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