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 15, 2012

Review: Under the Rainbow

International spies (including Nazi Billy Barty and Oriental Mako) clash with hard partying midgets staying at Adam Arkin’s hotel during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz”. Chevy Chase is an American Secret Service agent, Robert Donner plays an assassin, Joseph Maher the Duke whom Chase is assigned to protect (with Eve Arden as the Duchess), and Carrie Fisher is in charge of the little people during filming. Lots of well-known little people (Zelda Rubenstein, Tony Cox, Phil Fondacaro, Felix Silla, and Debbie Lee Carrington) fill out the smallest parts (hey, it’s that kind of movie, OK?).


Regarded by some to be one of the worst and most offensive comedies of all-time (and it might be one of the flops that contributed to the collapse of Orion Pictures), this 1980 Steve Rash (“The Buddy Holly Story”) slapstick farce actually isn’t all that bad. Well, kinda. Yes, it has one of the worst premises in any movie I’ve seen, but that kinda makes it funny, in my view. I mean, they’re really trying to get away with this godawful premise for a movie...that’s gotta be something, right? Not brilliantly funny, I’ll grant you. 30s-style slapstick and farce rarely make me laugh- lots of brawling and dopey mistaken identity, meanwhile Chase gets absolutely nothing funny to say or do at all, Arkin gets only one good crack about an aerial view of the hotel, and Fisher disappears into the background. In fact it’s still a pretty dull affair for the most part, but c’mon, how can you not laugh at a hammy Billy Barty playing a Nazi midget spy in a hotel full of other midgets who are all playing munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz”? It’s insane. The screenplay is by Fred Bauer (producer of “The Buddy Holly Story”), Pat McCormick (a former “Tonight Show” writer who also has a role here), Harry Hurwitz (director of “The Comeback Trail”), Martin Smith, and Pat Bradley.
 

If it weren’t for the dull spots, I’d almost recommend seeing this for the one-of-a-kind, bad-movie-waiting-to-happen premise. As is, it’s not quite the stinker you’ve probably heard it to be.


Rating: C

Review: Elephant White


Djimon Hounsou stars as Church a stoic hired killer and former CIA assassin, who is in Thailand on the job of mowing down a gang of human traffickers who were responsible for the death of the daughter of a Thai businessman. He is aided in this quest by somewhat unscrupulous arms dealer Kevin Bacon. Church is also joined by drug-addicted teenage hooker Mae (Jirantanin Pitakporntrakul), despite his best efforts to rid himself of her to focus on his assignment.


Filmed in Bangkok, Thailand, this 2011 action flick from director Prachya Pinkaew (an English-language debut for the director of the excellent “Ong-Bak”, and the lesser “The Protector”) and writer Kevin Bernhardt is the kind of thing that in terms of plot could’ve starred any has-been action star, and in terms of location, could easily have passed for a Tony Jaa (“Ong-Bak”, “The Protector”) movie. Instead, we get Djimon Hounsou, who has presence and is good enough to suggest he deserves his own action movie. Just not this one, which is well beneath his talents. It’s actually depressing to see such a talented actor (if not the greatest English speaker in the world) in such schlock, which if the setting were changed to Romania, would likely star Wesley Snipes, Steven Seagal, and or Dolph Lundgren. Jaa could’ve saved it with his fighting skills, but Hounsou, whilst convincing enough in the action scenes (moreso than the dramatic ones, to be perfectly honest), is no Tony Jaa and can’t really lift the material. Then again, Hounsou plays a sniper, essentially, and I’m not sure if Jaa would take on such a character. I’m also convinced that snipers don’t make for good action movie protagonists, because the action is generally static and the character tends to be unemotional and cool by design.


I also felt that the bizarre, mystical asides were tacked-on. The scene where Hounsou gets drunk and then has obvious Aboriginal war paint on sat awfully uncomfortably with me. It’s not the kind of juxtaposition that will play well for Australian audiences, though hopefully the director wasn’t trying to connect the two things in any derogatory manner. Mind you, at least Hounsou isn’t playing a noble savage for once, and that’s something worth noting. He has broken that stereotype here. Meanwhile, it’s an even odder sight to see Kevin Bacon play Joe Pesci in “Lethal Weapon 2” with Mick Jagger’s accent. Well, I think he was trying for a cockney British accent. At times it bordered on Seth Effriken, and some might even confuse it for Australian. It’s not the worst accent I’ve heard (He’s a bit more convincing than Anthony LaPaglia on “Frasier”), but it’s awfully inconsistent. Bacon doesn’t always choose the wisest scripts, but he rarely steps a foot wrong in his performances. I can’t say I’ve seen too many absolutely outstanding performances from him (“JFK”, “The Woodsman”, and maybe “A Few Good Men”), but have you ever seen him give less than 100% on screen? I haven’t, and I’ve seen “Footloose”, “Wild Things”, and “Where the Truth Lies”. This is far from his finest work (But it’s not exactly “Where the Truth Lies”, either), and anyone could’ve really played the role (A British actor, perhaps? Just a thought...), but it’s kinda amusing to hear Kevin Bacon not sound like Kevin Bacon for a change. Hell, at least you can’t detect a single trace of American in his accent. That said, like Hounsou, it’s a bit depressing to see him in a subpar action film from Millennium Films (Who have made such crap films as “88 Minutes”, “The Black Dahlia”, the remake of “The Wicker Man”, and lots of crummy action flicks).


Lead actress Pitakporntrakul, meanwhile, is absolutely appalling. She can speak English fluently, but she can’t act speaking in English, which is a different skill altogether. Also worth noting in this film is that it has almost as much of a gun fetish as “Lord of War” and “Commando”. The weird thing is, Hounsou keeps making weapon purchases from Bacon, and I swear to God, every time he goes back to him, he still hasn’t used the weapon he had previously acquired! What the hell?

 
The film’s one real saving grace is its colourful look. The use of scenery and local colour is outstanding here, even if filters and shaky-cam are occasionally used. Why does the camera shake? I’ll keep asking that question until someone gives me a real answer, because for me it just alerts me to the camera’s presence in a scene. I also have to question once again if all freeways are drowned in amber light? None that I’ve seen in Australia at least. What I mean is, that I can’t think of any situation outside of a dark room/photo lab, where there’s a source of light that covers every single element in view. It just pisses me off, because like shaky-cam, it merely alerts me to the camera’s presence, something I’m trying desperately hard not to notice so that I can immerse myself in the story. Cinematographer Wade Muller, for the most part, however, does his job. There’s especially fine work in a slightly hazy-looking forest fight towards the end, that I really liked. It’s an attractive film, save for some uber-cheap CGI flames which are really kinda inexcusable, to be honest. Awful title, too, no wonder it was direct-to-DVD.
 

This isn’t an awful film by any means, but it’s a cheap, formulaic, and repetitive one unworthy of its two main stars.


Rating: C

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Killers of Kilimanjaro

Set in the 1880s, Robert Taylor is an engineer assigned the task of finishing the first railroad across Africa. An earlier crew have apparently disappeared, with only milquetoast ‘Hooky’ (Anthony Newley) left behind to assist Taylor. On the voyage over to Africa (a ship captained by bearded Donald Pleasence) Taylor also befriends young Pasha (John Dimech), whose father it turns out is a local slave trader (Gregoire Aslan), who wants Taylor to strike a deal with him. Taylor refuses, and after recruiting helpers from the local prison (!) he sets about going on safari, in order to search for the lost men and finishing the railroad. Anne Aubrey is a woman Taylor also meets aboard the ship, whose father and husband (the latter played by Allan Cuthbertson) are the missing men in question.

 
Not very popular with critics then or now, I actually rather enjoyed this 1959 safari adventure film from the reliable Richard Thorpe (“Ivanhoe”, “The Prisoner of Zenda”, “Knights of the Round Table”, “Quentin Durward”, “Jailhouse Rock”). Thorpe’s leading man of choice Taylor has an older, harder edge to his performance here which I like more than some of his romantic swashbuckler parts (his best performance was a psychotic buffalo hunter in “The Last Hunt”). He’s ably backed by a solid B-cast (including a small, early role for Pleasence, who ought to have been in the film more) who get the job done, especially the bumbling comic relief of Newley. Most affecting is a vivid cameo by an emaciated, exhausted Cuthbertson (a most underrated Australian-born character actor). Aubrey’s a bit limp as the female lead, though.


The film benefits from lots of shots of various members of the animal kingdom thanks to colour cinematographer Ted Moore. It’s just a B-movie, and it belongs to a genre I’m not keen on, but I actually think this is one of the better ones. I have no idea what everyone else’s problem is. Screenplay by Earl Felton (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “The Narrow Margin”), Cyril Hume (“Tarzan Escapes”, “Forbidden Planet”, the original “Ransom”), John Gilling (writer-director of the Burke and Hare flick “The Flesh and the Fiends” aka “Mania”), and Richard Maibaum (just about every James Bond film from “Dr. No” to “Licence to Kill”), from a book by Dan P. Mannix and the appropriately named J.A. Hunter.


Rating: B-

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1


**** SPOILER WARNING **** This review, well, pretty much spoils everything in the plot, but it’s necessary for any substantial discussion. Anyway, you’ve been warned from here on in.

 
Although the wedding of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire beau Edward (Robert Pattinson) goes smoothly, things get a whole lot more complicated after the honeymoon. Yes, Bella and Edward have human-on-vampire sex for the first time. This of course results in Bella being pregnant with Edward’s child. Oopsy. That’s a bit of a pickle. With fangs. Even Edward’s clan are horrified at this news (and these are folk who drink blood, don’t forget), but Bella refuses to have the foetus terminated, even when learning the fast growing hybrid inside her may kill her. Meanwhile, Jacob (Taylor Lautner, the series’ Ashley Wilkes- “Gone With the Wind” reference FTW!) and his nosey werewolf clan are out for vengeance on the Cullens for this violation of Bella and the supposed natural order of things (Wait, there’s a ‘natural order’ in a world already comprising of humans, vampires and werewolves? Really?). Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli, Sarah Clarke, Kellan Lutz, and Anna Kendrick (one of the only bright sparks) reprise their roles from previous films as the various vampires and humans in Bella’s life, whilst Maggie Grace plays another vampire.

 

Directed by Bill Condon (“Sister, Sister”, “Gods and Monsters”, “Dreamgirls”) and scripted by Melissa Rosenberg (scribe of the previous “Twilight” films), this 2011 adaptation of the first half of the Stephanie Meyer novel has one thing that sets it apart from its predecessors: It’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in ages. Unfortunately, it’s not meant to be funny, and I can’t really say the film is any better (or worse) than previous films, except the first film which was by far the worst so far. I know I’m not the target audience here, but even tweenage (see what I did there?) girls deserve more than an anaemic vampire story founded on the author’s Mormon values of teenage abstinence and pro-life stance on abortion.


But I’ll discuss all that at length in a minute. First, a few other thoughts about the film. The opening is surprisingly cheery (if rather inconsequential), but really only because of the likeable Ashley Greene, who along with Anna Kendrick, are the only people in this franchise who look like they enjoyed it. Amazingly, early on, even Kristen Stewart almost breaks into something resembling a smile, though it’s only momentary. I know the gravity of the situation, but why are she (as Bella) and her intended hubby approaching a wedding like it’s a bloody funeral? The cheery vibe seems completely at odds with the central couple. I understand why, but it’s still odd. To be honest, even if they were playing different characters, I don’t think I’d much like Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson on screen. Stewart doesn’t even appear to be acting, merely being herself, and she has an unpleasant presence and demeanour. She has perfected one facial expression in this to go with her ‘I’m not smiling for you, damnit’ expression when snapped by the paps: Here it’s halfway between ‘Oh crap, what’s my next line?...I think I’m gonna hurl!’ and ‘Yaaawwwnnn’. And indeed, she does hurl at one point. She’s an awesome actress who looks totes ready to be married here. Yeah. I know it’s a nervous occasion, Kristen, but Bella isn’t about to be anally probed by aliens for cryin’ out loud (She is about to have sex with a vampire, though).

 

Bella’s an awful character if you ask me. I’ve never warmed to her, and here she earned my ire by slow-dancing with a guy who is in love with her at her wedding to another man. Either Bella is a cruel bitch stringing Jacob along, or she has married the wrong person, and Edward is being strung along. Either way, she’s just a horribly unsympathetic, narcissistic person. Pattinson’s Edward, meanwhile, is little better. As usual he seems more in love with himself than Stewart’s Bella. In addition to being narcissistic, they’re such an unbearably mumbly couple that I couldn’t even make out their wedding vows. Not one word.


Billy Burke continues to be the most useless and constipated father of all-time, however, his wedding speech is almost as funny as Kendrick’s. His performance appears to be deliberately terrible to the amusement of me and himself. The only reason why I didn’t completely hate him in this one is because he seems to have decided not to take this at all seriously. If only everyone else had followed suit, this film might’ve approached something almost resembling actual fun. Oh well. Anna Kendrick is simply adorable in a franchise that doesn’t really care about her. It cares even less about Sarah Clarke, though, who is still waiting to be written into the story, despite playing the heroine’s mother. New addition Maggie Grace is a bad enough actress on her own (and I’ll never forgive her for playing Shannon on “Lost”. HATED that girl!) but she looks absurd with amber contacts. Thankfully she’s barely in the film.
 

This early part of the film, whilst not gripping (it’s agonisingly slow for the first half hour), is admittedly very pretty. The film is the best-looking in the series thus far by a country mile (the pancake makeup appears to have mercifully been shelved this time), with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (“Cronos”, “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn”) filming most of it naturally and without filters. Hooray! Bella and Edward’s wedding is quite simply the most beautiful-looking wedding ceremony of all-time. Even Kristen Stewart is photographed really beautifully here. I bet she always used to scowl in school photos and refused to sit on Santa’s lap in department stores. I also liked the period flashback which shows what this story could’ve been if played as a period piece instead of mopey tweeny crap. Even the werewolf CGI to me is quite decent and underrated. The eyes, predictably, aren’t right, but the wolves seem to have a convincing weight to them here at least. The voice acting, however, is hilariously over-the-top. I’m convinced one of the werewolves is Optimus Prime. Speaking of the werewolves, I have always had a problem with the obvious ethnicity of them. I mean, when not wondering when Jacob was going to become “The Last of the Mohicans”, I was noticing that even in a film with werewolves and vampires, the hired help are Spanish. That’s right, white people get to be humans or vampires, Native Americans are werewolves, and Hispanics...get to clean up the mess. Even in fantasy they get a raw deal. And it started me thinking, perhaps in attempt to at least get some sense of entertainment value here, of a couple of problematic questions. Were Pocahontas and Chief Sitting Bull werewolves? Did John Smith screw a werewolf, then? Just askin’.


But what well and truly puts this film over the line into hilariously crazy town is what is beneath the surface. Meyer’s clearly conservative agenda regarding sex and a woman’s body. When you want to bring up abstinence and abortion issues in a series of stories about vampires and werewolves, you’re simply begging to be mocked, even if one were to agree with your (for many people- but not myself- perfectly legitimate) positions. It’s bad enough that this series plays like it’s based on the mopey poetry and diary entries of a dorky 13 year-old girl, but the film’s attitude toward sex is actually pretty revolting to me. Not so much because it’s conservative, that’s her deal and it’s valid enough if it makes her happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else. But the manner or genre in which Meyer is attempting to sell her message is just the wrong fit. Apparently having sex and wearing lingerie freaks Bella out, but the idea of marrying an undead creature is perfectly fine to her. Oh bugger off. That’s bestiality! (And given Edward is about a hundred years old or so, it’s probably even worse than bestiality) The film is anti sex before marriage, but pro bestiality! The earth-shattering (literally) sex scene is hilariously awful. How do tweens swallow this crap? Apparently having sex with a vampire is all fine, but we can’t show a pair of breasts, though? (That one’s a revenue-related decision, more likely, though) The bruises or whatever on Bella’s body afterwards are yet another example of the film’s bizarre and in my view revolting take on sex. Mostly revolting, I reiterate, because of the bestiality issue.


I don’t have a problem with abstinence per se, nor do I have a problem with romance or sex in vampire films, but if you’re gonna mix real issues with vampire fantasy like this, you’re asking to be mocked, as I said. It’s both sick and stupid. It’s almost as if Meyer saw the uneven (but occasionally hilarious) “Teeth”, was inspired by it, but didn’t cotton onto the fact that it was a satire (and occasionally a clever one). This film is seriously whacked-out, and in a way that I feel is actually completely inappropriate for teens. I’m sure teens are smart enough to separate fiction and reality, but this film’s completely heightened and ludicrous view of the side effects or consequences of teen sex is potentially dangerous for anyone younger than that. It might warp their development and understanding, though obviously that would involve a select few who aren’t getting any influences or information outside of this franchise, so perhaps I’m seriously overreacting. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is seriously bizarro stuff, dangerous or simply infantile.


Once pregnancy becomes involved (about two weeks after sex!), it gets even worse. I mean, if you thought a broken condom was the worst thing in the world, that’s nothing compared to the crap Meyer/Rosenberg throw at us here. At one point Pattinson remarks ‘They say the first year is the hardest’, so there can be no doubt here that the film is giving us an insane view of the trials and tribulations of teen parenting. It seems as though Meyer is suggesting that even if you are gonna have a vampire-human hybrid baby you shouldn’t have an abortion. That’s insane, so much so that I think even The Pope would advocate an abortion in this case, and he’s the freakin’ Pope! In fact, he’d probably have the child, the mother and father all killed. It’s just so skull-crushingly stupid! I mean, if you’re pro-life, that’s perfectly fine (I’m pro ‘letting a woman make the decision herself’, personally). But it started me thinking: If you give birth to a vampire-human hybrid, do your breasts secrete blood? (Unlikely) Or does the baby have to bite your tits and suck the blood that way? And does a human-vampire hybrid baby have a right to life when it’s born half-dead anyway?



It’s disgusting and exceedingly silly at the same time. And yet, and yet...it’s the least boring film in the entire series thus far. Hell, Taylor Lautner even manages to give a performance that sucks a bit less than his work in the previous films and “Abduction”. That alone was almost worth a standing ovation (I’m a paraplegic, though, so no...sorry, Taylor). He also gets his shirt off in record time in this, but he’ll get no standing ovation from me for that even if I could. Sorry, but dudes aren’t my thing. Points off for that awful CGI baby. It glows more than a freakin’ glow worm. No joke. The ending is also appalling, two-part film or not, even “The Fellowship of the Ring” had more of a legit ending than this. A film is a film in its own right, no matter what its place in a series is, it should have a legit ending. I also have a request for actress Nikki Reed: After this series is done, please never ever have blonde hair in a film ever again. It looks ridiculously inappropriate on you.

 
This sucks, teenage (and tweenage) girls are idiots. Watch it, don’t watch it, I don’t care. Frankly, my brain’s a little too fried from witnessing all of this weirdness and writing it down, to end with anything terribly profound.


Oh, and the baby should’ve been named Jedward. Totally shoulda been named Jedward, dude.

 

Rating: C-