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.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: Muriel’s Wedding

Muriel (Toni Collette) is unemployed, not very popular, a bit of an ugly duckling (with low self-esteem), and lives in the dead-end town of Porpoise Spit. Oh, and her parents (depressed mum Jeanie Drynan and shonky local politician dad Bill Hunter) are on the verge of separation due mostly to dad’s not very subtle philandering and generally derisive attitude towards his wife and kids. Meanwhile, her siblings (particularly the dopey Dan Wyllie and couch potato Gabby Millgate- who became a popular TV presence for about three seconds after this film) Muriel’s a dreamer, though, and in particular dreams of getting married. To escape her mundane, friendless existence she plays ABBA records constantly, which help tide her over until things pick up. One day, it appears that indeed things are starting to work out for her. Firstly, she grabs the bouquet at an acquaintance’s wedding, much to the bride (Sophie Lee) and bridesmaids’ chagrin. She decides to go on vacation (via dubious funding) to get away from Porpoise Spit, and becomes fast friends with fellow Porpoise Spit expat and ABBA fan Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths). Eventually the two move in together, and finally she has a true friend, albeit a seriously hedonistic one. She even finds herself a husband...a South African-born swimmer (Daniel Lapaine) looking for a way to stay in the country. Unfortunately, Muriel’s criminality is about to catch up to her, and will affect just about everyone she knows. Gennie Nevinson plays Deirdre, the cosmetics saleswoman whom Hunter is having an affair with. Matt Day plays a nice, awkward guy that Muriel meets along the way, and there are lots of familiar local faces throughout.

One of the very best Australian films of all-time, this 1994 film from writer-director P.J. Hogan (who went to Hollywood afterwards to make the much lesser “My Best Friend’s Wedding”) is a lot different to what you might expect when watching it for the first time. It was pretty much marketed as the feelgood film of the year, but whilst it does have moments of hilarity and a lot of heart, it’s actually quite a depressing film. And I actually liked that about it, I really responded to it. Yes, I even embraced Muriel living off money that doesn’t belong to her, because everyone else was such a shit to her. Damn it, the girl deserved some happiness, criminally-funded or not. Mind you, I can’t argue that the person she’s really robbing is quite innocent and ends up in a bad way over it. But, then, this ain’t no cheery mainstream Hollywood romcom, so that’s OK, I embraced its refusal to go in clichéd, more upbeat areas. In some ways the film is the perfect bridge between the sort of broad comedy found in “Strictly Ballroom” and the more serious, kitchen sink dramas that get the critics salivating. It’s a lot less caricatured and garish than “Ballroom” and far more accessible than many of those critically-acclaimed arthouse dramas, and thus is a film for just about everyone (except perhaps ABBA haters, but if that’s you, I kinda pity you). You might even find yourself shedding a tear or two, in between the laughs.

Toni Collette gives a truly star-making performance as the often derided and pushed-aside dreamer Muriel (an absolutely captivating and charming character despite some dubious behaviour), and the late Bill Hunter is pitch-perfect as her selfish, dishonest, and derisive father. Jeanie Drynan has some affecting moments as the neglected matriarch of the Heslop family (especially in her few scenes with Muriel), but her character doesn’t have much consistency. At times she seems to be more pathetic than sympathetic, and off in her own little world. More scenes between her and Muriel, showing her genuinely loving and caring side would’ve helped.

Excellent ABBA soundtrack provide most of the joyous moments in the film, though Muriel’s awkward sex scene on a beanbag is one of the most infectiously funny scenes in any film of 1994, with Muriel’s constant giggling. Muriel might be viewed by others as a bit of an ugly duckling, but her film is an absolute beauty.

Rating: B+

Friday, April 20, 2012


Review: Rich and Strange

Bored married couple (Henry Kendall and Joan Barry) come into some money and go on a round the world cruise, wherein they both have affairs. Add a disaster-filled finale, and you’ve got a surprisingly boring film. Percy Marmont is the Commander, Barry’s love interest, and the only halfway decent performer in the film.

Wow, and I thought I’d seen Hitch’s worst with “The Paradine Case”. At least that film had a bunch of GOOD actors and stars (Gregory Peck, Valli, Ann Todd, Ethel Barrymore, Charles Laughton) having a bad day, and at least one (an underrated Louis Jourdan) having a rather good day. This 1931 Alfred Hitchcock (“Psycho”, “Strangers on a Train”, “The 39 Steps”, “Shadow of a Doubt”) stinker was made around that awkward time between Hitch’s silent films and the best of his British talkies like “The 39 Steps” and “The Lady Vanishes”. It’s a real dud, no matter the director and his pedigree.

It has truly bad performances from a mostly unknown cast, whilst the director seems to have been asleep at the wheel with this arcane, entirely tedious affair, where very little happens at all, aside from a twist in the second half, but I was dead to the world by that point.

Lifeless, and showing very little evidence that it was directed by the Master (a menu with floating words is about the only distinguished stylistic moment. What does that tell you?). There was stuff going on on-screen but it still had the same effect as watching a blank screen. I almost wished I was back on that damn sinking ship with Leo, Kate, Billy, and Jim Cameron. How scary is that?

The screenplay is by Hitch, his wife Alma Reville (“Murder!”- a significantly better film from the previous year, “The 39 Steps”, “The Lady Vanishes”, and yes “The Paradine Case”), and Val Valentine (“The Bells of St. Trinians”, “The Constant Husband”), from a Dale Collins novel. It’s not rich, it’s not strange, it’s just cheap, ordinary, and oh-so frigging dull. See it once if you’re a completist, but this is the worst film made by a great filmmaker.

Rating: D

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Review: Permanent Record

Straight-A student Alan Boyce’s suicide comes totally out of the blue to his friends, family, and even the well-meaning principal (Richard Bradford, playing the authority figure for the umpteenth time), as everyone struggles in their own way in the aftermath. This is especially so of best friend Keanu Reeves, a care-free underachiever who actually was present when Boyce jumped to his death, but too drunk to realise what was going on, and is now tormented. Michelle Meyrink plays Reeves’ girlfriend, Jennifer Rubin plays the leading lady of the school musical Boyce was scoring before his death, and Pamela Gidley plays Boyce’s sometime girlfriend. Barry Corbin and Kathy Baker are Boyce’s despondent parents. Rocker Lou Reed has a pointless cameo as himself.

Teen suicide (and issues of depression and other pressures on youngsters) is a very important subject that hopefully one day will be given the treatment it deserves in cinematic form. Unfortunately, this well-meaning, but dramatically inert 1988 Marisa Silver (“Vital Signs” with Jimmy Smits and Diane Lane) flick only occasionally gets the job done. The very limited Reeves is well-cast (he has one great scene at the climax) and veteran character actor Bradford gives a terrific turn as a compassionate but stern principal, one of his few genuinely meaty parts. Unfortunately the rest of the cast are either underused (Baker and Corbin, arguably the two most talented actors in the film, with zero to do), or ‘After School Special’ bad (the always amateurish Rubin, zonked-out Meyrink, and especially, the borderline ‘special’ Gidley).

In the key role, Boyce is stuck in a role that never quite lets anyone in, perhaps the point, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying experience for the audience, who are as in the dark as Boyce’s family and peers. Perhaps that is why the subject has failed to really convince on-screen. If we can clearly get into the character’s head, then surely the other characters in the film could, and they could prevent this thing from ever happening. And so maybe that wouldn’t work, besides a little mystery is better than a lot of cliché.

So if you took out some of the awful performances, perhaps this is a convincing depiction of teen suicide, just not a very effective film. Anyway, it’s worth a look, if only for Bradford and to ponder just how in the hell Lou Reed got involved here as a cameo player (meanwhile, Joe Strummer composed the unmemorable score).

It’s not bad, and so I’d kinda recommend this on the importance of the subject matter alone. Maybe it’ll help, at the very least, it helps with awareness of the issue itself. The screenplay is by Alice Liddle, Jarre Fees, and Larry Ketron (playwright and screenwriter of “Fresh Horses”, with Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald) is full of clichéd ‘If only I had known!’ dialogue. 

Rating: C+

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Simon Birch

Set in the mid 60s, Ian Michael Smith plays the intelligent pre-teen title character who upsets locals (especially no-nonsense Reverend David Strathairn and mean-spirited Sunday school teacher Jan Hooks) with his constant questioning and unshakable belief that God has a plan for him to be a hero. Given that Simon suffers from a form of Dwarfism, this idea doesn’t go down well with the Reverend and others who see Simon as ‘unfortunate’, not to mention having an irritating disposition. Joseph Mazzello plays his one true friend, who is looking for the father he has never known (Jim Carrey plays the grown-up version of Mazzello and narrates the film). Ashley Judd plays Mazzello’s ‘town hussy’ mother who treats Simon as her own (Simon’s parents are somewhat neglectful, borderline absent), and refuses to give up the identity of Mazzello’s father. Oliver Platt plays Judd’s new suitor, an affable teacher who tries to win over Mazzello. Dana Ivey plays Judd’s humourless mother.

I’ve heard that this 1998 film from writer-director Mark Steven Johnson (who went on to make “Daredevil” for some reason and also wrote “Grumpy Old Men”) is not very faithful to the source novel by John Irving that it is ‘suggested by’ (‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’). Many lovers of the original novel hate this film and probably have every right to. However, with a name change (so that people didn’t mistake it for a ‘true’ adaptation), Irving was said to be nonetheless quite happy with the film on its own merits, and I having not read the book love this film. It’s an unusual, quirky (in a “World According to Garp” kinda way perhaps), sometimes funny film, but also an extremely sad and moving experience. Call it a tearjerker and manipulative, but damn if it isn’t also terribly effective, even if the narration leads you to guess things in advance (which is unfortunate, but for me, not terribly problematic. Others may disagree). If you don’t cry in this film, you’re made of stone because there is at least one absolutely heartbreaking (almost cruel) scene midway into the film that might just rival the death of Bambi’s mum in all-time saddest movie moments.

The title character is the key element of the film, however. Ian Michael Smith, a non-actor (who sadly hasn’t acted since) is excellent in the role, and he himself suffers from Morquio Syndrome, a form of dwarfism, that doesn’t have a limited lifespan. But the thing I love is that Simon’s not all sugary sweetness, he’s not a Disease of the Week character. Quite frankly, he’s rude, somewhat strident, and doesn’t suffer fools in the slightest. He also believes that God has a plan for him, that he will be a hero, and won’t listen to any disagreement on the matter. I mean, it’s nice to have a positive attitude and goals in life, especially when you’re already at a kind of disadvantage. Being physically disabled myself, I get it. But Simon’s just a wee bit insistent about it to the point where you can see why some of the other characters get to the end of their rope with him very quickly. And that’s not a bad thing, anymore saccharine and the film might be too much. He’s a really unique character and I enjoyed the film largely due to Smith and the character of Simon.

Joseph Mazzello has a comparatively unglamorous role of the main character’s best friend, but Mazzello is nonetheless impressive in the role. Ashley Judd doesn’t appear for very long, but is absolutely incandescent, warm, and beautiful as Mazzello’s mother who may have a ‘reputation’, but it is outweighed by her enormous, open heart. You’ll fall in love with her here, and it’s really only some poor career choices subsequently that have prevented this fine, luminous actress from gaining superstardom. Oliver Platt also impresses as perhaps one of the most likeable (and sober) characters he’s ever played.

Some people don’t like tearjerkers, especially when they feel they have been manipulated and they’re aware of the manipulation. I argue that just about every film involves a form of manipulation and it doesn’t matter if I’m aware of it, more that the tears (or whatever the desired emotion is) should be earned. For me, this film earned my tears, for others it may not. It also earned my laughter, in particular a calamitous Church nativity play is a laugh riot and highlight of the film.

This is a sad, fable-like film, but thanks to the title character and performance by Ian Michael Smith, I didn’t feel it overdosed on the sugary stuff. Simon is frankly, a pain in the arse at times. I’m sure that the novel plays more to the religious angle than the film does, but I’m glad this film isn’t just a pro-Christianity thing, it’s more open and inclusive. It’s not necessarily because I’m an atheist (although Simon’s questioning of the relevance of Church fundraisers made me smile), it just means its potential audience is wider without too much preaching, and I do believe this story should be seen by everyone and doesn’t depend on religious matter (though Simon does indeed have a strong faith). It also has an interesting point to make about death, and how a person’s presence or essence (or even scent) gradually fades after they die. Sad but true. It’s a unique and moving experience that I’ll never forget.

A mixture of coming-of-age tale, fable, and a triumph over adversity/impairment, this isn’t for everyone. However I think it’s easily one of the ten best films of 1998 and a fine debut directorial effort by Johnson. Some movies you either go with or you don’t. This is such a movie, and (unlike the similarly tragic but failed “What Dreams May Come” or even the awkward “The Lovely Bones”) I went with it wholeheartedly, whilst many wholeheartedly didn’t. Cynics need not apply.

Rating: B