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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Ground Zero

Colin Friels plays a cameraman on crappy TV commercials (Do we even have Chili Dogs here in Australia? Sounds a little Yankee Doodle Dandy, to me), whose father might have died seeing too much of the goings on during the nuclear tests in Australia during the 50s (which were on Aboriginal land, angering the Human Rights activists), though not enough proof has arisen to hold the Australian Federal Government accountable for any wrongdoing. Friels starts to nose around looking for the truth perhaps to his own peril, and finds an ally in crusty old Donald Pleasence, a hermit-like survivor of the tests. Jack Thompson plays an imposing spook, very interested in Friels’ activities. Natalie Bate is Friels’ on-and-off again wife (they have a kid together), a journo.

Directed by Bruce Myles and Michael Pattinson, this 1987 Aussie political conspiracy thriller (based to some degree, on factual information) has some fine moments and performances, but never quite hits the bullseye. Friels makes for a likeably roguish hero, Thompson is always great (and it’s always a pleasure to see Indigenous actor Bob Maza as a sort of Charlie Perkins-type of politician/activist), but the real scene-stealer is a ringer- Donald Pleasence in a wonderfully showy part, voice-box and all. Great cameos by lots of familiar faces from Aussie TV too; Soapie veteran Roger Oakley can be seen, comedic actors Mark Mitchell and Kym Gyngell (who frequently acted together in Col’n Carpenter comedy sketches on TV’s “Comedy Company”) playing detectives, and that’s “Neighbours” and “Prisoner” star Andrewartha as a suspicious neighbour at the end.

Overall, the subject matter probably deserved a bit better treatment (especially if you’re familiar with the whole Maralinga deal), but it’s not bad. The screenplay is by Jan Sardi and Mac Gudgeon (the latter co-wrote the America’s Cup flick “Wind”, co-starring Thompson).

Rating: C+

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: Paparazzi

Rising action-star Cole Hauser is targeted by a quartet of sleazy paparazzos (Tom Sizemore, Daniel Baldwin, Kevin Gage, and token British prat Tom Hollander) whose constant interference causes great distress and eventually physical harm to Hauser’s young family (wife Robin Tunney and a cute but vanilla kid). As a result, Hauser (attending Anger Management after punching Sizemore for taking snaps of his kid after being asked quite reasonably and nicely by Hauser to cease and desist) snaps and gets all righteous on their asses. Dennis Farina plays the sympathetic but quietly alarmed detective who does his best to help out Hauser and family.

Watered-down exploitation (a lot of the violence is implied or off-screen!) from producer Mel Gibson and hair stylist-turned filmmaker (!) Paul Abascal, this 2004 revenge thriller seems to be Gibson’s big ‘Fuck You!’ to the (understandably) much hated paparazzi, the bottom-feeders of the entertainment industry (and possibly the human race). Unfortunately, not only is it highly unlikely (the characters played by Sizemore and Farina behave in a pretty moronic manner), but it has neither the balls to deliver a nasty grind-house classic (it’s rated PG-13 in the US and the only thing close to bad taste is a Diana-esque car crash, which isn’t very believably done, unfortunately. And heck, some of the deaths dished out could damn well be argued as accidents and are wimpy to say the least) nor the sense of humour to work as an amusing little dig at the paparazzi.

A shame, because not only is the subject worthy of being dealt with in either manner, and Hauser a decent enough lead (he makes for as normal a guy as possible when you’re cast as an action movie star), but it has the ultimate in sleazebag villainy casting- including a Baldwin brother (the fat, drug-abusing one, no less) for the added bonus of an in-joke (And if you don’t know what in-joke I’m referring to, then this film will have even less of an impact on you).

Somewhat watchable when the quartet of scumbags are on show (three of whom have had problems with the law in real life, by the way), but even then, the actors are a bit wasted (in whatever usage of the term you wish to apply!), the underrated Gage (unforgettable as long-haired Waingro from “Heat”, a film which also gave Sizemore one of his best roles) especially. Celebrity cameos add zilch (Chris Rock as a pizza delivery man is especially unnecessary and inexplicable), though Gibson’s walk-on might’ve been fun if it were extended to a speaking role (Hi, I’m Mel and I’m an Anti-Semitic Rageaholic!’). Amusingly, the film wasn’t screened for critics in the US…guess they didn’t want the publicity

Rating: C

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Red Dog

Based on a novel by Louis De Bernières (“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”), this true story concerns the title kelpie who won the hearts of the mining community in Dampier, in the Top End of Australia (Western Australia) in the 70s and 80s. Red Dog (played by the now retired Koko) was supposedly a friend to all but had no one master, until an American bus driver named John (Josh Lucas) takes a shine to the dog, and vice versa. John, meanwhile, takes a fancy to Nancy (Rachael Taylor), a secretary to the mining company. But one day, John fails to come home, with Red Dog patiently waiting and waiting. In a wraparound story, Luke Ford plays a truckie who wanders into Noah Taylor’s bar as the townsfolk are lamenting the sad decline in Red Dog’s health. He, like the audience itself, sits and listens to the tale of this beloved canine. John Batchelor and an Italian-accented Arthur Angel play a couple of the blokey miners, whilst Keisha Castle-Hughes plays a veterinarian’s assistant.

A big hit with audiences and critics alike, Australia seemed to fall in love with this 2011 film from director Kriv Stenders and Dan Taplitz. Call me un-Australian if you like, but I felt like this corny, hackneyed, episodic, almost Disney-ish film based on a true story would’ve made a pretty cute five minute human interest segment at the end of the nightly news. At best, make it into an hour episode of ABC’s “Australian Story” following Red Dog on his journey (which is barely even mentioned in the film, appallingly). In fact, I’d much rather have seen a documentary on the subject than sit through this film, which mostly rang false to me.

The poor performances (save American import Josh Lucas) don’t help much, either. All these phonies (all two-dimensional at best) recalling stories with their fake sentiment about the (admittedly cute) title character had me feeling like I was watching a dodgy re-enactment, like those poorly acted re-enactments in true-crime shows. Or, more precisely, it felt like a re-enactment of a re-enactment, but with more recognisable actors. The characters feel like props, only there at the service of the telling of this dog’s story, without any care or development of their own characters, save maybe Lucas, who is absent for a lot of the length.

The way the film is structured mostly as an episodic tribute (a structurally lazy one at that), almost a doggie version of “This is Your Life”, they might as well just gone the whole way and made a doco, then. As a film I never really bought into it, with beefy John Batchelor (who really should stick to those bizarro Codral ads) and Arthur Angel (as-a phony-a accented-a ethnic-a stereotype-a eye-talian straight out of “They’re a Weird Mob” from about 50 fucking years ago) particularly grating, pretentious and patronising. Not to mention they’re also woefully sanitised, unlike say the rowdy and terrific “Last of the Knucklemen”, and speak a little too ‘actory’ and flowery to be truly authentic. Even the talented Noah Taylor is well off his game here as a barman, and Rachael Taylor’s return to Aussie screens just confirms my long-held belief she’s best to stick to TV dramas (if not outright soap operas), as she hasn’t quite got the gravitas or conviction required here, indicative of a limited range.

So with the dodgy acting and cornball doggie tribute story (bordering on a beer ad at times), the film just didn’t convince or interest me at all the way that a documentary or short news story might have (at least the cornball emotion would’ve been genuine).

The other problem with the film is that it’s yet another quirky, feel-good outback Aussie film, the kind that would be right at home alongside “Crocodile Dundee II” and “Young Einstein”. Back in 1988, when I was 8 years old and enjoyed such innocuous, but simplistic entertainments. Why the hell are we still shilling this ocker crap in 2011? The inclusion of an American actor in the cast didn’t bother me (I’m pretty sure the character is based on truth anyway), but the overall vision of this film just seemed archaic and irrelevant to me. I’ve read that the film was partially funded by The National Bank of California (not to mention mining company Rio Tinto, but I could care less about that), which might explain things (and even writer Taplitz is based in the US). Do we really need to keep pandering to foreign markets only interested in the postcard view of Australia? After making a bunch of interesting genre efforts (particularly in the horror genre) are we really going to go back to making dopey ocker crap? Sadly, with the reception this film got, I’d say it’s a possibility. And I’m not talking about “Muriel’s Wedding” quality, where the stereotypes and clichés were matched by a touch of bitterness, sadness, and edge. Nor am I talking about “Wake in Fright”, which saw the blokey, boofhead, beer culture of particularly rural Australia for what it was (Sadly, the beer culture is rife throughout the nation now, not just an Outback issue, and it’s still glorified as part of our ‘Aussie culture’, as though it’s a positive thing). Its characters are also not as likeable or relatable as those in “The Castle”. I suppose you can’t argue with financial success, but I’m telling you, we’ll be back to complaining when the market becomes flooded with these heavily stereotyped, limited scope films.

I’m sorry, I know I’m in the minority here, but this is just a bloody cute dog movie, folks. And that’s not nearly enough for me, especially with all the praise the film got. It’s flat, uninspired, and boring, and the dog doesn’t seem all that bloody special to me (nor the dog playing him). Like I said, his journey is mostly off-screen, and otherwise he’s just a normal, affectionate dog. Having him assist Angel in wooing a vet’s assistant hardly counts as a fascinating or profound plot point (However, if he were a pug, then I’d at least love the dog, even if the film was a turd). I just don’t see the entertainment value or overall merit in this pleasant, but seriously underwhelming and outdated film. Shocking waste of Kiwi Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes, and a completely disappointing swan song for legendary Aussie character actor Bill Hunter in an irrelevant, barely there cameo.

There are some fun moments here and there and Lucas is really good, but overall, I just didn’t get this one. I know everyone laughed, cried, and felt all patriotic, but I was completely unmoved, and not out of stubborn contrariness. I bet if this were an American film of an American story and released by Disney, the Aussie reviews (and we all know who I’m talking about) would be far less kind. Just sayin’. It’s just one of those films that either grabs you and you go along for the ride, or you see every flaw and every moment of cultural cringe and are at constant arm’s length.

Rating: C

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Jarhead

Set in the early 90s, Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) enlists in the marines like his father before him (and his father’s father before him) and is sent to fight in the Gulf War as a trained sniper. The film shows us his experience there, having been trained hard he and his comrades feel the frustration and boredom of waiting around to get into the action they have been trained for. Jamie Foxx (in fine character acting form, after his Oscar win for portraying Ray Charles not long before this film) is the tough Staff Sergeant who trains the men to become, it seems, identical killing machines (yup, Foxx gets to be R. Lee Ermey for a while and dehumanise the troops). Peter Sarsgaard plays Gyllenhaal’s pal and also his spotter. Chris Cooper plays the commanding officer, and Dennis Haysbert has a funny supporting role as a major Gyllenhaal is unfortunate enough to encounter whilst on latrine duty.

Rock-solid 2005 mixture of “Full Metal Jacket” and “Three Kings” from Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”, “Road to Perdition”), was shot down (sorry! Really I am!) by some for not really taking a stance on war either way, to which I simply say phooey! Why does every war movie have to take a stance on the war itself? And, actually, any film that successfully makes one feel the boredom (you didn’t think war was just fighting all day and night did you? Certainly not the first Gulf War, which was fought mostly in the air), frustration, and insanity and lack of clarity in war, in my view pretty much is taking a position anyway. It’s not taking a position on the specific war it depicts (I like to call it The Gulf War- Episode One: The Iraqi Menace), but you can’t say it’s not actually saying something about war overall. It’s crazy, doesn’t make much sense, isn’t terribly exciting (the film itself is never dull, though), and turns people into emotionless killers who often come home psychologically tortured. More than any film since “Platoon”, this film gives you a true sense of the actual war experience for soldiers, and not just the experience of violent battle.

But the film isn’t all heavy, there’s actually quite a bit of humour in the film (particularly Foxx’s first scene or two and almost any scene involving the latrines), and Gyllenhaal is always a likeable and underrated screen presence (the entire film is well-acted, though some characters lack depth). Terrific cinematography too by Roger Deakins (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “Dead Man Walking”), with a breathtaking scene involving oil fields a particularly striking image. The screenplay is by William D. Broyles Jr (“Flags of Our Fathers”, “Apollo 13”, “Cast Away”)., from the autobiography by Anthony Swofford.

Rating: B-