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, June 2, 2012

Review: Silent Rage

Small town sheriff Chuck Norris takes down a psycho killer (Brian Libby), but a mad scientist (an overacting Steven Keats) at a private clinic, decides to use the psycho as a guinea pig to test an experimental new drug that apparently has great healing powers. But wouldn’t ‘ya know it, the nutjob escapes, and hey, now he’s damn-near indestructible! Ron Silver plays a doctor with more scruples than Keats and his colleague William Finley, meanwhile Toni Kalem plays Silver’s sister who is also the love interest for Norris (who otherwise has very little reason for being in this story anyway, outside of having shot the nutter in the beginning). Stephen Furst is Norris’ soft-bellied, soft-headed deputy, AKA Mr. Light Comedy Relief.

Cheap, incompetently written 1982 Michael Miller (“Jackson County Jail”, “National Lampoon’s Class Reunion”) vehicle for karate dude Norris never for a second tries to make it’s stupid plot the slightest bit believable (And what kind of doctors were Silver, Keats and their buddies? I never quite figured it out). It also throws in a fight at a diner for no reason outside of giving Norris some people to beat up. And even the action isn’t all that exciting.

If it weren’t for the presence of some competent co-stars and familiar faces (notably Furst who despite a crap role, plays as directed, and a young Silver, who actually isn’t all that great here), this would be among the worst action films of the era. Keats, meanwhile, nearly gives Norris a run for his money in the bad acting stakes (no mean feat, as I’ve never found Norris to exhibit the slightest bit of thesping ability and I’ve seen a lot of his films).

Rating: D

Review: Ned Kelly

An account of famed Aussie bushranger/anti-hero Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger, with facial hair that makes him look like he ought to stick to barn raising), a petty Irish thief returned to his family (who immigrated to Australia) after three years in prison. Constant battles with the corrupt lawmen see Ned’s poor mum thrown in the clink as payback, and that sets Ned and his brothers (previously just horse thieves and petty crims) right off on a life of robbery and murder, now feeling persecuted by an unjust, British-ruled society. This of course, makes Ned and his gang folk heroes among the lower-class, anti-authority elements of society. Frank Thring turns up at the end as a judge.

Excellent-looking, but confused and rather uninteresting 1970 Tony Richardson (“The Entertainer”, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”) biopic is typical for a film about an Australian subject made by a foreign filmmaker. Richardson sees the story of the Kelly gang as a typical Hollywood western, complete with totally inappropriate (and really quite bad) country-folk songs written by someone named Shel Silverstein, and sung (terribly) by country star Waylon Jennings (a long way from “The Dukes of Hazzard” in terms of quality of the music). The Yanks seemed to find these songs to be the best thing in the film (and perhaps the film will play better to international audiences not as close to the story), but to us Aussies, it’s a bit ‘on the nose’, to say the least.

It has some decent moments, but overall it just doesn’t work, including the hard-working but far too diminutive Jagger in the lead role. As a musical performer, the man is all swagger and dynamic stage presence. Here in a filmic world, he’s somewhat amiable but bland, and far, far too short for the role. Not surprisingly, his best moment in the film is when he churns out that old fave ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’. Why didn’t they get Jagger to contribute more songs to the film’s soundtrack? He may not be an Aussie (but then, most of our population during that period was British or Irish), but he’s a helluva lot closer to one than Waylon Freakin’ Jennings!

Excellent cinematography by Gerry Fisher (“The Offence”, “Highlander”), and some nice period detail, but this is an interesting failure at best, and well, not even all that interesting actually. And there’s practically nothing distinctly Aussie about it, aside from appearances by stalwarts Peter Sumner and Diane Craig. With a somewhat sanitised screenplay by Ian Jones (“The Lighthorsemen”) and the director, even a late cameo by the inimitable Frank Thring can’t perk things up much.

Dare I suggest I got little satisfaction out of this dour, wrong-headed film? Oh well, you can’t always get what you want. Oops. Sorry.

Rating: C

Review: Road Train

Youngsters on an outback camping trip (lovers Sophie Lowe and Bob Morley, and their squabbling friends Xavier Samuel and Georgina Haig) are run off the road by a huge truck, AKA a Road Train. In all of the chaos, Morley becomes badly injured, and so they decide to confront the truckie, who seems to have stopped. When they get there, the truck appears to be abandoned, however. The film only gets weirder from there, as the four protagonists soon realise that this is no ordinary truck, but a sinister, possibly supernatural entity that will proceed to mess with their minds. David Argue turns up as the nutjob truck driver.

I’m usually the guy lamenting the lack of Aussie genre movies out there and praising them when one comes along. But here’s one you can definitely skip. I guess not all of these Aussie genre films are going to be winners, but by all means, keep ‘em coming. This 2010 directorial debut from Dean Francis and writer Clive Hopkins tries to blend “Duel” (which of course was Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut) with something in-between a somewhat supernatural horror flick and a mind fuck flick, and the blend is not a smooth or satisfying one at all. It’s actually pretty dull, and that surprises me a bit because it has two of Australia’s most lauded up-and-coming talents (Xavier Samuel, Sophie Lowe) in addition to a former soapie heartthrob (Bob Morley). Then again, the most highly touted of the actors (Critic’s darling Lowe) for me is the weakest of the bunch, with Xavier Samuel easily the best of the lot, followed by Georgina Haig. Morley has a blokey charisma to him (and it wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes a star in the vein of a Vin Diesel or Keanu Reeves), but isn’t very well-served by the silly script. I think everyone just loves Lowe because she has a young Sissy Spacek look to her, she’s an OK actress at best. Oh well, at least this film answers the question of whatever happened to David Argue from “Razorback”. He’s here in an utterly worthless cameo with a not very convincing foreign accent.

It’s a good-looking film with great shot composition, but an overly familiar story, although at least it moves relatively swiftly in the setup (especially for a film that doesn’t really end up going very far). Director Francis works his butt off to ratchet up the tension, but to no avail. He’s fond of long tracking shots of the outside of the truck, but the truck in “Duel” was far scarier. I also didn’t appreciate the trippy, time-lapse stuff either, I’ve never been a fan of that sort of thing.

None of the characters are especially interesting (save for maybe Haig’s), and it comes off like a dull 70s/80s Ozploitation film (Especially those cheesy shots of red-eyed German Shepherds). I didn’t enjoy it much.

BTW, does anyone really use the term ‘Road Train’ to describe a truck? I’ve honestly never heard the term before in my life but apparently it’s a very Aussie term.

Rating: C

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Celebrity: Dominick Dunne

2008 Australian doco from directors Kirsty de Garis and Timothy Jolley probably works best for those more intimately familiar with the career of Dominick Dunne than I am. I’ve heard of him, could pick him out of a line-up (you’ll know him by sight if not name), but wasn’t really aware of what his occupation was. I had the impression that he was one of those red carpet reporters, but although this film sets me straight on that error, it doesn’t really make it clear just how he fell into his numerous professions. It doesn’t go into enough detail as to how Dunne went from soldier to film producer, to fiction writer, to Vanity Fair writer covering mostly celebrity trials (OJ, Phil Spector, etc.). The latter transition is somewhat easy to understand- his beloved daughter Dominique was murdered and he attended the trial, but how does a celebrity-schmoozing, failed producer end up a writer? The transition isn’t adequately explained, and these missing details prevented me from really getting into this often fascinating portrait of a deeply, deeply troubled and unhappy man.

Dunne gives much of himself for the filmmakers here. He doesn’t paint himself as a saint, he’s a selfish, depressing SOB from start to finish, and even son Griffin (the talking corpse from “An American Werewolf in London”) seems to have a somewhat emotionally ‘distant’ relationship with him. But he’s a damn good talker, has a lot of fascinating stories to tell, and makes for an interesting subject to spend 90 or so minutes with.

But just beneath the surface of ‘star fucking’ is a man who has slowly come to realise that he has completely neglected his family, screwed up relationships, and there’s a deep sadness within him.

One question: Why is this True Hollywood Story being told by a couple of Aussies? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?...Bueller?

Rating: B-

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: The Blood Brothers

Aimless small-time bandits David Chiang and Chen Kuan Tai bond with a more upscale bandit (Ti Lung), who later remembers and the duo (and Cheng Li, Chen’s wife, whom he has a tentative affair with) when the ambitious man becomes a top general in the Qing army. But as Lung becomes more and more ambitious, his relationship with his two ‘blood brothers’ and love for Cheng Li becomes increasingly complicated, and something has to give.

Colourful 1973 Cheh Chang (or Che Zhang) martial-arts saga for the Shaw Brothers plays like “House of Flying Daggers” done three decades before. Ti Lung (whom you might recall as one of the leads in “A Better Tomorrow” from 1986) is particularly good, but some of the other performances are a bit spotty, with the romantic subplot a tad melodramatic (as it tends to be these days as well, in films like “Flying Daggers” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). But who cares, when the martial arts is so good and the film so attractive and effectively staged (especially for the time it was made)?

The screenplay is by the talented Ni Kuang, scribe of the bizarro superhero film “Infra-Man”, the slightly fantastical martial arts film “The Magic Blade” and the just plain awesome “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”. This isn’t the equal of “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”, but nonetheless it’s a must for fans of this kind of thing..

Rating: B-

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Khartoum

Set in 1885, with the Sudan (populated not only by Sudanese, but Egyptians and Europeans) under attack from a Muslim fundamentalist who calls himself the Mahdi (Lord Laurence Olivier, with a clipped, quite believable accent). Prime Minister Gladstone (Sir Ralph Richardson), wanting to look concerned for his Egyptian allies, but not wanting to commit British forces to what will likely be yet another failure (the Mahdi has already embarrassed a British Colonel’s forces in the opening scenes), decides to send egocentric, bible-thumping, Idealistic General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon (Charlton Heston) and aide Richard Johnson, on a mission to try and convince the Mahdi not to attack Khartoum, in the Sudan. Gordon, who is credited with having ended slavery in the Sudan, and the hero of the opium wars (hence his nickname), has no intentions of evacuating Khartoum, instead he tries to force Britain’s hand by staying put in Khartoum. But with the Mahdi totally dedicated to wiping out his enemy, and no official military support forthcoming, how long can Gordon keep this up? Johnny Sekka plays Gordon’s Sudanese friend and servant, who is not a slave, but a free man who stays with Gordon out of devotion. Nigel Green is solid as a well-meaning, but powerless General used by the PM to convince Gordon that British forces are coming to help.

Two top stars do fine work in this interesting, still potent 1966 Basil Dearden (“Dead of Night”, “Victim”) epic, which might even play better today, in our complicated, post 9/11 world. Adopting a very slight English accent, Heston gives one of the finest performances of his career, playing one of his most interesting characters (He’s a long way from the gun-totin’ Conservative he would later become, playing an idealist, albeit a God-fearing one). Olivier, meanwhile, does the unthinkable, despite his hammy tendencies (he can often go too far with an accent, for instance, as in “The Boys From Brazil”) and blackface, he never once goes over-the-top and gives a genuinely convincing, enjoyable performance as a sort of Osama Bin Laden for the 19th Century. In fact, the one flaw in this otherwise intelligent and fascinating film is that Olivier’s character just isn’t in it enough.

Terrific, scene-stealing performance by Richardson (whose character is entirely despicable, totally spineless), and a rock-solid one by Richard Johnson as well. Definitely underrated and deserving of rediscovery, but be warned, this is a more dialogue-oriented Historical epic. It’s certainly a must for Heston fans, as his performance is really tops. Robert Ardrey (the also underrated biopic “Song of Love” with Katharine Hepburn, Robert Walker, and Henry Daniell) was deservedly Oscar nominated for his screenplay.

Rating: B-