicko will exploit an existing tension within the family for his/her own dastardly ends. Well, this is indeed what happens in this movie. But the similarity to a typical Lifetime movie pretty much ends there. This is no Anne Carlucci or Pierre David production. Nor is it directed by the ubiquitous, unimaginative, lifeless Douglas Jackson. Nor is the narrative punctuated with the characters' wholesome, sentimental, heartwarming chuckles. The film is directed with a sense of style, the actors are far above the level of mediocrity afflicting virtually all Lifetime actors, the camera work is relatively polished, the pacing and tempo never drag and the film is cut professionally. Armand Mastroianni is no star director, but he's way better than any of Lifetime's stable of inert "talents".
What prevents Lifetime from turning out something like this more than every 3 or 4 years? A restricted budget? An obsession with low-budget Canadian dreck? Probably something along those lines. Lifetime would surely broaden its audience were it to look to put together more movies of this calibre. Make no mistake, Dark Desire is not a first-rate film. But it's got a polish and professionalism entirely lacking in just about every other of the network's products. It starkly underscores the low-rent, shallow and amateurish quality of most everything else Lifetime has tossed our way. It's time to put Carlucci and David out to pasture.
Determination of Death (2002)
a very nice popcorn whodunit
The whodunit is a genre that has not fared well over the years. Murder, She Wrote is typical - uninteresting stories, poor acting (except, in M,SW, for the lead actress) and an unimaginative climax. This movie is the very rare exception. The story is quite good for a TV movie and the actors keep you engaged. Yes, Marc Singer's performance is over the top, but so is his character, as evil a villain as you'll find in any film. Singer is a fine actor, which makes his wildly intense bad guy a pleasure to watch. All of the other actors do a better than creditable job, and the ending is a genuine surprise and makes sense to boot. The writing is entertainingly manipulative, designed to keep you guessing and off the track. -- Remarkably, the movie never drags and everything going on is essential to the internal logic of the story - except of course for the obligatory love interest between Greene's and Katt's characters. And the use of flashbacks to the attempted murder is a bit overdone. But on the whole this film is far better paced and absorbing than 8 or 9 out of 10 of the TV thrillers turned out these days.
Silent Cradle (1997)
far better than you'd anticipate
The plot outline of this film leads you to expect yet another Lifetime movie, complete with woman-mother in distress, bad male character responsible for her misfortune, a cute baby and redemption in the end. Well, the movie does indeed have all these elements, but fails the Lifetime test, as the acting is very good, the story well written, the film lean and tightly paced and the direction unusually good. The story lends itself to cliché and sentimentality, but the writer and director avoid these predictable tricks. The result is a movie with engaging characters and a mild twist or two that do not strain credulity. I found myself unexpectedly riveted to the plot and never bored. I've seen a number of the director's other films and this may be his best.
A Perfect Life (2010)
Perhaps the concept of a "weighted average," which some viewers have found unjustified and misleading, should indeed be scrapped. Differences of opinion are of course inevitable and on the whole a good thing, but there are some evaluations which appear to just about everyone to be intuitively obvious. The 2.0 score which currently shows at IMDb is stunning. Of the three user reviews, one gives it a seven and two a nine. This can't be due to the users being Australian reviewers of an Australian film. The film has an intriguing plot, the actors are excellent in their roles and the direction and cinematography are on the whole well above what we've been typically treated to in this genre. The 2.0 score will discourage viewers who would otherwise have found this movie well worth their time. We're not talking about a masterpiece by any means, but if that were our standard we'd watch one movie every ten years. Don't be misled by the very odd 2.0.
Presumed Innocent (1990)
a surprisingly disappointing effort
Alan J. Pakula can usually be counted on to turn in a well honed and engaging film. And while Scott Turow is not one of the great writers of our times he tells a good story. The basic plot is sufficiently textured to augur a gripping movie. But the film disappoints badly. Most distressing is the stiff, wooden, unconvincing and amateurish performance of Harrison Ford. The man has, in all his movies, one tone of voice and one facial expression, which is dangerously close to no facial expression. Ford seems utterly at sea and out of his element in love scenes, where he is painfully embarrassing to watch. As he is at the center of this film, I found myself consistently unable to believe what was portrayed on screen. Disbelief refused to be suspended. Not my fault.
Presumed Innocent builds to a kind of twist, an unexpected re-connecting of the dots which is supposed to knock the audience for a loop. And a good turn it is, on paper. Thing is, on the screen it has to be revealed cinematically, it has to be shown, not told. but what happens is that at the end of the movie, one character simply stands there and talks, monologues, speaks a paragraph or two which do no more than verbally relate the twist. it might as well have been written out on the screen for the audience to quietly read. Dreadful.
The film is by no means a total loss, but it's not very good either.
The Glass House (2001)
one of the better contemporary thrillers
What confirms this movie as a watchable thriller are two things: its fairly artful adherence to the best conventions of the genre, and the far above average performances of its principals, with a good villain an especially important requirement. I have hitherto been unimpressed with the work of Leelee Sobieski (spelling?), but here she does well, perhaps because her character is so distressed that Sobieski's standard expressionlessness comes off here as depression that is appropriate to her character. Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard put in skilled and nuanced performances which elevate the movie more than a few notches. Daniel Sackheim's pacing and montage are uncommonly good. This is a fine popcorn movie.
Benefit of the Doubt (1993)
better than some think
Contemporary thrillers tend to get relatively poor reviews. These films are held to what I think is an unreasonably high standard. Admittedly, a genuinely good thriller is very hard to find these days. It's about the writing mainly. The story counts a lot, as does the suitability of the actors to this genre. It seems that the glorification of multimillion dollar production values, meaning mainly special effects, has become more important to the industry than good writing and characterizations. For whatever reason, movies like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (original), Charley Varick, and The Getaway (the original) are a thing of the past. (Then again, there's the very good The Lincoln Lawyer.)
Nowadays, all one can expect is the more or less artful use of derivative material. Standards, therefore, should change. Don't expect another Charley Varick. Benefit of the Doubt should satisfy those looking for a reasonably plausible story, well executed tension and of course a first rate villain. This movie delivers on all those fronts. Sure, characters sometimes behave unrealistically, but realism and plausibility are inessential to thrillers. Recall Hitchcock's accurate denigration of "the plausibles", i.e. those who undermine a thriller because of implausible elements. - Donald Sutherland gives us a masterfully characterized bad guy, yet another testimony to this fine actor's beautifully honed thespian chops. The movie did for me what an acceptable thriller should do: keep me interested and provide some genuine suspense. This film is nothing more and nothing less than a better than good enough popcorn movie.
Airline Disaster (2010)
stunningly incompetent movie
This is a truly astonishing movie. It is the contemporary equivalent of an Ed Wood film. I have to echo every IMDb reviewer who asked how it was possible that this monumentally dreadful movie was released. The producers and director simply do not know how to put together a competently executed scene. The low budget explains only part of what was abominable about this film: the cheesy, skimpy sets and the cheap props. But there are embarrassments in this movie that can only be laid at the doorstep of ineptitude. When the airplane is met with turbulence, the plane of course rocks - we've seen this in many films. But here it looks exactly like a bunch of seated extras leaning to the right, then to the left, then to the right.... There is no credibility to anything about Airline Disaster. Meredith Baxter is conspicuous as the only competent actor in the film. Very few actors, including well known performers, can afford to turn down a role - you more often than not take the roles you are offered and do your best with them. Baxter must have been mortified performing in this movie. Full disclosure: I watched only about 25 minutes of this junk. It should be possible to give a zero rating to a movie. I feel terrible guilt having gifted Airline Disaster with a 1. It's not even THAT good. Incredible...
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
lead actor kills the film
A Jim Thompson story is always dark, absorbing and artfully told. This movie could have been engaging and compelling. For me it was not. The film's Achilles heel was the performance of Casey Affleck. His acting contrasted sharply with the fine characterizations of Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson and others. Their characters were finely detailed, grainy, nuanced and multidimensional. Affleck's character was a potential gold mine of possibilities. The combination in one character of mixed motivations, small-town boy naiveté, suppressed resentment, barely containable rage and matter-of-fact acquiescence in horrific acts, is an actor's dream. But Affleck's characterization is flat, monochromatic and entirely without depth or nuance. You shouldn't be able to take your eyes off him. Instead you find that there is nothing there. The acting is very poor. It won't do to reply that the character himself is shallow, without depth and without substance. That doesn't matter; an actor's job is to make a shallow character interesting. You don't play a boring character by being boring. In Affleck's character no thespian chops were on display. I found the amateurish performance embarrassing.
The House of the Devil (2009)
much ado about nothing
It's difficult to understand the fuss and relatively high rating of this movie. The first 20 or 30 minutes send mixed messages: the performers are fine and the editing and camera work function to prick up your thriller/horror sensibilities with the expectation that this is a build-up to something original and unhackneyed. The quirky atmosphere the director/writer/editor sets up is compelling.... for a while. The first sign of trouble is the pacing, which is slow and uneventful. The curious style of the movie engages you and can make you forget that nothing much is actually going on. I don't mean there's no action - I didn't expect action. It's simply that the thing goes on and on, preparing you for.... nothing much at all.
The baddies are overdirected and insufficiently subtle or menacing to create interest. What is intended to be the excitement, the payoff, happens in the last 20 or so minutes, and what is supposed to be scary is wholly unremarkable. The female lead is captured in a conventional way, terrorized in a conventional and by-this-time-boring way, escapes in a massively implausible way and is chased. That's it. She either gets away in the end, or she doesn't, I'll not say.
The film lacks energy. There are indeed moments of tension, but they are few and unrelated to much else that happens in the movie. Look, lots of viewers seemed to like this flick. Viewer reactions seemed to me to be in the highly overinterpretive mode. For me, it was a big disappointment. What came to mind when it was over was the song title: "Is That All There Is?"
a bent, incorrect and somewhat sordid little gem
This couldn't have been a Lifetime movie. But it was. This makes two -as far as I know- Lifetime thrillers that are not essentially remakes of every other Lifetime thriller, and are unusually engaging. The reviews above give a good sense of the plot. And some of the irate and morally offended viewers give the quite reliable impression that this is a bent, unconventional and more-than-mildly-incorrect little picture. You don't expect stuff this dark in TV movies, and certainly not on Lifetime. But in this case that's what you get. The sordid plot is not the only virtue of this flick: it's very well put together montage-wise, and in this respect has the look of a good theatrical release. Julia Stiles is, as always, a thoroughly accomplished actor.
The other unexpectedly good Lifetime movie to which I refer above is Ladies Night, with a remarkable performance by Paul Michael Glaser.
Murder on Pleasant Drive (2006)
as flat as Arkin's performance
Lifetime seriously hyped this movie for weeks prior to its premier. I persuaded myself that this thriller would be more than the patented, formulaic flick that is standard for a Lifetime thriller. And there have been excellent thrillers on this channel: Ladies Night is a good, if rare, example, and features a first rate performance by Paul Michael Glaser. Alas, my hopes were dashed. This film, about a sociopathic murderer of a succession of wives, lacks dynamics, tension and narrative flow. It is the visual equivalent of an essay outlining this (based-on-a-true) story. What we get is flat story telling, with no depth or energy.
At the core of the film's many flaws is Adam Arkin's comatose performance as the sociopath. The character is described as lacking in conscience and emotion. He apparently suffers from a kind of Asperger's Syndrome, unable to experience or understand others' inner life. The character is thus without depth, a bit lifeless and, as is acknowledged in the film, therefore plain boring. But an actor playing a flat, shallow and boring character must not give a flat, shallow and boring performance. And there lies the challenge to the actor. Arkin sinks to the challenge. There is virtually no variation in his facial expressions, and he is vocally monotonous. Every actor knows that playing an intensely bad or evil character can be fun. Classic examples are Al Lettieri in the original The Getaway, and Christopher Plummer in The Silent Partner. You can't take your eyes off those villains. A serious baddie can be given both nuance and depth and texture by a skilled actor. Arkin seems to lack the chops of a good actor, and his performance is accordingly as dull as dishwater.
In all fairness, I must admit that I have found all of Arkin's work similarly bland, energyless and lacking in range.
This pic was a huge disappointment.
The Forgotten (2004)
the death of writing in the film industry
By this time most everyone knows the basic story of this film: Julianne Moore's character obsessively mourns the loss of her young son, but was there ever a son at all? According to many around her, the answer is no. Is she nuts, or is there something darker at work?
The film starts with all the conventions of suspenseful and possibly horror-genre storytelling in place, and moves along at an absorbing pace. And then there is an unexpected twist. Not the kind of twist you think, the kind embedded in the story itself. The real twist-shocker is that the movie suddenly takes a preposterous, incoherent, far-fetched turn, one which is tacked onto the story as if it (the ridiculous turn) came from an entirely different movie. To convey a sense of how appallingly badly this film is written, imagine the following hypothetical film: a group of men plans a bank robbery, which is successfully carried off. But after the heist the money is discovered to have disappeared, and the task now is to identify the robber who has hidden the dough for himself. Like all movies nowadays, we wait for the "twist." It turns out that on a shelf of one of the robber's apartment is a small decorative bottle given to him years ago by a now-deceased aunt. Unbeknownst to him, the bottle contains a genii, who emerges every 10 years and perpetrates mischief. The twist is that the genii took the money!! But of course none of the robbers suspects this, as the tension builds among them. The twist in The Forgotten is precisely as mind-bogglingly idiotic as the hypothetical one above. The lesson to be learned here is one we have been taught countless times in the past, but never so directly, bluntly and brutally: there are no good film writers any more. The art of writing is dead. The construction of a simple, direct, compelling and smart little scenario is apparently now a dinosaur art. The very few exceptions prove this rule. I am still recovering from the blow this "movie" dealt to my sensibilities. Write a letter to the producers, to Moore, to anyone connected to this piece of dreck and ask "What were you thinking?"
a neglected political masterpiece
This is an extraordinarily well filmed and written movie. And it'd have a hard time getting produced and distributed today. The Claude Raines character finds his Leftish anti-war writings used by war makers to promote World War I. His efforts to set things right are portrayed as ruthlessly blocked by elements the film portrays as both pushing the war in their own interests and essentially running the government: a ruling class consisting of the corporate elite in the form of munitions-manufacturing interests.
This is quite a political film, dark, tense and tragic. A neglected masterpiece.