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 16, 2012

Review: Stolen Lives

Jon Hamm plays a police detective who just can’t get over his son’s mysterious disappearance. A body is eventually found with a toy his son had on him when he disappeared, but the body is revealed to have been at least 50 years old, and thus cannot be his son. Whilst his marriage to Rhona Mitra starts to suffer, he becomes more and more obsessed with solving not only the murder case but also his own son’s disappearance. He starts to suspect that the two might be connected. In flashbacks we are taken back to 1958 where struggling dad Josh Lucas is finding it hard to keep his family together after his wife’s suicide. He eventually has to hand a couple of the kids over to a relative, but they refuse to take one of the kids, who has a developmental disability (despite appearing to be perfectly fine to me, I might add). From there he takes a construction job and meets a drifter he calls ‘Diploma’ (James Van Der Beek). Jessica Chastain plays a sweet-natured waitress whom Lucas meets, Joanna Cassidy is Hamm’s mother.

Somewhat morose, but entirely gripping 2009 film debut director Anders Anderson and fellow debutant writer Glenn Taranto wasn’t widely released, and got quite mixed reviews. I was compelled from start until finish (even the crusty old-age makeup didn’t bother me much), but I won’t deny that by the end I felt like something was missing. It took me a while but I finally figured it out. The structure of the film is wonky. Based on a true story, the film really tells two stories, that of grieving father and cop Jon Hamm trying to solve his son’s disappearance case, but also a case more than fifty years old. This story is told in flashbacks concerning dad Josh Lucas struggling to make ends meet and provide for his three sons. Both stories are interesting, but the way the film is structured, bits and pieces of each are left out. We get more closure for Hamm than we do Lucas, but whilst we’re focusing on Lucas’ plight, the mid-section of Hamm’s story is left out.

Still, the film is never dull and the performances are all terrific. I’ve never liked Jon Hamm as an actor (I’ve never watched “Mad Men” and don’t particularly wish to), but he’s pretty good here, as is the always solid Josh Lucas in quite a strong and moving performance. Most impressive of all was James Van Der Beek cast against type in an important role. I never knew the guy had it in him to play such a role. For me, it’s the performances that make this much more than just an episode of “Cold Case” or something. They had me invested in the characters and their fates so that it wasn’t just a mechanical whodunit experience.

I really don’t know why so many people have been dismissive of this film (or why I hadn’t even heard of it!), it’s solid stuff for the most part, if a tad disappointing in the end. Look out for it.

Rating: B-

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Your Highness

Narrated by Charles Shaughnessy (of “The Nanny” and “Days of Our Lives”), this is the story of two princes. No, not the catchy Spin Doctors song, two actual princes and brothers, one brave (James Franco), one horny and oafish (Danny McBride). Franco has just rescued a damsel (Who’s that girl? It’s Zooey Deschanel!) from an evil sorcerer (Justin Theroux), but as he has plans to marry her, the sorcerer kidnaps her again, and has his own evil plans for her. The two brothers must band together (why? I dunno, stop asking so many questions!) and rescue her. Along the way they are joined by a g-string sporting warrior woman (Natalie Portman). Toby Jones plays an oddball saboteur, Damian Lewis is a turncoat, and Charles Dance is the King.

Some movies get referred to as ‘one-joke’ ideas. Directed by David Gordon Green (the eclectic director of films such as “Undertow”, “All the Real Girls”, and “Pineapple Express”) and co-scripted by star Danny McBride, this 2011 stoner comedy version of “The Princess Bride” has lots of ideas for jokes, but never gets around to actually giving us the joke. And unfortunately, the ideas are all pretty terrible too. At least in one-joke films, the joke more often than not is pretty funny. This is one of the worst comedies in years, and an embarrassment for all concerned. I thought Green’s previous “Pineapple Express” was a waste of the talented James Franco (now ‘Oscar nominee James Franco’) and Danny McBride, but at least that film was bearable.

It’s almost as if director Green, McBride, and co-writer Ben Best (McBride’s TV series “Eastbound and Down”) have watched “The Princess Bride” (a fun but overrated film if you ask me) and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (one of the all-time greats) whilst stoned, and this is the incompetent results of their barely-remembered, scramble-brained crash course into how to make a spoofy fantasy comedy. That is, they screw every single thing up in every conceivable way. For instance, it takes the “Holy Grail” approach to bloodletting, but without actually making it funny. Green and McBride probably thought they were being irreverent, but I say they’re being lazy and smutty for the sake of smuttiness. I doubt I’d even have liked this when I was 14, when dick jokes and swear words were always funny to me, because I’m 32 and I can still find humour in that. Here, Green and McBride provide us with dick jokes and profanity that are out of place with the fantasy genre (even a comedic one), and whilst that’s the point, it’s not a point made with genuine humour or cleverness. They’re just giving us dick jokes because they can, and it’s one of many things that takes you out of the fantasy story. Any fantasy comedy needs to at least halfway work as a fantasy first, so that you’re actually interested in the story and characters. Even “Holy Grail”, “Flying High” and “The Naked Gun!” still gave us at least the bare bones of a plot and characters. It really doesn’t surprise me that the dialogue was largely improvised and that there was a merest of plotlines mapped out on set. It looks that way throughout (Apparently the idea from the film was based merely on the double-meaning title, having a prince get stoned and fight dragons. It would appear that this is as far as they got with the details).

This film gives us witless lines like ‘I don’t want to be gay with you and father. I just want to stay and play with my sword and fuck shit up’. In fact, the entire dire situation can be summed up with just one word in the film’s dialogue: Fuckening. Yes, instead of “The Quickening”, McBride, Green, and Best give us the oh-so hilarious term ‘Fuckening’. ‘Coz, see, it’s got ‘fuck’ in it. Swearing is funny, har-har. They even do the impossible: It made me wish there were less minotaurs in the film. Having a guy get anally raped by a minotaur with a huge dick is among the least funny things I’ve ever seen. Yes, it was just dry-humping, but that’s only because they didn’t have the balls to actually go through with their attempt at a joke.

Even when you get away from the far too many dick jokes and (completely unfunny) gay jokes, the film’s supposed humour still isn’t there. We get a mechanical bird that is an obvious reference to “Clash of the Titans”, but once again, there’s no actual joke beyond that. I like a good spoof movie, but don’t just give me a reference (Unless it’s “Jane Austin’s Mafia”, which was overflowing with such references, but done in such a way that it was scarily accurate and genuinely funny for it). I guess the visage of Danny McBride dressed in a poofy wig and pancake makeup is meant to be a joke, but it isn’t. And since it isn’t actually a joke, it also isn’t actually funny. I know comedy is subjective, but I think we can all safely decide what a joke actually is or is not. I did spot one joke, though; Zooey Deschanel has a lovely singing voice, James Franco does not. That was a joke. Not a funny one, but a joke nonetheless.

At the end of the day, the dick and gay jokes are the major source of supposed humour here, and it’s mostly delivered by American actors with fake British accents on the level of an “SNL” sketch (Franco and Deschanel are the worst offenders, though the latter barely speaks).  And that sums up the film itself. This is a really bad “SNL” sketch with more risqué humour, and stretched to feature length. Deschanel, by the way, is cast in a role of no colour or personality and gives her no opportunity to do her infectiously idiosyncratic geek thing that I normally love. Why bother casting her at all? James Franco frustrates yet again by giving the best performance of 2010 and now one of the worst of 2011. Oscar-winner Natalie Portman is absent in the first 50 minutes or so, and would’ve been well-advised not to turn up at all. At least she genuinely attempts an English accent, and comes off best of the lot in that regard. Toby Jones comes off best in the cast overall, playing it basically straight, as a kind of Gollum without the motion capture. Charles Dance’s presence merely makes one wonder if Malcolm McDowell wasn’t taking Green’s calls, whilst Justin Theroux hams it up uninterestingly.

By and large, the film’s FX are shitballs, and it’s something that always offends me about these light-hearted, mocking medieval/fantasy films. There’s often a cheapness to them that takes you out of the story, when combined with the mocking tone (“The Princess Bride” was too snarky for my liking). I did like the five-headed snake monster, though. It stops short of greatness, but it’s not trying to be great CGI. It has a bit of a Harryhausen quality to it, and ends up looking like a giant hand, which is cool. It’s not funny, though.

The scenery and cinematography by Tim Orr are lovely, the music score is Steve Jablonsky (the remake of “Friday the 13th) is the most legit thing in the film, but this is lots of talented people doing untalented and unfunny things. This is possibly one of the worst films of the last ten years.

Rating: D-

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: The Thin Blue Line

In 1976, a Dallas cop was murdered during a routine traffic stop. Eventually, 16 year-old David Harris was picked up after having bragged about the murder to his friends. Harris led police to Randall Adams, fingering him as the culprit and essentially ensuring his death sentence. This documentary covers events via testimony from Adams, who claims to have been framed (Adams and Harris shared a car ride together, but Adams claims they parted ways well before the murder), as well as interviews with witnesses, attorneys, police, and of course Harris. It is argued that because Harris was a minor, police and the judicial system targeted Adams because he was 28 and thus could be sentenced to death for the crime, which he was indeed found guilty of. Nonetheless, Morris (a former private detective) argues that Adams (who had never been in trouble with the law before) was less likely to have committed the crime than Harris, who was later picked up for another, unrelated murder. He sets about proving the case for Adams’ innocence in the course of the film. Meanwhile, the credibility of the witnesses proves increasingly questionable to say the least.

This 1988 documentary by Errol Morris (“Fog of War”) is considered by most to be a classic and very influential in the world of documentary filmmaking (Certainly Morris’ subjective style reminds one of Michael Moore and others). Coming to it very late, I must say I’m a whole lot less impressed. It’s an interesting (if confusing to newbies to the real-life case like me) and sometimes horrifying story of police incompetence, but I couldn’t help thinking whilst watching it on TV that indeed, it’s the kind of thing you could get on TV. But this was theatrically released and as I said, is considered a classic in the genre. I also felt that some of the interviewees gave off a vibe of unauthenticity, as though they were actors or perhaps re-enactors, rather than real documentary interviewees. It really bugged me at times.

Perhaps too much time has passed for me to truly ‘get’ this film (especially now that there are entire channels devoted to true crime documentaries), or perhaps it’s just an OK film. Either way, I’m not a huge fan of it as a film, but the story will still keep you engaged from start to finish (especially if you’re a true crime nut like I am).

Morris should also be commended for making an argument in Adams’ favour that you really can’t just call bias. I’m sorry, but by the end, it’s pretty freakin’ obvious who did what to whom. ‘Innocent Man’ tales are a dime a dozen, but it’s really shocking that a soft-spoken, seemingly average guy like Randall Adams (who died of a brain tumour in 2010, sadly) who is pretty obviously not guilty of the crime could get convicted whilst an almost assuredly 110% guilty David Harris (whose last words in this documentary are frighteningly pathetic) was right there under everybody’s nose. I mean, this is like the ultimate ‘Innocent Man’ tale. That doesn’t mean Adams was a great guy (Who the hell knows? It’s irrelevant here anyway) but still, this was a monumental stuff-up and the case was thankfully re-opened after this film was released. This is really what kept me watching, gobsmacked at how so many people could be so flagrantly stupid when a man’s life was at stake here. The nutbag witnesses and their clearly dubious testimony should’ve been enough of a red flag, you’d think.

The terrible Phillip Glass music score is distracting and monotonous, the kind of crap Glass did for films like “Koyaanisqatsi”, which just gave me nightmare flashbacks to my Cinema Studies days.

Interesting, but not especially memorable, at least not in 2012. I guess it deserves credit for starting the true crime/re-enactment documentary thing, but I expect more from a theatrically-released film than I found here.

Rating: B-

Review: Find a Place to Die

1968 spaghetti western directed by Guiliano Carnimeo (though supervised by Hugo Fregonese, apparently) starts with a geologist and his wife (Pascale Petit) chased by bandits (who are led by a guy named Chato, of course) who are after their gold. When a rockslide sees the old man incapacitated, his wife travels to the nearest town in search of help. There she meets disillusioned (i.e. drunk as a skunk), Confederate soldier-turned gunrunner Jeffrey Hunter, who reluctantly agrees to help, gathering up a posse of rather unseemly types (who can barely contain themselves at the sight of a bathing Petit, in a ‘memorable’ scene), only to find the husband was tortured and killed and their mission now more centred around bloody revenge! Or something like that. Daniela Giordano (a former Miss Italy) plays a hooker who sings the film’s godawful mopey title song, with Hunter mumbling appallingly in the background in a scene that stands out like a sore thumb. Alfredo Lastretti, as one of the posse, steals the film in a fascinating (if underwritten) role as a possibly phony priest with a shady background in torture techniques (off-screen, unfortunately, though I’m no torture enthusiast or anything), a proficiency in gunplay, and rather questionable morals (At one point he remarks ‘My cloth shouldn’t prevent me from the pleasures of a man!’, which could sound a bit weird if read the wrong way, come to think of it).

This obscure spaghetti western boasts a terrific title, and a surprisingly excellent, varied, non-Morricone music score by Gianni Ferrio (“Don’t Turn the Other Cheek”), with a title tune I’m sure I’ve heard many times before. It also has a sense of doom and gloom to it all that I actually rather appreciated.

Unfortunately, it also has a stock-standard ‘woman hires gunmen to ward off evil baddies from her stash of gold’ plot you’ve seen far too many times to care about. And when you add to that a leading man in Hunter, who is so dull, he makes Richard Egan and John Phillip Law seem like master thesps, and the direction is similarly uninspired.

It’s ultimately not very distinguishable from the rest in the genre, with the characters especially getting short shrift. It perks up a bit in the final third with some reasonably tense action scenes and fine location shooting by Riccardo Pallottini (“Marco Polo”). With a better lead, stronger direction, and more character development, this might’ve earned more points. But it hasn’t, and doesn’t.

The screenplay is by Leonardo Benvenuti (“Once Upon a Time in America”, “Alfredo, Alfredo”), Hugo Fregonese (director of “Marco Polo”), the director, and Lamberto Benvenuti, from a story by Lamberto Benvenuti and Fregonese.

Rating: C

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: Rango

A pet chameleon in an Hawaiian shirt (voiced by Johnny Depp) is accidentally knocked out of his aquarium whilst his human family are in the midst of a road trip. Stuck out in the middle of the Mojave desert, he encounters a philosophical, wounded armadillo (voiced by Alfred Molina) and a Greek chorus mariachi band of owls. He is directed towards the dusty, increasingly dry town of Dirt. Once there, he adopts the name Rango, and claims to be a storied gunslinger of sorts. This doesn’t much impress local iguana Beans (voiced by Isla Fisher), who is too busy trying to save her family’s ranch to care. However, the rest of the town seem desperate for a hero, and when Rango scurries a local outlaw (Bad Bill, a Gila monster voiced by Ray Winstone) out of town, and (accidentally) kills a menacing hawk, he’s swiftly appointed town sheriff by the Mayor (a tortoise, voiced by Ned Beatty). When it appears that some mole bandits (led by Harry Dean Stanton’s Balthazar) have stolen the town’s entire water supply, they look to Rango for answers. Bill Nighy voices the villainous serpent Rattlesnake Jake, Stephen Root voices the local banker Mr. Merrimack, and Timothy Olyphant provides the voice for a character called The Spirit of the West.

It doesn’t surprise me that kids have had a mixed reaction to this 2011 animated offering from ILM (along with Nickelodeon) and director Gore Verbinski (director of the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films). The animated characters don’t look cute or cuddly for the most part, and the film is basically swimming in (and to an extent parodying) a genre that most kids’ grandparents love and isn’t really around anymore. Besides, I think the best animated films (“Pinocchio”, “Robin Hood”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”) are wasted on the young, anyway, and certainly Hunter S. Thompson in-jokes here will go right over the young ‘uns heads (as will visual cues from “High Noon” and aural cues from “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “Apocalypse Now”). I must say, though, that I’m surprised that the reaction from adults has been mixed too. It’s my favourite film of 2011 I’ve thus far seen, and a gorgeous-looking example of CGI animation to boot.

Anyone who doesn’t like this is really missing out, because I felt this film succeeded where “Up” disappointed. It shows ambition in regards to what a family-oriented animated film can be, without seeming so mature that it doesn’t provide the family entertainment that it’s clearly aiming for (This is not intended to be an adult flick, like “Heavy Metal” or “Fritz the Cat”). I felt like the story in “Up” was way too mature, I mean, it was about an elderly widow for crying out loud. This one for me got the balance of sophistication/ambition and family entertainment just about right. Sure, it’s best viewed by adults and the younger kids will find it a bit scary, but by and large, this is still pretty accessible to everyone (I’m single and hate kids, though. So bear that in mind). It worked perfectly for me, at any rate.

I loved the beginning, with the owl mariachi band playing Morricone-esque music, even if it’s over kids heads (El Mariachi, Owl Mariachi, get it? Hilarious). Rango’s first encounter with an armadillo (named Road Kill of course, and voiced by Alfred Molina) is particularly hilarious. And did anyone else notice that the film sorta kinda features nudity? A chameleon is an odd but inspired choice for an animated movie protagonist I must say. I particularly loved that this was seemingly the one chameleon in the world with an inability to blend into their surroundings. Voiced by a perfectly cast Johnny Depp (clearly having fun), Rango is also an immensely and instantly likeable character. The supporting cast is just as good, especially Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone (whose ‘Bad Bill’- a Gila monster- has an hilarious first encounter with Rango), and a scene-stealing Alex Manugian. Beatty’s pretty much playing an animal version (a turtle) of John Huston in “Chinatown”, and whilst the plot development is a bit predictable, it’s still an hilarious in-joke by screenwriter John Logan (“The Last Samurai”, “Sweeney Todd”). Only a churl would complain that you can figure it out from his first scene. That’s kinda the point, and kids won’t guess it anyway. Bill Nighy’s Rattlesnake Jake is apparently a Lee Van Cleef impersonation, and whilst I can see it, I have to admit, I thought he was imitating Jack Palance. He’s certainly pretty scary, I must say. Timothy Olyphant does such a good impersonation of Clint Eastwood in this that you could almost be forgiven for thinking it’s the real deal. Alex Manugian, however, towers over all in what is essentially the Denver Pyle/Gabby Hayes role, called ‘Spoons’ here. Hell, he even looks and sounds like Pyle (Meanwhile, Stephen Root does his best Burl Ives as Mr. Merrimack, the banker). He gets the film’s funniest line and perhaps the funniest line in any film in 2011 when remarking: ‘I found a human spinal column in my faecal matter once’. I did not expect to hear a line like that in a film like this, I must say.

The animation in this film is simply breathtaking. The level of artistry and detail on display here, especially in the backgrounds and environment, is so astonishingly vivid that you’d swear the film was in 3D. They even animate the sunspots on the camera lens! It’s eye-popping, and at times I though the film was using a new, top-drawer application of stop-motion, because with the combination of characters in the foreground and the vistas in the background, it truly looked unlike any other animated film I had seen. Grass, dirt, and glass bottles all look like you can touch them. The characters aren’t as comparatively photorealistic, but they are nonetheless bright, colourful, and unusual. The fact that the town of Dirt is populated by predominantly by reptiles, amphibians, and rodents might turn some people off if they’re looking for creatures cute and cuddly, but I embraced them. Even the few human characters we see are animated a lot better than the human characters in films like “Toy Story” and “Over the Hedge”, where they just don’t look to have the same level of detail as the non-human characters. Here, the gap is bridged somewhat.

This is a terrific animated film, one of the best of its kind in a very long time. Like many of Verbinski’s films it’s about ten minutes too long, but otherwise, I had a great time with it.

Rating: B+

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: Monkey Grip

Sexually liberated, somewhat reckless single mum Noni Hazlehurst (whose character works in the music biz) falls head over heels for a flaky, drug-addicted struggling actor Colin Friels, and as the title suggests, he has quite the hold on her, despite knowing he’s no good for her. Chrissie Amphlett plays (what else?) a tempestuous rock singer named Angela, who is an associate of Hazlehurst’s and has serious man issues (insert lame ‘I Touch Myself’ gag here). Michael Caton plays some guy painting Hazlehurst’s house (no joke, that’s his role!), whilst Candy Raymond is perfectly cast as Friels’ bitchy ex.

Sometimes well-acted, but miscast, dreary and rather pointless 1982 Aussie drama from director Ken Cameron (who hit it big here on TV with the miniseries “Brides of Christ”) never escapes the complete stupidity and unlikeable nature of its central character. An AFI award-winning Hazlehurst is commendable (and often nude!) in the role, but neither she nor Friels ultimately convince as rather dopey, selfish lowlifes. For some reason they just seemed to intelligent for their parts. Hazlehurst’s character is entirely unlikeable- selfish, stupid, and puts herself (and her daughter, more importantly) into no-win situations. I just don’t warm to smart people who do dumb things that will potentially destroy their lives and the lives of others. Pretentious narration by Hazlehurst doesn’t help, either, it just irritates, and the dialogue is similarly flowery at times. The somewhat episodic structure also doesn’t help, and we actually don’t get to see enough of Friels’ drug problems for my liking, it seriously hurts the dramatic impact if we can’t get much of a sense of what is going on with him.

Best remembered for the acting debut of the inimitable Chrissie Amphlett and musical performance by her band The Divinyls (who perform their classic ‘Boys in Town’), neither of which is enough to make the film worth more than a curio. It is interesting to see future “Better Homes and Gardens” (and “Play School”) presenter Hazlehurst and Aussie icon Caton (best known for “The Castle” and TV stints on “The Sullivans” and “Hot Property”) in a film together, given their later roles on lifestyle TV programs. Did I mention Noni from “Play School” gets naked? A lot? Well, she does.

The screenplay is by the director and Helen Garner (whose daughter Alice plays Hazlehurst’s surprisingly sage daughter), who wrote the novel on which the film is based. Perhaps that explains the annoying narration and air of pretension? I’d say so.

Rating: C+

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Affliction

Set in snowy New Hampshire, Nick Nolte is a local put-upon sheriff cum handyman, estranged from his ex (Mary Beth Hurt), not on great terms with his daughter, and still dealing with his disturbing childhood. This is chiefly thanks to an abusive, thoroughly mean-spirited father (a towering, surprisingly charmless performance by James Coburn, mostly in flashback) who terrified him and his brother, who has since moved away and become a success, and is played by Willem Dafoe. When Nolte starts to investigate a supposed fatal hunting accident, Nolte starts to smell a murder conspiracy, but the investigation also starts to bring back the painful memories for troubled Nolte. Sissy Spacek is his new squeeze, who clearly doesn’t know what she’s in for.

Dour, flawed 1998 Paul Schrader (director of “Blue Collar”, screenwriter of “Taxi Driver”) film gets whatever mileage it has from a fine lead turn by Nolte and a powerhouse, Oscar-winning turn by Coburn (probably the most ambitious of his career, He’s a favourite of mine, but he sure picked up a lot of pay checks in his time). Unfortunately it’s all rather ugly, somewhat uninteresting, and often horribly handled. Schrader gives us an annoyingly earnest voice-over from a somewhat extraneous character (Dafoe, actually miscast as a ‘normal’ guy. C’mon, it’s Willem Freakin’ Dafoe!) that severely hurts the impact of it all.

I also found the plotting seriously confusing. This is mostly because the film has two story strands (Nolte’s relationship with his family, and his investigation of a crime) that just make for an overcrowded mess, the latter strand needed far more emphasis in order for the film’s ending to work. As is, the ending somewhat confused me, even though the two strands indeed come together by the end.

Still, Coburn fans should give it a go at least once, and fans of Schrader’s work will probably embrace it more than I did. It just didn’t do it for me, but there are moments.

Rating: C+