Last Update 12/26/07

 

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Although I thought both of the film's predecessors were fun, I didn't feel inspired to see them in the theater, and the same was true this time around.  Spidey has to fight three villains this time.  The new and improved Green Goblin is after him to avenge his father, an escaped convict stumbles into a weird scientific experiment and becomes Sandman, and then there's Venom, his transformed enemy.  As if that wasn't bad enough already, there's an alien virus that has infected and transformed his suit, causing him to give way to urgings from the dark side of the force -- I mean his personality.  The virus is pretty well done, as is the Sandman effect.  The opening fight with the Green Goblin is exciting but a bit too - dare I say it? - comic bookish.  The scene with the runaway crane, however, was nifty.

Some of the dialogue in the early part of the movie is pretty saccharin.  Mary Jane, who knows his secret identity, becomes jealous of his fame when her own singing career takes a nosedive. We meet Gwen Stacy for the first time, currently dating the as yet unconverted Venom.  Peter/Spidey is a bit too naive to be completely credible, but the characters aren't meant to be very deep. He lets Gwen kiss him in public, which pisses off Mary Jane. The fights with Sandman are nicely done and Peter gets the good line.  "Where do all these guys come from?"

Spider is transformed by the parasite in one of those sudden personality changes that I find troublesome.  The jazz club scene is just bad, from beginning to end. Parker finally gets rid of the alien, but it takes over one of his enemies and becomes Venom. Okay final battle, and I did like the attempt to make the Sandman a tragic figure.  Not great, but fun. 12/26/07

National Treasure 2 (2007)

To no one's surprise, this sequel follows very much the same formula as its predecessor.  A sinister Ed Harris shows up with a document implicating Nicholas Cage's ancestor in the assassination of President Lincoln, a ploy to get him involved in a new treasure hunt, this one for the lost city of gold, Cibola.  There are fewer clues this time, requiring them to break into Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office, then kidnap the President and make a visit to the Library of Congress.  Finally there's the exciting climactic battle under Mount Rushmore.  All of this is predictable, of course, and some of the plot points don't make much sense when you think about them.  Why did the President report himself kidnapped in the first place, only to claim later that it never happened?  How does the discovery of Cibola prove that the ancestor wasn't one of Booth's co-conspirators?  How did his name get on the document in the first place?  What was the involvement of the museum director who authenticated the document?  Most viewers won't think of any of this until later, because the action is fast paced and usually exciting.  Helen Mirren is a nice addition as Cage's mother.  It's a popcorn movie but fun while it lasts.  12/24/07

I Am Omega (2007) 

They couldn’t have been more obvious about capitalizing in I Am Legend, the new release, for this cheapo martial arts vs zombies movie.  The title is an obvious reference to the last version, The Omega Man.   They’re supposedly mutants, but calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.  This is a zombie movie. Anyway, he’s holed up by himself in his house, surrounded by fences and alarms, and he kills the intruders with a smirk. He appears to be a little nuts anyway; he keeps a mannequin for company.  For some reason, he receives radio broadcasts, even with the radio unplugged.  Hallucination?  Despite more than ten years of neglect, the roads are all perfectly clear. He’s out in the sticks, but the zombies show up with distressing frequency. For obvious reasons, there’s not much dialogue.  There’s not even much monologue, which means that we need visual cues to figure out what’s going on, and they’re not always provided. On the other hand, our hero isn’t such a great actor that I considered this much of a loss.  Then we discover that the internet is still up and running, which effectively killed the story for me.  A woman somehow figures out his email address and tells him that she’s in the downtown, but never mentions which city. She wants him to come rescue her and has a story about a surviving colony of unaffected humans.  Then two ex-marines show up at his house – how did they find it? – because they want him to help rescue the girl.  Stupid dialogue, bad acting, nonsensical sequence of events, bleached out colors, no soundtrack to speak of, plus it’s a shameless ripoff.  The blurb is a lie as well, since he’s not the last man alive. One also must wonder how a boy orphaned and left alone since he was just a young kid became proficient in martial arts. The writer/actor’s final speech about why he doesn’t want a cure is so unbelievably stupid that my jaw dropped. 12/21/07

The Three Musketeers (1948) 

This is still my favorite version of the classic Alexander Dumas story, with Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, June Allyson, Van Heflin, Angela Lansbury, Vincent Price, Gig Young, and others.  The screenplay is by Robert Ardrey, who returned to his academic field and wrote two famous popular books on anthropology, African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative.  D’Artagnan wants to become a musketeer, but within minutes of arriving, he finds himself scheduled to fight three duels, one each with Porthos, Athos, and Aramis.  He escapes that duty when the evil Count Richelieu’s guards accost them, followed by possibly the best filmed sword fight ever. Richelieu is trying to undermine the king but is too powerful to openly oppose, even by the throne. D'Artagnan undertakes to retrieve jewels the queen of France gave to her English lover in order to avoid embarrassing her and preventing a war.

Another great chase scene and swordfight follow.  D'Artagnan makes it to England, gets the jewels, but two of them have been stolen by one of Richelieu's female allies. Copies are made and D'Artagnan returns to France, sneaks into the palace, returns the jewels and saves the day. Naturally that doesn't sit well with Richelieu who decides to strike back through the girl D'Artagnan loves, although his loyalties in that regard are not particularly strong.  The quality of the picture and sound are excellent on the dvd despite the age of the movie. Great stunts, beautiful scenery, and crisp dialogue.  One of my all time favorites, tragic ending notwithstanding. 12/20/07

Nate and Hayes (1993)

It was time to swash a few more buckles.  I had fond memories of this Tommy Lee Jones pirate movie, which I hadn't seen in more than ten years.  Jones is selling guns to the natives but the natives are treacherous and he barely escapes with his life after a reasonably good chase sequence, with a rope bridge, female warriors, and other obstacles to pass. All to no avail, because he's arrested by Spanish soldiers moments later.  In prison awaiting hanging, he indulges in a flashback that is the bulk of the movie.  He's the Hayes half of the title.

The Nate half - Michael O'Keefe - is a young, would-be missionary whom Hayes brought from Europe on his ship, along with Nate's fiancé, played by Jenny Seagrove.  Just after dropping them off, the mission is attacked by slavers.  Nate is knocked unconscious and Jenny is taken by the slavers. Hayes' ship picks him up and they become uneasy allies opposed to Ben Pease, head of the slavers. Pease and his captive are off to Ponape in a German ironclad with the good guys in pursuit.  There they have to rescue Jenny before she is sacrificed by the local ruler.  Lots of fun in this little gem. The duel between the sailing ship and the ironclad is particularly nice. One odd note.  While the sound track is nice, it often seems inappropriate for what's happening visually. 12/19/07

Blade: House of Chthon (2007) 

I was only vaguely aware that a Blade television show existed.  I might have been better off if it had stayed that way.  This pilot movie lacks Wesley Snipes.  In fact, it lacks a lot of things.  My low budget warning light went on during the opening sequence when Blade kills a vampire, who bleeds to death rather than disintegrating.  Expensive, those disintegrations.  The vamps have a new nest in Detroit – see the title – but they don’t know how to pronounce “chthon”.  Then there’s some unnecessary slow motion scenes to establish the primary female character.  The young people who supposedly grew up in South Carolina don’t have southern accents.  Anyway, her brother gets killed by the vamps because he’s been spying on them, trying to become immortal.  Next is some gratuitous nudity, even more gratuitous violence, a great deal of bad dialogue, and some logic leaps designed to advance the story quickly without actually explaining anything. 

Our heroine is searching for her brother’s killer and that gets her into trouble.  There’s actually a pretty clever trap to get her out of her car, but the vamps like to play with their food, so she lasts long enough for Blade to come to the rescue.  This time the vamps disintegrate.  Blade somehow knows the girl’s name, but even more remarkably, she somehow knows his.  All of the characters, good and evil, act surprisingly stupidly a lot of the time.  The young woman is captured and turned into a vampire, but unlike all the others, she still has some scruples.  Convenient.  Blade also kills a – relatively – innocent bystander summarily at one point.  I don’t like vigilante stories in general, but the movies found a way to justify it.  This doesn’t even try.  Not worth the time to watch it.  12/16/07

Return to the House on Haunted Hill (2007)

The remake of House on Haunted Hill wasn't bad, although it didn't really seem to have much to do with the original.  So I figured the sequel would be even further out.  The somewhat murky opening involves a suicide, the search for an ancient statue, references to horrible murders at Hill House, and the brief appearance of a ghastly ghost.  A young fashion executive is shocked by her sister's apparent suicide and the importunities of an archaeologist who claims she had some connection to the statue, which he has spent most of his life pursuing.  She and her boyfriend are promptly taken hostage by a handful of thugs who are also after the statue, and who apparently killed her sister.  The okay acting deteriorates pretty badly during their initial confrontation and, for reasons even murkier than the opening, bring them along on their trip to Hill House (which was apparently the scene for various sadistic experiments at some time in the past). The archaeologist and two of his students are there as well.

They decide to search for the statue which means - TA DAH! - splitting up so that the restless ghosts can eliminate them one at a time, and with a maximum of gore.  There's a particularly silly scene in which the female thug is seduced by two sexy ghosts.  There are two ways to make this predictable sequence moderately interesting.  The first is to create characters engaging enough that we care about them.  The other is to provide clever death sequences - not necessarily gory - to hold our interest.  This movie, like all too many others, does neither. There's also no rational reason why any of them should survive; the spirits are capable of doing anything and have no apparent weak spots.

The good guys get the upper hand after most of the thugs are vivisected, but they're all stuck because the house has locked all the exits. The facility of everyone involved with firearms is amusing, as is the cliché ridden script.  There's also a crematorium in the basement of the former asylum, which is explained in an embarrassingly bad bit of dialogue. There are some nice sets.  The chief villain bears a surprising resemblance to a younger John Travolta.  I'm running out of interesting aspects to mention.  Jeffrey Combs is wasted as the phantom doctor.  12/15/07

The Dresden Files Season 1 (2007) 

Season one of the series based on, more or less, the books by Jim Butcher about a wizard living in our contemporary world who foils various bad guys and saves beautiful women with sometimes distressing regularity.  I was curious to see how they adapted this.  The first episode was “Birds of a Feather”, which opens with a very trite episode about the monster in young Harry’s closet, and the revelation that his mother was killed by a monster when he was a kid.  The talking skull has been transmogrified into a ghost that lives in the skull, for no particular reason, and the character is annoying, but not the way the skull was deliberately annoying in the books. It’s not clear if it’s really our world since wizardry is apparently a fact of every day life because some people take it for granted and Dresden is a police consultant, except that they don’t seem to believe him very often.  The tension between him and Murphy isn’t as jagged as in the books, and that’s actually an improvement. The plot doesn’t start well.  A kid wants to hire him to protect him from the monsters in his house, but he tells him there’s no such thing as monsters, mostly, and ignores him.  Which doesn’t make sense since he lost his own mother to one, and he doesn’t even bother to check the kid’s story.  The police, meanwhile, are dealing with a skinned, bloodless corpse.    Belatedly he starts to look into the matter, while the kid is being watched by suspicious birds – see the episode title!  He gives him a protection symbol and his school teacher is unable to enter the house.  Dead giveaway, obviously. The two cases are obviously linked.  The creature is a skinwalker who stole the skin from the teacher and is impersonating her. The boy gets kidnapped by a caped man who is not put off by the symbol. Double crosses and other baddies show up before the end.  There’s also a glaring error in the script; the writer didn’t bother to actually find out how adoption law works or who is responsible for determining custody.   Dresden seems unusually powerless for someone who is supposed to be a wizard. Interesting at times, but the low production values – presumably budgetary – don’t help either. 

He investigates a young female ghost in “The Boone Personality”, in which we discover that no one involved knows how to pronounce “quixotic”.  Her death was connected to a supposedly random attack, theft of an Egyptian artifact, and the killer’s death in a struggle with another man.  Dresden interviews the man, who is obviously lying even before we see that he has Egyptian symbols tattooed on his body.  Part of the resolution involves an art dealer who says the law prohibits him from selling to anyone in prison, which I very much doubt would be constitutional even if such a law existed.  Not that sloppy research or writing ever stopped television, which seems of late determined to promulgate misinformation at every opportunity.  Someone tries to gun down Dresden when he investigates and the police aren’t cooperative.  The police then get ordered to make an official apology because Dresden asked questions, which makes no sense at all since he’s not a police or city employee, and never claimed to be, and the subsequent conversation is appallingly contrived because Murphy obviously uses it as an excuse to ask questions.  Why not just ask the questions?  The crap level is rising in this one pretty damned fast.  The killer can jump from one body to another, and it takes over Murphy when discovered.  Once again, Dresden seems to have no real knowledge of magic himself and has to get someone else to tell him how to save Murphy, which he does in part by waltzing into an evidence room and getting them to give him some of it based on forged paperwork.  He then outsmarts the bad guy, even though that means using the dark side of the force – I mean using black magic – and everything ends with a flash of colored light, which is apparently the show’s code for “something magic is happening”. 

“Bad Blood” opens with a gunfight in an alley, after which one of the two beautiful women who survived the attack goes to Harry for help.  It’s obvious that she’s a vampire – the title gave it away before she asked to be invited in and showed her fangs.  She wants to know if the High Council – a nebulous organization that governs magic, sort of – is behind the attempt to murder her.  As usual, Harry doesn’t seem to have much of any real power.  He gets captured, is present during a battle between the vampire’s attempted assassins and the people he thought were the assassins, the latter led by a man whose acting could use some work.   It’s the first episode I actually enjoyed, although I guessed who the real killer was well in advance.  There was no other reason for the character to appear in the story.  “Soul Beneficiary” opens with a man having premonitions of death who dies in Harry’s office.  There’s a minor glitch at the onset.  The police don’t plan to do an autopsy.  They ALWAYS do an autopsy when a young man dies for no apparent reason and with no explanatory medical history.  The coroner announces that it’s a heart attack WITHOUT performing an autopsy.  How does he know?  The widow comes to see Harry, and promptly drops dead in his arms.  They finally mention that electrical devices frequently don’t work around Harry, which is from the books.  The first body has already been cremated – less than six hours after his death?  A nice idea starts to go down the toilet because of yet more sloppy writing.  It turns out that the ashes are from the wrong body, the mortician sold the corpse to the coroner’s assistant, who has been killing the same man over and over again to collect the insurance.  This could have been a pretty good episode if they’d paid attention to details. 

“Walls” was a pretty good episode.  A group of college students are being corrupted by a supernatural force.  Even some decent special effects.  “Storm Front” is, if I remember correctly, based on one of the original books.  Two people are murdered when their hearts explode, which obviously means someone is using dark magic.  There’s a bit of a disconnect here, because Murphy knows about the High Council, which she doesn’t in the earlier ones.  I wonder if this was originally the pilot.  Not surprisingly, it’s head and shoulders above the earlier episodes, although necessarily condensed from the novel.  Harry’s the prime suspect as far as the High Council is concerned, so he has to find the real killer before they execute him.  His interaction with Bianca, the vampire, is inconsistent with the other episode in which she appears, buttressing my opinion that this was the pilot.  Having the demon just look like a regular bouncer is kind of a letdown.  Another stupid mistake.  The climax was a lot better in the book. 

“The Other Dick” has Harry applying for a Private Investigator’s license.  Nice set up except that they forgot that that electronics won’t work for Harry.  He’s looking into the last case of a detective who died under mysterious circumstances.  The investigation is shortened by the convenient and implausible discovery that the dead man managed to take pictures inside a bogus fertility clinic. In  "What About Bob?" a woman steals the skull that houses Bob, Harry's ghostly assistant and someone tips the police that Harry killed his uncle five years earlier, which is true, but it was self defense. Flashbacks explain that and show how Harry and Bob met. The confrontation with the uncle didn't work for me; there was no reason for him to keep the evidence connecting him to Harry's father's death.  Bob appears to have been converted to the dark side by his uncle's doppelganger, who wants the original restored to life, but he's actually still on the side of good.  Except that if his only plan was to kill the restored uncle, which he does, why not just destroy the doppelganger, whom he says has no magical powers.

"Things That Go Bump" is also reasonably good.  The head of the high council and some of her cohorts are trapped along with Harry and Murphy when some power wraps his building in a coating of evil darkness from the other world.  The script problems are mostly because of contradictions with other episodes.  Either the series was shown in the wrong order, or the writers didn't talk to each other.  The final episode was "Second City".  The actress playing Murphy was finally starting to appeal to me by now so it was nice to see her get a more significant part.  Her estranged father shows up just as a crooked cop who can shift his own deaths to other people claims a new victim.  Overall, a poor to just okay series with some signs of promise but hindered by poor scripts.  12/07/07

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Mel Brooks takes on another cultural icon in this spoof of Robin Hood movies.  Clever jokes mixed with obvious ones and the occasional anachronism. There also some quiet sight jokes - like the migrating beauty spot on the Prince's face. Robin Hood is in Jerusalem and has been arrested.  The dungeon scene at the opening is particularly amusing. Cary Elwes does heroic nonsense well, and of course the entire story depends on everyone being very stupid.  He escapes with the aid of the father of Ahchoo, an exchange student in England whom Robin promises to look up.  He swims back to England and finds Ahchoo being beaten up by the soldiers of Prince John (Richard Lewis), discovers that the family castle has been taken away to pay back taxes, and only his blind servant remains.

The sheriff of Rottingham (Roger Rees), who speaks dyslexically, shows up with his band of kazoo players.  Maid Marion is waiting in the wings, saddled by an oversized chastity belt. The battle on the bridge with Little John is a definite high point.  Dom Deluise does a great imitation of Marlon Brando as the Godfather.  Marion overhears a plot against Robin and goes to warn him and the rest of the story plays out more or less like the actual legend, though always with a heavy dose of farce.  The whole cast is excellent.  Not high art but still one of Brooks' best.  There are even a couple of well choreographed sword fights.  12/2/07

Looker (1981)

Although this apparently didn't do very well when it was released, it is surprisingly good, so much so that I think I've watched it close to a dozen times.  The great theme music, Albert Finney, and James Coburn don't hurt any either.  It was written by Michael Crichton before he forgot how to tell a good story.  It's also a really nasty indictment of our obsession with physical beauty and a pretty good mystery, although I'm not sure the science - it's near future science fiction - is entirely plausible.  A beautiful model comes to Finney, a plastic surgeon, requesting minute changes to her appearance to approach a theoretically perfect condition.  Shortly thereafter, she's murdered very mysteriously, apparently by an invisible man, although we eventually learn that the killer has a weapon that momentarily and instantaneously stuns anyone not protecting their eyes when it is fired.  A second model also dies mysteriously and Finney finds that he's a suspect.

A third model comes to Finney demanding to be changed back because she believes all of the perfect models are being murdered.  She also claims that more is involved than just commercials.  He goes to the woman's apartment just in time to see her fall from the balcony and catch a glimpse of a man above wearing unusual glasses, who disappears leaving Finney at the top of the suspect list.  He has one remaining patient in the same category, Susan Dey, and he approaches her in order to look into things.  He finds a link to Reston industries, run by Coburn, who is clearly involved in something sinister.

Dey is shooting a commercial every detail of which is analyzed by a computer in a van, which makes Finney even more suspicious, and he accompanies Dey to the lab where she is being electronically analyzed.  SF fans will have no trouble figuring out that some kind of subliminal persuasion is involved, and eventually we discover that it's the central plot, part of a plan to eventually influence political contests.  The sidebars about advertising are also interesting.  Finney steals a passcard for the building where the Looker project is underway. Finney and Dey grow increasingly suspicious, but so is Coburn, who authorizes a search of Finney's house. 

Dey plays her character as slightly scatterbrained, and her parents are almost frightening caricatures of television addicts, reinforcing the theme of our vulnerability to subtle manipulation.  Finney is home when the search is made and is repeatedly stunned, which he notices because of changes on the beach outside his window and other things, quite nicely done.  The plot accelerates from there and has a great climactic battle in the middle of a bunch of holographic commercial sets.  An overlooked gem.  11/31/07

The Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

In case it isn't obvious, I really love swashbucklers.  This Erroll Flynn vehicle is one I hadn't seen in twenty years or so, although I had fond memories of it.  It starts off with light humor right from the outset as Flynn romances a woman who turns out to be lying about her marital status just as he lies about his devotion.  The hubbie shows up at an awkward moment and he escapes by impersonating the Spanish ambassador in London. The imposture doesn't last long and he and his faithful companion find themselves in a cell. They are expelled back to Spain, where they battle a press gang and then discover that while the new queen fights for the rights of the people, the half witted king and his minions are oppressing the populace.  The chief villain and Don Juan clash very early, inevitably.  Intrigue follows, with a palace coup, swordfights, and a happy ending.

The picture quality and cover are excellent in this sixty year old film, and the dialogue is crisper and smarter than in the majority of current films.  Proof, if we needed it, that you don't need an enormous budget to make an exciting and entertaining adventure.  11/30/07

The Mist (2007)

"The Mist" was one of my favorite Stephen King stories and I have always been puzzled why it has never been filmed before now.  It was worth the wait because this is one of the few King stories that actually translated well to the screen.  The story, for those who don't know it, is about a group of people trapped in a grocery store when a strange mist surrounds the town, within which creatures from another world lurk, preying on whoever is exposed.  The situation inside the store predictably disintegrates, in large part due to the antics of a woman who mixes insanity and religion and convinces many of the frightened people that she has a direct line to God.  The special effects are very well done, and mostly offstage or seem through the mist, which works quite well.  I haven't re-read the novella lately, but except for the ending this seemed quite loyal to me.  The ending itself, which I won't reveal here, came as no surprise to me, although it may to some.  Good acting, a good script, and good editing certainly didn't hurt any.  This will definitely be a part of my DVD collection as soon as it is available.  11/29/07

Transformers (2007)

 This was in the bargain bin or I wouldn’t have bothered.  An ancient alien race is searching for the Cube, which preceded time, is indestructible and a source of great power, but which was lost.  Corny voiceover ends with a group of soldiers flying across Qatar.  A helicopter lands, turns into a giant robot, and destroys the military base.  This would have been less implausible except that the robot is much more massive than the aircraft, which violates the law of conservation of mass and energy.   Next we have an obnoxious high school student whose grandfather died insane, drawing weird symbols.  There’s considerable humor, some of it okay, some sophomoric.  He’s out to buy his first car and finds one on a used car lot that the dealer doesn’t recognize, and the car takes steps to make sure he buys it.  Elsewhere, John Voigt looks very uncomfortable as Secretary of Defense, mouthing a very silly analysis of the attack to a group of uncleared people including high school students, despite the fact that this is all supposedly a big secret.  Sigh.  Definitely a kiddie movie, although that’s actually just about what I expected.   

The robot aboard Air Force One is cute.  It finds a link to a teenager and sets out to find him. The dialogue occasionally descends into utter nonsense and the computer talk is ridiculous.  The writer didn’t even understand what Ebay was.  At this point I stopped expecting anything realistic, and it actually was more enjoyable once I disconnected my mind.  Some of the special effects aren’t bad, particularly the scorpion robot, and the corny dialogue is occasionally amusing.   

The teenagers in the movie are all played by actors in their twenties.  I could understand that if there was nudity or some other reason requiring it, but there isn’t, and the romantic interest for the young hero looks even older than she is.  Then the guy acts like he’s about twelve which just makes the disparity look even worse than it is.  His car, no surprise, is a friendly transformer opposed to the bad transformers.  More of his kind show up, looking for a pair of glasses imprinted with the coordinates of the Cube.  Battles, chases, reversals, and minor plot development follow, ending with the big battle between good and evil robots. Okay, if you can disconnect your intelligence.  11/29/07

Pumpkinhead 3: Ashes to Ashes (2007) 

The first in this series was an okay revenge picture whose highlight was Lance Henriksen.  The opening is confusing and annoying.  A hiker apparently chances upon an illegal skin harvesting operation, although much of what happens is never clear or plausible. There’s also Henriksen appearing as a ghost to warn another character not to bring back Pumpkinhead, although we don’t know what motivates either of them.  Bad acting doesn’t help. The hiker is picked up by a hitchhiker – for some reason they didn’t kill him even though they said they were going to – in one of the most incoherent and incomprehensible scenes I’ve ever  seen.  Her rescuer goes to the sheriff, who is so hayseed he almost germinates on screen.  That apparently results in the arrest of some of the skin stealers, although there’s no explanation of how the victim would have been able to identify them.  And then we’re watching bodies being removed from the skin harvesting farm in a scene meant to be revolting but is just confusing.  The rescuer then slaps the sheriff as the story moves so quickly from one element to another, with screams and fake autopsies and so forth that it’s impossible to follow the plot.  For some reason these leads to the search of a field somewhere else, where more body parts are found.  Then the part of the gang that was arrested starts talking about Pumpkinhead, which doesn’t make any sense either.  The stupidity in this one is almost an achievement in itself. 

This was the coherent part of the movie, believe it or not, because it gets worse.  There’s a witch (“the old woman of the woods”) who takes away one of the bodies.  No one including the sheriff seems to think this is odd.  “People say you have powers!”  The power to wear really bad makeup is the only one apparent.  The supposedly crazy woman who rescued the injured man says the old woman could “make it right” and apparently talks several people into her plan to get revenge against the ones who despoiled the dead.  The coroner, who is the head of the gang, apparently digs up the bodies to harvest the skin after they’ve been buried, which makes no sense, but then again, we never know exactly what’s going on except that he’s a bad man so who cares.  Eventually the disgruntled relatives ask the witch to revive Pumpkinhead to avenge them.  The movie had become so bad at this point that it was verging on being actively funny. 

The witch conducts a low key cheerleading session, draws blood from one of the vengees, and performs her magic.  Pumpkinhead is back with a mission to accomplish.  Really bad special effects follow, mixed with more incoherent scenes.  Even the monster looks embarrassed.  When I wasn’t laughing at the awful acting and writing, I was appalled by how ugly the film was.  Doug Bradley, who was effective as Pinhead in the Hellraiser movies, just looks bewildered here.  He was one of the few characters I could tell apart because everything moves so fast (and randomly) that it’s hard to follow who’s who or what’s what.  Fortunately, I didn’t care either. 

In order for a horror movie to be effective, we either have to like the characters so that we care what happens to them, or dislike them enough that we look forward to what happens to them.  There also has to be a chance for them to escape, or there’s no suspense.  The characters in this are bad people, but not interesting bad people, and Pumpkinhead is invulnerable and unstoppable, so we know they will all die sooner or later.  The result is no suspense and no identification with the characters and the cameos by Henriksen can’t salvage something this awful.  Even the computer graphics are frequently silly rather than realistic, and Pumpkinhead ends up killing as many innocents as guilty, which debases the already mediocre story.  The dialogue actually gets WORSE as the story progresses, which is an accomplishment in itself.  And the actors don’t have any inflection in their voices; almost all of them sounds like they’re reading from a script.  A bad script.  Every time I thought they’d hit bottom, they uncovered whole new depths to descend to.  Utter garbage from beginning to end.  11/28/07

28 Weeks Later (2007)

The sequel, in case you didn't know, to 28 Days Later, the story of a world transformed by a plague that turns people into zombielike killers.  It opens with a small group of people who believe they're the only survivors in the area, surrounded by the mindless killers. They're right.  Only one survives a frantic, violent attack filmed with that jerky style I find annoying after a few seconds.  This is all just background, however, because we go forward 28 weeks to when the plague is supposedly extinct and an American dominated NATO force has taken control of the now depopulated England.   I'm not sure I believe that the world would accept that conclusion so easily given the horrific nature of past events, particularly since the medical officer states "we don't fully understand the virus yet", but it's a concession to the catchy title that the time frame has to be contracted. It is also unclear to me why there would be heavily armed soldiers patrolling the rooftops in London if the only dangers are rats and wild dogs.

Two kids repatriated from the US make an unauthorized visit to their house, which is outside the protected area, and where their mother was attacked and killed, according to their father, although we never actually see that.  They find their mother there, although it's not clear what her mental state is or how she survived.  The mother is taken into custody by the military, who don't understand how she survived being bitten.  The kids are mad at Dad, who claimed he saw her die.  Mom is carrying the virus so the military wants to execute her, but Dad kisses her first and is transformed, then kills her with lots of gore.

The emergency procedures don't make a lot of sense.  The lights are turned off and replaced by inadequate emergency lights that just make it easier for the infected ones to conceal themselves.  There's an announcement that non-lethal force is authorized, but they send out snipers with automatic weapons.  The camera work reverts to the jerky, chaotic style that is perhaps symbolically appropriate, but it's still irritating.  Nor is it clear to me how the single infected man was able to wreak such havoc in a matter of minutes, nor why the military switches from targeted to universal executions.  Nor why they would have relied on snipers instead of gas or some other containment method. 

The two kids and a small group escape, now pursued by the infected and by the military, who want to be sure they eliminated anyone carrying the virus.  They get attacked by snipers, even though we've just been told that the military has evacuated pending firebombing in four minutes.  It takes them only two minutes to run, on foot, beyond the strike zone, which seems pretty ineffective, since the infected could have escaped in the same manner.  And naturally that's exactly what happens.  The next day, the army can't find the escaped infected, even though they're walking in a straight line across an open field.

Most of the rest is a chase sequence, interspersed with poorly lit scenes.  Not a bad movie, despite my carping, but not a particularly good one, and certainly not as effective as its predecessor.  11/27/07

Bones Season 2 (2006)

 Okay, this is probably my favorite current television series, passing C.S.I. because the latter hasn’t been up to snuff lately and I like the supporting cast better.  The season opens with “The Titan on the Tracks” in which a dead body in a car derails a train and kills a senator.  It also introduces Brennan’s new boss, Camille, whom I really liked right from the start.  “Mother and Child in the Bay” is excellent and unsettling.  A pregnant woman’s body washes ashore, but it’s not her baby that she’s found with.  “The Boy in the Shroud” is a fairly good mystery, but the tension and its resolution between Brennan and Camille is the best part of this one.  “The Blonde in the Game”  starts with a dog discovering a body, then brings back an old villain in a story reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs.  Excellent puzzle story with multiple mind games. 

“The Truth in the Lye” is another good one with some dark humor.  A man with two families – to say nothing of a girlfriend – gets dissolved in lye.  Which wife did it?  Or did the wives do it at all?  I didn’t care for the mystery in “The Girl in Suite 2103”, but the byplay with the State Department official was clever and made up for it.  “The Girl with the Curl” is one of the most effective indictments of the child modeling profession I’ve ever seen. The discussion about whether or not Angela should date a co-worker is also a high point.  The world of illegal fight clubs is the center of “The Woman in the Sand”, an okay episode whose high points are Brennan’s imitation of a vamp and the byplay between the two male supporting characters about physical violence. 

“The Aliens in the Spaceship” is one of my favorite episodes.  Brennan and Hodgins get kidnapped by the Grave Robber, a kidnapper and murderer, and buried alive in an automobile with only hours to live.  Clever story even though they don’t catch the bad guy, who is presumably being saved for a later episode.  I think I know who he was, but time will tell.  There’s more than a hint of Blair Witch in “The Headless Witch in the Woods”.  I found the peripheral claim that ghosts might be real irritating, particularly as it is positioned as a rebuttal to Brennan’s rational opinion, but I’ve gotten used to a certain amount of ignorance and irresponsibility on the part of television writers.  There are a couple of nice red herrings but I guessed who the killer was.  “Judas on a Pole” introduces Brennan’s father for the first time, but it’s not a very good episode. 

“The Man in the Cell” brings serial killer Howard Epps back.  He escapes from prison using a clever ruse, faking his own death.  It’s slightly implausible that he would be so resourceful so quickly as he stalks the cast members, but once over that minor hurdle, it’s a good episode, and Epps is finally dead.  “The Girl in the Gator” introduces Sully, another FBI agent to whom Brennan feels drawn.  Okay episode, but I spotted the killer as soon as he appeared.  One of the lab people compromises a case when the husband of his ex-fiance is murdered.  Minor mystery but the back story is pretty good.  Someone is copying the murders in Brennan’s mystery novel in “The Bodies in the Book”.  A nice mix of a good mystery and back story.  Using Kathy Reichs as the name of the detective (Reichs is the author of the novels the show is based on) is a clever touch. “The Boneless Bride in the River” is one of the most bizarre episodes, a boneless corpse in a box.  Brennan and her FBI boyfriend break up after a three episode romance. 

“The Priest in the Churchyard” is also quite good, although I guessed the murderer right away again.  I really like the psychiatrist who has been counseling Booth but I suspect this is his last episode.  I liked the bad guy who got away by cutting off his own leg in “The Killer in the Concrete”, but otherwise this one was so-so.  “Spaceman in a Crater” was a lot better.  A dead astronaut’s body is found in a crater in a farmer’s field, and there’s something strange embedded in his body.  A television chef disappears in "The Glowing Bones in the Old Stone House", and the key to the solution is connected to the fact that her bones are glowing in the dark.  The final episode of the season was "Stargazer in a Puddle".  Booth gets to arrest Brennan's father for murdering an FBI bigwig just after they find the body of a child in a dumping ground. The murder mystery is pretty minor.  An excellent season overall.  It's low points would be high points for other programs. 11/26/07

Enchanted (2007)

We went to see this today, in part because the previews had looked cute.  It's one of those movies that you can almost predict each scene before it appears because the story is so simple and logical, but without descending into one cliché after another.  The opening is an intentionally terminally cutesy animated scene about a prince and a princess and an evil stepmother/witch, plus a bevy of cute animals and lots of singing.  The gimmick is that the evil stepmother magically sends the princess to our world, where she becomes a flesh and blood human, although she still has some of the attributes of her origins, like the ability to call animals to help her.  Except that she's in New York City so instead of squirrels and rabbits she gets rats and roaches. 

Undismayed, she waits for her prince to come, taking temporary shelter with a lawyer and his six year old daughter.  The prince comes through as well, followed by a cute animated chipmunk and, in due course, by his stepmother's chief lackey, and then the old harridan herself.  Meanwhile, the princess is learning what love can be like outside of a storybook, and the prince is stabbing buses with his sword and talking to the magic mirror (a television set).  Everything gets straightened out at the end with the princess grabbing the sword to save her lover - the lawyer rather than the prince - from a dragon.  It's a feel good movie with some really clever bits.   Patrick Dempsey gets the girl, for the first time in my experience.  There's also a very elaborate and well choreographed dance/song sequence in the park. 11/22/07

SuperCroc (2007)

Yeah, I'm a monster movie junkie, although frankly the majority of the computer graphics variety don't impress me nearly as much as the old fashioned technology.  They're too much alike, for one thing, and they often seem designed to distract us from the other aspects of the film, like script, camera work, acting, and editing, to name a few of the apparent incidentals of the direct to DVD producers.  This looked like a variation of Lake Placid, one of my all time favorite movies, which had good effects in addition to good to great all of the above mentioned incidentals.  Two minutes into this one, and I knew I hadn't found anything to compete with that one.  A group of soldiers walking through the woods as though they were in danger, but in a ridiculously vulnerable formation and while uttering spectacularly inane dialogue.  And even though they've been talking quite loudly throughout, their squad leader gives them commands using signs only, perhaps to spare us more bad dialogue poorly delivered. Oh, and the color reproduction is remarkably bad as well, and sometimes the actors walk out of the frame of the picture and the camera just sort of hangs there.

The giant crocodile appears in one of the most unconvincing uses of computer animation I've never seen, but it leaves splash lines only about the size of a person.  They see it disappear into the water, but decide to search the forest instead, all talking aloud again except the squad leader, who continues to use hand signals.  Meanwhile, the Pentagon has assigned a massive task force of half a dozen people to monitor the situation, in a room whose sound equipment is so bad that the dialogue is at times drowned out by echoes and background noise, but sometimes that's a blessing.  Ten minutes into the movie, I was already thinking of it as SuperCrock

The squad reports that one of their men was taken by the creature, which gets another a few minutes later, but the big brains at the bunker think the radar signal might just be a swarm of bees.  No mention of why the squad was sent to investigate in the first place.  The civilian consultant makes a number of bewildering leaps of logic, and another number of bewildering leaps of illogic.  The dialogue during the helicopter sequence is completely inaudible.  Rather than pick up the lone survivor, whose location they know, they land more inadequately armed ground troops, not even a full squad. 

The dialogue when the soldier meets the rescuers is phenomenally bad, and the decisions by the rescue leader suggests an IQ of about 20.  When the croc shows up, they shoot at it, quite logically, but first they take cover.  Presumably they're concerned that the croc is armed.  Then they decide to attack by running up next to its tail.  Crunch.  I guess maybe the squad leader is the bright one of the group.

There were eggs, so another squad shows up, having arrived in a van, part of a clandestine operation to steal the eggs and - you guessed it - use them to develop military weaponry.  I guess the army only had one helicopter that day.  As if the effects weren't cheap enough to start with, they reuse the same footage a couple of times.  The monster is pretty sneaky because even though it's bigger than a tractor trailer, a helicopter can't spot it when it crawls across an open piece of ground, then reaches up and drags it out of the sky.  The civilian then tells us that crocodiles have survived because they are "impenetrable" and cannot be killed by any modern weaponry.  They're also the only species that hasn't evolved, because they've already reached the pinnacle of evolution.  I guess the script guy flunked high school science.  The general then decides to launch a major artillery attack, so he notifies the local congress person, not the governor, or his superiors.  I guess the script writer flunked civics and government too.  And since some of the dialogue is ungrammatical, he probably just squeaked through English.  He should have known this all adds up to a bad movie, but maybe he wasn't so hot in math either.

The canned crowd noise played over the mob (six people) suggests at least a couple of hundred - invisible apparently, since none of the people in the crowd is speaking, let alone shouting.  They send another helicopter to take out the two surviving soldiers.  Apparently the army only has one van.  While they wait, they exchange dialogue that - with a little work - might have made it up to inane.  Actually, with a lot of work.  Not only is it badly written, but it makes no sense and even contradicts itself.  The congressman okays calling up the National Guard - must be an alternate world where that's possible.  One does wonder why the Guard would be called out when the army still hasn't provided more than a single full squad.

Next we're told that the croc weighs "ten thousand tons", which confirms my suspicion that the writer flunked math as well.  The army starts talking about using atomic weapons!  The civilians are talking about using chemical weapons.  Then everyone starts swapping cliches.  Maybe they should have tried talking it to death.  "Let's put this thing to bed."  "We have a very narrow window here."  "Can you confirm a kill."   "Target is down."  These and more thrilling phrases echo as the creature collapses.  Do we think it's really dead?  Of course not.  "I just don't trust this thing!"

Here's a surprise.  The croc is moving inland because it's following the stolen eggs.  The eggs, incidentally, are three feet tall and round and there are a hundred of them, but they all fit in that van along with the squad that was riding in it. Suddenly they can no longer track it on radar.  "The armor gives it almost stealth capacity." Where are the eggs?  Los Angeles, of course.  An official tells the general that the eggs are being moved, but says he can't tell him where they're going.  But then, in the very next sentence and without prompting, he tells him where they're going.

The aircraft carrying the eggs is sometimes referred to as a C-130, sometimes as a C-133.  Jet planes fly through Los Angeles at street level, negotiating the corners in violation of aerodynamics.  Stock footage of burning buildings is mixed with new footage, and the stock footage looks better.  The army sends all eight of its remaining soldiers to shoot at it from close range.  No tanks, no bazookas, no machine guns, no hand grenades, no flame throwers.  Our two surviving soldiers are still around, still exchanging implausible dialogue.  They've decided to kill the monster themselves.  The extreme closeups with the red filter don't add much either. 

Our ambitious civilian runs into the croc by accident and gets killed.  Boy, what a surprise that was!  The female private has a moment of inspiration.  Maybe the creature is vulnerable through its soft underbelly!  No one else was bright enough to consider that possibility.  Meanwhile, the soldiers have upgraded from semi-automatic weapons to pistols.  Can slingshots be far behind?  Our heroine plants a bomb under the croc and blows it up in a particularly bland explosion, after which the remaining eggs are destroyed.  Except, we find out, for the one that was missed.  There is one good thing that comes later in the film, though.  It does actually come to an end.  11/21/07

Pathfinder (2007)

I knew nothing at all about this movie before I watched it, having picked it up on impulse.  It's set in North America prior to the arrival of Columbus and opens with a single boy surviving from a Viking ship and being adopted into a local tribe.  He has memories of a brutal slaughter, rather graphically shown.  The early portions are rather slow moving, establishing the boy's transition to manhood.  They're also shot in dark sets and with very jerky camera work, which I found distracting.  Some of the visuals of the arrival of the Vikings are very nice, but they seem a bit too unrelentingly evil and violent to be entirely believable.  Slow motion beheadings and blood spurts get boring very quickly as our hero's village is virtually wiped out by the invaders.

I didn't buy it when the guy who hadn't used a sword since he was a small kid was able to defeat a couple of Vikings, but the subsequent snow boarding chase sequence was nifty.  The jerky camera work continues intermittently but I adjusted to it.  The survivor reaches another village and we can see that a battle is shaping up because the Vikings are following, seeking vengeance for the men he killed or injured.  It's going to be arrows vs swords, obviously, but given how evil the Vikings are, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

The darkness makes it difficult to tell one side from the other, so a lot of the battle scenes are less effective than they could have been.  Nor do we really see enough of the characters to really care if they live or die.  There also seems to be an inexhaustible supply of Vikings to kill.  Overall the movie reminded me of the classic One Million B.C., except without dinosaurs or impractically sexy girls wearing leather bikinis, but with lots more blood.  It wasn't great but it was much better than I expected, with reasonable acting in the few places where it was necessary, some impressive visuals, and only minor flaws.  11/18/07

Doctor Who Season 3 (2007)

Season 3’s first episode, “The Runaway Bride”, starts the latest batch off quite well.  A bride is somehow transported aboard the Tardis from her wedding, much to the consternation of both her and the Doctor.  He brings her back to Earth where she’d kidnapped by a robot cab driver, then rescued by the Doctor after an amusing chase sequence. I really liked the bride but, alas, they dropped her at the end of the episode.  The Doctor picks up a new companion, Martha Jones,  in “Smith and Jones.”  I was delighted to see Roy Marsden as the senior doctor at the hospital, though he dies early; he was a great Adam Dalgliesh on Mystery.  This episode gets off to a bang when it starts to rain UP and mysterious figures are seen at the hospital, which is somehow transported to the moon.  Rhinoceros headed aliens arrive following decent special effects.  They’re looking for a non-human, not the Doctor but a bloodsucking woman who can assume human characteristics and escape detection by the rhinos, who are a kind of galactic police force.  Good line when the Doctor says he can’t use time travel to interfere with personal timelines, “except for cheap tricks.”  

The Doctor and Martha travel back to the 16th Century to visit Shakespeare in “The Shakespeare Code”.  There’s a rational explanation of the three witches and a few other cute references.  The story is a bit slow compared to the two previous episodes.  “Gridlock” takes them to a far future Earth where most people live in huge traffic jams that require years to progress a few miles.  There’s also something malevolent hidden in the smoke from the exhaust fumes.  Good story, but the end wasn’t as strong as it might have been.  The title of “Daleks in Manhattan” pretty much gives away who the villains are in the next one.  With their assistants, literally pig headed humanoids, the Daleks are behind the construction of the Empire State Building and they’re also planning to merge Dalek and humans into a new species.  A good story but the pig creatures are pretty bad.  It’s also the first of a two parter, continued in “Evolution of the Daleks”.  This was probably the worst episode I’ve seen since they revived the series in 2005, silly, predictable, and awkward. 

“The Lazarus Experiment” involves a device that supposedly restores lost youth, but the Doctor is suspicious from the outset.  He warns the aptly named Dr. Lazarus that the process is more complex than he could possibly have mastered, and naturally he’s exactly right.  Lazarus’ DNA becomes unstable and he turns into an energy drinking monster, although he can shift back and forth to his human shape.  Only a fair episode, but it begins a story arc with a mysterious character warning Martha’s mother that the Doctor is a bad guy.  “42” (a cute play on 24) has the Doctor on a spaceship that will be destroyed in 42 minutes if he can’t find a way to save it.  The problem is that one of the crew members has been infected by a parasite that makes him into a relentless killing machine. 

“Human Nature” starts another two part episode.  The Doctor has changed his body to human and suppressed his personality in order to blend in to 1913 England, part of a strategy to escape the Family, about whom we know very little.  They arrive in a spaceship and before long they’ve taken possession of one of the students at the school where he teaches, and are terrifying the countryside as animated scarecrows.  Part one is quite well done, and David Tennant’s performance is excellent.  The story concludes in “The Family of Blood”, also quite good, and sometimes decidedly creepy.    Next up is “Blink”, a really good episode that opens with some time travel antics, some very creepy shadows, and only a hint of the Doctor. Clever monsters, clever dialogue, one of the best in the series. 

The final three episodes are a single arc in which the Doctor battles the reborn Master, whom he finds at the end of time in "Utopia", then battles in the UK when he becomes Prime Minister in "The Sound of Drums", and then is present at his death (again) in "Last of the Time Lords".  I actually didn't care much for the final episodes, which have some good parts - the Master's tomfoolery is amusing but not in character - and lots of running around and doubletalk.  A good, but not great season. 11/17/07

The Damned Thing (2007)

Although this installment of the Masters of Horror series is supposedly based on the classic Ambrose Bierce story, one of my favorites, that wasn't much more than a vignette so Richard Christian Matheson wrote essentially the whole story with just a nod to the Bierce original.  And he certainly adds in plenty of gore.  The opening sequence has the residents of a small town acting unaccountably disturbed, culminating in a man murdering his wife and chasing his son before he is literally pulled apart by some invisible force.  Other than the invisibility, this is as close as the movie gets to the Bierce story. 

Twenty four years later, the boy is the local sheriff, but is still bothered by the mystery of that night's terror.  And it's coming again, obviously, because we see a character beat himself to death with a hammer.  Then there is creaking from a roof and howling in the darkness and the sheriff knows it too. Next is a particular gruesome automobile accident.  Although this was holding my interest, the over use of gore made it much less effective, more clinical than anything else.  The sheriff is also hallucinating (?) that something is trying to get out of his skull.  All of this is conveyed with the actors speaking in deliberately low, emotionally neutral tones that was mildly irritating at first but gets positively annoying later.  It lost me completely when people began changing personalities in split seconds, a device I always find unbelievable.  Bierce's original conception of a simple, invisible animal had much more potential than this delivers.  There's virtually no suspense after the initial sequence and the ending doesn't add much either. It's clear early on that people will only survive by chance, not by their own actions, and when the sheriff is taken over and kills one of the townspeople gratuitously, the story lost me completely.  The usual dumb cliches are included as well, the car running out of gas at a crucial moment, the endangered kid, the last appearance of the monster after we thought it was dead. Not the weakest in this series, but definitely a contender. 11/11/07

Ice Spiders (2006)

Yeah, I like monster movies.  I even like a lot of pretty bad monster movies.  This one attracted my attention because it had spiders - I like spider monsters - and because I recognized some of the cast, including Vanessa Williams, which usually indicates there will be at least minimal production standards. It opens well with a pair of hunters encountering a wolf sized spider, decent acting, decent special effects.  Short chase and we're short two hunters as the opening credits roll.  There's even some nice scenery.  There are a lot of horror movies I've ejected from the DVD player by this point, but the only low point is the segue to a bunch of young adults who seem likely to be the main characters, suggesting that the name actors will have minor parts.  Fortunately, that proved not to be the case.

The setting is a ski resort where the young people are training for the Olympics.  There's also a laboratory engaged in mysterious research.  I wonder if there's any connection?  A team of forest rangers shows up to help the likeable but embittered ski instructor to help look for the missing hunters before an imminent storm makes searching impossible while the female lead is suspicious of the unauthorized use of nuclear material at the lab. She finds two dead bodies and a living man cocooned at the site, who dies after providing us with minimal explanations. One of the spiders corners her but the alarm is out and a nearby military unit is sent to investigate.

There's the usual argument about whether or not to notify the authorities, suppressed as usual more because of budget limitations than the needs of the story.  And the dumb professor predictably insists upon capturing rather than killing the six escaped spiders, which are larger than expected and functioning in the snow, which they're not supposed to do. The two searchers find the body of one of the hunters, but for some reason they don't carry radios, which makes no sense since they already suspected that the men were injured in some fashion.  These cavils aside, the story isn't too implausible and except for the professor, the acting is tolerable.

Our hero kills one of the spiders, but the other five begin killing people at the resort.  The special effects started to look cheaper at this point. Most of the survivors retreat to the lodge where the telephone doesn't work. The rest are trapped in a bus, which manages to crash.  Heroine tells hero the history of the project, which is the usual mix of gobbledegook and backfilling, plus some observations by the former that she couldn't possibly know.  I also blinked when the creature that was powerful enough to rock the bus couldn't pull its leg out of the door with a single man holding the door shut..

Some nice skiing sequences and a few good moments, but it fails to live up to its early promise, betrayed ultimately by sloppy script writing and a low budget.  11/9/07

The Initiation of Sarah (2006)

This is the remake of a mediocre movie about satanic sorority girls, which has almost become a cliche by now.   I was curious to see Summer Glau in a role other than Firefly, which is how I came to watch this one, although she's not the star.  The early signs were not good.  The two pledges giving a hard time to the overweight girl in the bathroom is not just an overdone gimmick, it was a bad gimmick to start with an not at all realistic here.  The star is Mika Boorem, whom I remember as a kid from Ted Arnold's short lived television show. Boorem is the sister who acts weird and makes people uncomfortable, and she's also the target of the sinister sorority.  Then the male resident assistant comes into the sisters' dorm room without knocking, and the stinko factor rose like an ascending rocket.  Nor do I think sororities evaluate pledges during their first day on campus. This particular set of screenwriters should stay on strike permanently.  This level of ignorance has to be intentional, which means they don't care if the story is plausible.

Anyway, weird sister psychically explodes a glass of wine held by the head of the sorority, the members of which are obviously aware of her special nature.  There's a second sorority which apparently also uses witchcraft, and it appears Sarah is caught in a battle between the two.  She also picks up a sort of boyfriend within the first 24 hours and gets accepted into the sorority. Some of what follows makes no sense.  To keep Sarah from having a boyfriend, the head of the evil sorority partially seduces him in front of her.  That keeps them apart, but it also obviously makes Sarah refuse to pledge that sorority.  You'd think even an air head blonde witch would have figured that out.

We never find out how the same girls stayed in charge of the sorority for eighteen years or more, but that's almost irrelevant given the other problems with the story.  The sisters have an argument that almost makes sense, but not quite, and the bad sorority plots to gain Sarah's allegiance so they can kill her.  The evil girl's boyfriend is named Damien.  What a surprise. The subsequent split between the sisters is unconvincing. The sister's overnight conversion to superbitch - even with magic - is just stupid.  And the movie actually goes downhill from here.  If you get a chance to see this free, demand your money back.  11/8/07

Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity (1983) 

Peter Davison is back, this time menaced by a creature made of antimatter who wants to form a bond with the Doctor so that it can move from one existence to the other.  Although the Doctor manages to defeat it initially, he is recalled to Gallifrey where the authorities want to execute him to prevent any chance of a more successful, repeat attack.  I never liked Gallifrey much, so I didn’t mind at all when the most recent revival of the series assumes that it has been utterly destroyed.  Anyway, there’s a traitor on the high council despite their protestations that such is impossible.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, Tegan is looking into the disappearance of her cousin, which not surprisingly is related to the Doctor’s problems.  In general I thought the Peter Davison episodes were less interesting and this was no exception, a very weak entry in the series.  The costumes are sillier than usual, particularly the giant chicken creature.  11/7/07

Doctor Who: Time Flight (1982)

This above average adventure opens with a Concorde disappearing just as it is about to land in London.  The fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and two companions show up, mourning the recent death of Adric.  The Doctor repeats the flight and they are all brought back to prehistory where a mysterious creature uses delusion and mind control to influence anyone who comes within range.  There are two contending forces which use mental telepathy and other psychic powers to battle one another, using the captives as their tools. Special effects are as usual pretty bad and the villain is less than thrilling, even after he is revealed to be the Master in disguise, although the story itself isn't bad.  The Master wants to steal the Doctor's Tardis, and naturally the Doctor foils him. 11/6/07

Doctor Who: Survival (1989) 

Sylvester McCoy’s last adventure has him returning Ace to her old neighborhood, just in time to discover that people are going missing and a local cat has been replaced by some kind of monster working at the behest of a mysterious character.  Ace gets chased by a feline humanoid riding a horse, and her run through a playground is particularly dumb.  I was never a big Ace fan to start with, frankly.  She finds herself transported to another location and the Doctor isn’t even particularly surprised, having already become suspicious of what’s going on.  She then tries to escape the horseman by running through the open, even though there are rocks and woods nearby.  The mystery man turns out to be the Master.  Anyway staying in this realm is eventually converted into a predatory animal.  The resolution is confused and very disappointing.  11/5/07

Doctor Who: Robot (1979) 

This was the first episode starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, succeeding Jon Pertwee.  The early scenes were not promising, more than usually silly even for Baker.  It improves once he gets on the case, a mysterious break-in at a secure facility.  Sarah Jane Smith is sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and she stumbles across the robot which has been stealing the components of a new disintegrator gun.  A group of would-be world dictators is using the robot as part of their plan to seize control of the world.  The robot, in true Asimovian fashion, is troubled by conflicts between its prime directive to protect humanity and their overrides compelling it to kill.  The Brigadier has the best line: “Just once I’d like to meet an alien menace that isn’t immune to bullets.”  The robot is actually a pretty good costume given the low budget the show had. On the other hand, the King Kong routine at the end when the robot gets giant sized is pretty bad.  Baker would do much better, and so would the writers, in the stories that followed.  11/4/07

Creature (1998)

Peter Benchley's novel ended up as a made for television movie, the story of a military experiment in bioengineering that goes wrong when the hybrid escapes into the ocean. Craig T. Nelson is the overbearing environmentalist who is over protective of a shark accused of the first attack, alienated from his ex-wife, who is equally annoying in her advocacy of "free enterprise", and attached to his son, who is on a short term visit and who manages to get into trouble with the local youths in record time.  I didn't much like him either.  I read the novel so long ago that I don't remember if they were as unappealing in the original as they are in the screen adaptation.  The casting isn't bad although the guy playing the madman is definitely over the top.

There's not much suspense until it attacks the boat with our heroes aboard one night, and it doesn't last long even then. The low budget - this was made for television - didn't help much.  The mandatory stupid local officials are stupider than usual, unrealistically so.  A couple of close calls follow - there wasn't enough cast to kill them off more quickly.  There's also no explanation for why the creature was inactive for more than twenty years before suddenly becoming active.  They find its lair and are chased and escape, but the creature learns to breathe air and walk erect and it chases them. It also keeps pace with a speeding boat, which I found a little hard to believe.  No, I found it a lot hard to believe.  And the stupidity level in officialdom gets even less plausible when it denies physical evidence.  The military team sent to dispose of the creature is, surprise, pig headed and suffering from an excess of macho.

The creature was designed by Stan Winston, so it's reasonably well done, and at least it's not CGI.  The island magic ceremony, designed to chase off the creature, is not, particularly since supposedly the islanders don't even believe the creature exists.  It, and the subplot about the missing girl, are distracting and time wasting.  The creature walks as fast as the two young characters run during the brief chase sequence.  There's no explanation for why the Navy never got around to destroying the lab before.  The plot holes are like Swiss cheese.

The climax is pretty good though.  For television, it wasn't awful, but it could have been a lot better with a little effort.

Bones Season One (2005) 

I watched about a third of the first season, but conflicts and simple forgetfulness eventually knocked it off my list of “must-see” tv shows, and anyway, I figured the DVD set would be out soon enough.  The pilot episode is one that I’d never seen before.  It has a so-so mystery about the murder of a Senate intern, but more importantly it introduces the five major characters quite well, establishes the tension between Bones, the forensic anthropologist, and Booth, the FBI agent, played by Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz.  “The Man in the SUV” is the first I actually saw when it was broadcast. An Arab man is killed when his vehicle blows up.  Was he a terrorist or a victim?  Pretty good episode, and some nice development of the sexual tension between the two leads.  “Boy in the Tree” is an excellent episode.  Booth refuses to believe it’s suicide despite the evidence, and a clever unraveling proves him correct.  The incidental dialogue and byplay among the regulars is particularly good in this one.  “The Man in the Bear” is another excellent episode.  A man’s forearm is found in a dead bear, leading to revelations about cannibalism, Native American occult rites, and murder.  The rivalry between the two male assistants for the attention of a sexy delivery woman is very well done, and the payoff is great.  The sheriff in the small town where the murder took place is another interesting character I’d have liked to see again. 

“The Boy in the Bush” is a pretty good episode about a murdered child.  It also establishes that Hodgins is secretly rich and suggests that one member of the team may be considering quitting her job. “The Man in the Wall” is an excellent episode, starting with the lead scene in which Deschanel causes a fight in a night club after her analysis of the music is misinterpreted.  A wall partially collapses, revealing a drug laced, mummified body.  Then Boreanaz is grossed out by their method of getting fingerprints from the corpse. The byplay among the supporting characters is topnotch.  One of my favorite episodes.  “The Man on Death Row” is a solid episode in which there are only hours before an innocent man will be executed to prove he is innocent.  Nice twist at the end.  An old beau shows up in “The Girl in the Fridge” and turns into a rival in another good one. 

“The Man in the Fallout Shelter” is the first one that I hadn’t seen before.  All of the regulars are stuck in quarantine in the lab at Christmas when a corpse exudes a biological agent.  Mildly humorous, but the mystery wasn’t up to par.  “The Woman at the Airport” is much better.  A prostitute’s dismembered body shows up on a runway and the trail leads into the world of plastic surgery. “The Woman in the Car” opens with a very humorous television interview in which Bones grosses out the interviewer.  The case involves a kidnapped child and is one of the more emotionally involving episodes.  “The Superhero in the Alley” is about a dead teenager who tried to protect a woman from her abusive husband.  The pacing was a bit uneven and I didn’t like the parents at all despite they’re being supposedly sympathetic characters, but otherwise it was okay. 

“The Woman in the Garden” is an okay episode about an accidental death, gang problems, and illegal aliens.  “The Man on the Fairway” is one of my favorites.  A plane crashes on a golf course, but one of the bodies was apparently on the ground, not on the plane.  “Two Bodies in the Lab” is also excellent, except that I guessed who was trying to kill Bones very early on.  Two very good cases, one involving a mob hit, the other a crazed serial killer.  A minor cavil.  The scene where the two FBI agents try to talk Bones into quitting the case doesn’t ring true, both in terms of the FBI procedure and the characters in the show.  “The Woman in the Tunnel” has them investigating a body at the bottom of an underground shaft.  Not a bad story but I felt a bit cheated because I’m very fond of that setting and they didn’t do much with it.

Angela’s boyfriend gets killed in “The Skull in the Desert”, a well above average episode involving drug usage, a missing girl, and a very insular community.  There’s pirate treasure in “The Man with the Bone”, another good one.  “The Man in the Morgue” steps outside the usual box, which I ordinarily would have liked, but this one didn’t do much for me.  Bones is in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, but wakes up bloody and with a day missing from her life, a common mystery device.  In “The Graft in the Girl” is much better, one of my favorite episodes in fact.  A young girl catches cancer from a bone graft that turns out to have been procured on the black market.  “The Soldier on the Grave” is a burnt up corpse propped up against the gravestone of a war hero.  A good case, and the romance between Hodgins and Angela is beginning to take form.  The final episode was “The Woman in Limbo”, in which Bones discovers that the remains she is examining are those of her mother, who disappeared when she was a child.  She then discovers they were using false identities, and that her brother knew about it. Another pretty good episode.  Overall, an exceptionally strong first season.  The strong supporting cast helps makes the two stars look even better than they are. 11/2/07

Wrong Turn 2 (2007)

The original of this was an above average but otherwise unexceptional young people vs the cannibals story, so I wasn't expecting too much from the sequel, whose cast were all strangers to me.  The opening scene, in which a man hit and thrown a hundred feet or so by an automobile, spits up blood, then immediately attacks a woman, stands up, and carries his body off, did not make me feel any more enthusiastic.  The premise is that several people travel to a remote site in West Virginia to take part in a Survivor type reality show, except that in this case the losers are going to get eaten.  Naturally all of the participants are attractive.  The scenario is that they are competing to live after a nuclear war, which isn't plausible either, but given the stupidity of television shows in general, paradoxically it works.  On the other hand, the technical crew is unrealistically small, and why would they choose a site where they can't use radios or cellphones to stay in touch with the outside world?  Surely there must have been some provision for serious injuries, illnesses, shortages of toilet tissue?

The opening speech by the host makes even less sense.  Each player carries a fake radiation card, one of which has been treated to simulate a fatal dose.  The players can survive by trading away the contaminated card, except that since there's no way of knowing which is which, there's no point to trading. Eliminated players are to stay in the trailer until the game ends?  Does that mean the show is only going to last a single day?  An awful expensive one shot.  It's pretty sad when the most interesting and best drawn character is the obligatory airhead blonde. She was also the only convincing actor in the movie.

The next killing takes place with no buildup.  The third is a bit better done, but the imperviousness of the cannibals to pain, knife wounds, and so forth threw me completely out of the movie.  The stupidity of the game challenges didn't help.  First of all, they'd never include genuinely life challenging threats, but even for less daunting ones, they'd have had medical aid standing by.  And the challenges all result in elimination, which means that technically, all of the contestants could have been disqualified within the first hour.  And the staff encourages nudity for a "family oriented" reality show? 

Interspersed with the stupidity are scenes shot from the perspective of the cannibals, complete with heavy breathing and snide laughter.  Then the loyal boyfriend has sex with one of the contestants out in the open and gets spotted by our heroine.  This leads to even worse nonsense as they find a house nearby (which would seem to negate the idea that they're in an isolated location), go inside without permission, looking for a phone which is unlikely to exist in a remote cabin that doesn't even have electricity.

The cannibals are made up to look like mutants that weren't good enough to be in the Hills Have Eyes movies, even the really bad ones.  By now I'd lost interest in the characters and the story.  The character I thought was going to survive dies pretty quickly, which was as close as it came to surprising me.  They couldn't kill off the rest of the cast fast enough. 10/27/07

Superman Doomsday Soundtrack, composed by Robert J. Kral, La-La Land Records, 2007

Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, La-La Land Records, 2007

   Two new SF related soundtracks showed up this week.  I open with my usual caveats that I don't have the vocabulary or background to do serious criticism of music so what follows is entirely from the point of view of an average listener.  The Superman title is an animated film based on the Death of Superman series in the comics.  I've never seen it and know very little about it.  I do, of course, know what Battlestar Galactica is, although I still haven't seen a single episode - and I've picked up all the DVDs so it's no one's fault but my own.  I've also heard the soundtracks from the first two seasons, both of which were very impressive, and both of which I've listened to more than once.

I listened to the Superman title first.  It has the usual problems with soundtracks, some very interesting pieces mixed in with a lot of shorter, mood setting sections.  The main title was quite good and the "Alien" and "Doomsday Rising" tracks were very nice.  The next several tracks were much less rewarding, but there's an upswing when we reach "Cat Rescue" and "Lois' Plan", followed by another lull and then several closing pieces that obviously reflect the climax of the film and are quite fast paced and rousing.  There is also the usual restating of the main and subsidiary themes which makes some of it seem a bit repetitious.  All in all, I'd call it a slightly above average soundtrack with a good theme, but not something I'd want to listen to very often.

The Galactica soundtrack is by the same person who composed the first two seasons, so I wasn't surprised by the mix of cultural styles and instrumentation.  I have little doubt that overall the show has had the best original soundtrack of any television series with which I'm familiar.  The quality is great from the opening track, which sounds vaguely Indian.  The next several tracks rely heavily on percussion and are quite good, particularly the latter half of "Precipice".   I liked "Wayward Soldier" from beginning to end; it's one of the high points of the album.

The style and tone of the music varies greatly throughout, from classical to folk to unspecific.  "The Dance", another of my favorites, sounds distinctly Scottish.  The rest of the cuts follow the same pattern, or lack of pattern.  Even the ones I didn't like as well were always interesting.  "Dirty Hands" and "Mandala of the Clouds" were very good.  It concludes with a fascinating interpretation of the Bob Dylan classic, "All Along the Watchtower".  This is definitely one I'll listen to again.  10/26/07

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

This sequel to the recent remake starts off pretty badly.  A survey group near an atomic test site gets wiped out by mutants.  Except that apparently the authorities knew about the danger, but they only sent ONE soldier to protect the group.  Bad writing.  Next we go to a National Guard unit in a training mission, except that training does not involve live fire aimed to kill, or live hand grenades.  Very bad writing.  The guard unit finds the remains of the survey group and the head of the unit - which is now armed with live ammunition of course - decides to investigate a peculiar radio signal without checking in with their base.  They also happen to be trained mountain climbers with the appropriate equipment.  Since there is no apparent purpose to their being there in the first place, I suppose this qualifies as quibbling but it seems to me that even in a cheap, no talent, direct to DVD horror movie, there could at least be a little simple common sense.

Two of them find a dying man under the portajohn, but they don't have walkie talkies or cell phones so they can't notify the others, and for some reason - probably very, very bad script writing - their radio doesn't work any more either.  Then they find an obvious murder victim, but they disturb the corpse and this group only then decides maybe they should use their radios.  Which don't work.  The writing is quickly moving from very bad to positively awful.  The acting actually isn't too bad, but it's hard to look good when you're repeating such corny lines. "We're gonna get through this."  "It's nothing a little hot lead can't fix."   The body count continues to rise in inverse proportion to the quality of the movie.  The soldiers accidentally shoot one another when the mutants aren't killing them, and the mutants are interested in capturing the two females for obvious reasons.

Then they run into a wounded member of the original party, who explains all the back story we need.  Except that there's no way that he could have learned any of that.  Maybe he found a copy of the script.  This is a really good movie - to avoid.  10/25/07

Millennium Season 2 (1998)

 Season 1 ended with a cliffhanger, the disappearance of Black’s wife.  In the opener, “The Beginning and the End”, we see it actually take place, a kidnapping by a man who claims to represent a millennial cult.  An interesting continuity error caught my attention.  The Talking Heads song playing when the kidnapper is in the parking garage is still playing later when the man’s car passes the first police cars, and later still when he reaches the head of the line at the roadblock.  We also begin to learn more about the Millennium Group as their secrets are revealed to Black.  This was not a good opening to the season, and was the weakest episode I’ve seen to date.  Black solves the mystery through some obscure process not clear to the viewer, and his wife’s decision to leave him temporarily because he killed the man who kidnapped her makes no logical or emotional sense to me. 

“Beware of the Dog” takes us to the town of Bucksnort, where a pack of vicious dogs kill people, but only those who have crossed the town line.  The estrangement between Black and his wife is no more plausible now than it was in the previous episode.  The Harry Harrison connection is amusing; the password to Black’s computer is “Soylent green is people”.  Black is sent and the local residents insist he is their new sheriff despite his denials.  They also warn him to be inside before night falls.  He ignores them and barely escapes being killed.  It’s a pretty good episode until we find out what’s going on, which just isn’t believable.  The townspeople just accept the situation without trying to acquire outside help, and on one is investigating the brutal deaths of two passersby.  There are also hints that the Millennium Group isn’t all that it seems.  There’s a ridiculous conversation about the balance between good and evil after which Black recommends that one of the other characters abandon his home because it’s somehow upsetting the natural order, and eventually they surrender to evil.  And then after forcing the other man to do so, Black rejects the same solution for his own problems.  Badly written, badly conceived, and frankly obnoxious in its premise.  Season 2 was not off to a good start.  

We drift further toward conspiracy theory in “Sense and Antisense”.  The CDC is after a supposedly plague infected man, but Black discovers that the man is not infected and the CDC has never heard of this particular operation.  Starts off interesting, descends into nonsense.  The bad guys are using genetic manipulation to affect behavior, but in this case very specific acts, which makes no sense at all, and toward the end, when the bad guys win, they threaten to issue warrants for the arrest of the police officers.  Since when do civilians issue warrants?  At this point I was seriously considering not watching any more episodes.  “Monster” starts well, but flounders a bit in the back story.  Black is investigating a woman operating a day care center where there has been one death and a couple of incidents of wounding.  The woman’s lawyer is having visions of a cowled figure and one of the children is acting strangely, providing incriminating information which I instinctively thought was a lie.  The series moves further into the supernatural. Then the police stand by and watch while the school is vandalized and a fire is set by angry parents.  And no one bothers to check if the bite marks match the woman under suspicion.  My ability to believe in the rest of the episode plummeted to zero.  These were the same writers as season one.  Did they have partial lobotomies between seasons?   

“A Single Blade of Grass” starts with the death of a Native American in a mystical ceremony.  His body turns up at a construction site that has been closed because of the discovery of ancient artifacts.  Black is haunted by a symbol connected with a prophecy and other events seem to coincide with the mythology, and the cult that killed the man believes that he must be sacrificed to bring the dead back to life.  This was the first good episode in the second season.  Black begins to fear that he is becoming a creepy old man in “The Curse of Frank Black”.  He also experiences a string of odd events, minor in themselves, but all tending to isolate him from the world and even from the current age. There is also a recurrence of certain letters and numbers that defy the laws of probability.  Two good episodes in a row.  There may be hope for season two yet. 

In “19:19” two men abduct all of the children in a small town, planning to protect them through an imminent apocalypse.  One is taken captive but only communicates when Black begins to understand his mania.  A solid episode with a tantalizing but not quite satisfying ending.  “The Hand of Saint Sebastian” upgrades the weird content, and we discover that the Millennium Group dates from around the founding of Christianity.  Black and his contact with the Group go to Germany to investigate a murder associated with the discovery of a mummified body.  They’ve barely started when someone puts a bomb in their car.  Impersonations, assassinations, and the search for an ancient site ensue in a gripping, but frustratingly incomplete episode. 

“Jose Chung’s Doomday Defense” uncharacteristically opens with a bizarre, very funny mockumentary about Juggernaut Onan Gupta, the creator of Selfosophy, which is clearly a poke at L. Ron Hubbard, and the jokes get more farcical as things progress.  An excommunicated member of Selsopy is found electrocuted, his face fixed in an exaggerated grin, and Black is called in. A freelance writer theorizes that he was killed by a malfunctioning Onan-o-graph, which monitors emotional states.  The episode really doesn’t fit the tone of the series, but it’s the best send up of Scientology I’ve seen, much better even than the South Park episode. Possibly the best single episode of the show to date.  Charles Nelson Reilly is great but that goes without saying.  “Midnight of the Century” was their Christmas show.  Black experiences flashbacks to his childhood after his daughter draws a distinctive angel and he receives a letter that has been delayed in the mail for fifty years.  Guest star is Darren McGavin as Black’s estranged father.  Although this episodes expands on the main character’s background, there isn’t much story to it.

In “Goodbye Charlie” Black is after a madman who is killing terminally ill people, thinking that he’s performing an act of mercy.  He appears to have a psychic ability to detect those with incurable illnesses, but he uses the same hotel, which gives the authorities a clue to his identity, but the hotel manager tips him off when they make their raid.  Good script, a surprising twist at the end, and a very good performance by the entire cast.  The Millennium Group’s sinister side begins to show in “Luminary” when Black starts an unauthorized investigation involving a missing teenager.  The story kind of wanders around and doesn’t really go anywhere.  “The Mikado” is an okay episode that introduces the serial killer, Avatar, but doesn’t do much with the basic idea.  “The Pest House” is only slightly better, a derivative mystery about a killer who imitates urban legends. 

“Owls” gets really weird.  The Millennium Group is split into two factions that begin killing each other over possession of a piece of the cross that Christ was crucified on.  Black is in the dark and doesn’t like it, threatens to quit the organization.  The conflict seems to be between those who believe that there will be a miraculous change and those that believe it’s a rational alteration.  It also has a cliffhanger.  “Roosters” are the second faction.  The change in format from crime solving to an ongoing story does not bode well for my future viewing.  The episode is full of confrontations, suggestions of plots within plots, but little substance except hints of a secretive Nazi organization, Odessa.  It appears that they’ve been effectively wiped out by the end of the episode, which seems like an anticlimax after portraying them as so powerful and all knowing.   

 “Sirens” is almost a very good episode.  A Chinese woman appears to be a messenger sent to tempt Black.  Unfortunately, there is no real explanation for what is going on and too many unresolved questions at the end.  “In Arcadia Ego” has Black looking for two escaped female convicts who believe that one of them is bearing a miraculous birth.  One of the more depressing episodes of any television show.  “Amamnesis” continues the religious theme, but I’m afraid the series seems to be striving for strangeness for its own sake and has begun to lose me again.  There is no perceptible central running plot and the separate episodes seem almost random.  This particular episode is badly written as well.  Black’s wife’s explanation of how their separation is making them stronger as a family is just nonsense.  Five teenagers claim to have seen the Virgin Mary.  The subsequent events are artificial, forced, and dramatically ineffective.  Her refusal to accept the possibility of the supernatural is in direct contradiction to experiences she has acknowledged in previous episodes.  And then there’s the attempt at a forceful baptism of children without the permission of their parents. And no explanation for why and how the influential teacher was forced to leave.  Black’s wife continues to mumble confusing platitudes despite clear evidence that something out of the ordinary is going on. The writers also were apparently unaware that Mary Magdalene is no longer considered a prostitute by the Church.  A worthless, stupid, pointless, and rambling episode that’s bad right down to the last line. 

“A Room with No View” opens with a nicely photographed, badly thought out scene in which a high school student is kidnapped by an apparently insane woman – who captures him only because he runs from her car directly down the road rather than entering the perfectly accessible woods to either side.  That’s followed by a stupid scene in which a guidance counselor lets another boy sit in on a private counseling session, then allows herself to be provoked into a public shouting match with minimal provocation.  Another boy is kidnapped and his friend dies, scared to death so that he “internally exploded” whatever that nonsense means.  An old enemy returns as the kidnapper, but the story that unfolds is one of those annoying bits of surrealism that is supposed to be deep but is actually just crap.  If I’d been watching this on television, I would have quit a long time ago, obviously, but I’m nearing the end so I’ll persevere. 

Although the show had already jumped the shark more than a few times by now, the next episode does so again, big time.  Four cornball demons sit in a coffee shop lamenting the fact that Black is interfering with their plans in “Satan Somehow Got Behind Me.”  It’s actually a pretty funny episode at times, but totally breaks the mood of the series.  At least Lance Henriksen was spared significant parts in these last several episodes.  An artificially propagated plague is set loose in “The Fourth Horseman” just as Black is considering a new career. He considers the Millennium Group a cult now, even though he knows that the supernatural is real, and his wife continues to babble new age jargon.  Turns out the Group is behind the plague, which wreaks havoc in "The Time Is Now", which ends the season with Black and his family in a remote cabin and his wife dying of the disease. The final episode includes another long sequence of disconnected images that are supposed to be meaningful, but it's another fraud..

On balance, the switch to mysticism in the second season was so unclear, contradictory, uninformed, and fragmentary that it destroyed the continuity of the series and resulted in more than half of the episodes being not just uninteresting but actively bad.  If there was some consistent underlying principle, it certainly wasn’t conveyed to the audience.  10/24/07

Mary Tyler Moore Season 4 (1973)

The fourth season opened with a strong episode in which Phyllis discovers that her husband Lars is having affair with the Happy Homemaker, played by Betty White, from Mary’s television station.  Cloris Leachman is at her best in this one, particularly in the scene where she tries to eat the pie she made.  Betty White is excellent as well, with Mary and the crew playing almost a supporting role. The follow up, in which Mary gets involved and uninvolved with a man much younger, is just so-so.  The theme of relationships continues in the next two episodes, a very funny one about Rhoda’s sister’s wedding and their mother’s odd attitude, and a less funny, mildly touching one in which Lou Grant’s wife leaves him. 

Episode five concerns Mary’s efforts to fire one sportscaster and hire another.  It’s pretty good, and has one great line when Mary is told to fire someone for the very first time.  “I once had a cleaning lady I couldn’t fire, so I moved.”  Then it’s back to personal relationships for a mildly funny, mildly touching reunion between Ted Baxter and the father who walked out when he was two years old.  The next two both involve dating.  A new member of the staff makes life miserable for Mary when he develops a crush on her, and then Lou decides to go out on his first date after he and his wife separate, with very funny results. 

Next is Rhoda’s doomed crush on a handsome man, mixed with Mary’s successful production of a documentary on chimps – the chimp steals the show.  That’s followed by an average episode about a doomed dinner party, although Betty White shines again as the Happy Homemaker.  “Just Friends” pursues matters with Lou and Edie Grant’s separation, but is pretty unmemorable.  Ted runs for city council in the predictable “We Want Baxter” and Mary hires Murray’s daughter in “I Gave at the Office”, a much better episode which doesn’t even need to exaggerate to get its laughs. “Almost a Nun’s Story” is one of the better episodes, particularly the conversation between Ted and a nun.   

“Happy Birthday Lou” is pretty good.  Lou’s aversion to parties complicates matters for Mary.  The next few episodes are okay but nothing special other than a few good moments.  Mary is dating the anchorman for the city's leading station in, Phyllis becomes a real estate agent, and a new show at WJM starring Sue Ann, the happy homemaker.  Betty White's appearances are almost always high points in the episodes. "Best of Enemies," in which Mary and Rhoda have a fight, is pretty flat.  Mary gets suspended after writing a joke obituary that gets on the air. 

"Ted Baxter Meets Walter Kronkite" is pretty funny.  Ted decides his career is about to take a turn for the better. On balance, a pretty uniform season.  No really bad episodes, but not many high points either.  The episode in which Lou and Rhoda date isn't particularly funny, but it's a very good episode.  Ted plagiarizes Mary's work in the penultimate episode.  The season closed with "I Was Single for WJM" in which Mary does research in singles bars. It starts off okay but runs out of steam early. 10/10/07

Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

The Silver Surfer was my favorite Marvel character back when I followed the comics, so I was pleased to see him featured in this one, although also rather skeptical that they could, or would, do him justice. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl are about to be married and a strange aerial phenomenon is linked to bizarre changes in the state of matter around the world.  And Dr. Doom is back.  Obviously a set up for conflict, probably three way.  The early scenes lean more toward humor than excitement, with some nice special visual effects.  Doom looks more like Emperor Pallatine this time, and Johnny Storm is even more obnoxious than usual.

The wedding gets stalled by a general power failure, which someone didn't think through because the helicopter supposedly has lost all power, yet it's radio works and the rotors continue at full speed.  A nice aerial chase sequence follows and when they start switching physical powers, it's reasonably amusing.  Elsewhere, Doom confronts the Surfer and gets rebuffed, and Reed discovers - somehow - that every planet the Surfer visited gets wiped out eight days later.  When the Foursome can't defeat the Surfer, the military enlists the aid of Doom and eventually they disable the Surfer by separating him from his board.  That's when we discover that he is the involuntary herald of Galactus, who devours worlds.  Instead of the giant human from the comics, Galactus is a planet sized amorphous creature, which is actually more plausible.  There's a death scene for Sue Richards that doesn't work very well because we know she's coming back.  The climax is okay but unexceptional.  An okay but not great movie.  10/5/07

 

Final Days of Planet Earth (2005)

I passed over this a few times because it looked boring, but the price finally came so low that I decided to try it.  It was made for television and stars Daryl Hannah, who has had better roles.  The opening credits aren't bad, but the opening scenes are less than scintillating.  A space crew is returning from space when one of them wakens to find himself alone on the ship, the airlock door alarm sounding.  Where did everyone go, and why?  He looks out though the viewport and a bloody hand drifts by (which is physically impossible, of course. 

The young archaeologist hero is pretty much a bastard, as is established early on. He also manages to go through most of the movie mumbling his stupid lines in undertones.  Presumably he will learn the error of his ways.  We also get introduced to the sexy entomologist working as an exterminator who admires insects more than she does humans.  I know she's going to learn the error of her ways.  Then there's the practical joker.  I knew he was doomed the minute I saw him.  He gets sucked into the earth in what appears to be a freak cave-in.  Then another man, in an underground chamber with lots of mysterious insects and mounds, screams off camera, but we never figure out who he is.

The exterminator and the archeologist meet because she wants him to explain a comment he made to her nephew.  The entire scene is so hokey that I'm surprised the actors could carry it off, but maybe they did multiple takes.  The department of public safety, or the police commissioner - the script doesn't seem to recognize any difference - pours concrete on the site even though they haven't recovered the body of the missing man, and apparently no one in the story (or the crew) has heard of due process, among other things. They don't understand how unemployment works either. Daryl Hannah shows up as the sympathetic assistant to the mayor, but she seems detached from the character and script.  Probably wishful thinking. Another reporter shows up and mentions similar strange incidents connected to underground mishaps.

Acting on this tip, our hero explores the chamber of mounds, which bleed green when cut.  He also discovers that the sewers are full of flammable gas (by throwing in a match!).  Next we go to a used car dealership, with a stupid situation so out of touch with the real world it defies description and betrays ignorance of how disclosure statements work.  The city engineer is also obviously in on the cover-up, of whatever is being covered up. The reporter mentions a mysterious Room 86 and implies the police commissioner is involved.  They also refer to the earlier flight from the moon which was "hushed up" after rumors of some kind of contagion.

Our stupid hero now goes to Daryl Hannah, spills the beans including the identity of his informant, and she acts suspiciously.  Or she would if she bothered to act at all.  The plot, such as it is, gets even less coherent.  An elderly man visits the spot where he sprinkled his wife's ashes.  The astronaut is apparently being systematically tortured for some reason in a local veterans hospital (not a military one). An immigrant family is having problems after one of them disappears. I would guess that by now the original presentation was losing viewers in droves.  There's another implausible scene with the exterminator as well.  The reporter is back with nebulous information tying the commissioner to the hospital and other strands of the story.  He says he's perfectly safe, so we know he's going to die soon.  He does, stabbed by a giant insect in the cavern.

Hannah and the commissioner have a stilted, cliché filled scene that was laughable, followed by one with her and the hero that's nearly as funny and twice as artificial. The widower can't find the usual birds and records an odd sound, so he tries to complain to city hall.  More sinister looks from officialdom. Room 86 turns out to be the Ombudsman's office.  Since it's obvious that Hannah is with the conspiracy, the romance has to be with the bug killer (who is actually the only decent actor in the movie).  The various strains of plot all meet at the Ombudsman's office, apparently the place where troublesome humans are disappeared, possessed, or otherwise disposed of.

Hero goes to city hall, carrying his handgun in his pants.  What happened to the metal detectors?  When his number is called at the Ombudsman's office, he descends through a series of tunnels.  No one ever thought that was suspicious before, even when there are windows showing dead bodies?  He then shoots and kills three people even though he hasn't been attacked.  There's a free for all and we find that the minions in the basement are insects disguised as humans.  More inane dialogue follows.  The first part ends with the revelation that Hannah is a disguised bug.  Don't ask me how that works.  The writers certainly couldn't think of anything.

Anyway, she wants hero to lead her to his friends, whose names she doesn't know, but he evades her, although it doesn't appear that he's suspicious.  The police are now openly attacking homeless people, but no one seems to notice.  The fugitives decide to track down the missing astronaut, so they Google him.  Great product replacement.  Really stupid plot element.  The insects, which have four legs and long pinchers, are wearing human bodies, we discover, and you would have thought that even film makers would have known how stupid an idea that is.

More revelations.  Hannah is the queen of the nest.  The police commissioner doesn't like her and factions are evolving among the invaders.  They discover that most of the key people at city hall were astronauts on the mysterious mission in space.  Hero enters city hall through the secret sewer entrance.  The invaders know about it because that's how they escaped in the first place, but it apparently never occurs to them to guard against interlopers. Eventually they rescue the captive astronaut, who mutters and mumbles like everyone else, and they also learn that Hannah is the top dog, er, top bug.  Lots of running around ensues, but not much bugginess, which might have provided some redeeming scenes.  The astronaut's blood is bug kryptonite, by the way. Eats them up like acid.  The astronaut blows himself up to destroy the next.  Blecchh! 10/2/07

The Abandoned (2006)

A dead woman and two live babies show up near a remote Russian farm.  Forty years later, a now adult woman discovers that she has inherited a house and travels to Russia to investigate her own past.  She arrives at the crumbling house, finds a man who claims to be here brother, sees ghosts including ghastly figures of the two of them, and runs around a lot.  There are some pretty effective visual scenes in this, but the story founders because there's not enough normality as a counterpoint to the very unnatural stuff going on.  Nor can we really understand much of what's going on.  I suspected early on that she and her brother were actually both dead already, which is why they were seeing ghosts of themselves, an interesting idea but not really handled very well.  The pacing isn't great either.  There are awkwardly extended pauses, and it's not clear how the brother figures out that the house is bringing them back to watch the old murder and that they are destined to die there as well.  An interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie.  9/28/07

Right to Die (2006)

Still working my way through the Masters of Horror series, this one rather obviously inspired by the Terry Schiavo case a while back.  An automobile accident leaves a woman horribly burned and comatose and presumably brain dead, though her husband survives.  Her spirit visits her husband first, turning from sexy to repulsive while they're making love.  It turns out that there was an air bag malfunction and there is a multi-million dollar settlement hanging in the air.  The wife's mother launches a PR campaign to seize custody of her daughter, and lawyers and politicians jump in with both feet.

The nasty lawyer gets burned to death in the hospital (somehow without setting off the fire alarms).  The husband decides to keep her alive after all, apparently convinced that if she dies, her spirit will be free to kill again.  That doesn't stop him from screwing his nurse, which obviously promotes her to the soon-to-be-toast list, though not quite the way you'd expect.  The husband, apparently having gone over the edge, anaesthetizes his lover and skins her, planning to use it for his wife.  A pretty rapid descent into the bizarre, but not badly done, and the surprise ending took me by surprise. 9/27/07

Borderline Cult (2007)

Another horror movie I found cheap and knew nothing about in advance.  I've had surprisingly good luck with these.  About half are unwatchable, a quarter tolerable, and the rest range from mildly interesting to, on rare occasions, actually good.  This one opens with some jumpy camera work, which wasn't a good sign, culminating in a murder by one man while another man and a woman watch. Yes, folks, it's one of those movies that tries to substitute unusual editing and filming for acting and a viable script. Turns out that all three are serial killers, and they've teamed up to engage in some gratuitously gory business. I barely managed to last through the first ten minutes, not because of the repulsive scenes but because they were pretty much boring and, thanks to the jittery and repetitious camera work, annoying as well.  Then there's a stupid bit of narration and the opening credits. I was able to sit through about fifteen minutes more of bad acting, awful dialogue, terrible sets, and no plot before I hit the eject button.  Maybe I can sell it on Ebay.  9/25/07

Valerie on the Stairs (2006)

The opening sequence of this Masters of Horror entry is a pan across documents establishing the protagonist as an unpublished author.  Minor quibble: I don't know of any, let alone many, publishers who stamp REJECTED in large red letters on submission letters.  He takes a room in a house dedicated to helping unpublished authors make their start.  No sooner has he moved in then there are strange sounds, invisible presences knocking on his door, or moving in the walls.  Then the almost mandatory extra face in the mirror, a young girl.  Eventually he sees a ghost on the stairs, hence the title.

Christopher Lloyd shines, not surprisingly, in this adaptation of a Clive Barker story.  There's no time wasted, with multiple manifestations in the first few minutes.  Something inhuman is chasing the ghost, who eventually appears nude and seductive. The something is a pretty standard demon, but apparently it and the ghost girl are friendlier than they let on. Cute idea, but not particularly gripping.  9/23/07

Family (2006) 

This installment of the Masters of Horror series has a delightful opening, a series of beautiful pans around the everyday, cheerful home of George Wendt, who is dissolving a human body in his basement.  He also conducts conversations with his “family”, a pair of polished skeletons.  A young couple moves next door, precipitating a bizarre encounter.  They make vague references to problems that caused them to move, which immediately made me suspect that they are psychos as well, although they seem perfectly nice.  But then, so does Wendt.  Wendt’s fantasy world includes arguments with his “wife” and conversations with the other family members.  The couple tells him that they had a child who died, and he becomes fixated on replacing his current wife with the new neighbor. The ending caught me by surprise, not because of what happens, but why.  One of the better episodes in the series. 9/22/07

Disaster Zone: Volcano New York (2006) 

I’m always on the lookout for a good disaster movie, although this didn’t look like it was going to be anything special.  Certainly the title is a disaster.  It opens with a new employee being handed several boxes of dynamite to carry, which told me up front that the script was written by someone too lazy to check how explosives are handled, or too contemptuous of his audience to care. The second new recruit is an attractive young girl.  Why am I not surprised? It’s a construction project working in a tunnel, which suggests where the first incident is going to happen.  Michael Ironside plays a mad scientist trying to build the first coretap - under the West Side Highway. Several workers are injured when the water pipes start spouting acid. A minute later we have lava in the tunnels and everyone evacuating. 

The plot is murky here, and for some reason the man who ordered the work extension is now involved in the hearing about the three deaths.  He also has some special relationship with the head of the investigating committee, not yet explained, and the committee itself refuses to let the man in charge describe what he saw, even though he insists that work should be stopped until it is explained. They also order the work continued, even though they have no explanation for the accident.  I can overlook a few over simplifications that move the plot along, but this was just nonsense.  The secret project is a core tap, which wouldn’t be done in the middle of a city obviously, and just as obviously it’s going to be what precipitates the underground crisis.  The next morning over one hundred homeless people are found dead in Central Park, and the authorities believe they froze to death – even though it was not unusually cold! 

Stupidity level rises faster than the lava.  The FBI decides it was a terrorist attack and wants martial law declared.  But they’re talking to the mayor, not the governor!  And the FBI believes that it was a sophisticated poison gas, but later we’re told it’s just carbon dioxide and sulfur.  A small fishing boat explodes in the harbor, and the FBI announces that it was probably carrying explosives.  Next we discover that the investigators HAVEN’T EVEN LOOKED at the accident site.  The head of the USGS and the mayor are predictably stupid when the female scientist sounds the alarm.  Then a block of houses is destroyed by fire, blamed on a gas main but we know it was lava (rendered in really bad CGI).  The clouds of smoke don’t move either. 

The way our heroes discover the source of the problem is so absurd it’s hard to describe.  They drive around New York with a thermometer, find a building that’s warmer than the others, and decide to watch it for a while.  When they see a pickup truck drive out with ash in the back, they sneak into the building and find the core tap project.  The mad scientist chooses that moment to have a nervous breakdown and takes them prisoner.  His employees all help.  Apparently none of them is worried about being arrested for kidnapping.  The mayor proves to be even more dimwitted than real politicians, blaming everything on terrorists.   

Earthquakes and eruptions follow.  Our heroes outrun an explosion.  “A volcano has been inadvertently initiated.”  More minor stupidity follows as they divert the lava into existing tunnels and from there to the ocean. The mad scientist then decides to prevent the tunnel crew from saving the city and goes after them with a handgun. The safety ladder in the elevator shaft is out of reach of the elevator car, which also makes no sense.  The heroes are setting an explosive charge near rock that “is close to melting”, but they’re not even sweating.  Embarrassingly bad. This was a made for television movie.  Is it surprising that the public is so ignorant of science, the law, and simple logic when this is what is presented to them? 9/21/07

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006) 

The first film in this series, based loosely on the Lois Duncan novel, had a pretty good screenplay, a good idea, and a talented cast.  Despite a couple of plot holes, I enjoyed it.  The second had a less talented cast and a screenplay that was atrociously bad no matter how good the acting, and I didn’t like it.  This is the third, presumably lowest in budget.  It has even less talented – though not awful – acting, and nothing new to say.  On top of that, this is another movie with most of the color bleached out of the picture.  The four main characters are supposed to be teenagers who are covering up the accidental death of a friend, whom the authorities believe was murdered, but who actually died as part of an elaborate and pretty stupid prank.  They are actually from 22-28 and they look it. 

The set-up is almost the same as in the first, and several of the scenes are blatantly copied from it as well.  One of the girls gets the message first, and there are phantom sightings of the man in the raincoat with the hook.  There are also lots of supposedly scary effects that make no sense, like radios turning themselves on.   Then one of them is murdered, but it looks like a suicide.  A police officer shows up just as they discover the body, but there’s no explanation about how he knew anything was wrong.  That made me suspect that he was the killer.  The survivors suspect the sheriff, because it was his son who died, and they get desperate when another of their group is attacked, though he survives.  So they go to see the deputy, who has a crush on one of the girls, maybe, unless he’s the killer.  Time passes and the inevitable idiot plot arises.  Even though they know about the killer, they go into a dark, lonely warehouse alone, and victim number two dies.  Since I never liked any of the characters in the first place, I really wasn’t invested in the situation.  Then the sheriff gets killed, eliminating our prime suspect.  And then an apparently bulletproof, knifeproof, and runover proof fisherman kills the deputy as well.  That’s right, it’s a fisherman version of Michael Myers, unkillable. Corny ending to finish it off. 9/20/07

Invasion of the Pod People (2007)

With a title like this, how could I possibly resist?  It's a ripoff of the Body Snatcher movies and the book by Jack Finney, of course, done with an EVEN SMALLER budget than the others!  It opens with a fashion agency trying to lure a top model, played by an unremarkable looking actress.  The bad acting is underscored by background noise that should have been filtered out of the soundtrack but which just persists as a low level irritant throughout the movie.  There are enough high level irritants to make this a minor quibble at first, but I swear it gets louder as the movie progresses, drowning out the dialogue at times.  But maybe that's a good thing, because the dialogue is one inanity after another, interspersed with obscenities.  The camera work is equal to the task as well, with lots of lingering shots on inconsequentials like feet, plants, and smiling faces. There's also lots of grunting, moaning sex, although usually full clothed when there's a male involved.  Most of the scenes are under lit and bleached of color.

The supermodel is the first we see replaced, after a much too long sequence in which she is strangled by her overacting pod clone.  She's also strangled around the chin instead of the throat.  Must be some alien thing.  Anyway, our heroine, Melissa, is involved with a man whom she suspects is hiding something (like a wife), when she is accosted by a gun carrying burglar who tells her that people are being replaced.  He announces that he's going to stop them, then immediately shoots himself.  Why? She buys a gun, and one of her co-workers is replaced  The pod person approaches Samantha in what anticipates the later lesbian orgy among the pod people.  The characters vary from acting incredibly stupid to making astonishing leaps of logic.  The pods also violate the law of conservation of mass and energy.  The climax is so badly thought out and scripted I'm amazed they had the nerve to include it. Needless to say, this not recommended.  9/19/07

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

I just read this novel, the first thing by Jack Higgins I've ever tried, and was very impressed.  I had seen the movie before, back when it was first released, so it followed naturally that I watch it again now.  For one thing, it has a superb cast including my favorite actor, Michael Caine, along with Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland, and others.  The events of the first half of the book have necessarily been greatly compressed, particularly the romance, and slightly rearranged but otherwise stick quite close to the book. 

Caine is occasionally a bit stiff, but so is the character.  Sutherland is at the top of his game.  Some of the changes make sense; others don't.  Steiner insists that they wear their uniforms under their disguises instead of Himmler, for example, and there's no reason for the scene about experimental parachutes, which weren't in the book.  The subplot about the use of criminals as a source of supplies is missing, and so is the traitorous Englishman, both of which can be spared easily.  The next variation, however, made no sense to me.  The young girl who falls for Devlin, the Irish spy, murders the town bully to keep him from spilling the beans.  In the book, she doesn't kill anyone, and the bully survives the crisis (actually, he kills the English traitor).

Once the cat is out of the bag, a glory seeking American officer precipitates an unnecessary pitched battle.  It was all small arms in the book but Hollywood has to have its explosions, so we have bazookas in the movie.  The Germans also keep their disguises on until quite late in the battle, but they were careful in the book to change into German uniforms before fighting.  All in all, a reasonably good adaptation, and certainly a very good movie.  9/18/07

Destry Rides Again (1939)

I recently read the Max Brand novel for the first time in years, and it occurred to me that I'd never seen this movie, which starred Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.  A glance at the cover copy made me suspicious that this wasn't going to be Brand's story, and the credits, which say it was "suggested" by the novel didn't reassure me particularly.  In the novel, Destry is fast with his guns and his fists, is railroaded to jail from the quiet little town where he lives, and returns to get vengeance and win the hand of his sweetheart.  Since the movie opens with Dietrich as a barmaid in a town full of gunslingers, the plot has obviously gone astray.

She's part of a gang cheating landowners out of their property.  The current sheriff tries to intervene and gets killed, setting the stage for Stewart.  At this point, I gave up on seeing the story I expected and just sat back to enjoy what was being presented, which wasn't bad either.  Stewart is the new deputy, who doesn't wear guns, drinks milk, and is looked upon contemptuously by everyone.  His soft spoken ways mask an iron will, however.  The balance of the plot is pretty straightforward and cleverly managed.  Stewart and Dietrich are both marvelous and the dialogue is nifty. I'd still like to see someone actually do Brand's story some time, but this is fun as well.  9/16/07

The Screwfly Solution (2007)

This is Joe Dante's interpretation of the James Tiptree Jr. story, done for the Masters of Horror series.  The title refers to the use of specially bred males used to wipe out a population of an undesirable species.  In this case, sexual arousal in human males results in homicidal impulses, followed by insanity.  It opens with the arrest of a man who has committed at least three murders and who doesn't understand what he did wrong. 

Then we jump to a battered women shelter where there are hints that several women may have been murdered in Florida, coinciding with news stories about mass executions of Arab women.  An odd sighting in the sky tips us off that this is an alien plot.  Wholesale outbreaks lead to the quarantine of several cities but the situation is clearly out of control.  The outbreaks spread with incredible speed, resulting in religious mania and mass murder. The limited time available to advance the story is a bit of a problem, because the acceleration of events is disconcerting.  There is some effort to evacuate all women from the danger zone, but it's too little too late and the infection is spreading north.  Our hero, Jason Priestly, is already showing the early stages.

There are some minor plot problems.  The mother leaves the keys in the ignition at one crucial point, which seems unlikely at best, nor does it make sense that she would "hide" from her husband in the cabin he knows about. I also have a recurring problem with stories in which people's personalities can be so completely altered that they're unrecognizable.  By its very nature, the ending had to be downbeat, but even allowing for that, the ending is kind of blah and the appearance of the aliens is totally unnecessary.  9/12/07

The Hamiltons (2006)

The story opens with a woman imprisoned in what appears to be a large barn, with at least one dead body.  She hears knocking on a door and thinks it's another prisoner, but then something unpleasant (and unseen to us) happens and we flash away a young man recounting the death of his parents and the reversal of the family's fortunes.  He's living with his older brother and sister, the former of whom has become embittered and is something of a control freak.  It doesn't take long before we discover that the family kidnaps people and locks them up, although we don't initially know what purpose they serve. And what or who is it that they keep locked up near the prisoners?

The family proves to be kinky in more than one way.  The youngest clearly doesn't like what's going on, but he's not particularly rebellious, just whines a lot.  It appears that the victims are being fed blood, and my suspicion that they were vampires congealed when the sister refers to their victims as cows. It's a lot like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with less blood, but the pace is slower, too slow at times, and the surprise wasn't much of one.  I started to get impatient because so little seemed to be happening to advance the plot.   And the acting ranges from okay to truly awful, the latter particularly the case with the oldest brother.  9/10/07

Penny Dreadful (2006)

I'm getting near the end of the After Dark Horrorfest, which so far has not lived up to its claim to be movies so frightening that major distributors didn't want to handle, although there haven't been any real clunkers either.  A young woman who has flashbacks to a terrible automobile accident that occurred when she was a child is on a long highway trip despite her fear of cars.  Her companion is her therapist, well intentioned but frankly a bit overbearing.  Her patient also seems rather extreme for someone who is years away from the incident, supposedly undergoing treatment in the interim, and if she really was this bad, then such a protracted trip is not likely to have been planned for this early in her recovery.  But I'll pass on that because it was all necessary for the set up and not completely implausible.

The situation starts to get strange when they knock down a hitchhiker, who claims to be uninjured, but under the circumstances, they have to offer him a ride, even though he looks pretty strange with a hood and cloak.  The mysterious stranger, who doesn't talk, offers them a shish kebab in an unintentionally funny scene.  They're taking him to a camp where he claims to work, but the camp is obviously closed for the season. When they drop him off, he acts even creepier, but doesn't threaten them, nevertheless this sets off Penny's psychosomatic symptoms.  Somewhere along the way, a dart is put in their tire and they need to rush back to the highway in order to change it.  They don't make it and, surprise, their cell phone doesn't work either.  The spare turns out to be flat as well, so they decide to hoof it.

It would have been much more suspenseful if the two characters had been more appealing.  One is overbearing and unpleasant, the other is so ineffective that I stopped having any sympathy for her.  She whines and pukes at the least excuse, and then insists that her ankle is hurt so she can't walk, leaving her alone in the car.  Then she takes drugs, making it even less clear what is going on.  Lots of odd sounds and photo effects but little content for the next few minutes.  Eventually she stumbles off, sees a dark figure, falls, and knocks herself out.

We jump to pair of rustic characters we've not previously met, who are discussing a recent local murder.  Then back to Penny, who wakes up in the car with the corpse of her doctor, the car buried in branches so that she can't get out.  At this point, I had a horrible feeling this was all designed as a test to force her to face her fears.  One of the locals is having an affair with a married woman and they park not far from Penny, and she is able to attract their attention. The man tries to get her out, but it never occurs to either of them to smash the windshield or back window, so he announces he's going for help, but instead he's pulled under the car.  His girlfriend is stabbed to death moments later. Penny starts seeing ghosts but by now I was completely uninterested in the outcome.  The killer is an escaped mental patient, which doesn't explain how he knows private elements in Penny's life.  Penny takes a supposedly fatal dose of drugs, after which she becomes capable of physically escaping the car and fighting off the knife wielding killer.  Complete garbage. Certainly the worst of this set.  9/5/07

The Gravedancers (2006) 

A tale of ghostly revenge that opens with a woman being killed by an apparently invisible presence.  A year later, we get introduced to a number of yuppie types attending a funeral.  Everything is shot with some kind of filter that bleaches most of the color out, probably intentionally, but it’s an effect I almost always find irritating, and this wasn’t one of the rare exceptions.  Bluish grey flesh tones are okay on zombies but not on the living.  There’s one familiar face – Clare Kramer, formerly Glory on Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Three of the principles have a small night time party on the grave of a friend, meant to honor his memory, but it doesn’t have that effect.  In fact, it apparently annoys some ghosts who decide to get even.  The film makes a strategic error early.  All three are irritating people, too petty for us to like them and care what happens, but not evil enough that we can look forward to their demise.  The result is a dilution of suspense that is only partly remedied by the wife of one of the three, who seems relatively nice.  But why is it that she is the first to be affected, by a mysterious feeling and a creepy phone call? 

Eventually things start to pick up, odd noises, strange sensations, a broken wedding picture, but the heavy start still happens primarily to the innocent wife, although eventually hubbie hears ghostly piano playing while he’s alone in the house.  The story picks up and actually builds considerable suspense when there is an apparition in their bedroom and they go looking for another member of the threesome, whose house is a wreck and who appears to be insane.  They take her to the hospital where another apparition assaults the wife.  This misdirection is distracting and unnecessary; the script could easily have been devised to include her in the target group. 

Meanwhile the third member of the trio has been experiencing strange phenomena and thinks it’s neat.  There’s an almost funny episode with a pair of paranormal investigators, after which they all go to a large, creepy house for further studies.  The plot starts to go awry at this point.  A nurse at the hospital is attacked in the injured woman’s room, even though she’s not involved, but the hospital authorities let her go to join her friends.  We then find that the three graves were in a part of the cemetery set aside for crazy people!!! 

To lift the curse, they need to unearth and rebury the bodies, but that leads to the predictable chaos in the graveyard scene, with people getting locked in coffins, spontaneous combustion, animated skeletons, and so forth.  They get away with the bodies, but since we've been told a couple of times that it is essential to get every part, it sort of figures that at least one piece will get left behind. There's a pretty creepy scene where the dead woman shows up in the married couple's bed. The other two have similar experiences so they all go back to the ghostbusters' house. Surprise!  One of the scientists kept the skulls so that the paranormal activity would continue.  So their only chance is to bury the skulls, but the house is now wrapped in an iron fence. Pretty good, but this could have been a lot better.  9/3/07

Wicked Little Things (2006)

 In 1913, children were used to place explosives in narrow tunnels in a mine in Pennsylvania, at least according to the prologue in this film, and on one occasion they were deliberately left inside and killed by an explosion.  With such nastiness rampant, it’s pretty obvious that restless spirits are going to be hanging around looking for a chance to avenge themselves.  Enter a widow and her two daughters, who inherited a remote house they’ve never seen.  The teenager is, predictably, pissed at the idea of moving to the countryside and is pretty obnoxious about the whole thing, and mom’s composure isn’t helped by a mysterious stranger who steps in front of their car, nearly causing an accident. 

They find the house.  One does wonder why they hadn’t checked it out before committing themselves to living there, or even just arranged for it to be sold.  No electricity, dark and dirty, remote, rats, with a dead Christmas tree inside and something that looks like blood smeared on the door.  They explore a bit, but without opening the drapes for some reason, while spooky music plays in the background.  They get the electricity working, sort of, and find a picture of some of the mining kids.  The first night, mom dreams that she has been attacked by a pick wielding child, and the little girl starts hearing voices that lure her off into the woods. Teen daughter meets the wise ass teen boy, his girlfriend, and the nice boy.  All of this is pretty well done,, actually, but I could almost anticipate each scene because the progression is so familiar, reminding me of early John Saul novels. 

Mom and the kid get lost in the woods on the second night while teen daughter is being told there are “zombies” in the hills.  Their handyman gets waylaid and killed.  The wanderers find a house in the woods and go inside despite not getting an answer to their knock; obviously they haven’t watched many horror films.  A peculiar man warns them against the mine, shows them the way home, and offers to explain more during the daylight.  Mom thinks he’s crazy, but we all know otherwise.  More minor creepiness follows, but the set is almost always so dark that it’s hard to stay attentive.  There’s also an unexplained plot gap.  The blood on the door supposedly repels the restless spirits, who turn away when they approach the house, except that one of them apparently isn’t affected and goes into the house to visit the younger daughter. 

Then we meet the business developer hoping to build a ski lodge, and he’s a prick so we know he’s doomed.  The next night, the bodies start dropping, making one wonder how things went on for so many years without similar problems.  One of the businessman’s associates is slaughtered, and the four teens are attacked in their car.  Things then accelerate to the predictable conclusion.  Not unwatchable, but not particularly memorable either. 9/2/07

Beau Ideal (1931)

 None of the film versions of Beau Geste appear to be available on DVD, but the less well known sequel is, another story of the French Foreign Legion.  Beau’s brother John is being kept prisoner in North Africa, so an American joins the legion as part of a ploy to effect his escape.  Typical over acting from the 1930s, melodramatic speeches, exaggerated gestures, and so forth.  John was condemned for killing his superior officer, who murdered Beau.  Madison’s quest takes him into the tent of an Arab tribal leader, and the exotic dancer sequence is so bad it’s hard to believe they didn’t recognize how awful it was even in 1931. There’s a mutiny. Madison remains loyal but later pretends otherwise in order to be put into the punishment battalion where he hopes to find John. 

The prison is attacked and all but the two of them die.  They are rescued by a band of Arabs, including the exotic dancer, but there’s treachery involved.  Madison learns of a major attack on the French town after John is taken there as an escaped prisoner.  The dancer is infatuated with Madison, and she helps him raise the alarm and save John, in return for being taken out of the country. The big battle scene at the end is pretty well done, and there’s a happy ending. 

The over acting, which had been integral to silent movies and took some time to pass away, is almost comical at times, which undermines the story.  The long, winsome looks among the characters are almost as bad.  Although the story was a pretty good one, this version is of more interest as a novelty than as a movie.  Loretta Young appears in an early row as John’s fiancé. 9/1/07

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