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.


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.


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


Meanwhile, back in left field...

Werner Herzog makes a movie about a crazy guy who killed his mother because he was obsessed with a Greek play about a guy who kills his mother. In a bizarre twist, David Lynch has barely anything to do with any of it other than money and well wishes.

My Son, My Son, What have Ye Done?” (2009)
directed by Werner Herzog
written by Herbert Golder and Werner Herzog
starring Michael Shannon and Willem Dafoe

How Is It?
This film is half an attempt cinéma vérité, half a screenwriter and a director trying to show how 'ordinary' people deal with the psychologically declining and the unhinged. At least that's the impression I got from it. It's well done but comes across sometimes like it's trying too hard to be out of the ordinary.

The Players
Michael Shannon is intense as intense can be as Brad McCallum. Intensity is close to all Shannon can bring to bear in all but a couple of scenes in the film. The rest of the time the things going on in poor Brad's head don't have an outlet beyond a leer or thousand yard stare followed by non sequiturs or barely relevant comments leading into something beyond the fringe. Shannon does well with what looks a very limited and limiting character, not to mention a character who doesn't come across much as either sympathetic or even likeable.

Willem Dafoe is Detective Havenhurst, the guy tasked with making sense of the murder scene he's driving to at the beginning on the film. He's the character asking the questions that lead us into the various narratives. It really isn't all that much of a role in the film, however critical it is, but Dafoe makes Havenhurst someone we as an audience can get behind and want to see succeed in his task: solving and making sense of the case.

Udo Kier and Brad Dourif appear as well, both welcome colorful additions to any film.

Behind the Camera
Honestly, it's hard to tell what was scripted and what may have been improvised. The script has a premise, an inciting incident, exposition and build, and a conclusion. Most of what happens makes sense, and some of it is a bit strange, though in no way unrecognizable or nonsensical, only strange. The story progresses in a pretty straightforward way, zigzagging along as Detective Havenhurst hears from Brad's friends and witnesses to the murder. It's just that Brad doesn't make much sense, and it's left to the viewer to piece things together as per their own notions, beliefs, and desires. There's a discernible story, and it's interesting. The script just seems to misfire quite a bit in its effort to portray “the poetry of madness”.

There's not a lot to say about the director. Werner Herzog can improvise directing a film better than most directors can with weeks of pre-production and a crew twice the size. Herzog made a movie with natural lighting and sound and a minimal crew, most of it near the real-life location of the murder about which the film is based. It's a technically very effective and well made film, though there's a little in it that seems less vérité and more staged for quirkiness.

The Verdict
Oddly enough, once you get to the end of the film, it doesn't feel complete. The ending of the film is non-ending itself, in a way, but that's not the problem. It's that by the end of it all it still feels like something was missing along the way. Golder and Herzog were aiming to show a man's madness and its impact on others and their reaction to it, but it comes out muddled. It's interesting but not really engaging, which not only describes the film but also the central character, and so it winds up more an exercise in cinema craft and interestingness than anything.

Film nerds and connoisseurs of the offbeat, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” is for you.


Life keeps happening, keeping me from my work.

Due to unforeseen events which require my full attention,
it will be a day or two before I can finish up the next review and post it.

Please check back in two (or maybe three) days,
and have a good weekend.


Even undead Nazis have those great leather jackets.

Joel Schumacher directs a movie about revenge, undead Nazi occultists, German immigrant farmers in West Virginia, kidnapping and torture, blood sacrifices, Viking rune magick, and zombie farm animals. (There is no punch line.)

Blood Creek” (2009)
directed by Joel Schumacher
written by Dave Kajganich
starring Dominic Purcell, Henry Cavill, and Michael Fassbender

How Is It?
When he's not given money to throw around willy-nilly like a drunken sailor or Congress and pressured to turn out a studio-funding blockbuster, Joel Schumacher can really deliver the goods. I did not rent “Blood Creek” with much confidence but with curiosity. By the end of it I wasn't blown away, but I was more than duly impressed.

The Players
Everyone did well, though I'd love to see Purcell in something that doesn't require guns, hand-to-hand combat, and younger brothers wound up in trouble. I wager he's a better actor than for what he's typecast. Henry Cavill performs admirably as the younger brother who goes along with his older brother's desperate revenge scheme and gets more than he bargained for in the end. Cardboard characters, yes, but with a bit of life breathed into them.

Michael Fassbender plays the villain, and of course, he steals the show. The opening and first scenes of the film are about his character, Professor Wirth, and establishes background for the film. The rest of the cast, who play Wirth's host family, the Wollners, don't really get much to work with from the script, but – and this is no slight – they all do excellent jobs playing essentially an ordinary immigrant farmers... and zombie slaves. It is sometimes painful to watch actors try to “act ordinary”, but it's actually done quite well in this film.

Behind the Camera
The writing is good. The weakest part, oddly enough, is the setup about and between the brothers up until they get past the fence at the Wollner farm. Getting the know the brothers is a bit of a drag, sandwiched as it is between a really interesting (and very well shot) opening with Wirth and his introduction to the Wollners and the start of the conflict once the boys show up at the farm and things start going down twisted. That said, the opening and the goings on at the farm make up for it. It's a typical cat-and-mouse escape story done in a refreshing new way. There's something to be said for that. It's not an outstanding script, but it's some better than average in that it's telling an interesting story in a fairly limited genre.

It's Joel Schumacher at the helm and on a budget, and it looks good. Without lots of money to waste on bells and whistles, flashy/silly costumes, and cavernous sets, he brings some real, veteran filmmaking skill to bear, especially with the movie's opening and setup. There's not much else to say other than: He's Joel Schumacher, and he knows how to shoot a good movie.

The Verdict
Blood Creek” is an interesting take on a fairly standard story in a pretty worn genre, and most of it is reasonably well written. The drawback there is that the section that drags leaves a rather dull hole near the middle of the film, between a cool introduction and a good conflict. The film is well executed, both in direction and production design and value. All in all, “Blood Creek” is  better than average for the genre and worth watching.


Decisions, decisions...

It's a three-way toss-up for next review:

"Blood Creek" (2009)... or "Slaughter Night" (2006)... or "The Independent" (2000).

It's between an undead Nazi, undead Dutch serial killer, and Jerry Stiller.

A tough call, but it will be made.

Check back soon.


Men are from Mars. Women are from Hell.

Many women say men are pigs.
Many men say women are insane.
This film says men are pigs and women are mutated cannibal zombies.
There's balance for you.

Doghouse (2009)
directed by Jake West
written by Dan Schaffer
starring Danny Dyer, Stephen Graham, and Noel Clark

How Is It?
I had to watch it twice to figure out my reaction to the film. This film is an example of a low-brow story being given a decent script and being performed by good actors being shot by a better director.

The Players
Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer lead an ensemble cast playing a group of friends who take a trip out to a small village in the country to get away from their crummy relationships and lift their spirits of their pal Vince (Graham), whose wife recently left him. Dyer plays Neil, an egotistical misogynist and Vince's best friend. Noel Clark, of Doctor Who fame a few years ago, plays Mikey, the cool friend whose idea the trip to quaint hamlet of Moodley was in the first place. Lee Ingleby plays Matt, the token sci-fi/comics geek friend. Keith-Lee Castle plays Patrick, the overly-sensitive friend into self-help, meditation tapes, and golf. Emil Marwa plays Graham, the token gay friend, who along with Vince is the closest to “normal” of the lot. Neil Maskell rounds out the friends as Banksy, the token absent-minded, chubby friend. Terry Stone plays Sergent Gavin Wright, who the lads run across in the village and provides much needed exposition... and eventually fashion advice. While most of the male characters are more like caricatures, all of the actors bring a lot of life to the characters, despite the obvious limits of their being mostly cardboard cutouts.

Christina Cole starts out the film as the smart bus driver hired to drive the lads out to Moodley. Soon though, she's wearing blue and gray makeup, contact lenses, and doing a lot of growling and lurching. Growling and lurching is what the rest of the ladies in the cast do for much of the film, but the “zombirds”, as they are called, are better than the average zombies. The zombirds all have personality, and non-speaking, physical acting roles are where personality goes a long way. Not that the fellas didn't deliver on their side of the film, I have to say the ladies rather often stole the show.

Behind the Camera
The writing is efficient and generally effective. The dialogue is solid enough, considering it's a “lads' night out” flick. Things flow at a pretty healthy clip, going from one situation/predicament to the next, with only a few spots where the action ebbs a bit too long to keep the rest of the pace. Those spots are character moments, and unfortunately they tend to come off rather clunky. The big problem is the ending, which is frequently the case in horror. While it is set up adequately during the film, it comes across as labored in execution.

There's not a lot to say about the technical side of the film, really. “Doghouse” looks and sounds very good. The overall direction is more than competent but not quite stand-out, which is more due to the story's limits than the director's. Director Jake West put together a very good crew and managed the production behind and in front of the camera very well, and they turned out a quality movie, better than I expected going in, actually. The technical part of “Doghouse” is really better than the script, and so I'd like to see what West can do in future with a better script.

The Verdict
It's a very good production with solid performances, but there isn't anything really new being done in “Doghouse”. The same male characters archetypes we've seen before get into trouble, have to fight through adversity (in this case, mutated cannibal zombie women) together, and those make it through find out something important about themselves and friendship along the way. Yes, it's a technically well envisioned and executed movie, has plenty of humor and hazard, and plenty of formerly-pretty-but-now-hideous-dead chicks. On the other hand, even for all of that it comes across as a bit tired in a genre that unfortunately has been overplayed. Alas, when you put those two together, the film is rather average.

Doghouse” is kind of in the middle. It's a pretty entertaining movie that you don't have to think or pay much attention to to enjoy. It's interesting and some fun, but it's not terribly engaging.

Hurrying up and waiting...

Things have been more hectic than usual lately, but new reviews are on the way soon.

Please check back soon.



"Hey, Sweden!"

If you appreciate great filmmaking, even slightly appreciate it, then you owe it to yourself to see this film. Note to the squeamish: Just be mindful of the special effects. With one mild exception, they work quite well.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
directed by John Carpenter
written by Bill Lancaster
starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, T.K. Carter, Charles Hallahan, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Peter Maloney, Joel Polis, 
Thomas G. Waites

How Is It?
Not only is this film one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of the 1980s. It is one of the best science fiction and horror films ever made. On top of that, it is inarguable that it is one of the best overall films of the latter half of the twentieth century. Watch it, and you'll see clearly: This is how you make a movie.

The Players
Before I get into any descriptions or praise of the actors involved, it must be noted that this is an ensemble picture. Instead of a hierarchy, it's a tapestry, and all of the actors turn in excellent performances. So I'm not going to single out any of the them. It'll just have to suffice to say that each of them brings a uniqueness and a completeness to their character, a level of relative eccentricity, nuance not often seen in genre films – or even in many straight dramas, alas. In short, we really rather like all the guys at Outpost 31 and root for them, even though we know going in that Very Bad Things are going to happen to them, and the actors really do make it look effortless.

Behind the Camera
The writing is superb. Bill Lancaster's script is smartly written, tightly structured, and well-paced, not a moment wasted. It's a prime example of “a good story, well told”. In the hands of good actors and a good director and crew, there's nowhere to go but up.

From a technical point of view, the film is a sight to behold. Yes, there are a few minor technical niggles one can make, but when you look at the overall movie experience of “The Thing” they disappear. Carpenter's direction, Dean Cundey's cinematography, and Rob Bottin's special effects are simply spot-on. (Bottin's effects were practically groundbreaking.) It is a real compliment to and says much about them that it isn't really until after you're done watching the movie that you start thinking about what you were watching. The technical side of the production so complements the actors and action in front of the camera that your attention is on what's going on, not on the style. I value that highly.

The Verdict
I believe the verdict has been apparent from the outset of this review. “John Carpenter's 'The Thing'” rates as one of the twenty best films I've ever seen. Horror and science fiction are my favorites, surely, and I admit that bias. That said, the quality of the film goes well beyond whatever confines there are to genre. It's a marvelously written, excellently made, gripping and atmospheric and the same time fun, highly entertaining movie. (And it has a really cool wolf-dog in it as well.)

Unless you're really squeamish, this movie is for you.


We start at the bottom and work our way up.

Don't rent this movie.
Don't stream it online.
Don't watch it on cable tv.
Don't let this movie into your house.
Don't even pick up the box.
The cover art is the best thing about it.

Neighbor” (2009)
written & directed by Robert A. Masciantonio
starring America Olivo and Christian Campbell

How Is It?
This is one of the ten worst films I have ever had the misfortune to watch in my life, and I've seen well over three thousand motion pictures. It really is that bad... and then some.

The Players
America Olivo as the unnamed “Neighbor” is the relative bright spot in this straight-to-DVD black hole. She's the only one who looks like a) she's having any fun at all and b) she's the only one who really knows what she's doing. That's offset by the character being wholly one-dimensional and only sporadically interesting, despite her efforts.

Christian Campbell plays the almost likeable but wholly unsympathetic nebbish, Don. Don's there because, well, the killer had to get into the house somehow and somebody had to be the eyes and ears of the audience within the story. Campbell does his best to play Don the Plot Device. I do believe Campbell could've carried more as an actor, but Don wasn't so much a character but a Method of Villain Delivery.

Pretty much everyone else in the movie comes across a either unsure/tentative or simply there because they got to be in a movie someone was making in the neighborhood. Those actors who looked as if they may have had a handle on things weren't in the film longer than a blink.

Behind the Camera
The writing is just awful. There's the merest skeleton of a plot almost there, but when it gets going, which it only does in fits and starts, it doesn't even do a mediocre job being generic. The characters have no depth and are completely unsympathetic and uninteresting. If it hadn't been for the technical work I know had to be done behind the scenes, I'd have thought they made up most of the dialogue as they went along. Knowing it was structured, scripted, and then shot by the same man makes it all the more depressing and irritating. It's sophomoric in every respect, and it's pretty boring on top of that.  This film is an example of how not to structure a film and write a screenplay. It's just dreadful. On the other hand...

The camera, lighting, sound, and so forth is close to average for a low budget film. There are some shots and scenes that are “off”, but I figure that's due to limitations of location space and not any technical deficiency on the part of the director. The scenes in the basement are the best directed, lit, miked, and all, because it's in a studio. (And it's a pretty decent studio, too.)

The Verdict
I'm all about “a good story, well told”. This film was neither... and with a vengeance. The story is garden variety slasher-in-the-house, and the big twist is the super-sadistic psycho killer is a fiendishly sexy, bizarre woman. The movie itself is more than a bit dull and boring, punctuated here and there with nonchalant murders and a decent attempt or two at torture porn. 

Avoid "Neighbor" at all costs.

Coming Soon...

The site's just gone up this morning, and reviews are in the works.

Please check back soon.