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SciFi

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – Review

4 Stars

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the best of the years’ blockbusters. This is the ideal mixture of commercial and artistic storytelling. After 14 years I’ve finally succumbed to the Tolkien/Jackson phenomenon, and Smaug in no small part has been the catalyst for this (late to the game) convert. I realized at about the thirty minute mark that I like Martin Freeman a whole lot more than the intensely eyed Elijah Wood, who carried the look of someone caught between happy and sad through three monotonous films. While this is a darker toned chapter, as has been the case for part two of any trilogy since Empire set the precedent in 1980, Desolation of Smaug is still funnier, more action packed and overall far more warm and cheerful than any installment in the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy.

After an initial flashback sequence, the narrative picks up directly where the first story ended. Avoiding the clutches of an evil vengeance minded Orc king, Bilbo Baggins and his pack of thirteen dwarf warriors including Thorin Oakenshield, rightful heir to a kingdom of riches currently lorded over by a vicious fire-spewing dragon, continue their quest through enchanted landscapes. Making time for stops in a twisted magical forest and escaping imprisonment by the Elf king, the broad of dwarfs and their nibble footed hobbit companion steadily proceed on their mission to reclaim the throne of Erebor.

A complainant can be lobbied than Ian Mckellan’s majestic wizard Gandolf the great, an ever-present figure in the last picture, is sidelined in this outing in favor for some newly created characters, courtesy of Jackson and his screenwriting team. I have heard Rings pundits cry afoul that an elf/dwarf love angle is close to trampling on sacrament. In reality it adds an otherwise missing emotional heartbeat to what late film critic Roger Ebert use to describe as ‘a bruised forearm movie’. He rationed that by the end of such a movie, your forearm would be black and blue from your date clutching it through the nonstop intense moments. I can assure you that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug fits that description accurately, and for the first time ever I can say, I’m looking forward to the next Hobbit movie.

Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom

The Postman (1997) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

If The Postman had been released prior to, rather than on the heels of the Waterworld debacle, it may have been mentioned in the same breath as Costner’s universally heralded masterpiece Dances With Wolves. This is a richly detailed, post apocalyptic tale that runs nearly three hours in length, yet remains swiftly paced and utterly watchable through out. Adapted from the novel by David Brin of the same name, the story is broken down into three major movements. Each as gripping as the last until a final thirty minutes that pulls all the combined elements together beautifully.
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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) – Review

2 Stars

If Star Trek IV represented the goofy highpoint of this cinematic incarnation of the former television series, than Part V is the deadly serious low-point and weakest of all the films. This is an overly-talky installment that is so mishandled by director/star Shatner that the film is a rambling mess. There are moments of spice, in the story co-hatched by Shatner and long-time series’ producer Harve Bennett, but the redundancy and borderline incompetent staging of scenes quickly dispels any narrative momentum.
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Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995) – Review

2 Stars

Darkman II tries to be rise above its modest roots and obvious budgetary shortcomings, and nearly succeeds until the realization that not much has happened on-screen, sets in. The first thirty minutes are well handled and the story appears to be unfolding in a satisfactory manner, until the plot mechanics kick in and the film goes on auto-pilot. To be fair this is a stripped down sequel that was intended for the direct-to-video market and the craftsmanship is on the level, but this isn’t a story worth telling.

The original was directed by Sam Raimi, when his long gestating Shadow reboot was shelved he penned the script to the off-beat superhero/horror/action film. Darkman II has wisely incorporated some of the mischievous energy into sequences and this is when the film plays best. Larry Drake has inexplicably survived the events of the first film and what looked to be a fiery death, to return as Robert G. Durant, a crime-boss with a panache for cutting off fingers as trophies. Director of Photography Bradford May is behind the camera and simultaneously handles the directing chores, he acquits himself nicely and has chosen a winner in casting Arnold Vosloo as the title character.

Payton Westlake/Darkman (Vosloo) is on the verge of discovering the scientific key to making him whole again. Teaming with a brilliant doctor, the two have almost cracked the key to a formula that with enable a skin like texture to remain intact for 175 minutes, before breaking down. This clearly surpasses the 99 minute barrier, which has plagued Westlake for nearly 3000 attempts. The facility where the pair conduct their research is a an old electrical warehouse, Durant intends to buy the property to use the electricity as a battery station for a new dangerous weapon he is manufacturing. Unwilling to evacuate, the doctor is murdered and Westlake soon realizes his nemesis Durant is not dead. Leading to a showdown between the physically and psychologically scared Darkman and the kingpin, who is now determined to be the ultimate ruler of the underworld.

Darkman II: The Return of Durant is an expected step down in quality form the original. Yet, as far as direct -to-vid- follow ups go, it ranks on the upper rungs. Depending on your exposure to the genre, that might not be saying much. The re-use of Danny Elfman’s musical cues and themes are a great reminder of the man’s talents.

Director: Bradford May
Stars: Arnold Vosloo, Larry Drake, Kim Delany

Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Review

2 Stars

The second film in Marvel’s Phase Two of releasing, is the follow to up 2011′s rousing and unexpectedly humorous, Thor. This new film keeps the humor intact but there’s something light and insubstantial about this movie. It almost floats away as you watch it, and it dissipates from memory just as quickly.
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The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

After the head-spinning sci-fi epic The Matrix, directors Andy & Lana Wachowski set the creative bar so impossibly high that expectations for a sequel couldn’t have possibly been met. The Matrix Reloaded is a glossy follow-up with all the bells and whistles that modern technology and loads of cash can buy. Unfortunately the script from the directing duo, is stilted and at times nearly incomprehensible. The story is straight forward but the dialogue runs circles around itself until the audience just gives up and waits for the next thrilling action set piece. There are a couple of doozies in the follow-up, including a brilliantly designed freeway chase sequence that serves as the film’s highpoint and centerpiece.
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Machete Kills (2013) – Review

3 Stars

Machete Kills is the most purely enjoyable and arguably the most creative film from Robert Rodriguez since his much celebrated Sin City some 8 long years ago. The first film was the feature-length fleshing out of a fake trailer from the grindhouse collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. The earlier film felt constrained to a stitched together narrative slave to the clips in the 3 minute mock preview. This time out the screenplay is fresher, funnier, more clever and outlandish in equal measures, with intentionally bad special effects, over-the-top sexual situations and some of the most cheerfully horrific death scenes this side of Ridley Scott.
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Gravity (2013) – Review

4 Stars

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is sent adrift into space when debris from a nearby orbiting satellite causes catastrophic damage to her shuttle. Gravity is the story of Dr. Stone’s attempts to return to Earth in a broken vessel while running out of oxygen. The fear of isolation is a universal horror, rooted deep within our collective conscious. Past films like Cast Away, I Am Legend, and the new Robert Redford movie All is Lost have examined this theme in various settings to varying degrees of success. None that have come before can match the unyielding intensity and artistic splendor of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. This is the mainstream masterpiece that should propel the visionary filmmaker, into the ranks of greatest directors’ working today.
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Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Director Sam Raimi’s visual touchstones are in greater abundance in this deeper, darker sequel that further complicates the life of young Peter Parker. The exuberance of discovery that made the first film an instant classic is missing here, but in exchange the special effects have been ramped up and the characters given emotional depth.
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Battle of the Damned (2013) – Review

3 Stars

Dolph Lundgren returns to the screen as the aggressively named Max Gatling in this nifty biological action thriller that is essentially Dolph vs. the dead. Acting as a low-rent World War Z type outbreak tale, the events are set in Southeast Asia where medical regulations are lax and biotech companies can get away with unsanctioned experiments. Naturally, one of these viruses becomes airborne and the entire city is quarantined regardless of infection status.
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T-Force (1994) – Review

4 Stars

Terrorists have seized the U.S. Embassy, killing hostages. Five super-soldiers known as the T-Force are dispatched and within minutes all thirty terrorists are dead. In the process of the rescue, Adam (Evan Lurie) the alpha leader of the robotic law enforcers makes a decision that leaves innocent people in the crossfire. After a public outcry the political brass decides to pull the plug on the T-Force program. Sensing a conflict in directives that demand self-preservation, the robots turn renegade and begin to execute authority figures.
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Lost in Space (1998) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Lost In Space struts across the screen, confident that it’s non-stop visual effects and break-neck episodic screenplay are enough to hold viewers attention. That is a false confidence; the two-hour and ten minute film is filled with shoddy CGI and a hazy visual texture. Sure, the sets look great but when (predominantly) sub-par actors deliver awkward lines embarrassingly; it doesn’t matter how intricate the production design is. Out of the seven leads, the only to emerge unscathed are thespians William Hurt and Gary Oldman. Everyone else either over/under plays their respective roles. It also doesn’t help that the long script from OSCAR winning scribe Akiva Goldsman gets muddled in a tricky time travel element that collapses in a confused third act.
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The Crown and the Dragon (2013) – Review

3 Stars

There has been a recent resurgence of fantasy based movies ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit last decade. Now we have Game of Thrones carrying the torch. But this genre has always been a favorite for B movies. The Crown and the Dragon is an independent fantasy film about a land plagued by a dragon. A young noblewoman, Ellen (Amy De Bhrún), and her aunt are on a mission to bring an ancient relic to the secret coronation of the rightful king. Ellen’s aunt is murdered on their voyage, leaving her to continue the mission. Luckily Ellen is saved by a smuggler, Aedin (David Haydn), and he agrees to accompany her for a price. The two aren’t just dealing with a dragon, but an evil magister who will do anything to get his hand on the relic – and use it for his own evil advancement. Can Ellen fill her aunt’s shoes and become the Paladin, the prophesied dragon slayer?
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Apocalypse Z A.K.A. Zombie Massacre (2013) – Review

2 Stars

Produced by Germany’s Roger Corman, Uwe Boll, Apocalypse Z attempts to cash-in on the current zombie craze. Capitalizing on the box office success and popularity of World War Z, Apocalypse Z went through a business-smart name change from Zombie Massacre. Even though the name(s) suggest a lot of zombie carnage, there is neither much of a massacre nor an apocalypse here. Instead this is a pick off the main characters one by one kind of plot. While that’s not far off from popular zombie fare like TVs The Walking Dead, Apoc Z‘s script is missing the necessary touches to humanize its characters during the long dialogue scenes before, in-between and after zombie attacks.
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Atlantic Rim (2013) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Atlantic Rim is the movie that The Asylum has been building up to for over ten years now. Latching onto the marketing hype and great early pre-release buzz associated with the big-budget theatrical release Pacific Rim, this mock-buster is the perfect film for the company. It gives them a blatant reason to compile all the stock footage accumulated over their recent naval/monster/sci-fi outings and combine them into one picture.
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