Movie Review ~ Shepherd

The Facts:

Synopsis: Haunted by the recent death of his wife, widower Eric Black seeks solitude as a shepherd on a remote Scottish island. As the bleak desolation of the foreboding landscape and terrifying visions overwhelm him, Eric is pushed to the brink of madness.
Stars: Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, Gaia Weiss, Greta Scacchi
Director: Russell Owen
Rated: R
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  If you are anything like me, when you’re exhausted and not wanting to put forth much effort, there are types of movies you look for as you scroll through a queue on a streaming service by going off the displayed image alone. Maybe you’ll read the description. Maybe you’ll watch a trailer (for me, the first 30 seconds or so). Maybe you’ll do a quick IMDb search to ensure the film doesn’t have a 2.2-user rating. Usually, though, you point, click, and go for it. Shepherd is a film you watch because you’ve gone to the horror section, seen the creepy cover, read the words “remote Scottish island,” and decided that brief blurb sold you.

A recent widower (Tom Hughes, Infinite) struggles to adjust to life without his wife, who had perished in a car accident and whose body was never recovered. Early on, there’s a suggestion from his mother (Greta Scacchi, so glamorous in 1990s Presumed Innocent, now dressed to look like a potato sack marm) that the wife had affairs. Perhaps that’s why the man can’t fully reconcile with her death…or the loss of the baby she was carrying at the time. Over coffee, he finds a want ad for a shepherd with lodging in a lighthouse on a desolate piece of land off Scotland’s coast and seizes that opportunity to escape his memories. 

Wouldn’t you know it, alone with just his dog and several sheep to keep him company, all he has are dark recollections of the past that begin to haunt his present? The grizzled boat captain with the milky eye (Kate Dickie, Prometheus) who brought him over speaks as if she can see through secrets he has hidden away, but does she have something to do with the odd occurrences which start to happen to him? What of the figure in black that appears as a harbinger of doom and draws ever closer, urging him to repent? Are these happenings all in his mind, the result of a grief-stricken husband that hasn’t yet fully dealt with his loss, or are they the result of guilt manifested as supernatural spooks biting at his heels for eternity? What if it’s not in his mind, and something genuinely is out to get him?

I want to say that writer/director Russell Owen’s chilly thriller cuts some new ground in the genre, but Shepherd is a generic ghost tale that otherwise gets the job done much of the time. Working through a pre-made checklist of necessary things that go bump in the run-down lighthouse, Owen creates a pleasant mood for most of his feature film but never makes a case for it being anything you feel the need to recommend to a friend. It simply suits its purpose, and that’s that. Shock jolts arrive and dissipate, tension mounts and releases, the sun goes down, and it comes up. You can hear the pages flipping, almost as if Owen and his crew are working through a textbook.

Not one to completely write off, Shepherd does have good work from Hughes and especially the dependable Dickie who never met a line she can’t make into some ominous portent of doom. Primarily a solo exercise for Hughes, it helps that the actor holds our attention for most of the (too long) run time. Would this have been trimmed up to 80-ish minutes, it would have allowed the tension to remain tighter longer and kept the weaker passages filled with paint-by-numbers drama out of it completely. If you toss this one on around 9:15 pm, you’ll be through by 11:00 pm and ready to jump into bed with a nice little zing of fright. Any earlier, and you’ll be wanting more to fill your plate; any later, and you’ll be snoozing.

Movie Review ~ One for the Money

The Facts:

Synopsis: Unemployed and newly-divorced Stephanie Plum lands a job at her cousin’s bail-bond business, where her first assignment puts her on the trail of a wanted local cop from her romantic past.

Stars: Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara, Sherri Shepherd, Debbie Reynolds, John Leguizamo

Director: Julie Anne Robinson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Photo Double (Jason O’Mara) ~ Benjamin Jeran McGinn

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  Well, Heigl is absolutely on a roll.  With the delayed release of One for the Money, she’s 5 for 5 when it comes to bad movies she has headlined.  New Year’s Eve, Killers, Life as We Know It, and The Ugly Truth were stinkers and Heigl has effectively ix-nayed her movie star status that was hinted at with Knocked Up.  I feel that her problem is that she doesn’t realize she’s playing the wrong kind of characters.  I don’t see her as the romantic/comedic lead that she seems desperate to mold herself into.  She’s not the Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman…she’s the saleslady that doesn’t let her shop on Rodeo Drive.

This failure to recognize her niche is on full display as she takes on Stephanie Plum, the popular central character in Janet Evanonvich’s series of novels following unlikely bounty hunter Plum as she finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations.  The books are fun and frothy with an abundance of wink-wink/nudge-nudge style that has made them so successful.  Capturing that onscreen evades nearly everything and everyone that is on display in the adaptation of Plum’s first outing.  The worst part is, I think a successful movie could have been made of the novel but it probably would have worked even better on the small screen.  Perhaps Heigl should have parlayed her star status into creating a great television vehicle for herself but instead she shoots for the moon and hits a weeping willow.

The movie is so light that it nearly floats away.  From the Bond meets First Wives Club style opening credits the film tries so hard to get the tone of the book that it ends up feeling cartoonish.  Heigl’s barely there Jersey accent is only available when it has the chance to get a laugh and it’s especially out of place while hanging out with her family who lay the accent on thick.  She’s supported in the film by a lot of familiar faces that get lost in the shuffle.  Debra Monk has a few nice scenes as Plum’s mom and Reynolds shows up for a bit but is soon totally forgotten.  I wouldn’t doubt that she had more in the film but was cut so as not to further upstage the leading lady.  Thankfully, Shepherd and Ryan Michelle Bathe get enough screen time as a pair of sassy hookers so the audience at least gets to experience a few smiles/laughs…but they too vanish in a hurry.  Leading man O’Mara has been good on the small screen in the little seen Life on Mars and there is some chemistry between he and Heigl but their wordplay never really lands.

The more I think about this the more I see what potential this could have had as a series.  Nearly everyone involved in the movie from director Robinson to Heigl to the screenwriters have all come from TVLand and it shows in the product they have given us.  If only they didn’t dream quite so big we may have had a breezy series that could service the talents of all involved.  It’s a wasted effort that might make for a good rental but is best to avoid plunking down money (or Groupons) for.

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