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 18, 2013

Review: Lolita (1997)


Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) is a professor of French literature who finds himself in America in the 1940s, renting a room from a lonely widow (Melanie Griffith). He eventually marries the woman, but this is mostly because he is obsessed with her 14 year-old daughter Lolita (Dominique Swain), which the older woman eventually discovers. When tragedy strikes, Humbert finds himself the guardian of Lolita, and basically thinks he has won the lottery. But is this young girl both vixen and virgin? She certainly seems to be aware of her power over men, despite her age. Frank Langella plays the mysterious Quilty, a sinister paedophile who may or may not be trying to take Lolita away from Humbert.


I’ve never read the Vladimir Nabokov novel, but I love the Stanley Kubrick film version from 1962, and this 1997 version from Adrian Lyne (“9 ½ Weeks”, “Flashdance”, “Fatal Attraction”) and writer Stephen Schiff (a magazine writer in his film writing debut) is a solid effort too. Seeing it for the first time some fifteen years after its release, however, I must say I didn’t find it terribly shocking or controversial, and don’t care if it’s more faithful to Nabokov’s text. I have no idea why it’s R-rated in Australia (Frank Langella’s penis?) nor why it took two years to make it to our cinemas here. Obviously the themes of paedophilia will still make it a film that divides audiences, as with previous versions of the story, but I reckon it could’ve (note I didn’t say should’ve) gone further. Perhaps it’s just an indication of how much has changed between 1997 and 2012 because I think Lyne could’ve gotten away with a lot more here than what he shows on screen. The only way this film would be controversial today would be if it were directed by Roman Polanski or Victor Salva. But I’m not really criticising the film for that, just curiously observing it.


I must say that the film is long enough that it really didn’t need a back-story on Humbert that we didn’t get in the Kubrick film. It’s a bit half-arsed in explaining Humbert’s predilection for young girls, to be honest (Unless you think young boys liking young girls is akin to old men liking young girls, in which case, your name is clearly Humbert Humbert). It’s perhaps important to Nabokov enthusiasts (though it seems rather truncated to me), but I didn’t much care for it, though it’s a relatively minor issue. Apparently Nabokov wasn’t fussed about it either, because he adapted his own novel for the Kubrick version without that back-story!


Aside from the title role (which I’ll get to later) the biggest differences for me between this film and the Kubrick one, are the casting of Melanie Griffith and the role of Quilty. Griffith is a terrible actress, even worse than her mother Tippi Hedren, but I figured that if ever a role would suit her, one previously played by Shelley Winters would surely be it. No doubt about it, it’s the best performance of her career, but she is still the weakest of the film’s three leads. She is suitably gauche and shrill, but Winters had a pathetic quality about her that Griffith lacks. Meanwhile, a movie star to the end, Griffith seemingly was unwilling to deglamorise herself for the role, and looks far too good to be playing this rather aging, needy woman. She looks like a 50s siren, for cryin’ out loud.


The character of Quilty (and Frank Langella’s performance) is extremely problematic for me here. I have no idea how it’s written in the book, but in the Kubrick version Peter Sellers walked off with his every scene in a bizarre, semi-comic, creepy turn. He seemed to be a more constant presence in that film than Langella does here, in little more than a cameo. I can’t be certain without looking back at the earlier film how much the character was in the film, but Sellers certainly resonated much more than Langella does here. Langella’s Quilty is much more overtly paedophilic, but is also really heavy-handed, with Langella (who looks a tad like James Mason, actually- intentional?) initially shrouded in sinister shadow, rather stupidly. Perhaps the contrast/comparison between he and Humbert has some potential, but Lyne doesn’t play that up enough. Instead of being pervasive and sleazy, Quilty’s overtly sinister but infrequently used. And that last part is most important, because while I never expected Frank Langella to be like Peter Sellers (Sellers added black comedy to the film that I doubt Langella would be remotely capable of), I did expect him to be as much of a presence in the film, and it hurts the film. It won’t bother fans of the novel so much, as apparently the role was beefed up in the Kubrick version, but I review films, not books, and it bothered me. In the Kubrick version you got the feeling that Lolita was using both Humbert and Quilty (and don’t forget, the story is from Humbert’s possibly tainted point of view), but because Quilty is barely in this, you lose that here.


Jeremy Irons is an actor I’ve always found cold, unpleasant, and frightfully dull. He’s a charismatic black hole. However, perhaps even moreso than James Mason in the Kubrick film, Irons was simply born to play Humbert Humbert (Or Boris Karloff- anyone else with me on that?). To me, although I loved James Mason, Humbert really needs to be an only superficially respectable man and rather unglamorous. Irons has never been better before or since, and although Mason got the veneer of English respectability down pat, Irons is far more believably pervy and pathetic whilst also nailing the phony intellectual side of things. He’s always had a craven underbelly to him if you ask me, or at least, it’s what he projects on screen (He basically did a precursor to this character in “Stealing Beauty”, but without the paedophilia). He even, astonishingly enough, almost has you pitying Humbert, who is, to most people’s definition, a monster. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the guy deserved an Oscar nomination for this. Perhaps the role was too controversial for Hollywood to recognise at the time.


Dominique Swain, like Irons, isn’t a favourite of mine, but this is quite a commendable screen debut for sure. Too old or not, I still prefer Sue Lyon in the Kubrick film, as she seemed much more of an aloof manipulator than Swain and always kept you guessing. However, Swain is suitably...well, underage (Swain was 15 when filming began). Like it or not, that’s the role of Lolita, and Humbert even goes out of his way to explain that Lolita (who wears braces) is not a classic beauty, making it pretty clear that he’s not interested in what is the norm, so in that sense Swain is effective. However, because Swain plays the role as much more of a child (and her casting is the most controversial thing in the film), it does mean that Lolita comes off as more of a victim than she did in the more complex Kubrick interpretation, which bothered me a bit. Not as much of an issue as the change to Quilty, but certainly not as interesting to me as in the Kubrick film, though there is still a touch of aloofness to Swain’s Lolita, don’t get me wrong. Like I said earlier, I was surprised at how tame the scenes between Humbert and Lolita are here. There’s never any real clear nudity from Swain, perhaps understandably. It’s certainly not something I was hoping to see, but I was a bit surprised that basically all we got (on screen, at any rate) were a few kisses between the two. Don’t get me wrong, that’s more than the 1962 version was allowed to get away with, but there was a reason why that film included the toenail-painting scene- it was an attempt to imply what it couldn’t really show. So why is Swain seen painting her toenails in this one too? It shouldn’t be necessary in this film, and I’m surprised the director of “9 ½ Weeks” lacked balls, though to be fair it was likely beyond his control.
 

Ennio Morricone (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, “Once Upon a Time in the West”) contributes a nice score for the film, but it’s more akin to Claudia Cardinale’s them in “Once Upon a Time in the West” than say, ‘The Man With the Harmonica’ from the same film.


This is a solid and respectable adaptation, but I think Kubrick’s version is more entertaining. Whether that is important or not is up to the individual, but for me, it’s important. It might be smut, but boy is it attractive smut, with excellence in production design, costumes, and cinematography. Definitely worth a look so long as you can stomach the premise. It certainly doesn’t condone paedophilia, the story is a tragedy.

 
Rating: B-

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: Dark Command


Set in the 1860s, John Wayne and dentist pal George ‘Gabby’ Hayes (!) have a sweet deal going where Wayne knocks people’s teeth around, sending them to Hayes’ dentist chair. They end up in Lawrence, Kansas where Wayne falls for pretty Claire Trevor (who co-starred with Wayne previously in “Stagecoach”), who is being courted by schoolteacher Walter Pidgeon. Due to recent violence, the town decides to elect a marshal, with Pidgeon being nominated, but Wayne also steps up to the plate to impress Trevor. When Pidgeon loses and Wayne gets the girl too, he becomes embittered and goes the outlaw way of his no-good kin (gun-running, mostly), despite promising devoted mother Marjorie Main that he wouldn’t end up like his brothers. Roy Rogers is Trevor’s brother, who gets himself into some trouble over a shooting, which Pidgeon uses to his advantage to woo Trevor back.


Pretty enjoyable, surprisingly mature 1940 Raoul Walsh (“Gentleman Jim”, “White Heat”) western features OK work by The Duke (as an illiterate cowboy turned politician- prescience, perhaps?), but the big surprise is Pidgeon playing a baddie. I usually can’t stand him and his annoyingly pursed lips, but he’s excellent here as he steals the picture from big-time stars Wayne and Rogers. It’s a role unlike any I’ve seen him in, and I think he ought to have played more shady parts. Hayes and Main are also terrific, but veteran western star Rogers is a bit of a tough sell, he was never really much of an actor per se.


It’s all quite entertaining, but gets a little less plausible as it moves along (I didn’t buy gentleman Pidgeon’s sudden transition into lawlessness, fine as Pidgeon is here). The screenplay is by Grover Jones (“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”), F. Hugh Herbert (“The Moon is Blue”), Jan Fortune, and Lionel Houser (“Christmas in Connecticut”, “Courage of Lassie”), from a W.R. Burnett (“Asphalt Jungle”, “Little Caesar”, “The Great Escape”) novel which has loose connections to real-life (principally with Pidgeon’s character).


Rating: B-

Review: Outside Ozona


Several characters are headed towards Ozona, Texas, as a serial killer has been stalking the area. The killer has also been calling into Radio KWOK and speaking to the local late night DJ (Taj Mahal- hey, that’s the name I see listed, what can I tell ‘ya?). Mahal has been defying orders by playing whatever the hell he wants and taking live calls, virtually giving station manager Meat Loaf a heart attack. Kevin Pollak and Penelope Ann Miller play a crummy clown and his stripper wife, respectively (You’d have to pay me to watch Miller strip. Seriously). Robert Forster plays a lonely trucker who is sweet on Navajo woman Kateri Walker. Lois Red Elk plays Walker’s ill grandmother, Swoosie Kurtz plays an annoying cliché...er...the local gum-chewing waitress, whilst Sherilyn Fenn plays a woman travelling with her somewhat uppity sister. David Paymer plays a psychiatrist who hitches a ride with Fenn and her sister when his car breaks down.


Written and directed by J.S. Cardone (director of “The Forsaken”, scribe of the abysmal remake of “Prom Night”), this 1998 crime-thriller (with occasional comedic touches) has a great premise: A serial killer and several disparate characters are all headed towards Ozona, Texas. It sounds like a winner, doesn’t it? Full of possibilities with tension and interesting characters, etc. Unfortunately, the serial killer is just about the only interesting character in the whole damn movie. What results is a whole lot of waiting around with a bunch of boring, uninteresting, and/or unlikeable caricatures, whilst the killer gets far less screen time than most of them. Or to put it another way, it’s like “The Minus Man” minus the...er...Minus Man. It focuses on the killer’s intended victims instead, to varying degrees of success.

 
Robert Forster (in a role originally intended for the late J.T. Walsh, who the film is dedicated to) and especially David Paymer are excellent, even if the former has been playing Robert Forster in almost every role since the 1960s. Penelope Ann Miller is as irritating and incompetent as ever, and Kateri Walker is seriously amateurish (as are the awful actors playing the detectives). Pollak gets one great monologue about a famous elephant, that whilst completely extraneous, is at least interesting. For the rest of the film, though, having him play a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking, loser clown isn’t anywhere near as funny as it sounds. It’s a shame that Sherilyn Fenn’s life and career seemed to bottom out at some point from what I’ve read, but that doesn’t make her presence or performance here anything worthwhile (the role is too small anyway). Meat Loaf waits around to be given a role to play, though he does his best.


The film does have a bit of atmosphere and slow-building tension, but because it’s so slow it ends up seriously lacking urgency and therefore the tension and dread dissipates. It also allows the audience to work out the killer before they are revealed, despite the person in question being somewhat cast against type. The film completely collapses at the finale, proving the whole thing damn near pointless. Sorry, I just didn’t get this one at all.


Rating: C

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: Forrest Gump

The story of, you guessed it, Forrest Gump (Michael Humphreys), limited with an IQ of about 75, he is dismissed by most of society and seen as unworthy of an education, though his beloved momma (Sally Field) works real hard to see her boy gets the best life possible. He also forms a strong bond with troubled local girl Jenny (Hanna Hall), from the first day of school. As an adult (now played by Tom Hanks) goes on to live a rather extraordinary life as a Vietnam War hero, ping-pong champion, and witness to some of the most important events in American history. He also gets to meet a whole slew of important political and pop culture figures. Seemingly always eluding him, however, is the love of Jenny (played as an adult by Robin Wright), who has a tough time of it living the counter-culture lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Mykelti Williamson plays Bubba, Forrest’s best friend and Vietnam comrade, who also isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Gary Sinise plays gruff Lt. Dan Taylor, Forrest’s commanding officer in Vietnam, whose destiny is to die a brave death in battle like his forefathers.


***** SPOILERIFIC REVIEW AHEAD. SERIOUSLY, I MEAN IT, DUDE *****


From the moment I first saw it at age 14, I proclaimed this 1994 Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “Beowulf”) Academy Award winner for Best Picture as the best movie I had ever seen. I have only ever had that immediate reaction one other time, three years earlier with “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. Well, it’s now early 2013 as I write this, and “Forrest Gump” was replaced at the top of my best films of all-time list about ten years ago with “The Misfits”. However, it’s firmly entrenched in the #2 spot, and the reason for its slight shift downward is really a matter of personal taste (or at least personal political views) than any technical or dramatic flaw within what is still a wonderfully entertaining, beautifully made and truly moving motion picture experience. It thoroughly deserved to win its 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Fans of “Pulp Fiction” and the similarly overrated (but slightly more palatable) “Shawshank Redemption” can go suck it (And I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course).

 
This is kind of my first love, and seeing it without rose-coloured glasses this time, it thankfully holds up really well. My one issue with the film (and remember, it’s a pretty minor one in an otherwise five star classic), and I’ll get it out of the way now, is with regards to the film’s political point-of-view. In my most recent viewing of the film, I feel I have earlier been too harsh in labelling the film’s interpretation of American History as ‘conservative’. A more apt term for the film’s point-of-view would be ‘Conservative Democrat’ (or whatever the equivalent is in your country. I’m Australian, but the film is American, so we’ll go with the yank vernacular), especially when you hear the origins of Forrest’s name. That still makes it more conservative than me, but hardly a true conservative film, otherwise the film wouldn’t show sympathy for each and every one of its characters.


But at the end of the day, this is just splitting hairs and justifying why it stands at one position lower than my favourite film of all-time, so let me spend the rest of this review telling you why I love this film. Based (apparently very loosely) on a Winston Groom novel, the film succeeds where “Benjamin Button” later failed, in giving us a seemingly real, flesh-and-blood character, whose story was simply magical and extraordinary. I guess you either go along with the ‘magic’ or you don’t, and I absolutely went along with it, and Oscar-winning Tom Hanks has to be a large reason for that in making Forrest seem real under extraordinary circumstances, and utterly sympathetic. It’s a sweet, good-hearted film about a really sweet, good-hearted man. I guess I personally related to Forrest in the way he is treated by other people. When Jenny says ‘You don’t know what love is’, it rang true and painful for me and will ring similarly for many other people with disabilities of all kinds, who have ever been made to feel like they are asexual. When Forrest says ‘I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is’, my heart breaks every time. Everyone deserves love and to be loved. Forrest’s quiet initial reaction to Jenny leaving him subsequently is also heart-breaking. I guess he doesn’t know what a booty call is, but nonetheless he gets the gist of the situation. And if you can put aside the political slant of the film (which really only applies to the trajectories of two of the characters anyway), I really admire Zemeckis and Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (“The Horse Whisperer”, “The Insider”) for giving us a film where we see the world through the eyes of someone with a slight intellectual disability. As fanciful as it is, as funny as it is, it gives people with disabilities worth, a value. We see that Forrest makes it through life in his own way, with his own understanding of the world, and his life is not limited in scope. Yes, it’s fanciful and exaggerated, but the point is still there and very much appreciated. Forrest, although he has his own mannerisms and vocal inflections, is no mere caricature, he’s a fully realised character. Hanks has simply never been better, and you need only look to the scene where he realises he’s a father. Hanks brilliantly conveys the myriad of emotions and thoughts going on inside Forrest. He knows who and what he is, he knows his own limitations and capabilities, and although he made a success of himself, he knows the road ahead isn’t always so easy. If you don’t cry at this poignant moment, you’re simply not human. Interesting thought, though: Does anyone think Jenny might have lied about Forrest being the dad and just wanted him to be financially taken care of? No, me neither, but the possibility is there.


The film’s amusing use of special FX and droll sense of humour work wonderfully in helping to tell the extraordinary tale. The football game, for instance, is funny for more than one reason. The crowd signage is hilarious enough, but even funnier is the look on Forrest’s face before he is given the ball. Is he even paying attention? The subsequent bit with the Dr. Pepper’s is even better. I also found Forrest’s attitude to instances of racism really interesting. I mean, he’s basically ridiculing them and their hatred without even really realising it. If this ‘idiot’ gets it...I mean, think about it. Most of the interactions between Forrest and real-life figures from American history are terrific and seamlessly done. The scene with LBJ, for instance, is a modern classic. However, the audio sync with the John Lennon/Dick Cavett bit is terrible. I don’t know what went wrong there, but I’m surprised no one noticed and bothered to fix it. The Watergate reference, however, works wonderfully well and gets us back on track. Aside from an hilarious cameo by ‘Elvis’, the biggest laugh in the film for me, however, is when Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan asks Forrest if he knows what it’s like to not be able to use his legs, and Forrest starts to say that he does. Well, he really does. It cracks me up every time, mostly due to Hanks’ hilarious facial expression (Hanks’ posture throughout the film, for some reason also makes me smile). The scene later on where Forrest sees Lt. Dan and impulsively jumps off his sailing boat (whilst waving) is just gorgeous. Meanwhile, Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” might just be the most brilliant musical choice of all-time. Think about it.


Some of the things that made me laugh hardest this time might not have even been intentional. I mean, has anyone noticed that ‘The happiest day’ of Forrest’s life is when he meets his girl in front of a giant phallic symbol? Just sayin’. His second happiest moment, meanwhile, is spending time with Jenny as we see them embrace with fireworks in the background. Once again, just sayin’, folks.


It’s not just Oscar-winning Hanks who brings his A-game here, everyone’s pretty much perfect. An Oscar-nominated Sally Field in particular gives her best performance since 1985’s “Places in the Heart” as Mama Gump. She sure as hell ain’t “The Flying Nun” in this one. Mykelti Williamson and Gary Sinise are rock-solid as two of the most important male figures in Forrest’s life, his best friend Bubba, and Lt. Dan. Sinise’s casting is retrospectively very interesting. He’s normally a pro-troops guy in real-life, and here he is playing a disgruntled, disabled veteran of one of the most controversial wars in American history. The only other Conservative actor I can think of to take on such a role would be Jon Voight in “Coming Home”, and I don’t think he was a Conservative at the time. Look out for the “Midnight Cowboy” reference too, it’s pretty hard to miss, and very amusing. Williamson, meanwhile, still hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed here, and it’s a shame because he is very effective here as the rather sweet Bubba. Forrest and Jenny might be like ‘two peas in a pod’, but Forrest and Bubba are like brothers from another mother. Robin Wright has perhaps the hardest role in the film to play as the troubled Jenny. She doesn’t always treat Forrest as well as she should, but mostly through Wright’s performance, we see enough of the turmoil that Jenny is going through that we know she means no harm. She was pretty much messed up when Forrest first met her, and perhaps she was even doomed from the start. It’s a very sad character in quite a sad film. Hell, the film has one of the saddest deaths in cinematic history, if you ask me. Maybe even two, now that I think about it. This is one of those rare movies that makes you sad as often as it makes you happy or makes you laugh. It’s magical.


The soundtrack is also my favourite movie soundtrack of all-time, as is the music score by Alan Silvestri (“Young Guns II”, “The Quick and the Dead”). Like with the film overall, it helps to have a nostalgic streak to appreciate the soundtrack here, as it truly does catalogue some of the best songs of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. In fact, it’s so jam-packed with great songs that some songs like The Doors’ “People Are Strange” aren’t even on the released soundtrack. Hell, that’s not even the only Doors song not on the soundtrack.


I love this film dearly, it’s one of the greatest films ever made, and anyone who doesn’t like it clearly hasn’t got a sentimental or nostalgic bone in their body. It’s also one of the few episodic films I’ve seen that takes several viewings before you even realise it’s episodic. Unlike most episodic films, it isn’t choppy or lacking depth. How is that not movie magic, I ask you?


Rating: A+