Last Update 3/14/20

 

Swamp Thing (2019) 

Although this series, based on a DC comic book character, was doing well but was cancelled for reasons that have never been explained. The first two episodes establish the rules of the show and they are quite good. The bad guys are dumping things in the swamp that have caused some kind of change in the plant life. The hero is shot and left for dead while investigating and is transformed into the Swamp Thing. The female lead is a doctor with a back story that I found somewhat distracting. I think one of the problems with the series is the lack or rules, i.e. we donít know what the limits are on the powers of the Swamp Thing or some of his opponents. The series does not really end and was cancelled so we donít get to see the villains meet their fate, but we do learn a lot about Swamp Thingís nature. This was an okay series, but Iím not devastated that it is gone. 3/14/20

Bear Island (1979)

Although this stays reasonably close to the novel in general terms, the details are very different. The television crew en route to the remote island is now a scientific expedition investigating global warming. None of the murders take place aboard the ship. They donít begin until after they reach the island, and there has been a murder on the island that didnít happen in the book. The protagonist has different motivation. His father was a U-boat commander stationed on the island during the war. The cast is excellent and the performances good, but the story is rather slow moving, though the scattered action scenes are well done. 3/12/20

The Way to Dusty Death (1995) 

This made for television movie is very loosely based on the Alistair MacLean novel. Other than taking place on the racing circuit within which a mysterious series of crimes have been committed, there is almost nothing from the original story. The cast is okay but unexceptional,  and the racing scenes are decidedly subpar. If I hadnít read the book, Iíd have given up after ten minutes. Unfortunately, I sat through the whole thing. There are some good made for television movies, but this is not oe of them. 3/8/20

Color Out of Space (2019)  

Nicolas Cage stars in this new version of the H.P. Lovecraft story. A meteor crashes near a farm house and plants, animals, and people all begin to change. Itís a bit chaotic Ė we never really sense the purpose of the changes Ė but the effects are very well done and the cast is certainly competent enough, although only Madeleine Arthur seemed exceptional to me. There are a couple of points where it is difficult to make out the dialogue, and occasionally characters do things that seem monumentally stupid. A subplot about the local mayor is suggested but never developed, which is also true of Cageís characterís relationship with his father. I never liked the mother at all, even before she was affected, and Cage struck me as ineffectual. 3/7/20

The Invisible Man (2020)

This is one of the best examples of updating a story to present times that I've seen. A woman tries to escape an oppressive relationship with a man who is an expert in optics. He fakes his own death and uses an invisibility suit to torment her and commit murder and assault. There are a couple of plot problems - particularly at the end where she uses a second suit to murder him "on camera" to prove her innocence. But since the police now know about the invisibility technology, this would not have worked as easily as it apparently did. Nor is it clear why the killer would leave so many witnesses to his discovery alive while he is trying to frame her for murder. I also felt frustrated that she didn't take some obvious steps to locate him or to have others find him. These are all quibbles though, and mostly after the fact. This is a tense thriller that did not rely on special effects - they are actually rather minimal - and concentrated on the psychological terror. Recommended. 3/5/20

The Golden Rendezvous (1977) 

Although cheaply made, the movie version of Alistair MacLeanís novel about piracy at sea is reproduced fairly faithfully. The cast is competent but less than stellar, and the soundtrack is horribly inappropriate, lots of bouncy music that I associate with cheap Italian movies. David Janssen is more or less the star name although one of the other actors gets more screen time. The plot is simplified slightly but the logical errors from the novel mostly persist. There were some logical problems with the book which might have discouraged a more ambitious movie. 3/4/20

Midway (2019)

An okay war movie with some impressive battle scenes, but it was strangely unengaging. I didnít like the main character at all, which was part of the problem, and several of the subplots just seemed to be tacked on for no particular reason except to space out the battle sequences. And I seriously doubt that one pilot sank two of the four Japanese carriers himself. There wasnít much effort spent on explaining the strategic overview, but I really didnít expect there to be. The scene where a prisoner is thrown overboard struck me as unnecessarily provocative. The special effects are impressive but often so busy that it's hard to follow what's happening. The main events seem to be reasonably accurate. The movie crew on Midway Island fail miserably at providing comic relief, which would not have been appropriate anyway. 3/3/20

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

I was hoping for something like the Goonies. That's not what I got. This was more like a poor kids' cartoon show with live actors. The first twenty minutes are so relentlessly stupid, that I was tempted to skip the rest. Dora and some inept friends are in the Amazon trying to dodge mercenaries and find her missing parents, who were looking for a lost city. Terrible continuity. Characters covered in mud are dry and clean a moment later. The acting is horribly over the top and the special effects are primitive. Dora is enthusiastic in the part, but the part is pretty awful. I managed to make it to the end, but I'm not sure why. 3/2/20

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (2019) 

Although this Korean horror movie has some impressive visuals, the dubbing is so awful that I had problems sticking with it. Two cannibalistic sisters Ė itís not clear what their origin is Ė prey on homeless people until a group of high school students capture one of them and the sister is determined to get her back. Some of the minor plot elements are either mistranslated or puzzling, like when the teacher reprimands the student accused of stealing money from providing proof that it was someone else. Heís a snitch, apparently, for protecting himself. She then tells him it is more important for him to get alone with the thieves than to rectify an injustice. The plot is confusing. When they capture the girl, they donít kill her because they know they have been filmed by a security camera, but they abduct her instead, which seems to lead to the same dire conclusion. Oddly enough, the quasi-vampire sisters seem to be the best actors.  2/24/20

Terminator Dark Fate (2019)

Although this wasn't awful, this is a franchise that should have ended a long time ago. Skynet has been replaced by its clone, Legion, and a super terminator that can somehow split into two bodies is back to kill a woman who will lead the human resistance. She sends back one of her proteges, using augmentations that have been developed in less than ten years given the story line that makes humans capable of physically fighting the terminators. It's all shotguns and explosions from that point on with Schwarzennegger and Hamilton reprising their roles. Aren't there any new ideas in Hollywood? Movie SF has lately been far less inventive than tv SF. 2/23/20

Stranger Things Season 3 (2019) 

I really like this show and its cast. The opening episode this season has some of my favorite rock songs in the soundtrack, which doesnít hurt.  The inhabitants of the Upside Down have invaded our world again, thanks to a Russian experiment. Our heroes begin to suspect what is wrong without having any specific information. Itís a bit unfocused early on despite good performances Ė I really liked the fact that the female characters are all very strong people  Ė and it was hard to get invested in the plot early on, though it improves midway through.. I thought having Nancy Wheeler, a skinny teenager, turn out to be more macho than anyone else was a nice touch, but the plot takes too long to become focused and I couldnít accept this enormous secret Russian installation inside the US. Still looking forward to season four. 2/22/20

Elementary Season 6 (2017) 

The new season of the contemporary Sherlock Holmes series seems to be reprising old themes. Sherlock is suffering from a post-concussion syndrome that compromises his reasoning and makes him vulnerable to his drug habit. The first half dozen episodes were okay but not particularly clever and there was only one case where I didnít guess the killer. The subplot about Watson deciding to adopt is asinine, poorly handled, and distracting. Sherlockís ambivalent feelings toward his brother is a more convincing subplot and it ends the way I expected it to.  I thought the teaser about Moriarty misfired badly. The episodes are not bad individually, but there is a sense that the writers were flailing about looking for a new direction, and failed to find it. The following season was foreshortened and the show came to an end. 2/14/20

The Shed (2019) 

Although there are some painfully awkward scenes, this was better than I suspected. A vampire takes shelter in a shed near a house where a troubled teenager lives with his abusive grandfather. There are also bullies at school, among, the teachers, and elsewhere. When the vampire kills the grandfather, our hero decides he has to kill the creature, but his friend wants to weaponize it against their enemies first. The last half hour gets silly though. Dead bodies simply disappear. People act out of character. No one seems to care that the sheriff has disappeared. Not awful, which is fairly high praise for contemporary horror films. 2/11/20

Caravan to Vaccares (1974)  

Based on one of the less interesting Alistair MacLean novels, this has such poor production qualities despite an okay cast that it almost felt like an amateur film. I swear parts of it are dubbed. The plot bears little resemblance to the book and despite the melodrama Ė secret formulas, assassins, kidnapping, fugitives Ė it is never remotely suspenseful or engaging. David Baxter Birney looks like he's bemused by the plot. Charlotte Rampling is good enough but her part is written to be flat and understated. 2/5/20

Fear Is the Key (1972)  w1291 

This was a better movie than I expected, from a movie I didnít particularly like. There is a nice extended car chase, but the implausible plan by the authorities to infiltrate the crime ring is still rather absurd. The protagonist pretends to be a crook so that he can be trusted to pilot a bathyscape in order to retrieve a treasure from an airplane that crashed into the ocean. The cast is only middling in quality but for the most part the plot moves sensibly and quickly. A pleasant surprise despite what appears to have been a low budget. 2/3/20

Puppet on a Chain (1971)    

Although low budget and with a second tier cast, this had a screenplay by MacLean so itís pretty close to the book. The protagonistís two assistants are combined into one, but the director let him get away with killing the female lead tragically. There is an added motorboat chase sequence through Amsterdam that is worth seeing independently of the story. The same people turn out to be villains despite some mild misdirection and the protagonist is a bit less of a wild card than he is in the book. I was quite pleasantly surprised by this one, for which I had no good expectations. 1/23/2-

The Secret Ways (1961) 

Richard Widmark stars in this almost completely disloyal film version of the Alistair MacLean novel. The only similarity is an attempt to bring a dissident out from behind the Iron Curtain. Widmark enters Hungary posing as a journalist instead of sneaking across the border. He spends most of his time with a daughter, who does not appear in the book. The encounters with the underground are completely different and come comparatively late. Not bad in its own way but it has little to do with the novel. 1/20/20

Trick (2019)

I confess that I generally enjoy slasher films, and I applaud the fact that someone tried to do a new one. But did it have to be this awful? The plot is almost incoherent, the cameras don't seem to ever stop moving, the characters are never described as deeply as in even the Friday the 13th films, and even the murders, though sometimes novel, are ultimately boring. Where is John Carpenter or Sean Cunningham when we need them? 1/19/20

Captive State (2019)

If publicists would stop claiming that SF movies were totally originally and unlike anything ever imagined before, they'd be doing us all a favor. This story of Earth under alien occupation is not original, unprecedented, or even particularly interesting, although it is not awful. It is, however, particularly at the beginning, so boring as to be nearly unwatchable. It gets better in the second half, but if you have to sit through 45 minutes of dullness to get to the good parts, then the film makers have already failed badly. I never once had the sense that this was a world occupied by aliens, there were times when I could not figure out what was going on, and there were no times when I particularly cared about the characters. An expensive and sometimes flashy waste o time. 1/12/20

Pet (2016)

An obviously disturbed guy who works at a pet shelter becomes obsessed with a woman and eventually kidnaps and cages her. But it turns out she is a psychopath herself, which leads to manipulation and murder. Unfortunately, despite some fine performances, the movie is slow moving and mostly predictable. Maybe Iíve just seen too many films in this general category but I was impatient for it to end. 1/6/20

Prey (2018)

Another crappy horror movie that seems to have resulted from a complete lack of rational thought. A teen whose father was murdered by hijackers enters a therapy program that consists of several people being left to survive on a southern Pacific island. Really? Does anyone actually think this is credible? I managed to get halfway through before I realized I would be more entertained watching nonstop commercials. How do people justify wasting their time producing crap that no one likes and that will be completely forgotten in a year or two? 1/4/20

Force 10 from Navarone (1978) 

A decidedly inferior sequel despite the good cast, and at times it appears that the cast is joking rather than serious. There are contradictions with the previous movie, and major changes from the book. Itís almost a completely different story. The whole point of the mission is different and there is even an effort to make Force 10 into a real unit Ė it was actually a fake. The early scene in which the commandoes battle MPs makes absolutely no sense. Shaw and Ford both look uncomfortable. I would have been. On occasion it threatens to become interesting, but it never makes good on the threats. Embarrassing for all concerned. 1/3/20

Animal Among Us (2019) 

Two young women are killed at a camp, but it is believed that they were attacked by a wild animal. Years later, the camp is scheduled to be reopened, but the bad rep lingers, obscured by underlit photography, a muffled soundtrack, and a murky plot. If Iíd been more energetic, Iíve have turned this off early and saved myself some wasted time. There are actually a few interesting shots along the way so I kept waiting, hoping for some improvement. The fact that the sound was out of sync with the picture did not help. 1/1/20

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