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