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