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