Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Uncorked

By Mike Everleth ⋅ March 22, 2011

Phil Hall sitting on a park bench

Movies based on plays always face the same judgment: Does the movie actually feel like a movie, or does it just feel like a filmed play?

Interestingly, the short film Uncorked, directed by Eric Michael Schrader, is not based on a play, but it faces the same issue. Essentially just a 40-minute long rant by a character played by Phil Hall, the film barely breaks out of its strict confines of having the main character sitting on a park bench for its full runtime.

As the only speaking role in the entire movie, Hall is superb, able to maintain a consistent, oftentimes very funny, persona. Mostly known as a writer — as a regular columnist for Film Threat and the author of several books about film — Hall also wrote the monologue. More than that, though, he has crafted a very detailed backstory for his character, allowing him to flow freely from one cranky anecdote to another.

Hall’s rant was shot by Schrader in one unedited take with simple cutaways of the park inserted periodically to break things up visually. Non-astute viewers may think the cutaways are used to cover up editing cuts, but if one pays close attention to the background audio noise, e.g. automobile traffic, people talking and laughing in the distance, one can easily tell no editing has been done.

While the one-shot filming technique works to Hall’s advantage, granting him a freedom and a looseness to the role, the mostly static visuals tend to undermine him. The cutaways are relatively unrelated to the monologue, but do serve as a counterweight to it. The shots focus in on simple, innocent objects, such as unused children’s playground equipment, while Hall frequently discusses crude subjects such as his combative relationship with his wife and his alcoholism.

One gets the feeling, though, that the film should have opened itself up even more visually. Hall frequently references the neighborhood in which he lives, but we don’t see it beyond the park or the street several yards behind Hall’s bench. Plus, Hall is filmed pretty straightforwardly. Schrader doesn’t go in for any fancy camera angles or movements.

With that plain shooting style, and the fact it’s in black & white, gives the film an anachronistic feeling. Hall’s character, labeled simply as “The Drunk,” would make a good barstool mate for Archie Bunker, especially with the way he disdains modern notions such as eating healthy and exercising, and the way he continuously harps on the topic of shoddy products from China.

Although the film is void of dramatic tension, Hall makes his character engaging enough to carry the film through, even though the basic shooting set-up can, at times, undermine that interest.

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