Last Update 8/31/15

 

Burying the Ex (2014) 

This is a horror comedy in which our hero has a live in girlfriend who is rather overbearing, forcing him to become a Vegan, give up his gas guzzler, and so forth. Max puts up with it for a while before deciding he’s made a serious mistake, but since he’s afraid of Evelyn, he doesn’t know how to break things off. Fortuitously, she is killed and it looks like his life is about to take a new direction when Evelyn returns from the dead, determined to reclaim her boyfriend. Our hero tries to find a way to send her back while she turns out to be hornier dead than she was alive. This was fun. 8/31/15

The Culling (2015)

This horror film gets off to a shaky start. Too much unexplained footage before we even begin to meet the characters – a woman running through the dark, a figure at a window, odd drawings, children’s voices, etc. Five young adults are apparently on their way to a rock concert, and as always in horror films, they’re not particularly likeable, but not bad enough to stand out either. They run into a seven year old girl in a parking lot and – instead of doing the logical thing and calling the police – they decide to give her a ride home. Since this follows a long driving sequence with mediocre rock music played too long, it’s actually a welcome scene even though it doesn’t make sense. They have also made no plans for supper, which is similar nonsense. They are supposedly in a hurry, but when they bring the girl home, they decide to stay a while. Having destroyed all plausibility, the film makers try to build suspense. The little girl is possessed by a demon which brings about the death of the cast in various uninspired ways. Not worth your time. 8/30/15

Dinoshark (2010)

Another oversized sea creature movie, although this one occasionally shows signs that someone knew what they were doing. The title monster thaws out and acquires a taste for human food. Lots of clichés, but better acting than I expected. There’s actually an attempt to develop a back story for the characters other than just having them get eaten, but how could the son of a naval commander have been the poor boy who couldn’t afford to bring a lunch to school? I did wonder why the shark sometimes bit people in half but didn’t eat them. Anyway, the hero sees one of the attacks and can’t convince anyone that he saw a prehistoric shark. The CGI varies in quality, as does the acting. Some of the other scenes are badly done, as with a pair of people “rowing” who are obviously not putting their paddles into the water. Even after the police see the creature, they make no effort to cancel a water polo match and festival being held in the nearby bay. And the shark varies in size from one shot to another. Better than most similar movies, but that’s not much of a plus. 8/29/15

Pterodactyl  (2005)  

A small archaeological expedition is sent to Turkey, including a young woman who keeps adjusting her makeup. There are supposedly bandits in the area but they make no provisions for protection even though their group is largely students. There’s a dormant volcano in the area from which tpterodactyls have recently hatched. There is also a small squad of American soldiers operating against the bandits – which makes absolutely no sense but allows for a few firefights and provides automatic weapons to shoot at the CGI monsters.  Their procedures are so sloppy they wouldn’t have lasted a day – they don’t secure sites after firefights, don’t take cover, move in a bunch, etc. The student group acts more like elementary school than college students and the airhead blonde is beyond stupid, as is the clumsy male. At one point we are told that the dinosaur urine stain goes a hundred feet high on a tree trunk, but it ends just above their heads. It is amusing to note the character names – Lovecraft, Heinlein, Serling, Yolen, etc. The special effects are pretty bad and some of the acting defies description. 8/28/15

Mega Shark vs Kolossus (2015) 

This one is silly on many levels. There’s a megalodon loose in the oceans and the world is in crisis – I’m not sure why. The Russians had built a giant robot to fight the Americans but hid it away in an underground vault. A criminal organization finds the vault and sets it loose. The idea of a giant robot as a war weapon is so ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine anyone writing it into the story line. The robot has a will of its own, which is never explained either, and it attacks Russians as well as Americans, which similarly makes no sense. If an animal lays an egg, which then hatches, it is NOT parthenogenesis. And sharks don’t triple in size in less than 24 hours. The dialogue and political discussions are unusually bad, even for cheaply made monster movies. The robot is capable of blowing itself up an unlimited number of times. How does that work? The oceans must have shrunk too because ships move anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. And admirals don’t make policy. But the admiral is sometimes a commander, depending on who is talking to him. The last few minutes are bewildering. Things seem to act randomly and people act completely out of character. And the Black Sea is not devoid of life. At one point the robot throws the giant shark into orbit where it destroys a satellite! Why did I watch this? 8/27/15

Ogre (2007)

A group of teenagers find a remote town that has been around since Civil War times, with its original inhabitants, immortal because they sacrifice humans to an ogre. The ogre is, of course, mediocre CGI. The town leader conveniently recaps the town’s history while the outsiders are eavesdropping, even though everyone already knows it. And everyone in town is supposedly in the room for the choosing, but there’s another man outside. The acting varies from competent to wooden and the special effects are uninteresting and unconvincing. Some of the dialogue is silly. Watchable, but just barely. And why would an American be called Sir Henry? 8/26/15

Sinbad Season 1 (2012) 

I had never heard of this show before I saw the DVD set. Sinbad is a thief and conman who inadvertently kills the son of a noble. In revenge, the noble kills Sinbad’s mother and his own grandmother, furious about the loss of the boy, curses Sinbad so that he cannot stay on land for more than 24 hours at a time. This is supposed to teach him responsibility, but by forcing him to be constantly on the run, it would seem to do just the opposite. The evil noble is after him as well. Although this says season 1, the show was cancelled at that point. The sea demons in the first episode are actually pretty well done, but they repeat sequences rather than create new ones. There are a couple of awkward moments in the second episode. The sorceress is abhorred by the emir, so why is she present for an elite meeting inside his palace? This episode is about their capture by a fallen civilization of cannibals that looks more Incan than Arab. They are starved for meat. Apparently no one ever told them about fish. Conveniently, everybody speaks the same language. There’s a giant CGI bird in this one. And how do they feed the giant bird if they have no meat? Bad script. Bad acting. Episode 3 is just awful. They encounter a gambler who says that gambling is only worthwhile if the wager is something important to the players and wants them to put up their ship, but he is only putting up some provisions which he can easily afford. So the whole premise is nonsense. By the end of the fourth episode I realized that I still had no idea of the personality of any of the characters. There are some decent special effects here and there – the shadow creature from episode seven and the snake in episode ten – but I never found myself actually looking forward to the next episode. 8/25/15

Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

I had never watched this before even though it is the sequel to one of my all time favorites. Although far inferior to the original, this late sequel actually has a few good moments, and the cast is impressive – Dan Aykroyd, Arethra Franklin, John Goodman, etc. This time Elwood, following the death of his brother, takes on the Russian Mafia to protect a strip club. He is also mentoring a young boy from the former orphanage and trying to get the band back together.  The songs are generally not as good and there is no substitute for John Belushi. A road trip ensues with a large mob of gangsters on their trail. The ending descends into silliness. 8/24/15

The Blues Brothers (1980)

I watch this every couple of years and it never gets old. Some of the best musical routines and some of the best work of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Also one of my favorite car chase scenes. I never really liked the ending – they all end up in jail – but nothing in the story is supposed to be taken very seriously. Almost every scene is memorable and some of them are classics. Great guest stars as well. I have the sequel but I’ve never even opened it. My expectations are low, but it’s next on the pile. Hard act to follow.8/23/15

Horns (2013)

Daniel Radcliffe stars in this adaptation of the novel by Joe Hill. He is a young man whose girlfriend was murdered. Nearly the entire town believes that he is the killer, but he's not. One morning he wakes up with horns and the obvious miraculous event begins causing local people to compulsively confess their sins and in his presence they are uninhibited and vulnerable to suggestion. One of those sins is the murder of his girlfriend. This is packaged as a horror film and is technically supernatural, but it could just as easily be classified a fantasy. The things he discovers about people he knows - including his parents - are heart wrenching, and his slow uncovering of the truth is adeptly handled. I thought at the time I read the book that it would make a good movie, and I was right. 8/22/15

The Dentist (1996)   

Corbin Bernsen is a serial killer dentist in this one. He’s rich and successful but he’s also got a bad case of OCD. This is tongue in cheek, of course, but still rather chilling. He starts to fall apart at his office, mixing paranoid illusions with reality, reinterpreting what has happened to fit into his paranoia, a lot like right wing politicians. This is actually a surprisingly good movie and a very insightful look into how paranoia works. Patients, employees, and acquaintances all find themselves in jeopardy. 9/20/15

Scared Stiff (1945)  

A comedy/mystery from a screenplay by mystery writer Geoffrey Homes. The prize is a valuable chess set. A bumbling reporter is sent to cover a wine festival and walks into murder, an escaped convict, and grand larceny. He’s trapped in a hotel with a variety of oddball characters including a professor, a child prodigy, and an antique dealer, but the escaped murderer is in the neighborhood and the twin brothers who own a fabulous chess set admit that it actually belongs to the bad guy. Predictable hijinx, much silliness, and a story that goes on just a little bit too long. 8/19/15

It Follows (2014)

Horror films have become so derivative that even faint signs of originality stick out. This one has more than faint signs. A group of young people are plagued by a mysterious force/entity that they feel is following them. It gets passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse and it can impersonate real people. It moves slowly but it never stops. Some of the scenes are genuinely, intensely creepy, which is very unusual in modern horror, I am sorry to say. No one else can see whatever it is – I actually think it might have been even better if they could. It’s always nice to see a film by people who understand that gore is no substitute for actual suspense. This one will set your pulse racing. 8/18/15

Ice Road Terror (2011)

A construction crew in a remote part of Alaska uncovers a cavern containing a living CGI dinosaur. They are attacked – mostly offscreen – and two truckers transporting explosives are en route with no warning of what is waiting for them. There is also a female environmentalist en route to the site.  The premise that they would send loads of poorly secured explosives over very dangerous road services is very unconvincing. I stopped believing even marginally in the story when the dinosaur somehow appears on top of one of the trucks – apparently by magic since it wasn’t there earlier and they’ve been driving for some time – and it goes downhill from there. Rapidly. 8/13/15

Toolbox Murders 2  (2015)

I suspected this would be awful when I noticed it didn’t even have a listing in IMDB.com. Then there was the echo chamber sound effects. Then the sister of a murder victim can’t understand why her sister’s body is in a plastic bag when it is taken away. And why haven’t the police secured the crime scene so that a derelict can’t wander in, and the killer can’t throw decapitated heads at the protagonist and then kidnap her? This is the sequel to the remake of a mediocre serial killer film and it’s dreadful. There’s some over the top gore that doesn’t look vaguely real and not much going on. Another waste of time. 8/11/15

Necropolis (1986)   

A three hundred year old witch returns from the dead as a punk rocker who can neither dance nor act, A not awful soundtrack can’t do anything to save this boring and badly conceived story about a witch with mind control powers who wants to revive an ancient cult. Nothing good to say about this except that you don’t have to watch it if you don’t want to. And believe me, you don’t want to.  8/11/15

Zarkorr (1996)

This is a very silly Godzilla type movie that doesn’t take itself seriously. Aliens send a projected image – of a teeny bopper – to tell an unexceptional human that he has been chosen to protect the Earth from a giant alien reptile invader. Abysmal acting, which is par for the course with Full Moon productions.  The aliens tell our hero that no human weapons will have any effect, but that the monster does have a weakness. Naturally they won’t tell him what it is. The special effects are pretty good for this studio but lame by any other standard. There’s a great deal of silliness but not much actual humor. The monster doesn’t get much screen time either. 8/10/15

Lake Placid vs Anaconda (2015) 

The first in this series is one of my favorite movies. The sequels, not so much. Now we add giant anacondas to hungry oversized crocodiles, all in Maine, naturally. Robert Englund returns as the conniving hunter with no regard for the law. Bad guys perform genetic experiments and they both get loose, destined to grow bigger than ever. A tolerable beginning starts to go wrong with the crazy set scene – how does an alligator get into a motel room? – and it never recovers. Throw in a bunch of overaged sorority girls on a pledge trip and you have a dumb exploitation film that has no chance at all of being any good. Clichés abound, including the mayor who wants things kept quiet. The autopsy where the doctor eats his lunch. And how does a giant crocodile conceal itself in waist deep water? The expendable cast members seem intent upon jumping into the jaws of the monsters rather than away from them. And the crocodiles are apparently impossible to see even when they’re within a few feet in an open field. The only reason to watch this is that Yancy Butler is great as the sheriff.  8/9/15

True Lies (1994) 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tom Arnold are all great in this not entirely serious action movie. Arnold is a spy, unbeknownst to his wife Curtis, and he’s run into trouble with a splinter group of fanatics who have four nuclear weapons in Florida. There are some great action sequences  and the body count is very high. Some of the stunts are spectacular – the chase through the hotel is great. There is light but persistent humor and high production values throughout. This is great fun even if the plot doesn’t entirely make sense, and Buffy fans will be rewarded by an early appearance of Eliza Dushku as Arnold’s daughter. I’ve watched this one a half dozen times and will watch it again. 8/8/15

The Pyramid (2014)  

This is another story of the discovery of a new archaeological discovery in Egypt. Although a documentary film crew is the focus of the action, it is not found footage except for occasionally, for which I am profoundly grateful. Some of the scenery is in fact quite nicely photographed. The interview format early on is only mildly annoying because of its superficiality. The tension between the two archaeologists – father and daughter - is contrived and unconvincing. The Egyptian government orders them to leave so they send a remote probe in at the last moment. It gets stuck so they go in after it. Unfortunately once they get lost inside, the found footage picks up to mask the cheap special effects. There are a couple of good scenes but for the most part this is trivial and surprisingly lacking in suspense. 8/7/15

Killer Party (1986)

A bunch of sorority girls have a forbidden party in a frat house that has been closed because of a horrific accident that claimed the life of a pledge. But unfortunately the pledge is apparently uneasy in the grave and he doesn’t care if his victims had nothing to do with his demise. There’s a good deal of tongue in cheek humor, most of which isn’t funny, but even so it’s a slightly above average slasher movie. Decent but unremarkable acting, a reasonable amount of suspense, and a few good scenes, but it’s nothing special. A couple of the cast members – almost all of whom are way too old for their parts - went on to have successful careers, which is not true of most similar movies. 8/6/15

Night of the Demons 3 (1997) 

Angela the possessed is back in her funeral home, and a crowd of not particularly smart or likeable teens shows up in time for another round of slaughter.  Special effects are minimal and the deaths aren’t particularly original or interesting. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but then it’s just an excuse to get everyone to the right place. The acting isn’t great, but it is still far superior to most of what you see on current direct to video quickies. The first two in the series had the same plot but are minimally more interesting. There’s a lot of going off all alone in the creepy old building but the cast play such dimwitted characters that it almost makes sense. At the end, the head demon is destroyed because the sun come up, but a few seconds later, it is pitch black again. Minor/ 8/4/15

Flesh Eaters from Outer Space (1989)

Invasion for Flesh and Blood (1991)

These are Troma films, so obviously they’re going to be outrageously bad, by intention, and exploitative. An alien ship appears in orbit and an astronaut – wearing a suit clearly made of tinfoil – goes aboard to see if it has a living crew. A really silly looking monster steals the shuttle and lands, and somehow breaks into a government facility where, we discover, bullets don’t affect it. Of course they don’t. Much fake blood follows. The picture quality is dreadful, but the special effects are so bad it doesn’t matter. The dialogue was obviously dubbed in after the fact and it doesn’t always mesh. There’s a woman who has visions of the deaths in her dreams. The victims are invariably jerks who aren’t bright enough to run away.  The second title is about the same and it’s the sequel. The monster is killed by an atomic bomb in the first, but it turns out that the bomb only killed humans. The buildings are all untouched. So the authorities wonder if the alien invaders may still be alive. They are, of course. This was pretty much a retread of the first, with no improvements. Bad enough to be funny in spots, but not consistently enough to be truly entertaining. 8/3/15

Extinction (2014)

More crappy found footage. There really ought to be a label on this junk. These things are invariably tedious, trivial, feature subpar special effects that are only on screen for split seconds, and second rate acting. On top of the obvious drawbacks of the format, the actors are unusually amateurish and the illusion of found footage is destroyed when the camera keeps filming from the proper angle even when it is clearly impossible by circumstances. The story, such as it is, concerns a group of environmentalists in the Amazon discover that they have wandered into territory inhabited by a tyrannosaur, which promptly places them on its menu. We hear the dinosaurs from time to time but almost never get so much as a glimpse. Completely worthless. 8/2/15

Asteroid (1997)

This was a made for television disaster movie that has a good cast and steals a lot from When Worlds Collide but wastes every good idea it had and emphasizes all the bad ones. The science is hokey, of course, but even a minimally competent screenwriter should have known that if an asteroid struck and wiped out Dallas, the survivors would not be able to take refuge in Ft. Worth. They are conjoined cities. I really doubt you can affect an asteroid’s course by having a fighter jet shoot it with a laser, particularly since impact would be imminent by then. Particularly an asteroid weighing a trillion tons. But why would a laser beam have any affect on its course? And there is not a massive dam in Kansas City to be destroyed by a meteor strike.  The cover copy refers to the female lead as an astrologer – she’s an astronomer. She sees some rocks in orbit and declares that “all those fragments seem unstable”, which makes no sense. Asteroids, meteors, and comets are all confused with one another. And the head of FEMA does not personally participate in dangerous rescue missions. Astronomers detecting a potential asteroid strike would not be calling minor officials at FEMA. When she finally reaches someone who will listen, she never mentions the fragments. FEMA would not contact the President without confirming the astronomer’s story. The astronomer is massively incapable of plotting the course of asteroids, or even of finding them in orbit. Michael Biehn looks uncomfortable throughout. I would be too if I had to speak such inane lines. The first asteroid strike supposedly is a hundred times the size of the Hiroshima bomb which will destroy everything within seventy miles, but an hour after a direct hit on Kansas City, they are trying to decide if they can let the residents go home. And why are ICBMs impossible to control in space? And why does no one consider the possibility that blowing up a giant asteroid just outside the Earth’s atmosphere might result in fragments falling to Earth? The Sci-Fi Channel was not alone in making really ignorant SF movies. This one was for NBC. Stupid in ways I had never imagined possible. 8/1/15

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

This is a sequel rather than a remake of the 1976 film of the same name. That movie was loosely based on real events, which is why I have never seen it. Inevitably movies like that are lies in the horror genre, like The Exorcist. Texarkana is, in the movie anyway, celebrating an annual revival of interest in the killings every Halloween. In 2013, they start again. Is the killer back or is it a copycat? This is one of those movies where a man with a knife walking can overtake a woman who is running. It’s not an awful slasher movie, but it depends on a number of the characters being extraordinarily stupid. Despite a few good touches, this falls apart fairly soon. Among other things, no one would be filming a related movie in the vicinity while people were actively afraid of further killings. To be honest I had trouble staying interested, and some of the killings seemed completely implausible. The solution is laughable. 7/31/15

The Amityville Theater (2015) 

A recently orphaned young woman discovers that she has inherited a broken down theater in the infamous Amityville. She decides to take this as a good sign and plans a new life involving the stage, and she invites a group of friends to come spend a few days at the theater. But the theater is not uninhabited. The acting is generally subpar, sometimes awful, and the sound quality and lighting are generally bad. The sweet young girl has a full set of obnoxious friends. There was apparently no real budget for special effects, so much of what happens is off stage, and none of it is particularly interesting. Another one you can miss without feeling bad. 7/30/15

Stolen (2012)   

Nicholas Cage is a bank robber who gets out of prison to discover that one of his partners is alive after all and wants his share of the money. Unfortunately, Cage burned the cash to avoid being caught with it. So the partner kidnaps Cage’s daughter and demands recompense. Much running around follows as he tries to figure out where his daughter is and eventually has to commit another bank robbery to come up with the money. But naturally the partner wants revenge as well as the money. This was okay, but it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going to happen next and the chase scenes and other embellishments were not particularly imaginative. 7/29/`5

Ant Man (2015)

The latest Marvel superhero film features a late manifestation of Ant Man. The original, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has retired more or less and has kept the technology secret. When his former assistant threatens to develop similar technology for evil purposes, he recruits a one time burglar, now more or less reformed, to don the suit and infiltrate the lab. There are some minor problems with the plot early on - I doubt that an unemployed man could be denied visitation rights because he was behind on his child support. Once past that the story is fast moving, the villain is villainous, the special effects are generally very good, and there are a few touches toward the end that were really neat. The giant train set was a hoot. The cast is uniformly good and I wouldn't mind at all seeing Ant Man return, presumably aided by the new Wasp, whose advent is shown after the credits. 7/28/15

The Pact 2 (2014) 

Sequel to a movie I’ve never seen. This one was so slow to get going that I almost turned it off. There is a confusing mix of things involving a woman on probation and her grown daughter and a bloody murder. The murder turns out to be a serial killer’s first attempt to imitate the one who apparently was the villain of the first movie, and the daughter – who is dating a rather irritating police officer – is having visions of the murders. The FBI informs her that she is adopted and that her biological mother was one of the victims of the original killer. The acting is okay – the FBI agent is genuinely weird – but even when the action picks up, it’s oddly distanced. There are also occasions when I could not remotely figure out what was going on. Interesting failure, which might have been a good movie in more skilled hands. Unfortunately the identity of the killer is really badly telegraphed and that eliminates the last chance for any suspense. 7/27/15

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)  

Middle movie in this franchise about an unjustly imprisoned copy who returns from the dead to kill everyone in sight. The logic’s not great, but it’s fast paced, exciting, and I’ve always liked both Robert Davi and Claudia Christian. The zombie cop teams up with a crazed serial killer for a while, but when the police agree to reopen the case that resulted in his conviction, he changes sides, kills the bad guys, and is supposedly destroyed at the end. But since I’ve seen the sequel I know he’s still around. This is a surprisingly entertaining movie, in large part because of Claudia Christian, but the action sequences are also very well choreographed. 7/23/14

The Shadow (1998)

Alec Baldwin tried to be the Shadow in this unfortunately rather disappointing though not awful production. Lamont Cranston is an evil man who is reformed by an oriental sorcerer to become a force for good in 1930s New York. This version of the shadow has genuine supernatural powers including invisibility and a nice cape but he’s not an entirely admirable figure. The creepy laugh is actually rather annoying and transparently artificial. I expected this to be pretty campy, but a resurrected Genghis Khan with a nuclear weapon is too far over the top. I lost interest in the situation within half an hour and the special effects, while competent, are not enough to carry the remainder. 7/22/15

Gnaw: Food of the Gods II (1989) 

Sequel to the movie based on the H.G. Wells novel, in name only. A doctor using an experimental drug on human subjects is horrified when one of the children becomes a giant. No one makes much of the fact that she was performing illegal experiments. The child has also become very aggressive. The problem spreads when rats at a college munch on samples of the drug and similar grow much larger. A lot of this is tongue and cheek and I’d nominate this as one of the rare sequels superior to the original except that it’s not really a sequel despite the title. The plot is full of holes, of course. A dean can’t fire a professor offhandedly, and a man working for the university cannot suddenly be arrested for trespassing retroactively. The depiction of academic and police procedures is just generally nonsense. And how can a rat become thirty times as heavy in a cage with no food?  I should also mention that this has a better than usual soundtrack. 7/21/15

The Wrong Box (1966)

I hadn’t seen this since the 1960s but I remembered liking it. With Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, John Mills, Peter Sellers, and others, it would have been difficult not to. The story is loosely based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Ralph Richardson and John Mills are the last members of a tontine, so there’s a fortune due to whoever survives. This sets off a dangerous rivalry that includes their family and friends. It opens with a series of very short sketches showing the deaths – generally funny – of all the other parties to the tontine. The wrong box contains the body of a man that Cook and Moore believe to be their grandfather. They are concealing his supposed death in hopes of winning the tontine. A very nice comedy of errors. 7/20/15

Dinocroc vs Super Gator (2010)   

Okay, I knew this was going to be stupid before I started watching it, but the opening sequence has the oversized super gator escaping from a lab where it was being kept. So the staff, who are safe indoors, all run outside and get eaten. To whom would any of this make sense. Dinocroc, which is actually more like a tyrannosaurus than a crocodile, also escapes. At one point, a character is standing in water that doesn’t come up to his knees, but somehow a twenty foot tall creature is hiding there unseen. And if the victim is swallowed in one piece, how come there is enough blood to discolor the water? Bad CGI, corny dialogue badly delivered, not much blood and gore despite the many chomping and biting deaths. The scenery is nice though and the soundtrack isn’t awful. David Carradine is the evil businessman who created the critters using a growth hormone. There is one scene where the gator charges past the same landmark four times while chasing one of the characters. 7/19/15

Flight of the Lost Balloon (1961)  

My recollection of this Jules Verne style adventure was that it wasn’t bad, but it’s actually not very good either. It was designed for children rather than adults. On top of that, this restoration is fuzzy and the colors are faded. An English explorer is marooned in the jungle and a rescue expedition sets out by balloon to cross the jungle and effect his release. The story is old fashioned, mildly racist, highly implausible, and the acting is uninspired. Even if the picture had been better, there was no attempt to capture the scenery. I guess if you were fifteen years old when this came out, you might like I have found it enjoyable, but today it’s just boring. 7/18/15

Against All Flags (1952)

Erroll Flynn goes undercover to help the British navy defeat the pirates of Madagascar. After passing an admission test to the league of pirates, he participates in the capture of an important ship that carries the daughter of an Indian mogul, who disguises herself as a handmaiden. Maureen O’Hara is a female pirate who becomes Flynn’s romantic interest. Some of this is rather silly and this wasn’t one of Flynn’s better movies. The story should be better than it actually is, marred by mediocre writing that wastes the talent in the cast. There are a few passable sword fights and O'Hara was always fun to watch, but this felt as though everyone involved was tried and just going through the motions. 7/17/15

Night School (1980)

This is a pretty good serial killer movie starring Rachel Ward. I remember enjoying it when it came out and hadn’t noticed until recently that it was available on DVD. Clever dialogue helps distinguish this one from the many movies with similar, though not as skillfully done, plots. The killer decapitates each victim and places the head in water. The killer also wears an opaque motorcycle helmet so we can’t see a face. Suspects include the weird waiter, the philandering college professor, his assistant, and the student he flirts with. There is a nicely done red herring in which the actual killer is stalked by one of the other characters. The sequence at the Boston Aquarium is probably the highlight. This was filmed back when people actually tried to make a professional quality horror film. 7/16/15

Oculus (2013)

I enjoyed this one quite a bit more than I expected. It had a good cast and generally high production values. I was mildly put off by the male lead being released from a psychiatric institute on his 21st birthday to be met by his sister, whom he hasn’t seen during his incarceration. This seemed unlikely and unhealthy on the face of it. She has recently purchased an antique mirror and immediately begins dropping hints about the promises the two of them made to some unknown party. There are several of those sequences that turn out to be dreams, which I almost never like in a movie. Eventually we learn that the boy was locked up because he is believed to have committed a murder while insane and she believes that it was a supernatural entity that caused the death. To this end, she and her brother are determined to destroy the mirror. The child actress playing the young Karen Gillam really looks like her. Unfortunately, the mirror entity is so powerful that there is realistically no way that it can be defeated, and the constant shifts from reality to illusion become too confusing. It also goes on a bit too long. 7/15/15

Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (1966)  

I believe this is the only Godzilla movie I hadn’t seen before, and it is one of the least interesting, concerned mostly with a burglar and some oddball characters running around on an island where a secret society is building atomic weapons, using slave labor. The sea monster, Ebirah, is just a giant lobster. Mothra makes a cameo appearance and there’s a giant bird that appears from nowhere for just about a minute that was probably supposed to be Rodan. The dubbing is awful even for a Godzilla movie, frequently making no sense at all. At one point the fugitives are hiding in a few caves and announce they’ll be found within a few hours, but a short while later we are told that three days have passed and they are still undiscovered. There are several references to “strange clouds” after which we are shown perfectly ordinary clouds. I imagine the story made more sense in Japanese. Also known as Godzilla vs Ebirah. 7/14/15

The Woman in Black 2 (2014)

A group of children are evacuated during the London blitz to the haunted house of the first movie in the series, escorted by two women. Almost immediately they begin to experience strange dreams and hear odd noises. Then one of the children is found dead, apparently through an accident, and one of the women keeps catching sight of a dark figure who promptly disappears. Not quite as good as the first, and a bit confusing and disorganized at times, but it’s heavy on creepy atmosphere and has a few good scenes.  The shellshocked kid does an exceptional job within a very good cast. Lighting is bad and some of the scares are clichés. Watchable, but not exceptional. 7/13/15

Last Christmas (2014) 

I have felt that Doctor Who has become increasingly silly and erratic during the past few years, contradicting itself in rather fundamental ways rather than the occasional randomness of its earlier seasons. This Christmas special features Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, trapped in an Arctic base and besieged by monsters. It’s dreadful right from the outset, with a real Santa Claus showing up. Santa with some lethal toys helps the Doctor foil an invasion by creatures vaguely reminiscent of the chest bursters from the Alien movies. Santa is sort of rationalized in that the aliens induce dreams. Dismal. Depressing. Dumb. 7/12/15

Lake Placid: The Final Chapter (2013)  

Despite the title, a new entry in this series is coming later this year. The first one is one of my favorite movies. The sequels have been dismal. The premise is that oversized crocodiles have been breeding in a lake in Maine, supposedly closed off from the public. Plausibility dies a quick death when a crocodile keeps pace with a speeding jeep. A bunch of teenagers, played by people ten years older, are on a bus trip to a camp but the bus driver takes a wrong turn and takes them toward the lake where the crocs are getting restless. The possibility that no one would notice they were at the wrong beach killed off any lingering chance that we might take this seriously, despite a reasonably talented cast – Yancy Butler, Elisabeth Rohm, Robert Englund. If the fence is up, how was the outing party able to drive up to the lake?  This was actually an improvement over the last one, but that was setting the bar pretty low. The kids, incidentally, are supposed to be members of the swim team, but they have miserable form when they’re swimming.  7/11/15

Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)

If I had realize this was the sequel to the found footage flop Monsters I would not have bought it. The premise of that one was that aliens had landed in a remote jungle, and naturally we only saw them by implication. The sequel is not found footage, which was an improvement right from the start. The protagonist is a soldier helping to repel the aliens, who have now spread over the world, causing interhuman warfare as well. The setting in particular is the Mideast. We see a lot more of the creatures, which are actually relatively interesting, and there are lots of action sequences. The soundtrack isn’t very clear, though, and a lot of the dialogue is hard to understand. The military pep talks are corny but then so is the real thing. We see things from such a low level in the pecking order that it is never clear how the aliens are arriving or being countered. Most of the footage is routine military action with no aliens participating. This was intermittently good, but often tedious, and some of the background about the aliens made little or no sense to me. Nor does the rescue mission into the desert which has only two vehicles and no air cover or radio. Unfortunately, too much of this is just boringly routine to be interesting. 7/10/15

Mega Python vs Gatoroid (2011) 

How could I ignore a title like this? CGI alligators battle oversized CGI pythons while cardboard rednecks and radical environmentalists make up a smorgasbord. This is so cornball that it has to be intentional. No one – including the park ranger – thinks it worthwhile to report the appearance of giant pythons, she just tells the local hunters they can shoot them. To balance the introduction of giant pythons, the park ranger feeds the alligators a growth hormone. The CGI doesn’t even try to be realistic. When animals enter or leave the water, there are no ripples. Prospective victims don’t run away from them, apparently preferring to be eaten than to having any more screen time in this silliness. The helicopter changes color, manufacturer, and configuration from one scene to the next, and back again. The boat has a California registration. And since when have there been rocky mountains in the Everglades? 7/9/15

Make Mine Mink (1960)

Too Many Crooks (1959)

Two Terry Thomas comedies. In the first, Thomas is living in a rooming house with three odd women and a young housekeeper who previously served a prison term for theft. When the housekeeper snags a mink off a neighbor’s terrace, the others decide to protect her. They manage to return the mink but the excitement convinces them to take up a life of crime, specializing in mink coats, which they sell, the proceeds being donated to charity.  It’s a sort of light version of Arsenic and Old Lace. The second title has much the same tone, not surprising since it has the same writer. Thomas is a wealthy but not quite honest businessman who is planning to leave his wife and go off with a girlfriend. Meanwhile a gang of comically inept crooks decides to kidnap his daughter for ransom, but they get the wife instead. The wife eventually becomes the driving force in the gang, determined to get revenge on her husband. Ruthless People is essentially a remake of this, although both are based on O’Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief.” Predictable but fun. 7/7/15

Bad Dreams (1988)

Visiting Hours (1982)

Chief villain in the first of these is Richard Lynch, who always creeps me out. He is the leader of a group of young hippies whom he recruits into a pact of suicide by being doused with gasoline and set on fire. Only one woman survives and she is in a coma for more than ten years. Still hospitalized, she is terrified when other patients begin to commit violent suicide. Has the spirit of her old mentor returned to force her to join the group after all?  There are plot holes. Since the only memory the protagonist has lost is the explosion itself, it would not be important – as the psychologists suggest – that she recover those memories before being allowed to leave. Then she starts having visions of Lynch and they are convinced she is psychotic after all.  The inability of the police and fire department to determine how the fire was started is completely absurd given that it was cans of gasoline. And potentially suicidal patients would not be allowed to use a swimming pool unsupervised. Or near unbarred windows several floors high. And particularly after two successful suicides, they would be on extra alert, but they aren’t so naturally there are more deaths. Another potential suicide is allowed to keep a hunting knife in his room. Supposedly everyone is guarded after that but they clearly are not. And then the police detective decides to arrest the protagonist even though he personally witnessed the fifth victim killing himself. The numerous silly errors interfere with what would otherwise have been a fair horror movie. 

The second title is somewhat similar, but with a better cast – William Shatner, Michael Ironside, and Lee Grant. A reporter who champions an abused wife accused of murder pisses off a misogynist serial killer who attacks her in her home. Ironside has one of his early outings as the serial killer. She escapes the initial attack, although she sustains serious injuries, and is taken to the hospital. Undeterred, he follows, killing a number of subsidiary characters along the way. Fairly nicely done, but how does a patient flatline without an alarm going off? I also refuse to believe that after two murders in the hospital, the police would not at a minimum assign a guard, or that someone could then enter the operating room without his identity being checked. Linda Purl steals the show as the feisty nurse, and the last half hour is exceptionally good. 7/7/15

Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)

Also known as Godzilla on Monster Island. Aliens invade the Earth, focusing on a monster theme park, providing the excuse for rubber suited monsters of various shapes to duke it out. Like Son of Godzilla, this seems to be aimed primarily at kids. The theme park is looking for new ideas while the real monsters are confined on an island. The aliens use technology to seize control of two monsters, Ghidrah and Gigan, and send them to destroy Tokyo. Again. Godzilla and his friend come to the rescue – speaking English to one another. The tag team match is finally on and naturally Earth’s monsters defeat the alien ones. 7/6/15

Terminator: Genisys (2015) 

This was rather better than I expected. They’ve taken elements from all of the earlier movies in the series and recombined them. Arnold Schwarzennegger is his usual amusing self, and thanks to the wonders of computers there’s an interesting battle between Old Arnold and Young Arnold. It was also seeing Emilia Clarke in a role outside of Game of Thrones. The time travel element is as inconsistent as ever. If killing Sarah would prevent John from being born, then changing the future of young Kyle would have resulted in a different adult Kyle, who wouldn’t be there anyway since time travel would not have been invented. But it’s lots of fun and the very short nuclear war sequence at the beginning has much better special effects than, say, San Andreas. 7/5/15

The Poltergeist of Borley Forest (2013) 

There are no poltergeists in this movie. The opening of this one is a bit chaotic, with an apparent murder, a mysterious figure in the woods, an odd artifact hanging from a tree, and a party in the woods.  The protagonist is a young girl who is in trouble with her parents – among the world’s worst actors – for sneaking out to the party. The forest, however, is supposedly haunted. The poor lighting and sound quality don’t help much. The writer obviously didn’t know what a poltergeist was either. Poltergeists do not cast shadows, create items out of nothingness, manifest themselves visibly in the back seat of cars, or any of several other things that happen here. And since when is it unusual for an eighteen year old girl to have male admirers? There are some good scenes, or rather there are ideas for good scenes, but they’re unconvincing because of the low budget. I think the sound was the worst problem. Nothing ever sounded real, sometimes the voices were not clear enough to hear, and at other times there was static on the soundtrack. And why didn’t the protagonist react more strongly when she finds a giant plant growing out from under her bed? Apparently she never even mentions it to anyone. The exchange with the parapsychologist is embarrassingly amateurish. When the two girls are looking through newspapers, the paper is clearly not newsprint but regular bond paper printed by computer. There’s a great deal of head scratching about a frame from a security camera that is also complete nonsense. There is also a sequence where she goes to her brother’s house to spend the night, but she’s in her own bedroom.  With a decent budget, and an intelligent rewrite, this could have been reasonably good. They track down the lynching of the person who probably is the ghost (not poltergeist) who wants revenge on those who killed him, but then he attacks people who didn’ instead of the ones who did. And why is the young girl who has been in a coma for days in bed wearing street clothes?  7/4/15

Zombie Lake (1981)

There was a rash of zombie movies in Europe following the success of the Living Dead series, of which this was one of the less ambitious. The zombies are German soldiers whose bodies were thrown into a lake during World War II. These aren’t Romero’s type of zombies. They actually look perfectly normal except that they don’t breathe and some of them have obvious gunshot wounds. The underwater photography is surprisingly good, but the acting, dialogue, special effects, soundtrack, and plot are derivative and inferior. We get a closeup of the woman who had her throat torn out, and her skin is clearly not even broken. When they carry the body to the mayor’s office, she is obviously holding on with one arm. And why do the villagers dump the body on the mayor’s front walk rather than call the police or do something constructive?  There’s a good deal of gratuitous and uninteresting nudity and an overly long flashback to the war. Not dreadful, just forgettable.  7/3/15

The Lazarus Effect (2015) 

A college research facility is experimenting with bringing the dead back to life – as if they didn’t know that was a bad idea. When the university shuts them down, they attempt to conduct an experiment on their own and one of their number is killed. So they decide to bring her back to life. The “scientific” discussions are just plain silly. The story is otherwise not bad. The revived woman has telepathy and telekinesis and her body is undergoing unpredictable changes. The first half of the film is the best part, very atmospheric. Once it is obvious that the resurrected woman is turning into a monster, it becomes more predictable and less interesting. Not great but certainly watchable. 7/2/15

Kingsman (2014)

This is a generally clever quasi-spoof of spy movies. Samuel Jackson is the head of an international conspiracy. The Kingsman are a secret group that acts to protect the world against people like Jackson. The latest potential recruit is a street kid who doesn't fit their gentlemanly profile. Despite the humorous veneer, there are some pretty grim scenes. Jackson is using implants to control influential people whom he has kidnapped. I was expecting some light entertainment but this was actually much better than I expected, although it was a bit of a shock to find Mark Hamill playing the little old college professor. I can't be that old!  Recommended strongly. Good action scenes, good acting, although the test where the candidates are supposed to shoot their own dogs doesn't ring true. 7/1/15

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