Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Lechuguilla (pronounced Lech-ah-GEE-ah) [caver]
I write film scripts and IMDb film reviews.
Walking with Dinosaurs (1999)
Magnificent Historical Perspective
One of the best documentaries I have ever seen, this BBC series uses a combination of Computer Generated Images (CGIs), animatronics, realistic sound effects, an intelligent script, and effective narrative transitions to tell the story of the rise and fall of the majestic creatures that lived during the Mesozoic Era. The program is educational, entertaining, and breathtakingly realistic.
Though the focus is on the dinosaurs, the program puts them into their natural habitat, and thus we learn also about the vegetation, the climate, changes in the continental land masses, and smaller life forms of that era. Background music, combined with ominous images, conveys a hauntingly terminus message, accompanied by poignancy and sadness.
Maybe some of the technical detail about the dinosaurs is a bit speculative or not quite in line with more recent information. Our knowledge about them continues to ... evolve. But these minor imperfections are overwhelmed by the program's terrific presentation of such a grand sense of historical perspective.
Dinosaurs lived for over a hundred million years. Their extinction was not their fault; they did nothing wrong. By comparison, humans, thus far, rate barely a one sentence footnote in a multiple volume encyclopedia of Earth's history. And I doubt that we will be so fortunate as to be around for even one million years.
My only disappointment is that the dino's demise only covers a few minutes of the final episode. I would like to have seen more information presented, and more time spent, on the likely causes of the K-T extinction event, specifically from the Chixculub crater impact and the volcanic eruptions from the Deccan Traps.
Breathtaking in historical coverage and brilliantly produced, "Walking With Dinosaurs" is a program that everyone needs to see. I hope viewers will watch all of the episodes and thus can appreciate the diversity and grandeur of such magnificent creatures. If nothing else this program's geologic time-scale puts our little egocentric lives and petty political squabbles into proper perspective, showing how irrelevant we are in the grand scheme of things.
Ladder 49 (2004)
A Tribute To Firemen
This film functions basically as a tribute to firemen. We watch a youngish fireman named Jack (Joaquin Phoenix) get trapped in a burning building. Flashbacks to his earlier days as a newbie fireman alternate with scenes of entrapment. The story touches on themes of courage, love, devotion, and life-threatening risks. Why would a young man risk his life and his family's well being to save strangers?
But while the underlying story premise is noble, the Hollywood script trends trite and exaggerated. Characters are too photogenic (except for John Travolta), and too stereotyped. These people are squeaky-clean, two-dimensional, cardboard cutouts, rendering them of little interest to me. There's lots of predictable camaraderie and male bonding of macho men. In the non-fire scenes dialogue is talky and has a soap-opera feel.
Working fires are way too exaggerated. You'd think that every fireman deals with explosions, collapsing buildings, injuries and deaths every day. Each fire becomes a huge ordeal. In reality most fires are rather routine and not especially dangerous to firemen lives. The background music during these fire scenes is overly dramatic, annoying, and highly manipulative of viewer emotions.
Casting is okay except for John Travolta. Why is he in this film? I would have preferred a less well-known, older actor in the role of captain. Acting is acceptable. But acting isn't really necessary in the fire action segments. What is indeed necessary are "suitable", so to speak, costumes. And they're okay here, though they look a little too non-protective relative to the fire gear I have seen in videos of real-life fires. Of course viewers want to see actors' faces, and they can't do that if the actors are so encased in fire-protective gear. Cinematography and visual effects are unremarkable but acceptable.
"Ladder 49" isn't a bad film. It's got characters that many viewers would care about and dramatic action sequences. But the film seems aimed specifically at viewers who love to engage in hero worship. Both the characters and the fire action come across as unrealistic and contrived. For some viewers, however, that might not be a problem.
Baby Face Nelson (1957)
Semi-factual, this film skims through the life of gangster Baby Face Nelson (Mickey Rooney), from the time he emerges from prison on parole, in 1933, through various subsequent hold-ups with his gang members. They're constantly on the run and being chased by G-men, right up to the end.
The plot trends superficial. And though Nelson and his girlfriend, Sue (Carolyn Jones), are clearly characterized, members of his infamous gang are hardly more than stick figures in the background, despite a great supporting cast.
If this was supposed to have been a biography, a narrator describing the places, times, and key people would have helped to put the story in perspective and aided in the flow of events. As is, the film seems like just one more fictional gangster film, lacking in true-life credibility. And so I don't really see the film's point. On the other hand, it's possible, even likely, that filmmakers in the 1950s were prohibited from telling a true-life story in a believable way.
B&W cinematography gives the film a noir feel, with high-contrast lighting. Too much makeup, combined with the lighting, makes Carolyn Jones' face look slightly bizarre. I never did see Baby Face Nelson. All I saw was Mickey Rooney trying to act the role. Aside from his miscasting, the cast is great. Acting overall is fine, and Carolyn Jones' performance is quite good. The mostly jazz score is okay but a bit overbearing at times.
This might have been a better film if 1950s Hollywood had not taken such a straitjacket approach to crime story telling, and if the production had had a bigger budget. The main problem here is a generic script that treats the lead character as just another gangster, his gang as stereotyped sidekicks, and events as contrived. The film downplays Nelson's historical reality. There are some very good films about real-life gangsters. "Baby Face Nelson" isn't one of them.
Voyage of the Yes (1973)
Adventure Film With Thematic Depth
It's a shame the story premise here was not developed to its full potential. Two youthful dudes head out to sea in a small boat, bound for Hawaii. The skipper is Cal (Desi Arnaz Jr.); his mate is Orlando (Mike Evans). Cal is White; Orlando is Black. Cal can't find anyone else to make the trip with him, so Orlando, who is running away from a bad situation, volunteers. Given the era in which the film was made, it's not surprising that some of the script deals with the issue of race. Claustrophobic quarters over time forces the two to confront their differences.
But mostly this is a story about the dreams of youth. Themes include self-reliance, self-confidence, facing unexpected problems, and in the process learning about oneself. On their journey the two encounter a shark, a storm, and become drastically off-course with no water or food.
Some of the technology is a bit dated, like the tape recorder and the survival radio. Casting is fine. Acting is better than what I would have predicted. Cinematography is acceptable. Production design is unimportant given that most of the plot takes place in open water on the small boat. I really like the Simon and Garfunkel music, consistent with a naturalistic vision.
"Voyage Of The Yes" is an outdoor adventure film with thematic depth. And though the plot is somewhat attenuated, it's a good film to watch when one has wanderlust and is ready to sail the waters to far-off ports-of-call, or to see how two individuals with different backgrounds interact.
The Trap (1946)
Script And Lighting Render Below Average Film
"I am convinced the murderer is in this room", says Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) to the myriad suspects gathered together in a big two-story beach house at Malibu. His comment reassures us that this film will be as gripping as other Chan films. Alas, Chan's comment belies the implied promise, as "The Trap" disappoints in multiple ways.
I counted no fewer than thirteen suspects, way too many for a viable whodunit. Most of these suspects are women who look too much alike. It took me several replays of the first-half plot to connect names with faces. These characters are poorly introduced and about half of them should have been deleted from the script. One female, named Clementine, exists apparently only to scream; her hysterical response to minor events is annoying.
The ending is a big disappointment. Although I correctly picked the killer from the suspect pool, the reveal occurs outside at night. The scene is photographed so darkly that the only way I could identify this person was to listen to the dialogue, which tells the person's name. And it seems to be by luck that Chan solves the case, as he does not announce any clues as to the killer's identity. The motivation of the murderer is far-fetched, to say the least.
If the viewer pays very close attention, there is one quick scene near the middle wherein one particular suspect is separate from the others; that person is the killer, whose action at that time does connect to a significant plot event. Aside from which, I don't think there is any way to figure out the killer's identity through logic.
The B&W cinematography is poor. Multiple important scenes take place either at night or in dark spaces. The lighting is so bad I found it hard to impossible to figure out what action was taking place.
On the plus side, the film has the wonderful Mantan Moreland and a Chan son who does not intrude into the plot as much as in other films. "The Trap" is not one of the better Charlie Chan movies, due to a poor script and poor lighting. But I can think of one or two others that are worse.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Leave it to Spielberg to trivialize such a profound topic. The big draw is the dinosaurs. Yet they appear in only about 15 minutes of the film's 120-minute plot. Mostly what we have here are banal humans, and even an obnoxious character named Dennis (Wayne Knight), engaged in trite conversations, and exposition contrived to bring viewers up to speed. At the film's worst, viewers and the two lead "scientists" are treated to what is literally a cartoon on the relationship between mosquitoes and dinosaur DNA. The film talks down to its audience.
And there is no intrinsic need for those two kids. They are added to draw in viewers from across all age ranges. "Jurassic Park" is a popcorn flick that's pop-culture friendly. At least it's not as bad as Spielberg's "Jaws", a kiddie movie lacking in thematic depth.
The only character in "Jurassic Park" that acts like an adult is Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). He conveys a skeptical view of the intent of the Park's creator, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), when Malcolm says ... "Gee, the lack of humility before nature that's being displayed here, staggers me". He further critiques Hammond: "You packaged (your discovery), slapped it on a plastic lunch-box and now you're selling it ... What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world". So there is a bit of depth to the film, if only in passing.
By far the best element is the visual effects, truly spectacular. The dinosaurs look realistic and believable. These visuals are enhanced by sound effects accompanied by a subtle echo. Which, when combined with the rain forest background, create a faraway feel, consistent with the historical remoteness of the Mesozoic era in which the dinosaurs lived.
Casting is acceptable. Acting trends a bit overblown. Production and art design are almost as good as the special effects. But I did not like the overbearing and manipulative background music.
With a huge budget and a famous director, this Hollywood blockbuster aims at a mass audience. Though the visual effects are spectacular, the script gives us a childish story, with childish characters, that I find mildly insulting to the study of such a fascinatingly alien era in Earth's history.
House of Mystery (1934)
Invitation To A Curse
An obnoxious archaeologist insults the locals in Asia and has to flee, but not before grabbing a hoard of Asian treasures as he scurries back to the U.S. His investors back home want part of the fortune that he brings back with him. So he invites them all to his two-story mansion, but informs them that an Asian "curse" befalls those in possession of the fortune. His proposition is that the investors stay in his house for awhile and see for themselves what happens.
It's a silly story concept. But it does offer a neat little puzzle for whodunit fans to solve. The plot involves a séance, some incense, and tom-tom drums. There are multiple plot holes, at least one of which is revealed by means of dialogue. The solution to the puzzle includes a psychological concept called "conditioned response". But the application of it to this story is not very credible.
Characters are poorly developed, which is not surprising, given the short runtime. There are eight or so suspects, none very interesting, apart from a grouchy old woman lording over her henpecked husband. The insurance salesman is a bit annoying. The cops are rather nondescript and bumbling. I could have wished for a Charlie Chan.
In the version I watched, sound quality was not very good, and neither was the B&W cinematography. The visuals tended to be unnecessarily dark and somewhat blurry, probably a result of inferior technology in the 1930s. Casting is okay. But acting is exaggerated, also likely resulting from an era just emerging from silent films.
Aside from poor visuals and sound, which we might expect for that era, the main problem is a not very credible story premise, compounded by poor characterization. Even so, the film might still appeal to viewers who like animated puzzles, which is what a whodunit film really is.
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
Small Town Southern Injustice
Certainly an interesting documentary about the high-profile case of the West Memphis Three (Baldwin, Echols, Misskelley), convicted of killing three young boys in eastern Arkansas in 1993. The documentary takes the side of the defense, in saying the three teenagers (WM3) were railroaded through based on flimsy evidence. The verdict in 1994 was probably unjust, given the general absence of forensic evidence at the time. More recently, DNA evidence shows no DNA connection between the three teenagers and the three young victims. On the other hand, the program excludes some of the prosecution's case, which shows blatant bias on the part of the program's producers.
In contrast, bias appears much more pronounced in the legal system in 1993, and included police coercion, sloppy police work, and obvious jury misconduct, among other problems. The small town of West Memphis was overwhelmed with emotional hysteria of family and neighbors, all wanting revenge for the killings. The police were out to convict the easiest target, and the prosecutor wanted a quick win, and was facilitated by a judge who was anything but unbiased. No DNA testing was available back then.
At one point in the program, Misskelley says he was at a Dyess, Arkansas wrestling match at the time of the murders. So how is it that the prosecutor was able to convince a jury that Misskelley was guilty? Instead of answering the alibi question, the program proceeds down a different investigative avenue.
That is one glaring problem in a program that overall does not flow well. It jerks back and forth between people and time periods. There are so many people involved in this case, it's hard to keep track of names and faces. I also didn't like the inclusion of Hollywood celebrities who, despite their lack of involvement in the original trials, think they can determine the three guys' innocence via superficial arguments and secondary sources, which reeks of celebrity arrogance.
Despite the documentary's biased point of view in favor of the WM3, and despite how the program is put together, it is worth watching. By inference, it shows how the jury system is rigged against a defendant in a murder trial. In the future, one would hope that juries will be outlawed, and replaced by forensic evidence only, correctly obtained and tested, that proves innocence or guilt. Having hysterical people render life and death decisions based on the games lawyers play is truly frightening.
The plot of "Silkwood" is fairly close to my memory of major events as they played out in Oklahoma, and reported by local news over multiple weeks. A lone individual up against a big corporation is always a compelling story. In this case, the individual, Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), proved morally superior to Kerr-McGee, even though the story ends tragically. This film is unusual in that the plot and characters are not exaggerated at all.
Quite aside from the film's deep political and social themes, "Silkwood" excels at a personal level. All the characters are real people, and the script and actors convey deep and meaningful characterizations. This is true even of secondary characters like Thelma (Sudie Bond) and Mr. Hurley (Bruce McGill), for example. These peoples' lives are all rather common and dreary, but what a welcome change from the contrived and two-dimensional characters in most films.
Detailed production design matches the dreariness and bleakness of these blue-collar workers in rural America. The naked light bulb that hangs from the ceiling in Silkwood's house; the drab green paint peeling off kitchen cabinets; that old beat-up white car Karen drives. On and on, the settings are realistic and appropriately depressing. The low-key, country/banjo score amplifies the realism of time and place, as does the old gospel hymn "Amazing Grace".
Casting is ideal. I don't know how the acting could have been improved. Meryl Streep just disappears into the role of Karen Silkwood. Both Kurt Russell and Cher deserved awards. Even minor roles are well cast, and the performances are terrific.
Color cinematography is quite good. Night scenes, both interior and exterior, are impressive. There's one scene in the second half where Karen and Dolly (Cher) sit out on the front porch in a swing; it's night; Dolly is crying and Karen reassures her with a soft version of the song "Hush-a-bye, don't you cry, go to sleep little baby, when you wake ". As the camera backs away, we see that drab, lonely house with a melancholy Karen and Dolly, an image that is powerfully haunting.
"Silkwood" conveys a highly realistic, true-life story about a very ordinary young woman who, despite personal issues and imperfections, takes big risks to do what is morally right. The film is sad, depressing, and very well made. It easily ranks among my twenty best films of all time.
Wild Rebels (1967)
Cheap Drive-in Flick
A youthful race car driver named Rod Tillman (Steve Alaimo) unconvincingly gives up racing and, after a chance encounter with a biker group, joins the group, composed of three idiot dudes and their shared girlfriend. Trouble is, the bikers like to rob businesses for "kicks", which invites inept cops. The result is a not very believable story with contrived action and some hokey performances.
Steve Alaimo isn't too bad as an actor. But the actors who play the bikers are simply awful. The characters they play have been described as the three stooges, and I tend to agree; they act retarded. Which renders the Tillman character's decision to join them not credible. Further, the film contains multiple plot holes, mostly involving the cops. The entire story seems fake. It's as if the writers spent all of ten minutes putting the script together, and without bothering to edit it.
Dialogue is hopelessly dated and consists of beatnik blather. "Do you dig this?" "What now daddy?" And "bread" translates to "money". Some of the action is laughable, like when one of the bikers, to escape the cops, runs out of a lighthouse toward the cops, hops on a police motorcycle and rides away. The cops don't fire on him as he approaches them; they let him ride away and then they shoot.
Color cinematography is adequate if unremarkable. Day-for-night camera filters are really obvious. Outdoor scenes appear to have been shot in real locations, which adds a sense of realism. Steve Alaimo sings a couple of songs, which has the effect of interrupting the plot flow and suggesting that the script was written with no purpose other than to promote his singing career.
"Wild Rebels" is not as bad as its reputation. But it really doesn't seem to have any point, and the story and acting are generally hokey. It's one of those cheap, meaningless drive-in films wherein the main draw is an excuse to eat buttery popcorn.