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The List

Here is a list of movies I've reviewed, with links to the original columns. For your convenience a mini review follows each title. I'll try to keep this up to date. 


Alien: Resurrection (1997) French film crew does a better job with the xenomorphs than previous sequel does.

The Beast in the Cellar (1970)  "So we did the only humane thing: we locked your brother in the basement for 30 years and fed him a bucket of fish heads once a week."

The Blob (1988)  Kevin Dillon's mullet takes on an 80's remake of the classic alien slime mold plasmodium movie.

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)  Charming silent movie is just about the best Lovecraft adaption I've seen.  Pity about the scrawny muppet Cthulhu.

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)  A made for cable noir comedy set in a world where everyone uses magic, starring Fred Ward as muggle Detective H.P.Lovecraft.

Centipede! (2004) Monstrous rubber myriapod can't kill boring bratty characters fast enough.

Cloverfield (2008)  Giant monster rampage movie shot from the point of view of three characters we don't care about.

Curse of the Komodo
(2003)  Tedious made for video CGI monster movie with boobs thrown in to see if anyone will watch.  They didn't.

Dead Heist (2006)  I was more charmed than I should have been by this urban (you know, black) gangster zombie movie.  Bad acting but a fun time.

The Descent (2005)  Unsettling adventure horror.  Deliverance with all female cast plus hideous cave monsters.

Dreamcatcher (2003)  Slightly scary slightly ridiculous Stephen King story.  The parasitic alien's British accent is sillier than the fact it erupts bloodily from the host's anus.

Equilibrium (2002)  Throwback to 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 is pretty lightweight but entertaining, and demonstrates what martial arts have been missing: guns.

Fantastic Planet (1973)  Freaky war allegory turns men into mice.  Animated alien planet is uniquely imagined.

The Fly (1986)  Greatest eighties horror movie?  Close, but The Thing still wins.

The Fountain (2006) Hugh Jackman plays three characters in some deep thoughtful new age claptrap about mortality or something.

Frostbitten (2006)  What do bored teenagers do in the long Swedish winters?  They take drugs and become vampires!

Futurama: Bender's Big Score
(2008)  First feature-length Futurama cartoon is too slowly paced, but quenches fans' long thirst.

Horrors of War (2006)  Low budget Nazi monster movie not scary, not funny.  Why bother?

The Host(2006)  Exhilarating beginning gives way to slow glum middle in this inventive giant monster picture from Korea.

Hot Fuzz (2007) Hilarious and surprisingly violent action parody.

Idiocracy (2005)  Why is the most clever (and frighteningly plausible) modern vision  of the future a Mike Judge comedy starring Luke Wilson?

Inception
(2010) Spies poke around in people's dreams looking for information. The dreamworld is apparently made of James Bond chase scenes.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(2008)  Silliest and least plausible of the series.  Designed to inspire theme park rides.

The Island
(2005) Logan's Run + The Clonus Horror given the Michael Bay treatment.  BOOM!!!

Kingdom of the Spiders
(1977)  Big Bill Shatner tries to survive when his town is overrun with harmless tarantulas.  A little sluggish but builds to a good ending.

La Jetee(1963)  French filmstrip turns out to be a gripping post-holocaust time travel romance adventure.

Lake Placid (1999)  Betty White kills in this unfairly mocked croc pic.  Second best Jaws ripoff after Tremors.

Let the Right One In (2008) Best and least campy vampire movie in years brought to you by the country that produced ABBA.

Little Otik (2000)  Desperate childless couple adopt a man-eating piece of wood in this disturbing, bizarre, and funny satire.

Mirrormask (2005)  Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's modern Alice in Wonderland.  Fantastic to look at, but the scenes could be shown in any order with equal impact.

Moon of the Wolf
(1972)  Made for tv werewolf movie with all the excitement of the non-action parts of an episode of CHiPs.

Murder Party (2007)  Very funny low budget slasher comedy, surprisingly charming and clever.

Natural Born Killers (1994)  A scathing indictment of itself.  A stylized parody of sadism that is as unpleasant to watch as realistic sadism.

Of Unknown Origin (1983) Peter Weller driven crazy by a rat in the walls.  More Rambo than Lovecraft.

Pickman's Model
(2008)  Short Lovecraft adaption fails to scare.

Play Time (1967) Sprawling behemoth of a movie about the alienating effect of modern life alienates audiences by having no story to follow.

The Prestige (2007)  Dueling douchebags who happen to be magicians entertainingly ruin one anothers' lives until someone has to go and break the rules of time and space.

Prophecy: the Monster Movie (1979)  Mutated bear decapitates polluters in bloody seventies message monster flick.

The Protector (2005)  Thai country boy Tony Jaa kicks an insane amount of Australian gangster ass in his quest to recover a stolen baby elephant.

Seconds (1966)  Atmospheric thriller about identity and The Self shows how horrible it would be to have to live a decadent life in a mansion on the beach in California.  Hindsight makes Rock Hudson's role more eerie.

Sexmission (1985)  Two sexist dolts wake up in a future where women rule, and ride around topless on roller skates.  I'm sure this Polish farce says something about that country's attitudes about the sexes, but I'm afraid to find out what.

Slither (2006)  Homage to eighties horror gets nearly everything right, and gives us a dose of Capn' Tightpants as well.

Soldier (1998) Kurt Russell is a strong silent pile of meat, fighting new and improved supersoldiers on a garbage dump planet full of snakes.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)  Three plots needlessly stuffed into one comic book.  Still worth making popcorn for.

Splice (2009) Adrian Brody is one of two annoying nerd hipster genetic engineers who can't keep their hands of their human/animal chimera.

The Sticky Fingers of Time (1997) Fascinating low-budget time travel movie deserves the necessary two viewings to appreciate it.

Straight to Hell (1987)  Fun, scattered mess of a movie. Punk rockers make a spaghetti western.  The cinematic equivalent of a snowball fight.

Strange Invaders (1983)  Dull, unwatchable alien invasion flick.

Sunshine (2007)  Annoying astronauts including ugly heartthrob Cillian Murphy and pan-Asian hottie Michelle Yeoh bicker with and kill one another on their way to save the sun by putting a bomb on (in?) it.

The Man From Earth (2007)  A cro-magnon man survives to the present day in order to bore a room full of college professors.

The Mist (2007) Slightly more scary less ridiculous Stephen King story, where crazy Christians are more frightening than giant bugs from another dimension.

The Terror (1963)  A Roger Corman movie starring Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff?  You've never heard of it because it's boring.

Timecrimes (2007) Airtight script traps a man in a time loop that he can escape only through committing foul acts.  NOT a remake of Timecop.

WALL-E  (2008) 700 years after Idiocracy, cute robots save humanity.

Wolfhound
(2002)  Ludicrous softcore furry porn.
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The Island (2005)

Its difficult to write a review of The Island without spoilers, since there's a Big Secret kept from the characters, but it falls away before the first act is over. The secret is revealed by Steve Buscemi, who plays the exposition fairy, magically appearing to explain to the main characters and audience exactly what is going on. This helps us all forget about the Logans Run / Soilent Green introduction and lets us enjoy the many and varied car crashes that make up the rest of the movie.

Apparently the phrase "Directed by Michael Bay" translates as "if you see a vehicle in this movie, you can be sure that it will be involved in a high-speed collision." And once the film fully sheds its futuristic dystopia jumpsuit, that is literally true. I am confident that knowing that fact before seeing the movie actually enhances your enjoyment. Futuristic police car? Glad you asked, smash it up! Mobile armored command center? Flip that bitch! Rocket-cycle? Oh yessssss.

Absurdly, one character boasts about the luxury and expense of his vehicle--that would get a car riddled with bullets and crushed by a locomotive in a movie directed by Ron Howard, never mind Mike "Let's blow shit up" Bay. The director now famous for directing CGI cars that turn into robots that smash each other without the need for human interfaces even steals the best scene from his magnum opus Bad Boys II. If I had the power, I would bind Mr. Bay to a restraining order that required him to include in every movie, a chase scene where the massive cargo from a tractor trailer is released into the pursuers.

Bafflingly, the dumped cargo in The Island is a shipment of iron wheels and axles from old fashioned railroad cars. In the previous scene we see our heroes taking the hovertrain from the middle of nowhere into Los Angeles, where floating monorails crowd the skyline. The train wheels must have been recently decommissioned, to recycle into some fast streamlined vehicles for smashing.




 Even helicopters are not safe from corporate logos!


I can't wrap up without mentioning the ever present product placement. Barely five minutes pass in The Island without some corporate logo being shoved into your face, with all the subtlety of, well, a high speed car crash. The logos float there, center screen, long enough for you to read them out loud in a Phil Hartman voice if the mood takes you. This is really an unpleasant detail in a movie where the strongest message is "humans should not be considered products to buy and sell." Well, the strongest message after the message "car crashes are COOL!"
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Inception (2010)

In the world of Inception, the military has developed group dreaming as a way of providing a safe space for soldiers to practice killing each other.  (Apparently, video games were never invented in the Inception universe.)  Group dreaming has led to corporate espionage, with spies doping VIPs and jumping into their brains to rummage around for secrets.

Unfortunately these people have really boring dreams; in fact, the dreams in Inception are unrealistically realistic.  The spies walk around crowded cities, and skulk around hotel rooms, and ski around mountaintops, but nothing ever feels like a dream.  No one ever meets a girl who is kind of their cousin, but also kind of their first crush, but looks like the Chicken of the Sea mermaid.  There are no singing plants or talking animals, no one ever seems to visit their high school (except it's not really their high school, it's like 5000 times bigger and all the hallways end in mist?) or conflates three apartments into one misremembered one.  And most importantly, when people group dream, they're never in their underwear, but instead they show up in really expensive looking clothes carrying five or six guns.

Granted, there is one really excellent sequence where the kid from "Third Rock From the Sun" battles hotel detectives in zero gravity.  But try to watch two guys in sharp suits floating around punching each other without hearing "You disappoint me, Mr. Anderson," in your head. 


Wait, is this The Matrix, or the "Weapon of Choice" video?

And there is a freight train roaring down a trackless city street punctuating an exciting but otherwise familiar car chase as well, but these are surprising exceptions to the disappointingly mundane dream world.  One character stands out as singularly nightmarish.  The dead wife of our hero Cobb (played by Leonardo Dicaprio's big square head on Jack Skellington's body) is a pretty French woman, whose interactions with everyone else are calmly murderous.  Her name is "Mal," pronounced like the Latin word for "evil," in case you had any doubts. 

The movie assembles a team of dream thieves to perform one big caper, so that Cobb can safely return to his children.  The caper takes place within three nested dreams-within-dream, with a climax lasting--I don't know, 45 minutes? an hour?  it's long--that transpires within the time it takes a van to plummet off a bridge.  The goal is to pervert the feelings that a corporate heir (welcome back to ugly heartthrob Cillian Murphy) has for his dead father.   Is it all a dream, or did this emotional bank job succeed in providing a happy Hollywood ending? 
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Soylent Screen's first (and probably last) Oscar note!

As of this writing i have only seen two of this years' Academy Awards Best Picture nominations, one of which happens to be Roger Ebert's prediction.  If Ebert says The Hurt Locker will win, well who am I to argue with the Cyborg King of Cinema Criticism?  My Netflix note for that movie was "Decent war movie, probably deserves 4 out of 5 stars.  But Best Picture? Avatar must really suck." 

Yes, that's right I haven't seen James Cameron's Smurf epic, which, taken with the fact that I didn't see one single minute of the Vancouver olympics, puts me in an extreme media minority.  More than ever I am revealed as the least qualified movie reviewer who persists in doing so.  I will probably see Avatar at some point, since I have been informed that technology was specifically developed to produce this movie.  Apparently no new screenwriting technology was developed for it, but perhaps I'll try to withhold that judgement until its time.

But I have seen District 9, and it wins Best Picture for the Soylent Screen 2009 awards.  It won my respect by combining literary references (Kafka's Metamorphosis) and blatant story lifting from 80's sci-fi (Alien Nation, Cronenberg's The Fly).  Then it enthralled me by mating serious social commentary with madcap explosive violence and finishing with an ending which was somehow sweet and horrible with a tantalizing promise of a sequel.  The Soylent Screening Room was unanimous in desiring an immediate viewing of District Ten.

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KAW (2007)

Between the unconvincing menace of bird attacks, the story stitched of plot holes, and the evil Mennonites, you'd think there would be a laugh somewhere in this movie.  You'd  be wrong.  Humorlessness is the one sin I won't tolerate in a horror movie.  I'll forgive the bad science (Diurnal birds flying at night?  Birds contracting mad cow disease?) and I'll forgive the continuity errors (an inch of snow falling in one part of town, a boy riding his bike in the sunshine in another part of town) I'll even forgive the CGI birds since they were used in moderation along with trained real birds, but I can't forgive the leaden tone and somber music.  Okay, so insane ravens are banding together by the thousand to kill and eat all the humans; that doesn't mean we have to be all sad about it!


warning: movie not as fun as this still suggests.




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Timecrimes (Los cronocrímenes, 2007)

It may be time to accept that the low budget time travel movie is its own subgenre.  Primer, The Sticky Fingers of Time, La Jette, and now the terribly titled Timecrimes, all explore the possibilities and paradoxes of time travel without benefit of Swartzeneggers or DeLoreans.  Timecrimes, (Los cronocrímenes)  from an award-winning young Spanish filmmaker whose first name is really "Nacho," is one of the best of this subgenre I have seen.  It manages to weave the tangled threads of a character's movement through overlapping timelines most succinctly, and without requiring the viewer to refer to a written record of who's who and when's when.  In large part this is due to the script restricting itself to the motions of four characters, over the course of about an hour and a half of linear time.

Hector was relaxing in the big back yard of his new house when he trained his binoculars on a shocking and bizarre image in the woods beyond.  "Don't go in there, Hector!" the horror fan screams, but if protagonists didn't make bad decisions, most scary movies would end before the opening credits.  And, as my wife remarked during our viewing: "If you want to trap a man, use boobs as bait."  Chasing the boobs into the woods, Hector becomes firmly ensnared in a temporal loop.  His next few experiences are terrifying and baffling.  His actions become violent and arbitrary, as he sets into motion a cascade of events in which he is a multiple player.


"Why am I doing this?  Because it's SCARY!"

Hector's odd actions are first seemingly motivated by fear and confusion, then through a kind of rash acting out.  He transforms from Victim to Monster, mysteriously following the design of fate, and becoming his own tormentor.  Finally, resigned to his role in the unfolding of predetermined events, he takes hold of them without changing what he has already seen.  Unlike in Groundhog Day, in which an unhappy man must find himself in order to escape the time trap, the hero/villain/antihero of Timecrimes must commit crimes in the hope of fixing the awful events he already has seen happen.   He never should have followed those boobs into the woods.

Special thanks to my wife, who gave me flimsy justification to use the word "boobs" three times in a short movie review.

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Centipede! (2004)

I like centipedes.  Let me just get that out of the way.  I know it's aberrant, perhaps even perverted, to have affection for a creature whose very existence makes people crazy with disgust.  I think they are cool looking, and I appreciate their interesting place near the base of the arthropod family tree.  So I was excited to learn of a horror movie called Centipede! but I was also prepared to be very disappointed.

Oh please, Centipede, kill this character first!

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Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, 2008)

Vampires are campy.  It's hard to escape, but impossible to argue with. It was probably about five minutes after Bela Lugosi played Dracula when some kid hid behind his sleeve and imitated a Romanian accent and no time at all before everyone around rolled their eyes.

It's the cape, the neck biting, the recoiling from the cross- it all lends itself better to a night club than to a horror movie.  George Hamilton's disco Dracula in Love at First Bite (1979) was no sillier than Frank Langella's disco Dracula in Dracula (1979).  Gary Oldman, in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) had a chance to avoid the camp, by making him into a giant leathery bat monster, but instead they upped the ante giving him a tremendous queer hairdo and Keanu and Winona as costars.

Getting beyond Dracula to other takes on vampires, the camp is relentless: David Bowie is involved, Tom Cruise is wearing lipstick, Kiefer Sutherland is riding a motorcycle while an INXS song plays, and Romeo and Juliet is reenacted with vampires and werewolves carrying guns and wearing the costumes from The Matrix.  Shall we talk about moving the vampires to the Pacific Northwest and making them sparkle?
We shan't.


You know what they say about watching sausage get made...

Trust those gloomy Swedes to return some dignity to the imperishable bloodsucker.  The coffin-jockey in Let the Right One In is Eli, an apparent twelve year old girl, who befriends a bullied Fauntleroy who has murder fantasies of his own.  The boy is Oskar, and he's unhealthily obsessed with homicide, to the point of even creeping out his forensic pathology teacher (actually, it may have been a literature class, but for some reason they were teaching forensic pathology).  Being a murder nerd doesn't protect him from a constant assault of swirlies, wedgies, and thumpings, so it's just as well that his new playmate is a supernaturally powerful creature of the night. But it doesn't take a wall covered in newspaper clippings to figure out who might be behind the spate of killings in Oskar's village, not when a body is found dangling like a slaughtered hog draining red into a bucket.

Despite the morbid plot outline, this is actually a quite touching love story.  The child actors are striking in appearance and talent. Their characters are smart but naive, passionate and awkward, and capriciously kind and cruel at once, like real children.  In order for their love to blossom, he has to get over her horrible secret, and she has to get over their age difference.  "Are you a vampire?" Oskar asks, in a tone of hurt accusation, like he was asking if she kissed his friend behind the school.   Eli indulges Oskar's skepticism, enduring great pain and inducing some really cool and photogenic special effects.

Sweden is a great place for vampires, as we saw with Frostbitten.  The sun goes down for a month at time, and it snows every night, filling in incriminating footprints. Efficient train service provides relocation for those who need new places to live after eating a conspicuous percentage of a town's population.


"Okay, yes!  You can use my conditioner, just stop doing that!"

Let the Right One In is adapted from a novel, and of course the story is simplified and compressed in the film.  Rather significant details about the character of Eli are revealed in the book, that are not clear in the movie.  A quick partially nude scene was too quick to show what we are supposed to learn; it only made sense to me when I read an explanation later.  No spoilers from me, you can look on your own, you pervert.

Lately there has been a controversy regarding the English subtitles of Let the Right One In.  For whatever reason, simpler (dumbed down?) and less funny subtitles appear on the DVD than appeared in the theatrical release.  An internet outcry seems to have convinced the publishers of the DVD to release a new version with better subtitles, at some point.
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Not done reviewing "Let the Right One In"

I'm having a hard time writing a review of "Let the Right One In" without simply insulting all the other vampire movies. Seriously I've devoted three paragraphs already decrying the campiness of hollywood vampire movies to date. I'm out of practice; it's been many weeks since trying to write a review, and I still have a lot of things going on in my life right now so maybe it's not the best time to try. But it's one of the commitments that I've let drop (the other is urban nature walk) and I fel bad about it.

It is a great movie, by the way. I feel like everyone that would like it as much as I did has already seen it, but if not, please do. Apparently someone did a shit job of translating the subtitles into English, robbing the dialogue of a lot of dark humor and cleverness. But if you search for "theatrical subtitles" on the package, you should have the right version. Why someone would dumb down this movie is beyond me. If someone has committed to watching a Swedish love story between two 12 year olds, one of whom is a vampire, then they are all in--no need to streamline it for us dumb Americans. I rented the thing, I'm in the minority that doesn't mind reading while watching. If that's the problem, the viewer can choose to watch it in English. Apparently I'm one of the later voices to this chorus, as this NPR story tells us that from now on the right subtitles will come with the DVD.