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moogyboy

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Too many cooks, 14 January 2014
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Piranha 2: The Spawning" looks exactly like what it is: two different movies made by two different people, using the same story, actors, and crew. Unfortunately, the less talented of the two also happened to be the producer, and he got his way. The result is an occasionally interesting, intermittently gripping, and mostly ridiculous pot of glop.

I'm just making assumptions here, but I'm going to guess that you can see James Cameron's involvement in the straight, dramatic portions of the movie, including the murky but eerily pretty underwater sequences. Definitely the casting of a strong, resourceful, reasonably complex woman in the lead is a Cameron trademark. Producer Ovidio d'Assontis, I reckon, is responsible for most of the more slapstick, broad, typically B-movie material, of which there is a lamentable mountain. The movie's mixture of horror and comedy does not work *at all*. It's not even good comedy--stupid one-liners coming out of the mouths of third-rate Central Casting rejects and would-be Penthouse models. Next minute, it's Tricia O'Neil, Steve Marachuk, and Lance Henriksen playing it dead serious. Like downshifting to second gear from fifth at 80 mph.

O'Neil is a quite good actress and gorgeous in a world-weary, edge-of-fortysomething way to boot, and Lance as the gaunt, stressed-out police chief/heroine's husband is a true professional as always, but Steve's wisecracking scientist/playboy gets really annoying really fast...and he's supposed to be the co-hero. The rest of the cast is just downhill (or is that rapidly sinking?) from there, mostly a tiresome assortment of cardboard goofballs, although Gabby the dynamite fisherman is a likable representative of movie-Caribbeana and probably the most interesting character of the lot. The romance between the two teens is interesting when you consider that Leslie Graves was actually close to ten years older than her 15-year-old paramour, Ricky Paull.

I almost forgot about the fish, the reason all these people were assembled in the first place.

Do you blame me, though? You don't really see them much, to be honest, as much as you hear them, making that sort of wooga-wooga-wooga warbling noise as they swim in for the krill...er, kill. And when you do seen them, you don't for very long because your eyes get all scrunched up from you laughing. They really are ridiculous looking things, or at least the special effects shots in which they star are so badly done that you can't take them seriously. Granted, it's a cheap movie and I have seen worse ("Up From The Depths", anyone?), but I would think that if a visionary like James Cameron had had his way he would have approached the task a little differently. In fact, from what I read he had been originally hired as the Effects Supervisor when d'Assontis snatched him to replace the original director. If only he'd been left in his original post...but then the good parts of the movie wouldn't have happened at all, probably.

What's the final verdict, then? It's an interesting, modest footnote to the early career of one of our towering cinematic giants, a typical Italian-flavored horror B-movie of the period. Largely dumb, but not a complete waste. Of definite interest to underwater fans.

A fascinating mess, 16 November 2013
5/10

I should first point out that I'm just a couple of ear hairs past novice level when it comes to chess, so I'm not a complete outsider to the subject at hand...just on the periphery. But I digress.

"Game Over" isn't a documentary so much as a position paper, the kind that an insecure college freshman with a chip on his shoulder would write for a first semester English class. (I should know.) There's tantalizing material here that the director, like a bad chess player, doesn't follow up on because he's fixated on other stuff that's more immediately gratifying. Mainly attacks.

I'll get this out of the way now: the film is unapologetically biased. The director's reverential attitude toward Garry Kasparov and contempt for the IBM team comes through loud and clear in just about every frame. There is no ambiguity--no real ambiguity, just the "you decide" kind that's so common in those paranormal-themed TV shows on the Discovery Channel where you just know what *they* think the truth is. The film takes Kasparov's assertions at face value: *of course* IBM must have had human hands behind the scenes helping Deep Blue; they had to have been playing mind games to break him; naturally they wouldn't let him look at the logs--something fishy's going on! When the IBM boffins get the camera, every single one is made to look like an arrogant, lying sum'bitch. The conspiracy angle is played up and up, bolstered by the now well-noted creepy (and very annoying) whispering and cutaways to The Turk. Our director (no, I don't remember his name and would be too impatient to keep typing it) doesn't let up on hammering his point into our heads, and certainly doesn't provide us with sufficient material to truly make up our own minds about What Really Happened. I won't take sides on that subject, other than to say that nowadays the idea of a computer trouncing a top Grandmaster certainly doesn't seem very controversial to me, although at the time I can understand how Kasparov could have gotten freaked.

So what we have here could have been a good hour or so program on one of those cable channels that specializes in nonfiction programming. Yes, I'm sure they could have pruned it down into a much tighter picture if they'd just lost all the superfluous Turk and eerie-corridor shots, not to mention annoying commentary from Kasparov's manager and others.

But that's not what's really fascinating in this movie. Even without the kooky paranoia angle (except that which comes straight from Kasparov) we have a very compelling human drama waiting to be explored: man vs machine; man vs corporation; man vs his own ego, reputation, and past. Kasparov is an engaging and complex figure, cocky at the beginning, perplexed and frantic in the middle, and vulnerable and all too human at the end. The unbeatable met his match and it changed him irrevocably; the story of Kasparov vs Deep Blue is classic tragedy. Even the programming team didn't get to gloat. I would have liked to hear more about why, in the words of the lead Asian programmer, "it sucked".

But villains don't get to tell their side of the story, and I doubt our director knew that he had a classic tragedy to tell, or even what tragedy is. (I also don't get much sense that he knows much about chess itself either.) In his hands, it's just plain old melodrama--based, as they say on TV, on a true story. Good guys, bad guys, and a lot of padding. I basically would have preferred if Kasparov and the IBM people would have just been allowed to tell their stories in their own way, they're clearly interesting enough subjects without the "help" of the director's editorializing...but WITH the help of position diagrams, commentary on the games themselves from chess masters, etc. That might have given even lay viewers some context, an appreciation of the deeply complex analysis over which gray matter grappled with silicon.

It's reasonably well-made, though, from a technical standpoint. There's some nice camera-work and editing too, just not enough, and at the same time too much. Ponder what "Game Over" (no subtitle) would have looked like in the hands of, say, Frederick Wiseman. Just as an experiment.

Tommy (1975)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"Tommy": an amazing journey from a concept album to an actual opera, 31 January 2013
8/10

My introduction to the "Tommy" franchise was the soundtrack LP. I've been into classic '60s and '70s rock ever since I was a tot, thanks to my older brothers' record collections, and was already very familiar with The Who when I discovered the soundtrack to the present movie (noting that it was an anomaly being on the Polydor label, me associating the band with Decca and MCA...that's the kind of young music geek I was). The songs definitely had a storybook-like quality reminiscent of the Disneyland LPs I had, but even then I thought the over-the-top synthesizer arrangements were a little too melodramatic for my tastes. Years later I got my hands on an original copy of The Who's 1969 original version, and was shocked by how low key, stripped down, and slowed down the songs were--and also how sketchy the story was as presented on the original LP, if you could even call it a story. Some of the songs worked better on the original, some better on the soundtrack. It was interesting.

But in all those years I never watched the movie until just tonight, on YouTube. For the first time, the soundtrack actually makes sense. I realized that the movie wasn't nearly as serious as some of the music suggested when played out of context--I was shocked by the outrageous black humor in the first half of the movie. Take Tommy's ordeal at the hands of his grinning Cousin Kevin. Years of listening to the record had conditioned me to expect it played straight. There is some pathos in there at seeing poor Tommy stumbling over helplessly when getting sprayed with the hose, but then it's balanced by the intentionally ridiculous gag of Kevin literally ironing the dripping Tommy dry (spitting on the iron for emphasis). Visually it's a tour de force, that's for sure. Ken Russell, the notoriously over-the-top director, loads on the razzle dazzle, quick cut and dramatically lit, and with lots of pre-CGI optical effects thrown in for good measure. Some quite beautiful photography in there. And in places, when it's not trying to be satirical or campy, quite powerful dramatically. Captain Walker's presumed death in the war, for instance, or the messianic closing shot.

It's blessed by an amazing cast, headed up by the surprisingly capable Roger Daltrey in the title role. It's easy to see here why he was one of the most charismatic pop stars of the '70s, and he's no slouch as an actor either. While I admit it's kind of fun to see this macho rock god getting manhandled by various people, it's also impressive how physically agile he is (blasting through the water with an Olympic-style butterfly stroke, for example, or doing cartwheels down the beach). The other real star of the movie is Ann-Margret playing his mother (despite being only four years older than him), a sultry sexpot with a hell of a voice. One can't take one's eyes off her, there's a reason she was such a immense star back in the day. Oliver Reed's "Uncle" Frank is such a lout that his tone-deaf Cockney bellowing fits the role in a way a polished singer-actor could never do. Jack Nicholson shows up in a minor one-scene role as a doctor; many have commented on his singing ability or lack thereof, I think he gives his song an appropriately genteel treatment, even if he totally ignores the original version's melody. As everyone knows, several rock personalities make appearances in one song apiece. Tina Turner makes the biggest impression imo as the unhinged Acid Queen, while Eric Clapton sleepwalks through his big movie debut like a coat rack with a Les Paul hanging from it. Elton John, however, given the film's show-stopping number, unfortunately comes off as something of a schlemiel, pathetic, petulant pointing his finger and pouting. I really expected him to be this cocky smug baddie, a real menace for Tommy to overcome. Instead I felt pity for the Local Lad--he just kinda stands there at a distance complaining while Tommy plays pinball. What a letdown! Of course I must mention Keith Moon's gleefully insane Uncle Ernie, and Paul Nicholas's Cousin Kevin as among the more successful character bits played by rock stars. There isn't really a bum performance among all the other minor players.

I could go on and discuss the deeper emotional and spiritual meaning of the movie, but since it's late here I'll just close by pointing out what I mentioned in my summary. It took making a movie out of "Tommy" to force Pete Townshend to flesh out his half-baked (but musically wonderful) concept into an actual story. The expanded music may not be to everyone's liking, but the story is complete, and as presented here it is a compelling one, and relentlessly entertaining. See it.

Wheels of Terror (1990) (TV)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Vroom. Ka-BOOM., 19 November 2009
1/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

O. My. God. Is. This. Movie. Horrible.

That about illustrates what about 90% of this bit of telecinematic roadkill plays like. Slow-motion camera, used normally, acts as a kind of exclamation point to an action scene. Here it's used so much that it becomes and ectoplasmic sludge of periods and ellipses. Here are some of the things this technique manages not to render in stark dramatic relief:

1) Lots of things exploding.

2) Joanna Cassidy screaming.

3) Joanna Cassidy's daughter screaming. ("Mommyyyy!!")

4) Joanna Cassidy's school bus careening around the desert.

5) An "evil-looking" *snicker* black Dodge Charger careening around the desert after Joanna Cassidy's school bus.

6) More things exploding.

7) Everything in between the above items.

Needless to say, not a whole lot going on here. Probably a good 20 minutes of action footage in real time, along with a requisite but lame set-up story. What our brilliant director has done is take an action sequence and stretch it out enough to fill two hours of precious USA Network airtime. Not pad it out...STRETCH it out--literally, like a piece of Silly Putty, till you can see right through it. I guess the framing storyline qualifies as padding, on second thought, since it does fill out the allotted time, adds some exposition, and is absolutely inconsequential enough that it doesn't stick in my memory.

The only thing about the acting that I do distinctly remember is Joanna Cassidy screaming in realtime on the soundtrack while screaming in slow motion on the screen; I remember the scream sounding ridiculous, as if the dubbing director was giving her a wedgie. Or maybe it was a tooth being pulled. I doubt she was nominated for any Emmys for her heroic effort to get through this movie with a straight face.

The only things (besides the slo-mo and the endless explosions) I remember about the production are the awesomely retarded customization job on the Charger (huh huh, the grille looks like mad eyes, huh huh, diabolical, dewd) and the shot of the cop getting creamed by same at the beginning of the movie (actually kind of a neat effect--his boot goes flying off his foot).

I don't want to give away the nail-biting denouement, but I will give you a hint: something explodes. And something doesn't start. Until. The. Last. Possible. Second. The. End. Burp.

Try (2000)
Maybe 1/3 brilliant, 3 November 2009
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I just watched this gritty, grim little movie on YouTube, totally unaware of the Smashing Pumpkins connection. Not that it would have made much difference; it basically looks like a fairly slick indie short of the MiniDV school featuring a lot of edgy, fashionably grim urban imagery: a music video without the music.

Instead, we get the nameless heroin--er, heroine--going on and on and on and on and on in a faintly pretentious voice-over while she and her boyfriend try to survive the cruel streets of a nameless city in Sweden, drink, shoot up, and physically crumble to pieces before our eyes. The endless shots of this hapless couple wandering around--and repetitive cutaways to a passing train--could have been trimmed by about half and the movie would have been considerably tighter and more intense. I get the idea, already. Their life is dull and viciously locked in a death spiral like bloody water down a bathtub drain. I think Akerlund could've effectively depicted that torpor a little more concisely, without threatening to put us to sleep on the one hand, and making us wish that the girl would quit whining on the other.

What saves "Try" is its final four minutes: a wonderfully surreal and nightmarish depiction of a bad drug trip in lurid full color, and a wonderfully played version of the obligatory cautionary-tale ending, displaying more raw pathos than most of what preceded it. And unlike its obvious model, Barbet Schroeder's "More", this one offers a true sacrificial lamb. Not the drug-ruined girl, but her unborn baby. There's the real tragedy, and the reason this frustrating, often irritating short is ultimately worth sitting through.

Dream Doll (1979)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One of the Silver Screen's oddest love stories, 2 November 2009
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I see Bob Godfrey's "Dream Doll", I'm reminded of Chuck Jones' famous short "One Froggy Evening." That's not to say that this short looks or sounds remotely anything like a Jones flick--the style is firmly in the '70s sketchy-cartoony mode, the music is shimmery disco-era synthesizer--but where it mirrors the best of Jones (and arguably Disney as well) is in its storytelling.

"Dream Doll" titilates at first with its bizarre story of a love affair with a blow-up sex toy, but infuses the naughty comedy with a load of real pathos as the Doll causes the poor guy no end of trouble in his rather dull everyday life. By the time you see him, bruised and beaten in fact as well as metaphorically, sobbingly holding what's left of his beloved, you may be sobbing as well. Happily, this is followed by a beautifully surreal ending right out of a Magritte painting that might properly be called magical, and turn your tears of sorrow into tears of joy. All 12 minutes of this, by the way, is done without any dialogue whatsoever.

None of this has any business being in a mere "dirty cartoon"...but there it is, and that's what makes this a touching, underseen work of art.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
the McPukes, and more...not all of it good, 31 May 2005
8/10

Morgan Spurlock has done something akin to what Quentin Tarantino did in Pulp Fiction: he made the act of biting into a hamburger look and sound absolutely disgusting. Literally, puke-inducing.

We all know the story by now--Spurlock, tall, skinny, in exemplary health, decides to see what happens when he emulates in extremis the dietary habits of a lot of Americans by eating nothing but McDonalds products for a whole month. And of course, whenever possible, he SUPER SIZED his meals. Well, DUH. He gains about 20 lbs, his cholesterol and body chemistry go wacky, he gets moody, exhausted, and--horrors!--he can't even get it up for his annoying, supercilious vegan girlfriend.

Actually, by the end of the movie, he didn't look all that fat to me; if Morgan Spurlock at day 30 of his McDiet is what's considered obesity by today's standards, we're in a lot of trouble.

Super Size Me has some problems, but it's an immensely entertaining movie, if you can get around the washed-out camcorder-quality picture and sound, which is why I give it an 8. Spurlock comes up with a lot of eye-opening information and probably does it better than the more mean-spirited, arguably fact-challenged (but equally entertaining and probably justified) character bashing of Michael Moore. You do come away from the movie realizing just how insidious the McDonalds empire, and the manufactured food industry as a whole, really is. If you find yourself wanting to punch Ronald McDonald in the mouth after seeing this, you're probably not alone. He deserves it.

In a way, I wish Spurlock had been more surgically focused on that aspect a'la Moore. Unfortunately a lot of the movie revolves around his mugging for the camera while stuffing his face--but I can't blame him for liking to turn the camera on himself, and watching his transformation is pretty startling and at times highly disturbing. I just can't get around the attention-seeking media stunt aspect of Spurlock's experiment.

What bothers me a lot more is the movie's attitude toward overweight people in general. Spurlock, as I said a tall slender white guy, unrelentingly portrays fat people as something akin to carnival freaks; he seems to show not one bit of sympathy for them as people, or even to consider them as quite human...fat people are portrayed as faintly amusing objects of contempt. He almost negates his central thesis--that McDonalds makes billions in profits by getting people addicted to unhealthy food and the unhealthy lifestyles centered around its products--when he all but blames their customers for being so stupid to fall for it. And like so much of the media, Spurlock focuses tightly on obese people's physical appearances--fat bodies (especially women) as the epitome of grotesque, practically joshing us to shout "EEEWWWWWW!!!" in unison. Personally, his very skinny blonde girlfriend, she of the kelp quiche and organic salads, is more disgusting than any of the fat people in the movie. To his credit, he BRIEFLY disses the diet and fashion industries and espouses exercise and healthy eating instead. But one gets the sense that he's confused obesity with the people it afflicts, and that he'd like to whack them both from the face of the earth. It seems that underlying his ostensibly good intentions is some serious, perhaps unconscious, prejudice. I don't appreciate that.

The blow-dried flack for the food industry's lobby at one point admits (to Spurlock's delight) that the industry is part of the problem. Unfortunaly, although he's produced a very entertaining and provocative documentary about a nefarious industry and the poor health they promote, so in part is Morgan Spurlock. But this isn't a political forum. It's about movies. And Super Size Me is, despite its few but serious flaws, a well-made one.

7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Uhhhhhh...., 3 May 2005
3/10

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a blockhead stuck in the Old Paradigm, and I gave up about ten minutes in trying to decipher the spaghetti bowl of scientific/mystical gobbledygook being espoused throughout this, er...movie. I kept having to remind myself that this was a MOVIE, not a PBS special or an infomercial for some New Age consciousness-raising center.

So I clung on to something I could sort of make sense of, and that is the film-making itself. I don't understand a hoot about quantum physics, but I like to think I know something about film technique. And you know what? What The Bleep is an atrociously made movie. ATROCIOUS.

I honestly don't think the three directors know what the bleep they're doing, other than ramming through their argument/philosophy/possibilities/whatever. As a sermon, or a thesis paper, it fails badly. You get the clear notion that they sincerely and strongly believe *something* and they're trying to get you to see the light as well, but they go in all directions at once and never clearly articulate what exactly it is they're trying to say (which may in itself be a demonstration of their out-of-the-box way of thinking about the universe...if it is, it doesn't seem like a very pleasant state of being). Obnoxious scientist/expert after obnoxious scientist/expert pops on screen with an Important Sounding Remark That Sounds Like It Oughta Be A Quotation In 200 Years, and in between those, dear old Marlee Matlin floats through a tangentially related fictional story populated with omniscient cue-card reading non-actors and really contrived situations. It's one of those stories where everyone is either a moron (like Matlin's roommate) or a pompous dispenser of bite-size profundities (the basketball kid, the vaguely John Lithgowish dude in the subway station). Is it a documentary? Is it a comedy or a drama, or is it a really bad Lifetime TV movie or a recruiting video for a certain very well known religion? I think it tries to be all of them--all at once--and as all the pieces are exceedingly badly executed, the whole thing turns out EXCEEDINGLY exceedingly bad.

Might I mention the special effects? Oh, boy. I cringe for not only the movie industry, but for the movie going public if an overload of VERY cheesy CGI effects, plastered on with a virtual trowel from wall to shining wall, is what it takes to keep an audience's attention. The thing is, it doesn't. At least this audience member. SFX are supposed to enhance the proceedings, right? Here they more often distract, and fill up spaces that should be better used to advance whatever the movie is trying to advance. They're supposed to be dazzling, or something. These guys seem to have missed the whole point of what Kubrick was doing in 2001. Most of the time I found myself jawdropped, not with awe but with incredulity. What I was thinking was: what the bleep were they thinking!? If you can get past the awful filmcraft and embrace whatever they're talking about, then by all means go for it. I will say this, though: in this quantum world of possibilities, you might want to entertain the possibility that no one involved in this movie has a clue what's going on. Except for Marlee Matlin. She (not her character) looks pretty happy. She's still quite attractive too. The rest of the movie isn't.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Actually..., 7 April 2005
8/10

This was also on the widescreen VHS edition as well, along with the original theatrical trailer. Proof? I got my first DVD player only a couple of months ago and I've been familiar with it for years.

Anyhow, I really like this entry in the cycle of making-of shorts, produced by Professional Films, that accompanied Warner Bros. feature films of the late '60s/early '70s (others I've seen: Bullitt, Deliverance, All The President's Men, Dog Day Afternoon). It really captures the grimy, grungy, rusty atmosphere of New York of the period--even better than Klute itself--and almost makes one long for it. Maybe that's just me, a naive hick Midwesterner with a romanticized view of a Real Big City, but this short sure made me feel bittersweet-nostalgic. While long on atmosphere, the short--being short--is a bit skimpy on the actual movie goings-on, although we do get to hear voice-over from Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, director Alan Pakula, and DP Gordon Willis. I suppose this is the closest thing they had to a DVD-style running commentary in those days, and as I haven't seen the DVD yet I do hope that Pakula managed to supply a new commentary track before he passed away. In lieu of a running commentary, this is an okay substitute, and a marvelous Instamatic snapshot of the time and place besides.

"CHiPs" (1977)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Avoid if explosions and bad disco music make you queasy, 14 March 2005

There are only two things that come to mind when I try to remember what "CHiPs" was like (I remember it from its weekday afternoon reruns incarnation, "CHiPs Patrol"):

1) Lots of loud disco music. 2) At least one car blows up in slow motion, in EVERY episode.

Funny thing is, all those shots of Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox in their tight CHP uniforms, riding around on hefty Honda Goldwings (or were they Kawasakis?) are necessarily hazy in comparison. Truly the anonymous session musicians, and thousands of gallons of cheap gasoline, were the real stars of this series.


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