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Impressive production design. Poor script., 4 July 2014
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This critic was not about to be swayed by all the negative buzz that helped sink this film last summer. Having been a fan of the Pirates franchise, I just could not believe this creative team could give us a film that would tank so badly..... and then I started watching it. True, a tidal wave of bad publicity can kill a film even before its released, as its makers claim. But Bruckheimer and Co. did not do themselves a favor with this rambling script devoid of humor. Where was all the snappy dialog that made me chuckle through the Pirates movies? Why give us such a wimpy lead as Armie Hammer? He looks the part, but there is nothing terribly dashing or heroic about the character they gave him to play. Depp seems too downbeat, almost as if he's trying too hard NOT to be Jack Sparrow. Hiding under all that make-up only serves to mute his personality and trivialize his Tonto character.

The film's strengths are obvious from the get-go. The production design is outstanding, and the film looks wonderful. The stunt-work and special effects are terrific, too. With such a budget, they almost have to be by default. But what is missing? Why do we the audience not care about this story? First off, this is a very poorly-paced film. It takes its time getting everywhere. There is no reason this thing had to be longer than two hours. The villains are genuinely interesting, but somehow too obvious. Why do we have to travel through so much back story before we get any meaningful confrontations between the good guys and the bad guys? The Lone Ranger's brother seems like a far more interesting character than the Ranger himself, but he isn't around long enough for us to get to know him. Since nothing eventually comes of the implied relationship between the Ranger and his brother's widow, why is her character even needed? I know, I know... demographics.

This film even pauses to revisit some of the oldest Hollywood clichés. The railroad and the U.S. Cavalry are always the bad guys. Indians are always the victim of white man's greed... yadda, yadda, yadda,... there is nothing new here. True or not, these themes have been driven into the ground so long, they are starting to push through the soil in China. At the end of the day, what are we left with? A huge box office flop, for one thing. I haven't noticed as many big budget movies released yet this summer. Perhaps these last two years with so many big-budget bombs has started the industry trending back towards original thought. I'm hopeful that new ideas may one day be allowed to craft themselves into major Hollywood productions like they once did in decades past.... but then I open the entertainment section of my local newspaper and see they have released ANOTHER FREAKING TRANSFORMERS MOVIE. Another Planet of the Apes. Another Godzilla.... another summer of crap. Oh, well. At least Klinton Spilsbury isn't making movies anymore! 5 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

One of the best from this series., 21 June 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Too bad this one got left off the DVD package. Apparently they couldn't reach an agreement with Tim Conway in terms of fees. But if you can find this one on TV or online somewhere, please give it a look. This time, the gang pulls into Velma's home town on a foggy night and finds the ghost of a once-great athlete is haunting the athletic facilities at her old high school. Oh, and Tim Conway is working as a coach there, too. Hard to say which the gang finds more shocking. Anyway, Conway and the school principal are hoping to save the school by putting on some sort of athletic exhibition to raise funds. But that darn ghost has seemingly scared away all the athletes in the area. The gang soon finds out that Shaggy and Scooby can run faster and jump higher than any athlete once a ghost starts chasing them. And there is a LOT of chasing around in this one.

Tim Conway gets some good quips in, but the funniest part of this episode is all the meaningless bluster of this ghost known as Fireball McPhain. He constantly threatens the gang and refers to himself as the greatest athlete of all time. This from a ghost who can't catch Tim Conway in a foot race. His threats are bellowed out by legendary voice actor John Stephenson who also voices the character of Jay Teller, an obvious red herring. Also on hand is another legend in the voice-over world, Michael Bell. He voices the creepy janitor who naturally warns the kids to leave the premises before the ghost gets them. The action is nearly constant, and the episode is reasonably funny as much as a Scooby Doo episode can be. The animation is a little choppy though, and once again its way too easy to figure out who the villain(s) are. This episode also has one of the worst goofs in series history. When the principal's brother and the janitor are unmasked as being McPhain, they are both wearing his athletic clothing. A few seconds later as they are being placed into squad cars, both men are wearing the same clothing they had worn the rest of the episode; a suit and janitor overalls, respectively! Superman can't change that quickly in a phone booth! Still a fun episode for fans of this series! 8 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Scooby and pals set off on a new course., 6 June 2014
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I believe this was the first of the New Scooby Doo Movies which ran from 1972 to 1973. These were hour-long episodes normally shown in two parts over the course of back-to-back afternoons while I was growing up. The new angle here being the teaming up of the regular cast with one or more celebrity guests. Sometimes these guests were actual people, sometimes other cartoon characters. Sometimes these episodes were funny, sometimes not.

The Ghastly Ghost Town episode deals with the gang getting stranded of course, this time in the middle of the Texas desert near a ghost town amusement park owned by... yep, The Three Stooges. What are the stooges doing in such an environment? Don't ask. This series always gave us celebrities working odd jobs and turning up in strange places. You aren't supposed to ask. Of course, there is someone trying to make the place seem cursed or haunted, and its up to the gang to help the stooges get their park open again.

The celebrity gimmick in this series shifted the focus away from the ghosts and monsters, and this was often a problem as we see here. In this story we are presented with two villains, and only two possible culprits. There really is no unmasking in most of these episodes, and the identities of the villains are often determined early on. The most shocking thing about the villains here is that one of them was actually voiced by Ted Knight! Yes, that one! He did voice work on other episodes in this series, too. This episode has plenty of other dangers besides the two human villains. Wild animals seem to roam around the park, a giant mechanical dinosaur is on the prowl, an unknown assailant dressed in a cactus suit nearly strands Fred and Daphne in the desert, and there is plenty of action overall.

Others have mentioned the lesser quality of animation found here compared to that of the "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" episodes from 69-70. True that, and there are also some blatant technical goofs present in these newer episodes. Notice how the gang sets out to find Velma who is supposedly missing.... as she's standing right next to Fred??? How do these things get missed? Were they that pressed for time that this couldn't have been fixed? Anyway, as the series goes, this one isn't too bad. Plenty of dangerous situations, as well as laughs. 7 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Cop (1988)
Bad cop., 18 May 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This nearly forgotten thriller from the late 1980s is all about James Woods. He wasn't as well known yet, but you can clearly see his talent and screen presence chewing up this often clichéd police drama. Woods plays a homicide detective named Lloyd Hopkins who has a hard time playing by the rules as he attempts to make a name for himself by taking on the most sickening cases. In the time-honored tradition of all such movie detectives, Hopkins continually runs afoul of his superiors and steps on everyone's toes as he will do whatever it takes to solve a serious of murders of "innocent-looking" women over a span of several years. Every so often, when his home life is getting too tedious for him, he sleeps with a random female or blows away a robbery suspect. The concept is cool enough, but we've seen this kind of thing many times before... and since. From Dirty Harry to The Bad Lieutenant, a cop living on the edge is a very common theme.

That said, Cop has some original touches to go with its fine acting across the board from a very good cast. Leslie Ann Warren, as a purveyor of feminist literature, gives a memorable performance as the ultimate object of the killer's affection. In an era when characters were allowed to be filmed holding cigarettes, she sets some kind of record for most lit, but least actually smoked. The late Charles Durning was always a welcome sight in a movie, and his performance here is no exception. Former Hill Street Blues cast member Charles Haid makes a very creepy deputy sheriff. Also rounding out this cast is Dennis Stewart as a homosexual street hustler. Remember him as the rival gang leader from the Grease movies? Of course you do! The biggest problem with this film is the contrived nature of this killer. The plot his held together with threads weaker than dental floss. From the killer's motivation, to the way Woods connect the dots, this film's plot has some major credibility issues. Were huge gaps of this story left on the cutting room floor? I dunno. Just savor James Woods as he tears his way through this movie. 6 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Nebraska (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The big shrug that is rural Nebraska., 5 April 2014
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Alexander Payne's films have really mellowed over the years. Consider the tone of the near-mad cap farcical "Election" to "The Descendants", and now this one. The next stop would seem to be still photography. Nebraska is the story of an impromptu family reunion of sorts as an elderly man attempts to travel from Montana to my old stomping ground of Lincoln, NE. The old man, played to perfection by Bruce Dern, believes he is holding a winning lottery ticket worth a million dollars, when in fact it is just a misleading promotion for magazine subscriptions. Despite repeated assurances from his wife and son, that there is no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, the old codger keeps his slow motion journey moving. After injuring his head in a fall, the man and his family stop for about an hour of screen time in his old home town in a rural area of the state. Here, some old wounds re-open as he has to deal with old family turmoil and fend off both relatives and former acquaintances who feel the old timer owes them a piece of his new-found pie. The film is definitely not going to please everyone, but viewers with patience who can appreciate a nice character study will probably enjoy it to some degree.

This film was nominated for best picture, I believe. There were a few other nominations for actors and whatnot, but I think everyone associated with it got shut out. It was a tough year with so many high-energy American films nominated. Dern is outstanding as Woody Grant, a man who has never amounted to much, and simply wants to have something positive to leave his family other than the bad memories most people have of him. In many ways, this film is about unpaid debts, especially ones that would hardly seem to matter after so many years. Honestly, what good would $10,000 from Woody do for Mr. Pegram? His life wouldn't change at all. He'd still be doing sad karaoke performances and taking up space at the local bars of this dying town. Does Woody really need an air compressor at his age? And what does a man who cannot legally drive need with a new truck? Merely a chance to drive it once through his old town is enough of a payoff, it would seem.

As stated previously, this is definitely not a film for the casual viewer. My wife actually asked me if there was a "color" option of the DVD. Sweetie, The Hound loves you but you and I will never have the same tastes in film. I can't help but think Payne had "The Last Picture Show" in mind when he decided to shoot in black and white. It is the perfect touch. Some of the shots of this little town reminded me a lot of Archer City, TX. where that one was filmed. One shot in particular of some leaves blowing down the street near the film's conclusion had me half expecting to see a little boy with a broom chasing after them. Nebraska (both the film and the state) deserve their moment in the sun. But are either the state or the film worthy of great acclaim? All this Nebraskan can do is respond with a shrug. 8 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

It's about healing. Football helps., 25 March 2014
8/10

The events that inspired the film We Are Marshall are definitely enough to inspire a great story. The trick is avoiding the many sports movie clichés that are potentially lurking behind every turn of the page of any possible screenplay. To its credit, this film avoids a lot of them, and uses its characters and its atmosphere to make the ones we see a little more forgivable. The tragic 1970 plane crash that took the lives of most Marshall University football players, boosters, and athletic department personnel is a story most sports fans are familiar with. This film doesn't provide us with any insight into its cause, or give us many of the details we didn't already know. What it does, and quite effectively, is focus on the survivors and how they attempt to move on. The school very nearly ended its football program, and nobody could have blamed them if they had never played another game. Funny thing about football... its just too much a part of our national passion to ever give it up.

This film could have easily been a feel-good vehicle for Matthew McConaughey, but luckily they had the sense to dial his presence down a tad. He certainly still stands out and gives a charismatic performance, but he isn't even introduced until well into the film as Jack Lengyel, the coach who will be the first to lead the Thundering Herd back onto the field. Matthew Fox as the only surviving assistant from the past coaching staff also does fine as the conflicted coach who takes a great deal of convincing before he joins the new staff. Film does a great job detailing the difficulty of blending new players with the few surviving ones who were not on the plane. Even in the heart of a tragedy, boys will still be boys... especially when they play football at a major university.

Of course we get the "big game" climax at the film's conclusion, but since this one is based on fact, the cliché is a lot easier to take. The film is visually impressive and seems to give great attention to detail. West Virginia is quite a beautiful place, and there are some scenes where the surroundings on the horizon take on a character of their own. I was generally surprised at how much I liked this film. I was expecting something a little more artificial. Not only is it thoughtful and nostalgic, but it shows us how many lives can be lost and transformed in one instant. 8 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

A powerful episode. Very touching., 23 February 2014
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Blizzard is perhaps one of the most memorable episodes of Little House. This is a realistic look at how these pioneers could be quickly at the mercy of any number of natural disasters or outbreak of bad weather. Nowadays, we hear about advancing snowstorms often several days in advance, and this makes it much easier to deal with them. Unfortunately for the people of Walnut Grove, this Christmas Eve blizzard hits with little warning, and at the worst possible time. Miss Beadle has sent the children home from school, not knowing how bad the storm was getting. The menfolk have to form a quick search party to round up the kids caught out in wintry mess, with darkness quickly setting in.

This is such a suspenseful and well-crafted episode that a viewer can quickly forgive some plot contrivances and the technical limitations of filming a snowstorm in Simi Valley, CA. One of the biggest problems in credibility that this series suffered from was not being able to actively portray the Minnesota climate and landscape that the story takes place on. It was not uncommon for some "winter" episodes to show us a small smattering of snow underneath trees with green leaves and whatnot. But for the raging storm depicted here, shots of children and searches trudging through the snow and wind obviously had to be shot on sets rather than location. Hence all the tight and medium shots. None of this diminishes the power of this episode, however.

The final scene is particularly moving. Most of the townsfolk have gathered in the school/church to wait out the storm. Some, including Mr. Edwards and two of his children are still missing as of Christmas morning, even after the storm has past. Charles is just about to head back out to look for them when the door bursts open and in comes Edwards and his children. He has apparently used whiskey and his knowledge as a former mountain man to keep them alive through the night. Most of the town rejoices at the news of their survival, save for the woman and boy who have lost their husband/father in the storm. Charles recognizes their grief and does the only thing he can for them. He begins reading aloud the story of the birth of Jesus directly from the bible, and this serves two purposes. First of all, it reminds them all what this day is really all about. Also it serves to give the widow and orphan hope for the future. Although their loss is great, life will go on. It is a very touching moment, back when the series had many of them. My goodness, think of how far NBC's moral compass has gone astray since those days.

9 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
This movie is bad, terrible...and SOMEBODY'S responsible!, 12 January 2014
3/10

That somebody would be legendary director of cheap Z-movies Edward D. Wood Jr. who completed this film in 1956. Considered somewhat of an opus for Wood, Plan 9 From Outer Space is also considered a landmark in "so bad, it's good" cinema. When viewed from that perspective, it certainly doesn't disappoint. The many goofs and ridiculous dialog are well known and can be found in short snippets in places like youtube. But if you have 80 or more minutes to kill as I did lying in bed sick today, don't hesitate to check it out. If nothing else it is a good example of a dedicated filmmaker who believed he had something to say, just no funds or talent at his disposal with which to make it.

The story is a bit jumbled, obviously thrown together in such a way as to utilize Wood's odd collection of colleagues and vault of stock footage. The narrative stumbles from the very beginning as a pompous narrator begins speaking of "future events such as these", and then begins telling a story of what has already happened "that fateful day." I guess he is supposed to be living in the future and sending a warning back in time to the rest of us that aliens may be about to do us harm. Or at least our recently deceased persons. Somehow these aliens are turning recently deceased people into zombies and sicking them on the living. Why? Perhaps either to prove to humanity that aliens do exist, or maybe to somehow warn them about building something called a "solaranite" bomb which could wipe out the universe. Try saying the word "solaranite" three times fast. The actors Wood hired can hardly say it once. Apparently these aliens have decided that humans are too stupid to realized the consequences of building weapons of mass destruction. Wood was definitely a decade ahead of the large scale anti-war movement in America, but an inept science fiction film like this was certainly not the catalyst that marijuana, LSD, and Grateful Dead music would later prove to be.

Anyway, Plan 9 is just too poorly made to either present a coherent message, or even tell a good story. With its horrendous dialog, day/night switches, shoddy props, and poor acting, it is merely a curiosity that has stood the test of time. Films such as this one, R.O.T.O.R., Bigfoot (1970), and Bella Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, don't need to be good to be entertaining. They can be far more of a joy to watch than any CGI-laden multiplex time waster of our current era. I'll give Wood 3 stars for his effort. And for providing plenty of chuckles for me. Someone once said laughter is the best medicine.

The Hound.

Lame., 22 December 2013
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is one of a slew of 3D movies from the early 1980s, many of them sequels to very successful films. But Amityville 3 doesn't even stack up to Friday the 13th part 3 or Jaws 3. It may however be better than Treasure of the Four Crows, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement. Despite what appears to be a strong cast, and an intriguing premise, Amityville 3 quickly dissolves into a tame special effects dominated rip-off of Poltergeist.

Having never seen part 2 of this series, I will have to assume this story somewhat picks up where the prior film left off. We begin with a reporter investigating the house of record which is currently occupied by scam artists living off the place's reputation. Once they are gone, the reporter is offered the chance to buy the house dirt cheap. He being recently divorced, and needing a quiet space to write a novel, decides to take the chance. Take it from this writer; solitude can be helpful, provided your house is neither haunted like this one, nor a dump like my old place in Lincoln. Anyway, even BEFORE this guy moves in, people start turning up dead around the place. Still, like all horror movie morons, he moves in. He even sets up a room in the notorious attic for his teen-aged daughter when she is able to visit. By the end of the film, we might as well be calling her "Carol Ann".

I won't say much more about this plot, since it moves ahead predictably, and without too many scares. Probably the most entertainment one can garner from these early 80s 3D movies is laughing at the obvious prop setups they need to remind you why you shelled out an extra buck or two for the glasses. There are several instances of objects (like the customary flies of this series) buzzing right in front of the camera. Also stationary objects such as arms and technical gear thrust out into a close-up. Oooh! Scary!! This film really does have a decent cast, though. Tony Roberts as the reporter is a talented actor, but maybe just lacks the physical screen presence to be a true star. Ben Stiller has smaller ears! Lori Laughlin and a young Meg Ryan are both competent and pretty. Candy Clark is like a poor woman's JoBeth Williams. Tess Harper has done better work than this. The conclusion will leave you dis-satisfied to say the least. Its one of those endings where it just looks like they ran out of both time and money. Overall, the whole thing certainly should have been the final nail in the coffin of this franchise. Alas, too many people must have shelled out some cash to see this instead of Stroker Ace. 3 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Waterworld (1995)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Better than many claim, but still not great., 5 November 2013
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Poor Kevin Costner. He was perhaps the biggest star on Earth for a brief period in the early 90s. Then came Waterworld. Then his boring 1997 flop The Postman. Though he still gets plenty of work, his star dimmed considerably after the mid 90s. Its kind of a shame, too. Waterworld was one of those films already declared a flop even while still in production. Though it underperformed at the box office, there have likely been many worse flops recently. John Carter, anyone? Any Lone Ranger fans out there? I haven't seen either, so let's just focus on Waterworld for this evening. I just saw it again for the first time in some years. Truth be told, it isn't bad. Some elements of it are down right brilliant. But there are others that almost make you cringe. Dennis Hopper's mugging would come to mind. Waterworld is just the damnest of movies. So close to being an epic action film, but just cannot get out of its own way.

The plot is something out of the Mad Max realm of films. We have a futuristic world in which all the land seems to be submerged. We are led to believe this would have happened due to "global warming" which was more of a 90s buzz-word as opposed to "climate change" of today. Anyway, instead of petrol being the most sought after commodity, now we have dirt as being the most precious thing. Small groups of people live together in floating "atolls" where there is some semblance of organized society. So much of this plot and production design seem completely lifted from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, that someone probably got sued. I believe both films uses to same cinematographer (Dean Semler) too! Basically if you made "Barter Town" float you'd have the atoll from Waterworld. But like Mad Max 3, this film also lacks any true sense of menace. The villains play almost every scene for laughs. Though Costner as the anti-hero "Mariner" is tough and resourceful like Gibson's Max, he needed a more compelling adversary. Dennis Hopper in this film is hardly as evil as Tina Turner. The supporting cast doesn't offer that much, either. Look closely for Jack Black in an early role as a pilot(!).

What Waterworld has going for it are some incredible set pieces and action scenes. How cool is Costner's boat?? The tricks he uses to take care of himself and keep one step ahead of Hopper's army are what makes this film more entertaining than not. This film could have also helped itself by being a little more subtle, especially when defining its villains. They're a bunch of dirty pirates known as "smokers" who apparently use former Exxon tanker Valdeez as their flagship and regard its disgraced former Captain Joseph Hazelwood as some sort of hero. Uh huh. Overall, Waterworld is not terrible entertainment, however. Its inconsistent tone, and awkward pace are typical of films that had major production issues, and too many script treatments floating around. You want to see something really terrific by director Kevin Reynolds? Find a copy of The Beast or The Beast of War, as its sometimes called. That film it technically sound, exciting, and packs the gritty tone that the PG-13 rated Waterworld cannot quite deliver. Six of ten stars.

The Hound.


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