Death Note — Review

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Nat Wolff has an unexpected guest in this scene from Adam Wingard’s Death Note.

1_Star

“A tasteless mush that you stare at because it makes sounds and lights up.”

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Logan’s Run — Review

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More productivity is seen in the post-apocalyptic Capitol Building than the current Capitol Building.

1_Star

by Ken B.

Logan’s Run is an awfully incomprehensible mess, occasionally punctured with a kinda enjoyable scene, which must be responsible for its semi-existent cult following. The screenplay is annoyingly weak, and the effects are abysmally dated. There are movies from the 1920s with visuals that hold up better than some of these.

It’s set in the 23rd century, where humans have screwed the earth up so bad that the survivors live in a great city, a cluster of domes where births are controlled by the government, and so are deaths: you have a crystal implanted on your hand, and when you near age 30, the crystal begins blinking red. It’s a sign that soon you will take part in an elaborate public ceremony with the promise of rebirth. Many have concluded that no rebirth occurs – it’s a brutal form of population control, and so they run away. This is illegal, and there is a team of guards, called Sandmen, who track down and kill the runners. Logan 5 (Michael York) is a dedicated Sandman, who often works with Francis 7 (Richard Jordan).

Logan is assigned by the vague supercomputer that supervises him to infiltrate a sanctuary where many successfully escaped runners have vacated. To increase authenticity, his years are advanced to the blinking red zone, and it is unclear whether he will regain that lost time at first. In the process, he teams up with Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter) as they venture into the mysterious outside world, pursued by none other than Francis.

The main problem (and there are many) with Logan’s Run is that its motivations and existence is dead. There’s never a reason to truly care about what is happening to our protagonists, since we know so little about them. There’s never any question of the evil nature of the anonymous castle-on-the-hill nature of whoever oversees the city, but the movie never makes an internal case for Logan’s need for victory. While it’s more or less safe to rely on the fact that anyone watching the film will side for him, the eventual lack of a surviving backdrop makes the script seem incomplete or rushed. I might read the book the film is based on to see if there are fewer problems there, which is often true when it comes to bad adaptations of novels.

Possibly the only indisputable positive found with Logan’s Run is the cool futuristic score by Jerry Goldsmith. The acting is inconsequential, the script is a mess, and the pacing is dreadful – dreadful. It’s a shocking fact that the runtime would be only 119 minutes; it delivered a more passionate reaction from me than just about any event within the film itself after feeling like I had emerged from a multihour drawl. Perhaps this may be an example of my immersion in an ADD riddled modern culture, but these are my thoughts, and so I have expressed them.

Is this movie ever awful. Seriously. I don’t know why it’s gained so much defense. It appears to own a message to teach, but it’s never fully realized in a way that provides any interest or thought. Logan’s Run has not held up well over the years – I wonder if I would have even liked it had I seen it in 1976.  Yet, there are people who seem perfectly content with it, possibly through a solid layer of the always welcome nostalgia. More power to them, I suppose. Whatever. There’s no reason that you have to waste an evening on it.

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Film Socialisme — Review

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1_Star

by Ken B.

I, like many, regard Jean-Luc Godard as an authority on cinema, and for good reason. A filmmaker for over 50 years, his early work gives us some of the building blocks of contemporary filmmaking, as did his French New Wave colleagues. That is why I’m especially angry at Film Socialisme, his latest feature effort. It is among the most inconsequentially time wasting, pretentious, and pointless movies I have ever seen. Had someone like Godard not have been involved, I imagine it would have no supporters at all, instead of the devoted few that exist. But there are supporters, so more power to them, I guess. Or most of them. More on that later.

Film Socialisme is a film without a plot – on purpose. It is divided into three acts, or “symphonies”, one on a cruise ship, one on land featuring a family, and one simply detailing the various wonders of the world. Most scenes within said movements are unrelated to each other. Dialogue is nearly entirely in French, and is compensated with three word subtitles following a line, “Navajo English”, Godard calls it (either he’s referencing the World War II Native American code talkers, or the way they talk in old Westerns. Both are equally viable, but I have a feeling that it’s probably not even either of the two). (Example: what I’ve written in this paragraph so far might be: “noplot     foreign     three”, or something to that effect. Words are frequently combined, hence “noplot”.) Based on the subtitles, most of the conversations are about Europe, race, history, heritage, war, and politics (hence: “socialisme/socialism”). There is nothing I want more than for a fluent French speaker to watch this and tell me what the freaking thing was about.

There are some profound moments to be seen – a softly spoken conversation with “Pathetique” by Beethoven tinkering in the background on a piano is one that sticks in my head, but everything else is an incoherent (on purpose) mess (on purpose), alienating the stupid Americans (on purpose). And you have to give Godard at least minimal credit on the camera – the segments on a cruise ship are parts grainy closed-circuit video, high definition digital video, and some godforsaken footage, grainy and abrasive, shot on a bad cell phone. The first part of the film has a documentary vibe to it, where the dissolution of independence is found by herds of tourists flocking off to every pandering subject and pastime.

A refrain among some defenders of Film Socialisme is that the very objective of the film is up to the viewer, and those who dismiss it are conformist and follow the masses, like the above mentioned tourists. If anything, the tourists represent them, the aggressive Godard admirers – those trying to sway anyone who comes to an individual opinion on things like this, attempting to pull them over to their side and living out a scene on a dance floor, where 5 year olds run around following the lights. Their very argument is hypocritical, telling them what they are supposed to experience after saying that everyone will experience something different. Think Godard wouldn’t alienate his own obsessive-level devotees? It’s gotten to the point where I wouldn’t put anything past him. It’s not hypocritical on my part to point them out; I have nothing against those who like the movie in general, but the behavior of a select few must be condemned.

A review should read as a personal reflection and record of what the reviewer felt while examining the work critiqued, and in writing this, I convey the message that I felt the work of an aging man, while rightfully complaining about the things I believe he was complaining about, doing so in a wasteful and inaccessible way. This is a one star review, yet I still call for you to watch it if you are interested, and draw your own conclusions. I won’t deny that’s what it was made for.

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Upside Down — Review

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1_Star

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by Ken B.

Love. Love love. I love love. Everyone loves love. But what I don’t, nor anyone else, love are movies like this – completely incompetent from a storytelling perspective, and entirely too bloated for its own good.

Juan Diego Solana’s Upside Down has a bunch of impressive visuals and absolutely nothing else. There’s a mildly plagiaristic plot, and then there’s an exceedingly complicated set of inner-movie physics. There are actors that are never really given a chance to shine, and some interesting ideas that are only briefly entertained.

Adam (JIM STURGESS) lives in a universe where there are two very separate planets, one over the other. In Down, where he lives, there is poverty abound. He grew up an orphan, as his parents were killed in an oil refinery explosion, and his only surviving relative was his great Aunt Becky (KATE TROTTER).

In Down, gravity falls down. In Up, it… goes up, of course. Up, in contrast to down, is filled with wealth and fortune. Down sells oil to Up, which converts it to electricity and sells it back to Down for higher prices. The divide between Up and Down is very obvious and the border hostile.

Anyway, one day when climbing up a mountain, Adam meets Eden (KIRSTEN DUNST), a woman from Up. They hit it off immediately, but because they are from two rival social classes, they are forbidden to cross into each other’s world and be together. They are forcefully separated, but years later Adam sees Eden as a representative for TransWorld, the massive company who owned the refinery that killed his family and thousands of others. Against the advice of his colleagues, he gains an entry level job at TransWorld, determined to reunite with Eden and make some technological developments along the way, based on something he found as a child.

It looks fairly straightforward, but this 107 minute movie all too quickly flies off the handle and becomes entirely incoherent by the last act. A while ago, I reviewed Roman Holiday, and mentioned that I liked the melancholy bittersweet ending. No such thing exists here, making this a pointless conclusion that’s mildly infuriating. It in and of itself contain extremely unlikely scenarios that I would describe, but would have to spoil the film even more in the process.

While the special effects, especially those in the wide shots between the two worlds are dynamic and incredible, Up is often shot with the camera upside down, creating an unintelligible and often nausea-inducing result. The music by Benoît Charest and Sigur Rós is nearly entirely generic and unmemorable. The performances are uneventful, mostly because the clichéd script doesn’t really give them much space to shine – or any at all. Upside Down is a colossal waste of time – one hour and forty minutes devoted to a pandering plot, clichés and predictability at every turn, and an insultingly saccharine ending makes this a movie not worth experiencing, regardless of whether you live Up or Down.

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Season of the Witch – Review

by Ken B.

Watching Season of the Witch is comparable to watching someone else play a poorly designed video game. You want to grab the controller, but for the sole purpose of lunging it through the TV, for you figure that watching the thing explode is far more entertaining than whatever’s going on onscreen at the moment.

Have I made my point yet? Season of the Witch is a terrible movie. It’s 95 minutes long, and whether this is a testament to slow-mindedness or a poor script is for you to decide, but I required 56 of those 95 minutes before I could determine the name of Nicolas Cage’s character. And later, when I looked up the movie on the iMDB, I found out I was wrong. Speaking of Cage, he could once be called an actor who appeared in good movies. Certainly in that time period, he proved he was over-qualified to appear in fantastic movies. As part of the Coppola family, there is major cinematic talent apparent in his 1980s – 1990s filmography. And now, AMPAS is most certainly thinking “Are we allowed to repeal Oscars?” It’s odd that a Best Actor win in 1996 could be followed up with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and an entry entitled (according to the posters) Drive Angry – Filmed in 3D.

Season of the Witch is one of those bad movies which you’re not really expecting much even from the plot. Set in 14th Century Europe, Cage portrays Behman, a knight. He has a friendship with a fellow knight, Felson (RON PERLMAN, who appears to be the only cast member who realizes the level of quality we’re working with here). After several years worth of fighting, it finally sets in on Behman that innocent women and children are being killed in the proceedings (once again, title cards explain that the large army he’s a part of had been at this for several years prior), so he and Felson flee, and soon become caught up in a mission to hunt down witches believed to be the cause of the Black Plague. In the process, they form a group of warriors, including a priest (STEPHEN CAMPBELL MOORE) and an alter boy (ROBERT SHEEHAN).

Acting wise, we’ve got typical post-2002 Nicolas Cage here. Ron Perlman occupies a whole wink at the camera kind of demeanor, which can add a bit of humility in the movie. That’s it. The party of warriors is basically “meh” to completely dead, with Sheehan, an Irish actor I was unfamiliar with, occupying a deer-in-headlights thing whenever the camera is close to him. At least I think the camera was close to him. Actually, it’s rather difficult to tell when the camera is close to anyone, with the lighting so poor. Seriously. I must assume that the 14th Century wasn’t fortunate enough to have the sun for more than 5 minutes at a time.

This isn’t a joke, but a serious statement. The best scene in the movie was the last. It had decent lighting and direction. If you watched that scene on its own, you would believe that the preceding 95 minutes belonged to an adequate movie.

License to Drive – Review

by Ken B.

The jokes in License to Drive are like what would happen if you had a camel drive a car. A few surprising moments of near accuracy, but most times come desperately close to gigantic, catastrophic failures. My first red flag watching this movie was less than thirty seconds after the 20th Century Fox logo faded out. An absolutely terrible cover of The Beatles’ “Drive my Car” played over the main titles.

Earlier in the day I watched License to Drive, I watched another movie on Netflix, just to sort of reset my mind so I wouldn’t compare everything to Metropolis. I can’t remember what the movie was called, but it was also a comedy about high school students (albeit, much more grim in its style of comedy). The only modicum of information I can recall is that I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it. For a movie I can not remember at all, it seems so much better compared to this pile of substandard garbage.

In the 1980s, the late Corey Haim was in a lot of movies with Corey Feldman. The Two Coreys, they were called.I now propose the idea children born in the US between 1972 and 1975 were smashed over the head a couple of times at birth by movie executives, or movie executives are just dull, because that’s the only reasonable way I can imagine anyone thinking kids are this stupid to find any of this funny.

So, Haim plays Les Anderson (oh, how I wish this movie would be directed by Wes Anderson! I don’t know if it would have been better or not, but at least there would have a been delightful wordplay!). Les, like many 16 year old kids, is very excited by the not-so-far-away dreams of getting his driver’s license, and as a result, social freedom.

Well, as anyone with half a sliver of common sense would predict, he fails the test. And, as anyone with half a sliver of common sense would say, they’d rather be run over by a Student Driver that continue to watch this tragically inept movie continue. But I had no choice…

Now, let’s talk a little bit about the nearly dead positives. Um… the special effects are pretty good. The driving stunts, which I would call a tragic waste of resources and risked lives of the stuntmen, are rather well done.

After watching this one end, I wondered about the possible economic and legal risk of getting in a time machine, heading back to 1988, going to a packed theater playing this, running up to the front of the room, and screaming “Aren’t you better than THIS?!”, before heading back to the present time.

Following Haim’s death in 2010, Corey Feldman said there were two sequels to this film that were initially in development, entitled License to Fly and License to Dive. Hmm.

It’s worth noting that the worst thing about bad comedies is when they think they’re hysterical – I’m talking Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker or Monty Python levels of funny they think they have, and never really figure out just how substandard they are. License to Drive appears to fall victim to this. You can feel the movie guffawing throughout at itself, as it just crashes in real life. It’s depressing.

The Second Arrival – Review

by Bret W.

This awful sequel to The Arrival (1996), which starred the very able Charlie Sheen, begs to be asked the question, “Why?”  Now, I understand that a small film company like Live Entertainment needs to capitalize on the success, no matter how small, of the first film, but why, oh why, did they make this piece of garbage?  And there are some more whys: Why didn’t they let David Twohy write and direct this one?  Perhaps he wasn’t interested.  After all, he was also busy directing Pitch Black, another surprisingly good film.  Well, then why didn’t they just hop on down to the local grammar school and pick the kid with the Dunce cap to write this one?  He couldn’t have done any worse.

Which brings us to the plot.  Supposedly, Jack Addison, a computer geek, is the brother of Zane Ziminski, who is found dead and has five envelopes sent to his friends after his death detailing the alien invasion that he uncovered in the first film.  Now, I have no idea how two brothers have different last names, and they make no attempt whatsoever to explain this phenomenon.  Nor do they bother to explain any of the other anomalies that occur throughout.  It’s the typical man- (and in this case, also woman-) on-the-run film where at every turn their pursuers seem to be one step ahead and one step behind.

Now, I have to say that the computer effects were above average, although the blue-screen effects were amateurish.  It’s a shame, too, because the computer animation effects were very believable, and matting in the actors and the computer objects into the same scenes was so obvious that it made this already bad movie even worse.

So let’s recap.  The story was weak and an obvious attempt to recreate the success of the first film.  The acting was flat and at times worthy of the Raspberry (the opposite of the Oscar, the Raspberries are given out during Oscar Week, a few days before the awards).  The directing is a gross reflection of the poor quality of acting, and the scenes seemed as though they were shot for TV, not for cinema.  Now, based on the effects, I’d say that the budget was, well, I’d say anemic if it weren’t for the computer animation which, I have to admit, is a soft spot of mine.  But despite fine computer animation, this film falls far short of the mark made by its predecessor.  Die-hard Sci-Fi fans will find it tedious and unimaginative, and anyone else will just find it God-awful.  A worthy Dog of the Week.