Monday, May 31, 2010

'Charlie's Death Wish' is low-budget fun

Charlie's Death Wish (2005)
Starring: Phoebe Dollar, Ron Jeremy Hyatt, John Fava, and Marc Knudson
Director: Jeff Leroy
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After her sister is murdered in prison, young Charlie Durham (Dollar) goes on a killing spree to avenge her, violently dispatching anyone connected to her death. Meanwhile, the police detective assigned to stop and catch her (Hyatt) finds himself in the awkward postion of admiring her handiwork, because she is mostly dispatching people he hates.

"Charlie's Death Wish" is a tongue-in-cheek, low-budget action/comedy that moves along at a pace so brisk that the generally weak acting, poor dialogue, and unfocused script almost become non-issues. For a violent, gory low-budgeter, this is a surprisingly well-done film.

But, it's not exactly good. With the exception of Ron Jeremy Hyatt and John Fava (who play a pair of police detectives on the trail of our vigilante heroine, the acting here is pretty amateurish--and this even includes the star, Phoebe Dollar. Dollar isn't exactly bad, but she doesn't have the skill to carry off scenes where she has to show emotion, such as the one where she is confronted by an obnoxious documentarian (a character who is a cross between Michael Moore and a freak who was once a mainstay of public access TV here in northwestern Washington named Richard Lee, played by Marc Knudson). Dollar can strut about and look sexy or tough. She can also manage menacing. But she can't handle angry, or even sad. At least not yet.

Watching Dollar in this film, there are glimmers of what she could become, acting-wise, if she sticks with it, and I'm sure she does just fine in smaller roles. (Her performance almost feels as if she's a stage actor in front of the camera for the first time--something I know isn't the case

Another problem with the film is the scattered focus of the script. It tries to tackle too many things--being an action film with comedic elements AND attempting to make fun of conspiracy theorist filmmakers AND making fun of the gun-loving subculture in the United States AND making fun of dopeheads and druglords. All of these elements COULD perhaps have been tackled comfortably if the script had gone through a couple more drafts, but as it exists, they are presented in a loosely connected jumble. The antics of the documentarian are particularly annoying, because for most of the film they are unconnected detours from Charlie's murderous rampage.

I've been harping on the film's weak points, but I want to stress that this is actually not a bad little movie. It was clearly made by a crew that understand the limitations of making a movie on a very tight budget, and they understand how to get the most for their special effect dollars and how to use lighting and editing to stretch those even further. What's more, the filmmakers don't waste any time, nor do they pad out the film with overlong establishing shots and other filler material; everything on the screen is there for a reason.

I was also impressed with the model effects in the film. There are two model/blue-screen sequences of the kind that I didn't think were still being used, and I suspect at least 1/4 of the film's budget was consumed by them. First, there is a street scene and exploding building that is incredibly well-done (the flying body and the accompanying scream is guarenteed to make you laugh). Then there's the fiery destruction of the Hollywood sign, another very well-done model effect. These are both very fun moments in the film, and they're also excellently done from a technical standpoint.

"Charlie's Death Wish" may not be on the level of even Jean-Claude Van Damme's latest, but it's worth checking out. (If noting else, it's guarenteed to be funnier than Seagal's latest.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

'House of 9' is fairly unremarkable

House of 9 (2006)
Starring: Dennis Hopper and Kelly Brook
Director: Steven R. Monroe
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Nine strangers wake up in a house with no exits and an automatic feeding system. A voice announces over a speaker that only one of them may leave the house alive, but that person will "win" 5 million dollars. Will these prisoners work together to escape, or will they turn on each other?

"House of 9" is a little bit of "Cube", a little bit of "Saw", and a whole lot of "Big Brother." It goes light on the "torture porn" aspect of the film, and it's spends a little more time developing the captured characters as believable human beings--both of which help it score a few extra points with me--but while it held my attention, but it didn't do much more than that.

There was nothing in particular that makes me want to condemn the film (although the annoying jump cuts that got used to show a character's mind snapping, and the slipping accent of Hopper almost rose to the level of bothersome) but there's also nothing that makes me want to stand up and cheer. The film moves along at a decent pace, the tension stays high, and the ending ellicits sadistic chuckles. There weren't any real surprises, though.

I think "House of 9" is an average, fairly unoriginal film. It's not bad, but it's not good. If you're a fan of this particular horror subgenre--or huge a fan of Kelly Brook or Dennis Hopper--you might put it somewhere low on your priority list, but otherwise, skip it for the day it shows up on TV and there's nothing else to watch.

Saturday Scream Queen: Robin Sydney

Robin Sydney got her start as a professional actress by appearing on the short-lived "Andy Dick Show" in 2001 (which was probably a horror tale in-and-of-itself" and since then has been dividing her time between horror and comedy. She is best known as one of Full Moon's leading ladies during the past decade (with starring turns in both "Evil Bong" films and last year's "Skull Heads," but she has also appeared on "CSI" and in well over a dozen other films and television series.

To read reviews of her films for Full Moon Features, click here to visit The Charles Band Collection.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A trip to Sherwoood Forest you should skip

Virgins of Sherwood Forest (2000)
Starring: Gabriella Hall, Shannen Leigh, David Roth and Amber Newman
Producer: Charles Band
Director: Cybil Richards
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A B-movie director (Hall) bumps her head and wakes up in Sherwood Forest, where she must work with other buxom wenches to thwart the evil scheme's of the Sheriff of Nottingham's sister (Leigh) while using their sex and other womanly wiles to restoring some righteous fire and energy to Robin Hood (Roth) and his Merry Men. (Not to mention engaging in the occassional lesbian fling.)

I'm not sure how or when I got this movie. I don't even know if I watched it before this evening, but if I did, I didn't retain anything about it in memory. And that's because there's nothing worth noticing here.

"Virgins of Sherwood Forest" wants to be a sex comedy, or maybe it wants to be a soft-core porn flick... but it fails to be either. It's one of dozens of sci-fi/fantasy flavored softcore films that an uncredited Charles Band produced for his Surrender Cinema venture, and it's one of a handful lurking within the piles of unwatched DVDs stacked around my office. By most accounts, Band's venture into blue movies was mostly unsuccessful both creatively and financially, but I sincerely hope that this is one of the worst that he made. It's almost as bad as "The Killer Eye," which is the worst movie from Band I've seen yet.

The movie is dull and decidedly unsexy, the acting is almost as bad as the boob jobs on prominent display, and the sets and camera work are even worse. (In fact, Amber Newman is so bad in this film that it's hard to believe that she's the same actress who was so amusing in "Satanic Yuppies.")

There are a few chuckles here, but they are so few and seperated by such vast expanses for crap that they're not worth waiting for.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

College kids don't summon smarts in 'Seance'

Seance (2006)
Starring: Kandis Erickson, Tori White, Chauntal Lewis, A.J. Lamas, Joel Giest. Adrian Paul, Bridget Shergalis and Jack Hunter
Director: Mark L. Smith
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a group of bored college students (Erickson, Lewis, Lamas and White) hold a seance to contact the ghost of a little girl that is haunting their dorm (Shergalis), they end up rasing the spirit of the man who murdered her (Paul). Naturally, he picks up where he left off, and the hapless students are at the top of his target list.

"Seance" is a straight-forward ghost movie with a script that's better than I've come to expect given the lack of effort that goes into writing horror movies these days. Not only do the characters behave fairly intelligently--allowing for the fact they're not very bright to begin with--but the overall story is solid and even stays away from the non-surprising suprise twist ending that so many writers employ in vain attempts to spruce up their badly done scripts.

All other apsects of the film are competent if unremarkable, including the quality of the effects, the acting and the use of sound and lighting throughout the picture. All-in-all, if you enjoy a well-done chiller featuring murderous spirits, you should find this film worth your time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Picture Perfect Wednesday with Katharine Hepburn

Here's hoping you're having a better day than Ms. Hepburn.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tectonic Tuesdays: Alicia Rickter

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi (the Imam of Imams) said, "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

The question: Is Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi wise beyond mortal ken, or just a madman with his turban wound too tight? Read on and find the answer.

Sixth Case Study: Alicia Rickter

The appopriately named Alicia Rickter is a now-retired model and actress who spent her entire career engandering the planet! She appeared in an earth-shattering photospread as the 500th Playmate of the Month is the October 1995 issue of Playboy, causing a devastating earthquake in China that left over 6000 people homeless. She exposed herself again in the pages of Playboy in 1997, bringing about massive earthquakes in northern Iran and central India that killed hundreds and once again left thousands of people homeless.

But Alicia Rickter posed the greatest threat to humanity when she starred in "Baywatch Hawaii," a television program devoted almost exclusively to letting immodest women show off their cataclysm-causing bodies. During 2000 and 2001, she and the other women on that program caused earthquakes in the Phillipines, Peru and India.

It's all because of the immodesty of Alicia Rickter.

Monday, May 24, 2010

One of Corman's first is also one of his best

A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, and Julian Burton
Director: Roger Corman
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Walter (Miller), the dorky, put-upon busboy at the beatnik hangout Yellow Door Cafe, wants desperately to be an artist--both so he can impress his beautiful coworker Carla (Morris) and receive the sort of adulations that are heaped nightly upon poet Maxwell Brock (Burton). After he accidentially kills his neighbor's cat, he hits upon the perfect medium for his creative expression--covering dead bodies with clay and presenting them as sculptures. Soon, people are dying to be his models.

For years, I maligned Roger Corman as a terrible filmmaker. This was partly due to the fact that that the first few movies of his that I saw were indeed awful, such as "The Gunslinger." However, as I've been seeing more of his films, I've realized I misjudged him. He could make good movies, and "A Bucket of Blood" is one of this best!

"A Bucket of Blood" is a dark comedy where a talentless loner, desperate for acceptance, goes to extremes to fit in. Its events and messages can be interperted in many ways--as commentary on what passes for "art"; as a statement about the downsides of societal pressures to fit in, even among supposedly accepting counter-cultures; that the one constant in life is hypocracy; or perhaps even all of these--or the viewer can just switch off the brain and watch Walter's quest for acknowledgement spin out of control.

The general structure, story, and even the types of characters, of "A Bucket of Blood" is similar to Corman's later "The Little Shop of Horrors", but the story is more tightly focused, the humor sharper, and the actors' performances more restrained. Where "The Little Shop of Horrors" was a broadbased spoof, "A Bucket of Blood" keeps its attention on beatniks, artists, and wannabes. The main characters are virtually identical, and they even come to similar final fates, but Walter emerges as a far more sinister and evil character than Seymour, and the climactic moment in "Bucket" is more impactful (where it was just goofy in "Shop".

The camerawork and lighting of this film are near perfect. Yes, this is a low-buget film, and the sets are simple and shabby, but Corman uses a wide range of filmmaking techniques that heighten the drama and horror toward the end of the film, and they greatly enhance the pitch-black comedy when Walter's boss (Carbone) is reacting in the background while Walter is showing his latest creation to him and Carla, after the boss has realized how the sculptures are being created. In fact, during the chase scene toward the end of the film, I found myself wondering if many modern filmmakers should be forced to watch this movie to see how to properly apply the tools of their trade.

The actors are also universally excellent, with great comedic talent shown all-around, from the pair of doped-out beatniks who wander through the scenes spouting hilarious nonsense; to Carbone, as the demanding boss who finds respect and fear for his busboy; to Morris, Walter's kindhearted coworker and target of his affections; to Burton, as the blowhard, psuedo-intellectual poet; to Miller, who, in his only starring role, puts on a spectacular show as a dork who turns into a homicidal maniac because of a hunger for acceptance. Miller does a fine job of going from goofy to menacing, but still maintaining a comic tone.

Avoid this lame Nature Gone Wild movie

Beaks - The Movie (aka "Birds of Prey") (1987)
Starring: Christopher Atkins and Michelle Johnson
Director: Rene Cardona
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A TV reporter and her cameraman (Johnson and Atkins) go globe-trotting in order to unlock the mystery behind a rising string of bird attacks. From eagles, to pidgeons, to chickens, birds are killing people... and they seem organized!

"Beaks - The Movie" is an uninspired and, worst of all, boring copy of "The Birds." There's really nothing to recommend it; the closest the film gets to being suspenseful is a shot of hundreds of pidgeons charging across a plaza. (Although, if you love watching slow-motion footage of doves and pidgeons, you might find it worth while.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

'To Catch a Thief' is one of Hitchcock's best

To Catch a Thief (1955)
Starring: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, John Williams, and Brigitte Auber
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

Long-retired catburglar and jewel thief John Robie (Grant) teams up with an insurance agent (Williams) to catch a copy-cat thief who has the police hunting him. Robie conceives using a rich American and her massive diamonds as bait for the mystery thief--a mistake, because Robie soon finds that the woman's beautiful, thrill-seeking daughter, Frances (Kelly), wants to catch a thief of her own.

"To Catch a Thief" is a romance film with a mystery plot and some nice action sequences thrown in. It features perhaps the most believable romance featured in any Hitchcock film, as it is one that seems to grow between Grant and Kelly's characters as the story progresses, instead of springing onto the screen from left field as it does in "Notorious", for example.

Grant and Kelly are working with nuanced characters and great dialog in this film--and their bantering is perhaps some of the wittiest that is featured in any of Hitchcock's movies. Their onscreen chemistry was also fabulous, and this, coupled with the gorgeous photography and moody lighting of first the fireworks scene and shortly thereafter the confrontation between Robie and the sexy young heiress after her mother's jewels have vanished, end up creating some of the best-looking scenes in any of Hitchcock's films. (The shot of Frances, her face in shadow while the diamonds around her neck that she is trying to seduce Robie with sparkle brilliantly is pure visual poetry.

This may not be the sort of movie that comes to mind when someone says "Alfred Hitchcock", because while all the elements are there, they are not in the proportions that one expects--there is more romance than drama, and more comedy than suspense--but this is perhaps what makes it such a fantastic movie. Hitchcock made a movie featuring all the elements that are present in just about every movie he made, yet he uses them in ways that makes this movie stand alone.

Although it is more than 50 years since "To Catch A Thief" was released, it remains a fresh and vital picture that is as entertaining today as it was then. It is a film that has stood the test of time, and which is truly deserving of the label "classic."

Saturday Scream Queen: Veronica Carlson

Blonde and beautiful Veronica Carlson graced several of the best gothic horror flicks during the late 1960s, being victimized by such classic movie villains as Christopher Lee's Dracula and Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein. In fact, never has Cushing's Frankenstein been so loathsome as when he raped Carlson's character in "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969).

Carlson married in 1974, and she retired from acting to raise her family and pursue a career as a painter.

Click here to read reviews of the films where Carlson starred opposite the great Peter Cushing at The Peter Cushing Collection.

You just can't keep a bad vampire down....

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)
Starring: Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Christopher Lee, Ewan Hooper, and Barry Andrews
Director: Freddie Francis
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After a craven, cowardly priest (Hooper) accidentally revives Dracula (Lee) from an icy grave in a shadowy crevice of a Transylvanian mountain, the vampire lord discovers his castle has been sealed with blessings and cruxifixes. Swearing revenge, he pursues the Monsignor who made his home inaccessible to him (Davies).

Although it's a direct sequel to "Dracula: Prince of Darkness", "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave" pays little attention to continuity. (Castle Dracula is a fortress in this movie, where it was more of a chateau in the two previous films.)

That aside, however, the film presents a Dracula who is far more evil than he's been portrayed before, cramming more nasty needs into the limited amount of time he is afforded into the story into this one movie than in the previous two. The opening of the film where a murdered girl is found stuffed inside a church's bell is one of the more shocking openers to any of Hammer's horror films. Dracula's pursuit of Monsignor Mueller and his family--particularly of the lovely Maria (Veronica Carlson) also gives rise to a number of chilling moments.

The movie also features some fine acting, gorgeous sets and great camerawork... not to mention the gorgeous cleavages of Carlson and Barbara Ewing! In other words, it's got all the elements we expect to find in a Hammer vampire flick from the 1950s and 1960s.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from the lack of a strong antagonist to combat Dracula. Rupert Davies is okay, but he's no Peter Cushing (Van Helsing in "Horror of Dracula") or Andrew Keir (Father Sandor in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness"). It also doesn't help the film that the good guys triumph in the end here because of a deus ex machina finale. (And I think that plot device has rarely been so literally on display as it is in this film.)

If you're a fan of Hammer's vampire movies, I think you'll enjoy "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave". It's not quite as good as "Horror of Dracula" or "Dracula: Prince of Darkness", but it's a nice chiller.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

'The Kingdom' is more evenhanded than usual Hollywood fare

The Kingdom (2007)
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Ashraf Barhom, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, and Ali Suliman
Director: Peter Berg
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Four FBI agents (Foxx, Cooper, Bateman, and Garner) travel to Saudi Arabia where they team with two Saudi police officers (Barhom and Suliman) to stop a deadly terrorist and his followers.

The Hollywood establishment seems obsessed with justifying or even excusing terrorists, and I expected this film to be a reflection of that. So, I went in expecting to hate it. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This movie shows terrorists exactly for the evil, psychopathic cowardly scum that that they are. It has none of the "one man's terrorist is another man's hero" crap that so many American "intellectuals" are so fond peddling.

The film also shows that the 75 years of Saudi Arabian and American governments have allowed the conditions that gave rise to the likes of the movie's "Abu Hamza" and the real-world Osama bin Ladens through their inaction and unwillingness to behave in anything but fashions that are self-serving and self-aggrandizing. In fact, the film has the rather accurate message that the American and Saudi governments are their own worst enemies--the American government being fawning toadies to the Saudis, and the Saudi government behaving like barbaric bullies.

My very favorite aspect of the film was the way the FBI agents and the Saudi state police officers ended up working together once politics and distrust was set aside, showing that good cop are good cop, no matter where in the world they are.

Almost every aspect of the film was very enjoyable, playing like a cross between "CSI: Riyadh" and an action flick, except for the very last minute or so, where we had to have some of the standard issue Hollywood moral equivalency dished out. Fortunately, the dose was not big enough to ruin the film, and it was so ludicrous that no intelligent person could do anything but snicker at it.

'Wishmaster' is lots of gory fun

Wishmaster (1997)
Starring: Tammy Lauren, Robert Englund, Andrew Divoff, Reggie Bannister, Kane Hodder
Director: Robert Kurtzman
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

In "Wishmaster," an evil demonic spirit, a djinn (Divoff), that has been trapped inside an enchanted gem since Babylon was young, is accidentially unleashed onto the unsuspecting modern world. He requires his unknowing liberator (Lauren) to make three wishes so that he may call forth hoards of his kind and create Hell on Earth. While tracking down his liberator so he can grant her three wishes, he wanders the streets of a big city in human form and grants wishes to whoever he comes across--and he always twists them into the nastiest, most violent interpertations.

The story in this movie is, basically, a weak retelling of the classic short-story "The Monkey's Paw", and it spins around the same "be careful what you wish for" moral. Aside from a shakey storyline, the film is hampered by a weak performance by its star, Tammy Lauren. However, the outrageously gory ways the djinn kills his victims and the evil glee with which Andrew Divoff portrays him, by themselves earned the film four of the stars I'm giving it. (Watch particularly for the scene where the djinn has to deal with the rent-a-cop, played by Kane Hodder, at the office where Lauren's character works. It's a doozy, and one of Divoff's best moments in the film.)

The film is also elevated by a stronger ending than what I've grown to expect from second-tier horror flicks like this one. It's not exactly unpredicatble, but it is very well handled.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

'Essential Spider-Woman' features top-notch horror-tinged superhero tales

Essential Spider-Woman Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics, 2005)

Writers: Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald, Michael Fleisher, and Archie Goodwin
Artists: Carmine infantino, Al Gordon, Tony DeZuniga, Ron Wilson, Frank Springer, Trevor von Eedon, Mike Esposito, Steve Leialoha,
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Jessica Drew is Spider-Woman, a young woman with super-strength, the ability to climb and cling to the smoothest walls and ceilings, and the ability to shoot venom-blasts of varying lethality. She comes from a background that even she herself doesn't fully understand, and after being manipulated into serving as an agent of the international fascist movement Hydra, she ventures into the world to find a place for herself.

"Essential Spider-Woman" is a massive collection of Marvel Comics from the late 70s. It features some of the niftiest supernatural- and horror-tinged superhero comics ever put into print, created by some of the best writers and artists who were active in the 70s and 80s. With allies like Mordred and Magnus (immortal, one-time students of sorceress Morgan LeFay), Jack Russell (Werewolf by Night), the Shroud (mystery-man with the ability to summon darkness with a thought), and several agents of SHIELD, Jessica Drew's friends are as odd as her enemies--Morgan LeFey, the Needle, the Brothers Grimm, the Moth, Nekra, and various demons and spirits and monstrous servants of Hydra.

The tales reprinted from "Spider-Woman" 1-20, penned by Wolfman and Gruenwald, are particularly excellent, as Jessica Drew struggles to find a place in the world and come to terms with the blessings and curses that her past has left her with. The threads of strangeness and Jessica's loneliness make these stories really stand out among the comics of that period, and the fantastic art by Infantino (with perfectly complimentary inks by DeZuniga and Gordon, primarily) really makes the stories shine.

Not everything in the book is perfect. The story-arc where Spider-Woman clashes with the Hangman and eventually meets Jack Russell and battles Morgan LeFey is such a mess plotwise that it feels like the writer must have been replaced mid-stream, yet the credits list only Wolfman. Neither the Hangman nor Jack Russell really serve any purpose in the story, and the Hangman just drops out of it without any resolution.

Also, when Fleisher comes onboard as the writer at the very end of the collection, pretty much all the supernatural and horror elements of the series vanish, and Spider-Woman becomes a typical costumed superhero, existing somewhere between Batman and Catwoman. It's a surprising change, given the DC work of Fleisher--foremost among that being the Jonah Hex series and "Wrath of the Spectre" for Adventure Comics--that Spider-Woman should take such a turn towards the mundane when guided by his pen. The first Fleisher stories also represent the lowpoint of the book artwise, with the Springer pencils and Esposito inks giving them a look more suitable for a 1960s era romance comic than a superhero thriller like "Spider-Woman." But the art quality shoots back up with the final, Leialoha illustrated, tale in the book.

I loved the Jessica Drew character, from her appearances in Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Two-in-One, and through all the other stories in this book and well beyond them. Although I had stopped following the character, I was sad to hear when Marvel ruined her by removing her powers because her title got cancelled.

When I saw "Essential Spider-Woman," I snatched it up, and the good stories are every bit as good as I thought they were as a kid (unlike "Essential Ghostrider," where the reprinted content was no where near as good as I remembered it). The bad ones...well, either my tastes have grown more refined, or I those faded completely from memory. I recommend this volume to lovers of quirky superhero titles, and I encourage those of you who might find Infantino's unusual art style a bit offputting to let him grow on you. He's one of my all-time favorite artists, but I know that for some he can be an acquired taste.

Tectonic Tuesdays: Jennifer Garner

Full of the sort of insight and wisdom that can only come from all-mighty Allah Himself, the Great Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi revealed that "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

Here's the next installment in the series of proofs that he's right.

Fifth Case Study: Jennifer Garner

Jennifer Garner had been appearing on movies and television shows for roughly five years when she emerged as a threat to the ground beneath your feet. From 2001 to 2005 she starred starred in the television series "Alias," where she not only appeared in skimpy outfits, but she played a woman spy who showed very little deference to male authority figures. And as a result, the world was rocked by the Nisqualli earthquake in the United States (2001) and the appropriately named, city-leveling Bam earthquake in Iran (2003).

In the 2003, Garner appeared in the comic book adaptation "Daredevil." She played Elektra, once again portraying a character who not only wore revealing outfits but who also did not respect her man. When she reprised her role as the star of the sequel, "Elektra", the result were the 2005 Kashmir and Sumatra earthquakes.

Note that in 2003 and 2005, Garner was showing herself in both a television series and in movies. The earth trembled as a result, bringing down buildings and ending lives.

All because of the immodesty of Jennifer Garner.

'Practical Magic' is chick flick all can enjoy

Practical Magic (1998)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest, Goran Visnjic and Aidan Quinn
Director: Griffin Dunne
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Two very different sisters (Bullock and Kidman) who descend from a long line of witches, come together for the first time since their lonely childhood to cover up a murder and to break a long-standing family curse.

"Practical Magic" is a textbook definition of a "chick flick", but it has enough humor and suspense, along with just a touch of supernatural horror, that guys will be able to sit through it without complaining and even have a good time. It's a well acted movie that rests upon a solid, well-written script that's driven by a very literal interpretation of the notion of "Girl Power". There are a couple of continuity hiccups--such as the moon apparently going from full to a sliver in three days--but otherwise you'll have to do some real nitpicking to find fault with the film.

Sandra Bullock puts on her usual fine performance, once again playing her standard rumpled, slightly nerdy Girl Next Door character. Nicole Kidman, as wild and slutty sister, even puts on a good performance, something I don't think I've said about her since "Dead Calm". (Her put-on American accent slips on more than one occcasion, but she does a decent job otherwise.) They are supported admirably by the rest of the cast, with Goran Visnjic standing out as a particuarly creepy Bad Boyfriend.

So, guys, next time it's her time to chose for a Movie Night, and if she has a habit of picking historical dramas or tear-jearkers or pure chick flicks, see if you can steer her to "Practical Magic". You'll thank me for it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Shawnee Smith

Shawnee Smith was the only attractive thing about the very ugly first three installments of the "torture porn" series "Saw", and she came back for one more bite at that apple in 2009's "Saw VI."

She was also the host of "Scream Queens," a 2008 reality/game show where ten aspiring actresses competed for a part in "Saw VI". I guess I'll have to check that film out, just to see if the winner was any good.

(Trivia: Desptite all the movie reviews I write, I have not watched television on a regular basis since 1995, and I haven't had cable TV since even before that. I didn't even know there WAS a "Scream Queens" TV show until this afternoon.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Abbott and Costello vs Bedouins and Cheese-eatin' Surrender Monkeys!

Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)
Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Patricia Medina, Walter Slezak, Douglas Dumbrille and Wee Willie Davis
Director: Charles Lamont
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

While in North Africa on business, a couple of American wrestling promoters (Abbott and Costello) become drawn into local intrigues by a beautiful French intelligence agent (Medina) and agents of a villainous Arab Bedouin sheik (Dumbrille) and are tricked into joining the French Foreign Legion.

"Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion" is one of the funniest, fastest-paced films the duo made. The film barrels from comedy setpiece to comedy set piece and and nonsense verbal routine to nonsense verbal routine with barely an establishing shot to separate them.

As funny as the film is, it's not perfect. A couple of the extended comedy routines don't quite work--like the chase scene involving a jeep and Arab bad guys on horseback--and the ending feels a little rushed and badly constructed. However, the good far outweighs the bad here, and it's definitely worth checking out if you've enjoyed other Abbott and Costello films, or if you're just a lover of wild crazy comedies.

Or if you're a lover of films that probably couldn't even be made today. This film features villainous Arabs who are sexist, violent and duplicitous in all things--oh noes! Never mind that the real world contains plenty of real people who are far worse than the character portrayed by Douglass Dumbrille in this film.

'Dead 7' isn't worth digging up

Dead 7 (2003)
Starring: John Myles, Matt Emery, Tanya Dempsey, Delia Copold, and Brett Charles
Director: Garrett Clancey
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

When a deaf-mute boy is thrown down a pit by a pair of vicious meth-dealers, they and their friends soon become the center strange events and brutal killings. Is the boy's sister avenging his death, or is something more sinister (and supernatural) afoot?

"Dead 7" is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good movie. It's badly acted; based on a script that's so bad that it manages to be predictable and incomprehensibly muddled at the same time, seeming to forget its own storyline at a couple of points; and features gore effects so ineptly deployed that they look even cheaper than they probably were. It's almost unwatchable. The movie manages to tease forth a few chilling moments (mostly revolving around a hole that exists in the woods for no particular reason, and as the meth dealer and pals are being stalked)

However, I give the filmmakers credit for decent camera work. It's the photography rather than the script and badly done effects that provide the scares in this cheap, ameuterish production. The way the camera moves during certain scenes makes the viewer want to get ahead of the lense and see what's happening. This technical aspect of the otherwise lame production earned "Dead 7" a full Star all by itself.

(Which means that unless you want to see some interesting filming with obviously limited equipment, don't bother with this one.)

'Keeping Mum' is quirky comedy about murder and family values

Keeping Mum (2006)
Starring: Kristen Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Rowan Atkinson, Patrick Swayze and Tamsin Egerson
Director:Niall Johnson
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The new house keeper (Smith) for a distracted country vicar (Atkinson) who is distracted to notice his marriage is failing, starts turning the household around like a real-life Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, she's a homicidal maniac... and that isn't the least of her secrets.

"Keeping Mum" is a dark comedy that's on the predictable side, but it elevated by excellent performances from its stars, most importantly by Rowan Atkinson, who is very different here than other roles you've likely seen him in. Maggie Smith also gives a performance different than what is typical for her--more subdued and restrained.

If you like British humor, and, more importantly, gallow's humor, this is a film worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's the Mall Security of the future!

Chopping Mall (aka "Killbots") (1986)

Starring: Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell, Russell Todd, Suzee Slater, Karrie Emerson, Nick Slater, and Barbara Crampton
Director: Jim Wynorski
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Eight typical teenaged slasher-movie characters (and therefore perpetually horny) hide out in a shopping mall to have an orgy in the mattress store. Unfortunately for them, they end up are trapped overnight with three heavily armed security robots that have malfunctioned and gone murderous due to a power surge.

Although "Chopping Mall" isn't as good as I remember it as being from when I was a kid, it's still a fun movie. It moves along at a brisk pace and it's got a goofy, upbeat tone (despite the flying laserbeams and exploding head) that makes it truly fun to watch. And while the movie is having fun with both the sci-fi and slasher genres, it still manages to make the viewer care about the characters. (Oh and the girls who take their tops off are girls who SHOULD be showing off their, um, assets.)

The acting over all is better than what is usually found in a film of this type, and lead Kelli Maroney is particularly good. The script is also better than what is often found in a film of this kind, although there really isn't anything surprising (aside from killer robots), and veteran slasher-movie watchers will know early on who lives and who dies. However, the jokes are actually funny, the action entertaining, and, despite my comment that the teens are typical slasher movie characters, they don't split up one at a time once they discover they are being hunted by killer robots. (In other words, they behave in far smarter fashion than most characters in this sort of film, and it makes the movie all the stronger for it.)

Finally, the robots are surprisingly well-done. They look pretty cool for the kind of movie this is, and for the period in which it was made. (Yeah, they look a bit like they came off the shelf at Radio Shack, but it was the 1980s for crying out loud! Macintoshes still booted off a single floppy disc that ALSO held a full working word processor on it, as well as the system software!)

"Chopping Mall" is the perfect addition to a Bad Movie Night line-up.

Young Hannah is lookin' to neck with you

Young Hannah, Queen of the Vampires
(aka "Crypt of the Living Dead" and "Vampire Woman") (1972)
Starring: Andrew Prine, Patty Shepard, Mark Damon, Frank Branya, and Teresa Gimpera Director:
Ray Danton
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A young engineer (Prine) is tricked into unleashing a vampiress (Gimpera) who has been trapped in her tomb for 700 years. Will he be able to undo his mistake and save the inhabitants of a small island before it becomes a land of the undead?

"Young Hannah" is sluggish film, with a script that offers very little that hasn't been done in countless vampire movies before (and it doesn't do anything unique with the much-used elements; in fact, the film feels so much like an offering from Hammer Films that I half expected to see "Shot on location in Scotland and at Shepperton Studios" as the end credits ran out.

If you like the classic Hammer stuff for the acting and stories, this might be a movie you'll enjoy; the cast is attractive and they act well enough. If you liked them either for the beautiful use of colors, or the creative use of light and shadow in the black-and-white films, this is not a film for you... it's shot in black-and-white, and the cinematographer really wasn't good at handling that medium.

This isn't a bad movie... just thoroughly mediocre. The cast does decent job, the comings and goings of Hannah the Vampire Queen are well done, and the story is okay, if a bit too slowly paced. There are just movies of this type that are better.

(By the way, for those wondering about the credit given to Ygor at the top... that's just me razzing the movie for a really odd bit of costuming. There's a character (played by Ihsan Gedik) who looks exactly like Ygor from Universal's "Son of Frankenstein" that it contributes unintentional comedy to the film for film buffs. But still not enough hilarity to lift the film above mediocre.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tectonic Tuesdays: Salma Hayek

Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi recently revealed that "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

A man this wise MUST be a prophet, a prophet on the magnitude of Mohammed [may peas be upon him] and Jesus Christ [may Neosporin be upon him]. The only right thing to do is to spread his message by offering scientific reinforcement for his divinely inspired insight. And this is where "Tectonic Tuesday" comes in.

Fourth Case Study: Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek got her start in a soap opera on Mexican television, but it wasn't until 1996 that she became a danger to the world. That was the year she appeared in "From Dusk to Dawn," as a vampire exotic dancer wearing a snake and a small bikini. That same year, the Lijiang earthquake in southwestern China killed 200 people and left 300,000 without homes; Seattle on the west coast of the United States was rocked by an earthquake; and the Kobe earthquake in souther Japan claimed the lives of over 6,000.

Hayek has endangered the world many times since 1996, displaying her ample cleavage and causing earthquakes with 1999's "Wild Wild West" (a quake and subsequent tsunami rattled Turkey), 2004's "After the Sunset" (quakes in East Timor and Columbia), and 2006's "Bandidas" (an earth quake in Java that killed over 6,000 and injured more than 33,000).

All because of the immodesty of Salma Hayek.

Monday, May 10, 2010

'The Alchemist' is so-so early effort of Band

The Alchemist (1986)
Starring: Lucinda Dooling, John Sanderford, Robert Ginty, Robert Glaudini and Viola Kates Stimpson
Producers: Charles Band, Lawrence Applebaum, Billy Fine and Jay Schultz
Director: James Amante (aka Charles Band)
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a farmer (Ginty) sets out to rescue his wife from an evil sorcerer (Glaudini), she ends up dead and he ends up cursed with immortality and occassional transformation into a monster. Nearly a century later, the reincarnation of his long-dead love (Dooling) and a hitchhiker at the wrong place at the wrong time (Sanderford) are drawn into a final showdown between farmer, sorcerer and a gaggle of demons.

An early effort from Charles Band this is a film that's hit and miss in the quality department... with more misses than hits, I'm sorry to say. Nonetheless, the film is a great example of how Band used to be able to create a suitably eerie atmosphere and make the most of his low budgets, an ability that seems to have left him in recent years, both as a director and a producter. There are still enough glimmers of the old Band that I hope a new Full Moon will rise, but it's been about a decade since he's even been as good as what we have in this film.

The film's biggest drawback is its slow-moving plot that's made even slower by obvious padding and by one of the clearest displays of Stupid Character Syndrom ever put on screen. (Lucinda Dooling keeps wigging out at the wheel of the car and almost crashing several times, yet hitchhiker John Sanderford keeps getting back in the car with her. Why? Well, because if he didn't, the film would be over. Once would have been enough to establish the gradual reawakening of the reincarnated soul, but Band and the writers drives the point home over and over to stretch the film to meet a minimum running length.)

Still, when the film gets going and the monsters start popping up and dimensional portals are opened thanks to cheap special effects, that old time Charles Band Magic is in full effect and we have a film that ends on a note far higher than everthing that led up to it indicated.

Everything except the acting that is. For the most part, the film's cast does an excellent job with what they have to work with. Ginty in particular does an excellent job as the emotionally tortured immortal, while Stimpson manages to effectively convey the fatigue of a woman who has spent her entire life tending to a sick family member. Dooling and Sandford are rather bland, but I can't blame the actors as their parts are written that way.

In final analysis, though, this film is really only for the Full Moon/Charles Band completists like myself. The rest of you are better off looking at the movies filed under the "High Rating" tag on this blog.

'Caregiver' is surprisingly good thriller

Caregiver (2007)
Starring: Osa Wallander, Rebeka Montoya, Elisa Eliot, Paula Thomas, Carla Valentine, and Rich Ward
Director: Dennis Devine
Steve's Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sexually abused as a child and hiding from a physically abusive husband, Paige (Wallander) sets out to get a fresh start in life while helping others who have hard lives. She goes to work as a counciler at a halfway house for girls intending to change the girls' lives by showing them kindness. However, the girls--ranging from abuse victims to hardened juveline delinquents to throw Paige's kindness back in her face and the mental strain causes her to crack. With a background darker and more twisted than any of the inmates in the halfway house, and a tendency to violence that makes the girls look like the children they are, Paige quickly becomes a threat to anyone who crosses her.

"Caregiver" a moody, realistic, well-acted psychological thriller, and it's easy to see why it won Best Picture at the "Phoenix Fear Film Festival" in December of 2006. Osa Wallander is particularly impressives as Paige, a troubled woman who wants to be a positive influence in the world but who is just too mentally disturbed herself to quite manage to be one. Wallander's ability to switch from sugar-sweet to psycho-bitch in a heartbeat is one of the best things about this movie.

Aside from the strong performances by all the film's lead actresses, "Caregiver" benefits from a strong scrpt that has a ring of truth to it. A relative of mine worked for a number of years in a facility exactly like the one in the movie--the layout even resembled it--and the behavior of the girls, staff, and management in "Caregiver" reminded me very much of the stories she used to tell. This sense of realism gives the film a grounding that few chillers manage these days... and it makes me wish that more filmmakers would take such care witih their scripts.

The film further benefits from a subtle, unobtrusive directing and filming style. There are no "look at me showing off my film degree" flourishes in the film. The camera is simply there to pass along the story to us. It's an approach that brings even more realism to the film.

The film is not without its flaws, though... and while many of the strengths of the film arise from the script, so does its weaknesses.

First off, the pre-title murder sequence is rather tepid and it had me fearing for what was to follow--it's the one bit of the movie where i felt the acting left a lot to be desired.

Second, there's a rather stylish and creepy scene where one of the characters commits suicide. While this is a nice set-piece that had me squirming a bit, it might have had more impact if we'd actually known more the character beforehand. It's also something that doesn't seem to be connected with anything else that happens in the film, except a bewildering "haunting" that happens around the halfway mark. That whole element (because it's not even really a subplot) of the film feels out of place and as if it's something that remains from an earlier draft of the script that no one wanted to get rid of. (The girl refusing to wear a shirt was a great establishing bit for the way these halfway houses are, but the other bits of business involving the character distract more than they add to the overall flow of the movie.)

Still, this is a well-done, worthwhile psychological thriller that works because it is populated by realistic characters who exist within a perfectly believable world. Sure, there are some things I could nitpick, but, overall, the film sets a reality and maintains it. This is itself quite a feat for moviemakers, as the last few horror movies I've seen that involved social workers or institutions (like "See No Evil" and "Asylum of the Damned") were both so incompetently written that anyone who's ever so much as read a newspaper would be unable to suspend their disbelief. (The strong sense of realism in the film also makes the one murder that doesn't occur in flashback startling and impactful.)

'Dead Like Me' was a great TV series

Dead Like Me: The Complete First Season (2003)
Starring: Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Callum Blue, Laura Harris and Cynthia Stevenson
Director: Various
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

"Dead Like Me" was a criminally short-lived television series that focused on Georgia Lass (Muth), a young woman who dies in a freak accident, only to immediately be drafted as a Reaper where she works with Rube (Patinkin), Mason (Blue), and other "undead" who are charged with the task of extracting human souls so they can move onto the afterlife.

The show lasted two seasons, and it presented a curious mix of the macabre and humorous, of the spiritual and the tragic. Much of the show's humor is derived from the way the Reapers have to make their way through their "afterlife" which turns out to be just as much of a grind as living is. An equal amount is also gained from the oblique bureaucracy of the "soul-collecting business" the Reapers are part of--Rube gets assignments from unseen upper-management, and he then gives assignments to the Reapers... usually by writing them on yellow Post-It notes. The tragic aspects of the show come mostly into play by watching Georgia's family attempt to cope with her death, and its disintegration.

For a show that features at least one grisly death per episode, and which often makes light of those grisly deaths, it is a surprisingly uplifting show. Just about every episode carries messages about love, friendship, responsibility, and how much of an impact our presence (and absence) in the lives of those around us has.

(I once saw some comments about the show online where the poster was calling show evil and promoted the occult... well, if a show about the Angels of Death walking among us and having to work odd jobs to pay their rent is tainted by the mark of Satan, then I suppose "Highway to Heaven" must have been the ultimate in evil TV, and Michael Landon must have been just this side of the Anti-Christ... because "Dead Like Me" respects the mystery of God and Heaven enough to NOT claim to have any answers about what lies beyond the Veil.)

The show does take the position that everyone, from the moment of birth, has a time at which they are slated to die. That "appointment" is unavoidable, and if isn't kept through inaction on the part of an assigned Reaper, Bad Things happen to the soul. Even worse things happen if someone is somehow killed (At best, it describes what happens if someone some how is killed before their appointed time, and no Reaper is there to deal with the situation. But the show never gets into exactly where souls go or what happens to them.

"Dead Like Me" is definitely one of the very best television series to ever be produced. It's too bad it only lasted two seasons and a made-for-television movie wrap-up.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

'The Screaming Skull' is a failed thriller

The Screaming Skull (1958)
Starring: John Hudson and Peggy Webber
Director: Alex Nichol
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

"The Screaming Skull" is at its best before the movie actually starts. There is a gimmicky bit where the producers promise to pay the funeral costs for anyone who dies of fright during the movie's climax. It's far more likely that a captive audience member will die of boredom or irritation before the movie runs its course, so the producers will never have to deliver on their promis, as that little bit is more chilling in a corny sort of way than most of what follows.

This is a would-be thriller with the now well-worn backdrop of a widower marrying a one-time institutionalized (but very rich) woman, moving back to the isolated old mansion he shared with his first love, and the fragile psyche of the new wife either starts unraveling, or perhaps she is really being haunted by the jealous ghost of the original lady of the house... or maybe someone is trying to drive her insane again.

I can't fault the film for its I've-seen-this-a-hundred-times-before plot, because it dates from 1958, but I do fault it for being just plain bad. The script is awful, and the acting is worse. There are only two things the filmmakers do right--first, they reveal the source of Jenni's (the mentally frazzled rich wife) terror at just the right moment in the film; second, they successfully manage to convey the woman's deteriorating sanity and growing sense of isolation).he acting is worse. In fact, the only actor who delives even close to a passable performance is Russ Conway, who plays Reverend Snow.

I will also grant that the final ten-fifteen minutes of the film are actually not bad in a third-rate horror movie kinda way. But the ending isn't so good that it makes up for suffering through what led up to it. (And the filmmakers back off from making the ending as powerful as it SHOULD be by wimping out when it comes to Jenni's mental health, or lack thereof.)

Other positive notes are that aside from portions of the ending, there are a few other genuinely creepy moments, such as when Jenni is left alone in the house (which is suddenly filled with animated skulls). There are also some very nice shots of her roaming the house, and of the mysterious, shadowhaunted, vegetation-choked grounds that surround the southern mansion where the movie takes place that show some glimmer of talent on the part of the cinematographer and technical crew. Unfortunately, every time the actors open their mouths to deliver badly written dialogue with a level of acting ability that might not even get them into a high school play, whatever gains the movie made it loses. The leading lady, Peggy Webber, is a great screamer, but that's all she's good for (although I suspect the scene of her stripping down to her bra and panties was pretty racey in its day, so maybe we can list stripping among her talents).

Saturday Scream Queen: Neve Campbell

Neve Campbell began her carrer as a teenager, with her first starring role being on the long-running night-time television drama "Party of Five" (1994-2000). On the big screen, she has mostly appeared in thrillers and horror film, starting with "The Dark" (1994) and "The Craft" (1996).

She is, however, best know to horror movie fans for her role as Sidney in the "Scream" series, the first entry of which revived not only the slasher film genre in 1996, but also gave a big boost to the career of director Wes Craven. The fourth installment in the series starts filming next month.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A film of Roman Polanski's Nightmares?

Terror Toons (2001)
Starring: Beverly Lynne, Lizzie Borden, and Kelly Lui
Director: Joe Castro
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Sisters Candy (Borden) and Cindy (Lynne) are left home for the night while their parents attend a wedding. Cindy receives a DVD called "Terror Toons". When the violent, insane cartoon characters of Dr. Carnage and Max Assassin leap from the screen into the real world, the cartoon violence soon causes real blood to flow.

Regular readers of this board have probably seen me rant multiple times about filmmakers needing to be my reviews have probably seen me rant multiple times about filmmakers needing to take their budget and available talent-pool into account when conceiving and executing projects.

"Terror Toons" is exactly the kind of horror film that SHOULD NOT be made on a tiny shoestring budget. It's got an animated DVD (which looks atrocious) from which cartoon characters emerge to slaughter people in the real world (through painfully cheap effects and in costumes that look worse than the animated world they emerged from) and a need for copious gore effects (which the film's tiny budget apparently couldn't even handle).

There's also an issue with the casting. Candy in particular is problematic. I can't tell if she's supposed to be very young or simply retarded. In either case, the casting is bad, first and foremost because of the very, VERY bad boob job the actress is sporting. (And if she's supposed to be a young kid, then the sort of airbags she's sporting on her chest must mean she's the kind chick convicted child rapist Roman Polanski has nightmares about.)

The difficulty of getting a read on what the viewer is supposed to make of Candy is perhaps also a problem with the script... it doesn't seem like the writers put a whole lot of thought into her or any other of the characters in the film; the two cartoon killers seem to be the most realized characters around. And then there's Satan and his monologuing. Huh?

We can add the direction and camerawork to the to the parade of awfulness that is present in this flick, although all i can say about either is that aside from there obviously was a camera present, I'm not convinced the person running it had much in the way of an idea about how to set a scene. And the acting... it is almost uniformly awful. Lynne and Lui are the only two appearing that seem to have even an iota of talent; everyone else deserves to be murdered by cartoon characters come to life for thinking they should appear on film.

With all the negativity I'm spewing at this film, why did I give it even Two Stars? Well, I'm giving some credit for Lynne and Lui, a couple of semi-bright spots in the otherwise pathetic cast of actors. I'm also giving some credit for some nice looking sets once the cartoon characters invade the house and transform it into a cartoon-house (the place still looks like someone's basement or trailer, but at least some effort was made). I'm also giving some consideration for a neat idea, even if it was one that was far beyond the meager means and talent that were available to execute it.

"Terror Toons", despite a concept that seems appealing to lovers of weird movies, is a film that the vast majority of us are better off avoiding. However, it should be required viewing for those of you out there thinking about making your own movie. It's an illustration of why you need to plan your project carefully and realistically before you start. It's a film that the people involved simply were not able to do justice, and you can learn from their example and not repeat their mistake.

'Terror' is fairly terrible

Terror (1978)
Starring: John Nolan, Carolyn Courage, and Mary Maude
Director: Norman J. Warren
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

The friends and associates of a young movie producer (Nolan) start dying messily after he completes a movie based on his family's history. Is it really a 300-year-old witch's curse that's reasserting itself, or is there someone (or some thing) else behind the slayings?

I understand that the forces of evil are inscrutable and driven by motives that mere mortals can't understand. This, however, should not be the case when it comes to movies featuring evil forces. Movies need to have some semblance of a sensible plot, and they need to give some sort of connection between back story and what unfolds.

In the case of "Terror", we have evil forces doing evil things that make no sense whether viewed in the context of the ancient curse, or in the context of facts revealed by characters on the screen. The coolest scene (where a forest seemingly comes to live and lifts a car into the tree-tops) seems like it was just thrown in because it was just that--cool.

"Terror" has some good scares and some good acting. It would have been nice if some time had been spent on developing a good script.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dark Waters can't cover bad writing

Dark Water (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Ariel Gade, Pete Postlethwaite, Tim Roth and Dougray Scott
Director: Walter Salles
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A mother and her young daughter (Connelly and Gade) shortly after they move into their new apartment, in a building with a creeper super (Postletwaite) and strange plumbing problems. This go from mildly unsettling to nightmarish when the girl gets an imaginary friend... who is actually a vengeful ghost.

I came to this film knowing nothing more than it was a horror movie and that it probably involved water. Barely twenty minutes in, I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen, thanks to foreshadowing so heavy-handed that I'm surprised the projector could support its weight, and a storyline that not once deviated from a paint-by-numbers ghost movie plot. Sure, there were some half-hearted attempts at misdirection, but they were too little and too late and too disconnected from some of the events that had already occurred to work. The end result is that unless this is the first ghost movie you've ever encountered, you're going to spend more time wishing the story would move forward than being scared or apprehensive.

If the goal was to produce a ghost story that plods through all the expected standards step by predictable step, the creators succeded. I kept HOPING that they'd take an unexpected turn somewhere, but they never did. The only decent thing about the film is that all the performances were appropriately understated. Connelly is great in her part, and Tim Roth shines as her quirky attorney.

My bottom line: Save your time and money. There's not enough worthwhile here for you to spend either on "Dark Water."

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Stay thirsty, my friends, with this review of a western featuring two Spanish Ladies who will undoubtedly be the subjects of future "Tectonic Tuesday" case studies.

Bandidas (2006)
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Steve Zahn, Dwight Yoakam, Sam Shepard, José María Negri, Denis Arndt, and Audra Blaser
Directors: Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Two young Mexican women from wildly different backgrounds--one is a wealthy, European educated sophisticate (Hayek) and the other is a rough-and-tumble farm girl (Cruz)--team up with an American criminologist (Zahn) to stop a rogue agent of a major American bank (Yoakam) from driving poor famers from their land to make way for the railroad.

"Bandidas" is an action/comedy heist movie set in the late 1800s. It's about as predictable as it could possible be (with one tiny little twist toward the end that I didn't see coming), but it is so breezy and fun, and its two very attractive leads are so charming and sexy that it really doesn't matter. Penelope Cruz's performances is especially fun, and Salma Hayek's cleavage is always a welcome sight.

This is probably one of the better, completely forgettable eye-candy movies I've seen. It was a fun way to spend an hour-and-a-half, and I'm surprised this movie never saw a wide North American release; it's got some plot elements that could be construed as anti-American, but it's far better than some of blatantly political and America-hating crap that was in movie theaters around the time it was made. (Or maybe that's why it didn't see wider release. It wasn't anti-American enough.)

If you like light-hearted westerns that feature explosions, train robberies, and darkhaired beauties in cleavage-revealing tops, this is a film that's worth a look.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'The Tuxedo' is nothing but fun

The Tuxedo (2002)
Starring: Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt
Director: Kevin Donovan
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a super-spy is injured by a car bomb, it's up to a deeply insecure new agent (Hewitt) and his hapless driver (Chan) to use his gadget-filled tuxedo in order to stop a plot to poison all the water in the world.

"The Tuxedo" is a fluffy excursion into fun for fun's sake, a James Bondian-spoof that's lighter than even the lightest Roger Moore-starring entries into that series. It's not a movie you want to think to hard about, but just one to sit back and laugh along with the characters (or laugh at the characters, since Jennifer Love Hewitt's poor character--so eager to prove herself she ends up making mistakes--is the butt of many of the film's jokes). Basically, this is a live-action cartoon with the characters about as deep and the story as complex as that implies.

There's not much to this movie, but what's here is decent enough. Jackie Chan is amusing in his role as a guy who needs to rely on a hi-tech tuxedo laced with micro-computers and biometric to do the stunts and martial arts tricks his characters usually do by themselves. Jennifer Love Hewitt is cute (although occassionally obnoxious) as a young woman who is just a little too desperate to prove herself.

It's necessarily a movie to go out of your way for, but if you're looking for an action/comedy you can watch with younger kids, this film might fit the bill.

'Moonlighting' turns 25

Moonlighting: The Pilot Episode (1985)
Starring: Cybill Shepherd, Bruce Willis and Robert Ellenstein
Director: Robert Butler
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After she left penniless by a crooked business manager, former model Maddie Hayes (Shepherd) attempts to recoup a little of her lost fortune by liquidating companies she still owns, among them a money-losing detective agency run by David Addison (Willis). Addison tries to persuade her that the detective agency can make money and ends up involving her in a case that involves a broken wristwatch that people are willing to kill to obtain.

This year, it's exactly 25 years since "Moonlighting" debuted on American television, turning Bruce Willis from an obscure struggling actor into a star almost overnight. It was almost a replay of the good fortune Peirce Brosnan enjoyed when his first starring role was in "Remington Steele", a show to which "Moonlighting owes a lot, not surprising given that it was created by one of "Remington Steele"'s co-creators.

Like "Remington Steele," "Moonlighting" tried to evoke the glamor and comedic tone of comedies from the 1930s and 1940s starring the likes of William Powell & Myrna Loy and Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn.

As far as capturing the look and feel of classic romantic/screwball comedies (while updating it for the 1980s), "Moonlighting" was only occasionally successful at it whereas "Remington Steele" hit every single note with perfect pitch until losing its way at the very end of the series. The biggest strength of the latter series was the fact that Remington Steele and Laura Holt were likable characters played by charming actors,while "Moonlighting"'s was fronted by charming actors playing the very unlikeable David Addison and the shrewish Maddie Hayes.

The personality defects of the lead characters in "Moonlighting" are present from this very first pilot episode. David annoying and obnoxious with very little in the charm department to make up for his behavior, while Maddie spends much of her time bitching for the sake of bitching. As the series wore on, it didn't improve much, making some episodes a little hard to sit through. It doesn't help matters that I don't feel like Willis and Shepherd ever really connect on screen. There simply isn't that Powell/Loy, Grant/Hepburn or Brosnan/Zimbalist chemistry; Willis and Shepherd are good individually, but their pairing does not add up to something great.

This pilot, however, shows that even if "Moonlighting" didn't quite manage to live up to its models, it was still lots of fun when it was its best. Shepherd is pretty and looks great in anything she wears--she actually was a retired model who turned to acting in real life--and Willis is quite funny in the role of David, something he never managed to consistently be in anything else he appeared in; when Willis turned to action films with comedic touches, he saved his career. The plot is a fast-paced and the mystery engaging.

While "Moonlighting" may not have been as good as the films it emulated (or even rival series "Remington Steele") it still ranks among both the best detective shows and the best comedies to grace the small screen. The pilot is a great introduction to the series that even works on its own as a stand-alone movie. It's worth checking out if you missed it Back In the Day.

Tectonic Tuesdays: Jennifer Love Hewitt

In an effort to save innocent people all over the world, the "Tectonic Tuesday" series is devoted to providing supporting evidence for the divinely inspired claim made by Iranian holy man and modern-day prophet Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi. It is he who said: "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

Third Case Study: Jennifer Love Hewitt

A child actress who grew up to wear revealing outfits on screen and outfits that reveal even more in magazine pictorials, Jennifer Love Hewitt became a danger to the world starting in when she and her breasts starred in the slasher flick "I Know What You Did Last Summer". The year was 1997, and in October (the same month the film was relased) central Chile and an earthquake and tsunami devastated Shikotan Island off the eastern coast of Russia.

In 2001, Hewitt played a slutty con-artist in "Heartbreakers," and the display of her cleavage on screens around the world caused the earth to shudder in American Northwest and the southern part of Peru. And since 2005, when she returned to series television to play a woman with a love of lowcut tops and the ability to speak to the dead in "Ghost Whisperer," there have been at least four major earthquakes every year! As if more evidence was needed, when Hewitt's latest photo-spread appeared in the May 2009 issue of Maxim magazine, Los Angeles was struck by an earthquake.

And all because of the immodesty of Jennifer Love Hewitt.

(This woman is SO nefarious that she's also been featured in my "Saturday Scream Queen" series at Terror Titans. To see more of this weapon of mass-destruction, click here.)