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.

  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


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.

  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


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.

  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


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.

  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


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.

  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


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.

  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


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.

  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.

  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


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.

  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.


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.

  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


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.

  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.

  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.


20151107: Horror Review--Compound Fracture

Name: Compound Fracture (2013)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror, Thriller    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Muse Watson as Gary Wolffsen, Tyler Mane as Michael Wolffsen, Alex Saxon as Brandon, Renae Geerlings as Juliette, Susan Angelo as Chloe, Leslie Easterbrook as Annabelle, Derek Mears as William, Jelly Howie as Christine.

Directed by:  Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein.  Written by: Renae Geerlings and Tyler Mane.
Tyler Mane, Muse Watson

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:  The movie starts with a homecoming.  Michael Wolfssen and his fiancee Juliette drive to his wealthy father's (Gary Wolfssen) house.  Michael left home in his late teens, and never came back until now, just after his sister Chloe's death. Michael and Juliette bring his nephew Brandon with them. Brandon is not hostile to Michael, but he is not open or talkative in the least, partly because he is having visions.  The family estate looks different to Michael.  Now there are walls, cameras, and all sorts of talismans on display.  Gary lapses into dementia now and then, featuring paranoia and secretiveness.

Delineation of conflicts:  Gary beat Michael's mother, who then left him.  Despite Gary's wealth, he contributed no dollars to treating her subsequent cancer. Michael is not happy on those scores, nor on the fact that Gary beats his new wife, Annabelle.  The paranoia is bearing down on everyone. Also weighing everyone down are the consequences of the manner of Chloe's death.  The reason for the paranoia is not revealed early on, but once it is, the whole remaining family has to work better together to fight it.

Resolution: Not everyone survives but the evil is largely broken.  So it's a bleak film, but not jet black.

One line summary: A broken family fights the curse it put upon itself.

  a. Cinematography: 5/10 There are too many issues with focus, framing, camera movement, and insufficient light.

  b. Sound: 7/10 Better than the lighting.

  c. Acting: 7/10 Muse Watson (NCIS, I Saw What You Did Last Summer), Tyler Mane (X-Men, Halloween reboot), Derek Mears (Friday the 13th reboot, True Blood), and Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy series) all were familiar and competent.  The bit players read their lines, but were not much better than that.

  d. Screenplay: 4/10 Short on motivation, long on 'where is that coming from?'

Final rating: 6/10 I'm glad I saw it, but I would not give it a strong recommendation.  If this group does another film, I hope they spend more time on the script.


20151106: Horror Review--Let Us Prey

Name: Let Us Prey (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Countries of Origin: Scotland, Ireland.

Cast: Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) as Six, Pollyanna McIntosh (Tales of Halloween) as PC Rachel Heggie, Bryan Larkin as PC Jack Warnock, Hanna Stanbridge as PC Jennifer Mundie, Douglas Russell as Sergeant MacReady, Brian Vernel as Caesar, Jonathan as Ralph Beswick, Niall Greig Fulton as Dr Hume.

Directed by:  Brian O'Malley.  Written by: David Cairns.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:  The movie starts in Scotland on the coast of the ocean near the small city of Inveree.  A man walks among the rocks and modest cliffs around sundown; the waves are crashing against the rocks and the land.  Groups of crows are in flight.  The music is techno and overbearing; the visuals were impressive until we had the lens flare dumped on us.  The man seems grim and dodgy as he lights his cigarette in the wind, and looks below him at the city lit against the dying light.

Within Inveree, night shift police officers ready themselves for the evening, one wakening at 19 hundred hours.  The crows are on the roof tops.

Delineation of conflicts:  Six has a purpose, and he sets off events within the city.  As Rachel makes her first walk to the station, Caesar speeds past her and apparently slams into Six.  His body is not found, though, just residual fresh blood.  Rachel and Sgt MacReady process Caesar, then incarcerate him in a cell next to the more than suspected wife beater Ralph Beswick.  MacReady introduces Rachel over the radio to officers Warnock and Mundie, who have recently finished coitus on duty.  Sigh.  Mundie hints on the call that Rachel has had trouble of her own before being exiled to Inveree.  Mundie and Warnock find and bring in Six, who is a bit worse for the auto encounter.  They summon Dr Hume.

By this juncture, the cast and fundamental relationships are established, so it seems time for the flashbacks to begin.  Most of the film's driving conflicts are about the internal struggles depicted in these reveries/flashbacks.  Dr Hume has a bloody dark secret that sets him off to kill Six, but he is restrained.  Each character has some secret that Six somehow brings to the surface.

Resolution: Six seems intent on sanctioning each of the guilty.  Who will be left?

One line summary: A quiet night in a sleepy town turns bumpy.

  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Except for the lens flare, quite good.

  b. Sound: 5/10 Perhaps the techno background tracks appeal more to European audiences. I find them irritating, and I find myself watching the subtitles with my headphones off.

  c. Acting: 7/10 The film has the feel of a play, with a small cast that operates mostly in a low number of sets.  Perhaps this was not Oscar material, but it was much better than I expected. Liam Cunningham, Pollyanna McIntosh, and Douglas Russell were especially good.

  d. Screenplay: 6/10 As elimination derbies go, this was rather good.

Final rating: 6/10

20151106: Comedy Review--Results

Name: Results (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy  Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Guy Pearce as Trevor, Cobie Smulders as Kat, Kevin Corrigan as Danny, Giovanni Ribisi as Paul, Brooklyn Decker as Erin, Anthony Michael Hall as Grigory, Constance Zimmer as Mandy, Tishuan Scott as Lorenzo, Zoe Graham as Talley, Elizabeth Berridge as Amy (Danny's ex).

Written and directed by:  Andrew Bujalski.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableau:  At his local gym, rich but out of shape Danny gets directed to the owner, Trevor.   Trevor interviews Danny, then sets up a schedule with Lorenzo for Danny.  Kat (Trevor's former lover) talks Trevor into letting Danny be her client instead.

Delineation of conflicts:  Kat and Trevor are still attracted to each other, but Trevor wants Kat at arm's length since they are so mismatched.  Danny wants to be with Kat, but Kat does not want to be with him.  Trevor wants to expand his business, but has all these chaotic elements to deal with.  Danny seems to be embracing discipline (diet and exercise, supposedly), but he shows little impulse control (giant TV, newly purchased classic guitar, huge house, weed, paying the gym a year in advance, views sample exercise videos as porn, pays a young man 300 USD to connect up his TV, and so on).  Add in some throw away characters with the attendant noise.

Resolution: Things move forward slowly in jumps, as in 'where did that come from?'

One line summary: Bland romantic comedy with chaotic script.

  a. Cinematography: 6/10 Has that fuzzy, smoggy look of VHS.  The slight but noticeable shaky cam did not help.

  b. Sound: 6/10 Slightly hollow, but OK.

  c. Acting: 4/10 Despite his being in this film, I still like Guy Pearce, who gives value to the viewer no matter how wretched the rest of the film is.  On the other side of the ledger, I did not believe Ribisi's character was a lawyer, nor capable of handling business transactions reliably. Cobie Smulders did not impress me in the episodic TV series How I Met Your Mother and Agents of SHIELD; she was even less effective as an actress in this movie.  Kevin Corrigan convinced me his character liked being inebriated, but did little else.

  d. Screenplay: 4/10 There are lots of islands in the script, but firm connections between the islands are few and far between.

Final rating: 4/10  Hm, I rounded down due to Smulders' terrible effect on the film.


20151104: Horror Review--Lazarus Effect

Name: The Lazarus Effect (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror, Mystery  Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Olivia Wilde as Dr Zoe McConnell, Mark Duplass as Frank, Sarah Bolger as Eva, Evan Peters as Clay, Donald Glover as Niko.

Directed by:  David Gelb.  Written by: Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableau: Engaged couple Frank and Zoe get a grant to do a study.  They hire Clay and Niko to help with computers and recording telemetry.  Together they develop a method for preserving recently dead tissue so that it can be revivified without loss of memory, or damage to motor or sensory nerve responses.  This would allow surgeons and specialists to bring back patients once whatever needed fixing on the patient was complete. They hire Eva to document the project on film.  During the three years spent on the project so far, Frank and Zoe have put off their wedding plans and worked hard to justify the grant.

Delineation of conflicts:  The team records their work on university computers.  Unbeknownst to them, the content gets reviewed regularly by the company that underwrote Frank's grant contract.  When the team successfully reanimates a dog put down for having cataracts, Frank finds that his contract is nullified, and everything is seized by the relevant pharmaceutical company.  The team sees an opportunity: get whatever they can from backups, and piece together their research so that they can continue in another lab before their chance of getting credit is lost.

Resolution: What could possibly go wrong?  There's jail, perhaps. Plus, the dog they reanimated was not quite normal.  What would happen if they tried to reanimate a human?

One line summary: Another weak entry in the 'not safe to play God' sub-genre.

  a. Cinematography: 6/10 This is definitely a mixed bag.  Regular shooting is fine.  Results shot through the documents camera is less good.  There is a third mode having to do with filming experiments on the fly; this is even poorer in quality.

  b. Sound: 8/10 Good but not great.  The number of jump scares was thankfully small.

  c. Acting: 5/10 I liked Mark Duplass, Ray Wise (small role), Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, and Donald Glover.  Olivia Wilde, however, was just terrible.

  d. Screenplay: 4/10 Before the funding break, the story was going well.  After the question of religion came up, and all the mistakes began, the flaws and cliches were many and clear.

Final rating: five of ten


20151104: Commentary on standard film cliches.

1. Jump scares are what I consider cheap jack stupid tricks: the viewer is shocked by slamming into a sudden upward facing cliff of sound.  Worse yet, the residue of each such collision is that the protagonist looks like a weakling or a fool; neither of these makes me more interested in the film.

2. Sacred cows are films, actors, or directors that are considered above any type of criticism.  From a conversation in MOVIES and BOOKS WORLD (a Google plus community):

What is Sacred Cow status?

(my reply)

Sacred cow as in India, where in some quarters one may not kill or injure cattle (or even shoo them along) because they are thought of as sacred.

As for movies and review/criticism, a few films are thought to be (by some parties) above being the target of any plain speaking about its deficiencies. Anyone who dares say 'the acting could have better because...' gets trolled, sometimes relentlessly.

While researching Babadook before watching it, I stopped after only about 50 reviews. Why? Because at least a third or more of the reviews attacked other reviewers for not rating the film 9/10 or 10/10. Those who gave the film low ratings were described in quite unflattering terms.

While I hated this film intensely, others did not. Take +Peter Pluymers for example. I imagine (correct me if I am wrong) he watched the film, thought about it, then wrote up his considered opinion. Good for him, and I'm glad he had a better time watching it than I did.

Some who rated Babadook highly do not give others the same courtesy that I would automatically give to them. Such folk are offended that someone gave their favourite a low rating, and they think they have the right not to be offended. Such people think of the film as above criticism; that is, has sacred cow status.


Sorry for the long answer. I have avoided watching and/or reviewing several films in the past year or so because they obviously have strong sacred cow standing. I'm done with that. (Such as Guardians of the GalaxyBabadookStraight out of Compton, and so many others.)

I'll be using the phrase sacred cow for any film that I think has this sort of standing. I am reminded of 'crap movie' alert, except that some sacred cows I really like, such as Inception or Birdman.

3.  Additional Horror cliches, slasher/serial murderer sub-genre:
  a. Those running from the slasher serial murderer are going to stumble over nothing, fall, and die soon thereafter.
  b. Let's split up
  c. Teenagers having sex (or were on the way) are many times more likely to be killed by the serial murderer
  d. There's a murderer on the loose, so it must be time to take a shower.
  e. Even though you thought you killed the slasher, they are still alive or can be resurrected.
  f. When running out of the house at night, it's better not to take your keys.

4. Horror cliches, alien monster sub-genre:
  a. What is that alien life form?  Let me put my face next to it.
  b. They obviously come in peace.
  c. Anything that goes wrong is our fault, not theirs.

5. Horror cliches, traditional fantasy {vampire, werewolf, frankenstein, mummy, witch} sub-genre:
  a. The older cliches do not actually work: garlic, wolfsbane, crucifixes, silver bullets, wooden stakes, and the like.
  b. The monsters look good, while ordinary humans are ugly.  Think Twilight and Harry Potter.

6. Horror cliches, body violation sub-genre:
  a. People can survive for long periods of time while hanging from a thick meat hook that has penetrated several internal organs.
  b. Tiny parasites can control higher level behaviour in the host.

7. Horror cliches, elimination derby sub-genre: 
  a. Will one person survive, or will it be zero?  Two or more seems out of the question.
  b. Elimination derby often marks the final act of a film.  First there is the initial tableau, where characters and interactions are introduced.  Second, perhaps a round of illustrating conflicts.  Last, though is the elimination derby: the reasons for everyone being killed are clear, so only the actual murders are left.
  c. Some of the cheaper horror films skip the initial tableau and delineation of conflicts, and go straight to elimination derby.  This way, the writing is less complicated, and the director (if there is one) does not have to plan the smooth bundling of plot lines.



20151101: Fantasy Review--Van Helsing

Name: Van Helsing (2004)
IMDb: Van Helsing on IMDb

Genres: Fantasy  Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing, Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious, Richard Roxburgh as Count Vladislaus Dracula, David Wenham as Carl, Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein's monster, Alun Armstrong as Cardinal Jinette, Elena Anaya as Aleera, Silvia Colloca as Verona, Josie Maran as Marishka, Kevin J. O'Connor as Igor, Will Kemp as Velkan Valerious, Tom Fisher as Top Hat.

Written and directed by:  Stephen Sommers

The Three Acts:

The initial tableau: There is a lot going on in this film.  The initial context comes from four vignettes:

(1) Doctor Frankenstein has successfully brought life to his cobbled together monster.  Dracula, who funded Frankenstein, figures that his investment has borne fruit, and kills the doctor. The monster is enraged by this, and manages to escape Dracula and the mob with their torches. Dracula recruits Igor.

(2) Van Helsing confronts Mr. Hyde in Paris at the behest of a secret group operating out of the Vatican.  In doing such work, Van Helsing has become a wanted criminal of international renown.  He has no public support whatsoever, and is hated by many.

(3) At the Vatican, Van Helsing is dressed down by Cardinal Jinette.  He gets a new assignment: to protect the Valerian family (Anna and Velkan), and to help them kill Count Dracula in a fulfillment of a family oath.  The oath was that the family would not enter Heaven until Dracula was destroyed. Van Helsing meets the friar named Carl, who is both timid and talented.

(4) Velkan and Anna attempt to trap the werewolf that has been terrorising the village.  Velkan kills the werewolf, but is bitten in the process.

Delineation of conflicts:  Velkan becomes a rather powerful werewolf.  Dracula would use Velkan for his own purposes.  Van Helsing and Anna have a chewy first meeting, then agree to oppose Dracula's intentions toward Velkan.

Dracula and his trio of mates (Aleera, Verona, and Marishka) want their undead offspring to have life.  Van Helsing, Anna, and the Vatican want them to die: Van Helsing, to follow orders; Anna, to save her family from Purgatory; the Vatican, to drive the spawn of Satan from the face of the Earth.

Frankenstein's monster would like to live in peace with some degree of freedom.  Dracula wants to consume him to transfer life to his offspring.  The Vatican wants the monster dead since he's not precisely human, and his life was not given to him by God.  Carl would like to comply with the Vatican's wishes, but cannot in good conscience.

Dracula wants Van Helsing dead for strong reasons of his own.  Van Helsing, Carl, Anna, and the monster are opposed.

Resolution: Excellent, difficult, and harmonious.

One line summary: A wonderfully constructed remix of modern fantasy themes.

  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautiful natural shots plus excellent CGI.  Many of the sets were gorgeous in design and intricate in detail.

  b. Sound: 10/10 Lovely.

  c. Acting: 9/10 This is my favourite from all Hugh Jackman performances I have seen.  Richard Roxburgh was great as Dracula, Kevin J. O'Connor made a fine Igor, David Wenham was wonderful playing Carl. Kate Beckinsale, Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca, and Josie Maran were excellent as Anna and the brides of Dracula.

  d. Screenplay: 10/10 There are several threads as described above, all woven together nicely.  Great writing, with some good dashes of comedy thrown in.  Carl's discoveries and deliveries of intelligence dovetailed nicely with the needs of the action heroes.  The culminating action sequences were gripping, and the final, parting scenes definitely pulled at the heartstrings.

Final rating: 9/10