20160228: Fantasy Review--Fire City End of Days

Name: Fire City: End of Days (2015)
IMDb: link to Fire City page

Genres: Fantasy.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Tobias Jelinek as Atum Vine,  Keely Aloña as Sara, Danielle Chuchran as Cornelia, Kimberley Leemans as Amber, Eric Edwards as Ford, Derrick L. McMillon as Andre, Kristin Minter as Jane, Harry Shum Jr as Frank, Jen Oda as Lisa, Brionne Davis as Tripp, Simon Sorrells as Mace, Pele Kizy as Helo, Bob Burns as Archie, Kathy Burns as Ruth.

Directed by: Tom Woodruff, Jr.  Written by: Michael Hayes and  Brian Lubocki.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In a poor rental building reside humans and demons.  The humans are not aware of the demons, who feed off the misery of the humans.

On the human side, in one apartment are Frank and Lisa.  Frank has rage issues and beats up Lisa now and then.  In another apartment are 11 year old Sara, daughter of Jane.  Jane is a chronic drunk who periodically passes out before sexually satisfying live-in boyfriend Andre, who is not Sara's father.  Archie lives in a third apartment with Ruth, but treats his despair regarding his life with alcohol and Amber's attention on the side.

On the demon side, Tripp, Mace, and Helo are the same demon type and live together somewhat contentiously in one apartment.  The bulky demon Ford is older and studies 'demon science' whatever that is, and spends a lot of time trying to manufacture good luck for himself.  Cornelia lives by herself, is an 'interpreter', and has lots of paraphernalia for divination.  Amber lives alone, and feeds off the despair of men when she has sex with them.

The protagonist is Atum Vine who appears as human to the humans; to them he's the super.  The demons see him as a demon, and see him as the one who guarantees misery, or lacking that, some fresh drugs.

Delineation of conflicts:
Very early in the film, Sara runs from Andre, who traps her in the basement.  He is enraged that Jane has passed out, and threatens Sara with rape.  Vine intervenes since this might disrupt the balance.  Vine does not like the cops in his building, for one thing.

Unfortunately for the demons, the real reason that Vine intervened was that he felt compassion for Sara.  That odd change in this demon heart breaks everything.

There is a lot of consternation over this, especially after Cornelia diagnoses that Vine is the problem.  Then it hits the fan.

Resolution: Despite resistance from all other demon parties, Vine needs to create a new balance.  Will he get any help on this?

One line summary: Chaos generated by a demon with a kind heart.


Cinematography: 6/10 Most of the video was pretty poor, as in VHS poor.  The one exception was the long full-frontal nude scene featuring the Amber character attempting a seduction.  That was bright, well focused, and nicely framed.  Go figure.  The set design was mostly dinge and grunge, but that fit in with the demons eat despair theme early on.

Sound: 5/10 Meh.  Nothing to write home about

Acting: 6/10 The 1950s rubber suits turned me off for quite a while, but the actors' abilities shone through after a while.  The actors behind Vine, Cornelia, and Sara were especially good.  Quite a few other performances were muted by the rubber suits, though.

Screenplay: 7/10 It's hard to let go of the rubbers suits, but this was a good story otherwise nicely told.

Final rating: 6/10 The film had a much better story than the set design and costumes would indicate.  The movie is definitely not for kids.


20160227: Mystery Review--After

Name: After (2012)
IMDb: link to After page

Genres: Mystery   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Steven Strait as Freddy, Karolina Wydra as Ana.

Directed by: Ryan Smith.  Written by: Jason Parish.

The initial tableaux:
Nurse Ana and graphic novelist Freddy ride an almost deserted bus back to their common home town of Pearl.  As it turns out, both live on Canon street.  There's an accident, but both seem to wake up the next morning.  The kicker is that there is no telephone service and no other people.

Delineation of conflicts:
The protagonists have to realize that they are dead.  The two leads here are more stupid than most. Instead of being an 18 minute film, this dog lasts for 90 minutes.

This is an old horror cliche dating back at least to the Twilight Zone, the early version in black and white.  More recently, The Frozen (also 2012) did it again.

Early in their explorations of Pearl and environs, they see a storm that surrounds the town on all sides.  It moves in at 0.08 miles per hour, so they have about two or three days total.  Attempts to penetrate the slow dark storm are rebuffed soundly.

Resolution: Do they find an escape?  Be sure to watch the final 3 minutes.

One line summary: Remake of a Twilight Zone episode.


Cinematography: 4/10 Like The Veil (2016) which I watched recently, this film is cursed by a reduced palette.  This one consists of white (not much), green, grey, black, and occasional blue.  Ugly, but matches the stupidity of the script.  At least the framing and focus were usually pretty good.

Sound: 4/10 I could hear the two actors.  The incidental music was a touch eerie, but not all that special.

Acting: 6/10 I don't recall these actors, but I thought they were good enough for the material.

Screenplay: 2/10 Why even write this?  Well, it was green lit, so it was made, and plenty of people have never seen the Twilight Zone.  The last 3 minutes were a bit of a departure, but hardly worth the first 87 which was nothing new in the least.

Final Rating: 4/10

20160227: Fantasy Review--The Taoist Wizard

Name: The Taoist Wizard [alternate title: Woo-Chi] (2009)
IMDb: link to The Taoist Wizard page

Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy.   Country of origin: Republic of Korea.

Cast: Kang Dong-won as Jeon Woo-chi, Yeom Jeong-Ah as the Actress, Kim Yun-Seok as Hwa Dam, Song Young-Chang as Buddhist Monk.

Written and directed by: Dong-hun Choi.

The initial tableaux:
A short tale is told of demons being contained by a flute being played.  It was to be played for 3000 consecutive days, but the player miscounted.

So we have a comedy.

The monsters get loose and take possession of the flute.  Transfers of mastery among humans fails repeatedly.

The incomplete Tao wizard Woo-Chi causes a lot of trouble to obtain the obtain the flute.  His master saves his neck and gets the flute.  A second master, Hwa-dam, fights him for the flute, which is broken in the process.  Since it is split, perhaps the monsters will be contained.

The master of Woo-Chi is killed by Hwa-dam, but Woo-Chi is blamed for it.  He is cursed to imprisonment for 500 years, and awakens in the present.  The break occurs at 46 minutes into the 135 minute film.

We switch to current times; the monsters are present, the flute is still broken.

Delineation of conflicts:
The monsters would like to be free and remain free using the restored flute.  The guardians, or whatever, of the flute free Woo-Chi from his prison inside a painting.  He is not interested in defeating the monsters and restoring the flute.  The guardians, the Shin-shun, work on his ego, which has plenty of soft spots.  The monsters try to kill all of them to get the two pieces of the flute.

There's a subplot about a young woman whom Woo-Chi meets in the past.  He also thinks he meets her again in the present.  This was not done well at all, but got all too many minutes of screen time.

Resolution: Who cares?

One line summary: Terribly ineffective Tao wizard.


Cinematography: 8/10 Mostly OK.  For a relatively low-budget film, the SFX looked fine.  I wish Hollywood delivered such bang for the dollar.  The standard camera work looked good.

Sound: 8/10 The music was decidedly funnier than the dialog.

Acting: 2/10 Plus one for the actor who played Hwa-Dam; plus one for the actor who played Woo-Chi's master.  If I never see any of the others again, it will be too soon.

Screenplay: 0/10 Stealing from Naruto?  It is difficult to sustain any interest in such a story.  The tipping point for me was around 67 minutes into the film during a tremendously boring and stupidly designed fight scene.  The prolog was distressingly long, and the longer section in the present was much too long and uninteresting.

Final rating: 1/10 

20160227: Drama Review---A Picture of You

Name: A Picture of You (2013)
IMDb: link to A Picture of You page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Jo Mei as Jen, Andrew Pang as Kyle, Teyonah Parris as Mika, Lucas Dixon as Doug, Jodi Long as Judy (mother of Jen and Kyle).

Written and directed by: J. P. Chan.    Story by: Jo Mei and J. P. Chan.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Brother Kyle and sister Jen travel from New York City to clean up details in rural Pennsylvania after the death of their mother.  Kyle and Jen are estranged at best.  Nothing goes all that smoothly as they traverse the house room by room.

Delineation of conflicts:
Kyle took care of Judy as her health declined and as his divorce from Sara was in grim stages.  Jen skipped most of that.  Kyle does not forget, and Jen basically does not care.  Kyle ends up packing all the house except the library since the self-involved Jen wants to look at every page in every book, and there are hundreds of books: Judy was a local college professor in some sort of humanities discipline.

Judy was the only Asian in many square miles of only blue-eyed Northern Europeans.  Both Kyle and Jen make the joke 'Did you just racially profile me?' when the locals (who all loved Judy) easily identify them as Judy's children.  This is tiresome after a while.  Plus there was more of that hierarchy of sort of language.

Kyle is resentful of Jen's narcissism, and does not much care for her friends.

The siblings see some quite personal photos of their mother on her computer.  First they want to keep it quiet, but then Jen gets the strong urge to find out who the other party might be.

Resolution: The brother and sister patch things up a bit, and they know a bit more about their mother.

One line summary: Relentlessly boring vanity film.


Cinematography: 5/10 Barely better than VHS.  Throw in bad framing and odd focusing choices, and I was ready to skip this slow, slow boat to nowhere.

Sound: 5/10 I could hear the dialog, but it often sounded hollow.  Foley was largely absent.  Mood music was next to absent, and often consisted of one instrument playing for five or so bars.

Acting: 4/10 Jo Mei's acting sucked rocks; may I never see her again.  Andrew Pang was fine.  Lucas Dixon and Teyonah Parris were reasonable, anyway.

Screenplay: 4/10 Just a tad too self-aware.  By the time the boring nonsense flowed downhill into the glorification of using weed, I was done with the film.  Throw in the weed cliches to keep the flow going downhill.  As per usual, trying to keep secrets does not usually bear good fruit.

Final rating: 4/10 Jen's narcissism.  Endless.  Pointless.


20160226: Horror Review--The Veil

Name: The Veil (2016)
IMDb: link to The Veil page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Thomas Jane as Jim Jacobs (obvious reference to Jim Jones), Jessica Alba as Maggie Price, Lily Rabe as Sarah Hope, Jack de Sena as Christian (Maggie's brother), Shannon Woodward as Jill.

Directed by: Phil Joanou.  Written by: Robert Ben Garant.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Jim Jacobs runs a cult camp at Heaven's Veil Ranch, circa 1982.  He's a self-appointed mage who does miraculous healing and the like.  He does meditation, astral projections, telekinesis, and whatever else will inspire loyalty.  His big draw, though, is promising techniques to gain eternal life.

Yeah, right.

The trick is, one has to die first before getting the big dividend.  Indeed, every one at Heaven's Veil does die back in 1982, save for Sarah Hope.

Spin forward to the present, roughly.  Sarah Hope is recruited by Maggie Price and her brother Christian to do a documentary on the Ranch.  Maggie's father was the FBI agent in charge of investigating the Veil, and he ended up hanging himself when Maggie was three years old.

Delineation of conflicts:
As one might expect, things start to go badly soon after the film starts.

The caretaker of Heaven's Veil was not all that welcoming.  Film crew member Ed takes the group's van and kills himself by running into a tree at high speed.  The group is more than a bit isolated by distance, since they are now all on foot.

Sarah finds the more secret parts of the place, which include multiple films of the inner workings of Jim Jacobs' group.  The filmmakers hope to find out what the driving forces were behind the mass death at Heaven's Veil.  Does something or someone at the Veil want those secrets kept secret?

Resolution: The film jumped the shark around 53:00 in.  The transition from somewhat reasonable thriller to wholesale supernatural bullshit was sudden.  The turnabout at the end was well-written, but I had long since quit caring.

One line summary: Fools go where they should not.


Cinematography: 9/10 Early on, the visuals are odd (the palette seems to be composed of mixtures of white, green, brown, and black), but beautifully focused and framed.  As the film progresses, black comes to dominate increasingly.

Sound: 8/10 The voices of the actors are clear enough.  The music is on the subdued side, which I counted as a plus.

Acting: 5/10 Yikes.  The one and only star in the film, Thomas Jane, was in creepy mode which is one of his strengths.  Jessica Alba I could have done without; this was one more film ruined by her presence.  Lily Rabe was a bit better.  The actors who played the film crew did reasonable jobs right up to the places where the screenplay deserted them.

Screenplay: 5/10 The take on everlasting life was entertaining, but the methods of getting there were just ludicrous.  Also, in the end, it seemed like merely one more fake possession film.

Final rating: 6/10  Most of the +6 is for Thomas Jane's performance and the cinematography.


20160220: Horror Review--The Diabolical

Name: The Diabolical (2015)
IMDb: link to The Diabolical page

Genres: Horror   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Ali Larter as Madison, Merrin Dungey as Mrs. Wallace, Patrick Fischler as Austin, Arjun Gupta as Nikolai, Joe Egender as Carl, Max Rose as Jacob, Chloe Perrin as Haley, Wilmer Calderon as Miguel, Trey Holland as Nestor.

Directed by: Alistair Legrand.  Written by: Luke Harvis,  Alistair Legrand.
Madison and Jacob
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Madison reads an article on the Internet about whether or not to file for bankruptcy.  She's interrupted by an apparition.  She calls in paranormal investigators who do find something.  However, they immediately run away and recommend that she leaves as well, without further explanation.

The father Mark passed away in the somewhat recent past. Young son Jacob is under investigation for violent behaviour.  Both kids go to camp during the day.  A large company wants to buy out Madison's mortgage.

Delineation of conflicts:
Madison needs money.  Jacob needs calm and stability.  Science teacher Nikolai wants to help Jacob learn physics, but also get inside Madison's pants.  Madison and the children want the poltergeist or ghost phenomena to stop.  Whatever is behind the phenomena wants something, but what?

Resolution: What resolution?

One line summary: Bad film on all fronts.


Cinematography: 3/10 The main photography was OK, but the SFX were just terrible.

Sound: 5/10 Nothing special.

Acting: 3/10 Ali Larter was reasonably good part of the time, but the other actors, not so much.

Screenplay: 0/10 Dull, beginning to end.

The dialog was often awkward.  The real bogeyman turned out to be more than a bit cliche.  The story does not seem to be able to decide what it is trying to be.  Paranormal scares?  Slasher film?  Science gone bad? Police procedural?  Time passage fouled up?

Those were problematic enough, but it was also difficult to figure where reality touches on the film.  The cops and paramedics show up after two deaths.  Do they have any effect inside the house? Is anyone held accountable? Apparently not.

How did it do in creating horror, or tension, or engagement, or even scares?  Not well at all.  The word 'Diabolical' in the title would suggest devil or demon, but there were none as far as I could see.  Perhaps the worst for me was that the film just ends without any particular resolution.

Final rating: 1/10 


20160220: SciFi Review--I'll Follow You Down

Name: I'll Follow You Down (2013)
IMDb: link to I'll Follow You Down page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Gillian Anderson as Marika, Haley Joel Osment as Erol, Rufus Sewell as Gabriel Whyte, Victor Garber as Sal, Susanna Fournier as Grace, John Paul Ruttan as young Erol, Kiara Glasco as young Gracie.

Written and directed by: Richie Mehta.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Erol's father Gabriel leaves for a routine trip.  When Erol and Marika wait for his return at the airport, he does not arrive.  Marika and Sal search to no avail.

Twelve years pass.  Sal has done a huge amount of background work to replicate an experiment that he knew Gabriel wanted to attempt involving time travel.  Sal enlists Erol's help in finishing the details.

Delineation of conflicts:
Erol's girlfriend Grace is against the attempt, since she thinks their current life will be lost.  Sal wants Erol to continue, since Sal hopes to 'correct' the timeline.  Marika struggles with her loss.

Resolution: Supposing Erol can construct the wormhole, will he be able to convince Gabriel to alter his course?

One line summary: Young genius tries to heal his family by altering time.


Cinematography: 8/10 Looks good.

Sound: 8/10 Just fine.

Acting: 9/10 Sewell, Garber, Osment, and Anderson were all fine.

Screenplay: 8/10 There were a lot of nice touches, and not too many additional what ifs.

Final rating: 8/10 


20160216: Horror Review--Trace

Name: Trace (2015)
IMDb: link to Trace page

Genres: Horror   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Nick Fink as Nick, August Roads as Duffy, Patrick Giraudi as the voice of Abigor, Samantha Lee as Rebecca, Maddie McGuire as Heather, Jesse Pepe as Parker, Sam Valentine as Jen, Jerod Meagher as Jarek, Herion Mustafaraj as Dr. Konski, Mike Capozzi as Detective Colfax, Jeremiah Benjamin as Gerold Kroft.

Directed by: Ryan Brookhart.  Written by: Jeremiah Benjamin, Mike Capozzi.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
First, the film flashes back to a Soviet research facility in the Kuril Islands, 1992.  The well-funded ongoing work concerned paranormal activity and EVP (electronic voice phenomena).  During the economic slide of the USSR, the research was officially abandoned, but a few scientists continued research while keeping to the underground parts of the facilities.  While supposedly in contact using EVP, one scientist, Victor Konski, is assailed and killed after hearing from 'Abigor.'

Second, we flash forward to Los Angeles in the current day.  Three couples plus Duffy discuss EVP after consuming a number of drinks at the audio studio run by Duffy and Nick.  They go to the basement to listen to this and that, such as the website 'Voices in Static' which mentions Abigor and Professor Konski.

Delineation of conflicts:
The fools try to recreate the calls to Abigor.  Soon enough they get a reply, plus more than they bargained for.  Can they close up this process?

This movie is from the 'How do I close the Hellgate?' subcategory of horror.  The resolution is about how well the remaining humans do at constructing a solution once they figure out a solution needs to be constructed.

One line summary: Open the Hellgate by EVP.


Cinematography: 4/10 While it is not exactly shaky cam, it does list and shimmy fairly often.  The closing credits were much better in terms of visuals than all the rest of the movie.

Sound: 4/10 In terms of voices, it was not all that good.  They seemed thin and hollow. The incidental music was not all that effective in conveying creepiness.  Again, the closing credits were better in terms of sound than all the rest of the movie.

Acting: 1/10 Abysmal.

Screenplay: 1/10 Abigor tells Nick early on "Jarek, Jen, Heather, Parker, Duffy, Nick...order of your death.  Six makes the seventh."  Well, perhaps that was a clue to stay clear, or have someone else look at the recordings, to see what was true.  That was not done.

In better films, the protagonists observe horrific events, and puzzle out their meanings.  Through the learning, they at least try to stage a successful resistance to whatever is trying to hurt or kill them.  They may fail, but at least they face their ends with greater knowledge.

In this film, there seems to be no learning.  There is only complicity with forces that are not understood, where the characters have not even tried to understand or survive.

If dying with a helpless whimper while understanding little or nothing is your thing, then this would be a great film for you.

Final rating: 1/10 


20160215: Comedy Review--What's in a Name

Name: What's in a Name? (2012)
IMDb: link to What's in a Name? page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: France.

Cast: Patrick Bruel as Vincent, Valérie Benguigui as Élisabeth, Charles Berling as Pierre, Guillaume de Tonquedec as Claude, Judith El Zein as Anna, Françoise Fabian as Françoise.

Written and directed by: Alexandre de La Patellièrre, Matthieu Delaporte.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The film starts in the 9th arrondissement in Paris.  Pierre and Élisabeth (called Babu by most) are hosting a small dinner party.  The daughter and son hopefully will stay asleep.  Babu's brother Vincent arrives, and draws interest in the name of his pre-natal son with his wife. Trombonist and long time family friend Claude joins the group.  Considerably later, Vincent's wife Anna arrives.

Delineation of conflicts:
Vincent's choice for the son's name is quite offensive, and a debate rages over it.  Much emotional heat is generated as a result; tempers warm more than a bit.

Later, Vincent admits that the announced name was a joke, but the hurt feelings remain.  Worse, the admission comes only after Vincent and Pierre have wounded each other with words.  The group continues skewering each other with sharp speech.

Resolution: Can the group resume their usual warm relationships?  Several harsh buried truths surface during the verbal fencing.

One line summary: Battle royale with words.


Cinematography: 9/10 Almost all the footage was of interior shots, and was especially well done.

Sound: 8/10 Well done, though a little minimalist.

Acting: 10/10 Fine all around.

Screenplay: 9/10 This film runs like a play: lots of dialog, well planned, well delivered, almost all in one room.  Dialog is the centre of the movie, and it is executed very well.

Final rating: 9/10 

20160215: Horror review--Suicide Club

Name: Suicide Club (2001)
IMDb: link to Suicide Club page

Genres: Horror, mystery   Country of origin: Japan.

Cast: Ryo Ishibashi as Detective Toshiharu Kuroda, Akaji Haro as Detective Murata, Masatoshi Nagase as Detective Shibusawa, Sayaki Hagiwara as Mitsuko, Takashi Nomura as Security Guard Jiro, Mai Hosho as Nurse Atsuko Sawada.

Written and directed by: Shion Sono.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Fifty students jump in front of a train to their bloody deaths.   At the hospital, there is consternation over the news and the rail closures; further, there is a power outage and another death.  The detectives have many issues to sort out.  On a website, red dots seem to count the deaths.

Delineation of conflicts:
Were the deaths an accident, which would be convenient for writing them off, or were they murders, or were they something else?  Who is behind the mysterious websites?  Were the 50 youngsters from the same high school?  The police have a lot to figure out.

On the one hand, we have regular common sense.  On the other hand, we have the formation of local suicide clubs that wish to establish a new record on the total number of simultaneous deaths.  Are the cops immune to this movement?

Conformity and nihilism seem to be working together, hand in glove, but why?  Just what are those skin rolls (very long strips of human skin made of segments stitched together) about?

Resolution: One question for me was whether the film intended to show supernatural causes, or whether it stayed reality based.  If it stays reality based, will the police find the human centre of the problems?

One line summary: What's behind the group suicides?


Cinematography: 4/10 Blurred and soft with the VHS look, with occasional passages of shaky cam.

Sound: 7/10 I could hear the actors clearly, but required the captions and body English.  Music (teen bands, usually) and foley come and go early on.  In the second half, music is more obviously integral to the promotion of nihilism and the worship of death.  The so-so sound quality did not interfere with getting the messages across.

Acting: 6/10 The detectives have the most screen time.  Fortunately, most of them know how to deliver lines.  Many of the actors who play teens and pre-teens were just useless.

Screenplay: 6/10 The exposition of motives was a bit murky for much of the film.  However, that is par for the course in a good mystery. Once the pieces started coming together, I had hopes for a Western climax.  That was not to be; the film ended in ambiguity and without the guilty parties being brought to any sort of justice.  Instead, society seemed unable to protect itself.

Final rating: 6/10 An Asian mystery that was loaded with horrifying passages. 


20160211: Thriller Review--The Hunter 2011

Name: The Hunter (2011)
IMDb: link to The Hunter page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: Australia.

Cast: Willem Dafoe as Martin David, Frances O'Connor as Lucy, Sam Neill as Jack Mindy, Marc Watson-Paul as Jarrah Armstrong, Finn Woodlock as Bike (Jamie), Morgana Davies as daughter Sass.

Directed by: Daniel Netheim  Written by: Alice Addison.
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Martin contracts indirectly with Red Leaf, a biotech firm that is looking for some rare DNA.  Unfortunately, the only source of these items is the last remaining Tasmanian tiger. There is restricted intelligence (which will leak) that there have been two confirmed sightings of the rare and elusive beast.

The probable site for the hunt is in central Tasmania.  Martin has to deal with lack of electricity, decidedly unfriendly locals, children of the owner of the house he stays at, and foul tap water.  Jack Mindy gives him some guide services that he did not ask for.

Delineation of conflicts:
Martin wants to get paid and stay out of jail.  Red Leaf wants the organic samples so as to make lots of money.

The locals in Tasmania have logging as a main source of income.  Other locals (and outsiders) are involved in a campaign to save the trees.  The early take on Martin is that as an outsider, he's a tree hugger, a 'greenie', and should be dealt with harshly.

Jack Mindy has his own agenda which does not seem to be aligned with Martin's.  Martin is by no means alone when he is out hunting in the middle of nowhere.

To make matters worse, the tree huggers score a moratorium on logging so that the government can find the Tasmanian tiger.  That means no logging and no pay.

Resolution: It's a dark tale with a dark ending.  Several of the lies get exposed.  Will Red Leaf be patient if Martin takes too long?

One line summary: Capturing the last of a species.


Cinematography: 8/10 Bright and sharp.  The Tasmanian countryside chosen for the film was impressive.

Sound: 7/10 The music is often foreboding, which is a nice touch for this sort of property.  I could have done without the Springsteen, but it was a part of the story.  The actors were well-miked.

Acting: 7/10 Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill were fine.  Morgana Davies was entertaining.  The actors playing Tasmanian anti-tree huggers locals were effective as thugs.

Screenplay: 8/10 The story hangs together well.  The exposition of motivations was good.  Some might find it a bit slow.  On the other hand, hunting is often slow.

Final rating: 7/10 


20160208: Horror Review--Oculus 2013

Name: Oculus (2013)
IMDb: link to Oculus page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Karen Gillan as Kaylie Russell, Brenton Thwaites as Tim Russell, Katee Sackhoff as Marie Russell, Rory Cochrane as Alan Russell, Annalise Basso as young Kaylie, Garrett Ryan as young Tim, James Lafferty as Michael Dumont.

Directed by: Mike Flanagan.  Written by: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Tim is on a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.  He discovers a method for convincing his overseer that he has embraced reality and accepted responsibility for events of the past.  So they let him go from managed care to a well-organised external support group including his sister Kaylie.

Kaylie reminds Tim to keep in mind what really happened, and that they have a task that they have agreed to complete.  The dreams and hallucinations start early on.  Kaylie has spent the years growing her experience and reputation in auctions and properties.  She retrieves what she thinks will be needed to settle the issue.  Kaylie thinks that she is sufficiently prepared.  Tim is willing to help her record any weirdness that might occur.

We flashback to the time when Tim and Kaylie lived as children with Marie and Alan, their dear parents.  The flashbacks detail Kaylie and Tim dealing with their parents descending into madness and death.

Delineation of conflicts:
Much of the action centers about an old mirror (the Lasser Glass) that Kaylie retrieves in the present, and their parents owned in the past, notably near the time when they died.  Kaylie traced its history back to 1754, and documents deaths associated with it over the centuries.

The Lasser Glass does what it will, which is to kill its owners, often by dehydration or starvation.  Kaylie intends to record its actions and figure out what really happened to Alan and Marie.  Kaylie has that in mind.  Tim has accepted deeply the more rational explanations given by his psychiatrists.

Resolution:  Which model is correct? The rational one, or the supernatural?  Kaylie's detailed plans should show something definite, unless someone interferes, of course.

One line summary: Brother and sister challenge the supernatural.


Cinematography: 8/10 Bright and sharp.  Most of the shots are of interiors, but quite well-done.

Sound: 8/10 The music is often foreboding, which is a nice touch for this sort of property.  The actors were well-miked.

Acting: 9/10 Sackhoff, Cochrane, Gillan, and Thwaites all did excellent jobs.

Screenplay: 9/10 During the first half of the film, the screenplay is just brilliant.  All events, past and present, are interpreted in both the rational and the supernatural models.  Neither Tim nor Kaylie can convince the other of their argument.  Both have had years to analyse and interpret the facts of the case.   During the second half, it becomes unclear whether Kaylie's rational methods to prove the supernatural will convince anyone else than herself and Tim.  It's quite a nice piece of writing.

Final rating: 9/10 

20160208: Comedy Review--What We Do in the Shadows

Name: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
IMDb: link to What We Do in the Shadows page

Genres: Comedy   Country of origin: New Zealand, USA.

Cast: Jemaine Clement as Vladislav, Taika Waititi as Viago, Jonny Brugh as Deacon, Ben Fransham as Petyr (8 thousand years old), Cori Gonzales-Macurer as Nick (the new vampire), Jackie van Beek as Jackie, Rhys Darby as Anton (werewolf), Stu Rutherford as Stu.

Written and directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Four vampires live in a flat together in New Zealand.  Viago (from the 18th century) was a European dandy before he turned, and is the fussy one.  Deacon  (183 years old) had been a vampire Nazi, and needed to leave Europe after the war.  Petyr is some 8 thousand years old, and does not get out much.  Vlad is a bit older than Viago, but considerably younger than Petyr.  Vlad was a noble who commanded armies and could do all sorts of animal transformations.

Viago, Vladislav, and Deacon prepare for a night out in Wellington.  They cannot get into most clubs because they have to be invited in.  However, there is a club just for vampires.  Jackie is Deacon's familiar.  She does all sorts of scut work for him, such as procuring victims, washing dishes, and whatever else.

After Petyr turns Nick, the main part of the story begins.

Delineation of conflicts:
The vampires' night life activities in Wellington bring them into contact with humans.  This is pretty limited until Nick joins them and is still able to get into the newer night clubs.  They encounter werewolves and the changed relationships with their old friends.  Nick does not feel any need for secrecy, which rather disturbs the older vampires.

Jackie wants Deacon to change her to vampire, but Deacon prefers she remain his familiar.  Deacon does not treat her well, either.  Nick's friend Stu introduces them into the Internet, WiFi enabled devices, selfies, and online social media.

To add to the fun, Nick's loose lips attracts the attention of a vampire hunter who breaks into the house.  Petyr kills him, but is in turn struck by full sunlight, which kills him.  The noise gets the notice of the local police, who give them safety violations.

Resolution: The supernatural takes its course in a number of ways.

One line summary: Mockumentary of vampire life in New Zealand.


Cinematography: 6/10 Often has the handheld look, but not too shaky.

Sound: 6/10 The musical accompaniment was rather sparse, and was not all that atmospheric.  The dialog is audible, which was a plus.

Acting: 7/10  The minimalist tongue in cheek style was reasonable for a mockumentary.

Screenplay: 6/10 If you liked Flight of the Conchords, you will like this one as well.  There is a story, and not all of the deadpan jokes are bad.

Final rating: 6/10 


20160207: Drama Review--Bridge of Spies

Name: Bridge of Spies (2015)
IMDb: link to Bridge of Spies page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA, Germany.

Cast: Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel, Amy Ryan as Mary Donovan, Alan Alda as Thomas Watters Jr, Austin Stowell as Francis Gary Powers, Scott Shepherd as CIA agent Hoffman.

Sebastian Koch as Vogel, Mikhail Gorevoy as Ivan Schischkin, Max Mauf as Ott's secretary, Burghoff Klaussner as Harald Ott, Peter McRobbie as Allen Dulles (CIA chief). Will Rogers as Frederic Pryor, Michael Gaston as CIA agent Williams, Dakin Matthews as Judge Byers.

Directed by: Pete Riski, Alan Smithee.  Written by: Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In 1957, the FBI arrests Rudolf Abel for espionage against the United States.  For propaganda reasons, not for being true to American ideals, the powers that be select James to be the council of Abel.  James tries to represent Abel well, and receives stiff resistance for his efforts.  He does establish that the US should treat its prisoners well at least for the hope that our imprisoned soldiers or agents will receive reasonable behaviour from jailors.

In 1960, the Russians shoot down the U2 reconnaissance plane flown by Francis Gary Powers over the USSR, and imprison him afterward.  Powers has a great deal of classified intelligence that might be divulged.  The Russians want Abel back; the Americans want Powers back.

Delineation of conflicts:
James is 'requested' to negotiate the swap, but is not given diplomatic recognition, and must work as a private citizen.  The East Germans detain Pryor, an economics PhD student as a spy to use as a chess piece.

James has to deal with a lot of murkiness, since none of the transactions are done officially.  He has to deal with the Russians to get Powers, and the East Germans to get Pryor.  The Russians and East Germans have their own agendas.

There's a lot of juggling, but it turns out relatively well.

One line summary: Cold War bargaining.


Cinematography: 10/10 Excellent camera work throughout.  As has been pointed out, the set design for the period was not perfect (see IMDb under 'goofs' for instance), but on the whole the look and feel for 1957-60 was rather good.

Sound: 10/10 The actors were well-miked, and the background music was well chosen and played.  Spoken languages were English, Russian, and German.  A few more subtitles would have helped.

Acting: 8/10 Excellent performances by Mark Rylance (Abel), Amy Ryan (Mary Donovan), Scott Shepherd (Hoffman), Michael Gaston (Williams), Sebastian Koch (Vogel), and Mikhail Gorevoy (Schischkin).  The actors for the smaller parts were considerably weaker.

Screenplay: 8/10 There were a number of loops that were not closed.  However, the dialog sparkled for the majority of the film.  The depictions of the abuse of power by Americans, Russians, and East Germans were a bit understated, but to the point.

Final rating: 9/10 


20160206: Horror Review--Dark Floors

Name: Dark Floors (2008)
IMDb: link to Dark Floors page

Genres: Horror   Country of origin: Finland.

Cast: Noah Huntley as Ben, Skye Bennett as Sarah, Leon Herbert as Rick, Ronald Pickup as Tobias, William Hope as Jon, Dominique McElligart as Emily.

Directed by: Pete Riski, Alan Smithee.  Written by: Pekka Lehtosaari.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Father Ben and daughter Sarah are at a hospital getting sensitive tests run on her brain.  The power fails, the machine adjusts, and Sarah freaks out.  Ben decides to take Sarah somewhere else.

Ben, Sarah, Nurse Emily, Security Guard Rick, salesman Jon, and mental patient Tobias take an elevator together.  The power goes out again.  They manage to get out on the fifth floor, which at first seems deserted.

Delineation of conflicts:
Sarah wants her red crayon.  Ben wants her to be safe. Rick and Emily want to know what's going on.  Jon wants to take his sample teddy bears and leave the building.  Tobias seems to know they are in some sort of trouble, but does not communicate that well.

There is some poltergeist activity (television, radio, telephones, fans), and their freedom of movement seems hampered.  While in a stairwell, someone takes a shot at them, and grazes Rick's neck.

Soon enough, it seems that something does not want them to leave.  Tobias hints that the other four adults might know why this is.  Again, his communication is oblique.  Sarah draws things that no one else sees; ghostly images tantalize them; soon enough, tangible actions are observed.

This film follows several horror movie cliches.  The ghosts/demons seem to be suffering or obsessed with an issue or two.  The adult humans need to surface parts of their memories that pertain to that suffering.  Will they be able to work out issues with the supernaturals?

One line summary: Ghosts trap normals in hospital.


Cinematography: 7/10 The footage looks well done and sharp at the start.  As the supernatural elements phase in, there is more darkness, more dinge and decay, and more restricted colour palettes.

Sound: 5/10 The actors were miked OK; I could understand the dialog without the sound blasting.  The background sound and music did not contribute much to the overall creepiness for most of the film.

Acting: 5/10 The child actress Skye Bennett was not all that skilled.  The other five were reasonably good.  The men in rubber suits were just horrible.

Screenplay: 5/10 The film follows the mushroom method of telling the story.  At halfway through the film, I still had next to no idea of the motivations of the ghosts/demons or of the humans.  Still, this is one of horror's stock in trade approaches.

One of the drivers of the film is the preteen's mental problems and general lack of ability to execute her own life. The adults carry her or wheel her around.  At least three of them are needed to take care of her, such as carrying her wheelchair up and down stairs, calming her down, and the like.  When she's left alone, bad things seem to happen.  This is another stock in trade cliche.  Every so often she becomes all powerful.  Hm, what is the knot in her personality?

Final rating: 5/10 

20160206: Action Review--Mercenaries

Name: Mercenaries (2014)
IMDb: link to Mercenaries

Genres: Action   Country of origin: USA

Cast: Brigitte Nielsen as Ulrika, Tim Abell as Grigori Babishkov, Zoë Bell as Cassandra Clay, Kristanna Loken as Kat Morgan, Vivica A. Fox as Raven, Cynthia Rothrock as Mona, Nicole Bilderback as Mei-Lin Fong, Gerald Webb as Bobby, Edward DeRuiter as Vez, Alexis Raich as Lexi, Tiffany Panhilason as Elise, Bernard Babish as Pavel.

Directed by: Christopher Ray.  Written by: Edward DeRuiter.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: 
Ulrika kidnaps the President's daughter.  The ransom is the overthrow of Ganzar, a fictional country that Ulrika wants to rule.  Great.  Ulrika has a pathological hatred of men, and a deep disdain of women.  Even better.  The President is in a funk, so trusted aid Mona runs the op to recover the daughter.

Mona goes to prison to recruit female tough cases to make the extraction.

Delineation of conflicts:
Ulrika wants the ransom; the US does not wish to pay it.  Mona wants the prisoners to do the extraction; the prisoners are hardly interested.  Mona hopes to make the prisoners offers that they cannot refuse.  Ulrika wishes the extraction to fail; the prisoners would like to get their individual pay offs.

Cassandra was a captain in Delta Forces; she will be tactical command.  Raven was CIA, like Mona, and will handle the close in wetworks.  Mei-Lin specialises in explosives.  Kat is a talented sniper, who will be sniping.  The egos are as big as the talents here.  What are the chances that they will not kill each other instead of the enemy?

The local teenager Lexi wishes to help the team in return for passage to America.

This ends pretty much the way I expected it to.

One line summary: Female mercenaries versus female terrorist.


Cinematography: 7/10 Well-lit with good focus and depth of field.  A little shaky cam, but not too much.

Sound: 5/10 The actors were miked well.  The canned background music did not add anything good.

Acting: 4/10 Zoë Bell was fun as the protagonist.  Vivica Fox was her usual surly self.  Veteran actor Kristanna Loken was better than I expected.  Most of the cast was just terrible, though.  I thought Brigitte Nielsen would have been more engaging.  Then again, the lines written for her were poor.  Tim Abell was incredibly bad.

Screenplay: 3/10  Where does one begin?  It's clearly a low-budget operation, and that includes the script.  The anti-male bigotry is really thick, but so it goes; it's an exploitation film after all.  The likelihood of success of many of the actions in the film seemed small, and too many events were just too convenient.

Final rating: 4/10 


20160204: Action Review--Survivor

Name: Survivor (Sternenkrieger) (2014)
IMDb: link to Survivor page

Genres: Action   Country of origin: USA

Cast: Danielle Chuchran as Kate Mitra, Kevin Sorbo as Captain Hunter, Rocky Myers as Rogan.

Written, directed, and produced by: John Lyde.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux: 
Earth has been made unlivable.  Seven colony ships left Earth, each looking for a new planet on which to live.  The film starts in one of those ships, and it has long since lost contact with the others.  Further, after 47 years, the original crew is gone except for Captain Hunter.  Half a dozen teens spend much of their time training in combat.

Kate finds a wormhole to a possibly feasible planet.  The captain gets convinced.  So the ship heads through, only to encounter disaster in a space born rock field.  The captain and some of the teens survive the crash of their space ship.

Delineation of conflicts:
The humans are not alone on their new planet.  There are some humanoids with blades and guns, but also some bipedal monsters.  The monsters like to kill members of the other groups.  The humanoids bicker among themselves, and decide, on the whole, not to like the newcomers.

The Captain gets seriously wounded early on, and holes up with his radio.  The teens except Kate get killed or captured soon after planetfall.  So, most of the film is Kate against the world and its natives.

One of the dissenters among the humanoids, Rogan, might lend her a hand, but her finely honed battle training does not seem to recognize that.  He rescues her three times, she tries to kill him four times.

There are not all that many directions for this elimination derby can go.  In any case, rest assured that Kate gets to run a lot.

One line summary: PC cliche meets scifi cliches.


Cinematography: 7/10 Most of the film is shot well, and the Utah desert is stark and beautiful to look at.  The costume design is fairly ridiculous.

Sound: 6/10 I could hear the actors.  The florid background music was more or less irrelevant.

Acting: 3/10 There was one actor, Kevin Sorbo, and a host of extras.  The extras did a lot of running, fighting, and dying.

Screenplay: 1/10 Derivative, badly done, absurdly not feasible on so many fronts.  A show about a non-interesting lead running through brush and rocks in the desert is not engaging.

Final rating: 2/10

20160204: Comedy Review--Sleeper

Name: Sleeper (1973)
IMDb: link to Sleeper page

Genres: Comedy   Country of Origin: USA

Cast: Woody Allen as Miles Monroe, Diane Keaton as Luna Schlossel, John Back as Erno Windt.

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

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In 1973, clarinetist and health food store owner Miles Monroe goes to hospital for a minor operation to repair ulcer damage.  In 2173, he is revived from cryogenic stasis by rebel physicians.

Just as his orientation starts to succeed, the police raid the health facility; his revival was illegal.

To escape, Miles disguises himself as a robotic servant.  He is delivered to the house of citizen Luna Schlossel, who assigns him tasks that illustrate life in 2173.

Delineation of conflicts:
The State, under the direction of The Leader, seeks to have everyone fully assimilated into society.  Miles kidnaps Luna to escape yet another police raid.  Luna is initially loyal to the State, but when captured and threatened with mind wipe, she converts to the rebel cause.

Miles is captured, but not before Luna escapes with his help.  Miles is assimilated by the State.  Luna finds the resistance, and becomes enamored of Enro, the resistance boss, and with his ideology.  By the time Luna and Miles meet again, their positions have reversed, and he does not remember her.

Erno tasks Luna with getting Miles to the rebel camp.  They set about restoring Miles' memory.  Erno sends Luna and Miles to stop the Aries project.  The State, of course, has other ideas.  Miles' jealousy threatens the rebel mission.

The showdown is about the fate of the Aries project (not sure about the spelling here; I think I auto-corrected it).

One line summary: Nebbish from 1973 fights the State in 2173.


Cinematography: 8/10 The scifi part of the set design was clever and well done.  The natural backdrops of the Colorado countryside complemented quite well the futuristic parts of the film.

Sound: 8/10 The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed with Woody on clarinet for the wordless comedy action sequences.  That was fun and whimsical.  The actors were miked OK.  I could hear the dialog, but sometimes the voices seemed hollow.

Acting: 8/10 There was some great physical comedy here.  Allen's delivery of some of the lines made all the difference.  I liked Keaton and Beck.  As a side note, according to the TCM announcer, Woody kept pulling Keaton off the set of Godfather II (1974) in order complete Sleeper (1973) to his satisfaction.

Screenplay: 10/10 The comedy action sequences and one-liners were just brilliant.  Some of the futuristic 'inventions' (the Orgasmatron, the Orb, the Telescreen, the Confessor robot) were hilarious.  Apparently Woody Allen consulted the well-respected science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Ben Bova about the feasibility of his sets.  The rebels versus State plotline was a bit weak, but is was just there for lampooning.  I especially enjoyed the historical misunderstandings of 2173 scientists shown during Miles' orientation.

Final Rating: 9/10