20150528: SciFi Review--Age of Ice

Age of Ice
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Age of Ice
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 1.8/10 (1,207 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      zero ratings by critics returned
      19% of users liked it from 62 recorded ratings
      Critics Consensus: No consensus formed yet.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2014-12-09
    6. Production Companies: The Asylum
    7. Tagline: The world's greatest desert now a frozen apocalypse.

    8. Budget:  Budget estimate not available at review time.
    9. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    10. Runtime: 85 minutes.
    11. Genres: Adventure, Science Fiction

    12. Written and directed by: Emile Edwin Smith.

    13. Starring: Barton Bund as Jack Jones, Bailey Spry as Amber Jones, Owais Ahmed as Tariq, Joe Cipriano as Dylan Jones, Jules Hartley as Diane Jones, Yaron Urbas as Capt. Kawar, Wilfried Capet as Simon

    14. TMDb overview: Massive earthquakes open the Arabian tectonic plate, resulting in unstable weather and freezing temperatures that will be unsurvivable by nightfall. Attempting to reach safety, a vacationing family in Egypt must battle the rapidly cooling temperatures that usher in a new Ice Age, covering the Sphinx, Pyramids, and Sahara Desert with mountains of snow.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. We start with the American Navy in the eastern Mediterranean.  All seems well, then a sequence of unexplained phenomena take out most of the USN ships and planes.  Sure.   This 'explained' (not) by referring to activity of the 'Arabian plate' which exposed magma to sea water which did something else between unlikely and impossible.  Then a blizzard starts. 

    2. We start following the Jones family.  Father Jack, daughter Amber, and son Dylan are on a tour of Egyptian pyramids when the strange weather strikes.  They get re-connected with mother Diane before the problems get really serious.  Getting a plane out of Egypt fails.  The train ride fails because Dylan jumps off.  Camels work for a bit.  Walking seems a disaster.  Trucks were not all that safe either.

    3. Since the entire Jones family seems to be good at making bad decisions, will the locals end up helping them?  Does anyone get out of this ever-worsening mess?

  3. Conclusions
    1. What is supposed to be Egypt was filmed in Detroit, MI, US.  Brilliant. The American teen Amber knows more about Egyptian culture than the locals? I don't think so. Either child knowing more than both parents about every issue? No, just no. People jumping off a pyramid 50 times their own height and landing uninjured with unsullied clothing? No.

    2. There is nothing that this cast cannot ruin.

    3. One line summary: The Asylum strikes again; the audience loses.

    4. Zero of ten.  Four black holes for screenplay, acting, cinematography, and contempt for the audience.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 1/10 Poor CGI, some shaky cam, ridiculous set design.

    2. Sound: 6/10 I could usually hear the dialog.  The music was not always bad.

    3. Acting: 0/10 There was acting? 

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Stuff and nonsense.


20150527: Thriller Review--P2

  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: P2
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 5.9/10 (24,482 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      35% of critics liked it of 69 critical reviews posted
      36% of viewers liked it from 67,662 ratings
      Critics Consensus: P2 is full of gore, but low on suspense, featuring a cat-and-mouse plot; has been done many times before.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2007-11-09
    6. Production Companies: Summit Entertainment
    7. Tagline: No tagline found.

    8. Budget:  8,000,000 USD
    9. Revenue: 7,766,240 USD (Box Office Mojo, world-wide figure)
    10. Runtime: 98 minutes.
    11. Genres: Horror, Thriller

    12. Directed by: Franck Khalfoun. Written by: Franck Khalfoun, Alexandre Aja, Gregory Levasseur.

    13. Starring: Wes Bentley as Thomas, Rachel Nichols as Angela Bridges, Simon Reynolds as Bob Harper, Philip Akin as Karl, Stephanie Moore as Jody, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as man in elevator, Grace Lynn Kung as woman in elevator, Bathsheba Garnett as homeless woman, Philip Williams as Cop #1, Arnold Pinnock as Cop #2

    14. TMDb overview: Angela, a corporate climber, gets stuck working late on Christmas Eve and finds herself the target of an unhinged security guard. With no help in sight, the woman must overcome physical and psychological challenges to survive.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Angela is an executive in NYNY trying to finish up her high-priority tasks before leaving to go to her sister's house in New Jersey.  A co-worker apologises repeatedly and profusely for inappropriate behaviour while drunk at the office party.  Such things extend her stay at the office to the point where she walks out with one of the main security guards, Karl, as he closes off elevator access as they descend.  

    2. She watches the last car, other than her own, depart the car park, carrying the Asian couple who rode the elevator with her and Karl.   Then her own car will not start.

    3. There is (almost) no one in the structure except her and the security guard Thomas. Unfortunately for Angela, he has extensive plans for her.

    4. The rest of the film is the dialectic between the executive and the security guard in this mostly empty and strongly bounded environment.  Who will come out better?

  3. Conclusions

    1. Boring, nonsensical, male-bashing, lukewarm non-thriller.

    2. One line summary: Lukewarm thriller with more than a touch of gore.

    3. Two stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 OK, though nothing special.

    2. Sound: 6/10 OK, though nothing special.

    3. Acting: 4/10 Not all that engaging.  If we had Anthony Perkins instead of Wes Bentley, this was have been an entirely different matter.  As much as I appreciated Rachel Nichols' visual appeal, her acting did not engage me.  She was the principal reason I lost interest in the SciFi series Continuum, even though its underlying structure was one I would normally enjoy.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 The plot has its complications, and it hangs together somewhat.  However, its execution did not generate much suspense or many thrilling moments.  Also, the successful parts are neither new nor memorable.  The ending was ridiculous beyond measure.

20150527: Comedy Review--Tank Girl

Tank Girl
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Tank Girl
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 5.2/10 (22,760 votes)
    3. Netflix: 3.2/5.0 based on 674,429 ratings.
    4. Rotten Tomatoes:
      38% of critics liked it of 37 critical reviews posted
      64% of viewers liked it, based on 49,400 ratings.
      Critics Consensus: While unconventional, Tank Girl isn't particularly clever or engaging, and none of the script's copious one-liners have any real zing.

    5. Status: Released
    6. Release date: 1995-03-31
    7. Production Companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
    8. Tagline: In 2033, justice rides a tank and wears lip gloss.

    9. Budget:  25,000,000 USD
    10. Revenue: 6,600,000 USD
    11. Runtime: 98 minutes.
    12. Genres: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction

    13. Directed by: Rachel Talalay; written by Tedi Sarafian

    14. Starring: Lori Petty as Rebecca (Tank Girl), Ice-T as T-Saint, Naomi Watts as Jet Girl, Malcolm McDowell as Kesslee, Iggy Pop as Rat Face, Don Harvey as Sgt. Small, Jeff Kober as Booga, Reg E. Cathey as Deetee, Scott Coffey as Donner, Ann Cusack as Sub Girl

    15. TMDb overview: Based on the British cult comic-strip, our tank-riding anti-heroine fights a mega-corporation, which controls the world's water supply.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Set in post apocalyptic Earth, circa 2033, well after a moderate sized comet impacted the planet.  It has not rained for 11 years, the film says.  This is a politics-of-scarcity environment, with the most rare commodity being water, the next being public and private security.  The law of the jungle has replaced rule of law.

    2. The protagonist is Tank Girl, who survives by finding water by whatever means and by helping guard the compound where she lives.  The compound is breached early on.  Her boyfriend is killed, and her tween female friend Sam is abducted to be sent to a house of prostitution.  Tank Girl is enslaved.

    3. Tank Girl breaks free, of course, and acquires friends Jet Girl and Sub Girl during the film.  Her main goals are survival, which includes obtaining water, and taking on Water and Power, which is a monopoly that no one likes, and are the folks who enslaved her.

    4. So, do {Tank, Jet, Sub} Girls find allies to make a dent against Water and Power?  Do they finally end the sub-plot of Sam being in danger?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: You will likely either love or despise this one.
    2. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 The intro, credits, and long (hardly bearable) intertitles were done with comic strip style art with minimal animation.  Woof.  Ugly.  The live action parts, by and large, were done beautifully.

    2. Sound: 6/10 The music is loud and not all that relevant to anything.  Good luck with that.  The dialog was comprehensible with some sort of normal volume setting, but then the intrusive music was so loud I would have to adjust the volume down.  Then the dialog was not audible.  So I turned on subtitles in Netflix.  Sigh.  The musical production of Cole Porter's 'Let's Fall in Love' was just horrible.

    3. Acting: 6/10 I liked Malcolm McDowell in his role.  I usually like Naomi Watts no matter what, but not this time.  Lori Petty was, as always, Lori Petty.  That was just great for this role.

    4. Screenplay: 5/10 The attempts at humour are many and are easily recognizable, just not funny.  I might have given this film full marks if had just been funny.  The film's plot, such as it was, was done archipelago style.  That is, an island scene here, followed by those terrible intertitles and overly loud music, then another island.  The whole sort of lurches toward coherence, and sort of makes it.


20150524: Horror Review--DeepStar Six

DeepStar Six
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: DeepStar Six
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 5.1/10 (6,388 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      0% from 6 critics ratings
      23% liked it from 479 user ratings
      Critics Consensus: Not enough critics' ratings to form consensus.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 1989-01-13
    6. Production Companies: TriStar Pictures, Carolco Pictures
    7. Tagline: No tagline found.

    8. Budget:  Budget estimate not available at review time.
    9. Revenue: 8,143,225 USD (Box Office Mojo)
    10. Runtime: 105 minutes.
    11. Genres: Action, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

    12. Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham; written by Lewis Abernathy, Geof Miller

    13. Starring: Taurean Blacque as Captain Phillip Laidlaw, Nancy Everhard as Joyce Collins, Greg Evigan as McBride, Miguel Ferrer as Snyder, Nia Peeples as Scarpelli, Matt McCoy as Jim, Cindy Pickett as Dr. Diane Norris, Elya Baskin as Burciaga, Thom Bray as Hodges, Ronn Carroll as Osborne, Marius Weyers as Van Gelder

    14. TMDb overview: The crew of an experimental underwater nuclear base are forced to struggle for their lives when their explorations disturb a creature who threatens to destroy their base.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Project leader Van Gelder is driving most of the crew nuts.  He's behind schedule on constructing an underwater missile platform for the US Navy.  Unfortunately, pro forma sound checks reveal a cave beneath the seabed over which the platform was to be built.  Van Gelder orders that explosives be used to collapse the cave so that building can continue.  Burciaga and Collins register their objections due to structural risks.  Scarpelli objects since she will lose any chance of studying possible life forms that normally reside in the caves.  Captain Laidlaw sides with Van Gelder since the Navy is likely to shut down the project if there are any more delays.

    2. Hodges and Osborne set off the charges as ordered.  When they send down a tethered remote unit to record stills and video, they manage to lose it.  They detach from their tractor housing to pursue the remote, since losing it would be so expensive.  The cavern is rather huge, and the likelihood of filling it in to continue construction looks bleak.

    3. That's when the elimination derby starts.  The rest of the film is about survival: the crew versus whatever took out that the remote.

  3. Conclusions

    1. One line summary: Good actors who deserved a better script.

    2. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 5/10 Perhaps this was OK for its time, but then again, perhaps not.  Compared to The Abyss, which also came out in 1989, it looks rather ordinary and dated, especially the models of underwater structures.

    2. Sound: 6/10 The actors were well-miked, so I could hear the dialog.  The background music was typical of 1970s, 1980s film scores but toward the lower end of the spectrum.

    3. Acting: 8/10 The film had a competent cast.  Most of the actors were more or less in mid-career, and their filmographies continue well past this property.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 This was a rather ordinary entry.  It's sci-fi set underwater with some nasty creatures.  This one turns into a more or less by-the-numbers elimination derby, with none of the characters (except perhaps Snyder) showing any awareness of what was happening.  It was just not that interesting.


20150523: Horror Review--Strippers Vs. Werewolves

Strippers Vs. Werewolves
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Strippers Vs. Werewolves
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 3.1/10 (1,456 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      29% based on 7 critics' ratings
      14% of users liked it, from 216 viewer ratings
      Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2012-04-27
    6. Production Companies: Black & Blue Films
    7. Tagline: No tagline found.

    8. Budget:  Budget estimate not available at review time.
    9. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    10. Runtime: 93 minutes.
    11. Genres: Comedy, Horror, Foreign

    12. Directed by: Jonathan Glendening.  Written by: Pat Higgins

    13. Starring: Adele Silver as Justice, Barbara Nedeljakova as Raven, Billy Murray as Ferris, Martin Compston as Scott, Sarah Douglas as Jeanette, Steven Berkoff as Flett, Alan Ford as Harry, Martin Kemp as Mickey, Lucy Pinder as Vampire Bride, Robert Englund as Tapper, Lysette Anthony as Basildon Cinemagoer.

    14. TMDb overview: Mickey, who happens to be a werewolf and a crime boss, gets all worked up and hairy during a private dance at a strip club. Justice, the dancer, grabs the nearest weapon and lands a fatal blow: her silver fountain pen right through Mickey's wolfed-out eye. This ignites a small-scale war between Mickey's group of werewolf mobsters and the sultry strippers of Vixens.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. At first I thought I was trapped in a badly edited version of Guy Ritchie's brilliant piece, Snatch (2000).  Then I realised that the seasoned, talented cast was missing as was the fine screenplay and tight direction.  (Well, Alan Ford was in both films, as Brick Top in Snatch, as Harry in this film.) The artwork for the credits looked a little too familiar, and the props, language, and atmosphere seemed recycled.

    2. Instead of the wealth of fun and wry humour of Snatch, one has a jumbled mess about a deadly feud between those who work at a strip club and a gang of criminal werewolves.  The fake blood was unconvincing, the fights were ridiculously bad, and the gratuitous full frontal female nudity (first third of the film) was 12 on a scale of 1 to 10.  The werewolf makeup was not well executed, and I could have done without the werewolves masturbating.  

    3. On the positive side, Robert England's performance was good, but also quite short.  Lysette Anthony was OK in a cameo, and there were a few laughs.

  3. Conclusions
    1. Did I identify with any of the characters? No. Did I empathise with any? No. Were the few laughs worth the overall low quality of the film? No. Was the climactic battle interesting? Well, no.

    2. One line summary: No werewolves were harmed during the making of this motion picture.

    3. One of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 The sets were particularly badly done.  The use of split screen was more annoying than helpful.  The injected cartoon slides really marked this film as badly done.

    2. Sound: 5/10 I could hear the dialog, such as it was.  The music was irritating.

    3. Acting: 3/10 Sarah Douglas, Robert Englund, and Lysette Anthony were fine, but they did not portray the main characters.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 The main failure.


20150522: Adventure Review--Tales of an Ancient Empire

Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Original Title: Tales of an Ancient Empire
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 3.1/10 (1,276 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      critics rating not found number of reviews too low
      4% of users liked it from 169 recorded ratings
      Critics Consensus: none formed yet

    4. Status: Rumored
    5. Release date: 2010-07-31
    6. Production Companies: New Tales
    7. Tagline: No tagline found.

    8. Budget:  1 million USD (source: IMDb)
    9. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    10. Runtime: 89 minutes.
    11. Genres: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

    12. Directed by: Albert Pyun.  Written by: Cynthia Curnan.

    13. Starring: Whitney Able as Xia, Kevin Sorbo as Aedan, Ralf Möller as General Hafez, Jennifer Siebel Newsom as Queen Ma'at, Michael Paré as Oda, Melissa Ordway as Princess Tanis, Matthew Willig as Giant Iberian, Sarah Ann Schultz as Malia, Lee Horsley as Talon, Scott Paulin as Tou-Bou Bardo, Olivier Gruner as Corsair Duguay, Sasha Mitchell as Rodrigo, Norbert Weisser as Xuxia, Victoria Maurette as Kara, Janelle Marra as Rajan, Inbar Lavi as Alana, Cazzy Golomb as Hekate.  Christopher Lambert as x?

    14. TMDb overview: A princess is on a quest to unite the five greatest warriors to save her kingdom from a demon sorceress.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. We start with a good 10 minutes of overview and backstory by Hekate, granddaughter of Ma'at, Queen of Abelar.  The granddaughter was portrayed as having some sort of speech impediment, or else the actress was just very badly miked.  I needed the closed captions.  This segment was largely done in sepia cartoons.  Artsy cartoons, perhaps, but still.  In any case, Ma'at's mother hired mercenaries to put down Sorcerer Xuxia and his vampire daughter Xia, before Xuxia opens a portal to the netherworld.  Duguay, Rodrigo, and Oda manage just that, but Oda introduces complications instead of completely finishing the job.

    2. Twenty years later, Princess Tanis becomes the centre of the light side, and Xia, the risen Vampire Queen, the leader of the dark side.  The real core character, though, is warrior mercenary Oda, who slew the sorcerer Xuxia, reduced Xia to dust for 20 years, and fathered Princess Tanis, the mercenary Aedon, imperial assassin Rajan, and their sister Malia.  Rajan had daughter Alana, whom she trained as an assassin.  Besides those four, Oda fathered Kara by Xia, who gave birth before Oda, ah, dusted her off.

    3. At the final command of Ma'at, Tanis finds her siblings.  The group goes off to find their wayward and fertile father, then put down Xia and keep the door to the netherworld closed.

    4. What could possibly go wrong?

  3. Conclusions
    1. If the sowing wild oats aspect had been better written, the film would have been helped.  I thought it was quite humorous, but I suspect most will not appreciate the father-issue dialog.

    2. One line summary: Swords and sorcery, wretched visuals, and a poor script.

    3. One of ten; two black holes for cinematography and acting.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 0/10 I hate sepia.  I hate similar filtration setups that essentially crush any visual richness and natural tones.  The CGI varied between bad and very bad.  The fake vampire teeth were obviously fake and caused the Xia character to have muddled speech.

    2. Sound: 5/10 I could discern words of most of the actors, but I relied watching on Netflix with captions turned on to get the dialog.  The vampire fouling of speech was prevalent.  The music in the credits was good, but was out of context with a period piece such as this.

    3. Acting: 5/10 The cast includes actors whose work I enjoyed in the past: Michael Pare, Lee Horsley, Olivier Gruner, Sasha Mitchell, Christopher Lambert, and Kevin Sorbo.  Gruner, Mitchell, and Horsley were OK in very short parts.  Michael Pare looked like he was at a first read-through Monday morning after a disastrous weekend, rather than in final take.  I was on the look-out for Mr Lambert, but I failed to see him.  Kevin Sorbo, at least, convinced me he knew he was on camera, and was delivering his lines while understanding the character's motivations.  I'm not saying this was Oscar level work, merely that he was present in the professional sense.  Mr Willig was good, but his part was also short.----The women characters were central to the film, much more important than the male characters.   The actresses, though, were either inexperienced or just off.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Sigh.  This was another under capitalised project.  It shows.  The number of dead-end plot threads was too high.  Also, too much time was devoted to dreary conversations, then Hekate would narrate what should have been long action sequences in a matter of a few seconds.


20150521: Horror Review--The Ouija Experiment

The Ouija Experiment
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: The Ouija Experiment
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 3.6/10 (831 votes)
    3. Netflix: 2.8/5.0 from 187,564 viewer ratings.
    4. Rotten Tomatoes:
      critics rating not found number of reviews too low
      17% of users liked it from 132 recorded ratings
      Critics Consensus: not enough responses.

    5. Status: Released
    6. Release date: 2011-05-05
    7. Production Companies: La Luna Entertainment, Out of Body Films
    8. Tagline: Cross Her Heart and Hope to Die

    9. Budget:  1,200 USD (estimate; source, IMDb)
    10. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    11. Runtime: 88 minutes.
    12. Genres: Horror

    13. Written and directed by: Israel Luna.

    14. Starring: Justin Armstrong as Michael, Swisyzinna Moore as La'Nette, Carson Underwood as Brandon, Eric Window as Calvin, David Clark as Joseph Wheeler, Leah Diaz as Gracie Mendoza, Miranda Martinez as Lisa Mendoza, Belmarie Huynh as Shay.

    15. TMDb overview: Based on true events, five friends who fall prey to the evil entities of the Ouija board. As they set about filming their experimental session, what starts out as bit of fun, soon escalates into a terrifying series of events as paranoia and personal demons are revealed…. and recorded.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Calvin and Michael are long-time friends. Calvin and Shay are boyfriend/girlfriend.  Michael and Brandon are more recent friends.  Calvin and La'Nette are siblings.  Michael has moved to new digs that still contain many of the old tenants belongings, including a ouija board.  Brandon is interested in filming some sessions using the board.

    2. Most of the five leads think that talking louder helps communicate with the departed spirits.  There is an early laying down of rules about the use of the board.  The only one that seems to count is, 'say goodbye to the spirit' before ending a session.  Of course, this is violated multiple times.  Reading off a laptop screen to the camera does not add much for me about believability or acceptance of context.

    3. There's a subplot about Calvin and Shay breaking up.  This was aided by the spirits, who told Shay of Calvin's cheating.  Calvin blames Michael for the breakup and takes the ouija board at one point.  The camera is Brandon's, but ends up in the hands of various characters.  This makes the plot even more disjointed.

    4. At 50 minutes in, I have yet to see anything dangerous or interesting or paranormal. How about that?  That's when the mayhem and Internet 'discoveries' about the past begin.

    5. After such a slow start, will there be anything that redeems this effort as a horror film?

  3. Conclusions
    1. Apparently this one did not make it to the theatres.  I'm not sure how this got to Netflix.

    2. Perhaps one should view this as comedy only, of the unintentional kind. Laugh with the foolishness, the lack of awareness, the pointless fits of pique.

    3. One line summary:  The worst side of amateur efforts at making horror films.

    4. One star of five.  Two black holes for acting and screenplay.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 3/10 Better than many sloppy-cam efforts, but not great.

    2. Sound: 3/10 Not well controlled.

    3. Acting: 0/10  Terrible.

    4. Screenplay: 0/10 Terrible.


20150519: Horror Review--Altar

  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Altar
    2. Original Title: The Haunting of Radcliffe House
    3. IMDb: Users rated this 6.2/10 (2,811 votes)
    4. Rotten Tomatoes:
      critics rating not found number of reviews too low
      70% of 346 RT users rated this 3.5/5.0 or higher
      Critics Consensus: none available at review time.

    5. Status: Released
    6. Release date: 2014-12-27
    7. Production Companies: Screen Yorkshire, Content Media Corp., Great Point Media, Pygmalion Productions
    8. Tagline: No tagline found.

    9. Budget:  Budget estimate not available at review time.
    10. Revenue: Revenue figures not available at review time.
    11. Runtime: 89 minutes.
    12. Genres: Horror, Mystery

    13. Written and directed by: Nick Willing.

    14. Starring: Olivia Williams as Meg, Matthew Modine as Alec, Antonia Clarke as Penny, Steve Oram as Nigel Lean, Adam Thomas Wright as Harper, Richard Dillane as Greg, Rebecca Calder as Isabella, Jonathan Jaynes as Sean Donnelly

    15. TMDb overview: A young family finds themselves in serious danger when they move to an isolated haunted house in the Yorkshire Moors.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Husband Alec Hamilton, wife Meg, daughter Penny, and son Harper move to a large fixer-upper in the Yorkshire countryside.  Meg has a contract to restore the house to its original state.  Alec is an artist, perhaps separated from his muse.  Meg hopes he can work well at the new location.  

    2. Dust, no telephone signal to speak of, no running water, and it's cold.  Nice start.  Early on Alec and Meg force their way into a room that is not in the building's plans.  As per horror cliche, the principal characters do not notice when they unintentionally make a blood sacrifice in just the wrong place.  The viewers though, gets their noses rubbed in it.

    3. Meg is skilled in restoration, but loses her London team through accident and scheduling.  She manages to interest a local builder, Sean Donnelly, to help her on a part time basis.

    4. Then the ghostly signs start showing up, and things get more difficult for the family.

  3. Conclusions

    1. Reminds me a bit of The Shining (1980), but the stakes are not as high, the scares are weaker, and the sense of terrible isolation is almost absent.

    2. It seems to me that the director blocked out the big stones in the plot before filming, but did not smooth out the transitions from one large plot point to the next.

    3. One line summary: Good production values, but the screenplay is too weak.

    4. Six of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 8/10 A bit too dark for my tastes, but has wonderful framing, focus, and set design.

    2. Sound: 8/10 Well recorded and nicely atmospheric.

    3. Acting: 9/10 No complaints here.  All the cast did well.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10 Hmph.  Bland and beautiful.  The pacing is a bit slow, the building of dramatic tension is weak, and the execution is short on scares.  For descriptions of the logical pitfalls in the script, perhaps try the reviews on IMDb.


20150503: Drama Review--Transcendence

  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Transcendence
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 6.3/10 (136,413 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      19% of critics liked the film of 196 participating
      38% of users liked it of 63,091 who rated it
      Critics Consensus:  In his directorial debut, ace cinematographer Wally Pfister remains a distinctive visual stylist, but Transcendence's thought-provoking themes exceed the movie's narrative grasp.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2014-04-17
    6. Production Companies: DMG Entertainment, Alcon Entertainment, Syncopy, Straight Up Films
    7. Tagline: Yesterday, Dr. Will Caster was only human...

    8. Budget:  100 million USD
    9. Revenue: 103 million USD
    10. Runtime: 119 minutes.
    11. Genres: Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller

    12. Directed by: Wally Pfister; written by Jack Paglen

    13. Starring: Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, Paul Bettany as Max Waters, Rebecca Hall as Evelyn Caster, Kate Mara as Bree, Morgan Freeman as Joseph Tagger, Cillian Murphy as Agent Donald Buchanan, Cole Hauser as Colonel Stevens, Clifton Collins, Jr. as Martin, Falk Hentschel as Bob, Kristen Rakes as MIT Programmer

    14. TMDb overview: Two leading computer scientists work toward their goal of Technological Singularity, as a radical anti-technology organization fights to prevent them from creating a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Dr Caster makes some fundamental breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.  He figured out how to upload human personality to a computer system.  While giving a public lecture on the subject, he is accosted about wanting to create a god.  Soon thereafter, he is given a fatal trace of polonium to his bloodstream.  His wife Evelyn finds his research and decides to secretly upload Will's personality before his body dies.  Max helps her do this, then regrets it as soon as it works.

    2. A terrorist group led by Bree kidnaps Max and works to get him to see their way of thinking.  Meanwhile, Evelyn works furiously to make Will's expanded consciousness as independent of human connections as possible.

    3. Will invents nanotechnology that can cure almost any injury.  However, it has other side effects: the cured people are not at all the same as before the injuries.  Can humanity actually stand Will's new status?  As Will rapidly evolves, is there anyway to stop him?

    4. Max contacts Joseph on the sly.  Can the two of them plus unlimited covert government (and terrorist) assistance stop Will?  If so, what are the consequences?

  3. Conclusions
    1. One line summary: A fine attempt to describe the impact of a transcendent being.
    2. Seven of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Brilliant. I would give it a 27/10, but I'll have to stop at 10/10

    2. Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, and the background music did heighten the tension somewhat.

    3. Acting: 8/10 Bravo!  I thought almost all the actors did well, especially Mr Depp.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 Well done, except for a glaring error.  One of the new intelligence's first acts was to re-write its own code, part of which Max wrote.  There was no way for the virus to work, or for any human-written virus to work.  The virus would fail and the transcendent being would go on.  Max was defeated before he even tried his subterfuge.  The movie, however, took different approach, deciding the course it originally set was too difficult to handle.  That is, it sided with the terrorists who murdered Dr Caster to begin with.

20150502: Horror Review--The Purge Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: The Purge: Anarchy
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 6.5/10 (62,969 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      57% of critics liked it, of 118 who rated it
      58% of viewers liked it, of 64,921 who rated it
      Critics Consensus:  Gritty, grisly, and uncommonly ambitious, The Purge: Anarchy represents a slight improvement over its predecessor, but it's still never as smart or resonant as it tries to be.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2014-07-17
    6. Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Why Not Productions, Platinum Dunes, Blumhouse Productions, 5150 Action
    7. Production Countries: France, United States of America
    8. Tagline: Welcome to America, where one night a year, all crime Is legal.

    9. Budget:  9 million USD
    10. Revenue: 109 million USD
    11. Runtime: 104 minutes.
    12. Genres: Horror, Thriller

    13. Directed by: James DeMonaco; written by James DeMonaco

    14. Starring: Frank Grillo as Sergeant, Carmen Ejogo as Eva Sanchez, Zach Gilford as Shane, Kiele Sanchez as Liz, Zoë Borde as Cali, Justina Machado as Tanya, John Beasley as Papa Rico, Jack Conley as Big Daddy, Noel Gugliemi as Diego, Castulo Guerra as Barney

    15. TMDb overview: Sequel to The Purge. The New Founders of America invite you to celebrate your annual right to Purge. The Purge: Anarchy, the sequel to summer 2013's sleeper hit that opened to No. 1 at the box-office, sees the return of writer/director James DeMonaco to craft the next terrifying chapter of dutiful citizens preparing for their country's yearly 12 hours of anarchy.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. America, 2023, Los Angeles.  Use of The Purge continues to eliminate people who live below the poverty line.  The film starts at March 21 at 16:34; that is, 2 hours, 26 minutes before the onset of the sixth annual 12 hour Purge.  The opening scene is at a diner.  Various Latinos wish each other to 'Stay Safe' before they head to sanctuary and whatever weapons they have.

    2. Great opposition campaign slogan: We no longer worship at the altar of Christ, Mohammed, or Yahweh.  We worship at the altar of Smith and Wesson.

    3. Thread 1: Papa Rico, mother Cali, and daughter Eva are together in a small house.  Papa announces he's going to sleep through it after boarding up his room, but he has a different mission to attempt.  Will he succeed?  How will the women do?

    4. Thread 2: Shane and Liz are a twenty-something couple who are trying to stay out of trouble, but it comes looking for them early: a gang sabotaged their car.  They had decided to split up.  They are squabbling over how to announce it when they discover the bad news about the car.  Will they last long against the reaper gangs?

    5. Thread 3: will the opposition accomplish anything? Will they target the thug gangs or the rich?

    6. Thread 4: Sergeant roams the deserted downtown Los Angeles, looking for opportunities.  He saves a few people from a circumstance or two by killing gang members.  Will his early success continue?

  3. Conclusions
    1. In the first film, most of the characters may have been rich and privileged, but were too arrogant to live.  In this film, some of the characters at least offer some meaningful resistance.
    2. One line summary: Class warfare in 2023 from the outlier POV.
    3. Three stars of five

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 3/10 In most of the frames, 70% or so of the screen is out of focus. I have better things to do than watch amateur nonsense. Occasionally, the view is warm and clear and well-focused.  Then there is the recurrent shaky-cam footage.

    2. Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog.  The background music heightened tension.

    3. Acting: 5/10  All the actors were better than the child actors (the main saboteurs) in the original.

    4. Screenplay: 6/10 The script is ambitious, and the issues hot in the environment of 2015 America.  Did the director engage me with the issues of the opposition?  No.  I never believed they had a chance, which is unfortunate.  Did the director get me to care about the main characters representing the lower class?  Again, no.  Most of them were too stupid to live.  So, what am I left with?  Plenty of characters to despise or not care about, but no one to identify with or to empathise with.


20150501: Horror Review--The Purge

The Purge
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: The Purge
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 5.6/10 (110,311 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      38% of critics liked it of 136 critical reviews posted
      36% of movie goes liked it, from 93,551 user ratings
      Critics Consensus:  Half social allegory, half home-invasion thriller, The Purge attempts to make an intelligent point, but ultimately devolves into numbing violence and tired clichés.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2013-06-06
    6. Production Companies: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Platinum Dunes, Why Not Productions
    7. Tagline: One night a year, all crime is legal.

    8. Budget:  3 million USD
    9. Revenue: 64 million USD
    10. Runtime: 86 minutes.
    11. Genres: Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

    12. Directed by: James DeMonaco; written by James DeMonaco

    13. Starring: Lena Headey as Mary Sandin, Ethan Hawke as James Sandin, Max Burkholder as Charlie Sandin, Adelaide Kane as Zoey Sandin, Rhys Wakefield as Polite Leader, Tony Oller as Henry, Edwin Hodge as Bloody Stranger, Tom Yi as Mr. Cali, Arija Bareikis as Mrs. Grace Ferrin, Chris Mulkey as Mr. Halverson

    14. TMDb overview: Given the country's overcrowded prisons, the U.S. government begins to allow 12-hour periods of time in which all illegal activity is legal. During one of these free-for-alls, a family must protect themselves from a home invasion.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Father James Sandin, mother Mary, daughter Zoey, and son Charlie are a nuclear family who are quite well-to-do.  They live in year is 2022, after the actions of the 'New Founding Fathers,' who revamped the failed United States.  One of their innovations is the 12 hour periods, once a year, when nothing is illegal.  These periods are The Purge, when pent up anger results in massive loss of life, especially among the poor or the disconnected.

    2. James sells security systems that work 99% of the time.  Great.  The biggest threats to the family's safety are (1) Charlie, who lets in a wounded victim and (2) Zoey, whose boyfriend stows away in the home/fortress just before the Purge starts.  Giving sanctuary to the victim results in the organised attack on the household by well-to-do marauders who want the victim so they can finish killing him.

    3. The film is about the outside attackers assailing the household, and the family's decisions on how to deal with it.  Their target is not the family, but the family's stupidity turns the family into an additional target.  Will the attackers break in?  That's easy to guess.  Will they leave anyone alive?  Are they the only threat?

  3. Conclusions
    1. RT got it right, but they were not nearly harsh enough.
    2. One line summary: Yet another elimination derby, this time among the wealthy.
    3. One stars of five.  Two black holes for cinematography and acting.

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 2/10 Some of it is absolutely beautiful.  Then there are the long segments filmed versus flashlight, some using shaky cam.  Unfortunately, I am mostly reminded of the dreadful film The Blair Witch Project.

    2. Sound: 8/10 The music was useful for building tensions.  I could usually make out the dialog.

    3. Acting: 0/10 The story and horrible camera work are so bad that acting is not all that noticeable.  My already weak esteem for Ethan Hawke's work took another hit.

    4. Screenplay: 3/10 There are some interesting ideas here, but the execution just sucked.  The only bright spot for me (the reason I gave it a 1/5 instead of 0/5) was watching Ethan Hawke murder half a dozen or so home invaders.  That gave a few moments of feeling of righteous revenge, which was rather fleeting.

20150501: Action Review--The Legend of Hercules

The Legend of Hercules
  1. Fundamentals, reception.
    1. Title: The Legend of Hercules
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 4.2/10 (39,524 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      3% of critics liked it of 72 critical reviews posted
      34% liked it from 40,714 audience ratings.
      Critics Consensus: Cheap-looking, poorly acted, and dull, The Legend of Hercules is neither fun enough to qualify as an action movie nor absorbing enough to work on a dramatic level.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2014-01-10
    6. Production Companies: Millennium Films
    7. Tagline: Every Man Has a Destiny

    8. Budget:  70 million USD
    9. Revenues, in millions USD: States 18.8 (30.8%); overseas, 42.4 (69.2%).
    10. Runtime: 99 minutes.
    11. Genres: Action, Adventure

    12. Directed by: Renny Harlin; written by Daniel Giat, Renny Harlin, Sean Hood, Giulio Steve

    13. Starring: Kellan Lutz as Hercules, Liam McIntyre as Sotiris, Gaia Weiss as Hebe, Scott Adkins as King Amphitryon, Roxanne McKee as Queen Alcmene, Liam Garrigan as Iphicles, Jukka Hilden as Creon, Rade Šerbedžija as Chiron, Johnathon Schaech as Tarak, Luke Newberry as Agamemnon

  2. Setup and Plot
    1. Amphitryon and his army fight to the gates of Argos, Greece, circa 1200 BC.  Amphitryon challenges the incumbent king to one-on-one combat to avoid hundreds of further deaths.  Amphitryon wins and becomes king of Argos.  Queen Alcmeme is not pleased with this result, and implores the goddess Hera for relief for her city from the conqueror.  Hercules is conceived (via Zeus) in response.

    2. Hercules (called Alcide in the front end of his life) is second in line to his brother Iphicles for the throne of Argos.  Bad blood arises soon enough over Princess Hebe, whom Hercules loves and whom Amphitryon promises to Iphicles.  To separate the brothers, Amphitryon sends Hercules and soldiers to Egypt on a mission.  This does not go well for Hercules and his ally Sotiris.

    3. Will Hercules extricate himself from Egypt, get back with Hebe, and fend off the challenges to their being together?

  3. Conclusions
    1. The RT rating is impressively bad, and the film failed to clear production costs, much less production plus distribution and marketing.  After watching this terrible film, I can only hope there is no sequel.

    2. One line summary: Just as bad as the critics write.

    3. One of ten.  Four black holes for acting, screenplay, set design, and direction.

  4. Scores

    1. Cinematography: 4/10 The set design was much worse than the camera work was good.  The use of slow motion was ridiculous.

    2. Sound: 6/10 I could hear the dialog, which was nice, but the background music was rather bad.

    3. Acting: 0/10 Watch it.  See for yourself.

    4. Screenplay: 2/10  The words Hercules, Zeus, and Hera had a bit of similarity to common usage.  The story is nonsense, beginning to end, with little to do with any of the usual versions of the history of Hercules.

20150501: Horror Review--Scream 4

Scream 4
  1. Fundamentals.
    1. Title: Scream 4
    2. IMDb: Users rated this 6.2/10 (93,033 votes)
    3. Rotten Tomatoes:
      58% liked it of 173 critics
      55% of users liked it of 75,607 ratings
      Critics Consensus:  The franchise is showing its age, but Scream 4 is undeniably an improvement over its predecessor, with just enough meta humor and clever kills.

    4. Status: Released
    5. Release date: 2011-04-11
    6. Production Companies: Dimension Films
    7. Tagline: New Decade. New Rules.

    8. Budget:  40,000,000 USD
    9. Revenue: 97,138,686 USD
    10. Runtime: 111 minutes.
    11. Genres: Horror, Mystery

    12. Directed by: Wes Craven.  Written by: Kevin Williamson.

    13. Starring: Emma Roberts as Jill Kessler, Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed, Adam Brody as Detective Hoss, Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers-Riley, Rory Culkin as Charlie Walker, Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Mary McDonnell as Kate Kessler, David Arquette as Sheriff Dwight 'Dewey' Riley, Anthony Anderson as Detective Perkins, Erik Knudsen as Robbie, Marielle Jaffe as Olivia Morris, Nico Tortorella as Trevor Sheldon, Roger L. Jackson as The Voice (voice), Justin Michael Brandt as Film Geek, Nancy O'Dell as TV Host, Dredan McFall as Cocky Student, Marley Shelton as Judy Hicks, Alison Brie as Rebecca Walters, Lucy Hale as Sherrie Marconi, Shenae Grimes as Trudie Harrold, Anna Paquin as Rachel, Kristen Bell as Chloe, Britt Robertson as Marnie Cooper

    14. TMDb overview: Sidney Prescott, now the author of a self-help book, returns home to Woodsboro on the last stop of her book tour. There she reconnects with Sheriff Dewey and Gale, who are now married, as well as her cousin Jill and her Aunt Kate. Unfortunately, Sidney's appearance also brings about the return of Ghostface, putting Sidney, Gale, and Dewey, along with Jill, her friends, and the whole town of Woodsboro in danger.

  2. Setup and Plot

    1. Threads, 1.  The high school group (Jill, Kirby, Trevor, Olivia, Robbie, Charlie) will inevitably stumble over each other while dealing with the slasher.  The Stab-a-thon was quite an opportunity for stumbling.

    2. Threads, 2.  The older crew (Gale, Dewey, Sidney, Judy) still have some unresolved issues after ten years.  Gale's books spawned the Stab x films, which were roughly about Sidney's life.  In response, Sidney has re-invented herself as an author, but the return home poses some contention.  Dewey and Gale are together, but for how long, given Deputy Judy's presence?

    3. Threads, 3.  Just who is the slasher this time?  Will we get a full resolution, or is another sequel in the works?

    4. Threads, 4.  How far will the screenwriters go in heightening the 'meta' experience? Apparently pretty far, considering the meeting Gale and Sydney had with the school film club.  That was hardly the end of the wallowing, unfortunately.

  3. Conclusions
    1. It was wonderful to see a great-looking, fine-sounding film done by professionals who chose a cast of real actors.

    2. On the other hand, there was enough boring self-referential bovine scatology (er, 'meta') to last a decade.

    3. The series is showing its age, all right.  The same gag has been done too many times.

    4. I did like the bit with Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell, but that was the acting, not the meta.

    5. One line summary: Sidney Prescott returns home; bad things start happening. 

    6. Eight of ten

  4. Scores
    1. Cinematography: 10/10 Very good.

    2. Sound: 10/10 Outstanding.

    3. Acting: 7/10  Emma Roberts, Neve Campbell, and Courteney Cox were excellent. David Arquette and Anthony Anderson I could have done without.  Marley Shelton did 'creepy classmate' rather well.  

    4. Screenplay: 4/10 The writing skills were clearly present, with plenty of wit and intelligence.  However, because of the constant harping on the meta theme, the result was mixed, to the point where the superior production values were blunted.