2015-12-31

20151231: Comedy Review--Curse of the Jade Scorpion





Name: Curse of the Jade Scorpion (1984)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Woody Allen as C. W. Briggs, Helen Hunt as Betty Ann Fitzgerald, David Ogden Stiers as Voltan, Dan Aykroyd as Chris Magruder, Charlize Theron as Laura Kensington, Elizabeth Berkley as Jill, John Schuck as Mize, Wallace Shawn as George Bond.

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: CW Briggs is a very successful insurance investigator who has a long track record of recovering stolen goods.  He also has betting problems, but his biggest problem is Betty Ann Fitzgerald, the new efficiency expert.  She wants to undermine his way of doing things, and would probably like him to leave the company.  By an odd circumstance, Briggs and Fitzgerald get dragooned into being subjects of hypnosis.  The hypnotist, Voltan, plants a keyword on each of them so that he can induce the trance state later.

Delineation of conflicts:  The old guard represented by CW versus the new business processes of 1940 represented by Fitzgerald.  Magruder, who runs the company, wants to be with Fitzgerald, but is wishy-washy about leaving his wife.  Voltan intends to use Briggs and Fitzgerald to leverage their interior knowledge of rich families' homes to complete major robberies on the sly.  Fitzgerald hires two private detectives to 'help' CW.

Resolution: Voltan is rather successful at first.  The private detectives and the police catch up with his efforts, but do they catch the right suspect?

One line summary: Woody as insurance investigator in 1940.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautifully shot.  Loved it.

  b. Sound: 10/10 The sound is fine, and the musical accompaniment was good for 1940.

  c. Acting: 9/10 Allen was in his element, and Helen Hunt was fine as his sparring partner.  I liked Stiers, Shawn, Aykroyd, and Theron quite a bit.  I saw no bad acting at all.

  d. Screenplay: 9/10 I watched the film as a comedy, and must have laughed at least 20 times.   The one-liners were sharp, the situations outrageous and funny.

Final rating: 9/10


2015-12-30

20151230: Comedy Review--Broadway Danny Rose





Name: Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Woody Allen as Danny Rose, Mia Farrow as Tina Vitale, Nick Apollo Forte as Lou Canova.

Sandy Baron as Sandy Baron, Corbett Monica as Corbett Monica, Morty Gunty as Morty Gunty, Milton Berle as Milton Berle, Will Jordan as Will Jordan, Howard Storm as Howard Storm.

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film opens with a smoker party of comedians/entertainers who have operated in the Catskills and other clubs on the Atlantic seaboard.  During their reminiscences, the group starts talking about the legendary nebbish personal manager Danny Rose.

In the process, the story starts of Danny's nurturing the career of Lou Canova after it has already fallen a considerable distance.  The comedians show up intermittently to nudge the story forward.

Delineation of conflicts:  Tina Vitale becomes important to Lou Canova, but she's a big bag of randomness.  Dealing with her to keep Lou centred is Danny's challenge.  Plus, Lou is married to Teresa, and has been for years.  What could possibly go wrong?  Danny finds out as Lou's career shows a few moments of picking up.  Danny's problems get worse when Tina's relatives (part of the mob) get involved, and not in a nice way.

Resolution: The nebbish and the doll go on the run.  Will it save them?

One line summary: Woody Allen plays a theatrical manager.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Black and white, not my favourite by any means, but beautifully shot.

  b. Sound: 9/10 Recorded in monaural, but still good.

  c. Acting: 8/10 The lead trio gave good performances.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 Some clever writing here.  I had no idea that "I didn't do anything!" could be repeated for good effect so many times.

Final rating: 8/10 I had quite a number of laughs.


20151230: Comedy Review--Everything You Always Wanted to Know





Name: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (1972)
IMDb: link to IMDb      

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Woody Allen appears in most of the vignettes.  link to Wikipedia
  a. 'Do Aphrodisiacs Work?' with Lynn Redgrave.
  b. 'What Is Sodomy?' with Gene Wilder.
  c. 'Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm?' with Louise Lasser.
  d. 'Are Transvestites Homosexuals?' with Lou Jacobi.
  e. 'What Are Sex Perverts?' with Regis Philbin, Robert Q. Lewis, and Pamela Mason.
  f. 'Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?' with John Huston and Heather MacRae.
  g. 'What Happens During Ejaculation?' with Burt Reynolds, Tony Randall, Erin Fleming, Robert Walden.

Directed by: Woody Allen.  Written by:  Woody Allen (screenplay), David Reuben (book).


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film is an anthology. Each story is about an aspect (or several) of sexual behaviour.
  a. Chastity belts and aphrodisiac potions in medieval times in England.
  b. Gene Wilder as a respected physician who falls in lust with a patient's sheep.
  c. Italian-speaking Woody Allen trying to be as macho as possible, but cannot initially find the key to his wife's satisfaction.
  d. A middle class man experiments with women's clothes.
  e. A game show, filmed in grainy black and white, has panelists attempting to guess the perversion of the guest.
  f. John Huston as the mad scientist rejected by Masters and Johnson.  He's out to prove his strange theories.  As a side effect (second part of the vignette), a giant mobile breast is created that terrorises the countryside.  Allen and MacRae play a scientist and a journalist covering the action.
  g. Tony Randall quarterbacks the male brain's attempt to manage bodily resources during a hot romantic date.

Delineation of conflicts:  In each case, some aspect of sexual behaviour is explored.  The vignettes are self-contained.  The common thread, though, is that some private behaviour can become public, with consequences varying from embarrassment to jail to death.

Resolution: The surfacing of private sexual behaviour is done for comic effect.

One line summary: One of Woody's more raucous efforts.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 4/10 Gag me with a spoon.

  b. Sound: 6/10 OK, but not all that interesting.

  c. Acting: 6/10 This was quite variable.  I liked the performances of Louise Lasser, Gene Wilder (despite the subject), Tony Randall, and Burt Reynolds.  I thought Woody Allen was at his best in (c), which was a lot of fun.

  d. Screenplay: 7/10 This was from the funny era of Woody Allen films, and I got quite a few good laughs out of this one.  However, the 7 vignettes were not equally funny.  Some were more boring than anything else, such as (d).  The segments (a), (b), (c), and (g) were humorous, but (e) and (f), not so much.

Final rating: 6/10 I was looking for funny, and I found it.  Well, most of the time.  Also, in 43 years the film has not aged all that well.  What was funny about sex in 1972 is not all quite as funny in 2015.


20151230: Comedy Review--Play It Again Sam





Name: Play It Again, Sam (1972)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Woody Allen as Allan Felix, Diane Keaton as Linda Christie, Tony Roberts as Dick Christie, Jerry Lacy as Humphrey Bogart, Susan Anspach as Nancy, Jennifer Salt as Sharon, Joy Bang as Julie, Viva as Jennifer.

Directed by: Herbert Ross.  Written by:  Woody Allen (theatre play and screenplay).


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: At the very front of the film is an extended clip from the tail end of Casablanca (1942).  If you are aiming to see Play It Again, Sam I would suggest seeing Casablanca first, if you have not already.  That parting scene is close to the heart of neurotic movie critic Allan, who lives in San Francisco.

The film soon jumps to the reality of Allan's wife leaving him.  Allan's involvement with Casablanca spills over into his life as the waking hallucination of Bogart giving him advice for his many problems.  No one else sees Bogart, of course.

Delineation of conflicts:  Allan's arguments with his ex wife are largely over, but she comes back to bite him now and then.  Allan tries to re-enter the dating scene with the help of close friend Dick Christie and wife Linda Christie.  These attempts run counter to Allan's lack of confidence, urge to impress by fakery, and need to make clever comments over making progress.  Bogart's suggestions make sense for Bogart, but not so much for Allan.

As the dating failures mount, Allan and Linda have a growing sense of attraction.  Linda is married to Dick, and Dick is Allan's best friend, so how can this work?

Resolution: The film comes full circle.

One line summary: Humphrey Bogart advises Woody Allen.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 7/10 Wow, a Woody Allen film not set in NYC!  Then again, Herbert Ross was directing.  The visuals were more pleasing than I expected.

  b. Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, and the background music was well-chosen.

  c. Acting: 8/10 I liked the three leads.

  d. Screenplay: 9/10 This was from the funny era of Woody Allen films, and I got quite a few good laughs out of this one.  The dating failures and the recurrent reading of telephone numbers by Tony Roberts were my favourite gags, and the level of wit was fairly nice.

Final rating: 8/10 I was looking for funny, and I found it.


20151230: Drama Review--Another Woman





Name: Another Woman (1988)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Drama.    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Gena Rowlands as Marion, Mia Farrow as Hope, Ian Holm as Ken, Gene Hackman as Larry, Blythe Danner as Lydia, Phillip Bosco as Sam, John Houseman as Marion's father, David Ogden Stiers as Marion's father (younger), Martha Plimpton as Laura, Sandy Dennis as Claire, Harris Yulin as Paul.

Written and directed by:  Woody Allen.  Cinematographer: Sven Nyqvist.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Marion turned 50, and all seems well with her.  She's a philosophy professor and an author who is on sabbatical to write a new book.  She's rented a flat to allow her to concentrate on the writing.  Unfortunately, the sound of conversation drifts in through the air vent from the adjacent flat.  The introspection starts.

Delineation of conflicts:  Marion thinks her marriage is just fine, but then she discovers hanging weaknesses.  She believes her relationships with her family are OK, but then starts revisiting those relationships.  She was convinced friends and family thought highly of her, but then gets a number of reappraisals.

Resolution: Earnest discussions produce new discoveries; will these help Marion?

One line summary: Midlife crisis for a woman professor.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Technically excellent with nice sets of choices in terms of art and costume.  Watching the film was a pleasure to the eye.

  b. Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, and the background music was well-chosen.  The sound seemed muted and somber as a whole, but then this was a somber tale.

  c. Acting: 10/10 Fine actors and fine performances.

  d. Screenplay: 9/10 Slow and careful.  The flashback techniques were smooth rather than jarring, as is often the case in film.  The realignment process (Marion's perceptions of herself versus others' perceptions of her) was intriguing to watch.

Final rating: 9/10


2015-12-20

20151220: SciFi Review--Automata2014





Name: Automata (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: SciFi.    Country of Origin: Bulgaria, Spain.

Cast: Antonio Banderas as Jacq Vaucan, Dylan McDermott as Sean Wallace, Melanie Griffith as Dra Dupre, Robert Forster as Robert Bold, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen as Rachel Vaucan.

Directed by:  Gabe Iváñez.   Written by: Gabe Iváñez, Igor Legarreta.

duality
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: By 2044, the Earth is in severe dystopia.  Solar radiation has killed 99.7% of the human population.  Supposedly that means 21 million humans survive.  The faux savior corporation, ROC, has constructed multitudes of the Automata Pilgrim 7000 robot to help build shields against the sun and rebuild human infrastructure.

By design, robots are supposed to obey two laws.  One: do no harm to humans.  Two: do not alter or repair robots.  The longer legalise versions of the laws one can catch in the film.

In the first minutes of the film, enforcer Wallace finds a robot repairing itself.  He blows its head off.  This act has far-reaching consequences.

Delineation of conflicts:  The energy pouring from the volatile sun has already killed the vast majority of the human race.  The pitiful remnant of the human race thinks it can overcome this and survive long term. The ongoing extermination process is the central conflict of the film; everything else derives from it.

Robots were designed and built to serve humanity.  Robots have evolved somewhat, and are trying to take care of themselves.  Humans in positions of power do not like this, particularly the members of the arch-villain corporation ROC.  Other human elements are aiding the robots.

The insurance investigator Vaucan, who works for ROC, is tasked with getting to the bottom of the robot problem, or at least covering it over.  He manages to get Wallace to help him.  Unfortunately for Vaucan, he becomes interested in more than just his work orders.  This conflicts with ROC's interests.

Resolution: Discoveries are made at great cost.  Decisions have to be made because of those discoveries.  Yes, that is true of a large percentage of films, so watch the movie to know the discoveries and decisions.

One line summary: Derivative, boring, ugly, and forgettable dystopian rubbish.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 4/10 The film uses typically ugly dystopian set design and camera choices. The visuals are menage a cliche. The grunge and decay have been repeated dozens of times, from District 9 to Blade Runner to Escape from New York to The Matrix.  Those films were all better because they had sparks of originality, which this film lacks.

  b. Sound: 6/10 I could hear the dialog.

  c. Acting: 4/10 Dylan McDermott often plays a strongly masculine blunt instrument.  This is just one more instance, so ho-hum.  In the right environments, such as The Practice, McDermott has given some fine performances.   This was not one of them; it seemed more like Olympus Has Fallen, which was a pleasant enough film, but definitely not because of McDermott.

Banderas has a flair for, and a history of, playing emotive roles.  This was more of the same, but not one of his better performances.

Melanie Griffith was fine, but in an all too short role.  I liked Robert Forster's performance.

The use of robots as primary characters is a bit much.  The robots show no affect, no body English.  One might as well be watching poor animation; one is getting only the voice of a voice actor, not the full range of an actor in full blown live action.  Worse by far is that the robots appear as simple as stone slabs, but are said to be soooooooo much smarter than humans.  Bullshit.  If you must lie to me, at least try to be convincing.

  d. Screenplay: 4/10 The adaptation of Asimov's three laws for robots was weak.  Why not just use the originals wholesale?  The use of robots as surrogate slaves for the purpose of vilifying slavery one more time is just too old, too rehashed, too remade, too rebooted.

Final rating: 4/10 Drudgery to watch, and I will never watch it again.


2015-12-11

20151211: Horror Review---Dark Was the Night





Name: Dark Was the Night (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror.    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Kevin Durand (Noah, Real Steel) as Paul Shields (the Sheriff), Lukas Haas (Transcendence, Inception) as Donny Saunders (deputy), Steve Agee as Foreman, Ethan Khusidman as Adam Shields, Billy Paterson as Ron (local horse owner), Bianca Kajlich as Susan Shields.

Directed by:  Jack Heller.   Written by: Tyler Hisel.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The very beginning of the film is consists of archival footage of logging backed up with atonal, jump-out-of-your-skin music.  Trees are ripped apart, with chunks of them turned to chips by automatic machinery.  Tree trunks are dumped skinned (figuratively speaking) of their bark, separated from limbs and roots, on the ground for future pickup.

Next we switch to a staged logging site with modern photography, no current tree destruction, and next to no sound.  The site is closing down for the weekend; a winter storm is coming in.  The foreman checks up on the last crew still on the (moderately) secure and closed site.  This does not go well.  The early splatter set my expectations going in the wrong direction for a moment.  This is more of a suspenseful film.

Delineation of conflicts:  Near the town of Tanner, the logging company cuts down trees to produce lumber to sell.  Creatures in that wooded area are forced to move to find a new habitat.  In Maiden Woods, to the south of Tanner, the local animal owners would like their animals to be safe, while the new creatures in the woods are hungry.  Hunters would like to shoot deer as usual, and wonder about the migration of animals.

The local Sheriff, Paul Shields, his wife Susan, and their remaining son Adam are separated after the death of their other son, Tim.  Everyone in town wants the sheriff to heal from this, but he is wallowing in it.  Various religious themes are batted about with little consensus.  Is the creature the devil, or some animal thought extinct?  Does the Sheriff need to reconnect to the deity, or is he just lost in sorrow?  Was the deputy from New York City 'meant' to have moved to the film's small town, or was this just a single workaholic man drifting through life?

While dealing with his emotional issues, Paul has to help out the town, the horse owners, the hunters, and the Sheriff's department by figuring out what's going on.

Resolution: The Sheriff, Deputy Saunders, the forest rangers, and local hunters get closer to understanding the threat to Maiden Woods.  Is there a workable solution?

One line summary: More suspenseful than the usual creature feature.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 7/10 Focus, framing, depth of field and a number of other characteristics of good visuals are spot on.  The dark palette dominated by grey, black, and muted blue fit the story lines well.  So the visuals help set the tone of the film as dreary, sad, with a big side of foreboding.

  b. Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, and the background music was better than most creature feature films.

  c. Acting: 7/10 Kevin Durand and Lukas Haas were fine.   Most of the other actors were OK.

  d. Screenplay: 7/10 The usual creature feature progressions move right along, which was quite welcome.  The sheriff's family's emotional mess drags on and on, which I could have done without. Toward the final act, Paul has focused on the problem, and shares information with other affected local communities. It looks like progress is possible, which was nice.  The conclusion was definitely that of a horror film.

Final rating: 7/10


2015-12-09

20151209: Fantasy Review--Painted Skin 2





Name: Painted Skin: the Resurrection (2012)    IMDb: link to IMDb




Genres: Fantasy, mystery, romance.    Country of Origin: China.   Directed by:  Wuershan.

Cast: Zhou Xun as Xiaowei (fox demon), Chen Kun as Huo Xin (warrior), Zhao Wei as Princess Jing, Mi Yang as Quer (bird demon), Morgan Benoit as the Wolf Boy of Tian Lang Kingdom, Shaofeng Feng as Pang Lang (the Monster Slayer), Kris Phillips as the Witch Doctor of Tian Lang.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Sequel to Painted Skin (2008).  Five hundred years have passed since the fox demon Xiaowei was imprisoned in the original film.  The bird demon Quer helped Xiaowei escape, and travels with her.  Xiaowei has a habit of eating the hearts of human men whom she had seduced.  She does this to regenerate the pleasing side of her visible form.

Xiaowei rather disliked the time in the frost prison, and looks for a change to her life.  She encounters Princess Jing and Huo Xin, the warrior who was entrusted to guard Jing.  However, Jing's face was disfigured on Huo Xin's watch.  He blames himself for this; Jing had a golden mask made to cover it.

Delineation of conflicts: Xiawei comes to like Jing and Xin.  She sees a process to become mortal, but it involves bringing harm to Jing and Xin.  Jing would like her own beauty restored, but the cost might be steep indeed.  The Tian Lang state would like to make inroads in Jing's kingdom; Jing and company would rather that not happen. Tian Lang's true motives are darker.

Resolution: One might guess how the film's climax comes to pass, but difficult choices are involved.  Are the principal characters up to it?

One line summary: Poor effects, poor script, so-so actors.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 2/10 The visuals are largely spoiled by effects.  The green screen composites were many, and looked fake.  The models used are not all that well done, and looked to be perhaps 1970s quality.  The credits in the opening sequence looked bad.  Clearly a lot of money was dumped on this project, but the effect was not worth it.

Makeup and wardrobe were poor, obvious, badly done.

  b. Sound: 4/10 The background music seemed overly florid.  The spoken dialogue was irrelevant to me, since I do not understand spoken Mandarin Chinese, and will not any time soon.  The subtitles seemed adequate, and not glaringly incorrect.  The +4 is for the lovely music over the closing credits.

  c. Acting: 0/10 I've seen American directors get better results from unknown actors.  Having to watch the dreary performances of the actors who played the fox, the princess, the warrior, the bird, and the Tian Lang folk was drudgery.

  d. Screenplay: 1/10 Did I identify with any of the characters? No.  Did I empathise with any of the characters?  No.  Did I like any of the characters?  No.  Were the Tian Lang opposition members (the bad guys) interesting? No.  Was there any comic relief?  No.  Did I enjoy 30 minutes of plot being stretched over 131 minutes with this uninteresting group?  No.

Final rating: 1/10, though not that good.  I am usually a fan of Asian film, and this property received much critical praise.  For the reasons given above, I think it deserves little if any.


2015-12-04

20151204: Horror Review--Wolves





Name: Wolves (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror.    Country of Origin: Canada.

Cast: Lucas Till (X-Men 2011, 2014; Stoker) as Cayden Richards, Stephen McHattie (Haunter, 300) as John Tollerman, John Pyper-Ferguson (Drive, Unforgiven) as Wild Joe, Jason Momoa as Connory Slaughter, Merritt Patterson as Angelina Timmins, Janet Laine-Green as Clara Tollerman.

Written and directed by:  David Hayter.



The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Cayden starts out as a high school quarterback with a fine girlfriend.  Things devolve quickly for him.  His behaviour on the field brings up questions.  When the girlfriend suggests having sex in her car, his arousal triggers something else, and she runs screaming.  He returns to his home only to awake with his parents dead and blood on his hands.

While the cops attempt to get enough evidence on him to put him away, Cayden hits the road.  He eventually meets Wild Joe at a bar, and Wild Joe points him to Lupine Ridge.

Delineation of conflicts: Cayden wants to know more about who he is, and why he goes through these changes.  The people in Lupine Ridge know some of the answers, but do not give them up all that easily.  A gang in town is rather monopolistic about who holds what power in and around the town, and Cayden does not fit in that scheme.  The people in the town and the gang outside of town have only an uneasy peace, and law enforcement seldom spends any time in the area.

Resolution: Cayden needs to uncover and resolve the tension between the town folk and the gang.

One line summary: So-so werewolf film; bad acting.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 6/10 Professional looking, but not all that exciting.  Some of the wolf costumes were nice to look at, but did not help in the matter of building menace.

  b. Sound: 5/10 Dialogue capture and playback was fine.  The background music was too weak for building tension. The music over the credits was so damned horrible that 7 became a 5.

  c. Acting: 4/10 Stephen McHattie and John Pyper-Ferguson were fine as usual.  On the other hand, Jason Momoa was in the film, and he is one of the worst actors ever.  The rest of the cast was uninteresting at best.

  d. Screenplay: 4/10  Did I identify or empathise with any of the characters?  No.  Was there a story to follow?  Yes, but the dialogue was poor on the whole.

Final rating: 5/10


2015-11-30

20151130: Drama Review--Nightcrawler





Name: Nightcrawler (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Drama, Crime.    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, Rene Russo as Nina Romina, Bill Paxton as Joe Loder, Kevin Rahm as Frank Kruse, Riz Ahmed as Rick, Kathleen York as Jackie, Ann Cusack as Linda, Kent Shocknick as Kent Shocknick, Carolyn Gilroy as Jenny.

Written and directed by:  First time director Dan Gilroy [writer of The Bourne Legacy (2012), Real Steel (2011), Freejack (1992)]  Dan's twin John Gilroy was the editor of record for the film, and his brother Tony Gilroy was one of the producers, as was Jake Gyllenhaal.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: It's night time in Los Angeles, and Louis Bloom is out acquiring copper wire, chain link fence, and manhole covers to sell to a scrap operator.  That is, he steals these materials from insufficiently secure sites.  He also listens to audio courses on entrepreneurship as he cruises the city looking for weakness.  He's not above beating the hell out of a security guard in order to get free of him, but more to steal his pricy watch.

Louis is clearly looking for something more monetarily rewarding.  By chance he stops at a recent auto accident that might get worse if the car explodes before the CHP can get the driver out of the car.  A freelance TV film crew (Joe Loder and his assistant) show up, as if on cue, and start filming.  Louis starts the process of learning new skills.  He observes the handling of the situation that involves cops, aggressive reporters, victim(s), the excitement of jeopardy, straight up corruption, electronic surveillance, and the hungry market of TV news.  When he sees the incident on TV at home the next morning, he's hooked.

Delineation of conflicts: There is competition among the freelance film camera crews (stringers), especially those who film crime oriented events for television.  Louis enters that competition.  He catches the attention of a morning news director at an LA TV station, Nina Romina.  His relationship with her is stormy, but they both gain from it.  As his success grows (better car, better camera, better access), Louis becomes impatient for more success.  He moves incrementally from pure observer to active participant in the crime scenes.  The jostling with other stringers continues, and his self-created legal jeopardy increases.

Resolution: Character issues lead to consequences, but where do those consequences land?

One line summary: Freelance thief becomes a freelance TV cameraman.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Well done.

  b. Sound: 9/10 Fine.

  c. Acting: 8/10 Veteran actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, and Bill Paxton were quite good, as expected.  I had not seen Riz Ahmed before, but I liked his performance.  Many of the other characters could have been played by cardboard cutouts.

  d. Screenplay: 7/10 As a technical exercise, this film was brilliant.  As a reviewer, I applaud it. Following the rise of a deeply flawed sociopath was executed by masterful leadership. Intellectually I'm glad such movies are still made.

On the other hand, would I recommend this film to a friend?  No, unless the friend knows how to eat bitter and knows that sometimes high quality films are difficult to watch.  What character would I identify with?  None.  What character would I empathise with?  None.

Final rating: 8/10


2015-11-29

20151129: Comedy Review--Kingsman





Name: Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy, Action, Parody    Country of Origin: UK.

Cast: Colin Firth as Harry Hart/Galahad, Michael Caine as Arthur, Mark Strong as Merlin, Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine, Sofia Boutella as Gazelle, Taron Egerton as Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin, Sophie Cookson as Roxy, Mark Hamill as Prof James Arnold, Hanna Alstrom as Princess Tilde, Samantha Womack as Michelle Unwin, Jack Davenport as Lancelot.

Directed by:  Matthew Vaughn.  Written by: Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn (screenplay); Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (underlying comic book series, The Secret Service).

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: In 1997, the Secret Service is running an operation in the Middle East.  During interrogation, the target manages to trigger a grenade. Lancelot yells a warning and covers the problem.  Galahad is touched with gratitude, and gives Eggsy (Lancelot's son) means to identify himself to the Secret Service.

In the present, the Secret Service needs new recruits to replace lost personnel.  Eggsy, discouraged by Michelle's choice of second husband, decides to take up Galahad's offer.  Valentine, a sociopathic billionaire, reaches out to scientists and world leaders who are willing to further his demented plans.

Delineation of conflicts: Valentine (and Professor Arnold and others) believe that Earth is the body, and humans are harmful viruses; the viruses need to be scourged or eliminated.  Some of the elite leaders around the globe side with his cause.  The Secret Service, once they have a full idea of what's going on, wish to stop Valentine.  Eggsy wants to join the Secret Service and help their cause, but his hoodlum step-father and his gang are not helping his efforts in life.  The Secret Service has high standards, and Eggsy has to compete against other elite young adults while training for the job.  The recruits versus the training (conducted by Merlin) is a substantial sub-arc.

Resolution: Who will succeed at the training?  Will the understaffed Secret Service be sufficient against Valentine's well-funded and far-reaching efforts?  Will Eggsy rectify his homelife situation?

One line summary: Action packed self-aware spy parody with laughs.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 10/10 No problems.  Professional workmanship.

  b. Sound: 10/10 No problems.  Professional workmanship.

  c. Acting: 5/10 I liked Michael Caine as always.  I expected to dislike Colin Firth as a fish out of water, but no.  He's good at tongue in cheek comedy as well as doing a better job than most at action performance.  The church scene was very engaging, largely because of Firth.  Mark Strong as Merlin was great.  I had not seen the work of Taron Egerton or Sofia Boutella before, and thought they both excelled.  The bit players (the step-father, his hoodlum friends, the upper crust Secret Service candidates) did well.

Samuel L. Jackson's performance was excruciatingly jarring.  I'm still not sure what the director was after, but I longed for scenes without SLJ, and enjoyed all of those.  Without Jackson, I would have rated the acting as 8/10.

d. Screenplay: 6/10 I do not like parodies.  I do not like the use of meta language in film.  I do not like breaking the fourth wall.

Consider the scene where Arthur asks Eggsy what JB stands for.  James Bond?  No.  Jason Bourne? No.  What then?  The guy in 24 (Jack Bauer).  Ah, good choice.

More egregiously, when Valentine and Galahad have a confrontation, Valentine terminates it with "this is not that kind of movie."  I'm sure a number of viewers find this use of meta construct to be amusing.  To me it is just plain bullshit.

Having said that, the script handled motivations, weaving of threads, and viewer engagement rather well.  That is why I gave it a 6/10 instead of the 0/10 I would give to such nonsense as any of the Austin Powers films.

Final rating: 7/10


2015-11-25

20151125: Action Review--Spectre





Name: Spectre (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Action, Adventure, Crime    Country of Origin: UK

Cast: Daniel Craig as James Bond, Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory/M, Monica Belucci as Lucia Sciarra, Ben Wishaw as Q/Quartermaster, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, Dave Bautista as Mr Hinx, Andrew Scott as C/Max Denbigh, Rory Kinnear as Tanner.

Directed by:  Sam Mendes.  Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film starts in Mexico City in a grand public Day of the Dead celebration.  Bond seems to be enjoying himself, but soon is in direct pursuit of an enemy.  When he returns to London, M lets him know that his actions were not appreciated, that he will be under observation, and that the double oh section is in danger of being shut down.

Delineation of conflicts: C (head of the new organisation Centre of National Security) wants to shut down the double oh section; M wants to keep it open.  Bond wants to honour the post-mortem wishes of the previous M.  SPECTRE wants strong control of almost all information flow in the world, so as to have more power and to make more money.  C wants that flow to be available to UK intelligence to replace older methodology, like MI6.  Q, M, Tanner, Moneypenny, and Bond would like to preserve each other as well as some traditional British approaches to civilization and intelligence.  C and SPECTRE are clearly opposed, and seem to have the upper hand during most of the film.  Bond's foster brother wants to make Bond fully aware of how much he hates him.

Resolution: Bond has an opportunity to be his better self; does he take it?

One line summary: Clearly the best Bond film ever.

Why do I call this the best Bond film ever?  Because it narrates a clear and conclusive path to the long overdue end to this excellent series.  Take the opportunity.  This film explains the entire series and shows Bond accepting a change in life path.  There is no need for continuance after this wonderful film.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautiful.  Breathtaking.  Professional.  Should be 27/10, but would be cheating, I guess.

  b. Sound: 9/10 Having a man (Sam Smith) sing the theme song for the film in castrato style is just, plain, wrong.  Except for that wretched interlude, the background sound was excellent for accentuating pacing and mood.

  c. Acting: 9/10 I liked every actor except the overrated Christoph Waltz, whose performance was neither interesting nor believable, despite the richness of the role.  Dave Bautista played an excellent physical opponent to Bond: huge, powerful, quick, intelligent, determined.  Ben Wishaw was wonderful as the modern quartermaster that 007 needs in the present.  Fiennes, Kinnear, Harris, and Belucci did fine jobs.  Andrew Scott's performance was quite good as a rotten ball of snot who needed to run things no matter what the consequences.  Last but not least, I enjoyed watching Seydoux and Craig much more than I thought I would.

  d. Screenplay: 10/10 This is the best story I've ever seen in a Bond film. The introduction of a female character who was actually a good match for Bond was quite an innovation. The story threads were engaging, the tension was at a good level throughout, and the whole script led to a decisive ending. For money reasons, I'm sure there will be more Bond films.  The ending of this film, though, was beautiful and final and just and closed.  So please, folks, stop on the highest note, and don't break that lovely ending.

Final rating: 10/10


2015-11-23

20151124: Horror Review--Lost River





Name: Lost River (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Christina Hendricks as Billy, Iain De Caestecker as Bones, Saoirse Ronan as Rat, Matt Smith as Bully, Eva Mendes as Cat, Ben Mendelsohn as Dave, Redo Kateb as Cab Driver, Barbara Stello.

Written and directed by:  Ryan Gosling.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film has two locations.  One is Lost River, a more or less country version of Detroit: jobs are in short supply, law enforcement is non-existent, salvaging copper is a dangerous way to make money, and the gangster Bully kills anyone who opposes him.  Billy has two children.  One is Bones, who salvaged copper at the wrong time, and is on Bully's extermination list; the other is Frankie, who is a bit past toddler.  Bones and Rat become friends.  Bones tries to find the origins of Lost River's problems.

In order to keep her house, Billy takes a job at a house of horrors (with plenty of simulated gore and mayhem) and starts to adapt to it with Cat's help.  The bank arranged (well, extorted) that; her loan officer runs the house of horrors.

Delineation of conflicts: Bully wants to keep his little empire of fear and hate.  Bones wants to figure out what all was drowned when the river of 'Lost River' was dammed (not damned...or was it?).  Billy would like to keep her house, but also escape from the bank's coercion.  She listens to the monologues of the cab driver who takes her to the fun house.  Bones is supposed to watch over Frankie while Billy is at work; his failures to do that cause substantial trouble.

Resolution: Law of the jungle crossed with politics of scarcity yields a dreary downward spiral. Is there any upside possible?

One line summary: Life is difficult, then it gets worse.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 3/10 It takes real determination to make something that looks so shabby with modern equipment.  Lens flare, stupid filters, so many frames with over 90% darkness, poor focus, lousy depth of field, shooting through out-of-focus moving objects, and mediocre framing are some of the problems.  This movie reminds me of the visual wasteland of the deeply terrible Only God Forgives (2013), another Gosling project.

  b. Sound: 0/10 I quit listening after about 30 minutes of 100.  The subtitles seemed sufficient and much more enjoyable.

  c. Acting: 0/10 The direction and screenplay defeat acting.  My previous experience watching Ms Hendricks was from Mad Men, where I liked her acting.  This film made me re-think that.  Saoirse Ronan (How I Live Now (2013), The Host (2013), Violet and Daisy (2012)) is high on my deal breaker list.

  d. Screenplay: 0/10 As dreary, vile, and pointless as Only God Forgives or Stay (2005).

Final rating: 1/10


2015-11-19

20151119: Horror Review--Last Shift





Name: Last Shift (2014)  
IMDb: link to IMDb


Officer Loren

Genres: Horror, thriller    Country of Origin: USA.
Written and directed by:  Anthony DiBlasi.

Cast: Juliana Harkavy as Officer Jessica Loren, Joshua Mikel as John Michael Paymon, J. LaRose as Patrick Black, Natalie Victoria as Marigold, Sarah Sculco as Kitty Paymon, Kathryn Kilger as Dorothea Paymon, Mary Langford Polley as Birdie, Jeremy S. Brock as Police Interrogator, Amanda Defrance as Crime Scene Girl, Matt Doman as Officer Ryan Price, Hank Stone as Sergeant Cohen.




The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Officer Jessica Loren starts the night shift at a Sanford police station that is just about to be decommissioned.  The Sergeant Cohen gives her a short pep talk, then leaves her.  The 'bump in the night' phenomena show up almost immediately.  Even though the telephone number for the station has been rerouted, she gets calls from a little girl, Monica.  Doors open.  A homeless man sneaks in somehow.  The men's room is plastered with excrement.  The reports the calls from Monica to her superiors, and calls a waste cleanup service to clean the facilities.  The poltergeist action continues.  When she calls for backup against breaking and entering, her radio connection fails.

Delineation of conflicts: Officer Loren would like the nonsense to stop.  Whatever happened to trigger the supernatural activity, seems to want something, but what?  The prostitute Marigold drops by, and Officer Loren sets about to roust her from police property.  Marigold is very chatty, and relates to Loren the story of a want-to-be Manson family, the Paymons.  It just happens that Jessica's father was part of the police team that took out the Paymons.  The story Jessica heard about the Paymons while growing up was not the story that Marigold experienced in a cell near the Paymons before they died.

Resolution: The usual cliches for this generic situation seem to be in force.  What does Officer Loren have to do to end the disturbance of those causing the supernatural activity?  That is, end the psycho, beyond-the-grave actions of the dead Paymons, and the suffering of their dead victims.

One line summary: What she does not know may hurt her.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Focus, framing, and depth were fine, but I could have done without the overexposure that was present in many scenes.

  b. Sound: 7/10 No problems, and the jump scares were not overdone. On the other hand, the background music did not contribute too much in the way of creepiness.

  c. Acting: 7/10 Juliana Harkavy is in about 95% of the scenes.  She was much better than I expected, and I can think of many actresses who would not have done as well.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 I rather liked the story, which keeps the viewer guessing until the end.

Final rating: 8/10


2015-11-18

20151118: Comedy Review--Stung





Name: Stung (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: Germany, USA.

Cast: Matt O'Leary as Paul, Lance Henricksen as Mayor Carruthers, Clifton Collins as Sydney Perch, Jessica Cook as Julia, Eve Slatner as Mrs Perch, Benni Diez as Firefighter, Cecilia Pillado as Flora.

Directed by:  Benni Diez.    Written by: Adam Aresty.
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The rich widow Mrs Perch holds an annual garden party at her country estate. This year is a bit different.  Her gardeners have been using dubious fertilizer boosted by growth hormones.  The fertilizer has spread here and there.  Developing wasps have been super-duper-hyper mutated by this into seven foot monsters. Two caterers, Julia and Paul, are at the party when this happens.  They attempt to remedy the wasp situation.

Delineation of conflicts: The mutant wasps like to lay eggs, and have bigger appetites than the original version.  The human beings in the area would like to continue living.

Resolution: Elimination derbies end in only a few ways.

One line summary: Creature feature about giant mutant wasps.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 7/10 The setting is beautiful: the trees, the lawns, the cultivated plants, the greenhouse, and so on.  The CGI wasps were not so well done or convincing, but were not terrible.

  b. Sound: 7/10 The sounds of the wasps in flight were pretty good at increasing tension and threat.  I could hear the dialog.

  c. Acting: 6/10 Matt O'Leary was mighty irritating early on, but got better when the situation became dire.  Lance Henriksen, one of my usual favourites, seemed a bit tired and out of it, but still showed his abilities in several passages.  Clifton Collins was his usual self, but put on a good spin as the unhappy and despised son of the rich old lady.  Jessica Cook did her best.  Much of the rest of the cast was not that good.

  d. Screenplay: 7/10 The script and direction does a good job of convincing me that all or most of the characters should die miserably and as soon as possible. That is good for elimination derbies.  It was also good at deepening the central characters to the point where I was rooting for some of them to make it to the end.

Final rating: 7/10


2015-11-15

20151115: SciFi Review--The Martian





Name: The Martian (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: SciFi    Country of Origin: USA.   Locations: Jordan, Hungary, USA.

Cast: Matt Damon as Mark Watney (astronaut, botanist), Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders (head of NASA), Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis (Ares 3 crew commander), Michael Pena as Rick Martinez (Ares 3 pilot), Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson (Ares 3 crew advocate), Kate Mara as Johanssen (Ares 3 crew), Aksel Hennie as Vogel (Ares 3 crew, from Germany), Sebastian Stan as Chris Beck (Ares 3 crew), Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor (Ares program director), Benedict Wong as chief JPL probe builder Bruce Ng, Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park (keeps track of fine details on Mars), Donald Glover as Rich Purnell.

Directed by:  Ridley Scott.   Written by: Drew Goddard (screenplay) and Andy Weir (book).

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The Ares 3 mission is on Mars.  Its six astronauts are all busy when a major windstorm comes up.  The crew has to bug out, and Mark appears to be lost in the windstorm.  After the rest of the crew have departed, Mark revives.  He finds the resources he needs for immediate survival, takes inventory, then engineers a way to make more food and water.  On Earth, Mark's funeral was done with all the official flourishes.

Delineation of conflicts:  Mindy is tasked with looking at the deserted landing site of the Ares 3 mission.  She notices that Mark is likely alive, and drives the point home.  Mark works toward establishing communications; Mark and NASA complete making their back and forth workable.

That accomplishment just makes the technical problems and the need for political decisions come faster.  Mark is short on time, NASA has to generate options, and it all has to be funded.  Teddy is continually walking a political tightrope, Vincent wants the best for the Ares program, Mitch wants the best for the crew that is currently in space.  Bad luck shows up in devastating form, both on Mars and on the Earth.  Everything has to be re-assessed and new plans have to be made.

Resolution: Will Mark be rescued?

One line summary: One of the best science fiction movies ever made.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Wonderful job for closeups, groups of people, shots of the Hermes, backdrops of the surface of Mars, mission control settings and the like.

  b. Sound: 7/10 Lewis did indeed have horrible taste in music, and it was played too loud.

  c. Acting: 9/10 Matt Damon did a fabulous job as the lead.  His depictions of dealing with an ongoing stream of difficulties and bad luck were excellent. His wry comments made me laugh in empathy. Michael Pena, Sean Bean, and Jeff Daniels did fine jobs.  The vignette between Mindy and Vincent was good comic relief.  I liked Mackenzie Davis quite a bit as the one who noticed Mark was alive, then kept track of him until communications were established.  Benedict Wong and Donald Glover were marvelous in smaller parts.

  d. Screenplay: 10/10 Excellent, considered in its own right.  I'm not comparing it to the book.  I liked the level of detail: enough to show that a huge helping of ingenuity was required, but not so much that I felt deluged.  Along the same lines, huge chunks of time had to be dropped to fit the time of the movie down to 144 minutes, but to still show significant processes that had to be engineered, then performed.  The montage of final scenes was nicely constructed.

Final rating: 5/5


20151115: Horror Review--Harbinger Down





Name: Harbinger Down (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: SciFi, Horror    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Lance Henricksen as Captain Graff, Camille Balsamo as Sadie, Matt Winston as Stephen, Winston James Francis as Big G (for Guillaume), Milla Bjorn as Svet, Giovonnie Samuels as Ronelle, Reid Collums as Bowman, Edwin H. Bravo as Atka, Michael Estime as Dock.

Written and directed by:  Alec Gilles.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: In 1982, a Russian manned probe re-enters Earth's atmosphere, something besides the cosmonaut is onboard.  The probe ditches in the sea, to the north, near Alaska.

In current times, graduate student Sadie, professor and project leader Stephen, and lab tech Ronelle have a grant to study the effect of global warming on Beluga whales in the Arctic.  Sadie's grandfather, Captain Graff, agrees to take the academics on his crab boat Harbinger to do the study.  Graff and his crew (Dock, Svet, Big G, Atka, Bowman) will catch crab at night.  The academics have the daytime to study the whales.  Early in this process, they ping the lost probe, then bring it aboard. They discover the extra onboard was an engineered organism.

Delineation of conflicts: The organism is glad to be awake and have a lot to eat.  Stephen wants full credit for the discovery, even though Sadie discovered it.  The Russians, as it turned out, have a representative aboard to implement their strategy.  The crew of the Harbinger want to survive the elimination derby.

Resolution: Will the Russians get their way?  Will anyone of the original crew survive?

One line summary: Ripoff of The Thing (1982); not as good.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 6/10 OK, but muted to the extreme.

  b. Sound: 8/10 Mostly fine.

  c. Acting: 5/10 Lance Henriksen was good, as was Milla Bjorn.  Reid Collums was OK, but Camille Balsamo and the rest were pretty bad.

  d. Screenplay: 5/10 The plots and subplots moved along in pretty natural ways.  Motivations were clear about most characters.

Final rating: 6/10


2015-11-12

20151112: Scat Review--Roboshark





Name: Roboshark (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: Bulgaria, Canada.

Cast: Alexis Peterman as Trish, Matt Rippy as Rick Lanson, Vanessa Grasse as Melody, Laura Dale as Veronica, Nigel Barber as Admiral Black, Isaac Haig as Louie.

Written and directed by:  Jefferey Lando.


The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: A UFO targets Earth and send a probe into the Pacific Ocean.  Next, we see a shark gulping the probe whole.  The shark takes out a USN nuclear submarine with 168 personnel.

The US Navy decides to make its stand in Seattle.  Weatherwoman Trish, husband Rick (who works the city's water/sewer system), and daughter Melody prepare for a 'normal' day, but it is not to be.  Trish sees the shark take out a coffee stand, and Rick monitors multiple problems in the sewer system.  Later Melody swings back into the scene to help Trish and Louie.

Delineation of conflicts: Roboshark seems intent on damaging Seattle.  Admiral Black wants this threat to national security dealt with by whatever means necessary.  Trish wants a big story so she can get a promotion.  Melody wants to help her mother using her Internet savvy.  The parents want Melody to go to safety.

Resolution: Will anyone of the central characters figure out the intentions of the Roboshark?  If so can they communicate successfully before Seattle is destroyed or the Navy uses tactical nukes on Roboshark?

One line summary: Worst shark movie ever, but funny social commentary.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 5/10 The visuals are bimodal.  Natural scenes (ocean, landscapes, sky, people) are all nicely shot.  The frames with the shark are below amateurish.

  b. Sound: 5/10 I could hear the dialog. The background music was next to irrelevant.

  c. Acting: 4/10, from
      0/10 Acting? What acting?  (considering the film as a creature feature)
      8/10 As deadpan delivery of absurd lines, often hilarious (considering as comedy from the start)

  d. Screenplay: 0/10 The Bulgarian Uniform Film Organization certainly put together a bizarre film. As a straight SciFi/thriller/CreatureFeature, this is beneath terrible.  As a comedy, there are some fun passages about social media, the city of Seattle itself, and one of Seattle's more famous personalities.

Final rating: 4/10, from 0/5 as a creature feature and 4/5 as a comedy.


2015-11-11

20151111: Horror Review--3 Headed Shark Attack





Name: 3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Danny Trejo as Max Burns, Karrueche Tran as Maggie, Robert Van Dam (Szatkowski) as Stanley,  Jaason Simmons as Dr Ted Nelson, Jena Sims as Dr Laura Thomas, Brad Mills as Greg, Stephen Norris as Steve, Larry Gamell Jr as Dr Leonard, Bob Constance as Brad, Rico Ball as Omar.

Directed by:  Christopher Ray.  Written by: Jacob Cooney.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: First snapshot: We see the monster in the first few minutes. We start at some sort of oceanside resort where we have a skinny dipping dare. Right in the middle of this, the 3 headed shark attacks and kills a woman, then three men.

Second snapshot: Maggie starts as a new intern at an oceanographic research station, The Persephone, a big chunk of which is underwater.  The station is placed near the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to study the effects of garbage on the ocean ecology.  Persephone aims to join forces with special interest groups to help save the planet.  While on the initial tour with one of the special interest groups, Maggie meets Greg again, whom she knew in undergraduate school.

Delineation of conflicts: The 3-headed shark is hungry, and eats people, while the people would rather go on living.  Persephone staff try to keep people safe, but the shark has other ideas.  After the shark destroys the station, a few survive and escape on a small boat.  Max Burns diverts the fishing expedition he's leading to try to help.  The shark diverts to attack a booze cruise ship.

Resolution: Will the booze cruise be saved, or will cliches be enforced?

One line summary: 50% better than 2-Headed Shark Attack.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Most of this film is A+ beautiful to look at when filming natural objects or people.  The CGI shark is even fairly well done.

  b. Sound: 7/10 I can hear the actors' dialog clearly.  The background music is pleasant but seems a bit non-relevant at times.  At times it does help build tension.

  c. Acting: 2/10 Maggie, the lead in the film, is played by Karrueche Tran, and this appears to be her first film. It shows, and not in a good way. Brad Mills was absolutely terrible as Greg.  Danny Trejo was his usual self, which was an improvement, but does not lift this sinking wreck.

  d. Screenplay: 0/10 As per usual with Asylum pictures, more attention and money should have been devoted to the screenplay.  The endless repeat of sand on the ocean bottom being kicked up tiresome.  The unlikely physics of the script serve to feed the shark: the shark rams the larger cruise ship, and people just fly off.  Once, maybe, but five or six times, it is to laugh.  The shark jumps high into the air, lands on the cruise boat, just happens to eat all the officers on deck (one officer per mouth), and gets back to the ocean unhurt but chewing.  After the shark breaches the boat, and knocks it into a 45 degree angle, the boat rights itself after one dramatic double death scene.  Oh, really?

Does anything happen when Danny Trejo actually gets there? Well, yes and no.  The entire script is so unreasonable (especially the ending) that the absurd humour is its only positive aspect.

Final rating: 0/10


2015-11-10

20151110: Horror Review--Exeter





Name: Backmask (Exeter) (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Stephen Lang as Father Conway, Kevin Chapman as Greer, Kelly Blatz as Patrick,  Brittany Curran as Reign, Michael Ormsby as Rory, Nick Nicotera as Knowles, Brett Dier as Brad, Gage Golightly as Amber, Nick Nordella as Drew.

Directed by:  Marcus Nispel.  Written by: Kirsten McCallion.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:  We get a triple bite opening. First a drug user gets killed after shooting up.  That was quite short  Second, we get horrid archival footage of the Exeter asylum's failed history as a mental institution, where children were killed en masse.  It is rumoured to be haunted by the spirits of those slaughtered.  Third, in modern times, the Exeter asylum is being renovated by a church.  A number of strongly degenerate teens decide to have a drugs/drinks/smokes party at the asylum. Horror cliches dictate a lot of deaths later in the film.

Delineation of conflicts:  The youths vandalise the place, urinating and vomiting on the walls, dumping trash everywhere, and breaking fixtures.  So it's the youths against whatever spirits they rouse by their attempt at levitation.  Can this motley crew of useless teens manage to placate that which possesses Rory?

Resolution: Do all of the teens die horribly, or just most of them?

One line summary: Cliche elimination derby starring a possession.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 7/10 Most of the film was clearly lit and nicely shot.

  b. Sound: 6/10 Mostly an asset, except for the jump scares.

  c. Acting: 2/10 Kevin Chapman's character was killed early on.  Stephen Lang's character is absent for most of the movie, so almost all the acting is done by unknowns.  They seem good at depicting drug use, lack of planning, ignorance, stupidity, and arrogance.  Anything else, not so much.

  d. Screenplay: 2/10 All cliches, all the time.  The DIY exorcism taken from the Internet was a bit funny, but most of the film looked recycled with a new set of actors.

Final rating: 1/10


20151108: Action Review--Monsters Dark Continent





Name: Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDB entry

Genres: Horror, Thriller    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Johnny Harris as Noah Frater, Sam Keeley as Michael Parkes, Joe Dempsie as Frankie Maguire, Kyle Soller as Karl Inkelaar, Nicholas Pinnoch as Sergeant Forrest.

Directed by:  Tom Green.  Written by: Tom Green and Joe Dempsie.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:  We open to a glimpse into the origins of extraterrestrial life having infected Earth, and a rapid archival news slideshow to the current state of hot war against the aliens.  We follow some recruits from Detroit who are about to ship out to the Middle East to fight the aliens.  In separate cuts, we are introduced to Noah Frater, a sniper who takes out 'insurgents.'  The film is unclear about who, if anyone, the insurgents are fighting for, but they are diagnosed as trouble.

Delineation of conflicts:  Parts of the American military are on seek and destroy missions against aliens.  Sometimes high tech, high payload ordinance takes out some of the giant aliens.  Other times the aliens (many bigger than small mountains) take out US aircraft in the air.  The aliens seem to reproduce and grow faster than they can be destroyed.  The Americans are also on missions against local 'insurgents' whatever those are.

Resolution: None.  The film under review is a sequel.  There is enough failure to resolve in this film to allow for another sequel.

One line summary: Failed fight against alien invaders in Middle East, not Africa.

Statistics:
  a. Cinematography: 2/10 A bit better than VHS, but not by much.  Shaky cam, night vision images, bad clarity through rifle scopes, hideous overexposure.

  b. Sound: 4/10 I could hear the actors, but incidental music was either jarring or irrelevant.

  c. Acting: 0/10 There was acting? I've seen far better acting in high school plays.

  d. Screenplay: 0/10 How was this as a SciFi film? Complete failure.  Action film?  You've got to be joking: all weapons fire looked fake; nothing was convincing.  I've had enough of the eff-word, and this film was over-loaded.  Were there any characters to identify with?  No.  Were there any characters to empathise with?  No.  Were there any characters that I cared about in the least?  No.  Were there any objectives (military or cultural) that were achieved?  No.

As an anti-war film, the movie had a little virtue.  In the film, huge amounts of money and resources were spent on the war effort, but there seemed to be no lasting positive results at all.  There were plentiful negatives: dead US soldiers, dead locals, ruined houses, farms, whole chunks of cities. The US troops are clearly next to untrained, and have little chance at anything that they try.

The movie needed subtitles for the Arabic passages.

Final rating: 1/10 Wall to wall nonsense.