Last Update 6/29/13

 

That 70s Show Season 1 (1998) 

I used to watch this intermittently when it was being broadcast and found it inconsistent – some dull episodes, some genuinely funny – but always good natured.  Although the show is mostly about the kids, Red is my favorite character playing Topher Grace’s father.  The first season is possibly the best, particularly the episodes involving the beer keg and the disco trip. Red has been laid off, Eric and his girlfriend are finally getting together, and his friend Kelso is being led around by the nose by his girlfriend, Jackie. I had never seen the one episode with Donna’s younger sister – who was conveniently forgotten right afterward. Eric gets his first job, makes out in a drive in, kisses a college girl, and survives other rites of adolescence. His father gets a new job as an appliance salesman. My favorite scene is the one in which Eric’s parents go to a fancy restaurant for the first time and don’t understand how a salad bar works. The episode about Jackie’s false pregnancy is also very good, as is the Star Wars spoof.  Note that either the episodes were televised out of order or the dvds switched them because the chronology between episodes doesn’t always work. 6/29/13

Brain Dead (1989) 

The cast of this odd little horror film includes Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, and Bud Cort. It’s a spoof although the humor is mild to nonexistent.  Pullman is a scientist who is pressured into operating on a paranoid with corporate secrets but things are not what they seem. Is he experiencing reality or is he the subject of yet another experiment? Although a lot of what follows is interesting, it is obvious early on that we’re never going to know what’s real and what isn’t, and that’s something I’ve never found entertaining in either books or movies. Not as bad as you might think, but not particularly good either. 6/28/13

Disturbing Behavior (1998)   

This has been sitting around in my to-be-viewed pile for a couple of years but for some reason I kept putting it aside. There’s something wrong in a small town. Some of the local students have murderous impulses and some of the police appear to be covering up their crimes. As usual the cast looks too old for their parts – 20-25 for most of the high school students.  The premise – that someone is changing the personalities of certain students making them unstable and violent – isn’t bad but the execution stinks. No one in town seems to notice missing and dead people, violent incidents in public in which the police fail to arrest the perpetrators, unsupervised school lunchrooms, etc.  Although I’ve never seen this before, it seemed awfully familiar. I suspect I’ve seen – and forgotten – something else with the same plot. Even one of the characters asks how it is that nobody realizes something is wrong, but she doesn’t get an answer. The last ten minutes of the movie are absurd. Almost worth watching. 6/28/13

Hologram Man (1995)   

A badly acted SF movie based on really stupid science and inane dialogue. Some of the actors have absolutely no tone in their lines. In the future, hardened criminals are sentenced to have their minds recorded on a computer and only appear – in court for example – as holograms. But somehow a glitch turns a hologram – which has no mass – into a superhuman who can walk through walls but interact with physical items at will. Which doesn’t even mention the impossibility of incorporating a personality into what is essentially only an image. The writers probably had no idea what a hologram was, or just didn’t care. They don’t understand how computers work either. The most secure computer system in the world has a five digit access code? Also, if a prisoner is unconscious while in stasis, how can he reform? Much of the movie consists of gun battles and explosions, most of which are unconvincing. Neither side takes cover but the bad guys don’t get shot until the hero shows up, killing one with almost every shot. As bad movies go it isn’t awful, but I can’t think of anything good to say about it except that it provided employment for a lot of pyrotechnics specialists. 6/26/13

Extinction (2010) 

It’s another zombie apocalypse, this one made in Germany. It does attempt to vary the formula a little, although once again it’s a plague that is responsible. But this plague mutates so there are different kinds of zombies, and they run rather than shamble. The color is washed out which may have been intentional, but it just looks cheap. Everything else looks low budget as well – very littler makeup, no real special effects, stock shots of empty streets, etc. The acting appears to be competent but largely understated. Some scenes are so dark that I couldn’t tell what was happening. The guy who was locked up with no food for sixteen days but who isn’t weak or thirsty when they find him strained credulity. Ultimately it just moves too slowly to be particularly interesting. 6/25/13

Beware! Children at Play (1989)   

A Troma film, which should tell you right away this was over the top horror, designed not to be taken seriously.  There’s not even an attempt at realism and the acting is, I suspect, deliberately awful. A young boy on a camping trip eats his father after the latter is caught in a trap, then grows up seducing other kids into a tribe of cannibals. At the end, adults discover what’s going on and there’s a long stretch of gory but not even remotely realistic death scenes as they slaughter the little darlings. The movie was designed to be offensive and succeeds, but it takes a long time sitting through the boring buildup before the payoff.  Not really recommended for anyone because the parts that are potentially funny are so brief that few people are likely to sit through the rest to find them. 6/24/13

Brain Twisters (1991)    

An unscrupulous scientist working on mind control experiments on some college students and turns them into killers in this rather toothless thriller. The murders are uninteresting and mostly off camera, most of the actors seem to be sleepwalking through their lines, the villainous scientist is dull, and the story proceeds to the end through inertia rather than any real power or purpose. Although produced in the 1990s, it feels like something that would have appeared on television rather than a theater. Recommended only if you’re having trouble sleeping. 6/23/13

Death Machine (1994) 

A near future arms manufacturer is working on weaponry that incorporates humans and machines. The new CEO decides to clean up the act and cancel the questionable projects but the man in charge of that division responds by programming a robot killer to track down and kill senior management. Sounds pretty typical but it’s actually quite good and includes a bunch of deliberate references to classic action films as well as some subtle but pervasive humor. Brad Dourif is particularly good in this one but the rest of the cast has nothing to be ashamed of. Nicely filmed and with lots of subtle little touches –the characters include Scott Ridley, Jack Dante, John Carpenter, and Sam Raimi. I’m surprised this isn’t better known but it may have been too subtle. 6/22/13

The Mind of Evil (1971) 

This was the last Jon Pertwee Doctor Who to appear on DVD.  An experimental machine designed to siphon off “evil” impulses from convicted criminals attracts the attention and ire of the Doctor, who sees it as a menace. Meanwhile there are problems at a nearby world peace conference, a prison break, and if that wasn’t enough, the Master is back to stir things up once more. The machine can under certain circumstances amplify the deepest fears of people and sometimes the results are fatal heart attacks.  The Master, meanwhile, is assassinating delegates to the peace conference and UNIT is about to move a deadly missile filled with poison gas. This time, however, the Master may have miscalculated badly. A more than usually complex plot though it does seem to go on a bit too long. 6/20/13

Innocent Blood  (1993) 

I ordinarily don’t like benevolent vampires, or mixtures of horror and comedy, but Anne Parillaud is great in this tale of a female vampire who dines by preference on evil people, and the screenplay is lively and clever (it was alas the only one Michael Wolk has ever written).  Although she ordinarily kills her prey, Robert Loggia escapes after being bitten and begins to transform, transforming Don Rickles in my favorite of his roles. She gets tied up with an undercover cop after picking off one of his cohorts, despite her reservations. “My first rule; never play with the food.”  Loggia is assumed dead after the attack, but revives in the morgue, initially unaware that he is a vampire. There’s a great scene where our hero handcuffs the vampire to the bed so they can have sex without him worrying, and when they’re done she casually snaps them. The entire cast is excellent, the soundtrack is nice, the camera work is spiffy, and the production values are way above average.  One of my favorites. 6/20/13

The Day Time Ended (1980)    

A really murky definition of how time works introduces us to a family who are visited by aliens, after which they and their house are transported back to the age of dinosaurs. There’s a decent cast – Jim Davis in his last major role, Dorothy Malone – but the bad dialogue and wandering plot lines are just too much to overcome. Most of the early incidents are random and never explained, and the characters react to various clearly extraordinary situations as though they happened every day.  The aliens take a variety of silly forms from claymation to cartoonish. There appear to be two factions but it’s all pretty obscure. Strangeness for its own sake is rarely entertaining. 6/19/13

Scrubs Season 1 

I’d never seen an episode of this before although I had a good idea what it was like. I had mixed feelings about the first few episodes – although the fourth is quite good despite being much more serious in tone. There are occasional good jokes but a lot of them are silly and repetitive. Not entirely surprisingly I found the supporting cast much funnier and more interesting than the three main characters, all young interns.  As I had half expected, the middle season episodes are better, with the characters growing into the roles, although I still found the lapses into serious drama better than the humor. Then the final third of the season gets much funnier and the humor is better than the drama. I suspect the writers spent the year trying to figure out what to do with the show and tried various strategies.  Good enough to watch season 2. 6/18/13

Strange Invaders (1983)    

A not entirely serious movie about a town that is invaded by aliens in the 1950s. Paul Lemat visits his ex-wife’s home town and discovers not only that no one admits knowing her but that the town has frozen socially ever since the invasion. The aliens turn up quite soon and chase him out of town, where naturally no one believes him except for Nancy Allen, who is also on the run before long. It turns out the ex-wife was an alien and they want to take the child when they leave Earth, resulting in chases, captures, and escapes, much of it tongue in cheek. It’s not a major movie but the supporting cast is great, the script is good, and overall it’s a lot of fun. 6/17/13

Paranoia (1998) 

The protagonist is a woman who was the only survivor when a serial killer murdered her family. The trauma has had lasting effects – she rarely interacts with people and lives in a dark apartment. Then she is contacted via the internet by the killer, who is about to be released from confinement. In order for this to work, you have to assume that the place where the killer is incarcerated would allow him complete access to the internet, unmonitored, a cigarette lighter in his cell, and other liberties which I found implausible. The writers didn’t understand how computers work either. Also, release dates for prisoners are not confidential information. The response when she tries to report the contact is also nonsense. Despite what should be a suspenseful situation, the first half of the movie is emotionally flat.  The psychiatrist treating the protagonist at one point gives a list of imaginary things that bother us – but they’re all real, not imaginary. Larry Drake does a good job being the creepy killer, but he’s not good enough to save a mediocre story badly delivered. It does have a couple of nice twists at the end. 6/16/13

R.O.T.O.R. (1988)  

An experimental police robot runs amuck in this one, exacting excessive and deadly punishments for minor infractions. The set up for this gives “ludicrous” new meaning. The human characters don’t seem capable of agreeing what it is, what it can do, or how ready it is to operate. A prisoner is told to answer a question “unofficially, for the record”. Huh?  This was apparently meant to be funny but isn’t smart enough to be funny or realistic enough to be serious. The soundtrack actually has some good songs in it, but they’re completely inappropriate to what’s happening on the screen. There are long digressions for no particular purpose, like a man on a horse riding the range and removing a stump. The protagonist apparently was so bad that they removed all his lines and hired someone else to do a voiceover. There are also long stretches in which we see people driving, apparently just to consume time. 6/15/13

The Puppet Masters (1995)   802 

When I first saw this movie I hadn’t read the Heinlein novel in decades. Since I just reread it, I thought I’d watch again and see how close it came. The opening scene was not promising. Instead of a flying saucer landing, there is some kind of weird and unexplained visual phenomenon that brings the invading parasites to Earth. After that, it hews much more closely in setting up the three main characters, all agents of the government looking into the situation.  Heinlein’s chauvinism is missing; in fact the female lead calls out the hero for checking her out.  The aliens are quite well done.  Although some of the details differ, for the most part they stay pretty close to the novel, adjusting notably for technological advances since the 1950s, although the military incursion is just as badly designed as in the book. There are also inconsistencies about the effects of removing a parasite. An agent has one for a few hours, and commits suicide when his parasite is removed. The female lead has one for days, and recovers fully in a few seconds.  Obviously given its present day status – the novel was in the future – a Venusian disease can’t provide the solution, but it’s basically the same. They did, however, leave out the part about everyone going shirtless. Enjoyable. I think Heinlein would have been happy with it. 6/14/13

Replikator (1994)   

This near future mess conflates matter duplication with cloning and gets both of them wrong, wrapped up in doubletalk like “the problem is in the peripheral software” and other such nonsense. The decent but unremarkable cast struggles to make this all seem realistic, but the odds are stacked against them. The plot gets going when a hit squad from one corporation raids a lab, frames the lab chief, and then sends a clone of the persecuted man to kill him, all set in a world where sunlight has somehow become fatal. The plot is actually much more confusing than this, sometimes defying description as well as comprehension. Badly photographed and edited on top of all of its inherent problems. Watchable but so visually uninteresting that it made my eyes hurt. 6/13/13

The Giant of Metropolis (1961)  

An Italian fantasy movie set in Atlantis. Superman does not appear despite the title. Although this is essentially just another sword and sandal epic, the Atlanteans have enough mechanical science that it has a kind of Flash Gordon aura superimposed upon it. The hero is a barbarian who ventures into the forbidden land, defeats a handful of unconvincing monsters, wins the love the daughter of the Atlantean ruler, and eventually finds his destiny. Although this actually ventures well outside the usual parameters of films of this type, the bad dubbed dialogue and poor production values rob it of any chance of being memorable. 6/12/13

Star Pilot (1967) 

A cheapie Italian bit about aliens who visit Earth and kidnap some people from the island of Sardinia – including two Asian foreign agents – and go off to the stars. The dialogue is asinine and there are jumps in the plot that had me scratching my head. At one point a group of humans hear an ominous growling sound, and then suddenly we’re watching them sitting at a table eating dinner. Some of the scenes looked awfully familiar so I checked and, sure enough, they’re borrowed from other movies including a Japanese monster film. The female lead changes costumes every sixty seconds and most of them are so outlandish that they distract the viewer from the story line, such as it is. The secret agents believe that the archaeologists are building a secret weapon.  A deadly shovel?  The spaceship that takes them away was buried by a volcanic eruption and the crew has been in hibernation for two years, which makes no sense. 6.11.13

Future Shock (1993)   

This movie consists of three stories loosely woven together in a frame. The first and longest has Vivian Schilling as a paranoid alone in her house. The dialogue is a bit clunky, but there isn’t any for a good portion of the story, much of which is a dream sequence.  The second is the tenant from hell and it’s okay with Bill Paxton as the bully. The third is pretty good. The protagonist becomes obsessed with the possibility of accidental death.  Overall, moderately entertaining though not particularly memorable. 6/10/13

Doctor Who Series 7 Part Two (2012) 

I was watching the first episode of this set just as I learned that Matt Smith is leaving the series at the end of the current year, which frankly doesn’t upset me particularly. He’s too frenetic for my taste. The second half of last season opens with “The Bells of Saint John”, which has a really stupid premise – that beings can inhabit your computer if you click on their link and then steal your soul and put it on the internet. This is direct-to-video type writing and it’s crap filled with physical impossibilities and a lack of understanding of how computers work. Although I rather liked the new companion, this is a terrible episode. Among other things, the Doctor’s solution contradicts the premise of the whole problem. Hint to screenwriters: I don’t like incoherent plots and I don’t like cheats.  “The Rings of Akhaten” is somewhat better but still disorganized and hard to follow, particularly since some of the characters including the Doctor act illogically at times. Oddly enough, the first one moved too fast, this one drags. Then the Doctor turns into a superhero and the sonic screwdriver becomes his superweapon. Really awful ending as well. 

“Cold War” also starts badly with a Russian sailor aboard a submarine deliberately thawing out a frozen creature despite orders to the contrary. It gets a little better after that. The creature is an Ice Warrior, an old opponent, who gets loose on the sub which is armed with nuclear missiles. Mediodre, but compared to the first two it seemed much better than it probably was.  “Hide” is also okay, a ghost story in which the ghost is a stranded time traveler. There’s some effort to actually develop characters in this one, although it doesn’t entirely succeed, in large part because of the illogical doubletalk about pocket universes. “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis” is another loser. To start with we have to assume that all of the Tardis’ systems can be neutralized by a magnetic beam from a salvage ship, and then we have to assume that the Doctor would offer to give the ship the Tardis as salvage. I’ll take tin can Daleks and bad special effects any time rather than this inane nonsense. The whole plot makes no sense. The Doctor and three salvagers have to find Clara lost somewhere in the ship because the whole atmosphere is toxic – except that they discard their masks a minute after boarding. The salvagers also understand most of the equipment on the Tardis. There’s also a character who thinks he’s an android, but he’s human. The Doctor fakes a self destruct sequence that turns out to be real. I think this was the worst episode I’ve ever seen of this series. 

“The Crimson Horror” is one of the better episodes. In Victorian London, there’s a plot to precipitate Armageddon with an airborn parasite. I wish they hadn’t turned the Sontaran into the comic relief though. The Doctor runs into some surviving Cybermen in “Nightmare in Silver”, which isn’t a bad episode despite the utter nonsense about blowing up a galaxy. There are two kids with the Doctor and Clara this time, and for no good reason the Doctor leaves them unsupervised in an abandoned amusement park where three inert Cybermen turn out to be less than inert. The Cybermen have also changed nature – they can move faster than sight and are immune to high powered weapons. “The Name of the Doctor” is another one of those with lots of high sounding ideas. The Doctor is lured to his own grave where the Great Intelligence infiltrates his past, erasing his existence from the universe until Clara does the same thing in order to restore him. Doubletalk solution with an interesting surprise I won’t spoil here at the very end. Overall, however, this is the weakest season in the history of the show. 6/9/13

Zombie Hell House (1981)  

This is a repackaged version of The House by the Cemetery, an Italian film that was apparently banned in the UK.  Two children have strange and violent visions of decapitation and other lovely concepts. The kids apparently can communicate telepathically and the girl warns the boy not to let his family move to her town, which of course he can’t prevent. The parents experience strange sounds in their house and investigate the death of a mysterious professor Freudstein. It might have been scarier in Italian but apparently it was filmed in English, and then dubbed in English over the original dialogue.  The result is that I often think a scene should have been creepy, but for some reason it isn’t – and the silly gore effects don’t help much. There also seem to be gaps in the narration, although this might be partly the dubbing. There’s also a locked cellar that provides one fairly suspenseful scene. 6/8/13

Alien Prey (1978)   

Another bad movie that almost had a good idea. An alien kills and impersonates a human man, then joins the household of two gay women whose own nature is so weird that they don’t realize their new friend isn’t human. It turns out he’s on Earth looking for a new source of protein for his race. The production values are awful, acting, script, plot, special effects, soundtrack, and the gore effects are so over the top and unrealistic that they are funny rather than frightening. One of those movies that leaves you scratching your head wondering whatever they might have been thinking when they made it. 6/7/13

Battle Earth (2012)   

Oh, is this ever bad. The first few minutes are so annoyingly bad that I almost stopped at the four minute mark. Clue to screenwriters. Immerse an M16 in water for long periods of time, then rise up and fire them, and if they fire at all they’re likely to blow up in your face. This half assed combat scene is accompanied by a pop psych relaxation tape overlay with a young woman spouting inanities. And it goes on forever! Actually only seven minutes, but that’s about 6.5 too long. Turns out this is all a dream sequence, which makes it even worse. On the other hand, once the dialogue starts it’s even worse so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. The news story says that “alien meteors” have hit the Earth. All meteors are alien. And no news service would suggest that meteors from outer space are part of a terrorist attack.  This one proves that there are Canadians just as lacking in talent as the local ones.  Made on a budget probably equal to an average teenager’s annual allowance, this features virtually no special effects – and most of those are CGI – and the worst realized aliens I’ve seen since the 1950s. The dvd doesn’t even have scene selection. Abysmal. 6/6/13

Monster High (1989) 

A monster movie spoof but not a particularly funny one. The jokes – particularly during the opening sequences – are juvenile and not remotely funny. Two cornball aliens steal a doomsday device and take it to Earth where another, this one named Mr. Armageddon, seeks to recover it. He has several allies including an animated statue, an ambulatory planet, and others but the local  high school kids rise to the task. There are allusions to Star Trek and other television shows, none of them particularly clever. A bunch of actors much too old for the characters they are attempting to play stumble through bad lines, deliberately awful special effects, and a stupid plot that never comes even close to being witty or funny. It’s hard to believe adults actually spent the time to make this mess. 6/5/13

Hatchet for a Honeymoon (1970)   

An Italian horror film about a suave businessman who kills women for a hobby.  Despite the usual problems of picture and sound quality, acting, bad dubbing, and so forth, there are actually individual scenes that are very effective, although there really isn’t any suspense and not even much of a story line. I suspect this was better in the original Italian because it has some striking visuals and even attempts – though not successfully – to avoid the usual clichés. One of those movies that isn’t quite awful but isn’t really very good either, and only entertains if you’re in the right mood at the time.

 6/4/13Grimm Season 1 (2012)  

I was only vaguely aware of this program’s existence until I saw the DVD set and decided to give it a try. Despite the claims that it resembles Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it feels more like urban fantasy, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The pilot episode is pretty good. The premise is that the protagonist is the last descendant of the Grimm family, which battles fairy tale style monsters hiding among the human population. Our hero is a police officer who is unaware of this until he starts seeing people briefly change appearance and until the arrival of his aunt, who starts to tell him the story until an attack leaves her in a coma. Not all the creatures are bad and in this case a reformed Big Bad Wolf helps him rescue a kidnapped child – in a red hood – from an unreformed one.  He becomes a kind of sidekick for the rest of the series. Next are human bees, followed by a satyr who abducts women. “Three Bad Wolves” and “Game Ogre” were both very good. Although there’s a bit of monster-of-the-week formula, the back story progresses a bit and there’s enough creativity to avoid drifting into monotony. Some of the stories are essentially police procedurals and the fantasy element is inconsequential, as in the quite good “Organ Grinder”, which deals with the murder of homeless people for their organs. The episode about fire breathing dragons is also above average for the show. Although there is some repetition – not uncommon in a police procedural – the variations on interesting and the back stories are mostly engaging, although the tension with his girlfriend is artificial. Why doesn’t he just tell her the truth? Looking forward to season 2. 6/3/13

Quicksilver Highway (1997)

Two short films, from stories by Stephen King and Clive Barker. The former’s story is “Chattery Teeth” about a traveling salesman who picks up a weird hitchhiker. The movie opens with a bride stranded in the desert while her husband supposedly has gone for help. Christopher Lloyd shows up with a trailer – which is much bigger on the inside than on the outside – and offers to keep her company until her husband returns. He tells her the two main stories. The story of a homicidal hitchhiker killed by a toy might have sounded like a good idea when the script was being written but it doesn’t translate well to the screen. The frame story isn’t great either. Among other things, Lloyd’s character says the story is true, but there’s no way that he could have known it if that was the case. Matt Frewer helps with “The Body Politic”, but it’s still not that great. He’s a cosmetic surgeon whose hands begin to rebel against his mind. Frewer’s performance is the only reason this is worth watching. 6/2/13

Parker (2013) 

Parker (Jason Statham) is a professional criminal with ethics and he’s not happy when his partners leave him for dead after a successful job. He tracks them down to Palm Beach where they are planning a major jewelry heist, intending to kill them and take their loot as compensation for what he lost. Along the way he picks up Jennifer Lopez as an accomplice, outwits them as well as a professional hitman and the police, gets banged up a lot, and does not end up with Lopez but with his long standing girlfriend. In fact, Lopez’s entire part could have been left out of the movie without changing the story more than slightly and I assume she was added to give a female name to the advertising, though she does a decent job in the nothing role. Enjoyable as an action film, but not as good as Statham’s best work. 6/1/13

Star Knight (1986)    

Although this starts out as a fantasy, the dragon and such are later rationalized. The dragon is in fact an alien spaceship and the princess who is kidnapped doesn’t necessarily want to be rescued. A fairly good cast – Klaus Kinski, Fernando Rey, Harvey Keitel – can’t do much to help this turkey but at least they make it watchable. The setting is some undefined place in Medieval Europe, not very well rendered. The production is Spanish and the dubbing is terrible. The spaceship is mildly interesting; its alien occupant is not although a local princess falls in love with him. Another one that becomes boring early on and never gathers any steam. 5/31/13

Scream Dream (1989) 

The picture quality on this DVD is the worst I’ve ever seen - and it's not a bootleg - but even if it had been crystal clear I wouldn’t have finished watching it. The opening sequence has a woman being cut in half with a chainsaw, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, isn’t even mentioned after the opening credits. The story is about a demonically possessed rock singer who gets killed, but her replacement becomes the next host and the carnage continues. There is no acting, not even bad acting, just people reading lines.  I gave up at about forty minutes. 5/30/13

Sherlock Season Two (2012)  

Season 2 started with “A Scandal in Belgravia”, which also introduces Irene Adler. It’s a convoluted story with lots of twists but never so complex that it can’t be followed.  Probably the best in the series. “Hounds of the Baskervilles” is similarly convoluted, but I figured out what was going on early which drained some of the mystery out of it. A man has memories of a giant dog killing his father, but is it real or just a fantasy. Still pretty good. The final episode was “The Reichenbach Fall,” which as you likely know is a reference to the place where Holmes and Moriarty fell to their apparent death, although Doyle brought Sherlock back, and so did the television show. Actually, my only real dislike in the series is Moriarty, who is presented as a manic nut rather than a careful, brilliant plotter. This was also the only episode I considered badly written. Moriarty’s plot is so transparent that even Lestrade should have seen through it, let alone Watson. Nor could they get a warrant for his arrest based on a child’s scream. The whole plot just becomes totally unbelievable. Nor is there one computer key that can break into every security system in the world, and even though it turns out to be a fake, anyone in authority would already have known that. And creating the records indicating that Moriarty is actually someone else will not hold up if no one remembers it. Terrible way to end the season. 5/29/13

Abbott & Costello’s Funniest Moments 

This is a two disc compilation of routines from the television show, although most of the material also appears in their movies. There are lots of classic bits on the first disc including the Mother routine, the magic trick, Niagara Falls, the Shell Game, and Who’s on First? The second disc isn’t quite as good, but it’s still funny. Since these are live performances, there are flubs and prop problems that are sometimes funnier than the material. Costello can say more with a look than many comedians say in their entire act. I hadn’t realized how many of their routines are based on puns or other wordplay rather than actual jokes.  5/28/13

Slipstream (1989)  

Mark Hamill didn’t help his career with this badly conceived film set in a post-ecological collapse America. A bounty hunter steals a fugitive from two policemen who then try to take the prisoner back. Supposedly the world is undergoing unprecedented high winds – hence the title – but there’s little evidence of it. Bill Paxton is also wasted as the bounty hunter. Some of the performances are actually pretty good – particularly the prisoner – but the material is not worthy of the effort. The entire movie takes place in a wasteland and we never learn what happened to the cities, or the rest of the world. The plot wanders rather than progresses. Mostly it’s just a waste of time. 5/27/13

Scary Movie 5 soundtrack composed by James L. Venable, Lakeshore, 2013

Apparently there's a fifth movie in the franchise; this is the first I'd heard of it. With a couple of brief exceptions, you can't tell this isn't a soundtrack for a straight suspense film. Lots of surprising rushes of sound amidst the usual low grumbling. Most of it seems well suited for a soundtrack, but only a few of the cuts are consistently interesting enough to stand on their own. "To the Ballet" and "Cameras Up!" are two exceptions, both quite nice and very different,  quiet and mysterious in the first case and much more uptempo in the second. "Perhaps We Should Try to Be Psychic" is the only one that really doesn't work at all as listening music. "Dreams Within Dreams" and "The Video Chat" are also pretty good, as are "The Grand Finale" and "The Final Triumph."  This one's about average for soundtracks with a few nice pieces and a lot of well crafted but more sharply focused ones. 5/26/13

Star Trek into Darkness (2013) 

Spoiler alert. First of all, it’s a stupid title with nothing to do with the movie. That said, this was a superficially okay addition to the Trek series, although the plot has been done before and there were too many explosions. The cast all do a fine job with the material they were given. Apparently a renegade Starfleet officer has begun a lone war against Starfleet (in a scene stolen from the Godfather movies) and Kirk and crew are sent to hunt him down on the Klingon homeworld. A lot of this makes no sense. If there is such a thing as a portable transporter that can take you from Earth to Klingon space instantly, why bother building starships? And how can starships travel from Earth to Klingon space and back within a single day make any sense in this context - to say nothing of a five year mission that would have to be extra-galactic to make any sense. The opening premise which briefly deprives Kirk of his command is based on another bastardization of the Prime Directive that it is wrong to intervene in the culture of a developing race even if the alternative is to let them die when a supervolcano destroys their world. Volcanoes that destroy an entire planet are not natural incidents in a culture's development. This is a fatuous concept that made me stop watching Voyager.  And how does an asteroid in the Klingon home system have Earth gravity and a breathable atmosphere? And how did Starfleet NOT notice that seventy prisoners had been spirited away, prisoners supposedly under high security? And how can you remove most of the contents of a torpedo to make room for a body and a cryochamber and still have them function as torpedoes?  And how does a super-starship get built in a massive secret installation and only one Starfleet officer knows about it?  The worst script of any Trek movie I can remember. 5/26/13

May 27 Addendum:

I realized late last night that Star Trek into Darkness has the same plot as Abrams' earlier Super 8. In both a respected military figure is secretly evil, has imprisoned a superhuman in order to obtain military secrets, and the prisoner escapes determined to recover the fragments of his ship/members of his crew. In both cases a group of comparative youngsters has to deal with the consequences of the conflict between evil human and amoral inhuman. In each, a respected father figure - teacher/former captain - dies to add poignancy. In both cases, the protagonist's romantic interest was raised by her father without a mother, and the father disapproves of their relationship. The superhuman lives in both films but the human villain dies. Both films feature characters whom we believe to have died, who turn out to be alive after all.

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002)  

Not to be confused with Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. Apparently Toho Studios isn’t big on titles. This is the most recent movie in the series, not counting the US attempt.  There are now multiple godzillas, allowing the Japanese to actually kill one of them in a movie, only to be replaced by another in the next. This time they use DNA from a dead Godzilla to make a new Mechagodzilla, an android rather than a robot. More cute kids, a standard ploy in the series. The subtitles this time are unusually bad, or the original dialogue, I suppose. The new robot, called Kiryu, has a weapon that shoots low temperature light, whatever that is. Unfortunately, the DNA part of the giant android goes crazy at times and starts blowing up buildings. Eventually they duke it out. The effects are quite good but the story is as silly as ever. 5/25/13

Sherlock Season One (2011) 

The first season of a contemporary version of Sherlock Holmes consists of three longish episodes, starting with “A Study in Pink”. Three people apparently commit suicide using the same poison in a short period of time and Inspector Lestrade suspects there is a link, although he has no idea where to find it. Watson, who meets Holmes in this episode, is a recently disabled soldier trying to decide what shape his life will take.  The chemistry between the two works very well and the dialogue is crisp. The editing is so tight that it commands your complete attention.  I was ahead of Sherlock in figuring out who the killer was but I had no idea of the method.  I liked this a lot. “The Blind Banker” is just as good. Two men are murdered in locked rooms after being exposed to an odd cipher, which is eventually linked to a woman who restores Chinese antiquities and a small shop in the Chinese district. Although the story in “The Great Game” is just as good, the script and editing aren’t up to the previous two episodes. A murderer lures Sherlock into an elaborate series of puzzles. It ends with a cliffhanger. Season 2 looks appetizing. 5/24/13

Music from the Films of Ridley Scott, BSX Records, 2013

A collection of excerpts from soundtracks of a variety of movies, about half of which I've seen. The SF and fantasy films Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner, and Legend were the most familiar, obviously. They were not my favorite selections, however. I actually preferred the themes from The Duellists, Black Rain, 1492, and Robin Hood. All of the music involves a full orchestra, occasionally with vocalists, and they share a kind of generic theatrical quality that I actually found a bit monotonous. Individually, however, they are all pretty good listening except for the two tracks drawn from Hannibal, neither of which I cared for at all. I'm not sure how much the similarity in styles has to do with Scott's taste in music although I imagine that's a contributing factor. 5/23/13

Footprints on the Moon (1974)

An Italian quasi-SF thriller also known as Primal Impulse. A woman wakens with partial amnesia and a picture of a town she has never seen before. She visits the town, where many of the residents seem to know her, but nothing rings a bell. She is also experiencing strange dreams about men landing on the moon. She descends into paranoia as the plot becomes increasingly surrealistic and bizarre. In her dream, an astronaut is abandoned by his crewmates on the moon, possibly from a movie. It becomes obvious fairly soon that she’s not playing with a full deck, possibly because she is the subject of an enigmatic scientific experiment. Ambiguous, puzzling, decently dubbed, but ultimately too slow and unfocused to be really good. 5/23/13

She-Wolf of London (1990) 

This was originally a British-American cooperative effort, set in England, featuring a woman who has been bitten by a werewolf, wants a cure, and encounters a number of creatures during her quest. The British backers withdrew and it was transplanted to California, renamed Love and Curses, and deteriorated so quickly that it only lasted another six episodes.  The first episode, presumably the pilot, is rather slow moving and I’m surprised it was picked up at all. This is where she is attacked by something she assumes is a wild dog, but recovers from superficial wounds. For some reason, the original werewolf can change not on a full moon and in the light of day, but he gets killed in the first episode so it doesn’t matter. Traditionally, she’d be free of the curse now, but that would make a very short tv series. The monster of the week pattern starts up promptly with a murderous bog man in the second episode. But episode three switches from serious to a farce about a werewolf in an insane asylum, which undercuts the show’s premise. It’s also terrible. You can get away with a spoof episode so long as you don’t compromise your characters, but they do.  The next is about Satanists and it’s a confusing mess almost impossible to follow and the monsters are corny.  Sudden extreme ageing is next, and they’re back to not taking anything seriously. The succubi are more of a joke than a menace. The protagonists are idiots that don’t take even rudimentary precautions. Terrible episode.  It gets worse. The next one is about a bookstore owner whose books can turn people into characters from them, with murderous consequences, which might have been clever but comes across as silly, although her transformation in an airliner restroom is actually quite funny. The problem is that when we’re supposed to take something seriously, it’s impossible to do so. This was followed by a two parter about animated corpses and such and it was so bad that I stopped here. Life is too short. 5/22/13

Fortunes of Captain Blood (1950)

Captain Pirate (1952) 

Louis Hayward plays the Rafael Sabatini character in these two pirate stories drawn from the several shorter sequels to the original novel. The first opens with the capture of several of Blood’s men by the Spanish, who are determined to rid the sea of the Irish pirate. Patricia Medina (who is quite good but at 32 much too old for the part) is his love interest – in both films – the daughter of a Spanish aristocrat. Blood plans to free them, gets involved with an Englishman of dubious loyalty, meets his true love, and eventually outwits the Spanish and rescues his men. The plot gets pretty complex but the good guys get away in time for an exciting sea battle to end the movie. There are signs of economies of Hollywood scale. A forty gun ship would have a crew of 150-200 so having a dozen or so leave the ship would not make them vulnerable to capture by a dozen pirates – who would not have been able to man their own 12 gun ship as a matter of fact. At the beginning of the second film, Blood has retired but he’s framed for piracy and has to return to sea. The script this time is pretty bad. It is clearly impossible for Blood to have been at sea at the time he supposedly raided Cartagena and even the corrupt authorities would not have believed the story. The trick Blood uses at the end is quite clever though. Oddly, they use clips from the first film as flashbacks, but with an entirely different interpretation of events. 5/21/13

Battle Beyond the Sun (1959)  

A Russian SF film about a space race to Mars between two post-apocalyptic alliances. Roger Corman re-edited this and added new material and apparently less than half of the original film survived. Apparently there were no aliens until Corman added them. The dubbing is awful, of course, but the original dialogue isn’t much better.  Some of the special effects are decent for the period but none are particularly noteworthy. The colorized version I watched probably makes them look cheaper than they did with no color. The ship from the bad nation gets into trouble so the crew has to be rescued by the good ship. Lots of bogus science talk. They use up too much of their fuel during the rescue, so they are forced to land on a Martian moon – one they invented for the movie rather than the real ones – which they also call a planet. The moon has monsters, rather silly ones. “The planet does absorb the sun’s rays.” “Then life must exist there.”  The Russian version was probably better. It could hardly have been much worse. 5/20/13

Prisoners of the Lost Universe (1983) 

Star Odyssey (1979) 

I picked this up because the first title has Kay Lenz in it, and I always liked her, although this isn’t her finest hour. One of her movies, Headhunter, has been near the top of my want list for years. A matter transmitter of some sort transports three people into a barbaric alternate universe where they run into trouble with the local warlord. This must have been filmed outside the US because even though it’s supposed to be California, the steering wheels are on the wrong side.  Lenz plays her character as feisty, smart, and adventurous, and if there’s any real value in the movie it’s her performance because the script is full of would be but not very funny jokes.  Richard Hatch is stranded in the alternate world for over a week and still doesn’t need a shave. Mild fun. The second title is Italian, which I could tell as soon as I heard the theme music. An alien ship shows up and attacks the probe sent by human defenders amidst some of the worst scientific doubletalk I’ve ever heard. “Man meets an alien race at last and greets them by disintegrating their vessel.” But the aliens destroyed a human ship, not vice versa! The aliens on human although we’re told they are androids. There’s stock footage of explosions as the ship attacks Earth. London, Adelaide, and Ankara have been destroyed but the authorities are keeping the news under wraps! There’s a crank professor who will only cooperate with an actor who plays a space adventurer on television, an unknown element that is the key to everything, and a ripoff of R2D2.  The dubbing is awkward even when it makes sense. Not even remotely interesting. 5/19/13

Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000)    

In an attempt to beat off the latest attack by Godzilla, the Japanese uses a new weapon that generates black holes. That leads to the creation of smaller, water related monsters that feed on energy. More cute kids to annoy us, a woman embittered by one of Godzilla’s previous attacks, new weaponry, and new critters to complicate the plot. Early on the smaller monsters provide more of a horror film aspect as they kill isolated people rather than knocking down buildings. Eventually there’s a horde of them just as the latest attempt to destroy Godzilla is about to get underway. Naturally all the little creatures congeal into one big one for the final battle. The special effects – particularly the destroyed buildings – look extremely fake in this one. 5/18/13

Dragon Wasps (2012)  

Mutant wasps develop organic flame throwers. How could I not watch this movie?  Insects don’t have adrenaline or blood, and drones are not both sexes. For some reason, the US army is in charge of the jungles in South America, and they don’t have to wear regulation uniforms or conform to grooming rules. They also fire automatic weapons repeatedly even though they don’t have an ammunition clip inserted.  The wasps are even more fake looking from a distance than from up close. The army group has no radio to communicate with so they rely on the local drug lords and witch doctors for medicine and ammunition, and some of the locals are cannibals to boot.  The acting is leaden. The dialogue is worse. It’s hard to believe that Sy Fy Channel movies can be so consistently bad without a conscious effort. Most of the movie involves the conflict between the two groups of humans rather than the bugs, and most of it makes as little sense as the science. The female lead doesn’t know she’s carrying cocaine – she thinks it’s C4 – but  then she says that the adrenal gland she’s carrying isn’t detectible because she surrounded it with cocaine to prevent the smell from getting out. It could have been worse, but I’m not sure how.  5/17/13

Secret Agent/Danger Man Set 6 (1965)   

Drake is back for nine adventures, two of them in color. “I Can Only Offer You Sherry” has Drake coming to the aid to an embassy official who is being harassed by parties unknown. “The Hunting Party” is a very good episode with Drake posing as a butler in order to uncover an espionage ring.  He’s framed for an attempted assassination in “Two Birds with One Bullet”.  The sequence in which Drake’s car is out of control because of cut brake lines is unconvincing; there is more than one point where he could have driven into a field and to a safe stop. The accidental death of a secret agent is anything but in “I’m Afraid You Have the Wrong Number”, one of the better episodes. He has to recover some missing documents in “The Paper Chase” and becomes entangled with a not entirely competent rival agent while vacationing in “The Man With the Foot”, both solid episodes and the second quite funny.  “The Not So Jolly Roger” is a rather weak story about espionage at a pirate radio station. The last two episodes, a two parter, are the only ones in color. Drake goes to Japan to investigate the murder of an agent who has stumbled upon an international assassination ring. The Kabuki sequence is very well done.  Overall a very good series with occasional moments of brilliance. 5/16/13

Mission Stardust (1968)   

As far as I know this was the only attempt to bring the Perry Rhodan series – a long lived German SF magazine serial – to the screen. It’s a German production badly dubbed. Perry Rhodan is commander of an expedition that travels to the moon where they discover and agree to  help an alien woman who hopes to save her companion, who has developed leukemia after their spaceship crashed. There’s also an evil businessman who wants to exploit their technology. The special effects sounds are unusually dumb in this one, and they’re not much better visually. Why would the moon have a pink sky? The romance is embarrassingly bad.  They land on Earth in a remote location to avoid attracting attention, and then perform any number of wonder of scientific wonders including crystallizing a mountain range in full view of a military unit. This draws from the first 3 books so they still have a couple of thousand sequels they could do.  Or not.  Hopefully not. 5/15/13

The Girl from Rio (1969) 

Also known as Rio 70, The Seven Secrets of Sumuru, and Future Women, this is loosely based on Sax Rohmer’s female version of Fu Manchu, Sumuru, who leads a group of militant from her secret base in Brazil in a bid to take over the world. An outsider plans to free one of their prisoners and a rival gang hopes to destroy them. They all run around and involve themselves in some of the worst choreographed fight scenes of all time, with a handful of explosions and other distractions. If this one wasn’t so uniformly boring it would be bad enough to be funny. George Sanders committed suicide a couple of years after appearing in this one, and one can see why he might be depressed. 5/14/13

Cowboys vs Vampires (2010)   

A retitle of Dead West, which isn’t actually a western. It’s about a second rate cowboy actor who hasn’t given up the dream of becoming a big star. Competent but uninspired actors with a competent but uninspired script, although some of the pokes at the life of an actor are genuinely amusing. The female lead and the evil lawyer aren’t particularly good but several of the character actors are. The cowboy actor is working at a western theme park which has just been bought by a big corporation. Although there are hints of what is to come, the first half of the movie is rather slow and most of the second half is only marginally more lively. Our hero must rescue daughter from a horde of rampaging undead. Competent but minor. 5/13/13

Assassin (1986)   

A television movie pitting Robert Conrad against a secret government robot – indistinguishable from human – which has apparently gone rogue and is killing government officials. Nowadays, some might consider the robot the hero. The movie quotes – correctly – Asimov’s three laws of robotics, which was a nice touch. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the writing is pretty bad, including the bit about the robot being capable of sex because it’s helpful when it’s working as an undercover spy. Also, the robot is programmed to explode when trapped to avoid letting people know that it’s a robot. The lack of human flesh among the wreckage might provide a hint. Although not incompetent overall, there are long periods during which nothing substantial happens and the chemistry between Conrad and the female operative with whom he is working is nonexistent. Minor to the point of miniscule and rotten with cliches. 5/12/13

Green for Danger (1946)   

I read this book back in high school so I remembered nothing except that it involved murder at a hospital during World War II. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the movie before. A postman is injured in a V1 attack, but his death on the operating table is murder and someone on the operating team knows it. When she announces that she knows the truth, she is promptly murdered herself before she can speak further.  There’s also a romantic quadrangle, two men and two women, as well as various tensions, not always war related.  Alastair Sim is superb as always, this time as Inspector Cockerill. The climax involves a re-enactment of the first murder. Love this stuff. Great movie. 5/11/13

Godzilla 2000 (1999)    

Godzilla gets a new sparring partner in this one, and he’s slightly redesigned himself with a new head and more extensive spikes on his back. This is also another one with an annoying precocious kid. It starts with our scaly anti-hero knocking down buildings and destroying a ship while a female reporter chases him trying to get exclusive footage. There’s a dumb scene where they come out of a tunnel to find that the road ahead of them has been destroyed and they are poised above a rocky seashore. But where would the supposedly destroyed road have gone? To China?  Meanwhile, an object found on the ocean floor appears to be a ship from another world. There’s also a bogus argument about whether or not Godzilla should be destroyed.  There’s too much silly story in this one and not enough Godzilla, and the nonsense about the flying saucer stealing data is comical. Part of the ship eventually transforms into a monster for the final bashing. There are suggestions that this might have been a poke at the US Godzilla film and Independence Day, but it’s not obvious. 5/10/13

Kull the Conqueror (1997)  

Kull was one of Robert E. Howard’s fantasy heroes, but not nearly as interesting as Conan, and rather badly portrayed here by Kevin Sorbo in a decidedly subpar sword and sandal fantasy that opens with a hard rock soundtrack behind a swordfight shown with a dark red filter that is silly in just about every way possible. The bad dialogue doesn’t help the wooden acting. It was obviously designed to be campy (although I’d heard it was originally going to be a Conan movie with Schwarzenegger). For no good reason, Kull has a second fight, this time defeating a king and thereby becoming the new king. The heirs object to this and revive an ancient sorceress to help them, but predictably the sorceress wants to rule herself and has demons to do her bidding. The red filter continues and makes the picture drab and indistinct. Several of the characters, including Sorbo, make little if any effort to sound as though they mean what they are saying. Kull is presumed dead, but revives and escapes the dungeons. Much disorder ensues. With a cast of scores, or at least dozens. 5/9/13

The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites (1976)   

This show was on for eleven years and presented some of the best television comedy of all time, particularly for a variety show. Supported by Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway, and Vicki Lawrence, she provides some hilarious funny skits and some very good improve. Guest stars in this very small selection include Roddy McDowall, Steve Martin, Betty White, and Dinah Shore as guest stars.  There are so many hilarious skits here that it’s hard to pick the ones that stand out, although the Gone With the Wind parody is classic. The businessman with the security system his secretary doesn’t understand is another. One skit consists of exclusively single word dialogue and is quite clever. Harvey Korman and Roddy McDowall do a great Laurel and Hardy.  Tim Conway as a butcher is also a highpoint. The second real classic here is “As the Stomach Turns”, a soap opera parody. I’d buy all 278 episodes if they were available. 5/8/13

Flesh Feast (1970)   

Another candidate for the roll call of dishonor, worst movies of all time. This one involves a secret cult of Nazis who have preserved Adolf Hitler’s body and hope to bring it back to life. I knew it was going to be bad when the reporter with the highly confidential story doesn’t bother to close the telephone booth door while he’s calling it in, and then gets stabbed by a janitor. A big chunk of the story is then revealed by a conversation between two characters rather than actually showing us anything. Even if this were well done it would have been relentlessly boring. 5/7/13

Terra Nova (2011)

I didn’t watch this one when it was on television, partly because I was sure they would cancel it after one season and I would never find out the secrets hinted at by then. I was partly wrong – it didn’t even last a single season. But it was cheap and I wanted to see the dinosaur sequences so I picked up the set. The two part debut has a family from a repressive, pollution laden future sending people back through time – it’s a one way trip – to the Cretaceous, but in an alternate timeline. There we learn that a splinter group, the Sixers, have established a hostile rival colony, that the colony leader’s son has gone missing and is apparently responsible for some odd equations scratched in rocks in an area he has declared off limits, and get a taste for some rather clumsily done family conflicts. The rationale for the colony is also silly. They know it’s a parallel time stream because they sent back a probe that was supposed to last for 85 million years and still broadcast in 2149, and since they couldn’t find it, obviously it had to be an alternate past. As if we could create an object with a power source that would function for that long. 

The subsequent episodes include efforts to thwart a horde of migrating flying creatures, more encounters with the dissident group that split off, dangerous parasites, a meteor strike, and more revelations about the mysterious writing found in a remote area.  The teen romances are pretty dumb, even for television. There’s a virus that erases memories in a really bad episode in which people entering a quarantine area don’t even wear masks. The relation between the colony and the Sixers doesn’t make much sense and it becomes the major cause of conflict.  The special effects are sometimes very good and sometimes quite bad. For a group as small as the colony is, there are an awful lot of strangers/guest stars. There are occasional eyebrow raising bits of bad dialogue. At one point a scientist examining an enigmatic object says that it was clearly designed to be opened despite having no seams, no buttons, no external irregularities at all in fact.  Sometimes the characters do things that make no sense based on what we know about them from earlier episodes. Each episode has guest stars, which makes no sense since they’re supposedly a closed community, but they keep manufacturing excuses, and then forget the character’s existence in subsequent episodes. I’m not surprised, or particularly sorry, that this got cancelled. It’s basically Lost with dinosaurs and with a less compelling script. At one point a character steals refrigerated medications, but it’s fine left out in the hot sun for a day or two. On another occasion they refer to a body rendered unidentifiable because the face and hands were mutilated, but this is right after we’ve been shown their nifty DNA identification process. Later a woman who knows that her sister has gone for a walk with a murderer who knows that she knows what he did makes no effort to get help but goes after them alone. They also make a big deal out of try to find the mole who is siphoning info to the Sixers, but in fact they know that one of their people has regular dealings with the outlaws.  And how did a lone man, living in exile with no technology, develop a method of communicating with the future?  Interesting concept, but dull throughout. 5/6/13

Iron Man 3 (2013) 

Robert Downey’s fourth appearance as Iron Man has lots of action but not much of a plot. The Mandarin is apparently a terrorist who uses people transformed into bombs to carry on his campaign of terror, but all is not as it seems. There’s a nefarious businessman and a mysterious woman, both from Stark’s past, a plot against the President, and Stark’s post traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the alien attack in The Avengers. But we never get to figure out just what it was that the various villains were trying to accomplish. There are some genuine surprises toward the end, and I’m not sure if comics fans are going to like this portrayal of the Mandarin, as well as some spectacular special effects. It was fun to watch but there wasn’t much meat on the bones of this one. Downey, though, is once again great fun to watch. 5/5/13

Sinister (2012) 

A true crime writer desperate for another big book rents the house where a mass murder was committed, without telling his family the history of the place. In the attic he finds a box of films showing several mass murders committed over a period of fifty years, all featuring an apparent occult symbol and a figure who looks like a boogeyman. There are also strange sounds in the night and, eventually, clear evidence that the killings are supernatural. The movie is quite suspenseful and the production values are good, but it does have a few problems. Even when the writer has indisputable evidence of the supernatural, he proceeds as though he was investigating a more mundane case, and does nothing to protect his family. Even though the films are very short, it takes him more than three days to watch the last one, which doesn’t make sense given his urgent need to find answers, although it does string out the tension a bit. Also, we are told that the autopsies of the victims proved they’d been drugged prior to being killed but that the autopsy could not determine what kind of drug it was. I don’t see how that could be possible. I figured out how it was going to end about half way through but it was still worth watching. 5/4/13

Three on a Meathook (1973)  

This is a really bad slasher film with lots of mild nudity. Four young women travel to the country where they are spotted by a local who offers them a room for the night when their car breaks down. Awkwardly paced, acted, and scripted, this also features an irritating sound track, contrived situations, poor camera work, and a cast of characters we never like particularly. Only one member of the cast had much of a career, and with good reason. The gore effects are pretty bad but since the viewer is unlikely ever to take anything seriously this additional shortcoming probably doesn’t matter. The initial foursome are all dead within twenty minutes and things get much slower after that.  We’re supposed to think the young man did it but it’s obviously the father playing head games. It ends up being silly rather than scary. Oh, and the title has nothing to do with the movie. 5/3/13

Godzilla vs Space Godzilla (1994) 

Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995) 

There’s not much new plotwise in these two Godzilla movies, although the special effects are better and there is more of an attempt to provide an underlying plot, although the bad dialogue/dubbing kills any chance of that succeeding. In the first there’s a project to use telepathy to control Godzilla, which is disrupted by the arrival of an even more evil Godzilla from another galaxy who wants to kill the Earth one and take over. There’s also a painfully cutesy little Godzilla to provide some completely out of place comic relief, a new version of Mechagodzilla renamed Mogera, and a cameo by Mothra.  When a space vessel disappears mysteriously, NASA says “we can only conclude it was some kind of immense monster.”  For some reason when the telepath is using her powers, her ear rings glow.  Some of the dialogue makes no sense – non sequiturs and such, probably a translation problem. At one point, one of the characters says that the mind control project has failed, just after it actually succeeds!  The origin of Space Godzilla, incidentally, is that a cell from Godzilla was somehow sucked up by a black hole, then spit out by a white hole so that it mutated into his evil semi-twin. At another point, a character looks at a plotting map and says that Godzilla is headed for Space Godzilla, but in fact it’s moving away. The second title has a new monster, actually multiple ones that combine into a single form in order to equal Godzilla’s height. Godzilla also has a problem. Events including the destruction of Monster Island have caused the nuclear reactor which powers Godzilla to overload. He’s glowing red and threatening to explode in a blast powerful enough to destroy the world.  Inane dubbing and an uninteresting plot, below par for the series. 5/2/13

Night Fright (1967)   

Also known as The Extra-Terrestrial Nasty. A government space project crashes near a small town and something survives, something deadly, something terminally silly although we don’t know that until almost the end.  Lots of really bad dialogue delivered indifferently by a lot of very bad actors. The musical soundtrack seems almost random and is almost never appropriate to what’s happening. Most of the actual action takes place off screen. We don’t see the spaceship or most of the killings. The crash zone – which is reported on the news – shows no sign of investigators until the following day when two guys in suits show up. The romantic scenes are painful to watch and seem endless. The coroner removes the body from a murder scene before the sheriff even gets the call that there’s been a crime! The police find the trail of the creature, in both directions, neither of which comes close to the murder scene, which appears to have escaped the writer’s notice. The police also never question the couple that found the bodies; in fact, they just seem to disappear from the story for a while. The police declare the area off limits, but they don’t tell anyone why and they don’t post a guard; in fact, they prevent the local newspaper from carrying the story for no apparent reason. The sheriff also fails to keep his office apprised of his whereabouts so when there is important information, no one can tell him. The monster, incidentally, is a gorilla suit with big teeth and it’s actually a plus that we see so little of it. And rockets that travel beyond the moon do not return to Earth six months later. Beyond awful.  5/1/13

Dust Devil (1992)   

This is a mildly pretentious but generally quite interesting horror film set and filmed in Namibia. A woman leaves her abusive husband and picks up a hitchhiker, unaware that he is actually a shapechanging creature who preys on lonely people and butchers them – rather graphically at times. A police officer is tracking the supposed serial killer and is made aware of the fact that his quarry is not a human being. I can’t say I liked the female lead very much. When a local man helps her out a ditch, she doesn’t thank him and nearly hits him with her car when she leaves, but then she picks up the hitcher for no obvious reason. Creepiness follows including weird dreams, a disappearing passenger, etc.  The scenery is fascinating and the camera work is quite good. The editing could be a little tighter – and there were a couple of times when I couldn’t figure out what was going on - but even as it is this was one of the better horror films I’ve seen recently. 4/30/13

Battle of the Worlds (1961) 

Late in his career, Claude Rains appeared as the name in this Italian SF disaster. A rogue planet enters the solar system, which is bad enough, but then it launches a fleet of flying saucers and attacks the Earth. Rains is a reclusive genius in his last film role but he’s a bit too curmudgeonly to be believable. The dialogue – at least the dubbed version – is laughably bad and the acting isn’t all that great either. The spaceship sequences are amazingly bad.  The writers don’t seem to understand the difference between planets and moons, how gravity works, or the relative distance between planets. Despite all of its faults, it is oddly likeable, perhaps because Rains gives it some depth. 4/29/13

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)  

Robert Stephens provides a far more conventional Sherlock Holmes than does Robert Downey, but this is one of the more interesting plots among the various screen versions of Holmes and Watson. Holmes successfully fends off the advances of a Russian ballet dancer who wants him to father her child by pretending to be gay, later refuted, then takes a case that causes him to venture into Scotland. There is a suggestion that Holmes is gay early on, which troubles Watson, but that’s part of the prologue to the main case. A woman with amnesia shows up at Baker Street with Holmes’ address on a piece of paper clutched in her hand. When she recovers her memory, she tells Holmes that she came to England looking for her husband, who has gone missing under very mysterious circumstances. Christopher Lee is a rather supercilious Mycroft Holmes who orders Sherlock off the case, while his client turns out to have secrets of her own.  A nicely convoluted plot, great photography and scenery, superior acting. One of the very best Sherlock Holmes movies.  4/28/13

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II (1993)   

The robotic version of Godzilla is reassembled as a more formidable opponent for the now thoroughly bad Godzilla. An expedition to a remote region stumbles on Rodan, not dead after all, who promptly gets into a fight with Godzilla. The screenplay, even allowing for translations, is pretty dumb. Random people cannot randomly walk into high security areas with cameras. There’s a cute baby Godzilla that wore out its welcome by the second scene, an immature soldier who saves the day by making suggestions the scientists haven’t thought about, and more nonsense. This felt more like a placeholder than anything else, not entirely for kids but not really for adults either. Rodan shows up again, further confusing an already confused plot.  4/27/13

Fading of the Cries (2011)  

A creepy old house, a  necklace bearing a magical rune, a young woman in distress, and a man with a magic sword. Might have been promising except that it’s poorly constructed and most of the actors sound like they’re reading their lines rather than acting. Brad Dourif is the notable exception. I was surprised to spot Mackenzie Rosman (Ruthie from Seventh Heaven) but not particularly impressed with her performance, which is almost comatose. A horde of demons descends upon a small town when the protagonist puts on the necklace given to her by her dead uncle. There are literally scores of them although they look human except for dark eyes, dress casually, and are too stupid to watch back entrances when they trap people in buildings. A curse that covers a man and his descendants would not include his sister and niece, a distinction apparently invisible to the writers. The demons can’t come through locked doors, except when they can, which is whenever it’s convenient to the plot. They’re also super strong, except when they aren’t, and can sense where the girl and necklace are, except when they can’t. There’s a giant CGI cathedral underneath the town, whose presence is never explained, which contains coffins which greatly alarm the sword slinger, for reasons which are never explained. There’s lots of running around, which is good because whenever the action stops and the cast starts speaking the inane dialogue in studied, stilted tones, it’s like scraping your nails on a blackboard. There are also a lot of flashbacks, but something is wrong with the chronology. Characters sometimes know things they couldn’t possibly know, and other times they don’t know things that we’ve elsewhere been shown that they do know. In the morning, all of the demons drop dead. Do the protagonist’s mother and sister try to leave town? No, instead they spend the day carrying the apparent corpses out of their house and depositing them on the front lawn.  And we never do find out where the magic sword came from. Bad enough to be funny at times. 4/26/13

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla  vs Mothra (1992) 

Following the poor showing of Godzilla vs Biollante, the studio thought that a return to the traditional monsters would improve the situation, so these came out in rapid succession. The first one opens in 2204 with the discovery of Ghidorah’s body, then jumps back to the present. There’s a rather complex plot involving time travelers who want people from the 1990s to go back to the 1940s and prevent the creation of Godzilla so that Ghidorah will destroy Japan and prevent it from becoming a world power. They fail, and Godzilla – not necessarily a good guy – shows up to defeat Ghidorah anyway.  The special effects are, of course, much more impressive than in the earlier films, though sometimes still quite lame.  Some of the plot doesn’t make sense. An executive says there are no such things as living dinosaurs, but Godzilla is well known and he subsequently admits that he was saved from US troops by a dinosaur during World War II.  There is also no reason at all for the time travelers to have stopped in the 1990s since they conduct the entire operation themselves. At another point, the present has documents showing that Godzilla never existed. If he never existed, why would there be documents?  And Ghidorah, we know from the earlier movies, originated on another planet, but now he’s an earth creature. Dubbing is awful “wreck” in place of “wreak” and the all powerful “nucular power”.  There’s also a flying saucer, a terminator, and a few kitchen sinks. The Japanese irradiate the dead body of Godzilla – now millions of years old but somehow reanimated  - and turn it into itself. Muddled and mediocre.

In the second movie, Battra is the initial threat, a creature supposedly sent by an angry planet to destroy humanity. He appears after some really dumb stuff about an asteroid raising the sea level and human effects on the ecosphere. A three person expedition is sent to the jungles of Indonesia – one of whom wears a suit and tie on his trek through the jungle – for reasons which aren’t clear. The tiny twins reappear and summon Mothra to save the world – a re-imaging of the original Mothra movie, but Godzilla shows up and a three way battle ensues. There is quite a bit of time spent on an adventure story not involving the monsters, and some other distracting subplots.  They also manage to conjure a boat out of nowhere at one point – even uninflated it could not have fit in the small packs two of them are carrying, to say nothing of an extensive collection of cooking equipment, battery lamps, bedrolls, even an alarm clock. There are villainous humans, a kidnapping, and even the “good” monsters kill lots of people in the usual ambiguity of the Godzilla series. Another one with an annoying kid. Construction must be thriving in Japan since they have to rebuild Tokyo from scratch every couple of years.  4/25/13

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)   

Low budget, low quality bit about a meteor that lands in Crater Lake, hatches a plesiosaur egg, which results in some of the locals finding themselves menaced by the hatchling – which grows to adult size without anyone noticing. Virtually every aspect of the movie is below par, sound, camera work, dialogue, acting, and the comic relief scenes are particularly dreadful. The special effects are minimal but sometimes not completely awful, and there are a few brief scenes that work well. One of the victims falls out of a boat and is dragged under, but when the drifting boat shows up, there is copious blood inside the boat, which makes no sense at all. There’s another sequence in which a couple are supposedly sitting in a boat on a moonless night watching the stars, but it’s filmed in very bright sunlight. They’re not enough to save it but if you have a low threshold for this sort of thing, it’s actually watchable. Barely. 4/24/13

State of Emergency (2010) 

Another zombie movie with the usual plot. An explosion at a secret military installation turns people in the surrounding area into flesh eating zombies. The protagonist and a few others have to survive and escape to a “safe” area.  That’s about all you need to know about the plot except that it’s extremely slow moving, particularly for a zombie movie. It’s another one where the military is in charge for some reason and there’s no sign of any civilian authorities, not even on the newscasts from outside. There are also gaps. One character is fatally shot, but we don’t know when or why or by whom, and she’s a major character. Sometimes the characters’ actions don’t appear appropriate to their situation. The protagonist spends a lot of time looking inscrutable. I prefer my protagonists scrutable. Pretty cheesy zombies too. And why would becoming a zombie give one the ability to make noises otherwise impossible for humans? Slow moving might be descriptive of a zombie movie without being pejorative, but not this time. Not worth looking for, or at. 4/23/13

Godzilla vs Biollante (1989) 

Godzilla is bad again in this installment. Scientists have a sample of his tissue and they use it to create a new kind of creature, a kind of cross between Godzilla and a rose bush. For reasons not immediately clear, the initial discovery sets off a gunfight between two groups of soldiers in the ruins of Tokyo. The dvd is a very strange combination of dubbing and subtitles, alternating back and forth even within a single scene. At one point a sign is shown in English, and a sub-title shows up with the English translation of the English! There’s also a teenager who can communicate mentally with plants. Speaker to vegetables. The first third of the movie is, however, very confusing and difficult to follow.  There’s also a very silly scene in which a guy on surveillance sees two other guys doing the same thing, then uses facial recognition software to identify them – even though he has no way to input their faces into his computer! When the mutant plant appears, there’s some totally incomprehensible stuff about it being a Norse legend with a human spirit. Biollante gets polished off very quickly about half way through the movie, but eventually returns in a different form. The two battles are the high points of the movie, much better done than in the earlier ones. 4/22/13

Doctor Who Series 7 Part One (2012) 

The first half of last year’s Doctor Who season opens with “Asylum of the Daleks”. The Doctor and the Ponds, who are on the verge of divorcing, are kidnapped by the Daleks, who want the Doctor to save them this time. The Daleks can now apparently create human/Dalek hybrids, quite an upgrade to their capabilities. They’ve been dumping insane members of their race on a remote planet and something has gone wrong. Interesting ending, fair story.  “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”  is a very good episode in which a Silurian starship with dinosaurs is hijacked by a villain with two robots sidekicks, who then run into trouble when they are targeted by nuclear missiles. “A Town Called Mercy” is set in the Old West. An alien doctor has taken refuge from a cyborg who is holding the entire town hostage until the Doctor negotiates a complicated solution. "The Power of Three" involves the sudden appearance on Earth of millions of identical black cubes. The Doctor decides to study them but nothing happens, which annoys him greatly. "Patience is for wimps."  Almost a year passes before the slow invasion becomes evident. Then they activate and each cube has different properties. The ending is disappointing but it's still one of the best of the Matt Smith adventures. My favorite of the new villains, the Weeping Angels, return in "The Angels Take Manhattan."  A private eye narrates the story of his employment to investigate certain statues in London that apparently move of their own volition. It has its moments but is probably the weakest in the set. I very much like the fact that there is no overwhelming arc this season but just individual stories. 4/21/13

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) 

Mechagodzilla was a robot version of our sometimes hero, destroyed at the end of his first appearance but restored to functionality for this new movie. It would return more than once in the future as well. Hostile aliens rebuild it this time, and team it up with another rubber suited critter named Titanosaurus. The young woman electrocuted by turning on a piece of equipment dies with theatrics that reminded me of playing cowboys and Indians when I was a kid. The aliens reanimate her. “Your heart is frozen and dry. Who would ever love a cyborg?” Godzilla is a no show in the first half but there’s lots of bashing after that. Typically silly and with ludicrous special effects, but it has its moments. 4/20/13

Smiley (2012) 

This is a mess from the outset. The opening sequence makes no sense and the supposed researcher doesn’t understand the difference between “evidence” and “proof”.  It’s also a not very smart ripoff of the Candyman movie series. A group of college students – most of whom are way too old for their parts – run afoul of an urban legend killer who begins killing them. As usual, none of them are particularly likeable so no one cares if they survive. The killer supposedly only gets people who type in a particular line three times, but the first victim we see didn’t type it, someone else did. This is another one where one character wears one set of clothing for part of a scene and another for the rest. That’s the third instance I’ve seen recently. The rest of the plot is alternately boring, nonsensical, and infuriating. Not even worth watching for amusement. 4/19/13

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)  

Disturbed by atomic tests, the undersea city of Seatopia – which no one knew about – sends Megalon to destroy the surface world. Megalon is a kind of giant insect but is essentially just another rubber suited monster, and less plausible than most. Megalon teams up with Gigan – also pretty dumb looking, from the previous movie, so Godzilla gets a tag team partner as well, Jet Jaguar, a humanoid robot. There’s also a precocious – and annoying – kid.  Hint to viewers: the statues on Easter Island are NOT over three million years old. Lots of silly dancers in Seatopia. The dubbed dialogue is pretty bad as well.  Godzilla doesn’t even appear until the second half and he’s absent from most of that as well. The robot decides to self program and acquires the ability to become hundreds of time its usual size – who cares about the law of conservation of mass and energy? There’s a lot of silliness in this, like a robot that can get dizzy. Apparently Godzilla also forgot that he learned to fly last time. Terrible choice of soundtrack as well. Not a high point in the series. 4/18/13

Defiance soundtrack composed by Bear McCreary, Sparks and Shadows, 2013  

I watch for soundtracks by this particular composer because they’re almost always great. This one is for a computer game and has a very nice opening theme that alternates between the robust and the sedate. The game – which I had never heard of – is clearly SF based on titles like “Mutants of Delta Bunker” and “Hellbugs”. There is a considerable range of musical styles and moods from the business of “The Battle of San Francisco” to the calm moodiness of “Marin Exploration.”  I particularly liked “Ridgecrest Mine”, “Mount Tam,” and “Tranquility”. A few of the cuts sound very similar – particularly the middle selections - but the vast majority are  quite varied and almost all of them stand on their own.  McCreary wrote the music for the reboots of the Battlestar Galactica television series. 4/18/13

13 Eerie (2013) 

This is an above average – though the average is pretty low – zombie movie whose initial premise is only mildly silly. An abandoned prison complex is sprinkled with bodies borrowed from a morgue as a field exercise for trainee FBI forensic specialists. A bacteriological agent was left behind and it somehow animates the corpses. And so it goes. There are some minor but oddly confusing elements. The students have to undergo a one hour boat ride to get to the prison, but the instructor simply drives there in his car.  They’re too far out for cell phones but no one thinks to have a radio for emergencies. The exercise requires them to remain out in the field late at night for no discernible reason. The competent acting is wasted on an increasingly silly script – the field test is arbitrary, with individuals docked points for something the instructor knows someone else did – and the instructor interferes, gives orders, and otherwise invalidates it as any measure of the competence of his students. (The means by which they obtained the corpses is also very suspect from a legal point of view.) When the hired cook tells them that, first, someone has stolen some of the food so they are not alone and, second, that there is an extra dead body lying nearby, no one pays any attention or investigates. That’s the point where I stopped believing in the story and became conscious of them as actors and not characters. Even when one of the trainees confirms the existence of a fourth corpse, the instructor refuses to believe her. Distances are inconsistent; sometimes two points are so close they can shout to each other, sometimes they can’t hear shouting even after walking toward each other for an hour. The zombie effects are pretty good and the photography is well done, but as soon as someone starts spouting the asinine dialogue all verisimilitude vanishes. At one point a single normal human breaks down a barricaded door that two superpowered zombies couldn’t force just by kicking it.  Should have been much better but horror movie makers are just too lazy to bother. 4/17/13

Escape from Galaxy 3 (1976)   

The opening credits felt more like a video game than a movie, which was not a propitious start. The first few lines of dialogue are so bad that it wasn’t good enough to be a video game. At least video games require some logic. The ruler of the entire galaxy is told that an unknown spaceship has entered the galaxy, which he immediately declares belongs to the King of the Night who will destroy the universe, unless they resort to the Epsilon Plan, which has never been tested.  Then it starts to get really silly and doesn't rise to the mediocre for even a few seconds. I suppose there may be a good Italian SF film somewhere out there, but I haven’t found it yet. 4/16/13

My Soul to Take (2010)   

This relatively well made slasher movie is kind of a blend of Scream and Heathers without any of the charm of either. Sixteen years after a serial killer disappears, presumed drowned, the seven children born on the same day are targeted by what appears to be his return or reincarnation. For a change, most of the high school kids actually look like high school kids and the dialogue, when audible, isn’t completely unrealistic for high school kids. As usual in horror films, most of them aren’t very nice people. I have never understood this tendency. You would think they would want us  to worry about their fate.  The female mafia group and the Jesus freak are both absurd, however, and there are plot problems that irritated me, like no one notices when the first kid doesn’t get home one night, the police breaking up a perfectly legal and inoffensive gathering, the town making an annual celebration out of the serial killer’s death, and so forth. It’s a long string of clichés even if they’re mostly well done clichés. About halfway through it goes off the rails. The principal of a high school can NOT send a student to have a mental evaluation against the wishes of his parents, particularly since there has been no evidence that he is a danger to himself or others. This one scene invalidated the entire movie. One of the victims has blood on her clothing before she’s attacked, which is just sloppy, and the killer turns out to be someone who is physically too small to have been the attacker we saw earlier. Disappointing. 4/15/13

Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star (1986) 

A well intentioned, reasonably well acted, not too badly written SF movie about three young people from another star who come to Earth and take shelter with a family in Wyoming. There’s a teenage boy in the family and an appropriately aged girl among the aliens so romance is inevitable. There’s some bogus science – hair changing colors because of something in the sunlight and so forth. Although I was able to sit through to the end, it’s really rather boring and predictable. If I’d wanted saccharine I’d have watched E.T.  There’s almost no tension at all in this one. I vaguely recall liking Sydney Penny in something years ago and had completely forgotten her until I saw this. This certainly didn’t help her career. 4/14/13

The Phantom (2009) 

This made for television miniseries, a reimagining of the classic Phantom story, is actually very watchable despite occasional odd moments. We never learn how the child version of our hero escaped the car crash at the beginning, for example, and there are times when characters behave oddly because we haven’t been shown intermediate steps that would explain what they’re doing. The dialogue and acting are mostly good, with occasional lapses. The story is about a young man who discovers that he is the son of the 21st man to wear the Phantom costume. He is pursued by the Singh Brotherhood, one time pirates now a slick corporate crime syndicate, and protected by a disparate group determined to fight evil. There is conflict among his supporters about how much he should be dependent on technology, and sometimes the tension is less than convincing.

There are problems with the script, particularly in the second half. Television sets do not broadcast, they only receive. The plot to murder the police detective – in addition to being unnecessarily complicated – is pointless. There is no reason why the Singh would care. And when he survives a near fatal bullet wound, this is criticized as a failure of the mind control system – which it is not. The Phantom waylays two technicians and discovers the details of the mind control, but when asked if he got anything useful from them he says no! The ease with which the villains evade security protocols is comical and at that point I no longer could take anything in the story seriously. The hero has body armor that can absorb the inertia of machine gun and assault rifles without flinching, and which allows him to punch things with 2000 pounds per square inch force, but he can barely hold his own against an unarmored assassin later. People know things they could not possibly know. Good first half, lousy follow through. 4/13/13

The Alien Factor (1978) 

A crashed spaceship- the worst I’ve ever seen I think -  lets loose a variety of badly done alien creatures that were destined for a zoo. All of them are predators, apparently, and are particularly fond of killing bad actors while a really awful soundtrack plays in the background. I’ve seen Halloween costumes more convincing than the aliens – who are all humanoid.  One of them even wears conventional pants and shoes. Frequently underlit, with bad acting and dialogue, but not bad enough to be actively funny. It’s not always clear what’s supposed to be going on either. Definitely not one to look for. I understand there’s a sequel, which boggles the mind. 4/12/13

The Caves of Androzani soundtrack composed by Roger Limb, Silva Screen, 2013

I don't generally think of Doctor Who in terms of its music, other than the various theme songs it has had over the years. So I was surprised first of all that there would be a release of this from one of the relatively minor Peter Davison episodes, and second that it was surprisingly good, falling somewhere between those soundtracks that are obviously just meant to accompany the visuals and thus stand poorly on their own and those where the music is so independent of the movie that it can be enjoyed for its own sake. Some of the tracks here - and there are 35 of them, some quite short - do in fact fare well independently, while others do not. There is a kind of unity - most of the cuts sound at least vaguely similar. Listening to them on their own did point out how much work goes into relatively unobvious elements of a production, however. Only a few really stand out - "Two Kilos What a Deal" and "Return to the Tardis" in particular. Makes me wonder if I should have listened a little more intently during other episodes. 4/12/13

Total Retribution (2011)  

Zombies aboard a space station. That would about do it for a review if this was remotely watchable, which it is not. The first ten minutes are completely incomprehensible, and you’ll probably wish the rest was as well if you force yourself to endure it. I confess I skimmed a lot. There are only so many stilted lines of dialogue shouted at corny CGI monsters that I can take on an empty stomach. Or a full one. The protagonist turns out to be an android with her memories erased who has to figure out what’s going on and save the world. Since the script really can’t figure that out either, it’s no surprise that she has so much trouble. Mostly boring. Another one for Ebay. 4/11/13

The Creeping Terror (1964) 

This has long been my personal choice for worst movie of all time, although it has recently been eclipsed by Birdemic and a couple of others. This is the one where one of the people involved absconded with the money after casting all the financial contributors as actors. There was no movie left for sound recording, and the crook hadn’t bothered, so almost the entire movie is essentially one long narration. A flying saucer of some kind crashes and a creature escapes. Rumor has it that there was originally a better constructed one but that it was stolen, so they sewed together some carpets and there you have it.  I wonder if this could fairly be called one of the very first direct to video movies, since it was not released theatrically or made for television.  The few bits of dialogue are almost invariably hilarious. 4/10/13

John Dies at the End (2012) 

What a pleasant surprise this was! It’s a spoof and a very clever one, kind of like Men in Black on acid. Two guys get exposed to a sentient drug that lets them see things that are hidden from the rest of us, like oversized bugs, dogs driving cars, doorways to another dimension, and so on. They have to save the world from an invasion and then invade another world to destroy an organic computer. Absolutely nothing should be taken seriously and it’s all delivered in a delightful deadpan. The plot actually doesn’t matter much. The special effects are great except when they’re intentionally not, the pacing and editing is terrific, and the acting is perfect for the story. If you take your horror seriously, you might not like it, but if you enjoy the absurd when it’s done well, this might be the most entertaining ninety minutes of movie you’ll watch for a while. 4/9/13

It’s Alive (1968)

No, this isn’t the movie about the killer baby. It’s an even worse effort with Tommy Kirk that opens with a long narrated sequence that is really dreadful. Two people are driving along an “ominous” highway, except there’s nothing ominous about it. They get off in a rural area which has life sized statues of dinosaurs, and presumably we’re supposed to find that ominous as well.  We’re told they’re in the Ozarks but the driver says they should have reached Los Angeles already. It’s another one where the continuity is so bad that one of the actors is actually wearing two different sets of clothing in the same scene.  The couple is looking for gas and run into a crazy farmer who wants to feed them to his pet dinosaur.  This is also one of those movies where the characters are all so miserable that you’re tempted to cheer on the bad guy.  All the production values including sound, photography, acting, etc. are abysmal. And the dialogue is along the lines of “Did you see his eyes? They were kind of….scream!” The monster, when we finally see it, is so wonderfully bad it almost makes up for the exquisite awfulness. It looks like the rubber suited critters from The Horror Party Beach, but not done as well. The one with the killer baby is much better. 4/7/13

Eaters 2011)  

I knew this was going to be bad during the opening credits. “For the first time in human history the birth rate is zero.”  Like there could have been a second time? Then we discover that the mysterious plague which has devastated the world for months is a worm that gets into the brain. No one noticed this for several months? To be fair, this is dubbed so I don’t know if the Italian was as ridiculous, but the acting looks awful in either case. The story involves a rather repulsive scientist searching for a cure while two thug types shoot all the lumbering dead guys. The dialogue is occasionally random – the characters aren’t actually responding to each other or their situation. Bad special effects, murky plot, jerky camera work, no real story, and frequently incoherent. Not even good enough to qualify as a cheap zombie movie. 4/7/13

Welcome to Blood City (1977) 

There’s actually a decent cast in the quasi ripoff of Westworld. A handful of people find themselves suddenly in an Old West style town where murder is the only way to be a social climber. The cast includes Jack Palance, Keir Dullea, Samantha Eggar, and Barry Morse, though presumably after their popularity had faded. It doesn’t take long to figure out they’re all in some kind of virtual reality. There’s very little suspense or mystery – even the soundtrack is low key and uninteresting. With better quality values, this might have been okay but it’s consistently inept. Confusing occasionally and the picture is so poorly framed at times that important elements are off screen. 4/6/13

The Dinosaur Project (2012)  

This is one of those found footage atrocities like Blair Witch Project or Cloverdale that masks a very cheap way to make a movie. This one involves an expedition in Africa following up rumors of a plesiosaur near a native village. Their helicopter crashes after they run into a flock of pterodactyls – funny how no rumors of them reached civilization – after which one of the characters insists they were simply water fowl, even though everyone had a clear view of them and they were obviously not. The acting is clumsy and we don’t actually get to know any of the characters more than superficially. Even the found footage method is faulty. There are scenes taken from vantage points that are impossible or panoramic ones that show all the characters. So who’s operating the camera?  And standing in the middle of a river while doing so?  This is pretty annoying because the dinosaurs are quite well done and filmed conventionally, this could have been much better. 4/5/13

Alien Terminator (1988)

Another cheapie Italian SF film, also known as Top Line. The hero discovers a UFO in the jungles of South America, but he can’t convince the authorities.  He’s a failed writer with a drinking problem so I probably wouldn’t have believed him either.  There are also a bunch of ex-Nazis lurking about.  From time to time, probably because of the dubbing, it’s hard to follow just what is going on, although the dubbing is actually better than usual. George Kennedy is in the cast, but he’s dubbed so he sounds wrong. The set up for the main part of the movie takes too long, unfortunately. The terminator doesn’t show up until quite late, and gets destroyed by a bull. The aliens have infiltrated human society. Included is possibly the worst car chase sequence I’ve ever seen. During the chase with the terminator, the hero keeps waiting for the robot to catch up to him every time he eludes it. Not a winner. Not even a contender. 4/4/13

Storage 24 (2012)   

A military plane crashes in central London and something escapes and takes refuge in an enormous self storage facility, which unfortunately for those inside has been locked down by a malfunctioning security system so that they can’t escape. This borrows shamelessly from Alien, with a very similar soundtrack and even a scene where a maintenance man stands under dripping water while we know the creature is somewhere nearby. It’s clichéd and a bit slow at times but the first half is generally reasonably suspenseful and the monster isn’t CGI for a change. There is one glaring continuity problem. One of the two women looks up at the ruined ceiling and screams – and for a while we think she’s dead – but then she reappears completely unconcerned. Meanwhile the creature has already killed two people. The second half is less successful. The creature looks a lot like the one in the Predator movies, less well done. There are some small blips – why does the creature batter its way through a door into a room it has already easily entered through the ceiling? And a man literally torn in half is not going to be alive an hour later. Quite watchable but nothing new. 4/3/13

The War of the Robots (1978) 

An interplanetary space adventure in which humans are kidnapped by aliens and a team of heroes are sent to rescue them. Filmed in Italian and badly dubbed in English, although for all I know the original dialogue is even worse. The special effects are so bad they made me long for a CGI monster. The aliens are not even distinguishable from humans except that they all wear dreadful blonde wigs. Silly beyond words.  They can compute an alien spaceship’s top speed just by looking at it. They track the ship to its home planet by observing the angle with which it takes off.  They land on an asteroid for some reason, which has an earthlike atmosphere somehow, and are taken prisoner by the locals. It turns out the bad aliens (cyborgs?) have also landed there and use the locals as slaves. Lots of gunfights, running around, and dead aliens ensue although it’s not clear what’s going on most of the time. The aliens aren’t very good – about thirty of them are killed without so much as wounding any of the humans. The aliens apparently are from a race that has lost the creative ability due to their longevity, but they can get it back by transplanting organs from other races into their bodies. I bet you didn’t know that creativity resides in the kidneys and liver. It turns out the good guy they were trying to rescue has gone over to the dark side. He neutralizes their blasters so they kill the robots with light sabers. Much of the story is so confused that it’s hard to figure out just why people are doing what to whom. Nor worth your time. 4/2/13

Jack the Giant Killer (2013)   

It’s amateur night at Asylum films once again. Actors so bad it’s painful, with a script bad enough to do them justice. Almost every incidental bit of the movie is badly done. Jack has to stoke a furnace. He doesn’t even add one shovelful before he’s praised for having taken care of it. The motorcycle scenes are shot with a stationary cycle and a moving backdrop. The plot contradicts itself and the special effects are the usual poor CGI (although the flying castle is cute). Jack doesn’t climb the beanstalk; he’s grabbed by a vine and pulled up to a world where giant beasts prowl. There he finds his missing father, whose retelling of his adventures are designed just to fill in back story without even pretending to make sense. The screenplay contradicts itself in successive sentences. One character says that there are no stories about giants on Earth – patently untrue – but then says he remembers them from his childhood.  We are told that he was only in the magic land for 19 subjective days, but he relates experiences that obviously took much longer – including killing all the giants, mapping the terrain, and finding the secret entrance to a castle governed by a woman kidnapped by the giants. Except that there was no reason for him to use the secret entrance since he was welcome there and immediately begins calling for his hostess the moment he’s inside the secret door. The general who cordons off the third beanstalk on Earth is such an aggressively bad actor that it is hard to believe he wasn’t intended to be comic relief. It’s not even up to Asylum’s usual standards, difficult though that may be to comprehend. 4/1/13

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