Last Update 5/24/18

 

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool is trying to find a way to kill himself after his girlfriend is murdered. His friends from the X-Men temporarily recruit him and he gets caught up with an abused mutant boy who is being hunted by Cable, a soldier from the future. This leads to some complicated shenanigans that result in a prison break and the boy teaming up with the villainous Juggernaut, while Deadpool recruits the X Force, who are mostly dead before they even have a chance to engage the enemy. The usual wisecracking and gross jokes are abundant, the action is over the top, and the story more than slightly tongue in cheek. The five (!) easter eggs in the credits are great fun. I'm not sure if this is better than the first one, but it certainly is just as good. Leslie Uggams is a real treat once again as Blind Al. 5/24/18

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

There is an impressive cast for the third iteration of this Agatha Christie novel, and they all put in good performances. She sets and photography are excellent as well. A repulsive man is murdered on a train and Hercule Poirot has to solve the crime while they are snowbound. The screenplay sticks pretty close to the plot and the only innovations are that Poirot gets shot at one point, and physically subdues a suspect at another. Neither scene serves any purpose and the latter seems out of character. On the whole, it was okay but totally unnecessary. It brings nothing new to the story and in fact both previous versions did a better job at bringing out the characters of the suspects and the tragedy of the original crime that inspired it all. 5/15/18

The Night Before (1988)  

A young Keanu Reeves is a bit of a nerd who gets invited to the Prom by the most popular girl in school. But there is something weird going on. She doesn’t really like him and her father makes a big deal of showing her date that he has a large collection of guns. When Reeves wakes up in an alley hours later, he has no idea how he got there or where his date went. And someone has stolen his father’s car. This comedy has some good moments, but it’s too disorganized and jumpy to be really effective. Not awful, but not very good except in a few spots. 5/14/18

The Night of the Hunted (1980) 

A rather surreal mildly futuristic film in which a group of people suffering from amnesia interact. There is a good deal of nudity, but the camera work is so primitive that it’s not particularly erotic. The subtitles are less than enthralling and include misspellings. It appears that there has been some kind of industrial accident that the government is covering up, so victims who become too troublesome are done away with, the rest confined to control the story. Some try to escape, usually while scantily dressed. Has a few good moments, but not enough of them to be worth your time. 5/13/18

Twice Dead (1988) 

The Evil (1978)

 A cash strapped family inherits a mansion once owned by an actor who killed himself. The neighborhood has deteriorated and they have an unpleasant encounter with the local gang of juvenile delinquents – who are almost comically overdone. The high school aged son does not find it unusual that there are candles burning in a locked room. The daughter comments about a school assignment, but they haven’t been to their new school yet. The sister is actually 25 and does not remotely look like a teenager. The ghost eventually kills all the delinquents but the family escapes. The second is better acted and written – Richard Crenna, Cassie Yates, and Victor Buono – but it’s a relatively tame and unimaginative haunted house story with nothing particularly interesting to make it stand out. 5/12/18

Summoned (2013) 

This is a well done but very routine supernatural thriller. The jurors who convicted a serial killer are dying mysteriously and one of them wonders if the dead man has returned from the grave. He has, actually, because he was innocent, and subsequent events prove that and eventually lead to the real killer. The plot is bit opaque at times, and there’s not really a great deal of suspense, but the acting is quite good and it is generally entertaining. 5/11/18

Gates of Hell: Dead Awakening (1990) 

Also known as Through the Fire. A cult brings an ancient evil back to life, and it doesn’t play nice. What did they expect? Terrible acting, even worse picture and sound quality, bad special effects and a story that is so boring that even the jump scares aren’t noticeable. This is supposedly a sequel to Gates of Hell, which wasn’t all that great either but at least it seemed competently done. This feels like amateur work. 5/10/18

Bonejangles (2018) 

This is an extremely unfunny and amateurish spoof of supernatural serial killer movies. The actors are all clearly amateurs, as are the director and screen writer. Camera work is terrible. Story is even worse. A film that just went over the usual horror movie tropes in humorous but repetitive fashion would have been better than this mess, which shows no concept of how humor works at all. If you have nothing to say, you shouldn't be in the business. 5/9/18

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) 

This is a sort of ripoff, because it’s not the movie one normally associates with the title. This is actually a new release of Invasion of the Flesh Hunters, in which John Saxon is one of a group of Vietnamese veterans who returns to the US carrying a disease that compels its sufferers to be cannibals. It feels dubbed even when English speaking actors are speaking, and its cheap production values are not only evident, they are overpowering. This was Saxon at the low point of a pretty dismal career. 5/8/18

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018) 

Take a reasonably good movie, remake it in a new location with inferior actors and inane dialogue, assign a budget that means the installation looks like a high school gymnasium, develop a plot that makes no sense at all, throw in a few scientific facts that aren’t, add a dopey theme song, and garnish with bad editing, bad directing, bad special effects, and an insultingly dumb premises and you have this story of experimenting on sharks, and what can and does go terribly wrong.  Super intelligent sharks and an ocean habitat with no armor leads to the inevitable. Terrible. 5/7/18

Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell (2018)   

I love this series. It is generally low budget and sometimes silly, but it’s always fun. Michael Gross/Burt Gummer and his son travel to Canada to investigate that the tunneling graboids are active again. As usual, there’s not much of any real plot. A group of people at a remote scientific post have to survive and find a way to destroy the creatures. Things are complicated because Burt is infected with a fatal virus that can only be cured if they catch one of the creatures alive. Not Oscar material, but excellent for direct to video and the special effects are actually surprisingly good. 5/6/18

Split (2016) 

A man with 23 different personalities abducts three young women. He keeps them locked up while he cycles through his personalities, but what they don’t know is that the 24th personality will actually transform him into a supernatural beast. Filled with boring flashbacks, marred by the passivity of the captives, and confused about what kind of movie it was supposed to be. I barely made it to the end and the twist left me yawning. 5/5/18

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Big, colorful, action packed, loud, but rather implausible and really lacking much story. Thanos wants to gather all the infinity stones so that he can wipe out half the universe and make life easier for the other half. It never seems to occur to him that the survivors would simply breed back to their former numbers. The stones themselves provide such bizarre powers that he can control time and reality, so why not make reality capable of supporting larger populations? Except for the end, there is really little in the way of spoilers to reveal since almost the entire movie is just one battle scene after another. At times it felt like the Transformers and the usual comic relief is almost completely absent. Unlike any of the other Marvel movies, I'm not sure I would ever want to watch this one again. 5/4/18

City of the Living Dead (1980) 

A priest hangs himself in a church cemetery in Dunwich, which for some reason opens the gateway to Hell. There’s a nonsensical scene early on when a woman is inadvertently buried alive while in a coma. Since she would have been embalmed first, this is not possible. There is a lot of gore but not much logic. Sometimes victims vomit up their own intestines, sometimes they have to be physically attacked by the dead. The dubbing varies in quality as this is an Italian film. A few scenes are reasonably suspenseful but others are just silly. 5/3/18

Monkey Shines (1988)  

George Romero directed this but was apparently unhappy about studio interference. A bitter quadriplegic gets an experimental monkey as an aide, and the two form a mental bond that spurs the monkey to act upon the man’s suppressed resentments. There are some problems. The nurse should have been replaced when she became irrationally abusive. The protagonist turns to the dark side too quickly, but since most of the other characters are pretty awful, it probably doesn’t matter.  He eventually redeems himself, and the malevolent monkey becomes his nemesis. Very effective and genuinely creepy. 5/2/18

Chiller (1985)   

A businessman is restored to life after ten years frozen in a cryogenic facility. He returns to the family business, but while his body is back, it may no longer possess a soul. This was pretty low key for Wes Craven – not a lot of violence, minimal special effects, and only occasionally suspenseful. Technically horror, but more of a psychological drama despite its supernatural overtones. My attention drifted more than once. 5/1/18

As Above, So Below (2014) 

Surrealism and other unusual cinematography can be very effective. But if you don’t understand the fundamentals of film making, excursions into the extreme will likely come across as silly, inept, or downright garbage. This is mostly in that last category. It has all the worst aspects of found footage with none of its rare advantages. It’s a sort of supernatural Tomb Raider in the catacombs under Paris, and it is so bad that my jaw dropped far enough to aggravate the muscle I pulled in my cheekbone. Despite some sort of good reviews, this is useless garbage and you should not waste your time on it. 4/30/18

Invisible Invaders (1959) 

Low budget even for the 1950s. The moon is inhabited but the invisible creatures have decided to take over the Earth. To do so, they begin animating corpses and using them against the living. John Agar and John Carradine both appeared in some pretty bad movies, and this is one of the worst for either of them. It’s sort of Plan 9 from Outer Space without the unintended laughs. Today it would be direct to video. 4/29/18

Dead End Drive-In (1996) 

Although this is packaged to look like a horror film, it is actually dystopian SF. Gangs rove the city streets with impunity, the police are compromised, the economy is falling apart, and chaos is near. For some reason the government builds a barricade around a drive in theater, turning it into an impromptu prison for about a hundred young people who were watching the show. The rationale for this is never explained. Although hardly a classic, this is not as bad as it sounds and even has some good moments. Not entirely serious and occasionally actually funny. 4/28/18

A Quiet Place (2018) 

LOTS OF SPOILERS. A meteorite crashes in Mexico and malevolent alien creatures that home on any loud sound and kill or destroy its origin virtually wipe out the human race in less than ninety days. We follow the adventures of a family who are trying to survive, and to find a way to fight back. This was an interesting idea and pretty well done, other than some gaping plot holes. How did the aliens spread around the world so quickly? If almost everyone is dead, how come there is an elderly couple living nearby? How did the alien get into their sub-basement – there are three or four places where I wasn’t sure what happened. If the aliens are “indestructible” and wiped out all of the armies, how does the mother manage to kill one with one bullet? If the aliens were so sound oriented, surely someone would have tried different wavelengths and so on to see if any of them worked against the critters. It occurred to me right off, and I’m not a scientist. If they can talk near the waterfall because it drowns out sound, why didn’t they move there?  How could there be so many aliens that the family spots three of them just in their very circumscribed area?  Worth watching but should have been better developed. 4/27/18

Stripped to Kill (1987)  

Kay Lenz and Greg Evigan investigate a series of bizarre murders of strippers. In order to trap the killer, Lenz has to become a stripper herself. Although this is remastered, the picture is occasionally fuzzy and the sound isn’t always great. It’s an exploitation film with lots of nudity but unlike most similar efforts, there is a fairly strong story as well. Pretty good soundtrack. Lenz is not much of a dancer. Evigan plays a bad cop, beating up suspects and mistreating even his own partner, although he is supposed to be a sympathetic character. Nice surprise ending. 4/26/18

Lady in the Lake (1946) 

The gimmick in this adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel is that we see everything through the eyes of Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) so we never actually see him except in reflections. An interesting experiment that fails utterly, drawing too much attention to the gimmick and away from the story. The wisecracks that work so well in the book are absolutely awful in this version, which is in some ways among the worst movies ever made, particularly surprising because the source material is so good. 4/25/18

What Did You Do in the War Daddy? (1966) 

I hadn’t seen this World War II comedy starring James Coburn since I was in college. The cast includes Carroll O’Connor, Harry Morgan, and Dick Shawn. A worn out unit commanded by a by-the-book idiot is ordered to capture a critical Italian town. The Italian unit defending the town is eager to surrender but they want a festival first. Both sides send communications indicating they are engaged in combat, although that’s not true.  Unfortunately both the allies and the Germans decide this is an opportunity to alter the course of the war, so both send in reinforcements. So things get complicated. Great fun. Whole heartedly recommended. 4/24/18

The Leech Woman (1960) 

I hadn’t seen this since the 1960s. A woman acquires a method of restoring her youth periodically, unfortunately it requires the death of men to work. She kills her obnoxious husband and a number of other victims. The problem with this one is that even the “good” male characters are easily seduced in a rather depressing evaluation of human nature. Rather simple minded but reasonably effective. 4/23/18

The Projected Man (1966) 

This feels very much like a 1950s movie. An experiment in teleportation is being undermined by a rival who wants to steal the discovery. The scientist who is actually responsible tries to pre-empt the attack by projecting himself, but something goes wrong and he is badly warped. If it was not at the tail end of that period, it might have a better reputation, but as it is, it remains derivative and not very interesting. 4/22/18

The Nest (1987) 

Nature goes wild again, in this case killer cockroaches with a taste for human blood. They first appear on an isolated island where the local population consists primarily of marginally competent actors. The plot is a copy of Jaws. There’s a developer and a politician hoping to turn the island into a tourist trap. The plot advances predictably with the cockroaches invisible at first, then beginning to claim victims. The effects are at times embarrassing. The late attempt to be funny is unfunny and inappropriate. Not awful. Not particularly good. 4/21/18

Rampage (2018) 

I didn’t expect much from this adaptation of the computer game, and I got even less. The plot is simple – a wolf, a gorilla, and a crocodile are all exposed to an experimental substance that makes them grow bigger, stronger, angrier, and more resistant to damage. And they’re all headed toward Chicago. The visuals are fun but the story line verges on being insulting. People know things before they are told, the time scale is inconsistent, and there are too many coincidences. Much of the explanation makes no sense at all. A colonel would never be given the authority to order downtown Chicago completely destroyed without consulting with his superiors and civilian officials, particularly when the city was only half evacuated. And how do you evacuate half of Chicago in less than an hour? I should have waited for the DVD. 4/20/18

Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) 

This is an adaptation of “Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson, a very creepy story. The movie, for all its faults, is creepy as well. A group of people are shipwrecked on an island of giant fungi and as time passes they realize their own bodies have been invaded by spores and they are going to become part of the landscape, their bodies transformed. Much better than it could have been particularly on a low budget. The title does not reflect anything that happens in the story, as no one attacks anything. Also known as Matango. 4/19/18

Zulu Dawn (1979)

This excellent film is a reasonably accurate retelling of the story of the massacre of a British regiment at the hands of the Zulu. Problems with the way ammunition was doled out, poor intelligence, arrogance about the superiority of British arms, and the overwhelming weight of numbers were the major factors in the disaster. It is hard not to be cheering on the Zulu, who were clearly the offended party, despite the valor of some of the British soldiers. Beautifully photographed and choreographed. I’ve watched this half a dozen times. 4/18/18

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

This rather odd western quasi-horror adventure film features Kurt Russell as Sheriff in a small town which is raided by cannibalistic hill men after they are led there inadvertently by a drifter. Russell and a couple of others attempt to rescue the kidnapped townspeople. Much of the film is just the small posse’s journey to the confrontation, but it is a strange and rather compelling sequence. Matthew Fox is a very strange quasi-villain. The last few minutes are brutal and gory and I was surprised about who actually survived. 4/17/18

Spasms (1983) 

Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda star in this horror adventure. It’s about a giant snake which Reed believes is telepathically linked to him. Telepathy, supposedly, is the result of a virus. He arranges to have the snake captured and brought to the US for study. There is also a rather silly snake cult who hope to hijack the snake. Rather predictably, the snake escapes during the attempted heist and has to be tracked down. Most of the time we don’t see more than shadows. Toward the end, it appears that the snake is actually supernatural. Its size varies from scene to scene, rather carelessly. The ending is a real let down, and doesn’t even make sense. 4/16/18

Grey Knight (1993) 

This tale of the supernatural during the Civil War has also been known as Ghost Brigade, The Lost Brigade, and The Killing Box. There’s a good cast – Martin Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Adrian Pasdar, Ray Wise – and the film generally avoids the clichés of the genre, but just barely. During the fighting in Tennessee, something seems to be attacking soldiers from both sides indiscriminately. An investigation is launched by the Union army, with a Confederate prisoner of war assisting. The victims are mutilated or crucified or otherwise mistreated. It’s voodoo magic. The dead are rising, although otherwise they don’t act much differently – other than killing everyone they encounter. No special effects or even any notable makeup. 4/15/18

Annabelle Creation (2017) 

Prequel to The Conjuring. A couple of dollmakers lose their daughter in an accident. A few years later they – entirely implausibly – are chosen as foster parents for six unrelated female children, all at once, at their remote location, without any obvious vetting, and despite the clear mental illness of the wife. No matter how good the acting and other production values might be, such an egregious break from reality is almost certain to prove to be a fatal flaw. The child actors do a good job, but the material and editing fall short. The creepy scenes just aren’t creepy and the animated doll is such a cliché that it almost becomes laughable. 4/14/18

Ready Player One (2018)

This was a game player’s wetdream. A bunch of mostly kids battle an evil but not very competent businessman for control of a virtual world. The visuals are superb and the performances are mostly excellent. The plot holes are relatively small and so much is happening that I didn’t notice most of them until after I left the theater. It’s fun picking out tidbits from other movies strewn through the movie. I didn’t understand how they could operate a private army and conduct multiple violent and large scale assaults with impunity, but one man waving a gun that he didn’t even fire somehow merited four police cars. A pivotal plot element, the deactivation of a magical object, is a complete cheat, violating the rules that have been established, but I won't reveal the spoiler here, If it was not so important to the plot, it would be inconsequential. As it stands, it invalidated the story for me. 4/13/18

Zorro’s Black Whip (1944)  

This cliffhanger serial is not really about Zorro. It’s set in Idaho, not California, and involves a murderous businessman who does not want Idaho to become a state. He is willing to kill or intimidate anyone opposed to his plans. A local woman puts on a black mask and picks up a whip and is known in fact as the Black Whip, not Zorro. After multiple near death incidents, she finally defeats the bad guy and paves the way to statehood. Not awful, but the title is really misleading and it is good to see a female heroine this far back. 4/12/18

Pay the Ghost (2015)

Nicholas Cage stars in this mainstream horror thriller. His young son mysteriously disappears on Halloween. A year later he senses that the boy is trying to communicate with him, and also learns that there are numerous child disappearances on Halloween every year in the city. This leads him to perhaps a bit too easily discover that a witch and her children were burned generations earlier and the witch’s ghost takes children to a kind of limbo every Halloween. But they’re all still there. He eventually rescues his son and two others, but for some reason makes no effort to lead the hundreds of other children back to the world. I had several questions that never got answered, but it was good enough to hold my attention to the end. 4/11/18

I See You.Com (2006) 

When his parents go broke, a teenager fits the house with hidden cameras and starts a reality television style website. It becomes successful, but with consequences. This is a somewhat over the top farce with some satire mixed in, but the performances – Beau Bridges, Rosanna Arquette, Shiri Appleby – are all well above average and saved what was from time to time a rather silly story. Not a comedic classic but fun if you’re in the right mood. 4/10/18

The Dark Tower (2017)  

Adaptation of part of the series of fantasy novels by Stephen King which, I confess, I never really enjoyed. The movie pleased me even less. For one thing, much of it is not the story I remember, and the parts that are the same don’t feel the same. For another, it almost seems as though they wanted to make it into a movie for kids. The special effects are okay and the performances are more than competent, but things seem to come from out of nowhere and while it falls short of being incoherent, it is at times quite disorganized. I have not heard that they plan to do more books in the series, but I hope not. 4/9/18

Zulu (1964)

Michael Caine is the less than admirable officer in this recreation of the amazing defense of a small compound by a handful of British soldiers when they are beset by a very large Zulu army. I have read a detailed account of this battle and other than a few minor details, this is astonishingly accurate. This and the associated movie fifteen years later are among my favorites, and I’ve watched them several times over the years. Some of the photography and sequences of scenes are superb. The two movies always feel fresh and lively and I consider them two of the best historical movies of all time, although this is marginally the better of the two. 4/8/18

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (1980) 

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Dynamite (1981) 

The first is taken from the excellent John D. MacDonald novel, which would probably have been much better had it not been made for television, which would rule out nudity and other adult aspects of the story. The second was original to tv, with a different cast, and is even less interesting.  The premise is a magical stopwatch which freezes time for everyone except the person holding it when it is engaged. In the first, Robert Hays discovers that his very rich uncle has left him only a pocket watch in his will. There are crooks interested in the dead uncle’s business secrets, and his former board of trustees, who think the protagonist has embezzled a very large amount of money. The second has a less coherent plot and is close to unwatchable. 4/7/18

The House That Dripped Blood (1970) 

A Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee anthology of four stories, with a frame story about the house the various characters live in. The first is about an author whose malevolent killer character keeps appearing to him. It turns out to be his wife’s secret lover. The second is awful. The owner of a wax museum is a psychopathic killer. The third involves a child who discovers she is a witch. The fourth, with Jon Pertwee, is played mostly for laughs and was my favorite. It involves a cloak that turns people into vampires. Nothing really great but nothing bad either. 4/6/18

Headhunter (1988)  

I saw this when it first came out and I always liked Kay Lenz so it stuck in my memory as a better than average horror movie. A voodoo ceremony releases a demon in New Orleans, which decapitates some of its victims and possesses others.  Lenz and her partner are detectives investigating the series of gruesome murders, but naturally they don’t suspect that there is a supernatural being at work. Quite suspenseful, well-acted, and the plot makes reasonable sense given its initial premise. The personal problems of the two detectives provide more texture than is usual in this sort of movie.  4/5/18

Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939) 

A villain in a suit of armor plans to install himself as emperor of Mexico, at the expense of the downtrodden. Zorro organizes a legion of masked fighters to help him disrupt the man’s plans. This is a cliff hanger serial broken up into multiple episodes, at the end of each of which Zorro or someone else is in mortal danger or presumed dead, only to be saved at the beginning of the next installment. Zorro features in several of these serials, of which this is the best. 4/4/18

Jane and the Lost City (1987) 

An adventure spoof based on a newspaper comic from the 1930s. Jane is off to find a lost city in Africa before it can be exploited by Nazis under the command of Maud Adams. The comedy does not always work but the adventures are entertaining, some of the scenery is nice, and Adams is a great villain. This was a lot better than I remembered from when I first watched it thirty years ago, which was a pleasant surprise. Frequently silly, but deliberately so, and it pokes fun at the conventions of similar films rather pointedly at times. The title role, however, is played by an actress who has no real screen presence, and she’s supposed to be sexy but it’s so artificial that it isn’t. You have to enjoy farce to like this one. 4/3/18

Mosquito (1995)

Some kind of spaceship crashes near a camping area, after which mosquitoes begin to grow larger than dogs. Indifferent acting mixes with some misguided attempts to be funny as several campers and rangers and others fight for their lives against the growing hordes of overgrown bloodsuckers. Mediocre writing (the study of meteors is not meteorology) and special effects (the mosquitos usually look like rag dolls). Radiation doesn’t work the way it is described here. The idiot plot lives. Three people find the campground full of corpses, and instead of driving away to seek help, they decide to explore among the dozens of dead bodies - separately. The “star” is Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface.  4/2/18

The Crooked Man (2016)  

This one borrows from the Candyman series. A group of kids recite an online rhyme that supposedly summons a supernatural killer. One of them is killed and another is assumed to be the killer and sent to a mental facility for several years. Now an adult, she has been released and she returns, convinced that the Crooked Man will return and kill the others. The advertising materials for this movie are dreadful. The dvd case says that she returns after eighteen years. It is only six years. The write up on IMDB says they sang a song to invoke the creature. Actually, they recite a rhyme. The acting is great but the writing needs work. The police would NOT refuse to write up an assault and death threats because they were too busy. And why is the Crooked Man able to kill people who had nothing to do with the rhyme, and why wait years to finish killing the ones who were? The story begins to fall apart after a while. Too many implausible events, too much inane dialogue, too many coincidences. How convenient that the expert on the Crooked Man lives in the same town! And so did the man who wrote an entire book about the rhyme. And so does his daughter who concealed information about her father’s suspicious death. And so is the Crooked Man’s actual home, even though he kills people all over the world.  And why would a hospital allow two people to be present during the emergency treatment of a victim, particularly two who are also wanted fugitives.  I lost all belief in the story when the police arrest someone that they know is innocent for no particular reason. The time frame is also off. The kids couldn’t be more than eight in the opening scene. Six years later, they’d be fourteen, but they are all high school graduates. Terrible ending. 4/1/18

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