Tag Archives: Movie Reviews

The Last of Shiela (1973) a (very) Belated Review

I saw the clever murder mystery film The Last of Shiela a very long time ago and recalled only one element, the murder of one character (I’ll not say which) but otherwise remembered not much of it. Here’s the film’s trailer:

The Last of Shiela is an interesting curio: It features the only screenplay credits of Stephen Sondheim (known mostly for his work in theater and musicals) and Anthony Perkins (best known as playing Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho). The two were apparently fond of creating murder mystery games they played with their friends and used this to write the screenplay for this film.

The Last of Shiela is a Hollywood dog-eat-dog story through and through, where the “beautiful” people are revealed to be anything but.

The movie opens with the hit and run death of Shiela (Yvonne Romaine) who leaves a party held by her husband Clinton Green (James Coburn, extremely good as a powerful Hollywood broker and oddball) after getting into an argument with him. As she walks around the Hollywood hills, she’s hit and killed and the driver of the car, after seeing what s/he’s done, drives off.

A year later, Green arranges a party with five of his “friends”, frustrated script re-writer Tom (Richard Benjamin) who’s been out of the game and fears he won’t again get any significant work and his rich wife Lee (Joan Hackett), vicious and nympho Hollywood agent Christine (Dyan Cannon), famous and beautiful “it girl” actress Alice (Rachel Welch) who the paparazzi follow and her rough hued -and far less successful- husband Anthony (Ian McShane) she keeps wrapped around her finger, and veteran director Phillip (James Mason), who may have an unhealthy thing for underage girls.

As in the best of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, while they may outwardly look like beautiful people, its all a mask. None of the characters is particularly noble or nice and they accept Green’s party invitation because each of them hopes that by getting close to Green, they may advance their career.

Thing is, the game Green has planned, which involves getting these five isolated and together on his yacht, seems to be a means of revealing which one of them might have been the one to kill his wife Shiela the year before.

The game, eventually, takes a deadly turn.

The Last of Shiela is a fun, at times nasty murder mystery which rewards those who pay attention to the movie’s details.

While I saw the film before, again, I didn’t recall any details except for the murder of one character. I did, as I watched it again, notice one thing early in the film which revealed to me who the murderer was (I’ll not say what!).

If you catch the details, you’ll figure it out too because the movie doesn’t hide any of its clues and, by the end, reveals all.

This is a pretty great Agatha Christie-like murder mystery. For a film that’s nearly fifty years old, it moves well and is a fun watch.

Recommended!

The Snowman (2017) A (Mildly) Belated Review

I vaguely recall there was some excitement regarding the 2017 release of the film The Snowman.

Based on a novel by popular mystery/thriller writer Jo Nesbø, the film featured Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J. K. Simmons, and Val Kilmer. The movie was produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In; Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy).

And yet, when the film was released, it was met with almost universal scorn from critics and Mr. Alfredson went on the acknowledge his film was a failure, even stating that because of budget cuts, he was unable to film some 10% of the script (!).

The film, needless to say, didn’t do too well at the box-office and was soon gone, if not forgotten.

Yet I was intrigued by the stories regarding the film and its final release. It isn’t often that you get what seems for all intents and purposes a very high profile “A” film with a great cast, director, writer, and producer which turns out to be -if the critics are to be believed- a near complete disaster.

Yeah, I was curious to see this film. I had to see for myself.

I’ll start with the good, which I think is pretty apparent from the above trailer: The film looks gorgeous. The snowy Norwegian setting is both beautiful and, when needed, creepy.

And that’s about all that’s good about this film.

This is a fragmented film whose story is at times difficult to follow because we have things happening here and there and often one sequence doesn’t even seem to be related to another. For example, the entire political subplot involving J. K. Simmons amounts to almost nothing in the context of the rest of the film. And Mr. Simmons isn’t even the only recognizable actor to appear in a nothing subplot. Perhaps one of the most head scratching sequence, a very small cameo appearance by Chloë Sevigny, has her play a victim of the serial killer and her twin sister!! Why? To give Ms. Sevigny three minutes of screen time instead of a paltry two?! Because that’s her entire story arc, victim then twin sister who shows up seconds later to say her sister was a good person, and that’s that.

Perhaps the saddest thing to see is Val Kilmer, who at the time was dealing with health issues and who looked, to be blunt, pretty sickly. Every bit of his dialogue was dubbed, quite badly, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he looks alarmingly frail, you’d laugh at the pathetic attempt to dub his lines in.

Michael Fassbender, a usually reliably good actor, is not terrible but is relegated to playing a one note character, your morose, brilliant, yet alcoholic/burnt out protagonist. His character’s alcoholism has him on the outs with the police department but he latches on to a promising young detective (Rebecca Ferguson) who has secrets of her own and is involved in what may be a case involving a serial killer.

Of course, it turns out that they are indeed dealing with a clever serial killer, one with mysterious motives and possibly years of hidden activity.

While the movie is a mess, in the end one does put the pieces together enough to understand the plot they were trying to present. Unfortunately, even with that knowledge one feels the story was underwhelming.

I suspect in the novel the movie was based on the many weird characters and scenes that seemed to go nowhere mattered a lot more than they do on screen. By the time we reach the movie’s climax and the serial killer is revealed, he turns out to be pretty much who we thought and afterwards wonder why he bothered with many of the actions he took.

As I said before, based on the stories I read about The Snowman, I couldn’t not see it. The curiosity alone made it irresistible.

But the movie is every bit as disjointed and disappointing as the critics said, with the only redeeming element being the wonderful cinematography and winter setting.

Too bad.

The Equalizer 2 (2018) a (Mildly) Belated Review

Back in 2014 Denzel Washington starred in a remake/reworking of The Equalizer TV show starring Edward Woodward which ran from 1985 through 1989. Here’s a bit of the TV show, for those unfamiliar with it…

I was a fan of the original TV series which was basically a clever variation on James Bond… had the venerable agent grown older and retired to New York and decided to continue helping people who needed his “unique” skills.

When the Denzel Washington film came out, I reviewed it (you can read my review of it here) and I thought it was an “ok” film. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination but neither did I feel it was particularly memorable.

I also questioned why the film was made as a remake of that particular show. To wit: Why take away the one thing that made the TV show so unique, the idea of an elderly James Bond type in New York, and get rid of that completely by having Denzel Washington play an agent who others thought was dead but, through the course of this original movie, ends up where the Edward Woodward show began, with him offering his “unique” services to those in need. Only he wasn’t a “fish out of water” James Bond in a New York milieu.

When The Equalizer 2, the sequel to this film, was released in 2018, I didn’t really care to see it. Again, I didn’t hate the original movie but I was leery of the changes made to the original concept and didn’t feel particularly compelled to go watch the sequel.

A couple years passed and the film showed up on a cable channel and, for the heck of it, I DVRed it. It sat there for a few months and yesterday, for the heck of it, I decided to give it a try.

Though my expectations were low, I found the opening hour or so of the film quite interesting: It took its time to establish the various characters and their situation(s), drawing me as a viewer in to the world of Robert McCall (Denzel Washington, natch) and the machinations that ultimately lead to him having to deal with a group of killers… a group of which he was once a part of.

I don’t want to get into SPOILERS and I won’t, but it was refreshing to see this opening and to see director Antoine Fuqua, who directed the original film, take his time showing us the various characters who play a role in the story to come.

However, as good as it was in the early going, it felt like this went on a little longer than it should have. Still, once the pieces were set and the action really started, it was interesting and tense, even if I would also say it wasn’t necessarily spectacular.

The best part of the film, IMHO, was the way it presented the idea of a hurricane -yes, the weather system- slowly coming in, scene by scene. I really like the way that the weather deteriorates subtly as the movie goes along, symbolically showing the fury of McCall building. Once we reach the climax, the hurricane -and McCall’s fury- is quite literally all around us. We see McCall at his deadliest against the bad guys as the full force of the hurricane buffets them.

…but…

The bad guys, like in the original film, are unfortunately once again not all that well defined. I practically moaned when their leader explained his evil actions with the cliched “we worked for X so and so number of years and then they just put us out to pasture… we’re not going to let them!”

…but still…

Despite this I enjoyed this movie. In fact, I’d say it was far better than the original Equalizer. While it may not be the best action/adventure film evah, its kinda nice to see one with a lot of thought behind its story and structure and a not insignificant amount of heart.

While The Equalizer 2 does not reinvent the wheel and I’m still not sold on the idea of re-doing a TV show while removing almost everything that made it unique, if you’ve got a free evening with nothing much to do, spending a bit of time with The Equalizer 2 is far from the worst thing you could do.

Recommended.

Tenet (2020) a (Very Mildly) Belated Review

I watched the film yesterday and, honestly, it feels like maybe I should wait until I see it again before offering a review.

However, given the film runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, I don’t know when I’ll get that chance. Besides, I think I got most of what the film was about but will acknowledge it is quite deep and it does, like the best of director/writer Christopher Nolan features, ask the audience to think and not just passively watch what goes on screen.

Having said all that, the film is essentially a James Bond movie -specifically the 1965 film Thunderball– mixed with time travel elements.

Indeed, as the hours passed following seeing the movie, the more and more I realized the movie’s basic plot was indeed a variation of Thunderball. Just for the hell of it, here’s the trailer to that film:

While not one of the best of the Sean Connery Bond films and perhaps the first one (it was the fourth made) to start showing a little wear on the whole Bond formula, Thunderball nonetheless is an entertaining large scale Bond film involving the theft of a nuclear device and Bond’s attempts to get it back before its used to start a nuclear war… and possible Armageddon.

The film’s villain, Largo, is essentially duplicated in Tenet’s Sator (played with menace -and an at times silly Russian accent, by the very British Kenneth Branagh). Sator, like Largo, is very rich and spends plenty of time on his very large and luxurious yacht. Like in Thunderball, Sator is intent on getting a device which could spell the end of the world, only in his case its something that affects time itself.

The movie features John David Washington as “Protagonist”, a no-name hero who, after showing he’s willing to die for his the right cause, is “recruited” into a shadowy world where time is fluid and can run backwards. The fate of humanity is on the line, and with the help of his right hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson in a sorta/kinda Felix Leiter role), they navigate the current situation and devise a way to stop Sator from ending the world.

To do this, they have to go through his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki, quite good) who is being held on a leash by Sator and suffers greatly from this.

The movie certainly has a Inception-like quality along with its James Bond theme, and there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t enjoying myself.

However, after the film was finished, there were certain problems with the plot that, at least for me, reared their head. Sadly, when you deal with time travel, especially where various characters are able to do so at will, one begins to wonder why the hero or villain don’t just go “back” to where they can fix things so they succeed and their nemesis fails.

I don’t want to get into SPOILERS, but this is increasingly the case toward the film’s ending. While Mr. Nolan tries to explain away these discrepancies with talk of the Grandfather paradox and fate and history being “set”, the reality is that until time travel is a reality, there is no reason to think we can’t go in time and “reset” the past.

The Grandfather paradox, for example, involves the idea that if we can travel back in time and kill our Grandfather before he conceives one’s father, how is it possible for you (the grandson/daughter) to even exist to go back in time to then kill your Grandfather? Wouldn’t you cease to exist if you were to kill your Grandfather before your father/mother was conceived? But then how did you exist to be able to go and possibly do this to your Grandfather?

It’s a philosophical question, one which has no answer, but I would argue that if time travel were possible (which is an open question, to say the least!) then the idea of multiverses and alternate timelines has to be considered. Thus, you could kill your Grandfather which would change the timeline and mean you now come from a timeline where your Grandfather lived but now, in this new one, the lineage stops yet you can theoretically continue to exist.

I know I’m probably botching the explanation, but its the best I can do off the top of my head.

So, if i do believe that timelines can change, I obviously believe that nothing is set in stone once you move from one time to another. You therefore can murder Adolf Hitler as a baby and, while WWII could still happen, it will do so without Hitler’s presence.

Similarly, some of the things which happen toward the end of Tenet, to my mind, don’t have to happen the way they do. We could simply go back to other points in time to resolve or screw them up worse!

As I said, Nolan movies sure can make you think.

Overall, Tenet is an easy recommendation, a film that borrows the best of James Bond and marries it with some brain twisting time travel. It moves like lightning and is filled with surprises and big set pieces.

Yeah, an easy recommendation.

The Hunted (2003) a (very) Belated Review

Weird how things work out, no? A few days ago I reviewed a film called The Hunt (you can read it here) and yesterday I catch the William Friedkin directed, Tommy Lee Jones, Benecio Del Toro, and Connie Nielsen starring 2003 film The Hunted.

Other than the fact that we do have a person “hunting” -and being hunted!- by another person, these films have very little else in common. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Those familiar with director William Friedkin no doubt are familiar with his two best known films, The Exorcist and The French Connection. Those who are really familiar with him know he made two other pretty damn good films beyond those, Sorcerer and To Live and Die In L.A.

But, like just about any creative soul out there, there are hits and there are misses and Mr. Friedkin has certainly had a few films that are simply not up to the caliber of those I mention above.

I would put The Hunted on that list but would quickly add that just because it doesn’t quite reach the level of “prime” William Friedkin doesn’t mean the film is bad.

In fact, I mostly enjoyed The Hunted for what it was, a for the most part straightforward action film which pits Mr. Jones and Mr. Del Toro’s characters against each other.

The plot goes like this: Aaron Hallman (Benecio Del Toro) was trained along with many other U.S. military men by L. T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) to be a merciless, shadowy killer. He does his job only too well but in the hellish conditions of the Serbian war, he cracks.

Stateside, he brutally kills two hunters and the F.B.I., including agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen), contact the now retired Bonham to help them hunt and capture the man responsible for these killings. They don’t know it, but Bonham recognizes the characteristics of the kill and suspects the person responsible is one of his trainees.

Bonham is an interesting character. He claims to have never fired a weapon (and, indeed, in the movie he never does) and while he trained people in how to kill, he himself claims to have never actually done so. Further, he now lives in a remote mountain cabin and appears uninterested in harming anyone or any animal (he helps one early on) despite the fact that he possesses the knowledge and skills to do so.

Though reluctant to join the F.B.I., Bonham does so and soon confirms the killer is one of “his”. He tells the F.B.I. to stand back and goes on the hunt for the killer, soon coming face to face with him.

I don’t want to get into spoilers here, so I won’t discuss more of the plot but it is very straightforward as I said above. Unlike some of the better Friedkin works, this one doesn’t have layers of meaning below the surface. The movie essentially plays out like a variation of the first Rambo film, First Blood, only the “bad” guy in this case is the one with the PTSD.

The action is for the most part well done but toward the film’s climax things got a little wonky. It seemed like there were scenes missing here and there. For example, one sequence has Bonham jumping on a train and in the background you can clearly see the police with drawn guns moving toward the train, yet at no point before that moment are they behind the train! Further, when Bonham heads out for the final confrontation between himself and Hallman, there are odd sequences interspersed, of the F.B.I. flying around the general area (it seems very unlikely these two wouldn’t notice helicopters near them) and the way Bonham tracks Hellman also seems a little disjointed. Further, it strains credulity that both Bonham and Hellman have the time -and are not bothered!- while they create weapons to fight each other. This is particularly silly in the case of Hellman’s weapon… I’ll say no more!

Still, as I said before, the film is for the most part an entertaining if not extraordinary action film which benefits from the charisma of the leads.

Not spectacular, but recommended nonetheless.

The Hunt (2019), a (Mildly) Belated Review

Back in 2019 the movie The Hunt was scheduled to be released but, after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Universal Studios decided to pause the release of the film (you can read about that here).

Before that happened, I wrote about the film and its original trailer, which I felt gave away pretty much the total story of the film (you can read the original article here, but beware that some of the embedded material, including that original trailer, were taken down).

If you go to that original article, I go into what this movie obviously is: Another riff on what I think may be the most adapted story of all time, Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game.

The story involved a shipwreck victim who washes up on an island only to realize the man who lives there has a peculiar habit: He likes to hunt human prey.

The story was first adapted into a movie with the same name in 1932 and since then I can’t count the times either movies or TV shows or books offer a similar story with that common theme: The idea that someone has decided to hunt humans.

Anyway, after a fashion The Hunt was finally released in March of 2020. This is one of the main trailers used for the film when it was finally released:

Earlier this morning I managed to finish the film off and… man, there is so much to like about it.

I loved Betty Gilpin as Crystal and Hilary Swank, in what amounts to a cameo, was wonderful as the hissable villain. The direction is crisp, the action presented bloody in a grindhouse way. And the concept, while once again owing to Richard Connell’s original story, manages for the most part to present an exciting variation of the well used hunter-hunting-humans concept.

Unfortunately…

The makers of the film, specifically screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, decided to add another element to the story. They decided to satire current right/left wing politics, presenting the “hunters” as stereotypical liberals and the hunted as stereotypical conservatives. I’m sure “on paper” it sounded like a clever idea, but for me that concept played out really quickly and soon became alternately off-putting and obvious while never quite being as humorous as I suspect they thought it was.

So we have scenes where the hunters talk about global warming or speak about racism while figuring out the proper way to call an African American and do this while gleefully murdering their “conservative” prey who we find slaughter endangered animals or have conspiracy podcasts… and it’s just not all that amusing.

John Carpenter in a few of his films takes on societal satire but manages to do so in a far more effective ways (check out Escape From New York or They Live). Here, I wished the film focused more on its main plot and, especially, Crystal and her fight for survival and not hit us over the head with so many too-obvious “jokes” about liberal or conservative silliness.

If the film had decided to accept and accentuate its Grindhouse elements more while toning down and/or eschewing the obvious -and after a while increasingly silly- political commentaries and not gotten so into the weeds about why the hunt existed (it is explained and, frankly, it was yet another dumb political element, IMHO), the film would have been much more successful.

As it is, if you are in the mood for some bloody fun and can ignore the annoyance of the “satire” that plays out much quicker than the writers thought, then you may find enough to enjoy in this film.

Sweetheart (2019) a (Mildly) Belated Review

Sweetheart, released last year to home video to extremely good reviews from critics (95% positive by critics at Rottentomatoes!) versus a much cooler reception by audiences (52%, Rottentomatoes again), came on my radar around the time it was originally released and I’ve been curious to see it since. Here’s the movie’s trailer:

The movie is quite simple: Jenn (Kiersey Clemons, quite good) awakens on a beautiful island shore. She wears a life vest and realizes nearby is Brad (Benedict Samuel), a fellow castaway. He’s in bad shape, though. At some point his body slammed into coral and he’s got a piece of the jagged material sticking out of his stomach.

Soon, Brad dies (this all happens within the first few minutes of the film, so rest easy, I’m not spoiling much), and Jenn is left alone on the island.

She explores and assesses her situation and, come night, realizes the island is the hunting grounds for a fierce monster.

Will Jenn survive?

After seeing Sweetheart, I was curious to read some reviews and one of the more astute ones note the film is like a cross between Predator and Castaway.

Not a bad comparison, but the film’s DNA lies more distant than that, all the way to creature feature movies like the original Thing From Another World and The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

The movie is pretty bare bones, but I say this in a good way. There is very little fat and the plot moves forward. When all is said and done -and without spoiling too much- we have a total of four “speaking” roles but it is Jenn who takes up the majority of the screen time and she does make for an engaging hero, even if she may not be quite as resourceful and gutsy as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the Alien films.

However, once all was said and done I felt there were a couple of head-scratching moments in the film that bear scrutiny. I’ll get to them in a moment as they do relate to SPOILERS.

So… thumbs up or down?

I recommend the film but bear in mind along with the fact that this is a pretty straightforward film it also does not reinvent the wheel. It’s well done, at times very suspenseful and the main protagonist is engaging and worth rooting for but Sweetheart is not a terribly original or searing presentation.

It’s a very good film, but not quite a great one.

Now then…

SPOILERS!

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!

Still there?

Hope you know what you’re doing…

Anyway, there were two things presented in Sweetheart -three if we count the movie’s title, which is explained in the course of the film but… come on! They could have come up with something more interesting, no?!- that bugged me.

The first one occurs when Jenn is attacked by the creature. She sustains a gash in her leg but that wound, magically, seems to disappear immediately afterwards and through to the end of the film. An odd thing, a very odd thing, to have happen in a film that seems to be otherwise very well thought out.

It makes me wonder if maybe they re-arranged certain scenes and her injury originally happened later in the story -like toward the very end- but was moved to earlier to create some sense of tension.

The second thing involves even more SPOILERS so, again, if you don’t want to be SPOILED…

All right then…

Through the course of the film Jenn encounters others who were in the ship she was in. Not many, granted, but she arrives with one survivor who dies quickly. She later finds the half-eaten body of another and then toward the later half of the film she sees a lifeboat and swims to it. She finds two people, a man and a woman, who have also survived the wreck.

Once they make it to shore, we realize they know each other. The man, Lucas (Emory Cohen), is her boyfriend and calls her “Sweetheart” (hence the movie’s title). Their relationship, we infer, was on the rocks even before the ship expedition. Both Brad and the woman, Mia (Hanna Mangan Lawrence), are elated to have reached shore but, understandably, have a hard time believing Jenn when she tells them a monster stalks the island.

This eventually leads to a confrontation between the two against Jenn, but before that Jenn borrows Lucas’ knife and notices blood on it.

Later on, when Jenn gets into the lifeboat, she notices bloodstains in it.

There is a clear implication that Lucas and Mia killed someone with that knife and did so in the lifeboat. My best guess is they killed the half-eaten man Jenn found before Lucas and Mia showed up.

It’s an interesting element, that Jenn may not only have to worry about the creature but also Lucas and Mia maybe being killers, but that element is shown -both with the blood stained knife and the blood within the lifeboat!- but absolutely nothing more is made of it.

As with Jenn’s wound, I wonder if maybe either they filmed more regarding this and ultimately discarded it or they had it in the script, filmed it, but decided to not bother with any further explanations.

For a film that is so razor sharp, though, its weird to have this dangling and ultimately unresolved plot element.

Weird stuff.

Black Moon Rising (1986) a (Very) Belated Review

There’s a few bits of film trivia that really intrigue me, and several of them involve writer/director John Carpenter.

The first one is probably the juiciest, though it has nothing to do with the film I’m about to review: While John Wayne’s final film The Shootist (1976) is considered a beautiful wrap up to his career, Mr. Wayne actually set his sights on a follow up film. That film, Blood River, was written by a very young John Carpenter and Mr. Wayne intended to bring along Ron Howard (who was in The Shootist) to co-star with him in it. Mr. Wayne would pass away from cancer before the film was made, though and, years later and in 1991, Blood River was released as a TV movie starring Wilford Brimley and Ricky Schroder in the roles which were intended for Wayne and Howard.

The second bit of trivia, which does relate to this movie: Tommy Lee Jones has starred in two films written by John Carpenter but has not appeared in any John Carpenter directed films.

The first film is the 1978 Irvin Kirschner directed The Eyes of Laura Mars -the film he directed before directing The Empire Strikes Back!- and the second is the one I’m reviewing here today: 1986’s Black Moon Rising.

Here’s the movie’s trailer

Featuring Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, and Lee Ving (!), Black Moon Rising plays out very similarly, plot-wise, to of all things Escape From New York!

How? Welp, Tommy Lee Jones playing Quint, a thief who is hired by the government to break into a tech firm and steal a computer tape (this was the 1980’s) with their financial improprieties on it. He has a tight deadline to produce this tape to them, and has to deal with all kinds of difficulties -including a thief (Lee Ving) who the company hired to take Jones’ character out and retrieve the incriminating evidence.

Quint gets a hold of the tape but pursuit is hot and heavy after him. He manages to hide the tape in a super-high tech car called the Black Moon, but before he can retrieve it, the car, along with many others, is stolen by a high tech car thief ring. Among the thieves is Linda Hamilton’s Nina, who is only a couple of years removed from her classic role in The Terminator and looks almost exactly the same!

There’s romance, of course, along with a pair of hissable villains, but the reality is that the film makes very little sense and, if you think about those things, you may find yourself not liking what you see.

The tape the government needs for their court case, it struck me right away, would get tossed from any trial if the government couldn’t state how they got it, and I seriously doubt they’d admit to hiring a thief to steal it from them!

Later in the film, a character is murdered and no one calls the police or makes a report… the murder of this innocent person is pretty much used as incentive by his friends to work with Quint but otherwise, forgotten!

Robert Vaughn is good as the steely and evil head of the car theft ring, but given the fact that he owns what appears to be two skyscrapers, one wonders if a car theft ring could make that much money… even if they were the best out there.

These are but some of the things that one has to accept if one were to come away liking the film or, conversely, cannot swallow and therefore wind up walking out not liking the film.

For me, the problems were pretty clear yet the film has enough swagger provided by Tommy Lee Jones in what is a similar to (but not close to identical) Snake Plisskin-type of role, that of the loner thief who is hired to do something good. Quint isn’t the anarchist Plisskin was, but he does at times show a similar attitude, though Jones makes him a little less mythic. Linda Hamilton, similarly, is quite good as the car thief come love interest, though none of the characters in the end are given an incredibly large amount of depth.

Perhaps most intriguing of it all is that the car, the “Black Moon” doesn’t take up huge amounts of screen time, as one might have expected it to. It shows up and is the goal -because of what’s hidden inside it- but the film’s makers wisely don’t flood the movie with shots of the super-car doing super-car stuff, instead showing the way Quint slowly works his way to getting the car back.

Black Moon Rising isn’t some lost classic of the 1980’s. It’s an at times cheesy bit of popcorn filmmaking which, as I have stated over and over again regarding “older” films, may play too slow with modern audiences who are by now expecting a far quicker pace to their action films.

Yet there is enough within Black Moon Rising to offer enjoyment, especially if you are a John Carpenter fan. I don’t know how much of his original script ultimately made it to the screen, but the main plot, character, and antagonist sure do play out like other Carpenter works, and if you’re a fan of John Carpenter, you may want to check it out for that reason alone.

For the rest of you, its a decent film -provided the problems I outlines above don’t ruin it for you- that’s enjoyable enough especially if you long to see a young Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton.

Recommended.

Annihilation (2018) A (Mildly) Belated Review

I know, I know…

I should be working on my latest draft of my latest Corrosive Knights novel but I was feeling a bit fried and wanted to let my head cool off a little before taking the plunge.

I checked out my voluminous DVR list (as opposed to my voluminous Digital Movie list… another day!) and found the 2018 film Annihilation there.

I’ve been curious to see the movie since hearing it was like a modern version of an H. P. Lovecraft story (I think more specifically The Colour Out of Space, which was made into a film with Nicolas Cage in 2019 and is another of those films on my list to see… when I get the chance!).

Annihilation has plenty of stars, the biggest names of which are Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, and Tessa Thompson. However, I recall it was released and didn’t do all that well in theaters and was gone pretty quick. Afterwards, though, when the movie reached home video it seemed to find some love and now and again I stumble upon people who offer good words about the film, which is the principle reason I recorded it and decided to give it a shot.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:

Based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation is indeed similar, IMHO to other works, not least of which is Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space but also thematically very similar to the wonderful (and, if we’re going to go there, far better) 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker.

Just for the hell of it, here’s the trailer to Stalker

Natalie Portman plays university biologist/ex-soldier Lena, a woman whose husband has disappeared a year ago after being sent on some top secret mission and who, we come to find out, tried cheated on her husband with a fellow professor but that went to hell (I have to be upfront here and say: This romantic subplot, IMHO, was totally unnecessary, at least in the context of the film proper. Maybe it meant more in the book).

So her husband’s disappeared and she feels guilty because maybe her husband knew she was cheating on him (this part is rather vague) and then one day, out of the blue, her husband re-appears.

However, he is… strange. He doesn’t seem to know where he was or how he got back home. Worse, he says he doesn’t feel well and spits up blood. An ambulance is called but en-route to the hospital some dark SUVs surround the ambulance and drug Lena.

She awakens at some army outpost and is told her husband is dying. Turns out a year or so ago a meteor fell by a lighthouse (we see this in the movie’s opening seconds) and since then a weird color field has been expanding out of it. Turns out Lena’s husband and a group of soldiers entered that field and didn’t come out… so how did the husband show up?

Further to that, Lena learns a new group of women are going into the field. She asks to join them and is allowed to.

What follows is a journey into some serious weirdness, tragedy, and death…

By and large I enjoyed Annihilation. While it shares the “group goes into the weird zone to explore it” plot found in Stalker, Annihilation presents a far more grounded and simple story when all is said and done.

That doesn’t mean its a bad film, not by a long shot.

There are some brilliant moments in the film, including a couple of truly eerie and horrifying ones, and the mystery of what is going on -which, again, when resolved proves rather simple- is nonetheless intriguing enough to keep you interested during the film’s runtime.

The problem, for me, is that when it ends -indeed how it ends, too- seemed so very… blah. I don’t want to spoil things, but when all was said and done I felt as I said above: This film, while eerie and at times haunting, simply wasn’t all that deep in its conception and resolution.

In other words, it kinda ended like I thought it would.

Still, I can’t fault the producers/director/writers/actors for this film. They obviously put in a great effort and, again, there are some very startling scenes.

The film is certainly worth a look but if you want to try something really head-spinning which features a similar concept, you’re better off checking out Stalker.

Bloodshot (2020) a (Mildly) Belated Review

I don’t think there’s a film out there that had worst luck upon its release than Bloodshot.

Officially released on March 13 of this year, it was put into theaters -if memory serves- on the very week that they were shutting down because of fears of transmission of COVID-19.

Such incredible “luck”, no?

Needless to say, the film didn’t do all that well. Then again, with the theaters closing off around them as it was released, how could it?

The film was relatively quickly released to VOD and, last week, it popped up on Starz! so, curious to see it, I set the ol’ DVR up and a couple of days ago I sat down and watched it.

To begin, the film certainly isn’t terrible, but on the other hand it sure feels like the studios imposed their will upon the movie’s creators and forced them to take what I suspect was an “R” rated action film and water it down so that it could be released as a more “family friendly” PG-13 feature.

The movie begins with a no-named soldier (Vin Diesel), dealing with a terrorist situation, then returning for R & R, meeting up with his wife, having an idyllic get together (all PG:13 rated!) only to then be kidnapped by associates of the terrorist he dealt with. His wife is brutally -well, as brutally as a PG:13 rating will allow- murdered and our no-name soldier swears vengeance before the terrorist associate kills him, too.

These early sequences, frankly, turned me off. They were so very, very idyllic and cliched as to be groan inducing. But as it turned out, the film was far more clever here than I thought (More following the SPOILERS!).

Our hero wakes up to find he died and his corpse was donated to a top secret tech agency that has revived him. He doesn’t have any memories of what happened to him before but comes to find he is now super powered: His blood has been replaced with nano-particles which fix him up when he’s injured, making him pretty much immortal/invincible.

He’s stronger, faster… and essentially an updated version of The Six Million Dollar Man. Only this Steve Austin actually died before he was “fixed”.

But then the memories of who he was comes back to him and our hero takes off… to kill the man who killed him as well as his wife.

To get into more I’d have to deal with SPOILERS and, as I said before, I’ll do that in a moment. But before I do, let me say Bloodshot, while far from a great film, isn’t too bad. Again, the problem lies in the fact that it felt to me the film was originally intended to be an “R” feature but the studios forced the movie’s makers to soften it up and that, IMHO, ultimately let the film down.

There is hardly any cursing. The action scenes, while competently done, never become terribly bloody or gruesome even though, especially toward the film’s climax, it looked like they could and should have been.

Is the film worth your time? In the end I can only offer a mild recommendation. Bloodshot wasn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, not by a long shot, but it quickly settles into a mild presentation and never really wows you like it should have.

Now then…

SPOILERS!

Still there?

You’ve been warned!

As is depressingly too common, this trailer for Bloodshot, which I thankfully never saw before seeing the film proper, gives away the movie’s biggest plot surprise.

Once again: If you know nothing about Bloodshot and want to see the film, I urge you not to see this trailer. You’ve been warned, redux!

If you’ve just spoiled yourself by seeing the trailer, you’ve come to realize the big twist in the film: Those opening sequences which depict our nameless hero taking on a terrorist and then subsequently being kidnapped and watching his wife murdered before he’s killed and which are cliched to the point of parody… are false memories.

Our hero never faced off against a terrorist. He certainly never was captured and, we find out later in the film, his “wife” never was killed. In fact, she’s still alive and apparently the two broke off their relationship -they may not be husband and wife at all- some five years before and she now has a husband and kids and no desire to get back with her ex.

We never learn how Bloodshot -or rather his body- came to this high tech organization, but we do realize he’s been fed these thoughts with the object of having them be revealed so that he will go out and kill the person he thinks was responsible for he and his wife’s murder.

See, each time he has those memories “come back”, the person who murders him and his wife is different. Turns out the head of this high tech company, Dr. Harting (Guy Pearce, not too bad as the eventually revealed bad guy), is getting rid of his tech rivals who helped him conceive this super soldier nanites, and he wants his rivals gone.

I’ll be blunt here: I think that’s freaking brilliant.

But…

Unfortunately, the movie is soft when it should be razor sharp. It never draws (ahem) blood like it should. When Bloodshot eventually faces off against Dr. Harting’s goons, its presented in an incredibly bland manner, to the point where we don’t even know if the two are dead.

Man, if Paul Verhoeven had directed this film in/around the time he did Robocop, that would have been something!

But he didn’t and we’ve got what we’ve got. A movie with a damn clever concept but a rather bland presentation.

Too bad.