Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Review – Dante's Peak

This is like Volcano only even more poorly paced. Pierce Brosnan stars as a geologist sent to the tiny town of Dante’s Peak to investigate some unusual seismic activity. Naturally it turns out to be the local volcano reactivating itself. And equally naturally, the local townspeople don’t believe it any more than the good folks of Amity Island thought they had a shark problem until it swam up and … well, you know the rest. This thing takes an hour or so for anything interesting to happen, but once the peak blows the movie becomes an unending parade of perils with little let-up. Some of the effects are kinda fun, but most of the rest of it is nerve-grating. See if desperate

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Review – Factory Girl


Once again members of the upper crust of the East Coast art scene turn out to be spectacularly dull. Sienna Miller does a solid job playing the tragic Edie Sedgwick, superstar of the Warhol camp. Less impressive are Guy Pearse as Warhol (every once in awhile his performance lapses into Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and Hayden “Anakin Skywalker” Christiansen as Bob Dylan. I suppose the story of Sedgwick’s self-destruction (largely blamed on Warhol) is sad enough, but it’s just not all that interesting. See if desperate

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Review – Death of a President

Most of the mockumentaries I’ve seen lately have been comedies, but this one is deadly serious. The central thesis is that in October 2007 George W. Bush was assassinated, and this is a documentary made in the wake of the event and its aftermath. The main conclusion appears to be that the government would use such an event as an excuse to blame Islamic terrorists (whether or not they were actually responsible) and take away even more of our freedom. In other words, as bad as Bush is, things could always be worse. They should have just called this “President Cheney” and left it at that. Mildly amusing

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review – Attack of the Crab Monsters

Being stuck on a desert island with a mess of giant crabs would be bad enough by itself. But apparently these huge, droopy-eyed refugees from a Thanksgiving parade don’t just tear you in two. They also absorb your mind, so after death you become part of the collective crab consciousness. This is one of Roger Corman’s vintage best terrible, low budget horror flicks. See if desperate

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Review – The Bridge on the River Kwai

For a war movie, this is an exceptionally morally ambiguous production. On the one hand we have an English officer (Alec Guiness) who seems like a decent, upstanding sort of guy. Yet he gets so deeply into cooperating with his Japanese captors that he actually ends up improving their chances of building a bridge that will carry troops and munitions to the front lines of the fight against the British. On the other hand we have William Holden as an American POW with distinct similarities to the character he played in Stalag 17. So who’s the hero, the noble traitor trying to build the bridge or the selfish commando trying to blow it up? The end helps resolve matters somewhat, but it’s still a strange journey getting there. It’s also a trip that could have been a bit shorter; the picture includes a lot of long, drawn-out sequences that don’t really contribute all that much to the plot. Overall, however, it’s an interesting relic from a time when war was more vague. Mildly amusing

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review – American Assassin

This starts out to be a mildly amusing bit of low-budget documentary film-making about Lee Harvey Oswald’s defection to the Soviet Union and brief career in a radio factory in Minsk. Almost immediately we start getting bad reenactments of events in Oswald’s life (featuring an actor who bears little or no resemblance to the man he’s playing). But eventually – as all such productions apparently must – it departs from the facts and veers into speculation. And again following the usual Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist pattern, speculation becomes evidence that in turn becomes a one-sided account of events. Even that would have been okay if this had added anything new or even interesting to the discussion, but it didn’t. See if desperate

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Review - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I think I actually liked this one a bit better than the first one. It seems like just about every super hero movie I’ve seen lately has devoted an excessive amount of screen time to character development. I don’t want to hear about Spider-man’s relationship woes. Just let him fight the bad guys. The first FF movie suffered a bit too much from this problem as well. Though it’s not completely absent from this go-around, it seems like they’ve finally figured out that audiences come for the flashy effects, scary villains and dramatic fights. I think I would have done things a bit differently (for example, less Von Doom and more Surfer back-story), but overall this was fun to watch. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review – Bug (2006)

Small cast. Single location. Stiff dialogue. No special effects to speak of. Yep, it’s yet another bad play transformed into a bad movie. Actually, for all I know this might have worked well on the stage. But on the screen? No. Here it’s an annoying hour and a half about a woman who takes in a drifter only to discover that he suffers from a bizarre delusion about bugs. Or is it a delusion? Before we even got to the bug part, I’d already stopped caring. See if desperate

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review – The Black Hole

After Star Wars caused such a stir in 1977, other movie studios tried hopping onto the sci fi bandwagon. This was Disney’s less-than-successful bid to join the club. The cast sports some talented – or at least familiar – actors (Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux and Ernest Borgnine, to name just three). The effects aren’t up to ILM par, but they’re good for the time. The script is bad, but the underlying story has a few interesting twists and turns. The problem here isn’t what the movie is, it’s what it isn’t. And what it isn’t is Star Wars. The characters, the robots, the villains, just about everything in the whole show finds a parallel in its more popular predecessor (except in the end, when it suddenly turns into 2001 for no readily-apparent reason). The result is a picture that screams “bargain basement” almost the whole way through. See if desperate

Review – Bright Lights, Big City

This should be Big 80s. It has the cast; Michael J. Fox alone should have been enough to assure it a spot on the decade’s Q-list. Add a lot of drinking and cocaine, and you should be getting a good picture of upper-middle-class white America thought about itself at the time. Trouble is, it’s so damn boring that it’s hard to stick with it long enough to draw much of a cultural look-and-feel from the experience. The plot is pure soap: Fox plays an under-employed yuppie trying to party away his dissatisfaction with life. His wife leaves him for a more glamorous life as a fashion model. His boss is a jerk. His best friend is a jerk. He’s still trying to come to grips with the death of his mother. And half of New York (with the audience along for the ride) has to play therapist as he shares his life story with anyone who will at least pretend to listen. I’m genuinely astonished to find myself typing this, but Less Than Zero was actually a better movie. See if desperate

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Review – Black Book

It takes some doing to make the Holocaust take a back seat to the other dramatic elements of a movie, but this one does it. Yet again a thriller becomes so obsessed with the twists and turns of double-crossing that it loses track of just about everything else. The story starts out earnestly enough: a young Jewish woman joins the Dutch resistance after her family is massacred by Nazi thieves. But from there it sinks almost immediately into a mire of who’s-on-which-side. Some minor league violence and sex help keep things somewhat interesting, but otherwise the whole thing is fairly dull. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 9, 2007

Review - Fido

Leave it to Beaver meets Night of the Living Dead in this post-zombie-apocalypse set in the 1950s. In the peaceful green land of small town America everyone who’s anyone has a domesticated zombie. They’re great for all your household chores et cetera as long as nothing interferes with the collars that keep them docile. Needless to say, an accident shuts off the collar of a boy’s pet reanimated corpse (the title character, played by Billy Connolly) and things go downhill from there. The production is mostly concept and ham-handed allegory, though it’s somewhat entertaining to watch Connolly convey zombified emotion from behind a mountain of makeup. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 2, 2007

Review – Brother Bear

Jeez this movie has a lot of death, even for a Disney production. The studio continues to make its way through the world’s various ethnicities, here ostensibly telling an American Indian story of a young man transformed into a bear. The production has an amusing touch here and there, such as Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis voicing a pair of distinctly Great White Northern moose. Otherwise this is more depressing than it is entertaining. Mildly amusing

Monday, October 22, 2007

Review – Dark Ride

So why is it that film nerds make such lousy movies? It’s clear that the guys who put this together were real cinema buffs, because the script constantly brings us mindful of movie trivia and other odds and ends that only film nerds care about. So everyone here has seen a movie or two. And yet the pacing is off, the plot twists are predictable and uninteresting, and the production suffers from a host of other amateur mistakes. Even the good parts are undone by the problems. For example, the show is set in one of those crappy carnival haunted houses, the kind you ride through in a track-traveling cart. But here some of the stuff inside is actually kinda spooky. As a more severe version of a childhood experience, it works. But then they use the same mediocre special effects when we’re actually supposed to believe that we’re looking at a real slasher victim, and at that point naturally it falls flat. Overall this gets an E for Effort but not for Execution. Mildly amusing

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Review – Deja Vu

How does Denzel Washington keep ending up in these bad sci fi action movies? Wasn’t Virtuosity enough? Apparently not. To be sure, the budget is a bit bigger here and the production values are better than average. However, the plot is way dumber than most. This is another one of these time travel pictures where everything hinges on going back and changing the past. The picture holds some interest early on when it isn’t immediately clear what’s going on. Is meddling with the past is actually causing what happened rather than preventing it? Or are we once again being “treated” to that ultimate sci fi screenwriter’s canard, the parallel universe where things can come out differently than they did? Once that question’s resolved, the only remaining fun is the gun battles and the explosions. Fortunately that part of the movie is well done. Mildly amusing

Friday, September 28, 2007

Review – Badlands

Terrence Mallick transforms the Charles Starkweather murders into an oddly quiet and peaceful piece of cinema. Though fictionalized, the connections with the real crimes are obvious. Martin Sheen stars as the killer, and Sissy Spacek plays his half-accomplice girlfriend. The script and acting work quite well, painting a picture of two young, Midwestern people with few if any critical thinking skills and an eerie sense of emotional deadness. Set against Mallick’s strong visual sense of landscapes and the hauntingly un-dramatic soundtrack, the contrast between subject and presentation makes for an intriguing mix. Worth seeing

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Review – Dirty Pretty Things

This movie combines three-dimensional characters, an intriguing plot and a worthwhile purpose into a single production. I’ve seen plenty of movies that do one of those things well, and a few that manage two. But three is rare enough to make this an experience worth seeking. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a Nigerian doctor who emigrates to London only to be forced into menial jobs. He and his roommate (Audrey Tautou) run afoul of some creepy goings-on at the hotel where they both work, about which I can say no more without ruining part of the plot. I’m glad a friend recommended this to me, as I missed it completely in theatrical and DVD release. Worth seeing

Monday, September 17, 2007

Review – Black Hole

Thank goodness for the Sci Fi Channel. Without it, where would Judd Nelson find work? This time around he’s the I-tried-to-warn-you-all scientist in a battle against a black hole accidentally created by a science experiment. His efforts to keep the singularity from swallowing St. Louis are complicated by the presence of some kind of energy monster hopping in and out of another dimension via the title portal. Even the effects are bad, consisting primarily of animated electricity knocking stuff out in advance of the swelling event horizon. See if desperate

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Review – Arachnid

This was back before the Sci Fi Channel started using computer-generated spiders, so they had to work with a giant model spider. That limited the action somewhat. But the rest of the elements are here: bad acting, bad script, implausible plot, and of course a big ol’ bunch of giant spider fu. So if that’s all it takes to make you happy, open your mouth and close your eyes. See if desperate

Friday, September 14, 2007

Review – The Empty Acre

I started out really loving this movie. It had a certain subtlety missing in most bargain-basement horror pictures. The monster was amorphous, appearing as little more than shadows. The production – particularly the script and the acting – was good enough to avoid being terrible while at the same time not good enough to be Hollywood slick. The opening twist is that a young farm couple’s land contains an “empty acre,” a dead patch of earth that appears to have some malevolent power. This could have turned into a “Colour Out of Space” moment, or really gone just about anywhere else, but instead it stays put more or less where it is. I could forgive the animal death and the baby abduction for awhile, but by the midpoint it was sadly obvious that the show had shot its bolt. If only the folks who made this had gotten tired of their spooky routines a little faster than I did. Mildly amusing

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Review – Creepshow 3

The first Creepshow is one of my all-time favorite movies. I managed to at least tolerate the second one. This thing, however, was enough to make me long for another screening of the “Thanks for the ride, lady” sequence from #2. I don’t know how they managed it, but somehow each vignette is even dumber than the one before it. Plus they start to intermingle in a not-particularly-clever way. The result is one of those jaw-dropping, why-did-anyone-bother-making-this bits of pure stupidity. Thank goodness neither George Romero nor Stephen King had anything to do with this round. I’d hate to think that either of them had slipped this far. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield

This movie: the butcher of my last damn nerve. It’s something of a distinction being the worst Gein-based movie ever made, as the field is quite crowded down at the bottom. The plot hovers somewhere between a straight Gein biopic (along the lines of the Steve Railsback version, which was a much better movie) and yet another Texas Chainsaw picture. And it ends up doing neither job well. The story departs from the facts far too radically for this to count as a “true story.” And yet it’s too boring to work as a standard slasher picture. The whole experience is typified by the decision to cast a hulking brute of a guy (think Leatherface) as the thin, wimpy killer. The result is something that will tick off connoisseurs of Geinabilia and not draw in any other audience in their place. Wish I’d skipped it

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Review – A.I. Assault

After a long summer of watching movies on the Sci Fi Channel, I’m starting to run out of things to say about them. So hey, here’s another one. Deadly robots escape from a military lab and blah blah blah. Effects cheap. Script bad. Acting sub par. Killed an hour and a half or so. What more can one ask of such an experience? See if desperate

Friday, August 31, 2007

Review – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

To this day it completely astounds me that this later became a successful television series. I never saw the TV show, but the movie that spawned it is pure sitcom. We’re given a 50 / 50 mix of valley girl high school comedy and vampire picture. The surprising thing is that the mix works fairly well. Perhaps it’s just that both of the spawning sub-genres are so dumb that their collective lack of wit blends easily together. In any event, despite a clever line or two and a handful of appearances by actors who would later become famous for other roles (not to mention two or three folks whose careers were headed in the opposite direction), for the most part this is just as terrible as the title makes it sound. See if desperate

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review – Caved In: Prehistoric Terror

Less thugs, more bugs. Jewel thieves in pursuit of a lode of giant emeralds kidnap a cave guide (a badly-aging Christopher Atkins, looking like a desiccated blend of Mark Hamil and Tommy Shaw). Sadly for all concerned, the abandoned mine they’re prowling is infested by giant beetles. When the monsters start attacking in waves and their intended victims fight back with lasers, the whole thing takes on the distinct look-and-feel of “Centipede: The Motion Picture.” However, we do get lines like “Your plans aren’t just coming apart. They’re being torn to shreds by giant bugs.” See if desperate

Review - A Few Good Men

On the surface this is an empty-headed military courtroom drama, a picture well suited for the “talents” of Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. It’s packed with the sort of dialogue and plot progression that clearly reveals its origin as a stage play. Further, it’s a stiff exploration of the nature of duty and honor, concepts apparently best understood in terms of platitude-laden barbs tossed back and forth between the characters. But to get more out of the viewing experience, carefully count up the sides. Almost all the protagonists are Navy, and almost all the antagonists are Marines. The result turns into a strange bit of class warfare in which the ruling elite eventually prevails over even a high-ranking member of the “grunts.” Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it, and there’s really nothing more here than Jack Nicholson’s high-ham insistence that Cruise “can’t handle the truth.” Mildly amusing

Monday, August 20, 2007

Review – Blackwater Valley Exorcism

Imagine a bizarre combination of exorcism movie, religious message piece, and soap opera. Now try to imagine why anyone would want to make such a production. The movie leads off with a solemn assurance that the exorcism scenes were put together under the close supervision of a Catholic priest to assure authenticity, and then we’re told that this is based on a true story. Lord, I hope not. I’d like to think that God and Satan both have better things to do than this. See if desperate

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Review – Death Valley: The Revenge of Bloody Bill

Members of a high school debate team (and honestly, these actors are high school kids like the cast of Grease was) are waylaid by a carjacker and end up in a ghost town full of flesh-eating zombies led by the evil reanimated corpse of a Confederate raider. I don’t know what’s more frightening, the vengeful spirit of a 19th century criminal who thinks black people should be slaves or a 21st century film-maker who portrays the only black male character as a criminal. Further assaults on the audience include the script, the acting (honestly, is it that hard to play a zombie?), and the editing. But my personal favorite was the contrivance that the town itself is literally a “twilight zone” permanently locked just at sunset, allowing the director to use an obnoxious orange filter on almost every shot in the picture. At least that saved him from worrying about lighting continuity. See if desperate

Friday, August 17, 2007

Review – Blood of Dracula (1957)

This thing’s got almost no blood and even less Dracula (unless you count the fact that some of the characters refer to vampires as “Draculas”). Instead what we get is the bizarre tale of a rebellious teenage girl who gets sent to a boarding school. There she falls under the hypnotic influence of a twisted chemistry teacher who tries some kind of bizarre mind control experiment on her. As a result she’s transformed into a bloodsucking fiend, and things go downhill from there. The script and acting are awful in equal measures, making this play out like an old John Waters movie (only Waters was parodying productions like this, whereas I’m pretty sure these folks are serious). It also sports a parade of JD movie clichés, including a dreadful musical number. Though film students in the 1950s might have been able to consult this production as an example of how not to make a movie, by now even that small value is gone, making this little more than a relic of an age that has fortunately passed away. See if desperate

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Review – Dolly Dearest

“I’m not going to lose my daughter to some damn 900-year-old goat head!” Actual dialogue from the movie. And fairly indicative of the overall experience, too. As the title makes plain, what we’ve got here is yet another attack-of-the-evil-dolls, sort of a Chucky meets The Exorcist with only the worst elements of each included. When the evil side of the dolls finally comes to the surface, they end up looking like Andy Rooney in a wig. And as potentially scary as Andy Rooney in a wig might be … well, it just doesn’t work. Denise Crosby, Sam Bottoms and Rip Torn all lend their talents to this production, suggesting that this thing must have been intended to do at least a little business at the box office. Why then did they decide to call it “Dolly Dearest”? Even “900-Year-Old Goat Head” would have been a more appealing title. See if desperate

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Review – The Beast of Bray Road

Another perfectly serviceable urban legend dies a protracted, painful death at the hands of a crew of inept film-makers. Start with the usual mix of bad acting, bad writing, and bad technical quality. Stir in a werewolf that looks like a big, rabid teddy bear. Then limit the monster’s diet to rednecks, making it pretty well impossible to care whether or not the rampage of death and destruction ever comes to an end. Indeed, this picture commanded so little of my interest that I actually forgot to wonder who would end up being the beast. So when the “mystery” was finally solved it caught me by surprise, not because it was actually surprising but because it hadn’t occurred to me that there was a mystery to begin with. See if desperate

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Review – Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula

For awhile now I’ve been convinced that the real story of Vlad the Impaler – or at least as close to the real story as history will let us come – would make a better tale than the gothic potboiler cooked up by Bram Stoker more than a hundred years ago. This made-for-TV production only partially proves my point. Though its heart is in the right place, the story wavers between interesting 15th century history and cartoonish attempts to incorporate the vampire legends into the matter-of-fact drama (such as suggesting that the “sunlight kills him” thing might have had something to do with a genetic condition that made him sensitive to light). Though this is better than most vampire stories of similar ilk, it’s still too low rent to really impress. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Review – Big Bad Wolf

“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll rip your guts out!” Actual line from the movie. No kidding. That should give you some idea of what you’re in for. This was billed as a horror comedy, which normally I’d avoid. But I’m a werewolf buff, so I thought I’d give it a chance. Frankly, a horror comedy would have been a relief compared to what this turned out to be. About the funniest thing in the whole movie was a brief appearance by David “American Werewolf in London” Naughton. I’m sure the quip-spitting lycanthrope is supposed to be entertaining, but it made me wish they’d stuck with the tried-and-true werewolf that – at least in monster form – lacks the power of speech. The cast appears to be a mix of actors from other horror movies (including Kimberly J. Brown, who has grown up a bit since Rose Red) and refugees from soft-core porn videos. While this was never going to be a three-star movie, it might have saved at least a point by not featuring a werewolf that appears to use four or five different suits depending on the camera angle. Or at least they could have avoided the graphic werewolf / sorority girl rape scene. See if desperate

Friday, July 27, 2007

Review – All Souls Day

Apparently the respectful holiday of celebrating the dead is honored a bit differently in this small Mexican town. Once a year the zombies left over from a 19th-century tragedy come out and eat whatever witless American 20-somethings happen to be standing around. So woe unto the four protagonists of this picture. The set-up has some mildly innovative stuff in it, but once the ball starts rolling (30 to 40 minutes in) it ends up as little more than another cheap Night of the Living Dead rip-off. Some bush-league gore does a little to set off the brainless script. Mildly amusing

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Review – Deep Freeze

Imagine The Thing remade with just about everything good removed. A research station in Antarctica is attacked from within by a monster that’s been frozen in the ice for millennia. Those are the good leftovers from the Carpenter production. The rest of it is strictly Sci Fi Channel dreadful. The monsters turn out to be overgrown trilobites (sort of), way cuter than the grad students they’re chewing up. The research base appears to be an empty factory of the sort often used for location shoots in movies like this, which here raises questions about how – not to mention why – an oil drilling company would build such an extensive concrete and metal structure on a mess of ice and/or unstable rock. Overall this is just another one of these. Mildly amusing

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Review – Breach

I would not have guessed that the biggest espionage case in American history would be so gosh-awful boring. Here we get the story of FBI administrator Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) as seen through the eyes of a young clerk (Ryan Phillipe) placed in his office to spy on him. The result is a strangely superficial examination of one of the most serious cases of treason our country has ever faced. We get the standard spy thriller twists and turns. We get a lengthy portrait of our villain as a conservative anti-Communist, fanatical Catholic and good family man. We’re also given a portrait of the same man as an arch-traitor, paranoid nut and sexual deviant. What we never get – and what this movie desperately needed to give us – is any idea how one man could embody two such radically different lives. Absent any meaningful insight, this is nothing but a run-of-the-mill espionage picture, and a laconically-paced one at that. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Review – Beneath Still Waters

For an odd little Spanish production (with scenes shot in English, at least for the U.S. version) this isn’t half bad. The premise has promise: 40 years ago a village became so overrun with evil that the locals built a dam and flooded the whole valley, submerging the town in the middle of a lake. Unfortunately the leader of the cult that caused the problem to begin with managed to escape. And four decades later he’s back for revenge. This has a few slow spots, but it also has a few solid chills that make it worthwhile. Mildly amusing

Review – Blood and Chocolate

These werewolves are almost boring enough to be vampires. That’s no big surprise, given that this was produced by the same folks that created Underworld. The art-direction-intensive, jump-cutty goth crap that worked okay for bloodsuckers and then only just sorta worked for the witches in The Covenant works not at all for werewolves. This production also falls into the same trap that snagged The Wolfen many years ago: actual wolves – especially if they aren’t special-effected up in some way – are way too cute to make menacing monsters. The case isn’t helped any by the use of the lamest transformation sequences of all time. I’ve griped in the past about the extended man-into-beast effects parades that stop stories dead, but even that would have been better than the twinkle-intensive soft fade leap that does the trick here. Are these savage, flesh-tearing beasts or extras from Barbie Fairytopia? Mildly amusing

Monday, July 16, 2007

Review – The Black Sleep

This movie has a few things going for it. It’s got a stellar horror cast, including Basil Rathbone, John Caradine, Tor Johnson, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. (though the last three don’t have a single line between them). It has an intriguing premise: a mad scientist performs personality-destroying surgery on unwilling victims in order to figure out how the brain works. It even has a cool title, a reference to the death-simulating drug the good doctor uses to sedate his patients. If only the pace hadn’t been quite so laconic; I was nearly in a black sleep myself by the end of it. Mildly amusing

Review – Awakening the Beast

Imagine Reefer Madness redone (with LSD as the substance of choice) by Kenneth Anger. Now imagine that rather than Anger it’s his even-weirder Brazilian equivalent. If you imagine that you like bizarre black and white (for the most part) experimental movies with a lot of gratuitous nudity and drug use, then I imagine you’ll get a kick out of this. See if desperate

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Review – Blessed

Rosemary’s Baby gets a 21st-century reheat in a production suited primarily for the Lifetime Movie Network. Heather Graham stars as a woman who seeks help from an upstate fertility clinic. Unfortunately for her and her charming husband, the place they pick has a bit of a side-line going: cloning embryos from a blood sample left behind by Lucifer and planting them in unsuspecting women in order to bring about the apocalypse. Through various dull twists and turns they manage to stretch this meager thread out to an hour and a half. The only point of interest here is that the audience ends up in the awkward position of hoping everything works out okay for Graham and her unborn twins despite the fact that we know the babies are evil. Mildly amusing

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Review – Broadway Melody of 1936

This musical romp appears to have been the original source for a big chunk of the songs that would later appear in Singin’ in the Rain. Thank goodness the producers of the later musical didn’t decide to use the “Sing before Breakfast” number – or much of anything else performed here by Buddy Ebsen. There’s some talent in this picture, particularly Jack Benny in one of the lead roles. Some of the musical numbers are cleverly staged. However, for the most part this is a goofy farce that alternates between charming and grating. I mean really, was the guy who can do dozens of different kinds of snores considered high comedy even back in the comparatively less sophisticated days of the 1930s? Mildly amusing

Monday, June 25, 2007

Review – Beneath the Planet of the Apes

So this is what the apes have been sweeping under the planet all these years. Okay, seriously, this is the second best of the Apes movies (Conquest is still #1 in my book). It’s got a lot going for it. Human-hating gorillas. A spooky Forbidden Zone guarded by eerie optical illusions. The post-apocalyptic ruins of New York City inhabited by creepy psychic mutants who worship an A-bomb. Still more heavy-handed, simple-minded, 70s-era social allegory. A whopping disaster ending. Heck, it’s even got the best part of the first one (the end) tacked onto the beginning. Of course seeing the first one will help a lot if you’re trying to figure out what’s going on this time around. Otherwise, however, for my money the second time is more of a charm. Mildly amusing

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Review – The Beast Must Die

This has got to be the cutest canine of evil since Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell. Other than the attempt to pass this fluffy pet shop specimen off as a vicious werewolf, this actually isn’t too bad for a 70s-era horror movie. It even features some innovative touches. One is the “werewolf break,” a pause toward the end of the production to give the audience the chance to draw its final conclusions about which character is the shape-shifting beast. It’s a salient plot point, as the whole story is structured around an eccentric millionaire’s scheme to drag a handful of people who may be werewolves off to his country estate and wait around to hunt whichever of them turns furry under the full moon. Further innovation: the Great White Hunter is played by a black actor. Overall this isn’t a brilliant comment on the human condition or anything like that, but for a high concept horror flick this isn’t bad. Mildly amusing

Review – Bobby

Wow, has it ever been my week for disappointing movies. First Night at the Museum and now this. The thought here must have been “ensemble piece,” but instead it comes across as a gaggle of Hollywood types (particularly “writer” / director Emilio Estevez) treating the hours before Robert Kennedy’s assassination as their own personal vanity project. As a result, what could have been a poignant story of the small lives affected by big events instead becomes a festival of the worst of the “look at me” school of acting. Combine that with a stiff – and in some spots downright stupid – script and some bad editing decisions, and this turns into a poor entry in the long series of movies made about the lives and times of the Kennedys. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Review – Clive Barker's The Plague

Like many of its brethren in the “zombie apocalypse” subgenre, this entry is a lot more wind-up than pitch. The concept is intriguing: every child on earth under the age of nine suddenly goes into a coma. Then ten years later they all emerge from their trances in the mood to murder everyone in their paths. From there, however, it swiftly evolves into a standard “rag-tag band of survivors struggles to evade imminent death while trying to figure out what’s happened and what to do about it.” Also, although I’m normally against the pretentious practice of bylining movies, I’m glad they stuck Barker’s name into the title of this one. I’m a big Barker fan from all the way back around the original Hellraiser, and I might not have given this outing a second glance if not for the tie to the author. And that would have been a shame, because it’s got some of his characteristic touches in addition to the usual zombie shtick. Mildly amusing

Friday, June 8, 2007

Review – The Andromeda Strain (1971)

This movie is fun for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the original “deadly plague threatens to wipe out humanity” movies, made back in the day when creator Michael Crichton didn’t suck quite so bad. And like another Crichton creation, The Terminal Man, it’s a good example of what the future looked like back before the advent of more realistic sci fi in the late 70s. It’s also nice to return to the golden days of yesteryear, when plot and character were as important as special effects even in a sci fi movie. Though this is a distinctly dated movie, it still packs the ability to entertain. Mildly amusing

Review – Aftermath: The Remnants of War

After watching a long string of Michael-Moore-esque documentaries, it was a genuine pleasure to watch some simple, straightforward, gimmick-free non-fiction film-making. No ambush interviews or other stupid stunts. Just telling the story of some of the awful, tragic by-products of war. What a relief. And here the story really does tell itself. We’re taken to former battlefields in France, Russia, Vietnam and Bosnia to witness the aftereffects of 20th-century conflict. We see bomb, shell and mine removal in progress (in some cases nearly a century after the rounds were originally fired). We meet children crippled by their parents’ exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange and whole populations mentally scarred by the ravages of armed conflict. This would make a great double feature with any of the hundreds of Top Gun-style movies that make war look like a big video game with no consequences. Mildly amusing

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Review – Black Rain

Combine crime drama, Ridley Scott, the 80s and Japan, and you get pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The visuals are slickly-produced, but the plot and characters fall a little short (particularly the lead role played by the perpetually-hammy Michael Douglas). The exception here is the villain, who is interesting in a manic sort of way. Also, some of the violence is well choreographed. I particularly liked the motorcycle/sword combo (about which I can say no more without ruining part of the story) and the finger-chopping scene. Otherwise this is a pretty picture but not much else. Mildly amusing

Friday, June 1, 2007

Review – Borat

This one has some moments, but they’re few and far between. The scripted parts are actually fairly funny. For example, I liked the stuff set in Kazakhstan. I liked some of the interactions between our hero and his sidekick. And I loved Oksana the Bear (especially when they drove her around in an ice cream truck and scared a bunch of kids). Further, I thought that here and there the film-makers made some good points about prejudice (particularly anti-Semitism) in American society. However, most of the movie seems to be made up of Cohen and cohort doing the Borat routine around oblivious – sometimes even unwilling – participants. Even when this works it seldom provokes more than a chuckle. And frequently it fails. There’s nothing wrong with an improv actor coming up a bit short sometimes. It happens to the best of them. But the stale segments when Cohen flounders for something to keep a conversation going … that sort of thing doesn’t go into the final cut. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Review – Chronos (2006)

I seriously thought about not reviewing this one. After all, it’s only 40 minutes or so long, and usually I don’t write a “movie” review for anything under 60. But I felt badly deceived by a couple of elements of the info Netflix supplied that prompted its inclusion in my queue. First, the description said that it was longer. This can only be if the special features behind-the-scenes documentaries are included in the running time (and I don’t include such items when calculating length). But second and far more important, this is by no means the groundbreaking work of innovative genius that the description made it sound like. The strong implication was that this picture does something that Koyaanisqatsi did not. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, aside from the shorter length and the even-more-annoying soundtrack, little distinguishes this one from its predecessor. Further, the “special features” swiftly make clear that at least some of the crew for this entry worked on the original. That isn’t to say that this is a bad production. Some of it is a lot of fun to watch. I was especially fond of the time lapse footage of the tide coming in around Mont St. Michel. However, I think it’s dishonest to state or imply that this sort of thing has never been done before. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Review – Ed Wood

John Waters once made a side-hand remark about making a biopic about Edward D. Wood Jr., suggesting the title “Look Back in Angora.” Frankly, it sounded more promising than the Tim Burton version turns out to be. The subject just needed Waters’ eye for camp rather than Burton’s talent with quirk. Martin Landau does a brilliant job as Bela Lugosi; not only does he do the accent flawlessly, but he brings a touching, human quality to the dying actor’s final movies. Johnny Depp’s treatment of the title role comes across as largely borrowed from the Jon Lovitz school of smirking line mutilation, but the rest of the cast bears up fairly well. Beyond that the story sort of tells itself. Ed Wood was one of the worst, weirdest movie directors ever, so his tale naturally makes a good movie. Mildly amusing

Review - The Final Cut

This is one of the few times I’ve ever seen a movie’s high concept actually manage to keep driving the plot right to the end. Here the idea is that people get implants that allow them to record their entire lives. Then after they die, editors – called “Cutters” – reduce the recordings down to movie length so they can be shown at funeral services called “remembries.” The rippling effect this has on society supplies enough twists and turns for an hour and a half of fairly interesting movie. I didn’t even mind Robin Williams all that much. Here he finally seems to give the understated performance he’s been trying to pull off ever since he first began his attempts to shed his reputation for being a jittery clown. The production values are also good, especially for an indie. Worth seeing

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Review – Deliver Us from Evil

And the trend continues. Once again a director takes a potentially fascinating story and turns it into a mess of a documentary. The story of clergy sexual abuse of children needs to be told. And here we’ve got some good story-tellers: a serial abuser and a handful of his now-adult victims (and their families). However, the thrust of the production swiftly turns from how the abuse could have been allowed to take place to begin with to how the Roman Catholic Church failed to deal effectively with the situation. Even that might have been okay; official church complicity is a serious part of the problem. But alas, the potential impact of this movie is undone by the almost complete lack of story-telling. Interviews are cut together in an almost random sequence, with little attention to chronology or other organizational scheme that might allow the audience to absorb what we’re being given. Then at the end it goes completely Michael Moore when a couple of the victims try to get into the Vatican to present a letter about their plight. Apparently we’re supposed to take something away from the fact that the security guards wouldn’t let them in. That kind of thing might be good for a few laughs in a different context, but here it makes a disappointing ending to a disorganized tale that really deserved a better break. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review – Apocalypto

Mel Gibson wastes a couple of hours proving that action movies aren’t made substantially more interesting just by shooting them in another language. The story is straightforward enough: the lives of simple villagers are destroyed by the Aztec, who enslave them and cart them off to be sacrificed in a really gory ceremony. And that’s only half the movie. I wanted to extend at least some praise based on the absence of Euro-American characters in the production, but even that didn’t work out in the end. The direction is weak (in particular, some of the subplots are awkwardly integrated into the story flow), but the technical quality is good. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review – Coma

Okay, the weird scene with the bodies hanging from wires is kinda cool. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie appears to be designed to inspire just what the title promises. Genevieve Bujold stars as a courageous young doctor who discovers that the hospital for which she works makes a practice of deliberately poisoning patients during surgical anesthesia so the victims’ comatose quasi-corpses can be shipped to an organ-harvesting facility. Boring plot twists ensue. Michel Douglas co-stars as our heroine’s love interest, a man torn between affection and repeated assurances that his significant other’s paranoid obsessions will ruin her career and take him down with her. Now you know everything you need to about the story, so feel free to fast-forward to the body-suspension room (and stop watching afterward if you’re so inclined). Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Review – Elizabeth

I can’t remember the last time I watched such an ineptly-directed movie. And that’s a real shame, because with the subject at hand (the early reign of Elizabeth I, which of course featured some crucial moments in European history) and the cast on board (particularly Cate Blanchett) a better movie could have been made. Sadly, Shekhar Kapur is not up to the task. Action, shot composition and editing are consistently weak, sometimes to the point of genuine error (such as the “blinking corpse” scene). Even the credits are mishandled, which of course ensures that the picture both starts and ends on sour notes. Though English history isn’t necessarily my favorite way to pass a couple of hours, I feel I could have gotten more out of this tale if it had been more skillfully told. Mildly amusing

Friday, May 11, 2007

Review – Damn the Defiant

This “heart of oak” action movie stands in sharp contrast to Ustinov’s version of Billy Budd, which came out the same year. While the Melville-inspired story at least tries to say something profound about the human condition, this one comes across as a big box full of sailing ship mutiny clichés wrapped up and sealed with an exclamation point. Despite the simple-minded storytelling, the movie does feature an interesting facet or two. Though it’s set on a British warship sailing the Mediterranean, the backdrop is the famous Spithead mutiny. Though this allows the introduction of at least some of the social issues surrounding shipboard misery, the focus nonetheless remains on the tried-and-true battle between cruel officers and hapless seamen. The plot twists a bit with the locus of the problem: the cruel officer in this case is a lieutenant, an aristocrat with “connections” who makes life miserable not only for the lower decks but also for his long-suffering captain (ably played by Alec Guinness). Overall this isn’t the worst sailing ship movie I’ve ever seen, but most of the pleasures to be found here lie in the small details of shipboard life rather than in the broad strokes of the story and the characters. Mildly amusing

Review – Billy Budd (1962)

Melville’s classic comes to the silver screen with Terrence Stamp in the title role. Yes, Stamp was actually young enough to play a youthful, idealistic sailor at one point. Peter Ustinov co-stars and directs, which helps to give this the earnest feel endemic to obsessive “vanity” projects. Nonetheless it turns out to be a fairly good movie. The allegory about good and evil is just as heavy-handed here as it is in the source story. Some of the plot twists remain implausible. But that’s okay. The audience needn’t demand strict realism from a picture like this. And the production designers’ attention to detail lends an air of authenticity that provides a pleasing contrast to the somewhat artificial story. Overall this is a must-see for fans of “heart of oak” tales and a rewarding experience even for viewers who aren’t devoted to the sub-genre. Worth seeing

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Review – Bewitched

I know I spend a lot of time griping about bad writing. But wow, is this movie ever not an exception to the trend. Indeed, this is a rarity among even Hollywood productions: a picture that was completely undone almost exclusively by its own script. A straight TV-to-movie adaptation of the “Bewitched” series probably wouldn’t have won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but it could nonetheless have been an entertaining little picture. Nicole Kidman should have had little trouble stepping into the Elizabeth Montgomery role, and Will Ferrell is, well, Will Ferrell. Supporting cast members Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine were well enough suited to their parts. Director Nora Ephron has done funny stuff in the past. So why on earth did they decide to get “fancy” with the story? A nice, conservative retooling would have been just fine, but instead we’re treated to a pseudo-reflexive twist that throws the whole thing off. Our protagonists aren’t a human-witch married couple. They’re a pair of actors manipulating each other behind the scenes in a 21st century TV series based on the original. That she happens to be an actual witch – in addition to playing one on TV – does little to redeem this half-baked excuse for a plot. When “just a simple reheat of ‘Bewitched’ would have been better” is the nicest thing I have to say about a movie, you can bet what they actually made turned out to be pretty bad. See if desperate

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Review – Behind the Red Door

A photographer (Kyra Sedgwick) gets roped into caring for her estranged brother (Kiefer Sutherland) as AIDS slowly claims his life. He’s an arrogant jerk, a personality trait that supplies most of the plot points, particularly when he starts to mellow as he nears death. Just about the only story beyond that is a half-baked domestic violence murder mystery involving the siblings’ estranged father (there’s a lot of estrangement in this). Though the direction is terrible and the performances mostly mailed in, the real champ of terribleness is the script. Most of the dialogue is so awful it sounds like it was written by a high school student trying desperately to pass a theatre class (and probably not succeeding). Overall this is a pointless tear-jerker arriving a decade or two too late to say anything profound about AIDS. See if desperate

Friday, April 27, 2007

Review – All The King's Men

This would make a good double feature with Citizen Kane. To be sure, this production isn’t as slick as the Wells classic. For starters, the editing is pretty rough in spots; I don’t know much about the history of the production, but from just a casual viewing I’d guess that it had been intended to be a longer movie and that big chunks were sliced out sometime late in post-production. The characters and plot developments are equally awkward, frequently coming across as ham-handed clichés rather than the subtle nuances of Kane. On the other hand, this approach is appropriate to the subject. Huey Long wasn’t exactly the sophisticated head of a vast publishing empire, so it’s only natural that his roman a clef counterpart would be more at home in a story full of simple-minded morality. The production also features some fun faces in the supporting cast, including a very young John Derek and a pre-gravelly-voiced-demon Mercedes McCambridge. Overall this is an enjoyable movie despite some stiffness around the joints. Worth seeing

Monday, April 23, 2007

Review – Catch a Fire

For some reason 2006 seems to have been a great year for terrific yet largely-ignored pictures. In this example, Derek Luke plays Patrick Chamusso, a black man trying to make an honest living in Apartheid South Africa. After he and his wife are brutalized by the police, he decides to seek revenge by joining the ANC. The result is a touching tale more than a little evocative of the Bob Marley lyrics that provide the title. Tim Robbins also does a solid job as the anti-terrorism officer responsible for the torture that transforms Chamusso from peaceful worker to revolutionary. The reality of the “true story” is brought home by the appearance of Chamusso himself at the end. Though the monstrous regime that spawned these events is no more, this is still a valuable lesson in a well-assembled package. Worth seeing

Review – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)

Though this movie suffers from many of the production oddities endemic to the early days of talking pictures, it’s still one of the best cinematic versions of the Stephenson classic. Fredric March won a well-deserved Oscar – one of very few ever to go to an actor in a horror movie – for his portrayal of the protagonist / antagonist. However, a big part of the credit for this production’s success belongs to the technical tricks. Jekyll becomes Hyde rapidly thanks to twists of lighting and filters as well as makeup. The results are impressive, an excellent accent to March’s appropriately over-the-top personality shifts. And though not graphically sexual or violent by 21st century standards, the pre-Hays-Code production is also sometimes a bit shocking. Overall, of all the versions of this story I’ve seen so far, this one is the best. Mildly amusing

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Review – Children of Men

Several critics compared this grim bit of science fiction to Blade Runner. That’s apt to the extent that both movies had better visuals than scripts. However, this round of dystopia is both more and less sophisticated than the Ridley Scott classic. This isn’t a startling departure from the real world; none of the technology would seem terribly out of place in 2006. But the subtle shifts in cars, televisions, and many of the other trappings of everyday life underscore the dramatic change in the world’s politics. Something has rendered the entire human race infertile. The resulting social chaos and fascist backlash serves at the backdrop for the story of an average guy who gets dragged into a desperate attempt to rescue a miraculously-pregnant woman from the government and various rebel / criminal elements. The story is plenty depressing, so this made a vaguely inappropriate choice for Sunday evening viewing. But if you can stand a bit of a bummer, the art direction and cinematography alone are worth the rental price. Mildly amusing

Friday, March 30, 2007

Review – The China Syndrome

Okay, wait. I’m still not quite clear. Are you saying that nuclear power plants are a bad idea? Yeesh, this thing is heavy-handed, even for 1979. We’ve got the whole post-Watergate cliché parade here: the crusading journalists, the guilt-ridden whistle-blower, the evil corporation that cares nothing for human life, sinister attempts to hide the truth no matter what the cost, and so on. The days of Barbarella are clearly well behind Jane Fonda now, though she almost takes a back seat to costar Michael Douglas in the liberal fanatic department. And Douglas is a bit of a surprise; I would never have guessed that he was as annoying when he was young as he is now. More so, if such a thing is possible, because throughout the picture he keeps saying “nucular.” The only sympathetic character in the whole movie is the power plant employee (Jack Lemmon) who discovers that his employer has put millions of people in jeopardy just to save a few bucks on construction costs. This might have turned out to be a total footnote even in its own sub-genre if not for the Three Mile Island incident proving the dumb story oddly prescient. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review – Eragon

This dwells somewhere in the realm between the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Dungeons and Dragons in almost every way. The script, acting, story, and effects are nowhere near as good as Jackson’s versions of Tolkein, but thankfully – for Jeremy Irons’ sake if nothing else – they don’t stink anywhere near as bad as the clunker loosely based on the popular role-playing game. Heck, the dragon’s even kinda cute at times. Though this one will probably play better with the juvenile set than with older fans of the fantasy genre, it’s still not exactly the worst example of the species I’ve ever seen. Mildly amusing

Review – Casino Royale (2006)

I actually liked this one, despite the movie’s heavy reliance on a high stakes poker game (about as much fun as watching paint dry) for a lot of the “action” in the middle of the show. Die-hard Bond fans made a fuss about Daniel Craig, but I thought he did a fine job. His Bond was more down-to-business and less smarmy charm, something I found frankly refreshing. Also, this was set up as a “new beginning” for the character (sort of like what they tried to do for Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears). This Bond is a young-ish agent who has just recently earned his double-O number. This gives them some fresh plot possibilities. The stock stuff from the series is here, but it’s been re-tooled to make it more interesting. Case in point: the traditional gun-barrel shot at the beginning is actually part of the plot. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Review – A Day at the Races

Once again the Marx Brothers are up to their wacky antics. Though this is a more polished production than many of their earlier efforts, at the same time it’s not quite as funny. The routines are reminiscent of classics such as A Night at the Opera, but somehow the humor seems stiffer, more forced. Though it’s still considerably better than a lot of other comedies out there, it’s just not up to par with what Groucho, Chico and Harpo were capable of doing. Also, the non-Marx musical numbers seem even longer than usual (though that might have been my imagination). Mildly amusing

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Review – Blood Diamond

The whole time I was watching this movie I just kept thinking how much better it would have been if it had been a small, independent production rather than a big-budget Hollywood mess. To be sure, a couple of scenes – such as the refugee camp – were helped by hefty doses of the studio’s cash. But for every place the money was put to good use, two or three other parts are actually damaged by presence of big stars – especially radically-miscast Leonardo DiCaprio – or other expensive baubles. Of course part of the problem is that the movie wants to be a criticism of the international trade in conflict diamonds; it aims and aims but somehow never quite seems to pull the trigger. For example, when rattling off the roll call of nations playing this particular game, both South Africa and Israel somehow escape mention. And the “what have we learned?” title cards at the end advise us that we can do our part by insisting that the diamonds we purchase be conflict-free (ignoring the assurances earlier in the picture that blood diamonds are indistinguishable from their more politically-correct cousins). The result is a couple of hours’ worth of pricey paving stones for the road to hell. Mildly amusing

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Review – The Alligator People

Movie scientists usually mean well, so it’s sad that their experiments always seem to end badly. A guy is in a terrible plane crash, and the only way to save his life is to give him a miracle drug based on reptilian DNA. So now he can grow body parts back like one of those lizards that can grow a new tail. Trouble is … well, you can imagine for yourself what the trouble is. When the side-effects disrupt the guy’s honeymoon, he flees to the bayou-based clinic full of patients who have suffered similar mishaps. His wife pursues, only to become entangled in plot twists that make the movie go on longer than it really needs to. The saddest part of the production is that the alligator people makeup works fairly well in an understated sort of way right up until the end, when for some reason the film-makers opt to take it completely over the top, a decision they didn’t have the effects budget to pull off. Otherwise this is yet another run-of-the-mill science-run-amuck piece from the 50s, inept but for the most part blandly inoffensive. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Review – American Hardcore

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a requirement that if you make a documentary about a music genre that’s been dead for two decades, it just has to come out boring. What we get here from the “stars” of the hardcore punk scene in the early 80s is exactly what we get from the aged stars of any other faded form of music: an endless parade of talking heads extolling the virtues of their glory days, grabbing credit for punk’s innovative “firsts,” and generally wishing they’d died before they got old. I guess it was nice to learn that some of these folks were still alive after all these years. But I don’t feel like I came out of this much wiser about the genre than I was when I went in. Mildly amusing

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Review – Barbie Fairytopia: The Magic of the Rainbow

I’m half sorry I wasn’t stoned when I watched this and half really glad I wasn’t stoned when I watched this. Intoxicated or not, you’ll get pretty much exactly what you’d expect if you rent this. See if desperate

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Review - ffolkes

Almost every line Roger Moore utters in this action flick is a blatant case of contrast with the role that made him famous. The oddly-named protagonist here is Bond’s opposite: a cranky, openly misogynistic, Scotch-swilling jerk rather than suave, hypocritically misogynistic, wine-sipping sophisticate. However, once the action gets started, the personality issues aren’t all that big a deal one way or another. Anthony Perkins co-stars as an extortionist threatening to blow up North Sea oil rigs unless paid not to, a plot our hero must thwart despite a parade of setbacks. While the set-up and the fight scenes are okay, the production spends a lot of time mired in go-nowhere negotiation sequences. Overall this is an earnest but awkward start to the cinema of the Reagan / Thatcher 80s. Verdict: mildly amusing

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Review – The Day of the Triffids

Even by movie apocalypse standards, this one’s elaborate. Not only is the earth beset by ambulatory, man-eating plants, but the same meteor shower that activated their carnivorous tendencies also manages to blind the vast majority of the human race. The concept has potential, but it’s largely squandered on a bad script, meandering story and cardboard characters. Whatever spookiness the Triffids might have packed is further undone by the poor quality of the print used to create the DVD; this thing looks like it spent the last four decades or so at the bottom of a vat of formaldehyde. Verdict: mildly amusing

Review – Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

Apparently only semi-daunted by the mixed response to Pennies from Heaven, Steve Martin serves up this odd little send-up of film noir. Much of the production comes across as a parody along the lines of Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (though slightly less goofy). However, there’s a twist: some of the scenes are created by editing new footage of Martin with old clips from actual noir movies. The result is absurd conversations between our hero and Humphrey Bogart, Veronica Lake and other genre favorites. The result is clever without being exceptionally funny. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Review – Babel

What is it about uncomfortable situations that make Hollywood think they’ll be fine fodder for a two-and-a-half hour movie? In the abstract the inter-weaving of four story lines from four different cultures might have seemed clever, but here it mostly just quadruples the agony of squirming through the tales of sad little people and their sad little lives. This one picks up a point or so for the technical quality of the production. Some of the acting was okay as well. But the production is ultimately undone by the weakness of the script. Mildly amusing

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Review – The Departed

C’mon and give Scorsese his Oscar for cryin’ out loud. Otherwise he’ll never stop making movies like this. And he needs to stop. The world just simply doesn’t need another two and a half hours of ultra-macho gangster crap. Matt Damon plays a cop working as a mole for Irish mob boss Jack Nicholson, and Leonardo DiCaprio plays Damon’s opposite, a cop working undercover in Nicholson’s organization. Some of the violence was well-staged, which helped to offset the predictably heavy dose of homosexual panic that underlies almost everything in the whole picture. However, I was genuinely surprised by how terrible the script was. The macho posturing infects the dialogue so heavily that in places the characters don’t even seem to be talking to each other. Thus whatever potential this production might otherwise have had is swiftly undone by the terrible writing. Overall this comes across as Mean Streets slicked up and lobotomized for Hollywood consumption. Mildly amusing. [Note: they gave him his statue. Now let’s see if he stops.]

Review – Amelie

Normally I don’t care for movies as self-consciously quirky as this one, but for some reason this time around it sort of worked. The non-story swirls around a distracted young French woman whom fate inspires to perform secret good deeds for people. Thanks at least in part to some good camerawork, editing and effects, this doesn’t turn out to be anywhere near as tedious as a one-paragraph review no doubt makes it sound. Mildly amusing

Friday, February 2, 2007

Review – C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America

Ever since I read Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle in high school, I’ve been a big fan of alternate history. This “mocumentary” is an excellent case for the importance of playing what-if games with history. Relating the post-Civil-War history of the Confederate States beginning with the premise that the South won the “War of Northern Aggression.” In the process, the audience is brought mindful of the eerie similarities between a fantasy society based on de jure racism and reality where de facto racism still thrives. For example, I was tempted to scoff at the broadly ridiculous scene from a movie “made by D.W. Griffith” about the post-war capture of a crudely-caricatured Lincoln (in blackface, no less) until I remembered that Birth of a Nation was no more racially sensitive than the parody. Overall I was surprised to find myself more impressed with the fake ads sprinkled throughout the production than by the alternate history itself. Somehow the simple, everyday aspects of American culture recast in an apartheid light – such as “Cops” redone as a show about capturing runaway slaves – struck me as more profound than the broader speculation about how a Confederate victory would have turned the tide of history in other directions. Worth seeing

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Review – The Curse of the Cat People

Apparently the cat people’s curse is that the sequel shall include no cat people. The characters from the first one are back, but now poor, witless Oliver is married to his gal-on-the-side Alice and the pair have a pre-teen daughter. Little Amy is a daydreamer, which bothers her straight-arrow father to no end. As the father-daughter rift widens, the girl seeks solace in the company of the ghost of Irena, Oliver’s first wife, who actually was a cat person in the first movie. If considered strictly on its own merits, this is an amateurish but otherwise inoffensive production. However, it’s a poor excuse for a sequel to one of the best black-and-white horror movies ever made. See if desperate

Monday, January 29, 2007

Review - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Bobcat Goldthwaite once joked that Elvis Presley shouldn’t have needed drugs because he was rich enough to pay people to perform hallucinations for him. Now thanks to Terry Gilliam, even the poor and humble can watch drug-addled weirdness without risking top dollar or arrest for possession. Johnny Depp does a good job in this cinematic version of Hunter S. Thompson’s conclusive proof – as if any were really necessary – that Las Vegas on acid is one strange place. Of course with a literary junkie protagonist, a pile of big names (presumably drawn by the hip-ness of the project) in the supporting cast, and a lot of bizarre special effects to create a reality-challenged experience, this evokes the memory of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch; this time around the story is more cheerful but likewise more frivolous. Overall this came across as the sort of movie one makes when one loves a book but can’t quite find the cinematic “words” to express one’s affection. Mildly amusing

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Review – Embedded '45: Shooting War in Germany

It’s a little hard to tell because of the English narration, but this appears to be a documentary originally produced for German television. Certainly problems with translation might go a ways toward explaining some of the odd information presented here and there. However, one could almost watch the movie with the sound off and still appreciate the main asset of the production: lots of fascinating footage of the last three months or so of the European end of World War Two. The movie-makers combed the National Archives and found some impressive stuff, film of American soldiers fighting house-to-house in the ruined cities of Germany, capturing prisoners of war, liberating work camps, and even executing an SS saboteur. However, the visuals aren’t aided much by the narration (mostly run-of-the-mill description with little insight into the process of shooting film in the middle of a war) or the added sound effects. The narrative structure also apparently required the re-use of some of the scenes, as (for example) we see the same POWs being captured at several points in the story. Overall this is worth it for the pictures as long as one doesn’t expect much else to go along with it. Mildly amusing

Review – The Devil Wears Prada

So now having a crappy job makes you worth a major motion picture? This is one of those message pieces that tend to defeat their own purposes. For example, I think we’re supposed to scoff at the fashion industry’s obsession with thinness. However, our supposedly normal-bodied protagonist is repeatedly identified as a size six. Not to mention that she’s played by model-esque Anne Hathaway. Much of the rest of this production is as stiff and ill-conceived as its take on positive body image. Like the corner of the publishing business it attempts to lambaste, this movie is pretty, slick and expensive but short on substance. Mildly amusing

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Review – The Barnyard

Yeesh, what a dreadful experience. For starters, this is the biggest disconnect I’ve ever seen between the content of a movie and the studio’s description of the content of a movie. The box under the MPAA rating for this thing warns us of “some mild peril and rude humor.” In the first few minutes the protagonist’s father is murdered on-screen by vicious coyotes. The villains go on to threaten and/or attempt to kill every other animal in the movie. Paramount should know that this goes considerably beyond “mild peril,” but of course putting words such as “violence” or “terror” on the box would likely have cut into sales and rentals of a kiddie flick. If that had been the only problem, I could probably have extended some slack on the rating. But it gets worse. Nickelodeon Movies appears to be jockeying for the position of “Pixar Cheap” with efforts like this. The animation is terrible, not much better than current generation video game graphics. The cast is mostly has-beens and never-will-bes. Even the music sucks. A lot of it is off-the-rack, and the “original” performances tend to be things like a cow doing an acoustic version of an old Tom Petty tune. Still, I think the thing that sticks with me most is an odd bit of annoyance: all the bovines in this movie – male and female alike – have udders. Somebody here needs to get out of the big city every once in awhile. Wish I’d skipped it

Friday, January 26, 2007

Review – Demonic

Straight single female film fans, here’s something new for you: a horror movie that can be used as a potential boyfriend meter. Show him this picture and see how long it takes him to get tired of the nekkid vampire chicks that suffuse this hunk of junk. If he can make it all the way to the end without saying “ah jeez, not more nekkid vampire chicks” at least once, he has the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old and should immediately be kicked to the curb. I find myself astonished once again that a production of this caliber requires so many people in the end credits. Couldn’t such crap have been made with nothing more than a cameraperson, someone on post-production, ten actors (well, eight actors, an obscure novelist and a bizarrely-ageless Tom Savini) and a handful of emaciated strippers? Wish I’d skipped it

Review – The Covenant

This movie does for warlocks what Underworld did for vampires: it takes a run-of-the-mill plot and smears it with a stifling load of blue-filtered, jump-cut, flying-around-on-wires-combat-sequence, teen-angst-ridden, MTV-style faux hipness. Some of the fight scenes are mildly diverting. But they comprise a relatively small chunk of the running time, most of which is devoted to long exchanges between protagonists who can be distinguished from each other and from their enemies only by their hairstyles (and sometimes not even then). By the time it finally boils down to a battle between the two main characters, I found myself mumbling, “if these guys toss one more glob of computer-animated witch goo at each other, I’m really going to have to turn this thing off.” Fortunately it ended shortly thereafter. See if desperate

Monday, January 22, 2007

Review – Benito

Somebody must have told Antonio Banderas that making Reds got people to take Warren Beatty seriously. Otherwise why would he ever have agreed to star in a five-hour-long Italian movie about left-wing radicals in the first decade or two of the 20th century? Of course this is Reds with an evil twist: the protagonist is Benito Mussolini. So we get two DVDs worth of Mussolini’s early career as a leftist, only to have the show come to a screeching halt just as the story starts to get interesting. Honestly, if I want to spend hours listening to liberal radicals jabber on about the minutiae of their causes, I’ll go hang out with my dad and his friends. See if desperate

Review – The Cheap Detective

Come in looking for a Neil Simon send-up of hard-boiled detective movies, and you’ll get just exactly what you expect. One should really be a fan of the genre – or at least have seen Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon – before trying to get much amusement out of this. But most of the humor is entertaining in a dinner theater sort of way if you’re in on the jokes. The cast is a who’s who of 70s comedy cinema, headed up by Peter Falk in the title role. Mildly amusing

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Review – Dark Remains

As low-budget horror movies go, I’ve seen worse. For some time now I’ve maintained that just because an independent director doesn’t have the money for big-name stars or fancy special effects doesn’t mean that he has to make a picture with a boring story and a witless script. To be sure, this isn’t going to win any prizes for brilliant movie-making. The acting is amateurish (though on the high end of that spectrum) and the tale gets a little laconic in places. But the production makes good use of the resources it has, conjuring a spooky atmosphere and a few solid, ghostly shocks. Even folks with a lot more cash on hand could learn a lot from work like this. Mildly amusing

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Review – Creep

This picture is a masterpiece in illogic. It keeps itself going almost exclusively based on characters’ decisions to act as nobody in the universe ever really would. The victims of a “creep” living in the London underground consistently pass up no end of opportunities to escape, destroy their attacker, or at the very least arm themselves. Indeed, the very premise itself (woman accidentally locked in subway with rapist, homeless people and psychotic monster) requires so many leaps of faith that it’s impossible to accept as anything besides an impossible, drawn-out nightmare sequence. I thought about awarding at least a point for the ending, which did have a vaguely entertaining twist. But unfortunately that small punch line didn’t justify the long, horrible joke. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Casanova

At least this wasn’t as bad as The Libertine. Particularly with Heath Ledger cast in the title role, this Hollywood farce comes across as a 10 Things I Hate About You treatment of 18th century comedy of errors. The production values are good, and the acting is suitable for the overboard silliness of the show (especially Jeremy Irons, who goes completely over the top as a church official out to persecute our hero). Though this is plentifully stupid, for the most part it manages not to actively offend. Mildly amusing

Friday, January 19, 2007

Review – The Descent

If I had started watching this movie around two thirds of the way through, I would have liked it a lot better than I did. That’s how long it takes the monsters to put in an appearance. Once the creature action gets underway, the movie transforms into something reminiscent of some of Lovecraft’s less dramatic works (particularly “The Lurking Fear”). The trouble, then, is the hour it takes getting there. After sixty minutes of six women lost in a cave, grunting and groaning as they make their way through tiny tunnels and across obstacles, the production has worn out its welcome too thoroughly to stand much of a chance. Overall the whole thing is more than vaguely reminiscent of The Cave, and casting it with all women rather than mostly men – while a novel step in the right direction for women in horror movies – didn’t help make the characters any more distinct or sympathetic. See if desperate

Monday, January 15, 2007

Review – The Enemy Below

As macho, two-fisted tales of the sea go, this one’s not half bad. Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens star as the captains of an American destroyer and German U-boat squaring off in the South Atlantic. This is set apart from the usual war yarn in that the two skippers actually use tactics rather than sheer brute force in their attempts to defeat each other. The picture also includes elements such as the consequences of war and the notion that violence need not make inhuman monsters of combatants. Overall this is very much a post-World-War-Two version of World War Two, and much the better for its distance from the propaganda mills of the 1940s. Mildly amusing

Review – The Conqueror Worm

I believe this was originally released in England under the title The Witch-Finder General, a considerably more apt identification. The only thing this movie has in common with Edgar Allen Poe is the appearance of Vincent Price (who of course also starred in other movies that actually were based on Poe’s writing). Price plays a witch-finder in Cromwellian England, a man who strays from village to village torturing people and stealing their property in the name of God’s justice. But after he murders the uncle of the fiancé of a soldier (raping the fiancé in the process), the aggression escalates. For the time, this is unusually packed with sex and violence. Otherwise, however, it’s an unremarkable bit of low-budget costume drama. See if desperate

Review – The Aristocats

Disney creates an hour and a half of animated cats all telling the same dirty joke. Okay, that’s not really it. Instead, this is the ultra-precious tale of a rich woman’s cats (mother and three kittens) dumped in the countryside by a money-grubbing butler. Kitties are befriended by an alley cat who helps them return to Paris, vanquish the villain and regain their rightful place in the household. By this point in studio history, the quality of Disney animation had slipped considerably. The result here looks and sounds pretty cheap. See if desperate

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Review – Basilisk: The Serpent King

This one’s cheap and terrible even by Sci Fi Channel standards. I have to admit that I came in slightly late on it, so if something Oscar-worthy happened in the first 20 minutes or so I missed it. On the other hand, if the part I didn’t see was consistent in quality with the part I saw, then I didn’t miss much. The beast is a big, computer-animated lizard with teeny little appendages that give it a downright comical look. And the show-down between the monster and the villain was so inept – in terms of both script and special effects – that the segment actually made it onto The Soup, an “honor” it richly deserved. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Review – At the Circus

This Marx Brothers outing makes its main contribution to western civilization when Groucho sings the now-legendary “Lydia The Tattooed Lady.” Otherwise it’s the usual blend of fast talk and slapstick occasionally interrupted by musical numbers. Mildly amusing

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Review – The Aristocrats

Yes, believe it or not, this is actually an hour and a half worth of video of a gaggle of comedians telling the same joke. Sure, some of them spend time discussing the history or philosophy or sexual politics for the gag, but for the most part it’s just the same joke over and over. However, it turns out to be a little more entertaining than it sounds like it would be. My personal favorites were Billy Connoly – who seemed to be having a great deal of fun with it – and Eddie Izzard – who appeared to be so intoxicated that he couldn’t even tell the joke. Mildly amusing