Last Update 12/29/10
Not many surprises in this action film, but I wasn't expecting any. Liam Neeson is a semi-retired spook whose daughter is kidnapped by white slavers while touring Europe. Neeson sets out to get her back within 96 hours and to do so he has to outwit and subdue about three dozen bad guys, which he does almost faultlessly. There's a short but entertaining car chase sequence and lots of explosions, gunfights, karate chops, and other mayhem. I did wonder at times how he managed to acquire so much paraphernalia given the extremely tight time restrictions - including expensive drugs, a safe house with an electrical torture device, weapons and ammo, and such, but that's all part of the fun. It wouldn't be as fast paced if we learned how he did all these things. Not a classic of its type but a good solid movie. 12/29/10
The Rig (2010)
This SF/Horror film has quite a few good things going for it. The sets were nice - an oil rig in a hurricane as in Deep Blue Sea though not so elaborate - and the acting was generally quite good. The dialogue was convincing and the relationships among the characters believable. The premise is another old one, that drilling opens up a sealed cavern and lets something out, in this case big eyed versions of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which comes aboard and begins killing the supporting cast. I was even surprised by who lived and who died. But what could have been a solid B film drops to C because there are too many unanswered questions. How could deep sea creatures adapt instantly to operating in air? Why does one of them even stay around in the daylight? Why can they be shot several times in the abdomen and shrug it off? Why does the crew continue to separate and run around like idiots even after they acknowledge that the best thing to do is to lock themselves in the control room until morning? Why does the experienced hunter/soldier not consider the possibility that there is more than one hostile? How did the creatures learn to hunt out of water, open doors, fight with their fists, etc? Why does the female survivor not get killed when she is defenseless and exposed for hours? And the last five minutes of the film were completely unbelievable. Why would the investigating team consist of only two people? Entertaining but not memorable. 12/28/10
I really liked the first two movies in this series, not so much the later follow ups. This one looked to be better but I missed seeing it in the movies. . The opening is very reminiscent of the first film, with a bunch of heavily armed men in a jungle encountering a woman who may or may not be an enemy. Even the music is almost identical. Some of the scenes and dialogue are identical. This could almost be a remake rather than a sequel. They don’t know where they are or how they got there. The packaging says this is an alien planet, but if so, why are there identifiable Earth plants growing there? Anyway, they are attacked by some pretty neat horny creatures and use up ammunition at a prodigious rate. In due course they learn the nature of the aliens who are hunting them and try to come up with a plan to trap them instead. A couple of mild surprises but basically this is just a race and shoot sequence, not badly done but not spectacularly good either. Unfortunately I didn't like any of the characters particularly either. 12/18/10
Doctor Who Series 5 (2010)
A new Doctor takes over with a redo of the title theme and the Tardis. Freshly regenerated, the Doctor returns to Earth to pick up a new companion in “The Eleventh Hour.” The early scenes were not promising, more like a mediocre kids’ comedy than anything else. Cute kid, and the youngest comparison ever, I believe, although she quickly grows up and is replaced by Karen Gillam as actress. A shapechanging alien prisoner puts the entire world in jeopardy when his jailers decide to slag the planet. The story gets better as it goes along, with some effective special effects. “The Beast Below” takes them to a future England that has been converted into one gigantic starship, and something has gone wrong. There is a genuinely creepy set up in this one involving a gigantic creature at the center of the ship, a sort of Queen of England, manikins that move around, and other mysteries. The Doctor has to face a real moral dilemma this time.
“Victory of the Daleks” has Winston Churchill calling for help when a plan to use the Daleks against the Germans during World War II goes awry. Churchill thinks the Daleks are inventions of a human scientist, but the Doctor knows better, though he can’t convince anyone of the danger. The inherent physical problems of the Daleks render them as silly villains but they’re they are too important in the series to be dropped. This time it was a plot to get the Doctor to commit himself, which he does, leading to the creation of a new model Dalek. Silly episode. The British use gravity bubbles to send fighters into space to attack the Dalek ship, but there’s no atmosphere there so how do the planes maneuver? The way they stop a bomb from destroying the Earth is even sillier.
“A Time of Angels” is a two parter finished in “Flesh and Stone.” The Weeping Angels are among the best of the newer Doctor Who enemies. They look very much like statues of angels, and they can move only when no one is looking at them. The effect is quite creepy. The Doctor is recruited by Dr. River Song, a new recurring character, to help destroy one in a crash spaceship, except that it turns out there are more than one and the Doctor and company are trapped among them. The tone is a lot more serious in these two episodes and while the Doctor is still a bit too frenetic for my taste, the plot is quite good and there are only a few moments of illogic. One of the companions also dies this time, erased from time and the memory of everyone except the Doctor
The title of “Vampires of Venice” tells it all. In 16th Century Venice, the Doctor and friends encounter a secret society of vampires living at the highest level of local influence. Except they’re not really vampires, of course, but insectlike aliens in disguise. This one’s pretty silly but has its moments. “Amy’s Choice” is initially confusing because it appears to be five years after the events in the previous episode. Companion Amy is married and pregnant. But then it turns out to be a dream. I hate dream sequences. Anyway, all three parties have had the same dream, and they keep jumping back and forth from dream, if it is a dream, to the present, whatever that means in the Doctor Who universe. The dialogue in this one is exceptionally good. Their opponent is the Dreamlord, who has constructed an elaborate puzzle for them to solve. Despite my initial dislike, this turned out to be the best episode so far this season.
“The Hungry Earth” reminded me of an earlier Doctor Who, “Inferno”, in which a drilling project unleashed a terrifying menace. The drill site seems pretty primitive, unusual considering the much better sets during this season, and I had great difficulty believing that three people could be running a core tap. Amy gets swallowed by the earth which resents the drilling operation. It turns out to be the Silurians, although they look a lot more human than they have in the past. It’s another two part adventure, the second being “Cold Blood.” We’re supposed to be sympathetic to the Silurians, which is pretty difficult because they are racists who torture their prisoners, including children. The humans don’t come out well either. Silly script as well. Actively disliked this whole sequence.
The Doctor visits Vincent Van Gogh in “Vincent and the Doctor” and helps him defeat a monster than only the artist can see. Another disappointing episode whose tone varies dramatically from adventure to not very convincing emotional exchanges. The Doctor gets separated from the Tardis in “The Lodger” and has to deal with a second floor tenant in a rental unit who lures people up to his apartment, none of whom are ever seen again. The set up is pretty flaky. We never figure out how the Doctor learned that this particular house contains a problem. There are also annoying changes in the basic premise of the show. For one thing, the Doctor can communicate with the Tardis even though it’s in another time. For another, he can communicate information to others by bumping foreheads. The solution is disappointing and rather silly. There’s also an internal contradiction. If Amy’s former fiancé retroactively never existed, then how can the Doctor still have their engagement ring?
Churchill and Van Gogh and Dr. Song all return in "The Pandorica Opens." A large box is the prison for the most powerful creature in the universe and it's opening. There's also a warning transmission which has attracted thousands of alien races who want to control the creature, including Daleks and Cybermen and Sontarans, of course. Cybermen, we discover, can reassemble themselves after being torn to pieces. And the boyfriend who was erased from time is one of the legionnaires. As it happens, this is taking place during the Roman occupation of Britain so there's a legion allied with the Doctor. Except that it's all a trap to put the Doctor into the box, a conspiracy among all his enemies. The story winds up in "The Big Bang" after the universe has ended. Earth has somehow lingered for a while - 2000 years as it happens - and there's a complicated series of events - which don't make a lot of sense - to get Amy and Rory alive again, the Doctor out of his prison, and the universe brought back.
A very disappointing season. With a couple of exceptions, the scripts are humdrum. The Doctor is too frenetic and too many things have changed in the underlying setting, and there is too much effort to tie all the episodes together rather than have them stand on their own. Despite the presence of the Daleks and the Silurians, this didn't even feel like a Doctor Who season, and the improved special effects didn't make up for the lack. Karen Gillam is an occasionally interesting companion, but too often she is relegated to little more than a cameo. Hopefully next season will be better.12/10/10
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
The remake of the first film, more or less, in one of the few slasher series that actually contained some intelligent plotting and good acting, though not consistently. The original movie opened with one of the creepiest sequences I've ever seen and this one is pretty good too, though not as effective. A young man drifts off to sleep in a diner and dreams of an encounter with Fred Krueger, then does so a second time and cuts his own throat. Then his girlfriend begins to have sudden dreams of some creepy kids. She also sees herself in a photograph that she could not have been in, but she does this while she's awake, which invalidates the whole premise of the movie, a problem that recurs more than once. So 12 minutes into the movie I was already bothered, and the cast - too old for the parts they play in most cases, since they're in their mid-twenties pretending to be high school kids - did nothing to bring me back into the story. There's also too much creepiness too fast. We don't have time to invest ourselves in any of the characters. Horror movie makers, even the ones with reasonable budgets, seem mostly content to rely on presenting a series of standard scenes and images, not necessarily logically or consistently assembled, and use shock, surprise, and gore as a substitute for plot, characterization, or authentic suspense. The charm, if that's the word, of the original series was that there was always at least an effort to make us care about the characters. There are also some silly mistakes, like the police showing up in force at the house where one of the characters has just arrived, even though there is no way they could have known (1) that he was with the girl who just died, or (2) that he happened to go to this particular house to talk to the main protagonist. Not awful but very disappointing. 11/23/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (2010)
The first half of the final Harry Potter adventure comes to the screen. Harry and friends are seeking to destroy the artifacts that allow the evil Voldemort to cling to life while the Death Eaters have overthrown the Ministry of Magic and are hunting down good magicians as well as halfbloods. This episode is mostly about the three main characters, who spend a lot of time camping in the woods, the same problem I had with the book. In fact Luna Lovegood, Neville, Snapes, and Ginny Beasley don't have five minutes of screen time combined. There's an animated story within the story that is very nicely done and the three stars have to do a lot more actual acting than usual, and carry it off quite well. The special effects are good as always it's nice to see the Malfoys wriggle with discomfort. Great sets although we don't see Hogwarts this time. Two recurring characters die in this one, which sets up the big battle scene for the final film, which promises to be a spectacular one. 11/21/10
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Remake of the original which featured Ray Harryhausen special effects. The plot, however, diverges radically. Although Perseus is still the hero and the Kraken is the instrument of the gods, that's pretty much the only direct similarity. There's a comparatively long narrated prologue that went on so long it annoyed me - it's a lazy shortcut to actually telling the story. Better special effects but less impressive acting and an inferior script. The rivalry among the gods is almost absent and Zeus is a villain rather than an ambiguous figure. Argos is ruled by a king rather than a queen and rather than having incautiously insulted the gods, Argos has declared war on them. For some reason, Perseus has a perfect buzzcut - which makes no sense. Why is the Kraken controlled by Hades instead of Poseidon? What purpose does the Io character serve other than to provide more boring narration? Why is there is djinn in a story of Greek mythology? Characters acquire knowledge through no detectible means and the story proceeds so fast that there's no time to get invested in any of the characters. Despite the more advanced special effects, the fight with the scorpion was not as well done as the one with less imposing ones in the original. Perseus doesn't come across as particularly heroic either. He has to be saved by various other characters time and time again. He and his friends end up in physical battles with everyone and everything they meet as they seek the means to kill the Kraken, and for a change there's an echo in the first film when the three witches tell Perseus he needs the head of Medusa. The romantic scene between Io and Perseus is positively silly. They also screw up the mirror and Medusa legend. Watchable crap, most of the time, but still crap with no tension and no emotion. There's also a plot inconsistency. Supposedly the gods can't live without the worship of humans, but they created humans, so how did they exist before that? And then Hades says the gods will live forever regardless, so what was the whole conflict about? 11/20/10
Independence Day crossed with Cloverfield, and an improvement on neither. This mess has a group of characters - none of whom are particularly likeable - hiding in a high rise when aliens invade and begin vacuuming humans into their ships. I don't understand why we no longer have admirable or even tolerable characters in monster movies any more. Anyway, the aliens are diverse and not very believable. Some fly without spaceships, some have spaceships, some are floating octopuses the size of a van, others are lumbering quasi-humanoids that rival Godzilla. Their freeform spaceships emit rays that hypnotize people. The movie was already losing me when the one spaceship that is actually destroyed by a nuclear missile spontaneously regenerates itself. One big stupid flaw: the characters make a big deal about covering the windows in the apartment where they are hiding so that they won't be hypnotized. Why not sit in the hallways that have no windows? Another bit involves teh residual effects of exposure to the light, except that it gets dropped somewhere along the line without resolution. There's not much plot, just running around and getting killed one by one. Some of the special effects are good, some pretty bad. The crashing airplane vaulting over our heroes was laughable. The aliens are so obviously impregnable that there's no possible way they could be defeated, and they aren't. At the end we discover that they extract our brains to operate their bodies, and our hero retains his will - which makes absolutely no sense biologically, logically, or dramatically. Too big a budget for direct to DVD, but not enough quality for anything other than the Sci-Fi Channel. 11/18/10
The End of Time (2010)
David Tennant's final, presumably, outing as Doctor Who. Humans and aliens alike are having bad dreams about the return of some nebulous evil. It's the Master, of course, but he's not working on his own this time. The Doctor receives a warning that time itself may be coming to an end. The method by which the Master is returned is pretty silly and contradicts earlier lore about the Timelords, and for some reason he now has superpowers. The actor playing the part lacks the presence of Roger Delgado as well. Vastly improved special effects help a bit. The tone is pretty grim, a mistake in my opinion because the occasional light touches are among the best attributes of the series. The first half is actually pretty random, lots of things happening but without much focus. There's an obsessed millionaire planning to change the future, two aliens masquerading as humans, and the prophecy of the Doctor's impending death. There's also a mysterious woman who appears and warns one of the recurring characters of the need to enlist the Doctor's help. Using alien technology, the Master changes everyone on Earth into himself - the Master race. SPOILER ALERT. The greater evil turns out to be the Timelords who intend to return from oblivion even if it means the end of time itself. Bernard Cribbens steals the show. The histrionics are frequently over the top. Not my favorite of the recent shows.11/17/10
This two disk set has the original Doctor Who serial and the usual commentaries and such, but it also has a spruced up version - which they call Re-Enlightenment - with better special effects. I'm not sure why they chose this particular episode to enhance, although it is one of the best Peter Davison installments. The Tardis is diverted to a yacht in an Edwardian boat race. The Black Guardian plays his final card. I wasn't unhappy to see the last of his corny acting, and frankly I never cared for his pawn, Turlough, either. The ship's crew can't remember how they came to be aboard. The officers are an odd lot as well and there's a computer on the control room. Turns out the ship - fully rigged - is actually one of a fleet of spaceships. In short order we learn that the officers are not humans, that they use drugs to control the minds of their crew, drawn from the appropriate historical period. The officers are also telepathic. The race has deadly consequences for the losers. The various plot elements are familiar ones from the series, but they're assembled somewhat better this time and the sets are above average as well.11/14/10
Middle volume of the Black Guardian trilogy of the Doctor Who series with Peter Davison unaware that one of his companions is being pressured to kill him. Turlough, the double dealer, attempts to sabotage the Tardis, but fails, although he does cause a rift in space time which forces one of the other companions to cross through the fault into a spaceship. The Black Guardian's monotonous dialogue gets tired real fast and Turlough continues to be hopelessly gullible. The rest follow to rescue her and find a ship abandoned except for a robot and some newly arrived adventurers. The ship is running on automatic, and carries a cargo of plague victims bound for a space station at the center of the universe where they are expected to die. This all leads to the usual running around, getting separated, then reunited, aboard the station, with various villains trying to do them in. The script is full of logic holes and unexplained quirks, but it's not bad if you're not too critical. The whole universe is in jeopardy because a nuclear explosion at the exact center of the universe will set off a chain reaction that will destroy everything in existence.11/13/10
Mawdryn Undead (1983)
The Doctor takes a new companion, Turlough, actually an alien who is beholden to the evil Black Guardian, who wants him to kill the Doctor. Turlough is self centered though not as actively bad as his temporary master. The Black Guardian hams it up a bit much for my taste, and Turlough is too easily swayed. The former arranges for the latter to join the Tardis. His trusty companions and the Tardis get somehow separated in space and time, but they find a wounded person who they unaccountably assume is the Doctor. Meanwhile the Doctor runs into the Brigadier, who doesn't remember him at all, suggesting this is an alternate world or, as it turns out, suppressed memories. Not a particularly well written episode with most of the surprises telegraphed. Mawdryn is another alien who impersonates the Doctor in an attempt to become a timelord himself. There are some clever bits during the last installment with two Brigadiers, a trap involving the Tardis and a matter transmitter, and the infection of the companions by a bizarre disease that is affected by time travel. Not a bad episode, but sloppy at the beginning. 11/11/10
The Horns of Nimon (1980)
The Doctor and Romana end up on another alien planet in this adventure of the fourth Doctor Who. The Tardis collides with a spaceship commanded by racist militants with a cargo of slaves. The bad guys are involved in an arrangement with the mysterious alien Nimon, whose motives are suspicious right from the outset. The Doctor gets abandoned in a disabled Tardis while Romana is taken prisoner with the slaves, who are to be sacrificed to Nimon – who looks vaguely like a minotaur, which is appropriate given that the villains are sacrificing young people to him and the Nimon lives in a maze. The bad guys chew the scenery rather a lot and Baker takes things even less seriously than he usually does. There’s the usual running around – and the Nimon seems particularly inept at controlling his prisoners. On the other hand, his prisoners seem particularly inept at escaping. The Nimon’s real intentions are eventually revealed – his race plans to invade and conquer the bad guys. I’d let them, frankly, but the Doctor has other ideas. Other than some really bad acting, this was one of the better episodes. 11/9/10
The Creature from the Pit (1979)
The fourth Doctor Who and Romana land on an unknown planet and immediately find themselves in trouble when they are found guilty of trespassing in forbidden territory. Romana is then kidnapped by primitives who prove to be amenable to her authoritative tone. The Pit is where the local rulers throw their enemies, home to some kind of monster. The Doctor jumps into the pit to avoid having to tell his captors what they want to know. The creature – corny as always – is the only one of its kind and the Doctor suspects that it is very intelligent, so he allows himself to be absorbed into its body. Elsewhere Romana and K-9 the robot dog are held prisoners by the planet’s evil ruler, who wants to use the Tardis to steal metal from other worlds. There’s a secret relationship between the tyrannical ruler and the creature, which comes from another planet. The comical crew of crooks seems almost an afterthought and their antics are not consistent with the tone of the rest of the story. Some good moments, but generally one of the lesser episodes, and some really silly pseudoscience. 11/8/10
The Time Monster (1972)
The third Doctor Who, John Pertwee, is also my favorite. In this episode he crosses swords with the Master, my favorite of his recurring enemies. The Master, disguised as a professor, has opened a gateway to the place between moments of time and released one of its denizens, Cronos, into the real world. UNIT is hardly equipped to fight a creature that could destroy the entire universe. Not even the Master had expected this result but he’s prepared to take advantage of it. Lots of silliness about time machines inside of time machines and a pretty corny monster. The conflict takes them back to Atlantis to thwart the Master’s plans. An average episode. 11/7/10
The King’s Demons (1983)
Doctor Who runs into an old enemy – the Master – in 13th Century England in this very short entry in the series. King John, the tyrant, is engaged in draining the assets from his subjects when the Doctor shows up. The materialization of the Tardis doesn’t upset the king, which is instantly suspicious. The king has been acting strangely of late, and he names the Doctor and his companions as friendly demons, although his men are decidedly hostile. There’s a very clunky sword fight but not much plot development since the story is over almost before it gets started. There's a shape changing robot controlled by the Master which I thought might become a recurring character, but it was apparently abandoned. Okay, but quite minor. 11/6/10
Never Say Never Again (1983)
The last appearance of Sean Connery as James Bond came in this remake of Thunderball. It unfortunately had a much smaller budget and is not nearly as good as the first version, although Connery remains charming. Lousy theme music as well, and it’s the best part of the soundtrack. Bond fails his fitness test and is sent to recuperate and recondition himself. M has been replaced by a buffoon, Moneypenny is a cipher. Q is absent as well, since this was produced by a different film company than the rest of the series. Max Von Sydox plays Blofeld. There are variations, of course, but not improvements. The replaced pilot gives way to a man surgically altered so that his right retinue is identical to that of the President. Both the script and the supporting actors leave something to be desired. Some of the “serious” scenes are almost comic, sometimes intentionally. Largo’s yacht is replaced by a fishing boat and the undersea footage is minimal and unimpressive. Connery should have stuck to his guns and said “never again.” Kim Basinger is horribly miscast as Largo’s ward – she was 30 at the time, but then again, Connery was 53. Has its moments, but not many. 11/5/10
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
After finally disposing of Blofeld, Bond, maybe, in Sean Connery’s first brief return to the role he is recruited to investigate a diamond smuggling operation. My favorite Bond villains are probably Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the witty and ruthless gay twosome whose strange gentility makes them even more menacing than more obvious bad guys. The first complication arises when the original escapes custody and almost exposes Bond. Bond smuggles the diamonds in the body of the man he killed, still followed by the evil pair. Part of this makes no logical sense. Since the means was improvised at the last moment, why was it that the villains happened to run a funeral home? The dialogue is above average in this one, and Jimmy Dean does a great job as the mildly naïve entrepreneur who gets caught up in the intrigue. One of the mandatory car chases has Bond in a prototype moon buggy. The plot involves an orbiting laser and global blackmail. Good stuff. 11/4/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One soundtrack by Alexander Desplat, Watertower, 2010, $17.98
I got a limited sneak peak at the movie due out in a couple of weeks by listening to the soundtrack. Most of it sounds generically similar to that of the other films in the series, not surprisingly. Some of it is rousing "Snape to Malfoy Manner" for example - while some is relatively quiet with perhaps a hint of mystery, as in "Polyjuice Poison." I found a lot of this sounded very much alike, however, and only a few of the tracks stand out as music in their own right. I liked "Ministry of Magic" for one, and "Detonators", but most of the rest were no unpleasant but not particularly memorable either. This is probably another example where they really need the visual accompaniment to be effective. 11/3/10
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby’s sole outing as James Bond was probably foredoomed to failure because he spent much of the film wearing a kilt and playing an ineffectual fop. Bond impersonates an expert on heraldry in order to get close to the villain. This time it’s Telly Savalas playing Blofeld as Spectre attempts another extortion scheme involving germ warfare. Bond is allied with a feisty socialite, played admirably well by Diana Rigg, but the story is much less absorbing that the earlier Bond films, partly because Lazenby doesn’t have Connery’s presence, partly because of the relatively slow pace that prevails until the climactic scenes. Not my least favorite Bond film – some of the Roger Moore’s verge on unwatchable – but definitely not among my favorites either. 11/2/10
You Only Live Twice (1967)
One of the more overtly SF of the James Bond movies has Spectre capturing American and Soviet satellites as part of a plot to foment a nuclear war. The political interplay is pretty childish, and the science is a bit wonky, but the story is a good one - screenplay by Roald Dahl - and it has one of my favorite of the Bond theme songs. Bond fakes his own death in order to go undercover. Some of this is hyperbolic nonsense - Bond is shot out of a torpedo tube to avoid being seen - but it's fun anyway. He is sent to Japan where he is teamed with an impressive Japanese secret agent and the latter's crew. The actor playing the British agent on station later returned as Blofeld, Bond's short term nemesis. Donald Pleasance plays Blofeld in this one. A large Japanese corporation is the front for the bad guys, which Bond discovers with relative ease. Unfortunately, they learn about him almost simultaneously - car chase and gun battle follows. Some bloopers here. There's a sequence in which Bond watches a helicopter on a screen - but there's no place there could have been a camera to do the recording. And in one of the driving sequences, the car makes various sharp turns even though the driver never moves the steering wheel. The helicopter chase sequence is one of the high points in the series, and the battle sequence inside the fake volcano is terrific. 11/1/10
Hard to believe I first saw this 45 years ago. Sean Connery's fourth outing as James Bond involves the theft of nuclear weapons from a plane stolen from the military by a man surgically altered to be the double of a pilot. It was later remade as Never Say Never Again when Connery briefly returned to the role. Spectre is behind the plot, of course. The soundtrack is excellent, from the days when that was common. The plot proceeds in very efficiently devised scenes establishing Bond's skills and the various villains, as well as the nature of their plot. The almost open acknowledgment between the good guys and bad guys in the Bond films isn't particularly realistic but it's very effective. The underwater sequences are still effective even after all these years. There's a car chase, of course, and Bond has to thwart various attempts on his life, though his fully equipped car certainly helps. Largo has pet sharks in a pool on his estate to which he throws anyone who displeases him. There are a lot of coincidences in the plot, but that's part of the fun. Good dialogue, good editing, and a good story. With the exception of the Roger Moore years, I have long been a fan of this series, which is temporarily in limbo but hopefully not for too long. A timeless movie. 10/30/10
Doctor Who Series 4 soundtrack, composed by Murray Gold, Silva Screen Records, 2010, around $19
This 2 CD set is the accompanying music to the four Doctor Who specials that ended David Tennant's tenure in that role. It's mostly instrumental, of course, mixed with some choral pieces. The first section is drawn from The Next Doctor. Given the predominantly comical nature of this particular story, it's not surprising that the music is generally jaunty with a hint of honky tonk. My favorite track from this section was "The March of the Cybermen" although there were parts of other tracks I liked better. The second special was Planet of the Dead. The first cut is very good but less than a minute long. There is in fact only a bit more than ten minutes of music spread over six cuts, but it's all quite good. A bit of a James Bond sound at times. "A Special Sort of Bus" was my favorite here. There's only slightly more music for The Waters of Mars. This was a fairly creepy episode and the music reflects the suspenseful tone. The rather somber "Altering Lives" is the best here. The entire second disc is from The End of Time, 26 tracks in all. There's quite a bit of variation here. Among the best cut are "A Frosty Odd," "Wilf's Wiggle," "Final Days." "The Ruined Childhood." and "The New Doctor." A lot of quite nice music here. 10/29/10
Mega Piranha (2010)
I came to this one with low expectations. It's another giant version of a regular critter movie from the Sci-Fi Channel, and the title tells you exactly what the critter is. It stars Tiffany, apparently a singer turned actress whose earlier career I missed entirely. There's some gratuitous nudity which appears to have been grafted in after the fact - can't show boobs on the Sci Fi Channel. A boatload of corrupt Venezuelan officials, the US ambassdaor, and their girlfriends, none of whom can act worth beans, gets attacked by the oversized fish early on, precipitating an investigation. First laugh - piranhas don't growl. Anyway, the army sends special forces in to find out what happened in a laughably implausible sequence. Much of the film is done in very short clips with audibly announced jumps from one to the next. Tiffany is a scientist also on the scene. She can't act either. Her team determines that the piranha are doubling in size every 36 hours! They also filmed using odd color filters at times, giving things a washed out or even greenish or yellowish looks. The special forces guy doesn't speak Spanish! He barely speaks English. Tiffany somehow finds out that he's coming and who he is and meets him at the airport to explain the whole background. The argument between the special forces guy and the local colonel is completely nonsensical. The leader actor - who appeared previously in such mega hits as MegaFault, Cannibal Taboo, Komodo vs Cobra, and Aliens on Crack has absolutely no screen presence or personality. The special effects are special only in their badness. Flying piranhas, fights with obvious mockups, and other really cheapo devices. Our hero suggests electrocuting them or poisoning them but the "scientists" insist that will only trigger a reproductive cycle and they want to drain that part of the river instead. They also say that if the fish escape the dammed area, they will reach the Mississippi within 48 hours! They must have reserved seats on Panamerican airlines. The Venezuelans decide to attack them with helicopters. Naturally it doesn't work. The scenes of the fish floating in the water are quite funny, since they're an overlay that doesn't interact with the background. Several sequences are repeated frame for frame which makes them look ludicrous. Not that anything in the movie ISN'T ludicrous. Screenplay by the guy who played the ambassador. Sets new standards for the phrase "bad movie." You'll roll on the floor laughing when our hero defeats a school of giant piranha by foot boxing. The size of the piranha also increases and decreases from one shot to the next. And did you know that a US warship can fire into sovereign territory if it receives an emergency request from a US citizen? Or that one can cross the mouth of the Orinoco so quickly that there is only a sixty second period during which it can fire at that target? The scientist, incidentally, has a sonar device that she can carry in her handbag that allows her to detect if there are any living piranha in the entire Orinoco river system. Except it turns out that it doesn't work. The piranha, which can also live in salt water, attack and destroy armored ships, and survive direct hit by a nuclear weapon. So low budget that even the helicopters are CGI. And American submarines do not have mixed gender crews. "How long before they reach Florida?" "Less than an hour, sir." "Not enough time for an evacuation." You think? The underwater rifle fires 120 rounds per minute, but the magazine only contains 20 rounds!!!! So the government plans a massive nuclear attack on Florida. The solution is so incredibly stupid I can't even type the words. 10/26/10
Dumb Witness (1996)
Poirot and Hastings are on another of their holiday outings - this time involving boat races -when they find themselves in the middle of another murder mystery. Two elderly sisters claim to have had a warning from beyond the grave that the speedboat run will have fatal consequences and try to get Poirot to stop it from taking place, but it's too late and beyond his power in any case. Fortunately the target of the attack - a sabotaged boat - escapes. Poirot believes that someone is trying to kill an elderly woman for her money but he's warned off by one man while secretly supported by a woman. The former, a doctor of sorts, gives her a potion and she dies, poisoned, shortly after taking some of it. A dog turns out to be a key witness, hence the title, but how does Poirot elicit his testimony? Some of the characters are admirable this time, some not, but it's not always clear which are which. The solution fooled me completely this time. 10/.23/10
Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1995)
A violent falling out between two partners prospecting for diamonds reverberates decades later and brings Poirot to yet another murder investigation. One partner is apparently dead and the survivor appears to have made another potential enemy by taking advantage of a woman during his trip back to civilization. In the present, the survivor is now head of a mining corporation, but his personality has not improved during the interim. Circumstances compel Poirot to spend the holiday at a country estate despite his disinclination under normal circumstances. Simeon Lee, the rich man, who recently received a shipment of diamonds, insists that his life is in danger and judging by the surliness of his household, he has good reason. Reasons, in fact. There are three sons, one of whom is the black goat returning unannounced after years of absence. There was also a daughter, whose own daughter is among the visitors. The potentate pretends to be confined to a wheelchair but is actually reasonably limber. His relatives are almost uniformly awful people. The obvious character is murdered, which he seems to have provoked by claiming to be changing his will and cutting off his sons' allowances. It appears to have been staged because the police inspector in charge shows up before being called, and was seen in the house a short time before, but Lee is clearly dead. At first both I and Poirot suspected a suicide rigged to look like murder, although I found it hard to believe that Lee would die voluntarily. Lots of clues pointing in different directions. There's also a mysterious old woman in the area whom I suspected to be the wronged woman from forty years before. Contradictory stories and guilty knowledge confuse things further. I guessed the killer's identity this time because there was something off in one of the character's actions, but had no idea how the murder was accomplished. Good show as always. 10/22/10
Peril at End House (1990)
I'm approaching the end of the Poirots, alas. This is one of the full length ones, with Poirot and Frazer on vacation where they meet a young woman who has just escaped four near fatal "accidents." Although she's a nice enough person, her friends are almost universally obnoxious. I also found it slightly implausible that the woman would survive this many near death experiences and not be more suspicious. There is no obvious motive since the prospective victim has an estate that appears nearly worthless. The chain of circumstances leading to the true motive is a bit circuitous but Poirot perseveres and discovers the truth in due course. As always, superior production values and fine acting make this a very effective adaptation. There's a minor blip toward the end where a scene essentially repeats itself, dispensing the same information we had just received a minute earlier, but otherwise the screenplay is tight and intelligent. A very surprising ending, although I found the character's transformation not completely credible.10/21/10
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
This clever little movie about Holmes and Watson meeting when both are still schoolboys impressed me when I first saw it, and this is the first chance I’ve had to watch it again, some twenty years later. Despite the gap of time, I remembered much of it very clearly, including the identity of the villain. There’s also a pretty girl and Dudley, the snobbish rival for her affections. There’s also a sinister figure skulking about, an eccentric who has invented a flying machine, and a man in the area was recently driven to suicide by induced hallucinations. Holmes gets expelled after he is framed for cheating and then gets involved in the investigation of the death of his girlfriend’s guardian. He uncovers a murderous Egyptian cult operating secretly within English society by infiltrating their quite elaborate temple. Very enjoyable from beginning to end. 10/16/10
Raging Sharks (2004)
Howling IV (1988)
Night Shadow (1989)
Another set of four low budget horror movies on one disc – the fourth title is Kraken, which I reviewed a while back. Raging Sharks opens with a Star Wars shot – giant spaceship coming onto screen from behind us. It attacks and destroys a second ship orbiting the Earth, destroying both apparently, although a capsule falls into the ocean, just happening to hit a ship in the process. Pretty high odds against that. And why didn’t radar show the alien ships in the first place, let alone the large meteor? Turns out this is the Bermuda Triangle. Five years later an undersea research team is exploring the area when they discover an artifact that has attracted hundreds of sharks. I wondered what had happened to Vanessa Angel and now I know. This wasn’t too bad until the first shark attack when Angel, acting leader of the expedition, decides to go outside the vessel personally to help them, even though she doesn’t know what’s going on – and doesn’t take a weapon. The surface ship commander promptly says “send a diver down”, which makes no sense, and I also doubt that the oxygen cables to the surface would be so fragile that a shark could bite through them. Lots of stock footage of submarines and sharks in this one – some of it used more than once - as the navy sends a ship commanded by a captain who opposes the mission (?) along with Angel’s husband and a government functionary who is clearly the villainous bureaucrat. And why would the submarine travel submerged if time is of the essence – subs move faster on the surface. Nor do they have any underwater rescue gear aboard. Some terrible acting mixed in with the mostly bland performances. The chief maintenance guy and the surface ship captain are the worst, although the stupid lines they are forced to utter might have something to do with it. When the villainous bureaucrat tries to blame the shark attacks on the installation, I came close to aborting the movie and watching something more intelligent, like Plan 9 from Outer Space. The rescue is performed by using the minisub from the station, so why does our hero and the villain have to first swim TO the station, which means more people to breathe the dwindling air? Not that it matters since the sub is somehow disabled by the alien capsule. And I don’t believe that sharks growl. Our hero gets trapped by the sharks so the sub fires a torpedo at the sharks!!! And now that I think of it, why does the station not have an escape capsule of its own? And at one point they only have ten minutes of oxygen left, but ten minutes later they appear to have forgotten all about it and half an hour later they’re running around wielding knives and machine guns, even though there are now also multiple fires consuming the oxygen. The exciting (?) conclusion includes mass murder by the bureaucrat who turns out to be a paranoid special agent working for the evil government. Absolute garbage.
Howling IV, despite the title, is an inferior remake of the first rather than a sequel, even though it is closer to the original Gary Brandner novel. The theme music is terrible. A woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown goes to a remote resort with her husband, but the resort is full of werewolves. Cheaply made with unconvincing special effects. The first version was a nice little movie. This one is a mess.
Night Shadow is also a werewolf movie. It’s also quite bad. A whole cast full of obnoxious people whose fate is of absolutely no interest to us, and played by actors – I use the term advisedly – of questionable talent. There’s also something wrong with the color, which is much too red, and the picture is often fuzzy. The sound level is also uneven. A woman is en route to visit her home town when she is disturbed by a mysterious man standing beside his disabled car, whom we discover has a dismembered body in his trunk. Ultimately it became unwatchable and I fast forwarded to the end. 10/15/10
Poirot Classic Collection 3 (1989)
Another selection of nine shorter Poirot episodes, starting with “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb”. An archaeologist dies moments after entering a tomb, apparently from a heart attack although his widow, and Poirot, retain some skepticism. Then a second member of the expedition dies of a mysterious infection, his nephew appears to have committed suicide, and another of the team dies of tetanus. The identity of the killer is obvious but the motive is not. An okay episode.
“The Underdog” has Poirot traveling to see a private art collection while friend Hastings plays golf, and murder interrupts their plans. There’s a supercilious businessman, some confidential papers, a mysterious interloper, and other elements to develop the story prior to the actual murder. The businessman, obviously the victim to be, even provides Poirot with reason to wish him dead. The nephew is the obvious suspect, compounded by the fact that he discovered the body and covered up the fact, confusing the time of death. One of the better segments.
“The Yellow Iris” involves an older case that Poirot failed to solve. We have a flashback to his brief visit to Argentina where he becomes a peripheral witness to a murder against a backdrop of government bribery and near revolution. An heiress, who had threatened to reveal some secret, is poisoned at dinner, but the military imprisons Poirot, preventing him from investigating, apparently at the instigation of one of the parties to the bribery plot. In the present, the same dinner party is meeting at the same restaurant, which has relocated to London. I guessed wrong, although it’s fairly obvious once explained.
“The Case of the Missing Will” involves the death of a man who was about to alter his will, making the big loser – his physician – the obvious prime suspect. But the old will is also missing, which makes it impossible for him to inherit. There is also a son born out of wedlock, who gets promoted to the most likely candidate. A fairly good mystery and this one had a back story that I liked better than most.
“The Case of the Italian Nobleman” involves blackmail, international politics, organized crime, and the murder of a prominent Italian under very strange circumstances. I guessed the killer in this one almost immediately, but was confused about the motive until almost the final revelation. The plot wanders a bit on this one, not one of the best episodes.
“The Chocolate Box” also involves an old, unsolved case, and brings Poirot back to his native Belgium. Most of this episode is also a flashback, allowing Suchet to act without the padding he used invariably otherwise. Poirot takes a more active physical role in this one – given that he’s supposed to be twenty years younger and still a uniformed police officer. The murder has a connection to political intrigue and his superiors are not happy with his unofficial investigation, what he describes as his first job as a private detective. There’s a bit of contradiction in his reaction to the justified murder in this case and the one in Murder on the Orient Express.
I believe “The Adventure of the Clapham Cook” was the first ever appearance of David Suchet as Poirot. He is browbeaten into investigating the disappearance of a cook from the private residence where she was employed, but the case turns out to be more complex than he expected. There’s also an absconding bank clerk, whose close friend lives in the house where the cook worked. The cook was lured away by a supposed legacy and is living in northern England. One of the best of the plots.
"The Dead Man's Mirror" has Poirot taking a job in exchange for an antique in which he was interested, the investigation of a possible fraud scheme. His client is an apparent suicide, but naturally we know full well that he was really murdered, as does Poirot. This is, I think, the first locked room mystery in the Poirot canon. Mysticism, a pending rewrite of a will, and secret marriages all add to the mix, but I found the story unconvincing and the delivery less than scintillating.
Lastly we have "Jewelry Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan." While trying to take a vacation, Poirot finds himself saddled with a new case. I suspected it was all a hoax for the insurance money almost immediately, but the method of the theft - taken from a box watched over by a servant at virtually all times - was a complete puzzle. The servant is clearly being framed. An average episode.
Appointment with Death (2008)
Poirot is accompanying an archeological expedition in Syria for this one, which provides the opportunity for some great scenery, and excellent set dressing. Unfortunately, the wife of the expedition leader is the only dead body they discover. She’s one of those characters whom we’re really happy to see knocked off and I was half inclined to hope Poirot would fail. Her awfulness is established by a series of encounters, and the other characters are all developed quite nicely before the murder is committed. The murder itself is quite perplexing; the woman is sitting on a platform by herself in plain view of many people when she is stabbed to death. Then another member of the party is seriously injured in an apparent attempt to carry off one of the young women, although I wasn’t at all convinced by the account as given. And an apparent suicide adds to the confusion. I believe I read the original novel in high school but didn’t remember it at all. It is one of the most impressive of the adaptations, because of the nicely constructed plot and high production values. Multiple clever revelations at the end, only one of which I anticipated. 10/3/10
Third Girl (2008)
A young woman approaches Hercule Poirot claiming to have, perhaps, committed a murder, then bolts, arousing his curiosity. He decides to investigate anyway and finds that she is the third girl in a shared apartment. An elderly woman is found dead in the same building, apparently a suicide, who turns out to be connected to the girl. A mystery novelist becomes his not entirely welcome partner in investigating family fractures, a suicide, a disturbed young woman, and an artist who may also be a fortune hunter. The disturbed girl confesses to the murder, even though we know she is innocent. There are several good red herrings and I never had a strong feeling about who the real killer was before it was revealed. Zoe Wanamaker is excellent as the novelist. Strong performances, great sets, and a lively adapation all help make this one work. 10/2/10
Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
This is probably the best known and arguably the best in general of the Poirot mysteries. This version opens with a suicide and then a woman is stoned to death, setting a darker tone than in the other episodes. I knew the solution to this in advance so there wasn’t much mystery for me, but I won’t reveal it here in case there is anyone who has not. It’s one of the most innovative in all mystery fiction. Excellent production values, which goes without saying in this series, and a very good cast. Poirot comes across as a bit callous this time – he doesn’t object to the stoning, for example, since it conformed to Turkish law. The victim, one of the passengers, is a particularly obnoxious character, so it’s not surprising that there are people with reasons to want him dead. He is killed in the night shortly before the train is caught in a snowdrift in an isolated location. I didn’t think this could rival the all star cast theatrical movie, but it’s even better. Poirot’s struggle to reconcile justice and the law is particularly effective. 10/1/10
Adventures of the Flying Cadets (1943)
I was in the mood for a corny cliffhanger serial, and this certainly fills the bill, a wartime adventure about a group of young fliers who battle secret agents and saboteurs. It’s actually not a bad serial either, at least for the first half. But then our young heroes are framed for the work of the evil Black Hangman, and they have to travel to Africa to thwart the Nazi plot, and the second half is very slow moving, repetitive, and not nearly as good as the first. In a break from tradition, we discover the true identity of the chief villain in the third segment of fifteen, although it wasn’t much of a surprise even then. The acting is actually better than usual for serials – the villain is Robert Armstrong, ten years after he captured King Kong. Eduardo Cianelli and Regis Toomey also appear briefly. Some of the plot elements are pretty silly. Rather than call or radio a warning, our heroes decide to steal a plane and fly to their endangered friend, and then don’t bother to check the fuel level and promptly crash. They arrive long after other people from the original site have already arrived at the same place. And even though the police know of the planned murder, they don’t do anything about it, which makes our heroes look even more guilty. But then again, serials never were strong on logic. In a way, it’s part of their charm. 9/30/10
Wages of Sin (2006)
Skeleton Man (2004)
Live Animals (2008)
Four cheapo horror movies on one DVD. At least they’re cheap. The first is about four annoying yuppies traveling to the home inherited by one of their number, where they encounter ghosts, get possessed, and eventually killed by a religious maniac spirit. Low key for this sort of thing, and too slow moving to really be suspenseful. Acting is mediocre to awful and the writing is about the same. Skeleton Man is rather busier and concerns the depredations of a cloaked, skeletal figure – hence the title – who chops, slashes, and hacks his way through the various cast members. At times I thought this was supposed to be a spoof and at times I thought they were trying to be serious, and I’m not sure if the former was simply because they were so bad at bringing off the latter. Eyebrow raisers are frequent. Why does an electrical worker in a power station happen to carry a shotgun in his workbag, for example? Next we have a squad of soldiers virtually wiped out by critter, now on horseback, while a search and rescue team – mostly attractive women and none in uniform, is traveling through the same area. The last survivor sends a message – AFTER HIS PHONE IS BROKEN – which insists that he cannot describe the creature that attacked them. That’s funny because I can. It’s a skull headed figured wearing a black cloak and riding a horse. This particular soldier outruns a horse a few times before being beheaded. Then a bunch of guards at some military base get slaughtered – and no one bothers to radio in a report or call for help. The rescue team, incidentally, doesn’t bother to stay together in unknown territory. The killings get monotonous very quickly and their encounter with a Native American who likes beans is farcical and seems out of place. And the scriptwriter obviously didn’t care that the US Army cannot conduct military operations like this inside the US, cannot supersede civilian authorities, or that they certainly use helicopters to search, not seven people with no transport. Nor do security guards at manufacturing plants carry submachineguns. Bad special effects and photography as well. Pointless, senseless, worthless.
Next up is “Live Animals” about a group of young adults kidnapped into slavery. I wasn't able to watch this one to the end because the bad acting, bad script, slow pace, and other problems - most notably the soundtrack is slightly out of sync with the images - but I saw enough to know it would have been a waste of time to continue. “Roman” is probably the best of the films, but it also isn’t horror. It’s about a shy guy who obsesses about a girl and that complicates his life in various ways. A tad slow at times but not at all bad. Particularly compared to its three companions in this set. It was completely unmemorable though and offers nothing of interest. 9/19/10
Four young adult types get stranded in the desert in this story of survival. There's a married couple who are having some relational problems, an air headed model, and a photographer who has organized this trip for a photoshoot in the middle of nowhere. Without telling anyone where they're going. Without bringing a radio - and naturally they're out of range of cellphone towers. I can't say much for the photography, which should have shown off the beautiful if barren landscapes. The colors are washed out and the images are often vaguely fuzzy. This may have been intentional. Some of the framing is odd too, like profile shots where the end of the nose is cut off. There's also a problem I see in many horror movies - none of the foursome are particularly likeable so our investment in their fate is minimal. They decide to trek out but the model has a possible concussion, then dies. I know people don't act rationally all the time in an emergency but they seemed more aimless than most, straying from the road, not bothering to try getting water from the cacti or plants, and so forth. The really low key soundtrack underscores the slow pace and basically unpleasant nature of the story. 9/15/10
Supernatural Television Series Soundtrack, Christopher Lennertz and Jay Gruska, Watertower Music, 2010, around $9
This selection of music from the five series of the television series - which I've watched a couple of times - seems to be split about half and half between the two composers listed above. It's a horror series, so as you might imagine it's long on suspense, startling changes of direction, loud noises, and occasional creepiness. Some of it is also somber, quiet, and not at all what I expected. My reaction to this was mixed because even many of the individual bands change their nature so dramatically that they don't come across as a single, separate piece of music. Band 2, for example, has parts I liked a lot and others that I found dull (presumably if I'd been watching the episode in question at the time there would have been something more interesting to see). Band 4, "Demon Agitato, Mr. Ostinato", is quite good, as is the next, "Dean's Dirty Organ." Yes, the titles are pretty bad throughout. Other ones I actively liked were "The Grateful Undead" and "Old Monster Movie." I've actually bought the first three seasons on DVD and one of these days I might actually watch the pictures that go with the music. 9/8/10
I was in the mood for a disaster movie, although given that this is also from the Sci-Fi Channel, I had little hope of it being good even though it has a reasonably good cast - Eriq Lasalle and the late Brittany Murphy. The opening scene, with mediocre effects, has a designed explosion setting off a major earthquake. Did you ever notice how in movies that faults actually chase the hero and stop when they catch up with them? At times you can see right through the CGI images. And the trees don't even shiver while the ground is supposedly collapsing all around them. Murphy is an earthquake specialist working with FEMA and she has boss problems with her snippy husband. She rescues LaSalle who is buried in his truck. I have to wonder how he was able to breathe all that time while completely buried, but what the heck. But coincidences are rife in this one. LaSalle's house blows up at the exact second that he flies over it in a helicopter. Based on No Information Whatsoever, she then concludes that the earthquake could run all the way across the continent, which makes an interesting visual but is, of course, scientific nonsense. Meanwhile, air traffic control goes out so her family's flight home is suddenly out of control (!)and gets hit by another plane. All communications are out so Murphy checks the ham radio band and the operator just happens to know that the plane crashed, so she and LaSalle - who just happens to be a pilot - steal a helicopter to go find the survivors. Hubby and kid have survived with no injuries and are wandering around in Oklahoma. They get chased by the quake again. "No way! There's a quake on my tail." . Apparently no one else survived. So the military begins firing on the helicopter! The stupidity level overflowed at this point, and it gets worse. When they hitch a ride on an oil truck and it catches fire, the driver says they can't stop because it won't blow up while they're moving, which means it has to be uncoupled while in motion. I doubt the screenwriter could have been this stupid so I guess he just didn't care. What do you expect from someone whose current project is Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus and whose past credits include Mega Piranha, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Invasion of the Pod People.And why, when the kid is alone with her father, does she keep calling him "mommy"? And if all communications are out, including internet and radio and cellphones, how can they tell within minutes when the husband uses his credit card? For that matter, how can the credit card system be working? It takes four soldiers with machineguns to guard them! It turns out the army has a satellite which can beam down instant cold, freezing water or melting ice to influence earthquakes. Most of the actors are just mouthing their lines and clearly have no interest in the story, a sentiment shared by most viewers no doubt. And the second half is actually even worse! This one makes most of the really bad disaster movies look relatively good. Even the maps are wrong, placing cities in the wrong place. 9/1/10
Piranha 3D (2010)
On impulsve I decided to go see this, probably because I've watched so many bad horror movies recently. I was also curious about the 3D effects. I hadn't seen a 3D movie since I was a kid. So first of all, the effects are much more sophisticated and at times very impressive. On the other hand, they tend to distract from what is actually happening, and some of the things done in the movie to take advantage of the effect are very artificial and strike a false note. As to the story, it's what you'd expect if you've seen the first two versions, or Jaws for that matter. I noticed that the poster makes it look a lot like that classic film. In this variation, an earthquake opens a passage from an underground lake and hordes of piranha emerge just as the local town is having its spring break influx of frequently naked college students. The naked aspect was overdone at times, but I kind of expected that as well. Special effects and acting are otherwise pretty good and the plot - what there is of it - is logical and sound with only a couple of places where my credulity was strained. On the other hand, I think they made a strategic mistake in making nearly all of the characters nasty people. Even the heroic female sheriff is introduced to us in a situation in which she clearly over reacts and breaks the law herself. It's a pleasant enough way to waste some time, but I actually preferred Piranha 2, which I thought had a much better story, acting, and tightness of plot. 8/25/10
Princess of Mars (2010)
This is the cheapo version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, anticipating the big budget one supposedly in the works. Antonio Sabato Jr. is John Carter and Traci Lords is Dejah Thoris, so my expectations were low. Carter is a special forces op who is dying after an absurdly stupid episode in Afghanistan. It took Burroughs only a few pages to get Carter to Mars; the movie takes about ten minutes. They record his complete personality, memory, and body on a 16 gigabyte flashdisk, so they can bring him back to life, but only on another planet. The mysterious gas in the cave in the book seems scientifically rigorous in comparison. And if they’re sending him there to gain information, why is there no way for him to communicate back to them? And despite the blurb on the packaging, it isn’t Mars; it’s in another solar system entirely, except that the inhabitants are human, the air is breathable, and everyone human speaks English. He can magically speak the lizard people’s language after eating a bug. Lords is too old for the part – and unlike Burroughs’ Martians, she covers her breasts. There’s a war going on between races, neither of which has four arms. Sabato shows up in his underwear and runs into lizard people, who don’t have banths, and is taken prisoner. Various trials ensue including a battle with unconvincing giant spiders after which Sabato poses heroically. There are also literally dozens of head shots showing him reacting, or usually not reacting, to whatever is going on. He does that a lot. Very silly. The bars on the cage where Dejah Thoris is “imprisoned” have gaps wide enough for her to step through, but she doesn’t. The airships aren’t badly done but the battle sequences are. The plot is full of holes and unexplained jumps, all conveyed through bad dialogue ineptly delivered. For one thing, how would a Turkish innkeeper know about the one crucial piece of equipment in an oxygen plant that keeps an entire planet alive, and why would that be so vulnerable that he could casually pull it loose and threaten the entire planet? The corny dialogue is the only thing that resembles Burroughs. Whatever this movie might be, it is NOT based on anything Burroughs ever wrote. 8/23/10
Continuing my Sci-Fi Channel tour. This one is about a carnival that has the Jersey Devil, the real one, as one of its attractions, until it escapes. The carnival staff aren't all that nice either, since they kill the man they buy the creature from in the opening scene rather than pay him. Lou Diamond Phillips is the sheriff in the small town where all of this happens. The local minister is a nutcase who believes the carnival freaks are the epitome of evil. We don't actually see it at first, which is a good thing because when we finally do it looks exceptionally fake. The sheriff wants to kill it, the carnies want to retake it alive, and the local minister runs around acting like a nut. Corny dialogue doesn't help any and even Phillips can't carry the movie by himself. The creature has wings, but doesn't use them when flying. The dog that is supposedly "spooked:" is actually wagging its tail. Nor would a fast moving stream still be filled with blood several hours after someone was killed beside it. When the police leave one of their own, alone, at the crime scene, the implausibility level exceeded by ability to suspend my disbelief, and it was pretty much downhill from there, although the slope was pretty gradual given that the quality was never very elevated to start with. 8/22/10
Headless Horseman (2007)
This appears to be another Sci-Fi Channel movie, although it's rated R, possibly retrofitted for the DVD release. A group of college students wander into a "lost" town which is cursed. A child killer who was beheaded by the locals returns periodically to claim heads of children and the newcomers are next on the list. The low budget was obvious in the prologue; a squad is sent to hold a vital bridge, but the squad consists of two men. The characters are flat and the acting varies from ok to really bad. Some of the special effects aren't too shabby though. The town purports to host the legend that inspired Washington Irving's story, even though it's in Missouri which was barely settled in 1820 when the story was written. The horseman rises and reconstitutes his body and then starts tracking down his victims one by one. For a change, the prospective victims know they're in danger starting with the first death. Since the town sides with the horseman, a lot of them end up dead, killed by the reluctant victims. Since the horseman is invulnerable, there's not much suspense of story line to this one. Of its type, its about average. 8/20/10
High Plains Invaders (2009)
Another Sci-Fi Channel monster movie. Yeah, I’m a glutton for punishment but this one stars James Marsters – Spike from Buffy – and it’s set in the Old West, which was a nice change. Marsters is about to be hanged when the aliens – sort of robot scorpions – show up and begin killing people. There’s a female bounty hunter with a macho complex, and several minor anachronisms – no one knew uranium was dangerous to the health at this point in history, but the town actually looks gritty and depressing enough to be convincing. The CGI is okay, but not great, and the creatures are at least interesting if not very practical. They’re also virtually invulnerable to bullets, of course. A lot of the characters stupidly refuse to run when the creature approaches, and the first critter to appear retreats for no good reason and then gets blown up by dynamite. They get three more in short order, but lose a couple of their own in the process. Unfortunately, that still leaves at least four of the creatures, not to mention an alien spaceship with lots of reinforcements. Eventually we learn that the bugs are harvesting the uranium, through a gigantic leap of logic by one of the characters. Some plot holes of various sizes, but the acting is decent, the special effects not awful, and there’s even a reasonably interesting story for a change. 8/19/10
Poirot Set 3 (1990)
“The Kidnapped Prime Minister” is about just what the title suggests. Poirot is called in to find the missing man quickly because his presence is essential at an armaments conference. I tumbled to the crucial part of the solution almost immediately, an impersonation to confuse the issue of just when the man was kidnapped. The frustration on the part of the government official with Poirot’s roundabout method of solving the case is nicely done.
“The Adventure of the Western Star” pits Poirot against a jewel thief, but this time it’s painfully obvious what is going on. It’s only how many of the people involved at part of the fraudulent threatening letters, the faked theft, and other aspects of the conspiracy. The clues are just too obvious this time and the performances unconvincing. Not one of Christie’s better stories, and not one of the program’s better episodes.
“How Does Your Garden Grow?” is the only actual murder case in this set. Poirot has just had a rose named after him and is in a good mood when he has an odd encounter with an elderly woman who later writes and tells him something strange is going on within her household. The suspects include her niece, the niece's husband, and a hired companion. There is contention among them over the provisions of the woman's will, which apparently benefit the governess. This seems to eliminate the married couple, except that the companion disappears mysteriously, suggesting they become the heirs after all. But why would she have committed the murder if she was going to abscond without the money? Obviously the couple are responsible after all. A clever episode even though it's not very hard to see through the mystery. 8/18/10
The Twin Dilemma (1984)
The sixth and my least favorite Doctor Who. This was shortly after he took over the role and the writing had dropped in quality as well. The Doctor’s regeneration has not been smooth and he is emotional and confused and determined to become a hermit. Meanwhile a pair of twins with extraordinary powers are kidnapped by an alien for purposes unknown. The Doctor stumbles upon all of this while not in a very good mood. There’s the usual cliffhangers and deus ex machina escapes, but the tiny cast and poor costuming – the chief villain looks positively silly – doom this to being one of the most minor of all the 1980s stories. The corny overacting and bad science don’t help much either. 8/16/10
Predators soundtrack by John Debney, La-La Land Records, 2010, lists around $18
A return to the original franchise, which I never noticed in the theaters although it supposedly showed up a month ago. I was a big fan of first two movies, not so much of the attempts to incorporate them with the Alien franchise, although it sounded like a good idea. This new score incorporates elements from the earlier ones here and there and almost everywhere, providing a sense of continuity and familiarity. As you might expect, it alternates between suspenseful and fast paced, presumably matching what was happening on the screen. The best cuts include “Cages/Trip Wire”, which reminded me of Road Warrior at times, “Hound Attack”, and “Predator Attack”. Obviously there is a lot of attacking. Judging by the titles of the cuts, there are also a lot of “last stands.” My only quibble is that there is so much inclusion of the original theme music that this soundtrack doesn’t ever really acquire a life of its own; there’s no new theme to associate with the new movie. Most of it is listenable but even the ones I liked the most didn’t stand out a lot. 8/16/10
Horror of Dracula (1957)
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1969)
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
Dracula AD 1972 (1972)
Christopher Lee has four outings as Dracula, usually opposed by Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Horror of Dracula fails to be more than a superficial version of the original Stoker novel, although the early sequences are very compressed and diluted of their creepy content. Harker - much too old for the part – arrives after an uneventful trip to an apparently abandoned castle. The variations get more noticeable as the story unfolds. It is Lucy, not Mina, who is engaged to Jonathan. Mina is engaged to Arthur Godalming, who was Lucy’s intended in the book. Quincey Morris isn’t in the movie at all and Jack Seward barely makes an appearance. Carfax Abbey is never mentioned and Jonathan Harker knows from the outset that he’s a vampire. And Dracula is killed by the wrong person and Harker dies rather than survive. So basically they borrowed the character names and virtually nothing else. Ignoring all this, there’s not a bad story although Harker is rather dilatory about killing the vampires when he gets his chance, even though he knows nightfall is near, and he doesn’t kill Dracula first, which would have been the obvious course of action. Peter Cushing steals the show – Lee has only a few lines and is pretty much a minor character in this one. It’s not clear where the story takes place either – somewhere in Europe, possibly Germany. Relatively tame by contemporary standards, but nicely done.
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave appears to take place a year later, although there are some minor contradictions. A dead woman is found in a church near Dracula’s castle and the local villagers don’t seem much impressed by the fact that Dracula is supposedly dead. Although the castle was right on a road in the first, for some reason this time it can only be reached by climbing up rocky escarpments on foot without even a trail. It is clearly not the same castle either. When a priest tries to exorcise the castle, Dracula – whose body has somehow been restored from its ashes – is brought back to life. But then how was the woman killed by a vampire some time earlier? Anyway, pissed that his castle has been closed to him, Dracula enslaves a priest and sets out to track down the man responsible. Lee doesn’t have a big part in this one either. The various characters are actually quite well done, including those we know are going to die. Actually, not a lot happens in this one and no one even dies until more than an hour into the movie. No Van Helsing in this one, just a young hero and an old bishop. Not bad but kind of slow until the last few minutes.
Taste the Blood of Dracula is a low point in the series, which starts literally with the final scene of the previous one, Dracula dying impaled by the cross. A traveler happens to witness the death scene, salvages the blood stained cloak, and later sells it to a group of sensation seeking “pillars” of the community. A black mass goes wrong and Dracula is restored to life, unbeknownst to them. Dracula goes after the families of the three surviving members of the cabal, which includes the innocent young girl in love with a man her father does not approve of. The story is pretty much a retread, there’s very little Christopher Lee, and while the rest of the cast actually does a good job, the story isn’t that interesting. One of the three is killed and the other two discover the truth. Very tame even for its time and the final confrontation doesn’t even make sense.
Dracula AD 1972 is the most recent of the four films. It opens in 1872 with Cushing, playing Lawrence Van Helsing, killing Lee once again. Once again a passerby salvages a sample of the ashes. A century passes against a background of really awful music. There we meet a group of truly obnoxious younger people who are into gate crashing parties and destroying private property, which didn't bode well for my ability to care about their future. Peter Cushing plays yet another of his own ancestors, whose granddaughter is part of the youth gang - although her personality does not support her being one of this particular clique. One of the group is named Johnny Alucard, not a very convincing cover. The subpar opening flowers into a really bad movie, with lots of overacting by half the cast, with inane dialogue, bad music, and a storyline that must have made the crew and cast chuckle a lot. Anyway, they perform an occult ritual which brings Dracula back to life. Not much of Lee in this one either. The mix of good and bad acting result in an odd dichotomy. 8/15/10
Well, not really, although it's about a cult that involves fishlike mutations and a plot to take over the world. A gay professor returns to his home town for his mother's funeral, has strange encounters before discovering that his father's bizarre cult is not just pretend. There's a moderately strong gay angle and a rather tedious plot. Not much of anything in the way of monsters, special effects, or suspense. The production would have been helped by some lights once in a while - in fact frequently - but the worst part, other than the dull dialogue, was the frequently abysmal - no pun intended - acting, which varies from amateurish to embarrassing. My attention began to wander early in this one and I saw no reason to call it to heel. 8/14/10
Sand Serpents (2009)
A squad of soldiers in Afghanistan runs into a plague of oversized worms that eat people. Not much to the story obviously and I wasn't expecting anything as good as Tremors, particularly since this is from the Sci-Fi Channel. One does wonder why the patrol would be sent without air cover or backup, and why only seven of them, two of whom are women. In the initial scenes, when they're checking out a possible Taliban hideout, they advance openly and loudly and at times are bunched together to make nice targets. Naturally no one radios for help when they're attacked and the survivors are taken prisoner in short order. With the plausibility factor already gone, I had little hope of anything like actual suspense. Then, while our heroes are conveniently blindfolded, the Taliban are wiped out by the worms - off screen. The dialogue - particularly the macho bits - are dreadful. A helicopter shows up and one of the worms snatches it out of the sky - our first sight of them and not badly done. Then there's tunneling and running around and the explanation that they're attracted by sound and vibration, stolen right out of Tremors. Interesting weapons they have. Even though they aren't carrying anything that might contain spare magazines, they never run out of bullets. I also wondered how a woman who was forced into the army because of her criminal past - and they don't do that any more as far as I know - would end up being in an elite unit. Convenient plot devices - they run into an anti-Taliban local who speaks flawless English and has access to a truck, weapons, and other items - don't help the story line very much. And where in Afghanistan would they be 300 miles from the nearest military base or civilian town? Watchable if you don't pay too much attention when the worms aren't on screen, but just barely. And they cheat. When they kill the first worm, we don't get to see it. Probably couldn't afford more CGI. 8/13/10
Something Beneath (2008)
Another Sci-Fi channel original, and one of their worst efforts. A resort is being developed on ground which is home to an alien creature which takes the form of ooze - that's right - and causes anyone who touches its body to have hallucinations about their greatest fears. The opening scenes are mixed with attempts at humor that fail utterly. Kevin Sorbo is a visiting priest who teams up with Natalie Brown, the events coordinator, when strange things begin to happen. The characters are stereotypes, and not even good stereotypes. The keynote speaker has never done any public speaking before and is terrified, his wife is a flamboyant kook, and everyone else looks awkward trying to be funny. The logic makes no sense either. The man terrified of public speaking hallucinates that he's being swallowed up by the ground. Then hotel security goes into a private room with gun drawn just because the guest is missing. Nonsense. An example of the witty dialogue. "Naughty boy. You were looking at my ta-tas." When they find the first body in the woods, they don't call the police - they decide to put the body in the restaurant cooler. At one point the coordinator says of one of the characters "that's a horrible way to die", except that no one knows how he died at that point. When the second body is found, the manager still refuses to call the police and even has the death scene cleaned and changed. This is utter crap. There's not much of any special effects because it's just dark ooze from faucets but they still manage to make even that look cheap and unconvincing. So much of what follows is nonsense that I'd practically have to quote most of the dialogue to convey how stupid it is - like taking off protective clothing before entering a chamber full of dripping, unknown sewage. The hotel orders the staff not to tell the police about the deaths, but how do they keep the guests quiet since they know about it as well? Then the event coordinator orders the hotel evacuated although she has no such authority. Abysmal from start to finish. 8/12/10
I hadn't watch a movie set in outer space in a while, symptomatic of Hollywood's lack of interest in the genre that spawned Star Wars and Star Trek, I guess, even though it opens with the familiar panoramic view of a gigantic starship. Supposedly it is the first in a trilogy, but apparently it did so badly at the box office - I had never even heard of it - that those plans have probably been scrapped. Aboard the ship, a handful of people awaken from suspended animation with no memory of how they got where they are, a ship apparently abandoned in unknown space. Initially there are only two characters - one of them Dennis Quaid - and they have gaps in their memories. They also suspect that they are not alone on the ship, a pretty safe bet I would say. Early explorations uncover dead bodies and another crew member who bolts when seen. Reasonably suspenseful although the sets are too dark. There are also monsters that look like a cross between Aliens and Night of the Living Dead. An early goof. In a flashback we see coverage of the landing of a probe on an untouched planet, but we see the probe from outside the probe. How did it do that? Magic camera? The explanation of all this is that this is a seedship that is actually in the ocean, that it had nearly 60,000 people in cryosleep, that the mutants have been decanting and eating them for several centuries, though some escape. This all leads to lots of chases, pale faced things roaring and gesticulating, and a few fight scenes. It's a shame that with the reasonably good budget for this film the plot had to be so convoluted and confusing - some of it appears to be a hallucination caused by space sickness, i.e. "pandorum", but it's not clear how much. And why would the initial load of colonists to a new world not have a common language? An interesting failure, but a failure nonetheless. 8/10/10
Piranha 3d Soundtrack, composed by Michael Wandmacher, Lakeshore, 2010, around $19
Vampires Suck composed by Christopher Lennertz, Lakeshore, 2010, around $19
I've actually been thinking about going to see the first of these. Haven't been to a theater in a while. Maneating fish sound like fun and I liked the previous entries in this series at various levels. The opening cut "Whirlpool" strikes a nice balance between excitement and spookiness, which characterizes much of what follows, although I thought the actual theme "Piranha" was only so-so, and a few of the cuts seem like minor variations of others. "Pack Attack" is one of the better pieces, and it sounds just like the title suggests it might. "Tightrope" is pretty good too. Some of it doesn't stand well without the visuals, some of it does - like the Marina Attack - but really isn't the kind of thing I would listen to repeatedly unless I was watching the movie over and over again - which is unlikely. That doesn't mean it isn't well suited to the visuals, which it probably is. Vampires Suck is apparently a spoof of vampire movies, but since most of the recent ones have been funny in any case - usually unintentionally, I'm not sure what kind of reception it will get, and I'm only mildly curious about the movie itself. The soundtrack, on the other hand, I liked a good deal more than the first. Most of it sounds like it's from a serious movie rather than a spoof, and it stands on its own quite well in most cases. I particularly liked "Meet the Sullens", "Chemistry in Class", and "Driving and Chasing", and almost all of the tracks are at least pleasant listening. It wasn't enough to make me want to rush out and see the movie but it certainly seems a cut above most of the accompanying music I see in the majority of recent horror films. 8/8/10
Poirot Series IV, Volume 3 (1989)
“The King of Clubs” brings Poirot to a movie studio where a typically obnoxious producer has attempted to seduce his leading lady and has fired an experienced but faltering actor, who has threatened revenge, which naturally means he’s going to be a suspect but is innocent. The lady also has a beau, who does not take favorably to the harassment of the woman he loves. When the bad guy is murdered, Poirot figures everything out when he notices that there’s a card missing from the deck supposedly used in a bridge game.
"The Dream" is unusual in that a man consults Poirot about a dream of suicide, after which he apparently does commit suicide. But Poirot doesn't believe it and although he's stumped for a while, he eventually figures out that he has been made part of a complex murder plot in which things are definitely not as they appear. The dead man was a cad, as usual, and part of the solution is a mild cheat, but it's a good story overall.
"The Incredible Theft" is the last Poirot I have on hand - and I'm getting near to having them all. This time plans for an experimental aircraft have gone missing and Poirot seems to be pitted against foreign agents for a change. There's a nice double double cross, though I expected something of the sort, and even a brief car chase. 8/6/10
Poirot Set 4, Volume 2 (1989)
"The Third Floor Flat" is one of the less interesting Poirot stories, the solution painfully obvious from the outset. Two men stumble into the wrong flat and discover a dead body. Poirot sees through the ruse immediately - as did I - but the story stretches out while he secures proof of what he already knows. This would seemed a bit perfunctory at times as well.
"Triangle at Rhodes" is much better, and features some spectacular scenery. While vacationing on Rhodes, Poirot encounters two couples with obvious marital problems. As usual there's an assortment of obnoxious characters. Poirot suspects that murder is in the offing but the presumed prospective victim does not take his advice to leave. Then one of the wives is poisoned, apparently inadvertently because she drank her husband's cocktail. I guessed right this time as well, but it wasn't quite as easy to figure out the motives.
Poirot is also on vacation in "Problem at Sea." A disparate group of people are relaxing on a yacht, including the inevitable troubled marriage, a devoted military man, a former music hall performer, and others. A particularly disagreeable woman seems likely to be the victim - she humiliates her husband, insults the other passengers, and professes to be having a terrible time. I was suspicious from the outset when her husband talks to her through the door but we never actually see her, although we hear her - or someone imitating her - answering his questions. And we already now that he was at one time a stage performer. There's an interesting red herring that I didn't think was convincing enough to avert suspicion from the person who turns out to be the guilty party. 8/5/10
Poirot Set 4, Volume 1 (1989)
Three more of the shorter Poirot cases. “Murder in the Mews” features murder designed to look like suicide, or is it? A friend of the dead woman actually faked the suicide in order to cast suspicion on the man who was blackmailing her. Some clever detection in this one and a couple of really horrible characters. The red herring in this one is a bit forced but otherwise it’s a good story.
“The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly” involves a series of threatening letters warning that a young boy will be kidnapped at a specific date and time. When the police refuse to get involved, the father turns to Poirot for help. I smelled a rat early on this time. The father is a pompous ass and he appears to be secretly bankrupt, although his wife has money. I was suspicious of him instantly, and the device by which the boy is actually kidnapped assumes active stupidity on the part of the police. I was way ahead of the story and even Poirot for this one.
“Four and Twenty Blackbirds” is a murder case. The opening involves two estranged brothers, one of whom is dying and one of whom has apparently impersonated the other on at least two occasions. The healthy brother dies of a fall, presumed to be an accident by everyone except Poirot, who knows the man has been acting out of character recently. Poirot is disconcerted to discover that the brother he believed responsible for the impersonation was already dead at the time. I guessed the solution to this well in advance as well. All three are solid performances. 8/3/10
Tooth and Nail (2008)
Science fiction and horror meet in this post-apocalyptic battle between the good survivors and the cannibalistic Rovers. The cause of the collapse is never really explained: "We simply ran out of gas." Most of the people were dead within three years, apparently. I can understand that the survivors are well dressed - there's presumably lots of clothing left around - but why are some of them clean shaven? And while are the cannibals armed with medieval weaponry? For that matter, why do the defenders only have two firearms? Anyway, the survivors are living in a hospital in what seemed to me a very dysfunctional fashion. Someone murders the leader of the group and circumstances would lead us to suspect Viper, the rebellious and uncommunicative muscle man. Then the Rovers show up and kill one of the others, and the rest of our heroes stand around making stupid speeches. On the other hand the Rovers stand around outside the hospital even though they vastly outnumber the defenders, who are virtually unarmed, and the entrances aren't even blocked. By the forty minute mark, I could no longer take this even remotely seriously. At one point the chief protagonist mentions that the Rovers only attack at night - which is patently untrue since they had struck during the daylight only hours before. And she also says they only take one victim per day, which also turns out to be untrue. There's a "surprise" ending that was so obvious - even though it's nonsensical - that I'm tempted to reveal it here, but on the off chance that someone might actually like this crap, I won't. But I strongly suggest watching a blank screen. It would be more intellectually satisfying. 8/2/10