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Prosaic, insufficiently-budgeted reworking of Heinlein's "Glory Road"
Other than the obviously older Rutger Hauer as a clue, I was astounded to find that this film was from 1996, it has such an 80s feel. And the uniformly egregious songs had a bad-80s feel as well.
The genesis of this film seems evident: someone wanted to make a film of Heinlein's "Glory Road", discovered the rights to that work were too expensive, and had a lackey write a screenplay with many similarities but which could be filmed in LA and environs.
Rutger Hauer plays it straight and generally classes things up, but the film tends to bog down when he is not around. Andrea Roth is decorative and tries hard, but she is no Empress of the Twenty Universes.
Even for a fantasy work, there are too many inconsistencies and plot conveniences for the film to be enjoyable for me. I am willing to suspend disbelief in order to be entertained, but not to have sloppy plot devices hang disbelief by the neck until dead.
If you want a good cross-dimensional story, go read "Glory Road". Then hope, as I do, that someone who understands the appeal of that story can get their hands on a budget sufficient to do a worthy film version of it.
Alien Trespass (2009)
Loving tribute to 1950s scifi, somewhat hampered by its very sincerity
Let's be clear right from the start -- "Alien Trespass" is not a spoof. Nor is it a parody, satire, sendup, lampoon, or pastiche. It may be presented as a spoof and most ticket buyers will likely go in expecting one, and the makers of the film may even have set out to produce a spoof.
But what they achieved instead is a meticulous recreation of a film from the 1950s, earnest and straightforward. The period detail is truly impressive, with costuming, sets, and locations all note-perfect. Even the casting is to be commended, especially for the younger actors -- it is actually difficult to find actors who can convincingly portray people outside their era, but these folks do a great job. There are a few minor anachronisms, but overall the period recreation is staggering, right down to the feel of the film stock and even the lighting.
The film's accuracy is actually its greatest problem, in terms of success. Instead of the "Airplane" type treatment many will expect, the film instead gives us just what it pretends to: a film made in the 50s but only recently unearthed. But this means it has only the camp factor inherent in those films; the audience with which I shared the preview screening wanted it to be a spoof, laughed at some parts, but the things they were laughing about were accurately rendered from that time -- they were laughing at period "quaintnesses" only gently exaggerated. The film is too straight-faced and sincere to get the average viewer laughing.
I am surprised this movie got made, but near-astounded that it is getting a theatrical release. The production values are high, and Eric McCormack has some name draw, but I am still not sure how they sold it for distribution.
Let's put it this way: If you know who Wade Williams is, if you and your friends trade dialogue from "Forbidden Planet" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still", or if you ever saw the original Blob in an actual theater, this movie will give you a warm feeling and a nostalgic smile as a love letter to the movies from that time. Just about everyone else, I am afraid, will feel perplexed and disappointed.
I enjoyed "Alien Trespass", and I feel like they made it just for me. But really, how many of me are there out there?
The Lost World (1960)
Brassy, overblown Irwin Allen version of a classic tale
I picked up this film on impulse, based on 3 things: a love of the original Arthur Conan Doyle story, a fondness for Michael Rennie, and Saturday afternoon nostalgia for movies like this.
Unfortunately, my child's memory of this film does not do well by me as an adult, for watching it again is a letdown on all three points.
Irwin Allen is Irwin Allen; "brassy" and "overblown" are part of his job description. Making the exploration party bigger makes for more character conflict, but also reduces the feeling of being but a few people in an alien land. Throwing a woman into the mix, that's Hollywood -- but I don't think Doyle would ever forgive him for the poodle... Nor do I.
Allen's biggest offense, however, is against the character of Lord John Roxton, here portrayed by Michael Rennie. In the book Roxton is an upright fellow who would never let a comrade down, a man who values courage and keeping of promises. (He sets up a pre-expedition test for young Malone, to see how he would react in the face of difficulty.) He is a man of strong convictions: "There are times, young fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel clean again." Rennie is a marvelous actor who does his best with the part, but Doyle's adventurer is in Allen's hands done poor service. In the book, the guide Gomez's motive for revenge is that Roxton had killed his brother, a bandit slaver. In the movie, however, Gomez wants Roxton destroyed because his brother died on a previous expedition to the plateau when Roxton failed to join the party due to a dalliance with a woman. Rather than a heroic figure who helped end slavery in the region, Roxton is characterized as a dissipate playboy. This constitutes for me an unforgivable liberty with the original work.
All of the other actors try hard, but the characters have been reduced to the thinnest of cardboard. Claude Rains is fairly effective as Professor Challenger, though he seems to be uncomfortable with some of the physical demands of the role. Others who seem uncomfortable are the iguanas who are rightfully annoyed at being forced to parade about with horns and plates glued upon them. (Or forced to fight one another -- having an iguana fight a cayman was surely not P.C. even then!) Cheesy special effects and unlikely action are all part of the parcel, and I can accept those. What I find hard to accept is such a cavalier disregard for the elements which make the story an enduring classic.
I bought this on impulse; I wish now I had just rented it. Or, better yet, just left this movie in the realm of memory where it is richer and better served.
America's Most Haunted Town (2001)
Fun ghost stories from locals, boring psychic, crappy photo "evidence"
The popularity of the "Ghosthunters" show has seen many more of these videos hitting the market: documentaries on supposedly-true hauntings. This particular video also serves to advertise a particular psychic, and some of the sites featured.
The interviewed locals have some fun stories to tell. But so do many locals in many other older towns across America; whether this town deserves the "most haunted" label is highly debatable and largely advertising spin.
Unfortunately, the psychic/photographer investigative team fall far short of convincing me. And as for the photo evidence... Well, part of the reason "professional" (which, all too often, means publicity-seeking) ghost investigators like to use "orb" photos as evidence of spiritual presence is that orb photos are so very easy to get! I have a camera that gets flash orbs 20% of the time, in all sorts of settings -- I had to buy another camera so I wouldn't spend all my time Photoshopping the dust blobs out! (Ironic, isn't it -- far from faking an orb photo, I have to use a computer to remove the darn blemishes.)
In fact, the breathy psychic is so credulous about the videos that she disproves her point -- the "spirits flying in from everywhere" are so obviously dust particles streaming past a light that I think even true believers would find it hard to swallow.
When the locals are telling their stories this video is as interesting as any travelogue about a small town can be. Whenever the investigators are on the screen (with "orbs" in photos conveniently circled in still frames), it is time to reach for the fast forward.
Overall, I give this video a miss.
Incident at Loch Ness (2004)
Stop reading this right now, and go and watch the film!
I'm serious. If you have gotten this far, you have probably already read too many reviews.
This film is best experienced cold, with no presumptions or prior information. I very much enjoy sharing this film with others, but I have to conceal what that night's showing will be to keep them from looking it up ahead of time.
Go watch the film as virgin as you can be. Then come back and discuss it.
(p.s. -- It is not essential to be familiar with Werner Herzog's body of work before seeing this film. But it sure helps.)
We're No Angels (1955)
Charming mix of clever dialog and actors at the top of their form
I don't usually go in for "me-too" here, preferring to post only when I have something distinctive to add. But this is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I will add my voice to the overwhelmingly-positive reviews.
They just don't come much better than this, and watching the film again (as I have just done, as Christmas is approaching) is a blend of delight and a bit of wistfulness that these fine actors are no longer with us. Each is at the top of his game, and they so obviously enjoy working together that it adds to the energy of the film. The dialog is memorable and witty, but I have seen the stage play and it is these particular actors who have made the words timeless. We are fortunate that they had a chance to come together on this film. The ending is the only sour note, but in the perspective of the 50s it makes sense.
This is a film to be enjoyed more upon each return visit, and sharing it with those who have not yet seen it is a great delight. The DVD release is crisp and colorful. Buy it. Share it.
Dracula: The Series (1990)
Don't dismiss this as just a kid's series! Worth the watching.
"Dracula: The Series" had all the elements of a forgettable kid's series, but was saved from that crowded ghetto by lush locations (Luxembourg), clever writing, and the wonderful presence of Geordie Johnson as the title character.
Handsome, confident, and typically with a slight smile playing about his lips, Johnson brings a nice interpretation to the role. Rather than the tortured and sometimes wimpy psycho-studies we have too-often been subjected to in the vampire realm, Johnson's Dracula delights in being eternal and powerful -- he embraces his condition with relish. His Dracula is believably aristocratic and beguiling, while still being ruthless.
Like any serial involving valiant hunters after evil, this show requires a certain suspension of disbelief. A multi-billionaire businessman as well as a vampire, Dracula could quickly snuff out his pursuers, either supernaturally or, far easier, just by arranging an "accident". But like all serials the foes have to continue so the stories can continue.
The series at first focuses more on the children, even attempting to develop the older brother as a teen heartthrob, and tries to be topical by having Dracula listening to hip-hop and ska (and even making a Milli Vanilli joke). But it seems the show's producers quickly realized the appeal of Johnson, and began tailoring the show more to his talents.
The scripts start moving away from the precocious younger brother and the teen angst of the older kids, to more mature themes -- later scripts are versions of "Casablanca" and "Pygmalion", and there is actually some very interesting examination of what it would be like to be immortal. A definite plus is the continuing character provided by Geraint Wyn Davies (later to be a vampire again in "Forever Knight", likely partly due to this role). Davies' Klaus has a lively maniacal presence, and a very memorable Frank-Gorshin-as-The-Riddler laugh.
The show could easily have devolved into camp, but somehow never quite starts down that slippery slope. Johnson is especially to be credited for delivering his character's lines in such a way as to keep them from sounding tongue-in-cheek -- he comes off rather as being eternally amused by life, and in fact values his opponents as a tool against boredom. The closest the show ever comes to being corny or self-mocking is in the final episode, a "clips show" recapping the entire series. (The production had obviously received word that the show was being canceled, as this show serves as a final episode.)
"Dracula: The Series" is a worthy addition to the vampire genre and deserves a look from anyone interested in the tradition. There are a few scenes which make as valid a commentary on the vampire state as other, more "serious" works; the writing is clever and surprisingly complex. It should not be overlooked because of being perceived only as a series for children.
Like a Sufi tale, it has layers
I purely love movies which sharply polarize the viewers! These are the films which consistently make worthwhile viewing -- regardless of how we feel about the film, there are enough people with opposing viewpoints that we can consider for a fresh insight on things...
"Teknolust" is this process, in small. To some, it seems dull, to others, thoughtful. Some find it obvious and crudely drawn, others see it as a symbolic metaphor. Some belabor the obvious scientific inconsistencies, while others focus on the human side of things.
This movie is something of a landmark, being the first(?) feature-length production to be shot entirely in digital 24P. The sharp visuals are the result of this. (No technical stuff, but 24P is a step toward making digital video more "film-like". It is interesting to note that the director still chose to keep, and exaggerate, the "digital feel" for the production.) Tilda Swinton is definitely a draw -- one of my favorite actresses, utterly fearless, and it is delightful to see her with so much to work with. LOVED her interpretive dance -- sheer fun! Upon considering the reviews which felt the acting to be hopelessly wooden, I can see where they are coming from. But it may well be that this was a deliberate approach by the director -- doesn't Rosetta tell Ruby to be "more robotic" on her web portal, as she is starting to appear "too real"? The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the slightly detached acting was yet another mechanism to make us question what is real and what is only presented to us.
The movie features many wry little jokes -- I love that Rosetta's geneticist associate is named "Crick" (Crick & Watson & Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for discovering DNA) -- and I suspect that further viewings will reveal more. Lots of little questions, too -- like why does Agent Hopper have little adhesive bandages on his face, in different places during the movie? Does he have a disease? There are also some interesting questions raised about our reality in a digital world. How many copies are we removed from the original? At what point does copy degradation set in? (The copy center employee who is fascinated by skewed, imperfect copies is a brilliant concept for a character.) For many people, daily and digital lives are overlapping. What would it be like if they blended, with just as much casual copying and exchanging of information? (A virus is essentially an information packet.) Is "real" reality ultimately more desirable than digital "reality"?
I look forward to watching Teknolust again. With an open mind. And a touch of dream. And some friends, to discuss it with afterward.
White Noise (2005)
Muddled, with heavily telegraphed "jump" scares -- rather tedious!
Too bad some nice sound design, visuals and editing were wasted on this rather pedestrian horror film which borrows heavily from the most successful horror films of the last few years.
This yawner features big plot holes, many loose ends, and police who seem oddly uninterested in a fellow who keeps turning up around peculiar incidents...
And however much someone may like Michael Keaton, it is difficult to watch endless scenes of him squinting in concentration. I could hear the director saying, "OK, now -- listen *really* hard, Michael!"
As for how the movie deals with the "real" phenomenon of EVP -- Hollywood, pure Hollywood (and not the good side of Hollywood).
Even if you park your reasoning faculties at the door, this one isn't good for much except for a few (heavily-telegraphed) starts.
Steel Frontier (1995)
Mad Max ripoff meets spaghetti western meets bikers-terrorize-a-town
It's another one of those universes where they drive around so they can find gas so they can -- drive around some more.
No-goodniks take over a town. Mysterious stranger shows up, takes on the no-goodniks. We've seen it all before, in a variety of places, including some bits which seem to be lifted directly from a book series I could name. "Deathriders", yeah, right.
*Lots* of car chases, explosions, crashes, fights; improbable gunplay, improbable futuristic gadgets, improbable dialogue.
I'll hand it to them -- they went to a lot of trouble to set up the "society". They also tried to throw in a bit of thoughtfulness amongst the havoc. And for a virtually unknown movie, the havoc is pretty major -- lots of stunts and pyrotechnics.
It isn't perfectly awful, but this viewer finds it mighty tedious.
I'm not sure why they set these things in a post-Apocalyptic world, as there are obviously already enough ruined buildings to go around (in this case, in the California desert).
Bo Svenson goes through much of the movie looking pained, with good reason. Poor Brion James tries hard, but...
The constant barrage of explosions, gunfire, and cussin' would make this a good choice if you wanted to annoy your next door neighbors late at night.
Back onto the trade stack it goes.