Monday, December 28, 2009

Review – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

After The Hound of the Baskervilles turned out to be a success, 20th Century Fox pushed another Rathbone/Bruce picture through production. Though this isn’t as good as the first one, it’s still reasonably entertaining. Indeed, my only big gripe about this is that it establishes the practice of making Holmes stories that aren’t based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Fortunately it isn’t a bad plot. Holmes concerns himself with the protection of a young lady targeted for murder, apparently neglecting to guard a valuable gem from being stolen en route to the Tower of London. Mildly amusing

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review – Extract

After Office Space and Idiocracy, I was looking forward to the latest from Mike Judge. Thus this dumb little farce was a real disappointment. Jason Bateman heads a cast of sitcom veterans in a comedy of errors that plays like the worst parts of Office Space – the dull relationship stuff – blown up into a movie. I guess maybe it’s got a good joke or two, but for the most part it’s just awful. Wish I’d skipped it

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review – Alice (2009)

The SyFy-fied reheat of The Wizard of Oz worked okay. Maybe we could do the same thing with Alice in Wonderland. Or on the other hand, maybe not. In the producers’ defense, they applied the same formula used for Tin Man: take a classic, relocate it to a sci fi fantasy environment, twist things around a bit, mix in some cheap special effects, and hope the audience will sit through two nights’ worth. Part of the reason this one fails is that the source story is already bizarre and confusing enough, so making it even stranger doesn’t help. They got more stars and semi-stars, but they aren’t put to good use. The result is a muddled mess rather than a clever riff. See if desperate

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review – Elmer Gantry

Given the reputation of Sinclair Lewis’s famous tale – particularly how frequently it was cited during the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart sex scandals – I was expecting something far harsher than this. To be sure, Burt Lancaster plays the title character as what he is: a con man, a hypocrite and a scoundrel exploiting the simple religious faith of country folk to turn a quick buck. But there’s a basic goodness to the character as well – not to mention a moral redemption in the end – that has no match in the Gantries of the airwaves. Overall it’s a little over-long, but it’s still much more multi-dimensional – and thus much better – than I thought it was going to be. Mildly amusing

Review – The Detonator

The Romanian crime boss in this movie spouts one of the strangest aphorisms I’ve ever heard: “If you deal with the devil, you’re going to get shit on your shoes.” For some reason that got me to thinking about a Quikie-Mart managed by Satan. You go in, get your jumbo Squishee and a Slim Jim, but before the Beastmaster gives you your change, he comes out from behind the counter and drops a satanic turd on your new Nikes. Actually, that might have made for a better – or at the very least shorter – motion picture. What we get instead is a dreadful excuse for an action movie about a rogue agent trying to protect the widow of a mob accountant from predicable plots to silence her. They got Wesley Snipes for the lead (no doubt at least in part because his tax troubles left him in need of cash), but that does little to overcome the usual level of quality one expects from movies whose credits feature a lot of names that end in “escu.” When it comes to film-making, Romania is the Kansas of Europe. See if desperate

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review – The Ape

Boris Karloff is sort of a mad scientist Boo Radley in this odd picture from 1940. The townspeople distrust him, and local kids throw rocks at his house. But he’s actually trying to help a wheelchair-bound woman by working on a serum to cure her paralysis. Unfortunately, his experiments require “donations” from the locals, which he obtains by masquerading as an escaped circus gorilla. Not exactly Karloff’s finest moment. See if desperate

Review – Bedlam

Val Lewton’s presence in the producer’s chair helps make this low-budget Boris Karloff picture into something that’s actually worth a look. An actress runs afoul of the head of the Bedlam insane asylum by suggesting reforms in the patients’ treatment, so he convinces her benefactor to have her committed. Some of the scenes of patient abuse inside the asylum are downright creepy, all done with the same eerie lighting and imply-rather-than-show technique employed to such good effect in Cat People. It’s a corny as any other movie made in the 1940s, but it’s chilling and thought-provoking at the same time. Worth seeing

Review – Before I Hang

Once again the folks in front of and behind the camera for The Man They Could Not Hang and The Man with Nine Lives team up to spin a gripping yarn about a mad scientist who cheats death. This time around the fresh twist is that the good doctor (Boris Karloff) injects himself with a serum made in part from the blood of a brutal killer. So now every time he becomes upset he’s overcome with the desire to strangle whomever is in the room with him. If you like movies in this vein, this is a fine example. Otherwise it’s a bit dull. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review – The Black Room

Boris Karloff plays twins in this clever thriller from 1935. The older (by a minute or two) brother inherits the family barony, but he turns out to be a killer, a rapist and a general, all-around jerk. Years earlier his younger brother fled in order to avoid a family curse that says he’ll kill his sibling by throwing him into a pit in a chamber in the family castle called the Black Room. But after younger sib is lured back, older sib appears to break the curse by murdering first. It’s a scheme with potential: win back the support of his rebellious people by pretending to be his kindly younger brother. Unfortunately he just can’t seem to give up his jackass ways, and he swiftly ends up right back in trouble again. This picture hits Karloff right at the perfect point in his career. The production doesn’t suffer from too many of the technical weaknesses of the early talkies, and he isn’t playing the mad scientist role into which he got typecast later in his career. Though nobody is likely to walk away from this thinking, “wow, what a brilliant movie,” it manages to be reasonably entertaining. Mildly amusing

Review – The Cold

Let’s go in search of a good horror movie. Okay, start with the crappiest film stock available. Nah, you’re off to a cold start. Speaking of starts, let’s do the opening credits with names printed on cards. Getting colder. Next let’s use some lame premise about rich people tormenting stupid gold-diggers by offering a million dollar prize (which probably seemed like more money back in 1984 than it does now) to whomever can last the longest in a hotel full of evil practical jokes. Colder. For the cast, hire men whose only qualification is the ability to vaguely remember lines, and hire women who don’t even have to be that skilled as long as they’re willing to take their clothes off over and over again. Colder. Make-up effects that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school play. Colder still. An almost completely absent plot. Icy. If your idea of a scary haunted house is one of those buzzer-intensive ride-through trailers at cheap carnivals, then this is likely to be your idea of a good horror movie. See if desperate

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review – A Dandy in Aspic

Despite sporting one of the worst titles in Hollywood history, this actually turns out to be a decent spy picture. Laurence Harvey brings his Manchurian Candidate intensity to the role of a Soviet double agent spying on British intelligence. Angered over a trio of recent deaths in the field, the Brits assign our hero to assassinate the Russian they think is responsible, who turns out to be himself (though the guy they tell him to kill is actually just his contact). That should give you some idea of how convoluted things become. Personally, I like convoluted spy movies from the Cold War, so I got a kick out of this. Mildly amusing

Review – Circus of Horrors

Women with attractive bodies and scarred faces, beware! The former plastic surgeon who runs this circus will repair your face, making you as beautiful as Helen of Troy. But the price will be high. Apparently the good doctor has abandonment issues, because he arranges “accidents” for any woman who decides to bust her deal to perform in the circus in exchange for a repair job. This turns into one of those easy-to-swallow pictures in which the bad guys are so charming and the good guys are so annoying that the audience isn’t really being called upon to cheer for anyone. Rather we can just sit back and watch as the whole evil scheme unravels. Mildly amusing

Review – Beyond Sherwood Forest

Odd title, considering most of the movie takes place in exactly the place we’re supposed to be beyond. The rest of it is set in some kind of bizarre alternate world of darkness. This is the first time I think I’ve ever seen a movie that featured a were-dragon, so that part was at least novel. The rest, however, was the same blend of mindless revisionism – such as the legendary Robin / Little John stick fight this time taking place between Robin and Maid Marian – we’ve come to expect from the SyFy channel. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Review - Fairy Tale: A True Story

Well, true-ish, anyway. Back in the early days of photography, a couple of pre-teen English girls took a series of photos that appeared to show them posing with fairies. The pictures caused quite an uproar, particularly when experts could find no trickery in the negatives and Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O’Toole) published them as authentic. A scene late in the picture shows an evil journalist discovering how the real photos were actually made, but he’s swiftly put to flight by the magical special effects of the fantasy movie world. Normally I would have expected to see Steven Spielberg’s name somewhere on such a production, though if his name was in the credits I missed it. Though the idea here is clearly to celebrate the beautiful simplicity of childhood’s beliefs, it left me wondering if there would be a sequel in which some guy from Nigeria really does transfer millions of dollars to people who respond to his email. Verdict: mildly amusing

Monday, December 7, 2009

Review – Brotherhood of Death

It must have been really tough for black guys who served in Vietnam to return home and have to deal with open, brutal racism back home. Though this exploitation picture is by no means a serious consideration of the situation, it is nonetheless emotionally gratifying. Our three heroes avoid a Klan plot to lynch them by enlisting in the Army. In Vietnam they become experts in guerilla warfare. And when they get back to their small, Southern hometown, at first they try to avoid trouble. But after a couple of killings and a graphic rape scene (which cost the picture a rating point), they whip out the old combat training and go to work on the bed-sheet-wearing moron brigade. This isn’t exactly a contender for an Academy Award in screenwriting, acting, cinematography or editing. But it is nice to see the Ku Kluxers met with a response more direct and effective than the usual, liberal “can’t we all just get along” stuff. Mildly amusing

Friday, December 4, 2009

Review - The Fantastic Mr. Fox

What a treat it was to go out to a movie and have it not suck for a change. I was particularly taken with the animation. Sure, it’s choppy throughout and awkward in spots. But it’s funny how even as stiff as it can be, it still has a thousand times more warmth and personality than the most elaborate, expensive, dead-eyed computer version of reality. Sadly, somewhere around act three the plot loses focus. They’ve done a wonderful job with the modern update of the battle between psychotic farmers, a clever fox and his woodland pals. But they run out of clever plot twists after awhile, and they start adding new elements that prolong the running time more than advancing the story or developing the characters. Still, the whole thing is so endearing that it’s easy to forgive a few minor miscues. Worth seeing

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review – Arabian Nights (2000)

As cheap miniseries versions of classic stories go, this one actually isn’t too bad. It includes the bracket, the tales everyone expects (Ali Baba and Aladdin) and three or four of the lesser-known entries. And though nobody in the cast is especially famous, some of the faces are at least recognizable. The effects are mediocre (especially the flying carpet that seems to be more of a hovering carpet), but they’re adequate to the task. The only thing that displeased me about this actually had nothing to do with the movie itself. The SyFy channel seriously needs to make sure that when it’s showing a miniseries that it shows both halves. I actually had to get the disc from Netflix just so I could find out how it ended. Grrr. Mildly amusing

Review – Beowulf (1999)

First the Abrams Star Trek and now this thing. This just isn’t my week for “retrofits” of classic tales. This one drags everyone’s favorite Geat kicking and screaming into a nebulous, Beyond Thunderdome-y future or alternative reality in which humanity doesn’t have cars or firearms but still possesses loudspeakers and crimping irons. A platinum blonde Christopher Lambert plays the hero, doing battle first with a sometimes-invisible, Alien-looking monster and then its boobs-blurred-out-for-SyFy mother. This was almost enough to make me want the Neil Gaiman version back. Almost. See if desperate

Review – Doctor Faustus

I think if this was actually a stage production of Christopher Marlowe’s version of this tale, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it isn’t a live performance. It’s a movie. And as a movie it sucks. Marlowe isn’t Shakespeare, as the deadly dullness of this should-be-entertaining tale attests. And though Richard Burton and a largely silent Elizabeth Taylor head the cast, most everyone else appears to be a stage actor. Watching the dreary doctor get dragged off to Hell in the end has some minor entertainment value, if only because it meant the movie was finally drawing to a conclusion. The rest of the picture is strange and poorly-assembled. See if desperate

Monday, November 30, 2009

Review – Bedazzled (1967)

Though Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are cleverer than Kevin Smith, this still comes across as an our-parents’-generation version of Dogma. Moore plays a down-on-his-luck schmuck mooning over a woman he doesn’t have the guts to approach about a date. Enter Cook as a smart-alecky devil tempting our hero with seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Of course all of them go awry as deals with the devil tend to. Along the way, however, we get a lot of stand-up-comedy-style musing about theology. Some of it borders on witty, but a lot of it is just precocious and silly. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review – Doubt

Here’s unnecessary proof that you can take advantage of film’s ability to move easily between times and locations and still produce something as stiffly theatrical as the play upon which the picture is based. A cranky, self-righteous nun (Meryl Streep) squares off against a progressive priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whom she suspects of molesting boys. Though I thought the plot and most of the dialogue would have played better on the stage than it did on the screen, I did like the gloomy visual sense of the picture. And though normally I’d applaud anyone with the guts to make a morally-ambiguous movie, here I wasn’t sure if this was genuinely ambiguous or merely inept. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 27, 2009

Review – Star Trek (2009)

I’m having a hard time reviewing this movie because I’m a fan of the TV series from the 60s, and this picture seems to exist for no other reason than to mess with the original. I don’t mind a little clever re-invention – such as back story for familiar characters, the sort of thing that’s been done with Batman to good effect – but this just presses the reset button and starts over. For example, whole planets that were crucial to the story in the series are here obliterated without a second thought. I kept expecting some kind of J.J. Abrams Lost trick, where it turns out the destruction of Vulcan was a Dharma Initiative mind game. But no, apparently they’re serious about screwing everything up. And while normally I’d be tempted to toss in an “at least the effects were impressive,” here I can’t even go that far. For example, the new Enterprise bridge set is much fancier than the original, but now it looks less like the utilitarian command center of a starship and more like a noisy food court in the Mall of Tomorrow. I understand the need for some deviation from the certainly-flawed Star Trek of my youth. But this isn’t the Joker re-imagined as a violent psychopath. This is the Joker re-imagined as a giant octopus who’s pissed off about a botched sex change operation. The only reason I can eke out a single star for this mess is the chance that I’m being meaner to it than it deserves because it disappointed me. See if desperate

Review – Dead of Night (1945)

What eerie ability does this movie have to possess the minds of otherwise intelligent film people? It picked up ringing endorsements both from Martin Scorcese and one of my respected professors from my undergrad days. And yet it’s an insanely boring parade of un-scary scares. Almost every segment in this anthology piece is the sort of thing that might be unnerving if it actually happened to you but doesn’t make much of an impression when it happens to someone in a movie. The final sequence – a schizophrenic and his dummy bit starring Michael Redgrave – is the best of the lot, but even that one’s a cliché fest. I particularly dislike bad anthology pictures because they stand more of a chance than single-story movies; if one segment is weak, another might make up for it. But here everything is uniformly awful. See if desperate

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review – Angels and Demons

Just as The Da Vinci Code was almost exactly what I expected, so this one was as well. It’s full of the usual Dan Brown nonsense that oddly enough was done to better effect in National Treasure, a movie that isn’t even directly based on Brown’s writing. They spent a lot of money on it, though apparently not as much as the first one because the female lead wasn’t a big star like last time. And as with the book, I appreciated the religious dynamic; it was less atheists vs. the Roman Catholic church and more good Catholics (aided by atheists) vs. bad Catholics. However, in place of the direct assault we get a lot of sermonizing about the false dichotomy between science and religion. Preachiness aside, it’s a reasonably good big budget thriller. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review – Dolls

Normally I’m not a big fan of either Stuart Gordon or killer doll movies, but oddly enough this one kinda works. It isn’t a great horror movie by any stretch of the imagination. But there’s a little emotional satisfaction to be gained in the horrible ends of parents who begin the movie by being deliberately mean to a child. Some of the effects are also sorta fun in a mid-80s way as well. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review – Cuba

Though the concept had potential, the execution leaves a great deal to be desired. A British mercenary (Sean Connery) is hired by the Cuban government to help fight rebels in the waning days of 1958, when it was of course far too late to do anything about them. So he fights rebels. He gets tangled up in politics. He gets tangled up with an old flame (Brooke Adams) who’s married to a factory owner (Chris Sarandon). As I said, this could have worked. The problem is director Richard Lester. This guy had a couple of Beatles movies under his belt when he took the helm for this project, and unfortunately he brings the same brand of quirky humor to epic action movies that he employed when making pictures about pop stars. In Lester’s defense, many action movies are far too deadly serious and would benefit greatly from at least a small dose of humor. So it would have been nice if this had worked. Too bad it didn’t. I could have done without the unnecessary cockfighting sequence as well. See if desperate

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review – The Alphabet Killer

Anytime you get a movie based on the true story of a serial killer who was never caught, you can bet the picture is going to take some liberties with the facts. And this production is no exception. Eliza Dushku plays a detective trying to track down a predator who kidnaps and murders preadolescent girls. Her obsession with the case pushes her off the deep end, and she ends up in a mental hospital where she makes friends with a guy in a wheelchair (Tim Hutton). After she recovers and returns to desk duty at the police department, the killer resumes his habits. She persuades her ex-boyfriend (Cary Elwes) to let her work on the case. But the closer she gets to solving it the more she deteriorates mentally, seeing the ghosts of the dead kids and the like. The story is okay and the production values reasonably good. My only big gripe with the picture is that despite efforts at subterfuge the casting decisions tended to give away the surprise ending well in advance. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review – Deadgirl

I went back and forth for some time before deciding on a rating for this picture. On one hand, it features a genuinely excessive dose of disturbing sexual violence. On the other hand, it’s intended to make a point, not to titillate. A question I first pondered while watching The Stink of Flesh comes to the forefront here: is sex with an unwilling zombie merely an elaborate form of necrophilia, or is it actually rape? The circumstances here suggest the latter. A couple of slacker boys poking around in the basement of an abandoned asylum discover a naked woman wrapped up in a bag. Closer examination shows that she’s a member of the walking dead (except of course she isn’t walking around because she’s chained to the table). The miserable little dateless wonders decide to turn the zombie into their own personal sex slave, and things go downhill from there. I waffled between being thoroughly grossed out and mildly intrigued by the contrast between the hapless corpse and the living women in the picture. Overall I thought the drama made some good statements about adolescent male attitudes about women. Still, it wasn’t easy viewing. Mildly amusing

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review – Chariots of the Gods

They practically own South America. They taught the Incas everything they knew. It's been decades since I saw this great grandfather of all ancient astronaut documentaries, so I was surprised by three things I’d forgotten. First, it was really, really long. Though the running time is a standard 90 minutes or so, the narrative is so repetitive that it seems to drag on for far longer than that. Second, the soundtrack is an experiment in endurance. It sounds like it was composed by a trio made up of John Williams, Miles Davis in one of his free-form jazz odyssey moods, and a three year old attacking a Moog synthesizer like it stole his milk and cookies. Third, I’d forgotten the racism. Erich von Daniken’s thesis is that civilizations in Africa, South America and the Pacific were all created – or at least greatly influenced – by white people from outer space. The first two issues might have worked in a campy mock-fest way, but the third proved to be a deal breaker. See if desperate

Review – The Changeling

I never thought I’d type these words, but I honestly didn’t like George C. Scott in this role. For starters, he comes across as too old to have a daughter the age of the kid who gets killed at the beginning of this production. But more than his age, it’s the indifference he brings to the part. I was surprised that a guy who could breathe such life into just about everything from generals to cops to lawyers and back to generals again couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for his part in this picture. Mourning the loss of his wife and child, a music professor rents a mansion in Seattle that’s closer to his new job and affords him the space to work (and don’t bother asking where a college professor gets the money for a mansion). He soon discovers that his new digs are haunted by the restless ghost of a wheelchair-bound child. Saying more than that would spoil the plot developments that form the only reason to see this movie. Suffice it to say that this is a ghost story largely in the Shirley Jackson / Henry James mode, though at least it has a few spooky moments. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review – Anatomy of a Murder

I’m fond of this movie for one reason: the second half of the picture is devoted to one of the most realistic depictions of a criminal trial ever included in a studio release. Of course it’s still a far cry from the real thing. But at least it sorta follows proper procedure. Objections are usually used correctly, and so on. Oddly enough, the de-Hollywood-ization of the courtroom actually makes this a more interesting picture to watch, as home-spun defense lawyer Jimmy Stewart squares off against slick state prosecutor George C. Scott using the actual law rather than some made-up nonsense. Unfortunately, the rest of the picture isn’t as good. Many of the out-of-court shenanigans are much more standard lawyers-never-really-do-this silliness. Further, the end was both predictable and inferior to To Kill a Mockingbird, a movie that makes the same point but with greater emotional depth and less cynicism. Even the Duke Ellington soundtrack is a mixed blessing. Musically it’s brilliant stuff, but it’s intrusive in places. Still, the trial scenes make the rest of it worthwhile. Worth seeing

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review – Compulsion

After watching Inherit the Wind, I thought I’d keep my fictionalized Clarence Darrow streak alive with this drama based on the Leopold and Loeb case. This time around Orson Welles takes on the role. Of course he doesn’t show up until midway through. The first half of the picture is devoted to the criminals themselves, played by Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman. The circumstances surrounding the murder make them look like a pair of arrogant, cold-blooded killers. Thus when Welles finally gets around to delivering his lengthy, mumbling, rambling remarks in their defense, the outcome of the story becomes as implausible as it is inevitable. Though the last line of the picture helps redeem it a smidge, overall you’re going to need to bring some sympathy for the devil into the experience before you’re going to appreciate the labors of his advocate. Mildly amusing

Review – Banshee!!!

For the most part this is yet another low-budget tale of young folk unwisely straying into the woods, where they become chow for a youngster-chomping, CGI gargoyle. However, this picture went an extra couple of yards to earn a spot in the “total garbage” category. For starters, the monster kills a dog in the first ten minutes, which automatically required the movie to do something to redeem itself (which of course it never did). But worse was the squandering of the “banshee” thing. A banshee that followed the actual folk legends would have been one of the cooler denizens of the ghost pantheon. This thing didn’t even vaguely merit the title. And seriously guys, all those exclamation points? Is this a tale from a bad horror comic from the 1970s? Again, no. Even those were better than this mess. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review – Dahmer

How can a movie about a serial-killing cannibal possibly be this dull? Well, for starters it features almost none of his murders and nary a bite of human flesh. Instead it focuses on Jeffrey Dahmer’s sexual orientation. Though I was relieved that this wasn’t just another stupid “true crime” exploitation flick, I didn’t think an undergraduate-screenwriting-class-quality exploration of homosexuality and murder was a tremendous step in the right direction. If nothing else, the ties were too tight between coming to grips with natural sexuality and coming to grips with a compulsion to rape and kill. It made me wonder if this was stealthily one of those “homosexuality is a disease” pictures, though proponents of that position generally aren’t the masters of stealth. See if desperate

Friday, October 30, 2009

Review – The Devil’s Carnival

So Andrew Lloyd Webber killed himself with a massive overdose of PCP and they made this movie out of his suicide note, right? I can think of no other explanation for such a production, nor can I imagine what crime Aesop might have committed that would justify turning three of his stories into pseudo-expressionist community theater. A quick side note to Dayton Callie: buddy, if you’re hurting for money so bad that you’re willing to dress up like The Penguin for junk like this, maybe Deadwood fans could take up a collection for you. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Driftwood

This is ostensibly a ghost story, and in fairness I must admit that it does feature a few brief appearances by a ghost. However, for the most part it’s a boring story about a misunderstood youth (Raviv Ullman) sent to a “tough love” institution managed by a cruel jerk (Diamond Dallas Page, whom I’m guessing was a pro wrestler sometime in the past). He gets in scuffles with the other kids. He sasses the guards. They brutalize him. Around midway through the “mystery” of the haunting is explained, and the rest of the picture is nothing but okay-is-it-going-to-end-now. Eventually of course it does conclude, predictably enough in an orgy of vengeance-intensive caterwauling. See if desperate

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review – Doctor X

When a “moon killer” begins preying on the local populace, police attention naturally falls on the patients of Dr. Xavier, a researcher supervising a whole asylum full of mad scientists. An intrepid, obnoxious reporter tries to get to the bottom of the mystery while making passes at the good doctor’s daughter (Fay Wray). The pace is highly uneven, going from edgy – at least by 1932 standards – to goofy with no warning (disappointing for a Michael Curtiz production). Further, the picture was shot in an early version of Technicolor, giving it the appearance of a poorly-colorized black-and-white production. Still, it has a few genuinely eerie moments buried amid the strange plot twists and lame attempts at comedy. Mildly amusing

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review - The Fearless Vampire Killers

Roman Polanski is mistaken about several things. He thinks he’s making a send-up of Hammer horror movies. He thinks he’s funny. He thinks he can act. And he thinks on top of everything else that he can still make his movies Central European art flick dull. [also he thinks it’s okay to rape children, but that’s another story] Thank goodness he was disabused of at least some of these conceits before he made Rosemary’s Baby. This production follows the exploits of an aged professor and his young assistant as they attempt to perform amusing antics and slay vampires, largely failing on both counts. I lost interest after awhile, but I noticed that every time I left the room to take care of something and then came back, more or less the same thing was going on. So if you like Polanski’s sense of humor, you’re likely to find this an endless guffaw-fest. Otherwise you might join me in thinking it should have been called The Brazen Audience Annoyers. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review – The Atomic Submarine

Effects this bad might be fun if they were created by some kids playing around with sub models and a camcorder, but in a professional production the nicest thing I can say about them is that at least they’re consistent with the quality of the rest of the production. Apparently in the future submarine journeys under the North Pole will be common, not just military boats but also undersea passenger liners. Surface craft traffic appears to have picked up a bit beyond current levels as well. So it’s humanity’s dumb luck that an evil alien presence lurks under the ice, cruising its flying/swimming saucer around and destroying ships when it finds them. Eventually the intrepid, two-fisted crew of the title vessel manages to track the thing down and ram their ship into it. This leads to a showdown between our heroes and an alien that looks like a moldy hot dog with a single eye. Fun stuff. See if desperate

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Review – Book of Blood

If the end had been cropped off, the rest of the movie condensed down into around ten minutes, and then followed with decent productions based on three or four of Clive Barker’s short stories, two effects would have been achieved. First, the structure would have more closely mirrored Barker’s Books of Blood collections, particularly the brief introductory tale that gets blown up to an hour and a half here. And second, it wouldn’t have sucked anywhere near as bad as it did. This tale of ghosts who write their tales on the skin of a hapless man is solid horror, but all the filler, cheap shocks and red herrings ruin a picture that in more competent hands might have had some potential. See if desperate

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review – The Dunwich Horror (2009)

I liked this picture more than I should have at least in part because I expected it to be a great deal worse than it was. The biggest names in the cast are Dean Stockwell (star of the first, dreadful screen adaptation of Lovecraft’s classic tale) and Jeffrey Combs (From Beyond and The ReAnimator). So I figured this for another Stuart Gordon sack of rubber monsters and pointless boob shots. Thus I was pleasantly surprised when the film-makers made a respectable attempt at a good movie. To be sure, it deviates substantially from the source story. But at least it’s in the same ballpark. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review – Black Moon

This movie actually contains the delivered-in-all-seriousness line, “The natives are restless.” And that’s typical of the racial sensitivity – or lack of same – displayed throughout the picture. A white woman can’t wait to return to the Caribbean island where she grew up because she misses participating in voodoo ceremonies with the aforementioned restless natives. This puts her at odds with her wealthy husband and plantation-owning uncle, especially after her return to her voodoo ways places her daughter in jeopardy. “Once you go black you never go back” sexuality lurks just below the surface of the drama, though of course in the 1930s it couldn’t be an overt plot element. Fortunately for jilted hubby, his secretary (Fay Wray) is waiting in the wings to be a good wife to him and a good mother to his daughter as soon as wife gets her eventual come-uppance. Sheesh. Wish I’d skipped it

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review – Children of the Corn (2009)

This picture and the original could be used as a case study of the disintegration of the slasher movie from the 1980s to today. The protagonists in the original were mildly annoying, but they were nothing compared to the nails-on-a-chalkboard duo who heads this show. After five minutes of listening to them bicker with one another, I couldn’t wait for the creepy cult kids to chop them up. This is also the least supernatural of any of the pictures in the series (at least the ones I’ve seen so far). Some of the extra cult back-story was fun, but otherwise this was an unnecessary reheat of leftovers that went bad in the fridge years ago. See if desperate

Review – Children of the Corn: Revelation

At this late point in the series they should rename it “Children of the Snores.” Years ago a revival tent full of Corn Children went up in flames. One kid survived, and now as an old lady she lives in a seedy apartment building constructed on the site of the massacre. Or maybe “lived” would be the proper verb tense. When her granddaughter shows up to find out what happened to her, dullness ensues. Honestly, the creepiest thing in the whole picture is the scene where two of the cult kids play a FPS video game. See if desperate

Review – Children of the Corn

This one wasn’t quite as terrible as I remembered it being. Of course I’d already watched several of the sequels before re-watching this original, and when compared to some of its “children” this thing seems like Shakespeare. Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton play a mildly annoying couple who find themselves stranded in a town taken over by adult-murdering, religious fanatic children. The Stephen King short story upon which this tale is based wasn’t exactly the author’s finest moment, nor is this the best movie ever produced from his work. Still, Isaac the cult leader and Malachi the cult enforcer are both delightfully creepy. Together they’re almost enough to make up for the uneven script and cheap, 80s effects. Mildly amusing

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Review – The Blue Lagoon

Imagine growing up on an isolated island with no adults or social norms to help you make sense of things like sex. The premise has potential. Unfortunately the folks behind the cameras seem as naïve about movie-making as the two protagonists are about lovemaking. Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins get the bulk of the screen time, as one might suspect from their marooned status. Likewise the cinematography is predictably pretty. The script, on the other hand, is laughably dumb, like some horrible Harlequin romance version of Lord of the Flies. See if desperate

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review – The Curse of King Tut's Tomb

This must be the longest Syfy movie ever. Though it’s as long as a mini-series, it doesn’t have enough plot for a tenth of the four-hour running time. The cast of tomb-robbers is led by an Indiana Jones rip-off (Casper Van Dien), but most of the plot is pilfered from The Mummy with touches thrown in from conspiracy-centered action pictures such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. In order to sustain the production’s brutal length, everything takes double or triple the amount of time it reasonably has to. Otherwise, however, this is the usual blend of dreadful dialogue and shoddy effects. See if desperate

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review – Enter the Ninja

Exit the brain cells. The title is no doubt meant to evoke the memory of Bruce Lee’s most famous picture, but the first two words of the title are the closest the two movies come to resembling each other. The plot is the usual, trite nonsense about a ninja-trained American who comes to the defense of a friend being hassled by a wealthy jerk who wants his land. The real stand-out element, however, is Menachem Golan himself in the director’s chair. This thing is so badly mishandled that the fight sequences – the bread and butter of flicks like this – begin to resemble comedy routines. Even the soundtrack is dreadful, sounding like the music for bad superhero cartoons from the early 70s. Normally I’d be willing to dish out a couple of points just because movies this bad usually have a certain charm (or at least a good kata or two). But for some unexplained reason they throw in cockfighting sequences on top of everything else. Honestly, there’s more cockfighting in this than there is in movies about cockfighting. See if desperate

Review – The Conversation

This odd little movie from Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. To be sure, it’s not “easy viewing” like The Godfather. But in many ways it’s a better, more thought-provoking film. Gene Hackman plays an audio surveillance expert hired to record a conversation between a wealthy man’s wife and her lover. When the straightforward job starts developing strange complications, he becomes more and more convinced that his client intends to kill his unfaithful wife and her boyfriend. Hackman underplays the role almost to a fault, his deadness sometimes making the character hard to sympathize with (though still much better than the histrionics some other actors would no doubt have brought to the part). The story is slow, and it springs a leak or two in places. For example, why would a character like this ever accept a pen as a free gift from a rival bug-maker? Weaknesses aside, however, Coppola does a masterful job of lighting the “paranoid menace” burner and then ever so slowly turning up the heat. Worth seeing

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review – The Beast with Five Fingers

Peter Lorre stars in this mystery/horror picture from Hollywood’s “golden age.” A wealthy, cranky, one-handed pianist dies, and the relatives and heirs start squabbling about the estate. Then the ol’ guy’s disembodied hand wades into the fray, dispatching those who stand in the way of the proper execution of his will. Or is something else actually to blame for the crimes? Only the end of the movie will tell. The production features some good severed hand effects (as well as some that aren’t so good). Mildly amusing

Friday, October 2, 2009

Review – April Fool's Day (2008)

Video game designers should study movies like this. I mean, imagine a shooter in which you hate your own character as much as you hate the monsters that are attacking you. Then watching yourself die would be as much fun as killing the bad guys. Or maybe, if it’s anything like this movie, you’d just end up hating the whole thing. Six wealthy, obnoxious 20-somethings accidentally cause the death of one of their “friends,” and a year later the “ghost” comes back for revenge. Honestly, if you’ve seen more than a handful of pictures like this you can write a script that matches this one point for point in less time than it takes to actually watch it. Indeed, I managed to guess not only the final twist but also the corpse-to-be batting order without missing a call. The edited-for-TV version is better still. At one point one of the characters actually says “Oh fudge.” She got electrocuted a minute or two later, so at least she got spared Ralphie’s mom’s bar of soap. See if desperate

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Review – Caesar and Cleopatra

This may well be the most improbable epic ever made. For starters, it was shot with a huge budget during the hardships and shortages of World War Two England. They got Claude Rains to play the male lead, and apparently shooting for some kind of half-baked British answer to Gone with the Wind they borrowed Vivien Leigh from David O. Selznick to play Cleopatra. But strangest of all is the script, based on a play by George Bernard Shaw. Only such a great playwright would ever attempt to turn this grim historical debacle into a romantic comedy, and honestly even he can’t really make it work. But I was in the mood for a costume drama, and this worked as well as anything. Mildly amusing

Friday, September 25, 2009

Review – Barton Fink

Though not as good as some of their earlier and later work, this is still a respectable outing from the Coen brothers. A successful playwright from New York (John Turturro) gets lured to Hollywood to work on the script for a B movie about wrestlers. The studio sets him up in an odd hotel where he meets a travelling salesman (John Goodman). Things get stranger and stranger until finally the whole thing collapses in a climax that would have been genuinely chilling if it hadn’t been so contrived and bizarre. Turturro himself is a big part of the problem. He plays the protagonist as flat, aloof and neurotic, which makes him unsympathetic. It’s hard not to respond to his plight with, “Of course the world seems weird to you, weirdo.” Overall it’s a stylish little indie pic with at least some of the Coens’ usual charm. It just takes a back seat to their less forcefully artistic work. Mildly amusing

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review – All the President's Men

This was big stuff back in the day when the events upon this were part of recent memory, but now I’m guessing you have to be a journalism nerd to get much out of it. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) work together to unravel the cable knit sweater of the Watergate scandal that eventually toppled the Nixon administration. The flow of the story is choppy, filled with aha! moments that seem like the newspaper writer’s equivalent of “Col. Mustard in the hotel suite with the screwdriver.” Despite its dated awkwardness, I got a kick out of it. But then I’m a member of the dying breed of people who relish good reporting and enjoy watching its creators (or at least the Hollywood versions thereof) at work. Mildly amusing

Review – Absolute Power

Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of crime and high-level government intrigue. He plays an aging burglar who breaks into a mansion. While he’s looting the good stuff from an upstairs bedroom, the occupants return home. Long story short, our hero witnesses a murder committed by the Secret Service in order to protect the President. Once sinister forces in the government figure out who else was in the house, they pin the murder on him and try to hunt him down so he can’t testify to the contrary. Unfortunately for them, he’s a cagey old guy who’s constantly one step ahead of them. The production values are solid, and the script even borders on clever in spots. Though it’s unlikely to make a top ten list of any kind, it’s an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Mildly amusing

Monday, September 21, 2009

Review – Broadcast News

The parts of this movie that are actually about the title subject are quite good. In many ways it makes the transition between the days when Network was a ridiculous farce and the new era in which Network is a grim reality. Watching the characters wrestle with the complexities of their jobs and the ethical demands of their profession is tremendous fun for a journalism nerd like myself. Watching them wrestle with the complexities of their tangled personal lives, however, was less enjoyable. Though the Albert Brooks romantic comedy angle puts a serious damper on things, overall I’m still not sorry I saw it. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review – Crowley

This movie’s as muddled and bizarre as the man for whom it’s named. Before the end credits roll, we get virtual reality, time travel, transmigration of souls, bloody murder, satanic sex orgies, college journalism and no end of other aberrant behavior. Unfortunately it never comes together into a cohesive whole. So if you like looking at bare nekkid English chicks, this supplies at least a taste. But if plot, character, logic, or anything else that might suggest an effort at craft are important to you, seek elsewhere. See if desperate

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review – Blue Velvet

David Lynch’s mainstream work – particularly The Elephant Man and Dune – tends to sport little “Lynchy” moments in which the director’s art school background shows through a bit too strongly. This is a whole movie made of such moments. Even simple, everyday dialogue takes on an odd, hallucinatory quality. Lynch-look-vaguely-alike Kyle McLachlan finds a severed ear in a field. Subsequent events tie him to an innocent girl next door (Laura Dern) and an exotic lounge singer (Isabella Rosselini). And his seamy affair with the singer in turn brings him into unfortunate contact with her nitrous-inhaling psycho boyfriend (Dennis Hopper, in what must be the role he was born to play). Frankly, the plot is an irrelevant detail, consistently taking a back seat to strange visuals, quirky characters and arty editing. See if desperate

Review – Blood of the Vampire

Isn’t there some kind of FTC regulation that says if a movie has “vampire” in the title that there has to be a vampire in the movie? If not, there should be. To be completely fair, the villain in this dreary little English picture is prolonging his life by consuming human blood. But beyond that he’s really more of a mad scientist than a traditional bloodsucker. He performs experiments on the “patients” at the mental hospital where he presides, drafting a wrongfully-imprisoned inmate with medical training to become his unwilling assistant. A mistake, as it turns out, because the assistant’s desire to escape proves to be the undoing of the whole operation. Mildly amusing

Friday, September 4, 2009

Review – Devil's Diary

Two “outsider” teens find an old, blank diary in a graveyard. One of them starts writing her hate fantasies in it, only to discover that they start coming true. The more she uses it, the more goth she becomes. The only difference between this and every other supernatural-teen-revenge movie is that midway through the cheerleaders figure out what’s going on, and one of them steals the diary and starts using it against the outsiders. The new twist was not an improvement. See if desperate

Review – Dead Mary

So what happens if you look into a mirror and repeat “boring crap” three times? Does this movie appear? If so, don’t try it. Honestly, pictures from Candyman to Urban Legends: Bloody Mary have already thoroughly used up this storyline. They try to spice it up by adding a dash of Evil Dead. But nothing can overcome the bitter taste of 20-somethings squabbling with each other first about their petty, stupid problems and then about the evil spirit that’s killing them. See if desperate

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review – The Elephant Man

The tragic life of John Merrick has tremendous cinematic potential. Indeed, I recall seeing video of a stage production in which the actor playing The Elephant Man (I think it may have been John Hurt, as it is here) did so without the benefit of special effects makeup, and it still turned out to be fascinating stuff. Here the effect is even more powerful thanks to the recreation of Merrick’s condition. My only big objection to this movie is that every once in awhile – especially in scene transitions – it takes on a certain David-Lynch-iness that detracts from the story. Worth seeing

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review – Child's Play 2: Chucky's Back

I’ve been watching way too many cheap horror movies. Apparently I’ve become a sucker for pictures with any redeeming value at all. The slightest hint of a script. Any attempt at acting. Even mechanical doll puppets that don’t suck too much. This isn’t as clever as the first one (and that wasn’t exactly a huge hurdle to top), but I expected it to be much more terrible than it was. Mildly amusing

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review – The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother

Though it was directed by costar Gene Wilder, this silly little picture has a distinct Mel Brooks flavor. My favorite part of the movie was Madeline Kahn’s fine performance, but I’m sure Young Frankenstein fans will cherish the Wilder – Marty Feldman pair-up as well. The story – the famous detective turns a tricky case over to his younger brother Sigerson – is purely goofy, but the script sports a clever line or two. Mildly amusing

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review – Bollywood Hero

Wow, all that hype on the Independent Film Channel, and this was all it was? Seriously, the network put up ad bugs for this thing so big that they actually covered up parts of subtitles in other movies. Don’t get me wrong: this wasn’t a terrible movie. Chris Kattan does a passable job as Chris Kattan, a comedy star lured to India by the promise of a dramatic lead. It works just fine as a garden-variety romantic comedy. It just wasn’t worth all the promotional noise. Mildly amusing

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review – Deadline (2004)

In the last days of his term in office, Illinois Governor George H. Ryan decided to commute the sentences of everyone on the state’s death row. This documentary chronicles some of the hearings leading up to the decision. And as usual with productions of this ilk, we spend a lot of time with the apparently wrongfully convicted, the mentally disabled and the insane. Though some of the talking heads make some excellent points about the nature of capital punishment as practiced in the United States, the almost total absence of counter argument throws the integrity of the case into question. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review – Blown Away

This one’s worth it just for Tommy Lee Jones’s Psycho Killer Dead Crab T.S. Eliot Puppet Theater. Unfortunately, that’s about all it’s worth it for. A retiring expert with the Boston PD bomb squad (Jeff Bridges) is drawn back into the fold when an old terrorist acquaintance (Jones) turns up with revenge on his mind. Though Jones’s frantic over-acting is a sight to behold, the rest of the picture is a run-of-the-mill thriller. Mildly amusing

Review – Defiance

One of the biggest questions posed by the Holocaust is “why didn’t anyone fight back?” After all, if you’re going to be butchered anyway, you might as well take a few Nazis with you. Well, the answer is that many people did fight back. But of all the resistance groups, the Bielskis were one of the few that managed to organize a safe haven for refugees. Of course “safe” in occupied Belorussia was a relative thing, as this drama shows. Tuvia (Daniel Craig) organized the community in the forest while his hot-headed brother Zus (Liev Schreiber) joined the partisans to fight the Germans. The production values are Hollywood standard, and the script and acting likewise don’t particularly stand out. But the story alone is sufficiently fascinating to carry the day. Mildly amusing

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review – Coraline

I genuinely enjoyed this movie. Henry Selick – the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas – once again proves his gifts for both storytelling and the technical aspects of stop motion animation. Coraline is bored and frustrated in her family’s new house until she discovers a secret door that leads to an alternate version of her life in which everything is perfect and everyone has buttons for eyes. Needless to say, something’s wrong here. The production is full of pretty, odd little moments that are endearing without being cloying. And though it contains a line or two that will go over most pre-teens’ heads, this isn’t as vulgar as some kids-and-adults-both productions. For some reason – perhaps the voice work by Dakota Fanning – this reminded me of My Neighbor Totoro. That’s a good thing, because both productions do an excellent job of being clever and entertaining while avoiding many of the pitfalls that often ruin animations designed for family audiences. Worth seeing

Friday, July 31, 2009

Review – Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home

This is the most “trekky” of all the Star Trek movies. Though they’re all laced with at least some inside jokes, this one’s less of a chocolate chip cookie and more of a big brick of waxy chocolate. As our heroes prepare to return to headquarters to face justice for their shenanigans in number three, the Earth is besieged by a probe that apparently speaks the language of long-extinct humpback whales. So using the time travel slingshot nonsense from “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” they journey back to 1986 to snatch a couple of pre-extinction whales and return with them to the future. Almost all of the rest of the movie is a string of bargain basement culture shock gags as our heroes struggle to avoid seeming too weird in their new environment. Thank goodness they end up in San Francisco, where they have a little less trouble blending in. Large chunks of the picture are strings of mediocre jokes that you won’t get unless you’re familiar with the series characters and their personal quirks. So don’t make this your point of entry into the Star Trek universe. At least it isn’t quite as pointless as the last one. Mildly amusing

Review – Berlin Express

The shambles of Germany in the wake of World War Two provides the background for this spy mystery. An international (British, French, German, Russian and of course American) group ends up stuck together when a dead body turns up in their railroad car. The ad hoc squad must put their differences aside and cooperate to figure out what’s going on and expose a plot by unreformed Nazis. The story is one of those twisting, turning, don’t-let-your-attention-drift-or-you’ll-miss-something espionage pieces. However, my favorite parts were the exteriors, which were shot amidst the rubble of bomb-damaged Frankfurt and Berlin in 1948. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review – Alien Hunter

Despite a title that implies some stupid crap made for the Sci Fi Channel, this actually turned out to be better than I thought it would be. To be sure, any movie about alien invaders dug out of the ice in Antarctica is going to invite comparison to The Thing, especially when it “borrows” a little incidental footage from the Carpenter classic. And I didn’t care for the squishy CE3K ending. However, it had a good moment or two before it got there. James Spader plays a communications expert summoned to an Antarctic research station after the team there discovers a radio-signal-emitting pod. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review - Fear House

Several 20-somethings join their writer friend/relative for a weekend in her creepy country estate. Evil forces in the house imprison them inside and then slowly drive them all blah blah blah. Truth be told, I lost interest in this around 15 minutes in and then worked on something else while it ran in the background. Some semi-eerie ghost effects drew me back in now and again, but mostly it was easy to ignore. See if desperate

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review – Dante's Inferno

This has got to be one of the weirdest rags-to-riches stories ever made. Spencer Tracy plays a penniless carny who goes to work for a side show attraction based on the title poem. Through a series of ruthless and occasionally illegal business dealings, he expands the cabinet of curiosities into a vast entertainment empire. But in the finest morality play tradition, his schemes begin to unravel themselves. The fun here is mostly to be had in the strange set work in the super-sized Inferno exhibit. I also enjoyed the flow-disrupting tour of Hell that takes place around midway through. Otherwise this is Scarface with less swearing and murder. Mildly amusing

Review – Birth

This is one of those laconically-paced little art movies that seem to attract big-name stars in search of a laconically-paced little art movie to bolster their acting cred. An example of what I'm talking about: one shot of Nicole Kidman’s face runs for nearly two whole minutes. Just her face and dramatic music. No kidding. With stunts like that abounding, even a neophyte film student would have little trouble cutting this feature-length stinker down to a 22-minute Twilight Zone episode. Kidman plays a newly-engaged woman approached by a ten-year-old kid (Danny Huston) who claims to be her dead husband. So it might actually have been an okay TZ (assuming the icky Kidman/Huston sexuality joined the endless, vacant staring on the cutting room floor). It just isn’t a good movie. Wish I’d skipped it

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review – The Bible

Thank goodness they only make it through Genesis (and even so only as far as the Abraham and Isaac sacrifice). If Dino DeLaurentiis and John Huston had actually tried to do the whole book, they’d probably still be shooting it. The Noah’s Ark sequence alone seems like it takes the full 40 days and 40 nights to unfold (plus Huston plays both Noah and the voice of God, so he ends up talking to himself). In a way it’s fun to see some long-familiar stories given epic Hollywood treatment. On the other hand, the original print versions are generally more edifying. Mildly amusing

Review – Action in the North Atlantic

Here’s a rarity: a World War Two era propaganda picture extolling the virtues of something besides the armed forces. Our heroes here are members of the Merchant Marine, valiantly sailing their Liberty Ship into the deadly hunting ground of Hitler’s U-boat wolfpacks and Luftwaffe in order to bring badly-needed supplies to Russia. Despite the tendency toward cliché anti-Nazi sermonizing, the script is reasonably good, and the cast – helmed by Humphrey Bogart – does a reasonably good job with it. Mildly amusing.

Genre: Action

Subgenre: War
Date reviewed: 7/26/2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review – Circle of Deception

How rare it is to see premise and execution intersect like this. A secret agent (Bradford Dillman) gets dropped into occupied France in 1944. The trick is that he doesn’t know his superiors are deliberately sending him in to get captured, hoping that he’ll be tortured and eventually reveal the fake plans they’ve given him. The drama is well paced, with adequate time given to the set up (particularly the romance between our hero and a woman who knows what’s going to happen but can’t tell him), the evasion and capture, and the interrogation. Some of the torture sequences are particularly graphic, especially for 1961. Worth seeing

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review – The Chairman

With a radio transmitter surgically implanted in his skull, a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist (Gregory Peck) journeys to China to meet Mao and try to steal some agricultural enzyme secrets. For the most part, “agricultural enzyme secrets” tells you what you need to know about the dullness level of the picture. It has a few exciting bits and a clever twist here and there. The scenery is pretty. But with some judicious editing it could have been at least 25% shorter. Mildly amusing

Review – Berlin Correspondent

Between September 1939 and December 1941, Europe was fighting a war that the United States wasn’t formally a part of. This spy picture takes advantage of the awkward state of affairs faced by American journalists working in Germany at the time. Though not officially at war, the hostility between the two countries and their respective ideologies was clear. As our hero tries his best to secretly incorporate the truth into his heavily-censored broadcasts, the Gestapo is hot on the trail of his information sources. In keeping with the spirit of 1942 when the picture came out, the drama is corny and the preachy propaganda gets laid on thick. But in a way it’s kinda comforting to know from the outset that truth and justice are going to prevail and the bad guys are going to get what’s coming to them in the end. Mildly amusing

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review – Dick Tracy

I don’t know why I watched this again. Maybe I wasn’t entirely convinced that this movie – or any movie – could be as stupid as I remembered it being. Um, yes it is. Indeed, it stands out as one of those rare pictures in which just about every element in the whole picture is uniformly terrible. If I had to pick one thing that stood out the most, it would have to be the cast. Listing every major Hollywood star in this production would more than double the size of this review, and they’re all awful. All of them. Warren Beatty stands out, but only because he played the title role as well as directing this stinker. I have to give it one point simply because it’s such an impressive train wreck of a movie. See if desperate

Review – The Curse of the Fly

Though those wacky scientists have managed to extract all the literal insects from the system, they still haven’t managed to work all the bugs out of their teleportation chamber. The system now stretches from England to Canada (shades of Marconi’s early experiments with long distance wireless), but it’s still a tad unreliable. And of course by “a tad unreliable” I mean that people put through it tend to come out mutilated on the other end. The plot twists, turns and eventually grinds to a halt. See if desperate

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review – Escape in the Fog

This spy picture from 1945 has a strange twist: the secret agent’s love interest has a premonition about enemy operatives attacking him in the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge. Trouble is, the premonition subplot plays out well before the halfway mark, and after that it turns into yet another witless anti-Axis propaganda piece. Some of the black-and-white fog scenes supplied some entertaining atmosphere, but they did little to make up for the mediocre script and uninspired acting. Mildly amusing

Review – The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

Add “Across the 8th Dimension” to the end of the title if you’re so inclined (though that serves to distinguish it from a sequel that was never made). Though I’ve seen this movie a couple of times before, this is a first for me for two reasons. First, this is the first time I’ve ever watched it from beginning to end without interruption. Second – and more important – this is the first time I watched it on my own, without being in the company of someone else who was absolutely convinced that it was the greatest movie ever made and absolutely convinced that I had to agree. Absent the pressure, I’m able to determine that it is in fact not the greatest movie ever made. It’s all kinds of 80s silly, and a lot of the dialogue is delivered in that mumbling nonsense cadence Popeye used to use in the old Max Fleischer cartoons. However, as long as you’re not expecting the greatest movie ever made, you should be able to derive at least some entertainment from this sci fi action comedy send-up of old serial adventure yarns (particularly Doc Savage). Mildly amusing

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Here we have a picture undone by its own budget. The story required a considerable outlay of cash to get the likes of Brad Pitt to appear and to special-effect him up to play the lead. With all the money two different studios spent on it, the picture comes across as an epic that demands to be taken seriously. However, it’s a lot easier to enjoy if you don’t take it at face value. The story is simple enough: a child is born as an old man and then ages backward. Of course he falls in love, meeting his beloved somewhere in the middle and then ending up as a baby cared for by an old woman. And it goes without saying that along the way he has no end of quirky adventures. In a smaller, more art-house picture this would have been an entertaining, sometimes even genuinely touching, contemplation of aging and human relationships. It’s just too odd a tale for the award-show-candidate blockbuster that marketing necessarily turned it into. Mildly amusing

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review – Broken Arrow

Though this scrupulously follows the John Woo formula – two men pitted against each other in an action movie with plenty of macho stand-offs and explosions – I expect the director’s fans may find themselves at least somewhat disappointed. It’s just not as stylish or clever as some of the movies he made on the other side of the Pacific. The story’s simple enough: the bad guy (John Travolta) steals a pair of nukes, and it’s up to his young protégé (Christian Slater) to chase him around the desert trying to get them back and then hide them once they’re recovered. Travolta seems to genuinely enjoy playing villains, so it’s too bad he sucks at it. His version of “dangerous psycho” comes across as a cranky version of Danny from Grease. Overall if you like watching stuff blow up then you’re in the right place. Mildly amusing

Review – Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return

The child actor who played the delightfully creepy Isaac returns – so it’s not just a catchy title – as an adult to once again fire up the cult killing business. This one has a little more of the giving-kids-up-for-adoption-to-save-them-from-the-monster theme, and in exchange we actually get fewer eerie cult kids. Otherwise this is yet another entry in a fairly standard series. Nancy Allen and Stacy Keach temporarily find work. Mildly amusing

Review – Children of the Corn 5: Fields of Terror

This is as terrible as I figured the last one was going to be. A group of city teens get stranded in a small town with a Children of the Corn problem. This one emphasizes the creepy religious cult aspect a bit more than some other entries in the series, but otherwise it’s standard stuff. The only recognizable face in the cast is David Carradine, who puts in a brief appearance as the cult leader. See if desperate

Review – Children of the Corn 4: The Gathering

At the outset I should admit that as of this writing I haven’t seen the second and third installments in this set, so if either of them included anything essential I haven’t seen it yet. A woman (Naomi Watts early in her career) returns to the family farm to help out when her mom (Karen Black later in hers) suffers a mental breakdown. Shortly thereafter every kid in town comes down with a mysterious illness. They recover, but then they go all children-of-the-corny. Bad gore and low-grade suspense ensue. Mildly amusing

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review – Bad Taste

So honestly, is there any point to reviewing a movie called “Bad Taste”? I mean, you get exactly what you pay for. This is like drinking a beverage labeled Can o’ Shit and then getting mad when it tastes like poop. Early in Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson’s career, he specialized in movies such as Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles and this, pictures that appeal almost exclusively to some people’s infantile need to have their noses rubbed in stupidity and filth. The plot is some moronic nonsense about commandos stumbling across a nest of zombie aliens. But honestly the story is beside the point. If you didn’t come for brain-squishing, puke-drinking, chain-sawing absurdity, then just keep walking. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Automaton

I don’t know. I thought Robovision and Monstervision were both good, but somehow combining them into Robo-Monstervision just didn’t work. Seriously though, this is an awful, pseudo-artistic mess about a dystopian future in which small pockets of armageddon-surviving humanity battle on using robot soldiers. Really slow moving robot soldiers. Between robo-battles, the protagonist plays videos of her father (Angus “The Tall Man” Scrimm) droning on and on about the drama’s apocalyptic back story. Two technical points: first, the battle sequences look about the same when played at double speed (and of course take only half the time). Second, the DVD errored out at around an hour and nine minutes in. Because we were unable to restart it, I’m going to give the picture a benefit-of-the-doubt point based on the questionable theory that something radically better might have happened in the last 15 minutes. See if desperate

Review – Agony

If this movie is any ground on which to judge, Eisenstein would hide his head in shame if he saw what became of Soviet film after his death. This 1975 epic about Rasputin is one of the most inept pieces of propaganda I’ve ever seen. A chunk of the blame falls on the head of the actor playing the lead role. This guy must be Russia’s answer to Val Kilmer. He plays Rasputin as an awkward combination of Charles Manson and The Dude from The Big Lebowsky. Though this is clearly part of the long line of pictures designed to justify the Russian Revolution by making the Romanovs look bad, the worst they seem to do here is possibly boring peasants (not to mention the audience) to death. Further, the translation is odd in places. It’s hard to say if the lines are some kind of Russian idiom that doesn’t make much sense to foreign audiences or if the characters are genuinely intended to spout nonsense. In either event, the bizarre dialogue is just another cog in a highly ineffective machine. And in another fine Soviet tradition, the picture is awfully hard on the animals. CHLITM rating: 30 minutes. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review – The Attic

One advantage to doppelganger movies is that they save at least some money that low-budget producers have to spend on their casts. They also appear to have saved some money on the script. The story sets up with a mentally-unstable woman who thinks she sees the ghost of her long-dead twin sister. Nobody believes her. She keeps seeing the ghost. Everybody keeps not believing. Do I even have to say that this gets boring after awhile? Also, either this was a short movie or Chiller cut a chunk out of it, because the ad breaks were epic (close to six minutes each). See if desperate

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review – Battle of the Bulge

This thing is nearly twice as long as a normal war movie. Unfortunately, it’s not twice as good. What we get here is one of those ensemble war pictures that follow several different characters during the course of one of the key battles of World War Two. Robert Shaw’s performance as a stereotypical SS tank commander stands out, but the rest of the celebs are fairly interchangeable. Clearly they spent a lot of money on the production, because it’s loaded with tanks (and this was back in the day before such things could be easily generated by computers, so they actually had to go out and get the real thing). So it’s an epic movie about an epic battle, but not much more. Mildly amusing

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review – Danton

Who knew the French Revolution was so boring? Director Andrzej Wajda puts together a fairly prosaic tale of the fussin’ and feudin’ between Georges Danton (Gerard Depardieu) and Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak), eventually leading to the arrest, trial and execution of the former. When something is actually happening, this is an interesting picture. Unfortunately, the bulk of the screen time is devoted to arguments over obscure revolutionary principles. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review – Criminal Law

Gary Oldman plays a lawyer who wins a not-guilty verdict for a client (Kevin Bacon) only to have the psycho continue his serial killing ways. The two men develop a really creepy love-hate relationship as Oldman tries to find a way to get his clever, pop-collared client to slip up and get himself caught. Stir in some icky Oedipal stuff and a message about abortion that’s likely to please neither side of the debate, and you’ve got one hard to look at movie. See if desperate

Review – Dead Space: Downfall

If you like animated gore and you aren’t too picky about the quality of the animation, this may well be the show for you. A spaceship picks up an alien artifact that starts turning the whole crew into monsters in fairly short order. The main weapon of choice to combat the beasts is a combination of chain saw and light saber, which is about as close to clever or creative as this production ever comes. Much of the design work looks like a cheap knock-off of Doom 3 (no doubt at least somewhat related to the video game this thing is actually based on). Combine that with a nearly-nonexistent plot and you’ve got a waste of an hour or so. See if desperate

Friday, June 26, 2009

Review – The Devil's Tomb

The Sci Fi Channel makes a lot of movies like this, only many of them are better and few of them are as expensive. Cuba Gooding Jr. heads a team of mercenaries descending into an ancient ruin in search of a missing archaeologist. The resulting story is an awkward blend of several horror movies ranging from Prince of Darkness to Event Horizon. The production also “borrows” small moments from other pictures (a dash of Predator here, a dab of Aliens there, and so on). Frankly, I’d rather re-watch the source movies than sit through a leftover burgoo like this. See if desperate

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Review – Day the World Ended

The nuclear apocalypse gets the vintage Roger Corman treatment. Maybe a “The” for the start of the title would have cost extra, in which case Corman certainly would have opted to do without. A hodge-podge of people are cooped up in a house together after atomic bombs destroy the world. Their two biggest challenges: getting on each others’ nerves and avoiding being eaten by mutated monsters lurking in the woods. The script, acting and effects are all equally bad. Sometimes I get a kick out of these old stinkers, but this one just didn’t do it for me. See if desperate

Review – Babylon A.D.

The star of the show here is the art direction. Well, that and Vin Diesel. He plays a mercenary assigned to transport a teenage girl and her nun guardian (Michelle Yeoh) from Mongolia to New York. That might have been an easier task if the trio didn’t live in a strange, quasi-post-apocalyptic world full of no end of dangers and opportunities for the production designers to come up with something interesting to look at. Mildly amusing

Review – The Brain Eaters

This movie has a lot of odd, unintentional touches. For example, Local Hero fans may get a small snicker from the credit for screenwriter Gordon Urquhart. The governor’s name is Clinton. Otherwise, however, this is just another piece of 1950s body-snatching paranoia. A large metal cone appears in a small Illinois town right around the same time several of the local residents go nuts. The connection turns out to be small critters – kinda cute when they aren’t attaching themselves to people’s spines – who’ve bored up from the depths of the earth to sneak into our brains and take over. And yes, the whole thing tastes a lot like leftovers. The score in particular is arbitrary stuff gleaned from other sources; I even noticed a few bars from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky cantata at one point. One has to pay attention to catch small touches like that, but overall the picture doesn’t reward the attention required. See if desperate

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review – Doomed

For a movie that doesn’t amount to much more than a cheap knock-off of The Condemned with extra added zombies, it could have been a lot worse. Convicts are forced to participate in a Suvivor-esque reality show in which they’re paired up and pitted against each other, the standard perils of a tropical island, and a whole big mess of flesh-hungry undead. Though obviously plenty stupid, it manages to be at least vaguely entertaining. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review – Bottom Feeder

Apt title. A scientist invents green goo that regenerates damaged tissue. The problem is that it requires a lot of nutrients to do its work, and unless it’s fed with the scientist’s special blue goo, it causes its host to transform into whatever it eats. And because it makes the host extremely hungry … well, in short order we end up with a rat-dog-guy-monster stalking the tunnels under an abandoned hospital. That’s some bad luck for the maintenance crew and small gaggle of bad guys locked down there with it. See if desperate

Review - Femme Fatale

It’s sorta comforting to see Brian De Palma up to his old tricks – over-dramatized thriller, lots of split-screen work – after all these years. A beautiful criminal (Rebecca Romijn) double-crosses her partners, makes off with millions in stolen jewels and assumes the identity of a woman who just happens to look just like her and just happens to commit suicide in front of her. Years later she’s managed to establish a new life for herself, but her old friends are still out to even the score. Eventually it devolves into a silly bit of nonsense about our heroine seducing Antonio Banderas into doing whatever she wants (shades of Double Indemnity, a clip of which adorns the opening credits). And don’t even get me started on the ending. The direction is over-wrought to the point of weirdness, often leaving me wondering if De Palma is serious or merely lampooning his earlier work. Mildly amusing

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review – Dark Corners

Is Thora Birch a blonde with a good life dreaming that she’s a brunette with a crappy life, or vice versa? Either way, she keeps snapping back and forth between reality (pick one) and hallucinations of violence and death. In short order the whole production becomes so fragmentary – yanking the rug out from under our feet over and over again – that it’s hard to follow or try to care about. See if desperate

Review – Clawed: The Legend of Sasquatch

This picture starts out with a pro-environment, anti-hunting theme, which put it on my good side early on. Unfortunately it never really goes anywhere from there. Asshole hunters and high school kids on a science class campout cross paths with each other and with the legendary title monster, defender of the forest. Sure, the beast looks like Klaus Kinski on a particularly bad hair day. But at least they took care to use lighting and blurring to keep the cheapness from completely destroying the effect. Mildly amusing

Review – The Devil Commands

For something that I randomly recorded, this actually turned out to be fairly good. Boris Karloff plays a scientist who becomes obsessed with communicating with his dead wife by channeling her brain waves. He achieves some initial success via a mildly psychic woman running a medium scam, but then his work causes injuries and he has to leave town. In his new digs he finds himself distrusted by the locals, particularly after bodies start disappearing from the town cemetery. The electro-séance thing he sets up with the diving-suit-wrapped corpses is actually kinda creepy. Though this isn’t the best horror movie I’ve ever seen, it does have a few spooky moments and a delightfully eerie atmosphere throughout. Worth seeing

Review – Captivity

In the early days of torture porn, movies like Saw resembled the early days of actual porn (at least the mass-marketed stuff). They had at least enough plot to vaguely excuse the parade of explicit sex scenes. But then came the pictures that were nothing but sex from start to finish. No plot. No characters. Just screwing. Well, that’s what we get here. Elisha Cuthbert (Kim Bauer on 24 and pretty much the only reason I decided to give this picture a look) stars as a fashion model who gets kidnapped by a psycho and locked in an elaborate torture dungeon. The thing tries to sprout a story around the beginning of act three, but by then it has two insurmountable problems. First, the twist is so artlessly telegraphed that it’s not enough of a surprise to merit the trouble. And second, by then the mindless torment – including forcing the heroine to kill her own dog – has worn out any welcome the movie might have enjoyed. Avoid at all costs

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review – The Blue Max

If you just watch the battle scenes in this picture, it’s actually quite entertaining. Indeed, some of the aerial combat footage is downright spectacular, airplane choreography working smoothly with cinematography to produce excellent results. And though I have to admit that I’m a sucker for the whole World War One dogfighting thing, even viewers without an inherent interest should still be able to appreciate the quality of the work. Ah, but then the plot intrudes. George Peppard stars as a young German ace obsessed with achieving 21 kills so he can earn the coveted Blue Max medal. That much might have been okay, but then he gets tangled up with the wife (Ursula Andress) of a general (James Mason), and things go downhill from there. So just keep a finger close to the fast-forward button and hit it whenever no planes are on screen. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review – Earth vs. the Spider

Legendary low-budget producer Bert I. Gordon strikes again. This time around teenagers uncover a giant tarantula in a cave. After the local authorities subdue it using DDT, they drag it back to town. Bad idea, as it turns out it was only stunned and doesn’t wake up in the best of moods. The picture includes a bunch of black and white footage of Carlsbad Caverns, which is a little bit like a silent movie about ballet but is nonetheless interesting to look at. Some of the giant spider matte work is also good at least by the era’s technical standards. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review – Arthur and the Invisibles

This was a bit more juvenile than I expected it to be. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a kids movie actually being for kids; indeed, in many ways this was a refreshing break from grown-up-inside-joke pictures such as the Shrek series. But with Luc Besson at the helm and a cast of big-name actors – including your-parents-generation pop stars Madonna and David Bowie – I figured it might throw a few more bones to the adults in the audience. As it is, this is a blend of live action and mediocre animation that may keep the crib lizards quiet for awhile but not much more. Mildly amusing

Review – The Beast Within

For an indie horror picture from the early 80s, this could have been worse. A married couple’s car breaks down in the Mississippi backwoods, and while husband is off trying to find a tow, monster comes out of the woods and rapes wife. Years later, the child born from this unholy union starts having problems a bit beyond the normal, adolescent growing pains: killing the neighbors, transforming into a beast, continuing the family sexual assault tradition, that sort of thing. So this thing has a couple of unpleasantly graphic rape scenes. On the other hand, it also has a reasonably good script and solid special effects, at least for the period and budget level. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review – Crash (1996)

I can’t make up my mind. Is this a brilliant exploration of sexual fetishism or just an over-arty piece of porn? With David Cronenberg at the helm, it may well be a bit of both. James Spader plays an idly-wealthy movie producer who gets into a car wreck. While recovering he gets to know a woman (Holly Hunter) who was also in the crash, and she introduces him to an underground group of people who share an art-sex fascination with cars, accidents and injuries. The whole thing is shot with a lethargic, dream-like quality, which Cronenberg has used to good effect in other production but here overdoes until it becomes tedious. Perhaps if watched in small intervals rather than all at once it might be a more pleasant experience. Mildly amusing

Monday, June 8, 2009

Review – Cerberus

Needed way more three-headed dog. The parts of this production that feature the low-rent version of the monster from Greek mythology – not to mention the first Harry Potter movie – were okay. The rest of the picture, however, was a boring tale of crooks trying to find a sword that belonged to Attila the Hun and archaeologists and government agents trying to thwart them. Some kind of burp in the satellite signal cheated me out of the final confrontation between the bad guy and the beast, but unless it was radically more interesting than the rest of the movie then I didn’t miss much. See if desperate

Review – Anacondas: Trail of Blood

Beware Halloween, Friday the 13th and Hellraiser. Apparently even after a series outlives any natural usefulness it might have had, it can still live on with new installments generated by the Sci Fi Channel. In this go-around the giant CGI snake comes with an extra added bonus: it’s been treated with a drug that allows it to regenerate if it’s injured. The stuff must also make it all extra hungry, because it swallows dude after dude and comes right back for more. And with no less than three groups of nitwits wandering around in the woods, it’s a real anaconda smorgasbord. Overall the production is vaguely entertaining in a you-get-what-you-pay-for way. Mildly amusing

Friday, June 5, 2009

Review – The Agony and the Ecstasy

If only I’d had this movie back when I was assigned to read Irving Stone’s novel in high school. Charlton Heston stars as Michelangelo in this tale of the artist’s tumultuous relationship with Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison), particularly the disputes between the two over the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Though Carol Reed directed, this turns out to be a fairly run-of-the-mill epic. Mildly amusing

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Review – Boogeyman 3

The formula for number two must have worked too well, because for this outing they went back to the approach from the first one: just string together a long series of booga-booga shots, and don’t worry so much about plot or character development or anything like that. Mistake. See if desperate

Review – End of the Line

Here’s something odd: a low-budget horror movie that actually has half a brain. A group of strangers are stranded in the subway when the apocalypse hits. The phones don’t work. The radio doesn’t work. The television shows nothing but blood. But worst of all, the place is crawling with knife-wielding religious fanatics looking to send everyone to heaven on an accelerated schedule. To be sure, nobody here is going to win a MacArthur grant. But the picture packs a novel premise, a passable script, some clever twists and even a genuine chill or two. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Review – Earth Girls Are Easy

Okay, here’s what we get: three aliens with Crayola-bright fur crash-land their spaceship in Geena Davis’s pool. She takes them to a beauty salon, where a thorough shaving and dye jobs all around reveal that they look just like Jim Carry, Damon Wayans and Jeff Goldblum. Does this review really need to go into any greater depth than that? The high point of the whole picture was when – apropos of nothing – the story was interrupted by the music video for Julie Brown’s “’Cause I’m a Blonde.” See if desperate

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review – The Book of Beasts

I need to set up a macro that will automatically type “Typical Sci Fi Channel fare.” Lame story, bad acting, cheap effects, 90 minutes worth of harmless brain candy. This time around it’s the children of the original Camelot crew – giving the production a Medieval Muppet Babies quality – up against Mordred and a magic book that makes beasts appear. So it isn't just a clever name. Mildly amusing

Review – The Devil and Daniel Webster

Poor Jabez Stone. When his contract with the devil comes due, he wants out of it in the worst way. Lucky for him he’s acquainted with the great lawyer Daniel Webster. This is a big bucket of 1941: it’s overdramatized and often downright silly. Still, it’s refreshing to see a movie that seeks to generate chills – and sometimes even succeeds – using nothing but script, acting, and some basic lighting and editing tricks. Walter Huston does a particularly fine job as Mr. Scratch, and Simone Simon does a nice turn as his seductive henchperson. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review – Count Dracula

According to the credits, this was originally released as Les Nuits de Dracula. That – plus the plethora of English names in the cast and Italian names in the credits – suggests that it’s one of those international horror productions from the early 1970s. It sticks fairly closely to the original Stoker story line. Mostly what it is, however, is dull. Maybe I’m just too familiar with the plot, but I have no use for a plodding retelling of the same old tale. Christopher Lee stars as the Count, but even he doesn’t manage to bring much to the production. See if desperate

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review – The Bad Sleep Well

The battlefield here is 20th century corporate corruption rather than Medieval samurai drama, but this is still classic Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune stars as an ambitious young executive newly wed to the daughter of one of the company’s high mucky mucks. But strange things are afoot, as the authorities crack down on bribery scandals and our hero reveals a secret agenda of his own. I suspect that at least part of the subtle charm of the drama is lost in the translation, but enough makes it through to keep things interesting. Worth seeing

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review – Executive Decision

Here’s September 11 five years before it actually happened. Thank goodness that the real-life terrorists didn’t have the wit or wherewithal to pack the plane with enough nerve gas to kill half the people on the Eastern Seaboard. The cast includes Halle Berry on her way up and stars Kurt Russell and Steven Segal headed in the opposite direction. Story-wise, using a “remora” to sneak commandos aboard a hijacked jet is an intriguing idea, though it’s largely unwoven by twists and subplots that are far too dependent on Murphy’s Law. Mildly amusing

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review – An American Crime

John Waters once expressed a desire to make a movie out of Gertrude Baniszewski’s murder of Sylvia Likens. They should have let him take a stab at it. At his worst, he’s still way better than this turned out to be. When making a true crime movie, care should be taken not to stray too far from the established record, and the nature of this particular crime demands even closer attention to detail. Yet much of this picture seems profoundly inauthentic. I was particularly disappointed by Catherine Keener’s portrayal of the killer. Despite her talent and range, she plays Gertie like an emotionless automaton too gooned on cough syrup to muster the level of savagery inflicted on Sylvia. Further, an apparent squeamishness about portraying violence causes the victim to disappear partially or entirely from the scenes portraying the crimes themselves. Those with an actual interest in the murder and the patience to read a book should turn to Kate Millet’s The Basement and give the movie version a miss. See if desperate

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review – The 'Burbs

Though in general I like director Joe Dante’s work, this one’s just a bit too silly for my taste. Tom Hanks – back when he was still small enough to play roles like this – stars as a guy whose quiet week of home-bound vacation is disrupted by the sudden appearance of creepy new neighbors. The plot consists of a long series of set-ups for bad physical comedy. Overall the whole quirky-suburbanites-versus-the-Addams-Family thing comes nowhere near sustaining the picture’s running time. See if desperate

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review – The Corporation

Most of this documentary on corporations is just dull. Yeah, they’re destroying the world. Not only is that preaching to the choir, it’s not even telling us anything we haven’t already heard. It got off to a good start with a discussion of the corporation as a person in the eyes of the law, demonstrating point by point that if these things are people then they qualify as high-level psychopaths. Ah, but then it descends into an additional couple of hours of the usual Michael-Moore-esque whining and finger-pointing. See if desperate

Review - The Ferryman

If you’re trying to elude the title character – who apparently on top of his Styx-crossing duties is also responsible for retrieving people who’ve cheated death – then it comes in right handy to be able to hop from body to body. And when six jerks from New Zealand out for a pleasure cruise run afoul of the guy (John Rhys-Davies, who must have lost a bet while he was in the country shooting Lord of the Rings), the body-hopping commences. This turns out to be just as dull as it sounds like it would be. Plus it lost a point for brutal, unnecessary torture of a dog. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review – Against the Dark

I rented this because I figured the combination of Steven Seagal and post-apocalyptic vampires would guarantee entertainment value. Yeah, in retrospect I have to admit that the theory sounds fairly stupid. For starters, Seagal isn’t in all that much of it, which is probably for the best because his high-quality martial arts days appear to be behind him. The rest of the picture isn’t any better. A rag-tag band of human survivors try to avoid vampires – that act just like “the infected” from 28 Days Later, so how exactly that makes them vampires is … well, never mind – as they make their way video game style through several levels of an abandoned hospital (exteriors of which appear to have been shot at the same place where they made Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital). It doesn’t even have any good scares along the way. It’s just one long, predictable snooze fest. See if desperate

Review – Desert of Blood

Y’know, Hispanic cultures have developed a healthy stock of legendary horrors, from the chupacabra to La Llorona. So why should a movie with a mostly-Hispanic cast have to rely on the same old Hollywood vampire clichés? What a disappointment. A vampire gets unearthed and goes after the people who buried him decades earlier. Predictable plot twists and bargain-basement boob shots don’t carry this for five minutes, let alone the full 90. See if desperate

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review – Death Tunnel

A gaggle of nubile women is penned up in an abandoned asylum that turns out to be haunted by the ghosts of blah blah blah. If they’re going to make movies like this, they should either make them more interesting so they reward the time it takes to watch them or less noisy so they’re easier to sleep through. See if desperate

Review – Brazil

With all due respect to his Monty Python days, I think this is Terry Gilliam’s best work. Jonathan Pryce stars as a white-collar drone trying to get by in a strange fantasy world almost completely taken over by brainless consumerism and inept bureaucracy. The art direction is the real star of the show, blending studio-financed dystopia with Gilliam’s low-budget aesthetic. The first time I saw this, I was working in an office not entirely unlike the place where the protagonist starts out. And to this day I’m fond of the rebel air conditioning repairman played by Robert DeNiro. Though it’s a bit silly in spots, overall the production is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Worth seeing

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review – Cocoon

Yeesh, what a bummer of a movie. It starts out okay. Space aliens return to Earth to recover comrades lying in suspended animation off the coast of Florida. Unfortunately for them, they store the cocooned aliens in a swimming pool that’s also being used by some old folks from a nearby rest home. The cocoon water acts like a fountain of youth. Rejuvenated oldster high jinks ensue. But as the plot drags on, we get more and more dwelling on the dying process, plot points made all the more depressing by the subsequent deaths of many of the cast members. As with so many Hollywood productions of this ilk, shorter would have been smarter. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review – The Brink

Here’s a departure from the low-budget norm: a solid concept paired up with a reasonably good execution. An ex-engineering student uncovers plans for a Thomas Edison invention that was designed to communicate with the dead. She enlists the aid of some former classmates and sets the thing up in a house that stands a reasonably good chance of being haunted. To be sure, this isn’t a masterpiece of the cinema arts. But the script isn’t terrible, nor is the acting. Things keep moving nicely, and at just over 70 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Worth seeing

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review – The Beach

This is one of those movies where it keeps seeming like something’s about to happen, but then nothing ever does. I mean, it has a plot point or two. But overall it’s as meandering, aimless and empty-headed as its subjects. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as an American brat with nothing better to do than bum around Thailand. Led by a map to a secret island, he and his compatriots discover a colony of neo-hippies leading an idyllic life. The only catch is than nobody can leave. Oh, and the island is also inhabited by pot farmers. Oh, and the lagoon has sharks. Oh, and … well, we could go on like this for awhile. Ultimately this comes across as a lobotomized, rich 20-something reheat of Lord of the Flies. See if desperate

Review – Chained Heat

I first saw this many years ago at a party. At the time it was part of a drinking game called “Boom!” The object was to take a drink every time a boom mic dangled down into a shot. Actually, I should say “theoretical drinking game,” as we soon determined that taking a drink for every boom shot would rapidly lead to alcohol poisoning. So we contented ourselves to yelling “Boom!” at the appropriate moments. Thus it saddened me tremendously to note on this viewing that the frames had been corrected to exclude the microphones. With the grievous technical errors cut down, all that’s left here is a terrible script and a mess of boob shots. The only thing that distinguishes it from every other women’s prison movie is the presence of husky, post-Exorcist Linda Blair. See if desperate

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review – A Cry in the Dark

This movie, most famous for the whole “the dingo ate the baby!” line, actually turns out to be a little better than its reputation suggested. After a family loses a child to the local wildlife during a camping trip, official suspicion falls on the mother. What ensues is an interesting picture of out-of-control media coverage fed by religious bigotry and culture-wide rubbernecking. Definitely not Australia’s finest moment. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Review – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

I remember what a vast cultural phenomenon this was when it first hit theaters. And now it just seems so quaint and naïve. Kids playing Dungeons and Dragons instead of video games. No cell phones. No laptops. Mechanical effects rather than endless parades of CGI. Could such a world ever have actually existed? Overall this is the paragon of Steven Spielberg’s early career, the tale of a space creature bringing magic and wonder to the lives of ordinary kids in the suburbs. Indeed, the whole thing is crammed full of sub-references to other Spielberg and George Lucas productions. And of course the whole thing is set to an overblown John Williams soundtrack. Though it may be too dated for some 21st century audiences, it’s still a reasonable amount of fun to watch (not to mention a good-sized dose of nostalgia for those of us who were the right age for it when it came out in 1982). Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review – Alien Express

A meteor hits a car next to a railroad crossing. When a train stops to check for survivors, aliens from the meteor hop aboard and go to work on the crew. Meanwhile, a terrorist kidnaps a Presidential candidate in one of the train cars. The train, now running out of control because the aliens have eaten the engineer and somehow disabled the dead-man throttle, is set to collide with another train that just happens to be carrying nuclear waste. Poor Lou Diamond Phillips, having jumped onto the train from a helicopter mere seconds before it collided with a mountain … ah, by now I think you get the point. Most of the rest of the movie was screaming and bickering anyway. I don’t know if it would have helped to have had monsters that didn’t look like a cross between a toy T-Rex and a dirty sock, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt. See if desperate

Friday, May 1, 2009

Review – Devour

So there’s a computer game that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality for anyone who plays it? Good thing nobody already made that plot into a movie more than a decade ago. Or even did it again just four or five years back. Within the first five minutes we’re treated to a crappy Tool knock-off and a hunter shooting a cat. Nothing – and I do mean nothing – after that worms this back anywhere near the plus side. Cheap gore. People who screw with their pants on. Unconcealed racism. And perhaps worst of all, a cast of characters so uniformly annoying that I found myself anxiously awaiting their deaths. Something between a snore and a burp is the only possible appropriate response to crud like this. And not a "wow, that was a great meal" burp, either. More of a "better get a bucket, I'm going to throw up" burp. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Conjurer

When I started watching this steaming pile of turds, I figured it would be just another run-of-the-mill, medium-budget horror picture. The production values and plot – young couple moves into house haunted by the spirit of a dead witch – were certainly well-suited to the merely mediocre. But then things go downhill swiftly. Lead actor Andrew Bowen is especially dreadful. Honestly, is this guy physically incapable of closing his mouth? His omnipresent, slack-jawed gape makes him look like he’s got the brains God gave a peanut and significantly detracts from his ability to portray any emotion more sophisticated than constipation. At least Dukes of Hazzard alum John Schneider can breathe easy. For once he’s no worse than the second most idiotic member of the cast. The thing that pushes it to sub-zero, however, is our old favorite: cruelty to animals. The evil presence – in the form of a crow – makes short work of the couple’s cute dog. In revenge, the guy sets a steel jaw trap for it and then brutally stabs it once he’s got it snared. Though I did go ahead and finish watching it, the stupid thing had worn out its welcome by then. Avoid at all costs

Review – The Cradle

This movie reminds me of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” parody of Poe’s “The Raven.” After Homer opens the door to find the hallway empty, Bart cynically asks, “Y’know what would have been scarier than nothing? Anything!” Former child star Lukas Haas plays a guy who moves to the country with his highly-neurotic wife and newborn child. Some kind of vague, supernatural menace starts to emerge from a neighbor’s backstory after an hour or so, but by then the young couple’s bickering and random wandering around have more than worn out the movie’s welcome. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review – Anaconda

I have an odd history with this movie. I saw it for the first time back in 1999, but for some strange reason I forgot to review it, which I didn’t discover until I watched another giant snake movie in 2004. Well, my opinion of it is pretty much the same ten years later after a re-screening. The monster snake has far more charm and personality than any of the boatload of B-list actors it squares off against. At least the budget was big enough to keep things vaguely entertaining. Awful hard on the animals, though. Mildly amusing