Last Update 9/26/17

 

The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

Peter Sellers reprises his role as Inspector Clouseau, the clueless detective, who believes that a supposedly retired jewel thief has stolen a precious diamond,. But the jewel thief is innocent and is trying to track down the real thief. The heist sequence is excellent. Much of this is just silly but Sellers always made the silly seem clever. This was the fourth in the series and although it is somewhat repetitive, it is still quite funny. This is a style of humor that seems to have gone out of style, and the occasional broad farces that got made nowadays are considerably less smart. The second half, however, just falls apart. 9/26/18

Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (2016) 

Second in a series of TV movies adapted from Charlaine Harris' Aurora Teagarden murder mysteries. Aurora is at an open house for a house that is for sale when she finds a realtor strangled in the back yard. The opening scenes include some really, really corny dialogue. Because of the location of the key to the property, suspicion falls upon all of the realtors who had access to it.  This introduces her romantic interest, who becomes a suspect. A second realtor is murdered and there seems to be a connection to the theft of valuable paintings - although I am rather skeptical that someone would leave a half million dollar painting in an unoccupied house for over a year. 9/25/17

The Expanse Season 2 (2016)

I very much enjoyed the novels upon which this is based, particularly the early ones, and the fact that many of the "good" characters were seriously flawed was a definite plus. Watching season 2, I wonder how people who didn't read the books could follow such a complex world and plot, but apparently they do. Mars and Earth move toward war, although there are forces on both sides that want to avoid a conflict. The Earth government seems to me more malevolent than in the books, though that might be memory. The special effects are excellent throughout, and I'd grown used to the cast by now – they didn't entirely meet my expectations initially. A shooting war between Earth and Mars seems imminent and the Outer Planets colonies are also in a bad moon, particularly since their main food source has been compromised. Very well done with excellent special effects, good acting, and a fascinating story. 9/24/17

Ghost House (2017)

A pair of tourists in Thailand are particularly interested in ghost houses, small constructions that are meant to house spirits. The acting is, thankfully, better than in most direct to video horror films, although I never really developed any fondness for the characters. Some of the scenes are dreadfully underlit, but others are very scenic. The first few minutes aren't awful, but then the male half - who has just proposed marriage - decides to visit a sex bar and leave his fiancé with a man he just met while he gets drunk. At that point I started to lose interest in the story as well as the characters and despite a few reasonably good, if cheap, special effects I was repeatedly tempted to turn it off and watch something else. Lethargy got me through to the end but it's not something I'd ever watch again. 9/23/17

Screaming Mimi (1958)   

The adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel stars Anita Ekberg, Phil Carey, and Gypsy Rose Lee. Ekberg is briefly attacked by a knife wielding escapee from the local sanitarium, as the consequence of which she is briefly committed there. After some time, she seems to be recovered and her doctor fakes her death so that she can resume her career as a dancer, now working for Lee, under a new name. The psychiatric scenes are a joke. The cause of her emotional upheaval is self evident, so no one would be using Rorschach tests to discover it. The dance seems are beyond awful, as is Lee's song in the nightclub. With an actual actress in the role instead of Ekberg, this might have been a decent noir film. 9/19/17

Tough Guys (1986) 

I've been waiting for this to come out on dvd for years. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are aging bank robbers who have just been released from prison after 30 years. After some foredoomed attempts to fit into society, they decide to rob a train to restore their reputations. Meanwhile an ageing hitman, Eli Wallach, is hot on their trail. Serious moments but basically an action comedy with three of the best actors we've ever had. There is one annoying glitch. We are told repeatedly that they served their entire term in prison. If that's the case, then they would not be on parole and none of the oppressive rules that annoy them would be valid. Her doctor is clearly unbalanced and obsessive about her. 9/18/17

Railroad Tigers (2016) 

This Jackie Chan action movie is set during the Japanese occupation of China. A group of unlikely rebels want to steal the armaments from a train. The opposition is led by a Japanese military captain and his elite troops. There's a good deal of humor but a lot of it does not translate well – the movie is subtitled. Eventually they decide to try something more ambitious – like blowing up a crucial bridge. There are lots of stunts, mostly performed by the rest of the cast. This was quite watchable but not up to the quality of his earlier hits. 9/17/17

Tsunambee (2016)

I have to say that the three previews on this DVD are an order of magnitude worse than most and convinced me never to watch any of them. That out of the way, this is a movie about giant killer bees striking after an ecological disaster has brought down civilization and somehow created zombies. The special effects made me miss the quality level of the Sci-Fi Channel, and every other aspect of the movie is equally bad, particularly the camera work and lighting. When the guy slowly walking catches up to the man who has been running full tilt for several blocks, I lost interest and that was very early on. It never got any better. You have to wonder whether or not the people involved realizing they were producing a piece of worthless crap, or if they just didn't care. 9/16/18

The Toolbox Murders (2004)

Since Tobe Hooper, the director, just died I thought it was time to watch this one. An old apartment building is being renovated. The new couple who just moved in are dismayed by the loud and weird neighbors, the poor state of the plumbing, and other difficulties. They aren't yet aware that one of the other tenants has just been killed with a hammer in her own apartment. Other than one early murder, the first part of the film builds suspense by a series of slightly off events - a box of teeth found in a wall, the peculiar handyman, the weird neighbors, the historical disappearances. The wife figures out that there is a hidden room on each floor, presumably all linked together, and decides to investigate after two more murders are committed, and a fourth victim dies while she is unraveling the secret. A cut above the usual serial killer movies, with supernatural overtones, although the last few minutes are not up to snuff, pun intended.. 9/14/17

It (2017)

I'll try to do this without any significant spoilers but I will have to mention a few details. This is the first of two movies, apparently, this one only covering the portions of the novel that relate to the kids. The town of Derry, Maine, is periodically prone to rashes of disappearing children and the cycle is up again. A group of kids form the "losers" club and battle the local bully and his friends, as well as the supernatural menace that threatens them all. The kids all do an excellent job and some of the special effects are striking. That said, I was disappointed and I don't think it was as good as the tv mini-series in 1990. After the first ten minutes or so, there is no suspense at all. Many details are changed from the book, sometimes not wisely in my opinion, and there no longer seem to be any rules regarding Pennywise's powers, which means he should have been impossible to inconvenience, let alone defeat. 9/9/17

11.23.63 (2016)

This is the miniseries based on Stephen King's excellent novel about a time traveler who goes back to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The novel is one of his best and the series initially seems excellent as well despite having James Franco as its protagonist, an actor who always seems to me to radiate excessive ego. The adaptation is fine until it starts to vary noticeably from the script, going way too far into conspiracy territory. I was already getting antsy when the totally implausible sequence in which Franco gets his fake brother committed to an asylum just completely threw me out of the story. From then on, it was just a trudge to the end. What a waste of such good material. 9/7/17

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 (2016) 

Ash and his friends had their normal life restored by a sorceress at the end of the first season, but a fresh crisis forces them back into the fight against the demons from Kondar. Their former enemy, Ruby, has lost control of the creatures she created. They want the Necronomicon. She wants Ash to help her prevent that from happening. Over the top gore with a liberal dose of humor. The plot is almost irrelevant. The insane asylum episode, however, should never have happened. Horror comedy is rarely this good.  I don't think it would be tolerable as a full regular series, however, because ten episodes felt like I'd just about had enough. 9/2/17

Game of Thrones Season 6 (2016)

Ten episodes bring a lot of changes, and half a dozen recurring characters die. Sansa Stark and Jon Snow (brought back to life by the Red Woman) retake Winterfell and the Boltons are wiped out. The youngest Stark, taken hostage, is sadistically killed. Arya Stark decides to give up her life as an assassin and go home. Jamie Lanister takes back a castle while his sister gets outsmarted by the High Sparrow, the high and mighty religious leader whose death I look forward to. Tyrion negotiates a truce that is quickly broken, by the dragon queen returns and saves the day. Brienne finally gets to pledge herself to Sansa. Theon Greyjoy partially redeems himself and the Dothraki prepare to invade Westeros. But the creatures beyond the wall are on the march and all of these various plans may have to be put aside. Great stuff. 8/27/17

The Darkroom (1981)

A short lived anthology series hosted by James Coburn. There's an adaptation of a Carter Scholz story in which a newscaster discovers he is being replaced by a computerized version of himself.  There's another with a crystal radio that picks up broadcasts from the past. Robert Bloch's "The Bogeyman Will Get You" has Helen Hunt suspecting that a new neighbor is a vampire – but he's actually a werewolf.  There are good episodes about a makeup kit that turns people into other characters and a toy army that comes to life. There were only seven episodes, each consisting usually of two separate stories.  Some episodes are pretty trite, some are just prolonged jokes. The killer cat episode is pretty bad, and one about a man facing a guillotine is just plain boring. The series feels a lot like The Night Gallery, but not as well done despite the generally good performances.  8/25/17

Kung Fu Yoga (2017) 

I'm a Jackie Chan fan. There is a good natured tone to his films that I find very comforting. This one is about an archaeologist. Villains steal part of the treasure Chan uncovers and lots of car chases, fist fights, and light humor follow. Chan's drive with a lion in his car is the high point of the movie. There's a mix of English and subtitles, and some times the subtitles go by really fast. Occasionally confusing but with high production values. This was a joint Chinese/Indian production, not likely possible given their current state of tension. It goes on a bit too long but it's generally fun. 8/12/17

Shin Godzilla (2016)

This is a new Godzilla movie from Japan, actually a reboot, although the creature initially bears little resemblance to its namesake. In fact, it's rather goofy looking at first, then changes shape. In any case, it appears in Tokyo Bay and then comes ashore, despite the belief that it is a marine animal only. The convolutions of bureaucratic procedure are pretty sad. He has new powers in this one, including an array of laser beams, internal radar, the ability to fly, and an augmented fiery breath. There is, however, far too much talking in this one, sometimes repetitive, and while the subtitles are reasonably well done, it does get very boring when the action scenes are so few and far between. 8/11/17

Lake Fear 2 (2018) 

This one is also known as The Everglades Killings. Generic young adults vacation in a remote cabin in an area known for disappearances of tourists. An incredibly bad soundtrack is just one of the negative features of this disaster.  Boring, boorish characters, jerky camera work, stupid plot, unanswered questions, and other problems followed. The soundtrack was so awful I couldn't get pass the midway point. Relentlessly offensive. 8/10/17

Agent Carter Season One (2015)

Although this only lasted a couple of seasons, I thought it was pretty good. Hayley Atwell does a great job as Carter, the only woman in a 1940s postwar intelligence agency, who battles sexism as much as enemy spies. Someone has stolen advanced technology from Howard Stark, and for most of this season he is considered a traitor, although Carter knows otherwise. The technology is SF but most of the rest of the show really is not. There is a mysterious villain known as Leviathan, a creepy Russian female assassin, and other enemies to be overcome. I was happier when Howard Stark was not around because his character irritated me and I found the fake defector's hypnotic powers too implausible to be credible. Nice set dressing and a good supporting cast. Sorry to see it go. 8/9/17

Dark Was the Night (2014)

A surprisingly effective low budget horror film starring Kevin Durand, whom I like a lot in The Strain. There is some kind of evil creature in the woods near a town where loggers are starting to work on a sectioin of forest - although the opening sequence where an entire crew is slaughtered is not mentioned again, rather inexplicably. The creature is not shown until quite late, leaving a lot to our imagination. Durand plays the local sheriff, recently estranged from his wife and sharing custody of their young son - who does an excellent job. I wasn't thrilled with the color effects - a lot of scenes are shot with a blue filter that makes it look almost like black and white. The son sees something in the yard that the sheriff cannot find, but there are bizarre footprints in the morning, not just at his house but everywhere in town. (This is loosely based on the legend of devil's footprints which was quite the thing a while back.) I could have done without the child in jeopardy segments - the cliché is so overdone that it has become an automatic turnoff. Hunters are killed despite being heavily armed and alert but - and this is a minor plot hole - little outside interest is generated. A violent storm eventually makes this somewhat more credible. 8/8/17

The Devil's Candy (2015)

This horror tale almost worked for me, mostly because the cast was so good. But the script - while often promising - wasn't up to it. A heavy metal obsessed artist and his family move into a house where an older couple recently died. Their mentally challenged son - who is also a murderer - hangs around and has some disturbing scenes. The child in jeopardy ploy has been used so much that it frequently annoys me rather than exciting my interest, and as in The Shining the film does not do an adequate job of making the father likable before the bad stuff starts, although they make a decent though lagging stab at it as the story proceeds. But the first half is, despite some effective scenes, too slow and too much of it is underlit. I know darkness is supposed to make things spookier, but that's not always the case - e.g. It Follows. A nice try but it misses the gold ring. 8/4/17

Condemned (2015)

Another film in which a virus turns people into vicious killers, this time the residents of a condemned building inhabited by several of the most repulsive people I have ever seen in a horror film. There is not one person whose fate mattered in the slightest to me. On top of that, the movie is so underlit that at times it was hard to figure out what was going on, and the poor sound recording and mumbling actors didn't help a lot in that regard. The sound track is awful. Most of it feels horribly amateurish and it was obviously done on a shoestring budget. No reason in the world why you should watch this one. 8/2/17

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)  

Horror comedies are frequently just silly. This one wavers between that and genuine humor. This is a remake of the 2001 version about a group of cheerleaders who return from the dead to exact revenge on the captain of the football team and others who were responsible for their deaths. The first half is straightforward and feels like a standard horror movie. The dark humor only starts after the cheerleaders are brought back to life and it gives way to serious slaughter pretty soon. Unfortunately, the story sometimes fails to make sense at that point as well. Watchable but the ending wasn't up to par. 8/1/17

Simisola (2009)

The snobbish attitude of Inspector Wexford's daughter Sylvia is even more obvious in this adaptation than it was in the book. Wexford's doctor appeals for help when his daughter disappears. The doctor's wife is even more of a bigot. This is based on one of Ruth Rendell's better mysteries and it's quite effective although I found the casting almost universally off. The missing woman had been to a job center just before she disappeared, and the woman she spoke to has since been strangled in her bed. The investigation uncovers an extramarital love affair, as burglary, an attempted murder, and a number of red herrings.  At one point, a body is discovered that appears to be the subject of their investigation, but it turns out to be an embarrassing mistaken identity. There is a poke at less subtle forms of racism and another at overly protective parents.  The solution involves some minor characters and I didn't care for it in either the book of the adaptation.  7/27/17

The Evil in Us (2015) 

The opening credits for this were very well done and the opening scene worked well, so I figured I had found one of those rare direct to video movies that actually deserved being watched. A group of young adults take a holiday on an island, unaware that the drugs they are taking are laced with a bioweapon that turns them into enraged killers. The usual female lead refuses and has to battle the others to survive, while a detective on the mainland tries to figure out what is going on. Some of the acting is quite good, some not so much. Unfortunately, the movie runs downhill very quickly and becomes just another variation of who will survive to the end, and a not very interesting one.7/23/17

Kung Fu Zombies Movies 

Shaolin vs the Evil Dead (2004) 

Monks vs zombies. "Be polite to everyone, especially the dead." And "How come you always put your foot up when you pee?" That pretty much sums up this aggressively silly mix of martial arts and the undead. This was pretty obviously a kid's movie, despite the frequent references to bodily fluids. I could do better special effects. And better dialogue. And probably better lighting and camera work. 

Shaolin and the Evil Dead 2 (2005) 

More of the same, except not as well done. I didn't think that was possible. This is not that old a movie, but it feels like a cheapies from the 1970s.  

Kung Fu Zombie (1981) 

An incomprehensibly and stunningly bad movie in much the same style as the first two, with marginally better martial arts. In fact, the fight scenes are the only reason I made it to the end. A wizard invokes zombies as hit men, but he underestimates his opponent. 

Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave (1982) 

Another one where a sorcerer raises an army of zombies to kill an enemy. When things don't go his way, he summons Dracula himself!  There are invisible ghosts as well. Lots of posturing, silly dialogue, ludicrous special effects, and strange events follow.  The hero is told by his father's ghost that he was murdered and must be avenged.  

Spirited Killer 2 (1997) 

This is a Taiwanese kung fu zombie movie, part of a series, and it is subtitled rather than dubbed. A group of young adults hire a reluctant guide to take them to a remote area to look for a tomb. They've cribbed part of the soundtrack from Predator (the previous title stole music from Alien). The camera work and lighting are better than in the first four. The subtitles do not appear to have been written by an experienced English speaker. Meanwhile, a gang decides to bring their dead boss back to life in a new body. Something's screwed up in the translation though, because right after the announcement that the dead man's soul will be transferred, the same man announces that the ceremony will send his soul to heaven.  And the dead body rises, but it's not supposed to according to what they said earlier. Zombies, incidentally, are formed when you allow your blood to fall on a corpse. It's hard to follow the plot after that. There's some kind of magic, various people start digging in fields, and there's some kind of treasure involved. Much of this one is played for laughs. 

Spirited Killer 3 (1998) 

Also subtitled. This one involves the quest for a magic egg and it appears to be set some undetermined time in the past. There is a little more actual plot to this one, but not much. Nor is it entirely serious in tone. The fight sequences are somewhat better done, but the dubbing hasn't improved. The cast is largely the same, but they're not playing the same characters. 

We're Going to Eat You (1980) 

More subtitles.  This one is about a town of cannibals rather than zombies and it's heavy on not very convincing gore and my attention wandered throughout. 7/22/17

The Class  (2016)

This is a spinoff of the Doctor Who show, set in a high school. Four teenagers are told by the Doctor that they need to protect their world from destruction. The first episode grated on my nerves. I didn't like the theme song at all, and the evil teacher is just too implausible. Not to mention that the actors playing the main characters look as old as the teachers.  Some reviews compare this to Buffy, but it's more like Roswell, which is not a compliment. The evil teacher is a secret alien, as is one of the students, who is actually a prince. The shadow beings are after him – they can exist as shadows or take material form. The story is implausible and the special effects less than stellar. Among other things, not one member of the cast is even remotely someone I would want to know personally, except maybe the black teenager. An array of monsters and aliens follows for the whole eight episodes, but I never once gave a damn. 7/21/17

Road Rage (2009) 

This is an adaptation of one or Ruth Rendell's better Wexford mysteries. A new highway project has caused tensions and protests from a variety of groups. I think they overdid it a bit early on in showing that Wexford objected to the development. His objection did not go so far as to support the protesters quite so avidly in the book. Wexford's wife is one of the protesters, though not one of those who place booby traps for the workers. Kidnappers use a taxi service to waylay a number of people and take them hostage. I found this a bit choppy, but not fatally damaged, although the actor playing Wexford did not meet my expectations. The adaptation is quite loyal, differing primarily in emphasis. 7/18/17

The Strain Season 3 (2016) 

The very strange and vicious vampires who have invaded New York appear to be in retreat, but appearances can be deceiving. They are evolving, becoming faster and smarter and the apparent gains might be just the prelude to disaster. Does the secret of victory lie in an ancient book or in modern weapons? Will more of the recurring characters die? I have some minor problems with the plotting in this – particularly the hero's wife, who becomes a vampire but retains her original personality, which is not true of the others. Why? Just for a subplot about their kid?  I thought that overall the writing was inferior to the first two seasons, as well as the occasional gaps in logic.  A lot of recurring characters are disposed of during the last few episodes and the ultimate phase of  the master vampire's plan is about to be put into place. 7/16/17

Ten Little Indians (1965)

This version of the Agatha Christie novel changes the location to an isolated ski resort in the Alps, but otherwise the story is very much the same. Even some of the dialogue is identical to the earlier movie version. The hero this time is Hugh O'Brian, whom I always liked even though he got typecast as Wyatt Earp. The supporting cast includes Dahlia Lavi, Stanley Holloway, and others, and everyone does a good job except for Fabian, who never really had any acting talent. Lavi died only a few weeks ago and O'Brian last year. I had thought them both long since gone. There is a bit more action in this version - a long fist fight and a death scene involving the ski lift - and less attention is paid to the rhyme, but otherwise this fits right onto the pattern. 7/6/17

Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963) 

Anthony Eisley, Robert Conrad. Connie Stevens, and Poncie Ponce starred in this private eye series set in Hawaii. The lack of sophistication is interesting at times. For example, a completely talentless dancer is supposedly famous for her eroticism. The stories are generally less ambitious than they would be today, but they are generally well constructed and a few contain genuinely interesting puzzles. The private detectives are also relatively realistic. The cast is excellent – Connie Stevens deserved a better career.  The cases are reasonably varied. Murders, missing persons, etc. Conrad was okay but Eisley and Stevens were the real stars. Eisley got a lot of work, but mostly in mediocre roles. Some episodes are very well written, others not so much. There's generally not a lot of Hawaii in the episodes, not surprising since they were shot in California. Although I remembered all of the characters, none of the plots were remotely familiar. Mary Tyler Moore appeared as three different characters during the course of the show. Connie Stevens is a real treat, although most of her songs are less than memorable. I always liked Eisley. I was surprised to discover that Conrad is still alive. He is best known for The Wild Wild West. Generally speaking, these are very well written. Mostly I just liked them for nostalgic reasons though. 7/3/17

The Roaring 20's (1961) u956 

I used to watching this regularly when I was in high school, in part because I liked Dorothy Provine's singing. It follows the adventures of four newspaper reporters who frequently get involved with gangsters and other criminals. Rex Reason was nominally the lead, although he didn't appear in every episode. I only have 12 out of 45 episodes, which is enough to satisfy my desire for a nostalgic return.  One is about a politician's daughter who blames her father for her mother's death. Another concerns an immigrant family that believes a woman should remain loyal to the husband she has barely met even though he has been sentenced to life in prison. Another is about rigged sports events and a fourth opens with a double murder. This last is quite good. Unfortunately, because this is in black and white, it really does not appeal to modern audiences, which is a shame because some of the writing is very good. Dorothy Provine is worth the timne alone, but alas she seems to have been mostly forgotten. 7/1/17

Grimm Season 6 (2016)

Although I enjoyed the previous season, Renard's conversion to the dark side has never been convincing and that casts a pall of implausibility over everything that follows. I never bought Renard's change of character, but otherwise it was a good final season. One episode has an interesting moral dilemma. One of the Wesen can see when children will grow up to commit horrible crimes. Is it moral to let him kill the infants? It's really frustrating when a show has its best moment toward the end, on the other hand, ending on a high note is a good thing. I liked the cast and the production values were quite high for a television show. There are plot holes from time to time, but it is generally well done. I thought the Alzheimer's episode was particularly well done. 7/1/17

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