Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review - Field of Dreams

I want to like this movie. I really do. Any attempt to appreciate baseball on an emotional level is at least worth a look. I even set it up for nearly optimal viewing conditions, saving it for a chilly off-season afternoon when I’d really savor a bit of summer. But there’s just something about this tale of a guy impelled by disembodied voices to turn part of his Iowa cornfield into a baseball diamond for the ghosts of the Black Sox. I don’t fault it for being quirky and sentimental. I fault it for being so self-consciously in-your-face quirky and sentimental that it comes across as baseball transformed into a Hallmark card trying to be clever. Every time it seems like it’s going to say something honest or be entertaining in any way, it lapses once again into Kevin-Costner-y silliness. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review - The Final

Normally I have absolutely no use for torture porn, so I was profoundly surprised to find myself enjoying this prime specimen. It pits high school losers against the bullies who pick on them, with the geeks taking terrible revenge on their tormentors. The Netflix description made it sound like the torturers drew inspiration from historical examples, so I was a little disappointed when their bag of tricks was entirely contemporary and somewhat unimaginative. Further, the production suffers from some rookie mistakes in the plot and editing departments. Overall, however, I’m ashamed to admit how much fun it was for someone who’s been gone from high school as long as I have to watch the “popular kids” that infect every school in the land finally get what’s coming to them. All the entries in this sub-genre should have this much of a sense of purpose. Mildly amusing

Friday, November 26, 2010

Review – Beauty and the Beast (1946)

This is one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen. The cinematography, art direction and costume design (some of which was done by Pierre Cardin himself) are beautiful, particularly for a black and white movie. However, for me the best part is the makeup. I share Greta Garbo’s reaction to the Beast’s transformation at the end of the movie: the strange, cat-like monster is way more interesting than Jean Marais sans fur. However, I went back and forth about the story and the dialogue (much of which was in French so simple even my high school lessons nearly three decades ago allowed me to follow it without recourse to the subtitles). Sometimes it created a dreamy, childhood fairytale atmosphere, but at other times it just seemed dumb. Still, those visuals … Worth seeing

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review – Dark Mirror

A vengeful ghost. A mirror portal. Standard tricks of the horror trade. Sadly, they’re put to no particular good use here. A mildly neurotic woman moves into a house with a history of strange disappearances. As she struggles to find a job, care for her kid and cope with her jerkweed husband, her photographs slowly uncover an evil presence dogging her every step. See if desperate

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review – The Devil Bat

Giant bats are killing the townsfolk. How does suspicion not immediately fall on the creepy doctor with the foreign accent (Bela Lugosi)? Well, if people are trying to celebrate diversity and avoid stereotyping, they needn’t have bothered. The foreigner’s responsible. Indeed, he’s hatched a particularly bizarre scheme to use electricity to make ordinary bats grow to the size of German shepherds and then program them to attack anyone wearing a perfume or aftershave laced with the doctor’s special chemical. The picture is as ridiculous as the description makes it sound. See if desperate

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review – Count Yorga, Vampire

This was listed in the opening credits as The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire, the remnants of the picture’s pre-production origins as a soft-core porn flick. For better or worse, the nude scenes were removed from the script prior to shooting. I say “better” because in general the world can probably do without more vampire porn movies. But it’s “worse” as well, because if the movie had included sex scenes then at least it would have had something. This is nothing but dull vampire shenanigans. Oh, and PS: brutally killed cat plus unpleasant dead baby reference equals a zero rating rather than a one. Wish I’d skipped it

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review – City Heat

I started out all pissed off that Hollywood made a movie set in Kansas City but then cut out all the references to it. But by the end of the ordeal I found myself genuinely grateful that my hometown was spared direct association with a stinker like this. The main draw is a team-up of Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood, and perhaps if they’d made a more straightforward action movie it might have worked. Instead, this is a poorly-written, goofy comedy. Every once in awhile Eastwood gets in a good line, but otherwise it’s just too dumb for words. It didn’t particularly help that something was wrong with Encore’s copy of the movie and the sound didn’t quite match the picture. Mildly amusing

Review – Anne of the Thousand Days

I found the title of this picture somewhat misleading. What I was hoping for was a movie that would focus on Anne Boleyn’s brief reign as Queen of England. After all, everyone knows the story of how she ended up with the job. What’s less clear is exactly how she went from Chief Babe of the Realm to headless corpse in so brief a time. But no, we have to start at the beginning and spend at least an hour on the all-too-familiar part of the story. And as if it wasn’t bad enough to rely on the story’s time-honored clichés, the production can’t even settle on which clichés to go with. Sometimes Anne (Genevieve Bujold) is out for revenge for the king’s interference with her plans to marry Lord Percy. But then at other points she’s grubbing power for its own sake or even doing it for love. For his part, Henry (Richard Burton) is motivated either by lust or a pathological obsession with producing a male heir. And once again the Protestant Reformation gets barely a mention. The only thing I found interesting about this was that it took nearly 20 years for this version of the story to make the jump from the Broadway stage to Hollywood, the delay caused by all the salacious elements of the tale that couldn’t be filmed – even in as tame a manner as this – until after the demise of the Hays Code. Mildly amusing

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review – The Battleship Potemkin

Though this occupies a firm and well-deserved spot on any serious film student’s must-see list, the propaganda gets laid on pretty thick. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a master at treating the cinema as a graphic art, and in this silent production from 1925 you can witness the birth of composition and montage techniques that made the movies what they are today. The story, on the other hand, is a silly tale of valiant, strong and universally good proletarians versus the creepy, weak and uniformly evil forces of the Czar. Plot aside, however, even all these years later it’s still a genuine pleasure to see a brilliant artist at the top of his game. Buy the disc

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review – The Bunker (1981)

Hitler is an impossible role to play. If you try to understate the character and avoid the obvious cliché mannerisms, you don’t convince the audience or do justice to the role (not to mention that if you want “understated” then you probably shouldn’t get Anthony Hopkins for the part). On the other hand, if you play him true to form, you come off looking like a mocking impersonation. Every time I see a performance like this, I can practically hear Chaplin raving about “der sauerkrauten und der rooten tooten.” Fortunately the lead role isn’t exactly the death of this overall disappointment. The script trots out the usual “wisdom” about the final days of the Third Reich (Hitler was a nut, Bormann was a jerk, Speer was trying to do the right thing, and so on) without adding any nuance or new information. The subject itself is inherently somewhat interesting, but the production never rises above the level of appeal that any death-of-Hitler show would have commanded. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review – Annie

I’m genuinely amazed that such a picture could be produced without a drop of irony to be found anywhere. Honestly, I could have dealt with the treacle, the clichés, the racism, the sexism, the songs, the choreography and even the more-than-a-little-creepy relationship between Little Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks if they’d given me even a brief yes-we-realize-this-is-corny wink. But oh no. Not back in 1982 when it was “morning in America.” Nowadays of course the only reason you’d ever have to sit through an experience like this is if you get stuck in the Harmony Hut. See if desperate

Friday, November 5, 2010

Review – The Boneyard (2009)

Technically I think this was originally a show on the Discovery Channel, but it used up as much of my life as a feature-length movie would have, so I’m going to go ahead and review it. In true high-band cable style, this is a made-on-the-cheap documentary liberally peppered with dramatic recreations of all of the least interesting parts of the story. In the early 80s a couple of losers – main perpetrator Leonard Lake and sidekick Charles Ng – tortured and murdered somewhere between one and two dozen people. Lake cheated justice by popping a cyanide pill shortly after his arrest. Because the evidence didn’t tie Ng as tightly to the crimes, it took a lot of time and effort to assemble the case against him and bring him to trial. This production dwells almost exclusively on the forensic investigation and the wrangling in the courtroom. In other words, it’s nearly as boring as a real trial. See if desperate

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review – The Curse of Frankenstein

Mary Shelly gets Hammered in this vaguely faithful retelling of the classic tale. The picture pairs Peter Cushing as the doctor and Christopher Lee as the creature, and between the two of them they make a reasonable success of things. Lee’s makeup in particular makes the actor look like a badly-used corpse while at the same time avoiding legal trouble with Universal. Though this is neither the high point of Hammer’s legendary portfolio nor the best version of Frankenstein I’ve ever seen, it’s still reasonably entertaining. Mildly amusing