Friday, December 31, 2010

Review – Eye of the Needle

The set-up in this spy thriller is actually quite good. A Nazi secret agent (Donald Sutherland) discovers that an “army” under Patton’s command is actually an elaborate ruse intended to draw German forces away from the real location of the impending D-Day invasion. For awhile the story stays interesting as the anti-hero evades capture and tries to sneak photos of the fake invasion force out of England. But eventually he ends up hiding out in the isolated home of a disabled RAF veteran (Christopher Cazenove) and his lonely wife (Kate Nelligan). Creepy love triangle gives way to a relentless game of cat and mouse, an unfortunate, non-thrilling end to a picture that was reasonably entertaining up until then. Mildly amusing

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review – The Duellists

So is there a law or regulation somewhere that requires all movies about the Napoleonic era to be deadly dull? Director Ridley Scott starts with a source story by Joseph Conrad, but everything in the movie except the duels themselves are as boring as Kubrick’s adaptation of Thackery. Two French officers (Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) get crossways of one another and duel on several occasions as Napoleon seizes and then loses Europe in the background. Like Kubrick’s failure, this too is a visually stunning but otherwise unrewarding production. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Review – Alone in the Dark 2

At least it isn't quite as terrible as the first one. That's due in part to the absence of Uwe Boll in the director's chair (though he's a producer). But more than that, it's easier to swallow because it doesn't take itself so seriously. This is a crappy cheese fest and it knows it. The plot has something to do with a magic knife and the vengeful spirit of an evil witch, but as usual the plot really isn't the point. Though if your next question is "Okay, what is the point?" well, um ... see if desperate

Review – Circle of Eight

A new woman moves into an apartment building that appears to be a blend of movie set and insane asylum. All her fellow tenants seem to have three things in common: they're all at least a little off somehow, they've all mastered the inappropriate share, and they're all creepily obsessed with the protagonist. Is she nuts? Is she the sane victim of a complicated plot to drive her insane? Could the truth be something even less interesting? Only 90 minutes' worth of patience with some highly mediocre filmmaking will uncover the answer. See if desperate

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review - The Final Countdown

The title of this production is a puzzlement, as the picture lacks a countdown of any kind, final or otherwise. So really the only purpose the title serves is to dig up an earwig from Europe. The story, on the other hand, is an odd little tale about an 80s era aircraft carrier sucked through an unexplained time warp and deposited between Pearl Harbor and the Japanese fleet on December 7, 1941. Should they let history run its course, or should they use their vastly superior firepower to intervene and stop the attack? From the summary alone you can already tell that this plays out like a Twilight Zone episode that goes on five times longer than it needs to. Mildly amusing

Friday, December 24, 2010

Review – A Christmas Carol (2009)

I liked this better than I thought I would, due in no small part to a surprisingly close correlation between the script and Dickens’s classic tale. Indeed, the only serious departure from the original text is an interminable hearse chase that serves no function other than prolonging the fourth chapter. Doing the whole production as a high-dollar computer animation also allowed the production to more faithfully recreate Dickens’s vision, particularly for the amorphous Spirit of Christmas Past. On the minus side, there’s the voice work for Scrooge (Jim Carrey) and the Spirits of Christmas Past (Jim Carrey) and Present (Jim Carrey). Overall I still like the Sim version better, but this has some good things going for it as well. Mildly amusing

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Abandoned – The Uninvited

Approximately 20 minutes in I determined two unwelcome facts: first, this was a really boring indie movie about a woman who suffers from a really boring mental disorder, and second, IFC is now showing ads during movies. Boo to both.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review – Arctic Predator

As the title implies, this is a SyFy dumb blend of themes “borrowed” from The Thing and Predator. An arctic squad of researchers and military support staff unearth an invisible alien monster. The picture is completely devoid of clever twists, interesting characters or anything else that might have redeemed it. See if desperate

Friday, December 3, 2010

Review – The Boston Strangler

Two things stand out about this telling of the tale of Albert DeSalvo, accused of raping and strangling 13 women in the Boston area in the early 1960s. On the positive side, director Richard Fleischer’s use of split screen editing – while visually jarring – works better than such gimmicks usually do. On the other hand, the production doesn’t stick as closely to the truth as most true crime stories at least attempt to. I don’t necessarily need a thorough examination of every aspect of the investigation, though at least a mention of the questions about DeSalvo’s guilt might have been nice. But the storytellers here make some details up out of whole cloth, such as the notion that the killer suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder. Tony Curtis as the strangler and Henry Fonda as the chief of the task force convened to catch him both bring plenty of talent to the table. But the section that should have been tailor-made for them to shine – an extended dialogue between the two that takes up most of act three – instead falls victim to lackluster writing. Mildly amusing

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Abandoned – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

After only eight minutes I was ready to punch everyone involved.

Abandoned – Quintet

Any soft-focus, post-apocalyptic borefest is bound to evoke Zardoz. And without the giant floating head ... 33 minutes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review - Field of Dreams

I want to like this movie. I really do. Any attempt to appreciate baseball on an emotional level is at least worth a look. I even set it up for nearly optimal viewing conditions, saving it for a chilly off-season afternoon when I’d really savor a bit of summer. But there’s just something about this tale of a guy impelled by disembodied voices to turn part of his Iowa cornfield into a baseball diamond for the ghosts of the Black Sox. I don’t fault it for being quirky and sentimental. I fault it for being so self-consciously in-your-face quirky and sentimental that it comes across as baseball transformed into a Hallmark card trying to be clever. Every time it seems like it’s going to say something honest or be entertaining in any way, it lapses once again into Kevin-Costner-y silliness. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review - The Final

Normally I have absolutely no use for torture porn, so I was profoundly surprised to find myself enjoying this prime specimen. It pits high school losers against the bullies who pick on them, with the geeks taking terrible revenge on their tormentors. The Netflix description made it sound like the torturers drew inspiration from historical examples, so I was a little disappointed when their bag of tricks was entirely contemporary and somewhat unimaginative. Further, the production suffers from some rookie mistakes in the plot and editing departments. Overall, however, I’m ashamed to admit how much fun it was for someone who’s been gone from high school as long as I have to watch the “popular kids” that infect every school in the land finally get what’s coming to them. All the entries in this sub-genre should have this much of a sense of purpose. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review – Beauty and the Beast (1946)

This is one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen. The cinematography, art direction and costume design (some of which was done by Pierre Cardin himself) are beautiful, particularly for a black and white movie. However, for me the best part is the makeup. I share Greta Garbo’s reaction to the Beast’s transformation at the end of the movie: the strange, cat-like monster is way more interesting than Jean Marais sans fur. However, I went back and forth about the story and the dialogue (much of which was in French so simple even my high school lessons nearly three decades ago allowed me to follow it without recourse to the subtitles). Sometimes it created a dreamy, childhood fairytale atmosphere, but at other times it just seemed dumb. Still, those visuals … Worth seeing

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review – Dark Mirror

A vengeful ghost. A mirror portal. Standard tricks of the horror trade. Sadly, they’re put to no particular good use here. A mildly neurotic woman moves into a house with a history of strange disappearances. As she struggles to find a job, care for her kid and cope with her jerkweed husband, her photographs slowly uncover an evil presence dogging her every step. See if desperate

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review – The Devil Bat

Giant bats are killing the townsfolk. How does suspicion not immediately fall on the creepy doctor with the foreign accent (Bela Lugosi)? Well, if people are trying to celebrate diversity and avoid stereotyping, they needn’t have bothered. The foreigner’s responsible. Indeed, he’s hatched a particularly bizarre scheme to use electricity to make ordinary bats grow to the size of German shepherds and then program them to attack anyone wearing a perfume or aftershave laced with the doctor’s special chemical. The picture is as ridiculous as the description makes it sound. See if desperate

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review – Count Yorga, Vampire

This was listed in the opening credits as The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire, the remnants of the picture’s pre-production origins as a soft-core porn flick. For better or worse, the nude scenes were removed from the script prior to shooting. I say “better” because in general the world can probably do without more vampire porn movies. But it’s “worse” as well, because if the movie had included sex scenes then at least it would have had something. This is nothing but dull vampire shenanigans. Oh, and PS: brutally killed cat plus unpleasant dead baby reference equals a zero rating rather than a one. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review – City Heat

I started out all pissed off that Hollywood made a movie set in Kansas City but then cut out all the references to it. But by the end of the ordeal I found myself genuinely grateful that my hometown was spared direct association with a stinker like this. The main draw is a team-up of Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood, and perhaps if they’d made a more straightforward action movie it might have worked. Instead, this is a poorly-written, goofy comedy. Every once in awhile Eastwood gets in a good line, but otherwise it’s just too dumb for words. It didn’t particularly help that something was wrong with Encore’s copy of the movie and the sound didn’t quite match the picture. Mildly amusing

Review – Anne of the Thousand Days

I found the title of this picture somewhat misleading. What I was hoping for was a movie that would focus on Anne Boleyn’s brief reign as Queen of England. After all, everyone knows the story of how she ended up with the job. What’s less clear is exactly how she went from Chief Babe of the Realm to headless corpse in so brief a time. But no, we have to start at the beginning and spend at least an hour on the all-too-familiar part of the story. And as if it wasn’t bad enough to rely on the story’s time-honored clichés, the production can’t even settle on which clichés to go with. Sometimes Anne (Genevieve Bujold) is out for revenge for the king’s interference with her plans to marry Lord Percy. But then at other points she’s grubbing power for its own sake or even doing it for love. For his part, Henry (Richard Burton) is motivated either by lust or a pathological obsession with producing a male heir. And once again the Protestant Reformation gets barely a mention. The only thing I found interesting about this was that it took nearly 20 years for this version of the story to make the jump from the Broadway stage to Hollywood, the delay caused by all the salacious elements of the tale that couldn’t be filmed – even in as tame a manner as this – until after the demise of the Hays Code. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review – The Battleship Potemkin

Though this occupies a firm and well-deserved spot on any serious film student’s must-see list, the propaganda gets laid on pretty thick. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a master at treating the cinema as a graphic art, and in this silent production from 1925 you can witness the birth of composition and montage techniques that made the movies what they are today. The story, on the other hand, is a silly tale of valiant, strong and universally good proletarians versus the creepy, weak and uniformly evil forces of the Czar. Plot aside, however, even all these years later it’s still a genuine pleasure to see a brilliant artist at the top of his game. Buy the disc

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review – The Bunker (1981)

Hitler is an impossible role to play. If you try to understate the character and avoid the obvious cliché mannerisms, you don’t convince the audience or do justice to the role (not to mention that if you want “understated” then you probably shouldn’t get Anthony Hopkins for the part). On the other hand, if you play him true to form, you come off looking like a mocking impersonation. Every time I see a performance like this, I can practically hear Chaplin raving about “der sauerkrauten und der rooten tooten.” Fortunately the lead role isn’t exactly the death of this overall disappointment. The script trots out the usual “wisdom” about the final days of the Third Reich (Hitler was a nut, Bormann was a jerk, Speer was trying to do the right thing, and so on) without adding any nuance or new information. The subject itself is inherently somewhat interesting, but the production never rises above the level of appeal that any death-of-Hitler show would have commanded. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review – Annie

I’m genuinely amazed that such a picture could be produced without a drop of irony to be found anywhere. Honestly, I could have dealt with the treacle, the clichés, the racism, the sexism, the songs, the choreography and even the more-than-a-little-creepy relationship between Little Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks if they’d given me even a brief yes-we-realize-this-is-corny wink. But oh no. Not back in 1982 when it was “morning in America.” Nowadays of course the only reason you’d ever have to sit through an experience like this is if you get stuck in the Harmony Hut. See if desperate

Friday, November 5, 2010

Review – The Boneyard (2009)

Technically I think this was originally a show on the Discovery Channel, but it used up as much of my life as a feature-length movie would have, so I’m going to go ahead and review it. In true high-band cable style, this is a made-on-the-cheap documentary liberally peppered with dramatic recreations of all of the least interesting parts of the story. In the early 80s a couple of losers – main perpetrator Leonard Lake and sidekick Charles Ng – tortured and murdered somewhere between one and two dozen people. Lake cheated justice by popping a cyanide pill shortly after his arrest. Because the evidence didn’t tie Ng as tightly to the crimes, it took a lot of time and effort to assemble the case against him and bring him to trial. This production dwells almost exclusively on the forensic investigation and the wrangling in the courtroom. In other words, it’s nearly as boring as a real trial. See if desperate

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review – The Curse of Frankenstein

Mary Shelly gets Hammered in this vaguely faithful retelling of the classic tale. The picture pairs Peter Cushing as the doctor and Christopher Lee as the creature, and between the two of them they make a reasonable success of things. Lee’s makeup in particular makes the actor look like a badly-used corpse while at the same time avoiding legal trouble with Universal. Though this is neither the high point of Hammer’s legendary portfolio nor the best version of Frankenstein I’ve ever seen, it’s still reasonably entertaining. Mildly amusing

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review – Above Suspicion

As a horror movie buff, I’m used to Joan Crawford on the aging down slope of her career, taking any crappy job that would pay the bills and keep her in front of the camera a little longer. So it was weird to see her as the young, wise-cracking heroine of a World War Two spy movie. She and Fred MacMurray team up to play a vaguely Nick-and-Nora-Charles-esque couple asked by His Majesty’s government to detour from their European honeymoon to help track down a missing agent. Though they take to the task with brio, the plot swiftly mires in a relentless parade of secret messages stuffed in books, rendezvous triggered by watchwords and other mediocre bits of skullduggery. This isn’t the worst propaganda picture I’ve ever seen, but it isn’t exactly the best either. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Abandoned – Freaked

Clever? Stupid? Clever? Stupid? Clever? Nope, sorry. Stupid. 15 minutes.

Review - Fat Man and Little Boy

Though the title makes it sound like the movie is going to be about the bombs, it actually follows a more predictable route by focusing on the relationship between General Leslie Groves (Paul Newman) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz), the fathers of the atomic bomb. And as one might expect, the main theme is the crisis of conscience experienced by “Oppy” and his egghead crew in the face of the military’s desperate need for the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Production values are good and coverage is thorough, though the tale does tap dance around a few of the more sinister questions raised by this particular union of science and war. Mildly amusing

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review – The Art of Action

Considering the “Starz/Encore presents” up front and Samuel L. Jackson doing the narration, I was expecting another run-of-the-mill assemblage of scenes from martial arts movies I’d seen a hundred times. So I was pleasantly surprised when this turned out to be a thoughtful, interesting documentary about the development of the martial arts genre. Most of the emphasis is on China, but the coverage is thorough, going all the way back to the suppression of the Shaolin temple and the spread of its arts to the Chinese opera. The picture also included footage from the silent era, which showed how little the genre has progressed in many ways. To be sure, Jackson’s pseudo-hip commentary isn’t particularly welcome. But this turns out to be a good movie despite him. Worth seeing

Friday, October 15, 2010

Abandoned – Assault of the Sasquatch

Redneck hunters, leg-hold traps and bear killing. And that's just before the opening credits finished. I lasted only five minutes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review – The Buddy Holly Story

The most remarkable thing about this biopic is that prior to a lot of hard living and a bad head injury or two, Gary Busey actually had some talent. Holly’s music seems pretty tame by 21st century standards, so this story is a good reminder of just how radically brilliant his work was and just how much nonsense – racist and otherwise – he had to go through just to be heard. Unfortunately the final sequence – his very last show – serves as a sad reminder not only of how tragic his loss was but also how greatly his music suffered when it was overproduced and robbed of the simplicity that made it so great. The production values of this picture are fairly mediocre, but the subject is sufficiently fascinating to carry the day. Worth seeing

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Abandoned – Danger Beneath the Waves

Imagine Crimson Tide reshot as a cheap-ass Casper Van Dien movie and estimate how long you could keep watching it. I made it 34 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review – The Accidental Tourist

I can’t say if it was subtle differences between the book and the movie, the passage of time between the two experiences or some other less tangible factor, but I didn’t like the movie anywhere near as much as I liked the book. The characters’ quirks seemed superficial rather than genuine. William Hurt was particularly awful. He’s proven on any number of occasions that he can plan an emotionally distant man, but when he’s called upon to let the wall drop and show some feeling, he looks more as if he’s having a particularly unpleasant hemorrhoidal flare-up. Nor can he make the slightest emotional connection with either fellow Body Heat alum Kathleen Turner as his estranged wife or Geena Davis as his wacky would-be girlfriend. Thus what in the book was a charming little story about an author who writes travel guides for people who hate to travel becomes a muddled mess of a motion picture. See if desperate

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Review – Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan

Of all the Star Trek movies, this is the only one with a plot that directly depends on one of the episodes of the original TV series. Ricardo “Mr. Rourke” Montalban’s superman character returns to seek revenge on Captain Kirk for stranding him on a dying planet many years earlier. Though the effects are a little primitive by today’s standards, much of it still holds up; a particular crowd favorite is the earwig sequence. Of course it’s amazing that between Montalban and William Shatner there’s any scenery left at the end of the picture. And the whole subplot with the genesis thing and Kirk’s son just goes nowhere and detracts from the more interesting dramatic points. All that notwithstanding, there have been plenty worse Star Trek movies. Mildly amusing

Review – The Devil's Bride

How can this much devil conjurin’ be this deadly dull? Christopher Lee turns in a rare performance as a good guy, an expert on the occult trying to keep a handful of friends from falling into the clutches of a Satanist circle. The struggle that ensues is clogged with so much silly mumbo jumbo that it’s impossible to take seriously. This might have worked as an episode in a half-hour-format horror series for television, but as a feature-length production it doesn’t make it. See if desperate

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review – Daughters of Satan

This pack is lucky to have a father as merciful as Satan. If I’d been their dad, I would have drowned them at birth. This joint United States and Philippines production thoroughly humiliates a young Tom Selleck, who plays a man with amazingly terrible taste in art. He purchases a painting – the likes of which nobody would even bother to paint on the side of a van – of three witches being burned at the stake by the Inquisition, the draw being the middle victim’s resemblance to his wife. So it’s his bad luck that in addition to having one of his walls marred by this travesty it also turns out to be a gateway that allows the local “Satanites” entry to his home. Some of the cult’s rituals come across as torture porn before there even was such a thing, but otherwise this picture is undistinguished from every other bad horror movie from the 1970s. See if desperate

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Abandoned – Dead & Breakfast

Once again horror plus comedy equals stupid. A handful of familiar faces is all this thing has to offer. I made it 23 minutes into this.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review – The Circus

Charlie Chaplin made two somewhat-silent movies after the rest of the world had moved on to sound, but this 1928 production is his last picture of the silent era. It has all the usual elements: the little fellow, the love interest who prefers someone else, the cruel boss, and of course endless opportunities for the physical comedy for which Chaplin had such an immense genius. This time around our hero blunders into a job at the title location, falls in love with the boss’s daughter, gets chased by a mule, ruins everyone else’s acts, and ends up the star of the show. Though The Gold Rush and Modern Times outshine it, this production is still better than most everything else out there. Buy the disc

Review – Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

Yes, indeed he’s back again (though technically he arose from being frozen rather than from an actual grave). Mad at the local monsignor for sticking a cross on his front door, our antihero goes in search of revenge. Christopher Lee does his usual job as the Count, but otherwise this is one of the lesser entries in Hammer Dracula set. Mildly amusing

Friday, October 1, 2010

Review – Blood Creek

Throughout big chunks of this movie I had the nagging feeling that I’d seen it before. Perhaps it was because I’ve seen so many cheap horror movies that they’re starting to blend together in my memory. Or maybe I started watching it sometime in the past, got bored or frustrated, gave up on it and then forgot about it. That certainly would have been an understandable reaction. A couple of rednecks and a family of immortal German farmers square off against an evil Nazi zombie-vampire-whatever trying to use a rune stone to grow a third eye and rule the universe from beyond the grave. The production ruins itself by paying only the scantest attention to plot and character, instead dwelling on fight sequences that seldom rise above a lot of flopping around on the ground. Oh, and violent animal death. Lots and lots of violent animal death. I don’t know why a good horror movie with Nazi occultist villains is so hard to make, but once again the goal proves elusive. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review – The Devil Within Her

The DirecTV program guide describes this movie as “A British nun performs an exorcism on her sister-in-law’s vicious baby, cursed by a dancing dwarf.” Toss Joan Collins in as the mom, and you’ve already got a vivid picture of what’s in store for you here. Director Paul Sasdy appears to be one of those guys who has no idea of proper pacing, allowing scenes (especially those with annoyances such as ringing phones and crying babies) to go on well beyond their value to the plot. Also released under the title Sharon’s Baby, no doubt to exploit plot similarities with Rosemary’s Baby. See if desperate

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review – Edward Scissorhands

I don’t know Tim Burton personally, but if were to guess based on his body of work, I’d say that this is his most intensely personal movie. It’s the clearest expression of his outsider-trying-to-cope theme, strongly encouraging us to cheer as the mid-century suburbs are transformed by the protagonist’s strange artistic vision. A housewife (Dianne Wiest) visits the local “haunted” castle and finds it inhabited by a mad scientist’s final creation (Johnny Depp), a nearly-complete Frankenstein’s monster with scissors for hands. Feeling sorry for the poor creature, she takes him home to meet the family, where he falls in love with the teenage daughter (Winona Ryder). At first his talents with topiary and hairdos makes him a minor celebrity, but then things start to unravel. The production is stiff and self-conscious in some spots, melodramatic in others. But overall it’s a fine example of a talented director at work. Mildly amusing

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review – Devil's Mercy

Which evidently isn’t much mercy at all. A young couple and their son move into an old house they’re sharing with a weird old guy (Stephen Rea) and his “niece.” Turns out that the creepy duo are witches trying to set up a sacrifice so they can … oh, does it really matter? This is one of those productions that manipulates the plot to keep things from happening, presumably out of an obligation to make 15 minutes worth of story occupy 90 minutes worth of video. See if desperate

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review – Deadline (2009)

So “horror movie” minus “horror” equals “taut psychological thriller”? Recalculate, please. I think you’ll find the correct answer is “boring.” Seriously, the scariest thing in this picture is wan, lackluster Brittany Murphy in one of her last roles. She plays a depressed author with writer’s block (always a bad sign) who sets up shop in a big, spooky house in the country in part to un-block herself and in part to avoid her malicious ex who’s just gotten out of prison. Naturally the place is haunted, but the ghosts’ overtures – knocking over a chair, leaving a tap on – are so phenomenally ordinary that they wear out their welcome before they get around to doing anything worth looking at. The main haint turns out to be a previous occupant of the house, a woman (Thora Birch) who ran afoul of her obsessive husband. This is one of those movies that take every predictable turn. See if desperate

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Review – Bogus

A kid (Haley Joel Osment) loses his mom in a car wreck and has to go live with his mom’s childhood friend (Whoopi Goldberg), a situation complicated by the tyke’s imaginary friend, a Frenchman named Bogus (Gerard Depardieu). This raises an obvious question: is the worst thing that can happen to you as a kid a.) losing your mom in a car wreck, b.) being adopted by Whoopi Goldberg or c.) being stuck with Gerard Depardieu as an imaginary friend? Naturally this turns out to be a cliché-ridden pile of “inner child” drivel, incompetently scripted and indifferently acted. The big mistake here is betting the farm on “poignant” and then failing to pull it off. See if desperate

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review – The Apple Dumpling Gang

Did you ever notice how Germans don’t do much in the comedy realm, and yet just about anything translated into German immediately becomes funny? For example, in English this picture is the evil opposite of amusing, but transform it into Das Apfelstrudelgruppen and it’s the height of hilarity. I vaguely remember seeing this in a theater when it was first released in 1975, and even back then – I was nine at the time – I thought it was stupid. So even though usually I’d partially defend a picture like this by pointing out that I’m not exactly a member of the target audience and thus not in the best position to judge its intended appeal, with this stinker I think it’s safe to say that it just stinks. Disney cranked out boxcars full of dreadful little live-action pictures in the early 70s, and this one is distinguished from most of the rest only by its western setting. A gambler (Bill Bixby) ends up stuck with three troublemaking orphans who find a gold nugget that two bungling robbers (Don Knotts and Tim Conway) try to steal, and … wait, I lost most of you by mentioning Knotts and Conway, didn’t I? See if desperate

Abandoned – Ripper 2: Letters from Within

I recorded this from Chiller and noticed right away that the story seemed to depend a great deal on nudity that was being blurred or otherwise excised. Though it wasn’t shaping up to be a cinematic masterpiece anyway, the bowdlerized version ran profoundly afoul of the 8sails rule against reviewing censored material. Perhaps if I run across an uncut version someday I’ll watch it. Or then again, maybe not.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review – Bedtime Stories

As this was supposed to be a family-oriented picture, I was on the edge of my seat until I was reasonably sure it wouldn’t turn out to be as offensive as previous Adam Sandler effort You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Though it was nowhere near as disgusting, unfortunately it was every bit as dumb. Sandler plays a ne’er-do-well stuck babysitting his niece and nephew. Miraculously the events they describe while making up bedtime stories actually come to pass the next day, at least after a fashion. Sitcom-worthy hilarity ensues. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review – Dungeons and Dragons: The Wrath of the Dragon God

Picture a movie with “Dungeons and Dragons” in the title showing on SyFy and you’ve got the picture just as clearly as if you actually sat through it. Sadly the plot and characters are straight out of a session of the eponymous role playing game run by a bad Dungeon Master. The action meanders from encounter to encounter with stock monsters and other bad guys, battles strung together at random like a bead bracelet put together by a five-year-old. I could practically feel the dice in my hand as I watched. See if desperate

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review – Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country

This is the final entry from the aging crew from the original Star Trek series. From here on out, it’s the next generation. At least for the last gasp from the past they chose something a little more engaging than the previous couple of outings. The dreaded Klingon empire has suffered some setbacks, and the time for peace is at hand (a situation roughly analogous to US/Soviet relations around the time the film was made). Naturally complications arise when the crew of the Enterprise is sent to escort the Klingon ambassador to the peace talks. The action proceeds from there, with plenty of standard series intrigue and starship battles in the offing. Mildly amusing

Review – Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier

And so it ends. Actually despite the title they kept right on making them, one more with the original cast and then segueing into the Next Generation. But this is the only one that until now remained unreviewed on 8sails. And ugh, is it an awful mess. Most of the blame can be heaped on the head of writer / director / star / general a-hole William Shatner, whose monster ego permeates every corner of the picture. A Vulcan religious fanatic takes hostages in an ass-end-of-the-universe spot called Paradise City (insert your own joke about the grass not being green and the girls not being pretty) and blackmails and/or hypnotizes the skeleton crew of a rickety new Enterprise into dragging him to the center of the galaxy so he can meet God. But the real point of the picture is to demonstrate over and over again what great friends we all are, particularly the “big three.” Shatner must not have learned one of the most important lessons of the grade school playground: constantly insisting that everyone like you is a sure-fire way to make sure that nobody will. See if desperate

Review - Female Trouble

Though it has some close competition, this is my favorite John Waters movie. It’s a terrific balance of shock and plot, so while he makes great use of his hallmark gross-outs he also tells a good story. This is also one of his more personal pieces, sneaking in elements from his own obsessions. Ditto for Divine, who seems quite at home as the outrageous Dawn Davenport. Waters’s early-career ensemble unites here for the last time in a hilarious send-up of pop culture’s obsession with crime, a theme that remains eerily relevant even decades later. Buy the disc

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review – The Expendables

Is there really no way to prevent Sylvester Stallone from writing screenplays? The characters don’t speak to each other as much as they just stumble from one scene to the next mouthing tough-sounding nonsense. The plot is sheer ridiculousness, some clap-trap about a band of ultra-macho mercenaries hired by the CIA to kill a Caribbean dictator when the actual target is a drug-dealing former operative. And if that strikes you as absurd, rest assured they’re just getting started. Some of the explosions are entertaining in a blowed-up-real-good kinda way, but even the action sequences are messy, jump-cut assemblages of awkward angles. The main draw here is the casting of just about every action movie star this side of Chuck Norris, and if that’s all it takes to keep you happy then you’ll get your money’s worth. But be prepared to take the bad with the good. For example, if I never have to look at another ECU of Mickey Rourke it’ll be a day too soon (though respect to whomever persuaded him to play a character named Tool without a drop of irony). And maybe it’s just the credulous kid in me, but I didn’t buy Dolph Lundgren beating Jet Li in a hand-to-hand fight. Everyone in this has done better work elsewhere, so merely having them all in one place isn’t all that big a boon. See if desperate

Review – Cry Freedom

This is the quintessential example of white African racism viewed strictly from a white African liberal perspective. I mean, the casting director understands the real situation. Why else cast talented Denzel Washington as “supporting” character Stephen Biko and usually-conscious Kevin Kline as protagonist Donald Woods? The parts that are about Biko aren’t too bad. Sadly, the vast majority of the picture is devoted to Woods and how hard he has it when he decides to stand up to the South African government. In particular the last half of the picture is devoted to the exceptionally dull story of how he and his family managed to flee the country. And of course the trouble with making a movie about Apartheid – especially back when the roaches were still in power – is that even the truth is such a cartoonish case of good versus evil that the story loses impact. Mildly amusing

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review – The Big Red One

This movie should appeal more to World War Two buffs than to war movie fans. The story features several clever nods to actual events, such as Lee Marvin’s character getting shot in North Africa in a manner that mirrors the actor’s actual bullet wound received in combat in the Pacific. On the other hand, it has a few groaners as well, such as the use of Israeli-American tanks to play German Tigers. The plot is a relentless parade of WWII clichés. Still, at least it has a sense of fun largely absent from larger, more self-important productions such as Saving Private Ryan. Mildly amusing

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review – The Deer Hunter

Wow, what a disappointing movie. In its original release it must have helped America come to grips with the toll taken by the Vietnam War on the men sent to fight it. Director Michael Cimino consciously surfs the Altman-mumbly-actor-realism wave, which was more important then than it is now. This approach proves to be the primary failing of the picture. The story doesn’t move to Vietnam – and the legendary Russian roulette scenes – until an hour in, so everyone has at least 60 minutes to establish sympathetic or at least coherent characters. We get the bare bones of these steel-town Pennsylvania mooks (one guy’s getting married, another has a crush on a buddy’s girlfriend, and so on), but the attempt to make them “real real” rather than “movie real” succeeds only in making them stiff, distant and difficult to care about. The production is also plagued by preachiness, with plot developments so ham-handed that Cimino might as well have flashed a “look, I’m making a point” card onscreen just to make extra sure nobody missed it. Though I didn’t care for the director’s truly legendary flop, I thought it was superior to this critically-acclaimed dog. See if desperate

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review – The Delta Force

Generic Muslim terrorists beware! Chuck Norris is on your case. This relic from the Reagan 80s is almost quaint by 21st century standards; if nothing else, it’s weird to watch two guys hijack an airplane and not be immediately mobbed by passengers fearful of being plowed into a skyscraper. My favorite part was Norris’s commando motorcycle complete with rear-aimed rocket launchers that make him look like he’s farting his enemies to death. Most of the rest of the movie is on par with that. Lee Marvin could most likely have found a better movie for his last appearance onscreen. See if desperate

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review – The Company

This three-part miniseries gets off to a slow start and comes to a slow halt, but some of the stuff in the middle is reasonably entertaining. Chris O’Donnell plays a CIA operative with an extraordinary résumé: in the streets of Budapest in 1956, on the beach at the Bay of Pigs, right up to Moscow just in time for the fall of Communism. The reenactments of the big moments are the real draw of this set, though most of the screen time is devoted to dreary romances and the endless search for a mole nicknamed Sasha. The whole thing runs nearly five hours, which could easily have been trimmed down to two that would actually have been worth watching. Mildly amusing

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review – Chariots of Fire

They’re athletes (track stars, no less). They’re establishment English (okay, Eric Liddell was Scottish, but the movie makes little of the distinction). I should hate this, but I don’t. The story follows two members of Britain’s 1924 Olympics team: Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross). While Liddell struggles with conflicts between his faith and the requirements of competition, Abrahams runs afoul of the athletics establishment when he bends strict amateurs-only rules by hiring a professional coach. But a simple plot summary doesn’t do justice to the character development and subtle touches that make this worth a look. Buy the disc

Review – Corruption

Peter Cushing’s name in the credits gets me set for some creaky Victorian skullduggery from Hammer Studios, so I was a little disappointed to learn that this wasn’t a Hammer production and the setting was 1968 contemporary. That notwithstanding, we get a fair amount of creepy murder. Cushing plays a surgeon seeking a way to repair the burned face of his fashion model fiancé. Unfortunately the cure he comes up with involves glands from other women, the more recently dead the better. After the good doctor reluctantly commits a handful of murders, the crime spree is interrupted by a pack of hippie housebreakers who are less Manson Family scary and more acid-is-groovy-kill-the-pigs stupid. I was intrigued by the rare complicity of the love interest. Usually the mad scientist’s girlfriend/wife has a “he was doing what?” moment somewhere along the line, but here the woman knows what’s going on and even forces the hapless doctor to kill just to maintain her beauty. The poster proclaims “Corruption is not a woman’s picture! Therefore no woman will be admitted alone to see this super shock film!!” Their loss, I’m sure. Also released as Carnage. Mildly amusing

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Abandoned – Dracula’s Curse

No more anti-vampire commando teams for me, kthxbai.

Abandoned – The 18th Angel

I started watching this awhile back, grew disenchanted with it and abandoned it, all of which I’d forgotten until I tried to watch it again and found it familiar.

Review – Double Impact

Jean Claude Van Damme plays twin brothers separated in infancy after their parents are murdered, which doubles the need for plot twists that explain his accent. Then as adults Hong Kong criminal Alex and California pretty boy Chad reunite to inflict kung fu revenge on their parents’ killers. The martial arts sequences are fairly good, but the rest of the movie is run-of-the-mill. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review – Demon Seed

Ick. A computer – actually more of a giant artificial brain – develops a fascination with the estranged wife (Julie Christie) of its creator (Fritz Weaver). Fascination turns to obsession once the machine decides that he wants her to carry its baby. So the poor woman ends up imprisoned in her own gadget-controlled mansion, tormented by her husband’s insane creation until she agrees to submit to its will. This is a 1977’s-eye-view of the conflict between technology and humanity rendered unpalatable by relentless abuse – much of it sexual – of a female victim. On the other hand, the old computer stuff – such as the giant floppy discs – were amusing. VSee if desperate

Review – All That Jazz

This is the most self-indulgent movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. The protagonist Joe Gideon (ably played by Roy Scheider) is obviously more than loosely based on director Bob Fosse, and some of the supporting characters are actually played by the people upon whom they’re based. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. But the whole picture is about how wonderful he is and how terrible it will be when his hard living finally results in his death. Some of the art direction is interesting, but the choreography – Fosse’s raison d’etre – is stiff and unimaginative. It’s a shame, too. I remember loving this when it first came out. Must have been during my brief theatre phase in high school. Mildly amusing

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review – Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock

Of all the Star Trek movies – at least the ones featuring the original cast – this is the worst. It sits on a fulcrum point between the first two (and number six), which remain reasonably faithful to the spirit and quality level of the original series, and the next two, which are so laughably bad that their ineptitude makes them entertaining. Part of the problem is that this is a lengthy apology for the finale of number two. Test audiences for The Wrath of Khan preferred the ending in which Spock died, but the overall fan base was less enthusiastic. So this turns into an hour and 40 minutes worth of “no, it’s okay, he isn’t really dead.” Even the Klingons are a cup of Coke that’s mostly ice. If you’re trying for the complete set then sooner or later you’re going to have to sit through this one (especially if number four left you wondering why our heroes were cruising around in a Klingon ship), but otherwise don’t feel obliged to endure it. See if desperate

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Review – Beverly Hills Chihuahua

The title alone tells you most of what you need to know about this: a wealthy woman’s pampered pet (voiced by Drew Barrymore) gets kidnapped and dragged off to Mexico, where she has various adventures with lower class dogs while trying to make her way home. Bad comedy and creepy talking animal effects aside, this is an unintentionally interesting exploration of racism. Though the picture tries to say something about American class structures and anti-Hispanic discrimination, it exploits so many uncomfortable stereotypes that it seems to miss the very point it’s trying to make. Multiculturalism doesn’t have to be all serious business, but it should at least be less empty headed than this. Still, at least its wee doggie heart was in the right place. Mildly amusing

Review – Elvis

Though neither Kurt Russell nor John Carpenter is a name one would automatically associate with Elvis Presley, they actually do a reasonably good job with the singer’s biography. This is also the first movie the pair worked on together, and they went on to make several more successful collaborations such as The Thing and Escape from New York. The picture follows Elvis from his days as a youth in rural Mississippi through his early career and up to his Las Vegas shows in the 1970s. We get a fan’s perspective, acknowledging his problems without dwelling on them. Indeed, aside from obsessive rumination about his dead brother and a couple of odd gay innuendoes, this is as straightforward and upbeat a bio as any celebrity could ever expect. Mildly amusing

Friday, July 23, 2010

Review – Corky Romano

I hated this more than I should have because it led off with a “joke” about euthanizing a cat. This might have been a “too soon” problem for me, though I’m not convinced any amount of distance from the passing of a beloved pet would transform this into something humorous. So this stupid comedy got off on the wrong foot and stayed there. Chris Kattan plays the manically-cheerful dork outcast brother of a Mafia family bedeviled by the FBI. Though technically this isn’t a Lorne-Michaels-produced flop attempt to cash in on an old SNL skit, the humor is on par with productions such as The Ladies Man and The Coneheads. The result is one of those movies where everyone involved looks ready to murder their agents. I’ll give it one point, but that’s based entirely on the concern that the cat thing might have skewed my perception. See if desperate

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Abandoned – Room 33

Though I'll sometimes sit through a stupid slasher movie, this one featured roller derby trend characters that rendered it unwatchable.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review – Berserk

Given the allegations about her family life, perhaps Joan Crawford deserved to end her career making movies like this. Here she plays the owner of a circus plagued by a series of deadly accidents. Most of the screen time is devoted to soap-opera-worthy shenanigans, many involving an awkward romance between our heroine and a substantially younger performer. The scheming occasionally takes a time out and we get some footage of a circus act here and there. The production also serves up one of the worst musical numbers I’ve ever seen. For the most part, however, this is just melodramatic and dull. See if desperate

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review – Black Legion

Humphrey Bogart takes on the Klan. Or to be more precise, his character joins a Klan-like organization in this ahead-of-its-time anti-racism piece from 1937. Bogart plays a machine shop worker who gets passed over for a promotion, which sends him into a hate spiral directed at the ethnically-different guy who got the job. The hate mongering is cartoonish, not quite Reefer Madness bad but in the same ballpark. Still, it’s fun to see such a pedantic cautionary tale told about the loathsome likes of pointy-headed bigots. Mildly amusing

Monday, July 12, 2010

Review – The Devil's Curse

At around a half an hour in this movie suddenly turned interesting. But then I realized that Chiller had gone to an ad break and was showing an ad for another movie. Actually, in all fairness this isn’t the worst young-people-trapped-with-a-demon-in-an-abandoned-building movie I’ve ever seen. At least it managed to remain fairly logical and consistent, if not exactly inspiring. Mildly amusing

Review – Dracula 3: Legacy

The sins of number two are repeated here. This time our heroes have tracked the ol’ guy (Rutger Hauer) to Eastern Europe, where his minions conceal their crimes amid the chaos of social unrest. I expect the main attraction for most audience members of the appropriate sexual orientation and level of emotional maturity will be the big pit o’ nekkid vampire women that crops up toward the end. If that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would float your boat, feel free to give this one a miss. Wish I’d skipped it

Review – Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo

I’m actually sort of in awe of this movie’s tenacious refusal to be entertaining in any way. As even someone who’d never heard of this sequel or its predecessor might guess just from the title, opportunities to include genuine wit are few and far between. Still, it manages to deftly avoid all of them. It doesn’t even feature much of the unattractive-women-have-feelings-too that served as a minor redeeming factor in the original. Instead, our long-suffering dimwit “hero” ends up in Amsterdam trying to thwart a plot by a serial killer to slay all the “man whores” in Europe. Wish I’d skipped it

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review – Dragon Fighter

Usually a movie with a name like this would turn out to be a collection of aspiring actors led by an out-of-work veteran doing battle with bad effects monsters in Medieval Europe. However, this turns out to be a collection of aspiring actors led by an out-of-work veteran doing battle with bad effects monsters in a 21st century cloning lab. Thank goodness for thespians of Dean Cain’s ilk. Otherwise who would deliver dialogue this bad? See if desperate

Friday, July 9, 2010

Review – Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This movie bets heavily on the proposition that its audience is composed largely of Trek fans who’ve been pining for new entries in the saga since the series was cancelled more than a decade earlier. As such, it’s reasonably successful. It features the original cast playing familiar characters with their well-established strengths and weaknesses. It has long, loving shots of the new-yet-familiar Enterprise. It even sports a plot that seems eerily familiar. However, for anyone who isn’t jonesing for fresh Trek (and in the age of full series DVDs, why would anyone be desperate for a fix?) this picture wastes a lot of time on empty nostalgia. It also relies heavily on long effects shots, stuff that might have been impressive back in the days of models and mattes but now just serves to grind the story to a screeching halt. Fortunately after they got some of this out of their system they came back and made a better sequel. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review – All Through the Night

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Weekend Update sketch on Saturday Night Live featured a joke about members of organized crime stealing scrap metal from the World Trade Center site. “Hey,” Tina Fey delivered the line in her best Mafia mook voice, “the mayor told everyone to go back to work.” This movie reminded me a lot of that gag. Humphrey Bogart stars as the leader of a gang of wise-cracking mobsters joining the war effort by taking on a cabal of Nazi agents in New York City. Bogart is great as usual, but overall the movie’s subject is too serious to work well as fodder for screwball comedy, yet it’s too silly to work as a spy story. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review – Child's Play 3

Chucky goes to military school. His hapless pal Andy (Justin Whalin, replacing Alex Vincent from one and two) is a teenager at this point, and his troubled past gets him sent to an academy for a more disciplined life. Unfortunately, the heartless corporation that makes the Good Guy dolls restarts the line. Somehow this allows the blown up and melted Chucky to return to life. He mails himself to Andy’s school, and things go from there. By this point in the series the original shtick has worn out, and this production doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the mix. See if desperate

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review – Batman (1966)

This brought back some pleasant childhood memories of the kids in the neighborhood gathering around a TV set and watching the old Adam West / Burt Ward Batman series. Nostalgia aside, however, this is almost pure camp. If you’ve seen some of the recent Batman movies but not this outing, imagine the polar opposite of The Dark Knight and you’ve got a clear picture. This is goofy, corny, cute, harmless, completely safe for kids, basically everything 21st century Batman isn’t. I expect any adult who doesn’t remember this stuff fondly will lose patience with it fairly quickly, but I got a kick out of watching it again. Mildly amusing

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review – District 9

This movie works on several levels. It’s cinema a clef about problems in refugee camps in Africa in particular and the world in general. It’s a profound commentary about racism recast with space aliens in the victims’ role, robbing it of its social context and thus making it easier to see for what it is. And it’s an entertaining movie on top of all that. The filmmakers combine pseudo-documentary and straight narrative drama to tell the story of a government factotum in charge of a shantytown inhabited by stranded refugees from a broken spaceship. Our not-initially-heroic hero gets sprayed with some kind of goo the aliens have been brewing, and it starts to transform him into one of them. The script and acting are reasonably good, and the effects hold up under scrutiny. Occasionally they ladle in just a bit too much preachiness, but for the most part this is an impressive mix of thought provoking and fun. Worth seeing

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review – Dead Snow

The over-the-top zombie splatter of Dead Alive gets transplanted to the hills of Norway, proving yet again that the international community can come up with horror movies every bit as dumb as American products. Once again a squad of witless 20-somethings make the mistake of leaving the big city, and once again I found myself cheering for the walking dead trying to kill them. Or almost cheering, as in this case the zombies are the remnants of an SS division that fled into the mountains after Germany lost the war. Folks who love a lot of gratuitous gore should find this reasonably entertaining. However, the end bothered me (so spoiler alert). In the final minutes the lone survivor manages to placate the Nazis by giving them back their gold, which of course was most likely stolen from their victims to begin with. I don’t need a morally uplifting ending to a picture like this, but I didn’t welcome the intrusion of real-life horror into the otherwise safely imaginary realm of a standard zombie picture. Mildly amusing

Review – Charlie Wilson's War

One of the criticisms of Kevin Costner’s performance in JFK was that his approach to the role transformed a Confederacy of Dunces story into a half-baked Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Same problem here. Tom Hanks at least tries for a warts-and-all portrayal of Wilson by including the congressman’s addictions to sex and alcohol. But he still comes across as a basically decent guy trying to do the right thing. I just couldn’t get past one big fat omission – or perhaps “brief mention” would be a better description – in the story. We get an hour and a half of Wilson’s heartfelt, Reagan-era struggle to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan, but the end of the movie only briefly notes that what we accomplished with more than a billion taxpayer dollars was the transformation of the mess from the Russians’ problem to our problem. Decades later, Wilson’s “victory” continues to consume American lives and resources. That deserves more than a brief “oops” at the end. On the other hand, I enjoyed Philip Seymour Hoffman as the CIA operative who seems to be the only person in the whole thing who actually knows what’s going on. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review – Dune

So in the future everyone will spend their lives stoned on worm secretions? Well, that’ll give humanity something to look forward to. Honestly, I’ve sat through this thing three or four times now (in at least two different versions, one of which was Alan Smithee’d), and it still strikes me as a noisy mélange of pretty sets, meandering story, rock star glitz (in the cast and on the soundtrack), Frank Herbert sci fi mysticism and general David-Lynchiness. I respect the effort it took to even attempt to make a movie out of Herbert’s book, but an E for effort isn’t the same as an A for quality. Mildly amusing

Review – Don't Look Up

Why? Is this hunk of junk playing on the ceiling? The IMDb notes made it appear that this is a remake of a Japanese production, though the database didn't feature a lot of info on either movie. The story is standard haunted movie set stuff, with "accidental" deaths aplenty. However, when the forces of evil actually manifest themselves they tend to take the form of clouds of houseflies. So if you suffer from Pteronarcophobia, this will probably send you to bed with nightmares. Otherwise it will work your yawn muscles but not much else. See if desperate

Review – The Domino Principle

I should have loved this movie. One of my big gripes about most conspiracy pictures is that they tend to dwell in the corridors of power where the plots are hatched. The parts I find far more interesting are the ground level stuff, tales of the shooters rather than the schemers. This production finally starts to deliver toward the end, but the first hour or so is all setup, with some parts so static they could almost be scenes from a bad stage play. Gene Hackman – backed by a cast of familiar faces – plays a gunman busted out of prison so he can shoot a prominent politician. Once things finally get moving this is a reasonably good movie. But the first half requires some patience. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review – The Bedford Incident

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen a movie with a surprise ending that actually surprised me. But this one did. More about that I won’t say for obvious reasons. A journalist (Sidney Poitier) goes out on a ride-along with a Navy destroyer prowling the North Atlantic. The captain of the vessel (Richard Widmark) is an intriguing character, neither a weak-willed Queeg nor a cruel Bly. Nonetheless, he is most intent on messing with a Soviet sub caught lurking where it oughtn’t. The psychological drama that plays out between the characters is well scripted with just the right balance of tension. Worth seeing

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review – Doctor Blood's Coffin

If your family name is Blood, wouldn’t it be a good idea to either change your last name or seek work in a profession other than medicine? I mean, who would voluntarily see a physician named Doctor Blood? That’s like trying to get students to enroll in a class taught by Professor Homework. And yet the denizens of a small English village don’t seem to have a problem with this guy. Of course relations take a turn for the worse when everyone learns he has a secret lab in an abandoned mine where he’s trying to revive corpses by implanting fresh hearts from vivisected victims (which seems like it would be something of a zero-sum game rather than a genuine boon to humanity). We finally get a Frankenstein-y monster in the last few minutes, but the first hour and a half of the picture are pure boredom. See if desperate

Review – Cross of Iron

I first saw this movie during its original theatrical release in 1977. Toward the end of the movie the hero – a battle-weary Wehrmacht sergeant (James Coburn) – has one of the double-crossing bad guys at gunpoint. A guy in the front row lost it. He started bouncing up and down in his seat and yelling “Stick him! Stick him!” at the top of his lungs. Without the floor show, this movie is substantially less entertaining. The story is unusual in that it’s set on the Eastern Front in World War Two, and the Germans are the heroes. Coburn’s character won’t sign a false statement that would allow his arrogant captain (Maxmilian Schell) to get the Iron Cross he wants. As a result, the officer leaves the sergeant’s platoon to the tender mercies of the advancing Soviet forces. The picture features a lot of Sam Peckinpah’s hallmark macho posturing and slo-mo death scenes, not to mention a hearty dose of unhealthy sexuality. Otherwise it’s a run-of-the-mill war movie. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review – Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest

If my memory serves me correctly, this is the only picture in the series in which He Who Walks Behind the Rows makes an actual appearance of any significant length. Of course if he’s going to look like a cross between a lizard and a big pile of poo, perhaps it’s better that he limits his exposure in the rest of the set. A couple in Chicago adopts two orphaned country brothers: normal Joshua and creepy Eli. In short order a corn patch grows in the vacant lot next door, and things go downhill from there. See if desperate

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying this movie. I really shouldn’t have. It has all the classic crappy kids’ movie elements: mediocre computer animation, a silly story, a preachy message and plenty of action sequences tailor made for easy media convergence into a videogame version. But on top of the usual nonsense it also packs a steady stream of little clever touches that help the picture appeal to people with two digits in their ages and three in their IQs. A ne’er-do-well inventor comes up with a device that turns water into food. When it’s accidentally propelled into the sky, it starts raining food. It’s the small stuff rather than the big picture, but at least the small stuff is good for a change. Worth seeing

Review – Cruel World

I’ll let you invent your own “goodbye, cruel world” joke here. You’ll have an easier time of it if you actually see this stinker, as it’ll make you want to say goodbye to it in short order. A bloated Edward Furlong plays a psycho who got kicked off a reality show and now seeks revenge – with the help of his dim-witted brother – by starting his own contest and slowly killing off the contestants. The result plays like a bargain basement blend of Fear Factor and Saw. See if desperate

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review – Avatar

The big disadvantage to missing “the most popular movie of all time” in theaters is that for what seemed like months everyone was making Avatar references I didn’t completely get. The big advantage, however, is that it’s a lot easier to appreciate the picture for its own merits rather than for the hype. And it certainly has shortcomings. The story – especially the romance – is straight out of Ferngully. The effects are expensive, elaborate and occasionally impressive, but they create a world that’s half video game and half drug-addled day-glo from Spencer’s Gifts circa 1978. Most troubling, however, is the treatment of the conflict between the indigenous “savages” and the technologically sophisticated Earth people. The movie hedges its bets by simultaneously extolling the virtues of war and condemning its destructiveness. And despite the happy Custer’s Last Stand ending, I can’t help but wonder if a realistic Avatar 2 wouldn’t inevitably include a Wounded Knee destruction of the entire planet. Overall this wasn’t the worst blockbuster I’ve ever seen, but it didn’t merit all the hoopla either. Mildly amusing

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Review – Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp do to Alice what they did to Ichabod Crane and Willie Wonka, creating another effects-intensive reimagining of a classic story. This time around Alice is a bit older and a bit more in charge of her own destiny, an improvement over the creepy age and gender politics of the original story. On the other hand, Burton twists the characters around in uncomfortable ways. Sometimes it works. For example, I loved the Cheshire Cat. In other cases it’s less successful. Though overall I prefer Carroll’s version, I found this a reasonably entertaining summer rental. Mildly amusing

Review - Fame (2009)

How on earth did they manage to make a movie more vapid than the original? The basic formula is the same: spotty coverage of four years in the lives of a handful of students at New York City’s performing arts high school. And of course both versions exist primarily to showcase teen angst and musical numbers. But in the 80s edition at least some of the characters faced what older generations would have considered real problems: poverty, abortion, coming out and the like. The worst things that happen to anybody in this one are that their parents aren’t sufficiently supportive and they don’t become famous fast enough for their liking. Verdict: see if desperate

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review – Bordertown

This might have been a better movie with fewer big stars in it. Jennifer Lopez in particular is distracting in the lead, doing a better job as herself than as her character. And that’s a shame, because this movie has an important story to tell. The movie’s thesis is somewhat complicated: NAFTA made cheap manufacture of consumer goods for the U.S. market a particularly lucrative business in Mexican border towns such as Juarez. Women who flock to the factories in search of work are easy prey for serial rapist/murderers who waylay the workers when they’re trying to get home after a late shift. And of course the police and evil capitalist overlords want it all hushed up so as not to interfere with business operations. Enter a crusading journalist (Lopez) who finds a woman who miraculously survived an attack but must now be protected from her assailants and the authorities seeking to silence her before the story gets out. The picture develops third act problems as the filmmakers try to plot a course between an ending that’s too happy and an ending that isn’t happy enough. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review – Creepies

Thank goodness someone’s still willing to hire Ron Jeremy, even if it’s just for apropos-of-nothing walk-on roles in the middle of low-budget horror movies. I wouldn’t want to live in a nation that would abandon its superannuated porn stars (or worse, make them get actual jobs). Jeremy aside, the most expensive things in the whole production are the mutant spiders who will take over Los Angeles if the Army and/or a group of assholes at a recording studio can’t come up with a way to thwart them. In the first five minutes we learn that jeans have become part of standard military uniforms. With attention to detail like that, this picture didn’t hold my attention for long. See if desperate

Review – Disturbing Behavior

“Annoying behavior” is a lot more like it. Yet again we’re treated to a hefty dose of the teen paranoid fantasy that all the popular kids in high school are actually evil robots. And of course they’re out to make everyone into letter-jacket-wearing jerks just like themselves. Maybe if you’re actually in high school and taking it a bit too seriously you’ll find some entertaining relief here. Otherwise the high point is the Vonnegut-reading spaz janitor with a severe Pied Piper complex. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review – Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean’s book about her experiences with death row inmates gets Hollywoodized reasonably successfully. Susan Sarandon plays Prejean, and Sean Penn sits on the other side of the metal screen from her, playing a combination of the two prisoners described in the book. I figured with all the California liberals involved in the production – particularly Tim Robbins in the director’s chair – that this would turn out to be an empty-headed attack on capital punishment. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the other side of the story – particularly the suffering of the victims’ families – given a reasonable amount of screen time. Indeed, the end – intercutting the execution by lethal injection with flashbacks to the original crime – was morally ambiguous, feeding the “see how wrong killing is in both circumstances” and the “see how just the punishment is for such a brutal crime” positions with equal fire. I don’t think I would have bestowed as many awards on this as it got, but I thought it was a reasonably good movie. Mildly amusing

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review – The Chair

There must be at least two movies with this name, because the description on the DirecTV directory – James Coco stars in a movie about a ghostly prison warden – had nothing to do with this Chiller offering. Instead, the chair in question is a torture device triggered by the breathing of the victim seated thereupon. A young woman who’s fine as long as she takes her pills discovers the thing in her attic and ends up possessed by the evil spirit of the sadist who created the thing. Perhaps the Coco picture was better. See if desperate

Review – Dread

Though I strongly suspected this would turn out to be yet another pathetic parade of torture, I was lured by the power of the first paragraph in the source story by Clive Barker. It’s strong stuff, almost as good as the opening to Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu.” But the rest of the story is the tale of a psychotic grad student who likes to find ways to uncover people’s secret fears and use their phobias to torment them. So my guess about the content of a low-to-mid budget production based thereon was that it would be the umpty-millionth entry in the big catalog of torture porn. To be sure, it had that flavor. It also sported some dreadful filter work, ping-ponging back and forth between NIN video amber and Hollywood absinthe green. But it also included some minor character development and a plot twist or two. Mildly amusing

Friday, May 21, 2010

Review – Blow Out

This is vintage Brian DePalma, complete with plenty of awkward editing, clunky script and Nancy Allen. A movie sound expert (played by John Travolta back when he was still capable of playing roles other than John Travolta) is out in a park recording night noises when he witnesses a car accident involving a prominent politician and a call girl (Allen). His recording of the incident reveals that the car’s tire was shot out by an assassin (John Lithgow). And on things go from there, our hero trying to get the truth out while keeping himself and his new girlfriend out of the clutches of the killer. Some of the sound editing sequences were fun in a trip-down-the-pre-digital-memory-lane way, but the rest of it is mediocre stuff. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review – Dark Rising

Gee, another horror comedy that’s neither scary nor funny. A group of the usual morons camping in the woods accidentally summon a demon, and their only hope is an axe-wielding bikini babe from another dimension. Not for the first time (and probably not for the last) I found myself wondering why people waste their time making movies this dumb. See if desperate

Review – Dead Air

Night of the Living Dead meets the Howard Stern Show in a combination that’s actually a little better than it should have been. After terrorists release a madness-inducing gas, a handful of people working on a late night radio call-in show try to make sense of the situation and fend off the armies of crazies swarming in the streets. The script is weak, and the picture loses direction in the third act. But it has a few entertaining moments, not to mention more of a point than most mid-budget Romero wannabe productions. Who would have thought Corbin Bernsen would turn out to be a better director than he was an actor? Mildly amusing

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review – Down Came a Blackbird

This is an interesting perspective on political torture, though a little more focus would have made it a better movie. Laura Dern plays a reporter who was tortured by an unnamed totalitarian regime. Having trouble readjusting to normal life, she decides to do a story about a clinic for people like herself run by a Holocaust survivor (Vanessa Redgrave). And of course she soon finds herself more patient than reporter. That alone probably would have made a reasonably good picture. But then a disturbed-yet-charming professor (Raul Julia) joins the group. Turns out he’s being pursued by a team of mysterious men with guns, which works an unwelcome transformation of the story from psychological drama to cheap thriller. Likewise I didn’t care for the twist at the end. On the other hand, the good parts were reasonably good. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review – April Fool's Day (1986)

Yes, the ending is just as lame as the title implies. Sorry for ruining it for you. On the other hand, at least that saves you from an hour and a half of pure boredom. Seriously, this is one of the dullest slasher movies I’ve ever seen. A standard group of annoying 20-somethings gather in an isolated mansion, where … well, you can probably fill in the rest for yourself. See if desperate

Review - Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

If you have to have a ham-handed message in a kids’ movie, it might as well be pro-environment. A fairy, a miniaturized human and a cast of supporting creatures gang up to thwart a pollution monster’s scheme to destroy their home using a massive logging machine. Though the animation is bad by current standards, it was reasonably good stuff at the time. The musical numbers are purely dreadful. Tim Curry does a good job voicing the villain, but his positive contribution is quickly offset by Robin Williams as a predictably spastic bat. Overall this comes across as an off-brand attempt to pull off the Disney formula. Mildly amusing

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review – The Darkroom

A demon-haunted amnesiac escapes from an asylum and goes in search of his missing memory. Unfortunately, everywhere he goes he’s haunted by visions of bloody murder committed by a walking mud pie with a skull face. He befriends a lonely teenage boy with a creepy stepfather, and things unravel from here. The production wastes an extraordinary amount of screen time, making it yet another movie that might have been good in a shorter format. Also, the title location plays almost no role at all in the drama, which was disappointing. Mildly amusing

Friday, May 7, 2010

Review – The Crow: City of Angels

For something this purely second-verse-same-as-the-first, this works a little better than it should. To be sure, Vincent Perez is no Brandon Lee. As a result, the fight sequences are nowhere near as good. In compensation, the plot is a bit more even, with more screen time devoted to the vengeful spirit’s brutal revenge on the bad guys (including an old Iggy Pop and a young Tom Jane). Otherwise it’s a familiar parade of gritty ghetto-scapes mercilessly filtered and haphazardly spliced together. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Review – Dracula: Dead and Loving It

With Leslie Nielsen in the title role and Mel Brooks in the director’s chair, I was expecting something a lot better. Brooks in particular left me wondering if this was even the same guy who made Young Frankenstein. Though Dracula provides virtually limitless possibility for parody, this sad effort is little more than a witless parade of jokes so lame that the punchlines can be groaned at before they’re even delivered. What a disappointment. See if desperate

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review – The Andromeda Strain (2008)

Michael Crichton’s germ paranoia classic gets dragged into the 21st century. In this remake the virus is smarter and everything else is dumber. The microbes kill everything in their path, and they have an incubation period of around five seconds. So a cadre of brilliant scientists – both aided and hindered by the Army – retire to a top-secret lab to concoct an antidote while an investigative journalist flounders around just enough to pad the plot to feature length (or to miniseries length if you’re watching the unedited version, which I didn’t). The production bets heavily on the power of the premise and a handful of wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if sequences, and as a result it comes up short. Of course it doesn’t help that the whole thing screams “made for TV.” See if desperate

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review – Ex

If this had been a romantic comedy out of Hollywood I think I would have lost patience with it fairly quickly. But this Italian import musters some charm that a smarmy star vehicle would have lacked (though it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this suffer an American remake). To be sure, it’s still a bit afield of my usual viewing habits. It’s too silly in some spots, too maudlin in others, and the sad story line was a bit too weepy for me. But overall this was quirky, clever, and much more entertaining than I thought it would be. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review – The Dead One

Summed up in seven words, this is “a Mexican-American version of The Crow.” The new cultural background has some potential, with Day of the Dead stuff and ancient Aztec gods and all. But the execution is purely dreadful. This production has way more bad script and way fewer cool martial arts sequences. And don’t even get me started on the ocean of difference between Brandon Lee and Wilmer Valderrama. Once again a decent premise falls victim to incompetent film-makers. See if desperate

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review – Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox

Anyone who’s ever read even part of the label of a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap can’t help but wonder what kind of person comes up with such a thing. Well, question answered. This documentary makes good use of old interviews with the man himself, new interviews with his kids and employees, and other sources to put together as coherent as possible a tale of Bronner’s early years, the foundation of his company, his philosophy, his time in an asylum, and so on. Occasionally the production dips into person-on-the-street with the soap’s hippie fan base. It also spends a great deal of time following the good doctor’s son Ralph, who appears to be the only one of the next generation to follow in his father’s eccentric footsteps rather than holding a position of responsibility with the company. Still, overall it’s an interesting movie. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review – The English Patient

So if one works hard enough at it, both war and sex can be rendered dull beyond description. They’ve got the cast (Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Naveen Andrews etc.) and they’ve got the art direction. But oh that awful script. The story ping-pongs back and forth between a nurse (Binoche) caring for a burn victim (Fiennes) with a mysterious past and that mysterious past unfolding ever so slowly. Is he a German spy? Is he the secret love of an officer’s wife (Thomas)? Is he an adulterer and a spy? The character development is bad enough that it’s hard to care. This is a pretty picture, but the visuals don’t make up for the weak writing and certainly don’t sustain the two-and-a-half-hour running time. See if desperate

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Review – Clash of the Titans (2010)

Though I went into this experience with the specific intent of not comparing it to the original, I was almost immediately blown away by how inferior the effects were. I figured with all the sophisticated things film-makers can do with CGI, poor Ray Harryhausen’s work would look clunky in comparison. Sure, the new stuff is slick, but it has all the personality of a Playstation game. The Medusa sequence was particularly disappointing, nowhere near as well-assembled or scary as the original. I was also disappointed in the cast. I figured surpassing Harry Hamlin as Perseus wouldn’t take much doing, but cardboard cut-out Sam Worthington actually manages to fail at the task. The script was also a disappointment, quickly channeling the plot into blind alleys from which it escapes only by ridiculous contrivance. Overall this isn’t a movie as much as it’s a marketing mess, an awkward reanimation of the first version with Frankenstein-esque grafts of 300, Lord of the Rings and a few other popular pictures. See if desperate

Review – Altered

The concept here is an interesting twist on the alien abduction theme: a quartet of former abductee rednecks capture a wayward alien out in the woods and prepare for some payback. Unfortunately, once the ball is rolling it doesn’t go anywhere in particular. Instead the plot – to the extent there is one – meanders around as the four fight with each other, a girlfriend and of course the alien itself. Because they don’t have the budget for good actors or decent effects, they probably should have stuck with a strong script rather than trying to pull off a gore fest. Further, whoever cut this down for Chiller replaced what I assume was “motherfucker” with “corn shucker,” which was ridiculous even for a bowdlerization. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review – Being Lincoln: Men with Hats

As “Hey, look at the crazy people” documentaries go, this one isn’t too terrible. As the title suggests, the picture focuses on guys who dress up like Abraham Lincoln. Apparently this involves a range of activities from grade school appearances to an annual get-together complete with a Linc-off to determine the year’s best Honest Abe. The impersonators are sufficiently different from one another that you can give them nicknames as you go, such as “Fat Lincoln” or “Young Lincoln” or “Crazy Lincoln” (actually, that last one probably applies to more than one). The one thing that surprised me – and set this crowd apart from fringe folk profiled in other movies – is that they seem to lack the nasty competitiveness of superhero-beggars and Scrabble junkies. Indeed, when they get together they actually seem to help each other out, sharing wrong-size jackets, used hats and the like. In the words of the great man himself, “party on, dudes!” Mildly amusing

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Review – Black Ops

I almost skipped over this one in the movie listings, assuming it would be just another mediocre action movie. However, what it turned out to be was just another mediocre horror movie. They try an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, tossing in Navy commandos, a ghost ship, a genetically-engineered Nazi superman and a ton of other plot gimmicks of similar ilk. But with a script this bad and production values this straight-to-video, this one’s doomed from the start. See if desperate

Review – Beyond Re-Animator

And at this point beyond my ability to sit through any more Re-Animator movies. Herbert West, now behind bars for his various and sundry crimes, is able to revive his “research” thanks to the assistance of the new prison physician, Dr. Howard Phillips (yeah, really). This picture starts out hard on the rats and ends up hard on just about everyone, including the audience. Especially the audience. Extra added bonus: a sexual assault even more brutal than the one in the original (though mercifully somewhat shorter). And the piece de resistance (and I do mean resistance) is the battle between the zombie rat and reanimated penis that adorns the end credits. Now that’s something everyone involved can be proud of. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review – The Cocoanuts

This is the first feature movie to star the Marx Brothers, an auspicious beginning that occurred so far back that “talkies” had barely been invented. The story basics are the same standard stuff. Groucho snarks. Harpo and Chico clown. Harpo and Chico ply their skills as musicians. And sprinkled throughout are dull musical numbers, this time around written by Irving Berlin. Because this movie was made so early in the sound era, it’s more than a little rough around the edges. Still, the guys’ humor shines through. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review – Birdman of Alcatraz

Vicious killer and bird expert Robert Stroud gets the Hollywood treatment in this occasionally-touching tale from the 1960s. The problem with casting Burt Lancaster in the title role is that he’s a bit too sympathetic. That may have been what they were going for here, but I would have preferred a more even balance between the kindly man who discovered cures for avian diseases and the murderer who was behind bars for a reason. This is more of a triumph-of-the-individual-spirit-over-the-system story, particularly the exchanges between Lancaster and Karl Malden as a by-the-book warden who pops in and out of the Birdman’s life. Mildly amusing

Review – The Devil's Ground

The description of this picture made it sound like a group of college students were going to be pitted against evil spirits in an ancient burial ground. Instead what we get is a mediocre battle between 20-somethings and a pack of Deliverance-esque hillbillies descended from the survivors of a mine massacre. Oh, and Daryl Hannah. They must have spent most of the budget on her, because there isn’t much to the rest of the movie. See if desperate

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Review – Dark Relic

Thanks largely to its premise, this one doesn’t suck quite as bad as most SyFy features. James Frain (Cromwell on The Tudors) plays a knight returning from the crusades with a motley band of companions and a piece of the true cross. Unfortunately the relic seems to be drawing the attention of a demon, who attacks our heroes with no end of plagues (wolves, locusts, dead birds, possessed monks and so on) as well as the occasional direct assault. To be sure, the production values – especially the boss-from-the-end-of-Doom bad guy – are typical stuff. But overall I liked this a little better than usual. Maybe I was just in the mood for something dumb. Mildly amusing

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Review – Amelia

Amelia Earhart gets the standard Hollywood biopic treatment, a picture that skips like a stone across the surface of her life without providing detail or insight that might have made the title character seem interesting or even human. Hilary Swank did a better job of looking the part than she did playing the woman, which didn’t exactly help. I suppose if you had to do a report on the aviator for a middle school history class, this would give you enough detail to complete the assignment. But otherwise it’s expensive, slickly-produced, visually interesting but almost completely devoid of anything that would have made it a worthwhile experience. Earhart deserved better. See if desperate

Friday, March 19, 2010

Review – The Conqueror

This would be a hysterical piece of dreadful film-making if it hadn’t been a contributing factor in the deaths of so many of its stars. While shooting on location in the desert Southwest, cast and crew were bathed in radioactive fallout from a nuclear weapon test. Many of the victims (most notably John Wayne) later died from illnesses that may have been linked to the exposure. That might have been an easier pill to swallow if the movie had been worth dying for or even worth seeing at all. But the astounding thing is that anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to make this at all, let alone get nuked over it. “John Wayne plays Genghis Khan” is really all you need to know in order to make an accurate guess about just how terrible it is. Though another actor – Yul Brynner, perhaps – might have made this a mediocre historical drama, Wayne’s iconic cowboy drawl is ludicrously out of place. If not for its lethal consequences, this picture would have sunk into well-deserved obscurity almost immediately after its initial release. See if desperate

Review – The Box

Was this really based on a Richard Matheson story? I haven’t read “Button, Button,” but I have trouble imagining it being as terrible as this movie. The basic premise could have been turned into an acceptably mediocre horror movie. A mysterious stranger shows up at a suburban household with a box that sports a single button. If our heroes push the button, they get a million bucks and somewhere in the world someone dies. However, the copious early references to No Exit should have been a leading indicator that “pointlessly strange” would be the theme for the evening. Before we’re through, we get NASA, the NSA, space aliens, brainwashed minions and no end of expensive, go-nowhere visual tricks stirred into a messy stew with no greater purpose than unfocused paranoia. I went in dreading the cliché conundrum – would you kill someone you didn’t know in exchange for financial security? – but left wishing it had been that simple, straightforward and entertaining. Wish I’d skipped it

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review – The Crazies (2010)

Once again a 21st century remake turns out to be more expensive and less interesting than the original. The plot is essentially the same as George Romero’s version from 1973: a small town falls victim to a runaway bioweapon, and creepy government forces move in to contain the situation. However, almost all the nuance is gone. The original focused not only on the efforts of a small cadre of townspeople to escape the murderous “cleanup” effort but also on the trouble telling the difference between an infected “crazy” and a normal person reacting to an abnormal situation. This one’s a much more straightforward “us versus them” drama. Further, infected blood flows so copiously that even the survivors would almost certainly have the disease, which puts a damper on the ending. Mildly amusing

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review – The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Ray Bradbury (source story) and Ray Harryhausen (in his first feature as special effects chief) are quite a combination. Unfortunately the rest of the movie is standard nuclear radiation paranoia from the 1950s. A bomb test in the Arctic thaws out a dinosaur, and the beast heads back to its old stomping ground, which turns out to be New York City. As often occurs with Harryhausen’s work, the monster is so interesting and the humans so lackluster that it’s hard not to feel sorry for the city-destroying beast when he gets it in the end. Though this isn’t the height of Dynamation’s glory, it’s still a heck of a good start. Mildly amusing

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review – Anamorph

My initial impression of this movie was “oh boy, another Seven rip-off.” And though some aspects of the production turned out to be a little cooler than they initially appeared, the story is severely hampered by lack of originality. Willem Dafoe plays a semi-retired cop who thought he caught a serial killer with a fetish for artistically arranging his crime scenes. But when a “copycat” starts committing similar crimes, our hero is drawn back into the fray. At first I thought the corpse sculpture theme was cheap, but as the plot progressed it sort of grew on me. If nothing else, I appreciated the references to actual art history mixed in with the art director’s conceits. If only the script had been as interesting as the visuals. Mildly amusing

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review – The Blues Brothers

I saw this movie during its original theatrical release, and at the time I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Of course I was in my early teens back then. Upon recent re-viewing, the scenes that stood out were almost exclusively the performances by actual musicians rather than John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The Cab Calloway fantasy performance of “Minnie the Moocher” is a high point in director John Landis’s career, and the Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles sequences are also excellent. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the picture is silly, SNL-worthy screwball comedy (especially the self-parodying car chases). I still enjoyed watching it, but 30 years ago I probably would have given it a higher rating. Mildly amusing

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review – Dirigible

This was a huge movie back in 1931. Frank Capra directs (though don’t expect the usual brand of Capra-corn from him here). Fay Wray plays the female lead. Jack Holt and Ralph Graves round out the cast. The studio spent a ton of money on it, and it was a popular picture when it first came out. And yet nearly eight decades later, I honestly had never heard of it until I randomly decided to record it from TCM. A big part of the picture’s obscurity is that it isn’t particularly good. Two rival pilots – a hot shot Air Corps plane jockey and a more subdued Navy blimp commander – are both in love with the same woman. She’s married to the flashy one, and she loves him passionately. But he’s always off on one dangerous mission or another, and his rival is always there, always dependable. So when hubby crashes at the South Pole and Mr. Blimp goes after him, she’s double out of luck. Some of the effects are fun, but the script borders on ridiculous even by the standards of the time. And don’t even get me started on how much fun it wasn’t to watch the ice-bound plane crew struggle to survive. I’m not sorry I watched it, but I wouldn’t sit through it again. Mildly amusing

Review – The Cape Town Affair

This spy movie is nearly boring enough to actually be about real spies. A pickpocket (James Brolin) accidentally mires himself in a plot to smuggle microfilm to the Soviets when he steals the film from the purse of an unsuspecting mule (Jacqueline Bisset). On the plus side, it was shot in the mid 60s, giving it an authentic Cold War feel. On the other hand, the plot is a stale parade of twists and turns through a South Africa apparently completely devoid of racial problems. Other than Bisset’s innocent character, none of the dramatis personae were likable enough to care about, which made it hard to invest much emotion in whether they lived or died. Though I enjoyed the look and feel, overall I thought it was a lackluster production of a weak script. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review – Counter-Attack

Though this isn’t the strangest movie ever made about the Soviets in World War Two, it still isn’t exactly your average everyday war picture. A Russian commando and a female resistance fighter end up trapped under the wreckage of a factory with seven German prisoners. Stuck with nothing better to do, they start playing tense psychological games with each other. Who among the Germans is secretly an officer? Whose side will dig them out and learn the other’s secrets? Only time will tell. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review - Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This is the ultimate picture for playing Early 80s Teen Movie Cliché Bingo. Mark off a grid and write every early 80s teen movie cliché you can think of in the squares. Hit the big ones, such as “pre-AIDS promiscuity” and “what-were-they-thinking fashion choices.” But don’t be afraid to add obscure stuff as well, such as “the scent of mimeograph paper.” For bonus squares, toss in negatives such as “nobody makes a cell phone call the whole time.” Because yes boys and girls, there was a time before cell phones. If you’re on a tour of 80s movies, this year in the lives of kids in the LA ‘burbs is a must-see. It establishes many of the genre conventions that still show up like clockwork in teen movies. It also includes a stellar cast of 80s faces, particularly a young Sean Penn as the quintessential surfer moron. Mildly amusing

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review – Deliverance

Suffering from testosterone deficit? You won’t be after this. Four guys from the city take a canoe trip way out in the sticks, and they soon find themselves pitted against insane hillbillies. If you’re going to watch this at all you need to watch it uncut, because the edited-for-TV print slices a lot out of the scene where two inbred backwoods psychos rape Ned Beatty. If nothing else, this clash between civilization and “man in a state of nature” should be required viewing in any class about masculinity in the movies. Mildly amusing

Review – Experiment Alcatraz

I watched this because it was part of TCM’s marathon of movie about “The Rock,” but honestly it could have been Experiment Hutchinson Correctional Facility and still turned out to be the same picture. During an experiment in which convicts are exposed to radiation, one guy goes nuts and stabs another to death with a pair of scissors. The treatments are blamed and the experiment shut down, but one of the doctors is still convinced that the radiation wasn’t actually at fault. His investigation uncovers more to the apparently random killing than initially meets the eye. Looking back 50 years later, the “radiation is actually our friend” conclusion is bizarre. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review – Anne Frank Remembered

No matter how many times I hear this story in no matter how many different retellings, I always find myself foolishly hoping that this time around the Franks won’t get caught, or perhaps that they’ll all survive the camps just a little bit longer and make it to liberation so they can be reunited in the end. This documentary distinguishes itself with interviews with people who knew the Franks – especially Anne – before or during the Holocaust. It also features quite an array of photos of the family, the kind of thing I just assumed had mostly been torched in the war. Worth seeing

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review – Autopsy

One nice thing about a lot of torture porn is that it tends to lead off with a woman bound on an operating table (or similar other contrivance) screaming her lungs out. When a movie opens with something like that, it’s easy to just hit the delete button before wasting any more time on it. But when the slicing and dicing doesn’t get underway until a half an hour in, well, by that point one has already made a time commitment to it and might as well stick through to the end. Besides, this particular specimen partially acquitted itself by including some vaguely entertaining gore. The plot is some forgettable nonsense about a group of 20-somethings who have a car accident in the middle of nowhere and end up in the hospital from hillbilly hell. Robert Patrick does a passable job as a mad scientist draining the precious bodily fluids of his victims in order to keep his terminally-ill wife alive. This story line was better in The Corpse Vanishes more than half a century before this stinker was made, and that isn’t even a particularly high hurdle to leap. See if desperate

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review – Conspirator

This could have been a better story than it was. British Maj. Michael Curragh (Robert Taylor) falls in love with American-abroad Melinda Greyton (Elizabeth Taylor, no relation). This starts the movie off on the wrong foot because the budding romance dominates the first 20 minutes of the picture, and the age difference between the two actors (she was 16 at the time, though at least her character is 18) is frankly off-putting. The guy has a callous streak – he shows no pity for a rabbit horribly injured during a hunt despite the obvious distress of his fiancée and his nephew – but otherwise it’s a garden-variety romance. However, once they’re married it’s revealed that the new husband is harboring a dark secret: he’s actually a Soviet agent. After his wife uncovers his nasty secret, both their relationship and the plot go downhill fast. This turns out to be one of those productions that sets the audience up for some clever twist or unexpected deviation from the obvious course of events, a redeeming event that never occurs. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Review – Bomb It

This documentary about graffiti artists does a couple of things right. First, it employs an international perspective, exploring the similarities and differences between artists in the States, Japan, South Africa and elsewhere. Second, parts of the movie show the painters at work. Indeed, the extra footage on the DVD of three murals coming into being is actually more interesting than the movie itself. That’s at least in part because when they start interviewing these folks many of them turn out to be as tedious as their art is interesting. We get plenty of the usual reminiscing about days gone by, a lot of “I remember painting this” and “I almost got my ass kicked doing that.” And of course the ever popular “I invented graffiti,” a claim that simultaneously assumes that anyone can truly be said to have invented a fundamental human impulse and that the interview subject was present the first time someone tried it, which would of course make the artist several thousand years old. Beyond the usual pitfalls, however, this is a reasonably comprehensive and competent production. Mildly amusing

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review – Assassins

This picture is directed by Richard Donner and stars onetime-action-movie-king Sylvester Stallone. So I’m not quite sure why it had to turn out so deadly dull. At least part of the problem is Stallone’s usual lack of affection for dialogue. Normally that’s not a big problem in a movie about manly men who kill people for a living. But at least a little human element would have been a nice addition to this story. Sly plays an aging hit man looking for one final job to round out his career. Enter a young, obnoxious rival played by a young, obnoxious Antonio Banderas. A few twists and turns later, and our hero is trying to save a computer hacker (Julianne Moore) from just about everyone else in the movie. The only thing that kept my attention at all was a near constant worry that something bad was going to happen to the cat that Moore’s character insisted on dragging with her everywhere she went. And the only success the picture managed to achieve is that the poor creature actually made it all the way to the end. See if desperate

Monday, February 1, 2010

Review – Escape from Alcatraz

The last time I was in San Francisco I took an evening tour of the title location. So for me a lot of the amusement value of this filmed-on-the-spot production was of the hey-I-remember-that variety. Tourism aside, this is a reasonably well made story of the last and most famous escape from The Rock. Of course the general assumption about this trio (led in the picture by Clint Eastwood) is that they drowned in the bay, but at least they made it off the island. The story of desperate men figuring out how to get out of their cells and over the wall is entertaining stuff. Mildly amusing

Review – Cutthroat Island

I have to admit that I’d seen this before – many years ago – and thus knew what I was getting before I started. My intent was to deliberately change the TV channel to a program bad enough to drive me from the room and supply a little annoying, motivational background noise while I washed some dishes. For that purpose it was particularly well suited. Actually watching it, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. This picture exists primarily to allow Geena Davis and then-husband-and-alleged-director Renny Harlin to work together. Thus it struck me as particularly odd that Harlin manages to film his wife from all her worst angles and consistently use the takes in which she does the flattest job of delivering her lines (though in his defense, for all I know that could have been all the takes). And for some reason Matthew Modine squanders his I-worked-with-Stanley-Kubrick cred on this crud, the actor’s equivalent of training as a cordon bleu chef and then getting a job at Burger King. Even Frank Langella is worse than usual. Overall this is the biggest catastrophe of a pirate movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. Wish I’d skipped it

Monday, January 25, 2010

Review – Star Trek: Insurrection

This film represents the final triumph of the “Next Generation”-ization of the whole Star Trek thing, even though it’s the third one to feature the cast from the newer series; the first one with the new people was a joint venture that also included the original cast, and the second one still employed enough of the old tricks of the trade to keep it interesting. But by this point the charm of the original series has completely petered out, almost entirely replaced by the smarmy new-age nonsense that infected much of the new programs. The plot meanders through a touchy-feely story about an Eden-esque planet threatened by evil bad-skin people led by F. Murray Abraham. The occasional spaceship battles and other effects-intensive bits aren’t too bad, but the rest of it appears to be heavily driven by Scientology and director Jonathan Frakes’ ego. See if desperate