Last Update 12/10/17

 

The Legend Is Born- IP Man (2010)

I have never seen any of the other movies in the series but this appears to be an origin story. It’s set a few years before the Japanese invasion of China and follows the adventures of three young people who are trained in martial arts. Naturally fight scenes make up a lot of the story, ranging from friendly duels to battles against foreign invaders. It was watchable but not enough so to get me to track down others in the series. It has subtitles, which sometimes disappear so fast that I had trouble reading them – and I’m a pretty fast reader. 12/10/17

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) 

I saw the previews for this and I thought it looked silly. Well, it is rather silly. That said, it was much more fun than I expected, and some of the scenery and the various aliens are colorful and impressively done. Valerian and his partner are interstellar police who get caught up in an elaborate plot involving the destruction of a planet, a creature that is a living matter duplicator, the kidnapping of a general, a destroyed planet, and much more. I found the actor playing Valerian unconvincing but his partner was quite good. The plot takes a lot of detours to get were it’s going, and the movie is pretty long. The identity of the villain isn’t much of a surprise but it doesn’t matter a whole lot. The science is pretty hokey as well – this is as much fantasy as anything. Rumor has it that there may be a sequel. 12/9/17

The Limehouse Golem (2016) 

This one is a Victorian murder mystery. The Limehouse Golem is the name given to a serial killer who strikes at random, or at least that’s how it appears, and mutilates his victims. Scotland Yard’s inspector in charge suspects that the Ogre was a man who recently died by poisoning. His wife is suspected of the crime but she insists he committed suicide. The cast is more than competent and the sets and details seem reasonably accurate, and certainly are not cheaply done. The end took me by surprise, which is always a good thing. There is some mild gore but nothing particularly unsettling. 12/8/17

Werewolves of the Third Reich (2017)

You can probably guess the plot from the title. A handful of American POWs escape inside Germany and stumble upon a secret installation where Dr. Mengele is attempting to use DNA transplants to create superhuman warriors. The acting in the opening scene is so overdone that I decided this had to be a spoof. But within a few minutes I realized that they were trying to be serious. Some of the conversations are ridiculously long, presumably to add time to the trivial and rather silly plot. Needless to say, all of the other production values are equally below par. And for the longest time, nothing at all happens! Choose something better to watch, even if it's just Sharknado 14. 12/7/17

The Void (2016)

Although this flirts with being an interesting movie, it falls short. A police officer finds an unconscious man and brings him to a hospital where a small group find themselves besieged by cloaked figures and amorphous monsters. It's an attempt by a doctor to restore his dead daughter to life. Cheap effects, lousy lighting, mediocre acting and dialogue, and a lack of a clear vision of what the story is about doom this one, although at least it was attempt to break the mold of routine direct to video horror movies. 12/2/17

Doctor Who Season 10 Part 2 (2017) 

I have not been particularly pleased with the recent seasons of this show. They are often badly paced, unimaginative, and sometimes contradict the premises of the series.  The first four episodes in this series were pleasant surprises. Despite the relatively good first half of this season, the opening alien invasion episode is complete crap and the follow up episode is no better. The Ice Warrior episode was much better and actually felt like a Pertwee episode – he was my favorite Doctor. The final two episodes are linked and involve the Doctor’s regeneration and Missy’s redemption – although she occasionally refers to herself as “Doctor Who,” which grates. It includes the origin story for the Cybermen.  Bill is briefly a cyberman and the Doctor is about to become a woman. 11/29/17

Dark Matter Season 1 (2016)

Six people wake up on a damaged spaceship with no memories of their past. They are attacked by another ship and escape, eventually landing on the planet to which they were originally traveling. Eventually they discover that each of them is a murderer and that they have apparently been sent to wipe out the local colony on behalf of an interstellar conglomerate that wants their planet. There is a problem here, and part of it is intentional. Why would they have a large cargo of weapons when there are only six of them? Were they really coming to kill everyone, or to help them arm themselves? And there is a budgetary problem. The colony is far too extensive to be operated by a handful of people as depicted. The writing in the second half of the pilot could have been better. The business about wiping out a colony makes little sense. They are a tiny community on a large planet, so they could have been ignored. And if they are to be completely wiped out leaving no witnesses, why the need for a cover story? The show is cheaply made – people still dress like the 20th Century and most other details of that nature are also unchanged. A lot of the plot only works because no one talks to the others, sometimes for no good reason. The shared dream segment is pretty bad. Despite all of its shortcomings, I found the show quite engaging, even when I found some of the plot elements silly. The secrets about the individual characters are revealed slowly, often through flashbacks and dreams. 11/28/17

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

I'll try to avoid real spoilers here. Despite lots of fight scenes, this is more lighthearted than the first two Thor movies. Odin is near the end of his life and he confesses a secret. Thor has an older sister, Hella, who is insane and powerful and considers herself the goddess of death. Loki, the Hulk, and the last of the Valkyries have to help him defeat her, with cameo appearances by Dr. Strange and the Black Widow. No part of the movie takes place on Earth. Cate Blanchette and Jeff Goldblum are the chief villains. There are some minor plot problems sprinkled through, like having people not know things they obviously should have known. Nothing big enough to throw you out of the movie. Thor is my least favorite of the filmic Marvel superheroes, but this was still fun. 11/24/17

Sharknado 5 (2017) 

Latest in the silliest series of disaster movies ever. A worldwide outbreak of tornadoes filled with sharks menaces the entire world. The jokes are no longer funny, and really weren’t after the first half of the first movie. Special effects aren’t much either, but that’s expected in a cheesy film. Lots of references to other movies but not the least evidence of wit or actual satire. The cast does not even make an attempt to act. I needed something to offset the gloom of Jessica Jones, but this wasn't it. 11/23/17

Jessica Jones Season 1 (2016) 

This is based on a Marvel comic which I have never seen. Jones is a nourish private investigator. She has super strength, although it's not a major factor. In the opening episode, she discovers that a villain named Kilgrave, who has the power to control minds and once dominated hers, is still alive. There’s a nice noir atmosphere, but the series as a whole seems to wander away from its subject matter quite a bit and it is not always clear what people’s motives are. I don’t care for the best friend at all though. And who in the world thinks that a visitor to a convicted felon could hand her stuff unsupervised? Although not as bad as this most of the time, I never really got hooked. Jessica’s self-pity and guilt wallowing got very tiresome very quickly. David Tennant does a good villain but Kilgrave’s abilities were so powerful that I can easily think of ways he could have made himself invulnerable. The sequence where Jessica tries to provoke Kilgrave into using his power on camera is disappointing. It would be easy to say that she faked being controlled, so it would obviously not have worked. Things get very convoluted toward the end of the season, but several characters die, simplifying the situation. I found this so relentlessly dark that it was always a chore to decide to watch the next episode. A little levity might have helped. 11/21/17

Doctor Who Season 10 Part One (2016) 

I was pleasantly surprised by this new season of a show I have loved for decades and which I have found consistently disappointing in recent years. “The Pilot” is outright creepy at times, and “Smile” is very much in the tradition of the old visits to other planets. Things are generally less frenetic and the stories actually have some time to develop. The middle two episodes – a house that eats people and a leviathan in the Thames in 1814 – are not as good but still quite watchable. I didn't care for the one where the spacesuits kill the crew of a mining station in space. I found the Doctor's temporary blindness somewhat annoying in the last episode, but was pleased by the return of Missy, the female version of the Master. The plot is unusually convoluted and it ends with a cliffhanger, not surprising since this was only half of a season. 11/16/17

Island of the Burning Damned (1967)

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star in this mediocre adaptation of John Lymington's The Night of the Big Heat. An island off the British coast is having 90 degree weather despite it being the depths of winter. It's a subtle alien invasion. The science is dreadful - supposedly there is another kind of heat in outer space. Most of the characters are repellent for one reason or another and the aliens are pretty much absent. Even when the temperature is 108, the male characters wear jackets and ties! The scientist wonders if the aliens are intelligent, even though he knows that they can travel between planets. It turns out the aliens die in the rain. 11/12/17

Van Helsing Season 1 (2017) 

Low budget series set after the vampires have token over the world. Pretty cheesy looking vampires, actually. In fact, they’re really zombies, not vampires at all. The camera work is underlit and poorly focused. The premise – that there is a descendant of Van Helsing, a woman, whose blood turns vampires back into humans is almost interesting. The idea that she would be placed in a secret facility guarded by ONE marine is not plausible. The dialogue in the pilot is so bad that I can’t imagine how it ever got picked up, although apparently the original network went bankrupt and this ended up on Netflix. Most of the episodes consist of the characters fighting off zombie attacks or fighting with each other, and by the end of the season we don’t know much more about Vanessa, her purpose, her origin, or anything else to justify having sat through thirteen mediocre episodes. I invariably “watched” these while doing something else and I don’t think I missed a thing. 11/10/17

Dirty Dancing (2016)

This made for tv film is a strong contender for worst remake of all time. The casting is terrible, the dialogue inane, the dancing generally subpar, and it is drawn out to fill three hours despite not having much added story. Some of the music is good but there is little else of note. Sarah Hyland from Modern Family does a surprisingly good job in a serious role but that is a minor element in the film and certainly can't make up for all of its serious flaws. We never feel much sympathy for Baby (Abigail Breslin) and Colt Prattes is certainly no Patrick Swayze. 11/9/17

The Lake of Darkness (1999)

You Can’t Be Too Careful (1998)

Both of these are based on Ruth Rendell stories. The first was a novel in which an insane man who likes killing people runs into a naïve young man who won the lottery and wants to give it away. They talk at cross purposes and the killer thinks he is being hired to kill the other man’s girlfriend. For some reason, the screenplay gives the killer the power to influence others through mental projection. Although the boy moves quite briskly, the adaptation is frequently slow, sometimes leaden and given the serial killer element, it should have been quite suspenseful, but is not.  The second involves a woman who is obsessed with the security of her apartment. When she takes a roommate who is careless about locks and allows men to visit her at night, the stage is set for a tragic death. This one was much better paced and effective. 11/7/17

Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (2013) 

Humor and horror combine in this modern version of the fairy tale. Gretel’s stoner boyfriend goes to Miss Agnes to buy some pot, but she’s a witch who periodically restores her youth by killing and eating young people. Gretel gets her brother to help her search for the missing boyfriend. Nasty drug dealers make the mistake of invading her home. There’s zombies, dismemberment, gore, and other treats. Much to my surprise, this was quite enjoyable. The good cast – Lara Flynn Boyle, Molly Quinn, etc. That probably made the difference. 11/7/17

The Return of Dr. Mabuse (1961)

The Invisible Dr. Mabuse (1962)

The Death Ray Mirror of Dr. Mabuse (1964) 

Three cheapo additions to Fritz Lang’s series about the German version of Fu Manchu. The first one opens with an uncredited ripoff of “Crossfire” by Johnny and the Hurricanes as its theme. Gert Frobe, later Goldfinger, is the detective in this one, which opens with the murder of a courier on a train and the theft of his briefcase. He is using a drug to turn people into traditional zombies, bereft of will, and he has taken over an entire prison for raw materials. The film is dubbed, not terribly badly, but the original material wasn’t all that brilliant anyway. It shines compared to the other two. Both of them are SF. In the first, Mabuse really has found a way to make himself invisible and in the second he has a futuristic death ray. Both are badly dubbed, and the last in particular is almost unwatchable. 11/6/17

The Bionic Woman (2008)

The writers strike killed this show but I wasn’t sorry to see it go. The premise was irritating – I’m really sick of evil government project stories. The protagonist is nearly killed when the evil bionic woman crashes into her car. She is rebuilt and her boyfriend helps her escape but the bad government guys are still after her. She also has a younger sister she is supporting. The plot is supported by inexplicable lapses, like her not telling her sister what is going on. They obviously rethought the show after the pilot. They killed off the boyfriend, made Miguel Ferrer more sympathetic, and very awkwardly reconstructed things so that they were watching the protagonist for years before she was augmented, which pretty much contradicts the plot of the first episode. And what idiot hides secret classified documents under a board in his apartment that pops up when stepped upon? And why does her bionic ear only pick up sounds that she needs to hear to advance the plot and not other noise?  In episode two, no one bothers to wear protective clothing while examining victims of an unknown pathogen. There are multiple instances where the plots don’t make sense, usually in minor but irritating and unnecessary ways. Sometimes there are plot elements that are just never explained. Some of the episodes involve overly complex cover stories that are completely unnecessary but are designed to flesh out the story. This might have evolved into something a little better, but it never had the chance. 10/3/17

Elementary Season 5 (2016) 

Holmes and Watson are back for a new round of murder cases. Captain Brass is getting married but otherwise the back story for the first few episodes involves an ex-convict whom Watson has befriended but who seems to be planning something very illegal, although it turns out otherwise. I didn’t care for the running story about the ex-convict who wanted to destroy his old gang, but otherwise this was a quite enjoyable season with some variation in quality but no real stinkers. Nothing stood out that much either. Lucy Liu gets to be closer to Sherlock’s equal and the latter’s drug addiction becomes less of an issue. Sometimes Sherlock’s insights are a bit hard to believe, but that was true of the stories as well. Holmes gets a new and somewhat problematic romantic interest in the last two episodes and the ex-convict gets murdered. 10/26/17

Cult of Chucky (2017) 

The latest in this venerable horror series starts all right. Chucky is imprisoned by the now adult Andy, the kid menaced in the very first movie. But now he has the ability to operate multiple dolls simultaneously and can even take possession of a human being. And he’s at the mental institution where the woman who survived his last rampage is under therapy, convinced that she was the real killer. The story starts to fall apart after that. The security at the institution is a joke, a few minor plot points don’t make sense, and you cannot be instantly committed by assaulting a security guard. You don’t bury dead patients on the grounds of a mental home. And how can such a large facility have a staff of only three? And the end is disappointing.10/21/17

Modern Family Season 8 (2016) 

Pretty much the same as previous seasons, which is definitely not a criticism. The one in which Haley proves that her father is not current with where the money is was particularly good. Once against I am impressed on how quietly effective Lily is. The theater episode is also quite good, and the episode in which each of the characters is trying to cover up a mistake is excellent.  Generally I thought the second half of the season was better than the first. Haley dates an older man for a while, Alex does the same with a man who works for her mother, Luke fails to get into college but Manny does. Phil’s father remarries. A few episodes are rather silly but there are also some very serious moments here and there.10/19/17

Scream Queens Season 1 (2016)

 Despite the slasher film plot, this is a comedy. Twenty years ago, a pledge at a sorority died in childbirth at the house, but we don't know what happened to the baby. A new group of stuck up, deliberately stereotyped members are now in residence. Jamie Lee Curtis is the dean, who doesn't like sororities. The previous head of Kappa was murdered by someone in a red devil costume who put acid in her skin spray. Curtis believes the new head of the group is responsible. Curtis forces them to take in anyone who pledges. No realism here, of course. There is actually a lot of funny material here, but I can see why it was cancelled during the second season. The need to kill off recurring characters is rather wearing. My favorite character is the male lead, who plays the egomaniac superbly. By the end of the season, the silliness is no longer entertaining and there are so many killers that the plot is too complicated to be clever. 10/8/17

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