Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Review – Death Race

Obviously Hollywood makes a lot of movies with sequences that are thinly-disguised promos for the cross-marketed video game. Indeed, some become little more than 90-minute plugs for the game. But this is the first one I’ve seen that sacrifices all semblance of plot and character for the sake of the Xbox element. The production borrows just enough plot from Death Race 2000 to get the ball rolling, but from there on out it’s like watching someone else play the game they should have made out of Car Wars. Heck, the competition itself actually includes power-ups. My personal favorite moment was the introduction of the Dreadnought. While this thing worked just fine as a “boss level,” it made no sense within the story. Who the hell would pay to watch a “sport” in which all the contestants but two are deliberately murdered? If I’d lost money betting on one of the victims, I’d be pissed. The result here is loud, action-packed and almost completely substance-free. See if desperate

Review – Burn After Reading

This isn’t a bad movie, but the combination of espionage and the Coen brothers should have been better. Frances MacDormand and Brad Pitt both do great jobs as health club employees who stumble onto a disc full of government secrets. Their bumbling attempts to profit from their discovery bring them into contact with several “beltway insider” types and no end of screwball situations. The comedy-of-errors stuff is done to a Coen tee, but unfortunately that’s about all we get. If this had somehow involved some kind of actual spy drama running parallel to the comedy threads, it might have been more fun to watch. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Review – The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

For awhile toward the beginning of his career Kurt Russell made a living by starring in live action Disney movies intended strictly for the kids. The formula for three of them was that a mediocre college student somehow gets enhanced by a mishap of science. In this one – the first of the three – a bolt of lightning zaps a computer inside his head. The upside is that it makes him great at Quiz Bowl. The downside is that the computer used to belong to a mobster (Cesar Romero) who isn’t too happy to learn that Russell now knows the details of his gambling racket. The target audience for this is composed almost entirely of people with just one digit in their ages. See if desperate

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review – Expelled

Let me start by saying something nice: this movie does raise at least some legitimate concerns about the role of cultural conflict in the proper exercise of academic freedom. Colleges and universities shouldn’t permit the whole “liberal versus conservative” thing to play any part one way or another in decisions about research, tenure and the like. And if it had stopped there, it might have been worth a look. But of course it doesn’t stop there. Fans of Michael Moore should be forced to watch this picture just so they can see what it feels like to be the target of this kind of irrational name calling thinly disguised as documentary film-making. The sight of Ben Stein getting all watery-eyed in front of a statue of Charles Darwin – after comparing the scientist to Adolph Hitler – is a grim reminder of just how out of control this kind of crap has gotten. See if desperate

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review – The Dark Knight

Here’s yet another example of a movie that never stood a chance to live up to its own hype. Heath Ledger’s final performance is emblematic: he does a solid job as the Joker, but it’s not the greatest acting job in all human history. Likewise the rest of the picture has its moments but overall just isn’t anything to write home about. I was particularly disappointed that Maggie Gyllenhaal didn’t turn out to be dramatically better than Katie Holmes in the role of Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest, though blame should most properly be laid at the script’s doorstep for that failure. Though this is by no means a bad movie, it’s just not as good as it should have been. With this cast, the Batman Begins approach to the characters, and Batman’s two best nemeses in the mix, The Dark Knight should have been the movie that critics said it was. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review – Conspiracy (2008)

Val Kilmer’s bloated corpse stars in this cheap First Blood reheat. A one-legged hero from Gulf War One shows up in a small border town in search of an old Army buddy. The townfolk turn out to be downright hostile, due at least in part to the fact that they’re caught up in some kind of suspicious land deal by day and murder undocumented workers by night. Unfortunately for them, the protagonist’s buddy and his family were among the victims, the crime implausibly captured and preserved on videotape. After a considerable amount of getting kicked around, our hero goes nuts enough to start fighting back. From there on out it’s pure Rambo. See if desperate

Review – Baby Mama

This had a good 22.5 minutes’ worth of humor, which might have made it a solid episode of 30 Rock. Unfortunately this is more than three times longer than a slice of sitcom, and there isn’t enough here to make it stretch. Tina Fey stars as an executive who can’t get pregnant, so she hires a lower-class woman (fellow SNL alum Amy Pohler) to be a surrogate. High jinks ensue. Despite occasional funny gags, overall this is an all-too-conventional take on American women’s obsessions with reproduction. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review – British Intelligence

Despite the oxymoronic title, this is actually fairly clever for a spy movie from 1940. Unlike many of its contemporaries, this picture actually features some elaborate twisting, turning and double-crossing. It also helps to have Boris Karloff play the bad guy (or is he?). Mildly amusing

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review – Capricorn One

Conspiracy theories and O.J. Simpson? The fun never stops. The premise here is that NASA needs to fake a voyage to Mars, a thinly-veiled presentation of the old faked-moon-landing stuff. Fortunately for our three brave astronaut-heroes-turned-sound-stage-actors, the evil government decides not to kill them right away even after announcing to the world that they’ve been killed in a re-entry accident. The desert chase sequences that ensue are spectacularly dull. This picture gets at least a B for its premise, but the execution is a C- at best. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Review – Espionage Agent

Like Confessions of a Nazi Spy, this was a 1939 attempt by Warner Studios to get the United States jazzed about taking a more active role in the war in Europe. Our hero is all set to begin an illustrious career in the State Department when it turns out his new bride is actually a Nazi agent. However, because she loves her husband more than she loves Der Fuhrer, she helps him crack a German spy ring and restore hubby’s credibility. Though this is mostly a typical action movie from the late 30s, there’s a disturbing undercurrent in here as well. Several times throughout the picture characters mention that Nazi spies would be much easier to fight if Congress would just change the law to restore some of the war powers lost after the conclusion of World War One. Though I’d like to play along – anything that’s bad for Nazis is okay by me – this just sounds far too much like the Bush administration begging for a renewal of the USA Patriot Act. That element notwithstanding, this was a fun piece of propaganda and not much else. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 21, 2008

Review – Constantine's Sword

This documentary seems to be an uneven combination of two different scripts. One thread is author James Carroll’s discomfort with the Roman Catholic church’s anti-Semitism, particularly Pope Pius XII’s complicity in the Holocaust. The other is a criticism of mega-churches’ efforts to evangelize in the U.S. military in general and the Air Force Academy in particular. To be sure, the two stories have some common elements, such as the use of the blood libel. But there’s a qualitative as well as quantitative difference between continuing a centuries-old practice of persecution by aiding and abetting Hitler and being a garden-variety right-wing bigot. Further, Carroll’s point that God doesn’t sanction violence – however accurate – isn’t really directly demonstrated by either of the beefs he raises. The result of this lack of focus is a meandering movie that does a poor job of proving a rather obvious point. See if desperate

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review – Confessions of a Nazi Spy

This picture bears an uncanny resemblance to the likes of Reefer Madness, only with less pot and more Nazis. Even prior to the start of U.S. involvement in World War Two, the threat posed by Hitler and his minions was obvious to FDR and his buddies at Warner Brothers. Hence this piece of ham-handed propaganda pitting the FBI – headed by Edward G. Robinson – against the jack-booted menace from abroad. The portrayal of “social clubs” like the German-American Bund as hotbeds of treason was controversial at the time, but of course history vindicated the Warners. The production is entertaining simply because it’s fun to watch this sort of jingoistic fear-mongering directed at someone who actually has it coming. Mildly amusing

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review – Darklight

The scariest thing about this production is that it appears to have been designed to breed a series or at least a sequel. A young woman has forgotten that she was once Lilith, the mythological first wife of Adam. Fortunately for humanity, when she forgot who she was she also forgot that she was evil. So when some CGI thing called a “demonicus” threatens to destroy civilization with a rapidly-spreading disease called the Red Plague, Lilith turns out to be our only defense against it. Script, acting and production values are all unfortunately the equal of this lame plot. Mildly amusing

Monday, November 10, 2008

Review – Becket

Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole star in this historical drama about the relationship between King Henry II and Thomas a Becket. The period pageantry is fun, and both lead actors are at their scenery-chewing finest. But like Single White Female, this is a dishonest treatment of homosexuality. Though of course the movie isn’t free to openly acknowledge it, the lead characters are portrayed as obviously gay. So when Becket abandons the King in favor of God, Henry’s reaction is pure jilted lover. His psychotic rages and eventual death sentence for his ex-friend are the product of his perverted sexuality, though again this is implied rather than explicitly stated. If that aspect of the drama had been downplayed – or better yet eliminated altogether – this would have been a more enjoyable movie. Mildly amusing

Review – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of My Last Goddamn Nerve by the Cretins Who Made This Movie is more like it. This is like some satanic combination of the forced artiness of the dreary westerns my dad used to love back in the 70s and the political consciousness of a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. Brad Pitt turns in a mugging-intensive performance as the white supremacist terrorist “hero” James, and his killer comes across as an obsessed fan. Honestly, I had to watch this in chunks just to keep it from becoming so annoying that I stopped watching it altogether. Wish I’d skipped it

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Review – Bedknobs and Broomsticks

This is a relic from the not-really-trying age of Disney live-action-and-animation combos. And that’s a shame, because the source story might have been turned into a better picture. In the early days of World War Two, a spinster (Angela Lansbury) living in the English countryside attempts to master magic via mail-order lessons in order to aid the war effort. Her practice is disrupted when three kids evacuated from London are dropped into her care. High jinks ensue. The strictly live action parts of the picture are okay despite an excess of musical numbers. But around midway through the production is marred by the inclusion of an animated section of the cheapest quality. Cut that out and this would have been a better experience. Mildly amusing

Friday, October 24, 2008

Review – The End of St. Petersburg

This film – Pudovkin’s take on the October Revolution – would make an interesting companion piece to Eisenstein’s October, assuming one could endure two over-edited Soviet silent movies in one sitting. My favorite part about this picture was that it was less grandiose than most other cinema treatments of the Russian Revolution (October, Doctor Zhivago and Reds in particular). The plot focuses on a peasant who comes to the city seeking work only to find himself caught up in the turmoil of the times. Before the end, he’s suffered just about every ill experienced by the lower classes: starvation, homelessness, labor riots, military service in World War One, and so on. Though the production is plagued with Soviet propaganda clichés such as the Honest Workers versus the Greedy Capitalists, it still manages at least a little genuine human interest. Mildly amusing

Review – Earth

This may be a classic of Soviet propaganda film-making from the late silent era, but beyond that it’s mostly just weird. The bare bones of a plot is about a collective farming champion murdered by a selfish landowner. Throw in an atheist funeral, a grieving wife thrashing around naked, some powerful tractor obsession, and a motivational speech about the glories of Communist aircraft, and you’ve got some idea of just how odd this picture is. So while it’s a brilliant piece of cinema as graphic art, it leaves something to be desired in the talking-the-peasants-into-giving-up-their-land department. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Review – The Curse of the Living Corpse

This crappy old horror movie is a lesson in how awkward foreshadowing can ruin a production. Assemble a gaggle of greedy relatives at the reading of a millionaire’s will. The will states that the relatives have to take special precautions to make sure the ol’ guy isn’t buried alive. If they fail to perform their duties, he’s going to kill them using whatever they fear most (fire, drowning, etc.). So right away the audience knows 1. the guy was buried alive, and 2. he’s going to kill them using whatever they fear most. The only remedy for the ensuing tedium is to pull a twist out of left field at the end of the picture, a cure that’s almost worse than the disease itself. This experience is noteworthy as an early appearance by a very young Roy Scheider and not much else. See if desperate

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review – Diary of the Dead

What a dreadful disappointment. The first two entries in George Romero’s “Dead” series are genre classics, and the last two – though not quite as good – are at least entertaining. This one, however, is almost nothing but Cloverfield except with zombies. Romero is a more talented director than the boneheads that made Cloverfield, but that just makes his mindless preaching about media addiction all the more annoying. See if desperate

Review – The Cry

The first La Llorona movie I tried to watch was so terrible I had to shut it off. So I went into this with a fair amount of trepidation. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. The horror here is masterfully understated, relying on creepy editing and spooky voice-overs rather than tons of gore. The script is good. The acting is good. Of course the nature of the legend requires that children be the targets of the evil spirit’s wrath, so that element – however essential to the plot – is upsetting. But overall this is one of the better genre movies I’ve seen in awhile. Worth seeing

Review - The Fall

I was rooting for this picture most of the way through. It was an interesting blend of a bracket about a man in a hospital who tells stories to an injured child and the stories themselves. The visuals were rich and colorful, artistic enough to keep things interesting even when the plot got slow. But then with around half an hour to go it was like the film-makers decided we were all having too much fun and started pouring ice-cold water on our heads for the rest of the running time. The storyteller begins making his story tragic to the point where it’s an act of unwarranted cruelty against the girl he’s telling it to. If it had ended before it took that particular twist, it would have been a much, much better movie. See if desperate

Review – Dolores Claiborne

I liked this better than I thought I would. That’s at least in part because Stephen King novels usually make such lousy movies that even a tolerable production turns out to be a treat. I must also admit that the source novel isn’t exactly one of my favorites; I like King better when he sticks to simple scares rather than exploiting serious issues such as sexual abuse of a minor. Thus my expectations were sufficiently low to make this seem like a good movie just because it didn’t suck. Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Strathairn and Christopher Plummer all do solid jobs in their roles. The highly-filtered cinematography gets overworked in spots, but otherwise the production values are quite good as well. If only other King movies could have focused so strongly on character and spent less time relying on the booga-booga shot. Mildly amusing

Friday, October 10, 2008

Review – The Bible Tells Me So

This documentary examines Christian and Jewish attitudes about homosexuality. The main focus is on how religious families react when their children come out of the closet. Reactions range from parents who accept and even advocate down to others who reject (including one woman who came to acceptance only after her rejected daughter committed suicide). The movie also examines various interpretations of scriptural references to homosexuality. I suspect that this might make good viewing for folks who find themselves torn between the love of their kids and the values they’ve learned from a church. Mildly amusing

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review – Ba'al: The Storm God

Bu’ll: The Shit God. The story here is some mash about a crazy archaeologist trying to unleash the wrath of an ancient weather god upon the helpless world. This comes across as a bargain basement combination of The Mummy and The Day After Tomorrow. That by itself wasn’t automatically fatal, but the picture is so ineptly executed that it’s just bad enough to be bad without being bad enough to be funny. Quick example: one of the valiant Air Force guys trying to stop the evil weather systems is referred to as “lieutenant” even though he’s wearing captain’s bars on his collar and corporal’s stripes on his sleeve. Most of the rest of the picture shows a similar degree of attention to logic and integrity. Also, it occurs to me that this turd is likely to float forever at the top of the “B” section of my alphabetical list of reviews. Maybe someday I’ll luck out and someone will make a movie about sheep and call it “Baa!” See if desperate

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review – At the Death House Door

The description on the disc box said this was about a man who may have been wrongfully executed in Texas. However, it turns out to be mostly about the former chaplain at the prison that houses the state’s death row. The ol’ guy made audio tapes of his thoughts about the executions of each condemned prisoner he ministered to. The subject matter alone is fascinating enough to carry the documentary for its whole running time. However, the production itself is a bit bargain-basement-Errol-Morris. Mildly amusing

Review – Extraordinary Rendition

This production comes across as Rendition with the Hollywood crap replaced with indie crap. We’re spared the spectacle of big stars and slick production values making torture look glamorous. But we end up saddled with muddled writing and over-arty direction. Particularly nettlesome is the decision to ping-pong back and forth in the timeline. On the one hand, I understand that if all the torture sequences are concentrated in one lump that the pacing would become extremely uneven. On the other hand, cutting back and forth between the rendition and the aftermath creates the feeling that the protagonist has a really crummy day job where he’s water-boarded all day and then goes home to have angry scenes with his wife. Overall this picture’s heart is in the right place, but its head doesn’t quite get with the program. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review – Dragon Wars

Once again Hollywood takes a tiny pinch of Chinese folk legend and tries to stretch it into an hour and a half of dragon stew. Do I even have to say that it doesn’t work? I was vaguely entertained by some of the monster-intensive effects sequences, but the rest of the story was a missable mess about a woman who holds the key to stopping a terrible dragon curse that occurs once every 500 years. See if desperate

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Review – Doctor Zhivago

Someday someone is going to make a small movie about the Russian Revolution. From October to Reds, just about everything set in this place and time turns out to be a sweeping epic filled with huge casts, overblown cinematography, brain-bending running times, the whole nine yards. So it goes without saying that director David Lean isn’t going to break the mold and depart from the big-movie formula that brought him success with The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. And in a way that’s a shame, because the story here (based on Boris Pasternak’s novel) centers around normal human relationships amid turbulent times. Indeed, if not for the aspect ratio, army of extras and lavish location work, this would rarely rise above the level of common soap opera. And Lean seems ill-equipped to deal with human characters, particularly women. Though this is by no means the worst movie I’ve ever seen, it falls short of other work done by just about everyone involved. Mildly amusing

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Review – Bride of the Monster

Bad script. Bad acting. Terrible production values. Bizarre editing. Bela Lugosi. Tor Johnson. Must be an Ed Wood movie! In all honesty, this isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It lacks the charm of Glen or Glenda? and the renown of Plan 9 from Outer Space. But in a way that actually makes it easier to watch. One can set aside the greatest-cult-movie-ever hype and just enjoy it for what it is: a delightfully incompetent attempt at a picture about a mad scientist with a giant squid problem. Mildly amusing

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review – The Bridge

So I guess if you point a camera at the Golden Gate Bridge long enough, you end up with footage of someone jumping. Or several someones jumping. Then follow up with friends and relatives, and you’ve got a documentary. The concept is enough to carry the picture, not to mention creating a considerable amount of controversy. Many of the interviews fail to shed much light on the possible motives of the jumpers, but they do fill in some sometimes-dull, sometimes-touching back-stories of the people whose deaths we watch. Overall this comes across as a combination of Errol Morris and Faces of Death, which oddly enough sort of works. Worth seeing

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review – Dragon Storm

This is just about exactly what one would expect from a Sci Fi Channel movie about dragons: a D&D plot, bad acting (seriously John Rhys-Davies, did you lose a bet or something?), mediocre CGI and not a lot else. A war between neighboring kingdoms is disrupted when a flock of dragons shows up and starts chowing on both sides. Dullness ensues. See if desperate

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review – Black Swarm

So here’s where Robert Englund’s career went to die, stung to death by killer CGI wasps. The local exterminator tries to rekindle a relationship with the widow of his dead twin brother while her daughter eats a peach grown by a mad scientist who works on genetically modifying bugs for bioweapons use, and the fruit transforms her into the queen of killer CGI wasps, and then … well, you get the idea. They might even have been able to pull this off in a limited way if only the wasps’ stings hadn’t transformed their victims into homicidal zombies. I don’t know why the zombie thing was the ridiculous twist that finally pushed it too far, but it did the trick. See if desperate

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Review – Atlantis, The Lost Continent

If there had been a Sci Fi Channel in the 1960s, I’m sure it would have produced this movie. This is the meandering tale of a Greek fisherman who gets conned into helping an Atlantean princess return to her homeland. Once they get there, the bad guy enslaves our hero, plots the conquest of the earth, and ignores the warning signs from the island’s volcano. Though it has a moment or two, overall this is George Pal corny and dated without being George Pal clever and interesting. See if desperate

Friday, August 1, 2008

Review – Doomsday

It’s a bit unfair to fault this production for including excessive, pointless violence against animals, because in truth the entire movie was excessive and pointless. Almost the whole thing was “lovingly borrowed” from other pictures. The set-up is 28 Days Later, but once the plot gets going it turns into Escape from New York with a female protagonist. Along the way we get a hefty dose of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, some Aliens, and a handful of other horror/action movies sprinkled in for good measure. What we don’t get is a coherent plot of any kind or even interesting characters. If you can endure a couple of hours of nothing but witless, visceral nonsense, then you’re welcome to it. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Review – The Brides of Dracula

No Dracula. Not really much in the way of brides. Instead Hammer serves up a muddled mess of a picture, one of those things that looks like it was torn apart at some point in the production process and never sewed back together quite right. Ingénue gets stranded at an inn and then taken in by a baroness who keeps her handsome-yet-creepy son chained in his room. Do I even have to say that he’s a vampire? When our gullible heroine unchains him a festival of sucking (literally and figuratively) commences. Even Peter Cushing can’t do much to save this one. See if desperate

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Review – The Evil of Frankenstein

Actually, if we really want to lay the blame at the proper doorstep, this movie should be called The Evil of the Guy Who Hypnotizes Frankenstein’s Monster and Orders Him to Commit Crimes. Freddie Francis directs and Peter Cushing stars in this Hammer production. The Baron returns to his old haunts and resumes his old habits, a task made easier when his original monster turns up frozen in a glacier. When the creature proves unruly, the doctor enlists the aid of Zoltan the carnival hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe) to rein him in. Unfortunately, Zoltan is more interested in theft and revenge than in advancing the cause of science. Though this isn’t the worst Frankenstein movie I’ve ever seen, it’s a fair distance from the best. The monster makeup in particular stands out, looking like a cheap copy of the box-headed look that made Karloff famous, only layered on thickly enough to disguise the fact that Kiwi Kingston – whoever he might be – isn’t Christopher Lee. Mildly amusing

Friday, July 25, 2008

Review – Black Friday

This has to be one of the all-time weirdest explanations for the Jekyl-Hyde dual personality plot: when a surgeon’s friend is mortally wounded in a car crash, the doctor saves the man’s life by giving him a partial brain transplant from the other crash victim, a notorious gangster. Thus a mild-mannered professor by day is transformed into a brutal, vengeance-bent thug at night. The result is more boring than it has any right to be. Boris Karloff stars as the mad doctor, and Bela Lugosi puts in a brief appearance as one of the mobster’s double-crossing ex-cronies. Mildly amusing

Review – Diplomatic Courier

Though I Tivo’d this on a whim, it actually turned out to be kinda good. Tyrone Power stars as a courier assigned to pick up a secret document from a spy in Eastern Europe. But when the spy is killed before making the hand-off, suddenly our hero finds himself neck-deep in deadly intrigue. Though not as classy as The Third Man, this movie has some of the same look and feel of Carol Reed’s masterpiece. However, you’ll need to pay close attention when you watch this. The plot occasionally hinges on blink-and-you-miss-it moments. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for small parts played by future stars. In addition to supporting roles by Patricia Neal and Karl Malden, we also get brief appearances by Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin. Though this isn’t one of the eight best spy movies ever made, it’s nonetheless worth a look. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review – Death and the Maiden

This is one of those productions that was obviously a stage play before it became a movie. Director Roman Polanski decided to preserve the stiff theatricality of the drama, keeping almost the entire story in one location, sticking with the play-it-for-the-back-row dialogue, and so on. Sigourney Weaver turns in a nuance-free performance as a former political prisoner in an unnamed South American country. Fate brings a man (Ben Kingsley) to the country house she shares with her husband. Claiming to recognize his voice, she identifies him as her torturer, ties him up at gunpoint and conducts a half-baked trial with hubby as counsel for the defense. The script is an uneven mix of artificial power-jockeying and graphic descriptions of torture. Though the unrealistic feel of the picture provides some safe distance between the audience and the difficult subject at hand, that buffer zone is a detriment as well as a benefit. In particular, it makes the end merely convenient rather than thought-provoking. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Review – The Birds 2: Land's End

Following the general trend in sequels made decades after popular originals, this is both dumb and largely unrelated to the Hitchcock classic (other than large flocks of angry birds and a brief appearance by Tippi Hedren). It also pretty much goes without saying that the picture is pretty hard on the birds. The family dog, too, though at least he gets a decent funeral (one of the few expressions of compassion for an animal I’ve ever seen in a horror movie). Further, the deadly birds don’t seem to supply enough of a plot to sustain the whole 90 minutes, so as filler we get the lead couple’s lame marital woes. Then the whole thing ends abruptly with nothing but set-up for an as-yet-blissfully-unrealized Birds 3. See if desperate

Review – Amityville 2: The Possession

This picture takes a worst-of-both-worlds approach to combining the original Amityville Horror with The Exorcist. Of course by the time this one went into production the whole “true story” gag had fallen through, so it was either come up with something new or fall back on demonic possession clichés. Guess which path got chosen. The first half of the movie is okay despite inept film-making and an especially icky incest subplot. However, the inevitable family massacre occurs with a considerable amount of the movie still to go, and most everything after that is a dull battle between a latex-slathered teenager and James Olson as a lackluster priest. See if desperate

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Review – The Cars that Ate Paris

In the last ten minutes or so of this movie, a small Australian town is attacked by vicious art cars led by a spiny VW Beetle. Though the cars were sort of fun, they did little to justify the first 80 minutes of the production. Almost all of the rest of the thing is an excessively boring tale of a guy who suffers from a phobia of cars. He interacts with the locals in many spectacularly dull ways, all involving speech so thickly accented that it’s sometimes hard to understand. So basically if you’re going to watch this at all, go ahead and fast-forward to the end. See if desperate

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Review – The Eye (2008)

The Asian original was the first movie I ever saw from Netflix, and that’s been awhile. So sadly I don’t recall enough about the Chinese version to make much of a direct comparison, but I remember liking the first round better than this remake. Jessica Alba does an okay job as a blind violinist who has surgery to restore the sight she lost when she was a kid. Unfortunately for her, her donor was a psychic who could see ghosts and predict disasters. The set-up is good enough, if a bit cliché. Unfortunately the picture itself is riddled with questionable logic and depends far too heavily on booga-booga moments. And that’s a real shame. On the rare occasions when it masters a bit of subtlety, it’s not a bad movie. See if desperate

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Review – Darkman 3: Die Darkman Die

The Darkman set should have followed this title’s advice at the end of the first one. If the series had died before it even became a series, it would have finished on a high note and spared us all a pair of unnecessary sequels. I’ve already accused the second one of being leftovers, and by the time they serve this one the reheated plot is getting pretty skimpy (and maybe a little moldy around the edges). While our hero (Arnold Vosloo in a repeat performance) continues to slave away on his synthetic skin formula, Jeff Fahey steps into the villain role as a crime boss seeking a extra-strengh steroid formula in order to produce super street thugs. Like the first sequel, this one takes some visual tricks from the original and uses them to mostly mediocre ends. See if desperate

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Review – The Bourne Ultimatum

Third verse, same as the second. Honestly, I’m surprised this was ever a novel. The whole thing seemed to be one chase scene and/or gun battle after another. Occasionally a minor plot twist would get stirred in here and there, but for the most part it’s wall-to-wall action and not much else. If number two floated your boat, this one will keep you sailing merrily along. Mildly amusing

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Review – Aberration

As a quick taste of the sheer terribleness of this movie, consider the plight of the heroine’s cat. Ten minutes in or so, and I was silently praying that the vicious lizards infesting the woman’s cabin would go ahead and kill the poor thing so I wouldn’t have to keep wondering when it was going to happen (which of course it did). Another taste: once the vicious-lizard plotlines have been fairly well exhausted, an ex-boyfriend appears out of nowhere for no obvious reason other than keeping the story going for the requisite 90 minutes. Indeed, the only redeeming quality in the whole ugly mess was that a woman with short hair actually survived to the end of the picture. Wish I’d skipped it

Genre: Horror

Subgenre: Monster
Date reviewed: 6/29/2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review – Archangel

The mystery set-up here is good. Daniel Craig stars as a Russian history professor who gets caught up in the search for secret documents Beria stole from Stalin on his deathbed. So instantly I was curious to know what could possibly be so horrible that a man who openly admitted to slaughtering millions of people would want to hide it? [spoiler alert] Once the mystery is unraveled, however, it turns into a Commie version of The Boys from Brazil. Overall this is a well-put-together piece. The story was entertaining, and I liked some of the location work. This isn’t the best Russian intrigue movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s far from the worst. Mildly amusing

Monday, June 16, 2008

Review – By Dawn's Early Light

If a real nuclear war was this big a cluster fuck, that’s just one more reason why it’s a good thing we never got around to having one. In this drama the whole mess gets sparked by a mysterious missile attack on a Soviet city, and things go downhill from there. Before the end of the movie, NORAD has been wiped out, the country is being run by the Secretary of the Interior, and just about every officer in the entire military has disobeyed orders in one way or another (ranging from simple incompetence to high treason). Overall this is a made-for-HBO reheat of Fail Safe that came along just in time for the Cold War to end and render the whole thing moot. See if desperate

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Review – Dudley Do-Right

George of the Jungle relocated to Canada. This one follows the formula from the previous Brendan Fraser cartoon vehicle right down to the inclusion of a Monty Python alum (Eric Idle this time, and at least he doesn’t have to voice an ape). Unfortunately, except for a few gags here and there, this one’s even dumber than the previous one. See if desperate

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Review – Body of Evidence

I’m actually sort of impressed by this. Who would have thought it was actually possible to make a movie even crappier than Basic Instinct? True, for all his ham Willem DaFoe can’t out-suck Michael Douglas. But Madonna has Sharon Stone beat hands-down. The pop singer’s wooden delivery is matched only by her willingness to strip at the slightest provocation. Other than the down-turn in talent, this might as well be the Douglas/Stone movie all over again. Sure, it has a new wrinkle or two. This bleached-blonde temptress does it for money, not for pleasure. And a lot of the drama takes place inside a none-too-convincing courtroom. But otherwise it’s strictly leftovers that didn’t microwave particularly well. See if desperate

Review – The Cult of the Suicide Bomber

The suicide bombing of the Beirut Marine Barracks appears to have left a lasting impression on former CIA operative Robert Baer. That’s understandable, of course, though his obsession comes out in odd ways here and there in this documentary. That notwithstanding, this is a solid piece of film-making tracing the problem of suicide bombing in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel back to its roots in the Iran-Iraq War. Baer gets access to an impressive array of interview subjects ranging from a high-placed Ayatolah to an Israeli intelligence officer to the families of terrorist-martyr youths. Though not as balanced as it could have been, it was nonetheless more balanced than I expected. Certainly worth a look for anyone who’s interested in the topic. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Review – The Eagle

I’ll bet if you watched this back to back with Gladiator and 300 that you’d die of testosterone poisoning, even if you’re a woman. A Roman officer (Channing Tatum) ventures north of Hadrian’s Wall in search of the eagle standard of the vanished Ninth Legion. After a couple of hours of manly manliness, they run out of film. Some of the fight scenes are okay, which is a good thing because the picture doesn’t have much else going for it. Mildly amusing

Friday, May 23, 2008

Review – The Brave One

Here we have a post-feminist remake of Death Wish. Everything’s okay for a woman (Jodie Foster) who does a radio show about the streets of New York. Too bad she and her fiancé decide to take the dog to Central Park after sunset. After the predictable mugging puts her in the hospital and her boyfriend in the morgue, the slow road to recovery leads to a pistol purchase and inevitably to a series of vigilante slayings. The gender reversal from the standard revenge flick allows the protagonist to have a more emotionally honest reaction to her rage and fear. It also allows romantic tension between the killer and the cop on her tail (Terrence Howard). Otherwise this is a typical specimen. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review – Boo

Boo crappy horror movie! Hooray beer! Seriously, I think we’ve officially reached the point where the Halloween-fake-haunted-house-turns-out-to-really-be-haunted thing isn’t even ironic in the Alanis Morissette sense anymore. And this is a particularly stale sample of the sub-genre. The abandoned asylum for the criminally insane provides fodder for a few cheap-yet-entertaining shocks, but there’s only the flimsiest excuse for a plot stringing the scares together. Dee Wallace-Stone puts in an appearance as a spectral nurse who tries to keep the spectral serial killer imprisoned. See if desperate

Review – Bugs

This starts out as a Mimic mimic but then segues into an Aliens rip-off. A multi-million-dollar subway system is jeopardized when it turns out to be infested with giant, prehistoric bugs. Sending in a SWAT team doesn’t help matters much, either. Cheap. Stupid. Dull. See if desperate

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Review – Aztec Rex

If you reshot Apocalypto as a Sci Fi Channel movie, this is most likely what you’d end up with. The idea – to the extent there is one – is that in his (fictional) first voyage to the Americas, Cortez and a small band of conquistadors end up in a valley inhabited by a small group of Aztecs who worship a pair of tyrannosaurs. Cortez’s ratty wig notwithstanding, the real star of the show is the special effects, bad even by Sci Fi standards. Indeed, I recorded this in advance based on the assumption that The Soup would whet my appetite to watch it (not a bad guess, as it turned out). Still, I suppose I should be grateful for such video-game-esque CGI. If the monsters were any more realistic, I might have actually felt sorry for them. See if desperate

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Review – C.H.U.D.

They should have called the monsters Cannibalistic Reptilian Underground Dwellers. That would have given the movie a far more apt title. Here we have the disjointed tale of New Yorkers besieged by toxic-waste-spawned bio-horrors from the sewer system. As long as they confine their dining to the subterranean homeless population, the authorities won’t do much. But once they start dragging upstanding citizens off to culinary doom, the cops and the NRC move into action. Overall this plays like Humanoids from the Deep relocated to the big city. Mildly amusing

Review – Brainscan

Normally I’d lead with some kind of “it came from the 80s” remark, but this one actually proved that this kind of picture lingered on at least until 1994. Once again Hollywood schlock-meisters try to get a Freddy Krueger thing going. This time the bad guy goes by The Trickster, and he lives in a video game that bores into the player’s head and creates an ultra-realistic virtual reality where the idea is to kill without being caught. Unfortunately the scariest thing about the bad guy is the terribleness of his punk hairdo appliance. Overall this plays like a violent version of Drop Dead Fred. See if desperate

Review – Cocaine Fiends

This was the third entry in a triple feature of anti-drug movies from the 1930s recently run on Turner Classic Movies. And truth be told, by the time I got to the end they’d all started to blend together. So if I remember this correctly, it’s the tale of a girl living a wholesome life in small-town America until a smooth criminal gets her hooked on “headache powder.” From there it’s off to the big city to become a gangster’s moll and then a cast-aside former moll. Her brother comes to rescue her, but he too succumbs to the deadly lure of devil dust. My favorite part was when one of the urban temptresses was trying to seduce brother hick. She invites him to a snow-party with the snowbirds. “But it isn’t winter,” he protests. “Gosh, you really are dumb,” she replies. Yes he is. But then why should he be any different from anyone or anything else in this movie? Mildly amusing

Friday, May 9, 2008

Review – The Deadly Mantis

While I think there might be a good horror story in the combination of monsters and the DEW Line, this isn’t it. A giant bug puppet is unfrozen from the polar ice cap and slowly chews its way south to Washington D.C., surviving multiple attempts to do it in. Though this might not have been so bad back in the 1950s, by 21st century standards the effects are too terrible and the characters too ridiculous for this to be worth much more than a laugh. The sexist treatment of the movie’s only female character is particularly ridiculous. See if desperate

Review – The Blob (1988)

The original was an entertaining movie, and I think it could provide a solid basis for a good sequel or remake. Unfortunately, this ain’t it. The effects are nothing to write home about, though they are better than the 50s version. The monster’s origin as an out-of-control bioweapons experiment wasn’t bad, certainly in keeping with the mid-80s milieu. But the time period that spawned this picture also supplied its downfall: the movie is stuck in the John-Hughes-esque mire of well-scrubbed teenagers who lead quirky little lives. It also doesn’t help that everyone who lives in this world looks like they’re fresh from the set of a Calvin Klein photo shoot (except for the soldiers, who are of course sporting the mandatory paranoid-fantasy bio-suits). If you collect movies about deadly goo from outer space, you’ll want to add this one. Otherwise there isn’t much to recommend it. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Review – The Call of Cthulhu

Longtime readers of my thoughts on movies already know that I’m not easily impressed and even less so when the picture in question is an adaptation of a story by H.P. Lovecraft. But the folks who made this manage to pull it off. What they’ve done is genuinely innovative: the movie is put together as if it had been made at the time the source story came out. It’s silent and black and white. Further, they’re obviously well-versed in the conventions of the era, borrowing liberally from Haxan, Caligari and other masterpieces of silent horror. The use of models and stop-motion also give it a dream-like, period feel. Sticking to the story and using some of the tale’s actual locations also helped immensely. To date this is the truest and in many ways the best film adaptation of Lovecraft I’ve ever seen. Buy the disc

Friday, May 2, 2008

Review – Cloverfield

The scenes with monsters in them are actually pretty good. Too bad that’s a really small percentage of the total screen time. Part of me wants to applaud the risk taken here. A beast with no back story or logical modus operandi has a lot more scary potential than more conventional horror fare. Unfortunately the picture squanders the first 20 minutes of its less-than-90 total running time establishing the protagonists as vapid, New York yuppies. That might make them sympathetic to the film-makers’ fellow vapid, New York yuppies, but it leaves the rest of the world rooting for the monsters. If only the first quarter hadn’t worked so hard to wear out the movie’s welcome, this would have been a considerably better production. Mildly amusing

Monday, April 28, 2008

Review – Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo

Is there such a thing as a “female gigolo”? The question suggests the level of humor that pervades this picture, almost entirely written for (and quite possibly by) 12-year-old boys. Rob Schneider stars as a professional fish tank cleaner who trashes a high-class gigolo’s apartment while house-sitting. Naturally in order to pay for the damage before the violence-prone owner returns, he has to start doing the guy’s job. He ends up dating women who are for one reason or another not datable in the conventional sense, such as a woman with Tourette’s (Amy Pohler) whom he takes to a baseball game so her loud, random swearing won’t be any different from anyone else in the crowd. In the end the picture tries to make some kind of point about how women who aren’t supermodels can have trouble getting dates, but the moral is a feeble graft onto a parade of sophomoric sex jokes. See if desperate

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Review – Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Be sure to wait until after dark and watch this picture in a dimly-lit room. That’s not for spooky atmosphere as much as it’s a feeble attempt to be able to see the movie, at least a third of which is shot in light so poor that many sequences are more-or-less pitch black. On the other hand, the inability to see what’s going on is probably a blessing, judging by the quality of the parts that are actually visible. The implausible Alien-Predator cross-breed from the end of the first AvP returns as the chief baddie this time around, an unwelcome touch vastly magnified by the fact that the new uber-monster is able to plant Alien eggs in victims without the use of the creatures’ well-established bug-snake-monster life cycle. This departure from the conventions of the series was no doubt necessary to supply the mass quantities of Aliens needed to keep the story moving, but it’s also symptomatic of the brainless-yet-commercially-successful disregard for consistent plot logic. Though the production values are on par with the rest of the movies in both sets, the cast and script would have been better suited to the straight-to-video gunk that provides programming bread and butter for the Sci Fi Channel. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Review – Darkon

If we combine the nerdiest elements of D&D and Civil War reenactments, our journey to the Dork Side will be complete. And here’s a documentary proving it. The competently-assembled production dips into the lives of participants in Darkon, a Baltimore-centered alternative reality in which nations are drawn up on a hex-divided map and then fought over in mock battles. I’m actually kinda impressed by these folks. They’ve dedicated a big chunk of their lives to their fantasy world. And for the most part what they do is relatively harmless fun. However, I felt sorry for some of the players who turn out to be losers both in the real world and in the imaginary realms of the game. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review – All the King's Men (2006)

Assuming the original cried out for a remake at all, this is not the remake it had coming. Sean Penn stars as Willie Stark in this repeat roman a clef about Huey Long’s time as the governor of Louisiana. I understand that Penn is now too old to play the intense, misunderstood youth roles that made him famous, but if this picture is any indication he shouldn’t plan on making the transition to middle-aged, overbearing cracker politicians. Some of the supporting cast members are better suited to their roles, particularly Jude Law who has of course made a career out of playing spoiled rich kids who get caught up in the serious affairs of the world. But what really kills this is the look and feel. They seem to be going for a grim, depression-era aura with lots of shadowy sets and sepia filters. That worked okay in Road to Perdition, but here it’s out of step with the steamy southern locations and the cynical faux-optimism of the Long era and the original movie. See if desperate

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Review – Days of Darkness

The title and box cover are pretty clearly designed to sell this as somehow connected to 30 Days of Night, though in reality it has nothing to do with vampires in Alaska. Instead this is yet another low-budget piece of crap about a small band of humans trying to escape an onslaught of flesh-eating zombies. The only even vaguely entertaining twist here is that the survivors were spared the meteor-borne doom of the rest of humanity because they had alcohol in their bloodstreams when it hit. Otherwise this is cheap, badly-written, badly-acted and dull. See if desperate

Review – Day of the Dead (2007)

Though the box made this sound like a remake of Romero’s movie by the same name (presumably along the same lines as the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead), this production had little in common with the older, better movie. What we get this time around is a standard survivors-running-from-a-plague-of-zombies flick. The show includes some entertaining innovations, such as an infection that starts with flu-like symptoms, then causes brief catatonia, then instantly transforms the victim into a flesh-eating corpse. And them zombies is fast, too, even the legless Ving Rhames zombie. Aside from an occasional good scare, however, this is substance-free stuff. Mildly amusing

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Review – And Now the Screaming Starts

After that, the yawning gets underway. During the brief bits of this movie when something is actually happening, it’s actually not too bad for a British period piece. The core of the plot is about a curse placed on the descendants of a libertine who raped a peasant’s wife and then cut off the guy’s hand. Unfortunately, the back-story doesn’t come out until well past the midway point. And by then too much screen time had been wasted on long, go-nowhere meanderings throughout the dimly-lit halls of the estate. The cast (Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, and of course Peter Cushing) is good but could have been used to better effect. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review – Chamber of Horrors

If you liked the Vincent Price classic House of Wax, then odds are you’ll recognize this production. Indeed, if memory serves, this was originally intended to be the pilot for a “House of Wax” TV series. But if this ever did make it to test audiences, I’m sure its horribleness instantly doomed the series. The story is some drivel about a corpse-marrying nut who hacks off his own hand to escape from death row and then goes on a spree of deadly, one-handed revenge against the men responsible for his conviction. The only real stand-out element is the William-Castle-esque use of The Fear Flasher (red frames intercut with the action) and the Horror Horn (an annoying bleating sound) that show up to warn the faint-of-heart that something horrible is about to happen. And I mean really faint-of-heart, as more than once all the hoopla precedes is a blade being raised and then a pan away that spares the audience from the slightest hint of gore. Except of course in the end when the villain gets his just reward, an impalement with nary a flash or honk to warn us to shut our eyes. See if desperate

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review – Brotherhood of Satan

This is one of those movies that in the beginning seems like it might be unusually innovative and artistic but turns out to just be unusually inept. A coven of aging Satanists needs to swap their bodies with 13 of the local youngsters, so they begin murdering their way through town in order to gather up the requisite kid count. Though this production fails on many levels, the editing is a real stand-out. The pacing is laconic at best, with little attention to meaningful plot structure or even logical shot sequence. The casting is also odd, with most of the male characters played by uniformly tall, skinny actors. Strother Martin – as the Satanist-in-chief – is at least an exception to the no-name beanpole coterie, but he turns in an okay-hail-Satan-hail-Satan-if-you-need-me-I’ll-be-in-my-trailer performance. See if desperate

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Review – Blood on Satan's Claw

Particularly early on, this picture features a few genuinely spooky moments. As one might expect, it suffers from many of the defects endemic to British horror movies from the 60s and 70s: it’s slow, the production values are bad, the acting is melodramatic, and so on. Indeed, this tale of an evil presence that lures the young folk of an English village into a coven turns out to be more visceral than many other productions from this time and place. A graphic rape sequence stands out as a strong example of the sort of thing that wouldn’t show up the average edited-for-television Hammer horror flick. However, the film-makers wisely decided not to use the makeup effects too far beyond their usefulness. The result features several scare spots that end up subtle enough to actually be scary. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Review – The Burning

How sad it must be to have no greater ambition in life than to make a cheap knock-off of Friday the 13th. And yet here it is, the inevitable consequence of the surprise profitability of the first chapter in the Voorhees saga. In this effort the killer is a burn victim seeking revenge for ill-treatment at the hands of campers. Tom Savini did the special effects, bringing his usual stylish-yet-cheap aplomb to the various hackings and slashings. Otherwise the picture is notable only for the before-they-were-famous appearances of several actors, including Holly Hunter and Jason Alexander. Mildly amusing

Friday, March 21, 2008

Review – Aftermath: Population Zero

This is really more of a program on the National Geographic channel than an actual movie. Indeed, once the ads and duplicated footage are removed, it probably isn’t even feature length. But a few of its elements bear mention. For starters, the premise is fascinating: what if every human being on the face of the earth suddenly vanished? In the wake of this über-rapture, the world almost immediately begins to change. The production spends an inordinately large amount of time dwelling on the fate of our house pets. We even get treated to a bizarre battle between abandoned dogs and a free-roaming zoo elephant (as if such occurrences would be among the primary consequences of humanity’s departure). On the other hand, once the film-makers finish scratching the house pet itch (around midway through), the story gets interesting. In the end, it’s a comforting surprise to learn just how swiftly almost all trace of mankind – and the damage we’ve done to the planet – will vanish from the face of the earth. For my taste, I would have preferred more emphasis on the long-term stuff. The tale of what would happen to Paris, London and New York is interesting, but more cities and landmarks (and less wild dogs) would have made this a better production. Mildly amusing

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review – American Drug War

Once again a documentary crushes itself under its own trendy weight. At heart this is an important piece of film-making. Director Kevin Booth makes many crucial points about the United States’ so-called war on drugs, providing clear evidence that the whole mess – from the laws themselves to the way they’re enforced – is little but a reprehensible attempt to re-institute slavery in this country. But then he saddles the story with a stiff coating of post-Michael-Moore nonsense. In particular, an excessive quantity of screen time is devoted to Booth’s personal problems, particularly the damage drugs and the war thereon have done to him and his friends. Further, some of the interviews are put together in ways that make their subjects sound crazy, even when they aren’t. Overall I admire the guts it took to make this movie. I just wish a bit more brain had been added to the mix. Mildly amusing

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Review – Elizabeth: The Golden Age

I guess if they’d called it Elizabeth 2 there might have been some confusion about exactly which queen the movie was about. Nonetheless, this is very much a sequel to the Oscar nominee from a few years back. And it suffers from many of the same flaws as its predecessor. Shekhar Kapur didn’t suddenly sprout talent between the first round and this one. And once again the more interesting elements of history give way to awkward romance and petty intrigue. To be fair, I can’t imagine exactly how a film-maker would capture some of the more interesting elements of this particular period. For example, the key importance of Spanish history in this era is the collapse of the country’s economy and the emergence of modern economic theory in its wake. But of course that’s nowhere near as cinematic as Papist plotting against the Protestant regime of our heroine. Cate Blanchett turns in another good performance, but otherwise the costumes are the star of the show. In other words, second verse same as ye first. Mildly amusing

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Review – Beowulf (2007)

With a script co-written by Neil Gaiman, this should have been a much better movie. Indeed, a production with no script at all except for the original text would have made a superior product, even if it had been shot entirely in undecipherable Anglo-Saxon. Once again I find myself wondering why oh why movie folk feel the need to take a classic story and “improve” it. Here we learn that Grendel was mad at the Danes because their loud parties hurt his sensitive ear-like-object. We also learn that the monster’s mom was a smokin’ hot Angelina Jolie with a prehensile ponytail, and Beowulf himself was a morally weak braggart who tended to luck into his successes. Add to that the just-real-enough-to-be-creepy computer animation, and this turns out to be a colossal disappointment. See if desperate

Review – Across the Universe

Youth of today, be warned. Back in the 80s we fought the war against The Beatles so future generations wouldn’t have to endure crap like this. Actually, the music itself is the least annoying element of this production. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s hard to pick the most annoying part of the picture. Perhaps it’s the names. Every time a new character is introduced, her or his name is instantly recognizable as a sub-reference to a Beatles song, which more often than not ends up performed before the movie runs its awful course. Or maybe it’s the celebrity cameos. I don’t mind watching Bono humiliate himself, but I could richly have done without Eddie Izzard’s valiant yet ill-fated attempt to add a sense of humor to the production. And that’s the movie’s biggest failing: the grim-faced seriousness of the whole thing. One of the few charms The Beatles possessed was an element of play and fun. But what we get here is the determined certainty of the inexperienced that their problems are graver than anything that’s come before. The very fact that this is a movie set in the 60s but clearly designed to parallel contemporary messes should put lie to that particular myth. And in the end the 60s thing is the closest this comes to self-justification. If movie-makers 40 years ago had possessed this technology, this is the movie they no doubt would have made. That’s not much of a recommendation. See if desperate

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Review – Death Wish 4

In my review of Death Wish 3, I noted that the action had taken on the flavor of Don Pendleton’s Executioner series. Here the trend continues. Indeed, it goes too far in that direction. Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) tries to settle down with a new woman and her daughter, but all that does is give the criminals someone new to kill (thus setting him off once again). But unlike the last couple of sequels, this effort gets bogged down in petty intrigue as our hero tries to sneak his way into the drug gangs responsible for his once-potential-stepdaughter’s death. And rather than do the dirty work himself, he gets a lot of mileage out of faking them into killing each other. Overall this isn’t a terrible movie. It isn’t even the worst in this series. But it lacks the simple, single-minded vigilante violence that supplies the real entertainment value in these pictures. Mildly amusing

Review – Death Wish 3

Street hoods murdered all Paul Kersey’s family in the first two, but that’s okay. He doesn’t seem to need much of an excuse to kill criminals anymore. Sure, the scum still commit awful crimes against innocent people, crimes that deserve to be punished with The Vigilante’s brand of justice. It’s just that it seems to have become a full-time job for him at this point. To be sure, he’s good at it. This picture introduces weapons fetishism akin to the Executioner novel series, which is both a good and a bad thing. And although the end lacks a Punisher-style lingering death for the chief baddie, at least it isn’t quite as limited as the usual gunshot-to-the-chest payoff. Indeed, the only real disappointment is that after the gang leader gets his just desserts, our hero loses interest in snuffing the rest of the criminals. He actually lets them run away. Where’s the fun in that? Mildly amusing

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Review – Can't Stop the Music

You can’t stop the torment. Nobody can stop the torment. The really scary part about this movie is that it must have been what the 80s looked like back before AIDS and Ronald Reagan stole the show. Though the reality proved to be worse, this fantasy still would have been pretty bad. Start with the very idea of a movie structured around the Village People. Add Steve Gutenberg, Valerie Perrine, Bruce Jenner, and a handful of other “luminaries.” Then throw in some of the worst dialogue ever committed to film. Ah, but the topping on this cake of wretchedness is the apparently-unstoppable music. “YMCA” – one of the group’s earlier hits – is the only recognizable tune in the whole picture, amply demonstrating just what a failed marketing device the whole thing turned out to be. See if desperate

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Review – American Gangster

Imagine Serpico and Scarface awkwardly crammed into the same movie, with one Pacino part played by Russell Crowe and the other by Denzel Washington. Unfortunately, the production picks up the worst elements of its predecessors. It’s boring like Serpico, and it supplies the same empty-headed worship of drug crime that made Scarface such a hit. The overall plot itself isn’t bad, and some of the acting is okay. But the good points swiftly get lost in a two-hour mass of dull intrigue and macho posturing. Mildly amusing

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Review – Death Wish

I’d seen two of the other movies in this series before watching the original, so this effort actually surprised me on a couple of counts. The biggest one is going to be hard to believe if you’ve never seen it, but the story actually features some nuances. Our hero begins the story as just another guy on the street, an architect whose military record is limited to CO service as a medic in Korea. But after his wife and daughter are attacked in their apartment (wife dead, daughter sexually assaulted into a catatonic state), he begins a descent into vigilante-dom. And while the subsequent pictures in the set tend to be simple revenge fantasies, here Bronson’s character takes to the task slowly and reluctantly. Also interesting is that he doesn’t end up getting the criminals who actually hurt his family (or at least not that I noticed), opting instead to kill muggers at random. As anti-crime action movies go, this is unusually emotionally honest. Worth seeing

Monday, February 25, 2008

Review – Death Wish 2

When are these cheap street punks going to learn to stop screwing with Charles Bronson? All the man wants to do is buy some ice cream for his mentally ill daughter, and they’ve gotta go and break into his house, rape and kill his housekeeper, and kidnap his kid. Needless to say, after she dies trying to escape, that’s pretty much all she wrote for the criminals. The thing that surprised me the most about the movie is just how perfunctory our hero is about doing in the bad guys. He doesn’t linger over the killings. He doesn’t torture them, not even when torture might lead him to the next miscreant in the parade of slaughter. He just guns them down and moves on, indignities restricted to a stiffly-delivered quip or two. Frankly, his businesslike attitude takes some of the fun out of it. Mildly amusing

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Review – The Butterfly Effect

I had a solid block of hate going for this movie until the last five minutes. For the most part this is an Ashton-Kutcher-intensive parade of violence inflicted on helpless children and animals. And on top of that, the story is the tried-and-tiresome canard of the guy who tries to go back in time to make things better only to screw them up even worse. Frankly, I could have done without the whole mess. But then at the very end it turns into a hilarious parody that Frank Capra has had coming for decades. I’m not sure that’s what was intended, but the result is solid nonetheless. Overall this isn’t worth looking at, but if you do sit through it you’ll have to sit through it all before it rewards your attention. See if desperate

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Review – Death Wish 5: The Face of Death

It’s a good thing the cross-dressing psycho hit man decides to carve up the love interest’s face instead of her posterior; I can only imagine the marketing nightmares associated with a movie sub-titled “The Ass of Death.” Still, in many ways such a sobriquet would have been more fitting. For starters, this is the ass-end of the Death Wish series, released two decades after the first one hit theaters. But even more, the whole thing has a distinctly fecal odor about it. Though as of this writing I’ve never seen any of the other movies in the set, it isn’t hard to recognize the presence of a stiff, formulaic approach to plot and character. The first half of the production builds hatred for the bad guys, and then Charles Bronson steps in and spends the back half inflicting fanatical vengeance on them. After 20 years they seem to have run out of clever villain-offing techniques, leaving our hero with self-parodying modi operandi such as a poisoned pastry and an exploding, remote-control soccer ball. In the end the final, prevailing justice is the absence of a Death Wish 6. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Review – The Bunker (2001)

I just don’t get it. War movies rock. Horror movies rock. But for some bizarre reasons the two combined seem to cancel each other out. To be fair, this isn’t a bad movie. Indeed, among “weird war” movies this one stands out as one of the better examples of the sub-genre. German soldiers fleeing the Allied assault in late 1944 take refuge in an anti-tank bunker. It’s their bad luck that the place is connected to a series of tunnels that lead to some sinister stuff. It’s a fastball wind-up, but it turns out to be a slow-moving knuckleball of a pitch. If ever there was a time to not go the strictly-psychological route to chills, this was the moment. The script is good. The cast is good. The production values are good, especially for a low-budget picture. It just never quite manages to pan out. Mildly amusing

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Review – The Condemned

Here we have The Running Man updated for the 21st century. Which is to say that it’s a killer game show in which the contestants have to murder each other in order to survive. Only now it’s being done on a remote tropical island (a la Survivor) and netcast rather than broadcast. The explosions are bigger. The costumes are less dorky. Still, it’s the same mix of macho action movie, former professional wrestlers and random moralizing about video violence from a violent video. Mildly amusing

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review – Eastern Promises

Cronenberg has done worse. The basic structure is a boring mob movie, and the fact that the gangsters are Russian rather than Italian doesn’t make it any more interesting. But Cronenberg’s lingering skill with gore helped spice things up a bit. Viggo Mortensen stars as a low-key factotum in the London branch of the Russian mob who gets too close to a midwife (Naomi Watts) who knows too much about their underage prostitution ring. The real draw for me, however, was the tattoo stuff. I find Russian prison tattoos fascinating, so I enjoyed the parts of the movie that focused on the meanings of various designs and their importance in the criminal subculture. A little blood and ink aren’t quite enough to make this a must-see, but at least they supplied some entertainment value. Mildly amusing

Monday, January 21, 2008

Review – Asteroid

Alas, poor Kansas City. This two-part sci-fi movie got me all set to see my home town trashed by a giant rock from outer space. And then the catastrophe peters out. Instead of a mega-hit, all we get is a medium-sized stone that takes out a (wholly nonexistent) dam, causing nothing worse than some flooding. Instead, a different asteroid comes along later and trashes Dallas. When this plot has to stretch out to fill four hours’ worth of screen time (minus ads, of course), you know going in that you’re going to get a lot of lost kid crap and similar time-killers. Mildly amusing

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Review – Earth vs. The Flying Saucers

This is a minor classic of the alien invasion trend in the sci fi movies of the 1950s. It’s noteworthy mostly as an early example of the talents of Ray Harryhausen. The scenes of the saucers crashing into Washington landmarks are rough around the edges but nonetheless as entertaining as his later, more sophisticated work. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a stiff piece of B-movie junk. Mildly amusing

Friday, January 11, 2008

Review – The Bat

This must be part of the National Film Museum’s Project to Restore Crappy Old Movies Starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead (or NFMPRCOMSVPAM, which as acronyms go isn’t all that good). The killer in this stagey murder mystery dresses up like The Shadow minus the cape and plus a glove with sharp metal talons, making me wonder if Wes Craven didn’t see this as a kid and later echo it with Freddy Krueger’s infamous blades. Beyond that, however, this is a clunky bit of skullduggery and not much more. Mildly amusing

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Review – Abominable

Pity poor Preston (whose name I recall because it’s shrieked dozens of times throughout the course of the production). A climbing accident kills his wife and lands him in a wheelchair, which is an inconvenient seat when a whole houseful of fly-ass girlies moves in next door to his mountain cabin. But things get even worse when Bigfoot shows up and starts chewing his way through the nubile neighbors. The horror of this might have been slightly enhanced if any of the women had been given even minimal personalities, or maybe even if the monster hadn’t looked like Hank Williams Jr. A smattering of B-list actors likewise doesn’t transform this into a masterpiece of the cinema arts. My favorite part of the movie was the end, and not just because it meant the movie was over. It was a nice, unexpected twist, even if it was a blatant set-up for an (with luck entirely hypothetical) Abominable 2. Mildly amusing

Genre: Horror

Subgenre: Monster
Date reviewed: 

Monday, January 7, 2008

Review – Eye of the Beast

It’s a giant squid, not a shark. It’s a lake, not the Atlantic. Otherwise I’ve got the sneaking suspicion I’ve seen this somewhere before. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Review – De-Lovely

Add Cole Porter to the list of famous people I wish I knew less about. Once again a movie biography dwells on the sex life of its subject. Plus we get the added insult of some really great music performed by some talented folks – particularly Elvis Costello doing “Let’s Misbehave” – overlaid and undercut by some spectacularly dull dialogue. Even the producers of classic musicals from the less sophisticated days of the 1930s knew enough to have the actors shut up during the songs. However, the actors have their hearts in it, especially Kevin Kline in the lead and Ashley Judd as his wife. The art direction is also impressive for what appears to be a fairly low-budget movie. Mildly amusing