20140228: Horror Review--Hellraiser 1 1987

Hellraiser 1 (1987)
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. British live action feature length film, 1987, rated R, 93 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 7.1/10.0 from 58,668 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 1 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 63% on the meter; 74% liked it from 67,622 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.3/5.0 from 1,992,811 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by Clive Barker.
    6. Starring: Andrew Robinson as Larry, Clare Higgins as Julie, Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton, Sean Chapman as Frank, Oliver Smith as Frank the Monster.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Frank Cotton buys a puzzle cube in the Middle East from an East Asian man.  This was nice and ominous.  Later, in a private place of his choosing, Cotton manipulates the cube, opening it up, and gets a visitation that he may or may not have expected.

    2. We jump forward in time.  A couple unlocks an 'old homestead' which has been empty for some interval, and has the associated musty smell.  We're in the UK, and the people entering are Larry and Julia, a middle class white couple.  It's been empty for close to a decade.  Larry is Frank's brother; the house belonged to their mother.  Larry supposed that Frank needed a place to hang out, or lie low, perhaps.  There is a lot of twisted religious art left behind, which Larry intends to sell off.

    3. Larry and Julia have moved from Brooklyn (Larry is American) back to England, where Larry has landed a good job and Julia should be more at home.  Larry suggests Kirsty have a look at the place.  Julia seems to have reservations, and she finds pictures of her being intimate with Frank.  Larry and Kirsty (Larry's daughter) talk on the phone.  He's not happy about her getting a job; she's not happy about living with Dad and Julia.

    4. So, in 13 minutes, we've got all sorts of things that could go wrong.  Demonic influences, marital infidelity, teen-aged rebelliousness, and a cuckolded husband who has been doing a slow-boil for who knows how long.  Let's not forget rising damp, insect infestation, and other vermin leftover from Frank's stay in the house.  Then there are the movers who are trying to hit on both Julia and Kirsty.  Great moving day all around.  Just to add some straight up pain, Larry cuts his hand badly while helping the movers.  His fallen blood awakens something, to the notice of the viewers, but not the characters, who scoot off to hospital.

    5. Just to add to the mix, Frank shows up.  Well, something that claims to be Frank, anyway.  The hideous half-formed creature asks Julia to provide sacrifices so that his return can be complete. Larry's blood brought him just so far, but he needs more to make a full recovery to being the old Frank.  Julia decides to provide 'Frank' what he wants.

    6. The rest of the film is about the rather harsh consequences of that decision.

    7. Does anyone survive?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Written and directed by Clive Barker; the best of the Hellraiser series.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Netflix showed this in 4:3 aspect, even though the film was recorded in 1.85; this always means visual content has been deleted.  I hope to see this film again in its full aspect.

    2. Sound: 10/10 The music by Christopher Young was effective for engendering various atmospheric moods.  The actors were miked well enough.

    3. Acting: 8/10 Quite liked the performances of Clare Higgins, Andrew Robinson, and Sean Chapman.  

    4. Screenplay: 10/10 Great story telling.  Manages to convey suspense and consequence as many modern films do not.

    5. SFX: 7/10 SFX from 1987 look a bit dated in 2014.  However, the SFX still work well to convey the threat of the 'other' (the Cenobites) and hideous damage to the body.


20140227: Action Review--The Courier

The Courier
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2012, rated R, 95 minutes, action, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 4.5/10.0 from 3,163 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 15.5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' 11% liked it from 239 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.3/5.0 from 289,948 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Hany Abu-Assad.
    6. Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Courier, Mickey Rourke as Maxwell, Josie Ho as Anna, Til Schweiger as Lispy, Mark Margolis as Stitch, Lily Taylor as Mrs. Capo, Miguel Ferrer as Mr. Capo.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The opening sequence in the amusement park was so-so.  It had the dusty smell of comic book turned live action, but not in a good way.

    2. While Stitch is binding up his wounds from the opening sequence, The Courier gets a new case.  He's offered 120,000 USD if he succeeds; if not, people who like him, but don't know his criminal associations, will be enlightened, but not in a good way.  So he takes the job.

    3. The Courier (can't remember his name or early life) gets a clue to the whereabouts of his target, Evil Sivle (oi, Elvis Live) from the Internet, plus some porous online databases.  Before leaving his base in New Orleans, he gets some serious hand weapons, and transportation in the form of a stolen key to a private propeller plane.  Anna flies him to St Louis since Stitch sent her.  He finds the person he wanted to talk to, but a hit man arrives and kills the contact.  On the body of the hit man, The Courier finds a sheet of paper with three pictures on it; these are his next clues.

    4. Anna and the Courier fly to their next city, which is New Orleans, where he started.  The hit man already took out his target in Lake Charles, St Louis was his second successful stop, New Orleans his third.  The Courier finds his last hope of a contact, but Mr and Mrs Capo are in hot pursuit. They manage to escape for a while, and the Courier gets a little information linking Evil Sivle and Maxwell.  Then the hit succeeds, and the Courier spends time with the police.  He uses the stay to borrow police computers to get information on Evil Sivle (Connor Maxwell), who is Maxwell's son by adoption or some bogus common law sort of thing.

    5. The chase goes on and on.  The Capos have to be dealt with, and Maxwell has to be found.  Supposing the Courier succeeds, will he deliver the package?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Amnesiac confronts his identity; reasonable film, but please no sequel.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Dark, gloomy, but well-shot.

    2. Sound: 7/10 Eh, OK.

    3. Acting: 6/10 There are some good actors here: Mickey Rourke, Mark Margolis, Lily Taylor, Miguel Ferrer, and Josie Ho; Jeffrey Dean Morgan is not so bad either.  So, what happened?  The screenplay is too simplistic and not up to the quality of the actors.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 The closing credits were extra long due to large number of producers on the film.  'Too many cooks spoil the broth.'  Perhaps too many producers (or not enough direction) spoil the film.  The ending was easily predictable, no surprise at all, but did beg for a sequel, which I hope will not come.


20140225: Drama Review--Bruna Surfistinha

Bruna Surfistinha (Little Surfer Girl)
  1. Production Fundamentals; Reception
    1. Brazilian live action feature length film, 2011, TV-14, 107 minutes, biography, drama.  Spoken word is in Brazilian Portuguese; subtitles in English.
    2. IMDB: 6.0/10.0 from 2,583 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 4 million BRL.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and 37% liked it from 309 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.3/5.0 from 19,022 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by Marcus Baldini.
    6. Starring: Deborah Secco as Raquel/Bruna, Cassio Gabus Mendes as Huldson, Drica Moraes as Larissa, Fabiula Nascimento as Janine, Cristina Lago as Gabi, Guta Ruiz as Carol.

  2. Setup, Plot
    1. Raquel Pacheco was adopted by an upper middle class family in Sao Paulo.  However, at 17 she broke away from this life to live in a brothel.  She uses Bruna as her working name, and Surfistinha as her nickname.  She does well for a while, but her relationship with the other women becomes turbulent.  She moves to a new apartment setting with Gabi after meeting Carol at a dance club.  She has even more success, starts a blog about her activities, which brings her even more business.  She enjoys the spotlight for a while. Eventually she starts using drugs; unfortunately, the drug use and the fame hit about the same time.  She crashes over this, and ends up chasing men in cars.

    2. After recovering from the drugs, she writes a book about her experiences, and the book does fairly well.  Her popularity in Brazil inspired the current movie, which is a dramatic representation shown on television of a section of her life.

    3. Netflix showed this as 'Confessions of a Brazilian Call Girl.'

  3. Conclusions
    1. There is quite a lot of skin and simulated sexual activity shown in this film.  TV14 seems a bit light of a rating; NC17 might be closer to accurate.  So watch under advisement.

    2. Bruna Surfistinha is a soft core porn film that exploits Deborah Secca's physique more than anything else.  The acting is better than that of American 'reality' television, but not by a whole lot.

    3. As a dramatic treatment of a difficult life, the film seems too rosy, even though it depicts hard times that Raquel experienced.

    4. One line summary: Rise, fall, and recovery of a Brazilian call girl and media star.

    5. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 The film looks good for the most part, but it often shows TV/VHS quality rather than theatrical quality.

    2. Sound: 6/10 was not that relevant to me.  I do not understand Brazilian Portuguese, and the incidental music was not a factor.  The subtitles seemed to be in reasonable parallel to the actors' intentions.

    3. Acting: 5/10 OK, but not great, as noted above.  Deborah Secco and Drica Moraes were the best.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 The film does tell a story, though it is more than a bit disjointed at times.


20140224: Drama Review--Concussion

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 96 minutes, drama.
    2. IMDB: 5.8/10.0 from 1,147 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 75% on the meter; 56% liked it from 1,106 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.8/5.0 from 47,085 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Stacie Passon.
    6. Starring: Robin Wiegert as Abby Ableman, Johnathan Tchaikovsky as Justin, Maggie Siff as Sam Bennet, Ben Shenkman as Graham Bennet, Daniel London as Evan, Janel Moloney as Pru, Julie Fain Lawrence as Kate Abelman.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Abby gets a baseball to the head; hence the title.  At age 42, this event, plus general mid-life crisis, seems like a reason to change up her life significantly.

    2. She provisions a new apartment that she shares (non-overlapping time slots) with Justin.  She finds that his girlfriend is paying for college by arranging prostitutes for lesbians.  Abby tries a prostitute arranged through the girlfriend.  The prostitute has good things to say about Abby; after several talks with Justin, he agrees to help get her clients.

    3. Not unexpectedly, some of the client matchups work out well, others not.  After a time, she cuts out Justin and works with his girlfriend directly.  Clients come and go.

    4. Since her relationship with Justin has deteriorated somewhat, she and Justin decide to sell it.

    5. At the end of the day, does her choice of activities make anything better?  Is anything cleared up?  Is there any resolution that arises?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Entitled lesbian tries prostitution to fix her emotional constipation.
    2. Final rating: 1/10

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautiful.

    2. Sound: 9/10 No particular problems.

    3. Acting: 0/10 There are lots of head shots of entitled people who are ever so satisfied with themselves.  This endless, pointless, distracting stream of body English rather defeats attempts at acting in this muddy vanity film by a first-time auteur.  The lead, Robin Weigert, was the worst.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Oi, tiresome.  Lots of kvetching, PC rants, and people who cannot connect with themselves.  The kvetching and the rants come from the self-loathing.  Does this emotional constipation ever get unblocked?  No.


20140223: Action Review--Ambushed

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 96 minutes, action, crime.
    2. IMDB: 3.6/10.0 from 586 audience ratings; aspect 2.35
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' 20% liked it from 52 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.0/5.0 from 7,674 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Giorgio Serafini.
    6. Starring: Dolph Lundgren as Maxwell, Randy Couture as Jack Reiley, Vinnie Jones as Vincent Camastra, Carly Pope as Beverly, Giani Capaldi as Eddie, Daniel Bonjour as Frank, Cinthya Carmona as Ashley, Carly Pope as Agent Beverly Royce.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Frank starts out with a strip joint in Los Angeles.  Frank and Eddie branch out in the drug business.  As they attempt to expand in the business, they steal drugs from Vincent Camastra, which was a bad idea.

    2. DEA agent Maxwell gets into the scene and takes over from the locals, including the surly Detective Jack Reiley.  Jack has a cocaine habit, and he rousts minor dealers for money and cocaine.

    3. There's a separate, completely bungled thread about Eddie and his straight, non-criminal girlfriend Ashley.  She believes his often ridiculous excuses about long absences, strange acquaintances, and odd injuries.  Maxwell's on-the-job relationship with Beverly was not skillfully written either.  That only served to show Maxwell had an extra motivator for the violent ending: Beverly goes undercover, and her life is at risk.

    4. Vincent convinces Frank and Eddie that he is upset, and demands some money in two days.  Eddie tells Frank that he wants to back up to just doing his strip club after they do a job for Vincent.  Jack researches Frank, then attempts to hold him up for money in his strip club.  It's Frank's club, and he and his bouncers beat the nonsense out of him, take his gun, and shoot him through the hand.

    5. There is plenty of setup for lots of violence to bring resolution.

    6. Will Maxwell and his team get Vincent?  Will Frank and Eddie square things up with Vincent?  Will Jack get his revenge on Frank?  Will Jack's boss at LAPD cut short his career, or will Internal Affairs get him first?

  3. Conclusions
    1. For moderate action and large quantities of cleavage, this is your film.  For sparkling dialog and brilliant expositon of motivation, look elsewhere.
    2. One line summary: Crime, action-adventure film that needed a better script and plot.
    3. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 9/10 Nicely shot; only a little bit of shaky camera work.

    2. Sound: 9/10 Good.

    3. Acting: 2/10 Pretty bad, all around, no real exceptions.  A better script would have helped a lot here.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Has a beginning, middle, and end.  The plot threads progressed to more or less logical conclusions.  However, a lot of the dialog is almost campy, and motivations were weak.


20140222: Horror Review--Shotgun Wedding

Shotgun Wedding
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 92 minutes, crime, comedy.
    2. IMDB: 5.2/10.0 from 152 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' 100% liked it from 4 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.9/5.0 from 10,503 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Danny Roew.
    6. Starring:  Mike Damus as Robert Fletcher, Bonita Friedericy as Yvette (Robert's mother), Kim Shaw as Rosemary Milton, James Eckhouse as Philip 'Flip' Milton, Joel McKinnon Miller as Hank Fletcher, Kevin Christy as Ted, Kelsey Ford as Elizabeth, Megan Heyn as Pensee, Brett Stiller as Declan.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. This is an extremely black humor version of wedding videos.

    2. During the stupid but obligatory pre-wedding day drinking, the groom Robert accidentally shoots Pensee, the MOH (maid of honour) in the face while shooting skeet.  Then the endless layers of coverup begin.  Covering up the original injury results in deaths.

    3. Yvette, the MOG (mother of the groom) and Hank, the FOG, are principal in the coverups, but Elizabeth joins in since she wants to be promoted to MOH to replace Pensee.  Apparently she just does not care about legalities.  Ted helps out as well.  The bride, Rosemary, is kept in the dark almost until the end.  A couple of the professional videographers stay quiet because they hope to get awards for their footage of the savage and criminal proceedings.

    4. The whole thing looks like it is about to unravel.  However, the FOB, Philip, a four term judge running for re-election, makes it clear that nothing is going to hurt his campaign's chances.

    5. Do we have a happy Hollywood ending, or does justice prevail?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Black comedy about the horror of a wedding day gone very, very bad.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Hand held camera problems aplenty, but a good chunk of the film was shot traditionally.

    2. Sound: 7/10 No problems most of the time; some of the sound from handhelds was iffy.

    3. Acting: 6/10 I especially enjoyed Bonita Friedericy as the MOG, Kelsey Ford as Elizabeth, Brett Stiller as the bride's former boy friend, and Joel Miller as the FOB.  Many of the bit players were not very good.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 The script did a better job than I expected keeping the suspense up.

20140222: Comedy Review--Cottage Country

Cottage Country
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 91 minutes, comedy, action, crime.  Spoken language is English.
    2. IMDB: 5.5/10.0 from 1,554 audience ratings. 
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet,' and 20% liked it from 127 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.4/5.0 from 25,627 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Peter Wellington.
    6. Starring: Malin Akerman as Cammie Ryan, Tyler Labine as Todd Chipowski, Dan Petronijevic as Salinger Chipowski, Lucy Punch as Masha.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Cammie is pleased to find an engagement ring when going through her boyfriend Todd's things before a special trip.  He gets delayed by his boss putting in a last minute requirement that ruins his Friday.  They leave late for their trip.

    2. Todd and Cammie get to the cottage that his parents own.  They think they will be alone, but Todd's brother Salinger shows up with Masha.  Cammie insists that Todd gets Salinger to leave.  While Cammie and Masha are out collecting mushrooms, Salinger will not be convinced with words.  So he and Todd get into a fight that ends with Todd killing Salinger.

    3. Cammie and Todd have a rather earnest discussion.  She's 34 and does not want to wait for Todd to get out of jail or wait to find another man suitable to father her children.  So she convinces him to kill Masha, which does not go too smoothly.

    4. Todd forgets to tell Cammie about Salinger's plans to invite some people over.  When Cammie and Todd get back from his formal proposal to Cammie on the island that she insisted on, the 'some people' have arrived, and turns out to be a full scale party.

    5. Some of the party goers are very interested in where Salinger is.

    6. Will Cammie and Todd, with their meager skills at deceit, be able to stay out of jail?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary:  Poor acting and screenplay defeat beautiful lakefront scenery.
    2. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Really good in both daylight and in dark scenes.  Beautiful scenery.

    2. Sound: 8/10 OK.

    3. Acting: 3/10 Malin Akerman and Tyler Labine I did not believe for a second.  Lucy Punch was just irritating.  Dan Petronijevic I could have done without, completely.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 Was this supposed to be funny?  Fail.  Was this supposed to be a a reasonable crime procedural?  Not even close.  Was it an action film?  Well, no.  There is perhaps one fight in the film.  The plus 3 is for the well deserved ending.

20140222: Action Review--A Company Man

A Company Man
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. South Korean live action feature length film, 2012, NR, 96 minutes, action, drama, thriller.  Spoken word is in Korean; subtitles in English.
    2. IMDB: 6.6/10.0 from 1,332 audience ratings. Aspect, 2.35.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet,' 49% liked it from 110 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.8/5.0 from 74,170 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Sang-yoon Lim.
    6. Starring: So-ji Sub as Hyeong-do, Lee Mi-Yeon as Su-Yeon.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Hyeong-do is assigned to terminate a man.  The man asks that he give a certain woman some money.  He does this.  The woman is someone who he knew from earlier in his life, who used to be a singer.

    2. He finds her, gives her the money, and meets with her now and then.  He puts off killing the man, but later is cornered into doing it.

    3. He grows closer to the woman, and helps her buy a small shop.  He encourages her to sing again.  He decides to resign at a meeting.  His company sends two others to escort him to the meeting.  They were also assigned to kill him.

    4. Throughout much of the film, he consults a disgraced former operative that the company let live for some unclear reason.   He confides in this man.  He decides to take the singer and her two children to a 'safe' place. 

    5. How well does that work?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Professional assassin develops a conscience at great expense.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Good.

    2. Sound: 8/10 The subtitles seemed to be good.  Incidental music and foley were folded in nicely.

    3. Acting: 9/10 I liked the principal actors very much.

    4. Screenplay: 8/10 Reasonable story, well told.  Loved the final revenge phase.


20140221: Drama Review--Adore

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Australian/French live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 111 minutes, drama, romantic.  Spoken word is English.
    2. IMDB: 6.2/10.0 from 10,589 audience ratings.  Aspect, 2.35; estimated  budget 16 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 32% on the meter; 44% liked it from 3,885 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.4/5.0 from 106,649 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Anne Fontaine.
    6. Starring: Naomi Watts as Lil, Robin Wright as Roz, Xavier Samuel as Ian, James Frecheville as Tom, Ben Mendelson as Harold, Gary Sweet as Saul.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Lil and Roz have sons, Ian and Tom, about the same age.  Lil's husband passes away, and Harold, father of Roz's Tom is not central in her life.  Fifteen or so years later, the sons are adults who are still living at home.  Harold gets a job far away in Sydney.  Roz seems a bit loath to join him.

    2. Through some innocent interactions, Roz and Ian start being attracted to one another, physically speaking.  Similarly, Tom and Lil seem to have a few sparks flying.

    3. That's where the evasions start for a while.  Ian and Roz match up first.  Tom and Lil begin a bit more slowly.  Tom tells Lil about Roz and Ian, but Lil does not want to discuss it with Roz.  Eventually they do discuss it, and act like they are going to stop the activity with the sons.  But they don't.

    4. The rest of the film is about these four people dealing with these unconventional relationships.  Roz eventually breaks it off with Harold.  Lil has always kept Saul a bit distant.

    5. How will this play out over the long term?  There are all sorts of changes along the way; the sons show interest in women their own ages, for instance.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Lifelong women friends have unconventional relationships with each other's sons.
    2. Four stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Very nice indeed.

    2. Sound: 9/10 Good and competent; they might have used background music a bit more.

    3. Acting: 9/10 Solid performances all around.

    4. Screenplay: 8/10 Most of this story was beautifully told.  Unfortunately, the ending could have been dealt with better.

20140221: Action Review--S I S

S. I. S.
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2008, NR, 79 minutes, action, crime, drama.
    2. IMDB: 4.2/10.0 from 186 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' 33% liked it from 8 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.4/5.0 from 81,925 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: John Herzfeld.
    6. Starring: Keith David as Joseph Armstrong, Matt Nable as Melville Atkinson, Christina Cox as Roz, Peter Stebbings as Billy Beckett, Omari Hardwick as Donovan, John Billingsly as Ira (Veterinarian, friend of Melville), Alex Cuervo as Garcia, Amanda Melby as Dorri, Domenick Lombardozzi as Vic, Scott Reitz as Detective Gabriel.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. S. I. S. means Special Investigations Section, Los Angeles PD.

    2. Joesph is the veteran boss, Melville the the hotheaded field leader; Donovan, Dorri, Garcia are other members of the team.  SIS has a low profile.

    3. In the early going, Garcia gets killed when a shootout with a jewel theft gang ends badly.  Finishing the mutual vengeance is what the rest of the film is about.  The thieves, led by Vic, want to kill everyone in SIS; SIS wants to kill all of them.  Great stuff.  Billy replaces Garcia.

    4. Roz and her boss work with part of LAPD that is after SIS.  Joseph is on touchy ground with the chief.

    5. Will SIS get Vic in a reasonable manner?  Will SIS keep its charter within LAPD?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Competent police procedural, but nothing outstanding to report.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Shaky cam, fuzzy focus, VHS-level contrast problems.  Some of the full-daylight footage is good.

    2. Sound: 6/10 The dialog is audible, but incidental music is not really used to good effect.

    3. Acting: 6/10 Almost up to the script.  Keith David was fine.  Most of the other actors were competent, plus or minus a little.

    4. Screenplay: 7/10 Usual sort of police procedural.

20140221: Horror Review--Zombie Night

Zombie Night
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, TV14, 88 minutes, horror, zombies.
    2. IMDB: 3.4/10.0 from 351 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 1 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No scores yet,' and 8% liked it from 441 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.9/5.0 from 30,269 audience ratings.
    5. Saw this on SyFy originally, and thought it set a low water mark for zombie films.
    6. Directed by: John Gulager.
    7. Starring: Anthony Michael Hall as Patrick, Darryl Hannah as Birdy, Alan Ruck as Joseph, Shirley Jones as Nana, Jennifer Taylor as Karin, Rachel G. Fox as Tracie Jackson.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The zombie apocalypse erupts in Pasadena, CA.  At least that is where this was filmed.  Supposedly it erupts everywhere else as well.

    2. With a certain amount of courage, and ten times as much cowardice, some non-zombies try to survive the night.  One of the conceits of the film is that the zombies will go inactive come sunrise.

    3. The humans proceed with variable success, but mostly failure, to live until sun up.  One wonders what will happen the next night.

    4. How many will survive?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Gore aplenty, and five actors trapped in a terrible script.
    2. One star of five.  One black hole for screenplay.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Reasonable for a night picture.

    2. Sound: 5/10 OK for the most part, but the anti-relevant sound track did not help.

    3. Acting: 3/10 Shirley Jones was OK as an infirm old woman whose wailing caused another death, but her role was short.  Anthony Michael Hall, Darryl Hanna, Alan Ruck, and Jennifer Taylor were reasonable; given the script, that is.  With a decent script and an experienced director, any of these actors can give a nice performance.  In contrast, the other people who were filmed were not recognizable as actors.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Wall to wall nonsense, and one of the worst zombie films I've ever seen.

20140221: Horror Review--Haunter

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian/French live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 97 minutes, horror, indie, supernatural.
    2. IMDB: 5.8/10.0 from 4,384 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 52% on the meter; 38% liked it from 2,894 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.7/5.0 from 58,193 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Vincenzo Natali.
    6. Starring: Abigail Breslin as Lisa, Peter Outerbridge as Bruce, Michelle Nolden as Carol, Stephen McHattie as The Pale Man, Peter DaCunha as Robbie, Samantha Weinstein as Frances Nichols, David Hewlett as Olivia's Father, Eleanor Zichy as Olivia, Sarah Manninen as Olivia's Mother.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Daughter Lisa, father Bruce, mother Carol, and son Robbie relive the same fogged in day everyday.  So what is the deal?  Lisa has the same conversations ad infinitum, but cannot convince her parents of this.  They have the same dinner, including macaroni and cheese.  She does the same laundry.  They ask to make preparations for her 16th birthday, which is tomorrow, that never comes.

    2. Can Lisa break out of this time loop?  For those of you who have any reservations at this point, keep going.  It's worth it.

    3. The ouija board works for Lisa.  Her question, 'Are you trying to contact me?'  Gets a 'Yes.'  Oh, my!  They don't have macaroni and cheese for the first time in years.  Her father takes up smoking.  They do not watch a rerun of Murder She Wrote.  So, Lisa must be on to something.

    4. When a repair man comes by to check their telephone service, the weirdness continues.  The repair man gives her quite a warning: do not contact the living, or you and your family will suffer in ways you cannot imagine.  She sees herself reflected in his glasses: she sees a rotting corpse.  Life with her 'family' resumes as it had been.

    5. Eventually she makes contact with Olivia, who is living in the house to which Lisa is stuck.  Olivia instructs her to look under the floorboards.  Lisa finds a scrapbook of newspaper articles about teenaged girls who have gone missing starting in 1953.

    6. She finds a key and uses it.  She meets a girl trapped in a furnace.  The furnace flames rise almost immediately on the poor trapped whatever.  Soon enough Lisa finds that the house is owned and run by whoever does the killing.  He shows her some rather potent power of illusion.  Her parents and brother whither and vanish long enough for her to be terrorized.  Then they return unscathed.

    7. She learns that Olivia has been doing research.  Lisa and her family died in 1985.  Olivia and Lisa trade places for a short interval.  Olivia's family is similar (dad, mom, two daughters), but exists around 2012.

    8. Can Lisa stop the cycle of murders?  Can she find some sort of peace, perhaps with Olivia's help?

  3. Conclusions
    1. 'Meat is murder:' I could do without the PC bovine scatology.
    2. One line summary: Ghost story told from the point of view of the ghosts.
    3. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Nicely done, but so dark.

    2. Sound: 8/10 OK, but nothing great.

    3. Acting: 8/10 Competent or a bit better all around.  Good casting; many good performances.

    4. Screenplay: 8/10 This is a nicely written story, which hangs together well. The ending was a bit sweeter than I expected, but fit with the rest.


20140220: Horror Review--Exit to Hell

Exit to Hell
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 81 minutes, horror, slasher.
    2. IMDB: 3.6/10.0 from 141 audience ratings. 
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: no responses as of 20140220.
    4. Netflix: 2.3/5.0 from 3,643 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Robert Conway.
    6. Starring: Kane Hodder as Sickle, Rena Riffel as Penny, Dan Higgins as Mordin, Dustin Leighton as Travis, Tiffany Shepis as Jenna, Taryn Dafoe as Tasha, Owen Conway as Randy, Jason Spisak as Yakov.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. There's a drug meet in the desert that goes bad.  The surviving pair of criminals run from the cops successfully, but soon find their ends in Redstone, somewhere in Arizona.  The sheriff of Redstone is called Sickle for his weapon of choice.

    2. We shift to a bar with strippers in some other town.  The DJ holds up the safe.  One of the bouncers attacks a customer, who kills the bouncer.  The strippers and the bartender start killing people.  They take off together: Travis, Randy, Jenna, and Tasha.

    3. Apparently this is their MO: get jobs at a strip club, then hold up the place.  Yakov, who owns this strip club, does not like it. 

    4. The thieves drive all night, in the wrong direction since the coke head Randy was driving.  They end up in Redstone.  What could possibly go wrong?

    5. The drug addict is more than noticed by the Sheriff.  They run for it, but the Sheriff rams them and captures Tasha.  Yakov gets Travis' location via Penny, but Sickle kills Travis first.

    6. Will Jenna or Randy survive Yakov and Sickle?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Bad screenplay, acting, cinematography; gratuitous skin and cannibalism jokes.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 1/10 VHS quality or worse; bad editing all around.  Cheap jack coloured lights and filters.

    2. Sound: 2/10 Terrible incidental music, especially the nonsense coming from that ancient AM radio played extra loud.

    3. Acting: 2/10 So much of the acting was not even amateurish.  The +2 is for Kane Hodder and Dan Higgins.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 Yakov kills his accountant inside a paramedics van.  The accountant flatlines right there; the paramedic (ten feet away) does not notice this?  The cops are there; the paramedics don't call them?  The film did have a beginning, middle, and end, of sorts.  It's just that all of them were written and executed badly.

20140220: Horror Review--Playback

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2012, rated R, 98 minutes, horror, supernatural.
    2. IMDB: 4.2/10.0 from 3,368 audience ratings.  Estimated budget: 7.5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 0% on the meter; 80% liked it from 1,951 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.1/5.0 from 170,537 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Michael A. Nickles.
    6. Starring:  Luke Bonczyk as Harlan Diehl, Jana Veldheer as Susie Diehl, Johnny Pacar as Julian Miller, Toby Hemingway as Quinn, Amber Childers as Riley, Christian Slater as Frank Lyons, Daryl Mitchell as Wylie.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film's first segment is time coded at 1994.  There's a few minutes of a bloody encounter where Harlan Diehl films a baby.  The filming seems to form some sort of connection.  The cops show up.  Harlan attempts to flee with the baby, but the cops prevent that.  The baby's mother Susie Diehl plunges a long knife in Harlan's back.  He throws her down, pulls out the knife, jumps toward her and plunges the knife into her chest.  The cops gift him with some bullets on the way down during the jump.

    2. The film flashes forward to circa 2012.  A young pre-indie film director, Julian, is looking at replays of his current shooting with his co-stars.

    3. The next segment shows some of the teens in journalism class, playing soccer, planning parties, and doing it all with a slacker attitude.  Julian meets Quinn, a man in his twenties who works at a television station (WPZM, Channel 13), to return recording equipment to Quinn.  Julian takes the opportunity to ask whether Quinn's station has any records about Harlan Diehl's bloody death in 1994.

    4. What could possibly go wrong here?

    5. Quinn soon finds the Diehl footage from 1994, and has some interaction with it.  That is, some supernatural (well, we'll see) exchange.  Quinn delivers some illegal recordings of a girls' locker room to Officer Frank Lyons in exchange for cash.  Later the same night he delivers footage about the Diehls to Julian at a teen party.  He uses the chance to plant a camera in a girl's bedroom.

    6. When Quinn's boss reads him the riot act about the mess in the archives at the station, Quinn kills him.  The distinctive piece about the film is that whatever possessed Quinn does so via watching recorded footage.

    7. What is this spirit after?  Is there some way to stop it?  Will there be a sequel after the next viewing of the strange tapes?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Muddled film with bad acting and more questions than answers.
    2. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Often dark to the point where much of the screen has no content.  Full daylight scenes are OK.

    2. Sound: 6/10 Mostly OK, but sometimes the volcanic bursts of loud noise have to be dealt with if one lives anywhere near other people.

    3. Acting: 3/10 Not so good.  Many of the actors look like tired people 25 to 30 years old, not teenagers.  Example: Pacar was 31 in 2012.  This is not Christian Slater's best work by any means.  Daryl Mitchell gives the only performance I liked, and the few moments of clarity about the supernatural underpinnings of the film.  The +3 is for Mr Mitchell, alone.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Has a beginning, middle and an end.  However, there is not much in terms of resolution, and the exposition of plot is weak.


20140219: Horror Review--Vanishing on 7th Street

Vanishing on 7th Street
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2010, rated R, 92 minutes, horror, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 4.9/10.0 from 18,381 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 10 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 51% on the meter; 20% liked it from 16,660 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.1/5.0 from 456,060 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Brad Anderson.
    6. Starring: Hayden Christenson as Luke, Thandie Newton as Rosemary, John Leguizamo as Paul, Jacob Latimore as James.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film is set in Detroit in modern times.  Paul handles the technical end of a movie theatre.  Luke had a nice job at a television studio.  Young John was with his mom.  Rosemary was a nurse.  One day darkness falls, so to speak.  People disappear, with their clothes left behind.  The period that the sun shines decreases rapidly.

    2. Three days later, almost everyone is gone.  The four have found each other, and are trying to save Paul.  They have figured out that they need to stay in some sort of light.  Batteries that work are getting harder and harder to find.  Luke locates a truck that might still work.

    3. The darkness comes after them.  Will any of them survive?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary:  During a power outage, a dark force makes people vanish.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 It's a dark subject.  The camera work is pretty good for the trying situation.

    2. Sound: 6/10 No particular problems, but the creepy music is not all that creepy.

    3. Acting: 5/10 Hayden Christenson, Thandie Newton, and John Leguizamo all gave reasonable performances, but I have seen each of them do better in better films.  The script did not give them much interesting to do or to say.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Short on ideas, useless ending.  The references to Roanoke Island did not seem to lead anywhere.

20140219: Horror Review--YellowBrickRoad

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2010, rated R, 98 minutes, horror, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 4.7/10.0 from 3,466 audience ratings.  Estimated budget: 500,000 USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 44% on the meter; 30% liked it from 1,871 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.7/5.0 from 189,828 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton.
    6. Starring: Cassidy Freeman as Erin Luger, Anessa Ramsey as Melissa Barnes, Laura Heisler as Liv McCann, Lee Wilkof as Clerk, Daryl Freeman as Daryl Luger.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. In 1940, the residents of Friar, New Hampshire walked up a mountain road.  They were not seen again.  The film starts with a recreation of part of the Army's subsequent investigation. In 2008, the coordinates of the trail head are declassified.  A group bands together to investigate the incident.

    2. The group is well equipped.  They bring a six wheeled vehicle of some sort, multiple cameras, a high-quality sextant, GPS, compasses, maps, tents, and all manner of other things.

    3. After the music and the noise starts, things start to go downhill.  About the same time, the compasses start to wobble or spin.  The GPS gives wildly variable and always false readings.  The noise is intermittent and so loud that hands-over-the-ears is not enough to keep it from being debilitating.  Their two-way radios become unreliable.

    4. After one of the men kills Erin over a hat, the sanity of the group just drops off a cliff.  They cannot agree on a way back, since their travel notes are gibberish.  They split into smaller groups.  One character jumps to her death.  One character implores a woman companion to kill him; she eventually snaps his neck after he tells her how to do it.  A man kills himself after filming a good-bye.  Early on, there is a scene about the dangers of nightshade.  Later a character commits suicide using nightshade.

    5. Does anyone survive?  Does anyone figure out the mystery that instigated the trek?  Watch for the final seconds after the closing credits; a few images (supposedly) from the Army investigation are shown.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary:  Well-appointed modern twenty-somethings follow the path of a doomed march made in 1940.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 Often OK, but has shaky cam now and then.

    2. Sound: 0/10 Huge dynamic range, which is quite irritating. Make that worse than irritating.  To hear its meaningless conversations, one needs to turn the sound up.  A lot.  To avoid breaking the speakers, or getting a visit from the cops, one needs to turn the sound down, down, down.  The sound alone renders this film a failure.

    3. Acting: 3/10 I liked Cassidy Freeman's (Smallville) performance fairly well.  I cannot say the same for the rest of the cast.  The +3 is for Ms Freeman alone.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Pointless.  Was the original purpose of the expedition achieved?  Not even remotely.  Did the dead characters gain any enlightenment before death?  No.  The ending was just one more fall into insanity.


20140216: Horror Review--The Telling

The Telling
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2009, rated R, 83 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 3.7/10.0 from 1,305 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet,' and 17% liked it from 257 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.6/5.0 from 45,053 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Nicholas Carpenter.
    6. Starring: Holly Madison as Stephanie, Bridget Marquardt as Eve DeMarco, Christina Rosenberg as Amber, Nicole Zeoli as Roxy, John D'Aquino as Viktor.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. There is a bit of a grisly segment where a sorority girl is killed.  We flash forward one year to an induction sequence at the same sorority.  Three pledges get the challenge to tell the scariest story that they know.  So the film anthology has its overarching context ("Sorority Sisters").

    2. Story 1 (Dollface): A man and his girlfriend have a woman house guest for a couple of weeks.  The man finds an antique doll in a dumpster.  The doll is possessed, supposedly, and engineers the deaths of the two women, and manages to get the man blamed for it.

    3. Story 2 (Crimson Echo): A fading star gets fewer and fewer parts until she gets none when she's over thirty.  Out of the blue, she gets a gig in Europe.  She's desperate enough to take it.  She's drugged and prepped.  Then she meets her crew, who are all undead.  What becomes of her?

    4. Story 3 (Prank Call): Three young women go out to catch a horror fest, but did not get tickets first.  They return home with the hope that the cable guy is done.  They get into telephone pranks; things go downhill from there.

    5. After the three stories are finished, the sorority rejects all three of the pledges.  One of the pledges is the sister of the girl in the first sequence.  Guess what happens next.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Bad on acting, screenplay, music; strong on cleavage.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Reasonably good.

    2. Sound: 5/10 Also reasonably good.  Some of the incidental music was rather enjoyable, but I could not figure out what it had to do with the film.

    3. Acting: 0/10 John D'Aquino was the only one I recognized as an actor.  The rest were uniformly terrible.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Oi, as bad as the acting.  Well, perhaps worse: nothing new, nothing scary, nothing remotely believable.

20140216: Horror Review--April Fools Day

April Fool's Day
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 1986, rated R, 89 minutes, comedy, horror.
    2. IMDB: 6.2/10.0 from 8,449 audience ratings.  Estimated budget: 5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 36% on the meter; 48% liked it from 13,233 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.2/5.0 from 184,011 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Fred Walton.
    6. Starring: Amy Steel as Kit, Deborah Foreman as Muffy/Buffy,  Deborah Goodrich as Nikki, Leah Pinsent as Nan, Pat Barlow as Clara, Griffin O'Neal as Skip, Ken Olandt as Rob, Mike Nomad as Buck, Clayton Rohner as Chaz.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Eight college-age young adults travel to a friend's mansion on a remote island.

    2. The place is loaded with practical jokes: dirty water from the kitchen tap, turning off one light turns on another, a tap in a room sprays the user, S&M gear in the chest of drawers, newspaper clippings left where they are meant to be found; that sort of thing.

    3. Of course, the ferry does not come everyday, and the cops are not easily available.  It seems like three of them get killed early on, but then other evidence denies that.  For example, Rob talks to the cops by phone, indicating Buck is dead.  Cop replies, I'm looking at Buck, alive, right now, in the hospital.  Inspires confidence, eh?  Something is clearly wrong with the narrative, but the pacing gets rushed, and nobody seems to notice.

    4. The elimination derby continues, or is it just trickery?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Young adult elimination derby film with a comedic ending.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 As viewed on Netflix streaming, the visual quality was better than VHS quality, but not by much.

    2. Sound: 6/10 The dynamic range was way too large.

    3. Acting: 6/10 Mediocre.  Some actors were fairly skilled, but others were downright poor.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 Has a beginning, middle, and a sharp turn at the end.  Those who enjoy practical jokes will probably like this one more than I did.

20140216: Drama Review Nuit 1

Nuit 1
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian live action feature length film, 2011, NR, 87 minutes, drama, indie.
    2. IMDB: 6.4/10.0 from 353 audience ratings.  The spoken language is French with English subtitles.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 63% on the meter; 55% liked it from 376 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.8/5.0 from 4,929 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Anne Emond.
    6. Starring: Catherine de la Leon as Clara, Dmitri Storoge as Nikolai.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Clara and Nikolai meet at a rave.  They go home together.  They have sex.

    2. She cannot sleep, takes a bath, then leaves.  He calls her back before she's out the door.

    3. They talk, endlessly, in long, pointless, low-energy monologues. Then they talk some more.  The problem is, their lives are flat, failed, undistinguished, prosaic: the lives of two slacker drug users who cannot engage life.  Who cares?  Self-loathing is just not appealing.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Two boring slackers discuss their uninteresting one night stand.
    2. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Fairly good for the difficult low light conditions often chosen by the director.  When there was sufficient light, the visuals were rather good.

    2. Sound: 5/10 OK, though nothing great.

    3. Acting: 4/10 Meh.  Any high school drama student could have swapped in for either of the principals.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Plain, boring, non-engaging.  The script is not clever enough to make one care about the characters, who are about as engaging as lichen on rocks.  Write an essay, get it published, get it out of your system, but don't make a film about it, especially one this bad.

20140216: Horror Review--The Seasoning House

The Seasoning House
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. British live action feature length film, 2012, rated R, 90 minutes, horror,
    2. IMDB: 6.0/10.0 from 3,159 audience ratings; aspect 2.35
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 21% on the meter; 38% liked it from 254 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.4/5.0 from 10,901 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Paul Hyett; written by Paul Hyett and Conal Palmer.
    6. Starring: Rosie Day as Angel, Sean Pertwee as Goran, Kevin Howarth as Viktor.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Set in the Balkans in 1996 during war.  Goran rounds up women, keeps the few he likes for his house of prostitution, and kills the rest.  Goran selected the deaf-mute Angel to serve as housekeeper of sorts in the whore house.  Goran had Angel's mother shot to death before her eyes.

    2. Viktor runs the whore house and treats Angel less savagely than he treats the involuntary prostitutes.  Angel is slim enough to navigate the air vents.  She uses this to do the prostitutes small favors, like giving a piece of chocolate.

    3. When Goran returns, one of his soldiers brutally uses one of Angel's friends.  He suffocates her while he reaches climax.  Angel witnesses this, and stabs the rapist multiple times.  She barely escapes through the air vents.  The rest of the soldiers decide to find her.

    4. Will Angel escape?  Will there be any justice for the rapist military criminals?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Brutal depiction of military enslavement and cruelty in the Balkans.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Good, though sometimes more than a bit out of focus.  There was a tendency to show fog way too much.  Outdoors, sure.  Indoors?  That is harder to believe.

    2. Sound: 4/10 Sometimes fine.  Often the conversation levels are very low, while the dramatic incidental music is off-the-charts loud.

    3. Acting: 6/10 Sean Pertwee and Rosie Day were fine, and Kevin Howarth was not bad.  The rest of the cast was poor.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 Slow and methodical, and fairly convincing in its description of real horror in large quantities.  However, I thought it gave in too often to portraying people as caricatures rather than more rounded individuals.  I liked the last scene with Angel and Goran, though I thought there was not enough retribution.


20140215: Action Review--The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2010, rated PG, 103 minutes, action, adventure.
    2. IMDB: 4.4/10.0 from 88,932 audience ratings.  Estimated budget: 150 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 6% on the meter; 31% liked it from 318,495 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on SyFy, complete with commercial breaks.
    5. Written, produced, and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan.
    6. Starring: Noah Ringer as Aang, Dev Patel as Prince Zuko, Nicola Peitz as Katara, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh, Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao, Cliff Curtis as Fire Lord Ozai, Saychelle Gabriel as Princess Yue.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. On a planet not our planet Earth, political divisions are aligned with the elements: the Fire Nation and what used to be nations aligned to air, water, and earth (the element).  At one time, there used to be balance among the elements, but after the disappearance of the avatar about a century previous, that balance was lost.  The Fire Nation is in the process of conquering the planet.  Nations aligned with the earth element and air element have fallen to the Fire Nation.  A Water Nation stronghold still exists in the far north. 

    2. A few people can work magic with the elements.  Only one (the 'avatar') can work magic in all four elements.  The cause of the political imbalance was the disappearance of the avatar.

    3. Back to the film: at the beginning of the tale, two water nation teenagers, Sokka and Katara, accidentally discover the avatar encased in ice.  As fate would have it, extremely disgraced Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation witnesses this. 

    4. The lines of power in the Fire Nation are broken.  Fire Lord Ozai has banished his son; Zuko's only hope of re-instatement is to bring the avatar to his father.  Oddly, Ozai prefers that Commander Zhao do that instead.  This undermines the success of the Fire Nation.

    5. Another plot driver is that there have been no air benders (magicians who used the air element) for decades.  The avatar is ready, willing, and able to demonstrate his strong mastery of air bending.  The rub is that the avatar ran from his responsibilities (a century before) without having learned to use fire, earth, or water magic.

    6. So.  The Fire Nation views Aang as a threat, but their efforts to capture him are weakened by internal dissension.  Aang needs to learn water, fire, and earth bending in order to bring back balance to the world (which is not our Earth).

    7. This film is about finding Aang, then Aang's learning water bending while the Fire Nation tries to stop him.  That's it.

    8. Future movies might include Aang learning earth bending, Aang learning fire bending, and Aang crushing the Fire Lord.  The current film did not address these matters.

  3. Conclusions
    1. Considered as a film in its own right, the picture was disappointing.  Considered as a live-action adaptation of the animated series, this was a complete bust.  If there are to be sequels, a different auteur should be at the helm, with some serious oversight.
    2. One line summary: Disappointing action film; terrible adaptation of the animated series.
    3. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 Mixed.  The photography was well done.  The SFX was another matter.  Some of it was fine, but much of it was lackluster, and some was outright poor.

    2. Sound: 7/10 OK, but nothing interesting.

    3. Acting: 4/10 Aasif Mandvi, Dev Patel, and Shaun Toub were reasonably good.  Many of the other characters were not so good.  In particular, the choices for the characters Aang, Katara, and Sokka needed to be much better.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 The first ten minutes were rather good.  The rest of the story was not so good.  To complete the story arcs of the animated series, there would have to be two, perhaps three, additional films.  I do not see this happening.  For 150 million, one should expect a better script and SFX that varies between current and good to smashingly excellent.  Those things did not happen.  So, who would trust the same screenwriter = director = producer?


20140214: Horror Review--Berberian Sound

Berberian Sound Studio
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. British live action feature length film, 2012, NR, 92 minutes, drama, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 6.3/10.0 from 5,176 audience ratings. Spoken word is in English or Italian with English subtitles.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 83% on the meter; 53% liked it from 2,227 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.9/5.0 from 13,289 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Peter Strickland.
    6. Starring: Toby Jones as Gilderoy, Tonia Sotiropoulou as Elena, Cosimo Fusco as Francesco Coraggio, Antonio Mancino as Giancarlo Santini.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Shy English sound engineer Gilderoy travels to Italy to make a film.  He is hit by a number of issues.  He does not speak Italian.  Some of the Italians speak some English; several speak none.  No one is willing to take the responsibility to pay back his travel costs.  The film is a horror picture, and is something of a salacious one.  Gilderoy is more than a bit of a momma's boy (though he is 40+ in age) and the subject matter shocks him.

    2. Gilderoy has a rocky trip to success in this new workflow.  He has his own bag of tricks for producing sounds for film, some of which delight his new colleagues.  Horror films have different needs than the films Gilderoy is used to working on, so he has techniques to learn.  Examples: chopping up produce to mimic blades destroying human bodies; screams, crying, whimpering, moans, and so on.  Gilderoy has to deal with odd relationships among the hierarchy of people working on the project.

    3. In the second half of the film, it seems Gilderoy is descending into madness.  Then again, perhaps this is not true.  When we watch Gilderoy smiling and speaking Italian with his boss while watching footage of himself, one sees that the overall context of the film is probably not what we thought it was in the beginning.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Visually gorgeous art film about sound engineering on a horror picture.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Quite well done in trying circumstances; much of the film is shot in low light.  The sound engineering props in this film are quite impressive, and shot beautifully.

    2. Sound: 10/10 Quite good as one might expect.

    3. Acting: 7/10 The principal actors were reasonably good.

    4. Screenplay: 7/10 The 'plot' is more than a bit murky, but it does clear up toward the end.


20140212: Thriller Review--Edison Force

Edison Force
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/German live action feature length film, 2005, rated R, 99 minutes, crime, drama, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 5.3/10.0 from 11,536 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 24.2 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 0% on the meter; 36% liked it from 9,734 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on Crackle.
    5. Written and directed by: David J. Burke.
    6. Starring: Kevin Spacey as Wallace, Morgan Freeman as Ashford, LL Cool J as Deed, Justin Timberlake as John Pollack, Dylan McDermott as Lazerov, John Heard as Tilman, Piper Perabo as Willow.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Deed, Lazerov, and Tilman work on the Edison Force, an elite crime stopping unit.  Ashford, who used to be well-regarded reporter, runs a publication of only modest reputation.  Ashford faults Pollack early on for not backing up his opinions with facts; not so long later, he fires Pollack.

    2. Pollack is interested in showing that the Edison Force has done some shady work, but he does not seem to know how to do that.  Even his girlfriend Willow thinks that about him.

    3. To get his career back on track, Pollack starts pursuing a particular case in which he thinks a man has been framed.  The trail leads to exposure of corruption, reactive violence, and other discouraging results.

    4. Will Pollack get his story substantiated and published?

  3. Conclusions
    1. Where was the oversight on this one?  The cast is rather good overall, but the result was rather poor.
    2. One line summary: First time actors and a poor script waste the efforts of the veteran actors.
    3. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 9/10 Good looking night filming as well as crisp daylight footage.

    2. Sound: 8/10 Good for the most part.

    3. Acting: 4/10 I have come to like LL Cool J in NCIS: Los Angeles, but his acting in this earlier work just did not cut it.  Justin Timberlake did OK in the fluffy comedy Friends with Benefits, but in Edison Force and other dramatic roles, I did not care for his performance.  Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, John Heard, and Piper Perabo seemed to be trapped inside this awful screenplay.  Given a good screenplay and a skilled director, Dylan McDermott can give fine performances, but he had neither to rely on here.  The worst part is that Timberlake's character is the center of the film.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Given the budget of over 24 million USD, a better screenplay could have been obtained, but it was not.  This is the second biggest weakness of the film.


20140209: Horror Review--The Big Bad

The Big Bad
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2011, rated R, 77 minutes, horror
    2. IMDB: 3.8/10.0 from 138 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' 0% liked it from 16 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.3/5.0 from 27,615 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Bryan Enk.  Written by Jessi Gotta.
    6. Starring: Jessi Gotta as Frankie Ducane, Jessica Savage as Molly,  Timothy McCown Reynolds as Fenton Bailey, Patrick Shearer as Carter Petch, Alan Rowe Kelly as Annabelle.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Frankie and Molly, two women with rage issues and non-healing wounds, meet at a bar and get to know each other over drinks and drugs.  They eventually bond over the fact that they have both been bitten by a werewolf.

    2. Molly turns; Frankie deals with that.  Then Frankie is kidnapped and taken to Annabelle, who rips out one of Frankie's eyes to replace one of hers.  Frankie eventually counterattacks and gets away.  She finds her stepfather, Fenton, and his alter ego.

    3. Will Frankie get free of the werewolves, or become part of the community?

  3. Conclusions
    1. Vanity film, since screenwriter = lead actor = co-producer => 3 x fail.
    2. One line summary:  Bad werewolf script overshadowed by terrible camera work.
    3. One star of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 Framing, lighting, focus, depth of field, and continuity errors---all suck rocks.  Throw in shaky camera.

    2. Sound: 4/10 Not very good.  I needed the subtitles all too often.

    3. Acting: 0/10  Uniformly bad.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 That opening was -8 points all by itself.  The film's plot development was as murky and jerky as the camera work.  None of the characters were interesting.


20140205: Horror Review--Hatchet 2

Hatchet 2
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Image courtesy of The Movie Database.
    2. American live action feature length film, 2010, UR, 85 minutes, horror, slasher, revenge.
    3. IMDB: 5.4/10.0 from 6,729 audience ratings.  Approximate budget: 800,000 USD; aspect, 1.85
    4. Rotten Tomatoes: 36% on the meter; 36% liked it from 2,623 audience ratings.
    5. Netflix: 3.2/5.0 from 110,059 audience ratings.
    6. Written and directed by: Adam Green.
    7. Starring: Danielle Harris as Marybeth Dunston, Tony Todd as Reverend Zombie, Kane Hodder as Victor Crowley/Thomas Crowley, Parry Shen as Justin, Tom Holland as Bob, R. A. Mihailoff as Trent, AJ Bowen as Layton.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. This film is the sequel to the 2006 movie, Hatchet; no surprise there.  Kane Hodder and Tony Todd reprise their roles, but Danielle Harris replaces Tamara Feldman as Marybeth.

    2. Marybeth was in Honey Island Swamp, and barely escapes the wrath of Victor Crowley.  Her father and brother were not so lucky.  She's saved by a swamp scavenger, who proceeds to kick her out after he finds that she is from the Dunston family.  The scavenger tells her to have the Reverend Zombie explain everything.

    3. She gets a long explanation from Zombie, who was a friend of her father's.  Her father and two friends did the prank that resulted in Victor Crowley's death.  They decide to mount a party of local hunters to clear the area and recover the bodies of the brother and father.  Zombie offers 500 just for going on the expedition.  Also, the expedition might lead to opening the Swamp for legal gator hunting, and legal swamp tours by Zombie's company.

    4. Once the group is deep in the swamp at night, they try to figure out a plan.  Sigh.  To increase incentives, to whomever brings back the head of Victor Crowley, Zombie offers 5000 USD.  Zombie has a 'secret' plan that he thinks will quell the curse.

    5. Then the elimination derby begins.  This one is of the gorefest, slasher type.

    6. Will anyone survive this?  Will the Reverend's plan work?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Expedition to the swamp to recover bodies turns out badly.
    2. Two stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Not too bad, but never really fine.

    2. Sound: 9/10 One of the better parts of the film.

    3. Acting: 4/10 The usual for low budget elimination derbies.  Danielle Harris was not in her best form.  Tony Todd was good.  Most of the others were not.  I do wish they had hired an accent coach.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Simple plot, but it does have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    5. SFX: 4/10 Lots of splatter, lots of fake internal organs. Not much of it was very convincing.