Thursday, January 29, 2015

F/X (1986)

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

If you’re over 30, like I am, there are probably things you can remember that don’t exist any more.  I was born early enough to remember the tail end of rotary-dial telephones.  I went to middle school pre-Internet.  We didn’t have cell phones or laptops.  I can remember when VHS and BetaMax were fighting it out and you had to buy rolls of film for your camera.

Another thing of the past is analog special effects.  Back in 1986, movies accomplished special effects with actual items.   Rolland ‘Rollie’ Tyler is someone who specializes in this.  He’s so good that he’s called upon by the Department of Justice to help fake the death of a Mafia witness that’s going into protective custody.  No one will try to kill him if he’s dead.  Rollie is even asked to pull the trigger of the fake gun.

After the staged ‘hit’, Rollie realizes that he’s next.  The two people he was dealing with both try to kill him.  He’s really paranoid, now.  He can’t even be sure that it was blanks he used.  One of the guys kept playing with the gun.  This means that not only does he have to worry about the DOJ killing him, but he’s wanted for a murder that he may or may not have committed.

The rest of the movie is Rollie trying to get revenge on those that set him up.  Because of this, I’m going to end up with a very lopsided review.  The ‘death’ of the witness occurs early on in the film.  I’m not saying that this is good or bad or that the movie dragged on at all.  It’s just hard to give a lot of detail about a movie where most of it is one person out to get revenge.

It was just under 2 hours, which was about right.  I don’t really think much could have been cut out and it didn’t seem like anything needed to be expanded upon.  If you like this kind of movie, I think it would be enjoyable.  The only real complaint is that it’s dated.  Kids may watch this movie and wonder what half the stuff is.  I’d be interested in seeing a remake done in today’s world just to see how they’d do it.

It’s an interesting premise.  Apparently, they got a sequel and a TV series out of it, but I can’t attest to either one.  I may check out one or both if I get the chance.  As for this one, it may be worth getting just for the nostalgia.  Just be prepared to explain a lot of stuff if you’re watching it with kids. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ed Wood (1994)

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

If you’ve been reading my recent reviews, you know that I’ve been looking for really bad movies to watch.  One name that keeps popping up is Ed Wood, the director of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space.  While people do recognize the names of his movies, the name of the director isn’t as well known.  Still, Edward D. Wood, Jr. gained such notoriety for being so bad that a movie was produced about him and his work.

Johnny Depp stars as the title character.  The movie starts with Wood working at a movie studio when a producer comes across a script.  Wood wants to direct it, but can’t as the rights were acquired by another studio.  So, Wood writes his own, semi-autobiographical version which goes on to become Glen or Glenda.  Despite having Bela Lugosi in it, the movie tanks and it tanks hard.  The producer calls to let Wood know that if he ever decides to set foot on studio property, Wood should first make out his last will and testament.

Wood goes on undeterred.  He has to struggle for funding and apparently would often do shots in one take regardless of how they came out.  He makes several other movies with Lugosi, including Bride of the Monster.  They all meet with very bad reviews.

The movie closes shortly after Wood finished making Plan 9 From Outer Space.  He has a Baptist Church backing him on this film, which does cause some tension.  They want to make major changes to the script and don’t really like that Wood wants to direct wearing women’s clothes.  A chance meeting with his idol gives Wood the inspiration to finish the movie.

The movie is a pretty straightforward account of Wood’s life.  It covered his best-known movies, although IMDb lists a lot more movies during that time frame.  Wood was apparently a very prolific director.  He was a man that wouldn’t take no for an answer, even if the answer was well justified.  Wood kept doing what he loved.  (As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down; it matters how many times you get back up.)

The directing was great.  I’ve come to like a lot of Tim Burton’s movies, but this one was a little different.  As I said, it was very straightforward.  It’s not at all like Mars Attacks! or Edward Scissorhands.  Having the film shot in black and white was definitely a plus for the movie.

I also liked the acting.  Martin Landau was great as Lugosi.  Bill Murray was also great in his role.  I even enjoyed Sarah Jessica Parker.  This was one of her few roles where I didn’t find her to be over the top.  (She’s usually just a little too outgoing in most of her roles.)

Ed Wood is one of those movies that just comes together to work perfectly.  It’s a great movie about a director that was known for his horrible movies.  I find it strange, though, that his name isn’t better known.  At least his movies will live on.  I plan on watching Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda.  I have to wonder if I’ll want to see more of his movies after that or if I’ll be done with watching bad movies. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

District 9 (2009)

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

I saw District 9 in the theaters.  I had been hearing a lot about how new and different this movie was.  I’ve found that rarely do movies live up to such a claim.  However, I love a good science-fiction movie, so I decided that this would be one of those movies I shell out $10 for.  I’m not saying that it was the wrong choice, but I’m not saying that you missed anything if you waited, either.

The movie opens with footage of an alien spaceship hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa.  At first, humans didn’t know what to make of it.  The ship was just hovering in place.  There was no communication or attempts by the aliens to leave the ship.  So, humans break in to the ship to find a bunch of aliens.  (No surprise there.)  The actual name of the alien race is never used, as their language is as different as their appearance.  (They look and talk like giant insects.)  Humans use the derogatory term Prawn.

The Prawn just want to go home.  For unknown reasons, their ship can’t take them back.  This doesn’t mean that humans aren’t interested in the ship or its technology.  A company called MNU wants to use said technology, but can’t; it’s been engineered only to work with Prawn DNA.

Humans don’t want anything to do with the actual Prawn, so the Prawn are condemned to live in a series of ghettos called districts.  This is where Wikus van de Merwe comes in.  He’s your everyday cubicle dweller that’s just been promoted.

He’s been put in charge of telling the prawn that they’ve been evicted and are being relocated to District 10.  Wikus has absolutely no empathy for the Prawn.  He has no problem going in and destroying the eggs of unborn Prawn only because their parents didn’t get the appropriate permit to have children.  He’s also searching the living quarters for any contraband.  In so doing, Wikus accidentally sprays himself with some sort of alien chemical, changing things for everyone.

In case you haven’t seen the movie yet, I won’t ruin the rest of it for you.  There’s no point in doing that.  I will say that the movie did seem to have elements in common with other movies.  True, aliens are nothing new.  Even the idea of aliens stranded on Earth is nothing new.  We have Alien Nation for that.  Maybe I’m just trying to detract from the movie, but while watching it, I kept thinking of other movies that used a lot of minor details.  As a whole, the movie is new, or at least a new combination of said details.

The movie is, ultimately, about how we treat those less fortunate.  Wikus represents the attitude of not caring, even when looking right at the Prawn and seeing what we make them go through.  That doesn’t change until he becomes an object of attention, and even then, he’s still looking out for his own interests.

This is where it’s hard to condemn the movie.  It does have a great script and is a story worth watching.  I don’t know that I would have seen it in the theaters again, but I definitely think it was worth watching.  Yes, there is a possibility of a sequel, but I don’t know if that was the intent.  I really don’t know how a sequel would work, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing it. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Appleseed/Appurushîdo (2004)

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

It seems that when movies show the future of man, many show a future where the Earth, or at least the vast majority of it, is in ruins.  With Appleseed, we see Deunan Knute fighting in buildings that lie in shambles.  There’s a small statue that still stands, but is destroyed in a fight.  She’s eventually rescued and brought to the city of Olympus.  Olympus is a utopia where most people seem happy.  Life is good there, but there’s still conflict.

Half of the people there are bioroids, or artificial people.  They have suppressed emotions, which allows them to help humanity out.  Humans don’t really trust them, as humans tend to not trust those that are different.  To keep them in check, bioroids’ reproductive capabilities are also suppressed.   This also means that they have to go in for age extensions every so often or face rapid aging and death.

Among those that brought Deunan in are Briareos and Hitomi.  Briareos is a cyborg who has a history with Deunan.  Hitomi s a bioroid who shows Deunan around the city.  A terrorist attack on the bioroid facility means that Hitomi’s life is in danger.  (She’s three days over for her life extension.)  Deunan, Briareos and several others set out to find the work of Deunan’s parents.  That research holds the key to saving bioroids and (hopefully) humanity, as well.

I don’t remember how I first heard about this movie.  It was probably a recommendation by Netflix.  The most impressive thing about the movie was the graphics.  The CGI was like nothing I had ever seen.  Some of the backgrounds, like oceans or metal steps, seemed almost realistic.  Although still impressive, I felt that the rendition of the people left something to be desired.  The characters seemed a lot like anime, in some cases looking a little unreal.

The characters themselves varied.  Deunan and Briareos seemed the best developed.  Other characters, not so much.  From what I can tell, the movie was based on a series of graphic novels.  The problem with basing movies or televison on a series of graphic novels, books or comics is that things tend to get edited left out.  (I have a few of the graphic novels, but I have yet to read many of them, so I have no idea how much was changed.)  This means that back stories and histories are sometimes missing when something like that would help.

In a way, the movie seemed both compressed and stretched out at the same time.  The movie sets up the story pretty quickly, but there are a lot of action sequences, too.  Once the movie gets going, it seems to have a more even pace.  Even still, when I finished watching the movie, it seemed like there could have been more detail.

I did like it, though.  It was definitely worth watching.  At the very least, I liked the style of animation.  Also, I have to give credit for the soundtrack.  There were a few good artists that had songs in the movie.  (I had heard of Paul Oakenfold, but there were others that I hadn’t heard of.)

The movie is available through Netflix.  If you have it, I’d recommend renting Appleseed.  There’s a sequel that’s been out for a few years now and I’ve been meaning to watch it.  I’ll have to see about streaming it from Netflix now that I can do that.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

CheckPoints app

Many years ago, when I bought an iPod Touch, I decided to see if there were ways of making money with it.  I came across CheckPoints, a program that would allow me to check in at various stores.  You could also scan products for extra points.  Alas, my iPod Touch was the last generation of iPod Touches not to have a camera.  (Not that it mattered.  You have to have a phone to scan stuff.)  After several app updates, I found that I could no longer use CheckPoints, as it needed a more-current version of iOS.  When I recently got an iPhone, I installed CheckPoints.  I couldn’t wait to get into a store and test it out.

The idea is simple.  When you open the app, you’re given a list of nearby stores, usually grocery and drug stores.  You’ll see CVS, Walgreen’s, Kmart, and so on.  Each has a number next to it indicating the maximum number of points you can earn in each store.  Each store has a different assortment of products.  The Home Depot, for instance, is 50 right now.  There are two CLR products you can scan for 25 points each.  Kmart, for some reason, has Hasbro board games for 19 points and Doritos for 15 points.  Even though you might be able to find Doritos in other stores, it’s not necessarily listed there.

I’m not sure what determines where you can scan each product or how many points you can get.  I’d imagine it’s up to the individual stores and/or manufacturers.  (It’s also possible that they don’t want you scanning everything all at once.)  Interestingly, there are five Vick’s products, all Nyquil and Dayquil items worth five points each, that are available in all stores that would carry them.  The only problem is that I haven’t been able to scan them.  (The app says that I’ve gotten the points, but it doesn’t show as being credited.  I reported it.  Customer service was quick to respond, but it hasn’t been fixed yet.)

I’ve also seen products listed that aren’t available in the store it’s listed under.  I went into a Best Buy and found the printer paper, but they didn’t have the correct brand.  I tried scanning other brands to no avail.  It’s probably that not all stores carry all brands all the time.  It’s possible that that particular Best Buy doesn’t carry that particular brand or was simply out of it that day.  I’ve also noticed this in Publix and Winn-Dixie.  It’s possible that the brands in question are regional.

For the most part, it’s fairly easy to get points.  I find that I can get sever hundred in a day.  In addition to scanning products, which accounts for most of my points, you can watch videos and refer people.  (My code is seacow99, which has to be entered when you first sign up.)  There are also other places, like restaurants, that only give points for checking in.  I find that many don’t have any points, but a few will give you two if you can find them.  (The only way to know is by clicking on each location.)

You may be wondering at this point what you can do with the points.  You can’t get cash, but you can get gift codes and products.  You can enter sweepstakes for a gift card for as low as 40 points or you can just get the gift card for a set number of points.  The conversion seems to be at around 325 points per dollar.  You can get a $1 Amazon gift code for 335 points.  A Redbox gift code goes for 420 points. (It says it’s good for $1.20 off you first day’s fee, but I haven’t used it since their recent rate increase.)

If you want to save up, a $25 Subway gift card goes for 8,675 points.  All you need for a $500 gift card Neiman Marcus or Louis Vuitton gift card is 154,500 points.  (That’s 309 points per dollar.)  The most expensive reward, point wise, is a Hermes Birkin handbag for 418,500 points.  (I did a search on Google; the cheapest I saw was $10,000.)

Back when I had the iPod Touch, I had been redeeming for Redbox codes.  It seemed like it took forever to get one code.  I’ve had an iPhone for about two weeks now and I already have enough for three.  At this rate, I should have that handbag in no time.

Android (1982)

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

It seems like up until 20 years ago, anyone with a camera, enough studio space and a few warm bodies could make a movie.  Sometimes, you got a good movie out of it.  Usually, you got something that, at best, is incredibly campy.  Not that that’s a bad thing…

When going through the list of on-demand movies I had available for free, I came across Android.  Released in 1982 and running 80 minutes, I figured that this couldn’t be that good, but I was bored and it was free.  I figured I might as well get another review in before year’s end.

The entire movie takes place on a space station.  For some reason, a scientist (Dr. Daniel) has been given run of the entire thing, left alone with only Max, his assistant.  Dr. Daniel is running some sort of experiment which we gather is probably something that’s not exactly mainstream.

One day, a few fugitives drop in.  Max, not being that bright or socially apt, lets them in without too many questions.  We come to learn that Max is an android and that androids were wiped out because they eventually exhibited sociopathic behavior.  Max is just reaching this stage in his development, evidenced by his increasing resistance to taking orders and aggressive tendencies.

Add to that the fact that one of the fugitives is a woman.  The good doctor acts like he hasn’t been near a woman in ten years and Max, never having seen a woman, acts… well, like he’s never actually seen a woman.  He’s also pretty desperate to get to Earth.  He finds out that he’s slated to be decommissioned.  He pleads with the woman to take him back to Earth, as he knows that he’ll never have another opportunity.

I don’t mind cheesiness so much if the movie is otherwise good.  Unfortunately, Android didn’t quite come together.  For starters, who leaves two people alone on a space station?  If I were there, I’d ask for some sort of medical personnel and an engineer or two.  At least a few people coming on and/or off the station.  Other than convicts, that is.

And as for the convicts, who breaks out of prison without some sort of plan?  It seemed like the three of them simply seized the moment and broke out of prison.  If you’re going to break out, wouldn’t you think it through?  Maybe have someone waiting for you?  I’m surprised that any of them made it out alive.

I also hated how androids and robots of the 80s seemed to be a bit clumsy.  Max had few, if any, social skills.  Granted, that may come from spending his entire existence on a space station, but you’d think the good doctor would spend a little time with Max.  Max has only video games and really bad porn to entertain himself.

I think this movie was overpriced at free.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Airplane! (1980)

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

I’ve often said that comedy could get away with a little more because we accept the fact that we’re watching the movie for the jokes and not the plot. I have to admit that Airplane! does pretty well with its plot. The movie starts with Ted Striker following Elaine into an airport. The two of them used to be together, but Elaine left Ted; now Ted wants her back. Ted was a pilot during The War. He led many brave men into a situation where few returned and he holds himself responsible. That, ultimately, let to their breakup. It also explains why he’s never been able to get on a plane since. Somehow, he manages to get himself onto Elaine’s plane. (She’s a flight attendant.) Nothing’s ever that simple, though. The pilot, copilot, navigator and many of the passengers come down with food poisoning. It’s up to Ted and Elaine to land the plane.

The movie is mostly jokes. For instance, before boarding the plane, the pilot gets a message from the Mayo Clinic. The doctor on the other end of the line has many jars of mayonnaise behind him. He then gets a call from someone named Mr. Hamm. The pilot says, “Ok. Give me Hamm on 5. Hold the Mayo.”

There’s also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who plays the copilot, Roger. Whenever anyone ends by saying roger, he thinks they’re talking to him. When a child passenger gets to see the cockpit, he instantly recognizes the copilot, insisting that he’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The child finally gets him to admit it by saying how his father thinks that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn’t that good of a player.

Some of the jokes are dated. One of the running gags in the movie is all of the people handing out religious flyers. You really don’t see that as much anymore. The opening credits mock Jaws, which probably won’t have the same significance to a lot of younger audiences. It was also never stated which war Ted fought in, although there are some flashback scenes involving him and Elaine. One involves battling girl scouts and dancing to the Bee Gees.

It’s a funny movie. The only weak part in the acting was Abdul-Jabbar; However, I think his part was great. It pokes fun at characters that don’t recognize famous people that happen to be playing other characters. The movie has some vulgarity in it and we do get to see breasts a few times. I think it would be a good idea to wait before showing this movie to the kids. Even after almost 25 years, it’s still a funny movie. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

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

I remember seeing this movie around the time that it first came out.  I was still in high school at the time and Jim Carrey was still known primarily for starring in In Living Color.  The movie ended up being perfect for Carrey to star in.

Ace Ventura is, as you might expect, a pet detective.  If a beloved animal companion has gone missing, Ace is the perfect person to call.  The movie opens with him kicking a package down a street accompanied by the sound of glass breaking.  He’s posing as a delivery driver to get into the apartment of a man with a small dog.  (We’re left to assume that the dog doesn’t belong with this man, but we’re not given the details.)  Ace gets the dog, but doesn’t get to his car before the man notices the switch, so Ace has to make a hasty escape.

He makes a living off of that kind of small case, but is still struggling to make ends meet.  That’s when he gets a big case.  Snowflake, a trained dolphin who happens to be the mascot of the Miami Dolphins, goes missing a few days before the Super Bowl.  Ace is called in to help find said dolphin so that there will be a halftime show.

As you might expect with a comedy, there’s one clue that the main character can work with.  In this case, a small gem is found in Snowflake’s tank.  With the help of Melissa Robison, played by Courteney Cox, he learns that it came from a specific Super Bowl ring.  After going through all of that year’s players, he learns that there is one more person:  Ray Finkel.  Ace know that this is their man, but he’s a hard man to find.  Find Ray and he finds Snowflake.

I haven’t really had much of an urge to watch this over the past few years.  If it comes on TV, I’ll watch a few minutes of it, but I haven’t even seen it on TV recently.  The reason is that most of the humor seems geared towards teenagers.  For instance, there’s a sequence where Ace is going around checking the players’ rings.  He provokes one player into flipping him the finger so that he gets a good view of the ring.  He checks out another at a urinal with unintended consequences.  He also manages to get one to punch him in the forehead so that he can look at the impression on his forehead.

I remember liking the movie when it first came out, but I don’t think I’d be able to say the same thing now.  Carrey’s acting in this movie is very similar to the way he acted in In Living Color.  It was a very high-energy performance with him often speaking at higher-than-average volumes and often taking on wacky personas to look around.  It gets old kind of quick.

If you haven’t seen it yet, it may be worth watching depending on your sense of humor, but I’d recommend renting it rather than buying it.  It’s one of those movies that I think has little replay value.  It was interesting seeing Dan Marino and Don Shula appear as themselves.  (Don Shula made a cameo, but Dan Marino had a few lines.)  It’s interesting mostly to see how far Carrey has come when you compare it to some of his current movies, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Number 23.