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 12, 2012

Review: It! The Terror From Beyond Space

Marshall Thompson is the sole survivor of the first manned mission to Mars, and tells the crew who have rescued him, that his nine fellow crew members were killed by an alien. Kim Spalding, heading the rescue team, disbelieves Thompson, thinking that he himself killed everyone and wants him court-martialled. Not surprisingly, it turns out that Thompson was telling the truth, and the killer alien has snuck on board, ready to bump everyone off one-by-one, as was before.

1958 Edward L. Cahn (“The Creature with the Atom Brain”, “Girls in Prison” and countless other hacky projects) sci-fi movie was the inspiration for John Carpenter’s spoofy “Dark Star”, and more precisely, Ridley Scott’s popular “Alien”. I’m not much of a fan of “Alien” (“Dark Star” is an entirely different matter altogether), but I have to say, even that film is an improvement over this boring, poorly scripted affair.

The low-budget FX and sets are often criticised, but for me, they’re par for the course. It’s the script that is a complete and utter failure. In fact, hokey as the monster is, it’s a bit of fun, and its ‘Grrrr!’ sound FX are hilarious. The sound designer ought to have been shot for that. My only real problem with the creature design is that it looks remarkably similar to “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”. Tell me I’m wrong!

The characters are dull, the story is simplistic (for the most part, the monster just lurches around incompetently, not hurting anyone!), and the performances competent but charmless and unmemorable. I could barely tell any of the characters apart, let alone care about them. At least “Alien” had Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (though at least “It!” only runs for about 70 minutes, as opposed to just under 120 minutes with “Alien”).

The dialogue has a cornball, Eddie Haskell, 50s sitcom vibe to it. Some of the filmmaking aspects of the film are interesting, though, such as the direction and cinematography. The B&W cinematography by Kenneth Peach (“Battle at Bloody Beach”, Disney’s “The Incredible Journey”) uses much shadow to obscure an obviously low-tech alien design. In fact, Peach’s work sells this film far more than it deserves.

It’s flat, juvenile and dated. I know it’s a big deal for many people, but I just wasn’t impressed, I’m afraid. Maybe if you grew up on this it helps, but for me it’s kinda blah.

Rating: C

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Vampire’s Kiss

Nic Cage (making Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover seem restrained) stars as an a-hole yuppie NY literary agent who gets bitten by Jennifer Beals, a girl he picked up in a bar, who turns out to be a vampire. Now a creature of the night himself, he’s eating cockroaches, sexually assaulting his secretary Maria Conchita Alonso (that is, when he’s not already busy yelling at her supposed incompetence), and...actually, not acting all that different to usual, just with more frenzy. Elizabeth Ashley is his shrink, who doesn’t for a second believe he’s really a vampire. Is he really a vampire? Or has he just lost his mind?

Frankly, I didn’t care one way or the other. An unrestrained Nic Cage gives one of his worst performances (and eats a cockroach for real!) ever in this disastrously unfunny and unpleasant black comedy from 1989. Directed by Robert Bierman (“A Merry War”, with Helena Bonham-Carter) and scripted by Joseph Minion (Scorsese’s uneven “After Hours”), this is seriously one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my life. Like Francis Ford Coppola in “Peggy Sue Got Married”, Bierman allows Cage (in the second worst performance by an actor of all-time, behind his own later performance as a coked-up thug in “Deadfall”) to run riot with a whiny, nasal voice that ruined any scene he’s in (And don’t even get me started on the retarded plastic teeth). He makes it even more nauseating this time by affecting some kind of weird, snooty Valley girl accent (and Cage was in the terrible “Valley Girl”, of course) that makes him sound like a yuppie Derek Zoolander. He also exhibits the juvenile, repetitive histrionics of Ed Grimley, Tom Green, and Andy Kaufman. A lot of people probably like his vocal intonations, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, but I can only tolerate the guy when he removes most of them. When you combine that with the loathsome, misogynistic character he plays, I thusly found this film entirely insufferable.

Some have praised Cage for eating a real cockroach in this, but I think he’s a fucking idiot for doing that and everything else he does in this film. Casting the always offbeat Cage as a guy turned into a vampire was not a smart idea at all. Where’s the transition? Cage is always off his nut. Perhaps this is a completely deliberate performance that the director wanted from Cage (who is literally bug-eyed at one point), but it’s so unbelievably awful and mannered. Unfortunately, his seriously infantile performance infects the entire film. This is a world populated by arch, snooty characters that are in no way relatable, interesting or entertaining. The film keeps you at arm’s length, even if you can get beyond Cage’s possibly coke-inspired self-indulgence. Some actors need a strong director to rein them in. Nic Cage needs a whole team of psychiatrists, a straight jacket, and complete detoxification. Possibly an exorcist too.

I won’t lie, the film has admirable attributes. The music score by Colin Towns (“Getting it Right”, “Shadey”) is good, Elfman-esque comically macabre stuff mixed with an almost silent movie organ-vibe, and the cinematography by Stefan Czapsky (“Batman Returns”, “Ed Wood”) offers up a nice use of shadows. Meanwhile, Jennifer Beals has improved enough as an actress in recent years that she might’ve made something more of her role than she did here in 1989, but it’s a very silly role nonetheless that sees her coming in and out as though she’d been forgotten about. Elizabeth Ashley tries her best under stupid circumstances, but is hamstrung by a dull role (She was never very good at choosing scripts, as anyone who saw “Windows” knows). Both actresses are beautiful and underrated, but deserve a lot better than this.

Maria Conchita Alonso, one of the worst actresses of all-time, is as usual, terrible. How did she manage to get so much work in the 80s on zero talent? Her and Valeria Golino...I just never ‘got’ them.

There’s not a single laugh in this film, and outside of the spectacle of seeing one of the worst performances of all-time in a film of equal ineptitude, not a damn reason to see this film. Some might like the idea of a vampire as neurotic yuppie. Those people are idiots. Run way from them. If you love Nic Cage, this is probably your idea of a lark, for me it was torture.

Rating: F

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

WWE Roster Cuts I'd Wholeheartedly Support:

With the release of Goldust recently, the WWE’s annual clean-up may be on its way, and whilst I’m a little worried about some of the potential heads on the chopping block (Tyson Kidd, Trent Barreta, Yoshi Tatsu, Drew McIntyre, Derek Bateman, Percy Watson, etc. Maybe even some bigger names to make way for the new talent coming in) here are 10 potential cuts that I could absolutely get behind:

10. Tyler Reks- For me, this guy was a lost cause from the moment he first spoke after his re-introduction as a monster heel. His voice doesn't match his imposing look. Not bad in the ring (probably because he’s smaller than most ‘monsters’), but he's expendable, especially as a heel. Can they get rid of this guy and bring back Mike Knox, Festus, or even Vladimir Kozlov instead? None of those guys were really fairly treated, if you ask me.

9. Ted DiBiase- They've tried everything with Ted; heel, face, rich brat, rich...

um...guy, posse parties, etc. None of it has worked. He's got no personality or charisma, and his ring work isn't dynamic or memorable enough to compensate. He's got nothing and it's time for him to be cut loose, third generation star or not. I have no idea what tailgating is, but no matter how hard the commentators try, I ain't buying into these posse parties at all. And we all thought Cody Rhodes was the weak link in Legacy...

8. Sin Cara- A failed experiment, too much hassle, fire him, or at least fire Mistico and put Hunico back in the mask. Sure, Hunico botched too, but not as often, and he has proven to be a damn good wrestler. Mistico (at least in the WWE) sucks. He's so botch-o-rific that even if he gets released, he'll botch it and they'll have to repeat it twice. And that means Hunico will get released too. Triple H’s pride is the only thing that has kept Mistico on the roster this long.

7. Michael McGillicutty- The name is bad enough, but the fact that he has so little of his father's skills or charisma suggests he doesn't even deserve to use the Hennig name. Turning him heel has NOT worked at all, but I didn't see much charisma from him as a face on NXT, either. Waste of space and a terrible actor as well...unless he’s trying to look like Will Ferrell throwing a temper tantrum whilst attempting to empty his bowels. Is that what he’ going for?

6. Alicia Fox- The most dangerous worker on the entire roster, I'm surprised she's lasted this long. Seems sweet and all, but absolutely shocking on the mic. Fire her and let her be an ‘Undefined’ Diva's Champ somewhere else.

5. Jinder Mahal- The Nikolai Volkoff/Iron Sheik of the modern era just hasn't worked. Cutting promos almost entirely in a foreign language whilst not having a manager/

interpreter doesn't help, but the fact is, he's boring, has an odd physique (tall, but too skinny and sinewy to be a monster heel), and not all that great in the ring. He's got no place on the roster in 2012. I'd fire his arse.

4. Heath Slater- Yes he's a better in-ring talent than when he first started, but he's still the most useless and unwatchable guy on the roster. I know heels are meant to be annoying, but this guy makes me want to change the channel. And what does being a One Man Southern Rock Band have to do with wrestling anyway? The Kid Rock hat helps a bit, but then the commentators throw in names like Axl Rose, and it's like WTF? Confusing character, crap talent. Fire his ginger arse. It's bad enough they already have him a three time tag champ. That (and his relative youth) might be the one and only reason why they keep him around over some of these other lost causes.

3. Mason Ryan- The striking resemblance to Batista (even his theme music!) was fun at first, but the guy isn't much of a wrestler and looks positively goofy, one

of the worst actors I've ever seen. Even Dolph Ziggler hasn't been able to carry the guy to a decent match. What does that tell you?

2. The Great Khali- I've never been a fan, but this former World Champ can't move and his only asset is his size, which hasn't been relevant in years because all he does is beat comedy/undercard heels and get beaten down by mid/main event heels needing cheap heat. That act is getting old, Big Zeke has that job now anyway so Khali is expendable. Is the Indian demographic really that vital to WWE?

1. JTG- Jimmy the Gimmick's gotta go. Nothing about him has evolved in the far too many years he's been in the biz. No one will miss him, many likely don't even realise he's still on the roster. Sorry, but Hammer Time ended with the 90s, you’re no longer of any use.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Day of the Dead

Progressing on from “Dawn of the Dead”, zombies now outweigh humans 400,000:1. Our setting is a giant underground facility, our protagonists the various military and scientific personnel living there. Scientist Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) is attempting to find out what causes the dead to rise again as zombies. He hopes this will lead to an eventual domestication of zombies, but the doctor himself is showing signs of mental unbalance, leaving one to question his rational thinking as it relates to his work. He has a zombie guinea pig of-sorts (Howard Sherman), and while he conducts experiments on/with the zombie, and acts increasingly loopy, military hard-arse Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato) and several of the overworked men at the base start to question the point of this research, let alone their orders to protect the scientists doing the research. Things seem ready to boil over from the inside, let alone having to worry about the zombie horde above ground, ready to invade. Lori Cardille (whose dad had a role as a newscaster in “Night of the Living Dead”) plays another scientist, one of the more level-headed characters in the film, along with Terry Alexander and Jarlath Conroy as Jamaican chopper pilot John (happy to not ask questions or worry about facts or data), and hard-drinkin’ techie McDermott, respectively. G. Howard Klar plays one of the more disruptive military goons, whilst a young Greg Nicotero plays another guy at the base.

Nothing in the world of zombie horror is ever going to touch the brilliance of George Romero’s first two zombie flicks “Night of the Living Dead” and especially “Dawn of the Dead”. The fact that this 1985 third entry into Romero’s “Dead” series is one of the best zombie movies ever made says more about how crap most other zombie movies are than it does about how good this film is. It doesn’t entirely come off, but at least Romero has taken the series to a logical and relatively interesting third stage. It’s certainly better than writer-director Romero’s later “Diary of the Dead”.

The first film was all-out horror, the second combined an apocalyptic zombie scenario with large helpings of gory action and social satire. This one scales things back on just about every level, and is much more of a contemplative, dialogue-driven film. The cast handles this in uneven fashion, but lead actress Lori Cardille is a better actor than anyone from “Dawn” not named Ken Foree, whilst Joe Pilato is luckily a decent actor because he gets most of the long speeches. Despite an exaggerated accent, Terry Alexander meanwhile, plays easily the most interesting character, along with Jarlath Conroy as the token drunk. Bringing up the rear easily is a frothing-at-the-mouth G. Howard Klar, who is terrible.

The pace is slower and the action isn’t plentiful enough, but for my money the only real problem with this film concerns some seriously stupid human behaviour throughout. The worst example being what Richard Liberty’s character is doing throughout the film. It’s stupid, dangerous, and ultimately somewhat pointless. I’m a pacifist, but I honestly didn’t see any point in trying to fix things so man and zombie could peacefully co-exist. Interesting, perhaps, but stupid. So that kinda took me out of the film more than I would’ve liked, because although the way Liberty’s character is portrayed in the film eventually shifts, it’s a dopey bit of character behaviour that still takes up too much time. Fix that and the pacing, and I’ve honestly got nothing to complain about, really.

We start off with a really strong opening that suggests a natural progression of the story since “Dawn”. The Carpenter-esque throbbing synth score by John Harrison is good, too. The makeup by Tom Savini has had a technical upgrade since “Dawn”, but I have to admit the rawness of the FX work in that film was part of its charm. It’s the kind of film I love to watch because it makes me want to get out there and do it, too. It seemed like fun. This doesn’t have that same sense of zany fun, but that is necessitated by the story, really, which deals with an even more dire situation for humanity. It’s still pretty damn gory, even by this series’ standards, so if you like your Tom Savini gore, he serves up quite a bit for you, if not quite frequently enough throughout the film. I certainly don’t think the supposed budget restraints really had a negative impact on the film, at least not as it relates to gore or makeup. Look out for a seriously young-looking Greg Nicotero, who thankfully only has an acting capacity here, as I tend to find KNB EFX to be phony-looking and CGI-oriented. **** SPOILER WARNING **** Also look out for his disembodied head in one surprisingly decent bit of animatronics by 1985 standards. **** END SPOILER ****.

It’s an interesting film, but lesser than its predecessors. It’s not great. It’s too talky and some of the plot elements are silly. Underrated by some, overrated by others, at least it’s not dull.

Rating: B-

Monday, May 7, 2012

10 Best Hitchcockian movies

10 Best Hitchcockian movies...that Hitchcock didn't make

My lists seem to attract more readers than my reviews thus far, so being the generous (i.e. Needy and insecure) guy I am, I present to you the 10 best Hitchcockian movies that Hitchcock himself didn't make (but probably wishes he did). I'm sure you can think of heaps more (I nearly went with "Ministry of Fear" instead of "The Vicious Circle") so feel free to mention your own favourites. Except the "Psycho" remake, mention that and you'll be barred from this blog forever. OK, I probably can't do that, but let's just pretend that film never existed, OK?

1. Peeping Tom- Released the same year as Hitchcock's infamous "Psycho", this favourite of film buffs is yet another tale of a sexually messed-up serial killer, and it's roughly as good as the Hitchcock film. Karl Boehm plays the deeply troubled and sensitive photographer (mostly nudie stills) who uses his camera's tripod as a weapon in killing women and photographing them at the moment of their death. Anna Massey is the poor neighbour who chooses the wrong guy to try and be neighbourly with. One of the strengths of this film is that Boehm is actually more sympathetic than Anthony Perkins in "Psycho", you actually pity this poor chap, and then you find yourself shocked that you pity him. Boehm is that good. Look out for a disturbing and self-reflexive cameo by director Michael Powell himself, as Boehm's father. Catch this cult item if you can, it's stellar, and you'll swear it was the work of The Master.

2. The Talented Mr. Ripley- Now this tale of a murderer and con artist has Hitchcock running through its veins. It's adapted from a book by the author of Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" (his best film) and shares many similarities including a dash of homoeroticism, then you've got typical Hitchcock blondes in Gwyneth Paltrow (who also starred in the unofficial remake of "Dial M for Murder", called "A Perfect Murder") and Cate Blanchett (who essentially has a Barbara Bel Geddes type role), there's also a nosy detective standing in for the late John Williams, who played such roles in Hitchcock films, and there's even a murder eerily similar to a murder in Hitchcock's lesser "Young and Innocent". The film even succeeds in getting the audience to somewhat sympathise with a killer, something Hitchcock did in both "Strangers on a Train" and "Psycho", albeit here it's throughout the film, instead of just a scene or two (The lighter scene in "Strangers", the car that won't sink in "Psycho"). Movies don't get any more Hitchcockian than this, unless they're actually directed by Hitchcock himself. And the beachside Italian setting could even remind some of the French Riviera setting in "To Catch a Thief". Aside from all the Hitchcockian touches, it's just an amazingly effective portrait of a sociopath that doesn't rip-off Hitchcock, merely steeping itself in Hitchcockian influences.

3. Foul Play- Truth be told, this 1978 film is more of a Hitchcock parody than a Hitchcockian film, and indeed critics like Leonard Maltin clearly didn't get the joke when giving the film a lukewarm review and citing 'plagiarism'. It's a lot of fun, especially if you know your Hitchcock and have a sense of humour. Actually, some of the biggest laughs- particularly in scenes involving horny Dudley Moore, kung-fu fighting Burgess Meredith, and hapless Billy Barty- have nothing Hitchcockian about them at all. The plot, involving an 'innocent woman' (as opposed to the 'wrong man' of "The 39 Steps"), a MacGuffin (i.e. something Goldie Hawn- who is blonde, importantly- unwittingly has that the baddies are after) and papal assassination brings to mind both "Notorious" and the two versions of "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Chevy Chase gets the Cary Grant role, which is ironic given Chase's notorious (haha) remarks about Grant's supposed sexual preferences. Take note of the scene where Grant says to Hawn 'Now drink your milk', clearly a reference to Hitch's "Suspicion".

4. Mirage- Just as in Hitchcock's "Spellbound", Gregory Peck plays an amnesiac in this underrated 1965 mystery/thriller, but the Hitchcock similarities/allusions don't end there. Not only is there a large role for "Marnie" co-star Diane Baker, not only is there a MacGuffin (Made difficult by the fact that Peck doesn't remember what it is the baddies could be after), but the film's plot also brings to mind Hitchcock thrillers like "Foreign Correspondent", "Notorious", and "North By Northwest" much more strongly than any connection to "Spellbound". A wonderfully twisty puzzle, and a must for Gregory Peck fans. Look for Walter Matthau, stealing the show as a private dick helping Peck.

5. Panic Room- If Alfred Hitchcock had lived longer I reckon he would've loved the heck out of this David Fincher film, which mixes white-knuckle suspense, a MacGuffin, and an interesting trio of villains. The Hitchcock vibes are felt immediately, with the combo of a memorable Howard Shore score and title design clearly influenced by "North by Northwest". But it's the plot that really screams Hitchcock to me. It's gimmicky fun as mum and daughter (Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart) have their home invaded by a trio of would-be robbers who are looking for something that happens to be hidden inside the house's security measure called a Panic Room, the very same room Foster and Stewart conceal themselves in when they are awoken by the sounds of the intruders! Talk about ironic. One of the men (played by Forest Whitaker) is an expert in installing such secure rooms, adding to the tension even more. The brilliant camerawork by Conrad Hall is also something I'm sure Hitchcock would've enjoyed, as it moves all around the house, keeping the audience unnerved. It's a thrill-ride in the best Hitchcockian tradition.

6.  23 Paces to Baker Street- For my money, this is "Rear Window" done right (There's also a bit of "Sorry, Wrong Number" to it). I never understood the appeal of spending 2 hours watching Jimmy Stewart watching other people. Here you've got blind American author Van Johnson (who even sounds a bit like 'ol Jimmy) staying in London and overhearing what he believes to be a kidnapping plot. He's determined to stop it, but that's easier said than done when police clearly aren't going to take the word of a blind man! Although the climax resembles "Rear Window" a little too strongly perhaps, it's nonetheless a superior effort and a damn fine mystery-thriller in its own right. Cold fish Vera Miles (from Hitchcock's "Psycho" and "The Wrong Man") is no compensation for Grace Kelly, though Cecil Parker does a damn fine Thelma Ritter as Van Johnson's secretary.

7. Roadgames- Another case of "Rear Window" done right, this 1981 Aussie thriller from the always Hitchcockian Richard Franklin has Stacy Keach play a trucker on a long haul who sees a van driver doing something suspicious, and thinks it might have something to do with the string of murders of hitch-hikers he's heard about on the radio. Jamie Lee Curtis plays a hitch-hiker whom Keach gave a lift to earlier, and who may or may not have seen getting into the van. Taking the general concept on the open road (and adding a bit of "Duel") might make it tough for some to see the "Rear Window" connection at all, but it's definitely there, it's just that Keach is a voyeur in a moving vehicle, instead of being stuck in an apartment. And Franklin's a student of Hitch, not a rip-off merchant like Brian De Palma. Although he's mostly sitting in his truck, the opening up of the concept for me improves things considerably, and thankfully the film is much more focused on Keach (no Jimmy Stewart, but he'll do) than anything/anyone he's spying on.

8. Sorry, Wrong Number- Show this to someone who has never seen it, and I reckon many would be surprised that this 1948 film wasn't directed by Hitchcock. The plot is pure Hitch- Barbara Stanwyck plays a bedridden woman who, through crossed telephone wires, overhears what she believes is a plot to kill her! Stanwyck is brilliant in a well-cast film, opposite Burt Lancaster as her wuss of a husband, an excellent Ed Begley as her dad, and a frightening William 'The Fatman' Conrad in an important part. Terrific ending would've had The Master grinning from ear to ear in a gimmicky thriller that would've been right up his alley, you'd think.

9. 10 Rillington Place- A mixture of true crime and Hitchcock's later "Frenzy", this 1971 flick would've made a great double bill with the aforementioned film. It casts loveable Richard Attenborough as a peculiar sexual psychopath landlord, with John Hurt (whose character should’ve been named ‘Thick Kevin’) and Judy Geeson his hapless, ne'er do well borders. Attenborough is quietly creepy and the film is extremely effective.

10. The Vicious Circle- John Mills stars in this 'innocent man' flick that wouldn't look too out of place alongside "The 39 Steps". It doesn't have The Master's fine touch (the director here is a "Carry On" veteran) or sense of humour, but it's compulsive viewing, with great work by John Mills, Roland Culver, and Wilfrid Hyde-White. Mills is asked by an American film producer he's supposedly acquainted with, to meet a German actress at the airport. He does so, and then goes off to meet his family at the opera. When he comes back to his flat, the actress' dead body is on the floor, and when he calls Scotland Yard inspector Culver, he's horrified to find that the finger is pointed at him! He somehow has the murder weapon on him, his alibi falls through, and it seems someone is setting him up. But who?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review: Grand Canyon

A bunch of often barely connected characters lament the crime-ridden, frightening, and seemingly hopeless state of society in modern L.A., whilst undergoing potentially life-changing events. Kevin Kline is an immigration lawyer whose car breaks down in the last place in L.A. you want that to happen. The appearance of African-American tow-truck driver Danny Glover saves him from being another victim of gangland thugs, and Kline spends much of the rest of the film trying to come to terms with this stranger having saved him from a possible horrible fate. Meanwhile, he’s having an affair with his secretary, a very lonely and unfulfilled Mary-Louise Parker. Kline’s wife Mary McDonnell is failing to make sense of the violent times she’s living in, and also struggling to deal with the fact that her teen son (Jeremy Sisto) is going away to summer camp, and eventually will fly the coop indefinitely. A chance discovery of an abandoned, crying baby in some bushes appears to fill some of the void, though she rationalises it as more having a duty to take care of an abandoned child than anything else. Steve Martin is a cynical producer of ultra-violent films, whose up close and personal experience with real violence has him considering a change of heart and career. Glover (who is missing his deaf daughter, who doesn’t live near him), for his part, is struggling to get through to his nephew (Patrick Malone), who is becoming increasingly involved in street gangs, much to the anguish of his mother (Tina Lifford). Alfre Woodard plays a friend of Parker’s whom Kline arranges a blind date with widowed Glover.

Although it also stands as a forerunner to multi-character societal dramas like “Crash” and “Magnolia”, this 1991 film from Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”) actually had me thinking of “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz ‘N the Hood” instead. In fact, watching this interesting, but foolish and dated film, I couldn’t help but wonder what Spike Lee and John Singleton might’ve made of this midlife crisis film masquerading as an urban uneasiness social commentary. My guess (and it’s without any knowledge whatsoever) is that they deride it for focussing on the wrong side of the fence. I mean, who wants to see a film about white yuppies complaining about how their lives are empty and that urban (i.e. Ethnic, in this film’s worldview) gangs are turning everything to shit. I’m not suggesting that Kasdan and his co-writer/wife Meg are telling any falsehoods here (though Martin’s movie producer who momentarily sees the light is a tired and half-arsed point to be making), nor that the film is dull, though it’s not especially good either. Indeed, the acting is far too good for it to be unwatchable, with particularly fine work by Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, and a mostly serious Steve Martin. Hell, even the usually annoying Mary McDonnell and a surprisingly hot Mary-Louise Parker do some of their best work. It’s just that the film’s POV (which Kasdan has every right to have, no matter what) is an awfully hard sell, especially given the time in which the film was released. Hell, it also brings up bad memories of “Bonfire of the Vanities”, which started with a scene involving white yuppies having car trouble in a predominantly African-American, crime-ridden neighbourhood. That film, awful as it was (and it sure was!), at least attempted a humorous take on the situation, no such luck with Kasdan. He genuinely seems to think he’s onto something profound here about the need for connection, and he just isn’t. I mean, the real story is in the gang violence, but that’s a subplot here in a film where a mother attempting to compensate for the impending departure of her teen son (and a stagnant marriage) by taking someone else’s baby as a surrogate is seen as the bigger deal. Oh, I’m sooo sad because my son is away at summer camp and soon he’ll be away for good...I’m sooo depressed. Yeah, whatever, yuppie (The characters are probably more upper-middle class, with Glover closer to working class, but Martin’s character is surely fairly affluent before his injury). Try living a life that every day seems like it could be ended by gunshots.

Things become especially absurd (and vaguely offensive) when McDonnell’s decision to adopt the baby comes out of the possibly imagined ramblings of a homeless person McDonnell jogs past one morning. I’m not effing kidding, folks. In Kasdan’s world, hobos dispense sage advice to the affluent! And don’t even get me started on the so-called office affair between Kline and Parker. It’s so horribly and cowardly handled by Kasdan that there is only ever one discretion and it occurs before the film even begins, so as not to make Kline out to be a selfish bastard. A tacked-on happy ending for the Parker character is just that, tacked-on. It’s handled with such a complete lack of balls (maybe Mrs. Kasdan wrote it?) that it ends up being practically superfluous, despite Kline’s fine effort (Even when playing a scoundrel, Kline is always likeable to some extent). The Mary McDonnell character, meanwhile, is written in such a way that makes her frankly self-absorbed and, on-paper unlikeable, despite McDonnell actually giving a very likeable performance. I could also suggest the subplot involving Martin’s character transformation ends up rather pointless, but I’ll give Kasdan the benefit of the doubt there, because it was always obvious that Martin was a somewhat soulless, cynical character unlikely to ever truly change. I will give Kasdan credit, though, for the scene where Kline sets up Glover on a blind date with Parker’s co-worker Woodard, whom he doesn’t actually know. Parker and Woodard exchange rather amused looks, and then in a scene later on, Woodard and Glover remark that Kline set this up probably because they’re the only two black people he knows. At least Kasdan’s honest enough to be critical (albeit gently) of Kline’s rather silly, if well-meaning presumption (‘Hey, you two are black and single, I bet you’d like each other!’). I’m not going to suggest that Kasdan only knows two black people, but I have to admit that I’m chuckling at the possible irony nonetheless. I also should point out that it’s the only moment of dialogue in the entire film that felt natural and organic. Everything else that the characters say in this film is all too clearly the words of the screenwriters, and not said in any organic way possible. Even the gangbangers are amateur philosophers for cryin’ out loud and it begins to feel like the characters have no real flesh and blood to them.

Meanwhile, there’s so much going on in this film that it feels over-stuffed and frankly a little too hyperbolic- traffic chaos, earthquakes (at least “Magnolia” saved the apocalypse for the end), heart attacks, violent car-jackings, even more violent drive-by’s, marital infidelity, missing babies, and a last-minute trip to the Grand Canyon. It’s too much, like Kasdan had put all this stuff in one film to make it somehow all seem more important than it really is.

Look, this is Kasdan’s POV, and it’s not like he can really tell it from an African-American POV with absolute certainty and insight, if this is really his POV. In fact, the character played by Danny Glover, comes off as one of the most interesting in the entire film, it’s only in his dealings with Kline that things feel pat, contrived, and a little out of Kasdan’s depth. Kasdan actually makes a few decent points here and there, including a memorable visit to Tina Lifford from an insurance salesman, and a line from Malone about his mortality that is equally disheartening (Although this whole subplot with Glover’s nephew and sister feels like it belongs in its own, far more fleshed-out film. The title “Boyz ‘N the Hood” springs to mind for some reason...not sure why). But with all the films that dealt with modern life and race relations, etc. in the late 80s and early 90s, this one has become pretty much obsolete. Just ‘coz yuppies probably have a thing or two to say about gang violence and modern society too, doesn’t mean we get any benefit or enlightenment from a film about it. Pretentious dialogue doesn’t help, but the performances are worthy. Terrible ending, trying for happiness and tidiness where there isn’t really any call for it, with Kline in particular getting off way to easy.

Rating: C+