Reviews written by registered user

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200 reviews in total 
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Pandemic (2016)
In the Long Run, Somewhat Amazing, 19 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let me start this review with two cautionary notes.

1. Most importantly, I watched this on my computer monitor (thanks, Netflix) and it has a lot of hand held camera work. If I had seen this on a full size TV or, more especially, a theater screen, I might not have liked it as much.

2. Always remember that the word processing software used to write screenplays for movies like this does not come bundled with optimism.

That said, PANDEMIC was a very pleasant surprise thanks to a very strong script and some solid performances from a group of gifted actors. As is today's fashion it doesn't have opening titles, so I had no idea who the actors were. When I looked it up on IMDb I found that I have seen many of these performers on a regular basis for years.

The story itself doesn't have many surprises. A global epidemic wipes out most of the population. Worse yet, the infected become monsters with a hunger for human flesh.

What was a surprise was how involved I was with these characters. Lauren, the main character, is a CDC doctor working with a team looking for survivors and, ultimately, a cure for the plague. She has crossed the country to Los Angeles from New York to try to find her husband and daughter at their home in Sherman Oaks. She's a complex character with a dark secret, and Rachel Nichols's performance reminds me of Jodie Foster in films like FLIGHTPLAN and PANIC ROOM.

I will admit that I fast forwarded in the early scenes, but once the characters arrive at a high school that turns out to be a deadly trap I didn't touch any buttons again.

As Bad as It Gets, 13 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was on cable tonight, so I didn't have to pay extra to see it or leave the house. But even under these conditions it was still such a crapfest that it was overlong at a tad under ninety minutes.

Elizabeth Olsen plays a young woman named Sarah. She's in an old dark house in the middle of nowhere. Her father and uncle, who seem to be real but may be the product of her imagination, are there with her and over the course of the evening Terrible Family Secrets will come to light. Well, into very dim light since there's no electricity and the windows are boarded up so as to create a creepy haunted house atmosphere. Strangers may or may not wander into the house. Sarah may or may not be insane. The events of the evening may or may not be taking place.

Although this movie was very successful financially, here we are six years later and neither the writer nor director has gotten another credit on IMDb. Having watched SILENT HOUSE, I'm not really surprised.

So Much Fail in Just One Movie, 25 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm presuming that the people who run the Encore Suspense channel make sure that the prints of movies they get are complete and that the reels are shown in correct order. With this, it was hard to tell.

The main characters are high school students whose lives glide along without parents. At any hour of the day or night they are always in their huge homes all by themselves or, at best, with another teenager.

There are adults in the story, two police officers who do have the best of intentions. Sergeant Hamill at least tries to solve the murders that form the core of the plot, but her part is so underwritten that her character could have been eliminated. Detective Crenshaw is more interesting because he has absolutely no common sense. He'll follow up a lead at an isolated location all by himself, never calling for backup, never taking even the most minimal precautions.

The biggest item in the film's budget was probably the rain machines which make remind the viewer of how much more effective BLADE RUNNER was on every count. It rains at night. It rains during the day. Worst of all, it continues raining during a funeral scene where the rain is in sharp contrast to the bright sunlight we see everywhere.

The plot has to do with some anti-technology nuts who hate computers and cell phones, so they kill off teenagers who use these devices. It would have made more sense had they targeted, maybe, the CEO of Apple, but that would have been some work for the writers. The plot device is based on killing anyone who fails to forward a chain letter. Fortunately for the killers, none of these teenagers forwards the chain to anyone who lives outside of Sacramento. That was nice of the kids.

Don't try too hard to guess the killer's (or killers') identity, because that's a little detail the writers forgot to include. The movie does not end, it simply stops.

For what it's worth, though, the last ninety seconds actually did make me jump and that one moment is truly shocking. It comes out of nowhere, but it is effective.

There are a few good things about the film. There's nice camera work with some well done crane shots, and the musical score is pretty well textbook but appropriate. But the writing is terrible, although I'd suspect that there were many scenes that were written and may or may not have been filmed that would have tied the story together into a cohesive whole.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Viciously Bad, But Very Well Visualized, 23 November 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'd heard a lot about this movie and finally got a chance to watch it tonight. It was, well, different.

The screenplay by five writers (that's a bad sign right there) picks up themes and drops them to go on to something else. It's as the creative team collectively had AD/HD. Oh, there's something shiny. Let's walk over and pick it up.

The action starts in Los Angeles with a well realized meeting of a campus revolutionary group. Because of the film's being forty-six years old, these scenes carry their own irony: I wondered how many of those committed rebels from 1970 would turn out to be Realtors and salespeople and advertising executives ten years later.

A self-absorbed man named Mark is marginally involved with the group. He's a dropout who had rewired the university's computer system to enroll all Engineering majors in Art classes. He's on the scene of a riot where a policeman is shot and he flees, eventually stealing an airplane and heading for the desert.

In the second act he meets up with Daria, a secretary who's an Anthropology major. They meet cute: he terrorizes her on the highway as she'd driving through the California desert. She's gone there to look for a friend who's working with emotionally disturbed children (at one point I thought I was watching CHILDREN OF THE CORN) but like too many other dramatic themes that got lost too.

In the desert they drop acid, which prompts an endless scene of people covered in sand having sex. This grinds the narrative to a halt, therefore giving audiences an opportunity to get popcorn and a drink without missing anything, they same way that Mexican horror movies often have gratuitous musical numbers in the second act.

Mark takes the stolen plane back to Los Angeles, with predictable results.

In the mercifully short third act Daria goes to her boss's house, then leaves and imagines first the house blowing up and then repeated shots of clothing, appliances, and a loaf of Wonder bread blowing up. I'm sure that those few audiences who saw the film in theaters were convulsed with laughter during this scene. Fortunately, her imagination is limited so she drives away at sunset.

Neither of the leads had acting experience, and it shows. There is no consistency to their performances. And, giving how poorly written the film is, I can't blame them. Neither had further careers in film, which surprised no one. Other characters are very uneven. Some perform naturally, others sound as if they had just that moment been handed the script and asked to read it aloud.

The director's native language is Italian. At the end of the scene if the actors didn't run into each other, fall down, or belch while facing the camera, it seems he would announce that this was a final take, "Cut and print!" What's puzzling is that the film cost $7 million in 1970 dollars, about $44 million in 2016 dollars. But it looks and sounds cheap. If you didn't see the opening titles to know it was from MGM and directed by Antonioni, a viewer would figure it was one of those low budget action/adventure movies that Roger Corman cranked out at New World Pictures.

There are the special effects at the end, of course. And performance rights to songs by the Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Roy Orbison, and many other rock legends. But this wasn't adapted from a best seller, and there are no box office names except for Rod Taylor, who plays Daria's boss.

In defense of the film, though, it was cut and recut over and over by MGM and came very close to never being released. I suspect that somewhere in a vault at the studio is enough unused footage to assemble twenty different cuts of the film that are completely different from each other.

Antonioni's film that's known by the public is his masterpiece BLOW-UP, which had no explosions. Here he brings us Zabriskie Point, which has explosions but no point.

Both Funny and Touching, 29 July 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In this episode the girls crash a funeral of a complete stranger because Melanie's favorite dress has been delivered to the home of the dead woman by mistake. Melanie says it's her magic dress, and they have to have it.

So, totally uninvited, not knowing a soul there, they go to the house expecting to sneak upstairs and find said dress. Then they view the open coffin and discover that the mourners have decided that dress is perfect for the corpse to wear.

Naturally they decide to find a way to steal the dress before the coffin is sealed.

Complicating matters is one mourner (played by the great Orson Bean) who has driven a great distance to say goodbye to the woman he jilted fifty years ago.

The situation could be played for slapstick, in the manner of WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S. But there is a sadness underlying the second act that provides insight into the lives of several characters.

This is a great series. We just started watching it in reruns on cable a couple of weeks ago. As much as I love smart comedy, it's amazing that I missed this one the first time around.

I just hope the following scripts can keep up the quality of writing and acting that this one displayed.

Falls Completely Apart at the End, 22 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Up until the last few minutes, this was a very suspenseful film. Solid actors, a strong plot, and even though characters are required to do incredibly stupid things in order to advance the plot that just comes with the territory. You gotta dance with who brung you, after all.

But a major character disappears without a trace and that plot element is never truly resolved. Yes, we can figure out what probably happened. But closure would be nice.

Then comes the leading lady's final clash with the bad guy, and the whole enterprise goes off the tracks.


The triplet plot device is probably the lamest way to resolve the plot of a mystery that I've ever seen. This "paperboy" is played by a 28 year actor and it seems that this character only delivers papers to one street in the town.

There are hints that his character is something other than human, but that's not really developed. And there was a corpse up in that tree that gets a Christian burial and there's talk in the eulogy about his family, but we don't know who they are. What is their part in the plot? Do they not know that their sons are up to no good? Is their mother so stupid that she doesn't know she has two other sons? When the policeman sees the two young men (one with wounds from the confrontation, one unscathed) I fully expected the director to walk from behind the camera and speak into the camera and tell us, "Look, writing movies is hard work. I've torn my hair out trying to come up with an ending and this is the best I can do. If somebody out there has a better idea, come to California and write the sequel." The worst part about the film is seeing such good actors (especially Ray Wise) trapped in a harebrained script. About 90% of the way into the film I'd have given this an 8 or a 9, but inept writing sinks that ship.

As I said, the "demon paperboy" is very effectively played by an actor who was 28 years old at the time of the film's release. Does he terrorize other neighborhoods we don't know about, or go back into a jar with his brothers the rest of the time? By the way, if this story had been set in Texas it would have been about fifteen minutes long. Probably 2/3 of the houses in a typical neighborhood here have firearms so the lad's habit of running and jumping from roof to tree would have seen him brought down like a quail.

"Slasher" (2016)
8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Good Start; Falls Completely Apart at the End, 15 April 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tonight I watched, with much anticipation, the final episode of Slasher. If I'd written this review two hours ago, the show would have gotten eight or nine out of ten. Now, my initial feeling was to give it a three but there was some good stuff here.

First and foremost, bravo for the location scouts and the people involved in photographing the show. The town caused an "I want to go to there" response in me, even if the landscape was littered with corpses.

The actors were adequate. They may be capable of much better, but no actor can rise above bad writing. Unlike MTV's Scream, which was continually reinventing itself and kept us guessing to the end, this had the feeling of episodes of As the World Turns with gore effects and an occasional mild sex scene.

The last episode, though, was way too talky. A subplot about summer camp many years ago did nothing to raise the suspense level and a main character who survives (I'll name no names) does things in the last scenes that are completely out of character, lower that person to the level of the Executioner, and make you wonder how no criminal charges were filed on that character.

If there's going to be another season of this show I'll watch it. But hopefully they'll hire much better writers and repeat the achievement of Scream in hiring directors with solid bodies of work in horror and independent films.

The Visit (2015/I)
40 out of 78 people found the following review useful:
Good Actors Can't Save a Sinking Ship, 20 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The reason this got a 3 instead of a 1 (my initial response) was that the four main performers worked really hard to drag this dead horse across the finish line. Unfortunately, the film is so poorly written that I never believed any of the characters or situations so it was hard to really get involved with what happens. When a director devotes extensive footage to a thirteen year old White boy from the suburbs attempting to rap, you know he's desperate to stretch his story out to feature length.

This is a textbook example of what would have been a tense and exciting thirty minute TV show and stretch it to feature length. The hand-held camera business was irritating enough that it in itself cost the project several points. There should be a special rating of S added to any film that tries to induce nausea in viewers by trying to induce motion sickness.

Now, I will admit that when the Big Plot Twist came along I was surprised. Sure, variations on that twist have been used before (DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT comes immediately to mind) but it was effective.

Better luck next time, Night. It's good to see that you're still in there trying (if I had directed THE VILLAGE I'd have gone into the Witness Protection Program because it was bad enough to be considered criminal) and you can't hit a ball you don't swing at.

1 out of 8 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.

12 out of 24 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?

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