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, December 28, 2012

Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

9 year-old Bailee Madison (well, the actress is 11 but playing 9) joins her distracted dad Guy Pearce and his girlfriend Katie Holmes at Blackwood Manor, which Pearce (an architect) and Holmes (an interior decorator) are restoring. Madison is a troubled young thing who feels neglected by her mother and she treats the well-meaning Holmes rather horribly. And then Madison uncovers a hidden cellar and starts to hear voices from a grating. Caretaker Jack Thompson warns the girl to stay away from it. Yeah, that’ll happen. And tiny creatures begin to appear, and start to scare the living crap out of the poor girl. Aaawww, she was just looking for a friend! No one believes her stories, especially her rather distant dad, but Holmes can at least see something is wrong here, and starts investigating the background of the house. Garry McDonald appears in the nasty 19th Century prologue as a previous owner of Blackwood who does something unspeakable to his maid.

Filmed in Australia, this 2011 horror/fantasy written by Guillermo Del Toro (director of “Hellboy”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”) and Matthew Robbins (director of “Dragonslayer”, of all films), and directed by newbie Troy Nixey is apparently based on a 1973 TV movie. It reminded me of Joe Dante’s “The Hole” and the 1987 horror flick “The Gate”, and particularly Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”. It doesn’t quite come off, mostly due to some not great FX, but it’s a good try and well-worth watching nonetheless. It’s better and probably more original than I’m making it sound, but it’s certainly bizarre and occasionally very silly. I didn’t know much about the film beforehand, which seemed to help, so you might want to take that in mind right now.

The film opens memorably, and if you don’t wince in this revolting, yet atmospheric, Hammer-esque opener you’re already a cadaver. The film looks great, both externally and internally. Dark corridors, foggy exteriors, an isolated estate...my kind of picture, in many ways. Absolutely beautiful to look at, even the local library is an awesome set. Meanwhile, I don’t think I’ll ever look at Garry McDonald the same way again, and it’s a shame the multi-talented actor is out of the picture so soon. But don’t worry, there’s a wealth of well-known Australian names and faces in the supporting cast here, including a “Neighbours” reunion of sorts for Guy Pearce and Alan Dale.

Make no mistake, however, the best thing this film has going for it is child actress Bailee Madison, who makes up for her shrill and annoying work in the desperate Adam Sandler ‘comedy’ “Just Go For It”, also released in 2011. This girl is remarkable in a very difficult role as a young girl who is not all sweetness and goodness, but that’s quite understandable given all she goes through here (and the fact that she’s on medication for ADHD, something a lot of viewers seem not to have noticed). Madison is effortlessly and terrifyingly believable, you really feel like she’s genuinely going through something here and it’s not just a family breakup. Guy Pearce is also really well-cast in a sadly less-than 3D role, but this is one of the best uses of Katie Holmes in a long time. She can be really cute and lovely when she allows herself to be and doesn’t try to stretch beyond her limits. She doesn’t get much to do per se, but her casting is apt because she’s the hot new stepmother (usually a bitch or villain in movies), yet Holmes makes her empathetic, caring, and sweet, in addition to being the only one to sense something amiss with Madison. By the way, does anyone else see a resemblance between Madison and Suri Cruise? I couldn’t shake that from my mind throughout, though Suri throws much better tantrums, I think. Old pros Jack Thompson and Julia Blake are well-cast in what might be termed the Bruce Dern and Rosalie Crutchley roles, which probably isn’t the best use of their talents. Well, Thompson does get one memorable set piece unlike anything he’s probably done before, I guess.

Although not really a horror film in my view (unless you’re weird and consider “Pan’s Labyrinth” to be horror), it’s still an occasionally unnerving film, if not as unnerving as the director probably thinks (It’s too familiar, perhaps). I have no idea why anyone would invent a carousel that illuminates on the wall in the dark. To me, that’s the most evil thing in the world that doesn’t involve clowns. Frigging hate clowns. Evil buggers that haunt me in my dreams. Um, where was I? Anyway, it’d be interesting to look back on this film ten years from now and see if people claim it to be the film that fucked up their childhood (Apparently Mr. Del Toro was frightened as a child by the original). If it is a horror film, it’s indeed more of a juvenile one than adult-oriented, and that’s not exactly a criticism.

I found the little rat creatures a tad too Full Moon-esque (the company behind the “Puppetmaster” series) or reminiscent of “The Gate” to be truly frightening, and a bit silly and unconvincing. I guess Mr. Del Toro and Mr. Nixey didn’t grow up watching Val Lewton (“Cat People”, “The Body Snatcher”) thrillers, then or else they’d know less is usually more, and that horrors left to the imagination can often be greater. Effective use of a shower curtain as they terrorise her, however.

A peculiar blend of fantasy and juvenile horror, this film doesn’t quite achieve everything one senses it wants to, however, it’s still highly watchable. Bailee Madison is excellent.

Rating: B-

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: The Vicious Circle

Doctor Sir John Mills gets a call from a supposed friend (an American film producer) who asks him to do him a favour and meet German actress Lisa Danicly at the airport. Tagging along is the reporter (Lionel Jeffries) he has only just met. After the deed is done, the good doctor attends the opera with his fiancĂ© Noelle Middleton and friends. When he returns to his flat, he finds the German woman dead, on the floor. He calls Scotland Yard, but is horrified when the Inspector (dependable Roland Culver) points the finger squarely at Mills. The murder weapon is found in the boot of his car, and even his alibi fails to hold up. Someone is surely setting him up (the phone call soon appears to have been a set-up), but who? And who is this mystery man (played by a sinister Wilfrid Hyde-White) who can apparently prove the doctor’s alibi? Derek Farr plays Mills’ somewhat Caddish friend, Mervyn Johns another doctor.

These Hitchcockian ‘Innocent Man’-type stories always have me hooked, and this 1959 Gerald Thomas (director of at least eight “Carry On” films, but don’t hold that against him) crime-thriller with shades of “The 39 Steps” at times, is compulsive viewing.

Mills is ideal, Hyde-White is a constant scene-stealer in one of his best parts, and Culver gets one of his best-ever roles too. All that’s missing is The Master’s touch of class, wit, and professional sheen. Oh, well, for imitation Hitchcock it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen. A good yarn, especially for mystery/thriller buffs. The screenplay is by Francis Durbridge (apparently a novelist and playwright), from his TV serial.

Rating: B-

Review: Stone (1974)

Spaced-out biker Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) witnesses the assassination of a politician at an environmental rally, and as a result, members of the Grave Diggers bikie gang (which Toad belongs to) start getting bumped off. The gang reluctantly allows undercover cop Stone (Ken Shorter) to join so that he can better investigate the murders and hopefully apprehend the killer. But only after he saves the lives of a few of their brethren from a gunman. He looks enough like a hippie biker to begin with that his police colleagues think he’s a weirdo. Sandy Harbutt turns up as The Undertaker, the leader of the gang. Vincent Gil is the bizarre Dr. Death, Helen Morse is Stone’s worried girlfriend, and Roger Ward plays bikie Hooks. Bill Hunter turns up in a small role as a bartender. Future “Mother and Son” sitcom star (and the future Norman Gunston) Garry McDonald plays a mechanic, in one scene.

This 1974 Aussie biker movie from director (and co-star) Sandy Harbutt is pretty cheesy and slow-moving but no worse than any of the American biker movies of the 60s or 70s. In fact, it’s better than many of them (and I’m not alone in making that proclamation), and worth a look if you’re into the genre or landmark Australian films of the 70s.

However, the performances are pretty lousy in a cast full of familiar faces of Aussie film and TV, and Shorter’s title character is not terribly interesting, convincing, or even likeable. Harbutt, meanwhile, makes for a charisma-free bikie leader. Keays-Byrne, although typically bizarre, is not nearly as effective here as he would be a few years later as the spaced-out Toecutter in “Mad Max”. Gil is absurd as the weirdo biker Dr. Death. The ‘Heyyy, man. Who called the fuzz?’ dialogue is admittedly part of the problem, not convincing out of the mouths of Aussies, I’m afraid. Speaking of unconvincing (and unnecessary), I found the inclusion of Satanism (or faux-Satanism, really) to be utterly ridiculous. Also, like most biker films (even the best ones like “Hell’s Angels on Wheels”) most of the time is eaten up by endless drinking, drugging, and other assorted dull partying type stuff. There’s a terrific opening scene, though and the funeral procession, stupid as I personal found it, is a cult classic (featuring 400 real bikers as extras), like the film itself, which made a healthy return back in the day. Memorable, violent ending, too deserving praise for being uncompromising at the very least.

“Mad Max” lovers should note that it features several cast members from that film (Gil, Keays-Byrne, and Ward all appeared in the first “Mad Max” film). Other than that, it’s best left to lovers of biker movies, who will forgive its sins. I could take or leave the film, to be honest.

Rating: C+

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: The Reef

Damian Walshe-Howling, his best mate Gyton Grantley, his ex- girlfriend (and Grantley’s sister) Zoe Naylor, and Grantley’s girlfriend Adrienne Pickering are setting out to explore the Great Barrier Reef. With deckhand Kieran Darcy-Smith also on board, much snorkelling and such ensues. For a while. The boat hits some coral and ends up capsized and beginning to sink. Darcy-Smith (an experienced fisherman) wants to stay by the boat and hope for the best, not liking Walshe-Howling’s alternative of swimming to what looks like it might be an island that might only be a few km’s away. Grantley and Pickering aren’t strong swimmers, either. And then there’s the possibility of nasty creatures of the deep looking for their ‘noon feeding’ to quote a certain cinematic shark expert I trust I don’t need to identify. After a bit of debate, Darcy-Smith still stubbornly refuses to leave, but the other three decide that swimming is their best option and they head out. Naturally a shark turns up and the terror begins.

“Black Water”, the previous ‘when animals attack’ film from director/co-writer Andrew Traucki was an ingenious, extremely tense Aussie genre movie. This 2010 film co-written by James M. Vernon tries to do for sharks what “Black Water” did for crocs. Or more precisely, it’s “Open Water” with more characters. The end result is nowhere near as effective as either previous “Water” film. It’s very, very well-shot (especially underwater) by Daniel Ardilley, and has its moments of tension, but not nearly as many as you’d like.

Both this film and “Black Water” blend their scenes with human characters with separately shot footage of the beasties in question. But I don’t think the result is as seamless here as it was in “Black Water” and it’s the main problem. I never quite got invested in it, despite a wonderfully claustrophobic capsizing scene. Bravo on that one, Mr. Traucki.

Another problem would be that this really does feel like something made for TV, despite the cinematography (the scenery does a lot of the work, let’s get real here). The cast is definitely TV: Damian Walshe-Howling is a veteran of TV, Gyton Grantley is practically the most ubiquitous Aussie TV movie/miniseries actor going around. Zoe Naylor, meanwhile, is mostly known for being an all-purpose TV host, more than a real actress. She does have charisma, though. Adrienne Pickering, I must admit, is the one person in the cast I’ve not seen before (Kieran Darcy-Smith is a familiar face from TV at least, as well as a filmmaker). Even the material isn’t exclusively cinematic, to be honest.

I will say, however, that these characters are at least relatively earthy and somewhere around the 30 years of age mark, instead of the usual twenty-ish characters we get in horror movies. They aren’t, however, terribly interesting. We get barely any background on them before the fit hits the shans. For pacing purposes this seems like a good thing, but the fit doesn’t hit the shans all that quickly. So it’s a missed opportunity there.

Three out of the four main actors are pretty good, especially when acting terrified (The best performance is from the guy who stays with the boat, Kieran Darcy-Smith). Certainly the acting is of a higher standard than another water-themed flick of recent years with Aussie actors, “Sanctum”. Walshe-Howling and Grantley are the weakest of the bunch, though the former is OK in a stoic kind of way. Grantley is an actor I’ve never liked. Often cast as crims and thugs, he seems constantly stoned and having to suppress a bout of the giggles in every role I’ve seen him in. Here he never manages to believably convey terror because he looks seriously bugged out even before trouble strikes. If he wasn’t completely baked on set, I’d be seriously surprised. He’s just so goofy and seemingly spaced-out. His eventual blubbering sounded comical to me and took me further out of the film.

The other problem I had with this film is that I’ve simply seen it too many times. After four “Jaws” films, eleventy billion cheap imitators, “Black Water” and “Open Water”, this film offers nothing different, and certainly isn’t as effectively made as those films. Some of the tension and terror still works, but not enough. There’s a reasonably ballsy ending, however, but even it’s a lesser ending than the ending to “Open Water”. Sorry, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

Rating: C+

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: In Time

Set in the future where humans are genetically engineered to live to 25 and “Logan’s Run” is apparently played on a loop. OK, so I made that second part up. After you turn 25, you only have one more year to live, unless you ‘buy’ more time. Instead of money, everything in life is bought with time as its currency, which is pretty sweet if you’re wealthy. Justin Timberlake and his mother Olivia Wilde (!) aren’t so fortunate, having to live day by day. Timberlake comes into good fortune, however, when a time-rich stranger gives Timberlake a whole lot of his time, before the gangsters after him rub the guy out. Meanwhile, when bus fares suddenly go up whilst Wilde’s time is low, tragedy strikes. Timberlake is living the high life winning big at a casino (gambling with his life, literally) and meeting the beautiful Amanda Seyfried, when a timekeeper (cop) played by Cillian Murphy comes to investigate the aforementioned stranger’s death and Timberlake’s sudden great fortune. He goes on the run, taking Seyfried with him. Seyfried is the daughter of a bank tycoon, and Timberlake comes up with an ingenious idea to act as a future Robin Hood of sorts. Johnny Galecki plays Timberlake’s troubled best friend.

It’s funny how with sci-fi, sometimes you’ll go along for the ride, and other times, you’ll think a premise is stupid and spend most of the film completely unconvinced by it. This 2011 effort is one such example of the latter, and that’s a surprise given it comes from the normally rather intelligent writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”, “Lord of War”). But there is good reason why I was unconvinced by just about everything in this film. Starting with the whole damn idea of it. The basic premise of this film comes from the phrase ‘time is money’. Here, in a future society, time literally has become currency. Well, time actually isn’t money, Mr. Niccol. Money is a 100% social construct, whereas time is not exclusively socially constructed. Yes, our clocks and calendars are all socially constructed, no doubt about that. However, our life-spans are another matter all together. We will all die at some point (unless you’re a “Highlander”, and that film was easier to swallow because the highlanders weren’t actually human), obviously, and at least in the real world, this cannot be controlled, or at least, we do not yet have the key to eternal life. Unfortunately, Niccol never really bothers to explain just how humans have been genetically engineered to not age past 25. Probably because it would sound stupid, and having Justin Timberlake remark ‘I don't have time to worry about how it happened’ isn’t clever, it’s lazy and unacceptable. If you need to create this fantasy idea of genetic engineering in order to bring in your ‘time is money’ concept, I dunno, it just seems like too much hassle for so little reward. And yet, I had no problem accepting central conceit of “The Matrix”, perhaps because the film doesn’t have to set up its worldview at the beginning because the whole idea is for it to be gradually revealed to Neo and the audience. It worked there, mostly due to the structure of the narrative. But here? I was scoffing and scoffing early and often.

Worse still, if one looks at the ‘time is money’ conceit as displayed in the film, even if one were to accept the idea of time used as currency, it proves rather pointless in execution, really. This is because if time were money, then...things would play out just the same, except with time used instead of money. What I mean is, this film plays little different to any movie about monetary wealth and greed, it’s just a substitution of time for money that has changed. Instead of the guy with the most money controlling society, it’s the guy with the most time...which is really money. Basically, it means you can either be James Bond or a James Bond villain. It’s actually pretty boring, predictable, and prosaic.

So no, this film did not engage or convince me at all. For a smart guy like Niccol, he’s made a surprisingly dumb, predictable film. I’m honestly shocked that he hasn’t been able to see just how dumb it is. The idea of only reaching the age of 25 before having to buy more years is rife with questions that Niccol seemingly hasn’t thought of. I mean, are plastic surgeons obsolete in this stupid fantasy future? I guess they all ended up committing suicide. And what good is ‘buying’ more years when you can just as easily get hit by a bus or murdered tomorrow? I just don’t see ‘years’ or ‘time’ being much good as currency and therefore not much good as a social constraint or manipulation tool. Hell, it proves so damn easy to overthrow things and steal time back anyway, so why bother going to all the trouble setting it up? (Though it takes Timberlake and Seyfried 90 minutes to figure out what you’ll figure out in 15 minutes). Meanwhile, although Niccol shows that an enormous effort has been made in creating this genetic engineering social constraint, I was disappointed that those same seemingly smart people haven’t bothered to advance things much more than that. In other words, society in the future looks largely the same as now. The film, and the characters in it, are clearly single-minded (At least in “Gattaca”, the singular vision was interesting and plausible). Also, one character’s dilemma involving a price hike in bus fares seems gobsmackingly easy to solve, but I guess cell phones or text messaging has somehow been outlawed in this wacky fantasy future. A future, by the way, in which surely everyone drives around like a maniac just to save time. I mean, time is money, after all. I guess roadside fatalities are enormous...oh, wait, you’re not supposed to think about that, are you?

Because the film is weaving sci-fi or fantasy with a supposed reality in a way that I found utterly unconvincing, it also means that I was unable to get into the film emotionally. Like “The Time Traveller’s Wife” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, I didn’t believe in any of it, so why should I have cared? With something that doesn’t even try to operate on a real plane of existence (“Star Wars” or “The Lord of the Rings” for instance), one can take a leap of faith, but it’s not as easy to accept a fantastical version of reality. Having said that, Timberlake is OK in the lead, and Cillian Murphy for once impressed me in a Peter Greene-esque villainous turn that represents the only good thing in the film (And might explain why Greene has seemingly vanished. He has morphed into Cillian Murphy). Amanda Seyfried, whom I normally like, is surprisingly dull, and even more surprisingly, unattractive. Must be the awful wig. Credit where it’s due, though, the casting director at least found one person who genuinely looks about 25, with Seyfried (who indeed was 25 during filming). Johnny Galecki (who looks permanently high in this), for instance, has gotta a lot closer to 45 than 25, right? (I’m pretty sure he was about 20 or so on “Roseanne”, and how long ago was that?)

The film also has a few really odd moments of dialogue that left me scratching my head, though Timberlake gives us the funniest two words I’ve heard in ages, when greeting Olivia Wilde: ‘Hi, mom!’. Hilarious. But why does Seyfried ask Timberlake at one point ‘Do you even know how to drive?’. He’s at least 25, right? I mean, I’m 32 and I don’t drive, but I’m an anomaly, so the question just seemed bizarre to me. Am I the only one who noticed this? Even more perplexing is when we hear that a character ‘drank himself to death with 9 years on his conscience’, after one character gives this character some extra years. What? Either he had 9 years or he didn’t, so how does that fit into the film’s internal logic of a society where people’s lifespan is genetically engineered? If Timberlake gave him 9 years, then he should have had 9 years on top of whatever he already had. It makes no sense, and if it does make sense (i.e. You can still kill yourself), then the whole idea of the genetic engineering just seems stupid and pointless. 

I’m sorry, but I didn’t enjoy this one at all. I couldn’t, pardon the pun, buy into it, and thought it was a complete waste of time.

Rating: C