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, January 4, 2013

Review: Killer Elite


Set in the early 80s, Jason Statham stars as a former CIA assassin who tired of the life and moved to the Yarra Valley in Victoria to retire and hook up with a local girl, played by Yvonne Strahovski. However when his friend and mentor Robert De Niro is kidnapped by a sheikh in Oman who has an axe to grind, and uses De Niro to lure Statham out and persuade him to track down the killers of his sons. The killers are apparently ex-SAS men, and Statham’s job is to kill each of them without it leading back to the sheikh. Make the killings look like accidents, basically. However, just as Statham and his band of brothers are pros, there is another group of shadowy men, known as The Feather Men led by ex-SAS man Clive Owen, who are attempting to protect the four men. Dominic Purcell, Michael Dorman, and Aden Young are among Statham’s team, with the former being a burly brawler of dubious Welsh lineage and unpredictable temperament. Matthew Nable and Ben Mendelsohn turn up for Owen’s side. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays the dubious broker of the whole operation.

 
The reviews for this Gary McKendry (a debutant) spy flick with action movie leanings, have been mixed. I personally enjoyed it, and I think it’s best if you go into it thinking it’s a Jason Statham movie. If you do that, you might be a bit disappointed with how little action there is, but you can’t deny that it’s a loftier and weightier assignment than Statham normally gets (It’s kind of like “Ronin” meets “Where Eagles Dare” but more globe-trotting). It’s no classic, hell it’s not even as fun as the “Crank” movies, but I think it’s a pretty good, old-fashioned ‘guy movie’.

 
I must say, though, that I was not a fan of the film’s structure. The constant back and forth with flashbacks and globe-trotting got annoying in just the opening twenty minutes. I personally found the flashback scenes between Statham and Yvonne Strahovski (an Aussie much better known overseas than here, so people- even Aussies- might be shocked to hear her real accent) to be unnecessary padding, true story or not. It was nice to see the Yarra Valley locations, but otherwise, I didn’t see the need for these scenes at all. Having said that, the film doesn’t exactly have pacing issues even with all the padding. Those first twenty minutes move by pretty quickly- De Niro is kidnapped within ten minutes.


Next to the “Crank” movies, this is Statham’s best work on screen, he’s really good here. He also seems to invent a new form of martial art, Chair Fu, in one great scene. Although he’s not on screen enough, the similarly taciturn Clive Owen is a good match for Statham too. I’m not a fan of the Jason Bourne camera style, but the fight scene between Statham and Owen is good, brawling stuff. Robert De Niro plays a role so useless that I wish someone like Jean Reno, Harvey Keitel or Dennis Farina had taken it. However, and it’s a big however, this is the most committed performance De Niro has given since “The Score”. True, the guy’s been slumming it since about 1996 (to be charitable), but he’s rock-solid here and better than his role. The supporting cast, meanwhile, is full of Aussie actors- hell, even Clive Owen has an Aussie connection having filmed “The Boys Are Back” over here a couple of years ago. There’s at least 24 Aussies here (!), including Kiwi born Michael Dorman (we’ll claim him), as well as veterans Nick Tate (“The Coolangatta Gold”), Billie Brown, and Michael Carman, among many others. Dominic Purcell (best known for the US TV series “Prison Break”), Aden Young (playing a pipe-smoking Yank), and Firass Dirani probably being the most prominent. Purcell has the difficult task of playing a guy who is meant to be a phony-sounding Welshman. I personally think his awful accent- presumably deliberate- is a poor choice (So are the greasy hair and moustache, I must say). He should’ve played it with a genuinely good accent, it wouldn’t change the character one bit. Still, he’s lively and amusing in the part, if way over-the-top. Moving offshore for a second, I also want to make note of the rock-solid work of Mr. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, in a small but enjoyable role.


I have to say that this is a damn good-looking film. It’s shot in Michael Mann digital-style, but with all the good qualities of Mann’s style (“Heat”) and none of the bad (“Miami Vice”, “Public Enemies”). It’s a good yarn (good soundtrack too!), and much better-paced and exciting than I found the stodgy “Ronin” to be I must say, but there’s just too much unnecessary filler that prevents it from being even better. I was surprised, though, because I wasn’t expecting much from this at all.


The screenplay is by the director and Mike Sherring, based on the supposedly factual book The Feather Men by adventurer and former SAS man Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The fact that the author plays a part in the film’s plot is a little odd and possibly pretentious if you ask me.

 
Rating: B-

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: The Last Blood


Pop-star/actor Andy Lau (who is the subject of a funny in-joke here) is a rather mild-mannered Triad member attempting to go on vacation with ballsier girlfriend Ling (May Lo), and boards the same flight as famous monk the Daka Lama. On arrival in Singapore, a bunch of terrorist-types open fire (in a great scene, by the way), shooting both the Lama and Ling. Both need a blood transfusion, and both have a very rare blood type. Cops Alan Tam and Kar-Yan Leung need to track down a possible donor in only 12 hours. The bad guys, however, have already killed two of the possible donors, and the only one left is the delightfully unscrupulous ‘Fatty’ (Eric Tsang), who is being targeted by seemingly a whole army of baddies (Are you still with me?). Lau is hell-bent on saving his girlfriend’s life and goes off on his own, and the cops, who want to save the Lama first, are none too happy about his interference.

 

This 1991 Wong Jing (whose films range from the wildly entertaining “Seventh Curse”, to the truly abysmal Jackie Chan misfire “City Hunter”) action-comedy gets a bit of a bad rap from HK action diehards (and I must admit the alternate title, “Hard Boiled 2” irritates me to no end. This has nothing to do with the John Woo flick, but that’s my only gripe with the film), but I found it to be an exciting, action-packed, funny (in a typically juvenile, Wong Jing kind of way) and wholly enjoyable film. Well-acted, too, with Andy Lau always enjoyable and charismatic, and chubby Eric Tsang stealing the show in essentially a riff on the role Joe Pesci played in “Lethal Weapon 2”.

 

Don’t expect “Hard Boiled” or “The Killer”, and you might just have a whale of a time. The screenplay is by the director, who makes up in zaniness for what he lacks in technical proficiency. A fun, over-the-top B-movie.

 
Rating: B-

Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: Setup

We are introduced to three robbers and long-time acquaintances who have just pulled off a heist and coming away with about $5 million in diamonds. Ryan Phillippe plays the hothead of the gang, Brett Granstaff is the nice guy with a new wife, and 50 Cent is Granstaff’s loyal best friend. After the robbery, one (Phillippe) ends up betraying the other two, killing one of them (Granstaff), and leaving the other (guess who) for dead too. But 50 Cent ain’t dead, though he sure as hell is mad and sets about tracking down his elusive former friend and killing him. Meanwhile, a polite Iranian hitman (Shaun Taub) is tracking both 50 and Phillippe down. He wants the diamonds, and he absolutely means business. 50 Cent’s quest sees him get involved with some mobsters whom Phillippe has apparently been hanging with, and eventually he is brought to the attention of mobster Bruce Willis. Willis doesn’t much like 50 fiddling around in his territory, but agrees to help him find Phillippe if he and bodyguard Randy Couture take out some Russian mobsters for him. Unfortunately, after that goes well, a stop-off to a criminal associate of 50’s sees dummy Couture dead, and 50 with some ‘splaining to do on the way to getting his hands on Phillippe. James Remar plays Phillippe’s incarcerated criminal father who is fearful of being killed if moved into general population in prison. Jenna Dewan plays Phillippe’s girl and accomplice.


Looks can be deceiving. Barely released (direct to DVD in Australia), and coming armed with a ridiculous 28 credited producers (and one ‘em is direct-to-DVD star Half Dollar), this 2011 Mike Gunther (best known as a stuntman) film looked like a flop. In actuality, it’s a flawed but entertaining film, with quite an impressive cast and a good sense of humour that helps one get over some of the more clich├ęd elements in the script by Mike Behrman (whose only previous credit of any note is as an actor in Troma’s “Femme Fontaine: Killer Babe for the C.I.A.”). After all, the idea of a crim hunting down another crim who betrayed him is hardly new. But throw in an hilarious black comedy scene with a cockney butcher and Bruce Willis doing a riff on his “Whole Nine Yards” character (only funny this time), and the quirks make the film more than it might otherwise have been. I do wish, however, that Willis was in more of the film, because as good as he is, ultimately the role seems too inconsequential and small for him. UFC legend Randy Couture, meanwhile, has a dead-set hysterical small turn as a not-so smart thug that I wish received more screen time. He’s better here than he was in “The Expendables”, that’s for sure.


The casting of Ryan Phillippe and 50 Cent is interesting, with the former playing the far more sinister of the two robbers, and 50 Cent as the ‘good’ bad guy. 50 Cent is no actor, but he doesn’t need to be so long as he’s smart enough to choose roles that suit him. This role definitely suits him, and Phillippe is definitely an underrated actor. Hell, the whole cast here worked fine for me, particularly Shaun Taub as the most polite killer you’re ever likely to find. Cute cameo by Antonio Esfandiari (Is that Phil Laak too?) as a poker player whose game gets broken up.


It’s not a great film by any stretch, in fact it seems like the kind of direct-to-DVD thing Half a Buck would make with Val Kilmer, only with better actors and a bit more polish. Actually, it’s probably 50 Cent’s best film to date. But that’s no great statement, and it certainly has its flaws, including a not very well-defined back-story involving the two main characters and James Remar as Phillippe’s dad. I also felt the religious bullshit reminded me too much of the morose Catholicism one gets in direct-to-DVD movies with Cuba Gooding Jr., though it’s only a minor annoyance.


Given that this is B material, I suppose I can understand why it wasn’t widely released, but that doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s a fun little B movie, especially if you like heist films or any of the actors. Hell, I enjoyed it more than the more high-profile “The Town”, perhaps because I had lower expectations here.


Rating: B-

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: The Thing (2011)

In 1982, palaeontologist Mary Elizabeth Winstead is abruptly called upon to join a team of Norwegian scientists to a station in the Antarctic. Apparently an otherworldly discovery has been made, buried in ice for a hundred thousand years. Soon they also uncover an alien creature similarly buried in ice, which they take back to their base for study. The ice melts, the creature springs to life and proceeds to bump off the scientists and accompanying chopper pilots one by one. Apparently it is able to absorb human bodies and duplicate them, making it difficult to tell who is human and who is not. Let the paranoia begin! Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje play pilots, Ulrich Thomsen is the head scientist of the expedition, with Eric Christian Olsen his assistant.


Although it boasts an interesting concept, I’ve never been a fan of this story. The original 1951 film “The Thing from Another World” was a crushing bore, John Carpenter’s celebrated 1982 remake “The Thing” boasted great FX but no interesting characters and zero tension or interest. Truth be told, I’ve always preferred “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, particularly the unnerving 1978 version. So when I tell you that this 2011 film from debut feature director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is the best of the three films connected to the John W. Campbell Jr. short story (Who Goes There), bear in mind that fans of either the 1951 version and/or the 1982 version might strongly disagree with me. In fact, they might want to beat the crap out of me (Please don’t. You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses and in a wheelchair, would you?). It’s still no “Body Snatchers”, but I definitely found myself interested in at least a couple of the characters here, and that’s more than I can say for either previous version.

 
This one comes billed as a prequel to the Carpenter film, but I call bullshit on that. It’s a remake, but with some Norwegian characters added who may or may not have some connection to the Norwegian characters who encountered the title creature before Kurt Russell and co. showed up at the beginning of Carpenter’s film. Actually, that’s not fair. Scenes towards the end suggest a tie to the 82 film, but I think that’s a bit tacked-on, really. It’s just a remake in prequel’s clothes. **** SPOILER WARNING **** If you leave before the end credits have started, you’ll actually miss the connection almost entirely, so obviously even the director doesn’t care all that much about making this a real prequel. Why only add that after the film is over, if it’s so important? Because it’s not. **** END SPOILER **** Things (sorry!) get even murkier as the film begins with a Universal logo not from the early 80s but from the 90s, for a film supposedly set in 1982! Then again, the film is also from Morgan Creek (whose logo you would’ve seen attached to films like “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, “Young Guns”, and “Young Guns II”), who I thought went bust about a decade or so ago, which is weird too. Things pick up a bit when the familiar notes of Ennio Morricone’s score from the Carpenter film make a distinct appearance in the score here by Marco Beltrami (“Scream”, “Dracula 2000”, “Repo Men”). I felt Morricone’s work was some of his least interesting and least inspired, but nonetheless, the familiar throbbing beats here brought a smile to my face. Hell, even the opening titles are done in a fairly close approximation of Carpenter’s (Especially at the end).
 

There’s no doubt in my mind that a large percentage of the reason why I gave at least half a crap about this film is due to the lead performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s no great actress- hell, Kurt Russell is a much better actor, despite having an off day in 1982. Nonetheless, she’s a persuasive actress, and more importantly has genuine star quality and likeability on screen. I was absolutely smitten with her in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (something about her ‘unattainability’ is somehow alluring), and she gives you someone to latch onto here. I tend to prefer her with blue hair, though. Joel Edgerton and Ulrich Thomsen are pretty solid too, but have far less to do (The latter reminds me of Julian Glover, by the way. Anyone else?).


The other thing that puts this film ahead of any previous version (aside from a quicker pace) is the cinematography by Michel Abramowicz (“Taken”), who is allowed to shoot outdoors a bit more than Carpenter afforded Dean Cundey, and the wonderful scenery really does help make things a lot less drab. It’s really well-lit, even in darkened scenes, something so many cinematographers these days tend to screw up. This may result in what some would lament as a lack of dread and oppression, but I never felt much of that in the previous films because the characters failed to have me invested enough in them anyway. Kurt Russell and co were a surly lot, and lacked any depth. Some would also say that this version isn’t scary, but once again, the previous films didn’t engage me enough in their characters or situation to get scared anyway. But yes, if pressed I have to admit this version lacks any terror. I was OK with that.


The FX by Rob Bottin were the highlight of the Carpenter film, and in this one the FX by (among others) Tom Woodruff Jr. are mostly pretty good. It’s not easy to seamlessly blend CGI and practical FX (Woodruff involved in the latter), but for the most part, they’ve pulled it off. They don’t reach the show-stopping heights of Bottin’s work, but perhaps part of the reason why those FX were such show-stoppers was because there wasn’t much of a show to stop, really. The alien/creature is interestingly unidentifiable, which in my opinion, is as it should be. Alien design often takes on a too familiar route for my liking. If aliens existed, I reckon they’d take on a form completely incomprehensible and unimaginable to humans. That’s almost impossible, then, to present on screen, but this film makes a decent stab at it, as did the 1982 film. In fact, these films might just have my favourite alien creations of all-time. The autopsy scene in particular, shows off far more realistic-looking FX than you might expect, whilst still being imaginative. It’s a bloody well done scene, and only on occasion does the CGI element become apparent (Oddly enough these are the moments that look most like Bottin’s work). Even when the FX do become apparent, they’re still interesting and creepy. I do think, however, that we get a few too many FX scenes, thus the impact gets lessened a little. Did they get a little too proud of their handiwork, perhaps? Unfortunately, the finale is a major letdown, especially on an FX level (The ending sucks too, but I’m not a fan of the ending of the Carpenter version, either, which is slightly different). We get computer FX straight out of 1992 and it’s all very silly. What a shame! But by and large, the FX were more of an asset than a problem for me.


If we’re talking about real problems, then just as was the case before, characters are the real flaw here. It’s nice that we have at least one character worth a damn, but the rest? Yawn. There are way too many characters and way too little development of those characters in the script by Eric Heisserer (the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, which was better than expected too). Thus, just as it failed to interest me in 1982, the film’s paranoia aspect is ineffectual. Not only that, but it’s awfully heavy-handed, once again a problem with the previous version.

 
Putting aside the 1951 film which was just flat-out stupefyingly boring, if the 1982 film was an average film with great FX, then this version is an OK film with good FX. I guess that adds up to being watchable, unless you’re a diehard fan of the Carpenter version. I just wish it had less characters and made a few more of the characters likeable or interesting.   

 
Rating: C+