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Movie Reviews

This page contains various movie reviews in more or less reverse order. Some of these have also been posted on my blog or were on the now-defunct Dark Fiction site.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Rating 1/5 stars

Written: 12.19.13.8.17 1 Caban 10 Xul (07-23-2006; originally posted on my Shamanic Musing blog)

I don't like Tom Cruise anymore. I never liked him much, except in that movie where he runs around in his underwear singing Bob Segar. I thought he ruined Interview with the Vampire (he was totally wrong for the part of Lestat) and after he started in on Scientology and jumping on Oprah's couch and all that, forget it.

So I didn't see the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds until last night, when it came on HBO. I wasted 2 hours of my life watching it and I wish I could get those 2 hours back to do something constructive. Like sleep. Or watch South Park - Bigger, Longer & Uncut again.

I'm sure HG Wells probably rolled over in his grave to see what they did to his story. (Spoilers ahead, but be grateful because you won't have to watch this piece of garbage.) The part that was most true to the original, the aliens dying basically of colds, seemed tacked-on and fake and a deux ex machina. The internal premises of the movie, things the movie was careful to set up, didn't stay consistent.

The alien invasion starts with a weird storm and a bunch of lightning striking one spot repeatedly. All the power goes out. Cars stop working. Phones stop working. This is implied to be due to an EMP (based on news reports playing on the TV before the storm hits, which is a reasonable and clever way to get scientific and background information into the movie, since the main character was demoted from scientist to scientologist...I mean crane operator. And another thing, why waste the opening minutes on the character's crane operating skills if they never come into play again? Why not just show him arriving late to pick up his children?).

If you go to the movie mistakes website, many of the posters explain that EMP only works on items that are TURNED ON at the time of the pulse. That's how people can be taking photos and movies of the tripods as they come out and start frying people. All right, fine, I understand that. But not every car in that city would have been turned on and running when the EMP happened, so why don't any of those cars start?

Tom Cruise's character (I already forget his name) tells the garage to put a solenoid into a van and that makes the van restart, proving that unused solenoids were not affected by the pulse. It would take no time at all for him to give out this information to the people who are walking and freaking that they don't have cars that run. Many mechanics had to have survived, and many auto parts stores and repair shops. He could have told the people in the news van, whose van and equipment survived unscathed, to put that report out over the air so when the EMP did hit other areas, people would know what do to.

The tripods have a death ray that turns people into ashes, but their clothes remain intact. How does the ray know what to vaporize? And unless the ash is another type of fertilizer, this seems very wasteful. Later on they are grinding up live humans and using their blood to water plants--but most of the humans have already been ashed.

And that brings us back to the machines. Supposedly these have been buried all over the earth since before mankind evolved. So these aliens are very patient--they knew some kind of life would evolve here that they could exploit later to grow red weeds. (Why do they want to grow red weeds? I don't know. The movie doesn't say. I am holding off re-reading the short story, until I finish the review.) But why couldn't they use dinosaurs as fertilizer? Why wait for humans? Ash is ash (assuming they used the ash) and blood is blood.

My husband raised another point--why were the tripods only buried in major cities? How did the aliens know where the cities would be millions of years later? I suggested that the tripods were buried EVERYWHERE (one does come out of a lake) and only those in major cities were activated. But that begs the question....why didn't we ever find one? With all our ground-penetrating radar and deeply buried subways and oil drilling, how come we never found even one sleeping tripod? Someone on the movie mistakes site suggested that the tripods crawled underground into place. That would have shown as seismic activity though, and the TV wasn't talking about recent low-key world-wide earthquakes.

Tom Cruise has a limited acting range. Aw-shucks gee-whizz doofus, angry stern commander, and blank-faced. He tried toward the end to play the loving daddy but it fell flat and wasn't believable. His spoiled and pampered daughter, played by Dakota Fanning, was so shrill, that I didn't care if she lived or died. She added nothing to the plot except making the movie longer and louder. At one point he claims she's ten, but she acts much younger. The son was a more interesting character. He had his dad's measure as an uncaring slacker. He showed his father how to really help, not just stand around--when he ran to save the people on the boat ramp and when he repeatedly tried to join the military convoys. I don't remember the son questioning how they had a running vehicle, but he would have been the one telling people if he knew.

A plane got hit by the EMP and fell from the sky when they were hiding in the basement of Cruise's ex-wife's new house. But their van still started and amazingly did not get hit by any plane debris. The plane's occupants should have been splattered all over, but there were no bodies.

The aliens in the basement were too cute. They had big eyes. Big eyes make humans sympathetic. Also, shouldn't they have had 3 eyes evenly spaced around their heads? They have 3 3-fingered appendages so why not 3 eyes? Obviously these creatures are NOT bi-laterally symmetrical. 3 eyes (even if large) would be gross to humans. The way they bumbled around, knocking things over, being in amazement over the bike wheel, makes them seem like endearing and harmless creatures, along the lines of ET. If one of them had been coughing or sneezing or showing signs of illness, that would have set up the ending. But they blow their chance there.

By the time Tom Cruise and his screaming monster of a daughter get to Boston, the tripods are dropping dead, the alien red weeds are dying and being eaten by crows. The soldier tells him the tripods started walking in circles and then fell over. Birds land all over a still-upright tripod which alerts Tom Cruise, the vigilant crane operator, that the shields are down. This makes NO sense. The tripods aren't alive. It's the aliens inside. And the sick aliens wouldn't turn off the shields and continue to blast things.


Now I am re-reading War of the Worlds online, and I will comment on what was changed in the movie, concentrating on the things I brought up in my review.


The DaVinci Code

Sony Pictures
Cast: Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa), Paul Bettany (Silas)
rating 3/5 stars

Written: 12.19.13.5.14 3 Ix 7 Zip 05/21/2006 originally posted on my blog.

I went to see The DaVinci Code yesterday with my husband & his mom for mother's day. She's a Catholic and teaches at a private Catholic girls' school. She understands that it's fiction.

I understand that it's fiction. My husband understands that it's fiction.

I see so many posts on Yahoo Answers about how it's real that I stopped answering them.

I read The Da Vinci Code when it came out, and the related book Angels & Demons as well. I liked Angels and Demons better--the illustrations of the brands were cool. I thought DVC was a derivative book, not very original, with lots of stupid "Why didn't they...." moments.

At the end, when you see the elaborate way they followed the clues to find Mary Magdalene, you wonder how the dead grandfather had time to lay this all out as he was dying. Maybe some people are naturally good at anagrams (I'm not and never have been--the jumble in the paper always defeats me and I suck at Boggle despite my vast intelligence and vocabulary) but I'm not. If I was shot, I can't see myself laying out elaborate clues hither and yon and hoping someone--the right someone--will find them and follow them correctly. And they're clever anagrams, too.

One thing really bugged me in this movie. My husband laughs and says it's insignificant but my mother-in-law agrees. TWICE in the movie Tom Hanks pronouced "Li-brary" as "li-berry." This is a Harvard professor? Saying "liberry"? Will says it's an accent. I say it's a mis-pronunciation and it totally threw me out of the movie.

The same thing bugged me in the movie as the book. They are in an armored car. Instead of ditching it, they take it to a friend's house. Wouldn't just about any IDIOT much less a Harvard professor and a professional cop/code-breaker know (or at least guess) that an armored car would have a tracking device built in? PUL-LEESE.

As I watched the blonde guy Silas (they can call him an albino all they want, but I worked with a real albino and this actor wasn't one) torture himself in front of a crucifix, all I kept thinking was "I am SO GLAD I'm a pagan."

The only controversy I could see about the movie was that, if anything, it could push any disillusioned Catholics (not just Christians, because the Pope and bishops were involved) over the edge. And here we pagans will be, with open arms. "Welcome Home," we'll say. " We're glad you found us. You want to believe that Mary Magdalene married Jesus and had children, an improbable unbroken line of females so their mitochondrial DNA can be traced right back to Mary's 2,000-year-old corpse? That idea is welcome here. Jesus was a man, not a god? We accept that too. You want to flagellate yourself for love of your god? On this side of the fence we call that S&M but sure, go ahead."

A personal thing about the movie that bugged me--Tom Hanks' hairdo made him look just like my cousin Dennis. But if you don't know Dennis, it won't bug you.


Ultraviolet

Grade: 1/5
Cast: Milla Jovovich (Violet), Cameron Bright (Six), William Fichtner (Garth), Nick Chinlund (Daxus)

Written 12.19.13.2.11 5 Chuen 9 Cumhu March 19, 2006 (never posted previously)

This is, without a doubt, one of the worse movies I’ve ever seen. I didn’t like the commercials much;anything with a voice-over to explain what’s going on isn’t well written. I had hopes that the voice-over explanation wouldn’t be part of the movie.

It was.

The plot was so disjointed, illogical, and lacking internal consistency, I don’t even know where to begin.

The movie takes place in the future. There’s some sort of sub-group of humans called hemophages—basically, they are vampires. The government, who evidently created these hemophages, is now trying to destroy them. But of course, the vampires have all sorts of awesome skills so they can easily defeat the humans in any type of combat. And they seem to have unlimited weapons, technology and money to back them up—where those things come from isn’t explained.

Violet (Jovovich), one of the vampires, is sent into a government building as a courier to retrieve a weapon. Why the government hired someone from the outside to transport the weapon across town is one of the film’s great mysteries. She manages to magically defeat all the screening processes, even the ones which DNA and facial-bone match her to someone else, and get the weapon. In other mysterious twist, the weapon has a self-destruct sequence in it—if it doesn’t get delivered, it blows itself up. The vampires contact Violet frantically, wanting to get the weapon so they can destroy it—why not just wait for the timer to blow it up? This mysterious case isn’t even locked, and of course Violet can’t help but open it. 

The payload is a dying boy (Bright) who supposedly has an antidote for the hemophage plague in his blood. But he’s the only one who’s got it in him…and he’s dying…and he’s rigged to blow up…and if the government loses him they’ll have to start over from square one. Duh—why not just keep a sample of the kid’s blood in a vial? This is the kind of stupidity and silliness that mars every step of this movie.

This thin plot is the excuse for lots of improbable fight scenes where Violet defeats large numbers of humans sent to retrieve the boy. It’s clear that the choreographers have watched The Matrix movies many times. The effects are cool, but it’s a sensory overload. After a while, it’s just boring. How many men will she fight and defeat now? Yawn. And all that with only a crazy hemophage doctor (Fichtner) and a dying boy to help her. And why would a vampire who swears over and over that she hates humans suddenly fall in love with a human boy (a clone of her greatest enemy, no less) and try to save him?

The ending relies on a couple of surprise twists that still aren’t very interesting. 

If you only care about overblown fight scenes, cool effects, and nice scenery, enjoy. If you care at all about plot or internal logic in a film, stay home. Or watch Aeon Flux instead.


National Treasure

3 of out of 5 swords

originally written 12.19.11.14.13 8 Ben 16 Ceh posted on Dark Fiction site

National Treasure is quite obviously capitalizing on the whole “DaVinci Code” movement (see my review of that book, the movie is reviewed above on this page), except that it moves the whole shebang to America. It also has a kind of “Indiana Jones” feeling. So basically, like the knock-off perfumes in department stores, if you like The Da Vinci Code and the Indiana Jones films, you’ll love National Treasure.

Once again, the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and the Masons start off with a great treasure, which is of course hidden, and no one knows where it is, except the intrepid history teacher–oh, sorry, that’s the DaVinci Code, I mean, the treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage).

The Gates family is the keeper of the only clue leading to this fabulous treasure, and have been for over 150 years. Somehow Ben, with the help of his friend Riley (Justin Bartha) and his financial backer Ian (Sean Bean), deciphers that clue and finds, not the treasure, but another clue. Ad nauseam, as clue leads to clue. Ian seems to find fiendish pleasure in leaving Ben to die after getting each clue, only to need him again when those clues lead to...more clues. This movie could have been ten hours long, if the Disney people could have thought up more clues.

I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that one of the clues leads to a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. A major problem that the film-makers choose to overlook is that there were several original copies of this hallowed document–I guess they didn’t want to expand the movie to hapless Nick hunting down and stealing every original copy.

Following the formulas, there is of course a beautiful woman involved: Abigail (Diane Kruger), who is one of the caretakers and guardians of the Declaration. The FBI, who of course didn’t believe Ben and Riley that Ian was going to steal the Declaration of Independence, also get involved. This leads to a chase from one piece of American history to the next. (Really, this film should have come out on July 4th, but then it wouldn’t have been number one.)

The ending is entirely predictable, but it’s an enjoyable film if you don’t go into it looking for anything original.


Saw

2 out of 5

originally written 12.19.11.14.13 8 Ben 16 Ceh posted on Dark Fiction site

I had heard both good and bad things about this movie. So I went into it with an open mind. I love horror movies, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

The basic premise is this: two characters, Dr Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes ) and Adam (Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the film) wake up in a filthy bathroom, chained in opposite corners. In the middle of the room is a dead man in a pool of blood with a gun in one hand. Instructions on a mini-recorder in the dead man’s hand tell Lawrence he must kill Adam before 6:00 or his wife and daughter will be killed. They have been left a pair of hacksaws too weak to cut the chains, but strong enough to cut through flesh. Adam is a whiny character with no redeeming qualities. Gordon is a cold-hearted doctor who doesn’t bother to learn his patients’ names and is cheating on his wife.

The back-story of how the two got into their predicament involves a twisted figure, Jigsaw, who sets other people up to kill themselves (or kill others to save themselves). Danny Glover plays an ex-cop (Tapp) who was nearly killed by Jigsaw, and who is obsessed with finding the crazed individual.

What could have been an engaging psychological thriller simply fell flat. Too many times during the movie, I found myself thinking how stupid the characters were, or the dreaded question “Why” (Why did they do that? Why didn’t they do that?), which comes up in badly plotted movies and novels. When the movie tries to invoke the terror the characters feel, all that happens is that the audience’s ears are assaulted with shrill screaming and badly-acted hysteria. Hurry up and die already; stop annoying me. It has a trick ending that did surprise me, but that wasn’t enough to make me like the movie. And I really wanted to.

Rated R for lots of gore and bizarre death scenes.


The Grudge

5/5 swords

Originally written: 12.19.11.13.01 2 Imix 4 Zac, 10-25-2004, posted on the Dark Fiction site

This movie was not perfect, but it’s been a long time since a horror movie scared me, and The Grudge made me jump several times. For that, it gets my highest rating. The sophisticated spiral/flashback structure confused most of the audience where I saw it. I did not find the flashbacks/asides hard to follow, but I’m not entirely convinced they were necessary. The time line of The Grudge moves between three years ago and present-day Tokyo. Because of the flashback structure, to give a true synopsis of the film would be to ruin it. Basically, an evil act of murder was committed in a home and that evil lives on, attacking all who come within its range.

I have not seen the original Japanese version, Ju-On, but this version retains the flavor of Japan. Unlike The Ring, which was moved to America in the American version, The Grudge keeps Japan as its setting. Some of the characters are Americans going to school or working in Toyko, others are Japanese. It is a nice mix; a poignant scene shows a bewildered American woman trying to shop in a Japanese grocery store, unable to read the labels or ask anyone for help.

The nature of the unrelenting evil is sometimes illogical (some characters killed immediately, others allowed to live for a while), but perhaps that can all be simply chalked up to madness on the part of the evil spirits. The little boy is truly creepy, even more so than the girl from The Ring. I liked The Ring and The Grudge because religion plays no part. In American horror, everyone seems to be praying, hiding in churches, calling the priest for help. In these Japanese horror films, there is no one to run to for help. The Grudge retains its suspense and delivers some true surprises and bits of horror along the way. If you like to be scared, or you just like to see one scary movie every Halloween, go see The Grudge.


Open Water

4 out of 5 shark bites

Originally written 12.19.11.9.18 4 Etznab 1 Mol 08-23-2004 published on Dark Fiction site

Most of the suspense in Open Water comes from wondering how exactly those final, fatal shark bites will come to poor Daniel and Susan (Daniel Thomas and Blanchard Ryan). This low-budget film has an almost home-movie feel, with odd camera angles and handheld cameras (though not as bad or self-aware as The Blair Witch Project). The in-water camera, at the level of the actors’ faces, really gives a good idea of what two stranded people could see.

The most impressive thing about Open Water is that it contains no special effects. If there’s a shot with the actors and a shark (or two, or twelve) those sharks were really there, that close. Some of it is clever editing, of course, a thrashing shark and then a reaction shot, but much of it is frighteningly real. No puppet sharks, no mechanical sharks, no CGI sharks–-100% real ocean-grown shark.

Although it’s scary in places, it is also sad, showing the social isolation of these two people who made so little impression on the others in their dive boat that no one even realized they were gone. Before they left for vacation, the couple could barely get out the door without taking frantic phone calls from their jobs, and their cell phones and laptop come along on the trip. This contrasts with the laughing dive passengers on their way back to shore, not knowing or caring that Daniel and Susan were left behind.

The movie bills itself as being “based on true events” but it should simply say “inspired by” true events. The true events are the story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who were left behind in Australia and never found. Since no one knows what happened to them, their story could only have inspired the writers of Open Water to imagine (and change the names, background and move the story from the Great Barrier Reef to a nameless Carribean island) what happened in their final hours.

The movie is not unrelenting footage of two people in the water; interspersed are scenes of what is going on back on shore. One poetic section just shows all the different moods of the water, its changing colors and wave types. These are used to move though big gaps of time (the movie takes place over a twenty-four hour period).

It is also not unrelentingly scary. There are comic moments (Susan shouting “I wanted to go skiing!” and Daniel joking about how they wanted an ocean view) and sad moments as well.

Although this movie has been widely compared to Jaws, it did not invoke that same “I will never go into the water again” feeling. Its underlying message was the standard horror movie caveat: "follow the rules or die"-–Daniel and Susan went off on their own, not staying with the group, and due to a stupid mistake on the part of the dive master, were left behind. It’s also got the usual horror movie message: when the group splits up, people die. Seeing this movie did not make me terrified of sharks, nor did I vow never to return to the Carribean (if anything, all the establishing shots and the beginning of the movie made me long to go back there!). I will never go into the water at night during a thunderstorm, though, sharks or no sharks.

Although Open Water is rated R, the level of violence is less than a viewer would expect, perhaps because there are no special effects. 

What this film teaches is, no matter how important you think you are on shore, in the water you’re just bait. 


Dark Water

3/5
Rated: PG-13

Originally written: 12.19.12.08.12 13 Eb 10 Xul -- 07/23/2005 posted on the dark fiction site

This was another movie I really wanted to see. I like Japanese-flavored horror non-theistic films like The Ring and The Grudge (reviewed above). Unfortunately, I am starting to see the pattern behind the films, which makes them not-so-entertaining.

Water occupies the screen in almost every scene of Dark Water. It streams down windows, drips from ceilings, explodes from sinks and toilets, and pours from the sky. The water itself almost becomes a villain, as it even seems to stalk the characters.

A newly divorced woman Dahlia Williams (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter CeCi (Arial Gade) are forced to look for inexpensive housing in New York City. They end up on Roosevelt Island, at a forbidding, prison-like complex of buildings. At first CeCi is adamant about not wanting to live there, and then does a complete about-face. The estranged husband, Kyle (Dougray Scott) wants full custody of the child, and is willing to lie about Dahlia to get it. 

The movie descends into Dahlia’s mind, as she begins to feel that her husband is paying people to drive her insane. In the abandoned, water-filled apartment directly upstairs, she finds a photo that reminds of her own bad childhood, when she was forgotten by her mother. The movie is populated by men who lie to her (her lawyer, her ex-husband, her building manager), which only fuels her downward spiral. To complete the picture, CeCi starts playing with an imaginary friend, Natasha, and acting out. The eerie singing of “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, with its rain imagery (“down came the rain and washed the spider out”) creeps through the movie.

The Japanese horror formula of malevolent dead children seems almost an afterthought next to Dahlia’s very personal mental breakdown. The issues of abandonment, neglect and child abuse are subtly mirrored in Dahlia’s past and present, which is emphasized in the film by the many shots containing mirrors. One pet peeve: every woman in this story had long, dark, straight hair. Not a blonde or redhead. Perhaps on purpose, but what did it solve?

Dark Water was predictable, and could have been more scary. Unlike The Ring and The Grudge, there were no scenes which made the audience jump. A few scenes were uncomfortable, but none of them were the stuff nightmares are made of.


The Devil's Rejects

Written/directed by Rob Zombie
Rated R (murder, torture and gore)
Grade: 2/5

Originally written: 12.19.1208.12 13 Eb 10 Xul 07-23-2005 never before posted

I like Rob Zombie’s music. I went to see House of 1,000 Corpses when it came out hoping to like it. I didn’t. Now The Devil’s Rejects takes up where Corpses left off, a vague amount of time later. 

After a police raid where Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook) is arrested, Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) & Otis (Bill Moseley) escape, fleeing to meet their father, Captain Spaulding the evil clown (Sid Haig). They are pursued by Sheriff John Wydell (William Forsythe) and his own band of merry torturers. There are vague talks of plans, and digging up guns, but no real explanation of what they are planning except running. 

This movie is not scary in the least. There are no moments when moviegoers jumped. There are no surprises—everything is set up so even the densest watcher can figure out what’s coming well before it happens.

The running-and-killing plot which worked so well for Natural Born Killers seems contrived here. We’ve seen all these elements before: the sheriff who goes too far, the Hispanic maid finding bodies in a cheap motel room, the tortured becoming the torturee (and vice versa), the character who sells out the bad guys to save his own skin. Yawn.

Pet peeves of this movie: All the characters’ teeth (except Captain Spaulding’s) were really white and nice while their bodies and clothing were habitually filthy. Unrealistic. And the cows bothered me too; the police would have had the cows removed. Mother Firefly’s part so overacted that her speech is unintelligible in one scene.

The only funny part in the whole movie is about chickens. Hilarious, but not worth the admission price. The soundtrack is dreadful, all the clichéd southern 70’s music that I abhor most (the worse of the worse being “Freebird” over the final shoot-out). Just for that, I’d subtract a sword, but I don’t want to give it only one.

In summary: The Devil’s Rejects: reject it.


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