Thursday, August 26, 2010
ANNIE (1982). Director: John Huston.
In 1932 Manhattan, a little orphan named Annie (Aileen Quinn) who lives in a home run by the nasty Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) is chosen to spend a day with the super-wealthy Oliver Warbucks (Albert Finney). But there's trouble afoot when Miss Hannigan's brother (Tim Curry) and gal (Bernadette Peters) -- along with Hannigan -- concoct a scheme to kidnap Annie for cash. Based on the Broadway hit, this is a good, old-fashioned musical comedy served up with flair and bolstered by excellent performances and a tuneful and memorable score. ("You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" is probably the best number, although "Tomorrow" is more famous.) Little Quinn is marvelous; a very funny Burnett nearly steals the picture as Hannigan, and Ann Reinking is effervescent as Warbuck's singing and dancing secretary. Peters and Curry are also wonderful, as is Lois de Banzie as Eleanor Roosevelt. Although Albert Finney is woefully miscast as Warbucks, he givers it the old college try and does have a terrific sequence with Burnett. The splendid Reinking also appeared in Movie, Movie, Micki + Maude and All That Jazz, but did not have many non-Broadway credits.
Verdict: Very entertaining movie with Burnett in top form. ***1/2.
SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933). Director: Lowell Sherman.
"When women go wrong, men go right after them!"
In New York's Bowery during the Gay Nineties, saloon singer Lou (Mae West) has taken up with the owner, Gus (Noah Beery Sr.), after her previous boyfriend, Chick (Owen Moore), wound up in jail. Lou doesn't really want either of these comparative plug-uglies, but instead hankers for Russian Rita's (Rafaela Ottiano) man Serge (Gilbert Roland), and especially do-gooder Captain Cummings (Cary Grant), who has a secret. But Chick isn't about to let his gal wind up with another man, so he breaks jail ... Louise Beavers is fun as the maid, Pearl, and Rochelle Hudson appears as a poor little waif named Sally. This is an amiable movie -- not so much a parody of a melodrama as a melodrama with laughs -- that is full of West's patented double entendres and sex-emphatic "acting." Grant comes off very well in his scenes with West. As usual, West's character is a shady lady who plays the game as the men do, and generally comes out on top.
Verdict: Brief and minor but amiable and with some great one-liners. **1/2.
STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES 1973 - 1974. Created by Gene Roddenberry.
All in all this filmation series based on the original science fiction program was not that memorable. The lead actors of the show -- William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy -- all gave voice to the main characters, with James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Majel Barrett voicing not only their own characters but many others. The series' animation was competent but unimpressive.
Out of two seasons there were about six above average episodes, which include: "The Survivor," in which a man who was missing for years and is reunited with his fiancee turns out to be a shape-shifting alien; "The Terratin Incident," involving a shrinking gas that affects the crew; "Practical Joker," in which the Enterprise itself has a nervous breakdown; "Albatross," wherein Bones is accused of causing a plague that killed thousands; and "How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth," in which the crew battles a powerful flying serpent that claims to be the Mayan god, Kukulcan. Perhaps the best episode of the series was "The Counter-Clock Incident," in which the Enterprise winds up in a universe where time goes in reverse, making the ship's first captain [Robert April, a name that was used before being changed to James Kirk] and his wife, both elderly, become young again.
Verdict: Another speed bump in the Star Trek saga. **.
STAR WARS EPISODE III -- REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005). Written and directed by George Lucas.
Fearing for his wife's safety and wishing for the power to protect her, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) succumbs to the dark side of the force and becomes Darth Vader. [Of course the fact that young Skywalker is put on the council but not made a "master" by his superiors and the resentment this engenders also influences his decision.] All these years after the original Star Wars it seems strange that anyone would even care about this long and rather silly saga that in general has always been below comic book level [while battening off the ideas of such comics giants as Jack Kirby]. Typical of today's FX movies, there is so much computer animation in the film that it resembles a cartoon. The miniature spaceships and the like which were once so striking now just look like miniatures. The wizened Yoda gets a lot of screen time and is as irritating as ever. Most of the acting in the movie can't be characterized so much as "bad" as simply "dull." At 140 minutes this will best be enjoyed by diehard Star Wars fanatics and may put everyone else to sleep. There are some good scenes, such as a battle between Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) over a river of lava, but the ultimate effect is rather numbing.
Verdict: Hopefully the last Star Wars movie ever. **.
THE HOT SPOT (1990). Director: Dennis Hopper.
"I'm f--king you to death, George."
A drifter named Harry Madox (Don Johnson) comes into a sleepy town, gets a job as a car salesman, and winds up bedding his boss, George's, wife (Virginia Madsen) as well as romancing a 19-year-old clerk in the office (Jennifer Connelly). Johnson and Madsen make a sexy duo, there are bank robberies, steamy sex scenes, beatings and murders -- and a lot of jealousy -- but while the picture holds the attention, it never really amounts to much. There's no real sense of time or place, the characters are vague or simply unlikable, the plot [based on the 1951 novel "Hell Hath No Fury"] is old-fashioned, and both the acting and pacing are rather too languid, although Madsen isn't bad and William Sadler nearly steals the picture as the sleazy blackmailer, Sutton. Some gay material that may have been inserted into the picture to make it seem more modern only makes it even more dated.
Verdict: Perhaps more fog than steam. **
Thursday, August 19, 2010
MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940). Director: Edward F. Cline.
"I feel as though a midget with muddy feet has been walking over my tongue all night." -- Cuthbert J. Twillie.
When Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) is run out of town because of her midnight dalliances with a mysterious masked bandit, she runs into Cuthbert J. Twillie (W. C. Fields) on a train and "marries" him when she sees his valise full of cash. All this leads into various highly amusing complications as Flower Belle is torn between two other men [one good/Dick Foran; one bad/Joseph Calleia], and Cuthbert winds up as the sheriff in a town where sheriffs need to be frequently replaced due to violent death. Fields is as marvelous as ever; the ever-liberated West doesn't so much as act in the movie as she inhabits it, but she's a lot of fun; Calleia and Margaret Hamilton [ as a disapproving but kind of lovable old maid] give give their usual flavorful performances; and the under-rated Dick Foran is pleasant and solid. Donald Meek is also great as a gambler who pretends to be a pastor so the two stars can get married on the train. West sings "Willie of the Valley" with great aplomb if without a voice. Lots of great dialogue in this.
Verdict: An unbeatable combo. ***1/2.
A reader in Romania would like to know if anyone has seen or heard of a movie she once saw on late-night television but whose title she didn't catch. She believes it may be a French film -- or French-American co-production -- made after the fifties. It was definitely not a television program. The plot is quite unusual:
"In Paris, a few years after the end of World War II, a female former member of the Resistance is now a rich and successful writer (I think), and, in spite of her not being young any more, a still attractive woman. She is in love with a much younger man (an American), who also loves her passionately. (Not long after the beginning of the movie, the two lovers are on their way to an official meeting, and they have a romantic encounter in an elevator). For some time they are happy together but the woman is deeply concerned about the difference in age between them, and she wants him to love someone "better" than her, i.e. younger. He does not agree with her at all. Under such circumstances, the woman thinks of a plan: with the help of her former comrades in the Resistance, she stages her death as if in a car accident, while leaving in her will her entire fortune to him. Being now dead to everybody, she goes to a doctor, a scientist who had an experimental, risky and painful rejuvenating method, and undergoes the treatment. She becomes a young woman, bearing only a slight physical resemblance to her former appearance. (The treatment also presupposed periodical injections in the neck, to alleviate the recurring excruciating pain she experiences, and to maintain her youth.) Pretending to be a young, poor and shy translator, she makes him notice her by going to his favorite cafe. Struck by the resemblance with his lost love, he, who is inconsolable after her "death", gets acquainted and then involved with the young and - to him - dull translator. After some time, still torn by mixed feelings and almost reluctantly, he marries her. All this time, however, he is actually longing only after her, the mature one, and he is secretly spending time at her former house. Paradoxically, the now-young woman has to fight not only a shadow, the ghost of his previous love, but HER OWN shadow! There is a scene when he shouts at her something like "...look at you! You are stupid, a banal translator!.. How could you ever compare with her?... She was beautiful, she was smart and sophisticated..." Eventually, she discovers his visits at her former house... Towards the end, there is a scene in which, in that house, out of desperate love and not knowing what else to do any more, she appears to him dressed in one of her old dresses. He is outraged, yelling something like: "How dare you wear her dress??!!.." I cannot remember well what happens in the end... I think she tells him the truth and soon afterwards she dies, as a consequence of her (deliberately?) interrupting the treatment.
Also, the title of the film consisted of more than one word, one of which may have been "obsession" or something similar.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? If so, please leave a comment, or contact me via email. Many thanks!
CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010). Director: Louis Leterrier.
This is a big-budget, 3-D, inferior remake to the 1981 Clash of the Titans starring Sam Worthington of Avatar as Perseus. As in the original film, Perseus must get the head of the gorgon, Medusa, to use against the monstrous Kraken, to which the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is going to be sacrificed. This time it's all part of a war between Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). [Hades was actually the name of the underworld, not a God.] Clash of the Titans has no characterization to speak of, and worse, little narrative drive. It's not well directed and comes off for long, long stretches like a dull TV movie. [I can't imagine that the 3-D would have helped much.] Worthington is okay as the hero, even if his accent comes and goes. The computer-generated giant scorpion is not that impressive, although the scene with Medusa is much better [although still not as good as the same sequence in the original film]. Pegasus the flying horse gets a lot of action, as he did in the 1981 version, but Bubo the owl only shows up briefly. The movie picks up in the final moments with the very dramatic introduction of the Kraken, and the effects therein are impressive.
Verdict: If you're going to do a remake, make sure it's a lot better than the original. This isn't. **1/2.
THE INVADERS paperback tie-in novels.
There were a small number of paperback book tie-ins to the sixties Invaders TV show. The first book was published by Pyramid books in August 1967 and was written by Keith Laumer. The book does not follow the "origin" story of David Vincent as in the TV show. For one thing, Vincent is not an architect, but an engineer, and he doesn't see a spaceship until the end of the book. He learns about the aliens when they begin farming out pieces of a deadly weapon -- a disintegrator gun -- to various manufacturers. The aliens look alike, talk in an alien language, and have super-human strength -- none of which is from the TV show. [There is no mention of the "mutated fourth finger."] The gun takes up the first third of the book, while the second part deals with a crazy man who attends UFO meetings and tries to trap aliens-- he thinks Vincent is one of them -- in his trap-laden old mansion. The third section of the book has to do with a large meteor coming down which is actually the aliens, Vincent's attempts to get the brass to take it seriously, and a sergeant who came across a slimy alien in its original form after it dropped to Earth. The book is acceptable, not badly written, but not that memorable, and the changes from the show are a little disorienting.
The second Invaders paperback, also written by Keith Laumar, was entitled Enemies from Beyond, and was an improvement. The first story, "The Survivor," has Vincent checking into the story of a man who witnessed a huge explosion at sea, leading Vincent to investigate a possible underwater base for the aliens. "The Allies" has the invaders unleashing huge, deadly monsters that attack people, with Vincent and a young lady trying to survive their attacks in a sprawling abandoned hotel. "The Clairvoyant" has Vincent befriending an old man who can predict when the aliens will try to kill the former. "The Telescope" has Vincent discovering an alien installation on the moon. All good stories, generally well-told.
The third Invaders paperback Army of the Undead by Rafe Bernard, was a disappointment. In this David Vincent travels to Auto City where the aliens are taking over human beings in the car industry by entering their bodies at the very moment of death. [These deaths occur during auto accidents engineered by the aliens.] Bernard introduces some new concepts -- the aliens' use of telepathy, which Vincent has somehow tapped into -- and explores other aspects of their nature. But while all this is admirable, it's also a trifle confusing, and the basic plot and characters are not that interesting. The book is also talky and the pace drags. Vincent notices that the aliens take over male bodies, and sort of hypnotize women who are in a highly emotional state. The main alien force -- at least in this story -- turns out to be female.
Verdict: The Invaders **.
Enemies from Beyond **1/2.
Army of the Undead **.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
FORGOTTEN BUT NOT GONE. # 2 in a series. MEL GIBSON.
Gibson is another example of a celebrity who just won't go away no matter how disinterested the public is in him. He doesn't make Hollywood movies anymore, but does deals with overseas producers who still see him as a "name" with marquee value in Europe.
Gibson has had a career because he had the right look, and a modicum of acting ability [or it might be more accurate to say star charisma], although I and many others never thought he was much of a thespian. [Gibson may not know that thespian means actor.]
Gibson has a right, of course, to his conservative politics, but his rants and drunken binges and racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and woman-hating attitudes and remarks have become increasingly offensive and tiresome. Gibson's problem -- among many -- is that he's getting older and seeing his star slipping. I'd like to feel sorry for him but in this economy he's probably in better shape than most people. Surely he's saved up enough money over the years to live comfortably for the rest of his life. No one can be a big-time movie star forever.
If his movie career is over, Gibson can sit back, sip on a pina colada -- and dare I say it -- try cracking a book for a change.
Let's hope it doesn't give him a headache!
CHERI (2009). Director: Stephen Frears.
"I love you -- but it's too late."
An aging courtesan named Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) has a love-hate "friendship" with a former rival named Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates, whom one can't quite imagine would ever have made a likely courtesan) and at her urging takes Peloux' son Cheri (Rupert Friend) under her wing and into her bed. Then tries not to let it upset her when Peloux tells her that Cheri is to be married off to a girl his own age. Lea takes a new lover who bores her, and Cheri realizes that his life seems without meaning without Lea in it. Cheri is a very well-acted romantic story -- Pfeiffer and Bates are both in top form and Friend is appealing -- and the movie does have its moments as it delves into the realities of relationships between people of different generations. But all the pretty scenery, fine thesping, and some good dialogue can't quite disguise the fact that, ultimately, Cheri is a bit of fluff. Well turned out fluff, admittedly, but fluff all the same.
Verdict: Almost as insubstantial as cotton candy, but not without sweetness. ***.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
In this very loose adaptation of Poe's famous short story, Dr. Mirakle (Bela Lugosi), who works in a sideshow with an ape named Erik, kidnaps, binds, and tortures women, ultimately injecting them with the ape's blood, bringing about their deaths. (He callously drops their bodies through a trapdoor into the river.) Mirakle has developed an unhealthy interest in pretty Camille (Sidney Fox), and there is a recreation of a scene from the story when the ape comes into the home of a young woman -- in this case, Camille -- and her mother and attacks them. A disconcerting note is that close-ups of an obvious chimp are intercut with long shots of a man in a gorilla outfit, and they certainly don't match. However, there are some great Parisian sets and shots, and the acting isn't bad. Leon Ames [as Leon Waycoff] plays "Pierre" Dupin, a friend of Camille's who investigates the case when the police get nowhere. Not one of the great Lugosi's better roles or performances.
Verdict: For those who can't tell the difference between a chimp and a gorilla! **.
This theatrical reboot of the Star Trek series with new actors playing the original roles of Spock, Kirk, Bones etc. lands with a thud and is unlikely to lead into a successful franchise [although a sequel has, unfortunately, been announced for 2012]. It's not the fault of the actors, but a script that is dull, not nearly enough action, and revisionings of some of the characters -- Kirk for instance -- that makes them a little unlikable. The main villain is Nero (Eric Bama), a Romulan who saw his world destroyed in a future time period, and came back in time -- along with Spock -- determined to destroy all the planets of the Federation. [He succeeds in decimating Vulcan, while the backward time jump has created a kind of alternate universe.] The old Spock is again played by Leonard Nimoy, while his younger self is well-enacted by Zachary Quinto, a villain on the TV show Heroes. Chris Pine is okay as Kirk, while Karl Urban and Simon Pegg, respectively, do competent impersonations of DeKelley and Doohan as Dr. McCoy and "Scotty." Some of the actors are so young -- Anton Yelchin as a "cute" Chekov, for instance -- that at times this seems like a Hollywood High School production of Star Trek. Ben Cross plays Spock's father and Bruce Greenwood of Nowhere Man is Captain Pike. Zoe Saldana of Avatar is cast as Lt. Uhura, but she has little to do aside from smooching more than once with this sexier version of Spock. The "alternate reality" storyline is confusing, the pace drags, and ultimately this Star Trek is boring and unmemorable.
Verdict: Paging Shatner, Nimoy and company! **.
This show had a great premise. Instead of another Man from U.N.C.L.E., James Bond, or comical Get Smart, The Wild, Wild West presented two Secret Service agents/spies/undercover men working under President Grant in the post-Civil War period. Like other spies, they had all sorts of nefarious bad guys and gals whose dastardly plots had to be stymied, not to mention certain megalomaniacs and genuises who had death devices and scientific achievements that were well ahead of their time. But our boys also had their own gadgets as well.
As Jim West, Robert Conrad is like no Secret Service agent imaginable, but that's part of what makes the show fun. Handsome West plays the role not in the humorless, stiff fashion you associate with government agents, but with a sexy, knowing insolence that makes his portrayal that much more enjoyable. He also wears the absolutely tightest pair of pants worn by any actor then or now on a TV show as part of an outfit that kind of resembles a bullfighters. Ross Martin is also notable as West's partner, Artermis Gordon, who generally dresses up in disguises in every episode. These disguises wouldn't fool anyone but they give good ol' Artemis more to do.
These first season episodes were in black and white. Among the more memorable episodes are: The Night of the Deadly Bed, which features a bed with a descending spiked canopy and a very exciting climax; Thousand Eyes, which presents a band of ship wreckers led by a blind captain; Howling Light, a relatively serious story of peace talks between the U.S. and native Americans being threatened; Steel Assassin, with John Dehner as a man made of iron parts; and Two-Legged Buffalo, with Nick Adams as a foppish prince and Dana Wynter as a woman supposedly hired to assassinate him. The Night of the Burning Diamond featured a jewel thief who had a super-speed formula, and Grand Emir boasted an excellent performance by Don Francks as the dandyish head of a club of assassins whose stronghold is invaded by West and Gordon. These last two were probably the best episodes of the first season, along with The Night of the Murderous Spring, about which more in a moment.
West's most notable antagonist was Dr. Miguelito Loveless, an evil genius dwarf played winningly and expertly by the wonderful Michael Dunn. Loveless, along with his giant helpmate Voltaire (Richard Kiel), was introduced in The Wizard that Shook the Earth, a disappointing episode despite the presence of Loveless/Dunn. His next appearance, The Night that Terror Stalked the Town, in which he creates a perfect duplicate of Jim West, was more memorable. His third appearance, Whirring Death, was pretty awful, but his final first season appearance, the aforementioned Murderous Spring, was more on the mark. In this Voltaire is replaced by obese Kitty Twitty (an excellent Jenie Jackson), who thinks Loveless will make her beautiful when he really intends to wipe out the whole world's population with a formula spread by ducks in the country's waterways.
Some of the episodes were real stinkers -- Night of the Freebooters was one of the worst -- but most were clever and entertaining, and some were quite excellent.
Verdict: Wild fun in the 19th century! ***.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978). Director: Richard Donner.
NOTE: This review is of the expanded "Richard Donner" cut.
Thirty-two years after its initial release, Superman still has its charms although it's also lost some of its lustre. The early sections of the film, meant to be stately, are so deliberately paced that they border on the tedious, and the film almost completely sinks with the introduction of the moronic trio of villains played by Gene Hackman, Valerie Perrine, and a shameful Ned Beatty. [With the rich history of the Superman character and all of his many foes, that was the best they could come up with?] At times Superman nearly sinks to the level of the sixties Batman TV show, but if it's saved by anything it's saved by those magical flying sequences when the movie itself really takes flight. Superman going out on patrol and his taking Lois Lane for a ride are probably the best sequences in the movie. The performances of Christopher Reeve [it's hard to think of his sad and ironic fate] and Margot Kidder are assets, as is the musical score by John Williams. The crystalline motif for Krypton is a little weird, as is the slightly ossified performance of Marlon Brando. The whole business with Jor-El's (Brando) ghost somehow mentoring his son doesn't really make sense, and the the time travel business at the end of the movie is too confusing. Still the movie overall is entertaining, and better than the more recent Superman Returns.
Verdict: You'll still believe a man can fly. ***.
In this theatrical film based on the sixties TV series Get Smart, evil forces of the sinister group Kaos have created a "nude" bomb which will destroy all fabric, leaving everyone on the planet in their birthday suits. Don Adams is as wonderful and funny as ever as Maxwell Smart, although Dana Elcar makes little impression as the Chief [after Ed Platt]. Andrea Howard, however, is appealing as agent 22. ["Barbara Feldon's "99" does not appear in the movie, for shame.] Some of the funniest scenes feature Bill Dana as Jonathan Levinson Seigle of the garment trade. For some reason the organization known as Control on the TV series is now called PITS. Vittorio Gassman seems to be having a lot of fun as the villain of the piece, and there's a wild finale wherein dozens of his clones get in a melee with dozens of Smart's duplicates. Rhonda Fleming has a nice bit as an ex-wife of Gassman's whom Maxwell pays a call on. The Nude Bomb is silly, yes, but it's also quite amusing. Fans of the show will definitely enjoy.
Verdict: Much better than that remake. ***.
AVATAR (2009). Director: James Cameron.
Wheelchair-bound ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) takes the place of his dead twin brother, a scientist, in an unusual mission on the world of Pandora. The Omitacaga people, the indigenous natives of Pandora, have made their home right on top of a generous supply of oil -- uh, I mean, "unobtanium," a rare element-- and the company that wants this element hopes to either get the natives to cooperate and move, or will simply wipe them out if they don't. Jake is one of several people who transfer their minds into artificial life forms [called Avatars] that are a cross between human and native. While in this form Jake bonds with a native woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and is accepted by her people even as he falls in love with her, her tribe, and the beauty and simplicity of Pandora. But he learns that there are reasons why these natives can never be talked in to leaving their home, and tragedy ensues. Writer/director James Cameron has taken various elements from sword and sorcery epics and melded them to a rather heavy-handed allegory that evokes everything from American treatment of Original People to intervention in Afghanistan. On the plus side the film is well-directed and fast-paced [if definitely overlong, repeating itself and its ideas], and it is full of beautiful images and wonderful FX and photography. [A particularly memorable moment has Jake and Neytiri soaring through the air on pterodactyl-like lifeforms.] On the debit side, Avatar is simplistic, drawn out, and at times there are so many composite FX elements that it just seems like a particularly cluttered, if ingenious, cartoon. Worthington is noteworthy, and there are also good performances from Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, and especially formidable Stephen Lang as the ferocious bad guy who heads the mercenaries.
Verdict: Eye-popping and intriguing for some; tedious for others. **1/2.
PERCY HELTON 1894 - 1971.
You may not recognize the name, but you certainly recognize the face -- for Percy Helton had a grand total of 209 film and television credits. I suppose one could argue that Helton played the same role 209 times, but that may be unfair, as I haven't seen every single appearance of the actor. Generally Helton was cast as the superficially friendly but smarmy undertaker/janitor/clerk and so on, who smiled in your face but had larceny or something worse in his heart and would sell out his own mother for a nickle. The word that first comes to mind when thinking of Helton's portrayals is "weasel." Perhaps his most famous appearance was in the film Kiss Me Deadly, in which he squeals in agony when anti-hero Ralph Meeker sadistically crushes his fingers in a desk drawer. Helton was always very adept in his roles, but he was so unique in his way that he really wasn't the kind of expert character actor who could lose himself in a characterization -- he always seemed to be playing a variation of Percy Helton. In spite of this he was a very busy actor throughout the 50's, 60's and for many years afterward. My mother once said that if Don Knotts made her stomach turn, Percy Helton made her flesh crawl. Helton, who radiated a quietly sinister quality that served him well on such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, was decidedly one of a kind. One of his best roles was in Wicked Woman with Beverly Michaels.
I AM LEGEND (2007). Director: Francis Lawrence.
This is the third film version of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I am Legend [after The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man] but it really seems more like a remake of The Omega Man than a faithful adaptation of Matheson's novel. [Indeed, the new screenplay is not only supposedly based on the novel but on the screenplay for Omega. I'm willing to bet that the screenwriters for this film never even bothered to read the source novel.] As in Omega, the lead character lives in a multi-million dollar town house [in Manhattan's Washington Square no less] and as in both earlier versions he's been turned into a scientist. The quasi-religious overtones of Omega have been slightly carried over into this remake as well, but are thankfully not as overt.
Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) seems to be the sole survivor of a virus that has turned most of humanity into mutated ghouls. [These computer-generated creatures, referred to as "darkseekers" in the dialogue and "hemocytes" in the closed captions -- I watched this with a hearing-impaired friend -- relish blood but seem more like cannibals than vampires. This discarding or muting of the essential vampire element of the novel also reminds one of Omega Man.] The revamped measles virus was actually supposed to cure cancer, but instead it had a much more negative effect. As in Omega, Neville eventually meets up with another immune woman who believes there is a colony of survivors out in the country. Neville's wife and daughter have been killed in a copter accident while fleeing Manhattan, so there's no scene of his dead wife coming back from her grave as referred to in the novel and depicted in Last Man on Earth.
Smith gives a solid performance, avoiding the swaggering of Charlton Heston in Omega and never quite playing the role like the flippant "action-hero" that fills so many movies nowadays. Sam, the German Shepherd, is an appealing pet [played by two canine actors]. Alice Braga is okay in the thankless role of Anna, the other survivor [along with her son]. There's a tense scene with Neville hunting for his dog in the dark confines of a building infested with ghouls, a few suspenseful sequences, and the climax with the creatures rushing Neville's townhouse at night is exciting and well-handled.
But there are slack and illogical moments, and a scene with Shrek playing in the background goes on way too long. By default, this may be the best or at least most cinematic version of the novel [Last Man on Earth remains the most faithful], but it seems more influenced by all those Living Dead movies than by Matheson's book. The new storyline strips the title of its meaning, although the screenwriters try their best to live up to it with the closing monologue.
Verdict: The great film version of Matheson's novel has yet to be made, but this certainly has its moments. ***.