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Gli intoccabili (1969)
Cassavetes is the real reason to see this movie
I don't mean to dismiss the rest of the actors in the semi-generic heist tale. Falk is fine, doing what he always does; Gena Rowlands is underused (but poignant) in a small role; and the rest of the supporting cast is professional and polished. And the movie is a nice, tight piece of work, embellished by crisp photography and a soundtrack by Morricone.
But even in this throw-away "tough-guy" role Cassavetes is always the most interesting actor in any scene he's in. He turns a simple conversation or walk through an airport into something that's a pleasure to watch unfold. As I once said about actor Fred Williamson, he's more interesting (and has more depth to his performance) walking down the street with his hands in his pockets than Stallone in full camouflage firing a SAW at his enemies in a "Rambo" flick. (Nothing against Stallone - he's great at what he does).
The movie itself is less than it could be because the anti-hero he plays is fairly despicable (his "heist" creates millions in damages, injures 30 innocent people, and could just have easily killed some or all of them), over-confident, and kind of stupid (for all his shrewd planning, he doesn't seem to have had a backup plan for when the Mob figures out he is responsible for the heist). And the subplot with Peter Falk's character horning in on Las Vegas seems completely cliched (I'm thinking the problem is due to a bunch of Italians trying to set a plot in Las Vegas when they ironically don't really have a feel for the characters or the ambiance).
And the ending is quite downbeat.
But it's still pretty good, and I liked it fine for what it was.
The Cold Equations (2011)
Low budget sci-fi drama sets up a dilemma and attempts to deal with it fairly
Like a lot of low budget direct-to-video/cable "classics", the screenplay here could easily have been adapted to a radio play, a stage play, or a Twilight Zone style episode (depending on the ambitions and budgets of the people involved.) It's really about the emotions and reactions of the two people stuck in a lose-lose situation. As such...it does a decent job.
It's nice that the screenplay didn't cheat on the premise (in order for the transport pod and its cargo to land safely, someone has to go out the airlock) and actually delivered the resolution we were promised, along with a textbook deployment of the Five Stages Of Grief.
The setup is done with some thought and care. (The movie even explains why the transport looks so cheap - it's a one-use vehicle made of "spun plastic" and everything on it will be recycled and reused once it lands. I liked that.) The supporting cast (in the world outside the transport pod) does everything they need to do to sell the movie. There really isn't a "flat tire" in the cast, in fact.
That taken care of...what about the real motor for the story - the interaction between the pilot and the stowaway?
It's OK. The two young actors aren't DeNiro and Streep, or MacKellen and Densch, but they keep things moving, they look good, they try hard, and I wouldn't hesitate to watch either of them in other roles. It's just that the story needed something more than a remake of "LifeBoat".
Is "Cold Equations" worth your time? Hard to say. I liked it, but I wasn't blown away by it. But it was decent entertainment for 90+ minutes.
Blood of the Vampire (1958)
Solid entry in the "Vampire Horror" sub-genre, but it won't make you forget Lugosi or Lee
As the lead review mentions, "Blood of the Vampire" starts out with a bang - a vivid, lurid, garish, and shocking "staking" scene worthy of the Hammer "Grand Guinol" tradition. And it has a fairly novel variation on the theme, i.e. the "vampire" is actually a scientist with a blood/anemia issue who must receive regular transfusions of blood from others to stay alive.
The rest of the movie is, well, bog-standard Only it seems to be the standard tropes from a "Frankenstein" movie instead of a "Dracula" one. (And maybe "The Count Of Monte Cristo.") I've got no problem with that (those aren't bad sources), but I do have a problem with the lack of forward momentum in the script at some points.
Also, Wolfert is OK, but in my mind, he doesn't bring anything special to the role. He doesn't have the charisma or polish of Lee, or Lugosi, or even Francis Lederer ( from "Return Of Dracula" released in the same year). Wolfert has a sinister mien and is suitably grumpy, mean, and ruthless...but he's not scary or intimidating or fascinating in and of himself. In a movie supposedly about vampires, that's also a problem.
So: I'd call it a watchable "Creature Feature"/Saturday Mantinee entry. It has a couple of new ideas, a hard working cast, decent photography, art direction, and sets, and it will keep you mildly entertained for a couple of hours.
You can't ask for much more than that.
Paradox Alice (2012)
Started out with some promise, turned into a dumpster fire
When you have an absolutely minimal budget for a "serious" science fiction film, the one place you have to invest your time and effort is not acting, not SFX, not music scores...it has to be the screenplay. The screenplay HAS to hold together with no major plot holes or absurdities, because you don't have anything to distract the audience from those problems. Even the dialog can kind of suck if the basic story line pulls you in and doesn't make you hoot with contemptuous laughter.
(Note: the rules are of course different for a space opera, or a fantasy, or a light-hearted adventure set in space. But the movie is presented as "hard" science fiction in the tradition of "The Expanse" or "Gravity")
Starting right out, "Paradox Alice" asks you to believe that one single tanker of water mined from a moon of Jupiter will be enough to make a difference to a world that has poisoned its oceans and aquifers. What's more, it asks you to believe that it is easier to create and launch interplanetary tanker ships with near-lightspeed engines than it is to figure out how to treat the water supply on the planet. (They could have fixed this with ONE line of dialog about the water on Europa having some special catalytic quality that would start a chain reaction that would fix the Earth's water supply or vastly dilute its toxicity).
OK, so mission accomplished, some reasonably decent scenes with the 4 person crew celebrating, relating to each other, and climbing into their life-support pods for the high-G trip back...and that's the last time anything in the film doesn't have me beating my head against the wall to distract from the the idiocy on screen.
The movie then asks you to believe that mankind's nuclear stockpiles are sufficient to vaporize the Earth AND pulverize the Moon. (In reality, the ecosystem might crumble to dust but the net effect would be similar to scraping the organic film off of a huge ball bearing). It asks you to believe that when the only female member of the crew is killed in the asteroid collision that follow, that one of the crew would then spontaneously mutate into a woman in response in an apparent attempt by our DNA to save the human race.
And apparently no one informed the film makers that two males and a female are not enough to re-establish a species. I think the magic number is actually around 200 members to establish a big enough genetic pool that the descendants are not hopelessly inbred past viability.
I might be OK with the film's lapse into fantasy and metaphor, but the characterization collapses as well. The new "woman" crew member seems to completely unable to resist or oppose the unwanted advances of the newly creepy would be rapist, nor to enroll the ship's AI in containing or stopping him. The other male crew member stops being a dynamic, forceful leader of a space expedition and turns into a lovesick, puppy-eyed dough-boy who can't or won't kick the butt of a baby-soft young guy with with no fighting experience. And the role of poor actor playing the "Christian" devolves into that of an utter creep, because apparently evangelism makes no provision for a moral or ethical foundation.
Some attempt is made to discuss issues such as gender roles, women's rights, genetics, manifest destiny, etc. They'd have been better off using bumper stickers.
In the end, this supposedly interplanetary ship becomes an interstellar ark (there's some hand waving about using the ship's "solar panels" to recharge the engines as the ship passes through various systems) and the ending is left ambiguous enough to leave room for a sequel. (Although how the sequel would provide anything for the surviving character to do is problematic).
The copy for the movie on Amazon Prime calls "Paradox Alice" "a cornerstone of a new wave of movies such as "Gravity". Don't believe this for a second. This movie is a incoherent mess that doesn't know what to do with the issues that it raises. The only good thing you can say about it is that the sets are decent, the actors look good (even O'Byrne as the fundamentalist), and the screenplay has a bit of fun when the characters argue with the ship's AI after the disaster and sex change bits.
Nice, tight "John Wick" clone, nearly ruined by one fatal performance
As over-the-top and insane as "Polar" tries to be, it still manages to sneak in some wry humor and human emotion here and there, and Mikkelsen turns in a near-perfect performance of his (admittedly, not very complex or subtle) role.
So I don't get it. Nearly every other aspect of the film is almost perfectly tuned and judged. So WTH happened with the role (and performance) of the lead villain?
Even if you can overlook the lazy, scenery chewing performance and unforgivably lazy acting choices made by the actor playing "Blut", the dynamics of the role make no sense. How can a buffoon like this possibly be in charge of a world-wide cadre of mercenary assassins? I know, it's intimated that he inherited the company from his daddy, and I get the "entitled rich kid" vibes, but you can't tell me that the people he supposedly bosses around wouldn't have flattened him like a cockroach and taken over within the first month of his reign. You MIGHT be able to make it work in a comic, but it sure doesn't work here.
Edit out "Blut"s footage and replace it with the same actor playing the role like Bond villain "Blofeld" (and allow his character to leak just a *little* bit of cheerful sadism), and "Polar" would have been damned near perfect. (For the genre of movie it is).
I still enjoyed "Polar"...I just had to hold my nose during the "Blut" scenes.
I wasn't expecting much, and got even less.
It's obvious that "Oblivion" is supposed to be a light-hearted adventure and a novelty fusion of Western and Science Fiction. And that would have been fine if Full Moon had actually produced that. Instead, we got a half-baked effort that needed a lot more work and polish. (But if we got that, it wouldn't have come from Full Moon, would it?)
First warning that things might not be as good as you'd hoped: the script is by Peter David. Now, Peter David is very good at what he usually does - writing off-beat, wry interpretations of familiar comic tropes. (His runs on "X-Factor" and "The Incredible Hulk" are classics of the genre). But it is tricky to make a successful transition from the comic page to the movie screen, especially when it comes to dialogue, especially FUNNY dialogue. (Just ask Roy Thomas or Gerry Conway, two fine, hard-working comics writers who co-wrote a "Conan" sequel that was one of the most embarrassing things to appear in the 80s or 90s). You can see how most of this would have been good if it was handled right. Instead, the cheap, off-hand, "just point the cameras and let them roll" direct-to-cable quality hamstrings everything. I'm certain that David was not happy with the results.
2nd warning that things might not be as good as you'd hope: the "Muppet"-like thing perched on top of the town sign in the opening credits just doesn't work. It's generic, badly animated, and looks as if someone walked off with a discard from the set of "The Dark Crystal".
And from that point on, the cheapness and shoddiness of the production undercuts everything. Nothing works here. Not the art direction, not the sets (which have a very unconvincing "ceiling fan" motif), not the plot, not the special effects, not the in-jokes.
I felt bad for George Takei, whose four "fan service" references to "Star Trek" whiff harder than a Pee-Wee batter facing Major League fastballs. In fact, I felt bad for nearly all the actors, and I doubt most of them will call a lot of attention to 'Oblivion' on their CVs.
"Oblivion" is not outright awful on an Ed Wood/Jerry Warren level (except for the "Star Trek" fan service.) No one blows their lines, some attempt is made at action and humor, Meg Foster is still hot in her spandex uniform, and about 1 joke in 5 sort of works. But you don't need to see this one unless you want to see every science fiction film ever made.
In which case, go to it.
Shall We Dance (1937)
Still worth seeing, but you've got to make some allowances
The classic Rogers/Astaire formula seems a little tired and forced here.
Sets and costumes still look great, the dancing is still amazing and inimitable, the dialog is sharp and witty for the most part, and it's still Gershwin and Gershwin providing the music and lyrics (even if Fred still isn't much of a singer).
But I had to sort of force myself to not think about the plot too critically. Rogers' character in particular was problematic and not especially likable. In previous films she had the ingenue role and tended to play a sweet young thing waiting to be discovered or whatever. Here, the character was a diva who pouts, strings suitors along and drops them like used tissue when it suits her purposes (or they displease somehow), and seems to expect everything in the world to revolve around her ( to be fair, everything mostly DOES revolve around her). Astaire is charming, cocky, and effervescent as always, but his character uses his privilege and position in unethical ways and is supposed to be a ballet principal dancer who wants to tap dance (as IF!! Not even in a romantic musical fantasy!)
It's a kludgy mixture of elements from Shakespeare comedies like "Twelfth Night" and "Much Ado About Nothing", and everything revolves around a simple misunderstanding that could have been resolved by about 3 lines of dialog (Or two: "Who was that woman? A very manipulative aristocrat I tried to throw off by pretending I was married because she wouldn't take "No" for an answer" would have done it ) and people giving other people the benefit of the doubt and not acting brain dead.
But instead, 2/3rds of the movie is a plastic hassle about a rumor/scandal that the two characters were married in secret ( in this day, would anyone even care?? ), and there's door slamming and locking, and people freaking out. and people walking into a room at exactly the wrong time, and yada-yada, oh gosh, it sure is hard to deal with the pressures of being a rich and privileged celebrity.
At the end, Fred and Ginger sing "Who's Got The Last Laugh Now", in which the lyrics have them gloating about winning through to romantic love...but in truth, no one in the film's world (except the countess, and Ginger's and maybe Fred's managers) ever stood in their way in the first place - it was all stubbornness, bad tempers, arrogance, and over-privileged mindsets. So...not as enjoyable as some of their previous excursions.
It's what they thought was funny at the time...but it sure doesn't age well.
Oh, and Ginger's manager should have been punched in the mouth and then thrown overboard for his actions in perpetuating the "scandal", and no one seems to be worried about the ethics of his actions.
As for the music: the Gershwins didn't hit it out of the park with every song they ever wrote (there are a couple of time-fillers here), and I've heard better performances of most of their classics by later luminaries like Maureen McGovern, and Ella Fitzgerald. They don't have the same impact coming out of Fred Astaire and it's a let down.
But enough of my grousing. I still found a lot to like, and audiences back then in the middle of the Depression probably found a lot more.
Five Loose Women (1974)
Delivers just about everything you would expect and want in a drive-in exploitation film.
While the movie is no great shakes on a production or technical level, the screenplay for "Fugitive Girls" (the most "explicit" version of "5 Loose Women") pretty much lives up to the promise of the lurid, overheated copy on the poster. (Although only one of the girls could be considered a "victim" being violated. The other four characters are rough cobbs who actually do most of the violating. But this is a good thing, because otherwise you'd feel like a sex bully for watching)
It's got repeated shots of blank-faced women pulling off their shirts to reveal some pretty decent "racks". It's got lesbianism, and lesbian and straight sexual assault. It's got young women behind bars (for the first 10 minutes, anyway), young women on the run, and young women taking the Tura Satana route and kicking the crap out of the men who underestimate them. It's got bikers, hippies, counter-culture rebels, pot-bellied county deputies in sun-glasses, and other caricatures. It's even got Ed Wood Jr. in a couple of cameos playing (badly) a geezer who is so dumb he calls the sheriff on the phone not more than 10 feet from the gang while they fill up their stolen car at his gas pump.
It has exactly the payoff you were expecting at the climax, and then doesn't know when to quit and goes on for another 12-13 minutes (because apparently the director or Ed Wood always wanted to do "The Defiant Ones".) (This cost it a star or two). (This was a poor editing decision, obviously). It has some decent-to-terrible performances sprinkled throughout (like a pizza with everything), often from the same performers, often in the same scene. It has some decent mood music - the same wocka-jawocka psychedelic funk rock you always get in a movie in this genre, but well mixed and usually appropriate to whatever's going on on the screen at the time.
In short, this is exactly the kind of "R" film you would expect to see at your local drive-in ( you would have hoped for better and more explicit, but knew you had to take what you could get.) So: 5 stars (because it really is a sleazy piece of trash), but thumbs up - because in spite of plot holes, cardboard characters, filming errors, and no budget, you can tell the director is not holding anything back.
A Field in England (2013)
I think Wheatley made the film he wanted to make (and that's the problem)
First of all, the movie looks amazing, even (especially?) in black and white. The cinematography, the lighting, the staging, the props, the costumes...the movie draws you in and turns what was probably a fairly mundane set of hedgerows and wheat-fields into a deranged mystic nightmare. So props for that.
However, there is such a thing as a movie (or any other work of art) being so loaded with so much symbolism that it becomes opaque and inaccessible to anyone who isn't up on the featured field of philosophy or political or religious thinking, and "A Field In England" sins mightily in this regard.
I read enough Robert Anton Wilson, etc, to have some familiarity with the workings and 'inner meanings' of alchemy, and I understood that every character here (including the movie itself) was a symbol/metaphor/simile for various points of view and political/religious beliefs. But after a certain point, the plot seemed to stick its head up its nether regions and just churn around for a while. The net effect was a weird cross between a medieval "mystery play", "Waiting For Godot", Kafka's "The Trial", and the scene in "Monty Python and The Holy Grail" where one mud-smeared peasant offers the other one "a lovely bit of filth".
Now, I personally think that's what the director and the screenwriter were going for. And I commend their willingness to make the effort and to make a highly non-commercial, hard-core "art house" movie. But was the end result worth it? Not to me...it ended up feeling empty and hollow.
I don't regret the time and effort I made to watch and try to "process" this movie...but I don't think I need (or want) to see it again.
Split Lip (2019)
Great looking movie, wonderful casting and acting, screen play leaks sawdust from its seams
It's hard judge to "Split Lip" fairly. The cinematography and acting are excellent, and the movie is worth watching for these facets alone...IF you don't mind some brutal, in-your-face violence and a nihilistic world view with barely any room for humanity. And a plot that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
I get that this is a fantasy where hit-men and paid killers are everywhere, as thick as leaves upon the ground, and that somehow killers who prefer dispatching the victims with their fists (and various melee weapons like ball bats and brass knuckles) are favored over shooters because beating the victims to death "sends a message"
But a bullet to the head sends a loud and clear message with a lot less fuss. So the movie has a credibility problem no matter how you try to buy into it,
Of course, I was impressed by the casting and performance of the lead actress and protagonist of the piece, who emits pure feral energy and diamond hard resolve in every scene. It's an amazing performance, the main reason to see the movie, and I hope she goes on to bigger and more subtle things.
The inclusion of the "Samuel" character was a fatal flaw in the movie . Nothing against the actor, who was engaging, who managed to deliver some nearly undeliverable lines of dialog, and worked hard to sell the role. But the character himself, and his role in the plot....well, it strained credulity to the breaking point. There's being "naive and idealistic" and there's being an idiot (I will admit, the "faceless dance" interlude was nice.) The only believable part of his character arc was its ending and his final fate. (He survives, but seems to be a broken man). Maybe that was the point?
Also, the movie has trouble explaining how this organization of hit-men and assassins is supposed to work. "Set" is marked for death because she left a witness alive, and she seems to be "one of the best there is" at this...but her assailants seem to find her effortlessly no matter where she hides, people apparently commit their kills and assaults in broad daylight, while being incredibly sloppy and careless about who else they kill in the process, and at least twice they warn her in advance that they are coming to kill her and set up a meeting ground. Ummm, no. I don't care what kind of weird Ronin/code of honor these guys have...no one would do that, even out of "professional courtesy".
Also, minus one point for the art direction for overusing plastic drop cloths and tarps in various sets. I get it, it's a signifier for catching all the spilled blood in the movie (and it's cheap set dressing) but...it's overused.
I was also annoyed by the denouement, which left the fate of the lead character unresolved. The whole point of the movie was, "What will happen to Set?", and we don't get an "ending", just a final speech and a decision to be made by the witness who was left alive.
Now, part of me thinks that the director made this entire movie just so he could end with the emotion of the final scene ringing in the audience's mind, but it feels to me like a cop out. Someone else might feel differently.
So: nice "art house film" (although there's lots more intense violence than in a "typical" art house film") . It's more concerned with mood and emotion than with making sense or answering the questions it raises. A little more polish to the screenplay, a larger budget to cover some of the obvious improvisations and shortcuts, and this could have been a lot better and accessible. As is it's just one of those films that you like but can't justify sharing with anyone else.
Not entirely without merit, but really amateurish and clunky
I think the first problem with this movie was that the director and screenwriter thought they had created a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, when in fact they had written a Garth Ennis ("Preacher", "The Punisher", "Constantine") outline for a graphic novel. I enjoy the work of comics writer Ennis, but it takes a certain skill-set and talent to translate comic book dialog to the movie screen, and these folks haven't got that talent, at least not yet. (They think they do, but that's part of the problem).
The second problem was that it looks as if no one bothered to rehearse any of the scenes before filming. Some of the cast members have talent and charisma (and no one flubs their lines or looks self conscious with the camera rolling), but everyone here is playing the broadest of caricatured stereotypes with less nuance than you'd see in a good high school drama department's presentation of the same material. And lines that probably appeared cheerfully nihilist, irreverent, and funny on paper fall flat and die again and again.
The third problem is that the creative crew's strategy to make up for lack of decent sets and lighting was to use video color filtering on nearly every scene. Everything is grainy and crappy looking and that gets old. (I assume this was done intentionally to set a mood).
The fourth (HUGE) problem is that the sound track is grating and monotonous. I understand what they are going for and why they are limiting themselves to sleazy blues and metal guitar in the background, but that doesn't change the fact that there's just too much of it, and it gets boring and irritating after a while. (I have the same problem with all-synthesizer scores in other cheaply made movies, nothing against the musicians here).
And the movie just stops dead with at least one of the plot threads unresolved (or two depending on how you interpret it). I will give the movie credit for a final "stinger" that's funny in context.
I hate to say patronizing stuff like "Not bad for a first effort with local talent", (that makes me sound like a pretentious jerk), but there it is. With more polish and rehearsal and maybe some collaboration with a professional or two, this might have been decent, maybe 5 stars.
Should you watch it? I leave that up to the reader. This might be the perfect movie cocktail for someone with different expectations or in a different mood.
Robo Vampire (1988)
Explores new frontiers in dopiness and slapdash carelessness
About 25 seconds into this mess, I thought I recognized the hand of Godfrey Ho or perhaps one of his disciples (although "Joe Livingstone" gets the directorial credit). The silly fights; the over-mixed Foley and sound effects; the horrible dubbing; the lines of dialog that seemed to be written by 9th graders; the exclusive use of first names for the "good guy" characters; the laughably inappropriate casting of various Western actors in bit parts...and then about 15 minutes in, the introduction of a completely different cast and story that seemed to have nothing to do with the first story...it HAD to be Godfrey Ho.
And sure enough, it was.
Ho could put together a halfway decent action movie when he could be bothered, but mostly he seemed to specialize in cobbling together unreleased/unusable 3rd rate crime dramas and action movies with his own footage of whatever exploitation trash would pull in the 10th graders and bored drunks at the grind-houses (ninjas, vampires, cyborgs, whatever) and presenting the hybrid fusion as a new movie, usually called something like "Ninja Terminator".
Trouble is, in this case, he didn't even have Pierre Kirby or Richard Harrison (two hack actors who were at least photogenic and charismatic) for his new footage, and the seams where the two movies are joined together are even shoddier than usual. Even without the pretense that these two stories have anything to do with each other, the individual stories are amazingly dopey and sloppy on their own, and display inconsistencies and plot holes you could drive a bulldozer through.
To continue: the so-called special effects for the Robocop stand-in wouldn't pass muster in a community theater science fiction play. "Agent Tom" wears a silver lame jumpsuit with padding and a salad bowl, goggles, and a walkie-talkie antenna for a helmet. After his "death" he gets assembled in a 30 second montage with all the drama of a high-school shop soldering project. (And then RE-assembled at another after he gets blown up by an RPG with the same amount of difficulty and drama...that is to say, none at all).
The "vampires" (this may be a mistranslation, since they don't suck blood...walking dead/zombies? Hungry ghosts?) hop around with their arms held out in front of them (this actually could be a typical Chinese visual trope, I don't know). A "Daoist priest" wields ancient mystical forces like a broom for the most mundane of reasons (to sell "drugs", I think). There's a weird subplot about a lady ghost and a "vampire beast" that comes and goes almost at random. There's an interminable chase scene where the "Vampire Beast" hops down either a subway tunnel or pedestrian overpass and the "Robo" hero plods after him and nothing of interest happens for a seeming eternity.
I could overlook all of this if there was some Pierre Kirby in here (see above), or if the fight scenes in either story made any sense or had any energy, or even if the characters had last names. But this mix is not only nonsensical, it's dreary looking, dull, repetitive and goes nowhere.
Um, there IS a fairly funny moment early in the film where one of the "comic relief" henchmen characters lights some incense over the casks containing the vampires and smuggled merchandise and says "Bless our drugs". So there's that.
You may want to watch this just to see how stupid and careless a movie can get (that's why I hung in until the end.) This one scrapes the bottom of the barrel.
Travelling Salesman (2012)
If you understand the conundrum involved, you will probably enjoy it.
If you want to get an easy handle on this film, think of "12 Angry Men", only with math and computer science geniuses. The structure is similar - 5 individuals, one room, a heavy discussion about one topic, with most of the group one of side of the issue, trying to convince a lone hold out. (That's oversimplified and not entirely accurate, but that's close).
It takes some very good actors, and some very good film making, to keep a viewer's interest up for something like this, even if the viewer understands the concepts and implications of what's being discussed and what's at stake. (Quick summary: a break through in decryption and search technology that can find and punch through previously trusted data-protection schemes like a hot knife through butter.) I credit the actors and director here with a very good job indeed of working through the exposition heavy script and keeping the energy up, and I credit the screenplay with translating some very chewy IT and math concepts with a minimum of jargon and a serious attempt to accurately convey what's going on.
I liked it. I wasn't especially happy with the ending (I am not sure any ending would have satisfied me), but I liked it. I might even watch it again sometime, just to appreciate the craft and polish that went into what was essentially a stage play put on film.
Tangent Room (2017)
Winds for a big punch that it never quite lands
I went into "Tangent Room" with very few expectations - four (eventually five) actors in a room arguing about ideas is nothing new as a premise. But if it is done well, the premise can make for an interesting "Twilight Zone" experience, and that's almost always worth having.
And it starts out pretty well - the introduction of the characters is well done; the actors are interesting to watch; they can work a dialog-heavy script with crispness and verve; the central mystery driving the plot is reasonably Kafka-esque; and the swerve into paranoia and survival mode is delivered nicely.
There's even some nice "mood shots" of the star-filled night skies outside the observatory (where the characters supposedly are trapped) to give the viewer a break from all the claustrophobia.
So I can buy the premise - four scientists working with a mysterious string of numbers somehow deduce that reality is about to collapse, and then their efforts to arrive at a solution is hindered as reality starts to collapse around them.
But somewhere in the middle of an endless and annoying string of jump cuts and editing tricks, the screenplay overtaxes my patience and loses my interest, because apparently all the director really wanted to do was use the discontinuity film tricks from "Altered States" .
And the end resolution doesn't work. The scientists don't actually "do" anything that I can see once they discover the problem - it's their simple presence in the room and their unified will - and the will of their other-dimensional counterparts (NOT their brilliance) that saves reality. (So a bunch of plumbers,architects and ad execs who were sufficiently motivated, imaginative, and informed could have done the same thing).
There's a big concept to deliver, and the movie just doesn't have the moxie to do that in the space it has. (I'm not sure ANY movie on a scale less than "2001" or "The Matrix" could deliver on the idea).
So...even with few expectations, and not expecting anything more than a good "Twilight Zone" episode, I still felt let down.
But it wasn't a bad way to spend an hour plus, and I enjoyed watching the actors work their craft and build the mystery in the opening minutes.
Los Parecidos (2015)
This would have been one of the best Twilight Zone episodes EVER
I liked a lot of things about "The Similars (Los Parecidos)" once I got used to the slightly different standards and tropes of Mexican film making. It wasn't perfect, but it was well made and thought out....in spite of the somewhat derivative feel of the story.
When I say "derivative", I'm saying that I saw influences from the TZ episode with Billy Mumy, "Night Of The Living Dead", Philip K Dick's "Ubik" (or his Mexican equivalent) and every other "band of survivors trapped together in a seemingly apocalyptic scenario". But those aren't bad influences. And some of the plotting was very clever - I saw the first plot twist coming a mile away (the little boy is causing all this awful stuff to happen with his mental powers) but was totally sandbagged by the 2nd one just before the end.
On the other hand, the attempts to invoke social relevance with references to student demonstrations seemed heavy-handed and clumsy. The script had enough paranoia and fear going on in the bus station without trying to be socially relevant.
The acting was, well... appropriate to the story and the scenario. Nothing subtle or nuanced going on here, but on the other hand, that's not what was called for (lots of declaiming and yelling is what was called for). And the cinematography that drained all the color and life out of the scenery added greatly to the atmosphere.
What made the movie stand out, to me, was the inclusion of the comic book story read (and shown) to us by the little boy (also titled "Los Parecidos") that added a genuinely unsettling feel to the proceedings and explained some (but not all) of what was going on...without letting the audience off the hook even one little bit.
So: "The Similars" is worth watching if you enjoy weird survival horror or body horror, or a genuinely creepy vibe.
Tokyo Tribe (2014)
Ummm...interesting, sort of....
Give the movie (and the director) credit: watching this movie is like drowning in cotton candy. Neon, supersaturated colors, spectacle, glitter and glare and gorgeous visuals everywhere you look, attractive people (well, women, anyway) striking evocative poses, and a decidedly epic "feel".
And now the bad news: For all its visual flair, "Tokyo Tribe" takes forever to get off its butt and have something actually happen. And you can't keep the players straight to save your life.
I'll be honest: I understand why some people are drawn to rap and hip-hop, but I am not one of those people. And to me, Japanese teens aping the beats and style of legendary rappers are at least as silly as American preppies doing the same. So when the move spends nearly 30 MINUTES introducing the various gangs (each with their own raps and boasts) without moving the plot forward, I basically threw up my hands and said, "Who cares??"
Call this one a misfire. I am tempted to find a copy of "Why Don't You Play In Hell?" and see if the writing and screenplay work in that one, because Sono obviously has some kind of thematic axe to grind, and it might work better for me in a different vehicle.
Anti Matter (2016)
Some aspects of this movie are very well done indeed - others, not so much.
I watch a lot of movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime that apparently were released direct to cable/DVD/streaming sites or sank without a trace before they ever made it to the theaters where I live, and this is pretty typical of what you get from that level of film making. But there's plenty to enjoy if you keep your expectations appropriate to the budget.
"Anti Matter" is pretty good. It looks good, it sounds good. The cast is interesting and attractive and works well together, and the screenplay sets up an enigma that it tries hard to play fair with.
But the writing lacks the final level of polish that would make this a great movie.
It isn't quite clever enough to live up to the premise it sets itself about what happens when a human goes through a teleporter and then wakes up with no memory of the event. Or rather, the screenplay builds the sense of creepiness and unease (and is about 15 minutes too long), but the solution, when you finally get to it, is unsatisfying (though I will admit it took me by surprise.)
I blame a lot of that on the obviously tiny budget and the semi-pro level of writing that got a lot of good moments into the movie, but just couldn't go deep enough with the time and budget they had.
That said, this was still worth watching, and I would happily try another movie from this same group or these actors.
Mô hitori iru (2002)
Reasonably entertaining small scale Japan ghost horror flick
This movie has its moments, but maybe not enough of them to justify your time.
The Amazon Prime synopsis (fashion models doing a photo shoot in an abandoned school who are beset by supernatural forces) made me think that this was actually another, better known Japanese horror film reviewed favorably in "DVD Delirium 2", but 5 minutes into it, I realized that it was a different movie altogether.
But that's OK.
The movie has a very small cast - three young schoolgirls, a female chaperone, a male photographer, and two male representatives of the fashion photography industry (oh, and a walk-on role by a yellow journalist in the prologue and epilogue). All the actors are decent-to-pretty good, even the girls. (I was lucky to see this the Japanese language version with subtitles, so their performances weren't compromised by a bad or indifferent dub.) But the characters are cardboard, so it's hard to care a lot about their fates, and the lack of outside interaction makes for a fairly sterile and unexciting environment.
On second thought, that might be what the director was trying for - a sterile, airless, self-contained environment that allows nothing in or out- not unlike a mirror. There's certainly enough professionalism on display that I wouldn't discredit the notion that this extra depth was intended as part of the movie's "feel". But it didn't make for a better movie for whatever reasons.
The driving motor for the screenplay is that one of the young girls makes an angry wish into a pair of mirrors and somehow unleashes a curse that brings the group's doppelgangers to life, and each doppelganger is a nemesis that proceeds to kill its real life counterpart.
This isn't a bad idea, it just isn't very fresh; the set up is kind of flat and the execution is just OK. It lets the director do some of the standard "malevolent, inexplicable, and unstoppable girl ghost with jump cuts and crawling" tropes that the Japanese do so well (which makes sense, since this director later did the originals of "The Grudge", "The Ring", etc). If you like that sort of thing, you'll get a fair amount of it here. That might be all you want, and if so, go to it; you'll be happy.
The movie is quite short, barely more than an hour, and manages several creepy moments on what appears to be a very small budget (most of the special effects are effective, but not especially impressive.) So I say...Not bad. 6 (just barely) out of 10.
"Grotesque" starts out with some florid narration that turns out to be part of a "movie within a movie" that's meant to introduce the audience to a special effects makeup expert who is good at creating monster masks and costumes. OK, fair enough, so now we have an excuse for the director to include all kinds of mood shots of demons, grotesqueries, etc. as the story unfolds.
That's about the last good decision the director (or the screenplay) makes.
And, let's see, the synopsis says that a "gang of vicious "punkers"" are the primary motivator for the events of the movie, so that's fine...oh dear. There's over-the-top performances, and then there's...whatever this is. Seriously, punkers? The gang members from "Last House on the Left" and the serial killers from "The Devil's Rejects" just called, they think maybe you should dial it back a notch.
And, let's see...the screen play proceeds to lurch wildly all over the place, unsure if it's going for horror, suspense, comedy, women-in-trouble...holy heck, what's TAB HUNTER doing in here? What's ROBERT Z'DAR doing in here? What's...well, I know what Linda Blair is doing in here, she's trying to keep her career alive, and as an actress she's OK for the part. She screams convincingly, emits fear and panic, etc., like the little pro she was.
OK, so at least we'll have an ending to wrap things up and put "paid" to all the silliness before it...no? Movie, are you sure you're going to go for THIS weird thing, completely unjustified by anything that came before it?
Yeah? Well, fine. Just get it over with and out of my face, would ya?
"Grotesque" actually had a little bit of potential, especially if you liked the implications of "Old Dark House" style movies, or "Last House On The Left" and "The Hills Have Eyes". But the director bites off big, indigestible wads of screenplay that he doesn't have the ability to make work or even watchable.
I would't bother with this unless it's about all you've got to watch.
Death Grip (2012)
Great fun, could have been a classic with a little more polish
I found "Death Grip" in a Mill Creek compilation (one of those "10 movies for $5" DVD things), and the enthusiastic reviews on the cover persuaded me to give it a try. Well, my curiosity was rewarded with what appears to be an overlooked diamond in the rough, and I really enjoyed seeing it.
So why only 7 stars?
When I say "diamond in the rough", I mean "ROUGH". It's a pity that Jacobus couldn't have collaborated with some more experienced film professionals, who could have had the actors tweak their line deliveries here and there, edited things a bit tighter, lit things a bit brighter in a few places, etc. In this, I think the inevitable comparisons to Jackie Chan and modern Hong Kong martial arts extravaganzas are apt - acting, pacing, and plot are weaknesses there, too.
OTOH, I give the screenplay credit for trying to insert some humanity and characterization into the bare-bones action oriented story and dialog, and some of the little touches here and there are very well done (for instance, the first 5 minutes features a punch in the nose that is worth the price of admission). And the fight sequences are ferociously energetic and entertaining.
I liked this enough that I plan to track down previous and future "Stunt People" productions, and as a "minor league/low budget" martial arts genre piece, this is easily an 8. But as a "real" movie (one I would show my wife or my non-MA friends), the rough spots and half-baked screenplay drop it down a notch.
Atlantic Rim (2013)
(Sticks finger down throat, mimes gagging)
On the positive side, the movie CGI (or at least the monsters and robots) looked...OK. And also this movie had Graham Greene in it (who I will forever treasure for his character Edgar "K.B." Montrose from the "Red Green Show"), so it gave at least one good actor paying work.
But the screenplay was a slapdash, incoherent mess; the editing and flow of scenes and events made no sense; the acting wouldn't pass muster on a soap opera (although the three leads were at least attractive and charismatic); and nothing had any weight or consequence.
This is the kind of movie where a giant "mech" can tussle with a giant "kaiju" on the beach of a major city, and in the aftermath there are dozens of bodies in the streets of the city, but we never see ANY of those people getting in harm's way during the fight. (OK, there was a misfire of a mech weapon, but it hit ONE office building).
This is also the kind of movie where some random guy who is worried about his daughter being trapped in a bar that's on fire (for some reason), ignores all the soldiers and army vehicles in the area and goes directly to the unarmed/unequipped guy in a spandex bodysuit for help. Did he see the spandex guy come out of the mech? Is the mech even in the area anymore? Nothing in the film indicates this. And this isn't even the guy or the mech that fought the first sea monster. Of course, it's just a ploy to give hero/actor #2 HIS chance to be "heroic", but the sequence is so obviously pasted in that it's embarrassing to watch.
This is also the kind of movie where the placeholder "Bad Guy" (you know he's a Bad Guy because he has an eye-patch) wants to nuke the city during the second "Kaiju" fight (in spite of the mechs appearing to hold their own), and delivers his lines through teeth clenched so hard it's a wonder the poor actor has any molars left. Also, it's pathetically obvious that the screenplay wants to rip off the missile catching sequence from the end of "The Avengers". Again, It's kind of embarrassing to watch.
I've seen movies with worse production values, with worse acting, even with worse plots. There's a few decent action scenes, and the CG is OK, if you don't look too close. But the writers appear to have no idea how human beings (let alone soldiers) act, or talk, and the screenplay is so obviously a wanna-be rip-off of superior earlier movies that it's (again) kind of embarrassing to watch.
Scream and Scream Again (1970)
Wild, weird, and mean
I originally was under the impression that this was a "Hammer" studio production (due to the participation of Lee and Cushing), but it turns out to be the product of rival studio, "Amicus", who also turned out at least one other interestingly weird horror/science hybrid called "Horror Express", which featured SPOILER ALERT
Yetis from outer space
I bailed out of "Scream" the first time I tried to watch it because it seemed to be just too grim, cold, and mean-spirited for the mood I was in. But a later, successful viewing confirmed that while my initial impression was justified, the movie turned out to be both more AND less grim and mean-spirited than I first thought...not so much a "death march", but more of a "mazurka" where the participants routinely get their skulls crushed. No, really.
For instance, the title song for the soundtrack is performed in a (ahem) "swinging" discotheque by a groovy "Mod" band, but it's not about murder, it's about, well, yelling and partying at the top of your lungs. But at the same time, the "Vampire Killer" is stalking his prey among the various revelers, so the double entendre actually lends a mordant irony to the proceedings. Then the police chase the VK all over the city and countryside for more than 10 minutes of screen time in a very energetic, "see-saw" series of events (including one where the VK pulls his own forearm off to escape the handcuffs), only to end the chase by jumping in a vat of acid (!)
BTW, that vat of acid shows up a LOT in the 2nd half of the film, because that's the kind of film this is - it seems like half the cast eventually ends up jumping or being pushed into it.
The whole movie is like that. People are casually and brutally murdered and/or vivisected through the course of the screenplay, but the engine of the plot isn't serial killers and torturers, but rather a conspiracy of cyborgs who are murdering their way into positions of power across the globe. Peter Cushing is in here for about 5 minutes, and then his character is casually killed off. Vincent Price is the "mad scientist" who turns out to be creating the cyborgs by cutting body parts off unwilling"volunteers", but his character seems somewhat befuddled and confused. Christopher Lee is in about 4 scenes for 10 minutes, and while his character seems to be integral to the plot, his motivations are never clear, and he doesn't seem to be the least bit happy about things, just grim and driven. The real "star" of the proceedings turns out to be the police inspector in charge of the investigation, and he's bright, and funny, and no-nonsense, but 3/4 of the way through, HE gets bumped off.
And then with the only likable and effective character gone, you assume that Evil will triumph in some sort of Grand Guignol apocalypse, only to have half the bad guys turn on the other half and almost everyone ends up in the aforementioned acid bath. So...the good guys win... Yaaay? Well, sort of, but not really.
A truly convoluted and complicated movie that makes up in atmosphere what it lacks in forward momentum. Worth seeing if you like that idea.
Deadly Prey (1987)
If you're going to rip off Rambo and "Most Dangerous Game", do it better than this.
Yes, this movie falls into the "So Bad It's Good" category. But unlike some reviewers here, I don't reward these kind of movies with 9's and 10's - I give them stars based on the actual quality of what I see on the screen and save "metatextual" ideas for other forums. So yes, I will willingly sit down and watch (and enjoy) a bad movie while acknowledging it's terrible. But that won't change the score.
Anyway, "Deadly Prey". Cheese oozes out of every pore of this film, and the plot combines total incoherence with a complete misunderstanding of physics, mercenaries, grenades, and character arcs.
Problem number one: You don't train mercenaries by having them run down unarmed and helpless civilians on your home grounds. (You may turn them into sadists, but you won't make them better soldiers.) Mercenaries in foreign wars have to stalk and fight GROUPS of people who are armed, on THEIR native ground, who know how to evade and take cover,and most importantly, set traps, ambush, and shoot back. So all the "Colonel" is doing is drawing possible heat from authorities without doing a thing for his troops' actual combat abilities. If anything, he's making them LESS combat-ready by inflating their confidence without giving the skills to back it up. So the whole premise of the movie is, well, stupid.
Problem number two: the Colonel goes on and on about how he wants Danton working for him again, because Danton is such a bad ass. But his right hand man casually takes Danton down in 30 seconds midway through the film. (So Danton has to escape to get the film going again). So the Colonel already has an "ultimate soldier" working for him - why does he need Danton? So the other big premise of the movie is, well, stupid.
And for all the "action" and combat, the screenplay has no forward momentum and keeps using the same tropes over and over. People are forever being sneaked (snuck?) up on and being told to "HOLD IT!!!!" Danton keeps being captured and recaptured and escaping and re-escaping. The Colonel keeps making the same speeches over and over and over again. Groups of mercenaries keep running through the woods, yelling about "splitting up", in spite of the fact that doing that makes it easier for Danton to kill them with a big knife or a booby trap. (Which he does).
Cameron Mitchell is in here for a bit. It's kind of sad, watching him try to deliver a decent performance with what he has to work with. His character dies uselessly, and has no effect on the end results of the plot. Bye-bye, Cameron!
This could have been a pretty good Rambo parody with a little more comic timing and delivery. Leslie Nielsen would have been great as the Colonel. Or even as Danton. But they played it absolutely straight here, more's the pity.
The Signal (2014)
3/4 of a really good movie
I have to admit that I was won over by the movie's characters and plot early on, and wanted it to be a classic. But it didn't quite pan out that way.
"The Signal" has a lot of good things going for it. The characters are intelligent, resourceful, and likable...but human and vulnerable. The mystery presented by the screenplay is creepy and unsettling. The cast is great and completely believable in their roles. The movie pays a lot of attention to the little details of their world-building (for instance that is a genuine TCP conversation rolling by on the screens of the laptop as the two hackers try to track down their nemesis in the first 10 minutes ) The movie looks great (especially for the relatively small budget) and every dollar of the budget appears on screen.
So what's the problem? Well, the movie is either 20 minutes too long or an hour too short. The big twist and reveal at the end, while better than anything Shymalan has done in 15 years, leaves the viewer wanting more and full of unanswered questions. I'm not saying there aren't a lot of successful movies out there that pull this same trick ("Blair Witch Project", "2001", and "Skyline" come to mind), but I found it especially disappointing here. (I especially don't understand what SPOILER ALERT!!! ..the aliens hope to accomplish by amping up human subjects with "techno-organic" cyborg parts - for instance, the hero can now run at hundreds of MPH, but one heat seeking missile, and he'd be history.) End SPOILER ALERT
Worth seeing, especially if you love a mystery with an admirable teenage hero. Just expect to be disappointed by how it ends.
Aliens: Zone of Silence (2017)
Looks great, makes very little psychological sense
Oh, by all means, let's have a young woman, who looks like a fashion magazine cover and who weighs maybe 102 lbs soaking wet, go out into the desert all by herself into a mysterious area in the Mexican desert where able-bodied men have disappeared without a trace.
Let's load her up with enough gear to daunt a 22 year old Seal and have her tramp through sandstorms and desert heat in broad daylight without a HAT to protect her from the sun.
Let's have her only backup be a former Marine hacker type hundreds of miles away using communication links and technology that have been known to fail in this "area". Let her plan be to set up motion detectors and cameras around her tent at night so she can see what might be intruding on her campground, while supplying her with nothing to actually defend herself - apparently the plan is to let the tent walls keep out anything really "bad" ,including rapists, biker gangs, militia, wolf packs, or actual aliens.(Seriously, she doesn't seem to have so much as a pen knife.)
Let's have her stick around even when she finds evidence that her missing brother had been there, even though the absolute smartest play would have been to sprint back to her abandoned car and have the marine tech guy call for backup, towing services, rescue crews and everything else. Especially when she starts seeing mysterious flashing lights where no lights should be, and catches them with her camera gear. (THERE'S your evidence - go get help, ya dummy!)
OK - for what it's worth, I agree with the director's decision to let the movie's final glimpse of the "aliens" (or whatever they were) remain ambiguous and amorphous. The whole idea of the movie was that this "phenomenon" was otherworldly and hard to make out, and IMO a crystal clear shot of a Bug Eyed Gray Man etc would have spoiled things.
Also, for what it's worth: the movie works hard to make the most of its location - some of the scenes look great. The actress playing the explorer is attractive and likable and brings a certain feistiness to her role (even if the character acts like an idiot). The dialog between the characters mostly works, especially the early "vacation" footage that takes place before things get harsh. There's some nice japery and humor here and there. The movie even manage to create some anxiety and dread in a few places, and I did care about the heroine's fate.
All in all: for fans of "found footage horror movie" sub-genre or anyone not too particular about how they spend a couple hours exploring the Netflix horror backlog.