2014-11-17

20141117: SciFi Review--Agency of Vengeance



Agency of Vengeance: Dark Rising (original title, Dark Rising 2: Summer Strikes Back!)
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian live action feature length film, 2011, NR, 93 minutes, SciFi, camp.
    2. IMDB: 3.3/10.0 from 125 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No Tomatometer score yet...,' 'No score yet' from 7 audience ratings.
    4. Written and directed by Richard Cymek.
    5. Starring: Brigitte Kingsley as Summer Vale, Landy Cannon as Jason Parks, Cory Lee as Holly Wescott, Kyle Buchanan as Daniel Evans, Mike Nahrgang as Bulo, Michael Ironside as Colonel Haggerd, Matty McLean as Weeber, Richard Cymek as Kyle, Julia Schneider as Renee.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Before this sequel started, Summer Vale had been killing monsters in the 'demon dimension;' she came to our dimension through a portal with the assistance of Jason Parks, an agent of the Rising Dark Agency.  By the start of the current film, Jason and Summer had broken up, and Summer was about to marry Kyle.

    2. As the second film's narrative begins, Jason, Daniel, and Holly are chasing a sandworm.  They track the worm down, but are not able to save Kyle from being eaten by it.  Summer may have lost her groom, but she dispatches the worm.

    3. Back at headquarters, Colonel Haggerd advises his black ops team that there is more than usual supernatural activity near the portal.  The point of the movements is preparation for the return of Mardock to our dimension from the demon dimension.  A mysterious agent X is leading this effort.  Haggerd advises Jason separately that the Book of Shadows has been stolen, and that the thief must be apprehended as well as the Book returned.

    4. X strikes rather hard, converting Holly to a demon, killing all but eight of the agency, and taking Summer back to the demon dimension.  Summer gets to meet an old acquaintance on the other side.

    5. Will Jason and company be able to turn the tide, rescue Summer, return the Book, and seal off the portal?  Will we get to see the face of agent X?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Director made an art of making the actors look stupid.
    2. One of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 Basic shooting, not so bad.  SFX, not so much.

    2. Sound: 2/10 Sadly, I could hear the dialog often during breaks in the sound track, which was entirely too loud.

    3. Acting: 1/10

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Poor dialog.  Well, times 1000.


2014-11-12

20141112: Comedy Review--The Coalition



The Coalition
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013 (video), rated R, 95 minutes, comedy, romance.
    2. IMDB: 4.3/10.0 from 384 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 1 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No critic reviews yet...',  53% liked it from 64 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on Showtime.
    5. Directed by, Monica Mingo; written by Monica Mingo and Terrell Suggs.
    6. Starring: Denyce Lawton as Skylar Hathaway, Eddie Goines as Prime Alexander, Adrienne Bailon as Katilina Santiago, J. R. Ramirez as Lonzo Ramirez, Ingrid Clay as Autumn Singletary, Sant'e Andrews as Dallas, Nadine Ellis as Kennedy Lorenze', Shanti Lowry as Dylan Singletary, Nicole Garza as Carnegie.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Prime is a sports hero who enjoys time with his male posse, Dallas, Kalif, and Lonzo.  The quartet enjoy publicly and privately embarrassing the women that they date.  Some of these women include Autumn, Carnegie, Skylar, and Katalina; these four have their women allies in tow.

    2. The four men seem to think that the wronged women will never meet and talk to each other.  Of course, that does happen, and the women eventually find common cause for revenge.  The tipping point came when Autumn took Skylar to a park where Prime was with his wife and kids.

    3. Will the ladies break up the pack?  Will the men defend themselves?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Chick flick cliche extravaganza, plus foibles of the idle rich.
    2. One star of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 No problems. Looks like very high end video.

    2. Sound: 4/10 Unfortunately, I could hear the sound track.  I could hear the dialog, which was a mixed blessing.

    3. Acting: 0/10

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 It has a plot of sorts, but there is nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing engaging, nothing touching.


2014-11-11

20141111: Drama Review--August Osage County



August: Osage County
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 121 minutes, drama.
    2. IMDB: 7.3/10.0 from 47,908 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 25 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 64% on the meter; 66% liked it from 37,309 audience ratings.
    4. I saw the film on Showtime.
    5. Directed by: John Wells.
    6. Starring: Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston, Ewan McGregor as Bill Fordham, Margo Martindale as Mattie Fae Aiken, Chris Cooper as Charlie Aiken, Sam Shepard as Beverly Weston, Dermot Mulroney as Steve Huberbrecht, Abigail Breslin as Jean Fordham, Julianne Nicholson as Ivy Weston, Juliette Lewis as Karen Weston, Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles Aiken, Misty Upham as Johnna Monevata.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Violet Weston's husband Beverly walks off one day, and turns up dead later.  Violet gathers the family.  Daughter Ivy was already there helping out.  Her sister Mattie Fae and husband Charlie show up early, as do daughter Barbara with her husband Bill.  Jean is the daughter of Barbara and Bill.  Violet's daughter Karen (with fiance Steve) get there before the funeral.  Showing up after the funeral is Little Charlie, son of Charlie and Mattie Fae.

    2. So, let the drama begin.  Violet is a long time abuser of prescription medicine.  Barbara and Bill have separated; Jean is seemingly out of it.  Charlie and Mattie Fae can hardly stand each other.  Little Charlie is a foulup.  Karen is concerned about her career and her upcoming honeymoon, and not so much about her family.  Her fiance, Steve, is a major pothead who tries to tempt Jean to start using.

    3. The film is set during a hot August in Oklahoma, where beef cattle are a cash crop.  Jean is a vegetarian.  That's a subject of derision at the dinner table.  Violet is high, and she rags on her dead husband, then the fiance Steve, then on 'cowboys and Indians,' then on to Barbara and Bill's separation.  The heart of Violet's complaining is her comparison of the tough childhood that she and Mattie Fae had versus the upbringing that her daughters enjoyed.  Barbara, in turn, is bloody sick of Violet's drug addiction.

    4. To add to all the drama, Violet has cancer of the mouth.  Barbara decides to take control of her mother's life.  Lots of unfortunate truths receive more light than they have seen in a while.

    5. Will the family dysfunction continue, or get worse?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Tense family dinner after a funeral forces secrets out.
    2. Eight of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 No problems.

    2. Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, except for Cumberbatch's mumbling.  The sound track did not add much.

    3. Acting: 8/10 Most of the performances were quite good: Chris Cooper, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Juliann Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Ewan MacGregor.  However, several of the characters had little screen time and few lines.  The presence of Cumberbatch in an otherwise good film was curious at best.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 There is nothing new here, and little interesting, in terms of story and plot development.  A dysfunctional family has a chewy weekend after a funeral.  Streep and Roberts get some acting exercise here, but the rest of the cast is underused to the point of being wasted.


2014-11-08

20141108: Drama Review--The East



The East
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/British live action feature length film, 2013, rated PG13, 116 minutes, drama, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 6.9/10.0 from 33,230 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 6.5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 74% on the meter; 65% liked it from 19,118 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on HBO.
    5. Directed by Zal Batmanglij; written by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling.
    6. Starring: Brit Marling as Jane Owens/Sarah Moss, Alexander Skarsgard as Benji, Ellen Page as Izzy Cannon, Toby Kebbell as Doc, Shiloh Fernandez as Luca, Aldis Hodge as Thumbs, Danielle MacDonald as Tess, Jamey Sheridan as Richard Cannon.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Jane Owens goes undercover for her security firm to gain intelligence about an eco-terrorist group called The East.  As Sarah Moss, Jane succeeds in this.

    2. Soon enough, Jane takes part in the group's 'jams' or stings of corporations who have done illegal actions, such as selling poisonous drugs or polluting drinking water with carcinogens and other toxins.  In so doing, she participated in the commission of multiple felonies.  For some reason, this is not considered a problem.

    3. There are lots of consequences for the infiltrator, for the group's targets, and for The East itself.

    4. Will Jane make it out alive from this group of psychotics?  The first time I believed it, but not afterward.  Will The East survive its own terminal self-importance?  Will any of the felons described do any jail time?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: PI infiltrates eco-terrorist group that preys on corporate evildoers.
    2. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Professionally done, but not interesting.

    2. Sound: 7/10 Professionally done, but not interesting.

    3. Acting: 0/10 Sigh.  This is the weakest part of the film. There were zero believable performances.  

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 What was the point of this story?  Advocacy for eco-terrorism?  An illustration of the Stockholm syndrome?  Another vanity film (Brit Marling) that just looks like a botched effort?


20141108: Horror Review--The Revenant



The Revenant
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2009, rated R, 117 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 6.4/10.0 from 8,239 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 56% on the meter; 51% liked it from 2,140 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on the SyFy channel.
    5. Written and directed by D. Kerry Prior.
    6. Starring: David Anders as Bart Gregory, Chris Wylde as Joey Luebner, Louise Griffiths as Janet, Jacy King as Mathilda.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Bart gets shot in Iraq and dies from it.  He was embalmed, and his coffin was put in the grave.  For better or for worse, the coffin was not buried.  Bart awakens that night, leaves his coffin and finds a nearby morgue.  After cutting the cords tying his mouth shut, and ripping off some nasty looking skin, Bart goes to seek out his friend Joey.

    2. Joey is taken aback.  He was at Bart's funeral.  Bart looks rather bad.  At dawn, Bart drops to the floor.  At dusk, he rises again.  After a botched mugging against them, Bart and Joey discover that Bart needs blood to repair his body.  These traits characterise a 'revenant.'

    3. Through a bumbling progression, Bart and Joey grow to like killing violent bad guys and draining their blood.  Unfortunately, Bart helps Joey become a revenant, and the two of them become terribly more effective as they gather money, better weapons, and experience killing gangsters.

    4. Also unfortunately, they are not careful enough about disposing of the corpses of the bad guys that they kill and drink the blood of.  Some of them return as revenants, and with memory intact and with revenge intended.

    5. Perhaps more dangerous for Bart and Joey is the fact that the authorities have noticed their vigilantism.  They are tracked.

    6. Who would the greater threat be for our heroes, the revenge seekers, or those who would use them as tools?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Two friends become undead vigilantes.
    2. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Reasonably good, but awfully dark. 

    2. Sound: 5/10 A bit odd during the murder scenes.

    3. Acting: 6/10 The two principals were rather good.  The others, not so much.

    4. Screenplay: 7/10 The narration moves along nicely.


20141108: SciFi Review--Mutant World



Mutant World
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian live action feature length film, 2014, not rated, two hours with commercials, SciFi.
    2. IMDB: 6.6/10.0 from 10 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: no entries yet.
    4. I watched this on the SyFy Channel.
    5. Directed by: David Winning.
    6. Starring: Kim Coates as Marcus King, Holly Deveaux as Melissa King, Ashanti as The Preacher, Amber Marshall as Nicole, Jason Cermak as Geoff King,

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. A meteor kilometers wide strikes Earth.  A survivalist group goes underground and survives the impact.  Ten years later, the group's solar array gets damaged.  Volunteers go up to fix it.  The fix does not quite do the job, so the group goes out looking for other energy sources.  They encounter radiation and an aggressive mutant.

    2. Then they find some normal-looking humans, but they turn out to be mutants at night.  Great.

    3. They meet The Preacher, who hopes to return to Haven after finding more survivors.  Preacher helps out, but gets killed by the mutants.  Will the group make contact with Haven?  Will anyone find a way to be safe from the mutants?  Will any group find a stable solution in energy or weaponry?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Post-apocalyptic mutants versus normal humans.
    2. One star of five; two black holes for acting and screenplay.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 OK in some stretches, downright poor in others.

    2. Sound: 5/10 I could make out the dialog most of the time.  The background sound track was not a positive factor.

    3. Acting: 0/10 Uniformly worthless.  Kim Coates gave a few good moments toward the end of the film, but that did not even balance the long stretches of the film when he was not around.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 There are about twenty minutes of story stretched thinly to about 88 minutes with 32 minutes of commercials.  The film has an extra dose of terrible in the dialog.  The protagonist, Melissa, is so anti-effective as a leader than I was surprised that her followers did not frag her with extreme prejudice.


20141108: Action Review--Battle of the Damned



Battle of the Damned
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 88 minutes, action, adventure, horror.
    2. IMDB: 4.5/10.0 from 2,120 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No critic reviews yet,' and 14% liked it from 186 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on the SyFy channel.
    5. Written and directed by Christopher Hatton.
    6. Starring: Dolph Lundgren as Max Gatling, Melanie Zanetti as Jude, Matt Doran as Reese, David Field as Duke, Jen Sung as Elvis.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. From IMDb and RT statistics, it seems few people saw this, and very few liked it.  Also, why is Dolph Lundgren in this mess?

    2. A virus escapes from a research facility in Southeast Asia. The virus turns people into fast zombies. The surrounding city is quarantined. Max and his team are hired to rescue some rich fellow's daughter, who is alive behind zombie lines.

    3. Now and then one sees robots striding down the streets.

    4. Fast zombies and robots and Dolph.  How could this film miss?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Zombies, killer robots, Dolph Lundgren, but badly assembled.
    2. One of ten.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 1/10 Lots of hand-held shaky photography in all its dominant weaknesses.  Stupid camera angles, hideous lens flare, bizarre framing choices, such as tight close-ups of body parts.  I suppose the restricted palette (white, grey, black, plus muted greens and blues) had some purpose.  However the palette took away much of the shock of spilled blood.  This neutralised the impact of the zombie versus human and zombie versus robot fights.

    2. Sound: 2/10 The sound track seemed to be from the lower end of amateur public domain properties.

    3. Acting: 2/10 I still like Dolph Lundgren, but I hope he gives up lead roles in action films.  The other actors need to keep their day jobs.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 There were lots of unconvincing zombie deaths.  Having six people holed up in a mansion that's proof against zombies seemed ridiculous.  The dialog was terrible. The Duke character and his little fiefdom were absurd.  It was dreadfully boring; the two hours (on SyFy) seemed like five.


20141108: Action Review--The Darkest Hour



The Darkest Hour
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2011, rated PG-13, action, adventure, scifi.
    2. IMDB: 4.9/10.0 from 44,047 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 30 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 12% on the meter; 26% liked it from 29,171 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on SyFy, complete with commercials.
    5. Directed by: Chris Gorak.
    6. Starring: Emile Hirsch as Sean, Olivia Thirlby as Natalie, Max Minghella as Ben, Rachel Taylor as Anne, Joel Kinnaman as Skyler, Veronika Vernadskaya as Vika, Dato Bakhtadze as Sergei.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Sean and Ben fly into Moscow for a business meeting.  They are clearly unwelcome at the meeting, and have been shut out of the deal that they had anticipated closing.  Ben spent cash and time developing the proposal, but their 'partners' just stole it from them.  While commiserating at a bar, they meet Natalie and Anne.  These are the heroes?

    2. Soon thereafter, aliens make ingress.  People are killed; vehicles and buildings destroyed.  Bullets and the like do not touch the invaders, which seem to be non-solid energy beings of some sort.   The quartet wander the city looking for allies and weapons to survive.

    3. Will they find what they need?

  3. Conclusions
    1. Chris Gorak's resume reads art director (8 properties) more than director.  This is his second film as director, following Right at Your Door, 2006.
    2. One line summary: Four twenty-something slackers versus energy beings in Moscow.
    3. One of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 To go along with the title, and the location, the film is either at night or in the dim daylight.  The SFX were often cartoonish, and rough around the edges.  I expected more from an art director.  Some of the cityscapes supposedly in Moscow were well done.

    2. Sound: 4/10 The music is much too loud, the voices often too soft.

    3. Acting: 2/10 Terrible, from the lead to the bit players.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 As the film came to its conclusion, the phrase 'too convenient' kept coming to mind.  The idea that four twenty-something losers and self-described screw-ups could survive seems unlikely.  The aliens were black boxes.  Why have they come?  What do they want?  How did they get here?


2014-11-06

20141106: Horror Review--Stag Night



Stag Night
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2008, rated R, 84 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 4.9/10.0 from 2,313 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 1.5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No tomatometer score yet,' 15% liked it from 490 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on Showtime.
    5. Written and directed by: Peter A. Dowling.
    6. Starring: Kip Pardue as Mike, Vinessa Shaw as Brita, Breckin Meyer as Tony, Scott Adkins as Carl, Karl Geary as Joe, Sarah Barrand as Michele, Rachel Oliva as Claire.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. In New York City, four men warm up for a bachelor party at a dive.  One of the single men irritated a woman at the bar enough for her to leave with her friend.  Coupled with a near brawl, the four men get booted from the bar.  They decide to head to another venue uptown via subway.

    2. On the subway, they meet the two women who had exited the bar.  The earlier offender resumes his bad behaviour, and one of the women pepper sprays him.  The train stops to let another roll by.  The six young idiots exit the train to get out of the pepper spray, but do not get back in before the train takes off.

    3. They are locked out from the stairs to the surface.  Four of them enter the tunnel (where the electric rails are) to find a telephone or another (unlocked) portal to the surface.  There is a lot of bickering along the way.

    4. Surprise!  They do not have cell reception, of course.  They are not alone.  There are unfriendly people (well, cannibals) in the tunnels.

    5. Will any of them get out alive?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Elimination derby: cannibals vs twenty-somethings.
    2. One star of five; one black hole for screenplay.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 Grainy, jumpy, out of focus, too often hand-held.  Absurdly bad blood effects.

    2. Sound: 2/10 Sound does not always match lip movements, for instance.

    3. Acting: 4/10 Actors read their lines, it seemed.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Very little content, just dissension and hard brutality, plus illogical setups and cliches.


2014-11-04

20141104: Horror Review--See No Evil



See No Evil
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2006, rated R. 84 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 5.1/10.0 from 19,211 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 8 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 8% on the meter; 50% liked it from 116,343 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on Showtime.
    5. Directed by: Gregory Dark.
    6. Starring: Glenn Jacobs (Kane) as Jacob Goodnight, Christina Vidal as Christine, Samantha Noble as Kira, Michael J. Pagan as Tye, Steven Vidler as Williams, Rachel Taylor as Zoe, Craig Horner as Richie, Penny McNamee as Melissa, Luke Pegler as Michael, Tiffany Lamb as Hannah, Cecily Polson as Margaret.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Eight delinquents (imprisoned convicts, actually) volunteer to help cleanup a remote hotel in order to get reduced sentences.  Unknown to them, there was a robbery there four years back.  Williams is a security guard who was a cop at the original robbery.  Margaret sponsored the event.

    2. The groups breaks up into pairs.  Kira and Christine try to keep each other out of trouble.  Michael did some bad things to Kira in years past; Christine helps Kira avoid it happening again.  Tye and Richie look for the cash missing from the robbery.  Michael and Zoe get high.  Russell and Hannah try to get it on, then try to escape.

    3. Jacob starts killing the lot.  After a kill, he takes the eyes as souvenirs.  We learn from Williams that Jacob has some fondness for religious tattoos.  Kira gets to live a bit longer because she has such tattoos.  The others tend to get pulled in by Jacob's over-sized hook and chain.

    4. Does anyone get Jacob under control?  Does anyone survive the onslaught?

  3. Conclusions
    1. This was a WWE Films production.  Seems to be just as bad as their wrestling on television.
    2. One line summary: Uninspired teen elimination derby by WWE Films.
    3. Four of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 The camera work seems good on the whole, but the sets are rather poor.

    2. Sound: 8/10 Mostly OK.

    3. Acting: 2/10 Nothing good here.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 All the screenplay seems like recycled horror cliches. There is plenty of death, eye gouging, and blood letting.  The number of characters seems high for an 84 minute movie.  We barely get a sketch of a given character before they get killed.


20141104: Action Review--Raze



Raze

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 92 minutes, action, horror.
    2. IMDB: 5.1/10.0 from 2,910 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 44% on the meter; 33% liked it from 813 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on The Movie Channel.
    5. Directed by: Josh C. Waller.
    6. Starring: Zoe Bell as Sabrina, Rachel Nichols as Jamie, Tracie Thoms as Teresa, Bruce Thomas as Kurtz, Rebecca Marshall as Phoebe, Adrienne Wilkinson as Nancy, Bailey Anne Borders as Cody, Sherilyn Fenn as Elizabeth, Doug Jones as Joseph.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Joseph and Elizabeth run a facility where kidnapped women are extorted into fighting each other to the death.  (Fight to the death or we kill your close relative.)  The winner of each of their elimination derbies supposedly gets to go back to society as a free person.  Almost everyone dies though.

    2. Two women fight at a time.  The others get to watch.

    3. So.  Elimination derbies either proceed to the end, or the imprisoned group finds some way to fight back.  Sabrina is clearly the protagonist in this horrid situation.  Will she and her few allies break free?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Women instead of men in forced death matches.
    2. One of ten; black holes for acting, sound, screenplay.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 1/10 VHS quality coupled with occasional massive pixelation.

    2. Sound: 1/10 Horrible background music, and vocal sound quality was so so.

    3. Acting: 0/10 There was acting?  There was some mediocre martial arts choreography, but nothing akin to acting.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Flimsy story about an absurd horrific situation.


20141104: Drama Review--The Rite



The Rite
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2011, rated PG-13, 114 minutes, drama, horror, thriller.  Spoken languages are English and Italian for the most part.
    2. IMDB: 6.0/10.0 from 65,608 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 37 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 21% on the meter; 41% liked it from 51,969 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this film on Cinemax.
    5. Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom.
    6. Starring: Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant, Colin O'Donoghue as Michael Kovak, Alice Braga as Angeline, Ciaran Hinds as Father Xavier, Toby Jones as Father Matthew, Marta Gastini as Rosaria, Rutger Hauer as Istvan Kovak.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Michael is the son of an undertaker, and is trained in the trade as he grows up. In young adulthood, he decides to study for the priesthood.  After receiving a very expensive education, he chats with his mentor, Father Matthew.  On his last exams, Michael did well in most subjects, but not in theology.  Also, he has all sorts of doubts about himself, and submits his resignation.  Matthew directs him to spend some time in Rome taking a course about exorcism.  The instructor for the course is Father Xavier, who is very old school and clear about issues.  He sends Michael to Father Lucas to see what practical exorcism is about.

    2. Michael continues his dialog with Xavier, and meets a journalist, Angeline.  Michael decides to witness more of Lucas' work with the possessed woman Rosaria.

    3. The dialogs and the exorcisms continue, as do the flashbacks to Michael's youth and his issues with his father.

    4. Will Michael figure out what is bothering him and resolve it?  Will demons enter the fray?  Will Michael ever find his strength?

  3. Conclusions
    1. The film's end credits claim that Michael Kovak is a real priest operating near Chigago, US, and that Lucas Trevant is another real exorcist working near Firenze, IT, and has done over 2000 exorcisms.  If this is a 'true story,' the film makers should have done a better job.
    2. One line summary: Young man needs to resolve his doubts before becoming a priest.
    3. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Uniformly excellent.

    2. Sound: 6/10 Lots of mumbling, but some beautiful music here and there.

    3. Acting: 5/10 Not that great, but I blame that on the script.  The five points was for the fine performance of Hopkins, and nothing else.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 This would have been a nice 20 minute short.  There is not enough story here to merit 114 minutes.  The actors tried, but this is old ground, and there is little new here.  Perhaps this is a strong example of bad horror.  Inept and untrained fools with little purpose in life are expected to go up against an organised and experienced enemy.  Why should they have any hope of success?  Michael's conversion at the end is just not believable.  Perhaps this might have worked with a better actor, a better script, a better director.


20141104: Adventure Review--Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters



Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, PG, 106 minutes, adventure, fantasy.
    2. IMDB: 5.910.0 from 65,846 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 90 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 41% on the meter; 56% liked it from 101,862 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on HBO.
    5. Directed by: Thor Freudenthal.
    6. Starring: Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson, Alexandra Dadario as Annabeth, Douglas Smith as Tyson, Levin Rambin as Clarisse, Brandon T. Jackson as Grover, Jake Abel as Luke, Anthony Head as Chiron, Stanley Tucci as Mr. D (Dionysis), Nathan Fillian as Hermes, Paloma Kwiatkowski as Thalia.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The time is the present; the genre is fantasy, in particular the world according to Greek mythology.  The story centers around a safe camp for 'half bloods' who are the children of Olympian deities and humans.

    2. This film is the sequel to Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief.  The mentors of the camp are Chiron and Mr D.  Percy Jackson (son of Poseidon) and Clarisse (daughter of Ares) are still in contention.  Percy has been coming in behind Clarisse in most of the training contests that are a regular feature of camp life.

    3. At the start of the film, Thalia is shown dying heroically to save the camp from marauders.  Her father, Zeus, gave her a second life as a tree that generates a field that protects the camp full time.

    4. Years later, the camp is broken into by a huge mechanical bull that has flame throwing capabilities.  The bull breaks the shield and delivers what appears to be a fatal blow to Thalia.  Percy destroys the bull with Poseidon's sword.  Luke shows up soon afterward with allies who have joined his cause to bring down Olympus.  Luke is repelled, and the camp goes on high alert.

    5. To heal the camp's defense, Chiron and Mr D decide to send a group to the Sea of Monsters to gain the Golden Fleece from Polyphemus Island.  Clarisse is chosen to head this team, and Percy is not included.  Percy, Annabeth (daughter of Athena), Grover, and Percy's new found half-brother Tyson (son of Poseidon) decide to go as a second team.

    6. Standing in their way is Luke and his minions, who wish to bring Kronos back from the dead.  Other obstacles include the denizens of the Sea of Monsters, time running out, and large distances.  Allies include Hermes and Poseidon, who help mightily, but indirectly.

    7. Will Percy and his friends find a way to restore a semblance of order?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Rebel demigods strive to resurrect Kronos to overthrow Olympus.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Mostly fine.  The often present CGI was variable in quality, much of it good.

    2. Sound: 8/10 The dialog was clear.  The choices of music were indeed atmospheric, but not all that apropos.

    3. Acting: 6/10 I enjoyed Nathan Fillion the best; Stanley Tucci and Anthony Head were also good.  The performances of the younger set were not so fine.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 The narrative moves right along, but is somewhat predictable.


2014-11-02

20141102: Comedy Review--Adult World



Adult World
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 97 minutes, comedy.
    2. IMDB: 6.1/10.0 from 7,293 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 54% on the meter; 37% liked it from 4,530 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on Showtime.
    5. Directed by Scott Coffey, written by Andy Cochran.
    6. Starring: John Cusack as Rat Billings, Emma Roberts as Amy, Evan Peters as Alex, Armando Riesco as Rubia, Shannon Williams as Candace, John Cullum as Stan, Cloris Leachman as Mary Anne.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Amy recently graduated from a good school with 90,000 USD in debts.  She does not have a job, and has been piling up new debts with her compulsion to enter every poetry contest she can find.  Her parents are near (or somewhat past) their ability to support her financially.  Her father gives her an ultimatum: get a job.

    2. Amy goes looking for that job, and fails repeatedly.  Reaching the end of her rope, she interviews for, then accepts with regret, a job at Adult World. This sex shop sells books, magazines, and various related paraphernalia.  Amy is clueless about many things, and being a good employee is one of those things.  She tries, and is rather bad at it.  Alex advises her of her shortcomings, but she does not know that she is supposed to get better at it.  On the other hand, she makes new friends of value through work.

    3. In parallel, she convinces her poet hero, Rat Billings, to mentor her in producing good poetry.  This is not an easy relationship, to say the least.

    4. Will Amy learn some basic life skills?  Will she get published?  Will she ever get Rat's respect?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: John Cusack's performance helped float this dull comedy.
    2. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Reasonable.  The dark look reflects Syracuse in winter, but also Amy's depths of mood while struggling to navigate life on her own.

    2. Sound: 8/10 I had no problems hearing the lines spoken by the actors.

    3. Acting: 4/10 The story is good enough, but the execution was wretched.  The 97 minute runtime felt like 3 hours.  The plus four on the rating was from John Cusack's solid performance.  Emma Roberts was non-engaging.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 Some of the largest steps in the narrative were told in the closing credits.  I found this discouraging.  The pace was plodding.


2014-10-31

20141031: Drama Review--The Best Offer



The Best Offer
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Italian live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 131 minutes, drama, crime, mystery.
    2. IMDB: 7.9/10.0 from 43,079 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 13.5 million euros.  Spoken word is in English.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 56% on the meter; 75% liked it from 3,823 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on Showtime.
    5. Written and directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore.  Music by Ennio Morricone.
    6. Starring: Geoffrey Rush as Virgil Oldman, Jim Sturgess as Robert, Sylvia Hoeks as Claire Ibbetson, Donald Sutherland as Billy Whistler, Liya Kebede as Sarah, Philip Jackson as Fred, Dermot Crowley as Lambert.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Virgil Oldman is a top level art auctioneer.  His talent for recognising and evaluating centuries old art is impressive.  He is very rich from his legitimate commissions on sales. With Billy Whistler, he pulls cons at his auctions.  He sells paintings represented as ordinary and of small value, but are actually worth much, much more.  Billy buys these pieces at auction, then Virgil pays back Billy with interest.  Virgil keeps the painting for his private collection, which consists of portraits of beautiful women.  He likes the portraits, but has difficulty dealing with real women.

    2. He starts getting calls from one Claire Ibbetson to evaluate her parents' estate.  Lambert usually fields such calls, but she insists on talking to Mr Oldman. She is evasive in the extreme due to her pronounced agoraphobia.  At first he deals with her only through Fred, the caretaker.  With some diligence, he actually meets her in person, but with a wall between them.  With more persistence, he gets to see her face-to-face.

    3. In parallel, he takes parts from the basement of the estate and has Robert evaluate them.  They turn out to be pieces of a rare 18th century automaton.  Gradually Robert assembles the automaton, and advises Virgil on how to proceed with Claire.

    4. Virgil and Claire grow close, or so it seems.  Virgil has the pieces restored.  When Virgil is about to go to his last auction in London, Claire decides not to sell.  Virgil is so besotted with her that he puts up no objections.  At the auction, Billy tells Virgil that he should have had more faith in him.  It seemed a bit ominous.

    5. When Virgil returns, Claire is gone, Robert is gone, and Robert's friend Sarah is gone.  His large, valuable personal collection of paintings of beautiful women is gone.  One painting is left, which has a message from Billy.

    6. Virgil has a lonely path to tread to discover the details of the fraud and the betrayal.  Will he find the answers that he wants?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: What goes around comes around in the art world.
    2. Four stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautifully shot.

    2. Sound: 10/10 No problems, and some of it was excellent.  I had no problems hearing the dialog.

    3. Acting: 10/10 Rush, Sturgess, Hoeks, and Sutherland were quite good.

    4. Screenplay: 7/10 The narrative was slow, careful, and intricate up until the end.  Then the reappraisal of everything was rapid.  For me, the ending was a major disappointment.  On the other hand, Virgil had been doing a lot of art thievery himself.


2014-10-30

20141030: Action Review--Red 2



Red 2
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated PG-13, 116 minutes, action, comedy, crime.
    2. IMDB: 6.7/10.0 from 94,146 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 84 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 42% on the meter; 63% liked it from 91,997 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on HBO.
    5. Directed by: Dean Parisot.
    6. Starring: Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, Helen Mirren as Victoria, John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, Mary-Louise Parker as Sarah Ross, Anthony Hopkins as Dr Edward Baily, Byung-hun Lee as Han Cho Bai, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Katja, Neal McDonough as Jack Horton, David Thewlis as The Frog.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. As the film opens, Frank and Sarah are at a giant discount store.  Frank is trying to build up the household infrastructure.  Sarah is not so sure.  Frank spots Marvin following them, and the fun begins.  Sarah would like to experience Frank's line of work a bit more directly, but Frank is against it.  He's not happy that Marvin had gifted Sarah with a handgun.

    2. A document surfaced on the Internet which implicates Frank and Marvin in an old operation in Russia called Nightshade.  Soon enough, American intelligence is after them, led by Jack Horton.  They get free of the Americans, but Horton hires Han to kill Frank, while MI6 hires Victoria to do the same.  They head to Paris to get more information about the status of Nightshade from The Frog.

    3. In Paris they meet Katje, a Russian officer who has some sway over Frank.  Together, they obtain the needed information from The Frog, mostly through Sarah's persuasion.  With the new intelligence, they head back to London where they meet Victoria.  They find the location where Dr Baily, the inventor of the Nightshade device, has been held prisoner for 32 years.  Han engages them, and they steal his plane to travel to Russia with Baily.

    4. The group has some challenges to face.  Han follows them to Russia, and is not happy about his plane.  They have to get the device out of the Kremlin, with the guidance of the seemingly mad doctor.  They need to make it back to London safely.

    5. Supposing that they manage all those tasks, will the genius have one more surprise for them?  After all, 32 years is a long time to make plans.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Fast-paced sequel to Red (Retired, Extremely Dangerous).
    2. Four stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 9/10 Excellent except for a few passages of hand-held nonsense.

    2. Sound: 7/10 I had to adjust and re-adjust the volume level because of the film's music.  That was a pain.  Otherwise, I could hear the actors clearly.

    3. Acting: 9/10 Hopkins was simply stellar as the weapons inventor acting as if he was senile or demented, but was neither.  Willis, Mirren, Malkovich, and Thewlis were excellent.  I enjoyed the performances of McDonough and Lee more than I expected to.  Also, the stunt work was fabulous.

    4. Screenplay: 10/10 On the action/thriller side, the plot moved right along, and all the right pieces connected.  On the comedy side, I had several good laughs at the dialog and the situations.


2014-10-29

20141029: Drama Review--Quartet



Quartet
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. British live action feature length film, 2012, rated R, 98 minutes, drama, comedy.
    2. IMDB: 6.8/10.0 from 12,105 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 11 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 79% on the meter; 66% liked it from 10,808 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on The Movie Channel.
    5. Directed by Dustin Hoffman, written by Ronald Harwood.
    6. Starring: Maggie Smith as Jean Horton, Billy Connolly as Wilf Bond, Tom Courtenay as Reginald Paget, Pauline Collins as Cissy Robson, Michael Gambon as Cedric Livingston, Sheridan Smith as Dr Lucy Cogan.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. All the action takes place at Beecham House, a home for retired musicians.  Cedric holds court there.  His obsessions are keeping Beecham House in the black, and upholding the reputation of British opera.  Verdi's birthday, every October 10th, is an annual opportunity to feed both obsessions; the House holds a gala on that day, and tickets are sold.  The retired musicians perform a variety of pieces during the event.

    2. The narrative of the film concerns the preparation of one such gala.  Some weeks before, Jean moves into Beecham House.  She has some difficulty with entering the social life since she's very aware of her own past glory.  Sigh.  Also, she used to be married to Reginald, who has been waiting for her to come back into his life.

    3. A good chunk of the film concerns the effort to get Jean to re-create the quartet singing from Rigoletto with Reginald, Cissy, and Wilf, as they had done years before.  At the same time, Reginald and Jean get to know each other again.

    4. Will it all come together in the end?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Retired opera singers recreate a quartet piece from 40 years previous.
    2. Eight of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Excellent. Beecham House and its grounds were shot beautifully.

    2. Sound: 10/10 Excellent, with several fine pieces performed.

    3. Acting: 10/10 Excellent.  The actors listed above were all in top form.  Michael Gambon and Billy Connolly had me in stitches.  Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith were excellent on the dramatic side, and Pauline Collins' portrayal of a talented person losing her memory was quite touching.  Tom Courtenay's dialog with a young black lad about the difference between opera and rap was superb.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 Predictable, start to finish.  On the other hand, Dustin Hoffman's intelligence, wit, and deft touch are clear throughout.  Many of the one-liners are brilliant.  The overall tone of the film is sweet, lovely, rich, and sad.


2014-10-27

20141027: Drama Review--Prozac Nation



Prozac Nation
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. German/American/Canadian live action feature length film, 2001, rated R, 95 minutes, drama.
    2. IMDB: 6.3/10.0 from 12,215 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 9 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 29% on the meter; 59% liked it from 21,160 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on Cinemax.
    5. Directed by: Erik Skjoldbjaerg.  Written by Elizabeth (Lizzie) Wurtzel (original book) and Galt Niederhoffer (adapted screenplay).
    6. Starring: Christina Ricci as Elizabeth Wurtzel, Jessica Lange as Mrs. Wurtzel, Michell Williams as Ruby, Anne Heche as Dr. Sterling, Jonathan Rhys Myers as Noah, Jason Biggs as Rafe, Nicholas Campbell as Donald Wurtzel.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Lizzie's parents split up when she was two years old.  She misses her father, who is largely absent, both physically and financially.  Lizzie's mother's relationship to Lizzie's grandmother is dysfunctional, and that runs downhill to Lizzie's relationship with her mother.

    2. In 1985, Lizzie gets a journalism scholarship to Harvard.  She gets a fine award for an article she wrote about Lou Reed for the Rolling Stone.

    3. Despite the scholarship, her mother has large bills to handle.  She presses hard for Lizzie to do well.  Partly because of the early success, Lizzie cannot handle everything.  She does not have the tools to deal with the availability of sex and a variety of drugs.

    4. Her inner demons surface strongly in the presence of the new freedoms.  She descends into mental illness, and cannot write for a time.  Her mother sets up a connection with Dr. Sterling.  Lizzie's progress with the mental health professional is slow, and the sessions are dearly expensive.  Lizzie's mother has to move to a smaller apartment in a bad part of town; this has bad consequences later on.

    5. Lizzie's interactions with young men are not all that helpful.  Noah introduces her to drugs and heavy drinking.  Rafe has better effects on her, but she cannot form a stable connection with him.

    6. Just what will get Lizzie out of this pit of madness?  She has to get well to write the book that inspired the movie, after all.


  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Writer's problems with drugs, relationships, and mental illness.
    2. Five of ten.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 No particular problems.

    2. Sound: 10/10 Excellent.  Lizzie wants to be a journalist covering contemporary music, and the film's score reinforces this.

    3. Acting: 5/10 I liked the performances of Jessica Lange, Christina Ricci, and Michelle Williams.  The performances by the male characters were caricatures, which I rather resented.  An ugly, tough to embrace film like this one might do better not to go out of its way to alienate half their potential audience.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Where does the title come from?  Answer: a couple of sentences in the last five minutes of the film.  The film is heavily unbalanced in favour of showing the descent into madness and the damage done.  Precious little screen time was spent on the recovered state or the process of getting there.  The film ends up being more depressing than illuminating.  The use of obscenity was bit shocking at first, but became progressively more meaningless after the first twenty or thirty iterations.


2014-10-26

20141026: Comedy Review--Moonrise Kingdom



Moonrise Kingdom
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2012, PG 13, comedy, drama, romance.
    2. IMDB: 7.8/10.0 from 186,113 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 16 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 94% on the meter; 86% liked it from 132,953 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this film on HBO.
    5. Directed by: Wes Anderson; written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.
    6. Starring: Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp, Harvey Keitel as Commander Pierce, Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, Bill Murray as Walt Bishop, Frances McDormand as Laura Bishop, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Jared Gilman as Sam, Kara Hayward as Suzy, Bob Balaban as The Narrator.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film is set on New Penzance Island, 16 miles long, in 1965.  Preteens Suzy and Sam decide to run away together in honor of their love for each other, plus their general unhappiness with their living situations.  Suzy lives with her parents, both lawyers, and three younger brothers.  Sam is an orphan who is in a foster home, but spends a lot of his time camping with the Khaki Scouts.

    2. Suzy's mother is having an affair with (police) Captain Sharp.  Her father seems to miss this, but Suzy does not.  Sam's foster home is loaded with much larger males who do not especially care for him.  Flashbacks tell how Sam and Suzy met; a year later they decide to run away from home together.  Sam's activities encourage his foster parents to expel him; this starts Social Services on his trail.

    3. The bulk of the film concerns the hit and miss search for the young pair, and the fall out when they are found.  Captain Sharp, the scouts, and Social Services are on the hunt. Add to this a great storm (Hurricane Maybelline) that impacts the island later in the film.

    4. How does all this turn out?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Preteen pair lead authorities on a chase.
    2. Four stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 This is not a high budget film, but the visuals were well-crafted and fine to look at.

    2. Sound: 8/10 The background musical numbers were good for adding atmosphere.  I could hear the dialog.

    3. Acting: 9/10 With another director, I would not praise the acting all that much.  However, this brilliant cast clearly got along quite well with the director, and they are all on the same page.

    4. Screenplay: 8/10 Nostalgic and stylized.  If you have acquired the taste for Anderson's work (which I have), you will likely be delighted.


2014-10-14

20141014: Drama Review--Thanks for Sharing



Thanks for Sharing
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2012, rated R, 112 minutes, drama.
    2. IMDB: 6.4/10.0 from 13,008 audience ratings.  Spoken word is in English.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 49% on the meter; 43% liked it from 9,952 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Stuart Blumberg.  Written by: Matt Winston, Stuart Blumberg.
    5. Starring: Tim Robbins as Mike, Joely Richardson as Katie, Patrick Fugit as Danny, Mark Ruffalo as Adam, Gwyneth Paltrow as Phoebe, Josh Gad as Neil,  Pink as Dede, Carol Kane as Roberta.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. This is a film about sex addiction.  The intertwined stories of addicts coming out of addiction and trying to help others do the same makes up the whole film.

    2. Mike is an addict.  He and his wife Katie have a drug addicted son Danny.  Mike mentors Adam, who in turn mentors Neil.  Roberta is Neil's abusive mother, and Phoebe becomes Adam's girlfriend.

    3. Mike's commitment to helping fellow addicts brings friction with Katie, but eventually helps (somewhat) with his son Danny.  Danny needs his time too, but Mike takes too long to prioritize his wife and son.  Phoebe hits the roof when she discovers Adam is a sex addict.  Neil tries hard to keep people from finding out, but has failures.  He helps Dede when her sponsor does not respond; she helps him in return.

    4. The slow slogging threads continue to the end of the film.  No one's life is easy, and there are hitches and glitches along the way.

    5. Will any of these addicts find release?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: The tough road to getting out of addictions.
    2. Six of ten.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 Uninspiring.

    2. Sound: 6/10 The actors were audible, but the sound track alternated between nonexistent and irritatingly badly chosen.

    3. Acting: 7/10 When Tim Robbins is matched with a master class director (say Robert Altman in The Player, 1992 or Frank Darabont in The Shawshank Redemption, 1994) he can deliver fine performances.  This time, not so much.  Gwyneth Paltrow did not seem to have a lot to work with here, either.  The same applies to Mark Ruffalo.  I rather liked the cast, but the screenplay was not all that good at using their talent.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 The picture detailed a lot of the nitty gritty bad times that addicts often go through to help each other dig themselves out of addiction.  That's fine.  However, I saw little in the way of deeper insight into this all too prevalent problem.  I wish Robert Altman had directed.  There might have been some re-writes and exhortation that made a better film.


2014-10-07

20141007: Documentary Review--Galapagos Affair



The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 120 minutes, documentary, crime.
    2. IMDB: 6.8/10.0 from 259 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 82% on the meter; 72% liked it from 1,112 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.5/5.0 from 57,905 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine.
    6. Starring: (voice actors all) Cate Blanchett as Dore Strauch, Sebastian Koch as Heinz Wittmer, Thomas Kretschmann as Friedrich Ritter, Diane Krueger as Margret Wittmer, Connie Nielsen as Baroness Von Wagner, Josh Radnor as John Garth.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Set in the 1930s, a small group of well-to-do Germans decide to forsake Europe and start out fresh in the Galapagos Islands to the west of South America.  The film is presented by voice actors reading the journals and letters of the individuals involved, by interviewing scholars of the islands, and by interviewing descendents of the few settlers in the early 1930s.

    2. Dr. Ritter and Dore Strauch arrived in 1929, and settled on the island of Floreana, which was not populated at the time.  They were followed by the Wittmers, and later by the Baroness and her two sycophants.  There was a bit of jostling at first.  By the time the Wittmers had a new baby borne on the island, there was at least some recognition and gift-giving to mark the occasion.

    3. However, by January 1933, problems had arisen.  The second visit of the Valero, a ship carrying researchers and wealthy members, brought gifts for the Ritters.  Dissension followed.  The Baroness wanted her share of the gifts, and she wanted a movie made of her outpost during the next visit of the Valero.  The Baroness had set up a sign at the dock proclaiming her 'hotel' inland, the Hacienda Paradiso.  Representatives of the Valero trekked up to see it on general principles and because a Norwegian visitor to the island had fled from the Baroness and taken refuge with Dr. Ritter.  The representatives were appalled by the lack of concern for sanitation at the Baroness' place, but did not see the problems the Norwegian described.

    4. The curious rich started to come more frequently to Floreana, and more so to the larger islands of Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.  Competition for gifts from the travelers and time spent on their yachts increased.  Dr. Ritter's dream of living in an unspoiled paradise fell away with each gift he accepted.  The film makes the point that this was common.

    5. Dr. Ritter and the Norwegian filed charges for the Norwegian's treatment at the Hacienda Paradiso.  However, the governor of the islands was overly impressed by a person with a European title.  Instead of penalizing her, the governor gave her title to four square miles of land, while giving title to 50 acres each for the Wittmers.  So that's 2560 acres for the Baroness, 200 for the Wittmers.  He also declared the spring near the Wittmers' original settlement to be a common resource.  Toward the end of 1933, and during the beginning of 1934, a drought was steady.  Visitation almost completely dried up.  The unwelcoming environment of the island became closer to hostile with gardens not producing and animals dying.

    6. So, the stage was set for bad things to happen.  In March of 1934, the Baroness said she was leaving for Tahiti, so as to better her chances with the hotel.  The Baroness and one of her paramours was gone, but no one saw her leave.  What happened?  Dr. Ritter died that November, but the accounts of it were quite dissimilar.

    7. Will these competing stories ever be resolved?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Contradictory accounts of deaths in Galapagos in 1934.
    2. Eight of ten.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 This was a mixed bag, which is always the case for historical documentaries.  The media pieces from the 1930s were fine for the time but terrible by current standards. The visuals and sound for the modern interviews was solid.

    2. Sound: 6/10 Sometimes effective, sometimes curious.

    3. Voice Acting: 9/10 This was rather good; the actors voiced writings by the long dead principals while stills or archival film was shown.

    4. Screenplay: 8/10 The composition of elements was fine.


2014-10-06

20141006: Thriller Review--Age of Tomorrow



Age of Tomorrow
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2014, NR, 90 minutes, action, thriller, scifi.
    2. IMDB: 1.9/10.0 from 1,134 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No consensus yet,' 17% liked it from 19 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.2/5.0 from 37,531 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: James Kondelik
    6. Starring: Kelly Hu as Dr. Gordon, Anthony Marks as Captain James Wheeler, Robert Picardo as General Magowan, Lane Townsend as Chris Meher, Morgan West as Rick Sullivan, Mitchell Carpenter as Colonel Mac.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Many small meteors hit Earth.  One of the movie's threads is following the firemen who try to contain fires in Los Angeles.

    2. Dr. Gordon is tracking a asteroid a quarter the size of the Moon that is heading fast to strike the Earth.  General Magowan coordinates the attempts to deflect/destroy the asteroid and the evacuation effort.  The General brings in Captain Wheeler, a man consumed by past problems; Colonel Mac is opposed to Wheeler being involved.

    3. So we have immediate problems, long term much bigger problems, countdown to complete disaster, and some embedded personal issues.  So we've got...Armageddon (1998) again?

    4. That does not sound too bad except for the following glitches: Asylum produced the film, the screenplay is weak, the people playing the heroes are clearly not actors, the unknown spacecraft introduced to provide transportation looks like a joke, and Bruce Willis is not in the film.  The space suits look ridiculous, the dialog sucks, and the Earth technology varies from steampunk to advanced beyond Star Trek.

    5. Soon the five member expeditionary force discovers that the rock is a base for an invasion by an advanced alien race.  Their mighty ship is destroyed by two or three bolts from a couple of invader drones.  The film does not get better after this.  The likelihood of all actions just continues to flow down the slippery slope.

    6. After the five are teleported to the alien habitat, they behave in a particularly stupid manner. It was no surprise to see their unfortunate fates.

    7. Will any of these incompetent characters survive?  Will the totally irritating offspring of the fire fighter live another day? Will Earth continue?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Avoid this bad, multiply derivative effort by Asylum Films.
    2. One of ten.  Three black holes for screenplay, SFX, and acting.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10  The alien drones look more primitive than those in Eyeborgs (2009), but act much more powerful. The lighting and filtration sucked, and we had a good dose of shaky cam toward the end.

    2. Sound: 2/10 Fairly tacky adventure music, perhaps taken from public domain sources.  The alien noises early on sounded suspiciously like Forbidden Planet (1956).

    3. Acting: 2/10 Kelly Hu and Robert Picardo are obviously actors, but they are given so little to work with.  All the other actors were not so good.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Jumping back and forth between a fake rock and people in 1950s space suites to fire fighters in modern LA was jarring at best.  Hideous dialog.  Zero sense of humor.  The last 15 minutes were the worst of all.

    5. SFX: 0/10 Absurdly bad.  The design of the alien invading race was poorly executed and made little sense.  The battle between the fireman and the drone was unbelievably bad, especially after what the drones showed they could do before.  The space team used a weapon to drill 50 feet into rock in 3 seconds.  When used on a naked alien, it could not penetrate the skin.  Seriously?  High-powered rifle fire on full auto cannot touch an alien, but a fire axe can? No, thanks.


2014-10-05

20141005: Fantasy Review--RIPD



RIPD
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, PG13, 96 minutes, fantasy, mystery.
    2. IMDB: 5.6/10.0 from 70,211 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 130 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 13% on the meter; 39% liked it from 80,526 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on HBO.
    5. Directed by:  Robert Schwentke
    6. Starring: Ryan Reynolds as Nick, Jeff Bridges as Roy, Mary-Louise Parker as Proctor, Kevin Bacon as Hayes, James Hong as Nick's avatar, Marisa Miller as Roy's avatar.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. At the outset, Nick and Hayes are partners on the Boston police force.  During a large drug raid, Hayes frags Nick.  Rather than going downward in the afterlife, Nick is offered a slot in the RIPD (Rest in Peace Department).  His job is to round up (or destroy), spirits that refuse to go up or down after death.  These targets are dubbed 'deadons' for historical reasons, no doubt.

    2. Nick is teamed with Roy, an old-fashioned Western marshal type.  Both of them have avatars that normal living humans see.  Nick's avatar is an elderly Chinese man, while Roy's is a blonde woman with a lush physique.

    3. In one of their early cases together, the pair find some gold with odd markings on it.  This in turn, is related to some human-deadon smuggling operations.  They discover that Hayes is involved in this traffic, and Nick is naturally eager to pursue this, especially since he was unintentionally part of this before Hayes shot him.

    4. Word comes down from on high that the gold pieces are part of a magical artifact of considerable danger to the upper realm and the human realm.  If the deadons manage to get all the gold together and construct the artifact, real problems will start. As an extra, Roy and Nick are kicked off the case.

    5. How do our blundering heroes redeem themselves, or do they?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Not quite funny enough derivative apocalyptic film.
    2. Six of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 SFX were OK but not spectacular.  Also, several of the climatic scenes were too much like Ghostbusters.

    2. Sound: 6/10 Sound was not used well enough to heighten tension or to underscore comedy.

    3. Acting: 7/10 Reynolds, Bridges, Parker, and Bacon were fine.  I think a better script could have produced a much better film with this level of actors.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 I wish it had been more funny.  Some of the film reminded me too much of Ghostbusters without as much enjoyment.