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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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).