Saturday, May 31, 2014

Messiah of Evil (1973)

Note:  This review is reposted from my Epinions account.

WARNING:  In this review, I’m going to give away lots of details.  If you’re not into that sort of stuff, now’s a good time to stop reading.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Low-budget movies aren’t always that bad.  Some turn out to be marginally good.  A few even go on to become cult classics.  I don’t think Messiah of Evil will live in infamy, but it is at least marginally good.

The plot is very simple.  A woman named Arletty comes to Point Dune, California, to find her long-lost father.  He’s not at his place.  At least this gives her a place to stay while she looks for him..  She doesn’t know exactly where he is and no one in town can offer much help.  She goes into a store that’s displaying some of his artwork, but the people there haven’t seen him in a while and none of his stuff has sold.

They direct Arletty to a man operating out of a hotel room.  His name is Thom and he’s documenting local folklore.  Arletty arrives while he’s recording Charlie, the local drunk, tell the story of The Dark Stranger and the blood moon.  Also in the room are Thom’s two ‘traveling companions’, Laura and Toni.  Arletty waits for the town drunk to finish before asking about her father to no avail.  No one has anything to offer.

After she leaves, Charlie approaches her and tells her that should she find her father, she should kill him and burn the body.  (Simply burying the body won’t work.)  There’s this legend of a Dark Stranger that was in the area 100 years ago.  He promised to return when the time was right.  One sign of his return was the blood moon, which would cause people to go crazy.

Shortly thereafter, Thom and party arrive at Arletty’s place to ask if they can crash.  The hotel kicked them out and they have nowhere else to go.  Arletty apparently doesn’t have a problem with this.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that there’s very little to do in Dune Point.  It’s so boring that Laura decides to leave.

Since Laura doesn’t have the keys to the car, she decides to walk.  Halfway into town, she gets a ride from a strange man.  He’s so disturbing that it’s not long before she’s walking again.  She eventually reaches town only to find it deserted.  It’s late, but places do seem to be open.  Laura wanders into the supermarket, which appears at first to be as empty as the rest of the town.  That is, until she discovers some of the locals eating raw meat.  This is the last we see of Laura.

Toni is the next to fall victim to boredom.  Thom tells her to go see a movie.  Sensing that Thom wants to be alone with Arletty, she decides that a movie wouldn’t be a bad idea.  So, she goes to see Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.  It turns out to be a prophetic title as she doesn’t get to see tomorrow.

This leaves Thom and Arletty, who eventually come to realize that the best course of action is for them to get lost -- quickly.  Only two things hinder their escape.  One, Thom has been shot in the arm.  Two, most of the town’s people are now flesh-eating zombies.  All land escape routes are blocked, leaving Thom and Arletty to swim to a nearby boat offshore.  Thom apparently drowns due to his injury.  Arletty tries as best she can to make it to a boat, but passes out.  She awakens elsewhere and is presumed to be crazy.

I think this would have been a totally different movie had it been made today.  First, we’d see a lot more blood and gore.  When Laura and Toni get killed, we see the zombies gather around them, but we don’t actually see the act of killing them.  The most we get to see is a bloody hand or something.  I think there probably also would have been some more on-screen killings.  The movie ran for only 90 minutes, which leaves some room to add in a few more bodies.

This isn’t to say that it’s a movie for children.  Both women are trapped and scared out of their respective minds.  There are also a lot of dead bodies and a lot of zombies to chase after the living.  The emptiness of the town really adds to the creepiness of it all.  I really think that the story of The Dark Stranger would be enough to give any five-year-old nightmares.

The film quality left something to be desired.  I think this is in part due to the fact that it was filmed in 1971, but not released until 1973.  I got the movie as part of a nine-movie set and I don’t think the people that released it wanted to spend too much money restoring the film.  It is fairly obvious at times, but not too distracting.

What was distracting was the constant narration.  When Arletty reads her father’s journal, we get to hear his voice speaking.  It’s not so much that the narration itself was bad so much as there was a lot of it.  It almost seemed like filler.  It would have been just as easy to have Arletty tell Thom about what he wrote instead.

Another thing I didn’t like was that the father’s house had many of the walls painted.  When I first saw the interior of the house, an entire wall was painted with a scene of a boardwalk.  At first, I thought it was the worst case of forced perspective I had ever seen.  It took me a moment to realize that it was supposed to be a wall.  There are also life-sized paintings of people, which tends to be a little freaky.  (I think this may have been the point.)

I also found it odd that Laura was attractive while Toni wasn’t so attractive.  Toni looked a little more girlish than Laura.  It seemed like Laura was Thom’s girlfriend/love interest.  I’m not even sure what Toni was supposed to be to either one of them.  It’s like the writers decided that they needed another main character to kill off, so they came up with Toni.  She was a little too giggly at times for me.

The movie does have a very low-budget feel to it.  Most of the movie is of one or two people.  When we see zombies, we do see a lot of them, but we just don‘t see zombies a lot.  (I think this was done to save money on extras.)  In Laura’s final scene, Laura is walking around a fully lit supermarket that has no people in it.  When Arletty is walking around town, she’s outside, but there are no other pedestrians.  Yes, it adds to the creepiness, but it is a bit odd.

The oddest thing is that Thom is almost always shown wearing the same suit.  According to IMDb, the suit was the most expensive thing purchased for the movie, so I could see the producers wanting to get their money’s worth.  The trouble is that it’s such a nice suit that it only makes it obvious how much he wears it.

I wouldn’t buy it unless you’re getting it as part of a set.  Of the nine movies in the set that I got as part of The Living Dead collection, this was one of three I’ve seen so far that was at least somewhat decent.  This one at least had a passable storyline and decent acting.

If you’re looking for it, you may find it under Dead People.  It’s not five-star quality, but I can think of worse ways to spend 90 minutes.  The only down side was the ending, which seemed a little forced.  (It’s like the writers didn’t know exactly how to end it.)  I’d give it three stars. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Free Song Downloads

I just thought I'd pass this along.  I don't get much off of the movie ticket sales, but we're talking about two free songs here.  Who doesn't want some free songs?  It looks like it's good until the end of June.

King of the Zombies (1941)

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

Some movies are bad.  Some are so bad that it becomes their main attraction.  You know a movie is going to be well beyond bad when most of the reviews list the short running time as an asset.  I don’t know if King of the Zombies was that bad, but it came pretty close.

The movie starts with three men in a plane.   James “Mac” McCarthy is the pilot.  It’s his charge to fly Bill Summers and Jefferson “Jeff” Jackson over the Caribbean.  (Exactly where, I’m not sure.)  Jeff asks if this is the area where Admiral Arthur Wainwright’s plane went down, to which the answer is yes.  Mac is lost, but is able to pick up some sort of radio transmission.  They follow it and end up crashing on a jungle island.

In the middle of this jungle island is a mansion that looks more out of place than it sounds.  They knock and enter the mansion, which they initially assume to be empty.  They’re soon greeted by Dr. Miklos Sangre, who invites them to stay until they can either repair the plane or call for help.  He seems harmless enough so they agree.  Mac and Bill, both being white, are given rooms upstairs.  Jeff, being black, is told that he can stay in the servants’ quarters.  (Keep in mind that the movie was released in 1941.)

Jeff is almost immediately told about the local zombie population.  When Samantha, the maid, is able to produce zombies on cue, Jeff immediately runs up and tells Mac and Bill about what he saw.  Sangre reassures them that they’re not really zombies, but that does nothing to reassure Jeff.  Mac and Bill are finally convinced when they find an earring in their room.

Admiral Wainwright is actually on the island and Sangre is a spy.  Sangre is trying to use some sort of hypnosis to transfer memory from one person to another so that he can steal secrets and pass them along to the enemy.  (This also implies that the zombies aren’t really undead, but it’s not mentioned what happens to them at the end of the movie.)

In terms of scariness, the movie is lame by today’s standards.  The zombies don’t attack anyone.  They don’t even groan for brains.  I think that there may have been more strict decency standards.  Consider that there’s no bad language, sex, innuendo or nudity of any kind.  There’s very little violence and what violence there is tends to be very mild.  The only warning I would have for small children is the whole hypnosis/zombie aspect.  Some children might have a problem understanding it.

Another sign of the times was the racial aspect of the movie.  Sangre makes no attempt to apologize for having Jeff sleep in the servants’ quarters.  When he offers drinks to Mac and Bill, Jeff reaches to take the third glass.  Sangre denies him and takes the third glass for himself.  Jeff (and many of the other black characters) tend to talk with stereotypical accents.

It’s one of those movies you don’t have to think about and are probably better off for it.  I mean, who builds a mansion/castle/whatever in the middle of a tropical jungle?   There isn’t even a driveway or a walkway or anything.  It’s just trees right in front of the main door.  If you can get past the racial overtones, it ends up being a very silly movie.  I’m afraid I can’t give it more than one star, though.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Eat Your Skin (1964)

Note:  This is a review reposted from my Epinions account.

I’ve been watching the movies in a nine-title set that I bought years ago.  I’ve noticed that most of them were filmed outside the United States.  One of the exceptions is I Eat Your Skin.  IMDb lists the filming location as Coral Gables and Key Biscayne, although there was some filming done in Miami Beach.  The reason that I bring this up is that I live in the area.  (This pretty much sums up any emotional connection I have to the movie.)

The movie starts in Miami Beach with Tom Harris entertaining the ladies poolside at the Fontainebleau.  He’s a writer that enjoys some level of fame, so there’s always one or two attractive women nearby.  Duncan Fairchild's agent/publisher/boss, decides to stop by to remind Tom that he hasn’t submitted a manuscript in a while.  Duncan thinks that it would be a good idea to go to an island in the Caribbean for inspiration.  (Duncan met some sort of duke or count or something that invited him to the island.)  Tom is a little hesitant at first, but agrees when Duncan tells him that the island has five women for every man.

Joining Tom and Duncan is Duncan’s wife, Coral.  (Coral’s main contribution to the movie is her annoying voice.)  They board a plane, but since Duncan doesn’t have the exact location, they have to waste a lot of fuel looking for it.  They manage to have just enough gas to land on the island’s shore.

Tom goes looking for some sort of help.  Instead, he finds a woman skinny dipping in a lake.  Just then, an Incredibly Fake-Looking Zombie with a machete approaches her.  Tom warns off the woman and has to fight the zombie, who has very good aim despite the fact that the actor’s eyelids are painted over, meaning that he had to keep his eyes shut.  (I wouldn’t be surprised if the scene involved several retakes.)

Fortunately, Tom survives long enough for help to arrive; Charles Bentley, the estate manager, pulls up and offers Tom and the others a ride back to where they will be staying.  Tom asks Charles about some drums he heard earlier.  It turns out that there’s some sort of local voodoo zombie legend, but the exact details vary depending on who you ask.

While on the island, Tom meets the beautiful woman that he saved earlier.  Her name is Jeannie and she’s there with her scientist father, who’s looking for a cure for cancer.  What Tom doesn’t know is that Jeannie’s father has developed a special irradiated venom.  If you inject it into someone, you get a mindless zombie.  Those funding him thought his discovery would be perfect to make an army.  This leaves Tom and the others to fend off zombies while worrying about how to refuel the plane and get off the island in one piece.

I Eat Your Skin is a project that began life titled Zombies.  When someone needed a movie to be paired with I Drink Your Blood, Zombies was renamed I Eat Your Skin and the two movies were released as a double bill.  This explains why there’s absolutely no eating of skin in the movie.

There are a few things that bother me about the movie.  First, the zombies are incredibly fake looking, which I think I mentioned a few times already.  The ‘eyes’ were merely painted on over the actors’ eyelids.  This surprised me for two reasons.  One, I’d imagine that the zombies were tripping all over themselves, thus requiring medical attention.  Second, the eyes looked horrible.

As for the skin, it looked like someone stuck dirt on the zombies’ faces.  It wasn’t laughable, but it wasn’t great, either.  I think the director said, “Hmm… I think that the funny-looking eyes aren’t enough to let the audience know that this is a zombie.  What else can we do?”  Personally, I would have fired the makeup artist if that was the best he could do.

The ending was a bit abrupt.  It was one of those movies that just ended.  It’s like the director realized that they had taken the idea as far as they could and just decided to let the movie end.  At the very least, I would have expected some concern.  Maybe have Duncan and Tom talking about how lucky they were to escape.  I guess everyone deals with almost being killed differently.

One thing I want to mention is that in Coral Gables, there’s a place called Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens.  It only caught my attention because two of the main characters have the last name Fairchild. I don’t know for certain that it has anything to do with anything, but I thought it would be interesting to mention, especially considering that the wife’s first name is Coral.

The movie is watchable, but barely.  The film quality is inconsistent and the script doesn’t really have much to it.  It’s one of those movies that you’d catch on a Sunday afternoon and watch only because you were too lazy to change the channel.  (Not that there was anything better on, anyway.)  I’d recommend skipping this movie if you have a choice.

The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Note:  This review is reposted from my Epinions account.

Growing up, I used to find a lot of the Asian martial-arts films amusing, mostly because of the low video quality and the poor dubbing.  Low-quality films like that aren’t limited to Asia.  I’ve been finding a lot that came from Italy.  I know that you’ll probably want some proof to back up that claim.  House by the Cemetery is your proof.

The movie starts with a woman going around her house calling for her boyfriend, Steven.  She discovers that he’s been murdered only to suffer the same fate moments later.  Cut to little Bob Boyle staring at a picture of a house.  His mother, Lucy, is telling Bob to pack his ties, but Bob insists that the girl in the picture is telling him not to go to the new house.  Lucy doesn’t believe him, pointing out that there’s no girl in the picture. 

Several months have passed since the double murder.  The reason that the Boyle Family is moving is that Dr. Norman Boyle, the father, is to pick up a colleague‘s work after said colleague committed suicide.  When they arrive in the new town, the only place available for them to stay is this creepy old house that looks just like the one in the picture that Bob was staring at.  Norman dismisses it as coincidence.  There must be a thousand creepy old houses in the area.

As if being located next to a cemetery wasn’t bad enough, the door to the basement is boarded up and the lock is sealed shut from age.  In a totally bonehead move, Norman decides to take off the boards and unlock the door, which he has to do with great force.  When he makes his way down there, he’s attacked by a bat.  This is no ordinary bat.  This is the Demonic Superglue Bat From Hell that just cannot be dislodged from your hand or killed by repeated stabs with a kitchen knife.  Once the bat is eventually taken care of, it’s promptly forgotten about and we cut to a new scene.

The Boyles also hire a babysitter named Ann that’s freaky in her own right.  When Lucy walks in on her cleaning up blood, Lucy rightfully asks Ann what she’s doing.  Ann simply tells Lucy that she made coffee.  Call me old fashioned, but if someone were cleaning up some dark red liquid on my kitchen floor, I’d probably want to ask more than, “What are you doing?”  Lucy’s apparently fine leaving it at that.

It isn’t until much later that Lucy gets hysterical enough to go back to the real estate agent that put them in the creepy house and insist that they be moved by tomorrow morning.  Lucy is so hysterical about the house that she has no problem spending one more night there.  If it were me, I’d take up at the nearest hotel in the meantime.  Instead, the Boyles go back home and apparently forget it ever happened.

By now, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with anything.  (Quite frankly, so am I.)  You see, the house once belonged to a Dr. Freudstein.  This was one sick, twisted individual.  He performed some tests that were so gruesome that he was barred from practicing medicine ever again.  Apparently, even though Dr. Freudstein died many years ago, he’s still haunting the place and he doesn’t like people trespassing on his property.

For some totally random and unknown reason, Norman goes to the cemetery where Dr. Freudstein was buried only to be told by the caretaker that Freudstein was never buried there at all.  (That and the cemetery is closed, so get lost.)  This is strange because Norman sees a plate in the floor saying that Dr. Freudstein is buried in the house, which isn’t unusual given that he died in the winter.  It is unusual because the area under the plate is in the basement and there’s no coffin to be found.  I’m sure that this is supposed to make total sense, but it doesn’t.

The movie is filled with all sorts of strange tangents like this.  There are two scenes, for instance, where Lucy is walking down the street and sees someone that she knows, but is seemingly ignored by the person in question.  In a very weird scene, someone walks by a mannequin and it suddenly (literally) loses its head.  The head just falls off for no reason into a pool of blood.

Also, there are scenes where Bob is talking to the little girl in the picture, but Bob is the only person that can see her.  She tells Bob to get his family out of there, but his claim of an invisible friend falls on deaf ears, not that he really puts in much effort.  Giving a warning makes sense, but why do those trying to warn someone always tell the one person least likely to be able to do something about it?  No reason is given why the boy is special.

As I said in the opening, the video quality and dubbing are on par with those martial-arts films I grew up with.  There are some points in the movie where one character’s voice matches up with their lips almost perfectly, but they’re talking to someone that’s totally off.  Most of the people’s voices seem appropriate.  The only exception was poor little Bob, who was given a very high-pitched voice in the English dub.  I don’t like high-pitched voices, so this really was a problem for me.

This movie has pretty much nothing going for it.  I’ve never heard of any of the actors, who all seem to have starred solely in other Italian films.  It has a very uneven plot, dated special effects and a substandard script.  There are too many questions left unanswered.  Why is it a big deal for a kid to be packing is ties?  Socks, yes.  Underwear, I can see.  Ties?  I guess that early in the script, they may have still been actually trying.

While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking about how it was a cheap imitation of the movie based on Stephen King’s The Shining.  You have a father that moves his family to a creepy/haunted building that they’ll be living in.  The child has paranormal visions associated with past tenants of the building.  The father takes an axe to his family member.  There’s at least one non-family member helping the family.  If you’ve seen The Shining, you’ll probably notice a few more connections.

I got this as part of a nine-movie set.  The only reason I sat through the whole thing was to be able to link to all nine reviews in my review of the set.  I’d only recommend getting this as part of a set if you’re going to buy or rent it.  It’s definitely not worth getting by itself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Trading Places (1983)

Nature versus nurture has been an ongoing debate as long as I can remember.  One side says that upbringing is everything.  Given the right resources, education and opportunity can make all the difference.   The other side says that it’s all genetics.  Given the right lineage, you can do anything you set your mind to.  Randolph and Mortimer Duke, who own a commodities brokerage, start debating which is more important.

The debate escalates to where they place a wager.  If genetics is all powerful, then someone would land on their feet no matter what.  If opportunity trumps all, then some guy brought in off the street could be trained to do anything.  As it so happens, they have the perfect person to take a fall:  Louis Winthorpe III, played by Dan Aykroyd.  He manages their business and is engaged to their grandniece, Penelope.  He has all the good lineage and wealth the Duke Brothers could ask for.  Now all they need is someone to take his place.

Enter Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy.  He’s a fast-talking con man off the streets.  He gets arrested when he bumps into Louis.  (Louis thinks that Billy Ray is trying to steal his briefcase, which contains payroll checks.)  He’s the kind of guy that the Duke Brothers feel wasn’t given the right opportunities.

The Duke Brothers bail Billy Ray out of jail and set him up in Louis’s place.  Meanwhile, they make it look like Louis stole three marked bills.  Louis winds up in jail.  He gets out quickly, but is turned away by Penelope.  He also finds that his accounts are frozen and that he can’t get back into his townhouse, as Billy Ray is living there.  He winds up living with a prostitute named Ophelia.  (Ophelia is played by Jamie Lee Curtis.)  He has to pawn an expensive watch just to get some cash.

It takes a while for Billy Ray to get used to everything.  His new butler, Coleman, keeps reassuring him that everything is his and that it’s all real.  Not long after moving in, Billy Ray takes over Louis’s old job and proves good at it.  It looks like opportunity does play an important factor.

Eventually, Billy Ray overhears the Duke Brothers talking about their bet.  When he overhears that only a dollar was wagered, he decides that Louis has a right to know.  He eventually catches up with Louis at Ophelia’s place and has a close call.  He explains everything back at the townhouse and Coleman confirms.  At Billy Ray’s suggestion, Louis comes up with a plan to get revenge on the Duke Brothers.

This is one of those movies that doesn’t get old.  I keep seeing it on television, usually right as the revenge part begins.  (The revenge is maybe the last third of the movie.)  I finally got around to watching it through Netflix’s streaming service.

Most of the movie is relatively safe.  We do get a few scenes with some nudity, and yes, you do get to see stuff.  Also, there’s one scene towards the end where the F bomb is used, so parental discretion is advised.  As for the financial aspect, the end of the movie was a little confusing.  I’m not exactly sure what Billy Ray and Louis did.  However, it’s not really necessary to understand the plot of the movie.  It’s not the kind of thing that will be distracting or cause you to lose sight of the story.  It’s evident that Billy Ray and Louis knowingly ruin the Duke Brothers.  (From what I read on IMDb, Eddie Murphy was so confused by the financial aspect that he just stuck to the script for the final scenes.)

As for family versus opportunity, the movie wasn’t really to heavy-handed with it.  It was just something to get the plot going.  One thing that occurred to me when I first saw the movie was that when Louis and Billy Ray come together, they end up being unstoppable.  While both lineage and opportunity may be important, it looks like it’s both things together that make a person great.

Fangs of the Living Dead = Even Adds a Light Offing

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

Many years ago, back when I was working at Wolf Camera, I got several collections of movies, each containing about 9 or 10 movies.  Each had a theme, like science-fiction movies.  One set was called “The Living Dead” and had 9 movies about zombies, vampires and the like.  I figured that most of them would be bad.  Regrettably, I had no idea how bad they could be.

Fangs of the Living Dead starts with Sylvia talking to her soon-to-be husband, Dr. Piero Luciani, and his friend, Max.  She’s just received a letter from her uncle, Count Waldrick, informing her that her mother has died and left her this really plain-looking castle.  She decides to go over to the castle, if only to sign the paperwork and be done with it.  Piero objects, but Sylvia insists that she’s just going over, doing the paperwork stuff and coming right back.

When she gets there, she meets the butler, who informs her that Count Waldrick won’t be available until 10:00 that night.  So she waits.  When he does arrive, he tells his niece about some family history and informs her that she’s to stay and continue the family tradition or something like that.  She refuses, insisting that she’s to marry soon.  He says that all that’s ancient history.  He has her write a letter to her fiancé, informing him that she won’t ever be coming back.

Piero and Max talk it over and decide that Piero’s not taking “get lost” for an answer.  So, they go over to Sylvia’s castle to talk her out of staying.  The doorman says that he’s under strict orders not to let anyone talk to her.  They yell out and even get to see Sylvia who doesn’t talk to them, but doesn’t exactly look like she doesn’t want to, either.

Back at the inn that they’re staying at, Piero and Max try to figure out a way to get Sulvia back.  They meet a local doctor who tells them of the count and his family.  Now, Piero and Max know that they have to do something.  They get into the castle, get into some trouble and finally manage to get out with Sylvia.  They all go back home and presumably live a happy life.  (That is, except for Max, but I don’t want to ruin the end.)

The first thing you notice is that the dubbing isn’t really that good.  It’s not the cheap martial-arts dubbing where people speak way more or way less than their lips would indicate, but it’s fairly obvious if you look at the screen.  At first, I thought that the audio was slightly out of synch, but I soon realized that this was dubbed.

Then again, the film quality is really bad, too.  You know when you went to the movies as a kid to see a film that had been in the theater for about two months and the film quality had suffered greatly?  That’s what this looks like.  I haven’t watched all of the movies in the collection yet, but I suspect that whoever put this together didn’t buy the rights to the best version of all of the movies.  The video and audio are so bad that there has to be a better version out there.

Also, a lot of the people look alike.  The women could almost have been played by one brunette playing all the dark-haired roles and one blond playing all of the light-haired roles.  There’s some differentiation in the men, but there aren’t a whole lot of male roles.  You have Piero, Max, the count and the local doctor.

Speaking of Max, I have to wonder if he was intended to be so funny.  He comes across as a loser meant to provide a few laughs.  He complains that garlic makes his nose “tickle,” but he has no problem walking over to it and picking it up.  He also carries some with him, causing him to sneeze at an inopportune time.  (For the record, I don’t like the word tickle, especially when used about the nose.  This doesn’t really make me like the character.)

Overall, the dialogue is also pretty bad.  Maybe it was lost in translation, but I doubt it.  I think that the translator had to watch the movie and realized that he didn’t really have to try too hard here.  I almost wonder how good the script was in the original version.  I’d like to know mostly because it does detract from the movie.  It’s hard to take the actors seriously when the voices came across so badly.

I don’t really think I’d want to watch it again, even if I did learn the language.  Everything about this movie is so bad that it should be used as an example of what not to do when making a vampire movie.  Even though I like vampire movies, there are some that truly are not worth the DVD that they were burned on.  If you see it on one of the movie channels that you get, I’d only tell you to watch a few minutes just to see how bad it is.  This is another candidate for any bottom-ten lists out there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Ten Worst Films

Note:  This list was originally posted to my Epinions account.  I hear lists are popular, so I decided to repost it here.

George Carlin once pointed out that there’s the world’s worst doctor out there somewhere.  If you took all the doctors that were good enough to get a degree and set up a practice, there’s one that’s quantifiably the worst.  The scary thing, he pointed out, is that said doctor probably has an appointment next Tuesday. Likewise, there are a whole host of movies that were just good enough to get put on film.  There are several that could be considered the worst.  The scary part, in this case, is that I sat down to watch these.

10.  Journey to the Center of Time

This is bad sci-fi.  It’s one of those cases where they were aiming for a time-travel movie where a science experiment goes horribly awry, leading to the scientists being able to do what they wanted, but with limited or no control.  What we have is a movie that went horribly awry, leading the makers being able to do what they wanted, but with limited or no budget.  (Somehow, they wind up in the year 1,000,000 B.C. with dinosaurs.  Didn’t they go extinct long before that?)

9.  Time Guardian

It’s one of those movies where you spend the entire time waiting for something to happen, only to suspect halfway in that you’ve been duped.  You sit and finish the movie only to realize that you were right.  A city is trying to flee some sort of future tyranny.  It looked interesting, but there was little to no story.  There was no reason to care about the characters at all.  It’s like it was a setup for a TV show where they only produced the pilot episode and decided to just release it as a movie.  In retrospect, I’m not even sure what it was supposed to be about.

8.  Winterbeast

There are actual reasons that this movie is so bad, including the fact that several scenes were filmed years before the others.  This has several of the weirdest scenes that I’ve ever seen in a movie.  When I say weird, I’m talking bizarre.  It’s about a poorly animated beast that terrorizes a resort town with a few crazy people in it.  You have to see it to believe it.

7.  Time Changer

Of all the movies that I’ve reviewed on Epinions, this was the only one I couldn’t sit through.  Part of this was that I was watching it with my brother and I didn’t want to subject him to this overtly religious crap, but it seems that I wasn’t the only one.  The message of the movie is that yes, you do have to be a Christian to be a good, moral person.  Not everyone will take to this message.

6.  Star Crystal

This was one of the movies that I found through  This alone should tell you something.  The basic premise is that a bunch of random people narrowly escape an exploding space station only to realize that it will take them a long time to get back to Earth.  It was a stupid movie about stupid people doing stupid things.  That’s all I have to say about that.

5.  The Day Time Ended

You know a movie is bad when you can't even feel good that it ended.  A family bounces around in time before ending up in a presumably utopian future.  It's like someone decided to make a time-travel movie, but that was all the effort they wanted to put into it.  It was weird things happening to weird people in a weird movie.

4.  The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave

This looks like this project started out as two mediocre scripts.  One had to do with a guy that lost his wife and decides to remarry.  The other is about a homicidal maniac.  When the writer realized that he couldn’t make two movies out of it, he decided to make it into one outright crappy movie.  This proves that you can’t merge two less-than-good things and expect something that’s good to come out of it.

3.  Robot Monster

This is where we get into the really crappy movies.  We’re talking movies that make you want your time and/or money back.  The only thing limiting the number of plot holes is the amount of plot we‘re starting with.  An alien comes down and eliminates all but a handful of people easily, then has trouble eliminating the remainder.  Why he can’t do this is not really explained.  It may have to do with the fact that all he does is make vague threats.

2.  Robot Holocaust

This is an example of low budget gone horribly wrong.  It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where robots are common and people aren’t.  (The atmosphere is unbreathable to everyone except those that can breathe it.)  Adding to the insanity is really bad acting, a very thin plot and a budget so low that it apparently limited the retaking of shots, many of which could have desperately used it. 

1.  Future War

This is a prime example of why some movies should never be made.  It sets the standard for low budget.  We have people from the past taken to the future to be used as slaves.  When slaves escape, as they often do, they’re hunted down by teams of cyborgs and dinosaurs.  Add to this the horrible special effects and you have Future War.

Time Changer (2002)

Note:  This is a repost from my Epinions account

Normally, bad reviews don't deter me. In fact, I usually see them as a dare. I want to see the movie that much more just to see how bad it really is. This is one of those cases where I should have read the reviews first. Yes, the movie was that bad and I really would have known not to rent it from NetFlix.

The basic plot is simple. It's 1890 and professor Russell Carlisle has written a book called The Changing Times and he wants the endorsement of the Grace Bible Seminary, where he works. The thing is that it requires a unanimous vote of the board. Dr. Anderson is the sole holdout, having found one line in particular objectionable. Carlisle claims in his book that it's important to be a moral person, even if you don't go to Church. Anderson feels that people need to go to Church, or they will go to hell. It's also necessary to believe, or you'll go to hell.

To prove his point, Anderson sends Carlisle 100+ years into their future, where Carlisle sees a religiously apathetic populace. He finds one person who's moral, yet only attends church on Easter and Christmas. He also finds a little girl that steals his hot dog, but pretends like it's no big deal. When Carlisle confronts her about what she's done, he states that it's wrong to steal. She comes back with, "Says who?"

Here's where the opinions will differ. The problem that I had with the movie was that it had a very strong religious theme, and when I say "very strong," I mean as in having it shoved down your throat. The basic theme of the movie is that you have to believe in Jesus Christ as your savior, or you'll rot in hell for all of eternity. There's absolutely no room for interpretation. In fact, Carlisle says to his students that the only good science is the kind of science that backs up the Bible.

Add to that some marginal (and outright bad) acting and you have a must-miss movie. It actually got so bad that my brother and I couldn't finish watching it. Before I turned it off, I skipped ahead to the ending. Dr. Anderson believed that the End of Days was near. He used his time machine to go ahead in time past our year, but the machine didn't work. It was as if to say that the Earth wasn't around, thus implying that the end was near.

Now, I like the concept of time travel as much as the next guy, but this movie blew chunks, if you'll pardon the expression. The only real problem I had was the religious aspect. I can tolerate some bad acting. I could even tolerate an underlying religious theme, but Time Changer overdid it. In that respect, it's a lot like Fahrenheit 9/11. If you already believe what the movie presents, it's going to be a great movie. If you don't believe what the movie presents, then you probably won't be able to bear it.

This is a one-star movie. I really can't see myself recommending this movie. I really don't know anyone that I think would like it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Saint Nick/Sint (2010)

One of the advantages of rating movies on Netflix is that I get recommendations.  One of the disadvantages of rating movies on Netflix is that I get recommendations from left field.  Saint Nick, a.k.a. Sint, is one such movie.  I think I came across this movie after rating Rare Exports.  Both are foreign films centered around a Santa-like being that you’d be better off not crossing paths with, despite what legend would have us believe.

Saint Nick is a Dutch film that revolves around the legend of Bishop Niklas, who was killed by villagers in 1492.  You see, the villagers didn’t like Old Saint Nick taking their money and kids, so they burned down his boat.  Now, every time a full moon falls on December 5, Saint Nick comes back to wreak havoc on Amsterdam out of revenge.

One such incident occurred in 1968.  A young boy named Goert is sent out to check on some livestock.  On his way back, he realizes that something bad has happened.  He witnesses Saint Nick and his henchmen fleeing, only to discover that his family has been murdered.

Cut to 2010.  Goert is now a police officer bent on catching Saint Nick.  He’s regarded as a bit crazy and told to take some time off.  He can’t very well leave it alone since it’s December 5; he knows that Saint Nick is coming.  It doesn’t help that it’s Sinterklaas, the annual day of celebration where people dress up as Saint Nick and his Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) companions.  Everyone thinks that Old Saint Nick is a jolly old guy.  It‘s in the best interests of authorities to play into this.  But Goert knows better.

Enter Frank, a local teenager who’s preparing for the holiday.  He’s going with some friends to a party, but can’t seem to find his way there despite GPS assistance.  His trip is cut short when Saint Nick shows up and slaughters his friends, ex-girlfriend and several others.  Frank is accused and arrested, despite Frank telling the truth.  Frank and Goert eventually meet.  Goert is resistant to Frank at first, but agrees to let him help when Frank is able to fix his boat’s motor.  It’s up to the two of them to stop evil Saint Nick

I should warn you that this is by no means a movie for children.  Aside from some sexual innuendo, we have very gory violence, very violent gore and suspenseful situations that would easily scare small children.  This is a horror movie above all else.  We get to see Saint Nick with a disfigured face, having been burnt in the beginning of the movie.  The Zwarte Piet aren’t anything to look at, either.  There are many deaths in the movie.  I would definitely keep small children away from this movie.

This isn’t to say that you’ll like it if you’re in to gore.  The main issue I had was the sub-par dubbing.  I watched this mainly because I could get it streaming through Netflix.  Unfortunately, Netflix didn’t give me the option to use subtitles.  (I’m not sure why Netflix subtitles some movies and dubs others.  Wouldn’t it be better to just subtitle everything?)  It’s a little goofy and distracting in some places.  It wasn’t bad enough to where I wanted to turn it off, but I would recommend getting it on DVD so that you have the choice.  (Apparently, the DVD does have subtitles.)

There are other issues with the movie, such as the use of blackface.  Two of Frank’s friends use blackface to dress up as the Zwarte Piet.  From what I’ve read, this is also objectionable in the Netherlands.  Another thing I found objectionable was that there was no attempt to rescue children on the boat.  Goert wants to blow it up, despite audible cries from the children onboard.

Overall, this isn’t a movie I could take seriously.  I’m not sure how much of it had to do with the dubbing and how much of it had to do with the writing.  There was one scene where one character is declared dead, then is able to sit up and speak one more time.  (I’m certain that this isn’t a dubbing error, as someone else makes a gesture to indicate that he’s dead.)

This was also one of those movies where something had to occur at midnight for Saint Nick and Co. to be killed.  At least here, it was explained that Goert would know that everyone was onboard.  Still, I usually find it odd that something has to happen at a particular time for the plan to work.

This apparently isn’t meant to be a movie that makes you think.  It’s supposed to be an action film.  There are problems with math where the time between events changes or doesn’t add up.  (The interval between Saint Nick’s appearances varies from 23 to 48 years, for instance.)  I can’t say that I’d recommend watching it.  It’s one of those sort of bizarre movies that’s not quite good at being bizarre.  It’s just one of those oddities that I happened to come across.  Maybe if someone had cleaned up the script a little and gotten rid of some offensive elements, it could be a good movie.

IMDb page

La Notte Che Evelyn Uscì Dalla Tomba/The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave (1971)

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

Some movies have no business having been made.  Yes, there are a lot of bad movies out there and some at least have some value, even if it’s as fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Then, there are those like The Night Evelyn Came out of the Grave.  It’s a movie so horrible that I really don’t think anyone will mind if I give it one star.

The movie centers around Lord Alan Cunningham.  He lost his wife, Evelyn, several years ago and hasn’t remarried.  He does have a thing for redheaded women.  In fact, he likes to lure them back to his castle.  At first, it looks like he’s interested in sex, but when the women say or do the wrong thing, Alan goes ballistic on them and kills them.  (At least I think he does.  He’s not actually shown killing anyone, although the women go missing.)

The late Evelyn’s brother seems to have nothing better to do than to hang around Alan’s estate and spy on Alan.  This is probably because Alan is paying him off.  All of the brother’s dialogue seems to deal with him knowing the truth about Evelyn’s death or what Alan is doing now or about how he wants more money.

About halfway through the movie, Alan’s good friend and cousin, George Harriman, convinces Alan to remarry, saying that it will bring balance to his life.  So, Alan eventually agrees.  He has his castle fixed up so he can have it ready for someone should she present herself.  Eventually, Alan meets Gladys.  After knowing her for a few hours, he asks her to marry him.  She doesn’t believe him, so they spend the night together.  When he asks again the following morning, she agrees.

They live in the castle, which has just been finished, and hire a bunch of women to wear blond wigs and be their maids.  (I don’t know why they were supposed to be blond, either.)  They throw parties and have guests and do everything a couple is supposed to do.  Alan starts to become unhinged when Gladys reports seeing a redhead roaming around the house.  From there, it’s just a matter of time before a really boring plot to have Alan committed comes to light.  Once the plan is foiled, the movie ends.

Yes, this is a movie that is so long and boring that it even has a long and boring title.  It’s actually as if we have two shorter scripts that couldn’t really go anywhere on their own, so someone got the bright idea to put them together to see what happens.  Alan is going about murdering women.  As soon as he marries, this stops.  There’s no mention of killing anyone or having any homicidal tendencies at all.  Instead, the brother-in-law mysteriously dies and it seems that Evelyn’s body has gone missing.

There are some parts that are downright laughable.  Alan’s last victim is an erotic dancer who’s big thing seems to be blowing out candles.  (Her act lasts all of 30 seconds.)  Yes, there’s nudity, but very little of it is erotic.  (Alan takes his victims to a room filled with torture devices; if you’re not into that, be warned.)

The movie was also very confusing.  It starts with a man running from two other men, apparently trying to escape from a mental institution.  It’s not clear what this has to do with anything.  Also, Alan’s last victim escapes, but doesn’t run very far.  It’s not that she couldn’t.  It’s just that she chooses to stay in a very visible area as if she’s hiding there.  Alan finds and catches her, only to fall asleep.  When he wakes up, he finds that she’s gone.  I’m not even sure if she escaped or not.

Both the acting and the dubbing are very bad.  (The movie was originally released in Italy in 1971.)  None of the characters really inspire any sort of interest.  Looking back, it was like the people translating the movie didn’t have the actual script to work with and had to make a lot of stuff up as they went along.

Video quality is at a low.  This looks like it was transferred from actual reels that were on the verge of deteriorating beyond repair.  There were also points where the tint would go from a bright, normal hue to yellow, then to green and go back to normal, only to go back to a dark yellow.  Whoever was responsible for this may have actually had to patch together several different versions.

There are apparently several different releases.  Mine was the 100-minute version, which was about 90 minutes too long.  It takes a long time to get going.  Once it does, it abruptly changes direction and takes a while to really get going again.  Had I not been so intent on reviewing all 9 movies in the 3-disc set I have, I would have totally skipped this movie.  Avoid it at all costs. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Branded (2012)

One thing I like about Netflix is that I can stream a decent selection of movies.  They may not be the best movies, but I do occasionally find one I like.  While browsing streaming movies, I found Branded.  It looked similar to They Live, which it is.  I figured I’d give it a try and see what they did with the concept.

For those that haven’t heard of either movie, Branded is about Misha, played by Ed Stoppard.  He’s a Russian who knows how to market stuff.  He goes from the employee of a street vendor to working with Bob Gibbons, played by Jeffrey Tambor, advertising American brands in Russia.  Bob is constantly stringing Misha along with the possibility of a promotion which never happens.  When Bob’s niece, Abby, arrives in town, Misha takes a liking to her, despite Bob’s objections.

Meanwhile, various fast-food companies are having trouble staying in business.  They hire a marketing guru (listed on IMDb as Marketing Guru) to turn sales around.  Marketing Guru can do this, but they have to be wiling to go all the way.  One thing leads to another and Misha is working on a reality TV show that’s using modern science to make an overweight woman thinner and more beautiful.  Things go horribly wrong and Misha blames himself.

Unfortunately, so does everyone else. Misha is arrested and Abby is told to leave the country.  He’s released, but he doesn’t feel he can go back to advertising.  Thus, Misha takes to tending cows.  Abby finds her way back to Russia six years later to find Misha and his herd, hoping to convince him to rejoin society.  During this visit, he has a dream that leads him to make a ritual sacrifice of a cow.

Just like Nada finding the glasses in They Live, Misha can now see things as they really are.   This is where the strange blobs on the cover come in.  People have all sorts of blobs attached to them.  The blobs seem to be associated with the various fast-food brands.  Fast Food has taken over and it’s up to Misha to fix that.

Having read about the movie, I was thinking it would all be about Misha fighting the blobs.  Instead, the cow ceremony came about halfway through the movie.  Misha goes through a few ups and downs throughout the story.  I’ve also seen one of the coming attractions, which can be misleading.  The coming attractions would have reinforced my belief in the structure of the story.  I can understand a lot of people feeling misled.

I also caught a hint of a Devil/Jesus dynamic going on between Marketing Guru and Misha.  Marketing Guru wants to lead people astray and give them an unhealthy lifestyle, basically leading them astray.  Misha is essentially crucified by the media, condemned by the police and goes away, only to come back to redeem society.  The two of them have to battle it out for the sake of humanity, or at least Moscow.

I was able to enjoy the movie, but it seemed odd.  It’s hard to say that there was a clear message.  Yes, I get that it’s supposed to be anti-corporate and anti-advertising.  The message didn’t seem to really sink it.  Part of this is that it took so long for Misha to start fighting the corporations.  Also, Misha doesn’t fight Marketing Guru directly.  He’s not fighting a single bad guy.

Instead, he’s trying to pit the various corporations against each other.  It’s not really explained what the creatures are.  We just know that they’re feeding off of humanity somehow and must be stopped.  There didn’t seem to be any sort of emotional connection to Misha and his battle.

I can’t even think of who I’d recommend this movie to.  It would have been interesting, though, to have watched it with someone so that we could have discussed it.  I think more of the movie would have made sense that way.  Even though this isn’t your typical Hollywood movie, I think it would be funny to have this presented on broadcast television sponsored by a fast-food company.

Branded - Trailer

They Live (1988)

Note:  This is a review that I've reposted from my Epinions account.

Sometimes, a premise sounds so ridiculous that I just have to watch the movie. When I came across They Live, I realized that I had found such a movie. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays Nada, a construction worker who drifts into town looking for a job. On the job that he gets, he meets Frank, who’s played by Keith David. Frank leads Nada back to an area with tents that a lot of the homeless people in the area live.

When strange things start happening at a church across the street, Nada becomes curious. He finds several boxes and an elaborate chemistry setup. Frank, who’s far less curious, advises Nada to simply leave things alone. When the church and homeless area are raided, Nada finds himself in a position to do just the opposite. After everything has calmed down, Nada goes back into the church and finds the boxes, which are full of sunglasses.

I know that you’re thinking that sunglasses don’t make for an interesting plot point, but these are no ordinary sunglasses. These sunglasses allow the wearer to see the world as it really is, at least in black and white. Every sign, billboard, magazine or other printed medium bears some subliminal message. Messages range from things like “Obey” and “Submit to authority” to “Marry and reproduce”. To make matters even more interesting, there are aliens living among us.

After a knockdown, drag-out fight, Nada convinces Frank to put on the glasses. The two then manage to find the group that made them, which happens to be a rebel group fighting the aliens. The aliens plan to take over humanity by making us passive. They then use us to mine our own planet. Most of the population is unaware of what’s going on, but there are a select few that are so lulled by the good life that they can be told what’s going on. Somebody has to do something about this and Nada is the man to do it.

This is one of those movies that I probably never would have found out about without the aid of NetFlix. I don’t recall ever hearing about it when it first came out. (Then again, I was only twelve at the time.) This is one of those movies that could have done with a lot more detail. I think that it could survive as a miniseries or even a regular TV series.

Very little is said as to why the aliens are here, other than for our resources and cheap labor. The resistance group was never really built up. Even the ending left something to be desired. The only part of the movie that lasted any length of time was a fight scene between Frank and Nada. (Speaking of which, why was frank so resistant to putting on those glasses?)

Ultimately, this is a three-star movie. Nothing about the movie is spectacular, but it is entertaining for an hour and a half. I’d recommend it to people who are just looking to watch something without thinking about it too much. From what I’ve read, it was supposed to be making fun of our consumer society, but I didn’t get that so much. Yeah, there were a few plot points that seemed to beg us to wake up, so to speak, but overall, the movie just seemed like a movie.

The Day Time Ended (1979)

Note:  This is a review that I'm reposting from my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details, including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading.

There are times when I realize that I have no one to blame but myself.  I blame myself for sitting through this entire movie.  You may want to say to me, “I know you‘re going to rag on this movie, but you have to keep in mind that it was made in 1979.”  I was born in 1976 and somehow, I remember the movies of my childhood being better than this.  Even the movies I hated were better than this.  Even the movies made by people that were smoking something were better than this.  I found this movie through; the guy that runs the site gave it the next-to-worst rating.  That’s how bad it is.

I know it’s odd for me to comment on a movie before I describe it, so let me start in on what passes for a plot.  A family is moving into a house that’s run on solar power.  They built it out in the middle of nowhere, but that doesn’t stop someone from trashing their living room.  (The grandfather blames it on biker hooligans or something.)

It doesn’t take long for strange things to start happening.  Light switches don’t work.  Time passes differently on different parts of the property.  The young girl starts talking to a glowing green pyramid.  That sort of stuff.  Oh, and there are these weird little Dustbuster-like spaceships that start attacking the family.  (Anyone around when this movie was released should know what a Dustbuster is.  The rest of you can look it up on that newfangled Wikipedia.)

As if that weren’t bad enough, the family gets thrown around in time, visiting dinosaurs and stuff.  The family gets split up, but they are reunited later in the movie.  It ends with the family finding some sort of sparkling city of the future, where the family knows that they were destined to live.  Everyone presumably lives happily ever after.

Don’t get me wrong.  The concept could work.  You’d just need a coherent script and some actors that are really in to the whole movie.  Add some decent special effects and you could have something.  Instead, it looks like several scripts were merged into one haphazardly.  Once they found a cheap set to rent, they assembled some cast and crew that had nothing better to do one weekend.

The ending is also kind of lame.  It’s like, “Ok.  It’s all over now!  So glad we’re all safe.”  It’s all buildup and no real climax.  I could see this being the setup for a TV series akin to Buck Rogers where the family has to get used to the future.  Instead, it just ends.  This wreaks of low budget.  It’s like someone had some money left over from another movie and decided to make this.  On the plus side, it only runs for 80 minutes.  Any longer, and you’d start to think that this was some sort of cruel experiment or something.  (“Twenty bucks says the audience can watch five more minutes.”)

If you see this on TV, I’d skip it.  If you’re feeling generous, maybe give it until the next commercial break.  Definitely don’t waste money on this.  The only reason I got it was that I could get it through NetFlix.  (In retrospect, I’m not sure why I gave it priority overt the other 200+ movies I have in my queue.)  This is a one-star movie.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Babysitting isn’t a particularly glorious job.  I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with it.  It’s just not really something most people aspire to be.  It’s the kind of thing that girls do in high school.  Chris would rather be on a date with her boyfriend Mike.  When he cancels at the last minute, she’s left with nothing to do, so she accepts an offer to watch Sara.  Sara’s brother, Brad, is supposed to be over at the house of his friend, Daryl, but Brad has a bit of a crush on Chris, so they both end up staying over at Brad’s place.

Normally a babysitting job would begin and end there.  They’d spend the night watching movies and eating popcorn.  Everyone would be in bed at an appropriate hour.  However, Chris gets a call from her friend, Brenda.  Brenda decided to run away from home, but failed to consider that the cab ride to the bus station would cost everything she had.  She has to call Chris collect to ask for a ride home.

This puts Chris in a difficult position.  She can’t leave her friend at the bus station, which is in a rough area.  She can’t leave the kids home alone, as she was paid to watch them.  She reluctantly agrees to take the kids to the rough area to get her friend, expecting that she’ll get there and back quickly.  That’s where the flat tire comes in.  A friendly tow-truck driver agrees to help, but takes a detour when he finds out that his wife is cheating on him.

The adventure begins when Chris, Brad, Daryl and Sara have to hide in a car to avoid the driver’s gunfire.  The car is being stolen by Joe Gipp.  Rather than let them out in a bad neighborhood, he takes them back to the chop shop where he works.  This doesn’t sit well with his employers.  They manage to escape, but not before Daryl takes an adult magazine that contains important information.  Chris and Co. now have to get the car back, pick up Brenda and get home before the parents do, which isn’t going to be easy, considering that they’ve got some bad people after them.

Much of the humor comes from the fact that something like this would probably never happen.  Even if a friend of yours did get stranded at a bus station, they’d probably have another friend they could call for help.  Even if you did have to pick them up, it probably would go smoothly.  Just take the scene in the blues place.  Chris has to get everyone to safety by singing the blues.  (“Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues.”)

Although I don’t recall watching this movie before, there is some nostalgia.  I’m part of a generation that remembers a time before cell phones.  I remember why forgetting a checkbook was a big deal.  Even if they had roadside assistance back then, they would have had to walk to get to a payphone.  Breaking down on a highway wasn’t good.

There are a few familiar faces.  Elisabeth Shue plays Chris.  (It took me a moment to place her.)  We also get to see Vincent D’Onofrio as the owner of the repair shop, who Sara mistakes for Thor.  (Sara’s a big fan of Thor.)  Also look out for Bradley Whitford as Chris’s boyfriend.

I’d say the movie is safe for teenagers and above.  There is some cursing and name calling and the characters are put in some dangerous situations.  (And, there’s a Playvboy that makes a few appearances.)  You might get nervous with some of the bus-station scenes, but it’s the kind of thing I would feel safe watching with my mother.

IMDb page

Star Crystal = Rascal Tryst

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

There are several signs that a movie is going to be bad.  One of them is when the Internet Movie Database doesn’t even list most of the characters’ names next to the actors.  (I imagine this means that those characters weren’t named by the writer, even for their own reference.)  Another sign is when many of the actors don’t have any other credits to their name.  Both things are true of Star Crystal.

I found Star Crystal through a site called  (That was actually my first clue that this was going to be a stinker.)  The movie is about an alien that gets picked up by an unsuspecting crew while they are inspecting Mars.  (We know it’s Mars because the camera has a red filter on for all of the exterior shots.)   They find what appears to be a rock or something, which they bring aboard.

They scan the rock and find electronics, which is puzzling.  That is, until the rock hatches to produce a slimy little alien and his glowing crystal computer.  We cut to a scene of the crew of the intrepid SC-37 being suffocated.  The computer is warning crew that there’s a malfunction which is causing the oxygen to be depleted.  Alas, it’s too late.  Everyone is pretty much dead.

Several months pass and SC-37 is undergoing some repairs/upgrades at a space station.  Out of the blue, the space station goes critical and explodes.  Five people are either already onboard SC-37 or manage to make it onboard at the last moment.  We have Roger the computer geek, Cal, Dr. Adrian Kimberly, Sherrie Stevens and Lt. Billie Lynn.  Roger, being the only one there that knows how to work the computers, is designated acting captain.  As captain, Roger figures out that waiting for help would take over a year, but they could make it back to Earth if they stop at a series of supply depots.  So they set off, not realizing that the little alien is still on the ship.

Billie, Cal and Sherrie all meet their ends rather quickly, leaving Roger and Adrian to wonder just who this little slime monster thinks he is.  It’s now up to Roger and Adrian to keep the doors locked at all costs.  (The creature can get control of the computer and steer the ship, but can’t open the doors because they still use manual locks.)

In a shocking plot twist, Roger and Adrian go to confront the creature only to find that he’s miraculously learned English by downloading an electronic copy of the Bible.  He identifies himself as Gar and apologizes for killing everyone else.  He claims to have been acting out of fear, which he points out should be totally understandable to humans.  After learning about our culture, he decides to spare the lives of the two remaining humans.

There are several things that stand out about this movie.  Most notable is the very basic sets.  I think that the producers were forced to use a set from another movie and this was the best they could find.  Honestly, who builds a space ship of that size, but forces the crew to use crawl ways to get from room to room?  This is the least accessible ship I’ve ever seen.

Speaking of which, the first crew seemed to be incredibly unaware of the fact that they were losing oxygen.  Any decent spaceship or space station I’ve ever seen has at least one person on the bridge at all times.  Someone should have been there to see the repeated warnings and do something about it.  This almost happens to Roger and Adrian, but Roger gets up and rectifies the situation.

I also think that there were either major cuts to the script before production or the lack of budget forced several key scenes to not be filmed.  In one scene, Roger and Cal are on the bridge, both three sheets to the wind.  There’s no mention of where they got the liquor, exactly what it is or how they’re able to sober up so quickly afterwards.

In another scene, Adrian is telling Roger that Gar is intelligent.  He was able to go through a maze at nine days with skill comparable to a chimpanzee that was several months old.  There’s no other indication that the original crew had any interaction with the creature.  I’m also wondering how it is that Adrian found the reports so easily when those repairing the ship missed the creature altogether.  It’s also curious that Gar didn’t attack the repair crews.  Apparently, Gar will attack you at the drop of a hat.  How is it that the original crew interacted with Gar before he killed them all, then went several months without a single repair person setting him off only to pick off the new crew one by one?

Also, the entire sequence on the space station was strange.  (This is the only space station I’ve seen with actual escalators.)  We have some meeting going on with people trying to decide what to do when the alarms suddenly go off.  I don’t recall any explanation being given.  I think we are supposed to assume that Gar had something to do with it.

The ending is really strange.  We’re treated to a sequence of shots of Gar, Roger and Adrian helping each other.  From what I understood, Gar agreed to spare the lives of Roger and Adrian if they helped him get back to his home planet.  It wasn’t clear to me if Roger and Adrian were being brought back to Earth, being dropped off at a supply depot or being transferred to another ship.  It was very hard to understand Gar.  He sounded like someone with a very bad sore throat who didn’t speak English well.

After all is said and done, Roger and Adrian apparently just turn the ship over to Gar, who is able to make it back to wherever it is he came from.  Yes, I’d be glad to make it back to Earth in one piece, but if an alien monster killed three people that I was sharing a ship with, I don’t think I’d be so quick to throw him the keys to the ship, especially when I don’t own said ship.  I would have liked to see Roger back on Earth having to explain himself to the powers that be as to why he gave a hostile alien a really big ship.

To call this movie sub-par would be an insult to all sub-par movies that came before it.  This was the amateur hour of movies.  After looking around, I have yet to even see cover art that does it justice.  The only reason to see this movie is for the sheer laugh value.  If you’re looking for a movie to pick apart on Epinions, this is your movie.  I’m sure there are even more flaws that I totally missed.  This is one-star material.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Candyman: The David Klein Story

Note:  This is a review that's being reposted from my Epinions account.

One of the nice features of Netflix is that I get to watch a lot of movies streaming.  I don’t have to wait for a DVD to come in the mail; I can just start watching it whenever I want.  One of the movies I might not have otherwise watched is Candyman:  The David Klein Story.  I’ll admit that I never gave much thought to who came up with the idea for the Jelly Belly.  Jelly beans have been around forever.  I had always seen The Herman Goelitz Candy Company on the Jelly Belly packages and figured it was a specialized jelly bean.

The movie starts with David Klein saying that Jelly Belly ruined his life.  It’s a great hook, as far as hooks go.  Is it hyperbole or is he really in ruins?  If so, is it really Jelly Belly’s fault?  The movie starts by showing what Klein did to get the brand started.  He approached Goelitz about making a new, gourmet jelly bean with all sorts of flavors.  It seemed that jelly beans, up to this point, came in only a few flavors.  There was no reason we couldn’t have piña colada or root beer.  It was just a matter of someone coming up with the right formula.

This all started in 1976, the year I was born.  The Herman Goelitz Candy Company came up with the formulations, but David Klein did a lot of the work in terms of getting brand recognition and making sure stores were supplied.  He would go on talk shows, call potential clients and everything.  He also had the trademarks on Jelly Belly.

By 1980, Goelitz realized that they needed to expand.  They felt that they needed control of the entire operation to secure bigger and better loans.  They forcibly bought out what Klein owned for several million dollars.  His biggest mistake was in not getting a lawyer.  (This is odd considering that Klein graduated top of his class from UCLA law.)

It’s not a high-quality film, but it’s a story that needs to be told.  I’m sure there’s a slant in favor of Klein, especially considering that his son, Bert, is listed as one of the producers.  David Klein is shown as being a nice guy.  His son recalls a trip to Disneyland where David Klein bought a batch of balloons and passed most of them out.  He also is shown as renting an ice-cream truck and giving out the ice cream to kids.

It’s one of those stories that has two sides.  Yes, The Herman Goelitz Candy Company came up with the formulation, but Klein did do a lot of work promoting the product.  This was something that he wanted to see happen and he seemed to enjoy doing.  When I told my parents, my father laughed.  My mother felt like that was just business.  It’s sad that a company would take advantage of someone’s kindness.  I can totally believe that something like this would happen.  (Despite what happened, he’s still at it.  He and his daughter both invent candy, many of which were novelty candies.  There are a few that seem like they have a chance of taking off.)

Most of the documentary is David Klein and his son, Bert Klein.  There are other people that David Klein has known, including people he’s helped.  Strangely, there’s also “Weird Al” Yankovic.  I’m not sure what the connection is.  IMDb doesn’t seem to offer any trivia for this title, so I don’t know if he was a friend or if they happened to catch him on the street.

The movie also seems a bit long, especially towards the end.  It runs for about 75 minutes.  I felt like the last 15 were unnecessary, as it seemed like we had covered all of what there was to know.  One other complaint is that David Klein comes off as maybe a little bitter.  He doesn’t seem to care about the money.  Instead, he’d like the recognition for the work he put in.  On that note, I would recommend watching the movie.  I think he does deserve recognition for his contribution.  I don’t think a lot of people know this aspect of Jelly Belly’s history.  I’m not sure I’ll look at Jelly Belly the same way.

Robot Monster = Sob, Tormentor

Note:  This is a review I'm reposting from my Epinions account with a few modifications.

It’s hard to say for certain which movie is the worst.  Many have poor production values but are still entertaining.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 proved that.  Some movies have a good amount of talent and money behind it, yet still fall flat.  Then there are some that have almost nothing going for them.  Robot Monster was just such a movie.

The movie starts with a boy and girl, presumably brother and sister, playing together.  He’s playing alien invaders despite her insistence that they play house.  Finally, they wander off and find two people examining a cave.  That’s when mother comes along and tells her children that it’s nap time, so they go to sleep on their picnic blanket.

For no apparent reason, we get to see some clips of some close-ups of reptiles.  This serves only as a segue to a deserted Earth.  There are only eight surviving humans on the planet, two of which are never seen.  We have the boy and girl from before, their mother, father, older sister and the father’s assistant.  It’s soon explained that Ro-Man has killed everyone as part of an invading force, or so he thinks.

The Great Guidance, Ro-Man’s superior, informs Ro-Man that there are still eight survivors.  (Both characters are played by the same actor wearing a gorilla suit and a diving helmet.  A separate actor also voices both characters.)  It’s up to Ro-Man to hunt down and kill the remaining “hu-mans”.

You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to find and kill eight people, even if they are the last eight people on the planet.  The survivors survived because they all had a serum that was supposed to ward off any sickness.  (The father and his assistant have invented the panacea.)  By dumb luck, Ro-Man happens to be in the same area as the eight survivors.  In fact, the characters often go over to see  Ro-Man, so he could easily walk there.

Of course, the survivors have an electrical device that blocks Ro-Man’s equipment.  He can communicate via magical plastic screens that he can’t put a physical trace on.  Also, all of the survivors leave their little camp at one point, presumably leaving the protection of their device.  Couldn’t Ro-Man see where they left the protective field and at least narrow down where the camp is?  At the very least, he should know which direction they're in.  All Ro-Man does is offer them the chance to surrender or face an “indescribable” death.

Speaking of Ro-Man and The Great Guidance, I don’t think that the guy in the gorilla suit ever talked to the guy doing the voice.  In retrospect, I don’t think he knew that his character even had lines.  All he did was move his arms around in a very humorous way, hoping to look menacing.  His voice was also meant to be menacing, but was laughable at best.

Also, I understand that CGI wasn’t very advanced in the late 50s and you had to have a human play the part, which limits your options.  But a guy in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet?  I’m sure you could find something more menacing to work with.  This was another movie where strings were evident in several places.  (Pay attention to the scene where the two other survivors are supposed taking off in a rocket.)

I understand that Ro-Man has his orders, but the Robot Monster race wants to be rid of humanity because they may pose a threat.  Eight people are not a threat.  Of course, we’re talking about robots, so I suppose that explains why they have to stick to The Plan so closely.  ("There can be no error.")

Another big problem that I figured out early on was the problem of inbreeding.  With eight people left, five of which are already related to each other, you don’t have many mating options.  I’m not saying that they should just give up, but the problem isn’t really even mentioned.  I think it was mentioned that there was a space station, but I wasn’t really clear as to whether or not there were people up there.

What really surprised me is that there’s a 3-D version out there somewhere.  I’m not even sure that it would be worth it except for the bubble machine and the very last scene.  There weren’t many scenes that I felt would have benefited from seeing it in 3-D.

The movie is so lame that I think this qualifies as the lamest that I’ve ever seen.  (When the movie ends, you sit back and think, “Well, yeah.  That would explain it.”)  It’s truly a horribly made movie, but you have to see it to fully understand how horrible it is.  With this movie, a binary ‘Recommended’ option doesn’t quite work.  In the words of Ro-Man, “I cannot, yet I must.  How do you calculate that?” 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Edward H. Julius - Rapid Math: Tricks and Tips, 30 Days to Number Power (book review)

Note:  This is a review that's reposted from my Epinions account with a few minor modifications.

I’ve always been impressed by people that could write thousands of words on a topic when I could only get a few hundred. Many of these people knew a lot about the subject and had a lot to offer. I could only do this when I was reviewing something, such as a game, that required a lot of detail. Math is a subject that I know a lot about, so I’m about to reveal how and why some of the tricks work.

While going through the bookcase recently, I came across this book. My brother bought it many, many years ago. He seemed to like it, but hasn’t used it much since he left for college. The book promises greater calculating speed and over 2,000 practice problems. I figured that I’d take a look through it. Presumably, it’s meant to be done over the course of a month, since the subtitle is "30 days to number power". If you made it all the way to high-school math, the book won’t seem that  impressive.

Each day has two tricks. It starts off with multiplying and dividing with zeros. For example, if you have to multiply 50 by 30, remove the zeroes and multiply 5 by 3 to get 15, then put the two zeroes back to get 1500. That’s an entire trick. The next one is about multiplying and dividing with decimals. It’s the same concept with different powers of ten. You should have mastered this before leaving elementary school. Of course, both of these are on the first day. I don’t imagine that it would be a good idea to throw anything too difficult your way so soon.

Many of the ‘tricks’ could be consolidated. For instance, one trick is how to multiply two numbers that differ by 2. Almost a week later, you learn how to multiply two numbers that differ by 4. Both of these tricks rely on the same principle. Lets say you have two numbers, 31 and 29. According to the book, you multiply by the average of the two numbers and subtract 1, thus getting 899. If you have 32 and 28, you multiply the two numbers and subtract 4, thus getting 896. What the book doesn’t explain is that this works for any two numbers. (For the sake of convenience, it's generally only used for whole numbers that differ by an even number.) The rule is that (x+y)(x-y)=x?-y?. It’s just that the larger the difference between the two numbers, the less convenient it becomes. If you look closely, you’ll notice that this rule comes up several times throughout the book.

Look also at the trick for multiplying by 12. The author says to multiply by ten, then to double the amount so that 38 times 12 should be 380+76, which amounts to 456. The trick for multiplying by 11 is similar. To multiply by 11, take the number, split the digits and put the sum of the digits in the middle, carrying if you have to. 59 times 11 is 509+140, or 649. I have news for you: this is how you usually do math. The author is just pointing out two different cases that are easy to do in your head.

Multiplying a two-digit number by 101 is a similar case, where you just repeat the two-digit number. 48 times 101 becomes 4848. Multiplying by 99 is more of a trick which most people wouldn’t necessarily be able to figure out on their own. Instead of multiplying by 99, you multiply by 100 and subtract 1. 48 times 99 is done by multiplying 48 by 100 to get 4800. You then subtract 48 from 4800 to get 4752.

The author also points out that you can reassemble factors to make multiplying easier. Instead of 2 times 14, you can multiply 2 times 2 times 7, or 4 times 7. This is essentially the same thing as dripping zeroes. 30x50 is like 3x10x5x10, or 3x5x10x10. (It also works great until you hit prime numbers. If you have to multiply 13 by 7, you’ll have to find another way to do it.)

The author presents it in a way that is easy for someone to understand each trick, but the reader might not necessarily understand the underlying principle, and that’s the problem. The trick from the paragraph before last could be used with other numbers or in combination with other tricks. For instance, 48 times 98 would be like 48 times 100 minus twice 48, or 4702. The real lesson to be learned is to notice proximity to an easier number to multiply by.

I would say that if you paid attention in math up until high school, you’ll find about 30% of this book to be stuff that you could have figured out on your own. (I’d say that a person of average mathematical abilities will find at least a few tricks that they already have figured out on their own.) Another 20% will be stuff that will serve no practical purpose. For instance, the book has parlor tricks, which the author admits are nothing more than mathematical curiosities that are meant to amuse people at parties. One will allow you to tell the day of the week for any date in the 20th century.

There are also a few things, like adding large sets of numbers, which will probably still require pencil and paper of most people. On the whole, I’d say that among the 60 tricks in the book, very few of them are of any benefit to me. Many are of great use, but I already know much of the information contained herein. I think that it would have been better to write a book on why these tricks work.