Last Update 3/29/15


Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)

Not surprisingly, the first half of the finale of the Hunger Games trilogy feels very padded at times. Katniss is reluctantly recruited to be the voice of the rebellion against President Snow, who holds the object of her love as a prisoner. There are a couple of battle scenes that I found very implausible. Shooting down two jet planes with a bow and arrow for one.  The other has a group of rebels sacrificing themselves to lead some soldiers into a minefield. But there was no reason for the sacrifice. The soldiers were in a trailing formation and could have been dispatched without significant loss of life to the rebels. The bad guys, on the other hand, defend the approaches to a major power station from a mob with just a handful of soldiers and no heavy equipment, even though they have jets and nuclear weapons. The world doesn't feel in proper scale either. Each district seems to consist of a single town of about 10,000 people, which  does not add up to a population large enough to support such an advanced technology. And why haven't the rebels in District 13 been destroyed by the superior fire power of their enemies? It has a few good moments but they're lost in the simple minded and implausible plot and background. 3/29/15

Muck (2015) 

This throwback to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre school of film  making opens with five friends – three of them scantily clad women – emerging from a dark wilderness, terrified and covered with muck, having  just lost at least two friends. They take refuge in an empty house, which you know has to be a bad idea, and naturally there is no phone. The dialogue is not awful but it really doesn’t fit the characters or situation. The acting is minimally competent but there’s not much call for it other than running and screaming and swearing a lot. None of the characters are remotely likeable so I felt fine cheering on the evil spirits. Since they don’t tell us much about what already happened to them, it’s hard to figure out why they aren’t more cautious in the house – where naturally they split up. One goes for help and stumbles into a nightclub whose clientele is apparently limited to tightly dressed young women.  I had begun to detect a pattern at this point. Rather than call the police, our wandering cast member decides to buy a drink and flirt while the women at the house find excuses to take off their clothing. Naked bald men start attacking them with axes and things. Eventually the guy who went for help calls a friend – not the police – but the friend is preoccupied with a couple of tightly dressed women as well.  One mildly good line – the town is West Craven (Wes Craven, the horror director? Get it?) When they finally talk, he doesn’t tell him anything, just to come pick him up. But HE DOESN’T TELL HIM WHERE HE IS!  I couldn’t take anything seriously after that. 3/28/15

Night at the Museum 3 (2014)

Third and presumably last in this series about a magical artifact that brings museum exhibits to life. The talisman is losing its power so our hero and his friends are off to the British Museum to try to find the secret of restoring it. There they are almost thwarted by a Sir Lancelot who misunderstands the situation, but they overcome various difficulties and save the day. The special effects are marginally better for this one, but the story line is sadly lacking and the jokes are mostly repeats. The last ten minutes are really bad, a succession of goodbye scenes. I believe this was Robin Williams' last movie. It's perfectly watchable but not up to the quality level of its predecessors. 3/27/15

Game of Thrones Season 4 (2014) 

Season four opens with a quick look at where most of the characters have been recently. Jamie has an artificial hand and quarrels with his father, Aria helps the Hound kill several thugs, Joffrey is as obnoxious as always as his wedding approaches, and Tyrion is trying to balance the conflicting and dangerous elements in his life. Then Joffrey is poisoned and Tyrion is poised to take the blame even though he is innocent, while elsewhere Daenerys is preparing to liberate another city of slaves. I have thought for some time that she is the only decent candidate for the throne of Westeros. A lot of cast members die this season, including the very moving confrontations between Aria and the Hound, and Tyrion's murder spree when he finds his lover in his father's bed. This might be the best television program of all time. 3/26/15

Mine Games (2012)

Seven typical young proto-victims get stranded in a remote cabin near a mine. When they enter the mine, they have a series of increasingly disturbing visions which eventually include them discovering their own dead bodies. Much of the film consists of them having a series of visions, going back to the cabin to talk about it, then returning to the mine for a new round. There is actually an explanation at the very end for why they don't just take off when it is clear that something frightening is going on, but you have to watch and be frustrated by well over an hour of this before we learn the truth. SPOILER. They're actually all dead but they're caught in a time loop. Nor is there a good explanation about why they're in the loop. And the characters are uniformly uninteresting. There is the ghost of a good idea here somewhere, and the cast does a reasonable job, but the structure of the plot predisposes it to fail. 3/23/15

The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006) 

Noah Wyle is searching for King Solomon’s Mines in the middle of a trilogy of made for television adventure movies. I’m afraid it was just too lightheaded to really appeal to me. Wyle does stupid, foolish things that put him in danger for absolutely no reason. There is also a complete disregard for logic. In the opening sequence, our hero and his friend climb down a cliff to steal a skull from some rivals, but their own horses are just a short distance away on the same level!  He forms an uneasy alliance with an archaeologist and together they avoid a mysterious organization determined to thwart their quest. Minor. 3/22/15

Insanitarium (2008)

The protagonist is determined to get his sister out of an insane asylum which he believes is imprisoning people illegally. The cast sounded interesting - Armin Schimerman, Olivia Munn, Jesse Metcalfe - so I was hopeful that this would be better than it sounded. He pretends to be crazy in order to be committed himself when he is told he cannot visit his sister. None of this is very well developed or plausible. Things get  silly very fast. New violent patients do not get guided tours of the facility with a single female attendant accompanying them, nor do violent patients get to walk around unsupervised. Nor is it possible to prohibit family from visiting patients.  The mad scientist is right out of a comic book and it's surprising how much scenery is left given how much of it he eats. The experiments are turning people into homicidal killers. The premise is absurd, the details are nonsense, much of the acting is substandard, and there is no reason why anyone would want to watch it. 3/21/15

Planets Against Us (1962)

I hadn't seen this incredibly bad Italian SF film in decades, and it was every bit as deliciously awful as I remembered although not quite as entertaining as Wild Wild Planet, from the same filmmakers. A man known to have died in an air crash appears at the sites of several disastrous "accidents" at space related sites across the world. The authorities spot him on security tapes and conclude that he is probably an alien sabotaging efforts to expand into outer space. The police are searching for him but instead he ends up in the apartment of a woman who finds him romantically interesting. He's a cyborg but is somewhat conflicted. And then the police discover there are at least two of him. The dubbing and dialogue are laughable. At one point the dubbers insert a meaningless sentence because the actress is speaking and she is asked why she said that. "Why, I don't know."  The aliens are supposedly benevolent despite their violent attacks and murders. A bit slow moving at times and frequently nonsensical. 3/20/15

The Newsroom Season 2 (2013) 

Season two has a running arc about the investigation of the possible use of Sarin gas by American troops in Pakistan. We know from the outset that the story isn’t true because there are flash forwards to the subsequent legal investigation following their retraction of the story. Otherwise, the romantic triangle splits up at least and a new one forms, along with a secondary romance. Jeff Daniels, who is great, continues to struggle with his conscience and his feelings for his producer. The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Emily Mortimer and Olivia Munn. The explanation of how and why they get suckered into a false story isn’t entirely convincing but it’s good enough.  Very nice two part season finale. 3/16/15

Downton Abbey Season 5 (2014) 

The story continues with Mary still undecided about marriage, Edith trying to deal with her secret baby and the presumed death of her lover, and Tom trying to decide whether or not he belongs with the family. In fact that’s the problem with this season – it consists almost entirely of recycled plot elements. The Bates couple are still bedeviled by the possibility that one or both of them might be charged with a murder – which I correctly predicted neither of them committed. Mrs. Crawley is wooed by a nobleman to the dismay of the dowager – and Maggie Smith continues to be my favorite character.  The reformist schoolteacher is supposed, I think, to be a sympathetic character but I found her insufferably rude and opinionated and I was glad when Tom decided not to pursue their relationship. Barrow’s attempts to deal with his homosexuality chemically came as a slight surprise. Elsie decides to become educated. Mr. Mosley, rather a nebbish previously, becomes a quite admirable character. The circumstances surrounding the imprisonment of Mrs. Bates are very unconvincing and suggest that the writer did not bother to check on the rules of evidence. Still entertaining, but I think it was a good decision to make season six the finale. 3/1/15

Let the Right One In (2008)

This is the Swedish version of the novel by John Alvide Lindquist. The US version was Let Me In, which was quite good. This version is better. The story is about a young vampire, converted as a child and unable to mature, who is protected by a childhood friend now grown to manhood, and who makes friends with a lonely and disturbed young boy who is bullied by other kids at his school. The dvd is dubbed, reasonably well but sometimes awkwardly. Inevitably I had to compare the two adaptations and some things are done better in one version, and other things are better in the other. Both stick quite close to the original story. The vampire gives the boy self confidence and he gives her companionship. Much of the movie is understated - little background music, more suggestive than overt. The young vampire's human assistant has become weary and self destructive, and she eventually kills him. Two good movies from one book seems too good to be true. 2/24/15

Zombie Killers (2015)

Zombies are still popular, obviously. Despite the notable cast - Billy Zane, Mischa Barton - this is an incredibly stupid movie. It 's set in a village which has been fenced in to keep out the zombies who were created by fracking. Fracking? People are expelled under suspicion of being infected but it has become more like witchcraft trials. The acting is terrible, the special effects are terrible, the dialogue is terrible, the plot is terrible, the special effects are generally terrible, and the whole premise is pretty much terrible. I had to force myself to watch it to the end and my attention drifted constantly. I really like Billy Zane and was sorry to see him involved in any way with this completely awful movie. 2/22/15

Animal (2014)

Nothing new or original in the plot for this horror film, but there rarely is. A group of friends - the usual variety - get into trouble while hiking through a remote wooded area. For a change - a pleasant one - the characters aren't all jerks and the actors even do a competent job. The photography isn't bad either; some of the scenery is quite appealing. They make the mistake of not timing things so that they return during the daylight, apparently because one of their number had some never revealed idea about what constituted fun. They have cell phones but somehow never manage to reach anyone who can help. They stumble across some bloody remains, then hear something roaring and spot a very large predator of some unidentified type, although it is clearly humanoid. They take refuge in a cabin where they find the survivors of another group of hikers. There are occasional lapses in the quality of the dialogue and the logic of the set up. The creature supposedly knows the cabin well and has killed earlier inhabitants, but when the survivors arrive, it is at least temporarily impregnable. They are cautious to remain quiet so that it won't know they are there, but it self evidently DOES know that they are there. It also never seems to occur to them to use fire against it until the very end. And if it only kills to eat, why does it constantly stalk them? The last half hour falls apart. The characters act bizarrely, the police never show up even though they have had an emergency call, and at one point they even split up for a while, with predictable results. And how could a pack of these creatures be in a fairly settled area, killing people, and no one noticed? Ultimately pointless and trivial. 2/21/15

Feed the Gods (2014)

Two brothers are searching for answers about why their parents sent them away when they were toddlers, so they visit the remote town where they were born. The brothers don't get along and they were never told why they were abandoned, but when their foster mother dies, they find clues. There are hints early on that Bigfoot is somehow involved. The brothers, and the fiancé of the younger, rent a cabin in the town while getting odd looks from the locals. It's obvious that the whole town is part of a conspiracy to conceal the truth, which seems to be that they are sacrificing children to the Bigfoot, which they consider a god. Well acted and pretty well written although it is rather slow at times and the behavior of the older brother doesn't always seem justified by the situation. We never really see the creatures and I didn't really like the ending, but it was well above average. 2/20/15

Gila (2012)

This is a mostly unserious remake of The Giant Gila Monster, set back in the 1950s and with CGI instead of live action monster effects. It has a period soundtrack, which is nice. A bunch of drag racing teens battle the giant creature, which was created because of secret dumping of toxic waste. The acting is corny, probably intentionally, the teenagers are much too old, which is also probably intentional, and the story is surprisingly close to the original. Some of the special effects would have been rejected in the 1950s let alone today. Sometimes the story doesn't make sense. Why would a farmer look for his missing cow in the loft of the barn? The main character, who is supposed to be in high school, mentions that he hasn't seen the bad dragster for over fifteen years, since grade school, which would make him at least 21 years old. And why does the gila NOT eat the elderly farmer or the mayor's daughter? Why do the police not even conduct a cursory search for the missing teens when their car turns up? Some of the camera work is pretty primitive as well. There are continuity problems as well. The sheriff in particular seems to forget things he already knows.  It's amusing, and it was nice to see Kelli Maroney again after all these years, but it never rises above its obvious limitations. 2/19/15

Fear Clinic (2014) 

I believe this was originally a web based series transformed into a conventional movie. Robert Englund is a scientist who hopes to cure phobias by subjecting his patients to a machine that causes realistic hallucinations which force them to confront what they fear the most. Unfortunately, the treatment doesn’t always work and sometimes apparently reinforces the fears so that the people involved have very realistic hallucinations long after the therapy is done. Several of them return to the clinic seeking answers, but the clinic appears to be closed.  Are the hallucinations somehow becoming real? Well acted though the pacing is irregular and I wondered why no one appealed to some outside authority when it was obvious that things were going badly. There are some nice visual effects scattered through the story, but the plot needed to move a little more quickly than it does. 2/16/15

Frankenstein vs the Mummy (2014)

I bet you can figure what this one is about. A group of scientists are studying a newly discovered mummy who is protected by a curse against any who disturb him. At the same university, Dr. Frankenstein has managed to reanimate the corpse of a crazed serial killer. The two monsters don't get along. This wasn't completely awful although the quality of the acting varies significantly. The soundtrack is very flat at times and didn't do much to provide atmosphere. The dialogue also varies from okay to cornball. Apparently the mummy can also possess the living. Not the greatest special effects and makeup but passable. There's not much similarity to the classic Universal monsters here though. They end up having a fight over a woman. I wouldn't call this a success but it's not an absolute failure. 2/12/15

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (2009) 

Presumably the final episode. The story opens with a sea monster in the water tank and a new, female, hologram taking command. The various characters realize they are just that, characters in a television show, after traveling into an alternate reality, and decide they have to track down the people who created the program in order to get their lives extended. Kochanski is dead again, Rimmer is a hologram again, and everyone looks older, understandably. They read the description on the dvd box to discover what they are supposed to do and start tracking down the actors who play them in the series. It's more of an extended in group joke than an actual continuation of the story and it's only intermittently funny. The Bladerunner parallels toward the end are probably the best part. 2/10/15

The Ouija Resurrection (2014) 

Sequel to an earlier movie which I won’t be looking for. A Ouija board somehow allows an evil spirit to return to the world of the living, manifesting itself at a movie theater where a special showing of a movie is planned. There are stories about the theater as well, although that appears to be a publicity stunt. Acting ranges from dismal to competent; the script rarely achieves that level. The theater manager is a particularly inept actor and the local sheriff is nearly as bad.  The special effects are cartoonish.  Badly conceived and amateurishly executed and the ending is contradictory and incoherent. 2/9/15

Save Our Skins (2014)

No one ever said the apocalypse couldn't be fun. Two Brits come to America for a science fiction convention and wake up to discover all the rest of humanity has apparently disappeared. After some amusing wandering about, they encounter a muscular blue alien with a bad disposition. They find another human, but he's a cannibalistic serial killer, so that doesn't work out so well. They follow up a lead in Toronto, picking up another psycho killer along the way, and find two more nerds who don't know much more than they do. The blue alien inexplicably shows up and kills the new nerds. Some of the humor is pretty gross but most of the time it works. They are tracing a strange signal that keeps showing up on television, featuring a mysterious robed figure. Enough fun to be worth watching. 2/8/15

Jesssabelle (2014)

This was a definitely pleasant surprise. The title character is in a serious accident which leaves her boyfriend dead and she herself confined to a wheelchair. She is forced to live with the father she hasn't seen in years in her childhood home in rural Louisiana. Almost immediately she senses another presence in the house and she finds tapes from her dead mother that seem to bear relevance to her situation, although her father insists that she was insane in the months before her death. Then things escalate with the death of her father, the discovery of an infant's body, and other signs that not all is as it seems. Excellent acting, very good camera work, and a pretty good script all help. One of the best direct to video horror films I've ever seen. 2/7/15

Exists 2014)

I should have known better. This is a partly found footage horror film about Bigfoot directed by the man who brought us The Blair Witch Project, which is not a recommendation. My only excuse is that I recognized a couple of names in the cast and thought it might be better. Actually, it is better than Blair, but that's not a high threshold to cross. A group of obnoxious people go on a camping trip in the wrong cabin. There are lots of grumbles in the night, half seen movements, strange camera angles that are incredibly self conscious, and an almost complete lack of plot. The characters all act like idiots, even more so than usual, and there's no character development at all. The director seems to have no clue at all about how to tell a story. I confess that I only made it two thirds of the way through before I could no longer stand the amateurish, pointless, pretense at moviemaking. Someone please give this person a job for which he is qualified. 2/6/15

Jurassic City (2014)

The inevitable ripoffs of the upcoming Jurassic World are here. I didn't expect much from this and I wasn't pleasantly surprised. It opens with a dinosaur escaping from a cell in a building. The people in charge don't have alarms on the cells; they just have an armed guard patrolling the building, so they don't know about it until he notices the open door. There's an embarrassingly bad sorority initiation sequence with actors clearly too old for the parts they are playing. The scene switches to a prison with a humungous underground parking garage - I guess the prisoners commute. The evil corporation wants to temporarily hide three dinosaurs there. Three of the sorority girls are in a minor accident - which for some reason not only gets them arrested but sent immediately to prison without trial, phone call, lawyer, or any of those other pesky little things - including the passengers as well as the driver. Needless to say acting and dialogue are incredibly bad. The former is mildly surprising because most of the cast have a good number of respectable acting credits. Ray Wise is the only one who seems competent, though uncomfortable. Then another dinosaur escapes and eats a bikini-clad thirty year old teenager. This led me to wonder why they would bother to sequester a subset of their greater population, other than simply as a shortcut to get the dinosaurs to the prison where, of course, they all escape. I never knew that dinosaurs like to hide at the bottom of swimming pools and jump up people. Meanwhile, back at the prison, we never see any of the rest of the prison population and only about six of the guards. No one has a working cell phone, not even the guard unit that was sent with the raptors. I particularly liked the woman who screams - after her head is bitten off!  The warden has a gun that never needs reloading but it doesn't help because he can't hit anything even from short range. Then thousands of raptors attack Los Angeles - although we never hear a siren or even see any of the residents or police. The cover copy emphasizes the attack and a military response, but it never really happens in the movie. The chief villain, who set the dinosaurs loose, has the most illogical explanation I ever heard. He thinks it will help him run for President! Awful. 2/5/15

Wolves (2013)

To my surprise, this direct to video werewolf movie turned out to be quite watchable. The protagonist is a high school student who has no idea that he is a werewolf until he changes and kills his adopted parents. That makes him a fugitive and during his travels across country he encounters another of his kind, who steers him toward a community of true bloods in a remote part of the Southwest. The script and the acting are both quite good and the plot holes are not fatal, although the writer does not appear to have thought out the nature of his protagonist. We are told that he doesn't have the potential to be a mindless killer, but the people saying that believe that he slaughtered his foster parents and he has killed on other occasions. He is pitted against the insane leader of a dissident pack of violent werewolves, and the leader turns out to be his biological father. Not a great movie, but I was never tempted to turn it off. 2/2/15

Dragonfyre (2013)

This low budget fantasy adventure flirts with being watchable but never quite commits. John Norton is a traumatized ex-soldier who discovers that he is fated to be the guardian of a gateway between worlds. Through the gateway comes a horde - actually a very small horde - of orcs who are seeking to capture a beautiful young fugitive, who somehow manages to survive for weeks in our world without food, shelter, money, any understanding of our world, and not even a change of clothing. The acting varies from awkward to okay, but the camera work is sometimes shaky, the special effects are minimal, and there seems to be something wrong with the soundtrack which sometimes echoes when it shouldn't and sounds like a studio recording much of the time. The orcs are directed by a mysterious woman swathed in white who moves her arms around a lot in what is supposed to be a sinuous fashion, I imagine. Apparently orcs evaporate when they're dead because our hero never has to deal with the dozen or two dead bodies scattered through his house and front yard. On several occasions he is surrounded by piles of dead orcs, but a few seconds later the ground is clear.He also must be psychic because he knows the name of the princess even though she has never told him. How does the princess suddenly have a modern revolver in her boot? Why doesn't the hero ever need to reload? Why are the orcs much stronger than humans, except when they need to be weaker? How do the orcs plan to conquer all world using swords? In the climactic battle, he suddenly reveals that he has an armored car. Where did that come from? The last half hour becomes increasingly silly. 1/31/15

Monty Python Live (Mostly) 2014

The five surviving members of Monty Python return for what may be their final performance together. Although they are showing their age, the jokes are just as funny as ever. This is mostly old material taken from the television show and the movies, sometimes with new twists but essentially unchanged. There is some film footage from the earlier shows as well. It's mostly an exercise in nostalgia with some added chorus work to flesh them out, but it left me thinking about rewatching the television show. Most of the good songs are included. Stephen Hawking has a cameo - and is in the audience. This was the funniest assemblage of performers ever and they will be funny for generations to come. 1/30/15

The Scribbler (2013)

A pretty decent cast graces this comic book adaptation about a woman with multiple personalities who is undergoing an experimental treatment to eliminate them, and most of the story takes place in her illusional world where she interacts with them. She also appears to be developing superpowers. The first part of the movie is quite slow moving and some of the "artistic" effects are more distracting than entertaining. There's a talking dog and a kind of frame story about a murder investigation that isn't what it appears to be either. Although it picks up toward the end, and the basic premise of the plot is not without interest, the execution is so self conscious and poorly paced that I found my interest flagging on multiple occasions. More shadow than substance. 1/28/15

Disaster Wars (2013)

This one falls into the category of so bad they're oddly watchable. An experiment in the Pacific inadvertently sets off an earthquake and subsequent tsunami on an unprecedented scale, worsened by horrid acting and nonsensical dialogue. The scientist knew this would probably happen and did it anyway? The one man surface crew for their submersible has veto power over the decisions of the head of the project? A woman in the warning office can put on a set of headphones and immediately interrupt all television and radio broadcasts? The government sends for a scientist so urgently that they don't have time for him to put on his pants, but they send a gunnery sergeant, alone, in an unmarked civilian car with no emergency lights, to drive him through congested California traffic to a military installation where the guards are casual about letting them in. The CGI effects are as bad as every other aspect of the movie. It's a waterfall, not a tsunami, projected behind cityscapes, with bursts of fake mist apparently to suggest spray - except that spray would not exist miles ahead of the disturbance. The scientist is a geologist, so why would they consult him - and him alone incidentally - about a tsunami which is due to hit in less than three hours? Although time works funny in this one because less than ten minutes after one character is shown flying in a helicopter, he's aboard a small sailboat well out to sea having a lukewarm and rather silly sexual encounter. A private company then announces it can stop the tsunami by projecting counteracting energy beams from its satellites. Where they would get such an immense amount of power or how it would work is, naturally, never mentioned. They might as well have said they had a witch who could cast a blocking spell. Another team of scientists hears the broadcast, and then conclude it won't work based on technical details supposedly provided, which not only were not in the broadcast, but were explicitly mentioned as being corporate secrets. For some reason the Vice President and a colonel are making all the decisions - no generals or Presidents. And the geologist approves the counterwave plan after examining the technical details for less than five seconds. We're told that the satellite beam will strike just off the coast of California, but that is clearly not where it hits in the view from space. And when a sailboat is destroyed by the wave, it is obvious that the wave is only twenty feet high, not nearly enough to reach "all the way to Nevada."  The female corporal on duty wears a tank top; I didn't know that was the uniform of the day. In less than an hour 82% of the population of California and Nevada has been evacuated. The military center has its power cut but one of the staff manages to re-establish outside contact by plugging things into different outlets. Even after 90% of the population is supposedly gone, traffic scenes are normal and you can occasionally see shoppers. The colonel is injured so the gunnery sergeant takes over and orders an atomic bomb set on the San Andreas faultline - which of course he wastes time by driving there to personally set it off because gunnery sergeants know how to set off nuclear weapons. And the scientist goes along because it has to be within five feet of the right spot and only he knows how to read the data. And naturally the remote control fails so someone has to set it off manuall. Oh, and corporals do not address sergeants as "sir." This is epically bad. 1/24/15

Devil's Tower (2014)

A young woman cast out by her family is placed in a rundown apartment building by the welfare agency in London. The building is more dangerous than it seems. People start dying, not imaginatively, assaulted by phantom figures that are duplicates of other people, images which also seem inclined to show themselves on television sets. For some reason, most of the victims are people who have offended the young woman, although the events started before she even arrived. The force originates with a disfigured person living secretly on the top floor, who can also possess people and cause them to act against their nature. The evil presence can shift bodies and reanimate the dead. It is even possible that time itself is being manipulated. The kitchen sink of supernatural powers actually dilutes the suspense since it is rationally impossible for anyone to prevail against such an array of abilities.  There's even a zombie apocalypse at the end. Although the acting is actually quite good, the story is occasionally incoherent and confusing and some of the camera work is shaky and annoying.. 1/23/15

Red Dwarf Series VIII (1999)

The ship and its original human crew have all been reconstructed by nanobots, although only our heroes know what really happened. Rimmer is alive again but just as clueless as always. There are eight episodes in this series, starting with a three parter in which Lister and the others are put on trial by the crew and eventually escape.  They join an army of convicts under the misapprehension that they are the prison choir.  The episode in which Kryton creates a tv show is very funny, as is the two part episode where the gang discovers a device that can alter the flow of time for individuals. Finishes off with a cliff hanger. Overall this was one of their best seasons. 1/22/15

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies soundtrack, composed by Howard Shore, Water Tower, 2015 

The third and final Hobbit movie soundtrack has some reprises of earlier themes but is mostly new material.  I’ve seen the movie so it was a little hard to separate the music from the images in my memory. Some of the early cuts – which are designed to emphasize the grandeur of views on the screen – seemed to me slightly ponderous on their own. The best of these was “The Ruins of Dale” which includes Bilbo’s theme. The tension ratchets up a bit with “The Gathering of the Clouds” and “Bred for War.”  The tempo really takes off in “The Clouds Burst” and “Battle for the Mountain.”  My favorite cut was “To the Death,” included here in an extended version, although I also liked “Ironfoot.” Two of the pieces appear not to have been used in the movie. Given how action oriented the movie was, I was surprised to find that the music was much less rambunctious. 1/21/15

Primeval Volume 3 (2011)  

After a couple of years hiatus, this show about time anomalies allowing dinosaurs to cross into the present resumed with new agents, plus the surviving cast from the first three seasons. This is actually two series, comprising a total of 13 episodes.  The opening episode is mostly dull and a little bit stupid and gets the twosome lost in time back to the present.  They reclaim their jobs in the second episode after proving their value tracking down a predatory dinosaur. The creatures are relatively well done, although few of them seem to be taken from real prehistory. Episode 3 has a problem with a lock down at the facility that is based on its chief officer making an incredibly stupid mistake.  The recurring angst about killing the animals is nonsense given that they are hardly an endangered species, are killed mercifully, and pose an ongoing danger to humans. The presumption that this is still secret from the public becomes increasingly silly as the death and damage toll mount and more and more witnesses survive. There are also some small but irritating continuity problems with characters changing their positions on issues from one episode to the next without explanation and sometimes creatures are different sizes at different points. At one point the project manager says that he doesn’t know how to operate any of the equipment, although we’ve seen him do so in the past. There’s a subplot about a couple of Victorians who have been swept through into the present, but it’s very badly done, from poor characterization to anomalous behavior to an enormous over reaction by the crew.  Despite some attempt to develop a story arc about the psycho from the past, the episodes tend to be a lot alike, and that story is implausible because he seems to have complete knowledge of the present – including the use of modern explosives.  During the last few episodes we learn that one of the team has come back from the future to try to avert a disastrous decision made about the anomalies. The dialogue in the episode about a submarine that passes through an anomaly into the past is very nicely done, but the idea that the British would launch a nuclear strike right off their coast is absurd. Then it turns into a version of Time Tunnel and the story becomes so diffuse that the show becomes nearly incoherent. 1/15/15

The Loved One (1965)

I recently reread the Evelyn Waugh novel that is the basis of this reasonably loyal film adaptation, with a cast that included Robert Morely, John Gielgud, Milton Berle, Liberace, Roddy McDowall, Rod Steiger, and many other familiar names. Morley is a rather unprincipled would be poet who has to deal with the funeral arrangements for his uncle, who recently committed suicide. The cemetery - a gimmicky place run by Jonathan Winters - is also home to a weird obstetrician and a cosmetician whom Morley wants to marry. The jokes are subtle but constant and biting. My only complaint is the soundtrack, which seemed frequently inappropriate. It was billed as the movie that had something to offend everyone. A classic movie based on a classic novel. 1/10/15

Maleficent (2014)

Disney's re-imaging of the story of Sleeping Beauty is quite good despite a couple of problems, chief of which for me was that Angelina Jolie looks much too old for the part. When a human friend steals her wings, Maleficent becomes so embittered that she curses his daughter to fall into a coma like sleep on her sixteenth birthday, to be awakened only by true love's kiss. But she grows affectionate for the child, tries unsuccessfully to revoke her curse, then seeks a handsome young prince to waken her. It doesn't work because it's not true love and when Maleficent kisses the sleeping girl goodbye, she wakens, a rather nice twist. There is also a Peter Jackson inspired battle scene, reasonably good special effects, and a couple of interesting minor characters. I did wonder, however, why Maleficent didn't just enter the castle and take back her wings on her own, since she's able to twice penetrate its depths without detection, both times escaping despite general alarm. 1/2/15