Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review – Empire of the Sun

Steven Spielberg works his special “magic” on the standard prison camp movie formula, centering the tale around a kid. Our hero – played by a very young Christian Bale in his first major movie role – gets stranded in Shanghai at the beginning of World War Two. After ending up in Japanese custody, he’s placed in a camp with other British and American civilian prisoners. It’s practically a light comedy compared to Schindler’s List, and it’s also a bit hard on the Asian characters (the Japanese might have had it coming, but the Chinese look bad as well). But they spent a lot of money on it, so it’s a good-looking if somewhat dull production. Mildly amusing

Monday, March 30, 2009

Review – The Darwin Awards

If this had just been a movie about the Darwin Awards, it would have been a much better picture. The sequences that show people falling victim to their own stupidity are entertaining, but they should have left out the flimsy plot that strings them all together. Joseph Fiennes stars as an ex-cop trying to sell a theory about stuipd accidents to an insurance company, and Winona Ryder plays a claims investigator paired up with him while he proves his case. This is also one of those productions where just about everyone in California plays brief roles. And I do mean everyone, from Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Metallica to the guys from Mythbusters. Mildly amusing

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review – The Abandoned

As is sadly typical with many ghost stories, this tale simply doesn’t have enough material for a feature-length production. A woman returns to Russia to search for some answers about her family history. At the abandoned homestead she meets her brother and their ghostly doppelgangers, and things just sort of go from there. The picture has a good, eerie moment or two early on, but then it just keeps using the same shocks over and over. Further, the plot doesn’t do much developing until the last few minutes. And by then I was so thoroughly bored that I didn’t care much about what the dark family secrets actually were. Perhaps I should have just taken a hint from the title. Verdict: see if desperate.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review – Burnt Offerings

The only thing getting burnt around here is the amount of weed you’d have to smoke to make this into an entertaining experience. Oh, and also whatever you spent renting it, money going up in smoke. This isn’t a finest moment for anyone involved. And while “finest moment” for Oliver Reed may be strictly relative, just about everyone else has done better work elsewhere. This is particularly disappointing coming from Dan Curtis. The guy who came up with Trilogy of Terror and the Kolchak series has a much better idea about what’s scary than he shows anywhere in this boring stinker. Honestly, when the biggest shocks in the whole thing are achieved by agitating water in a swimming pool and lighting Reed with an orange spot, you know you’re in for a dull experience. See if desperate

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review – Eagle Eye

The evil conspiracies are at it again. This time they’re blackmailing two innocent people into carrying out a plot to blow up the majority of the leadership in the Legislative and Executive branches of the U.S. government. The only vaguely interesting twist here is that the plot involves a massive DOD computer system that can hack into all other machines (traffic controls, electronic billboards, the TVs in fast food joints) and use them to manipulate the protagonists. Beyond that, this is a standard parade of car chases, gunfights and general illogic. Mildly amusing

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review – Body of Lies

Looks like Ridley Scott blew most of the money for this one on Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Crowe’s dialogue coach. Okay, maybe he saved a buck or two for some location shoots. Otherwise this is a mediocre potboiler about CIA meddling in Iraq, Jordan and Syria. Mildly amusing

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review – Australia

After Luhrmann-izing Shakespeare and the musical, the erstwhile director takes on epic drama. Nicole Kidman stars as an English aristocrat who journeys to the Outback to save her late husband’s ranch. With the help of a man known only as The Drover (Hugh Jackman), she manages to save the operation from rival ranchers while rescuing indigenous people from cruel racists. The story plays like The African Queen if you took it out, got it drunk, and then took it around back and beat it with a brick for awhile. And nearly three hours later the picture decides that it actually isn’t going to go anywhere. Mildly amusing

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review – Death Row

Some low-budget horror movies set in abandoned prisons pit inmate ghosts against a gang of thieves running from the law. Others have college students working on a film project for protagonists. But here we get double our money’s worth: fugitives and film students. Some of the ghost effects are kinda cool in a cheap sort of way. Other than that, the only attraction this picture offers is that some of the cast is vaguely recognizable in a “hey, isn’t that the bloated corpse of Jake Busey?” sort of way. See if desperate

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review – Cool Air (1999)

This isn’t exactly one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. It always struck me as kind of like Poe’s “M. Valdemar” only with a broken air conditioner instead of hypnotism gone wrong. Nonetheless, this turns into a vaguely entertaining 45 minutes or so. However, I think it could easily have been cut down a bit. The disc also includes four short subjects: a passable interpretation of “Nyarlathotep,” a re-work of “Herbert West” that was at least a bit shorter than Stuart Gordon’s, an adaptation of “The Hound” even more boring than the source story (though it did have a cool amulet in it), and an Edward Gorey pastiche called “The Hapless Antiquarian.” Mildly amusing