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 ├╝ber-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