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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Limitless

Bradley Cooper (smarmy as a smarmy smarm can smarm) stars as a stringy-haired loser writer who has just been dumped by his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish). A chance encounter with his former brother-in-law Johnny Whitworth sees things take a potential upward turn. He’s a former drug dealer who claims to be a legit pharmaceutical company employee now, and he tells Cooper about a new drug that apparently allows access to areas of the brain not normally possible. He gives Cooper a sample of the (not yet on the market) drug, and before long Cooper finds he’s able to think clearly, get work done in record time, memorise things effortlessly, and even has increased powers of deduction. Eventually he decides to quit writing altogether and make money on the stock market with his new abilities, after having acquired a loan from a Russian gangster (Andrew Howard) to set him on his way. His analytical prowess also makes him useful to the likes of rich guy investment banker Robert De Niro, who has a big merger coming up he wants Cooper’s insight on. But soon Cooper starts to see some negative effects of the drug, experiencing a blackout where he may or may not have harmed a woman. Meanwhile, Whitworth’s other customers have all mysteriously died or fallen ill (Whitworth himself has already ended up shot and killed), and Cooper finds that quitting the drug might be a case of too little, too late. Tomas Arana turns up as a shady mystery man, Robert John Burke is another rich guy, and Anna Friel has an extended cameo as Cooper’s ex wife, who sampled the drug herself and knows first-hand that going cold turkey is a real sonofabitch.

I guess the main reason why this 2011 film from director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) and writer-producer Leslie Dixon (“Mrs Doubtfire” and the remake of “Hairspray”, of all things) underwhelmed me has more to do with what it isn’t than what it actually is. As a cautionary tale about addiction to drugs with benefits that are likely too good to be true, it’s not bad at all. In fact, I liked some of that element of the film.

However, when you hear about a film about a drug that allows you super-brain powers...I dunno, I expected more than just winning at the casino and becoming a genius at the stock market. I saw possibilities with curing diseases, or at the other end of the morality scale, using brain power to basically rule the world. The way the film treats the drug as indeed a drug, I guess it could be argued that the drug’s side effects were always going to get in the way and thus it was always going to be too good to be true (The film perpetuates a myth about how much brainpower we use, but perhaps the drug dealer who tells us this isn’t to be trusted). However, I like my way better, and that’s my point. This treatment of the potentially fascinating central idea results in a rather prosaic and predictable film. It looks as though the director and screenwriter (adapting an Alan Glynn novel from 2001) could’ve used a few brainpower drugs themselves to help expand their minds a bit because ultimately, there’s not much intelligence or original thought going on here. I was expecting such things and thusly was disappointed with what I did get about drug dealers, addiction, greedy corporate people, and a writer who takes the drug because he’s lazy and needs to catch up. I get that the film needed to show the negative effects of drugs, but I don’t think it shows enough imagination and scope in examining the rise before the fall, let alone the grand intellectual possibilities.

The Cooper character is really the problem, and not just because he’s a lazy douchebag with an overdue novel he hasn’t even started writing yet (Though that sure doesn’t help). At one point, the dealer (played by Johnny Whitworth) says that the drug works best if you’re already smart, or something to that effect. And that’s the thing. I wanted a film about someone who is already smart (Made by a writer and director who are also smart). Even if you accept the misnomer that we only access a certain small percentage of our brain, wouldn’t it be better if this film were about a genius accessing the rest of their brain? Nah, let’s just watch Bradley Cooper beat the odds at poker (somehow I don’t see Johnny Chan or Daniel Negreanu as geniuses despite being great poker players), learn foreign languages, and play the piano like a maestro. Yeah, that’s so much more interesting. Right. He gets to drive fast cars and fuck hot women, y’know, the stuff that it takes a genius to do. The film does delve into the potentially interesting world of the stock market, but only as it serves the film’s rise-and-fall morality lesson, which whilst somewhat well-done, wasn’t as interesting to me. Besides, that doesn’t take a genius, either. Anyone seen “Wall Street” or “Boiler Room”? I was interested in what the drug did to Cooper, somewhat, but not what he chose to do with what the drug allegedly gives him. Well, aside from the kung-fu fighting. That was fun (Oddly enough, the film’s ending hints at possibilities the rest of the film disappointingly avoids, suggesting a sequel would be vastly superior to this. I doubt we’ll get it, though).

I will say this, though. When you look at the film’s premise, it is kind of interesting in how it seems like the reverse of “The Hangover”. Cooper takes drugs here in order to remember pretty much everything, whilst in “The Hangover”, he and his pals remembered nothing after going on a bender the night before. I also found it interesting that when Cooper took the drug it seemed to make everyone else a lousy shot. So does that mean that Steven Seagal is a junkie? Just sayin’. The other big issue I had with the film is the director’s intrusive style. Beginning with the most obnoxiously and needlessly loud opening credits I’ve come across since “Batman Forever”, the film is distractingly loud in terms of both visuals and sound. It’s self-indulgent and in-your-face.

I’m not a Bradley Cooper fan, outside of his breakthrough role on TV’s “Alias”. I find him a fairly unlikeable, sleazy presence on screen, actually. Why isn’t his character smart enough to realise he’s such an insufferable douchebag? Here watching him babble incessantly whilst his narration also babbles on and on is a nauseating experience. Abbie Cornish, never a favourite of mine, is bland as hell, lacking any charm or presence here at all. Robert De Niro is well-cast in a role entirely beneath his obvious and immense talents. I wish I didn’t have to keep typing that sentence. If De Niro isn’t going to offer up any challenging or interesting work as an actor then why doesn’t he fuck off and just produce/direct and look after his restaurant chain? He clearly doesn’t lack funds and he’s just wasting everyone’s time. Robert John Burke, meanwhile, is similarly wasted in an even lesser role. Tomas Arana once played a nice, normal dad in a movie and he scared the fuck out of me. He’s so scary that Tom Noonan and John Malkovich probably wouldn’t share a scene with him.

This overly flashy film is a constant frustration. Some of it is interesting as an exploration of drug addiction, but it has taken a great concept into an area less interesting than it could be, whilst also indulging in clichés. Limitless? No, quite limited indeed.

Rating: C+

Review: Number One With a Bullet

 Lame, stale action-comedy with Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams teaming up as a couple of unorthodox cops. Carradine is the goofy guy with jealousy issues where his ex Valerie Bertinelli is concerned, whilst Williams is the jazz enthusiast ladies’ man. They go together about as smoothly as Vegemite and bleach. Anyway, they’re hell-bent on nabbing mobster Barry Sattels and will go to any length necessary, even if it earns the ire of their superiors (including stalwart Peter Graves). Unfortunately, Sattels is a model citizen so far as anyone knows, and convincing anyone otherwise will be a hard task. But soon our not-so intrepid detectives uncover a whole mess of corruption that even reaches their own department! Doris Roberts plays Carradine’s nagging mother, famed wrestler Gene LaBell has a cameo, and soap actress Shari Shattuck plays a hot chick in the opening scene.

There have been some good ‘buddy teams’ out there over the years in the action-comedy genre, Gibson-Glover (“Lethal Weapon”) and De Niro-Grodin (“Midnight Run”) among them. Carradine-Williams are perhaps one of the worst examples, as this cheap Jack Smight (“Harper”, the excellent “No Way to Treat a Lady”, the all-star “Midway”) flick from 1987 proves for 90 odd minutes. Did I mention that it’s a ‘buddy cop’ entry from The Cannon Group? It certainly looks like a Golan-Globus ‘special’.

The cast looked interesting on paper, especially the supporting cast: Valerie Bertinelli (from a plethora of TV work), Peter Graves (Capt. Oveur himself), Doris Roberts (Ray Romano’s TV mum), and Mykelti Williamson (Bubba!). But then you see the film and...ugh. Casting the silky-smooth Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) as the sidekick and Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) as the lead, is just one of many problems with this film, but is certainly a good place to start. Carradine is just flat-out miscast and completely goofy. It’s not just that he was in “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise” the same year (and hey, it’s not a bad sequel, actually), but it certainly doesn’t help. The guy seems to be under the impression he’s Don Johnson, but unfortunately is closer to Don Rickles. Except Rickles has his fans (I’m not one of them, though), I can’t imagine anyone liking Carradine’s work in this. In fact, he’s the third Carradine I’d cast in the role behind Keith and David (in that order). Williams is better, but being pushed into the background in favour of Carradine is to no one’s advantage. Williams barely even has any character to play. Meanwhile, they spend way too much of the film cracking wise without being funny. The only amusing thing in the whole film is Carradine’s attempts at cock-blocking Williams by claiming he’s got sexual dysfunction issues. Yes, that’s the height of this film’s sorry wit, and Williams appears to realise it, looking totally bored.

As far as action goes, this is an amazingly lifeless film lacking in any energy whatsoever. I don’t think even Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”, “Superman”, “Ladyhawke”) could’ve done much with this sorry, woefully clichéd script, but some energising action scenes might’ve at least kept me awake. That interesting supporting cast? Totally wasted. Graves gives the best performance in the clichéd role of the captain, whilst Doris Roberts plays Robert Carradine’s needy mother in exactly the same manner she’d later play Ray Romano’s needy mother. I hate her on that show and I hated her here too. I can’t stand the woman. Am I alone in this? Bertinelli, meanwhile, is given the worst and most extraneous role in the entire film. I’m no fan, but she’s certainly above playing the fed-up ex-wife of douchebag Carradine, that’s for sure.

The film really doesn’t offer anything worthwhile, unless your idea of entertainment is spending 90 minutes trying to figure out what parts of the script are the work of Jim Belushi (who co-wrote the thing). Because sadly, that’s what I ended up doing. I’m pretty sure all the jazz stuff was Belushi’s input, and indeed the film might’ve been a bit better if it was Belushi interacting with Williams and Bertinelli (he got his chance to be in a buddy-cop flick the next year in the underrated “Red Heat”). The screenplay is by Gail Morgan Hickman, Andrew Kurtzman (“Down Periscope”, the underrated “See No Evil, Hear No Evil”), Rob Riley, and the aforementioned Belushi.

Sorry, but this cheap buddy-cop flick is completely lousy. A waste of everyone’s time, unless you absolutely have to see every ‘buddy cop’ flick ever made.

Rating: C-

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Hunt to Kill

Former WWE/F superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin stars as a mudhole-stompin’ border patrol guy in Montana, near the Canadian border. He’s had a rough trot of it lately, with a partner being killed on the job (Bye bye, Eric Roberts), and a rebellious teen daughter to look after (Marie Avgeropoulis). Things get even worse when he and his daughter are taken hostage by a bunch of thieves, led by Gil Bellows, and experience tracker Austin is forced to guide them through Montana woodlands. Apparently their former leader (Michael Hogan) screwed them, taking off with the loot from their latest job and heading out into the woods. Gary Daniels and Michael Eklund play henchmen, and Donnelly Rhodes is the local sheriff.

Ever wondered what “Cliffhanger” would be like if it starred Steve Austin and that guy from “Ally McBeal” instead of Sly Stallone and John Lithgow? Well this 2010 action flick from Keoni Waxman (Seagal’s rather decent “The Keeper”) comes pretty close to giving you that experience. It’s not as good, of course, mostly due to Gil Bellows’ completely unthreatening turn as the least effective action movie bad guy since Eric Bogosian in “Under Siege 2”. Like Bogosian, Bellows is having fun being flippant, but he’s the only one enjoying it. A guy as imposing as Stone Cold Steve Austin needs someone on the antagonist’s end to match up with him, and I’m sorry, but TV actor Bellows doesn’t cut it. Austin could stomp a mudhole in him anytime, and the audience will get frustrated with the fact that he takes so long to do so. Cast Scott Adkins, Michael Rooker (for a “Cliffhanger” connection perhaps) or Michael Jai White in the Bellows role and you don’t have that problem. Keeping the “Ally McBeal” theme, Peter Freakin’ MacNicol is more threatening than Bellows. Every time Bellows is on screen, I was seeing dancing babies. Sorry, but it’s true. It’s almost enough to make you wish Eric Roberts was still in the film past the opening scene. At least he can play dangerous villains, even if I’m sick of him doing so in exactly the same manner every time (He’s a good guy here, though). Such a shame that in his best performance in years and a rare good guy role, that Roberts is in and out so quickly (before the opening credits!). I guess he owed someone money. Yeah, Roberts looks like the type.

I really think Stone Cold deserves better than the films he stars in. Mind you, I rather like that he was a Border Patrol agent here. Who the fuck would dare cross the border that was being patrolled by Stone Cold? No way on Earth would I be that dumb. Having said that, the role does have the faint whiff of Chuck Norris about it, don’t you think?

Credit where it’s due, the plot is entertaining, if completely unoriginal. It keeps you watching, even if you’ve seen it all before. The nice scenery helps, too (even if it looks far more Canadian than it looks like Montana), but next to that, Stone Cold is the real reason to watch this. It might be a Chuck Norris-esque role (Norris has that whole woodsman vibe and dress sense), but Stone Cold damn well fits it like a glove. In fact, this is the best film I’ve seen of his to date, faint praise or not. I do have one qualm about his character, though. I don’t understand why he keeps his daughter a secret from the villains. She might be used as leverage, but that’s a screenplay reason, not a real one. What’s the difference whether he tells them or not?

I personally think Gary Daniels (who completes a trio of stars from “The Expendables” on show here, with Austin and Roberts) is the worst martial arts actor not named Chuck Norris or Jeff Speakman. That said, this is his least sucky performance. Being a support actor seems to suit him better, and his fight scene with Austin is better than anything either of them did in “The Expendables”. It’s thankfully shot in a very old-school way (and gory too, in an otherwise pussy film), and Daniels is clearly still in good shape. Having said that, is it just me or does he point a gun in the most limp-wristed way imaginable? Watch the scene where he’s asked to kill someone (you’ll know when).

Another thing that annoyed me about this film is the use of profanity. I love profanity when used appropriately, creatively, and judiciously. Here it’s used far too prevalently and overdone to the point where you just know it was thrown in to get this an R rating due to the violence not being especially extreme. I also wish that fine character actors Donnelly Rhodes and Michael Eklund were given more to do. Rhodes (who was excellent in a small role in Austin’s “Damage”) gets barely a scene, whilst the seriously unsubtle Eklund was such fun in “BloodRayne 2” that I really wanted to see more of him here. He’s hilarious when given the chance, and you just know that Mr. Stone Cold is going to enjoy killing him. It’s the David Patrick Kelly role from “Commando”, really, and Ethan Hawke-lookalike Eklund is perfect for it (You’ll also get “Shoot to Kill”/“Deadly Pursuit” vibes from the plot, too).

The film has a very silly ending and the worst usage of the film’s title in dialogue as a form of lame-arse catch phrase. It’s the kind of shit McBain would say on “The Simpsons”, only even cheesier. This is formula filmmaking, folks. Austin’s gonna make a good action film one of these days (Why not pair him with The Rock, and play off their Attitude Era thing, with Austin perhaps as the villain? Seems simple to me). This isn’t it, but it’s closer than he’s previously been. Don’t expect much and you’ll get something modestly watchable.

Rating: C+

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Everything Must Go

Somewhat loserish Will Ferrell gets fired from his 16 year job as Regional VP of Sales, and his wife leaves him all on the same day. This inspires some serious alcoholic consumption and slashing his boss’ tires and leaving the knife stuck in the tire, which ruins much chance of being rehired as well. Oh, and the wife also dumps all of his shit on their front lawn and changes all the locks. And his car gets repossessed too. Apparently he got on quite a bender on some work-related excursion to Denver recently, that resulted in disgrace that we only gradually learn the details of. So what’s a loserish guy played by Will Ferrell bordering on depression going to do when he’s locked out of his house? Grab some beer, pull up a chair and just sit and drink himself into a coma, that’s what. Not even being sprayed by the timed sprinkler system, nor a visit from the cops (including his AA sponsor, played by Michael Pena) is enough to convince Ferrell to move off his lawn, let alone move on with his life. Pena eventually gives Ferrell a few days to sell his belongings to get enough cash to move, and hopefully sort his life out.

C.J. Wallace (son of some apparently big and notorious guy) plays a somewhat unsupervised/lonely kid in the neighbourhood who strikes up a friendship with Ferrell, and helps him sell his stuff in exchange for baseball lessons (which the audience knows are more than just baseball lessons to the kid). Stephen Root plays Ferrell’s neighbour who seems to take delight in the downturn in his life. Rebecca Hall plays a pregnant and newly arrived neighbour who tries to be friendly with the frequently drunk Ferrell. Her husband hasn’t arrived yet, due to his job, similar to Ferrell’s previous job. Laura Dern plays a woman Ferrell had a thing for in high school, who shows him more kindness now than he probably deserves (For starters, who the hell looks up a woman he barely even knew back in high school and hangs around for dinner? Awkward much?).

This drama (with occasional moments of humour) from writer-director Dan Rush doesn’t do anything new, but good performances keep it afloat. It won’t be for everyone, as it’s all a bit miserable, really. Not everyone finds a sad sack terribly interesting, but I found it somewhat appealing in a sad, almost pathetic kind of way. Ferrell gives one of his very best (and easily his most subtle) turns and goes a long way to making his rather douchy character more likeable than he might’ve been in other hands. In fact, you could argue that his character here is the logical dramatic equivalent of the standard buffoon, arrested development persona Ferrell is comedically famous for. Rebecca Hall (despite a pretty unconvincing American accent) and Laura Dern are both immensely appealing here. In fact, I haven’t liked Dern this much since “Mask”. Then again, I’ve only ever liked her in “Mask” and now this. Hall, meanwhile, is just a bee’s dick away from being a star if you ask me, she’s so radiant on screen. She’s one to watch, I reckon. C.J. Wallace is also excellent as the young boy whom Ferrell recruits to help him sell his stuff, and kinda becomes a father figure to.

Based on a Raymond Carver short story, it’s a slight, but enjoyable film, one that would’ve been even better if it actually had an ending to speak of. Unfortunately, the seemingly necessary romantic element that would provide a rewarding ending isn’t really on the cards here. I kinda understood that, but still felt a bit letdown in the end. Surely Laura Dern’s character could’ve popped up again towards the end? I also didn’t much appreciate the character assassination handed out to Pena. It was predictable, of course, but I just didn’t like it. Still, this one’s got some fine elements to it, especially if you want to see Ferrell do some real acting for the first time since the excellent “Stranger Than Fiction” (at least from what I’ve seen).

A pretty solid debut for Rush, especially since he’s expanded (relatively successfully) a short story that apparently only runs four pages!

Rating: B-