Sunday, May 30, 2010

DVDebut: Michael Cuesta's TELL TALE goes straight to video

What has Michael Cuesta (shown just below), a director and sometimes-writer whose work (L.I.E., Twelve and Holding) we have very much liked, been doing of late?  Well, a number of cable TV episodes (Six Feet Under, Dexter, True Blood) and, it turns out, a new movie with a supernatural theme that, despite the rather heavy-duty roster of names attached (actors Josh Lucas, Lena Heady,and Brian Cox in the leads, and Ridley and Tony Scott among its producers) by-passed theatrical for a straight-to-video debut on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Written by Dave Callaham (whose credits for Doom and Horsemen do not bode all that well) and "inspired by," I would guess, rather than "based on" Edgar Allan Poe's story The Tell-Tale Heart, the movie is actually pretty good, for a throw-away effort -- which was not, I suspect, how it began life.  While we've seen other movies in which transplanted organs (eyes, heart, brain, even prick -- remember Percy?) turn nasty and/or take their toll, I'd call Tell Tale one of the better efforts.  It's certainly -- except for the occasional bit of all-out violence -- one of the quieter attempts, very well acted, written with some subtlety and a little surprise (the denouement is a knock-out) and directed with an eye toward the real rather than the usual razzamatazz that accompanies the genre. (Only the flashbacks, heavy-handed with the usual schlocky coloration and frenetic editing, seem a tad de trop.)

Filmed in Rhode Island, for a nice change of scene, the movie does bear the signs of some undue "fiddling": bits of blood and gore coexist uneasily with the quieter moments, and the excellent Danish leading man Ulrich Thomsen is utterly wasted in an almost non-role. While the film undoubtedly represents Mr. Cuesta's work as "hired hand,  I'd still love to know how closely the DVD follows, say, the original cut, or what the director and writer had in mind. And yet Tell Tale seldom embarrasses itself; the story coalesces nicely, and the three leads are quite good. Lucas (below, left), one of our ablest young-to-middle-age actors, continues to improve.  Here's he's exceedingly vulnerable and then, when that heart takes over, non-stop vicious. And always sexy.  He's often shirtless in the film, and even with a scar running practically the length of his chest, he's something else.

Ms Heady (below, left) is, as usual -- except in nonsense like 300 -- beautiful, intelligent and strong, just the ticket for a recuperating widower and his young, needy daughter (nicely limned by Beatrice Miller, below, center). Cox continues to prove there's not a character he can't handle with flair, and in smaller roles,  Jamie Harrold (shown at bottom) and Pablo Schreiber impress.

No great shakes, as I think I have indicated, the movie is still a good deal of fun. And when one character maintains at the finale, "No more secrets," you'd better wince -- and run for the hills.  
Tell Tale is available now on DVD & Blu-Ray for rent or sale.

2 comments:

GHJ - said...

"Twelve and Holding" made my Top 10 list of that year. It's amazing. Might have to check this out.

James van Maanen, said...

Don't break your neck doing it, however, as the movie is only OK. But, yeah, LIE and Twelve were both wonderful in their way. Cuesta is worth watching, whatever he's up to. And if you're a Josh Lucas fan, it's even more worth your time.