Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

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

When I heard that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was being made into a movie, I was excited. I remember having read the book many, many years ago. (I should probably read it again.) In looking around Netflix, I came across this version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide, which is a release of the miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1981. From what I can recall, it seems to adhere to the book pretty well. However, both the book and the miniseries were based on a radio broadcast.

The story goes that Arthur Dent is about to have his house demolished to make way for a bypass. He only just found out about it when the bulldozers pulled up to demolish the house. While he’s lying there in front of the bulldozer, his friend, Ford Prefect, shows up and informs Arthur that it’s imperative that they go to the local bar for a few drinks. Ford assures Arthur that everything will be all right. While there, Ford informs Arthur that the Earth is about to be destroyed and that Ford is really from a planet in the Betelgeuse system. He’s on Earth to do research for the Hitchhiker’s Guide, but that time is coming to an end.

They hitch a ride on one of the ships sent to destroy the Earth. When they’re discovered, both are thrown out an airlock. You’d think that being thrown out an airlock would be the end of it, but it’s not. The two friends are picked up by The Heart of Gold, which is a ship stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox. (It has to do with the ship’s infinite improbability drive.) It turns out that Zaphod and Arthur have met, although Zaphod didn’t have two heads and three arms at the time. Also on board is Trillian, who was also at the party. Rounding out the group is Marvin, a very depressed robot who thinks that everyone hates him.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could probably have a thousand-word review if I went into the entire plot. It would probably also ruin some of the surprise. The entire miniseries comes in six parts on one disc. I got it from Netflix, so I can’t say anything about packaging. The disc was marked “Vol. 1”, but I couldn’t find any indication of a second disc. I was able to see the entire miniseries, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

Since it’s a miniseries, it was meant to be watched over a period of time. With the exception of the first episode, each one has an introduction that brings you up to speed. I didn’t think it was that bad; each introduction was only a minute or two and I watched the disc over several days.. However, if you’re watching the entire thing in one sitting, it might seem repetitious.

The picture quality is about what you’d expect from a British program in 1981. It’s not perfect, but it’s not terrible. The miniseries makes extensive use of line drawings to illustrate several things contained in the Guide, such as what a Babel Fish is. (The Guide is the origin of the name for Alta Vista’s translation service.)

The acting was good in this miniseries. However, the effects left something to be desired. Zaphod’s third arm looked pretty good, but his second head looked phony. There were several scenes where the second head had to talk; it looked like puppetry. I don’t think that it detracted too much. (I just thought you should know.)

The humor can only be described as a cross between Monty Python and The Far Side, which seems to be the consensus. I can see a lot of people either thinking that it’s hysterical or not getting it at all. Other than Monty Python or The Far Side, I can’t really think of anything to compare it to and even those two suggestions aren’t exact. For instance, Vogons (the race contracted to destroy the Earth) have the third-worst poetry in the universe. We’re even subjected to a little bit of it. It’s the kind of thing that one person might find funny, yet someone else might find annoying.

Personally, I’d give the miniseries four stars. Even though I wasn’t laughing all the way through, it was funny and at least interesting to watch all the way through. If you’re into science fiction, I’d suggest that you at least consider it. And whatever happens, don’t panic.

Monday, February 23, 2015

American History X (1998)

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

What makes a person look at an entire group of people and decide that those people are inferior simply because they belong to a different group? Ed Norton plays Derek Vinyard, a white man who believes that all other races are inferior. When the movie starts, he’s getting out of jail after serving half of a six-year sentence. He murdered three black men when they attempted to steal his car.

Derek is, or at least was, the poster boy for skinheads in his area. Cameron Alexander runs the local group, but uses Derek as his front man to recruit and organize everyone. Derek is good at it. He has that personality that people seem to want to follow.

Then, three black men try to steal his car. Derek kills all three and is arrested moments later. It’s because of this that Derek comes to realize the errors of his ways. When he sees his younger brother, Danny (played by Edward Furlong), following in his footsteps, Derek knows that he has to do something.

While I highly recommend this movie, I can’t say that it’s for everyone. There are a few scenes that are extremely disturbing, which I’ll go into detail about now. If you don’t want to know what those disturbing details are, here’s your warning. One scene involves a prison rape. Another shows Derek killing a man by stepping on his head. While the scenes don’t necessarily show all of the details, there’s no doubt as to what’s going on.

Not everyone will be able to handle this. Had this movie come out a few years prior to its actual release, I think that the full impact of the message would have been lost on me. I don’t think that I would have been able to get past the violence in the movie and the extreme hate that Derek has.

The movie takes a look not necessarily at why racism is wrong, but where Derek went wrong and where Danny is going wrong. There are many scenes, done in black and white, showing everything that led up to Derek’s release from prison and his change. Eventually, Derek has to come to terms with his beliefs and make a choice.

Danny knows the exact moment when Derek started to buy into racism. It’s hard for Danny to change his attitudes, but he eventually also comes to terms with his own attitudes and begins to really look at what’s going on. Take a look at all of the posters and written propaganda that Danny and Derek have in their rooms. They’ve literally surrounded themselves with hate.

This is a five-star movie. I would say that everyone should watch this movie at some point. (Whether or not everyone will watch it or will like it is another story.) You have to watch it with an open mind.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

After Porn Ends = Profane Trends [ After Porn Ends (2012) ]

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

I remember someone on television saying that Monica Lewinski would never be able to get a job after her story broke.  No man would ever be able to go home to his wife and say, “Hey, honey.  You’ll never believe who I just hired.”  There would always be that stigma associated with knowing who she is.  Likewise, actors in the adult-film industry have a hard time transitioning to life afterwards.  You have the recognizably of being in movies with the stigma of showing your body for a living.

After Porn Ends shows several people, both male and female, who have starred in adult films as well as a few other people who can offer opinions.  The documentary starts by showing several actors and what their then-current profession was.  (Examples include stay-at-home mother and artist.)  Each recounts their attempts at a life after pornography.  Some have started families.  Some have tried different careers.

None of the actors have been able to really move on.  Asia Carrera moved to Utah in hopes that the illegality of pornography would afford her some relief.  (It didn’t.  Someone was able to look her up, despite the use of a fake name.)  Another actor was fired after being recognized -- a week before being diagnosed with cancer.  They all have that moment where someone figures out who they are.  Sometimes it ends well, but it usually haunts them.

This is why no one looks at acting in pornography as a legitimate career choice.  Many of the actors, particularly the women, were taken advantage of.  One was approached right after being thrown out of her house.  (The joke is that women strip to put themselves through college, but at least that’s plausible.  No one ever says that about acting in an adult film.)  Randy West points out in the movie that no one wants money from a porn star because of where it came from.

Asia Carrera seems to be the only one of the female stars that had any sort of an option going into it.  She had started college and is even a member of MENSA, although she had to set up a G-rated site for them to link to.  MENSA wouldn’t link to anything with an adult connotation.  Another actor, Tyfanny Million, is now a bounty hunter.  These are the only two female stars that seem to have had a life after leaving the industry.

The movie did seem to drag at points.  About halfway through, I considered turning it off.  I wanted to stick with it to see what else everyone had to say.  Many comment on their experiences working.  (And yes, the movie has sex and nudity.)  Some of the actors loved being paid to have sex on camera while others were numb to it.  Some loved learning everything about how the movies were made while others loved that they could put so little effort into it and still get good money out of it.

I remember coming across a question on a dating site asking if you’d want your kid working on adult films behind the scenes.  When I first saw it, I looked at it as knowing what your kids did even if it meant never seeing them on screen.  Now that I’ve seen this movie, I have a slightly different take on the question.  You may not have the recognition, but there might still be the lingering association.  Also, pornography isn’t something you graduate from.  It’s not like people write dirty movies, then get picked up to write network television.  (I can think of only one adult star that’s made the transition to mainstream acting.)

In some cases, it’s possible to empathize.  It’s possible to think in terms of what might have happened.  In a few cases, they had some idea of what they were getting into.  In others, it was more of a gradual transition from doing something else, like modeling or dancing.  There are varying degrees of regret, but it seems that there aren’t too many happy endings. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hoop Dreams (1994)

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

Hoop Dreams is a movie about two teens in the Chicago area that want to play in the NBA. Their names are Arthur Agee and William Gates. Both have talent and both get offers from a local prep school, St. Joseph’s. Gates is able to get the money to pay for it since he seems to have more talent and does better academically. Agee is kicked out and sent back to a school closer to his house. Ironically, Gates damages his knee and never really recovers while Agee ends up taking his school to the championships. In the end, neither really goes on to the NBA, although both are able to go to college.

I first saw this movie all the way back in 1994 or 1995 when it first came out. It was part of this group event and we were all dragged to see it. I think of all of the people there, I was the one that least resembled a sports fan. I’ve since grown a little more tolerant of sports, but I don’t think I’d be willing to sit through this movie again. It’s three hours in length, which seemed way too excessive at the time. It covered a span of about six years, but I just don’t have the patience to sit through three hours of a narrator saying, “And we see Author trying for a jump shot. His entire athletic career hangs on this one shot…”

Also, the movie ends up coming across as a rich kid/poor kid story, even though both come from the projects and both have a full load of problems. Both have to face insurmountable odds to get to the next level. It’s just a matter of how much they want it and how much effort they’re willing to put into it. I remember feeling no connection to either of them. What really bothered me at the time was how everyone kept saying how this movie was all inspirational and everything. I just didn’t get it.

I think this review represents the problem with movie reviews. Most of how you feel about a movie is going to be based on what you bring to it. Thus, most people are able to accurately judge how they’ll like a movie by the coming attractions and what friends have to say about it. I went into the theater not wanting to see this movie at all. (Even if I had wanted to see it, I probably still wouldn’t have given it more than two stars.) I think that you’ll know whether or not you want to see Hoop Dreams. The best I can do is to boil it down to the points that I think are important.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

F/X2 (1991)

I was going through my Netflix queue when I noticed that FX 2 was no longer going to be available streaming.  I had wanted to watch it, but not desperately enough to get it on DVD.  Since I had a few hours to spare, I decided to watch it.  For those that don’t know, it’s a sequel to 1986’s F/X.  Having been made in 1991, it’s a similarly dated movie, even if it does have one or two neat-looking gadgets.  (And yes, you might want to watch the first movie before seeing this one.)

The movie is set several years after F/X.  Rollie Tyler is no longer in the special-effects business, but not for lack of demand.  After the events of the first movie, Rollie is just as happy to design toys for a living.  He has a girlfriend, Kim.  Kim has a child from a previous marriage.

Mike, her ex, is a police officer who wants Rollie’s help catching a bad guy.  Rollie’s experience with visual trickery could help catch the guy in the act.  Rollie reluctantly agrees.  He knows that nothing is that simple, but Mike knows which buttons to push.  The sting does go south and it’s up to Rollie to figure out how and why.

As with the first movie, much of what I just said takes place in the first twenty or thirty minutes.  Much of the action is Rollie trying to catch the bad guys.  As with many sequels, this is fairly similar to the first.  Rollie wants to find out what really happened.  There is also a danger to Kin and her son.  If he doesn’t do something, any one of them could be next.

If you liked the first movie, you could probably enjoy this one.  It’s fun watching everything unfold.  Much of the movie is seeing what Rollie has up his sleeve.  We get to see Bluey, which is basically a large puppet that’s operated through telemetry.  (Someone else puts on a suit to make the puppet move.)  You know that’s going to come in useful at some point.  And, of course, there’s the fancy fish tank which may or may not make it to the end of the movie in one piece.

I’m not sure that I’d buy the movie separately, but there does appear to be a two-pack and I was able to get it streaming, although I think that’s going to be gone from Netflix by the time I post this review.  This isn’t to say it won’t come back or that it isn’t available elsewhere.  Netflix should also still have the title on DVD.  If  you can get it streaming or rent it from Netflix, go for it.

IMDb page

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Robin Hood (2010)

The story of Robin Hood is one of those tales that’s been retold so many times that only the names and basic story seem the same any more.  You have Robin Loxley (or Robin of Loxley) coming back from the crusades.  There’s a love interest named Maid Marian.  Prince John is usurping King Richard’s power.  There’s also the Sheriff of Nottingham basically making everyone miserable.  Somewhere in there are characters like Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett who help out Robin, who becomes known as Robin Hood for getting on the wrong side of  John and the Sheriff.

In this incarnation, we have Russell Crowe playing Robin Longstride.  He’s coming back to England from the Crusades following King Richard’s death.  Longstride just wants to make it back before news of the King’s death.  On the way back, he comes across Sir Robert Loxley, who’s dying.  Robert makes Robin promise to return his sword to his father, Sir Walter Loxley.

When Robin gets to the family estate, he comes to realize that the Loxley family has seen better days.  John is literally taxing the will to live out of everyone.  Yes, it’s for the war and all, but people are hurting.  To boot, if Sir Walter dies without a son, the family land will revert to the King, leaving Robert’s widow, Marion, with nothing.  Robin assumes Robert’s identity and does what he can to help.  The new King doesn’t take a liking to this, of course.

You can only watch so many interpretations of a story before you get bored with new ones.  This one is at least entertaining and has enough action and new/different plot to keep me interested for 140 minutes.  It goes more into the history and back story of Robin Hood, showing his childhood.  We also get to see Robin trying to negotiate with the new King John instead of just fighting or stealing, but that doesn’t go well.

Robin is a reluctant hero.  He used the Loxley name out of convenience.  He never planned to have the deception go as far as it did.  It isn’t until the end that Robin is declared an outlaw.  This movie is more of a prequel, setting up another movie.  I don’t see anything on IMDb, which could mean that the studio canceled plans or that a sequel hasn’t been started yet.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one eventually.

This would definitely be a good starting point for people who haven’t seen too many Robin Hood movies.  Even for someone who has seen a few, it will probably prove entertaining.  It did seem a little long, although I don’t recall constantly checking the time.  If a sequel does come out, I may or may not watch it depending on the reviews.

Official site (Universal)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Invasion of the Bee Girls/Graveyard Tramps (1973)

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

Normally I like to dedicate at least three paragraphs to a rundown of a movie’s plot.  I don’t know if that’s going to be possible here.  I’ll probably spend more time tearing it apart than I will actually describing it.  The reason is that the movie has such a basic plot and not a very good one at that.

In a nutshell, a scientist is found dead of a heart attack.  The contributing factor was too much sex.  (I know; it’s a heck of a way to go.)  Agent Neil Agar is sent in by the State Department to investigate, only because the scientist in question was working on something for the government.  Dr. Susan Harris, who is running things while the actual head of operations is out of town, may have something to do with it.

You may be thinking that this could make for an interesting movie, especially considering that there’s a lot of gratuitous nudity in it.  After all, the movie starts with two naked people rolling down a hill.  Nudity was about the only thing that the movie had going for it, and even that wasn’t much to speak of.  The movie was released almost 40 years ago.  The film quality isn’t that good, plus the movie has managed to avoid an NC-17 rating.  You get to see a lot of naked people, but it‘s nothing like the quality you can get today.

Agar works with a woman named Julie Zorn.  The two manage to figure out that there’s some sort of insect-type thing going on, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.  How they arrived at this, I don’t know, but they spend a lot of time in a bedroom looking at projector reels of insects and their various mating habits.  (If I was in a room with a woman that attractive, I’d be thinking about mating habits, but not about the mating habits of insects.)

There are also a lot of sexual jokes and innuendo thrown in for good measure.  While several men are talking about the deaths, one comments that it’s not the worst way to go.  There’s also a scene where a scientist is warning people not to have sex.  Since they don’t know about the bee angle yet, he tells the people that incidents of STDs seems to be swelling, much to the amusement of those watching him.

It looks like the movie was supposed to be some sort of horror/mystery/sci-fi movie with a few erotic scenes here and there, but it came across as a bad attempt at getting porn into mainstream theaters.  (This is about the closest thing to porn that I’ll ever get on demand without paying for it.)  The movie only runs 85 minutes, which is actually a good thing.  It drags on for the first 70 minutes, then hurries along to the conclusion in the last 15.

While the acting was at least decent, special effects weren’t that great.  We occasionally got the view from a bee’s perspective, which was just a special filter that looked like a basic attempt at a compound eye.  The bee women also had all-black eyes that looked convincing, but only because overall film quality was pretty bad to begin with.

There were a few fashion points that I noticed.  First, many of the bee women wore these large, ugly sunglasses indoors and out.  I can only imagine that it was to avoid having to use the contact lenses a lot.  I also found it odd that all of the women that Dr. Harris converted were able to get the sunglasses so quickly.  Once a woman becomes one of Dr. Harris’s bee women, they’re often shown with the glasses the next time we see them.

It also looks like many of the women had an aversion to bras.  There was only one occasion where a woman took off her shirt to reveal something other than bare breasts.  I’m not complaining, mind you.  I found many of the women to be attractive.  I just thought it was strange.  (Read: gratuitous.)

This is one of those filler b-movies that Comcast seems to use to pad its selection of free on-demand movies.  I’d only recommend watching this if you can get it for free or very little money.  You’ll also probably want to watch it alone.  This is not a movie I would have wanted to watch with a female relative.  I think I would have wanted to finish it just for the attractive, naked women, but I don’t think I would have admitted it to her.

Note:  The movie was originally released as Invasion of the Bee Girls, but was re-released as Graveyard Tramps.  The original name is more fitting, I’ll admit.  I don’t know why they changed the name.

Overall, two stars. 

Grand Tour: Disaster in Time/Timescape (1992)

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

I was looking at time-travel movies to add to my NetFlix queue. You add one and you get a bunch of recommendations. Before long, I had about twenty or thirty new movies. Grand Tour was one of those movies.

The movie is about a bunch of tourists from the future who are visiting what was then modern-day Earth to witness disasters. Jeff Daniels plays Ben Wilson. He’s a widower with a daughter to look after. Together, they’re renovating a large house and making it into a bed-and-breakfast. The tour group thinks that it’s just perfect. They check in, even though the building is far from completion. (Many of the rooms don’t even have doors.)

The tourists are an odd lot. Talk about a stiff bunch. Many of the tourists aren’t that sociable. The driver found them just standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. He has no clue where they came from or why they insisted on that particular town. However, Wilson starts to get wise to the little time-traveling tour group. The trouble is figuring out exactly what’s going to happen. The tour group is a tight-lipped bunch.

It was an interesting story, but looked just a little hokey, so I kept putting it off. It wasn’t a particularly great movie. It was good in that it concentrated more on the story rather than trying to explain the ins and outs of time travel. One of the characters from the future says that time is more malleable than one would think, but that’s pretty much the depth of the science behind it.

There were some interesting special effects, such as the devices that the tourists use to go through time. They’ve been disguised as passports. To travel through time, all one has to do is stamp the destination using a stamp. (Apparently, any will do.)

The acting was varied. Daniels was good as was George Murdock, who played Judge Caldwell. However, the tourists were just a little too detached. Yes, that’s what the part calls for and it can be difficult. However, it’s just a little strange to see dispassionate people up against a disaster with people in fear.

Grand Disaster gets four stars. The acting wasn’t that big of a deal. What the movie lacks in acting, it makes up for in story and plot. I vaguely recall a similar movie staring Martin Sheen. Grand Disaster was based on a book and it’s possible that the other movie was based on the same book. If anyone knows the title of this movie, please let me know. 

(Note: Since originally writing this review, I've found the title of the movie with Martin Sheen.  It's called The Time Shifters.)