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, August 18, 2012

Review: The Resident

Hilary Swank is an overworked ER doctor looking for a new apartment after a bad breakup with boyfriend Lee Pace. The affable Jeffrey Dean Morgan offers her one at a rather cheap price and a nice view. In fact, it seems almost too good to be true. They become fast friends, and almost something more, before Swank realises it’s too soon after her break-up. Unfortunately, she soon learns that Morgan is more than a little obsessed with her (Not really a spoiler, it’s the basic premise of the film), and to say he has a dark side would be the understatement of the century. Cat chases mouse, mouse fights back, I fall into a self-induced coma. Christopher Lee plays Morgan’s frail grandfather, who recognises Morgan’s true nature but is too elderly and weak to be much use.

 **** SPOILER WARNING **** My main criticism with this film involves a major plot point, so spoilers are unavoidable. In backing up my arguments, I’ll also be spoiling significant details of “Planet of the Apes” (1968), but hopefully there’s no one alive who hasn’t heard the twist to that film at this point. So you’ve been warned, at any rate.

This 2011 psycho-thriller from co-writer/director Antti J. Jokinen (making his feature film debut after directing music videos for Kelly Clarkson and Celine Dion, and directing the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest!) claims to be from Hammer Studios, but don’t be fooled by the appearance of Christopher Lee in the cast. This may have the Hammer name, and slight similarity in plot to the psycho-thrillers the company made in their dying days, but this is not a ‘real’ Hammer film. No one associated with the real Hammer or even anyone related to them is behind this new incarnation of the studio. In fact, it’s just a name acquired by a Dutch producer (and original brains behind the “Big Brother” TV franchise) to use for whatever the hell he wants. Hammer or not, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that this is one of the worst botch-jobs I’ve come across since the celebrity surgical enhancement nightmare of your choice (Let’s go with whatever the fuck actress Sela Ward has done with her face in the last few years. Seriously, watch the remake of “The Stepfather”. Or better, don’t).

The film starts off deceptively well. There’s a cool animated title design, a strong, Herrmann-esque music score by John Ottman (“The Usual Suspects”, “Valkyrie”), and good, sometimes shadowy cinematography by Guillermo Navarro (“Cronos”, “Desperado”, “From Dusk Til Dawn”, “Jackie Brown”) too. I especially thought the roving camerawork to be most effective. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who has always seemed like more of a TV actor to me, is actually good and quite charming when required. He’s completely believable as the affable, Brad Garrett-lookalike landlord, and perfectly fine with the later shift in his character, at least early on.

It does take a good while for this to actually go anywhere, however. What really kills this film is that around the 20-30 minute mark, it does finally go somewhere and it goes somewhere very, very bad indeed. The ¼ mark twist is one of the most suicidal things I’ve ever seen in a film, and it transforms an average film into something dreadful and cataclysmically transparent. Why would Jokinen and co-writer Robert Orr reveal the entire plot to the audience with more than half the film still left to go? It’s a terrible structural/POV error that the film never has any hopes of recovering from. Think of it this way. Imagine “Psycho” if Hitchcock had revealed the true nature of ‘Mother’ in the shower scene in full view of the audience. Or imagine the final reveal of “The Usual Suspects” came in after 20-30 minutes. Or Charlton Heston crash-landing on the “Planet of the Apes”, walking out of his ship and seeing the Statue of Liberty right there in front of him. This decision not only takes the air out of the film, not only makes the entire film pointless to the audience, but it also does Morgan no favours, either. He’s still fine with what he’s been given, but the screenplay really fucks him over. If told linearly, Morgan’s transition from affable to super-creepy would’ve been extremely effective, even if the film itself were still clichéd. Instead, it leaves him and the film with nowhere to go and too long before the end credits role. Thus the role becomes one-note, despite Morgan’s fine effort.

Hilary Swank is OK but not terribly interesting in the lead. I like horror films as much as the average person (maybe even more), but a two-time Oscar winner ought to be making better choices than this. Also, ome have claimed she used a nude body double here, but the way her big scene plays out, it looks like it had to be her. And yet, the way she is filmed at other times, it suggests it probably wasn’t. Very confusing, but credit where it’s due, it’s a really pervy film. What, that’s a bad thing? Not in my book, folks. Christopher Lee, looking haggard (he’s in his late 80s, cut him some slack!), isn’t given much to do, but is committed as always (Michael Badalucco is looking old these days too, in an uncredited cameo as a removalist). I’m not sure if he’s very good at American accents, though. He’s usually tops with accents and languages, but American has always seemed to be a challenge for him for some reason.

Good camerawork and music score, but did no one here read the script before signing on? It’s appalling. I mean, either they didn’t read the script or no one involved has any idea of the basics of thriller storytelling. i.e. Where are the thrills if you spoil all the important plot points before the halfway point? The story behind the making of this film must be truly something. The film itself is shithouse, though. I mean, at least Eurovision is a guaranteed compelling piece of schlock (and equally compelling, if dodgy, politicking in the voting).

Rating: D

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: The Ward

Set in the 60s, Amber Heard finds herself institutionalised after having apparently burned down a farmhouse. She is put into the care of psychiatrist Jared Harris, and is introduced to fellow patients like boisterous Mamie Gummer, artistic Lyndsy Fonseca, and bitchy Danielle Panabaker. Meanwhile, although Harris seems generally concerned for his patients well-being, his methods of electroshock therapy and his frankly unpleasant staff have Heard wanting out of there in a hurry. But she finds that is easier said than done. And then her fellow inmates start dying one by one. Is it the ghost of a former patient? Or something closer to this astral plane?

I really shouldn’t be disappointed by John Carpenter anymore because he has always been an uneven filmmaker, especially in recent times (“Village of the Damned” was a particularly uninteresting remake totally unworthy of Carpenter’s time). However, it’s dispiriting to think that this filmmaker once gave us great films like “Halloween” and “Big Trouble in Little China”, whilst several others in his filmography had their moments of inspiration too (“The Fog”, “Christine”, “They Live”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Ghosts of Mars”, “Vampires”, “Memoirs of an Invisible Man”, and especially his debut “Dark Star”) even if most of them were rather on the lesser side of decent (And no, I don’t much like “The Thing”, “Assault on Precinct 13” his “Escape” films, or “In the Mouth of Madness”). Nonetheless, I couldn’t believe that the man who made one of the single best-directed and effective horror films of all-time (“Halloween”) would resort to making a thoroughly clichéd and unnecessary film that has already been done to death (“Shutter Island”, “Gothika”, etc).

It’s also a total waste of a trio of talented and beautiful young actresses (Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca and Danielle Panabaker), though Heard is fine and Jared Harris is particularly interesting casting. They can’t do a damn thing, though, to make anything out of this snoozer. Meanwhile, the unfortunately named Mamie Gummer is distractingly awful as the most outwardly loony of the girls. It’s a showy and insanely awful performance.

Kudos to cinematographer Yaron Orbach, however, as this is an extremely good-looking, well-lit, and well-shot film. Composition and camera movement are especially top-notch. The music score by Mark Kilian is also worth a mention, particularly effective over some interesting title design too. I must take points off, however, for Carpenter having cast actresses with obvious no-nudity clauses. Why cast women with no-nudity clauses in a film where they’re required to take showers? Why, John, Why? (Then again, why is Amber Heard staying clothed when she’s hardly been a prude before or since? Yeah, what’s up with that?) Also, the predictably phony FX work by the overrated Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger is also a minus. How do those guys continue to get work? I’m no fan of the rather dull “The Thing”, but at least the FX in that were stellar (Rob Bottin, where the hell are you?).

The twist is obvious from the start and although it’s a well-directed film (albeit not in any distinctively Carpenter-esque way), Carpenter still deserves more blame here than writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen. The script is the issue, but Carpenter should’ve known better and ditched this script and maybe written the film himself. Why did he make this film? What could he have possibly seen in this tired story? Is he just happy to be working at his age? You’re better than this, John. This is beneath you. Yes, you’ve made some poor films, but c’mon, a loony-bin mystery/ghost story flick? Really? If you really needed to make such a film, why not have some fun with it? You remember fun, don’t you, John? Certainly “Big Trouble in Little China”, “They Live”, “Vampires”, “Christine”, “Dark Star”, “Ghosts of Mars” (well, kinda), and “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” (c’mon, it was hilarious!) were movies that contained a sense of fun about them. But this? Totally uninspired, for what could’ve been fun schlock at the very least. If you weren’t gonna give us another “Halloween” at least give us something with a bit of inspiration, charm, irreverence, or a personal touch of some kind. Nope, none of that here.

In some ways this is a well-made film, and the music score is particularly effective. I also like seeing the insanely hot Amber Heard in a lead role (Hey, I’d rather look at her than Jamie Lee Curtis any day of the week). But this is an unnecessary and tired film from a director who is occasionally capable of outstanding work. Perhaps it’s time to retire, Mr. Carpenter, if this is all you could give us after about a decade waiting. 

Rating: C

Review: Pumping Iron

1977 doco directed by George Butler and Robert Fiore introduced mainstream society to the world of bodybuilding. Specifically the film deals with Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, a champion of Mr. Olympia, looking to make an exit at the top. His main contenders are his close buddy Franco Columbu, a chiropractor by trade, and brooding, partially deaf New Yorker Lou Ferrigno.

Seen today, the film comes off as a little…well, you know…what with the group showers, the oil, the excessive gawking at one’s self in the mirror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Actually, the film is still fascinating even today, especially if you want to see an early Arnie. Here he comes off as a vain- but deservingly so, in my book, yet good-natured, slightly meat-headed (but not dumb) fellow, who admittedly has a bit of a jerk in him too. Albeit a likeable one who might just be putting it on to give a good show and promote his sport. He plays with poor Ferrigno’s head quite a bit, explains his strategy of psychological head games, and compares ‘pumping up’ to sexual gratification. But he has such a big, goofy grin and a love of life, that you not only can’t take him all that seriously, but you can’t help but like the big oaf. He also steals the entire picture, showing definite signs of the undeniable charisma (if not acting ability) that would serve him well throughout the decades in different arenas (Movies and politics).

Also fascinating is the case study of Lou Ferrigno and his overbearing but well-meaning cop dad Matty, who becomes his trainer (in a contrived addition by the filmmakers). Lou (later to gain a fair amount of fame as “The Incredible Hulk” and recently showing his obvious insecurities on “The Celebrity Apprentice”) comes across as a dim, but really sweet kid, who probably wants his dad to shut the hell up. (I know I sure did. The bit where he tries to show his son how to pose was…well, weird. He meant well, but if you thought your parents were embarrassing…) The underdog is always more interesting, right?

Definitely more for sports and fitness enthusiasts, but non-fans are likely to find the film pretty interesting and engaging too, with some interesting personalities.

Rating: B-

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die

Set during the American Civil War, Yankee commander James Coburn recruits an army of seven condemned men to take back Fort Holman, currently held by Confederate baddie Telly Savalas. Coburn (who faces a court martial for surrendering the fort so easily) attempts to keep his band of unscrupulous men (including Bud Spencer and Rene Kolldehoff) in line by promises of Confederate gold hidden somewhere in the walls of Fort Holman.

This 1972 Tonino Valerii (“Day of Anger”, with Lee Van Cleef, and “My Name is Nobody”, with Henry Fonda) film is a Civil War-era spaghetti western take on “The Dirty Dozen” with smaller cast (and Coburn in place of Lee Marvin, basically), smaller aims, and minor results. It also bears similarity to Sergio Leone’s Mexican Revolution epic “A Fistful of Dynamite” (AKA “Duck, You Sucker”) in plot terms.

The film comes in two versions, an uncut version in which Coburn did not dub his own dialogue, and a shorter version which Coburn does indeed have his real voice dubbed into the film. I bought the latter version very cheaply, thinking that unless the longer version was “Citizen Kane” I had made the right choice. After seeing the film, I’m still pretty sure the longer version wouldn’t be to my liking, but there’s seemingly a lot missing here about Savalas’ character, so I wonder if that version clears it up. Oh well, I’ve got the version I’ve got. Coburn’s voice is always preferable to someone else’s in my view. The funny thing is, as fine as Coburn is here (he’s one of my favourite actors), it’s bearded Bud Spencer (a veteran of Italian films mostly in the action/comedy or western genres) who gets the most screen time and he makes the most of it, in an entertaining performance. Kolldehoff, the fat German dude who for once isn’t actually playing a fat German dude, is also quite OK. The rest blend into the background, except Savalas who, despite not appearing in much of this version of the film, walks off with it easily.

Unfortunately, this film is unmemorable, right down to the wannabe Ennio Morricone (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) score by Riz Ortolani (“The McKenzie Break”, “The Fifth Musketeer”), which is efficient enough, I guess, but forgettable. And that sums up the film itself, far from awful but cheap, formulaic, and not memorable. The action climax is good, but there’s not nearly enough action throughout the film.

The screenplay is by Valerii, Rafael Azcona (“Belle Epoque”, the infamously grotesque “Le Grande Bouffe”), and Ernesto Gastaldi (“My Name is Nobody”, “The Horrible Dr. Hichcock”), from a story by Valerii and Gastaldi. You could do a lot worse, but that’s pretty much the best I can say here. Certainly any Coburn completists out there will want to check it out at least once.

Rating: C+