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.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: The Roommate

Minka Kelly is the girl from Idaho now attending college in LA, who makes fast friends with her new roommate played by Leighton Meester. Unfortunately, Meester is a troubled rich girl who quickly becomes clingy, obsessive, and just plain weird. She doesn’t want Kelly to have any friends aside from her, let alone any semblance of a love life. And whatever happened to their poor widdle kitten? Cam Gigandet plays Kelly’s boyfriend who thinks she’s overreacting, Aly Michalka plays another college girl who knows something is up with Meester, and Billy Zane turns up as a lecherous fashion design teacher (Aren’t they all gay, though?). Frances Fisher, Tomas Arana (looking like John Malkovich), and Nina Dobrev all play people from Meester’s troubled past, the first two being her estranged parents. Matt Lanter turns up briefly as Kelly’s ex-boyfriend.


Did we really need a “Single White Female” for the PG-13/“Gossip Girl” crowd? Certainly not if it’s like this 2011 effort from director Christian E. Christiansen (He’s apparently Danish) and writer Sonny Malhi (a debutant who also served as EP). Everything that should make a film like this work (or at least palatable) like exploitation goodies- Sex, nudity, and violence- is made near impossible by the restrictive mantra of getting that PG-13 rating in the US, begging the question of why even bother? The answer of course, is money. Sad, but true. Having said, that I didn’t like “Single White Female” much the first time, so that doesn’t help, either.


If there’s one thing to this film’s credit, it comes from a surprising source. Many have disagreed with me, but “Gossip Girl” star Leighton Meester (for me, the only one of the five main stars of that show with any talent) is actually well-cast as the psycho. She’s a beautiful girl (though she’s had to dye her hair here or else everyone would mix her up with lead actress Minka Kelly), but having seen snippets of “Gossip Girl” and now this, I can’t imagine her as an ingénue or innocent. She’s got ‘bitchy girl’ written all over her. She gives an interestingly ‘off’ performance here that thankfully doesn’t go into scenery-chewing, shrill territory like it could have. I like some of the nutty little things she does here, and I definitely think she’s a better actress than her more famous “Gossip Girl” alum Blake Lively (anyone else think she’s too young to already look so haggard and leathery? Just sayin’!), let alone the bland lead of this film, Minka Kelly. She’s not great, nor enough to save the film, but she’s OK and certainly starts out a lot more subtly than her “SWF” counterpart Jennifer Jason Leigh.


But this is just so routine and familiar that the restrictive rating really kills it, because without some titty or gore (a lesbian scene is hinted at but appallingly never actually shown), this film’s got nothing, really. It’s so tame that MTV could play it in between episodes of “The Hills” and “Jersey Shore” (With a slight edit or two, even Nickelodeon could play it). Mind you, “Jersey Shore” is actually a lot more explicit and trashy (Or <cough> so I’ve heard <cough> What?).


Meester’s not good enough to save it, and although the supporting cast of pretty TV people/teen movie alum (Meester, Kelly, Dobrev, Lanter, Michalka) and has-beens (Zane, Fisher, Arana) looks interesting on paper, you know you’re in trouble when Billy Zane is the most talented cast member. I haven’t forgiven Billy for “Titanic”, but he’s got charisma and is surely above this kind of thing. Cam Gigandet is still the worst living actor in my opinion, but there is good news, folks. He’s found a second facial expression. It’s interesting that he’s here because he’s an actor who has learned everything he knows about acting from watching Mark Wahlberg in “Fear”. So in addition to his patented menacing glower, he actually smiles! The bad news is, he’s still bland as hell. Also, at one point he visits a library. No way in hell am I buying Cam Gigandet as a guy who goes to the library. He waits a good 30 minutes before his shirt comes off, mercifully, though. Having said that, his target audience probably consider that a bad thing.


The other thing that shits me about this film is the cinematography by Phil Parmet. I’m gonna go on one of my patented filter rants here, so skip this if you’re sick of my ranting. Let me see if I have this correct. The college dorms here have yellow lighting, but the college classroom buildings have red lighting, and the library has blue lighting. What the hell? And what good is dim blue lighting in a library, anyway? How can you read anything like that?


Call it “She’s All Whack” or “Single White Bimbo”, this film isn’t as spectacularly awful and histrionic as I’d expected. It’s just low-key, dull, and formulaic in the extreme. A bad film, but not an extravagantly awful one. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

 

Rating: C-

Review: The Locusts


Set in Kansas in the 50s, drifter Vince Vaughn gets a job working as a hired hand on widow Kate Capshaw’s ‘feed lot’, as well as a place to stay. However, he might end up getting more than he bargained for when interfering in the lives of Capshaw (who likes to bed down with her hired hands, it is rumoured) and her mute, emotionally disturbed son ‘Flyboy’ (Jeremy Davies) who was once institutionalised after his father’s death. Vaughn and the painfully shy ‘Flyboy’ bond, which the power-mad Capshaw doesn’t much seem to like. Disturbing family secrets are eventually unearthed, and Vaughn himself appears to be running from past troubles. Ashley Judd plays the town tramp, who has a heart of gold, Jessica Capshaw and Paul Rudd play another young couple who befriend Vaughn.

 

If you’ve ever wanted to see a version of “Hud” where Paul Newman was actually the good guy (and played by the shitty Norman Bates), and just about everyone else was turned around to be the bad guy, then this 1997 Southern Gothic melodrama from writer-director John Patrick Kelley is for you. Unfortunately, the film was such a colossal box-office flop that it would appear few people wanted to see such a scenario, and Kelley hasn’t turned up in the movie biz ever since. Nope, not even a short film or TV credit to his name, it would seem. That’s a shame, because aside from one piece of major miscasting, it’s pretty enjoyable, especially if you like Southern Gothic melodrama and film noir. I kinda liked it (It’s up my alley, genre-wise), even if it’s ultimately no “Hud”, and the constant chirping of cicadas (not locusts) on the soundtrack drove me up the freakin’ wall.

 

The cast is eclectic and interesting, I must say. The seriously gigantic Vince Vaughn (this is the first time I’ve seen just how tall the guy is, barely fitting through a door frame) might initially seem an odd fit for the brooding, drifter character. However, the James Dean-esque veneer of the character eventually turns into something deeper. Vaughn, usually cast as slicksters or whackos, is genuinely sympathetic here in a fine dramatic performance. I’m not normally a fan of Jeremy Davies’ extremely mannered performances, but this is one of his best and most subtle. Either that or all his tics and mannerisms simply suited the part for a change. Just as was the case in the underrated “Simon Birch”, Ashley Judd is simply luminous here in a similarly sweet and kind-hearted performance that will make you fall in love with her. I know I would’ve, had I not already fallen for her in “Simon Birch”. Hers isn’t a large role, but her performance is easily the most memorable thing in the whole film.

 

The film’s biggest stumbling block is Kate Capshaw in a kind of Gloria Grahame meets Bette Davis type role. Best known for marrying Steven Spielberg, Capshaw simply isn’t a good actress (not even in “The Temple of Doom”), but more importantly, she’s completely inappropriate for this role. I know the character is meant to be a bitch, but she’s also meant to be sexy and alluring. Capshaw’s ice-cold, stiff as a board, and not at all sexy. I just didn’t buy her at all, and it stops the film from being more than it could’ve been. Kate’s debuting daughter Jessica Capshaw (an underused actress) is much better, though her role is barely existent.

 

There’s really not much to say about this film, it’s an engrossing (if brooding, brutal, and unpleasant) watch for those who like the Southern Gothic melodrama mixed with some film noir. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s not really doing anything that films of the 40s and 50s had already done, but it does it pretty well. I really don’t know why it flopped, to be honest. Worth a look if you’re into this kind of thing, certainly, and Ashley Judd is simply gorgeous.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: The Trouble With Harry


A droll, pleasant comedy about a corpse that won’t stay buried. Shirley MacLaine (in her quite charming, if unpolished debut) is the widow of the deceased, who didn’t much like the dead man anyway (Her excitable kid discovered the corpse, and is played by The Beav himself, Jerry Mathers). Edmund Gwenn is the elderly sea captain who thinks he might’ve accidentally the shot the man while hunting, and buries the corpse, frightened of exposure. He is helped in this task by a struggling artist John Forsythe. Spinster Mildred Natwick, meanwhile thinks it was she who might’ve done the deed (She has a nice little romance with Gwenn, whilst Forsythe cosies up to MacLaine and her kid). Mildred Dunnock is terrific as shop owner Mrs. Wiggs, who agrees to put Forsythe’s paintings on display for potential buyers. Royal Dano turns up as her suspicious son, a somewhat dim lawman.


Pleasurable, but minor league 1955 Alfred Hitchcock (“Strangers on a Train”, “To Catch a Thief”) black comedy was a flop at the box-office, but apparently a personal favourite of the director himself. It boasts some fun performances, notably Gwenn and Forsythe (their conversation about ‘preservatives’ is the funniest thing in this otherwise mild film), and top-notch autumnal cinematography by the great Robert Burks (“Strangers on a Train”, “To Catch a Thief”, “A Patch of Blue”). But Hitch is better than this if you ask me, it’s not really worthy of his talents and rather twee. Still, it’s all rather agreeable and actually improves with each viewing, I’ve found. The screenplay by John Michael Hayes (“To Catch a Thief”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Peyton Place”, “The Children’s Hour”) was based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd is a laidback, hippie-ish guy who naively tries to sell marijuana to a uniformed police officer. It’s not that he’s really stupid, it’s just that he likes to believe in the good in people, which means he gets a genuine surprise when the initially reassuring police officer turns around and arrests him anyway, throwing him in jail. OK, so clearly he’s not a genius, but is it really his fault that everyone else fails to be as nice and genuine as him? Released from jail, he finds that his pacifist girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has moved on with another dope (T.J. Miller) and wants custody of his dog (named Willie Nelson, of course). So now with no home, no girl, and no dog, Rudd visits his three sisters to find a place to stay, as he doesn’t want to be a burden to their mother (Shirley Knight) and live at home. Unfortunately, as well-meaning as he may be, Rudd’s lack of social awareness and inability to lie or keep a secret, drive his sisters nuts because he exposes their flaws, foibles, and insecurities. Emily Mortimer is mousy sister Liz, married to a pompous documentarian douchebag (played by the one and only Steve Coogan), and who is overprotective of their child, not allowing him to have any fun whatsoever. Coogan reluctantly manages to get Rudd a job on the set of his latest film, but of course he botches that. Elizabeth Banks plays sister Miranda, an ambitious magazine reporter, trying to get the dirt on tight-lipped celeb Lady Arabella Galloway (a gorgeous Janet Montgomery), thinks her big break has come when Galloway and Rudd seem to get along like a house on fire. Finally, there’s sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a lesbian wannabe stand-up comedian with a solid partnership with lawyer Rashida Jones. It is Jones who helps Rudd find the courage and the legal representation to man up and go get his beloved dog back. Unfortunately, Natalie’s not all that great at the fidelity thing, and chooses the wrong person to tell of her indiscretion, if secrecy was in any way the goal. Adam Scott plays Banks’ friend and neighbour, whom Rudd senses a chemistry between Banks and Scott.


Directed by Jesse Peretz (“The Ex” and “The Chateau”, both featuring Rudd) and scripted by his sister Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall (normally a documentary filmmaker and Evgenia Peretz’s husband), this 2011 comedy is like a subtle and more substantial “Dumb and Dumber”. In fact, one of the more interesting things about it is that although hopelessly naive and socially inept, Paul Rudd’s supposedly ‘idiot brother’, is not quite an idiot. He’s a total douche and no genius, sure, and it’s not hard to see why everyone thinks he’s an idiot. But the point of the whole film seems to be that his family (and everyone else, basically) don’t see him for the sweet, well-meaning, and laidback guy he really is, and aren’t seeing their own flaws, either. When he inadvertently exposes their flaws, they’re mad at him when in reality, it’s their own bad behaviour that is to blame. Rudd’s character is the only one who can see what is really important in life, and he’s the only one who isn’t in some way kinda miserable in their life.


Rudd has never been more likeable playing one of the more winning characters in comedies of late, the film is also frequently funny. Hell, even Steve Coogan gets a funny role for the first time in, well, hardly ever. Rudd’s reaction to a threesome is especially hilarious, and almost sweet...in a messed up way. I just love how atypically his character behaved in social situations, the relationship between him and T.J. Miller is especially cute. Miller is the new boyfriend of Rudd’s ex, and they should hate each other, but Miller is the only one in the whole film who seems to genuinely like Rudd and treat him like an equal. Probably because they’re pretty much two peas in a pod (or should that be ‘pea brains’?). I’ve always found Rudd to have a bit of a jerk screen persona, but here he’s adorable.

 
The entire cast is pretty good, with Coogan especially funny as a glib jerk who barely conceals his contempt for Rudd (and why bother trying, it’s not like Rudd would notice!). However, I must confess the parenting skills exhibited by him and Mortimer are a tad reminiscent of Rick Moranis and Harley Jane Kozak in “Parenthood”.


It’s a good comedy, definitely one of the more consistent of late, and features a memorable central character as well. I just plain liked this film. It made me smile.

 
Rating: B-

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: The Rite


Colin O’Donoghue stars as a trainee priest and son of a funeral parlour owner (Rutger Hauer). There’s the feeling he’s entering the priesthood merely as a way to get out of the depressing family business and his overbearing dad. Nearing graduation, O’Donoghue seems to have lost his faith and contemplates resignation from Catholic seminary. His superior (Toby Jones) encourages him to go to Rome and study exorcism instead. He agrees to this, though in classes taught by Father Xavier (Cirian Hinds), he finds himself still having many doubts and scepticism. Father Xavier encourages him to seek out a veteran exorcist named Father Trevant (Sir Anthony Hopkins), who is currently conducting an exorcism on a pregnant 16 year-old girl (Marta Gastini). At first, the young man still clings to beliefs of a rational and more simplistic, psychological rationale for what he sees. However, events become increasingly frightening and have O’Donoghue thinking twice. Alice Braga plays a journalist who follows O’Donoghue, whilst Torrey DeVitto is the girl back home he leaves behind, along with best friend Chris Marquette.


You’d think a horror film featuring Tony Hopkins, Rutger Hauer, and Toby Jones would have to be at least interesting. Unfortunately, this 2011 offering from Swedish director Mikael Håfström (the highly underrated Stephen King adaptation “1408”) and writer Michael Petroni (“The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader”) is pretty uninspired stuff. After “The Exorcist” in 1973, filmmakers have tried in vain to bring out anything new or interesting in screen exorcisms, and this film (based on a true story ‘suggested’ in a book by Matt Baglio) has the added detriment of being particularly similar to “The Last Exorcism” (Sceptical exorcist, pregnant woman who is possessed, possibly raped by her dad, and there’s a very similar plot trajectory etc). That film came out before this one, and unfortunately (despite two totally different stylistic approaches), the comparison between the two leaves this one coming off poorly. It’s a vastly inferior film, and having a Welsh actor playing an exorcist just gave me bad memories of “Exorcist II: The Heretic”, to top it all off. This is easily one of the worst performances of Hopkins’ career. He’s dour and dull initially (seemingly lacking both energy and inspiration), before his character undergoes a shift in the latter stages (not related to anything in the source book, I might add), resulting in an entirely laughable and embarrassing caricature of a performance. Co-star Colin O’Donaghue is no better, so stiff that he can’t muster up the energy to competently play up his character’s cynicism and scepticism. As the possessed girl, Marta Gastini is also uninspiring, especially in comparison to her counterpart in “The Last Exorcism”.

 
I also found much of the film hard to swallow. I didn’t find the exorcism lecture scenes convincing. I’m sure there are schools where such theological studies are taught, but would they look and operate so similarly to other college/university courses? I didn’t buy it. Even less convincing is the idea that a reporter would be able to get into these classes and sit in on them. Even if she were acting covertly, I doubt she’d get away with it. Not to mention the fact that she’s a woman! I’m an atheist and know less than zero, but I was surprised that none of these Catholics were surprised to find a woman in their midst (surely not a frequent occurrence), let alone a reporter. I doubt the Catholic Church welcome the press with open arms these days. Then again, we’re talking about a film where a trainee priest is passing all of his subjects except Theology. What the fuck? So logic and plausibility aren’t the film’s strong points, I guess.


Narrative isn’t its strong suit, either, as the film plays out extremely choppily early on. Hauer, DeVitto, and Marquette, in particular, are poorly treated as a result of this narrative approach. I would’ve removed their characters entirely (DeVitto seems to be forgotten about once Braga turns up anyway) and sped-up O’Donoghue’s transition from seminary dropout to exorcist-in waiting. Even the Braga character ends up with not a whole helluva lot to do. Were Braga (who looks more and more like “NCIS” actress Cote de Pablo every time I see her) and DeVitto only thrown in here because Håfström and Petroni were worried we’d think O’Donoghue was gay? Braga (who the camera wants to get all up inside with at every opportunity) ends up completely useless, so if this was indeed the reason for her conclusion, then the cop-out attitude towards any hint of romance between her and O’Donoghue (who isn’t a priest yet, don’t forget) is something I have serious issues with. In fact, it bothers me a lot more than the film’s clear pro-faith stance. I’m an atheist, or at least an agnostic atheist, but even I would choose God over the Devil, despite believing in neither, so I was able to deal with that. It’s just a movie, after all.


The film does have its positive attributes. The supporting cast, for instance, is full of ominous signs of something very much anti-God. I mean, would you trust Rutger Hauer with your dead family member’s body? Would you trust a priest played by Toby Jones? Jones, by the way, gives the best performance in the entire film, though it’s always nice to see Hauer being thrown a bone. The always ominous-looking Ciaran Hinds is also a red flag to something sinister and nefarious going on, and yet he ends up being exactly what he claims to be at the outset: A religious academic. But the very casting of these people at least has the suggestion of unease and distrust throughout, and that helps make the film a little more tense than it is. And believe me, it’s mostly completely flat. I know it’s more drama than horror, but geez, the horror sucks even when it does arrive (Mostly due to the fact that it’s hard to do anything fresh with this subgenre of horror).


Cinematographer Ben Davis also deserves a mention. He photographs rain in a very beautiful and artistic way, without hogging my attention in an aggressive or obnoxious manner. The locations are nice, but as usual, it seems entirely useless to me. I’m not interested in sight-seeing for the sake of it, and would get bored after about twenty minutes. That’s why I like movies with nice locations, so I don’t need to go anywhere.


At the end of the day, it’s all well and good to want to give us a serious-minded approach to an exorcist flick. But when you offer nothing new or interesting and ultimately end up breaking out the familiar tropes anyway, why bother? Uninspired, and if you’ve seen “The Exorcist” and “The Last Exorcism”, completely unnecessary.

 

Rating: C