Monday, June 29, 2015

Unstoppable (2010) Review:

As much as not all-regular commuters take the train on a daily basis, the railroad has always been an important asset to various interests since its commencement during the 1800s. Whether its passenger or freight trains, railways are one of the biggest systems of transportation for anything that needs a direct way of travel. However, this complicated arrangement of simultaneous operations would not work right or be safe enough for anyone to be apart of if it were not for the array of classes that specialize in this field. The train engineer, conductor, signalman, stationmaster and so on all have to coordinate exactly by the book because if one thing is left unchecked, several severe consequences can arise. One of which is loss of property and that is no loose change purchase. It's one of those jobs where if you screw up once, there's really no way your going to be getting a second chance.

"Ehh, worries, I didn't want that anyway"
The plot to this "you can't afford to be lazy" thriller is when station master Connie (Rosario Dawson) and her boss Galvin (Kevin Dunn) find out that a rather unqualified train engineer (Ethan Suplee) managed to lose control of a mile long freight train out the yard and onto the public railway line. As soon as this occurs, chaos and mass hysteria ensues for somewhere along the line comes a sharp curve that lies over a populated city that the train won't be able to make. Despite this major problem there are people who can help. Frank Barns (Denzel Washington) a 28-year veteran of the railway and greenthumb Will Colson (Chris Pine) team up to try and slow down the runaway train. Directed by genre action/thriller veteran Tony Scott, once the train leaves the yard the pacing does not slow down from there and rightfully so. Written by Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard (2007)), which was adapted from an actual event that occurred almost a decade before, this intense thriller is one of those cautionary tales about how detrimental one slip can be if your not careful enough (whether it was intentional or not).

Aside from how quickly paced scenes move in this film, there are a number of scenes for character development. Because there are moments that involve trains catching up to each other, this allows room for Frank and Will to talk and emote to each other about their separate lives and what they are currently dealing with. Frank is a widower with two daughters trying to make it through college and Will is a guy who's been put on a restraining order for a rash decision he made. Although at times these two characters bicker they do have heart and that makes them likable. This is important for main characters. Even Connie (Dawson) who comes off as hot headed at times is a sympathetic character because her situation is just as critical as the person whose trying to stop the train. Also, Dawson's knowledge of train terminology is astounding (apparently she has railroad experience in real life). Even for actor Kevin Dunn, who normally plays parent roles plays his character the right way, which represents how business leadership can become tainted over time.

As for the set pieces, there's something to admire about how real this film feels. For a plot that is described as extremely hazardous, it is amazing that a number of the action sequences were done live. Could you imagine being on a runaway diesel train with 30+ cars on the back end? What's great specifically about the runaway train is about how it’s portrayed. Whenever the train appears on screen, it screams metallic echoes that are a bit terrifying even from a passive point of view (from not literally being there). Envision the power behind all that weight and then speed it up, is literally a monster that is indestructible. The only visual elements that seem illogical are mostly the technical parts. For majority of the time, the special effects are kept to a minimum but there is one scene that looks like it wasn't touched up as nicely as it could've been. Also like a lot of action films, sometimes the laws of physics are blown off just to have the film go a certain way and here is no different. Some things just shouldn't be possible.

Chris Pine & Denzel Washington
The other two components that work in this film’s favor however are its cinematography and music. The director of photography was handled by Ben Seresin best known for shooting Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) a year before and went on to shoot for Pain & Gain (2013) and World War Z (2013). Much of Seresin's work has great wide-angle shots of terrain, sky and the rail lines. When it comes to a film like this where everything is on the move, it is definitely important for the viewer to have an understanding of geography within the story and Seresin is able to display that efficiently. The music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams was also a surprise. Although there isn't a truly recognizable theme for the runaway train other than staccotoed notes randomly throughout the score, Williams does have a theme for Frank and Will which to be quite honest is the best tune. The motif is lightly played on the piano and it has real emotion. The action cues do its job at hightening the experience of tension but it isn't as thematically integrated when being listen to alone.

Aside from having some implausible physics and undoctored special effects in a few areas, this thriller goes beyond comfortability with its suburban setting and realistic dangers of what happens when someone isn't paying attention. The actors perform well, the writing develops them nicely, the music gives the right amount of emotion, the cinematography and practical set pieces make it all the more real.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hook (1991) Review:

The ability to make sequels to famous movies have been done but have proven to be quite a time consuming task. Even if the end result is lukewarm like Tron: Legacy (2010) or beyond expectation like Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), the amount of investment put into these types of cases take much longer to bring to fruition than your typical Hollywood cranked out "every other year" sequel. Unless the producers have a strategically laid out plan that goes beyond a couple years like Marvel Studios, the wait for how long it would take to make such a follow-up is unpredictable. The Terminator (1984) sequel came 7 years later while the Tron (1982) sequel arrived 28 years later, so it's hard to say. Take Walt Disney's Peter Pan (1953) animated feature. An actual animated sequel wasn’t made until 49 years later but only on home video. Yes, it is a sequel but surely not something the studio probably put several decades into.

Hook & Pan
Taking this live-action sequel into account is a whole different ball of wax. Unlike most sequels, this continuation of Peter Pan takes place several years after the events of Peter Pan (1953). Here viewers will see an older civilized Peter Pan (Robin Williams) during the modern day, married to the granddaughter of Wendy (Maggie Smith) from the original Disney classic. It is here that Pan and family travels to see Wendy in the same house the original took place in. Unbeknownst to them, Capt. James Hook (Dustin Hoffman) returns from Neverland and captures Pan's children Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott), thus forcing Pan to return to a place he once forgotten. Directed by Steven Spielberg along with writing by Malia Scotch Marmo and James V. Hart, this sequel has its moments that don't all add up but it does have several fun parts as well. The best element to the writing are the characters and its overall message to its audience. Every actor that is shown on screen plays their roles well and even match the same attitude and tone of the 1953 animated feature.

The actor who looked like he had the most fun was Dustin Hoffman who had numerous scenes that were quite comical. Hook still has a fear of clocks because of that pesky crocodile, we all remember that. Complimenting Hook is his partner Smee (Bob Hoskins) who sounds a lot like Jason Statham in this role. Nonetheless, Hoskins has a number of comical moments as well. The biggest subplot is the relationship between Pan and Jack. Charlie Korsmo best known for playing "the kid" in Dick Tracy (1990) is able to act in his role with more dialog this time. For Robin Williams, it is the transformation of his character of what he currently is back to what he once was. For that, the main idea is that no matter how old you get, it's important to never fully grow up and to live a little. For that reason alone, watching the transition of Peter Pan finding his old self is worth the watch. Plus like every Robin Williams performance, there's a bit of humor for everyone. There's also a bit of surprise casting, which include cameos from Jimmy Buffett, Tony Burton, Glenn Close and a couple others.

What doesn't work in the movie's screenplay are its pacing at which scenes move, unexplained continuity and minor subplots. The running time to this movie is 2 hours and 20 minutes - approximately clocking in as your typical Michael Bay time (minus the explosions) and after everything is said and done, it feels as if some cutting could have been made. There are some scenes where for example when Peter Pan reunites with the lost boys, feels drawn out for too long a time. Mind you this is just meeting them not working with them. For continuity, it's not bad in all places like the homages made to the original but when it comes to knowledge some things don't make sense. Do characters that live in Neverland really have the power of the "all seeing eye"? Or do they just carry a magic crystal ball with them wherever they go? In some ways they seem more omnipotent that usual. Even a main character asks this question and no clear answer is given.

The other issue is a minor subplot dealing with Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and Peter Pan. I'm pretty sure it was noticeable in the original that their was some kind of romantic tension between Tink and any other female that wanted to spend time with Pan, but there's one scene where Tinkerbell just comes straight out and kisses Pan and its never addressed again. Okay,...weird. Anything else used in the film however was well made. The special/practical effects for 1991 look well meshed with the live-action and cinematography. Dean Cundey who was director of photography got nice looking landscape shots along with beautiful matte paintings, which look great. As for music, legendary John Williams composed the score. Although the main theme is not as highly memorable as his Superman (1978), Star Wars (1977) or Jurassic Park (1993) motifs, the music is still lively and entertaining. There is one track though that takes place at a baseball field and it sounds like it belongs to The Peanuts. Odd.

For 2 and a half-hour movie, it certainly feels like there was unnecessary padding. That and it has continuity issues and an unfinished subplot. However, other than that the actors perform well, the music sounds good, the cinematography is in large scale and the main message of never growing up is always something to keep in mind.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, June 26, 2015

Sinister (2012) Review:

Coming up with new concepts for movie genres isn't as easy it seems. For every new creation, there's always a bit of material borrowed from prior work. Sometimes these parts are taken from the same creators or from others. As long as it's not done verbatim, most film studios and filmmakers don't receive too much criticism over such details. Other than The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) remake (which many didn't find engaging), director Scott Derrickson hasn't had much trouble making his own films with lifting various aspects of other films and putting it into his. The ability to do that without being obvious about it is important because it keeps things interesting for generations to come later on. For what is presented here, it shows promise but wistfully, this horror film has about as many positives as it does negatives.

It's investigation time
The story is about family man one-hit-wonder writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) trying to make one more comeback after a series of failures. Oswalt is an unusual writer; instead of writing about fiction or other imaginary things, he delves into actual crime cases and digs further into what may have been missed by police officials. After moving in with his family into the exact home of which a gruesome murder took place, he finds a box full of Super 8 films in the attic that turn out to be snuff films of several murders. The writing, which was drafted by Scott Derrickson and first time writer C. Robert Cargill has a wonderfully interesting premise. The beginning to this story is one giant question and the mystery behind it is purely disturbing. What doesn't work as a whole is the last half of the running time. With not much else said, the execution becomes highly predictable making it a tensionless conclusion.

To say that the actors involved in this production can't act wouldn’t be truthful. All thespians involved act as their character was written. The problem is how the characters were written. Woefully, Ellison is one of those forgetful fathers who tends to lose track of what's important to him when it comes to work and family. Mrs. Oswalt (Juliet Rylance), Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley) feel like a family but there's barely a side explored where the they have fun. Most of it is about them having friction against each other and not disturbing daddy from his work. For almost two hours, there could've been a little something added. This is a problem because this doesn't exactly make the family very likable. On the other hand, there are other characters more interesting than they are. James Ransone plays a cop who looks to help Mr. Oswalt uncover more information about the gruesome cases. The other is an uncredited performance by Vincent D'Onofrio as a professor who specializes in the supernatural.

The final actor that makes a notable performance is Nicholas King who portrays the main antagonist (Bughuul) and of whose face of the franchise is represents. Although King doesn't actually give Bughuul much of a distinguished personality, the look of him is quite memorable with such a uniquely ghoulish face. With that also leads to some mostly effective chilling scenes. It is rated R but the gore isn't what makes it that. The gore is in fact almost none existent (which may upset some). It's not so much scary although some jump scares work as well. The cinematography shot by Chris Norr is adequate but isn't anything much to talk about. There's nothing special look to point out. It's dark and well-lit when the script calls for it unfortunately. Norr is competent but lacks a trademark.

Bughuul on the Super 8 film
As for music, the highly underrated horror composer Christopher Young scored the tunes for this movie. For those who are more familiar with Young's classically recorded scores from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) and Hellraiser (1987) or even Ghost Rider (2007), it may take some time to get used to this listening experience. It is definitely far from being bad or underdeveloped; it just doesn't sound like your everyday symphonic score. Unlike in his early work, Young now uses a mix of some organic orchestra and more of electronic synths. There are a number of themes composed for different events, the best being for Ellison's investigative work, which involves heavily warped electronic bass beats. Along with that are other tracks that are in more of the lines of soundscaping, this is for the series' main theme. One thing that doesn't work for this movie musically is anything that isn't Young's work, which is used for the snuff films. When these songs are played they are extremely distracting and somewhat annoying. They really should've have just stuck with Young only.

For what it proposed, it definitely looked promising. The villain has a memorable design, the actors efficiently work in their roles, the music is effective and it is unsettling in general. Tragically, the bad evenly outweighs the good with not very many likable main characters, an obnoxious soundtrack from other artists, acceptable but uninspired camera work and a predictable last hour once the ball gets rolling.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Police Academy (1984) Review:

Numerous comedies have been made involving a group of misfits coming together under one roof for a common reason. This specific plot has been used in countless comedies and for countless genres. It is by far from the greatest movie made but the one that comes to mind that was quite popular during the 1980s was Hal Needham's The Cannonball Run (1981); a ragtag group of zany car drivers set out on the biggest race of their lives to reach the finish line. A few years later, this movie would be released and its plot isn't a stranger to what was previously mentioned; an ordinary group of schmoes from the city join the police academy after it becomes legal for anyone to join for any reason. If they pass, they are officially apart of the police force. Simple as that, and as bare bones as it is, the movie gets by just fine for the most part. The only difference between the two movies is that one is in an actual race of who will win, while the other is a race of who will graduate.

Guttenberg, Cattrall, Scott and Bailey
Written by Neal Isreal, Pat Proft and Hugh Wilson (who also directed) have put together a decent script with a number of positives and only a couple of negatives that clearly needed to be changed. The biggest issue with its script is that it's not a whole story. Since there are numerous characters, there are just several subthreads that run parallel to each other. This also means some characters will have better developed backstories than others. This is usually the sacrifices that are made for bigger ensemble casts. Unfortunately with that come a number of cliches that have been seen in other comedies. Some of which most filmgoers would expect because of how predictable the typecasting is. Yet, this is forgivable because all the main actors who have the majority of screen time are all likable in their roles. This is due to their distinguished personalities.

The big three characters belong to Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), a labeled troublemaker but only for the wrong reasons, Karen Thompson (Kim Cattrall) as Mahoney's love interest, and Capt. Harris (G.W. Bailey) who strongly loathes Mahoney and wants to remove any other rejects. Bailey continues to be funny in his roles. Every character that he has been cast for remains comical in their own way with his clumsy facial expressions. Then there's gentle giant Moses Hightower (Bubba Smith), the shy Laverne Hooks (Marion Ramsey), sound effects master Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow), the innocent dough boy Leslie Barbara (Donovan Scott), the tough and attractive Capt. Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), the old forgetful Commander Lassard (George Gaynes), hispanic man George Martin (Andrew Rubin), the gun-totting crazy man Eugene Tackleberry (David Graf) and a couple others.

With all of these personalities on screen it is hard not to find at least one thing to exploit from each character when it comes to comedy. For the majority of the time the comedy works efficiently. It's not falling off your seat hilarious but there are several moments that will create some good laughs. A lot of the gags and slapstick are stupid and goofy but they work because of how ridiculously quick the situations get. However, there are some jokes that are a bit crude. Humping and butt jokes are bit immature even if the tone is to be goofy. For its time, yeah maybe it was funny but now, those kinds of gags are just ehh. One of the bigger surprises is when there's a racial slur thrown out in the spotlight. Umm,...ok, since when did one of these antagonists become filled with that much hate? Thankfully, it is resolved (somewhat). Come on, there's no reason for that. Keep it classy.

 Michael D. Margulies was the director of photography for this feature. Although most of his work was shooting for TV movies, it seems as though he handled it well. Margulies gets a lot of the surrounding police campus and the city scenes don't look boring either. They're not beauty shots but they do work. The music was composed by Robert Folk who would be better known for scoring music to the Jim Carrey vehicle Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995). Although Folk's work isn't easy to physically find other than a couple areas, he at least makes it catchy and easy to listen to. The main theme for the franchise has a memorable motif involving flutes and snare drum to emphasize the military aspect of the police academy. The rest of the tracks have more jazz themed tunes, which isn't the usual way of producing a film score but it works nonetheless.

Its large cast of comedic talents are clever in their own ways even for a largely thin plot. However, some jokes are bit silly and ill-advised even for its goofy tone. These flaws are thankfully made up with music that is unique and memorable and focused cinematography.

Point Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Easy Rider (1969) Review:

As much as actor Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper have been veterans of Hollywood and performed in countless films, for many, this is probably the film they are most associated with all the time. During the 1960s, the United States was going through a very different kind of revolution. This revolution was not just one thing, but a multitude of areas that spanned various racial backgrounds and cultures. The Civil Rights movement was a largely significant event going on during the decade. However another significant movement that also went on during this time was the "counter-culture". This movement was about the generation after the 1950s and below that was tired of the traditional "American Dream" and took matters into their own hands. This led to the idea of them "trying to find themselves". This consisted of things people didn't normally do during the time as freely - free roam traveling, drugs, adultery, etc.

"Hey you doin' man?......"
This is more or less the same idea here but portrayed in a positive light. Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda play Billy and Wyatt respectively as two free flowing traveling bikers out to catch the upcoming Mardigras in Louisiana. On their journey they come across other encounters that show them other types of viewpoints of the time. For the screenplay co-written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern (writer of Barbarella (1968)), it really is quite thin in plot but as minimal a story that it serves, it does have a great depiction of the culture at the time and how other people viewed it too. There's an array of different social statuses that are covered. That means from the rural farmland, suburb communities and even hippie towns. There, viewers will get the experience of seeing the kinds of opinions that existed out in the US when riders like these would show up.

Just because you live easy and travel around doing sight seeing doesn’t always make you look harmless. There are people who don't mind and there are people who do mind. These kinds of views are elaborated on even further by another character named George Hanson by a young Jack Nicholson. Perhaps the only written part that isn't fleshed out is Jack Nicholson's background. Hanson comes on screen after Wyatt and Billy are jailed for parading without a license and Hanson helps them get out. So how did Hanson do that? If he had the power to have Wyatt, Billy and himself released, why was he there in the first place? Obviously for plot's sake but it does feel a bit contrived if only for that reason. Nevertheless the three main actors are adequate for the roles they are cast for and their dialog although quite bereft of intelligence is understandable either way.

Yes, a lot of their dialog is reduced to including the word "man" in every sentence, but again it was apart of the culture at the time so it at least fits. Also, even though Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are the main leads, Jack Nicholson's performance is more lively and entertaining than theirs with his unhinged personality. However this does not mean Hopper and Fonda aren’t good. The best part about their performance is that they are not portrayed as mean spirited jerks like the wretched The Wild Angels (1966) Peter Fonda starred in prior. No, they don't follow all the rules everyday citizens do but they are at least polite to the people they meet. On a technical basis of filmmaking there is only one component that doesn't exactly work quite right and that's the editing by Donn Cambern. Occasionally the transition between scenes will flicker with the upcoming shot a couple times before it finally sticking with it. Not sure what that was all about but it was distracting.

Forget the fact these 3 are taking a wiz,....look at that sky!
The rest however is nothing short of bad. Surprisingly for its time there is no film score to this movie. Instead, whenever Wyatt and Billy are on the road fans of the older music will hear a bunch of their favorite songs. The best and most recognizable would be "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf. "Don't Bogart Me" by Fraternity of Man and "I Wasn't Born to Follow" by The Byrds are all catchy, encapsulate and ooze the 60s era with their cry-freedom lyrics and rocking guitars. The one thing audiences will be blown away most by will be László Kovács cinematography. For a film involving a story with much road riding, you'd hope there would be plenty of landscape shots and that's exactly what you'll get. There are so many great shots of the western rocky desert. It is breathtaking even when you're not physically there. It's too bad Kovács passed away, he really had a good eye.

It has some editing issues, one unexplained character back story and its plot is fairly simplistic, yet understanding the era it was made from kind of makes sense why (somewhat). It has decent acting by its main cast, the cinematography is great, and its music and accurate depiction of the culture back then makes it feel like an adequate history lesson.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rocky V (1990) Review:

It is already well known that when a popular franchise starts making sequels well after the first trilogy, there better be something for new audiences and fans a like to enjoy. Although most producers do have this in mind, there's always that group that don't and make rehash after rehash after rehash of the same film. This has been seen in dozens of film series, some of which have pulled themselves out of mindless entertainment to crowd-flocking blockbusters and others from once respected initiators to abysmal box office bombs. The unfortunate thing is, most head down the wrong path. As for Sylvester Stallone's first entry into Hollywood with Rocky (1976), it struck such a memorable chord that Stallone ended up exploiting his fictional counterpart for a decade and then some. Sadly for many, if not all fans of this boxing franchise have found this entry to be the least enjoyable. Of which they are right but it certainly isn't garbage like some have said including Stallone himself shockingly.

Rocky & Son
For what it's worth, although it does have a couple more problems than Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985), this fifth entry isn't simply a rehash in plot like the last two films. After returning home from his fight with Drago in Russia, Rocky and family head home only to realize they lose everything when they discover Paulie (Burt Young) lent all of the Balboa savings to a shady accountant that ended up committing fraud on their behalf. Having to sell majority of their possessions to have cash on hand, the Balboa family moves back to Philadelphia hoping to start a new. There, Rocky reopens Mickey's (Burgess Meredith) boxing hall but is continuously followed and harassed by George Washington Duke (Richard Grant) who is looking to get him back into the ring to make one more check of big money. However Adrian (Talia Shire) disagrees because after visiting the doctor it seems as if Rocky has irreversible brain damage that could get worse if he continues to fight.

Trying to stay out of the ring, Rocky discovers a boxer named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) who he ends up taking under his wing. The writing, which was penned again by Sylvester Stallone although a little cluttered, at least has things to discuss. Unlike Rocky III (1982) and Rocky IV (1985), which were very straight cut and predictable this time there's things to think about. For those who are tired of the usual Rocky formula that consisted of "promising to step down, but then is challenged by losing a friend and reclaims respect", this film goes a different direction. The direction by John G. Avildsen (the same director of Rocky (1976)) here is more family oriented, which to be honest is what made Rocky (1976) so compelling. Sure the sports aspect was fun too but it was the human storytelling that worked best. The concept of having Rocky deal with a less publicized life and starting back where he came from is fine. The problems start when Rocky begins focusing more on Tommy Gunn than his own son played by Sage Stallone. Of course events like these do happen in real life but these kinds of moments aren't the changes fans want to see in the main protagonist. It's careless and makes Rocky look like a clueless father.

Even with this though because the original human characters are of more importance, it is better to see a different focus. Although there have been plenty of persistent antagonists before that Rocky has come up against, Richard Grant is by far the man who chews up the most scenery in the series. This man has one the most hammiest performances; talking extremely fast without stopping and continuously showing his teeth to the camera. He isn't a likable character but he is fun to watch. The Tommy Gunn character is fleshed out but unfortunately turns from sympathetic to unsympathetic over time. Here's what's going to turn off people for those who enjoyed the first four films. The biggest change audiences will see is the amount of boxing involved. Believe it or not there are scenes that have boxing in it - but none of them involve Rocky in the ring. The matches still entertain and pack enough energy to keep it lively but of course for anyone looking to see Rocky fight, will be disappointed either way.

Rocky & Tommy Gunn
Another disappointment belongs to the director of photography. Instead of long time camera operator Bill Butler shooting for the production, this time Steven Poster took over. For Poster's work it's not that it was unwatchable or unsteady but it did not have the same feel as Butler's. For the last four films, Bill Butler's work contains numerous wide shots of urban and rural terrain and also concentrated on what was of importance for each installment. Here, Poster just feels like he's shooting because it's his job. There's no aspect to his shots that feel noteworthy of mentioning. Finally, the biggest blow was the music composed by returning veteran Bill Conti who scored every entry except Rocky IV (1985). Conti doesn't change anything, which is good but at the same time doesn't add anything other than updating the themes a tad by adding in a saxophone. Every other track feels like a cut and paste of other tracks Conti had composed from the other films. That's not to say they don't work but each entry should get some kind of an addition.

Its direction is focused on the human characters more than the spectacle of the sport and although all threads don't head down the right path, they at least develop the original characters differently. Also Richard Grant as the antagonist is one hammy actor. But for those who are looking for the engaging boxing matches with Rocky involved, they will be ripped off. That and the music and cinematography are nothing special to mention either this time.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Superman III (1983) Review:

After witnessing unknown actor Christopher Reeve successfully fill the enormous shoes of Superman in Superman (1978) and then do it again in Superman II (1980), it would seem doing it a third time would be no problem. The question however, that many fans of the first two films can't seem to get a clear answer to, is why was this the turning point for everything else? For most, this entry would mark the point where fans became baffled and disappointed with the lack of care that went into later Superman productions. It's not to say that this film is awful, no it's not unwatchable. However for those who loved how the first two movies complimented each other, this time the experience will feel quite different. After defeating Lex Luthor with Zod & Co. in Superman II (1980), Clark Kent / Superman (Christopher Reeve) runs into his next villain who looks to control the world via global satellite.

The antagonists
This greedy manipulator known as Ross Webster and his sister Vera are played by Robert Vaughn and Annie Ross respectively. There they convince a self-discovered computer whiz named August Gorman (Richard Pryor) to help them acquire their demands by hacking into a global satellite to control the weather. This plot isn't exactly plausible in any respect but, to at least enjoy the positives of this entry, the concept of belief can be suspended (mostly). Unfortunately what really hurts this installment is its writing, which shockingly is written by the same duo (Leslie & David Newman) that penned the first two movies. One big change that is strongly noticeable is its tone. This might be due to director Richard Lester who worked on more comedies than anything else. But here, the comedic bits feel weird, forced and sometimes out of place. This is more for the last half of the running time. There's also a very abrupt change in genre for a small time too. It feels like a totally different movie.

An example of this is always happening when Clark Kent is talking with an old school friend named Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole). Every time they exchange lines, one's asking about one thing while the other answers that question but is talking about something else. It’s always a conversation where one ends up getting confused about who's talking about what. Along with that are unexplained problems and resolutions to those problems. When something occurs and people make assumptions about it without any proof, then it's not credible. So how does an audience accept that if the characters themselves don't even truly know? You can't really, that’s the whole point. The other component that did not fit this entry were the villains. For one thing, Richard Pryor as a sniveling computer hack was not convincing or funny. He was just obnoxious. Even more annoying however was Ross Webster, Vera and some other female that hung around them named Lorelei (Pamela Stephenson). Stephenson was absolutely useless.

Be that as it may, these parts don't drag down the whole movie entirely. Aside from the writing, the rest of the parts that make up a movie remain well put together. Although the last half of the film feels odd, the first half however reminisces more of the traditional tone. That means more of what everyone was originally used to with scenes like Daily Planet with Perry White (Jackie Cooper), Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure) and a cameo of Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Even with Margot Kidder having a reduced role and Annette O'Toole taking her spot wasn't that disappointing. Lana Lang had a different backstory involving a drunk named Brad (Gavan O'Herlihy) who was once a football jock from Smallville. These relationships are acceptable and feel worthy of a subplot. Heck, even the infamous Good Vs Evil Superman subplot entertained at a decent level. Seeing an evil Superman was certainly something Reeve had never played before.

Evil Superman
Speaking of which, Christopher Reeve again verified to his fans in this film, that even with an uneven script he still can play the man of steel with ease. Reeve was undoubtedly still the best part. The cinematography provided by Robert Paynter, who also shot for Superman II (1980) maintained the ability to include great scanning POVs and capture unique set pieces. This blended nicely with the special effects as well, which also had practical areas included. And here I was thinking its effects budget wasn't going to be good for all the negative responses about it before viewing. I was impressed however. Finally for the music, although harder to find an actual copy, composer Ken Thorne returned to score the film. Just like before, Thorne held onto Superman's theme from the last two films and does include new tracks. These themes are mostly for evil Superman. If the script was handled better, it probably would've been easily another enjoyable follow-up. But the attention isn't there.

For what people say for it to be, it isn't THAT bad. If you can suspend your belief, it will be easier to accept because half of it is decently written. It's just the other half involving its annoying antagonists and forced comedic tone that don’t work. Its special effects, music, camerawork and cast of actors from the first two however still remain the best parts, especially Christopher Reeve.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Running Man (1987) Review:

Science-fiction action films with hidden undercurrents are difficult to make in a number of ways. They're job in some respects is to not only entertain but also relay a certain message to its audience about the current culture that is going on around its viewers. This kind of balance has to work evenly in order for the audience to take away that subtext simultaneously while enjoying the movie. A number of sci-fi films have accomplished this like Minority Report (2002), Blade Runner (1982) or even Total Recall (1990). All of which entertained while also having “a say” on their own specific area in science and technology. For actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would not be until Total Recall (1990) that he would prove to be in a real engaging sci-fi thriller with such a clear message. That's not to say this film doesn't have that but it certainly is not as effective getting its message across.

I swear that design looks like Metamorpho
Schwarzenegger plays Benjamin Richards, a wrongly convicted helicopter pilot who was framed for the mass murder of innocent people looking for food in an apocalyptic future earth in the year 2017 (a little too soon I think). After escaping prison with a couple of fellow convicts, he attempts to flee to Hawaii with a run-in played by Maria Conchita Alonso. To Richard's dismay, he ends up getting caught and shoved into a live death battle show called "The Running Man" hosted by Damon Killian (Richard Dawson). This also happens to be the most watched TV show at the time. There he must fight his way out or be killed trying to be free, meanwhile billions of viewers watch. The writing, which was handled by Steven E. de Souza, has its positives and negatives. The best thing about his screenplay is that he included plenty of good dialog for Schwarzenegger to spout out to other characters. Since that is one of Schwarzenegger's strong points, it's good that de Souza was able to maintain that. It should not have been too hard though since he also wrote for Schwarzenegger's Commando (1985) as well.

What de Souza does not accomplish is an intuitive and original script. All characters including Schwarzenegger’s role are pretty much exactly as they are portrayed to be. The only actors who get away with it are Schwarzenegger, Alonso and Dawson because they are the characters focused on the most. Aside from Schwarzenegger and his one-liners, Alonso at least will capture her viewers’ attention with her thick Hispanic accent and some close hugging costumes that she wears. I do question the costume design color and texture though. The look of it resembles that of the strange DC comic superhero known as Metamorpho. Richard Dawson is also convincing in his role as the power hungry and slimy TV host. He really makes his character unlikable in a good sense.

Audiences will be able to figure out quite quickly who will live, who will die and which character will be developed further. It's unfortunate too because their are other credible actors like Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura and Toru Tanaka. This kind of mediocre execution is also notable when director Paul Michael Glaser is in charge. Being that he directed a slew of other unfamiliar, unpopular and unknown films like The Air Up There (1994) and Kazaam (1996), it's surprising that this one gets more attention. But then again it's probably because of Arnie. The action (which is usually obligatory in a Schwarzenegger flick) satisfies however. It's by no means over-the-top or inventive but it does keep the movie going. Pacing is an important part in storytelling so that's a plus.

Toru Tanaka
Sadly, this does not make up for the cinematography and music. This time around, there wasn't a whole heck of a lot to talk about. Thomas Del Ruth was the director of photography for this project. Considering he also shot frames for The Breakfast Club (1985) and Stand By Me (1986) prior to this movie, you would think there would be something to say. It's not like it's bad camerawork; there have been far worse examples. Yet, there's nothing to really highlight here. Other than maybe a couple of nicely choreographed dance numbers, the rest of the movie is just too much the same for every shot. Even more disappointing however is composer Harold Faltermeyer's musical score. Two years later Faltermeyer would compose his all out cheese fest of a score for the buddy cop action flick Tango & Cash (1989), which was beyond catchy with its main theme. Here, Faltermeyer also has a main theme but it is so weak by comparison that it disappoints more than creates a memorable listening experience.

It has its moments with Schwarzenegger one-liners, consistent action and competent acting by its main actors. However, the rest of the components aren't exactly the most original. A lot of the supporting characters are predictable, the music is forgettable, the cinematography is bland and its story, which tries to have a culture related undercurrent, doesn't speak its mind enough.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jeepers Creepers (2001) Review:

Every horror franchise has its issues, whether it be a lack of attention to detail or cliched writing there's usually something a horror fan will expect to happen at least once during the running time. Unfortunately like a lot of other genres, these tropes end up making these films too generic in most respects resulting them in either being a one-time watch or possibly not even finished. For director Victor Salva, although this is not his most critically acclaimed piece, it is probably the one that sticks with him the most. For what is given, it's actually not a bad film at all. Regrettably though, it has writing issues that if addressed, could have made it more entertaining than it already is. The story is about a brother and sister heading home from spring vacation through a rural community when they witness a man dropping what appears to be a body down a giant shoot. Curiosity gets the better of them and soon enough, what they go looking for ends up following them.

Justin Long's doofiest shock face
What distinguishes this cautionary tale of minding your own business from other horror films is that its writing contains very little, if none at all of the usual horror tropes. As stated before the main characters are brother and sister. That already is a big difference from other films. Most plots rely either on a group of people (as fodder for the killer) or focus on only one person. Also the people who are killed are not the same either. Even the jump scares aren't as obligatorily noticeable. This is a game changer because a lot of generic horror films are still produced this way and these kinds of antics get old really fast. Now if only Salva was able to fix the rest of his script, then this would've been some horror film. For one thing, the brother, Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips) are not exactly what you would call the most likable of protagonists. It's not that the audience would despise them but they don't exactly cooperate well nor do they have the best of attitudes. I mean yeah, siblings bicker sure, but there's no scene that shows their softer side so it’s hard for its audience to fall behind the main characters. And personally, Justin Long has the doofiest shock face.

The other parts of the writing Salva forgets to elaborate on is the exposition to the antagonist and clearing up other reasons. Along their travels, the brother sister duo meet a psychic named Jezelle (Patricia Belcher) who has the ability to see visions into the future. Mind you she's been having these trances for several years and she has no clue why she has them. Ummm,...okay. As for the antagonist known as "the creeper" (Jonathan Breck), which kind of honestly he is, the reasons why he kills is explained but why he doesn't, goes unexplained. Plus, he has a grotesque side hobby that involves something along the lines of preservation. What exactly is it for? No idea. Since Jezelle is the only one who even knows about the creeper (and for so long) how come she knows so little? She's literally the creeper's creeper. Writer/director Salva could've went into more detail on this but didn't so this doesn't exactly help with fleshing out the villain's backstory.

Aside from this however, the rest of the film will manage to keep its audience's attention. The most effective part to this film's credit is in fact, its creep factor. The idea of knowing that someone is always following you and wants something from you (and you don't know what it is) is beyond unnerving. Plus after seeing what he does with his victims, who would want to stick around? As for the gore aspect of this horror feature, it exists but it's not abundant like one would expect it to be. The good thing is that Victor Salva ensures that certain in scenes when the creeper attacks is not what a viewer would normally predict. The director of photography belonged to Don E. FauntLeRoy who handled each scene nicely by giving it a grainy feel like that of Daniel Pearls’ work from Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). I am curious as to why it’s always in the middle of nowhere that crazy people exist. Why is that? Why is it always the rural communities? Can people really go mad out there that easily?

The Creeper
Bennett Salvay brought the film score forth. Although much his tracks are anonymous sounding with no real signature, there are a couple that demonstrate Salvay is a competent composer. This mostly belongs to the themes surrounding the brother sister duo or other family related subplots. However, his other tracks are just drudging brass instruments, which emphasize the dread headed their way. But even with this, the tracks do help elevate the tension to an intense level because as said before, director Salva doesn't have a script with your everyday horror cliches. There is also one more piece of music that is creepy and that is the actual "jeepers creepers" song from the early 1900s. This is used as a motif for the creeper himself. Because the song sounds so jolly, the fact that its being played with a dark character is, well,....creepy.

Sadly, most of its writing doesn't explain much about its antagonist and the main two protagonists aren't exactly the most enjoyable. However, everything else from its special effects, violence, creep factor, music and cinematography work well together. Its screenplay even contains a number of original ideas that don't follow your regular horror films.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Kickassia (2010) Review:

One must remember when it comes to amateur movies, there has to be a level of expectation set prior to the viewing experience. One of the biggest things audiences have to accept is that the budget is significantly lower than normal professionally made movies. This will obviously affect the look of the film in a number of ways. The idea behind it though is that the people working on it are putting in as much effort as possible to make their endeavor the best it can be. For the crew behind, there's no doubt that they are a group of people that love what they do. With each sub-section of the site having different internet personalities covering various mediums, the range at which this team can expand is endless. As flawless and creative as it sounds, being ambitious has its uphill battles and making a feature length movie is no easy walkthrough. With that said, sacrifices have to be made.

"Follow me heathens!"
A very large component to this feature length movie that was renounced is the story believe it or not. It's funny how Doug Walker (AKA The Nostalgia Critic), the guy who can't stand bad movies, makes a movie with no story. What a paradox. The film is about The Nostalgia Critic wanting to takeover a 1-acre plot of land called Molassia. That's really all that it is and it's done rather quickly. The rest is the NC and his followers going through the stages of a dictatorship, i.e. - oppression, then revolution. It's very bare bones to say the least. Joining the NC are a number of other recognizable internet personalities like the Cinema Snob (Brad Jones), The Nostalgia Chick (Lindsay Ellis), Linkara (Lewis Lovhaug), Spoony / Dr. Insano (Noah Antwiler), Joe Vargas (Angry Joe), Phelous (Phelan Porteous), Film Brain (Matthew Buck) and several others. For the characters listed above, it's difficult not to enjoy who they play because they're playing who they are on the main site. They all have their own special qwerks that make them, them. The only possible downside to this is that if you don't view the site from time to time, the viewer may feel more alienated than familiar with the cast.

But aside from the actors’ respective character roles, the writing once again suffers from a lack of any clear motivations or background info. The reason for The Nostalgia Critic to want to go stark raving world domination crazy goes largely unexplained. That is except for the fact of just starting small and then slowly taking over the world. But to be honest, it's out of character because Doug Walker is still The Nostalgia Critic, so why and when did he get so maniacally evil? An example of background information going unused is the character of Spoony with the alternate personality of Dr. Insano. Where did Dr. Insano come from? There must be an origin for him. Anyone watching this for the first time with no other prior channelawesome experience won't have a clue how Dr. Insano materialized. However, even with this second giant defect, the comedy saves this almost script-less movie.

There are certainly a number of laughs to be had here. Whether it be The Nostalgia Critic yelling at high pitches, Film Brain being overly dramatic, The Cinema Snob talking with a snarky attitude, Spoony being too paranoid or Phelous being super sarcastic, the actors looked like they had fun doing their takes. Plus, the facial expressions these actors make are quite hilarious. Another good point is when the cast breaks the fourth wall by acknowledging the budget the film was on. It's not clever but it still is funny. Either that or watching goofy fight choreography with stock footage punching noises that sound like it was taken off a Mortal Kombat video game. Heck, they even got The Angry Video Game Nerd (James D. Rolfe) for a quick, as he would call it an "obligatory cameo". Rightfully so and well said. The only other element that feels obligatory and also bad is the special effects.

Phelous is not happy....
Again, it's understood the budget was limited for this production but some of it really looks out of place. Maybe post-production was rushed? It just didn't look right in certain scenes. Then again, camerawork was decent for its finite budget. Cinematography by Rob Walker (Doug Walker's brother) maintains a steady hand for his shots and even gets a number of interesting action choreography. Although, it is hypocritical that there are several shots where the camera is hugging an actor’s face. For anyone who doesn't know, Doug Walker loathes that kind of camerawork with a passion so how he let that go, I'm not sure. Weird isn't it? The final ingredient that worked in this film's favor was the music provided by Michael "Skitch" Schiciano. Accept for a couple scenes, which involved borrowed music, much of his composition sounded original. Again due to cost issues, there's a good chance that the way the music was orchestrated was on a very tight budget. Understandable and considering the final product, it deserves a pass.

For Doug Walker's earlier film entries under his alter ego The Nostalgia Critic, the end result is a watchable romp for its comedic moments, its diverse bunch of internet personalities, appropriate music and camerawork (although its special effects are quite shoddy). As for a story, a plot barely exists with little back-story or motivations fleshed out.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Vice (2015) Review:

When it comes to lower budget film releases, the movie genre to probably have the most trouble looking anywhere near authentic is in the realm of science fiction. Most science fiction films today require a lot of heavy CGI and high tech gadgetry in order to look somewhat presentable for its genre and the audience viewing it. However, people tend to forget how ambitious their plans may be and the error of their ways ends up showing up in the end product. For this particular feature though, this is only one of a number of issues that is noticeable. Directed by Brian A. Miller, this would-be sci-fi thriller has a tough time throwing out any original ideas to the table that haven't already been used. Writers Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore (both San Andreas (2015)) don't seem to have a full grasp on what exactly they wanted the movie get across.

"So tell me, here for a paycheck too?"
The story takes place in some undated future where a new society arises called Vice. Established by a man named Julian (Bruce Willis), Vice was created as an outlet for the public, so that for any fantasy they wanted to make for themselves was possible. That meant no laws, no government, no responsibilities and no consequences. Making sure that any acts of violence were performed humanely, the company made A.I. units who looked, acted and lived like normal human beings but underneath there was software and electronics. After one A.I. unit named Kelly (Ambyr Childers) begins having repeated flashbacks of past events, she flees with Vice security on her tail hoping that Kelly won't reveal to the public a unit became self aware. Also following closely behind is Roy Tadeski (Thomas Jane), a lone cop who's not too fond of Vice for generic reasons pertaining to the attitudes people end up adopting after leaving the facility.

Writing wise, it isn't the absolute worst but it isn't well thought out either. The screenplay tries to tackle a number of social and idealistic issues by borrowing ideas from older films like Westworld (1973), RoboCop (1987) and even The Purge (2013), but much of it is just underdeveloped and underplayed. The actors themselves are okay at best but you would figure, both Thomas Jane and Bruce Willis, who both have enough experience to act would make some kind of an impression. Thomas Jane has a couple of humorous moments in the film but much of it is just him mumbling through a toothpick. Willis is even more disappointing because his role really just feels like a call in. It would actually be more appropriate to say that Ambyr Childers as the rogue unit and Bryan Greenberg, who plays an important character in the plot, are far more interesting to watch than the two veterans previously mentioned. The story itself is not new but it can be tolerated. What isn't tolerated is how it was executed like a standard cat and mouse chase.

Because the majority of characters are quite predictable, there isn't much tension to be found among the scenes that have time constraining ordeals. Another aspect to this movie that isn't exploited properly are the sci-fi elements. Of everything described previously involving A.I. units and software, there is only one scene that looks remotely scientific. This involves rewiring a fuse inside a unit. The rest of the would-be science fiction like A.I. scenes are all done indirectly. An example of this is when Kelly receives an upgrade, which is done off screen. How disappointing - that's really trying to stretch the audiences' gullibility. The other major component that is sorely lacking any exploration is the paradise of Vice itself. The only thing audiences get to see in Vice are acts of murder, drinking and sex. Yeah these are pretty much the kinds of things most people would want to get away with, but with no laws wouldn't there be more to that? Surely someone would be more creative do something crazier than that, of which isn't it kind of the whole point?

Ambyr Childers & Bryan Greenberg
Also how does a visitor to Vice know the difference between a human and a unit? There really wasn't any explanation given. The only science fiction like credit that can be given is the set production to the film. At least that looked somewhat apocalyptic in some respects and they didn't look cheap either. The shootouts are alright but nothing inventive. The part that worked against that however was the cinematography shot by Yaron Levy. There were two things Levy kept doing that will probably annoy the viewers. First, there are two many shots with dutch and other cockeyed angles. The second is that when Levy’s camera is lateral, the camera keeps doing rotating 360 circumference shots. This is better than shaky camera by far but still frustrating at times. The film score however was better than expected. Composed by a trio of artists who call themselves Hybrid did an okay job. There was no main theme but they did have a number of tracks that worked, especially the ones involving Ambyr Childers and Bryan Greenberg. The thing I can't believe is that the filmmakers actually thought that this movie would get a sequel with an extremely obvious cliffhanger.

Its set production and music display decent quality with okay acting by the main cast but it's more of a time waster than it is worth a watch. The writing is below average, the camerawork is frustrating at best, the action is too standard and the science fiction elements are barely used for a story based on it.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) Review:

Sadly when it comes to prequels to famous movies, it is not the easiest to make this particular kind of entry the best it can be. That comes down to a big key point. The idea is that prequels cover the origins of initial franchise starters (most of which were praised critically and performed well at the box office). The problem with that is, most prequels only explain the backstory to what ended up happening in the first installment. It's more or less only effective in its factual delivery in a historical context. This is good for some areas but not all. The other drawback is that prequels do not add anything new to mix in execution. A good example of this was The Thing (2011) prequel which had spot on explanations to what events lead to John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), but the execution felt nearly identical.

"Don't mind me,...just hanging out here"
The same goes for the directorial debut of James Wan collaborator Leigh Whannell. It's not that viewers will loathe Whannell's work in this entry but unfortunately it lacks a lot of originality. This is also some of the errors many filmmakers have when they end up crediting themselves as actor/writer/director. It is a lot of work and perhaps Whannell didn't have what it took to do all three tasks this time. The story is what unfortunately makes this prequel subpar. After a young girl named Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) tries to contact her mother who passed a year back, a demon hears her through the further realm and slowly begins latching onto her soul. As compared to the original, the story feels awfully similar. The only clear difference is that Brenner is not in astral form and can't reach her physical body. The only writing Whannell incorporates that actually makes any connection to the original is how Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) meet up with Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), briefly referencing the Lambert Family and the crossdresser villain from Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013).

That's the only part of the screenplay that actually works. For that, the fans can sit back and say "Ahhh ok, so that's where that came from". Anything dealing with the Brenner family feels almost non-important though. This is not to say they can't act however, they just feel like they come secondary to everything else, which is sad to see. All actors involved perform decently at portraying the appropriate emotion for each scene. Stefanie Scott as Quinn and her father (Dermot Mulroney) feel believable in their roles but it is frustrating to see that a lot of the time daddy doesn't believe her daughter (even though the situation would be difficult to understand). Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell maintain their chemistry from the first two films but they do come in rather late in the running time.

Lin Shaye looked like she enjoyed her role again and even shows some unknown strength later on. The only character that isn't very creative in personality is the ghoul who latches onto Quinn. Played by Michael Reid MacKay (who has also played other horror creatures), the demon he plays here is quite generic looking. The only thing that defines him are his bloody footprints (like the bloody handprint from the first movie) and making gurgley noises through a gas mask. Sure it's creepy, but as the main villain....not exactly memorable. Actually, from what the ending of Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) gave, it seemed as if this movie would be the prequel about the ghoul that Elise saw behind the girl in the wheelchair. Guess not.

Lin Shaye
Even with this cliched character however, there are a number of effective jump scares and some cringe worthy gross scenes. As cliche as the jump scares are, Whannell at least was able to throw in some tricks here and there, which would have audiences believe the scene is prepping for a jump scare when in fact it's happening at a different time. As long as that works, that means something’s working on the scare factor. The cinematography on the other hand was rather a disappointment. Shot by Brian Pearson (best known for Final Destination 5 (2011)), his view of the further is just as clean cut like the other films but sadly the further is barely used in this movie until the final act. The whole point of the Insidious (2010) franchise is going into the further realm and this entry doesn’t do enough of that. The only other good element to the film is composer Joseph Bishara's film score. Unlike the last two scores which entailed more screeching and whispering violins, this time Bishara actually uses more soft emotional tunes. It's different because normally Bishara doesn't compose tracks like these in such volume. However, this shows Bishara has the talent to produce some really beautiful music when required.

It still has its moments of being creepy, the backstory to all the original characters are nicely explored and Bishara's film score impresses a little more than usual. Even with that said however, the main plot isn't much of anything new, the further realm is not really existent in the running time and the villain is far from memorable.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sphere (1998) Review:

Michael Crichton, a science-fiction novelist and screenplay writer for several of his own adaptations has had many of his ideas become successful and iconic pieces in cinema. The best of Mr. Crichton's work is by far everyone's favorite prehistoric predator film, Jurassic Park (1993). That and Westworld (1973) twenty years before. There's something about Crichton's work that has many of the same motifs that show up in a lot of his other written works. One of the most notable elements is the discovery of a new science by humans and it ends up becoming more than humanity can handle. Re-emphasizing this again is in this Crichton adaptation that went largely unnoticed. Was it because it was bad? No but as a final product, there's a lot left to be desired with this sci-fi thriller.

Hoffman, Jackson & Schreiber
The story to this movie is about a group of doctors in different fields that travel to the bottom of the ocean to analyze a UFO that has something mysterious inside. The mysterious plot device that's inside the ship is a giant perfectly shaped golden sphere. After visiting it, strange things begin occurring on the ship and it’s up to the small crew to figure it out. Directed by Barry Levinson (who has produced other Crichton adaptations) shows that he has competent direction in how he wanted the story to play out. Yet his pair of writers didn't seem to know how to make it work to the fullest extent. The writers on board for this production were Stephen Hauser (which was his only credit) and Paul Attanasio. Both of which flesh out the characters and do create some high-strung tension scenes with minor psychological elements but when it comes to explaining the orb, they miss it almost entirely.

The underwater crew is made up of Dustin Hoffman (a psychiatrist), Sharon Stone (a biochemist), Samuel L. Jackson (a mathematician) and Liev Schreiber (a doctor in physics) and two operators; Peter Coyote and Queen Latifah. Of these characters, only Latifah (who has a minor role) seemed slightly out of place; all the rest act fine in their roles. That means distinctive personalities and charms. The actor who viewers would probably find the most likable is Hoffman who has a knack for being mostly nonchalant through each situation he's put into. I guess shrinks are supposed to be this calm? Not sure, but it gives him the right amount of charm. The connection these characters have is that they were all associated with Hoffman's role. Funny how popular 80s singer Huey Lewis even had a small scene stealing moment at the beginning of the movie. Random but a treat.

The sphere plot device is also a treat when things start rolling (pardon the pun). However, this is exactly when the problems begin to arise. In order for strange events to happen, there's got to be reasons to back up and justify these moments. For this case, there is only one explanation given amongst a slew of other questions that go unanswered. One thing that really threw me off was when Hoffman's character discovers a cabinet worth of a specific item. Who stocked that thing? I could see if it was a mind game or hallucination but it was for real. Tell me who had the time to do that? I have to admit, moments like those will keep its audience guessing and with Hoffman's character being a shrink, the psychological aspect to the film does help make the tenseness quite intellectual. The only problem is that parts of it only theorized possible reasons but never gave definitive solutions. These of which were all based on observation.

Hey, out for that fang tooth now
The only other negative part to the presentation of this movie is how it deliberately splits up its acts into chapters. There is no need, for two reasons. One being that, the audience will figure out when the next act is because each "chapter" if you want to call it that fades out to black. The other reason is that giving a title for the next sequence can somewhat spoil the upcoming surprising scene that audiences may not see coming. Instead, audiences are presented with giant bold print stating exactly what's headed their way. Why go through the trouble of shooting yourself in the foot like that? But enough on that, the last bits of the film still work in its favor. This belongs to the cinematography shot by Adam Greenberg (The Terminator (1984) and Rush Hour (1998)) and the music composed by Elliot Goldenthal. Since Greenberg has been the director of photography before for bigger projects, he shows that can effectively conceal the illusion during the underwater scenes. As for music, Goldenthal who isn't always the most memorable actually surprises this time. That means creating themes for certain aspects of the film, which includes creepy piano keys and quite wondrous sounding strings. It really stuck.

The film has competent acting, cinematography, music, interesting psychological elements thrown in and some tense thrills. However, the writing sorely lacks in clearing up much of the plot device that is directly involved in the story other than giving a small assumption only based on observation. That and the chapter segments are a bit unnecessary.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Waterboy (1998) Review:

Adam Sandler has always been one of those known comedians to be grouped into the category of you either love him or you hate him. Very few audiences find him somewhere in the middle. After proving his comic ability on Saturday Night Live, Sandler began moving towards the movie business, getting into bigger and bigger projects. As for director Frank Coraci, it would not be until him, Sandler and writer Tim Herlihy met together to make The Wedding Singer (1998). From there, the three would pair up to make a number of future films. Of this list, this would be their second feature and probably second most respected of that bunch. According to many to be the 1990s highest grossing football game (until later films), this comedy isn't clever in a lot of ways but isn't completely void of laughs either.

Barbecued alligator.....yay
The story is about Southern son of Kathy Bates' momma's boy Bobby Boucher Jr. (Sandler) who gets nothing but disrespect by the people he tries to help stay hydrated. After being on the job serving beverages to Coach Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) and team for 18 years, Bobby gets fired. Looking to keep doing what he's good at, he finds Coach Klein (Henry Winkler), a coach who can't find a way to get his team to accomplish anything. Initially, no one respects Bobby's entrance but soon, they and Bobby discover that he has a knack for tackling others. With that, Bobby is recruited to play for the team as well, leading to unexpected results. For what was written, Tim Herlihy was competent in the construction of the story. All subplots are started and completed and the character develop is noticeable for certain individuals. Possibly the best message this movie sends to its audience is to always try and better yourself. It doesn't exactly come out and say that but watching Bobby progress as a character speaks that in some respects.

The other enjoyable aspect to the writing is watching how Bobby's life begins to turn around. Initially Bobby doesn't have any friends except his mom (Kathy Bates). But as time goes on, the respect and size of Bobby's circle increases in diameter so much, it's hard not to like the guy. This leads to the performances and comedy. For both, it’s half-and-half. Sandler as Bobby makes his character sound and act innocent (which is what makes him likable) but the way he goes about it is a slight bit obnoxious at points only because of how he talks. This involves a squealy voice that only can be made by the way Sandler shapes his mouth. Surely there could've been another way to make his role sound just as innocent without looking so obviously prepared. Seriously, nobody talks with their jaw in that position. But this is the least of silly comedy. Because the setting to this story takes place in the Southern States, a number of exaggerated stereotypes are used in order to make the viewers laugh. One example of this is making Bobby's mom full on rural, no education, alligator barbecuing, the devil is everything wackjob.

Really? There's no problem portraying Southerners and accentuating their culture but there's no reason to be going over-the-top ridiculous about it to the point of absurd and deranged. Another example of this is the character Blake Clark plays, which is being a deep voice mumbler who nobody understands. Who the heck cares about this character? He's just wasting time. However there are other characters that make up for these overblown fabrications like Henry Winkler who's goofy in his right and Jerry Reed (his last role) as the anti-football coach for being nothing but greedy. Fairuza Balk (best know for playing Dorothy from Return to Oz (1985) who plays Bobby's love interest also has more of grounded personality than other Southern supporting characters. Even wrestler Paul Wight has a brief role that isn't as superfluous as it could have been made out to be.

Henry Winkler
There's still a couple of things left to look at. Unfortunately the cinematography covered by Steven Bernstein isn't much of anything significant. Much of the shots taken are very plain looking with nothing that really grabs its viewers’ attention. However, the football games are engaging but not because of the camerawork. This is based more on the how the game is played and how characters react and work together as a team. Even for the silly comedy that it is, the game still feels like there's something riding on it that can't be missed. Finally the music provided by Alan Pasqua (which is his last film composition thus far) worked when it needed to. There was no main theme or anything and much of his music was substituted for other well-known songs to help with the comedy. The only reason why his music is getting a pass is again going back to the football games. Although they were not intense and as engaging as the game, the tracks did help elevate the viewing experience.

The story itself is written properly and the energetic football games are what this comedy really has to offer. The comedy works at times but the stereotyping and exaggerations do get overdone, especially when it comes to Southern culture. Thankfully, the main protagonist is portrayed in an innocent manner that allows it audience to at least like Adam Sandler's performance.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre III: Leatherface (1990) Review:

It's strange how some horror trilogies work. Most start out groundbreaking. Then the second entry just doesn't satisfy as much as it could have. It had bits and pieces that demonstrated there were possibilities, but the advances were not taken further enough. Then there's the third installment, which most consider to the worst with the least amount of care or effort put into the mix to make any kind of decent product. Some chapters however do step up to the plate from time to time. Some are quite obvious to what has more of the upper hand over the rest, while others however are up for more of a debate on what really was the worst. It just depends on what was found to be of better quality in the production (and that doesn't just mean visuals).

William Butler & Viggo Mortensen
The story for this sequel is as copy and paste verbatim as it gets. When a couple, Michelle (Kate Hodge) and Ryan (William Butler) travel through Texas from California to get to Florida, they run into the alleged Sawyer family. It is that straightforward; there's nothing else. Why should writer David J. Schow even get writing credits for this? Well, even though his story telling skills are very mediocre here, he still manages to draft a couple of acceptable characters but that's about it. On their travels the couple encounters Benny (Ken Foree, best known from George A. Romero's Dawn of the Living Dead (1978)). Of these characters, the only few that remain somewhat interesting are Michelle, Benny and some of the sick-minded Sawyer family. Hodge, like other actresses give their lead courage at certain instances and that's commendable. Foree is praiseworthy in his role because he at least provides good support to the leads. As for some of the Sawyer family, the thing that makes them fun to still watch is how they act as a family; what makes them have a good time and how they improved their way of hunting for food. One of the creepier Sawyer family members is the mom played by Miriam Byrd-Nethery.

As for the other actors, they are intriguing to see at such an early time but they do not provide anything worth while to the plot. William Butler (who would later be the creator behind the el-cheapo Charles Band The Gingerdead Man (2005) franchise) plays an unlikable match to Michelle and does nothing but nags and complains. R.A. Mihailoff as Leatherface is decent but doesn't give the infamous killer any kind of personality other than trying to make a toy understand he wants food. And what's the hair? Is that Jeff Daniels' hair from Dumb and Dumber (1994)? Joe Unger and even Viggo Mortensen have defining roles but don't exactly make themselves act differently from other characters before. On a production level, the only areas that look decent are the special effects, gore and cinematography. Unfortunately, with lots of the original gore being cut, it isn't always on screen but when it is, it is still grotesque and ugly. The camerawork by James L. Carter is acceptable. Nothing groundbreaking but at least is lit in a way that conceals its antagonists rather than putting them out in bright neon lights like the first sequel.

The only other possible credit that can be given to Schow is at least reverting the tone back from being too goofy from that of Tobe Hooper's first sequel. However, this does not excuse the giant gaping holes in this particular sequel's story. Like the past two films, the opening credits begin after narration explaining the events of the past. The difference for this is that this entry seems to be taking place after the first but before the second film. Yet there's a slew of contradicting evidence to try and prove this true. At the end of the first movie, Leatherface cuts his leg so this would support it being an intermediate sequel because in this movie Leatherface has a leg brace. But then there's issue of when did Leatherface have a totally different family and,...a daughter? But this has to be true, because Leatherface was impaled and blown up in the second film right? There's even a scene with actress Caroline Williams (who played Stretch in the previous sequel) playing a reporter. So was Stretch initially a news anchor before a radio host? But the title to this movie clearly states the it's the third.....well at this point it’s undetermined.

"Tell me, do I have spinach in my teeth?"
Then there's the issue of unexplained errors either for characters or events. This for the most part goes parallel to the time in which this film takes place in accordance with the prior films before it. Sometimes parts of this movie alone feel like it was made for a Friday the 13th film, that means including false jump scares and unreliable truths shown on screen. This film is also one of the few to not follow the cliché horror tropes but only through one of these unexplained errors, so its hard to say if it counts really. Finally, the music is an even further step down. Forget what was said about Hooper's score from the first sequel. The musical score composed by Jim Manzie and Patrick Regan is even more unoriginal. There's no main theme again and there's no frantic sounding synths either. Now it's just notes that drudge through each scene that sound more muddled than usual. Topping that off is an occasional rock anthem that'll blast in and come out of nowhere. It's quite jarring to say the least. This is no wrestling match.

It still has the majority of its cast pulling the required weight, the special effects and gore are still good, along with competent cinematography. In spite of that however, its writing suffers from large continuity errors, unexplained justifications and a paper cut out of a plot. The music is also a step down from before, while including unnecessary hard rock in a couple scenes.

Points Earned --> 5:10