Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Death Ship (1980) Review:

By the last half of 20th century film making, horror genre pictures had solidified themselves in pop culture. Plus, the horror genre began splitting off into various sub-genres like the "slasher" and "monster" flicks. But when it came to out at sea related adventures, it's hard to say whether there was a lot of them around yet that delved into the horror genre. The biggest noticeable boom in this particular kind of story / setting would be seen later with pictures like Leviathan (1989), Deep Star Six (1989), Deep Rising (1998), Virus (1999) and Ghost Ship (2002). But for Death Ship (1980), it seemed like this was the grandpap of all of them. It is by no means a true gem but it at least has certain aspects that should be respected for.

Hey look, it's they raised the Titanic!
After being shipwrecked and stranded in the ocean, a group of survivors from the wreck discover an abandoned rusty derelict. Once on board, they begin to realize that the ship is running with no crew. Odd. There's more than meets the eye to this ship that’s for sure. Apart of the survivors are George Kennedy as Capt. Ashland, his second in command Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna - with a full beard) and his wife (Sally Ann Howes - from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)) and kids. Although these actors are good choices, their performances aren't among anything moving. Other than these actors, the last bit of the cast is highly forgettable. Partially this is due to the writing, which addresses some motivations, like the Captain's but not all of them, and this isn't the only flaw.

The ship that which these survivors take refuge on has supernatural powers. It can close its own doors, control its own chains, pump its engines, steer itself and even is accompanied by ghostly voices. Nice! So how did it get these powers? Was it cursed? Don't know, a topic that is never touched on sadly. There is an explanation to what it thrives on but that still doesn't explain its current condition. But going back to the actual ship itself, is something to behold. The production design by Chris Burke and cinematography by René Verzier blend evenly. The look of this ship is as grungy and weather worn as they come. Not to mention all of those cobwebs all over the place. Although the back-story to the ship is not expanded upon, the mystery of not knowing does make it entertaining to a point.

 photo ship03.png
That beard though!
The camerawork is also done differently. To simulate that of being on a boat, the camera sways making it unleveled with square surfaces. It can get a bit nauseating at times but it feels realistic. The practical effects are nice too. All the ship’s eerie movements and creaky noises help make the vessel feel that much more bizarre. The horror aspect to the film is probably the weakest though. None of it was scary, it was just unsettling (and that's ok). Adding to that unsettling feeling is Ivor Slaney's score, which incorporates classical sounding orchestral tones and some synth. The best theme was the tune that plays for the ship's engine pistons where horns crescendo and decrescendo for the swinging movement every time they pump. Too bad the complete score isn't available. Horror fans may find something to like about, but I don't guarantee a whole lot.

It has a few respectable cast members but their characters' are not developed fully. However, the ship's production value, camera work, music and all around eerie surrounding is enough to make it somewhat likable.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Monday, July 28, 2014

Johnny Be Good (1988) Review:

Life lessons are not always the most prevalent in coming of age genre films. Sometimes they're real obvious, while others are more obscure and look to have their viewers find the deeper meaning themselves. It's also hard to say how significant a coming of age film can be when it is a Rated R comedy. Some have worked brilliantly - The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) is one. This on the other hand is a strange mix of elements that plays its cards right in some respects, while at other moments it’s questionable to what the crew was thinking here. This is the story of Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall), a high school athlete who has quite a fan club. After winning the last football game of the season (by cheating no less), Walker is approached by recruiter upon recruiter to play for their college team.

Nothings stopping you,....do it, I dare you!
There are also other people who want Johnny to go with their opinion. Wayne Hisler (Paul Gleason), the high school coach wants him to attend a college of his choice so he can acquire special benefits and he'll do anything to make sure it happens. Johnny's mom and grandpa want him to get an education more than a sports scholarship and his girlfriend Georgia (Uma Thurman) wants him to attend State with her. So many opinions, which one will he choose?! Well, Johnny ends up attending mostly all of their open houses. This ends up having him being bribed with things that seem almost unrealistic or things that have nothing to do with getting an education or playing football. Of course fame grants several of these things but at a high school level? The kid and his team didn't even play fairly winning the last game so how does that even qualify? Are the refs that blind?

Plus, what's even more shocking is to how this production was able to gather now famous actors when they were starting off and the chemistry feels almost nonexistent. And, the screenplay was completed by three writers, all of which worked on Revenge of the Nerds (1984). How is that barely any charm are given to these characters? There are only a couple of moments that Johnny goes through that actually develop him as a character. Other than that he's placed in silly events that should trigger his conscience saying he shouldn’t be there. The best parts of the film are when Johnny's family is on screen. Somehow they seem to have the best lines and character arcs. My favorite family member was the grandfather (George Hall). Such a nice old man.

Paul Gleason
Uma Thurman's character has a very typical character arc, loves her boyfriend - finds him as a jerk briefly - then resorts back to him. Possibly the strangest of all is Robert Downey Jr.'s character. Either he tries too hard to be funny or his jokes don't make any sense. It's baffling, I guess Downey Jr. didn't realize how much funnier he is when he says his lines deadpan than actually trying to be comical. Fans might also get a kick out of actor Marshal Bell's performance as Uma Thurman's dad, also the chief of police. He has some funny one liners at times too. All right enough of the characters. Jay Ferguson's music to the film is appropriately set but doesn't have anything to remember about it. Was it a comedy that had laughs galore? Not so much. Does it feel like a coming of age movie? Not really.

The cast contains famous actors of today in their youth and has a moral somewhere in its story but its delivery is overshadowed by hit and miss comedy. Much of the events that take place feel impossible too, decreasing its believability.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Superman II (1980) Review:

When Superman (1978) arrived in theaters Christopher Reeve had become one of the biggest names around. With his portrayal of the iconic American hero and all around good guy Clark Kent / Superman, Reeve had solidified that he was in fact the original Superman (even though there were portrayals before him). Two years later fans received a delightful second entry in the life of the man of steel. For this particular installment, there are a number of additions to the original story that was told in 1978. Much of it greatly increases the depth of the main leads but there are also a couple of errors that weren't addressed.

Silly Lois, still getting into trouble I see,...
Viewers begin the story with the reintroduction of General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his cronies being banished to the phantom zone. Then skip ahead to current time where Superman is doing his usual business of saving people and accidentally releases Zod and his buddies from the phantom zone. However, Kent doesn't know this. Instead, as the Zod crew begin wreaking havoc on Earth, Kent is too busy being caught up on Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Among all this though, Kent as an individual goes through quite a character arc thanks to the three writers behind the screenplay. One of which worked on two of the Godfather films and the other wrote for Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

The best subplot to the writing is the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Over time Lois begins realizing the patterns at which Superman appears, making her suspicious of coworker Clark. This happens gradually and finally when it hits, it's very sudden. Perhaps too quickly, but by that point viewers will be too invested into what is going on, that it won't matter. This is a pivotal point because it tests Clark to see how well he can be as himself. Unfortunately, with this rich character development comes flimsy loophole endings that are not expanded upon. There are certain things in movies that shouldn't go assumed. Not every audience member may understand, which would have them looking other places for answers. If something is going to be done for a reason, there should be an explanation behind it.

Other than this particular issue, there really isn't much to see that's wrong.  Even though the director had changed due to friction, the playout feels very much like the last film. The tone did not change and neither did the characters. Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, Gene Hackman all play their roles like they had never left the set. Terence Stamp as Zod and his followers also give likable performances, even for villains. What Stamp does that makes Zod so interesting is how he speaks; it sounds so pompous. Zod's henchman are cool too. Ursa being quite a powerful woman and Non just for being brute muscle every time and any time he's on screen.

The original Superman vs Zod showdown
The practical effects are consistent and continue to be effective. Along with that are the action sequences that increase in damage and uniqueness. Surprisingly even the style of cinematography was changed. Robert Paynter took over. Although it was executed differently, the shots and overall image still look grand and beautiful. Perhaps the most astonishing is that John Williams did not return to compose. Yet, Ken Thorne (who just passed away this year) the replacement  composer, did a respectable job filling in. Thorne maintained the Superman theme and continued the upbeat feel of the tracks. Well done.

The development in its characters is done exceptionally. Sadly the buildup is so good that its justification for various actions feel flimsy, like that of its predecessor's finale. Other than that, it is worthy of a superman sequel from its production design, music special effects and cast.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Death Warrant (1990) Review:

By 1990, Jean-Claude Van Damme had claimed success in his late 80s sports films like Kickboxer (1989) and Bloodsport (1988). Along with this film, was Lionheart (1990) released the same year, which also many fans enjoyed. The thing was for almost every film Van Damme had played in, his role was that of a character with a family member he had lost and was fighting for.  It was new and touching for him as an actor in the beginning. But as time went on, the story lines began to feel awfully similar. Still, they entertained fans and viewers alike for the most part. Then came Death Warrant (1990), a movie with a whole different setting and situation which is great, yet failed to change the rest of the elements that Van Damme has already worked with in past stories.

This ain't the sports area anymore
Van Damme plays a cop named Burke who goes incognito at a penitentiary to solve a series of murders that have taken place there. This particular plot line is fine if it were handled without being treated so generically. Helping Burke from the outside is Amanda (Cynthia Gibb, best known for playing Sandy in Short Circuit 2 (1988)), posing as his wife. Starting off with how generic this story line is already headed, I'm sure viewers could pick out what happens between Amanda and Burke. It's quite blatant with how both characters are set up and developed. Are they memorable? Mehhh,...maybe to some. The only part of the plot that is different from Van Damme's past movies is that he's no longer fighting for a family member, he's fighting for himself. Kind of like First Blood (1982) but with a mediocre script.

Besides these actors, the rest of the main cast isn't terrible but are mostly under developed too. There's Abdul Salaam El Razzac as a man named Priest and Hawkins (Robert Guillaume - known for voicing Rafiki to The Lion King (1994)). Both of these actors give interesting character portrayals but somehow side with Burke for little to no reason. If they are criminals what exactly made them warm up so quickly to Burke? Then there's a cult favorite for some fans, Art LaFleur for playing in Stallone's Cobra (1986) & The Blob (1988) remake. He plays the head of the penitentiary and dislikes Burke a lot and for what reason? It's not given either. Lastly is a character known as the "Sandman" (Patrick Kilpatrick) who has the ability to withstand almost any type of lethal damage. And the reason behind this is? Again,...not given. Kilpatrick also isn't that memorable as a villain. He's more obnoxious than actually threatening.

You now gotta face those beady eyes!
Here's the biggest surprise, the screenplay was written by the now insanely sought out David S. Goyer. Yes, the man behind all the future comic book movies - this was his entry into film. Wow, Mr. Goyer you didn't start off that great. Russell Carpenter as head of cinematography was ok but nothing really stood out. The editing was strange at times though, especially during the fight scenes. There would be quick cuts to an action Burke would make and it would be repeated to make it look faster but instead it felt like filler. Even Gary Chang's score was in the middle. At times it work by using his signature marimba drums to emphasize the wild like instincts to survive such a hostile place, but it also didn't feel totally appropriate at times. He even has a main theme for Burke but it doesn't have a tune that is memorable. Sigh.

Its situation is written differently from that of Van Damme's earlier efforts but somehow all the same elements make it in as well. Plus, the screenplay suffers from several motivations and explanations that aren't explained. Thankfully it at least has a decent cast and music to back it up.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Funhouse (1981) Review:

Director Tobe Hooper is not one to have many theatrically released films under his belt but for it's his earliest efforts people seem to remember them the most. Most notably would be The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), but that also means including this one. Although it is not as cleverly crafted nor as strangely terrifying as Mr. Hooper's first outing; it does have some redeemable qualities. The part that works the best to this picture's credit is the idea of which it focuses on. Funhouses are never what they promise, anywhere. The only intent funhouses are made for are to have fun by being creeped out. Nobody really goes there for actual fun and games.

"I sense no danger here"
Well not according to these characters. Meet Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) a young teen girl looking to have fun with her hotshot boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee) and two other friends. Together they head out to the local carnival that's running in town and decide to be there snobbish young selves. Adding to that particular attitude is completely ignoring her parents wishes of not attending the carnival since there were some issues with it from the year before. Oh but no harm should come this time, it was all a misunderstanding - sure. Protagonist wise there isn't any particular actor that stands out. Lawrence Block's screenplay is at best average. It has interesting ideas but doesn't bother to conclude them with much closure except for its main plot.

Funny thing is that Block only wrote for one other production and that was the failed and now cheap looking Captain America (1990). But perhaps even stranger is that there are various elements to the story that are similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Specifically that some characters have the Southern accents, work as a family and do not have normal lives. All very similar to the cannibal family that Leatherface belonged to. The man in charge of this family is The Barker (Kevin Conway - who would play better roles later on his career). Conway is probably the best part when it came to characters but sadly he was underused. Along with Conway were other strange characters that appeared from time to time. An example of this would be of some old preacher woman. And her significance was for?

Ahhh, there's Mr. Conway!
As for the funhouse itself, since that is where our story takes place mostly, it works at times. Some of the vintage props look great because by today they look rather creepy. But there were also other items that felt like something today’s funhouses would include too. The best particular scene would be the chase in the basement. That was creepier than the actual funhouse. Andrew Laszlo's cinematography, the guy behind First Blood (1982) got some nice shots of the carnival but once inside the funhouse, nothing was really interesting. John Beal's music was alright occasionally. He did have some creepy tunes but other than that it wasn't very memorable. It's not unwatchable but there are better things to see unless carnivals are truly unsettling to you.

The setting can't fail at being creepy because what funhouse isn't? What makes it average though is its non-engaging characters and flimsy writing.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Parker (2013) Review:

Jason Statham so far hasn't lost his knack to find a cast in need of an agile and athletic action star. There really is no need to explain neither why he's cast in these movies nor why people flock to go see him. As a whole he's a good actor but there are moments where an actor should see the flaw in a production they are looking to work with. I guess he didn't read the script over enough times because this action piece doesn't contain much substance or emotion that assists it in its cause to create memorable entertainment. Even worse is that the supporting cast was made up of other decent actors and they fail to compel as well. I just don't get it.

Your not fooling anyone with that
poor Southern accent, Statham
To begin with, Statham plays almost the same type of character he usually plays - a vigilante. Ok, so he begins as a leader to a thief group, but later turns vigilante when his partners ambush him when they let him in on another plan that'll bring in more money when he disagrees. But this is by far one of Statham's worst roles. The man he plays is a professional thief with an ethical code - alright. The only ethical code I know that he has is making sure to stick to and follow through with the plan. So exactly why he turned down his group's offer is obscure. Information that is also obscure are the names mentioned throughout the movie. Besides the main characters, all the other names mentioned have no purpose. The audience either will never see the person certain characters mention or it'll be real late in the running time and who cares by then?

As for Statham's group ambushing him, the plot just turns into a cat and mouse run of the mill. There is nothing special about it. All Statham does is swap out from car to car until he gets where he needs to go. The key flaw here is convenience. Either Statham's character has a serious eye for open opportunities (which I doubt) or everyone in this particular story is extremely absent minded. Does everybody leave his or her cars unlocked? I expected more from writer John J. McLaughlin, the writer from Black Swan (2010) and Hitchcock (2012). Did McLaughlin just get bored with this one? It kind of shows too because there are scenes with respectable actors but they only show up for half the movie - beginning or end.

You have Nick Nolte playing a good friend of Statham's character. Nolte's character gives tips and hints on what to do, Statham's character disagrees and then Nolte is out of the picture for the last half. Then there's Jennifer Lopez who plays a frustrated land agent in Palm Beach. She has no purpose in the plot until half way in the movie when Statham goes to Palm beach. Supposedly she states that Statham can't make it on his own. Right,...he got around just fine stealing unlocked cars. How could anyone in Palm Beach be anymore naive? Surely there must be some idiots around town too. Lopez has no purpose in the story. She doesn't excel the story nor is she utilized to any degree that entertains. Yeah so there's a scene of her in only underwear, but that's not utilizing her talents.

Annnd, Chiklis
The main antagonist is played by Micahel Chiklis best known for playing The Thing in The Fantastic Four (2005). Here Chiklis isn't much of a likable villain. He yells and curses a lot with no real purpose. He always looks and sounds mad too. The action in the film is ok. Some of the bloodier scenes look real while others look digitally enhanced, but there's nothing that's special. A lot of the action feels dragged too, its pacing is bad. David Buckley's music to the film isn't any better. It works with the provided scenes but none of it feels authentic enough to think that it belongs to an orchestra. The music was just blahh. If you're a true Statham fan, there should be no problem viewing this but as whole, the film wastes time.

Credit can only be given for having a decent main cast, ok action and the standard Jason Statham formula, but that's it. Its music is derivative, the characters are uninteresting, the story drags and is too convenient for its own good.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Purge (2013) Review:

Nothing has really changed since cops and modern day law was introduced into society. There's the lower, upper and middle class that strive to make it big in the world and hope to all be successful. Obviously, not everyone does make it and unfortunately with this inequality comes various side effects. Much of these problems include that of a drop in productivity of the economy and increased crime rates. But what if all of that was eliminated with just one half day where all law enforcement stopped and all crime was permitted for a full 12 hours? Welcome to the year 2022, and not a far one at that. Where crime is at an all time low, the economy is booming and the unemployment rate is at 1%. That's astounding. But so is "The Annual Purge" that was put into place as well.

Don't be worried, it's only half a day!
For one thing, this particular premise is so deviant that it's difficult not to think of what one could do on such a holiday (I guess one would consider it). But this also brings up the question, what would be the point of this violent 12-hour explosion if everything were great? Turns out there are still homeless people, but apparently the purge is what is supposed to take care of this issue. With this in mind, the writing by (as director too) James DeMonaco has socio-political subtext in the story that debates on whether the purge truly is a benefit to society, to release built up anger or if its an excuse just to have unmonitored violence. The writing also brings up the idea of morals; whether one should participate or not. All very good, but with this comes lack of depth to the characters at hand.

Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey play a set of parents with two children that end up being caught in a dangerous situation. When a stranger from the outside asks for shelter from an eminent group purge threat, the group in search of the stranger begins making threats to break into the family's home. As a cast, the actors perform to their best, but the development of their specific roles are either too thin or too cliche. Seriously, some of these characters that take part in the purge are just grudge holders. If you look at them carefully, you could see that they had opportunities to possibly reconcile with their grudgemaker, but no. Instead they wait for the purge, why wait that long? What if they later on were to become something more and made your life better than ever? These are just flimsy motivations to what seems like taking part in a compulsory addiction that eats away at the conscience of the individual if left unchecked. What's wrong with these people?

The only characters that truly stood out was Charlie (Max Burkholder) and the Polite Leader (Rhys Wakefield). Burkholder's role brought up several times the issue of morals because oddly everyone around him has no conscience, not even his family. Wakefield on the other hand brings on the insane by giving a performance that was not only creepy but downright disturbing because of how polite yet unfeeling he is. His best scene is when it comes to him meeting Ethan Hawke at the front door. Sadly even Wakefield is underutilized.

Wakefield (center) - this guys loves his role
With also the shorthand of unique characters comes a few other issues. For one, the pacing felt slow. It's understood that giving the family time to settle the issue creates suspense but with slow pacing, the tension is lost. Then when things get under way, the third act feels like your regular horror film - cheap jump scares and violence that is at best average. Fire axes, knives and guns aren't all that special. Using household appliances would've been more interesting. Cinematography wasn't anything special either. Score wise, Nathan Whitehead's music was alright. What'll really hook people is his light and fluffy intro credit song. Very bizarre because of how it contrasts what is being presented. There were a few other moments of different tunes, but at times he would also create tunes that sounded a bare as Joseph Bishara's score to that of The Conjuring (2013). Starting out isn't always the easiest so we'll see if he grows as a composer.

Its premise, layered writing and only a couple characters are what make it interesting to see. Sadly, the pacing is slow, the violence is generic and the rest of the cast is flat out boring with cliched development.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Six Days Seven Nights (1998) Review:

Filmgoers and critics alike are split on what to think on Ivan Reitman's films. Most would probably say that his earliest productions were the most original and fun. The best example being Ghost Busters (1984). But as time went on, Reitman started making some oddballs like Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990) and Junior (1994). Then he started reverting back to more realistic normal comedies. This particular film is in this group and has things going for it. The problem is that it gets too bogged down with other details that it forgets what its main purpose was in the first place. The plot focuses on a couple that heads out on vacation when one of them is called back. While returning the partner is stranded on an island with the pilot and must learn to survive together. The plot isn't all that special but the way it's executed is.

They don't look bad together but it does look odd
Anne Heche and David Schwimmer play the couple on vacation as Robin and Frank. There they meet their pilots Quinn (Harrison Ford) and Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors). The two that become stranded on a remote island is Robin and Quinn. There they learn how to survive on their own. Yet, the casting of Schwimmer and Obradors wasn't necessary. It could've just been Robin going on vacation and being stranded with Quinn. It's not that Schwimmer or Obradors aren't funny or can't act, but their character arcs are predictable from the start and it doesn't end clearly either. If a couple is heading to vacation and the first thing your boyfriend does is stare at curvaceous women, I think viewers will have a clear idea where he's headed. It's not new material.

First time writer Michael Browning did an ok job defining each character, but they are either cliched or oddly paired. The other strange casting decision belongs to having Anne Hiche and Harrison Ford being together. Over time after learning how to get along, Robin and Quinn form a relationship. During this time, Ford wasn't the strapping youth he once was. Of course some people still find him attractive but most people's viewpoints would be that Ford is too old to be having any kind of a relationship with what looks to be a late 20s / early 30s woman. It's not uncommon (in real life), but for the movie’s sake since age isn't the focus, it feels a bit weird. Also cast in the film is Temuera Morrison (known for Jango Fett), Cliff Curtis and Danny Trejo. They are hard to spot at times, but if you see them it’s cool to see.

I would've been interested in these two more if it was about them
The comedy also helps relieve audiences of the either familiar story line or characters. Either when it comes to Frank being goofy or Quinn reacting to Robin's actions, it is genuinely funny. Ford has the best quips. Some of it even reminisces to that of something Indiana Jones would say. Besides it's not all fun and games, Quinn and Robin even run into some modern day pirates. Yikes. The cinematography by Michael Chapman looks great. The view of the islands out to sea looks mesmerizing. Even Randy Edelman's score is nice. It has a theme to represent Quinn and Robin and it sounds memorable. The tune involves piano keys, which isn't the most frequent of an instrument included in a score. It works as a comedy but isn't anything new.

The elements of comedy are funny and will have people laughing thanks to its cast. Yet, the casting on a direct basis is questionable and the writing is a bit formulaic.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pitch Black (2000) Review:

Sometimes being known for only a few things can benefit an individual greatly. Vin Diesel has the luxury of this phenomena. Most of time, when actors become known for doing the same roles, they become forgotten and non-existent. So in order to break free of that, the actor takes on new and different roles to either round out their skills or grab their fans attention. Jim Carrey was like this early on in his career. Originally, he was the funnyman with hits like Dumb & Dumber (1994), Ace Venture: Pet Detective (1994) and The Mask (1994). But then he went on to do The Truman Show (1998) which was a totally different step for him. Again, Vin Diesel hasn’t had any problems sticking to what he's good at. This franchise and The Fast and the Furious (2001) series continue to cement him in Hollywood fame without having to take on completely different roles. He has tried but they never took off.

Radha Mitchell
Here, Vin Diesel plays his second best known character to that of Dominic Toretto - Richard B. Riddick, a convicted killer who's got nothing to lose. While being transported, the ship ends up crash landing on a foreign planet with flying Dracula hammerhead shark like creatures.  The catch is that they only come out at night. And the crew that is stranded is just in luck because a full eclipse is on its way. Ahh,...gotta love how convenient these situations happen. But for writing, convenience is the only problem. The rest is a well-written script that develops its main cast to the point of where they must come to grips with certain events that possibly audiences may not see coming. I know I wasn't, the actions of certain individuals continued to keep me guessing. This is important because that means it can keep the attention of its audience with ease. Plus, with the element of the unknown and high tension continuously keeps viewers on their toes.

Diesel as Riddick is convincing enough. He has snarky dialog and definitely has a presence that's hard to find boring. In charge of the rest of the crew is Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) and although at times she's not sure of herself, she does become strong over time. Then there's her second in command William Johns (Cole Hauser) who has a grudge to settle with Riddick. His interactions with Diesel are comical at times because of how much they resent each other. Adding to the story is Abu 'Imam' al-Walid played by Keith David who adds a bit of a religious agenda into the mix. For him at least, he too as a character is tested, not only by the creatures but also by his peers. It is these kinds of moments that are critical in defining characters and not making them feel all the same.

Mr. Hauser & Mr. Diesel at odds
The special effects for 2000 are good at points. The alien creatures don't look recycled but visually, they do look fake at times when it came to CGI. There are physical props but most of it is CGI, which makes it less frightening. The action and gore are commendable. Vin Diesel has the chops for such requirements. The cinematography by David Eggby looks great. For the planets terrain, it looked and felt very dry. I do question the color scheme at times. It would swap between yellow and blue. Both looked great but just one should've been picked. Graeme Revell's score to the film is interesting. It incorporates tribal drums to match Diesel's prologue of animal instincts but other than that, it feels light. No theme or tune was memorable. Come on Revell, you're better than this. Altogether still a very satisfying franchise entry.

The writing contains highly developed characters that will keep its audience guessing until the very end, along with its unique creatures. The only parts that feel weak are some of the visuals and Graeme Revell's musical score.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Monday, July 14, 2014

Piranha (1978) Review:

With all the films that are released on video that try to ride the coat tales of other popular entries in film, people forget that early on there really was only one man who did that. That man was Roger Corman, a producer who worked at creating cheap films that entertained viewers no matter what the material. Then there's Joe Dante, a director who hasn't worked with many theatrical released films, but the ones he has made have faithful followings. Dante is another filmmaker that enjoys taking ideas from popular films and turning it on its head. The thing is, Dante at least does it with a non-subtlety attitude and style. Seriously, looking at the poster alone tells you that Dante and Corman were borrowing the concept from Steven Speilberg's Jaws (1975).

Flimsy back-story but still dangerous
For the most part, the film is watchable but there are various elements that don't work. One of those elements is John Sayles' writing. It works well at building tension in how the story plays out, but the dialog and back-story to why the piranhas are in a local resort feel flimsy. Turns out, a school of piranhas were genetically enhanced to help win the Vietnam war. So in other words radio activity is the problem. It's understood that this comes from a time where it was prevalent but now it no longer is plausible. Using radioactivity as a plot device for a sea creature is no longer usable. It has been exploited since the early 50s era films. Not many of the actors that take part feel like they are that of something new either.

Bradford Dillman as a divorced drunk father of one daughter is possibly the most interesting of the bunch. And this guy was the only one to ask to have his character have more depth. So you can imagine what the rest of the characters are like. Next is Heather Menzies-Urich who plays a missing persons detective, who also looks to find the truth behind the piranha epidemic. She also becomes Dillman's love interest - without little explanation. Okayyyy,...see what I mean on character depth? Some of the dialog is silly to hear at times too. Unfortunately, these things are big parts to the film that weigh it down because they are essential to telling a good story. Thankfully, there are a enough good parts to help make it somewhat enjoyable. For example, Dick Miller has a role. And who doesn't like Dick Miller?

Mr. Miller how are you?
For one, the practical effects are quite convincing to say the least. Phil Tippett's ability to make the piranhas themselves, the gore and blood look authentic is important. I mean, even if the cast isn't the most convincing, the plot device should at least. I do question one scene however. There's a scene where stop motion animation is used and it looked great but it never served a purpose. What was the point? Kudos to using the technique but thumbs down for not giving it meaning. Jaime Anderson's cinematography is good specifically for the underwater scenes. Surely that wasn't the easiest thing to do. The editing by Joe Dante and Mark Goldblatt was competently done too. Specifically for keeping the illusion of the Piranhas looking like actual fish and not puppets. Lastly, Pino Donaggio's music was ok. It wasn’t great but at least had a theme specifically for the piranhas. That at least is recognizable. It’s watchable but not all that exciting at times.

It has good practical effects and a borrowed concept from Jaws (1975) that only can be considered flattering. However, its story and majority of its characters aren't all that different from other characters in other films.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Day of the Dead (1985) Review:

So far George A. Romero has been able to produce film after film in his zombie franchise with expert directing and writing. Both Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) had intriguing and likable characters that quickly hooked its audience into the world at which they fight to survive. Romero seems to be performing a study on the human condition when it comes to solitude. Although each installment has pretty much ended all the same way and has settings similar to each other, the story never feels the same, which is great. It keeps the viewers attention to detail tight.

No one messes with the Cap
The last two settings took place in a house, and then a shopping mall. This time, we are no longer on the ground. Now, viewers will follow a group of survivors that end up taking shelter underground. There we are also introduced to a couple of scientists and a very tiny militia. What makes this particular story line different from the other installments is that Romero starts writing more about the psychological aspects of zombies. The scientists begin to learn that if zombies are treated like kids, they could become obedient. Whoa, that's new. Sadly, nothing would be complete in the story if there wasn't any friction. This friction comes from the militia ran by one heck of captain that needs some chill pills. Not only does he care less for anyone else, but he also is quite trigger-happy. The thing is although these characters are gravitating, they don't feel as magnetic as the ones from the past two films.

Again, the cast to this movie are very much no name actors. Yes, some went on to future projects but others stopped soon after. I don't understand how actors that take part in a widely successful movie, decides to drop out of the film industry. Wouldn't it make sense to continue? Lori Cardille who plays the female lead makes her character very strong and that's commendable. Terry Alexander plays a Jamaican pilot that adds clever dialog to the plot. Joseph Pilato as the hotheaded captain is definitely good as being a total jerk and a coward all at once. Richard Liberty plays Logan, one of the scientists and he is able to make his studies sound quite authentic. And the most interesting character of all is Bub (Sherman Howard), a zombie specimen that Logan uses to show everyone else that they can be controlled. Quite a convincing performance.

Michael Gornick's cinematography is well done. His shots of the underground tunnel are unique and give a better idea to how much limited room this group has instead of being in a house or shopping mall. The gore is probably more or less the same as Dawn of the Dead (1978) but the finale is possibly the goriest of them all (thanks to Tom Savini's visual effects). If you get queasy, it won't be fun for you. Finally John Harrison's music did work in places while others it didn't. Its difficult to understand why Romero never hired an actual composer for his films except for William Loose from Night of the Living Dead (1968). His score was the best of all three films.

George A. Romero's third entry in his zombie trilogy continues to add new ideas to his self-made genre. His characters feel real and the element isolation is still prevalent.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Rush Hour 3 (2007) Review:

Rush Hour (1998) and Rush Hour 2 (2001) both proved to be extremely successful with Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan matching up to stop major crime bosses. Then its third installment in the franchise slowed,... going into a dormant sleep. Almost paralleling its release dates to that of The Mummy (1999) series, Rush Hour 3 (2007) was released a little over half a decade later. And no doubt did it perform well no matter what critic disliked it. To be honest though, this is still a very entertaining sequel. However, it's also becoming apparent that this duo's story is starting to repeat itself.

Past vs Present
Rush Hour (1998) took place in America, Rush Hour 2 (2001) took place in Hong Kong. Now, our heroes end up traveling to Paris France, not for a vacation though. This time, Lee's (Jackie Chan) past comes back to haunt him, when a childhood friend, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada) kidnaps Soo Young, the girl he and Carter (Chris Tucker) rescued from the original film as ransom for something important in return. The thing to be returned to Kenji isn't explicitly described until halfway through the film and by that particular time, it doesn't feel as clearly put as it should. Jeff Nathanson's screenplay does work but everything pertaining to the plot feels skimmed over to the point of just having our cop duo perform action sequences.

That's not to say that the action sequences don't entertain though. Who doesn't enjoy sword fights, hand-to-hand combat and gunshots? It's a mix of all three types of violence. Still, even with it being the third entry, the action is still energetic and comical at points too. Nathanson's script preserved the funny dialog that made the last two funny for this as well. It is strange though because sometimes it feels like some gags were repeated. For example, when Tucker's character mistakes an Asian man's name between "Yu" and "You". Wasn't that done already? Nonetheless, it is funny but recycling also means that the fresh and creative ideas are beginning to fade, like its plot.

Thankfully, Nathanson introduced a minor new character that helped make interactions funny and that was the cab driver George (Yvan Attal). Although at first, I'm not sure if his dialog was supposed to represent a certain group or just being crass, but over time he does have his moments. It's also strange because it felt like Carter and Lee and even George could get away with even more chaos and trouble than usual than having to face the authorities. Are they that untouchable? Also, story line wise, the ending felt too soon. It did end with closure but only for its main characters and nobody else. Ummm for a trilogy, shouldn't it be tied up a little neater than this?

Didn't see that coming
The cinematography by J. Michael Muro looked good. Considering that it took place mainly in Paris (at least the real shots), it looked good. Seeing a European city is always a different viewing experience. Instead of always seeing tar, now there's stone roads and other types of street terrain that normally Americans don't drive by. Veteran composer Lalo Schifrin's score works at being as frantic as the action scenes are and replicate the correct emotion being portrayed on screen. You would think though after two other successful installments, he would've come up with some type of main theme by now. A way of making memorable characters even more memorable is by giving them a catchy theme. With all this, it is still good fun though.

It's plot just feels like a reason to see Carter and Lee again, but then again who wouldn't? Rush Hour 3 feels recycled but it still is fun to watch.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Review:

For aficionados of the Halloween franchise, it is a known fact that Halloween II (1981) was supposed to be end for the character of Michael Myers. After the explosion in the hospital, that was it. Myers was no longer relevant. John Carpenter's plan after that was to create a franchise based on the holiday of Halloween, not Michael Myers. This is the reason why this sequel although related to the franchise has nothing to do with Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis or Michael Myers. These particular characters were never intended to have a continued story. Because of this reason alone, it is obvious to why the film performed poorly and had fans turning their heads. The surprising thing is, is that it's not the concept that didn't work. It was practically everything else.

Tom Atkins without white hair?
Instead of the story revolving around a serial killer, the focus changes to that of a much bigger scale. Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins) comes across a strange case where a patient is killed in his hospital over what seems to be a regular halloween mask. In order to understand why his patient was killed, he teams up with the patients daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), to find out the problem. The mask that Atkins finds, brings them to the factory that makes the rest, headed by Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy - most notable for his role as "the old man" in RoboCop (1987)). The rest of the cast is completely forgettable. As for these three actors, they do their best but the problem is that their acting can't save them from either sounding or being extremely silly on screen.

Tommy Lee Wallace (better known for directing Stephen Kings It (1990)) wrote and directed for his first time in this picture. Unfortunately, it's quite apparent that Wallace's experience isn't polished because there are a number of things that don't work in its screenplay. Characterization is one. Tom Atkins is a respectable actor, yet his character and his Nelkin’s character are written with little development. Dr. Challis' motivations are extremely confused when it comes to women. He has a wife and kids, flirts with his nurse, dates a coroner and makes out with the patients daughter. Is he really that careless and sleezy? Why exactly is he like that? Cochran's motivations are explained but don't make much sense either.

A lot of the dialog is also forgettable and awkward at times too. This takes away much of the tension that the story tries to build up, which isn't good. Then there's these robots that are lead by Cochran. It is never explained to how they are made or how they exist. They're literally just there to add creepiness and that's not even fully exploited. Even stranger is that this movie continuously makes references to the last two Halloween movies. Wallace films Cochran’s robots like they were Michael Myers due to their stiff poses. Clips are randomly played and even Jamie Lee Curtis plays an uncredited voice in the film. If you listen carefully, you might be able to tell when she speaks. Nevertheless, why do this? All this does is remind its viewer what either they could be watching or reminding them that this isn't that movie. Either way, it only distracts.

"Dick, I'm very disappointed"
Thankfully, there are some redeeming qualities, which don't make impossible to sit through. The special effects are noteworthy for when they are on screen. For example, the intro credits basically digitizes that of the first two Halloween films, which was different and creative. The gore scenes were relatively new as well. Not all of them make sense because of how they're connected to the plot, but it still can be enjoyed. The element that worked the best was John Carpenter's score to the film. There wasn't a main theme this time but that's appropriate since Michael Myers isn't in it either. The intro track strangely sounds like Brad Fiedel first terminator score. But with that are other tracks that sound creepy, which work. Sadly this isn't enough to make it entirely compelling. I wanted to favor it but it lacked a lot.

It has good music, decent effects, respectable actors and an interesting concept but its writing is so flawed in its execution. The characterizations, motivations and plot are very flimsy.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Saturday, July 12, 2014

King Arthur (2004) Review:

There have been several famous stories that take place in medieval times. Much of these legends are based on some sort of fact or documentation, and then there are also the ones that don't and have been a mystery since they surfaced. Apparently, this film clearly states in its intro that there was newly found evidence of King Arthur that shed light on his life. Ok well that's pretty cool, viewers should have no problem with that. In fact, people should be excited to see exactly what the evidence was that brought this film to fruition. Sadly even with this grab (that isn’t clarified) the film has a number of issues that don't make it as entertaining as it could've been.

Lancelot & Arthur
The big problem among all things is that the writing covers several different themes and subplots but doesn't complete many of them. Thankfully, the story wastes no time jumping from Arthur's youth to when he is leader of the round table. With that however, comes a sacrifice of the majority of other knights that Arthur is associated with. The audience is given a back-story to how the other nights came to be, like Lancelot, but no one else but those two characters are given a scene dedicated to their youth. It's harder for a viewer to come to accept and appreciate its main characters when you don't know much about them as they grow up. There are various places of character development but most of it centers around Arthur and his beliefs in what he is doing. The different angle at which Merlin is portrayed is different but he too is left under developed.

Merlin is in charge of what seems to be a barbaric tribal cult that resembles that of pre-conceptual ideas for James Cameron's Avatar (2009). What's their purpose? Beats me, it's never explained. There's just so many ideas but all them feel underwritten. The actors who play the knights are fun to watch nonetheless. Clive Owen could surely pass as King Arthur and since his cast members are for the most part from UK vicinity, they too sound and look like they could be knights. Along Owen there's Ioan Gruffudd, Joel Edgerton and Ray Stevenson to name a few. Playing the main antagonist is Cedric (Stellan Skarsgård), a Saxon who shows no mercy in his purpose. Yet he too is underplayed - with very few tone raises. Just monotone whispering and mumbling.

The rest stills keeps the attention of its viewer. The director's cut has much heavier violence and feels more realistic. Plus, sword fights are always entertaining. It's combat that isn't use practically at all now so it’s a different viewing experience. The best action scene possibly belonged to the frozen lake fight. There was high tension in that scene. The camera work by Slawomir Idziak has wonderful pictures of the England grasslands and mountaintops. Very beautiful. Hans Zimmer's music was enjoyable too. It had a theme that sounded almost like Steve Jablonsky's Transformers theme (2007). Either way, it is respective to the time and sounds very noble. It also doesn't contain as many deep bass tones which is the usual Zimmer technique. It's fun but it requires not looking at it too deeply.

The actors cast for the roles do a good job along with fun action and music. The writing however is too muddled with numerous subplots and little exposition. You think for a 2 hour long movie, it would clear up something.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, July 11, 2014

Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) Review:

There's no need to introduce William Shakespeare or give any kind of history on him. He's a famed writer that has had many of his stories adapted into plays, musicals, TV shows and movies. If you're a real avid fan of Shakespeare, it'll be easier to distinguish various works and see if they were actually used in a story line. The thing is, for anyone who has read Shakespeare's work, it's also quite difficult to feel like it'll be a new experience because the story has already been performed before. Unfortunately, this is one of the films major flaws. The only thing it would be new to are the people who have never even heard of Shakespeare. That's a smaller demographic than the entirety of it.

Pink Flamingo!
Thankfully, the film addresses this problem in a few ways that does make it enjoyable. First, the fourth wall is broken at the very beginning where a prologue is read to introduce the story. But instead, director Kelly Asbury, a writer who helped in the story of Beauty and the Beast (1991), keeps the story moving. Because the title pretty much speaks for itself, the story takes place in a garden where two conflicting families are of different colored Gnomes. Again, even with all the writers attached to this project, none could really lift the story from being exactly what could be predicted. It's a mix of an adult story with a childlike setting aimed for the younger demographic. It's obvious to the outcome. However, although this is a problem, the writers do cleverly incorporate other themes into the plot as well to help not make the execution feel so direct.

An example of this is simulating various elements of our everyday lives into what a Gnome would do. It's not always funny but it is more than it is not. It's also cool that the Gnomes were kept delicate even though they could move. It made them sound more earth like. I although am curious how you could have a fluid moving ceramic simultaneously. The looks of the Gnomes also have a nice image. Most garden gnomes are old and scruffy, but here, even though they have beards, they still look huggable. And of course because they are the main leads, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) are a cute couple on screen. The voice cast is another well-established element.

Ah yes,..those Elton John moments
Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Ozzy Osbourne and even Hulk Hogan have a specific part. My favorite was Featherstone, the pink flamingo voice by Jim Cummings. For the Jim Cummings fans, it'll be easy to spot him because he voices Featherstone like that of Bonkers (1993). Very similar. The music had a nice touch. There are several references to Elton John's music, which is cool. One gnome even looks like Elton John. As for the film score, James Newton Howard's music is respective to the scenes that are put on screen but none provide a tune that is memorable by. It is good, but not wowing. A fun family picture with predictability.

Because it is based on a Shakespeare work, it becomes predictable almost  immediately. However this doesn't stop it from entertaining its audience. The voice cast is fun along with its unique setting and likable characters.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Review:

Johnny Depp is known for many roles in his career. Not only does he give his characters charm but also makes his fans feel like the character he plays is real. Before 1990, Depp had been in a number of productions but none were truly noted until after he became famous, like being in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Platoon (1988). This however, is one of Depp's most critically defining roles and most likely what shot him to the top of popularity. This is also Depp's first collaboration with director Tim Burton, and we all know where that went from there. That is, at least the people who know of Johnny Depp.

What takes place is a drama that centers on a small town with nosy inhabitants. When something new comes along, word spreads very quickly. What's new in town is Edward (Johnny Depp); a human with scissors for hands or scissor-fingers. After a mother discovers him all alone, she takes him home to live a normal life. There, Edward begins his transformation as a human being; going through various stages in life that a person could experience. The most significant of them is falling in love with the family's daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder). This particular subplot is not only magnetic in its execution but also plays a much bigger part in its story telling. This is where the heart and emotion of the story lies. As Caroline Thompson's first theatrical screenplay, she did a great job.

Ryder and Depp have great chemistry and portray the emotion with power. Ryder is very beautiful here and has the proper character development. And although Depp says little throughout, he comes across as innocent and likable. Also, because this is a Burton production, he's going to add a bit of his influence, thus giving Edward his iconic and gothic wardrobe. Along with these two leads, the cast also includes Alan Arkin, Anthony Michael Hall and the very last theatrical appearance of Mr. Vincent Price himself. Of all things that weren't wrong with the movie, this was my only complaint. Price plays "The Inventor" of Edward, but it is never explained what was the inventor's intention of replacing Edward's hands with scissors, nor was it explained to what the inventor himself did as a person. Apparently he ran a cookie factory but was that his life's work? There could've been more exposition on Price's character; especially since it was his last movie.

However, this is the only problem. Everything else is entirely well constructed. Stan Winston did an amazing job making Edward's hands feel so lifelike and dangerous at the same time. That's Winston for you. Bo Welch's production design is heavy on being simple but loves to accentuate them in a big way. An example of this would be of "The Inventor's" factory at which Edward lived, or, even the hedgework that Edward created. It was all big and grand. Then there was Stefan Czapsky's cinematography, which contrasted the difference between the town's elementary colors and Edward's get-up, which made him stand out. The same year Czapsky also worked on Child's Play 2 (1990) where a parallel can be drawn to the color scheme. Finally was Danny Elfman's score, which was an enormous proprietor to the emotion. By incorporating vocals and several crescendos, viewers will more than likely have goosebumps on their arms. It's that good. It is definitely worth the time to see this.

Aside from having one of the more important characters under developed, the rest of this film is absolutely wonderful. It is a fairy tale that excels beyond the cliched ideas of the past with its riveting music, emotional acting and almost perfect story.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stephen King's It (1990) Review:

If you were to keep a record of all the most iconic horror movie villains, this particular piece of cinema is probably the least exploited of the bunch. To name a few; Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Pinhead, Chucky, Leatherface and Pumpkinhead all have their respective fan bases and separate load of diminishing sequels. But when you look at Pennywise the clown from Stephen King's It (1990), it's baffling to why it wasn't milked like the other franchises. Even though this specific production had several other restrictions that the other films didn't, there are numerous reasons to why this iconic character should've went further. It's by no means perfect but it definitely is one of the most off beat horror films that fans shouldn't miss.

The Loser Club,...as they call themselves
Tommy Lee Wallace's direction of the story is really the defining key here. Besides the fact that instead of being an actual feature film, and playing as a mini-series, the set-up to the plot is the big hook. In 1960, a group of youngsters come together and form an unbreakable bond to protect themselves from a dangerous clown character known as Pennywise played by master of evil voices, Tim Curry. Thirty years later, Pennywise begins showing up again and the group comes back together one more time to stop him for good. The thing is for a movie, most horror films involve adolescent teens. This movie bookends the age bracket instead of covering the middle.

Also, it would be difficult to properly develop every character of the group if it were a theatrical film. However, this feature is roughly three hours long and that's plenty of time. Through the first act, viewers will get to understand each character and how they met. It may sound long but the pace doesn't slow down and Tim Curry shows up frequently, which helps it move too. Both child and adult actors perform very well and are convincing in their roles. On a side note, a young Seth Green is one of those child actors; sweet. Among the adult actors, there's John Ritter, Richard Masur and Harry Anderson to name a few. Anderson, who plays the adult version of Green's role is possibly the most comical, even though the tone is of serious nature.

Going back to Tim Curry though, his performance is the highlight. Yes, the main characters are well rounded and likable, but Pennywise steals the show when he's on cue. With the signature maniacal "Curry" laugh, perplexing image and disturbing gestures, Pennywise should've set off a ton of sequels. Plus, very few people enjoy clowns to begin with so that already makes him that much scarier. Unfortunately, the element that feels recycled is that of how Pennywise exists. In a way, he's like Freddy Krueger but instead performs his work while you're subconsciously awake. It's not all recycled but the concept of trying to decipher what is real and what isn't by 1990 and especially today’s standards are no longer a new thing. There's also a slight bit of backstory shed on our antagonist’s life but it too is never clearly uncovered.

As much as I like you Tim Curry,....
I am not following you down there.....
Another aspect to the film horror fans may not like is that the violence is toned way, way down. The majority of, except for maybe two kill scenes are off screen. If you want gore, don't set the expectations at a high level. In spite of this though, there are several moments to the running time that just raise the goosebumps with its deranged imagery. The practical effects are what help make these scenes effective. Just don't pop one of Pennywise's balloons. Ew. With that is the cinematography, which does have a number of good shots although I will say at times, the pictures aren't too colorful. I guess this was supposed to help Pennywise stand out. Perhaps. Lastly Richard Bellis' music was effective at times too. He was able to convey the right emotion and proper eerie music for creep factor. Sometimes it did sound cheesy but that's the 1990s for you. Overall still an entertaining horror film.

It may be long for some and its violence is barely on screen, but it compensates with likable main characters, creepy practical effects and an iconic performance delivered by Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Charlie's Angels (2000) Review:

When it comes to female leads in action roles, the names Angelina Jolie or Milla Jovovich may come to mind. They play serious roles with a tad bit of wisecracks and a bunch of violence, specifically with weapons. When that genre is flipped on its head and made into an action comedy, it then fits for a different set of actresses. In some ways, this movie is the definition of how masculine a chick flick can possibly get. It still has all the basic set-ups for a chick flick, but this time it includes explosions and hand-to-hand combat. There's nothing wrong with that particular element, but as a whole it really doesn't have any substance that defines itself from other chick flicks of that decade (other than its explosions and combat).

Gather round ladies...
Charlie's Angels (2000) is another cinema adapted TV show from the 1970s that hoped to capitalize on its nostalgic feel while mixing in Hollywood's biggest grabs at the time. Our main protagonists are Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as the spy trio who take orders from a faceless billionaire named by Charlie (voice by John Forsythe). Helping them in their travels and spy tactics is Bosley (Bill Murray). When they receive a distress call about a scientist (Sam Rockwell) being kidnapped, they head out to infiltrate and save him. This is all fine but everything else involved in the writing is fairly one-dimensional. I'm guessing because all three writers were guys and they had no clue what to include except the cliche things.

Problems arise in the movie’s plot when the story tries to focus on each of the Spys' personal lives. Each Angel is in the state of "Ugh, I can't find a way to balance my professional career with my social life". Though somehow, one would think when they agreed to work for Charlie they would've understood that from the start. Besides, these particular subplots didn't go anywhere anyway. There wasn't much closure at all other than what you would expect when it came to the main plot. Along with that are either some obvious sexual humor, meaning to play off of the female leads. Some of it might produce a chuckle but sometimes it painstakingly bad. There's even some jokes that may not be understood at all.

There are also appearances from other actors you wouldn't expect to see too often. Matt LeBlanc, Tom Green, Luke Wilson, Crispin Glover and even Tim Curry. Sadly everyone mentioned before Curry gets more screen time than he does. Tim Curry will always be an underrated actor and he should’ve been given more screen time. How do you shorthand Tim Curry? But Curry did at least sumo fight Murry. That was funny. When it came to action however, it entertained. Hand-to-hand combat is always more interesting to watch than constant explosions because there is always room for improvisation. This also what helps make this movie more fun than a normal chick flick because our three main leads have not taken on very many action roles in their career. It's a nice turn.

Do you want Curry with that?
Of course a number of action sequences aren't believable at times but they at least will keep the attention of the viewer. That's important. The camerawork was fairly steady and the cinematography by Russell Carpenter looked good. It wasn't breath taking, but there were nice set pieces and backgrounds he did get shots of. The music by Ed Shearmur was interesting at best. There were moments where he was able to create some good tension while at other times it didn't work or there was contemporary music played instead. Mehh,...it was alright. What did surprise me was how many times the movie tried to make references to angels in general. Come on, we get it. No need to hammer it in to our skulls. It’s an ok film.

Its humor helps slightly in its favor along with likable leads, fun action and underrated supporting actors like Bill Murry and Tim Curry. Yet, it still can't remove itself from feeling like a chick flick.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Basket Case (1982) Review:

The 1980s saw an explosion in the horror genre after a number of independent films were made and distributed. Films like The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Halloween (1978) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) all worked a pushing the boundaries of peoples' morbid curiosities. Within that decade, there were productions that were critically acclaimed, universally bashed and others that received the cult labeling. Basket Case (1982) border lines the cult label. It has few elements that show that there was thought put into making the film as good as it was, the problem though was that it wasn't good enough. Some of it is very silly to a point where it's not acceptable.

Yeah,....what a fake smile
When Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his deformed conjoined twin are separated in their early double digits, they decide to head out and seek vengeance on the doctors that operated on them. However, this is the only clear goal that the audience receives. Director and writer Frank Henenlotter included a back-story to the two main leads but only one of them has a motivation. Later on, it's stated by Duane that he only followed his brother and accepted the plan that his brother had conceived. Viewers will also learn that their father wanted Duane’s brother killed after the operation - yet he never was. So who decided to not follow through? I don't understand.

It also turns out that the only struggle the two mentally disturbed brothers have is that when Duane ends up finding a girl he likes, his brother gets angry. So if this is a problem, why hasn't Duane done anything about it yet? The rest of the cast in this film is virtually nonexistent of professional quality. Every female has pounds and pounds of makeup on their face, any other male actor isn't memorable and the dialog ranges from boring to annoying. Along with that are numerous other issues that aren't covered completely. For example, the police investigate the murderous duo and then it's totally dropped. Another would be that these guys kill in public, using their real names. So much for subtlety.

Duane's twin is a whole different thing. First, the feeding process is already confusing. Duane's twin looks like Slimer's pale nongreen cousin from Ghost Busters (1984), and if that's the case and he is somewhat human, how does he go to the bathroom? Also why does he have rows of sharp teeth? Plus, the doctors stated when he was attached to Duane, that he wasn’t attached to any vital organs. So how is that after he was removed he still lives? Apparently he has powers that are not explained because he also has strength that is difficult for one to harness with such a small mass. This creature also has no charm, all he does is yell with a scream so ear blistering it's frustrating to watch. Some words would've been nice. On the plus side though, the shape of the character is unique and the way he was animated looked good.

No one will know who you are if you're in there
There were even some scenes that involved him being animated by stop-motion animation. It wasn't as smooth moving as to how Art Clokey or Ray Harryhausen would animate but it still was enjoyable to see. The sounds (besides Duane's twin screaming) are also enjoyable because of how disgusting they sound. This bodes well with the gore scenes, which are also quite brutal. They may not be cringe inducing but are nonetheless bloody as all get out. Bruce Torbet's cinematography is nice in some scenes, like when he gets a shot of the Twin Towers. Other than that it isn't all that special. Gus Russo's music to the film also works in some places by having a tune that sounds creepy but it doesn't last long. On the whole, it’s not that scary or funny. It could've been though with such a interesting character.

The movie has a cast as bland as its music, camera work and poor script. Unfortunately, even with the heavy violence, some thoughtful practical effects and somewhat memorable villain, it can't lift itself above mediocrity.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Air Up There (1994) Review:

Kevin Bacon is a good actor. He has shown that he has gained considerable experience over time and has picked various films to be in that people always remember him from. But like many other actors, they choose to be in films that are somehow odd concoctions that are questionable to how they were even given a green light. This is one of those strange films. It has plot, but its direction is intriguingly out of place at times. Also for a movie starring Kevin Bacon, it really doesn't showcase him. There's a lot to at look at for what worked and what could've been improved over its flaws.

Yeah, he's smiling,...but not for the reasons you think
Viewers are introduced to Jimmy Dolan (Kevin Bacon), a selfish, cocky headed recruiter to St. Joe's basketball team. He's been working for several years and feels that when his boss retires, his seat is already set for him. Turns out though, according to his boss, he still "doesn't have what it takes" to lead. Then, out of the blue Jimmy finds what looks like could be a potential recruit for the team, but is quickly shot down from his superior. So being the rebel that he is, he decides to find this recruit anywho on his own. Surprisingly, later on his superior has no problem with what he did. He disobeyed a direct order, which means punishment not reversal of the expected reaction. That's very cliché and unrealistic.

The recruit that Jimmy is looking for is an African, specifically in Kenya named Saleh (Charles Gitonga Maina) who has quite a bit of length to his height. Seriously, this guy is TALL. Saleh is apart of a Kenyan tribe called the Winabe and Jimmy hopes to earn their trust. And how better to do that than take part in their traditions and culture. Another cliche aspect to the plot’s writing. This is not the first time this kind of experience has been shown, especially with African tribes. Why is it always with the African tribes? Apparently a number of these scenes were supposed to be funny when in fact they come off either unfunny or uncalled for. This movie is rated PG and yet people are cursing, blurting out sexual slang and even a scene with blood involving a knife. How is that acceptable? Who rated this movie?

This also demonstrates the incompetence of the director and writer. The writer Max Apple, who only worked on two other productions in his life, didn't make a screenplay with much cleverness or distinguished traits.  Most, if not all of it is generic and out of place. Worser so, is that Paul Michael Glaser has flimsy directional skills; especially for accepting Apple's screenplay without even suggesting more rewrites. A big chunk of the story's first two acts focus on Jimmy trying to earn the tribes trust which is out of his own selfish motivations. Who cares, there are other things that could've been looked upon, than it taking up the majority of the running time. Musically speaking, David Newman's score was appropriate to the setting and tried to make it as up beat as possible but it had nothing memorable. The camera work by Dick Pope was acceptable too. A number of shots contained a lot of African terrain and helped at least give the film some scope.

This guy though,...he should've went somewhere!
Possibly the only character with enough true saving grace to the film is Charles Maina as the Winabe basketball recruit. Saleh as an individual has more charm than any other character in the entire running time. With his selfless personality and genuine smile, it is difficult not to enjoy him when he's on screen. It's shocking actually because again, Kevin Bacon stars in it too, yet he comes off just as generic and boring as the rest of the cast accept Charles Maina. Even weirder is that Maina didn't go on to be anything bigger. How come? The man acted respectively, why shouldn't he be given another chance? It's not a terrible film, but there's nothing that hasn't been presented before. See it for Charles Maina's performance.

Even with Kevin Bacon on board, this sports comedy isn't all that funny or entertaining. The only actor to stand out is Charles Maina. The rest of the cast (including Bacon) are average at best with a weak script and misguided direction.

Points Earned --> 5:10