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