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