Saturday, March 28, 2015

Knowing (2009)

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

WARNING:  While I don’t give away specific details, reading this movie may spoil the ending.  If you’re not into that sort of stuff, now’s a good time to stop reading.

There are a few things that make a movie worth watching.  First, you need characters that you can empathize with.  Second, I think it helps if you can come away from a movie with a few questions, or at least caring what happens afterwards.  Knowing provided neither of these for me.  If you’re saying that it’s a bit harsh, you probably haven’t seen the movie.

The movie starts out in the 1950s with a class making drawings for a time capsule.  The assignment is for each child to draw what he or she thinks the world with be like in the future.  When the capsule is opened five decades later, people will be able to compare reality with the children’s predictions.  While most of the kids are drawing rocket ships and lunar bases, one is simply writing out a string of numbers.  The teacher stops her before she can reach the end of the page.

Cut to present day.  Caleb Koestler is a student at the same school.  Each student in his class gets a paper to look at.  Wouldn’t you know it, but Caleb gets the paper filled with numbers.  Against his instructions, he takes the paper home where his father, John, can look at it more closely.  Being that it’s just numbers, John doesn’t think much of it.

It isn’t until he witnesses an accident that John realizes that there’s something to the numbers.  If he breaks the numbers up in to groups, each group has a code giving the date and time of a major accident.  The thing is that the planet is a big place and the time alone doesn’t do much good.  After seeing a GPS unit, he realizes what the remaining numbers in each group represents.

The whole thing is confusing.  How could a little girl 50 years ago give the exact time, latitude and longitude or every major disaster since then, especially given that GPS wasn’t in widespread use back then?  Even knowing what he knows, how is he to stop the few remaining disasters that are predicted?  For that matter, why are there only 2 or 3 more disasters predicted?

It turns out that stopping the disasters is hard to do, especially considering that he lost fifty years because of that darned time capsule.  Yes, there were other children that made predictions, but no one listened to them.  (I guess spitting out a bunch of numbers was a bit too ambiguous.)  It even gets to the point where John has to ask why he was given the predictions if it was so hard to prevent any of them.

The movie is entertaining to a point and that point comes very early in the movie.  After about thirty minutes, I was just watching the movie to see how it ended.  John knows that Armageddon is coming, but how do you stop something that big when you don’t even know how it will happen?  This is where it’s difficult for me to empathize with the characters.  Once you realize that the main character is essentially powerless there’s really no point in caring what happens.

I wanted to see how the movie ended.  The problem was that the more I watched it, the more bizarre it got.  By the end of the movie, it was just like, “Uh… What the f___?”  For someone that doesn’t believe in God, it comes across as a bit too preachy.  It’s the writer’s way of telling us that The End is Near and there’s very little that we can do about it.  When the end finally did come, it left me with very few questions other than, “Why did I watch the whole thing?”

With most movies, I can usually recommend that you watch it if it comes on TV or you can rent it for free.  With this movie, I can honestly say that you’d be wasting your time and money if you got it for free.  I really felt like I wasted two hours of my life.  (At least I got this review out if it.) 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

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

There are a lot of movies that I remember from my childhood to varying degrees.  Some, I remember very well.  Others, I think I remember sort of well.  Young Sherlock Holmes was one of those movies where I remembered a few scenes.  I could remember Watson arriving at a school in the beginning and Holmes leaving at the end.  I could also remember a riddle Holmes had for Watson about the color of a bear.  There was also Holmes hallucinating in a crypt Watson catching Holmes crying twice.  That’s about it.

The movie is about what it would have been like if Holmes and Watson met earlier than they did in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books.  (Doyle never wrote about either character as a child and had them meeting as adults.)  The movie begins with a man having several hallucinations resulting in him jumping from a window to his death.  After the opening credits, an adult Watson is narrating as the young Watson arrives at Brompton Academy.  The one he was attending closed due to insolvency, so he was transferring to the one Holmes is attending.  The two meet and become fast friends.

When another man hallucinates and subsequently dies, Holmes reads the obituary and sees a pattern.  Scotland Yard doesn’t; both were deemed suicides.  The thing is that there’s a cloaked figure that’s shooting poisoned thorns into their necks, so we know someone’s really out to get these people.  When Waxflatter, the former schoolmaster at Brompton, dies the same way, Holmes takes it upon himself to solve the murders with Watson’s help, regardless of what Det. Sgt. Lestrade says.

Much of the material is new, basically using established characters to tell about young versions of those characters.  A lot of movies have been made about Holmes and Watson, a few of them even taking similar liberties.  We get a few in jokes, like Waxflatter telling Holmes that something is elementary.  Watson also buys a pipe, which he eventually gives to Holmes.

I was actually surprised by how much I didn’t remember about the movie.  There were characters and scenes that were entirely unfamiliar to me.  I think that most of the reason that I don’t remember so much of this movie is that I didn’t catch a lot of these references the first time around.  (Holmes mentions his brother by name, which you may miss if you’ve never read the books.)

It’s an interesting story.  There is that family-friendly feel to it.  There are a few fight scenes and very little blood, other than a cut.  Probably the scariest thing for a child would be seeing the men hallucinating.  One sees fire everywhere while another sees a stained-glass knight attacking him.

I was able to get this streaming through Netflix.  It’s one of those movies that you’re not surprised to find out it was released in 1985.  The picture quality is good, but was probably better when it was first released.  I’m not sure how much was lost to age or transfer.  (There was no concept of Blu-Ray back then.  As for transfer, streaming probably requires a good deal of compression anyway.)

One thing I found nice was the CGI, which was much better than I’d expect.  The stained-glass knight looked about as realistic as you could expect walking stained glass to look like.  There was the scene where Waxflatter was attacked.  The CGI there looked a little patchy, but was still pretty good.

I have to admit that my main motivation here was nostalgia.  I don’t remember if I came across it while looking at the selection of movies or if I somehow remembered it and looked to see if it was there.  Either way, if you grew up in the 80s and you have Netflix, it’s worth a watch. 


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Happy Accidents (2000)

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

I suppose that everyone has had their share of strange ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. Ruby Weaver seems to have had more than average. She seems to attract the weirdoes, like a heroine addict and someone with a foot fetish. Then, Sam Deed comes along. He finds Ruby while she’s reading in the park. The two start talking and it almost ends there. The thing is that she leaves her book on the bench; Sam returns it.

He seems like a normal guy from Dubuque, Iowa. He’s got a job as a caregiver for the elderly and doesn’t seem particularly interested in feet or illicit drugs. Ruby’s friends even like him. As time goes by, strange things start cropping up. Sam has no sense of popular music. He also can’t operate a record player to save his life. There’s even a bar code on his arm.

Ruby realizes that Sam may be in need of professional help when Sam starts claiming to be from the future. He claims to be from the year 2470 and even gives a rundown of history. Dubuque in his time will be on the Atlantic Coast. There are also gene dupes and no religion. He also calls asparagus pickles. The more Ruby finds out about Sam, the more she realizes that he’s not what he’s claiming to be.

I found this movie while looking for time-travel movies. Happy Accidents isn’t too heavy on the sci-fi angle. Instead, it’s more on the romance between Sam and Ruby and how they keep almost hitting it off. It’s sort of like K-PAX in that the main focus is on a few characters. As with Prot, you’re constantly wondering if Sam is a little crazy. You think that he may be telling the truth, but something always happens that makes you doubt the whole thing. For instance, Sam seems to have gotten his family pictures out of picture frames.

Those that don’t like time travel might be a little put off by that aspect of the movie, but really shouldn’t be. I think that it was a relatively minor point and actually worked well with Sam being just a little nutty. I think that a lot of science-fiction movies get a bad rap from people that are expecting flying saucers and little green men.

There was a sort of low-budget feel to the movie. It’s not that the scenes were poorly shot or that the acting was bad. In fact, one thing that made me rent it was that Vincent D’Onofrio and Marisa Tomei were in the movie. I think it was just an overall thing. I can’t place my finger on it. That’s not to say that the movie was bad. I thought it was actually very good. I’d actually give it five stars. I just can’t say that it’s for everyone.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Minority Report (2002)

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

Before I start, I should warn you that I’m going to be giving away some details that you might not want to hear. Some of them are gross and some of them are plot details. I’ll also be mentioning where the movie’s name comes from. Read on at your own risk.

It’s 2054 and a special program, known as Precrime, has been in existence for six years. Lamar Burgess, played by Max von Sydow, is precrime’s leader. John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise, is the lead officer. It’s only a trial run in Washington, D.C., but there’s soon going to be a vote on whether or not to take it national. (This is why a federal agent, played by Colin Farrell, comes in to see how everything works.) The results have been great. Murder was cut by 90% initially, and then eliminated. Since most people know of its success, premeditated murders in the D.C. area are rarely predicted. Precrime gets mostly crimes of passion.

The movie opens with Precrime being shown a vision of a man about to kill two people. Three precogs generate the vision. (I’ll explain what a precog is later.) Each one generates their own image and the three images are worked into a composite. All the police have to work with is this image. With enough of a vision, the police can garner clues like a merry-go-round or the style of houses.

The precogs are the result of pregnancies during which the mothers were addicted to drugs. I’m not sure if it’s the nature of the drug or the nature of the treatment that does it to them, but the result is that they can see murders while they sleep. I have no idea why it’s limited to such a violent crime. It would have been just as likely for them to come up with jaywalking or next weeks Lotto numbers. (It was mentioned that the precogs were known to have these violent dreams, but I don’t know if they were referring to all precogs or just the three used by the police. The details of how it worked weren’t mentioned.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve mentioned this in any review on time travel and precognitive ability and other reviewers have mentioned this about this movie. How can the precogs predict a murder and thus allow the police to stop it? The movie gives an example. Anderton rolls a ball down a table. It falls off the edge, but the federal agent catches it before it hits the ground. Was the ball really going to hit the ground?

Sometimes, the police catch the people actually attempting the murder. However, there is some doubt in many of the cases. Sometimes, one precog sees alternate future, thus generating what is called a minority report, hence the name of the movie. (One such minority report plays a big role in the movie.)

The action begins when Anderton starts digging into an old vision. Agatha, the ‘lead’ precog, can’t seem to get the image out of her head. Before Anderton can do much about it, a new crime is predicted. John Anderton’s name comes up as that of the criminal’s. He’s supposed to murder a man he hasn’t met yet and he’s supposed to do it in a part of town he has no business in.

Here’s where it gets confusing. (I’m going to have to tell you part of the plot to explain it as clearly as I can.) The murder that Anderton is supposed to commit is actually a setup. By looking into the old murder that Agatha was replaying, he was going to figure something out. However, on its face, it seems that the course of events leading up to the murder is set in motion by the prediction of the murder itself. Had the prediction not come through, there’s no way of telling if Anderton would have known to look for the person. However, if the murder had been set up and was going to occur, that might have been enough to cause the prediction. It seems as though Anderton’s committing the murder is predicated on him being in a position to see the prediction and to do something about it.

Like I said, it’s confusing. All I can say is that you have to pay attention.

The central question seems to be whether or not you can change the future. Like I said, there is room for two futures to be predicted. Also, the police can stop the murder from happening. How certain is the future?

Another thing to consider is that D.C. seems to have found the perfect system. There is no perfect system. There’s always a way to cheat it or to manipulate it to your advantage. This comes up a few times in the movie.

The movie has a 1984 feel to it. There are retinal scanners and customer databases that keep track of your purchases. There’s a ton of product placement. Futuristic billboards advertise Pepsi and Aquafina. Anderton walks into The Gap to get some clothing for Agatha.

It can be an enjoyable movie if you don’t think about it. If you do think about it, you’ll probably want to watch the movie several times.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Dead Zone Season One

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.  It has been revised slightly.

I remember when I first heard about The Dead Zone airing on the USA Network. I had a vague sense that there was a movie and a book that came before it. I’ve since seen the movie, which came out in 1983 and starred Christopher Walken, but I have yet to read the novel, which was written by Steven King and came out in 1979.

The TV story line follows the life of Johnny Smith. Smith has a great life. He was always getting into accidents playing hockey as a kid. He grew up and started working as a teacher. He was even set to marry his sweetheart. Then, he got in a car accident. The next thing he knows, he’s in a hospital about to receive a sponge bath from a nurse. He grabs her arm and is able to see her daughter in trouble. As in the movie, Johnny Smith has been in a coma for six years. He’s now able to have visions of the past, present, and future. The drawback is that his mother’s dead, the love of his life is married to another man, and he has a son that doesn’t know who his real father is.

The first two episodes of season one follow the first half of the movie closely. Basically, Smith gets in an accident, gains his powers, and has to deal with physical therapy and the fact that he’s missing six years in the episode, “Wheel of Fortune.” In “What it Seems,” Smith helps the local sheriff’s department solve a series of murders. From there, the TV show expands on the story. (At least, the story that I remember in the movie.) For instance, Smith gets to serve on a jury in “Unreasonable Doubt.” In “Netherworld,” Smith has to deal with what life would be like without his powers. (Most series that have someone with supernatural powers have an episode like this. It forces the character to embrace his or her gift.)

The season ends with an episode where a man is running for the United States Senate. You get the impression that there’s more to the man than the spit-and-polished image that he tries to present. When Smith touches him, Smith gets some bad vibes. The end of the first season leaves you with the start of a character that we know is going to be trouble. For those that have seen the movie, this is the TV show’s equivalent of Martin Sheen’s character from the movie. I haven’t rented the second season yet, so I don’t know how this is going to play out. (I rented the first season from Netflix.)

Now for the details. Anthony Michael Hall picks up the role of Johnny Smith from Christopher Walken. In the first part of the season, Hall resembles Walken the most. (Notice the hair.) Chris Bruno takes on the role of Sheriff Bannerman. Sarah Bannerman (Bracknell) is played by Nichole De Boer. (You may remember her from the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.) John L. Adams plays Bruce Lewis, Smith’s physical therapist. David Ogden Stiers has a recurring role as the Reverend Gene Purdy. Kristen Dalton also appears as reporter Dana Bright.

The show doesn’t rely too heavily on Smith’s powers. A lot of the show is about him using his powers to help others, such as a high-school hockey player who may die on the ice. However, Smith also has to deal with the fact that he lost six years of his life. He wasn’t even supposed to wake up at all. His fiancee married another man, although they still have feelings for each other. His mother died and he never had a chance to deal with it first-hand and just now has to mourn her. Then there’s the issue of whether or not he really wants his new-found powers. (Even after he has to deal with losing them, it’s hard having them in an always-on state.)
The first season’s thirteen episodes are split up on four discs. Disc one has episodes 1-3; disc two has episodes 4-6; disc three has episodes 7-9; disc four has episodes 10-13. (As with many shows that go to DVD or VHS, the episodes are arranged by production number as opposed to air date.) There are also behind-the-scenes features on each of the discs. I wasn’t really that interested in them. Mostly, it was stuff on how the show was written and produced and other things that go into the making of the show. It’s good for someone who wants to pick up trivia on the show, but you don’t really have to watch it to appreciate the show. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)

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

Every so often, I have an urge to see a really bad movie. Sometimes, it’s because someone else said that it was bad and I take it sort of like a dare to see that movie. Other times, the movie hasn’t yet been reviewed on Epinions and, in an attempt to gain an entry into the monthly first-review sweepstakes, I find out why it hasn’t been reviewed yet. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes doesn’t really fit into either category.

This movie is every kid’s dream. For reasons that aren’t immediately revealed, tomatoes start attacking and killing people at random. A team is assembled, consisting of the best minds that a limited budget can afford. There’s an Olympic gymnast that defected to the United States, a disguise expert, a SCUBA expert, and a man with a parachute. The team is led by Mr. Mason Dixon, who is charged with the task of figuring out how to stop the tomatoes.

When I finished watching the movie, my initial assessment was that it’s the B-movie equivalent of UHF. The jokes go from silly to politically incorrect. The men have to meet in a very small room. One of the men is Japanese and has the accompanying bad dubbing. There are also a few translation mistakes that might offend some.

There are a lot of silly site gags and one-liners throughout. For instance, the disguise expert’s disguises really aren’t that good. He’s black man, but is able to pass himself off as both Hitler and a tomato. Also, the SCUBA expert walks around in full gear at all times. Also, notice that when a Congressional committee is formed, all of the committee members have the same last name as a former president.

Taken as a movie, it’s pretty bad. It’s one of those movies that are so bad, you have to see it to see just how bad it is. Whatever plot there is exists solely to string the jokes together. The film quality hasn’t stood up to the test of time. (I don’t think that in 1978, the powers that be were planning on putting the movie on DVD.) I do have to admit that the opening theme was pretty good. The acting was also as good as could be expected, although some of the actors haven’t gone on to do much else.

I give the movie one star, but it goes on my list of the best one-star movies ever, right up there with Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe. It’s corny, cheesy and it has “low budget” written all over it. (With one possible exception, I don’t think we ever see a tomato actually kill anyone.) You have to see this movie, just to see how bad it is.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Omega Man (1971)

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

What would you do if you were the last man on Earth? Colonel Robert Neville is a man who is put in that situation. The movie doesn’t go into great detail about what happened, but the world suffered from some sort of disease. Neville just happened to have access to a vaccine that worked, making him the only human left, so far as he knows. The rest of humanity, or at least what he’s seen of it, has been turned into zombies that roam the night and don’t seem to like technology.

Those affected call themselves The Family and are led by Matthias. At night, they come out and attack Neville, who’s the only remaining threat to their continued happiness. Neville spends his days trying to find out where they hide during the day so that he might get rid of them once and for all, thus ensuring his continued safety. He goes through stores for food, clothing and cars, pretty much taking what he wants. He sometimes even pretends that he’s actually talking to someone.

His days are lonely. He uses a tape recorder to take notes, but I can only assume that’s for later reference. He’s been alone for two years, so he can’t honestly expect to find someone else, especially after a methodical search of the city. One day, while looking for some new clothes, he finds someone else that looks human, but he finds out that not everyone was affected by the plague immediately. There are still a few people that haven’t gone over yet, meaning that there is some hope for humanity.

This is actually the second movie based on “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson. The first was Last Man on Earth, which I recently had a chance to watch. I don’t know why, but I like this version better. I think that in part, it’s because the transfer to DVD was better. A larger part is probably that those that went over (The Family, in this case) were better developed.

In Last Man On Earth, those that were affected were no more than zombies. Here, they have a well-organized society of sorts, as violent as that may be. Mostly, The Family wants to be left alone, especially by Neville, who they see as the devil. They hate science, so who better than a medical doctor (especially one who has a cure) to hate?

Because of this, humanity’s destructive nature comes into play more. Let’s face it: we’re getting to the point where something like this could happen. Granted, it’s extremely improbable that everyone would be affected. With six billion people, a few have to have immunity. Still…

Loneliness also plays big. As I said, Neville has had two years to himself. When he finally sees someone else, it’s a big moment. On that note, though, I found it odd that there was no real mention of other cities other than the fact that the disease was worldwide. It was never mentioned if Neville tried to go outside the city limits or call family members. You think that there’d be some mention of something like that. He also never thought to simply leave. Instead of getting out of Dodge, Neville decided to stay and fight Matthias.

I’d give this movie four stars. It’s probably not for children, partly because of some violence, but mostly due to the way that the disease affected people. I think that this movie could make for an interesting TV series. If you’re looking for an interesting movie to watch, I’d recommend this one.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Death Race 2000 (1975)

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

Have you ever been in a car when someone said that hitting a pedestrian would be worth a certain number of points?  It's gotten to the point where it's ubiquitous.  Most people probably don't even know where that came from.  My brother told me that it came from a movie called Death Race 2000.  He recommended that I watch it.

The movie was released in 1975, but takes place in 2000.  The ‘future' is dystopian, not unlike Mad Max or The Running Man.  Society has degenerated to the point where the big sport is racing.  These are no ordinary races.  Yes, speed counts, but if you hit and kill people along the way, you get points.  A woman might be worth 30.  A child might be worth 40.  Elderly are worth 100 points.  (Early in the movie, there's a newscaster going over the scoring system.)

Death Race 2000 chronicles a cross-country race that serves as the big event.  Five teams (one driver and one navigator) are trying to make their way from the East Coast to the West Coast over the course of three days.  Frankenstein, played by David Carradine, is the big name in this sport.  He's survived a lot of crashes and is said to be more machine than man, now.  He has a rivalry with Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, played by Sylvester Stallone.  (Frankenstein is faster, but Machine Gun Joe is better at scoring.)

As you might expect with a dystopian future, there's a resistance that wants to go back to the way things were.  They don't like the senseless killing.  The resistance is led by Thomasina Paine, a direct descendant of Thomas Paine.  (I've never liked it when a movie feminizes a male name that doesn't normally have a feminine counterpart.  In this case, it seemed like it was done just to reference Thomas Paine.)

The plan is to kidnap Frankenstein and have an impersonator deliver a message on national TV.  (It's not hard to get an impersonator since Frankenstein wears a mask in public.)  To facilitate this, the resistance has put an agent in as Frankenstein's navigator.  When the time comes, Frankenstein gets out of the trap and continues with the race.

Much of the violence was ridiculous and gratuitous.  A hospital has a Mercy Killing Day in which they line up several patients that are apparently beyond hope for the contestants to kill.  Since many are elderly, contestants can score several hundred points easily.  (Frankenstein instead chooses to kill some of the hospital staff.)  In another scene, a group of Frankenstein fans has selected one of its members to be killed by their favorite racer.

The special effects aren't that great.  To say that you can't see the strings is being kind.  There are some backdrops that are fairly obvious if you actually look at them.  (Take the scene where the race is starting.)  Also, the cars apparently couldn't go that fast, so there were several scenes where the footage had to be sped up.  In a few cases, it's fairly obvious.

I think most of what makes it so campy is the writing.  There were a lot of cases where it seemed that the writers weren't trying that hard, as in naming the president Mr. President.   Mr. President, being the not-so-nice guy that he is, likes to blame Europeans for everything.  He blames the French for destroying our economy and our telephone system.  Telephone system?  They couldn't say telecommunications system?

The acting wasn't so bad.  Given the rest of the movie, it fit right in.  Carradine and Stallone were the only two names that I recognized.  (For those that are wondering, I was born in 1976, shortly after the movie was released.)  Overall, the movie deserves three stars.  It's not a great movie, but it's worth watching.  If you can rent it, go for it.  I would almost recommend buying it, as it might be the kind of movie you'd want to watch with your friends.