Last Update 9/29/14

 

Batman and Robin (1997)   

This installment of the Batman saga was, unfortunately, not a good one. Arnold Scwarzennegger is Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman is Poison Ivy, but neither of them really shines as a villain. Alicia Silverstone was a fair Batgirl, but George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell were uninteresting as the title characters and the story is both boring and predictable. Bane also makes a brief appearance, further complicating a too complicated plot. There are a few good lines sprinkled through but not one scene that is even remotely memorable. I was very disappointed with this when it first came out and even now the only good thing I can say about it is that at least it wasn’t Christian Bale. 9/29/14

In Time (2011) 

This dystopian future is a variant of Logan’s Run.  Everyone is bioengineered to stop aging at 25 and to die at 26, unless they acquire more time to live in some fashion. Time is, therefore, essentially currency. If you’re rich enough you can live together but still look 25. Once past that leap of disbelief, the story makes reasonable sense, except that the mechanism is that two people clasp hands and time passes from one to the other. This quickly begins to look rather silly. There are lots of little goofs. Some of the measures of time passage don’t add up and how can the little girl be acquiring extra time when she hasn’t had her time clock installed yet. Our hero gets falsely accused of a murder, discovers that society is rigged to kill off the poor, gets chased around a lot, and upsets the societal applecart.  Lots of continuity errors, the worst of which is the man sitting on a bridge over a dried up riverbed. He falls – and the river is back!  But worse than all this is the fact that the movie is just plain boring. 9/28/14

Red Dwarf X (2012)  

The cast is looking a bit older but the show is as odd as ever. There are only six episodes this series. The opening episode is full of obvious jokes but somehow it’s funny anyway.  The second episode is much better. Lister has to deal with being his own father and the ship gets a new computer that can predict what they want before they want it.  In the third episode, they travel back to the time of Jesus and nearly wipeout Christianity. Next, Kryton and the cat become quantum linked so that they do things identically. Lister’s dalliance with a vending machine is pretty funny as well. The closing episode is less successful but the season is collectively pretty good. 9/27/14

Daybreakers (2009)   

Vampires have taken over the world and transformed civilization. Humans are bred like cattle for their blood but their numbers are dwindling. The cast features Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill, so it’s not a cheap production. The blood supply has shrunken dangerously and unless a substitute can be found within weeks, the entire population will begin to decline into deformed, mindless animals. Hawke is head researcher but his latest experiment is a disastrous failure. Instead he finds a way to turn vampires back into humans, but the new power structure doesn’t want that. There’s a surprise ending that I could see coming but it still works. This was a surprisingly good movie. 9/26/14

X-Men First Class (2011)

I was never a big fan of the X-Men comic book series and I haven’t enjoyed the movies all that much either. I didn’t even know this one existed until I spotted it in a store. It’s a prequel to the others with a young Xavier and a young Magneto. Erik, Magneto, is determined to track down Nazis while Xavier is looking for mutants. They become allies against a group led by Kevin Bacon. There are too many plot elements introduced too quickly in the first half hour. There’s an organization of evil mutants existing separate from Magneto, a secret service agent who accepts the existence of teleportation without blinking, and a few other twists that failed to convince me. The script tries to get too much story into too short a period of time, even though the movie runs over two hours. The constant prattle about fitting in gets old really fast. 9/25/14

Starship Rising (2014)  

The description on the case for this space opera made it sound really bad. There’s a lengthy, and sometimes silly, introductory narrative that suggested the Star Wars universe. The first live scene was even worse – human figures overlaid on a drawn background, followed by several other scenes all of which were amateurish and featuring washed out color. The dialogue is exceptionally bad, even for bad movies.  The sound level fluctuates, the scenes jump around, and scenes that would require a large cast are shown with no more than half a dozen people. The CGI is dismal, the plot is absurd, the acting is of spectacularly low quality. There is absolutely nothing good to be said about this. 9/24/14

Dark Passage (1947)

Although Bogart stars in this, we see much of the movie through his eyes directly so we don’t see much of him. After escaping from prison, he is picked up by Bacall, who knows who he is and believes he is not responsible for the murder of his wife. He has plastic surgery, after which we get to see his face normally for the balance of the film after more than an hour. There’s a mysterious man following him, his best friend is murdered, and an old acquaintance – Agnes Morehead – keeps popping up. Some of the coincidences are a bit of a leap but the story is direct despite the several twists and doesn’t let down. Unusual ending. 9/23/14

Vampire Academy (2014)  

The Richelle Mead teen vampire romance comes to the screen with a fairly good but not exceptional cast.  Two teenagers are runaways from the Vampire Academy, one a martial arts type halfbreed, the other a benevolent vampire. They are captured by agents of the school and brought back where they have to deal with the usual teenage problems, plus a host of evil vampires. The screenplay is very awkward rather more convoluted than it needed to be and at times it’s difficult to tell what is going on – particularly the visions and dream sequences. Too much happens too fast and with too little explanation.  Given that they are being trained to survive in the outside world, why are the students so completely ignorant about what happens there. Their pet cat changes colors somewhere along the way as well. There’s too much narration as well. An ambitious failure in some ways but still a failure. 9/22/14

Key Largo (1948)

Bogart and Bacall were a famous pair and this might well be their best film together. Bogart is visiting a hotel owned by the father and widow of a man with whom he served during the war. There’s a hurricane company and a group of gangsters led by Edward G. Robinson take over to shelter from the storm. This might not sound like a particularly interesting movie by contemporary standards but the editing, script, and plotting are so skillfully done that this remains one of the classic movies. I prefer it to Casablanca, which is sometimes considered Bogart’s best movie. The chemistry between the two leads is, as always, so powerful that it almost transcends the medium. 9/21/14

Asylum of the Dead (2012)  

I recognized a couple of the names in the cast, which suggested it might be worth watching. Appearances can be deceiving.  A television crew is filming on location in a supposedly haunted, abandoned mental hospital, one of the hoariest plots in horror movies. Supposedly it’s being converted into a theme park, but even though the props are all set up, there is no security and local teens can just walk in and do whatever they want! Within ten minutes I knew this was garbage. Most of the characters are obnoxious and most of the actors are talentless. The color is generally washed out so there is nothing visual to hold your attention, and there sure isn’t anything in the plot or dialogue. I’ve seen a lot of this color deficiency in recent horror movies. It’s not artsy; it’s cheap. There’s the mandatory creepy groundskeeper and the generic creepy music but neither accomplishes anything. Also known as Pennhurst. This had a decent budget but I can’t imagine where it went. Certainly not into the production. There is absolutely no suspense. It also has one of the least sexy scenes meant to be sexy that I’ve ever seen.  None of the characters seem particularly surprised by supernatural apparitions.  Awful from beginning to end. 9/20/14

Deep Breath (2014)

The first adventure of the latest Doctor Who. There’s a prequel that tries to be cute but is just silly. I was somewhat hesitant about this because the last two Matt Smith episodes were so badly written that they were an insult to the audience. The early part of this one did little to dispel my concerns. There’s a dinosaur walking around in downtown Victorian London and no one is trying to shoot it, capture it, or drive it away. Life just goes on as usual other than a little gawking. The early dialogue among the various companions doesn’t make much sense either. Peter Capaldi does, however, establish the new Doctor pretty well, although once again the sonic screwdriver has become a little black bag, demonstrating new powers whenever they are convenient to the plot. The dinosaur spontaneous combusts and a mysterious figure is seen nearby. There's a rendezvous in a clockwork restaurant that was the first real bright spot. It's a bit uneven after that. An alien spaceship crewed by robots is stealing human body parts to transform themselves. It's not a bad story overall, despite the occasional glitches. But it didn't make me feel any more optimistic about the new season. 9/19/14

Best in Show (2000)

Although this comedy is about dog show fandom, it wouldn't take much alteration to make it science fiction fans or any other kind of fans. After watching just a few minutes, you'll be telling yourself you know the people these characters are based on. Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, and others introduce you to the world of dog shows as several dog owners converge on a large competition, each with their own substory.  There's infidelity, frustrated ventriloquists, feuding fans, and a competitive spirit that becomes manic at times. Some of the jokes are ingroup but not completely opaque, and the excellent performances and well crafted script all contribute to one of the best comedies I've ever seen. 9/18/14

The Beast Must Die (1974)

Peter Cushing heads an otherwise indistinguishable cast in a disappointing adaptation of a James Blish werewolf story. The film turns it into a supernatural version of And Then There Were None. Several people are invited to a remote island cut off from the outside to spend a few days, but their host tells them that he has reason to believe that one of them is a werewolf, and that he wants to hunt the most dangerous creature on Earth. The bulk of the movie is structured like a whodunnit and there is even a break wherein the audience is supposed to make their final prediction about which of the guests is the lycanthrope. The action is muted, the special effects and cinematography in general are substandard, and while the acting is adequate the script is lifeless. I hope they paid Blish a lot of money. 9/17/14

Harper (1966) 

Paul Newman stars in this adaptation of the Ross MacDonald novel, The Moving Target, with a screenplay by William Goldman and a supporting cast that includes Lauren Bacall, Shelley Winters, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, and others.  Pam Tiffin plays the daughter of a rich man who has gone missing after Harper is hired by her stepmother, Bacall. The dialogue is spiffy but I would have been surprised if it had been anything else from Goldman. An excellent film which I’m sure I’ve seen before, but I didn’t remember it at all and was engrossed from beginning to end. The lack of good mystery movies never ceases to amaze and depress me. 9/16/14

Devil’s Mile (2014)

This starts badly but eventually picks up. We have some kidnappers who have abducted two Asian women, one of whom casually murders a  clerk at a rest stop. And there’s another man who commits a murder before the credits after some pseudo-philosophical mumbling. Except for the abductees, one of whom gets killed very early on, we are meant to detest the entire cast, which is not likely to entice us into feeling any sympathy for their fates.  The color is all washed out although the special effects are decent.  One of the kidnappers kills another, leaving only the two women and their female hostage, who turns out to be not the one they wanted to take. Then the spirit of the dead abductee returns seeking vengeance, although there is another plot underlying this that provides a surprise, but not entirely satisfactory ending. Despite some problems, there is the germ of a good idea here. They’re on a stretch of road where something supernatural is taking place, but is it the road, or them, or a combination of both. Cell phones announce conversations that haven’t taken place yet, which has a resonance at the climax. Both kidnappers begin to experience hallucinations – or are they real but personalized?  A later sequence involving a trunk that won’t stay closed is actually quite well done.  I won’t spoil the ending, which I didn’t completely understand. Better than I expected. 9/15/14

To Have and Have Not (1944)  

Lauren Bacall made her debut in this William Faulkner adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, starring Humphrey Bogart. Bogart is in North Africa during World War II, catering to rich tourists who want to fish and trying to ignore the struggles of the Free French and others. Bogart gets stiffed by a customer so he reluctantly agrees to transport a resistance leader. The two leads fell in love during the production and were married until Bogart’s untimely death. The novel was set in Cuba and Florida, so obviously there’s not much similarity and in fact it bears more resemblance to Casablanca than anything else. I hadn’t seen this in years and it was a very pleasant reunion. 9/14/14

Bermuda Tentacles (2014)   

I wonder if the founders of the Sci-Fi Channel ever realized it was going to become synonymous with bad movies. Linda Hamilton provides the name recognition, playing an admiral. Air Force One goes down in the Bermuda Triangle and a rescue mission is promptly dispatched. No explanation of why he would be flying through a storm of unprecedented ferocity.  The rescue crew travel aboard a CGI warship – apparently the studio ran out of stock footage – where they practice their inability to deliver dialogue convincingly, particularly when some of the dialogue is painful to listen to.  Oh, and you can’t have an immediate court martial in peacetime. The ship is immediately accosted by a slew of tentacles rising from the ocean. A scientist gets a five second look at them, identifies them as tubeworms and diagnoses inconsistencies in their internal biology, apparently with x-ray vision. Horrendously bad CGI effects ensue. The tentacle size varies from shot to shot, they don’t articulate convincingly, their shape changes back and forth, and the interaction with the live actors is dreadfully bad. They also fail to cause ripples when they emerge from and move through the water. They get the weapons and the uniforms wrong, which is minor, but they also confuse the geography of Florida, which a simple glance at a map could have fixed.  The garbage factor goes up dramatically when the rescue squad – only eight people! – disobeys orders and launches prematurely rather than wait for some special equipment. They set out in a submarine because the President’s escape capsule DOESN’T FLOAT! It goes downhill – believe it or not – from there. For one thing, the rebel officer’s rationale for disobeying orders is based on a previous incident where he disobeyed orders and causes some deaths, so the admiral is right, he knows she’s right, but he and his crew disobey anyway. At another point, the sub cuts off all power, but the external shot shows that its propeller is still moving. And did you know that the Gulf Stream is a narrow tube of turbulent water so powerful that it can propel a submarine?  Did you know that you can compute the time an object will take to reach another point, even though it is motionless? The scientist at one point suggests that some of the tentacles might be a mile long. Then he discovers that the tentacles are all one creature.  I know these are cheaply made but a lot of the flaws could have been easily fixed if anyone cared. Obviously no one did. As long as people keep watching this trash, it will continue to be produced. 9/13/14

The Big Sleep (1978)

Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles weren't as good as Bogart and Bacall, but they were a close second. This version of the Chandler novel has much the same atmosphere, although with perhaps a bit more insanity. The scenery is better and the sets more impressive, and not just because this version was in color. Mitchum plays a slightly older version of Marlowe but he has the jaded look and snappy dialogue that lets him bring the character to life. Other than Miles and Oliver Reed, the supporting cast isn't quite as good. For some reason the story is transplanted from California to England, which doesn't work very well. There's more perversity in this one thanks to the looser restrictions on issues of morality. Mitchum also reprised the role in Farewell, My Lovely, but with less success. 9/12/14

The Big Sleep (1946)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in this adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, a classic noir film. Philip Marlowe is hired by an elderly man to find his younger daughter's missing suitor, but in the process Marlowe gets mixed up with both of the sisters, one of whom is scheming and one of whom is just plain crazy. There's a crooked gangster connected to both women as well, but it's not clear what his role is. Bogart plays the tough, sardonic detective brilliantly and as much as I like the Robert Mitchum remake, this is still the best version. Superb dialogue and acting throughout, a clever and intricate plot, a few surprises - if you haven't already read the novel - and excellent editing so that not one second seems to be wasted screen time. One of the true film classics. 9/11/14

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

It's hard to believe I first saw this Eddie Murphy police story thirty years ago. It remains arguably the best of his films, although the two sequels were progressively less interesting. Murphy is an unruly Detroit detective who travels to Beverly Hills to investigate the murder of his friend, who was into something crooked. His style clashes with that of the laid back locals which causes a good deal of genuinely funny interaction with Judge Reinhold and John Ashton. They eventually form a bond of sorts despite their differences in order to bring a well placed and influential criminal to justice. Every scene in this movie is a joy to watch. Murphy plays serious and amusing with equal skill and with a good script, he was always worth watching. Great soundtrack, some nice scenery, a good supporting cast, an exciting ending, and high production values throughout. It's rare to find a movie this uniformly well done. 9/10/14

Bicentennial Man (1999)

This adaptation of the Isaac Asimov story starred the late Robin Williams and was done with surprising sensitivity. Williams is a robot who lives through multiple generations of a human family. He decides that he wants to be a human, if that means dying, and undergoes a series of physical modifications that bring him ever closer to that goal. The technical aspects of the film - sets, cinematography, etc. - are all exceptionally well done and the story, though it falters occasionally, is convincing and touching, if rather depressing. A visit to the Internet Movie Database will net you scores of comments from people who really didn't expect or understand an intelligent SF effort but there are no rampaging robots or similar melodrama. One of the most impressive things Williams did in his career, though I doubt he will be remembered for it. I still remember it vividly despite not having seen it in years. 9/9/14

Beetlejuice (1988)

Having recently rewatched the two Michael Keaton Batman movies, I was moved to return to one of my favorite fantasy films, which starred Keaton as a kind of demon who deals with a pair of ghosts - Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis - who want to exorcise the living people - including a goth Winona Ryder - from the house they are haunting. The cast and story are both excellent and the special effects are way ahead of their time. The visit to the afterlife and the dinner party are my favorite parts of the movie . The afterlife is's an enormous bureaucracy. There's no letdown in the quality anywhere from beginning to end. The main writer was Michael McDowell, who authored some very good horror novels during his brief career - he died while still in his forties. There was talk at one time of a sequel, but wiser heads prevailed, leaving this as an unspoiled classic. 9/8/15

The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003)

Although at times a bit confused, this is an amusing coming of age story starring Shia LaBeouf before he became so obnoxious. His hobby is war re-enacting and there he makes a friend who provides him with a strategy for dealing with his high school enemy. The friendship turns risky, however, when he gets sexually involved with his new friend's sister, and life in general becomes more complex because of growing problems with his father, who is an ex-addict not adapting well to his new situation. Although the performances are good and there are some very good scenes, other parts either drag or are treated superficially. I believe they tried to cram too many things into the movie and did none of them as well as they might have with a cleaner story line. Not a classic but good enough to watch for. 9/7/14

Aftermath (2012)

A nuclear war takes place, although it isn't really clear why or how it happened despite a handful of newscasts. And what happened to our early warning system? The bombs are apparently dropped by planes in the middle of the country. Nine survivors wish to remain survivors so they take refuge together in a shelter where they have to fight off hordes of desperate people who want inside. They're not zombies or anything like that, but it really doesn't matter since they act much the same. There were a couple of familiar names in the cast - Edward Furlong and Monica Keena - but the acting is subpar across the board. The frequent inane dialogue certainly doesn't help. Despite the eventual battles, this is boring as well as depressing, and since I didn't particularly like any of the characters, I had nothing invested in the story. 9/6/14

Zombex (2014)

I don’t expect much from new zombie films, even those that half Malcolm McDowell in the cast, so it’s not fair to say I was disappointed in this one. Watchable is about as much as I hope for in a direct to video horror film. This one, set in New Orleans, put me off early because the photography exaggerates colors and blurs images. A new anti-depressant is being distributed in the area, but it turns people into zombielike killers within seconds once it is ingested. So much for the FDA, which has not approved the drug but for some reason can’t stop its distribution, and this despite reports of bad side effects. And why a 911 call be answered by a pharmaceutical company? The first five minutes are confusing and nonsensical. The bad photography is soon matched with bad acting and bad dialogue, a triple threat. If in fact hundreds of people have been affected instantly, why is it that the following day the authorities are only aware of one incident? Then there are some random zombie attacks, after which we learn that the drugs have been distributed for months, and there’s some unclear nonsense about the drug company being an arm of the US government. After that, the story is almost impossible to follow, and not worth the effort even if you manage it. 9/5/14

Miracle Day (2011)   

Torchwood returns with the two survivors of the previous season. There’s a fascinating premise. One day people stop dying. An executed murderer remains alive, as do terminal patients all over the world. The legal issue argued by the killer – Bill Pullman – doesn’t hold water, the first sign of weak writing. In any case, hospitals are filling with people who won’t die, no matter how badly injured, but Captain Jack – who is immortal – no longer heals from his injuries.  Bad continuity. The CIA agent’s shirt goes from bloodstained to pristine from one scene to the next.  Episode 2 improves a bit and we discover that elements within the CIA are connected to the phenomenon and want the Torchwood people dead. There is even some interesting speculation about the consequences of sudden, universal immortality.  Unfortunately the explanation is ludicrous. A drug company has engineered this in order to sell more painkillers. So while the first three episodes are pretty good, the last ends on a low note. By the fifth episode, my sense of disbelief was no longer suspended. Too much happens too fast. In just a few days there are special camps where all of those who should have died are being sequestered, laws have changed all over the world, there are at least two major new cults, and various other things have taken place apparently without debate, upset, or opposition – even when governments begin adopting dictatorial powers. “The government now has the power to determine whether you’re dead or alive and no one should have that power.”  But government already has that power and has had for centuries! The second half of the season repeats scenes until we uncover the Families, who have mystically caused the miracle as part of their plan to take over the world. It’s watchable but not particularly exciting or interesting. 9/4/14

Batman Returns (1992)

As much as I admired Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Danny DeVito was even better as the Penguin, and Michelle Pfeiffer was a surprisingly good Catwoman. The plot isn't bad either. The Penguin fools everyone - except Batman - into thinking that he's a good guy. Catwoman has been unhinged when Christopher Walken kills her, and when she is revived by some mystical feline power, she destroys her apartment in a scene as memorable as Orson Welles in Citizen Kane or Laurence Olivier in Sleuth. She and Keaton have a great scene while they are dancing at a masquerade party and he observes that they are the only two not in costume, but perhaps they are in costume after all and their alter egos have become their real selves. Keaton's understated Bruce Wayne is fascinating as well. Great cast, great script, great execution. 9/3/14

Batman (1989)

I seem to be in a minority but I thought the Tim Burton Batman movies were far superior to those that followed, even though I had never thought of Michael Keaton as the Batman type. Jack Nicholson is superb as the Joker and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Nicholson steals the show with most of the really good lines - "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" - and the surreal portrayal of Gotham City seemed to me a perfect setting for the series. The Batcave and Batmobile are just as I imagined them. Batman was always my favorite of all the DC superheroes even though he really didn't have any superhuman powers, although I confess I never cared for Robin and thus didn't miss him at all when he didn't appear. One of my all time favorites. 9/2/14

The Atomic Brain (1964)

Recently repackaged as Monstrosity. This is one of those women in peril SF horror movies in which a rich old woman near the end of her life decides to have her brain transplanted into a younger, prettier body. It's one of those low budget, formulaic films from the 1960s that never got first billed and is of interest more because of how badly done it is than for any other reason. The cast consists of unknowns, and that's not surprising given their performances. The kind of thing we went to the drive-ins not to watch. 9/1/14

Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)  

The second entry in the rebooted series has him fighting the Green Goblin again – which means another version of his origin story – and Electro, whom I never liked even in the comic books. There’s also a brief appearance of the Rhinoceros. Gwen Stacy makes her last bow as Peter Parker experiences various kings of young adult angst about his parents, the woman he loves, and the promise he made to her father. There are lengthy battle scenes with lots of pyrotechnics but frankly they were rather boring and the framing story wasn’t all that interesting either. There are jumps in logic, coincidences, and unanswered questions galore. It felt like they were floundering around in search of a compelling story but never found one. 8/31/14

Blood Glacier (2013)  

This dubbed German horror film opens at a small climate research facility near a field of glaciers in an undetermined location. They find a red glacier revealed by the melting, and take samples for analysis. What they don’t realize is that contact with the blood alters the organisms exposed to it. The dubbing is off occasionally- sometimes clearly unrelated to what was originally being said - and the science is dubious to say the least, but the creatures are models rather than CGI, which is a pleasant change.  The premise is that the cells are an organism which blends DNA, so you can get a cross between a fox and a beetle, for example. The creatures begin attacking humans and everyone bitten is infected. One group has to hike in because the area is inaccessible for helicopters, but at the end they’re rescued by helicopters! And if all those infected are carriers, why do they take one of the mutants with them?  This one’s never going to be a classic but it’s watchable. 8/30/14

At the Earth’s Core (1976) 

Doug McClure and Peter Cushing try to insert some liveliness into this low budget adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel but they largely fail even though it sticks reasonably close to the original story line. An expedition into the Earth discovers an underground world where humans are enslaved by the giant birdlike Mahars, who have the ability to control people mentally.  McClure heroically escapes from captivity and organizes a rebellion against the inhuman overlords and their minions, then rescues the beautiful girl (Caroline Munro) from the clutches of an evil human. This is lightweight but rather fun despite the cheesy effects. 8/29/14

Apocalypse Now (1979)

I hadn't watched this in a long time. It is every bit as impressive now as it was when I first saw it although now, as then, I liked everything except Marlon Brando's performance. Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper are all great and it was interesting to see Sheen, Harrison Ford, and Laurence Fishburne as young men. It's a satire of the Vietnam War, although some of the things people saw as unrealistic were surprisingly reminiscent of my own experiences there. The unit where no one knew who was in charge comes to mind immediately. Duvall's helicopter attack has become iconic. This is one of those movies we need to watch over and over again, if for no other reason than to remember how insane the whole war was. 8/28/14

Prisoners of the Sun (2013)

This is one of those movies where the ancient Egyptian gods were aliens and they are about to be called back to wipe out most of the human race, at least according to the overly long, convoluted, and nonsensical introduction. When John Rhys Davies appears, the music switches to echo that of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Cute. The acting is passable, particularly given the frequently inane dialogue.  All this notwithstanding, and despite its really dreadful habit of stealing from other movies, it is at least watchable, which can’t be said for most recent direct to video horror. The mummy is a little silly though.  8/27/14

April Fool's Day (1966)

I've always had mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand I like the cast. They're all competent to good and a couple of them were people I was following back in the 1960s, like Clayton Rohner and Deborah Foreman. There are some really creepy scenes and a nice set up. Foreman invites a bunch of acquaintances to her island home where they start experiencing odd events and then begin to disappear one by one, apparently murder victims. The set up is not bad and the possibility of an evil twin is nicely handled. On the other hand, the explanation for what is really going on - it's all a game which is revealed to each to convince them to stage their own murders - makes no sense at all and contradicts scenes we've seen earlier. The remake made somewhat more sense, but had a less interesting and talented cast and ultimately is even less pleasing. Mark this as a major missed opportunity. 8/26/14

Varsity Blood (2014)   

One problem with most high school horror films is that inevitably the actors look too old.  It’s particularly obvious in this low budget amateurish slasher movie in which a bunch of jocks and cheerleaders get killed in various unoriginal ways. As usual, you will have heard of no one in the cast, and probably won’t ever hear of them again. Another constant problem is that most of the victims are awful people whose fate is of no interest whatsoever. And thirdly, there’s very little effort to make it real. High school functions held at night are never unchaperoned. So after only five minutes, I knew this was a waste of time. Why aren’t there ever any concerned parents in these things, even when people disappear? And schools don’t allow students to take a day off for a comics convention. The principal’s daughter died tragically a year earlier so he’s a suspect. I could stand the derivativeness if this had at least been minimally competent, but it’s so artificial that you can tell people are acting and every other element is equally bad. 8/21/14

Antitrust (2001)

The excellent cast - Tim Robbins, Ryan Philippe, Rachael Leigh Cook, could not provide much lift to this understated and eventually rather boring thriller. A young computer programmer begins to suspect that the company he is working for has a hidden agenda. The head of the company, Robbins, is pretty transparently an evil version of Bill Gates bent on world domination. Philippe enlists a young woman to help him, but she's not what she seems either. Some of the twists are well done but overall I had a pretty good idea how things were going to turn out in the end. Not as computer illiterate as some others like The Net, and good enough to watch without every approaching the point where it was going to be memorable. 8/10/14

The Giver soundtrack composed by Marco Beltrami, Sony, 2014.

Hercules soundtrack composed by Fernando Belaquez, Sony, 2014 

Here we have two genre related soundtracks for what I suspect will be very different movies. The first is about a future “utopia” in which a boy learns from an older man that his society is based on lies. The music is richly orchestral and quite varied, from the suspenseful “Accelerated Training” to the rousing “Escape from the Nursery.”  There were only a couple of bands that were so understated that they weren’t interesting, probably necessitated by whatever is happening on the screen simultaneously. Other cuts that I particularly liked include “Jonas Runs Away” and “The Mountain and Despair.” Oddly enough I thought the main title was rather lackluster.  The second is obviously an action movie and the music is paced accordingly. I assume “Hercules” is the main title, but once again, I found it comparatively uninteresting. Several of the cuts suffer from the usual problem – they change so much during their course to accommodate the on screen action that they don’t feel like an organized whole. “Centaurs” is pretty good, as is “Choir Theme.”  There’s some repetition but “Pirate’s Camp,” “The Battle,” and “The Campfire” all stand alone pretty well. I’d be more inclined to listen to the first of these than the second, but there are some good cuts on both. 8/9/14

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I'm going to buck the tide here and say that while this was enjoyable enough, I'm in no hurry to see it again. There's lots of action - perhaps even too much because there's not really much time to get to know the characters - and the special effects are good and the acting, mostly, is pretty good. The big exception is Lee Pace as Ronan, who eats so much scenery that I'm surprised there was anything left over for the movie. And why does everyone pretty much dress the same way? Leaving that aside, let's look at the plot, what there is of it. There's an orb of power that destroys anyone who holds it, except when it doesn't, and which can destroy all life on a planet, except when it doesn't, and a weapon that can wipe out a couple of dozen armed men in seconds, except when its owner fails to use it. Then there's the treaty between the Kreel and another race. One renegade Kreel with one ship is able to destroy their planetary defenses, so why didn't they easily win the war and not sign a peace treaty? There's some amusing dialogue and a couple of good but brief fight sequences and lots of icing but not much cake. 8/8/14

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

I think this is my favorite werewolf movie, even though the werewolf during the final sequences looks very fake. Two Americans are hiking on the moors despite warnings and one is killed, the other bitten. No one seems to believe his story but he starts feeling strange and has visits from his friend's continually disintegrating ghost telling him that he has to kill himself to end the werewolf's bloodline - his attacker has already been destroyed. He resists, of course, falls in love with a local girl, undergoes some well done transitions, and is eventually destroyed in his werewolf form. The screenplay is witty, somewhat original, and the characters are all well done. I was very surprised that David Naughton, the star, had such an undistinguished career despite this very popular film. 8/7/14

An American in Paris (1951)

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron lead the cast of this classic musical about American expatriates living within the artist community of Paris. Kelly is promised a chance at success if he cuddles up to Nina Foch, but he has fallen in love with Caron, a shop girl. The plot is simple and familiar and doesn't end very realistically, but then again, it's only meant to be a framework on which to hang the songs and the impressive dance routines. I've always been a fan of Gene Kelly and this is his second best role (he's better as D'Artagnan). I believe this was also Caron's debut. It's light hearted approach to even serious issues made a nice counterpoint to Amadeus, which I watched the day before. 8/6/14

Amadeus (1984) 

I was very surprised at how much I liked this, even a second time through. Tom Hulce does an excellent job portraying Mozart and F. Murray Abraham is just as good playing his nemesis. Abraham admires Mozart’s talents while considering him a wastrel – with some justification – and secretly plots his downfall. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is, but the conflict between two such disparate personalities is fascinating. The sets, costumes, and camera work are all top notch and the tragic ending seems almost inevitable. There’s an excellent supporting cast, an obviously gorgeous soundtrack, and the plot is sleek and direct. 8/5/14

Cutthroat Island (1995)  

I like pirate movies. I like the cast of this one, the director, and the plot sounded good – it’s the usual one involving a treasure map divided into three parts. Unfortunately, not one element of the movie works. The choreography of the fight scenes is unimaginative and occasionally slow moving. The soundtrack is dreadful. The actors never seem to settle into their roles – particularly Geena Davis. The dialogue is generally dull, and often delivered leadenly or formally. The sets are unremarkable. There are odd jumps where characters display information that they could not have had yet. At other times, their actions make no sense. The comedy relief is unfunny but prevalent enough to steal from the drama. At one point Davis runs through a series of crowded rooms faster than a team of horses galloping unimpeded on a straightaway. Cannonballs do not explode into enormous pyrotechnics when they strike a stone wall. 8/4/14

GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)  

I know this is supposed to be comic book style action, but it could also be a little more coherent. The President has been replaced by a chameleon lookalike, who wipes out most of the GI Joe unit. The survivors conclude – with no evidence – that the President is responsible. The evil Cobra leaders are rescued by one of their minions who pretends to be a missing member of the Joes. The missing Joe is in Japan for reasons never adequately explained. Characters are introduced and discarded almost randomly, the plot is difficult to follow, the acting is minimally competent, and only the battle scenes are even remotely impressive. But then that’s probably what attracts its audience. There’s no explanation of how they get from Pakistan to the US without being detected, and minutes after their leader announces that there’s only one man in the world he trusts, he tells his companions that they can trust members of a street gang. And a few minutes after that he tells them that there’s only one man they can trust – Bruce Willis. And how does a man who has been stripped naked conceal a pair of shuriken on his body? Sounds painful. The villain’s plot doesn’t even make sense. Jaw droppingly bad. 8/3/14

Altered States (1980) 

Paddy Chayevsky adapted his own book in one of the most literature screenplays of all times. The fine cast makes their lengthy bits of dialogue as fascinating as an action sequence. A group of graduate students experiment with sensory deprivation and achieve a primal state of being, which turns out to be even stranger than they expected. The occasional special effect is always well done. This has always been one of my favorite movies in any genre and I’ve watched it half a dozen times without ever tiring. Science fiction films are always too much about what happens and not enough about ideas.  8/2/14

Torment (2013) 

The description on this almost convinced me not to watch it, but Katherine Isabelle was very good in a couple of movies I watched, so I decided to give it a chance. A newly married couple and the son of the male half move into a new house, where the boy almost immediately disappears. The kid is annoying, the evil family of killers is only one of a steady stream of clichés, and my sense of déjà vu was active almost from beginning to end. Good acting prevented it from being a complete loss, but just barely. Sometimes the characters act suddenly out of character and the dialogue rarely rises above the mediocre. If you have nothing else worthwhile to do, you might want to watch this, but a good book – even a fair book  - would probably be more rewarding. 8/1/14

Fatherland (1994) 

The only full length alternate history movie that I can think of is this one, set in 1964 after Germany won World War II, then sougjt to ally itself with President Joseph Kennedy of the US against Russia. Since the Holocaust and other atrocities are not widely known, the alliance seems possible, but if the truth should come to light, it would be scuttled. Rutger Hauer is a German policeman who is assigned to investigate when a man’s nude body is found floating in a lake. The story is a police procedural with political overtones as Hauer discovers that a highly ranked German official was involved in the murder. Elsewhere, an American journalist who was born in Berlin is contacted by agents of an underground group with evidence of the genocide conducted against the Europeans Jews. The movie is a touch slow but otherwise not bad, although it is far inferior to and differs considerably from the fine Robert Harris novel upon which it is very loosely based. 7/31/14

Almost Human (2014)  

This could almost be a remake of X-Tro, with less interesting writing, less competent actors, an even less logical storyline, and mediocre special effects. Mark Fisher is abducted by aliens from his home in Maine. Two years later his best friend and girlfriend are troubled by a series of grisly murders and visions that Mark might have returned, changed. Less than ten minutes into the movie, they have arrested the friend for Mark’s disappearance, which is clearly ridiculous, symptomatic of a lazy writer who doesn’t worry about, you know, plausibility. The town, incidentally, is Derry, scene of several Stephen King novels. The acting is tolerable and it held my attention, though not tightly. It just doesn’t have anything to particularly recommend it. 7/30/14

The Dinosaur Experiment (2013  

Also known as Raptor Ranch, which I like better. The stars are Jana Mashonee, apparently a singer whom I’ve never heard, and Lorenzo Lamas. There’s this ranch, see, run by a lunatic who has been breeding CGI dinosaurs. The humorous bits aren’t funny, the suspenseful bits are dull, the dinosaurs don’t look real, and the dialogue varies from tolerable downward. Naturally they escape just as an down on her luck woman, two FBI agents, a small touring band with no talent, and three idiot college students looking for fun converge on a diner run by a stereotypical redneck. The FBI lab identifies a DNA sample as belonging to a velociraptor. I wonder what they compared it to?  If you think this is stolen from Jurassic Park, you’re right. One of the characters even gets eaten while sitting in an outhouse and then they’re caught in the bus and the tyrannosaur pushers it around in a circle. 7/29/14

Blood Lake (2014)   

Since this is an Asylum film, I was expecting flat acting, silly plot, and lots of CGI. Think Piranha with lampreys – lampreys that come up on land to find prey. Christopher Lloyd and Shannon Doherty were clearly hard up for work. The soundtrack was actually more than bearable but the scenery isn’t as good as it should have been. Lloyd is the mayor who doesn’t want to scare away tourists. The CGI is badly done. The critters frequently don’t interact with their environment. The parade of clichés is unending and a lot of the tension – such as it is – results from people not communicating things that in the real world they would say up front. The second half deteriorates even further. A citizen standing in a public park cannot be arrested for trespassing. A private citizen cannot order an evacuation and it’s not even likely that the television stations would let them run televised press conferences.  There’s even one sequence where the story proceeds out of sequence briefly. 7/28/14

Age of Tomorrow (2014)  

Since this one opens with asteroids roaring through empty space, I lowered my already low expectations. Then we learn that an asteroid one quarter the size of the moon is within 48 hours of hitting Earth, but no one noticed until now, and the army calls a nationwide alert – which is not so much nonsensical as impossible. They have no such authority. You can tell the budget is low; CGI flames and a major fire on a city street attracts less than a dozen spectators. The only (?) pilot who can fly the mission to destroy the asteroid is bitter and uncooperative. The dialogue reads like a high school play composed by a committee. There’s also an experimental space shuttle, except it’s not a shuttle it’s a spaceship, and no one ever bothered to train a crew. They  also bring firearms on a mission to blow up an asteroid. And everyone knows you can’t send radio signals through space, right? Further evidence that we never actually landed on the moon. They reach the asteroid within seconds of leaving Earth’s atmosphere! Must be a really slow moving asteroid. Gravity is earth normal (at least it doesn’t have a breathable atmosphere). Then they use a hand held drill to dig down fifty feet or more. With what?  As floating spheres attack Earth, the heavily armed astronaut team is teleported to an alien world, but one member has a briefcase amplifier that can reach – instantly – all the way to Earth. At one point one of the heroes kills a despondent mother who lost her children even though she’s otherwise all right. This is supposed to be an act of mercy. Utter garbage, with no redeeming qualities at all. Along the way it steals from Star Gate, Independence Day, Aliens, Predator, Cowboys and Aliens, Armageddon, and probably a few others I missed. 7/27/14

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 

I was never a big fan of the original Apes series, so I’ve had this sitting around for a long time. It doesn’t open well. The scientist who wants to change the entire course of his research a few seconds after seeing one chimp perform an advanced task  is nonsense, and how did they explain the rules of a rather complex process to untreated apes in the first place? The ease with which the first ape nearly escapes captivity is not plausible either. Nor would the man in charge of the lab shut everything down just because one chimp nearly escapes. And how could an experimental ape get pregnant, let alone have a baby in her cell, without the scientists knowing?  If it wasn’t so easy to work around these problems, I’d be more forgiving, but it’s just laziness or ignorance. The apes are generally well done, though not always,  The cruelty to animals shtick is overdone, particularly the evil attendant at the animal shelter. And how does Caesar learn to speak when chimps don’t have the necessary throat structure?  There are just too many impossibilities for this to be more than mildly enjoyable and the preaching was tedious and annoying. 7/26/14

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)   

Eddie Murphy made a few bad career decisions, and this was possibly the worst. Murphy runs a casino on the moon and organized crime wants him to become part of their organization. The casino gets destroyed and he’s off to discover who’s responsible. The comedy occasional works, the action scenes occasionally work, but neither does so consistently. The science is a joke, although some of the special effects aren’t bad. I suspect that the script seemed a lot funnier than the end product ended up being because all of the elements of a good Murphy movie are there, but things never quite come together. This got terrible reviews, largely deserved, but it’s not as bad as it might have been. 7/25/14

The Abyss (1989)  

I hadn’t watched this since it first appeared. A submarine is disabled and a rescue team is dispatched to prevent the Russians from getting access to advanced technology. They draft into service the crew of an oil rig who reluctantly agree to help.  As a major storm approaches, the divers discover much more than a distressed submarine. There is an alien civilization under the sea, and the closing scenes include some spectacular special effects as they reveal themselves. This is more sedate and thoughtful than most SF and viewers expecting more suspense and action were undoubtedly disappointed. It’s still watchable, but loses some of its original impact once we know what is going to happen. Good performances by Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. This was one of James Cameron’s less spectacular films but it’s better than you might think if you haven't ever seen it, and maybe even if you have. 7/23/14

Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)  

Continuing my viewing of this comedy team’s movies, I approached this with trepidation since I vaguely recalled liking it when I was around ten years old. They’re in Algeria on a business trip when they get tricked into joining the French Foreign Legion and spend most of the rest of the movie trying to get out of it. There are a few good parts – Lou’s mirages are funny and some of the banter is amusing. The sets are well done and some of the supporting cast does more than just mug at the camera, but what was quite funny when I was ten is only mildly so now, and since their style of humor has gone out of style, I doubt this will ever be viewed as more than a curiosity. 7/23/14

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

A rather silly vehicle for the two comedians who attempt to fly to Mars, arrive instead in New Orleans at Mardi Gras time for the usual jokes, then get hijacked by crooks and taken to Venus, which is an all female planet. Their reputation was already declining by the time this was made, and the attempt to be topical by introducing space travel was not a success. Some of the sets and effects are decent for the period, but it looks almost prehistoric today and their style of humor wears thin very quickly. 7/22/14

Comin' Round the Mountain (1951)

This was not one of the better Abbott and Costello movies, although it has its moments. The dynamic duo get involved with folk magic, witches, and shenanigans while a rather blah singer punctuates the scenes with forgettable songs. Lou is visiting a long lost relative in hillbilly country and the usual, obvious, and not particularly jokes ensue. Not surprisingly there's a family feud and our heroes get caught up in the middle of it. Despite a reasonably good supporting cast, this never gets off the ground, let alone up into the mountains. 7/21/14

The Jungle (2012)  

If I had known this was a found footage movie, I would never have started watching it. A pair of Australians lead an expedition into the jungles of Indonesia in search of a rare leopard, but find something far more dangerous. There’s the inevitably introductory bit of silly footage designed to make the story seem realistic but which only emphasizes how amateur it is. There’s nothing new about this – every scene reminded me of others I’ve seen, as though no one had had an original idea since The Blair Witch Project. It’s a cheap way to make a movie without worrying too much about clunky special effects. There’s a kind of half cat/half human predator hunting them, although they don’t realize this until quite late. The protagonist is a jerk, which doesn’t help. What little happens doesn’t happen until very late and it’s not enough to save the lame, vanilla story line. 7/20/14

Joy Ride 3 (2014)  

Turning good movies into franchises is largely a waste of time. Turning bad ones into series is far worse. Rusty Nails is a psycho trucker who kills people who offend him, in this case mostly members of a racing team who make the mistake of passing him. Even though they have a race car, they can’t outrun him, and for no good reason they decide not to call the police even though he is clearly trying to kill them. As usual, the “heroes” are assholes who mostly deserve their fate. Everything follows the usual pattern after that. Nothing of interest here. 7/19/14

Alex Cross (2012)   

The third movie utilizing this James Patterson character, all of which were based on novels, this time starring Tyler Perry in the title role. I haven’t read the books but this jars against my memories of the first two movies, wherein Cross was a brilliant detective. This time he’s just an action hero and Perry’s acting is barely acceptable. There are also three different subplots introduced in the first five minutes along seven different characters and a villain. Matthew Fox does a good job as the martial arts practicing assassin but even that part of the story is slow to develop and strangely lacking in suspense. There isn’t even much of a shock when the protagonist’s wife is murdered.  Some of the dialogue is inane. Ultimately I didn’t care whether or not they caught the bad guy.  7/18/14

54 (1998)  

An anthology film of four short stories, all connected by the nightclub that provides the common setting. There’s a good cast including Ryan Philippe and Sela Ward, and the individual stories, while not exceptionally good, are entertaining enough to be worthwhile. Mike Myers has the best performance. The attempt to recreate the 1970s works reasonably well, although everyone’s recollection will be different. It’s fairly upbeat, quite polished, and very watchable, but I suspect I won’t remember a thing about it a month or so from now. 7/17/14

Rigor Mortis (2013)  

Asian horror  movies often seen to be only peripherally interested  in plot. This subtitled film is very impressive visually and has lots of creepy bits – vampires, zombies, and more – but the story is rather disorganized. The protagonist is an actor living in a rather drab high rise apartment complex. He appears to be considering suicide and has visions of his family and blood, but it’s not clear what’s going on. Eventually he hangs himself and is apparently possessed, but a neighbor cuts him down and drives off the evil spirit. There’s a good line when two cooks are discussing the next meal and one points out that one of their regular just died. “Well, she still needs to eat, doesn’t she?”  Some very nice visual effects but the story moves very slowly and is difficult to follow. 7/16/14

1969 (1988) 

Despite the wonderful cast – Kiefer Sullivan, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey – this story about young people’s opposition to the Vietnam War is pretty terrible. The good and evil is so exaggerated in the various characters that it is comical and has no emotional effect, and the story itself is predictable and lumbering.  The sloppiness is evident when the narrator incorrectly states that JFK was killed in 1968 and the fine performances of silly lines in aid of a relentlessly didactic and one sided plot are pretty much wasted. The ending is so bizarrely unrealistic that my jaw dropped. A completely inaccurate and warped version of what the situation was really like at the time. 7/16/14

The Monkey’s Paw (2013)  

This is a pretty good modern updating of the W.W. Jacobs story about a magical charm that grants three wishes, but be careful what you wish for. It’s essentially a deal with the devil story – the wishes invariably turn out badly. The cast is more than competent, the story is a classic and they don’t mess with it too much, and the suspense builds slowly but steadily. Skeptical, the protagonist wishes for a car, which he promptly crashes, causing the death of his co-worker, played by Stephen Lang. He uses the second wish to bring the man back to life, but now that both men know the charm really works, the revived man wants him to use the last wish to help him in a family dispute, while killing people on the side.  7/14/14

The Day of the Doctor (2013)

The Time of the Doctor was so mind numbingly awful that I avoided watching this for fear that it would be even worse, and it didn’t start well either with a slapstick sequence about the Tardis being transported by helicopter to a Unit base. The rationale is contradicted within a few seconds, rendering it all nonsense. John Hurt appears as the Doctor no one will talk about. He uses a sentient weapon to end the Time War between the Daleks and Gallifrey. Billie Piper returns as the avatar of the weapon rather than as her original character. Then there’s another contradiction. The Doctor didn’t kill the Time Lords; he encapsulated them in a pocket universe. David Tennant is there for the flashbacks to his romance with Queen Elizabeth. After a few minutes that aren’t awful, the story goes downhill again. Too many bad attempts at humor that are actually just silly. There are Zygons, but the plot is just awful. There are unexplained jumps, logical fallacies, and absurdities from start to finish. The producers and writers are apparently determined to eradicate everything that made the show popular to start in the first place. Tom Baker makes a brief appearance.  This episode directly contradicts “The End of Time.” 7/13/14

Primeval: New World (2012) 

The American incarnation of the British TV show was created by Garfield & Judith Reeves-Stevens, who used to write some pretty good novels. The premise is a rift in time that brings dinosaurs into the present but the setup assumes that several people act very stupidly. The rifts appear randomly and for short periods. The opening episode is rather chaotic, introducing too many characters too quickly and is clearly more interested in visual effects than character or story development. There are so many subplots I had trouble following what was going on for a while. I also wondered why the researchers are disguising detection devices for what they think is a natural phenomenon. The rationale for why the people who know what’s going on won’t tell the public is really, really stupid.  The bad effects continue in the second episode, in which a woman is pulled over the side of a boat – even though the rope has obvious slack. The “startling” footage of the sea serpent doesn’t show anything unusual. And private companies cannot put out small craft warnings. Several of the action sequences only occur because someone did something really stupid. And what’s a titanaboa? There are plenty of real dinosaurs without making up silly ones. The stories occasionally jump so that there is no obvious cause and effect, or even a connection between scenes. Sometimes the creatures’ size varies from one scene to another. The premise that all of this can be happening without the public knowing about it is an ongoing absurdity. In the third episode, a plane flies into an anomaly, but later we see a tape of it – no word where the tape came from – that shows it was taxiing when it went into the anomaly. And why is the airport deserted?  The menace this time is pony sized beetles, which not only aren’t historical, they’re biologically impossible. The pattern of inventing creatures rather than using existing ones is definitely not a plus. 

The fifth episode gets the bad writing going from the opening scene onward. Yet another invented animal comes through an anomaly, this time to menace a coed. More computer illiteracy as well as a plot that ignores little things like explaining how the animal could get into and out of locked buildings. And why is it that every time an anomaly opens, while multiple critters might come through, they’re always of the same species in each episode. And someone also should tell the writers that reptiles don’t have lush fur coats. This was probably the worst written of the first five episodes. On top of everything else, after telling us for four episodes that they have to return the creatures alive to their own time or time will be altered, they decide to kill the creature this time. And after one of the team is killed, they leave another – unarmed – where she can and is attacked. Another note to writers – once launched in a leap, a very heavy body will not have its path dramatically altered by the impact of a single bullet.  And why is it that none of the places where they break in ever have alarm systems? And why do they have secret meetings in remote locations when there is no one spying on them? The remaining episodes flirt with additional subplots but none of them quite congeal. Bad writing and a generally unappealing cast of characters doomed this from the outset. 7/12/14

The Monuments Men (2014) 

This is based – I suspect not closely – on efforts by a handful of selected men to preserve and recover works of arts looted by the Nazis during the closing days of World War II. There’s a pretty good cast – George Clooney stars – and the sets are well done. The closest to a central plot is their effort to recover a particular Michelangelo piece, which they do in a last minute effort that I doubt actually happened. There is very little actual action – this isn’t an adventure or even really a war movie – and it consists mostly of a series of anecdotal events, some of which are interesting, even humorous at times, some of which are not. I suspect it would have been better if about twenty minutes had been removed, but it’s certainly watchable. 7/11/14

Robocop (2014)  

This really isn’t a remake. It’s set in a much further future in which the US rules the world thanks to its robot soldiers. The quick look at occupied Tehran is absurd. The robots almost outnumber the humans, they are broadcasting everything in English rather than the local language, and the newscaster’s description of what is happening is so at odds with what she’s filming that not even Fox viewers would have believed it. Even Samuel Jackson can’t make the silliness seem realistic. For one thing, if they can upload an entire police database into a human brain and correlate it, why haven’t they done this before, or even experimented with it? And the guns have infinite ammo. And how does private security have authority over a police Swat team?  Starts off mediocre, progresses to stupid, and ends in disarray. I’ll take Peter Weller’s version any time. 7/10/14

Black Death (2010)  

Sean Bean stars in this 14th Century dark fantasy about a young monk who faces demonic forces during the time of the Black Death.  Although clearly low budget, the sets are general atmosphere are well done. Rumor has it that there is a village protected by a sorcerer and Bean, the monk, and some soldiers are sent to discover the truth.  They have to battle with witch hunters and bandits, then cross a dangerous marsh to reach the village where they plan to capture the sorcerer and return him for trial. They are welcomed, but the local church is not in use and it is clear that they aren’t favorably disposed toward the church. The weakest link is that there are no good characters. The soldiers are brutal and bigoted and the villagers turn out to be absolutely evil, and they can raise the dead.There are a few slow spots but I was pleasantly surprised overall, although is seems rather confused in its morality. 7/8/14

Harpies (2007)  

Another corny Sci-Fi Channel CGI movie, with unusually bad CGI to go along with the unusually bad story, script, and acting. The movie is so bad so quickly that I watched more from shock and awe than because I was entertained. Stephen Baldwin pretends very unconvincingly to be a museum guard who attempts to interfere with thieves intent upon stealing an artifact that would enable them to control harpies. Instead, he is sent back through time to fight them during the Middle Ages. Baldwin doesn’t even seem to be trying, although the material is so bad that it wouldn’t have been worth expending any effort.  Among other things, why would some of the thieves be masked while their leader is not? The chief villain must have been jealous of Baldwin’s lack of acting ability because he comes close to surpassing him. The guard has an arsenal in his locker! He gets free but doesn’t call the police! Three men with machine guns from close quarters empty their weapons at our hero, who has no cover, but manage to miss with every shot! Then he pops out of hiding in an empty space where there was no possible way for him to have hidden. When he arrives in the distant past, not only do people speak modern English in mainland Europe, but they have modern hairstyles. The harpies and the humans almost never appear in the same frame, nor do the harpies interact with objects in their environment. We meet more of the cast, and none of them can act either. Just when I thought I’d seen the worst that Sci-Fi could foist on us, they find something worse. 7/8/14

Haunt (2012)

A new family moves into a house where several savage murders were committed and the son of the new family discovers that he can communicate with the ghosts. Now where have I heard of that one before? And before? And before?  Anyway, this was starts off pretty well - and the acting is actually well above average throughout - but it takes forever to get the story really moving and there are several spots in the plot where I found myself unable to believe what the characters were doing. The director and writer might have thought they knew what they were doing but it doesn't translate well to the screen. It is visually unimpressive, too understated, encompasses plot jumps that needed some justification, and worst of all, there's really no suspense in what should have been a suspenseful story. 7/7/14

The Mummy Resurrected (2014)  

A low budget mummy movie that actually has some decent acting in support of a pretty bad script. An archaeologist who has had some unspecified mystic experience in the Libyan desert enlists his daughter and a team of researchers – all of whom are young women – and goes into a forbidden area to locate a tomb. The only provisions they bring fit into college style backpacks, and they wear shorts, tight shirts, plunging necklines, and sometimes not even hats while trekking through the desert. And then, for nearly an hour, nothing happens. And when it does happen, it happens largely off screen. There are numerous continuity problems as well – debris that magically disappears, inconsistencies in clothing, etc. The mummy is downright silly looking, and how is it able to assume the appearance of the daddy archaeologist?  The longer you watch this one, the worse it gets. 7/7/14

Dead Sea (2014)  

A marine biologist is sent to investigate odd phenomena in an inland sea near her hometown and discovers that many of the locals believe that a legendary monster is hiding under the water. The first fifteen minutes is a confused mess, badly photographed, poorly written and acted, with terrible sound quality, and no continuity at all. It involves a brutal massacre by US soldiers somewhere in the Mideast, after which at least two of them are convinced that some of their comrades were killed by a creature from some unknown world, which makes absolutely no sense. And why all of the jumpy camerawork, which occasionally fast forwards for a second or two? Even for horror movies, the characters are sleazy and disgusting. I only kept watching this because I wanted to see what the monster looked like. I’ve seen better college film projects. 7/5/14

Odd Thomas (2013)   

Hollywood has not generally been good to Dean Koontz. Most of the adaptations of his work have been less than stellar. Odd Thomas has an unusual talent – he can see dead people. They induce him to track down murderers, a fact of which a local policeman is aware, although both pretend otherwise. Then Thomas has a vision that suggests something very evil is about to happen. He can also see bodachs, invisible to almost everyone. Bodachs are evil entities which cause people to die violently and a local man is pursued by at least half a dozen, suggesting something serious is about to happen. Further investigation reveals an impending apocalypse linked to a peculiar man who has a doorway to Hell in his house. There’s a good deal of humor, which I don’t remember from the book, which normally wouldn’t work in what is ostensibly a horror movie, but it works this time. Unusually good dialogue, decent special effects, and the basic story all combine to make a pretty good movie. 7/4/14

The Corpse Grinders II (2000)

Despite the introduction of some feline aliens, this sequel to a cheaply made horror spoof isn’t really very different. The cat people are at war with some dog people and their food supply is running short, so the US government introduces them to a meat packing factory that uses human corpses – and some of them not yet dead – to make sausages for them. Bad acting, bad effects, bad story, and believe it or not, there is a third in the series, which I will rush right out and not buy. 7/3/14

Vanity Fair (1932)  

A modernized version of the Thackeray novel starring Myrna Loy as Becky Sharp. Since there’s an automobile in the opening scene, which tells you right away that it’s not period correct. This removes some of the justification for Becky’s selfish villainy. Events happen much too quickly but there’s a lot of story to fit into 74 minutes. Becky makes a play for her best friend’s inane brother, and when that fails tries to steal that same friend’s beau. That pretty much establishes the pattern of her life. Despite the change in chronology, this is a reasonably faithful adaptation and Myrna Loy shines as always. 7/2/14

Radio Patrol (1937) 

Radio communication with police cars was quite a novelty when this came out, and the first episode has a mini-documentary explaining its many advantages. With that out of the way, we have a criminal mastermind attempting to steal the formula for a flexible form of steal, while a radio patrolman and a young woman battle to prevent them. Grant Withers, who was a supporting actor in a couple of hundred movies, stars in this slightly below average serial from Universal. Some of the minor characters are more interesting than the leads, but the story is jumpy and has some continuity problems. 7/1/14

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