20160131: Action Review--Badasses on the Bayou

Name: Badasses on the Bayou (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Action   Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Danny Trejo as Frank Vega, Danny Glover as Bernie Pope, John Amos as Earl, Loni Love as Carmen, Davi Jai as Chief Broussard.

Jimmy Bennett as Ronald, Sammi Rotibi as Geoffrey, Colby Arps as Cal, Jon Arthur as Sheriff's Deputy, Deborah Ayorinde as Taryn, Lucius Baston as HS Security Guard, Allen Boudreaux as Detective, Chelsea Bruland as Marissa, Ross P. Cook as Ass Kicker, Miles Doleac as Talk Show Host.

Written and directed by: Craig Moss.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
We open in Los Angeles.  Frank's gym and Bernie's bodega were bombed and burned in the last film.  They apply for a loan to rebuild, and are being turned down when a bank robbery starts.  Our heroes break up the heist, and receive Internet and television accolades for it.  Rosaria had moved to a new job in Florida. Carmen, their friend in LAPD, calls from Baton Rouge.  She's getting married to Geoffrey.  Her father is a generous mood, and springs for flying them in from Los Angeles.

Delineation of conflicts:
The reception in Baton Rouge was lovely.  Then there is a break in at Carmen's family's estate.  The intruders kidnap Carmen.  Frank fights them, but there are so many that they prevail.

The Sheriff is not interested in the help of the Bad Asses from Los Angeles.  The kidnappers want 5 million USD.  Frank and Bernie heed the call from Carmen's mother to find her daughter.  Carmen's brother Ronald finds a clue: a Mr Buford at a racist strip bar.  The guys are off on the chase, and it looks tough from the get go.  The people behind it seem to be a group who has it in for Carmen's rich black father.

Ronald keeps getting bullied by Kyle, the son of the Sheriff's deputy.  Frank and Bernie help him out, but Earl makes the case for pacifism.  The kidnapping tests that pacifism severely.

Resolution: Frank and Bernie uncover some unfortunate connections.  Do they have too much stacked up against them?

One line summary: Frank and Bernie against Louisiana corruption.


  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Nicely shot.  Captures the grittiness of Louisiana poverty, the excesses of the wealthy, and the squalor of the oil industry installations.

  b. Sound: 8/10 A bit smoother than the last film; some lovely background music.

  c. Acting: 7/10 Trejo is still effective as a buff and decisive senior citizen.  Glover was more fun than in the last film.  John Amos was good as usual.  I was glad to see Loni Love get a larger role.  Davi Jai gave a nice performance as the corrupt Sheriff.

  d. Screenplay: 6/10 The story is fairly straightforward, with reasonable beginning to middle to end. It provides Trejo and Glover opportunities to be ordinary citizens dispensing righteous justice against institutional corruption.

Final rating: 7/10

20160131: Action Review--Bad Ass 2

Name: Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Action   Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Danny Trejo as Frank Vega, Danny Glover as Bernie Pope, Andrew Divoff as Leandro Herrera, Jacqueline Obradors as Rosaria Parkes.

Elizabeth Barondes as Diane, Dante Bosco as Gangly Asian, Federico Berte as Sparring Partner, Jeremy Ray Valdez as Manny Parkes, Melany Ochoa as Julia Parkes, Hawk Walts as Purvis, Ignacio Serricchio as Adolfo, Con Shell as Drake, Patrick Fabian as Officer Malark.

Written and directed by: Craig Moss.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
We open in Frank Vega's apartment.  In the sequel he still has his dog, he still is old, but now he has the notoriety from the first film, plus he's an honorary policeman.  Frank's flat connects to a boxing gym that he operates.  The other side of the gym connects to a bodega that Bernie operates.  Frank and Bernie have traded insults for the last three years.  Manny has been a bit of a protege of Frank's, and gives him a smartphone with a heartfelt message as a gift.

Delineation of conflicts:
Adolfo has a beef with Manny, and has his goons kill him.  Manny seemed to have no idea what the beef was before he died.  Frank would like more answers about Manny's passing, as would Rosaria.

After Frank stops an armed robbery against Bernie's place, Officer Malark tells Frank that Manny's body was found with drugs on it of substantial street value.  The trail starts for Frank when he questions Tuscon, one of Manny's friends at the gym.  Frank gives the drug pushers a bruising, and destroys a load of drugs.  At first, it seems like Frank has dealt with the folks who killed Manny, but of course there is more to it than that.

Frank wants answers, Bernie wants answers, Manny's family wants answers.  The perpetrators would prefer silence.  This includes Adolfo and his father Leandro, who has the money and position in upper LA society to make things difficult for Frank and Bernie.

Resolution: Frank makes some progress using his fists, but needs more than just direct force.

One line summary: Frank Vega versus LA drug criminals.


  a. Cinematography: 7/10 A little soft and grainy.

  b. Sound: 7/10 Some of the exaggerated sound used in fights is over the top in terms of volume.  The dialog is clear, and the incidental music is OK for a revenge film with class warfare elements.

  c. Acting: 5/10 Trejo is still effective as a buff and decisive senior citizen.  Glover was reasonable as a crotchety agoraphobic older man.  Andrew Divoff was a good choice for an underworld figure who could also function in the upper registers of LA society.  Most of the bit players were not nearly as good.

  d. Screenplay: 6/10 The story is fairly straightforward, with reasonable beginning to middle to end. It provides Trejo opportunities to be an ordinary citizen dispensing righteous justice.  As a vehicle for exploiting the black hole of powerlessness against drug crime, it's at least moderately successful.

Final rating: 6/10 It's Danny Trejo, but I hope that Bad Ass 3 (also done with Glover) is the last in the series.


20160130: Drama Review--A Little Chaos

Name: A Little Chaos (2014)
IMDb: link to A Little Chaos

Genres: Drama, Romance.   Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Kate Winslet as Sabine de Barra, Alan Rickman as King Louis XIV, Stanley Tucci as Philippe Duc d'Orleans, Matthias Schoenaerts as Andre Le Notre, Helen McCrory as Madame Le Notre, Jennifer Ehle as Madame De Montespan, Steven Waddington as Duras.

Directed by: Alan Rickman.   Written by: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film opening is set in France in 1682.  King Louis XIV commands that the gardens at Versailles be upgraded.  The master builder, Andre Le Notre, asks for proposals, of which there are many.  Andre is impressed by Madame de Barra's designs, and commissions an outdoor theatre with flowing water.

Delineation of conflicts:  Louis XIV wants a magnificent garden.  Sabine's competitors give her bad labor recommendations, which impedes her project's progress and gets her started into court intrigue.  Madame de Notre wishes Madame de Barra to fail, since she thinks Sabine is dallying with her husband.  Sabine has more than a brush with the French court.  Sabine has to deal with the years past death of her only child and her philandering husband.

Resolution: The project gets finished, and relationships change.

One line summary:  Excellent minimalist costume drama in the court of Louis XIV.


  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautifully shot.

  b. Sound: 8/10 Quiet but sufficient.

  c. Acting: 9/10 Fine acting from Rickman, Winslet, Tucci, and Schoenaerts.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 The story is not overly complicated, but nicely executed.  For the budget the film had, a good-looking, heart-warming story was told.

Final rating: 9/10; one of the better costume dramas that I have seen.  This is one of the better small budget, low chaos films I have seen.


20160116: Drama Review--Crimes and Misdemeanors

Name: Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Drama, Comedy.   Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Martin Landau as Judah Rosenthal, Claire Bloom as Miriam Rosenthal, Stephanie Roth as Sharon Rosenthal, Gregg Edelman as Chris, Anjelica Huston as Dolores Paley, Woody Allen as Cliff Stern, Jenny Nichols as Jenny (Cliff's niece), Joanna Gleason as Wendy Stern, Alan Alda as Lester, Sam Waterston as Ben, Zina Jasper as Carol, Delores Sutton as Judah's Secretary, Mia Farrow as Halley Reed, Caroline Aaron as Barbara (Cliff's sister), Jerry Orbach as Jack Rosenthal (Judah's brother).

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Ophthalmologist Judah is successful and respected.  However, he's been having an affair with Dolores.  Dolores wants to bring up the matter with Judah's wife Miriam, and clear the air.  Judah would rather not.

Cliff is a maker of small films who has little success.  His wife Wendy speaks to her brother Lester, who is very successful in Hollywood.  She convinces Lester to get Cliff a job filming a biography on Lester.  Cliff takes the job in order to fund his own projects.

Delineation of conflicts:  Lester does not really want Cliff to direct his biography, but he does it as a favor to Wendy.  Cliff does not want to do the piece, since he has no respect for Lester's pomposity.  Cliff tries to connect with Halley, Lester's producer, in order to get additional funding for his documentary on Professor Levy.  Filming Lester being Lester is a grand pain for Cliff.

Judah wants to break up with Dolores, but Dolores has other ideas, which include seriously fouling up his personal and professional life.  Jack suggests a solution to Judah's problem, but Judah has qualms.  Ben, Judah's rabbi and patient, counsels him to take the higher road: let the meeting happen, let disclosure happen, keep a clear conscience.  Dolores escalates, so what does Judah do?

Resolution: Judah needs to solve his moral, financial, and personal dilemmas.  Cliff needs to find his own success, and perhaps reignite his married life.

One line summary: Great performances and script.


  a. Cinematography: 10/10 No problems, well done.

  b. Sound: 8/10 The actors were well miked, and the background music was good.

  c. Acting: 10/10 The great cast gave fine performances.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 Clever and well thought out.

Final rating: 9/10


20160114: Animation Review--Expelled from Paradise

Name: Expelled from Paradise (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Adventure, Animé, SciFi    Country of Origin: Japan.

Cast: Wendee Lee as Angela Balzac, Steve Blum as Dingo Kajiwara, Johnny Yong Bosch as Frontier Setter.

Directed by: Seiji Mizushima.  Written by: Gen Urobuchi.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: This animated feature is set in the year 2400 AD.  In the past, great destructive actions destroyed much of surface-based human civilization.  Since then, humanity has rebuilt itself as digital entities that exist on server networks that are located in orbit around Earth.  This cyber universe is called DEVA.

There is an unexpected hack into the computers of DEVA.  The hack is instigated by a surfaced based person, 'Frontier Setter.'  Third Security Officer Angela Balzac is sent to the surface to deal with the problem.  She is sent in a material body supported by a powered exoskeleton with high speed computer links to DEVO in orbit.  Computers monitor her health and keep her in good shape.  Her ground contact is Dingo.

Dingo and Angela take an immediate dislike of one another. To compound this, huge sandworms attack early on, and the communications link Angela depends on for health and information retrieval is broken.  What to do?  Complete the mission.

Delineation of conflicts: The hacker has secrets that they wish to keep secret.  Angela and Dingo are tasked with ferreting this out, and correcting the situation.  This is trickier with Angela's links cut.  Once Dingo and Angela find the hacker, everything changes, and the pair have new challenges to deal with.

Resolution: Perhaps the next in human evolution was not a step forward.

One line summary: Battle for humanity's survival in 2400 AD.

  a. Art: 7/10 As low polygon art goes, this is pretty good.

  b. Sound: 6/10 Some of the voice work sounded hollow.  The music was variable: much of it was simplistic (not a compliment), electronic, and uninteresting.

  c. Voice Acting: 7/10 The three principal voice actors were fine, with Steve Blum the best.

  d. Screenplay: 5/10 The discussions of the 'next step' in human evolution were deeper than usual, which I liked.  Toward the end, though, the film degenerated into substandard music, lots of explosions, improbably outcomes, and hurried art. At that point, it looked way too much like Gundam action.

Final rating: 6/10


20160113: Drama Review--Hannah and Her Sisters

Name: Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Michael Caine as Elliot, Mia Farrow as Hannah, Max von Sydow as Frederick, Barbara Hershey as Lee, Dianne Wiest as Holly, Maureen O'Sullivan as Norma, Lloyd Nolan as Evan, Sam Waterston as David, Carrie Fisher as April.

Woody Allen as Mickey, Julie Kavner as Gail, John Turturro as writer, Tony Roberts as Norman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Mary, Richard Jenkins as Doctor Wilkes, Helen Miller as Mickey's mother, Leo Postrel as Mickey's father, J. T. Walsh as Ed Smythe, Lewis Black as Paul.

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: We start with a Thanksgiving dinner gathering at Hannah and Elliot's house.  Sisters Lee and Holly are there.  Lee's husband Frederick is a bit too stand-offish for such gatherings.  Holly might start in catering, and asks Hannah for a loan to get started.  Elliot muses in the opening narration about his attraction to Lee, and how he should stifle it, but cannot.  Father Evan and mother Norma, two veteran entertainers, entertain at piano and song.

Mickey (Hannah's ex) is a hypochondriac who produces an edgy television show that is frequently in conflict with the censors.  Gail tries to keep Mickey on track as he bounces from memory to memory of his past marriage and his past partnership with Norman.  Perhaps worst of all, Mickey becomes convinced that he has a brain tumor.

Delineation of conflicts: Mickey has to fight his hypochondria, and his slowly waning binding to Hannah.  Lee and Elliot have to figure out whatever it is that is going on between them.  Holly needs to figure out where she's going in life.

Resolution:  The threads move forward more or less organically.  Nicely done.

One line summary: Three sisters' interactions with others.

  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautifully shot.  The cinematographer clearly loves the faces of women, the interiors of apartments, the riverfront, and the singular architecture in New York City.

  b. Sound: 10/10 I loved the big band music, piano tunes from days gone by, jazz singing, and even the rock music.  The harpsichord music was a bit of a surprise, but still nice.  The actors were quite well miked.

  c. Acting: 10/10 The big cast of stellar actors performed quite well with the warm script.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 The film has four main threads (the three sisters plus Mickey) and several lesser ones, depending on how one classifies the threads.  The four main ones travel well, but many of the others seem to be dead ends.

Final rating: 9/10

20160113: Horror Review--Awaken

Name: Awaken (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Darryl Hannah as Mao, Vinnie Jones as Sarge, Jason London as Rich, Michael Paré as Xander, Natalie Burn as Billie Kope, Robert Davi as Quentin, Edward Furlong as Berto, Wayne Kao as MJ, Christa Campbell as Kat, David Keith as Walsh, Augie Duke as Chloe, Michael Copan as Nick, Philip Tan as Todd, Katrin Assi as Erin, Christa Campbell as Kat.

Directed by: Mark Atkins.  Written by: Mark Atkins, Natalie Burn, Scott Martin.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Billie wakes up on a beach, battered and covered with sand.  Her short term memory is shot, but she remembers to find her dog tags before proceeding inland.  She soon joins a chase where one side is armed, and she is among the chased.  Erin is separated and killed by Sarge, the leader of the armed uniformed men.  Billie escapes with Berto, Chloe, Nick, and Todd, who lead her to Quentin, the de facto leader of the prisoners.  Billie swaps kidnapping stories with the others.

Rich seems to be the straw boss of the island.  He's disappointed with Sarge that Erin is dead.  Mao is coming the next day.

Delineation of conflicts: The gang of kidnappers/murderers would like to keep the human traffic flowing, since there is a lot of money in organ harvesting.  The prisoners would like to escape with their lives.  If possible, hurting the efforts of the traffickers would be nice.  The gang has weapons, transportation, radios, money, and contacts.  The prisoners have their good health, for a while, at least.  Billie tries to figure out the connections among them.

Resolution:  Do the prisoners find a weakness?

One line summary: Cliche vanity film.

  a. Cinematography: 1/10 The extensive shaky cam scenes did not help.  Whoever did framing and transitions could have done a lot better.  Gratuitous zooming is something I have not seen for years.

  b. Sound: 5/10 OK, but nothing special.

  c. Acting: 2/10 Robert Davi, Michael Paré, David Keith, Vinnie Jones, and Edward Furlong have all been in much better films than this one.  However, the script is so poor that even good actors sound unconvincing.  The protagonist (and her single expression) was bad enough to sink the whole effort by herself, but she has plenty of help from the bit players.  Darryl Hannah has also been in some fine films, but her performance here was terrible.

  d. Screenplay: 1/10 Did not make a lick of sense.  I lost the count of instances of 'how could that possibly happen?'  The scenes written for Darryl Hannah were especially bad.  Pitting three civilians against two groups of well-armed mercenaries, for instance, was just ridiculous.  The action scenes were uniformly unconvincing.  These failures were so bad that efforts at exposition and motivation were badly blunted.

Final rating: 2/10

20160113: Thriller Review--Scar Tissue

Name: Scar Tissue (2013)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Thriller    Country of Origin: UK.

Cast: Danny Horn as Luke, Charity Wakefield as Sam, Mark Cameron as DI Hackman, Imogen Bain as Mo McQueen.

Written and directed by: Scott Michell.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Luke celebrates his 21st birthday by getting drunk with his friends and perhaps laid.  He's not used to being drunk, and takes no measures to protect himself.  He wakes up from being passed out because someone phones him.  He discovers his friend dead and hacked up in his bathroom.  He gets another call that hooks him up with Sam, a suspended, unstable police sergeant.  The police soon are swarming over his flat.  Sam knows the presiding detective, Hackman; they have a prickly history.

Delineation of conflicts: The police want to question Luke; Luke wants to keep his freedom.  Sam wants to solve this case, since it involves indirectly her murdered sister Lucy.  Hackman wants Sam to get lost.  The murderer likes playing with them as well as killing people.  He kidnaps people, then forces them to do his bidding.

Resolution: The principals need to identify the kidnapper/murderer.

One line summary: Old experiment ends badly.

  a. Cinematography: 3/10 Washed out appearance.  The dark passages are especially bad since the cameras were not sufficient for the low light levels.

  b. Sound: 4/10 It's a quiet sort of film, most of the time.  What music there is seemed to be electronic from cheap instruments.  The music did not help, nor did the leveling problems between voice and background.

  c. Acting: 1/10 Oh, so very bad.

  d. Screenplay: 0/10 The film was next to opaque at the beginning.  The actions of the characters were not well motivated.  The philosophising toward the end came out of nowhere.  As the philosophy changed to particulars, the film started to make a bit more sense.  The marching to the wretched conclusion was perhaps the worst part of the film.  None of the characters were worth caring about.

Final rating: 1/10


20160112: Action Review--Constantine

Name: Constantine (2005)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Horror   Country of Origin: USA, DE.

Cast: Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, Rachel Weisz as Angela Dodson/Isabel Dodson, Shia LaBoef as Chas Kramer, Djimon Hounsou as Midnight, Max Baker as Beeman, Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare as Lucifer, Jose Zuniga as Detective Weiss, Gavin Rossdale as Balthazar, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Father Hennessy.

Directed by: Francis Lawrence.  Written by: Kevin Brodbin and Frank A. Capello

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The titles say, 'The Spear of Destiny' has been missing since the end of World War II.  So what is this spear?  Perhaps we will find out.

In the present day, Manuel and friend are sifting debris.  Manuel almost falls through some rotten floor boards.  Beneath the boards he discovers a spearhead wrapped in a Nazi flag.  He walks away from his friend with the spearhead, but is immediately hit by a car.  He receives a mark, then rises and trots away, seemingly unharmed.  What could this mean?

In the second thread, John Constantine and his allies watch for incursions from hell, and act against them as best they can.  Hennessy calls John for an exorcism, and the type of demon that John scotches tells him that something is afoot.

In the third thread, Detective Angela asks her priest for guidance.  Her twin Isabel commits suicide.  Angela is at a loss.

Delineation of conflicts:  Lucifer and company have plans for broaching the barriers to invading Earth.  The archangel Gabriel (heaven) and the demon Balthazar (hell) each has plans of his own.  John is dying of cancer while he's trying to protect as much of Earth as possible.  Angela wants to know what is going on with her life, and what happened to Isabel.  Chas wants to get more out of his apprenticeship with John.  Hennessy would like to live a bit longer, and help John if he can.  Midnite tries to stay neutral between heaven and hell.

Resolution: I thought the film came to a good, though harsh, conclusion.  What did you think?

One line summary: In the Catholic mythos sub-genre, my favourite.

  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Too dark for my taste, but otherwise fine.

  b. Sound: 9/10 I could hear the dialog and the incidental music as quite good.  I liked Passive by A Perfect Circle and Take Five by Dave Brubeck the best.  Not everybody liked the original work, for instance as mentioned in sound review , but I thought it fit nicely with the subject, cliches and all.

  c. Acting: 10/10 Brilliant.  Reeves, Weisz, Stormare, Swinton, Baker, Hounsou, Rossdale, Vince, and even LaBoef did fine jobs.

  d. Screenplay: 9/10 I thought the dialog was good, and the story threads fit together nicely.

Final rating: 9/10


20160111: Action Review--Death Squad

Name: Death Squad [2047: Sights of Death] (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: SciFi, Horror   Country of Origin: Italy.

Cast: Stephen Baldwin as Captain Ryan Willburn, Danny Glover as Sponge, Darryl Hannah as Major Anderson, Michael Madsen as Lobo, Rutger Hauer as Colonel Asimov, Neva Leoni as Tuag.

Directed by: Alessandro Capone.  Written by: Tommaso Agnese and Luca D'Alisera.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Set in 2047, we open with Sponge reminiscing about the disasters that led to the current strongly screwed up Earth.  Cities have been largely destroyed and dosed with radiation. Satellites from previous eras fall to Earth now and then; they sometimes land with parts of their technology intact.  Captain Ryan Willburn was sent after the latest fall to determine whether any useful technology or data survived the re-entry.  After Ryan crashes instead of lands, he meets Tuag, a young mutant woman.

Delineation of conflicts:  Sponge and Ryan are part of the Green War front, which opposes the Confederate Central Government, CCG.  Just about everyone else is not part of Green War, and would rather shut them down.  Colonel Asimov, Major Anderson, and Lobo (leader of a mercenary gang) are out to capture Ryan.  Ryan thinks he has evidence from the satellite to bring down the current regime.

Asimov has more in mind than just official duties.  He's hired longtime ally Lobo to help him do his extracurricular activities.  This involves layers of cover up.  Just to make things more fun, the whole area of interaction is laced with some hallucinogen.

Resolution: Look hard.  I did not find one. The narration just dried up without any particular conclusion.

One line summary: Murky dystopian elimination derby.

  a. Cinematography: 4/10 The focus was usually good, and the cameras were not too shaky.  However, the sets were not well-lit, and the set of filters was poor to the point that it might as well have been greyscale.  The small number of VFX were rather badly done.

  b. Sound: 7/10 The dialog was easy enough to understand.  The background music was just so-so.

  c. Acting: 1/10 These actors (Glover, Madsen, Hauer, Hannah, Baldwin) have some fine movies in their filmographies.  This was not a shining moment for any of them.  The plus one was for Darryl Hannah trying now and then.

  d. Screenplay: 0/10 Was there a director on set?  The screenplay was hardly strong, but the director usually has some responsibility to check that delivery is up to some standard or another.  Baldwin's performance could have been topped by almost any high school thespian.  All these actors could have done better.

The story sucked rocks.  What did the Danny Glover thread have to do with anything?  Who were the anarchists?  Where was the eastern quadrant or whatever it was?  What was Asimov trying to do that needed covering up?  Was anything in the narration not hallucination?  Why should I care about this self-stultifying mess?

Final rating: 3/10


20160109: SciFi Review--Bloodworx

Name: Bloodworx (2012)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: SciFi, Horror   Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Tricia Helfer as Dr Wilcox, Eric Roberts as 'man in suit', Travis van Winkle as Greg, John Bregar as Rob Jeffries, Mircea Monroe as Stacey, Stephen Bogaert as Ira, Albert Chung as Huy, Tamara Feldman as Linnea, Anna Ferguson as Maggie, Yanna McIntosh as Patricia, Rik Young as Nigel Denton.

Directed by: Eric Wostenberg.  Written by: David Nahmod.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The opening titles show biological experimentation as the credits go by.  We shift to Greg and Rob, two college drones looking for effortless money, being interviewed at Ravexin Pharmaceuticals by Dr Wilcox.  The test was for 14 days; the money was over 3000 USD.  They get to the testing facility and meet the other test subjects for the first round.

Delineation of conflicts:  Initially, the test subjects want to get through the 14 days and collect their cash.  Later, the subjects just want to get out alive.  The company wants to observe results.

Aberrant behaviour and random health problems start manifesting after just a couple of days, and the first dose.  The staff want to keep things calm, while the test subjects want to return to normal.

As the doses continue, the weirdness increases.  Greg finds that Ravexin (RXZ-19) is not about allergies.  Also, it has more side effects.

Resolution: Out of control clinical trial ends badly.

One line summary:  Surviving clinical trials.

  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Clear images, well-shot, well-lit.

  b. Sound: 8/10 There was a good portion of eerie background music.  I could hear dialog clearly.  The sounds paired with loose bowel movements I could have done without, but I guess that was part of the gig.

  c. Acting: 7/10 Tricia Helfer was fine.  Travis van Winkle and John Bregar were better than I expected at first.  None of the actors were particularly bad.

  d. Screenplay: 3/10 The collapse into cliche toward the end of the movie was a huge disappointment.

Final rating: 6/10

20160109: Action Review--April Rain

Name: April Rain (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Action   Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Ming-Na Wen as Hillary Miller, Luke Goss as John Sikes, Vincent Spano as Ron Thomas, Ally Walker as Linda Sikes, Deniz Akdeniz as Tariq Akbar, Jake Lawson as Yousef, Ryan Guzman as Alex Stone, Brittany Beery as Katrina, Teresa de Fonte as Lisa, Miranda Frigon as Rita, Anne Marie Howard as Reporter, Dragos Beldie as Sammy, Jewel Christian as Agnus, Adrian L. Tudor as Mikhail Kotov, Andrew Keegan as Nick Kotov, Doug Savant as Ken Singleton.

Written and directed by: Luciano Saber.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: A transaction between crime groups goes bad quickly.  One group kills the other.  There are repercussions, like disposing of a body, and sniffing out any government spies. The local cops show up for a moment, and are eliminated.  One undercover agent calls for help, and we meet more of the local SIU (Special Investigations Unit) team.  The emphasis shifts from mob crime to terrorism.

Delineation of conflicts:  Terrorists (foreign and domestic) want to kill people and blow things up.  The SIU tries to stop this.  Local police are clueless and largely not involved.  Wives are enraged with their cheating husbands.  Tariq has a beautiful wife, a good job, a nice house, and local friends, but he hears the call of terror, which is clearly more important to him than all the other factors put together.

Resolution: Lots of people get killed, which simplifies the game going forward somewhat.  This film ended because the credits showed up.  That is, it looked like a sequel was expected to be made.

One line summary: SIU versus motley crew of terrorists.

  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Clear images, well-shot, well-lit.

  b. Sound: 4/10 I could hear the actors speak their lines, but sometimes the voices were hollow or muffled.  Background foley and music are well balanced in terms of leveling.  The rousing, positive music played during one of the climactic shoot outs while people were dying left and right was jarring.

  c. Acting: 2/10 I've seen Luke Goss, Vincent Spano, Ming-Na Wen, Ally Walker, and Miranda Frigon in much better properties.  Most of the other less well-known actors were pretty bad, but Deniz Akdeniz and Jake Lawson was incredibly bad, as in never should have been hired.

  d. Screenplay: 3/10 The slow motion chase on Vespas was just ridiculous.  Many of the conversations made little to no sense.  The shifts from scenes featuring actors to those including non-actors adds some little needed chaos.  The film did not come to an end.  It just stopped narration; then the credits rolled.

Final rating: 4/10


20160108: Horror Review--The Hybrid

Name: The Hybrid [Scintilla] (2014)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror, Science Fiction    Country of Origin: UK.

Cast: John Lynch as Jim Powell, Morjana Alaoui as Dr Lyla Healy, Ned Dennehy as Harris,  Craig Conway as Mason, Antonia Thomas as Steinmann, Jumayn Hunter as Spencer, Beth Winslet as Dr Irvine, Perri Hanson as Goethe, Edward Dagliani as Corry.

Directed by: Billy O'Brien.   Written by: Billy O'Brien, Rob Green, and G. P. Taylor.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: Mercenaries invade a compound in a former Soviet republic.  At 36 minutes in, that was all that was accomplished.  They have some advanced intel, so they know how to penetrate deep (as in below the surface) into the compound.  It's a medical research facility of some sort.

Delineation of conflicts:  Something 'down there' is waiting for them, and is not friendly.  The mercenaries get stuck with hypodermics and gassed.

The reason for the effort was the desire on the part of the Soviets to catch up with UK-CH-US in terms of genetics.  A vastly old meteorite found on Soviet territory contained some DNA of unknown origin.  The scientific effort was to learn things about genetics using the DNA plus whatever was needed to fill in from the human genome.  Hence the title, The Hybrid.

The orders for the mercenaries from their client is to get the research and destroy the facility.  The hybrids have different ideas altogether.

Resolution: True motives and abilities show up, along with unexpected stupidity.

One line summary: Losing effort against human-alien hybrids.

  a. Cinematography: 8/10 Clear images, well-shot, well-lit.

  b. Sound: 4/10 The actors were adequately miked.  Background foley and music are well balanced in terms of leveling.  The electronic compositions took the sense of the alien over the top; that is, helped make sections of the film totally unbelievable.  One might as well play tunes from the Muppets.

  c. Acting: 2/10 The performances were quite variable.  John Lynch was fairly good, but most of of the cast was quite bad.

  d. Screenplay: 3/10 The action aspects were fairly strong in the front end of the movie, but the science-oriented sections were sketchy, to be generous.  Toward the end of the film, the experienced mercenaries seemed clueless about any type of survival procedures, and got picked off needlessly.  Too many things were given no explanation whatsoever.

Final rating: 4/10


20160107: Horror Review--Nightlight

Name: Night Light (2015)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Horror    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Shelby Young as Robin, Chloe Bridges as Nia, Taylor Murphy as Amelia,Carter Jenkins as Chris, Mitch Hewer as Ben, Kyle Fain as Ethan.

Written and directed by: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: There is a short do it yourself video of Ethan, a depressed male teen, discussing his failed suicide attempt, plus his attachment to Robin.  We jump to five teens (Robin; Nia, Amelia, Chris, and Ben) starting a flashlight gaming night in the Covington Woods.  The woods has a reputation as a place where teens commit suicide, and where ghosts reside.  Plus, there is a scary church located within it.

Delineation of conflicts:  Robin has a job as a service person at an ice cream parlor.  Nia and Amelia look down on employment.  Robin is the newbie in the group, and the rest plan to haze her.   Something in the woods does not like any of them.  The plans for hazing seem to get replaced by other plans. Robin would like to live through the night and go home with her dog, but the wood seems opposed.

Resolution: Elimination derby.

One line summary: Shaky cam elimination derby in scary woods.

  a. Cinematography: 0/10 Shaky cam, poorly done, with insufficient light, odd angles, bad focus, flickering flashlights.

  b. Sound: 3/10 I could hear the dialog clearly.  Too many failed jump scares blunted my interest in the sound track.  The endless audible breathing and crunching of forest floor litter did not help either.

  c. Acting: 1/10 Poor.

  d. Screenplay: 1/10 Enough pointless swearing for 10 films.  Panicked appeals to religion and superstition about ghosts just sounded incoherent.  As per usual, no adult supervision is in evidence, and the teens are each as stupid as a bag of rocks.  They separate, they undermine each other, they panic.  The incident with the bear trap was just too much, and that was just one of many.

Final rating: 1/10


20160105: Comedy Review--Manhattan 1979

Name: Manhattan (1979)
IMDb: link to IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Woody Allen as Isaac Davis, Diane Keaton as Mary Wilkie, Michael Murphy as Yale, Mariel Hemingway as Tracy, Meryl Streep as Jill, Anne Byrne Hoffman as Emily, Karen Ludwig as Connie, Shawn Wallace as Jeremiah.

Directed by: Woody Allen.   Written by: Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The film features some fine shooting in black and white.  Isaac, 42, has drinks with his long time friend Yale, Yale's wife Emily, and Tracey, his current girlfriend, who is 17 (yikes).  Isaac's ex Jill, who left him for another woman, is writing a tell-all book about their marriage.  Isaac decides to quit his well-paying job to write a book.

Delineation of conflicts:  Isaac is not thrilled with Jill's book, but she is adamant about getting it published.  Yale is having an affair with Mary, while Emily seeks the deeper commitment of children.  Yale puts her off.  Tracy would like Isaac to be happy, which is not ever going to be an easy thing.  Isaac would like Tracy to have a normal happy youth; Tracy would like some commitment from Isaac.  Isaac would like to be with his son more, but his obsession with intellect would probably never allow that.  The triangle of Yale, Mary, and Isaac takes a number of turns, and has repercussions.

Resolution: The personal connections move forward, some for better, some for the worse.  Yep, that is about it, but it's well done.

One line summary: Relationships in NYC.

  a. Cinematography: 9/10 Beautifully shot.  Loved the scenes of Mary and Isaac walking in the planetarium.

  b. Sound: 7/10 The actors are not always miked well, so some of the conversations dropped out or were slurred.  That sucked.  The music on the other hand, was rather good, featuring sections of a number of Gershwin compositions.  Of course, younger viewers who have not heard all these tunes dozens of times might disagree.

  c. Acting: 7/10 I loved the performances of Michael Murphy, Diane Keaton, Woody Allen, and Mariel Hemingway.  Meryl Streep I could have done without.  I liked the short scene with Wallace Shawn.

  d. Screenplay: 8/10 There were a good number of laughs.  I am still wondering what 'interstellar perversion' is.

Final rating: 8/10


20160103: Comedy Review--Casino Royale 1967

Name: Casino Royale (1987)
IMDb: link IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: David Niven as James Bond, Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble, John Huston as M/General MacTarry, William Holden as Ransome (CIA), Charles Boyer as Le Grande (le deuxieme bureau), Kurt Kasznar as Smernov, Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd, Joanna Pettet as Mata Bond, Deborah Kerr as Agent Mimi, Jean-Paul Belmondo as le Legionnaire, Derek Nimmo as Hadley, Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond (the nephew), Barbara Bouchet as Moneypenney, Peter O'Toole as Corbett, Jacqueline Bisset as Miss Goodthighs.

Directed by:  Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: The 'real' James Bond is retired.  Since the intelligence services of US-UK-FR-RU have been decimated, M from UK, Ransome from US, Legrand from FR, and Smernov from RU approach the retired Sir James Bond to help them solve the problem.  This does not go as expected.

Delineation of conflicts:  Agents seem to be exercising their reputations as sex maniacs (as Bond put it), and getting killed by groups of women.  So, who is the boss behind it all?  Bond starts training agents to resist women.  He enlists Vesper Lynd to get Evelyn Tremble's help (in re baccarat) with the sinister card player (and SMERSH agent and hokie magician) Le Chiffre.  Jimmy Bond is always in trouble, and seems to be yet another wild card in this potpourri of weirdness.  Sir James recruits his daughter by Mata Hari, Mata Bond, to infiltrate the group of women spies that have been attacking western spies.

Resolution: There are lots of opposing processes at work here so one might expect lots of action, but this is a comedy, after all.

One line summary: Artsy and bizarre take on Fleming's book.

  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautifully shot.  The art direction is between interesting and amazing, and at times sumptuous.  The East German interior sets were quite something.

  b. Sound: 8/10 Good, with some nostalgic pop tunes included.

  c. Acting: 8/10 David Niven was fine.  Joanna Pettet was a lot of fun to watch.  Peter Sellers and Woody Allen were up to their usual standards.  The many cameos were clever and funny.

  d. Screenplay: 4/10 Bullshit, start to finish.  Most of this script makes no sense at all.  The film has next to nothing to do with Ian Fleming's book, and has continuity problems, such as abrupt and unexplained changes in venue.  Also, the references to the books Dr No and Goldfinger were head scratchers. This is the work of five directors, and the resulting chaos is rather clear.  The segment with Woody Allen was perhaps the worst.  On the other hand, I had at least 10 good laughs for sight gags and witty lines.

Final rating: 7/10


20160101: Comedy Review--Radio Days

Name: Radio Days (1987)
IMDb: link IMDb

Genres: Comedy    Country of Origin: USA.

Cast: Woody Allen as Joe (the adult Narrator), Seth Green as Joe (the child), Wallace Shawn as Masked Avenger (radio character), Mia Farrow as Sally White, Tony Roberts as MC of 'Silver Dollar', Dianne Wiest as Bea (the aunt), Danny Aiello as Rocco (hit man), Jeff Daniels as Biff Baxter, Julie Kavner as Tess (Joe's mother), Michael Tucker as Martin (Joe's father), Larry David as Communist neighbor, Kenneth Mars as Rabbi Baumel, Renee Lippin as Aunt Ciel, Josh Mostel as Uncle Abe, Julie Kurnitz as Irene, David Warrilow as Roger, Joy Newman as Cousin Ruthie, Diane Keaton as New Year's radio singer ('To Come Home To').

Written and directed by: Woody Allen.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: This is a two-tier movie.  One layer is a blue collar story of young Joe growing up in NYC starting around 1942: his school life, home life, and time spent with the radio.  The upper layer is about the stars of the radio programs.  Sally White starts in one layer, as a cigarette girl in the nightclubs, who wants a life more like the stars she serves.

Delineation of conflicts:  Sally White has a rough start climbing to the top, but she perseveres.  Joe's family contends with strange neighbors, the coming of the war, an additional child, the national rationing programs, underemployment, and a single aunt who cannot catch a break in terms of romance.

Resolution: Time marches forward.  The story threads interact this way and that in dozens of vignettes.  This movie is more about nostalgia than about giant climaxes.  Sally's long thread comes the closest to having a big payoff circa New Year's 1944.

One line summary: Woody's childhood against the backdrop of radio programs.

  a. Cinematography: 10/10 Beautifully shot.

  b. Sound: 10/10 The sound is fine, and the musical accompaniment was rich and appropriate for the early1940s.  Ah, Carmen Miranda!

  c. Acting: 9/10 I loved the performances of Dianne Wiest, Mia Farrow, Michael Tucker, Julie Kavner, and Seth Green. Plus, nobody was bad.

  d. Screenplay: 9/10 Nice interplay of story threads.  I had a good 25 laughs or more.

Final rating: 9/10