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4/10
Tedious and arty but sort of mesmerizing
31 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Slow, basically plot less ghost story about a hospice nurse who works in a haunted house inhabited by an old woman who was a famous horror author in her day. The woman's most famous book was called The Woman in the Walls and might have been dictated to her by an actual ghost in the house--except that writer/director Oz Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins) seems to have no interest in narrative storytelling at all. The movie features a lot of novelistic voice-over, some from the nurse and some from the novel within the movie, and there's a suggestion of some sort of connection between the nurse and the character in the novel, and a lot of meditation on what it means to be a ghost, which is apparently something to do with trying to see yourself and not being able to. The nurse walks around the house for 90 minutes feeling vaguely spooked, reads parts of the old woman's book feeling vaguely spooked, then she drops dead and the movie ends, except that it never ends since the nurse is still narrating the story, haunting the house herself.

To say that I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is slow and repetitive is probably understating matters a bit. Perkins seems to be trying to create something closer to poetry than a horror film. The end result is stultifying but also a little mesmerizing, like a dream you can't quite wake up from.
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Awakened (2013)
1/10
Awful waste of time
22 June 2015
I honestly can't remember the last time I was so angry that I wasted my time watching a movie as I was with this one. The story concerns a young women who returns home for the first time since she was a child and her mom died, convinced that her violent drunk of a dad killed her mom and determined to somehow prove it.

Lead actress Julianne Michelle seems to basically have two expressions--smiling and not smiling--she doesn't even come close to having the talent required to be a lead in something like this, not that it ultimately matters since the filmmakers completely sabotage their film with one of the most thoroughly destructive surprise endings I have seen since Alexandre Aja's High Tension. In the unlikely event that you somehow found Samantha and her quest for answers dramatically involving the ending will punish you for that mistake.

I seriously cannot emphasize this enough--do not waste your time watching this movie. Awakened is a train-wreck that seems to go on forever before completely self-destructing at the end. It's really bad but not in a way that's in any way entertaining. The songs over the end credits actually felt like salt being thrown in my eyes--so the punishment doesn't end even as the credits run. Again, just don't watch this movie. If you do prepared to be angry by the time it's over. Consider yourself warned.
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Seed 2 (2014)
1/10
Unwatchable
22 July 2014
Normally a sequel to an Uwe Boll movie that isn't directed by Uwe Boll can be counted on to be at least a slight improvement on the original film--but Seed 2: The New Breed is the exception. This movie is so dreadful it actually makes Boll look good, sort of.

Fans of the original Seed, if there are any, will likely be disappointed that this seems to have virtually nothing to do with the original film. Actually, it feels more like an unofficial Hills Have Eyes sequel than a follow up to Seed.

Seed 2: The New Breed appears to have been shot on digital video, really badly. Most of the film looks ugly and over-bright. The acting and dialog are beyond bad. The movie is clearly meant to be transgressive and disturbing (the opening scene involves a gun barrel being shoved between a squealing young woman's thighs) but the movie is simply too incompetent to make an impact beyond inspiring a strong desire to turn it off.
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Me, Natalie (1969)
3/10
Very frustrating
15 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Frustrating comedy drama was made after the creative and critical debacle of Valley of the Dolls and seems to have been intended primarily to rescue Patty Duke's career as a potential movie star and re-establish her as the adorable and sweet screen presence that she was before Dolls. Hiding Duke's natural appeal under bad hair, a putty nose and Jerry Lewis teeth clearly wasn't the path to movie stardom because she only top-lined one other theatrical movie after this one, the underrated You'll Like My Mother. The bigger problem with Duke's love-me-please performance in Me, Natalie is that she doesn't do the character or the movie any favors. The basic plot involves an ugly duckling girl looking for her place in the world as a young woman. The problem with Duke's performance is that it feels shallow and gimmicky--she never captures her character's genuine pain and longing (at one point when a favorite uncle she hasn't seen since childhood comes to visit she flees through her bedroom window because she feels so awful about her looks). Patty Duke and the movie also largely ignore Natalie's negative qualities such as her complete lack of empathy for other people, her shallowness and her judgmental nature. At one point after leaving home she finds out that her dead uncle's former fiancé has died from a drug overdose and all she feels is that it's a great opportunity for her to get her first apartment. The movie seems to think this is cute and quirky but in reality it's sad and probably a little creepy. Natalie shows a similar obliviousness to anyone's feelings other than her own when she attends a former best friend's wedding, sees that the bride to be is pregnant and not marrying her boyfriend and then leaves the church without ever saying anything to her friend to even let her know that she was there. This was an opportunity for Me, Natalie to confront the main character's shallow belief that beautiful people always have beautiful lives and the movie completely flubs it by not giving Natalie and her former best friend a scene together. Natalie eventually engages in an affair with a neighbor that doesn't ultimately go anywhere because the main character is too immature and indecisive. I'm sure that wasn't the intention the filmmakers had in mind with the ending but that's about the only thing you can really take away from it. Some people might find this movie of interest as a period curio or because Al Pacino turns up for one scene in his big screen debut. I can't watch Me, Natalie without feeling sad for the big screen career that Patty Duke should have had--she probably squandered more talent than any other actor or actress from her generation. How many other actors went from winning an Academy Award to doing guest spots on The Love Boat and Hawaii Five-O?
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Pinprick (2009)
5/10
Peculiar psycholigical thriller
10 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not really sure what to think of this one. Peculiar thriller/drama starts off with scenes of a strained teenage girl and her mother who clearly don't get along driving together. When the girl is in her room it turns out there is an escaped convict dressed only in his undershorts hidden in her closet who she feeds, does provocative exercises in front of and flirts with. Given the unlikeliness of the situation you figure at first that the man is a figment of the girl's imagination, but then he turns up at one of her mother's adult education classes and talks the older woman into letting him sleep on the pull out sofa as a guest, which the daughter has extremely mixed feelings about. The only other character in more than a couple of scenes is the girl's remote, estranged father who is a doctor and who left the family for reasons that are never fully made clear. Without giving any more of the plot away by the end of the movie I really didn't know what was going on or if the escaped convict was even that, since he seems like he might actually be the most psychologically healthy person in the film. The final shot is undeniably creepy, but like the rest of the film it begs more questions than it answers. The actresses who play the mother and daughter and both excellent and go a long way towards making their characters seem credible even though none of their actions really is. If you're looking for a head-scratcher this will likely fit the bill just fine, but audiences expecting a thriller will likely be bored and disappointed.
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Until Death (2007)
6/10
This is a remake and nobody noticed.
28 January 2008
I watched this on DVD today and was stunned to see that it's a nearly scene for scene remake of one of my favorite Hong Kong films, the 1995 crime melodrama Loving You (ok, bad title) directed by Johnny To that starred Lau Ching Wan and Carman Lee. I don't understand why the original Hong Kong flick is mentioned nowhere in the credits but nearly every single scene and plot element and much of the dialog comes directly from the Hong Kong film. Until Death wasn't bad, but the problem is that Jean-Claude Van Damme isn't half the actor that Lau Ching Wan, the star of the original is and director Stephen Fellows is no Johnny To. The love story between the recuperating police officer and his pregnant wife is handled much more effectively in the original. I highly recommend that anyone who enjoyed Until Death (and can tolerate watching movies with English subtitles) seek out the original version, which was released last year on DVD in Hong Kong and can purchased from places like Ebay. It's a much better movie.
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The Island (2005)
5/10
Dopey action thriller
23 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Big budget action flick about a young man and woman in a Utopian society whose only purpose is to be as healthy and fit as possible before winning a lottery to go to a paradise called the Island, the last inhabitable place on the planet is for all practical purposes a remake of the low budget thriller Parts: The Clonus Horror, which had an identical premise and many of the same plot twists. Strangely, The Island supposedly isn't a remake of Clonus, which means a lawsuit is likely. I'm generally skeptical of plagiarism suits in Hollywood--everything has already been done and there aren't any truly original stories left to tell, but in the case of The Island the thievery of Clonus is so blatant that the people who claim this is an "original story" deserve whatever they get. How is it possible that The Island got approved and filmed and marketed and released without a single involved party noticing that their movie bore a troubling resemblance to another film that was previously released theatrically, shown on television (and ridiculed on MST3000) and even released on DVD? Didn't people who make 120 million dollar Hollywood B movies watch B movies themselves as kids? Well, somebody involved with the story and script for The Island clearly did, because the similarities between The Island and The Clonus Horror are too great to be a coincidence.

Of course, that doesn't address whether The Island is actually any good. Clonus had a clever premise but lacked the budget and talent to pull it off. The Island has all the money and talent anyone could hope for, but as a movie it really isn't any better.

The problem is that while the premise is perfect for a provocative and intelligent thriller, the director is Michael Bay of Armageddon and Bad Boys 2 fame. Bay doesn't make intelligent or provocative thrillers. He makes mindless big-budget crap where stuff gets blown up. Lots and lots of stuff.

The Island starts off great, even if the early scenes feel like they've been largely lifted from the earlier film, but as soon as the action leaves the confines of the facility where the clones live and enters the outside world the action scenes kick in and the movie gets dopier and dopier, leading to a happy ending so cringe inducingly awful you just know Steven Spielberg had to have a hand in this somewhere. Who wants to bet that if Spielberg had produced or directed Armageddon Bruce Willis would have somehow gotten off the asteroid alive? Spielberg could never resist a tearful reunion between Willis and his daughter. The botched endings to Spielberg's War of the Worlds and Minority Report provide all the proof anyone could need. The ending for The Island isn't just bad, it's Spielberg bad, it's the kind of happy ending that ignores all of darker implications of what came before for superficially uplifting images that make little narrative sense and completely insult the intelligence of the audience.

In the case of The Island we have one character who spends the entire film causing mayhem and killing innocent people changing sides (that's going to make me forget all about the civilians and police he and his men killed in pursuit of the clones) while the clones themselves escape to freedom at the top of a mountain. End credits. Hurray. Everyone leaves happy. No wait, the cold-blooded mercenary looks at the clones escaping to freedom and smiles, suppressing a tear in his eye. Now everyone leaves happy. (Unless like me you leave nauseous).

Of course, none of the clones knows anything about the real world and it would be interesting to find out how the world reacts to the news of what was going on in the lab, particularly since the clones are all of people who are rich and influential, including the president. Would there be a scandal? Would the government cover everything up? Would the government hunt down the clones or leave them be? Would the clones try to find their sponsors or take over their sponsors lives since they are identical and have many of the same memories? There are so many interesting directions that The Island could have gone in, the fact that it ultimately turns into a mindless explosion fest is more disappointing than usual. Bad Boys 2 never really had the potential to be anything other than what it was, a mindless big-budget action comedy destined to make money but be forgotten as soon as it left theaters, but The Island could have been a classic. Instead it just feels like another Michael Bay movie.
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6/10
Disappointing
2 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What went wrong? From a purely technical standpoint War of the Worlds is fine--the special effects are first rate and this is the type of material Steven Spielberg can direct in his sleep. His film-making is taut and he stages some of the finest action/suspense sequences that audiences are likely to see this summer. War of the Worlds could have been a classic--so why did it leave me feeling indifferent and cold and why does everyone I talk to seem to leave the movie kind of underwhelmed? I think the problem is the script. Spielberg and writer David Koepp decided to focus entirely on three characters--Tom Cruise's deadbeat dad Ray and his two children. The whole movie follows them from one calamitous event after another as they try not to get zapped by the aliens. There aren't even really any other actors that are on screen long enough to really qualify as characters.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, it makes the story unnecessarily narrow. This is a movie about the destruction of the planet and we spend all of our time following 3 characters. The other problem is that we're pretty sure Spielberg isn't going to kill Tom Cruise or his kids. That creates basically a feature length version of the raptor chasing the kids scene from Jurassic Park--how do you generate suspense when you know the characters who are being threatened with death are never going to get killed? After a while watching the same 2 or 3 characters narrowly escape from the aliens gets to be monotonous and that's pretty much all that War of the Worlds has to offer--one special effects oriented action scene after another after another. There's no plot, too few characters and no soul, just a lot of action and special effects.

There's also a really lame happy ending, which seems to be Spielberg's Achilles heel these days, that unfortunate need to please. He doesn't completely betray the material like he did with Minority Report, but only because there isn't nearly as much to betray. The ending here is ludicrous and stupid but I didn't mind because at least the movie was over.
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Saw (2004)
6/10
How far the horror genre has fallen
6 November 2004
After seeing Saw, which played at the Sundance Film Festival and actually has received some glowing reviews, the absolute best thing I can say about it was that it wasn't boring.

It also wasn't even in the least bit suspenseful, looks so much like a bad heavy metal video during the thriller sequences that you would swear it was directed by a member of Spinal Tap, and features a script that not only completely squanders a fairly nifty premise but also becomes embarrassingly stupid after a while, filled with lapses in logic and gaping plot holes that are pretty unforgivable when you consider that the movie barely even has a plot to begin with.

The simplest way to sum up the movie is this: Saw is to Seven what Urban Legend was to Scream.

The best part of the movie actually was the trailer at the beginning for the French slasher pic High Tension, which is supposedly coming out for Valentines's Day. High Tension is the genuinely visceral, squirm inducing movie that the makers of Saw wanted their flick to be, so in that respect, at least, a theatrical viewing of Saw gives horror fans some reason for hope.
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4/10
Disappointing
24 October 2004
Hugely disappointing comedy by South Park creators is only intermittently amusing and generally plays too much like a real Jerry Bruckenheimer movie. Parker and Stone apparently thought it would be funny to do a Bruckenheimer film where the characters are played by "wooden actors" rather than wooden actors, but that joke can only carry the movie for about ten minutes.

The songs nearly save the day--too bad this wasn't a musical like the South Park movie. But much of the comedy is flat, mean-spirited, uninspired and, I hate to say, remarkably right-wing. While the opening scene in which Team America destroys Paris during an anti-terrorist operation gives the impression of a satire of American aggression and the inability to take into account anyone's interests or perspective other than our own, the filmmakers' sympathies are ultimately very squarely in Team America's corner. Stone and Parker ridicule the idea that American actions abroad might actually encourage terrorism, a key criticism of the consequences of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. It's hard to view the ending as anything other than a ringing endorsement for the Bush administration, which might explain why their TV program That's My Bush was so toothless and lame--these guys are closet right-wing Republicans. Maybe if Comedy Central ever cancels their show they can take their act to the Fox News Network.

One local critic said that this movie could have been written by Donald Rumsfield. I wouldn't go quite that far, but Team America isn't the even handed satire that Parker and Stone are claiming in interviews. It's far to the right of the original South Park movie, which maybe wouldn't matter that much if it was funnier.

Bush apologists and people who think entertainers are too stupid to have valid political opinions should get a kick out of Team America. Me, I'll stick with Orgazmo and the South Park movie. Even Cannibal The Musical was funnier than this.
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6/10
Entertaining but stumbles badly during final reels (spoilers)
26 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This remake of a 1996 Japanese film works surprisingly well for much of its length, a fast-paced and funny piece of work about a middle-aged man (Richard Gere) bored with his life who decides to take dancing lessons after seeing a pretty teacher (Jennifer Lopez) staring out the window of the studio while taking the L home.

The film is shameless but effective in wringing laughs from the uptight businessman slowly discovering the joys of dancing and loosening up, keeping the lessons from his family who notice that he is happier lately and that he seems to come home late every Wednesday night with a different excuse. The man's wife (Susan Sarandon) becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair.

The movie chugs along effortlessly for its first hour, hugely entertaining. Then during a dance competition after one character stumbles badly so unfortunately does the movie. The pacing becomes jerky and trips under unnecessary and pointless narrative complications. Unfortunately pretty much every decision the filmmakers made during the final reels is completely wrong, none more so than the ending. After showing us for an hour how dancing brought pleasure back into the businessman's life there probably isn't a person in the theater who would actually want him to give up dancing at the end, but that is essentially what happens. The film creates a false choice between dancing and marriage that is never justified or believable (even his family doesn't want him to quit).

Maybe the filmmakers shot multiple endings and this was the one that test-marketed the best but it really doesn't work. It's a shame. For most of it's length Shall We Dance is graceful, funny and effortlessly charming, but the last half hour is a terrible mess. Still, the preview audience I saw this crowd-pleaser with seemed pleased enough, cheering during the end credits and smiling and chatting on their way out of the theater, so maybe the flaws aren't serious enough to keep this movie from becoming a modest hit.
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The Last Shot (2004)
6/10
Should have been funnier. Much funnier.
25 September 2004
Pleasantly entertaining comedy has an irresistible premise and brilliant cast but lacks big laughs. In fact, the most effective comedy comes in throwaway bits around the edges rather than from the main plot--Joan Cusack in her brief scenes as a foul-mouthed agent is a hoot as is a clip from a sleazy Cinemax B thriller featuring a not completely surprising cameo.

Calista Flockhart is underutilized but along with Toni Collette seems to be most aware that she is in a farce and both actresses bring welcome energy to their scenes. Alec Baldwin and Matthew Broderick are perfectly cast but the material doesn't exactly let them shine, which is a shame. Much of the comedy feels flat and muted, like the writer/director was afraid to really let loose in farcical Preston Sturges mode, opting for a lower-key approach that is certainly safer if your script isn't funny (what's more painful than a movie straining to be funny when it isn't?) but in this case leads to fatally diminishing returns since the material cries out for more energetic treatment.

The writer/director might want to watch Ruthless People to see where he went wrong. If that film had been directed like The Last Shot, even with the exact same cast and script, it would have been considerably less funny and would have undoubtedly flopped, like The Last Shot is inevitably going to.

That's not to say The Last Shot won't make a good rental or that people won't enjoy watching it on HBO, but it could and should have been much funnier and isn't really worth a trip to the theater--that is, of course, providing that you even get the chance to skip it in the theater. In Chicago it opened on a whopping 3 screens.
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1/10
The worst movie of 2004 (so far)
8 September 2004
It's getting harder and harder to be a Renny Harlin fan. Every time I think he's hit rock bottom creatively and is due for a comeback (Driven) he makes a movie that is somehow even worse (Mindhunters). Now comes Exorcist The Beginning, which makes the dreadful Mindhunters look like an Oscar contender by comparison.

I was really looking forward to this movie but, in retrospect, I should have known better. It's not that Renny Harlin can't direct horror movies--he previously made two that were entertaining, Prison and Nightmare on Elm Street 4, it's that his fun-house style couldn't possibly be a worst fit for this kind of material.

Whatever words one might use to describe the original Exorcist, fun probably isn't one of them, but Harlin isn't able to generate the kind of gravitas necessary to create a "serious" horror film, let alone one that makes its use of Nazis and the holocaust seem like anything other than a regrettably tasteless plot device.

When the exorcism finally comes at the end Harlin directs as if he's making another Elm Street movie, and if he can't take this material any more seriously than Freddy Krueger, how is the audience supposed to?

Renny Harlin was born to make Jerry Bruckheimer movies. He should be directing popcorn flicks like Long Kiss Goodnight and Die Hard 2. He needs to go back to what he does well and stay away from scripts that don't match his talents, meaning pretty much anything where the emphasis is on drama or character psychology rather than action.
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4/10
Disappointing (spoilers)
8 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Dull haunted house thriller finds an American family moving into a 200 year old house in Japan where a violent murder suicide love triangle occurred.

Novel setting is about the only element of interest in this very slow moving horror flick by the director of Motel Hell. The film generates zero suspense and is composed of somewhat choppy scenes that rarely seem to be leading anywhere overall.

One obvious example is a fairly early scene where the male lead visits a temple after realizing that his house is haunted as the monk had earlier warned. The monk recounts the history of the house (which the viewer is already familiar with from the opening sequence) and then the film simply cuts away to something else. Earlier the monk had offered to help. Well, where is the help? The family continues to stay in the haunted house as things get worse and worse and no mention of the monk is made until nearly the very end when he turns up again to do what he should have done an hour earlier--try to drive the spirits out of the house, although by this time it's difficult for the viewers to care.

There are some (probably) unintentional campy laughs in seeing the American actors at the end become possessed by the Japanese spirits and suddenly start doing bad martial arts, I say probably because the scene is more than a little reminiscent of the chainsaw duel from the same director's Motel Hell which was more obviously meant to be amusing, but on the whole this is a forgettable dud.
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6/10
Better than expected
17 August 2004
Dario Argento's new thriller about a serial killer who forces the police to play video poker against him in order to save the lives of women he has kidnapped doesn't rank with the director's best work, but it is fast paced and entertaining if you aren't expecting too much.

After the disastrous Phanton of the Opera Argento made Sleepless, which was a self-conscious attempt to duplicate the success of his 1970's giallos, down to giving long defunct group Goblin credit for the soundtrack. Sleepless was certainly watchable, but it felt more like an Argento rip-off by an inferior director rather than the real thing, like the master had somehow turned into Antonio Bido or Luigi Cosi.

This time around Argento makes a movie that is less obviously grounded in his own previous success--The Card Player is far more generic than Sleepless, but since Argento isn't trying so hard to recapture past magic the film tends to work much better.

Unfortunately plotting and characterization have always been his achilles heel. Classic Argento films are about set-pieces and style, not plot. Stendhal Syndrome suffered because it turned into a character driven psychological thriller, which didn't play to his strengths as a filmmaker. The Card Player is largely plot-driven, lacking the stylistic flourishes and memorable set-pieces that defined his classic films and also offset his weaknesses as a writer. The Card Player generally feels like a made for TV crime thriller or even a pilot for a potential television show.

But while The Card Player isn't great or even mildly believable it is pretty fun on a cheesy B movie level, and the finale involving a handcuff key, a racing train and a lap-top manages to capture the delirious goofiness that came easily to the director back when he made Phenomena and Deep Red. It's not hard to imagine Argento giggling when he came up with his climactic scene and the sense of fun is infectious.

Most fans have probably accepted by now that Dario Argento isn't the filmmaker he was twenty years ago and that he will likely never make another classic thriller, but The Card Player is at least good enough not to disappoint, given the lowered expectations that now inevitably greet one of his movies. For me this was easily his best since Trauma. It also offers reason for optimism: Sleepless was a huge improvement over Phantom of the Opera and The Card Player is better than Sleepless, giving fans a reason to look forward to his next film.
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The Village (2004)
6/10
After more thought...
31 July 2004
I'm writing a follow up comment to one I left right after seeing the movie because the more I think about it, the more frustrated I become. The Village really could have been so much better than it is and the problem is the "surprise" ending, the thing that so many people here are commenting on, but not actually for the reason people are saying.

I think M Night Shyamalan (as well as the people who saw The Village and actually thought the ending worked) would benefit greatly from watching an Atom Egoyan film like Exotica. Egoyan is a truly brilliant filmmaker while Shyamalan is a filmmaker who thinks he's brilliant. Egoyan delays information to keep the audience off-balance and so they don't immediately know what's going on, but he doesn't keep it for a big twist at the end--the delayed information is parceled out during the course of the movie to enhance dramatic impact. The Village would have been much more powerful and affecting if Shyamalan had utilized a similar storytelling structure rather than relying so heavily on a rickety would-be surprise ending. By keeping such a major plot revelation for the very end Shymalan screws up the movie because: a) people like myself who figure out the ending early get bored waiting for the obvious to be revealed and b) people who don't figure out the ending feel cheated because it invalidates what they thought the movie was.

From a marketing standpoint the problem with eliminating the trick ending is that once you do The Village turns into what it really is, a romantic drama rather than a thriller. The Village isn't a thriller. The only way Shyamalan can even create the illusion that The Village is a thriller is to withhold crucial information until the very end. But people who go to The Village expecting to see a thriller will feel duped (as the many angry comments here on the IMDB can attest), and people who actually enjoy the more thoughtful aspects of the story are likely to be frustrated that the structure with its gotcha ending prevents the romance and actual dramatic conflict from being developed to anywhere near the extent that it should have been.

As much as I liked parts of The Village, at this point I'm hoping that after the inevitable strong opening weekend it tanks. Based on recent interviews it seems like M Night Shyamalan judges whether his movies work or not based on their ultimate box office take, so if The Village flops maybe it will force him to actually take a few chances and break free of his formula that is not only showing greatly diminishing returns from movie to movie but, in the case of The Village, turned what could have been a really first rate and thought provoking romantic drama into a mediocre and gimmicky thriller.
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The Village (2004)
6/10
Not much of a surprise
30 July 2004
I figured out the surprise ending of M Night Shyamalan's latest thriller about a half hour in. The movie is fairly creepy up to that point but, unfortunately, once you figure out what's going on there's little suspense since, as a thriller, The Village is all smoke and mirrors.

On the plus side Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix have some nice moments together--The Village actually works much better as a romance than it does as a suspense movie.

Of the rest of the cast only William Hurt impresses, giving a strong and nuanced performance. Adrien Brody seems to be channelling Dwight Frye's Renfield from the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula. This was a peculiar part, to say the least, for an actor to take following up an Academy Award win. It's a complete waste of his talent and hopefully not a sign of things to come.

On the whole The Village is an ok entertainment but I really think it's time for Shyamalan to rethink his reliance on gotcha endings--his movies have become nothing more than an excuse for the final twist that at this point everyone expects. It doesn't really show much faith in his characters or in his ability to tell an story that will engage an audience without tricks. I think the gimmick is wearing thin and that this is going to be his least successful film to date.
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7/10
Good, not great
30 July 2004
The remake of The Manchurian Candidate lacks the intensity or spikey weirdness of the original version but it's a pretty solid thriller on it's own merits, with very good direction and strong performances.

I found the script interesting--the writers actually managed to take a forty year old red scare paranoia thriller that should be hopelessly out of date and to completely refit the material so it's every bit as topical today as it was back then. In fact, in spite of the fact that the candidate is a Democrat, in this remake the Bush and Haliburton bashing are so obvious that at times the movie feels like Farenheit 911 reimagined as a politican thriller.

The biggest fault with this new version is that, in spite of its undeniable cleverness, it's never really all that exciting. The most obvious difference between the two movies is evident in the nightmare brainwashing sequences in each film. The original sequence, in which a flower show is transformed into a horrifying and bizarre mind-control session, is not only the undisputed high point of the earlier film, it's easily the best sequence that John Frankenheimer ever filmed. Demme's comparable sequence in this remake is perfunctory at best, like he was afraid to even try and top the original. The new sequence is efficient and it advances the story, but it isn't creepy enough and you barely remember it by the time the movie ends.

Still, the new Candidate is pretty entertaining and it completely blows away Demme's last remake of a classic film, The Truth About Charlie.
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1/10
Boring, poorly made.
20 July 2004
I saw this yesterday on video under the highly misleading title of Murder Reincarnated.

It might actually be the most boring straight to video thriller I have ever seen.

The lead actor seems like he's positioning himself as the next Jean Claud Van Damme--he's got the physique and accent but, unfortunately for him, the role is entirely dialogue driven and he can't act at all, at least not in English.

The script is laughable, the production values non-existent and the movie is nothing but talk, talk, talk. Avoid unless you want to watch a supposedly thoughtful and uplifting exploration of the idea of reincarnation disguised as a thriller.
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Mindhunters (2004)
3/10
It stinks (possible spoilers)
20 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I personally think Renny Harlen is one of the most underrated directors working in Hollywood--he has more talent in his little finger than an an Antoine Fuqua or Gore Verbinski, both of whom have managed to direct action movies without having the slightest idea how to actually stage exciting action scenes. I mean as bad as Cutthroat Island was, it had far more impressive action sequences than anything in Pirates of the Carribbean. Unfortunately it didn't have much of anything else and that's the problem with Harlen--he's a truly gifted filmmaker who has no talent whatsoever when it comes to choosing his scripts.

This one ranks alongside Driven as being Harlen's worst to date. The premise is promising, although it bares more than a passing resemblance to the derided (but better) Stallone vehicle Detox.

People who go to movies looking for Friday the 13th style colorful kills will probably enjoy this. The problem for me was that the murders were so outlandish they not only seemed completely impossible--they actually crossed the line into goofy self-parody. This movie generates little suspense, the script (by the writer/director of The Cooler) doesn't make much sense, the biggest stars are killed off or disappear from the movie early. Pretty much everything that can be wrong with this movie is.

The studio should just dump this garbage on cable where it belongs--a theatrical release would be a waste of time and money, although the film could pick up a cult following among drunken frat boys who will no doubt enjoy the goofy murders.
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Ultrachrist! (2003)
7/10
Enjoyably silly
16 July 2004
This ultra silly, very low-budget comedy sometimes felt like a Lenny Bruce bit brought to life--he used to do sketches on what would happen if Jesus came back. The humor isn't exactly inspired but there are enough laughs to make this one a pleasant surprise for people who aren't easily offended by religious themed humor.

Ultimately the movie is no more irreverent than what they do with the Jesus character on South Park, so I doubt that too many people outside of the bible belt will really have a problem with this.

If you're looking for something fun to rent you could do a lot worse than Ultrachrist.
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Better than I expected but far from good (possible spoiler)
16 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Slick but pointless remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn't the complete disaster I expected--the movie is extremely well-shot, R Lee Ermey is hilarious and Jessica Biel certainly is attractive running around in shorts and a skin-tight T.

Unfortunately there isn't much suspense and the characters are generally so stupid and unlikable that it's hard to have any rooting interest in what's happening. I would have to say the low point in terms of character sympathy comes when the "teens" give R Lee the gun a female hitchhiker had used to blow her brains out in their van and he put the gun in his empty ankle holster. I don't know about you but that would have been a clear sign to me that something was wrong and I would have gotten out of there as quickly as humanly possible. But the characters in the movie don't make any connection between the police officer and their suicidal passenger until much later. Characters that stupid are just impossible to care about.

The demented family gathering around the dinner table trying to get the old man to off Marilyn Burns with a slaughterhouse hammer is still one of the most intensely creepy and uncomfortably funny sequences I have ever seen in a horror movie. The original Texas Chainsaw can make you squirm even though, contrary to its reputation from people who never actually watched the movie, it has no graphic violence or gore. (Remake producer Michael Bay displayed his ignorance by claiming in interviews that his new version would have none of the graphic gore of the original).

I think the most shocking thing about the remake is the fact that so many people on this site actually think it's a great film. People are entitled to their opinions but this movie is so far from great I can't help but wonder if some of these reviews are from the kinds of people who wouldn't find it strange when a police officer puts a murder weapon in his own empty holster.
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Salem's Lot (2004)
3/10
A misfire on every level (possible spoilers)
27 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
New Salem's Lot adaptation is surprisingly awful, in spite of its strong cast and the fact that it's based on maybe Stephen King's best horror novel.

What went wrong?

Well, let's see. While adapting the novel as a two part 4 hour (with commercials) mini-series might make sense from a business standpoint creatively it means keeping way too many unnecessary characters and subplots. This Salem's Lot has too much build up and, unfortunately, not much in the way of pay-off.

The dialogue is consistently hackneyed and unconvincing--a supposedly playful early exchange between Rob Lowe and Samantha Mathis in a diner actually made me wince. Mathis who is usually a likable and reliable actress appears particularly lost here, without the slightest idea of how to play the material. She seems to be doing an impersonation of a very bad 1950's B movie actress, which I doubt was the intention.

Rutger Hauer and Donald Sutherland are both good but neither has nearly enough screen time to register as an effective villain.

The biggest sin probably is that this version of Salem's Lot just isn't scary. The vampires aren't creepy at all and the digital effects used to create images of them flying and turning to dust upon being staked are awful and give the monsters a too artificial feeling that makes them seem more cartoon than flesh and blood threat.

The most telling scene here is the one where Danny Glick wakes to find a dead schoolmate floating outside his second floor bedroom window. This sequence was the scare highlight both of the novel and of Tobe Hooper's far better filming of the material. Here the scene isn't scary at all--there's no atmosphere, no creepiness, not much sense even that the bedroom is on the second floor. The whole scene is completely mishandled, like everything else in the movie.

Strangely, after the head vampire is dispatched the film seems to turn more into a Dawn of the Dead rip-off than a vampire film, with the remaining townspeople shuffling through the streets like zombies. I have no idea what the filmmakers thought they were doing.

My recommendation would be to avoid this crap and either read the book or rent the much better Tobe Hooper version.
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6/10
Unfocused but lands some punches
26 June 2004
The first thing I noticed from reading the negative comments on here is that it's clear the people blasting the movie didn't bother to actually see it. Leaving knee-jerk insults based on ignorance and innuendo doesn't say much for the intellectual heft of the right.

That said I was more than a little disappointed with this this movie. Much of the first half was entertaining but offered little more than guilt by inference. It would have benefited from digging deeper into links between the Bush family and the Bin Laden's and the Saudi Royal family. There's probably enough material there for an entire documentary.

I felt that the movie went largely off-track in the second half when it focused on the grief of a mother who lost her son in Iraq and on recruiting practices in Flint Michigan. The problem? While the scenes of the mom's grief are undoubtedly affecting, people die in wars whether they are just or not. This woman's grief doesn't speak in any way to whether Bush is a liar or the war is a sham and since it doesn't forward the case Michael Moore is supposedly trying to make it really shouldn't be in the movie. Likewise Bush doesn't personally have anything to do with the fact that poor people are more likely to enlist in the military. I'm sure that was the case during the Clinton administration as well.

Michael Moore apparently felt that he had made his case and that he could turn the last half hour of his film into a salute to our troops, but I think this was another miscalculation. I can't help but think that Moore might have done this so he can claim to still be a patriot even though he is attacking (deservedly) our war-time president.

The best part of the film by far is footage from Iraq, mainly because our worthless news organizations behave as if it is their job to support the government and its policies rather than show the American people what is really going on. Iraqi footage of the dead and wounded and of a raid in an Iraqi family's home is amazingly powerful. If the news here wasn't so sanitized and one-sided then we probably wouldn't even need someone like Michael Moore.

All in all I would recommend Fahrenheit 911 but I think Moore missed a singular opportunity. He definitely lands some punches but never comes close to a knock-out.
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1/10
So bad it's painful
10 June 2004
Poor Nicholas Brendon. While his other Buffy castmates get to do theatrical films he is stuck in this straight to video abomination so awful everyone involved should actually be ashamed. The monster is particularly embarrassing--a computer generated thing that looks like it stepped out of a video game and almost never interacts with the live actors, making it seem even more fake. The idea of a killer Pinata might have offered some campy fun if the thing actually looked like a Pinata. The only film I've seen recently that was comparably dreadful was House of the Dead, which I actually walked out of when I was foolish enough to pay and see it in a theater. Movies like this really make you long for the return of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
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