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, October 13, 2012

Review: Reach for Glory

The story of several London kids relocated to coastal town life as a result of the ongoing WWII. The kids are raised on patriotic rhetoric and engage in ‘war games’ with other kids. They hope the war lasts long enough for them to be of active service age and do their duty for their country. Unfortunately, the fun and ‘boys own adventure’ becomes rather dangerous when Jewish Austrian refugee Oliver Grimm becomes a target of their ignorance and bullying. Martin Tomlinson, a member of this ‘gang’, is Grimm’s one and only friend, and they form a deep bond. Tomlinson is also the younger brother of a conscientious objector, which deeply upsets father Harry Andrews, a proud military captain who is bitter about being injured and inactive. Kay Walsh is Tomlinson’s mum, always getting on Andrews’ nerves, nagging and berating him.

Entertaining, interesting 1962 Philip Leacock (“The War Lover”, “The Little Kidnappers”, “13 West Street”) film not only gives us a view of WWII from the unique perspective of kids, but also drops hints of then-daring topics like homosexuality (it’s really subtle, but definitely there for anyone paying attention and still a bit shocking given the ages of the characters involved), not to mention dealing with anti-Semitism from a child’s perspective.

All the performances are perfectly fine from both young and old (the marital relations between Andrews and Walsh are surprisingly funny in an otherwise rather serious film), but it completely stops just as it was starting to actually go somewhere. I felt somewhat disappointed in the end. But up until then this was a really interesting and fairly unique war story which might even be viewed as anti-war in sentiment. Certainly it deals with the danger of indoctrinating jingoistic war sentiments on impressionable children.

Call it a “Lord of the Flies” variant, it might’ve been a real winner had it not conked out at the end, with several questions left hanging. Still, it’s worth a look if you can find it. Based on the novel “The Custard Boys” by John Rae, the screenplay is by Jud Kinberg, John Kohn (who both worked on “Vampire Circus” for Hammer Studios, and the minor “Siege of the Saxons”), and Rae himself.

Rating: B-

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Footloose

Bostonian teen Kenny Wormald moves to Bomont, Georgia to live with his Aunt and Uncle (Kim Dickens and Ray McKinnon) after the death of his mother. Bomont is a somewhat conservative town which three years ago banned unsupervised public dancing for minors and playing loud music, as well as imposing a curfew on minors. This was in the wake of an horrific alcohol-related car accident that killed several teens, including the son of the town’s well-respected preacher, Rev. Moore (Dennis Quaid). Former gymnast and dancer Wormald quickly sets his sights on the Rev’s rebellious daughter (Julianne Hough), whilst also challenging the town’s laws about dancing. Miles Teller plays the country bumpkin whom Wormald befriends and also teaches to dance. Patrick John Flueger is Hough’s abusive, a-hole boyfriend, Ziah Colon is Hough’s best pal, and Andie MacDowell is her mother and the Rev’s wife.


The good news is this 2011 remake from writer-director Craig Brewer (“Hustle and Flow”, the terrific “Blake Snake Moan”) isn’t much different from the beloved 1984 original. The bad news is...well, have you watched the original in the last fifteen years or so? Yeah, so maybe there is no good news after all. The soundtrack is still great, the acting isn’t bad, but the story just doesn’t work (I also prefer watching Jennifer Beals dance to Kevin Bacon, sorry but it’s true). I don’t even think the story was terribly plausible in 1984, either. It seemed more indicative of the 1950s and Elvis the Pelvis to me. In this remake Brewer tries his best to cover for this absurd story of a hick town banning loud music, teenagers out after curfew, and dancing. I admire the ballsy opening of following up a rousing dancing session set to the Kenny Loggins title track (played again at the end by country crooner Blake Shelton in rather respectful fashion) with a car accident. It takes the wind out of the audience, who were just about set for a fun time. It does not, however make this story any less dumb-arse, and I just don’t understand what appeal it had to a normally interesting filmmaker like Brewer. I don’t want to call him a sell-out, but it sure looks like it, because the film doesn’t offer anything deep. That would be fine if not for the fact that it’s so stupid and clichéd, in addition to being a remake of an MTV-era bubblegum film. It’s actually weaker than the original, if you ask me. Look, maybe I have it wrong. Maybe some of you will tell me that hick bible-belt towns like this still exist, but I didn’t buy it as presented to me by Brewer. I didn’t believe Dennis Quaid’s humourless preacher banning everybody’s fun anymore than I believed Wormald’s fake-arse Bah-stan accent (weird that he actually is from Boston apparently), or that kids in 2011 would listen to Quiet Riot’s brilliant headbanger ‘Metal Health (Bang Your Head)’ or Deniece Williams’ infectious ‘Let’s Hear it for the Boy’. The only place you hear those songs (outside of my house) these days is in the movies. Just ‘coz they were in the original, doesn’t mean they work in 2011. I know Brewer kinda had to include them, but he didn’t need to make the movie at all if you ask me.


Poor Dennis Quaid hasn’t got a chance in the preacher role, and he plays it like he completely disagrees with his character’s beliefs and actions. The character was a bit over-the-top in the original, but at least you couldn’t say John Lithgow was miscast in the role. Quaid just seems to have too much of a laidback, easygoing presence on screen and isn’t right for the part, and there’s something indefinable in his performance that suggests he knows it (Eventually Brewer seems to realise it too and lets the character off a lot easier than Lithgow was afforded). Sure, Lithgow is capable of being affable on screen, but Quaid (a good and charming actor in the right role) simply doesn’t speak bible-thumping, rock ‘n’ roll-hating preacher to me, and giving him a rationale behind his behaviour seemed tacked-on and contrived to me. Lithgow I could see hating rock music, but Quaid? Didn’t he play Jerry Lee Lewis once? I don’t blame Quaid if he didn’t believe in his character. There’s some really wonky logic going on. He and several other of the town’s adults have a supposed opposition to ‘certain kinds of music’, and based on one remark from the school principal, I’m gonna suggest they’re talking about hip-hop. Here’s the problem, though. Not even the film’s few African-American characters seem to be particularly into that thar hippity hop music. Hell, one of the film’s biggest dance routines and musical interludes is a boot scootin’ boogie (not sure whether the aforementioned African-American characters were present in this scene, though). This is Hicksville USA, not to mention a town that banned dancing and loud music several years back. I doubt Jay-Zed (Shut up, it’s Zed, not Zee!) and Snoopy Doggy Woggy are very much in this public’s discourse (though some of the dancing is probably hip-hop influenced). In fact, the Patrick Flueger character is anything but a hippity hop guy yet it doesn’t stop him from Chris Browning a girl at one point. Even heavy metal is unlikely to be on most of these people’s radars, as it’s outsider Wormald who listens to Quiet Riot. This seemed like a major oversight to me, because the music in the film seemed pretty old-fashioned and non-controversial to my ears (Brewer even throws in some of his beloved blues). Do people even boot scoot anymore? The closest we get to hip-hop is a DJ doing his best to ruin Kenny Loggins’ title track at the beginning of the film by talking over it.


The problems don’t end there, however. Brewer’s casting of two dancers in the lead roles has mixed success. Wormald looks a bit like a young Johnny Depp and is generally OK in the Kevin Bacon role. It’s not like Bacon was back in 84 the talent he is now, and Wormald is certainly more talented and charismatic than say, Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson. He also doesn’t give you any indication that I could see that he’s a dancer attempting to act. He’s no De Niro by a long shot, but he’s not amateurish or lost at sea, either. But Julianne Hough? Oh dear lord. Putting aside the fact that the supposedly mid-20s Hough looks to be at least 32 (I know I’m not the first to say this, so I don’t feel so bad picking on her) in most scenes, she has a completely irritating screen presence. Whether it’s her constant hip-swaying strut as though she’s looking for her pole, or her similarly ever-present ‘I’m so hot’ smile, the girl appears to not have a humble bone in her tiny body. I’m not sure whether it’s because she comes from a dance background, but everything about her is so calculated, choreographed, and self-absorbedly attention-seeking. If she’s to have a future in movies, I suggest someone tells her that there’s a difference between acting out a part in a dance routine and movie acting. I’m no expert on either, but from what I do know, the former seems to require the audience to pay very close attention to everything Hough is doing, whereas in acting, it’s usually the case that you’re trying to seem natural, not giving a performance even though you actually are. So I found Hough’s every moment on screen excruciating, whether she can dance or not. Perhaps she wanted her character to come across that way, perhaps she’s a self-absorbed person in real-life (she certainly seems to think she’s hot on the basis of her performance here), or perhaps she just has a lot to learn about acting in film.


Brewer has perhaps tried to cover for his leads’ lack of acting experience by throwing in a few ‘real’ actors, but of those, only an amusing Ray McKinnon really registers positively. He and the likeable Miles Teller (in the part played originally by the late Chris Penn) give the best performances in the film, though Kim Dickens has one fine scene as well. Andie MacDowell gets very little time in the Dianne Wiest part, but given I find MacDowell an awful actress (despite shockingly having 30 years experience in movies), that might not be a completely bad thing. That said, her usually irritating South Carolina (I think) accent is for perhaps the first time in her career (at least outside of “Bad Girls”) suited to the role she plays. I still think she’s a remarkably untalented actress, however, and that accent grates on me, authentic or not. Oh, but kudos to whoever cast Ziah Colon in the Sarah Jessica Parker role. That’s an hilariously shameless bit of casting right there. People pick on Parker for having a bit of a horse face, and casting someone who looks possibly Jewish or at least Middle Eastern ethnicity (turns out Colon, as the last name might suggest, is of Puerto Rican descent, however) is just rubbing it in (not to mention playing on racial stereotypes). The frizzy hair would’ve been enough of a giveaway, but no, Brewer (or at least the casting agent) goes the extra mile. Funny stuff, whether it’s meant to be or not. Mind you, why not go even an extra step further and hire a horse for the role? I mean, it’s already unflattering enough, you might as well go all the way, right?


Then there’s the dancing. I won’t deny that the big dance finale is enjoyable stuff as a standalone spectacle, but the film overall is too obviously choreographed. Let me explain. The dancing in this film should come from a place of long suppression finally reaching breaking point as the kids go wild. My memories of the original are fuzzy (Like I said, “Flashdance” was more my thing, and even that’s not much of a movie either), but I seem to recall that the dance routines in that film were somewhat organic. But here? It’s like the story stops dead for an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance”. There’s a clear difference, because although Wormald does get that gymnastics-inspired routine where he lets off steam (Just as Kevin Bacon did, if I’m not mistaken, the scene itself looks very similar), most of the other dance routines don’t come from a place of authenticity based on the character’s repression of their artistic/sexual freedom. They are set-pieces and everyone involved (especially Hough) seem to behave and move in these scenes in a far too professional and choreographed manner that it broke the illusion. Fictional or not, popcorn fluff or not, I need to be pulled into this film’s world so I can go along for the ride, and every time there was a group dance scene, the illusion was shattered. I was no longer watching the characters, I wasn’t even sure I was watching the actors playing these characters, either. Because the dance scenes look so professional and flawless (to my untrained eyes), I honestly felt like I was watching a “Footloose”-themed episode of “So You Think You Can Dance”. But without Cat Deeley (so then what’s the damn point?) If the town banned dancing several years ago, then how in the hell are these dancers not only so talented, but so clearly rehearsed as a unit? Sure, the film showed the characters occasionally defying the laws, but the dance scenes are so well-choreographed and clearly rehearsed that it wasn’t at all plausible. Then again, considering how many movies there are out there that are merely dancing spectacles (the “Step Up” franchise, in particular) and barely even attempt to play like a real movie, perhaps there’s a section of the public who won’t care about this as much as I do. But it bugged me, because it took me out of the story, clichéd and silly as that story might already have been. Brewer might say that towns banning dancing are a reality, but he hasn’t made it plausible enough here for me to believe it.


At the end of the day, this is not a good film at all. In addition to a storyline I just couldn’t accept, the film plays like a special episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” or at least “Glee”, and I hate “Glee” with every fibre of my being (Irrelevant side note: Why does the African-American chick on that show always look angry when she sings? Can someone explain that to me?). The original isn’t a good film, but if you’re gonna watch one of these two films, watch that one. This one is pretty faithful to the original storyline (is that the same tuxedo?), but with even lesser results. It just doesn’t work.


Rating: C

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: BloodRayne: The Third Reich

The Nazis have started researching all kinds of theories for making the Fuhrer immortal, and scientist Dr. Mangler (Clint Howard!) has stumbled upon the idea of vampirism. Commandant Brand (Michael Paré) thinks half-human half-vampire Rayne (Natassia Malthe) would be the perfect source of blood. Rayne, for her part, has hooked up with The Résistance, led by Nathaniel (Brendan Fletcher), who is just as keen on killing Nazis as Rayne. Obviously, if Hitler gets injected with Rayne’s blood, things could really get out of hand.


Maybe I should stop watching Uwe Boll (“House of the Dead”, “Far Cry”) movies, because this is getting scary. The “BloodRayne” series has gotten better with each new entry, and this 2011 film is the best yet. At this rate, the fifth or sixth one will be a five-star classic, and I’m not sure I’m ready to face that. But I will say that it is wrong to call Uwe Boll the worst filmmaker of all-time, and not just because he likes to beat up his critics in the boxing ring and I’m scared of him. He’s occasionally competent, there’s plenty worse out there than Boll, believe me.


I like that these films essentially take the same idea and basically the same character and transplant them onto different settings. The first one had a medieval/fantasy vibe, the second was a vampire western, and now, perhaps inevitably, we’re in Nazi-era surroundings. I’m normally wary of Nazi or Holocaust themes being used for schlocky entertainments, especially when it’s done in somewhat serious fashion, ala the “X Men” movies. So long as it’s played completely ridiculously so that I’m not even thinking about it, then it’s OK. That’s certainly the case here, I mean, you’ve got Clint Freakin’ Howard and Michael Paré (who has aged rather well I must say) playing Nazis for cryin’ out loud in a movie about a butt-kicking human-vampire hybrid. “Schindler’s List” it ain’t! The lack of German accents did bother me a bit, especially the typically lazy Paré, though whatever accent Brendan Fletcher is attempting to affect, he’s failing pretty badly. Howard, by the way, gives the best performance in the entire film, he has a whiny, snivelling, Peter Lorre/Dwight Frye quality to him here and is quite entertaining. He certainly seems to be having more fun than anyone else in the film. Paré is a bit better than he has been in other recent films (including “BloodRayne: Deliverance”), but his tendency to be lazy just pisses me off. Meanwhile, I don’t think the series has lost much in the acting department through the switch from Kristanna Loken (in the first “BloodRayne”) to Natassia Malthe in these last two films. She’s also a beautiful woman with great cleavage, who also finally shows her breasts in a couple of scenes (there’s plenty of nudity throughout, actually), including one memorable rubdown turned lesbian sex scene. It’s pretty hot, but the problem with that scene is that it is broken up and intercut with other goings on, which is always a pet peeve (pet perve?) of mine. Also, she’s flat on her back in the scene for the most part, and thus her ‘assets’ aren’t exactly seen in the best light possible. Yes, this is important stuff.

The film is also nice and bloody at times, if perhaps not often enough. The appropriately shitty-looking locales are nice and the cinematography is mostly attractive, though the “Saving Private Ryan”-style camerawork in some action scenes was not very much to my liking. Malthe delivers one of the funniest final lines in cinematic history: ‘Guten Tag, motherfuckers!’. Oh that’s one for the ages right there, screenwriter Michael C. Nachoff (who went on to write the second “In the Name of the King” film for Boll) deserves praise for that one if he’s responsible for writing that.

A perfectly watchable, silly offering from a perfectly average filmmaker whose reputation is a lot worse and a lot more infamous than he really deserves. 


Rating: C+

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: Blitz

A serial killer calling himself ‘Blitz’ (Aidan Gillen) is targeting South London cops, and hard-arse Detective Sergeant Brant (Jason Statham) vows to track the demented, but cunning and wily killer down. Brant breaks rules to get the job done, but for this case the macho cop has to deal with the new, openly gay Detective Inspector Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), who is far more by-the-book. David Morrissey plays a hack journo who gets caught up in things, whilst Zawe Ashton plays a young WPC with past drug issues and connections with young street hooligans from the seedy side of town.


If you think the idea of Jason Statham making like a Brit “Dirty Harry” sounds like fun, think again, because this 2011 Elliott Lester (only his second feature to date) film isn’t the brooding, kick-arse urban crime flick you want it to be. For once, I don’t actually blame Lionsgate (infamous for their shitty treatment of some genuinely enjoyable films like “Blood Creek”) for keeping this one quiet, it’s awfully low-key, meandering, and mostly dull.


There’s a “Harry Brown”-esque subplot involving young hooligans and a junkie WPC (Zawe Ashton, who seems to know all there is to know about “The Crying Game”) that eats up way too much screen time for something that has so little connection to the main thrust of the film, and which is so incredibly uninteresting. I really don’t know why screenwriter Nathan Parker (“Moon”) has focused so much on this story, though perhaps he is just faithfully adapting from the Ken Bruen novel. It seemed more fitting of TV’s “The Bill” to me, however. Ashton’s terribly amateurish performance (not even at a TV soap standard) certainly doesn’t help matters, and the film grinds to a skull-crushingly boring halt every time this side-story is dealt with. It also has the film running way too long and with no energy at all, the finale is especially sluggish. Was there an editor in employ on this project?


At first, I thought Jason Statham was going to be perfectly cast here as the vigilante cop, particularly after a “Death Wish”-style opening scene where Statham seemed to be in a less charitable mood than even Harry Callahan. Unfortunately, because Lester’s approach is more drama than action/thriller, Statham’s entertainingly tough performance seems an ill-fit, ultimately. His performance belongs in “Crank 3”, not this, and an actor capable of more depth was perhaps needed for the part (Clive Owen, maybe?).


The film is not a total loss, however, thanks to the performances of Paddy Considine and especially Aidan Gillen. I’m not a Considine fan in the slightest, but cast as a gay copper, he provides an amusingly straight-laced (if you’ll pardon the pun) counterpart to Statham’s blokey, uber-macho rule-breaker. Gillen, who provided unmemorable villainy in “12 Rounds” but enjoyable ambiguity on “Game of Thrones”, is a revelation here. Creepy as hell and borderline pathetic, his blend of Gary Oldman (but more subtle) and Tommy Lee Jones brand of villainy belongs in a much better film. It’s a shame that this film isn’t much good, because Gillen’s stellar work deserves an audience. Cast in a bit part as a WPC who flirts with Statham for a scene or two, the underrated Christina Cole once again shows that she ought to be seen more often and in bigger roles. She has ‘it’ in spades and is beautiful to boot. Less attractive by far is the film’s look. I must call out cinematographer Rob Hardy here for providing us with what surely must be the brownest movie ever made. It’s muddy, monochromatic, and with a slight made-in-Bolivia vibe about it (I’m sure it wasn’t, though).


With its extraneous subplots, agonisingly slow pace and exaggerated length, this cop-killer film isn’t anywhere near as good as it should be. Gillen’s performance is tops, though.


Rating: C

Review: Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal is an Air Force captain who wakes up on a train in Chicago and greeted by a sweet-faced young woman (Michelle Monaghan) who seems to know him and claims he’s a teacher. When he goes to the bathroom and looks in the mirror, he sees someone else’s face instead of his own! Then a bomb goes off, blowing up the train and everyone on board! He wakes up again in some kind of capsule, monitored by Vera Farmiga and scientist Jeffrey Wright who (after much insistence from Gyllenhaal) inform him that he is taking part in an experiment called the Source Code project. This top-secret, probably dubious project involves technology that allows him to take on the body and mind of one of the dead passengers to relive the last 8 minutes on board the train in order to track down the identity of the bomber. Not an easy task in 8 minutes on a large and busy train. It’s not exactly time travel, either. Apparently after someone dies, there’s a small eight minute window that can be opened up and manipulated by someone else. The train blew up earlier in the day and there is evidence to suggest that the bomber has planted explosives elsewhere in the city. So any information Gyllenhaal can come up with to help with catching the nutter ASAP is vital. Gyllenhaal decides to try and save Monaghan and others whilst searching for the bomber, despite being told by Farmiga and Wright that such a thing is impossible and he should stay on task. However, Gyllenhaal starts to experience things that don’t seem to gel with the science Intel he’s getting from Farmiga and Wright. And besides, Monaghan is awfully cute.


This 2011 sci-fi whodunit from director Duncan Jones (AKA Zowie Bowie, and director of the interesting “Moon”) didn’t always make sense to me, but that might be more my intellectual failings than anything else. Besides, the more this film explained itself and tried to be as realistic as possible, the more ridiculous it would likely appear. The film will already divide audiences between just going with the flow or picking up on every implausibility. I went along with it. It’s a good, smart yarn at any rate, with the underrated Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly cast, as is the offbeat Jeffrey Wright (not an easy actor to cast, nor rein in his eccentric tendencies) as the scientist who may or may not be as smart as he probably thinks he is. Hell, even Michelle Monaghan’s role suits her one asset- a girl next door appeal.


The one weak link in the cast is unsurprisingly the horrendously overrated Vera Farmiga. She doesn’t mug for the camera like in most of her overwrought performances but she’s still the only actress I can think of who can be both stiff and histrionic at the same time. Both monotonous and overwrought in the same scene. You’d swear Jones had given her one direction in the entire film: Act hesitant. And by God, that’s what she’s going to do. At every moment. In every one of her scenes. It was amusing, though, to see her shove her face into the camera at one point to distort it because I think her face naturally appears as though it has entered a hall of mirrors. Bizarre-looking woman.


Although it’s essentially sci-fi, the film reminds me of Hitchcock a lot, especially “The Lady Vanishes” which was another film involving a mystery on a train. In fact, the film could perhaps best be described as Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” meets “Flightplan” meets “Groundhog Day” meets “Déjà Vu”. Even though I found the film confusing at times, I was never frustrated by its holding back on information. It’s a tricky thing to do, but this film does that well. Less impressive is the film’s big twist or most vital piece of information, which only a fool wouldn’t pick from a mile away. Also, for a film with such elaborate and intelligent trappings, the terrorist turns out to be so wimpy you almost wish screenwriter Ben Ripley (“Species III” if you can believe it) relied on the old Arab Terrorist standby instead. It’d be racist and abhorrent, sure, but this minor league twerp’s motives just don’t seem to suffice given everything else in the film. It ends the film on a downer, after such an enjoyable ride.


A good (if overrated) film, but a different choice of terrorist with more interesting motives would’ve made it even better. Still, there’s plenty of fascinating concepts and issues for a post-film debate.

Rating: B-