Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beyond Suspicion/Appointment for a Killing (1993)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.  A few modifications have been made.


When you say that a movie was made for TV, it‘s not usually meant to boost people’s expectations about it.  I’m not saying that it’s fair, but it’s often right.  Take Appointment for a Murder, a.k.a. Beyond Suspicion.  The movie is about a dentist, Stan, who has a thing for killing people for money.  Shortly after divorcing his wife, Joyce, he admits to killing someone, but in such a vague manner that she can’t really pin anything on him.  The next morning, Stan threatens that if she tells anyone, he’ll kill her or arrange to have her killed.

She does go to the police, but they don’t take her seriously.  Stan didn’t give out any details like names, locations or motives.  She does catch the attention of a Federal Agent Ron McNally, who thinks that he can link Stan to several murders.  What really makes Stan  a suspect and makes the whole operation possible is that Stan killed someone that he owed money to, which looked very suspicious.  (There was no proof, of course, but it was very convenient for Stan.)   Joyce agrees to have her house bugged so that the authorities can hopefully get some evidence.

Of course, it’s not that easy.  Stan is a cold, calculating person and would never admit to doing anything so quickly.  Yes, Stan does go over to Joyce’s new place a lot, but he’s not the kind of person that usually makes mistakes.  Plus, you’ve got Joyce’s meddling cat, who starts playing with one of the microphones, drawing Stan’s attention.  (I’ve always thought that this sort of thing is cliché and used only to add some drama, but I digress.)  Joyce does eventually get Stan to confess to murder on tape, thus sending Stan to jail for a long time.

Now, in this case, the movie does reek of being made for TV.  First, you’ve got those fadeouts every fifteen or twenty minutes.  Second, the video quality looks like it was made for the small screen.  Add to that the fact that there’s not much of a detailed story or character development.  (It’s based on a true story.)  There are three big names involved in the movie:  Corbin Bernsen as Stan, Markie Post as Joyce and Kelsey Grammer as Agent McNally.  (Don Swayze is the only other person I recognized.)

The movie takes place in St. Louis.  There are a few establishing shots of St. Louis, like the Gateway Arch, but the rest of the film could have been filmed anywhere.  The houses look like any other houses in any suburban area.  The streets look like they could be anywhere.  I guess one of the advantages of it being so far inland is that you don’t have to worry about coastlines.  (I guess it is kind of hard to put that sort of stuff in inconspicuously.)

I got this as part of a two-pack of movies a long, long time ago with the intention of writing reviews.  (The other movie was To Love, Honor And Deceive.)  Both movies were decent, but I really think I should have skipped these.  I don’t even remember how much I paid for them, but I think it was too much.  If you’re going to watch this movie, I’d recommend waiting for it to come on TV again.



Saturday, May 02, 2015

Charlotte Sometimes (2002)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.
 

Michael lives alone in the upstairs part of a duplex. Downstairs is Lori, a friend of his. Justin is her boyfriend, who stays over every night. The routine goes that after having sex, Justin falls asleep and Lori goes upstairs to be with Michael. Because of thin walls, Michael hears a lot of it, so he often goes out.

Lori visits Michael one day at work. (He’s an auto mechanic. He also happens to read a lot, but I won’t get into that now.) Lori wants to set Michael up with someone, but Michael won’t even let her say it. Not to long after, Michael meets an attractive woman in a bar that he frequents. She introduces herself as Charlotte.

Now, Michael is in an interesting situation. He’s interested in Lori, but Charlotte is interested in him. Michael and Lori see each other. However, she travels a lot and will be in town for a few days. Whenever she’s back in town, they hook up again. (At least, that’s the impression that I got.) The trouble is that there’s more to Charlotte than Michael is led to believe. I’m not going to say more because it would ruin the movie. I don’t really think that it’s necessary to discuss the movie as a whole.

The only major complaint I had was that there was no sense of time in the movie. I believe that it took place over the course of at least a month, but there was nothing that would indicate the passage of time between scenes. Usually, this wasn’t a problem, but there were times when it got confusing.

There’s a camcorder feel to a lot of the scenes, especially with the lighting. I’m not complaining, though. It was done well. I just don’t know if this would be a turnoff for anyone. A lot of the people I know have strange hang-ups about movies. I think it only adds to the feel of the movie.

As for the extras, there were two tracks for audio commentary as well as a behind-the-scenes/commentary video and another video with Roger Ebert. I found the behind-the-scenes video to be interesting, but I don’t usually go for audio commentary and the video with Ebert didn’t seem that interesting, either. It looked like the video was actually taken from someone’s camcorder.

Overall, the DVD gets five stars.




Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.
 

One of the advantages of renting movies is the ability to see a movie and its sequel within a few weeks of each other. With Airplane 2 – The Sequel!, I felt like I was watching the same movie again. Robert Hays returns as Ted Striker, who, in this movie, was a test pilot for the Mayflower I. The Mayflower I is about to go on its maiden voyage to the moon, but Striker doesn’t think that it will make it. The shuttle is riddled with problems, such as faulty circuitry, but the mission is going ahead anyway.

Those in charge of the program had Striker committed to a mental institution, but he escapes in time to make it to the spaceport and purchase a ticket for the flight. (It was sold out months ago, but he finds a scalper willing to sell him a ticket.) Elaine, played again by Julie Hagerty, is on the flight, but she’s engaged to Simon Kurtz, played by Chad Everett. Captain Clarence Oveur is back as the pilot, but he has a new flight crew. The navigator is named Unger and the first officer is Dunn, giving us a great scene where the three of them recall the chain of command during the war. (“Well, technically, Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn.”)

The plot is very similar to the first movie. As I mentioned, Striker finds his way onto the flight and has to win the heart of Elaine while saving the day. He has the help of the control tower, but he winds up the hero. The movie seems to have been made simply to string the jokes together. Some of them are obvious, such as Sonny Bono going to the spaceport gift shop and actually buying a bomb. Some of them are a little more obscure. During the scene with Sonny Bono, you’ll notice a poster for Rocky XXXVIII. There’s another scene on the plane where you will probably miss a sign that reads, “UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY”. William Shatner also appears in the movie as a sort of parody of his role as Captain Kirk. (There’s even a shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise flying by.)

There were no DVD extras in the version that I got from NetFlix. (It’s possible that there are other versions out there.) This means that you may be buying just the movie. If that’s the case, avoid it. It was almost like I was watching the first movie a second time. The only thing that was new was the set of jokes and gags. It’s good, but not that good. The movie gets three stars.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Frequencies/OXV: The Manual (2013)

Sometimes quirky works.  Not always, but it sometimes makes for a better movie.  Frequencies is about a reality very similar to ours, except that people have frequencies.  It seems to work like an IQ in that 100 is considered average or neutral.  Lower numbers indicate negative aspects like awkwardness and bad luck. Those with lower numbers also tend to be more emotional.  Those with higher numbers tend to lead a more privileged life, finding that good things just happen to them.  Those with higher numbers tend to be more logical.  Bring together two people on opposing sides of 100 and you get strange, dangerous results.  It’s also seemingly impossible to change your frequency.

The movie centers around Zak and Marie.  Zak has a lower frequency, but is placed in a school for those with higher frequencies.  There, he meets Marie.  Her frequency is so high that she can’t feel emotion at all.  Zak also has a friend, Theo, who is more moderate in frequency.  Zak has a thing for Marie, but their union can never be, as there’s a one-minute time limit per year imposed by the physics of this universe.  That’s when the bizarre and dangerous stuff starts to happen.

Zak is able to find a way to borrow energy from other people, which allows him to increase his time with Marie to the point that they can start dating.  Zak and Theo find that by using some two-syllable nonsense words, Zak can control people.  This catches the attention of an organization that kidnaps Marie and Zak, as well as a few others, and has them do further research and study.  It turns out that they’ve known about this for a while.  The details been lost and rediscovered over the years, with 1066 and 1760 being important years.

I’m not sure what to make of this film.  It’s one of those movies that is just obvious enough about its message (privilege and class structure) that we get it but not so forward with it that we feel like we’re being beaten over the head with it.  It’s a world where high- and low-frequency people literally can’t exist together.  There’s also the issue of fate.  Theo wants to build a machine that will let him know how the universe will unfold.  What would it mean to build such a machine?  Does it even matter?

A lot of these things aren’t really explored in the movie.  For instance, many of the characters are named for important people in our universe.  Zak’s full name is Isaac-Newton Midgeley; Marie is Marie-Curie Fortune.   No one speaks about their namesake, so we don‘t know any historical details about these people.  Certain things seemed contrived, like the use of an irony particle and music as an inoculation.

It’s one of those movies that I can’t really not recommend, but I’m not sure who I would recommend it to.  I was able to get it streaming from Netflix.  If you have Netflix and are able to stream, you could give it a try.  It’s not much of a loss at 105 minutes.  I don’t know that I would have gotten it if I had to wait for it to be mailed to me.  Would it be too cliché to say that watching it was my destiny?



A Tale of Two Sisters/Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are certain movies that beg to be watched a second time. This is one of those movies. For that reason, I can’t really go too much into the plot, as it would actually ruin the movie several times over. I can give you a basic rundown of the movie.

It starts with two girls being released from a mental hospital after a traumatic event, which is not initially specified. They arrive home to find that they have a stepmother to get used to. Neither girl seems to like her much, as is to be expected with a stepparent. Things take a turn for the bizarre about halfway through.

Even having seen the movie, I still don’t completely understand it. I’m going to have to sit on it for a while and watch it again. This isn’t one of those mindless movies that you rent after a hard day of work. You really have to pay attention to what’s going on. Even most of the characters don’t seem to know everything.

I definitely recommend the two-disc set. I believe that there’s another set that’s only 1:30 in length. This release is 1:55. (I got as far as 1:49; I’m assuming that the credits round it out.) Not having seen the original release, I can’t be certain what the new material is.

It’s really the second disc that I recommend. There were deleted scenes with commentary as to what the context of the scenes were as well as why they were deleted. I found this to be very interesting. Also interesting was the feature on the making of the poster. The person who photographed it was speaking as to what went into taking the picture and what various aspects meant.

There was a certain hyper-real quality to some of the scenes in the movie. The images seemed very sharp in contrast with the rest of the movie and even with other movies. I don’t know if this was intended or if it has something to do with my computer. However, the entire movie does beg the question: What is real?




Sunday, April 26, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Groundhog Day was an interesting movie.  In it, Bill Murray played a weatherman doomed to repeat the same day.  It was a comedy, so I doubt that much technical thought was put into it, but I always wondered if each day went on without him being aware of it.  A similar concept was used in Edge of Tomorrow.  Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage.  Earth has been overrun by an alien that seems to know what we’re going to do.  It’s impossible to defeat them until we start inexplicably winning.

Cage isn’t big on seeing actual battle, but he threatens the wrong guy and gets sent into battle where he’s killed.  He awakens to find himself in the staging area before he’s sent into battle.  With no way out, he has to repeat the following day or two.  He realizes that he can use this to his avoid getting killed.  This is huge because this is supposed to be the battle that ends the war, except humanity is getting slaughtered.

Any comparisons to Groundhog Day are totally understandable.  Each has a main character that is able to repeat a specific time period and use it to his advantage, despite being in a situation that they‘d rather avoid altogether.  The details differ a little, but the underlying motive each character has is to get it right.  One big difference is that Cage has Rita Vrataski, who was able to do the same thing until she had a blood transfusion.  (She has an amazing win streak that’s attributed to a new suit, but you kind of know that it’s not really the suit.)  She understands what Cage is going through and is able to help.

There’s very little repetition in Edge of Tomorrow.  Whatever repetition there is exists only to let us know what’s going on.  There are a few clichés that manage to work their way in.  It seems that whenever someone is doomed to repeat time, they always start at a bad time.  If it’s not waking up to a song they hate, they’re having a door opened in their face.

The character in a time loop is also given limited options to get away.  If Cage were to wake up before insulting his CO, there would have been no movie.  Here, Cage wakes up on a base to someone calling him a maggot.  He has nowhere to run.  Yes, there’s one time loop where he goes to a bar, knowing that it doesn’t really matter, but Cage realizes that he’s needed.  (Note that there’s a similar scene in Groundhog day; Phil’s epiphany also takes place at a bar.)

There was one question I had, though.  If Cage is repeating the day, how is he able to go back before the accident and still be able to repeat the day?  His power comes from absorbing the blood of an alien.  Theoretically, the alien blood shouldn’t go back with him.  I suppose that if we can accept that he’d retain the memories, the alien blood going back with him shouldn’t be a stretch.





Saturday, April 25, 2015

Atari: Game Over (20 Nov. 2014)

There are certain things that define generations.  Each generation grew up with certain TV shows, listening to certain music and having witnessed certain events.  I had TV shows like Alf to watch.  “Weird Al” Yankovic started releasing albums when I was growing up.  I also remember the Internet eventually becoming commercially viable.  Another major memory was the rise and eventual fall of Atari.

Atari is still a name in video games today, but has gone through several phases since I was a kid.  Way back in 1977, the year after I was born, they introduced a game console known as the Atari 2600.  This is back when video arcades were big.  Someone got the idea to market a console that could play those same arcade games, but at home.  Instead of giving their kids an endless supply of quarters and sending them off to the mall, parents could now just buy a system and a few cartridges and let the kids play for a few hours at home.

Many of the games were simple.  We started off with pong, which was an electronic version of ping pong.  There was another game called Adventure, where you had to complete a quest.  There were also a few ports, like Pac Man and Centipede.  Those that grew up with modern consoles will think that we had it rough.  Back then, just having video games in the comfort of our own home was amazing.

The Atari 2600 was the must-have toy when I was a kid.  Many of the games sold countless copies.  Atari seemed like it could do no wrong.  That changed with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Howard Scott Warshaw was given five weeks to make a video game based on the movie, which he did.  The game was regarded as being so bad and unplayable that it led to the downfall of Atari.  Rumor had it that the game was so bad that the company literally buried it (in a shallow, unmarked grave, no less) before going out of business.

That’s where the documentary comes in.  A crew is assembled and brought to Alamogordo, New Mexico.  The city’s landfill is supposed to be the final resting place of these cartridges.  The exact number and location weren’t recorded.  For all anyone knows, they don’t even really exist.  Several people, including a waste disposal expert/historian, a former mayor and several city officials comment on the game and its fate.  Warshaw is also interviewed for the documentary.  He even gives a tour of the facilities where he worked for Atari.

If you were following the news around this time, you may recall that they did eventually find the games.  You may also know that there’s not a huge story here.  The documentary is 66 minutes and does seem to run a little long.  The stuff about the history was great, but it could have been pared down a little.  The problem is that there tends to be a best-or-worst mentality with some things and E.T. seems to be regarded as the worst video game, so bad that it single-handedly brought down an entire company.

I don’t remember the game being spectacular.  I recall my cousin being able to beat it in just a minute or two, so I didn’t really see any replay value.  Admittedly, the game was made to cash in on the success of a movie and wasn’t  really given the time that other games had.  A bad product is survivable, especially if you’ve had a lot of good products before it.

Most of the people watching this documentary will be people around my age that are looking for nostalgia.  It’s the kind of story that you’d read in the newspaper (another anachronism) and think that it’s interesting before moving on to the horoscopes.  This documentary is mostly unnecessary suspense.  While there was no point that I wanted to turn it off, it could have easily been cut to thirty minutes.

To focus on one game is a disservice to the company as a whole.  This was what paved the way for Nintendo and Xbox.  The truth is that things change.  I feel bad for Warshaw, who never worked as a game designer again.  This is despite E.T. being his only real failure, and the failure wasn’t even his.  I would place blame more on management.  A lot of good things came out of that time, including the Atari.  I’d rather remember all the fun I had.




Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Impostor (2001)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.


I remember someone saying that Saturday Night Live skits tended not to make good movies.  The problem was that you were taking something that did well as a short skit and trying to stretch it out into a feature-length film.  Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World both did well.  Both even had sequels.  However, there were a lot of movies that didn’t fare so well with the critics.  Does anyone even remember It’s Pat: the Movie or Stuart Saves His Family?  (It’s Pat was one of the few movies I couldn’t watch all the way through.)

We tend to have a similar problem turning short stories into movies.  Philip K. Dick provided the source for this one.  There have been other movies made from his work, including two based on We‘ll Remember it for you Wholesale.  (They were both called Total Recall.)  It’s understandable, given these movies and others like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which became Blade Runner, that people would love to get the movie rights to his work.  Impostor doesn’t seem to fare as well as the other titles.

The movie is based on a short story of the same name.  In the movie, Gary Sinise plays Spencer Olham.  Olham is a scientist working on a bomb to help destroy an alien threat from Alpha Centauri.  The aliens have a pretty powerful weapon of their own. They can replicate a person, give the replicant the memories of the original and send them off with a bomb that doesn’t assemble until their target is close enough to the target.  Since the replicant thinks that they’re the original, it’s extremely difficult to detect them.  Olham is suspected of being just such a weapon.

He’s taken from work one day and is about to be killed by Hathaway, but Olham escapes.  With some help, Olham makes it back to the city to get a scan that could prove his innocence, but that doesn’t work.  So, he makes one last-ditch effort to prove he’s really who he says he is.  I’m not going to say what happens, as there’s no point in ruining the movie.

I will say that this would have worked much better as a short movie or as part of an anthology like The Outer Limits.  This is primarily about Olham trying to prove that he’s not a fake.  This can end one of two ways:  Either he’s revealed to be Olham or he’s revealed to be the fake.  You could explore the aspect of what makes a person.  Is it their memories?  Is it biology?  Hathaway even points out that the aliens can’t copy a soul.  As much as a fake might think that they’re real, they can never be the authentic item.

The movie touches on this only briefly.  Instead, we have Hathaway chasing Olham and Olham trying to throw a few curve balls, many of which are kind of weak.  Olham takes an implant that can be used to track him.  It’s been surgically removed to prevent scanners from reading him, but he’s not shown to be given a new one.  I’ll admit it’s possible that only important people, like government employees are given one.  However, the government can still use it to track Olham almost in real time.  He gives it to Hathaway, who eventually realizes that he’s only chasing himself.

Notice that I described the plot in one paragraph, and a short one at that.  There’s really not that much to the movie.  The concept of what’s real and a person’s identity and nature has been done before and has been done better.  I don’t recall this movie being released in theaters.  It came out a little over ten years ago, in 2001.  This was back when I was going to movies more regularly.  Maybe it just wasn’t shown in any major theaters.  Maybe it was just that forgettable.




Monday, April 06, 2015

Elysium (2013)

When I first saw the coming attractions for Elysium, I liked the idea.  There was someone who had to go to an orbiting space station because they had what he needed.  I was wondering how it was handled.  When I was finally able to rent the movie, I liked it, but I was a little disappointed.

Matt Damon plays Max. Max is a factory worker in Los Angeles.  One day, he’s exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and basically written off.  He’s given medication to deal with the side effects, but he has just days to live.  This sucks, mostly because the technology to cure him does exist.  There’s just one problem:  It’s all on an orbiting space station called Elysium.

Elysium is where the upper class lives.  They get all the good stuff while everyone else gets to live in slums.  If someone from Earth tries to go to the station, their ship is destroyed.  It’s basically the ultimate gated community.  Max has basically zero hope of making it there to get the help he needs, but he has to try anyway.  He has help, but it’s still no cakewalk.

I can understand the movie not being perfect.  This is Neill Blomkamp’s second movie.  His first was District 9, though.  The problem with coming off such a good movie is that people will have much higher expectations.  The message of District 9 was a little more subtle.  Here, it’s more like, “We get it already.”  The movie makes too much of a point of showcasing the immigration and healthcare issues that Earth and, by extension, Elysium have.  Elysium has all the good stuff and the people of Earth need it pretty badly.

It was a good idea that wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.  I have to wonder why there were no medical machines on Earth.  You’d think someone would at least make a bootleg version.  People try to sell panaceas all the time.  In this future, it’s not hard to imagine that someone would have a fake or sub-par med bay.  It would have made for an interesting side story, at least.

I know most people will freak out if I talk about the ending, even if I don’t give away specifics.  However, that was really the only bad part for me.  I felt like it wasn’t as strong as the rest of the movie.  At least the bulk was relatable.  Max is in need of attention and he’s willing to go to great lengths to get it.  The ending almost didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story.  This is one of those movies that I may have to watch again to pick up on things.  I’ll probably wait to watch it with someone else.


Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.


Beavis and Butthead to America is based on a popular TV series on MTV that aired around the time I was in high school.  The show focused on two teenagers that had little else to do than to make trouble at school, waste time working at a burger place and to comment on music videos.  They were so oblivious to their surroundings that the show was essentially a study in dramatic irony.  Many of us were sad when the show went off the air.  Then, in 1996, a Beavis and Butthead movie was released.  The masses rejoiced.

The movie begins when the duo's TV set is stolen.  Being the slackers that they are, their entire lives revolve around the TV set.  They have to find their TV set.  So, they set off to get it back.  Along they way, they meet Muddy.  Muddy will pay them good money to ‘do' his wife, Dallas.  (Beavis and Butthead take ‘do' to mean ‘have sex with' instead of ‘kill'.)  Having seen a picture of her, they think it a very fair deal.  Not only do they get to ‘do' an attractive woman, but they get paid to do so.

So, they're off to Las Vegas to find Dallas.  If you've seen the show, you know that the movie is going to be one long comedy of errors.  Beavis and Butthead have no idea what they're doing, or even what they're supposed to do.  They have no experience tracking someone down.  Amazingly, they do manage to find her.  They get really confused when she doubles his offer to do her husband.  It's then that she realizes what they're thinking and sends them off on a tour bus loaded with seniors.

The rest of the movie is Beavis and Butthead bouncing around the country not really knowing what they're doing.  Both are idiots, usually oblivious to their surroundings, so this is nothing new.  Throughout the movie, Beavis and Butthead are being chased by federal agents.  They manage to outsmart them entirely by luck.  Despite the agents' best efforts, Beavis and Butthead manage to stay ahead of them.

Those that saw the TV series will not be in for many surprises.  Most of the major characters are in it.  The movie doesn't have the music-video commentary that the TV series had.  However, a good part of the show was the total slacker humor.  This is the worst that teenagers of the time had to offer.  I don't know how the movie (or the TV show) would hold up if it was aired today.

Those of my generation loved Beavis and Butthead.  Most of the jokes required a little bit of thought, but were generally easy to get.  For instance, part of the movie shows Beavis and Butthead having their picture taken at various city-limit signs like Butte, MT.  Yes, they can be mildly offensive.  When a woman says that she's going to score on the slots in Vegas, Beavis thinks she means sluts.

For those that are a generation younger than me, I think you'd be able to get some of the humor, but part of it will be lost.  Yes, fart jokes never get old, but there are going to be a few references that were meant for the 90s.  I think at this point, it's safe to say that there's not going to be a sequel, although I do think there would be a definite market for it.