Friday, July 31, 2009

Review – Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home

This is the most “trekky” of all the Star Trek movies. Though they’re all laced with at least some inside jokes, this one’s less of a chocolate chip cookie and more of a big brick of waxy chocolate. As our heroes prepare to return to headquarters to face justice for their shenanigans in number three, the Earth is besieged by a probe that apparently speaks the language of long-extinct humpback whales. So using the time travel slingshot nonsense from “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” they journey back to 1986 to snatch a couple of pre-extinction whales and return with them to the future. Almost all of the rest of the movie is a string of bargain basement culture shock gags as our heroes struggle to avoid seeming too weird in their new environment. Thank goodness they end up in San Francisco, where they have a little less trouble blending in. Large chunks of the picture are strings of mediocre jokes that you won’t get unless you’re familiar with the series characters and their personal quirks. So don’t make this your point of entry into the Star Trek universe. At least it isn’t quite as pointless as the last one. Mildly amusing

Review – Berlin Express

The shambles of Germany in the wake of World War Two provides the background for this spy mystery. An international (British, French, German, Russian and of course American) group ends up stuck together when a dead body turns up in their railroad car. The ad hoc squad must put their differences aside and cooperate to figure out what’s going on and expose a plot by unreformed Nazis. The story is one of those twisting, turning, don’t-let-your-attention-drift-or-you’ll-miss-something espionage pieces. However, my favorite parts were the exteriors, which were shot amidst the rubble of bomb-damaged Frankfurt and Berlin in 1948. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review – Alien Hunter

Despite a title that implies some stupid crap made for the Sci Fi Channel, this actually turned out to be better than I thought it would be. To be sure, any movie about alien invaders dug out of the ice in Antarctica is going to invite comparison to The Thing, especially when it “borrows” a little incidental footage from the Carpenter classic. And I didn’t care for the squishy CE3K ending. However, it had a good moment or two before it got there. James Spader plays a communications expert summoned to an Antarctic research station after the team there discovers a radio-signal-emitting pod. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review - Fear House

Several 20-somethings join their writer friend/relative for a weekend in her creepy country estate. Evil forces in the house imprison them inside and then slowly drive them all blah blah blah. Truth be told, I lost interest in this around 15 minutes in and then worked on something else while it ran in the background. Some semi-eerie ghost effects drew me back in now and again, but mostly it was easy to ignore. See if desperate

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review – Dante's Inferno

This has got to be one of the weirdest rags-to-riches stories ever made. Spencer Tracy plays a penniless carny who goes to work for a side show attraction based on the title poem. Through a series of ruthless and occasionally illegal business dealings, he expands the cabinet of curiosities into a vast entertainment empire. But in the finest morality play tradition, his schemes begin to unravel themselves. The fun here is mostly to be had in the strange set work in the super-sized Inferno exhibit. I also enjoyed the flow-disrupting tour of Hell that takes place around midway through. Otherwise this is Scarface with less swearing and murder. Mildly amusing

Review – Birth

This is one of those laconically-paced little art movies that seem to attract big-name stars in search of a laconically-paced little art movie to bolster their acting cred. An example of what I'm talking about: one shot of Nicole Kidman’s face runs for nearly two whole minutes. Just her face and dramatic music. No kidding. With stunts like that abounding, even a neophyte film student would have little trouble cutting this feature-length stinker down to a 22-minute Twilight Zone episode. Kidman plays a newly-engaged woman approached by a ten-year-old kid (Danny Huston) who claims to be her dead husband. So it might actually have been an okay TZ (assuming the icky Kidman/Huston sexuality joined the endless, vacant staring on the cutting room floor). It just isn’t a good movie. Wish I’d skipped it

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review – The Bible

Thank goodness they only make it through Genesis (and even so only as far as the Abraham and Isaac sacrifice). If Dino DeLaurentiis and John Huston had actually tried to do the whole book, they’d probably still be shooting it. The Noah’s Ark sequence alone seems like it takes the full 40 days and 40 nights to unfold (plus Huston plays both Noah and the voice of God, so he ends up talking to himself). In a way it’s fun to see some long-familiar stories given epic Hollywood treatment. On the other hand, the original print versions are generally more edifying. Mildly amusing

Review – Action in the North Atlantic

Here’s a rarity: a World War Two era propaganda picture extolling the virtues of something besides the armed forces. Our heroes here are members of the Merchant Marine, valiantly sailing their Liberty Ship into the deadly hunting ground of Hitler’s U-boat wolfpacks and Luftwaffe in order to bring badly-needed supplies to Russia. Despite the tendency toward cliché anti-Nazi sermonizing, the script is reasonably good, and the cast – helmed by Humphrey Bogart – does a reasonably good job with it. Mildly amusing.

Genre: Action

Subgenre: War
Date reviewed: 7/26/2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review – Circle of Deception

How rare it is to see premise and execution intersect like this. A secret agent (Bradford Dillman) gets dropped into occupied France in 1944. The trick is that he doesn’t know his superiors are deliberately sending him in to get captured, hoping that he’ll be tortured and eventually reveal the fake plans they’ve given him. The drama is well paced, with adequate time given to the set up (particularly the romance between our hero and a woman who knows what’s going to happen but can’t tell him), the evasion and capture, and the interrogation. Some of the torture sequences are particularly graphic, especially for 1961. Worth seeing

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review – The Chairman

With a radio transmitter surgically implanted in his skull, a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist (Gregory Peck) journeys to China to meet Mao and try to steal some agricultural enzyme secrets. For the most part, “agricultural enzyme secrets” tells you what you need to know about the dullness level of the picture. It has a few exciting bits and a clever twist here and there. The scenery is pretty. But with some judicious editing it could have been at least 25% shorter. Mildly amusing

Review – Berlin Correspondent

Between September 1939 and December 1941, Europe was fighting a war that the United States wasn’t formally a part of. This spy picture takes advantage of the awkward state of affairs faced by American journalists working in Germany at the time. Though not officially at war, the hostility between the two countries and their respective ideologies was clear. As our hero tries his best to secretly incorporate the truth into his heavily-censored broadcasts, the Gestapo is hot on the trail of his information sources. In keeping with the spirit of 1942 when the picture came out, the drama is corny and the preachy propaganda gets laid on thick. But in a way it’s kinda comforting to know from the outset that truth and justice are going to prevail and the bad guys are going to get what’s coming to them in the end. Mildly amusing

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review – Dick Tracy

I don’t know why I watched this again. Maybe I wasn’t entirely convinced that this movie – or any movie – could be as stupid as I remembered it being. Um, yes it is. Indeed, it stands out as one of those rare pictures in which just about every element in the whole picture is uniformly terrible. If I had to pick one thing that stood out the most, it would have to be the cast. Listing every major Hollywood star in this production would more than double the size of this review, and they’re all awful. All of them. Warren Beatty stands out, but only because he played the title role as well as directing this stinker. I have to give it one point simply because it’s such an impressive train wreck of a movie. See if desperate

Review – The Curse of the Fly

Though those wacky scientists have managed to extract all the literal insects from the system, they still haven’t managed to work all the bugs out of their teleportation chamber. The system now stretches from England to Canada (shades of Marconi’s early experiments with long distance wireless), but it’s still a tad unreliable. And of course by “a tad unreliable” I mean that people put through it tend to come out mutilated on the other end. The plot twists, turns and eventually grinds to a halt. See if desperate

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review – Escape in the Fog

This spy picture from 1945 has a strange twist: the secret agent’s love interest has a premonition about enemy operatives attacking him in the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge. Trouble is, the premonition subplot plays out well before the halfway mark, and after that it turns into yet another witless anti-Axis propaganda piece. Some of the black-and-white fog scenes supplied some entertaining atmosphere, but they did little to make up for the mediocre script and uninspired acting. Mildly amusing

Review – The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

Add “Across the 8th Dimension” to the end of the title if you’re so inclined (though that serves to distinguish it from a sequel that was never made). Though I’ve seen this movie a couple of times before, this is a first for me for two reasons. First, this is the first time I’ve ever watched it from beginning to end without interruption. Second – and more important – this is the first time I watched it on my own, without being in the company of someone else who was absolutely convinced that it was the greatest movie ever made and absolutely convinced that I had to agree. Absent the pressure, I’m able to determine that it is in fact not the greatest movie ever made. It’s all kinds of 80s silly, and a lot of the dialogue is delivered in that mumbling nonsense cadence Popeye used to use in the old Max Fleischer cartoons. However, as long as you’re not expecting the greatest movie ever made, you should be able to derive at least some entertainment from this sci fi action comedy send-up of old serial adventure yarns (particularly Doc Savage). Mildly amusing

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Here we have a picture undone by its own budget. The story required a considerable outlay of cash to get the likes of Brad Pitt to appear and to special-effect him up to play the lead. With all the money two different studios spent on it, the picture comes across as an epic that demands to be taken seriously. However, it’s a lot easier to enjoy if you don’t take it at face value. The story is simple enough: a child is born as an old man and then ages backward. Of course he falls in love, meeting his beloved somewhere in the middle and then ending up as a baby cared for by an old woman. And it goes without saying that along the way he has no end of quirky adventures. In a smaller, more art-house picture this would have been an entertaining, sometimes even genuinely touching, contemplation of aging and human relationships. It’s just too odd a tale for the award-show-candidate blockbuster that marketing necessarily turned it into. Mildly amusing

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review – Broken Arrow

Though this scrupulously follows the John Woo formula – two men pitted against each other in an action movie with plenty of macho stand-offs and explosions – I expect the director’s fans may find themselves at least somewhat disappointed. It’s just not as stylish or clever as some of the movies he made on the other side of the Pacific. The story’s simple enough: the bad guy (John Travolta) steals a pair of nukes, and it’s up to his young protégé (Christian Slater) to chase him around the desert trying to get them back and then hide them once they’re recovered. Travolta seems to genuinely enjoy playing villains, so it’s too bad he sucks at it. His version of “dangerous psycho” comes across as a cranky version of Danny from Grease. Overall if you like watching stuff blow up then you’re in the right place. Mildly amusing

Review – Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return

The child actor who played the delightfully creepy Isaac returns – so it’s not just a catchy title – as an adult to once again fire up the cult killing business. This one has a little more of the giving-kids-up-for-adoption-to-save-them-from-the-monster theme, and in exchange we actually get fewer eerie cult kids. Otherwise this is yet another entry in a fairly standard series. Nancy Allen and Stacy Keach temporarily find work. Mildly amusing

Review – Children of the Corn 5: Fields of Terror

This is as terrible as I figured the last one was going to be. A group of city teens get stranded in a small town with a Children of the Corn problem. This one emphasizes the creepy religious cult aspect a bit more than some other entries in the series, but otherwise it’s standard stuff. The only recognizable face in the cast is David Carradine, who puts in a brief appearance as the cult leader. See if desperate

Review – Children of the Corn 4: The Gathering

At the outset I should admit that as of this writing I haven’t seen the second and third installments in this set, so if either of them included anything essential I haven’t seen it yet. A woman (Naomi Watts early in her career) returns to the family farm to help out when her mom (Karen Black later in hers) suffers a mental breakdown. Shortly thereafter every kid in town comes down with a mysterious illness. They recover, but then they go all children-of-the-corny. Bad gore and low-grade suspense ensue. Mildly amusing

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review – Bad Taste

So honestly, is there any point to reviewing a movie called “Bad Taste”? I mean, you get exactly what you pay for. This is like drinking a beverage labeled Can o’ Shit and then getting mad when it tastes like poop. Early in Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson’s career, he specialized in movies such as Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles and this, pictures that appeal almost exclusively to some people’s infantile need to have their noses rubbed in stupidity and filth. The plot is some moronic nonsense about commandos stumbling across a nest of zombie aliens. But honestly the story is beside the point. If you didn’t come for brain-squishing, puke-drinking, chain-sawing absurdity, then just keep walking. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Automaton

I don’t know. I thought Robovision and Monstervision were both good, but somehow combining them into Robo-Monstervision just didn’t work. Seriously though, this is an awful, pseudo-artistic mess about a dystopian future in which small pockets of armageddon-surviving humanity battle on using robot soldiers. Really slow moving robot soldiers. Between robo-battles, the protagonist plays videos of her father (Angus “The Tall Man” Scrimm) droning on and on about the drama’s apocalyptic back story. Two technical points: first, the battle sequences look about the same when played at double speed (and of course take only half the time). Second, the DVD errored out at around an hour and nine minutes in. Because we were unable to restart it, I’m going to give the picture a benefit-of-the-doubt point based on the questionable theory that something radically better might have happened in the last 15 minutes. See if desperate

Review – Agony

If this movie is any ground on which to judge, Eisenstein would hide his head in shame if he saw what became of Soviet film after his death. This 1975 epic about Rasputin is one of the most inept pieces of propaganda I’ve ever seen. A chunk of the blame falls on the head of the actor playing the lead role. This guy must be Russia’s answer to Val Kilmer. He plays Rasputin as an awkward combination of Charles Manson and The Dude from The Big Lebowsky. Though this is clearly part of the long line of pictures designed to justify the Russian Revolution by making the Romanovs look bad, the worst they seem to do here is possibly boring peasants (not to mention the audience) to death. Further, the translation is odd in places. It’s hard to say if the lines are some kind of Russian idiom that doesn’t make much sense to foreign audiences or if the characters are genuinely intended to spout nonsense. In either event, the bizarre dialogue is just another cog in a highly ineffective machine. And in another fine Soviet tradition, the picture is awfully hard on the animals. CHLITM rating: 30 minutes. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review – The Attic

One advantage to doppelganger movies is that they save at least some money that low-budget producers have to spend on their casts. They also appear to have saved some money on the script. The story sets up with a mentally-unstable woman who thinks she sees the ghost of her long-dead twin sister. Nobody believes her. She keeps seeing the ghost. Everybody keeps not believing. Do I even have to say that this gets boring after awhile? Also, either this was a short movie or Chiller cut a chunk out of it, because the ad breaks were epic (close to six minutes each). See if desperate

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review – Battle of the Bulge

This thing is nearly twice as long as a normal war movie. Unfortunately, it’s not twice as good. What we get here is one of those ensemble war pictures that follow several different characters during the course of one of the key battles of World War Two. Robert Shaw’s performance as a stereotypical SS tank commander stands out, but the rest of the celebs are fairly interchangeable. Clearly they spent a lot of money on the production, because it’s loaded with tanks (and this was back in the day before such things could be easily generated by computers, so they actually had to go out and get the real thing). So it’s an epic movie about an epic battle, but not much more. Mildly amusing

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Review – Danton

Who knew the French Revolution was so boring? Director Andrzej Wajda puts together a fairly prosaic tale of the fussin’ and feudin’ between Georges Danton (Gerard Depardieu) and Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak), eventually leading to the arrest, trial and execution of the former. When something is actually happening, this is an interesting picture. Unfortunately, the bulk of the screen time is devoted to arguments over obscure revolutionary principles. Mildly amusing