Last Update 12/26/14

 

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Third and presumably final installment in the film adaptation. As the title suggests, this was mostly one protracted battle sequence, nicely done but a bit repetitive after a while. A few sequences - Thorinn's final confrontation with his madness and some of the death scenes - were overly long and the CGI was at times unconvincing. I'd say this was the weakest of the trilogy in several different ways, which is not to say that it wasn't fun to watch. Martin Freeman still steals the show as Bilbo and Christopher Lee is back for a cameo. Will this be the end of Tolkien in the movie theater? Only time will tell. 12/26/14

Doctor Who Series 8 (2014) 

I was so annoyed by The Time of the Doctor that I thought about not watching this show any longer, but I couldn’t resist the temptation. This season opens with “Deep Breath” – which I had previously scene – and introduces Peter Capaldi as the latest Doctor.  Next is “Into the Dalek” which opens with a space chase through a typical Hollywood style asteroid field. This one doesn’t get off to a good start either. The Doctor rescues a soldier fighting the Daleks and, after nearly being executed just for safety’s sake, finds himself being miniaturized and inserted into a captive Dalek. Unfortunately, and implausibly, no one disarmed the Dalek which escapes and overcomes the crew. Okay, but just barely. The sequence in which they turn memories back on is ridiculous and the anti-soldier moralizing at the end is insulting. “Robot of Sherwood” takes the Doctor and Clara to 12th Century England where as you might guess robots are invading Sherwood Forest. The archery contest is quite funny and overall it’s the best episode in a long time. 

“Listen” has an interesting premise – that everyone is accompanied by an undetectable other entity and that everyone experiences the same nightmare at some point in his or her life – but it doesn’t really fit in the Whoverse. The story itself is pretty dull. “Time Heist”, in which the Doctor has to break into the most secure bank in the universe, is pretty good but occasionally hard to follow. “The Caretaker” pits the Doctor against a kind of super Dalek that isn’t a Dalek. The Doctor and Clara and one of her students visit the moon in “Kill the Moon”, where the find a load of atomic bombs and a strange alteration in the moon’s gravity. A mining base is littered with corpses and giant spiders.  The moon, it appears, is about to hatch; it’s a giant egg. Annoying dialogue – and it contradicts other stories in the series - but otherwise okay until the rather dumb ending. And someone doesn’t know the law of conservation of mass and energy. “Mummy on the Orient Express” is a lot better. A mysterious mummy that can only be seen its victims is aboard a futuristic reproduction of the famous train ride. 

“Flatline” is also pretty good. The outer dimensions of the Tardis shrink so the Doctor can’t get out. Clara, on the outside, is faced with a series of mysterious disappearances. It’s an invasion from the second dimension and it has reasonably good special effects. “In the Forest of the Night” has the Doctor stuck in a London – in fact the entire world - that has been completely overgrown by a forest in a single night. Good line: “You’ve got a spaceship. All we’ve got is Oyster cards.” Unfortunately, the rest of it is generally rather dumb. The Doctor compares it to glaciers, but glaciers did not appear overnight so his analogy is invalid. The episode is terrible in too many ways to mention, but among the problems are the compleete absence of the London population, the contradictions with other Doctor Who stories, and the premise that trees have a collective mind and the ability to generate complete forests in a matter of hours. The dialogue is abysmal as well and the science is laughable. "Dark Water" and "Death in Heaven" make up a two part finale. Clara's boyfriend dies in an automobile accident to start things off. Things go rapidly downhill from there. They visit the world of the dead, which effectively ruined the season for me, and the arrival of the Cybermen for the final installment couldn't make up for it. In fact, when they pollinate to create new Cybermen, I almost stopped watching. The decline of this show under Stephen Moffatt proceeds apace. 12/25/14

Poirot Series 13 (2013) 

Elephants Can Remember  

A married couple is found dead, both shot, and the presumption is that one shot the other, then committed suicide, but no one knows which was the killer. Years later, another man is found dead, apparently unrelated. He is investigating the latter while his friend Ariadne pursues the former. Some of the clues are fascinating. Why did the dead woman have four wigs? What about the mysterious sister no one has ever met? Why was the recent victim killed in a psychiatric bath treatment facility? Why was the dog with the dead couple?  Naturally the two cases prove to have a connection.  I pretty much figured it out in advance but there were details I missed. Quite good. 

The Big Four 

Poirot fakes his own death in order to outsmart an international conspiracy bent on world domination. This kind of international intrigue was not really Agatha Christie’s forte and that’s obvious even in this adaptation, although it does have some good touches.  A series of murders suggests that someone is trying to provoke a new world war, but some of the suspects disappear and others are themselves killed. There is too much story in this one and it doesn’t really hold together. There’s at least one logical flaw as well. If the murder of a Russian chess master is supposed to inflame tensions, why was such care taken to make it look like a natural death?  The revelation, though ingenious, is unconvincing. 

Dead Man’s Folly 

Poirot’s friend Ariadne has been drafted into organizing a murder party but she thinks a real murder is in the offing.  The various guests are variously nutty, nasty, or dimwitted. There’s a potential lovers’ triangle, a woman bitter about the commercialization of her home, a mysterious cousin, a chemist who talks about eliminating undesirables, and other oddballs. Good solution to this one, which took me completely by surprise. Nicely done as well. 

The Labours of Hercules 

Poirot is devastated when a young woman used as bait to capture a jewel thief is murdered. He tries to track down a missing woman in Switzerland and stumbles into clues related to the thief at a remote, out of season hotel. The handful of other guests present a number of interesting questions, although it’s a bit difficult to tell some of them apart. The dialogue also seems below par for this series. Some of the problems may lie in having to compress too much story into too short a time frame. This title was actually a collection and this particular story is drawn – very loosely indeed – from “The  Erymanthian Boar,”  with a few things borrowed from some of the other stories.  

Curtain 

The very last Hercule Poirot story finds him confined to a wheelchair and convinced that a murder is about to be committed. Captain Hastings comes to help and his involvement is complicating by the presence of his daughter, who works at the sanitarium. An accidental shooting is nearly fatal and Poirot has become so irritable that he treats Hastings badly. There's also an older murder, supposedly solved, which may have sent the wrong person to the gallows. The daughter comes across as cruel and unfeeling despite the assertion that she's a good woman. Poirot solves one more murder, but not in his usual way. Thoroughly depressing. 12/17/14

Day of the Mummy (2014) 

Danny Glover looks uncomfortable in this rather silly mummy horror/adventure – the mummy doesn’t show up until the last few minutes. It’s a handy cam film so the picture is grainy, occasionally shaky, and the colors bleed from one to the next.  The sound is tinny and the acting, while not awful, is not noticeably good either. The dialogue is awful and the conceit in which we see most of the action through the adventurer’s eyes, literally, is irritating and distracting. Glover is blackmailing an adventurer into joining an expedition to find the tomb of the cursed king of Egypt. Boring, pointless, cheaply made, and amateurish in every way. The mummy isn’t even interesting to look at. 12/13/14

Smallville Season 6 (2007)

Season 5’s finale was so dumb that it’s taken me more than two years to decide to watch the next season. Zod has seized control of Lex Luthor’s body and Clark is in the Phantom Zone. Riots are spreading throughout Smallville and Lana Lang has been abducted by bad guy. Zod has all sorts of illogical powers like teleportation that are never explained and are not consistently used. Lazy writing is evident from the outset when we learn that there is an exit from the Phantom Zone that only Clark can open. We meet Green Arrow early in the season, but his advent is tempered by the really bad writing that graces, or disgraces, the individual episodes. For example, if there is an entire laboratory devoted to studying an alien artifact, why does the chief scientist carry it in his briefcase to Lex’s study? Obviously it serves the dramatic purpose of letting Lana Lang know about it, but that’s hardly logical justification. Some of the dialogue is painful to listen to. A few of the episodes aren’t too bad, but when Chloe figures out the flaw in an experimental drug in a few minutes researching on the internet, but the highly qualified research team doesn’t, it bent credulity beyond the breaking point. Lana gets pregnant, presumably by Lex and somehow Jimmy Olsen gets to be a scientific genius. The writing is erratic and frequently bad, with people withholding information for no reason, with plot elements repeating endlessly, and the occasional plot hole. In the episode about illegal immigrants, the immigrant speaks unaccented English and none of them look Hispanic.  Martha Kent’s outrage in that same episode is absurd and completely out of character. The inconsistent writer is an ongoing and constant problem in this show. And how did the police identify the bodies of undocumented aliens with no paperwork? This was a particularly awful episode, as is the one in which Clark wakes up in an alternate world asylum, an asylum and a situation so implausible that he could not possibly believe that it’s real.  

The love potion episode is embarrassing. The bad writing has another aspect as well. The episodes are frequently boring in whole or in part, largely because the same plot elements keep repeating – Lex’s rivalry with his father, the problems with his relationship with Lana, the loss of the knowledge in the Fortress of Solitude. There are also two episodes that are all just a dream, a sure sign that the show has jumped the shark. The mechanics of the overriding plot are also irritating. There is no good reason why Clark should not have told Lana about his powers, given that at least nine other people – not including aliens - know the truth.  Continuity is also a problem. In the episode directly following the one where Clark gatecrashes Lana’s engagement party, humiliates and abducts her, and assaults her fiancé, she spends a night at his house with no apparent tension. I found the entire Lana Lang/Lex Luthor romance unconvincing and boring actually. The writing continues to be lazy. Characters conclude things without any evidence because it advances the plot, or don’t make obvious observations because that advances the plot, or act out of character because that advances the plot. The wedding episode is particularly unwatchable.  The characters’ various explanations of their actions are completely nonsensical.  Clark’s personality change during the fight club episode is even worse. He blatantly reveals his superpowers to a villain at one point. And the villain, despite being a well known doctor, makes no effort to disguise himself in the patently illegal broadcasts. With the exception of Roswell, this is the worst organized television show I've ever seen. 12/12/14

Bones Season 3 (2008)

The third season opens with the discovery of a cannibalistic cult and the arrest of one member, who is either murdered or commits suicide in jail by means never adequately explained. Zach, who went off to Afghanistan, returns after being judged unable to adjust to military life. Hodges and Angela are trying to track down the man she married during a drunken spree. Dr. Sweets is introduced as the psychiatrist who is assigned to make sure the relationship between Bones and Agent Seeley is stable and positive.  The season is high quality up until the ongoing Gormogon back story ends with one of the lab techs revealed as his ally. This revelation is sprung upon us like a punchline and is not at all convincing. Neither is Brennan’s thirty second destruction of his belief system. Nor is the method he uses to knock out the building’s security system plausible. This is followed by a two part episode in England that has a fair mystery but also is riddled with bad writing. The breakup of Hodgins and Angela is completely unconvincing and the portrayal of Booth as a rowdy, uncouth, and obstinate person consistent with his character as previously portrayed. 12/7/14

Ragnarok (2013) 

This is a not awful Norwegian film, moderately badly dubbed and the opening lecture sequence is awful.  An unofficial expedition to a remote region where it is believed Vikings may have visited has an unexpected result. Among other things, their guide turns out to be a crook willing to kill in order to acquire the artifacts for himself. He strands them in a cavern but his getaway ends when he is killed by a monster in the nearby lake – off screen so we don’t see the monster. It’s a giant snake. There seems to be a problem with the dubbing in that characters sometimes know things they haven’t yet been told. I also wondered why the giant snake would only now, after a thousand years, lay eggs. There are a couple of sequences that are well done but not enough to make up for the bad ones. They escape, but one of their party is secretly carrying one of the young ones with him, and that means it’s coming after them. Mediocre. And it has nothing to do with Ragnarok. 11/23/14

Into the Storm (2014) 

A documentary team covering tornados run into the storm of a lifetime in this special effects laden adventure. Comparisons to Twister are unavoidable. This one has more humor and more attempt to develop character, although neither is done particularly well.  I had problems with the plot early on; the tension among the chase crew seems artificial and irrational. Some of the wreckage sets are pretty good but I thought the special effects were better in Twister, frankly, and some of the dialogue is painful. The sequence in which the cameraman is sucked into a fire tornado was particularly unbelievable, and the recriminations afterward are particularly stupid. The trapped teenagers are so saccharine that viewers should be warned about insulin shock, and judging by the set, they aren't really trapped anyway despite all the assertions that they are. And why would a major highway have a roadblock that no one knew about?  And why does a small town have an airport full of Boeing 707s? Another example of the really counter-intelligent screen writing that is, as far as I'm concerned, destroying the American film industry. It used to require some sophisticated knowledge to find the flaws in most movies, even cheaply made ones. Now it requires conscious ignorance to avoid seeing them.  11/22/14

Forest of the Living Dead (2011)

The protagonist of this horror movie is a fashion photographer whose current girlfriend is assaulted and later killed by a malevolent spirit. An earlier girlfriend, to whom he had been engaged, did not take the breakup well and has apparently killed herself in a haunted forest near Mount Fuji. As a consequence, she is able to manifest her spirit and kill the living and she has decided to kill all of the photographer's friends. His only chance to stop her is to confront the spirit where it was released. The acting is tolerable. The sound levels could use considerable work; they vary even within a single scene and sometimes echo annoyingly. I also wondered why Interpol would be involved with what appears to be a simple case of assault. The protagonist isn't particularly appealing either, which undercuts much of the tension. Despite some good scenes and a fairly well done ending, there is so much bad writing that it's generally disappointing and occasionally positively irritating. 11/14/14

Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (2012)

A super-werewolf has virtually wiped out a small European town so a band of werewolf hunters team up to track it down. The victims will eventually turn into more werewolves so they have to be destroyed. There's a reasonably good cast although the acting is occasionally over the top. Too bad the script wasn't better. There's plenty of gore; it also goes over the top from time to time. There are some good scenes but it's very predictable and the werewolf isn't done particularly well. When they figure out that the werewolf has human intelligence, they still try to kill it using a transparently obvious trap, which doesn't seem to make any sense. And why set up the trap where there is lots of cover for the creature? The massacre at the jail makes no sense either. the guards might have though that one of the prisoners was the werewolf, but why then did they kill all the prisoners? Watchable but not noteworthy. 1/1/12

Modern Family Season 5 (2014)

The fifth season of this witty comedy is solid but unexceptional. Mitchell and Cam are getting married, the Pritchetts have a new baby and a “many”, a male nanny, and Haley is back living at home. The biggest surprise is the excellent performance by the six year old actress playing Lily, whose delivery of her lines is remarkable. The Christmas episode was one of the most uniformly funny as was Mitchell’s encounter with the radical ecologist.  The Las Vegas episode was exceptional, with multiple storylines crossing one another, but the Australian one was somewhat disappointing. The final two episodes cover the wedding and the chemistry between Mitchell and his father is particularly well done over the course of the final three. The show overall shows no sign of losing either its freshness or its popularity.11/9/14

Hatchet II (2010)  

Second in a series about an apparently unkillable psycho living in the Louisiana swamps. Danielle Harris leads a group of hired guns in an attempt to exact revenge for the murder of her family but like Jason – also played by Kane Hodder – the killer shrugs off bullets, blades, and brawn. The gore sequences are so over the top they’re mildly funny. There’s a very silly back story about how Victor Crowley’s father who was cursed along with his out of wedlock child by his dead wife, narrated by Tony Todd. The horribly deformed child is accidentally killed during a prank but comes back from the dead. Dumb story and dumb dialogue, and some really dreadful attempts at comic relief. 11/6/14

Freddy vs Jason (2003)  

I much preferred the Elm Street movies to the Jason series; they were more original, generally better acted, and actually creepy from time to time. So I wasn’t thrilled to death with the prospect of this crossover.  The opening is a series of scenes from the former series narrated by Freddy Kruger and explaining that he brought Jason back from Hell and sends him to Elm Street. The story is unsurprising but the dialogue is so bad it seems worse than it is and the reasonably good cast can’t save it. There are a couple of nice touches. When Lori walks past the missing child posters, the heads turn to follow her.  The two characters who escape from the mental institution would never have been there in the first place given what we are told about them but so little of the story makes actual sense that it probably doesn’t matter. Jason doesn’t act much like Jason; he’s sneaky rather than unstoppable. Victim body count: Freddy 2 Jason 15. 11/5/14

Jason X (2001) 

Five centuries from now, Jason is back in this silly, misguided sequel, which really isn’t a sequel since it ignores events in the previous film.  Victim body count 23 plus one android, although we are told that Jason has killed over 200 people in the past, which exceeds the total body count of the previous movies. And he causes a collision that wipes out an entire space station, population unknown. Somehow Jason is back again – no explanation – and is chained up in a research facility, complete with hockey mask. He breaks the chains and escapes – no explanation for why it took so long for him to decide to do this. And where does he get the machete? Anyway, he ends up being frozen in 2010, but no one bothered to find out what happened for five centuries and now the Earth is uninhabitable. A space expedition recovers his body and that of a scientist frozen with him. The scientific gobbledygook is particularly dumb but it’s only meant as stage setting for the cutting and slashing and crushing and screaming. The sexual innuendoes are really childish this time as well and except for Lexa Doig the acting is abysmal. I’ve seen better student films. 11/4/14

Jason Goes to Hell (1993)  

The first Friday the 13th movie from a new studio really isn’t part of the series at all. The events at the end of the previous one – Jason destroyed by toxic waste in New York City – are just ignored. This opens with Jason attacking a woman in a cabin near Crystal Lake, apparently as good as new. Once again, even though he is just walking, he overtakes a running woman. Somehow this is all just a trap leading him into a swat team ambush that blows him into pieces. None of this makes any sense; why would she strip naked just to act as bait? And now we learn that Jason can move from body to body by simple contact, thereby taking over other people and turning them into killers. There’s a comic book quality bounty hunter character who somehow knows Jason’s true nature – which contradicts all the previous movies – and thinks only he can stop him. Some of the supposedly serious scenes are unintentionally funny. There is also Jason’s sister and niece, who never existed until now, a magic knife, at one point he is able to talk normally, then turns into a lizard, when he is reborn he already has clothes and hockey mask, etc. A waste of time from beginning to end. Victim body count 23, plus 5 that take place off screen, setting a new record. 11/3/14

Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)   

The studio apparently thought that the key to continuing this series was to change the setting rather than invest in some less than insulting scripts. The cast is so weak that none of them are even mentioned in the packaging. Once again the characters believe that Jason is just a story, even though by now it would have been a major worldwide news event. Most of the movie – and deaths – take place on a cruise ship carrying a bunch of teenagers to Manhattan. As usual, there’s no real story, just a succession of violent deaths, the occasional logical fallacy, continuity errors, and characters so poorly developed that they and their fate are of no interest. The time frame is off as well. The female lead has visions of the young Jason, whom she supposedly encountered as a child, but since he was already an adult in movie number two, that’s impossible. There’s a particularly laughable seduction scene in this one and none of the characters look remotely like they’re still in high school. Victim body count 20, breaking the previous record. 11/2/14

Don’t Blink (2014)

This was a pleasant surprise, although the set up sounds like it’s just another slasher film in the making. A group of people are invited up to a mountain lodge for the weekend. When they arrive they find it deserted, even though there is food on the table and other signs that someone was recently there, including some parked cars. Not only are the people gone but there are no birds or animals in the area.  It’s a nice warm day at the lodge, but a short walk away there is snow and ice. None of the vehicles will work so they can’t drive away.  Then they start disappearing, one at a time, as though they’d just popped out of existence. Although the acting isn’t bad, occasionally the characters behave absurdly given the situation they are in. Unfortunately, the writer couldn’t think of an explanation for what’s going on, so we never find out. 11/1/14

Friday the 13th: The New Blood (1988) 

There’s a spotty reprise of the previous movie to establish that Jason is chained at the bottom of Crystal Lake. As a result, the summer camps have returned and are murder free, or they are until a young woman with psychic powers comes to visit.  The writing stinks. The psychic is under a psychiatrist’s care but her mother never questions why he verbally abuses her and tries to make her use her telekinesis rather than adjust to it. He is so transparently a villain that the artificiality of the plot is irritating. She also feels guilty because she was responsible for her father’s death when she was a child. She wishes he would come back but it’s Jason she actually revives.  There’s another car that won’t start – this device has become almost as omnipresent as the hockey mask. And why is it that Jason can walk after running victims and always catches them?  Most of the characters are attending a birthday outing but Jason gets a few random characters as well, along with the evil psychiatrist. Minimal plot although it was interesting to have telekinesis as a defense against Jason’s invulnerability. Jason gets a new monster face. Incredibly stupid ending. Victim body count 15.

Friday the 13th: Jason Lives (1986)

A different actor plays mentally disturbed Tommy in this one, contradicting in various ways the end of the last movie, and initiating the really obvious supernatural element in the series when he and a friend decide to dig up Jason’s body and burn it to prevent any further rising. Naturally they fail and just set him free. Clue to screen writers: They would not have buried him with his ski mask. The bad writing continues as well. The sheriff arrests Tommy just for raising the alarm, with no charges, no Miranda, and no logic. The series might have continued if they hadn’t used such awful scripts for the latter few. The victims this time include a bunch of comic book executives playing wargames and the counselors for a new summer camp. Victim body count 17, the first in the series to have fewer bodies than the previous one. 10/30/14

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) 

There’s no recap in this installment, which opens with Corey Feldman visiting Jason’s grave just in time to watch two grave robbers get killed by a revived mass killer, although that might be hallucination rather than memory. Years later he has been institutionalized as a young man because of that trauma. He is sent to a kind of rustic halfway house with a bunch of other people his age. The plot this time is complete trash. One of the paramedics recognizes his abandoned son as the victim of a murder at the halfway house and decides to kill everyone who was there, which would almost make sense except that he also picks off random people who have no connection. Everyone assumes it is Jason, of course, but Jason actually never appears in the movie except in hallucinations. The acting and dialogue are both below par as well, even for this series. And given that at least three of the teens supposedly well enough  to transition back into society are demonstrably capable of violent aggression, one has cause to wonder how this halfway house ever got started. Characters are introduced randomly just to raise the body count, which is much higher than in the previous installments. And I think this is the fourth time in the series that an automobile engine has stalled out terminally. This one is really dreck and the ending is particularly stupid. Victim body count 19. 10/29/14

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) 

Fourth installment in the classic slasher series.  There’s a fairly good cast including Corey Feldman and Judie Aronson, whom I always liked, but the female lead is barely competent. Jason, presumed dead at the end of the last film, wakes up in the morgue and resumes his killing spree. Despite the ambiguous ending of the last, the main character seems to have survived.  A family has rented a house near another which has been similarly rented by a group of varied teens, most of whom have sexual hang-ups of one type or another. This was a step up from the previous, but not a big one. The story line offers nothing new and is sometimes actively bad. The few scenes that should be effectively suspenseful generally aren’t. Jason is clearly supernatural by this point although it doesn’t become overt until the next film.  There are a few good scenes scattered among the bad ones, but not enough to make this anything other than a weak clone of the earlier installments in the series. Despite a few high spots, this was the worst to date in the series.Victim body count 12.  10/28/14

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)

The third in the series opens with a six minute replay of the final scenes of part two, leaving us with no idea what happened to Jason after he was hit with a machete.  The casting is considerably better this time - although the female lead and the gang members are all dreadful, and the characters actually have separate personalities that are not entirely stereotypes. The story picks up only hours after the end of the last. Apparently unaffected by his wound Jason is on the prowl for new victims, the first couple apparently chosen almost at random and with no connection to camp counseling this time around. The several scenes designed to show off the 3D effects are just annoying. The victims this time include a group of teenaged campers and a very small motorcycle gang. The female lead keeps referring to some kind of traumatic experience in her past connected to the cabin but we don't find out what it was until quite late and it is really irrelevant to the whole movie. Unfortunately the most interesting character - the hispanic woman - is killed very early. Jason gets his hockey mask in this one. Lots of sexual innuendoes but no real nudity this time around. This was overall a very poor effort. Victim body count 12. 10/27/14

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Jason makes his debut in the second in this series, which opens with a six minute recap of the original movie, followed by Jason's murder of the only survivor from the first movie, having somehow tracked her down. The cast isn't quite as good this time and there is very little new in the story. Camp Crystal Lake is closed but there's a similar camp not far away and Jason maintains his mother's grudge against counselors. There's more emphasis on sexual tension and promiscuity this time although there's virtually no nudity. The dialogue is less than scintillating and some of the interactions are awkwardly presented. We never do find out where Jason came from, or where he presumably was in movie number one.  There's very little effort to establish any of the characters before they get killed and the deaths come across as routine rather than scary. Jason doesn't have his hockey mask yet and in fact we never really see him except with a bag over his head and a brief glimpse of a deformed head at the end. Nor does he appear to have supernatural powers yet. But if he's not dead after all, why does his mother go on a rampage? Terrible ending; we never do find out if the one of the apparent survivors has actually survived. Victim body count 10. 10/26/14

Friday the 13th (1980)

I hadn't watched this for at least twenty years and I vaguely shared the common view that it was a cheapo slasher film with no redeeming qualities. I confess my opinion is somewhat higher now that I can compare it to most recent horror movies. It has its problems, but the acting is way above average - Kevin Bacon is one of the victims - and the dialogue is generally good. The suspense seems are genuinely suspenseful even when you know what's going to happen. The plot has some problems but they're not major ones. Unlike the others, this one doesn't feature Jason; the killer is Jason's mother. That's actually my biggest complaint because it's a major cheat. The character isn't even introduced until almost everyone is already dead. It is, in its own humble way, a classic of the genre, influential and probably underrated. Victim body count 9. 10/25/14

See No Evil 2 (2014)

Sequel to a slasher movie that mixed better than average acting with a below average script. It tries for the same feeling as the Friday the 13th series complete with mask, but doesn't quite bring it off. A group of friends make a surprise visit to a morgue to celebrate the birthday of a friend who works there, but one of the apparent corpses is actually a brutal and presumably inhuman serial killer who revives and begins chopping up the partygoers with a variety of tools. Danielle Harris stars in one of her frequent scream queen parts. Surprisingly this was considerably better than the first, at least for the first half which does an unusually good job of establishing its characters. Several of them are actually likeable, which is rare in contemporary horror. As the killings start, it's gore rather than suspense, and the plot elements that prevent them from calling the police or just leave the building are inadequate, given that they discover the first body right off. Katherine Isabelle is really good and the ending did take me by surprise. 10/24/14

Mysterious Island (2012)

The Sci-Fi Channel butchers another classic, this one a Jules Verne novel. During the Civil War, a group of fugitives escape via hot air balloon and end up on an island with other people plus a handful of monsters. The bad acting, bad effects, bad script, and horrendous soundtrack would have each ruined the movie; in consort, they render it almost funny. The 1850s house has air conditioning and if you look closely you can see electric outlets. Amelia Earhart disappeared in the Pacific, not the Atlantic.  The castaways have come from different eras including two women from the present day, which accomplishes nothing except to give them an excuse to wear sexier clothing. The clash of different social mores has potential but it's completely wasted. The characters are all stereotypes - the airhead blonde, the more responsible brunette, the bigot, the token black, the honorable soldier. Horrid ending, but it would have been a bigger surprise if it had been any good. Captain Nemo shows up and explains that the Nautilus went so fast that it reversed time!10/23/14

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 (1998)

One of the reasons I liked this show so much is that even the heroes were allowed to occasionally be petty, mean, and self involved. The opening episode of this season, in which Buffy’s unexpressed emotion about her confrontation with the master causes her to push her friends away, is an excellent example. Spike and Drusilla show up in episode 3, and the anointed one is killed, and Jonathan appears briefly in the next along with Oz. Willow was always my favorite character so the Halloween episode where they all become whatever costume they’re wearing is one of my favorites since she’s the one who takes charge.  Xander and Cordelia begin their initially clandestine romance and Buffy finds her life growing more complicated. “Bad Eggs” is another of my favorite episodes, with the cowboy vampire brothers for comic relief.  The second half of the season has lots of changes. Cordelia and Xander make their romance known. Oz discovers that he’s a werewolf. More importantly, Angel loses his soul again and becomes evil, which leads to the death of Jenny Calendar in one of the most powerful episodes of the season. The finale, wherein Buffy sends the newly ensouled Angel to Hell and Willow begins to show indications that she’s a witch, is also superb. In many ways I think this was the best season for the show although the Mayor, who appears in Season 3, is the best ongoing villain. 10/22/14

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2014) 629 

The pilot reintroduces Agent Coulson, back from the dead, enlisted in the fight against a secret criminal organization called Rising Tide. In the opener, a man with superstrength is in danger of dying horribly if he can’t be captured or cajoled into accepting treatment. An alien artifact shows up next and a new recruit appears to be a mole. The third episode is just silly. There are no new elements waiting to be found, particularly one that causes gravity to act differently. Nor can you tell if there is radiation by throwing a rock at a suspect area. The next couple of episodes are better – a woman with a camera eye and a man who can create fire through force of will. The latter, however, features a hacker who claims he thoroughly investigated a woman to whom he passed information, but he didn’t even find out her name!  The sixth episode, about an alien virus, is horrendously bad. The next is better although I don’t see how a vibratory weapon can detonate everything from bullets to atomic weapons. And a pivotal plot point is that there is no extraction team for a mission, meaning it’s a suicide run, but when Coulson discovers what’s going on, he easily rescues the agents, which means it wouldn’t have been a big deal to extract them in the first place. The back story involves the secret of how Coulson was restored to life after Loki killed him. The episode told in cycles from each person’s point of view is exceptionally good. Unfortunately the one immediately following, in which they break into a secret medical facility, is equally bad, justifying the killing of innocent people just based on the possibility they may be guarding something useful.  The episode in which a renegade Asgardian mesmerizes Ward is not only badly written, but it demonstrates how bad an actor Ward is.  The latter part of the season picks up considerably, with surprises and reversals galore as Hydra virtually destroys Shield from within, although the lax security arrangements are sometimes infuriating. Although this was certainly a show worth watching, there are only one or two standout episodes. I will watch season two when it is available, but I would not be surprised if it is cancelled after that. 10/21/14

Werewolf Rising (2014)

For some reason I almost never like werewolf stories or movies. There are a few exceptions but not many. This is a low budget werewolf thriller about a woman who moves back home to rural Arkansas just in time to be menaced by a furry shapeshifter. The acting is flat at times and a bit too expository early on. The protagonist gets involved with a charming escaped convict after a series of rather awkwardly acted encounters. There's also apparently a mundane murderer running around in the forest. The convict gets attacked by the werewolf, which is moderately well done. He apparently dies despite her attempts to save him but then turns up in her bathtub.. The dialogue is sometimes inane, e.g, "You're beautiful and people find that attractive." Some of the scenes go on way too long. Continuity is dreadful. At one point a victim is lying in a pool of blood. A few minutes later there are only faint streaks. The protagonist makes no attempt to seek help or call the police even though she thinks he's dying. The understated, monotonous soundtrack doesn't add any tension at all. It was a struggle to finish watching it.10/20/14

Mandrake (2010)

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. An illicit archaeological group in South America removes a knife from a grave that also sets loose a half plant, half animal humanoid monster. Sometimes trees become animate as well and some of the special effects are quite well done for a direct to video movie. Others are pretty bad. There's a hostile native tribe but the creature is preying on them as well. The usual problem with monsters arises. If it just continued its attack, it would have killed everyone quite easily but it takes a break after each killing for no apparent reason. Our heroes - a mercenary and a scientist and a worker - decide their best chance is to burn the creature. Doesn't work. Reasonably good acting with a couple of exceptions. The natives could have been cast better; they don't even appear to be in a common ethnic group. Not great, but better than most of what I've seen from the Sci-Fi Channel, and most other recent direct to video horror films. 10/18/14

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

My favorite Kurt Russell film is a contemporary oriental fantasy. Russell is a tough as nails truck driver who gets drawn into a war between two Asian secret societies, both of whom use magic. An evil sorcerer can regain his physical form only if his current manifestation marries a woman with green eyes, and Russell finds himself protecting the prospective bride. The battle scenes are inventive, colorful, and exciting. The story stretches the bounds of what is actually credible, but in a way that works within its context. The henchmen of the sorcerer are particularly well done. Great sets, great special effects, and the story never takes itself too seriously. Still one of my favorites. 10/15/14

Sharknado 2 (2014)

The sequel to Sharknado doesn't even pretend to be serious. The survivors of the first shark laden tornado are about to have a feeling of deja vu. Robert Hays, the nervous passenger from Airplane, is the pilot carrying Tara Reid and her significant other through a storm ("I've seen far worse than this.) when the boyfriend spots something on the wing of the plane (a nod to Nightmare at 30,000 Feet). It's a shark, of course. Most of the jokes are pretty obvious and the story goes from silliness to absurdity to repetition by the time it ends. There's already been an announcement that there will be a third in the series. I think they may have gone to the well too many times already. 10/14/14

The House of the Devil (2009)

The comment "inspired by true events" generally makes me skip horror movies because it's so patently a lie. This one appeared not to suggest that the supernatural is real and it was recommended to me, so I decided to make an exception. A college student desperate for money takes a babysitting job in the house of a decidedly peculiar couple, after which strange things begin to happen. There's a satanist cult with dire plans about to come to fruition. There are some good things about this film. The cast is good, some of the atmospheric scenes are very well done, the end is exciting, and there are signs someone actually cared about the production. Unfortunately, it tends to be very slow moving, particularly the middle third, and the story is hardly original. I've always liked Tom Noonan and he's the best part of the movie. 10/10/14

Beware the Blob (1972)

Although this is a spoof of the original Blob movie rather than a sequel, there's a surprisingly good cast - Larry Hagman, Shelley Berman, Godfrey Cambridge, Carol Lynley, Dick Van Patten, Gerrit Graham, Sid Haig, and Burgess Meredith among others. The blob is an alien creature that devours and absorbs any animal life which it encounters, and it's lose among a bunch of hippies, thugs, and ordinary citizens, raising havoc in sometimes funny ways. The movie has a very dated feel and some of the production values are below par. It's more like a fan movie despite the cast - Hagman directed - and the humor will probably not appeal to everyone. For the rest of us, it's still a lot of fun. 10/9/18

Leprechaun: Origins (2014) 

Despite the title, this bears no relationship at all to the Leprechaun series. This leprechaun is just a generic monster – of whom we see very little and who doesn’t even have any lines. Several poorly developed characters traveling in Ireland run into him and for no apparent reason he starts killing them one by one after lots or running and screaming. My expectations dropped off very early when the four tourists casually accept an invitation from a man they meet in a pub to let him take them to some remote location to sightsee.  Despite marginally competent acting, this is almost unwatchable, in large part because of the really terrible camera work, which manages to keep us from knowing what is actually happening about three quarters of the time.  10/8/14

Grimm Season 3 (2004) 

Season 3 picks up from the cliffhanger ending of last year. Grimm has been captured by his enemies while a plague of quasi-zombies menace the city. The attempt to kidnap him has given Grimm new, unpredictable powers – which unfortunately suggests they’ll pop up at convenient times to help the writers out of plot problems. Adalind, who wants her hexenbeast powers back, is also pregnant with a child who could change the power structure among the inhumans.  Although there’s still some of the monster-of-the-week in the story structure, the writers still manage to keep it relatively fresh. They do, however, continue to be inconsistent about when Grimm can recognize Wesen and when he cannot. The episode about the possessed boy is a low point; hospitals don’t expel patients just because they don’t know what’s wrong with them. For the most part the individual episodes provide a good balance between the various ongoing stories – the power struggle within the European families and the relationships among the Scooby gang – with the specific problem of that episode.  There’s a pretty good episode involving a mantichore and another involving a baby eating Aswang. Rosalee and Munroe get engaged but have problems with his parents, and Grimm gets a message from his missing mother. Adalind has her baby and has to hide from the Royals. Nick’s ambivalence about being best man at Munroe’s wedding doesn’t ring true. Nor does Juliette’s hostility to Trubel, a Grimm who didn’t know what she was, and later how easily she is fooled by Adaline.  I found the back story a little distracting at times, but overall this was a solid and entertaining season. 10/7/14

The Black Hole (1979)

This relatively high budget SF film is almost endearing because of how bad it is. Cute robots, bad jokes, good actors mouthing ridiculous lines, and elaborate but hokey special effects abound in this bit about efforts to investigate a black hole. There's a derelict ship, a madman, a beautiful woman, a shootout, a wondrous but ultimately silly transformation, and lots of silliness performed with such earnest effort that one almost has to admire how bad the result is. Oddly enough, it had a strange attraction for me even though I knew intellectually that it fails on almost every level. 10/6/14/

Elementary Season 2 (2004) 

Holmes and Watson visit London in the first episode, where we meet Lestrade and Mycroft in the process of solving a murder. Moriarty also threatens to pop up again. The first four episodes are all quite good, except that the one about the child abuser ends with the presumption that the city will prosecute a woman even though they know her confession is false, which is an absolutely awful outcome not at all in keeping with the spirit of the show. Moriarty returns for an episode about mid-season that was pretty good, although I found the security arrangements for her imprisonment questionable. Another episode has a man escorted into the inner sanctum of a New York City police station with a bag containing a shotgun that no one bothered to search or scan, and I found that completely unbelievable. The murder by drone episode is also below par. Mycroft continues his plot to lure Sherlock back to England. Although the relationship between Holmes and Watson evolves nicely, overall I thought season two was inferior to the first, although still very good. 10/5/14

Boggy Creek (2010)  

This is a remake of a 1972 movie I vaguely recall as being creepy, but this one just takes forever to get going. Some of the dialogue sounds like it was redubbed later – the ambient noise is wrong and it doesn’t always sync with the actors. Some of the conversations appear to have been filmed separately – the characters are never on the screen simultaneously and the ambient noise differs. The story is about a monster that kills men and abducts women, whose existence the local sheriff is suppressing for reasons unknown.  Not to mention that it would be impossible to have covered up this many violent deaths over the course of at least a generation. The acting is occasionally competent but looks forced and the female lead spends a lot of time self consciously posing.  The bereaved husband has no talent whatsoever and he gets to deliver some of the stupidest lines – a brief glimpse of a shadow in the forest has made him an expert on the monster’s anatomy.  Too much of the movie seems like filler – doing nothing to advance the story or let us know the characters better. The flashbacks are just annoying.  Some of the scenery is quite nice, or would have been if the camera work had been better.  Dreadful and not entirely comprehensible ending. 10/4/14

Neverlake (2013)

A remote lake is inhabited by the spirits of the dead. A young girl who has lived apart from her father for most of her life comes to visit him at his home in a remote part of Italy. There's some odd tension in the household right from the start. The daughter encounters a strange group of children living in a nearby institution and has bizarre dreams of a lake whose history her father has been studying. Although the acting and most production values are all more than satisfactory, the story does take a while go get going and viewer's attention might wander a bit during the first half. The second half picks up a bit and there are lots of very effective atmospheric scenes, but the story line is so understated that it sometimes seems to disappear entirely. There's clearly a good story hidden somewhere in here, but you have to really pay attention to pick it out of the distracting surroundings. 10/3/14

From Inside soundtrack by Gary Numan, Lakeshore, 2014

The Maze Runner soundtrack by John Paesano, Sony, 2014

Angry Video Game Nerd soundtrack by Bear McCreary, Sparks & Showers, 2014 

Three genre related soundtracks here, from movies I haven’t seen. The first, based on a graphic novel, is about a woman’s journey across a post-apocalyptic landscape.  The second is from the movie version of a young adult novel capitalizes on the popularity of the Hunger Games series.  The third is a humorous movie about a nerd who has to save the world. From Inside opens with "The Train", which I liked a lot. The next few tracks are very evocative of a mysterious wasteland, which is what they were meant to do, but they don't work as well as separate pieces of music until "On a Red Lake" and "Crows."   Very atmospheric.  Maze Runner suffers a bit from the requirements of the movie. Several of the cuts are clearly designed to accompany action scenes and they bear some generic similarities. "Final Fight" is okay and so are "Maze Rearrange" and "Trapped," but there are no cuts that I would actively play for entertainment, though they are undoubtedly much more effective on the screen. Bear McCreary rarely disappoints and I knew I was going to like this one as soon as I played the main theme. This is a comedy so  it's not surprising that most of the music is playful. Several of the bands include vocals. "The Landfill" is great, clearly reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. I also particularly liked "Killer Robots," "The Nerdy Hero," and "Humvee Chase." There's not a bad piece in this collection and several of them are excellent. They also vary more widely in tone than is the case in most soundtracks. 10/1/14

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