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

Review – The Burrowers

Impressive. I’ve long thought that horror and the western would make a good combination, though I’m surprised at how seldom I’ve been proven right. But boy does this ever. The thesis here is that the open prairie is inhabited by a strange kind of monster known to the locals as the Burrowers. They paralyze their victims, bury them alive, wait for them to soften up a bit, and then return to eat them. The protagonist’s pursuit of his Burrower-kidnapped fiancĂ©e leads through no end of interesting situations as western staples – particularly anti-Indian prejudice – get in the way of efforts to unravel the mystery. The beasts themselves don’t actually put in an appearance until late in the picture, but they’re worth the wait. The story is hard on everyone involved – including horses – and isn’t likely to win any feel-good awards. But that just makes it all the better. Buy the disc

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review – The Dark Half

This is a finest hour for neither Stephen King nor George Romero. King’s source story puts a novel spin or two on the old evil twin thing, but in exchange we have to sit through a lot of annoying parallels to the whole Richard Bachman thing. Timothy Hutton does a solid job as the good family man novelist, but he falls flatter than flat as the guy’s sinister alter-ego. And sparrows should probably be added to the list of horror movie elements that are too cute to inspire a lot of fear. Overall this isn’t a terrible movie, but it doesn’t belong on anyone’s trophy shelf either. Mildly amusing

Review – The Deep

In the wake of Jaws, someone with a finger on the green light button must have assumed anything by Peter Benchley would be instant gold. Guess not. Nick Nolte and Jaqueline Bisset star as a young couple on vacation in Bermuda. While diving on a wreck they accidentally uncover both Spanish treasure and a World War Two cache of morphine. Naturally this attracts a local criminal, sending our heroes in search of help from a crusty old professional treasure diver (Robert Shaw in his last screen role). The diving sequences are particularly disappointing. The water is pretty, but particularly on the wreck itself it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. Still, they’re fascinating stuff compared to the land-based drama. This is sorta fun in a 70s way, but it’s also more than a little boring. Mildly amusing

Review – Changeling

Though the underlying story here has potential, the movie it turns into is a muddled mess. Angelina Jolie stars as a single mom in the late 1920s trying to support herself and her son. One day she comes home from work to find the boy gone. The police prove unhelpful until public pressure forces them to do something. Unfortunately, what they decide to do is haul an abandoned child in from another state and try to convince the poor woman that he’s her kid. Then when she doesn’t buy it, they have her locked up in the loony bin. That’s enough plot for an hour and a half or so, but for some strange reason the picture keeps right on going for an hour after the main conflicts are resolved. A little more attention to plot and pace would have made this a lot better movie. Mildly amusing

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review – Carny

Overall this is fairly standard Sci Fi Channel fare. However, it had an element or two that made it more entertaining than most other pictures of a similar ilk. If nothing else, the monster was the Jersey Devil, and it turned out to be a not-too-bad interpretation of the legendary beast. To be sure, this isn’t going to contend for an Oscar anytime soon. The plot is a particularly stale bit of nonsense about a traveling carnival that accidentally lets its dangerous main attraction loose in a small town. The acting and production values are likewise mediocre. But the beast makes up for it. Mildly amusing

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review – Confessions of a Superhero

This documentary follows four of the “street performers” who dress like superheroes and pose for photos with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard in exchange for “tips.” Two of the performers are sympathetic. One aspiring actor spends his days in the hot California sun perspiring inside a bulky Incredible Hulk costume. And the woman who came from small town Tennessee to pose as Wonder Woman while searching for roles is more than a little sad. The other two, on the other hand, come across as certifiably mentally ill. One of the many Batmen on the boulevard is a guy who bears a faint physical resemblance to George Clooney. He also has a dangerously uneven temper and delusions about having been a hit man for the mob. But the real star of the show is Chris, a guy completely obsessed with Superman. He looks a tiny bit like an emaciated Christopher Reeve, which he manages to milk for enough panhandling income to fill his apartment with Super-abilia of all kinds. Though this isn’t exactly a heartwarming triumph-of-the-human-spirit picture, it is an interesting look at people most of us wouldn’t pay much attention to. Mildly amusing

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review - Fahrenheit 451

Francois Truffaut directs this depressing movie version of Ray Bradbury’s depressing novel about a future world in which books are illegal and firemen charged with the duty of hunting them down and incinerating them. If you have no particular affection for books, you’re likely to find this a long, dated bore of a movie. On the other hand, if you do enjoy the company of the printed word then this will be an extended bummer. The production was ahead of its time but now looks more than a little dated. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review – A Certain Kind of Death

This is one of those documentaries about something that probably never occurs to most people (including me) but nonetheless turns out to be fascinating stuff. When indigent people die with no surviving kin, the coroner’s office ends up dealing with them. With no relatives or other beneficiaries to object, the film-makers follow along for every step in the process from discovery of the body to mass burial of the cremated remains. Further, the production is put together without the Morris-esque frills that seem to infect so many documentaries. No fancy re-enactments. No Phillip Glass soundtrack. Just straightforward documentation. The result is intensely sad in a quiet way. Worth seeing

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review – The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Have you ever left food out for too long only to discover that it went bad? Then you think to yourself, “aw, I really wanted to eat that.” Watching this movie is like that. If it had been even a pale reflection of the original, it might have been a mildly entertaining picture. But somehow it seemed to go wrong at just about every turn. Keanu Reeves’s Klaatu is flat and dumb. Gort starts out okay, but then it turns out he can’t do much damage until he transforms himself into a swarm of microscopic bugs. And don’t even get me started on Will Smith’s kid. The first one was a classic because it was stylish and thought-provoking. This one is more expensive than classy, and the only thing it provokes is yawns. See if desperate

Review – The Day of the Triffids (1981)

This BBC miniseries is actually a little better than the original movie. The focus for most of the show is on how the world would go to hell if most of the population were suddenly struck blind. The shambling, death-stinging, carnivorous plants are almost an afterthought. To be sure, the production is far from perfect. It has a very 80s-British feel to it, and it could have – and probably should have – ended an episode earlier than it did. Overall, however, it was an entertaining look at just how fragile civilization is and what might become of us if we didn’t have it anymore. Mildly amusing

Monday, April 20, 2009

Review – Arachnophobia

It’s funny how much scarier spiders are when they’re their normal size rather than blown up to the size of houses. A particularly poisonous specimen sneaks aboard a coffin headed out of the Amazon rainforest and off to small-town USA, where the new doctor in town must first detect and then dispose of the rapidly-breeding pests. Though probably not for anyone who suffers from the title affliction, most folks will get a kick out of the picture. It’s a bit hard on the animals, though, especially the spiders. Mildly amusing

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review – Doctor Dolittle

Memory is a tricky thing. I distinctly remember enjoying this movie when I was a kid. But after re-watching it, I can’t imagine my pre-teen self voluntarily sitting through two and a half hours of anything this dull. I suppose I must have been entertained by the talking-to-the-animals parts. And the giant pink sea snail was cool in a parade float sort of way. Further, I don’t think I would have noticed the rampant sexism and racism back then (I was a fairly ignorant little kid). But ugh, then there’s the unending parade of musical numbers! With only one or two exceptions, every time a character begins speaking to thin air and the orchestra hits a note, the following minutes could easily have been cut. The result would have been a more entertaining – or at the very least shorter – kids’ movie. Mildly amusing

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review – Cthulhu

This is as close as anyone has come so far to making a Lovecraftian horror movie of a sort that I would make if I made movies. The plot is a reinvention of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in which a gay man returns to his old hometown for his mother’s funeral only to face his fundamentalist family. But the religion they adhere to is the cult of Dagon, mixing classic Yog Sothery with homosexual “coming out” issues in a way that actually works. And however unseemly the scene may be in which our hero is raped by Tori Spelling, the subtle use of the monsters more than makes up for it. Overall the production’s only disappointing part is that it somehow never quite manages to pull all its elements together. That notwithstanding, this is an excellent 21st-century rework of a 1931 horror story. Worth seeing

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review – Cruising

This movie is a challenge to watch in the 21st century because it’s been so thoroughly robbed of its cultural context. In 1980 mainstream audiences had such a poor understanding of homosexuality that – in response to protests from gay groups – a disclaimer was added to the beginning of the movie. Now homosexuality is “out” enough that most people understand the difference between the average gay guy and the “leather scene” men in this movie. Now that gay men aren’t automatically scary, the production can settle down and become a reasonably routine crime drama. Al Pacino stars as a beat cop trying to earn a place in the detective division by working undercover in the “homosexual underworld” in order to track down a brutal serial killer. One of the murders early in the picture is especially jarring. Worth seeing

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review – American Scary

Many of us have childhood memories of late night horror movies hosted by people dressed up as vampires. Mine are of Crematia Mortem, who hosted fright night on one of the Kansas City U’s back when I was a teenager in the early 80s. Usually KC doesn’t get much of a mention in national documentaries, so I was surprised to see some old Crematia clips show up in this, along with some talking head footage of Roberta Solomon, the actress who played her. Of course KC wasn’t alone. This is a fairly comprehensive documentary about fright night hosts, featuring some of the better-known personalities (Vampira, Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs and John Stanley) as well as more obscure acts from smaller media markets. This would have been a better movie if it had devoted more screen time to vintage video from the shows themselves and spent less time dwelling on interviews going on at length about boring anecdotes. The music (a constant stream of low-level retro lounge noise) was also unwelcome. Otherwise this was an entertaining account of a now largely bygone venue for bad movies bracketed by improv character acting. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Review – BloodRayne 2: Deliverance

If you ever wondered what happened to the guy who played Scut Farcas in A Christmas Story, he shows up here as a bloodsucking Billy the Kid. Actually, I IMDB’d the guy, and apparently he’s been in a lot of stuff since he was a kid. Well, his agent should have steered him clear of this one. Our heroine from the first one (here played by fresh meat) takes to the Wild West to save a town from marauding vampires. Uwe Boll once again makes a movie as cheap and dreadful as he can (and that’s saying something, as the man has a prodigious talent for sucking). The only “deliverance” we get comes 90 minutes later when the credits finally roll. Wish I’d skipped it

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review – BloodRayne

It’s all in what letter you capitalize. If they’d called this movie BlooDrayne, it would have been a much funnier outing. As it was, this is purely a case of Uwe Boll grabbing another video game and making another craptacular horror movie out of it. This time it’s about some kind of half-human, half-vampire midriff who joins a band of medieval commandos in a war against bloodsuckers everywhere. The result is something that’s merely time filler for the Sci Fi Channel (once a couple of extraneous boob shots are cut out, of course). See if desperate

Friday, April 3, 2009

Review – Billy Jack

This classic from the early 70s is a bizarre blend of peace-loving hippiedom and standard revenge-intensive action flick. The kids at a ranch school for flower children keep coming to town and getting into trouble with the squares. One solution to this problem might be for the two groups to concentrate on separating. Another might be for both to practice more tolerance of one another. But more often than not we end up going with what’s behind door number three: every time a townie does something mean, up pops Billy Jack, a half-white half-Indian Vietnam veteran Green Beret with one hell of a bad temper. So what could have been a movie about peaceful co-existence instead becomes an often-tedious parade of escalating violence. The weak script – frequently giving way to Altman-esque improv sequences – doesn’t help matters. Ultimately the moral here appears to be if you’re going to make a revenge movie, just make one. Don’t try to toss a lot of peaceful protest and fake Native American baggage on top of it. Mildly amusing

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review – Equinox

The folks who made this way back in 1970 seem to have had ambitions to be Ray Harryhausen but had neither the talent nor the budget to pull it off. The result is a muddled mess about two couples who find a strange book in an isolated valley, making them the target of an oddly-eyebrowed, shape-shifting sheriff named Mr. Asmodeus. This is the sort of movie that’s probably a lot more fun to watch if you’re stoned. That way things like terrible split screens, giant green cavemen and observations like “Hey, isn’t that the dude who played Herb on WKRP?” seem a lot more profound than they are when you’re straight. Mildly amusing

Review – Blue Demon

I cast you out, Blue Demon! Seriously, how can anyone make a movie chock full o’ sharks without a single scary moment in the whole thing? Realizing that they were going to fall way short of decently aping Deep Blue Sea, the folks who made this stinker decided it needed to be a tongue-in-cheek horror comedy. And as usual with such efforts, it wavers between dull and offensive without ever approaching entertaining. For example, a government-funded project to create super-smart killer sharks is being run by the Air Force (most likely because the production company already had Air Force uniforms on hand). Then there are the “midget” jokes. Then there are … well, you see what we’re dealing with here. See if desperate

Review – Chapter 27

This appears to be somebody’s vanity project, the sort of thing that gets made not because it’s important or commercially viable but simply because someone is desperate to make it. And that naturally enough leads to the question “Why would anyone care enough about the guy who shot John Lennon to become obsessed with making a movie about him?” The obsession may belong to lead actor Jared Leto, who appears to have gained some weight in order to play Chapman. Well, at least they didn’t glamorize the guy. The whole tale of the killer’s activities in the days prior to the shooting is dreary and dull. Mildly amusing