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Contracted: Phase II (2015)

27 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: ½*

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Before I begin my review of “Contracted: Phase II,” I should clarify something from my review of its predecessor, the 2013 body-horror film “Contracted.” I refrained from using a certain word that other reviewers were using; just one word that gave me a pretty good idea of how the film was going to end. Since this film picks up where the first one left off, I might as well just use said-word now. (And if you’re reading this, chances are you saw the first film to begin with.) The word used by critics was “zombie.” The main character, Samantha (Najarra Townsend), has been going through bizarre, scary changes, including her body falling apart, and guess what—she turns into a zombie. I bet you thought it was just a very messed-up sexually-transmitted disease, didn’t you?

Yes, apparently B.J., the sicko who gave Samantha the sickness to begin with (and is not played by Simon Barrett this time), is the carrier for a would-be zombie apocalypse.

Our hero in this sequel is Riley (Matt Mercer, reprising his role from the original). If you saw the original, you remember him as the guy who barely had a role aside from having a hopeless crush on Samantha, and it led to the point in which Samantha presumably gives him the disease near the end of the film. I remember writing in my review that I didn’t think that was warranted, since we hardly knew anything about him. And it’s amazing to see that even though most of this sequel is centered around him, I still don’t know a damn thing about him, nor do I care. He’s dull, uninteresting, and unsympathetic—he made me wish for the return of the comic-relief druggie from the original film. (That guy, played by Charley Koontz, does come back late in the film—I really wish he took center stage in this one.) I don’t blame Mercer for this; he just has nothing to work with.

Anyway, “Phase II” picks up where “Contracted” left off, with Samantha becoming a zombie and attacking her mother (Caroline Thompson) before being shot dead by police. And like I said, Riley now has the disease Samantha had in the original. His body’s falling apart, he feels a strange sensation despite his doctor saying he’s clean, and he tries to find answers as to what’s happening to him.

There’s really nothing to this movie. It’s pretty pointless, to say the least. The questions raised from the first film are answered, but they were answers most of us have figured out before we saw this second one anyway. There are some disgusting gory moments to gross the audience out, such as when Riley pulls a broken fingernail out of a claw mark on his back or when his nosebleed becomes too messy (and even leaks into cheese dip at a memorial service—blech) or even pulling out a maggot from under his skin…but then what? What else is there to this movie? There’s no mystery to keep us invested, either with Riley or with the police detective, Crystal (Marianna Palka, sporting an on-again/off-again American accent), investigating mysterious dead bodies, because we know what’s happening to Riley and we know what the detective is going to find. If nothing new could be added, why make a sequel at all? The original ended at just the right moment—nothing more was needed.

All the titular “Phase II” turns out to be is spreading the disease around, which was already implied in the original film—we understood that very quickly; B.J. was going to be responsible for creating more (sigh) zombies. (“Mankind is a bacteria that needs to be obliterated,” he says at one point.) The film tries to take a new interesting turn by having Riley attempt to track down B.J. and kill him, but even that doesn’t work because nothing about this development in both the story and the character of Riley turning into a public avenger seems interesting, let alone convincing.

The first “Contracted” worked as a character study with some horrific body-horror elements attached. This second film is not only a retread (minus interesting characters) but also a failed zombie movie—tame, weak, and ironically bloodless (figuratively). Needless to say, “Contracted: Phase II” suffers from the disease shared by most unnecessary horror films—the Pointless Sequel Syndrome.

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Left Behind (2014)

15 Aug

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Smith’s Verdict: 1/2*

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The End is near.

That’s what I had to remind myself every few minutes as I was watching this film—“The end [of the movie] is near, the end [of the movie] is near…”

You would think that a disaster movie in which the priceless enigma known as Nicolas Cage (who can either be a very gripping actor or a wacky presence that brings most bad movies up a notch) desperately tries to find his family while also trying to land an airplane when the world is in shambles would at least be entertaining in a so-bad-it’s-good sort of way. But this re-adaptation of the popular “Left Behind” Christian book series is so lifeless and boring that it makes the original 2000 adaptation (starring Kirk Cameron) look like “Casablanca.” And unfortunately, Cage doesn’t help—he seems half-asleep throughout the entire movie, when all that could be done to raise this movie to entertaining levels is a trademark Cage freak-out performance.

It shocks me that this remake was directed by the director of the previous version, Vic Armstrong. It’s almost as if he was wondering how he could possibly make it even worse than before. Give the original film some credit—the political intrigue presented in the dawn-of-the-Antichrist story gave some indication that there was some effort to make it thought-provoking. This remake is just throwing “Airport”-type clichés in with fundamentalist Christian theologies repeated over and over to make sure we get the point.

And I’m not kidding—much of this movie consists of spelling out the evangelical Christian message that the Rapture is coming, the End is near, etc. and so on. It’s like the makers of this film want to remind us who made this piece of uninspired propaganda.

Oh, and there are a few car crashes, a prop plane crash, and a big explosion thrown in just to try and wake up the small audience outside its target demographic.

Oh right, the story. Well, Nicolas Cage is a pilot named Ray Steele, who is called into work on his birthday, just as his adult daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), arrives in town. Chloe believes her father is having an affair with a flight attendant, Hattie (Nicky Whelan), and tries to reconnect with her newly religious mother (Lea Thompson), but differing beliefs (and ignored warnings from mother to unaffiliated daughter) cause more friction between the two. The Rapture occurs while Cage’s plane is in mid-air and Chloe is taking her little brother to the mall. The brother is gone (in fact, all the children are gone all over), many passengers on the plane are gone, much of the townspeople have vanished as well, and it becomes clear to many that these disappearances have happened all over the world. Cage’s co-pilot has gone as well. With help from investigative journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray, who I’ll give credit to for trying to make something out of a nothing role), Cage tries to land the plane safely before the remaining, scared passengers go even crazier with paranoia.

“Left Behind” feels so proud of its portrayal of the first stage of the End (first is the Rapture, next is the Tribulation, and on and on until finally, Judgment Day) that it ends on a blatant cliffhanger. How blatant? Well, it ends with this exchange—“Looks like the end of the world.” “No. I’m afraid this is just the beginning.” I don’t think so. I sat through this thing, I don’t intend on sitting through it again, and I definitely don’t intend on seeing this story continue any further.

And to think this thing came out the same year as “Joe,” the film that reminded us how good of an actor Cage can be.

Kazaam (1996)

25 May

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Smith’s Verdict: Half-a-Star

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Kazaam” was to be NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s major starring vehicle, with “Shaq” himself playing, as the marketing suggested, “a rappin’ genie with an attitude…ready for some slam-dunk fun!” This came out the same year as another movie starring another NBA player—“Space Jam” with Michael Jordan. What that movie got right with its iconic figure was to have him actually play the iconic figure. Michael Jordan didn’t have to play a superhero (or a “genie,” for that matter)—he already is one. Here, in “Kazaam,” Shaquille O’Neal is not given the right material to start with—it’s as if the filmmakers took one look at this seven-foot, imposing black man and thought to themselves, “Hey, this guy’s tall, bald, and black—I think he’d make a good genie.”

“Kazaam” is such a deplorable movie. It’s stupid, unimaginative, often unpleasant, and a truly sad excuse for a Shaq vehicle.

Yes, Shaq plays a genie, named Kazaam (isn’t that an odd name for a genie—was “Abra-Cadabra” already taken?). He’s the genie of a magical boombox that is suddenly released by a young city boy named Max. Kazaam is now Max’s slave (I’m not even joking—Max even acknowledges that he “owns” Kazaam) until he grants three wishes for the kid. But meanwhile, he does all right for himself in the city (though where this takes place, I may have missed—maybe New York City? The Bronx? Brooklyn?) and even becomes a hit at a local nightclub as a rapper.

Before I go any further, this needs to be said—Shaq raps even worse than he acts. He has no rhythm, his voice drones monotonously when it should be driving, and his improvised “lyrics” are terrible (“Let’s green-egg-and-ham it!”). And unfortunately, we’re subjected to many sequences in which he raps to impress.

Max (played by Francis Capra), the kid that Kazaam is granting three wishes to, is an unsympathetic little brat. I guess we’re supposed to care for this loathsome little toad because he’s in need of a father figure, and his father is a jerk who is also in the underground pirated-music scene. But Max is irritating and obnoxious all the way through. His interactions with Kazaam mostly consist of showoffish, in-your-face dialogue that gets annoying very fast.

The story is very boring as it goes along with the whole subplot involving Max’s father who is involved in something violent and dangerous involving the latest score. There’s a cassette tape involved that just serves as an uninteresting McGuffin, and there’s also a group of bullies that think they themselves can get rich with it if they grab it themselves. And it gets even more tedious as it goes along.

The special effects that go with Kazaam’s powers aren’t very impressive. They look cheap and not as “magical” as the movie would like to make us believe it is. Notice a flying-bicycle scene that involves a lot of gold-sparks, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Actually, I should probably delete that last sentence, because that would imply that I suggest you check out this movie, which I hope you don’t. It’s hardly worth it.

And about Shaquille O’Neal himself—he’s pretty dull here. I think an acting coach would have done him well (Lord knows he needed one for his free-throws). I think Shaq can be very likeable, and maybe if he had better direction, he would have been the one to save this movie. He’s trying, but he needed to remember that grinning every single minute (just like he did with his TV commercials) doesn’t make one a credible actor. (And again, neither does his rapping-rhyming.) “Kazaam” is a waste of time.

The Neverending Story III (1994)

21 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: 1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

From an abstract entity to the human form of lack of imagination, the world of Fantasia is constantly under siege in “The Neverending Story” and “The Neverending Story II.” While “The Neverending Story II” didn’t work, it did have an interesting danger for Fantasia (the latter of what I mentioned above), especially compared to the danger in “The Neverending Story III.” What threatens Fantasia this time? A group of high school bullies known as the “Nasties.” That’s one of many signs featuring lack of creativity and inspiration that come with the whole movie.

Before I get into all that, allow me to explain the plot. The young hero Bastian Balthazar Bux (yes, he says his full name in this movie) is back, but facing a few problems. He has a new stepmother, has moved to a new place, and has a brat for a stepsister named Nicole (Melody Kay). Coincidentally, the library at his new school stores the Neverending Story, which apparently tells Bastian’s (Jason James Richter, “Free Willy”) story as it still happens. He uses the book to escape the Nasties, who later find the book and figure out the peculiarity behind it. They use it to attempt to take over the world. So Bastian is sent back to the real world along with other characters from Fantasia in a mission to get the book back and save the world.

This doesn’t seem like the third chapter of “The Neverending Story.” It seems like a sequel to a remake of the original film. For starters, the character of Bastian’s father has changed. In the previous film, the father knew about Bastian’s adventure in Fantasia and here, Bastian and dad seem to have no recollection of that. Bastian is searching for his lost Fantasian friends and hiding one of the found ones in his kitchen, and yet he doesn’t tell his father about the problem, despite the father knowing about it all in the previous film. This would have been a very interesting story element—a father and son banding together to solve the problem. But none of that is found or even explored.

The characters from the original films are developed in a backward way here. Falkor the Luckdragon is no longer the loyal and dignified creature he was in the past two films—instead, he’s an idiot. That’s not all—the Rockbiter has turned into a sitcom character, along with his family. I mean, his family lives in a rock house with a rock kitchen and rock TV.

The only element that remains the same as any of the previous films is how dumb Bastian is. In the second film, he had the power to wish for anything and wished for practically nothing (I’m still angry about that spray can). Here, he uses the power again…for nothing. What an idiot kid.

The Nasties are led by a beefy, Khan-like twentysomething (he’d been left back in high school) named Slip. Why do I mention this character? Because the actor playing him—Jack Black—is the only entertaining element in the film. His character is written terribly, but it’s fun to watch Jack Black try to make something out of this stupid, unimaginative movie.

Teen Wolf Too (1987)

20 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: 1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Teen Wolf Too” is one of the most uninspired sequels ever made. It’s idiotic, not the least bit amusing, and unoriginal. It’s a sequel to the surprise 1985 box office hit “Teen Wolf,” which I didn’t like but is “Back to the Future” compared to “Teen Wolf Too” (I mean it—it’s that bad). While the original film had clichés that I could list five of, it at least had some amusing bits and a likable Michael J. Fox as the lead. “Teen Wolf Too” has more than a dozen clichés that don’t work at all here and instead of Michael J. Fox returning in the role (if he did, the movie would be titled “Teen Wolf Two” instead of “Teen Wolf Too”), we have Jason Bateman, whom back then was best known for the teenage roles he played in TV shows such as “Silver Spoons” and “Valerie.”

Bateman plays Fox’s cousin Todd who is going off to college. He is embarrassed by his uncle’s constant change in appearance from man to wolf. Todd definitely doesn’t want the same thing that happened to his uncle and cousin to happen to him—especially not in his first year at college. But it turns out he does share the same problem, as he discovers when he gets nervous while slow-dancing with the pretty girl on campus.

One thing you’ll notice right away—the wolf makeup is just plain awful. Bateman looks more like a hairy escaped prisoner from Alcatraz. The makeup in the original wasn’t perfect, since the movie called for the wolf to still be a teenager, but it deserved an Oscar nomination compared to the makeup here. (OK, enough comparisons)

So, like in the original film, Todd shows off his wolf persona to the whole college and becomes popular. Soon enough, he’s able to lead the boxing team to a victory. Yes, we get another “big game” and yes, Todd does get into the ring. If that was lazy enough for screenwriters, it’s even lazier for the filmmakers because I bet the reason they had boxing instead of football was so there would be fewer extras to hire. Worse—it’s boring. At least the Rocky sequels had the same endings but were more watchable.

Also weak are the stereotype characters Todd is associated with—the evil blonde, the nice brunette girl who is right for Todd, the fat guy, the wise guy, and the mean preppy guy. I think somebody should start a new therapy group—“Stereotypes Anonymous.” Hey, there’s a movie idea right here.

Jason Bateman, as the lead, is no help at all with this film. He’s bland and uninteresting. He doesn’t have the kind of charisma that Michael J. Fox carried in the original film. (But of course to his credit, he grew into charisma with “Arrested Development” years in the future.) Kim Darby, as the understanding teacher, is OK but is given nothing to do with the character. John Astin overdoes it as the college dean.

“Teen Wolf Too” is an unnecessary sequel with a lame screenplay, bad acting, and horrible wolf makeup. I never thought a movie could falter on makeup. But it just doesn’t help.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

7 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: Half-a-star

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The only reason I choose to give “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” a half-star rating instead of a dreaded zero-star rating is because the movie is good-natured and real little kids may find some enjoyment out of it. For everyone else, and especially for those who enjoyed the first “Superman” movie (I also enjoyed the second one and found the third one to be dull as dishwater), it’s a waste of time and a mystery that needs to be solved. That mystery is, who thought a fourth entry in this big franchise would have a script this lame and effects so terrible?

The story is this: with the Cold War getting everyone paranoid, a grade-school kid writes a letter to Superman. The letter asks that he do something about the nuclear weapons in the world. So what does Superman do? He announces to the world that he will destroy them all.

And everyone’s OK with this? No one’s arguing with him?

Anyway, Superman (Christopher Reeve) destroys every nuclear missile by launching them into the sun, burning them up. This gives an opportunity for archvillain Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), with his annoying “tubular” nephew (Jon Cryer) in tow, to send a missile with a strand of Superman’s hair attached into the sun so…(sigh) Nuclear Man can be born and be ordered to destroy Superman. Nuclear Man is a Dolph Lundgren type who has the same powers as Superman and this should lead to some interesting action sequences, right? Not even close to exciting—just bad filmmaking.

This is the fourth film in the franchise and I ask the question: Wouldn’t the effects have advanced over time? How bad are the effects? Consider the first “Superman,” which had the tagline, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” Did we see any wires? No. Did we notice a green-screen effect at times? Yes, not so distracting. Now, consider “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” The wires on the flying characters are visible, black curtains are seen instead of a space background when a scene is set on the moon, and I won’t even mention the bridge-effect. Also, the film suffers from bad editing to hide most of the effects.

Meanwhile in the story, there’s a subplot involving a love triangle between Superman’s secret identity—the nervous Clark Kent—and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) and the daughter of the paper’s new editor (Mariel Hemingway). This leads to a scene in which one woman needs to be with Superman and another with Clark at the same time.

Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman do what they can with their reprising roles. But Margot Kidder seems mostly gone through the movie, Mariel Hemingway should have known that a character with a line like “all men like me; I’m rich” isn’t interesting, and Jon Cryer deserves a slap in the face—he’s annoying all the time.

I could also argue that the production team of Golan-Globus is responsible for most of the film’s failings, but I don’t feel like writing another word about this terrible movie.