Last Update 8/9/11

 

Chill (2007) 

This is an adaptation of the basic idea in Lovecraft’s ‘Cool Air” but that’s about the closest I can come to saying anything good about it. The photography and editing are so bad that it felt like scenes were left out. In fact, I’d compare it to a record with a lot of skips. The chief villain used a serum to come back from the dead but he must be refrigerated all the time. He and a zombielike crony kidnap people, presumably to continue his experiments.  The hero is a new employee at the store he uses as a cover who discovers the truth. The victims when on foot pursued by vehicles run down the street rather than getting off the roads.  Victims who run are invariably overtaken by pursuers who walk. The dialogue is stupid at best and the romantic scenes are actually painful to watch. There is no concept of police procedure accuracy. The evil detective ignores reports of abduction, jumps to conclusions, has knowledge he could not possibly possess.  And police do not issue restraining orders – courts do. The store, when pictured from the outside, clearly says Liquor Market.  But it’s a grocery store with no liquor on the inside. I’ve seen better special effects in school plays, to say nothing of better acting and scripts. Should embarrass everyone involved. 8/9/11

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) 

I knew this was going to be fun but lightweight so it was just what I was expecting. Aliens in small flying ships attack a western town, carrying off various inhabitants to a fate unknown. A reformed, sort of, outlaw escapes and ends up with an alien weapon on his arm and near total amnesia.  He gets recruited into the attempt to rescue them. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford both shine although the aliens are mildly disappointing. A mysterious woman holds the key to defeating them. Mild spoiler alert. While this was all great fun, I found myself wondering about several things afterward.  How did the benevolent alien know that Earth was going to be the next target of the aliens?  And how did she get to Earth, and to the right town?  How did the amnesiac Craig get several miles from the alien camp on foot?  But the questions won’t spoil your fun. 8/8/11

The Alphabet Killer (2008) 

I find it very insulting when a movie tells me it is a true story and then has a supernatural scene early in the movie, demonstrating that they’re lying. That’s the case with this one, which is actually not a bad movie otherwise, with a good cast but a screenplay that moves in fits and starts – although how investigators would fail to notice a pair of panties hanging from a bush a few feet from a murder in plain site in the middle of the day is a mystery to me. Eliza Dushku is a police detective who has a mental breakdown after being involved with the investigation of a child murder – and how she could jump to the conclusion that the killer chose his victim because she happened to have identical first and last initials based on a single instance is another mystery. If there’s nothing better to do, this is at least watchable, but it’s nothing to look for. 8/7/11

House of the Dead 2 (2005) 

In the tradition of far too many horror movies, this one features a collection of college students who are, without exception, obnoxious if not actively evil. The campus is overrun by zombies and the government sends two agents in to find the source of the infection. The script and acting are not as good as the first, which isn’t saying much, despite my having read reviews saying it was a vast improvement. It’s very unclear why the zombie attacks would last a month without anyone particularly noticing it or why the government would wait that long to intervene, and with just a handful of investigators. But then again, this one seems to be trying for campy rather than creepy. Two of the soldiers are female to keep the cast balanced, but since none of them act like soldiers – enlisted and officers do not operate on a first name basis – it doesn’t matter. And even though the government knows all about the zombie infection, they don’t realize that being bitten means death.  They’re so careless and stupid, it’s hard to believe they’d be assigned this duty in any case. And you can take a DNA sample from a dead body; it is not necessary to keep it alive until the sample is taken. The computer game was probably better written than this movie. Stupid from beginning to end. 8/5/11

House of the Dead (2003) 

A zombie movie, related to a videogame I’ve never seen, apparently. A bunch of college students go to a remote island to attend a rave and find no one there – alive. Instead the island has been overrun by zombies.  The plot lumbers on from that premise. Lots of bad horror devices – a man with a hook for a hand, a crusty old fisherman, and jerky camera work.  Jurgen Prochnau, slumming, is the only actor I'd ever heard of. “You know what they call this island?  Isla la Muerta.”  The five students pay more than $1000 for the ride out, which blew the realism gasket seven minutes into the movie. The zombies – who move quickly and intelligently - seem to have been caused by a mutation and it’s contagious. Every once in a while there is a flash of videogame that serves no purpose. The newcomers are generally unconcerned that they find the rave site abandoned and partially wrecked.  The attacks by the zombies are so familiar they are completely predictable, hence not at all suspenseful, and most of the action takes place off camera. They eventually find some survivors who are hiding out, but the captain of the boat waiting for them has zombie boarders. The harbor master who comes to the island to find out what’s going on just happens to have an automatic weapon with her, along with a substantial stock of ammunition. So does the captain, who turns out to be smuggling firearms and all the survivors are expert shots, martial arts experts, and some of them fencers. Unfortunately there are no life points strewn around the island. The seemingly endless battle sequence in front of the shelter, complete with slo-mo, is more funny than anything else. And leaning a piece of plywood against a window does not make it safe from entry. Stupid ending. Outside forces arrive knowing what happened on the island.  But no one told anyone off the island!  Watchable, but barely. 8/4/11

Fury of the Wolfman (1971) 

Another dose of low budget horror, this one featuring Paul Naschy as a man bitten by a yeti, thereby somehow becoming a werewolf.  Terrible dialogue – worse than a Japanese Godzilla movie – including some nonsense about a brain operation that can solve all the unknowns and problems of humanity. Alas, it doesn’t even have a good cheesy story line. It’s confusing, diffused, uninteresting, and the photography is dreadful.  Bad soundtrack, bad special effects, but not bad enough to be funny. And I've never been a big fan of werewolves in any case.  8/3/11

The Brainiac (1962) 

More cheesy horror, badly dubbed. The Mexican inquisition executes an evil baron whose spirit is somehow transferred to a comet.  Centuries later, the comet returns and so does the baron, as a brain eater who targets the descendants of those who condemned him. The 17th Century prologue is boring, badly written, and goes on endlessly. Really awful special effects, starting with the static overlay of the comet, and the odd shaped rock that lands and turns into a monster that is more funny than frightening. It can also change shape to look like an ordinary human. He can also hypnotize people. Most of his early victims are ladies of dubious habits for some reason. The dialogue is so badly written that successive lines sometimes contradict each other. Among other things, although the monster baron has just arrived, people refer to having known about him for some time, and he has a mansion. Also, for some reason, the half dozen inquisitors only have one descendant each after three centuries.  Victims fall like leaves. 8/2/11

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

Time for some vintage, cheapo horror movies, preferably dubbed and with washed out color. This one is about a mad scientist who wants to experiment on human subjects, much to the dismay of his boss and others, forcing him to go into hiding. People start disappearing and someone is stealing medical supplies as well. Could it be our villain? We don't get to see the bad guy's face early on - he's either masked or turned away or otherwise obscured, but since he's clearly not one of the other characters, the mystery suggests that he is deformed, but that's not the case so it seems a bit pointless. Despite that, this was actually a fairly interesting ripoff of Frankenstein. The dialogue isn't bad, the acting is good, and it's moderately suspenseful despite being rather predictable. Naturally things go awry and he has to kill more people to keep his secret. One of the better "B" films and it actually ages pretty well.  Has the feel of a Hammer film, although it isn't.  The ending is a bit of a let down though. 8/1/11

The Mechanic (2010) 

Jason Statham is a professional assassin in this one. When he is tricked into murdering his only friend, he takes the dead man’s son under his wing and trains him to be a professional killer as well.  When he discovers the trickery, the two of them get even with the man responsible, then have a deadly duel themselves.  A few good action scenes but the repulsiveness of all the characters makes it impossible to really enjoy this. Having him kill only “bad” people doesn’t help at all to redeem him. A few good scenes but generally not worth watching. 7/27/11

Open Graves (2010) 

A better than average horror film in the vein of Final Destination, although it’s still pretty minor. A bunch of friends in Europe play with a board game made from the bones of a witch, and each of them is doomed to the fate decreed by the game.  These are enforced by physical manifestations like witches and bugs, done in not particularly impressive CGI. I did wonder why the Inquisitors would make a board game out of a dead witch’s body, and why it has instructions and cards written in English. As usual almost all the characters are unlikeable. The dialogue is occasionally clunky but not awful, and the same is true of the acting. The death scenes are not particularly inventive. The ending is predictable and relies on the hero making a really dumb mistake when he wishes for everything to be back where it started. I did wonder how a witch that possible was killed by the Inquisition, and if she controls the physical world so thoroughly, she is probably controlling the dice as well.  For no apparent reason, Eliza Dushku plays both one of the prospective victims and the witch, even though they are unconnected. And they don’t know how to pronounce “Necronomicon.” 7/26/11

Insidious (2010) 

One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen was Poltergeist, which managed to do it without gore or even anyone dying during the movie.  This new film accomplishes much of the same effect with the same devices, not surprising since it’s an uncredited remake.  A family moves into a new house and their oldest child falls into a coma, which coincides with various ghostly phenomena.  They move away from the “haunted” house only to discover that it’s the boy, not the house, that is haunted.  So they bring in a little old lady medium and her scientifically equipped cohorts so that the father can astrally project himself into the Further and bring back his son’s spirit to his body. Despite a few minor twists, the plot is nearly identical, as is most of the characterization.  The scenes in the Further are too dark to see and the demon is singularly ineffectual even on its own turf.  And when the alarms go off in the house for the first time, before they suspect the supernatural, and there is clear evidence of an intruder, why don’t they call the police?  Reasonably entertaining despite some sloppy parts, but nothing new. 7/25/11

Being Human Soundtrack composed by Richard Wells, 2011, around $15

This is the soundtrack for a BBC television show about vampires which I've never seen and actually had never even heard of. It consists of 24 cuts which display a remarkable range of moods and styles, not unusual given its nature.  There are a couple of bands that are mostly sound effects rather than music, but otherwise this is a pleasantly entertaining collection of instrumental pieces that I will probably play more than once.  The theme song is particularly nice. My only real complaint is that again by its nature the individual pieces are quite short and several of them deserve to be developed into a fuller piece of music. One of the better soundtracks I've heard recently.  7/25/11

Captain America (2011) 

Since this is the origin story, most of Captain America’s first movie takes place during World War II.  Steve Rogers is the only success of a secret project to make superhuman soldiers. After overcoming various obstacles, he sets out to defeat the Red Skull – a maniacal Nazi with similar powers plus access to a possibly supernatural force – who has formed an army of cultists known as Hydra, which did battle with Nick Fury and others in the comics. The Red Skull is presumed dead but we know how that works in comic book land. The special effects are good and they take the time to tell a story rather than just provide a steady stream of action sequences. Good supporting cast and nicely edited. No slow parts. Not quite as good as the first Iron Man movie, but not far behind. One quibble: if a man goes missing behind enemy lines for a couple of days, but there’s no indication of what happened to him, the Army does not immediately classify him as killed in action. He would simply be missing. 7/24/11

The Lightning Thief (2010) 

I read this YA fantasy series when it first appeared in book form, and while I enjoyed it, there was no chance it would rival Harry Potter. This is even more true of the film version, which has numerous plot holes I don’t remember from the original. The story involves a young boy who discovers he is the son of Poseidon and suspected of stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt, which could precipitate a war among the gods. There are some pretty good special effects, particularly the hydra, but the acting – even the cameos by Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean – is not enthralling. The plot is filled with unanswered questions. Why does the training camp for modern heroes only train them in swordplay? Why is Percy not particularly upset when he believes his mother is dead? Why does Chiron insist they delay visiting Olympus until Percy is trained, despite the fact that his training is irrelevant and a visit might clear up the misunderstanding? Why isn’t the concealed lightning bolt visible until it reaches Hades? Why bother to train Percy is contact with water instantly turns him into a skilled superfighter?  How come this ability hasn’t manifested itself earlier? Why are the gods able to see and hear everything, except the identity of the thief? Why does Percy set off alone to visit Hades even though he hasn’t the faintest idea how to get there? And so forth.  Minor. 7/23/11

Land of the Dead (2005)

George Romero returned to zombies for this one set after civilization has collapsed and the surviving living are mostly holed up in armed encampments.  Except that the zombies are changing. They are starting to learn how to cooperate and use tools, including firearms. Dennis Hopper is the dictator of a blockaded city besieged by zombies and torn by internal conflicts including those who control an armored truck.  Some creepy scenes, particularly when the zombies discover how to cross a river, but the gore and multiple attacks seem almost to be a matter of going through the motions with nothing new to say. Still beats most of the other zombie movies out there, but it doesn't measure up to Romero's own previous work.  7/22/11

Sands of Oblivion (2007)

I was told that this was one of the better Sci-Fi Channel movies. Well, compared to Mega-Piranha, I suppose it is. But by any other standard it's awful. Borrowing from the recent Mummy movies, it involves an archaeological team digging up the California desert site where The Ten Commandments was filmed, only to learn that an Egyptian demon is imprisoned there. Naturally it gets loose and kills a bunch of people before being defeated. There are some flashbacks that leave unanswered questions about where the magical amulet was and when. Some of the acting isn't bad but the script is almost always awful. Since the Freemasons didn't exist until the 16th Century, how is it that they managed to build the Pyramids of Egypt? Why is the Amulet of Ra known as the Eye of Horus? If the set is sitting exposed to view in the middle of a desert, why did it take the crew several days to find it? After 3 mysterious deaths and a disappearance, why aren't the police more interested, and why does the crew not leave? When they break into the archives building, how does the archaeologist find a letter explaining everything within 20 seconds, in a desk drawer? How does the possessed ex-husband follow the heroes who are driving a truck, on foot, and reach the destination only minutes after they do? When the hero is pursuing the bad guy in the sand buggy, why does he take the long way around when he was right behind him in the first place, thereby losing ground? Why do the police show up and begin shooting at the hero even though there is no evidence that a crime was committed, and without even warning him? And why do they disappear right afterwards and never show up again? How does the woman get through the narrow door to retrieve the grenades when the monster is standing blocking the way?  And most important of all, why did I sit through this entire mess? 7/21/11

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)

And so it finally comes to an end, at least unless J.K. Rowling decides otherwise. Harry and his friends must destroy the last few horcruxes in order to eliminate Voldemort's supernatural tenacity. Along the way Severus Snape will meet his end and Harry will find out the truth about the death of Dumbledore. A few minor recurring characters get killed but Hogwarts is laid waste. Oddly enough, I was expecting a much more spectacular battle than actually took place.  The scene in the vaults and the escape on the back of the dragon was probably the most visually impressive part of the movie. It was a rousing end to a well loved series but I wonder if we'll be seeing the Harry Potter television series any time soon.

The Gunfighters (1966)

The first Doctor Who travels back to participate in the Gunfight at the OK Corral. This was from the period where historical and space adventures alternated, the former supposedly designed to be educational. The sets are no more realistic than those in the Star Trek episode on the same theme, and it's just as historically inaccurate. Wyatt Earp was not, for example, the marshal of Tombstone; that was Morgan Earp. And the Tombstone sheriff sided with he Clantons, not the Earps, and certainly was not Bat Masterson. And Johnny Ringo wasn't there either.The Doctor is there in part because he has a toothache and Doc Holliday was a dentist. Predictably the bad guys confused the Doctor with Holliday. This one's pretty silly but I don't think it was ever meant to be taken seriously. The Doctor is unusually ineffective in this one and really doesn't dictate any element of the plot, in fact he's largely off screen. There is also an unusually large number of flubbed lines. And one man fires nine times without reloading his six shooter. 7/19/11

The Awakening (1984)

One of the shorter Doctor Who serials, featuring Peter Davison. The Doctor returns to Earth and finds a village where various reenactments of historical events has gotten out of hand, thanks to a sinister influence. The local lord has isolated the village and refuses to allow the Doctor to leave, while Tegan is looking for her missing grandfather. It's not clear why all but one of the villagers go along with his plans, whatever they are. When people from the 17th Century start showing up, it's clear that there is some sort of time gate. Secret passages, captures and escapes, a hidden alien, and an often implausible plot, but it moves right along and is actually one of the better ones featuring Davison. 7/16/11

South Park Season 14 (2010) 

A better season than the previous couple.  I particularly enjoyed the sendup of Facebook, which is right on target, though obviously exaggerated, one in which the boys write a pornographic novel, and another in which several of the town’s adults (sic) contract cancer deliberately in order to get access to medicinal marijuana.  The takeoff on the Food Channel is also pretty good. On the other hand, the episode about the towel addicted to drugs was not only just silly but boring and repetitive as well.  Other episodes spoof BP Oil Company, the movie Inception, Tom Cruise and other celebrities, The two part episode featuring Mohammed includes part two, in which the Comedy Channel censored every reference to Mohammed as well as the closing speeches about violence and intimidation, which aren’t on the DVD version either. I find the willingness of various institutions to cave in to this kind of pressure depressing and disturbing. 7/15/11

Modern Family Season 1 (2010) 

Someone recommended this to me when I lamented that I hadn’t seen a good sitcom since Friends and I picked up a copy on Ebay, despite my skepticism. I’m glad I did because it’s a great show, clever, well edited, well acted, and smart.  Ed O’Neill plays the patriarch of the family in question. He has recently remarried to a smart but much younger Colombian woman who has a young son from an earlier marriage.  His daughter is married to a nice but nutty man and they have three well differentiated kids.  His son is gay and lives with his lover as well as the infant girl they have just adopted. The comedic situations into which they stumble are sometimes predictable but always witty and there are moments of genuine emotion in among all the laughs. I found the gay couple particularly appealing. The writing isn't quite as tight late in the season - there are inconsistencies about the attitudes of the two gay men about working vs staying home, and young Manny's self possession is oddly missing from time to time. I watched all 24 episodes in three days and will be waiting impatiently for season 2 to come out on DVD this September. 7/7/11

Smallville Season 5  

Season 5 opens with several changes of direction.  Chloe learned of Clark’s superpowers at the end of last season and this time she won’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.  Jor El has somehow become a good guy instead of the bastard he was in earlier seasons.  Clark now has his Fortress of Solitude and is learning to fly.  All pretense of normality ends in the season premiere, “Arrival”, when a spaceship with aliens – looking for Clark – wipe out a contingent of police sent to find out what’s going on.  Lex is turning more evil and it appears he more than suspects some of what’s going on as well. The mystical aspect gets stronger, with Clark’s powers taken away by the recording of his father, with the two aliens dispatched with unsatisfactory ease, and another alien – a shapechanger played by James Marsters – appearing at the very end. In “Mortal” Clark has to use his wits in lieu of his missing powers to escape from some superpowered prison escapees.  Meanwhile, Lionel Luthor is in a fugue state of some kind, first seen earlier when he displayed unexplained insight into the aliens’ purpose on Earth.  Somehow no one remembers anything about the space aliens and spaceship by episode two, another example of the recurring continuity problem that prevented this from ever being a really good show.  The escapees want Clark to steal an addictive serum from a highly secure facility, which of course he and Chloe do with ridiculous ease. 

“Hidden” bends credulity a bit too far.  An unbalanced college student manages to take control of a nuclear missile silo and aims a missile at Smallville.  Right.  Wanna buy a bridge?  Anyway, Clark still doesn’t have his powers and he is shot and declared dead.  No suspense there, since we know he’s around for several more seasons at least. Actually his father’s spirit is temporarily resident in Lionel Luthor and Clark’s body is magically transported to the Fortress of Solitude, in another of the metaphysical twists I’ve come to hate in this series.  And even worse is that “nature” requires balance, so when Clark is restored to life it means someone close to him must die.  Not to mention that he recovers in minutes from a fatal gunshot, but no one seems to be paying any attention to this miracle, and he expects to conceal the lack of a scar from Lana, whom he is sleeping with.  Idiocy overload. 

“Aqua” is the first good episode of the season.  Lois gets romantically involved with the young Aquaman-to-be while Clark acts obnoxiously, apparently jealous that someone else gets to be a clandestine hero.  James Marsters – somehow morphed from alien invader into college professor – gets a lot of good lines although one does wonder why a history professor’s current project would be investigating Luthorcorp. Lex, now thoroughly evil, captures our new superhero briefly but Clark saves the day. Turning Lex completely bad makes him a much less interesting character. 

“Thirst” is horrendously bad.  Lana decides to join a stereotypically snobbish sorority which happens to consist of quasi-rationalized vampires. Cute joke – leader of the vampires is named Buffy Saunders.  Buffy Summers?  Get it?   The university where Marsters is employed doesn’t seem to care that he commits slander in his classroom every day, instead of Roman history. They also don’t know the difference between libel and slander.  Lana gets temporarily turned into a vampire – they apparently can go out in the daylight and they do cast reflections – but no one notices that people tend to disappear when they visit the sorority house.  Nor do they notice that after six years, the same girls live in the house.  Didn’t they graduate?  Or more likely flunk out?  Would no one be interested in a virus that causes immortality and invulnerability?  And vampire bats don’t exist in Ohio. “Exposed” isn’t much better.  A policeman automatically assumes that a picture of a senator with a murdered call girl has to be authentic. The underground nightclub has security on the front door, but not even a lock on the side entrance to the dressing room. Nor are the personnel records secured.  It’s a not very plausible story of white slavery, kind of dull.  And while it’s true that diplomatic immunity would have protected the villain from arrest, it is nonsense that Chloe had to clandestinely inform Interpol of his activities because the police aren’t allowed to.  

“Splinter” introduces yet another strain of kryptonite.  This one makes Clark paranoid – except it’s not really paranoia, since it involves detailed hallucinations.  And his father, a subsistence farmer, becomes his party’s candidate to run for the state senate against Lex Luthor. Clark conveniently forgets his x-ray vision when a pickup truck runs him off the road. Lex reveals his rationale for trying to convince Lana that she hallucinated the spaceship she saw crash, but none of it makes any sense and it was obviously just a device the writers initially employed, then discarded, without thinking about it.  Bad writing and we’ve seen all of this before with red kryptonite. It’s also amazing how many ordinary people can be thrown a hundred feet through broken furniture against solid walls and get up without a bruise a few seconds later. 

“Solitude” continues the story of Kryptonians interfering in Clark’s life, affecting his mother, trying to get him to destroy the Fortress of Solitude, etc.  It felt like one of the lesser episodes of Roswell.  Lionel Luthor somehow knows that the Marsters character has superpowers.  The plot is both boring and predictable and for some reason most of the acting is below its usual standards.  No real bad goofs except that the secure warehouse where the spaceship is kept doesn’t even have a locked door. And if Marsters can turn himself into a viscous fluid, how can he be stabbed to death? “Lexmas” runs against my personal prejudice, since I hate dream sequences and most of this entire episode is Lex, who has been shot, having a dream of himself married to Lana. The framing Christmas story is just sappy. It also appears to be the point where the show climbed over, if not jumped, the shark because now that Lex is irretrievably evil, much of his appeal is gone. 

The next three episodes dealt mostly with Lana and Clark going through romantic problems at the end of which Clark reveals his secret identity. Clark’s adopted father also dies in an accident, and since I never liked the character, I didn’t shed any tears over his departure. There’s also more rivalry between the Luthors, but nothing out of the ordinary.  “Vengeance” introduces a new supercharacter, the Angel of Vengeance, a superpowered female vigilante who completes a deadly vendetta against the men who killed her mother.  And Martha Kent is chosen to replace her late husband as senator. One particularly silly scene has Clark squeezing a lump of coal to make a diamond, which emerges already cut and shining.  And talk about deus ex machina escapes – Lana is killed in an automobile accident but there just happens to be a crystal that can take Clark back through time to change the course of events. But of course he doesn’t just prevent the accident, he decides not to tell Lana the truth and thereby ends their relationship. So contrived you can practically see the writer standing in the corner of the room. And other elements change spontaneously, which contradicts what’s supposed to be happening. Clark then allows Lana to go off on her own at the critical moment despite knowing what will happen.  Awful episode.  

In “Tomb” Chloe gets possessed by the ghost of a victim of a serial killer who wants to – and does – track down her murderer. Okay at first, but there are too many plot holes.  How does Clark know to track down the orderly despite no evidence that he’s the one who kidnapped Chloe?  And why is Clark incapacitated by a kryptonite ring at one point, then able to stand next to it without a problem a moment later?  And why does Lana refer to herself and Clark as a couple when they broke up permanently in the previous episode? “Cyborg” is another variation of the evil experiment at Luthorcorps which Clark thwarts. The cyborg in question also violates the laws of inertia, but I doubt the writer realized that. But once he escaped the lab and was being pursued by the company’s ninjas, why doesn’t he go to the police?  Why don’t Clark or Lana go to the police?  Stupid writing, and sloppy as well, leaving all sorts of loose ends like a murdered man that everyone seems to forget, and a missing girl who reappears without explanation. 

The clumsy Clark-Lana non-romance goes from insipid to actively annoying in “Hypnotic.”   Clark gets hypnotized by a femme fatale with mutant powers, providing the excuse for another hand wringing angst moment. Enough already.  And somehow breaking someone’s heart to avoid breaking someone’s heart doesn’t seem productive.  “Void” opens with the revelation that Lana is addicted to a near death experience producing drug, which absurdity – her addiction and the drug – nearly caused me to turn it off immediately. Clark’s super speed is getting annoying too. If he can run to Honduras in under a minute, he should have been able to move that fast in the previous episodes where he didn’t arrive on time. 

“Fragile” is a better than average episode about a psychotic man and his unhappy daughter who both have the power to control glass.  Unfortunately, the writer is an idiot because he apparently thinks diamonds are made of glass. “Mercy” is a ripoff of Saw, with Lionel as the victim. “Fade” is a pretty good episode about an invisible hitman, but “Oracle” is dreadful. Jonathan Kent’s ghost appears to Clark – who doesn’t blink an eye – and tells him he has to murder Lionel Luthor immediately to avert a disaster.  No one acts consistently with their characters, or even remotely logically, and no one ever questions the existence or authenticity of the ghost. The plot is full of holes, including Lana having a photograph of a top secret lab in her apartment, the elaborate plot to kill Luthor instead of a straightforward killing, and so forth.  The season ended with “Vessel”, in which Lex is possessed by the spirit of Zod. More bad writing. Minutes after saying he’s not going to kill anyone, Clark says he may have to kill Lex.  It’s a cliffhanger, with the world in peril, Clark imprisoned in another dimension, and everyone in danger, but it’s such a silly setup that there’s no tension.  On balance, a terrible season. 7/6/11

Alien Resurrection (1997)

Although the fourth installment in the series wasn't up to the quality of the first two, it was so much better than the third that it seemed good by comparison, and it did have some very effective scenes, particularly the underwater attack and the basketball sequence. Ripley is cloned but because of the merger with alien DNA she has some memories of her former self. The evil military has harvested a queen from her restored body and used it to breed drones, but they're far smarter than the humans - the gimmick of killing one of their own so its blood burns a hole in the cage was quite clever. Too much of the story becomes a simple matter of aliens picking them off one by one but Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder both provide strong performances and if I wasn't comparing it to the earlier movies, I'd have considered it a major SF film at the time.  I did wonder how the ship could move from uncharted space to Earth orbit in only a few hours given the necessity for coldsleep in the earlier ones, but two hundred years have passed since the last so I suppose that the technology could have improved. But if that's true, why does the smaller ship, The Betty, travel just as fast even though it's older than Ripley? 7/5/11

Alien 3 (1992)

I was furious with this when it appeared, partly because it killed off three of the survivors of the previous movie prior to the opening credits, and the fourth by the end of the movie. But even leaving that aside, it was jumpy, visually unimpressive, hard to follow, murky, and frequently just plain boring.  This is the extended version and I have to admit that while my complaints remain largely valid, the restored scenes do help with the transitions and make the story easier to follow. Ripley crashes on a mining colony run by hardcore prisoners with a religious obsession. One of the aliens - though for some reason it has a different physiology - is loose in the installation, but it doesn't kill Ripley when it has a chance, which we subsequently learn is because she is host to a new queen. The company is even more evil than in the previous movies and Ripley sacrifices herself partially to prevent them from getting control of a living alien. In the fourth movie, we discover she failed to do so. A few good scenes floating in a lake of bad ones.  7/4/11

Chaos (2005)

Jason Statham, Ryan Philippe, and Wesley Snipes in a heist movie with a lot of switchbacks. What more could you ask? Statham is a copy perhaps unjustly suspended because of the death of a hostage who is called back when a bank is seized by criminals who demand to speak to him. Big explosion and they escape, but what were they after? No cash was taken and the lead to a safety deposit box turns out to be bogus. And why did they specifically request Statham? And what does it all have to do with Chaos Theory?  I guessed most of the solution to this quite early, but there were surprises, chases, and stunts to keep me entertained throughout and while the explanation is a tad farfetched, it's reasonably plausible within its context. Not brain food, but fun. 7/3/11

Blood Night (2009) 4491 

I expected this to be a retread of a million other slasher films, but I hadn’t realized just how bad a rehash it was. The title refers to a young girl who murdered her parents with a hatchet, was institutionalized, where she was raped by a repulsive, stereotyped security guard. The entire prelude is badly shot, badly acted, poorly lighted, and is a bad ripoff of the first Halloween movie. We don’t know why she went bad, or how she managed to acquire super strength enabling her to kill half the staff with her bare hands. Nor is there any reason why armed police would then shoot her while she stood naked and unarmed in the middle of the street. But we might suspect that the baby, which supposedly died, is going to show up as one of the other characters, probably Danielle Harris since she’s the leading cast member. The camera does a lot of quick jump shots that probably are meant to disguise the bad effects and set dressing, but all it does is make the story disjointed and irritating. A bunch of teens use a Ouija board to try to raise her spirit – where have I heard this one before and before and before? None of the high school students look like that age, not surprising since they’re 26 or older. There’s one sequence where we’re told the details of an encounter that no one survived. If no one survived, how does anyone know what happened?  The teens, without exception, are such foul mouthed, self centered idiots that no one in their right mind would hope they survive. There’s no character differentiation; their personalities are interchangeable, what personality they actually have. Nothing actually happens for a seemingly endless period after the prologue, and Harris, who gets top billing, doesn’t even show up until almost 40 minutes have gone by. There’s no explanation why a woman in her mid-thirties would be hanging around with high school kids, except that she is the only recognizable name in the cast – she was the little girl in the later Halloween movies. The sound is so bad that the dialogue is hard to follow, and for some reason her early monologue is almost indecipherable. The sex scenes are gratuitous, which was predictable, but they’re also badly shot and unconvincing, and we have to put up with half an hour of it before the first death, in mid-orgasm of course. Naturally the characters act uniformly stupidly once things are obviously wrong, following a trail of blood alone, not calling the police, splitting up when they should stay together, refusing to leave the house, entering spooky old boarded up asylums - where the electricity is still turned on! Harris must have been paid by the minute because she’s absent from a lot of group scenes where she is supposed to be present. There’s no suspense at all and a terrible soundtrack too. A complete waste of time. 6/30/11

At World's End (2007)

I haven't seen this since it was in the theaters and I remembered being disappointed by it.  Oddly, although it isn't quite up to the standards of the first two, I liked it a lot better this time around and was not really disappointed at all. Jack Sparrow is rescued from the afterlife and he and various others contend for control of the heart of Davey Jones, each for different reasons - power, the quest for immortality, the rescue of a father. Everyone's plans go awry, of course, and there are ship to ship battles, glorious swordfights, witty dialogue, and excellent performances all around. Alas, the story pretty much precludes most of the characters returning for the fourth, and they did not, but it's still an exceptionally good movie and great fun to watch a second time. 6/28/11

Aliens (1986)

The second movie in the Alien franchise was very different in tone but as good or better than the first, a tradition which does not extend to the next two in the series.  Ripley is reluctantly recruited into an expedition to find out why a colony has stopped communicating, a colony on the planet where her crew encountered the aliens the first time around. Predictably the braggadocio of the space marines ends quickly when most of them are slaughtered during their first encounter. This edition has considerably footage restored, most of which is quite good, including scenes at the colony before the alien attack, the installation of robot guns during the siege in the control center, and more dialogue between Ripley and Newt, as well as more information about her own daughter, who died of old age while Ripley was in coldsleep. Special effects and acting are all excellent although I thought the macho bit among the marines was a trifle overdone.  One of my favorite movies. 6/26/11

Dead Man's Chest (2006)

The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie isn't quite up to the quality of the first, but it's close.  Most of the original cast are back, at least for cameos, and there's wild adventure and great special effects as Jack Sparrow is off in search of the heart, literally, of Davey Jones, captain of the Flying Dutchman. There's an evil mastermind from England disrupting things because he also wants the heart so that he can control Jones and thus the sea at large.  Jack gets swallowed at the end of this one by a really impressive kraken, but we know he can't be dead. Keira Knightley really steals the show when she's on screen this time but Depp is brilliant as always.  The three sided sword fight is one of my all time favorite movie sequences, and the earlier episode on the island of cannibals is nearly as good.  The first two films in this franchise set a high level that they haven't quite reached again, although they've been within reach from time to time.  6/23/11

Time and the Rani (1987)

Sylvester McCoy made his debut as the Doctor in this mediocre installment in the Doctor Who series. The Tardis is thrown off course by the Rani, an evil genius and renegade Time Lord who has gathered prominent people out of time and enslaved them as part of her master plan. Terrible special effects and indifferent acting don't help this disappointing story. The Rani suppresses the Doctor's memories and tries to impersonate his companion, Mel, who also first appeared in this episode and without explanation. Mel spends most of her time screaming for one reason or another. McCoy's tenure was marked by consistently bad accompanying music as well. The resolution of this one makes no real sense. The Rani just sort of gives up. 6/22/11

Frontios (1984)

The Tardis crashes on a planet which the Doctor isn't supposed to visit because it's too new a colony, which makes it off limits to Time Lords.  Funny, it never has before.  Anyway, the colonists are having problems because they are unaware that there are aliens living beneath the ground.  The plot suffers from the fact that the colonists are generally insufferably stupid and it isn't even clear at times just why they are acting the way they are. Predictably the Doctor is accused of being behind the periodic meteor showers which they assume constitute an attack by an unknown enemy. Peter Davison tries to make it all sound convincing, but without much success.  The story picks up somewhat when they finally get down to the underground kingdom but not enough to save what is basically a silly story. 6/21/11

Alien (1979)

This is one of those movies whose impact when it first appeared cannot be replicated in the present. After decades of explicit shock effects with increasingly sophisticated special effects, Alien might well appear to the new viewer as pretty good but nothing special. That loss of innocence is sad in a way because audiences who first went to see this way back in 1979 were profoundly shocked and I still remember my own reaction sitting in the theater. The story is essentially that of It! The Terror from Beyond Space with a better cast and sets and script, although I doubt that it was a conscious imitation. A routine commercial space mission is diverted to investigate a radio signal, inadvertently allows an alien parasite on board, and all but one of the crew die - mostly off camera. There are a couple of glitches, like how did the company know the aliens were there, which they obviously did since they sent orders to bring back a specimen even before contact was made. There's also one bad transition shot where the fake head and the real head of the robot character, Ash, are switched. I hadn't realized before that Veronica Cartwright was originally supposed to play Ripley, not Sigourney Weaver, who was at the time an unknown actress. This version has some of the cut footage restored, most of which does nothing to add to the film. Even knowing the entire story line - I've watched it several times over the years - I was caught up in the story once again. 6/20/11

Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

The first of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and still the best. Johnny Depp and the rest of the cast shine in this wild adventure in which a crew of cursed pirates attempt to recover a treasure so that they will be restored to normal life. The British commander in the are is equally determined to exterminate every pirate.  The governor's daughter is kidnapped by the pirates who mistakenly believe she is the daughter of a missing crew member whose blood is necessary to lift the curse. Depp is the former captain of the Black Pearl who wants to reclaim his ship and not get hanged. Captures, escapes, some great swordfights, a competent female character, great sets and special effects, a riveting story line, and a reasonably good soundtrack. The sequels are good but they all fall short.  6/19/11

Super 8 (2011)

A special Air Force train is derailed when a truck drives into its engine, releasing a mysterious creature whom we don't get to see until quite late in the movie. The only witnesses are a half dozen kids filming a zombie movie who don't talk about it after the truck driver tells them the government will kill them if they do. People start disappearing, but more significantly electronics and motors and other devices go missing as well. When the sheriff disappears, a tightly wound deputy begins to suspect that there is more going on than the military will admit. I probably shouldn't say too much about the rest of the plot because that might give away secrets, but it's a story that reminded me of Stephen King, with the kids leading the way. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning are both excellent in their parts and the rest of the cast is quite good. The nasty old colonel exceeding his authority has become a bit too familiar and I don't believe the military could do all those things to a town without reporters blowing their story, but other than that the story is a good one.  Most fun I've had at a theater so far this year. 6/16/11

Transporter 2 (2005)

The first movie in this series was successful enough to warrant more money and a better cast for its sequel. Jason Statham is a professional driver who usually gets involved with heists, but he is temporarily ferrying the child of a prominent government official back and forth to school. When a band of mercenaries kidnap and inject the boy with a contagious disease, he has to track them down one by one to find the antidote. Filled with well choreographed martial arts sequences, car and foot chases, and with a really impressive performance by Kate Nauta as henchperson in chief. There's so much emphasis on the action that it's hard to realize how good some of the acting is. One of the best action films of the last decade. 6/15/11

Dark City (1998)

I remembered enjoying this when it first came out, but watching it again now, I'm more impressed than ever.  It's an almost surrealistic story of an artificial city created by an alien race, peopled with humans whose memories are mixed and matched as part of a series of experiments. The aliens have machines that amplify their mental powers so they can warp reality and restructure the city every few hours - and since the hate the light, it's always night in the city. Our hero wakens with amnesia because he has developed a resistance to their manipulation and can use their machines himself.  They intercede by occupying the bodies of the human dead - hence the Pale Men - and various plot complications ensue although it's mostly just them trying to capture him while a human doctor who has been their minion clandestinely seeks to help the fugitive.  Some fabulous visuals and a really original - for the movies anyway - story.  6/8/11

Starship Troopers (1997)

The director of this very loose adaptation of the Robert Heinlein novel reportedly never read more than the first few chapters of the book and decided to parody it rather than provide a loyal reproduction. He fails at both. The story bears only superficial resemblance to the novel, and with a couple of minor exceptions, the movie is no satire at all. Those opposed to Heinlein's military dictatorship are trivialized and those supporting it always win their arguments because there's no counterbalance. I also suspect Heinlein would have been appalled when Sergeant Zim maims two recruits simply to illustrate talking points, both completely unnecessary. The special effects, on the other hand, are quite good and some of the space shots are very impressive.  This could have been a lot better, should have been a lot better, but Hollywood has a gift for homogenizing all their source material into the same mold, to mix a metaphor or two.  6/6/11

Doctor Who: The Movie (1996) 

I believe this was a feeble attempt to revive the franchise during the 1990s. It was a single night’s event with a new Doctor (although Sylvester McCoy is in it briefly) and a touch of romance for the first time, but the story was poor and the special effects not much better than the original series and it just didn’t click. The Doctor is taking the remains of his arch enemy, The Master, back to Gallifrey when a suspicious malfunction lands him in the middle of a gang battle in contemporary San Francisco. Wounded , he regenerates, but so does The Master. The usual goofs abound – it is not necessary to have a completed form before EMTs will help a wounded man. Nor can Time Lords become shapeshifting creatures and take possession of other bodies; if they could, the Master and others would have taken advantage of this fact a long time ago.  And the Doctor was never supposed to be half human and I believe the planet Skaro was destroyed way back in the series so the Master could not have been tried there without some elaborate and pointless time looping. How does the reconstituted Doctor get into the locked Tardis? Since this was made in the USA it has car chases, romance, and gunfights and it doesn’t fit the tone of the television show at all. When a hospital administrator destroys confidential medical information, in front of a witness, as part of a cover up, the story went south really fast. And the witness threatens to quit, not blow the whistle.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the writers thought 1999 was the end of the millennium, which it was not.  The ending, and solution, are all complete gibberish with no internal logic and not even an attempt to explain why the dead come back to life, the Master dies, or the world is saved.  Awful. 6/5/11

Battlefield (1989) 

I always thought that Sylvester McCoy was potentially a good Doctor Who but he was hampered by low budgets, poor scripts, uninteresting companions, and the fact that the show was at the time in its death throes. This was one of his best episodes, which isn’t saying much. A demonic creature has been playing with the borders between universes and knights in armor attack a convoy in the modern day.  Lethbridge-Stewart, who was a regular in the Pertwee days, is retired but plays a critical part in this one. The Doctor is accompanied by Ace, not my favorite character in the series. The demon is in league with the witch Morgaine – and I disliked the supernatural element – who has her own agenda. Even the lighting and sound are below par making it difficult to listen or see clearly. The British appear oddly unconcerned about the risk to a cache of nuclear weapons.  If the knights have ray guns, why do they fight with swords? And the soundtrack music is totally inappropriate for what is happening.  Moderately entertaining but more because of the hints of what McCoy could have done with a proper setting. 6/4/11

Snakedance (1983) 

One of the later Peter Davison Doctor Who adventures. The evil spirit from Kinda is back, possessing Tegan and sending the Tardis off course.  It wants to reclaim its home world, now a human colony, and return to physical form.  The Doctor, naturally, is opposed to its return. As with Kinda, it’s filled with people acting irrationally and randomly and not congruent with their characters. The colonists are planning a celebration in honor of the creature’s destruction and generally ignore the prophecy that she will return. The Doctor doesn’t do a very good job of convincing them and generally seems to have lost control of things. It’s not even particularly clear why he wins in the end, and whatever he does is arranged by a local wise man, not the Doctor.  Pretty poor. 6/3/11

Kinda (1982) 

Peter Davison is Doctor Who in this one. He and three young companions arrive on a pleasant world where he and Adric are promptly taken captive by members of an interplanetary mission. The interlopers are planning to take control of the planet eventually but the natives have a variety of extraordinary mental powers and the outcome is in doubt. The script and delivery are both sadly lacking. Some of the actors are chewing the scenery at every opportunity and there are long stretches where nothing much happens, not surprising since there’s not much story. There are dream sequences, which I dislike, people acting contrary to their personalities for no adequate reason, which I dislike, and the entire premise is absurd. This is quite probably the very worst of the Doctor Who stories. And I never liked Adric either. 6/2/11

Meglos (1980) 

A comparatively short Doctor Who episode featuring Tom Baker. He and Romana arrive on the planet Tigella where two factions are vying for control of an object that generates all the power for their civilization. The locals want the Doctor to resolve their problems but yet another party – the intelligent plant Meglos - has made the two Time Lords prisoner in a loop in time. The head of the religious faction is played by Jacqueline Hill, who was Barbarar, companion in the very first Doctor Who two decades earlier. Meglos impersonates the Doctor so the real one is arrested when the artifact disappears. The two factions represent religion and science and both are made to look like jackasses. One of my least favorite episodes from the Baker years, in part because the acting is almost universally atrocious. The method used to escape the time loop is particularly silly and the rest of the script isn’t much better. Very minor all around. 6/1/11

The Seeds of Doom (1976)  

Scientists in Antarctica dig up an ancient seedpod that seems to be still viable. Shades of “Who Goes There?” Meanwhile there’s an insane man who believes the bonsai is torturing plants and when he learns of the pod’s existence, naturally he arranges to steal it during the confusion when one of the staff gets infected and begins to turn into a humanoid plant.  This was one of the more serious Tom Baker episodes, with hardly a joke to be heard. The bad guys take one of the pods back to England where he unwisely stirs it to life. The Doctor tries to investigate and is predictably taken prisoner. Meanwhile one of the minions gets infected and begins to change into a Krinoid while the Doctor plays tag with the madman’s thugs.  Then the creature gets bigger than a house and everyone except the top madman decide to kill it. It is rather silly that the authorities cannot be roused to do anything until very late in the game even though the Krinoid could destroy the world. Among other things it controls all the other plantlife nearby. Despite the really awful effects, this is one of my favorites from the Baker days. 5/31/11

Terminator 3 (2003)

I know that I watched this when it first came out but I had absolutely no recollection of anything about the plot and even when I watched it again, only a couple of scenes were familiar - primarily the exciting chase sequence early in the movie.  A female super-terminator has come back to kill John Connor, his future wife, and various others, which she almost achieves before Arnold's good terminator destroys them both. We are told this time that the nuclear apocalypse was only delayed and Skynet destroys civilization by the end of the movie, which doesn't make sense since Skynet was based on technology that is no loinger available in the 21st Century. But there are several things that don't make sense this time.  Like, how, for example, do our heroes waltz into the middle of a highly secure facility during a critical test without being challenged by anyone? And how to they then go to an even more secret facility and enter without difficulty? And if the future is in fact as they claim unchangeable, then why does Skynet bother to try to kill them, knowing it will fail? The cast isn't particularly appealing this time and it feels like they're going through the motions rather than actually acting. A few good spots but otherwise minimally entertaining. 5/30/11

The Mutants (1972) 

This is one of the longest of the Doctor Who serials, and it features Jon Pertwee, my favorite Doctor.  The Time Lords send him, accompanied by Jo Grant, to a planet whose inhabitants are succumbing to some form of apparent mutation. It’s a part of the human empire which is about to be given its independence when the local leader is assassinated by one of his subordinates who wants to alter the planet’s atmosphere – killing all the natives – and become a local ruler. His experiments with the atmosphere are the cause of the mutations, which turn humans into gigantic beetles, eventually revealed as a normal adaptive process that has been accelerated by the experiments. As usual, Jo is off someplace in danger of her life and the Doctor has to pursue various lines of investigation to find out what’s going on, what the message he is carrying really means, and then make sure that the natives gain control of their world.  Average quality overall, subpar for a Pertwee. 5/29/11

The Ark (1966)

This early Doctor Who adventure has the Doctor encountering a space ark bringing the last of the human race away from a dead Earth - a premise contradicted more than once in future episodes. Not a particularly good episode, with stock footage of wild animals interspersed with reaction shots, although there is a genuine elephant. One of his companions, Dodo, has a cold to which the voyagers have no resistance, precipitating a crisis and getting them all arrested for endangering the future of humanity. The humans are accompanied by a race of mute, one eyed creatures called Monoids. The premise is a good one but there is some silliness in the script. The humans live by "galactic law" but they have never visited the planet to which they are emigrating. And a cold virus can't infect, develop, and kill someone in just a few minutes, no matter how susceptible they are. During the trial, the obviously contagious humans aren't kept in quarantine but allowed to mingle with the uninfected. Not to mention that the humans are planning to seize control of a planet with its own intelligent occupants. After solving the problem by the end of episode 2, they return to the Ark hundreds of years later to discover that the Monoids have taken over. When they are sent down to scout out the new planet, they discover that the locals are invisible and immaterial and have formidable mental powers. Surprise! Everything turns out okay. 5/28/11

The Keys of Marinus (1964)

The fifth and one of the best of the first Doctor Who's adventures. He visits an island surrounded by acid which holds a device whose power could upset the galaxy. The keys to using the machine have been dispersed, but an alien invasion threatens to alter the status quo and the Doctor and his companions have to recover the scattered keys that can control the machine. The special effects are primitive but not bad given their minimal budget. Some of the dialogue seems to have been improvised and not always too well. "It's impossible in this temperature and besides it's too warm." The early Doctor wasn't as quick on the uptake and it's one of his companions who discovers that their first stop is all an illusion and rescues the whole party. Each place they visit has a different danger, of course, but they persevere as always. A little simpleminded at times, but then again, it was more consciously a children's program at the time.

On Stranger Tides (2011)

Since I enjoyed all three of the previous films in this franchise, I decided to see the new one in a theater. Johnny Depp is as good as always but I actually enjoyed Geoffrey Rush more this time around. Penelope Cruz also did a good job. They're off on a race to find the Fountain of Youth with Spaniards, English sailors, Blackbeard the Pirate, and others all in the running. The plot is really just a device to string together a number of action sequences, and they're generally quite good although I think this was the weakest entry in the series. It also seemed too dark but I understand that a lot of theaters aren't bothering to take the 3D lens off when they show regular movies and that this degrades the picture quality, so it might not be the movie that is to blame. There's one nice sword fight but I actually thought the stunts were less spectacular and inventive this time. That didn't stop me from having a very good time.  5/26/11

2012 (2010)

Most of the time what we really are interested in when we watch a disaster movie is the special effects, and that's the case here despite a pretty good cast. Neutrinos from the sun have "mutated" and are heating the Earth's core, destabilizing the crust. In less than three years, the entire human race might be wiped out. The government launches a secret program to save enough in gigantic arks to restart civilization and our heroes must travel across the world in the midst of chaos and sneak aboard one of them if they are to survive. They do so thanks to a series of incredible coincidences and their ability to outrun collapsing landscapes just in the nick of time.  None of this is very plausible but it does make interesting eye candy. The science is also pretty hokey. How could the Mayans have known about something that only happens every 650,000 years? I'm also pretty sure that a 1500 foot tidal wave is physically impossible; it would collapse under its own weight. And if the entire continent of Asia moved 1500 miles in a few hours, I think there would probably be some very obvious physical signs.  The best sequences are those early in the movie when the earthquake hits California.  Fun, but not plausible, and it's essentially a remake of When Worlds Collide. 5/24/11

Inception (2010)

What a surprise! An intelligent SF movie not based on a written work. The premise is shared dreaming. A team of experts drug people and enter their dreams, shaping them to reveal secrets that would be otherwise inaccessible. Except this time the trick is to plant an idea rather than steal one. The plot is actually too complicated to explain briefly, but it involves dreams within dreams, the different roles that team members play, the involuntary actions of the subconscious, a device that allows the members to waken back to actual reality, and the deep seated guilt of the protagonist - Leonardo DiCaprio - over the death of his wife. The cast does a fine job, the action sequences are exciting, and the visual effects are very impressive. There were some minor problems, chiefly that the rules seemed a bit inconsistent about who was actually the primary dreamer and who could generate "projections", dream characters who respond to the wishes of the dreamer in some fashion. There's even a mildly ambiguous ending. Nicely done, particularly the folding city. 5/21/11

Event Horizon (1997)

I shouldn't like this movie much at all. The plot involves an experimental starship that goes through a black hole to Hell, quite literally, then returns to trap a rescue team and kill them as well. I intensely dislike mixing the supernatural with SF and almost never like the results. The plot also hinges on various characters acting stupidly or out of character, or having their personalities instantly altered by the presence of the evil aboard the ship. I can enjoy possessions when it is clearly another personality replacing the original, or the gradual deterioration of a personality as in, for example, Stephen King's The Shining, but I just don't like it when it's like turning a switch. On the other hand, the cast is excellent - Sam Neill, Sean Pertwee, Lawrence Fishburne - and many of the visual effects are really nifty, particularly the experimental engine which involves three rotating magnetic rings.  So watch it for the fringe benefits and try not to get too disturbed by the not very interesting plot. 5/20/11

Predator 2 (1990)

I read once that the hero of this sequel was originally supposed to be the brother of Arnold Schwarzennegger's character from the first film, but casting Danny Glover sort of made that awkward. The setting is the near future and Los Angeles is a warzone between drug gangs and the police, one of whom is the troublesome Glover. When someone starts killing violent gang members and dismembering the bodies, he tries to investigate but is hampered by a government agent, Gary Busey, who knows that it's an alien and wants to capture it. Bad idea.  The chase across the rooftops is the high point of the movie. Not much story otherwise but Glover is a considerably deeper and more appealing character than Schwarzennegger and the movie is not bad at all.  5/16/11

Planet of the Spiders (1974)

Residents at a Tibetan enclave in England are using their meditation to draw upon an alien power they do not understand. The Doctor meanwhile is investigating a man who has genuine psychic powers. The meditators are stunned by the manifestation of an alien spider which takes control of one of their number. The spider's purpose is to seize a large gemstone which the Doctor possesses. There's an unusually lengthy chase sequence after the possessed man steals the stone involving a helicopter, cars, a boat, and a hovercraft. The spiders, naturally, plan to invade and conquer Earth. Sarah Jane Smith accidentally gets transported to the spider planet. There's a falling out among the spiders whose queen is not popular. The spiders are pretty simple models, not at all convincing, but then again, Doctor who effects rarely were in the 1970s. There are a few surprises in this one but not a lot of suspense. 5/15/11

Terror of the Autons (1971)

Jo Grant becomes the new companion of Doctor Who in this vintage episode, one of my favorites. The Master shows up on Earth and uses his mind control to seize a factory and begin manufacturing autons, intelligent and malevolent plastic creatures who can be fashioned in any form, even imitating familiar objects. The Brigadier fumbles his way through while the irascible Doctor - Jon Pertwee - foils the Master by anticipating his plan.  This was one of my favorite sequences and it holds up quite well. It's not particularly reliant on special effects so the low budget is not as much as a factor, and the autons' disguises are actually rather creepy.  One of the more intelligent scripts in the series. 5/14/11

Thor (2011)

It felt like a good day to watch a superhero movie. Thor was not one of my favorites but the reviews had been pretty good. It's an origin story, showing how Thor was first exiled to Earth, establishing the rivalry between him and his brother, showing us his love affair with Jane. The plot is fast moving, a bit too fast in fact. There's not much time to establish characters, which is done only sketchily, and Thor's acquisition of humility necessarily happens way too fast. The acting is competent but none of it really stands out. The special effects are impressive - although I still find that the 3D actually interferes rather than enhances things - and the sets tend to be underlighted, which works in Jotunheim but not in Asgard - or Earth for that matter. The fight scenes are a bit chaotic at times. Overall an enjoyable experience with some nice touches in the dialogue, but I won't be in any hurry to watch it a second time. 5/13/11

The Transporter (2002)

This was the first Jason Statham movie I ever watched and despite some mediocre performances by some of the supporting cast, it was a very pleasant surprise. He plays a professional driver whose clients are generally criminals, although he's on good terms with the local - French - police inspector. Then one of his clients tries to kill him and he becomes involved with a desperate young woman, a plot to illegally transport and sell Asians, and a veritable horde of bad guys. The martial arts scenes are reminiscent of Jackie Chan and sometimes clever and the car chase early in the movie is a classic. Statham plays the character very low key. There are some subtleties I missed the first time around, and of course everything looks better in high definition. 5/12/11

Birdemic (2010) 

This has got to be a joke. No one could possibly think this is a serious attempt to make a movie, a remake of The Birds, essentially.  It is almost certainly the worst movie I have ever seen – or half seen, I gave up about halfway through. It’s even on Blu-Ray, although the filming is so bad – fuzzy and occasionally washed out – that I don’t know why they bothered. Let’s take the sound, for example.  There’s frequent dropout; the sound just disappears.  When two people are talking, the ambient sound level drops when the camera switches from one face to the other.  The dialogue is laughably bad, and it seems at times that the actors didn’t know when to stop because they add nonsensical things, or repeat themselves to fill the silence. Several of the characters even walk and gesture unnaturally, as though they were reading cue cards. There is no transition between shots or scenes; it’s the visual equivalent of a scratched vinyl record. The editing and writing are not even good enough to call subpar. There are long scenes of driving in traffic, or gassing up, or prolonged shots of the fronts of buildings, that serve no purpose except to consume time, and it’s almost halfway through the movie when the killer birds finally show up to punish humanity for mistreating the environment.  It’s not even CGI; it’s more like crudely drawn overlays that don’t interact with the filmed picture. And when the birds fly, they make engine noises and drop bombs that turn into CGI explosions. And no one reacts because there are almost never any humans in the picture. I only watched as much as I did because I was stunned to immobility by the awfulness.  And get this – a sequel has just been released!  I have to run right out and not get it. 5/11/11

Avatar (2009) 

I finally got around to watching this. I knew enough about the plot to have some forebodings and I’m not crazy about this much CGI. I was never able to forget that I was watching a cartoon, a gorgeous and very sophisticated cartoon, but still just animated drawings. The plot, if you’re another foot dragger like me, is that a human corporation is ruthlessly exploiting the mineral wealth of a planet inhabited by “primitives” who are in tune with the life force of their world and resent intrusions. Our hero is one of a team who can project their consciousness into artificially grown alien bodies so that they can interact with the natives, who conveniently speak English much of the time. I have several problems with the plot, not the least of which is that it is so preachy. You would think that people would know by now that when you create straw men villains, it undercuts your argument. Not even the scientists who supposedly like the indigenes ever say a word about the company’s aggressive, murderous policies. The chief manager on the spot spends his time practicing putting and the head of the military unit reads like a Marvel comic character. A bad Marvel comics character. There are plot holes as well. As far as we know, there’s only a single tribe of indigenes on the entire planet until it's time for them to unite and expel the invaders. And if they’re so in tune with the living world, how can they not be aware of giant bulldozers and military escorts who march across the planet over the course of three months? At another point, an alien berates the hero for putting himself in jeopardy, which leads to the death of several predators. This, she tells us, means that creatures died unnecessarily.  But the predators would have taken other prey if he hadn’t shown up, so this is nonsense. The science is also pretty hokey. What holds the floating mountains up in the air? All of this notwithstanding, it’s a gorgeous movie to watch in high definition, although asking for at least $30 for a Blu-Ray dvd is outrageous. 5/10/11

Sharktopus (2010)

Obviously I knew this was going to be silly, badly acted, badly filmed, and would contain some of the worst special effects of all time, but sometimes you just have to watch a bad movie. This would have been a little easier to take if the camera had been in focus more often. It opens predictably with a bikini clad young woman going for a swim while a shark fin appears. Fortunately she can outswim the shark! Unfortunately for the shark, it can't outswim a genetically modified and computer controlled giant shark/octopus crossbreed. But later our hero outswims the Sharktopus! And then the creature outswims a speedboat. Maybe this is because the creature is different sizes in different shots. At one point it pulls down a yacht, but a few minutes later it struggles to pull down a single swimmer. And it never attacks the small boat that our heroes are in despite numerous opportunities. The scientists controlling it show film of the event - including film they couldn't possibly have because there were no cameras - to the military. Their dialogue - delivered in flat tones because obviously even the actors couldn't take this seriously - includes what is supposed to be a mock attack on an innocent boat.  There is an accident that kills the boaters and disables the control device on the creature, an obvious design flaw, and the creature is loose. The first attack has splashes of CGI blood which have magically disappeared in the very next shot. When the creature enters or leaves the water, the CGI is so bad that the waves and surface remain undisturbed. And civilians can't declare parts of the ocean restricted areas, particularly when they're in other countries. The recovery team wants to drug the creature and regain control, but their expedition only brings TWO darts. One problem with the movie is that the creature is rarely on screen, which means the viewer has to sit through a succession of silly dialogue, unscientific nonsense, bad acting, and mediocre photography. So even as a bad movie, it's pretty bad. 5/5/11

The Masque of Mandragora (1976)

Elizabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in this Doctor Who adventure, recently died so it seemed appropriate to watch this one. Tom Baker was the most popular Doctor, although I preferred Pertwee, and this is one of his average adventures. A time space phenomenon sends the Tardis to the Italian Renaissance where a mysterious force threatens to wipe out humanity prematurely. Again. The special effects are primitive even for Doctor Who and the swordfighting is just silly. Predictably, there is a brewing political conspiracy in Italy, with the young duke in danger from his wicked uncle and a nasty astrologer. Meanwhile Sarah Jane has been kidnapped by a cult which wants to sacrifice her to a pagan god. The good guys are a little less efficient in protecting themselves than usual, but the bad guys aren’t particularly brilliant either so it all works out. Watchable but a bit tedious at times. 5/1/11

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