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