20141031: Drama Review--The Best Offer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


20141030: Action Review--Red 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


20141029: Drama Review--Quartet

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

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

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

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

    4. Will it all come together in the end?

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

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

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

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

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


20141027: Drama Review--Prozac Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


20141026: Comedy Review--Moonrise Kingdom

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

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

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

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

    4. How does all this turn out?

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

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

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

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

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


20141014: Drama Review--Thanks for Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

    5. Will any of these addicts find release?

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

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

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

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

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


20141007: Documentary Review--Galapagos Affair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    7. Will these competing stories ever be resolved?

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

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

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

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

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


20141006: Thriller Review--Age of Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


20141005: Fantasy Review--RIPD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20141005: Drama Review--Parts per Billion

Parts per Billion
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2014, NR, 98 minutes, drama.
    2. IMDB: 4.2/10.0 from 834 audience ratings.  Estimated budget: 1.3 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No consensus yet,' 21% liked it from 130 audience ratings.
    4. Written and directed by Brian Horiuchi.
    5. Starring: Frank Langella as Andy, Gena Rowlands as Esther, Josh Hartnett as Len, Rosario Dawson as Mia, Teresa Palmer as Anna, Penn Badgley as Erik.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film is compartmentalized into three threads following Andy and Esther, Len and Mia, Anna and Erik, plus some overview footage.  The narration goes back and forth in time to give layers of explanation.

    2. So if you (the viewer) find it a bit confusing at first, do not be surprised.

    3. The background context of the film is the rapid ending of the human race due to biological weapons unleashed in the Middle East.  The biological agents kill everyone in sight and are spread by wind to Europe, to Africa, to Asia, and finally to the Americas.  At first, the three couples seem to have little awareness or concern about the end of humanity or even their own imminent deaths.

    4. Anna and Erik miss each other entirely.  This does not get better as the film progresses.  He's into his music; she is into his washing dishes or their getting the cupboards just right.  Both seem to be dim bulbs without empathic response.

    5. News sources indicate that one must wait inside until the density of the biological agents drops below 80 parts per billion.  Len and Mia hear this, and decide to stay cooped up at their abode.  They figure that their impending divorce is now moot since the legal system is probably finished working and they will be dead soon enough.  So they talk about their lives together.

    6. Andy and Esther are at a hospital.  Those around them are dead.  They are alive since they both were on oxygen.  They may have to go to a new hospital after the staff is dead and their oxygen supplies are running low.

    7. There are some interconnections shown in flashback.  For instance, Andy and Esther are Erik's grandparents, and Mia was Andy's lawyer in some legal actions concerning biological research.  Erik observes Mia and Len during a pubic spat while he is moonlighting as staff at a social event.

    8. So, after all the discussion, does anyone survive?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Chatty film about couples not facing the end of the human race.
    2. Three stars of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Some bad shaky-cam, but mostly OK.

    2. Sound: 6/10 Not much of an issue.  The movie is about discussion, not about music and mood.  The background music is either barely noticeable or slightly irritating.

    3. Acting: 6/10 OK, but not great.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 The movie reminds me of very coarsely patched mosaics.  The individual tiles make sense, each with very small content, and, if one stands far enough away, the whole makes a statement as well.  I am not so sure that I can ever back up to make sense of this piece of nihilism.  Perhaps you, the viewer, will have better luck with it.

20141005: Thriller Review--The Cell 2

The Cell 2
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action straight-to-video film, 2009, rated R, 94 minutes.
    2. IMDB: 2.9/10.0 from 1,987 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No consensus yet,' 8% liked it from 16,642 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on HBO.
    5. Directed by: Tim Iacofano.
    6. Starring: Tessie Santiago as Maya Casteneda, Chris Bruno as Harris, Frank Whaley as Duncan, Amee Walden as Penelope, Michael Flynn as Kassel, Bart Johnson as Skylar.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film shares some of the set up as The Cell from 2000, which starred Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, and Vincent D'Onofrio.  Maya was taken by a serial criminal 'The Cusp' who kidnaps women, then brings them to the edge of death, only revive them.  He does this again and again, until the victim begs for final death.  Maya escaped somehow.  Afterwards she can touch objects and connect with the perpetrator.  In the original film, the connection was much harder to achieve, but also tremendously more convincing.

    2. The story of Cell 2 is not as good, the writing not as good, the acting not as good, and the cinematography nowhere near as good as the original.  The Cell 2 has a decidedly low budget look-and-feel to it and went straight to video.

    3. Most of the story concerns Maya's working with Harris to find his niece Penelope, whom The Cusp has kidnapped.  Doing this weakens her connection with the FBI, and given Harris' actions, the pair are basically on the run.

    4. Will Tessie figure out who The Cusp is?  Will Harris clear his name?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: More torture porn than anything else.
    2. One star of five.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 7/10 Fairly good.  The SFX were not all that interesting.

    2. Sound: 5/10 Not much of an issue, but not much of an asset.

    3. Acting: 1/10 Frank Whaley had a couple of good moments, but much of the film looked amateurish.

    4. Screenplay: 1/10 The actors were not that convincing, but the screenplay gave them little to work with.

20141005: Fantasy Review--Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, PG13, 132 minutes, action, adventure, fantasy.  Made in Canada.  English dialog for the most part.
    2. IMDB: 7.1/10.0 from 282,527 audience ratings. Estimated budget, 190 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 72% on the meter; 77% liked it from 185,401 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this film on HBO.
    5. Directed by: Guillermo del Toro.
    6. Starring: Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, Charlie Day as Dr Newton Geiszler, Burn Gorman as Gottlieb, Max Martini as Herc Hansen, Robert Kazinsky as Chuck Hansen, Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Irresponsible and poorly trained pilots fly incredibly stupid looking giant exoskeletons (Jaegers) into battle against powerful aliens (the Kaiju) from another dimension.

    2. I have liked del Toro's films in the past, but this was terrible.  There was a lot of action, there was a lot of destruction, many people were killed, but this was still a bad movie.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: The worst episode of MMPR ever made.
    2. Here MMPR is the acronym for "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers."
    3. One of ten.  Two black holes for screenplay and SFX.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 0/10 Absurdly bad SFX.  No parts of the film looked good.

    2. Sound: 2/10 So many odd choices, plus tons of irrelevant noise.

    3. Acting: 3/10 Idris Elba, Max Martini, and Ron Perlman let us know that acting is still possible even in the face was such a poor story, worse writing, and laughable action.  The Gieszler/Gottlieb pair were unfunny, unconvincing, undeserving of trust, and bloody irritating.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Proof that modern films need neither a solid screenplay nor in-depth acting by all players to make lots of money.


20141004: Action Review--Riddick

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American/British live action feature length film, 2013, R, 98 minutes, action, scifi, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 6.4/10.0 from 94,798 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 38 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 59% on the meter; 54% liked it from 94,628 audience ratings.
    4. I saw this on HBO.
    5. Directed by: David Twohy.  Writers: David Twohy, Jim Wheat.
    6. Starring: Vin Diesel as Riddick, Matt Noble as Boss Johns, Jordi Molla as Santana, Katee Sackhoff as Dahl, Dave Bautista as Diaz, Karl Urban in a cameo as Commander Vaako.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Riddick follows Pitch Black (2000) and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004).  The third film takes up after the middle film.  Riddick was ruling the planet in Chronicles, but he became homesick for Furya.  Vaako sends him on an expedition, but to a place that is 'not Furya.'  Further, Vaako sends with Riddick an escort of Necromonger assassins to help delay his return, perhaps permanently.

    2. The assassins do a fairly good job, but Riddick lives through the assault.  While healing, he tames a feral dog, and renders himself immune to the poisonous venom of the dominant local predators.  Having done this, he goes exploring, and finds a remote camp which has supplies and equipment for bounty hunters.

    3. After more than a bit of preparation, Riddick summons the bounty hunters.  Two groups arrive, one led Santana, the other by Boss Johns.  Both are after the bounty on Riddick's head, but Johns has an extra axe to grind.

    4. The majority of the film is about harsh interactions of the two bounty hunter groups and their attempts to kill or capture Riddick.  Who comes out on top? For a bit, it looks like the hostile planet and its predators might.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Riddick tries to go home.
    2. Eight of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 On the whole, fine.  I liked the artwork for the planet, the spaceship designs, and the local animals.  Some of the costumes were close to terrible, though.

    2. Sound: 8/10 No particular problems.

    3. Acting: 7/10 The principal actors (Diesel, Noble, Molla, Sackhoff) were rather good.  The actors for the smaller roles, not so much.

    4. Screenplay: 9/10 This was easily the best of the trilogy in terms of plot development.  As with the first film in the trilogy, the alien environment was well crafted.


20141002: SciFi Review--The Colony

The Colony
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Canadian live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 94 minutes, scifi, thriller, horror.
    2. IMDB: 5.3/10.0 from 26,686 audience ratings.  Estimated budget, 16 million USD.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 16% on the meter; 22% liked it from 6,465 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Jeff Renfroe.
    5. Starring: Lawrence Fishburne as Briggs, Bill Paxton as Mason, Kevin Zegers as Sam, Romano Orzari as Reynolds, Charlotte Sullivan as Kai, Atticus Dean Mitchell as Graydon, Julian Richings as Leland.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. The film is set in a dystopian future.  To combat the effects of global warming, weather control towers were erected and set into operation.  They worked too well, and the world was thrown into an ice age of sufficient strength to freeze over basically everything.  There seems to be nothing left in terms of food production except for a few 'colonies' that can grow in the hydroponic environment.

    2. In the main colony (Colony Seven), people are getting sick.  The sick are quarantined and eventually forced to die one way or another. 

    3. When Colony 7 gets a distress signal (then nothing) from Colony 5, Briggs, Sam, and Graydon walk through the snow and ice to see what happened.  The power is still on, but there is no greeting party, and pools of blood here and there.  They discover a survivor, Leland, who tells them of a ray of hope.  They had augmented their antennas, and received a partial transmission from a third colony that had re-engineered a control tower to melt the permafrost.  They had dispersed the cloud cover and melted the ice down to soil.  They had called out for anyone who had seeds to plant.

    4. Colony 5 had sent out a search party that did not find their target.  Unfortunately, another group followed them back.  Briggs and Sam try to get the map coordinates from Leland, but he seems too traumatized to be of much help.  Soon enough, the Colony 7 trio meet the killers of Colony 5.

    5. Will Briggs, Sam, and Graydon make it back to Colony 7?  Will they be followed?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Politics of scarcity meets cannibals in future Ice Age.
    2. Two stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 4/10 Ugly.  It's dystopia, so that's not unexpected.  However, lots of the film looks just plain sloppy.

    2. Sound: 5/10 I could hear the dialog clearly.  Background sound was not well used.

    3. Acting: 4/10 Lawrence Fishburne was rather good, Bill Paxton OK.

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 Badly written.  Lame dialogue.  Unimpressive from beginning to end.

20141002: Drama Review--Drones

  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. American live action feature length film, 2013, NR, 79 minutes, drama, thriller.
    2. IMDB: 4.5/10.0 from 223 audience ratings.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 33% on the meter; 32% liked it from 121 audience ratings.
    4. Netflix: 2.7/5.0 from 45,118 audience ratings.
    5. Directed by: Rick Rosenthal.  Written by Matt Witten.
    6. Starring: Matt O'Leary as Jack Bowles, Eloise Mumford as Sue Lawson, Whip Hubley as Colonel Wallace, William Russ as General Lawson, Amir Khalighi as Mahmoud Khalil.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Jack Bowles flies drone missions because he is good at games and using game controllers.  He's better at it than most career military personnel.  However, his gamer attitudes and general lack of maturity leave him little likelihood of advancement in the ranks.  Sue Lawson is gung-ho military, but she has a detached retina which takes her out of being an in-the-air pilot.  So, she's paired with Jack and is his superior officer.  He's more experienced and skilled in flying remote drone missions.

    2. The awkwardness of their getting to know each other is almost tangible, rather like discovering one has stepped hard on someone else's used and discarded chewing gum.  Fortunately, that phase ends while they are flying recon against a target (Mahmud Kahlil) in the Middle East.

    3. The pair misidentify a civilian as the target, and alert their superiors, who alert their superiors.  When the protagonists rescind their initial assessment, they receive verbal fire in return.

    4. Will the pair destroy their target and avoid killing civilians?  Will the translations from Pashto be accurate enough?  Will the moral debate ever end? Will the protagonists follow orders even if it means killing civilians?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: Drone operators debate moral issues during a mission.
    2. One of ten. Two black holes for sound and acting.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 6/10 Ugly as anything; then again, so was the film's subject.

    2. Sound: 2/10 I can usually make out the dialogue, but the music in the sound track is annoying.  Also, the sound levels are quite variable.  To keep up with the voice but avoid being blasted out by the music, one needs to be on the volume control often.

    3. Acting: 0/10 The acting might have gone better with a different director.  In any case, the acting in this film was truly bad.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Will a colonel actually try to convince a lieutenant of a procedural point during a mission execution?  Sue beats up Jack?  I do not believe it.  Will the military lose chain of command this easily?  MPs were sent, but did not replace the errant pair? This seems unlikely.


20141001: Horror Review--Kill Zombies

Kill Zombie! (Zombibi)
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Dutch live action feature length film, 2012, NR, 85 minutes, horror, zombies, comedy.  Spoken word is in Dutch; subtitles in English.
    2. IMDB: 4.9/10.0 from 825 audience ratings. Estimated budget: 500,000 euros.
    3. Rotten Tomatoes: 'No score yet,' and 24% liked it from 47 audience ratings.
    4. Directed by: Martijn Smits, Erwin van der Eshof.
    5. Starring: Yahya Gaier as Aziz, Mimoun Ouled Radi as Mo, Gigi Ravelli as Kim, Sergio Hasselbaink as Jeffrey, Uriah Arnhem as Nolan, Noel Deelen as Joris.

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Aziz works in a grinding office job in the Netherlands.  His boss is a pain, but tall and attractive Tess seems to like him.  Perhaps life is OK on the balance, or is this the high point for Aziz?

    2. Aziz loses his job due to his brother Mo, then considers starting a new business with the same brother.  At that point, six minutes into the film, my respect for the protagonist dropped to zero.  Since the film is purportedly a comedy, I kept watching.

    3. The fired Aziz goes to the party from which Mo got him fired.  Mo proceeds to anger the host of the party, a black drug dealer.  The host sets two of his lackeys on the brothers; a fight ensues and all four are arrested.  In holding cells, they witness some of Officer Kim's dexterity.

    4. The next morning, the cell doors open.  The four jailed ones venture out to discover a landscape littered with the outcomes of fights between zombies and normals.  Aziz starts into his voicemail, and notes a couple of calls from Tess.  She implores him to come rescue her from the building where the space station fragment stuck that started the zombie outbreak.

    5. That is the end of the setup that might be different from a few other zombie films.  The bulk of the film concerns the attempt by Aziz to rescue Tess within the zombie apocalypse.  The ending was not worth waiting for.

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: A bad, unfunny zombie comedy from the Netherlands.
    2. One of ten.  Two black holes for SFX and acting.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 4/10 I have seen worse.  However, the SFX were truly poor.

    2. Sound: 0/10 Pointless.  The subtitles, I think, were roughly accurate.

    3. Acting: 0/10

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Derivative at best.  Substitute USA (or UK) for Netherlands, and you've got any of a hundred or so other zombie films.  Also, if I am watching a comedy, I like to laugh at least once; this did not happen.