Sunday, June 29, 2014

Foolproof (2003) Review:

Computer hacking and corporate espionage aren't new plot lines to spy thrillers. Someone needs a specific item, so either they themselves or another skilled individual does the job. The idea of course is to get by without being detected and leaving no trace that anything had happened to begin with. When a trio of college groupies become a theoretical genius machine and figure out how to break into a jewelry store, they end up being blackmailed to perform a much bigger task. This particular idea isn't too extreme if it were not for such obvious plot holes. Surprisingly, the film entertains at a level that was unexpected.

Ryan Reynolds before he could fly in a green suit,...
or any other comic property
The trio of theorists that devise such an elaborate plan are Kevin (a before really famous Ryan Reynolds), Sam (Kristin Booth) and Rob (Joris Jarsky). And appropriately, these actors do look like college students for their age relative to this movie. Most notably, this is before Ryan Reynolds’ got ripped for future comic book movies. It seems a little preposterous though that these three are the mega geniuses who create this perfect heist blueprint. No one really defined themselves as the brains of the outfit. The script provided the necessary dialog to make them sound smart but to look like they were real geniuses was another story. The man behind the blackmail scandal is Leo Gillette played by underrated actor David Suchet. This was also the man who played the leader of the hijacked 747 in Kurt Russell's Executive Decision (1996).

Just like before, Suchet is able to pull off his character with such ease that it’s difficult not to see the threat that he holds. However, some of his character’s decision making is a slight bit silly. One of them is - why blackmail these theorists to actually pull off the heist? At the beginning of the film, the main characters demonstrate how breaking into the system is done but who's to say that they know every single tactic of espionage? That also includes gun use and cable suspensions? If this is the case, I'm not sure these college grads are as innocent as they appear to be. Nevertheless, sure these wiseguys can crack the code to a security system but could you really trust them to pull off a heist with expertise? I think it's expecting a little too much even though they did do it well.

Particularly, the idea of having amateurs do professional work isn't a bad idea for a comedy, which is what this thriller is supposed to have in it. Director and writer William Phillips tried but there doesn't seem to be enough of a comedic angle to his direction. The majority of the qwerky lines come from Ryan Reynolds, respectively. But it shouldn't just be Reynolds carrying these moments. Plus, there could've been several funny scenes involving characters getting familiar with how to do espionage. Then, have them slowly grow and become more self-efficient. In spite of this though, Phillips produced a script that at least worked effectively at defining its characters and having them develop evenly,...for the most part. At points, there are twists in the story line. This isn't bad at all, but it then undermines a good portion of the character development.

David Suchet
The quality to the rest of the production is adequately made but is nothing out of the ordinary or special. There doesn't seem much of any CGI but the practical effects used work and look real and that's good. The cinematography by Derek Rogers who also worked on Cube (1997) provided the right scenery but again nothing that stands out. Even Jim McGrath's music is a turn down. Mainly this reason is because his score is inaccessible. It still wasn't an amazing score, but it did provide easy listening. McGrath's themes contained jazz related instruments that attempted at lightening the mood of the story to a comical level. At times there were contemporary music inserted in various scenes and they too weren't bad, but didn't elevate the viewing. It's an ok watch but it's not worth a second view.

The script has its moments of being clever and its cast works. Yet, the frequency at which it works at being a funny spy thriller is not very often. It’s okay for a one-time watch.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Review:

When Transformers (2007) came out, no one knew what to expect. No one had ever seen such clever visuals, big action, effective music and the cast, although not oscar material, entertained at the level it should have. It was something special and a movie director Michael Bay and writer Ehren Kruger did the right way. Two sequels later, this Hollywood moneymaker duo learned things along the way about what elements they needed to incorporate to make its diminishing returns feel not so out of place. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) recovered back a little bit of what Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) messed up and by the end, one would've hoped it would be a while for the next installment. Three years later wasn't long enough. This sequel, like the rest are competently made with its production but its writing no longer works or convinces.

Finally, the main character fights back,....but I had
had to wait four movies for it?
Viewers will now be introduced to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) a widower / robot inventor who's struggling to make a living and support his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) through school. After discovering an abandoned truck, Cade realizes that he's in the possession of transformer, Optimus Prime. What Cade doesn't realize is that the government is hunting the autobots, which are allied with Lockdown - whom can't be really said to be a Decepticon. He's more of a middleman. And this would be fine if that's all that it was. Instead, Ehren Kruger writes an extremely thin plot and covers it with too many human characters and several subplots. One of these subplots is about how the ancient relatives of the transformers were the reason for the dinosaurs being burnt to a crisp. Really? Could that be thrown in any more lazily? It's just another reason to say why transformers were on earth.

The human characters are a totally different ball of wax. Credit is given for Wahlberg being a much stronger character than Shia LaBeouf's and fighting back instead of screaming like a sissy. But Cade Yeager as a robot inventor, in the middle of urban Texas doesn't feel practical. Aren't there other lucrative occupations? Other cast members are much of the same from the last films. One of them being that Cade's daughter is the damsel in distress who has a boyfriend that's always after her. Of course, there are always those few human characters that are annoying to listen to onscreen and are put in for comic relief. There are even areas of development for these individuals, which are just for comedy. Come on, its no longer funny. All it is, is the Kruger/Bay method of writing.

For the transformers, it's strange how over time Optimus Prime maintains his autobot group when there are new ones every sequel. It's not to say they aren't cool but their background is never told. Where do they come from? The best of the bunch though was Hound played by John Goodman. He was a nice highlight. The dinobots were another interesting aspect to the film because of their magnitude. However, like many other transformers they received little development other than being ancient transformers and somehow being the "creators" of Prime.

As a pseudo-sequel to its predecessors, it does keep its connections but its continuity lacks depth and feels loose. The battle at Chicago is mentioned many times, but of what happened to the main bunch of other main cast members is a mystery. Why a few words couldn't be said about them, I won't get. Another weird thing about this movie is that out of all the films released, this one felt like the longest. This is mostly due to the action sequences. Like any Michael Bay film, the action will be big, but this one in particular felt like he wanted to make every action sequence feel like the finale to the film. Oddly enough when the finale came, it felt less climactic than expected because every action scene before it was just as big and bombastic. I was desensitized.

The music composed by Steve Jablonsky is nothing short of bad but no longer impresses. He continues to maintain the booming action cues and noble Prime theme but his tracks no longer felt memorable. It's sad because Transformers no doubt is a strong franchise that should be treated in the right way. And although Michael Bay is key to what made it great, his ability to keep it afloat isn't working by cramming several 20 minute long action sequences and over stuffing the plot with multiple pointless characters. It'll definitely keep a young person's attention but I don't guarantee the required substance. Worse, is that you know another will be on its way, made in the exact same manner.

It's just as big and heavy duty as the past films with its music and action sequences but its writing has become lazy. The voice and physical cast try, but by now, the novelty has worn off. It's just being shoveled out knowing people will go just because.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Heaven's Gate (1980) Review:

Several real life 1800 based stories have been adapted into films. Most have focused on the American Civil War or stories that take place during that time but not directly involved. As for western films that are based between 1870s and the early 1900s, doesn't feel all that popular of a time zone. This story however is a real life based event. Sadly, as much as I’ve heard and read about how terrible it was and how badly it performed at the box office, I still wanted to enjoy what was given to its viewers. IT IS a movie that is exceptionally and competently made. The actors are convincing, the music is appropriate, the realism is explicit and the story has an interesting premise. Yet, the writing and direction is what makes this film almost unbearable.

It's beard land!
The story is about lawman James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) who learns that a group government officials have decided that the immigrants of Averill's county are nothing but leeches that pillage the loyal citizens cattle for money. This is what they believe, when in fact, these judged immigrants are in fact just people trying to get by in life. To help these people, Averill makes it his mission to help these wrongfully accused individuals. This premise is great. Seeing civil unrest is a different concept that not many people see enough of now a days. At least in the movies. Along with Kristofferson, the cast includes Christopher Walken (as Nathan Champion), Brad Dourif, John Hurt, Richard Masur, Jeff Bridges and even Mickey Rourke. And they all put in very good performances. Here is where it fails though.

The writing is all over the place. Even though the actors perform well, the characterizations of their roles are either misguided, unclear or confused. Here are some examples; Kristofferson's character goes through a series of flip-flops and its not just about the main plot. Bridges' character seems to have no motivation other than to faithfully follow Averill blindly. He just hops on the bandwagon. John Hurt's character opposes the government officials’ plan, yet later on is spectating the whole set of events. Also he's drunk half the time saying, silly things about Paris. Then there's the main girl named Ella (Isabelle Huppert) who Averill and Champion both love. And I'm sure most viewers know how that turns out since it's a love triangle. It's because of this that the screenplay makes these characters not extremely likable. Again, they were well performed but the charm is barely there.

On top of that, the direction is very, very slow. Long running time films are not a problem if they are tightly woven and the story has substance. Gettysburg (1993) by Ronald F. Maxwell is one of those films and mind you, that it's even longer than this movie. Sadly, the way the story of this conflict plays out, could've been condensed into a much shorter running time, if the story was going to move at such sluggish pace. The assumption behind all the time wasted, was that there are numerous scenes where either nothing is being said or done that has doesn’t have any relevance, or the scene may just contain what looks like background shots of everyday life of that particular time. Of course, viewers want to get an idea of what life was like back in that time but it doesn't need to drag on and on and on.

Adding to that "never ending" feeling are the actors who play the immigrants. The fact that they are playing immigrants isn’t the problem because they too act very well. Viewers may have problems with the fact that subtitles aren't used. Just watching a bunch of people arguing and speaking gibberish to most is boring and uninteresting. If you don't know the language, would watching a movie spoken entirely without subtitles entertain? Probably not. And to sit through that for almost four hours is really pushing people's patience. Having immigrants speak their native language is realistic yes, but to watch it give no purpose to the plot is flat out silly. The only thing that helps it bring it to a bearable status is the production value.

Look at that cinematography!
The set design, props and realist conflicts that take place are noteworthy. Complimenting that is Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography. Holy hannah does Zsigmond get some amazing shots. This guy gets everything from fields, mountains and forest backgrounds. Even the town and train station set pieces are amazing to look at for how enormous they are. Zsigmond was also the cinematographer for Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and later also worked on Maverick (1994). Then there's David Mansfield's music. This is Mansfield's first theatrical score and although there is no main theme or orchestra to match the film's large scope, he ironically still makes the music work by using a single guitar like instrument. The contrast of the singular music one string tunes vs its big scale match, even though they are polar opposites. It's not memorable but it did work.

The grandiose production value and talented cast is its strongest asset. Sadly its not enough because everything gets squandered from slow pacing and an under whelming script that fails to develop its characters properly.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Child's Play 3 (1991) Review:

As clearly stated by Don Mancini, the creator of the Child's Play franchise, Universal studios pushed him to begin writing a screenplay for this movie before Child's Play 2 (1990) was even ready to go. Thus, the result was that Mancini had no ideas left on how to continue the story of Charles Lee Ray, stuck in a Good Guy Doll's body. I mean can you blame him? It was baffling enough how in the name of all that's holy how to bring back Chucky from the original Child's Play (1988). Instead of being disassembled, Chucky's head was blown off this time. How do you bring someone back after that? Mancini found a way, but it’s certainly not as forgivable as it was for the first sequel.

Say cheese Tyler!
The story surprisingly makes good use of its history and starts off with showing the aged and dusty factory of where the finale of the last film ended. There, the headless body of Chucky is melted down and remade. This apparently brings him back again. The continuity is great but how is that though? It was acceptable to a point in Child's Play 2 (1990) because the original body of Chucky was just dismembered and was cleaned off and reassembled. But to be first, missing a head, being melted down entirely and then remade? As much as the first resurrection was preposterous, the idea worked. Here, it just felt like a quick way to get Chucky back up. It's not like fans wouldn't want him back but a better method of rebirth would've been appreciated.

Once up and running again, the lakeshore strangler immediately finds out where Andy Barclay is, but his plans abruptly change gears. Before he finds Andy, Chucky meets a new youngster named Tyler (who's also friends with Andy). There he decides that Tyler will be his new host. The new Andy is played by Justin Whalin, who later played Jimmy Olsen in the TV series, Lois and Clark. Whalin plays Andy as a sixteen-year-old, now in military school. Well that was a quick jump in time. One year passes between films and more than half a decade whizzes by our main protagonist. Whalin looks like he could be the older version of actor Alex Vincent (who originally played Andy) so that works.

But what happened to Kyle from the last film? Much of the continuity is faithful to its predeceasing stories but the small things should be paid attention to as well. Instead of Kyle, Andy befriends another girl named De Silva (Perrey Reeves), there they form a friendly relationship in a tough school. The depiction of military school isn't as accurate as one would think here. Yes, there are drills and loud commands spouted out from superior officers but as a whole, it doesn't feel as intense as it could be. Nevertheless, Andy is the only character who believes Chucky still lives. Meanwhile, he's bullied by his superiors and fellow soldiers. No surprise there, nobody wants to be friends with Andy. It’s sad, but at least this is the final film involving Chucky going after Barclay.

Crazy Andrew
Its not needed to be said but Brad Dourif of course entertains as Chucky. His dialog is still funny and you can't help but enjoy his performance as the pissed off doll that can't cut a break with finding a body to inhabit. More interesting is seeing actor Andrew Robinson from Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) have a small role as a barber to the school. His performance isn't memorable but is comical because as a barber to a military school, his obsession with keeping short hair goes beyond normalcy. He's just crazy about keeping short hair, a little too often. For gore, the violence feels in the middle to that of the first two movies. Nothing goes all out ugly like it did in Child's Play 2 (1990), but it's also not as tame as the violence in Child's Play (1988). Either way, it's intriguing to see what twisted methods Chucky has in store this time.

The cinematography is mostly competent by John R. Leonetti. What he captures on screen isn't anything beautiful but there are times where the landscape is big which helps it feel like the place Andy is in, isn't a small school. Leonetti would go on to provide camera work for many Dead Silence (2007), The Mask (1994) and The Conjuring (2013). As for music, John D'Andrea and Cory Lerios score is a mixed bag. Instead of Graeme Revells more robust orchestral score from Child's Play 2 (1990), these TV composers revert back to Synthetic tones like that of Joe Renzetti's from the original composition of Child's Play (1988). Yet, without a main theme, this duo at least kept the music sounding creepy. It’s hard to say. It's obvious that this production was rushed with its plot being dragged out on the same character but at least its tone didn't change.

Its plot is recycled again and its justification for certain events are totally ignored but the main grab is to see how Andy and Chucky duke it out for the final time. It could've been written much worse by comparison.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) Review:

By the early 1990s, it was definite that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a bankable asset in the film and television industry. With their popularity soaring through the ceiling, along with the help of Vanilla Ice's one hit wonder Ninja-rap from the first sequel, it seemed as if nothing could stop them. That is, until this installment came along two years later. But how? What could possibly blow the tires out from under the turtle vehicle? Two words - time travel. More than likely this is what made people role their eyes and either walk out of the theater disappointed or avoid it altogether. You can only make a ridiculous but also fun concept only so preposterous. Pushing the limits could just make it unbearably silly and that's probably what happened here. Making things harder to weigh pros and cons is that for every plus, there seemed to be a minus to counter it.

Yes, because time travel is a golden idea indeed
After anticlimactically defeating The Shredder for the SECOND time in a row (the first being from the original), the quadruplet of turtles come across an ancient magic Japanese staff that is able to transport people to another time. When April (Paige Turco - from the previous film) is zapped into another time zone, the turtles jump in to rescue her. While rescuing her, they realize they play a much bigger part in the fate of another conflict. The conflict exists between one family at war under reasons that are not explained. This isn't a good start. Although according to sources that the writing contains material from the actual comics, what is set in motion in no way recognizes the mythological foundation that was set up in the last two predeceasing movies. Instead of normal turtles happening to randomly come in contact with toxic ooze, now their ancestors are legends, which were, recorded as a prophecy that helped end an ancient evil. Ok really? This is getting far-fetched.

Stuart Gillard (mainly a TV director) directed and wrote the screenplay. Surprisingly, as much as the plot doesn't in anyway sound easily approachable or acceptable, Gillard tries to make this movie feel like the other films, although there a several changes. For one, Casey Jones (Elias  Koteas) returns which is great, sadly is also underutilized. The actual character just hangs around Master Splinter while the turtles fight in another time zone. Come on! That's not to say Koteas isn't around however. Koteas plays another character in the other time zone but his other role is weakly defined and lacks any charm. The villain is another problem. Underrated actor Sab Shimono (Uncle, from Jackie Chan Adventures (2000)) plays the emperor at odds with his family. Along with him, he allies with a westerner named Walker (Stuart Wilson). Wilson is effective at being a bad guy but his showdown with the turtles AGAIN is anticlimactic. What is with these showdowns?

Speaking of showdowns, viewers may be surprised to see that the turtles actually revert back to using their iconic weapons again unlike the first sequel. That was nice, but the problem was that the action scenes felt too infrequent from the last time. Most of the time the turtles are just looking for someone. What gives? Gillard also tried keeping the snarky dialog and comedy from that of the first two films. At first, it seems the same but over time viewers will notice that almost every sentence that comes out of the main characters' mouths are references to other movies. This is an element that is too frequent through the running time. It just feels goofy, like none of the characters have original content to say. The sound effects also come across more like a cartoon than an action film.

Because everyone wants there favorite characters
just sitting around doing nothing
Some of the practical effects looked better on our heroes for the third time. The facial features keep getting more detailed to create a more human expression, which works. What viewers may not expect though is that Splinter (like mentioned before with Casey Jones), just hangs around. He doesn't even move from the set he's first seen from. Making him look even more like a puppet is that he's always behind something. It kind of made it feel like Splinters entire body wasn't ready for filming. Lastly is the music by John Du Prez who composed the score to the first two movies. And although his music wasn't a classic orchestral score, it had a catchy main theme and worked. Here, Du Prez makes tracks appropriate to the Japanese setting but lacks the memorable main theme. I don't know, it got a number of things right but had enough flawed elements to counter it. The only thing I can say is I'm glad it didn't take place in space.

For its third outing it isn't terrible but it's no longer being consistent with the original elements that helped make the first one a hit and its sequel a moderate guilty pleasure. Plus, involving time travel wasn't the best idea.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, June 20, 2014

Think Like a Man Too (2014) Review:

In 2012, Steve Harvey had his best selling book, Think Like a Man adapted to the big screen. Even with it not being proclaimed as "the greatest comedy of the year" and having the most recognizable cast, its portrayal of psychological warfare between genders and their personalities were displayed in an accurate manner and still performed well as result. The intertwining connections between each relationship led to a story with solid drama and comedy, along with tight editing that didn't allow the audience to linger too much on one particular subplot. Thankfully, the majority of these traits are kept in tact, although there are some issues that the first movie did not suffer from.

It's one side versus,....
Starting where the first movie left off, Michael (the mama's boy) from the dude crew decides that he and Candice should get married in Las Vegas. So to make sure everything goes according to plan, he asks Cedric (Kevin Hart) to take care of the event. Once everyone meets up at Las Vegas, the genders break off in their separate groups again decide how they're going to enjoy their Bachelor(ette) party. However, like most stories, nothing goes according to plan. Michael's mom (yes she tags along) begins meddling with both parties, mainly the females. But even with this, Cedric begins to have trouble convincing his male buds that they need to live it up since it'll be a while before they can be a wild and free crew again. Of course Michael, being the one to refuse going to strip clubs and such. Thus the title, "Think Like a Man Too". Get it? You know, like the guys now have to think more like men should? Yeah it’s a vague play on the title but I'm pretty sure that was what the concept the producers were going for.

Quite honestly, I'm surprised they didn't just label it as "Think Like a Man 2". How do you extend a story beyond its source material anyway? The whole idea behind the first movie was that it flipped the relationship role playing on its head. Now, it's more like a gimmick; but I digress. Having the guys try do more guy activities is a different thing so kudos to director Tim Story for going that route. The problem however, is that the writing doesn't stick to this particular plot line and develop it with its established characters. Instead, the execution starts off like its predecessor with initial conflicts, abruptly leaves them to loosely weave them in for the meat of the story and then finally crams them in at last minute so that there's a sense of closure. This is a bit disappointing considering how effective the first film was when it was defining its characters with such purpose.

What takes control over these character arc subplots are the improvised bachelor(ette) parties. That and Kevin Hart hogged the camera more this time round. The weird thing is, even with more screen time, Hart's character is lesser defined than before from the last movie. One of his particular subplots were not even finished. Hey Mr. Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, your writing's getting a little sloppy. In exchange for the important developmental arcs that involve romance AND comedy, the party scenes are used only for comedic purposes. Shockingly, even with the more importantly dramatic scenes being rather absent, the comedy still is effective throughout the movie. Kevin Hart again steals the show, but there are also times where various crewmembers get into some strange and funny situations. Some of which, I'm not sure anyone would be able to see from too far away.

....the other,....kinda
The music, once again composed by Christopher Lennertz made a decent score. Although I'm sure it'll never be released to the public, the background music was still easygoing - no main title of course. Peter S. Elliot's editing is still tight and keeps the story going which is good.  Christopher Duskin's cinematography is also well shot for its location. Even though many scenes take place inside a building (and some out), the view always looks grandiose and has an upper class feel. Of course, along with the main cast, who perform well, audiences will get to see a slew of other celebrities. Dennis Haysbert, better known as the "Allstate guy" plays a minor role. Who would've thought. Also Adam Brody and David Walton have minor roles too, they should be tolerable although I hope they don't turn out being apart of the main cast. There's enough characters already. All in all, it's a decent sequel, but more character development would've been appreciated.

The writing minimizes a lot of the character development and drama in exchange for humor. Although it works, the product of the title doesn't match its premise. Not that anyone will complain too much. It's still a fun ride.

Points Earned -->7:10

Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers (2010) Review:

Before the Lego company finally got its first theatrically released film in early 2014, there were several direct-to-video productions. Also in the same realm were the Bionicle films, both of which were moderately popular. The thing is now, looking back at these early creations feels out of touch. When looking at The Lego Movie (2014), there are several things that were included in its construction that helped it define itself from other Lego films in the past and other films in general. It's not to say this movie doesn't work or have appeal, but there are elements to it that aren't as effective as they could've been.

Clutch and his crew
The story centers on famed adventurer Clutch Powers. It's interesting how Clutch is the exact opposite of Emmet from The Lego Movie (2014). Clutch is popular and everyone knows him. Emmet is not popular and nobody knows him. Clutch is also the son of his equally famous dad, Rock Powers. Clutch is a solo man; he works alone, following in his father's footsteps. Yet, out of the blue after completing his latest mission, Clutch's boss decides that on his next assignment, he needs a team. The new members consist of demolition expert Brick Masterson, German engineer Bernie Von Beam and English biologist Peg Mooring. Naturally, like many other team effort films, nobody cooperates at first and then everything comes together at the last minute.

Writing the screenplay to the film was Tom Rogers, a man who before this production had written for several Disney direct-to-video sequels, his best known probably being The Lion King 1 1/2 (2004). There are points where Rogers does show some creativeness in his writing, but much of it is cliche, has unfinished subplots or has visible plot holes. To give an idea, cliche would be that one of the characters has to fall in love with someone they don't even know. An unfinished subplot focuses on Clutch's dad. In fact, the title reads The "Adventures" of-. This is unfinished because as far as characters go, this is the only movie about Clutch Powers. There were no more adventures. A plot hole would be that on a certain world, only primitive weapons work and high tech mechanical ones malfunction - but later on, a vehicle and jetpack are used with no problem. These are just one thing per flaw but there's always more one can find. I won't list them all.

This would be acceptable if the story also didn't deviate from its main cast. While aiming its message of teamwork to audiences, the story splits off and simultaneously looks at another character that is introduced halfway into the movie. Its not the greatest direction but I guess director Howard E. Baker tried his best. Baker has headed more TV episodes than videos so it's hard to say. Character dialog however is one thing that works occasionally. There are moments where the comedy pushes a little too much of the same. And then there are times where the characters acknowledge how silly a character sounded after saying a comment. It were those moments that should've happened more frequently. The voice cast is another element that help sustains its characters.

Each actor that lends their voice does a respectable job. The cast doesn't have many familiar names but some have lent their voices to animated films or video game characters. Even better is that Jeff Bennett, best known for voicing Johnny Bravo is the man behind Bernie. Maybe that's why I found him the most likable of Clutch's team. However, an even bigger help to the comical aspect and visual design of the movie, would've been using physical objects instead making it entirely CGI. Yes, no doubt with CGI animators could have various characters do things that regular Lego figurines could never do. But what's the fun in that? Having various limitations is what helps create the comedy. Another interesting part to this movie is that the characters build their creations just like a master builder would from The Lego Movie (2014). So are these guys master builders too?

It's an acceptable portrayal but looks unfinished
It is strange with certain physical backgrounds though. Either some look too plain, like a tree here or there, and others are straight out green flat lands as far as the eye can see. Boring much? Then there's the city, which is good but still would've looked better with physical legos instead of CGI ones. Another minor problem is that everything isn't made of legos. I just don't see how making everything CGI, didn't permit anyone to thinking of making everything out of Legos. It sounds illogical in a world where everything is Lego. The music composed by Eric and David Wurst didn't do a bad job. There wasn't a main theme but the score did at least sound cinematic to a point. It wasn't memorable or powerful when evoking the emotion but it was appropriate for each scene. It's still a fun movie but it's more for kids since they care less about things making sense.

As an early Lego film, it gets the job done with goofy characters and sporadically comedic writing. However, the delivery of its story can feel flawed at times and its visual style isn't as fresh now with The Lego Movie (2014) totally blowing it out of the water.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cyborg (1989) Review:

Robotics is an interesting field. It has fascinated scientists for decades and now it is becoming more and more integrated into everyday life. The next step is bionic robotics where mechanical equipment is connected to the living tissue. In some cases, it does exist but in limited ways. Upon first seeing the title to this movie, the first impression is that the star, Jean-Claude Van Damme is a cyborg. However, this isn't the case, which is misleading. Credit should be given for this at least being one of the few science fiction films Van Damme has been in that takes place on earth somewhere in the future. Many of Van Damme's early films involve him just participating in tournaments. That being like his most popular, Bloodsport (1988) a year before.

Richter & Van Damme
Back to cybernetics, the title is actually for what propels the plot. In a dystopic future, a lonely man named Gibson (Van Damme) happens to meet a female cyborg being chased by a notorious street gang. The cyborg holds what could be for a possible cure for a plague that inhabits this future. The leader of the street gang, Fender (Vincent Klyn) wants the cure for himself because he and his crew love death. Maybe chaos and being the headman but death? Mmm,..I don't know. As it turns out, Gibson has a history with Fender for him killing his wife, who which also happens to look like the cyborg he ran into. However, Gibson is only after Fender for revenge. He could care less about the cure, but someone else does. Meet Nady (Deborah Richter), a girl who also lost her loved one to Fender but is also more adamant about finding a cure for the plague.

So now there's your set up. Two lonely people venture out to take back from them what Fender and his cronies took away. Unusually, for such a simple follow and grab plot, the movie drags - even for its 86 minute running time. There are numerous scenes that just set up Van Damme for another brawl against Fender's mates. Albert Pyun's direction lacks focus in its storytelling. It is a minor chase film but it never feels like there's a need for a chase. Much of the time the protagonists just nonchalantly walk to their destination. Even though this cyborg is the main plot device, no one seems to be concerned to be in a rush about it. The writing is another strange element. The main characters do have back-stories but have little to no development. For example, when the cyborg finally confronts Gibson, it says "There's no point in rescuing me because the enemy is too strong". Then later on, she decides to help fight back with no explanation. Why the change in opinion?

Gibson's history with Fender is also explained but told through flashbacks. There are even a number of flashback scenes that were repeated, which is a waste. I'm amazed that viewers will be able to understand as much as they can because the dialog peculiarly lacks anything intellectual either. Van Damme barely says anything and Klyn booms with one-word commands that are too simplistic for a gang leader. That and he and the rest of his numbskulls just yell a lot. The only character that does the most talking is Nady (which may be annoying to some) since she's one of those tag along characters. Thankfully, the writer Kitty Chalmers did not move very far after this movie. Well, since this is a Van Damme film, there's got to be some decent action; appallingly not. If you're the truest Van Damme fan, then maybe, but if you just want something to entertain, it's not all that special.

My my grandma Klyn, what big eyes you have!
In fact, the action scenes might bore at times. Throughout the running time, there were only two really unique kills. Other than Van Damme doing his usual and being all that he can be, it's a standard affair. Viewers may enjoy Nady (even though I mentioned earlier she may be annoying too). She too displays feminine power and fights with Gibson. Along with that are decent looking practical effects for the cyborg. That looked good. Philip Alan Waters’ cinematography looked good around the beginning but as the film enters its final act, there aren't many shots to admire. Sadly, Kevin Bassinson's score isn't all too effective to the film. It attempts to involve its viewers with appropriate tunes, but the entire sound is synthetic and feels detached. It could've been at least average, but its writing prevents it from getting there.

Jean-Claude Van Damme tries his best, but his and several other cast members' characters barely make an impact. The writing is sloppy, the direction is slow, the action is derivative and the music is unappealing.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Kingpin (1996) Review:

Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly don't have much of a filmography but after they produced Dumb & Dumber (1994), they were pretty much set. Since this week was the recent release of the Farrelly brothers' long awaited sequel to Dumb & Dumber (1994), Dumb & Dumber To (2014), it seemed appropriate that we visit another early Farrelly brothers' work. I was amazed to see that this is the only time Woody Harrelson collaborated with these directors. After being in and proving in other films that he still can be a comedic actor, I thought he would've made another movie with them. Guess Harrelson has had other plans since.

Because that rubber hand is so convincing
Here, Woody Harrelson plays Roy Munson, a bowling prodigy who worked hard at being the best. That is, until one day after making a dangerous gamble, he loses his best bowling hand. Feeling ashamed and embarrassed, he leaves home to live a secluded life from society with poor living conditions and unkempt neighbors. Struggling to maintain any kind of order in his life, especially after losing his hand, he stumbles upon an Amish man named Ishmael (Randy Quaid) who reminds him of his youth and realizes that he has some unrecognized bowling skills and decides to take him under his wing. Along their travels, the two also stumble into a abusive rich man's wife that decides it's time for her to get out. The actress playing this vixen is Vanessa Angel. This is also probably her most memorable role in her filmography to most people who recognize her.

The three actors do have their moments that are funny but it’s not often. Harrelson carries most of the weight because of how his character tries to be better than his current social status. Quaid's character isn't all that funny but does work occasionally too. Of course, Angel's character is one that probably won’t be ignored since much of the physical humor is centered around her bosom. Thankfully, not all the physical comedy relies on Angel. Harrelson's character uses a rubber hand in replace of his metal hooks and watching him fiddle getting ready or doing other things people normally do with their hands brought up some laughs. However there are some gags that are more gross than comical. I'm sure that's apart of the Farrelly humor, but if you're a viewer who doesn't like that kind of humor, it won't be that funny.

Bill Murray even has a fairly major role in the story too, playing a bowler named Ernie McCracken. Man does Murray's hair get wild. In fact, his personality altogether is a bit too wild. Murray is more of an actor who can play a funny role in a deadpan fashion, not over-the-top. Most likely Murray fans will have a fun time but he does get to be too much at times. The two gentlemen behind the screenplay have more TV series writing under their belts than acclaimed comedy blockbusters, which could explain why several gags amount to very little. Also the characters for what they are, aren't the most likable. Yes, they're weird in their own way and have their moments, but they don't come off as characters that viewers would remember easily.

Did I not say wild?
Shockingly, a number of the less important characters are extremely blind or stupid. The character of Ernie McCracken is vulgar along with his strong hubris. McCracken gropes women in public and yet no one sees this? How is it that the women being groped is ok with this? It's not like McCracken is Elvis or something. One character even called the man "a role model for future generations". Are you kidding? Of course it's supposed to make the McCracken character seem unstoppable but how do these people not see this on public television? It may baffle viewers. Editing and cinematography is ok but nothing special. One time composer Freedy Johnston's score was barely noticeable. Much of the time, the music was provided by music parodying or directly paralleling the situation being displayed. It was alright at points, while others not so much.

The comedy is frequently hit or miss, with its forgettable characters and repetitive gags. Woody Harrelson is the key to what helps makes watchable though.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, June 13, 2014

Jaws (1975) Review:

When going to the beach, most people think about strolling on the boardwalk, soaking the sunrays and enjoying the water. What lurks below the water line is probably the least of people's concerns. But after viewing this film, people might not even get close to the shoreline. Sharks have always fascinated and terrified their admirers simultaneously. With their sharp teeth, deep black eyes and insatiable appetite, meeting one in person probably wouldn't be a comfortable experience. Luckily, no regular civilian has this type of job. That is unless, there's no other choice and that's pretty much how this thriller part horror story heads in. When a great white starts making the beachgoers of Amityville its regular meal of the day, it's up to a sole Chief of Police to find a way to get rid of it.

Find that shark!
The Chief is played by Roy Scheider, who's probably best known for this role even though before this he was in The French Connection (1971). Scheider as the Chief, with a fear of water performs competently. His portrayal as a concerned man about his family and other families' sake feels real and genuine. Unfortunately, swaying people not to swim puts just as much stress on him as just thinking about it. The mayor (Murray Hamilton), wants to keep the beach open. In some respects, the mayor has good reason to (revenue wise) but on an ethical level - yeah he should see a psychiatrist. The good thing about the mayor is that it gives Scheider's character the ability to develop as the main lead, which is great writing.

Helping the Chief have a better understanding with what he's up against is Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a marine specialist who's main focus is on sharks. What's funny is that although Dreyfuss demonstrates that his character can become extremely frustrated and nervous with little issue, his actions may come off more comical than serious. That's not to say they don't entertain nonetheless, Dreyfuss is good here. Then there's Quint played by veteran actor Robert Shaw. Quint is an old sea dog who has a narcissistic attitude and enjoys the thrill of the hunt. His scenes are perhaps the most interesting because of either how commanding or mystifying his dialog can be. Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb who constructed the screenplay did a fine job at defining each character differently and equally giving them proper development.

The only thing that is illogical about the story is the way the shark is portrayed. Sharks do attack swimmers from time to time, but none have the brain of this particular shark. Gottlieb and Benchley try extremely hard to characterize this shark like most others by having it perform actions close to what has been researched and is known; such as following blood trails from chum. But there are times where they slip; some in logic, while others in factual information. A logical error is the shark having what seems to be a strong memory bank. I’m not sure if they remember that much. Another example is that sharks do not attack humans intentionally at sea level or just for the sake of. We are not their diet. Also if a shark is stuck with a barb, how do they suddenly get it off themselves?  Of course, when watching this, most viewers will be far more interested in the outcome, then these minor errors.

This guy wants his beaches open.......ALL SUMMER
The editing is tightly woven by Verna Fields so not to reveal the shark too much until the end and it's crafted effectively. Fields also edited for George Lucas' American Graffiti (1973). Bill Butler's cinematography looks amazing. The beach and out at sea shots help show how easily accessible the ocean is and how close the shark is as well. And of course, last but not least, who could forget one of John Williams' most popular scores. With a simple yet effective two-note theme, the tune that is parallel to what the shark sees when it lurks is extremely creepy. However, this isn't all, Williams also has tracks that are much softer in tone. These particular scenes involve either family related or adventurous-like moments that would seem exciting if one were in the picture. The funny thing is, the score still works if you want it to be a horror score. Overall with its small factual errors, it's still a great movie.

The story is misleading about the actual behavior of sharks, but audiences will be too invested in the story to even notice. Its characters, music and suspense work extremely well for its time.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dead Heat (1988) Review:

Being dead is one of those physical limitations where it stops individuals right in their tracks. It also becomes frustrating to give explanations to how it can be reversed. This movie isn't the first one to focus on dead characters but it's intriguing to watch it. As stated in my summary, this film plays out like an early version of what R.I.P.D. (2013) could've been - its plot runs parallel to it. And if you account for the other elements such as the deformed dead villains reeking havoc and it's up to two cops to take them down. It's hard not to see the similarities. The sad thing is, this movie could've been just as good as R.I.P.D. (2013) if they had developed the writing more. It was mighty close though because it has an abundance of good points.

Whatdya know! Cops that get along!
Again the story focuses on two smart-aleck cops, Roger (Treat Williams) & Doug (Joe Piscopo) who end up fighting the weird side of crime. The problems are ushered in by thugs that just don't seem to die. Even worse is that every time they come back, they look more grotesque than before. Here, Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo demonstrate comical chemistry and how to have fun with such a ridiculous concept. Although Piscopo essentially is the definition of the 1980s with his sense of style and the way he spouts out cheesy comments, he's still a strong highlight. Meanwhile, Treat Williams plays opposite of that; cool, calm and collected. That is until later on in the film where he goes rather bonkers, which is also comical. The background to their characters’ history isn't gone into with depth but it's a change to see two wisecracking cops getting along even with their odd differences from the beginning. Instead of going the usual route of having them bash heads before they come to a resolution.

To most, the rest of the cast isn't much worth to remember but there are some attractive and recognizable faces. Actresses Lindsay Frost and Clare Kirkconnell play cute women, both of which demonstrate decent acting. Then there's a brief scene with Robert Picardo being the Lieutenant of the Police (with a mustache). The veteran actors that older viewers should recognize are Keye Luke as a Chinese restaurant owner, Darren McGavin as a head doctor and the famous late Vincent Price who plays an important plot point in the movie. All of which these actors have scenes that are enjoyable to watch. Surprisingly, all these scenes were constructed by first time writer Terry Black, who didn’t do too badly of a job. Though there are some parts though that don't work.

Unfortunately, even though Black's scripts for the main characters were comical, the logic behind various pieces to the film’s structure are left unexplained. For example, how is that once someone dies, they were able to figure out they had 12 hours to live after reanimation? Also, some other characters' backgrounds after they were reanimated seemed longer than 12 hours. If so, how is it that they lived longer? Speaking of which, there was a subplot involving the possibility of extending the reanimation process, but is quickly shot down. Strangely enough, a character ends up extending his reanimation time and it’s never explained  how it would help resolve the main characters' problem. Which leads to the scripts final issue - neglect for its characters.

I've never seen a script so wonderfully build up its main characters' personalities through the first two thirds of its running time and then completely neglect them by the final third. By neglect, I mean total disregard to giving a sense of resolution to the issues at hand or what has already happened. That's not to say the ending isn't comical, action packed or even ends on a good note. It just seems to forget what the whole purpose of the story was and therefore finish without a complete sense of closure. Then again, maybe it wasn't intended on having one but it felt like there could've been. The only other complaint viewers may have is with Ernest Troost's style of film music. I say this for two reasons. The first is that, it does appropriately represent the scenes that are portrayed on screen, but they sound like that of William Loose's music from Night of the Living Dead (1968). It sounds old with a tad of 80s synth but not a lot.

It's a Price I'll pay for!
The second reason why viewers may be disappointed with Troost's music is if you watch the trailer to this movie. The music there sounds way more fun, memorable and somewhat more appropriate to the tone of the film. I only wished he used that theme. However, there are a couple more good things that haven't been mentioned yet. The film is directed by Mark Goldblatt, also known for directing his forgotten only other film a year later, The Punisher (1989). Although his skill is more in editing, the direction is competently done. The other component that is done with expertise is by make-up effects designer/creator Steve Johnson's work. The gore and practical effects that are mixed in with these premature R.I.P.D. (2013) "deado" creatures looks fantastic. The look of them are not something you see everyday. In total, its still filled with cheese and plotholes but its mighty tasty.

Its weak points are in its writing and music, but they aren’t strong enough to overpower the whole film. Thankfully, this buddy cop horror movie has enough charm, gore and unique practical effects to be a delight anyway.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Review:

Wes Craven is one of those filmmakers who loves including material that pushes the limits of movies that have already been made. Two of his best efforts represent this method of thinking. The ever popular A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was a clever horror film that changed the game of how slasher films could be made to be even scarier and probably this was probably his most inventive creation. The other film being his debut with The Last House on the Left (1972), which has developed a following of its own. I'm not sure why though, it is a film filled with a repulsive story. And then, there's this movie which also has its own following. For this particular work of Craven, it was difficult to say how good this horror film really was. It has moments that work and other parts that showed no improvement from Craven's film debut.

How about that violence Mr. I can't identify you
When a simple family looking to move permanently to California become stranded in the middle of a desert, they start being hunted by a group of cannibalistic savages. This is really all that the plot is and like most contemporary horror films, these events take place all in one day.  The cast to represent the main characters are mostly unknown in today's time because their careers got as far as Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1984) and were never seen from again. The sequel to this movie also is much worse according to many. The only actors that are memorable are Janus Blythe as one of the savages (who can't hide her beauty behind all that dirt), Dee Wallace as the mother of the traveling family and Michael Berryman as also one of the savages. This is Berryman's 3rd film as an actor and although he plays an antagonist, at least he entertains when possible. The animal actors perform well too.

For the family of savages, a parallel can be drawn to that of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The family's traits are mentally unhinged, are physically disfigured, live in shoddy conditions and live off of what they can get. The difference between the two is that Hooper looked to horrify his viewers without giving away too much. He let the imagination run wild to what his antagonists could do. Craven on the other hand enjoys exploiting that to the fullest extent. An example of this is rape. It isn't as graphically shown like it was in The Last House on the Left (1972) but it still is nothing that was needed to be filmed. Why does Craven enjoy portraying these scenes in such a tasteless manner? However, the one plus that Wes Craven always includes in his direction are his characters’ ability to fight back.

Yes, this family gets damaged to an extent that is irreversible, but they also don't back down. When the family begins to fight back, that's when things become entertaining. Although a character may scared, watching them have the courage to retaliate is always more enjoyable that always watching them suffer. The only issue with this, is that the characters aren't that memorable to begin with. With this, the ability to like or feel anything for these characters feels too late in the running time. As for the cannibalistic family, there is some background given by an old farmer but even then, it isn't disclosed in a clear manner. Something about a monster baby that was left out in the desert to die but didn't die? That's what I got, and if I didn't miss anything, who exactly turned out to be the monster baby all grown up?

Mr. Michael Berryman! This guy I know!
The acts of violence that are depicted here are also in the Wes Craven format where everything is a response to primal instinct. An eye for an eye. Speaking of primitive, the musical score by Don Peake wasn't very effective. At points it had tracks that sounded like they wanted to build tension, but much of it was underdeveloped. The one specific element that viewers should get a stronger understanding for is the feeling of isolation. Being stranded in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by dangerous people will not have you sitting comfortably. Eric Saarinen's cinematography helps reinforce that feeling getting steep shots of mountain peeks. This is effective at making the audience feel like the hills are literally watching your movements. It's unsettling. But to expect it to be anything more than sending a strong message of fear, probably isn't the case.

It has a few cast members that stand out and has some ok elements to its story, one of them being fear caused by isolation. As a whole though, it's just another film where Wes Craven makes you sit through a bunch of  classless violence.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) Review:

It was hard not to enjoy Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). Pirates are always a fun subject to tell stories about. Johnny Depp exceeded at portraying a new character on screen while working with a script that not only created an interesting world that he lives in, but a lively one at that. After such a critical and financial success, even with some of its dark moments, it would seem important that the mouse house would stick with keeping this particular franchise afloat (pardon the pun) with the same elements while adding something new to the story. Thankfully, that's what they did. Besides a number of small issues, this sequel holds up extremely well.

All for one, and one for.....wait, wrong movie
After defeating Captain Barbossa and reclaiming the Black Pearl as his own, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) returns to the seas. Unknown to him, he is quickly needed again by Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to help him find the key to a secret chest only known by Davy Jones, the Captain of the Flying Dutchman. If Turner doesn't find this soon, he and his fiancé Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are to be hung for treason and letting a criminal escape (that being Jack Sparrow). Just by starting the cast off with these three, is great see. Their chemistry worked in the first and they continue to work well here too and that's not all. Several cast members from the first film come back too which is a pleasure. I was surprised to even see Jack Davenport (Commodore James Norrington) return.  Even stranger is that although it feels like with all the returning cast, the experience would feel too much of the same, but it's not.

There are three new main characters to the roster. Naomie Harris plays Tia Dalma, a spiritual witch who has a way with words and expands the backstory of Davy Jones. Stellan Skarsgård adds an interesting mix to the story when it turns out he's Bootstrap Bill, the father of Will Turner. Lastly, there's Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who's not terrifying if you're older than 13 but he's still a force to be reckoned with. Besides it is cool how well the body of an octopus was integrated in with his face. There's another internal struggle that goes on with Jack Sparrow involving whether he really is more than just a pirate. It's good character development. Again, just like the first film, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio's writing is great at adding new material to what fans and audiences have already accepted from the start.

However, there is one issue with this movie and its the only problem too. There are numerous events involving continuity that go without explanation. An example of this is when Jack Sparrow captures Barbossa's undead monkey. I later discovered that the monkey was undead because in the post credits of the first movie, the monkey had stolen a piece of the cursed treasure. Now how would someone know that if they didn't watch the post credits? Another event like this belonged to when audiences finally see Pintel and Ragetti in a boat with a the dog who holds the  jail keys. Since when did the dog become their ownership? I do not recall them taking the dog or the dog following them. Some explanation would be appreciated on scenes like these because its confusing to how various characters got into such situations. Like it was stated before though, this is the only issue.

That's awesome special effects
Once more, Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is beautiful, capturing all wide panoramic shots of the sea and various islands. The action is still very entertaining. It does not involve as many canon explosions as did the first, but in replace of this, viewers get to see the Kraken. By golly is this cephalopod enormous. It's suction cups are gigundo, with agile tentacles that batter any ship to pieces. Oh, and don't forget that dental job, woo! The special effects, which also make up the Kraken and several other of Davy Jones’ sailors look great too. There's such a diverse imagination with what they look like with several mixes of marine wildlife. I can't imagine having barnacles or scallops growing off my face though. Finally, although he co-wrote the score to the first with Klaus Badelt, Hans Zimmer takes the reigns as full composer. Fans of his music should be able to tell he took over because their are parts to the score that have more emphasis on heavy tones involving strings. Zimmer also keeps the same main theme for Sparrow and even includes a softer theme for the tragic character of Davy Jones. It is still a great follow up altogether.

It suffers from silly continuity errors but that's its only flaw. The action, music, special effects and characters all still entertain at the level they did from the first. Watch out for that Kraken though, man what a giant.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Man-Thing (2005) Review:

The character of Man-Thing is one of those oddball characters that are much more difficult to understand all around. I read the most recent series of "The Infernal Man-Thing" and even then, the story did not play out like most Marvel Comics would. Man-Thing isn't just a deformed green creature of the swamp. The images and thoughts that go on through his mind are sporadic and sometimes painful. Anyone that he meets, if they fear him, they physically burn at his touch. He's also apart of what is called the Nexus of Realities, an inter-dimensional area where space and time coincide with each other. This makes the character extremely complex; perhaps too complex. However, this isn't an excuse for the filmmakers to not exactly give a full-fledged effort. There are parts that help define this movie differently from other comic book adaptations, but its bad components still evenly match it.

Teri & Kyle
The story follows newly appointed Sheriff, Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) on an investigation to why a local town has numerous missing person cases. All of which, these cases take place around a dark swamp.  It's in the dark swamp, that Man-Thing lives along with an oil drilling company. The oil company is owned by Frederic Schist (Jack Thompson), a man who firmly believes that he has every right to drill. Naturally to his frustration, he can't drill without having people protest, lead by Teri Richards (Rachael Taylor – the British girl from Transformers (2007)). These particular plot lines aren't original but not bad either. An they would work, if the characters were engaging enough, but it's not. That's a serious problem. The characters just don't make the story engaging. Most of this issue is due to lack of exposition in exchange for Brett Leonard directing the movie like a horror film. Even so with Man-Thing's name as the title, he's shockingly not the main focus, which is disappointing.

There are scenes that talk about Ted Sallis (who later became Man-Thing in the comics), but here, its assumed every viewer would know this - which isn't a good idea. The Nexus of Reality is also mentioned, but its significance is wasted as well. These are points in the film that could've been used to help flesh out Man-Thing as a character. Instead, Man-Thing’s direction is treated more like a horror villain, which is actually deviant from that of almost every other famous comic book character. This, although nothing new, at least gives the movie a different spin and its not bad. The problem again, goes back to Man-Thing not being development enough as a character. It's appreciated that the comic book names are still brought to light because honestly, with it only having a release on the Sci-fi channel, I wasn't even expecting the story to acknowledge that; but they did surprisingly.

Subplots of course are no stranger to mediocre writing either. The issue of protecting the land that the oil tycoon is stationed on, is dropped quickly right from the moment it's introduced. The relationship between Kyle and Teri also felt too cliche and forced. Just having one thing in common with one another doesn’t mean that they're a viable candidate to immediately start considering more than just someone you associate with. The other subplot is about this man named Rene LaRoque (Steve Bastoni) who lives in the swamp, but the audience never gets a chance to understand what his motivation is. All he does is walk around the swamp with hooded trenchcoat warning people to leave or they will die. Why doesn't he leave? Isn't he in danger? If not, how come? These questions aren't answered either, and it doesn’t help make this movie scary to begin with.

Come on tell me that's not a cool look
for Man-Thing
However, here's what helps the movie at least somewhat entertain past its poor writing. The editing was ok. It was quick at times during the transition scenes but it wasn't unwatchable. The production design to the swamp was competently well made and realistic looking for such a tiny budget. The cinematography was also decent looking because of how well it was able to make the small set of the swamp look extremely large. For horror violence, there are number of good kills and the practical effects of the gore look convincing as well. The Man-Thing creature itself looks awesome in his first form on screen and the special effects used to animate him look integrated evenly. The sound department is another good element. The swamp sounds of insects and creaking wood are nice. Accompanying that effectively is Roger Mason's score. With over an hour-long worth of score material, Mason has a main theme for Man-Thing and tunes for soft moments. These themes incorporate heavy strings and blaring horns that sound close to that of something a famous composer would make. It isn't a complex horror score, but it does work. Overall though, it's another average Marvel film that deserved more credible responsibility.

It has impressive music, good-looking production value, appropriate horror and Man-Thing himself looks great, but that's it. The mediocre writing and dry performances fail to enforce its presence with a legitimate story.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Lone Ranger (2013) Review:

There are a number of lenses that are used to looking at the financial failure of this film. Was it that its genre was in based on the old west? Apparently as of late for the past decade or so, most vigilante westerns have suffered; Jonah Hex (2010) being the most recent. Or was it perhaps that the main lead was that of an unknown actor who which most viewers ignored? I don't know, it's a possibility. It certainly was definite that Disney was expecting first, partially its reputation and the other half of Johnny Depp's doing to bring in the profit. Weird as it is, even Depp couldn't help save it from not meeting viewers’ expectations. That's hard to believe considering Johnny Depp is like a magnet, but like most respected actors, it wasn't him that made the film almost mediocre. It was other parts – mostly the writing.

The Lone Ranger & Tonto meet Red Harrington
The entire movie is an origin story to that of how The Lone Ranger AKA John Reid (Armie Hammer) and Native American, Tonto (Johnny Depp) become the west’s most well-known vigilantes of the late 1800s. The first mistake that's made is Gore Verbinski's direction of how the story is told. Verbinski is better than this. A boy visits a museum at the local carnival and discovers a grotesquely aged Tonto. It is there that the elderly Tonto tells the origin. Wait though, why is Tonto in a museum? Is that his job? Yeah, it's supposed to be comical in some respects but it leaves other questions open without answers. For example, where is the aged John Reid? What occupation does he do for a living now? Or did he die? Why create a separate time with multiple questions when there's already a time being told, where questions need to be answered first? All it does is distract certain viewers.

This is just one problem with the writers work, surprisingly two of which have written for the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Unfortunately, the only writing that seems to work are the lines for Johnny Depp. And this would work IF Depp were the real main character. It's no doubt that Depp plays one of the main leads, but he is not The Lone Ranger, which leads to another issue; character interactions. Armie Hammer as John Reid is cast well for the part, but it's the way his character is written that feels out of place. Like most duo lead films, the pair will have friction because of conflicting opinions. However, it seems like John Reid is one of those characters who never learns to change quick enough. It's sad to see because audiences want to feel sympathy for a character, but making him or her look like a jerk, becomes difficult to actually like the character as a person.

Subplots are another thing that become unnecessary. A cursed rock is one of them. It was visited briefly, then retracted. Another one followed the idea that John Reid was secretly in love with his brother's wife. This wasn't given any real explanation why either. But the subplot that wasn't needed at all was the involvement of false accusations to the Native American Comanche tribe. Just to include them in the story for a staged action sequence is used for the wrong reason. I felt more sympathy for them than I did the U.S. Militia. These aren't small things that can be completely dropped from the conscience when viewing but there are pluses to the film. For one, I enjoyed the background story to Tonto. Fans of Depp at least get an understanding to why Tonto is the way he is. The action scenes are executed very well too. The best of them were the train scenes. Those, are always fun to watch because stopping a train is practically impossible. The cast is also fun too.

Sweet ride, too bad it doesn't fly!
Most audiences will remember William Fichtner as a ruthless scarred boss Butch Cavendish and Helena Bonham Carter as Red Harrington, a filly with some deadly legs. Bojan Bazelli's cinematography looks great too. Considering that he was the cinematography for Pumpkinhead (1988) as well, which involved western rural landscape, he was able to maintain his eyes on those wondrous shots after all these years. Editing is competent because the flow doesn't drag, although the direction isn't strong (as stated before) and it the running time is over 2 hours. Finally Hans Zimmer's score is all right too. He keeps the original main theme for the intro, finale and includes other tracks that are relative to the time but not much of it was memorable besides the theme. It entertains, but its story's weak.

Depp no doubt is good as Tonto and there a number of other elements that help make the film fun, but much of the writing and direction is weak. For two and half-hours, you'd think the screenplay would be a little more clear with its information.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maniac Cop (1988) Review:

The decade of the 1980s was filled with production companies that made attempts to knock off or even originally make their own horror franchise that revolved around a nortiously iconic slasher villain. Most audiences at least by the late 80s had witnessed several villains in the vein of some type of knife wielding psychopath who kills innocent people. It was "the in" thing and audiences just couldn't get enough of their blood, thus the genre was began to become overused. However, there were films that tried to give a more distinctive edge in their slasher villains. The original Child's Play (1988) was one of them. It's curious though to why people seem to forget this piece by director William Lustig who also directed his more well known piece, Maniac (1980). Lustig sure seems to have a liking to the word "maniac" in his film titles.

Stuck in another horror picture Ash?
Maniac Cop (1988) is another one of those slasher knock-off films that borrows familiar concepts from previous famous slasher franchises, and then adds a little of its own originality to it. For most, as long as it doesn't completely rip off a franchise entirely or blatantly, it's fairly acceptable. Not original, but acceptable to a point. This is what Lustig does here as a final product, although I'm not sure if that was his intent. When a suspect only described as a police officer of the local force murders random citizens, people begin to panic. Of course, why shouldn't they? The police are supposed to protect not randomly slaughter. The writer behind the story is Larry Cohen, better known for writing Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth (2002). The elements that Cohen takes are the invincibility and the silent nature of the maniac cop; which resembles that of Michael Myers from Halloween (1978). Other than that, the idea is original.

However, this is also the weakpoint of the story. How on earth does this character survive so many fatal injuries? At least for Michael Myers, it was at least described as if Myers was possessed by a demon, but here, nothing's given. Then again, the plot plays out like a crime mystery, which helps pull in its audience instead of just continuing to show mindless killing. There are also numerous cult celebrities like Tom Atkins as a tough detective (like many other roles he's played), Bruce Campbell, William Smith, Richard Roundtree (who all play cops) and even Sam Raimi has a brief cameo. All of which give respective performances. Even the female leads are convincing. Playing the villain is Robert Z'Dar, an actor with a unique chin / jaw line.

It's about time someone finally got the idea that he could make a memorable character, which he does. Sure he's no Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger, but he does stand out. Give him credit for that. Some of his kill scenes are even inventive that I'm not sure many villains have done before. The gore is also there. It's not gross out, but there are various disturbing images, like the maniac cop's face. Z'Dar can also perform action sequences decently. I was amazed to view a car chase scene in a horror film, it almost felt like an action movie; viewers should still enjoy it though. This goes hand in hand with David Kern's editing because the flow of the story has good pacing.

Stay out this guys way.....but if you didn't know?
The two cinematographers who worked on the film did an ok job. It wasn't bad but it would've been nice to see a little more daytime scenes considering there wasn't any visual style to the film. Producing the music was Jay Chattaway. There was a theme in the film but it's difficult to say what it represented. It was a long drawn out brassy ominous sound, which was appropriate for its tone though. Even the chase scene had adrenaline pumped beats in it, but it lacked development in any way that didn’t sound anywhere close to being a memorable score. All around this is probably one of those underlooked slasher films that seems silly on the surface but actually is entertaining when given a watch.

Like many other films that focused on psychotic blade wielding crazies, the reasoning behind certain facts just aren't revealed. Watch it for its plot dealing with mystery, its distinguished cult cast and unique villain.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Crow (1994) Review:

If there's one movie that will be forever known as the late Brandon Lee's best movie, it is this one. Sadly, the son of famous martial arts master Bruce Lee, would too suffer from a fatal injury on set, leading to his untimely death before this cult classic was released. What's completely astonishing though, is how well this movie was put together even after Lee's death. One would almost think that Lee only had died after the filming, but not so. There were several edits, body doubles and even CGI used to make it look like Lee was in whole film throughout. For 1994, that's extremely impressive. But this isn't the only outstanding thing to this comic book movie. There's very little to nit pick about.

Brandon Lee as The Crow
The story is about Eric Draven, a regular everyday man who witnesses the brutal rape and murder of his wife to-be and is killed off as well. This all happens during Halloween (or Devil's Night as its called) in a crime ridden city where buildings are set ablaze just for fun. A year later, Draven is resurrected by a single crow to take vengeance upon the people who took his and wife's life that same night. In the simplest of terms, it is a revenge story, but the execution is done in such a way that gives depth to each character on screen. Alex Proyas, who begins his directorial debut here, keeps a steady pace as well. Of course, the person who carries majority of the entertainment is Brandon Lee.

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven gives a performance that feels natural. His delivery of lines are not over-the-top campy, nor are they boring. His voice allows the character to sound serious or kind whenever it is needed. The costume design is also great looking as well. It matches not only the gothic tone, but also the whole design as a comic book movie. Attempting to understand Draven's case is Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson). Hudson is one of those actors who most viewers enjoy in whatever film he stars in because of how relaxed he comes across. The main villain behind Devil's Night is called Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) who also gives a performance that is precise with his delivery. He's an anarchist, so all he wants is chaos, thus creating Devil's Night.

The violence portrayed here is another strong point. There's no plotting or brooding. All it is, is pure vengeance and no holds bar. It's taking care of business with no thinking which is beneficial to this kind of revenge film. That and the dialog used throughout each scene makes the revenge feel that much more justified. What's surprising, is how it feels like this is the movie that inspired other anti-hero films to do the same kind of theatrics. For example, having an outline symbol lit by flames? The Punisher (2004) and Daredevil (2003) performed those same types of moves during their moments of payback. The Crow (1994) is still the antihero that started it all and should be given respected for that.

The special effects have aged rather well too. With most of the background being dark with either black or grey, it's difficult to see what was enhanced by computer and what wasn't. The crows themselves are hard to distinguish between actor and CGI. Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is neat with panning shots of the city that'll make the viewer feel like they are the crow in the sky gliding across the landscape. Wolski would later do all the cinematography for all the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The editing is also competently done considering it looks like Lee was on set for the whole movie even though he died during filming.

Then there's the other crow!
The only thing that could've been slightly fixed was the music. Graeme Revell's score does contain a soft reoccurring theme, which focuses that on Draven's humanity and love for his wife with gentle flutes. Revell's music also contains saxophone, which is rare for an action film but it works. It makes it feel like a film noir in some senses. Yet, the score lacks any real action cues, other than tribal drums, which make it feel empty in some cases. Also, it's understood that the movie has a gothic tone but including metal bands in a few scenes wasn't necessary either. Instead Revell could've included tunes that particularly enhanced them with more power and emotion. Other than that, there really isn't anything to truly be upset about. It's one of those rare, dark comic book adaptations that any comic book reader should watch.

Although it was Brandon Lee's last film, it's one of his best. The action is dark, special effects look good and the actors pitch great performances. It's Graeme Revell's score that could use some improvement although it is still a special element to the film.

Points Earned --> 9:10