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Craig_McPherson

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130 reviews in total 
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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Flawed, but original, 1 December 2013
5/10

While suffering from a few dramatic flaws that defy conventions of normal behavior, The Hat Goes Wild deserves credit for delivering a fairly original story about a group of English Montreal CEGEP (junior college) students who set out on a wilderness canoe trip only to find themselves the victims of a series of unfortunate events.

Without going into detail, suffice to say that the flaws are those centering around how one would reasonably expect people to react during and after the setbacks introduced by the the film's plot. They just don't ring true. Alas, had the film followed the conventions of normal behavior, the story would have ended well before it began, so I suppose some slack has to be allowed so that the film could unfold.

The biggest flaw, however, is the found-footage approach, with the entire film being the product of a video camera toted by one of the campers.

For one thing, it makes for poor visuals and the film would have been better served by filming it in a conventional manner. Not only that, but the found footage premise is rendered even more absurd as the movie's plot reaches it's conclusion.

The story premise, however, is sound once you get past the aforementioned flaws, and it will hold you to the end.

Super 8 (2011)
8 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
So ET and Cloverfield walk into a bar and........., 12 June 2011
5/10

Anyone familiar with Director J.J. Abrams' re-visioning of Star Trek should, by now, be annoyingly familiar with his cloying love of lens flare. He's even admitted in interviews to going overboard with the gimmick. So it's all the more surprising that in Super 8 – his collaboration with Steven Spielberg who served as Producer – that the icon who gave us Jaws and Close Encounters didn't crack the whip and reign in flare boy.

How much does Abrams love lens flare? Well, If you want to get totally plastered before the first reel spins out, invite friends over for a Star Trek drinking game where everybody takes a shot whenever there's lens flare. Super 8 isn't much different except that unlike Star Trek, you might survive an alcohol overdose until the final act, but all that's saying is that Abrams has learnt to pace himself, from a drinking game perspective.

Seriously, there are entire sequences that break the "fourth wall" by having so much damn lens flare that I found myself wondering why the scenes weren't re-shot. After all, Spielberg was cracking the whip here.

As for the story, without giving away copious spoilers, suffice to say it's what anybody would achieve if they took both men's most iconic films, ET in the case of Spielberg, and Cloverfield for Abrams, and had a team of re-writers blend the two together.

You can read the plot synopsis online, but since you're here, the story involves a small group of kids who, in the late '70s, are devoted to making a zombie film using the then cheap and popular Super 8 film stock. While filming a key scene, they witness the derailment of an Air Force train carrying mysterious cargo. The result of the spectacular crash is that a critter of uncertain intelligence and power is released into the countryside, with the US Army rolling in to contain the townsfolk and generally act as the baddies. Viewers familiar with Spielberg and Abrams' sci-fi and monster flicks can fill in the blanks.

In spite of the hype and the pedigrees behind it, Super 8 isn't a bad movie, but it isn't a stand out either. It's basically like drinking a cocktail composed of the essence of Abrams and Spielberg. It goes down easy but leaves a lingering taste of "meh" in your mouth afterwards. When it comes to cocktails, however, my only lament is that I didn't bring a flask of booze. It would have made the popcorn go down easier every time there was lens flare.

Old Dogs (2009/I)
4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Stinks worse than fresh dog poo, 25 October 2010
1/10

To label Old Dogs as the absolute bottom of the barrel would be unfair, at least to barrel bottoms. No, this movie is below the bottom of the barrel. It inhabits that place crawling with ants and earthworms – or at least it should. I've seen some stinkers in my day and this is clearly one of THE worst of the last decade.

Sporting what one would think would be a competent comedic cast consisting of Robin Williams, John Travolta and Seth Green, Old Dogs is simply the lamest of excuses to cobble together some poorly executed and unfunny sight gags that may have seemed like a good idea on paper, but fail miserably on screen.

There's so many things that are wrong with the movie, it's a wonder that it was approved for production, let alone released. Starting from a poor script, hackneyed acting, plot holes large enough to drive a truck through, and gratuitous mugging in just about every third scene, this is a movie that everyone involved should be ashamed to have been associated with.

As a viewer, the least you can do is give this stinker a wide berth. No matter how lousy your life may seem, you'll still be able to find something worthwhile to pass the time you'd otherwise spend watching this crud.

Devil (2010)
113 out of 163 people found the following review useful:
The elevator equivalent of Lifeboat and Ten Little Indians, 18 September 2010
7/10

M. Night Shyamalan is one of those love him or hate him directors for whom there's no middle ground, so it hasn't helped that he's given his detractors a lot to crow about with his recent downward spiral with successively poor to abysmal movies ranging from The Lady in the Water to 2010's biggest stinker, The Last Airbender. It's been a critical pile-on for the one time golden boy who wowed audiences and critics alike with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable.

Things have gotten so bad that when the trailer for Devil hit theatres with the on-screen tag line "From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan", guffaws were reported from audiences and on-line gadflies like Perez Hilton had a field day posting viral videos mocking the promos.

All of which is too bad because not only is Devil a compelling, riveting bit of movie making, but Shyamalan's involvement was limited to writing the story and co-producing, which, given his recent track record, was probably for the best.

Smartly directed by John Erick Dowdle, whose last effort was Quarantine, the equally tight and faithful remake of the Spanish horror REC, Devil marks the first instalment in a trilogy of films dubbed The Night Chronicles, which revolve around the supernatural in modern urban settings (the second film is tentatively titled Reincarnate, about the jurors of a murder trial who are haunted by a supernatural being, and Unbreakable 2 rumoured as the third instalment).

In Devil's case, the plot could easily function as a textbook case of film school 101, tasking a writer and director to fashion a small story, restricted in scope, set in the cramped environment of a stalled elevator. You can almost hear film school professors saying "if you can pull this off, you can do anything". Happily, Dowdle succeeds with flying colours.

Devil is as compelling as the story is confined. It's smart from beginning to end, almost like the hybrid elevator equivalent of Hitchcock's Lifeboat and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. A disparate group boards a Philadelphia office tower elevator, only to become trapped between floors and mortally victimized by someone among them who clearly possesses supernatural ability every time the lights flicker and momentarily go out.

Don't look for spoilers here as I won't be providing any. Suffice to say that Devil is one of the most smartly written, acted, and directed films I've had the pleasure to enjoy this year.

Who knows, maybe this is the beginning of Shyamalan's road back to respectability. If nothing else, it shows that he still has the chops as a top notch story teller.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Better title would have been The Last Cameraman, thank God, 28 August 2010
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You've got to hand to demons. The one thing they hate as much as most cinema goers is "Shakes" the camera man. That's about as close to a spoiler as you're going to get when it comes to the Eli Roth-produced and Daniel Stamm-directed "reality" horror flick The Last Exorcism.

Eleven years after The Blair Witch Project and two after Cloverfield tried to breathe new life into the genre, this exercise in faux cinema vérité delivers a mixed bag of results as it tells the story of Reverend Cotton Marcus (Fabian), a Louisiana-based evangelical pastor groomed at an early age to be a preacher of the good word.

Problem is, because Marcus literally grew up in the milieu, at his core he isn't exactly what you'd call a believer. He's more of a businessman and crusader, vowing to save "younguns" from trauma and death at the hands of exorcists by staging fake demonic expulsions to satisfy their skewed state of reality.

His exploits are chronicled by a documentary crew seeking to expose religious fakery in the U.S. deep south, with which Marcus has agreed to assist.

First across his desk is a case of demonic possession involving 16 year-old Nell Sweetzer (Bell) at a small rural farm. It's there that his expectations and faith, or lack thereof, clash as he comes to grips with what may or may not be an actual case of demonic possession, or a psychotic incident.

The promos and posters are deceiving. There aren't any scenes of Nell walking on ceilings, however the contorted poses she strikes were, apparently, quite real and without special effects (think of Cirque du Soleil meets The Exorcist).

The Last Exorcism's basic story is sound, however its execution is undermined by its haphazard adherence to the "found footage" premise, beginning with the camera work. If you tend toward nausea when it comes to jerky, in and out of focus cinematography, stay away. If you believe that "reality" films should stick to a rigid code, maybe this isn't for you as there are enough technical inconsistencies here to drive a cinephile nuts (the use of tension building background music, the sudden on-camera appearance of the sound recording tech, sans recording gear – I could go on). The movie's theological mistakes equally abound, such as the notion that an evangelical pastor would carry a crucifix depicting the image of Jesus, or that like-minded non-Catholic believers would adorn their dwelling with statues of the Virgin Mary, however such nuances are considered "nitpicking" in Hollywood's terms.

While The Last Exorcism isn't a bad movie, it isn't the best horror flick to come down the pipe this year either. It's the sort of thing you might want to rent on DVD and curl up in front of with a big bowl of popcorn, and then, if you really want to be scared, follow it up with William Friedkin's masterpiece.

5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Blowed Up Real Good - "sploit" (spittoon goober), 17 August 2010
7/10

Some movies lend themselves to a review, others don't. The Expendables falls into the latter category, even though I'm going ahead with one anyway. This isn't because it's a bad film, but rather because it's the epitome, the essential oil, the distilled essence (to pooch a host of hoary adjectives) of the action genre, and in that sense, it's a home-run.

It's akin to the 1948 classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, where the bumbling duo are pitted against the biggest bad-asses of the Universal monster stable, such as Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man.

Don't let the marquee movie posters deceive, sure The Expendables delivers "almost" every name from the 80's action "classics", but some – specifically Willis and Schwarzenegger – both appear in a single scene, and together at that, with Stallone, of course, who is everywhere. It's clearly little more than a wink toward the 80s icons, as well as the trio that founded the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain.

Insofar as popcorn munchers go, like the action vein it mines, The Expendables is pure eye candy. The movie is tailor-made for the big bucket-o'-popcorn and large drink, leaning back and enjoying the mayhem. Plus the movie features Eric Roberts, who saw fit to also star in SyFy's soon-to–be-seen Sharktopus (hey, there's been stranger career moves).

Yes there are passages where the dialogue appears to have been written by someone (Stallone?) on the crapper trying to pinch a big one, but that's typical of the 80s action flick. Plus the movie manages to make Statham stand out from the crowd as the closest thing to a thespian – and I like Statham so all's good there.

All this aside, there's copious amounts of martial arts Kung-Fu, mixed WWE-style wrestling, MMA beat downs and just plain punch-outs, knife fights, major league shoot outs (the carnage that Terry Crews' warhead gun inflicts has to be seen to be believed), and things being blown up on a truly epic scale.

Honestly? The best, most accurate and true to the genre way to review this film is not to write paragraphs about it, but recline in front of a video camera, decked out in overalls and a trucker cap, chewing on a chaw of tobacco, and spitting into a bucket while saying "things blowed up real good".

Yes, my friends, it's that much fun.

Predators (2010)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
A Pure Popcorn Frag Fest, 9 July 2010
8/10

In the past 30 years (yes, it's been that long) Hollywood has managed to spawn two iconic horror critters, both out of the Sci-Fi mold: the Xenomorph which debuted in Ridley Scott's 1979 movie Alien, and the Yautja, better known as the Predator from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

Never one to let go of a cash cow, film studios have spewed forth numerous sequels for both creatures, and even brought the two together for a couple of movie frag fests.

Predators, the latest entry, tries to bring a clever twist to the Yautja franchise, and largely succeeds due to some (surprisingly) above average screen writing and a generally decent cast.

Directed by Nimród Antal and produced by Robert Rodriguez, it tells the story of a disparate group of soldiers, mercenaries and criminals who awaken from a blackout to find themselves in free fall above a tropical jungle. Parachutes open to break their fall, but they have no recollection of how they got there, or where they are.

Led by the surprisingly buff Adrien Brody who put on weight and underwent weight training for the role of Royce, an American mercenary, the group quickly becomes the 10 Little Indians of children's rhyme lore, decreasing by one during each action packed scene, except this film doesn't quite follow the nursery rhyme script, with the Earthlings giving as good as they get.

Several cuts above (pardon the turn of phrase) the sequels that followed the '87 Arnie film, yet not breaking much in the way of new ground story wise beyond the big game preserve angle, Predators marks the high point (thus far) in an otherwise dismal summer movie season. Yes it's predictable in places, but it's surprisingly clever in others. Sit yourself down with a big bag 'o popcorn and a large drink, and you'll find yourself sucked into a nice entertaining 106 minutes of intelligent carnage, and everybody likes carnage.

Splice (2009)
10 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Thought provoking horror at its best, 6 June 2010
9/10

In 1997 Canadian Director Vincenzo Natali's psychological thriller Cube became a minor hit for its innovative story about a group of prisoners who awaken in a cube shaped room with hatches on all sides. Depending on the choices, the hatches may lead to freedom, other cubes, or worse. If you haven't seen it, you should as it manages to be both enthralling and thought provoking. Jump ahead to 2010 and Natali's latest project, Splice, further establishes him as a supreme cinematic talent.

Splice tells the story of two Toronto geneticists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) who have built their careers upon creating new genetic hybrids for their pharmaceutical employer, which seeks to patent new medicinal compounds from the organisms. Up to this point their greatest achievement has been two slug-like creatures that seem to be a pair of genetic Fort Knox's in terms of drug producing potential.

Not satisfied with slugs, however, Elsa urges Clive join her in adding human DNA into the mix. The result is Dren (nerd spelled backwards), a curious creature that incorporates the features of human, animal, and fish. Call this an updating of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, for Dren is very much the Modern Prometheus. Played by French actress Delphine Chanéac, Dren is the star of this film. Every bit the monster, she manages to be all at once engaging, sympathetic, unpredictable, and terrifying. Unlike conventional horror flicks in which the creature lurks in the darkness, picking off victims, only to be shown during the final reveal, Dren takes center stage from the moment she's artificially born. Her articulated deer-like legs, scorpion-ish tale, and bird/flying fish wings, while otherworldly, never manage to detract from her human side, which speaks volumes for Chanéac's performance.

Thanks to Chanéac, Polley and Brody, Splice manages to establish a new standard for horror flicks. This heretofore independent Canadian flick (before Guillermo Del Toro signed on and lent his name as a Producer to help with the distribution) has managed to not only elevate the bar in terms of story telling for the horror genre, but shown that compelling and engaging stories can be told within the confines of a so-called "monster movie". Whereas I normally view sequels as mere attempts to cash in on the coat tails of the original, I, for one, look forward to the next installment, for Splice is very much an unfinished story in progress, and we only have Vincenzo Natali to thank for that.

The Collector (2009/I)
3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A good film at its core, if you can get past the gore, 12 April 2010
4/10

Trends in Hollywood tend to come and go. One year's fascination quickly gives way to another and so it is that I've found myself hoping that the horror sub-genre known as "torture porn" would hopefully give way to a return to more sophisticated story telling. Yet, while not as prevalent as it was a couple of years ago, I'm sad to say this envelope pushing trend doesn't appear to show any signs of abating.

It's all too bad, really, because many of the movies that fall into the TP category have, at their essence, really compelling stories that find themselves buried under mountains of blood, gore and entrails. The moment the maxim "what's been seen cannot be unseen" starts to compete with the plot, you know the viewer is in trouble.

The latest case in point is The Collector. Originally envisioned as a prequel to Saw, but created as a vehicle in its own right when that franchise's producers balked, this is a movie that has much more going for it than standard horror fare.

It all starts with the premise, telling the story of Arkin (Josh Stewart), a member of a contracting crew renovating a large estate owned by a jeweller. As it turns out, Arkin moonlights as a burglar and sets his sights on the family safe, where he hopes to score some gemstones and help his ex wife pay off her loan-sharks. Expecting the family to be out of town, he returns and breaks in, but while there he discovers there's another intruder skulking about whose agenda doesn't involve mere diamonds, but rather the selection and torture of humans for his "collection" and the family, which didn't leave town after all, is being held at the psycho's mercy. The result being that Arkin must bring all his skill as a burglar to bear to not only hide from The Collector, but in a novel turnabout, becomes the saviour of the captives as he attempts to rescue the very people he set out to rob.

There's a lot going on here to like, from the cat and mouse game played out between the two criminals, to Arkin's navigating the Saw-like traps that The Collector has laid in wait for the family's kids to come home, and his desperate attempts to figure out a way to thwart The Collector at his own game.

Unfortunately the film succumbs to the temptations of the genre, and Director Marcus Dunstan feels obliged to deliver the requisite scenes of gore and dismemberment, much of which is purely gratuitous and not needed given the compelling nature of the plot. While it may be too much to ask that horror films be gore free, when the camera lingers almost gleefully on hooks piercing human flesh, severed tongues and eyes being stitched shut, this is when lines start to be crossed, treading into that queasy territory of quasi-pornographic fetishism.

So this is the dilemma posed by The Collector – an above average premise that sees itself weighed down by excessive on screen baggage. Though what has been seen cannot be unseen, the film makers would have been better off remembering that the terrors the mind's imagination can conjure up from what is left unseen might well have served this film to a far better end.

Date Night (2010)
7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
They should have just remade After Hours, 11 April 2010
3/10

In 1985 Martin Scorsese crafted the superb After Hours, the story of a pencil-pushing dweeb from cubicle land who stumbles into one raucous evening of epic, Rube Goldberg proportions. This is the film to which Date Night aspires, but falls so far short it's a wonder they even bothered trying.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a nondescript professional couple from New Jersey whose lives have casually slipped into the mundane over the years. They're very much in love, but have had to compartmentalize their affection into a busy schedule that involves work, getting the kids to school, homework, and weekly book clubs.

Life has been quietly passing them by and they've hardly noticed. But notice they do and in an effort to spice things up, the couple pay a visit to a trendy Manhattan eatery where they pooch the reservation of another couple, who, as fate would have it, have connections in all the wrong places. It's from here that Phil and Claire's night begins to spiral out of control in a case of mistaken identity run amok.

Carell and Fey nail their parts as innocent rubes but that's about the best thing that can be said about this tepid affair. The movie plays out as little more than a vehicle for a series of cameos and skits built around such notables as Mark Wahlberg as a perpetually shirtless black ops expert, J. B. Smoove (Larry David's roommate Leon on Curb Your Enthusiasm) as a hapless cabbie the couple literally hook up with, and James Franco (Spiderman, The Pineapple Express) as the low life who got them into their mess in the first place. With so many bit parts relegated to talented players, the story quickly takes on the aura of a script that was cobbled together on the fly, possibly even as the cameras were rolling. The end result is a lack of sincerity and no feeling whatsoever that the story was part of a vision that was created in advance. It's sort of like everyone's winging it, and that's what sets it apart from the Scorsese film it so desperately wants to emulate.

If you really want to see this movie done right, pay a visit to your local DVD palace and rent a copy of After Hours. The time spent with that gem will be far more entertaining than this dreary adventure.


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