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Martyrs (2008)
Revolting And Anti-human And A Crime Against Humanity
2 September 2009
Practically speaking, "Martyrs" has no redeeming qualities, other than the intensity which the two principal actresses invest in their agonies as they are emotionally and physically violated. Again and again.

Frankly speaking, I am not one to support censorship of the cinema in any real way. However one has to ask, why was this movie ever made ?? Whatever it cost to make was wasted money, as there is not one shred of redemption packed into this horrible horror movie. The mean, bad and evil "witch" character kills herself at the ( almost ) end of what can only be described as the most loathsome and venal film ever lensed. If this is the epitome of French cinema because the cinematography is so good, which it is, then it is time for the French to examine themselves and seek the corruption in their own souls. It is a revolting fiction.

It is anti-human in the most explicit of ways. It is without merits other than the aforementioned cinematography. It is pornography with blood and much suffering and meaningless violence. One supposes that the crew was simply happy to get their paychecks, but this disgusting film will likely leave a stain on their bank accounts forever and ever.

This is a horror movie. It is a horrible movie. It is depraved with a near total indifference to any of the values that civilized people hold dear. The director, the staff, the company are all guilty of crimes against humanity and deserve the opprobrium of any and all film buffs who have even one shred of decency left in themselves. It was worse than mere words can convey, and "Martyrs" speaks only to the depravity and the paucity of imagination of all the principals involved in it.
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Warehouse 13 (2009–2014)
The Warehouse Weaves Its Plots But Does Not Wander
29 August 2009
As a student of both American history and technology, I was naturally excited to begin following "Warehouse 13" with its two-hour Pilot. To this point, with only four episodes to go, I can say with confidence that my expectations have been well and truly met. Having never been a fan of "Friday the 13th" or other, similar, television shows, I began this mini-career of being a Warehouse fanatic with no expectations.

It has definitely succeeded, thus far, in capturing my attention and in transforming me into a "Warehouse fanatic". Yes, I like the irascible but friendly genius which is Artie. Yes, I like the cyberpunk woman child of Claudia. Yes too, I like both Myka and Pete, even if I must agree with some who have found Myka's somewhat dour attitude ( as a character ) to be off-putting. She is definitely the brainiac career woman with emotional baggage, and we-the-fans will have to wait and see if this can carry her as a character for the rest of the season.

Every real and effective fiction has to create and then show how events serve to transform the characters who experience them, and so far, it seems like "Pete" [ Eddie McClintock ] has been growing inside the story lines. "Myka" on the other hand, seems stuck on being stuck up.

Perhaps that is the concept that the series creators wanted to create, and if so, they have done that exactly. After all that has happened in the fiction, Myka still does not seem to want the job, even if she is really very good at it. We know she had a terrible emotional loss, but as fans we are wondering if she can just "get over herself" and soon.

"Duped," the most recent installment, lays that concept out in a most unmistakable fashion. Then again, plot must always require conflict and one senses there will be a resolution to this internal conflict within Myka at some point, probably soon, and if not then definitely inside of Season Two. Good going so far, and therefore this "Warehouse" gets ten stars of ten for every episode, from this fan, or fanatic.
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Warehouse 13: Burnout (2009)
Season 1, Episode 6
Once More With Feeling ( As In Severe Back Pain )
11 August 2009
The creative team behind "Warehouse 13" has consistently sought and attained a very high level of creative fiction, in the writing and the production of this series' episodes. This latest installment, called "Burnout," is no exception, nor is it an exception which proves the rule. The plot revolves around an artifact of great antiquity, dating back perhaps to Babylonian times, and definitely to about 1100 A.D. and the army of the Saracens. Whether the "device" which is pivotal to this storyline is magical or some kind of an organic fluke is left, somewhat, unresolved. And that's really OK, for after all, this is science-fiction and fantasy, not rocket science.

Well, maybe there's a little rocket science tossed in to the mix, every now and then !! And speaking of mix, Allison S. in her role of Claudia Donovan has now become an established -- and most probably quite irreplaceable -- member of the Warehouse 13 team. And that is also really OK.

What makes it OK is that the writers have found subtle ways to use the Claudia character to spark creative thoughts in Artie ( Saul Rubinek ), thus making her into a problem-solver where she was a trouble-maker. This is a brilliant move which adds a nice touch of spice to the grumpy but genial persona which has been created by Rubinek for his role.

And so, again, the creators have introduced a crucial new relationship into the Warehouse mix thus making the team into a new Gang Of Four. The plot for "Burnout" has less comedy and more action than what has been presented in some previous episodes, and yet it seems wholly and completely natural to the storyline. That's another indication of how brilliant and yet subtle this newest SyFy series really is.

Moreover, the creative team condenses all of these relationships which are blooming between the Gang into the forty-odd minutes of actual story time which are alloted. Although there is no sense of the story being adrenaline fueled, it is supercharged, as the pacing is fast and organic to the story itself. And the artifact sought in this most recent episode is one hundred per cent scary, as in panic-inducing.

Some of us are even warming up to Myka, Joanne Kelly, the otherwise stone-cold brainiac Secret Service agent, and that's another plus for the team.
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Warehouse 13: Elements (2009)
Season 1, Episode 5
Development Of Character Is The Key To This Warehouse
5 August 2009
This Warehouse 13 science-fiction is more like a Lotus blossom, than a rose, in that it floats on the water and draws nourishment from the pond of our willingness to believe. Episode by episode, the main characters give up a little more of the back-story, their histories, and we are getting to know them as if they are our friends.

To that point, the addition of the Wild Child -- Claudia, played very well by Allison Scagliotti -- is rather like drawing a trump card in an obscure card game. It is nice to get it but then the question becomes, how does one play that trump card, and when ? The way forward in playing an obscure game of cards is simple: keep playing it and playing it again, as every game that was ever popular has its own rules and therefore its own dynamics. And this is a very dynamic science-fiction series, with its own rules.

In truth, 'getting' this series has required viewing each episode at least twice, and perhaps that is a nuisance to some or many fans of science-fiction, but then this is not some 'cookie cutter' fiction and the investment of time watching has paid handsome dividends so far. My sense is that it will continue to pay those dividends, as these episodes unfurl. Some comments on the show have noted that the actress who plays Myka has managed to get hired on other series which have been canceled. True, her character is not my personal favorite in The Warehouse, but shows get canceled for lots of reasons, and rarely is the performance or lack of performance of one actor in one role the key reason for the failure. Besides that, "Pete" more than makes up for any real or any perceived deficiency in this show's dynamic duo.

In an odd way, the seeming lack of chemistry between the two agents is rather realistic and even charming, as the mysterious Mrs. Frederick is charming, while being both spooky and yet practical. Her best line so far is -- "we are the authorities".

Stick with this fine show, there's more dividends to come.
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Warehouse 13: Resonance (2009)
Season 1, Episode 2
A Promising Beginning And A Smash Follow-up
18 July 2009
As a long standing fan of science fiction films and television shows, there is nothing about "Warehouse 13," so far, to give me pause or make me hesitant in rating it so highly. The pilot episode flowed very well and the hour-length "Resonance" episode was also very satisfactory.

Anyone who has ever worked with brilliant scientists knows that they can sometimes be the most peculiar of people, personality-wise, as they seemingly always have "something else on their minds". The clever way that Artie is presented as being both kind of mellowed by his long tenure at "the Warehouse," and yet still given to bouts of frenzied activity, is another endearing point in this show's favor.

The Myka character is just stuffy enough and just overly rational enough to be very plausible, if rather unlikable. The Pete Fellow was almost instantly recognizable, too, in my humble opinion. He seems to fit the profile of the maverick talent who constantly chafes under the rules and rulership of bureaucrats. He's too brilliant to be 'let go,' and too daring to ever be contained and constrained by "desk duties."

The addition of "the Belski" woman, the female FBI agent, looks like it will prove to be an exciting and maybe unpredictable element in this fine series. As a final plus, there are probably hundreds of thousands of Americans who feel strongly, and believe strongly, that the last one hundred years have indeed seen a lot of amazing technologies developed and some of them suppressed for decades, if not much of the century.

Let us not forget that Hedy Lamarr -- born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in the old Austro-Hungarian empire -- was the co-holder of a patent for an early form of spread spectrum communications technology, a key to modern wireless communication, but originally designed to direct the firing and guiding of torpedoes. This patent was granted and then put into a top secret category, which meant that she kept the rights to it intact, for more than forty years. Our modern cellular telephones use an advanced design based upon that patent ( and other developments ).

So, does the government acquire technologies and marvelous inventions and then sequester them for years, decades, even longer ?? Yes and yes.

To my way of thinking "Warehouse 13" is more about revelations of truth that need to be carried forward now, than about mere fanciful gizmos.

But the cool gizmos are a wonderful part of this excellent new series, and one suspects that there's so much rich material to be sourced, there, that this series could and hopefully will stay fresh and very exciting for however long it runs. Count me as being optimistic.
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Big Stakes (1922)
Bittersweet Western Romance
6 May 2009
This excellent silent western was aired on Turner Classic Movies on the important Mexican holiday of "Cinco de Mayo," or May 5th.

The copy of this film was in very good condition, and the dialogue panels were clear and readable ( mostly ). It was an exciting romp.

Most interesting to see was the interaction between the hero and his lovable sidekick, which has to be an early edition of a theme that so many hundreds of mainstream western tales used in subsequent years.

In some ways the romance elements were subordinate to the villainous threats posed by the local Ku Klux Klan leader, and his Klavern.

All these decades later, most folks know almost nothing about the surge in membership in, and activities of, the K.K.K. in the 1920s. The Klan was re-founded in or about 1915 and by the '20s had surfaced as a most potent and important social and political factor in many parts of the United States. However, it is not clear from the known history of the Klan that their movement had so much presence on the border.

Given the times, this portrayal of Klansmen as being fundamentally evil and hostile was a daring bit of story-telling for the film's authors.

All in all, this was a great window, a 'moving picture window,' on our western heritage with good performances by every member of the cast.
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Going Back In Time Turns Out To Be Time Well Spent
28 March 2009
As usual, seeing this film via TCM or Turner Classic Movies was a most enjoyable experience. The subtext of "Knight ..." is that every known revolution is an entirely messy affair. Entirely.

The story is told in a rather straight-forward fashion and for most fans it will only augment their affection for, or resentment against, the female lead -- Marlene Dietrich. Like certain other stars of the cinema in the 1930s, she is always really just Marlene, take it or leave it alone. It works well in this mad adventure of a Russian Countess who awakes one morning to discover her world has crumbled.

The scene where she is confronted by a mob of revolutionaries, on her own beautifully manicured lawn, and without so much as one member of her staff there to speak up for her, is amazingly effective. It works and it works well in a fairly understated and yet unambiguous way.

Robert Donat, always one of my personal favorites, does yeoman's work.

He's the British secret agent who speaks Russian like a native and is clever enough to adapt to almost any situation. He is brilliant in this role ( and it is understood after the fact that Dietrich insisted that he not be replaced when he suffered a bad asthma attack as the production was just getting under way ).

All these decades later, those of us who are not so conversant with the historical basis of the Russian Revolution will probably be shocked by the casual slaughters that both the Reds, and the Whites indulged in.

There's much to recommend in this fine film and the Russian music that gets salted in here and there is tremendously emotional and workable.

Flat out, I really liked this rickety old movie and I could have used another fifteen minutes of Dietrich and Donat, no problem !! Eight of ten stars for the intrigue and this beguiling romance.
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The Future Of The Future Isn't As Futuristic As It Used To Be
17 March 2009
Generally speaking, films which are set in the future really have to be "futuristic" in some way, shape or form. "The Gene Generation" is offered as being precisely that, but in its emotional impact and effect it is more like a bad dream from the 1930s, except in color. Lots of color.

The first thing the viewer encounters in this bizarre tale of family loyalty and love lost, is the grim cityscape of the anonymous city where everything happens. There's nothing shiny or bright about it.

Perhaps that was an effort by the author and director to 'locate' the viewer or audience in something at least a little bit familiar. Too bad that the cityscape has approximately as much charm as East Berlin in the mid-1950s !! There's trash everywhere, stuff blows around in circles in the ( seemingly ) never-ending wind, and it's always dark.

It rains. It doesn't rain. It rains. That part of the subtext of this otherwise very ambitious movie really is doubly maddening.

People live in high rise apartment buildings where there's running water and plenty of electricity, and gadgets, but nobody to clear the trash from the hallways. Huh ? The street scenes are the same, with futuristic clutter and debris all over the place, except on the sidewalks where the heroine -- Bai Ling, ravishing at forty-two -- is either walking or running.

Transportation in this urban desolation appears to consist only of elevators and floating-on-air 'flying Dutchmen' type sailing ships.

It all looks really, really strange and inevitably that becomes a nasty impediment to the story line itself, which is actually rather good.

The heroine is an anti-hero, a paid assassin with a brother who is a gambling junkie and a self-destructive idiot. Even his best friend and comrade eventually jettisons him, literally turning his back and then walking away. So, yes, there are touching moments in this otherwise ultra-violent and ultra-cynical story of ultra-modern revenge.

It is hard to recommend this movie for the plot, which is so cynical, and so dark and twisted; but, it is hard not to admire the effort in art and in cinema design which went into creating this futuristic urban hell on earth. That part, or parts, are quite amazing. Is this city located on some other planet, one which merely resembles our earth ?

We will most certainly never know the answer to that question.

Seven out of ten mostly for the delectable and dexterous Bai Ling and also for one truly nasty, skulking-around-places gangster-type villain.
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Exit Speed (2008)
Good Licks By A Bunch Of Hicks Out In The Sticks
16 March 2009
"Exit Speed" just became available on DVD via Blockbuster, here in the southern New England area. In looking to get a "two-fer," i.e., rent one and get one free, I picked it up. I think they had two copies, total for this very fine and very exciting 'road warrior' kind of movie.

OK, I must confess to having a Jones for Lea Thompson, who gets a top tier billing in this ultra-violent survival adventure. She was truly so very, very good in "Back To The Future". She does well here, too, as 'a soccer Mom'. She goes from scared stiff to resolute in a big hurry.

If I had anything to complain about, it might be that the author(s) put two of the better characters out of action, as in dead, very early in the story. That was, I think, a modest mistake. The palpable sense of fear and loathing which carries this adventure is truly one of the film's most admirable elements. Some of the best action happens at night but in the way it was all photographed, there's really nothing missing.

There is definitely a fine sub-routine in this film, too, revolving around the moral conundrums facing Good Mom ( Lea Thompson's role as an ultra-yuppie returning from a funeral ), and The Not At All Bad Girl, which is Alice Greczyn as a Vegan illustrator and role-playing archer.

Julie Mond sparkles in this film, for sure, as the Really Really Bad Girl -- who is an Army deserter and Iraq veteran -- and Fred Ward does a great job as a typical Fred Ward character, i.e., long-suffering.

As noted this film is short at 88 minutes but it's worth the rental and it is worth the time and yes, I've watched it twice already. Then again, I am thinking of going for a third viewing ( done ! ), 'cause it is pretty much a deeper film than it seems to be, and so unappreciated.

Eight stars out of ten and I am happy to say there ain't no Zombies !!
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The International (I) (2009)
Just About As Good As Hot Cornbread With Butter And Honey
15 February 2009
"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," about who wrote this new movie, The International, or who directed it, or who changed the lenses, et cetera. This excellent action, adventure and espionage thriller about a carnivorous cabal inside an international financial giant was worth the price of the ticket and then some. It was worth the time it takes to go back and see the film, having been turned away on the first try because The International was sold out !! It was that good.

If you don't like Clive Owen because he was in The Children of Men then you will probably like him in this clever mash-up. If you liked Clive Owen in the aforementioned apocalypticon then stick a high-voltage chocolate bar in your pantaloons and go see The International soonest.

The cinematography is great. The pace is deliberate. The sound is very good and no dialog is lost to random machine noises, as there is not much talking in the amazing shoot-out sequence at the art museum.

There is a legitimate criticism that has been made about this film, which is that Naomi Watts -- who is very talented and very beautiful -- does NOT have enough to do in a very mission-critical role.

That is really just about all the criticism I have read, that I can agree with ....

The plot is excellent. It is easy to follow even if it is highbrow.

The story proceeds logically. No heavy lifting involved, mentally speaking, and most of the dots do get connected by the end of the show.

Bankers handle money, money is about labor, and labor is about the work of our lives. If you cannot grasp those connections then just be happy in knowing that The International is fun to watch. If you can grasp those connections, then you are going to enjoy this film just like a starving man enjoys a full plate of hot cornbread sopping with butter and honey. Cold milk for the drink is optional.
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Thank [ the deity of your choice ] for some eye-candy in this disaster
21 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The original novel by Robert Heinlein is one of the great classics of science-fiction literature, and helped to establish him as being a worthy on the same level as H.G. Wells or Richard Mathieson.

Nothing committed to film ( with or without CGI ), in the three films which were allegedly based on Heinlein's visionary fiction, stack up to that story. The first one was semi-weak and semi-stupid, the second edition of the Troopers was too stupid for school and part three is, well, just laughable and horrible and idiotic.

Laughable. The effects were puny and lacking coherence. Stupid, as in the brilliant people who are supposed to be the Federal administration are all clodhoppers in nice uniforms. Idiotic ?

Me for being such a sucker for anything in science fiction that I paid good money to rent this barking dog with fleas.

If there was a category beyond ( 1 ) on the low end, I'd select it.

At the video store, when I returned the DVD, I told the clerks that next time they could just take my money and NOT TO LET ME WASTE MY TIME on anything this palpably bad, incoherent, and repugnant.

There is one repulsive scene meant to be eye-candy, where the 'new' troopers selected to be matched with the super-armored suits ( a key element in the original fiction, not shown until now ), are placed on a platform buck naked as the suits are 'adapted' to them individually.

It lasts maybe thirty to sixty seconds and is the most contrived scene ever inserted into a science fiction film. It is shameful.

Verhoeven should sue to have his named dis-associated with this crappy excuse for a bugs-vs-human monster movie. He can keep the money, for all I care, but please stop boring us with these disgraceful sequels.
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Although Not Without Defects This Is One Amazing Production
8 July 2008
Seventy-three years have elapsed since this Gold Diggers movie was released, and it is well worth remembering that for many Americans The Great Depression was still fairly well depressing. Two years into the first administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the overall level of unemployment was dropping, but entirely too many people were what we would now call "underemployed." They were working -- like the hotel staff in the fictional resort where all of the events in this movie occur -- "for tips." Not only that, they were required to pay their managers 'a tithe' of whatever they collected. All of that is laid out in the first sequences of this incredible film.

In a very real way, this movie was an employment bonanza all its own.

The extraordinary dancing sequences in "Lullaby Of Broadway" clearly required about a hundred dancers and the musicians: this means that there were also dozens of supporting personnel required for the task of doing rehearsals ( including musicians ). Perhaps it wasn't the best pay-day for most of these people but it was a pay-day in Hollywood.

Busby Berkeley has received many accolades for his work in 42nd Street, which is quite possibly one of the greatest American films ever made. But the energy and style and the enthusiasm which is on display in the dancing routines for "Lullaby" was not faked. Maybe this movie has all the intellectual 'nutrients' of cotton candy and maybe that's a valid criticism, but it was work and honest work at that. This is a greatly entertaining film built out of the flimsiest of dramatic components, yet one thing remains true, it's a hell of an entertaining ride.

The comedic elements were clearly drawn comic-book style, and I do not find that objectionable in the least, for the goofiness of the lead comic actors is still charming all these decades later. OK, it is true that many millions of modern film fans may not have the slightest idea what 'snuff' is -- finely powdered tobacco -- but funny is funny, and the obsession of the screwball expert who is collecting them is still really funny !! If it wasn't funny, then why are 'nerds' still getting laughs in movies today ?? It's the same basic kind of humor.

The rating of 8 for this film does take into account the tissue-thin plot for this second "Gold Diggers" episode, but it remains one of my personal favorites and that is said after having given it several viewings. Look back on this as an historical document. See how people behaved before being constantly tethered to their cell phones, before being obsessed with 'global warming' or the price of gasoline.

Oh, and Gloria Stuart is so incredibly beautiful that she stops the action in almost every scene she's in, as does Wini Shaw's singing.

A great film for a cozy Saturday night, and it is also certified as being 100 % zombie-free.
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Dragon Squad (2005)
This Ain't No "Breaking News" Kind Of Police Drama
1 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"Handsome Guys With Bad Haircuts !!" "Beautiful Girls Without Any Clues !!" "Stupid Gangsters Who Cannot Shoot Straight !!" From Dragon Dynasty comes the Hong Kong gangster drama, "Dragon Heat." For reasons which will probably forever be completely obscured, the production and casting call for this 'criminals-on-steroids' movie somehow got both Maggie Q and Michael Biehn to sign on as villains. But they don't get all that much to do in this horrid slug-fest.

They are two of the best contemporary actors around, each with their own resume' and list of accomplishments, and Biehn in particular has had the courage to take some rather challenging and non-heroic roles.

Maggie Q was the super-bad "Mai" in "Live Free Or Die Hard," so 'nuff said.

Biehn is, of course, famous for being the soldier-from-the-future who made "The Terminator" of 1984 such a believable science-fiction/fantasy romp, by crashing up against Big Arnold, who is now the Governator of California !!

Michael Biehn is almost wholly wasted in this terrible train-wreck of a police drama. There is absolutely no reason for that, as the incredibly convoluted plot -- given mostly in Chinese, as it is a Hong Kong story -- could have been better elaborated for non-Chinese audiences with a foreign narrator.

In other words, if Biehn had been used as something like an Interpol observer or coordinator, or an agent under deep cover, who needs to get some 'splaining given to him every five or ten minutes, that would have been great. But no, he's brought in as a part of an odd group of special forces-type bad guys who seem to be freelancing their own corrupt deal, in the middle of somebody else's totally corrupt deal involving the local king of corrupt deals.

Yes, there, I said it all. Confused ? Me too. "Welcome to the party, pal."

In the truly superb Hong Kong crime drama, known by its English title as "Breaking News," there are also a number of fascinating characters at work, but there is only one story line in the plot.

Bad guys vs. good cops. In this wretched and excessively violent foray into the world of a Hong Kong Triad, or gang, it seems that the hot-shot police force is little more than a parade of ducks in a shooting gallery, the way the criminals mow them down.

So, not surprisingly, there's an almost otherwise incomprehensible scene ( several scenes, in fact ), where kids are trying to shoot wooden ducks in an arcade game, to win stuffed animal prizes. And so the hot shot good-guy police officers quite naturally intervene on their behalf, so that the arcade owner has to give up the Kewpie dolls.

There's also a half-hearted attempt at creating a "love interest" between one of the 'visiting cops' and the sole female 'visiting cop'.

The visiting cops are supposed to be material witnesses against the Triad gangster leader, who gets hijacked on the way to his court appearance, but not by his own team but by the mercenaries ( Biehn, Maggie Q, and some others ). These killers all want something but we don't get to learn about what it is, until the very end of the film !! That was a stupid mistake inside of the overall story.

You cannot build suspense in a crime drama without something to obtain, or get, or get away from, being introduced very early in the story.

Add to that some "cut-away scenes" done for purely artsy effects, all showing the bad-bad guys' and the regular bad guys' recent pasts, and any film buff can readily understand why this barking dog gets a 1 rating from this fan of all things cinematic with criminals and conspirators and Hong Kong.
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The Signal (2007)
Three Cooks In The Kitchen Spoil The Stew
16 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
For Father's Day, my children suggested that we have a nice family dinner and then screen a movie on DVD -- my choice. Unfortunately, my choice was to rent this barking dog of a film. Some of the reviews here gave me the idea that this might be an original, "technocreepy" kind of flick. Brothers and sisters !?! Can I get an "Amen"? No ?? Here's why. "The Signal" is, hands down, the absolute worst film that I've seen in the last twenty-five years. Not since being forced ( by an ex-girl friend ) to sit through "The Model Shop," have I been this repulsed by a so-called entertainment.

This film is flat-out terrible in every important regard. The acting, if there was any, is wooden. We're talking mahogany wooden here.

The blood is plentiful beyond any demand for it, every 'crazy' scene was the same in context, the three fellows who made this barking dog did NOTHING at all original. If you are working on a budget that is so slender you have to borrow your friends' apartments, at least pick some locations where there's enough room to turn around.

This story-line is 100 % nihilistic. There is no redemption for these characters' suffering. That's a plot failure. The best-looking actress in "The Signal" is tortured mercilessly for no apparent reason. That's a moral failure which rests on the three co-creators.

These fellows have committed a crime against humanity itself in the making of this cinematic fiction: the idea of a corrupt signal making people go crazy is hardly new, but they took that interesting premise and built a slaughter-house on it. Shame on them for doing so.

The three fellows who made this film -- I dare not call them gentlemen in any sense of that term -- reveal only one thing to us who are their audience and their market. They have not one ounce of compassion in the text of their story-telling, not one ounce of humanity, and not so much as ONE original thought about how to make a meaningful fiction. What a shameful waste of their time and my money.

So, yes, and "hell yes!!" Shame on all three of them. The foundation for the story -- the appearance of a rogue pattern of interference -- was apparently borrowed or maybe pirated from "Pulse". The cheating wife and her idiot husband was borrowed from somewhere else, like maybe any of a thousand TV movies one can see free on Oxygen or Lifetime.

And as I said, the most interesting character appears in Part Two only, and is then scripted to be brutally assaulted, tortured, and then dispatched. Sickening and vile and pointless.

They could have driven this film almost anywhere, because it is indeed, a character-driven vehicle. They chose to drive it into a dumpster ( quite literally ), and with any luck that is where all of the known DVD copies of "The Signal" will inevitably reside. And not a moment too soon, in my opinion.
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06/05 (2004)
The Triumph Of The Politically Correct Is Anarchy
11 June 2008
First off, let's all admit that this film would probably never had a chance to see a production budget of any kind before September 11th, 2001. Secondly, two of the main characters are westernized Muslims and in the film they drink alcohol, have a sexual affair, and wear regular clothes ( no hijab for the female character ). What all of that means, exactly, is something of a mystery to me.

Third, the story-telling in this film is far better than some of the other comments might indicate. Given that the fine DVD presentation requires the viewer to read subtitles for the parts given in other languages, which is about 98 per cent of the film, it all works real well. In my less-than-humble opinion, of course.

Apparently the Dutch secret service or spy agency does not believe in or perhaps does not need warrants to break into the homes of private citizens, and is not averse to random acts of vandalism, as well.

So, yes, the story is convoluted and to see this film without some basic back-grounding on the politics involved makes it a daunting task. On the other side, the principal actors mostly do a very fine job in their characterizations of real persons. The fact that the film ends without giving the viewer any kind of "in the face" explanation of who really killed the Dutch politician, Pym, does not make the story in any way irrelevant. Nor can any sensible person find anything racist in this intriguing drama. On the contrary, the Netherlands is presented as being a most tolerant place where natives and second-generation immigrants live next to each other and work together quite well.

It's a spy story and a murder story, after all, and it does provoke the viewer to ask ... who really wanted that fellow Pym to be killed ? The colorful, controversial life of Theo van Gogh, who was in life so very central to the creation of this film, is NOT the subject here.

The pacing and the direction were really rather good, and it is not a "slow-paced" film, but it is telling a rather convoluted story. Leading lady Tara Elders does a remarkable turn in a tough role, too, as the Muslim immigrant with a checkered past.

For my dollar two ninety-five, it was worth renting and worth viewing twice. The second time around the intrigue was much easier to grasp.

It is necessary to know something about the recent history of the Netherlands to get the full value of this production.
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Summer Palace (2006)
All Dressed Up And With No Plot To Follow
10 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The only value in this over-hyped movie is in seeing how much China changes as a modern society, from the beginning of the story ( 1987 ), to the end ( 2001 ). The country is truly racing forward in that sense.

The troubled, narcissistic heroine has moments on screen which are really rather touching: but she cannot seem to connect with anyone she meets at the university in Beijing. She is an emotional recluse. What is so galling is that we never, ever, get to have any clues about why she is so alienated from everything in her life. She has been plucked from a village near the border with North Korea and admitted to the very metropolitan Beijing University. She makes friends, so she is not all alone in that giant place.

The only comparison which might resonate with western viewers is to think of a bright young thing from a small town in Montana who finds herself enrolled at the University of Chicago. It's a grand opportunity for her to learn and to excel, and all the leading lady can seem to do is feel depressed about her emotions, and then to "hook up" with an absolute Cad and Bounder. Naturally he charms her and they get into a steamy physical affair which goes absolutely no where.

The leading man is a good actor but he is playing a fellow who is an out and out shark in sexual terms and not even very handsome.

Near the end of this dreadful film, a woman who was friends with the leading lady -- and who has had her own fling with the "hero" -- drops herself off of a tall building in Berlin for no explainable reason at all !! Worse yet, many parts of the film are shot in dark hallways and with poor resolution, it felt like the director was having some kind of a mental black-out. This film cost five bucks to rent on DVD and that was precisely five bucks too many. Skip it, please, if you value your time and your own money.
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A Clever Screwball Comic Take On A Subculture
19 May 2008
Tricia Helfer sparkles nicely in this "Bizarro World" comedy directed by Robert Cuffley. In some ways it hearkens back to the mid-1930s and to some of the great screwball comedies of that era, except with a much harder and daring edge to it. She's an old friend of the bungling ingénue from a hick town ( Lee Lee Sobieski ), who has made a niche for herself in the big bad city by becoming a pro dominatrix.

For those who don't know, being a dominatrix is a lifestyle choice with psychological and sexual overtones, but rarely involving actual sex. It is about psycho-sexual mind games and role-playing, with its own rules and subculture. In all of that, Helfer's characterization and charm seems to be admirably suited for the choice of Celine.

Sobieski takes a brilliant turn as the goofy young friend who simply cannot keep out of her own way. There is in all of this comedic action a dark undercurrent of criminal behavior, as Sobieski's character -- ironically named Alberta -- blunders her way into and out of real trouble where there's real violence done to the real people in her life. She's like a lightning rod in that regard.

The genius of the film lies in how the director and these two superb actresses move the story forward, almost effortlessly, as every time Alberta stumbles into a predicament whatever she does next fails to resolve the problem. It only brings a worse and yet even funnier predicament.

The DVD presentation is terrific and there's just enough of Sobieski's beautiful body shown ( for the right reasons ), to warrant this film having a most sensible R rating. There's just too much sexual role playing in the plot for young teens, and it is not something in the way of entertainment for pre-teen youngsters, at all, period.

Aside from that caveat, this is one goofy, wacky, well-done comedy.

The criminal behavior involved in the plot is diluted somewhat by the hapless nature of the three criminal characters. They are bad hombres for sure but just so darned incompetent that they don't really frighten anyone, all that much ... adults, that is.

They are not misunderstood, it should be noted, these characters -- but they are comically incoherent and impulsive.

So this film ought to and does get seven stars out of ten, with two additional boxes of popcorn tossed in for good measure.
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Power Corps. (2004)
Please Hit Me If I Ever Mention Recon 2020 Again
20 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
What is there to do on a Saturday night when you don't have a date, and the kids are busy at the fair, and you can make your own fresh popcorn ? Rent a science-fiction movie !! Well, duh, that was easy.

OK -- so I am trolling in the big box movie rental joint and the case for this DVD falls on the floor while I am looking at something else.

So I pick it up and read the teaser on the back. So I don't recognize any of the people who are in the movie or who helped make this flick.

That's not always a bad thing. Like, when I first went to see "28 Days Later ..." in the cinema, I did not know anything about it or most of the actors associated with it. Man was that a great evening !! When it came out on DVD I rented it about five times and then finally got the DVD box set as a Christmas present, so in all I have seen that fine film about eleventeen times. In that story, the first fifteen and 1/2 minutes are so strong that it completely cancels out the one or two minutes of wandering angst that follow on.

Every character in "28 Days Later" is unforgettable, even the three Animal Rights radicals who kick off the whole shebang ( including the Finnish guy who's main lines are "oh my God, oh my God" ).

Fifteen minutes into this alleged science-fiction mini-epic, I was so hoping for a thunderstorm with lightning strikes so that I could just get up and go throw up, but no, I had to watch the whole thing.

Hell, I paid actual money to rent this dog, it wasn't a freebie ! My time would have been better spent logging on to some traffic cam network in some distant city and watching the cars go by, or not go by.

It was just that bad, and I do mean incompetent, confusing, badly recorded, badly edited, and did I mention confusing ?? Please help me. Please hit me hard if I ever mention this barking dog of a sci-fi adventure, again. No wonder they changed the name.

Arf Arf.
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The Mist (2007)
Brilliant Acting And Directing, With A Totally Anti-human Ending
8 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
There is no easy way to comment on a film which is as richly endowed with meaning, nuance, and fine performances as is "The Mist." The casting was nearly impeccable. Thomas Jane is absolutely magnificent as the virile, sensible, loving father and hero of this gory tragedy. The construction of the plot and the pace of the story are also nearly impeccable. The performances of the supporting actors in the many scenes of fear, panic, and pandemonium are all excellent.

What is not excellent is the dreadful, abominable, nasty anti-human ending.

The credibility of this "monsters from another reality" story is handled with such detail, and precision, that the nihilist ending which was seemingly tacked on by a total stranger to the production, was in all senses of the word, PAINFUL. Unbelievable. Dastardly, in fact.

Up to the last few minutes of "The Mist" I was ready to give this flick ten out of ten stars, but the savagely inhuman ending scuppered that notion. And I do mean scuppered, as in torpedoed, sunk, lost without a trace in deep water.

What were the producers, the Weinsteins, thinking ? What was Darabount thinking ? The strong, decisive and heroic father decides to execute his friends, the sexy blonde who can barely contain her yearning and desire for him, even as she knows that his wife has been killed by the monsters ? He kills his own son ? It is nonsensical, no, it is worse than nonsensical, it is anti-human.

The character, the action-oriented hero, so brilliantly crafted by the first 9/10ths of the story collapses at the end, just because the car is out of gas and they can still hear the monsters ? What ?? The way "The Mist" ends is an abomination in modern American film, a dreadful conclusion to an otherwise magnificently played monster epic. It cancels out the sacrifices made by the other characters, the ones that the heroic artist inspired with his unflagging courage !! I hate this film, now, and any respect I had for the screenwriter or the legion of producers who worked on it, evaporated with the bloody end of this monstrous monster drama.

The principals who cooked that up should be pilloried or horse-whipped or maybe forced to watch "Legally Blonde" non-stop over a very long, long week-end. It wasn't the King ending, after all, so it was cooked up by the film's 'auteurs'. Shame on them.
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Dreadful Rehash Of Other Plots But Frederic March Is Way Cool
26 February 2008
Sometimes getting up way too early pays a few dividends. I want to say that watching this Frederic March vehicle was one of those dividends, but that would be somewhat inaccurate. I wanted to be paid for watching this film, but no luck there !! March as a performing actor has always been something of a mystery to me as a film aficionado. His abilities have always reminded me some of one of my other favorites from this era, Dick Powell. With March, in a role in a film, there's always the sense that there is something important happening inside his skull, behind his eyes, behind his manners and demeanor. The best parts of this film are those flashes where March does seem to be thinking about something big and yet talking about something small.

This is a film about trying to resolve "class envy" in the 1930s, and in that regard it has a political subtext. Yet that subtext is obscured in the way the film was put together. It's definitely not in the same league with Gable and Colbert in "It Happened One Night." The reason that it isn't, is fairly obvious: after seeing this movie I had to ask myself -- what was their rush to get through this story ? The general plot device of "It Happened ..." was a winner, and it seems evident that with skilled players like March and Eugene Palette, this film could have been a winner, too, as both a comic romp and a socially aware satire. Yet it is evident that these great players were simply not given enough time or the right material to evoke such a satire.

Because there are great flashes of brilliance held in this otherwise dreadful rehash of other plots, I registered a vote of five, for the film. It's not a waste of time at all, for the true film buff, or for the fans of Frederic March and Virginia Bruce and so on ....

Then again, where this film promises a banquet, it only delivers a sandwich, and that's served without the sweet pickles.
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Jericho: Condor (2008)
Season 2, Episode 2
A Full Return To The Moral Questions Of The First Season, With Paranoia Added
20 February 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, "Jericho" is back and in spades !!!

The first episode of the new season was somewhat less than stellar, but I found it to be most worthwhile. In all regards it was really a set up for this second episode, and the second show really delivers !!

Hawkins and Jake Green do take the center of the stage in this episode.

With each passing hour I am more impressed with the nuanced abilities of Lennie James, who plays the FBI/CIA secret operative, Rob Hawkins.

This fellow has the genuine ability to make statements with a shrug, a glance, a coy smile. He is really most impressive.

And I am still sold on Skeet Ulrich as Jake, who in this episode finds a way to subdue his emotions regarding his father's death, and a way to play the 'role' of the new Sheriff in the town.

The ending of this hour is another slam-dunk, too, as the much feared Ravenwood mercenaries are ordered into Jericho ... "to assume control".

The Daniel Benzali character, Valente, is a honcho from Homeland Security, and he is ever so much more creepy and detestable, too.

All in all, this new episode got a well-deserved ten of ten from this fan. Let's hope that with the Writers Guild strike now concluded, the CBS high command will slate another five or ten episodes, 'cause this Jericho thing is ready to really rock the house.

And friends, am I loving Mimi, the IRS agent played by Alicia Coppola, who's now 100 % in love with Stanley Richmond ....
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$50,000 worth of romance
27 September 2007
Once again, the Turner Classic Movies network scores a touchdown for hard-core fans of William Powell !! This film is a depression-era gem and because it features Powell as a good guy who's not above conniving, it works beautifully.

The subtext of the movie -- the ritzy society dame who has an amazing knack for winning at roulette -- fully supports the context, which is what does a smart gentleman do when he's down on his luck ? In this film, Powell acts the part with panache and enthusiasm. He's not too good to take on the kind of almost-X-rated detective work that made "private eyes" synonymous with cads and bounders ....

But his character draws the line at fleecing the society diva played by Margaret Lindsay. In some ways this entertaining "detective fiction" steps way outside the usual social norms, and for that alone it gets a seven out of ten. Powell is amazingly charming in this film, and given the context of his employment, it is a bit of a fantasy scenario.

Like some other films of this specific time period, the fictional treatment of "New York swells" who gamble and win or lose what were then truly fabulous sums of money, was surely part of the appeal to the aforementioned "fantasy." People who were lucky to gross $ 2000 in a year's time, in that time, would have been, perhaps, a bit scandalized by seeing a privileged social butterfly knocking down the "house" for $ 50,000 at the roulette table !! But it made the otherwise fantastic notions of the film ever-so-much more believable.

Powell really sparkles in this movie. He's so very suave and urbane and yet just a little bit of bitterness comes through in the way he uses the dialog his character is given. Almost every time I have seen the whole of a Powell performance from this era, I come away somewhat astounded at the fluid nature of his talent.

"My Man Godfrey" remains my favorite film, of course, in the Powell repertoire but this detective story is both quirky and fantastic and ultimately believable just because Powell carries it all the way through. And yea, the final sequence where he's sprinting up stairs to embrace the lovely socialite -- who proposed marriage to him !! -- is very clever and pleasing. This is a great Powell vehicle and to see it without commercials on TCM was a real pleasure.
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See You In Church As Lombard's Mantra
16 August 2007
Recently my favorite video store acquired this movie on DVD, and I was very hopeful in renting it. As I am a huge fan of William Powell and Carole Lombard in "My Man Godfrey," I was astonished to hear the line "See you in church," dropped casually by Lombard in the middle of this film. That line, of course, appears early on in "My Man Godfrey."

I had always thought that this was a comic device, used for that particular film, but apparently it was something of comic parlance in the 1930s. After all, there is a four year spread between this film and "My Man Godfrey". If it still has resonance now, it must have been doubly meaningful to audiences then.

The plot itself is really thin, with Gable's character "Babe" deciding to marry Lombard's "Connie" on the flip of a coin. I don't know whether that was supposed to be THE COMIC DEVICE of the film or whether it was a throw-away notion coming from the screenwriters. It really doesn't matter much because it ruined the whole notion of the film, which is that Gable's "Babe" doesn't want any attachments of any kind to interfere with his life as a card sharp and cheat.

In the social history context, it is very interesting to see a film which shows men of wealth and status in New York City -- in the third year of the great Depression ( counting 1930, '31, and '32 as the epicenter of that disastrous time ) -- casually gambling away sums of money that would easily have sustained a family of four over an entire year !!

Lombard is an intriguing personality in the history of the American cinema and every one of her performances in the '30s speaks volumes about the genius she had contained within herself. She is so wistfully beautiful and her comic timing is usually impeccable. In this film she plays a woman who thinks she is wasting away in her small town, bored with her "unsteady" boyfriend and bored with her job as a librarian. The point is, however, that she was a young woman with a job in the depths of a depression that savaged the whole of the U.S. economy.

For audiences of that era, her character's decision to toss that safety and security for an "instant marriage" to the rogue "Babe" would have been both scandalous and highly romantic. The fact that Gable's very nefarious alternative lifestyle -- as a card sharp and con man -- nets him a plush apartment and plenty of ready money, doubles the scandalous nature of the plot. The fact that he and his confederates fleece the social class known as "New York Swells" accounts for some of the film's popularity in that time and in that era.

But Gable's "Babe" is not some Robin Hood type in a tuxedo. He and his partners cheat the rich and keep the money for themselves.

They are not progressives, they are not "reformers," they are crooks.

This enjoyable film earns a 5 from me for the supporting cast of actors and from Lombard's extraordinary ease of performance. The plot itself is so near to being utter nonsense that only her luminous and magnetic beauty saves the day for the entire ensemble. Clark Gable was the "good guy" with heartburn in "It Happened One Night," which is a far, far superior film. Here, he is just flat out all criminal with heartburn and no better than the bankers of that day, who foreclosed on homes and farms with nary a thought to the long-term consequences to their customers, to society, or to the health of the country which made them so prosperous to begin with. Seventy-five years later, these nuances are probably lost on people who don't know a lot about our true American history. The formulaic "happy ending" tells me that the producers ran out of story before the actors ran out of charisma or talent.
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The Big Hit (1998)
These Are Not Your Three Kings Or Four Brothers
9 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A little less than two years ago I became a fan of Mark Wahlberg as an actor. That affection for him as an asset has only grown.

He's darned good. It's not that he played a foul-mouthed cop so well in "The Departed," nor that he was good as Charlie Croker in the remake of "The Italian Job." It wasn't 'Boogie Nights" or "Traveller," as I have not seen either of those films. It wasn't his role in "The Perfect Storm" that won me over, either, although that is a smashing good movie.

It was the way he held his own in "Three Kings" with George Clooney, that first impressed me, and then in the revenge-drama "Four Brothers," I came to realize that this fellow has an absolute talent for playing the damaged hero. His acting in that ensemble made the ensemble click. It was pure and driven hatred being expressed by an adopted son for the ( unknown ) killers of his adoptive mother. It was done simply and most brilliantly, without crowding out the other three actors ....

True, seven years elapsed between the champion with the broken heart, that we meet in "Four Brothers", and the cartoon comedy role -- as Smiley -- that he played in "The Big Hit." Maybe he was expected to carry everything himself in this abysmal crime comedy, which isn't really funny at all. Or, just maybe, Laine Kazan and Elliot Gould had more funny lines than were actually included in the film, or whatever -- but it ain't funny.

"The Big Hit" is a big, mangy, slobbering, smelly and disgusting cur.

It represents everything that is wrong with movie-making in the U.S. and therefore Hollywood, and in a real sense it does have one strong and valuable element in it. "The Big Hit" demonstrates exactly how the process of "the degenerate" overtaking "the sublime" in Hollywood has been in motion since the moment this film was given the Green Light.

Whoever took the decision to finance this incredible drivel, deserves to be horse-whipped in a public square. It offends every sensibility of any person with any humanity left intact. It isn't funny and it isn't a cautionary tale wrapped in a fantastic farce, and it isn't anything worth seeing once, much less twice. However, I was suckered into renting it because I do so admire Wahlberg from "Three Kings" and "Four Brothers." I don't know who Ben Ramsey is ( or whether he really wrote all the insidious and villainously bad dialog in "The Big Hit" ), but it seems clear that he didn't get another screenplay sold for four years because he was credited with spawning this devil dog.

I do know how hard it is for good writers to "pop up" in Hollywood, but if he deserves the blame for this toxic 'comedy,' he too should face a public whipping, a dunking or stoning or being force-fed overcooked hot dogs. With no honey mustard.

A vote of one only because negative numbers are not allowed.
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Air Hawks (1935)
Suggestions Of A Secret Weapon Make "Air Hawks" A Lively Fiction
3 July 2007
There is no doubt that "Air Hawks" moves at a rather quick pace, and I suppose it could be classified as a "B" movie by the standards of its day, but the rather formulaic pioneering-aviator plot is enlivened considerably. That's done by the engagement -- by the bad hombres in the competition to Ralph Bellamy's ITL transport company -- of a German accented scientist who has developed an invisible ray to set aircraft engines on fire. What could have been a really dim-witted "mad scientist" movie was short-circuited -- no pun intended -- by keeping the science-fiction element restrained, and by a focus on the personality of Bellamy's character. He's a "Tom Swift" kind of go-getter, but not a goody-goody, and this hero-type had no small appeal to the audiences of the mid-1930s. Love interest Tala Birell ( Natalie Bierl, also known as Talusha ), is also excellent.

Even as the Great Depression was continuing, people in this country continued to hunger for the heroics of air pioneers and other men ( and some women ), who seemed to stand for "can do" as an answer to any question or problem. In that regard, "Air Hawks" gains a large measure of Q or "likability", both for Bellamy and for his erstwhile ally in the newspaper business. In many ways this is more of "a yarn" than a really deep motion picture story, but that's OK, and it works well even now. Seventy-three years have passed since this film was released but the concept wrapped into this movie, that of there being a secret weapon which can bring down an aircraft from a distance without using a rocket or a missile, and without leaving any traces of its use, is an important and intriguing notion. One only has to look back at the destruction of TWA 800, and the controversy surrounding it, or the crash of Swissair 111, to know that the secret weapon concept is not something purely out of the realm of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers.

Fast-paced, well-edited, and with lively performances by all concerned, this "Air Hawks" action / adventure production gets a vote of eight and would have notched a nine if Wiley Post had been given a little something more to do than to say "hello".
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