Last Update 6/30/16

 

Wind Chill (2007)

A ride home for Christmas vacation goes very wrong. The two travelers - who look much too old to be college students - take the proverbial shortcut to hell and get trapped in a snowdrift. Both are pretty peculiar, although the male is somewhat stranger. He seems to have lied about where he is from just so that he can be alone with her for the drive. Some of the dialogue - and there's actually a little too much of it - makes little sense. And when the guy decides to try walking back to the last gas station, he sets off over the hill rather than following the road. There's a weather report predicting sub zero temperatures for the "entire Eastern seaboard" which doesn't make any sense. Anyway, after the guy leaves the woman sees a mysterious figure whom we eventually realize is a ghost. The guy promptly comes back saying the gas station is closed, but it was a 24 hour station. And they turn off the dome light to conserve the battery, but leave the headlights on. Apparently the area is a supernatural trap for travelers. Some of the scenes are effective, some not. Did we really need another snake crawling out of a mouth? And why did it never occur to either of them that even if the gas station is closed, their lives are at stake and they should go back and break in or set off an alarm or something? Better than I probably made it sound but with some annoying mistakes. 6/30/16

Devour (2005)

The protagonist of this film has been experiencing disturbing waking dreams featuring mutilations, death, and grotesque figures. I started to lose interest early on when I realized that none of the characters were remotely nice people. They get involved in an immersive computer game that draws them deeper and deeper the more they play. The acting is below par. The "very drunk" female character speaks clearly and intelligently and walks normally. The game involves telephone calls with duty assignments, and whoever is speaking has access to information which it is impossible for them to know. We found out quite early that Satan is behind the game, which did not come as a surprise. The characters get progressively more repulsive as the story proceeds, and not as part of their contact with the game. Our hero conveniently finds the man who trained a computer game producer to summon Satan, and the producer also lives in the same community. I don't think they could have done a lot with this premise, which is a lot like Halloween III, but they did even less than I would have expected. Dumb ending and the title makes no sense. 6/29/16

Tomb Raider 2 (2003)

Lara Croft must find and secure Pandora’s Box before an evil mastermind beats her to it and uses the box to rule the world. Angelina Jolie doesn’t even bother to actually act this time and just poses theatrically instead. The story is so compressed that I kept feeling as though I’d missed something. At times Croft has information that she shouldn’t yet know, and it’s never explained. The riding the shark scene is not only silly but pointless. She wasted more time luring the shark to bring her to the surface than she would have spent just swimming to the surface. And if she’s drifting in shark infested waters, bleeding, for an extended period of time, why didn’t more sharks show up? The battle sequences are generally badly staged, with the reinforcements always showing up in small enough numbers that they can be taken out piecemeal. And how does putting a tracer on a helicopter show the destination before they are barely underway? Not surprised this killed the franchise. 6/28/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol VIII (1951)

Kit Carson rides yet again in four more episodes from early black and white television. A town that is essentially a single criminal enterprise poses problems when the army wants to construct a new fort in the area. A young girl is subject to virtual slavery until Carson interferes in the second episode. Then Carson gets wind of a young boy who is heir to a valuable ranch, but who is in the custody of an uncle who intends to make sure the property never passes to him And finally, another man is framed for murder in an elaborate plot to seize control of his ranch. All pretty humdrum. 6/27/16

Tomb Raider (2001) 

Although I’ve never been much of a fan of Angelina Jolie, I enjoyed both of the Tomb Raider movies, based on the video games, but I hadn’t watched them again since they first appeared. There are some plot problems. During the opening sequence, which turns out to be a training exercise, Lara Croft uses her handguns against her robot opponent – but she knows that these will have no effect so why even bother?  I had forgotten that Iain Glen (Game of Thrones), Daniel Craig (James Bond), and Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf) were all in this. Croft has to outwit a team of nefarious people to acquire a magical artifact that could change the balance of the power in the world. She gets a head start thanks to a convenience prescient dream, which is usually a sign of lazy writing. I suspect this was meant to be a long running franchise, but the lazy writing doomed it early on and it never made it past two movies. Despite the violent opening and the good cast, this takes too long to really get going. Some of the later fight scenes are colorful but unrealistic, and I think the cartoonish approach was a mistake. 6/26/16

The Funhouse Massacre (2015)

Clowns and funhouses show up a lot in horror movies, with mixed results. In this case, several serial killers escape from confinement and travel en masse to a funhouse dedicated to their exploits. The exhibits make it possible to commit horrible crimes and leave bodies strewn about without drawing immediate attention. The cast is better than average, although that doesn’t always mean as much as it should. This was more interested in over the top gore than plausibility or acting however. It’s also heavy on bad jokes. I managed to make it to the end, but mostly through inertia. 6/25/16

Zombieworld (2015)

This is supposed to be a zombie comedy and it certainly has zombies, along with over the top gore, artsy fartsy photography, bad special effects, and sometimes bizarre choreography. There are flashbacks, including one in which Jesus raises a dead man, who is of course a zombie. Most of the blood is CGI. It does have its moments – Jesus and Judas fighting zombies with fish, although it goes on far too long. This is more a collection of skits than a continuing story, and while not awful, it was only marginally watchable. 6/23/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol VII (1951)

I find a few of these western adventures lasts me a long time, but they do make a nice break from weightier movies. The first and best of the four on this dvd involves a small army of discontents who decide to overpower the authorities and make a major raid on the San Diego settlement. The second is a very weak episode about Carson helping teenagers fend off another band of outlaws. The third is another con job, a politician who hires people to cause chaos so that he can be elected mayor on a law and order platform. Finally, Carson has a rival for his lucrative courier contract, but the rivals shortcuts could lead to disaster. 6/22/16

Agents of Shield Season 2 (2015)

Shield has been technically outlawed by a small group are still operating to keep dangerous technology under cover. (I confess that I find this particular theme disturbing – the suppression of knowledge for our own good.) They are also on the run from the US government and military, which no longer trusts them because of the infiltration by Hydra. Some of their enemies this season have super powers. One of the regulars has infiltrated Hydra in return and another has suffered brain damage. I had trouble getting into the season at first, I think in part because there are a few too many side stories going on. Ming Na Wen’s fight with her double is one of the better moments. There’s some political naivete – a single senator is not as powerful as suggested here and there are other little bits and pieces that are annoyingly out of touch with the real world. Fortunately they are all minor points. The subplot about Ward and his brother was more irritating than interesting. The schism within Shield annoyed me as well – it was confusing, unconvincing, and blurred the focus considerably. The relationship between the two scientists was badly done as well. The series does pick up toward the end of the season but it took a while to get there. And then the final two episodes were so awful that all the good work was undone. 6/21/16

A Bone to Pick (2016)

The first Aurora Teagarden movie, based on the second book by Charlaine Harris, a series written before she turned to Sookie Stackhouse and became a bestseller. I rather enjoyed the series when I read it, too long ago for me to be able to compare it directly with the screen version. Teagarden is a librarian and member of a mystery club whose life changes when an elderly woman dies and leaves her a house and its contents. The first night, someone breaks into the house, tears things apart, and knocks her down when she surprises him. The next day she finds a human skull hidden in the house. I have the same problem with the movie that I had with the book – Teagarden not only does not call the police, but actually tampers with the evidence so that she can investigate on her own. She manages to learn that three people in the area disappeared in recent years. This actually wasn’t bad, although I thought the starring actress was perhaps a bit too bubbly. Lexa Doig is excellent as the best friend. Cute shot in the library of a display of Charlaine Harris novels. 6/20/16

Independents' Day (2016)

I figured this was going to be a cheap remake of a movie with a very similar title that you can probably all guess, and since it's from Asylum I knew it was going to be cheesy, poorly acted and plotted, with cheap CGI special effects. So I got exactly what I was expecting. The invasion starts about two minutes in, which is about one minute after the awful acting got started. Within a couple of minutes we have a crashed small spaceship, a hovering large one, a vice-president whisked away to safety, lots of testosterone in the situation room, satellite communications out, and two aircraft sent to investigate. Then things really get bad, and insulting as well. It turns out that all those illegal militias are our best hope. The entire human population is to be evacuated within five days. Which might even work given the compressed time scale - the Earth has been conquered and people are lining up to board the evacuation trips in less than an hour!  Despite all this, there are no riots, no crowds, not even heavy traffic. Even for Asylum, this was awful. In addition to everything else, it is painfully slow paced after the first few minutes. A college film club could have done better. Oh, and the title makes no sense at all. Unwatchable. 6/17/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol VI (1951)

Back once again to the Old West for four moderately entertaining adventures. Carson has to help a rancher fight off a band of outlaws who have devious plans for his property in one episode. A mysterious series of gold thefts has an interesting solution in the above average second. A crook impersonates a federal marshall in order to get access to a valuable shipment of bullion in the third and yet another kidnapping is at the center of the last, this time the daughter of a rich rancher. 6/16/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol V (1951)

It’s daunting to realize that I watched this show on television over sixty years ago and still remember a few of the episodes. The first one this time involves a lost gold mine and a woman in jeopardy. The second is about the theft of a box of gold coins that gets solved in an unusual fashion. Carson and his friend are mistaken for bandits in the third and are nearly hanged before the real villains come to their rescue, posing an interesting moral problem. And the fourth is another one about a kidnapping, this one requiring Carson to pose as a criminal in order to infiltrate the gang. 6/13/15

I Sell the Dead (2008)

In the 19th Century, a body snatcher has been captured and sentenced to death. His final words are the bulk of the movie, his recounting of his experiences. It starts with his apprenticeship and moves on to his experiences, which become increasingly bizarre. It starts when they dig up a body festooned with garlic and with a stake through its heart.  This one has a good cast and some clever dialogue, but I was rather disappointed overall. The tone is sarcastic humor but it's not actively funny much of the time. This may be one of those times when I just wasn't in the right mood for what I was watching. 6/12/1

Dead Snow 2 (2014)

Sequel to the 2009 Nazi zombie movie. This one starts with the final scene from the first and goes on from there. This time it's not subtitled. There's a really absurd development shortly after that - the wrong arm gets sewed back onto an amputee - but the movie is partly comedy so that doesn't matter. It's a Nazi zombie arm on a living body, naturally. Having been disturbed, the zombie are now ready to start preying on the living on a larger scale. This one is more like Evil Dead 2 than its predecessor. Three amateur zombie hunters from the US join the mix. More over the top gore, but this was much better than I expected. 6/11/16

Doghouse (2009)

A group of male friends find themselves trapped in a town where a biological weapon has been released, turning those infected into zombies. The twist is that the virus only affects women. Most of the best recent zombie movies have been the ones that didn't take the premise seriously, and that's the case here. Each of the men involved is having relationship problems so they feel sympathy for a friend who has just gone through a painful divorce. They arrive at a small town that appears to be deserted, although the camera shows us some ominous signs that they don't notice - like a detached hand. Unlike most zombie movies, each of the infected women has a distinction style - scissors, dental tools, a sword, etc. - and a unique look. Some of it is outrageously gory, some of it intentionally misogynistic, and the movie doesn't spend a lot of time explaining things, just lets the mayhem go full tilt. Not for every taste. 6/10/16

Pontypool (2008) 

This is an odd variation of the zombie theme. A small town begins to be troubled by a virus that initially affects speech centers and eventually accelerates into insane rage in which people attack and partially devour others. Stephen McHattie stars, so I knew this wouldn’t be complete crap, and apparently a sequel has been brewing for some time – but hasn’t happened yet. Despite the horrid events taking place, there are actually bits of humor strewn through the story. Everything happens off screen – we learn about it from telephone conversations and what McHattie broadcasts. The explanation is that certain words in the English language have become infected by the virus. Low budget but quite well done. 6/9/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol IV (1951)

Another set of four adventures of the western adventurer. The opening episode this time is an unusual one. Carson’s friend El Toro tries not to pick sides when his family splits into two factions over an inheritance. There is some mild humor, but the jokes are rather obvious. The second episode is a murder mystery and a young boy is in jeopardy because he has a map to a gold mine in the third. The final episode involves a confidence game that escalates to murder. 6/8/16

Dead Snow (2009)

Nazi zombies! With subtitles!  expected this to be complete trash, but it actually has some good parts. A group of med students - both sexes - are off to a remote Norwegian cabin in the snow for a vacation, but they inadvertently reactivate a secret Nazi project to create undead superwarriors. For a pleasant change, while the characters are not always the brightest, they are not sleazebags. I actually found this one quite effective, perhaps in part because so many similar films are so relentlessly awful. Not a great movie, but several good scenes and at least it didn't make the usual obvious mistakes. It turns into a bizarre comedy at the end. 6/7/16

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) 

The mashup of Jane Austen and the undead comes to the screen. The zombies in this case are able to pass for human, at least during the early stages of their condition. London is enclosed by a wall and a moat but it doesn’t always keep the infected out. This is mostly a comedy despite the zombies, and sometimes it is very funny indeed. At other times, the jokes fall flat. The soundtrack is occasionally unclear and several scenes are very underlit. The subplot involves the possibility of negotiating with the dominant zombies. Ultimately it failed to hold my interest despite a few good scenes.  Lily James does a good job as Elizabeth but the guy playing Darcy ate too much of the scenery. 6/3/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol III (1951)  

This western series is already feeling a bit repetitive. The first episode involves a con man who is taking an entire town to the cleaners. Mexican immigrants are being cheated out of their land by a grasping corporation in the second, and Carson intervenes on their behalf. An inexperienced law man loses his prize prisoner, a bank robber, along with the loot and is in despair until Carson helps him out in the next. Another gang hopes to provoke a war against the local tribe by committing acts of sabotage and making it look like they’re responsible, but Carson knows better. 6/2/16

Scream Season 1 (2015)   

Inspired if not based upon the series of witty slasher movies. The pilot does manage to capture the feel of the films, although the high school students look even older than ever, and some scenes owe more to Friday the 13th. A video of a clandestine lesbian encounter gets posted online and the two teens responsible are murdered a few hours later. Given that there was a brutal murder the night before, the rest of the cast takes surprisingly few precautions – actually none at all. The third murder takes place in the second episode – although the first body still hasn’t been found. Minor goof in this one too. The coroner determines that the victim was killed by hanging, but not where she was found, but isn’t sure whether or not that suggests murder. Of course it does. The break in scene makes no sense either. If the door was locked, as it supposedly was, then how could it have been forced open without breaking the lock?  The third episode is very suspenseful, but it kills off one of the few characters I liked.  By the fourth, I was starting to wonder why there wasn't major media coverage and massive police presence, given four murders. By episode six, it's hard to believe that many people didn't know who the killer was. There's another goof here. High school teachers who have no traceable backgrounds would never be hired, period. Episode 7 starts to fall apart. Minors do NOT get questioned by the police without a lawyer or parent present.  So a pretty good show, became just another dumb one with occasional good moments. And a high school kid can program a cell phone to record and transmit the fingerprint of anyone touching the phone? The hallucination scenes in episode 8 are unconvincing and you can't hold someone indefinitely while you decide whether or not to prefer charges, particularly without strong evidence. The ending is bothersome - one of the killers escapes detection and decides to mend her ways  - and also contradicts earlier events. It's also not particularly surprising.

Some of the characters needed to be better differentiated, although that improves as the season progressed. Most of them are pretty obnoxious.  I was also puzzled by an element of the back story. The murders twenty years earlier involved a high school girl who cooperated with the police, but supposedly no one knows who she was – which makes no sense at all. We, incidentally, know that she’s the mother of the female lead. Ultimately this felt like Pretty Little Liars, but with a more plausible plot. The writers there might want to watch this and take notes. There’s even a student/teacher sexual relationship. The ability of students to absent themselves from school is also pretty unbelievable.  The cast is competent but except for a couple of the cast members, not exceptional. There are some really good moments sprinkled through. Also some stupid ones. A hospital that has been closed for years would not have working electric lights. A freelance reporter would never be given free access to a school. And reality check: the presence of civilians at a crime scene does NOT make the evidence on site inadmissible. Some of the computer stuff is nonsense as well. Oh, and I guessed the killer by episode 3. 61/14

Kill the Scream Queen (2014)

An Ebay seller sent me this as an unexpected bonus when I bought another movie from him. He should have paid me to take it. There is nothing in this movie - camerawork, script, acting, dialogue, lighting, sound, rationale, direction, continuity, costumes, set dressing, even the credits, that is remotely competent. The opening sequence is so bad it defies description. A nude model with fake blood sprinkled all over her is photographed by the shakiest camera work I've ever seen, while a guy in a remarkably silly mask wanders around menacing her. And it feels like it went on forever - in fact I speeded up the replay to get through it. It appears that the villain is luring various women into his studio by pretending that it's for a movie role, but that's obviously untrue since it's just a photographic studio with no sets and no other actors, but then why would this make any sense. He promptly strips and kills them all - except that we never really see how he kills them. It's sort of implied. You know, artistic. And that appears to be the entire plot. No character development, no real dialogue, no special effects, no explanations. I gave up about twenty minutes into it. This is pornography, and not even very good pornography. 5/24/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol II (1951)  

Four more adventures of Kit Carson and his sidekick. In the opener, he is acting as a courier for a bundle of money that attracts the interest of bandits. The second involves counterfeiting. Conflict between trappers and the local tribe threatens to become violent unless Carson can negotiate a peaceful solution in the third, and a woman is kidnapped in the fourth in order to pressure her husband into halting a crack down that will expose the gang’s hideout. About average for the series. 5/23/16

Dark Places (2015)

A young girl is one of two survivors when her family is murdered one night. Twenty years later, she is leading an aimless life after her testimony - which was untrue - put her brother in prison. Then she meets a group of people who investigate crimes as a hobby and we know from that point on that she's going to find out the truth, or reveal it, depending on how much she knows. The revelation isn't much of a surprise though and there is little suspense and only a hint of mystery. For some reason this was all filmed with very subdued lighting so it felt like night even during the daylight scenes. I imagine this was a nod to the title but the result is that it was never visually interesting at all, so it adds nothing to the Gillian Flynn novel upon which it is based. Ultimately it was mildly interesting but hard to watch. 5/22/16

Game of Thrones Season 5 (2015) 

Cersei is losing her grip on power. Tyrion is a fugitive. Danaris realizes that her attempt to free a slave society isn’t going to be as easy as she expected. Brienne is still hoping to honor her vow to a dead woman. Jamie wants to rescue his daughter from captivity. Tywin is dead and buried. His grandson is married to a scheming woman who twists him around her finger. Jon Snow is elected as leader of the Night Guard. Sansa marries a brutal sadist. Arya is an apprentice assassin. The king of the wildings is executed.  The Mountain is being restored to life through the arcane skills of one of Cersei’s toadies. A religious movement is sweeping through the capital. All this and more in just the first three episodes. The popular fantasy series still manages to pack an incredible amount of story line into a relatively short space. Cersei's fall from power is nicely done, but I had trouble accepting that there is no one close to the ruling family who actually attempts to resist the religious fanatics. The queen and queen mother are both hustled off to cells and the king is reduced to throwing tantrums. But otherwise this was up to its usual standards. 5/20/16

Adventures of Kit Carson Vol I (1951)

Another exercise in nostalgia from my childhood. I used to watch the Kit Carson show regularly and assumed his persona when we played out in the woods - which would get my parents arrested in some parts of the country today for child abuse. This sampler contains four episodes typical of the show. Like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, the Cisco Kid and Pancho, Kit Carson and El Toro travel around the west having a variety - but not too much of a variety - of adventures. In the first, they thwart claim jumpers. In the second, a staple of television westerns, Kit is framed for a murder committed by his double. A newspaper editor is framed for murder in the third and a school teacher raises the ire of the local people in the fourth and best of this selection. Simply plotted and tolerably acted, these are too unsophisticated for television today, but they're still mild fun. 5/19/16

A Good Marriage (2014) 

This nicely done psychological thriller is based on a story by Stephen King. The protagonist is a woman who begins to discover unsettling things about her husband, eventually leading her to realize that he is a serial killer. That’s really the entire plot, although it is not that simple in practice. If you’re expecting a violent horrorish movie, this is the wrong place to look, although it is in its own way quite suspenseful. Not a classic, but a solid thriller. 5/17/16

Laugh In (1968-1972)  

Rowan and Martin’s comedy variety show was originally supposed to be a one time special, but it ended up having 140 episodes featuring Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson, Judy Carne, Ruth Buzzi, and a variety of guest stars including John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks, Jerry Lewis, Flip Wilson, Tommy Smothers, Greer Garson, Kirk Douglas, and many many others. Each show consisted of very short skits and multiple one line jokes, often visual, with a number of recurring phrases and situations – being doused with water, “sock it to me,” etc. There was also an ongoing parody of then topical news stories. I watched this in dribs and drabs over the course of a couple of months. When the show was on once a week, it was fun to watch, but it loses its appeal if you sit through several of them in a row.  5/16/16

Red Dawn (2012)

Remake of the absolutely horrible 1984 movie about a Soviet invasion of the US. This time it’s Washington rather than the Southwest that gets invaded, and by North Koreans! The premise that a massive air assault on Washington state could take place with no military resistance or even warning is so absurd that the movie starts off having already failed. And why would they invade a residential community instead of a strategically valuable target? Anyway, the locals – including teenagers – take up arms to defend the country. There are a handful of scenes that were nicely done but they are inset in a plot that is so ridiculous that they are still just a waste of time. As bad if not worse than the original. 5/15/16

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The plot for this one is pretty simple. There is pressure on the Avengers and other superheroes to submit to United Nations oversight. This causes a rift because Iron Man and some others agree, while Captain America and the rest do not. This is complicated when someone impersonates Bucky and sets off a bomb, and we know from earlier movies that Bucky was programmed by Hydra to commit murders against his own will. So there's an inevitable battle between the two sides. Captain America recruits Antman, who can also become Giantman now, while Tony Stark has the Black Panther and Spider-Man to help him. I had some reservations about the set up and particularly Stark's motivations, which are inconsistent at times. He decries vigilantes but recruits Spidey, for example. He counsels restraint and control but tries to murder Bucky. The fight scenes are spectacular though, and some of the dialogue is quite good. The Hulk and Thor are absent. Although this is a lot of fun, I think the rave reviews I've seen are a bit overblown. 5/14/16

Red Dawn (1984)

This homage to paranoia has a great cast and a few good scenes, but the story is based on such a wonky premise that it never gets off the ground. The communists have invaded the Southwest through Mexico, but they only use conventional weapons and not a lot of them. The US government responds with conventional weapons, and even fewer of those, so it is left to a group of young people in the occupied zone to mount a guerilla resistance. I watched this in awe of how stupid the script was. If ever there was a movie that deserved to be forgotten, this was it, but instead they did a remake. 5/13/16

Seven Chances (1925)

For some reason a red filter has been added to this classic silent comedy, but it doesn't add anything. The print is otherwise in excellent condition. Buster Keaton stars as a shy lover who discover that he stands to inherit a fortune, but only if he gets married within twenty-four hours. He is already in love but he has never had the courage to ask her to marry him. The comedy is mostly sight gags, of course, but they are wonderfully choreographed. When news leaks of his predicament, a horde of women descend upon him and the chase is on, and even the natural worlds seems determined to prevent him from reaching the woman he loves in time. The avalanche scene is worth the price of the movie alone. Two shorter Keaton pieces are included in this edition and they are funny too. Don't be put off by the lack of a soundtrack. This is still an excellent piece of entertainment. 5/12/16

Scarred (2013)

Standard slasher film. Several models go to a remote location for a photo shoot, unaware of the fact that the cabin belonged to a man who was horribly scarred as a child. He still haunts the area looking for people upon whom to avenge himself. So he wears a full face mask. How original. The dialogue gets pretty bad pretty early and the acting actually seems to get worse as the movie progresses. Stilted delivery, awkward camera work that occasionally has problems even framing the picture. And once again, the characters are all such sleazy people that it's hard not to be cheering for the insane killer. Some of the supporting actors don't even appear to be trying. The set dresser needs a slap too. The Welcome sign in the motel is situated so that the only person who can see it is the clerk, not the guests. Ditto for continuity. The model who brags about the many nude pictures she's had taken refuses a movie role because it has a topless scene. There are also inconsistencies in what the actors are wearing from scene to scene. And if the killer has been hiding in the woods since he was a little boy, where did he get the multiple tattoos on his body?  Not to mention the people who don't run away when a masked man with a sledge hammer comes toward them. The mask is so small, and slips occasionally, and it's obvious that he is not scarred at all. And when one of them survives after witnessing a murder, the others don't seem particularly concerned. There are also problems with timing. They are quite close to a restaurant on the way in but much further away when two of them drive out for help - eventually. And they drive for an hour or so but the killer, on foot, catches up to them in minutes. Essentially an amateur movie. 5/11/16

Kilma, Queen of the Amazons (1975) 

A badly dubbed historical in which the hero escapes when his crew mutinies and turns pirate. He comes ashore on an island ruled by women who wear furry bikinis and falls in love with their leader. There is a raiding party of males from another island that arrives just after he is washed ashore. The amazons defeat them handily, not entirely surprising since they somehow have horses..  Once that’s out of the way, the pirates show up again for a general free for all. Our hero proves his mettle, gets the girl, etc. Not as fuzzy a picture as I expected from such a cheap and largely unavailable film, but there is really very little to recommend this one. 5/8/16

The Haunting of Alice D (2014)

Nothing new in this plot. In the 1890s, a young woman imprisoned in a brothel kills her captors and herself. In the present, the new owner of the building decides to throw a wild party. Big mistake. So is making all of the characters complete jerks, but that's almost a standard in cheap horror movies nowadays. There's also a reddish filter some of the time that makes the picture unclear even in well lighted scenes, and other scenes have the color washed out. Still other scenes are jerky and there are even some artifacts in the film that leave lines on the screen. There is also a good deal of sleaze, and not even very well done sleaze. Saying that the acting is bad is almost superfluous, but even if it had been better, the bad script would have made it impossible to tell. Thirty minutes into the movie, nothing has happened. If the characters were interesting, this might not be so bad, but as it is, it is disastrous. And even then we don't actually see anything. My attention wandered constantly from that point on and I barely made it to the end. The people making this had to know that it was crap. 5/7/16

The Monster of Phantom Lake (2006)  

Another spoof of 1950s horror movies. This is the one where toxic waste is dumped in a lake and creates a seaweedy looking monster. A bunch of faux teenagers are partying in the woods nearby, predictably, including the lonely good girl who can’t get a date. There is a lot of silliness and the acting isn’t stellar, but both are by design. Filmed in authentic black and white, with special effects you could improve for ten bucks, and a story line that will remind you of many an old movie, this was amusing and even reasonably entertaining. 5/6/16

The Giant Spider (2013)

This spoof of oversized insect movies, filmed in black and white, has special effects comparable to that of the movies it is poking fun at, and an amusing theme song. The usual elements are there, though all tongue in cheek - the disbelieving general, the concerned scientists, the hicks and drunks who see the spider before it becomes a generally acknowledged menace. Some of the lines are mildly funny but none are particularly clever. The cast is clearly amateur. One good line: "I am a newspaper reporter. I am incapable of telling a lie."  The plot is pretty much irrelevant. The army fails but the reporter lures the creature to a power plant where it is electrocuted. Cute but minor. 5/5/16

The Hallow (2015)

You know what I really find offensive? Dvds that are designed so you can't skip or fast forward through long previews of movies you don't care about or have already seen. This is the worst case I have ever seen, wasting my time for no reason. Moving past that, the movie is about a conservationist who travels to Ireland with his wife and infant child to survey a forest that the local people consider hallowed ground. There are demonic fairies and other nasty things ahead of them. The camera work in this was quite good and the acting was all right. Nor does it waste time setting mood and creating a sense of menace. On the other hand, it was occasionally hard to figure out what was going on and the creatures weren't particularly interesting. From time to time the character acted with outstanding stupidity. And I hate baby in danger stories. They inevitably seem emotionally contrived. The last one I actually liked was Rosemary's Baby. And if someone breaks into your house one night, wouldn't you take precautions to prevent a recurrence? There are other occasions when the characters shrug off things that should make them very alarmed. There are inconsistencies as well. The fairy demons are supposedly unable to deal with iron, but only when it is convenient to the story line. At other times it bother them not at all. There is also one scene where a technician's hand is visible for a few seconds! Okay as long as you turn your brain off. 5/2/16

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2015)

I’m always a bit nervous when one of my favorite stories is transferred to the screen, because I’m usually disappointed. This one is about the rivalry between two talented magicians in an alternate Napoleonic period. England’s magicians all rely on tricks and illusions, but two men emerge who have genuine magical talents. The opening episode seemed quite close to the book, although I remember Norrell as being somewhat more self confident. I read this quite a while ago so my memory might be playing me false, but the adaptation seems quite loyal to the original. One flaw, if that’s the right word for it, is that the novel included a good deal that happens on the psychological or interpersonal level, and that’s not as dramatic on the screen. The magical effects are quite well done, however, and the acting is well above average all around. Norrell, of course, allows his arrogance to place himself partially under the power of a conniving fairy. Strange, though not formally trained, may have even greater talent. Their “friendship” turns into a duel. Worthwhile, but not what I expected somehow. 4/29/16

Castle Season 4 (2012)

This season Beckett is recovering from the psychological and physical effects of having nearly died after being shot by a sniper, connected to the murder of her mother, which has been a back story since season one. There are also early hints of the serial killer who managed to escape last season. She and Castle are moving closer to a romantic entanglement, but very slowly. Daughter Alexis ends her relationship with Ashley after he goes off to college in California. Beckett’s two subordinates get bigger roles this season and the new captain slowly begins to lose her resistance to accepting help from Castle. A couple of the episodes have some poor writing. New York police would not be operating in New Jersey without checking in with local police as happens in the episode about the dead casino owner. On a couple of occasions, the police manage to review complex financial records in a manner of minutes. The two part story involving the CIA is absolutely dreadful and is based on a ridiculous premise. This is also the season when the Castle Beckett romance starts to move toward its conclusion. Mostly good episodes, and the cast shines throughout. 4/27/16

Creeper (2016)

I only made it about halfway through this absolutely horrible revenge horror movie. Five of the most ridiculously nasty young women play a series of tricks on a gullible man on the internet, humiliating him sexually and otherwise. After the final traumatic event, he disappears from a year. Now he's back and off his meds so that his psychotic tendencies take over. He abducts all five, usually in the nude, and uses a series of pranks that accelerate until they're deadly. The acting is so bad that I didn't believe in any of the characters, but if I had, I would have been cheering for the killer, who at least had some justification. Special effects and continuity are so bad that two of the characters were dead, but I didn't realize it until I noticed that they weren't around any more. Boring, insultingly simpleminded, and there's even a defect in the film that left artifacts on the picture. 4/26/`6

Howard the Duck (1986)

Here’s a Marvel comics inspired movie that has been largely forgotten, and not unfairly. Howard is an inhabitant of an all duck planet who is abducted to Earth accidentally and just in time to forestall an alien invasion. This is a spoof, so it’s pointless to pick on the scientific nonsense. Unfortunately, it’s not a very funny spoof. Howard ends up with a rock singer, Lea Thompson looking very uncomfortable in the role, with no idea how he got there or why. The dialogue is corny but not at all funny. Special effects are pretty lame but the monster at the end is amusing. 4/22/16

X: The Fiend from Beyond Space (2015)

The Wall People (2015) 

The first of these two spoofs is about a spaceship which finds an apparently dead alien creature. The dialogue and plot are both pretty crude and although this occasionally seems like a spoof, it is more properly a pastiche, and a bad one. The dead alien can seize control of other bodies and it menaces the entire mission. Boring. The second title is horror, from the same people. It’s about creatures who live in walls and prey on children. This one was also boring, although it’s slightly more interesting. Both of these are meant as homages to the 1950s and both are in black and white, but they would only have worked as short subjects, not as full length movies. 4/21/16

Hydra (2009)

A group of bad guys decide they want to hunt humans, so they kidnap our hero and set him down with a couple of other people on a supposedly deserted island. The problem is that the island is home to the legendary hydra, and it decides to hunt the hunters as well as the prey. The hydra is, of course, not very good CGI. Some of the death scenes are so bad they’re funny. There’s also a CGI ship that sinks, not very convincingly. Needless to say the acting is half hearted, at best.  The dialogue is variously awkward, absurd, and insultingly stupid. There is some nice scenery, but only briefly. When there’s an earthquake, the people sway, but nothing else does. I always wonder if the people involved with making this realized how bad it was, and if they did, were they embarrassed?  At one point, they hear the rubber dinghy reaching shore, even though they are miles away! At another point, they hear someone cry out from five miles away. At still another, the man who arranged this reprimands the ship’s captain for including a commando among the prisoners without telling him and endangering the operation, but then goes on to say that he checked him out and knew that was the case.  And the magic sword has a different hilt in some of the scenes. Completely worthless. 4/20/16

Destination Outer Space (2010)

This is the sequel to Cave Women on Mars. Deliberate overacting and intentionally corny writing dominate this spoof of 1950s SF films. Need I say that the special effects make those of the early Doctor Who show look sophisticated. The cartoon asteroids are hilarious.  The hero is piloting a one man space vessel that is supposed to be capable of faster than light travel. “Maybe repairing a leak of space fuel with a red hot laser torch isn’t such a good idea.” Lost in space, he lands on a planet – with a breathable atmosphere of course.  He finds a town with a bar – a silly spoof of the cantina in Star Wars and Star Trek. There are, in fact, several reference to that movie along the way. He escapes slavers and encounters a typically stupid and literal tinfoil robot. Amusing, but minor. 4/19/16

Mr. & Mrs. North Volume XI (1953)  

In the first of these four episodes, one of their neighbors tries to convince the Norths that someone is trying to kill him. An embezzling scheme is revealed when a dying man tries to claim that he is responsible in order to protect the real thief. Next the Norths befriend a young man who was thrown out of the navy when it is discovered that he has lied about his age, and finally the Norths are witnesses when gangsters abduct a young woman, and they manage to rescue her. I believe this is the last in this series of samplers although the show actually lasted for three years. 4/18/16

Lake Fear (2014)  

Spectacularly bad acting hobbles this one from the outset, and the soundtrack – which tries too hard – doesn’t help at all. Four obnoxious young women decide to spend a weekend at a remote cabin. And then there’s the really terrible camera work, odd angles, lighting problems, etc. They somehow located the cabin on the internet, but there’s no explanation for why they thought it would be unoccupied since it’s way off the beaten track. They decide it is abandoned and go inside – even though there is a lighted lantern hanging beside the door! It felt like no one involved had any idea how to do a horror film, or a movie at all for that matter. Eventually it starts to look like a bad ripoff of The Evil Dead. There’s a tape recorder with comments about some strange substance that will not allow anything that touches it to remain dead, or at least that’s what I think was going on. It’s not at all clear. And then there’s a sequence stolen from The Ring. None of it is really explained.  The bad camera work gets really annoying after a while – it’s not much better than found footage. And the “plot” seems to be a sequence of random events. There’s a flickering human figure, something icky that sprays out of the ground, something else that growls like a large animal, and so on. One character finds a saw blade in her hand, but how did it get there?  In one word, incoherent. 4/17/16

Childhood’s End (2015)

This adaptation of the Arthur C. Clarke novel opens with a major error – we know that the human race is extinct by the end. That eliminates much of the uncertainty about the arrival of the aliens. They also go out of their way to make the arrival of the aliens seem creepier than it was in the book, with gimmicks borrowed from Close Encounters that don’t make sense in this context. There are some nice touches – I liked the commercial spots by the anti-alien league. On the other hand, in the scene where they cure the boy who was shot to death, his clothing has magically mended itself and the bloodstains are gone. There is a lot of added detail about the characters, and to a degree that’s a good thing, but there is so much of it that the story tends to plod at times – four hours is a bit long for the story that they’re telling. As much as I have enjoyed the novel, I had problems with its premise and they’re carried over here. For one thing, the death of scientific inquiry does not strike me as a benevolent outcome. The ease with which opposition is overcome never struck me as realistic. And at the end, when the evolved humans destroy the Earth and all the animal life on it, I found them amoral if not actively evil. Events are compressed in the film so that the same cast can be used throughout, which was not the case with the book. The middle section is the most padded and contains the weakest scenes. I won’t spoil the ending in case anyone wants to watch it – or preferably read the novel – but both endings imply that massive evolution could take place within a single generation, which I find implausible. And making the overlord planet look like the classic Hell is a cheap shot that makes no sense in context. 4/16/16

Cave Women on Mars (2008) 

This is another spoof of 1950s SF movies. The first expedition to Mars arrives and lands on the planet with deliberately primitive special effects. They find a breathable atmosphere, normal temperatures, and profuse vegetation. They find humans on Mars, and they speak English! There are competing tribes of amazons and they capture one of the two astronauts. The two tribes battle over the prisoners - although we only see five members of them combined - and eventually his partner comes to the rescue. The dialogue is deliberately corny, and it is almost invariably spoken in a monotone. There are, incidentally, no caves in the movie.  It’s too long for the amount of jokes included. 4/15/16

Doctor Who Series 9 Part 2 (2015) 

Millions of shapechanging Zygons are living on Earth, disguised as humans, but the secret treaty is about to be disrupted in the opening episode of this collection. It’s a pretty thin analogy to Muslim terrorism. Events seem to occur almost at random in this one. The confrontation at the church with the aliens is complete nonsense. The writing is atrocious. It’s a two parter and it’s awful. “Sleep No More” gets off to a bad start. The premise is that we’re watching footage of a rescue mission in space, except that there is no one among the rescue party with a camera, so the footage is impossible. If you’re going to use that device, you need to use it properly or it just looks stupid. Part of it is explained away, but not all. One of the four rescuers has been programmed to respond to anything resembling a threat, but one of the other three is unaware of that fact for some reason, which seems rather dumb. Anyway, the Doctor and Clara show up at the same time and everyone gets chased around by some monsters. Then Clara climbs into a machine whose purpose she doesn’t understand. The stupidity level is really high in this one. The monsters are basically nightmares made flesh. "Face the Raven" at least has an interesting premise. A friend wakes up with a tattoo of a number, and the number is counting down. Alas, the story deteriorates pretty quickly, though it's not as bad as most of the rest of the season. Poor Maisie Williams has to make a completely inane argument about sentencing someone to death because he happened upon a body. More terrible writing and dialogue. The death of Clara is a drawn out tear jerker. The final two episodes have a few good moments, but they're swamped by poor continuity and confusing plot jumps. 4/14/16

The Expanse Season 1 (2015) 

I really enjoyed the series of novels that this is based upon. The setting is a settled solar system divided among three major powers, Earth, Mars, and the Belters. If I hadn’t read the books, I suspect the first episode would have left me very confused because it has to introduce so many characters and plot lines. The story opens with the daughter of a rich Earthman missing from Ceres Station, with interplanetary tensions rising, and with a commercial ship investigating a mysterious distress call from a dead ship. There are some errors about how inertia works in space, but I expected that, and the special effects in general are pretty good. The plot is pretty loyal although at least one character is introduced much earlier than expected. This isn’t a show you can watch from time to time or start along the way. Things are too complex and interwoven. Someone is trying to provoke a war and has ships and weapons that no one suspected existed. Even knowing what is yet to come I felt genuine suspense as the story unfolds on the screen. Most of the characters seem nastier on the screen than they did in the book, but it's been a while since I read it - this season only covers Leviathan Wakes, and not even all of that. 4/11/16

Mr. & Mrs. North Volume X (1953)  

Four more episodes. The first involves a woman in prison who wants to turn her life around, but she’s under pressure from a gang of drug dealers. The Norths are taken hostage for about the tenth time when they stumble onto a communist cell in Chinatown. A writer whom Jerry North wishes to publish is murdered in the third episode, and they find yet another corpse in the fourth, this time in the closet of their hotel room. Somewhat weaker selection than in most of the other volumes although a guest appearance by Hans Conreid is charming. 4/10/16

Dr. Who Series 9: Part One (2015) 

I have not been happy with what has been done with this show. It went from low production values with interesting stories to high production values with self indulgent, silly, and sometimes almost incomprehensible stories. Not a good tradeoff. So I approached this nervously, despite the fact that I actually kind of liked the new Doctor. The opening episode this season, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” is a great illustration of how Stephen Moffat is destroying the show. If he didn’t like the original premise, he could have ignored it. Instead he spends a good deal of effort to contradict it, this time with the Doctor rescuing a young Davros – which never happened according to the original shows – but in a series of confusing cuts and scenes that would surely have discouraged any new viewer from watching any further. The Doctor has disappeared but not really and the story proceeds to apocalyptic events which we know are going to be reversed, after a series of implausible and sometimes confusing events that suggest the writer has nothing but contempt for his audience. Storytelling requires a comprehensible series of events with which the reader can identify and feel sympathy. A series of random scenes loosely but not logically connected does not measure up. The Master, incidentally, is now a woman and now has teleportation abilities and can travel through time at will. The story, such as it is, ends in “The Wizard’s Familiar.” I do like the actress playing the Master/Missy though. 

Things do improve eventually. “Under the Lake” is set on a near future Earth where an underwater installation discovers and takes aboard what appears to be an abandoned spaceship. But it’s not abandoned. The Doctor arrives three days later to find it abandoned except for a couple of apparent ghosts. The “ghosts” can interact with solid matter in limited ways and they turn hostile. The story concludes in “Before the Flood.”  This was a much better sequence with a comprehensible story line even though it involved time travel paradoxes. Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones shows up for "The Girl Who Died," part of a Viking community that is being preyed upon by a creature pretending to be Odin. This one is concluded in "The Woman Who Lived." The Doctor has inadvertently made a young Viking immortal. The first half is pretty good, the second rather slow. Not a completely wasted half season, but nothing particularly memorable. 4/8/16

Mr. & Mrs. North Volume IX (1953)

The four episodes in this volume include the Norths adventures when their car breaks down in front of a house where a woman is being held captive. This episode is also on Volume II. Then they are waiting for a friend to have a baby when they discover that there is a killer in the hospital. In the next, and one of their best, an insane woman assumes another’s identity while they are all traveling by train. And finally, Jerry North is tricked into taking possession of a bundle of stolen money when an old flame shows up in trouble. 4/7/16

Divergent (2014) 

This first movie in a series based on a YA dystopian series has many of the same problems that the Hunger Games books and movies have. There is no logical progression from our world to the one portrayed, the one portrayed is full of inconsistencies and situations that don’t make sense, and a single individual discovers the “truth” and changes the world in a complete implausible fashion. This one is set after an apparent nuclear war that destroyed most of the world, except that Chicago looks very much like it always did except for dirty buildings. All teens have to go through tests to determine what faction they belong to, and there’s a plot to wipe out one of these factions. The protagonist figures this out and starts to resist. The factions are supposed to prevent future wars, but if there are no other countries surviving, then why bother? The acting is okay and some of the scenes work well because of the high production values, but the story is just too dumb to be engaging. 4/5/16

Judas Ghost (2013)

A group of annoying inept ghost hunters are sent to a school that has been the scene of a number of ghostly appearances. The story wastes no time getting started, or establishing the characters, who are generally not interesting enough that it matter. Proof that British film makers can be just as incompetent as American ones. Some of the earlier scenes are so bad that I would probably have killed the movie at that point if I'd had enough energy.  This was apparently written by fantasy writer Simon R. Green, whose work I generally like, but the story is boring, the special effects are dull and amateurish, and the plot is slow moving and predictable. Low budget doesn't necessarily mean awful, but in this case, it clearly does. 4/3/16

Mr. & Mrs. North Volume VI (1953) U243 

The Norths return for four more adventures. This is a selection of four typical episodes in which they stumble into crimes and solve them. They include murder at a beauty pageant, a bookie who fakes his own death, an extortion racket that targets small businesses, and a political protestor who takes the Norths as hostages as part of his protest. About average quality for the series, and still enjoyable. 4/1/16

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