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, May 5, 2012

Review: Go to Blazes

A trio of none-too-bright crooks (Dave King, Norman Rossington, and spiv Daniel Massey) buy a used fire engine as a means of making a clean getaway in their criminal exploits. A pretty smart idea except that they end up spending more time putting out real fires than doing ‘jobs’. They hire a disgraced former fire chief (Dennis Price) and a fire-loving scientist (Robert Morley) to help them stage a fire in a swanky boutique next door to the bank. Dame Maggie Smith is the girl Massey charms, who works at the boutique. Long-serving character actor Finlay Currie turns up fleetingly as a condemning judge.

Amusing 1962 Michael Truman (Not surprisingly a former editor for Ealing Studios) British comedy-caper gets a lot of mileage out of a top cast, aside from dud lead King, who just doesn’t cut it in my opinion. Robert Morley (as a firebug scientist), Miles Malleson (as a fire truck salesman), and Daniel Massey (as the ‘pants man’ of the group) are especially funny, and for once the caper side of the equation holds up quite entertainingly.

It’s a small, inconsequential film, but quite a bit of fun. It holds up better than a lot of other British comedies of the period, especially those of the “Carry On” nature. The screenplay is by Patrick Campbell (“Law and Disorder”, “Lucky Jim”) and Vivienne Knight (“Law and Disorder”).

Rating: B-

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Raging Bull

The story of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), who was as raging in the ring as out, with a violent temper, massive insecurities, and insane jealousy that continually got the better of him and alienated those whom loved him best. Cathy Moriarty is his pretty young wife, whom he is viciously protective of, Joe Pesci is his long-suffering brother, and Frank Vincent gets the crap kicked out of him by Pesci for the first of their motion picture rivalries (continued in “Goodfellas” and “Casino”). Character actor Mario Gallo essentially gets the Mickey role from “Rocky”, and plays it well.

Unpleasant, but masterfully made and engrossing 1980 Martin Scorsese (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, “Goodfellas”, “Mean Streets”) biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta, an utterly repugnant character one is surprised to endure the company of for around two hours. We never like Jake, but thanks to Scorsese (whose choice of B&W photography was a masterstroke, giving the non-boxing scenes a sort of beautiful Golden Era feel and giving the boxing scenes a gritty, realistic look), and a powerhouse De Niro performance (which won him an Oscar, partly due to his massive weight gain, but mostly due to his excellent thesping), not to mention great turns by Pesci and Moriarty, we can’t look away.

The highlight is the much-imitated/lampooned scene where a majorly paranoid Jake accuses his one true ally of sleeping with his gorgeous young wife. The screenplay is by Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver”) and Mardik Martin (“Mean Streets”) from the autobiography by LaMotta himself, along with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. The utter repugnance of the main character keeps this from besting De Niro’s “The Deer Hunter”, but of the three big De Niro films (i.e. Not including either “Goodfellas”, or “The Untouchables” which may be his best films but he had supporting roles in them), this one’s certainly better than “Taxi Driver”, though I’d suggest De Niro’s performance in that film is actually the best De Niro performance of the three.

Brilliant cinematography by Michael Chapman (“The Fugitive”, 1978’s excellent “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), was Oscar nominated along with the film itself (controversially bested by “Ordinary People”), actors Pesci and Moriarty (in one of the finest debuts in cinematic history, if you ask me, showing a level of maturity that a debuting actress still in high school probably shouldn’t be able to achieve), Scorsese as director, and a nomination for Sound. The only wins were for De Niro and his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

Rating: B+

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Newsfront

The tale of several Aussie newsreel makers from the late 40s through to the 60s, especially focusing on hardworking and fiercely loyal, veteran cameraman Bill Hunter. Gerard Kennedy is his brother, who works for a rival company, after ‘selling out’ and heading for the United States, owners of the rival company. Angela Punch-McGregor is awful as the caricatured, conservative Catholic girl Hunter unhappily weds. Wendy Hughes is the co-worker he becomes involved with. Chris Haywood plays the relatively green, likeable camera assistant (who becomes Hunter’s sidekick/protégé of sorts), and Bryan Brown is also memorable as a left-leaning editor. Look out for former pop idol, one-hit wonder and former reality TV irritant Mark Holden late in the film, as a much less enthusiastic protégé/assistant.

Lauded 1978 Aussie drama from Phillip Noyce (“Rabbit-Proof Fence”, “Dead Calm”, “Blind Fury”) offers a pretty interesting, authentic tale of our newsreel filmmakers around the time television came to turn their world upside down (a lot of actual newsreel footage is used, and is the highlight of the film). Unfortunately, it forgets to populate this interesting material with suitably interesting characters, the film’s somewhat choppy, episodic approach makes it hard to latch on to any of the sketchily drawn figures (Hunter’s central character, meanwhile, is entirely uninteresting, despite the late actor’s best efforts). Hughes in particular, fares poorly, with an ill-defined part. And yet there are fine performances by Brown, and especially Haywood, who constantly steals scenes.

Worth a look (the Maitland flood segment towards the end is terrific), but strangely aloof, and a bit overrated over here in my opinion. The screenplay is by Noyce and the infamous Bob Ellis (Paul Cox’s “Cactus”, “A Man of Flowers”, “My First Wife”), from an idea by David Elfick and Philippe Mora (the eclectic director of “The Howling II & III”, “A Breed Apart”, “Communion”, and “Mad Dog Morgan”).

Rating: C+

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: True Grit

Set in the Old West, Hailee Steinfeld stars as the determined teenager Mattie, looking for revenge on the man who killed her father. The guilty man, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) has fled and is currently concealed within the posse of Lucky Ned Pepper (played by another Pepper, Barry). When the law seem reluctant to help, Mattie turns to hard drinkin’, hard livin’, one-eyed Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges- looking like Bad Blake just kept on drinkin’). Asking him to act as a bounty hunter, Rooster ain’t having any of it. Money soon changes his mind, however, and off they set (though Rooster tries to dissuade the girl from tagging along- to no avail), soon joined by determined Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). The latter is looking for Chaney over a political assassination and isn’t much keen on Rooster cutting in, let alone having to put up with a young girl! He’s a well-meaning (if cocky) and dedicated man, but you better not besmirch the good name of the Texas Rangers, or else! Dakin Mathews plays Col. Stonehill, a horse trader who tries to pull a swifty on Mattie (whom he apparently owes money to), who proves more than his match.

I’m not a Coen Brothers fan (outside of “The Big Lebowski” and “Intolerable Cruelty”), and the original 1969 western is one of the few major John Wayne movies I’ve never seen. The trailer, featuring the annoying Kim Darby was enough to turn me off, and I’ve just never gotten around to it. So I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like this 2010 remake at all, especially since I was underwhelmed by The Coens’ previous remake of the British comedy classic “The Ladykillers”. Thankfully, the Coen Brothers don’t bugger this remake up, as they eschew their usual weirdness (“Raising Arizona”) and unpleasantness (“Fargo”) and just tell the damn story. This is a good, solid western, no more, no less. It’s their most ‘normal’ film to date. I have no idea why westerns aren’t popular anymore, but this is definitely one of the better ones in recent decades. It’s a good, solid yarn, without really re-inventing the wheel. If you like westerns, you’ll like this one, no doubt about it.

Oscar-nominee Jeff Bridges isn’t as good here as he was in The Coen’s “Big Lebowski”, but he gives a really entertaining performance. He does a very smart thing by not imitating John Wayne. That would be suicidal. Instead, his gravel-voiced performance is more in line with Sam Elliott, James Gammon, or Slim Pickens, yet never just an imitation (Hell, 10-20 years ago the role could’ve gone to Kris Kristofferson). Some people have lamented that his dialogue is largely unintelligible. It’s true that he does adopt a very thick, gravelly voice and the dialogue is like “Deadwood” without much of the profanity, but I must say that I understood every word of it. That said, it’s probably a good thing that he and similarly deep-voiced Josh Brolin don’t share too many scenes together, one might’ve needed subtitles on occasion (They seem to share Michael Shannon disease at times, I’ll admit). The only problem with Bridges for me, is that he doesn’t sell the signature line ‘Throw your hands, you sonofabitch!’ as well as The Duke did, but perhaps that’s just a way to distance himself from that iconic performance. He does, however, have an hilarious scene where he keeps kicking a kid off a porch. Why? I don’t know, but it’s hilarious. Anyway, Bridges makes Rooster Cogburn an original, something completely uniquely Bridges, even if he doesn’t quite disappear into the role. He gives a wonderfully entertaining, bravura performance, at any rate, and I certainly couldn’t see The Duke having this much dialogue.

The entire cast seem to conjure up memories of great western character actors, without ever outright imitating them. The one amusing exception is Barry Pepper, who plays a role originally played by Robert Duvall, and has attempted to imitate Duvall’s vocal intonations. He does that very well indeed, but he also sounds like Harry Dean Stanton to me, and since he looks like Stanton too (and since I’ve not seen the original film) I’ve got to admit I initially thought he was doing a Harry Dean Stanton impersonation until after I read about it. It’s uncanny that he can seem to be imitating two different actors at the same time, but if you know those two actors, watch Pepper here and tell me he’s not doing both! Dakin Matthews, meanwhile, seems inspired by perennial western scumbag Strother Martin, in a small role (Indeed, I have since learned that Martin did have the role in the original). Pepper’s pretty good, but Josh Brolin is even better as the lead villain. His skin seems to have healed a bit since “Jonah Hex”, too. The only problem with them, and the only real problem with the film, is that neither Pepper nor Brolin are in the film nearly enough. They’re the villains, and we only get to see them in the final third. Personally, I think that’s too late, and that we should’ve cut to scenes with them sporadically throughout. In my view, any great western needs a strong villain, and neither Brolin nor Pepper are around enough to truly register as well as Bridges’ Cogburn. They’re good (Brolin is mean as hell), but could’ve been even better with more screen time. I actually really liked Pepper’s character, as he provides a far less menacing (and therefore different) antagonist than Brolin. In fact, I’m not entirely certain if Pepper even qualifies as a villain.

He might not be conventional casting, but Matt Damon is really good here as the straight-arrow counterpart (who isn’t as good as he thinks he is) to Rooster’s uncouth, trigger-happy marshal. A lot of people don’t like Matt Damon as an actor. Those people are insane. Keeping the old western references going, he reminds me a bit of dependable character actors like Earl Hindman or Neville Brand. There’s even a guy who wears a bearskin (and head!) who claims to be a dentist and doctor of sorts. I guess he has the role that would normally have gone to Dub Taylor, Jack Elam, or Elisha Cook Jr., back in the day. I’m not sure if young Hailee Steinfeld deserved her Oscar nomination here (Has she worked since?), but she’s nonetheless solid-as-a-rock in the Kim Darby role. She’s quite intelligent and mature for her age and stage in her career, at the very least. She’s certainly a lot less cloying and forced than many other child actors. An older version of the character serves as narrator for the film, and gave me a bit of a “To Kill a Mockingbird” vibe. Some might argue that Steinfeld should be more traumatised seeing such violence, but you could also argue that kids grew up fast in the Old West. It was a harsh time, probably harsher than Hollywood has ever allowed it to seem.

I have no idea whether this is anything like the John Wayne original (nor the original Charles Portis novel for that matter, which it apparently has more in common with), but I’d wager it’s a much darker and harsher film than this one (You wouldn’t guess that Steven Spielberg was EP, that’s for sure). Speaking of harsh, the end credits song by a bleating, nasal-voiced Iris Dement is irritating as Holy fuck. More like Iris Demented.

This isn’t a great film, but it’s a good, solid western in an era where few westerns of any level of merit are made. It’s even funny at times, though thankfully not the usual Coen Brothers brand of eccentricity that I find off-putting most times.

Rating: B-