About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Setup

We are introduced to three robbers and long-time acquaintances who have just pulled off a heist and coming away with about $5 million in diamonds. Ryan Phillippe plays the hothead of the gang, Brett Granstaff is the nice guy with a new wife, and 50 Cent is Granstaff’s loyal best friend. After the robbery, one (Phillippe) ends up betraying the other two, killing one of them (Granstaff), and leaving the other (guess who) for dead too. But 50 Cent ain’t dead, though he sure as hell is mad and sets about tracking down his elusive former friend and killing him. Meanwhile, a polite Iranian hitman (Shaun Taub) is tracking both 50 and Phillippe down. He wants the diamonds, and he absolutely means business. 50 Cent’s quest sees him get involved with some mobsters whom Phillippe has apparently been hanging with, and eventually he is brought to the attention of mobster Bruce Willis. Willis doesn’t much like 50 fiddling around in his territory, but agrees to help him find Phillippe if he and bodyguard Randy Couture take out some Russian mobsters for him. Unfortunately, after that goes well, a stop-off to a criminal associate of 50’s sees dummy Couture dead, and 50 with some ‘splaining to do on the way to getting his hands on Phillippe. James Remar plays Phillippe’s incarcerated criminal father who is fearful of being killed if moved into general population in prison. Jenna Dewan plays Phillippe’s girl and accomplice.

Looks can be deceiving. Barely released (direct to DVD in Australia), and coming armed with a ridiculous 28 credited producers (and one ‘em is direct-to-DVD star Half Dollar), this 2011 Mike Gunther (best known as a stuntman) film looked like a flop. In actuality, it’s a flawed but entertaining film, with quite an impressive cast and a good sense of humour that helps one get over some of the more clichéd elements in the script by Mike Behrman (whose only previous credit of any note is as an actor in Troma’s “Femme Fontaine: Killer Babe for the C.I.A.”). After all, the idea of a crim hunting down another crim who betrayed him is hardly new. But throw in an hilarious black comedy scene with a cockney butcher and Bruce Willis doing a riff on his “Whole Nine Yards” character (only funny this time), and the quirks make the film more than it might otherwise have been. I do wish, however, that Willis was in more of the film, because as good as he is, ultimately the role seems too inconsequential and small for him. UFC legend Randy Couture, meanwhile, has a dead-set hysterical small turn as a not-so smart thug that I wish received more screen time. He’s better here than he was in “The Expendables”, that’s for sure.

The casting of Ryan Phillippe and 50 Cent is interesting, with the former playing the far more sinister of the two robbers, and 50 Cent as the ‘good’ bad guy. 50 Cent is no actor, but he doesn’t need to be so long as he’s smart enough to choose roles that suit him. This role definitely suits him, and Phillippe is definitely an underrated actor. Hell, the whole cast here worked fine for me, particularly Shaun Taub as the most polite killer you’re ever likely to find. Cute cameo by Antonio Esfandiari (Is that Phil Laak too?) as a poker player whose game gets broken up.

It’s not a great film by any stretch, in fact it seems like the kind of direct-to-DVD thing Half a Buck would make with Val Kilmer, only with better actors and a bit more polish. Actually, it’s probably 50 Cent’s best film to date. But that’s no great statement, and it certainly has its flaws, including a not very well-defined back-story involving the two main characters and James Remar as Phillippe’s dad. I also felt the religious bullshit reminded me too much of the morose Catholicism one gets in direct-to-DVD movies with Cuba Gooding Jr., though it’s only a minor annoyance.

Given that this is B material, I suppose I can understand why it wasn’t widely released, but that doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s a fun little B movie, especially if you like heist films or any of the actors. Hell, I enjoyed it more than the more high-profile “The Town”, perhaps because I had lower expectations here.

Rating: B-

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: The Thing (2011)

In 1982, palaeontologist Mary Elizabeth Winstead is abruptly called upon to join a team of Norwegian scientists to a station in the Antarctic. Apparently an otherworldly discovery has been made, buried in ice for a hundred thousand years. Soon they also uncover an alien creature similarly buried in ice, which they take back to their base for study. The ice melts, the creature springs to life and proceeds to bump off the scientists and accompanying chopper pilots one by one. Apparently it is able to absorb human bodies and duplicate them, making it difficult to tell who is human and who is not. Let the paranoia begin! Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje play pilots, Ulrich Thomsen is the head scientist of the expedition, with Eric Christian Olsen his assistant.

Although it boasts an interesting concept, I’ve never been a fan of this story. The original 1951 film “The Thing from Another World” was a crushing bore, John Carpenter’s celebrated 1982 remake “The Thing” boasted great FX but no interesting characters and zero tension or interest. Truth be told, I’ve always preferred “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, particularly the unnerving 1978 version. So when I tell you that this 2011 film from debut feature director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is the best of the three films connected to the John W. Campbell Jr. short story (Who Goes There), bear in mind that fans of either the 1951 version and/or the 1982 version might strongly disagree with me. In fact, they might want to beat the crap out of me (Please don’t. You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses and in a wheelchair, would you?). It’s still no “Body Snatchers”, but I definitely found myself interested in at least a couple of the characters here, and that’s more than I can say for either previous version.

This one comes billed as a prequel to the Carpenter film, but I call bullshit on that. It’s a remake, but with some Norwegian characters added who may or may not have some connection to the Norwegian characters who encountered the title creature before Kurt Russell and co. showed up at the beginning of Carpenter’s film. Actually, that’s not fair. Scenes towards the end suggest a tie to the 82 film, but I think that’s a bit tacked-on, really. It’s just a remake in prequel’s clothes. **** SPOILER WARNING **** If you leave before the end credits have started, you’ll actually miss the connection almost entirely, so obviously even the director doesn’t care all that much about making this a real prequel. Why only add that after the film is over, if it’s so important? Because it’s not. **** END SPOILER **** Things (sorry!) get even murkier as the film begins with a Universal logo not from the early 80s but from the 90s, for a film supposedly set in 1982! Then again, the film is also from Morgan Creek (whose logo you would’ve seen attached to films like “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, “Young Guns”, and “Young Guns II”), who I thought went bust about a decade or so ago, which is weird too. Things pick up a bit when the familiar notes of Ennio Morricone’s score from the Carpenter film make a distinct appearance in the score here by Marco Beltrami (“Scream”, “Dracula 2000”, “Repo Men”). I felt Morricone’s work was some of his least interesting and least inspired, but nonetheless, the familiar throbbing beats here brought a smile to my face. Hell, even the opening titles are done in a fairly close approximation of Carpenter’s (Especially at the end).

There’s no doubt in my mind that a large percentage of the reason why I gave at least half a crap about this film is due to the lead performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s no great actress- hell, Kurt Russell is a much better actor, despite having an off day in 1982. Nonetheless, she’s a persuasive actress, and more importantly has genuine star quality and likeability on screen. I was absolutely smitten with her in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (something about her ‘unattainability’ is somehow alluring), and she gives you someone to latch onto here. I tend to prefer her with blue hair, though. Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen are pretty solid too, but have far less to do (The latter reminds me of Julian Glover, by the way. Anyone else?).

The other thing that puts this film ahead of any previous version (aside from a quicker pace) is the cinematography by Michel Abramowicz (“Taken”), who is allowed to shoot outdoors a bit more than Carpenter afforded Dean Cundey, and the wonderful scenery really does help make things a lot less drab. It’s really well-lit, even in darkened scenes, something so many cinematographers these days tend to screw up. This may result in what some would lament as a lack of dread and oppression, but I never felt much of that in the previous films because the characters failed to have me invested enough in them anyway. Kurt Russell and co were a surly lot, and lacked any depth. Some would also say that this version isn’t scary, but once again, the previous films didn’t engage me enough in their characters or situation to get scared anyway. But yes, if pressed I have to admit this version lacks any terror. I was OK with that.

The FX by Rob Bottin were the highlight of the Carpenter film, and in this one the FX by (among others) Tom Woodruff Jr. are mostly pretty good. It’s not easy to seamlessly blend CGI and practical FX (Woodruff involved in the latter), but for the most part, they’ve pulled it off. They don’t reach the show-stopping heights of Bottin’s work, but perhaps part of the reason why those FX were such show-stoppers was because there wasn’t much of a show to stop, really. The alien/creature is interestingly unidentifiable, which in my opinion, is as it should be. Alien design often takes on a too familiar route for my liking. If aliens existed, I reckon they’d take on a form completely incomprehensible and unimaginable to humans. That’s almost impossible, then, to present on screen, but this film makes a decent stab at it, as did the 1982 film. In fact, these films might just have my favourite alien creations of all-time. The autopsy scene in particular, shows off far more realistic-looking FX than you might expect, whilst still being imaginative. It’s a bloody well done scene, and only on occasion does the CGI element become apparent (Oddly enough these are the moments that look most like Bottin’s work). Even when the FX do become apparent, they’re still interesting and creepy. I do think, however, that we get a few too many FX scenes, thus the impact gets lessened a little. Did they get a little too proud of their handiwork, perhaps? Unfortunately, the finale is a major letdown, especially on an FX level (The ending sucks too, but I’m not a fan of the ending of the Carpenter version, either, which is slightly different). We get computer FX straight out of 1992 and it’s all very silly. What a shame! But by and large, the FX were more of an asset than a problem for me.

If we’re talking about real problems, then just as was the case before, characters are the real flaw here. It’s nice that we have at least one character worth a damn, but the rest? Yawn. There are way too many characters and way too little development of those characters in the script by Eric Heisserer (the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, which was better than expected too). Thus, just as it failed to interest me in 1982, the film’s paranoia aspect is ineffectual. Not only that, but it’s awfully heavy-handed, once again a problem with the previous version.

Putting aside the 1951 film which was just flat-out stupefyingly boring, if the 1982 film was an average film with great FX, then this version is an OK film with good FX. I guess that adds up to being watchable, unless you’re a diehard fan of the Carpenter version. I just wish it had less characters and made a few more of the characters likeable or interesting.   

Rating: C+

Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

9 year-old Bailee Madison (well, the actress is 11 but playing 9) joins her distracted dad Guy Pearce and his girlfriend Katie Holmes at Blackwood Manor, which Pearce (an architect) and Holmes (an interior decorator) are restoring. Madison is a troubled young thing who feels neglected by her mother and she treats the well-meaning Holmes rather horribly. And then Madison uncovers a hidden cellar and starts to hear voices from a grating. Caretaker Jack Thompson warns the girl to stay away from it. Yeah, that’ll happen. And tiny creatures begin to appear, and start to scare the living crap out of the poor girl. Aaawww, she was just looking for a friend! No one believes her stories, especially her rather distant dad, but Holmes can at least see something is wrong here, and starts investigating the background of the house. Garry McDonald appears in the nasty 19th Century prologue as a previous owner of Blackwood who does something unspeakable to his maid.

Filmed in Australia, this 2011 horror/fantasy written by Guillermo Del Toro (director of “Hellboy”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”) and Matthew Robbins (director of “Dragonslayer”, of all films), and directed by newbie Troy Nixey is apparently based on a 1973 TV movie. It reminded me of Joe Dante’s “The Hole” and the 1987 horror flick “The Gate”, and particularly Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”. It doesn’t quite come off, mostly due to some not great FX, but it’s a good try and well-worth watching nonetheless. It’s better and probably more original than I’m making it sound, but it’s certainly bizarre and occasionally very silly. I didn’t know much about the film beforehand, which seemed to help, so you might want to take that in mind right now.

The film opens memorably, and if you don’t wince in this revolting, yet atmospheric, Hammer-esque opener you’re already a cadaver. The film looks great, both externally and internally. Dark corridors, foggy exteriors, an isolated estate...my kind of picture, in many ways. Absolutely beautiful to look at, even the local library is an awesome set. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ll ever look at Garry McDonald the same way again, and it’s a shame the multi-talented actor is out of the picture so soon. But don’t worry, there’s a wealth of well-known Australian names and faces in the supporting cast here, including a “Neighbours” reunion of sorts for Guy Pearce and Alan Dale.

Make no mistake, however, the best thing this film has going for it is child actress Bailee Madison, who makes up for her shrill and annoying work in the desperate Adam Sandler ‘comedy’ “Just Go For It”, also released in 2011. This girl is remarkable in a very difficult role as a young girl who is not all sweetness and goodness, but that’s quite understandable given all she goes through here (and the fact that she’s on medication for ADHD, something a lot of viewers seem not to have noticed). Madison is effortlessly and terrifyingly believable, you really feel like she’s genuinely going through something here and it’s not just a family breakup. Guy Pearce is also really well-cast in a sadly less-than 3D role, but this is one of the best uses of Katie Holmes in a long time. She can be really cute and lovely when she allows herself to be and doesn’t try to stretch beyond her limits. She doesn’t get much to do per se, but her casting is apt because she’s the hot new stepmother (usually a bitch or villain in movies), yet Holmes makes her empathetic, caring, and sweet, in addition to being the only one to sense something amiss with Madison. By the way, does anyone else see a resemblance between Madison and Suri Cruise? I couldn’t shake that from my mind throughout, though Suri throws much better tantrums, I think. Old pros Jack Thompson and Julia Blake are well-cast in what might be termed the Bruce Dern and Rosalie Crutchley roles, which probably isn’t the best use of their talents. Well, Thompson does get one memorable set piece unlike anything he’s probably done before, I guess.

Although not really a horror film in my view (unless you’re weird and consider “Pan’s Labyrinth” to be horror), it’s still an occasionally unnerving film, if not as unnerving as the director probably thinks (It’s too familiar, perhaps). I have no idea why anyone would invent a carousel that illuminates on the wall in the dark. To me, that’s the most evil thing in the world that doesn’t involve clowns. Frigging hate clowns. Evil buggers that haunt me in my dreams. Um, where was I? Anyway, it’d be interesting to look back on this film ten years from now and see if people claim it to be the film that fucked up their childhood (Apparently Mr. Del Toro was frightened as a child by the original). If it is a horror film, it’s indeed more of a juvenile one than adult-oriented, and that’s not exactly a criticism.

I found the little rat creatures a tad too Full Moon-esque (the company behind the “Puppetmaster” series) or reminiscent of “The Gate” to be truly frightening, and a bit silly and unconvincing. I guess Mr. Del Toro and Mr. Nixey didn’t grow up watching Val Lewton (“Cat People”, “The Body Snatcher”) thrillers, then or else they’d know less is usually more, and that horrors left to the imagination can often be greater. Effective use of a shower curtain as they terrorise her, however.

A peculiar blend of fantasy and juvenile horror, this film doesn’t quite achieve everything one senses it wants to, however, it’s still highly watchable. Bailee Madison is excellent.

Rating: B-

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: The Vicious Circle

Doctor Sir John Mills gets a call from a supposed friend (an American film producer) who asks him to do him a favour and meet German actress Lisa Danicly at the airport. Tagging along is the reporter (Lionel Jeffries) he has only just met. After the deed is done, the good doctor attends the opera with his fiancé Noelle Middleton and friends. When he returns to his flat, he finds the German woman dead, on the floor. He calls Scotland Yard, but is horrified when the Inspector (dependable Roland Culver) points the finger squarely at Mills. The murder weapon is found in the boot of his car, and even his alibi fails to hold up. Someone is surely setting him up (the phone call soon appears to have been a set-up), but who? And who is this mystery man (played by a sinister Wilfrid Hyde-White) who can apparently prove the doctor’s alibi? Derek Farr plays Mills’ somewhat Caddish friend, Mervyn Johns another doctor.

These Hitchcockian ‘Innocent Man’-type stories always have me hooked, and this 1959 Gerald Thomas (director of at least eight “Carry On” films, but don’t hold that against him) crime-thriller with shades of “The 39 Steps” at times, is compulsive viewing.

Mills is ideal, Hyde-White is a constant scene-stealer in one of his best parts, and Culver gets one of his best-ever roles too. All that’s missing is The Master’s touch of class, wit, and professional sheen. Oh, well, for imitation Hitchcock it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. A good yarn, especially for mystery/thriller buffs. The screenplay is by Francis Durbridge (apparently a novelist and playwright), from his TV serial.

Rating: B-

Review: Stone (1974)

Spaced-out biker Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) witnesses the assassination of a politician at an environmental rally, and as a result, members of the Grave Diggers bikie gang (which Toad belongs to) start getting bumped off. The gang reluctantly allows undercover cop Stone (Ken Shorter) to join so that he can better investigate the murders and hopefully apprehend the killer. But only after he saves the lives of a few of their brethren from a gunman. He looks enough like a hippie biker to begin with that his police colleagues think he’s a weirdo. Sandy Harbutt turns up as The Undertaker, the leader of the gang. Vincent Gil is the bizarre Dr. Death, Helen Morse is Stone’s worried girlfriend, and Roger Ward plays bikie Hooks. Bill Hunter turns up in a small role as a bartender. Future “Mother and Son” sitcom star (and the future Norman Gunston) Garry McDonald plays a mechanic, in one scene.

This 1974 Aussie biker movie from director (and co-star) Sandy Harbutt is pretty cheesy and slow-moving but no worse than any of the American biker movies of the 60s or 70s. In fact, it’s better than many of them (and I’m not alone in making that proclamation), and worth a look if you’re into the genre or landmark Australian films of the 70s.

However, the performances are pretty lousy in a cast full of familiar faces of Aussie film and TV, and Shorter’s title character is not terribly interesting, convincing, or even likeable. Harbutt, meanwhile, makes for a charisma-free bikie leader. Keays-Byrne, although typically bizarre, is not nearly as effective here as he would be a few years later as the spaced-out Toecutter in “Mad Max”. Gil is absurd as the weirdo biker Dr. Death. The ‘Heyyy, man. Who called the fuzz?’ dialogue is admittedly part of the problem, not convincing out of the mouths of Aussies, I’m afraid. Speaking of unconvincing (and unnecessary), I found the inclusion of Satanism (or faux-Satanism, really) to be utterly ridiculous. Also, like most biker films (even the best ones like “Hell’s Angels on Wheels”) most of the time is eaten up by endless drinking, drugging, and other assorted dull partying type stuff. There’s a terrific opening scene, though and the funeral procession, stupid as I personal found it, is a cult classic (featuring 400 real bikers as extras), like the film itself, which made a healthy return back in the day. Memorable, violent ending, too deserving praise for being uncompromising at the very least.

“Mad Max” lovers should note that it features several cast members from that film (Gil, Keays-Byrne, and Ward all appeared in the first “Mad Max” film). Other than that, it’s best left to lovers of biker movies, who will forgive its sins. I could take or leave the film, to be honest.

Rating: C+

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: The Reef

Damian Walshe-Howling, his best mate Gyton Grantley, his ex- girlfriend (and Grantley’s sister) Zoe Naylor, and Grantley’s girlfriend Adrienne Pickering are setting out to explore the Great Barrier Reef. With deckhand Kieran Darcy-Smith also on board, much snorkelling and such ensues. For a while. The boat hits some coral and ends up capsized and beginning to sink. Darcy-Smith (an experienced fisherman) wants to stay by the boat and hope for the best, not liking Walshe-Howling’s alternative of swimming to what looks like it might be an island that might only be a few km’s away. Grantley and Pickering aren’t strong swimmers, either. And then there’s the possibility of nasty creatures of the deep looking for their ‘noon feeding’ to quote a certain cinematic shark expert I trust I don’t need to identify. After a bit of debate, Darcy-Smith still stubbornly refuses to leave, but the other three decide that swimming is their best option and they head out. Naturally a shark turns up and the terror begins.

“Black Water”, the previous ‘when animals attack’ film from director/co-writer Andrew Traucki was an ingenious, extremely tense Aussie genre movie. This 2010 film co-written by James M. Vernon tries to do for sharks what “Black Water” did for crocs. Or more precisely, it’s “Open Water” with more characters. The end result is nowhere near as effective as either previous “Water” film. It’s very, very well-shot (especially underwater) by Daniel Ardilley, and has its moments of tension, but not nearly as many as you’d like.

Both this film and “Black Water” blend their scenes with human characters with separately shot footage of the beasties in question. But I don’t think the result is as seamless here as it was in “Black Water” and it’s the main problem. I never quite got invested in it, despite a wonderfully claustrophobic capsizing scene. Bravo on that one, Mr. Traucki.

Another problem would be that this really does feel like something made for TV, despite the cinematography (the scenery does a lot of the work, let’s get real here). The cast is definitely TV: Damian Walshe-Howling is a veteran of TV, Gyton Grantley is practically the most ubiquitous Aussie TV movie/miniseries actor going around. Zoe Naylor, meanwhile, is mostly known for being an all-purpose TV host, more than a real actress. She does have charisma, though. Adrienne Pickering, I must admit, is the one person in the cast I’ve not seen before (Kieran Darcy-Smith is a familiar face from TV at least, as well as a filmmaker). Even the material isn’t exclusively cinematic, to be honest.

I will say, however, that these characters are at least relatively earthy and somewhere around the 30 years of age mark, instead of the usual twenty-ish characters we get in horror movies. They aren’t, however, terribly interesting. We get barely any background on them before the fit hits the shans. For pacing purposes this seems like a good thing, but the fit doesn’t hit the shans all that quickly. So it’s a missed opportunity there.

Three out of the four main actors are pretty good, especially when acting terrified (The best performance is from the guy who stays with the boat, Kieran Darcy-Smith). Certainly the acting is of a higher standard than another water-themed flick of recent years with Aussie actors, “Sanctum”. Walshe-Howling and Grantley are the weakest of the bunch, though the former is OK in a stoic kind of way. Grantley is an actor I’ve never liked. Often cast as crims and thugs, he seems constantly stoned and having to suppress a bout of the giggles in every role I’ve seen him in. Here he never manages to believably convey terror because he looks seriously bugged out even before trouble strikes. If he wasn’t completely baked on set, I’d be seriously surprised. He’s just so goofy and seemingly spaced-out. His eventual blubbering sounded comical to me and took me further out of the film.

The other problem I had with this film is that I’ve simply seen it too many times. After four “Jaws” films, eleventy billion cheap imitators, “Black Water” and “Open Water”, this film offers nothing different, and certainly isn’t as effectively made as those films. Some of the tension and terror still works, but not enough. There’s a reasonably ballsy ending, however, but even it’s a lesser ending than the ending to “Open Water”. Sorry, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Rating: C+

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: In Time

Set in the future where humans are genetically engineered to live to 25 and “Logan’s Run” is apparently played on a loop. OK, so I made that second part up. After you turn 25, you only have one more year to live, unless you ‘buy’ more time. Instead of money, everything in life is bought with time as its currency, which is pretty sweet if you’re wealthy. Justin Timberlake and his mother Olivia Wilde (!) aren’t so fortunate, having to live day by day. Timberlake comes into good fortune, however, when a time-rich stranger gives Timberlake a whole lot of his time, before the gangsters after him rub the guy out. Meanwhile, when bus fares suddenly go up whilst Wilde’s time is low, tragedy strikes. Timberlake is living the high life winning big at a casino (gambling with his life, literally) and meeting the beautiful Amanda Seyfried, when a timekeeper (cop) played by Cillian Murphy comes to investigate the aforementioned stranger’s death and Timberlake’s sudden great fortune. He goes on the run, taking Seyfried with him. Seyfried is the daughter of a bank tycoon, and Timberlake comes up with an ingenious idea to act as a future Robin Hood of sorts. Johnny Galecki plays Timberlake’s troubled best friend.

It’s funny how with sci-fi, sometimes you’ll go along for the ride, and other times, you’ll think a premise is stupid and spend most of the film completely unconvinced by it. This 2011 effort is one such example of the latter, and that’s a surprise given it comes from the normally rather intelligent writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”, “Lord of War”). But there is good reason why I was unconvinced by just about everything in this film. Starting with the whole damn idea of it. The basic premise of this film comes from the phrase ‘time is money’. Here, in a future society, time literally has become currency. Well, time actually isn’t money, Mr. Niccol. Money is a 100% social construct, whereas time is not exclusively socially constructed. Yes, our clocks and calendars are all socially constructed, no doubt about that. However, our life-spans are another matter all together. We will all die at some point (unless you’re a “Highlander”, and that film was easier to swallow because the highlanders weren’t actually human), obviously, and at least in the real world, this cannot be controlled, or at least, we do not yet have the key to eternal life. Unfortunately, Niccol never really bothers to explain just how humans have been genetically engineered to not age past 25. Probably because it would sound stupid, and having Justin Timberlake remark ‘I don't have time to worry about how it happened’ isn’t clever, it’s lazy and unacceptable. If you need to create this fantasy idea of genetic engineering in order to bring in your ‘time is money’ concept, I dunno, it just seems like too much hassle for so little reward. And yet, I had no problem accepting central conceit of “The Matrix”, perhaps because the film doesn’t have to set up its worldview at the beginning because the whole idea is for it to be gradually revealed to Neo and the audience. It worked there, mostly due to the structure of the narrative. But here? I was scoffing and scoffing early and often.

Worse still, if one looks at the ‘time is money’ conceit as displayed in the film, even if one were to accept the idea of time used as currency, it proves rather pointless in execution, really. This is because if time were money, then...things would play out just the same, except with time used instead of money. What I mean is, this film plays little different to any movie about monetary wealth and greed, it’s just a substitution of time for money that has changed. Instead of the guy with the most money controlling society, it’s the guy with the most time...which is really money. Basically, it means you can either be James Bond or a James Bond villain. It’s actually pretty boring, predictable, and prosaic.

So no, this film did not engage or convince me at all. For a smart guy like Niccol, he’s made a surprisingly dumb, predictable film. I’m honestly shocked that he hasn’t been able to see just how dumb it is. The idea of only reaching the age of 25 before having to buy more years is rife with questions that Niccol seemingly hasn’t thought of. I mean, are plastic surgeons obsolete in this stupid fantasy future? I guess they all ended up committing suicide. And what good is ‘buying’ more years when you can just as easily get hit by a bus or murdered tomorrow? I just don’t see ‘years’ or ‘time’ being much good as currency and therefore not much good as a social constraint or manipulation tool. Hell, it proves so damn easy to overthrow things and steal time back anyway, so why bother going to all the trouble setting it up? (Though it takes Timberlake and Seyfried 90 minutes to figure out what you’ll figure out in 15 minutes). Meanwhile, although Niccol shows that an enormous effort has been made in creating this genetic engineering social constraint, I was disappointed that those same seemingly smart people haven’t bothered to advance things much more than that. In other words, society in the future looks largely the same as now. The film, and the characters in it, are clearly single-minded (At least in “Gattaca”, the singular vision was interesting and plausible). Also, one character’s dilemma involving a price hike in bus fares seems gobsmackingly easy to solve, but I guess cell phones or text messaging has somehow been outlawed in this wacky fantasy future. A future, by the way, in which surely everyone drives around like a maniac just to save time. I mean, time is money, after all. I guess roadside fatalities are enormous...oh, wait, you’re not supposed to think about that, are you?

Because the film is weaving sci-fi or fantasy with a supposed reality in a way that I found utterly unconvincing, it also means that I was unable to get into the film emotionally. Like “The Time Traveller’s Wife” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, I didn’t believe in any of it, so why should I have cared? With something that doesn’t even try to operate on a real plane of existence (“Star Wars” or “The Lord of the Rings” for instance), one can take a leap of faith, but it’s not as easy to accept a fantastical version of reality. Having said that, Timberlake is OK in the lead, and Cillian Murphy for once impressed me in a Peter Greene-esque villainous turn that represents the only good thing in the film (And might explain why Greene has seemingly vanished. He has morphed into Cillian Murphy). Amanda Seyfried, whom I normally like, is surprisingly dull, and even more surprisingly, unattractive. Must be the awful wig. Credit where it’s due, though, the casting director at least found one person who genuinely looks about 25, with Seyfried (who indeed was 25 during filming). Johnny Galecki (who looks permanently high in this), for instance, has gotta a lot closer to 45 than 25, right? (I’m pretty sure he was about 20 or so on “Roseanne”, and how long ago was that?)

The film also has a few really odd moments of dialogue that left me scratching my head, though Timberlake gives us the funniest two words I’ve heard in ages, when greeting Olivia Wilde: ‘Hi, mom!’. Hilarious. But why does Seyfried ask Timberlake at one point ‘Do you even know how to drive?’. He’s at least 25, right? I mean, I’m 32 and I don’t drive, but I’m an anomaly, so the question just seemed bizarre to me. Am I the only one who noticed this? Even more perplexing is when we hear that a character ‘drank himself to death with 9 years on his conscience’, after one character gives this character some extra years. What? Either he had 9 years or he didn’t, so how does that fit into the film’s internal logic of a society where people’s lifespan is genetically engineered? If Timberlake gave him 9 years, then he should have had 9 years on top of whatever he already had. It makes no sense, and if it does make sense (i.e. You can still kill yourself), then the whole idea of the genetic engineering just seems stupid and pointless. 

I’m sorry, but I didn’t enjoy this one at all. I couldn’t, pardon the pun, buy into it, and thought it was a complete waste of time.

Rating: C

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch

Set shortly after the events of the first film, Reb Brown plays the brother of Dee Wallace Stone’s doomed reporter, as he tries to work out what happened to her (Didn’t he see the news?). He is joined by reporter girlfriend Annie McEnroe and a werewolf hunter/occult expert named Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), who claims the dead woman must be given a titanium stake to the heart (Not wooden, not silver, but titanium!) or else she’ll rise again as a vamp...er...undead werewolf, I guess. Meanwhile, Sybil Danning stars as an ancient werewolf queen named Stirba, who is holding a werewolf orgy in Transylvania. No, I’m not kidding. Judd Omen plays Stirba’s offsider/minion, whilst musician Jimmy Nail and European genre actor Ferdy Mayne have small parts.

The sequels to “The Howling” got seriously weird and have for many tarnished the name of the first film, which I consider to be the best werewolf movie ever made, alongside the 1941 film “The Wolf Man”. This 1985 film from Aussie director Philippe Mora (“The Beast Within”, the awful “Howling III: The Marsupials”) is regarded by many as the worst of the sequels. It’s certainly among the biggest shifts in tone and concept of any sequel I’ve seen (It’s British, and there’s lots of awful New Wave/punk music in it, for instance). It is not, however, a contender for worst film of all-time in my view. Watch this film and then watch “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan”, “Equus”, or “Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy’s Revenge”, and tell me “Howling II” belongs in the top 10 worst films of all-time. Top 100, definitely, but let’s keep things in perspective. I mean, at least it’s memorable and interestingly stupid, and makes good use of Christopher Lee’s booming voice (Lee gives the film’s opening narration). He deserved a special kind of Oscar for acting in this film with a straight face (He later apologised to “Howling” director Joe Dante for this sequel to his film). Believe me, it wouldn’t have been an easy task, this is insane up to ying-yang. The man is a truly great actor, just see this film as proof.

Exploitation queen Sybil Danning, meanwhile, is perfectly fine under seriously stupid circumstances. Her disrobing scene is one of three memorable scenes in the film. Her tits are awesome, something I’ve wanted to see ever since she nearly burst out of her costume in “Battle Beyond the Stars”. She has one of the most impressive chests in cinema, and is the second best actor here behind Lee. Way behind Lee, but second best nonetheless. Also memorable is the werewolf ménage-a-trois. Yes, a werewolf ménage-a-trois, complete with hairy werewolf titties. Believe me, folks, you have not lived until you’ve seen hairy werewolf titties. Having said that, Mora should’ve been drawn and quartered for giving us a threesome with Sybil Danning (whose wardrobe is wondrous as usual) that isn’t even remotely sexy. How does that happen? Once again, hairy werewolf titties. Also worth mentioning is a bit with a priest and a bat/gargoyle creature that completely defies explanation.

The setting (and set design) and local gypsy flavour also come across really strong in the film (Despite being filmed in Czechoslovakia, not Romania). Best of all (or at least funniest) is that Danning’s big disrobing scene gets repeated like 10 times in the end credits. I’d have loved that as a 14 year-old, but now it’s just hilarious.

There’s lots of lessons to be learnt in this film: Reb Brown, for instance, can’t act worth a living shit (And he was clearly only cast for his slight resemblance to Christopher Stone from the original film). Christopher Lee, meanwhile, apparently buys his sunglasses from the same shop the Lords of Death from “Big Trouble in Little China” frequent. Director Mora could learn a thing or two as well, including never using red titles/captions. Never. Oh, and Mr. Mora, vampires and werewolves aren’t the same fucking thing. Mora has created the most vampiric lycanthrope movie I’ve ever seen to the point where you have to wonder if someone isn’t playing a practical joke on Christopher Lee, who probably thought he’d washed his hands of the Dracula series. The sexualisation of the werewolves seems more fitting of vampires, and here werewolves get killed by a stake through the heart. Um, what? If Mora wanted to make a New Wave vampire movie like “The Hunger” then why is he directing a film called “Howling II”? Some will like the prog rock soundtrack here, but it’s not to my taste. We even get garlic and fangs throughout the film. I know werewolves have teeth too, but c’mon, this is just stupid. And to top it all off, the film largely takes place in Transylvania. Fuck me dead. No wonder Hemdale films went bust before long, with terrible films like this. I dunno, maybe all the vampire stuff was intentionally inappropriate, but even then...why? It’s stupid and unfunny.

The whole film is shoddy, really. Most of the werewolf stuff is kept in close-ups and the werewolf transformation is done via montage, which just isn’t acceptable, at least not the way it is done here. It just comes off as too disjointed and cheap. The guy whose eyes literally pop out of his head is amusing, if completely unconvincing. Nice severed arm, too. In fact, the whole film is nice and gory, certainly moreso than the original. The film’s tenuous connection to the original is cheaply done too. They simply redo the end of the first film with different (and presumably less pricey) actors, in unconvincing fashion. Aside from the FX, the film does have nice, foggy cinematography by Geoffrey Stephenson (“The House That Cried Murder”), and a Hammer Horror aesthetic (graveyards, churches, etc) that makes it look a little less cheap than other areas of the film might (strongly) suggest.

The film is in a terrible, fucked up way, kinda compelling. It’s certainly never dull, and it’s...something. It’s insane and far too fascinating for me to hate it, and yet it’s a bad film. That makes it awfully hard to grade. It’d make an interesting double-bill with “Shock Treatment”. Well, in theory. “Shock Treatment” is boring as hell. I don’t know why this is called “Howling II”, or why the subtitle was changed from the ridiculous “Your Sister is a Werewolf” to the batshit insane “Stirba: Werewolf Bitch”, I don’t even know what the hell this is. It’s...it’s...inexplicable.

Stupid, cheap, insane, horribly acted...and I kinda enjoyed every minute of it. Not in a good way, not quite in an Ed Wood way, no this film is in a special category of WTF all of its very own. Watch it for the werewolf titties. You know you want to. The screenplay is by Gary Brandner (who wrote the novel the original “Howling” largely ignored) and Robert Sarno, from Brandner’s own novel.

Rating: Um...It’s on a level of crap impossible to quantify.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Review: Cut and Run

Lisa Blount is a shonky TV reporter who is somewhere in South America with her cameraman (Leonard Mann) looking for Willie Aames, son of her boss Richard Bright. Aames was photographed with Colonel Horne (Richard Lynch, as a kind of Col. Kurtz character), a former associate of cult leader Jim Jones who was believed to have died at the Jonestown massacre. Blount decides to kill two birds with one stone by trying to find Col. Horne for an interview, whilst also hopefully locating Aames in the process. Meanwhile, we come across Aames, who along with the pretty Valentina Forte, is currently in the employ of drug dealer John Steiner, but is about to attempt an escape. Michael Berryman appears as the leader of a band of savages who attack John Steiner and his men. Eriq La Salle plays a pimp (!), and Karen Black is a TV news producer.

This 1985 exploitation flick is my first taste of  Ruggero Deodato (director of the infamous “Cannibal Holocaust”), and although I’m pretty sure the version I saw was heavily cut, this film is too crazy and compelling not to recommend. I’m not sure what to make of it in terms of plot and overall quality, but it sure is something and it definitely kept me entertained throughout. It has enough plot for at least three films. There’s a once-in-a-lifetime B-cast too, including Willie ‘Bibleman’ Aames (who I assume now blames cocaine and booze for his appearance in this), “Hills Have Eyes” co-star Michael Berryman doing his inimitable thing (I just bet he’s a swell guy in real-life), and “Godfather” character actor Richard Bright in a good guy role for a change (and doing a fine job). It’s certainly strange seeing the future Christian TV star Aames taking on a role that requires him to break one of the ten commandments on more than one occasion. Bibleman sure is trigger-happy. Or does Aames have a bible that reads ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except’? Thank you to the three of you who get that semi-obscure horror reference.

However, the most memorable appearances are by Lisa Blount (sporting the same mullet I had in my teens, shockingly), Richard Lynch, and Eriq La Salle. Blount is genuinely good as the lead in this film, never for a second looking embarrassed to be here. Her character should be embarrassed, however, for coming up with the dumbarse idea of doing a piece to camera near a waterfall! Who does that? Regular B-movie villain Richard Lynch (who sadly died fairly recently) is interestingly cast as an associate of real-life cult leader Jim Jones, considering he essentially played a faux Jim Jones in the awful “Bad Dreams”. I’m not sure what accent he was attempting here, but he’s perfectly evil as always and well-cast. And then there’s Eriq La Salle. Oh boy. If you thought Eriq had a reason to be embarrassed about his juicy Jeri-curl in “Coming to America”, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As a purple hat wearing, pimpin’ pimp named Fargas (get it?) he’s instantly hilarious. He’s terrible as always, but some might get a kick out of seeing him look so baby-faced (and ridiculous). In all seriousness, if ever a film needed a lavender and periwinkle-attired pimp named Fargas, it’s not this one and his scenes drag the film down, whilst still being strangely amusing. Meanwhile, the always incompetent and cross-eyed Karen Black thankfully has limited involvement here in what amounts to a guest star role, essentially.

One of the film’s highlights is the cool, if incongruous synth score by Claudio Simonetti (of Goblin and Dario Argento fame). It’s way too loud, though. The screenplay is by Dardano Sacchetti and Cesare Frugoni, as well as an uncredited Luciano Vincenzoni and will certainly appeal to fans of crazy Italian exploitation films.

I’m not sure if this film even makes complete sense, but it’s not dull and I’m sure there’s an audience for it. It certainly kept me engaged...for some bizarre reason. Maybe several bizarre reasons.

Rating: B-

Review: How Do You Know?

Paul Rudd is a decent, well-meaning corporate exec who may be facing jail time if an internal investigation into stock fraud uncovers any wrongdoing on his part. His boss is also his father (Jack Nicholson), whose reassurances aren’t very reassuring, largely because dear old dad is clearly the guilty party and he knows dad ain’t taking the fall. On this very day he finds himself on a date with cute softballer Reese Witherspoon, and manages to make a bollocks of it, understandably being distracted and frankly depressed. Witherspoon, meanwhile, is cut from her team for being too old (early 30s!), and is kinda in a relationship with a douchy baseball player (Owen Wilson) who seems to think his philandering should just be accepted as one of his charming little quirks. Seriously, the guy’s a dickhead, albeit well-meaning, and a completely oblivious narcissist to boot. Meanwhile, a frankly drunk Rudd decides to give Witherspoon another call, makes a bad second impression, and then they somehow seem to fall for each other. Kathryn Hahn is Rudd’s supportive, heavily pregnant co-worker, Mark Linn-Baker (he’s still alive?) turns up as a spineless corporate-type, Molly Price is Witherspoon’s supportive coach, and Tony Shalhoub has a worthless cameo as a shrink.

This 2010 James L. Brooks (“Terms of Endearment”, “Broadcast News”, “As Good As It Gets”) romantic comedy is the damndest thing. I’m not sure if I liked it. I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s essentially a romantic comedy, and it has me assessing what it is that either a romance or a comedy (or perhaps just a romantic comedy) needs in order to work, not to mention the fact that I wasn’t sure if it was well-enough made for a film in any genre. For instance, this is an often very funny film. The character played by Owen Wilson alone is an hilariously douchy comic creation, and the only character in the entire film who really works. Seriously, this guy is the biggest douchebag in existence. He’s not only a douchebag of epic proportions, but he also has absolutely no awareness of the problem with this, let alone any recognition of the feelings of others. He’s almost bloody charmingly innocent...in a completely wrong way. I mean, this is a guy who has a whole wardrobe of spare clothes and a drawer full of spare toothbrushes for his one-night stands to use the morning after...but what kind of sleaze does that? A considerate one, I guess.

But the film itself isn’t just about laughs, also has a story, a plot, and it also has characters. And those things are not handled very well at all. The film’s dodgy business dealings subplot, for instance, is thrown at the audience without anywhere near enough information on the situation for us to fully understand what is going on. Some don’t mind being left in the dark, especially for what is just a subplot, but because it ends up tying into the main plot at the end, it very much bothered me. Not only that, but I was never one hundred percent convinced of Rudd’s lack of knowledge or involvement in it. Given he is one part of the film’s romantic triangle, and the film’s supposed nice guy, that bothered me. Sure, he was probably every bit as innocent as claimed to be, but I dunno. Did the film really need such baggage, especially when it’s so confusingly conveyed in the first place? (The first scene we’re confronted with this subplot in particular, is so clunky and confusing, it’s almost embarrassing for someone of Brooks’ stature).

I also didn’t buy the film’s characters, and this kinda impacts the film’s credibility as a romance. Aside from the dubious nature of Rudd’s character, I also found him a little disturbing in other ways. I’ve always found Rudd a pretty unlikeable and morose screen presence, and that’s definitely the case here. Even though the audience knows what he’s going through, he always seems to be in such a bad mood when he’s around Witherspoon that, coupled with his possible future stint in prison, it hurts his credibility as a romantic leading man. The audience might have sympathy for him, but looking objectively, I couldn’t follow the logic that sees Witherspoon even agreeing to a second date. The whole scenario feels like the worst possible time for any of these people to hook up, and that’s not as clever as Brooks perhaps thinks it is because it’s not very appealing to watch. Just because real life is messy, doesn’t mean it’s fun to watch a romantic comedy that is messy, too, especially when the film is hard to swallow in other aspects anyway. For instance, we’re given absolutely no indication as to how or why Rudd falls for Witherspoon so quickly in the first place. Their kinda sorta blind date meeting, the subsequent awkwardness of their first date, and both of their being distracted with other issues, meant that we never really get a sense of that transition into being interested in one another. It’s so sloppy.

Witherspoon, meanwhile, is given the annoyingly quirky character of a female softball character, and a gaggle of ‘You go, girlfriend!’ teammates who never for one moment seem like anything other than a lazy screenwriter’s creation. Sure, there’s plenty of female softball players out there, but here it just seemed like a too-cute quirk to me.

Even the scenes with supporting characters didn’t much work for me. Jack Nicholson, one of the all-time great movie stars, is given a role way beneath his talents here and gives a lazy-arse, frankly phony performance to match (I read a review online that hilariously suggested that Lou Gossett Jr. could’ve played Rudd’s dad and it wouldn’t have mattered. And it’s not all that far from being true, either) It’s as if he was a last minute replacement for the first choice. Apparently Bill Murray turned the film down, and indeed Murray would be an easier sell in the role than Jack. Almost every scene of his is a surprising failure, and the lack of clarity in the subplot certainly doesn’t help. I did like him trying (and failing) to suppress his profanity, though. That was funny. Nothing else in that scene, however, takes place in any kind of reality that I can think of. The stuff with the pregnant co-worker no one seems to notice (Kathryn Hahn), is particularly bad. The delivery room scene is even worse, and extremely clunky.

So what does a comedy need in order to be considered a successful one? Is it just laughs? A film like “Flying High!” (AKA “Airplane!”) would suggest so. It’s one of the funniest movies ever made, and it really only has a plot because it’s a spoof of airline disaster flicks. The gags are the whole show. But when you add the romance aspect, I think the worthiness of the plot and characters does become a legit factor. Maybe it doesn’t matter to the point of a film’s success or absolute failure, but a funny film with plot and character issues certainly loses a few points. From someone as esteemed as Brooks, this is pretty lousy material once you take out the laughs. And the film isn’t a success from the romantic side of things either when you consider Witherspoon’s ultimate choice. I think she makes the wrong one, or more precisely, I didn’t believe the choice she made is the choice she would really make based on who she is and what she needs. ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** Think about who she is and what she needs. She’s an athlete and she’s currently unemployed. Her two choices are a douchebag but successful baseball player, and a dour but seemingly nice guy who even if he doesn’t go to prison for some vaguely revealed financial/corruption/ethical issue at work, is still unemployed and still possibly deserves some air of suspicion. It’s as if Witherspoon is choosing Rudd more because it’s what writer-director Brooks has decided for her to do. Yes, she should choose Rudd, and would likely be happier (if poorer) if she chose Rudd because he’s probably the nicer guy, but it’s not the decision I think she would make. I mean, she wouldn’t keep seeing Wilson throughout the rest of the film otherwise. Then again, I also got the feeling the only reason why she was with Wilson was because it was written to be so, as well. The other thing that bothered me is that although Wilson is playing the biggest douchebag on the planet, he’s so much more entertaining and funnier here than Rudd, it ends up a disappointing choice on that level too. It’s the damndest thing. In every other romance, you want her to choose the nice guy, but here’s the one movie where I actually think the wrong guy was the right guy. Can a romance film really be considered a success if the wrong people end up together? (By the way, in Brooks’ overrated “Broadcast News”, none of the romantic leads were interesting to me, so this is an improvement I guess). Well, considering Rudd is the more likeable character, I suppose I can’t be too harsh. But c’mon, am I the only one who felt the wrong people ended up together at the end? ***** END SPOILER *****

The best asset the film has from a romance standpoint is easily the lovely Reese Witherspoon. She has her detractors (idiots), but I think she’s a terrific actress in the right part (principally “Freeway” and “Walk the Line”), and here she is both gorgeous as hell and absolutely adorable. She sells it as best she can, though I’m not even sure if Witherspoon knew why she wanted either guy.

One small criticism I have is that the film features the most number of ringing phones in any movie I can recall to a ridiculous and infuriatingly annoying degree (Full disclosure: I have only used mobile phones to make calls to book taxis, that’s it. If I’m otherwise unable to be reached, then...I’m otherwise unable to be reached. Tough titties, y’all). If Brooks was trying to make some kind of statement about our reliance on technology or something, he certainly hasn’t made it well. In fact, the whole film feels like an unfinished product. Was there a rush to release the thing? Sorry, but as much as this film has laughs and good work by Witherspoon and Wilson, it’s still not an especially good film. Amazingly, it still almost works, but not quite. Mind you, that’s almost a helluva big achievement, considering how messy it is.

Rating: C+

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Daniel Craig plays a disgraced journalist in Sweden employed by rich retiree Christopher Plummer to write his biography. However, he has another reason: He wants Craig to find out which member of his family was responsible for killing his niece in 1964. The girl went missing, but her body was never found and is assumed to be dead. It’s a cold case that Plummer has never been able to find peace with, and he truly believes a member of his own eccentric family (which includes the odd Nazi) is involved. To help Craig in his investigation, he hires a bisexual, troubled computer hacker (Rooney Mara) to be his research assistant. Stellan Skarsgaard plays Plummer’s nephew and the missing girl’s brother who now runs the family (big) business. Steven Berkoff is Plummer’s lawyer who puts Craig in contact with Mara. Robin Wright plays Craig’s boss and lover, Joely Richardson is another relative of Plummer’s, and Julian Sands appears in flashbacks as Plummer’s younger self. Embeth Davidtz gets even shorter shrift as Craig’s estranged wife (ex-wife?).

You’re all gonna hate me for this, so you’ve been duly warned. I’ve been reviewing films online for about a decade now (and for my own personal amusement long before that), and I don’t normally watch a remake of a film before seeing the original, but; a) I’ve heard the original was originally intended for TV, so that doesn’t interest me much, as a cinematic purist, and b) I was bored, it was available to me, and there was nothing else to do. So I watched this David Fincher (“Se7en”, “Fight Club”, “Panic Room”) remake of the Swedish original, and I must say, I was bitterly and aggressively disappointed. Mostly, though, I was even more bored out of my mind than I was before sitting down to watch it.

The film starts off a mixed bag. The opening titles are cool and rather Bondian, but are almost ruined by a hideous nu-metal cover of Zeppelin’s brilliant ‘Immigrant Song’. The other thing that stood out like a sore thumb pretty quickly were the wildly varying accents used by the international cast. American Rooney Mara affects a slight but uneven accent that might vaguely resemble Swedish. The film is set in Sweden, so at least Mara was trying, which is more than I can say for Daniel Craig (who I frankly don’t like at all) and Robin Wright, the former retaining his Brit accent and Wright affecting an OK Brit accent. Craig’s daughter, however, sounds awfully Swedish to me. It might be a small thing, but it’s incredibly annoying and set me off very early on in the film. Why not just cast all-Swedish actors? Oh wait, they did that...in the original.

I normally love a good mystery movie and films about Nazis, but this is dense, dull, dry, and colder than a meat locker. Those latter three things make the first even worse, because it’s hard enough keeping track of who’s who but it’s also keeping me at a distance. There’s not a lot of plot per se, but there’s so many characters, names and details that it seems really dense and bare bones all at the same time. You can criticise me for not being smart enough to follow the film, fair enough (I’m pretty much of an idiot). But it failed to give me any incentive to care to even really try, it’s seriously tedious stuff. The character played by Oscar-nominated Rooney Mara, in an overrated and uninteresting performance is a big problem. Her character is thoroughly unappealing- skanky, androgynous for the sake of being different (in a cinematic sense, not that the character herself is trying to be different), and to be honest the film should’ve been called The Girl With Venereal Disease. What bothers me is how put-on it is and how overdone it is. Did lead actress Mara earn an Oscar nomination for wearing various body and facial piercings? Because that’s all I could get out of her monotone performance. The character nor the performance seemed real to me. I haven’t seen the original, but I’ve seen what Noomi Rapace looks like in it, and Mara has gone way too far into making herself look androgynous and physically unappealing (tattoos and piercings are perfectly fine, but Mara has gone way overboard with them) to the point where she doesn’t even resemble a real human being. I don’t understand why female action heroes have to lose their femininity as well. I think that’s what I reacted against. Not because I’m sexist or whatever, I just don’t understand why a woman can’t be beautiful in a traditionally feminine way and be tough. I would think it would be saying something worse about a woman that she had to act and look like a bloke in order to be taken seriously as a ‘tough chick’. Angelina Jolie seems to get the balance right (despite not being much of an actress), but most others like Mara go the borderline shemale route. That’s perfectly fine if the character was meant to be a hermaphrodite, perhaps. But that’s not the case (David Fincher seems to disagree, dismissing another well-known actress, Scarlett Johansson as being ‘too sexy’- WHAT?), and even so, Mara’s overall performance simply didn’t interest me in any way (Natalie Portman was among many considered and would’ve gotten the balance a lot closer than Mara has if you ask me). It actually distances me from the character, not draws me in. Perhaps that’s a failing on my part, but nonetheless I was repelled. I understood why she was the way she was, I simply think in this film, it was way overdone.

The way her character is used in the film is truly perplexing to me. Despite being the title character, the film spends most of its time concerned with Daniel Craig (in the same seriously dull performance he gives in everything) and the mystery he’s solving. Mara is merely hired help, a computer hacker, and the film takes way too long to bring these two story strands together (Apparently even longer than in the Swedish version). The scenes we do get with Mara before this are completely unappealing, and even once the two strands do come together, I felt that Mara’s title character was actually pretty unnecessary. So while I found it odd that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was a supporting character in her own film, I also got seriously impatient with the scenes that were concerned with her because they were unpleasant and irrelevant. Did we really need to see her character get anally raped? Why was that important to the case Craig was working on? It wasn’t (I’ve heard it plays a part in later stories, but I’m reviewing this one, and it seemed unnecessary to me here. Did it have to be anal rape? Really? No, it didn’t. Fincher just wanted to be ‘cool’. Yes, cool in a rape scene. Pretty objectionable, really). If she were the main character, then perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue, but she wasn’t and it was. This aspect definitely could’ve and should’ve been removed. It annoyed me because there might’ve actually been a decent mystery in all of this, but it runs way too long, and clearly needed an editor. Screw faithfulness to the original novel (a movie isn’t a novel, the mediums are different), I’d have cut a lot of it out, starting with yes, the title character.

One of the worst things about Mara’s character in this is that a part of her character has been neutered for some reason. She is meant to be bisexual, but whilst we get two (two!) heterosexual sex scenes with her, we only get the hint of her attraction to women when a girl hops out of her bed. So we can see her get raped up the arse and have sex with Daniel Craig on two occasions, but nothing from the Isle of Lesbos? This film has a very weird view of sex, in my opinion (An opinion that probably sounds like that of a pervert myself. I swear I’m not one, though!).

This is such a boring film and nothing like I expected, genre-wise, either. Aside from one brief bike chase, there’s no action like I had anticipated. The performances by old pros Christopher Plummer and Steven Berkoff for me were the only positives in this film, and sadly both are underused. It’s good to see Berkoff cast slightly against type, and Plummer is perfectly cast. He’s got a crafty, malevolent twinkle in his eye that makes you distrust him in every role, and here it means you’re constantly wondering if even he can be trusted (He’s a fine substitute for Max von Sydow, who had to turn the role down, apparently). One actor, unnamed here, however, is far too obviously cast. As soon as they turn up, you know they’re one of the major villains (They also play Enya songs, possibly the worst form of torture imaginable). They even deliver the following line; ‘Y’know we’re not that different, you and I’. I shit you not.

Other than a couple of good supporting performances, I got no entertainment value from this film whatsoever. Seemingly pointless, it’s easily David Fincher’s worst film to date (after giving us one of 2010’s best, “The Social Network”) and glacially paced. Is there really going to be two more of these? Dear God, why?

Oh, and a question for cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (“Blade Runner”, “Fight Club”, “The Social Network”): If the lamps in a room have white (or at least yellow) lights, then why are the rooms glowing green? I’ll keep harping on about it until I get a legit answer. Although I’m underwhelmed by Fincher’s recent fascination with pea-green cinematography (See “Zodiac”- really, see it. It’s good!), I will say this, at least it’s not murky or terribly ugly. Just incompetently thought out.

I was never going to love this film, there’s just too many things here that go against what I tend to enjoy, but even so I’m shocked at how many Oscar nominations it received. I found it completely unappealing in just about every way. The script by Steven Zallian (“Awakenings”, “Schindler’s List”, “American Gangster”) claims to be based on the original novel by Stieg Larsson, rather than the Swedish film adaptation. Whatever its origins, I just didn’t like this film at all.

Rating: D+

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Under the Rainbow

International spies (including Nazi Billy Barty and Oriental Mako) clash with hard partying midgets staying at Adam Arkin’s hotel during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz”. Chevy Chase is an American Secret Service agent, Robert Donner plays an assassin, Joseph Maher the Duke whom Chase is assigned to protect (with Eve Arden as the Duchess), and Carrie Fisher is in charge of the little people during filming. Lots of well-known little people (Zelda Rubenstein, Tony Cox, Phil Fondacaro, Felix Silla, and Debbie Lee Carrington) fill out the smallest parts (hey, it’s that kind of movie, OK?).

Regarded by some to be one of the worst and most offensive comedies of all-time (and it might be one of the flops that contributed to the collapse of Orion Pictures), this 1980 Steve Rash (“The Buddy Holly Story”) slapstick farce actually isn’t all that bad. Well, kinda. Yes, it has one of the worst premises in any movie I’ve seen, but that kinda makes it funny, in my view. I mean, they’re really trying to get away with this godawful premise for a movie...that’s gotta be something, right? Not brilliantly funny, I’ll grant you. 30s-style slapstick and farce rarely make me laugh- lots of brawling and dopey mistaken identity, meanwhile Chase gets absolutely nothing funny to say or do at all, Arkin gets only one good crack about an aerial view of the hotel, and Fisher disappears into the background. In fact it’s still a pretty dull affair for the most part, but c’mon, how can you not laugh at a hammy Billy Barty playing a Nazi midget spy in a hotel full of other midgets who are all playing munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz”? It’s insane. The screenplay is by Fred Bauer (producer of “The Buddy Holly Story”), Pat McCormick (a former “Tonight Show” writer who also has a role here), Harry Hurwitz (director of “The Comeback Trail”), Martin Smith, and Pat Bradley.

If it weren’t for the dull spots, I’d almost recommend seeing this for the one-of-a-kind, bad-movie-waiting-to-happen premise. As is, it’s not quite the stinker you’ve probably heard it to be.

Rating: C

Review: Elephant White

Djimon Hounsou stars as Church a stoic hired killer and former CIA assassin, who is in Thailand on the job of mowing down a gang of human traffickers who were responsible for the death of the daughter of a Thai businessman. He is aided in this quest by somewhat unscrupulous arms dealer Kevin Bacon. Church is also joined by drug-addicted teenage hooker Mae (Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul), despite his best efforts to rid himself of her to focus on his assignment.

Filmed in Bangkok, Thailand, this 2011 action flick from director Prachya Pinkaew (an English-language debut for the director of the excellent “Ong-Bak”, and the lesser “The Protector”) and writer Kevin Bernhardt is the kind of thing that in terms of plot could’ve starred any has-been action star, and in terms of location, could easily have passed for a Tony Jaa (“Ong-Bak”, “The Protector”) movie. Instead, we get Djimon Hounsou, who has presence and is good enough to suggest he deserves his own action movie. Just not this one, which is well beneath his talents. It’s actually depressing to see such a talented actor (if not the greatest English speaker in the world) in such schlock, which if the setting were changed to Romania, would likely star Wesley Snipes, Steven Seagal, and or Dolph Lundgren. Jaa could’ve saved it with his fighting skills, but Hounsou, whilst convincing enough in the action scenes (moreso than the dramatic ones, to be perfectly honest), is no Tony Jaa and can’t really lift the material. Then again, Hounsou plays a sniper, essentially, and I’m not sure if Jaa would take on such a character. I’m also convinced that snipers don’t make for good action movie protagonists, because the action is generally static and the character tends to be unemotional and cool by design.

I also felt that the bizarre, mystical asides were tacked-on. The scene where Hounsou gets drunk and then has obvious Aboriginal war paint on sat awfully uncomfortably with me. It’s not the kind of juxtaposition that will play well for Australian audiences, though hopefully the director wasn’t trying to connect the two things in any derogatory manner. Mind you, at least Hounsou isn’t playing a noble savage for once, and that’s something worth noting. He has broken that stereotype here. Meanwhile, it’s an even odder sight to see Kevin Bacon play Joe Pesci in “Lethal Weapon 2” with Mick Jagger’s accent. Well, I think he was trying for a cockney British accent. At times it bordered on Seth Effriken, and some might even confuse it for Australian. It’s not the worst accent I’ve heard (He’s a bit more convincing than Anthony LaPaglia on “Frasier”), but it’s awfully inconsistent. Bacon doesn’t always choose the wisest scripts, but he rarely steps a foot wrong in his performances. I can’t say I’ve seen too many absolutely outstanding performances from him (“JFK”, “The Woodsman”, and maybe “A Few Good Men”), but have you ever seen him give less than 100% on screen? I haven’t, and I’ve seen “Footloose”, “Wild Things”, and “Where the Truth Lies”. This is far from his finest work (But it’s not exactly “Where the Truth Lies”, either), and anyone could’ve really played the role (A British actor, perhaps? Just a thought...), but it’s kinda amusing to hear Kevin Bacon not sound like Kevin Bacon for a change. Hell, at least you can’t detect a single trace of American in his accent. That said, like Hounsou, it’s a bit depressing to see him in a subpar action film from Millennium Films (Who have made such crap films as “88 Minutes”, “The Black Dahlia”, the remake of “The Wicker Man”, and lots of crummy action flicks).

Lead actress Pitakporntrakul, meanwhile, is absolutely appalling. She can speak English fluently, but she can’t act speaking in English, which is a different skill altogether. Also worth noting in this film is that it has almost as much of a gun fetish as “Lord of War” and “Commando”. The weird thing is, Hounsou keeps making weapon purchases from Bacon, and I swear to God, every time he goes back to him, he still hasn’t used the weapon he had previously acquired! What the hell?

The film’s one real saving grace is its colourful look. The use of scenery and local colour is outstanding here, even if filters and shaky-cam are occasionally used. Why does the camera shake? I’ll keep asking that question until someone gives me a real answer, because for me it just alerts me to the camera’s presence in a scene. I also have to question once again if all freeways are drowned in amber light? None that I’ve seen in Australia at least. What I mean is, that I can’t think of any situation outside of a dark room/photo lab, where there’s a source of light that covers every single element in view. It just pisses me off, because like shaky-cam, it merely alerts me to the camera’s presence, something I’m trying desperately hard not to notice so that I can immerse myself in the story. Cinematographer Wade Muller, for the most part, however, does his job. There’s especially fine work in a slightly hazy-looking forest fight towards the end, that I really liked. It’s an attractive film, save for some uber-cheap CGI flames which are really kinda inexcusable, to be honest. Awful title, too, no wonder it was direct-to-DVD.

This isn’t an awful film by any means, but it’s a cheap, formulaic, and repetitive one unworthy of its two main stars.

Rating: C