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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Some good parts, but doesn't work as a whole
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's creation. Their characters, dubbed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, have appeared in a number of incarnations from their beginning in comics to feature films. Many, myself included, grew up watching the original animated series and the original trilogy of films. Now a new film has been made for a whole new generation of kids. One thing that's for certain is that it's different in tone from both. This however is not really the problem. What we have here, I'm sorry to say, is a mixed bag that I fear will struggle to find an audience.
Pros: Above average performances. Director Liebesman gets a few great shots. Well scored. Quite good effects. Some interesting tweaks to the mythology. A few strong moments that belong in a better movie.
Cons: Lacking heart. Uneven pace. Mediocre script. Choppy editing. A few really lame attempts at humor.
Final thoughts: It's been over 20 years since the last live action 'Ninja Turtles' movie hit the screens. A lot of people didn't care for that one and I don't think many will take to this one either. It feels like there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen, resulting in an uneven final product. It certainly could have been worse, but considering a lot of money went into this it also could've been better than OK.
My rating: 2.5/5
A solid telling of a well-worn tale
Everyone and their mother knows who Hercules is. Whether you've read the stories, seen movies featuring him or heard of him in passing, he's part of everyone's consciousness. Everyone loves a hero and there aren't many great ones like the son of Zeus. Of course, not every depiction has been welcome with open arms. Early this year, Renny Harlin unleashed his vision of the Greek Myth to a blah response. A few months later came this effort, which so far has been doing all right for itself. It may not be the best of the year, but it's got enough of the goods to be worth a look.
Pros: Actors give their all. Much maligned director Brett Ratner puts on a good show. Compelling score. Stunning costumes, scenery and sets. Awesome effects. Tongue in cheek humor. Some great, well staged battle sequences. Well paced.
Cons: Little we haven't already seen a thousand times. More backstory for some characters would've been nice. Feels rushed in parts.
Final thoughts: This movie is not going to change the world and that's just fine. It's 90 minutes of escapist entertainment made better by the fact that everyone had their hearts in it. Quite often the opposite is the case, but what the film lacks in story it makes up for in the quality of every other department.
My rating: 3.5/5
The Believers (1987)
Fundamentalism at it's scariest
Religions and Hollywood don't always make a great match. Some films play loosely with facts, instead being more about style than substance. However, there have been times where this has been successful. Classics like 'The Exorcist' were made by people who did their homework and the result was magic. In the 1980s, one of many trends in the horror genre was cult practices in modern society. Based on Nicholas Conde's novel 'The Religion,' this offering dealing with the practice of Santeria is, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated of or time.
Pros: Top notch performances from all involved. Excellent and often eerie score. Suspenseful direction. Taut writing. Nice cinematography. Handsome production design. Flows at a good pace. Some great twists. Frightening imagery.
Cons: Some predictability.
Final thoughts: A mild success at the Box Office in '87, 'The Believers' wasn't a favorite of critics and has since been largely forgotten. It may not be as masterful as say 'Rosemary's Baby,' but it's a far cry from being schlock also. It's got what so many genre flicks of recent times lack: heart, suspense, depth, characters we give a crap about and more. It takes it's time and gets under the skin. Do yourself a favor if you haven't seen this and rectify that now.
My rating: 5/5
It aims to please and mostly succeeds
It must be really hard to keep a film franchise fresh after so many sequels. Of course, most don't get past number 3 or 4 unless they're horror movies. By the early 1990s both the 'Friday the 13th' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series had gotten to at least #7, surpassing 'Halloween.' After the critical and financial disappointment of the fifth and sixth films, said franchise appeared to be dead. Many fans didn't like where the series was going. Fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, they wouldn't have to wait too long for another installment.
The horror genre was given a jolt in 1996 with the success of 'Scream.' Influenced heavily by John Carpenter's 1978 classic, it sparked new interest in the series. Over the next year there was much talk of a 'Halloween 7' and it sounded pretty promising. This included the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, a veteran director at the helm and a solid treatment by 'Scream' writer Kevin Williamson. The film ended up being the most successful in the series, but not everyone was happy. Some pretty radical things were done, resulting in a flawed though still above average chiller.
Pros: Good solid performances across the board. A very different, but excellent score. Rich cinematography, giving the film a spooky feel. Some suspense. Good sense of humor. A few killer nods to the first two films. Moves at a good pace. A few really memorable, sometimes frightening, sequences like the ending.
Cons: Too many fake scares. Chris Durand does OK as Michael Myers, but could have been more imposing. Too short for things to fully develop. The ever changing mask is too obvious. Disregarding parts 4-6 was not only lazy, but also a slap in the face.
Final thoughts: Say what you will about parts 5 and 6, but at least they stayed true to all that came before. This twentieth anniversary sequel had the potential to be a fitting end to the series, but instead it's just a pretty good horror movie. The filmmakers wanted to stay true to the roots, but ended up alienating some of the fan base. All things considered however, 'H20' is not an embarrassment. It accomplished what it was meant to, which is to entertain, scare and honor a horror classic.
My rating: 3.5/5
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
A good, if flawed bookend to the 'Hellraiser' story
Stories of films tinkered with and botched by studios are the stuff of legend. Executives who know little about art thinking they know what the people they really want is both amusing and frustrating. It hurts even more when we're dealing with a film that's part of a beloved series. Dimension Films has been known for having some problematic productions. Few are as interesting as what went on during the making of the third 'Hellraiser' sequel. One can only imagine the amount of tension there was between the director and the studio there was.
The franchise created by Clive Barker was becoming more successful with each installment. The first two had been made independently, while III was the first with a studio involved. For what was to be the final installment, the filmmakers had a tall order to fill. A winning concept, a talented effects artist in the director's chair and a script by 'Hellbound' and 'Hell On Earth' writer Peter Atkins were all good signs. Alas, the studio had to put their noses in and make changes against the director's wishes. The surprising thing is that the end result is actually quite good.
Pros: Good show by the entire cast. Though no match for Christopher Young's work, the score here is excellent. Neat, not to mention ambitious premise. The parts of Peter Atkins' script used are excellent. Gorgeous cinematography. Fabulous production design for all three time periods. Flows at a good pace. Some really killer effects, practical and visual.
Cons: Far too short for ideas and characters to fully develop. Some of the visual effects look dated. Has signs of studio interference, like in the editing. The lack of budget for such an ambitious concept shows a bit.
Final thoughts: It's a real shame that director Kevin Yagher and writer Peter Atkins didn't get to make the film the envisioned. There's a lot of really good stuff in here and you can sense they and everyone else involved had their hearts in it. That's why I think the film works as well as it does despite it's flaws. It's still more interesting than many of the Horror films that came out in the 90s.
My rating: 3.5/5
Pleasing to the eyes and ears, but lacking elsewhere
It can be a lot of fun watching the films your favorite actors did early in their careers. Sometimes you find a hidden gem that shows why that person got where they are today. Unfortunately, sometimes in order to get to those films one has to endure a lot of crap. Jennifer Connelly has certainly come a long way in her career since getting started in the 80s. Luckily she was in some winners like 'Labyrinth' and 'Phenomena,' but she made her share of clunkers too. Similar to the critically acclaimed 'Black Swan,' this little known foreign thriller has some of the right ingredients, but something spoiled the stew.
Pros: Actors do what they can with the material. Beautifully scored. Stunningly photographed. Rich production design. A few memorable, unsettling scenes. One hell of an ending.
Cons: Muddled plot. A serious lack of depth. Painfully slow at times. Apart from a few nice shots, the direction is pretty bland.
Final thoughts: Fans of Jennifer Connelly and bizarre films might get some pleasure out of this forgotten effort. Even with those highlights however, the film is barely average. It's like the director was only interested in giving us pretty things to look at because his script leaves much to be desired. A shame because this had the potential to be a real sleeper.
My rating: 2.5/5
A great companion piece to the classic
Hard to believe over half a century has passed since Disney released 'Sleeping Beauty.' The film, one of if not their best of their classic animated films, has held up beautifully. Many of them since have been given sequels, many of which are better off forgotten. In time for the 55th anniversary of the film, the studio has released what is a prequel of sorts. This time the story is told from the point of view of the villain. An interesting idea that could have been a disaster in the wrong hands. Luckily, a terrific group of people were brought together and the result is a very pleasant experience.
Pros: Very well cast and acted. Exhilarating score. Nice job by first time director Robert Stromberg. Stunning effects. Rich costume and production designs. Steady pace. Some cool nods at the original film and nice twists on it too. Some touching moments.
Cons: The writing is the weakest aspect of the film. For example, some characters like the King and the Fairies could've been more developed. The latter are portrayed as bickering sisters and it gets old. Other things feel rushed as well.
Final thoughts: This film very well could've simply been an attempt to milk money more out of a Disney classic. The good news is that it has far more heart than one may expect. The actors fill their roles, the craftsmen paid great attention to detail and their director created a rich, exciting fantasy world. The script could have used more work, but it's hardly rubbish. Perhaps if the film had been closer to two hours, things wouldn't feel at all rushed. No matter because the good outweighs the bad.
My rating: 4/5
Ghost in the Machine (1993)
Good escapism, but could've been more
In the 1980s, practical effects reigned supreme in genre films. In the coming decade, visual effects were reaching a new height. Things not possible before were becoming just the opposite. It would make it easier to transport audiences to new worlds. 'Jurassic Park' is an example of film utilizing digital effects beautifully. That same year saw the release of a film that would bring the slasher film into the 90s. Using state of the art visuals, it would attempt to breath life into a well worn sub-genre. The result is not all it could've been, but is still above average.
Pros: Solid performances. Stylish direction. Effective score. Interesting twist on the slasher film. Inventive death scenes. Good practical and some decent visual effects. Quick pace.
Cons: Serious lack of suspense. Case of style over substance. Some of the effects look silly now.
Final thoughts: A critical and financial failure, 'Ghost in the Machine' is not nearly so bad. The talented cast and director make it a worthwhile experience. The problem lies with the script, which sadly is pretty thin. A shame because like 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' this was an interesting new spin on slasher films. Still, it's a fun way to kill 90 minutes.
My rating: 3.5/5
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Carpenter's most underrated and terrifying film
The devil has been depicted in many films in many different ways, from a stereotypical horned one in 'The Killing of Satan' to Al Pacino in 'The Devil's Advocate.' Leave it to legendary filmmaker John Carpenter to find a new and interesting way to bring him to the screen. After the disappointment of 'Big Trouble in Little China,' Carpenter decided to return to his independent roots. Like 'The Fog,' it deals with a supernatural evil, only a more powerful one this time. And though it does feature monsters, it's also very intelligent and suspenseful.
Pros: Good acting all around. Atmospheric and suspenseful direction. Chilling score. Intelligent, imaginative script. Has a feeling of doom not found in many films. Solid effects work. A number of memorable, not to mention terrifying sequences. Perfectly paced, beginning slow and building to quite a finale.
Cons: Leaves us wanting more.
Final thoughts: It's certainly great that the Horror genre is hot again these days. The downside of this is that many of these films are forgettable and toothless. The studios are afraid to take chances, instead wanting to stick with what makes the most money. Filmmakers like Carpenter never cared much about money and Box Office, and it shows here. Unlike a lot of recent efforts, 'Prince of Darkness' takes it's time and has some substance to go along with it's spectacle. It gets under the skin and can likely cause one a sleepless night or two.
My rating: 5/5
Did you ever see a dream walking?
After films like 'Star Wars' and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' movies had a sense of wonder audiences had never seen before. Amazing things could be done with special effects, making it possible to take viewers to new and exciting worlds. Dreams can be a wonderful device in films if used well. Since anything is possible in them, filmmakers can bend the rules and make all sorts of things happen. Take the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series for instance. As the series progressed, the dreams and deaths of the characters became more bizarre and horrific. Released a few months before the first 'Nightmare' was a film that took a more scientific approach to dreams. Aside from a few flaws, it's a really fun and fantastical ride.
Pros: Well acted. Decent score. Good sense of humor. Some suspense. Nicely done production design. Great practical effects that have aged well. A few scares. Perfectly paced.
Cons: The score is overdramatic at times. Some weak dialogue. Dated blue screen effects.
Final thoughts: Movies dealing with dreams don't always do it so well. It opens up so many possibilities, but one must use their imagination to reach the potential. The makers of most of the 'Elm Street' films have done a great job at this. 'Dreamscape' doesn't do so bad in this department either. Sure it's a bit dated, but it's also good old fashioned, edge of your seat entertainment.
My rating: 4/5