Sunday, December 14, 2003

Review – A Christmas Carol (1938)

Like most television owners who grew up in this society, I’ve seen several versions of Dickens’s best-known story. Of all the productions I’ve seen so far – or at least of all of them that tried to do a straight job of re-telling the story without re-setting it in Las Vegas or re-casting it with Woody Woodpecker or some such – this one is my least favorite. The film-makers appear to have been working with a much shorter running time than usual, and thus they seem to have had some tough choices on what to leave in and what to leave out. The result, unfortunately, comes across as a Cliff’s Notes summary of the tale. And that doesn’t work for me, because my favorite parts tend to be the small touches that each movie does a little differently, or in this case frequently not at all. They’ve also cut out a lot of the character development during the Ghost of Christmas Past part that helps make Scrooge seem less like a cartoon miser and more like a person who might have a normal human need for affection and repentance buried within him somewhere. And even if Jacob Marley doesn’t exactly make or break the whole show, he does at least set the stage. This has got to be the most lackluster Marley I’ve ever seen. Anyone who objects to the wailing, chain-rattling histrionics of the usual portrayal should see this one just so you can get a taste of how bad understating the character can be. See if desperate

Friday, November 28, 2003

Review – The Cat's Meow

Finally Eddie Izzard gets a role he can sink his teeth into. If nothing else, he should get some kind of prize for being the first actor in history to portray Charlie Chaplin without doing the Little Fellow even once. Of course the story didn’t exactly call for it. Instead, here we have the infamous Hollywood tale of how producer Tom Ince managed to meet his end on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. The most widely-accepted version of Ince’s demise is that Hearst was pissed off at Chaplin for trying to seduce Marion Davies (capably played here by Kirsten Dunst) and ended up shooting Ince after mistaking him for Chaplin. Director Peter Bogdanovich deserves a big scoop of respect for making excellent use of his cast and portraying Tinseltown decadence and violent homicide with almost no on-screen sex or violence. I suppose you need to bring at least some affection for the Roaring Twenties into this experience, but if you like this sort of thing you’re in for a real treat here. Worth seeing

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Review – All the Queen's Men

Okay, here’s the plot. The Allies are trying to steal an Enigma decoder. They can get male agents into the factory that makes the things, but the workers there are all women. So guess what? Our intrepid heroes must learn to dress convincingly in drag. Eddie Izzard obviously has no trouble pulling it off as a transvestite forced into service to train the other three guys in a squad headed by ultra-macho Matt LeBlanc. The result ranges from genuine entertainment along the lines of the classic British black comedies to amusing farce to just plain silly. Even so, it’s one of the better movies of 2003 and might have been better still if they’d given Izzard a larger role. Worth seeing

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Review – Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary

Here’s a documentary made compelling solely by the identity of its subject. The movie is two or three videotaped interviews with Traudl Junge – one of Hitler’s personal secretaries from 1942 until his death – spliced together into an awkward production that nonetheless remains fairly fascinating throughout. I know I’ve probably complained about the excessive use of this sort of thing elsewhere, but here it actually would have been nice for the talking heads to have been intercut with historical footage or at least some old stills showing some of the people and places being discussed. But even the minimalist approach chosen by the director does a solid job conveying the chilling normalcy of life inside the Third Reich’s high command, particularly in its final days buried in a bunker in Berlin. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 14, 2003

Review – Blood Simple

This early effort by the Coen brothers does an astonishingly good job of playing out the theme suggested by its title. What starts out with a sleazy bar owner mad at his wife for running off with a bartender ends up as an impressive parade of scummy characters doing the dumbest things imaginable thanks to a simple inability to cope with their own culpability in a domino line of crimes. If nothing else, it’s fun just to watch the number of obvious finger print specimens everyone keeps leaving everywhere. The humor here isn’t as broad as it is in some of the Coens’ later work, and there’s pluses and minuses to that. Overall this is a delightful little white trash thriller of murder so stupid you’d almost swear it had to be a true story. Worth seeing

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Review – Black Widow

Wealthy single men beware! There’s a beautiful serial killer (Teresa Russell) out there looking to worm her way into your life, marry you, bump you off and walk away with all your money. Unfortunately for her, crypto-lesbian tendencies leave her vulnerable to a sassy little stalker (Debra Winger) who figures out her game. If only the stalker wasn’t a federal agent, things might have gone more smoothly for our sultry anti-heroine. As it turned out … well, as with all mystery thrillers you should probably watch the movie if you want to know how it turns out. Aside from the empty-headed Hollywood take on lesbians, this is a reasonably good example of the mystery genre. Mildly amusing

Sunday, November 2, 2003

Review – The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer

Here’s the back-story from Stephen King’s Rose Red expanded and recut as its own little production. As isolated incidents intercut into the King miniseries it kinda worked, but here it plays like a silly soap opera with supernatural hocus-pocus thrown in. Without the tie-in to the bigger show, I doubt if this would ever have been made. Even if it existed, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to rent it. And perhaps that would have been for the best, because to be blunt this is one of the most boring horror movies I’ve ever seen. Even an undercurrent of kinky sex isn’t enough to stir any interest. See if desperate

Saturday, November 1, 2003

Review – Coven

If you’ve seen American Movie then you already know that the title of this unique little picture is pronounced with a long “o” because otherwise it would sound too much like “oven.” Normally I don’t review movies this short (only 40 minutes or so, thank God), but it makes such a natural combination with the documentary about its creation. To be completely fair to Mark Borchardt, this production isn’t anywhere near as bad as I expected. It’s plenty bad, coming in around midway between Begotten and an especially uninteresting episode of The Twilight Zone about an AA meeting that turns out to be run by a coven of evildoers. But aside from the technical quality (and the script and the acting) I guess I’ve seen worse. See if desperate

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Review – The Eye

This is one of those movies that makes me wish I knew a little more about the folk traditions in the land from whence it came – in this case China – because they seem to play at least some role in the visuals. And truly the visual horror elements are the strongest part of this otherwise run-of-the-mill offering from Hong Kong. The plot’s standard stuff about a transplant recipient who ends up with the power to see ghosts after getting eyes from a psychic woman who died a violent death. The art direction has a lot in common with the better-known Japanese offering, Ringu. But at least some of the ghostly doings are more than a little on the creepy side, including at least one booga-booga shot that really works. Mildly amusing

Review – Amen.

After Mad City I just about gave up on Costa-Gavras, but I’m glad I decided to give him another try. This tale of the Catholic church’s complicity in the Holocaust is a lot closer to the director’s traditional stomping grounds. The plot follows two idealistic young men – an SS officer with a crisis of conscience and a priest in whom he confides – as they learn some hard lessons about international diplomacy and the Pope’s unwillingness to speak out against the mass slaughter of Jewish people. The story remains intriguing throughout, depressing and unflinching enough to do justice to its subject matter. Worth seeing

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Review – Dreamchild

Mix the innocent childhood magic of Alice in Wonderland with the considerably less-than-innocent real life of the Reverend Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll). Throw in some creepy Muppets and this is what you get. The main plot follows a journey to America undertaken by the little girl who inspired the Alice tales now grown to doddering old age. A handful of other silly subplots intrude, but the really compelling stuff here are the flashbacks done as a combination of Alice’s traumatic childhood memories and scenes from Carrol’s work. Unfortunately in the end the movie does away with its own apparent point. Hooray for happy endings and all, but it’s rough to see even true love prevail when that love takes the form of the bond between a ten-year-old girl and a dirty old man. Mildly amusing

Monday, October 20, 2003

Review – The Core

I’ll let you all invent your own “rotten to the” jokes for this one. I guess I should be grateful that at least this time the trauma threatening to destroy the entire earth isn’t a meteor. But somehow the notion that the planet is doomed because the fluids in the core stopped spinning because of some stupid government plot actually makes the meteor thing seem downright plausible. Certainly by the time you’ve crammed a group of mavericks and misfits into a giant vibrator that can somehow resist the heat and pressure of the mantle (let alone the core itself) … well, let’s just say that it’s hard to maintain much interest in the virtually endless parade of implausible plot twists and sophomoric character development. See if desperate

Review – Corpses Are Forever

I wonder if they’re going to try to make it all the way through the panoply of Bond titles. Though I’m sure I would have loved to have seen “Corpsefinger,” “The Man with the Golden Corpse” or “Octocorpsey,” my guess is that we’ve seen the last of whatever series this might have turned into. If nothing else, this one wins the Mark Borchardt prize for the actor/writer/director who turns out to be equally inept at all his various jobs. Though the choices were legion, I think my favorite part was when – in a post-apocalyptic world supposedly inhabited almost exclusively by zombies – cars kept driving past the backdrop. I suppose they might have been going for so-stupid-it’s-funny, but they only managed the first half. The final icing was the sad, withered husk of what was once Linnea Quigley still valiantly trying to act. Wish I’d skipped it

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Review – The Cucumber Incident

Here’s a bargain basement video documentary about a rather outré subject: three women who took a dislike to a guy. Of course by “guy” I mean “spouse of one of the women.” Oh, and throw in “convicted child molester supposedly rehabbed yet apparently still French kissing the girl he previously molested.” But wait, it gets better. By “took a dislike” I actually mean “tied him up, shaved him above and below, rubbed Icy Hot on his man area, and then sodomized him with a cucumber.” The working class dramatis personae alone make this a worthwhile investment of an hour or so. And that’s fortunate, because the production values aren’t too whippy, especially the dreadful and frequently intrusive soundtrack music. Mildly amusing

Monday, October 13, 2003

Review – Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

Though clearly intended to be more of the same from the successful original, this first (and no doubt only, considering Keanu Reeves’ lack of incentive to do another) sequel somehow lacks the charm of the “Excellent Adventure.” Maybe it’s that what works for history doesn’t work for theology. Maybe it’s that the humor here is even more juvenile than before (if such a thing can be imagined). Maybe it’s just that the joke’s worn a little thin. In any event, the picture features a few sincerely funny moments (most of which center around the Grim Reaper). But overall if you’ve seen the original you’ve clearly seen the best of the two. Mildly amusing

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Review – Down with Love

Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellwegger have both been in more charmless movies, but that’s at least in part because he did Star Wars Episode 2 and she did Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. This movie has a number of things going for it. The cast is solid, or at the very least capable of keeping up with the sitcom plot. The art direction is likewise good, creating a 1962 that never existed outside home décor catalogs. The dialogue isn’t even all that bad; indeed, it manages to be charming in a silly sort of way. The problem turns up when the film-makers try to graft 21st century sensibilities onto a 60s-era battle of the sexes. By the second or third false ending it should be apparent to all just how hard they’re working to get the two incompatible outlooks to mesh somehow. Moral of the story: screwball comedies don’t need to be morally uplifting. In fact, they may actually be better when they aren’t. Mildly amusing

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Review – Dreamcatcher

If you liked the novel, you’ll probably like the movie (aside from the fact that the ending’s a bit different). Funny, though, how dialogue that doesn’t distract in the book sounds really false when actors actually have to deliver it. Some of the plot devices that worked well in print failed to make the jump to the silver screen. That notwithstanding, this isn’t the worst alien attack movie I’ve ever seen (hey, there’s always Signs). Of course that’s at least in part because it “borrows” copiously from several more successful predecessors. Overall the acting and production values are at two-star level, so that’s the rating I’ll end up giving it. However, the picture came dangerously close to a lower rating because of genuinely excessive animal suffering (particularly the prolonged torment of a dog toward the end). Mildly amusing

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Review – The Emperor's New Groove

For a Disney production this is sort of a small animation, with production values somewhere between usual theatrical releases and their straight-to-video sequels. For example, the cast is solid enough, but almost all of them are sitcom vets rather than more well-established movie stars. The story – a simplistic bit of fluff about an obnoxious Incan emperor turned into a llama – depends heavily on lead voice David Spade’s personal brand of humor. Beyond that it’s mostly sight gags, well-executed but still little more than physical comedy. There’s the usual collection of in-jokes only adults will get combined with a strictly-for-kids moral about the importance of friendship. If you like Spade’s usual humor (toned down for the Disney audience, of course), then you’re likely to have at least some fun with this production. Mildly amusing

Saturday, September 6, 2003

Review – The Endurance

Despite the aspect ratio, this comes across as a PBS production. A slickly-produced member of the species, but a public TV artifact nonetheless. That notwithstanding, this is an excellent documentary about the ill-fated Shackleton expedition. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that despite the hardships faced by the crew – especially after they were forced to abandon their ice-locked ship – they managed to save a vast quantity of motion picture and still film of their experiences. I found the fates of the expedition’s dogs and cat a little hard to take, but other than that the production was nothing short of fascinating. How anyone could survive for nearly two years under such conditions is almost beyond imagining. This is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Antarctica or the Age of Exploration or just a general curiosity about the outer limits of human endurance. Worth seeing

Friday, September 5, 2003

Review – Chicago

If you go into this expecting a Bob Fosse musical starring Renee Zellwegger, Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones, you’re going to get exactly what you expect. The production’s expensive and elaborate, but still at its heart its just a big Broadway musical. Zellwegger does a fine job as Roxy the homicidal ingénue, and Gere matches her as her smarmy lawyer. Zeta-Jones doesn’t have quite the screen presence her co-stars enjoy, but she can dance the steps well enough. The supporting cast is solid as well, especially Queen Latifah. Upshot: if you like musicals you’re in business, because this is a fine example of the genre. Worth seeing

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Review – Daredevil

So okay, I guess after Spider-Man they must just figure that any super-hero crammed into a couple of hours’ worth of movie will be just as good. Guess not. One of the problems here (and it cropped up in The Hulk as well) is that the “origin” sequence had to be done as back-story rather than flowing conveniently into the main plot. But that’s only where the trouble starts. The next problem is Ben Afleck as the hero. This guy seems to lose more charm with each successive project, and considering the short supply he started with and the number of movies he’s made, that’s just not good. Then there’s the Kingpin, an odious white criminal played in this movie by a black man. And don’t even get me started on Colin Ferrell. On top of all that, there’s the hackneyed plot and the ineffective special effects. Really it’s too bad. I kinda liked the old Daredevil comics. See if desperate

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Review – The Day Reagan Was Shot

To this day the memory of the time when this nincompoop was in control of our country is still enough to send shivers up my spine. And I don’t count myself vastly comforted by this made-for-cable movie’s revelation that most of the people around Reagan were just as stupid as he was, at least when it came to dealing with the crises that arose after the President was shot by a Jodie-Foster-loving nutbar. This movie focuses on the problems in leadership that arose while Reagan underwent surgery, particularly Alexander Haig’s now-legendary “power grab.” The plot’s reliance on Haig as a character makes Richard Dreyfuss an especially odd choice for the role. He’s clearly cast against type, and if the producers were hoping that this would be one of those quirky-yet-effective choices then they hoped in vain. Oh, and while we’re talking about the producers, I note that Oliver Stone was among their ranks. The box copy banked on his presence to market this as a movie along the lines of JFK, but though there were several elements of Hinkley’s attempt on Reagan that might have suggested at least some sort of conspiracy, none of them appear here. Instead this is a bush league tragedy of errors, an unflattering portrait of an unpleasant moment in an unfortunate time in our nation’s history. Mildly amusing

Monday, June 30, 2003

Review – Dark Blue

If this worked in L.A. Confidential, it’s bound to work here, right? Heck, they even got James Elroy to write the story. Unfortunately, the brutal cop violence and racism that worked to good dramatic effect in 1950’s Los Angeles waver between uninteresting and downright offensive within the context of the Rodney King riots. The plot is a standard Elroy yarn about corrupt cops struggling with their ambitions, failed relationships and general morality. The cast isn’t the end of the world. But what really kills the story – aside from the conscious and unconscious bigotry – is the script. Honestly, this production features some of the most poorly-developed characters spouting some of the most dreadful dialogue I’ve ever heard. See if desperate

Friday, June 27, 2003

Review – Deadly Species

Wow, Predator with women. Better yet for the likely target audience, women who take their shirts off. Easily amused teenage boys may consider this a must-rent, but most of the rest of us won’t get an awful lot out of this outing. The story’s something about a group of archaeologists looking for a McGuffin in the Everglades, little suspecting that their rich sponsor and his male companion are merely using the expedition as a pretext for a hunt for guys in cheap rubber suits and/or the Fountain of Youth. Production values could have been worse for something shot straight on video, but otherwise this is a missable experience. See if desperate

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Review – Bloody Sunday

My hat’s off to the folks who put this together if for no other reason than this is the only time in recent memory that anyone’s managed to do the whole Peter Watkins fake-documentary-recreation-of-historical-event and actually pull it off. And goodness knows they aren’t the only ones who’ve tried. I can’t accurately describe this as an entertaining movie, because the subject matter is too damn depressing and the recreation of the events surrounding the Bloody Sunday Massacre is too vivid to make this any fun to watch. I suppose that pro-English critics might point out that this is an Irish production and thus may not exactly do justice to the British paratroopers who shot unarmed marchers. Of course, that might raise the question about what exactly would be justice for the paras. I found it helpful to turn on the captions, inasmuch as the accents, frequently heavily laced with slang, are sometimes difficult to understand. I also thought including all of an extended live performance of U2’s song about the massacre at the end of the movie (which required keeping a black screen up even after the credits finished rolling) was sort of excessive. Otherwise this is an outstanding film. Worth seeing

Monday, June 23, 2003

Review – Beneath Loch Ness

In the immortal words of Groundskeeper Willie: “Ach! Back to the loch with you, Nessie!” Seriously, a legend as potentially cool as the Loch Ness Monster deserves a much better horror movie than this turned out to be. It’s not that this is a terrible movie or anything. The monster’s kind of scary as cheap CGI creatures go. The suspense sequences are ineptly executed, but every once in awhile there’s a minor thrill to be had. The acting’s not great, but for a horror movie it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen. In other words, this isn’t a huge disappointment. I just think that given what they had to start with they could have come up with something better. Mildly amusing

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Review – Darkwalker

A haunted house that’s actually haunted. A scheming owner. Teenagers right and left. I kept expecting Shaggy and Scooby to pull up in the Mystery Machine at any moment. Actually, even cartoon crime fighters would have been a welcome relief from the relentless parade of rubber monsters and slasher movie clichés. And just because you don’t have much of a production budget doesn’t mean that you have to pepper your script with dialogue so bad that even the personal friends who agreed to appear in your movie mouth it with I-can’t-believe-I’m-saying-this grimaces on their faces. See if desperate

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Review – Star Trek: Nemesis

How can a movie with this many fighting space ships possibly be this dull? I expect fans of the Next Generation cast will like this entry as much as the rest of them (not to mention the further “adventures” that are sure to follow). However, for those of us who aren’t instantly enthralled by the characters from the newer TV series, it might have been nice to have had a bit more of a plot. The story gets rolling okay (if somewhat implausibly), but then it just doesn’t go anywhere. More than that I expect I can’t say without giving away too much. And believe me, this movie needs to keep as many secrets as it can. Without the “surprise” twists, it just doesn’t have much going for it. On the other hand, maybe I’m just disappointed because the trailers made it seem like the nemesis mentioned in the title was going to be a lot more sinister than it turned out to be. See if desperate

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Review – Die Another Day

Nah, that’s okay. Go ahead and die now if you feel like it. As bad as death sucks, it can’t be much worse than this script. All the usual Bond elements are here: implausible action, implausible gadgets, implausible sex, and plenty of gratuitous explosions. The effects are good, obviously much better than the older episodes in the series. But the plot – some muddled mess about using a space laser to blow up mines in Korea’s DMZ – leaves something to be desired. And while I concede the dialogue in these things has never exactly been Shakespeare, this time around it’s exceptionally bad. Or maybe I’m just getting too old for Bond flicks. I’m certainly old enough to resent the inclusion of “London Calling” on the soundtrack, though perhaps if I even vaguely thought it was intended to be ironic I’d be more tolerant. And finally, I know the Bond series is under pressure to respond to Vin Diesel and all, but really the NSA stuff – not to mention the surf commandos – was a bit ill-conceived. See if desperate

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Review – The Cruel Sea

In the mood for a two-fisted tale of men and ships during the Battle of the Atlantic? Then boy are you in the right place. The movie remains true to the Nicholas Monsarrat novel, which I finished reading just a week or so before I saw the film version. Thus I liked the latter if for no other reason than having the chance to actually see some of the ships described in the former. Though history buffs may get more out of this than fans of things like character and plot, if you come in looking for an almost documentary feel and adopt a tolerance for the manly-man baggage attached to the core drama, you shouldn’t walk away disappointed. Mildly amusing

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Review – The Demon Within

It’s hard to say exactly where the blame for this one lies. Perhaps the production was doomed from the start by a decision early in the process to squash a serial killer, a demon, and around a dozen other horror movie clichés into the same movie. Then they made the decision to emphasize sex in some of the most spectacularly un-sexy ways imaginable. Then they hired Jeff Fahey, who’s clearly seen better days, to play the demon-possessed, schizophrenic ex-priest, ex-actor serial killer. And so it went from there. If nothing else, they might at least have re-thought the decision to make the whole show pointless and boring. Wish I’d skipped it

Friday, May 23, 2003

Review – Darkwolf

I suppose that if the box said “Dullwolf” they’d have trouble renting it even to suckers like me. I like a good werewolf story, but this is so far from good that even I can’t find much charity in my heart for it. The plot is some stupid mish-mash about a hyper-werewolf – a thing that spends half its time as a blow-fish biker and the other half as a big rubber dog – who needs to mate with … oh, never mind. The plot’s not important. All you need to know is that if you like characters and themes more appropriate to a vampire role-playing game, this one may be for you. Or if you like computer animation effects that wouldn’t pass muster in a Playstation update of Altered Beast, this one may be for you. Or even if you’re just too young to rent real pornography, this one may be for you. Otherwise probably not. Wish I’d skipped it

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Review – Django Unchained

This might have been a much better movie with a different director at the helm. As ultra-violent action movies go, I’ve seen a lot worse. This even manages – or at least attempts – to make some points about racism here and there. The trouble is that Quentin Tarantino gets so caught up trying to make a loving tribute to 70s era exploitation movies that he sometimes seems to forget to tell a story in the process. Mildly amusing

Review – Dragonfly

Sit back, relax, and get ready for some serious dead spouse action. Kevin Costner plays a doctor whose beautiful, brilliant, do-gooding wife is killed in a mudslide while doing good in South America. Soon after her death he begins to get indications that she’s trying to contact him from The Other Side. Or is it just his grief-stricken mind playing tricks on him? The answer’s nowhere near as interesting as it might have been. For all the money they spent on actors and production values, seems like the film-makers might have spared a buck or two on a script with more compelling characters and interesting (or at least plausible) plot twists. Mildly amusing

Review – Belphegor: The Phantom of the Louvre

Though this isn’t a terrible movie, the quality doesn’t quite justify the effort required to read subtitles. Instead it comes across as a strange middle ground between French comedy and SyFy horror. Though normally I don’t like to criticize movies by claiming I could have done better, in this case I genuinely believe that if I’d gotten permission to shoot in the Louvre after hours that I would have conjured something better than this. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Review – Enigma

Caveat at the outset: if you’re not as instantly enthralled by codebreaking or World War Two sub stuff as I am, there’s a good chance you won’t get as big a kick as I got out of this movie. To be sure, a lot of screen time is taken up by a not-entirely-necessary soap opera romance somewhat interconnected with Bletchley Park’s efforts to crack the “Shark” Enigma code system and a mole’s attempts to inform the Germans about such efforts. Thus it practically goes without saying that this isn’t the sort of movie you can just turn on and watch out of the corner of your eye while you’re doing something else. Further, you get something pretty close to what you’d expect when Michael Apted directs and Tom Stoppard writes. Such relatively minor drawbacks aside, this is a fine piece of polished film-making. Worth seeing

Review – Catch Me If You Can

The whole time I was watching this movie I couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been a better production in the hands of a talented indie rather than being helmed by the ever-grandiose Steven Spielberg. Of course Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hanks didn’t help matters much; the former ran out of the boyish charm required for his role several years back, and the latter keeps trying a Boston accent that sounds more like the unwelcome resurgence of Forrest Gump. The story itself is entertaining in a when’s-the-con-man-protagonist-finally-going-to-get-caught sort of way, but the plot twists only sustain the production for roughly half its total running time. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Review – Auto Focus

Here’s the sad life and strange death of Bob Crane turned into Hollywood entertainment. Overall this comes across as a cautionary tale about the perils of an unhealthy obsession with sex, though one suspects that most “sex addicts” don’t end up murdered by their bisexual partners in crime. Greg Kinnear does a solid job as Crane, and Willem Dafoe actually does too good a job as video technician John Carpenter, the most likely suspect in Crane’s murder (though he was never convicted). If nothing else, this movie deserves the Caligula prize for taking an unflinching look at an unseemly subject. Well okay, there was one flinch where a blow job shot was blurred out. But otherwise this is an instant classic of the too-much-of-a-good-thing genre. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 8, 2003

Review – Caligula

What an interesting society we live in, where it takes an exploitation-meister like Bob Guccione to make an unflinching movie version of the brief, tyrannical reign of Rome’s most infamous emperor. Of course, if you’re watching the R-rated version, the movie’s a good deal less unflinching than the story really calls for. For some strange reason when the hard-core sex got cut out a lot of the violence (pretty tame stuff by later standards) and even some of the harmless plot points got tossed as well. But then on the other hand if you’re watching the unrated version then you get to see a bunch of extra sex that was cut in to help the movie play in the porn market after it failed to make it into major mainstream distribution. Somewhere between the two is probably the movie that should have been made, though you’ll have to use your remote with one cut or your imagination with the other in order to see it that way. In either event, you’re in for the uncomfortable experience of watching a talented cast struggle with awful dialogue and a version of history that’s been cranked around to dwell on the kinky elements (particularly Caligula’s not-exactly-brotherly love for his sister Druscilla). See if desperate

Friday, May 2, 2003

Review – Darkness Falls

As ghost stories go, this one’s not too bad. Of course, I’m not the world’s biggest ghost story fan, so take it for what it’s worth. The premise is a little thin: a disfigured woman murdered by townspeople a century earlier is still exacting her ghostly revenge upon the town’s children by assuming the role of an evil killer Tooth Fairy. The ghost herself is sort of cool, and the trick of defeating her by staying out of the darkness makes for some engaging plot twists (despite the fact that the plot device itself is more than a little “borrowed”). So by all means come for the spooky stuff, but don’t feel like you have to stay put during the story or character development scenes. They never amount to much. The deleted scenes on the DVD are a bit odd in that big chunks of them appear to have ended up in the movie itself. The disc also features a fakeumentary about the “real” legend that supposedly inspired the movie. Mildly amusing

Monday, April 28, 2003

Review – Blue Thunder

If you like car chases then step right up to the next level: helicopter chases. As action movies go, this is standard, almost formulaic fare. A heapin’ helpin’ of Roy Scheider as a PTS-suffering ‘Nam vet who flies choppers for the LAPD. A dash of Malcolm McDowell as a creepy government agent up to no good. A large dose of military helicopter converted to civilian use to aid with security during the 1984 Olympics. Coat with corporate conspiracy. Bake for 90 minutes. Let cool. Serve. Aside from some brief nudity and language, this might have worked quite well as a made-for-TV movie. However, the plot is too simple-minded and the chopper-centric action a bit too extensive for this show to provide much more than a few cheap thrills. Mildly amusing

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Review – Bloodthirst

“Legend of the Chupacabras” indeed. I think they should have gone ahead and called this one “Goatsuckers.” That at least would have been more in keeping not only with the monster in question but also with the cheap, video production values. Actually, I kinda hate to say anything bad about a movie that – however amateurish – seems so gosh darn sincere. Everyone involved clearly appears to be giving 100%, so who am I to fault them for coming up a bit short? And as amateur productions go, I’ve seen a lot worse. Sure, the script has problems (stiff dialogue, too many characters and subplots) and the effects aren’t very special. But honestly my only serious gripe is that with a folklore base as potentially cool as the chupacabra, it would have been really nice if they’d come up with something better than zombie vampires for bad guys. See if desperate

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Review – Below

Submarines and horror. I guess I’m honor-bound by disposition to love this movie. The submarine part of it works pretty well. The horror part strays a bit too far into the ghost story, which rarely ends up working for me. Even so, it does have its moments. The production values and special effects aren’t bad at all for a low-budget production. Even the acting’s not the end of the world. The script tends to meander a bit in the middle, not clearly moving from one point to the next. I’m also a little disappointed they left out a couple of the deleted scenes (if nothing else, I thought the alternate ending actually worked better, though the difference between the two wasn’t just real drastic). I can’t say much about the story without giving away the suspense the production relies heavily upon. So suffice it to say that as haunted ship movies go this is one of the better examples of the genre. Mildly amusing

Friday, April 4, 2003

Review – The Adventures of Robin Hood

Imagine a vintage Technicolor version of this classic tale starring Errol Flynn (hero) and Basil Rathbone (villain), and you can pretty much see this one without even watching it. The plot’s a parade of clichés and the dialogue is pure corn, but if you’re into the whole swashbuckling action thing this has some of the finest examples of the art from its Hollywood heyday. Mildly amusing.

Genre: Action

Subgenre: Fantasy
Date reviewed: 4/4/2003

Friday, March 21, 2003

Review – Bog Creatures

I admit when I rented this stinker that I was sort of hoping for something along the lines of The Legend of Boggy Creek. Though it became obvious almost immediately that so such thing was in store, I remained willing to meet this movie on its own terms. However, it didn’t exactly rise to the occasion. This is ostensibly the story of a group of college students who unearth some kind of evil Vikings who had been buried in a bog for centuries and become murderous zombies once they’re dug up. So the plot didn’t show a great deal of promise to begin with. But once a dreadful script, awful acting and almost nonexistent production values are added to the mix … well, there isn’t even an E for effort here. The only nice thing I can think to write is that I rented this piece of crap from Hollywood, a video chain that occasionally makes a practice of stocking versions of movies with at least some of the sex and/or violence cut out. I don’t know for a fact that such censorship took place in this case, but if the copy I saw was cut that might at least explain a couple of awkward scenes that play like the intros to sex often found in softcore pornography, except in this case no sex ever ensues. I can’t feature that smut would have made this a more worthwhile viewing experience, but it might at least have made it flow a bit better. Wish I’d skipped it

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Review – Amadeus

What this tale of conflict between Mozart and Salieri lacks in historical accuracy it more than makes up for in compelling drama. Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham were both nominated for Best Actor Oscars, a rare case of two actors from the same movie actually deserving the award (Abraham won). Script by Peter Schaeffer and direction by Milos Forman round out the package. This is also an excellent demonstration of the value of DVD technology. Though I’ve watched this many times on VHS, tape doesn’t come close to the picture and audio quality of digital reproduction. Letterboxing contributes a lot, as does the extra footage found in the “director’s cut.” Overall this is a highly entertaining exploration of the nature of genius, envy, and the dire consequences when the former stirs the latter. Worth seeing

Friday, February 21, 2003

Review – Crazy as Hell

Which is what you’d have to be to voluntarily sit through this cliché-ridden stinker. This outing deserves at least some measure of recognition for casting African American actors in both of the lead roles; even in these supposedly more diversity-oriented times, the horror genre remains largely segregated. So if it takes Eriq La Salle in the director’s chair to get a black man cast in a horror lead, then so be it. I’ll also toss in a quick hurrah for the decision to have a fat actress do frontal nudity, though the hurrah is tempered by the impression that it was done strictly for shock value. But so much for the faint praise. Now for the damning. This is one of those annoying movies that rests almost all its entertainment potential on its ability to shock and surprise. It does neither well. Instead, it relies heavily on predictable plot twists (especially the “surprise” ending), sophomoric theological musings and cheap, soft-core sex. The offensive, stereotypical treatment of the mentally ill was the final capper. See if desperate

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Review - Feardotcom

The year is young as I review this movie (the second day of February), but thus far this is the current odds-on favorite for Best Concept Turned Into Worst Movie. The premise here is that there’s a torture-and-snuff video site on the Internet and anyone who signs onto it ends up dead within 48 hours. Even the supporting material wasn’t too bad, including several Felini-esque nightmare hallucinations experienced by those condemned to death by their curiosity. But the devil here lies in the delivery. I enjoyed the bizarre hallucination/nightmare sequences in director William Malone’s earlier outing, House on Haunted Hill. But I didn’t like them enough to want to sit through an entire movie composed of almost nothing but. There’s a good effect here and there, but nothing that actually justifies the rental price. See if desperate

Friday, January 24, 2003

Review – Along Came a Spider

Okay, now it’s official: I’m tired of the whole psychological profiling detective thing. Truth be told, it was old even before Silence of the Lambs, and even with Morgan Freeman playing the part it’s just too tiresome to be appealing. Other than that this is yet another high-budget crime thriller, the kind that depends on plot twists – ranging from the predictable to the ridiculous with precious little middle ground – rather than story or character to hold the audience’s interest. And this audience member wasn’t particularly interested. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Review – Antitrust

Who would ever have thought being a computer nerd could be such an action-packed career option? I guess if you’re going to work for an evil corporation that’s trying to corner the communication software market by killing young entrepreneurs and stealing their ideas, you’re bound to be in for a somewhat bumpy ride. Tim Robbins does a good job as the creepy, Bill Gates-esque mogul at the helm of the creepy, Microsoft-esque corporation that’s trying to take over the world. Thank goodness for the wunderkind programmer who, recently hired by the bad guys and prompted by the assassination of one of his old friends, decides to bring the whole show to a halt. Spectacularly uninteresting intrigue ensues. This one’s mostly for the techno-geek set. Mildly amusing