The Visitor

A blogger level film critic doesn’t enjoy many all-expenses paid things. I read about Roger Ebert being sent to Cannes year after year. So far, that ‘aint happening here. But I can write and podcast stuff about movies here and get it off my chest. That is gratifying. I hope you enjoy. Listen in the player below to my audio movie review of “The Visitor” and a little banter as I am wont to do.

This is a fun movie I did an audio review of and I’m super happy to share this episode with you. One more banterism for you: what do you sppose movies would be like if we stopped paying money for comic book films? Just a thought. No judgement (at least not much). Now, to intro the epsiode:

I review this 70’s drive-in oddity. Episode includes a “bird walk” on the meaning of left and right wing that sort of flew in out of nowhere. I recorded and mixed this one on vacation at Stateline. You’re welcome.

The Visitor (1979)
Stridulum (original title)
R | 1h 48min | Horror, Sci-Fi | 21 November 1980 (USA)

The soul of a young girl with telekinetic powers becomes the prize in a fight between forces of God and the Devil.
Director: Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
Writers: Luciano Comici (screenplay) (as Lou Comici), Robert Mundi (screenplay) (as Robert Mundy) | 2 more credits »
Stars: Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen

Swamp Thing & Them

(Audio and written review) “Swamp Thing” is a horror movie that at times may come across as a bit funny but it is meant as a serious film. It looks like a throw back to films like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Continue reading my written review and/or listen to my podcast review below. In this case, the podcast has much more material. For example I do a short review of the foreign horror film “Them” in this episode. Listen in the player below and/or keep reading the review.

Swamp Thing (1982)
PG | 1h 31min | Horror, Sci-Fi | 19 February 1982 (USA)

After a violent incident with a special chemical, a research scientist is turned into a swamp plant monster.
Director: Wes Craven
Writers: Wes Craven, Len Wein (comic book)
Stars: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise

It’s from 1982 so there wasn’t that much of a challenge on films to have the perfect cgi and graphics. They did a pretty good job with effects anyway. It was direct by Wes Craven who we all know from a “Nightmare on Elm Scream” and “Scream” and many other beloved horror films. “Swamp Thing” is a Sci-Fi horror. It’s also a theme where the monster grabs the woman and she screams but the creature does not hurt the woman. We see a similar thing in “King Kong” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

We have a scientist who is trying to make something that will cure the whole world’s hunger problem. He’s a “good guy.” The chemical he is working on explodes in his face as bad men are seeking the formula. As a result, he become 1/2 man 1/2 animal. His suit is both rustic and great. By today’s cgi standards they could have done a lot better but it’s still great. At one point he throws a lot of people. This is done in a rustic and funny fashion, almost like 70’s television: the “A Team” and stuff like that.

The woman is Adrienne Barbeaux. She starts off homely but as she sheds clothing and starts to go on the run, she reveals that she is very hot! Never judge a book by its introduction!

So in this film, we get it all: a creature and a beautiful leading lady. I greatly enjoyed this film and give it an 8/10.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

My score: 6/10. A complete rethinking of the original premise, this film probably let many viewers down. I mean, what other reason do you go see a Halloween film than to see Michael Myers in the mask. You won’t find him here. What you do get is a reimagined story involving robots like “Westworld” and a mind control campaign that utilizes television. Sound like a breed apart? It is.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
R | 1h 38min | Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi | 22 October 1982 (USA)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch Poster

Kids all over America want Silver Shamrock masks for Halloween. Doctor Daniel Challis seeks to uncover a plot by Silver Shamrock owner Conal Cochran.
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writer: Tommy Lee Wallace
Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Director Tommy Lee Wallace has done a lot of stuff since this film. None of it was blockbuster material but I find no fault in that. For example, he directed two episodes of the original made-for-tv “It.” Unfortunately, Halloween III lacks the sensibility of the original. The formula of “The Shape” (Michael Myers) coming back for more killing is the chilling premise that worked. It wasn’t broken so it shouldn’t have been changed.

This is a fun movie though. I see it on par with a “Child’s Play” or an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Indeed Halloween is the top of the hill for classic horror but there’s a long way to fall from there and still be a great movie. I give this one a 6/10.

Passengers (2016)

I give it a 2/5. It’s much sci-fi ado about nothing worth telling.

My Rating: 2/10 – Space has been called “the final frontier” but what good is space to an explorer all by his lonesome? That’s what we have with Chris Pratt’s character: a lonely man living out a full year knowing no one is there to spend time with him much less save him. That’s what we begin with, what ends is the opposite.

Passengers“A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.” -IMDB

Cast

Jennifer Lawrence Aurora Lane
Chris Pratt Jim Preston
Michael Sheen Arthur
Laurence Fishburne Gus Mancuso

Directed by

Morten Tyldum

Written by

Jon Spaihts

Other Info

Adventure, Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi
PG-13
Wed 21 Dec 2016 UTC
116min
IMDB Rating: 7.0

Director Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game, Headhunters, provides us with some truly incredible sets. When the doors swish open, they are indeed metal and laden with decor that looks like an Alien ship or even Star Wars one. In fact, this film must have spent most its budget on sets and cgi. It’s truly breathtaking. Unfortunately, the amazing look of this film is in direct contrast to its unaffecting story. I wonder is even the best directing can make a bad story interesting.

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt need no defense. They are both stellar in what they do and they do an ok job here again, bearing through this awful script and concept. I must note that Lawrence Fishburne is in it too, but just for about 2 scenes that are only partially worth it to the plot. I felt it was a waste of such an amazing actor to have him in this miniscule, needless role.

The story is this: A man is part of a colonizing group that are all asleep in hibernation for 1,000’s of years. He wakes up to find he is alone on a spaceship with all these sleeping people. He wakes a woman up to have a partner and when she finds out she may never make it to the promised land, she mas mixed emotions. The ending shows us what the author think her final resolve would be.

FINAL THOUGHTS
This is a shiny, good looking sci-fi film. Unfortunately it relies too heavily on a simple premise that fails to become interesting even when beaten into the audience’s collective head over ad over again throughout the long middle of the film. The beginning was interesting, it drew me in. The ending was at least a resolution, which not all films have of course, but I do not know how the writer could have come to this conclusion. I was not moved. If you believe you were murdered, would you forgive that person? This is the premise and my response is “who cares, you’re dead.”

2/5

Annihilation

Something other-worldly has landed and this is nothing like us. We don’t know what it wants or if it wants anything. We can’t see it but we see its impact on the area around it. This is a film that reminded me of “Alien” 1 in its sci-fi purity. It also surprised me with some chilling horror aspects.

Annihilation (2018)
R | 1h 55min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy | 23 February 2018 (USA)

“A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.” –IMDB
Director: Alex Garland
Writers: Alex Garland (written for the screen by), Jeff VanderMeer (based on the novel by)
Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson

Director Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) Pulls out all the stops with this his second directorial project. I don’t want to let him sound “new” though, take a look at his writing credits: “Dredd” (screenplay), “Never Let Me Go” (screenplay), “28 Days Later…” (written by). In my opinion, “Annihilation” is his largest undertaking to date. He wrote the adaptation from a novel and directed this film.

Now for the cast: Natalie Portman pays Lena, the soldier turned biologist who ventures out on a mission to examine a strange new region changed by unknown forces. She is not only following her scientific curiosity but she wants to find out what happened to her late husband Kane, played by Oscar Isaac, in a place called “The Shimmer.” Benedict Wong plays a hazmat suited govt. professional who keeps a storyline running throughout the film through questions. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the all-too-creepy leader of this expedition, Dr. Ventress. She speaks in barely above a whisper most the film. Gina Rodriguez is the third woman on the mission. She is known for playing Jane on the tv series “Jane the Virgin.” Also in this is Tessa Thompson who you will recall was in “Thor: Ragnorok.”

What it’s not:

A long pointless sci-fi posing as a mystery. I want to celebrate this fact because it seems lately we’ve been fed pseudo si-fi that never delivers.

What it is:

An engaging well-written story that holds your attention through elements of drama, mystery, horror, and sci-fi. It’s also an incredibly cast and well-directed film that keeps you guessing and never leaves you hanging. While keeping some questions open-ended there is much room for discussion but the main spine of the story is explained and concluded well. I find this to be more and more rare in sci-fi mystery these days. Is it any coincidence the director of this film is its seasoned writer and a great one at that?

I won’t hide the fact that this is a long film at 2 hours. There were a couple of times I wondered how much time had passed (and I tend to do this when things are not chugging along). Still, in those moments you get to absorb the most incredible visuals and CGI. In between that the adventure moves swiftly.

My final word and rating:

This is a great adventure film I highly recommend. It is rated R for horror and gore elements so it’s not for the squeamish. I am a horror fan however so for me and my recommendation, I give this film a 9/10. I am officially a big fan of director/writer Alex Garland and looking forward to his next project.

The 5th Wave

Chloë Grace Moretz commands the screen with a presence that belies her youth. It’s a great movie and I highly recommend it. My one criticism is that it took a while to get going.

Title: The 5th Wave
Number of times I’ve seen it: 1
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year: 2014
Director: J Blakeson
Top Billed Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz (“Hugo,” “Kickass”), Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez (“Million Dollar Arm”)
Brief Synopsis: Aliens start inhabiting Earth and a group of tenagers rebel trying to save themselves. The main character, Cassie Sullivan, is trying to find her little brother.

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Here we have yet another teenage post apocalypse love triangle action sci fi film. On that level, it holds its own. There are some great action and cgi destruction scenes.

Chloë Grace Moretz commands the screen with a presence that belies her youth. It’s a great movie and I highly recommend it. My one criticism is that it took a while to get going. I don’t think the story started moving for me until the scene where the main character is shot in the leg. That’s where the mysteries start to unravel. Because that took far too long, it lost a star from me.

Frankenweenie (2012)

5/5 A boy’s love for his dog becomes a circular journey of learning to let go.

Frankenweenie
“Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.” -IMDB

Cast

Winona Ryder Elsa Van Helsing (voice)
Catherine O’Hara Mrs. Frankenstein/Weird Girl/Gym Teacher (voice)
Martin Short Mr. Frankenstein/Mr. Burgemeister/Nassor (voice)
Martin Landau Mr. Rzykruski (voice)

Directed by

Tim Burton

Written by

Leonard Ripps, Tim Burton

Other Info

Animation, Comedy, Family, Horror, Sci-Fi
PG
Fri 05 Oct 2012 UTC
87min
IMDB Rating: 7.0

You’d think death and grieving were topics best left for grown up movies like Ordinary People et. al., but these topics work surprisingly well in Tim Burton’s animated movie Frankenweenie. It is a highly enjoyable ride for families to the “other side” and back again. As Victor’s science teacher tells him, science experiments must have “heart” as well and brain. A boy’s love for his dog becomes a circular journey of learning to let go. Where does the merry-go-round end? I wont tell you that here but know it is a wildly fun, inspiring ride for viewers of all ages.

As one would expect in a Disney/Burton film, there is an all star cast of voices. Catherine O’Hara, known for her role as the mom in Home Alone plays three characters: Mrs. Frankenstien, Weird Girl, and Gym Teacher. Her voice was the most striking at first for me. When I first heard her doing a character I thought, “Wait a minute I KNOW that voice!” Then you start thinking about where it’s from. Martin Short also does a noteworthy job at the voices of Mr. Frankenstein, Mr. Burgemeister, and Nassor. Incidentally, Mr. Burgemeister is an homage to the Rankin Bass character from Santa Claus in Comin’ to Town and is a delight to watch. He is included likely because this movie was made in “stop action” format with “puppets” as they are called in the credits the same way Santa Claus is Coming to Town was. It is also the same format Burton utilized for The Nightmare Before Christmas. In a time when digital computers seem to be the format for all animation, it is exciting to see this style used to tell a story effectively on screen. There are many other household names in the movie playing a lot of entertaining characters.

Victor is a grade school boy who has a great dog named Sparky. We see them at play and get to know Sparky’s extra-large personality and warmth as a dog in the early part of the movie. This is shown well through his relationship with Victor but also through his relationship “through the fence” with a poodle and other kids. Sparky is clearly an exceptional and loving dog. I wanted to take him home myself.

As you probably have already gleaned from the trailers, Sparky dies and Victor just won’t “let him go” so-to-speak. This is where Victor tries bringing Sparky back to life in his attic just like the Frankenstein movies. By the way, Victor’s last name is also Frankenstein in Frankenweenie. The nods are not subtle in this movie but that’s ok because everything works to make a wonderful and fun family film about death and loss. It also becomes a wild ride reminiscent of Godzilla and Gremlins. Without spoiling all the fun in between, we learn that bringing things back from the dead can have monstrous consequences. There is a somewhat puzzling (for me) ending but ultimately it all works out to be one of the best family films (for all ages) I have seen an a long time. I think I can safely call it an instant classic.

Super 8 (2011) – A mediocre ‘Stand By Me’ meets ‘Stranger Things’

The trailer for this poses as a fun childhood movie with a strange unknown thing looming. Since I was age 10 when this movie takes place (1979) I was really excited to see the custard colored refrigerators and old school gas stations as well as other stuff from that year. I remember

The trailer for this poses as a fun childhood movie with a strange unknown thing looming. Since I was age 10 when this movie takes place (1979) I was really excited to see the custard colored refrigerators and old school gas stations as well as other stuff from that year. I remember it as a humane and inspiring time. Some images of 1979 really made me nostalgic in the first hour. After that however, the movie began to sputter like a 70’s moped in need of a fill up.
Super 8

Super 8

“During the summer of 1979, a group of friends witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town.” -IMDB

Cast

Elle Fanning Alice Dainard
AJ Michalka Jen Kaznyk
Kyle Chandler Deputy Jackson Lamb
Joel Courtney Joe Lamb

Directed by

J.J. Abrams

Written by

J.J. Abrams

Other Info

Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
PG-13
Fri 10 Jun 2011 UTC
112min
IMDB Rating: 7.1

The sweet childlike homes, schools, and connected-ness of the kids all was like 1979. Unfortunately, the story couldn’t continue in that era and turned to your typical violent alien film of the 90’s or 2000’s like Independence Day. Spoiler ahead (sort of). One difference from other alien movies is that there is just one alien. It is quite ugly but not much different from most in movies extant. The alien is not as scary as the gratuitous shocks the director gives the audience.

I counted 6 but there are surely more. Be warned, especially if you are annoyed by these things. There is only one thing that can save a movie with these, in my opinion. That thing is a great ending. Unfortunately, you won’t find that here either. Young kids aged 15 and below will like this movie. A couple times it looks like Transformers. Most above that age will look at their iphone to see the time as it plays out.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There is enough nostalgia and cgi here to entertain but not fully satisfy me as a viewer. They had a good set of images to start with but they just aren’t developed enough to keep me from looking at my watch. I recommend to young kids and die hard fans of Spielberg (those who watch even his mediocre stuff).

2/5

‘Star Trek: Beyond’ – Don’t Blink on This Ride

startrekbeyond-poster

Starring: Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho

Genres: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Directed By: Justin Lin

Studio: Paramount Pictures

MPAA Rating
PG-13

I saw Star Trek: Beyond last night on its second night after release. When I see Star Trek films, I usually miss some secret winks because I am not much of a “Trekkie” and therefore don’t know the labyrinth of secret passageways that many others I meet new. In fact, my wife, who is not a film critic, explains a lot to me when we go to see these films. Last night had a few parts I couldn’t figure out but I’ll avoid those.

Instead, I’ll tell you that Captain Kirk is put in a position to save the galaxy (common theme). The adventurous quest to do that is a rip-roaring ride! Directed by Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious), the spaceships are now the race cars. There is a lot of action in this film but I must disagree with some other critics who are saying it’s too fast and furious. There are moments of suspense as well and moments where the viewers is ban rest, stop, and get cerebral..

The visuals are stunning. Because this is a quick review intended to have “no spoilers,” I won’t describe them to you. I will say that in 1977 when Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, and Mark Hamill saw the death star for the first time, it had a mind-blowing effect on movie goers. There is actually some stuff in this film that will leave you in “shock and awe” in a similar way. Please note however that the plot is pretty good and special effects are secondary to that, which always makes me happy.

There is so much in this film worthy of the ticket price. There is a side story Spock is dealing with, sense that virtually fill the movie with the now departed Anton Yelchin, a Smokin’ hot Zoe Zaldana, a vaguely funny Simon Pegg (but funny all the same.) I had a blast watching this film. I anticipate Trekkies will like the new villain Krall (Idris Elba). He’s a tortured creature with a lot of hate for the federation which makes for some really juicy fight scenes. I did have some issues with the film. Instead of developing the villain they sort of catapulted him into hate mode. I wanted to know more about him and why he became who he was. It was explained a little in a very rushed fashion in the last 1/4 of the film but I think doing that earlier would have invested me more in his character. For the haziness of the villain, I took one star away. This is an amazing film, I highly recommend it.

‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)

IMG_0625

‘The Planet of the Apes’ (1968)
Cast

Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter

Directed by

Franklin J. Schaffner

Written by

Michael Wilson (screenplay), Rod Serling (screenplay)

Other Info

Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi
Rated G
1h 52min

Writing this review now in 2016, I was shocked to find this film had a G rating. As a kid growing up 0-10 in the 70’s, I remember certain images from this film that used to creep me out. Plus, it’s so rare that you find a G rated sci fi nowadays. I didn’t understand it in those years but when I hit my twenties, this was one of those films my scooter buddies and I would rent along with other classics like The Godfather and Blade Runner to just trip out on and talk about. It’s of course a timeless classic now and there has been a resurgence of the franchise with a whole new set of CGI movies that are surprisingly good in a different way.

The concept of the franchise is pretty simple: Apes have evolved above man and use him as their slave. In the 60’s the evolution arguments were rampant of church and university grounds so this fit right in with that. Actually seeing these apes likely had a polarizing impact on the religious folk who saw man as greater tha ape. At the same time, I think it infused strength to the IMG_0626argument that man was just another animal and we shouldn’t rule over animals in the sometimes harmful ways that we do. BUt that is just the “ape level.” There is much here about science and faith. In the original film, there is talk of “scrolls” and “heresy” by the humans and apes who help them. f you know Christian subculture or have observed it, these references are accurate and quite funny.

I love the prosthetic masks in the movie. They look camp at first but you really get used to them after a while because the costumes and backgrounds are so masterfully crafted. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode for good reason: Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, co-wrote the screenplay. This movie is something to look at. Most the outdoor footage was filmed at Lake Powell. It resembles Mars or some other uninhabited planet. In this film, a crew was sent into the future but something went wrong. As a result, they have to try to survive and escape from a civilization of apes that speak and are much like intelligent humans.

While there among the apes, they see the effects of man’s greed and imperfections. The apes have an opportunity to see themselves as well but they are not as interested. There is a bit of a “not-friendly” history in the scrolls and therefore humans are not to be listened to.

Charlton Heston plays the lead human, George Taylor, and he is so much fun to watch. He has interaction with a slave who cannot speak and there is some chemistry there but hardly enough to call the story a romance, as IMDB does. Roddy McDowell plays Cornelius, the scientist ape that buys in to the intelligence of humans. His partner Zira, played by Kim Hunter, is devoted to humans as much as she can be in her society. It was sort of like a Jane Goodall and the chimps kind of thing. At the end Taylor asks her for a kiss and she says shyly, “But you’re so ugly.” That is a fun scene because it’s an opposite scene. If you recall the Twilight Zone episode when the woman is in face bandages the whole episode and at the end you find out they are trying to make her ugly, she is actually beautiful. It is in the eye of the beholder. Serling loves taking structures apart and letting the audience put them back together, or not. Planet of the apes is one of the most classic examples of his style in doing that. We may not question our own systems but if we see an ape and an actor talking, maybe we cab deconstruct theirs and return smarter, changed for the better. Most of all, this movie is for the open-minded or those who are open to becoming more open-minded. *raises hand*

Speaking of being open-minded, the stunts in this film are about as real as an outdoor rodeo during the clown show. When Taylor gets sprayed with a firehose, you see every sinew in his neck flexed. I love his over acting. The movie is meant to be serious sci-fi but watching some of these stunts makes you think of the comedy of later decades like Airplane or Scary Movie. Other props and effect in the film are almost comical in their representation of seriousness. There is a cadaver in the space pod that looks just like Norman Bates’ dear fake looking mummified mother in Psycho. My point is not to jeer or belittle these poor effects but rather to praise a film that evokes such a powerful response from so many people worldwide in spite of these simple stunts and props. Once again it is proof that directors don’t need a palette of CGI to make a film popular with audiences. This film evokes a response and takes itself seriously. If you have a good story, this film proves that is just about all you need to make a hit.

IMG_0627

In conclusion, I had a lot of fun going to see this film recently in the theaters through Fathom events’ TCM series. I was just as entertained as I have been with any recent films I really liked. I know almost every director out there has seen this film but I hope they can start to follow its movie making wisdom more closely. We need less CGI (done badly, I don’t mind it when it’s done well) and more good story surrounded by people with passion and the desire to evoke an audience response.