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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: The Survivor

A 747 nearly causes a massive disaster when it crashes to ground, with heroic pilot Robert Powell managing to save countless lives on the ground, even though the resulting explosion leaves no chance of survivors on board the plane. Except Powell himself, though he has lost all memory of the disaster. Powell’s friend Peter Sumner and several other men lead an investigation into the disaster, taking apart the black box flight recorder, whilst poor Powell is plagued by guilt and many questions due to his lost memory. Why was he spared when countless others perished? What caused the incident in the first place? Is Powell an unbreakable Superhero in search of a Supervillain? And what did he have for breakfast that morning? OK, so those last two questions aren’t really relevant here, sorry. Jenny Agutter turns up as an eye-witness who also happens to be a psychic medium, who tries to help Powell get some answers. Joseph Cotten turns up now and then as a priest.

Despite being directed by British actor David Hemmings (Of “Blowup” and “Barbarella” fame), despite having a solid cast full of local (Sumner, Angela Punch-McGregor) and international talent (including Powell, Agutter, and the last big screen performance by one of Hollywood’s finest, Cotten), despite being the first Australian film to have a budget of more than $1 Million, and despite being based on a novel by well-known schlock writer James Herbert, this 1981 Aussie supernatural story (set and filmed in Adelaide) has remained little-known. That’s a shame, because this “Twilight Zone”-like film has its moments (though some of it is awfully “Omen”-esque), and hey, you could do a lot worse if you ask me (“Turkey Shoot” anyone?).

Powell is excellent, and well-chosen in the lead role, a sort of British version of Michael Keaton or Jeff Goldblum (a dark intensity is shared between the three), with just a hint of Christopher Lee’s untrustworthiness. Also well-cast is Agutter, though the film is a shameful waste of one of cinema’s most versatile actors, Cotten, who was hopefully not paid by the word in this pointless role. Strange to see the normally wonderfully hammy Sumner in such a serious, low-key role, but I suppose he’s OK for what he is asked to do.

The cinematography by Oscar-nominee John Seale (“Rain Man”, “Gallipoli”, “The Hitcher”, “Gorillas in the Mist”) is a major plus, too, even in the darker scenes it looks superb. The crash scene itself is pretty good, and was probably a big deal in the Australian film industry at the time, I’m sure this scene alone took a fair amount of time, money, and effort. The score by the usually irritating synth-heavy Brian May (no, not that Brian May. This is the guy who scored “Mad Max”, “Thirst” and “Gallipoli”) sounds more orchestral this time, though the synth does kick in after a while, unfortunately and it’s annoying.

There’s a nice throat slashing here, but it seems oddly placed in what is otherwise a supernatural, ESP thriller. But anyway, of all the Aussie genre films from the late 70s and early 80s, this is one of the more intriguing from a pretty crappy period. Powell and Agutter play very interesting, “X-Files”-ish roles, and the story itself is a quite fascinating one. It deserved more than the flat treatment Hemmings gives it. Agutter’s role is worth singling out because it’s surprising that given her role is mostly made up of reaction shots (to events either real, imagined, or psychically ‘sensed’), she manages to make it entirely watchable and not dull. Where’d she go to anyway? I remember her in “Child’s Play 2” and “Darkman” in 1990, but that’s the last I saw of her until a cameo in John Landis’ “Burke and Hare” in 2011. Produced by Anthony I. Ginnane (“Harlequin”, “Thirst”, “Race to the Yankee Zephyr”), this was one of several Aussie genre films that generally involved either Hemmings (directing this and “Race to the Yankee Zephyr”, producing “Turkey Shoot” and the kiwi flick “Dead Kids”/“Strange Behaviour”, and acting gigs in “Harlequin”, and “Thirst”), or Powell (this, “Harlequin”) in some capacity. With a screenplay by David Ambrose (“Amityville 3-D”, “D.A.R.Y.L.”), it’s clear that one M. Night Shyamalan must’ve been aware of Herbert’s story (if not the film) when making his rather similar “Unbreakable”. I refuse to believe otherwise.

Rating: C+

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: The Descendants

Set in Hawaii, George Clooney plays a lawyer with a lot on his plate right now. His wife is comatosed after a boating accident. He’s at her bedside constantly, despite not really being there for her leading up to the accident. He’s also not the world’s most attentive father to kids Amara Miller and rebellious 17 year-old Shailene Woodley. Meanwhile, he’s supposed to be overseeing the sale of 25,000 acres of land, long-held in his family, and of which he is the sole trustee. With the outlook for his wife looking grim, Clooney tries to rally his family together to spend their last moments with her before turning off her life support, as was her wish. In the process of this, however, he uncovers the fact that she had been cheating on him! Nick Krause plays Woodley’s sorta boyfriend who due to Woodley’s insistence, accompanies them to a visit to see Grandpa (Robert Forster), a tough bastard who resents the presence of Krause even more than Clooney. Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer play a realtor and his wife, and Beau Bridges plays Clooney’s affable, but clearly opportunistic cousin (He’s like The Dude’s older, slightly less baked brother or something).

I’ve been pretty impressed with the résumé of director/co-writer Alexander Payne (“Election”, “Sideways”, “About Schmidt”) thus far. “About Schmidt”, in particular, is a standout film. My admiration ends with this astonishingly overrated, clichéd, and thoroughly ordinary effort from 2011. In fact, when you look at the general plot set-up, it’s a rip-off of Payne’s earlier “About Schmidt”, except Clooney and his kids are younger than Jack Nicholson and his grown-up kids. But the same idea of a guy whose wife is dead/dying finding out that she was unfaithful, plus the estranged children aspect, are all-too similar to “About Schmidt” (and admittedly weren’t entirely original then, either). The film even has the main character give a voice-over narration, except this time it’s only used early on, and is both horrible and pointless in the extreme (whereas it was sweet, endearing, and ironic in “About Schmidt”). I really don’t get the use of narration in this film. Yes, it sets up Clooney’s strange family and legal issues, but then it’s dropped altogether, clunkily, and for the most part, the extended family end up superfluous anyway (Michael Ontkean, a name actor, gets no lines whatsoever in a completely useless ‘borderline extra’ role). Furthermore, Clooney (whose smugly self-satisfied smile is starting to annoy me almost as much as Richard Gere’s, but Clooney at least has more acting talent), from moment one, comes off as a self-absorbed prick and it tainted my view of him throughout the rest of the film. He claims in his voiceover that his wife’s accident was meant to be her way of giving him a wakeup call for him to be a better person. Um, fucking what now? It was an accident, you dick. She didn’t do it deliberately to make you a better man. Maybe God was messing with you, but not her. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, man. The world doesn’t revolve around you. It’s such a horribly self-absorbed narration, and ultimately an ill-advised one, especially given how barely it is used in the film. And unlike, say, “The Wonder Years”, where narration is used in a humorous and ironic way, the narration here serves to do Clooney’s job for him. It doesn’t allow him to, y’know, act. So I was relieved when it was finally dispensed with, jarring as it was.

Clooney’s character, I think, is meant to be sympathetic, but right from the word go, I had no sympathy for him at all and it kept me at a distance throughout the entire film. And that’s a shame, because the themes here are pretty universal. At one point, Clooney berates his comatosed wife for cheating on him. Wronged or not, I just did not find that acceptable at all. Worse, in the next scene he chastises teen daughter Shailene Woodley for doing the same damn thing he just did! What the hell? Did Payne and his co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (the latter apparently of TV’s “Community” semi-fame) re-read anything they actually wrote? It makes no damn sense. Or were they following the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings to the letter? I haven’t read it, but I doubt it’s the latter. Clooney was already an absentee father and husband (something brought up and then quickly swept under the rug, ‘coz Clooney’s meant to be a great guy we’re supposed to care about. So why bring it up at all then?), and now he’s yelling at a woman in a coma...it just isn’t right, and more importantly, it’s not believable. If there’s anyone out there who would yell at a person in a coma, that’s someone I never want to meet.

I’m sorry, but Payne has swung and missed badly here, with a seriously unlikeable protagonist being a major miscalculation. I also think the combination of grief and infidelity, whilst it worked in “About Schmidt”, proves entirely unpleasant and uninteresting here. “Schmidt” was smart enough not to focus too much on the unpleasant and morose aspects, but Payne seems to wallow in unpleasantness here. This situation is ugly, and not interesting to me. Why do people love this movie? I’m not being facetious, I just don’t see what everyone else sees in this film (Although I certainly saw the ending a mile away. The whole thing with Clooney and the land deal is TV-level stuff, and clichéd at that. A land deal? Condos being built? Gee, haven’t seen that before in a film). I have absolutely no idea why this was nominated for any Oscars at all, let alone Best Picture and Best Lead Actor (Which should be changed to the ‘George Clooney Award for George Clooney Playing George Clooney in a George Clooney-like Manner’). To me, this seemed like a paid vacation to Hawaii. A lazy, clichéd film with a sitcom-esque story based on some potentially interesting and identifiable themes of grief, loss, and family.

For instance, the casting of Shailene Woodley in this film bothered me. Not just because her TV persona (on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) annoys me and she’s the ugliest crier in the entire world. No. Her casting here is a cliché. It’s the typical transition from wholesome TV image (well, maybe not wholesome, her character was pregnant in the first season) turned on its head for her big slutty movie debut. Playing a foul-mouthed ‘wild child’ is just too obvious and clichéd, and so I’m glad the Academy at least snubbed her attempt at Oscar-hogging. Besides, she’s way too skinny to be wearing a bikini. Olive Oyl had more meat on her bones. Admittedly, Woodley is a much better actress than say fellow TV to film convert Blake Lively, but she’s a lot goofier-looking and far more annoying. I just don’t like the girl.

I will admit, however, that the film has positive attributes. Not enough of them, but they are present. In addition to the absolutely perfect casting of the always douchy Matthew Lillard (seriously, he was born to play a spineless, cheating douchebag), the film contains two entertaining performances by Nick Krause, and especially Judy Greer. As the douchy, dumbarse boyfriend, Krause steals his every scene. The guy’s so wrong he’s right (Except when he laughs at someone with dementia. That’s as unlikely and cruel as Clooney yelling his wife in a coma). Biggest dickhead on the planet and all the more entertaining for it. Judy Greer has always annoyed me, but not only is she the perfect match for Lillard, but she gives the best and only affecting performance in the entire film. If anyone has a right to be mad at anyone, it’s this poor, sweet-natured woman, the only likeable character in this sorry lot. And that’s the film’s biggest problem (or one of them), not acting (no one gives a bad performance here, really), but likeability. The main character is just horrible (there’s one person who does have a right to be angry with the wife- and does show that frustration at one point- but not Clooney, who should have an emotional attachment and thus should know better), and only gets a little less horrible towards the end. For instance, Krause reveals an emotional pain in his own life, and Clooney completely no-sells it. He’s pouring his heart out here, and Clooney is too self-involved to care! What an arsehole! I must give credit, however to the absolutely stunning scenery and the apt. soundtrack full of traditional Hawaiian music. I’m not an island kinda guy, but even I wanna go to Hawaii now after the way Phedon Papamichael (also a filmmaker, who directed “From Within” and “Sketch Artist” in addition to lensing “Cool Runnings” and “Poison Ivy”) photographs this stunning landscape. It looks like a truly beautiful place. The music is probably an acquired taste (some will find it irritatingly monotonous and insistent), but I really appreciated it, as it fit the film and the landscape perfectly.

I’m sorry if you loved this film, I’m definitely in the minority here. But I simply don’t see anything worthwhile here. The subject matter is tired, unpleasant, and mostly uninteresting, and the characters are mostly objectionable. Nice scenery, but I’m struggling to get much out of this at all. One of the most overhyped films I’ve seen since “Avatar” at least.

Rating: C

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: The Vineyard

James Hong stars as Dr. Elsen Po, a famed winemaker who apparently dabbles in film producing. He invites a bunch of young actors (including Playboy Playmate Karen Witter...who remains clothed) to his secluded island mansion to supposedly audition for a film project. But Dr. Po isn’t all that he appears. He’s a devious and kinky nutjob who is actually hundreds of years old and keeps women chained up in his basement because he needs their blood to retain his youthful appearance (He doesn’t care if they have green eyes or not, however). That’s why his wine is so popular, ‘coz this ‘ol drop of red is really blood. Unsurprisingly, the dopey young actors are all dispatched one by one. Michael Wong plays a nosey journalist who manages to find his way to Po’s poon-tang palatial estate and starts snooping around. Oh, and don’t ask me about the half-buried zombies the film cuts to from time to time without ever fully integrating them into the film. Karl-Heinz Teuber plays an agent associate of the good doctor’s.

When actors decide to try their hand at directing, not all of them hit it out of the park early on like Charles Laughton (“Night of the Hunter”), Mel Gibson (“The Man Without a Face”), Bill Paxton (“Frailty”), Billy Bob Thornton (“Sling Blade”), or Clint Eastwood (“Play Misty For Me”). In fact, quite often one ends up with at best a small ‘personal’ film with limited appeal (Brando’s “One-Eyed Jacks”, Emilio Estevez’s “Wisdom”, Sidney Poitier’s “Buck and the Preacher”, Kevin Spacey’s “Albino Alligator”), or at worst a self-indulgent vanity project (Seagal’s “On Deadly Ground”, Eddie Murphy’s “Harlem Nights”, Dan Aykroyd’s “Nothing But Trouble”, etc). This little-seen oddity from 1989 is co-directed, co-written by, and stars character actor James Hong, perhaps best known as David Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s brilliant ode to Hong Kong martial-arts fantasies “Big Trouble in Little China”. Unfortunately, whilst Hong and co-writers James Marlowe and Douglas Condo have given their leading man a slightly Lo Pan-ish role, the film is a dud.

Plot-wise, this should’ve been a slam dunk, with its mixture of Lo Pan and Edgar Allen Poe, it’s conceptually interesting. And although it’s somewhat bizarre that a winemaker would turn filmmaker (or at least pretend to be one for nefarious reasons), it could work as a kind of in-joke about director Francis Ford Coppola, for instance. Unfortunately, Hong, his co-writers, and co-director William Rice have astonishingly turned some interesting ideas into a very blah film that often meanders and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it sounds. Meanwhile, some of the performances are porno-bad, especially Michael Wong, who is also strangely credited as a ‘spider wrangler’. Hong himself isn’t bad, but somewhat disappointing. The role never really allows him to cut loose like Lo Pan did. The FX and makeup aren’t terrible for a low-budget film from 1989, but the rest of the film is cheap as hell.

It has also clearly been made by an egotist. I mean, Hong casts himself as a total pants man, for starters (Indeed!). Lots of hot bods, and a cool scene involving a chick coughing up spiders, but at the end of the day this is easily forgettable, no matter its pedigree.

Rating: C