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, September 1, 2012

Review: Hell Below Zero


Alan Ladd decides to join a whaling crew in the Antarctic as a ship’s mate, as a favour to Joan Tetzel, whose father has died. The old man was apparently a former fleet captain who leapt from the bow of a company ship. It is said to be suicide, Tetzel thinks otherwise. Ladd thinks Tetzel is fetching. Joseph Tomelty is a ship captain, Niall MacGinnis is the drunk doctor on board, Basil Sydney is co-owner of the ship also on board, and Jill Bennett is a spunky Norwegian captain of a whaling vessel. Stanley Baker is Sydney’s son and one-time flame of Tetzel whom Sydney is very protective of.

 

Dull 1954 cheapie from the usually reliable Mark Robson (“The Seventh Victim”, “The Harder They Fall”, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness”), was one of a few British films Ladd made around this period. It’s less shoddy-looking than “The Red Beret”, but it’s still pretty lifeless and poorly scripted. A major disappointment given the presence of several 007 alumni in the credits (writer Richard Maibaum, producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, and it was also shot at Pinewood- yeah, I stretched it a bit on the last one)

 

The cast looks great on paper, but plays differently in actuality. Ladd is OK in the lead, though his introductory scenes (roughing up a dodgy acquaintance) are laughable. Tetzel, who was one of the few bright spots in Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case”, is fairly horrid as the love interest. I’m not sure what was going on with her at the time, but she’s really off in this one. The talented Welsh actor Stanley Baker never really gets a chance to do much as the far too obvious villain, his character is left on the sidelines for far too long to be effective. MacGinnis, and especially Bennett steal their every scene, and provide the film’s only memorable moments.

 

Shockingly frank (and fully endorsed) footage of whaling practices not really frowned upon at the time, will definitely offend sensitive types (and likely many others, myself included) and further shows that this C-grade film really ought to have been forgotten. The screenplay is by Alec Coppel (“Vertigo”, “The Black Knight”, another British film with Ladd), Max Trell (“New Mexico”, with Lew Ayres), and Richard Maibaum (“Dr. No”, “From Russia With Love”, “Goldfinger”, “Licence to Kill”). Supposedly based on a novel by Hammond Innes (“The Wreck of the Mary Deare”), which I haven’t read.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: Hell Comes to Frogtown


Ten years ago, the world was all-but obliterated by nuclear war. Roddy Piper stars as Sam ‘Hell’ Hellman, one of the few fertile men alive, who has signed a contract with MedTech. Saddled with an electronic chastity belt, his assignment is to head out into mutant territory to rescue some fertile young women captured by amphibian ruler Commander Toty (Brian Frank). He is then required to...um...repopulate the world. In addition to his chastity belt (which gives him a shock whenever he fails to control himself), Sam is kept in line by nerdy Nurse Spangle (Sandahl Bergman!), who is one cold fish. Cec Verrill plays the butch Corporal Centinella, a military tough gal who mans (er...y’know) the M60 machine gun atop the customised ambulance our protagonists are sporting. Rory Calhoun turns up as Looney Tunes, an old buddy of Sam’s, whilst perennial villain William Smith plays the fascistic Captain Devlin, who is most displeased when he finds Sam bedding his daughter, and we later find has turned arms dealer.

 

Every once in a while, a film comes along that you just can’t quite get a handle on whether you liked it or not. Usually I can easily discern between a great film, a great cheesy film (or guilty pleasure), a film so bad it’s funny/enjoyable, and a film that is just outright terrible. However, along comes a film like this 1987 oddity from directors Donald G. Jackson (“Lingerie Kickboxer”, “Rollergator”, and several other roller-blade themed films) and R.J. Kizer (predominantly a sound editor by trade), and it damn nearly gives me a migraine trying to work out what I think of it. Honestly, the best I can come up with is that this film exists on a plane where it is impossible to discern whether it’s a good film or a terrible one. My mind is still too frazzled to work it out. A guilty pleasure? Well, I never feel guilty about liking anything. But it’s certainly a cult item, and whatever you make of it, I at least found it compelling viewing and that counts for something.

 

I would’ve loved to have been at the meeting where the idea for this was pitched. If Hunter S. Thompson and Philip K. Dick were to ever collaborate on a sci-fi story, this might be the bizarro result. Plot-wise the film is something of a mixture between a porno, “Mad Max II: The Road Warrior”, and cult favourites “Barbarella”, and “Tank Girl”, but with special FX/makeup lifted from “Howard the Duck”. Yes, the title character in “Howard the Duck” looked freakish and thoroughly unappealing, but with seemingly similar technology applied here, it seems more at home. These are mutant amphibians, they’re not cuddly ducks, and the FX are lots of oddball fun.

 

Former wrestler Roddy Piper is hilarious, cast as an emasculated hunk. For a wrestler, Piper was always kinda scrawny looking, and that’s why he was often a bit of a cheater. In this film, compared to everyone else on screen, he looks like Hulk Freakin’ Hogan. Dude is deceptively big, I guess. This isn’t Piper with his vintage ‘Hot Rod’ crazy rambling persona, but it’s pretty close. I like “They Live”, but his starring debut here allows Piper more room to play around. Rory Calhoun has fun in a colourful part in a film full of colourful parts. At any rate, the film is better than the two “Angel” films he appeared in around this time. Sandal Bergman, looking alarmingly like a skinny, blonde Katey Sagal, is amusingly cast and in seriously good shape. Frighteningly good shape, actually.

 

The screenplay is by Randall Frakes (who comes from an FX background, working on “Escape From New York” and “Battle Beyond the Stars”), from a story by Frakes and Jackson. I don’t know what to make of this film except it fascinated and amused me from start to finish. It is what it is, and I think I kinda enjoyed it. It’s something, at least. It definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste, though.

 

Rating: Um...Can I use the whole alphabet?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: American Movie


Directed by Chris Smith, this documentary from 2009 introduces us to a modern day Edward D. Wood Jr. in Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt (whom Smith met at a film class Smith was teaching). Borchardt, who barely makes a living doing odd jobs, and who has a whole lot of passion to be a filmmaker (His favourite films include “Night of the Living Dead”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and- I shit you not- “The Seventh Seal”). Unfortunately, he seems to have a serious lack of actual talent. Undeterred, the 30 year-old pours his heart, soul, and a substantial amount of money from his 82 year-old and possibly senile Uncle Bill, into pursuing his dream project. Called “Northwestern”, it will be a personal story about dead-end life in Wisconsin, full of ‘rust and decay’. Borchardt, who has been making movies since he was 12 (with titles like ‘The More the Scarier’ and its apparent sequels), hasn’t yet got the funds to make his dream film. In fact, despite having kids to support, he’s practically broke. So what’s a super-driven filmmaker with seemingly no concern for the welfare of his kids to do? Borchardt decides to finish the 30 odd minute short B&W horror film “Coven”, which he started years ago but never got around to completing. Once finished, he hopes to sell about 3,000 copies on VHS at $14. 95, and that’ll be enough to get “Northwestern” up and running. Oh, and according to Borchardt, that’s “Coe-ven”, not “Coven”, which to Borchardt, sounds too much like ‘oven’. No one ever said the guy was a master linguist, folks.

 

This film is alternately hilarious, sad, depressing, off-putting, and even inspirational. I mean, is there anyone who looks at Borchardt and doesn’t instantly feel superior? No offense, but as much as “Coven” looks to have a couple of nifty shot compositions, the guy’s not even Russ Meyer, let alone Spielberg, Scorsese, Fellini or Truffaut. At times I wasn’t sure if Smith wanted us to sympathise with Borchardt or laugh at him, and there is the faint whiff of the latter intention that I couldn’t quite shake I must say (though Smith doesn’t appear on camera himself to offer any comment, nor does it appear that any unfair editing or overt manipulation is at play here, let me make that perfectly clear). I can’t say I saw much purpose to the film outside of that. I mean, Smith must’ve had a reason at the outset for making this film, surely. And if the intention was to sympathise with Borchardt, there’s one big roadblock preventing that: Mark Borchardt himself. He’s somewhat of an interesting guy, at times, but he’s also a high school dropout (and apparently he was far from the worst student in the world) who rather than focus on earning money to help out with his kids (who I’m sure he loves, don’t get me wrong), would rather toil away at his lifelong passion that doesn’t ultimately seem worth it. He’s perhaps not the worst filmmaker in the world, but at the same time, sometimes you need to let go of your dreams and enter the real world. I felt as though Mark (who perhaps has some Asperger’s tendencies or something of that sort that has him not always noticing the feelings of others, let alone his lack of talent) had already passed that point by the time we meet him. So whilst he doesn’t quite classify as a deadbeat dad (he does work and does seem to be trying) it’s still a little hard to sympathise with him, particularly when I’ve already made a point of disagreeing with the main character in “Into the Wild” making similarly stupidly stubborn life choices. He’s also occasionally extremely belligerent and annoying, especially when drunk. And to further the Ed Wood connection, his acquiring of his ailing uncle’s funds for his film projects seems like the kind of shameless, almost cruel manipulation that detractors of Ed Wood (i.e. Bela Lugosi’s son) would often accuse him of. I felt really uneasy during the scenes with poor, crotchety Uncle Bill because I wasn’t entirely sure how complicit he was in the whole thing (Sadly he died not long after filming). I couldn’t even laugh as much as I wanted to at the numerous takes Mark made the increasingly tired Uncle Bill go through just for a couple of lines (And you thought Kubrick’s treatment of Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers on “The Shining” was bad!). He’s 82, Mark, fuck saying it with passion and meaning. He’s saying the lines the best way he can, and you’re lucky he’s even doing it. Let the poor guy have a lie down, you self-serving jerk. Frankly, Mark’s a bit unpleasant to be around at times. Fascinating perhaps, but certainly a bit tiring after a while.

 

Still, there are some really great moments here in what is a pretty solid documentary. From Mark’s idiotic insistence on the correct pronunciation of “Coven”, to the poor sap of an actor who had a hard time of it with a stunt gone wrong during initial photography of “Coven”, only to return a few years later for the tricked-up door he’s meant to be bashed into still not giving way enough. Priceless stuff, and you honestly couldn’t make any of this shit up. The film also has a dose of real heart from Mark’s long-time buddy and film composer Mike Schank. This big teddy bear of a man is a recently recovering alcoholic and drug user whose brain cells appear to have been mostly fried at this point. Much of his camera time sees him with a blank, zonked-out stare and giggling like he’s just partaken in some questionable chocolate-y treats. But beyond the Silent Bob-esque stoner laughs one initially has at his expense, is a sweet-natured man who, in the film’s saddest and most oddly touching moment offers up this monologue about their friendship, “I was partying in my basement and I used to get really pissed off inside because I would want to party really heavy and no one else would, then all of a sudden Mark came along and I was so happy that I found someone that would drink vodka with me”. See, everyone needs a friend. Even the barely coherent stoners. I mean, if that doesn’t go straight to your heartstrings, you need to check your pulse. It’s kinda sweet, in a low-rent, douchy working class kinda way. I’ve heard Schank (who has a thing for scratch lottery tickets and beams like a kid on Christmas when he wins $50) is a little more ‘normal’ and functional outside of the film (and indeed his cover of ‘Mr. Bojangles’ played over the end credits is genuinely accomplished, certainly more than his ‘original’ songs that are practically copies of well-known songs like Metallica’s ‘Fight Fire With Fire’), and I wish the big lug the best of luck in whatever he’s been doing in the more than ten years since this film was released. He’s the real star of this film and a pretty cool guy who seems to know very well what his substance abuse has left him with.

 

I wish this film had been a bit shorter, perhaps, because while it is initially intriguing to see one of American cinema’s non-success stories for a change, actually enduring the whole thing isn’t quite as insightful or rewarding as Mr. Smith perhaps thinks. It’s a solid film, but I never quite got in its wavelength as much as I think was intended because Mr. Borchardt’s lack of success is perhaps not entirely admirable. He’s just not talented enough, and on evidence here, he stubbornly refuses to see that and change the course of direction his life is on. There’s a limit to how much admiration I can have for a guy like that because his problems are largely his own doing. It’s not like he’s a great undiscovered, unheralded talent or anything.

 

At the end of the day, I found this film interesting, entertaining, infuriating, funny, sad, pathetic, questionable, and tiring all rolled into one, and sometimes all in the same scene. Definitely worth seeing at least once.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2


Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) use goblin Griphook (Warwick Davis, who also plays Prof. Flitwick) and a little magic to break into Bellatrix Lestrange’s (Helena Bonham-Carter) vault to destroy one of the remaining Horcruxes, which contain the soul of Lord Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes). Apparently there is another one on the premises of Hogwarts, where the sinister Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman) has taken over after the death of Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Harry gathers together the students of Hogwarts (and a few other allies) for a final battle with Voldermort and his horde, soon to descend upon Hogwarts.

 

I know millions worship everything Harry Potter-related, but as someone who has never read the books, the series of films have been somewhat hit or miss for me. Too many characters, too little room for depth, and a seriously underwhelming (and underused) villain have stopped me from getting into the series, though I might’ve enjoyed it as an 11 year-old. This finale from director David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”) and writer Steven Kloves isn’t as impressive as the first two (and best) entries in the series, but is much better than its predecessor (it has an ending, for starters), and certainly miles ahead of the non-event “Goblet of Fire” (seriously, that film is entirely irrelevant, looking back, and felt awfully bloody meaningless at the time).

 

I enjoyed this film overall, but I still have some pretty big problems with it. They are mostly the same problems as previously, only slightly less annoying and problematic this time, perhaps. The abundance of characters and lack of depth in those characters is probably the most glaring issue here, given that this is the final film and one can reflect on how many characters we’ve been introduced to and how far they have come...which in most cases, isn’t anywhere near far enough. What pisses me off most is that new characters are still being introduced here (including a well-cast Ciaran Hinds), and yet we still don’t have three dimensions to any of the series regulars, let alone the rogue’s gallery of guest stars. Despite overall enjoying the film, this sour point nearly had me pulling out what little hair I have left. Talented dwarf actor Warwick Davis (I think I’m likely the only one on the planet who  enjoyed “Life’s Too Short”) gets to play a new character here, and does so terrifically, but given his Prof. Flitwick is already barely half a dimension deep, it serves to make me angry that more attention wasn’t paid to Flitwick throughout the series. Hagrid appears in this film, and yet he feels about as familiar as John Hurt, who appears here for the first time since his cameo in the first film. There’s also too much Julie Fucking Walters here and not enough Helena Bonham Carter. Meanwhile, given it’s just a walk-on, I really hope a stand-in was used instead of Emma Thompson. Jim Broadbent and Dame Maggie Smith might as well not have turned up, either (Mind you, at least Smith gets dialogue here in what seems like the first time in about three films). Why cast such fine actors if you aren’t going to use them much? Cho Chang (Katie Leung) comes back for a millisecond here- remember her? She almost used to be a character that one time. Who is Ginny? Why should I care? She’s Cho Chang, but less Asian and genetically related to Ron. Neither is a real character, they’re just the girl Harry gets to kiss in one of the films.

 

Once you realise this, it’s only a matter of time before you start to notice the same damn thing about supposedly central characters Ron and Hermione. I know the name “Harry Potter” appears in the title of all of these films, but the staggering lack of importance, depth, purpose, and growth in his two best friends is astounding. When Harry goes off on his own (yet again!) in the film, I finally realised that Hermione and Ron are so useless as fuck that the series could’ve done without them, except that a nerd with no friends who dresses in a black cloak would give off creepy vibes. Hermione and Ron, aside from their far-too brief moments of kinda-sorta romance, are entirely subservient characters who merely react to stuff that happens to Harry. Like “The Chronicles of Narnia”, it probably isn’t an issue on the printed page because the main characters act as our guide/viewpoint into the world and we see ourselves in them, but on film, it’s unacceptable. I know it’s called Harry Potter, but who are Hermione and Ron away from Harry? All I know about Hermione is that she’s the most seriously serious and seriously boring character in the series. The lack of character development really keeps this series from soaring, in my eyes.

 

And y’know what? I can make an argument for the lack of progression in the main character, too. Think about it. Unless the books contain a fountain of depth not seen on the screen, how much has the character of Harry Potter developed in the eight films? I’d say he stopped developing about three films back. Everything since (and a lot of it before) has just been padding of one form or another as Harry and Lord Voldemort’s final showdown crawls into being. Some of the padding has been amusing, some of it annoying, almost all of it extraneous. Personally, I think the series would’ve been better if it left out a couple of the books almost entirely, and pared down the number of films. As is, it has taken far too long for the chief villain to show up in the series, another problem I’ve always had. He’s the tardiest villain of all-time, and basically, Voldermort just all round sucks. Even now with an expanded role in this film, he still fails to register. He’s not sinister, he’s not interesting, and the makeup is stupid. This is the big baddie of the series? Hmm, maybe a big glowing eye wasn’t so bad, after all. Ralph Fiennes is capable of magnificent villainy, but he swings and misses here.

 

I also have a serious gripe or two with the final moments of the film so ****** SPOILER WARNING ****** I’m sorry, but Harry needed to die. This is more a complaint with Ms. Rowling’s text, I suppose, but he and Voldermort were so inextricably linked that the story needed to go through with what it promised. What could happen to Harry Potter in his life after these events that would measure up? Obviously, this is the last (as far as anyone knows) we’ll see of him, but still, there’s nowhere for him to go after being the ‘Chosen One’ so he might as well have been killed off. Let him die, it’s a cheat otherwise. I also had serious misgivings about the makeup (or lack thereof in many cases) applied to the actors in the epilogue set 19 years later. Harry looks 22 at most and simply hasn’t shaved in a few days, whilst Hermione and Ron don’t look any different at all. Poor Draco, meanwhile, looks about 50. That said, at least it doesn’t have about 20 endings and a 15 minute end credits, so there’s that. ****** END SPOILER ****** Meanwhile, Harry and the gang having to impersonate other people was fun in “Order of the Phoenix”, but it’s utterly redundant here.

 

Now, with all that unpleasantness out of the way, let me tell you that I overall liked the film. In fact, it’s probably among the better films in the series, though still behind the first two and “Order of the Phoenix” (which, by the way, is the only one not scripted by Kloves). Flawed or not, it’s still a very watchable yarn, and the most epic-scale of any of the films. Yes, I still felt like I had wandered into the middle of a story, as is always the case in these films, but I still found myself enjoying it. Unlike the previous film, at least it’s complete. It actually goes somewhere and I felt somewhat entertained by the end, warts and all.

 

With the exception of one murky battle scene (involving shitty CGI, perhaps a 3D-related issue), the film is surprisingly well-lit by cinematographer Eduardo Serra (“What Dreams May Come”, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1”). It’s a really beautiful film at times, and the beginning is actually surprisingly bright for this rather dark and gloomy series. Even though you can tell where 3D comes into play, the best special effect in the film is a fireball with what looks like three Voldermort heads coming out. Meanwhile, as crap as Voldermort is, Alan Rickman’s sinister Snape makes up for what is lacking somewhat. He’s easily the most interesting and most layered character in the entire series, and Rickman walks off with the entire film. Warwick Davis’ second role as Griphook proves far more interesting than the forgettable Professor Flitwick and gives the talented actor more to say and do. I still don’t like them giving him a second role when his first one is still so underdeveloped after eight films, though.

 

Overall, I liked this film well enough, but as with most of the films in the series, there are still serious problems in regards to the characters. Perhaps it’s just not an easy series of novels to film. Then again, the series is hugely popular, so perhaps I just don’t get it. I’m sure I’m in the minority on this one for not absolutely loving every single second of it.

 

Rating: B-