Friday, December 18, 2020

Review – Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown

This is a reasonably good documentary about H.P. Lovecraft. It covers his life, his work and at least a little of his legacy. Some of the talking heads are better at spouting opinions than presenting facts, and the awkward issue of the author’s racism gets variable treatment. But overall this is a solid starting place for viewers new to the subject and an enjoyable parade of familiar faces for those of us with more extensive backgrounds. Mildly amusing

Review – Ghosts of War

Why is it so goddamn hard to combine the war and horror genres? They seem like they’d go well together. Yet this is the umpteenth attempt I’ve seen that starts out solidly enough but then can’t seal the deal. The plot drops a small group of WW2 GIs into a haunted mansion, and at first it plays as a standard ghost story. Then it starts to meander, becoming implausible even with the extra latitude due a supernatural tale. And as if the filmmakers realize it’s going off the rails, they lean into the skid with a shaggy dog twist. They might have gotten away with it if that had been the punchline that ended the joke. But it kept going from there. Perhaps they were trying to draw some kind of awkward parallel between Nazis and ISIS, but any point they were trying to make got lost in the inept storytelling. See if desperate

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Review - Scoob!

It takes guts to make a dumb cartoon aimed at 50-year-old audience members.  In keeping with the current trend for packing pictures full of inside jokes, just about everything here is a reference to some element or another of the original Scooby Doo Where Are You? series. Plus they’ve thrown in a bunch of other H-B characters in a fairly transparent attempt to kick-start yet another cinematic universe. There’s a bit of clever business to be found here and there, but for the most part this is a movie designed for a pre-teen mentality yet designed to make sure anyone that age now won’t get many of the jokes. Mildly amusing

Review - Underwater

This isn’t the first movie I’ve seen ruined by the “constant cliffhanger” approach to storytelling. But unlike many of the others that seemed to exist for no other reason than abusing their characters, this one could have been so much better if it had toned down the constant peril and given some of the other elements a chance. Such a shame, too. Of all the underwater Alien clones I’ve seen, the monsters in this one were by far the best. Production design was great. Even the cast was good. If only it hadn’t been such a relentless chore to watch. Mildly amusing

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Review - The Wiz

An oh-so-1970s Motown reimagining of The Wizard of Oz? What’s not to love? The cast is a who’s who of Black singers and actors from the era. The musical numbers are great fun. The production design creates an excellent blend of fantasy landscape and gritty New York City. And best of all, the adaptation retains the spirit of Baum’s book – in some ways even more faithfully than the original movie – while at the same time incorporating a whole new set of cultural references. This picture should have a place on any list of quintessential movies from its decade. Worth seeing

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Review - Cats

 This whole thing has a fascinating downward arc. It started with actual cats, which of course are excellent. Then in 1939 T.S. Eliot wrote Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The poetry collection was entertaining enough, though surprisingly twee coming from one of the godfathers of moody modernism. In 1981 Andrew Lloyd Webber turned Eliot’s poems into a popular musical that – for better or worse – revolutionized the portrayal of felines by people in leotards. And now this. Despite the opportunity presented by nearly 40 years passing between the stage production and this screen adaptation, many of the artistic decisions seem ill-considered. The story leads off with an act of animal abuse. The effects, makeup and costuming create things that look neither like cats nor like people but rather some horrid hybrid designed to appeal only to audience members with a highly specific fetish. Technical problems abound; most noticeable is the characters’ scale variation from nearly human size to cat size to hamster size. With the assembled ensemble of talented singers, dancers and actors, a much better movie should have been made. See if desperate.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Abandoned - Capone

This movie starts out in the last year of Al Capone’s life, in his post-gangster, post-prison decline in his mansion in Florida. I waited for 20 minutes or so for flashbacks, plot twists or any kind of distraction from the slow deterioration of a tertiary syph patient. Nope. They might just as easily have made a movie out of the first year of the notorious criminal’s life. It would have involved the same amount of lying around, inarticulate babbling and shitting himself. But at least a baby would have been cheaper than Tom Hardy.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Review - Birds of Prey

Moving farther into the largely Marvel free realm of girl power superhero movies, DC offers up “The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.” To be sure, this isn’t exactly a milestone in the history of feminist cinema. But it’s an entertaining action movie that keeps the story moving and manages some humorous moments along the way. Mildly amusing

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Review - Palm Springs

 Groundhog Day for stoners. This time around the protagonist has company, the love interest dragged into the time loop with him. The production manages an entertaining moment or two amid the general silliness. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review – Bornless Ones

This could have been a much better movie. They’ve got some good ideas – particularly the demons that heal physical infirmities – and a few solid scares here and there. But it gets lost under a pile of horror movie clichés and other bad creative decisions. Even the name is awkward, vaguely reminiscent of Witchiepoo’s attempts to invent rhymes for “oranges.” See if desperate

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review – Supervan

I found myself genuinely in awe of the sheer plotlessness of this movie. They seem to have some kind of story in mind about a solar-powered, laser-shooting van that defeats an oil exec’s scheme to flood the market with gas-guzzling vehicles, a subject that must have been timely in 1977. The movie was shot in and around Kansas City, so I started watching it hoping for some familiar scenery. But I found myself drawn in and greatly entertained by the bewildering mishmash of story threads and sight gags loosely centered around a “freak out” for custom van owners. Appropriately enough, the star of the show is Vandora, the title vehicle designed by legendary movie vehicle customizer George Barris (who makes brief appearance toward the end of the movie). Mildly amusing

Review – 1917

Director Sam Mendes’s technique is as brilliant as it is distracting. He plays out two hours’ worth of life on a World War One battlefield in what appears to be two takes separated only by a brief period when the protagonist is unconscious. Watching for the micro edits as the camera winds through the scenes was fascinating, but in some parts it took attention away from a story that would have stood perfectly well on its own. Overall, however, the movie does a great job of creating a sense of urgency and tension that fits the subject perfectly. Worth seeing

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Review – Midway (2019)

This is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a World War Two movie directed by Roland Emmerich: Independence Day relocated to the Pacific Theater. The effects and epic battle scenes are impressive, the storytelling less so. This is better than Pearl Harbor, but it’s a nearer thing than it should have been. Mildly amusing

Review – West of Hell

In an old Saturday Night Live skit, the ghost of John Lennon replied to everything said to him with its exact opposite. If someone said, “Later, man,” he responded, “Sooner, woman.” I can only suppose that this movie began life as a similar Opposite Day reaction to a Steinbeck novel. Set aboard a train (despite obviously being shot in a room that looked almost nothing like a train car), this is what you’d get if you assigned a group of people who’d never even seen a movie to make as big a wreck as possible out of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. Tony Todd and Lance Henriksen both desperately need to find better agents. Wish I’d skipped it

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Review – Disclosure (2020)

This is a fascinating look at the roles transgender people have played in movies and television. The production focuses on interviews with actors and other media professionals, sharing their reactions to how transgender people are portrayed in the media and their experiences working in the industry. Worth seeing

Review – Wish Upon

The old be-careful-what-you-wish-for story gets yet another rehash that adds little to its long line of predecessors. This time around a Chinese music box grants wishes with inevitable Faustian consequences. See if desperate

Friday, July 10, 2020

Review – Malicious

Young married couple Adam and Lisa have it made. With a baby on the way, they’ve just moved into a huge house supplied to them for free by his new employer (math teachers being in such high demand at small liberal arts colleges that they merit such royal treatment, apparently). That makes it extra sad that opening an innocent-looking box unleashes a baby-murdering, marriage-destroying evil spirit. Not even the parapsychologist head of the husband’s department at work can do much to stop the horror or end the movie any faster. See if desperate

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Review – The Assent

The trailer made this look like it was going to be way better than it was. A father faces losing custody because 1. he can’t hold down a steady job, 2. he’s a mentally ill artist who specializes in really creepy art, and 3. his son’s possessed by a demon. There’s no help for the first two, but a pair of rogue exorcists step in to intervene with number three. See if desperate

Review – Crawl

During a hurricane, a congregation of alligators escape from a swamp or gator farm and relocate to the suburbs. Doubtless intrigued to have uncovered the only house in Florida with a basement, they settle in and start menacing a college student and her estranged dad. The effects are good enough to make the gator attacks entertaining, even though the movie doesn’t have much else going for it (other than the dog, who appears in the beginning and makes it to the end without being killed or even seriously threatened). Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review – Doctor Sleep

Here’s a historic moment in the horror genre: a black female protagonist and a cat both live to the end of the movie. Overall this proves to be a worthy sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. The villains in particular are some of the most evil characters I’ve ever seen. The story is good and the production values high. Worth seeing

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Abandoned – Child’s Play (2019)

I love cats in general and orange cats in particular. So six minutes in when the family’s pet made its first appearance, I ran scrambling to the content advisory list on IMDb. Nope. Oh so much nope.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Review – The Boys in Company C

So this is what Full Metal Jacket might have been like if it had been directed by the guy who made Superman IV. In fairness, this one came out before Kubrick’s, so at least it isn’t a ripoff. Nor is it a terrible movie. Some of the Vietnam War clichés might even be forgiven because back in 1978 they weren’t clichés yet. However, the picture suffers from technical defects and script problems, including a general lack of direction and such a frequent use of the phrase “body count” that if you tried turning it into a drinking game your body would join the count. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Review – Lights Out

This movie’s plot description sounded so much like Darkness Falls that I had to watch at least a few minutes of it just to be sure I hadn’t seen it already. Turns out it isn’t literally the same story, though it has a lot of similarities. Director David Sandberg expands his chilling little short subject into a feature-length tale, and though the longer version isn’t as scary, it still works reasonably well. Mildly amusing

Review – Joker

I watched this seriously annoying movie when I wasn’t in the mood to be seriously annoyed, and that interfered with my ability to understand how it ever managed to be as popular as it was. In fairness, it does get better around 40 minutes in once the antihero is firmly established as a mentally ill ne’er do well. When he finally starts fighting back, however, things start to get interesting. Joaquin Phoenix spends more time making a serious Oscar bid than playing his role, but otherwise it’s an entertaining piece of moviemaking. If nothing else, it was interesting to actually be grateful when Thomas Wayne gets killed. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Review – Door in the Woods

If you found a chain-wrapped door standing in the middle of nowhere, how likely would you be to think, “Hey, I should grab that ratty-looking thing and install it in my house”? Even if you’d never seen a single horror movie in your entire life, it still just seems like a bad idea. Which of course it turns out to be. I liked the casting of CJ Jones as the family’s personal psychic and helper character. But beyond that the wise decisions are few and far between. The cast spends a considerable chunk of the third act clustered around a table in the woods yapping about what kind of deal they can cut with an evil spirit in order to get their kidnapped child back. And then the demonic presence (or whatever the hell it is) turns out to be named “Empusa.” That started a debate in the audience about whether that sounded more like the name of a small town in western Kansas (welcome to Empusa, population 341), a car model (drive the revolutionary new Subaru Empusa) or a prescription medication (do not take Empusa if you are allergic to Empusa or any of Empusa’s ingredients). See if desperate

Review – The Quiet Ones

After sitting through this effort from Hammer, i felt the need to go back and watch a couple of old pictures from the (allegedly) same studio just to remind myself that they used to make movies that didn’t suck. Apparently the mighty art fallen into dismal little bits of nonsense about psychology academics tormenting a girl who can supposedly conjure a ghost exclusively using the power of her mind. For what it’s worth, saying this is based on the real-life “Philip experiments” is a little like saying Transformers is based on the work of Alan Turing. See if desperate

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Review – The Vatican Tapes

This starts out as a run-of-the-mill exorcism movie. Apropos of nothing, a young woman finds herself possessed by an evil spirit. As long as the story stays in that lane, it’s an acceptable entry in the sub genre. But then toward the end the plot takes a considerably more apocalyptic turn, either making it more interesting or just running it off the rails, depending on your point of view. See if desperate

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Review – Ad Astra

Apocalypse Now in outer space. Literally. Brad Pitt turns in a flat, Ryan-Gosling-esque performance as a man sent to Neptune to put a stop to the solar-system-threatening antics of his insane father (Tommy Lee Jones). Before we’re done, we get moon pirates, space monkeys and Donald Sutherland (not necessarily in that order). Wish I’d skipped it

Friday, June 5, 2020

Review – Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

The title comes from the Florida trial judge’s description of this picture’s subject, Ted Bundy. Apt as it is, it’s a strange starting point for the approach taken to the telling of his tale. From the perspective of his long-term girlfriend, Bundy comes across less as a vicious murderer and more as a crappy boyfriend, stalker-y but otherwise just a garden variety jerk. Zac Efron looks and plays the part well. Mildly amusing

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Review – Our House

You can tell you came from the 80s if you immediately want to follow the title with “in the middle of our street.” And you can tell you’re an indie-film-loving hipster if you like this movie. The story begins with a Tesla-esque attempt to invent wireless household current. Sadly for our already-sad orphans, the experiment 1. doesn’t light lightbulbs and 2. awakens evil spirits in their house. The cast isn’t bad, but they’re wasted on a lackluster script. See if desperate

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Review – The Good Dinosaur

This is one of the most beautiful animation showreels I’ve ever seen. The visuals – from the landscapes down to the tiny details – are remarkable feats of CGI. Unfortunately the story and characters are by no means the equal of the images. The classic Disney plot elements – dead parent, hero’s journey, and so on – are all here. They just aren’t used to any particular effect other than loosely stringing together a series of elaborately-constructed scenes. Mildly amusing

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Review – The Show

Giancarlo Esposito directs and acts in this heavy-handed condemnation of reality show excesses. After Bachelor-esque contest ends with an unexpected on-air homicide, the show’s star and producer find themselves enthralled by the ratings potential of a snuff series featuring live broadcasts of increasingly elaborate suicides. Before the show reaches its final episode, it’s plumbing the depths of pathos and gore. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review – Us

Jordan Peele serves up a delightfully creepy tale of a family that finds itself face to face with doppelgängers seeking to replace them. It isn’t easy to pack intelligent, stylish and violent into a single movie, but this one does the trick. Worth seeing

Review – Ma

Ugh, what a depressing movie. Octavia Spencer plays a woman with no end of icky problems. She has a tragic backstory of high school bullying and abuse. In turn she inflicts Munchausen by proxy on her daughter and goes full-on psycho with some of the neighbor kids. Plus she works at a vet’s office, so we’re stuck for the whole picture wondering what horrible torment is going to be inflicted on animals. I admired the unflinching brutality of the story, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch. See if desperate

Monday, May 25, 2020

Review – Godzilla: King of the Monsters

At this point I’m kinda losing track of what Godzilla movie is a sequel to what other Godzilla movie. Based on the casting, I’m guessing this is a follow-up to the 2014 version. If so, it’s everything the first one was only more so. More monsters. More confusing, plot-stretching nonsense. A little longer. A little more expensive. But for the most part, if you liked the previous one then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one too. Mildly amusing

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

After re-inventing Sleeping Beauty in the first one, this one didn’t have as obvious a plot direction. So it piles on the special effects and serves them up with familiar pro-nature, pro-fairy themes. The battle at the end drags out far too long, but otherwise this is on par with its predecessor. Mildly amusing