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

Review – Star Trek: First Contact

You probably shouldn’t make this your first contact with the world of Star Trek. It’s based heavily on characters and plots from Star Trek: The Next Generation and the movies and spin-offs spawned thereby. Even if you do know enough about the show to follow the story, you still may walk away feeling short-changed. Rather than functioning as a movie, this plays more like two episodes of the TV series mashed awkwardly together. In one, the Enterprise journeys back in time – never a good sign – to convince the inventor of warp drive to go through with a crucial test that will allow humans and Vulcans to meet for the first time. In the other, the Enterprise is taken over by the Borg, leaving Picard and company fighting to regain control of the ship while Data is kidnapped and tortured by the evil Borg queen. Either of these would have been fine as a ST:TNG episode, but they don’t work together or separately as a movie. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review – Escape to Witch Mountain

After several disappointing brushes with movies from my childhood, I was nervous about watching this again. However, it turned out to be a bit better than other Disney live action fare from the 70s. To be sure, it isn’t a masterpiece of the cinema arts. The dialogue is simple-minded enough to appeal primarily to the target age group. And I fear that in a world of flashy CGI most kids nowadays won’t be impressed with the low tech effects used to create the kids’ telekinetics. On the other hand, the story – rich creep seeks to exploit psychic siblings, who go on the lam and befriend a crotchety old man who helps them escape – is clever enough. I was particularly impressed with a rare bit of studio sensitivity to animals, who appear in this production without being killed or even seriously imperiled. Overall this is a charming little picture from an age when movies for kids didn’t have to be packed with innuendo for adults. Mildly amusing

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review – Bringing Godzilla Down to Size

This documentary about the behind-the-scenes history of the Godzilla franchise was an unexpected bonus on the DVD of Rodan. Indeed, this turned out to be better than the main feature. The production features extensive interviews with just about everyone from the guys who wore the Godzilla suits to the guys who made them to the guys who made the miniature cityscapes that got stomped time and time again. To be sure, the story would have been a bit more interesting if it had included more backstage footage or at least more clips from some of the older pictures discussed by the interviewees. Nonetheless, this is fun and fascinating stuff. Worth seeing

Friday, January 15, 2010

Review – Destination Moon

Writer Robert Heinlein and producer George Pal team up to create this surprisingly sober speculation about a trip to the moon nearly two decades before Apollo 11. No space monsters. No space bimbos in shiny silver bikinis. Just a straightforward exploration of the political, economic and technical pitfalls of space travel in the middle of the 20th century. It’s largely a propaganda piece, extolling the virtues of a well-funded space program and threatening that we need to build missile bases on the Moon before you-know-who gets there first. Of course if the real U.S. rockets had been as deco-snazzy as the spacecraft here, they might have been easier to sell to the American public. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review – Astro Boy

Osamu Tezuka’s most legendary creation gets Americanized and computer animated to no particularly good effect. The recognizable voices for the cast (including Donald Sutherland and Nicolas Cage) must have cost so much that they had to cut corners on the visuals. The result lives somewhere between the quality audiences have come to expect from theatrical-release animation and the junk we expect kids to tolerate on TV because producers don’t want to waste a lot of money on them. Given the “classic” nature of the undertaking, I expected something more respectful. Mildly amusing

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review – Bride and Prejudice

Jane Austen gets an awkward Bollywood makeover in this musical romance. Producers would obviously love to create a movie that successfully employs the look and feel of movies made for the huge Indian market while at the same time luring audiences in the United States by shooting in English and using American and British actors. Unfortunately if this production is any indication, the two may be at least somewhat mutually incompatible. I can’t speak from the perspective of audiences in India, but as an American movie it has some problems. The musical numbers are full of pretty choreography, but they’re awkward and the lyrics are dumb. The story is sometimes hard to follow, either because the script is trying to follow Austen too closely or because it’s just ill-conceived on its own. The result is fluffy and cute but not especially satisfying. Mildly amusing

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Review – Affliction

If you’re in the mood for a bargain-basement lecture about the dysfunctional psychology of rural American masculinity, then boy does writer/director Paul Schrader have a treat for you. Nick Nolte plays an average mook making a living as a cop and general maintenance worker in small town New Hampshire. The poor guy’s slowly being driven insane by his own powerlessness. He hates his boss. He suspects a fellow worker of shooting a wealthy lawyer in a “hunting accident,” a murder mystery plot that either should have been the main point of the movie or should have been left out altogether. His daughter (correctly) thinks he’s a jerk. His ex agrees. His girlfriend doesn’t want to marry him. His mom dies. His tooth hurts. And on top of everything else, he has a pathetic relationship with his abusive, alcoholic father (James Coburn, who must have gotten his Academy Award for this role based on the “give the ol’ guy an Oscar” sentimental vote). Right up through the total collapse at the end, his distant brother (Willem Dafoe) periodically supplies a useless, over-wrought voice-over. I’m going to give this thing one star, but that’s based solely on my ill-advised choice to watch this cold, snowy picture in the middle of an uncomfortably cold, snowy stretch of weather. Maybe in July it would have been more welcome. Unlikely, but there’s always a chance. Some of the snowy landscapes were pretty. See if desperate

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review – The Corpse Vanishes

As does Bela Lugosi’s career. After being the toast of the horror movie world in the 1930s, his career sped right through the guardrail and over a cliff. This picture is from 1942, but already it’s so cheap and dreadful that it presages what would eventually become of this tragic, talented actor. In this ordeal he plays a mad scientist who knocks out brides on their wedding days and then snatches their bodies, drags them back to his lab, and sucks out their bride juices to make an eternal youth formula for his aging wife. Though the cast might have done something better with a better script or at least better film stock, this turns out to be a romp of incompetence. See if desperate

Monday, January 4, 2010

Review – The Bad and the Beautiful

This movie avoids being a standard Tinseltown-behind-the-scenes production by focusing on a low-budget producer (Kirk Douglas) whose biography bears a resemblance to film legend Val Lewton. To be sure, it spends a lot of time on run-of-the-mill Hollywood melodrama. But it packs a clever twist or two along the way. A director, an actress and a writer all hate our hero’s guts because he betrayed each of them in one way or another. But after he asks them to do a movie together to help him make a comeback, they slowly realize how much they actually owe him. If nothing else, the picture is worth it just for the scene in which Lewton’s approach to horror is explained in connection with a Cat-People-esque production. Mildly amusing

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Review – After the Thin Man

Though not quite as good as the original, this one still packs the same class and charm. Nick and Nora are back in San Francisco, this time trying to unravel a murder mystery involving her side of the family, which made it an interesting culture clash of American wealth encountering the seamy side of the street. A young Jimmy Stewart turns in quite a performance in one of the supporting roles. Worth seeing