20140624: Horror Review--Paranormal Asylum

Paranormal Asylum: the Revenge of Typhoid Mary
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 88 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 2.3/10.0 from 325 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and 60% liked it from 105 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.7/5.0 from 120,779 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Nimrod Zalmanowitz
    6. Starring: Nathan Spiteri as Andy, Cameron Chiusano as Dan, Laura Gilreath as Michelle, Rosalind Ashford as Ghost, Jenny Lee Mitchell as Typhoid Mary, Paul Bright as Dr. Brooks, Boomer Tibbs as George Sheffield, Aaron Mathias as Mark Goodwin, Grace Evans as Evelin.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Dan, Andy, and Michelle (Andy's girlfriend), decide to make a documentary about the real-life Typhoid Mary, and the final months of her life.  They find some of the places where she stayed and met descendents of some of the people who knew her.  They set up equipment to record events.

    2. Michelle, while alone, tries a seance, and this does not go well.  Dan keeps seeing ghostly figures.  At least at first Andy does not see them.

    3. There's a thread about the origin of modern psychotropic drugs; the film makers pursue this for their documentary.  There is a thread about Michelle being possessed, and the consequences of this.

    4. Will any of the protagonists survive this encounter?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Poor ghost story, poor as found film, poor as paranormal.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 There were handheld problems here and there.  The fakery with the ghosts was just plain bad, and there was so much of it.  Even the day light 'normal' scenes were de-colorized to look faked.

    2. Sound: 3/10 Annoying from beginning to end.  It sounds dubbed.

    3. Acting: 0/10

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Hm, the usual for this type of film: no resolution in any thread.  No 'moving on' for any of the ghosts, or whatever they are.  No toe hold for logic or rational processes.  Lack of exposition of motivations.  No humour of any sort.


20140623: Review--Codependent Lesbian Space Alien

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2011, unrated, 76 minutes.  Comedy.  Fail.
    2. IMDB: 5.9/10.0 from 158 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 89% on the meter; 62% liked it from 491 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.2/5.0 from 1,369 audience ratings.
    5. Written, directed, produced by: Madeleine Olnek.
    6. Starring: Lisa Haas as Jane, Susan Zeigler as Zoinx, Dennis Davis as Senior Agent, Alex Karpovsky as Rookie Agent, Jackie Monahan as Zylar, Cynthia Kaplan as Barr.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Inhabitants of an alien planet decide that their ozone depletion can only be solved by one or two of their race having their hearts broken.  Zoinx and Zylar are dispatched to Earth to have their hearts broken.  Zoinx meets Jane and eventually gets to know her somewhat.

    2. Two men-in-black types observe this process, and attempt to blur the memories of any sightings.  It seems, though, that no intervention is needed; nobody notices anything in this film.

    3. Jokes are made about new foods: alcoholic beverages, coffee, desserts.  Jokes are made about culture clashes.  All jokes failed.

    4. The aliens go home by means that challenge the lower bounds of all SFX.  This was one of the worst SFX films ever made.  In the right hands, that might have been funny.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Seventy-six minutes of not funny.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 Greyscale, so-so in quality.  The quality dropped off when the camera work switched to shaky cam.

    2. Sound: 2/10 Irritating electronic music.  Irritating alien voices.  Irritating background rap music.

    3. Acting: 0/10

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Nothing comedic, nothing engaging, nothing informative, nothing touching.


20140622: Animation Review--Vampire Bund

Dance in the Vampire Bund
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Japanese animated episodic television series, 2010, rated TV-MA, animation, action, drama. Twelve episodes, 24 minutes each.
    2. IMDB: 7.0/10.0 from 271 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: no results, at all.
    4. Netflix: 3.9/5.0 from 370,639 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Akiyuki Shinbo.
    6. Starring: Monica Rial as Mina Tepesh, Alpha Lagrange as Akira Kobaragi.  For much more detail, see wikipedia.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Take the TV-MA rating seriously.

    2. Mina Tepesh presents herself as the queen of contemporary vampires.  She appeals on television for a Vampire Bund, that is, real estate where vampires can be free to be vampires.  As a being who has had a long life, and who understands things like compound interest and capital appreciation, Mina's personal and family wealth is enormous.  She uses this to pressure legislators to go along with her plans.

    3. There are humans who are in favour of the proposed Bund, and those who are opposed to it.  Similarly, there are vampires in favour, and vampires against the proposal.  This goes back and forth throughout the series.

    4. Mina has a connection with Akira, a teenaged human.  Akira is also a werewolf, and sometime earlier in his life he vowed to protect Mina as best he could.  About the time Akira took his vow, he also lost a big chunk of his memory.

    5. So, the series is about the conflicts mentioned above, about Akira protecting Mina, and about Akira regaining his memory.  Toward the end of the series, the elders of three ruling vampire clans descend upon Mina, and force her to own up to a promise she made to the clans in the past.

    6. As the series draws to a close, everything is revisited, and everything cast into doubt.  The clan leaders set up a fight between Akira and their own chosen assassins.  If Akira wins, Mina can continue; if not, they force her into submission about rule of the vampires.

    7. So how does this pan out?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Vampires seek a homeland and acceptance in animated Japan.
    2. Seven of ten.

  4. Scores
    1. Art/Animation: 7/10 Quite a bit of the art was fabulous; some was a bit too abstract and weird.

    2. Sound: 6/10 Typical action stuff, but neither great nor poor.

    3. Voice Acting: 8/10 No particular problems.  Often good, sometimes a little screechy.

    4. Story: 6/10 There are a number of issues, mostly about motivation.  Just what was the reason that Akira is so devoted to Mina?  The suggestion that Mina might not be the 'real' vampire queen was not resolved.  The reference to cloning was interesting, but I would have liked to have seen more detail about that.  The strong, repeated statements that there was another queen candidate in the wings was never quite brought to fruition.  The comedy vignettes about the maids shown after the credits were usually pretty funny.

20140621: Horror Review--Sin Reaper

Sin Reaper
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. German live action feature length film, 2012, rated R, 94 minutes, horror.
    2. IMDB: 3.1/10.0 from 151 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 1.2 million euros.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and 25% liked it from 5 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.5/5.0 from 7,726 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Sebastian Bartolitius.
    6. Starring: Helen Mutch as Samantha Walker, Lance Henriksen as Dr. Douglas Hoffman, Hazuki Kato as Jenny Kaylin, Patrick J. Thomas as Sasha Jones, Paulina Bachmann as Melanie Pregler, Andrew James Porter as R. J. Williams, Alexander Kirsch as Daniel Yulin.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film opens to a dream, then the writing down of the dream, then the discussion of the dream between the young woman Helen, and her analyst, Dr. Hoffman.  Helen also does automatic drawing now and then, including after vivid dream.  The opening dream concerned a young woman in the time of the Crusades being murdered by a Knight's Templar in armour.  Helen's discussions with Hoffman are as vague and inconclusive as one might expect from a man who prescribes mind-numbing drugs.

    2. One thing definite from Hoffman was a set of photographs that match some of Helen's automatic drawings.  Based on this match, Helen accepts tickets from Hoffman to travel to the castle depicted in the photographs.  Hoffman's hope is that Helen finds the sources of Helen's dreams.

    3. The castle that Helen seeks has become a museum maintained by Yulin and a colleague.  Yulin kicks out Helen, whose curiosity is instantly engaged that much more.  She hires some of the locals to break into the place.  As it turns out, the museum is in financial troubles, and insurance fraud is contemplated to bail out the museum.  Helen's escapade gets resistance from those about to commit the fraud.

    4. Just to tie up the whole story, someone dresses up in Templar armour (and weapon, the 'sin reaper') from the museum exhibits and starts killing people involved in the double break in.  So, will an explanation emerge from the carnage of the opening sequence?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Bad dubbing, bad screenplay, neither scary nor suspenseful.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 4/10 Some of it is fine, a lot of it is just plain poorly done, particularly the night photography.

    2. Sound: 3/10 The voice track to the audio sucked rocks.  Lance Henriksen's voice and accent were fine, for instance, but not so much in sync with the movements of his face.  The accents were to shudder at.  Helen was supposedly an American, but her accent was broad and English.  The English sub-titles for the German sentences looked more or less OK, but the dubbed English for the German speakers was between unintentionally humourous and stupid.

    3. Acting: 2/10 Lance Henriksen's performance was OK, but the lip-sync editing failure rather spoiled that.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Oh, goodness.  The three threads I noted did not mesh up all that well.  The dream of a past life seemed at first just the delusions of an ill mind.  The unification at the end seemed a bit weak.  With a good director at the helm, this should have been chilling or hard-core scary.  As it was, it seemed boring and tedious; I could barely wait for the film to end.  The thread of a troubled mind trying to be made healthy was just lost.  The thread of insurance fraud seemed a red herring at best, and seemed to have little to do the rest of the film.


20140617: Comedy Review--Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest Hotel
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/German live action feature length film, 2014, PG13, 100 minutes, comedy.
    2. IMDB: 8.3/10.0 from 90,986 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 92% on the meter; 89% liked it from 63,065 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on iTunes, 20140617.
    5. Directed by: Wes Anderson.
    6. Starring: Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave H., F. Murray Abraham as the elder Zero (Mr. Moustafa), Adrien Brody as Dmitri, Willem Dafoe as Jopling, Jeff Goldbloom as Deputy Kovacs, Harvey Keitel as Ludwig, Jude Law as Young Writer, Bill Murray as M. Ivan, Edward Norton as Henckels, Saoirse Ronan as Agatha, Jason Schwartzman as M. Jean, Lea Seydoux as Clothilde, Tilde Swinton as Madame D., Tom Wilkinson as Author, Owen Wilson as M. Chuck, Tony Revolori as Zero.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. We start the film with an Author, in his later years, doing a video recording.  He then promises to tell the audience how he came to know a particular story.

    2. We switch back to 1968, when the Young Writer was staying at the Grand Budapest Hotel, which was in its fading, twilight years.  The Young Writer meets Mr. Moustafa, who tells him the story of how he came to own the Grand Budapest Hotel.

    3. We switch back to 1932; the new Lobby Boy (Zero) begins his tutelage with M. Gustave.  Gustave likes older, rich, blonde women, and he romances them.  In particular, Madame D. is quite fond of him.  She is on a trip, and has a presentiment of death.  Sure enough, she dies in the town where she traveled to.  Gustave and Zero hurry to see her, and are there in time to hear the reading of the will.  The surprise is that she willed the priceless painting 'Boy with Apple' to Gustave.  The family is furious, and Gustave is accused of her murder, but not before Zero and he secreted the painting.

    4. Mr. Moustafa pauses to describe his relationship to Agatha, who works in the bakery of the hotel.  Agatha helps in the escape of Mr. Gustave.  Then Moustafa returns to the investigation of Madame D's death, and the process of bringing the probate to a legally sound close.

    5. Mr. Gustave, with the aid of Zero and four fellow prisoners, escapes prison.  Gustave reaches for help from his fellow concierge friends.

    6. In the counter-theme, Dmitri and his cohort Jopling, pursue Gustave for the sake of the painting, mostly.

    7. Will anyone find Serge, supposedly the real culprit in the death of Madame D. ?   Do we get to know how Zero gets enough money to buy the Grand Budapest?  Will Zero and Agatha ever get together legally?  What will become of Dmitri and Jopling?  Will Henckles re-capture Gustave or Zero?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Funny, touching, bizarre, and well worth the watch.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Fine job.

    2. Sound: 10/10 Well done.  Sometimes wildly inappropriate but usually good for a laugh or two.

    3. Acting: 10/10  What a cast!  Great jobs by most involved.  No bad performances.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 The main plot is so stupid it is beyond belief, but one assumes that was on purpose.  I got several belly laughs, dozens of smiles, and double handful of chuckles.


20140615: Drama Review--Monuments Men

Monuments Men
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/German live action feature length film, 2014, PG13, 118 minutes, drama.
    2. IMDB: 6.1/10.0 from 47,192 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 70 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 32% on the meter; 46% liked it from 64,600 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on iTunes streaming.
    5. Written and directed by: George Clooney.
    6. Starring: George Clooney as Frank Stokes, Matt Damon as James Granger, Bill Murray as Richard Campbell, John Goodman as Walter Garfield, Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone, Jean Dujardin as Jean Claude Clermont, Hugh Bonneville as Donald Jeffries, Bob Balaban as Preston Savitz, Dmitri Leonidas as Sam Epstein, Justus von Dohnanyi as Viktor Stahl, Holger Handke as Colonel Wegner.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Frank convinces James, Richard, John, Jean Claude, and Donald to form the Monuments Men, a group dedicated to finding art looted by the Nazis and returning it, if possible, to rightful owners.  Most of them are middle-aged, but have to go through boot camp.  They are not instantly respected by regular army.

    2. There are several detective stories to follow, and there are losses in war.  They find a number of salt mines filled with art works.  The Nazis also destroy a good bit of it, and the Russians 'liberate' a fair chunk of it themselves.  Their support from the military grows when they discover a huge cache of gold bullion.

    3. Some of their last finds were of sculpture, which they find in a castle in Germany.  James' interactions with Claire, a combination collaborator, resistance fighter, art historian, and cataloger, yield a manifest that helps them later on.

    4. How much of the obstruction by the Nazis and the Russians can they overcome?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Beautiful story of recovering art from Nazi looting in WWII.
    2. Five stars of five.

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

    2. Sound: 8/10 Good to excellent.

    3. Acting: 10/10 Quite good performances by a stellar cast.

    4. Screenplay: 10/10 Nice story telling.


20140614: Action Review--Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 100 minutes, action, drama.
    2. IMDB: 5.1/10.0 from 3,760 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No Reviews Yet,' and 38% liked it from 417 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.7/5.0 from 204,392 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Don Michael Paul.
    6. Starring: Tom Sizemore as Dean Ranson, Chad Michael Collins as Nate Burroughs, Vinnie Jones as Brent Willoughby, Neal McDonough as Lt. Joe Conti, Dmitri Diatchenko as Ivan Pozarski, Juergen Prochnow as Luca Gruenewald.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film opens in World War II, European theatre, December of 1944, Belgium in particular.  On a routine patrol, a squad loses their sniper to German sniper fire.  When they return to base, they get a cake walk assignment to deliver Christmas hams to a forward operating position.  The Allied forces are confident; Belgium was taken months ago.

    2. The bigger group taking the hams includes Dean Ranson, who used to be a lieutenant before his squad got wiped out in fifteen minutes.  Now he's a cook.  Conti is the lieutenant in charge.  Nate, who killed the German sniper in the first scene, becomes Conti's new sniper.  The hams and several men are soon lost to a German attack featuring mortar fire, snipers, and machine guns.  Nate proves himself again.

    3. The protagonists battle on, make new allies along the way, and encounter a number of tough fights.  They work with Willoughby, a British agent, and Pozarski, who claims to be a Polish prisoner of the Nazis.  Of course, he's not.  As the film continues, the small group takes on a mission for the OSS, which involved a Nazi 'super weapon' under development, and the rescue of one of its developers, Dr. Gruenewald.

    4. Will they be able to stop the use of the super weapon and rescue Dr. Gruewald?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Mostly solid piece on the Battle of the Bulge toward the end of WWII.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Lens flare.  Was Jar Jar Abrams about?  Sloppy, bumpy, jumpy shaky cam work was disruptive when it appeared.  The CGI for the WWII aircraft was sometimes noticeably bad.

    2. Sound: 8/10 Nice and rich.  Music was a bit florid, though.

    3. Acting: 7/10 Reasonably good.  I liked Tom Sizemore's earthy work, Chad Collins' performance, and the presence of Vinnie Jones.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 The shift from competent low-level infantry work to high-level spying in enemy territory was well over the top.  The segment of getting the bomb before the Nazis use it was a bit more engaging, but not all that believable either.  The cliche ending pieces (you have done us a great service, but you do not get to talk about it, plus visiting the father's grave) were well done but still cliches.


20140613: Horror Review--World War Z

World War Z
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, UR, 122 minutes (long cut), horror, zombies.
    2. IMDB: 7.1/10.0 from 300,721 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 190 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 67% on the meter; 73% liked it from 295,125 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Marc Forster.
    5. Starring: Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, Mireille Enos as Karin Lane, Daniella Kertesz as Segen, James Badge Dale as Captain Speke, Ludi Boeken as Jurgen Warmbrunn, Matthew Fox as parajumper, Sterling Jerins as Constance Lane, Abigail Hargrove as Rachel Lane, Fana Mokoena as Thierry Umutoni.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Parents Gerry and Mireille have a nice life, and the day starts normally.  While taking their two daughters Constance and Abigail to school, the normal seeming traffic jam mutates into a full-blown disaster.  They encounter full-fledged zombies who are very fast and very strong.  The time interval between a zombie's bite and the victim turning seems to be about 12 seconds.

    2. Gerry is a former UN investigator/facilitator who got people or information out of hotspots around the world, often with help from US Special Forces of one sort or another.  So the US/UN extracts him and his family after he makes his way to New Jersey.  The escape from the zombies is close, and young Tomas helps them in the final steps.  Tomas gets extracted with Gerry's family.

    3. Gerry is sent to North Korea with an epidemiologist.  This does not go well, but Gerry does meet a CIA agent who gives him the next clue: the Israelis seem to be succeeding in repelling the zombies.  So Gerry and the elite military go to Israel.  On the way, they see a nuclear explosion in the far distance, and Gerry's contact with Karin is broken by the EMP.

    4. Israel's wall worked, more or less, but they did not understand that zombies are attracted by noise.  Celebratory songs amplified by a PA system incite the zombies to scale the 45 foot walls, one undead body over another.  Gerry does learn that zombies were detected in India well before the incidents in Korea.  He heads to India, even though he has been told in no uncertain terms that India is a 'black hole' in terms of information flux.  Gerry gets on the literal last plane out of Israel.  He loses his UN escort, but gains Segen, an Israeli soldier whose hand he cut off...to save her from becoming a zombie.

    5. Gerry takes the Belarus flight that he is on to the last remaining airport open, which is in Cardiff, Wales, UK.  Unfortunately, a zombie hid himself on the plane's lavatory, and soon starts infecting people.  Gerry gets a new set of difficulties, including a plane crash and a metal spike through his gut.  He and Segen trudge forward.

    6. Will Gerry make it to the WHO research facility?  Will the information, which he has expressed to no one, come to light, and be put to good use?  Will his family be safe?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Smart plot about fast zombies that convert humans quickly.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Mostly excellent, though some of the dark fight scenes were

    2. Sound: 8/10 No problems; though it might have been more effective for creepiness and suspense.

    3. Acting: 10/10 Excellent.

    4. Screenplay: 9/10 I liked it: action, suspense, quick thinking in difficult circumstances, and a plot that moved right along.  The final segments, concerning the workaround to the apocalypse, were quite fine.


20140611: SciFi Review--Splice

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian/French live action feature length film, 2009, rated R, 104 minutes, horror, sci-fi.
    2. IMDB: 5.8/10.0 from 68,173 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 26 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 74% on the meter; 37% liked it from 250,630 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this film on the Syfy network, instead of my usual sources.  This took 150 minutes.
    5. Directed by Vincenzo Natali, screenplay by Vincenzo Natali and Antoinette Terry.
    6. Starring: Adrian Brody as Clive Nicoli, Sarah Polley as Elsa Kast, Delphine Chaneac as Dren, Brandon McGibbon as Gavin Nicoli, Simona Maicanescu as Joan Chorot, David Hewlett as William Barlow.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Clive and Elsa have good success as gene splicers, and have produced two low level creatures, Fred and Ginger.  All seems good at the beginning of the film.

    2. Joan, the leader of the company supporting their research, is pleased with their results to date.  However, she needs (in the business sense) their research to take a different trajectory that will yield profits almost immediately.  This direction is a bit boring scientifically, but will help the corporation's bottom line.

    3. Clive and Elsa are not openly insubordinate, but decide to pursue their desired research, which is to create a higher order pair than Fred and Ginger.  While discussing having children one night, the couple get an alarm message from their lab.  They rush over to find that the their experiment has grown at a much faster rate than expected.  The living mass is in danger of dying.  While attempting to save it, Elsa gets bitten.  The experiment is saved, but the pair see that they have to go into full secrecy mode.

    4. As the spliced together being grows, their project manager, Barlow, orders their lab re-purposed to be used for research for Joan's new directive.  Clive and Elsa move the creature to a basement area that is little used.  As time moves on, Barlow has this area re-purposed as well, and the creature is moved to the farm where Elsa grew up.  By this time, the creature can walk upright, has learned to spell a bit, and has shown itself to be amphibious.  Elsa names it 'Dren' since the creature had used scrabble tiles to call her a nerd.

    5. While the pair deal with Dren's growing up, Joan needs a demo for her investors.  She trots out her A-team, Clive and Elsa, who hope to show the usual pleasant antics of Fred and Ginger.  Clive's brother Gavin has been caring for Fred and Ginger while Clive and Elsa have been absorbed with Dren.  Gavin learns of Dren when he was following his brother; she almost kills him.  Gavin misses that Ginger had changed sex, female to male, before the demo, which is an absolute disaster.

    6. Joan has angry investors on her hands, while Barlow is enraged at lack of results. Meanwhile, Clive and Elsa are still knee-deep in dealing with the growing Dren, who is still female.

    7. The pair face dilemmas.  Is Dren an experiment, or is she their child?  Moving to the farm brings up all sorts of memories of mother-daughter interactions in Elsa; this creates issues with Dren.  They have invested all sorts of time in Dren, but this is not the work requested.  Barlow grows suspicious, and will eventually sniff things out.  What they have done is revolutionary, but also illegal.  Should they present it anyway? 

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Illegal research brings a world of problems.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Mostly fine, but quite a few sections were just too dark to make anything out.

    2. Sound: 8/10 No problems.

    3. Acting: 9/10 I liked the performances of all the six primary actors.

    4. Screenplay: 9/10 There are quite a number of stupid decisions made by the protagonists.  On the other hand, these decisions drive the plot.  The many moral quandaries evoked were interesting to watch unfold.  The ending was one of the most fitting I've seen in a while.


20140610: Horror Review--The Returned

The Returned
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Spanish/Canadian live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 97 minutes, horror, thriller, zombies.
    2. IMDB: 5.8/10.0 from 3,043 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 58% on the meter; 38% liked it from 483 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Manuel Carballo.
    5. Starring: Emily Hampshire as Kate, Kris Holden-Reid as Alex, Shawn Doyle as Jacob, Claudia Bassols as Amber, Barry Flatman as Hospital Chief, Melina Matthews as Eve.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Twenty years after the zombie apocalypse, there is an edgy steady state.  There is a treatment that holds the zombie virus in check, but it is not a cure.  It needs to be taken everyday, roughly speaking.  The inevitable question is, will the supply give out?

    2. So we have another film about the politics of scarcity.  There are anti-zombie protesters, and pro-zombie protesters.  There are political factions to go along with the protesters (or perhaps the other way around).  Even worse, there are groups in the two factions willing to kill to achieve their goals.

    3. The mechanism for making the treatment comes from the bodies of recently deceased Returned individuals (those who got the virus, but got the treatment in time).  Since the program became more successful, fewer deaths have occurred among the returned.  Hence the success of the program undermines its continuance.  In another thread, a fully synthetic alternate treatment is being developed.  The problem is, it has not been developed quickly enough to take up the failure of the original program.

    4. The film follows Kate, a physician who helps the Returned, and her husband Alex, who is secretly one of the Returned.  A group breaks into the hospital, kills many of the Returned, and steals the database of the names, addresses, and contact information of a large number of the Returned.  This puts Alex in danger.

    5. As the supply of treatments fails, Kate and Alex face many challenges to preserve Alex's life and to stay out of military prison camps.  Will they succeed?  Will the new treatments be perfected in time?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Well-written thriller about containing the zombie apocalypse.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 9/10 Very nice camera work.

    2. Sound: 8/10 No problems.

    3. Acting: 9/10 Good performances all around, especially from Kris Holden-Reid and Emily Hampshire.

    4. Screenplay: 8/10 Well-written, with good pacing for a thriller; both thoughtful and gut-wrenching.  This is one of the best zombie films I have seen.


20140609: Movie Review--Evidence

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 93 minutes, crime-thriller, drama, failure.
    2. IMDB: 5.2/10.0 from 3,121 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 6% on the meter; 25% liked it from 475 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.2/5.0 from  65,218 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi; written by John Swetman.
    6. Starring: Steven Moyer as Detective Reese, Radha Mitchell as Detective Burquez, Torrey DeVitto as Leanne, Caitlin Stasey as Rachel, Nolan Gerard Funk as Tyler Norris, Dale Dickey as Katrina Fleishman, Aml Ameen as Officer Jenson, Svetlana Metkina as Vicki, Barak Hardley as Gabe Wright, Harry Lennix as Ben.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. The film opens to an overview of a crime scene.  The visuals are impressive, in a way; that is, a lot of effort was taken to produce an amateurish result.  In this director's approach, good visuals have to be accompanied by plodding boredom, while shaky cam, cell phone footage, and pixelated, blurred images are where the action and interest should be kept.

    2. We segue to a police department, where the evidence has been collected and sorted to a degree. The personnel to evaluate the evidence gets picked.

    3. The investigatory group consists of Detectives Reese and Burquez, Officer Jensen, and AV specialist Gabe Wright. They set about analysing the 'found film' from Rachel's camera, plus the visuals recorded by cell phones, plus the overviews from the beginning of the film.  Close consideration yields some clues for the Detectives to pursue.

    4. Amateur director Rachel likes to film 'incredibly uncomfortable things.'  Indeed.  Leanne is in a troubled relationship with Tyler Norris, who is a mediocre singer and less than good guitar player.  Rachel decides to film Leanne 'before she was a big star.'  We also have the badness of hand-held cameras.  This includes horrible framing, rotten sound leveling, extraneous sounds, and large time gaps.

    5. Rachel, Leanne, Tyler, Vicki, and a young entertainer are scheduled to take a trip to Las Vegas.  Though not on the passenger manifest, Katrina gets on the tour bus as well.  She has a huge amount of cash on her, and might be a fugitive.  When Tyler and Rachel notice that they are on a side road, Rachel goes to talk to the driver.  Things go decidedly bad after that, including the bus crashing.

    6. The film progresses to the retelling of the deaths and the unveiling of the perpetrators.  How does that play out?

  3. Conclusions
    1. Rotten Tomatoes got the rating correct; Netflix missed by a mile.
    2. One line summary: Two movies in one; neither one very good.
    3. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 1/10 Shaky camera work.  Stupid framing angles.  Dropped frames, severe pixelation.  Insufficient light, heat-damaged memory chips.

    2. Sound: 4/10 Speech is mostly comprehensible, but there is plenty of raw microphone noise, such as when cell phones are dragged on the floor while recording.

    3. Acting: 2/10 Stephen Moyer had a couple of good moments in this film; Harry Lennix is his usual reliable self.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 After watching this, I will avoid properties directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, or written by John Swetman.  For a better film about lesbian criminals, see Breaking the Girls (2013), Monster (2003), or Bound (1996).  The 'twist' at the end is cliche, done before and done better.


20140605: Horror Review--Abandoned Mine

Abandoned Mine (The Mine)
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, PG13, 95 minutes, horror, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 3.7/10.0 from 422 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 38% on the meter; 43% liked it from 33,606 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Jeff Chamberlain; written by Jeff Chamberlain and Scott Woldman.
    5. Starring: Alexa Pena as Sharon, Reilly McClendon as Brad, Saige Thompson as Laurie, Charan Prabhakar as Ethan, Adam Hendershot as Jim.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Five school friends (Sharon, Brad, Laurie, Ethan, Jim) organize to spend Halloween in or near the Jarvis Mine.  The abandoned mine is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Jarvis family, who were murdered so that greedy parties could steal the mine.  They bring miner's hats and some climbing supplies (ropes, matches, food) to stay overnight.

    2. They make a short descent down a fairly shallow shaft.  They find the Jarvis daughters' toys, plus dynamite, tarantulas, and all sorts of stuff.  Things are going fine until someone burns through the heavy rope tied to their base at the level of the mine opening.  They try to climb out the way that they came, but fail.  So they try alternate routes.

    3. Jim is too large for some of the passages the group attempts, plus he is claustrophobic.  So the party separates.  Clever.  Jim is stuck where he is until someone can extricate him from above, that is, the place where they came in.

    4. The remaining four push on and find more artifacts from the Jarvis family.  They follow fresh air. At one juncture, Brad leaves his backpack behind, and goes back to get it.  He falls (well, perhaps is pushed) to his apparent death.  Sharon, Laurie, and Ethan rush on a bit too quickly.

    5. How many of the scares are Halloween pranks, how many are something unexpected?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Ineffective mostly kid-safe horror film.
    2. One star of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 Varies considerably, from crisp and nicely shot to full-on shaky cam found-film nonsense.

    2. Sound: 4/10 There is a whole lot of mumbling going on, punctuated by loudness.

    3. Acting: z/10 I hate to fault the actors when the script is so bad.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Scary?  No.  Thrilling?  No.  Engaging?  No.  Were any of the characters ones that I could identify with? empathise with?  care about?  No, no, no.


20140604: Comedy Review--The Starving Games

The Starving Games
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated PG, 87 minutes, comedy, satire.
    2. IMDB: 3.2/10.0 from 8,287 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 4.5 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 0% on the meter; 22% liked it from 1,950 audience ratings.
    4. Written and directed by: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.
    5. Starring: Maiara Walsh as Kantmiss Evershot, Cody Christian as Peter Malarkey, Brant Daugherty as Dale, Diedrich Bader as President Snowballs, Lauren Bowles as Effoff.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. The overall level of the humor is really low.  The pinata sequence, for instance, was stupid beyond belief.  The multiple references to excrement were not all that clever, nor were the endless product placements, nor were the face slaps to other movie franchises.  The obnoxious 12-year-old competitor who wanted to form an alliance with Kantmiss seemed more like a target.  The clip where the unarmed Kantmiss kills five armed opponents was ludicrous.

    2. 'When are they going to kill each other? I'm getting bored,' was the line that summarised the film for me.

    3. Will there be a sequel to this satire?  Let us hope not.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Brings new depth of meaning to the word inappropriate.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Hand-held sequences were irritating as always, but most of the camera work was fine.

    2. Sound: 3/10 Besides the many leveling problems, the musical accompaniment was odd at best. 

    3. Acting: 2/10 

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Well, it was a satire, so there was not much to expect.  I suppose the hundreds of continuity errors were intentional.  Finishing the film with a long set of bloopers just completed the implementation of 'who cares?'


20140603: Thriller Review--20 Feet Below

20 Ft Below: Darkness Descending
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2014, rated R, 96 minutes, thriller, crime.
    2. IMDB: 2.8/10.0 from 175 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and 'no score yet.'
    4. Directed by: Marc Clebanoff.  Screenplay by Frank Krueger.
    5. Starring: Danny Trejo as Angel, Frank Krueger as Jake, Kinga Phillips as Chelsea, John Hennigan as Razor, Tiffany Adams as Gabriel, Kristoff St. John as Smitty, Louis Mandylor as Lockeheed.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Naive documentary film maker Chelsea goes into the underground of NYC to investigate the homeless people living in abandoned subway tunnels.  She encounters senile former military, a strange artist, teen run aways, crazed former drug addicts, a disgraced ex-cop (Jake), and a self-righteous gang (the Chosen) of violent cretins led by Angel.

    2. Chelsea interviews a few of the cops (whose leaders want some action against the Chosen), Angel himself, the artist, two teen runaways, and Jake.  The Chosen have it out for Jake and the teens.

    3. So, what happens in the inevitable show down?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Vanity film sinks despite Danny Trejo's presence.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Usually clear enough.

    2. Sound: 3/10 Bad leveling.  The music played during intervals often seemed irrelevant.

    3. Acting: 3/10 Danny Trejo showed his usual screen presence.  Louis Mandylor was competent with the few lines he was given.  The rest, not so good.

    4. Screenplay: 1/10 Were there any points to this film?  Not that I saw.  Also, the clothes worn were too clean, the people looked way too clean and too healthy.  How is it that Jake has a new, spotless bottle of expensive looking booze?  How does he have brand new candles in perfectly clean holders?  One of the women in the tunnels has a new looking guitar; what are the chances that would not be stolen?  The preaching (from Angel and from the group who hang with the artist) seemed out of place, as did the spouting of statistics.

20140603: Action Review--GI Joe: Retaliation

GI Joe: Retaliation
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated PG, 110 minutes, action, scifi.
    2. IMDB: 5.9/10.0 from 110,396 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 130 million USD; estimated world wide gross, 375 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 28% on the meter; 49% liked it from 196,820 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: John M. Chu.  Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
    5. Starring: Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, Jonathan Pryce as President, Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow, Elodie Yung as Jinx, Ray Stevenson as Firefly, DJ Corona as Flint, Adrianne Palicki as Jaye, Channing Tatum as Duke, Ray Park as Snake Eyes, Luke Bracey as Cobra Commander, Arnold Vosloo as Zartan.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. The current film is the sequel to GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009).  Since the first film, Cobra Commander and Destro are in custody. Zartan has successfully impersonated the President of the US.

    2. The Joes get orders from the President to recover stolen nuclear weapons from Pakistan.  The mission is successful, but someone kills the Pakistani head of state.  This is pinned on Snake Eyes, and the whole mission is classified by the White House as the Joes going rogue.  Where do they get off stealing nuclear weapons?  The President orders that the Joes be sanctioned.

    3. Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint survive the attack.  Using secret channels, the trio reaches out to any other Joes.  They make face-to-face contact with General Joe Colton, who founded the Joes.

    4. In an alternate thread, Storm Shadow and deadly ex-Joe Firefly spring Cobra Commander from the prison in Germany.  Cobra Commander abandons Destro in the process, and Storm Shadow is badly wounded before they can exit.  Storm Shadow retires to the Himalayas to recover.  Snake Eyes and Jinx capture Storm Shadow and take him to Japan.  Storm Shadow reveals that he only joined Cobra to get revenge on Zartan for killing his uncle.

    5. General Colton helps the remaining Joes get close to Zartan and get a DNA sample to prove he is not the President.  With definitive proof, they prepare for more retaliatory action.

    6. Zartan (as the US President) calls a conference of world nuclear leaders.  He tricks them into destroying all nuclear weapons, then shows them project Zeus, which allows Cobra to destroy whole cities with one shot.  Cobra Commander arrives and demands rule of the entire world.

    7. Will the Joes be able to stop this plan and restore the legitimate President?  Will they re-capture Cobra Commander?  How many cities will be destroyed by the Zeus project?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: The action sequel to Rise of Cobra was quite a commercial success.
    2. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 9/10 Shaky at times, but mostly excellent.

    2. Sound: 4/10 Bad sound leveling.

    3. Acting: 4/10 I liked the performances of Dwayne Johnson and Jonathan Pryce. Otherwise, not so much.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 The segment where Zartan gets world leaders to fire huge numbers of nuclear missiles, then destroy them, was the most stupid version of 'Simon says' that I have ever seen. The lines written for Duke were indeed inappropriate, as Roadblock put it.  The supposition that the public will accept anything is still a bit tough to take.


20140601: Action Review--Machete Kills

Machete Kills
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 107 minutes.
    2. IMDB: 5.7/10.0 from 35,830 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 12 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 29% on the meter; 37% liked it from 34,163 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Robert Rodriguez.
    5. Starring: Danny Trejo as Machete Cortez, Michele Rodriguez as Luz, Carlos Estevez as the President Rathcock, Mel Gibson as Luther Voz, Demian Bichir as Mendez, Amber Heard as Miss San Antonio, Vanessa Hudgens as Cereza, Sophia Vergara as Desdemona.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Mendez is schizo and very dangerous.  Among other things, he has a missile pointed at Washington.  His heart is wired up (thanks to the work of Voz' company) so that if he dies, the missile is launched.  He has instructed his men to kill him if he is captured.

    2. The US President convinces Machete to take down Mendez and end the threat.  His handler is Miss San Antonio.  Machete discovers the heart device, and decides not to kill him.  Instead, he aims to bring Mendez back to Voz Tech Industries to disable the heart device.

    3. There are a number of obstacles.  The Chameleon aims to kill Mendez for money.  Mendez' own men try to kill him.  Desdemona wants to kill Mendez to avenge Cereza.  Miss San Antonio is not quite who we thought she was.

    4. Supposing Machete gets the beating heart to Voz, will Voz cooperate, or does he have other plans?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Action aplenty, but not as good as the first film.
    2. Hm, I am not sure about the third film.
    3. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Nicely shot.

    2. Sound: 8/10 No particular problems.  I thought the music might be a bit more rousing.

    3. Acting: 7/10 I liked the performances of Mel Gibson, Danny Trejo, Demian Bichir, Antonio Banderas, and Michelle Rodriguez.  A few others, not so much.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 The film started up in a reasonable style, but ended up looking like one of the worst of the Bond films.  The whole space theme was over the top.

20140601: Comedy Review--Best Night Ever

Best Night Ever
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated R, 90 minutes.
    2. IMDB: 3.6/10.0 from 812 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 0% on the meter; 32% liked it from 435 audience ratings.
    4. Written and directed by: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.
    5. Starring: Desiree Hall as Claire, Eddie Ritchard as Zoe, Samantha Colburn as Leslie, Crista Flanagan as Janet, plus a host of others.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Claire goes to Las Vegas for a bachelorette night before she gets married.   She is accompanied by her sister Leslie and friends Zoe and Janet.  Zoe is Claire's best friend, and does most of the filming using a hand-held camera.  Janet is the rude and barbaric friend.

    2. The trip starts out somewhat normally, but the plans crash when Zoe discovers that her credit cards have been stopped, and her reservations have been cancelled.  The evening gets worse after that.  They get robbed at gunpoint by a valet; they lose money, identification, shoes, engagement ring, and so on.

    3. After some binge drinking, they steal a car, kidnap the wrong valet to get the engagement ring back, and get screwed over in a drug deal.  They manage to elude the police.  They use drugs and go to a bachelor party after being mistaken for hookers.

    4. By some magic, the quartet fails to get arrested or be killed for the multiple felonies they commit.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Zero laughs, zero chuckles, zero smiles; derivative feel-bad comedy.
    2. One star of five.  Two black holes for screenplay and acting.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 Hand-held.

    2. Sound: 2/10 Terrible leveling.  During one interval, the editor inserted sub-titles because the words were indecipherable versus the background noise.

    3. Acting: 0/10

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Completely derivative.  If you have seen a Hangover film, or Bridesmaids, then you have pretty much seen the content of this one.