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Reviews

Andromeda: Under the Night
(2000)
Episode 1, Season 1

A great-looking travesty
It's hard to guess what anyone thought they were trying to do here. The first half plays as if somebody cut exciting moments out of half-a-dozen different movies and spliced them together into a single incoherent script. Science terms are accessed seemingly at random -- like reaching into a bag of Halloween candy and eating whatever you get. 10/10 for explosions and spaceship CGI, so there is that.

The second half improves by slowing things down a bit for character to happen, but lacks any idea of what the characters are supposed to be ... and then it looks like the makeup department created each one at random.

Like all TV sci-fi of its generation, everyone is in their 20s and many of them are tense and serious. Almost anything can happen and therefore does ... or doesn't ... there really is no cause/effect relationship, except what leads to the next melodramatic moment. When we want to study why so many people still prefer the earlier Star Treks, we can begin with asking, Why was Y2K sci-fi so dominated by melodramatic young people making power plays on each other?

Remote Control
(2013)

Nicely done; deserves more recognition
Nicely framed, with a fairly relaxed pacing. There isn't really much of a story here, but more of a moment in a life, so that's appropriate. Despite the lack of any real tension, the film doesn't get boring or repetitive, with nice use of some slight surrealism. There aren't a lot of films out of Mongolia, so it's interesting for that alone. Available on DVD.

Stormquest
(1987)

Nice waterfalls, not so much movie
STORMQUEST was made as part of a 10-movie deal by Roger Corman. The first (Deathstalker) used a big chunk of the budget, leaving the rest to scrape by on what was left, using largely the same sets and props (and sometimes even footage). Corman seems not to have had anything to do with this one however; his name isn't on it, and it lacks the previous entries' brisk editing (as well as the previously requisite toplessness). Perhaps he had given up on the intended drive-in market (which was rapidly disappearing in the 80s), because this was sent directly to video.

And it shows. "Direct-to-video" was synonymous with "not good enough to release in theaters", and STORMQUEST was (is?) certainly subpar. Actors deliver mostly subpar lines with subpar conviction, plots don't make much sense, outcomes are telegraphed, and no real drama (or comedy occurs), although we certainly get the idea. Apparently one person was hired to provide a soundtrack on synthesizers, which is sorta interesting in itself but sometimes a bit curious. This too suffers from the choppy editing, which frequently seems to cut a scene on a sloppy note, or a shot that doesn't have a clear purpose -- and at least once cuts off a soaring soundtrack cold, as if a commercial were cut out.

The actors are nice to look at but often cartoonish in motivation, and sometimes seem to be receiving their dialog line by line (which, being in English but filmed in Argentina, might actually be the case). Plot elements are rather skimpily used without much to hold it all together. Basically you're here to see young fit adults be scantily clothed, and there's some plot. Also a lioness, a snake and a couple tarantulas -- but then, if you like tarantulas, you may not like what happens to them.

On the other hand, the film makes use of a fantastic set of waterfalls, which are gorgeous, and feature extensively on the intro and end credits. Does this justify the whole movie? Well, no; although there is some interest for those who watch these movies as a series -- to see just how many movies can be made on the same sets without looking like it's all the same sets. Special mention for Dudu Mkhize who tries to bring dignity to her character, despite being thinly sketched.

Dancing in Jaffa
(2013)

As true as it should be
I don't usually include spoilers, but we're talking a Morgan Spurlock production here -- so it's well-made and well-intentioned, but not necessarily 100% honest. While it appears that a great deal of it may indeed be scripted (what other documentary lists two writers in its credits?), the story itself is too important to ignore. They did try to give a larger picture (especially in the first half) with demonstrations and discussions and difficulties. After that, I think they realized it would be a better movie to just stick with the dance drama, even if that meant being less comprehensive.

Conclusion: it's no Hoop Dreams, but it never intended to be. And it does give some sense of the social difficulties in Jaffa, but also some hope for change in the future. And if it has scripting, at least it's not as blatantly dishonest as Five Broken Cameras.

The Barbarians
(1987)

Kinda sorta ... maybe it grows on you?
Clearly they had some fun making this, but there isn't much to recommend it. Case in point: you can watch a lot of this at 4x speed and not miss much. Dialog tends to lowest-common-denominator type statements, and the comedy between the brothers does likewise. Plotwise, almost nothing makes sense except in the vaguest of terms: a bad guy captures some people, wants a gem; along the way, time passes and stuff happens. Almost none of it stands the faintest amount of thought, from how people are dressed to what they do to why they say what they say -- and it doesn't matter if you think it's fun. Will you? Maybe; it's pretty much stoner-level humor, with too many scenes of loudly-braying-like-a-goat for my taste.

Best aspects: the brothers are convincing as bickering brothers. It's not very interesting bickering, but it is convincing. The monsters are fairly well done. Good variety of settings.

Lesser aspects: the lighting tends to be not very good, especially early on. Plot premise has a hole so big you could drive a wagon through it (which they do), but then that's true of the entire story. Don't be surprised if RiffTrax or MST3K get hold of this.

And yes: I realize this isn't Citizen Kane. But neither is it Deathstalker or Conan. However, if you like the Barbarian Brothers and their dopey kinda sibling rivalry, then this might be a delight for you.

Note on nudity: despite the rating and imdb categorizing, there are no bare breasts in this film -- unless you count the brothers themselves. The closest is some sheer material in the harem which could be mistaken for it, but isn't. There is also no swearing or graphic violence -- as if intentionally made so as not to offend their own grandma. Amazingly, this is rated R when Excalibur is rated PG; it should be the other way around.

The 20th Century: A Moving Visual History
(1999)

Fascinating overview
Strangely imdb is incomplete here: listing the entire series as one episode, 12 hr 45 min in length. I have only seen the first episode (on the first decade of the 1900s) and it is a marvel of information. I'm sorry to see the first review is unable to appreciate the vast value if this work. An overview of this would be almost as long as watching the documentary itself, so I'll just say it covers everything: social, political, economic, technological -- you really get a picture of life in 1900, and how things have changed. Particular emphasis is placed on social change; particularly the life of immigrants. This is necessarily not terribly in-depth, because there's only so much that can be covered in 52 minutes. Lots of great archival footage and photos. Not a comprehensive course in itself but a wonderful resource, well worth seeing.

Star Trek: New Voyages: To Serve All My Days
(2006)
Episode 2, Season 1

Ah yes!
A distinct improvement over "In Harm's Way" in almost every way -- lighting, acting, pacing -- less obviously a fan production, more just a solid episode of TOS Trek. It doesn't hurt that it features one of the original cast members ... well actually it might; in dwelling upon his condition, the episode turns to a moody examination which was not typical for TOS Trek. But so what? It's appropriate, and a nice touch. Guest star Mary Linda Rapelye also featured in a TOS episode -- opposite the same actor, as it happens -- but not in the same role.

Once again, plot elements from previous episodes are used again -- but then, it does make sense: it's several years into their mission, so they should be running into familiar places and people. Essentially "Journey to Babel part 2" -- which is hardly anything to object to, particularly when written by the same writer. And if it also happens to have Walter Koenig's finest hour on Star Trek ... what's to complain about?

Star Trek: New Voyages: In Harm's Way
(2004)
Episode 1, Season 1

A promising start, with highlights
First: yes, this feels like a student production, because it's made under basically the same circumstances: getting who can be got for free, but doing the best they can with what they got.

STAR TREK PHASE II clearly aims to be the fourth season of the beloved-but-canceled show. The YT broadcasts make this clear by subtitling this inaugural episode "4x01". STAR TREK CONTINUES accepts that and takes the fifth season. Between the 'real' Star Trek (TOS) and these two fan-made productions, something like the promised "five-year" mission is finally fulfilled.

"In Harm's Way" does a pretty good job of tying together several already-established ideas and situations -- utilizing no less than five TOS episodes for direct plot, another for character details, and even .... well, let's just say there's clearly awareness of TNG and at least one of the movies. All of this is well-tied together -- and if any of it seems gratuitous, it's in a spirit of fun that can be shared by the viewer.

Given a pro team of cast and crew, this would have made a pretty strong episode. Instead, we have a volunteer team, operating on a student budget. Does it show? OMG yes, of course it does. Does it suffer? Well, ten minutes of setting up plot can seem a lot longer when you're wondering if it will all be worth it. But then BarBara Luna shows up, lighting up the screen, William Windom hits his cameo with grace and gravitas, and the episode never leaves you wondering again.

There's more than that: the CGI is a little ambitious but I say "good on ya mate" -- it adds interesting visual life to a by-now engaging story. Malachi Throne has an awesome cameo later on, but by then we're sold: the episode works well enough to carry the viewer past the remaining rough spots. Which is to say, the show as a whole is more convincing than the individual cast members or production qualities (the lighting being particularly wanting, which just highlights how important ST:TOS's lighting was). No doubt these details will improve in future episodes, and I look forward to seeing the actors grow more into their roles.

Oh -- and I must second the other reviewer's praise of Kurt Carley as Pike. He has his own spin on it, and it's a good one. More than once in this episode, he delivers some simple mundane line and makes it sound just exactly right. Glad I'm seeing this -- 17 years after it was made.

Convention City
(1933)

Really?
What I want to know is -- how is it that (as of 2021) there are 86 ratings of this film, which supposedly hasn't been shown since the 1960s, or even the 1940s??

I'm as interested as anyone, even though I suspect it may not have been all that good. But really: I haven't seen any first-hand accounts of the actual film -- anywhere -- and we should only be rating films we've actually seen, OK?

The Burglar
(1957)

Visually wow
All the characters seem believable, if occasionally overwrought, and Mansfield seems refreshingly like a human being. Many interesting edits keep up the pacing, and the angles are rarely less than exceptional. Easy to see why Marty Scorsese likes this one, and so do we.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco
(2019)

A lot to like
First, there are GORGEOUS shots all through this film. Second, Jonathan Majors and Tichina Arnold (and Danny Glover and ....) -- OK, I'll just say the casting is really outstanding. Third, the filmmakers clearly had a lot of feeling in making this; there couldn't be a more loving tribute to Hunter's Point and the people who live there. Makes me want to go visit ... whereupon the people who actually live there would probably give me the evil eye, wondering what I'm doing there.

Which brings us to what this film lacks: it's so full of feelings, which the audience may or may not share, that it sometimes neglects narrative force. So many scenes are lyrical moments of passing. I sometimes felt restless for something more to happen between the passings ... and then sometimes there is more, and it's happening during the passings, but without explanation or rationale. I guess these are nods to the historically-treasured wackiness of San Franciscans themselves, because I know such people exist; to the average viewer, they may just be distractions.

Which leads us to this film's most noticeable distraction: it is chock full of diverting loose threads. Many, many things are included with no apparent connection or payoff, suggesting more than they actually deliver. The net result is a smorgasbord of a film that feels strongly, but doesn't always seem to know why. Or, perhaps, they just aren't telling -- taking an "either you get it or you don't" mentality, and making the film for those who do. And even if I'm one of those who maybe do not, I still appreciated the warm characters, and how beautiful it was in many of its shots. Definitely recommended.

The Omega Man
(1971)

Not very good
Slow, slow pacing, tedious exposition, plus of course the inevitable plot holes and plot-driven stupidity (e.g., doing something stupid in order to permit plot to happen). On the plus side, Rosalind Cash is worth waiting for -- and we do wait, because it's 35 minutes before she appears. Until then, it's a lot of Charlton talking to himself. After that, stuff happens until the movie ends. Not very good. But lots of 1971 cars and shots of downtown L. A., so there's that.

New Delhi
(1956)

Will The Real Indians Please Stand Up?
Arriving in New Delhi, Anand calls for a taxi -- just as Mohini is already doing so. They each get in from opposite sides, each claiming primacy. When they appeal to the driver as arbiter, he opines that he thought they were together. Mohini gets home to find her father distributing his home-made oil into differently-labeled containers. When she questions why, he answers that nowadays labels are all people care about, not contents.

Thus does NEW DELHI declaim its premise almost instantly. The next 2.5 hours will see a variety of people pretending to be one regional identity or another, punctuated by songs and Vijayanthimala's mind-bending dance moves. Marriages will be arranged, prejudices will be voiced (and/or acted upon), and misunderstandings will occur. It's all sorted out at the end, of course -- but the point is made, however cartoonishly. An important film in its own right.

Note: the available DVD (as of 2020) has a running time of 2:36.

Respiro
(2002)

Feel it
RESPIRO has a lot of glowing, high-rating reviews, and deservedly so: it looks great, and the actors are perfect. It captures the subjective feelings of its main actor ... or rather, her tween-aged son. Not a movie to think about so much as feel. What's not to like?

For starters, Grazia is not a free spirit; she creates problems left and right, from her vaguely incestuous mothering to her inability to perceive social appropriateness. Despite this, she is socially accepted -- the movie shows the villagers as sympathetic and supportive. Even when she behaves dangerously, the village response is to have her cared for, just somewhere else.

However, this is not a movie about how villages function (healthy or otherwise) but about how the protagonist feels -- or at least, how her son thinks she feels. So the villagers are depicted rather one-dimensionally, as busy-bodies and gossips, even after she impulsively threatens the entire town's livelihood. This isn't to say there isn't plenty to complain about: the tedium, the monotony -- and yes, they are a town of gossips, just like every town.

It may be accurate to a young boy's perspective, but annoyingly, everything in the movie feels incomplete. There's the new carabinieri in town, who becomes attracted to Grazia's daughter ... and that's left dangling. Do we need more? No ... but then why do we get any? A glance and a smile, and we can imagine the rest -- sure. But we get a first date and then that subplot disappears. Yes, it's a depiction of another part of life, but why?

Then there are the dogs in the abandoned building, which serve as Chekhov's gun in this story. I get why this exists for the story's purpose, but I cannot understand why such a place would be maintained in real life -- and we clearly see that it is. Is it the Lampedusan equivalent to a dog pound? Why? And why are there so many dogs on this small island?

And what's up with the gangs of boys? First they're fighting in abandoned ruins, then they're fighting in an abandoned pool -- and when we see them next, they're all building bonfires together. Problem solved off-screen, I guess, because it didn't reflect on Pasquale's mother-son experience -- but it just feels like a loose thread.

These issues don't change the fact that it looks wonderful -- right up there with Luchino Visconti's La Terra Trema for depicting life in a poor fishing village. The colors are warm, the sunlight perpetual, the heat palpative. Both Golino and Amato are intense, engaging actors -- as incomplete as this movie may be, the fantasy conclusion has its own kind of satisfaction.

Sri Anjaneyam
(2004)

Meet Hanuman
OK -- there's a few cheezy CGI shots in this film, but that's not a deal-breaker. 3 hours long but edited for strong pacing, and the acting is good on all parts (not great, but then it doesn't need to be). What counts most is the scripting, which is strong despite occasionally showing a bit of formula (hey, if it didn't work, it wouldn't be a formula!).

What really makes this action/revenge/comedy come alive is the introduction of Lord Hanuman into the story, wonderfully portrayed by Arjun Sarja. Nithiin is quite sympathetic as the lead, and Pilla Prasad is fairly likeable as the villain. Any scene with Prasad or Arjun is pretty engrossing, and there are wonderful locations and sets through the whole film. Also a shout-out to Sharmy Kaur, who doesn't get a very meaty part as the love interest but imbues what she gets with real fire. Definitely recommended, possibly even worth seeking out.

The Wonder Years: Square Dance
(1989)
Episode 15, Season 2

What The Wonder Years was always trying to be
Like all TV series, The Wonder Years couldn't always be at its best. But from the first episode, it showed the promise of being something extra special, and occasionally it got there. This was one of those episodes: taking universally acceptable truths, and turning them around until we see ourselves. Everyone is spot on and note perfect. The Wonder Years at its best.

*One star off for the lame yearbook scan at the beginning -- as if we wouldn't notice the duplicated photos, and the fact that the names couldn't possibly match the photos!

Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back
(1990)

If you know what you're getting into ...
This was never going to be a truly good movie, let alone a great one -- just a direct-to-video sequel to a low-budget drive-in action flick. Despite that, I find it an improvement over the first Barbarian Queen. And no, I don't mean in the acting, editing, sets or costumes; in those departments, it's just another of the Deathstalker series of sword-and-sorcery skin-a-thons. But once accepted for that, it's still passable in the way that works best for these movies: a bit tongue-in-cheek (OK, a lot tongue-in-cheek), with a fair share of skin thrown in for eye candy.

Walking tall throughout is the amazonic Lana Clarkson, who manages to deliver her hack dialog with surprisingly real conviction. Greg Wrangler, too, pulls off his Prince Nice Guy role fairly convincingly. Add in some girl-power plot, and we have ... well, a film of very minor interest, and a lot of technical issues. Whole scenes appear to have been cut (if ever filmed) and Corman was never one to ix-nay a story for getting ludicrous (and then to insist adding one more gratuitous shot of a bare-breasted actress).

What makes it all work is the strength and conviction brought by Lana Clarkson to her role. To that end, the story's theme of female empowerment is realized in her performances, even as she made films like these. Objectified she might be, but not herself made an object. As silly as the plots might get, Clarkson has us believing that *she* believes them -- or at least herself -- for long enough to film her scenes. That doesn't bring this up to Citizen Kane, but it isn't far behind Conan the Barbarian's friend Red Sonja, and on a tenth of the budget. For the Deathstalker series, that's par: cheap costumes and sets, but fairly brisk editing, and at least the sound is clear and the shots are focused. If Lana hadn't been murdered by her boyfriend, she would have gone on to greater things. As it stands, we'll have to take her in films like this.

Liane, das Mädchen aus dem Urwald
(1956)

An Unspoiled Review
Not your typical Tarzan-type movie, but two movies condensed into one. The first is the movie promised by the poster: a female Tarzan type cavorts in nature, eventually to encounter our Tall Blond Hero, Thoren. There is also the camp's doctor -- a woman in love. She's much more attractive than Liane, which the 3rd wheel character points out, and this is our subplot. The main plot, of course, involves returning to civilization to inherit a fortune -- taking us out of the jungle and ending any nudity by the 30-minute mark.

Marion Michael is quite convincing at being what she actually is: an athletic young woman. Despite what other reviewers say, her body exposure here merits maybe a PG-13 rating; we rarely see more than a beach movie would show, and always momentarily. Irene Galter is even better as Doctor Woman, which in most she-Tarzan-type films would have remained a subplot to the end -- but they find something different to do with it here. Peter Mosbacher is nicely sympathetic as the 3rd-wheel friend/coworker. Overall, it's nicely shot, and the dialog tends toward reasonable intelligence, with only the occasional lapse into plot-convenience.

This would have worked much better as two distinct films: the first 30 minutes expanded full-length for jungle-escapism; the remaining hour fleshed out as a dialog-driven suspense story. There was a sharp point to be made about the difference between attraction to a naked jungle girl vs the civilized doctor woman, which the script only glancingly comments on -- but it does make that comment. This is where LIANE JUNGLE GODDESS carries a little more value than the usual jungle film. But if that doesn't hold our interest -- then Yes, there's a few carefully-filmed scenes of nearly-naked young girl in the first third, and the remaining hour mercifully does not spend too much time redoing Pygmalion.

The Red Shirt Diaries: Where No Man Has Gone Before
(2014)
Episode 3, Season 1

Love for Gary Lockwood
Part of what makes this series fun is the awareness of (and necessary references to) the larger Trek world -- in this case, the fact that the third aired episode is actually the first one made. RSD deals with this quickly and obliquely, and still goes on to be amusing, self-contained, and memorable in its own right. I hope Gary Lockwood appreciates his prominence in this episode!

The Red Shirt Diaries: The Man Trap
(2014)
Episode 1, Season 1

Strong start
Still one of the best episodes, and a nice introduction to the show.

The Red Shirt Diaries: The Menagerie Part 2
(2015)
Episode 2, Season 2

Nicely done
Effective use of TOS footage, incorporated into their own (comic) story.

The Red Shirt Diaries: The City on the Edge of Forever
(2015)
Episode 18, Season 2

Interesting insights
For such a short film, they found some interesting ideas to explore on this one -- and entertaining as well.

The Red Shirt Diaries: Arena
(2015)
Episode 8, Season 2

Location, location, location
Ashley geeks out a bit herself in the behind-the-scenes, and who could blame her? Awesome fun just for being filmed on location.

The Red Shirt Diaries: Squire of Gothos
(2015)
Episode 7, Season 2

Strong script, great guest casting
Hal Rudnick is an awesome guest in this episode -- rivalling William Campbell's original portrayal. One of the best episodes.

The Red Shirt Diaries
(2014)

Fun in its way
Heavily dependent on how much one enjoys Ashley Robinson's characterization, since each episode consists largely of her taking to the camera. Episodes vary; there's only so much one can get into four minutes, and strong familiarity with the TOS episodes is assumed. The humor is aimed at younger viewers, and tends toward caricature ... which is only to be expected really. Fun moments include cameos from some of the Star Trek Continues alumni, but more often from Red Shirt Diaries' own 'Uhura', who could probably stand to have her own show.

If it doesn't always seem quite as funny to me as it wants to be, that doesn't mean I didn't watch every episode -- I did (and many of the behind-the-scenes as well). None are boring and several are very strong. And while it is 30 episodes of comedy, Episode 29 (Operation Annihilate) dishes a surprisingly effective dramatic conclusion.

Recommended episodes: The Man Trap, The Enemy Within, Squire of Gothos, Operation Annihilate.

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