Last Update 12/31/13

 

Stranded (2013)

Christian Slater stars in this thriller set on the moon, which is rife with scientific errors. What's a "rogue meteor shower"? In this case it's a heavy bombardment from space that appears to target a small moonbase, and which strikes with audible thuds and bumps. There's a lengthy bit about restoring something like normal functions to the base after the initial attack, but there's worse to come. There are spores on the meteorites, one person gets infected, after which she promptly gives birth to an alien creature  even though only a few hours have passed. The mostly humanoid looking alien is loose and it bites another member of the crew, but the commander and doctor don't believe either of the people who insist the creature is real. That was around a third of the way through the movie and that's the point where I lost interest. The stupid level of the script continued to rise as the two officers refuse to even consider the possibility that they are wrong. Mediocre special effects, poor lighting, inane dialogue, and  leaden pacing don't help. And why does such a small moonbase have such a large supply of alcoholic drinks? And how does the alien know how to operate human designed technology? Boring, and it has no ending. We're left with the alien on Earth for unknown purposes.  12/31/13

Struck by Lightning (2012)

This is a bittersweet comedy about a high school student who feels intellectually superior to everyone else and starts blackmailing the other students into contributing to his literary magazine, hoping this will improve his chances of getting into the college he wants to attend. At the same time he is dealing with an alcoholic mother whose ex-husband - who pretty much abandoned them both - is about to be re-married, although the woman in question begins to have reservations about him. The first half of the movie is quite funny, but then we start seeing the real pressures and tensions underlying the situation. The title, incidentally, comes from the fact that he is struck and killed in the opening scene and is posthumously telling us his story. Quite well done in almost every way. 12/29/13

The Bling Ring (2013)

I confess that I watched this primarily because I was curious to see if Emma Watson could play a character other than Hermione Granger. The movie is based on a true story - almost always a negative for me - about a group of teenagers who find out when celebrities are going to be away from home so that they can break in and steal millions of dollars worth of their stuff. The ease with which they do it - no alarms? - would have been offputting in a fictional story, but since it really happened that way I'm just astounded at the poor security for their victims. Watson's character is way over the top and I was inclined to think she overdid it, but then I found out that the original person was exactly like that, so I suppose technically her performance was pretty good. I'm not sure this is the kind of role that could establish her reputation though. The story itself, though filled with interesting scenes, becomes repetitive and since we already know they got caught, there's not really any suspense. Interesting, but not uniformly entertaining. 12/28/13

Polar Express (2004)   

A Christmas movie in which a boy who doubts the reality of Santa Claus finds himself aboard a train that takes him and several other children on a perilous journey to the North Pole, where he meets Santa Claus and restores his ability to believe. This is an animated adventure based on the children’s book and since it is for children, there are no real scares, although the sequence with the train on a patch of ice is nicely done. Tom Hanks provides most of the adult voices. Visually impressive at times, although I didn’t care for any of the songs that were included. 12/27/13

The Secret Village (2013)

Two people investigate what appears to be an outbreak of mass hysteria in a small Massachusetts town, unaware - at first - that there is also a mysterious cult made up of local inhabitants. There are some relatively minor glitches - the Salem witch trials actually were not in the present town of Salem but in another nearby. It's not an important plot point, however. Patience is required, however, as the first third of the film is very complicated and a lot of the time it isn't clear what is happening or what the motivations of various people might be. A cowled man shows up and eavesdrops, another uses a hypodermic to subdue one of a group of young people, still another appears to be following the female protagonist, and it's not even clear where things are happening, nor are we told why no one has reacted to the periodic waves of ergot poisoning.. The early scene in which one of the villagers says that the investigator is risking her life is implausible, nor is it possible for an entire village to enforce its decision to ignore all outside laws. Hard to believe the IRS would let them get away with it. Who maintains the roads? How can the town exist independent of all outside supplies? Why does our heroine go back to her rented house rather than flee town when she escapes from a bunch of hooded cultists? The sudden string of nonsense was frustrating because the first ten minutes showed some promise. Once plausibility is gone, it's hard to get back a connection with the viewer no matter how good other production values might be. There are lots of shots of odd looking people with ominous music in the background, but nothing to tell us what they are. When our heroes find the dead body of a man who said they were in danger, they make no effort to notify the authorities or even protect themselves. They don't even leave the village. Or are they hallucinating? The incoherence rapidly goes from intriguing to irritating as the plot disintegrates. There is also some jumping around in time that probably was intended to be arty but which just seems amateurish. Some of the acting is okay; some is leaden. Silly dialogue just exaggerates their shortcomings. Add a terrible soundtrack to finish it off. 12/26/13

The Tenth Planet (1966)

This early Doctor Who serial is complete except for one installment which is replaced here with an animated version. A mysterious planet appears near Earth just as the Doctor and friends arrive in Antarctica where they are taken prisoners by the local space command post. The inhabitants of the world are a very primitive version of the Cybermen, essentially robots who want to take over Earth and who have no emotions. The science in this one is really bad even for Doctor Who, with no effect by the near passage of another planet - which is exactly like ours except upside down. For a large portion of this one, the Doctor is unconscious and off camera, which suggests Hartnell might have been ill at the time. One of the better of the Hartnell era adventures. 12/25/13

Zombie Night (2013)

A made for television zombie movie that throws us into the chaos so quickly we have no chance to know the characrers or understand what is happening. And it keeps on adding new characters and situations with restless abandon. The primary group of characters have an automobile accident next to a graveyard, whose risen corpses are not noticeably decayed or even dirty, and wear casual clothing that they would never have been buried in. Shirley Jones proves that even she can chew the scenery under the right circumstances, Daryl Hannah does a fairly good job, but the dialogue is consistently bad.  The story comes across as a series of separate, unexplained pieces rather than a consistent or integrated plot, and the lack of even superficial logic or explanation is infuriating. The ease with which slow moving, uncoordinated zombies kill live people is even more unrealistic than usual. There is essentially no plot, which is unfortunately true of a lot of zombie movies, but it seems even more obvious with this one. Pretty much a waste of time. 12/4/13

Alien Uprising (2012)

Despite token appearances from a few well known actors, this is a pretty amateur film about a bunch of partygoers who discover that the Earth is being attacked by aliens.  Which means, of course, that the title is complete nonsense. Accompanied by some pretty awful music, a group of mostly untalented actors sleepwalk their way through sometimes incomprehensible dialogue. Since all of the characters are variously foul mouthed, aggressive, self absorbed, or otherwise annoying, there is no connection with the audience, hence no real suspense. Normally, I would applaud the attempt to develop the characters before introducing the aliens, but this time it goes on too long and since the characters are all idiots, I had had too much of them very soon. The occasionally jerky camera work didn't help. We're almost half way into the movie by the time the silly looking spaceship appears. Boring, disappointing, badly conceived and ineptly done. 12/23/13

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) 

This is the second movie by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and it’s much better than you might think. Filmed in black and white, it is essentially a 1940s movie about a folklorist who goes to Vermont to investigate rumors of a secretive race living in the hills. There he discovers that they are crablike invaders who are planning to open a gateway to their home on Yuggoth and move en masse to Earth dispossessing humanity. The acting isn’t bad, the special effects are surprisingly good though not spectacular, and it held my attention even during the talky parts. You won’t find this in Walmart or your local video store, and it’s fairly expensive, but as long as you're not expecting a big studio quality production you should get your money’s worth. 12/22/13

The Desolation of Smaug (2013) 

The second installment in the Hobbit trilogy was about what I expected, more of the same kind of stuff from the first movie, an advancement but not resolution of the plot to recover the stone of power and restore the dwarf kingdom. Gandalf goes off on a side trip again and encounters Sauron himself while Bilbo finds his courage, still keeps his possession of the ring of power secret, and confronts the dragon Smaug in his lair. Thorinn is beginning to look like he may have the same personality flaw that destroyed his grandfather. Legolas is back, along with a new female elf Tauriel, introduced to get some of the opposite gender into the movie, but her story and the romantic subplot don’t add much. A few sequences go on too long, which was true of the first movie as well. Smaug is very well done as are the sets, but there’s really nothing new and the cliffhanger ending adds to the impression that Peter Jackson and his people are running in place. An enjoyable three hours but not a classic. 12/21/13

The Newsroom Season 1 (2012) 

Jeff Daniels, one of my favorites, stars in this intelligent, biting story about life in a major network news organization. The opening episode includes his impressive, out of character tirade about the shortcomings of American life, which he regrets soon because it might affect his ratings. The need for high ratings vs providing useful news provides the underlying tension for most of the season. A series of minor scandals undercuts the protagonists, some manufactured, some moments of weakness or carelessness. The person in charge of the network is actively undercutting Daniels so that she can fire him if he persists in his campaign against wealthy backers like the Koch brothers. There’s also a love triangle – briefly two of them in fact -  and tension caused by coverage of Fukushima, the Egyptian revolution, and the candidacy of Rick Santorum. Not quite as good as West Wing – Aaron Sorkin’s previous project – but still well worth watching. Makes you wish something like this existed in real life as a counterbalance to “balanced” news reporting. 12/20/13

Death in Paradise (2007)   

From the novel by Robert B. Parker, featuring Jesse Stone.  There are two parallel cases, the first involving an underaged girl found floating in the river, and an abusive husband whose long suffering wife finally decides to leave him. Unlike Night Passage, this one stays pretty close to the source material at first although a few things are compressed to save time.  Some of the dialogue is straight out of the book. The wife remains off stage again, although she’s an active but rather irritating distraction in the novel. The victim was drowned in the movie but shot through the head in the book. The dead girl’s parents are completely changed from the book; the father is the villain here, but it was the mother in the novel. The major element of the prostitution ring becomes minor. There’s also a brief appearance by the dead girl’s ghost which was completely out of place. A deputy gets shot in the shootout with the abuser, which also is unique to the movie. The final 15 minutes are horrible. Stone arrests the author who, in the book, was responsible based on feelings rather than evidence. They also change who was the killer, which is inexcusable, apparently just so they could have a dramatic shootout at the end. Awful. 12/19/13

Doctor Who 50th Anniverary soundtrack, Silva Screen Records, 2013

This is a selection of music taken from various points in the fifty years of the Doctor Who television show, starting with the original theme of the very first show and ending with the recent 50th Anniversary special. Some of the music from the early years in surprisingly good, as in the guitar piece from An Unearthly Child and another from The Macra Terror. A lot of it is electronic - or mimics electronics - but some of it is more conventional. A few tracks don't really work well as pure music, as is the case with The Sea Devils,  but others like The Invasion and Terror of the Zygons are quite good and stand alone. The various versions of the theme are the most familiar and arguably the best - I particularly like the 1980 version, but they're in good company. Among the other high spots are Castrovalva and Delta and the Bannermen, the latter one of the worst installments in the series otherwise. "Back to the Tardis" is also quite nice. The selections from the last few years are generally more conventional music and less distinctive but I did like "Doomsday" and "I Am the Doctor". A few are good for nostalgia, most are good just to listen to. 12/18/13

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

This horror/suspense/teen angst film tries a little too hard to do too little. Mandy Lane is a hot girl who is present when a boy is goaded into jumping to his death from the roof of his house into a pool. Sometime later, she and everyone else involved are invited to a wild party at a ranch. But someone has decided to use the party as an opportunity for vengeance.  There's lots of trivial conversations that don't really contribute anything and musical interludes where we see teens acting like teens, which doesn't contribute anything either. As usual, almost none of the teenagers are anyone we'd like to know. Admittedly I haven't been a teenager in a while, but most of the time they don't act like any teenager I ever knew. There's a surprise twist ending that you'd have to be blind not to anticipate, but none of it makes any particular sense. Fails in almost every way. 12/17/13

Oblivion (2013)

A visually impressive but not very logical SF adventure starring Tom Cruise, which was one strike against it. After an alien invasion destroys the moon and is only defeated by atomic weapons that leave most of the Earth uninhabitable, humanity spreads to other planets. Cruise is a technician who monitors drones that patrol the skies, since the aliens are still around though in vastly reduced numbers. Considering the constant danger of alien attack, it makes no sense that there aren't more precautions taken in security. Nor does it make sense that Cruise is apparently the only technician on the entire planet. Nor could I understand why his base station would be balanced on a giant shaft just above the clouds. Given that he's alone, one wonders how his boss can determined that a military attack on a power station was his fault. He has no defensive capabilities except a fancy rifle and he wasn't anywhere near the attack. Given the very high production values, it's a shame that the plot is such a mess. There are a few spots where I couldn't even figure out why he was doing what he was doing and it's never clear where the surviving humans are, although we're told it was Titan. Why, for example, does he go to his hideaway - which somehow has power - for a brief vacation when supposedly there is a major crisis brewing?  Anyway, a spaceship lands which the high command wants to destroy but Cruise disobeys orders, investigates, and rescues one human, although the drones kill the other survivors. She's the woman he's been seeing in his dreams! She's been in suspended animation for sixty years and insists she was on a classified mission, which by the internal dating means that she was launched into space about now, which also seems anachronistic. Then it turns out that Cruise and his coordinator have had their memories edited, but they know it. They don't seem to need a reason. Meanwhile some of the aliens are watching them enigmatically. There are just a few too many unknowns for a little too long. There's no element of suspense when everything is bewildering. SPOILER. The aliens are actually humans in disguise. Jack is actually a clone working unwittingly for the aliens. Far too confusing and somewhat overly long. 12/12/13

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 

I hadn’t watched this in a few years and I am pleased to say that I like it just as much now as I did when it first came out – although it’s hard to believe that was more than thirty years ago. Harrison Ford is great as Indiana Jones and the supporting cast is talented and appealing. Jones competes with a French archaeologist working for Hitler to secure the Ark of the Covenant, which turns out to contain a mystical force that destroys the bad guys when they open it. There are some holes in the script – how did Jones and Marion get off the Nazi island, how did he survive the trip on top of a submarine without food or water, and a few other plot shortcuts, but he action scenes are terrific and there is some great dialogue sprinkled through as well. Probably the best in the series, although the third came close. 12/11/13

The World of Steam soundtrack, Sparks & Shadows, composed by Bear McCreary, 2013

Defiance Deluxe edition soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, 2013 

Two soundtracks by one of the most talented composers I’ve encountered in recent years. The first of these was written to accompany a web based steampunk series. It only contains about twelve minutes of music. Not surprisingly given the subject matter, there is at times a deliberate mechanical feel to the music. There is only a single band encompassing the different compositions, which varies quite a bit but which is enjoyable throughout.  The second consists of two CDs, one of which is from the computer game and which I have reviewed previously, while the other comes from the television program. Some of it includes vocal performances. “Flirting with Disaster” is the best of the latter. “Outside Over There” and “Battle of the Volge” are my favorites among the instrumental cuts. As with most of McCreary’s work, there is considerable variation in tempo, general sound, and instrumentation. I wouldn’t list this among his best efforts, but most of it is quite good. 12/10/13

The Expelled (2010)

A handful of staff and students are trapped inside their school by a gang of unknowns wearing hoods and carrying a grudge. This is set in England but I'm still very skeptical that a student who assaults a teacher because he gets an F would then be allowed back into that same teacher's class, nor that the school would be worried about the student suing the teacher, nor that people can casually come and go after hours, nor that students can use the exercise equipment unsupervised and alone. The teacher is no prize himself, abusively sarcastic, and the experience makes him an obsessed alcoholic with various family and emotional problems. He takes a new job at another school where he does not get along with the principal. From what we can see, he manages to make literature incredibly dull. He speaks in a monotone, while not facing the class, and is almost completely without animation. His daughter, a student at the school, is no prize either, a self centered twit. There's a bit too much of people taking chances rather than calling security or the police but the suspense scenes are generally very well done. The acting in this is very good. The soundtrack is a bit problematic, sometimes so low that I had trouble following conversations. The extreme closeups annoyed me a bit and the color is a bit washed out, but otherwise the camera work was nicely done. I couldn't figure out where the title came from. Not an award contender but a solid minor film. 12/9/13

Self Storage (2013)   

A party at a self storage center gets violent when some undesirables show up and start killing the supporting cast Not one of your more original ideas. It’s also one of those movies which try to mix suspense and comedy and end up failing at both despite a fairly decent cast. It turns out the storage place is just a front for an illegal organlegging operation. It’s boring after the first fifteen minutes and gets intermittently more leaden as it progresses. It’s also one of those movies where you aren’t going to like anyone and aren’t going to care whether or not anyone survives. 12/8/13

I Am Zozo (2012) 

A bunch of teens with a Ouija board are startled when they start getting impossible messages and when strange things begin happening around then. There’s an original idea for you. This one is so old you could almost call this a remake. This is another movie that claims in the opening that it is based on a true story, and the caption claims that “thousands” of people have contacted Zozo through Ouija boards in recent years.  So I ignored my usual prejudice against supernatural movies “based on a true story”, none of which actually are. On the other hand, the opening sequences are confusing and they almost lost me within the first ten minutes. Fuzzy photography and an occasionally fuzzy soundtrack didn’t help, although the background music is interesting. A pleasant change is that the characters aren’t all miserable idiots, a major break from the usual trend. The Wiccan is a bit overdone but the characters are reasonably well drawn, despite less that sterling dialogue. The movie flirts with being good for a while but never quite commits itself. The preliminaries take too long and when they finally start, the reactions of the characters are unconvincing. There is also no rationale at all to explain why Zozo has physical powers over the living. There’s almost no sense to anything that happens afterward, and there isn’t that much to see anyway. And since when do bathroom doors lock from the outside? Shows some signs of talent but you have to look close to find them. The website connected to the film has a testimonial by someone who claims it is true, which is either an elaborate joke or evidence that he needs psychiatric care. 12/7/13

Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)   

A demoness and her malevolent dog escape Hell and pass for human. There she decides that her destiny is to punish evildoers, killing them and feeding parts of their bodies to the dog. The scenes in Hell – which go on for far too long - look more like ancient Rome than anything else except that everyone there talks inanely and acts the same. Actually, that probably would make an effective Hell. This is so ineptly done that I’m tempted to assume it was meant to be funny, although it doesn’t really succeed at that either. The scene when she meets two nuns is particularly bad; they mistake her for a homeless teenager, even though she’s well dressed and simply window shopping, and the actress was thirty years old and looked it. One of the worst things I’ve watched recently. 12/6/13

Curandero (2005)   

This is an odd little film, dubbed and/or subtitled in English, about the battle against a drug ring that uses superstition and a little genuine supernatural content to advance their interests. The bad guys are into mutilation, cannibalism, and other escapades in addition to their usual thuggery. The hero is a curandero, which is kind of a white warlock. There are a couple of times when the dubbing makes no sense and the subtitles, which are often different, are even worse. The plot is incoherent at times. After saying that he can’t help purify the supposedly cursed police station, and after the agent recruiting tells him he can’t help, she immediately takes him there to help. The protagonist says he’s a curandero but also says that it’s all superstition, a contradiction repeated more than once. There are other abrupt direction changes and contradictions throughout. I ordinarily would have given up early, but there were also some interesting visual effects and camera work. Not enough to save it however. 12/5/13

Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (1993)   

This is a sequel to Mandroid. A minor character from that one turned invisible for no good reason – rationally or dramatically – in the first film is now wrapped in bandages and determined to cure his condition. The head villain from the first movie is back, but now he seems to be more interested in enslaving half clad young women than dominating the world. The plot wanders around in so many different directions that it’s almost like an anthology of bad stories. There’s also a troublesome police chief to complicate things. This was one of the last movies the studio made before closing down and at least one more sequel was in the planning stages. We were luckily saved from that happening. 12/4/13

All Hallow’s Eve  (2013) 

This is an anthology movie with a frame. The frame involves a babysitter who finds a VHS tape in a bag of candy one of the kids collected on Halloween. She watches it – which is where the unrelated stories come from – and the stories seem to set off strange events in the house. Unfortunately, the two kids in the frame are completely without talent. The first story involves a clown who kidnaps girls, chains them in a subway tunnel where they are killed by a deformed man. Lousy special effects and at least one point where I couldn’t figure out what was happening. In the second, an artist finds a scary picture he doesn’t remember painting and the following night his wife is alone in the house when she senses someone watching her. This time it’s an odd looking alien. It’s okay but kind of pointless. The third one involves a motorist who sees the clown commit a murder. This one doesn’t make any sense either. It’s the unkillable killer with no back story. The closing bit of the frame isn’t bad but it’s too long coming. 12/3/13

Robot Wars (1993)   

Almost decent special effects help this otherwise clunky SF film set after a major realignment of world powers. A stockpile of toxic materials is guarded by what is supposed to be the only super robot military vehicle on Earth. The robot is hijacked by terrorists, but two people manage to find another one that is still functional. They have to defeat the bad guys before they can make good their threat to destroy Los Angeles. The CGI robot, for no good reason, looks like a cockroach. Mostly substandard acting, consistently substandard dialogue. The political context doesn’t make any sense either. One of the best from Full Moon, but that’s not saying much. 12/2/13

Lurking Fear (1994)

This one is supposedly based on the Lovecraft story of the same name, but the resemblance is pretty faint. Despite a not awful cast – Ashley Lauren and Jeffrey Combs – it’s pretty bad. The opening sequence in which two women are defending a baby against something humanoid that lives in the walls is terribly done, with flat acting and the nonsensical set up in which the crib is placed near a mysterious gaping hole in the wall. The protagonist is a recently released convict who was actually framed. A friend of the family tells him that his father, who was a thief, buried a corpse filled with cash in a small cemetery, which unfortunately is in a town where underground cannibals are preying on the populace. The good actors don’t try hard and the bad ones try too hard. Add some thugs, who also want the money, and you have a predictable but uncongealed mix that never comes close to working.  Predictably the good guys get caught between the thugs and the cannibals. Boring. 12/1/13

Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957)

Teenage Caveman (1958) 

 I had never actually seen the first of these two black and white cheapies. A bunch of Viking women decide to go to see and look for their missing husbands and lovers. There are rivalries among the women  that lead to attempts at murder and mayhem. Almost immediately they happen upon a sea serpent, a monster supposedly rarely scene, and simultaneously find themselves caught in a violent storm. Shipwrecked, they are taken captive by a bunch of barbarians. Much silliness follows involving a weakling prince, the mysterious disappearance of the Vikings, and the status of the women as slaves, or guests. The women rescue their men who, despite having been kept in chains for an indefinite period of time, are all clean shaven. Hardly a classic even of its type.  The second title stars a very young Robert Vaughn. A tribe of mostly clean shaven cavemen live in an arid land, forbidden by some vague law from hunting the dinosaurs that live in the adjacent territory. There are also bears and elephants, which makes no sense. Vaughn wants to go into the forbidden area and eventually does. The “surprise” ending is that this is the future, not the past, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Atomic war would not bring back the dinosaurs. Some of the scenes are spliced from other Roger Corman movies. Minor, but not as badly done as you might think. 11/30/13

Mandroid (1993) 

Scientists experiment with a new kind of power source that attracts the attention of foreign agents, as well as dividing the two main scientists who disagree about what to do with it. The struggle over the mandroid – and the writers clearly don’t know what an android is - leads to violence and a series of plots and counterplots. One character, seriously injured, somehow acquires the gift of invisibility – which will be a major factor in a sequel I will be watching shortly. During the prolonged gun battle, no one seems particularly interested in taking cover and at least two characters take multiple gunshots to the chest without even falling down.  Not awful, but only intermittently interesting, goes on too long, and the science is monumentally stupid. 11/29/13

Primitive (2013) 

An actor who assaults his director agrees to undergo anger management therapy including hypnosis. Shortly thereafter, he returns to his home town where his mother has died under strange circumstances. Other people start dying as well, apparently torn apart by a monster similar to the one he was playing in his last movie. Is he killing them during blackouts? Has a physical monster been released from his unconscious? Or is something else going on? We get glimpses of a monster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Some of the acting is good, but a few of the actors are pretty awful.  There are some unexplained jumps of logic. How would our hero know where the punk he meets in a bar lives? Eventually one of the murder takes place while he’s in bed with his girlfriend, and someone else spots the monster, so at least we know he isn’t directly the killer. The movie goes sour when the police arrest him for murdering another man even though they know that it’s impossible for him to have physically committed the crime. And then they tell the only witness to his innocence that she won’t be needed for the trial. Fair to middling film self destructs after just short of an hour. And if the creature part of him only seeks to injure the ones who threaten him, why does it go after the girl, who is the only one to defend him? 11/28/13

Netherworld (1992)  

One of Full Moon studio’s worst films involves a young man who has recently inherited an estate from a father he barely knew. His father leaves him a letter suggesting that if his son helps him, he can bring himself back to the dead thanks to the powers of a local witch/prostitute. Grisly but not very convincing death scenes follow to a number of minor characters while our hero has trouble separating illusion from reality. The acting is really bad in this one, and the story takes so long to get going that you’re likely to sleep through much of it. The story wanders quite a bit and some of the sets look so phony that they're laughable. 11/27/13

Bad Channels (1992) 

An alien takes control of a radio station as part of its not very clever plot to kidnap human women. This one apparently was meant to be a spoof right from the outset, but it’s never even remotely funny, and the failed attempts meant that it was never even remotely suspenseful. A major promotion at the station attracts the attention of a reporter, who spots a UFO. Shortly thereafter, the rather comical alien uses radio waves to shrink his victims to doll size and add them to his collection. Silly without being funny, with minimal and laughable special effects, mediocre acting (to be kind), and enough plot holes to keep a Swiss cheese factory supplied for a year. Music provided by Blue Oyster Cult. 11/26/13

Nailbiter  (2013)   

A woman and her three teenage daughters are en route to the airport to meet her husband when they find themselves in the path of a tornado.  Their reluctance to seek shelter isn’t entirely plausible but it’s necessary to precipitate them into the main plot. They get no answer when they stop at a nearby house so they break into the basement. A tree falls trapping them and they discover that someone is in the house above them, or something. The acting in this is uniformly good for a change and the story progresses effectively and with considerable suspense.  In due course we learn that the family is affected by the presence of a storm and that the various sons become violent – and apparently no longer human. This one didn’t turn out the way I expected, and it kept me watching right until the end. 11/25/13

Arcade (1993)   

A very young Seth Green appears in this Tron imitation, in which a group of teenagers are drawn into the playing fields of a new arcade game. Early on we discover that the writers didn’t know what “sublimate” means, but that’s a minor point. A great deal of nonsense in this one. No one blinks an eye when the arcade game responds appropriately to a comment made in its presence. The cover copy brags about the spectacular graphics, but they’re rather primitive, though sometimes interesting. The game apparently cheats to capture its players, but since the rules are never clear, it’s hard to tell what’s going on.  The writers clearly don’t know what a virus is because they misuse the term, but then again, they don’t understand how computers work at all, so that’s not surprising. Progressively less interesting with an unsatisfying ending. 11/24/13

Seed People (1992) 

This was Full Moon studio’s take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a slightly different twist. Full Moon was one of the first to make direct to video horror and SF so bad that it was only marginally watchable, so naturally I decided to watch a few.  The narrator – and a good portion is narrated – speaks in a low, toneless voice that might put you to sleep. He’s a scientist looking into reports of a meteorite who discovers some odd plants growing near a remote town. The plants spray people with ichor, after which they become seed people, half plant and half animal. The creatures are pretty silly looking, and they can change shape into humans. The narration is ridiculous because the character giving it has no way to know about some of the things that happened. Lots of really dumb dialogue. The police station is left unsecured, and the firearms and ammunition are out in plain sight?  Bad acting, bad story, bad special effects, bad soundtrack, bad just about everything. 11/23/13

Shadowzone (1990)

An underground lab is the site of a series of experiments in unusually sleep states when one of the participants unexpectedly dies. An army captain is sent to investigate and almost immediately he detects that something is strange about the installation. Everyone tells him the death is unrelated to the research, but he thinks otherwise. James Hong and Lucille Fletcher give good performances as the secretive and unethical scientists. In due course we learn that while asleep, the human brain can contact a parallel existence, and somehow they have opened a bridge between realities. Soon thereafter, they are locked in by a failsafe system and their communications have been severed. The creature, obviously hostile, can change its size, shape, and mass at will, so it can impersonate a monkey, escape through a drain hole, and knock down a thick wall with equal ease. Most of the time the critter is off scream, which actually makes it more suspenseful since the special effects aren't very good. Better than most Full Moon movies, but still not memorable.11/22/13

Embrace of the Vampire  (2013)   

Obviously this is a vampire movie although the vampire really isn’t much in evidence until quite late. The brief early sequence set in some indistinct past period, is marginally more suspenseful than the main story and the female vampire is creepy looking. But then we’re in the present when a shy young woman goes off to college unaware that she is about to fall into the snare of a centuries old vampire. Apparently she was abused as a child and has nightmares about it, after one of which she wakes up outside her room in a sequence supposed to be mysterious but just confusing.  As usual, all the college students look to be in their late twenties or early thirties. The acting is competent but sometimes a bit flat. There’s some initial mystery – who is the vampire, the fencing coach, the professor with an aversion to sunlight?  A couple of dumb things. Dinosaurs are not legends as one professor claims. Anyway, our protagonist gets a strange visit from another student, who happens to be a gypsy. There are, in fact, too many clichés, including the jealous fencing team captain, the sexually overactive roommate, the bitchy airhead. Occasional lines of dialogue seem oddly out of place. The hazing scene is so badly done that I almost stopped watching at that point. There’s a completely pointless murder, which no one on campus appears to notice, about halfway through. And why would she trust another student who has consistently shown herself to be an enemy?  And hasn’t the shower water turning to blood thing been done to death? All plausibility stops when the fencing instructor makes him duel with him without protective masks. The absurd conversation about inappropriate behavior just kicked the corpse. And as if that wasn’t enough, the man who was killed by being repeatedly stabbed with a pole is described as having been “attacked by some kind of animal.” Has a few good moments but the accumulation of flaws is too much to support. 11/21/13

Night Passage (2007)  

Tom Selleck stars in this made for television adaptation of the first Jesse Stone novel by Robert Parker. Stone is fired from the LAPD for drunkenness following his divorce and is hired by a small Massachusetts town as its chief of police. There is money laundering going on, facilitated by a hit man whom Stone roughs up after a domestic dispute. Most of the elements of the book are here – although the militia unit that figures  in the dramatic climax is completely eliminated in favor of a much less satisfactory ending. The actress playing his ex-wife, Gillian Anderson, whom we hear but never see, talks in a droning monotone that was completely unconvincing, otherwise the acting isn’t bad. The grafted on subplot about the dying dog serves no purpose and goes on too long. Not dreadful but not very gripping either. 11/20/13

Killer Holiday (2013) 

A formulaic slasher movie with a few interesting twists, but it opens with a confusing montage and some unexplained scenes that almost lost me very early on. And why does the picture fluctuate between color and black and white for no discernible reason? Eight young people pretending to be college age are on a spring break road trip when they pick up a killer on their trail. There are lots of artsy fartsy visual tricks - odd cuts, jerky transitions, etc. - to prove that the director really knows his stuff, except that he really doesn't know how to tell a good story. The dialogue is frequently inane, but as usual most of the characters are so irritating and/or offensive that it's hard to feel any sympathy for them.  Most of the movie takes place at an abandoned amusement park, which might have been effective if I had cared at all after the nonsense I'd already endured.  Not recommended.11/19/13

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

Another found footage movie, with the usual drawbacks of that form. Virtually no character development, choppy picture, inconsistent sound quality. This one partially makes up for it with interesting costuming and visuals and some definitely warped imagination, but not enough to overcome the downside. A Russian military unit sometime late in World War II stumbles across a German village where they encounter a series of monstrous figures, sewn together from parts of dead people apparently, who are virtually immune to gun fire. Not that this makes a lot of sense, but at least it's visually interesting more often than is usual in found footage. The story line is essentially just a long series of encounters and once the shock effect wears off, it gets pretty uninteresting. Not dreadful and with a few good moments, but it's never going to be a classic.  11/18/13

Scrubs Season 9 (2006) 

The previous season seemed like a finale and this season has such a different feel that it’s almost a new program. J.D. is teaching at med school and his wife Eliot is pregnant. There are a bunch of new characters and the old ones have reduced scope. Dr. Cox, Kelso, and Turk are also teachers. None of this makes any sense. The jokes are generally stale and they reverted to absolute silliness, a sharp contrast to the previous season. They even re-recorded the theme and redid the opening credits.  Several of the regulars have very small parts and the new interns get most of the screen time. That might have been a plus – Denise is an interesting character – but it never really takes life. J.D. and Cox are back to being self obsessed villains, suggesting that the writers decided to reverse season 8.  Carla, Eliot, Cox’s wife, the lawyer, Todd, and the janitor have all essentially disappeared. There’s also a kind of mean spirited undertone that irritated me. A dismal ending to a mediocre series despite the efforts of a small minority of the cast. The writing, which starts off bad, actually manages to deteriorate by the end of the  truncated season. Not a winner. Not even a contender. The few genuine moments - and there are several - are lost in the ocean of inanities. 11/17/13

Grabbers (2012)   

Something crashes in the ocean off the coast of Ireland, after which fishing vessels is attacked and all aboard are killed by some mysterious creatures we don’t quite see. Another fisherman catches something strange in a lobster trap. Meanwhile, people are starting to disappear when they venture near the shore. This was surprisingly good, with a healthy but not excessive dose of humor and some really creepy looking critters. At one point the heroes find a head and take it to a doctor to determine the cause of death.  They discover that they are immune to attack if they get drunk, which leads to the predictable merriment. I’ve paid to go see less entertaining movies in theaters. This one is worth looking for. 11/16/13

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I wasn't a big fan of the first Thor movie, and the second was even less satisfying despite the Star Wars style battle sequences. The dark elves who preceded the universe as we know it want to restore the old chaos by means of an evil force that can change reality during the alignment of the nine worlds. The force briefly possesses Thor's girlfriend, who has to be taken to Asgard, menaced and rescued, freed of the force in time to help Thor and his buddies prevent the destruction of the universe. The plot makes no sense at all and there are times when I couldn't even figure out what was going on. Somehow the girlfriend and her crazy physicist friend have found a way to control space and time during the alignment and they keep shifting people and objects from one world to the other. The scientist also developed some probes which somehow have the ability to reverse the power of the evil force even though all of Asgard was unable to discover the trick. Loki has a surprise at the end that I won't spoil, but it doesn't make any sense either. Nor do I understand why Natalie Portman has such a good reputation given that she's leaden throughout this one. In fact, her assistant Darcy is a far more interesting character - and better actor - and Loki is more interesting than Thor - and also a better actor. One good moment: Thor hangs up his hammer on a coat rack when visiting a private house. Disappointing even though my expectations weren't high.  11/15/13

Deepstar Six (1988) 

For some reason I really enjoy undersea or on the sea horror movies. This one has a good cast, a reasonably good script, and reasonably good special effects. The crew of an undersea station securing nuclear missiles is close to the time when their relief is due, but they encounter something unusual, an undersea cavern previously sealed off from the rest of the ocean, and home of a creature never before seen by humans. Unlike the situation in a lot of similar movies, the several characters are all developed reasonably well in a remarkably short time. After the initial attack, the crew decides on an emergency evacuation, but an overstressed technician triggers the self destruct sequence, which in turn damages the station. There’s a bit of a problem – the mass of the creature when it gets inside the station seems inadequate to its ability to shift an entire laboratory’s mass. The story holds no real surprises but the good performances by the cast make it a much better than average monster movie. 11/14/13

Gravity soundtrack composed by Steven Price, Watertower Music, 2013.

I had intended to go see this in a theater but life got busy and I missed it, so this soundtrack was entirely new to me. Given that the movie is mostly set in orbit, I was expecting lots of lush orchestral arrangements designed to emphasize the sense of wonder about the universe. I got some of that, plus some enigmatic pieces that didn't evoke anything in particular. A lot of it - including what I assume is the main theme - is unusually quiet and a lot of the tracks change moods and sound levels dramatically as they progress. That makes is hard to single out favorite tracks since there are bits of each that I liked more than other bits.  The only one I enjoyed straight through was "Shenzou". This seems like it would be much more effective when paired with the visuals because it's actually a bit boring taken just as music.  11/13/13

Doctor Who Season 7 soundtrack, composed by Murray Gold, Silva Records, 2013

Doctor Who: The Snowmen soundtrack, composed by Murray Gold, Silva Records, 2013

  Obviously these are two cds of recent music from the Doctor Who television series. The first title has more than three dozens separate tracks, so obviously they average out rather short and more of them tend to be brief mood pieces rather than more complex musical compositions. On the other hand, there is considerable variety and the music itself is often rather nice, even if it doesn't last long enough. A few that I particularly noted were "Towards the Asylum," "Brian," "Make Peace," "Welcome to Mercy," "Gunslingers," and quite a few others. I think this is probably the most varied of the several soundtracks from this show that I've heard. There are quite of few where would I would like to have heard extended versions.  The second title has the same composer and almost as many tracks, although it only covers three specials. The specials share some of the pluses and minuses but I think on average I liked it somewhat better. "Geronimo" is particularly good, and I also liked "Clara Lives," "Armchair Waltz," "Quite a Tree," and several others. Both of these are likely to find an appreciative audience. 11/11/13

Paranormal Apparition (2013)

A family with a teenaged daughter moves into a large house where a murder took place a few years earlier. The daughter begins to have strange experiences and realizes that a restless ghost is after her. No particular reason for that except to give us some plot tension. Not that there's much tension. The effects, dialogue, plot, and acting are bad, and the sound is so bad it's infuriating. There's no effort to filter out random background noise which makes it feel like you're watching the movie while standing in the middle of a highway, next to a beach, in a windstorm. I couldn't think of a single good thing to say about this one. 4/6/17

Ritual (2012)

Although shot in English, this horror film is Indonesian. The protagonist wakes up half buried in a forest with near total amnesia. He finds a house with a television on which is playing the tape of a woman's brutal murder, apparently his wife. Understandably this makes him nervous about making human contact, particularly in the darkness. Someone attempts to kill him at one point, although not very energetically, and for a long time it's just him wandering, finding odd objects, with no dialogue. After half an hour, we switch viewpoints to two teenagers, brother and sister, the children of the protagonist. He meanwhile finds home movies of his family and appears to regain at least part of his memory. The male kid is not convincing but his sister is quite good. He sets a trap, but ends up killing his daughter with it, which eliminated the most interesting of the characters. Shortly thereafter he kills his son, also apparently by accident, although I began to wonder at this point how much of this was his own madness. He finds another dead man and some mysterious alarm clocks and a message telling him to "go back to the beginning". Unfortunately, there's not much to tell us what's going on inside his mind. At the one hour mark, he has some kind of attack, recovers, now apparently rational and calm. He uncovers a camouflaged car and drives off. Then he uses his phone to contact what appears to be a second family, leaving us wondering if everything that went before was an illusion. There's an explanation, which is almost convincing. Interesting but not entirely successful.  11/4/13

South Park Season 16 (2012) 

Season 16 opens with an episode involving a fatality resulting from leaving the toilet seat up, which pretty much sets the tone for the season. In response, a new law requires use of safety belts on all toilets, and the TSA monitors all public restrooms. The second episode roasts cable shopping networks that scam the elderly, unfortunately not very funny in real life. I like the “Looming Sunset” retirement home. The third episode is dull, involving internet memes and intelligent cats. More silly than funny.  The same is true of the Passover monster episode, and the bullying want isn’t much better, although it has a nice song. The boys trapped on a wilderness tour is considerably funnier. Cartman’s stint as cupid is okay, the take off on football injuries less so, as is Cartman taking advantage of disabled benefits. The episode in which everyone thinks the UPS man is having sex with their wives is pretty good and so is the one about faux Hawaiian natives staging a revolt. The Halloween episode is very good, probably the best of the season.  The last two involve the discovery that Jesus used performance enhancing drugs and the election of Obama. Neither is particularly funny although there are a few good moments including a spoof of Dr. Seuss. The final episode however is rather mean spirited even for this show. Not an outstanding season. 11/3/13

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier (2005) 

A while ago someone put a large batch of movies up as a lot on Ebay and I picked up about two dozen at a ridiculously low price, most of which I was only marginally interested in. The pile has been standing there for awhile, so I decided to start whittling away at it. First up is a Lifetime made for television movie starring Michelle Trachtenberg as the fiancé of a man who is paralyzed in an accident. She was already having doubts about the wedding, so after it becomes obvious he won’t walk again, she leaves town and goes to New York, where she has an uneasy romance and finally decides she has to return to confront her past – although she doesn’t end up with her original boyfriend. A systemic problem of movies flaws this one. Although it may have taken her a good while to decide to leave, the condensed story told in a movie – this was originally a novel – makes her seem callous and it’s hard to sympathize with her. And since basically nothing very interesting happens to her, the entire middle of the movie is boring. 11/2/13

Cop Out (2010)

Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan team up in this comedic cop buddy movie. Morgan thinks his wife is cheating on him. Willis tries to sell a rare baseball card to finance his daughter's wedding and gets robbed. The two of them decide to track down the thieves, but that brings them into the orbit of a violent drug gang.  The leader of the gang wants them to track down a stolen vehicle in return for the card, and they find it without too much difficulty. Unfortunately, there's a woman in the trunk, and the woman is carrying a thumb drive that has the financial records of the drug gang. A trade is arranged, but neither side trusts the other, and both have good reason. Everything turns out all right in the end. The action is mildly entertaining, the humor generally less so. Morgan's comedic style did nothing for me and Willis confines himself to sarcastic facial expressions. Minor. 11/1/13

Scrubs Season 8 (2005)

The penultimate season of Scrubs has some more serious themes in the early episodes, including a quite touching one about a man facing death. Courteney Cox is briefly head of the hospital. The new crop of interns includes three pretty obnoxious ones, each in his or her own way. J.D. and Eliot are back together as a couple. Dr. Cox becomes chief of medicine and he and Kelso become reconciled. Carla gets pregnant for the second time. Turk becomes chief of surgery. J.D. gets a new job at another hospital. The janitor gets married. A couple of the new interns actually develop into interesting characters. There's a two part episode set in the Bahamas for a change of pace. Although a few episodes are still just silly, and the main characters still act badly from time to time, this was probably the show's best season. Unfortunately, it crashed and burned the following year. 10/31/13

Red Clover (2012)

Not the most original plot on this horror film about an evil leprechaun freed from his grave when one of the wards is removed. There is a good cast in this including William Devane and Billy Zane, although their parts aren't much more than cameos. The opening sequence is nicely done with a brief glimpse of the creature. It's not long before we figure out that the movie is going to be at least partly tongue in cheek, which is okay if it's done well. This was originally shown on television as Leprechaun's Revenge. The critter is a leprechaun, but not the cute type and for reasons known only to itself it is haunting the leading lady. The plot advances quickly, but some of the short cuts are painfully obvious, like discovering references to her curse within hours of being exposed, and believing it despite having no other evidence except a bad dream. Nor can you have a complete blood workup at a doctor's office while you wait. The leprechaun has a wide variety of powers - the heroine is plagued by hallucinations, possession, automatic drawing, etc. - while the rest of the cast starts dying one by one. By the halfway point there have been so many bits of bad dialogue, pointless plot jumps, and sheer nonsense that hte movie is beyond redemption. Lousy special effects as well. Skip it. 10/29/13

Modern Family Season 4 (2013)

The fourth season of this very funny show maintains the high standards of the earlier seasons. Haley is off to college, briefly. Mitch and Cam are unsuccessful in their attempts to adopt a second child, but they do get a cat. Sofia Vergara is pregnant and occasional characters like Haley’s boyfriend and Jay’s ex-wife make guest appearances. Almost every episode has at least one scene where I burst out laughing. On the other hand there’s an absolutely dreadful episode where Jay steals a woman’s cake and breaks down the gate of a parking garage without either feeling remorse or having to face consequences. The relationship between Haley and her mother begins to change and Mitchell finally finds a sport where he can beat his father. The self flipping pancakes are pretty funny and the tooth fairy sequence is as well. Six year old Lily is surprisingly good. Overall still among the very best sitcoms. 10/27/13

After Effect (2013)

A group of college students sign up for a research study which conceals a sinister secret. It starts off competently enough although everything is so low key that there's no hook to hold our attention. The subjects are almost all wise asses who manage to alienate the viewer within a few minutes of their introduction. They are a little too ready to subject themselves to biological rather than psychological experimentation, and the recruiters make no effort to find people who don't have family connections, which means their disappearance would be very suspicious and the probability that they told someone where they were going. The introductory sections lasts well over half an hour, which is too long without anything to ratchet up the tension. Shortly after the first "treatment" the subjects begin to exhibit a penchant for violence. Yes, they're turning into "zombies" and their skin begins to deteriorate within hours. And there's no indication of what the experiment's purpose was. The rest is just dumb repetition. They get killed off one by one while the staff watch on cameras. The staff are so incompetent - both as experimenters and as actors - that the whole framing situation is completely implausible. Lousy ending too. 10/25/13

Dead Before Dawn (2011)  

Most of the better zombie movies have been spoofs, so this one looked more promising than most of the other recent direct to video stuff I’ve seen recently. In this one a group of college students activate a curse that means that anyone with whom they have eye contact will turn into a hybrid zombie demon, aka, a zemon. It tries a little too hard to be cute and funny at times, unfortunately, and the jokes become so obvious and so silly that they become denuded of any actual wit or humor. There’s lots of screaming and running around, much of it incoherent, much of it pointless. No one act, the special effects are primitive, and it’s not internally consistent.  Parts of it are unwatchable and ultimately it’s just boring. 10/24/13

Grimm Seasons 1&2 Soundtrack, composed by Richard Marvin, La-La Land Records, 2013   

Coincidentally I had just finished watching season 2 of this television program when the soundtrack turned up in the mail. There are 29 tracks and a lot of them are very short, which is probably the only real downside. Some tunes just get going when they stop. The music as a whole, however, is very good indeed and only a few pieces are so picture related that they don’t work independently.”Buying Gallbladder” is particularly good, very light and bouncy, as is “Call of the Wild”, which has a very different atmosphere. Some of the tracks do change dramatically from start to finish, however, another problem inherent in soundtracks, but the transitions on this cd aren’t as disruptive. “Goofs in Car” is another good one – despite the silly title. The latter part contains a higher proportion of obviously action linked music, some of which seemed more generic than most of the other cuts.  A good album overall. There’s an interesting booklet enclosed as well. 10/24/13

Apartment 1303 (2013) 

This is apparently a remake of a Japanese horror film. A young woman moves into the apartment where her sister died mysteriously, determined to uncover the truth. She discovers that several previous female residents of that apartment have committed suicide, including the first, a young girl who murdered her mother before leaping to her death. Since the sisters have an alcoholic and marginally abusive mother, there is an obvious parallel. It’s a fairly standard ghost story – although the ghost is solid, but the creepy events are a bit too frequent and overdone and lose their effectiveness early on, even before the plot falls apart. The building supervisor is ludicrous; he would have been fired or the owners would have been sued long before.  The mediocre dialogue in the opening scenes is, unfortunately, better than what follows, some of which is dreadful. At one point, the protagonist – who doesn’t live in the apartment – has a brief encounter with something ghostly at another location altogether, which contradicts the premise of the story. And if the ghost wants the apartment to itself, why does it lure people there?  And what’s up with the sister’s ghost? None of the other victims reappear. When she calls the police and reports an intruder, they send one plainclothesman and no uniforms? And he leaves her the confidential police files?  The lone witness reports to the police that he saw someone struggling with the sister just before she fell, and they tell him not to repeat the story? If the police think the sister is a suspect, why do they never question her? The writer apparently thought it was more important to make the story simple than to make it believable. He was wrong. Tripe. Insults the viewer repeatedly. 10/22/13

Penny Dreadful (2013)   

An anthology film with a clever frame. The first very brief segment is about a mysterious jack-in-the-box that kills its owner. The second takes a while to get going. A young woman is recovering from a hangover while we see flashbacks of her tempestuous relations with her boyfriend.  Some of the dialogue in this one is so low you can’t hear it over the ambient noise. Anyway, vampirism is telegraphed early. Some of the dialogue is okay, some clunky – the female vampire is an atrocious actor. Once the mystery is revealed, it goes on too long. Third is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre spoof, but the surprise double reversal is obvious pretty early. It also goes on a little too long. Not bad overall, and a good soundtrack. 10/21/13

Grimm Season 2 (2012) 

Last season ended with Nick’s mother showing up unexpectedly, and that’s how this one starts, in the first half of a two part episode  His mother is not happy that he has nonhuman friends, his girlfriend is in a magically induced coma, and his boss is a highly placed member in one of the nonhuman families. And a creature even worse than the Reapers – last season’s big bad – has come looking for him. There’s some dubious plotting early on. The evil boss has a pretty thin reason for wanting our hero’s girlfriend cured and the FBI’s rationale for arresting Nick is more than slightly dubious, particularly when they admit they have no evidence and don’t think he’s guilty. Nick’s girlfriend wakes up from her coma but she doesn’t remember him, while the secondary romance between his two friends is progressing and his partner develops the ability to see the creatures.  Right and wrong get confused at times as an old enemy/murderer becomes a temporary ally for a while. Nick’s boss is obsessed with the girlfriend as a byproduct of a spell he was involved with. In the ninth episode, we discover things are even stranger than they appear when Nick encounters a genuine ghost.  There are some real problems with some of the writing; the tension between Nick and his girlfriend is contrived at best and sometimes makes no sense at all. They also occasionally arrest and hold people with no legal justification. They are also inconsistent about when the nonhumans can sense a Grimm and vice versa. The episode about the computer programmers betrays a really bad comprehension of how code is written.  We learn more about the Royals, the groups in Europe who run some kind of shadow government. Nick’s girlfriend has visions of him and wants to know what’s up. The toad chasing episode is also pretty good. The love potion episode on the other hand is dreadful, and follows one about a lawyer who can affect the behavior of others as well as the running plot about the girlfriend’s magical infatuation with Nick’s boss. It’s a hokey device used once; three times in one season is very irritating and sloppy. It isn’t even done well; Nick’s personality changes completely not just his affections. I actually fast forwarded through much of this episode.  Not a bad season at all except this and a couple of weak episodes toward the end of the year. The girlfriend’s introduction to Nick’s world is, however, very amusing. 10/20/13

Apollo 18 (2011)

This is a found footage disaster about the last landing on the moon, one we never heard of. During the early stages we learn that they are equipped with things that make no sense for a lunar mission, the lines delivered awkwardly by apparently untalented actors. In addition to fuzzy, jerky pictures, we have fuzzy, jerky sound, and a fuzzy, jerky plot. The whole premise – that the flight was kept secret because of the consequences – makes no sense since they wouldn’t have known that before they launched. The astronauts soon hear sounds on the lunar surface – amazing since there is no atmosphere. There’s no characterization and very little continuity. Anyway, the mineral samples start moving by themselves. Then they find apparently human footprints. These lead them to a Russian moonship that just happened to be nearby – don’t the writers know how big the moon is? – and it still has power. There’s some attempt to explain this; the military apparently knew the Russians had landed in the area and that’s why they kept things secret, but it doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t have briefed the crew. There’s also an astonishing lack of understanding of celestial mechanics, biology, etc. The whole thing really falls apart when a spider like creature gets inside the helmet of one of the astronauts, although there is no break in his suit. No suspense, no nothing. Boring from beginning to end. This had a theatrical release. I would have demanded my money back. Insulting. 10/19/13

Zombie Hunter (2013)

Here’s a really bad zombie film for you, bad on so many levels that it almost defies description. The newcast that opens the movie is so stilted and badly written that it is comical. Then a year passes and we discover that the world has become a depopulated wasteland full of killers and zombies – although apparently the gas stations still have no trouble getting fresh supplies and the power is on. There’s an attempt at humor, but it’s is amazingly bad, as is the script and acting and any hint of a coherent plot. Pretty soon our hero runs into a group of survivors who are all just as repulsive as the zombies. Unwatchable. 10/18/13

Shiver (2012)

Danielle Harris appears to have become this decade's lead scream queen. In this one she's the target of a peculiarly twisted serial killer. Casper van Diem, Rae Dawn Chong, and Valerie Harper all have small parts in this, which is based on a Brian Harper novel. It starts out fairly mediocre and rapidly goes down hill. The sequence in which the killer sends a tape to the investigating officer is so bad that I was tempted to stop watching. The investigator's conversation with his boss that directly follows is even worse. Awkward, artificial, improbable, and badly composed. We know who the killer is from the outset, and he's pretty much a doofus. Subsequent dialogue varies from clunky to uninspired. Harris escapes from the killer when he first attacks her, but he isn't willing to accept defeat. At times the script is actually embarrassingly bad. It wouldn't even require a medical examination to tell the difference between a knife cut and a garroting, but according to this miserable drivel even a doctor couldn't tell the difference. During the interview with the police, no one asks her to describe her assailant. In his second attack, she runs him off the road, but even though there's no body, the police don't discover this until after she has recovered in the hospital the next day? The killer then impersonates a copy and picks her up, and she doesn't recognizer him? And there was no guard on her in the hospital? And on top of just being ludicrously bad, it's also unrelentingly boring. 10/17/13

Bounty Killer soundtrack composed by various, Lakeshore Records, 2013

Dawning Promises soundtrack composed by Frederik Wiedman,  Icon Trailer Music, 2013

Music from the X-Files 20th Anniversary composed by Mark Snow, BuySoundtrax Records, 2013

Three recent genre related soundtracks. The first is a decadent future action thriller and the soundtrack opens with a succession of conventional but variously mysterious or rousing moods, sometimes mixed in the same track. "Granny Chainsaw" on the other hand is a more independent and unusual piece, and stands quite well by itself. The next few cuts are not memorable, and are probably more effective only when linked to the visuals. "Gypsy Camp" is a little better, as is "The Kiss", without being exceptional. Most of the remaining cuts have good moments but are not consistent in tone or melody from beginning to end. I did like "New Mustang" but did not care for the vocal, "Let's Get on With It." Slightly above average for a soundtrack.

I'm not sure what the second album's origin is. I think it's music drawn from trailers prepared for more than one movie. Certainly the style of music varies quite a bit from one cut to the next. Almost all of the songs here are pleasant. "Origins Unveiled" is very nice, as is "Rewarding Radiance." All of it is orchestral and many tracks also include a choir. The best cuts also include "When Dusk Turns Dark," "Over Centuries," and "Eternal Honor."  There is less variation within each track than in most soundtrack albums. Nice listening, but only a couple of songs are really memorable.

The third is drawn from the television show and movies, some of it individual pieces, some of it arranged as suites. I lost interest in the show after the first season so I have no recollection at all of the music. The suites, obviously, make use of multiple melodies, but I was struck at how consistently the music is understated and vaguely mysterious or apprehensive. Obviously the theme was instantly recognizable, and it's the best piece on the album. I don't think I'd heard the full piece before. "The Post Modern Prometheus" is nearly as good and I'm quite sure I've heard it before somewhere as well. I also liked "Dreamland Part 2" and "Hollywood A.D. - Dancing Bones", both of which were new to me.  "Christmas Carol - Mother Genes" was in fact the only piece I didn't enjoy. "Fight the Future - Threnody in X" provides an interesting variation of the original theme and the guitar version of the theme was also very nice. This was the best of the three cds by a healthy margin. 10/15/13

Nothing Left to Fear (2013)

Anne Heche stars (although her part is small) in this small town horror story which has a good cast if a somewhat familiar plot setup. Family moves to small town which is home to a hidden horror. Shortly after arriving, the older daughter begins to experience unsettling nightmares but other than that it has a fairly slow start. There are a lot of fake suspense moments which turn out not to be suspenseful at all, which I didn’t care for. They feel like cheap tricks. The younger sister is the target of some mysterious plan, which I guessed immediately involved human sacrifice. This is a sort of Children of the Corn with adults instead of kids.  The theological argument presented by Clancy Brown makes no sense and is glossed over in any case, but it’s obvious that the locals probably think they’re doing God’s will but have been fooled by the other guy. There’s no back story explaining how this all started or why the current pastor – head of the town – decided to hire a replacement for himself in order to get at the new pastor’s family. The actor playing the reluctant agent of sacrifice never changes tone and hardly changes expression, although the rest of the cast is fine. Eventually the sister gets possessed after which she tries to kill the rest of the family. Supposedly the townspeople are doing it to close a gateway to Hell, but it’s only open because they open it each time. Not bad, but there are several minor problems with the script that are irritating, including some real stupidity on the part of the menaced characters and the really overdone car not starting at the crucial moment scene. The ending is dreadful – incomprehensible as well as dramatically flawed. Bad enough to spoil the good parts that went before. 10/14/13

The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012)   

A British miniseries based on the novel by James Herbert, which I liked a lot. A couple are still struggling to adjust to the mysterious disappearance of their young son when they and their two daughters move to Crickley Hall, which was once home to a man who abused a number of small children evacuated from London during the blitz. The usual creepy events start to happen – doors opening themselves, phantom images appear – but then the wife begins to hear the voice of her missing son as well. The story alternates between the present and the past, slowing providing clues about what happened.  Here’s a complaint you won’t hear too often. It sticks too close to the book, that is, it works in so much detail that it’s too drawn out, lasting three hours. The climax is very well done and the acting was excellent throughout, but it’s just not lively enough to hold our interest for that long. 10/13/13

Terror of the Zygons (1967) 

Tom Baker as Doctor Who returns to present day Scotland to investigate the destruction of several oil rigs. It appears that they are being attacked by a variation of the Loch Ness Monster, but in fact it’s a cyborg created by the Zygons, an alien race.  The Zygons are giant red leeches in appearance, although they can shapechange and impersonate human beings. The Doctor helps locate their base, which is in Loch Ness, and the Brigadier attempts to destroy it. As usual, Sarah Jane stumbles into the secret base, and trouble, and has to be rescued. This was actually one of the better serials – although the monster is rather silly looking - and I’m surprised that it was the very last Tom Baker to be released on dvd. 10/12/13

The Ice Warriors (1967)

The second Doctor Who travels to a future Earth suffering from a new ice age. The Doctor arrives just as an expedition discovers a figure buried in the ice, which turns out to be an invader from Mars who froze millennia earlier. The actor playing the base commander enjoys eating the scenery but the rest of the cast is at least competent. This was one of the longer serials and it takes a while to get going. There are also missing segments which have been filled in with animated versions although it appears to be the original soundtrack. The Ice Warriors are done pretty well for the time. One of the Doctor's companions pretends to work with them in order to provide information to the Doctor. Glaciers, however, do not "move all the time".  The animation is pretty primitive and the story is rather dull so this is chiefly of interest historically. 10/11/13

That 70s Show Season 8 (2005) 

The final season continued without Topher Grace and essentially without Ashton Kutcher, and with a new boyfriend for Donna, but it was clearly ready to die. Hyde and Jackie break up and Hyde marries a stripper. Jackie gets together with Fez briefly after turning down Kelso’s proposal. Red retires. Hyde turns out not to be married after all. The newcomers to the cast have little charisma and there was no chance they were going to save the show. Bruce Willis and Mary Tyler Moore each have small parts.  The episode where Donna has some nude pictures taken is actually quite good and another about a stolen ceramic clown isn’t bad. There are occasional good lines in the next few episodes but none of them are consistently funny. The finale ties things up, if rather abruptly. 1010/13

The Flashpoint Paradox Soundtrack composed by Frederik Wiedman, La-La Land, 2013

This is the soundtrack for a Justice League animated movie, which I haven't seen, but which apparently involves Batman, the Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and others. I haven't been impressed with similar soundtracks in the past because they are more prone to variations on a theme than are live action movies, although some of the latter fall into the same trap. There doesn't appear to be a main theme and most of the selections are "rousing" to some extent. The first that I actually liked was "Rogue", followed by several inoffensive but fairly bland selections. "Sin City" is better, but it is followed by a half dozen tracks that all sound pretty much the same, except for one that I didn't like at all. "Faster Than Bullets" breaks the string of repetition and is pretty good. I liked parts of "Worlds Collide" but it shares a common problem - inconsistency in tone because it has to be matched to what's happening on the screen. "The Blood of Hope" is also enjoyable. 10/9/13

That 70s Show Season 7 (2004) 

The penultimate season opens poorly with Steven finding out his father is Black and Eric turning into a real creep. Red opens his own business, a muffler shop, and next door neighbor Bob gets back together with his wife, who promptly leaves him again. Eric’s sister movies to Canada. Hyde wears a suit and tie and has a half sister, Kitty gets horny, Fez steals Kelso’s latest girlfriend, and Donna goes from redhead to blonde. Only Jackie seems unchanged. This might well be that the writers were running out of ideas, because the writing is generally less funny. They also appear to have forgotten that Fez is married. There’s also a harder edge of many of the characters. I found myself disliking Hyde for the first time and Jackie becomes the most sympathetic character. Eliza Dushku guest stars. Tommy Chong returns toward the end of the season. Topher Grace and Ashton Kutchner both left the show at the end of this season. I wonder if that's part of the reason they turned Eric into such an incredible creep this year. 10/6/13

Hollywood Homicide (2003)

Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett star as a pair of police detectives investigating a major case while staying out of the way of Internal Affairs, a potentially homicidal suspect, and have to deal with their personal lives at the same time. Much of the backdrop is the hip hop music business. For extra money, Ford is selling real estate and Hartnell runs a yoga studio. The script includes a good deal of humor but not so much that it interferes with the more serious plot. There really isn't any mystery involved; we know who was behind the murder - actually several murders - right from the outset. The interrogation scene doesn't really work. It's the only time the humor gets out of control and affects the plausibility of the story. Nor is the entire set up with IA plausible. Entertaining but I doubt I'll remember anything from it a month from now. 10/5/13

Total Recall (2012)

The original adaptation of this Philip K. Dick story wasn't all that hot, so I wasn't prejudiced against an attempt to do it better. The premise is the same, that a man who decides to experience his fantasies by a visit to a futuristic company that can provide virtual reality experiences finds himself in a real (?) life game of adventure is the same. This one has better special effects, arguably better acting, but overall I still prefer Arnold and the original. There's a transportation system through the Earth from England to Australia, which makes absolutely no sense at all. The early chase sequence is probably the high point of the movie. The device by which we don't know if things are objectively real or all an induced dream works in small doses but not for ninety minutes. The battle in the elevator shafts is pretty but unconvincing. Okay, but not an improvement. 10/4/13

Vampire (2013)

A vampire is employed as a teacher, concealing his secret nature and searching online for victims. Obviously he's not the kind of vampire who shuns the daylight. He's not very good at arranging his meetings with suicidal girls nor is he very glib  in dealing with them. The first one we see is rather dull. After far too long a buildup, he convinces her to take a drug and then uses a needle and tube to extract her blood for later consumption. It is not clear whether he actually needs the blood or is just a nutcase but I incline toward the latter. In fact, most of the people in the movie are disturbed in one fashion or another. This might have worked if there had been a little bit more life in the plot and/or dialogue, but it's flat, boring, and drab most of the time, and it goes on for almost two hours. Some of the interactions do not follow comprehensible lines of cause and effect. I suspect this was an attempt to be clever and artistic, but it leaves out an important element of entertainment. It's not entertaining. 10/3/13

A Haunting at Silver Falls (2013)

If I had known in advance that this was "based on a true story", I wouldn't have bought it. That's almost always code for uninspired and derivative. It's a ghost story (which means the label is a lie) wrapped around a murder mystery. The acting is not terrifically bad but it's not very good. As a mystery, it's predictable. As a horror movie, it's flat, lacking suspense or excitement, and there's just no reason not to drift off to sleep after the first twenty minutes or so. The color is generally washed out and there's something odd with the camera work. One of the characters switches back and forth from being right handed to left handed within a single scene. Minor. 10/2/13

Severance  (2006)

This is a horror comedy whose premise is that a company's team building trip to a wilderness area backfires when they are stalked by insane killers. The company deals in military arms and there are some mildly funny jokes related to this during the opening scenes but the mood shifts back and forth from serious to farcical constantly, which isn't great for continuity. The exchange about whether bears can be found in Hungary is rather funny. The acting is pretty good but the dialogue flags from time to time, though it works more often than not, amusing if not riotous. This was good enough to watch but not good enough to go out of the way to find a copy. 10/1/13

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