20140730: Drama Review--Madras Cafe

Madras Cafe
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Indian live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 126 minutes, action, political thriller, bollywood, historical fiction.
    2. IMDB: 7.9/10.0 from 9,759 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 350 million INR.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet...' and 76% liked it from 417 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Shoojit Sircar
    5. Starring: John Abraham as Vikram Singh, Nargis Fakhri as Jaya Sahni, Rashi Khanna as Ruby, Avijit Dutt as Swarup, Sanjay Burbuxani as Former Prime Minister, Ajay Rathnam as Anna Bhaskaran.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The setting is the turmoil of the 1990s in Sri Lanka.  Vikram Singh is the point man for Army Intelligence (RAW, or Research and Analysis Wing) in the matter.  He is drawn in when there are clear signs that an assassination attempt will be made on the former Indian PM, who seems likely to regain his seat of power.

    2. The enemy is faceless, well-organised, and quite good at segmenting what any individual or small group needs to know.  Vikram and his entire organisation work very hard at this, and arrest several groups of perpetrators, only to find that there are many small, highly effective bands with the same goal.

    3. At one point, when Vikram gets close to a piece of the truth, he is kidnapped and tortured.  He is rescued from this, and goes on the do more exceptional investigatory work.  By the end of the story, though, Vikram has paid many high prices.

    4. Through the course of the investigations, Vikram interacts, guardedly, with war correspondent Jaya.  Their careful sharing of information was a well-written part of the plot.  Vikram's whole-hearted pursuit of the case had more than one bad effect on his relationship with his wife Ruby.

    5. The movie opens to Vikram in later life, alone, alcoholic, limping, and plagued with guilt over failures.  Told in flashback style, the years spent pursuing the terrorists is gripping.  The long effort at stopping the plot of Anna and the LFT was bulk of the film.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Well-directed political thriller concerning the turmoil in 1990s Sri Lanka.
    2. Four stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Usually great, with a few moments of hand-held nonsense.

    2. Sound: 6/10 I liked the music over the closing credits.  Sound was not done in the traditional Bollywood fashion, but then this is a more serious work than the more common musicals.  Still, some instrumental music for accenting mood might have been nice.

    3. Acting: 8/10 The acting by the principals is outstanding.

    4. Screenplay: 10/10 The many threads are woven together rather well.  The depiction of violence was difficult to watch at times, but trenchant and central to the overall story.  Much more screen time goes to political intrigue and efforts at stopping a determined terrorist group from achieving its goals.


20140726: Comedy Review--Peep World

Peep World
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2010, rated R, 79 minutes, comedy, drama.
    2. IMDB: 5.6/10.0 from 2,869 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 23% on the meter; 22% liked it from 8,557 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by Barry W. Blaustein.  Screenplay by Peter Himmelstein.
    5. Starring: Lewis Black as the Narrator, Sarah Silverman as Cheri Meyerwitz, Ron Rifkin as Henry Meyerwitz, Alicia Witt as Amy Harrison, Michael C. Hall as Jack Meyerwitz, Rainn Wilson as Joel Meyerwitz, Lesley Ann Warren as Marilyn, Taraji P. Henson as Mary, Judy Greer as Laura, Kate Mara as Meg,

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Henry Meyerwitz has four grown children: Jack, the architect; Joel, the lawyer who took 8 times to pass the bar exam; Cheri, the failed artist/actress; Nathan, the writer, who is seven years younger than Cheri.  Henry is distant and imperious.  Jack is tasked each year with paying for an expensive dinner in honor of Henry's birthday.

    2. By Henry's seventieth birthday, family relations have gone from being tense and dysfunctional to harsh and confrontational.  The main reason for this change is the wide success of Nathan's book Peep World, which is more than a bit too biographical for the comfort of Cheri, Joel, and Jack.  To make things worse, Jack's business and revenue have shrunk, Joel's legal career is at a snail's pace, and Cheri's career is going nowhere.  The topper is that Henry has a new girl friend Amy, who is the actress that plays Cheri in the film of Nathan's book.

    3. In the hours leading up to the seventieth birthday dinner, the slow burns of the principal characters are exposed.  At the dinner, they burst out, capped by Henry's speech returning all their fire.

    4. Will the family gain some cohesion out of all this?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: The surfacing of truth is a painful process.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Well shot for the most part; on Netflix it seemed to have some intervals of focus that was too soft.

    2. Sound: 7/10 No particular problems, but I thought the sound could have been more of an asset to the film than it was.

    3. Acting: 8/10 The large cast included several skilled actors doing fine work.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 The threads came together well at the end, but I thought the film would have been better without a narrator.  Just to be clear, most of the laughs I got out of the film were from Lewis Black's expert delivery--as the narrator.  The film was billed as a comedy; why should most of the humor come from the narrator's performance?


20140724: Action Review--Dead in Tombstone

Dead in Tombstone
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length video, 2013, NR, 99 minutes, action, Western, supernatural.
    2. IMDB: 4.8/10.0 from 2,699 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 5.2 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet..' and 30% liked it from 337 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.2/5.0 from 37,160 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Mike Elliott.
    6. Starring: Danny Trejo as Guerrero, Mickey Rourke as Blacksmith/Lucifer, Anthony Michael Hall as Red Cavanaugh, Dina Meyer as Calathea Massey.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Red Cavanaugh is about to be hung, but the rest of the Blackwater Gang rescue him.  Red sells them a plan to liberate some gold.  His half-brother and co-leader of the gang, Guerraro, agrees as long as they make it a quick and relatively clean operation.

    2. Once the plan is in motion, though, Red bloodies the town and kills his brother, as well as the sheriff.  Red takes over the town with the remaining Blackwater Gang as his fellow enforcers.  He joins forces with an English business man to keep a choke hold on the town and the mining of the gold.

    3. Meanwhile, Guerrero has a long chat with Lucifer, and strikes a deal with him.  If Guerrero can snuff his old gang, Lucifer will restore him to life above ground.

    4. The bloodletting increases.  One might expect that, given the cast and the setup of the screenplay.

    5. Does Guerrero re-gain his life, or does Red foul up his plans again?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Deals with Lucifer sometimes take longer than expected.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Nicely atmospheric, but had some terrible hand-held moments.

    2. Sound: 6/10 I could hear the dialog, which was fine, but the sound did not add much to the mood of the piece.

    3. Acting: 8/10 I liked the four principal actors in this property.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 This video would have been better at 75 minutes rather than 99.  The script was a bit short on ideas, and long on torture, murder, forced labor, revenge, and betrayals. 


20140722: Thriller Review--Bastards

Bastards (Les Salauds)
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. French/German live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 100 minutes, thriller.  Spoken word in French and English; sub-titles in English.
    2. IMDB: 6.2/10.0 from 1,429 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 64% on the meter; 40% liked it from 642 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.5/5.0 from 6,530 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Claire Denis.
    6. Starring: Vincent Linden as Marco Silvestri, Chiarra Mastrioanni as Raphaƫlle, Julie Bataille as Sandra, Michel Subor as Edouard Laporte, Lola Chretin as Justine.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Marco is the captain of a supertanker.  He's at sea and life is good.

    2. Pull the chain on that.  Marco's sister Sandra calls him back in desperation: her husband has committed suicide, her daughter Justine is in a tailspin, and the family business is not going well.  Sandra accuses wealthy business man Edouard Laporte as the cause of these ill fortunes.  So Marco, in his own particular way, goes after Edouard.

    3. Marco's fortunes diminish, and he discovers a number of discouraging truths about his family.  This gets more evident when a young man offers to sell Justine back to him for 5000 francs.

    4. Will Marco pull himself and his family out of this downward spiral, or will external forces be too great for that?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Told slowly in noir style, to a harsh conclusion.
    2. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 For much of the screen time, there was not enough light or too much light, odd choices of camera angles, strange depth of field choices...in other words, much of the noir package.  The filming of the car ride with passengers and drivers high on drugs was quite emblematic of this.  I did not find this helpful or illustrative, even though this is a dark tale.

    2. Sound: 7/10 OK, redeemed by the sound track with the closing credits.

    3. Acting: 6/10

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 A bit lurching for my taste.  The film jumps from segment to segment to segment, with time references not all that clear, with one message.  All the characters are flawed and disgusting.  Got it: noir.

20140722: Thriller Review--Cybergeddon

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/Canadian live action television series revisited for Netflix as a feature length film, 2012, NR, 90 minutes, thriller, mystery, crime.
    2. IMDB: 6.8/10.0 from 287 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: no results at all.
    4. Netflix: 3.5/5.0 from 87,447 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Diego Velasco.
    6. Starring: Missy Peregrym as Chloe Jocelyn, Kick Gurry as Chase 'Rabbit' Rosen, Manny Montana as Frank Parker, Olivier Martinez as Gustav Dobreff,

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Chloe works for the FBI in counter-cyber-crime.  Cool.  Gustav, an old enemy, sets her up as the one who spreads a virus.

    2. Chloe breaks out of detention, and springs Rabbit (hacker whom she had caught before) from jail.  She enlists her former partner, Frank.  Gustav hates Chloe for posing as his daughter to get him in jail.

    3. As the movie proceeds, the stakes for Chloe keep getting higher in terms of possible long-term losses.  First her reputation, then her liberty, then her mother's life, and finally something worse: all could be lost, unless victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.

    4. Will Chloe and her unlikely friends come through for the good of the world?  Are they able to defeat the mastermind Gustav?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Lack of chemistry and a weak script doom this thriller.
    2. Two stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 4/10 The camera/CGI mix worked well for a while, but toward the end, shaky cam plus poor and ancient graphics (UNIX command shell screens???) were a huge let down.

    2. Sound: 5/10 The music over the final credits was good.

    3. Acting: 2/10 The less said, the better.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 A story does get told, but the linkage between plot points breaks all too often.  A thriller needs to sell the idea that the stakes are high and the protagonists might be up to the tasks at hand.  This was not accomplished.


20140713: Animation Review--Marksmen

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American animated television mini-series, 2013, NR, 85 minutes, action, animation.
    2. IMDB: Under 5 ratings.  Estimated budget, 500,000 USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: no records at all.
    4. Netflix: 2.2/5.0 from 3,253 audience ratings.
    5. Written and directed by: Michael Benaroya.
    6. Voice actors: Bruce Barker, Tom Kennedy.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. A post-apocalyptic war breaks out between two cities (New San Diego and Lone Star, TX) following the collapse of the old US government.

    2. New San Diego has some high tech, drones, satellites (the few remaining), and uses solar for energy.  Lone Star uses oil and guns.  Lone Star appears to be running out of oil, and so decides to conquer NSD.

    3. Lone Star's treachery gains them an early advantage, but NSD's tech superiority catches them up.  Maintenance problems (post apocalypse, after all) foul up both sides.

    4. Who comes out on top, or do both sides lose?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Poor animation meets Pyrrhic victory in post-apocalyptic Southwest.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Art/Animation: 2/10 Horrible.  Panning over still layers with clumsy assembly.  Character faces never move.  Uninteresting, uninspired, ugly, and primitive.

    2. Sound: 4/10 Sometimes adds to the story.

    3. Voice Acting: 4/10  Some of it was OK, but most was not worth listening to.

    4. Story: 2/10 A good 8 minutes of story stretched well past breaking to 85 minutes.  Fighting, betrayal, destroy scarce resources, repeat.

20140714: Fantasy Review--Prisoners of the Sun

Prisoners of the Sun
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/German live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 89 minutes, fantasy.
    2. IMDB: 3.6/10.0 from 464 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 18 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet,' and 0% liked it from 3 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Roger Christian.
    5. Starring: John Rhys-Davies as Prof. Hayden Masterton, David Charvet as Doug Adler, Carmen Chaplin as Sarah Masterton/Princess Amanphur, Emily Holmes as Claire Becket, Nick Moran as Adam Prime, Michael Higgs as Peter Levitz, Joss Ackland as Prof. Mendella, Gulshan Grover as Rohit.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. We start from an 'ancient astronaut' theory.  The 'Osiris' were (plural) a group of space faring aliens who wished to overtake Earth in ancient Egypt.  A cunning pharaoh put them down and imprisoned them.  He locked them beneath a pyramid.  This includes an elusive key.  Every 5000 years, the Osiris can contact home and get re-inforcements.  That time is about up again.

    2. The key surfaces on the black market.  Professors Masterton and Mendella seek to find the key and unlock the secrets.  Peter Levitz gets the key first and frames Masterton for murder, so we have a good start in intrigue and conflict.  Levitz is looking for treasure, Masterton is looking for knowledge, Adler replaces Mendella and does not seem up to the job at first.  The ancient forces in the pyramid have their own motives.  Sarah seems to have some destiny to fulfill.

    3. The pyramid is breached by Masterton's team, which is now swollen with local representatives and members of the military.  The entrance is marked with a curse, and nearby within there are dangerous insects.  That, of course, is not all, and more deaths occur.  Even worse, they are soon sealed in the tomb.  Adler and Rohit take point on finding the path for the group.  They make their way to Princess Amanphur's tomb.  At the bottom of this, they apply the key.

    4. Then the path goes on, and the real discoveries start.  There is an active mummy 'guardian' in the tomb.  Masterton has unannounced plans for his daughter.  There are working alien artifacts deep in the tomb as the 5000 year cycle comes to an end.

    5. Will Masterton's intentions come into fruition, or will the masterstroke of the pharaoh 5000 years before hold sway?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary:  Modern archaeology seeks out ancient astronauts.
    2. Two stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 The camera work is rather nice.  The related CGI was another matter; some was OK, but other parts were just poor.

    2. Sound: 6/10  Fairly good, but could have added more to the overall feeling of suspense or danger.

    3. Acting: 4/10 David Charvet (Baywatch) as a PhD?  Give me a break!  Carmen Chaplin was moderately good.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 This was old, tired, recycled material with a layer of not impressive new CGI.  The ending was abrupt, and the exposition of motivations was too slim.


20140712: SciFi Review--Asteroid vs Earth

Asteroid vs Earth
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2014, NR, 91 minutes, scifi, action, adventure.
    2. IMDB: 3.2/10.0 from 137 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No Critic Reviews,' and no audience ratings either.
    4. Directed by: Christopher Ray.
    5. Starring: Tia Carrere as Marissa Knox, Robert Davi as General Masterson, Tim Russ as Captain Rogers, Jason Brooks as Lt. Commander Chase Seward, Darin Cooper as Chief of the Boat (COB), Charles Byun as  Kitsias.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. A group of enormous asteroids heads toward earth.  The young intern Kitsias does some projections, and discovers a projected impact in around ten days that will end life of earth.  Kitsias determines that deflecting the asteroids will fail, while moving the earth from its current orbit might succeed.

    2. The US military, led by General Masterson, dragoons Marissa Knox, an expert in the Yap Trench, to implement Kitsias' plan.  USS Polk takes her toward the trench, but the submarine encounters all sorts of difficulties, most of which were caused by the crew itself.

    3. Masterson continues to work with European and Russian space representatives to monitor how the deflection attempt is going.  The short answer is that it made things worse than before.

    4. Just how bad do things get before the ultimate crisis?  Will anyone survive it?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Another bad disaster film from Asylum.
    2. One stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 The camera work was excellent, but the CGI sucked rocks.

    2. Sound: 5/10 Neither good nor bad, nor interesting, nor relevant.

    3. Acting: 4/10 I still like Tia Carrere and Robert Davi, but what were they doing with these other actors?

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Very discouraging in its depth of badness.  Much of the dialog as nonsensical, and the internal contradictions seemed endless.  Aside from those two discouraging issues, the film was not engaging.


20140710: Action Review--SAGA: Curse of the Shadow

SAGA: Curse of the Shadow (Curse of the Dragon Slayer)
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, rated , 105 minutes, action, adventure, fantasy.
    2. IMDB: 4.9/10.0 from 1768 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No reviews yet...' and 34% liked it from 81 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 3.0/5.0 from 134,953 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: John Lyde
    6. Starring: Danielle Chuchran as Nemyt Akaia, Richard McWilliams as Keltus the Wanderer, Paul D. Hunt as Kullimon the Black, Adam Abram as Fangtor Bloodmoon, James C. Morris as Gyramuck/Maggut Gulbrow, Eve Mauro as Tarsa, Danny James as General Drennon, Kyle Paul as Mulgrut, James Gaisford as Kethku, Bailee Mykell Cowperthwaite as Prophetess (body), Stephanie Breinholt as Prophetess (voice), Michelle Aiden as Delorus the Mermaid, Clare Niederpruem as Mulva the Mermaid, Christel Edwards Anthony as Gipple the Mermaid.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Filmed in Utah, with lots of sand, caves, and huge rock formations.

    2. Prehistory: the Gods, on some planet, at some time, have put down civilization for some reason, and killed a big portion of humanity.  The Order, led by the Prophets, tries to restore civilization, while the Shadow rises and awaits the awakening of the God of Death.  So, we have a familiar environment for swords, sorcery, battles, revenge, and conflicts on a dying world.

    3. We open the narrative with a fight between the female elf bounty hunter Nemyt and the male orc thief Fangtor Bloodmoon.  Nemyt kills Fangtor, but Fangtor curses her body as she delivers the fatal blow with her sword.  The fight scenes here were absolutely terribly done.  Meanwhile, Keltus interrogates a dwarf to discover the motives of the Shadow in the current conflict.  The dwarf tells him of Kullimon's Raiders, who will deliver some artifact ('the Vessel') to the representatives of the God of Death.  Among the orcs, Mulgrut and Kullimon have a bit of a disagreement.  Kullimon loses, and Mulgrut takes leadership of the 'Horde' of ten orcs.  Oi, totally disappointing.

    4. When Nemyt goes to collect her bounty reward, she is imprisoned by the local magistrate because of the Mark that Fangtor cursed her with.  Keltus, the Ambassador of the Prophetess, releases her in the hopes that she will aid him find the Bone Vessel.  On the way, they meet up with Kullimon, who has been tied up, bleeding, and left for dead by his erstwhile allies.  The absurd trio advance to get the Vessel, so that the God of Death (Goth Azul) is not awakened.

    5. As they advance, they encounter difficulties, and best them, but usually with stiff prices.  When Nemyt meets Mulgrut as representative of the Shadow, things get very dicey, very fast.  The real representative of the Shadow appears, and the hopes of Goth Azul being kept contained slip away.

    6. Will the trio reverse the disaster at hand?

  3. Conclusions
    1. Blood on the camera lens: nonsense.  The fight choreography could have been better.
    2. One line summary: Middling good, nicely shot, low-budget fantasy adventure tale.
    3. Seven of ten.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Rather good for this sort of tale.  The costumes were a bit better than I expected, at least here and there.

    2. Sound: 10/10 Amazingly good.  I seldom experience fantasy films with such excellent musical accompaniment.

    3. Acting: 6/10 The actors who play the three protagonists hit their marks and speak their lines.  However, the orc Horde was about as convincing as the Keystone Kops.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 A story was told, and the plot moves along, but the dialog is stilted past the point of believability.   Orcs taking the higher moral stances?  An orc leader singing like he was on Wagon Train?  An orc sounding like Yoda?


20140705: Action Review--Captain America the First Avenger

Captain America: the First Avenger
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2011, rated PG13, 124 minutes, action, sci-fi.
    2. IMDB: 6.8/10.0 from 304,699 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 140 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 79% on the meter; 73% liked it from 175,646 audience ratings.
    4. I watched this on FX (cable television), complete with commercials, instead of my more usual online streaming.
    5. Directed by: Joe Johnston.
    6. Starring: Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips, Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Set in 1942, first in the eastern USA, then in the European theatre of World War II, Allies versus Nazis.  The scrawny and sickly Steve Rogers tries to enlist in the military so as to go to war in Europe.  He gets rejected repeatedly.  Dr. Erskine notices his moxie, however, and arranges for him to be inducted anyway for purposes of human experimentation.  The experiment works, and the CGI Steve Rogers gets 'changed' into the real-life Chris Evans.

    2. The opposite number to Dr. Erskine and his group is HYDRA, a Nazi group that does weapons research, among other things.  HYDRA assassinates Dr. Erskine, and blows up part of his laboratory.  Steve deals with the assassin successfully, and gains public notoriety.  Colonel Phillips is impressed, but only mildly so.  The military recruits Steve to do USO shows with female singer/dancers to sell war bonds.  Steve is good at this, but it does not get him much respect.

    3. At one point, Steve goes AWOL and brings about the liberating of 400 prisoners.  Steve gets a more real wartime role, plus special equipment from Howard Stark, the predecessor of Tony Stark.  Steve gains more respect with Colonel Phillips and other Allied commanders.

    4. Steve and his personal allies take on HYDRA, which breaks away from the Nazis.  How will that turn out?  Will Steve stop HYDRA's direct attack on the USA?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: The ultra-capable first Avenger is constructed from an Army reject.
    2. Four stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 Well-shot for the most part, though the CGI on the early Steve Rogers was pretty bad.

    2. Sound: 8/10 No particular problems.

    3. Acting: 7/10 I liked Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci.  Chris Evans was better by far than he was in Fantastic Four.

    4. Screenplay: 9/10 Exposition of motivation and logical progression of plot were well-constructed for an action/scifi piece.