Thursday, February 27, 2014

Men in Black (1997)

Note:  This is a review I originally posted on Epinions.  With the closing of Epinions, I’ve decided to repost many, if not all of my reviews here, on my blog.  I’ve made some minor modifications to reflect any changes that have occurred since first reviewing the movie.  With any luck, I will be doing this at least once per week.

One way of writing an alien movie is the alien-in-disguise, humanity-doesn't-know-the-truth way.  Aliens live among us, but we don't know about it because aliens either look human or can fit into an inconspicuous disguise.  In Men In Black, the title organization protects us from alien threats because, well, no one else is authorized to know that aliens even exist.

The movie starts with agents K and D on a mission.  D decides that it's time to quit.  He misses looking up at the sky and not knowing the truth.  That leaves K to find a new partner.  People are recruited from all manner of organizations, mainly military.  It's James Edward, a New York City police officer, that K seems interested in.  When James becomes Agent J, we get to find out all about the various things that let the MIB stay in the shadows.

To become J, James can  no longer exist.  His fingerprints are removed.  All files are erased.  Anyone that knew James has their memories of him erased with a device called a neuralyzer.  (This device also comes in useful for covering up major incidents.)

Meanwhile, a big bug crashes on Earth and kills Edgar to take his appearance.  You'd think something like this would get out.  Yes, the ship crashes in farmland, but someone has to have seen something.  It has to have made it into a newspaper.  That's where tabloids come in.  We all think they're full of crazy half-baked hoaxes, but they're really the best investigative journalism around.  J and K go to Edgar's house and talk to his wife, Beatrice.  After the interview, she's neuralized and the agents are on their way.  Around the same time, different aliens show up demanding The Galaxy.  The MIB have a galactic standard week (one hour) to find and deliver it.

The movie was based on a series of comic books.  From what I've read, though, there were more than a few changes.  The comic version hat the MIB investigating all sorts of things and could protect their identity however they saw fit.  I don't know how well that version would have done, mostly since I've never read the comics.

It's still a very dark movie.  There are a few scenes that aren't going to be appropriate for children.  For instance, when The Bug takes Edgar's skin as a disguise, you don't see The Bug actually killing Edgar, but you know what's going on.  Also, as the movie progresses, the skin deteriorates.

I remember liking this movie when it first came out.  For some reason, this is one of two movies that I can recall where the sequel seems to get more TV airplay than the original.  (Ghostbusters is the other.)  I'd like to watch it again, but I don't know that I want to rent it.  Two sequels have been made, both of which I‘ve subsequently seen.  I'd still love to get my hands on a neuralyzer.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Closing Time

I just found out that Epinions is to close…permanently.  This means that all future reviews will likely be posted here, unless I can find another option.  This saddens me, mostly because I had so many reviews and so much time invested in the site.  (I was six reviews away from having reviewed all of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

I haven't made much money from from it in a long time.  In fact, it was only in the past few months that I was able to cash out once every month or two again.  It's more the principle that I was notified by email that the site was closed (not closing -- closed) and that I wouldn't be able to add, delete or modify any reviews.  My reviews will continue to be displayed on the site.  I just won't be paid for any revenue they might make off of it.

I had also submitted the link for some of my movie reviews to IMDb.  I had held off only to see what effect it might have on my hits.  I'm glad I didn't take the time to do this for all of my movie reviews.

All I can say is that it was fun while it lasted.  I am sad that I can no longer post reviews there, but I'll have to focus on finding new opportunities rather than trying to get the old ones back.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Blood Angels/Thralls (2005) Movie Review

I have to admit that I’m a ‘sucker’ for female vampires.  Since I have access to streaming movies, I can pick out movies that I might not otherwise rent.  I could tell that Blood Angels, a.k.a. Thralls, was going to be one of those movies that I might not otherwise have rented.  (I almost didn’t make it through the introductory voiceover.  If you want to use a deep voice, find someone with a deep voice.)

The movie is about several half-vampire women, called thralls, that want to escape from their evil vampire captor, Mr. Jones.  Thralls can’t fly or turn humans or anything, which makes it difficult.  However, Marlene finds a possible way out.  She manages to steal Mr. Jones’s Big Book of Vampire Stuff, Latin Edition, and finds a passage about some ritual to make a thrall into a full vampire.  With one exception, the women manage to escape.

Cut to a woman waiting at what I’m assuming was supposed to be a bus station.  Her name is Ashley and she’s waiting for her big sister, Leslie, to pick her up.  It’s late.  It’s dark.  Of course, several guys try to attack her.  Leslie shows up just in time to attack and drain them of blood.  Yes, Leslie is one of the thralls.  (Ashley doesn’t see any of the blood sucking.  She doesn’t know and won’t find out until later.)

They go to a large building that the women are using for raves.  There, a wide assortment of people are waiting to get in.  Some do.  Some don’t.  They’re collecting some sort of emotional energy for the ceremony, which has to be held on the Winter solstice at midnight.  Just as the moment is about to come, Mr. Jones shows up and starts wreaking havoc.  Turns out that it wasn’t that easy.  The ceremony is to bring over a demon.  As you might expect, the ladies win.  (Well, three of them win.  The rest aren’t as lucky.)

The voice over was the first of many things to bother me.  As much as I like vampire movies, I hate it when vampires don’t reflect.  I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll probably mention it again.  They’re physical objects that light interacts with.  What is it about being a vampire that makes their photons not interact with reflective surfaces?  I’m sure that there was some reason.  As far as I can tell, it’s currently only used as a plot device to let other characters know that there’s a vampire around, and even that’s far fetched.  How is it that the protagonist always has a mirror and is looking at just the right angle?

Most of the actors were in other movies, but the acting is just a little over the top.  I think everyone involved knew that this wasn’t going to be a serious movie.  Most of the action is gratuitous and/or exaggerated.  You also have gratuitous nudity, some of which I’m not complaining about.  Add to this some really corny one-liners and you have a B movie that you’ll either love or hate.

There further into the movie, the less obvious the explanations were.  Towards the end, the writers were throwing things in at random.  (Leslie and another thrall figure that if a thrall is half a vampire, two thralls could make a whole vampire.)  I think at this point, the writers knew that very few viewers would remain.

I’m not saying that I don’t recommend the movie.  Several of the women were pretty hot and made the movie worth watching.  Unfortunately, many of the scenes are dark and you can’t always get a great view of the women.  In fact, one of the women has snakes that come out of her chest.  That alone may make the movie for some people.  The bad news is that it’s one brief scene late in the movie.  All I know is that I’m glad I was able to get it streaming through Netflix.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. (Europa Report movie review)

I think that interplanetary travel is necessary for the survival of our species.  Even if it’s within our own system, our future lies somewhere other than Earth.  This past thanksgiving, my cousin and I were discussing what that might look like if it’s to be privately funded.  (The tourism possibilities are endless.)  Well, in Europa Report, a ship is sent, using private funds, to Jupiter’s moon Europa.  Instead of setting up a hotel, three theme parks and hundreds of Starbucks, they’re looking into some strange thermal readings; the mission is strictly scientific.

The movie starts with footage transmitted back to mission control.  It’s presented out of order, so we get the impression that something bad happened, but we don’t know what.  We get the explanation of what the mission is and why a manned mission is being sent up, rather than just some probe.  Jupiter is pretty far out, which makes impatience seem somewhat rational.  (It takes almost two years for the crew to get out there, to say nothing of the trip back.)

The mission starts with six crew members.  If you’ve seen similar movies, like Apollo 18 and The Blair Witch Project, you know that things will tend to go from bad to worse.  This is where I didn’t like the out-of-sequence nature of the footage.  One crew member is dealing with survivor’s guilt after a spacewalk.  We know something bad is going to happen to one of the crew members, but we don’t know what.

The other five do make it, but even then, there’s an element of danger.  There’s radiation.  They have to worry about landing on and taking off from ice.  There’s also the unknown.  There could be all sorts of untold dangers.  And one of them wants to go out to get samples after the probe is lost.

The movie is definitely better than Apollo 18.  Very little of the movie takes place on Europa; most of it is spent in transit.  You’d think it would be all cheesy, but it’s done well.  The crew members interact and manage to not get on each other’s nerves.  You see them sending messages home or explaining the artificial gravity.  Most of the buildup is in hoping that they’ll find something.  They expect single-celled organisms, if anything.  Would the mission be a bust if they find nothing?  Not really.  Finding nothing would be a discovery in its own right.

The big problem with going out that far is that you’re on your own.  This is used to nice effect at several points in the movie.  If something breaks, it’s not like you can call for roadside assistance.  You have to fix it yourself.  If someone gets sick, you have to hope you have what it takes to heal them.

The CGI was well done, all things considered.  Seeing Jupiter in the sky was pretty nice.  My only complaint was that Europa is about the size of our moon.  Shouldn’t there be considerably less gravity than Earth?  I’m not sure how close Europa is to Jupiter, but the planet is pretty big.  (It is called a gas giant, after all.)  I’d think that tidal forces would have been more noticeable.  I was also surprised that they didn’t bring more experiments.  You’d think they’d have brought some algae or be doing experiments on frog reproduction or something.

I found this through Netflix streaming.  Since the movie probably has little replay value, I’d say that renting or streaming is the way to go.  It’s not a bad movie.  It definitely tends more towards 2001 and 2010 than Apollo 18 and Blair Witch.  It’s just that I don’t think I’d sit through it a second time.