Monday, November 30, 2009

Review – Bedazzled (1967)

Though Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are cleverer than Kevin Smith, this still comes across as an our-parents’-generation version of Dogma. Moore plays a down-on-his-luck schmuck mooning over a woman he doesn’t have the guts to approach about a date. Enter Cook as a smart-alecky devil tempting our hero with seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Of course all of them go awry as deals with the devil tend to. Along the way, however, we get a lot of stand-up-comedy-style musing about theology. Some of it borders on witty, but a lot of it is just precocious and silly. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review – Doubt

Here’s unnecessary proof that you can take advantage of film’s ability to move easily between times and locations and still produce something as stiffly theatrical as the play upon which the picture is based. A cranky, self-righteous nun (Meryl Streep) squares off against a progressive priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whom she suspects of molesting boys. Though I thought the plot and most of the dialogue would have played better on the stage than it did on the screen, I did like the gloomy visual sense of the picture. And though normally I’d applaud anyone with the guts to make a morally-ambiguous movie, here I wasn’t sure if this was genuinely ambiguous or merely inept. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 27, 2009

Review – Star Trek (2009)

I’m having a hard time reviewing this movie because I’m a fan of the TV series from the 60s, and this picture seems to exist for no other reason than to mess with the original. I don’t mind a little clever re-invention – such as back story for familiar characters, the sort of thing that’s been done with Batman to good effect – but this just presses the reset button and starts over. For example, whole planets that were crucial to the story in the series are here obliterated without a second thought. I kept expecting some kind of J.J. Abrams Lost trick, where it turns out the destruction of Vulcan was a Dharma Initiative mind game. But no, apparently they’re serious about screwing everything up. And while normally I’d be tempted to toss in an “at least the effects were impressive,” here I can’t even go that far. For example, the new Enterprise bridge set is much fancier than the original, but now it looks less like the utilitarian command center of a starship and more like a noisy food court in the Mall of Tomorrow. I understand the need for some deviation from the certainly-flawed Star Trek of my youth. But this isn’t the Joker re-imagined as a violent psychopath. This is the Joker re-imagined as a giant octopus who’s pissed off about a botched sex change operation. The only reason I can eke out a single star for this mess is the chance that I’m being meaner to it than it deserves because it disappointed me. See if desperate

Review – Dead of Night (1945)

What eerie ability does this movie have to possess the minds of otherwise intelligent film people? It picked up ringing endorsements both from Martin Scorcese and one of my respected professors from my undergrad days. And yet it’s an insanely boring parade of un-scary scares. Almost every segment in this anthology piece is the sort of thing that might be unnerving if it actually happened to you but doesn’t make much of an impression when it happens to someone in a movie. The final sequence – a schizophrenic and his dummy bit starring Michael Redgrave – is the best of the lot, but even that one’s a cliché fest. I particularly dislike bad anthology pictures because they stand more of a chance than single-story movies; if one segment is weak, another might make up for it. But here everything is uniformly awful. See if desperate

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review – Angels and Demons

Just as The Da Vinci Code was almost exactly what I expected, so this one was as well. It’s full of the usual Dan Brown nonsense that oddly enough was done to better effect in National Treasure, a movie that isn’t even directly based on Brown’s writing. They spent a lot of money on it, though apparently not as much as the first one because the female lead wasn’t a big star like last time. And as with the book, I appreciated the religious dynamic; it was less atheists vs. the Roman Catholic church and more good Catholics (aided by atheists) vs. bad Catholics. However, in place of the direct assault we get a lot of sermonizing about the false dichotomy between science and religion. Preachiness aside, it’s a reasonably good big budget thriller. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review – Dolls

Normally I’m not a big fan of either Stuart Gordon or killer doll movies, but oddly enough this one kinda works. It isn’t a great horror movie by any stretch of the imagination. But there’s a little emotional satisfaction to be gained in the horrible ends of parents who begin the movie by being deliberately mean to a child. Some of the effects are also sorta fun in a mid-80s way as well. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review – Cuba

Though the concept had potential, the execution leaves a great deal to be desired. A British mercenary (Sean Connery) is hired by the Cuban government to help fight rebels in the waning days of 1958, when it was of course far too late to do anything about them. So he fights rebels. He gets tangled up in politics. He gets tangled up with an old flame (Brooke Adams) who’s married to a factory owner (Chris Sarandon). As I said, this could have worked. The problem is director Richard Lester. This guy had a couple of Beatles movies under his belt when he took the helm for this project, and unfortunately he brings the same brand of quirky humor to epic action movies that he employed when making pictures about pop stars. In Lester’s defense, many action movies are far too deadly serious and would benefit greatly from at least a small dose of humor. So it would have been nice if this had worked. Too bad it didn’t. I could have done without the unnecessary cockfighting sequence as well. See if desperate

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review – The Alphabet Killer

Anytime you get a movie based on the true story of a serial killer who was never caught, you can bet the picture is going to take some liberties with the facts. And this production is no exception. Eliza Dushku plays a detective trying to track down a predator who kidnaps and murders preadolescent girls. Her obsession with the case pushes her off the deep end, and she ends up in a mental hospital where she makes friends with a guy in a wheelchair (Tim Hutton). After she recovers and returns to desk duty at the police department, the killer resumes his habits. She persuades her ex-boyfriend (Cary Elwes) to let her work on the case. But the closer she gets to solving it the more she deteriorates mentally, seeing the ghosts of the dead kids and the like. The story is okay and the production values reasonably good. My only big gripe with the picture is that despite efforts at subterfuge the casting decisions tended to give away the surprise ending well in advance. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review – Deadgirl

I went back and forth for some time before deciding on a rating for this picture. On one hand, it features a genuinely excessive dose of disturbing sexual violence. On the other hand, it’s intended to make a point, not to titillate. A question I first pondered while watching The Stink of Flesh comes to the forefront here: is sex with an unwilling zombie merely an elaborate form of necrophilia, or is it actually rape? The circumstances here suggest the latter. A couple of slacker boys poking around in the basement of an abandoned asylum discover a naked woman wrapped up in a bag. Closer examination shows that she’s a member of the walking dead (except of course she isn’t walking around because she’s chained to the table). The miserable little dateless wonders decide to turn the zombie into their own personal sex slave, and things go downhill from there. I waffled between being thoroughly grossed out and mildly intrigued by the contrast between the hapless corpse and the living women in the picture. Overall I thought the drama made some good statements about adolescent male attitudes about women. Still, it wasn’t easy viewing. Mildly amusing

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review – Chariots of the Gods

They practically own South America. They taught the Incas everything they knew. It's been decades since I saw this great grandfather of all ancient astronaut documentaries, so I was surprised by three things I’d forgotten. First, it was really, really long. Though the running time is a standard 90 minutes or so, the narrative is so repetitive that it seems to drag on for far longer than that. Second, the soundtrack is an experiment in endurance. It sounds like it was composed by a trio made up of John Williams, Miles Davis in one of his free-form jazz odyssey moods, and a three year old attacking a Moog synthesizer like it stole his milk and cookies. Third, I’d forgotten the racism. Erich von Daniken’s thesis is that civilizations in Africa, South America and the Pacific were all created – or at least greatly influenced – by white people from outer space. The first two issues might have worked in a campy mock-fest way, but the third proved to be a deal breaker. See if desperate

Review – The Changeling

I never thought I’d type these words, but I honestly didn’t like George C. Scott in this role. For starters, he comes across as too old to have a daughter the age of the kid who gets killed at the beginning of this production. But more than his age, it’s the indifference he brings to the part. I was surprised that a guy who could breathe such life into just about everything from generals to cops to lawyers and back to generals again couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for his part in this picture. Mourning the loss of his wife and child, a music professor rents a mansion in Seattle that’s closer to his new job and affords him the space to work (and don’t bother asking where a college professor gets the money for a mansion). He soon discovers that his new digs are haunted by the restless ghost of a wheelchair-bound child. Saying more than that would spoil the plot developments that form the only reason to see this movie. Suffice it to say that this is a ghost story largely in the Shirley Jackson / Henry James mode, though at least it has a few spooky moments. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review – Anatomy of a Murder

I’m fond of this movie for one reason: the second half of the picture is devoted to one of the most realistic depictions of a criminal trial ever included in a studio release. Of course it’s still a far cry from the real thing. But at least it sorta follows proper procedure. Objections are usually used correctly, and so on. Oddly enough, the de-Hollywood-ization of the courtroom actually makes this a more interesting picture to watch, as home-spun defense lawyer Jimmy Stewart squares off against slick state prosecutor George C. Scott using the actual law rather than some made-up nonsense. Unfortunately, the rest of the picture isn’t as good. Many of the out-of-court shenanigans are much more standard lawyers-never-really-do-this silliness. Further, the end was both predictable and inferior to To Kill a Mockingbird, a movie that makes the same point but with greater emotional depth and less cynicism. Even the Duke Ellington soundtrack is a mixed blessing. Musically it’s brilliant stuff, but it’s intrusive in places. Still, the trial scenes make the rest of it worthwhile. Worth seeing

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review – Compulsion

After watching Inherit the Wind, I thought I’d keep my fictionalized Clarence Darrow streak alive with this drama based on the Leopold and Loeb case. This time around Orson Welles takes on the role. Of course he doesn’t show up until midway through. The first half of the picture is devoted to the criminals themselves, played by Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman. The circumstances surrounding the murder make them look like a pair of arrogant, cold-blooded killers. Thus when Welles finally gets around to delivering his lengthy, mumbling, rambling remarks in their defense, the outcome of the story becomes as implausible as it is inevitable. Though the last line of the picture helps redeem it a smidge, overall you’re going to need to bring some sympathy for the devil into the experience before you’re going to appreciate the labors of his advocate. Mildly amusing

Review – Banshee!!!

For the most part this is yet another low-budget tale of young folk unwisely straying into the woods, where they become chow for a youngster-chomping, CGI gargoyle. However, this picture went an extra couple of yards to earn a spot in the “total garbage” category. For starters, the monster kills a dog in the first ten minutes, which automatically required the movie to do something to redeem itself (which of course it never did). But worse was the squandering of the “banshee” thing. A banshee that followed the actual folk legends would have been one of the cooler denizens of the ghost pantheon. This thing didn’t even vaguely merit the title. And seriously guys, all those exclamation points? Is this a tale from a bad horror comic from the 1970s? Again, no. Even those were better than this mess. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review – Dahmer

How can a movie about a serial-killing cannibal possibly be this dull? Well, for starters it features almost none of his murders and nary a bite of human flesh. Instead it focuses on Jeffrey Dahmer’s sexual orientation. Though I was relieved that this wasn’t just another stupid “true crime” exploitation flick, I didn’t think an undergraduate-screenwriting-class-quality exploration of homosexuality and murder was a tremendous step in the right direction. If nothing else, the ties were too tight between coming to grips with natural sexuality and coming to grips with a compulsion to rape and kill. It made me wonder if this was stealthily one of those “homosexuality is a disease” pictures, though proponents of that position generally aren’t the masters of stealth. See if desperate