20160925: Comedy Review--The Road to Hong Kong

Name: The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
IMDb: link to The Road to Hong Kong

Genres: Comedy, SciFi   Country of origin: UK.

Bing Crosby as Harry Turner, Bob Hope as Chester Babcock, Joan Collins as Diane, Robert Morley as Leader of the Third Echelon, Walter Gotell as Dr. Zorbb, Dorothy Lamour as Dorothy Lamour, Felix Aylmer as Grand Lama, Mai Ling as Ming Toy, Yvonne Shima as Poon Soon, Michele Mok as Mr. Ahso.  Then there is the cameo with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Directed by: Norman Panama.  Written by: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama (screenplay).
Joan Collins, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Babcock and Turner are two minor con men who have fallen on bad times.  By chance, Babcock finds the only copy (hm) of a secret Russian formula for an advanced rocket fuel.  He manages to read the formula (without understanding), but destroys the written copy soon after.  The pair discover that the formula is sought after, and could bring them money.  They start the search for a way for Babcock to recall the specifications for the fuel.

Delineation of conflicts:
The pair search for, and find, the High Lama.  The Lama's people have the lore to let Babcock remember the rocket fuel recipe.  However, the Lama and all his society agree that the special concoction needed to do this should never leave their home.  That is a fine mess for Hope and Crosby to bumble their way out of.

No sooner than they have ditched the High Lama's agents, the 3rd Echelon wishes to get the formula which will enable flight to the Moon.  From the Moon, the 3rd Echelon hopes to bomb modern civilization (1962 style) into submission.  Diane is the 3rd Echelon's agent who manipulates the con men easily.  She gets them to headquarters without too much trouble.

The last conflict is for Diane's loyalty.  She is loyal to her employer, but she grows to like both Babcock and Turner.  Her boss is willing to do anything to get the rocket formula, including killing either or both of the con men.

Resolution: This was a vaudeville style comedy, so one does not expect a rousing ending which is a triumph of coherence.  Instead, we get a couple more laughs from the film industry making fun of itself after the heroes (?) save the world but not themselves.

One line summary: Hope and Crosby in the last Road picture.


Cinematography: 5/10 This film gets an A+ for cheesiness.  The rockets, the submarine, the planet at the end of the picture, and the animated fish were incredibly obviously fake.  The footage of actors, though, tends to be crisp and well-framed.

Sound: 8/10 It is in mono, but has been updated for current broadcast standards.  I did not catch any pop and hiss that one normally expects from 54 year old properties.

Acting: 6/10 It's a comedy and I got a couple of dozen laughs.  It's hard for me to complain.  However, Hope and Crosby were both rather terrible at acting in this one.  On the other hand, I enjoyed Joan Collins the most.  She was gorgeous in 1962, she spoke her lines well, and her singing voice was better than I expected.  Dorothy Lamour and Robert Morley added good laughs.

Screenplay: 6/10 The overall plot is silly, and the script is slanted toward one-lines and sight gags.  So it's not a great work of art, but it was a comedy that got me to laugh.

Final Rating: 6/10


20160920: SciFi Review--Total Recall

Name: Total Recall (2012)
IMDb: link to Total Recall page

Genres: SciFi   Country of origin: USA.

Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid/Hauser, Kate Beckinsale as Lori Quaid, Jessica Biel as Melina, Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen, Bokeem Woodbine as Harry, Bill Nighy as Matthias, John Cho as McClane.

Directed by: Len Wiseman.  Written by: Kim Wimmer, Mark Bomback (screenplay).

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In a dark future dystopia, Douglas works in the UK side of Europe, but lives in Australia.  His job is hardly fulfilling, and he is haunted by recurring disturbing dreams.  In this stressful situation, he considers using the service Total Rekall, which provides the customer with an extra set of memories that are satisfying in some sense.

Douglas signs up with Total Rekall to be a secret agent against Chancellor Cohaagen, the leader of the UFB, the strongest state.  His rewards would be excitement and a growing sense of self-worth, at least while experiencing the extra memories.

Delineation of conflicts:
The imaginary scenario of Total Rekall never gets imprinted.  Armed agents crash into Total Rekall to arrest or kill Douglas.  He avoids dying, but unfortunately goes home to his 'wife' Lori, who is not his ally.  Douglas is on a quest to stay alive, to regain his memories, to find old or new allies, and to figure out what he wants to do with what time he has left.  There seem to be factions within Cohaagen's administration, but all of them seem to be after Douglas.  Opposing the administration is the Resistance, one of whose leaders is Matthias.  Douglas tries to find Matthias.  Will this free Douglas, or will it just accomplish Cohaagen's goals of putting down the Resistance?

Resolution:  Murky, right up to the end.

One line summary:  Hard reboot of the 1990 classic.


Cinematography: 10/10  The practical and CGI effects are impressive, showing the improvement of technology from 1990 to 2012.  Compared to this film, the original seems somewhat inventive but clunky and out of date.  It's hard to miss the debt of the 2012 film to _Star Wars_ in general, storm troopers, droid armies, and city of Coruscant in particular.

Sound: 7/10 I could hear the dialog, which is good.  The background music is not all that interesting.

Acting: 5/10 Negatives: Kate Beckinsale is at her most unconvincing.  Jessica Biel was her usual unremarkable self, decorative but without warmth.  Compared to Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin, the 2012 pair were cold cardboard.

Positives: Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston, and Bill Nighy were great in limited roles.  I usually consider Colin Farrell a totally blunt instrument, but liked his acting here.  On the other hand, I believed Arnold's action sequences, but Farrell's, not so much.

Screenplay: 6/10 This film is a strong departure from the 1990 film of the same name, so much so that a different name altogether would have been appropriate.

Final Rating: 6/10


20160919: Comedy Review--Love and Friendship

Name: Love & Friendship (2016)
IMDb: link to Love & Friendship page

Genres: Comedy  Country of origin: USA.

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon, Chloe Sevigny as Alicia Johnson, Morfydd Clark as Frederica Vernon, Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, Jenn Murphy as Lady Lucy Manwaring, Lochlann O'Mearain as Lord Manwaring, Sophie Radermacher as Miss Maria Manwaring, Stephen Fry as Mr.

Directed by: Whit Stillman.  Written by: Jane Austen (novella Lady Susan), Whit Stillman (screenplay).

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Lady Susan Vernon loses her husband at Langford.  She imposes herself on Churchill.

Delineation of conflicts:
Not everyone is delighted by Susan's presence.  Susan is a notably charming flirt, a spendthrift, as well as devious and changeable.  Sir James Martin, quite a dolt but with income, is interested in Frederica, Susan's daughter, but Frederica is not interested in him.  Susan wants Sir James to succeed with Frederica for the income, but what will Sir James get in return?

Resolution: Delightful.  Stay tuned until the end.

One line summary: Comedy based on Jane Austen novella.


Cinematography: 8/10 Lovely sets, good lighting, nice

Sound: 9/10 I could hear the dialog clearly, and the background music fit the period piece well.

Acting: 9/10 Kate Beckinsale was better than I've ever seen her.  Chloe Sevigny was good as Susan's friend.  Tom Bennett as fine as the blockhead Sir James Martin.

Screenplay: 10/10 Stillman's screenplay based on Austen's novella was rich in its word play, and nicely executed.  I had dozens of good laughs.

Final Rating: 9/10


20160911: Fantasy Review--It Follows

Name: It Follows (2014)
IMDb: link to It Follows page

Genres: Fantasy  Country of origin: USA.

Maika Monroe as Jay Height, Keir Gilchrist as Paul, Olivia Luccardi as Yara, Lili Sepe as Kelley Height, Bailey Spry as Annie, Jake Weary as Hugh, Daniel Zovatto as Greg.

Written and directed by: David Robert Mitchell.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
There is an opening, very short sequence about Annie, who is running from something.  She drives to a beach, then waits.  Next morning, she's dead.  Do we reconnect with this?

The film is about Jay Height, not Annie.  Jay grows closer to a boyfriend, Hugh.  They have sex at a remote place in the back of his four door sedan.  Then he drugs her, takes her to an abandoned car park, then ties her to a chair on rollers.  The boyfriend says that he's passed something on to her.  As they speak, a woman approaches.  The boyfriend gets agitated.  Unless Jay passes it on to someone else via sex, the whatever-it-is will come back for him.

Delineation of conflicts:
The police interview Jay.  They find the parking lot that Hugh took her to, chair she was tied to, her lost purse, and the apartment that Hugh said was his.

Jay seems to be followed by various characters.  Are they figments of her imagination, or is something real after her?  She has a difficult time showing anybody direct evidence of the followers, who seem to be reanimated dead.  Does that change?  Does she pass 'it' on to someone else?  Can she escape with the help of friends?  These are Jay's attempts to deal with the unknown.

Resolution: Jay finds that 'Hugh' was a Jeff Redmond.  Jeff tries to be helpful with limited success.  Greg tries to take the problem away from her in a bit of macho display that fails.  Where is the solution, or is there one?

One line summary: Slow boiling fantasy thriller.


Cinematography: 8/10 Dingy and dark realistic photography of a town in steep decline in Michigan, USA.  It looks professionally done and adds to the atmosphere, I suppose.

Sound: 7/10 I can hear the dialog, which is the first big test on sound.  Did the foley or background music add much to the proceedings?  During the first 50 minutes, not so much.  Later the electronic music did some mood augmentation.

Acting: 6/10 The acting was much better than I expected for this sort of film.

Screenplay: 4/10 There is no possibility that any of the events in this film could happen, so this is supernatural horror, which I label as fantasy these days.  As usual with fantasy, one has to judge the film against its internal rules, since it has it has decided to lose connection with reality.

The one rule seems to be "if you've got it, you'll know it; convincing anyone else is another matter;" another is "pass it along or it will kill you."  The film stays pretty true to those two fantasy premises.

The film moves slowly, which was not a plus for me.  There was barely enough content here for a 42 minute television episode, much less a 105 minute feature film.  The tiny theme of the safe suburbs versus the evil city never seemed to go anywhere for me.  Just to cap everything off, the ending is nebulous.  Perhaps that was meant to be an opening for a sequel.

Some of the visuals seemed to be disconnected islands, such as when Jay swam out to a boat on a lake, and the opening scene with Annie.

Final Rating: 6/10


20160905: Thriller Review--Silver Streak

Name: Silver Streak (1976)
IMDb: link to Silver Streak page

Genres: Action, Thriller, Crime  Country of origin: USA.

Gene Wilder as George Caldwell, Richard Pryor as Grover Muldoon, Jill Clayburgh as Hildegard ('Hilly') Burns, Scatman Crothers as Ralston, Ned Beatty as Bob Sweet, Ray Walston as Mr Whiney, Patrick McGoohan as Roger Devereaux, Clifton James as Sheriff Chauncey, Richard Kiel as Reace.

Directed by: Arthur Hiller.  Written by: Colin Higgins.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
George Caldwell (publishing) and Hilly Burns (secretary to an art historian) meet on a train trip from Los Angeles to Chicago aboard the train called the Silver Streak.  They get along swimmingly. Unfortunately, through their cabin window, George sees a dead body dropped off the train.

Delineation of conflicts:
The body was that of Hilly's boss.  When George inquires about the boss, he gets thrown off the train while it's still moving.  By luck, he catches up with the Silver Streak, and gets back on.  The rest of the film is about George trying to stay alive, to find out just what happened, and to set things right if he can.

Hilly seems to be involved.  Bob Sweet tells George about Roger Devereaux, whose 'chauffeur' Reace threw George off the train.  When George confronts Hilly and Roger about the matter, Roger has a feasible explanation.  Even better, the art professor himself shows up.  Or does he?

George gets a bit tipsy, and tells Bob Sweet about the matter.  George is confused and needs someone to talk to, after all.  So, will George be able to pass off the dead body sighting as just a drunken misperception, or will the truth win out?

Resolution: Just about the time you think you've got the film figured out, Richard Pryor's character shows up and changes everything.  The film moves to a satisfying conclusion.

One line summary: Murder mystery with Wilder & Pryor.


Cinematography: 9/10 Among other things, this is a travel film.  The shots of the countryside from LA to Chicago are pretty nice.  The interiors are clear, well-lit, and well-focused.

Sound: 8/10 The dialog was easy to follow.  The music was typical 1970s fare.  Some of it was a bit too florid and orchestral for my taste.  Other parts were made with those old style synthesizers which sound primitive these days.

Acting: 9/10 Gene Wilder carries the show for the first 60% or so, and did a good job as the lead.  Jill Clayburgh was good in a limited role as the secretary who knew just a bit too much.  Ned Beatty's short stint was good.  Patrick McGoohan delivered urbane menace quite well, and Ray Walston was a good grumpy henchman.  When Richard Pryor entered the fray, the afterburners kicked in.

Screenplay: 9/10 The film was engaging from beginning to end, with a few laughs thrown in.

Final Rating: 9/10 Excellent.  Nice script, good execution by the cast.


20160904: Comedy Review--See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Name: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
IMDb: link to See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Genres: Comedy, Thriller   Country of origin: USA.

Gene Wilder as Dave Lyons, Richard Pryor as Wally Karue, Joan Severance as Eve, Kevin Spacey as Kirgo, John Capodice as Scotto, Anthony Zerbe as Sutherland, Alan North as Captain Braddock, Kirsten Childs as Adele.

Directed by: Arthur Hiller.  Written by: Earl Baret, Arne Sultan (story).

Image courtesy of TMDb
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Dave owns a news stand.  Wally is looking for a job.  Dave is deaf, Wally is blind.  Wally likes gambling, and owes his bookie Scotto 2800 USD.  Scotto, in turn, owes money to far nastier people. The bookie leaves a valuable gold coin in Dave's pay box before Eve kills him.  Dave and Wally are arrested for the crime.

Delineation of conflicts:
Wally and Dave try to prove that Eve did the murder, and Kirgo is her accomplice.  Eve and Kirgo attempt to retrieve the rare coin for Sutherland, and eliminate Wally and Dave.  The cops, led by Captain Braddock, want to apprehend Wally and Dave after they escape to prove their innocence. Wally's sister Adele tries to help them, and gets a load of trouble for her efforts.

Resolution: Dave and Wally do a lot better (and worse) than one might think.

One line summary: Pryor and Wilder in their prime.


Cinematography: 7/10 Meh.  Looks like 1980s video.

Sound: 7/10 I could hear the dialog, which was the biggest issue to consider.  Background music was barely a consideration.

Acting: 8/10 Wilder and Pryor dominate the film, but the supporting players added laughs as well.

Screenplay: 8/10 It's a fairly simple story, but well done.  The gag at the end with Anthony Zerbe and Richard Pryor was just delightful.

Final Rating: 8/10 If you like either Pryor or Wilder, you've got to see this one.


20160902: Fantasy Review--The Last Witch Hunter

Name: The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
IMDb: link to The Last Witch Hunter page
Genres: Fantasy, Action.   Country of origin: USA.

Vin Diesel as Kaulder, Rose Leslie as Chloe, Michael Caine as Dolan the 36th, Elijah Wood as Dolan the 37th, Olafur Darri Olafsson as Belial, Julie Engelbrecht as the Witch Queen.

Directed by: Breck Eisner.  Written by: Mark Sazama, Cory Goodman, Burk Sharpless (screenplay).

Image courtesy of TMDb
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Initial, part I: We're in the black plague era in Europe, say 13th century.  The spread of the plague is attributed to the spellcasting of evil witches.  Vin Diesel's character, Kaulder, is one of the witch hunters who finds the Witch Queen.  Kaulder and company put an end to the plague, but at the cost of Kaulder's wife, his only child, and most of his hunter friends.  While dying, the Witch Queen curses Kaulder.

Initial, part II:  In current New York City, Kaulder is still hunting witches.  Yes, the same Kaulder. He's allied with an old group within the church, the Axe and Cross, which tries and imprisons witches.  They also keep secrets.  Kaulder's main contact with Axe and Cross is Dolan the 36th, played by Michael Caine, in one of those short roles that he does so well.  Dolan is quite old, and Dolan the 37th seems ready to take over being contact with the immortal Kaulder.

Delineation of conflicts:
In the present, witch activity seems to be picking up.  Something large is brewing.  Kaulder suffers a number of reverses, and his list of allies shrinks.

The film began in apocalyptic mode, and near the end it is almost there again.  Kaulder must face what he did not face the first time, 800 years ago.

Resolution: Will Kaulder find new allies, or must he carry the day himself?

One line summary: Attempt at another Vin Diesel movie franchise.


Cinematography: 8/10 Well done on the whole; the visuals kept my attention.

Sound: 8/10 Dialog is clear.  Music seemed appropriate.

Acting: 5/10 Michael Caine was fine in his short role as noted above.  Vin Diesel is convincing as an action hero, even here with swords, magic, fists, and intention instead of cars, guns, and explosives. Julie Engelbrecht had her fine moments as Kaulder's arch nemesis, the Witch Queen, at the very beginning, and at the very end. Olafur Darri Olafsson was a blast as Belial, an in-your-face opponent for Kaulder.

Elijah Wood's performance sucked rocks.  Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones, 17 episodes) was almost interesting as Kaulder's on-again, off-again witch ally.  That was a bit weak, since she was supposed to be the female lead.

Screenplay: 5/10 Violence and threat moves the plot along, so the 106 minutes runtime does not drag too badly. I'm glad I saw the film, but would not watch it again.  Why not?  The narrative is not well-constructed.  It seemed like every five minutes there was some change or rules, or some impressive (?) artifact to consider.

At the end of the film, I felt that I should have been happier for the protagonist, but just could not be. Would there be major challenges for him in the centuries to come?  Would Chloe be a reliable ally? By this time I did not care, and I felt this to be a major failing of the film.

Final Rating: 6/10 I liked it better than most people did, but I would be hard pressed to say, 'you must see this one.'

Checking against Box Office Mojo and IMDb, the film took in 27 million USD domestically, against 90 million USD production costs, so the chances for a sequel are slim.  The Numbers website puts worldwide revenue at 131 million USD, plus 19 million in disks. This does not increase the likelihood of a sequel by much.  Chances for a franchise: none.