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192 reviews in total 
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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A Show with a Beginning, Middle, and End!, 25 July 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tonight I watched Episode 10 and was completely blown away. They set a time frame of ten episodes, introduced characters, developed a story arc, and actually brought the story to an end. For one awful moment I thought that Ben was going to wake up and find that the whole thing was a dream, but that didn't happen.

For comparison, look at Under the Dome. I've been as faithful as an old hound dog to that show, but it's completely run off the track. King's book has been left so far behind, except for the dome itself and a few characters, that his name should be taken off the show. It's like someone playing a familiar song on the piano who decides to improvise and gets so far from the melody that he can't get back to it however hard he tries.

Bravo, Wayward Pines. Well done.

11 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Oops! Has It Already Jumped the Shark?, 9 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Run CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and POLTERGEIST through a blender and you'll come up with the premise for The Whispers.

The first episode looked as if it had strong potential. Then in the second episode I started using the fast forward button. That's not a good sign.

Claire, the main character, has the dubious distinction of being the worst FBI agent in the history of films or TV. In the real world this lady would have been demoted to a part-time job as a meter maid. Her supposedly dead husband still seems to be alive, and he's involved in lots of creepy stuff. A composite drawing looks very much like him, so naturally she talks her partner into delaying the release of the drawing to the public.

The show's basic problem is that it's based on a short story that's ten pages long, and anyone familiar with the source material knows the story could potentially be a strong ninety minute feature film. Instead it's being stretched thin to run fourteen episodes, with more threatened if the show is successful.

The ratings on the second episode showed The Whispers losing 25% of its audience from the premiere. Will anyone be left to watch by episode fourteen?

"Aquarius" (2015)
3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Started Well, Then Quickly Began to Lose Stars, 4 June 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I soldiered my way through the pilot, and by the time it was finished knew it was time to say goodbye to this show.

At the beginning I would have rated it a 10. The music is fantastic. But that may have an underside: the licensing fees on these songs are high. Maybe that's why there was no money left for a good script or decent actors.

Worse yet, like so many shows it's very dark. Not dark in tone: that's perfectly fine. But other than the outdoor scenes, too often there's so little light on the scenes that it's more like radio than television. Here's another cinematographer who never met a 15 watt bulb he didn't like.

The story is set in the summer of 1967, the year I turned 21. When I saw a billboard for Robert Kennedy's presidential campaign in the scenes on the Sunset Strip I thought, hmmmm, wonder if this is going to turn up in later episodes.

The worst part is the presumption that the LAPD is going to spend two years investigating Charles Manson and despite David Duchovny's best efforts Manson (played with no charisma by a young man named Gethin Anthony) is going to do terrible things over the coming episodes.

Unless, of course, the show decides to completely abandon history and let Sharon Tate and her friends, and maybe even Bobby Kennedy, go forward into the 1970's unharmed. After all, the coveted viewers between the ages of 18 and 35 have only slight awareness of modern history.

Skip this. Watch the DVD of HELTER SKELTER instead.

Camel Spiders (2011) (TV)
No Love in This House for CAMEL SPIDERS?, 17 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What were people who watched this looking for? Oh, a low budget horror movie from Roger Corman? Do you think it might give me some new insight into religion and/or the meaning of life? Not.

While I watched CAMEL SPIDERS I munched on Peeps (leftover from Easter). For those unfamiliar with them, Peeps are candies made from marshmallows. No vitamins, no minerals, no health benefits, just empty calories from sugar. Just like this movie, and just as much harmless fun.

For absolutely no reason whatsoever a bunch of spiders from the Middle East that have wound up in the American Southwest grow to enormous size. They then begin to snack on the locals.

Let's see, what do we have here? Newlyweds. A couple on the brink of divorce and their daughter, who has no self preservation instincts. Soldiers. The nice guy local sheriff. The couple who runs the local diner. Two businessmen (they wear suits and ties throughout the entire film) who are looking to scam the people who own the diner; think Mr. Burns and Smithers without the sexual tension. Students on a field trip. Their professor who has no math skills (he insists that the spiders have six legs when anyone can see that they have eight) and when he sees a spider the size of a large collie decides that the best thing to do is walk over and get a closer look at it.

Admittedly, there a few beloved clichés that the authors could have brought in. Think how the school bus full of blind orphans enhanced the final act of CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMBIE TOWN. An elderly character, possibly in a wheelchair, could have raised the stakes. But you can do only so much with ninety minutes.

The special effects are decent but not spectacular, but points for the fact that most of the time the spiders cast shadows. The acting is competent for what they're given. The direction propels the action forward and keeps the actors from walking into each other.

Best yet, there are strange aspects of the story that can intrigue the viewer. Why does the hero hotwire a truck when the keys are clearly in the ignition? Why are two important secondary characters left stranded in the a car that won't start with no hint of their fate? And, better yet, why is a passage in the basement of an abandoned factory lined with brightly glowing lanterns that look to have very fresh batteries in them? Above all, where can we buy guns that almost never run out of ammunition? They can be set on automatic, firing round after round per second, and seemingly keep running for hours if necessary without overheating?

The ending sets up a sequel. Maybe someday these sweet mysteries of life will be revealed.

Evil Dead (2013)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Another Tired Remake, Soon to Be Forgotten, 22 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let me admit up front that CABIN IN THE WOODS, one of my favorite movies ever, pretty well tainted the well for this project.

The original THE EVIL DEAD has been described as The Three Stooges Go to Hell. That's why I and so many others flat out love it.

The remake has the feel of a project written and directed by a junior high drama class that miraculously raised $17 million with a bake sale and hired some really talented performers to act in it.

Major themes are developed and then get lost in the gore and hardware. Mia (the main character) and her brother and three friends travel to an isolated cabin where she is going to try to get over her drug habit.

Mia and her brother, David, have issues. Mia was the one who stayed home to take care of their mother while David was away pursuing his own interests. Either of these is a perfectly valid dramatic theme. Neither is developed. Instead, these ideas are abandoned for a festival of blood, gore, recycled images from Japanese horror movies, a chainsaw, and other hardware.

The other characters are cruelly underwritten. Eric is there because someone needs to read the ancient curse out loud for the plot to kick into gear. Olivia is a nurse, there to take care of Mia's medical needs. Natalie is there because the plot calls for a fifth person to be present to fit the contours of the script.

There are lots of good things about the film. It's well photographed, and deserves special commendation because in the outdoor scenes where it's raining the light is appropriate to a rainy day. Even in the 21st century we still see films in which rain is pouring down out of a cloudless sky in brilliant daylight. The musical score is effective. And the actors seem to have a lot of natural talent that's going to waste.

But the project falters in comparison to the original. The actors plow their way through this with perfectly straight faces. Not a wink, a nod, an arched eyebrow, a tilt of the head. I can imagine them before each scene thinking, "This script is absolute crap, but Sony Picture is paying me to do this so I'll keep a straight face and soldier through."

If you do watch this, stay around for a brief clip at the very end of the closing credits that raised my rating from a 2 to a 5. When I saw it I thought, "That's what I'm talking about."

The Heat (2013/I)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not Just Bad, But Forty Minutes Too Long, 22 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I see a movie where one joke gets stretched out to just three minutes short of two hours long, my sympathy for the unfortunate actors overwhelms my common sense which is telling me to get up and do something else. Anything else. Instead, I kept watching and waiting for it to get really funny.

Instead, it got steadily worse.

The one joke is that Melissa McCarthy plays a Boston police officer (how did she ever pass the physical exam?) who is rude, disrespectful, vulgar, and profane in her speech and behavior toward everyone she encounters.

Wow. A woman who uses four letter words. This would be hilarious and jaw dropping...if Eisenhower were still president.

In the entire film I laughed out loud maybe half a dozen times. Not a good return on investment.

Most amazingly, this is from the same writer and director who made BRIDESMAIDS, one of the most hilarious films I've ever seen.

But the ability to make a great film about the idiotic rituals associated with a wedding does not translate to being able to milk laughs from a cop buddy film.

Lost among the supporting cast is a short performance by Jane Curtin, given almost nothing to do as McCarthy's mother. In her few scenes she essentially stands in her background and blends in with the furniture. Smart actress.

One consolation: bad though THE HEAT may be, it is nowhere near as awful as HOPE FLOATS. That's one that Sandra Bullock will be living down the rest of her days.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Was This Originally Intended to Be a Comedy?, 27 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I recorded this last night on Encore Suspense, and it really looked promising. Great cast, great director, stylish opening titles (that's becoming a lost art), and an interesting premise.

Tonight I watched it. My jaw dropped, but for all the wrong reasons. In essence, Michael Keaton plays the Roadrunner, and Andy Garcia plays Wile E. Coyote. The big switch is that the coyote wants to catch the roadrunner because the coyote's son needs a bone marrow transplant and the roadrunner is a perfect match.

Garcia's character is a police officer who very improbably arranges for Keaton to be released from prison so that the transplant can be done in a San Francisco hospital. Of course, complications ensue. Unfortunately, so does hilarity.

It is admirable that Garcia's character, a widower, wants his child to survive. But after Keaton escapes he kills or injures dozens of police officers and hospital staff, but Garcia continually subverts attempts to capture or kill Keaton. As the Police Captain asks Garcia, "How many people are going to have to die here tonight so that kid of yours can live?"

At first the film is entertaining. Keaton rightly realizes that the script is an improbable dud, so he has fun with it. But when he makes his big escape and slides down a laundry chute with a shock paddle in each hand to slow his fall it's clear that we've left the Earth's gravitational pull far behind us.

It's good to see Keaton working. He's a fine actor who makes a lot of films, they just don't get released. But, good Lord, this was his next film after JACKIE BROWN. Is he that hard up for work?

The much discussed in these pages ending, which I will not reveal, is predictable and even more unbelievable than anything else in the film. It's a perfect example of OK, smooth move, but what are you going to do now? What does NOT happen in the ending was that Garcia's son coming out from under sedation and speaking to his Dad in Keaton's voice. That's where the second star came from.

Parents' note: Violence, profanity, gore, and an unforgivable scene in which a gun is aimed at a child's head.

Trivia note: Later on Keaton starred in JACK FROST as a musician who neglects his family, dies, and comes back as a snowman. No, really, that's what happens. It's bad enough to count as a crime against humanity. The little boy who plays Garcia's son in DESPERATE MEASURES plays Keatons' son in JACK FROST.

Silent Night (2012/I)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
If Dario Argento Had Directed TWIN PEAKS, This Is What It Would Have Been Like, 5 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SILENT NIGHT starts out so wonderfully well that I knew it wouldn't be able to sustain the momentum, but it's very much worth watching.

Early in the first act we meet a girl of roughly junior high age whom we first see back-talking her mother and using language that would make a sailor blush. Of course, everybody knows that in slasher movies a cardinal rule is that harm cannot be done to children. Guess what? Moments later a masked Santa is at the door and he bloodily dispatches her on screen with extreme prejudice.

It's Christmas Eve in a backwater town in Wisconsin (the grass and trees are green as can be, but we're not supposed to notice this). Aubrey (Jamie King) is a young widow who's a deputy to Sheriff Cooper (the wonderful Malcolm McDowell, gleefully overacting and eating scenery faster than a bulldozer).

The town has been in the doldrums since the mill shut down, but has mustered an air of festivity for the holiday celebration and the Christmas Parade, the highlight of which is a competition for Best Santa Claus which has hundreds of contestants.

Aubrey and her parents (her dad is a retired police officer and her mother a pleasant cipher) are among the town's few sane, normal residents. Drugs, adultery, promiscuity, theft, the production of pornography, a totally creepy priest, you name it, it's going on here. As the sheriff wonders aloud, "How has this town gotten so perverted?" The closing of the mill is cited as a possible cause for the town's decline, but that subtext goes unexplored.

As the corpses begin to pile up, the sheriff should have called for outside assistance. Alas, he suffers from Delusions of Competence and is steadfast in his refusal to seek outside aid. So the killer in the Santa suit continues his rampage.

Jamie King is, as always, solid in her characterization. I'm not sure if Malcolm McDowell's performance is "good acting" as such, but he has such fun with it that I'm in no mood to argue. Best of all, Donal Logue is one of the Santas, a cynical man who is a strong suspect to be the killer. When he's arrested, he and Jamie King have a dynamic scene at the jail at the end of the second act in which he expresses how Christmas has been a series of disappointments to him over his failure ridden life. His anger and and frustration and Ms. King's wordless reaction to what she's hearing are riveting.

The cinematography in SILENT NIGHT is excellent. The use of color, especially red, is what reminded me of Dario Argento's films. And Kevin Riepl's atmospheric musical score keeps up the tension throughout the story.

There is plenty of gore here, but unlike, say, HOSTEL, it's used effectively in telling the story and never seems to be there for its own sake.


At the end of the third act the sheriff is dead, the jail is burning, and Aubrey is squared off against the killer Santa. I'm sitting there trying to figure out just who it could be under that mask. The problem is, every suspect I could think of at that point was dead.

It turns out that the killer is not a character who's been part of the narrative. I know, it's not a law that the guilty party in a mystery has to be a character to whom we have been introduced. It's not in the Bible, it's not in the Code of Criminal Procedures. But it's a rule that Agatha Christie would have followed.

One of the prime suspects had been a man named Stein Karsson. He had told Aubrey a story about a man who had dressed in a Santa suit many years ago and gone on a killing spree with a flamethrower.

It turns out that this wasn't an urban legend. Several decades ago the man, Ronald Jones, had indeed done exactly what Karsson had said, and been gunned down by a young rookie police officer.

The young officer was Aubrey's father. And the flamethrower Santa's young son, Ronald Jones Junior, had seen everything that happened and had seen his father die. Here, many years later, he has come back for his revenge.

Five paragraphs ago we saw Aubrey and the killer Santa in mortal combat. Aubrey gains control of the flamethrower and the present day killer Santa is ablaze, just like his father many years ago. He falls to the floor, presumably dead.

Aubrey and Brenda, the presumably sinless dispatcher, stagger out the front door of the police station/jail, which is blazing like a proverbial Yule log. A large municipal building in the heart of town is afire but no crowd has gathered, no firetrucks have arrived but (like the green grass and leaves on the trees) we aren't supposed to notice that.

Ronald Junior somehow survives (sequel?) and gets out of the building. We see him in his truck driving out of town.

I should mention that this is a loose remake of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT which created a sensation in 1984 by daring to present a killer Santa. Protests by parents' groups caused Tri-Star to withdraw it from theatrical distribution. Publicity from the protests made it a runaway hit on videocassettes (younger readers will have to Google that) and inspired several direct-to-video sequels.

SILENT NIGHT is a very solid, effective thriller. However, I'll admit that the first two acts work better than the third. If I'd written it the story's climax would have been centered around the Santa Parade and, yes, the killer would have been introduced in the first act.

Of course, maybe that's why the producers didn't seek me out to write it.

Parents' note: Drug use, gore, nudity, profanity, and violence. Rated R for a reason.

Carnage (2011)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Let's get out of here: these people are crazy!, 5 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'd wanted to see this when it came out in theaters, but it didn't get very wide release. So I finally saw it on Encore, and found it a major disappointment.

The script seems to have been written by high school students who have studied Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and Sartre's NO EXIT and decided to combine the two.

The basic premise of two couples meeting after their children have a fight is essentially resolved minutes into the film, and the visiting couple starts to leave.

In a better world, at that point Jodie Foster would break the fourth wall by pointing into the camera and telling her visitors, "You can't go yet. Those people sitting out there drove across town to see this, some of them hired baby sitters. And Mr. Polanski spent all this money on this lovely living room set. Please stay long enough that this turd will be at least somewhere near feature length!"

Alas, they foolishly listen to her. So they trudge back into the living room and talk. And talk. Foolishly, they consume alcohol. And talk some more.

Unfortunately, the more they talk the less we can identify with them. Characters in films don't have to be likable, goodness knows. But it helps if we can in some way identify with them. At about the midway point I was wondering if this was taking place in a coincidentally named "Brooklyn" that was actually in a different solar system.

I'm familiar with the author's work, having seen and hugely enjoyed ART on stage a few years ago. The three characters in it were so well developed, and based on that I'd looked forward to seeing CARNAGE.

The dramatic high point of the film comes when Kate Winslet's character vomits. Ooooh. Look at that! She projectile vomits, with much of the gunk landing on one of her hostess's books. As the reviewer in The New Yorker pointed out, not just A book but an ART book. Oooh.

The people who will be most disappointed in CARNAGE are teenagers who see the R rating and think they're going to see something. Nope. Just cursing.

Way back in 1972 comedian George Carlin had a monster hit with his routine Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. And that is the heart of the problem. If you want to use these words for dramatic impact, they're all pretty well worn out from overuse.

Maybe the next President will run on a campaign of promising America new profanity.

After 49 years I Finally Got to See It!, 19 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The first two acts of SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL set up and develop the basic situation. Helen(Natalie Wood) has written a best selling book called, well, you know that. She's being pursued by Rudy (Mel Ferrer), a fellow psychiatrist, but won't give him the time of day. Bob Weston (Tony Curtis) works for a tabloid and is obsessed with exposing Ms. Brown as a "23 year old virgin" and he does indeed used the previously forbidden word "virgin" more than once.

Frank (Henry Fonda) is Bob's neighbor. Frank is married to Sylvia (Lauren Bacall) and their numerous loud arguments keep Bob from getting to first base with Gretchen (Fran Jeffries), a singer with Count Basie's Orchestra.

Finally, in the long second act, Bob finds a way to get to know Helen up close and personal. He'll pretend to be Frank and go to her for therapy. This is complicated by the fact that as soon as these two incredibly good looking people are within physical proximity of each other they fall head over heels in love.

Of course, they have previously spoken with each other on the phone and shared a mutual loathing. I would point out how similar this is to the premise of PILLOW TALK five years earlier, but I've got better manners than that.

The lovely Leslie Parrish is a secretary casually involved with Bob. Edward Everett Horton is Bob's boss. Otto Kruger plays Helen's boss.

The plot thickens. Complications ensue.

Although this isn't billed as a musical, Ms. Jeffries sings three songs. Two of the three are fine material- "The Anniversary Song" and Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?"- and a novelty title song. During "The Anniversary Song" Frank and Sylvia "dance" something resembling The Twist. Their dance moves are totally unrelated to the song itself, and I was unsure whether the songs were to extend the film to feature length or to provide three opportunities for audiences to run out for popcorn and Cokes.

The disappointing thing about the film is that, for much of its running time, it just isn't all that funny. The only laugh out loud moment in the first two acts was at the anniversary party for Frank and Sylvia: the cake is, in honor of their constant arguing, decorated with a boxing ring motif.

There are wonderful actors at work here. Richard Quine is a solid director. Joseph Heller was the primary writer credited. Edith Head did the costumes. Neal Hefti wrote the original score. Charles Lang photographed the film. But too much of the film just lies there limp and pale.

It's strange to see a film in wide screen and color (and thanks, Turner Classic Movies, for getting such a great print) where scene after scene involves people indoors talking. There's a brief scene where Bob and Frank go golfing, with some business with golf carts that foreshadows the third act, but it's mostly set up like a TV sitcom.

Then, in the third act, Quine and company throw caution to the wind and have all the primary characters racing to the airport so that at least one pair of lovers will go to the Fiji Islands.

This gets the characters literally in motion, adds three points to my score, and introduces new characters such as a cab driver (Stubby Kaye!), an increasingly frustrated motorcycle cop (Larry Storch), and an elderly couple (Burt Mustin and the wonderfully named Cheerio Meredith) out for a drive in their antique car.

At the end of the story Bob and Helen are together, Frank and Sylvia are lovebirds, and, Gretchen and Rudy find happiness.

The film pretends to be very daring in its sexual attitudes, but I was literally horrified when Bob proposes marriage to Helen, and one of her first reactions is "But I'll have to quit my job!" It was like watching a Friday the 13th movie, except instead of "Don't go upstairs!" I was shouting "Queen Victoria died at the beginning of the century!" As the son of a career woman (college professor) and grandson of a career woman (newspaper editor) I found the idea that a woman couldn't have a successful career and a great marriage repulsive. Of course, that line could have been thrown in to appease the censors for having suggested that Bob and Helen might possibly have had a honeymoon night before the wedding day.

Interestingly, Henry Fonda worked with far more sophisticated material relevant to sexual politics twenty some years before this film in Elliot Nugent's hilarious adaptation of Nugent's and James Thurber's THE MALE ANIMAL in which Fonda played a professor who fears losing his strong- willed and independent wife to his old friend who's an athlete.

Still, SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL was ultimately fun and gave me a chance to watch some of my favorite actors wear good clothes in nice settings. And Mom needn't have worried:

Parents' note: As racy as a Doris Day movie or an episode of The Love Boat. Hipsters will be distressed by the fact that a couple of characters are seen smoking.

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