Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Hunley (1999) Review:

The American Civil War is one of those times that history buffs love to revel in because of how tragic the war was. There have been so many personal stories revealed over decades about various people on both sides who fought the odds to prove themselves to others. Even in bigger events, there were people who had stories like this. Ronald F. Maxwell's Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003) were just a couple from a cluster of films made to shed light on these individuals. By far the most ingenious invention ever made during this period was the Hunley submarine used shortly by the confederates in 1864. Not long after, the Civil War would end in 1865. What's surprising is that not only was the Hunley the first of its kind to be a fully functioning combat sub, but it also vanished quickly after it was brought into the world. Discovered at the bottom of the ocean in 1995, it was then salvaged in 2000. In 1999, this TV Movie was made to try and explain what might have happened the last time it was used.

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Lt. Dixon speaking to his crew
Written and directed by John Gray (White Irish Drinkers (2010)), the story follows Lieutenant George Dixon (Armand Assante), a real life officer who volunteered to be the leader of the Hunley sub experiment. After a couple failed launches, Dixon tries one last time and recruit a team that'll make the mission a success. Soon he finds Simkins (Chris Bauer), Collins (Sebastian Roché), Wicks (Michael Stuhlbarg), Miller (Jeff Mandon), Becker (Michael Dolan), White (Frank Vogt) and his second in command Lt. Alexander (Alex Jennings). After being given the "go-ahead" by General Beauregard (Donald Sutherland), Dixon begins his preparation with his crew to use the Hunley. The script was also co-written John Fasano, the same writer to some bad to decent films like Universal Soldier: The Return (1999), Sniper: Reloaded (2011) and Sniper: Legacy (2014). For a story based mostly on fact, it's a decent watch. The problem is that it is predictable in a war drama sort of way. It's rather obvious as to how it'll play out.

This can be troublesome for viewers because this does not permit the experience to be very suspenseful. It's unfortunate that that is how the story structure comes across. John Gray seems like a competent director but the execution follows a structure very close to other heroes who were believed to be a lost cause. However this particular issue does not take away the quality of the main leads. Both Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland emote correctly for the scenes required. They are also given backstories that allow the viewer to understand why they are who they are. Before Lt. Dixon went off on the Hunley mission, he was a regular infantryman and was narrowly saved by a gunshot that struck a coin given to him by his wife (Caprice Benedetti) before leaving. As time goes on, Dixon also realizes that he and General Beauregard share the same interests. The supporting cast is what suffers the most in development though. Although their actual histories were unclear, this gave the liberty to play with that.

Chris Bauer as Simkins is the brawn and misses his wife. Sebastian Roché as Collins is frequently combative with others. Alex Jennings as Lt. Alexander gets seasick easy but will loyally follow his first in command. Aside from those three, everyone else has brief backgrounds given just to give them one character trait. One can catch fish with his hands and another speaks French. Not exactly the most important of attributes. Even the individuals focused on more like Simkins, Collins and Alexander aren't that greatly developed. Visual aspects to the film were largely credible though. For 1999, there are some bits that contain CGI, but they're not extensive enough to carry a full act in the film. That goes for things like quick cuts to the Hunley submarine underwater or a few explosions. The rest of what was put on screen were mainly practical sets and props. Clips that had city structures and interior shots of the Hunley were impressive to look at. The team behind making that prop made an accurate representation of it.

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"Ready to dive Dixon?"
The camerawork handled by John Thomas was relatively good. Although the film was made for TV and did not have a wide lens, the shots were nice to look at. Exterior scenes that contained the city sets look voluminous and the inside of the Hunley certainly looked cramped and uncomfortable for anyone to enjoy. Each shot gave what was needed in order to convey the correct setting to the audience that was watching. John Thomas would later shoot for big name movies like Sex and the City (2007) and Sex in the City 2 (2010). Randy Edelman composed the film score for sound. Being that Edelman had produced the widely underrated music to Gettysburg (1993), it's only appropriate that he scored this film as well. Since the story is not on large a scale, the music is not as grand in sound. The tracks contain more solo pieces from either trumpet or snare drums. Both contribute equally though and  bring the right feeling for each scene especially dealing with Dixon. All in all it's a good watch but not as unique as one would think.

Structurally the execution is not anything special, the supporting characters are not well developed and a lot the suspense is removed since it is known what happened to the civil war sub. However the actors are believable, the visuals, cinematography and music all help bring it to a level that is doable for a civil war film.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Fate of the Furious (2017) Review:

Putting all criticisms aside, it is truly amazing how quickly this franchise has expanded. In a matter of less than two decades, a simple racecar thriller known as The Fast and the Furious (2001) has created practically as many sequels as the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) did. That's mind blowing. This should prove to viewers who do and don't enjoy it that the producers must know what they're doing when each film passes its predecessor. However being that actor Vin Diesel has clearly stated that there will only be 10 entries in the story, it's rather difficult to think anyone would stop there. Some fans might have hoped that after Furious 7 (2015) was released, would mark the end of the series. Looking at it that way would make sense because of how well the film sent off Paul Walker and his character. With that, there was concern of how the next entry would deal with this absence. Don't worry though, everyone on board seemed to have thought of everything.

"So now we gotta get Dom?!"
Sometime after the events of Furious 7 (2015), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are relaxing when Toretto is confronted by a person called Cipher (Charlize Theron). Not long after blackmailing him, Cipher begins using Toretto to do her dirty work. This in turn betrays the family he has been so heavily involved with from the start. Trying to stop Toretto, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) arrives and adds Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to the crew, which many hesitate on. Yet Letty, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) all know they need all the help they can get. Cipher also has a deadly yes-man by the name of Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju) who isn't afraid to kill. Meanwhile Mr. Nobody added a newbie to his roster too, that being Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). But that's not all, there's several other character appearances. Writer Chris Morgan seems to know just how to give a wink and nod at every turn.

Character development is continuously growing throughout the entries. New roles are added, which then in turn begin to build on their foundation with a series of trials that'll prove themselves to others. All actors within the story give amiable performances. This goes for protagonists and antagonists. The fast crew all have great quips with each other and even manage to respectfully squeeze in a reference or two to Paul Walker's character. The comedic elements are what really help push the likability of these characters. Seeing Tej and Roman or Luke and Deckard bicker, is all for a good laugh. Little Nobody shows that even he can be funny due to his lack of understanding with the original crew. Charlize Theron and Kristofer Hivju as the two baddies are great at being the villains. They show no mercy in their killing. This will also show to the fans that the people working on this movie know how to play with one's emotions. Not everything is green pastures for the fast crew.

The sequences involving action are well staged. It's also great to know that director F. Gary Gray utilized as many practical effects as he could. And like always, the action is turned up another notch to the point of being unexpected. Each time, the stunts get crazier and crazier. Lots of cars were destroyed, there's no doubt about that. Unfortunately there is one minor gripe about this. When things start to get harry in New York, the scene will possibly become a little over gratuitous in its delivery. There's a point where so many cars are getting wrecked, it can get comparatively overwhelming. At some point viewers might ask, "Okay we get it, how much of that is needed?" kind of question. Labeling that as an isolated issue, the rest of the sequences are fine because it is not so blatant in its destruction. As for the physical possibilities of handling these scenarios, it's highly unlikely. This franchise is at a point though where belief has to be suspended to a point.

Charlize Theron
Camerawork has always been a strong point in the franchise's last few entries and it remains that way. Thanks to Stephen F. Windon, the way the camera captures all action and visuals blends very well together. Again this all goes back to finding ways of being creative. There are several angular shots that work to give the viewer a better of idea of what it's like to be in a certain situation. This also applies to the non action related shots. Wide scope panning shots are also much appreciated in letting the viewer take in the sights to see what and where the characters dwell. All visually pleasing. Another weak point however is Brian Tyler's musical score. Although he has been scoring the franchise for a number of entries now, there's not much to mention over it because its sole purpose is just to elevate the experience with no emotional weight. That's not to say it isn't composed competently, but it does not add to the pressure of what is being presented on screen. All in all though, another solid entry.

Fortunately for this franchise, the cast and crew know how to keep pushing each new film to entertain. The music is sadly undetectable and one action scene feels a little too much, but other than that, the rest of the action, the actors, camerawork and story make another great installment in the series.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) Review:

In Stan Winston's career, he was known as the master of visual effects. Whether that was practical or special effects, filmmakers could always rely on the creativity and quality of Stan Winston and his team. With credits belonging to films like The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), it would be difficult to find someone match his integrity. As good as he was at his craft, Winston did delve into other positions of the movie industry. Being in the makeup department was his second most utilized role. However in 1988, Winston took a stab at directing a feature film and thus ended up producing Pumpkinhead (1988). Although it did not achieve the accolades that other horror films had garnered before it, Winston's directorial debut has gained much love over the years. It was not a masterpiece in every aspect but it sure entertained. The film is underrated and rightly deserves its cult following. But like every starter film comes sequels that baffle. Unfortunately not even Winston's creation was immune.

"Uhhhh,....I thought this was Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth"
In this sequel, Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson) is a new sheriff in town who's looking to do some good. Regrettably, Sheriff Braddock is not greeted with warm smiles. A local by the name of Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly) feels he's entitled to whatever he pleases because he's rich. On top of that, Braddock has an unstable connection with his daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz). Meanwhile Jenny has a love hate relationship with Danny (J. Trevor Edmond), the son of Judge Dixon. Trying to fit in, Jenny heads out with Danny and his gang when they end up crossing paths with a witch who has the spell book to summon Pumpkinhead. Believing it to be a myth, Danny goes through the ritual and ends up summoning the demon he thought wouldn't appear. Interestingly enough Constantine and Ivan Chachornia are the writers of which never went anywhere after this. It's quite sad because this film has several flaws in its execution. Even weirder is that three of the writers from the original film served as creative consultants. And it's still bad.

Of all things, the biggest sin this sequel commits is dating itself. The story is all too familiar dealing with characters that are in over their head and others that know things before the main leads. There really is no value to this kind of twist. Then there's the actors themselves. Aside from Andrew Robinson and Ami Dolenz, the rest of the actors are largely annoying and forgettable. J. Trevor Edmond and his gang consisting of actors the likes of Soleil Moon Frye, a very young Hill Harper (CSI: NY) and Alexander Polinsky are all very obnoxious. The overall attitude is "let's take things to the extreme", a very 90s mentality. Of course once chaos erupts, then everybody fends for themselves in the silliest ways. It's all very stock and unoriginal. Nobody cares for these people. There's also several areas that go unexplained. The reason as to why Pumpkinhead is brought to life isn't for the reason a fan might think. The good news Pumpkinhead doesn't have any particular bloodline that he follows.

However the reason that is used, carries little emotional weight because it is all indirect in its story telling. There's also unclear continuity as to when and if this story is tied at all to the original Pumpkinhead (1988) movie. There's another scraggly old lady in this movie, is it the same witch from the prior film? If so when does this story take place? Before? After? Does it matter? Plus there's a subplot about the mayor (Roger Clinton) of the town popping in and out of a few scenes discussing whether Pumpkinhead's killings would bring in revenue from the media. Not a necessary plot thread. Poor director Jeff Burr. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre III: Leatherface (1990) was an average film at best and now he has another sequel with lackluster quality. It's obvious that Burr likes making horror films but the studios that oversee him always give him problems. Surprisingly even the minor characters are played by other familiar actors. Gloria Hendry, R.A. Mihailoff and Joe Unger are some to name a few.

Ami Dolenz & J. Trevor Edmond
For a direct-to-video film, the practical effects are acceptable. Mark McCracken as Pumpkinhead has the height and the costume itself looks similar to that of the original film. It is apparent that the facial articulation and smoothness in its movements aren't as polished as before though. Even the violence and gore is alright. This makes up for some of the dull writing seen throughout. The cinematography by Bill Dill was frustrating to watch. Several times the lenses move in and out on Pumpkinhead as if to look scary when all it does is make the experience feel cheaper than usual. It won't give the viewer a sense of the surrounding and it's also a bit disorienting. The music was thankfully a plus for what it was worth. Jim Manzie a composer who worked hard with Jeff Burr to release his score to the third Texas Chain Saw film, unfortunately did not get a chance to do it in full here. The main title although recognizable doesn't sound as creepy as the original but works when it has to. Mostly.

By all means it could've been a lot worse, but it is not good entertainment either. The effects aren't bad for a home video release and the film score isn't out of place. Yet a very small number of actors come off trying and the story lacks continuity and compelling storytelling.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Shining (1980) Review:

For many horror fans and filmmakers especially, site director Stanley Kubrick as a part of their inspiration to make movies. Kubrick had a reputation for being a director with a unique vision. Many of his films had aesthetically pleasing visuals and shots that were hard to find amateurish. He was after all a photographer before a filmmaker, which helped give him that edge. When it came to stories, another person who was constantly sought after to get permission for their works was Stephen King. Although King was not in the Hollywood business full time as other people, what he did provide were foundations to creating new horror films. Since its release, Kubrick's interpretation of Stephen King's The Shining text was widely praised for how intense the viewing experience was. Since then, much of the crew members have surfaced and spoke about the film and the level of involvement Kubrick demanded. Oddly enough, King wasn't that impressed with it. Believe it or not, King might be right.

"Son,...look into my eyes and tell me I'm pretty"
Adapted by Kubrick and Diane Johnson (in her first and only screenplay), the story is about writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) looking to find a place of seclusion to finish his project. He ends up finding an opening position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Finding it worthy of his goal, Torrance brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to live with him from the fall to the summer of next year. Little do they realize that the hotel harbors an ominous spirit that has connections to a horrific past. As an overall story, the execution is very well done. However there are certain elements that if omitted, would not have impacted the experience in a negative way. Danny has a psychic ability where one can see events from the past and future. This talent is called "shining". This is only revealed to Danny and the audience when Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) concedes that he can do it too. What isn't mentioned is how on earth anybody knows what "shining" is. How does one contract such a power? Is it through genetics or by other  entities that be? The other big hole in the story is the lack of explanation for certain key events. How is a viewer supposed to understand what Kubrick's message is? 

It doesn't make any sense and it's sometimes sillier than it is disturbing. Everything else about the production on a written and visual level all work effectively to create a dark and disconcerting haunted house feature. The performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are neck and neck in quality. Nicholson easily can look off his rocker while Duvall reacts perfectly to her co-star's outbursts. Nicholson's eyebrows also add to his menacing look (as weird as that sounds). Danny Lloyd is definitely not as skilled as Duvall or Nicholson but can still freak out the audience with his mouth agape look. Very unsettling. There's also other short appearances from Barry Nelson as the prior caretaker to Mr. Torrance and Mr. Durkin (Tony Burton). 

Scatman Crothers as the cook to the hotel is an interesting character. It is because of his talk with Danny that adds to the suspense of the dangers that lurk within the building. The imagery that is displayed however is what really drives home the concept of dread that precedes the hotel. What is great about how Kubrick directs this film, is that it is not treated like many other mainstream horror films. Jump scares do not exist in this film. It all relies on mysteries and off-putting flashes of different scenes. These quick scene cuts are not annoying either. They're intriguing because it makes the viewer question "what is going on". At first "REDRUM" is a questionable component to the narrative but overtime, the meaning is exposed. Though it may be obvious or rather uneventful to some when light is shed on the matter, it will be for those not use to the Kubrick method of execution. Remember, Kubrick was also the director to Paths of Glory (1957), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971). 

Shelley Duvall
If anyone is looking for gore though, the volume is very low. Is there bloody violence - yes, but not enough to satisfy someone who enjoys lots of victims. Camerawork by John Alcott was wonderfully captivating. Having worked with Kubrick before, Alcott knows how a scene needed to be shot. Every scene has wide angle lenses that have static movements that rarely rotate. Also the technique of very slow zoom-ins are implemented and that helps the viewer focus in on what Kubrick was trying to convey. Alcott also worked on Terror Train (1980). Music on the other hand was a mixed bag. Composed by Wendy Carlos (best known for her score to Tron (1982)) and Rachel Elkind, the music used is effective but only in certain areas. In some parts its perfect with its deep drawn out strings and synths, which represents the dire threat that lives with the Torrance family. While in other places, it gets dragged out far too long when a scene is no longer that worrisome. It's not bad but could've been used better.

Some parts within the script could've been left out completely and the story would've run smoother. The music works but far extends some scenes for no reason. Aside from this, the acting, creepy imagery and unique cinematography make this a different horror film worth seeing.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Get Carter (2000) Review:

Unless the people involved in a remake of an original film from the past truly have a passion for what they're doing, most people do not have high hopes for the overall outcome. Many viewers do not believe there are needs to reconstruct or modernize their favorite film property. Different interpretations are not normally accepted because the deviate too far from what made the original so memorable. Actor Sir Michael Caine has proven in many projects that he is quite the capable performer. Even before he starred in the first Get Carter (1971), Caine had had a number of good roles. Get Carter (1971) was one his best roles of the 70s and it forever stuck with him. By the late 1990s, Sylvester Stallone on other hand had hit a slump in his career. After supposedly retiring from action films (which does hold up today), Stallone took part in lesser acclaimed films. Most of these tanked or were not even theatrically released. This film is one of those blunders during that time but it isn't as bad as some say.
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"Hmmm,...not sure as to why people don't like me...."
Basing its premise off the original, Jack Carter (Sylvester Stallone) learns the death of his brother. Feeling his brother's death was no accident, Carter begins investigating who and what might be the reason for his personal loss. The people Carter begins questioning are suspects like Geraldine (Rhona Mitra), Eddie (Johnny Strong), Jeremy Kinnear (Alan Cumming), Cliff Brumby (Michael Caine) and Cyrus Paice (Mickey Rourke). All of these individuals have some kind of connection to Carter's brother. On top of that, Carter tries to figure out to reconcile his personal career with his family. His brother's wife (Miranda Richardson) doesn't really want him around and her daughter (Rachael Leigh Cook) doesn't understand him. Both of which are trying to cope with their loss. All in all the rewritten screenplay by David McKenna wasn't bad. McKenna was also the writer to widely acclaimed American History X (1998). It's not flawless like many scripts but it is workable. Here's what doesn't work first though.

There are several unnecessary aspects going on throughout the running time. Unlike the original where Carter was a gangster, this time he's a hired bouncer of sorts. There's a subplot where Carter is having an affair with his boss' mistress. There's no real payoff for this plot thread. It gets resolved but there isn't much to feel for it because of how little it's focused on. Also some specific and significant plot points are not as clear as some might think. This can get confusing if one isn't paying attention enough. The other problem belongs to the editing executed by Gerald B. Greenberg. Greenberg who's had a long career should know better. The problem is having fast to slow film editing for quick snippets of the movie. What's the point of speeding up a scene for a few seconds, then to have it play a regular speed for a few seconds and then speed it up a few seconds again? That's not style, that's needless speed adjustments. Other than these issues, the film plays out okay.

Although he hasn't gone on to direct numerous other theatrical features, Stephen Kay's direction was doable for the story. Kay has had more recent credits as an actor in general hospital. The actors achieve what they set out to do. Sylvester Stallone's acting is not at the level of emotion hard hitting level and that's not expected with this character. His performance is supposed to feel relatively disconnected from everyone else because nobody else does what he does. That's why his niece and sister in law is not sure how to converse with him. Rachael Leigh Cook is believable as Carter's niece considering she starter her career much earlier than this feature. Alan Cumming and Mickey Rourke both play their characters well. Rourke plays his role the most relaxed and comfortable. Even Michael Caine has a significant role, of which he has quite a harsh tongue as well. Even with Stallone saying he was retiring from the action genre, this film still has action sequences.

Rachel Leigh Cook
Are they as brutal as some of Stallone's other R-rated films - no. However this is 
made up by Stallone's ferocious anger that is portrayed on screen. Almost the entire movie has Stallone with a clenching his teeth with rage. There's a lot of built up energy there.  The action ranges from shootouts to fist fights. The camerawork by Mauro Fiore was decent. The only weird thing is that much of story takes place in rainy settings. Not sure if that was just due to filming location during a certain season or was intentionally filmed on days like those. Either way, the lighting was good as well as the scenes filmed. Fiore also worked on other films like Smokin' Aces (2006), Avatar (2009), The A-Team (2010) and Southpaw (2015). The film score by Tyler Bates was unique listening experience. Most scores rely more on orchestra. However Bates focused more on percussion, which gives the sound a smoother feel. Bates also reprises the original Get Carter theme. Even the softer themes are acceptable. Not bad.

Editing and subplots are the only big issues among this production. This remake is terribly unwatchable as viewers say. It doesn't surpass the original but it's not awful. The acting is fine, the action is fun and the music is nicely updated.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Welcome Home (1989) Review:

War veterans can unfortunately suffer from some pretty heavy stuff. War in general causes problems for almost everybody all the time. It's not a nice activity to par-take in. Soldiers go off to fight; some come back while others never return. It's a sad truth, but that's sometimes the normality of it all. When marines go off to battle, most return with some kind of post traumatic stress (PTS) that changes the way they behave. This ranges from person to person and the intensity can vary too. But for those who lose their loved ones at war, nobody enjoys receiving a box with their offspring's name plate in it. On the other hand it's even more of a shock to the system when that individual returns from combat. After long periods of waiting, family members can get worried. The relief of knowing and being able to see somebody again after an extended time is overwhelming. But what is it like when someone is realized to be living when originally confirmed dead? This causes a whole new scenario.

Sam Waterston & Thomas Wilson Brown
Kris Kristofferson is Jake Robbins, a Vietnam war vet who was supposedly killed on duty in 1970. When in reality, he was being taken care of by some natives. Seventeen years later he wakes up to discover he's back in the states and missing his family. He's then accompanied by Col. Barnes (Trey Wilson) who informs him that he cannot return back to Vietnam to see his kids for word getting out that there might be some survivors left behind. Frustrated with the options he's given, he returns home to get some closure with his dad (Brian Keith). He also visits his now moved-on wife Sarah (JoBeth Williams), his son Tyler (Thomas Wilson Brown) and step-father Woody (Sam Waterston). With a screenplay by Maggie Kleinman, who would only write for one more movie being Desperate Choices: To Save My Child (1992), the script is all right for a basic story. It does have some unanswered questions and plot threads, but overall it's solid for a premise. This makes it watchable, but on a predictable level.

What doesn't make sense in Kleinman's script are some unresolved plot components. The most noticeable lack of clarity is when it comes to Jake's return. Who picked up Jake from Vietnam? Did he make it back himself? The scene before he woke up in the states was being taken to a hospital in Thailand. Where was the transition? Another problem arises with some character's unresolved actions. An act or two are committed that seem like a reconciliation would be in good order. However that never happens either and it's kind of a big deal. One should not be able to walk away feeling fine with themselves. Aside from these two concerns, the final point to be made is that the structure of the story is very predictable. From start to finish the long-term experience doesn't bring up many new twists or surprises along the way. The plot is quite linear in a very practical sense. There isn't much to it other than how certain characters cope with Jake's return. And the end result is none too shocking.

Yet that doesn't mean watching this movie is boring. All members involved that were listed act the way one would expect. The characters are very relatable in the situations they encounter as well as their reactions. Watching Kristofferson play Jake and seeing him make mistakes along the way is the right kind of development. For anyone who's been claimed as long gone and returns, the feeling is confusing.  You want to return, but it's hard to say whether that might open up old wounds or not. Topics like these are mixed bags when it comes to feelings and it's a risky gamble. Sarah, Woody and Tyler's revelations when they find out of who Jake is just as sympathetic. One of the best scenes though was when Jake's father finally sees him again. It's a gratifying experience. The human drama and emotions are clear. Brian Keith also gives some great insight to Jake after he contemplates how he's a deserter. That's blown right out of the water after his dad talks.

"Welcome home,...old boy..."
Directing this feature for the final time was Franklin J. Schaffner. With what has been presented on screen as much as the script struggled to clear up some things, Schaffner's direction was mighty helpful. Without him, the story would not have been as engaging. Schaffner had also directed The Boys from Brazil (1978), Patton (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968). For visuals, Fred J. Koenekamp handled the camera. Since this was a film with a much smaller budget, whatever was captured was the greater part real. There aren't too many distinct shots but the scenery captured is pretty. Much of the background contains suburban town roads, to back country lake houses. Koenekamp also worked on The Hunter (1980) and The Swarm (1978). Lastly, famous composer Henry Mancini produced the film score. Another great aspect to this feature was that Mancini created a reoccurring main theme. Even Kristofferson's good buddy Willie Nelson made a song for the film. This is memorable, it's just sad that the soundtrack wasn't released.

The procession of its story is as predictable as one would think and there are moments that go forgotten, but this is still an enjoyable film. The characters are likable and have understandable motivations. The cinematography is pleasing and so is the music.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) Review:

Repeating the same formula again and again in a franchise normally doesn't work. This has been proven time and time again in several genres. Most commonly, horror films suffer the most from this trend. Even then, some series have turnarounds. When A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) was released, critics and fans were impressed. Although A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) was not as well received as its predecessor, the film managed to further the story of the teens that had connected lines to Freddy Krueger. The dream sequences continued to be imaginative, the kills remained inventive and the music continued to be creepy. Surprisingly even after that film, the next entry maintains its credibility. It still doesn't match the third or first film but it is still a decent watch. Directing this installment was Stephen Hopkins. Hopkins would later go on to direct films like Predator 2  (1990), Blown Away (1994), The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) and Race (2016).

Fetus Freddy
The story picks up sometime after the events of the prior movie. Alice (Lisa Wilcox) is graduating school with her boyfriend Dan (Danny Hassel). Accompanying them are their classmates Yvonne (Kelly Jo Minter), Greta (Erika Anderson) and Mark (Joe Seely). One night Lisa begins having nightmares again implicating that Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has risen from his grave. Fearing the worst, people begin having near death experiences, which causes Alice to go into a panic. What confuses Alice is that Freddy is also appearing when she's awake. Somehow he found a loophole. This time, Leslie Bohem wrote the screenplay. For the most part, Bohem's script is adequate enough to advance the story but misses significant points. The most major of issues arise from the continuity. Although Alice and Dan are returning characters, the three new ones don't seem to know much about Freddy Krueger. How is that possible when all of these events occur in the same location for the past four films?

On top of that, there are moments where some of those characters know how to combat Krueger in their dreams. Yet they would not know that because that was taught in the third film. Lastly, the dream sequences are rather disappointing. This does not consist of all dreams but some of them come off more campy than they do bizarre and horrific. There are some arrangements that get creatively dizzy but its only at the finale. Aside from this, the script doesn't create any other big mistakes. Bohem would later write for movies like Daylight (1996), Dante's Peak (1997) and The Darkest Hour (2011). The actors were a credible aspect to the movie. This entry does not contain teens looking to fornicate, instead they persist to be defined by their personalities. Lisa Wilcox as Alice is still a likable lead and grows as the main heroine. Dan Hassel as Alice's boyfriend is also the least stuck up jock. That's also an amiable trait. Greta, Yvonne and Mark are not the greatest of individuals when it comes to development but they do help.

Nicholas Mele also returns as Alice's father. He even develops as a supporting character. Finally Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger prevails as the antagonist of dreams. Over time his dialog has become more jocular than serious and that has produced mix results. On one side, the comic lines cause some good laughs. On the other hand, being too comical makes the film sound less grounded and more like a parody. When a baby Krueger spud decides to crawl around the floor, it looks far less intimidating. A few puns here and there is okay, but doing it one too many times in a scene wears out its welcome fairly quickly. Nevertheless Englund will and forever be Freddy Krueger. The effects are another satisfying component to the entry. Gore may not be as abundant as the last entry but the dreams and kills are still horrific to a degree. Much of the props and sets are made with practical effects and visually it looks good. The level of gore may not please gorehounds though who want the violence.

"I'm so happy to be back"
The camerawork filmed by Peter Levy was competently shot. The cinematography to the picture contains several shots that focus on either the dream realm or reality itself. Each scene has the proper amount of lighting and scope to show the viewer what there is to focus on. Peter Levy has also worked with director Stephen Hopkins multiple times for the same films like Predator 2 (1990) and Race (2016). He has also done other projects like Ricochet (1991) and Cutthroat Island (1995). Composing the score to the film was Jay Ferguson. Thankfully Ferguson reused the main theme Charles Bernstein successfully created from the first film. As for the score in its entirety, it has a number of cues that are creepy, using synths. However, there are a few tracks that come off less creepy and more pop like. Not exactly what one would expect from a horror score. Jay Ferguson has also composed scores to films like Johnny Be Good (1988) and Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996). It's not the best of the nightmare scores but it does work.

The lack of visual gore, script continuity and overly comical dialog given by Freddy Krueger may not be the best aspects to this installment. However, the characters, music and development pull through to make it a watchable experience to the ongoing series.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012) Review:

When Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson took the role as the Scorpion King in Stephen Sommers' The Mummy Returns (2001), it's hard to say whether viewers thought a series would continue this far. The first film wasn't cinematic gold, but it had charm for varying instances. The sequel prequel that came after it though was a step down from it. Not only was it boring but the story line didn't feel believable. Plus new characters were introduced that would not return in the films chronology. There was no point in it. As for continuing it, if the film makes money, of course make more entries. As much as a mess the last film was, the producers were smart enough to release it in the home video market. If this was released theatrically, these films would be doing a lot worse financially. For this third film in the series the quality to this has slightly improved but still has its problems. Thankfully of all things, this installment is not another prequel. Otherwise this timeline would be all screwed up.

"Hmmm,...not sure I'm ready for this"
Although it has 3 in its title, this is a sequel to the first Scorpion King (2002). After the decimation of his people and his wife from a mysterious plague, the Scorpion King (Victor Webster) goes back to his roots as a mercenary. On his travels, he is hired by King Horus (Ron Perlman) to infiltrate and stop his jealous brother Talus (Billy Zane) from invading his territory. Talus' wants to conquer Horus' land with the book of the dead. He can only do this by taking over Ramusan's (Temuera Morrison) land, while holding his daughter Silda (Krystal Vee) hostage. Teaming up with the Scorpion King is Olaf (Bostin Christopher) who was also sent by Horus for no other reason than he fights well. Written by Shane Kuhn and Brendan Cowles, the script is still fairly senseless but does manage to build on past stories than deconstruct them. For one thing, the continuity is explained as to what happened to the Scorpion King's wife and the people that followed him. It's not very specific but it is mentioned so that's a plus.

Roel Reiné was the director for this feature and how its handled is also a tad better. Instead of slowly moving from one task to the next, different situations ensue. Both Cowles and Kuhn have worked before with Reiné on other projects together so perhaps this is why the story has better flow. Roel Reiné has directed many other sequels like Death Race 2 (2010), The Man With the Iron Fists 2 (2015) and Hard Target 2 (2016). However even with forgivable continuity, the screenplay goes on to fail in other spots. One of the biggest flaws are various physical impossibilities. Some of it really just doesn't make any sense. A character's ear is ripped off by someone's hand. How is somebody that strong? Another character gets severely injured but has no problems later on. Nobody can heal that fast. Another problem is the acting of characters. Bostin Christopher as Olaf had some moments of comedic value but all he does it make the film feel like a bad buddy film. His dialog is also too contemporary for ancient times.

As for acting, Billy Zane chews the scenery every time he's on screen. As a villain, he comes off more as a parody to an antagonist than an actual threat. Sometimes this is funny but overall it feels out of place. Ron Perlman and Temuera Morrison are both underplayed and are not that interesting. Thankfully Victor Webster as the new Scorpion King tries to make his role his own. Not every line he says comes off forced but occasionally it doesn't sound right. For one thing, he at least looks similar to Dwayne Johnson. Krystal Vee as the daughter Ramusan is okay in her performance. She too has more personality than most and has sufficient chemistry with Webster. As for her development, its overused plot threads but at least its identifiable. There's also appearances from Dave Bautista, Kevin 'Kimbo Slice' Ferguson and Selina Lo as spirits to the book of the dead. They however have very little development. The original story writer was Randall McCormick who did the last film.

Krystal Vee
The action sequences to the film were well staged although they had one drawback. That being that in almost every scene that involved action, had multiple slow motion shots. This happened frequently and it felt like in some ways, the film was just buying time. It looks good, but too much of it loses the spectacle. Working as cinematographer was also Roel Reiné. For a while the setting was in the desert but it quickly shifts to jungle brush. This is okay but it's a bit disorienting. Nevertheless the picture looks good in its display. Very little of it seems fake except for a few shots. Roel Reiné has done almost as much cinematography as he's done his own projects. The music was composed by Trevor Morris. Another Roel Reiné collaborator, Morris has done more TV scores than theatrical films however the sound is decent considering it being a DVD release. However it is odd that no official score was released when every other Scorpion film in this series has one. Really weird.

While it may be somewhat better than the film before it, it's not by a large amount. Victor Webster as the new Scorpion King is a suitable replacement. However much of the other actors involved seem less invested. The script tries to build on the first film but retreads familiar territory.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985) Review:

It's one thing when a franchise becomes successful because of a formula. It's another to repeat that formula into submission and bring nothing new into the equation. The original Friday the 13th (1980) was not spectacular storytelling but it did captivate its audience with a character's mysterious past. Sure it was ripping off John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) but it was a flattering gesture towards it. Friday the 13th Part II (1981) although not exactly keeping its continuity together, managed to continue the story of Jason Voorhees to some degree. Friday the 13th Part III (1982) lazily rehashed the concept again. The only thing making it pop out was literally all of its 3D gags it had to offer. Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984) attempted to bring fresh blood to the table but ultimately did nothing new at all. What exactly was this series trying to accomplish? There has been no story development on Jason Voorhees since the second sequel. Apparently nobody saw the downhill slope this franchise traveled because it happened again.

"Ohh no....not again..."
Picking up several years after the last entry, Tommy who killed Jason Voorhees is now grown up (John Shepherd) but still scarred from his encounter with the masked assailant. After being relocated to a more liberal asylum that allows its patients outdoors owned by Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), people begin dying off again and Shepherd thinks Jason has returned. While this occurs the local sheriff (Marco St. John) thinks Jason is around as well although there are several other suspects that could be doing the killing, including a crazy neighbor named Ethel (Carol Locatell). As much as this could be interesting because almost all the characters are mental patients, nothing is ever done with them. The screenplay was written by Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen and Danny Steinmann, who also directed. One would think someone would know what to do with these characters, especially Martin Kitrosser who wrote for Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984). Not one character gets the attention they deserve.

Corey Feldman who played Tommy from the first film is credit as appearing. He's only in one scene and that's it. This doesn't develop the current state Tommy is in. All audiences will get is that Voorhees haunts him. Why? No reason is given. John Shepherd as the older Tommy barely says anything and at one point vanishes for a good portion too. Assisting Pam attend to the patients is another boy named Reggie "the Reckless" played by Shavar Ross who doesn't add much either. He's probably the most likable of the cast but he's not given much to work with. Melanie Kinnaman as Pam is another waste of time. All she does is show up for the finale pretty much. There are a bunch of other cast members to the list but none of them stand out because they are by the numbers fodder for the killer. None of the dialog is witty, clever or memorable at any level. If Danny Steinmann wrote for Savage Streets (1984) and Martin Kitrosser was the script supervisor for big budget productions that belong to Quentin Tarantino like Pulp Fiction (1994), why isn't that quality here?

Even for gore hounds this film is a disappointment. Understandably the first submission to the MPAA was bound have cuts but this entry barely shows a thing. All other films before it had some level of explicitness to it. Here, much of the kills are off screen hardly showing a thing. It's not that entertaining when characters are so poorly written and all a viewer is betting on is how good the violence will be and it's not even shown. There's a nice scene where Jason Voorhees gets attacked briefly but in the end it doesn't make a whole lot of sense either. Playing Jason was stunt man Tom Morga. This was Morga's only time playing Jason and for how he portrayed the character it was okay but nothing distinguishable. Many times its just Morga holding his machete up in the air for dramatic effect. Morga is better known for doing stunts in numerous films such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Ghostbusters (1984), Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (1986), and Spider-Man (2002).

Shavar Ross
The cinematography by Stephen L. Posey is possibly the only real credible aspect to this picture. Not a whole lot works here but Posey manages to at least keep the picture looking somewhat decent. When the shots are during the daytime, the picture is clear. Even the shots during the night hours have decent lighting so the viewer can see what is going on. Posey has done work on other horror films like Bloody Birthday (1981) and Slumber Party Massacre (1982). Shockingly not even returning composer Harry Manfredini's film score could save this entry. Although the full scores did not receive different treatments in themes, fans could always rely on Manfredini bringing back the iconic sound of the original film. Oddly enough Manfredini did not do that. The main theme sounds in the same vein as the original but sounds very sloppy this time around and it's a bit off putting. The assumption could be that because the title had "a new beginning" in it, Manfredini needed to make a slightly new theme? Why bother though, if a sequel is this bad, keep the good stuff.

Camerawork is adequate for the entry but nothing else is here. The actors and their performances are as forgettable as they come. The music is bizarrely different from past film scores despite it being the same composer. The story doesn't make sense and the gore almost is non existent.

Points Earned --> 2:10

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986) Review:

Normally the second sequel to a franchise is the worst of the trilogy. Occasionally there are exceptions to the rule but this is less likely to happen. The adult R-rated Police Academy (1984) comedy may have not contained the classiest of jokes but it had its moments. The characters all had their own personalities and trademarks. The slapstick was doable and many a time it was all over the place. The area that really suffered was the lack of development for every character because of it being overly packed with roles. This is what happens with ensemble casts though. The same goes for its sequel Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985). The difference between that and the original was the addition of new and the omission of older characters. Without rhyme or reason, the missing characters are never mentioned. Comedic value was also recycled at times although some of it worked as well. No doubt with both being fairly popular among its fans, the third film in the series would revolve around the same kind of antics.

"Don't be alarmed,....for I am in control...."
In Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986), the plot deals with returning characters from the last two films becoming the trainers to the next incoming class of cadets. Unfortunately of the two academies, only one will remain - Comdt. Lassard's (George Gaynes) or Comdt. Mauser's (Art Metrano). The governor (Ed Nelson) felt only one academy was needed so Lassard's alumni want their police academy to win. The alumni to return are Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Tackleberry (David Graf), Jones (Michael Winslow), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook) and Fackler (Bruce Mahler). For this sequel, the script was written by Gene Quintano and surprisingly it's slightly better. As of today Quintano is best known for writing Loaded Weapon 1 (1993) and Sudden Death (1995). What's different about this entry as to the prior one is that the original cast is in a teaching position now. Seeing Mahoney, Hooks, Hightower, Fackler, Jones and Tackleberry at the same level as Callahan shows they have grown.

Even some of the individuals from the first sequel have some growth. Characters like ex-criminal Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurinsky) learn to get a long as cadets. The comedic gags are also somewhat improved since last time. Anything dealing with Comdt. Lassard, Zed, Hightower, Jones or Hooks should get plenty of laughs. Comdt. Lassard is goofier than ever and reminisces to Leslie Nielsen. Zed, although hard on the ears makes use of his fluctuating vocal chords to his advantage. Hightower continuously gets props for being a lovable bear that's tough as nails. Hooks even gets to train some as well instead of sitting at a desk all day. And Jones, well he's always the master of sounds. Although Mahoney is the lead character, his colleagues get a fair share too. The focus is distributed rather evenly this time, which is nice. However that doesn't leave the writing without its problems. Some of the returning characters do not get a lot of focus. Copeland (Scott Thomson) and Blanks (Brant Van Hoffman) get shorted on this.

Lance Kinsey as Proctor continues to report to Mauser but also doesn't get a lot of attention. Two new cadets Kirkland (Andrew Paris) and Nogata (Brian Tochi) have their moments but don't contribute much. Tochi would end up voicing Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and its sequels. Lastly there's a new love interest for Mahoney named Cadet Adams (Shawn Weatherly). She's by the far leaves the least impact. This is the least of the story's problems though. Again previous characters have vanished without a trace. What happened to Tackleberry's girlfriend who loved guns? What happened to Mahoney's partner who ate garbage all day? No explanations are given whatsoever. And although the slapstick is slightly funnier than before, there are still homophobic and racial jokes thrown in from time to time. The last issue clearly visible to viewers will be that there is no real antagonist. Yes Comdt. Mauser wants to off Comdt. Lassard's academy but aside from that, random villains show up with no motive. What's the point then?

Image result for police academy 3 mauser
Comdt. Mauser
Jerry Paris directed again for this entry in the series. With his direction, the overall look and feel has not changed. The same could be said for Robert Saad as the director of photography. Though the cinematography has changed hands over the last couple of films, Saad's work looks very similar. There's plenty of lighting to see what needs to be seen. For once the final showdown also doesn't take place in a city either. So that's different from a view perspective. Saad would later provide camerawork for The Rainbow Boys (1973), Cannonball Fever (1989) and Sleeping Dogs Lie (1998). Robert Folk again composed music. It is weird though that he isn’t credited when he was the one who made the theme for the franchise so recognizable. It's hard to say if the tracks are just being recycled even if a lot of it sounds the same. At this point though, hearing the flutes and drums at the beginning is all a fan would need. When the trumpets come in, everything is heroic and proud. No synths in this orchestra and that's okay.

By no means is it a vast improvement from the last entry but it does feel more enjoyable. It still contains continuity problems, unnecessary supporting characters and a major antagonist is barely around for this. Yet the music is still lively, the slapstick is slightly funnier and the main actors use their roles to their advantage.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Priceless Beauty (1988) Review:

For foreign actors, hitting it big in a Hollywood film is a big deal. If one can be popular in movies among their own country and universally, that boosts a career a long way. Having more than one country backing an actor makes it much more likely to be successful. A good example of this would be Jean-Claude Van Damme. After Bloodsport (1988) was released, Van Damme's credibility began to skyrocket. However when it comes to foreign made films, the appearance or starring of popular Hollywood actors are not as frequent. This is mainly because the filmmakers involved are foreign and cannot communicate with other actors from another country. Occasionally a foreign made film will be made with English speaking actors, but the filming crew will remain foreign. With that said, it is hard to say how much power the crew has to release their production on a wider scale. This film was all in English yet the release was all in Europe. It's obvious that English is spoken in foreign countries but wouldn't the native language be more appropriate? Strange.

"Oh look Menrou, a boring fantasy film...."
Written and directed by Charles Finch, the story follows depressed rock star Menrou (Christopher Lambert) being a bum on a local beach. One day he discovers a jar at the bottom of the ocean, which turns out to have a beautiful Genie named China (Diane Lane). Hoping to make his life better, China tries to turn Menrou's life around. Meanwhile, Menrou's ex-manager Willy (J.C. Quinn) wants Menrou to get back into the business. Seems simple enough to comprehend, yet there are several things wrong with it. Charles Finch's debut as a writer and director was for this feature and it shows. The few characters that appear throughout the movie are largely undefined with any clarity. Menrou is only depressed because his brother Jimmy (Joaquim de Almeida) got jealous of his fame. After a night of arguing, Jimmy rides off and gets into a fatal accident. Aside from this event, Menrou isn't clear as to why he doesn't do anything with his life. China is revealed to be an amateur genie and isn't quite sure of her powers. How is that she isn't sure yet knows she's a genie?

The subplot dealing with Menrou's manager is also wasted. At first Willy claims Menrou will return. Then he starts talking to Peter (Francesco Quinn) and Lisa (Claudia Ohana) a neighbor of Menrou's to try and get him back. This goes nowhere though and it doesn't get resolved either. Even with that said, the actors seem to be trying to a point. Christopher Lambert has his occasional moment of camp where he has that short laugh. Half the time though Lambert looks as though he's living it up. Diane Lane as China is nice even though she comes across as bit naive. She tends to take things too literal. This makes her look clueless at points. All other actors are okay but nothing to really talk about. As a fantasy drama, the tone sticks close to the genre. The drama drummed up by Menrou and China are noteworthy for that. There are also times that come across more comical than it should have because of how silly the characters are written. Charles Finch is known for writing Bad Girls (1994) and The Dentist (1996). As of now though he has been more a producer than anything else.

Francesco Quinn as Peter and Claudia Ohana as Lisa would have been interesting if they were developed more. It almost seems like at one point Lisa was jealous of Menrou but it's never taken anywhere. The same could be said for Peter who looks like he had feelings for China, but again not advancement in that department. When it comes to the visual effects within the film, there's not too many. When China first appears, she comes out of the jar, rays of light emit from the it. Unfortunately they are not that great looking. Of course in 1988 CGI was still in development so that's understood, but the optical effects used look dated. There's also a scene where China and Menrou visit a small pond where tiny lights appear. China ends up calling them dreams; really they look like fluorescent lightning bugs. Other than that, not much else is digitally rendered. The set design to each scene doesn't look high end either, but they do have tangible properties to them. They are physical props and sets so that's a plus.

Francesco Quinn & Claudia Ohana
The camerawork was another bonus. Luciano Tovoli as director of photography had some pretty shots, as much as the budget seemed limited. A lot the scenes filmed throughout the movie are around the beach terrain. Shots of the ocean, sandy beaches or the stony terrain of the city are all welcome because they are different from the normal mainstream settings. Tovoli was also the cinematographer for Suspiria (1977) and Titus (1999). Music wise, a man named Danny B. Besquet composed the film score. This would only be his second and final score in his career. For the scenes with instrumental music, the instruments heard are guitar and synths. Most of the time it fits but this happens far less than the insertion of 1980s pop music. This is okay at times but sometimes when it appears, it gets cut awkwardly when transitioning. Since this movie was so limited in its release and the composer to the score has barely made a name for himself, expecting a legitimate release of the music should not be expected. It's just ehhh,...not worth it.

Aside from nice scenery, okay music and actors that seem to be trying, there isn't a whole lot to be impressed with. The characters aren't truly defined in their motivations and the effects are dated. It's not that engaging.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Devolved (2010) Review:

High school movie comedies have been around for quite a while now. Some have gone on to become classics in the history of film. And with all good things come the rejects and usually they outnumber them. With the start of the 21rst century, more and more TV networks produced movies like these. Disney channel's best known film in this vein was High School Musical (2006). It was so popular, it spawned two more sequels after that. Rival network Nickelodeon also had a popular show called Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. Although that did not produce a movie after its series end, the actors that took part in the shows have gone on to perform in projects somewhat like it. Actor Devon Werkheiser did that in the film Shredderman Rules (2007). That feature did not break new ground either. This movie on the other hand is the jump off point for actress Lindsey Shaw from the same show. Unfortunately moving away from what made one popular can be difficult to leave. This movie may not be far from the genre Shaw came from but the tone is much different.

"Funny, you look like Ned a little bit.....nahhhh"
The story is about a group of high school teenagers that get stranded on an island near the cost of Mexico. Fearing they might be stuck there longer than expected, one group of teens decide to prepare for the worst, while another group decides to live it up. John Cregan worked as the writer and director to this project. Cregan's experience lends more to editing in documentary shorts but has directed other projects. However this was the only feature film he directed and wrote. He also wrote for one other film, that being Plague Town (2008). When producing a movie, it is important to understand that writing and directing is not easy unless one is exceptionally competent. For newcomer filmmakers, doing these tasks could affect the outcome of the overall film. This seems to be the case here. As a comedy, there are moments of creativeness and some characters are likeable. Yet the script has parts that are too overused and unclear explanations associated with certain events. This is where the story truly suffers. The actors try but the screenplay is really derivative.

Of the group of teens, there were two leaders. Flynn (Gary Entin), a shy writer is the guy who points the way for all other reject introverts. Roger AKA "The Rog" (Robert Adamson) is the top dude for all the popular teen extroverts. Playing the bridge between these two groups is Peggy (Lindsey Shaw), who is also the girlfriend of Roger. Aside from these actors there are only a few other distinct characters. Chet (Kevin M. Horton), a socially awkward guy who hopes to win over Becky (Shannon Freyer), a ditsy popular girl. Chris Kattan plays Coach Papillion but all he does is mumble gibberish.  Other than these supporting roles, the rest of the actors and their characters are rather forgettable. This is due to how exaggerated they are depicted. All the introverts stay quiet and act logical to some degree. Meanwhile the extraverts love nothing more than to engage in partying, drinking and fornication. That's already too familiar, but even worse is that these characters follow their leader blindly. Nobody thinks for themselves until the script calls for it.

There are also moments that don't add anything to plot. In one scene, a teen broadcasts to a group about the current weather forecast. Who cares and how are you going to know without the right equipment? Why bother? Regrettably these outweigh the good parts to this film. Yet there are moments that show some kind of creativeness was there. Although much of the characters are either forgettable or too stupid to like, there are a couple that have some appeal. Gary Entin as Flynn isn't initially a strong protagonist but over time he does gain some confidence. Lindsey Shaw as Peggy is another semi-relatable character. At first, she's a part of the socially accepted teens but has doubts to begin with. Even the Chet and Becky characters have some charisma. That's as far as it goes for the cast though. For comedy, it's hit and miss. Much of humor relies on the antics that surface between the teen factions. This is where it fails most of the time because of how over done it is. Nonetheless there are occasionally a scene or two that feel like thought was put into it.

Some of the dumb teens
The technical aspects to this feature are also split on quality. The cinematography by Eric Zimmerman is more disengaging than it is the opposite. There's two problems with his work. The first is that in a number of scenes, the lens will zoom in and out frequently. The point of that is? If the lens needs adjusting, that should be done before director Cregan says "action". The second issue is the color pallet, which has a drained look. There are plenty of bright scenes but several of them lack a defining color. Majority of the time the overall background color is yellow and brown. It's not a pretty mix. Musically, the film score is something a little more enjoyable. However credit can't even be given to the person for the music because nobody was listed. What makes up the music to some scenes vary at times. Sometimes it's of guitar and rock. Other times it's the quick comic cues that help make a scene funnier. This isn't always apparent but it is noticeable at times. Since this wasn't released in large numbers, there's no chance a score was released.

Unless one doesn't mind really silly teen comedies, this film will please little and few between. It has a couple interesting characters but much of them are written too lazily. Only a few have development arcs. The comedy works infrequently and the cinematography isn't that pleasing.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Warcraft (2016) Review:

Video game movies to this day are still struggling to get their transition correct from interactive to submissive entertainment. Unfortunately there's a disconnect between the fans of the movies and the fans of video games. This is due to multiple factors; lack of knowledge of the game, lack of people who have played the game and the lack of appreciation for the game. Things seemed to be on the up and up though for 2016 when some very different people got involved with the production of various video game movies. For Blizzard's popular Warcraft game, the adaptation of it to the big screen was under development for several years. So many times was it delayed for numerous reasons. But after long periods of waiting devoted fans were finally able to see their favorite gaming platform on the big screen. Sadly the response was about as predictable as expected. Critics were unimpressed and it barely made back its budget. On the other hand, majority fans were vastly grateful for the presentation. For non-video game fans though it's somewhat a mixed bag.

"Brace for impact...."
The positive to the film is its director and writer pair. Writing the script was Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones. Leavitt was known for penning  Blood Diamond (2006) and The Express (2008). Duncan Jones on the other hand directed Moon (2009), Source Code (2011) and is also an avid World  of Warcraft gamer. With that said, it only suits that Jones directs this film. The story follows the clash of two worlds, the humans and the Orcs. The Orcs' world is dying and the only way they can survive is by taking over a new one, that being the humans. In the human world, King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) leads the way with Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel). Overseeing them is sorcerer Medivh (Ben Foster) and his apprentice Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) as protectors of the human world. Leading the Orcs is Gul'dan (Daniel Wu), who has powers that only work by draining the life force of other living things. Following him are Durotan (Toby Kebbell), Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), Blackhand (Clancy Brown) and half-breed Garona (Paula Patton).

As a start-off point to a beginning franchise, the story isn't too hard to follow. The problem in the script are because of a couple things. Since this is based on a video game, it is understood that the filmmakers will want to give fan service to its passionate gamers. Yet there are times where special nods to the in-game achievements outnumber the explanations to what is going on within certain scenes. There's no problem with giving the fans what they enjoy. However for people not familiar with the game, this can be confusing because they will not be familiar as to why particular events happen. This is one of the issues with videogame movies. Gamers would rather play the game than watch and non-gamers may not understand why things happen for a distinct reason. Also there are occasional motivation flip-flops attributed to a couple of characters. This may add to the bewilderment of the viewer because of their non-gamer unfamiliarity. Even with this though, the characters are likable and are sympathetic due to their situations.

Out of all actors, the best of them is Toby Kebbell as Durotan. Kebbell plays his role with strength and feeling. Durotan's arc is a challenge to watch because of how conflicted he is. Durotan knowns Gul'dan isn't a great Orc but he's the only one powerful enough to lead them to survive. It's easy to see as to why this could cause internal friction. For the humans, Lothar is the more interesting of the bunch. He's had a career in the army for a while and his skills are valuable. For action, the sequences are entertaining to watch. For a PG-13 rating, some of the violence is actually pretty brutal. The humans use weapons that belong in the dark ages such as swords and shields. The Orcs use giant over sized workman tools like axes and sledge hammers. Not even the horses and other animals are safe in the battle scenes. Individuals are stabbed, thrown and even delimbed. Effects wise, the transformation of the characters and world are done expertly well. Using motion-capture effects, the half of the cast look nothing like themselves under the Orc makeup.

That video game cut scene,...jk
With technology on the rise, motion-capture has come a long way in making creatures more and more realistic. Only a couple actors can be seen under the effects. Everyone else practically disappears and that's great. The camerawork by Simon Duggan is another credible component. Unfortunately it's not clear as to what scenes actually contained real life terrain. Nevertheless the backgrounds to each scene are well constructed. Duggan is known for filming other big CGI budget films like I, Robot (2004), The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), Killer Elite (2011) and The Great Gatsby (2013).  All of which had acceptable camerawork. Music wise Ramin Djawadi composed the film score. From an audible perspective the score is engaging and has an organic sound. The makeup of it sounds like that of heavy strings and horns. This falls somewhat in line with Djawadi's past works although some have varied. Unfortunately the tracks do not have a reoccurring main theme but the tunes do match their respective scene. It has its moments even to enjoy.

Storytelling wise, the script has motive flip-flops and non familiar fans may not understand certain events that happen. However the overall plot is fairly simplistic and the characters are sympathetic. The visual effects, cinematography and music are also well produced.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, January 9, 2017

Seed of Chucky (2004) Review:

Very few horror franchises have been able to balance dark humor into their grizzly pictures. Of the most memorable, Freddy Krueger and Chucky were the main two to do it. Out of these two, Krueger was changed over time because producers realized how quotable Krueger had become with his one-liners. Chucky had somewhat of the same knack but creator Don Mancini had been apart of each production every step of the way. As much as a failure Child's Play 3 (1991) was critically and financially to most viewers, Bride of Chucky (1998) spun that table around with a divisive decision to make itself a self-aware horror comedy. Whether it was wanted or not, Don Mancini's choice to do that was rather ingenious. It was a ridiculous concept that fit a ridiculous horror icon in a good way. Chucky was still Chucky, except this time his wisecracks were funnier. This also didn't mean sacrificing story over comedy. So obviously with a better reception Mancini would continue in that direction for this entry. Problem is he took it a little too far.

"uhhh, what was our motivation again?"
Don Mancini takes full control of the production this time as writer and director. In some ways, this is a blessing and a curse. If you know how to do both really well then you're set. But if you don't, both tasks can be grueling. For Mancini, it seems like being writer/director was no problem. The issue was that he took the concept from the last film and cranked it up too much. Picking up somewhere after Bride of Chucky (1998), viewers are introduced to the offspring (Billy Boyd) of Jenn and Chucky. Wanting to find his parents, he travels to Hollywood to find his them on a studio set getting ready for a movie. The movie stars actress Jennifer Tilly. After bringing Chucky (Brad Dourif) and Jenn (Jennifer Tilly) to life, they decide that all three of them need to acquire new bodies. The people in mind were Jennifer Tilly, and a director named Redman (Redman). But to help their child, Chucky and Jenn need to inseminate Jennifer Tilly. All the while, their son is having trouble figuring out whether he's meant to hurt people or not.

Unfortunately that said, much of the writing here is incomplete. Right from the start there's a big question as to how Jenn and Chucky became movie celebrities. For the past four films all their murders were unconfirmed. Plus from Bride of Chucky (1998), who recovered Chucky and Jenn's bodies? If not, who made new ones? The continuity and explanations toward these questions remain unanswered. The story is meta now and no longer self-aware. Meta can be funny but here it gets too silly. For Bride of Chucky (1998), it was comedic to give a wink and nod but to fully make it obvious to the viewer that Redman and Britney Spears were in the same universe. Also having Jennifer Tilly play along side herself is odd too. Viewers really need to suspend their disbelief that the Jennifer Tilly from Bride of Chucky (1998) is a different person from that of here. Making that clear, the comedy is a hit and miss. There are a number of scenes that are funny and others not so much. Also Chucky and Jenn's son has an underdeveloped arc.

Also character motivations randomly flip throughout the story. This doesn't mix well because it feels out of character in some cases. But even with all these problems, the film proves that it isn't terrible. All the visual and audible aspects to the film work tremendously too its advantage. All actors from Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Boyd, Redman and Hannah Spearritt all act passably. Of the bunch Dourif and Tilly are the best. Brad Dourif still knows how to get the best laugh. Jennifer Tilly still knows how to sound sultry, even through a doll. Billy Boyd is best known for playing Pippin from The Lord of the Rings franchise and Hannah Spearritt is from the S Club series. Boyd as the child of Chucky and Jenn plays it up on both sides. Sometimes Boyd plays it soft spoken while other times he can be deranged and unstable. The practical/special effects look great, especially the doll animatronics. The facial movements look legitimate and lifelike; it's impressive.

Redman & Jennifer Tilly
The gore is also handled well. Very little of the violence is CGI and that's good because it's more believable. Since the concept has spiked in it's ludacrosity, the violence has done so too, which is fine. The cinematography by Vernon Layton is acceptable as well. Best known for working on Under Suspicion (1991), High School High (1996) and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), Layton shows he can shoot a scene with a good-looking perspective. The music by Italian composer Pino Donaggio is another interesting pick. Donaggio's composition to this entry switches between synths and regular orchestra. The synth cues are more drawn out, while the orchestra sections involve the usual horror strings. There's also a main theme for this entry, which is nice. However the franchise should stick with one and call it a day. Donaggio's also known for his music to Piranha (1978), Carrie (1976), Tourist Trap (1979), The Howling (1981) and Body Double (1984). It's the weakest of the series but still not awful.

The writing unfortunately is quite messy in its storytelling even though writer/director Don Mancini knew what he had in mind. The music, cinematography, effects and actors all do their job respectively. It's just that they're restricted by a confusing entry.

Points Earned --> 5:10