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, November 24, 2012

Review: The Adventures of Tintin

The title character (voiced by Jamie Bell) is a young, globe-trotting journo (though looking and acting more like a teen detective) who, along with his dog Snowy, finds himself up to his neck in all manner of adventure and danger after having bought a model sailing ship that everyone seemingly wants. This includes the dastardly Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig). Apparently, the model is one of several that each contain a part of a treasure map, leading to untold riches of the ship’s captain Sir Francis Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis by way of Shrek). Before long, Tintin and Snowy are joined by a drunk Captain Archibald Haddock, descendant of the late Sir Francis.

Steven Spielberg (“Jaws”, “ET”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Peter Jackson (The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) are responsible for some of the greatest movies ever made. So what happens when they (Spielberg as director, Jackson as producer) team up for a movie? You get this hoary, stale boiled lolly of a film from 2011 that was probably a big hit with the over 65 crowd. They were aiming for kids? Really? Sorry, but this archaic boys’ own adventure did absolutely nothing for me, and there’s absolutely nothing indicative of the two great filmmakers’ talents on show here. Hell, you can add co-writer Edgar Wright into the mix too, as he’s seen better days as well (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, specifically).

I’m sure a lot of people will get entertainment out of this film, especially if they grew up on the HergĂ© comic series (which began in 1929!), but for me, I couldn’t understand why Spielberg was bothering with this cornball stuff when he had already perfected a grown-up version of this kind of thing in 1981 with “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. All adventure films of this type ever since have paled in comparison (He also produced the best juvenile version of this sort of thing in “The Goonies”). Yes, Tintin easily pre-dates “Raiders”, but that kinda proves my point. It’s not just a bit old-fashioned, it’s archaic and best left to its niche market of built-in supporters (Though it was a box-office hit, so what do I know?). This film really smacks of two giant egos collaborating on a joint nostalgia trip (though apparently Jackson has been a Tintin fan a lot longer than Spielberg), without any consideration to whether anyone else gives a crap about it.

The first thing that took me out of this film was the combination of CGI and motion capture technology, ala Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and the poor “King Kong” remake. I guess being a completely animated film means that I can’t quite make my usual complaint of phony-looking animated characters rendering the use of motion capture pointless, as was the case in the otherwise live-action “King Kong”, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (an otherwise fun film), and the overrated “Avatar”. But, y’know what? Just because this film is meant to be animated, doesn’t mean it needs the extra step of motion capture (Nor 3D for that matter, but I’ll spare you my already oft-repeated rant about that fad for once). Does animation really need to be totally ‘realistic’ anyway? Not unless it’s trying to present itself as non-animated, I reckon. At very few points in this film did the combination of motion capture and CGI fool me into thinking this was anything other than animation. Because it is. There were moments where the motion capture made things a bit more realistic than in “Rango”, but with motion capture, it should’ve been even more realistic, shouldn’t it? It isn’t, and it also sucks. It didn’t look much more realistic than the non-motion capture “Toy Story” series, in fact. However, it’s an improvement over (the live-action) “Avatar” simply because there’s no ridiculously bright blue aliens. But we’re not really talking about much of an improvement, and it’s only partly successful at what it’s trying to achieve. The characters are far too cartoony-looking, especially their bulbous noses and too-smooth faces, so why bother trying for a realistic motion capture vibe in the first place? It’s pointless and, because it alternates between looking halfway realistic and completely phony, distracting. I spent so much time focusing on the animation that I found myself entirely disengaged from the story (For instance, why are there lens flares in an animated film that isn’t going for absolute realism so much as ‘animated’ realism? Weird). At best, the animation looked like puppetry minus the strings. So I guess I am going on a rant, just a slightly different one than usual. Jackson has made this mistake before in “King Kong” (and also succeeded marvellously in “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King”), but I can’t believe Spielberg would allow this to have his name attached to it. Then again, he’s made a few tech-obsessed clunkers in his time, too (“Jurassic Park”, “The Lost World”, “A.I.”). But I saw nothing in the animation here that I couldn’t find in a computer game. Big deal. Apparently it was Jackson’s call to have it be animated, and faithful to the comics or not, it’s the wrong call, at least the mixture of phony CGI and motion capture technology was the wrong call. I’m not saying that animation is beneath the talents of Spielberg or Jackson, but they certainly don’t live their prints on the film in any laudable way, and this particular piece of animation and this particular story are definitely beneath these men’s talents.

I also think casting Daniel Craig as the voice of the villain was a big mistake. An animated Daniel Craig proves even less interesting than the real thing, it would appear (Worst. James Bond. Ever.) Meanwhile, Andy Serkis is a tremendously talented actor, but he’s delivered far superior Scottish accents than the one he does here.

I guess I might’ve liked this sort of stuff better in written form, especially as a kid. Unfortunately, the comic passed me by, though I had definitely heard of it. It wasn’t in my wheelhouse. I started off with Roald Dahl, and as an older child and teen I moved into fantasy and humorous sci-fi novels. So maybe on second thought, it wouldn’t have been my thing after all. This seems to be for fans of the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and boiled lollies. Besides, Tintin, as voiced by Jamie Bell, is a completely blank character of no charm, personality or interest whatsoever. That wasn’t so much of a problem in the “Narnia” books, where Lucy was essentially the reader’s entry into the book’s world, but it became more problematic in the underwritten characters in the films. This is even moreso the case with Tintin, I would wager. At least as adapted by Joe Cornish (director of the cult hit “Attack the Block”), Steven Moffat (the recent incarnation of “Dr. Who” on TV, another antiquated ‘classic’ I’ve never understood) and the aforementioned Edgar Wright, Tintin is boring. He’s more bearable than his dog Snowy, however. The only tolerable thing about this little shit is that he’s not burdened with distracting motion capture technology. However, he’s the most insufferable animated creation since General Grievous in “Revenge of the Sith”. He proves that even animated characters can be camera hogs, and I kept wanting the mangy mutt to STFU. By the way, does anyone else think Sakharine looks a bit like Spielberg himself? Weird, but it’s what I kept thinking.

I may be completely out of touch, and kids might indeed love this film, but I used to be a kid and this was never really my bag unless you’re talking about Indiana Jones or “The Goonies”. I was bored senseless (it has a more drawn out ending than “Return of the King”), and felt the great talents involved here could’ve spent their time and talent on something far more worthwhile. Sorry, but I didn’t get this one at all, I thought it was terrible.

Rating: C-

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: Snapshot

Young hairdresser Sigrid Thornton quits her job on the advice of glamorous lesbian customer (and model) Chantal Contouri to hook up with oddball photographer Hugh Keays-Byrne and become a model. A topless model, in fact. Nervous at first, the promise of good money nonetheless helps do away with any inhibitions. Soon, though, she finds herself being exploited by the sleazier elements of this subset and she is also being followed by an unseen person in a Mr. Whippy van. And then a pig’s head ends up in her bed. Vince Gil plays Thornton’s disgruntled ex, Denise Drysdale plays one of her arty flatmates, Julia Blake is her unsympathetic mother, Jacqui Gordon is her bratty sister, and Robert Bruning is a horny ‘ol perve associate of Contouri.

During the 70s and 80s, Australian cinema saw many of its most memorable and acclaimed films being released (Not to mention fun schlock like “Razorback” and “Roadgames”). But let’s face it, there was a lot of horrendous shit being made too. Films like “Turkey Shoot”, “The Cars That Ate Paris”, “The Coolangatta Gold”, “The Man From Hong Kong”, “Day of the Panther”, “Strike of the Panther”, etc. I could go on and on. Also known as “The Day After Halloween” (groan) and “One More Minute”, this 1979 film from debut director Simon Wincer (who went on to helm “Harlequin”, “The Lighthorsemen”, and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man”) and writers Chris (who never worked in film again it would appear) and Everett De Roche (“Harlequin”, “Roadgames”, “Razorback”) is definitely one of the worst of the lot. Aside from spotting the “Prisoner” alumni (I counted Sigrid Thornton, Jacqui Gordon, Vince Gil, Julia Blake, Lulu Pinkus, and Christine Amor), the film’s only real area of interest is frequently showing a topless Sigrid Thornton. Sigrid Thornton topless in a film about a stalker in a Mr. Whippy van, I might add. She looks positively lovely, but honestly guys, just use the internet for screencaps, forget the film itself.

Like a lot of Aussie genre movies of the time, the film goes out of its way to be anything but the slasher film it obviously should’ve been. I’ve heard it suggested that it was meant to be a mystery/suspense thriller, but the plot is slasher all the way, yet the treatment is subpar soap opera. Throw in an excruciating musical performance from a bizarro individual called Bob Brown (who is not the former leader of the Australian Greens Party), some obvious red herrings, a couple of shithouse Sherbet songs, and no matter how lovely Thornton’s boobies are, you’ve got a recipe for sheer boredom. Oh, did I mention there’s an endless scene in a soap bubble-filled nightclub? I have no idea why, but it’s there. I would’ve had more scenes involving the ice cream van, schlocky or not, at least then it would be more of a horror/thriller and not a tedious soap opera about a young girl finding herself in the world of advertising/modelling only to be used, abused, or cracked onto by horny men (and one woman!). I mean, how the fuck does a film about Sigrid Thornton getting cracked onto by a lesbian, showing her tits, and being stalked by a loon in a Mr. Whippy van not manage to entertain? Then again, how in the hell did Thornton end up such an esteemed figure in the Australian film and TV worlds after appearing in this? At any rate, the treatment results in a thriller with no thrills, tension, suspense, or excitement beyond Thornton’s chest. By the time a pig’s head turns up in Thornton’s bed, it’s too late to care. It’s barely any stalk and no slash. The ending is particularly pathetic, barely resolving anything, and if it does suggest what I think it suggests, it’s awfully un-PC to say the least.

I also have to single out the music score by Aussie stalwart Brian May (“Mad Max”, “Turkey Shoot”, “Gallipoli”, the American film “Death Before Dishonour”). The theme over the opening credits is OK piano stuff, but the rest is ghastly 70s lounge music crap, with an occasional 70s cop show chase score thrown in for no real good goddamn reason at all.

The acting is a mixed bag, but probably the best thing about the film at the same time. Thornton is merely OK in the lead, but with her character alternating between naive prude and something altogether more headstrong and rebellious the next moment one can hardly blame the actress. Her character just hasn’t got any consistency. Hugh Keays-Byrne is entertainingly off-kilter as always, but he and Vince Gil are set-up as such obvious suspects that they don’t really get all that much of interest to do or say beyond being weird.  Keays-Byrne, sadly disappears for great lengths of the film, further ruining any chance at character depth. Gil, meanwhile, is just plain awful. He’s not a bad actor (well, he was pretty bad in a guest stint on “Prisoner” and hammy as hell in “Mad Max”), but he’s really off his game here. Perhaps due to the shockingly poor lighting employed by cinematographer Vincent Monton (“Newsfront”, “Roadgames”), the director didn’t notice that Gil was visibly off his nut to such a hammy degree that it is completely unbelievable that he and Thornton were ever romantically/sexually linked. In addition to an obvious age difference, he doesn’t look or act like anyone Thornton would’ve even associated with up to that point. With Keays-Byrne, his weirdness is less of an issue because it’s largely a professional relationship, but no way would Sigrid Thornton have had sex with creepy Vince Gil. No way.

Meanwhile, Julia Blake may well be one of Australia’s most respected actresses, but at this point in her career she wasn’t above appearing in shit like this and “Patrick”. Like Gil, she is wholly unbelievable, not acting even remotely like any human being I’ve ever met, let alone someone’s mother. Aside from Keays-Byrne, the most memorable work in the film is by Chantal Contouri and beloved Aussie entertainer Denise ‘Ding Dong’ Drysdale. Contouri looks like a truly glamorous movie star here and adds a touch of class to a pretty risible role. Drysdale, meanwhile, is hilarious, especially her very first moment on screen. It’s not a big role, but you’ll remember her more than anything other than Thornton’s breasticles.

If this sorry film is any indication, Australian filmmakers of the 70s and early 80s just had no idea how to make genre entertainments. Agonisingly slow, deathly dull, soap opera-like stuff that isn’t even saved by familiar faces and some pre-fame nudity.

Rating: D

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Review: Assassination Games

Jean-Claude Van Damme (aging gracefully) stars as a top assassin who lives alone, trusts no one, and likes it that way. Scott Adkins is a former top assassin who once left the trade and tried to live a normal existence, until tragedy struck. Both men have accepted a hit on a drug dealer (Ivan Kaye) about to be released from prison. It’s really Van Damme’s contract, but Adkins uses his American contact Kevin Chapman to get him in on the gig. Van Damme is doing it simply for money, but for Adkins it’s personal. The target is the very same man who put Adkins’ wife (Bianca Bree, AKA Bianca Van Varenberg) in a coma years ago. And gang raped her before that, I might add. The two assassins seem destined for a showdown, but when dirty Interpol agents (one played by Kris Van Varenberg) attempt to screw over Adkins (because he apparently stole their money) and reveal themselves to be in cahoots with Kaye, the two rival hitmen must reluctantly team up. Meanwhile, a subplot sees cranky, stoic Van Damme reluctantly (very reluctantly) intervene when a bullying pimp a few doors down beats his hooker girlfriend (Marija Karan). He lets her stay in his apartment for a while, and she tries to get this clearly empty, tortured man to open up.

Let’s get one thing right out of the way, this 2011 film from director Ernie Barbarash (“They Wait”, “Hardwired”) and writer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (a writer-producer of “CSI: NY”) is not a great action movie. If all you’re looking for is to see rising action star Scott Adkins showing off his martial arts skills against aging Belgian arse-kicker Jean-Claude Van Damme, you will be sorely disappointed by this film. Hell, even I have to admit that a film about assassins isn’t quite the best vehicle for a couple of martial arts kickers. I mean, think about that for a second. But having said that, the lack of action is really the only thing lacking in this otherwise enjoyable melodrama. I’m still a bit miffed about the lack of action (though the brief bursts are still fun, particularly the opener), and some will find it a deal-breaker, but the film scores in other areas.

I think Scott Adkins is the best martial arts actor going around today, but in this film, JCVD is the one who impresses the most. And I’m not just talking about the lack of ego in not giving himself a sex scene for a change (And the chick is a hooker, too!). He’s in pretty good physical shape (take that, Steven Seagal!), and his dry sense of humour is lots of fun here. He’s playing a very anti-social, uncommunicative kinda guy who just wants to be left the hell alone, and whilst it’s quite funny, I get the feeling JCVD could really relate to this rather lonely guy, too. He’s come a long, long way as an actor, no doubt. It’s not exactly the warmest or most engaging characterisation, but it’s not meant to be. This guy kills people for a living, he doesn’t make stuffed toy bunnies. JCVD has also seemingly used his clout (whatever he has left) to bring his kids on board here, as both Bianca Bree (Van Varenberg) and Kris Van Varenberg have roles in the film. Bianca was a producer on the film, as was her father, and that’s Kris (the better of the two mini-JCVDs) as the dirty cop who runs afoul of Adkins in the climax. Call me sick, but I kinda wanted to see daddy choke him out.

Adkins is fine in the co-lead role (a role somehow originally intended for Vinnie Jones- WHAT?!), and gets to use his natural accent for a change, but his character simply isn’t as interesting, and he seems to be somewhat aware of it. Maybe he was miffed that JCVD got to play the violin (!) here and Adkins didn’t. Still, the man should be a superstar at this point. I’m not sure why American character actor Kevin Chapman is here playing an American in the Ukraine, but he’s a solid presence.

Don’t think of this as an action film. Take this film as a revenge melodrama that just happens to star a couple of action movie icons, and you’ll hopefully get something out of it. It’s a solid film, even if I wanted more action out of it, even as a melodrama. Hey, at least it’s not the Stallone/Banderas clunker “Assassins”!

Rating: B-

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Planet Terror

Chemical engineer Naveen Andrews gets into a scuffle with the military (led by Bruce Willis) who want the nerve gas he’s currently in possession of a large quantity of. This scuffle results in the gas being let loose into the atmosphere, and subsequently it infects the townsfolk, turning them into raging psychopaths. Treating the infected is a local doctor (Josh Brolin), a rather sinister man who is very unhappy with his anaesthesiologist wife Marley Shelton hooking up with another woman (played by alleged singer Stacy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson), who we have already seen falling victim to the infection. Meanwhile, Cherry (Rose McGowan) has just quit her job as a go-go dancer, and ended up at a local BBQ joint run by JT (Jeff Fahey). There she runs into her ex-boyfriend (Freddy Rodriguez), and when the fit hits the shans and Cherry is infected in the leg via a zombie attack, they head for the hospital. Cherry does not die, and manages to have a wooden stump (and later a machine gun!) attached where her leg used to be as they fight off more zombies. Michael Biehn plays the local sheriff, who just so happens to be JT’s brother, Michael Parks turns up briefly as Earl McGraw, a character he played previously in “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn”, Quentin Tarantino and Tom Savini have cameos as a rapist soldier with a thing for Ava Gardner and a sheriff’s deputy, respectively.

I was extremely annoyed when “Grindhouse” was split into two films outside of the US, because it meant losing most of the trailers and the overall grindhouse experience, thus rendering the films kinda pointless. Not only that but it meant the two films would be viewed outside of their proper context and it made it hard to know how to approach them for any kind of analysis. I eventually saw Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”, and although I felt robbed of the proper experience, the film wasn’t much good anyway, and more importantly, it didn’t feel like a genuine grindhouse film anyway. It was slow, boring, and a “Vanishing Point” rip-off that wasted a perfectly enjoyable bad guy performance by Kurt Russell. Now in 2012 I have finally caught up with the Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”, “Machete”) half of “Grindhouse”, a cheesy sci-fi splatter movie released in 2007. It’s an infinitely more entertaining film (despite being somewhat of a bad film- intentionally, though), and also fares much better away from its grindhouse double-bill experience than did “Death Proof”. I’m still not sure if this very 80s-esque, early Cronenberg meets Carpenter meets “Terminator” meets Troma film, is really a grindhouse film but I had a whale of a time with it nonetheless. Maybe it’s a good thing the two films have been split up, since they are both so wildly different in content and merit. I wish I could see those faux trailers, though. Damn.

This one will definitely remind you of a lot of late 70s and early 80s gore and sci-fi/horror films, but without really ripping anything off (You’ll think of films like “Scanners”, “The Hidden”, “Class of Nuke ‘Em High”, “Assault on Precinct 13”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “Impulse”, “The Stuff”, and “The Terminator” at the very least). And at least we get one of the fake trailers with this one, “Machete”, which of course Rodriguez actually ended up turning into a real movie (And a really entertaining one at that). The “Machete” trailer opens the film and it’s hilarious, including the brilliant line ‘They just fucked with the wrong Mexican!’ from the voiceover guy.

Like “Death Proof”, the artefacts and graininess of a real grindhouse film are still there, and although still annoying out of context, are a bit more acceptable here than in “Death Proof”. Less acceptable is a blatantly modern reference to Chris Rock, which just confuses things, given the film seems in every other way to take place or to have been set up to look like it comes from the 1980s. Naveen Andrews, for some reason, also felt out-of-place here too. I’m not sure if he’s just miscast or seems too ‘modern’, but he sticks out like a sore thumb. Much better in convincing you that this film is legit (which is presumably the intention) is the presence of Michael Biehn. He doesn’t look to have aged much since 1984 and he plays the film like he’s in a legit splatter film. Or perhaps he thinks he’s still stuck on the “Terminator” set. He’s not the only one playing it straight here, but he’s easily the most convincing.

The opening titles are hilarious, set to Rose McGowan go-go dancing and some kick-arse music playing. I’ve never been a Rose McGowan fan, I find she mugs for the camera way too much. Having said that, this is by far her best screen work, and it is clear that Rodriguez has cast her for her slight resemblance to Russ Meyer babe Tura Satana. He has certainly shot/framed her in a Meyer-esque, towering way. She even has an Edy Williams vibe about her if you ask me, and surprisingly enough, comes off as a lot less forced in the ‘tough chick’ stakes than most of the actresses in “Death Proof”. She’s no actress, but perhaps this was the role she was born to play. The music score by Rodriguez himself and Graeme Revell goes a long way in putting you in the mood, mixing rock/blues with some cheesy 80s horror-like stuff too. There’s definitely a lot of John Carpenter vibes in the music here (and the plot, with a kind of “Rio Bravo” turn of events, not to mention some of the characters). It’s a funnier film than “Death Proof”, with a particularly gross sense of humour. In fact, it’s just pretty damn gross at times, but in a fun, cheesy way. The FX work by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger is surprisingly good for a change, though the film’s cheesy tone suits their often cartoony FX work anyway. There’s an especially great, gory bit involving Tom Savini, of all people (let’s just say that if you’ve seen “Day of the Dead”, you’ll get a chuckle here), followed by a subsequent massacre with blood splattering on the camera which was rather choice too. Helluva fun exploding head towards the end as well. And if you’ve ever wanted to see Quentin Tarantino’s balls melt off completely...this is your film, folks.

Perhaps this and “Machete” ought to have been the films to have made up “Grindhouse”, they certainly seem to occupy a similar universe (I think this is gorier, though). Aside from McGowan, the rest of the cast are no slouches, either. I think Rodriguez misses the boat a bit by not giving Michael Ironside or David Cronenberg a cameo, but Bruce Willis and Tom Savini are welcome sights. In more substantial roles, Marley Shelton is both hot and hilarious, and Josh Brolin is genuinely menacing. Although he was better in “Machete”, Jeff Fahey is pretty good in a role that suggests Rodriguez is a fan of “Motel Hell”. Tarantino’s cameo, shameless or not, is funny. He just had to get in an Ava Gardner reference, didn’t he? It made me laugh anyway. Nice on-screen reference to “Women in Cages”, too.

The film certainly isn’t flawless, even when taken as enjoyable trash. The film has way too many characters to keep track of, especially in the early part of the film. I also lament that Rodriguez’s interest in exploitation rarely extends to sex and nudity. Or to put it another way, the ‘missing reel’ gag during McGowan’s sex scene is cute, but one quickly realises it’s a lame way to compensate for Rodriguez yet again acquiescing to an actress’ ‘no nudity’ clause. If they don’t want to nude up, Mr. Rodriguez, and they’re not A-list quality actresses, then don’t hire them for an exploitation film in the first place. It could’ve been a really hot scene, but instead it stops short and goes for a gag. Sex and nudity are essential to grindhouse films, and thus it is a genuine flaw. And that goes double for suggesting a lesbian affair between Shelton and Fergie (the Fergie who pees her pants on stage, not the toe sucker ex-royal) without actually showing any evidence of it. What gives? I also think Rodriguez misses a chance for greatness by only having McGowan use a machine gun for a leg in the last 15-20 minutes. It’s brilliant and that should’ve been the whole movie! He deserves credit for having the balls to kill off a kid, though. I mean, damn that’s nasty!

This is a good film. I enjoyed it quite a bit. But with a few changes, this could’ve been supreme exploitation fare, instead of just good.


Rating: B-