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Great special effects, unnecessarily convoluted story
I just saw this a few hours ago, and while I enjoyed it, I don't think it's up there with the all-time greats. Yes, the special effects are top-notch, but the story line is unnecessarily convoluted and the movie is too derivative to win any prizes for conceptual breakthroughs. If you've seen The Matrix, Dark City, Eternal Sunshine, and Blade Runner you'll feel like you've covered a lot of this territory before. And having three (four? five?) levels of dream/reality/whatever eventually becomes more distracting than intriguing. The process of "kicking" between different levels - why and how it works, or doesn't - is not explained convincingly or consistently.

All that aside, however, the main problem for me was that there's little reason to care much about Cobb, the main character. For all the talk of emotions and psyche, we learn surprisingly little about Cobb. We are told that he is driven by the hope of "going home," and the scenes with him and his lost wife are meant to evoke empathy, but for me they fell surprisingly flat. And finally, I just couldn't buy into Ellen Page as the "architect." She's too young to be the designer of dreamworlds, and I kept wishing that they'd cast an older, wiser actor in that role. Yeah, I know, they wanted at least one young/cute female in the movie, but ... Ellen Page? Sooo ... 8/10 is all I can give this movie. Worth seeing on the big screen, maybe even more than once, but not Nolan's best.

Eli Stone

Sappy, heavy-handed and lame
This show has an entertaining premise, but the execution is SO heavy-handed that it sinks beneath its own weight. EVERYTHING is spelled out so that even the dullest viewer will "get it." And is there ever any doubt who will win the showdown between the cute single mom with an autistic child, and the "evil, greedy" drug company? This is greeting-card TV, aimed at sentimental cretins. Stay away!

This show has an entertaining premise, but the execution is SO heavy-handed that it sinks beneath its own weight. EVERYTHING is spelled out so that even the dullest viewer will "get it." And is there ever any doubt who will win the showdown between the cute single mom with an autistic child, and the "evil, greedy" drug company? This is greeting-card TV, aimed at sentimental cretins. Stay away!

I Am Legend

Basically, a remake/update of The Omega Man
This movie is better than I expected it to be. The first half is very well done, effectively creating the atmosphere of an abandoned New York City, but it goes downhill at the end. When it becomes "Will Smith vs. 500 CGI monsters," it's just not very believable. And the tacked-on happy ending seems out of place.

If you've seen The Omega Man, this movie will feel very familiar, with scene after scene essentially replicated. (If you stay through the screen credits, you'll see that the 1971 script by the Corringtons is credited as a source for the movie, along with Richard Matheson's 1954 novel.) I wish they had not made the Dark Seekers so primitive and savage in this version; the dialog and adversarial relationship between Neville and Mathis in Omega Man gave that movie more depth and substance than the horde of CGI monsters in this new version.

Still, I Am Legend is a pretty good movie, better than about 80% of the stuff they're turning out these days.

The Golden Compass

Great visuals, but a bit choppy
I saw The Golden Compass at a preview screening in Tucson, AZ last night. Having not read any of Pullman's books, I had no real expectations one way or the other. Now, after seeing the movie, I'd rate it 7/10 to 8/10 – meaning, it's well worth seeing, but has a few flaws.

The movie's strongest point is the visuals. The landscapes and machinery are wonderful and convincing -- although the bears do look a bit like the ones in the Coke ads. The acting ranges from adequate to excellent. Sam Elliott shines as Lee Scoresby, but I found Nicole Kidman's performance wooden and unconvincing. Dakota Blue Richards is very good in the lead role of Lyra.

The main problem lies with the story. There are so many characters and plot threads that it is easy to become disoriented. Some things are just thrown at you with a brief explanation that barely makes sense. The origins and purpose of the Aliethiometer are given short shrift; it appears to be some kind of Edwardian-era scientific instrument, but in use seems more like crystal ball.

As for the movie's alleged "anti-Christian" message, I saw little evidence of that. It's pretty much a standard good-versus-evil story, and The Magisterium is not portrayed as a church. It could just as easily be the Illuminati, or even a faceless mega-corporation. As far as it matters, they're just another shadowy group of "we want to rule the world" bad guys, although the use of the word "heresy "does have religious implications.

So, go enjoy it for what it is, and don't worry too much about the details or seek too much in the way of philosophical content.

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

Less than the sum of its parts
Hiding within this movie are four fairly interesting mini-documentaries about four men, each with a vision - perhaps even an obsession - about one particular facet of life. The common thread uniting them is that each of the four is fascinated by the ways in which animals, men, plants, and even machines evolve, learn, and grow. A recurring theme is training or control.

Unfortunately, these four interesting stories are chopped up and interwoven in ways that often seem arbitrary and pointless. Plus, about 25% of the movie is made up of clips from other, mostly bad, movies... and the soundtrack music is often intrusive and annoying. So I'm mystified why a number of critics thought this was the best documentary of 1997. Maybe there were just a lot of bad documentaries that year!

Worth watching if you have nothing else to do, but nowhere near great.


An uneven satire of current social trends
"Idiocracy" is the latest in a long line of stories and movies set in a future society where things have been "dumbed down" and/or the people are stupid. As others have noted, its predecessors include the C. M. Kornbluth story "The Marching Morons" (1951) and the Woody Allen movie "Sleeper," along with "Demolition Man" and the recent TV cartoon series "Futurama." The movie it most resembles, however, in both style and spirit, is probably "Death Race 2000," released in 1975.

Like each of these works, "Idiocracy" uses its premise to satirize and comment on trends in present-day society. And to some measure, it succeeds. There are some genuinely funny moments, along with a lot of gross-out humor. Production values are minimal, and if you're looking for a logical, coherent story, this is not the movie for you. Clearly, a society where everyone is as stupid as these people appear to be could not function at all. Who would design and build the giant vehicles used in the Rehabilitation arena, for example?

I agree with the consensus rating of 6 to 7 points that IMDb users have given "Idiocracy," although that figure is a bit deceptive., as it represents an average of extremes. People either think this movie is brilliant, or they think it sucks. I disagree with both groups. It's fairly clever in places, but hardly original in concept; see the works cited above. On the other hand, despite rumored "gutting" by Fox, it retains enough sharp-edged humor to qualify as insightful and somewhat daring.

Zathura: A Space Adventure

Marvelous production, weak story line
I enjoyed "Zathura" despite its many flaws. The production is first-rate, and the retro look of the board game and the things it generates (robot, monsters, space ships) is wonderful. I especially enjoyed the robot - a malevolent Robbie on steroids - and the scimitar-wielding Zorgons.

Unfortunately, the story line is thin, verging on nonsensical. The kids are exposed to various perils AND GIVEN NO WAY TO COMBAT THEM. Occasionally, they are given a "way out" but fail to take it.

The kids' acting is adequate, but no more. The teenage sister seems to be in the movie only to look cute. And the "message" -- brothers should stick together -- is pretty simpleminded. Still, "Zathura" is reasonably entertaining. After a slow start it moves right along, and it offers kid-friendly adventure without being mind-numbingly dull for parents.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

One of the best SF movies from that era!
I first saw "The Incredible Shrinking Man" as a teenager, shortly after it came out. Some parts (especially the scenes with the spider) were SCARY on the big screen, and I thought it was a great movie overall. I watched it again on TV about 1980, and then for a third time on TCM last night - 6/05/2006. It wasn't quite as good as I remembered - it's a bit slow, and Grant Williams' performance is pretty wooden. Nonetheless, the movie holds up well after half a century, and it's markedly superior to most of the b&w sci-fi efforts of the 1950s. In fact, I'd rate it as one of the top three, the other two being The Day The Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. All three are more psychological thrillers than the typical rubber-suit monster flicks, and each leaves a strong lingering impression in your mind. If you haven't seen this, seek it out. (And the spider is still pretty scary, even on a small screen!)

Forbidden Planet

Still a classic after half a century.
I saw this when it first came out; I was 12 or 13 at the time. Needless to say, I was mesmerized. I watched it again last night, and while some of the sets and special effects are primitive by today's standards, the movie holds up well. A bit preachy, especially at the end, but fun to watch and nicely constructed. (Speaking of nicely constructed, Ann Francis certainly is a treat to watch!) I can't go along with those who call this "the greatest s-f movie ever," but it's a standout for its era. It's right up there with "War of the Worlds" and "When Worlds Collide" -- two other '50s s-f films produced in color -- and ranks in the all-time top 20 of the genre.

The Singing Detective

I guess I just don't get it.
Apparently this is a "cult" movie (OK, miniseries) like Rocky Horror or Repo Man. There's a small group of people who love it and think it's the greatest thing ever, while most of the world is blissfully unaware of its existence. A friend lent me a copy, and I really couldn't get into it. It's just too oblique. There's tons of stuff going on, on all sorts of levels, but somehow I didn't care. The production quality is mediocre at best, and the main character, Marlow, is not all that likable. There are some great moments -- like when the hospital doctors burst into a rousing rendition of "Dem Bones" -- but mostly it just meanders along, zig-zagging between past and present, reality and fantasy. If you want to watch a surreal movie, I recommend "Brazil" over this, any day!

It Came from Outer Space

Surprisingly good!
I watched this last night (New Year's Eve) on TMC, immediately following "The Thing" -- and IMHO, this is a much better film. The photography is excellent, and the Mojave desert scenery provides a slightly surreal, creepy atmosphere. The print they showed on TMC was crystal clear, and Barbara Rush is a stunning beauty. While not a great movie by any means, "It Came from Outer Space" is fairly thoughtful, with decent dialog. The "creatures" are shown only momentarily, but they're reasonably well-done and even a bit scary. I bet they were even scarier in 3D!

My only quibble: Why would the aliens assume human form to work on their damaged spacecraft? Since it was designed and built for use by them in their "normal" form, that just doesn't make sense.

Overall, this is definitely one of the better sci-fi movies from the '50s. Not up there with best (Incredible Shrinking Man; Invasion of the Body Snatchers) but well worth watching.

The Thing from Another World

Most errors ever in one movie?
When I first saw this movie, as a kid, I found it kind of scary. Watching it last night on TCM, however, I was underwhelmed. The sets are primitive, the acting is hammy, and James Arness as The Thing was just pathetic. He looked like Frankenstein's Monster in a wet suit. Worse, however, was the total disregard for scientific and technical accuracy. In fact, by the end of the movie I concluded that "The Thing" contains more errors of this nature than any other movie made – ever!

*** SPOILERS !!! ***

To start with the obvious, the movie is set at or very near the North Pole, in November – when it's dark outside 24 hours a day. Even at 80 degrees North latitude, there are less than two hours of daylight on November 3. Yet the crew that sets out to find the crashed spacecraft seems to have quite a lot of daylight to work in.

There are no airlocks on the doors to the polar station; people just waltz in and out. The sled dogs are left out at night (which would be always) even though someone mentions a temperature of 60 below.

The crashed spacecraft is described as weighing 20,000 tons, and affecting compasses for hundreds of miles around. That sounds like a lot of metal, but battleships weigh a lot more than that and compasses work just fine even when one is nearby.

Based on sizes and weights of other aircraft, a 20,000 ton disk-shaped spaceship would be about 300 feet across – larger if it were made of something like titanium. Yet when the search party fans out and stands around the ship's perimeter it is only about a 100-ft circle. A ship that size would weigh a few hundred tons at most. Why didn't they just describe the crashed object as "highly magnetic" and have the file get irrevocably stuck to the tail fin when one guy tries to file off shavings?

Attempting to thaw out the ice surrounding the ship with a couple of thermite charges simply wouldn't work. Those charges could melt a few cubic yards of ice, at most. And what were they hoping to accomplish, anyhow? Assuming they could melt the ice, what are they gonna do? Dive into ice-cold water, in the Arctic winter, to look at the ship close-up? almost certainly, they would have radioed back to civilization and the higher-ups would have told them not to disturb anything. Then, come Spring, there would be a major scientific expedition equipped with excavating equipment and sophisticated instruments.

There wasn't even any good plot-related reason to try to excavate the ship from the ice. They could have discovered The Thing nearby anyway, and used the thermite to get HIM out of the ice. The amount they had might be enough. Instead, they remove a block of ice that had to weigh at least 3000 pounds, using hand tools and perhaps chainsaws. This would take at least a day, yet apparently it takes them almost no time.

When the crew gets the block of ice back to the station, they bring it inside. Why? Wouldn't it make more sense to leave it outside? Who's gonna steal it?

Once it's inside they put it in a storeroom, where some bozo inadvertently places an electric blanket on top of the ice. This would have almost no effect on a 3000 pound block of ice in a cold room; it would take months to melt the block this way.

Once The Thing is on the loose, they try to stop it by sloshing kerosene on it and setting it afire – inside their only shelter. Yeah, that's a really good plan.

When The Thing disrupts the fuel supply to the heaters that keep the station warm, they come up with another great plan: electrocute him. OK, what does the generator run on: pixie dust? Wouldn't it be hooked in to the same fuel source as the heaters? If not, why couldn't they use some of the generator fuel to heat the place for a few hours?

The setup they devise to electrocute The Thing is ludicrous. For something like that to work, he'd have to be in direct contact with the wires carrying the electrical current – yet they put the floor grid under a wood walkway (wood is a fairly good insulator) and run some wires along the walls and ceiling. One of the characters says something about stepping up the voltage (using what?) to allow the electricity to arc across to The Thing. "That'll provide plenty of amps," he says. Wrong.

When you step up the voltage, amperage drops correspondingly. To form arcs that long would take about half a million volts. If the polar station was equipped with a 100 KW generator, that would give you about 0.2 amperes – barely enough to tickle. (Remember those Van de Graf generators at high school science fairs? Big sparks, but totally harmless!) To provide high amperage, you'd reduce the voltage – but then you'd have to get the monster to actually touch the wires, and there'd be no cool sparks to look at.

Oh, and one final question; If The Thing had come to Earth to plant his seeds and grow an army of Things, why would he be cruising around the North Pole? Wouldn't he be likely to head for a tropical jungle region, where the climate is more conducive to plant growth and there is a plentiful supply of food?


My Name Is Earl

Somewhere between "Raising Arizona" and "Dude, Where's My Car?"
I just watched the first three episodes, which aired back-to-back on NBC last night. I found the show somewhat entertaining, but I have to wonder how long they can sustain the premise. Shows (and movies) about lowlifes and doofuses suffer from an inherent problem: unless the writing and acting are superior (as with the Coen Brothers' movies) the characters can become annoying rather quickly. And after only three episodes, most of the people on this show seem like little more than caricatures: the scheming ex-wife, the stupid brother, the ex-con who's found Jesus, the squirrelly little gay guy, etc.

There have been several clever and original bits: the giant-type Bible, and Randy asking the guy with the throat mike to say "Luke, I am your father," for example. But too much of the show relies on people acting stupidly and/or getting out of a bad situation through dumb luck or a quick spin: the bad things Earl has done turn out to be not-so-bad after all.

Also, while I like looking at hot babes as much as the next guy, how plausible is it that the two main female characters in these guys' lives (Joy and Catalina) would both be drop-dead gorgeous?

So, overall, I'd rate this show at 6-7 stars so far - just above the middle of the curve, worth watching occasionally, but not really special. Your mileage may vary.

Killers from Space

Possibly the worst movie I've ever seen!
This movie is mind-bogglingly bad! About half of it is made up of stock footage from newsreels and other movies. The script is nonsensical. The acting is awful. It's truly a bad movie, in every sense of the word. Not funny-bad, just bad. You have to wonder how it got made, and why any movie theater would show it. Maybe it ran as the third or fourth feature at all-night drive-in marathons?

After watching this I really tried to think of a worse movie. Maybe "Plan 9 From Outer Space" could match it. I don't know, as I saw that one too long ago to directly compare the two. But even cult classic turkeys like "Killer Shrews" and "Big Meat Eater" are better than this stinker. At least they're sorta funny. This one just stumbles along like a lobotomized ape, with endless shots of Peter Graves clutching his head and looking confused.

If you want to see just how bad a movie can be, this is the one to watch. Otherwise, stay away!

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

"It's like The Blob, only with Clowns" ...
I really don't know how to rate this movie, as it is an odd mix of cheesy, dorky stupidity and wild, demented genius. As you no doubt already know, it chronicles the invasion of a small town by sinister clown-like creatures from another planet. Local teens try to warn the authorities, but the mean police chief won't listen.... as one of the Chiodo brothers says in a commentary, the storyline borrows heavily from that 1958 classic, "The Blob."

But that barely begins to describe "Killer Klowns." Clearly, it's a parody of 1950s sci-fi/horror movies, but it's more than that. It's ... well, it's Killer Klowns from Outer Space. A one-of-a- kind effort that defies easy categorization.

The acting ranges from good to awful (John Vernon steals the show as Officer Mooney) and the sets are often no better than you'd see in a community theatre production. Photography is surprisingly good. The soundtrack is fun, in a 1980s way.

I really enjoyed this movie, but I can't give it more than 6/10 because it's so cheaply produced, and the acting is just AWFUL in places. Buy or rent a copy, get together with some friends, some pizza, and beer and enjoy it for what it is: a wild, weird exercise in goofy humor.

Big Meat Eater

Somewhere between "Pink Flamingos" and "Little Shop of Horrors"
This movie is SO odd that it's hard to compare it to anything else, but it's in the same general quadrant as efforts by Roger Corman and John Waters. Production values are mostly awful, as is the acting, but the musical numbers are actually quite good and the movie has a certain goofy charm. I laughed out loud several times. If you don't have unduly high expectations, it's enjoyable enough. The consensus rating of 4-5 points (on a scale of 10) is about right.

Big Fish

Somewhere between "Forrest Gump" and "O, Brother"
A wide-eyed surrealistic potpourri of fantasy and enhanced memories, "Big Fish" is a treat, but not a knock-it-out-of-the-park triumph. Definitely worth seeing, but don't expect a miracle. 8/10

The Killer Shrews

Hilariously bad!
I won't recount the plot - such as it is - of this campy classic, because several others have already done so. I'll just give a couple of reasons why it's SOOOO bad that it's hilarious ... which makes it good, or at least entertaining, in a perverse way. First, the "shrews" are quite obviously dogs wearing mop-like wigs and/or bathmats. Easily the worst "monsters" ever put on film. Second, it's clear that Ray Kellogg was on such a tight budget that they weren't going to waste film with reshoots no matter HOW badly a scene went. At one point, one of the actors obviously forgot his lines, so Ingrid Goude prompts him on-camera, saying "Aren't you wondering about my strange accent?" Truly a great moment in cheesy movie history!

Rated "straight" this movie gets about 2 points on a ten-point scale, just above the all- time stinkers like Plan 9 and Manos: Hands of Fate. As unintentional comedy, however, it's pretty entertaining and might rate 5/10.

Dead Gorgeous

Passable update of "Strangers on a Train"
While this made-for-TV movie is based on a novel by Peter Lovesey, it covers the same territory as Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, "Strangers on A Train." The acting, sets and costumes are pretty decent, but the story movies slowly and there's little real tension. Not a bad effort, but hardly a "must see."


Sort of like "The Big Lebowski" meets "Pulp Fiction"
A frenetic and often clever attempt to chronicle the (mis)

adventures of some slightly addled 20-somethings in after-hours

Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Not great, but it has its moments.

Worth watching if comedic violence and a lot of foul language

won't upset you.

Femme Fatale

Great opening sequence; downhill from there
WARNING: SPOILERS!!!! "Femme Fatale" is a frustrating movie.

On some levels, it's very good; the "heist" sequence in the

beginning is beautifully produced and holds your interest, but the

middle third drags and the "twist" ending is not quite as "twisty" as

we'd like. There are numerous clues throughout the movie that

something is amiss -- watch the clocks -- but when the "surprise"

is revealed, it seems tacked-on. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is sexy;

Antonio Banderas is adequate as the "guy caught in the web" and

the overall feel of the movie has DePalma's usual faux-Hitchcock

look. Not one of the great ones, but worth watching, especially if

you like to look at scantily-clad babes! 7/10

The Ref

Some Great Moments, Some Trite Filler
"The Ref" is one of my favorite Christmas movies, mostly because

it serves as an antidote to the sugary-sweet pap that is prevalent

at Christmas. The storyline is a bit implausible (to say the least)

but sharp performances by the cast keep it lively, and the

Christmas dinner sequence is truly side-splitting. If you like

slightly offbeat humor, and are tired of Christmas Treacle -- "The

Usually Grumpy Person Who Helped a Poor Child and Found the

True Meaning Of Christmas" -- "The Ref" will provide some much- needed comic relief.

Donnie Darko

Original, intriguing, and more than a bit weird!
If you like strange, bizarre movies I urge you to rent "Donnie

Darko," a VERY bizarre movie indeed. It came and went with little

fanfare last year, and is definitely "out there." It tells the story of a

bright but psychotic teenager who meets (imagines?) a strange

visitor from the future, after narrowly missing a freakish death. It's

hard to think of anything to compare this movie to; "Donnie" is

somewhere out in the same quadrant as Vanilla Sky, Repo Man,

and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Or imagine an episode of "Angel"

directed by the Coen Brothers. One critic called it "Harvey" on acid.

As I said, strange.

Philadelphia Experiment II

Not as bad as previous reviews indicate.
OK, so this isn't a great movie. And it isn't really a sequel to the original Philadelphia Experiment movie. But once you get past the first 10 minutes or so, it's a decent "what if" alternate-universe story, with a fun performance by Gerrit Graham in a TRIPLE role, and some occasional wry humor. At least as good as the average episode of shows like Star Trek and Quantum Leap.

Some elements of the movie (the use of tattooed bar codes to track people, for example) are clever and thoughtful, while others verge on silly. But overall, it's pretty good. I'd rate it 6 out of 10. Give it a try; you probably won't be disappointed.

Phantom of the Paradise

One of the best Black Comedies ever!
I can't quite give this movie a "10" because it is just a bit too amateurish for that... but it's a solid "9". Brian DePalma's only venture into comedy is definitely not to everyone's taste -- see the widely scattered ratings for proof -- but if you like dark, mordant humor, this one's for you. It contains references to Faust, Dorian Gray, and, of course, Phantom of the Opera. And it has the single funniest moment you'll ever see in a movie. As Swan would say, "Trust Me."

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