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Reviews

Life of Pi
(2012)

"And so it is with God"
Life of Pi is an amazing allegory, that attempts to explain a very abstract concept. This will no doubt confuse many, because it touches on the heart of how we perceive our own spiritual beliefs, it challenges our ideas of religion, the things we have held onto since childhood to give us hope and inspiration. Many people will leave the theater thrilled by a story of a boy who is trapped in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger and how they formed a bond that saved them both. The film is vividly colorful, exciting and haunting, masterfully directed by Ang Lee. But, just as we think we've had a rollicking good time with a fantastical story, the last part of the film comes at us, and shakes us up. This is the crucial part of the film, and if audiences choose to ignore this, they miss the entire message of the film. As Jung said "Man must have his myths". So it is with God, so it is with Life of Pi.

Devil
(2010)

Sorry, I just couldn't go there.
I was looking forward to this one, the trailers seemed to promise some tight thrills and scares. Honestly, as is the case with many films now, the trailer was better than the overall film. The story is ridiculously simple. People trapped in an elevator may or may not be terrorized by Lucifer. I suppose it would help if the concept of the Devil was somehow relevant to you personally, but I've never been able to buy it as a legitimate horror vehicle. As is the case many times with God, why Satan would take the time from what I can only assume is a very busy schedule to play out a scenario that the movie presents left me with more questions than I would like to have trying to be entertained. Many of the "set-ups" which come via narration are new to me: Suicides bring him out of hiding, he likes to have an audience, and surprise of surprises, he doesn't like to make deals. Huh. The production is fine, the acting was fine, it was the story itself that I found lacking. What could have been a good half hour on television is stretched to feature length. We know very little about anyone, so caring about anyone is difficult. Characters behave strangely from the very beginning. Even when we find out a tiny bit of information about a character it only serves to justify the story, not build a character. Overall, typical Shyamalan. Take a simple concept and stretch it, and stretch it and....

Inside Daisy Clover
(1965)

Quirky view of Hollywood
This film seems way ahead of it's time, made in 1965 it's one of the first to show a darker side of Tinsel Town. Natalie Wood plays a tomboy who's plucked from obscurity and becomes a teen singing star. Her character is almost immediately jaded by the experience, manipulated by a studio head and a dubious male heartthrob, played by a stunning looking Robert Redford. Ruth Gordon once again stands out as the teen stars' mother. Christopher Plummer is excellent as the smooth studio head with Roddy McDowall as his cold assistant. Katharine Bard plays Plummers' wife, and her character is fascinating. She seems to float and flow when she moves and her character sums up the film's overall feel. Distant, detached and alien yet seething with anger and disappointment.

The problem with the film is that it's very dark in tone. That is to say the slick big budget production is overshadowed by a strange menace, highlighting the fact that the studio system was basically a people factory, uncaring and cannibalistic. Audiences at the time must have been very confused, expecting a light, breezy musical. Instead it's a realistic yet stylized downer, reminiscent of Valley of the Dolls, which was yet to come. There's very little genuine romance, sentiment or humor, just a steady flow of odd scenes.

This is one of those movies that many have never heard of, it remains obscure despite it's almost epic appeal. It's certainly worth a look, but just try to nail it down to any specific category.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
(2010)

Hollywood, have mercy on your audience!
How in the world can ANY producer believe that trotting out this mediocre, unbelievably unoriginal offering can in any way please a movie-going public so used to the Nightmare franchise? There aren't many people around of a certain age who do not know at least the first original, brilliant Wes Craven film.

I would think that someone involved with the storyboard of this film would have come up with SOMETHING original, something clever, some sort of twist...anything. But no, they do not. This film is all over the place, trying so hard to impress that it fails miserably. Nothing about the film is suspenseful or frightening. The R rating is wasted on cliché after infuriating cliché. Are we supposed to nod knowingly, remembering the exact same scenario from another, better made film? I find this sad and cannot help but feel ripped off. Why wouldn't I just enjoy the better film? I already own it. The only difference seems to be that we get to know Freddy a little better....ooOOOOO..really? That's what you're selling us? I sincerely hope that someone in the industry is reading this, because let me tell you, times are hard. Money is tight. If this kind of sham excuse for "new" continues, the only profits Hollywood will glean are from DVD sales. Clean up your act.

The Happening
(2008)

A Whole Lotta Nothing Going On
Wow. Shyamalan is definitely hit or miss. When he does well, it's a good combination of well made film and a fun ride. When he doesn't, look out. Here we have a plot so ludicrous to begin with, that for a second I thought it was brilliant. Therein lies much of Shyamalan's gimmick. He's very good at convincing us that what we're looking at is somehow cerebral and meaningful, and ooooooriginal. This implied depth is more often than not, less than an inch in thickness. Here we have wind as our mortal enemy, plants in revolt. Running from nothing isn't very suspenseful or scary. There's lots of that. There are short scenes of graphic violence, followed by long scenes of nothingness. Talky relationship hooha tries to make us care. The only suspense is whether the plot is going to progress or not. Shyamalan should know how to direct his actors by now, but they all seem lost, doing their own thing whether it works or not.

Horrible script, just horrible.

Eyes Wide Shut
(1999)

The title says it all...
Eyes Wide Shut remains one of those films that when I mention it to people, I inevitably get eye rolls and OMGs. It's weirdness seems to overpower it, causing what I like to call "The Art-house Effect". Many expect a mainstream film; this if far from one. Many viewers no doubt expected a film that would titillate and shock. It does do both of these things but they take a far backseat. For all it's convolution and confusion, the story is very simple. A man travels by night across Manhattan and Long Island at Christmas. During this all-nighter he has many strange adventures and is subjected to temptations. In the light of the next day, he is shown how wrong he was about his perceptions. If this reminds you of A Christmas Carol, then congratulations because you would be right. This film could be rightly called a very adult Carol. It also suggests legends and myths where the "hero" is tested by his encounters and found to be worthy.

Kubrick was a film genius. He doesn't care if we "don't get it", he never has. Most of his films have been received as being difficult to understand, yet later they somehow achieve clarity. It's as though we catch up to him after a few years. His lighting in this is especially sublime, "pushing" the exposure a few extra stops so that ambient light, (candles, table lamps, Christmas lights) is plenty of light. This makes the goings on dark and dreamlike. Further enhancing this unreal atmosphere are supposedly outdoor street scenes, which look artificial to the extreme. Look at the streets the next time you watch this, they look pristine, impossibly perfect. My only severe criticism of this film is the casting of Cruise and Kidman. A Superceleb couple at the time of filming, IMHO they are horribly miscast. Cruise projects very little presence, I wondered why anyone bothered to interact with him to the degree they do. Kidman pretty much started her Ice Queen period here, despite a playful character, she is distant. Their looks only go so far in this. There's the feeling of rebelliousness by both of them, as though they are fighting against the rest of the film. It's a testament to Kubrick's masterful hand that the film transcends this miscasting, under another director it might have ruined it.

This film is magic. A fairy tale for grown ups. It's message is clear and echoed throughout the film by the password for entry to the party. Without trust and honesty in relationships, we are lost.

The Wolfman
(2010)

Style over substance, but what style!
The remake of the 1941 Universal classic (this time as one word) The Wolfman comes at us with a dark panache that wonderful to look at. High Victorian Gothic never looked better. It's all here, the huge manor house on the moors, a funeral procession to the crypt, London by night. From the beginning the art direction takes center stage, shadows and oil lamps, moonlit forests. I was hoping they'd include the classic poem ("Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night...") would be included, at this point it's almost a tradition. I wasn't disappointed.

The script writers take a few liberties with the story as all horror fans know it, pushing the envelope a few notches further into family dysfunction. A sliver of a love story seems added as an afterthought. Rather than enhance the plot is strains it slightly, but it still holds up due to the great performances and direction. Bloody gore is the star here, and hooray for that. Luckily we did not get a tame wolf.

All in all a fun ride. There are several action sequences that are thrilling, the film moves along at a nice pace, but first and foremost, it's a feast for the eyes.

Avatar
(2009)

Absolutely Incredible
There's a lot of gushing going on for this film, and rightly so. After a Summer of lackluster crap, along comes this magnificent film. For once the hype was actually deserved. I won't talk about the plot, this film is best seen with as little information as possible. I will say that I wasn't prepared for the experience, even as a jaded film-goer I was transported and yes, moved. I didn't expect the emotional impact, but Cameron is a master at pushing all the right buttons, and he does so here masterfully.

Some of the criticism lies in the "surface" quality of the plot, but again, Cameron has never made deep, cerebral films. Cameron is an entertainer, and thank God for it. This film is pure, futuristic, ahead of it's time escapism. I was absolutely floored.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
(2009)

"Oh look, I have a paper cut"
The juggernaut that is The Twilight Saga rolls along with it's latest entry, New Moon. Basically a study in repressed teen sexuality the story, which involved four novels could have easily been shortened, but that would have meant less money. New Moon is what I would call a "filler" film, stretching an already interminable plot out to the point that we might as well know what every character had to eat, day by day. Kristen Stewart plays Bella, a rather bleak girl who is transplanted to Forks, the town that gives new meaning to boondocks. But wait, this isn't just any Nowheresville, it's full of vampires and now, werewolves. Vampires have always represented sexuality, but Miss Meyer has decided that it's time for vampires to go to the teen scene. Didn't we cover that pretty well with a girl named Buffy? I fully expect some clever writer to next make millions off of vampires in pre-school. Sex is hidden as rage and depression, frustration and angst all under a supernatural veneer. Take away the fantasy and you have a story that would flop even on Lifetime. This is of course not the real world, so it's entirely acceptable for a young girl to have practically every male in her community want her, whatever their supernatural inclinations may be. Forget about the fact that Bella has no charm or charisma whatsoever, she smells good. But Bella is safe in her knowledge that she really, really loves Edward, a creature that is not only over 100 years old, but for all intents and purposes, dead. It helps that Edward is good looking, I seriously doubt the dynamic would work without that little detail. I kept wondering why any immortal would constantly attend high school, decade after decade. Isn't there anything else more interesting to do? Travel the world? Discover a cure? In this entry we also get Jacob, who was introduced sparsely in Twilight but has now grown into a Chippendales hunk who gives us two versions of hairstyles to choose from. He and his pack of woofy wolves do not like shirts. Conflict ensues. Bella seems bright and mature but does not exhibit any signs of either. She throws herself between Nosferatu and Werewolf, ceasing their super strength fighting with a flick of her hand. She stands among a coven of the undead (who are celebrating her birthday for God's sake) and makes the idiotic mistake of holding a finger up and announcing that it's cut and bleeding. At one point she takes every opportunity she can to risk her life, a nice little lesson for girls in the audience who have been jilted. She is either the most oblivious mortal that has ever lived or some sort of conniving vixen, hell bent on driving her menfolk insane. A large chunk of the film is Bella brooding that her corpse lover has left her. Jacob the hunky dog boy jumps in, trying to cheer her up and thus get her... It's all played out very romancey and sweet, with almost no violence. The story hinges on a precarious line between what can and cannot be. This is easily solved by Bella's decision to convert, which flies in the face of any common sense; the age old concept of laying down your life for the one you love it turned on it's head and comes across as laughable. Is there a witness protection program for new vampires? Does she love her father? Finally, toward the end of this torturous thing some pretty cool vamps show up and get all vampy like you would expect them to. I just wish that SOMEONE had said "Edward, you must grow out of this school phase, get on with your undead life and drop the downer girl. Now run along, you have hunky dogs to kill."

Pageant
(2008)

Great little film
Pageant is a documentary about The Miss Gay America Pageant, apparently THE high stakes competition for female impersonators. We meet a few of the contestants and follow them on a bizarre, funny, poignant and exhilarating journey. It's fascinating to see what support they have, from a very close straight friend to parents and their partners. It obviously takes courage for these guys to do what they do and they give it their all, it's exhausting just to watch them. They come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Imaginative with over the top performances and costumes, subtlety has no place here. If you've never seen anything like this,check it out. Entertaining from start to finish.

Sorority Row
(2009)

Fun, well done retread
Anyone going to Sorority Row with any expectations other than fun thrills and kills is sure to be disappointed. BUT this one surprised me. From the very beginning with a cool opening credit sequence, slowly panning through a party, it's a hoot all the way. There isn't a heck of a lot new here, slashers tend to cover familiar territory to give the audience a chance to feel superior in their accumulated knowledge of the genre: Everyone is attractive. Check. Plenty of humor. Check. Graphic violence, clearly seen. Check. An older familiar actress as the house mother. Double check. Twists that might be figured out, but might not. Check. After seeing the ridiculous and unnecessary Halloween II, this stands out as a fresh offering for horror fans. I hope it does well, it deserves to take it's place among the "Pretty Young Girls In Peril" category.

Inglourious Basterds
(2009)

A Great Big Mess
It was with the most excited, expectant anticipation that I sat down to Inglourious Basterds, only to slowly discover that I was being conned. It was a slow realization, but eventually I was convinced. I've loved pretty much everything that Tarantino has done, he's not afraid of unconventional storytelling and usually gives us a good ride. But here, I'm not even sure what I saw. Any Tarantino fan knows there will be long dialog scenes, Mr.T loves his talky parts, but give us a break. Scene after overlong scene of people just sitting around talking, creating faux suspense with sudden and ridiculous payoffs. I can definitely say it's the most un-action packed war movie I've ever seen. I kept expecting something to happen, and when a little bit did, it just moved on to another torturous dialog marathon. With all the talking, there is very little obvious humor and when there is a laugh it's not much of a relief. Tarantino (again) divides the film into chapters, which are boldly stated like we're finally going to get going, but no, we just keep meandering along with the yackety yack. Others here have stated that the film is childish but I'll also add that it looks amateur, if there was a lot of money in it, I couldn't tell. Even the finale which I assume is supposed to be epic and disaster-like feels rushed, confused and tightly filmed. I have no objections to the "alternate reality" plot, but at least make that alternate reality interesting, instead it comes off lame and badly thought through. I have no objections to the violence, but there was precious little of it for a war pic. The shocks often come like a punchline to a joke instead of justified. We get suggestions that The Basterds are supposed to be like The Dirty Dozen, but none of them (with the exception of Brad Pitt) even have a handful of lines, frustrating for such a dialog heavy piece. Eli Roth's role is borderline cameo and I kept wanting to get to know "the gang" just a little bit, but it never happens. Mike Myers appearance is distracting and unnecessary. There are no heroes, no villains, just a bunch of people being mean to one another, sadistic on both sides of the conflict, which ultimately does a disservice to what millions of poor souls must have really experienced. I HATE to get preachy about something that's supposed to be fun, but I can't help but see it that way. Thank God we didn't get a concentration camp scene. The main idea here seems to be the notion that it would be cool to see Jews exact their revenge upon Nazis. This may be a great idea when sitting around after too many drinks, but it does not a movie make. There were many moments that I got so bored listening to people run their mouths that I just zoned out, again, not something I would associate with Tarantino. I left the theater disappointed and angry. To say that this was not my idea of a Terantino film is a huge understatement.

I would compare the experience to a kid who's all excited at Christmas for a pair of skates and instead gets a photo of skates...no, a drawing of skates, and the whole family just laughs and laughs.

Satan's Playground
(2006)

Proof that the D horror film industry feeds off of itself
Fangoria gives Satan's Playground 3 1/2 stars. Fangoria creates a buzz and excitement, the cast and crew will be at their convention! Fangoria charges admission to sit and listen to cast and crew discuss Satan's Playground. Quite a little racket. Sub-level horror filmmakers seem stuck in an almost raptured love of 70's and 80's Exploitation/Slasher horror. Certainly no masterpieces themselves they still have a sentimental place in the heart of horror fans who grew up being scared by them. These films marked a milestone in the genre, shockers for the time, I'm sure those iconic directors never imagined they would be copied, and copied...and copied. Nothing about this film is original. In fact, it's such a tacky copy of a combination of much earlier films that rather than being an homage, it insults the originals by claiming it's something new. The plot is so typical, so (I SWORE I wouldn't write it but I have to) cliché, yet without any merit or reason. A family is stranded in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. One by one they wander off and are poorly dispatched by the obligatory crazy family who look like they're taking a break from a really bad community haunted house. UGH, just writing that makes me mad. The director rips off film shots and styles relentlessly. Rushing cameras follow the "girl in peril" as she screams her head off through the woods. The camera rushes up to a front door for no reason. A snake is placed on a table and reacts on cue for no reason. The timing and plot devices are disastrous. Then there is the acting. The lead female looks way too young for her part. The biggest twist was when I discovered she was married to the older man and had an EIGHTEEN YEAR OLD SON. No one in the film is in the least bit attractive, a must for bad horror. The old hag woman coasts along on her appearance alone, which is so...copied. At least give us something soft to rest our eyes on. Ugh,mad again. The most cardinal sin in my humble opinion is you can't even laugh at it. If you're not going to scare or disturb at least entertain. I hope I never find out how much the budget was for this pile, because if it was fifty cents it was too much. The DVD should come with a full rebate.

I watched this on Netflix instant play mainly because I have an exact replica of the door knocker that's in the poster art. It's a nice door knocker, wrought iron and well made. I can't bring myself to display it though, not because I think it's creepy in any way (which it isn't) but because it's just SO tacky. It figures prominently in this. Yes, it's very, very tacky.

Fans turn to horror reviewers because they want to know if a film is worth buying. We expect honesty, not shilling for profit or nepotism. Being this off base is infuriating.

Fangoria should be ashamed of itself.

Star Trek
(2009)

Introductions and the flimsiest of plots
JJ Abrams sets out to reinvent a franchise. Judging by the box office and lots of hooplah he has. Just like G.I. Joe, Superman, Spiderman and God help us Land of the Lost, everything old is new again. After a very nicely done opening pre-credit sequence we settle down to each familiar character's introductions, played by fresh young faces. There is something fun about seeing Quinto and Pine play Spock and Kirk, just setting out. We're exhausted for them already.

After some very fast explanations the plot kicks in. Not that a plot really matters, a fact that the writers and director obviously agreed with. Humor me for a minute and imagine if any of the original cast(s) were in this film. It would have been the biggest box office flop of the year. As a side note to directors and producers must we always have that comic bit of business at the beginning of a voyage when a spaceship behaves like a car? The driver doesn't know the controls, or it stalls. Then it's off to the really dangerous battle! This crew is wet behind the ears, so much so that they behave incompetently, then snap into genius mode. Only the recent graduates with no experience can save this world! Where is the rest of the Federation? Is everybody on vacation? Security on board the ship treat an officer like they're bullies on a playground. The voice recognition system can't identify a key member of the crew until he changes his accent. Characters wander around the bridge, more concerned with each other than the mission. And on, and on. This is all treated like a big wink to the audience, what a wacky crew. The intent being to make the audience like these characters again by making them stupidly human, like teenagers acting up inside a huge toy.

The Real World Trek.

Drastic plot devices are thrown at us with little regard for character behavior. At one point a Starfleet officer strands another officer (unconscious!!!) on a dangerous, frozen planet, for no other reason than he seemed to be getting on his nerves. That certainly is a new one. Is the ship so new that the brig isn't ready? Not to mention the fact that said stranded officer boarded the ship against orders by being infected with some sort of sickness, purposely administered by a doctor! Couldn't he just pretend to be sick?

It doesn't matter if I'm a Trek fan or not, in any military situation this would be absurd. This little bit of court martial material is necessary though, for other ridiculous plot lines to follow.

The film has an extreme deja vous aspect, with bald villains wearing Matrix like outfits speaking as though they're hanging out on the corner ("Hi"), commanding a big 'ol planet killing ship that looks like it's alive. I would invoke Star Trek Nemesis, but you already know that. Speaking of big 'ol ship, the Enterprise looks very nice, but we see very little of her. I don't recall seeing any shots of her speeding through Space, she just sort of "blips" from one point to another. There is no sense of space in...Space.

The ending rushes up before we know it, Eric Bana barely has a chance to act (and what a throw-away role, absolutely no development). I did experience several moments of fun, mainly in the slight impersonations the young actors do as a nod to the originals. The effects are fine but there were moments I would have liked to have seen what I was looking at better, or steadier. As one other astute reviewer put it, it IS the ultimate reset button film. So much so that I was lectured by a stranger in the restroom of the theater regarding the total reinvention of the franchise: "They're starting over man, like it's a whole new Trek."

I get that, but must it be such a mediocre new Trek?

House
(2008)

Cliché-a-palooza
Let me first say I watched it so you don't have to. House seems to be a film geared to horror movie fans, surfing along on the bet that people are going to appreciate seeing reenactments of familiar scenarios. So familiar in fact that it has a rip off quality to it, which ultimately comes across as lazy. The plot, if there is one, is about four extremely attractive young people, stranded at the same time in a house in the middle of nowhere. When WILL these youngin's learn not to drive their classic cars down dirt roads in the boonies? There's a creepy family out there, just waiting to freak their freaks. The house in question IS pretty cool, I wouldn't mind owning it. It's big and lit with green lights and decorated with serial killer wallpaper. Its basement is enormous and there are serious plumbing problems. Absolutely nothing justifies the R rating, this could have aired on the Sci-fi channel without edits. Was there a bribe on the part of the producers? "Please sir, give us an R, that'll bring 'em in expecting shocks and gore". This movie has a Texas Chainsaw-lite family, suggestions of Satanism, little girl ghost, crazed killer, vaporous black smoke, Spielberg like whispy thingies, gravity defying water, a thunderstorm that appears right on cue, no cell phone signals, several twists, and Michael Madson cashing a paycheck. You'd think, that with all this, there would be something to watch, but no. It goes in many directions, only to switch to another direction with no point, purpose or resolution. Awful.

The Midnight Meat Train
(2008)

Whatever
I've read that Clive Barker wanted to make a trilogy of films based on The Midnight Meat Train. Maybe this was why he lobbied so hard for a bigger release on Lionsgate's part. I had mixed feelings about the campaign. On Barker's side, I can understand an attachment to your work and a pride in seeing it realized through a film adaptation. On Lionsgate's side I can understand their hesitance in a broad release, the film industry is at it's core a money making corporation and this film just doesn't seem to have the bullet factor. This little battle of wills didn't hurt either side, controversy is a powerful tool for publicity.

Basically a mish mash of plot lines the film follows a struggling photographer (Bradley Cooper) who stumbles upon a bizarre serial killer (Vinnie Jones)stalking a big city subway. The city in question could be anywhere, the suggestion is that it's set in New York City, although I have my suspicions it was filmed in Toronto or Montreal, often the stand-in cities for The Big Apple. Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura, the film has a definite Asian vibe. Awash in hues of blue and cold light with gimmicky CGI slow motion gore and glistening dark pools of blood. Blood drops are shown flying in individual globs, sprays of gore fly as the killer, pristine in a suit, remains untouched by any of it. I was amused by Jones character's name...Mahogany. An ironic choice that speaks volumes about the character's behavior, both good and bad. Part of the fun of a horror film is getting to know the Big Baddie, here he's devoid of personality and well...wooden. Leslie Bibb is the photographer's beautiful girlfriend who gets involved. Brooke Shields plays the battle ax ice queen photography agent who forces Cooper's character to push the envelope and become sociopathic in his photo choices. Apparently her clients in the art world love gritty images of violence and human peril while they sip their cocktails.

There's not much empathy going on here. People are treated like slabs of meat, dispatched with a giant stainless steel hammer. The police (or at least the one bad-ass retro blaxploitation police woman) don't care. Other than his hunger for success, the photographer doesn't care until his girlfriend gets all nosy and in over her head. This makes it very difficult for an audience. Should we care? Probably not.

The plot careens (literally) off the track into a surreal land of hidden worlds and hidden beings and a classic struggle against good and evil ensues. Then the final twist which turns it's nose up at a classic struggle against good and evil being satisfying and worth it.

The photographer should hook up with the poor girl from the 1977 horror film The Sentinel. They would have a lot in common.

Johnny Guitar
(1954)

Crawford and her amazing technicolor face
Johnny Guitar takes very big chances. Casting Crawford was probably the most daring. She plays Vienna, a woman with a mind of her own in the Wild West at odds with everyone around her, most notably Mercedes McCambridge as Emma. McCambridge is a good compliment to Crawford in this, she gives out unmistakable Sapphic vibes, steals the scenes and seethes with jealousy over Crawford's immaculate glamour. The story is pretty simple. Two women vie for power among men. To the best of my knowledge there are no other females in the film or the immediate area for that matter. This alone would make for a very...suspenseful environment for any woman. Oddly none of the men seem particularly lecherous, only greedy.

Once McCambridge dons her mourning black she's very witch like, manipulating the men with a jerky command. Crawford stays determined, coldly refusing to give in. Seeing her in western wear is a little trippy and that face. What a face.

The color is off the hook. There are moments that almost seem 3D. The set design for Vienna's hotel/casino is bizarre with an ornate piano tucked into a cave-like space. Sterling Hayden plays Johnny. His performance is subdued and under par. Ernest Borgnine shows up as one of the "gang". A lot of the action involves horse chases through beautiful countryside while McCambridge rants and raves. The climax of the film is operatic, I kept expecting them to break into arias.

There's a lot of camp in this, almost anything with Crawford goes over the top. But it's enjoyable with very unusual choices.

The Women
(2008)

Planet of the Amazon Women (in 1D)
George Cukor's The Women remains one of the glittering gems of 1939, Hollywood's most golden of golden years. The film crackled and sparked and it's absence of males was a subtle touch, hardly noticed because of all the fine entertainment.

Flash forward. We see Fifth Avenue in New York City, in front of Saks. Large crowds bustle along the Avenue...but something's off. The shot reveals only well dressed (attractive and young) women. Creepier than I Am Legend, the visual concept continues, inside the store and later at a large fashion show. What NYC fashion show doesn't have at least 5 gay men? The "no men" rule is rammed down our throats creating an alien world, off balance and distracting.

Enter Meg Ryan, first seen digging in her garden wearing a ridiculous get-up complete with her retro curls and flailing arms. I immediately sympathized with her husband and could understand why he looked elsewhere. Later in the film she morphs into an older Jennifer Aniston look and keeps her arms at her sides. This seems intentional as if to say "Look! I can still be relevant!" Ryan's character is loaded down with a coven of miss-matched friends (insert Sex and the City comparison here) who, if it were real life, would despise each other. Annette Bening plays the power bitch, who during the course of the film realizes her life's dream doesn't really make her happy. Jada Pinkett Smith is the power lesbian, all atitudinous with no use for any of the men who aren't there. Debra Messing is some sort of baby factory that eats a lot. Eva Mendes is an odd choice for the bad girl to say the least. She looks fake, acts fake and any humor she tries to demonstrate falls flat. Someone's comment on here that she looked trans-gender was spot on. Other various stars show up, to rearrange the furniture on this Titanic.

The only thing that would have saved this would have been the brilliant casting of Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. They could have named their price, tucked their tongues firmly into their cheeks and pulled off something very clever and profitable. But no, Hollywood thinks of itself way too highly for that kind of exploitation. Instead we're given this thing that lumbers along awkwardly with no sparkle. Entire sections of dialog from the original are lifted and plopped down into a scene with awful results. At one point Ryan exclaims something along the lines of, "This isn't a 1930's movie!" No Meg, it's not.

Rosemary's Baby
(1968)

Genius
When people ask me what my two favorite films are, Rosemary's Baby and Carrie always come to mind. The fact that they are both supernatural in subject matter is a coincidence, I love them for other reasons first.

RB is a brilliant example of a movie that is so faithful to the novel that it becomes a great work in and of itself. I can't help but think William Castle (the original choice for director) would have done something entirely different with it. Polanski saw the possibility to make something grand and timely out of it, it's practically a detailed time capsule of the year it was made. In a way it represents the cultural upheaval America was going through and the director makes a definite statement, casting senior citizens as evil doers. (He tried it again later with The Tenant, and it doesn't work nearly as well) Rosemary is modern in a naive way, she goes for all the current styles and trends, most notably evident when she redecorates that huge apartment (symbolic of "covering over" old ways) and the Sassoon hairstyle she gets, which makes her look even more gaunt and drawn as her pregnancy wears on.

Polanski specifically wanted familiar old Hollywood actors in the film and drew sketches based on what he thought they should look like. When they showed up, each character actor resembled his sketches in a bizarrely coincidental way. Just the fact that Patsy Kelly and Hope Summers (Clara on the Andy Griffith Show) are both wicked witches along with their Queen Bee, Ruth Gordon, gives it an added depth and contributes to the blackest of humor that runs throughout the film. One of my favorite scenes is when Farrow and Gordon are doing the dishes after dinner. Gordon is asking her innocent questions on the surface, but her intent is pure malice.

Farrow was a trooper to say the least. She was served divorce papers on set by Sinatra who hated the idea his little weak waif of a wife was working.

The entire thing could have tipped over into camp very easily, but it doesn't. Everyone concerned gives it their all. Somehow Polanski managed to make us believe; we're genuinely terrified for Rosemary in a situation that if looked at objectively, is ridiculous. The end scene, rather than tie everything up in a neat little bow, careens off into a horrible outcome, as if to say "You thought the part you saw was bad, just imagine what it's going to be like" Brilliant, brilliant film.

Among the thousands of tidbits of trivia about the film, I love the one about Tony Curtis being the voice of the actor on the phone that's struck blind. During filming Farrow didn't know who it was on the phone, and Polanski wanted her reaction to be puzzled in trying to recognize it.

The Oscar
(1966)

"This is starting to smell Yale..."
Sometimes Hollywood thought of itself in such high regard that taking a serious look in the mirror was impossible. The Oscar is probably the weirdest example of this. Stephen Boyd stars as Frankie Fane, a walking, talking Ken doll with the charm to match. Boyd has always been one of my favorite actors in the looks department, he had a great face and usually gave good performances. Here it's like someone else borrowed his body for the production. The story tells of how a star got to the point of an Oscar nomination, his rise to fame and all the people he walked over to get there. This film would make a great double feature with Valley of the Dolls, they both take themselves way too seriously for the level of writing and direction and the result is bizarre and unintentionally hilarious. Chock full of stars of the time, great production, costumes, sets, it's all there in an epic extravaganza of campy melodrama. Very colorful and big yet it has the performance quality of an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. The script is beyond cliché and everyone tries to eat the scenery to grab their moment. Everyone that is except Tony Bennet who would have served the film better by being a singer in a nightclub scene. Elke Sommer does strange things with her eyes to emphasize emotion and many of the fine actors must have cried themselves to sleep the night of the premier, or thrown tantrums, aghast at what they had been part of. Must be seen to be believed. At one point Bennet calls Boyd to tell him of the nomination, "You and Burton and Lancaster..." Righhhhhht.

Creep
(2004)

Impossibly implausible
My first question while viewing this film was, does the London underground close for the night? How can that be? As someone who's lived in NYC can tell you, if the New York subway closed for the night, well, it just can't. I looked it up and yeah, London closes it's subways. Go figure. So this is the main premise for Creep. A rather dis-likable woman is trapped in the subway (excuse me, Tube) system for the night and has horrific adventures. Despite the stations being closed for the night, trains still run through the tunnels, I guess to keep their gears oiled. Lights stay on, I guess so the one lone guard can keep an eye on the emptiness. Anyway, the woman meets up with various characters during her ordeal, one of which is a ridiculously coincidental "friend" who proceeds to try to rape her. Enter the villain, who dispatches his prey mainly off screen, a frustrating tactic for fans of graphic horror. Whether this was due to budget concerns or ratings, I have no idea, but it doesn't work for shocks. Two young homeless kids help our poor woman along for a while while she tries to escape an impossibly sealed up series of tunnels and stations...and a creep. A poor slasher flick with little going for it.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
(2007)

Burton aims and misses again
Tim Burton perplexes me. I should like him. He's dark and quirky with a childlike view of the world. But somethings usually missing with his films, an intangible thing that's hard to nail down. Sweeney Todd should have made me feel something, I should have cared. Stephen Sondheim's brilliant modern opera is heart wrenching, a Greek tragedy set in bleakest Victorian London. The characters are broad, yes, but still we should understand the nuances and subtleties. Burton's version doesn't allow us to do this. It doesn't let us in. The view is beautiful, filmed in a kind of dream reality where nothing looks quite right. The colors and CGI environment pulse with life, more compelling than the action itself. There is much music and singing, some very beautiful, but it never reaches any heights. Johnny Depp plays Sweeney and I'm always glad to see him. But, in this Burton makes him a cartoon of the character, sweeping a huge shock of white through his hair and directing him in a ridiculously subdued way. Bejamin Barker/Sweeney should grimace at Heaven, curse God with gusto, hate the world like no man ever has. Depp does none of these things. Helena Bonham Carter plays Mrs. Lovett, a role originally written especially for Angela Lansbury, a role that requires equal passion, desperation...and pipes. These are both great actors who are miscast. Depp and Carter are too young, too pretty, too surface. Alan Rickman, way past stereotyping himself as a meanie, channels Potter's Snape throughout the film. Many character actors could have eaten this role up and it's a shame someone else wasn't given a chance. There are no bad performances here, just misplaced ones, too familiar to be unique. This is a gory story, but I grew annoyed at the tedious graphic view of...what happened to many of the victims. Not to have any spoilers, I will just say I didn't have to see it over, and over, and over. I got it with the first one. Blood is almost a character itself in this. Gushing, spurting, flowing in as many ways as it can, Buton goes too far with the Grand Guignol distracting us from the drama we should be immersed in. I love horror movies, but this should not be SUCH a horror movie. Ultimately I was as disappointed in this as I was in the way too over the top Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and excuse for toy merchandising, Planet of the Apes (which only made me love the original more). It's highly watchable, entertaining and worth seeing, just not what it could have been.

Alone in the Dark
(2005)

Well, somebody has to be the worst
Sorry kids, but I have to beat a dead horse. Herr Boll has made quite a name for himself. I guess someone has to step up and occupy the bottom most rung of the film ladder. This series of ridiculous, incoherent...stuff, as so many on here give testimony to, crowns him King of wasted film. There's no real point in discussing the movie, if that's what it is. Just because you see moving images when you press play doesn't mean it's a film. There's money here, you can tell, which makes it even worse. So many daring, imaginative filmmakers out there would love to have had this budget. But no, Boll is given yet another project to insult moviegoers. When Boll makes personal appearances he does get crowds, people just love to have their photo taken with him and get his autograph. I'm personally offended by this practice in that it only encourages him. Truly bad movie making should not be praised or encouraged. There are bad films out there that are fun, we appreciate the effort, especially if the filmmaker was sincere but fell short. But this is just another example of a man's insistence on his talent, confident in his abilities, arrogant in the face of audience reaction, time after time. I see in the trivia he blames the script. OK. This mess should come with a manual and some sort of medication. Boll is making Zombie Massacre due out in 2010. May God Have Mercy On Our Souls.

Cloverfield
(2008)

A Masterpiece of Monster Movie Magic
Make no mistake, Cloverfield is an animated film. The majority of what we see is CGI, a gimmick that has in recent years dominated a medium rather than enhance it. Instead of the smooth almost creamy give away aspect of computer generated images, Cloverfield uses the technology brilliantly and the special effects it's artists create are mind boggling. Explosions look totally real. Cityscapes are dizzying in their accuracy. J.J. Abrams and director Matt Reeves set out to make a distinctly American monster movie and where else to do that but New York City? Our minds are still fresh from the memories of 9/11 and Abrams taps into this without insulting or exploiting the tragedy. The fact that the thing comes from the South of Manhattan is not a coincidence. The beginning of the film is a party of exuberant youth, a MTV reality show of 20 somethings bidding farewell to a friend who is (again, not coincidentally) relocating to Japan, home of that "other" monster who's never mentioned. Why mention "him"? We have a big ol' baddie of our own now. Once the crisis begins, complete with an iconic symbol of collective America being destroyed and literally thrown in our faces, it's everyone for themselves. Strangely, the city empties out too quickly, the evacuation immediate. This was one of the issues that nagged at me through most of the film. At one point our tiny little band of survivors venture into the subway. The vast series of tunnels and stations are totally abandoned when logistics would tell you thousands of people would have taken refuge there. There aren't even trains to hamper their approximately 60 block progress. Above ground there are no traffic jams, no throngs of panicked citizens screaming from the windows of buildings. There's also some iffy geography going on. Big Ugly seems to have a fondness for Midtown, hanging around it for hours. Placing it in convenient places for action makes the viewer wonder if there are more than one. Our band of heroes travel very long distances in a very short period of time and you almost get the feeling the monster is after THEM. The military could use a little target practice in this, buildings get hit more than the target. But I forgave all this, despite the problems, this is thrilling stuff. As if a big gray ugly thing wasn't bad enough, it sheds some of the creepiest nastiest little critters we've ever seen like ticks off of a dog. This was a brilliant idea, it would be pretty easy to get away from a big lumbering slow monster, but these things, they're right there, they move fast and they BITE. The biggest shock of the film happens suddenly and pretty much off screen. I guess that explains where so many people have gone, but you would expect streets awash with gore (which, by the way, there's amazingly little of). I'm always fascinated by actors who's performance depends on their ability to react to nothing. Here it's realistic and terrifying. The military aspect, usually depicted as willing to coldly sacrifice anyone and anything is given a nice humanity. This military cares and tries it's best. It has very little choice and we understand. The creators of the monster have stated that they chose to think of "it" as a baby, scared and threatened. This is the irony, no military is going to try to soothe and calm such a thing. The shaky camera, used to death lately is acceptable because it's the way it would be although the batteries must be state of the art. The film leaves very few questions answered. What is this creature? Why is it here? It doesn't really matter. This thing could be any number of threats. The filmmakers have chosen to spin our paranoia as a huge, unstoppable monster and it works. Japan's got nothing on us, in your face Godzilla. Usually there would be a huge marketing blitz for a monster movie, but kids aren't going to be playing with this ugly thing as toys hidden in McDonald's meals, no model moving crabby parrot monstrosities. The harsh aspects of these creatures prevents this. This is not a happy film, but what could be happy about it? Nonetheless, it's entertainment at it's best. I will never pooh pooh CGI again.

Bug
(2006)

Be Careful Who You Roll With
Man is this a weird one. Looking through over 200 reviews on here I see there is definitely a mixed reaction. Bug, directed by one of the darkest directors ever, William Friedkin, is not one of those films you watch to be entertained. There were many films like this in the 60's and 70's. Dark, brooding, creepy mind games, many involving old women (they even have a name for them now "psycho biddies"). These kinds of movies dwell somewhere between drama and horror and even if you hate them, they leave a mark. Insanity can be the most frightening boogey man. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are amazing in their roles, Friedkin is amazing as a director...so what went wrong? Bug is adapted from a play by Tracey Letts and Friedkin chose for the most part to keep the action stagebound within a seedy hotel room/apartment that we grow tired of seeing in the first 20 minutes. The film has more of an Indie vibe, crossing to mainstream release was a very big risk. A sex scene early on is like a feverish nightmare that serves as a gateway to nuttiness. We know we're in for some strangeness when a sex scene is awkward and borderline gross. Watching someone elses delusions is like hearing a person describe their dreams, interesting for a short time, then deadly boring. The story is basically about two very sad, lonely, dysfunctional people who meet and share their lives for a ridiculously short period then destroy each other. The material rants and raves and goes on tangents only to pause for a beat then start up again. I wondered how the actors got through their lines without cracking up. Judd and Shannon are spectacular in their lunacy, so much so that campy humor creeps in and I was reminded of all the awful binges I've been on in my youth. I cared about the characters for a while, then realized my compassion was wasted. Bugs in the bloodstream, implants, robots, a missing child, hidden messages, bugs, bugs, bugs. The idea of mental health as a rescue for madness is thrown out the window. Even a supernatural twist might have helped and was surprised Friedkin didn't go there, he has left that door open before. Having a shred of reason or truth would have given the audience something to hold on to, but as it is we're just left with our mouths hanging open. It is unique among films which I guess means it's unique among plays. This is not to say that unique equals engaging or thought provoking. This just means no one really thought to subject audiences to this kind of mess before. I like Friedkin, I like Ashley Judd. I even like Michael Shannon now. But this film? No.

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