Saturday, December 31, 2011

year 3 wrap-up / year 4 preview

Hola, amigos! I know it's been a while since I last rapped at ya...

I don't regret the decision to suspend the blog during the last 2 months of 2011, which I'm hoping turns out to be its penultimate year. Hey, for all I know, 2011 will turn out to be the penultimate year for everything... Anyway, reaction from my real-world friends and associates ranged from “Wow, I can’t believe you were able to STOP,” to “Jeez, are you still doing that movie-blog thing?”

I made it to that Weird Al concert in October, I got to meet the man himself, which was awesome. Got a chance to catch up on some TV, watched the final seasons of "Rescue Me" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent", and the latest rounds of "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" without the media or the Twitterverse spoiling the identities of the winners. Though despite my best efforts, I'm still 3 months behind on most serialized TV, I just watched the September premieres of the big network dramas. (Where have you gone, Laurence Fishburne and Christopher Meloni?)

Then along came Thanksgiving, the best holiday, since it's devoted purely to eating. Oh, wait, Christmas is like that too, except you also get pres...I mean, get to GIVE people presents (more on that later.) I got my Christmas mix CD out on time, took my annual Festivus Holiday Market Walking Tour, got my shopping done with a few days to spare, and was able to (mostly) relax and enjoy the season. Though a bout with the stomach flu made the days right after Christmas something of a nauseous blur...

I read some books (OK, Clone Wars books, but still, books), winterized the house, even visited my folks for my mother's birthday, got the Christmas lights up, and yes, I watched some movies. Specifically, I targeted some movies on my list that I was fairly certain I had seen before - but, for whatever reason, were total blanks in my mind with regards to plot details. Perhaps I failed to pay attention the first time I saw them, or perhaps the 1,000 movies I've watched in the last three years are more prominent, and my memory is close to full. Either way, I wanted to get them off the list, which is supposed to be for the classic (and neo-classic) films I have NOT yet seen.

So, I took a refresher course in these 15 films (in no particular order): "The Addams Family", "Addams Family Values", "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein", "Dead Again", "Legend", "The Odd Couple", "Singles", "Old School", "Mafia!", “Tin Men”, “Unfaithful”, "Empire of the Sun", "No Way Out", "An Officer and A Gentleman", and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". Interesting films all, though they won't be reviewed here. One of these films even had a twist ending that I missed the first time around, and I have never, ever seen mentioned in any review. So, that happened. Always watch films until the end, kids, and even after the credits, you never know.

And now, it’s the tail end of the year, the time when everyone makes those “year-end best of” lists, and people seem to fall in line with my way of thinking. The need to break down, re-organize and compile, while offering some form of commentary. Welcome to the party, fellas – I’m like that 52 weeks of the year, thanks to the O.C.D.

The big winner of the year was “Avatar”, I think the only film I watched in 2011 that scored a 9 or above. Which means it tops my list, a mere 2 years after it topped everyone else’s lists. Losers are “Popeye” and “Miss March” – please, never darken my TV screens again.

When I went on break, there were 247 films left on the list, but even with the removal of those 15, the list has continued to grow. Santa was good to me this year, or else family and friends are trying to influence the content of the blog. Plus I got some classics off the TV - which reminds me, I better get the TCM channel fixed before February's "31 Days of Oscar" marathon starts - so the list now stands at 270.

It can be disconcerting, I sort of feel like Richard Gere's character in "An Officer and a Gentleman" after completing 100 push-ups, only to have the D.I. just assign another 50. But 270 is well under 365, so I COULD finish the project this year. However, there were probably at least 30 movies released in 2011 that I'll need to add to the list, so if I take another couple of breaks and settle for 300 films in 2012, I'm looking at Year Five. I guess I just have to try not to add 3 films to the list for every one I watch, which is what has caused it to drag on for so long.

What's on tap for the coming months? Well, first there's a metric ton of animated films to watch, starring cats and dogs and bugs and birds and maybe a lion or two. That leads neatly into fairy tale films and stories from children's lit. Then there's the annual V-Day tribute to romance in all its forms. Then there will be pirates, aliens, time travelers and superheroes, another round of cops, spies and soldiers, plus special tributes to Liz Taylor, Jack Lemmon, and Jimmy Stewart, and a Ben Stiller-thon. And of course, there'll be sport. After that, the random clean-up work can begin.

In October, I hope to start the Hitchcock marathon, then I can assess whether to wrap it up or roll over the Woody Allen films to 2013. That's assuming that the Mayan calendar doesn't run out, and the solar flares don't, umm, flare. (Is it truly better to burn out than fade away?) As Jim Steinman once wrote, “The Future Just Ain’t What It Used to Be”.

You know, I wonder if it isn't for the best. If we keep going, we're only going to keep over-populating the planet and depleting its resources until we'll all just be swimming in waste anyway. I mean, no one wants to get serious about the situation, and we're all content to text and tweet to distract ourselves while things go to ruin. It's no wonder I've got a fatalistic attitude about things, and the dark nature of mankind's existential...

Ooh, look, everyone! Kitties! Cartoon kitties! Aren't they just the cutest?

Friday, October 21, 2011


Year 3, Day 293 - 10/20/11 - Movie #1,000

BEFORE: In order to bring this baby in on schedule, I had to jettison a couple films from the chain - namely "The Road" and "The Book of Eli". In the end, I determined they were POST-apocalyptic movies, and I'd have to get to them, well, after the (movie) apocalypse.

It wasn't my original intention, but taking a few days off for NY Comic-Con made the last film of the year fall (semi-)squarely on my birthday. It was another nice little bit of confluence I decided to take advantage of. I blew the candles out on a pumpkin pie this morning (long story) and managed to avoid the traditional office "kidnapping" to a far-off local restaurant, which usually knocks the middle out of the workday. Instead I celebrated with a triple-decker NY deli sandwich (corned beef, tongue and chopped liver, with cole slaw + Russian dressing) and a few beers while I worked and caught up on some episodes of "Top Chef: Just Desserts". Other than that, I spent the day in quiet contemplation. (Yeah, right...)

Once again, it's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel - well, maybe not fine. Tired, a bit rundown perhaps. I've got to try and use the next 2 months to get back on a better sleeping schedule, one that actually sets aside time to sleep.

Linking from "Knowing", Nicolas Cage was in "Con Air" with John Cusack (last seen in "Sixteen Candles", I think)

THE PLOT: An epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.

AFTER: So Movie 1,000 is "2012" on 10/20/2011, and it takes place on 12/21/2012. It's like some weird binary code that only means something to me.

I've seen the world end a number of different ways now - this one suggests that the Mayans got the date right, and also like "Knowing" features a solar flare. Here the flare creates some new neutrinos that somehow overheat the Earth's core, and as a result, Earth gets a new lighter and flakier crust. You know what, before it gets too technical, here's some footage of stuff being blowed up!

Not only does the science seem out of whack, the plotline constantly pushes the boundaries of believability. What are the chances that our protagonists can JUST outrun the destruction in each city as they make their way across the globe? I realize, for every person that makes it, millions don't - but still, how many times are they going to take off in a plane AS the runway is collapsing? We get it, just stop taking that same shot...

It's sort of a shame, we finally get the technology to create any dazzling movie effects we want, and it's just in time to document the end of all that is...

We also get a look at how governments would react to the end of the world - Step 1 - don't tell the public or you'll start a panic. Step 2 - umm, can we get back to you on this? Step 3 - save the Mona Lisa and other works of art, we'll need them later. (Really?) Step 4 - figure out a way to save the rich people and the beautiful people, which is the fairest way to re-populate the planet. OK, not by a longshot, but it represents the kind of committee-based thinking that the top brass might follow.

The special effects here were just stunning - if you like watching cities crumble, that is. Face it, when are you going to see this kind of destruction happen in real-life, and not be doomed along with it? I'm deducting a point for the madness running long, and being overly repetitive.

For a while there I thought they were going to launch the lucky connected people into space, which would have made even less sense - where would the space-ark go? Even if we knew of another habitable planet, how many generations would it take to get there?

But this is a textbook example of a screenplay that figuratively paints itself into a corner - OK, we accept the world's collapsing, and escaping the destruction is quite thrilling, but even if you accept that there IS a safe place left on the globe, what happens when people get there? In this case, the last hour is full of stalling, because no one really was able to think up much of a resolution. I'm reminded of the end of "The Day After Tomorrow", where everybody just went to get Mexican take-out.

So that's 1,000 films down, with 247 left on the list - I'd hope to get that down closer to 200, but c'est la vie. I'm hoping that number won't creep up too high by Jan. 1, but you never know - I could still be at this by the time 12/21/2012 rolls around.

For the immediate future, I've got a Weird Al concert coming up (the "Alpocalypse" tour, nice tie-in!), I've got to start working on my Christmas CD, my comic-book collection is in desperate need of some organization, and I've got a stack of books to start reading. Jeez, I should try and make a list of the things I want to do before I start up with movies again in January. Assuming I don't get raptured before then...

Also starring Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "Salt"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "Kinsey"), Thandie Newton (last seen in "Run Fatboy Run"), Danny Glover (last seen in "Lethal Weapon 4"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Anger Management"), Thomas McCarthy.

RATING: 7 out of 10 Vegas casinos

SPOOK-O-METER: 8 out of 10. Watching the world end, especially in such vivid detail, does have a rather chilling effect.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Year 3, Day 292 - 10/19/11 - Movie #999

BEFORE: I'm back after 4 days of New York Comic-Con - I didn't have to travel there, except on the subway, but I had to be there early and man the booth until the closing bell, plus I'd go out to dinner after with friends, so really it took up quite a bit of my time, not to mention catching up on TV afterwards so my DVRs wouldn't fill up. I also had time to read a book, a real one with words and everything. OK, so it was a paperback - that still counts. I've got a bunch of books to read while I'm on break from the movie project.

Continuing with the end-of-the-world topic - and linking from "Legion", Dennis Quaid was also in "Undercover Blues" with Kathleen Turner, who of course was in "Peggy Sue Got Married" with Nicolas Cage (last seen in "The Cotton Club").

THE PLOT: A teacher opens a time capsule that has been dug up at his son's elementary school; in it are some chilling predictions that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the events that are about to unfold.

AFTER: Numbers are funny - I initially thought I should watch "Legion" here, since 999 upside-down is 666, the devil's number. But I thought that was a bit corny, and I wanted to maintain the chain thematically.

So, it's weird how things worked out - all I knew about this film was that the numbers on a piece of paper corresponded to the dates of predicted disasters. And what's the last date on the page, the one corresponding to the end of everything? Why, it's October 19! That's an odd bit of creepy, that I was watching the film in the early morning hours of that same date. I swear I didn't know the date featured in the film. Sure, it's 10/19/2009, but still...

OK, so there's this list of numbers - fine. And it corresponds to a list of human disasters - got it. But it's HOW Cage's character figures it out that bothered me. To be able to look at a page full of (seemingly) random numbers and pick out something akin to a pattern - well, how did he even KNOW there was a pattern? As a scientist, I would have expected him to use an approach that was more methodical or at least logical. First step might have been to count up the totals on each number, check the frequency of each digit, or look for some kind of substitution cipher. Or references to some document with words, like that number code that referenced the Declaration of Independence.

Cage's character, after all, is a scientist - an astrophysicist at MIT, no less. Yeah, chew on that one. Who better to decipher the numbers than a scientist, one who's not sure whether there's a plan for the universe or not? On one hand, what are the chances of the earth being JUST the right distance from the sun to support life - but on the other hand, there are 9 (whoops, 8) planets in the system, so chances are good that one will land in the "butter zone", right?

Essentially, that's what the film seems to be about - the argument between random chance and pre-determination. Can numbers be scribbled down quickly, and then used to predict the future? Someone did that "Bible Code" thing a few years ago, which was unique since Hebrew letters could also be words or numbers, making a giant word search out of the Old Testament - but it's funny how they could only find past events hidden in the matrix, and couldn't find anything concrete about the future. Ditto for Nostra-Dumbass, who history should regard as a bad poet and nothing else.

But why alert people about the end of the world, if it's pre-determined? Would you want to know the end is coming, if you couldn't change it? And shouldn't the message about destruction be delivered by someone with a better acting ability, who can project some measure of concern? Cage's acting method seems to consist of holding the same sad expression for the whole film, and trying to talk without moving his lips. He gets a little heated and emotional late in the film, but it's too little, too late.

The film attempts to take religion, science, and conspiracy theory and mash them all together - but they don't quite reconcile, do they? This one amounts to a split decision, because I dig apocalyptic stuff and puzzles, but this one left a lot of loose ends. What were those shiny stones? Who, exactly, was behind it all? And why send us warnings exactly 50 years before the date in question, what's the significance of that? Why make the warning so obtuse that only 1 in 5 billion people can understand it?

Again, as in "Needful Things" and "Legion", we see that humans are all fairly close to the edge of madness. It doesn't take much, here it's just some scribbled numbers and some scratches on a wall that send humanity reeling into chaos. I approve.

NITPICK POINT: Among the predicted disasters is the Blizzard of 1978? I remember that one, and while it was very inconvenient, I don't know if I'd put it on a par with a bombing or a chemical leak. Besides, all of the other disasters were location specific, and that one covered like the whole East Coast. Shenanigans!

Also starring Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury.

RATING: 6 out of 10 newspaper clippings

SPOOK-O-METER: 7 out of 10. Depending on how you feel about seeing accidents, disasters and large-scale destruction. And the creepy people who don't blink.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Year 3, Day 285 - 10/12/11 - Movie #998

BEFORE: From a tricky Devil to an angry God - and as I approach the end of the chain, let's discuss the end of the world, shall we?

The ubiquitous J.T. Walsh from "Needful Things" was also in "Sling Blade" with Lucas Black (last seen in "Friday Night Lights"), who appears tonight, all growed up.

THE PLOT: A group of strangers fight for the welfare of humanity.

AFTER: This starts out like a premise from "Twilight Zone" - a group of strangers in a remote roadside diner just before Christmas, who suddenly lose TV, radio, phone - all contact with the outside world.

Hmm, Dec. 24, a desert setting, and a very pregnant unwed mother? It starts to seem sort of biblically familiar. But when a couple of plagues and the angel/demons show up, the diner's patrons start to realize that the chapter at the other end of the New Testament might be more relevant.

Then a rogue angel shows up, and makes some of the same salient points about religion that I discussed yesterday. Good news is, God exists. Bad news is, he's kind of pissed off. Ready to scrap this whole humanity experiment and start over. Well, we gave it a good run, but I guess we just disappointed God in the end (or, did he disappoint us?).

Either way, it's up to a few stragglers to defend the diner and allow the child to be born, because apparently history repeats itself. This means the film mostly deteriorates into a shoot-em-up, and I kind of wish it had stuck to the philosophical stuff.

NITPICK POINT: If God really lost his faith in humanity, and felt there was no point in saving the world, why even allow the possibility of a savior being born? Isn't God, like, infallible or something? So how can there be a defect in his wise and wonderful plan? For that matter, why create angels (or humans) that disobey His rules? Damn, it's like I'm back in Sunday school again, asking tricky questions.

Also starring Paul Bettany (last seen in "The Tourist"), Dennis Quaid (last seen in "Suspect"), Kate Walsh (last seen in "Kicking & Screaming"), Charles S. Dutton (last seen in "A Time to Kill"), Tyrese Gibson, and Kevin Durand (last seen as the Blob in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine").

RATING: 6 out of 10 highway maps

SPOOK-O-METER: 8 out of 10, some really creepy demonic characters in this one.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I've got to suspend the project for another few days, since New York Comic-Con starts tomorrow, and I've got to be up bright and early to load a van. I maybe working long hours at the convention, and I'll be pretty tired, so the easiest thing is to finish the chain by watching the last two movies early next week. Now I'm sorry that I took that week off in September, since I apparently miscalculated the number of days I'd have before Comic-Con.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Needful Things

Year 3, Day 284 - 10/11/11 - Movie #997

BEFORE: I watched a whole bunch of Stephen King-based films last year, but this one came into my possession after October was over. A character carries over (Hmm, who could it be?) and we go from Christopher Plummer to Amanda Plummer, father to daughter. Have they ever acted in a film together? Well, if not, then Christopher was in "Twelve Monkeys" with Bruce Willis, who was in "Die Hard" with Bonnie Bedelia (last seen in "Presumed Innocent"), another of tonight's stars.

THE PLOT: Leland Gaunt comes to a pleasant little New England town, and opens a store.

AFTER: Yes, a nice little country store, run by a man who seems to know exactly what you want to buy, and what you're willing to do in return for it. Plus he seems to keep the thermostat turned up very high in his store, wonder what's up with that?

I like the notion that it doesn't take much to plunge a small town into chaos, the mysterious stranger sets just a few small things in motion, playing upon people's petty feuds and typical grievances, and things spiral out of control quite artfully. So everyone is living pretty close to the edge, and they just need a little push. Seems about right.

I'm kind of reminded of that guy a few years ago who started with a paper-clip, and made an internet trade for a pen, then traded the pen for a doorknob, traded that for a Coleman stove, and kept trading up until he got himself a house. The Stranger works with something akin to the same principle here - set a little chaos in motion, and eventually the souls will come. Except he does it with about the same bluntness that Tony Soprano's crew used to take over that sporting goods store.

It makes sense that the Devil (come on, you knew it was the Devil, right?) would thrive on chaos and pettiness - it was probably too obvious to have people sign those soul-binding contracts. Why go to so much trouble with those legal documents, when this is so much easier, and probably a lot more fun? Does it surprise anyone that the Devil is a sadistic bastard? Yes, in addition to being pure evil, he's also not very nice. Seems about right.

Oh, but he LOOKS nice. He's a kind old man, an innocent shopkeeper. What, did you think he'd look like a twisted demon with horns and a tail, holding a pitchfork? That's so 12th century. He's going to wear a nice suit, drive a bitchin' car (vanity is a sin, after all) and act like your best damn friend. Again, makes perfect sense.

And he's played quite artfully here by Max Von Sydow (last seen in "Minority Report"), the same guy who played Jesus in "The Greatest Story Ever Told". From Father Merrin in "The Exorcist" to Emperor Ming in "Flash Gordon" - that's what you call RANGE, kids. He can play sinner or saint, and everything in between.

So far, this is my favorite Stephen King story, of the ones I've seen, anyway. I like what it says about human nature, though it's a stretch to think that the Devil is actively tempting people on such a concrete basis. As the priest in this film says, if you believe in God then you must believe in the Devil. The reverse is true, so if the Devil's walking around, it proves the existence of God, right? But what if John Lennon got it right - Imagine there's no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. (and not beating the crap out of each other)

I was raised Catholic, and in my own New England hometown there were a number of other churches. But I knew my parents wouldn't bring me to the "wrong" church, so I had to be going to the right one, and all those other churches and temples were somehow less "right". See, that's the kind of stinking thinking that's got the world where it is, and it leads to people blowing up buildings and each other. Maybe all of the faiths are right, maybe NONE of them are right. Each person has the power to think for themselves, and reject dogma that doesn't make sense, or seems like a fairy story.

The Devil, if he exists, doesn't need to do jack squat, not when religious people argue over fine points of irrelevant moral codes. My god can beat up your god, when both religions preach non-violence? Ridiculous. End of rant.

You know what you never see in a spy film or a comic book? Someone about to take over the world in a calm, rational manner. The super-hero or super-agent would burst into the villain's lair, and after the villain details his plans (and they always detail their plans) to loan money to Greece, leverage the U.S.A.'s debt to China, etc. etc., the hero would be forced to say, "Hey, that could work! And it's all perfectly legal. Good luck with that, I'll just let myself out." Nope, you never see that.

Also starring Ed Harris (last seen in "The Right Stuff"), J.T. Walsh (last seen in "Miracle on 34th Street"), and Don Davis (last seen in "Omen IV").

RATING: 8 out of 10 parking tickets

SPOOK-O-METER: 6 out of 10. What's scarier than the Devil is how low humanity can go.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Year 3, Day 283 - 10/10/11 - Movie #996

BEFORE: From the freakshow to a traveling carnival, and another film from a director who I've met. I got Terry Gilliam's autograph at a book signing years ago, and my boss has had a few professional dealings with him since. I didn't have this film on my list of horror films, but after reading the plot summary, I found it might be just the film I need to fit here and bridge the topics.

Linking from "Freaked" is simple, since Randy Quaid was also in "Brokeback Mountain" with Heath Ledger (last seen in "A Knight's Tale").

THE PLOT: A traveling theater company gives its audience much more than they were expecting.

AFTER: As I approach the 1,000 film mark, I've been building a list of the films I've seen from the IMDB, so that I can get an overview on the ratings, and how my ratings compare to the public's average scores. It seems like I gave out a lot more 7's and 8's back in Year 1, and I'm not sure whether that's because my general outlook toward movies was more favorable, or since I had a larger list, I was able to select better films.

And this film puts me in a delicate spot, because I like Terry Gilliam, and he's made some of my favorite films - "Time Bandits", "Brazil" and "12 Monkeys" are all contenders for slots in my all-time Top 10. And much respect for his work in Monty Python, on the TV or the big-screen, it's all good.

Something started slipping, though, with "Adventures of Baron Munchausen", which was still a great film, but I started to get the sense that the fantasy elements were starting to overtake the narrative ones, and that the director might have started to lose a little perspective on what works and what doesn't - and then came that documentary "Lost in La Mancha" that showed him struggling with the concepts involved in trying to make a new version of "Don Quixote". So, I worried about, and avoided, films like "Tideland" (still on the list, though).

The fantasy sequences in "Brazil" were brilliant allegories, and were used to enhance the main storyline. In "Baron Munchausen", "Fisher King", and even "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", the fantasy/drug-induced sequences were gradually taking over more and more of each film - to the point where I'm not sure if the man can make a straight, narrative film anymore.

Which brings us to tonight's film - a large majority of which takes place in a fantasy world, which might be inside the mind of Dr. Parnassus, or it might be some cosmic limbo where people's fates get decided, or possibly both. The title character can't resist making wagers with Mr. Nick (the Devil), and the commerce they trade in is the souls of other people.

As near as I can tell, Parnassus's carnival transports them to this other world, where they are given some form of choice, and one choice brings them to hell, and the other..., well, that's where things get fuzzy. Parnassus's original bet with the devil was that he could get people to choose imagination and wonderment over darkness and evil, but is that still the choice? With such broad visual allegories in the fantasy world, I honestly couldn't tell which choice would lead to what.

If you're going to detail some Faustian wager, it might help to clue the audience in on exactly what the rules are, and how this crazy process works. Now I've got to go to the message boards and try to figure out just what was happening, and what it all means.

Gilliam, of course, was dealt a bad hand when Heath Ledger died before completing the film - so we'll never know how good the film could have been, if more scenes with Ledger would have made the whole deal more coherent. Other prominent actors famously stepped in to complete his scenes, and fortunately this was easily acceptable by stating that the character's appearance changes within the fantasy sequences, with the world's appearance being dictated by the imagination of the at-risk soul.

When you consider the fragility of life, imagine the heartless choices that a producer or director has to make, which are often dictated by money rather than human sensitivity. Do you shoot your film in sequence, or work the scheduling in such a way that all of an expensive (or high-risk) actor's scenes are together? Do you increase the chances of getting the film completed, but compromise the artistic process?

Still, that being said, I desperately wanted some more coherency from this film, to go with the stunning visuals. Way too much oblique allegory - what the heck does it all mean?

Also starring Christopher Plummer (last heard in "9"), Johnny Depp (last seen in "The Tourist"), Jude Law (last seen in "The Aviator"), Colin Farrell (last seen in "S.W.A.T."), Tom Waits (last seen in "The Cotton Club"), Verne Troyer (last seen in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"), Andrew Garfield (last seen in "Lions for Lambs"), Lily Cole, with a cameo from Peter Stormare (last seen in "Bad Boys II").

RATING: 3 out of 10 gondolas

SPOOK-O-METER: 2 out of 10 - some creepy fantasy sequences, and a not-at-all-scary devil.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Year 3, Day 282 - 10/9/11 - Movie #995

BEFORE: Two weeks ago, I knew exactly how I'd finish up the chain for the year, what my last 15 films were going to be. But sometimes watching a film sparks a connection to another film on the list, and I can't help but wonder if I should change the plan. Usually I've got a blank day or two in a month, so adding a film has little impact - but with the end in sight, if I add a film, I've got to delete another and push it into next year's plan. This is what happened after watching "Cirque du Freak", I was reminded that this film was on the list, though I had it in the "miscellaneous" category instead of horror. Back to back freakshows, I can't pass that up. And tomorrow's film is another last-minute addition, so I've got to cut two films from the final 7.

Linking's a snap, though, since Josh Hutcherson was in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" with Brendan Fraser, who was in "Furry Vengeance" with Brooke Shields.

THE PLOT: A vain actor, his best friend, and an activist end up at a mutant freak farm run by a weirdo scientist.

AFTER: Well, just like with a real freak show, you pays your money and you takes your chances. Now I'm regretting wasting one of the last slots of the year on this one.

The film is directed by Alex Winter, more famous as Bill S. Preston, Esquire from the "Bill & Ted" films. I met him a few times, for a few years he lived in the same NYC building as my boss, and so I'd occasionally share an elevator with him. He seemed like a nice enough guy, and it wasn't too hard to imagine that the elevator was a time-traveling phone booth, but I digress. Every New Yorker probably knows where a celebrity or two lives or hangs out, so maybe it's not that big a deal.

Unfortunately, it's tough to see just what he was trying to make of this film, it's almost got the tone of an "Airplane" or perhaps "Rocky Horror Picture Show", but what is it supposed to be a spoof of? Monster movies in general? Some of the designs are inventive, some seem to be tributes to the work of artist Basil Wolverton, but the humor is just strange, a lot of it seems to come out of left field, and a lot of it ends up missing the mark.

It's one of those films where I'm left scratching my head, wondering what the point was. Toxic chemicals are bad? Duh. Freaks are people, too? Nah, that doesn't seem right. Mostly this seems like it was designed to waste 80 minutes of people's time. Well, at least that's kind of short, it could have dragged on longer, I suppose. Geez, you know it's bad when the best thing I can say about a movie is that it was over pretty quickly.

Also starring William Sadler (last seen in "Kinsey, but more famous for playing the Grim Reaper in "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey"), Michael Stoyanov (last seen in "The Dark Knight", but more famous for being the older brother on "Blossom"), Randy Quaid (last seen in "Christmas Vacation"), with cameos from Mr. T (last seen in "Rocky III"), Morgan Fairchild, Bobcat Goldthwait (last seen in "Blow"), Deep Roy, Calvert DeForest (better known as Larry "Bud" Melman), and yes, that's supposedly an uncredited Keanu Reeves (last seen in "The Day the Earth Stood Still") as the dog-faced boy.

RATING: 2 out of 10 macaroons

SPOOK-O-METER: 3 out of 10, only because toxic mutations are kinda gross.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

Year 3, Day 281 - 10/8/11 - Movie #994

BEFORE: OK, I admit it, I screwed up - I forgot to check the celebrity birthdays for October, and if I had, I would have arranged these last few movies completely differently. I could have watched "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" today and given a Birthday SHOUT-out to Chevy Chase, and "Lord of Illusions" tomorrow on Scott Bakula's birthday would have been nice. Plus, I missed Neve Campbell's birthday by ONE DAY when I watched "The Craft", and there's an actress in tonight's film whose birthday is Oct. 11. So I temporarily forgot how well that system worked for the last 9 months, but it's too late to fix it now.

Backtracking out of the classic films, Norman Kerry was in "Tanks a Million" with Noah Beery, Jr., who was in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" with Burt Reynolds, who was in "Boogie Nights" with John C. Reilly (last seen in "The Aviator").

THE PLOT: A young boy meets a mysterious man at a freak show who turns out to be a vampire. After a series of events Darren must leave his normal life and go on the road with the Cirque Du Freak.

AFTER: It seems an odd bit of casting, choosing John C. Reilly to play a vampire, since that type of character is generally not known to have a sense of humor. His presence does lend an accidental comic overtone, but it's an indirect one.

This movie sort of suffers from that indecision of not knowing whether it wants to be a comedy with action and horror elements, or a horror story with comic elements, so it ends up being something of an in-between muddle, afraid to push too far in any one direction.

Plus, there's a lot of work to be done on the part of the viewer, keeping all the vampire rules straight, plus the freakshow rules. A lot of vampire movies, like "Underworld", "Blade", and even "Twilight" (I presume) come along and try to re-invent the wheel, adding daystalkers and serums and all kinds of new powers. This one places an importance on sharpened fingernails, running at super-speed, and the importance of cutting off ties with family and friends.

Plus there's a vampire council, and a difference of opinion about whether vamps should kill their prey, or just drink enough blood to get by. The ones who believe in killing are called the "Vampanese", which just sounds awkward. Plus there are full vampires and half-vampires - the half-vamps can stand daylight, and guard the coffins of the full-on vampires.

The freakshow has a wolfman, a bearded lady, a guy who can eat and regurgitate anything, plus a woman who can regenerate her limbs. What, no human blockhead? No sword swallowers?

And overseeing everything is a big man named Mr. Tiny. His first name creates a play on words that makes him seem very important, but they never explain exactly who he is (Death? Fate?) or what his ultimate plan is, but he does seem to have one.

It seems like such a simple story - boy runs off and joins the circus - but there's so much going on, and so many details (most of which seem very extraneous) that the movie just gets bogged down in its own mythology. I guess this is based on a series of young adult books - did they try to cram all the details from a set of books into one movie?

Also starring Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson (last seen in "Journey to the Center of the Earth"), Michael Serveris, Ray Stevenson (last seen in "The Other Guys"), with cameos from Patrick Fugit, Colleen Camp (last seen in "The Ice Storm"), Ken Watanabe (last seen in "Inception"), Salma Hayek (last seen in "54"), Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison (last seen in "Down to Earth"), Willem Dafoe (also last seen in "The Aviator"), Jane Krakowski (last seen in "The Rocker") and Kristen Schaal (last seen in "Dinner for Schmucks").

RATING: 5 out of 10

SPOOK-O-METER: 4 out of 10. The vampire stuff is pretty tame, but the werewolf is quite intense.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Year 3, Day 280 - 10/7/11 - Movie #993

BEFORE: From a genetic freak to a deformed one, both characters like to conduct experiments - one in a lab, and the other with musical casting ones at the Paris Opera House. Both characters live with little contact with the outside world, and both are motivated by the fairer sex. Am I reaching?

Linking actors from "The Fly II" is going to be tough, but here goes - Lee Richardson was also in "Brubaker" with Robert Redford, who was also in "Little Fauss and Big Halsey" with Noah Beery, Jr., who happened to be in the 1941 film "Tanks a Million" with Norman Kerry, who plays Raoul in tonight's film. So there.

THE PLOT: A mad, disfigured composer seeks love with a lovely young opera singer.

AFTER: I've seen the Broadway production once, and again done by a high-school cast, plus I watched the 2004 film version with Gerard Butler. So I doubt I'll find anything new in the story tonight, this is purely a follow-up for the sake of being a completist.

It's significant to note the date of this film, 1925 - that predates "Dracula", "Frankenstein", "The Wolf Man" AND "The Invisible Man". So this really kicked off Universal's parade of movie monsters, and served as the high watermark for the career of Lon Chaney.

It's also interesting to note what elements of the story were dropped from future incarnations of the story - Andrew Lloyd Webber was right to jettison Raoul's brother and Carlotta's mother - really, they serve no purpose in the story, and they're both not missed.

Future versions also portray the Phantom as a mainly attractive fellow, except for a few scars. Chaney's Phantom is a true fright, he looks like Voldemort in the middle of electro-shock therapy. I got chills when Christine ripped his mask off, and I've seen that bit dozens of times.

The ending was a little rough as well - the Phantom doesn't fare so well in this one. In the Webber version he's left alone in his underground lair, but in this one he's quite graphically beaten by a mob and tossed into the drink. Sorry, spoiler alert.

I watched a restored version, with constant music throughout (sometimes warranted by the scene, sometimes incidental) and while it wasn't completely colorized, every scene change was punctuated by a change in tint - so the underground scenes were tinted purple, the stage performances were pink, etc. Slightly more interesting than watching black and white.

But it still seems a bit futile to portray operatic performances in a silent film - audiences couldn't hear the singers, so how did they know whether Christine was better than Carlotta? Maybe this is what motivated them to add sound to the pictures, and then to invent color.

RATING: 3 out of 10 trapdoors.

SPOOK-O-METER: another 3 out of 10.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Fly II

Year 3, Day 279 - 10/6/11 - Movie #992

BEFORE: Well, the movie did set up its own sequel pretty well. Actor John Getz carries over, along with stock footage of Jeff Goldblum and a Geena Davis look-a-like. The audience was probably desperate to find out - what does a half-fly baby look like? They pulled the same stunt on the "V" mini-series back in the day...

THE PLOT: A few months after a hideously deformed Seth Brundle was mercifully killed by his lover Veronica, she dies giving birth to Seth's son Martin. Martin is raised by Seth's evil employer Anton Bartok, who requires Martin's help to solve the problems of the Telepods, believing the Telepods are the key for worldwide domination.

AFTER: I'm left wondering just how necessary this film was - I'm thinking, not very.

What does it really have to say about genetics, or science tampering with nature, or anything, really? The central character is about 1/4 fly (I guess...) - is that really enough to justify him becoming a genetic freak? Would the recessive genes really take over when he hit adulthood.

Which, in this case, is about 5 years - he ages at an accelerated rate, like the kids on soap operas so they can get them into dating storylines quicker. (Kids on soap operas age faster, and people in comic books don't age at all.)

Speaking of comic books, I was just telling someone yesterday about a Spider-Man storyline called "Disassembled" a few years back, in which Spider-Man mutated into a giant spider, and after emerging from a cocoon-like state, Peter Parker looked normal, but had gained the power to shoot webbing from his wrists (to more closely match the Spider-Man seen in the Raimi movies). Problem was, the different Spider-Man writers apparently didn't communicate with each other, and 6 months later they did a storyline called "The Other", in which Spider-Man appeared to die, but instead entered a cocoon-like state, from which he emerged with even more new powers. The character determined it was probably a "once-in-a-lifetime" event, except a nearly similar event had occured just a few months prior. Whoopsie.

Anyway, the Spider-Man stuff is bogus, because a bite from a spider wouldn't change someone's DNA. How many people have been bitten by snakes and not turned into snakes, or snake-men? I know, it was a radioactive spider, but radiation doesn't give people powers or change their DNA, radiation makes people sick. But I guess The Amazing Cancer-Man wouldn't sell many books.

As for Martin Brundle, who spends his nights in a windowless room, with little contact with the outside world, conducting pointless experiments to keep himself entertained - I feel ya, buddy.

Well, keep working on those teleporters, you'll get it right eventually. And at least sadistic security guards, and people who are cruel to lab animals get what they deserve, we hope.

Starring Eric Stoltz (last seen in "Rob Roy"), Daphne Zuniga (last seen in "The Sure Thing"), Lee Richardson (last seen in "Prizzi's Honor").

RATING: 2 out of 10 hidden cameras

SPOOK-O-METER: 4 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Fly (1986)

Year 3, Day 278 - 10/45/11 - Movie #991

BEFORE: Tonight's Hollywood junk science involves teleportation - or at least, that's how it starts out. DNA combining comes later, right? I feel like I've heard so much about this film over the years, but I've never watched it through, so it's all about being thorough.

Lots of linking possibilities tonight - I could have connected Chevy Chase with Randy Quaid through the "Vacation" movies, then gone through "Independence Day" to get to Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Powder"), or mention the fact that Stephen Tobolowsky was also in "Thelma & Louise" with Geena Davis, but the best connection is through Michael McKean, who was in "Earth Girls Are Easy" with both Goldblum AND Davis.

THE PLOT: A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.

AFTER: Yeah, eating a late dinner right before watching this - not a good idea.

You know, if your average scientist invented a working teleportation device that could transport inanimate matter across great distances (OK, 15 feet, but still), he'd see the opportunity to do FedEx and DHL one better. Overnight service? Forget that, what about when it absolutely, positively has to be there right NOW?

But not Seth Brundle - he's not happy unless his device can also transport living people. He hates flying, I guess, and wants to put the airlines out of business. I can't say as I blame him, planes do go down, don't tell me it doesn't happen. I maintain that Man wasn't meant to fly, either in a plane or with wings coming out of his back.

Brundle hopes to get a "buzz" going over his new invention, so he decides to stop "monkeying" around with lower primate test subjects, and "wing" it by stepping into the device himself. OK, I'll stop with the puns, but you see where I'm going with this, right? There's a bug in the system, literally, hence the title.

Again, I'm no scientist, I can't tell you what would happen when your machine decides to give you a pair of designer genes (sorry) and make you half a fly. Would it play out like this? I have no idea. But maybe they should make those scientists who want to genetically modify our potatoes watch this film.

But, there's balance in the world of sci-fi - for every BrundleFly, there's a Spider-Man. Gaining the proportionate strength, speed and reflexes of a spider, along with webbing and the ability to stick to surfaces sounds like a pretty good trade-off, and all it cost him was one elderly uncle, his dignity, and the ability to sustain a long-term relationship.

There's a famous thought experiment using teleporters, which posits that if a man enters a teleporter and is broken down into composite atoms, essentially, at that point he's dead by disintegration. (We're assuming here that the matter gets converted into energy, and the same or a similar energy is then converted into matter at the other end.) Even if you could re-integrate the atoms in another location, and reassemble a man that looks, talks, and presumably thinks like who you started with, one school of thought says you've created a copy, not the man himself. Or have you? Does it matter whether the teleporter is transferring energy, or merely a genetic blueprint to re-create on the other side?

Also starring John Getz (last seen in "Born on the Fourth of July").

RATING: 4 out of 10 camcorders

SPOOK-O-METER: 6 out of 10. Creepy man-fly is creepy.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Year 3, Day 277 - 10/4/11 - Movie #990

BEFORE: OK, so it's not a straight horror movie, it's more like a throwaway 90's spy comedy, I'll wager. But it probably directly riffs off of last night's film, and linking by actors is relatively easy - Gloria Stuart was also in "Wildcats" with Goldie Hawn, who was in "Foul Play" with Chevy Chase (last seen in "Modern Problems").

THE PLOT: After a freak accident, an invisible yuppie runs for his life from a treacherous CIA official while trying to cope with his new life.

AFTER: In the original 1933 film, the invisibility potion came from some weird Indian plant pigment - something that turned a dog white, but with further refinement, could be injected under the skin of a man and make him transparent. Even assuming we're not talking about bending light waves or any impossible physics, from what I know of optics and color theory, white light is not the absence of color, it's the presence of all color wavelengths. Light has additive color properties, meaning that if the Invisible Man wasn't emitting any light, he should appear as a dark void.

However, with pigments, dyes and inks, color takes on subtractive properties - meaning that the sky is blue for a different reason than, say, a car is blue. A car painted blue appears blue because it's absorbing all light wavelengths except the blue ones. And in the case of paints, crayons, etc., the properties are reversed - so white is the absence of color and black the presence of all colors - which is why a black car gets hotter in the summer, it's absorbing more light/heat.

Even with this codicil, however, it's still got to be impossible to subtract enough color to make an man invisible, right? Maybe transparent like a jellyfish, but not invisible. Tonight's junk science dispatches all this, and our main character gets bombarded with radiation from a science experiment (yes, that old bugaboo) and his molecules are "in flux". Still pretty impossible, but whatever.

It's interesting to note that special effects did improve over the years - so by 1992 they had green-screening and ultimatte down pretty well. Around that time I was working on music videos as a P.A., and my morning job on shoot days was to paint the studio walls that very particular shade of green. (or blue, if we were working with a green Muppet or something) I lost several pairs of pants to that icky green color, that you've probably seen briefly during the weather report.

There is some suspense in this film as the CIA hunts down Nick Halloway, the updated Invisible Man. Any tension comes from the black-ops team with their heat-vision goggles and their tranq darts, and the knowledge we all have regarding what the CIA is capable of. But it's pretty unclear - do they want to capture and contain him, or use him as the ultimate secret agent?

Halloway just wants to get returned to normal - and maybe spy on a hot girl getting ready for bed. (See, I told you...)

The whole thing is narrated like a classic film noir, but that's where the similarities end. When you try to make a film that's action, suspense and comedy all rolled into one, you might just get a comedy that isn't very funny, or an action film that doesn't take itself seriously enough.

NITPICK POINT: As in the classic 1933 film, the Invisible Man points out that if he eats food, you can see it in his stomach for about an hour, until it gets digested - at which point it's presumably part of him, and therefore also invisible. But any food in his mouth, throat or stomach is surrounded by invisible body parts - so wouldn't it be invisible too? The light would be bent around it, or the radiation would also affect it, right?

NITPICK POINT #2: Sometimes Halloway is wearing visible clothing, and sometimes he's wearing clothing that's also invisible. Of course, since sometimes we the audience can see the character (even though he can't see himself), we wouldn't want to look at a naked Chevy Chase for 90 minutes, but still. Was this the clothing he was wearing when he was irradiated? And if so, how does he keep finding it, if it's invisible?

Also starring Daryl Hannah (last seen in "Legal Eagles"), Sam Neill (last seen in "Bicentennial Man"), Michael McKean (last seen in "Jack"), Stephen Tobolowsky (last seen in "Mississippi Burning"), with cameos from Rosalind Chao (last seen in "Going Berserk") and Patricia Heaton (last seen in "Space Jam").

RATING: 4 out of 10 trenchcoats

SPOOK-O-METER: 0 out of 10, unless you count the rogue actions of the CIA, which should scare us all as U.S. citizens. But not in a Halloween-y kind of way.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Invisible Man (1933)

Year 3, Day 276 - 10/3/11 - Movie #989

BEFORE: A true classic tonight, going back to the early days of monster movies. And it's a compact 71-minute film, which is great since we hosted a little party last night, and I'm short on time this morning. (Yes, after midnight is the best time to watch horror movies, no?)

Linking to this film was surprisingly easy, since Skeet Ulrich was in "As Good as it Gets" with Jack Nicholson, who was in "The Departed" with Leonardo DiCaprio, who was in "Titanic" with Gloria Stuart (last seen in "My Favorite Year"). Yes, the old lady from "Titanic" was young once, and she was in this classic film. A 72-year career in film is quite respectable.

THE PLOT: A scientist finds a way of becoming invisible, but in doing so, he becomes murderously insane.

AFTER: Ah, isn't that always the way - the formula that gives a man invisibility also makes him insane - where's the fun without that? But you'd think that a man with the smarts to invent the invisibility potion would also think to do it in summertime - since he's going to be walking around naked a lot of the time. This guy has his scientific breakthrough in the dead of winter, and I guess waiting until springtime to try it out is simply out of the question.

So is heading for the women's dormitory, or anything of a really prurient nature - which, come on, is the reason why a man would invent an invisibility potion. But such things weren't spoken of in movies back in the 1930's. A naked man walking around town was probably shocking enough.

The acting here is quite overblown - I suspect the main character was told to over-compensate for the fact that he wasn't appearing on film most of the time - so he essentially had to act through a voice performance alone. The females in the film, however, are also guilty of over-acting - they're always just one line away from breaking into hysterics, as women of the time were apparently likely to do.

The effects are laughable by today's standards, but were probably cutting edge at the time. Although some wire-work was done to move objects supposedly being used by the Invisible Man, also some even cheaper prop-tossing, there seems to be a very early version of green-screening or matting used, when he was partially dressed. A floating shirt would be hard to fake back then, unless a real body was inside it, with the head and hands matted out.

Plus, I have to point out a severe over-reliance on newspaper headlines and radio broadcasts to advance the storyline. I suppose it makes sense, since we can't see the main character much of the time anyway - but still, film is a visual medium at the end of the day. Show us what's happening, don't just tell us about it.

I went back to my 2009 review of "Hollow Man", which was really just an updated version of this film - albeit with much fancier effects. I rated that film a "6", which helps for comparison's sake (plus it reminded me to drag out the ol' Spook-o-meter, which I forgot to do these last few nights).

The Invisible Man speaks of developing his formula, and describes the process as "A thousand nights, a thousand failures." Ouch, that really hit home for me, because with a few notable exceptions, that sort of describes my movie-watching adventures. I know I'm tough on films, so I suspect that if the scores were all tallied up, I'd find I gave out many more ratings on the lower half of the scale.

NITPICK POINT: A man comes to the police, telling them the Invisible Man is in his barn - he can't see him, but he can hear him snoring. The Chief Inspector determines that they can't possibly enter the barn to arrest him. Umm, why not? Can't you follow the snoring and tie him up when he's vulnerable? The Inspector's solution? Burn down the barn. How does THAT motivate people to turn the Invisible Man in?

NITPICK POINT #2: I realize he's insane, but how exactly is the Invisible Man going to take over the world with his powers? Sure, he can spy on people and learn their secrets, but that only takes him so far. What's he going to do, assassinate 4 billion people, one by one? Get elected leader of the world? I'm just not seeing how he's going to get from point A to point B here.

Also starring Claude Rains (last seen in "The Wolf Man"), William Harrigan, Henry Travers (more famous for playing Clarence the Angel in "It's a Wonderful Life").

RATING: 3 out of 10 bandages

SPOOK-O-METER: 1 out of 10. The Invisible Man's just not up there with Dracula and the Wolfman. What is he going to do, just disappear on you?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Craft

Year 3, Day 275 - 10/2/11 - Movie #988

BEFORE: Full disclosure - I taped this to put on a DVD with "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", and I must have confused it with the film "Little Witches", which I'd seen before. So I've now realized that this film is in the collection, and I've never seen it. I got lucky with the linking tonight, since character actor Vincent Schiavelli from "Lord of Illusions" was also in "Valmont" with Fairuza Balk (last seen in "The Waterboy"). If I hadn't noticed that, I would have had to link from Famke Janssen to Salma Hayek through "The Faculty", and from Hayek to Neve Campbell through "54".

THE PLOT: A newcomer to a Catholic prep high school falls in with a trio of outcast teenage girls who practice witchcraft and they conjure up various spells and curses against those who anger them.

AFTER: Geez, that's a good summary from the IMDB - tells you everything you need to know, and you (almost) don't even need to watch the movie after reading that!

The film opens with a cover of the Beatles song "Tomorrow Never Knows", performed by Our Lady Peace - so that got my attention right off. (covers of The Cars song "Dangerous Type" and Peter Gabriel's "I Have the Touch" are also heard later on) And the film is the story of 4 parochial school girls having sleepovers and experimenting with magic. OK, I'm really paying attention now...

But, it wasn't enough to hold my interest for very long. These girls got into the witchcraft game to get in touch with nature, but ended up using the spells to make themselves look prettier, get the attention of boys, and get revenge on the "mean girls" in school. Umm, don't they then become the mean girls themselves? See, they're not even self-aware enough to realize that. Petty bitches. I mean, witches.

Things go awry when their spells start to actually work - making a boy into one girl's love-slave, making the hair of one girl's enemy fall out. That girl was a racist, you see, so she deserves to lose her beauty (I guess), but if a cause-effect relationship between the two things isn't pointed out, how's she supposed to make the connection and realize the error of her ways? A better revenge would have been to cause some kind of tanning accident that would have made her skin really dark, then maybe she'd get it.

Unfortunately, one girl's wish was to have all the power of Manon, supposedly the big cheese in the magic world, without realizing that a person isn't supposed to have that much power. So she goes a little crazy, and the new girl has to become a "true witch" to put her in her place.

Eh, I lost interest about halfway through. Can't believe there's no porn version of this one - there's a porn version of "The Facts of Life", for chrissakes.

Also starring Robin Tunney (last seen in "The Darwin Awards"), Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich (last seen in "Armored"), Christine Taylor (last seen in "License to Wed"), Breckin Meyer (also last seen in "54"), with a cameo from Helen Shaver (last seen in "The Color of Money").

RATING: 3 out of 10 spellbooks

SPOOK-O-METER: 6 out of 10. Lots of creepy things - snakes, rats, and cock-a-roaches.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lord of Illusions

Year 3, Day 274 - 10/1/11 - Movie #987

BEFORE: Seeing James Gammon always reminds me of his role as the Indians coach in "Major League" - so lets link from him to his co-star in that film, Corbin Bernsen, who was also in the sequel "Major League: Back to the Minors" with Scott Bakula (last seen in "The Informant!") and kick off Shocktoberfest with this film about a cult leader.

THE PLOT: During a routine case in L.A., NY private investigator Harry D'Amour stumbles over members of a fanatic cult, who are waiting for the resurrection of their leader Nix.

AFTER: It's even harder to take this one at face value than it was with "The Cell" - I'm expected to believe that magic is real, that a man can be resurrected after being buried for 13 years, and a whole lot more.

But yet certain points remain unclear - was Nix an insane man, a god, a demon, or just a magician? Sorry, illusionist... Some of the magic in this film turns out to be achieved by really simple methods (holograms? really?) and some of it is never explained, like those wacky floating triangles that seem like they'd be more at home in a horror film from the go-go 1970's.

And it's tough to carry on serious P.I. work when people around you are levitating and shooting fire from their hands. Walking away from a four-story drop, and surviving 13 years underground seem pretty inexplicable too - unless some other forms of trickery are involved. But that's why Bakula's character, Harry D'Amour, seems so cool - he's known for getting involved in these supernatural cases - notice how the job that brought him to L.A. gets pretty much abandoned as soon as he gets a whiff of some occult goings-on.

To the people who joined the cult, both in the flashback sequences and the present-day ones: what did you THINK was going to happen? Did you join the death cult just for the snacks? Thursday Bingo night?

The idea of an illusionist's trick going wrong on stage is a good one, though - and the idea of there being more to that than meets the eye is another good one. But some of the ideas connected to that are even more far-fetched than a man with real magical powers. That's all I'll say without spoilers. And that people with no eyebrows look creepy.

Also starring Famke Janssen (last seen in "I Spy"), Kevin J. O'Connor (last seen in "There Will Be Blood"), Daniel Van Bargen (last seen in "Crimson Tide"), with a cameo from Vincent Schiavelli (last seen in "The Frisco Kid").

RATING: 3 out of 10 tattoos

SPOOK-O-METER: 7 out of 10. Fairly high due to graphic demonic imagery, a few brutal deaths, and some tripped-out dream sequences.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Cell

Year 3, Day 273 - 9/30/11 - Movie #986

BEFORE: From a sociopath to a psychopath, and yes, there is a difference... Linking from "Falling Down", Robert Duvall was in "Kicking & Screaming" with Will Ferrell, who was in at least three films ("Old School", "Wedding Crashers", "Anchorman", take your pick) with Vince Vaughn (last seen in "Couples Retreat").

THE PLOT: An FBI agent persuades a social worker to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer in order to learn where he has hidden his latest kidnap victim.

AFTER: I'm really split down the middle on this one - because the idea is so wildly inventive, but also very impossible. (Although, there was something in the news the other day about people's dream waves being turned into video, so who knows...) Plus it's thrilling, but also disturbing. Exciting, but scary.

This is a bit like "Silence of the Lambs" (race to find the kidnapped girl), mixed with the Black Lodge sequences from "Twin Peaks" (which also featured a killer singing "Mairzy Doats", oddly enough) with a bit of the dreamscape from "What Dreams May Come".

I've got great respect for Vincent D'Onofrio (last seen in "Impostor"), who plays the psycho-killer here. I'm currently watching the last season of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent", which might be some of his best work. "Full Metal Jacket", "Men in Black", plus he's played Orson Welles a couple times, and I have to respect that - he seems like a real actor's actor.

I actually failed watching this in the early a.m., and I fell asleep just as the film was getting good, when we get to see the inside of the killer's mind for the first time. When that happens, I bring the DVD to work with me, and I finished it after closing time. Considering the disturbing imagery, it's probably better that I didn't see some of that stuff right before bedtime.

Plus there's some stuff here that isn't really explained - what were those weird towels with the microcircuitry that they had to put on their faces? How did those things help with the process? And why did they have to be suspended by wires? Falling asleep in a bed or on a table wouldn't work?

I'm kicking off the October horror movies a day early, but that's OK - it will all work out in the end, and I should bring this baby in right on time with movie #1000.

Also starring Jennifer Lopez (last seen in "Out of Sight"), Dylan Baker (last seen in "Kinsey"), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (last seen in "Spy Game"), Jake Weber (last seen in "Meet Joe Black", here playing a cop named Gordon Ramsey, odd...), with a cameo from James Gammon (last seen in an uncredited role in "Cool Hand Luke").

RATING: 5 out of 10 staircases

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Falling Down

Year 3, Day 272 - 9/29/11 - Movie #985

BEFORE: Good news, I got the Turner Classic Movies channel back - it was weird, I was only missing that channel and the IFC Channel (now with ads, so it got removed from my rotation). So I missed "Spartacus", but I got "All Quiet on the Western Front". Why couldn't the damn Lifetime channel be knocked out?

Wrapping up Michael Douglas chain tonight - my wife recommended this movie, so it's been on the list as long as there's BEEN a list.

THE PLOT: An unemployed defense worker frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.

AFTER: This is a tough one, because I want to sympathize with a guy who's been beaten down by the system, having a tough go of things in his personal life, and annoyed by all sorts of life's, annoyances. Certainly I've had my share of run-ins with people who cut in line at the deli, or are "loud-talkers", or who over-use the word "actually", to the point where I just want to strangle them.

But you know what? I don't strangle them. I leave most people alone, except for those who insist on shoveling snow from their sidewalk into the street - when the plow just finished getting it OUT of the street. But I digress. I got myself an iPhone and some headphones, so if people are talking stupid on the subway, or discussing the endings of movies I haven't seen, I plug in. I probably turn the volume up too loud, so I'm probably annoying other people in the process, which is somewhat ironic.

Sorry, we're here to talk about the film, not me. Michael Douglas's character ditches his car in the middle of a traffic jam, and heads for "home". Home, in this case, is his ex-wife's house and his daughter's birthday party. There's apparently trouble at the end of that road, since he's essentially stalking his ex - but he encounters even more trouble along the way, walking through L.A.'s gangland.

He loses it in a convenience store, he loses it in a burger joint (spot the pattern?) and acquires a duffel bag full of guns - nope, I don't see how this could possibly end well. These actions are intercut with scenes from a veteran cop's last day (oops, another movie cliché that usually doesn't end well) and from what we know about parallel editing, these two storylines are destined to collide with each other.

Part of us wants to root for the crazy guy, because he's been kicked around and downtrodden, and haven't we all? But we should be rooting for the cop, even though he's a bit of a screw-up (well, he MEANS well), he's got one last chance to end his career on a high note and do some respectable detective work.

It's tough (and a little questionable) to have a central character who's this much of an anti-hero - "Law Abiding Citizen" had to work around the same bugaboo - but let's call him what he is. He's a terrorist, as much as McVeigh or the Unabomber was - the scene where he shoots up the WhammyBurger pretty much settles the deal.

We've seen it happen in the news - and we wonder how it happens. Maybe the better question is, why doesn't it happen more often? I haven't heard of a postal worker losing it in quite a while, and we even named the process "going postal" in honor of them. What changed at the post office to make it a less hostile working environment?

What's the other thing you hear when people go off their nut like this? "He was a quiet guy, kept pretty much to himself, never caused any trouble..." Why don't you ever hear people interviewed after someone snaps, saying things like, "Yeah, that guy was wound way too tight, gave everybody grief. We always knew he'd explode, so we just tried to stay out of his way."?

"It's always the quiet ones you have to watch out for." You've heard that, right? It that because the loud, dangerous ones are already locked up? Or does it say more about the kind of person who bottles up everything inside and doesn't have some kind of strategic release for their emotions?

If so, I urge you, find a release - write letters to the editor, pop some bubble wrap, spend some time at the shooting range, whatever it takes.

My main issues with the film are the inherit racist and homophobic acts - I realize it's a fine line, how do you depict these biases without the film itself becoming racist or homophobic?

Also starring Robert Duvall (last seen in "John Q"), Barbara Hershey (last seen in "The Right Stuff"), Rachel Ticotin (last seen in "Turbulence"), Tuesday Weld (last seen in "Thief").

RATING: 4 out of 10 payphones

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Ghost and the Darkness

Year 3, Day 271 - 9/28/11 - Movie #984

BEFORE: From the urban jungle of Wall Street to a different kind of jungle. OK, so it's set on the African savannah, technically not a jungle, but you get the idea.

I tried to add the film "Spartacus" to my list last night, starring Michael's father, Kirk Douglas, but the DVR wouldn't record it - for some reason Turner Classic Movies wasn't working, I got 3 1/2 hours of a blank screen. Thanks, T.W. Cable! I guess the movie gods don't want that film on my list at this time, though I consider it one of the more egregious omissions from my life-list.

THE PLOT: Set in 1898, this movie is based on the true story of two lions in Africa that killed 130 people over a nine month period, while a bridge engineer and an experienced old hunter tried to kill them.

AFTER: This seems like the kind of movie that would have been made in response to "Out of Africa" winning the Best Picture Oscar - but it was released 11 years later so that theory doesn't really hold up. But it is sort of like "Out of Africa" without the romance, plus some of "The Bridge on the River Kwai" minus the war story. Plus add two hungry lions for good measure. So it's really more like "Jaws" without the ocean.

Michael Douglas plays a game-hunter here, brought in to help a group of bridge-builders (literal ones, not figurative) who are being menaced by lions. Or taken another way, it's the story of two plucky lions struggling to survive in the wilderness, and all they have to eat are a bunch of stringy, non-meaty African rail-workers. Your call.

I'm trying to get to some larger meaning here, but it's tough. Something about colonial Imperialism in the late 1800's, or man vs. nature. Man vs. his inner demons? Could the lions represent something more than a pair of giant man-eating felines? Tough to say. Maybe there's nothing more going on under the surface, and the best way to sum it up is to say "Somedays you eat the lion, and somedays the lion eats you." Why, thanks, mysterious mustached cowboy at the bowling alley bar! Much obliged.

My BFF Andy was in town last night, and we had a conversation about visual effects - how you sometimes can't tell these days what's an FX shot and what isn't. These days it's cheaper to build a CGI city to get the buildings looking just the way you want them then it is to wait 2 days for the right weather conditions. But since this film was released in 1996 it seems more like the opposite is true here - IMDB is telling me that 99% of the scenes used real lions, except for one sequence that used animatronics (from the great Stan Winston). However, given the level of danger involved, even working with trained lions, I suspect that there were a few CGI or post-FX lion shots (Digital Domain's presence in the credits is a bit of a giveaway) - show me the stuntman willing to have a lion pounce on him...

NITPICK POINT: The lead character seems to know a great deal about African wildlife, odd facts about giraffes and hippos. So why doesn't he know that a lion can climb a damn tree?

Also starring Val Kilmer (last seen in "The Missing"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "The Name of the Father"), Emily Mortimer, Bernard Hill (last seen in "The Scorpion King"), and John Kani (shocked to learn that wasn't Djimon Hounsou - but no, his big break came in "Amistad", released 1 year later)

RATING: 3 out of 10 girders

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Year 3, Day 270 - 9/27/11 - Movie #983

BEFORE: What started out as a Michael Douglas chain has rapidly turned into a treatise on questionable morals - and I expect that trend to continue tonight.

THE PLOT: Now out of prison but still disgraced by his peers, Gordon Gekko works his future son-in-law, an idealistic stock broker, when he sees an opportunity to take down a Wall Street enemy and rebuild his empire.

AFTER: It's an updated look at what goes on behind the scenes at financial trading companies, but even with all I've read in the news, it's a world that I know very little about. There are nods here to the collapses of top financial firms just a couple years ago, prompted by credit swaps, leveraging (still not sure what that is), and plain old greed. I'm not sure, but some of that stuff feels a little tacked on here, not just as a take on current events, but as a way of injecting some morality and blame for our double-dip recession.

But as a movie, it's all about consistency - or at least, it should be. Oh, characters can change over the course of time, but it has to be warranted and justified. For Gordon Gekko to say "Greed is good" in the original film, then spend a few years in prison and then warn of impending fiscal collapse, it seems like the character might have undergone a genuine epiphany, and not just because we know that he's right. But then to have him turn around and go back to his own ways, it seems like an inconsistent message - greed was good, then greed was bad, now it's good again?

Unless that's really who he is, underneath it all, a cold-hearted snake. If so, then that is a form of consistency, however disappointing it may be. Just when we think he might have learned something and seen the error in his ways, he reverts to form. Does he really believe that time is actually the greatest commodity, or is that just more lip service?

There are plenty of other inconsistencies as well - spreading false rumors about another company is bad. Unless a good character does it, which makes it OK? He's only doing it for revenge, not profit - is that bad, or good? Come on, movie, be consistent!

Some of the plot here also deals with types of energy investment - and our hero pitches a new clean form of fusion, so that's good, right? Or wait, isn't solar the good one? But is he pitching it because it's green (clean), or because it's green (profitable)? Yes. So why does everyone else in the movie still interested in off-shore drilling? Didn't they get the memo?

The film is set in 2008, so one has to wonder about the effect of two more recent events - 1) the BP oil spill, and its effect on the marketplace, and 2) the collapse of Solyndra, a solar firm that was central to the president's new energy plan, but seems to have gone the way of Enron.

But really, this film is not about energy - they could have just as easily be trading shares in a car company, food company, or a widget company. It's about getting revenge while getting back on top. Gekko also tries to re-connect with his daughter through her fiancé, who he (sort of) takes under his wing. Or was he playing him too?

I'm not sure this did much more than continue the original story - it's hard to say for sure if it advanced it much, though.

NITPICK POINT: OK, I can see how someone might mispronounce the word "piranha" - and I was also bothered by a character mispronouncing "Antarctica" by leaving out the first "C". It's wrong, but a lot of people say it that way. But who mispronounces the word "Satan"? Someone in this film said it like "satin", and that's just weird.

Also starring Shia LaBeouf (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Carey Mulligan (last seen in "Public Enemies"), Josh Brolin (last seen in "True Grit"), Frank Langella (last seen in "The Ninth Gate"), Eli Wallach (last seen in "The Misfits"), Susan Sarandon (last seen in "The Lovely Bones"), Austin Pendleton, with cameos from Charlie Sheen (last seen in "The Rookie"), Sylvia Miles, Warren Buffett, Graydon Carter, Maria Bartiromo.

RATING: 3 out of 10 bottles of champagne

The Star Chamber

Year 3, Day 269 - 9/26/11 - Movie #982

BEFORE: Michael Douglas carries over, as does the theme of fighting crime inside and outside the system. Though I've watched a bunch of legal films, my main source of legal knowledge is still "Law & Order" - though less so since they cancelled 3 of the 4 shows in the franchise.

Thanks to that, and a few other cancellations ("Smallville", "Rescue Me"), I'm down to just 13 hours of network TV per week - that's what I save to VHS to watch later, since I'm 4 months behind. Part of my job is scanning through TV shows, but what I scan through is much greater than what I watch in real time. I vowed last season, and again this season, to not pick up any new shows until some more of my favorites finish their runs, or until I finish the movie project.

I'm down to: the 3 CSI's, Law & Order: SVU, The Amazing Race, the Fox Sunday animation line-up, the NBC Thursday comedy line-up, and Kitchen Nightmares. In the second tier is any competition show that involves cooking (Top Chef, Iron Chef, Hell's Kitchen, Chopped, Cupcake Wars), singing (American Idol, America's Got Talent, maybe X-Factor), or shooting (Top Shot). Then in the 3rd tier are shows like Dirty Jobs, Mythbusters, Shark Tank, Wipeout, Bizarre Foods, Man vs. Food, Restaurant: Impossible, and a few cartoons like Futurama and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Yeah, it seems like a lot. It's hard to believe, but I have cut back.

This season's new shows look like another bunch of crap - I've got no interest in more procedurals like Unforgettable or Person of Interest, or the new "comedies" like Free Agents or Last Man Standing. And do we need TWO different shows, Grimm and Once Upon a Time, riffing off fairy tales? Surprisingly, I've also got no interest in the new show involving time travel (Terra Nova) or the one about stewardesses (Pan Am), or even the one about Playboy bunnies. Plus, the new Charlie's Angels doesn't even look that hot - it looks like they took all the sexy out of it, after Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu worked so hard putting it back in...

THE PLOT: Disgusted with criminals escaping the judicial system via technicalities, an idealistic young judge investigates an alternative method for punishing the guilty.

AFTER: Wow, you know the legal system is broken when even the judges don't think that justice is being served. What year was this made - 1983? Does that coincide with the start of the Libertarian Party, or something? Reagan was president back then - weren't we as a country getting tougher on crime?

Michael Douglas plays a judge (really?) who is forced by the letter of the law to dismiss some high-profile cases, which causes him to lose faith in the system. Funny, I thought that a judge could rule however he wanted - isn't that the point of a trial? But here he feels that if he were to continue the case, his decision would only get overturned on appeal, so what's the point of continuing?

Hell, by that reasoning, what's the point of doing anything? Why put criminals in jail? They're only going to learn better criminal techniques from the other convicts, and go right back to crime when they get out. Why arrest anyone, if their lawyers are going to plead their cases, and maybe get them off the hook.

My point is, some of the logic in the film seems a bit flawed. The gathering of judges who decide to review these old cases, where guilty people CLEARLY got away with murder, seeks to balance the scales - but perhaps they never heard that old saw about two wrongs not making a right. (But three rights make a left - think about it...)

The problem is, they only review the cold, hard facts of the case - and since they've got a hitman on retainer, they're maybe a little too eager to declare people guilty, and deserving of vigilante justice. Or they're just doing it to feel like they're making a difference - in which case action's going to feel better than inaction, and that's probably affecting their decisions as well.

Hey, remember that time we all got together and had that guy executed - but it turned out he didn't kill anyone, it was just a mistake? Hi-LAR-ious! Yeah, not so much.

Also starring Hal Holbrook (last seen in "Magnum Force"), Yaphet Kotto (last seen in "The Thomas Crown Affair"), Sharon Gless (last seen in "Airport 1975"), James Sikking (last seen in "The Electric Horseman"), Joe Regalbuto, with cameos from character actors Larry Hankin (last seen in "Armed and Dangerous"), Jack Kehoe, David Proval (later played Richie Aprile on "The Sopranos") and also Otis Day (from "Animal House").

RATING: 4 out of 10 class photos

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Black Rain

Year 3, Day 268 - 9/25/11 - Movie #981

BEFORE: Back refreshed after a week's break, ready to watch the last few films of the year. I did a lot in the last week, went to a beer festival and a beer dinner as part of NYC Craft Beer Week, took my boss out for a belated birthday dinner, started reading a book (you know, those paper things we used to read before DVDs came around), bagged up some comic books, and got caught up on some TV (still 4 months behind, though, and about to reach last season's finales on some of my shows). But I got a taste of life after this project ends, and I am looking forward to having free time again.

Fortunately I can link thematically from where I left off - "True Grit" was about tracking a criminal through Indian territory, and this one's about tracking a criminal through the Japanese underworld. Plus I can send the Birthday SHOUT-out to Michael Douglas (last seen in "The In-Laws"), born 9/25/1944. And linking actors is easy, too, since Matt Damon was in the "Ocean's Eleven" films with Andy Garcia (last seen in "New York, I Love You"). It's almost like I planned it this way...

THE PLOT: Two New York cops get involved in a gang war between members of the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia.

AFTER: This is a cop film that does for Japan what "Crocodile Dundee" did for Australia. Whatever cultural touchstones Americans are aware of that relate to Japan find a way to show up in the film. See Michael Douglas's character eat sushi! Watch Andy Garcia's character sing karaoke! The investigation manages to swing by the fish market, and the noodle shops - you know, because stereotypes are really just big time-savers, after all. All Japanese criminals ride Suzuki motorcycles and know how to wield Samurai swords, it turns out.

Maybe I just had a little trouble finding my rhythm again, but I found some of the police work hard to follow - you know, the investigating that gets them from place to place. It's great that you could track the Japanese crimelords down, now how about telling the audience how you did it? Then again, I did doze off once or twice (not a good sign for an action film) so maybe I missed something. I did rewind (do we still say "rewind" relating to a DVD?) but you never know.

NITPICK POINT: The American cop, even in plain-clothes, sticks out like a sore thumb in the streets of Japan. Maybe he's not the best person to be tailing someone through the city...

NITPICK POINT #2: The title refers to the weather after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. I can see how this might have affected the people who were alive at the time, but using it as a justification for why a much younger man is a murderer and thief? I didn't quite get the connection there.

Also starring Kate Capshaw, Ken Takakura (last seen in "Mr. Baseball"), with cameos from John Spencer (last seen in "Presumed Innocent"), Luis Guzman (last seen in "Out of Sight"), Stephen Root (last seen in "Bicentennial Man").

RATING: 5 out of 10 rice fields

Friday, September 16, 2011

True Grit (2010)

Year 3, Day 259 - 9/16/11 - Movie #980

BEFORE: Another Western, with a similar theme in that it's all about tracking someone down. And linking is simple since Tommy Lee Jones from "The Missing" was also in "No Country for Old Men" with Josh Brolin (last seen in "Jonah Hex"), who appears here.

I had thought that this film would be on premium cable by now, but it's still on Pay-Per-View, so I shelled out $5 so I could watch this back-to-back with "The Missing" (I do, and do, and do for you people...)

THE PLOT: A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.

AFTER: Well, I thought that "Out of Sight" felt like a Coen brothers film, and this is a Coen brothers film that feels like, I don't know, a John Ford film? I admit I have not seen the original "True Grit" with John Wayne (though I did read the MAD magazine parody) - I'm not a fan of John Wayne like my father-in-law is.

There is something of the Coen brothers spirit from films like "Fargo" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" that shines through - you can count on criminals acting stupid, and fighting with each other, and you can also count on big, broad goofy acting strokes - it's almost a wonder that Rooster Cogburn wasn't played by John Goodman. But Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Jagged Edge") is fine, he is sort of getting up there in years, and playing a drunk in "The Big Lebowski" could be seen as a fine warm-up for this.

It's a servicable enough story, the quest to track down the criminal, the search for vengeance, the sacrifice made to put things right. I did appreciate that the quest took place in Indian territory, but Indians weren't portrayed as the weirdo villains who have bizarre mystical ways - in fact I think they may have been absent from this film altogether.

Also starring Matt Damon (last seen in "Chasing Amy"), Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), and a vocal cameo from J.K. Simmons (last seen in "The Jackal").

RATING: 7 out of 10 cornbreads

I'm taking a week off from the blog, since tonight is the kick-off of NYC Craft Beer Week, and it's difficult to maintain both a movie schedule and a drinking schedule at the same time. This will push the last round of horror films into October, which works thematically for Halloween - I'll be not-so-coincidentally back on Michael Douglas' birthday, September 25.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Missing

Year 3, Day 258 - 9/15/11 - Movie #979

BEFORE: A thematic jump, perhaps, from a crime film to a Western - but I wanted to send the next Birthday SHOUT-out to Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "A Prairie Home Companion"), who's turning 65 today. Plus there's the extra semi-related titles - if something is out of sight, it's missing, right? Linking from last night's film, I thought I'd have to go through the "Batman" films, since George Clooney played Batman and Tommy Lee Jones played Two-Face, but that was in different movies. (And as an extra bonus, Michael Keaton was in "Out of Sight", and another movie Batman appears tonight, plus another Two-Face...weird, 3 Batmen in 2 films) But it's easier to link Clooney to Cate Blanchett (last seen in "Babel") since they co-starred in "The Good German".

THE PLOT: In 1885 New Mexico, a frontier medicine woman forms an uneasy alliance with her estranged father when her daughter is kidnapped by an Apache brujo.

AFTER: Well, there were some plot links to this week's earlier movies, as we have a crime, a kidnapping, just taking place in frontier times. And it's about tracking down the rogue Indian kidnappers, instead of a bank robber. Am I trying to hard to make thematic connections?

But it's also about a man trying to reconnect with his daughter, and her daughters, though he hasn't seen her in decades, and she still holds a mean grudge. Tracking down his granddaughter's kidnappers offers him a shot at redemption, albeit a very difficult one. There's plenty of time on the trail for these two to work out their personal issues, though.

There's a fair amount of action, though the film is still relatively slow-paced. But it's an attempt to describe a slower, simpler time - when it took days to travel between cities, the wheels of justice turned slowly (if at all), and people had to fight just to hold on to their piece of land and their basic human rights.

The film relies just a little too much on the "Indians are weird" stereotypes, with all the hoodoo and the magic powders and the speaking with animal spirits. Same goes for the "Indians are evil" notes - haven't we seen that a few too many times?

Aside from that, the film has mostly modern sensibilities - same storyline as a film like "Taken", for example, if you ignore the time and place. And teen girls still get abducted into sex slavery today - so if the Old West was such a brutal place, what does that make our modern world?

In the end, it's about how far people will go to get a family member back, what sacrifices they're willing to make, and that rings true no matter what the setting.

Also starring Evan Rachel Wood (last seen in "The Wrestler"), Aaron Eckhart (last seen in "Erin Brockovich"), Eric Schweig (last seen in "The Last of the Mohicans") with cameos from Val Kilmer (last seen in "MacGruber"), Clint Howard (last seen in "Far and Away"), Elisabeth Moss (last seen in "The Last Supper").

RATING: 5 out of 10 rattlesnakes

If you've got a feel for how I think, you can probably predict what tomorrow's movie will be...