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 fiancĂ© of a soldier (raping the fiancĂ© 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