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.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: In Cold Blood

The exploits of two paroled crims of different temperaments; cocky, two-bit hustler Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson), and psychologically damaged, volatile Perry Smith (Robert Blake), who attempt to rob an All-American Kansas family for a supposed fortune, and after making a real shemozzle of things (the money Hickcock was told would be there for the taking, was nowhere to be found), turn to brutal murder. As the duo head to Mexico to stew over their meagre earnings, detective Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe) sets about finding them. Jeff Corey and Charles McGraw play the respective fathers of the killers, Brenda Currin is one of the victims, and Paul Stewart plays a journalist covering the case.


1967 gave us two of the best true-crime flicks of all-time in “Bonnie and Clyde” and this Richard Brooks (“Blackboard Jungle”, “The Professionals”) film which must’ve shocked the hell out of audiences at the time with its almost docudrama approach. However, it’s more ‘realistic’ than ‘detached’. Even today, it’s still pretty startling and damn impressive, but aside from this and “Bonnie and Clyde” the only film I can think of that is as thematically violent is Peter Bogdanovich’s minimalist “Targets”, about an amateur sniper’s murder spree. In fact, this film and “Targets” might well be the first films to depict violent, disaffected youth that I can think of, in any really serious manner.


The only thing that really dates the film is the jazzy, Oscar-nominated music score by Quincy Jones (“In the Heat of the Night”, “The Wiz”), which although giving the film a pulse, is far too intrusive and insistent. Otherwise, this film could almost play in cinemas today, though the violence is perhaps a bit too tame for today’s bloodlust crowd. Hell, most of the crime movies of the last thirty or so years in some way owe a lot to this film and/or “Bonnie and Clyde”. This one plays like a road movie at times, so you’ll probably have “Natural Born Killers” and “Kalifornia” in mind at least, while watching this.


Based on a Truman Capote book (which later became the subject of two Capote biopics), this is stark (though still stylish at times), brooding stuff, with Oscar-nominated B&W cinematographer Conrad Hall (“The Professionals”, “Cool Hand Luke”, “American Beauty”) making the Midwest bleak, doom-laden and unsettling. Hell is on its way to doom a nice, Midwestern family, and we’re powerless to stop it. Yes, light, shadow and (especially) rain are wonderfully used by Hall, but not in any showy or pretentiously Expressionistic way that take you out of the harsh, no-nonsense reality of this grim story. It ain’t “Night of the Hunter”. In fact, the use of shadows creates tension. The artiest shot of the whole film has rain reflected onto Robert Blake’s face like tears, but it’s such a masterstroke that you don’t mind (And apparently it was a happy accident anyway. I’m not sure if I really believe that, but nonetheless it works). The finale is disturbingly matter-of-fact, and must’ve been startlingly real and confronting for audiences of the time. It still packs a wallop, as does the film itself.


The story and cinematography are excellent, but the film would be so much lesser if not for the performances, especially the two central ones from Scott Wilson and Robert Blake as two criminals with very different temperaments. I mean, just take a look at how differently they react to their eventual situation. One is cocky and defiant, the other mixed-up but clearly frightened. Blake gets most of the critical attention for his brooding, Brando-esque performance as the very complex and screwed up Perry Smith. The funny thing is, I was more gripped by Wilson’s performance the first time I saw this, and only on this viewing occasion did Blake’s work really grab my attention. The guy’s a tortured mess, and I wouldn’t mind betting Blake himself is a pretty complex guy too (not that I’m casting any aspersions of course). Blake’s Perry keeps you constantly on edge because he seems so unpredictable. At times, especially during the murders, he seems to be off in his own demented little world. The man is out of his gourd very early on. He has an especially disturbing line where he talks about how nice one of the victims was...right up until he cut his throat. Wow. Also, we learn very early on about his fear/hatred of nuns, and it just about says it all. This is a juvenile delinquent grown up unreformed and turned even worse. Scott Wilson, in my view was robbed of an Oscar-nomination (and a better career, for that matter) for his turn as the more outwardly charismatic and charming of the two, Dick Hickcock. Were the Academy asleep at the wheel? Make no mistake, though, Hickcock’s charisma is that of a cheap hustler. And an unrepentant, amoral sociopath to boot. Also, take note of how Hickcock always calls Perry ‘honey’ and ‘baby’. I don’t believe this is meant to suggest homosexual leanings, so much as Hickcock is making sure to assert his dominance over Perry. Hickcock is clearly the alpha male of the two, though with Perry’s instability, Hickcock might not be the brightest spark when it comes to choosing a suitable mate for a killing spree. Or is he?


Although the two leads dominate proceedings, there are other fine performances in the film. John Forsythe (but you can call him ‘Charlie’) and Paul Stewart are well-chosen in two of the most thankless roles. I don’t think Forsythe was ever a great actor, but he and Stewart have got the right matter-of-fact delivery and no-nonsense vibe to them that lends itself well to this realistic picture. Forsythe gets one particularly great speech towards Stewart about newspapers and how they treat the police, somewhat hypocritically. Cinema hard-arse Charles McGraw has a very interesting, small role as Perry’s dad. In an early scene, he shows off some sensitivity, if naiveté about his son. However, this account is later clouded (to put it mildly) in a flashback of Perry’s where no matter what his wife’s faults may have been, McGraw is shown to be a brutish man. This second scene makes McGraw’s first scene all the more impressive. Jeff Corey also turns up as Hickcock’s genuinely naive father, unaware that his surface-level charmer of a son is really a soulless killer and manipulator. Also, look out for Will Geer as a prosecutor. It’s a tiny role, but Geer’s a good actor whom I always enjoy seeing.

 
I rather liked the no-name quality of the actors cast as the intended victims, which helps with the realism (and it means Brooks can put more emphasis on his area of interest: the killers). However, this is undercut somewhat by how unafraid and emotionless they seem during the crime. They don’t even seem stunned, and although this apparently comes from the book, one must remember that this is the account as told by one of the crims. It ringed false to me. It is still amazing, however, just how shockingly stupid and pointless the crime proves to be. This ain’t no romanticised “Bonnie & Clyde” lark in the slightest (even if you believe Capote had a thing for Smith, as the film “Capote” seemed to strongly suggest). It’s a film about a shocking, inhumane, and stupid crime, and an anti-capital punishment film at the same time. And it’s definitely a film you should see at least once in your life.

 
Rating: B+

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Saint

Principally set in 2010 in the Netherlands, we are introduced to a bunch of typical youngsters set to be menaced on December 5th, the day of holiday celebration in the Netherlands. Menaced by whom, you may ask? By jolly ‘ol Saint Nick, that’s who. Except he ain’t jolly. He’s an undead deliverer of terror who rides a zombie horse and lops people’s heads off with a staff. He does this every December 5th that has a full-moon, as we have already seen in a scene set in the 1960s. Bert Luppes plays a detective who experienced those events in the 60s and is determined to stop the menace this time once and for all.

 
Part 2 of my Christmas movie double-bill, I watched this 2010 flick from the Netherlands was written and directed by the amusingly named Dick Maas (Sorry, but dick jokes are still sometimes funny to me). This one is ever-so slightly better than “Rare Exports”, but once again mostly deprives us of an evil Santa Claus front and centre. It’s also a bit sloppy, with a truly shocking English dub (the character of Van Dyk in particular sounds like a bad parody of dubbed films) that makes the film seem cheaper than it is, and a strange structure that makes you think the female characters are going to be more integral to the plot than they ultimately prove to be.


The film begins in 1492 AD and to be honest, it really ought to have stayed there. The early scenes are nice and nasty and Maas also contributes an excellent music score. It soon skips to 1968, and although I was thoroughly enjoying the more Medieval stuff, we do get an absolutely hilarious scene as kids get sucked up a chimney one by one. This is what I wish “Rare Exports” was more like. Unfortunately, it soon skips forward to the present day and turns into a more traditional holiday-themed slasher. Mediocrity, cliché, and Americanised dubbing become the order of the day. Weirdest of all, for a Dutch film, the snow looks awfully fake if you ask me. Don’t they have real snow over there?


Still, there are moments to enjoy here and there. A scene where a kid is reassured that St. Nick doesn’t really exist but then is left to go to sleep in a room full of creepy clowns and other Satanic-looking toys is particularly funny. It’s also wonderfully violent (severed limbs are on the menu), though like I said, St. Nick isn’t the chief menace, as was also the case in “Rare Exports”. We do, however get to see the hellish-looking St. Nick a few times on his horse cutting an impressively creepy figure. Just not often enough. I loved his staff, though. It lops people’s heads off!

 
In the end, the film is easily watchable, but could’ve been even better with a few structural kinks sorted out, subtitles instead of crappy dubbing, and more emphasis on the title character.

 
Rating: C+

Review: Rare Exports- A Christmas Tale

Set on the Finnish side of the Russo-Finnish border in December, young Onni Tomila and his pal Ilmari Järvenpää suspect an American mining operation in the mountains is actually an attempt to find the burial place of Santa Claus. And I don’t mean the jolly fat one. No, this Santa likes to punish naughty children, and is a bit of a sadist, really. His ‘helpers’, meanwhile, are gaunt, zombie-like little buggers who most certainly do not aspire to be dentists. And the reindeer? Mysteriously slaughtered en masse. Speaking of mysterious, the local kids start disappearing all of a sudden. Merry f’n Christmas, everyone!


I’m known for having what is referred to as a ‘selective memory’, which means although I’m forgetful about most of the things that are supposed to be important, if it’s related to movies, I’ll rarely forget. I also tend to take extensive notes during most movies, so that if I need to hold off on the review for a bit (I see a lot of movies, you understand), I can do so without losing any of my impression of a film. Thus, I present to you part 1 of my Christmas Eve and Christmas Night movie viewing. This 2010 film from the Finnish writer/director Jelmari Helander (brother Juuso co-wrote the story), based on two earlier short films he made takes the rather inevitable step of stripping away the Coca-Cola Santa mainstream iconography we’ve all become used to, and reverts back to the much darker Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas versions of the character, but making things even more sinister. It’s a great idea to do that, and like I said, inevitable, so it’s a shame that the film isn’t better.


The decision to not have Santa Claus (or whatever you might call him) as a major player in the film was, for me, a real missed opportunity and the film isn’t as much nasty fun as I was hoping it would be. In a weird way, this plays like a much darker version of “A Christmas Story”, except the kid looks like he could be Bjork’s son, but not enough is done with Santa and the kids, if you ask me. However, as much as I don’t like to look at scenes of animal slaughter, the idea of dead reindeer is terribly funny. Sorry, but 430 dead reindeer is fall down hard hilariously funny. The film feels authentic and it’s very atmospheric, if too slow.


Santa’s elves here are unlike anything you’ve ever seen in Christmas stories before, but we’re too far into the film before they even turn up. More from them and the film could’ve really been something. However, having them look like inmates of Auschwitz does give off a bit of a wrong vibe.

 
It’s incredibly well-shot and well-lit by Mika Orasmaa, and certainly never dull, but it’s not quite what I had hoped for. It still entertains for the most part, but not as much as it could’ve. It’s worth a look, though, if you want a creepy alternative to the generally cherry holiday classics.


Rating: C+

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: Waterhole #3

Card shark James Coburn and sheriff Carroll O’Connor (who was honest enough, until he woke up that morning) go in search of a stolen cache of gold currently in the hands of renegade cavalry officer Claude Akins, and his cohort, seedy thief Timothy Carey. Their other accomplice was Doc (Roy Jenson), who ended up on the wrong side of Coburn’s gun barrel after challenging him to a fight. In the middle is Margret Blye, who is furious after she is sorta-kinda manhandled by Coburn, but even her father- O’Connor- is ambivalent about the incident (which some viewers will- wrongly- read as misogyny). James Whitmore is the duped Cavalry Captain, and Joan Blondell steals a few scenes as a sassy madam. Bruce Dern has a fun early role as O’Connor’s lunkhead deputy.
 

Not bad 1967 William Graham (“Honky”, and mostly TV fare like “Get Christie Love!” and “Guyana Tragedy- The Story of Jim Jones”) comedy western benefits from the always cool Coburn (perhaps the coolest actor who ever lived), a blustery O’Connor (channelling Rod Steiger at his hammiest), and reliable old Whitmore, not to mention the brassy Blondell.


However, it’s not overly funny, and the comedic ‘rape’ scene and later references to it will rub many the wrong way. Personally, it also bothered me at the time, but on reflection it kinda fits into the film’s view of the characters and the West itself, in which everyone is painted in shades of grey (and never meant to be taken too seriously). It’s also not terribly interesting or original, but the cast certainly makes it a watchable experience. I just thought it should’ve been a lot better and funnier.


Excellent colour cinematography by veteran Robert Burks (“Strangers on a Train”, “To Catch a Thief”, “A Patch of Blue”) is a definite highlight. The screenplay is by Joseph T. Steck and Robert R. Young, with infectious music by Roger Miller (Disney’s animated “Robin Hood”), his ‘Code of the West’ song will never leave your brain and drive you nuts. I wish I could rate this film a bit higher, but I just can’t do it. It’s not funny enough.

 
Rating: C+

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Disorganised Crime

A bunch of crims (Fred Gwynne, Ruben Blades, Lou Diamond Phillips, and William Russ) unacquainted with one another assemble at a remote farmhouse in Montana to discuss an upcoming bank job organised by criminal mastermind Corbin Bernsen. Bernsen, however, has just been picked up by dumbski cops Ed O’Neill and Daniel Roebuck and thrown in the local pen. Foul-tempered safecracker William Russ wants to leave, but veteran explosives expert Fred Gwynne (very classy) and sharply dressed Latino Ruben Blades suggest they wait a while for their mutual acquaintance, Bernsen to arrive with whatever job he has planned. Getaway driver Lou Diamond Phillips seems happy to hang around. Meanwhile, Bernsen has managed to escape, with O’Neill and Roebuck trying (ineptly) to capture him again. When the crims find out Bernsen has been arrested, they decide to pull a few jobs to get the money to bail him out. O’Neill and Roebuck, of course, assume that these jobs are the handiwork of Bernsen. Hoyt Axton turns up briefly as the local sheriff.


Written and directed by “Stakeout” screenwriter Jim Kouf (he also wrote the offbeat genre-hopper “The Hidden”) this comedy-caper flick has a solid cast (and Corbin Bernsen- sorry, had to!) and a perfectly workable plot. What it doesn’t have is an ounce of humour, and for a comedy, that’s basically a killer. “The Ladykillers” it ain’t. The film has watchable moments as a crime/caper flick, but without bringing the funnies, one can’t recommend it.


The cast is here and willing, but aren’t given much to work with. Gwynne has amazing presence (“Gremlins” co-star Hoyt Axton does too, but barely has a cameo) and might’ve been good in a more serious-minded caper, whilst the underrated Ruben Blades and a Mickey Rourke-esque William Russ have the film’s best moments (few as they may well be). Lou Diamond Phillips, however is appallingly underused, and his performance suggests he knows it. He was on a high after “La Bamba” and “Young Guns”, but this film (along with “Renegades”, “The Dark Wind”, and “The First Power”) helped kill his momentum completely. A shame, because he’s a really talented actor in the right part (as those first two films I mentioned indeed showed). Corbin Bernsen, meanwhile, has a horribly unfunny slapsticky role that the film continually cuts away to. Ed O’Neill and Daniel Roebuck are talented but are given clichéd dumb cop roles.


There’s just not much to say about this film because there’s not much to it. It’s not awful, just awfully unfunny and a waste of talent (and Corbin Bernsen- hey, a good joke is worth repeating, OK?). It’s entirely forgettable.


Rating: C

Review: Paranormal Activity 3

We begin in 2005 with Katie Featherston delivering a bunch of videotapes to her sister Kristi’s house. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) finds that they are recordings from 1988 and the house Kristi and Katie lived in as children (played by Jessica Tyler Brown and Chloe Csengery, respectively) with their mother (Lauren Bittner) and her boyfriend, a tech-head who set up video cameras all around the house. The cameras eventually captured a series of bizarre goings on, that show Kristi and Katie were already well aware of such things long before the events of the first and second film. Johanna Braddy plays a babysitter, in a minor part.

 

The original film was one of the better “Blair Witch Project”-inspired horror films that even managed to unsettle me during the daytime. The second film was essentially the same film made exactly the same way, and with absolutely zero effect. That’s largely because the original gave us about 40 minutes of uneventful setup before the shenanigans began. Thus repeating the process meant I knew I could tune out for about half the film, and was completely disengaged by the time anything actually happened. The delayed, building approach worked the first time because you didn’t know when and where the scares were coming. That doesn’t work the second time around (I wonder if the original then holds up on repeated viewings?). Released in 2011, this third film (a prequel to the previous ones) comes from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who co-directed something called “Catfish”), and writer Christopher B. Landon (“Paranormal Activity 2”). It continues the trend of doing the same damn thing exactly the same damn way. This time the result is even lesser than lesser. It’s almost nothing, and is definitely a shameless grab for money.

 

Like the “Saw” series, the quality ain’t improving with each shameless entry in the series. The formula in this film appears to be: silence + silence + silence + silence + silence + BANG! x 3= Infinite Boredom. The only thing I was focused on were the loud noises about to make me jump out of my seat. The story failed to interest me at all, the characters even less. I’m sorry, but making me jump isn’t the same as making me scared. And I don’t like being startled (You should see me during a thunderstorm, at almost age damn 33). The best horror films, even those that make you jump, will make you jump because you’re so engrossed in the story that you can’t help but jump. Here, if I jumped it’s solely because there was a loud noise. I’m a wimp who jumps when a car’s exhaust backs out, for cryin’ out loud. It’s seriously the most repetitive film I’ve seen in ages, with the exact same camera set-up showing a panning view from the kitchen to the living room, and nine times out of ten, you’re not seeing a damn thing worth capturing. And for a film where most of the ghostly happenings occur in the bedroom, that makes it doubly pointless.

 

Once again featuring actors familiar to anyone with a freaking TV set (Sprague Grayden from a season of “24” and “Greek” semi-regular Johanna Braddy), the film doesn’t work as a “BWP”-style reality-horror, either. I mean, everyone has seen “24” surely (and if not, it’s your loss, most seasons were stellar), and knows Sprague Grayden played the President’s bitch of a daughter on one season.

 

I know I’m going to be accused of nitpicking, but why does the image quality for late 80s-era video camera shots look like 2011 video quality? Because it is. Oopsy. Sorry, I know it’s probably impossible to use real cameras from the era, but geez, at least do your best to give us faux-80s footage. Here the lighting is way too good and the hi-def image is way too crisp for 88 (Not to mention widescreen). Such a simple mistake and it took me out of the film even further. The conceit doesn’t work for a second, and that’s a shame because the actors playing the kids are really good and pretty natural on screen. Oh, and the mother (Lauren Bittner) is really hot, too. Sorry, but that’s it for niceties.

 

The ending pretty much rips off the vastly superior “The Last Exorcism”, which also annoyed me. This is lazy, redundant, and worthless. These filmmakers are cynical jerks taking advantage of you (For starters, as many people are aware, almost none of the footage from the trailers appears in the actual film. That’s just moral bankruptcy if you ask me). Don’t let them do that. Like the “Saw” films, this series seems to be filling out all the little nooks and crannies in the story that seem less and less important with each film. Everything necessary was in that first film, everything else is just shameless cash-grabbing. There is absolutely no reason outside of financial gain for something as thin and repetitive as this to have been stretched out over several films. This one comes billed as a prequel, but it doesn’t so much add anything to the story or characters so much as repeat the same damn story but several decades earlier. This is a complete waste of time.

 

Rating: D-