Last Update 12/22/19

 

Downton Abbey (2019)  

The movie, based on the television show, feels very much like the television version, with virtually everyone from the original cast. The crisis this time is a visit by the King and Queen, along with their domineering retinue of servants, who ultimately get outsmarted. Several romances progress from the series or start fresh here, although itís not clear if any further episodes are planned. I thought Barrows was treated somewhat unfairly, although he ultimately finds romance of his own. The sets are gorgeous, of course. There is even an attempted assassination, although there is very little actual melodrama. 12/22/19

The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The final installment of the main Star Wars plotline ties up most, but not all, of the loose ends, and provides nostalgic looks at some of the past characters. The effects are, of course, spectacular. The story moves very quickly, a little too quickly at times, and some of the twists were pretty obvious well in advance. I won't mention which ones. I don't care for the mental bonding scenes between Ren and Rey from the previous films and there are more of them here. Otherwise it was a lot of fun even when it didn't necessarily make a lot of sense. At times it felt more like fantasy than SF. Many of the less positive reviews that I've seen seemed to be looking for a movie that never could have been made in this series, and a couple just didn't like that there were "girls" in it. The title seems to me inappropriate. 12/21/19

Where Eagles  Dare (1968)

An excellent  World War II adventure based on the Alistair MacLean novel. Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood star. The excuse offered in both book and movie to explain why the castle holding the sensitive prisoner is not simply bombed makes no sense. If they have knocked out the major German intelligence operation in the area by simply bombing it, they would have done so long before. In any case, the surprise revelation that the mission is entirely different renders the point moot.  A couple of things are arranged a bit too conveniently to be entirely believable, but that's not unusual in this kind of movie. Ages well. 12/18/19

The Orville Season 2 (2019) 

Season two starts off well, although I was disappointed to see Halston Sage leave after episode 3 because I had become fond of her character. Even when the stories fall short, they had high ambitions and the concentration on family was particularly welcome. I should know better than to like something on TV. Apparently she was written out of the story rather than having lost interest. First four episodes are excellent. Episode 5 is awful Ė an illogical story about a world ruled by astrology. The next, which primarily involves Dr. Finnís romance with an emotionless robot, is a little better, making the best of a rather stupid premise. Episode 7 has another outlandish premise and again the intent was worthy and it eventually becomes a pretty good murder mystery. The last few episodes are all quite good, even the one with the alternate timeline, a plot device I dislike intensely. Looking forward to season 3 and - presumably - the defeat of the Kaylon, peace with the Krill, and further challenges to the Moclus prejudices. 12/17/19

When Eight Bells Toll (1971) 

Alistair MacLean wrote the screenplay for the film version of his novel, so it is pretty loyal. The opening scene is identical, but there is a flashback to provide background about the protagonistís recruitment to investigate a gang hijacking ships with valuable cargo. A good deal of the plot is compressed but follows the same general sequence of events. The chief thug is not as prominent, which is a shame. Anthony Hopkins looks very young as the British agent in charge of the case, and Robert Morley is very good as his boss. A James Bondish type of movie on a smaller budget.  12/16/19

It:  Chapter Two (2019)

Severely flawed second half of the story, although it starts out reasonably well. Too much CGI and definitely too much and too inept attempts at humor. No subtlety at all. Six old friends return to their home town to confront an evil that takes the form of a monstrous clown. There is some weird spiritualism that feels alien to the movie and Beverly has some new psychic power that doesn't make any sense. It's also surprisingly slow to get going after the first few scenes. Some of the scenes are flashbacks to their childhood, but they're scenes that never happened, so it is not clear what purpose they are supposed to serve. Disappointing.  12.13.18

Polaroid (2019)

A fairly standard horror film about a camera who dooms people whose pictures are taken, with no really fatal flaws but no really interesting aspects either. I had trouble identifying with any of the characters, and there was no real suspense at all because it was so formulaic. The acting was competent but not noteworthy. I think the biggest problem with this one is that there is a kind of distance erected between the viewer and the protagonist and it is never really closed so that we never really get involved with the story. The lack of a soundtrack doesn't help. And much of the film is too dark and grainy. There is a risk of becoming TOO subtle. None of the characters ever seems real, and the protagonist's decision that the polaroid is evil comes too soon and too easily. 12/11/10

The Satan Bug (1965) 

A moderately good movie based on the Alistair MacLean novel. The story is moved to the US from the UK and the details of the theft of a super biological weapon and the heroís involvement are somewhat different but basically follow the book. Itís only after they discover that the satan bug has been stolen that things begin to diverge a little, partly to accommodate a female lead, Anne Francis, for our hero, George Maharis. The story bears little similarity for the second half, but the new plot is pretty good as well. James Doohan (Scotty) has a minor part. Quite enjoyable. 12/9/19

Dark Phoenix (2019) 

The X-Men were never my favorite Marvel characters and the movies are my least favorite as well. This is set in a parallel timeline to the earlier movies in the series, allowing a number of otherwise apparent anomalies. Jean Grey is exposed to some strange phenomenon in space that increases her powers, but also corrupts her character. There are also some alien shapechangers who have plans for the Earth. Despite a fairly good climax, the movie is rather dull and some of the acting is less than stellar. The recasting of Professor Xavier as a villain was a major mistake. With luck, this is the end of the series unless it gets redone within the MCU. 12/8/19

Sector 7 (2011)    

A Korean SF monster movie. A really badly run offshore drilling rig has found no oil and is making its last try before the operation is cancelled when they encounter some odd little fish that glow. The subtitling may be responsible but some of the plot developments do not make much sense. A woman falls or is pushed from a derrick and the crew immediately blames one of their number without any evidence. And why would there be motorcycles on the platform? The lack of discipline and rudimentary safety precautions really stand out. And why are the signs all in English? At one point they blame a man for a murder, even though they know he is securely locked up. The monster is CGI, and not particularly impressive. At another point, some of the characters know something before they are told. The comic relief wears out very quickly. There is one scene that appears to be based on a Korean pun, so it makes no sense in English. The back story Ė the fish are an important fuel source Ė is silly and implausible.

Ice Station Zebra (1968) 

The movie version of the Alistair MacLean novel opens by revealing one of the secrets not revealed until much later in the book Ė the Soviet spy capsule retrieved by spies at a British weather station that is actually conducting ballistic surveillance. The script also changes every single character name except for one minor one. Rock Hudson stars as the American captain Ė the British agent is relegated to a supporting role. The British agent, Patrick McGoohan, is a bit too obnoxious to be true under the circumstances. They pick up a Soviet official as well, for reasons never adequately explained, and he is involved with the British agent somehow. With him is Jim Brown as a martinet to command the marines aboard, a caricature that marks a sharp decline in the quality of the movie. Nor would a Russian naval expert be allowed to roam at will around a nuclear submarine. And why would the rescue party bother to carry M16 rifles? Much of the book takes place on the ice, but the movie is almost all set on the submarine Ė which has a saboteur aboard. This is a very long Ė two and a half hours Ė movie with several good scenes but with annoying flaws of logic. It bears only a passing relationship with the novel and the willingness of the Americans to trust the Russian is ridiculous given the fact that they are sending fighters and paratroops to seize the camp. 12/5/19

Reigo, King of the Sea Monsters (2005) 

A cheaply made Japanese monster movie, set during World War II. The Japanese fleet, led by battleship Yamato, fights a CGI sea monster in the Godzilla vein, but the CGI is awful and the logic even foggier. The subtitles are fairly well done, although there are continuity gaps that probably were not there in the original. I find it difficult to believe that the Japanese navy was troubled with so much insubordination, squabbling, and general incompetence. And why would a creature with no feet and no wings live on an island if it is a sea monster? 12/2/19

Plaguers (2008)

I bought this because I like Steve Railsback, but he looks tired, bored, and confused throughout this terrible waste of time and money. So does everyone else in the cast, actually. It's set aboard a spaceship which has picked up an infection that yturns people into mindless killers with distorted faces. Yes, it's the zombie apocalypse in outer space, with absolutely no worthwhile production values. Bad lighting, bad script, no acting, bad soundtrack. I only made it to the halfway point before I was too embarrassed for the actors to watch any longer. 11/23/19

Night of the Seagulls (1976) 

The last of the original Blind Dead series. A few good moments but not great. A seacoast village has just received a new doctor, but he and his wife are about to discover that there is a dark secret. The undead Templars ride at night and seek victims, which the village provides periodically in return for protection. Has the feel of an Algernon Blackwood story at times, but the director had run out of new things to say about his creatures. 11/19/19

The Ghost Galleon (1975) 

Third in the Blind Dead series. Most of this takes place aboard a ship. Two models are adrift in a small boat as part of a publicity stunt when they run into a ghost ship from another world with the blind, dead aboard. A rescue party sets out to find them and that just provides more victims. The dubbing is less than stellar and thatís a bit of a problem because this one has more story than the first two, thus more opportunities for contradictions and inappropriate comments, both of which abound. The Templars can move in the daylight in this one, which contradicts the first two. 11/18/19

Return of the Evil Dead (1973) 

Second in the Blind Dead series. The undead Templars are back from the grave. The dubbing isnít great in this one. Early on, thereís an attempt to match expressions that was covered with a bizarre exchange about whether the female lead ordered beer or whiskey. The village where the Templars were destroyed is having a festival for its five hundredth anniversary. This is followed by one of the most awkward romantic scenes of all times. Continuity is a bit of a problem as well. The man who arranged the fireworks is complimented on his excellent show, but as it happens, the show hadnít started yet. The director lost count of his Templars. We clearly see that there are no more than ten, but after destroying six of them, there still twelve left and later there are even more. A lot of people walk when they should be running. That said, this was quite enjoyable in its limited fashion. 11/17/19

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

First in a series of Spanish horror films about undead Templars who hunt by sound because they have no eyes. I never quite understood why their first victim turns into a bloodsucking zombie, but that aside, it has some very effective scenes. It's primitive by current standards and I would love to see someone with some talent, and a budget, revive the series, but I'm not holding my breath. The (living) characters make some surprisingly dumb decisions, but the shortcomings are not immediately obvious. This could have been a longer lived franchise quite easily. 11/15/19

Erotic Nights of the Blind Dead (2007) 

Also known as Graveyard of the Dead, this is a continuation of the Spanish horror series about undead Templars who feast on the living, but hunt by sound since they have no eyes. The first in the series creeped me out when I first saw it and the earlier sequels were all at least entertaining. I just find out about this one.  It took less than ten minutes to tell me that this was a cheap ripoff. The subtitles are almost comically bad, with words misspelled, and the acting and special effects are not even up to the standards of the originals from the 1970s. The costumes are notably amateur. The camerawork is constantly off center. The pacing is dreadful Ė lots of scenes of people walking. There are internal contradictions, as well as inconsistencies with the original movies. The creepy soundtrack has been replaced with some boring and incredibly monotonous violin music. The production is so cheap that the mob of angry villagers consists of five people. What an enormous disappointment, in addition to being a major ripoff.  And halfway through the picture becomes so grainy and improperly colored that it quickly becomes unwatchable. 11/14/19

The Amityville Horror (2005)

The remake starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. A family moves into a house where a son killed his entire family, and before long they are seeing visions of the dead, their personalities are altering, and violence becomes imminent. I realized watching this that I really don't like stories, or movies, about possession - with very rare exceptions. This wasn't one of the exceptions, although the cast is quite good and a  couple of scenes were creepy  enough. 11/13/19

Amityville II (1982)

Several people have told me this is the best in this series. Frankly, that wouldn't require much of an effort. Nevertheless, I was put off when the mother complains that all they have done since moving in is fight, even though the only fright we have seen was an argument that she did not see. Gradually we see that the teenage son is being possessed. Burt Young is the almost comically nasty head of the family. I was not impressed. The supernatural aspects are cornball and exaggerated, the acting is off the wall, and frankly I found it inferior to already substandard original. 11/7/19

The Amityville Horror (1979) 

The first movie based on the hoax book by Jay Anson about a house supposedly home to supernatural forces. A couple moves in despite the fact that several brutal murders were committed there and there are strange sounds in the night, a priest is chased out of the house by flies, and so forth. Josh Brolin, Margot Kidder, and Rod Steiger make a good try, but this wasnít very good at the time and forty years later itís pretty lame. My perhaps odd reaction was that the movie made me angry rather than frightened, probably because it was such an obvious fraud.  11/3/19

The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, David Niven, and Anthony Quayle star in this story of a commando mission to destroy a German island fortress during World War II. The script sticks fairly close to the Alistair MacLean novel except that the two partisans become women and one of the soldiers is replaced by another partisan. There is some shuffling of the ranks of various people as well. The special effects are tame by contemporary standards but were impressive sixty years ago and still hold up well. One of my favorite war movies, even though it is entirely fictional. The biggest goof is that scopolamine was not used as a truth serum until after the war, but MacLean made the same mistake in the novel. 10/20/19

Modern Family Season 10 (2018)

Although not as steadily funny as the earlier seasons, this was still quite enjoyable and had a few exceptional moments. Haley and Dylan don't get married, although they come close, and Haley gives birth to twins. Manny proposes, but gets turned down. Jay leaves the closet company and starts a new one with designer dog beds. Mitch and Cam watch their nephew while his mother is in jail. Alex graduates from college. The season ends with a recapitulation of each birthday in the family and Haley's twins being born. I look forward to the next, final season. 10/18/19

The Curse of Halloween Jack (2019)

I confess up front that I stopped watching this after ten minutes. It hadn't even taken that long to determine that this was crap. The evil satanists consist of an animal rights activist, an anti-Christian activist, an anti-government activist, etc. and they all wear chalky white magic so we know they're bad guys. The town where they conduct their ceremonies had a Halloween massacre, so the mayor has banned all Halloween celebrations - even though that would be both illegal and unenforceable. The narration is awful, the camera work is awful, the premise is insulting. I would rather spend 90 minutes staring at a blank screen. 10/13/19

tsy Bitsy (2018)

This is a decent but seriously flawed movie about a family that runs into trouble with a prehistoric cave spider. It is literally too dark most of the time, and it's hard to follow the story in the first third. Although the acting is competent, none of the characters really appealed to me, not even the kids, so I wasn't much interested in their fate. The mother who is supposed to be grieving because of the loss of a son in an automobile accident is rather blasť about leaving  her two very young children at home, alone, at night, for extended periods of time. They also have strange priorities. The two small kids somehow manage to move in all of the furniture on their own, but the mother doesn't bother with sheets or blankets even though there are paintings on the walls. The kids also do not seem to go to school, ever. The mother is addicted to opioids and never actually shows any affection for the kids. Denise Crosby looks very uncomfortable mouthing inane lines as the sheriff. And if your next door neighbor was just killed by an unknown creature, would you stay next door for the night, with two young kids, each sleeping in a separate room? And if you stun a giant spider, do you just let it sit there to recover or do you make sure it's dead?  10/8/19

Killer High (2018)

A dumber than usual high school reunion menaced by a monster movie, in this case a student transformed because he put on a warthog mask. This is largely played for laughs, but it doesn't really work as comedy either, despite a considerable effort by the female lead. They decide to have it the old school that is in the process of being torn down, except that the power is still on. Lots of running around, stupid jokes, a badly designed monster, and a really, really silly story. 10/6/19

Doom (2005)

This was the first attempt to convert the game to a movie, this one starring the Rock. The plot is pretty much the same, although there's not much plot. Secret base on Mars is infested with demons and a group of marines are sent to investigate. Everything after that is just killing the creatures, mostly zombified versions of the staff. Bad writing, of course. A sergeant is not an "officer." That said, this is generally better than the recent remake. Acting is better, sets are more impressive, dialogue is marginally less stupid. The science is mostly BS. Discipline among the marines is pretty crappy. Occasional events make no clear sense. None of the other Doom creatures except what may be imps are included. Movie makers seem to have missed the boat here, twice. The Rock turns into a villain at the end. 10/5/19

Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

I hadn't seen this cheesy but not awful SF monster movie in about twenty years. Vic Morrow and Doug McClure, both past their prime, star. A coastal town is attacked by creatures from beneath the sea that kill, and sometimes rape, their victims. It's not clear at times that the writers knew whether it was the ocean or just a lake. The most incompetent fishing crew ever make the first contact without knowing what they have in their net. Morrow is a racist villain. McClure is the overweight hero. Lots of silly jump scares. Insipid dialogue. Mediocre acting. Unconvincing special effects. Gratuitous sex and some misogyny. Roger Corman's usual fare. 10/4/19

Childís Play (2019) 

This is a rather unnecessary reboot of what has been a fairly good series about a doll possessed by a demon, which is now a doll reprogrammed by a disgruntled worker. I actually rather liked the original with Brad Dourif as the voice of Chuckee, but now itís Mark Hammill as the voice of Buddi/Chucky. But the doll is different and it just doesnít feel the same. The AI doll takes a dislike to his ownerís motherís boyfriend. Then it begins to act independently. This was actually kind of boring. Predictable, visually disappointing, and derivative. You would think they would at least try to do something different. 10/3/19

Doom Annihilation (2019)

The second attempt to turn the first person shooter game into a movie. The premise is that an experiment at an off Earth base opens a portal to Hell and allows various creatures to cross into our reality. A newly arrived contingent of space marines walks into the unexpected.  The characters are flat but the acting is not actively awful - the dialogue occasionally is. And there is no such as a moon of Mars known as Focus. Nor is there any explanation why a bunch of marines would be sent to the facility, given that there were no enemies to fight - at least not when they were dispatched. And headquarters on Earth was unaware of the emergency entrance? The first half of the movie is more or less shooting the zombies without any of the more impressive creatures from the game. Eventually we see some imps, who are the lowest level and weakest of the actual demons. The protagonist is Joan Dark. Get the pun? Lots of unexplained lapses, confused motivations, implausible events like the protagonist put back in charge of her team following her court martial, and uninspired dialogue. The special effects are just mediocre. The lack of the major Doom creatures will undoubtedly disappoint the game's fans. Absolutely stupid ending.10/2/19

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