20151231: Comedy Review--Curse of the Jade Scorpion

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

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

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

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

One line summary: Woody as insurance investigator in 1940.

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 9/10


20151230: Comedy Review--Broadway Danny Rose

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

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

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

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

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

One line summary: Woody Allen plays a theatrical manager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

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

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

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20151230: Comedy Review--Play It Again Sam

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

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

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

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

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

Resolution: The film comes full circle.

One line summary: Humphrey Bogart advises Woody Allen.

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

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

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

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

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

20151230: Drama Review--Another Woman

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

Genres: Drama.    Country of Origin: USA.

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

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

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

One line summary: Midlife crisis for a woman professor.

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 9/10


20151220: SciFi Review--Automata2014

Name: Automata (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

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

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

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

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


20151211: Horror Review---Dark Was the Night

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

Genres: Horror.    Country of Origin: USA.

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

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

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 7/10


20151209: Fantasy Review--Painted Skin 2

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

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

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

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makeup and wardrobe were poor, obvious, badly done.

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

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

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

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


20151204: Horror Review--Wolves

Name: Wolves (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror.    Country of Origin: Canada.

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

Written and directed by:  David Hayter.

The Three Acts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 5/10