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.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: The Hunting Party


Mistaking her for a schoolteacher, bandits (led by Oliver Reed) kidnap Candice Bergen, with hopes she can teach Reed how to…er…read. Her husband Gene Hackman, a rich, gun-happy masochist gathers his rich buddies (who were on a hunting trip, riding a train that features a bordello, so Hackman can show what a misogynistic, sadistic bastard he is) and their super rifles and goes after the bandits, picking them off at a safe distance. Meanwhile, Bergen starts to fall for the uncouth but tender (well, comparatively) Reed. L.Q. Jones plays the most lecherous of the bandits (he attempts to rape Bergen), Mitchell Ryan the most compassionate, and William Watson is perhaps the most discontent. Hackman’s men include Simon Oakland and a gun-happy G.D. Spradlin.

 

Extremely violent, harsh, but generally uninteresting and unpleasant 1971 Don Medford (“The Organisation”) western wants to be a mixture of “The Wild Bunch” and “Straw Dogs”. Actually the plot is quite similar to the subsequent “Chato’s Land” and “The Last Hard Men”, neither of which were much chop either, but certainly better than this dull film (By the way, Oakland and Watson turned up in “Chato’s Land” as well, in essentially the same roles). Unfortunately, it provides little of interest in terms of character, action or story.

 

Reed (one of his better parts, despite a dodgy American accent- this film is British, but made in Spain and trying to give off an Italian-lensed spaghetti western feel) gets the juiciest part, and compared to the loathsome ‘hero’ played surprisingly blandly by Hackman (who looks miserable), he’s a pretty nice guy, for a rapist and murderer. Bergen does nothing with her thankless role, but the supporting cast has a lot of interesting faces (though only Ryan and Jones really distinguish themselves).

 

Alternately uncomfortable and dull for the most part, but the action, when it comes, is pretty cool, bloody stuff. Reed fans might want to check it out, but this is a real downer, especially the ending. Still, I’m surprised that with this cast, it’s not as well-known (The poor quality of the product somewhat explains things I guess). The screenplay is by William Norton (The notorious “Big Bad Mama” and the OK light-hearted western “The Scalphunters”), Gilbert Alexander, and Lou Morheim (one of the producers of “The Magnificent Seven”, of all films), from a story by Alexander and Morheim.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: The Mechanic

Jason Statham is a professional hit man for a shadowy organisation headed by Tony Goldwyn. The targets are always scum, but when Statham’s mentor (Donald Sutherland) is set to be Statham’s next kill due to apparently giving away vital info for cash, Statham finally has a crisis of conscience, or at the very least a huge conflict of interest. Reluctantly, he accepts the job, as if he didn’t do it, someone else would be called in to do the job anyway. Guilt-ridden, Statham looks out for Sutherland’s wayward son Ben Foster, who is full of pent-up rage looking for an outlet. Unaware of what Statham has done, Foster is taken under his wing as his protégé, albeit without the consent of Statham’s employer.

 
Although based on a 1972 film with Charles Bronson (the creepy gay henchman gives away this story’s vintage. There was almost always a creepy gay henchman in 70s action films presumably to please homophobic males), this 2011 remake from director Simon West (the seriously underrated “Con Air”) and writer Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”, a bit less underrated) is a typical Jason Statham movie for the most part. On that level, it’s certainly one of Statham’s better ones, even if it doesn’t have as much action as you’d expect.


It works as a perfectly fine B-movie right up until the end, where we get two twist endings. The first one is cool, if not entirely shocking, but it is then ruined by the second one that I simply didn’t believe in. Based on the characters and everything that had preceded it, the first ending is plausible. The second, not so much. It involves one person doing something to another that I didn’t believe in due to what they had been through previously. Oh, hell, I can’t really go on without a ****SPOILER WARNING**** The entire point of Statham taking on Foster as his young apprentice was so that he could somehow atone for having killed his dad. So why then would he kill the kid for trying to kill him when he learns the truth? He’s feeling guilty, but oh no, you can’t kill me for it! And it just destroys the entire point of the relationship that had previously been built throughout the rest of the film. So what’s the fucking point? At least if they had left things at the first ending, some sense of justice was served, and it left one to ponder whether Foster would now take over from Statham. But that second ending? That shit ain’t right. It leaves a really bad taste in the mouth, to be honest. I’ve heard the original (I haven’t seen it) ended much the same, but with one small yet crucial difference that actually might have made it work. **** END SPOILER ****


I must admit, when I saw that this film was from Millennium Films, I had myself prepared for a mediocre film. Statham I can handle, but Millennium rarely deliver the goods. So I was glad that my expectations ended up exceeded at the end of the day, despite the conclusion of the film. Then there’s the gratuitous sex scene early in the film, which was really, really gratuitous...and not nearly long enough, damn it. I loathed Jason Statham in early efforts like “The Italian Job” and “Mean Machine”, where I always felt like he was an American trying too hard to sound British. Turns out he really is British, and I’ve warmed to him in recent years, especially in the “Crank” films and “Killer Elite”. Statham is unbendingly Statham in every role, but I’m used to that by now. Just once, I’d like for him to stretch himself, step out of his comfort zone for a change and see if he can do something else. But at the end of the day, this is what he’s good at, and let’s face it, Cary Grant was always Cary Grant, Gregory Peck rarely stretched himself (and sometimes failed when he did), so that’s fine. He’s definitely the right guy for this taciturn, ‘tough guy with half a conscience’ role. Even better is Ben Foster as the wayward son of his target, stealing the entire film. When he’s on, Foster is one of the better actors of his generation, and having a ‘real’ actor like him to play off Statham is a welcome thing in my eyes. They complement each other really well without Foster having to turn into Mos Def in “16 Blocks” to get the point across (Not that I minded Mos Def, he was deliberately annoying in that film). Foster scares me, though, because he has a bit of a Charles Manson look about him. He’s probably a nice guy, but I’d hate to meet him in a dark alley just the same. Statham might be a tough bastard, Foster is unstable and unpredictable. He does seem a bit young to be playing Donald Sutherland’s son, though, don’t you think? I mean, Sutherland is 76, whilst Foster isn’t even half that.


Donald Sutherland, as he is often capable of doing, proves the old adage that there are no small parts, only small actors. He’s always understood it (remember his scene-stealing work in “The Dirty Dozen” or “Backdraft”?), and does a terrific job of stealing his every scene. This isn’t a criticism of Statham, who holds his own, but Foster and Sutherland are real actors who bring their A-game, even though this is B material.


Less committed is Tony Goldwyn, who has long since checked out, happy to pick up a paycheck to play yet another a-hole. He might’ve been a lot more fun, if the role were larger, but he’s still clearly sleepwalking through the part (Maybe he’s jaded due to all his roles in bigger films going to Danny Huston or Liev Schreiber).

 
This is a predominantly crisp, fairly well-lit and slick looking film, but cinematographer Eric Schmidt does earn my ire for spilling his dodgy piss sample all over the lens. Help me out here, Americans. Do the streets really light up like a urine infection at night? The entire street, the houses, roads, and people all look like a bad piss test here. There’s no room for any natural colour. I’ve never experienced that in my own personal life here in the land of Oz, so if this is really how it is, please drop me a line ‘coz I’m getting sick of the ugliness of it.

 
There isn’t wall-to-wall action like most Statham films, there’s some nice, judiciously used blood splatter in what is otherwise more of an assassin/conspiracy flick. I did like the brief, Seagal-esque train fight, which is quick and impactful. It won’t make you forget “From Russia With Love”, however. There’s also a terrific fake-out involving a young girl and a garbage disposal unit that bloody well got me.

 
Not a great film, but it’s not looking to be. Aside from a totally disheartening ending, this is enjoyable stuff on its chosen level. Definitely a must-see for Statham fans, though Ben Foster ultimately upstages him.


Rating: B-

Review: Angel


Donna Wilkes stars as Molly, a 15 year-old high-schooler who moonlights as a hooker named Angel. She does this after her mother’s death and her father’s abandonment. Danger comes in the form of a serial killer (John Diehl) bumping off hookers. Cliff Gorman plays a cop who tries to help Molly out, but Molly is worried about her secret life ruining her day-to-day existence. On the streets she is protected by a group of oddballs and misfits like former B-western cowboy Kit Carson (Rory Calhoun), a transvestite named Mae (Dick Shawn), and foul-mouth lesbian landlady Solly (Susan Tyrrell), but how long until Diehl gets his hands on her?

 
The “Angel” flicks are exploitation favourites, it seems, but surely not because they’re any good, but more likely because there’s nothing else on at 3AM and you can’t sleep. So if you grew up on these films and enjoyed them, good for you. But I’m here to tell you why this film from director/co-writer Robert Vincent O’Neill (who directed the next in the series “Avenging Angel”) is frankly, a bit crap. Right off the bat, notice that the film is from New World Pictures, and by 1984, Roger Corman had sold the company and started a new one. So Corman, one of the best in the biz at exploitation pictures, had nothing to do with this film at all (He did, however, produce a film called “Streetwalkin’” in 1984 about the same kind of subject). Anyway, if all you want in a film is a teenager who turns tricks on the Boulevard at night, who then becomes a vigilante- this is your film, especially if you don’t care that it’s poorly made. Hell, it did pretty damn well at the US box-office back in the day. Me, I liked the occasional nudity well enough, but I was looking for more.


What we really have here is a genuinely creepy serial killer (well-played by a young John Diehl) in the “10 to Midnight” vein, stuck in a film about a teenager turning tricks that frankly didn’t have the balls to give an honest portrayal. Thus, what it does instead is feature Donna Wilkes (who was 25 at the time, and thus perfectly able to be exploited for our entertainment) doing a lot of standing around not having sex, whilst a bunch of extras from “Can’t Stop the Music” and a possibly genuinely senile former western actor (Rory Calhoun) try to convince you that life on the streets is a ball and a half. If I picked on “Pretty Woman” for glorifying prostitution, I gotta come down on this film for its stupidly glitzy treatment of the subject. It really is more like a “Can’t Stop the Music” or “Saturday Night Fever” than what it’s actually purporting to be like, and it’s extremely jarring and fatuous. Life on the streets must be a whole lot scummier and degrading than what O’Neill and co-writer Joseph M. Cala present, but with a lot of the dialogue between Wilkes and cop Gorman, it seems like we were meant to think that what we’re seeing really is depressing and degrading. It just isn’t. It’s superficial and phony, and sadly not in any outrageous or wonderfully trashy kind of way. Yes, the film has an interesting trash cast; Rory Calhoun, Susan Tyrrell, Cliff Gorman, Dick Shawn (Playing a cross-dresser to no one’s surprise), and John Diehl. Look out for a good, sleazy cameo by John Carpenter regular Peter Jason, too, cast as a John. All that’s missing are Paul Bartel, Edy Williams, and Antonio ‘Huggy Bear’ Fargas. But a trashy cast does not an enjoyably trashy film maketh. At least not this trashy cast. Rory Calhoun comes out better than most. Calhoun (looking a little like a latter-day Sam Elliott), at this point in his career looked to have checked-out, possibly mentally. Wearing an old cowboy costume, one has to wonder if he was simply wheeled out of the old folk’s home and put in front of the camera. He seems to be having a hoot and a half, and is lively at the very least. Unfortunately he and Dick Shawn come off like rejects from Ed Wood’s troupe of actors and oddballs, as they seem to have the film fit clumsily around their goofy personas. As such, Shawn is a lot less enjoyable to have around than Calhoun, as he brings nothing new to a stereotypical part. Worse, every time he turns up, any effort towards sincerity and realism are shattered. Susan Tyrrell has always kinda been a bad actress, but never a boring one, and I guess she’s what you want in a trash film, even a tonally confused one. Cliff Gorman isn’t a bad actor by any stretch, but the only impression he’ll leave on you here is that “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening surely must have modelled Moe the Bartender on Gorman. It’s unmistakable.


The best performance by far comes from character actor John Diehl, who apparently didn’t age between 1984 and 1994’s “Stargate”. His creepy Ted Bundy meets “10 to Midnight” serial killer is the only edge or element of true sleaze and danger in an otherwise superficial, dopey treatment (Oh if only Diehl actually played the killer in “10 to Midnight”, it’d be terrific). Unfortunately, even Diehl is somewhat hamstrung by the repetitive nature of his character. Take out the rogues gallery of kooky support characters and a few school scenes, and the film seems to play like this; Angel talks to a co-worker, co-worker runs off with Diehl, co-worker is killed. Second verse, same as the first.


The film has some really nice locker room nudity (although they’re meant to be high-schoolers, which is a bit icky actually), but it must be said that star Wilkes isn’t much of a looker, nor does she make like everyone else and drop her top. Why was she cast, then? She’s of age, so f you’re gonna keep her cookies in the jar, at least make sure the girl can act. Unfortunately, Wilkes doesn’t contribute much there, either, and it’s no surprise her feature film acting career was short-lived (Shorter than that of Betsy Russell, who took over the role in “Avenging Angel” and is one of the worst-actresses of all-time).


The film isn’t quite as bad as I’d heard, but it has serious problems. The tone is bad enough, but I really wish we got to see how Angel made the transition from schoolgirl to hooker. Here we only get it in the form of a speech telling of her back-story, and the film is halfway over by that point. The way it’s done, there seems to be no connection whatsoever between her daily life and her night life, they truly seem like two different worlds from two different films, and I just don’t buy that. Surely someone would’ve spotted her out on the streets long ago, and there’s a lot of questions left unanswered. The character played by Gorman and the school principal also behave completely unrealistically. No way they’d leave Angel out on her own, even with a bit of supervision. Then again, we’re talking about a film that has a serial killer dressing like a Hare Krishna in one scene for absolutely no valid reason.


Not campy enough to be trash, too campy and superficial to take seriously, the only thing this film has going for it is that it’s not exactly dull.

 
Rating: C-