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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


Haunted by a nasty childhood experience with an evil witch and a house made out of confectionery, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton and her duck face) have turned into bounty hunters as adults, now tracking down and killing witches all over Europe. In the town of Augsburg they take on the assignment of tracking and killing the witch who has abducted the town’s children to prepare for an upcoming Blood Moon ritualistic sacrifice. Famke Janssen plays Muriel, a powerful witch with a past slowly revealed, whilst the always nutty Peter Stormare plays the nasty local sheriff who takes an instant dislike to Hansel and Gretel after they interfere in a would-be witch-burning where Hansel thinks the intended guilty party is likely innocent.

 

A sure-fire turd of the first order...wait, this film actually isn’t bad? Colour me seriously surprised. The ads made this 2013 film from writer/director Tommy Wirkola (whose “Dead Snow” was a disappointing Nazi zombie flick that nonetheless was enjoyed by many other people) look like a terrible, anachronistic “Men in Black”-esque treatment of the well-known Grimm fairy tale. Hell, I was surprised to find it wasn’t a Summit Entertainment film, assuming that it was a follow-up to their terrible tweener version of “Red Riding Hood”. It certainly looked moronic and I felt embarrassed for Jeremy Renner participating in it, after great work in “The Hurt Locker” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”. It’s not a good film by any means, but if I gave “Arctic Predator” a decent rating, I have to do the same for this watchable fantasy flick. It’s not better than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (which is probably its closest cinematic approximation) nor the underrated “Jonah Hex”, but you could do a lot worse (“Van Helsing”, anyone?), and I was expecting the worst.

 

The prologue, essentially giving as the Hansel & Gretel story as we know it is good fun. The trademark gingerbread house looks like Tim Burton’s vision of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but it is far more appropriate here. Of all the Grimm fairytales, this one has always seemed the darkest and most sinister to me, and early on that’s how it’s played. The title design with Grimm illustrations/animation is really terrific, and by and large the film is certainly more convincing and lively than “Red Riding Hood” or Terry Gilliam’s messy “Brothers Grimm”. It’s still a silly film that Renner’s services are clearly too good for, I can’t deny. Gemma Arterton is astoundingly stiff, and Famke Janssen is surprisingly awful as the chief villainess (apparently she took the role to pay off a mortgage- fair enough, but she’s worse than the film itself. I must admit, though I couldn’t help but ask ‘How do you know she is a witch?’ at several points- Monty Python fan right here, folks. The witches in this are just awful, cackling, throaty-voiced clichés that made me groan whenever they appeared.

 

The set design and costuming are top-notch, it’s surprisingly violent at times (decapitations- yay!), and the CGI troll is bloody good CG work. Hell, it’s more convincing than anything in “The Hobbit” not named Gollum, that’s for sure and knocks Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” out of commission too. Even the face is relatively convincing, and that’s awfully hard to achieve (once again, “King Kong”).

 

Look, if Arterton had more than one facial expression other than ‘just smelled a fart’ (why not just hire Posh Spice? She’s just as flat and stiff), If Janssen and the other witches were better, then this would be pretty good instead of just barely above average. Still, when you’re expecting the worst, ‘barely above average’ ain’t bad. Peter Stormare ends up rather wasted, however, after an amusing early stint.

 

Rating: C+

Review: West of Memphis


A re-telling of the trial of the ‘West Memphis 3’; Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and intellectually impaired Jesse Misskelley, charged with the murders of three young boys in Arkansas in 1993. The locals wanted blood, and these Metallica-loving defendants, especially Wicca enthusiast Echols, seemed like good enough culprits and were relatively quickly convicted with the belief that they were Devil-worshipping Satanists who killed the boys in some kind of penis-eating ritual. Yes, this really happened (this is in the Bible-belt of America, remember), and Echols was even given a death sentence. The “Paradise Lost” trilogy of documentaries detailed the trial and convictions, and argued that these three young men were railroaded (Misskelley’s ‘confession’ was embarrassingly inept and clearly led by the cops looking for an open and shut case) and pointed to other suspects.

 

This film details efforts made by New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson and wife/co-producer Fran Walsh, in conjunction with Eccols’ dedicated wife Lorri Davis to keep the investigation going and see the ‘West Memphis 3’ released. It goes even further than “Paradise Lost 3: Revelations” in pointer the finger of guilt towards Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the deceased boys. Meanwhile, celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Henry Rollins also take up the cause.

 

Although the story continued after the events shown in “Paradise Lost 3: Revelations”, I have to say that I wasn’t of the belief that we needed another film on the ‘West Memphis 3”. Having seen this 2012 documentary from director Amy Berg, I still don’t think it was necessary, though the final twenty minutes or so is at least relatively fresh and interesting. It’s also a more well-made and concise film than at least the first two “Paradise Lost” films, to be honest (“Revelations” is still the best, partly because the second one seems negated by it anyway, and hindsight means that “West of Memphis” is able to trim much of the fat and dead-ends).

 

However, there was just something that bugged me about it throughout. How come I hadn’t heard about the supposedly close involvement of NZ filmmaker Peter Jackson and his partner before? Or celebrities like Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Henry Rollins? Were all of these people (and Berg for that matter) trying to latch themselves onto the West Memphis 3 case and therefore trying to negate the importance of the three previous films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky? Or is it possibly the other way around? Or am I just reading too much into things? I have to admit that Jackson’s controversial faux-documentary “Forgotten Silver” did creep into my mind at points, and probably should not have. It just seemed odd that the “Paradise Lost” films made absolutely no mention that I can recall of Jackson and this film only really pays lip service to the “Paradise Lost” films, even though surely Jackson’s efforts would’ve been concurrent to at least the second or third of the films, right? Well, after seeing “West of Memphis” I have now read Joe Berlinger saying complimentary things about Jackson (though there was a little friction here and there), and mentioning that during “Paradise Lost 3”, Jackson asked to be left out of it and remain anonymous. Well, there you go. Nothing suspicious at all, but if you’ve seen “Forgotten Silver”, you’ll forgive my suspicions I hope (I still find scenes with Terry Hobbs’ daughter supposedly undergoing therapy to look awfully staged).

 

At any rate, it’s still an interesting, if somewhat redundant film, and the story is certainly an important indictment of Hicksville hysteria. Sure, there are some who still insist the West Memphis 3 are guilty as sin, but for me personally, I think of all the potential suspects, they are at the very least the most unlikely to be guilty, and this film more than ever makes it seem like Terry Hobbs is the numero uno suspect (the film even brings up his supposed history of abuse, some of which he is seen on camera admitting to, but also accusations by some of Hobbs’ family and neighbours). We get a particularly disturbing appearance by Hobbs’ supposed alibi for the night, David Jacoby (whose DNA, like Hobbs’, was found at the scene), who appears to be having a nervous breakdown on camera. Just sayin’. Hell, with the revelation of a supposed ‘Hobbs family secret’, it almost approaches Milat Family proportions of conspiracy. However, we’ll likely never know because the Alford plea verdict means that the case is closed, from an Arkansas point of view.

 

Getting back to the West Memphis 3, I must say that I was especially moved by the final scene involving Jason Baldwin, seemingly the most relatable, quiet-natured of the three (then) boys, as he has his first taste of freedom. Misskelley’s family reunion also brings home the years the trio have missed out on. I must confess, I even shed a tear.

 

So while a lot of this film may be redundant, and while I don’t really care that Natalie Maines and Johnny Depp wanted the West Memphis 3 freed, this is still a very interesting and quite sad film. It’s also kind of creepy, given that the real killer/killers are likely still out there.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Punch-Drunk Love


Barry (Adam Sandler) has issues. Constantly berated by his flock of sisters (one played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) who he just wants to leave him alone, crying at random moments, even admitting ‘I don’t like myself sometimes’. Working at a crummy toiletries company probably does that to you sometimes. He also has barely concealed rage issues (that he sometimes fails to conceal when he just can’t take his sisters’ crap anymore), and has recently found himself the victim of a scheme involving a phone sex worker, whose boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is none too pleased. But Barry is also a lost soul, and one day he happens upon another odd duck, Lena (Emily Watson), who seems to get Barry like no other. Their ‘dirty talk’, for instance, is just plain bizarre (‘I'm looking at your face and I just want to smash it. I just want to fucking smash  it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You're so pretty’). But with all the other chaos in his life, can Barry get it together to be with the girl he loves?

 

Rightly regarded as one of Adam Sandler’s best and most ambitious films, this 2002 unorthodox romance from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Hard Eight”, “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “There Will Be Blood”) takes the standard passive-aggressive/suppressed rage Sandler persona and puts it into an unusual and more meaningful context. Sandler’s uncomfortable performance is genuinely solid, and no one else could’ve played this part. Like “Funny People”, he was born for the role, and it’s a shame that he gives the impression of someone afraid or disinterested in stretching himself very often. Watching this and “Funny People” really does make you angry with him, he has so much untapped potential. The scenes where his family pretty much insult and berate him, are particularly amusing (‘C’mon gay boy, it’s time to eat!’) in a film that is neither comedy nor drama. Mary Lynn Rajskub is pitch-perfect as Sandler’s sister, as are the other actors playing his family. Philip Seymour Hoffman only has a couple of scenes, but his second one is the best scene in the whole film.

 

Emily Watson is probably the film’s only drawback, as she has a tendency to whisper most of her dialogue. Speak up, sweetie. Actually, the other flaw with the film is the irritating abundance of lens flares employed by Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit (“Boogie Nights”, “Hard Eight”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Magnolia”). I’m not sure if this was the film to really start the trend, but they are a permanent stain on a film and hard to ignore.

 

It’s a really unusual and somewhat surreal love story, and an intensely nervous experience as we fully expect Sandler to eventually blow up, but it’s kinda sweet in its own off-putting, suppressed rage kinda way. The music score by Jon Brion (who broke up with Rajskub before filming began. #Awkward) especially aids in the nervous tension, as it is a deliberately irritating (and therefore effective) score.

 

I would’ve loved to have been in the meeting where the idea for this film was pitched (How is this not a Charlie Kaufman film?). Nothing about it should have worked, and yet it does, proving that a love story can survive or maybe even be enhanced by having two oddball protagonists (they certainly help make the romantic formula seem a little more unpredictable). Everyone deserves to find love, even a Rageaholic like Barry.

 

This really good, but really strange film is the most uncomfortable experience you’ll ever enjoy. It also has the most unusual ‘guy chases down girl to say he’s sorry and win her back’ scene you’re ever going to see. That speech is so wrong and yet so very, very right.

 

Rating: B

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review: The Man With the Iron Fists


A far too low-key RZA stars as a freed slave and blacksmith in 19th century China. No, I’m serious. He makes weapons for the two warring clans, and is trying to save enough money to free his girlfriend Lady Silk (the gorgeous Jamie Chung) from continuing to work in a brothel run by Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu). Things get complicated when Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le) turn up to fuck shit up, looking for supposed hidden treasure and a mercenary named Zen Yi (Rick Yune). Zen Yi is son of Gold Lion, the leader whom Silver and Bronze Lion have overthrown. When the blacksmith refuses to tell them where Zen Yi is, his hands are removed from the rest of his body. He is nursed back to health by a mysterious, possibly psychotic, and frankly pervy English brothel patron named Jack the Knife (Russell Crowe), and his hands are replaced by huge iron fists. Now joined by Zen Yi, the trio are ready for battle, but Silver and Bronze Lion also have the hulking assassin Brass Body (Dave ‘Batista’ Bautista), who is very aptly named. Meanwhile, the very strange Jack the Knife proves to be much more than meets the eye.

 

This 2012 homage to Asian martial arts classics of the 70s and early 80s is directed and co-written by Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, and it’s a shame that he also stars in it. This is a lot of fun and an impressive directorial debut, but RZA is a terrible actor who can barely even enunciate. That latter point is especially unfortunate, because he also made the dumbarse decision to narrate the film too. I’m not much of a fan of hippity hop music, nor including it in a more historical setting, but the rap music here strangely isn’t all that inappropriate for what is essentially a Shaw Brothers update anyway.

 

The violent opening credits are good fun in a similar Shaw Brothers way too. Yes, this is RZA’s version of “Kill Bill”, but with much less spaghetti western vibes (aside from maybe Russell Crowe), and more “Monkey Magic” with a touch of “Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain”. It’s much more fantastical than Tarantino’s martial arts homages.

 

Russell Crowe, having a whale of a time, is absolutely hilarious and I think he’s meant to be. This is certainly a better outing for him than “The Quick and the Dead” at any rate. Lucy Liu is perfectly (type) cast in an underdeveloped role, and former WWE Superstar Dave Bautista (Batista) is also spot-on as a seemingly indestructible monster badass. In addition to having the most unrealistic physique in wrestling history, here he shows lots of presence and charisma. Rick Yune, whose character probably deserved more depth, would’ve made for a better lead actor than RZA and has some seriously cool weapons. RZA, sharing Tarantino’s affection for blaxploitation legend Pam Grier casts her in a cameo role as a maid, but seemingly older and much larger, I took a while to recognise her. Wow. Look out for Shaw Brothers mainstay (and co-star of both “Kill Bill” films) Gordon Liu as a monk (or abbot) in the scene where RZA shaves his head, ala Liu himself in “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”. Cute.

 

The ultra-violent finale is lots of fun, especially the bit where Lucy Liu kicks a guy’s head off. The whole set-piece is by far the film’s highlight, including a nice nod to “Enter the Dragon” and its hall of mirrors finale. Fight choreographer Corey Yuen (“Lethal Weapon 4”, “The Expendables” and director of “DOA: Dead or Alive”) definitely earns his keep here.

 

If it weren’t for RZA’s ego and lack of talent and charisma, this might’ve made it into my top 10 of 2012. Oh if only Michael Jai White, a solid and charismatic actor and terrific fighter, had been cast. As is, it’s just outside. If Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films were better than many of the films they referenced, then this film is as good as most of them, but probably not better. Warts and all, though, it’s damn good fun, even if I can understand why I might be the only one to like it. It’s no “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”, “One Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine” or even “Big Trouble in Little China” if you want a somewhat post-modern cultural pastiche, but it’ll do. ‘Presented’ by Quentin Tarantino, the film is scripted by RZA and “Hostel” director Eli Roth (My guess is that the disembowelment was Roth’s input).

 

Rating: B-

Review: Being Flynn


Based on a memoir by Nick Flynn, Paul Dano stars as- get this- Nick Flynn, a wannabe great writer, who is the estranged son of Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), a wannabe great writer in his own right. Actually, he already equates himself with the greatest of American authors like Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. Yeah. But in reality, Jonathan (who also works as a taxi driver. Yeah, I’ve seen that movie too...) is on the skids and going to waste. He has been evicted from his messy apartment, is racist and homophobic, and now needs the son he hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years to come pick him up. So Nick, flanked by his gay and African-American roommates (*sigh*) go and collect the old man. The next time he sees his father, Nick is working in a homeless shelter when Jonathan (an alcoholic) walks in looking for a roof over his head for the night, having exhausted the patience of everyone else in his life. Unfortunately, Jonathan proves more than a handful, and frankly just ungrateful and mean.

 

Meanwhile, Nick (who doesn’t let anyone read his work) is plagued by the tragic death long ago of his loving but fragile mother (Julianne Moore, in flashbacks) whilst Jonathan was AWOL (in prison for some of the time, apparently). Olivia Thirlby plays a pretty girl who works at the shelter and loves Nick. But is Nick doomed to screw things up for himself just like his father before him? Will Jonathan be able to quit with his delusions and lies (he seems to always have financial interest in his grand, unfinished novel) and get his damn act together? The latter seems far more unlikely than the former. William Sadler turns up briefly as an old acquaintance of Jonathan’s, and Lili Taylor and Wes Studi help run the homeless shelter.

 

Two things occurred to me about this largely unseen 2012 film from writer-director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”, “About a Boy”). The first is in regards to its biggest name, Robert De Niro. Long gone are the days when De Niro seemed to care about his career or body of work, outside of maybe versatility. His mind and heart seem more invested in his film festival and restaurant chain than in making movies. One of America’s greatest ever actors seems to choose movie projects that aren’t necessarily the best use of his immense talent (I haven’t seen his Oscar-nominated work in “Silver Linings Playbook” yet, though. My aversion to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is keeping me away at the present. Ditto “American Hustle”, which otherwise looks good).

 

The second thing that occurred to me about this film is that the character De Niro plays in this film seems far more like a Jack Nicholson role or a Dustin Hoffman role than a De Niro one. I couldn’t shake that feeling from my mind for some reason throughout this film. The baseball bat and aggression could be applicable to De Niro, and certainly the taxi driving. De Niro opening the film by narrating from a taxi is awfully unnerving I must say, as is his plan to ‘transform this cesspool of a world’. But playing a pretty irresponsible, dishevelled, wannabe charming rogue with delusions of grandeur and infrequent bouts of homelessness aren’t to me the best fit for De Niro, nor does the role deserve his major talents (nor Jack Nicholson’s for that matter). He’s fine in the role, I suppose, but it’s still not a good fit for him nor worthy of him. Is this one of his worst films? No, I can actually see some people liking it, just not me. It has its moments and is light years ahead of “The Last Tycoon” and Weitz’s own terrible “Little Fockers”, but the material here just isn’t worthy. Both of the main characters are pretentious douchebags, and that impedes one’s enjoyment of the film. Why should I care? I have sympathy for the homeless, but not for pretentious and delusional twits like the one De Niro plays here. Paul Dano and I don’t get along most of the time, but I’ll admit that I’ve seen him do a lot worse. It’s a shame the film doesn’t get much mileage out of the trio of Julianne Moore, Lili Taylor (whom I have learned is the real-life spouse of Nick Flynn!), or William Sadler. Moore does as well as she can with a crappy role, whilst Taylor and Sadler barely have walk-ons, ditto the unfortunately rarely seen Wes Studi (Where has this man of great power and presence been since about 2002?). The best performance by far comes from the lovely Olivia Thirlby, but one really good performance (playing a character who drifts in and out of the film) can’t save a film that just doesn’t inspire you to take an interest, because the two main characters seemingly don’t deserve our attention.

 

There is something incredibly tragic about working in a homeless shelter and having to serve your own father, but with this delusional idiot, like I said, it’s hard to care. Acting isn’t the issue, the script is just pedestrian, formulaic, and unengaging. 

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Savages


Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as a philanthropist Buddhist) and Taylor Kitsch (as a former Navy SEAL) play a couple of Laguna Beach marijuana dealers, who are so close they share just about everything, even O (Blake Lively). They have gained the attention of powerful and ruthless Mexican drug czar Elena (Salma Hayek), her sadistic chief henchman (Benicio Del Toro) and her unscrupulous attorney (Demián Bichir). Elena offers the trio a chance to join up in partnership, and things go to hell when they refuse (our resident Buddhist wants to retire to do charity work in Africa!), leading to O’s kidnapping. John Travolta plays a corrupt DEA agent whose allegiances seem to go to the highest bidder. Emile Hirsch plays a tech wizard associate of the central trio.

 

Oliver Stone might be the most erratic and inconsistent filmmaker currently active (capable of great films like “Platoon”, “JFK”, and “Born on the Fourth of July” as well as turds like “Nixon”, “U-Turn”, “W.”, and “Natural Born Killers”). So with that wildly uneven pedigree combined with my general disinterest in films about druggies and drug dealers, and my general aversion to Blake Lively, I went into this 2012 film from Stone and co-writer Shane Salerno (“Alien vs. Predator: Requiem”) not expecting much. At first, I wasn’t enjoying it. Oliver was busy showing us that he has seen “Sunset Blvd” with the ‘I may or may not already be dead’ narration thing, and it was kind of like a gorgeous-looking film (Laguna Beach may be known for crap reality TV but it looks like paradise here).

 

Unfortunately, it seemed to be at the service of a sleazy story about sleazy people doing sleazy things. It didn’t seem like my cup of tea, especially with Blake Lively being her usual completely unconvincing self, including not showing her skin during a whole lotta kinky sex activity. Mystery is one thing, but why cast her at all if she ain’t gonna show the goods in what is clearly a pretty sexy film and playing a pretty liberated, trashy character? Is the flower tattoo and talk of fucking and orgasms meant to compensate? It doesn’t, it merely magnifies a director’s obvious acquiescence to a no-nudity clause in a film where nudity is obviously necessary. This is “Gossip Girl”-trashy, when the material clearly calls for something much more risqué. But Lively’s miscasting (her narration is nauseatingly bad) is an issue unto itself, just as she was wrong for her trashy role in “The Town”, too.

 

I also thought the idea of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s hippie drug dealer with a social conscience just wasn’t convincing. But his character and performance get better as the film goes along as he starts to lose his nerve a bit. Taylor Kitsch, meanwhile, might not be a great actor, but he shows quite a bit of presence and macho charisma here in a film that actually doesn’t suck. And y’know what? The film does get better as it goes along. It’s even quite exciting and tense at times. Some of the performances also work. Shea Whigham has a nice small role, and Demián Bichir (seemingly the new Joaquim de Almeida) is pretty good too, but even more impressive is the scene-stealing Benicio Del Toro. He’s creepy as hell, nasty, and intimidating in his every moment on screen. Salma Hayek, meanwhile, makes for a much better villainess than you might think, actually. If you can get past the insanely fake-looking eyebrows and awfully receding hairline, John Travolta gives one of his best and most restrained performances in years. He ain’t trying to be uber-cool (Stone can’t help himself at times, though), he’s just doing his damn job and he and the film are all the better for it. Meanwhile, what in the hell has happened to Emile Hirsch’s career? I’m not a fan, but it seems odd that he’d go from a lead role in a sex comedy (“The Girl Next Door”), to an acclaimed role in a (overrated) Sean Penn film (“Into the Wild”), to lead role in a Russian-lensed sci-fi flop (“The Darkest Hour”), to a pissweak borderline cameo in this. He seems to be slowly vanishing from relevancy as an actor.

 

This is a fine enough film, I just wish it had characters I cared about (and who aren’t as young- it doesn’t seem credible), then it’d be even better. Unfortunately, the antagonists and protagonists are all sleazy and unlikeable. I also have to harshly criticise the film’s ending. There was potential here to close out on a brilliantly nihilistic moment, but instead Stone opts for an absolutely awful ending that seems, at least in my view, to send the wrong message. Apparently this second ending was not in the original source material by Don Winslow, which just makes me even angrier. An horrendous, breathy-voiced version of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by some entity known as Yuna is the arsenic-laced icing on the cake.

 

Warts (and severed heads- you’ve been warned!) and all this is a pretty watchable, if sometimes silly film, with some fine elements. Lively’s miscasting, the unlikeable characters, and a shithouse ending hold it back from being even better. And ‘wargasms’? Really, Mr. Salerno? Geez.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Bambi


The story of the titular young fawn as he makes his way through life into adulthood, learning many of life’s lessons. We’re not just talking about the nice lessons either, as the threat of hunters with their guns is always in mind, leading to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the history of cinema.

 

Although it doesn’t reach the magical heights of “Pinocchio”, how can anyone not love this 1942 Disney classic from (supervising) director David C. Hand? Not only is it basically a rite of passage for every youngster, but without this film there would certainly be no “Lion King” (probably its most direct descendant- we won’t talk about “Bambi II”, nor will I ever watch it), “Fox and the Hound”, or “Finding Nemo”, to say the very least. It’s the archetypal Disney animated film with animated animal characters. It’s such a lovely film in many, many ways, but it’s often referred to as a coming-of-age film, and yes Bambi does learn that this is a cruel piece of shit world sometimes, and people die. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes it just plain craps on you for no understandably good reason. For many kids this was and probably still is their first encounter with the concept of death. On that front it’s extremely effective, if a bit fucking cruel. It’s also a bit of a trailblazer, talking about man’s destructive influence on the environment and its creatures long before that even really became a thing.

 

It’s also just a really pretty, almost dreamlike film and certainly a painterly-looking one, which has its positives and negatives (more on the latter in a minute). It’s a film with a lot of cuteness, which will rub some people the wrong way, but not me. Animated bunny wabbits are so cute. Not real bunny wabbits, they’re creepy and always staring at me in judgement. Personally I think Thumper (despite not actually appearing in the original novel) steals the entire film from Bambi, and the film would be a lot lesser without that character who largely serves as very cute comic relief. T

 

True to life, the characters get uglier once puberty has set in. I won’t say that the film is overrated, simply that it gets less interesting as it goes along. I also have to confess that the usual Disney choir gets a helluva workout here to an almost laughable degree.

 

This is adorable, and if you hate this film, you’re not human, and you have neither a heart nor a soul. It may not be the great entertainment of “Pinocchio” (it sure beats the overrated “Fantasia”, however), nor is the animation terribly impressive- it’s extremely pretty, but like I said, painterly and thin. But look, it’s “Bambi” and everyone loves “Bambi”, right? By the way, is it just me or is one of those adult deer voiced by J. Peterman from “Seinfeld”? Tell me I’m wrong!

 

The script is by Perce Pearce (who co-directed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with Hand and several others) and Larry Morey (ditto), from a Felix Salten (writer of the novel “The Shaggy Dog” was based on) novel, with several others having a hand in bringing the story to the screen as well.

 

Rating: B

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review: Tears of the Sun


All hell has broken loose in Nigeria, and rebels have assassinated the President and his family. Bruce Willis leads a Navy SEAL team sent there to rescue an American (by marriage) doctor who runs a small Catholic mission in the jungle. There is only a small window of time afforded to them, and when they get there, the good doctor (played by Monica Bellucci) is reluctant to leave without her 70 odd sick/injured patients. The higher-ups (represented by Tom Skerritt with a walkie-talkie) say no, but Willis and his men find themselves having a crisis of conscience. Eamonn Walker, Cole Hauser, Nick Chinlund, and Johnny Messner play the other SEALs, whilst Fionnula Flanagan plays Athene Seyler, from “Inn of the Sixth Happiness”, basically.

 

Remember John Wayne’s “The Green Berets”, the Vietnam war film where the sun ludicrously set in the East? Well this 2003 Antoine Fuqua (the overrated “Training Day”, the inexplicable “King Arthur”) flick may not be anywhere near as offensive or dated as that clunker, but it’s still a clichéd, jingoistic piece of crap, with Bruce Willis seeming to imitate The Duke at his worst. It’s by far the least giveashit performance of his entire career. The film is somewhat critical of the heartless brass giving the orders, but otherwise it’s another rah-rah Yankee Doodle Dandy film about America being the one to settle the disputes of others. If it weren’t so clichéd and boring, I probably wouldn’t mind so much, and the action at the end is well-staged, but by then it is far too late.

 

The colourful scenery (you won’t guess that it’s actually Oahu, not Nigeria) is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Mauro Fiore (“Driven”, “Avatar”), and gives the film a texture it otherwise lacks in the script. Basically, this film is simplistic and corny as fuck, right down to the score by Hans Zimmer (“The Dark Knight”, “Inception”). It might not be as bad as Willis’ “North” or “Colour of Night”, but how can you not groan at clunkers like ‘We’re already engaged!’ when one of Willis’ men warns him of the rules of engagement. The script by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo really does feel like a dusted off John Wayne script, and poor Tom Skerritt is confined to a role that essentially plays like a ticking timer on a bomb, just there to apply some artificial urgency. The antagonists, meanwhile, are given absolutely no depth whatsoever. They’re pantomime villains from out of some silent movie, basically. Cole Hauser tries his best, and although a tad too Avery Brooks (i.e. Inappropriately Shakespearean) at times with his booming voice, Eamonn Walker has undeniable screen presence and charisma. Monica Bellucci, meanwhile, is one of the world’s most stunning movie stars, unquestionably, and is perfectly OK under the circumstances. Her role, however, is probably the biggest cliché of all.

 

I guess if you like simplistic, Cannon-esque rah-rah action entertainments, you might tolerate this film, but even so you’re dealing with an incredibly clichéd film with no character depth whatsoever and some of the most eye-rolling dialogue you’ve ever heard. Even if you’re OK with American intervention in foreign disputes (and the second Iraq War was firmly in my mind when I originally watched- and hated- this back in 2003), it doesn’t adequately deal with its message about senseless slaughter, nor does it remotely entertain as an action/war film. And what would’ve happened if Bellucci weren’t married to a Yank? Exactly...

 

Rating: D

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Killing Them Softly


Two low-life morons (Aussie tool Ben Mendelsohn, and Scoot McNairy) team up with a low-level crim and Laundromat owner (Vincent Curatola) to rob a secret mob poker game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). Markie has been accused of robbing the game himself before (and rightly so), so they figure it’s easy money and the unfortunate Markie will make for a perfect patsy. In spite of their own idiocy they manage to pull the job off and go their separate ways. Richard Jenkins plays a nerdy-looking middle-man in the mob who looks like an accountant and who hires expert hit-man Brad Pitt to clean this situation up once it becomes pretty clear that Markie didn’t do it, but these two idiot losers. However, Pitt even goes after Markie to appease the disgruntled card players, whether he’s actually guilty this time or not. Pitt, as the title suggests, likes to kill his targets from a distance, without them even knowing he’s there. Basically, he would’ve hated being the guy sent to whack John Turturro in “Miller’s Crossing”. A tired-looking James Gandolfini plays a formerly efficient hit man Pitt calls in to do the up-close work. Unfortunately, this guy has now gone to waste in some kind of pathetic midlife depression/drunken stupor that makes him practically useless. Sam Shepard has a strangely miniscule role as the mob boss (Did most of his scenes get cut?)

 

Written and directed by Aussie Andrew Dominik and based on a book by George V. Higgins, this 2012 crime flick with occasional moments of hilarity is very near a bullseye. In fact, it might just be the best Coen Brothers movie that the Coen Brothers never made, and is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the slightly similar, but irritating and overrated “Fargo” (The film is somewhere in between “Fargo” and the 70s Robert Mitchum caper “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” which was based on a Higgins novel). Brad Pitt is OK as the top hit-man, but much more enjoyable are the downright hilarious Ben Mendelsohn (love the dish-washing gloves for a bank robbery), a perfectly-cast Ray Liotta (as a loser scapegoat, basically), and a sad and erratic James Gandolfini (one of his last roles). Mendelsohn brings a brilliant touch of dumb arse Aussie bogan to his drugged-out idiot crim role, and the tiny dog is just icing on the cake. Scoot McNairy also deserves praise as the ‘other’ dumb arse crim, easily the best work the actor has done to date.

 

I also liked the working class New Orleans scenery (post-Katrina), kind of a character unto itself, in a film full of fascinating, if wholly unlikeable characters (The book was set in Boston, however, and that actually might’ve been even better). It’s a good-looking and interesting film that gets more serious (and possibly slower) in the second half, but I wouldn’t say that one’s interest wanes to any great degree for the tonal shift.

 

The film tacks on a bunch of news statements by US Presidents Obama and Dubya about America’s financial woes, and apparently the connection to the characters in the film is there, but on first watch I found the connection tenuous at best, and overall thought the device was frankly rather expendable (and not featured in the original 1974 novel of course, the film being reset in 2008) in an otherwise really strong, really enjoyable crime-caper. Yes, the final speech by Pitt does spell it out somewhat, but it’s one helluva long bow on my first viewing. Maybe multiple viewings are in order to give the film additional resonance, I dunno, I just felt the film worked well enough as a crime caper that it didn’t also need to be a political allegory on top of that. I don’t think I missed the point of it exactly, just the necessity of that point being made in that way. This minor issue aside, it’s definitely one of the best films of the year, if not quite on par with Dominik’s earlier films “Chopper” (which also mixed crime and black humour) and especially the vastly underrated “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”. Check out those opening credits too, which, intentional or not, are hilarious. Accompanied by discordant music, they’re like something out of “The Shining” and very strange.

 

Rating: B

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Fire With Fire


Josh Duhamel stars as a fire-fighter who witnesses white supremacist crime boss Vincent D’Onofrio murder a couple of people in a convenience store. Cop Bruce Willis puts Duhamel into Witness Protection so that he can testify at D’Onofrio’s trial. This sees him completely leave his life and loved ones to be relocated in New Orleans, under the watch of federal agent Rosario Dawson, whom eventually becomes his lover (and also teaches the ‘Average Joe’ Duhamel how to fire a gun). Sometime later, it appears that D’Onofrio has gained access to Duhamel’s identity, and is putting his loved ones back home in the hospital. Duhamel has taken just about all he can take and decides to fight back. Bonnie Somerville plays the Assistant DA, Julian McMahon plays an assassin in D’Onofrio’s employ, James Lesure plays Duhamel’s best friend back home, Richard Schiff plays D’Onofrio’s soulless lawyer, 50 Cent and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson play a couple of gangbangers, Vinnie Jones plays D’Onofrio’s chief arse-kicker, and Kevin Dunn plays Dawson’s boss.

 

Don’t be fooled by the familiar names and faces all turning up in this 2012 thriller from director and former stunt man David Barrett (who has directed episodes of TV shows like “The Mentalist” and “Under the Dome”) and first-time writer Tom O’Connor. This film might have Bruce Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, and 50 Cent (to name a few), but it wasn’t even considered good enough to get a theatrical release in the US let alone here in Australia. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not that Josh Duhamel isn’t leading man movie star material. One of these days he’s gonna find the right role, I’m sure of it. It’s just not a good film (the six thousand EP’s and producers, including 50 Cent explains a LOT), and Duhamel’s problem is that he’s just not very good at choosing scripts. Meanwhile, it doesn’t remotely surprise me that Mr. Barrett is more at home with the TV medium (though he tries to ape Tony “Enemy of the State” Scott’s frenetic style), but it’s definitely the screenplay that is the problem here.

 

There’s a pretty good, chaotic shoot-out, partly undone by Barrett’s decision to employ shaky-cam, but there’s just something wonky about this film’s structure and I think that falls on Mr. O’Connor. It feels like it has a far too long first act. After 20 minutes, you’re still not sure what the main plot is going to be, and not in a good way. It feels like the plot gets reset three times in the first half-hour. It needed grounding. It’s clunky, too long and yet underdone at the same time, with Rosario Dawson’s character proving to have less depth the longer the film goes on to the point where she just ends up a damsel in distress. Yes, Duhamel employing his skills as a fireman in the finale covers this issue somewhat, but still, this is a woman who starts out as a competent (if somewhat unethical) federal fucking agent, and in the end she turns out to be in need of rescue by the guy she was protecting earlier in the film. This is a guy who, aside from being a fireman, is just an average Joe (something I actually like about the character). Then again, this is the same character who, thanks to the shitty narrative, is seen boning Duhamel before her character has any definition at all. That should’ve been the tip-off, perhaps. I really, really like Rosario Dawson. She’s beautiful, charismatic, and a good actress. She’s an extremely underutilised talent, and she is certainly underutilised here in a film that at times feels like a dusted-off Steven Seagal script. Hell, there’s even a scene where Duhamel walks into the middle of a convenience store robbery. He doesn’t snap any wrists, though, which is a shame.

 

The one thing I really did like about this film was that Duhamel’s life keeps getting messed with and he has to leave it and/or the people he loves. Anyone would find that difficult to adjust to. But I’m sorry, that isn’t enough to save a film, nor is the seriously creepy performance by Vincent D’Onofrio. I’ve not been much impressed with the actor over the years, and he looks a tad too multicultural to be playing a Neo-Nazi, but his kind of latter-day Orson Welles (but more restrained), Cajun-accented bad guy is an absolute scene-stealer. He gives off a creepy-as-hell, intellectually superior serial killer vibe. That said, he and his goons don’t wind up being terribly effective, as they seem to only send people to the hospital. You’re supposed to send them to the morgue, aren’t you? Or is that just the Chicago way?

 

50 Cent is well cast, if underused, and UFC badass ‘Rampage’ Jackson is amusing as a gangbanger thug/enforcer. Vinnie Jones gets even less screen-time, but I never get tired of Vinnie Jones yelling at people. It amuses me to no end. I’m not sure what’s going on with Julian McMahon’s identikit fetish at the moment, but once again, he is sporting fake facial hair only to remove it later on. This time it’s a Super Mario moustache. Jesus Christ, Julian. It’s a little less fake-looking than in “Faces in the Crowd”, but wow. It’s interesting that James Lesure has a role here, given he was Josh Duhamel’s right-hand man on “Las Vegas”. Did Duhamel do a brother a solid and get him some work? Meanwhile, Kevin Dunn might just have the longest amount of screen-time for an uncredited (at least to my eyes he wasn’t in the opening credits) actor in cinematic history.

 

And then we get to Bruce Willis. Oh how the mighty hath fallen. Is he bored? Despite having a before-the-title credit (and his screen time definitely doesn’t warrant that I might add) you can certainly tell that he is giving the barest of minimum effort here in picking up a paycheck. Even worse, he has one allegedly dramatic scene that is the worst piece of acting he has ever done. He’s talking over the phone to someone and admittedly there’s not enough depth in the relationship between Willis and Duhamel to give Willis much to work with, but even so it’s incredibly embarrassing. And I’ve seen “North”, “Hudson Hawk”, “Bonfire of the Vanities”, and “Colour of Night”.

 

I’ve seen a lot worse films than this get a theatrical release (and I’m not just talking about the ones with “Friday the 13th in the title or Adam Sandler in the cast), but I can certainly see why this one wasn’t given one. Having 50 Cent in your cast, for instance, is usually the kiss of death, even though I think he’s one of the best rapper-turned actors. As I’m fond of saying, there’s something decent in this film, but it’s just not all there on screen. How and why did so many known entities sign up for this? I think Josh Duhamel has everything needed to be a big movie star, but I think he needs to let someone with more wisdom choose his scripts for him. And if someone already is, fire the fuck out of them.

 

Rating: C

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: Paranormal Activity 4


A new family experience unsettling and possibly paranormal things as they take care of a neighbour’s kid named Robbie (Brady Allen). Teen daughter Kathryn Newton is convinced that Robbie is a little bit creepy and ropes her douchy boyfriend into helping her investigate. Meanwhile, Robbie and the family’s similarly aged boy Wyatt seem to be bonding, and that’s when things get even weirder. Real-life couple Alexondra Lee and the late Stephen Dunham (who died after filming, tragically) play Newton’s parents, typical Doubting Thomas’s.

 

It’s not supposed to be like this. Oh sure, I could say that “Friday the 13th Part 3” and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” are the best films in a crap series, but for the most part, sequels are supposed to get progressively worse, not better. The first “Paranormal Activity” was a pretty effective ‘found footage’ horror film that even managed to make me a little uneasy during the middle of the day. The second one was appalling in its blatant and lazy mimicry of the first film. I was never able to get into it because I already knew to expect a whole lot of nothing before shit started getting fucked up, and thus spent most of the film sitting on my hands. The third one, well that was even worse, a shameful and frankly desperate cash grab. So this 2012 film from directors Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, and writer Christopher Landon (the same team behind “Paranormal Activity 3”) has to be the worst one of all, right? Actually it’s surprisingly watchable. I know, I’m shocked too, but it’s the truth.

 

The funny thing is, it’s not even all that different, it simply works better than the previous too, if a long way from the first film’s effectiveness. The characters are the most likeable since the first film, the cinematography by Doug Emmett shows some really good shot composition, with creepiness turning up in the corner of the frame silently, which is always creepier than some kind of loud musical sting. Emmett also supplies relatively steady handheld camerawork without it being so steady that it shatters the illusion. I also have to credit a particularly brilliant piece of misdirection involving a chandelier. That one got me! There’s also a legitimately upsetting and horrifying bit involving a bathtub that thankfully turns out to be a fake-out. Sick bastards. Meanwhile, I vaguely recognised Alexondra Lee but not in any way that I was able to pinpoint where, so I just assumed I was wrong, until I saw her name in the credits. Even then I had to check IMDb to see whether it was “Dawson’s Creek” or “Party of Five” I remembered her from. Turns out it was the latter, and probably “Boston Public” too, but boy that’s going back a long way, unlike the previous two films that featured a fairly prominent cast member of “24”. If lead actress Kathryn Newton doesn’t go on to something else after this, I’ll be very surprised. She’s particularly good, and has something about her that is very appealing. Brady Allen’s Robbie, meanwhile, is the creepiest kid since “Orphan”. The little shit is unsettling from moment one- but is he the one you need to keep your eye on? Cute “Shining” reference involving a very familiar-looking toy tricycle, by the way.

 

It’s a real shame that this is “Paranormal Activity 4” and not “Paranormal Activity 2” because it’s a respectable follow-up. It’s nothing great, and apparently everyone else hated it, but I was seriously expecting a turkey and this is nothing of the sort.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Frankenweenie


Set in the town of New Holland (no, not Australia), this film concerns a young social misfit named Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), and his beloved dog Sparky. He’s into science, but his dad (voiced by a possibly miscast Martin Short) urges him towards the sporting field. One baseball-cum-vehicular mishap later, and poor Sparky is dead. So what is a young, scientifically-minded social misfit to do? Well, let’s just say young Victor was very much paying attention to science teacher Mr Rzykurski’s (voiced by Martin Landau) experiments involving electricity and dead frogs. Other characters include a creepy fellow social outcast named Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), whose interest in the scientific arts come from a more unseemly place than Victor’s, and Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder), the sweet girl next door. Catherine O’Hara provides the voice of Victor’s mother.

 

Not all of Tim Burton’s films have appealed to me, but I feel like we have a lot in common in terms of the kinds of films we love. We both definitely share a love of horror films both Universal and Hammer. That’s probably one of the main reasons why I found this 2012 full-length remake of Burton’s own short film from 1984. This stop-motion animated film is almost bursting at the seams with affection for both of those film companies’ horror output. Hell, it’s even in B&W (or designed to look that way, at any rate, it’s stop-motion, not cell or CG animation). The film is quite clearly a personal one for Burton (whose other films include “Batman”, “Beetlejuice”, and the underrated “Mars Attacks!”), and not just because he’s remaking something of his own. Scripted by John August (Burton’s “Big Fish”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, and “The Corpse Bride”) from material by Leonard Ripps and Burton himself, his really feels like a Burton interpretation of a coming-of-age story, done via stop-motion animation and filtered through a Universal meets Hammer horror plot. Or to put it another way, it’s “The Wonder Years” filtered through “The Addams Family”. It’s great fun for those with similar tastes in movies, and in my view it’s Burton’s best film since “Sleepy Hollow”, in addition to being one of the best films of the year.

 

What immediately grabs you is how a lot of the characters are clearly meant to look and/or sound like horror stars (or characters) of the past, with stand-ins for Vincent Price (a character voiced by Martin Landau, who previously played Bela Lugosi in Burton’s “Ed Wood”), Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Igor/Fritz, etc., and although Burton regular Christopher Lee is absent from the cast, even he gets a look-in via a “Dracula” film playing on TV, which is cute. You don’t have to be an old horror buff like me to get this, but it absolutely helps. Only in a Tim Burton film would the male and female child protagonists be named Victor and Elsa. Meanwhile, Mr. Whiskers is the most sinister, bug-eyed, zombified cat I’ve ever seen and a total scene-stealer. The poodle who looks like it was trimmed by “Edward Scissorhands” is amusing too (And check out that “Bride”-esque hairdo at the end!). Also, the the title dog was already unfortunate-looking to begin with, and once in re-animated form, it’s no surprise that kids in the film are frightened of it. It’s especially funny when parts keep falling off the zombified dog, and the scene where Sparky sees his new re-animated self (Frankenweenie as it were) is a terrific nod to “Frankenstein”. Perhaps best of all is the character of Edgar (AKA Edgar Gore, i.e. E. Gore), wonderfully voiced by Atticus Shaffer and clearly modelled on the Igor/Fritz character in the classic “Frankenstein” series of Universal horror films. Imagine that kid at school who always kept to himself, was frequently picked on (or at least shunned) and was probably spending a lot of time at home plotting his diabolical revenge. That’s Edgar, a wonderful cinematic creation. Also wonderfully creepy is the cat/bat hybrid that Karloff-esque Nassar (voiced by Martin Short, amazingly) creates. Seriously, that thing is gonna give me nightmares for real.

 

There’s some really incredible imagery in this (as well as visual nods to “Nosferatu” and “The Mummy”), but even the 50s-ish exterior shots of the neighbourhood are perfect All-American suburban designs. And I’m pretty sure Burton has seen a “Gamera” film or two in his time, due to the monster havoc in the final third of the film. I also assume he has seen “Ghoulies II” given the scene where a guy is beset by little gremlins out of his toilet.

 

I’m not sure this has been aimed at kids, and given the subject matter it probably shouldn’t- don’t try and resurrect your pets, kids!- but it was certainly up my alley and one of Burton’s best films in recent years (certainly better than his other film of 2012, “Dark Shadows”, though even that was better than expected). It might just be Burton’s most personal and charming film. I have no idea why it flopped, but then I love “Mars Attacks!” and enjoyed his “Planet of the Apes” quite a bit too, so perhaps I’m not the greatest judge.

 

Rating: B

Review: Celebrity


Kenneth Branagh plays a tabloid writer, would-be novelist and wannabe screenwriter, who is desperately trying to gather interest in his screenplay, approaching actors played by Melanie Griffith, and a troubled, hotel-trashing Leonardo DiCaprio. This results in a lot of parties, drinking, and women. Chief among these women are a hot model (Charlize Theron), his book editor (Famke Janssen), and a struggling actress (Winona Ryder). Judy Davis stars as Branagh’s repressed ex-wife who seeks ‘professional’ help from veteran hooker Bebe Neuwirth on pleasing a man, before being charmed by producer Joe Mantegna. Gretchen Mol plays DiCaprio’s abused girlfriend, with Sam Rockwell and an amusingly (retroactively, at least) cast Adrian Grenier as his entourage.

 

You probably know by now that I don’t much like Woody Allen movies, with the exception of a few (“Deconstructing Harry”, “Annie Hall”, “Hollywood Ending”, and maybe “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex”). This 1998 film isn’t quite as nauseating and infantile as “Midnight in Paris”, but nonetheless it’s aimless, clichéd, and not very interesting, despite some good performances. To me, it played like a series of filmed parties, it was repetitive as hell, and I didn’t really see a point anywhere. And if you’re one of those viewers who has Woody pegged as a misogynist, boy are you gonna hate this film. The absolute nadir would have to be the scene where Bebe Neuwirth instructs Judy Davis in how to give head, using a banana. It’s the single most degrading scene of Woody Allen’s career and an embarrassment to both actresses. Then again, I myself couldn’t get over the very fact that Bebe Neuwirth was playing a hooker in a film that already stars Gretchen Mol, Winona Ryder, and Charlize Theron. I mean, there’s ‘experienced’ and then there’s Lilith Friggin’ Crane. Bizarre casting, but this is the same film where Branagh cheats on Famke Janssen with Winona Ryder. At best, that’s a lateral move. Less bizarre (and more pretentious and annoying if anything) is the decision by Woody to have cinematographer Sven Nykvist (“The Virgin Spring”, “New York Stories”, “Sleepless in Seattle”) shoot this film in B&W. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for this, it’s merely Woody trying to show everyone what an ‘artiste’ (i.e. Wanker) he is.

 

One of the problems I tend to have with Woody films is that all of the characters seem to be written in his voice, and it’s an exceptionally irritating voice. This film is no exception, with Kenneth Branagh certainly one of the stranger Woody surrogates, and he attempts to ape Woody in the process. It gets a little tired and annoying after a while, though not as annoying as Woody himself can be. Judy Davis is also basically imitating Woody, and any scene between her and Branagh is nauseating. Davis’ yank accent also falters at times too. The film isn’t a total loss, however, as the performances by Charlize Theron, Joe Mantegna, Famke Janssen, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Winona Ryder are all fine. Theron and Mantegna in particular are worth singling out, as is Isaac Mizrahi in a small role. JK Simmons has a pretty funny cameo as a guy selling a Jesus statue that bleeds. I feel a bit sorry for Gretchen Mol. The ‘It’ girl of 1999 and then...well, have you seen her lately? I certainly haven’t.

 

My favourite scene in the film would have to be Branagh and Janssen having a relationship-breaking argument whilst a bunch of removalists are doing their job in the background. Priceless. Less amusing and frankly a bit ‘on the nose’ is Janssen throwing pages of Branagh’s script from a ship in New York with jazz sax underneath. I mean, spare me. I liked the idea of a plastic surgeon willing to turn a patient into Jennifer Jones in “Duel in the Sun”. That was funny. Less funny, and terribly forced, is Debra Messing as a TV reporter. I liked her on the underrated “Ned & Stacey”, but she has absolutely no business being in the movies.

 

The film has a seriously schizophrenic tone, as DiCaprio’s first scene is a testament to. He’s well-cast in the role, though. Meanwhile, Woody’s cleverness gets to his head, with Davis quoting Blanche Dubois at one point, and the idea of an all-black version of “Birth of a Nation”. Geez, we get it Woody, you’ve seen lots of movies. How about you turn this aimless mess into a movie, then? At least the “Duel in the Sun” reference was funny.

 

Like “Midnight in Paris”, this is the kind of film only recommended to people who have their heads up their own arses. This might have even less of a story than that film did, actually, and I think Woody did it better with “Hollywood Ending” a few years later anyway. Even Woody fans would have to agree that this aimless piece is far from his best offering, though some of the acting is quite strong.

 

Rating: C