Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review – Chisolm '72: Unbought and Unbossed

As we celebrate the historic election of 2008, we need to keep in mind that Barack Obama’s victory was the latest step in a long process. And one of the key moments in that process occurred back in 1972 when Shirley Chisolm had the guts to make a serious run for the Presidency. Though the racism and sexism thriving in society at the time were far too strong for her to ever have had a serious chance at overall success, the hard work ably documented in this movie helped pave the way for the future victories against bigotry. Thus this movie makes a good “feel good” piece if you need one. It’s also an interesting demonstration of how the mainstream media – particularly broadcast news operations – worked to marginalize all but a select few candidates (something they of course still routinely do). Mildly amusing

Review – BloodMonkey

I guess if they called this “ButtMonkey” it wouldn’t have sounded as scary. Actually, what they should have called it was “NoMonkey.” The first half of the picture is all set-up (group of college students ventures into the jungle at the behest of an anthropologist who’s more than slightly off his rocker), and the last half hour is all screaming and running. That left about ten minutes sandwiched in the middle that might have been good except it wasn’t. The real surprise was that the title monsters don’t actually appear on screen until the final seconds of the show. Honestly that was for the best, because the computer animated gorilla-of-menace seriously didn’t work. Oh, and what evil befell F. Murray Abraham to knock him off the pedestal of respectable roles and reduce him to this lowly state? See if desperate

Friday, February 27, 2009

Review – America Beyond the Color Line

This is actually a four-part series originally produced for PBS, but it all fits on one DVD and works well as a single piece of documentary film-making. Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. roams across America examining issues facing black Americans in the 21st century. To tell the truth, after the first episode I almost quit watching it. Gates’s interviews with middle class black people weren’t bad, but they were very PBS (safe, comfortable beauty-of-diversity stuff). But then it got better. Episode two did a solid job of covering the class distinctions so intimately linked with racism. Episode three examined the success of black people who’ve “made it” in the mainstream. The portraits of programs designed to provide opportunities were interesting, but questions about loss of culture resulting from integration into “white America” went largely unanswered. The final episode focused on black celebrities in Hollywood, where it proved funny that a town famous for being all about fake artifice appeared to be one of the only places in the country where an honest conversation about racism was taking place. Though far from comprehensive, this was an interesting picture of the highs and lows of the current black experience. Mildly amusing

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review – Dead & Deader

All you really have to see to judge the overall quality of this picture is the scene where a short zombie bites a biker in the crotch. Perhaps this could be re-edited with Dumb and Dumber to make “Dead and Dumber.” On the other hand, maybe that’s what we got anyway. The title was a good indication of what was in store, even though the Netflix description made this sound like something way different than it turned out to be. I thought I was going to get some cool secret ops in Cambodia, but it turned out that the military angle was just a flimsy excuse to get the story moving. And once things are underway, it’s yet another witless zombie-fest. Heck, we didn’t even get beetles causing the zombie plague. Someone can’t tell the difference between beetles and scorpions. Dean Cain stars as a semi-zombified war hero, though for some flimsy reason he spends most of the picture wearing Don Johnson’s cast-off wardrobe from “Miami Vice.” See if desperate

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review – The Art of War 2: Betrayal

Other than a slightly lower budget, this is much like its predecessor. Wesley Snipes once again plays an international hit man, this time pitted against a corporate conspiracy out to assassinate U.S. Senators standing in the way of a bit defense contract. I instant-viewed this because I was in the mood for a reasonably-well-produced picture with some martial arts sequences, and with those minimal standards in mind it did not disappoint. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review – Exhumed

I’ve developed a certain amount of affection for low-budget indie producers who come up with clever combinations of horror themes and classic movie pastiches. And this one goes two for three. The first entry in this zombie trilogy pits the undead against Kurosawa-esque characters (actual Asian actors speaking Japanese, no less). The second isn’t quite as good, but as a vaguely horror-fied hardboiled detective piece, it’s okay. Then the show falls flat. The third tale begins life as a Mods vs. Rockers reworking of Underworld, but it swiftly devolves into what we’ve all come to dread from the straight-to-video horror market: crappy gore and cheap sex. If you’ve been hankerin’ for a vampire-werewolf goth girl lesbian love-‘em-up, here’s your dream come true. Otherwise, feel free to pull the plug when the noir comes to an end (even though the story doesn’t wrap until it’s tied in with the third story at the end of the set). Mildly amusing

Monday, February 16, 2009

Review – Bangkok Dangerous

I’ve no idea what “Bangkok Dangerous” means, but after an hour and a half of this I feel like I’ve got an ample understanding of “Nicolas Cage Boring.” Cage stars as a contract killer plying his trade in Thailand. Implausible plot elements fly left and right, but if you can set aside any need you might have for story or character, the production is stylish and some of the action moderately entertaining. Mildly amusing

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review – The Dam Busters

For the most part this is a fascinating British production about RAF efforts to destroy dams in Nazi Germany and flood vast industrial areas. The story follows two heroes: the scientist who comes up with the odd, bouncing bomb designed to find its way to the dam’s most vulnerable spot and the pilot in charge of the airmen who will have to pull of the precise flying required to deliver it. The two men working together and separately in their respective areas of expertise are an excellent model for the high-tech warfare born during World War Two and even more crucial during the Cold War raging when this movie was made in the mid-50s. The detail is so minute that it would probably have become dull after awhile if it hadn’t been so well-woven into the plot. If only the pilot’s dog hadn’t had such an unfortunate name. Mildly amusing

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review – Black Sabbath

Sorry, kids. No Ozzy. This is an Italian anthology piece narrated by (and partially starring) Boris Karloff. Act One reminds us that if we’re charged with prepping the body of someone named Madame Zenovia (or really Madame Anything) for burial, it might be better not to steal jewelry from the corpse. Act Two pits a woman against the disembodied spirit of her dead brother, who keeps calling her up. In addition to more phone ringing than anyone should have to sit through in the course of an evening, we also get dialogue like “You’re dead! Don’t you understand? You’re dead!” Ah, but then we get Act Three, in which a family is devastated by a wurdalak, a Central European vampire that can only suck blood from loved ones. Karloff’s presence starts out as a plus, but then he has to deliver lines like “Woman, can I not fondle my own grandson?” Overall this is another one of those inept productions that steadfastly eschews every possible opportunity to be clever or interesting. At least it helped spare us from the spectacle of songs such as “Iron Man” and “War Pigs” being performed by a band called Earth. See if desperate