Sunday, November 4, 2018

Return of Swamp Thing (1989) Review:

The 1980s was a decade of much change and innovation for several industries. While the first Superman (1978) was not a part of that era, it did lead to the other three sequels to come after it. It also lead to the spin off Supergirl (1984) film, and even the first Swamp Thing (1982) feature. While many of those outings were moderate to unsuccessful, Swamp Thing (1982) managed to remain a mildly entertaining hit. But like other sequels to come after their predecessors, they were met with much dissatisfaction. Yet, while this sequel has its faults, it also has a bunch good signs as well. Considering it was directed by Jim Wynorski, a man who has supervised many schlock fest features like Chopping Mall (1986), Sorority House Massacre II (1990) and Busty Cops (2004), it's surprising that it was made as well it is.

"Not sure I should be seeing you since,....I'm a plant"
Written by Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris, the story sees the return of not only Alec Holland, Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), but also his nemesis, Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) in human form. Dr. Arcane is back and looking for a way to remain youthful through a special serum. The serum is a mix between human and animal genes, but Arcane feels the best DNA would be from Swamp Thing and his step daughter Abby (Heather Locklear). When it comes to the narrative, it really is a disappointment. Several plot points feel similar to that of the original film. Instead of Dr. Arcane seeking unlimited power from Swamp Thing, he now wants unlimited youth. It just feels like a weak motivation for a villain who was able to get a second chance at exacting revenge on the person who defeated him initially. Dr. Arcane is fixated on Swamp Thing.

There's also similar supporting characters that mirror the first film. An example is a henchman named Gunn (Joey Sagal) who reports to Dr. Arcane. He is in a way a copy of Ferret (David Hess) from the original movie. Heather Locklear ends up being just another romance figure for Swamp Thing, which he already had from the first film. There's no need to repeat these tropes. What hurts the movie most though, is the level of camp that it's cranked up to. It's not super over the top, but all the characters except Swamp Thing seem to act as though they know they're in a movie. Where in the original, the story felt grounded in a way that was believable. Not even Louis Jourdan bothers to keep it restrained. Here he just blatantly comes out and proclaims how evil he is. I guess that's what you get when one of the writers would later pen The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002).

However, there is one positive. Cuthbert and Morris did manage to sneak in a reason for Dr. Arcane's return to normal. If that was left out, that would have also been to the film's discredit. And although the camp level is turned up, the actors still do a good job. Dick Durock as Swamp Thing gives the character more charm than before and smiles more too. Although it is weird that apparently the vocal dub isn't Durock's voice but some unknown actor. While Jourdan is much more openly evil, he too remains the same character. Locklear as Arcane's step daughter is okay, yet her falling for Swamp Thing because she loves plants is a bit silly. There's also appearances from Sarah Douglas as one of Dr. Arcane's scientists. Funny how she also played Ursa from Superman II (1980).  And there's also Ace Mask who plays another scientist of Dr. Arcane.

Sarah Douglas & Louis Jourdan
For visuals, the practical effects look like they improved. Unlike the original film, the creature effects here are not as rubbery looking. This time they have moving parts and wet areas. The most impressive creature was the leech man. But that doesn't exclude Swamp Thing's design, which has gone from a few pieces of foliage to a literal walking mossy, heavily overgrown root bound mash. It looks way better than the first suit used and Dick Durock comes across more muscular as well. The cinematography shot by Zoran Hochstätter looked good. The swamp marsh is just believable as it was before. As for music, the underrated Chuck Cirino did a great job composing the score. Not only did he create a memorable theme for Swamp Thing, but his synths actually help create an authentic atmosphere for the film. Kudos!

The writing has one upside and that is, it explains Arcane's return. Everything else though is a missed opportunity with the level of camp raised, weak villain motives, similar plot and characters. Yet, even with this, the actors are okay, the practical effects look upgraded, the cinematography is nice and the music is even better than before.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Sniper: Ultimate Kill (2017) Review:

Sometimes it takes long periods of development to perfect a story. Sniper (1993) starring Tom Berenger, was a mildly successful film. Enough success propelled the story of the main character for a couple more stories. Only to be picked up and rested on the shoulders of a younger generation by introducing Chad Michael Collins. That was when Sniper: Reloaded (2011) came to the scene, and with some minor help from Billy Zane, the franchise got a fresh kick start. Since then, the sequels to come after have remained decent but missed chances to really further develop its characters more. But at last, fans have seem to have gotten what they wanted. With much emphasized desire, the franchise has been able to once again rise up and show that there's still life in this aging series of films.

Chad Michael Collins & Danay Garcia
Starting off with a funeral for one of Brandon Beckett's friends who committed suicide, Beckett Jr. begins to have second thoughts. Shortly after, Richard Miller returns with orders for him to take down a drug lord by the name of Morales (Juan Sebastián Calero) in Bogota Colombia. Heading the operation down there is Thomas Beckett, along with newcomer Kate Estrada (Danay Garcia) who has been on Morales' tail for the last few years. After an unsuccessful strike on Morales' home, Estrada and Beckett Jr. discover there's a sniper after them played by Felipe Calero who's got a trick up his sleeve. For this entry, director Claudio Fäh returns to head this entry. Being that he helped in initiating the revival of the series once before, it suites that he circles back around. As for writing, things have gotten better too.

Chris Hauty also comes back from the previous film to pen the story here and it has improved. Aside revisiting old characters, Hauty's script was able to tackle several things this time. Right from the beginning, Brandon Beckett begins to rethink his career with the thought of developing post traumatic stress disorder. This is an issue that was addressed in the original Sniper (1993) with Richard Miller understanding how to cope with it. Then there's the focus on technology and how it has advanced, which is what Beckett Jr. and his crew are tasked with. No more are the times when a bullet was just a bullet like the first movie, things have gotten more complicated. However, the best supporting parts of the movie are the quips Beckett Sr. and Miller have with each other. Whether it be a split screen or in the same location.

While Hauty's script continues to miss the opportunity to explain past characters absences, this feels less of an importance now. The Colonel (Dennis Haysbert) and Bidwell (Dominic Mafham) are nowhere to be found or mentioned. Yet this is made up for by the chemistry between the actors. Seeing Chad Michael Collins, Tom Berenger and Billy Zane all on the same screen, FINALLY, is practically a dream come true for any devoted follower of the franchise. Especially since the last time the two veterans shared the screen was way back in the first movie. The latin cast are a great addition too. Danay Garcia gives her character a lot of fortitude and energy, while Felipe Calero as the hired sniper and Juan Sebastián Calero as the drug lord come across quite dangerous to say the least. All well done, even for the supporting characters played by Joe Lando, Jaime Correa, and Lucho Velasco.

"On my honor, I will follow Master GUNS"
The finishing touches to the film mostly worked well too. Ross W. Clarkson was the credited cinematographer to this feature it is shot wonderfully. With majority of the scenery coming from Bogota Colombia, the scenes are even more cinematic looking than that of any other prior sequel. Although only a short period of time will the plot have sniper action happening in the rural terrain, the rest is still entertaining. Clarkson also worked on other projects like Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2006), Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010) and Ninja: Shadow of a Tear (2013). As for music, Frederik Wiedmann composed the music once more although somehow he wasn't credit on IMDb. His work may be a tad weak compared to everything else since he doesn't try to create a theme for any character, even though he's been on board now for a while. Oh well.

The music for the film doesn't have a signature and the script still loses its grasp on past characters, but this is almost nothing worth being disappointed over. The script in this feature handles much more material as opposed to past sequels. The camerawork is great to look at, along with having Tom Berenger and Billy Zane finally reunite once again is the greatest feat of them all.

Points Earned --> 8:10

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) Review:

Using big name actors to sell a movie isn't a bad concept. However, using them just because it supposed to sell a bad movie is another thing. It's even worse though when it goes beyond even those intentions. For director Richard Stanley, he was at a point where he was making his way up, and was getting close to the place he wanted to be. His hopes were to create a film based on H.G. Wells Island of Dr. Moreau novel and make it into something that would be totally his, while giving the story a new twist. Unfortunately for him and everyone else on board the movie, nothing worked out the way it supposed to. Stanley was fired not long after filming began, mainly because of the lead stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. However that was just one of the disruptive moments in the process.

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Fairuza Balk & David Thewlis
Amazingly, as bad as things were, the film crew managed to put together a film that isn't too discombobulated. Yet this doesn't mean it's a good movie either. Instead, much of the story comes off lazy, unfocused and board. With Stanley fired, John Frankenheimer was brought in to take over. This didn't help though. While partially working with Stanley's script, Ron Hutchinson (Blue Ice (1992)) was also brought in for rewrites. This furthered the confusion and it shows. While becoming stranded out in the ocean, Edward Douglas (David Thewlis) is picked up by Montgomery (Val Kilmer) and brought to the island of Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando). What Douglas doesn't know is that Dr. Moreau has been doing twisted experiments, mixing human and animal genes to create new monstrosities.

Premise wise, it sounds uniquely horrifying, but that's where it ends. The execution of the plot is very similar to that of something like Planet of the Apes (1968). Dr. Moreau is the one who keeps the order on the island and has a device that remotely controls his creations. Though hiding behind something to control everyone else can prove to be ill advised. What really doesn't help the plot is the whole purpose behind it. Dr. Moreau explains the testing that he's doing, but he doesn't go into detail on how it'll benefit anyone outside his reach. He was outcast to that island because his actions were so controversial. As for characters, there's really very little to get behind. David Thewlis as Edward Douglas is a sympathetic character but there's not a lot of focus on him. Instead much of the attention is given to Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Being that Dr. Moreau is played by Brando, it could be understood as to why he would have more screen time, but Kilmer's character is just bizarre. He explains how he got in contact with Dr. Moreau but that's it. The rest of Kilmer's performance is all over the place. It's difficult to tell whether he was acting or being lazy. Brando, although a credible actor, does seem disengaged at times. He does give a sense of mystery to the doctor, but it's only for a short while. This is the unfortunate bit, being that the marketing went on about having Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando being the faces of the movie, when there was more to it. Plus, David Thewlis' role had more significance. There are other actors viewers may recognize like Fairuza Balk, Temuera Morrison, Ron Perlman and Nelson de la Rosa.

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"Hmmmm what do you think Mini-me?"
The real positive things that can be said for this creature feature were the visual aspects. The makeup effects crafted by master Stan Winston was spot on. Making the combination between human and land animal type features can be tricky, but Winston made it look easy. Sort of like a 180 degree turn from his work on Leviathan (1989), which involved human and marine life mixing. The cinematography shot by William A. Fraker was decent. With filming locations coming from Queensland Australia, the jungle terrain looks legitimate. Fraker also worked on 1941 (1979), Tombstone (1993) and Waking Up in Reno (2002). Lastly, the music composed by Gary Chang was an intriguing element. The tracks heard are reminiscent to that of his score from Sniper (1993), but thankfully, he gives this film its own theme. Not to mention, it got its own release which is rare for him.

Sadly, the premise, makeup effects, cinematography and music cannot save the wildly unfocused performances by the cast. It may feature heavy hitter names, but they don't save the feature after all the trouble it went through. The plot execution isn't even that unique.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Fear: Resurrection (1999) Review:

It's a strange phenomenon when obscure films are released and somehow they end up getting sequels. How dothese kinds of events happen in the time of the 1990s? When The Fear (1995) came out, it wasn't a smash hit nor did it even gain marginally favorable reviews. It was a horror film that had a unique concept but lacked any kind of vision to help make it feel largely different from that of others in the same genre. The one aspect to the film that still remains a highlight was the antagonist named Morty; the wooden mannequin. Somehow, somewhere, someone found this movie to be groundbreaking and demanded a sequel be made. Not sure how this was accomplished with the absence of social media and internet reviews. But whatever. It's not like it was worth it. This followup is by no means any improvement to the original.

Gordon Currie
As like the original, the plot is very similar. A group of adults venture into a house for a weekend getaway during the Halloween season. The leader of the group, Mike (Gordon Currie) is seeking to rid himself of post traumatic stress. When he was young, he witnessed his mother's death after his father (Garvin Cross) axed her and kidnapped him. Now he's taking his soon to be wife Peg (Stacy Grant), her brother Chris (MYC Agnew), Mitch (Phillip Rhys), Jennifer (Emmanuelle Vaugier), LisaAnne (Kelly Benson), Ned (Brendan Beiser) and Trish (Rachel Hayward) all to his grandma Mams (Betsy Palmer). There, they plan on all facing their fears with the help of Crow (Byron Chief-Moon) and his friend Morty (John Paul Fedele). Written by Kevin Richards, the script doesn't try anything new with this plot.

There is barely a drive in this plot. The execution by Chris Angel as director has the same setup to that of the first film. All the characters come together for a ceremony to embrace their fears only to have Morty let loose on them. The fears the group have don't even vary from that of its predecessor. What is the point in rehashing the same material? Richard's script doesn't make sense from the beginning either. Mike's father kills his mother and yet when it's displayed on screen, it looks as though Mike's mother stumbled across a stranger who killed her. What was Mike's father doing out in the wilderness? How did Mike escape his rampaging father? None of that is explored or explained. Not even an exposition dump as some people say. What's even worse is how oblivious some characters are.

An example of this is when Crow explicitly says that a certain mystical item needs to be around Morty for it to keep the evil inside it at bay. However when the object is removed without him knowing, he doesn't realize until much later. Really? We can't be this neglectful. Yet even with these problems, there are a couple of noteworthy things. For 1999 and from what the film looked like it had budget wise, the physical and special effects don't look too bad. The Morty prop and suit worn by Fedele is about the same in visual texture as was the old suit from the first film. Although it's a tad redder in color. Sometimes it even looks like when the prop is still, someone is actually sitting in makeup. The special effects for this film are used more for Morty's physical transformations. Whether that be morphing his hands or entire body.

"I look convincing right Mike?..........right?"
The cinematography to this picture though was rather unimpressive. Taking place in a similar setting to that of the original, nothing feels different about it. Shot by Brian Pearson, the camerawork is okay but just isn't enough to truly make the experience engaging. Mike, the protagonist also suffers from dizzy spells, where the screen will become wavy but that's about the only added feature. Pearson also worked on projects like Final Destination 5 (2011) and Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015). Then there's Robert O. Ragland who composed the score to this franchise (I can't believe I typed that) once more. And it's alright for what it's worth. It's has some deep thumping bass notes at points and can add some suspense to certain scenes. After all he did work on the original movie and Grizzly (1976).

Music and visual effects are really the only highlights. Why not see Morty do cool things right? However, the actors, the characters they play, the script itself and the camerawork are bland and more or less copies of what the original film had already done. It's just an updated rehash of the original.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Supergirl (1984) Review:

After studios witnessed how successful super hero films could be with the release of Superman (1978), Superman II (1980) and Superman III (1983), the ball was beginning to roll for other properties. While Swamp Thing (1982) had proven to be adequate, Warner Bros. wanted to bring another hero from the planet krypton to the big screen. Being that Kara, Superman's cousin was the only other well known person, it was decided to move along with her own story. Mind you this is where the possibility of a shared universe was in its infancy. This was years before anything MCU or DCEU related. Unfortunately for Supergirl, her initial outing wasn't the success producers wanted. When finishing the feature, it can be seen as to why this happened. It was a bold step, but perhaps, a little too bold for its own good.

Helen Slater as Supergirl
The plot is about a powerful orb known as the omegahedron that Zaltar (Peter O'Toole) loses to Earth. The orb itself powers the place Supergirl (Helen Slater) and Zaltar live in. Thus Supergirl goes after it, only to have to blend in with society. Meanwhile, Selena (Faye Dunaway), an evil witch, her assistant Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro) and on-off boyfriend Nigel (Peter Cook) discover the omegahedron and seek world domination with it. This in itself is pretty outlandish already, but that's what was written by David Odell. Surprisingly that's really the only thing to this movie that isn't done well and the end product suffers greatly because of it. There's just so many questions going on with it, it's a lot to take in without hesitating first. Odell was also known for writing The Dark Crystal (1982) and Masters of the Universe (1987).

To start off, all actors seem to very invested in their roles. No matter how over the top some may come across, they are making their character their own. Faye Dunaway and Brenda Vaccaro play off of each other very well even though they portray themselves as the most casual villains ever. Helen Slater portrays our heroine well too. She's naive, kind, pretty and puts her best food forward. Peter O'Toole as Zaltar gives some insight into the omegahedron as well as the phantom zone. Peter Cook as Nigel is an interesting character as well, since he's familiar with the dark arts, as is Selena. All of which these actors have been in various movie credits that are well known. Even Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen appears, which proves this film was supposed to be the start of a shared universe. So who ripped off who again?

However, as to what the characters do is another thing. Right when Selena finds the omegahedron she is able to make it do things for her (occasionally). Half of the time she knows how to work it, while other times not so much. It doesn't make any sense. She's never had the orb before so where's the logic? Even Nigel has understandings of the dark arts but only introduces a powerful artifact at the very end out of nowhere. Okay I guess. Not to mention the fact that Selena's motivations are clearly out of her range. World domination? One step at a time lady. Her plan behind this is to woo a guy name Ethan (Hart Bochner), who will then help her in completing her mission. Not sure how. Let's also not forget that he mistakenly falls for Supergirl. It's rushed and utterly silly.

"I look soooo evil.....yesssss"
This kind of jagged story structure leads to the pacing of it all. It's okay in various spots, but other moments it just lags for periods at a time. Jeannot Szwarc, the director of this film and Jaws 2 (1978) should know better than this. Believe it or not, the visual effects of the film are decent for 1984 standards. Most of which still hold up now. The weakest area belongs to the flying sequences which is understandable. Alan Hume as the cinematographer helped with that too. Being that he had worked on other movies like Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) and Octopussy (1983), it shows he knew what had to be done. Musical score was also impressive thanks to Jerry Goldsmith. While it may not be as recognizable as John Williams music from Superman (1978), Goldsmith gives the lead her own theme and the sound is overall very upbeat.

While the actors try really hard to make things entertaining, the cinematography is competently shot and the music well composed, it is ultimately not enough. The script has too many flaws, the plot is too reliant on one thing and the pacing is uneven. It's not a horrible outing, but it's not the best either.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Out for Justice (1991) Review:

While Steven Seagal was sort of late to the whole action macho role explosion trend that occurred during the 1980s, his debut was very successful. With other films like Above the Law (1988), Hard to Kill (1990) and Marked for Death (1990), Seagal wasn't stopping. As much negative critiques that he got, he was still able to produce a sizable following in box office tickets. However Seagal's films did have a bunch of things in common; they were productions that were either just above or at par when it came to viewing. Was it the worst thing put to the film? No. Was it a decent action fest? Not really either. It was just adequate. Not surprisingly, the trend continued further with this movie. After viewing this feature, there are things that work here but other times, it seems like things are just boring. So let's dive in shall we?

"Hey Gino, you really think this is enough protection?"
In the crime ridden streets of New York City, the alleys are monitored by the local law enforcement and also the Italian mob. For Gino (Steven Seagal), he has the luxury of being allied with both. Gino works for the police, and the mob respect him too. However there's one guy who isn't fond of him and that's Richie (William Forsythe). One day, after Richie guns down Gino's partner, Gino makes it his mission to take care of Richie once and for all when he finds him. In order to find out Richie's whereabouts and why he shot his partner, Gino begins a city wide search for anyone who knows. The problem is, nobody seems to have the information he wants. Written by R. Lance Hill, the screenplay isn't deep nor does it create any shocking twists. That doesn't mean the characters don't have back story though. There is a history between Gino and Richie.

The bigger issue though, is that Hill's writing produces very little intrigue among anything else. Viewers won't care about what happens to any of the characters except the main two because all other subplots are left up in the air. Gino's going through a divorce and his wife Vicky (Jo Champa) wants him to be around for their kid more often. But that goes nowhere, so it doesn't matter apparently. Hill was also the writer to The Evil that Men Do (1984) and Road House (1989). The director to this feature was John Flynn, known for movies like The Outfit (1973), Rolling Thunder (1977), Lock Up (1989) and Brainscan (1994). As to just how exactly this production did not manage to be more than just average is unclear, since both these individuals have fairly well-known credits to their names.

Aside from the script, the other flaws in this showing was unfortunately a few components. Surprisingly Steven Seagal is not that engaging in his role. Most of the time he goes around asking where Richie is and flipping his lid when no one gives him an answer. And by that, he just harasses many supposed suspects. He walks around in a sleeveless black shirt and wearing a beret flashing around his badge. Not exactly a by the books kind of cop and it looks really unrealistic. Who does that in real life? Only vigilantes do that sort of thing. The only bit of entertainment that Seagal provides are his quick action skills. Some of the violence is bloody but not by a lot. Much of the time it's just shoot outs and occasional fist fights. Nothing more than that. Not even an explosion. That's the truth. Even Jerry Orbach is more believable than Seagal.

William Forsythe
As for William Forsythe, he's the exact opposite of Seagal. Whenever Forsythe is on screen, his presence is known. Although he's definitely chewing a lot of the scenery, he gives a much more memorable performance than his co-star. At least there it feels like he's putting in the effort as to Seagal's rather underwhelming charisma. The camerawork provided by Ric Waite wasn't anything to be impressed with either. Much of the scenes have unappealing street settings, grungy looking interior sets and limited lighting in various shots. Considering he also worked on 48 Hrs. (1982), Footloose (1984) and Cobra (1986), it's disappointing. Then there's the music composed by David Michael Frank. Being that he had made music for other early Seagal features, perhaps his creativeness was lessening. Thankfully that same year he would make his best score for Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991).

The bare bones plot, William Forsythe's performance and the action is what really stands out in this Seagal movie. Sadly Seagal isn't one of those positive things. Not only does he sound bored, but so does the cinematography and music. The pacing feels slow at times and the much of it is just Seagal asking questions and after that knocking skulls.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Jumanji (1995) Review:

The 1990s was a decade of a lot of experimentation. With the advent of CGI coming to the forefront, studios couldn't help but try to implement it into every production they had. Aside from James Cameron who was more or less the facilitator in this push, there was another director who was getting his experience with these kinds of special effects. Joe Johnston by the mid 1990s had a couple popular movies under his belt and was working his way to becoming a rather credible director. Having his name listed with movies like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Rocketeer (1991) and served in the visual effects department for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Johnston certainly had good stuff on his resume. So when this movie came along he was well ready for it, but for audiences, that was a risky bet. However that does not mean this movie isn't worth it.

"Let's play a game shall we?"
Based on a book written by Chris Van Allsburg, the same writer to The Polar Express, had quite the intriguing concept. What would happen if there was a board game that played itself and whatever moves were made were determined by the board? Sounds pretty crazy. Yet Johnston and his team of screenwriters were able to produce not only that, but a story about a boy who learned how to grow up by not running away from his problems. Alan Parrish at a young age is the son of a wealthy shoe factory owner but feels neglected. He and his only friend Sarah find a board game by the name of Jumanji and decide to play it. Of which Alan is sucked into the game until 26 years later when Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd (Bradley Pierce) rediscover the game and start what begun those years ago.

There they meet adult Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) and Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) who join them in finishing the game. From there, things only escalate beyond the point of no return. A new turn produces more collateral damage to property and all other sorts of things. The same could be said for how these characters end up after the game is finished. Audiences will realize that the story of Alan largely plays a significant role in the progress of his home town and how it will affect other people. This also creates a good portion of emotional moments for the character and Robin Williams is also able to sell that well. The same can be said for Dunst, Hunt and Pierce who all add to the events that occur. All four of them also have great chemistry together, providing laughs and scares. Writers Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, and Jim Strain all did a decent job building this story.

The visuals to this story however are occasionally a mixed bag. If anything, the game mechanics to this interactive extravaganza is ridiculous. No matter what, so much goes wrong even if it seems like things couldn't get that bad. As an adult, it's completely fine to watch. However for younger audiences, this movie may be too intense and can be a little too much for a comedy adventure. Being sucked into a board game isn't all the cool sounding when you're stretched and distorted. And that's where the effects come into play. Being that it was still at the point where CGI hadn't been fully perfected there are still a number of areas that look untouched. Some objects are too light in color as opposed to their surroundings. They just don't mesh well and it makes them stand out even more. There are practical effects too, which look a little better but even they look slightly unrealistic.

The Jumanji board game
The most convincing of these visuals though was the cinematography by Thomas E. Ackerman and the set design. Having worked on Beetlejuice (1988) and later George of the Jungle (1997), Ackerman surely knows how to make adequate looking shots. Most of the film takes place in Alan Parrish's house and considering how out of control things become, not long after Alan's house doesn't resemble a house anymore. It gets that bad, that quick. Lastly the musical score composed by James Horner was nothing short of greatness. Believe it or not there is a signature theme for the game itself involving minor key music box notes and beating drums. Also the cues played for Alan Parrish are rather emotional too. It may not be his most profound or emotionally moving score but it still rings memorable chords.

For a family adventure film, there are some moments that prove to be a little too intense for young eyes and the special effects haven't aged that well. Yet with credible performances by the main actors, high tension, and respectable music, this board game movie shows that game based movies can be fun, even if they aren't based on a video game.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, July 23, 2018

Thursday (1998) Review:

Drug dealers and gangs are two things that typically go hand in hand. Usually one relies on the other, or at least that's how it's portrayed in various films and shows. Whether or not they're sympathetic is another question entirely, but in general they all have one goal in mind and that's to make money. It's never been known to be a clean or a nice business to be a part of and yet plenty of people par take in it all the time because how loaded they get from it. But what happens when someone finally wakes up and realizes that this life is no longer for them? Well this is what happens to someone who at first looks like an ordinary man, only to soon understand it can be very difficult to escape one's past. That is the story that takes place here and it is certainly one interesting film to watch solely for the purpose of execution.

Hi,....Frank Castle isn't home right now, please come back in 2004
As a narrative, it's strongest point is displaying just how insane someone's problems can get. Not long after the film begins, the plot begins to tail spin and continues to do so until the end. To see a story do that is astonishing because it's amazing how long it lasted. Married man and architect Casey (Thomas Jane) is living his life with his wife Christine (Paula Marshall) as normal as can be until an old friend drops by. The acquaintance is Nick (Aaron Eckhart), a former partner of Casey's past in California. What Casey's wife doesn't know is that he and Nick were drug dealer's in California. And when Casey recognizes a certain briefcase, he knows Nick has brought his "work" with him. To his misfortune from there on, Casey is bombarded by several associates of Nick while his wife is out on business related travel.

Written and directed by Skip Woods, the script's lesson on how sometimes leaving the past behind you isn't as easy as one would think is a significant one. On top of that, seeing how skillful Nick and his pack are at being criminals is shocking too. To evade the authorities for so long seems almost impossible, but they somehow do it. However, the fact that Casey hides his former profession from his wife does not make him entirely a sympathetic character. There are some redeemable traits like him not hurting anyone he comes across but considering he still lies is not a good idea either. Woods also includes a scene where Casey is forcibly raped by Dallas (Paulina Porizkova), a cohort of Nick's. Like in other movies that have depicted this, these kinds of scenes are not necessary to show. They add nothing for the viewer except making them uncomfortable.

Thankfully Skip Woods didn't bother to make this a trend and include it in all of the later projects he contributed to like Hitman (2007), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), The A-Team (2010) and A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). Another thing that was left unresolved was Casey's oh so important project that he was working on before Nick arrived. It is mentioned a bunch of times throughout that he's trying to make something that even his wife isn't aware of, yet it is never revealed what it even is or if it affects the plot. Oh well. To their credit though the cast act well in their roles. As much as Casey isn't a role model protagonist, Thomas Jane does his best to give him some charm. The same goes for Eckhart who's constantly grinning. Even Porizkova as Dallas is quite convincing. There's also appearances from Michael Jeter and CSI: Investigation's Gary Dourdan.

Nick and Dallas
Camerawork for this picture wasn't all that noteworthy however. Covered by Denis Lenoir, the cinematography throughout this feature is for the most part standard and but nothing out of the ordinary either. Much of the shots feature the house Casey lives in, which isn't all that big to begin with. It's just your regular suburban two story house with bland colors and the typical set of rooms. Lenoir also worked on films like Control (2004) and So Undercover (2012). Lastly the music for this movie was provided by an artist by the name of Luna. The music itself is a mix between soundscape type music, rock and goofy comedy music. Being that this is a black comedy of sorts, they all fit in their places but they do not give the film itself a signature to it. It's just a hodgepodge of various kinds of music that work within its context.

There are parts to this film that do not add substance to the plot and it is difficult to truly feel any kind of empathy towards the main character. Yet with an unusual premise, credible actors and appropriate music, this black comedy will manage to hold its audiences' attention at least for one viewing.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thomas & Friends: King of the Railway (2013) Review:

With more recent specials receiving better ratings and appreciation among fans, the Thomas & Friends brand at this point was beginning to have a comeback. Not only were older characters returning, but the plots were becoming more crafty. This attracted more of the older fan base and began making people feel more optimistic about the show's future. However there were still a number of changes being implemented that further distanced the brand from its origins. A big one was dropping Michael Brandon and Michael Angelis and replacing them with Mark Moraghan as universal narrator for the show. Adding to that were other things being altered that demonstrated the creative team behind everything was looking for new ways to bring in old and new fans.

The plot to this story has a mix of threads that intertwine into one. With the Earl of Sodor arriving on the island, Sir Robert Norramby looks to rebuild an old castle that had been abandoned for some time. Along with that he brings an engine to the island named Stephen who was one of the first railway engines around. From what's been told though, there's a possibility of the king's crown of the old castle lying around the land somewhere. The direction and writing for this feature was handled by a whole new set of people this round. Directing went to Rob Silvestri, an animator to other films like 9 (2009) and Gnomeo & Juliet (2011). The screenplay was written by Andrew Brenner, a long time fan of the show and writer to shows like Fireman Sam. These were things that made fans look forward to what this feature was going to offer.

What makes the plot to this feature more engaging than previous ones is how it merges all threads together at the end. The Earl of Sodor voiced by Mike Grady is about the second most significant human being aside from Sir Topham Hatt on the island and his personality is quite energetic. There's also some new engines being introduced. Stephen voiced by Bob Golding as the new old fashioned engine is great. His voice is enthusiastic and makes the old timer engine quite a peppy guy. Accompanying Stephen is another small engine called Millie (Miranda Raison) who has her own spunk and will not be pushed around by other engines. Then there's two streamlined engines Conner (Jonathan Forbes) and Caitlin (Rebecca O'Mara) who play the exact opposite of what would typically be expected by such an engine. They are mold breakers.

And for these characters mentioned, they at least have purpose in the development of other characters. Unlike the other specials where there were several newly introduced characters, they ended up not being used in the execution leaving them as background characters. Even Jack the bulldozer (David Menkin) from the sodor construction company returns and is utilized in the plot to some degree. These are the reasons why multiple fans from the classic era returned so they could witness the upcoming strides the new features were showing. The interesting thing is too, these actors voicing these new characters play their roles like they've been a part of the show for a long time. When in fact, they have no other acting history in the show to begin with. Either way, it's impressive to how well they do.

Caitlin & Connor
The animation to this feature is also well done. The motions the engine characters make look more realistic in their physics and it's believable. With various people in the animation department having experience in other films like Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil (2011), The Backyardigans, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) to name a few, it certainly feels like the people working on the film knew what they had to do. Not to mention all the great looking sets like Ulfstead Castle, the Vicarstown Bridge and the Sodor Suspension Bridge all look well detailed. Music unfortunately has remained anonymous as usual like the past several specials. Composed by Peter and Robert Hartshorne, the music has respectable tunes but lacks the identity that the older series had so well. The sing-along songs though help make up a little of that, but that's it.

Music as usual is the underlining weak point of the feature even with its jumpy catchy sing-along songs. However the characters introduced and how they are used in the plot are done much better than prior specials. The animation also looks great and the look of the locations is spot on.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Deliver Us From Evil (2014) Review:

Filmmaker Scott Derrickson has definitely been through a lot when it comes to movies even if he hasn't output a large volume. He's also been through several areas of the movie industry; everything from home video, independent to mainstream blockbuster studios. And of course now that he's been inducted into the family of Marvel Studios, his credibility has been more or less confirmed. Prior to this though he was still trying to make a name for himself in way that would make him stand out. While The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) remake was boring for most, his comeback with Sinister (2012) turned the tables in his favor. While Sinister (2012) did engage its audience at the beginning, the predictability became fairly obvious as time went on. Sadly it seems as though Derrickson did not notice this when he released this movie as his next feature.

Mendoza & Sarchie
The story for this movie displays events that allegedly were told to be true by a New York police officer named Ralph Sarchie. According to him, he came across a number of strange moments where he would be on duty and witness abnormal actions by people. Playing Sarchie is Eric Bana and soon he teams up with a priest by the name of Father Mendoza (Edgar Ramírez) who believes the cases are related to a greater evil. With the screenplay adapted by Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman, the execution of the story feels very similar to that of Sinister (2012). At the start, the plot will capture the viewers' attention, but over time it begins to lose its grasp on what matters most. This is unfortunate because initially it has an interesting detective supernatural vibe going for it, but then it turns to a rather conventional method of execution and begins to lose traction.

And there's a reason why the play out to this feature feels similar. The explanation to this is that Paul Harris Boardman has been a familiar writer to that of other Scott Derrickson productions, surprisingly not Sinister (2012) though. Putting this aside however, the acting by the main cast is fairly good. Eric Bana as the tough Sgt. Sarchie has a captivating presence along with his partner Butler played by Joel McHale, who seems to find a way of making light of any situation. Olivia Munn is also involved as Sarchie's wife who adds some tension to the story being that most married protagonists are easily held as leverage. Edgar Ramirez as Father Mendoza has a peculiar back story working with the supernatural and also serves as a good backup to Sarchie. Lastly there's Sean Harris who plays a significant part to the plot, and Sarchie's investigation.

The visuals to the film were properly placed. Derrickson has done horror films before and this one does not divert from what's been done before. The gore is not over the top but can get times. This makes for an effective take on just how bad things can get surrounding Sgt. Sarchie. The worst it gets is body contortions and really freaky looking faces. The special effects themselves though are well done. There's no areas in the run time that look heavily edited or overly fake. Though some of the events that happen are questionable as to if they actually happened at all. Of course this comes with the understanding that certain liberties will be taken with the story that was given from the original source. The question is, exactly how much of it is true? That's to be debated over since the screenplay is based off of a book by Sgt. Sarchie.

Olivia Munn
The camerawork was well done too. Filmed by Scott Kevan, the cinematography is displayed competently. There are dark areas throughout the film but it is not to a point where the audience will not be able to see what is happening. If anything it helps emphasize how peculiar some scenarios get. Occasionally there is some shaky cam and dutch angles, but it occurs quite infrequently that it's not really a bother. Kevan was also the cinematographer to Cabin Fever (2002), Death Race (2008) and The Darkest Hour (2011). Composing the film score to this feature was Christopher Young who has not only worked with Derrickson before but has done many horror scores in general. Sadly, what's only heard here are repeated tracks from other movies like Sinister (2012), and the rest are all stings. It's pretty underwhelming because only a couple areas actually sound unique.

Music and story execution is unfortunately a large portion why the movie could not be as good as it presents itself. Yet the actors, horror visuals and premise make the view enjoyable to watch for the most part. It's decent enough to warrant at least one watch but that's it.

Points Earned -->6:10

Monday, July 9, 2018

Thomas & Friends: Blue Mountain Mystery (2012) Review:

With the slump of Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue (2010), that many fans saw it to be, hope was slightly redeemed when a year later Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels (2011) came out. The writing was a tad better and had some of the biggest gripes fixed many were not pleased with. However there were still things that needed correcting, as much as that movie had made its improvements. Fans would only begin to feel less concerned over the brand when this special was released. The reason for this were attributed to a few things. First, the narrow gauge engines return for this story and are more or less at the center of this plot as oppose to the standard gauge engines. Second, the movie focuses on a new interesting character as oppose to an old returning character. On top of that, other bits from the show reveal signs of restoration that was once questionable.

Luke & Thomas
The plot for this special is when Thomas discovers an unknown narrow gauge engine by the name of Luke at the blue mountain quarry. Being that Thomas nor anyone else had ever seen this engine before, he makes it his mission to find out why nobody is aware of Luke. For a screenplay written entirely by Sharon Miller, it's surprising to say how much better of a job she did this time than the last two specials. No rhyming in the dialog ever comes about, the focus on Luke is a fresh take on a new character compared to how other new characters were introduced in the show. Plus with the narrow gauge engines returning, it gives a large throwback to the older fans of the show. Seeing this being done the right way is actually amazing and it tends to be forgotten that Miller worked on this project.

Occasionally the standard gauge engines are featured, but much of the time the story revolves around the narrow gauge engines. Either way, the voice actors for the standard gauge engines like Michael Brandon (as narrator and Diesel), David Bedella, Jules De Jongh, William Hope, Glenn Wrage, Martin Sherman, Steven Kynmam and Kerry Shale, all return for their respective roles. With that said though, having Keith Wickham and Matt Wilkinson voice majority of the narrow gauge engines was a good step forward. Both actors perform well and make the characters believable. Michael Legge as the newcomer to the show as Luke does a good job too. His voice makes quite a match to the mysterious and overly sensitive narrow gauge engine. Not to mention the back story that the little guy has. It's not a blow you away kind of history but it certainly is relatable.

However this does not leave this special without its problems. The biggest problem that seems to becoming more and more noticeable is the making of inanimate objects living. Prior to this feature, there were new characters being introduced but not to the point where it seemed to just to cash in on a new role credit. This was most noticeable in Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels (2011), with all the new diesels but none of the viewers having any clue who they were. The same could be said for three new characters introduced aside from Luke. Merrick and Owen are two new faces at the blue mountain quarry but are not engines. Then there's Winston, Sir Topham Hatt's new railway car where he can ride the rails easier. It's fine and all to have new faces, but some of them seem like they won't ever be used again. Sounds and feels kind of pointless.

The narrow gaugers
This doesn't take away the quality of the animation or music though. Animation continues to look better and better for the specials. To see the narrow gauge engines finally rendered in their CGI forms is quite a sight. Seeing Skarloey, Rheneas, Rusty, Sir Handel and Peter Sam all on the same screen is cool. Although the thought of showing Duncan seemed to have slipped the mind of the film crew. Everything from the lighting and shadowing looks great. As for music, the score has continued to be underwhelming for the most part. Peter and Robert Hartshorne know how to make good music, but nothing seems to truly stand out in these specials except for the one or two songs at the end credits. The sad thing is, the score will probably never be released for these specials, which isn't fair to them.

While the music and introduction of most new characters is disappointing, the rest to this feature is well done. The animation is respectable, the return of the narrow gauge engines is quite welcome, and the writing for the story is much better than most specials written by Sharon Miller.

Points Earned -->7:10

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Incredibles 2 (2018) Review:

When Pixar released The Incredibles (2004), the thought of super hero movies being as big as they are today was certainly not as popular. However, several aspects to the original film made it so that it stood out from the norm. Yet sometimes even greatness proves to be a challenge when it comes to a proper follow up. For director Brad Bird, that was exactly his dilemma. The first film was so well received that it was not easy for him and the rest of the film crew to determine what would make an adequate sequel. Thankfully, the time came where Bird and everyone else felt that what the story at hand was ready to be put into action. To some extent, everyone was right, but even so there's still one noticeable element to the story that feels less creative than it should have been. However, if anything else had changed this sequel would not have been as good as it is.

The Incredibles are back!
The plot picks up right after the events of the first movie where the Parr family (the incredibles) decide to take on the Underminer. Unfortunately they fail at foiling his plan and because super heroes were still illegal, they get forced into hiding again. That is until Lucius AKA Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to them with a new proposition. The proposal is to reinvent the image of super heroes led by billionaire tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). Together they push Helen Parr AKA Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to the forefront while Bob Parr AKA Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) becomes a stay at home dad watching over Dash (Huck Milner), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Jack-Jack. As this goes on, a sinister individual known as the Screenslaver begins to make their move on the public, looking to permanently damage the image of supers.

For a movie directed and written solely by Brad Bird and who also voiced Edna Mode, it's impressive with how well the execution made out. Doing all of these is not easy but for the most part everything turned out rather well. Within the running time, the main characters experience much development. Helen Parr becoming the breadwinner of sorts for the family is typically unheard of in modern society, while Bob Parr acting as a stay at home dad is also not a very typical occupation for most fathers. Violet also goes through a series of emotions dealing with her confidence and being able to talk to her crush from school. There's even a history as to why the Deavor siblings are so passionate about helping out the Parr family and all other super heroes. Lastly Jack-Jack gets a chance to show off more of what was missed during the first film while he was being baby sat.

Unfortunately the script does miss some things. One of them being that Dash and Frozone do not really get much of any time to do something out of the ordinary. Dash still runs fast but doesn't learn something new about his abilities or his relative behavior. Frozone, who suggests the Deavors to the incredibles is not as involved as one might think either, which is kind of misleading. The biggest problem though is the premise for the script. The similarities to how everything is set up feels very much like the first movie, with somebody making a very special and secret deal, when behind the scenes, there's more going on. Or at least, so it seems. On top of that, these offers would seem rather obvious being that these stories take place pretty much back to back from each other. Wouldn't one be skeptical after coming across such an incident so recently?

Aside from this though, the final bits to this feature film are well done. As to what Mahyar Abousaeedi and Erik Smitt contributed to this movie with cinematography, it's possible to say they did a good job. But there would need to be more information on the matter because this was an animated movie. For that, the animation was great. The details to various objects are much more profound now and the movements among characters and other things are much more fluid. As for music, the score composed again by Michael Giacchino was just as competent as the first score he created for the original movie. With jazz instruments livening up the mood and energy, the tunes played throughout most of the scenes will engage the viewer quite easily. And of course without the signature cue for the Parr family, the music would not be as incredible or memorable.

While the script suffers from a couple developmental flaws and fails to set up the plot any differently from that of the original, it still manages to entertain and perform well as a sequel. The main characters are fun to watch, the action is cool, the music remains bombastic and the animation is even more profound.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ghostbusters (2016) Review:

When it comes to reboots, production companies tend to have a fifty fifty shot at winning over newcomers and old fans alike. If it's done correctly, things will be amazing for everyone. The audiences will be pleased and the studio will make a profit off of their release. If done incorrectly, then everyone will have a bad time. And seeing that another sequel to Ghost Busters II (1989) was taking an eon to make, it was later decided to just reboot it entirely. So how did this reboot fair? Middling to say the least for most. There were groups of people who were accepting of the finished product, while others were not content at all with how things were handled. There are things that work here though, it's just that those parts are scattered throughout a pile of multiple other problems. Some of which are difficult to get over. One of the biggest gripes hardcore fans had on this film was the whole gender swap gimmick. Honestly, that's not really a big deal.

Tolan, Yates, Gilbert & Holtzmann
The plot of this story is familiar to those who know the original. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a promising teacher who ends up being rejected by her employer after they discover she once had written a legitimate scientific book on paranormal beings with a classmate by the name of Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). But before getting Yates to remove the published book, Gilbert ends up discovering an actual ghost with Yates and another cohort by the name of Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). They also attract the attention of Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a person who is quite knowledgeable of the city's geography. Together they seek to stop the release of the random ghosts they find. The villain behind these random releases belong to Rowan North (Neil Casey), an individual looking to get back at society for his poor treatment of life in general. For the overall play out, it’s alright. But with director Paul Feig at the helm, things should have been better. He did after all director Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013).

Feig also helped co-write the script with another person by the name of Katie Dippold. Dippold was also the sole writer to The Heat (2013) and Snatched (2017). She has also wrote for the Parks and Recreation show. Even so, writers can have hit and miss projects. For one, the cast to this feature is exactly that. Only half of the actors who take center stage are actually likable to some degree. The two who make the viewing experience fun and fresh was McKinnon and Jones. Both had comical delivery and their mannerisms were unique. As for McCarthy and Wiig, both are not the greatest leads. McCarthy is winey and gabs too much. While Wiig is even worse with constant awkward dialog and unfunny lines. The same could be said for Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) who becomes their secretary. Here, Hemsworth plays Kevin as a hunky dork and it's really cumbersome to watch him act like a big goof. As for Neil Casey as the main villain, he's not bad but he receives almost no back story. His enthusiasm for the paranormal is only lightly scratched.

Admittadly, Casey does resemble a distant relative to that of Peter Lorre. Either way, looks will not make a villain. The same could be said for the cameos of original stars Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd. Are they in the movie? Yes. Do they have memorable cameos? Only one of them really does. The rest are mostly throwaway roles and it's unfortunate. It just doesn't add much to the experience, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the initial franchise. However the special effects to the feature are well put together. Not only do the old gadgets make their way back to the big screen, but new ones come into play as well. McKinnon who plays Holtzmann is the tech wiz of the group and manages to create different kinds of paranormal weapons that help the ghost busters battle their demonic enemies. Some of which are ingenious by design. As to how on earth they were able to manufacture such a device and have it work properly all the time is still a miracle in itself.

Chris Hemsworth as Hunky Dumb Kevin
As for background visuals, the camerawork was adequate for this summer blockbuster. Robert D. Yeoman was the cinematographer for this production and a lot of it is well shot. There's no weird angles or shaky cam like sequences that will annoy the viewer. Yeoman has also worked on other projects like Dead Heat (1988), Yes Man (2008), The Heat (2013) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Lastly when it came to music, the film score and soundtrack were decent too. The soundtrack is mainly made up of the Ghost Busters theme (originally sung by Ray Parker Jr.) being performed by other artists. In the end though, the film score was the real driving force throughout the running time and much of it helps. However unlike Elmer Bernstein's or Randy Edelman's score, this one remains to have its own signature theme. Composing the score was Theodore Shapiro. He does take Parker Jr.'s song and make an instrumental out of it but that's it. Shapiro also scored Wet Hot American Summer (2001), Tropic Thunder (2008) and Central Intelligence (2016).

While it may have a good cast of actors and decent looking special effects, there are a lot of obstacles for viewers to overcome if they really want to enjoy this soft reboot. Only some of the main characters are likable and the villain isn't developed well enough. Camerawork and music is okay but it only helps a little.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Thomas & Friends: Day of the Diesels (2011) Review:

With the rather underwhelming reception of Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue (2010), it seemed as though the show was being taken in a direction really none of the original fans wanted. There was too much juvenile type material being thrown in and for no good reason. That didn't mean that special didn't have its fans, but it was far from the most popular entry. However what did leave people intrigued to see what was coming next came at the very end of the special. The reason for that was the surprise appearance of Diesel 10, fore shadowing a plan that was going to be executed soon. The question was, did it pay off? To some degree yeah. This special is better than the last but it still has its hang ups unfortunately. That will be explained shortly though.

Diesel 10's return
The plot is actually a tad different from what would typically be expected. The story focuses on Percy, believe it or not. After having a fire on the island, Sir Topham Hatt introduces fire engines Belle and Flynn to the railway engines. With Thomas assigned to show Belle and Flynn around, Percy feels left out and forgotten. Thinking nobody wants him around anymore, Diesel convinces him to visit the Vicarstown Dieselworks. In charge of that area was none other than Diesel 10. As Percy gets reintroduced to him and the other familiar diesels like Mavis, Salty, Arry and Bert, he also meets some new ones. Paxton, Sidney, Norman, Den and Dart are the fresh faces to be seen. There Percy befriends them and figures it would be better to help them since none of the steam engines seem to notice him.

The screenplay to this feature was written again by Sharon Miller, who at this point did not have a good reputation with the older fans of the show. Here though, it seems like she heard some of the complaints. The fact that the story looks more at Percy than Thomas is a good idea. Thomas doesn't have to be at the center of every story so that's fine. Percy is also the second oldest tank engine to be on the island so it's interesting to see him get his own narrative. Being that Greg Tiernan is directing again, at least he's open to go this route. What's most impressive however is the inclusion of Diesel 10 into the story. The last time he was seen was in Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005) and that in itself was a surprise. However the negative thing about this is the exclusion of other older characters. There's no mention of Lady, Splatter or Dodge, when in fact, these three could have definitely taken the spots of the new engines (diesel or steam) mentioned before.

It's just strange to insert these old characters without any kind of background to past experiences. Yet this doesn't mean some of the new characters brought in aren't peculiar. Belle and Flynn are the best additions mainly because they do bring up the question of fires on the island. Certainly before them there have been other fires, but just exactly how was it handled? No need to worry now with them on board. The voice cast continues to work well except for one. Teresa Gallagher voices Belle, Rupert Degas voices Dart, Keith Wickham voices Den and Matt Wilkinson voices Diesel 10. Sadly, it's Wilkinson who's the wrong choice for Diesel 10. Someone in the same vein as Neil Crone or Keith Scott would have worked just fine. Here though Diesel 10 sounds less intimidating, his voice is just too high pitched.

"Hi Thomas, my names Belle!"
The dialog was also fixed. Thankfully there is no rhyming involved in any scenes. That was one of the more annoying elements of the past feature. As for appearances go, the visuals to this feature are as acceptable as they have been. The new characters all have interesting train designs and Diesel 10's rendering is accurate from past showings. For the locations largely featured in the show, fans will get to see places like the Sodor Search and Rescue Center, the Sodor Steam Works, Brendam Docks, Tidmouth Sheds, Knapford Station and even Henry's Tunnel. The newest place however is the Vicarstown Dieselworks that houses all of Sir Topham Hatt's diesel engines. Quite the contrast to that of the Steam Works. Lastly, the music was largely uneventful unfortunately. Composed surprisingly by Ed Welch, Peter Hartshorne and Robert Hartshorne, the music just isn't that compelling for the scenes shown, and no character themes are heard. The only catchy tune is the Day of the Diesel's rock song at the very end. Too little too late though.

With people falling over from the silliness that was Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue (2010), the quality has made a mild return to form for this feature. While it may still have problems with character backgrounds, and bland music, there are things to like about it. The story decides to focus on Percy instead of Thomas, the are some new and old returning characters to see and the animation is still well done.
Points Earned --> 6:10

Amusement (2008) Review:

When it comes to horror films, villains usually take center stage. It is their grotesque and bizarre behavior that gets people's attention. Why do they do such horrible things? Is it their passion? Was it because of their upbringing of some sort? These kinds of questions can always pop into the viewer's mind because it's not normal and unhealthy. The real sad part of it, is when these incidents are treated as a joke. Those kinds of mentalities are cruel and baffling. When it's only done for laughs, there's a true sense the person behind the act is highly disturbed. For this movie that's exactly what is dealt with to some degree, although it's not done well.

Tabitha (Katheryn Winnick)
The story focuses on three friends, Tabitha (Katheryn Winnick), Lisa (Jessica Lucas) and Shelby (Laura Breckenridge). Opening separately in different places, the plot brings them together under the circumstances of a mysterious person only known as the laugh (Keir O'Donnell). As it turns out, all three share a history with this individual back in elementary school. The laugh had a fondness for making sick art displays for his own amusement (ergo the title), but the other three did not find it funny at all. Thus the psycho finds them later in life and begins having his fun. Written by Jake Wade Wall, this horror film has areas that work but end up leading to its downfall for a number of reasons. Unfortunately this is not a true shock since Wall had also written for the despised horror film, When a Stranger Calls (2006). For direction, John Simpson headed the project. Simpson was only known for directing Freeze Frame (2004) prior to this.

The problems that lie in this movie are all in the script. Overall the execution just has mediocre story building. Nothing about it is very consistent and doesn't really connect easily until roughly half way through. The first sequence to take place in the film focuses entirely on another character that comes across as the antagonist. Later though it turns out that individual was never of focus at all, yet this leaves a subplot completely unchecked. At least close it out or something, because it never got resolved as to whether or not it was important. This also leads to random continuity being that not everything clicks into place like it should. There are locations that are shot, where later on they lead to other places, but it never geographically or logically made sense. All this does is create further confusion among the audience.

However what can't be ignored about the production is the concepts used in the movie. The laugh character himself has a strange sense of humor that only he would understand. But of this, there are hints that the production crew were fans of Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) and maybe some inspiration from Dr. Giggles (1992). That's it for that though. As for the cast, the lead actresses perform okay. Of the three however Shelby receives the least the focus, then comes Lisa and lastly Tabitha. All of which show some kind of strength at one point or another. Jessica Lucas was the only one of those three to actually come out into an even bigger horror film was Fede Alvarez's Evil Dead (2013) remake. As for Keir O'Donnell, not so much. His role is given no explanation for his motive at all and having him just laugh the whole time doesn't give him much to work with. He barely says anything.

"Here's looking at you kid....."
It's weird because O'Donnell can play a creepy antagonist but little is revealed about him. Why does he make these sickening displays for fun? Why does he find it hilarious? Aside from this though the cinematography is well shot. Captured by Mark Garrett, the set pieces that are used and how they're filmed look authentic. There are two places that legitimately look unsettling and that goes to a specific room in a family's house that is stuffed to the gills with clown dolls. Why on earth anyone would collect that many is beyond comprehension. The other was an abandoned asylum that is pretty grungy looking for all the right reasons. The music to this feature was composed by horror score enthusiast Marco Beltrami. Being that Beltrami has scored for other horror films like Scream (1996) and Blade II (2002), the tracks to this feature are well constructed. There are plenty of creepy themes and hardly any horror stings.

While the music, actresses and camerawork are the highlights to the feature, the overall experience is messy and not well put together well. The script has too much random continuity, the villain has no background for his motives and there are subplots left unchecked even after the story finishes.

Points Earned --> 5:10