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