12.23.2011

The Thursday List (Episode 9) (re-post)

"Prince of Darkness" (1987)
Another by John Carpenter, the second in his 'Apocalypse' trilogy, which began with "The Thing" (1982) and concluded with 1995's "In the Mouth of Madness". The film centers on a group of scientists called in to investigate an impossibly old church artifact, and things go downhill from there rather quickly. An skilled cast, superb writing, and a genuinely creepy, full of mystery and dread atmosphere make this one another one of the most effective horror films of the last quarter of the 20th century. The fashions are dated a bit, plus Jameson Parker's mustache steals a few scenes, but overall this is again an example of John Carpenter showing how to tell a good story very, very well. Highly recommended.

"Dance of the Dead" (2008)
Pretty straightforward. A motley crew of students, a pizza delivery guy, and a coach work to protect the high school prom from a horde of zombies attacking the town. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the story. This film is sharp, funny, scary, very well written and directed, and really fun to watch. On top of that, it's an indie, and we like good independent films. Highly recommended.

"F For Fake" (1975)
This was the last major film by Orson Welles, and it rather defies description. It was years ahead of its time in editing technique and overall style and remains worlds ahead of other films in what has become known as the mockumentary genre, though "F for Fake" isn't really a mockumentary... sort of. For the curious and/or adventurous of you looking for different film experiences, this one is by a bona fide Master of Cinema and cannot be missed. It is wildly entertaining and informative and more than a little mischievous. Not just recommended. Essential.

Thank you, Blogger app for Droid...

... for losing/eating the Thursday List.

 
It will be rewritten today.
Apologies for the inconvenience, folks.

12.16.2011

The Thursday List, Episode 8

"The Haunting" (1963)
A scientist, two psychic sensitives, and a skeptic go to check out a very haunted house indeed, and no hilarity ensues whatsoever. Robert Wise's 1963 film adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is considered by many, including this reviewer, as the best haunted house movie ever made. A solid story and script coupled with amazing technical direction plus an excellent cast give this film an atmosphere of unease, darkness, mystery, and psychological horror that just about can't be beat, and the best thing is that by and large it's a slow burn from beginning to end. It's masterful. Highly recommended.

"The Legend of Hell House" (1973)
There is no such slow burn in 1973's "The Legend of Hell House". Once it gets going, it keeps going and doesn't really let up, just gives you enough time to breathe. Adapted by Richard Matheson from his own novel, this film has the same premise as "The Haunting" but approaches from a different angle and much more ferociously. The cast shines, especially Roddy McDowell, and the direction is determinedly '70s and very effective. It may not be the best haunted house film ever, but it's close... and probably the most fun to watch. Highly engaging, highly energetic, and... Highly Recommended.

"Event Horizon" (1997)
A bit overambitious but well done and with a great attitude, "Event Horizon" is probably the best haunted house in space movie ever made. It's more than a hair over the top and sometimes tends to try to hard, but there's something about the film that just screams underdog. It's got a good script and direction, and the cast does pretty well. It just keeps barely not quite coming completely together. Having watched it more than a few times, I believe there's a good, fun, healthy attitude about the film, and it's really great fun to watch, especially with friends, which makes raises from average to slightly above average. And so while your mileage may vary, I say... Recommended.

12.09.2011

The Thursday List, Episode 7

"Quigley Down Under" (1990)
This is one of my favorite post-1960s westerns. It's a solid, entertaining yet often overlooked film. It has aged far better than most of its more popular cinema contemporaries and is just as well written, acted, and directed as most of them. It has action, humor, and drama, and instead of relying on flash and cool it is plainly a good story told well, which is better than flash and cool and many other superficialities every time. Recommended.


"The Exorcist III" (1990)
Once again we have a case of an often overlooked solid, entertaining film that has aged better than many of its contemporaries. This chapter of the "Exorcist" cycle more than makes up for its diabolically hodgepodge (and often unintentionally quite funny) predecessor. It's an effective detective/horror film that really only gets over the top at the end, though it still works well. Script, direction, and cast are excellent, and the film effortlessly moves between darkly funny humor and delivering atmosphere and chills. Again, good story and well told. Recommended.

"The Return of the Living Dead" (1985)
This is probably the second most legendary zombie movie of them all, and despite its title was in no way associated with George Romero's 1968 film. (See this Wikipedia article for that story.) It's a zombie film with an excellent atmosphere of dread, a good cast, and a very effective balance of laughs and scares that keeps the film's pace moving at a steady clip. Above all, it's fun to watch, either alone or with friends. Highly recommended.

12.04.2011

Bigotry can get you killed, by your own hand or your friends', and it will be funny.

A group of horny, beer-swilling, pot-smoking college kids just wanted to go camping... out in the middle of nowhere... where years before something really, really bad happened to a group of horny, beer-swilling, pot-smoking college kids who just wanted to go camping. And Tucker and Dale just wanted to go fishing at the lake by the cabin. Oh yes. Hilarity. It does ensue.

"Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" (2010)
directed by Eli Craig
written by Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson
starring Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Brandon McLaren, Chelan Simmons, Adam Beauchesne, Christie Laing, Philip Granger, Travis Nelson, Alex Arsenault, and Joseph Sutherland

How Is it?
If you enjoy horror, comedy, and/or romantic comedy films or just like watching films that fire on all cylinders and are loads of fun to watch, then you should see this one.

The Players
There really isn't much to say in this section. While Labine, Tudyk, and Bowden are the leads of the film, it's an ensemble piece. The supporting cast did a marvelous job, each one getting their moments to make their mark and doing so memorably and well. They were all fun to watch work. I was especially impressed with Tyler Labine and his chemistry with his co-stars. In a film full of excellent performances, his portrayal of Dale really stands out. Alan Tudyk, ever reliable in drama and/or comedy, is in top form as well. And Katie Bowden fits right in with the two of them and is a real delight to watch as well. The three of them work marvelously together.

Behind the Camera
Good actors can do wonders with poor to average scripts. When good actors get really very good scripts... well, we get what we have with this film. Craig and Jurgenson delivered a solid script, one that covered all the bases quickly and effectively, one that didn't waste much time on standing exposition but generally kept things moving. So the audience gets information at the same time as the plot moves along, and it clicks. That it parodies a well-worn classic genre helps, of course. People know what to expect in slasher films, and so part of the fun is watching how those conventions are turned around. It's a good story, and it's well told. There you are.

Looking at the technical side of it, "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" is a very well made film. It's Eli Craig's best one yet, I'd say. The film's direction is much like what I said of the script. It's moves at a steady clip and keeps the audience engaged, something more than a few films have difficulty doing. The cinematography, lighting, special effects, and all are clean, not overcomplicated or overambitious, and very effective. It looks like he made all the right choices with this film. It's one of the best all-around films I've seen in a while.

The Verdict
"Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" has beer, skinny-dipping, fire, a deserted lumber mill, blood, cultural misunderstandings, gore, plenty of laughs, and a lot of heart. Highly recommended.

The Thursday List, Episode 6 (Late Edition)

"Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2" (2011)
This is an impressive film, technically. Specifically, the makeup and effects of this film are impressive, mightily impressive. Unfortunately, saying that about a movie is rather like going to a concert and coming saying "Well, the seats were comfortable." Style is no substitute for substance, and this film was style heavy and substance poor. The script made little sense, but most of the actors managed well with what they had. All told, it wasn't really bad, though if it hadn't been for the special effects it would've been a bit below average. Recommended for fans of gore effects, not quite so for general viewers.

 "Scream of the Banshee" (2011)
When "SyFy presents" appeared at the opening, my heart sank a bit. As the movie progressed, my heart sank even more. The more the actors, brave men and women all, struggled against the bland and plodding script, the more they themselves sank into the SyFy swamp, an awful and hideous place wherein mediocrity and cheapness rule with a plastic fist (rather poorly painted to look like iron from a distance). It was obvious they knew as well as I that there was only one way for it to go, and in the end, we all went down together. At least they got paid for their time and energy, and it's still far and away and worlds better than Neighbor. Unless you want to make a drinking game out of watching it or you have a crush on Lauren Holly, this film is: Not recommended.

"The Omega Man" (1971)
This is an example of films that have aged about as well as Dorian Gray at the end of his story. The themes of Matheson's original 1954 novel, I Am Legend, are sweeping and universal, and it seems they were reduced down and twisted a bit to suit the cultural vogues of the beginning of the 1970s. They're clumsily handled in the script, and so instead of having an impact and encouraging you think it just preaches at you. The non-message parts of the film, on the other hand, are quite good. Heston's in great form and has some really good scenes, as does Rosalind Cash. It could have been better, but despite the ham-fisted handling of some of the themes and the near-comical 1970s-ness of it, it really is a slightly above average film, except for the ending. Oy vey. "The Omega Man" is worth watching, but don't go out of your way or be in a hurry to. Matheson's novel, though, should be required reading.

Coming soon... (as in tomorrow)

A review of "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" and a two-day-late edition of The Thursday List.


(I am still recovering from Thanksgiving weekend. I love Chicago.)

11.22.2011

Picture Day 1

Here is a snapshot of part of my personal movie collection, in case some of you wondered, which you probably didn't. But here it is anyway.
The movie immediately above "Hot Fuzz" is a double feature set of "Kelly's Heroes" (1970) and "Where Eagles Dare" (1968). Both are WW2 movies that star/co-star Clint Eastwood. Immediately above that case is the slot where "Kung Fu Hustle" (2004) usually sits. It's not there because I've been watching it this afternoon. Finally, the movie at the very top of the photo isn't "Se7en" (1995) but "The Magnificent Seven" (1960).

The Thursday List, Episode 5 (Early Edition)

"Soylent Green" (1973)
Usually ecological disaster movies are crap. They're preachy and irritating and weakly written. "Soylent Green" isn't one of those. It's the ecological disaster movie all the others are trying to be. It's solidly written and directed, and it features the final and quite moving film performance of the legendary Edward G. Robinson. The worst thing about the film, aside from Charlton Heston's mediocre performance for the first half of the film, is that it's so dreadfully 1970s, with the fashions and the language. And if that's the worst part of the film, that's doing pretty good. This film's a classic for good reason. Recommended.

"Dead Again" (1991)
"Dead Again" is a neo-noir psychological thriller and one of my favorite movies. It stars Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Andy Garcia, and Sir Derek Jacobi and is a veritable master class in film direction, screenwriting, and performance. It's gorgeously shot and features scenes both in color and in black and white while the plot develops and the action moves back and forth between the 1940s and the 1990s. It's a tight, lean story, very engaging, and should have you quite rapt until the very end. Highly recommended.

"The Mangler" (1995)
Robert Englund and Ted Levine in a horror movie based on a Stephen King short story and directed by Tobe Hooper. Holy cow! This should be pretty good. Except that "The Mangler" is a laundry folding machine... that gets possessed a demon... and terrorizes the people at the laundry service, while a detective (Levine) tries to investigate and the owner (Englund) tries to find it new victims. Holy crap. Now it seems like it should blow. To be fair, it's an all around very competently made film. It's just clunkily written, but more than that it just doesn't work as a story. I've not read the short story, though. I'll wager it worked a lot better there. The movie blows. Avoid.

11.21.2011

In an alternate universe, Superman and Jimmy Olsen police the undead.

Working class werewolves. Hip, sleazy vampires. Nebbishy zombies and one really angry one. An old guy with a pretty daughter gets murdered most foul, and a comedy sidekick gets murdered but gets better... ish. Oh, and the most vile and hideous of Hell's creatures ever to have walked the earth but then get trapped in an artifact is on track for being brought back for a command performance. Hilarity ensues.

"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" (2011)
directed by Kevin Munroe
written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer
starring Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem, Taye Diggs, and Peter Stormare

How is it?
As I know I say a lot about movies, even if you haven't seen this movie you've seen this movie. It's not bad. It's not good. It's... competent... ish. Allow me to explain.

The Players
Again, as I know I say a lot in reviews, the cast does well with the material they were given, mostly. After three viewings in as many days I still can figure out Brandon Routh's performance as Dylan Dog. His performance comes across uneven, often a bit wooden. Some scenes work well enough while others don't seem to quite gel, and I can't figure out if it's because of him, the writing, possibly the director, or all three of the above. It was distracting for me as a viewer. Anita Briem as Elizabeth runs into the same problem, though to a lesser extent. Sam Huntington steals the show as Marcus. The comedy sidekick often does to a degree, but frankly, when he is on-screen he dominates. He was helped by having probably the best-written main role in the entire film. Still, he does breathe some extra life into the movie, which is good. Peter Stormare and Taye Diggs play the werewolf and vampire heavyweights, respectively. Stormare has the least screen time but of course gives his character, Gabriel, all he's got, while Taye Diggs is on-screen a fair deal more but doesn't much bring anything unique or interesting to Vargas, the vampire boss.

Honorable mention goes to Dan Braverman as Big Al, the zombie parts shop owner. He owned that scene. I wish Big Al had been in more of the movie. A small role, yes, but solid and memorable.

Behind the Camera
It never sounds good when the first compliment someone gives a movie is that it was lit and shot well. So of course this isn't the best start possible for this section of the review. But it's true. A good deal of director Kevin Munroe's experience has been in animation, production design, and art, and so "Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" has good visuals. Its production design, art direction, lighting, and photography are very good. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the previous section, some of the performances are uneven, a problem which can be at least partly attributed to him. Part of the blame also rests with the script.

While the story and its details are interesting as concepts, the comedy works a lot more than the serious, especially the semi-noir narrations, which, like quite a lot of Dylan's dialogue, are rather stilted and seem to try a bit too hard to be (sort of) gritty. The structure of the whole thing flows, but it never quite seems to fire on all cylinders, except for the comedy sidekick stuff, which includes most of the zombies. It's almost as if  screenwriters Donnelly and Oppenheimer really wanted to write another movie while writing this one.

The Verdict
Despite this movie never quite coming together... and despite it being formulaic... and despite Routh's lead performance being uneven... I get an attitude from the movie that I genuinely appreciate. Truth be told, I bottom line this movie as "technically competent but not impressive" and "not bland but certainly average". But I like it. I like it more than I know I should. (Maybe I've got the generous holiday spirit early.)

"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" really isn't anything to write home about, but it's probably good for movie night with some friends. You can laugh and have a good time watching it or ripping it apart, depending on your tastes. I'm sure there's a drinking game just waiting to be created for it as well. Recommended... ish.

11.18.2011

Coming soon...

I will be traveling much of this next week and will not be posting Thursday through Monday. So next week's Thursday List will be The Tuesday List, and I aim to get a bona fide review of a film up this weekend.

Also, I am pondering expanding the scope of this blog, possibly to include articles on directors, actors, studios, writers, and film history. I won't make the decision until the start of 2012, but I thought I'd mention it, in case any readers had any thoughts, comments, or suggestions.

That's it for now. See you this weekend.


11.17.2011

The Thursday List, Episode 4

"In The Loop" (2009)
It's the buildup to the Iraq invasion like you've never seen it before but might've imagined it if you were really cynical. The British cast are from the hit BBC show "The Thick of It", and the American cast includes james Gandolfini, David Rasche, and Mimi Kennedy. It's a rapid-fire, expletive and insult filled, cross-cultural political riot, and Peter Capaldi steals the show as the foul-mouthed No. 10 Downing Street director of communications, Malcolm Tucker. This movie is one for your collections, folks. Highly recommended.

"Drag Me To Hell" (2009)
Sam Raimi knows how to make a roller coaster horror movie, just what to do and when to do it, and he's done so many times before, which is kind of the problem. While you haven't exactly seen this movie before, you've seen this movie before. It's a fun watch and has some good jolts, both typical of Raimi's films, but it's unfortunately rather heavy on formula. So it winds up just kind of average. A decent choice for movie night with friends or to watch via streaming.

"Brutal Massacre: A Comedy" (2007)
This movie is one based on actual events and people, just not events that took place on just one shoot, and it's really, really fun to watch. It's shot as a documentary about not a B-grade but a C-grade horror movie "auteur", Harry Penderecki, who get's one last shot to make his masterpiece. It's funny, dumb, crazy, silly, and while some scenes feel like they go on a bit long... it does all come together. I put it on the high side of average, which is to say it's better than most. Recommended.

11.11.2011

The Thursday List, Episode 3

"Bunraku" (2010)

To put it simply, this is a visually striking, highly stylized live-action semi-noir four-color comic Samurai/Old West Good-versus-Evil fable. A lot of time, money, and talent on several levels went into making this film, and truth be told, you see every last bit of it. Some have claimed it was too long-winded and convoluted. I found it quite easy to follow and highly entertaining. I rented it on a whim because it was 99 cents, and now I'm going to buy it on Blu-Ray for my collection. Highly recommended.

"The Grand" (2007)

"The Grand" pokes fun at the colorful personalities of professional poker players and their tournament world. It's a very laid back, funny, good-natured film, which comes a good deal from the choices of actors, all of whom are quite good at guided improvisation, which is a euphemism for "not much in the way of a script". There are a few lags here and there, but its generally even. Woody Harrelson, Werner Herzog, Gabe Kaplan, and Dennis Farina kind of steal the show, but not by too much. It's a fun film that you don't have to think about but just relax and enjoy the laughs. Recommended.

"Night of the Demon" (1957)
Note to U.S. readers: "Night of the Demon" is an original U.K. production renamed "Curse of the Demon" by its American distributor for its stateside release.

"Curse of the Demon" (1958)

When I recommend a movie, that's one thing. When Martin Scorsese recommends a movie, it's another, much more impressive thing. He does. So it is. "Curse of the Demon" is a very effective horror film because it has a tight, lean script brought to life well by a talented cast and because it is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. The technical direction and cinematography are top-notch. Its production was more than a bit rocky, which makes it a bit more impressive that it all came together so well. It's a solid, effective, reasonably family-friendly horror film. Highly recommended.

?!?!?!

Where did my "Attack the Block" review go?

I wrote it on the fly last night and posted it. Only now it is not here.

I wrote it in on the form, not in Word to cut-and-paste-and-post. So it's not saved anywhere.
Sorry, folks. I've to write it again.

*grumble*

11.07.2011

Decision, decisions... again.

It's a three-way toss up once again for the next review. Our contestants are:

"Bunraku" (2010)... or "Attack the Block" (2011)... or "The Grand" (2007).

It's between a Old West/Samurai comic book fairy tale, ASBOs versus fiendish hunter-killer stuffed animal looking beasties from outer space, and a comedy with Woody Harrelson, Werner Herzog, Dennis Farina, and (*rawr*) Andrea Savage.

Damn tough call, this one. For serious.

It will be made, however.

Please tune in.

11.04.2011

The Thursday List, Episode 2

Technically it's Friday, I know, but there've been hardware problems tonight. All fixed now, and so...


"Season of the Witch" (2011)

Two seemingly unstoppable warriors desert from the Crusades, head home, and get roped into transporting a teenage witch to a monastery for exorcism. Formulaic mediocrity ensues at what can only be described as quite casual speed. The only people in the thing seeming to have any fun or even pride in the project were Ron Perlman and Stephen Graham, and while they keep the thing from being wholly uninteresting and dull, they are no match for the unimpressiveness and yawn-inducing power Nicholas Cage, the rest of the cast, the script, and the direction. Not recommended.

"Paranormal Activity 3" (2011)

The third time's a charm, apparently. A youngish couple buys a house, and things start getting a little weird right away. Fortunately for us, dad's a wedding videographer, and viola! A movie franchise is born! It's a little slow to get moving, but unlike its predecessors it has atmosphere, keeps things interesting, and builds pretty solidly. They got it right (or right enough) on the third go. It has a few hiccups and things that make no sense, and you can see some things coming miles away. But it actually kind of works, all told. It's slightly better than average, and as such it is... Recommended.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street" (2011)

Boring and stupid. That's the problem with this remake, as it is with most remakes, really. Freddie isn't scary, and the teenagers are wholly unsympathetic. Even the camera and editing tricks used to try to bring the creepiness and rubber reality are standard fare. The rewrite of the storys background is just plain uninspired, as is the script itself. There's no atmosphere. Heck, there isn't even any acting or effort on the production side to do anything other than try to make it look cool. It's just another dull, boring, uninspired movie-by-the-numbers attempt at milking a cash cow. Not remotely recommended, not even for a laugh. (It's still better than "Neighbor", though.)

10.28.2011

unexpected time out

No reviews this week, due to an unexpected illness and death in the family. Things should be back up and running early next week.

10.22.2011

Dumbledore, Science Officer Ash, Dr. Zhivago, and Hannibal Lecter walk into a pub...

The SS Britannic sets sail while a tiny third-rate bomb is diffused in a posh art gallery. A man answers a phone after pouring Rice Krispies for a screaming toddler, and then future cinema legends gather to stop a rather dumpy ocean liner from getting blown up by a very clever bomber indeed. And Roy Kinnear couldn't sing worth a damn (probably by design). And believe it or not after reading all that, it all comes together.


Juggernaut (1974)
directed by Richard Lester
written by Richard DeKoker and Alan Plater
starring Richard Harris, David Hemmings, Omar Sharif, Anthony Hopkins, Freddie Jones, Roy Kinnear, Shirley Knight, and Julian Glover

How is it?
If you don't mind just about everyone you see having '70s hair, then you will likely enjoy it. Made almost forty years ago, it really has aged remarkably well. 

The Players
The cast makes this one interesting to watch. In addition to the star power listed above, there are supporting and bit players scattered throughout, who are pretty familiar faces to even probably casual moviegoers. But the big star, of course, is Richard Harris, and in this he's doing what he does bestLieutenant Commander Anthony Fallon is a disarmingly casual, witty, intelligent, and wily ace of the Royal Navy bomb disposal squad, and as him Harris absolutely steals the show when he's on screen. Holm, Sharif, Hopkins, Jones, and the rest do well in their respective supporting roles. David Hemmings gets as close to sharing the spotlight as possible during his time on screen, and he and Harris have real chemistry. They all do, and it makes it fun to watch. 

Behind the Camera
Richard Lester, the man who made films with Peter Sellers and The Beatles and who directed the two 1970s Muskateers films and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum!, directed Juggernaut. It has a raw, natural visual quality that comes across effectively. It's tightly directed, though its look, texture, and lighting generally make it look more like a tv movie than a feature, particularly it being shot all on location, not on studio sets. The scenes taking place down in the bowels of the ship were actually filmed right in the various corridors below decks of an ocean liner at sea, and the scenes in offices and temporary command centers were filmed on location. That's part of the edge the film keeps throughout, that well-lit and photographed naturalism.

The script isn't stellar, but it's solid. It provides everything the audience needs, and the story as it unfolds will keep you guessing. There are a few oddities along the way, almost certainly due to the a heavy rewriting of the script prior to production, but they don't get in the way of anything. There's an underlying anti-establishment attitude running throughout the whole thing, but it doesn't get preachy, as a lot of tv and movies of that decade did. It's in the characters, what they say and do, which is better than being handed platefuls of exposition.

The Verdict
This was a surprise by me tonight as I scanned my video streaming queue and suggestions. The cast list got my attention, and then it got better from there over the course of the next hour and a half. Juggernaut isn't a classic, but it is certainly a solid, enjoyable film.

Renting it or buying a copy of it will be money well spent. 

10.20.2011

The Thursday List, Episode 1

"Green for Danger" (1946)

It's a Golden Age whodunnit set in a hospital camp in England during World War II. An ensemble cast performs a fiendishly tight script, and the film is set, photographed, lit, and scored very ably. It's a little quirky, with an exceptional performance by the great Alistair Sim as the rather unusual Scotland Yard sleuth, Inspector Cockrill. A very entertaining and enjoyable film classic. Highly recommended.


"Insidious" (2011)

It's three movies in one. The first part is an atmospheric, slowly paced haunted house movie. The second part is an alternately slightly amusing and chilling haunted house movie. The third part is a rather bold but kind of clunky fantasy/horror story. Wonderfully shot with super visuals and very well scored, it just doesn't really ever gel. It winds up dead average (no pun intended). Great for Hallowe'en, but take it or leave it the rest of the year.

"Midnight Movie" (2008)

This is the kind of slasher horror movie that is genuinely fun to watch. The budget came in at one million dollars but delivered better than most horror movies with ten to thirty times that. It's generally well scripted and competently performed, but what elevates it is the direction. It's obvious the director pre-planned and handled his resources excellently and that the cast and crew enjoyed making the movie. Hmmm... I may do a proper full write-up on this one. Highly recommended.

10.19.2011

The Thursday List (coming soon)

On Thursdays I am going to try to post three films, featuring as brief as possible reviews of each. I just want to get a little more product going out the door here.


Also, please feel free to suggest or ask me about particular titles. I'm always up for that.

Stay tuned.

Your suffering will be legendary... even for Hollywood.

Spoiled, dissatisfied rich California boys run down to Tijuana for some action but instead find a) they're just unhappy punks in Mexico too and b) a rather tidy-looking vagrant who gives them a puzzle box guaranteed to thrill. Things go downhill from there, for all of us.



Hellraiser: Revelations (2010)
directed by Victor Garcia
written by Gary J. Tunnicliffe
starring Nick Eversman, Jay Gillespie, Tracey Fairaway, Stephan Smith Collins

How is it?
Well, considering this is the ninth movie and the fifth consecutive direct-to-video release of the franchise, had a budget of about $300,000, was publicly and fiercely disavowed/disowned by Clive Barker, and did not feature Doug Bradley as Pinhead... you would be safe in assuming the answer is "Not too good."

The Players
As I often say, I'm sure they did the best they could with the script they had to work with. As an actor myself, I always try to give that when I can instead of disparaging the efforts of others. The acting was mostly decent... ish, mostly... kindasorta. It's just that the actors really didn't matter, not for this movie. You will find out way in a moment.

Behind the Camera
The company that owns the rights to Hellraiser had to make a movie because the rights were about to expire, and they wanted to do just enough to extend them. (That's what I read anyway.) So they scraped together some petty cash, had the former make-up effects guy of the previous DVD releases write up a script, and got a director, and viola! A movie is born. Yes, this movie was born simply to ensure they could make another Hellraiser movie later. So that's the background. Now on to the dissection.

The script's just a mess. It was overlong, had stilted dialogue in most scenes, featured genuinely unsympathetic characters that did some of the dumbest things, and it just didn't have a sense of pace. The Hellraiser universe is full of possibilities, but it gets hung up on the inability of most of Hollywood to be brave and try something different. Instead they just keep going back to the trough, the same old twists and turns and other known quantities, and calling it "new". There was nothing new done with what could have been an interesting story.

The directing was confusing. The framing and lighting of whatever action was going on on-screen was sometimes quite competent, even interesting here and there. Other times it was flat, bland, noticeably different. It made me ponder the hazards of second unit shooting on a shoestring budget and a short shooting schedule. (That's just a guess.) I have plenty of questions as to why Garcia made or allowed the actors to make certain performance decisions, though I suspect that again the script is the primary culprit there. Or time maybe constraints. Or maybe nobody in it really cared enough, given the miniscule budget and all.

I might ought not be, but I'll be generous and say everyone did the best they could with what they had to work with, which was a production company that wanted to spend as little money as humanly possible on a direct-to-video release so they could legally keep the rights to a franchise. I'll leave it at that.

The Verdict
It's genuinely saddening to see a legendary franchise actually hit the bottom the way Hellraiser has. This movie was made without a care in the world about whether or not it was any good or even decent. It was just business, the worst reason of all to make it, in my opinion.

And... Doug Bradley is Pinhead. Accept no substitutes.

10.14.2011

What has been seen cannot be unseen.

You really have seen it all before. Seriously, you have. What's more is that what you saw before, the film released twenty-nine years ago and of the same name and premise, was better, even if you saw it edited for television, in black and white, and with the sound off.


The Thing (2011)
directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.
written by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore
starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen, Jørgen Langhelle, Trond Espen Seim, Stig Henrik Hoff, Carsten Bjørnlund, Jan Gunnar Røise, Paul Braunnstein

How is it?
I'm biased. How biased am I? Check this out, and then read on. [pause] Okay... now I'll set aside my abiding respect and adoration of the 1982 masterpiece, and we will proceed.

So how is it?
It's just manages to reach the level of an average horror movie, and truth be told, that's being a little bit generous. What is lacks in suspense, atmosphere, cinematography, and dialogue it more than makes up for in lack of audience investment, predictability, and in computer-generated gore and fire effects. It moves in fits and starts, really only gets traction for one scene, and the rest of the time is altogether unsteady. Alas, it's the usual culprit, (attempted) spectacle over substance. In a word: hollow. (I'm not a fan of the "average" horror movie.)

The Players
It isn't an ensemble piece, but it's not really a vehicle for anyone in particular either, except maybe Joel Edgerton and Jørgen Langhelle. The actors all do what they can with what can't be called anything other than a very weak script, and that's unfortunate. The characters were all cardboard cutouts for the genre, up to an especially including Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ripley, er- Dr. Kate Lloyd and Ulrich Thomsen as Ash the android medical officer, er- the diabolical but Euro-cool medical officer.

The only two that seem even remotely sympathetic and/or not plain old story devices are Edgerton as Macready, er- Sam Carter the chopper pilot and Langhelle as Clark, er- Lars the station dog keeper. Well... okay, three. Hoff as Peder, the station commander's XO, did stand out. These three managed to come out on top, and good on'em.

Behind the Camera
I'll start with the good...ish. That'd be the special effects... or most of them. During production and up until today the word has been they really favored practical effects and used digital to enhance, trying to keep close to the totally non-digital effects of the Carpenter film. Maybe it's a testament to the effects department's skill that I couldn't tell there were many practical, non-CG effects at all in the film. Some were obviously physical, and some had me wondering. The downside is they were awfully over-the-top, very Resident Evil, seeming far more for shock than for scare, and they looked rather raw, like they weren't really finished. Then there was the CG fire. Oy vey. All that CG fire. Yikes. Now on to the ugh portion of this review.

By and large, the direction and cinematography simply didn't do anything for the film except telegraph what was coming next and actually be a bit boring. Rather than usher a sense of claustrophobia and imminent dread, it just looked rather... well, meh, like it was just kind of there. I seriously doubt Heijningen will be given another $38 million to make another movie, let alone a get his mitts on a legendary franchise. Despite his ardent fandom and devotion to Carpenter's classic, his homage prequel didn't work.

The script was just kind of there as well. There's not much to say about it other than like much of the rest of the film it seemed very flat, impersonal, and paint-by-numbers. It's so disappointing because of what the producers and director claim to have been trying to do, what act they were attempting to follow. It really could and ought have been much better. There aren't excuses other than incompetence, not caring, or too many writers. It felt like they came up with a bunch of "cool moments" and "cool scenes" and worked out how to string them together. Honestly, I doubt that's what it was, but it's what it felt like watching it. I think they copied the 1982 film. Maybe that's what we get when you get a script approved and then before filming totally rewrite it, which was what happened to The Thing. There is a lesson there, Hollywood. Take it.

The Verdict
This didn't seem much like a prequel. It felt like one of those new-fangled "re-imaginings" Hollywood seems so keen on these days. It had a few interesting, even exciting moments, but they were few enough and far enough between to render the whole thing just on the lowest edge of average. It simply never gelled. If you've seen the trailer, there are no surprises for you in it at all.

Wait for it to hit the dollar theaters, cable/satellite, or streaming video. If then.

10.10.2011

I'm clawing my way back again.

It's been a bear. It hasn't been bad, really, but it's been a bear.

Lack of money, ankle injury, several collaborative creative projects, wrist surgery, more lack of money, a grandmother in an out and back into the hospital, and my children driving me bananas in general kept me away. Soon, though... that will change.

I've a few movies I've seen quite recently that I'm going to give the once over or the what for.


Stay tuned (again).

4.01.2011

Egad.

Life, like a cat on LSD, is unpredictable.

Varied circumstances are interfering with my reviewing.

I'll be back as soon as possible.

3.23.2011

In the meantime...

The following are films I cannot recommend highly enough. I may or may not get around to reviewing them here fully, and so I figure it's good to have at least a partial list out anyway.

This list is in no particular order. I'm just naming them as they come to mind. many of you may know or at least heard of most of these, of course. I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't list them, though.

Citizen Kane (1941)
The Producers (1968)
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
The Sting (1973)
A Night at the Opera (1935)
Blade Runner (1982)
Touch of Evil (1958)
The Wicker Man (1973)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
High Noon (1952)
Get Carter (1971)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Chinatown (1974)
Brazil (1985)
The Third Man (1949)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Defending Your Life (1991)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
The Old Dark House (1932)
Gosford Park (2001)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
True Grit (1969)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Educating Rita (1983)
Session 9 (2001)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
L.A. Story (1991)

Please keep in mind, this list is nowhere near complete. I'll list some more another day. This group ought to keep you occupied and viewing happily for a while.




3.22.2011

At least it's better than "Neighbor".

A guy and his girl go visit the guy's old friend at his exclusive apartment in the big city. They meet some new, generally shallow people, and things go kind of downhill from there. Oh, and then... space aliens invade. And no hilarity ensues.


Skyline” (2010)
directed by The Brothers Strause
written by Liam O'Donnell and Joshua Cordes
starring Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, and Donald Faison

How Is It?
There's not much to say, really. It looks way better than it ever had any hope of being. The production value of the film is high, and nothing else about the film even comes close to it. The only things not done on the cheap in the film are the special effects. It's pretty bad, really.

The Players
Eric Balfour plays Jarrod, and Scottie Thompson plays his girlfriend, Elaine. Donald Faison plays Jarrod's best friend and old partner in crime, Terry. All three a decent enough actors. It's just with the lackluster script and pretty hackneyed story at hand, it was probably all they could do to go through the motions. They aren't the stars of the “Skyline” anyway. The aliens are, and directors Greg and Colin Strause made sure that's obvious. The actors are just there to get the audience to the next special effects shot, a grave disservice to them and to us viewers.

Behind the Camera
The writing is mediocre, at its best moments. “Skyline” is a rehash of every major alien spaceship invasion movie of the past fifteen or so years, and nowhere does it even try to be original. The dialogue is clunky, and the entire script is far too long. The biggest problem of the script is that it seems to have been made to service the visual effects desires of the Strauses. It comes across as a story and script built around preconceived “cool moments” and/or “awesome visuals”, not a solid (at least least serviceable) story and script from which such moments and visuals would be inspired. For the most part, when the characters are talking the film is really quite boring. The script seems accidental.

The physical production cost of the movie was around $500,000. The special effects budget was somewhere between ten and twenty million dollars -- going into CG aliens, space ships, aerial battles, and lots of blue lights. It looks good, of course. Though the aliens and the ship are blatant rip offs of popular movie alien baddies we've seen many times, it was millions well spent. It's a technically well made film, but as directors, whose jobs are supposed to include drawing the audience in and sustaining interest, Greg and Colin are breathtakingly lacking. There is no sense of atmosphere in “Skyline” other its emotional vacuity. The Strauses made a video game, not a movie – and not a very good video game at that. Decent video games at least engage you and keep your interest throughout.

And the film's ending, if indeed one could call it that, is just absolutely cringeworthy.

The Verdict
Skyline” is a prime example of the all too familiar problem of spectacle over substance. It's not a good story, nor is it well told. There's no story to speak of. The whole film is an excuse for big CG effects, and that just doesn't cut it.

Skyline” is like “Birdemic”, just with better effects and no fun in watching it whatsoever.

Break time is over... ish.

And I'm back... mostly.
It really wasn't much of a break.

Life keeps getting more expensive and therefore more demanding, 
and such a things put a damper on the fun stuff we'd rather to do.


Another review will be posted soon.

3.18.2011

There are no "happy campers" in horror movies.

A group of seemingly mismatched friends head off to The Middle of Nowhere, Australia to find some 12,000 year old Aboriginal paintings on the side of a mountain... where many decades before one of the friends' ancestors apparently murdered everyone on his expedition to the same place. What could possibly go wrong?


Primal” (2009)
directed by Josh Reed
written by Nigel Christensen and Josh Reed
starring Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Krew Boylan, Wil Traval, Lindsay Farris, and
Damien Freeleagus

How Is It?
It's unsteady, but it manages deliver some creepiness. That said, when it's not got the creepiness going on you really notice its weakness. This is not uncommon in horror, of course, which is all the more unfortunate for such an interesting premise.

The Players
Primal” is an ensemble piece, and the actors do alright, considering a fair amount of what they had to work with from the script ranged from inconsistent to downright puzzling. Whereas some actors are tempted to play things up a bit in such situations, the film's cast sells everything straight. Their playing it honest allows viewers to take the action on screen seriously – or as seriously as possible.

Wil Traval and Damien Freeleagus deserve honorable mentions. Whether it's how their characters were written or their commitment to them, they steal the show when they're on-screen.

Behind the Camera
The writing is what brings “Primal” down several notches. It's not much polished, and some of the inconsistencies in the script, in some of the characterizations in particular, are just boggling. (If you watch it, keep an eye on Chad and Kris. Oy vey.) There are some awkward turns and odd pacing in the script, and it came across almost like attempts to pad the film. While an interesting premise and having some good segments, overall the script is too rocky.

Truth be told, the pre-titles segment is the best directed of the film. That's something of a knock, but the opening sets the tone for the rest of it. It's a really good opening bit, and it did get my hopes up. Unfortunately the rest of the film didn't match it... or even come anywhere close. Again, inconsistency stalls “Primal”. It goes from traditional cinematography to Shaky-Cam here and there, and that's jarring. The audio levels are used for dramatic effect, of course. However, the lows are sometimes awfully low and the highs are irritatingly high. Rather than serving to ratchet up tension and give us a scare or to lend atmosphere and dread, these visual and audial inconsistencies become interruptions that break the suspension of disbelief.

The Verdict
An promising premise and effective scenes here and there can't save the film. It's a bit too long and has too many inconsistencies, both in the script and the execution, putting it slightly below-average.

It's rentable, but I'd recommend watching it cheaper, either on tv or streaming online