Friday, July 22, 2011

PCU (1994)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (6.1).

This college comedy screams mid-90's and is actually rather dated at this point.  At its core it's about a slacker frat house provoking satires of various left- and right-wing college groups (animal-rights vegans, second-wave feminists, and young Republicans) for the sake of their own frat's antisocial amusement.  Overall it's pretty firmly "meh"... although George Clinton puts in a surprise appearance and plays some great funk music at the movie's climax.  Score: 2 stars out of 4 (although George Clinton almost earns a bonus star all by himself).

Exte: Hair Extensions (2007)

Links: Wikipedia, IMDB (6.4).

For a horror comedy about killer hair extensions, this movie takes itself surprisingly seriously.  I'm... not saying it's bad, but... I was expecting more time laughing and less time squirming at fairly legit attempts at body horror.  There are some genuinely amusing humor bits scattered through the movie, but they're mostly squished to the beginning and end of the film to make room for the horror, as the hairstylist protagonist protects her niece from child abuse and watches her salon coworkers get picked off one by one by a vengeful ghost's ever-growing hair.  Score: 2 stars out of 4, but add a star if you like Japanese horror films.

Sneakers (1992)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.0).

A rare beast, the comedic thriller, about a tiger team of former hackers who get caught up in espionage and intrigue while keeping their sense of humor.  It's one of the most gracefully aged "hacker" movies out there, mostly because it doesn't show actual computers on-screen all that often.  The movie manages to strike a good balance of lighthearted versus serious, as well as realistic versus entertaining, with good segues that avoid mood whiplash.  (Worth noting: Leonard Adleman, the "A" in RSA, consulted on this movie's cryptography plot points.)  I consider this one of my favorite movies, and I readily recommend it.  Score: 4 stars out of 4.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Black Dynamite (2009)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.4).

This over-the-top spoof/homage of 1970's B-movie blaxploitation films is an enjoyable ride from beginning to end, a nice blend of parody and nostalgia.  The characters are non-stop fun, the plots are enjoyably over-the-top, and the deliberate use of continuity errors, filming mistakes, and bad stock footage adds to the charm.  Essentially, this film is to the blaxploitation genre what the Austin Powers series is to the 60s James Bond films.  Score: 4 stars out of 4.

The Shining (1980)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (8.5).

I somehow managed to reach adulthood without having seen The Shining, but after having absorbed most of it through pop-culture osmosis, I finally sat down to watch it.  I... well, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I saw wasn't it.  In particular, the movie was much more of an explicitly supernatural horror story than I'd been led to believe, over and above the "shining" ability itself.  I was considerably less impressed with the film when I found out it was basically a haunted house story, and not a psychological thriller about a man driven to hallucinations and homicide by cabin fever.  I guess as far as Stephen King stories about haunted locations go (another one?), this was pretty decent, though.  Score: 3 stars out of 4.

Agora (2009)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.2).

Nrrrgh.  I really wanted to like this historical drama about Hypatia of Alexandria, a real-life teacher in Roman Egypt who was famous for (a) being an early example of a well-respected female mathematician/geometer, and (b) dying gruesomely at the hands of a mob for crossing the wrong Christian religio-political faction.  However, the story takes serious liberties with Hypatia herself: it makes her an atheist instead of a Hellenistic pagan; it makes her care about empiricism, when Neo-Platonists like her rejected the idea that the material universe could teach us anything; and it put her on the verge of discovering Galilean Relativity and Keplerian Planetary Motion 1200 years early, despite no evidence that any Hellenic mind came close to considering elliptical planetary orbits (although they had the facts available to prove it if they'd ever given the idea serious consideration).  To add injury to insult, the film is also trying too hard to be an Important FilmTM, so it ends up being boring instead of riveting, even as a historical drama.  Score: 2 stars out of 4.

Teeth (2007)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (5.7).

It's a horror comedy about a woman with a vagina dentata (teeth down there).  It sounds like a fun premise, but the reality is lackluster: the movie spends too much time with the main character focusing on premarital abstinence and purity rings, and then spends too much time with her being a victim of both sexual assault and her own body's homicidal urges.  (TVTropes astutely calls it "a Lifetime Movie of the Week with a carnivorous vagina thrown in".)  There are some fun bits scattered through the movie, but overall the film doesn't gel together and was more of a disappointment than a comedy.  Score: 1 star out of 4 (but aaalmost 2 stars).

Taxi Driver (1976)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (8.6).

I'm probably going to take some flak for this, but... I actively disliked this movie.  This Martin Scorsese film is set in the grimiest portrayal of New York City you're likely to encounter, and the film is two hours of focused character study directed at Robert De Niro's title character: an unlikable, socially awkward protagonist who's visibly descending into homicidal, stalkeriffic madness.  The film is very unpleasant to watch, especially the stalking scenes which hewed so sharply to reality that they nicked it, but I felt there was no good payoff for that unpleasantness.  In fact, the end makes more sense as a fantasy or dream ending than it does at face value.  It doesn't help that, while it isn't quite Film Noir, it draws enough of its inspiration from that well of lingering, jazz-infested night shots that my dislike of Film Noir as a style kicks in.  Score: 1 star out of 4, unless you like Film Noir and dark character studies (in which case this is a classic).

Aside: if you're not aware, this is the movie that inspired John Hinckley Jr. to shoot Ronald Reagan in 1981, which he believed would impress Jodie Foster (who plays a child prostitute in this film).  Part of what frustrates me about the film is that it presents the crazy without judging it; would Hinckley have been so inspired if the movie had ended on a sour note instead?

Monday, July 18, 2011

1776 (1972)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.3).

This period-piece musical presents the dramatized debates of the American colonial congress that ultimately voted for independence from the British Empire in 1776.  A lot of people, critics especially, have been rather unhappy with the resulting film... but, honestly, I rather liked it.  It's a caricature, as you might expect from a period-piece musical, but it hits the important notes with surprising attention to accuracy given the genre, and it manages to be rather entertaining while it does so.  The film does have a mood switch from a lighthearted beginning, to the politicking over the call to end slavery ("Molasses to Rum"), to an increasingly somber assessment of the terrible cost of war and the odds of winning ("Look Sharp", "Is Anybody There?", the final dispatch) but it actually pulls this off with a surprisingly deft hand as the slow but steady pace piles on the growing tension.  The restored director's cut footage includes a song that was nixed by Richard Nixon's request ("Cool, Considerate Men"), but the restored segments aren't necessarily worth the extra 20 minutes.  Score: 3 stars out of 4.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Titan A.E. (2000)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (6.4).

This animated film was directed by Don Bluth (All Dogs Go To Heaven) and the writers included Joss Whedon (Buffy) and Ben Edlund (The Tick), but it's more problematic than that sounds: at times it's trying desperately to be a kid's movie, and at others it wants to be a serious movie that merely happens to be animated. The film suffers from Development Hell: the plot and characters sometimes change out of nowhere, seams where older drafts were glued together to make the final script. The soundtrack is also rather badly mismatched. But despite the problems, it's the most adult-targeted film Don Bluth has ever done, and it's enjoyable: it has a generally legit and intelligent story, the setting is great, the visuals are great, and it trends toward relatively hard sci-fi. I liked it. Score: 3 stars out of 4.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Zardoz (1974)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (5.6).

Get ready for Zardoz, the only movie that manages to be both unbearably tedious and completely fucking insane all at the same time!
Albert Walker

Zardoz is... very much a product of its time. Created in the barely post-Woodstock era when people could still talk about infinite crystals and psychic meditation while keeping a straight face, it's clearly what results when you start with early 70s zeitgeist, blend it with Philosophy 101, and season with pot and LSD to taste. Hell, even director John Boorman isn't sure what's happening half the time. Sean Connery starred in this movie to avoid being typecast as James Bond, and clad in an orange diaper, he succeeded beyond all expectations. I... can't honestly promise anyone that they'll enjoy this movie, but I definitely consider it a movie that should be seen. Taking it for what it is, my only complaint is that it's a bit slow and plodding. Score: 3 stars out of 4.

Dark Star (1974)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (6.6).

I was deeply disappointed by this film by John Carpenter (The Thing) and Dan O'Bannon (original screenplay for Alien). Before seeing it I'd heard about "that John Carpenter movie with the solipsist talking bomb". Sounds like a great comedy à la Strangelove, right? But as it turns out, the scenes with the solipsist bomb are the only good ones in the movie AND both are found at the very end. In the meantime I was forced to put up with a slow, unfunny "comedy" about people being bored on a spaceship and chasing a beachball-playing-an-alien in what was very obviously a college student short film that had been padded in length to create a low-budget feature film. I've heard the padding-free director's cut is better, and I'm sure it is: it couldn't possibly be any worse. Save yourself and watch ANYTHING ELSE written or directed by these two. Score: 0 stars out of 4.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (6.2).

I loved this film, but my friends beg to differ. It's an apocalyptic sci-fi movie from the early 80's that's far better than you'd have any right to expect. The premise is silly, of course — sort of a mashup of The Day of the Triffids with The Andromeda Strain — but the execution is actually quite skilled, with just enough self-awareness to make it fun without being a parody or dead-serious deconstruction. The setup portion of the movie is a bit slow, but it picks up before you suffer boredom. There's a point where the movie drops a new set of characters into the story, and it seems that the movie is failing to properly sketch the personality and motivations of one of them... but it turns out there's a good reason why you just have to wait for the explanation. Score: 4 stars out of 4, although your mileage may vary.