Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Blob (1958)

Starring Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe
Directed by Irvin Yeaworth
Science Fiction/ Horror
Rated PG


The film begins with a really jazzy song called “Beware the Blob!” played over the opening credits. I’ll put a video of it down on the bottom in place of a trailer, because I can guarantee that once you get this snappy tune stuck in your head and can’t get it out, you’ll be more inclined to see this movie than you would if you saw the trailer.

The story begins with Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) in his car with his girlfriend Jane (Aneta Corsaut) up at Make-Out Point. Steve spots a meteor crash into the side of the hill, making the same mild impact as in “War of the Worlds”. Seriously, my brother has let off firecrackers that deliver more punch than Hollywood’s hurtling space debris. Steve and Jane go to check it out, but an old man and his dog get to the crash site first. The old man pokes the meteorite with a stick, releasing the blob, which latches onto him. Steve and Jane find the old man and race him to the doctor back in town. Shortly after the two teens leave, the blob swallows the old man and attacks the doctor and nurse. Steve sees the blob eat the doctor and runs to get help.

Conflict arises when the local police don’t believe Steve's story. So Steve, Jane and handful of other teens go out to hunt the Red Menace (That’s the Blob, not communism). The Blob eventually makes its presence known after consuming the local movie theater, and then the authorities go on the defensive. The police lieutenant calling the army to let them know that the blob has killed forty to fifty people. I’m curious how he came to that conclusion given how the only people we’ve seen the Blob kill are the old man, the doctor and his nurse. There was a janitor who was killed off screen, there’s no evidence to support that anyone in the theater was killed and it’s left ambiguous as to whether or not the old man’s dog eaten by the Blob.

In the state of panic produced by people running wildly every which way, Steve and Jane are trapped in a diner as the Blob consumes the building. It’s a surprising tense scene, but solution presents itself in the eleventh hour when Steve sprays the Blob with a CO2 fire extinguisher and concludes that the Blob can’t stand the cold. That certainly explains why it would attack a movie theater that boasted of it’s air conditioning. Wait, Huh?

The fire department hoses down the Blob until it shrinks and the army comes to pick it up for disposal at the North Pole. Steve asks “Are you sure it won’t hurt anyone again?” The lieutenant replies, “As long as the Artic says cold.” A response which is likely to get a chuckle out of most modern viewers.


This movie was Steve McQueen's debut role, despite the fact that he’s 28 years old and playing a 17 year old. Like anything Steve McQueen is in, his performance steals the show. His inflections and delivery sound very natural and make you believe in his character. His cohorts have a certain goonishness to them that makes you makes you believe that they really are rowdy teenagers. In contrast the adult characters struggle to say their wooden dialogue in any way convincingly.

There are a few violations of my “Show, Don’t Tell” rule, with the off-screen death of the supermarket janitor, made doubly worse by the fact that Steve is also off-screen when he tells us that he found the abandoned mop and bucket. There’s also a scene towards the end when a police officer tells another that diner is on fire, and the other replies “Yes, it is.” It’s almost as if saying its on fire, will make it real in our minds since we never see the fire.

There are so effective spooky scenes such as when Steve and Jane are sneaking through the supermarket after dark knowing the Blob could be just around the corner, it’s effectively scary. There are also a few legitimate laughs, like when some of the other teens think they’ve found the blob hiding in the bushes, only to discover that its two other teens they’ve caught necking.

Overall it’s a little cheesy and a bit clumsy in a few places but it is far from clichéd.

Final Score:

3 ½ out of 5. Friday Night Fun.

Trivia Time:

The Poster outside of the theater for "The Vampire and The Robot" is actually an altered poster for "Forbidden Planet".

War of the Worlds (1953)

Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson
Directed by Byron Haskin
Rated G
Based on the novel by H.G. Wells


The film opens with newsreel style opening with footage from both World Wars to build up apprehension for the movie’s eponymous war. From there we get a voice-over that gives us a brief lesson about the planets in our solar system and their harsh environments with a series of paintings to endow the imagination. Its actually kind of cool think how this must have been to a pre-NASA audience, and the narration itself is quite harrowing and really builds up the foreboding mood.

The story begins with a meteorite crashing down in Southern California, making only a mild impact with it hits the ground. People start to flock to it in droves, there’s a mom taking pictures of her kids standing on the edge of the crater, and some idiot with a shovel pounding on the side of the thing trying to break pieces off. Seriously, why isn’t there a police line or some kind of barricade up? Something to keep back people back until it’s safety can be determined.

This warrants the arrival of physicist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry, not Trace Beaulieu, that’s a different Dr. Clayton Forrester) and soon meets Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) who claims to be familiar with Dr. Forrester’s work, but doesn’t recognize him while he is wearing his Clark Kent glasses. In order to establish her a love interest, he makes a witty comeback about how he only wears the glasses when he wants to look at something close up. Oh you sly dog you…

Forrester manages to get the gang of gawkers away from the meteorite by telling everyone that it is radioactive. The local sheriff charges three men to guard it to make sure no one messes with the meteorite, but since these guys don’t look like they could make it as deputies in Mayberry, it’s no surprise that they’re instantly killed by the emerging Martians.

A military command post is set up and there’s a bit of speculation about the Martians, before the local minister slips past all the soldiers charged with securing the field, who watch the Martians listlessly, while he tries and communicate with the aliens while reciting Psalm 23, you know, the “Walk through the valley of the shadow of death” passage. Given the frequency with which I’ve heard this passage in movies, I’m beginning to suspect it’s the only part of the Bible that Hollywood knows.

Needless to say, for all his efforts, the minister is vaporized and the Martians launch an attack on the military post, obliterating both troops and tanks while the army’s weapons prove useless against the Martian’s ships. Clayton and Sylvia manage to escape in a plane, which they crash land off-screen. After some oddly placed stock footage of animal stampedes, we cut back to the two taking refuge in an abandoned house were Slyvia cooks up some fried eggs. It doesn’t really do much for the suspense if they have time to stop and eat. No, actually they don’t eat, they just sit at the table and talk to each other in rather humdrum tones until another meteorite crashes just outside the house. The two do manage to escape, Sylvia having enough hysterical fits for the both of them.

They manage to regroup with a number of other scientists, and learn that the army is going to drop an atomic bomb on the Martians in order to stop them. There is quite a crowd gathered to witness the ordeal. The watchers are told to avert their eyes from the blast, but they don’t, they just hold up their hands like they were trying to block the midday sun rather than the blast of a nuclear weapon. Ugh, these people deserve to be wiped out, maybe it’s just as well that the bomb didn’t work.

Now that we’re in the last ten minutes of the movie do things really start to seem severe as we see major cities be evacuated, riots have broken out and crazed citizens are raiding any passing vehicles. Dr. Forrester is forced out of his truck by the mob and is left battered and bloody. He runs down the abandoned streets furiously looking for Slyvia.

Its quite the eerie sight seeing an empty metropolis, even more so when the Martian ship glide in to cause destruction by toppling over skyscrapers. Against all odds, Clayton finds Sylvia in a church, but just as the Martians are about to destroy the building, they crash, as we learn that airborne bacteria has killed the Martians. Clayton spots an alien arm hanging out of a damaged spaceship, and I kid you not, actually takes it’s pulse before declaring, “It’s dead… It’s over.” I’m sorry, but unless you are Dr. McCoy from “Star Trek”, you cannot identify the pulse of a completely alien life form and determine whether or not it is dead. I’m sorry, no.


The effects of this film are what have helped to make the film famous. Producer George Pal really pushed the envelope with visuals, as he would do again with “The Time Machine”, but much like that film, the effects have been dated with the passage of time, and may not impress audiences the way they did during its original release. You can see the wires on the Martian ships if you actually look for them, but I won’t bother. When reviewing movies I try my best to judge the films on the merits of their story as well as the techniques that were used to tell it. Looking at it in those terms, the title “War of the Worlds” doesn’t fit so much as “A Small Skirmish in Southern California”. It isn’t until the end that we really get any sense of scale to the conflict or see the devastation heaped onto the populace. Our two protagonists remain in relative comfort through the film and don’t appear to have that much in the way of personalities to help us latch onto them in the course of the alien onslaught.

Final Score:

3 out of 5. Adequate.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Fly (1986)

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Directed by David Cronenberg
Science Fiction/ Horror
Rated R: Violence, Gore, Frightening Images

I remember when I first saw the original “The Fly”. I was visiting my parents around New Year’s and I had just finished the movie when my mom came in the room and looked at the box for the DVD and said to me; “I don’t know how you can stand to watch that creepy stuff.” Well if she thinks a guy in a rubber fly mask is creepy than I hope by all that I hold holy that she never sees this remake.

The film introduces us to a reclusive scientist Dr. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) talking to journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) about his latest invention, Telepods, which are capable to teleporting, an object from one pod to another and offers her the opportunity to follow his progress exclusively, which she excepts, as the two slowly begin to fall in love. Conflict arises when Veronica’s editor, Stathis Borans (John Getz) threatens to reveal the telepods prematurely, leading Seth to jump the gun and test it on himself, not knowing that a common housefly got into the telepod with him, and together the two were merged and Seth and Vernoica slowly realize that Seth is morphing into a monster.

It is interesting to note how much like the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (which also starred Jeff Goldblum) there is a shift in tone. The original “The Fly” was more focused on suspense, with the mystery sequence and the narrative told through voice over and flashbacks. Here the focus is more on horror, specifically Cronenberg’s signature style of body horror. Unlike the original Fly, the change from man to monster is gradual, forming a path in our head (aided by Goldblum’s unique tics) that helps us remember that this is the same man we’ve seen since the start of the film, regardless of how heavy or complex the makeup gets, especially helpful since the Goldblum’s makeup changes every time we see him. This is also what makes the scares so effective. When we see Seth’s fingernails break off or vomit corrosive acid or when his head quite literally collapses, it’s not shocking just because of what we see, its shocking because we’ve come to identify with his character and can empathize with his plight. The emphasis here is on “showing” as much as they could to iron out the instances of “telling” from the original.

The score by Howard Shore is absolutely fantastic, big and booming, accentuating the excitement and tension. Despite over two decades of technology, the animatronics still look incredible and help add a layer of realism to the situations, expect when they needed something to wringle, like with the dying baboon or the maggot baby, in instances like those it was apparent that it was operated by some kind of motor, but still impressive none the less. The film doesn’t have a “happy ending” coda like the original, which irritated me about that film so much, and here the lack one really does serve to pack a mighty wallop as you’re just left there to sit and take it all in while the end credits roll. If there was anything that the original had that I missed in the remake it, would be that “boom-boom” sound the teleporter in the original made that was just so eerie.

Neat little bit of trivia; Director David Cronenberg makes a cameo as the gynecologist who appears in Veronica’s dream. I like that. The director only appears in the story when the laws of reality are blurred, it reminds me of the thought that Alfred Hitchcock put into his own cameos, such as the one in “Rear Window” were he is winding a clock to symbolize how he is the one controlling time.

“The Fly” is a tragedy, pure and simple. Many of Brundle’s mutations serve as parallels for aging, drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases and terminal illnesses. The acting is great, the pacing is terrific, the score is pulse pounding and the scares are genuinely effective. I will admit it is a not a film for everyone, but it is well executed.

Final Score:

4 1/2 out of 5. Outstanding.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Voices of James Van Der Beek, Anna Paquin, Mark Hamill, Cloris Leachman
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Fantasy/ Adventure
Rated PG: Perilous Situations

The film opens with sky pirates attacking an airship, attempting to capture a girl named Sheeta (Anna Paquin) and her pendant, but she accidentally falls out of the ship, fortunately her pendant starts glowly and floats her to safety. This is a rather confusing opening actually as we don't learn who Sheeta is, why she was on the airship, what the pendant is or why the pirates were after it until much later. I imagine this is supposed to generate suspense, but it's rather confusing as I have no idea who this girl is or why I should care about her, even if she is working some kind of mystic mojo with her magic necklace.

We're given proper introductions when Sheeta is caught in her float from above by a miner boy named Pazu (James Van Der Beek), who provides us with his own back story about continuing his father's quest for Laputa, the castle in the sky. There isn't much time to dwell on this exposition though, as the pirates come back to settle the score leading to one of the most exciting chase scenes I think I've seen in any movie. This culminates with our two heroes being captured by the army, revealing that they are also looking for Laputa and its great power, aided in their quest by the sinister Muska (Mark Hamill) We also learn that Sheeta is an heir to the throne of Laputa and her pendant can lead them it.

With the help of the pirates, Pazu is able to free Sheeta and they race to reach Laputa first. We spend most of our time from here on out with these sky scoundrels who as it turns out have hearts of gold and serve as effective comic relief with their larger than life personalities, particularly that of their boisterous leader, Dola (Cloris Leachman)

Eventually they find the castle in the sky and both the characters and the audience are stunned by it's serene beauty. While the visuals have been impressive, the animation in the third act is simply mesmerizing. There is a dramatic confrontation in the end, were Muska arrives and reveals himself as another heir to the throne, and plans the seize power for himself, betraying his soldiers and casting them to their deaths. A cold move, but it shows just how effective a villain Mark Hamill can play. Fortunately our heroes manage to save the day using a plot device that we introduced shortly before they arrived here, so it feels like a little bit of cheat resolution, but is made up for by one last scene reuniting with the pirates before literally flying away.

Unlike some of Miyazaki's other films that I saw prior to this one such as "Kiki's Delivery Service" or "Porco Rosso", this one actually has something of a plot . To to his credit though, Miyazaki does often find a way to make these films work even without a plot, miraculously enough. Like all of his movies, the characters are very enduring and likable, easily outshining the situations they are placed into. The backstory of both Laputa and our antagonist is rather rough, and I am still a bit in the dark about Sheeta and Muska's connection to the castle. How are they both heirs to Laputa when we see that the place is abandoned? The animation is top notch and the score is nothing to ignore. A few plot holes aside it is still a genuinely entertaining film.

Final Score:

4 out of 5. Well Done.

Astro Boy (2009)

Voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane
Directed by David Bowers
Science Fiction/Family
Rated PG: Action Violence.

The film opens with some weird tunnel effect were we see all the names of actors roped into doing voices for this movie, many of whom are just here for the sake of having their names recognized by the adults in the audience, as recognizing them in the movie isn't always easy, with the exception of Nicholas Cage whose voice is the most discernible, and yet is the only one saddled with his character's name in the titles.

From there we see the futuristic flying land mass of Metro City and our protagonist Toby (Freddie Highmore) and his distant father, the robotics genius Dr. Tenma, who is voiced by Nicolas Cage, in what I believe to be the most subdued performance of his career. Maybe its because he isn't used to doing voice acting, but it really sounds like he just read the lines and then left the recording studio. I guess this is how you would describe, “phoning it in.”

Toby sneaks into a labrotory to watch a demonstration a robot his father is working on for the military, but is killed during a test by the robot's live ammo. Apparently weapons testing in movies are never done with rubber bullets or fail safes. Its also curious how Toby actually is vaporized by the robot and I’m left wondering; “Wait, where’d he go?” We just get his hat on the ground and Dr. Tenma saying “He’s gone”, because I guess you can't say "dead" is a children's movie (which is strange given how they say “kill” twice by the end). If it were up to me, I’d put his limp arm in a pile of debris, so we can at least have some sort of visual cue to help us “make the connection” that I’ve mentioned previously in my reviews of “The Fly” and “The Wolf Man”, which essentially boils down to “Show, Don’t Tell”.

During this test we’re introduced to our antagonist President Stone (Donald Sutherland), He is a dim-witted warmonger obsessed with re-election, building bigger and deadlier weapons for a non-existent arms race with a campaign slogan, “We don’t need change.” Subtle. I can understand what they’re going for with a pastiche of George W. Bush traits, but it just feels a bit tasteless. Fortunately Donald Sutherland plays him sinister rather than campy, which would have wrecked any threat he posed entirely.

Now we get to the most interesting part which as Dr. Tenma builds a robot duplicate of Toby powered by "The Blue Core", which runs on positive energy and programs in all of Toby's memories but is disappointed that the robot isn’t exactly like his dead son and Toby slowly discovers the truth about what he is. There is a great scene where he discovers of his jet boots and a fast flight sequence with some great visual gags along the way. Tenma can’t bring himself to accept this replacement and shoes Toby away. I feel like some anger may have been appropriate here, but Nick Cage can barely raise his voice throughout the entire film. His friend, Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy) gives a speech about “finding your destiny”, which has lead me to the conclusion that “destiny” is the most overused word in cinema.

Toby is soon confronted with Stone’s infantry, who want the Blue Core for their military robots, which it involves some cool action scenes, it also has more than a fair share of head scratching moments such as the faceless infantry having computer readouts on their helmets that reveal their their emotions and bowel movements (?), or when Toby saves the life of a falling soldier who, after being rescued jumps off a building (?) or when President Stone orders a giant intimidating ship to shoot Toby down, the ship is hidden by the framing for the shot so that we can’t see it’s full size and appreciate how threatening it is.

Anyway Toby is shot down off the flying island and into the trash heaps on the surface like something out of "WALL-E". He meets with up with a group of other kids lead by the punky pseudo love interest Cora, (Kristen Bell) and their surrogate father Hamegg (Nathan Lane), who is essentially just an animated version of Nathan Lane himself. The film really starts to dip here as the humor also starts to become more and more juvenile. Toby bonds with the kids, but keeps the fact that he’s a robot a secret because he wants them to “warm up to him”, because continuing to lie to them will endure them to you.

The writing gets really sloppy here as we are introduced to Isaac Asimov's famed Three Laws of Robotics, of which we only learn one, the others are just skimmed over, which is odd given how it’s mentioned quite at least three times after this. It seems that everyone in the audience is expected to know what they are without being explained, and I don't know how many kids are familiar with the concept. It's also frustrating how these laws are mentioned so many times but serve little to no function in the plot, so why bother even bringing it up? Toby also acquires the name “Astro”, because… because we need to tie it back into the name of the source material somehow. Eventually, Hamegg reveals to the others that Toby is a robot and forces him to fight in the robot gladiator games, only to be saved by a robot Toby revived with his Blue Core earlier named Zog (Samuel L Jackson). Being powered by the Blue Core, which represents all that is good and positive, Zog attempts to kill Hamegg in cold blood and would have succeeded had it not been for Toby intervening. What's up with that?

Anyway, we reach the climax as Toby is captured by Stone, Tenma reveals that he loves him, theres more talk of “destiny” and Toby has a fight with Stone's giant robot. The surface kids also tell Toby they love him and together we we all learn a lesson about accepting people the way they are right before Toby flys off to launch an unprovoked attack with a giant squid that fell from space. Wait What?!

I'm not too familiar with Japanese Manga that serves as the source material so I will judge it based solely on it's own merits. While the first third of the film shows some promise with an interesting premise and a few funny gags, the following acts slowly decline. The animation as a whole is alright, but there's nothing really wow-inducing. While there are some great action set pieces throughout, its not enough to cover up the plot holes.

Final Score:

2 1/2 out of 5. Nothing Special.

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Starring Glenn Ford, Van Heflin
Directed by Delmer Daves
No Rating

The film starts out a bit slow but effectively as we're given some exposition and introduced to our characters and their situation. Dan Evans (Van Heflin) is a down on his luck rancher trying to see his family through a nasty drought, volunteers to escort the famed gunslinger Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) to Contention City and put him on the 3:10 train to Yuma, where Ben will stand trial. But danger lurks as Ben's gang is on their tail, looking liberate their leader.

The final showdown in the third act makes it all worth it. Ben is a charismatic criminal; smooth and polite in a sly trickster way, reminding me a lot of Hannibal Lecter. He just keeps tempting or taunting Dan into getting him to let him go free. The situation grows more dire and the suspense sharper as Dan finds himself outgunned and cornered as time is running out. Although Dan has plenty to lose and all the more reason to give up, he stands firm in his principles and refuses to compromise his principles (reminiscent the Biblical Daniel). What convinenced me that this was not a good film, but a great film was a line towards the end that Dan said when his wife begged him to leave the job and come home.

"Honest to God, if I didn't have to do it, I wouldn't, but I heard Alex scream. The town drunk gave his life because he believed that people should be able to live in decency and peace together. Do you think I can do less? "

Much like the classic “High Noon”, we have a lone man standing up for his principles or beliefs honoring that famed quote by Edmund Burke. “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” The two leads work off one another like clockwork, the stakes are high with great suspense and a satisfying conclusion.

Final Score:

Five out of Five. Bravo.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beowulf (2007)

"Starring" Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright-Penn, Crispin Glover, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Action / Fantasy
Rated PG-13: Violent Action Sequences, Frightening Images, Some Sensuality

In case you don't know, this movie was filmed with motion capture performance, which can render some highly realistic material, but can also make simple actions look rather unnatural. This uncanny valley effect is evident from the start. Of course, it generally isn't a good idea to start off a movie by focusing on a fat, naked old drunkard King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) having a frat party with his subjects in a mead hall. The monstrous Grendel (Crispin Glover) soon attacks the mead hall and manages to outdo the naked guy for repulsiveness as he is depicted as a ten-foot tall zombie who likes to cut himself, as we are shown in gruesome detail, which is only offset by his cartoonish “Popeye” jaw.

"I yam what I yam."

Grendel's introduction is done in the dark with a blue flame producing a strange strobe light that causes the camera to shot things in slow motion bullet time, sort of like The Matrix Reloaded meets 300. Shortly afterward we meet Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and its rather obvious that the crew spent the most of their time and money on rendering him as well as Grendel’s mother, as they are the two that look the least mechanical. Embarassingly Beowulf’s goatee is only bit of facial hair that doesn’t look like it was borrowed from Spongebob Squarepants' Patchy the Pirate. There are lot of effects like spears and arrows that are pointed at the viewer for 3D effect, but seem quite distracting on a 2D screen. Beowulf and Hrothgar talk about killing the monster and the weakness of a dragon is discussed to set up the climax later on as well as to set up that Beowulf has a thing for Hrothgar's wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright-Penn) Beowulf manages to defeat Grendel in Austin Power's favorite game of "hide the sausage", which leads Beowulf up to the mountains to hunt and slay Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie)

This sets up Angelina's much promoted nude scene, which is something of a gross exaggeration, since she isn't naked, but covered in form fitting golden goo. This is supposed to be titalating, but I must say that didn’t impact me. Not because of Angelina’s CG patootie, but was puzzled by why she would wear stilettos in a cave. Not to mention the odd scene were she circles around Beowulf like shes on some sort of turntable and tries to seduce Beowulf into given her a son in exchange for making him a indestructible king.

Now I haven’t read the epic poem that this movie is "based" on, but it seems to me like they’re trying to make him more of a tragic hero by adding this “Faust” element, but I’m not buying it. King Lardtub was father to Grendel and now Beowulf is made king and becomes father to another monster, so it seems that no one ever learns from their mistakes. Beowulf doesn’t seem to show much in the way of regret or concern for his past, especially after he takes Wealthow for his own wife and later a mistress when he learns he cannot have heirs as a result of sleeping with Grendel's mother.

I'm awakened from my stupor by a cool action scene in the end with Beowulf fighting a dragon. This fight scene uses the CG technology to its fullest and is easily the best part of the movie, but ends on a sour note when Beowulf dies defeating the creature (who is really his son) and it is implied that Beowulf’s friend may be next in line for fathering another monster, so what’s the whole point?

It seems the intent of this movie was to make animation appealing for an older, more mature audience. Unfortunately, they did so my trying to appeal to adrenaline starved, hormonal teenagers and frat boys who would likely laugh it up at the film's rather crass sense of humor and be easily amused by the film's animation. The final rendering can look breathtaking for a few seconds, especially in establishing shots, but only for a second as the realism fades away shortly as a result of the Uncanny Valley effect. The background figures either look corse-like or like the actor's face was plastered on to an extra left over from "Shrek". While the climax is exciting, theres just too much junk to wade through to get to anything remotely satisfying.

Final Score:

Two out of Five. The pixelited equivalent of a stale candy bar.

Event Horizon (1997)

Starring Sam Neill, Lawrence Fishburne
Directed by Paul WS Anderson
Science Fiction / Horror
Rated R: Violence, Gore, Language, Brief Nudity

Ugh. I'm not even going to bother putting a synopsis in this review because this whole movie is a numbing experience. It starts out trying to be an edgy sci-fi/horror film in the vein of "Alien" or "The Black Hole" with flickering lights and jump scares that surprise no one. The characters have no dimension to them at all. In fact when a character wasn't onscreen I forgot about them almost entirely because they were so bland, even with Sam Neill's character. When your lead is so monotone that you forget all about him the minute he's not on screen, something has gone horribly wrong. This makes the systematic deaths of the crew by the evil spaceship utterly pointless, as they are just picked off, their demise complete devoid of meaning. Oh, and the spaceship is possessed by Satan, did I mention that?

Ultimately its a movie that just goes through the motions. The film tries to be edgy by giving the film a supernatural adversary, but without characters to react and gauge the severity of the situation it feels hollow. You don’t care who lives and who dies because there is no connection. The fake out ending is supposed to be shocking, but is really just eye rolling. When “The End” appears before the closing credits, I had to wonder if it didn’t originally say “You can leave now”, when it was shown in theaters. In fact I’m surprised this was shown in theaters because it really looks and feels like a SciFi Channel TV movie. Actually, that might have been a medium were I could get more involved, with the commercial break cliffhangers creating some sort of tension. Even with brief flashes of extreme gore, its just so dull that nothing affects you. Its like being stuck in a river of crap, if you go with the flow it'll be over sooner than if you try and struggle with it.

Final Score:
One Half out of Five. Horrible, avoid at all costs.

The Wolf Man (1941)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi
Directed by George Waggner
No Rating

*Spoilers Ahead*

The movie opens with the introduction of Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) and a reunion with his son Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) Already my willing suspension of disbelief is stressed. Aside from the fact that they don’t look anything alike, Rains is a head shorter than Chaney, but what Rains my lack in stature he makes up for in his commanding delivery of his dialogue making even the most inconsequential lines seem important. His veteran experience shines through as he acts circles around everyone and doesn’t show much in the way of mercy towards a newcomer like Chaney. Conversely, Chaney’s towering physique lacks the sophistication of his father’s character, sounding more akin to an everyman type rather than the wealthy son and heir. Its not explained what Chaney’s character does for a living, but I got a sense he was something of a nomad, acquiring skills as he went along, likely earning keep through odd jobs. The way he described knowing how to assemble the telescope reminded me of Steve McQueen from “The Great Escape” talking about how he used to be a chemistry student, its just something you don’t expect from someone who is very clearly an actor. The difference in Rains' British accent and Chaney’s American accent also shows through here.

The previously mentioned telescope is also an interesting bit. When Larry first looks through it he sees the street as if he were on the ground level, while in the next shot his view matches that of being on a higher floor. He catches a glimpse of Gwen (Evelyn Ankers) across the street and dashes off to hit on her, showing that he’s already a wolf (Zing!). Quite a brave feat for someone who really doesn’t have the charisma to be a romantic lead. This eventually leads to a late night date at the fortuneteller where a gypsy woman tells them they are in great danger. At this the music goes over the top and seems a bit distracting from the actual drama. Larry is bitten and Gwen’s friend is killed, leading to an unintentionally hilarious scene involving the New York accented police chief repeatedly telling the squeamish reporter to “Take a note!”

The abysmal forest is quite effective at creating mood with thick fog suspended in the air. Chaney does an excellent job at showing guilt, anxiety and torment in his facial expressions as he fears he is becoming a werewolf and could be responsible for the string of attacks, while all the other claim it’s all in his head. He begins to make some impassioned speech about how he can understand tubes and wires, which would have made for an interesting bit of character development with a science vs supernatural, explained vs the unexplained theme, but it isn’t brought to fruition and is ruined slightly when Larry asks his father to explain his pentagram shaped scar he recieved from the werewolf, to which his father replies, “Any animal could have made that mark.” Yes, any animal could have made a perfectly symmetrical star shape.

Theres a brief scene in which Larry tells Gwen that he has to leave or risk hurting anyone else and she says she wants to go with him, which I don’t buy since they haven’t know each other for very long and she already has a fiancé who isn't a jerk and hasn’t been conveniently disposed by the werewolf, contrary to movie law. The climax comes into play while Talbot Sr. is out in the woods and showing a face filled with fright as he beats the werewolf to death with Larry’s silver tipped cane. Claude Rain’s acting chops sell the scene as he discovers that the Wolf Man is his son. Like “The Fly” there really isn't a connection between man and monster to the audience because we never see the transformation and can’t really make any real association. At least this film ends on a higher note than “Frankenstein”, closing with some action as well as emotional reaction.

While there is some great acting and spectacular atmosphere, the film can't seem to decide if it wants to be a straight up creature feature or a psychology horror story about duality in the vein of "Jekyll and Hyde", which really divides the film and hinders a number of quality ideas from developing to their full potential.

Final Score:
Three out of Five. Alright.

Highlander (1986)

Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Action / Fantasy
Rated R: Violence

*Spoiler Alert*

The film opens with a block of red text, but by the time I get to the fourth word, Sean Connery's voice comes in and starts reading for us. Thats something I've never understood about opening movie monologues. Why show the text that is being read to us? Do they expect us to read it while someone else is doing so out loud? After thats done we cut to the opening credits with music by Queen in the background. I hope you like Queen, because they're all throughout this movie.

The actual story begins at a wrestling match in Madison Square Gardens, were we see a guy dressed like John Constantine sitting in his seat stoically, contrary to the other excited fans. Our Hellblazer look-alike, Connor MacLeod, played by the beetle browed Christopher Lambert leaves the arena to wander around the parking garage until he is attacked by a man in a three piece suit and sunglasses wielding a sword. MacLeod pulls a katanna out from under his coat and the two have a rather clumsily filmed duel, until MacLeod cuts off his opponents head, which causes a massive explosion. Connor tries to flee the scene, but is captured by the police.

From there Connor has a flashback to his life in Scotland in 1586. The historic Scotland scenes are easily the best part of the movie. I expected something like a Ren Fair, but everything about these people felt authentic. These people were dirty, even our main characters, who are often spared that fate in most movies. The thing that was so great about them was despite their distant setting was their vibrant attitudes and merry hearts which made them seem as alive as you or me. The way Connor joked with his clansman and spoke lovingly with his wife. The camera was always at eye level during the establishing shots of the historic scenes. We weren’t above or beneath them, but equals. Also, I thought it was kind of funny how the cuts between Scotland and New York showed both historic people as well as modern people covered in dirt. Ah New York, New York its a wonderful town...

During one of these flashbacks Connor meets Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (Sean Connery), a Spanish nobleman who tells McLeod that the two of them are immortals, destined to do battle with other immortals until only one remains to claim "The Prize." Okay, Immortality I can follow, what I don't get is why, in a movie taking place in the highlands of Scotland, with a Scottish protaganist, why would you get the world's most famous Scottish actor to play a Spaniard? Regardless, Connery is quite charming, a serves the mentor role quite well, teaching MacLeod the rules of immortality and having him run and swordfight on the beautiful beaches and mountaintops. The only thing missing here is Queen doing their own "Got to Fly Now" song. Connery is easily the most likable character and it is unfortunate that his time is so brief, as he is decapitated by another immortal, The Kurgan (Clancy Brown) after a battle inside of a foam rubber castle.

Once we establish the immortality and stop having flashbacks, the urgency seems to drop and the third act feels very long and drawn out. We establish that a police scientist Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) is onto MacLeod's secret, which leads to a love scene between the two that I honestly think is there just so that we can establish that these two are "in a relationship", since they really don't share much screen time or chemistry together. The Kurgan reappears to terrorize Brenda, revealing that he and McLeod are the only two immortals left and must duel one another to claim "The Prize". The Kurgan acts more they a big bully then an actual threat, we see him do little more than just shove people around. But eventually he and Connor fight, and Connor wins "The Prize", which is the ability to read minds in exchange for now being mortal and being straddled with Ramirez's "Obi-Wan Kenobi" voice in his head.

Highlander has many interesting elements. The story is original, the Scotland setting is beautiful, Sean Connery steals the show with his acting, and the soundtrack is done by Queen. But some elements feel like they could have been tightened up especially the action scenes, and pretty much anything that happens in the third act.

Final Score:
Three out of Five. Okay.