Last Update 4/30/10
I've been converting 3000 record albums to digital so I haven't had much time for movies lately, but as I near the end of that project, I'm returning to the now considerably larger stack of unwatched movies. This is part of the After Dark Film Festival, eight movies each year. The quality in the past has varied from quite good to unbearably boring. This tends toward the latter, a subtitled import about a man returning to his home town following the death of his abusive mother. It turns out that he knowingly allowed her to kidnap and torment another boy in his stead, which we only find out by watching the convoluted and sometimes tedious mix of present experience and recollections of his past. There's a very unsatisfactory ending which I won't reveal in case there's someone else out there who managed to sit through the entire thing. There are some good production values and camera work but the story could only have supported about thirty minutes of viewing and is stretched out interminably to make a full length feature. Pass this one by. 4/30/10
Captain America (1944)
No, this isn't a preview of the new Captain America movie, and it's not the old made for television one either. This is a cliffhanger serial that pits the indomitable Captain against a costumed villain called the Scarab, who is interchangeable with almost any other serial villain. And it's not really Captain America either because he has no shield and no super powers. In fact, he's a district attorney pitted against a gang who have a device that can destroy objects by modulated sound waves. His assistant is in fact the standard serial heroine, although a bit more feisty than usual. One variation is that we learn the arch-fiend's identity very early. We are never told why he is called Captain America, and frankly the story suggests they had already created the screenplay before they decided to use the comic strip hero's name. Some of the stunts and action sequences are actually pretty good, although the lead - Dick Purcell - is somewhat overweight for the part and some of the cliffhangers are less than enthralling. One of the better though not best examples of its type, if you can ignore the slighting reference to its namesake. 4/17/10
The Crimson Ghost (1946)
Another formula cliffhanger serial with a masked villain - the Crimson Ghost obviously - who makes use of a kind of remote controller that can effect any electronic device, making it start or stop or do almost anything. Chases, fistfights, captures, escapes, gunfights, death defying plunges and explosions all ensue in their usual fashion as the villain initiates a plot, the heroes counteract it, but the bad guys escape to plot again - at least until the final installment when we finally find out who is the man behind the mask. Low production values and barely acceptable acting, but at least the heroine is reasonably feisty for a change and even gets involved in some of the fights. One of the better villains, but the formula was so old by this point that even the actors seemed to be suffering from a feeling of deja vu. If you haven't seen any of the old cliffhangers, this would probably seem a lot better than it does to those of us who have watched dozens of them. 4/9/10
The Invisible Enemy (1977)
K-9 and Company (1981)
This Doctor Who serial and a spinoff featuring one time companion Sarah Jane Smith and the robot dog K-9 are packaged together, appropriately since this is the episode in which the Doctor met K-9. A mysterious intelligent virus floating free in space takes control of three astronauts and then a station in Saturn’s moons. The Doctor and Leela show up as the virus plans to multiply and spread into space. The Doctor is infected and cannot control his own mind. The episode starts well but becomes very silly midway through. When the Doctor is “cloned” his clothing is cloned along with him. The two clones are then shrunk so they can go inside the Doctor’s body and get rid of the virus. Right. One of the silliest creatures the show ever came up with doesn’t help. The second feature was apparently aimed at even younger viewers. I always liked Sarah Jane Smith but I never liked K-9, alas. SJ is back and England and has come to visit her aunt when she runs afoul of a cult of Satanists. Her aunt is missing and a young man follows suit after mysterious break ins at the remote house. K-9 keeps his existence secret from the locals, some of whom are obviously part of the conspiracy, some not so obviously. Not awful but not enough to make me wish they'd done more.4/6/10
The Rescue/The Romans (1965)
Although I’m a fan of Doctor Who, I never cared for the first one, played by William Hartnell. He frequently muffed his lines and often over acted and his fussiness was distracting. The rest of the cast is only slightly better. In the first of these two short serial, the Tardis arrives on the planet Dido where two humans are held captive by the local aliens. It was more obviously a kid’s show then as well and the costumes and effects give “primitive” a new meaning. And as usual, the aliens speak English. The plot doesn’t make much sense either. Eventually we learn that the aliens are extinct and it’s all a hoax by one of the two survivors. Not very interesting. The second title takes them back to Earth in the time of the Roman Empire. The Tardis falls off a cliff in the opening scene, after which we inexplicably find the time travelers living it up in a Roman villa. They run into trouble with slave traders and have the usual variety of adventures before everything comes out well in the end. Rather a slow story despite the melodrama. 4/1/10
The Clutching Hand (1936)
This cliffhanger serial is based on a novel in the Craig Kennedy, Scientific Detective series by Arthur Reeve, which occasionally drifted into SF. This one does as well because a scientific devises a way to manufacture gold, leading to his kidnapping by the villain of the title. There’s not much to say about it otherwise other than it is not one of the better examples of its type. There are the usual chases, captures, escapes, and fistfights, but none of them are well choreographed or filmed and the plot makes even less sense than in most other serials. Worst of all, the acting is sub-par even for cliffhangers, as though a bunch of silent film actors were unsure how to do a talkie, which might well be the case. Reeve’s novels are largely forgotten nowadays, and this sure won’t do anything to bring about a renewal of interest. 3/31/10
Planet of the Daleks (1976)
Doctor Who is in a coma, the Daleks are manipulating humans and Draconians into an interstellar war, and Jo Grant doesn’t know what to do so she wanders around on an unknown jungle planet. The Doctor recovers but Jo is infected with an aggressive fungus. They find a group of stranded space travelers who are hiding from some menace we don’t get to see for a while. The mysterious pursuers turn out to be invisible Daleks. The Doctor mistakenly thinks that Joe has been killed by the Daleks, but he himself is taken prisoner. A mysterious alien helps Jo while the Doctor plans escape. There’s a rather silly gimmick. The planet has volcanoes that erupt with molten ice! There’s lots of running around inside the Dalek base, another spaceship arrives, but crashes. Jo and the Doctor are eventually reunited but only after various routine vicissitudes. There's a rather implausible escape by improvised hot air balloon. Not very plausible but certainly full of action. The impracticality of the Dalek construction is particularly evident in this one. The jungle is hardly the best location for mechanical devices that can't manage irregular surfaces very well. A spaceship crew member with a pathological fear of heights also seems unlikely. The romantic tension between two of the space travelers is annoyingly chauvinistic and short sighted. The Daleks also plan to use a virus to exterminate all life on the planet. When the Doctor realizes there are 10,000 Daleks he is convinced they are going to "invade the galaxy". Scientific detail was never a strong point in the series. Not a bad story but about a third too long. 3/26/10
Frontier in Space (1976)
The Doctor gets caught between the empires of Earth and Draconia when the Master engineers attacks on both sides designed to look like they originated from their rival. The human government is repressive and the Draconians aren’t much better. The Doctor and Jo find themselves prisoners for virtually the entire story, first of a freighter crew, then the humans, then the Draconians, then the humans again, then the Master, then the Draconians again, then the Ogrons, then the humans againm and finally the Daleks. The writing isn’t as good in this one as in most of the Pertwee era, with prison officials overruling the President of Earth and other anomalies that advance the story but don’t make real sense. Lots of shots of very badly done spaceships. The master hints that he’s actually working for someone else, but we don’t discover until the very end that they are the Daleks, not that it’s much of a surprise. A medium level Pertwee that suffers a bit from monotony. 3/26/10
Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)
I've always been a Fu Manchu fan. I loved the books when I read them in high school and I was a fan of the admittedly terrible short lived television show. I've also seen most of the movies including one of the early ones from the 1930s. This was his only cliffhanger serial even though several of the books might almost have been novelizations of cliffhangers. Also known as Fu Manchu Strikes, it involves his search for the tomb of Genghis Khan and, unlike other serials, the villain is the most vivid of the characters. The tomb contains an artifact that will make him the ruler of various Asian hordes with which he plans to overrun the rest of the world. He is opposed by Denis Nayland-Smith and his associate, not Petrie from the novels but a younger man instead. Fu Manchu has as allies his sexy daughter and a legion of dacoits, who are not just Chinese bandits but actually a kind of zombie. Production values are extremely high and some of the special effects are spectacular. This is certainly one of the handful of really excellent serials and it's a shame that the studio, Republic, lapsed into formulaic and more cheaply made efforts after this one. 3/25/10
Captain Midnight (1942)
The serial version of the once popular comic strip and radio show differs considerably from what I remember of the television show from my youth. There are some aerial shots but most of the action takes place on the ground, including the inevitable fistfights and car chases. The title is the secret identity of an army officer who takes the lead in battling a typical megalomaniac super villain, although in this case it's never apparent exactly what the bad guy wants. The cliffhangers are exciting and sometimes clever, but sometimes awful - as in the case where he walks away from a plane crash with no injuries. There's even less plot than usual although that doesn't prevent it from being packed with action. The performances are acceptable but undistinguished. A fairly average serial with a few good moments sprinkled through. 3/22/10
The Waters of Mars (2009)
I'm an unrepentant Doctor Who fan and this is the last new adventure I'm likely to see for a year or more. It was a special rather than part of a formal season and, I believe, the last David Tennant episode. The Doctor lands on Mars during the early days of colonization from Earth. A hydroponic program raises the first food based on Martian water and consumption of the water changes people into monsters. The Doctor knows from the historical record that they are all going to die and he wants to leave, but they suspect he's responsible so they won't let him go. Each victim is converted into another carrier although they don't seem to be affected quite the same way. The water is itself self aware and intelligent and it wants to survive in a new environment. The base is enormous, which is a bit of a contradiction since if they're the first people on Mars, there is no way that such an enormous structure could have been erected. Ignoring that, it's your basic monster story with some nice visuals and the water converted humans are actually pretty creepy. This appears to be a rare episode where the Doctor cannot save the day but there's an unusual twist to the Doctor's personality which makes me even more curious about next season. 3/20/10
Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941)
This is a surprisingly good cliffhanger serial, with decent flying effects for its costumed superhero, borrowed from the comics. One of a group of archaeologists is secretly the Scorpion, a master criminal with a collection of henchmen, who wants to seize an ancient statue that can generate a deathray. A wizard appears and gives Billy Batson superhuman powers so he can battle the bad guys, which he does repeatedly and somewhat repetitively. The plot is also exceptionally convoluted for a serial, although necessarily somewhat simple since it was shown in installments and people occasionally missed a segment. This one has a considerable fan base and although I don't agree that it is the greatest cliffhanger ever made, it's certainly one of the better ones - and the acting is better than in most contemporary direct to video movies. 3/19/10
American Zombie (2008)
I seem to have better luck with spoofs of horror films than with horror films themselves lately. This is another sideways look at the zombie craze. It's a "documentary" about several living dead people residing in the Los Angeles area. We are told that there's a dormant virus that reanimates certain dead people, sometimes making them aggressive, sometimes just returning them to their previous state. Grace Lee, the mind behind the movie, does real documentaries so this feels exactly right. There are mock interviews with public officials, experts, and actual zombies with discussions of their history, their varieties, and other aspects. I think it went on just a bit too long but it's quite well done and the jokes are sly and often quite clever. Horror fans who pick this up without knowing anything about it are likely to be very surprised. 3/18/10
Batman and Robin (1949)
Before Adam West there was Robert Lowery in this cliffhanger serial. Batman is pitted against the Wizard in this very low budget but oddly effective adventure. Many of the familiar devices are there - the Bat Signal, etc. - but no Batmobile. In most ways it's just the standard adventure story with capes on the good guys. Vicki Vale gets into trouble, repeatedly, and gets rescued, repeatedly, but the villains always slip away until the final installment. The villain has the usual super science - he can control vehicles by remote control without installing any mechanism and he can turn invisible in order to escape detection. There's no much to the script, or the acting, and certainly not the special effects, but it's enjoyable after its fashion.
Lust for Dracula (2004)
This travesty pretending to be an updating of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula doesn’t deserve a review, just a warning. It stars Misty Mundae as Mina Harker in modern day California, and follows the story only in the vaguest of ways. It is primarily an excuse to have lots of lesbian scenes with unrealistic blood while all of the actors deliver their lines in monotones that seem designed to put the audience to sleep. Would that they had succeeded with this viewer. Unrelentingly cheap and awful, with no vision, no story sense, no acting, silly dialogue, bad special effects, a terrible soundtrack, poor editing and camerawork. Even the packaging is terrible. If someone tries to show this to you, run screaming from the room. Not even nudity can make this turkey palatable. 3/16/10
Boogeyman 2 (2007)
Having seen numbers one and three, I felt obligated to try the one in the middle. Neither of the others was anything special but both were at least watchable. Except, as it turns out, this one has nothing to do with either of the other two. Instead of a boogeyman, it’s about a brutal serial killer. Two kids see a killer murder their parents. Ten years later, they are still scarred by the experience, particularly the boy who has just finished some kind of institutionalized therapy. The sister, who presumably we’re supposed to like, is pretty much an unfeeling jerk. Then we have dream sequences – the bane of my existence. Anyway, the sister checks in for her own therapy and a psycho killer shows up at the clinic. The usual ensues. There’s also the usual stupidity. In a voluntary clinic – or any clinic for that matter – the doors do not automatically lock everyone in an emergency. That would be illegal. The lack of supervision or security would also be criminal. The acting is acceptable but the colors are washed out. A bloody room cannot be cleaned up in less than two minutes. Nor do electrocuted people spontaneously recover. The writer doesn’t know what agoraphobia is. The identity of the killer is painfully obvious. Why does no one break an outside window and simply leave. The absence of anyone I really liked dealt the whole thing a very serious blow and the clichés – splitting up after it’s obvious there’s an intruder, not calling the police, no cell phones, going into a darkened room to investigate – finished it off. More dreck. 3/14/10
Here’s another stupid horror film that demonstrates the contempt the cheap film industry has for its audience. The premise of this one is that a sugar company plans to add a highly addictive additive to its product in order to increase sales, and although it’s a secret, the presumption is that this is perfectly legal and the FDA doesn’t exist. The additive turns people into violent killers – which they know but which doesn’t seem to be a factor in their planning. The story is almost incoherent anyway, jumping from stories about the KGB to undercover agents in the slums to a military unit to an amateur reporter and elsewhere. Much of it has washed out color and, needless to say, other than Michael Ironside’s cameo, the acting is a joke. Sometimes the actors don’t even try to sound like they mean what they’re saying. It appears that one of the test subjects has disappeared and company security has hired a hit team to take her out. None of this is particularly clear, but you’re not likely to care by this point – and it’s less than twenty minutes into the film. Then we’re told that the effects are the results of an airborne infection, which makes no sense either. Boring, bad, and best ignored. 3/13/10
Masters of Science Fiction (2007)
A short lived cable television series that drew on literary SF for its inspiration. It wasn’t as successful as Masters of Horror, obviously, and probably because it required people to think rather than just react. The opening episode, “A Clean Escape”, is from the story by John Kessel. A doctor dying of cancer becomes obsessed with a patient who cannot remember his past twenty years. Despite good performances, this goes on too long after it becomes obvious that civilization has been destroyed and descends into speechifying. “The Awakening” is rather loosely adapated from Howard Fast’s “The General Zapped an Angel”, and like it’s original, it’s fantasy, not science fiction. The title says it all, except that it’s moved to the Iraqi war, and it’s more of a lecture than a story, also like its original. It’s an hour length version of a two line joke. There are also some major plot flaws. When the mysterious body starts making noises, the lone technician with it fails to react initially, and apparently there is no constant surveillance either. Additionally, there is a lot of filler footage – people walking from one place to another and other scenes not germane to the story. Terry O’Quinn’s skepticism doesn’t work either, or the stupidity of the military which is planning to launch missiles to explode in the air over every major city in the world. And the President’s lines at the teleconference are embarrassingly badly written. And if the majority of the country’s nuclear weapons have already been destroyed, how can they still have enough left to destroy both China and the supposed invaders? The psychological jargon with Malcolm McDowell as a jackass version of Dr. Loomis is embarrassingly silly. But since the plot makes no sense, that’s not surprising. Really dreadful.
The adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s “Jerry Was a Man” is particularly obnoxious. The story involves an intelligent chimpanzee laborer proving his humanity. This version turns Jerry into a kind of semi-intelligent, semi-aware android who proves his humanity by acting selfishly. Not only is this logical nonsense, not only is a contradiction of the intent of the story, but it’s also another blatant propaganda piece. Anne Heche and her husband in the episode are also such caricatures of the spoiled rich that the whole story insults our intelligence. Heinlein would be rightly furious with this mess. “The Discarded” is better, not surprising since Harlan Ellison did the adaptation of his own story. A good cast and decent special effects help in this story of the physically deformed who are segregated in outer space. The doublecross at the end was obvious from the outset but the execution was much better than in the previous episodes. “Little Brother” is from a good Walter Mosley story, but since I knew what the story was about, I expected another belabored social commentary, and that’s pretty much what I got. People give machines authority to control their lives, in this case with computerized judges. The same theme recurs in “Watchbird”, from the Sheckley story, with mechanical monitors trying to prevent murders and actually threatening human freedom. The first is too talky, the second goes on for too long and involves a totally implausible sequence of events. The murderous devices are deployed with no field testing, armed with weapons they aren’t supposed to use, and with no oversight. Absurd. The series flopped quickly, and I’m not surprised. The story selection was uneven at best and the execution rarely worked. There’s no real suspense. Why couldn’t they have taken some stories that would have translated to the screen as lively and exciting, like “Rescue Party” by Arthur C. Clarke, “The Gun Without a Bang” by Robert Sheckley, or The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, just to name a few. And even the stories they did choose could have been interesting if done with some loyalty to the subject matter, which is generally not true of these. There's also a fundamental misunderstanding of the audience. Horror movie fans don't mind a downbeat ending. SF movie fans hate them. All six episodes have downbeat endings. Clueless. 3/12/10
Halloween 2 (2009)
Rob Zombie’s remake of the second Halloween movie, which takes up right where the first one ended. Laurie has survived Michael’s attack and thinks she has killed him. She’s in the hospital with multiple injuries – which we get to see in more than necessary detail. Michael is not dead, of course, not even particularly inconvenienced. After killing the ambulance driver and escaping, he’s off to track down his sister again. Definitely a drop off from the first remake, with plot holes, unexplained events, and so forth. Michael shows up at the hospital with a butcher knife – where did he get it? – and kills the nursing staff – what about security, and alarm buttons? – and pursues Laurie, who is somewhat ambulatory, but is able to leave her room without sounding any kind of alarm – and where are the police who should be checking on a crime victim to get her statement, to say nothing of investigating the crashed ambulance? And why is there a room full of piled up dead bodies in the hospital basement? And how can she exit through an emergency exit without setting off yet another alarm? Add the continual screaming and the man who refuses to listen to her even though it was obviously an emergency and I was quickly bored rather than interested. Then we discover this was all apparently a dream sequence and Laurie is actually at home, recovered physically, but having nightmares. Michael’s body was never found, but the authorities assume he is dead. Why? The real life sequence makes no more sense than the dream one. There are more dream sequences – I hate dream sequences – and no likeable characters. Washed out colors and very jumpy camerawork complete the disaster. 3/11/10
Atom Man vs Superman (1950)
This was the second Superman cliffhanger serial, this time featuring Lex Luther as the arch villain. Noel Neill, who briefly played Lois Lane in the television series, is here in that part for the second time following an earlier Superman serial, although Superman is played by Kirk Alyn. Lyle Talbot steals the show as Luther, who pretends to have reformed. Some of the special effects are animated, which looks pretty tacky by today's standards, but others use actual newsreel footage of various disasters. The story line is pretty much what you would expect. The bad guys have a death ray and an earthquake machine with which they hope to exert their power over the world, but Superman eventually brings their plans to a screeching halt. All things considered, this wasn't at all bad.
Ace Drummond (1936)
It feels like it's time for some more cliffhanger serials. This one is based on a comic strip about the adventures of a freelance pilot who, in this instance, is off to Asia to find out why a mysterious villain known as the Dragon is preventing an international airline from setting up a base there. This is marginally SF because the Dragon has a death ray that he uses to attack the planes flown by the good guys. In standard serial form, the Dragon is one of the supposed good guys. The hero finds a young woman in distress - her father has been kidnapped by the Dragon's henchmen - as well as the cute and adventurous young kid. The orientals are all played by occidentals, of course, including Lon Chaney Jr. The best part of this is the flying sequences, much of which is authentic rather than staged with models. The story is predictable and repetitive, and some of the escapes from the cliffhangers are mildly cheating, but all in all it's one of the better examples of its type. 4/9/10
The zombie craze is on, obviously. This one looked better than average, or at least it had a few familiar names in the cast. If there'd been any doubt about this being a spoof, it was cleared up before the opening credits as we are told the four basic rules about surviving a plague of zombies, illustrated with gory examples of people who did not obey them. The montage of zombie attacks during the credits was a good sign, because they suggested there was a more than decent budget involved. The story is narrated by one of the survivors, one of the few survivors, trying to avoid getting eaten. These aren't your slow, shambling George Romeo zombies either - actually they're not zombies and neither were Romero's. But the do die if shot in the head. He teams up with Woody Harrelson, a twinkie addicted roughneck. They cross path with a pair of sisters who consistently get the best of them. Not surprising since they were con artists before the plague. In fact, for about half an hour there are no zombies at all and they appear only intermittently thereafter until the big finale. Bill Murray plays himself, a survivor, and temporary host to our heroes. The serious parts don't always work because they contradict the mood that had just been set, but it's not bad at all, though Shaun of the Dead was better. Abigail Breslin steals the show at times. 3/6/10
Ice Queen (2005)
I looked this up and read an account by the credited screenwriter asserting that other than the first five or ten minutes, none of his script remains. I'd disown it as well. The premise is that an ice age woman is found preserved and, through various mischances, is in a plane that crashes near a ski resort that is in turn isolated by an avalanche. The fact that one of the actors is named Demone Gore should tell you something. The cave woman, incidentally, has nicely manicured nails and unmarked skin. The dignity of the film is set early with a wet tee-shirt contest. Wisecracks aside, the acting and camera work were better than I expected. There's even a decent soundtrack and some nice photography of the mountains. The avalanche sequence is actually very good; too bad the monster is so incredibly bad. Too bad the script is so lame - whoever did actually end up writing it. Since I knew that most of the named characters were going to die, I was disappointed that they were in general such awful people. I didn't care at all if they survived. We don't meet a likeable character until 15 minutes into the movie in fact and she wasn't one of the better actors. Scientific silliness: We are told that the bodies of primitive humans were "more like an insect" and that they are more active the colder it gets, almost comatose in the warm weather. Then we hear that everyone knows that primitive humans killed their enemies by "piercing their skin and freezing them from the inside out." Funny, I missed that in my education. Anyway, she thaws out, and changes into a fanged, clawed monster in the process for some reason. The editing was bad as well. The monster is trapped; we see her free herself, and a few minutes later she's back trapped. Meanwhile our heroes are all semi-trapped, but not so trapped they can't engage in a pointless catfight, and frankly I thought the "bad" girl behaved considerably better throughout than the "good" girl, in addition to being a better actor. The lodge owner calls emergency services after the avalanche, but they refuse to believe him and don't send anyone to investigate, at which point I could no longer believe in the story on any level at all. Oh, and the bodies that are "frozen solid" are still completely flexible. And they're all freezing in the cold, but their breath isn't visible. The male protagonist - he's sure no hero - searches the ruins in which they are trapped and concludes there is no way out. Minutes later he suggests that they search the ruins and see if there is a way out. The survivors then proceed to all split up so that they can be killed one by one. The scientist - who survived the plane wreck - says he recognizes the creature's cry - which makes no sense since she had not previously been conscious. And if there's no way out of the buried lodge, how do four different people find ways in? And none of them can remember how to get out. The woman playing the monster is so bad it's painful to watch her. Hours after the lodge is buried, a pan of hot water is still steaming! It gets steadily worse as it goes on. Forget this one. 3/3/10
Yet another low budget horror thriller, although this one is marginally better than most. The bad signs are obvious early on - poor sound, feeble attempts at acting, corny and unbelievable dialogue, cliched plot elements, all in the first few minutes. A bioengineered killing machine escapes from a clandestine military lab and menaces a group of campers. You can tell it's basement budget level when the crack military team sent to track down and destroy the monster and its rogue handler consists of two people. The minimalist soundtrack is sometimes comically inept. Tom Savini is the crazed rogue soldier. The rest of the cast consists of no one you've ever heard of. The plot depends on coincidences, implausibilities, lots of not very realistic looking blood, closeups of teeth, experts acting like inept idiots, and occasionally bizarre camera shots. The editing is, of course, sub par although not as bad as most of the other elements. Savini's motivation never makes much sense, and the military operation to eliminate him is laughable. Among other things, the special ops people on a clandestine mission wear uniforms and take public transportation on their way to commit murder. This was only watchable because so many similar films are far worse, believe it or not. 3/2/10
The Thing Below (2004)
The cover description made this sound like a cheap ripoff of Deep Rising, one of my favorite horror films, so I tried it. I could tell it was low budget not by the bad acting but by the minimalist sets and poor lighting in the opening sequences, when military officials are trying to find out why they have lost communication with a mission at sea. The acting is only moderately bad, and the dialogue is a little worse but not completely awful, but I had a bad feeling ten minutes into the film that had nothing to do with the story line. All three of the bad guys from the government are comically overblown, almost always a bad sign. The ship has inadvertently released a CGI tentacular alien that attacks several aboard the ship, both physically and through its ability to alter what people perceive as reality. I've seen an awful lot of bad CGI over the years, but nothing even close to this bad. It looks like it was drawn with crayons and it doesn't interact properly with physical items it comes into contact with. Then the ship blows up and the creature is in the ocean near an oil rig that becomes the scene for the main story. And of course there's no explanation of why the alien was at sea in the middle of a major hurricane in the first place. But then, none of the other motivations make any sense either, so why should that one? One amusing very unspecial effect. On all the ships caught in the hurricane, nothing moves with the "tossing" of the ship except, sometimes, the actors. At least one of the ships is also bad CGI. Rather than cut the line holding one vessel to a sinking barge, the hero manages to shoot the line with a rifle, twice, in the middle of the same raging hurricane, from a distance! And why would the ferry captain order his crew to break out their weapons when they come into sight of the oil rig, just because they haven't been able to raise them on the radio after the storm - which obviously could have destroyed the radio gear. When one of the crew members says "I have a bad feeling about this" I burst out laughing. And the lab at the platform has a lockout protocol to prevent contamination, but there's an override button at the door! Convoluted logic as well. The lab was built for the benign purpose of collecting mineral samples which did not require any special security, but the professor who accompanies the visitors tells them it was built to be secure and that they dug up the alien. But that's circular logic. I won't even begin to describe how bad the seduction scene is but viewers might swear off sex forever after seeing it. It's also another logical flaw. If all the creature wants to do is kill its next victim, why go through the elaborate pretext when they're already alone together? And then another character says: "I do not have a good feeling about this." Originality in addition to banality. When one of the crew members opens a door and finds a room splashed with blood, he puts his weapon away rather than keeping it in his hand! When the government encounters the alien, they replace the existing scientist with a new one - a mineralogist! Good move that. Later we find out it was a meteor they were looking at because they believed that there was a living creature inside. How in the world, or out of it, would they know that? I think I've belabored this one long enough. 2/26/10
Stupid Teenagers Must Die (2009)
Okay, I got suckered into picking this one up partly because I enjoy spoofs and partly because someone recommended it to me. Obviously I had done something to piss that someone off because this is a total waste of time. It's apparently shot with a camcorder, sometimes immobilized so that it doesn't follow the actors' movements. Inadequate lighting, bad focus, and incompetent framing don't help, and sometimes the color is completely washed out. The movies this is supposed to be making fun of actually have much higher production values in almost every category. The soundtrack sounds tinny, when it's sounding good, and usually it isn't. It is also inconsistent in sound level, sometime dropping to near inaudibility. The acting is laughable, and not because it's supposed to be a comedy because despite the title - which suggests a lampoon - it's more nostalgia than jokes. The dialogue and plot verge on the subliterate. Some of it also consists of filler - long shots of unmoving objects that made me think the playback had stalled. The premise is straight out of 1980s horror films, by intent, but it doesn't even do that well. One group of teens is planning a haunted house party in a deserted building with a bad reputation, and someone decides to make the faux murders into real ones. The victims begin piling up and the female actors' clothing keeps falling off. Don't waste your time. 2/25/10
Battlestar Galactica: The Plan/Razor soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, La-La Land Records, price varies but is around $13 to $18 (2010)
I still haven't watched this remake of the classic and corny television show, despite the consistently good reviews it receives. I have, however, heard several of the soundtracks by Bear McCreary and have enjoyed them all, including this new one which, I suspect, involves two specials. As with the earlier ones, the composer appears to have drawn on a number of different ethnic musical styles to produce an effect unlike that I have heard in almost any other action picture soundtrack. And unlike most soundtracks, almost all of the music here can stand on its own as music, without the visual cues. I particularly enjoyed the main theme from The Plan, the tracks labeled "Apocalypse," "Attack on the Scorpion Shipyards," "Husker in Combat," and "Kendra and the Hybrid" and the only one I didn't care for was "Pegasus Aftermath." There's a good deal of percussion which gives it a vaguely Terminator like feel at times and occasionally repetition because some of the tracks have to be as long as the scene they're meant to accompany, but none of it is too drawn out. I hope the show lives up to its music. 2/22/10
The Protectors Season 2 (1974)
I was curious to see if the formula had changed between the two seasons, but it had not. They foil an international criminal, a kidnapper, and terrorists. The trio of supposed experts seems peculiarly inept much of the time, and sometimes out of character as well. They also smuggle a defector out of Russian hands and discover the British government can be just as evil as the Soviets in a particularly bad episode. Even the story lines with the most potential are crippled by the short twenty plus minute format. In “Petard”, for example, there is no explanation of how their team anticipated the location and meeting of an industrial spy and his contact, spoiling an otherwise good episode. Most are elementary or predictable in any case. The international settings are sometimes appealing but the cookie cutter villains are often boring. There are a couple of episodes where Vaughn doesn’t appear for some reason. Sometimes the stories require them to do stupid things so that they can spend the episode trying to correct their error, as in “Dragon Chase” and “Decoy.”Nothing much changes in the second half of the season. They smuggle a dead body through the Iron Curtain, battle corrupt politicians and kidnappers, thwart assassins and work as bodyguards. “Border Line” is a particularly dull episode. “The Bridge” is also quite bad; there’s a superfluity of misguided youth this season, and it’s usually not very convincing. In the opposite direction, “Sugar and Spice” features a precocious child and spectacular ineptness on the part of our heroes. Not that the villains are very bright either. They never even bother to shoot the guard dog chained at the house they’re trying to enter, although they’ve already shot out at least one window. “Burning Bush” flirts with the supernatural, but not very well, and again with even less success in “A Pocketful of Posies.” A watchable series, but on the whole very unmemorable with lackluster plots and performances, though occasionally nice settings. 2/21/10
The Final Destination (2009)
Despite the frequent flaws of logic, the previous movies in this series in which people who avoid death find that Death itself is hunting for them has been surprisingly good compared to their competition. The plot is the same as the others. While watching a stock car race, a young man has a vision of a disaster that kills him, his friends, and many others. He insists on leaving, thereby cheating Death, which begins to track them down. The details of the disasters and subsequent deaths are the attractions, some of them quite clever, most of them very graphic. The basic flaw, of course, is why did he have the vision if Death was going to come after him anyway? Sometimes there are clever red herrings as well. The characters spend the rest of the movie trying to break the chain as they die off one by one, but since Death is omnipotent and omniscient, there’s no real chance that they can succeed except by authorial dictate. That violates one of my rules for a good horror film; the heroes have to have a chance to survive. A couple of minor cavils. I don’t believe a public swimming pool would have the drain controls unlocked and easily accessible. And why doesn’t the woman trapped in the car wash simply open a window to get out. And why doesn’t anyone operating the carwash react when the entire system goes haywire? And would a swimming pool drain be powerful enough to pull a body apart? Why would a construction area in a mall be unsecured? They also repeat one of the deaths from earlier – the person unexpectedly hit by a vehicle. Not the best in the series, but bearable. 2/13/10
Primeval Season 3 (2009)
The opening episode of the third season re-establishes the diminished cast and situation. Professor Cutter and his team track time anomalies and kill, capture, or send back the dinosaurs and other creatures that come through. A dinosaur pops up in the British Museum this time, kicking off a dangerous hunt. The plot is a little hokey. A young scientist reinterprets hieroglyphics in a matter of minutes that have puzzled scientists for decades. No sign of Cutter’s psychotic ex-wife, but there’s a nefarious government official trying to claim an artifact guarded by killer aliens. A little confusing but visually impressive. The second episode starts with a dumb premise. The scientists are going to “accurately” date the origin of every myth about a non-existent creature in order to predict new anomalies. The ex-wife and her henchmen show up this time and the conspiracy stories are rather too much, diluting the more interesting aspects of the program. There’s also some pretty dumb science including a physical model of time phenomena that is plainly just silly. This time the creature is a gremlin living in an abandoned house.
Episode three has some reptilian ratlike creatures in a hospital, plus a silly side story about a reporter who suspects there is something going on. If everyone didn’t already know that there were dinosaurs popping up all over London, then the intelligence level of the English must have declined radically since we’ve had them in schools, hospitals, the British Museum, the Thames, the streets of London, and various other places already. To say nothing of the heavily armed troops who respond to each appearance. And for that matter, why keep it secret? Crazy ex-wife is back with an army of identical thugs she has apparently recruited out of multiple time slices. She can also apparently create biddable duplicates of her husband. Too many subplots and my interest had already begun to flag in a series I had previously enjoyed. And in this episode they kill off the show’s leading character – the head scientist, murdered by the crazy woman. The following episode is just plain dull until the last few minutes when a dinosaur appears on an airfield.
Episode 5 gives top billing to the new regular, an ex-policeman who wants to join the group despite their refusal. There’s a toxic fungus this time, but a lot of the story involves the conspiracy within the government to control the anomalies and associated technology. The laxness of security at such a top secret organization is absurd, as is the stupidity of the agent who exposes himself to it. There’s also considerable inconsistency about the speed of growth. At one point they’re searching London for an infected man, but no one thinks to try calling him on his cell phone. Badly thought out despite the potentially interesting premise. This episode has another long term regular leaving, resigning her position as head of the group in favor of the newcomer – which is among the dumbest plot twists I’ve encountered. Season 3 was definitely a major drop in quality.
Episode 6 continues the decline. Since the evil government woman is the boss of the project, she could take over at any time, but instead she stages an armed attack, then takes over peacefully. Most of the regular cast has meanwhile taken cover at a “safe house” because they don’t want her to have an artifact that predicts the time anomalies. The safe house, for no good reason, is filled with archaic clothing and equipment as well as new stuff, and also, coincidentally, is the site of another anomaly. To say nothing of a human corpse, long dead, and a diary. This is stretching probability a bit too far. And since they’re on the run, why engage in an elaborate costume party at this point? Episode 7 is better, avoiding most of the conspiracy subplots with a “dragon” and a knight coming through an anomaly. A few funny lines and a few illogical bits but nothing dramatically stupid except that they can’t figure out how to stop the sale of an exotic animal even though it is clearly stolen property, to say nothing of the fact that the agency has more than police powers and could just seize it, which they eventually do after unnecessary diddling around.
Episode 8 ignores the premise that killing the creatures rather than sending them back might change history. The team goes to the future after the brother of one of them, and some very improbable and unlikely character interactions ensue. Despite its problems, it’s one of the better episodes of the season, as is number 9, which involves a woman kidnapped from the future and a herd of prehistoric rhinoceri. The final episode was almost the final period because the show got canceled, although I understand it will be back in 2011 from someone else. Evil ex-wife had taken evil government woman into an anomaly. Both women get killed during the episode, as well as the latter's chief henchman and it ends with a cliffhanger. Overall, a disappointing season despite some improvement in the final few episodes. 2/7/10
Afterthought: The last episode bounced around in my head last night and I realized two glaring errors I'd missed. First, the ex-wife is killed by a velociraptor while trying to poison the first humans. But humans and raptors did not exist at the same time. Second, our hero is present when she gets killed, and then sets out on a hopeless quest to find an anomaly so that he can return to our time. But he knows that she was carrying a device that can create and control anomalies. Why didn't he take it? 2/10/10
The Wizards of Waverly Place (2009)
A movie version of the kids’ television show, which I got curious about after hearing a couple of nice musical pieces by the female lead. The three kids have magical powers which their parents are apparently trying to train them to use with restraint. On a family vacation, the daughter inadvertently wishes that their parents had never met. Illogically, not only are they both staying at the same resort anyway, but the three kids are still around. How? I know this is a kids' movie but some elementary logic would be nice. Kids aren't stupid. The threesome have 48 hours to reverse the spell or they disappear when reality catches up to them and various adventures ensue. I might have liked this better if any of the characters had been likable. The kids are all brats, the parents overbearing, and the other characters variously lecherous, self indulgent, fraudulent, conniving, or otherwise less than admirable. I feel no temptation to start watching the television show. 2/6/10
George Kennedy and Clu Gulager must have been really hard up for work to appear in this one. A cat escapes from an experimental laboratory, a very dangerous cat since it can open its mouth and allow out a killer animal as big as itself, which proceeds to kill a large number of characters, all off stage because the effects budget wouldn't even fill my wallet. The cat gets picked up by two underdressed young women who in turn get picked up by a bunch of gangsters with a yacht. The cat creature starts chomping on the gangsters before long. Much of the cast - particularly the ship's captain - are terribly miscast. Some of them may have had talent, but you could never tell from this illiterate, illogical mess. For some reason the DVD release has picture quality so bad that it looks like it was copied from a copy of a vhs tape copied from a low wattage television station on a bad day. So the already bad effects look even worse. The resolution is so bad that sometimes I couldn't tell one character from another. I can think of a lot of other films that I would have preferred to see re-released than this one, and few that fall on the other side. 2/5/10
The Protectors Season 1 (1973)
This Gerry Anderson production, sans puppets, starred Robert Vaughn and tried to compress the action of an hour show into a half hour, not always successfully. It lasted for more than 50 episodes despite Vaughn’s frequent battles with the production company. Vaughn is an international operative for an unnamed organization similar to the Avengers; his partner is a countess. Sometimes they seem unusually inept, usually to provide some additional tension during one of their capers. The first few episodes include breaking a political prisoner out of a foreign jail, helping overthrow a dictator, and quite a few stints as freelance bodyguards. There are frequent implausibilities, e.g. if the leader of a foreign government were to arrive under American military protection, security would not be so lax that two masked motorcyclists could approach the plane as it landed, so when it is faked to throw off the real plotters, no one would have believed it. Sometimes the plots are unnecessarily complex and they’re frequently too predictable. It’s almost always possible to predict the twist when there is one.
The second half of the season starts off with several stories involving one or more of the group getting taken captive, suggesting they’re not as good as they’re supposed to be. Some of them are really badly written, with jumps in logic, unexplained plot elements, and solutions that pop out of thin air. “Talkdown” is a particularly nonsensical episode, but the writing in general dropped dramatically for the entre third quarter of the season. During the last few episodes, which deal with multiple instances of impersonation plus the usual cast of villains, we discover that Vaughn has an estranged wife and son, apparently incapable of dealing with his dangerous profession. The stories seemed to me to drop in quality but it might just have been that I was growing tired of the show. “Your Witness” is quite bad, and “It Could Be Anywhere on the Island” – comic dognappers and an airhead woman – is even worse. One nice touch, in “The First Circle” Vaughn fails to prevent a mentally ill man from killing himself. An unmemorable series. 1/28/10
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Another film that I had heard panned badly, so perhaps because of my low expectations I wasn’t as disappointed as I might have been otherwise, though it is clearly far inferior to its three predecessors. Christian Bale mugs it out as John Connor in the early days of the war against Skynet in a story that seems not to have paid much attention to the details established earlier in the series. A criminal from our time is apparently revived from suspended animation, but it didn’t take much thinking to figure out he was actually a new kind of terminator who only thought he was human. The inconsistencies in Skynet’s technology don’t bear close examination, and the robots are strangely vulnerable or invulnerable whenever it suits the story for them to switch qualities. For example, although its robots and flying ships are very powerful, the resistance has working airfields and high quality, fully fueled and armed aircraft. Anyway, Connor has to penetrate Skynet headquarters to rescue Kyle Reese, who will be sent back through time to become Connor’s father. The special effects are usually quite good – too bad the story line is flat and predictable and has a rather silly ending. 1/27/10
This is another movie that I put off watching because I didn’t expect much. It was a little better than that, the origin of Wolverine and his feud with his brother Sabretooth, who turned to the dark side. It explains his amnesia, the nature of the secret project that gave him his reinforced skeleton. He’s part of an elite, and secretive military unit until he becomes repelled by their tactics, eventually becoming the target of doublecrosses by all concerned. There are lots of epic style battles, and the special effects aren’t bad, but the story itself is predictable and rather shallow. Hugh Jackman does an outstanding job in a vehicle not worthy of his talent and Liev Shrieber is even better. There is one annoying plot hole. More serious is the suggestion that all of the mutant powers could be surgically implanted in one body, obviously conceived by someone who doesn't understand biology. Gambit is a mutant who escaped the project, but even though he would presumably be in hiding, Wolverine finds him with no trouble at all. For the most part, however, the story works in large part because of its simplicity. Not one I’ll watch over and over but not one to sell on Ebay either. 1/26/10
District 9 (2009)
First of all, this is a very impressive movie visually. The aliens, who look like upright prawns, interact with the environment very realistically and with none of the clumsiness of ordinary CGI. It is to a great extent a grittier version of the movie Alien Nation. A shipload of aliens are marooned on Earth, confined in large part to a slum, where the secret of their alien technology becomes the holy grail of various groups. I’m not sure I believe the set up though. 1.8 million aliens resettled on Earth I can accept, but how did they smuggle down all that weaponry from their ship when they were being moved on human operated helicopters. And why would the UN hire a paramilitary force and give them carte blanche to relocate the aliens? Most of the movie is shot as a news reel, although some parts are not and kind of spoil the effect. Anyway, the operative in charge gets exposed to an alien substance and becomes ill, then begins to transform into a prawn. That means he can fire the alien weapons, which are DNA activated, so he becomes a pawn for a comic book style cast of villains who want to know how to use them. He escapes and he and one of the Prawns must steal back the liquid in order to travel to the mother ship and reverse his transformation. I did wonder how the lone alien piloted the ship after twenty years during which, we are told, all that knowledge was lost, but other than that it was fun and certainly not boring for the last 45 minutes or so. 1/25/10
Legion soundtrack composed by John Frizzell, La-La Land Records, 2010
The Hurt Locker soundtrack composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, Lakeshore Records, 2010
Two new soundtracks for movies I have not seen. The first is a supernatural thriller in which fallen angels make war on Earth. The music is much as you would expect – fast paced and with religious undertones – often brooding. It suggests action, confrontation, and suspense. The individual bands are relatively short and they get a bit repetitive before the end. None of them really suggest themselves as stand alone music although I imagine it fits the visual content well. The second movie is not even SF and I’m not sure why I received a copy. It’s about life on a bomb squad. Initially I thought I would like this one better because the first two tracks are quite diverse in style, but it quickly becomes variations on the same theme, with deep electronic undertones that caused them to blur a bit in my memory. A few tracks stand out a bit but none of them can really function as a piece of music separate from the movie. Both of these seem ideally suited for film, but they lack the universality of soundtracks by people like Henry Mancini or Bear McCreary. 1/24/10
Planet Terror (2007)
A couple of people told me I really should watch this zombie movie, so I decided to give it a try. It opens with a fake trailer for an action movie that was quite funny and the cast looked promising so I wasn't put off right away, which happens with a lot of recent horror films. Some kind of deal between hoodlums and an army unit goes awry and an escaping gas turns most of them into zombies. Despite having plenty of gore and grossouts and some really creepy scenes, the overall tone is humorous in a Shaun of the Dead sort of way. Once the killing starts - which doesn't take long - the plot doesn't have a lot of twists. Rose McGowan's - who does an excellent job - loses a leg so she replaces it with a machine gun. Sheriff Michael Biehn gets some good straight lines. There's much more blood than is plausible whenever someone gets shot. The woman with paralyzed hands has some of the better scenes. Not to be taken seriously, obviously, but there are some occasional telling swipes at mainstream horror films. 1/17/10
The Persuaders! Season 2 (1972)
Tony Curtis and Roger Moore return as freelance adventurers in this British tv series. The opener, “The Man in the Middle”, returns to the theme of impersonation, this time with spies kidnapping one another. Terry Thomas has a fine guest spot. “A Home of One’s Own” is very good. Curtis buys a rundown cottage, finds a body in the well that disappears, and then has to deal with decidedly unfriendly neighbors and a mysterious birdwatcher. I did wonder why the multimillionaire Curtis didn’t hire some guards. They have to smuggle a gangster out of Italy in “Five Miles to Midnight”, a very good episode with a nice twist at the end. “Nuisance Value” is fun, with a kidnapped gangster’s daughter who turns out to be behind her own abduction. “The Morning After”, however, is pretty bad. Moore wakes up with a hangover and, apparently, a wife. The conspiracy was obvious from the outset and the characters act implausibly. “Read and Destroy” is much better, and it appears to be the inspiration for Brian Garfield’s novel, and the subsequent movie, Hopscotch. The spy trying to sell his memoirs and stay alive even has the same first name – Felix. “The Ozerov Inheritance” is a fairly routine story about proving the claim to jewels belonging to a Russian aristocratic family. “A Death in the Family” is much better. Moore plays multiple parts as members of his family are murdered in often amusing ways. This is one of my favorite episodes, but there’s a logical flaw. The prospective heir fakes his own death in the process of eliminating everyone ahead of him, but his plan to return from the dead wouldn’t work. The last 3 episodes were good but not great. "To the Death, Baby" has them protecting an heiress from a con man, with a very surprising twist. There's a killer targeting Moore at the auto races in "Someone Waiting." Curtis gets misidentified as a crime boss in "Element of Risk." Overall, enjoyable enough, but I wasn't sorry to see the end of the series. 1/13/10
Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)
Night at the Museum was cute and fun so I expected the same from this sequel although that's not always what happens. Fortunately, in this case it turned out to be well worth my time. Ben Stiller is no longer the night watchman; he's running a novelty item company. The dolls that come to life in the museum at night have all been moved into storage at the Smithsonian where the magic tablet activates a decidedly unpleasant entity. Hank Azaria is great as the malevolent pharoah. The sequence in which they escape into paintings was the high point for me, although the giant octopus is good as well. The bad guy recruits Al Capone, Ivan the Terrible and Napoleon while Stiller has only Amelia Earhart to help him for much of the movie. The Cookie Monster and Darth Vader have amusing cameos. Most of the story consists of chase scenes, some of them quite ingenious. I haven't seen the first in a long time but this might be one of those rare cases when the sequel is actually better. 1/9/10
The Persuaders! Season 1 (1971)
I’ve been neglecting my DVD collection in order to catch up on my reading, but now that the pile is manageable again, I’ve returned to the much larger backlog of unwatched video. This early 1970s British adventure series teams Roger Moore with Tony Curtis, both tricked into performing dangerous missions for a mysterious judge, mixing action with banter. The opener, “Overture”, is mostly about how they become an unlikely team. “The Gold Napoleon” involves counterfeit coins and has Susan George as a guest star. Alas, although I enjoy the two stars individually, they don’t seem to have much chemistry together. “Take Seven” is a pretty good episode about a possible impersonation to secure a wealthy estate, with some nice twists and turns. “Greensleeves” is very good, with Moore posing as an actor impersonating himself in a complex bit of political intrigue. The plot is flipflopped in “Powerswitch”, where they uncover efforts by an impersonator to seize another fortune. That’s three consecutive episodes about impersonation, however, which was not good planning. They prevent a coup in England in “The Time and the Place”, also a very good episode.
“Someone Like Me” has Moore abducted and conditioned to commit a murder. Meanwhile, he has been impersonated – again – or has he? Very well written and shot, although I doubt anyone could be treated that effectively in less than a week. “Anyone Can Play”, in which Curtis is mistaken for a secret agent, is mildly entertaining but relies on a completely unbelievable coincidence and too many jokes. Mistaken identity and lingering Nazis feature in “The Old, the New, and the Deadly”, an average episode. An old friend turns out to be a hitman in “Angie, Angie”, but Larry Storch overacts in this one and the closing angst is saccharine. "Chain of Events" is a rather implausible episode about Curtis getting handcuffed to an attache case containing a bomb. The impersonation theme returns in "That's Me Over There", with Curtis impersonating Moore to make a crucial contact, a good episode. The season concluded with the entertaining "The Long Goodbye", which involves a battle for a secret formula. Quite good overall, although I don't understand the title, since they don't seem to persuade anyone of anything.1/7/10
The Hills Run Red (2009)
A bunch of film fans are searching for the location where a famous, but lost, slasher film was produced, unaware of the fact that it was more than just a movie. Nothing very original about that premise, and I was pretty sure I could guess what was going to follow by the five minute mark. That said, the first half hour is quite effective. The obsessive leader of the group tracks down the daughter of the director, now presumed dead, who has flashes of the film (made when she was a child) and possibly hallucinations of the present, with the babyfaced killer still around. And for real. Then they run into a band of genuine backwoods thugs who take them prisoner, but the babyface killer shows up, survives being shot twice, and kills all three of the thugs. Fortunately he recognizes the grown up daughter. Things soon turn out to be more complicated than they seem when the killer’s house contains recent films of two of the searchers. I had pretty much guessed the surprise switch but it was reasonably well done and overall its one of the better of its limited type although the Grand Guignol ending is considerably over the top, and the resilience of the three crazy people is not believable. 1/2/10
Smallville Season 4 (2004)
The fourth season opens with a full plate. Clark’s personality has been suppressed by that of the thuggish Kal-El, Lois Lane is added as a character, Clark’s father is brain dead and on life support, Chloe is heartbroken, Lana has a new boyfriend but she’s possessed by a restless spirit, the Talon is closed, Chloe is assumed to be dead in an explosion but is actually in hiding, Lionel Luthor is about to be released from custody, and Lex has recovered an ancient artifact, but his body chemistry has been so damaged that he has to undergo emergency treatment every day. Oh, and Clark can fly. Much of this is fixed when Martha hits Clark with black kryptonite in a rather silly sequence. The search for Chloe gets going in episode 2. So who faked the burial then? A terminator style shapechanger wants to find Chloe as well. Lois gets most of the good lines in both episodes. Episode 3 moves to more general plots but sacrifices plausibility. Lois transfers into Smallville because she flunked her senior year. Lana is back as well and her boyfriend is hired as a school coach. The menace is silly as well. After special plastic surgery, a plain girl becomes pretty but her kiss makes guys hallucinate that they are deformed. The sudden animosity of the mother toward Lana is absurd. Obviously the bad writing of the previous season was not cured during the break. Lots of plot holes too, like how did the boyfriend get the seriously injured Lana out of the hidden room at school without raising any questions? And why would the nurses tell Clark confidential medical data about her condition? The rest of the plot is so silly I won’t even bother summarizing. The next is almost as bad. The cheerleader spike the team drink with an aphrodisiac so powerful that the smitten boys become homicidal. Of course high school cheerleaders are capable of synthesizing new psychoactive chemicals. Doesn’t everyone know that? And after the big buildup about Clark not using his powers on the football field, he does and wins the game with them. Idiotic.
“Run” introduces the young Flash as a juvenile delinquent, a not bad story line intertwined with an awful one about a document Lex finds that has Kryptonian symbols. Clark can use super-speed to go to Florida and back, but he can’t use it to leave the mansion when the alarms go off? “Transference” is the mandatory body switching story, Clark and Lionel Luthor. Boring and predictable. Stupid screenwriting too. Cryptographers cannot decipher a three symbol pictogram, and prisons don’t allow prisoners to keep ancient Mayan relics in their cells. A boy who can enforce the power of suggestion tries to rig a football game in “Jinx”, which isn’t awful except that I’m getting awfully tired of Clark’s father’s incessant lectures about why Clark shouldn’t play football. Witches from the 17th Century take over Chloe, Lana, and Lois in “Spell” which, in addition to being a tired old cliché, is also badly done. If they had such superhuman powers, how were they so easily captured and burned four hundred years ago? Made even worse by the switch to humor for the middle third before reverting to serious for the finale. I think it was also a mistake to introduce the supernatural – magic can take away Clark’s powers – and unfortunately this theme continued on and off throughout the remainder of the season.
Lex gets framed for murder in another badly written episode. The police, for some reason, aren’t interesting in tracking down the identity of the victim, a girl he picked up at a charity event. Patently absurd. Lana’s boyfriend’s mother turns out to be a reincarnation of yet another witch. And why does Lex lie about having had sexual liaisons in the past? Why does Clark suddenly trust Lionel? Why would Lex hire a lawyer who hates him? Why does Chloe conclude that just because the victim lost an earring that she apparently found later mean that there were actually two women? Why does Clark remove the evidence that would have helped Lex, thereby rendering it worthless? The plot holes aren’t quite as bad when a plague of nightmares hits Smallville, but why does Clark assault a guard when Chloe has an attack?
Alicia the crazed teleport is back in “Unsafe” after a year of therapy. Of course, they’d let a psychopath with paranormal powers walk around unsupervised after a year of therapy, as well as date the object of the obsession that pushed her over the edge in the first place. Doesn’t everyone? The concluding scenes in which her psychiatrist pulls a gun on Clark is so bad this ranks close to the worst episode in the series to date. And then it definitely becomes the worst when Clark’s mother berates him for what he did under the influence of red kryptonite – he got married though he claims, quite inaccurately, that it wasn’t legal – which she knows makes him a different person. The nonsense continues in the next episode. After just admitting that it was all a mistake, Clark starts dating Alicia again and, somehow, everyone in town knows they got married. When Lana is attacked, the sheriff threatens to arrest Alicia – with no evidence, of course. And several others – both parents, Chloe and Lois, all act completely out of character. Then Alicia also acts out of character, breaking her promise to keep Clark’s secret by revealing his powers to Chloe, after which she is killed by a variant of Marvel’s Sandman, whose fate we never learn. More plot holes. How does the killer get objects other than himself through tiny openings?
The next two episodes involving a superpowered football player and a superpowered dog aren’t too bad. Lex Luthor, who continues to be the most interesting character in the series, has a relatively small part in each, mostly connected to the continuing silliness about witchcraft. Then “Onyx” uses a plot device required in all SF television shows – Lex Luthor is divided into two bodies, his good and bad selves in defiance of the laws of conservation of mass and energy. Presumably he is also wearing both a good and evil set of clothes since they’re also duplicated. The scientist with his speaks gobbledygook and nurses don’t leave hypodermic needles sitting around in patient’s rooms, but I passed that by. Then Lex shows us plants that grow and bear fruit without water. Neat trick that. Obviously they were struggling for ideas in “Spirit” as well. A frustrated prom queen is able to possess other people and plots to burn down the school. This is actually good primarily for Annette O’Toole’s superb performance as the airhead prom queen. We also discover that Lana's boyfriend is in league with his mother in a plot that involves murder, which apparently contradicts scenes we've seen between them in earlier episodes.
A memory sucking mutant leaves Clark with no memory of his past in "Blank", the third in a row in which Lana has to deal with familiar people acting unlike themselves. It was beyond monotonous at this point. And how does Chloe break into a secure facility, find a confidential file, and transfer it to her home computer? Part of this is explained, not very plausibly, in a deleted scene. There's more hokey science in "Ageless" in which a baby grows to his teens in 48 hours, a below average episode. The closing speech by Clark and Lana is insipid, overly sentimental, and pretentious. "Forever" has another mutant spiriting off several people to a perpetual last day of senior year limbo. It also has Lex being attacked in his home in a ludicrously unlikely way given that he is supposedly very careful about his personal security. The finale includes a new meteor showerOn balance, the season has a couple of good episodes but the consistent bad writing, lack of continuity, inappropriate supernaturalism in several episodes, and cavalier attitude toward how the real world works undercuts any possibility that this could have been a good season. 1/1/10