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Impossible to take seriously
21 September 2019
I mean this in a good way. It's packed with politics and yet, somehow, manages to tweak everyone evenly. It's loaded with enough sight gags and other film spoofs that if it actually offends your political sensibilities, then you probably need either more introspection... less.
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The Scam (I) (2012)
Low budget
15 July 2019
This has a $350,000 budget. So what can you do with that kind of budget? Movies like "Clerks", "Napoleon Dynamite", "Night of the Living Dead" or "Halloween" (adjusted for inflation, of course).

"The Scam," like most low budget films, has no special effects. That cuts costs. But for some reason, the other films managed to have good writing, good acting, good directing, good editing, good sound, etc. all with a low budget.

Lately I have been reading "The Screenwriter's Bible" by Trottier. He's nice enough to give long lists of "Don't do this." I think the writers could have spent some time with this book. There are exceptionally awkward lines. Even some lengthy exposition thrown in.

On the plus side, a few actors managed to turn out decent performances. However, most of them gave the film the feel of those dorky Christian movies from the 70s I was subjected to as a kid. Also on the plus side, it wasn't boring. I did manage to make it to the end without hating myself.
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True Grit (2010)
One of my few perfect reviews. Compare with the original
14 July 2019
I loved the original "True Grit", a movie that I would give a solid 9 rating to it. But it had so many fails that I like the remake so much better I should be allowed to give an 11 by comparison. Movies, by their nature, are contrived stories. The degree to which that contraption makes us feel it's real adds to the quality of the movie. The dialog feels so skewed and awkward to modern thinking, but fits with my understanding of language and dialog of the time period that I quickly grew to love every line of it.

The decades between provide some beautiful technical changes. In "Deliverance" the filmographer had to underexpose to produce night scenes. In this film the night scenes beautifully capture moonlit nights in ways so rarely seen.

Perhaps the best part of this film is the presentation that 19th century civilization was as both sophisticated as we are, but as primitive as we can be.

This is nearly perfect a western as they come.
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Dark Iris (2018)
Not the worst I've seen, but darn close
29 January 2018
The current 6 star rating for this movie is fraudulent. The one positive review comes from someone who has reviewed nothing else, so I can safely assume it's a shill for the director.

The special effects (what few exist) are on par with films from the 1940s. I think I can safely say I could have done a better job with After Effects than we see in this movie.

The acting is -- at best -- on par with stage drama at a mid-sized college. Throughout the entire Agent Fry acts precisely like an annoying 13 year old girl. (Imagine the stink-eye scene from "Juno" or Jennifer Grey's character as this sister in "Ferris Beuler's Day Off") making snarky faces and juvenile remarks.

In fact, the entire script was sophomoric. The writer (director AND producer... this is generally the sign that it's going to be bad) didn't even bother trying to figure out police procedures to work with the story. Included in the story were two MI6 agents, neither of which was British. One was Russian. My guess for the casting is that the actors were friends of the director.

The only reason I didn't give this 1 star is that there are actually worse films (like "Manos").
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Geostorm (2017)
Ruined by bad script and science
9 December 2017
Despite the hyperbole from the people who only seem to be aware of a 1 or 10 star rating for films, this is neither a disaster nor the best weather film since "Twister."

Modern major studio productions seem to have minimum production values. That means competent actors and at least competent filming and technical work with CGI. But these are tools. You use the tools to make a good script and good directing ideas to come alive.

This is where the movie fails. While it's cool to, say, have effects that make people appear freeze like Popsicles in seconds, you couldn't actually do that people if you dunked them in liquid nitrogen. But "Geostorm" gives us moments like that. Remember in "Airplane" when we heard propeller airplane sounds for the jet? It was a gag, but we get something equally silly in this film. You also get the idea that every object in the movie is wired with 4kg to 400kg of C4. Flipped cars can certainly catch fire, but does every car have to go up like Vesuvius?

In short, $millions tossed at the CGI and acting talent, $hundreds thrown at a script. And if more was spent on the script, someone should get some money back. Bad science aside, the script was hopelessly predictable and not very interesting.
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Why did I wait so long to watch this?
3 December 2016
Holy Mackerel! I've known of this movie forever, but got around to watching it only tonight. I started this review before I finished watching and I had already given it 10 stars.

For the combat scenes, everything is thrown at the viewer as realistically as possible. There are no hokey miniatures nor restrictive sets. The destruction of a fighter during take-off is a masterpiece of practical effects. I'm trying to figure what kind of budget this movie had just for explosions. The merging of new footage of a 2-wheel touchdown and crash-landing of a bomber with real footage of the same was nearly seamless.

Acting and dialog was top notch for 1970. (I'm a firm believer that both things were dramatically improved circa 1980.) Some of the dialog as a bit contrived but it was needed to push home some of the political and historical points.

I gave this film a 10. It was an easy choice. "Tora! Tora! Tora!" will remain a must-see film for another generation or two. Pearl Harbor", as good as it was, lacks this film's staying power.
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Couldn't finish watching this
19 November 2016
This is the familiar story, presumably modernized. I watched this on Amazon to kill a little time while doing some busy work. The opening scene seemed like it was filmed as part of a college theater piece. As the film progressed, everything seemed that way. It's as if.... wait! I had to visit IMDb to confirm my suspicions.

No, it's not "AS IF filmed by a bunch of friends out to make a movie", it IS a bunch of friends out to make a movie. Most of the cast were also in "A Christmas Carol" also directed by Anthony Mann. Everyone seemed to act as if they were in a college production of "Diary of Anne Frank." No-one ever rises above this.

The film isn't merely low-budget. It's pretty close to no-budget and possibly funded by cookie sales or something. We get a scene where a young boy is presumably watching an opera, but all are closeups of the boy and his father for the "audience" and some shadowy shots of a conductor, soprano and a french horn player and that's our "orchestra." I guess we have to imagine the rest.

One conversation scene with three people is so differently lit between shots of the 3 actors I had to wonder if Ed Wood wasn't directing. Other scenes where deliberately filmed by hand-held video camera -- and that's fine when it's part of what they are doing -- but scenes that didn't involve a hand-held camera were still filmed in the same style.

If you're friends of the people in the film, by all means, watch it. After all, we don't go see high-school/college theater pieces for the professional acting. But if you're not, avoid this film.
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Deterrence (1999)
A gem of a low-budget thriller
18 November 2016
I found this on Amazon and pulled it up to watch based on the IMDb rating of 6.5 (at the time I'm writing this). If I like the film genre, I generally find I can spend a pleasant 90 minutes or so doing other things and watching any film on the tube in the 5.5-7.5 range. Better than that and I want to concentrate on the film a little better.

As to the movie itself, there are no special effects. No twisted plot (although this film has a decent one). There is one cliché jerk, and it was confined the local redneck. And we also have a lunatic (can't have a thriller without one). What improves this film is what it lacks. What we don't have is military personnel that don't act military. There is no politician who has no people skills. There are no bull-headed advisers who can't acknowledge compromise. There's no loose-cannon army general. No security guards that were either constantly jerks or couldn't be trusted watch the White House dog.

I really get hating films like this when professionals get reduced to caricatures created by ignorant screenwriters. Bogus behavior to create tension just stinks. In "Deterrence" the characters remained realistic and competent. The situation and moral dilemmas were in place to create the tension. That's the nature of good drama. The actors weren't spectacular, but everyone turns in a professional performance.

Final note: the live news felt much better for this film than any other I've seen. The reporter tripping over his words saying "White house" and then correcting to "house of representatives" smacked beautifully of a reporter under fire. Live news has goofs. There were elements of this low-budget thriller that would do well to be added to the big budget films.
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I want to watch the others now
8 November 2016
I usually dislike movies from this period. Normally the content is maudlin, the acting stiff or hokey, the sets a bit dorky, the plot weak, the camera angles and shots pedestrian.


I really liked this film. A little of the dialog was typical of the era, but I didn't feel awkward listening to anything. There's some light comedy between two suitors that got a little over-the-top, but I got a laugh. I hated the bit at the beginning with the fake violin playing. It's one thing to shoot such scenes at a distance, but a closeup of a violinist mostly holding still while music plays loudly is as ridiculous as as putting a cowboy on saw horse and keeping that in the scene. Other than that, most of the film plays quite well. What I think I liked best was a combination of the play of shadow throughout and some very good camera angles. The opera work was very good, but I haven't seen a lot of that in movies outside "Amadeus" so I'm hard pressed to say much more about it other than I'd like Opera if there weren't sopranos. (I won't blame this film for those bits for seeming like fingernails on a blackboard.) Anyways, I think the studio could have coughed up a few bucks for basic violin lessons for Rains so that scene would't have to be so awkward. Unfortunately, we put up with fake music crap for 30 years following that and decades preceding.

Enough rambling. It's a good film for an oldie. No regrets of losing 90 minutes of my life or anything. Now I want to see the Lon Chaney version and others. This gets a solid 7 as a great classic.
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Couldn't take it any longer
19 October 2016
I'm about 20 minutes into this and can't watch any more. I've seen videos my kids and their friends made in high-school and college. That was just amateur and goofing off stuff. This movie isn't much different except in length. What passes for cinematography mostly just feels like someone wandering around with a video camera with sound capture by the built-in mic. Probably because that's what it was. Motion leaps from one camera angle to another without an clear feeling of how you got there.

As for the acting, if you've ever seen "Boogie Nights" and watched good actors pretending to be bad porn actors, then you know what bad acting is like. And that's just how the acting is in "Killers at Play."

Anyways, if you want to find out how this movie ends, you'll have to watch it yourself... if you dare. There are no spoilers in this review because I can't make it to the end.
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Bad, but not that bad
19 October 2016
I can't bring myself to give 1 star to a movie that isn't as bad as "Manos" but this film definitely does not merit the current average rating of 6.5. First off, Gary Busey and Kirstie Allie are excellent actors and their professionalism shows. The cinematography is adequate.

If you remember the assorted 70's era religious films, the dialog and most of the other acting is about on par with that. (Some of the more recent religious films are far and away better than this movie.)

Even though the kids cuss in this film, a lot of their dialog seems like how 1940's era script writers wrote for kids. "See you later, champ." Champ?

Generally speaking, I think bullies are grossly mis-represented in films. (The exception being "Napoleon Dynamite" where the bullies are as lame and dorky as everyone else.) In "Sticks&Stones" we have a bully who looks almost a bit too angelic... and that's probably not too bad for casting... but he manages not to be intimidated by a crazed Gary Busey. Busey can intimidate adults. Said bully isn't especially big or threatening himself, but manages to push around 3 kids who could easily brush him off collectively. The 3 are friends who display remarkable solidarity in everything... except to stand up to their most hated person. One-on- one bullying scenes make a bit more sense, except the ones that don't. Like one locker room scene that makes you wonder if there are any teachers at this school. And there's a scene with a student locking an outside door on the school. Um. No. Did the writers never go to school?

Anyways, other reviewers are right. It's a sappy, overly sentimental movie. This might be a good movie to watch with kids... unless you'd rather your kids not use bad language. But generally give this movie a miss and find something else to watch.
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Avarice (2007)
Home movie?
13 August 2016
As I watched this, I got thinking this felt like some family's art project or something. Then I checked the credits. It was. "Mom, dad, kids, let's make a movie!" Now imagine the results. Yup. It's what you're imagining. I gave a couple points for the music. It's not half bad. I thought it better than the crap John Carpenter used to turn out for his films. Otherwise, the acting is stilted. The props were either what was laying around or something that looked like it was constructed for a college play. I'd say "high-school" but it wasn't quite that bad. At least the monster's face was appreciably monstrous. This might be a good film given the MST3K film, but unfortunately, I don't think it can rise to the status of cult film. It's just too dull.
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