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859 reviews in total 
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12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
The Pied Pipers Of Deception, 6 April 2015

One thing I am quite clear on is that Scientology ain't no religion. In their teachings I see no heart, no soul, no humanity, no softness. All I see is technique. Gurus are rewarded with power and money.

The movement was founded by a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard, who enshrined his 1950s self-help fad, called "Dianetics", into a self-proclaimed religion that he renamed "Scientology". Fast-forward sixty years and Hubbard's "religion" has morphed into a billion-dollar business headed by an allegedly manipulative, controlling madman, surrounded by star celebrities and a hoard of brainwashed, but wealthy, individuals who should know better.

The purpose of this pretentious clique seems to be to turn every member into a cash dispensing zombie, incapable of critical thought, and existing to service the financial and cheer-leading demands of its arrogant, elitist leaders, pied pipers of deception and delusion. One of the scariest segments shows a huge audience of followers giving a thunderous, standing ovation to their leader as he spouts out his victory over the IRS.

The only difference between these followers and those of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple is that these people are not destitute or uneducated. But they still have willingly forfeited their independence, some too weak ever to escape the group's dogmatic belief system.

I felt a bit sorry for John Travolta as presented here. He comes across as a person who has been blackmailed into silence by the "church", to preserve his public image. He can't leave or speak out. Tom Cruise is much scarier. He comes across as pompous, certain, and invincible. His obvious power to influence and control is frightening.

Technical quality of this documentary, comprised largely of contemporary interviews and archival footage, is very good, though I could have wished for screen information, like names and places, to be in bigger letters. For example, I had to squint to see the names of people being interviewed. Music is appropriately low-key.

One thing this program tacitly pounds away at is the gullibility of insecure people who will believe almost anything pushed by a charismatic messenger. "Going Clear" offers an enlightening exposure of an organization that seems to meet all the criteria of a cult. I just hope the endgame here is not another tragedy comparable to that of Jim Jones and the Peoples' Temple. Heaven only knows about private Scientology tragedies that may lie hidden from public view.

Below Average, 6 April 2015

The story is set mostly in Arizona near an old gold mine. The owner is being threatened and wants Chan's help. It's a good premise but the story is dull and unconvincing. There are not enough suspects to make the puzzle interesting. The killer here is easier to figure out than in most Chan stories. There was one surprise toward the end but it only contributed to the story's implausibility.

Characters are shallow and generally uninteresting. Way too much time is spent on the drunk who stumbles around the swimming pool. This character isn't really needed anyway and my impression is that he functions mostly as filler; the film contains a lot of filler, despite the short runtime.

Outdoor visuals do not look much like Arizona. The mine-shafts add a spooky quality. But film lighting renders the tunnels too bright to be convincingly subterranean. Overall lighting is generally too dark. Production design is predictably minimal and cheap.

As bug-eyed Birmingham Brown, Mantan Moreland is always a welcome addition to the cast. But Victor Sen Yung doesn't add much as Number Two Son. And Roland Winters is dreadful as Charlie Chan. Winters just doesn't have the Chan persona that Warner Oland or Sidney Toler had.

With minimal mystery and suspense, few suspects, and a dull Charlie Chan actor, "The Golden Eye" is below average for this series. Only hard core Charlie Chan movie fans will find much appeal in this film.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Cabin In The Woods, 5 April 2015

The premise is simple. Five generic college students arrive at an inconspicuous cabin in the woods for a few days of vacation. Unbeknownst to them, the cabin and the surrounding woods are home to evil beings that are dormant ... that is, until the kids find an old book and tape recorder filled with zombie gibberish. The story is set mostly during one night. Dense fog obscures one's vision outside the cabin.

The first-half plot isn't bad. The camera takes the POV of unseen entities, darting here and there. And the kids spend a lot of time exploring the cabin and its cellar, waiting and listening, as eerie sounds put them on guard that something isn't quite right. The music, too, adds to the sinister atmosphere.

But if the first half conveys a pleasantly spooky atmosphere because of what we do not see, the second half's plot plummets to stupidity because of what we do see. No longer hidden, the evil makes itself visible, in the form of nightmarish images and gratuitous gore. The film thus loses its suspense and mystery.

The second-half plot trends repetitive as the same fate befalls one kid after another. And the gore continues to escalate. Nearing the film's merciful end, I started getting a headache, as the gore got progressively more annoying.

The film has no thematic depth. And since the underlying premise presumes a supernatural explanation, we can't apply logic to any story element. Acting is largely irrelevant. The credibility of the film thus lies mostly in sound effects and special effects, which are nicely crafted but over-used. I would have enjoyed the film more if the zombies, or whatever they're called, had been less visible and if the gore factor had been hugely reduced.

JFK (1991)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Message Film With A Gripping Plot, 4 April 2015

Will we ever solve the mysteries of the JFK assassination to everyone's satisfaction? No, I don't think so. LBJ's Warren Commission (WC), with cheer-leading from the mainstream press, tried to sell the public on the Oswald-as-lone-gunman idea. After a brief, national acceptance, the public began to question the WC conclusions. Ever since, the public's collective belief that Oswald acted alone, as measured by opinion polls, has been trending steadily downward.

The general impression is that the WC did not set out to find the truth. Instead, they set out to build a case that Oswald acted alone, a man who had long since been silenced by Jack Ruby. The WC built their lone-gunman case by cherry-picking those bits of information that would fit their predetermined conclusions. But an excess of bizarre coincidences, torturous logic, and massive inconsistencies of every sort in every facet of this multifaceted case overwhelm officialdom's weak arguments, and make the mainstream press look sheepishly beholden to Washington insiders.

The script's arguments for a conspiracy are compelling. Unfortunately, Stone's script tells the story from Jim Garrison's POV. Garrison's case against Clay Shaw was tenuous, at best. Result: officialdom and the press ... pounce. That Shaw may not have had a proved link to the assassination, however, does not in any way, plug up the massive holes in the conclusions of the Warren Commission. So a conspiracy is still a possibility, sans Garrison's theories. As a result, we're back where we started, with a silly lone-gunman theory, and some vague "conspiracy". What a mess!

As cinema, Stone's film is brilliant. The plot is gripping, riveting, mesmerizing. With an all-star cast, there's not a weak link in the bunch. Lighting is stylized and at times 1940's noirish. The dignified and profound musical score by John Williams enhances a tone of mystery and intrigue.

Editing is terrific. An enormous amount of information is telegraphed in the well-over three-hour production, information that could not have been included without split second cuts. As a result, the film's pace oscillates nicely between casual and rapid-fire.

A message film that persuasively demolishes the WC conclusions yet suffers from a too-literal belief in the Jim Garrison narrative, leaves us with a lot to think about. To a person with an open mind, the "mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma", as David Ferrie called it, is just as deep, just as profound now as it was fifty years ago. It probably always will remain such ... the stuff of legend.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Grim And Pointless, 16 February 2015

The real life evil of convicted killer Henry Lee Lucas has been well documented elsewhere. This film is a semi-fictional account, based on Lucas' "confessions" ... for what they're worth. In the film, Henry lives with his ex-prison buddy Otis, and Otis' sister Becky, played well by Tracy Arnold. The setting is Chicago. The historical time period is unclear.

Most, though not all, of the murders take place off screen, mercifully. It's still, at times, a grizzly affair. Much of the film is like a diary, in that we see Henry, Otis, and Becky engaged in slow, lengthy, pointless conversations, amid drab surroundings. Oh it's grim.

This is supposed to be a character study. But there is no arc. Henry's robotic life is so monomaniacal as to preclude dramatic variation or change. What little substantive material there is could have been presented in thirty minutes.

The film's pace is slow. Scenes are very, very drawn-out. Screen time is consumed with characters eating grim meals, playing cheap cards, and driving around in a rundown old car. It's as if the scene on page 62 of the script could have been switched with the scene on page 16, and viewers would never know the difference. It's all just an unending grim ... sameness.

The film's images are grainy. Lighting is subdued. Music is appropriately eerie and creepy, but manipulative.

Real-life serial killers are too diverse in backgrounds and personalities for this film to offer any generalized insight. And the film conveys little understanding of Lucas himself. Sometimes a film that is grim can be entertaining or insightful. This one isn't. It's just pointless.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Friday And Maclain Make A Fine Detective Pair, 12 February 2015

The title derives from the main character, an elderly detective named Duncan Maclain (Edward Arnold) who is blind. Yet, together with his seeing-eye dog, Friday, and a human sidekick, Maclain investigates a murder and unmasks the villain.

The story's underlying premise is weak and time-bound, having little relevance post WWII. But the antics of Friday the dog, combined with Arnold's fine and at times hammy performance, compensates for the weak story. That dog is something else. More than merely posing with human-like expressions, and responding to human chatter, he fetches shoes and guns, uses doorknobs to open doors, and improvises a clever way to escape a basement.

I would have liked the film more if it had been a whodunit. As is, there's not a lot of mystery or suspense. The villain is identified in the first half. The ending is a bit of a disappointment.

Although the source material is a novel, the script and visuals compare to a stage play, with most scenes set indoors and containing quite a bit of dialogue. But some of the banter is fresh and interesting, like when blind Maclian tells the butler Hansen: "And Hansen, turn out the light, will you; I think I'll read awhile".

Sets are a bit cheap looking, composed mostly of drab wood with minimal artifacts. Lighting trends dark. One long scene near the end is filmed in total blackness. Of course, that's consistent with a great theme, that of being able to perceive without physical sight. The intermittent background music is dreary and nondescript. A topnotch cast, including wonderful Mantan Moreland helps the production. Overall acting is fine, especially that of Edward Arnold.

It's not a terrific film. Yet despite a weak story premise and a lack of mystery, "Eyes In The Night" has enough going for it to make it enjoyable, not the least of which is that dog. The film will appeal especially to viewers who like detective stories of the 1940s.

Subterfuge (1968)
Uninteresting And Dull, 12 February 2015

Generic 1960s spy story about an American "security agent" named Michael Donovan (Gene Barry) who goes to London to meet an important professional contact. But when Donovan arrives he finds that his contact has been murdered. What follows is kidnapping, falling in love, and danger in dealing with high level thugs. The visuals are a bit dreary and the plot seems muddled.

The main problem here is the script. There are too many characters and too many villains. It's hard to tell who is doing what to whom. And I could not figure out the motivation of the villains. Further, none of the characters are interesting. They're all cold, impersonal, and have little to no sense of humanity or individuality. They're just stick figures inserted into the script in service to a contrived story. Who are these people? Do we care about them? I don't.

The visuals are drab. Indoor scenes are too dark. Outdoor scenes trend repetitive, with too many camera shots of those English double decker buses, subway trains, and expensive cars. Characters spend a lot of time talking shop while imbibing expensive liquors. The film tries to be worldly and sophisticated. However, "Subterfuge" is no James Bond movie. And Gene Barry is no Sean Connery.

Casting and acting are not very good. Gene Barry may be debonair but his persona and acting are boring. Joan Collins may be glamorous but in this film she shows why she never won any major acting awards. The rest of the cast is perfunctory and dull.

My impression is that the producers were trying to cash in on all the international intrigue that was such a hot film topic in the 1960s. But "Subterfuge" lacks suspense and mystery. Characters are cold and impersonal. Performances are lackluster. There are some good spy films out there. This is not one of them.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Magnificent Historical Perspective, 3 January 2015

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, 3 January 2015

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.

Generic Script, 3 January 2015

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.

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