20160318: RomCom Review--Must Love Dogs

Name: Must Love Dogs (2005)
IMDb: link to Must Love Dogs page

Genres: Comedy, Romance.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Diane Lane as Sarah Nolan, John Cusack as Jake, Elizabeth Perkins as Carol, Christopher Plummer as Bill Nolan, Dermot Mulroney as Bob, Stockard Channing as Dolly, Ali Hillis as Christine, Ben Shenkman as Charlie.

Directed by: Gary David Goldberg.  Written by: Claire Cook (novel), Gary David Goldberg (screenplay).
image courtesy of TMDb
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Sarah Nolan is recently divorced, and she gets advice and possible setups from sisters Carol and Christine, her brother, and her father Bill. The efforts to get her back into the dating game seem to be going along swimmingly, but her first blind date turns out to be her father.  Ouch.  She and her sisters regroup, and the search starts in earnest.

Jake is also recently divorced.  He and his lawyer Charlie celebrate the papers being signed, but note sadly that Jake decided not to participate in his own defense.  Divorce is war, and he lost on all fronts.  Jake builds wooden boats by hand, and is not selling all that many of them.  Charlie urges Jake to get back into the dating game, but Jake is slow to accept the idea.

Delineation of conflicts:
Sarah and Jake meet at a dog park, both with borrowed dogs.  They soon discover that both of them were faking it, and the first round looks like a bust.

Bob's child attends where Sarah teaches.  They hit is off fairly well at first, but Bob has a bit of a wandering eye.  Will this kill it for Sarah and Bob?  After all, they are just testing the field.

Jake and Sarah get together again, with better rapport, but they split again.

To make things more fun, father Bill Nolan starts a relationship with the exciting character Dolly, which upsets the rest of the family for a time.  Bill and his wife were together for 45 years before her death, after all.

Resolution: Do we get a Hollywood ending, or will this be just another feel bad comedy?  It could go either way.

One line summary: Pleasant feel-good romantic comedy.


Cinematography: 9/10   Nicely shot.  Ordinary people are doing ordinary things in ordinary places.  The reality principle is in place (no supernatural, no SciFi, no aliens, no CGI).  It's spring or early summer, the world is beautiful, and no one is sick or impoverished or threatened.  The visuals capture all of this smoothly.

Sound: 8/10 I could hear the actors clearly.  Background music was a mild plus.

Acting: 8/10 Christopher Plummer, John Cusack, Stockard Channing, and Diane Lane gave fine performances.  None of other actors were bad.

Screenplay: 7/10 Jake and Sarah start out badly, but do better the second time around, though not well enough.  Bob and Sarah start out with a nice warmth, but then things go south.  I liked those cliched but well done threads.  I also liked the thread featuring Dolly and her interactions with Bill and his daughters.  The ending was the biggest cliche of all, and was the only iffy part of the film for me.  I liked the result, but the awkwardness level was mighty high for a few minutes.

Final rating: 8/10


20160316: Horror Review--Hangar 10

Name: Hangar 10 (2014)
IMDb: link to Hangar 10 page

Genres: Horror, SciFi.   Country of origin: UK.

Cast: Robert Curtis as Gus Mills, Abbie Salt as Sally, Danny Shayler as Jake.

Directed by: Daniel Simpson.  Written by: Adam Preston, Daniel Simpson.
image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Boyfriend Gus, girlfriend Sally, and Sally's old friend Jake set out with metal detectors and the like to discover some missing gold in the Suffolk area in England.  They stop at a pub which Gus had used as a base when he found a Roman coin sometime back. Fliers at the pub note UFO activity.  Right. Just before they start the actual search, Jake mentions that a military helicopter has been circling the area near them for hours.

They start in nearby accessible plowed fields.  They find nothing, so the meandering continues.

Delineation of conflicts:
Gus is a jerk; Sally and Jake put up with him.  Jake is a jerk; Gus and Sally put up with him.

They do much of the search in the dark, and have some navigation difficulties in the woods (Rendlesham Forest).  They are in a spot of danger from hostile forces that discover them.

Resolution: Will the aliens get them?

One line summary: Look for gold, find aliens.


Cinematography: 0/10   For the first hour or so, the visuals were absolute bullshit, with failures aplenty: focus, depth of field, framing, sufficient light, flare, artifacts from dirty lenses and so on.  Toward the end, there were visual effects added in abundance.  The movie seemed like a bad join of two incompatible films.

Sound: 2/10 For the first hour or so, the sound was rather poor since it was captured with a handheld video camera of low quality.  Toward the end, a great deal of sound effects were added, some of which were unsettling.

Acting: 0/10 Three non-actors plus a cheap video camera.  The lines were bad, and the delivery was bad.

Screenplay: 0/10 These plotlines have been done to death: found film, bickering, getting lost in the forest at night, search for ancient relics, the bogeymen are after you, the military and their opaque motives are somehow involved.  None of them were done well here.  Add in parking on private land without permission and having one's ride stolen.  The last five minutes seemed like a borrow from an entirely different film.

Final rating: 1/10

Spoiler alert:
No one comes out alive.  The aliens depicted were not cool or interesting or even vaguely feasible.


20160315: Thriller Review--The Traveler

Name: The Traveler (2010)
IMDb: link to The Traveler page

Genres: Thriller, Supernatural.   Country of origin: Canada.

Cast: Val Kilmer as Mr Nobody/Drifter, Dylan Neal as Detective Alexander Black, Paul McGillion as Deputy Jerry Pine, Camille Sullivan as Deputy Jane Hollows, Nels Lennarson as Deputy Toby Sherwood, John Cassini as Deputy Jack Hawkins, Chris Gauthier as Desk Sergeant Gulloy.

Directed by: Michael Oblowitz.  Written by: Joseph C. Muscat.
image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The film starts with a short depiction of the abduction of a young girl by an out-of-focus kidnapper.

We jump forward a year to the present day on a rainy Christmas Eve night.

Desk Sargeant Gulloy is a fussy man who is the omega male of the group at the Sheriff's station.  He  does not care for the loud, foul, disgusting speech of his coworkers at the station, or their generally inconsiderate actions, like leaving the door open for the cold and rain to flow in, cancelling the central heating.   His passive aggressive approach clashes with the classless alphas early and often.

The interactions of the four deputies are primitive and adolescent.  Evidently psych tests were not required to obtain their jobs.  Detective Black is the father of Mary, the girl abducted in the first scene.

To complete the initial scenery, Mr Nobody enters the station, and tells Gulloy that he would like to confess to murder.  The state cops come by to tell them that they are going to close down the off ramp from the Interstate due to a major accident.  The station will be more isolated than usual, and many things are not working due to the holiday.  That's where we are when the action of the story begins.

Delineation of conflicts:
The deputies and the desk sergeant despise each other.  The detective's wife is phasing into a breakup with him.  The detective is held in contempt by the deputies since he was promoted over them to detective.  The detective is in a depressed phase since he has not been able to solve his daughter's disappearance.

Mr Nobody is not especially compliant with the orders of the cops.  Clearly, he holds them in contempt, and the cops are not happy with his lack of obedience.

Have they already met Mr Nobody?  Will any of them get a bit of closure about their failed pursuit of Mary's murderer?

Resolution: The police think they have a confessed murderer.  Only late in the film do they realise that his confessions are to their detriment.

One line summary: Cops pay for guilty secret.


Cinematography: 6/10  The visuals were in the VHS range most of the time.  The reduced palette and the dominance of dark regions over light contributed to the overall tone of depression and hopelessness.  The lighting choices involved a great deal of fluorescent lamps, whose colour output contributed heavily to the grey-green of the interiors, where most of the film is shot.  The peeling paint, rusted metal, and flickering lighting contribute to the feeling of gloom and decay.

Sound: 5/10 I could hear the dialog.  The background music was alternately creepy and irrelevant.

Acting: 5/10 I recognise Val Kilmer from many works, of course.  Otherwise, I'm familiar only with Paul McGillion (Stargate Atlantis, 2004-2009).  The acting was OK, but not great.  Kilmer's performance was not one of his best, but he still outshone the others.

Screenplay: 3/10 The dialog was hardly sparkling, and the f-word was used to the point of numbness.  I would rate the script low on originality. The theme of supernatural retribution is hardly new, and elimination derbies are common in horror films.  The ending was a bit better than I expected.

Final rating: 4/10

Elimination order: spoiler alert
As Mr Nobody confesses, the deaths of the guilty cops happen.  Hawkins first, Gulloy second, Sherwood and Hollows third and fourth, then Pine.  The order related to the manner of violence the cops had visited on an unidentified drifter the year before while looking for Mary Black's killer.


20160314: Comedy Review--Man Up

Name: Man Up (2015)
IMDb: link to Man Up page
Genres: Comedy, Romance   Country of origin: UK.

Cast: Simon Pegg as Jack, Lake Bell as Nancy Patterson, Sharon Horgan as Elaine, Harriet Walter as Fran, Ken Stott as Bert, Olivia Williams as Hilary, Ophelia Lovibond as Jessica, Rory Kinnear as Sean Mallory.

Directed by: Ben Palmer.  Written by: Tess Morris.

image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Single 34 year old Nancy goes to a loud themed mixer hosted by a hotel at the insistence of her married sister Elaine.  It's another failure.

Nancy heads via train to an anniversary party at the house of their parents, Fran and Bert. Nancy sits down and talks to Elaine.  Across from her is Jessica, who had listened to her telephone conversation with Elaine.  Jessica lends Nancy a self-help book meant to help her meet her true match.  The train stops; Jessica gets off without taking the book. When Nancy wakes up, she tries to find Jessica to return the book, but meets Jack instead.  (Jessica buys another copy; she had left her old copy on purpose, but Nancy does not know that.)

Jack thinks Nancy is his blind date since she has the book.  Jack has a pleasant manner, and does a Hannibal Lecter impression.  Partly because Lecter is one of Nancy's favourite movie characters, she decides to let Jack keep thinking she's his date.  Jessica shows up with her new copy of the book a good 90 seconds too late.

Delineation of conflicts:
First, there is the lie that started their relationship.  Jack and Nancy head into an evening together under false impressions.  Nancy has several opportunities in their conversation to correct the misapprehension, but fails to do so.

During the date, they encounter some baggage from each side.  There is Jack's ex, or soon to be ex, Hilary, whom they meet with Hilary's new significant other.  Then there is Sean, whom Nancy has known for many years but does not remember.  Unfortunately for Nancy, Sean's a bit of a stalker.

Jack is a bit battle weary from the recently failed marriage.  Nancy is in a negativity phase since she has had so many disappointments in a row.

Then there is the party with Fran and Bert.  Elaine and Fran want Nancy to write something to commemorate the 40 years of wedded bliss.  When might that happen during this busy day?

Resolution: Chemistry.

One line summary: Blind date with the wrong person.


Cinematography: 8/10 The camera work looks fine, but the sets are endlessly prosaic.  Of course, that's what the movie is about: ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places.

Sound: 8/10 No problems.  The background music included some fine tunes.

Acting: 8/10 I liked Lake Bell in Surface (2005) and Over Her Dead Body (2008), but have not seen her work much since.  As for Simon Pegg, I liked him a lot in Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011).

As for this movie, the rest of the cast provided competent performances.  The movie sank or swam based on the screen chemistry between Pegg's character and Bell's character.  In the early going, Nancy was evasive (she's lying left and right, not in her skill set) and Jack was nervously expansive since he wants the date to go well.  This was awkward to say the least.  The chemistry starts to show when they connect on movie after movie, book after book, bowling and eating.

Perhaps the best part was when the lies start to be burned away by truth.  Pegg and Bell really go at in realistic ways that are funny as well.  The dancing scenes were marvelous: they don't slow dance well, but they were in perfect sync for Duran Duran's The Reflex (1984).

Screenplay: 7/10 Awkwardness was displayed aplenty as is common in romantic comedies.  However, this was done, for the most part, without making the people in the awkward situations seem like terrible people (well, except Sean, perhaps).

I got some laughs from watching this film, which is where most romantic comedies fail.

Final rating: 8/10 


20160306: Animation Review--Hell and Back

Name: Hell and Back (2015)
IMDb: link to Hell and Back page

Genres: Adult Animation, Comedy   Country of origin: USA.

Voice Cast: Nick Swardson as Remy, Mila Kunis as Deema, Bob Odenkirk as the Devil, Susan Sarandon as Barb the Angel, Danny McBride as Orpheus, T. J. Miller as Augie, Rob Riggle as Curt, Kerri Kenney-Silver as Madame Zonar, Jennifer Coolidge as Durmessa.

Directed by: Tom Gianas, Ross Shuman.  Written by: Hugh Sterbakov, Zeb Wells, Tom Gianas.

image courtesy of TMDb

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Remy and Augie work at a run-down carnival, Remy as a hawker, and Augie as the handyman/fixer. The biggest attraction is called 'Gates to Hell' and it breaks down recurrently.  The budget is limited for spare parts and safety features, 'run-down' is probably a stable state, especially after the bank foreclosure.  Their life-long friend Curt has responsibilities at the park, but no authority.  Curt's boss is a dedicated zoned-out doper.  Will there be upgrades to make the park competitive, or even safe?  Probably not.

Remy looks for some hail Mary action to save the park, but instead settles on a book of Madame Zonar's concerning Beelzebub.  Curt asks Remy for a mint, and Remy gets Curt to seal a blood oath on the book that he will pay back the mint.  Curt openly admits that he lied.  This breaking of the oath activates the dormant Gates of Hell ride.  Curt gets pulled down.  While the vortex is still active, Remy and Augie follow into Hell, so as to find Curt and save his sorry self.

Delineation of conflicts:
The Devil would like to have sex with Barb the Angel.  Barb knows this, and leverages it into having the Devil find Remy and Augie, so that she can get 'save the misplaced mortals' off her To Do list.

Remy and Augie are looking for Orpheus, since he was able to walk out of hell with a person who was condemned.  Deema the half-demon is looking for Orpheus for her own reasons.

One of the demon unions is pissed that there have not been enough sacrifices lately.  Curt gets nominated, largely to his ill-considered speech, and his sacrifice becomes a big event in Hell.

Curt tries negotiating directly with the Devil, who has to deal with the demon union.

Resolution: Can the protagonists save Curt?  Will Curt save himself?

One line summary: WTH meets WTF.


Cinematography: 8/10  I've been watching stop action animation for a number of decades, and this looks rather good.

Sound: 9/10 For many sections of the film, the incidental music is choreographed precisely with the movements of the characters to good effect.

Voice Acting: 10/10 Full marks.

Screenplay: 1/10 Rude, crude, and barbaric.  The story line is competent.  However, the vileness of the speech is next to incomprehensible.  Early on, I hoped Hell would contract to a point with all characters trapped there forever.  I never lost that feeling.

Final rating: 6/10 Neutral.  Proceed at your own risk. Not for the faint of heart, or for anyone with virgin ears.  If you like relentlessly grinding irreverence, this is for you.