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, December 8, 2012

Review: The Good Son


After the death of his terminally ill mother, Elijah Wood is sent to live with his uncle (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and aunt (Wendy Crewson), whilst dad David Morse accepts a one-year job in Japan. Wood immediately hits it off with his cousins Macaulay and Quinn Culkin, but soon Wood learns that Mac has a dark, malicious side. Possibly even homicidal, he may have even killed his baby brother years ago. Unfortunately, Mac has his mother wrapped around his little finger, and there doesn’t appear to be a damn thing Wood can do about it. Also, Wood starts to suspect that Crewson might be the reincarnation of his mother, after his mother told him on her deathbed that she’d never leave him. This doesn’t exactly help in convincing people that Mac is the murdering loon, not Wood. Jacqueline Brooks plays a dense and extraordinarily gullible child psychologist called in when there is concern over Wood’s increasingly tempestuous and heightened behaviour.

 
This 1993 ‘bad seed’ thriller isn’t the best offering from director Joseph Ruben, but like the underrated “Sleeping With the Enemy” and especially “The Stepfather”, Ruben amusingly mixes black humour and domestic terror. Just not quite as well as before. It has its moments (I enjoyed it in cinemas as a sick, twisted 13 year-old), and an effective casting-against-type in Macaulay Culkin, who gives his best-ever performance as the dead-eyed (yet ever-smiling) pint-sized sociopath. Elijah Wood is effective too, as are David Morse (a truly versatile actor) and Wendy Crewson in thankless roles, and Culkin’s real-life sister Quinn is terrific as his sister in the film. Why is she the only Culkin to have not really gone on to anything? She’s really quite good here. The faces of Wood and Macaulay Culkin are key in this. Wood (showing off early representations of the facial expressions and mannerisms that eventually went into his Frodo Baggins about a decade later) is big-eyed and open-faced, Culkin dead-eyed and pale. I have no idea why Wood earned far more praise at the time than Culkin, both are good, but Culkin slightly better.


The only memorable thing about Daniel Hugh Kelly and Jacqueline Brooks is how little they seemed to have aged since 1983 when the former appeared in “Cujo” and the latter in “The Entity” (both extremely effective and underrated genre films). They give the exact same boring-arse performances as they always do.


An appearance by something called ‘Mr. Highway’ (then somewhat controversial) is the blackly humorous highlight of this sometimes effective, but completely formulaic film. With a screenplay by Ian McEwan (yes, the Ian McEwan of “Atonement” fame), it’s watchable, but stunt casting aside, it isn’t memorable, nor is there much tension or terror. In fact, it’s a bit neutered, perhaps so that it wouldn’t alienate the young ‘uns. The problem is, it resulted in a film too tame for horror audiences and a bit over the heads of the younger set. It’s not a bad film at all, just a bit too familiar and safe, and it doesn’t surprise me that the project had been bandied about since the late 80s. It’s a little stale. I also thought that the semi-mystical subplot involving Wood seeing his dead mother inside Crewson (or whatever it was meant to be) is a little too weird and half-though out. In a way, though, it’s the most original part of the film, just not very well-integrated.


Good music score by the legendary Elmer Bernstein (“The Magnificent Seven”, “The Great Escape”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”), is a highlight, and the chilly setting and scenery are almost like a character itself. Good, ballsy finale I must say. I mean, just think about what just happened. Evil or not, that’s just kinda wrong, really, on more than one level. By the way, does anyone see Bart and Milhouse in Culkin and Wood here? I felt a similar dynamic going on.


It’s a shame that Ruben has essentially dropped off (after the failed buddy actioner “Money Train”), because his thrillers were always at least amusingly schlocky.

 
Rating: C+

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: The Perfect Host

Clayne Crawford stars as a bank robber on the run after his latest heist, which has left him a little worse for wear, if $300,000 richer. Bleeding and needing somewhere to hang out until he makes his getaway in a few hours or so, he finds a postcard from a young woman in the mailbox of Warwick (David Hyde Pierce), who appears to be the nicest guy alive. Pretending to be a friend of the woman who wrote the postcard, he manages to play on Warwick’s sympathy (claiming he was mugged and the airport lost his luggage) to get inside his house, and even stay for dinner, as Warwick (a bachelor) is hosting a dinner party about to start shortly. Before long, Warwick’s friendly but nosey questioning starts to annoy Crawford, but...hey...is the room spinning, or is it just Crawford? He awakens to find himself tied to a chair and about to endure the strangest dinner party of all-time, as his generous host appears to be somewhere in between Niles Crane, Rupert Pupkin, and Patrick Bateman. Brooke ‘Mikey’ Anderson plays a young convenience store robber, Nathaniel Parker is a police detective, and Helen Reddy (yes, that Helen Reddy) is a nosey neighbour of Warwick’s.


I like a good twisty thriller/mystery, but this 2010 film from co-writer/director Nick Tomnay is the damndest thing. Based on a 2001 short film also by Tomnay, this isn’t just twisty, it’s a freakin’ pretzel. It has so many twists and turns that neither I, nor Tomnay, nor co-writer Krishna Jones (whose only previous work was Tomnay’s short film version of this called “The Host”), nor any of the actors seem to be able to make any sense out of it. If you were able to make some sense out of it all, good for you, but I wasn’t having a good enough time to really care. Tomnay and Jones particularly leave the talented David Hyde Pierce adrift here. He’s a good actor, and his Niles Crane was one of TV’s all-time most memorable creations, but this film does him no favours. He, and the film, start out pretty well (though it’s far too stagey for my liking), as he takes on a seemingly very Niles-esque character, even though the audience can sense there’s more to the story. That keeps you going for the first half or so, but once the character reveals another side to them, the wheels rapidly start to come off. I really thought it was going to go somewhere interesting and allow us to see Pierce in a new, darker light. Unfortunately, although it kinda does that, it is not in any way to the actor or the film’s advantage.

 
I think tone has to take part of the blame, as the film never seems to decide if it wants to be a comedy or a mystery/thriller. It starts out enjoyably in the latter category, but the comedy isn’t as successful and Pierce’s performance becomes awfully silly. Did we really need to see him disco dancing? His performance reminded me of John Lithgow’s performance in Brian De Palma’s miscalculated “Raising Cain”, and someone really should’ve reined Pierce in or stayed with the more serious approach. But with Pierce being so campy and ineffectual in such an important role, the film failed for me. I couldn’t get into it, especially once it started twisting and turning out of control. When you find out Warwick’s occupation, Pierce ends up seeming completely miscast. The flashbacks (particularly clunky) and Warwick’s delusions really made my head hurt.


About the only thing of interest was seeing several Australian names in the cast and crew for this American film, including former child star Brooke ‘Mikey’ Anderson, Helen Reddy (!), and Tomnay, who directed an episode of Bryan Brown’s “Two Twisted”, is an Aussie too.


This is an indie film that only had a budget of $1 million, but that’s no excuse. This is clearly a short film stretched beyond its limits (despite all the twisting and turning), and those aren’t budgetary limits. It’s just a lousy film that is too clever by half. “Sleuth” it ain’t.

 
Rating: C-

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Number 17


A hobo (played by Leon M. Lion) and a couple of other people, stumble upon a dead body, and some nasty jewel thieves planning to escape on a train out of England. But no one is quite as they appear in this extraordinarily convoluted tale.

 
Superb black and white cinematography and nicely captured atmosphere, and an interesting central idea save this somewhat archaic, confusing and talky 1932 Alfred Hitchcock (“Psycho”, “Strangers on a Train”, “The Lady Vanishes”, “Vertigo”) film from being one of his worst.


The ridiculously named Leon M. Lion is an acquired taste as the hobo character (Hitchcock apparently hated the guy intensely, but then Hitch was never much of a fan of actors, was he?), but aside from his dorky attempt at a cockney accent, I rather enjoyed him compared to some of the stiffer members of the cast. In fact, with the rather appropriately loud music score by A. Hallis, and the Expressionistic photography and so on, this might’ve worked a lot better as a silent film. Shame, then, that it’s a ‘talkie’ (and a talky one at that) and makes very little sense plot-wise.


Not bad overall, though (I’d place it about 31st of the 39 Hitchcock films I’ve seen, in between “Under Capricorn” and “Young and Innocent”), and at least worth seeing once, especially for Hitchcock completists. The screenplay is by Hitchcock, wife Alma Reville (“The Lady Vanishes”), and Rodney Ackland (“49th Parallel”), from the J. Jefferson Farjeon play.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Fright Night (2011)


Las Vegas teen Charlie (Anton Yelchin) gets a visit from geeky former best friend Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who tells him that a friend of theirs has gone missing. Ed (Mintz-Plasse) claims the kid was killed by a vampire. But not just any vampire, no, it was the vampire who just happens to be newly moved in next door to Charlie and his mother Toni Collette! Yelchin doesn’t buy it and continues to snub nerdy Ed in favour of his (surprisingly hot) girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). However, when Ed too goes missing, Charlie starts to investigate, and Ed’s suspicions prove right. Mysterious neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell) is indeed a vampire. In response, Charlie goes to Goth stage magician (yes, you read that correctly) Peter Vincent (David Tennant) for help in defeating the undead blood-sucker.


Being much more a fan of Tom Holland’s subsequent film “Child’s Play” (one of my all-time favourite horror films, I nonetheless like the original “Fright Night” from 1985 well enough (It belongs in the same juvenile/teen horror-comedy oeuvre as “Night of the Creeps”, “The Monster Squad”, and “The Lost Boys”). Thus, I was quite worried about the supposed changes I had heard to be in this 2011 remake from Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and writer Marti Noxon (a veteran of TV’s “Buffy”). I’m not beholden to the original. In fact, I think the idea of a remake makes sense, because there was room for improvement. However, the advanced word was troubling to say the least, and the trailer didn’t interest me much, either. Having now watched the film, the issues I thought I’d have with the film certainly cropped up, but amazingly, didn’t quite kill the film. It’s a lesser film, certainly, and watchable at best, but I was expecting so much worse. That it is, even ‘watchable’ is a pleasant surprise in this instance.
 

There’s a fair bit to like about the film, especially the closer it sticks to the tongue-in-cheek original film (Irrelevant side-note: Does anyone else see similarities to “Disturbia” here as well? I see it especially in the roles played by Yelchin, Farrell, Collette, and Mintz-Plasse). An immediately likeable Anton Yelchin (who looks a bit like the original’s William Ragsdale) is terrific and Toni Collette is perfectly fine, though she deserves better than this. I’m not entirely buying Yelchin going from geek to...well, geek with a hot girlfriend who suddenly leaves his geeky pal behind. But hey, a guy can dream, I guess, and Yelchin is a likeable presence on screen, as I said. Meanwhile, no one can play the scene-stealing Evil Ed as memorably as Stephen Geoffreys did in the original, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin!) comes as close as anyone possibly could, in perfect casting.


I’m going to say something controversial now: Colin Farrell is actually an improvement over Chris Sarandon (who has a cute cameo here) as the evil vampire, the weakest element of the original. Sarandon was boring and unfunny (trying unsuccessfully for a Christopher Lee or Frank Langella vibe), and thankfully Farrell is having a whale of a time playing what in this film is like the vampire teen rebel- James Dean with fangs! And yet, he doesn’t make it obvious or caricatured. The film also earns points from me for its derogatory treatment of “Twilight”, though it then loses those points for making vampires die a weak-arse sparkly, “Twilight”-esque death (ruining at least one potentially great shock moment). It was no surprise to me to find Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero behind the FX work, they tend to do pretty artificial CGI stuff.

 
I enjoyed the film’s quick pace as we, and the characters, catch on to what is going on rather quickly. There’s also an hilarious joke involving an extremely unorthodox implementation of a wooden stake, which is quite memorable. So these are all good things, and the film mostly follows the original. However, when it strays, it is to the film’s detriment. The characters of Peter Vincent and Evil Ed are somewhat problematic. Peter Vincent, in the original, was a TV horror host played by Roddy McDowell. Such hosts don’t really exist anymore, but this film’s reinterpretation of the character as a Criss Angel-esque Goth magician (played by David Tennant) is a disaster, that ruins one of the very best things about the original. I mean, Peter Vincent was named thusly as a tribute to horror movie legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. How the fuck does this relate to a stage magician, then? (Answer: It doesn’t). I get that TV horror hosts are archaic, but narratively, it makes no damn sense to change it to a fucking stage magician. Why would a magician be an expert on vampires? It also robs the film of the real/cinematic vampire slant the original played with. Dr. Who is certainly no compensation for Roddy McDowell, especially when Tennant is playing Russell Brand playing Criss Angel. It’s a wrong idea wrapped up in a wrong idea.


The re-writing of the Evil Ed character is annoying too. The film uses him in a very wonky way, starting off with he and Yelchin not being friends. This might be interestingly different, but all it does is complicate things. Worse still, the role is too small for such an enjoyable character and hilarious performance from Mintz-Plasse.

 
By far the biggest issue with the film is in regards to the cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe (“The Road”, “Twilight: New Moon”), which is so appallingly murky and underlit in 2D, I shudder to think of how awful it must’ve looked in 3D. He did a great job with a dark palette on “The Road”, but here, something has gone very, very wrong. A lot of the film is drenched in a dark blue filter, which is the worst colour to use when the film is already underlit. You can barely see a thing, and I assume watching it in 3D was like staring at a black screen for 90 odd minutes. But the lighting is wonky in other ways too. When we actually do get rays of light seeping in, they’re in the wrong places and not enough seeps in to make it worth a damn. It results in a smoky haze, suggesting explosives have just been let off, something I remarked about “Action Jackson”. At least that film was bright.


It’s such a shame that this film is so unbearably murky and such cataclysmic character changes have been made. Otherwise, it’s a pretty decent remake of a fun 80s flick, if not as funny as the original. Still, there are moments of fun, and good work by Anton Yelchin and especially Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Colin Farrell. It almost works, and you could do so much worse. But geez, turn on a light, somebody!

 

Rating: C+