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, February 2, 2013

Review: 21 Jump Street

Bone-head Channing Tatum and nerd Jonah Hill were at opposite ends of the high school social hierarchy, but joining the police academy after graduation, they both find a commonality. One is smart, but fat. The other is stupid, but fit. Cut to the present where, as rookie cops, they must rely on one another as partners. Even together, though, they still seem to have about half a brain between them. Actually, that’s not quite fair, Hill is book smart, just not in regards to the police procedure book, as neither of them can properly remember the Miranda rights (‘You have the right...to be an attorney...’, was my particular favourite), that anyone who has seen even one police movie can recite practically verbatim. After a particularly bad botch-job, they are sent to an undercover unit called Jump Street and run by the cranky Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube). They are assigned the case of finding drug dealers (and after that, their supplier) at a local high school, with Tatum pretending to be a theatre kid and Hill a science nerd. Unfortunately, their inability to remember their undercover names results in moron Tatum having to suffer through Chemistry and the still-socially awkward Hill fumbling his way through song and dance. Things get a little better when he eyes pretty classmate Brie Larson, however. Tatum, for his part, seems to have caught the eye of his horny teacher (a horny Ellie Kemper).


Like another staple of cheesy 80s TV, “The A-Team”, there are those out there who loved “21 Jump Street” (both shows coming from the Stephen J. Cannell factory, I might add), and those who didn’t. And although perhaps not as much as “The A-Team”, I can definitely say I was and still am a fan of “21 Jump Street”. Hell, I still watch it occasionally, and I think the theme song (sung by one of the stars, Holly Robinson, who seemed on the verge of a Whitney Houston thing that never happened) is one of the all-time best. So this review will come from the completely biased POV of a fan, please bear that in mind. Apparently Jonah Hill is a fan of the TV show, too however, I have my doubts after seeing what the star and co-writer of this 2012 flick from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who previously teamed for “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”, whilst the latter also directed “Puss in Boots” solo), has done with my beloved TV show. He has basically turned it into “Superbad: The Beginning”. I liked “Superbad” quite a lot, but “21 Jump Street” and “Superbad” are worlds apart, and creating a mock version of something I love, cheesy as the object of my love might be, feels like a personal affront. I was offended, and more importantly, I was completely disappointed. If you take the film as being completely removed from anything “21 Jump Street” related, then there’s some things to enjoy here. But as much as I felt this was really nothing like the show, knowing that it was called “21 Jump Street”, I found it hard to truly enjoy the film, which was co-written by “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” co-writer Michael Bacall (who I have no idea whether or not he was a fan of the show).


The only things present here that relate to the TV show are a few star cameos, the basic concept of cops undercover in high school (and not every episode of the show was about that!), a few character names being based on character names from the TV show, and an absolutely appalling, wretched cover version of the theme song. I hate it when filmmakers use alternate versions of theme songs. Even moreso when it’s a dubstep (at least I think that’s what the kids call it?) cover of a theme song that still rocks in its original form. All that said, I didn’t hate this film, and believe me, I was fully expecting to.


It begins particularly well, I must say. I wasn’t initially sure why the film had to begin with ‘The Real Slim Shady’, but when you see Jonah Hill with a bad dye job, the joke is genuinely funny. Even funnier that the scene is likely set long after that particular song was cool. The braces were a nice touch, too. Channing Tatum, meanwhile, finally finds his calling: Playing brainless douchebags. He’s hilarious here as the kind of guy who, when learning he’ll be impersonating a Chemistry student, asks; ‘Is that the one with the shapes?’. Brilliant. This guy is beyond stupid. But even so, none of this was in any way shape or form “21 Jump Street”. There’s way too much swearing, and dick jokes absolutely aren’t a part of “21 Jump Street”, and naming one of the main characters after Frederic Forrest’s captain from the original series just doesn’t cut it (I was always more of a fan of Steven Williams, his replacement, anyway). It really does feel like the basic skeleton of the show has been grafted onto a spin-off prequel to “Superbad” where we see Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as police academy numbskulls before they became the characters they were in “Superbad”. Throw in a lot of pot-smoking during the writing (and possibly even filming) process, and you get this film. But that is not “21 Jump Street”. Hill and Bacall, have strangely opted to throw in obscure jokes and references to the TV show (even some of the cameos aren’t easy to spot, rendering them almost pointless), but failing to make any more obvious ones, and even then, there’s not many references or in-jokes, really. Meanwhile, giving Ice Cube’s police captain a speech that basically lampoons the idea of this film’s existence, does not excuse its existence. Ice Cube, however, is apt casting and easily the best thing in the film, probably giving his best performance since “Boyz N the Hood”, too. ‘Teenage the fuck up!’, by the way, is hilarious, no matter how profane. It’s just funny. I’ll even let ‘Straight Outta Compton’ slide, even though I think there’s way too much rap and dance music on this film’s soundtrack (Why not an 80s soundtrack, damn it?).


But there’s no reason outside of a commercial one to call this “21 Jump Street”, so why bother, when you’re gonna have a bunch of people who don’t know the show and another bunch who do know the show who will be pissed at you for fucking it up? The idea of going back to high school and not knowing about all of the cliques (which seemed to have changed in the 15 or so years since I graduated, rather dramatically) is interesting, but once again, it’s not “21 Jump Street”, and I wanted “21 Jump Street”, damn it! Hill, being the pothead he is, even throws in an irrelevant drug trip scene, but he unfortunately forgot to make it remotely amusing. Hill is less concerned in making “21 Jump Street” than he is in making a Jonah Hill movie. Hill singing and dancing, however, is genuinely amusing, I’ll grant him that. I also liked that this film asked that age old question: How can you tell if someone is being sarcastic or not, if they have a twitch? And I really can’t hate this film, much as I want to, because it has Channing Tatum at one point exclaim ‘Fuck you, Glee!’. Preach it, sister. Right on! His comment about one of Hill’s childhood photos looking like a young Jay Leno was funny too, because it’s true. I liked the work of Brie Larson in the film, she’s really sweet and cute, and reminds me of a younger and blonde Jenna Fischer. However, the film doesn’t deal with the potentially paedophilic nature of a romantic relationship between a high school student and an undercover cop as deftly as the TV show seemed to, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on (Is Jonah Hill simply creepier than Johnny Depp?).
 

As I said earlier, the ‘star’ cameos aren’t even as enjoyable as they could’ve been. ***** POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING ***** It’s great to see Holly Robinson-Peete, but that’s partly because I hadn’t heard about her cameo in advance. It’s a shame Dustin Nguyen didn’t turn up, as we only get him on a TV screen showing clips of him from the TV show. Surely his schedule isn’t that full these days? The cameos by Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise are especially disappointing. I’m glad Depp insisted on DeLuise turning up, but the directors clearly didn’t give a fuck, because for their big reveal, only Depp is shown taking his disguise off, with DeLuise barely getting a look in on the edge of the screen for a split second. As far as I’m concerned, Peter DeLuise was always the star of that show, not Johnny Depp, but I guess I’m the only one of that opinion. Still, I found it quite disrespectful, and the cameo is pretty stupid anyway given how little time we see them without their disguises. It’s a botched joke. And where the fuck was Steven Williams? Was he even asked? The dude’s awesome, and still alive, so he should’ve been here. ***** END SPOILER *****


This isn’t “21 Jump Street”. It’s a mediocre, semi-watchable prequel/spin-off to “Superbad”, but with a hotter guy than Michael Cera and the swearing and penis gags aren’t nearly as funny this time out. The laughs pretty much dry up halfway actually, as the film finally (too late) starts to take itself (too) seriously. If you simply must do a comedy version of “21 Jump Street”, at least make the laughs consistent, for cryin’ out loud, half-and-half is just confusing.


Not a bad film at all, but definitely a missed opportunity. Better than I expected, but nowhere near good enough. Perhaps there wouldn’t have been enough demand for a straight film version of this, in our era of cornering the biggest audience possible. However, I review films from my perspective, not someone else’s, and I was not especially entertained by this, overall. If you want comedy, watch “Superbad”. If you want “21 Jump Street”, watch the TV show. After this and “The A-Team”, I swear if Hollywood even thinks of fucking with “The Wonder Years”...Just don’t. Hell, it’ll probably end up being a tap-dancing version with puppets or something, at this rate. 

 
Rating: C+

Review: Playdate

Marguerite Moreau and hubby Richard Ruccolo notice new neighbours moving in, and decide to be sociable and introduce themselves to Abby Brammell and her two sons. Brammell, however, is awfully secretive and skittish, though the couple’s daughter Olive (Natalie Lind) befriends Brammell’s youngest. He’s a little ‘off’, though, playing a bit rough with young Olive. And then there’s Brammell’s eldest son, who is also rather skittish, sullen, and incredibly moody. Then Moreau notices some bruises on the youngest boy, and it becomes clear that something just isn’t right about this family. And it only gets more and more disturbing.


Directed Andrew C. Erin (who scripted “Metal Tornado” and “Ice Twisters”) and scripted by Kraig Wenman, this 2012 TV movie isn’t anything earth shattering, but there’s so many loopy people here that the film keeps you guessing for a lot of its length as to exactly which path it is going to go down. I liked that, and Marguerite Moreau is a lovely and underrated presence on screen in particular. After seeing her in the “Firestarter” remake, I thought she’d turn out to be an A-list star. Unfortunately, even moreso than Annabeth Gish, Emmy Rossum (both of whom have had a frequent presence on TV at least), and several other lovely and talented actresses I can name, it hasn’t panned out that way for God knows what reason. She’s also a total MILF in this, by the way. Just sayin’. I’m normally used to seeing her in darker or edgier parts, but I enjoyed the change here nonetheless. She did do something completely ridiculous at one point, however. What kind of idiot types ‘child abuse bruise patterns’ into Google? Those first two words alone could get you into deep shit, and I doubt anyone would type such a thing unless they worked in child welfare of some kind.


Richard Ruccolo, meanwhile has an easygoing TV sitcom dad or at least TV drama dad vibe about him, but oddly enough, it works. You might remember him as the guy from that pizza show who didn’t imitate Jim Carrey and didn’t turn out to be “The Green Lantern”. Having said that, am I the only one more suspicious of nosey and overly friendly neighbours than those who are somewhat reclusive and secretive? Maybe it’s because I’m reclusive myself, to an extent.


The material, whilst somewhat clichéd, is also a little more disturbing and twisted than I was expecting from a TV movie, so that was refreshing too. It’s a quietly disturbing film. Dopey title, though, because it doesn’t really play out in any way for that title to make sense. It’s a red herring at best.


It’s somewhat disturbing, well-acted, and never boring, but whilst it keeps you guessing up to a point, there are still plenty of clichés here. Still, it was a lot better than I had anticipated.  


Rating: C+

Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: Youth in Revolt

Michael Cera is nerdy, awkward teenager Nick Twisp, a lover of foreign films and Frank Sinatra, who lives with his trashy middle-aged mother (Jean Smart, in her element), who seems to have a never-ending stream of hopeless boyfriends like loser Zach Galifianakis. It’s this latest beau, whose shady dealings with some very pissed off sailors that inspires the trio to flee to a trailer park. Here Nick meets a pretty girl with seemingly impossibly compatible tastes. Her name is Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), a fellow 16 year-old and obsessive Francophile, who quickly has Nick under her thumb, despite already having a snooty rich boyfriend. Nick is undeterred, dreaming up a cooler alter-ego named Francois Dillinger, who is the destructive bad boy that Nick could only dream of being (Except, because Dillinger is only a figment of Nick’s imagination, or at best, a second personality, it really is Nick. Ouch. Brain hurts). This results in Francois encouraging Nick into all manner of juvenile delinquency, just to impress Sheeni. Unfortunately, things start to get out of hand, and Nick ends up with The Man on his tail. Steve Buscemi plays Nick’s loser father, who is dating someone half his age. M. Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place are Sheeni’s bible-thumping parents, Rooney Mara is Sheeni’s sexy boarding school roommate, Fred Willard is Nick’s do-gooder lefty neighbour, Justin Long is Sheeni’s shroom-loving brother, and Ray Liotta is a cop who becomes Smart’s lover, once things go to pot with Galifianakis.

 

Released in most places in early 2010, this dark and quirky teen comedy from director Miguel Arteta (“The Good Girl”) and improbably named screenwriter Gustin Nash (“Charlie Bartlett”) is an adaptation of a C.D. Payne series of novels. It’s a near-miss with some enjoyable moments (and a few very funny ones including one involving a car) and a solid cast, but something stops it just short of being good. For some, Michael Cera has gone to this well once or twice too often, but I’ve got little problem with him playing a variation of the standard awkward wannabe geek-hipster Michael Cera character. I do however think that he, director Arteta and writer Nash fail to properly portray the character’s Holden Caulfield-esque secondary personality to the point where it comes in and out of the film for too greater lengths to be a truly organic part of the story. Cera otherwise plays the role perfectly fine (even if Nick Twisp is arguably the most insufferably twee character name of all-time), but the Francois Dillinger really ought to have been dropped, sacrilegious to say so or not. It just doesn’t work and Cera isn’t very good in the role.

 

I also found it a little hard to latch onto anyone in the film because there isn’t a single likeable character in the film. Cera’s Scott Pilgrim wasn’t the most virtuous guy in the world, but Nick Twisp is frankly, a bit of a pretentious twot. He’s completely self-absorbed and self-serving from start to finish, and it’s only Cera’s innate likeability that keeps Twisp from being truly off-putting. But even the object of his affections, played by Portia Doubleday (best unintentional porn name ever) is equally self-absorbed to the point where to me she didn’t seem all that interested in Twisp as anything more than the guy who minds her dog and makes her feel good through his pursuit of her. But these somewhat manipulative leads are light-years ahead of the caricatured roles played by Jean Smart (admittedly well-cast), Zach Galifianakis, Ray Liotta (who I swear is no longer an actor but really an escaped mental patient who still wears his police uniform from “Unlawful Entry”), and especially the one-dimensional fundamentalist zealots played by Mary Kay Place and M. Emmet Walsh (the latter is about 25 years too old for his role). Worse still, talents like Fred Willard (who gets a laugh from his first second on screen) and Steve Buscemi are wasted.

 

The weird thing about all of this is that it almost works (Certainly the tone and characters are never quite as off-putting as in say, a Wes Anderson movie or the suffocatingly snarky  “Juno”). It’s quite funny, it’s never dull (especially if you like teen/coming of age stories), and the slightly twisted/quirky tone works in its favour a fair amount of the time. But with unlikeable and caricatured characters, combined with an unconvincingly (not to mention inconsistently) integrated multiple personality angle, the film is never quite as enjoyable as you want it to be. It’s certainly not up to the standard of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, another film where Cera was a gawky young guy trying to overcome many a roadblock in his quest to win the heart of the girl of his dreams.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Take Shelter

Michael Shannon stars as an Ohio construction worker with a loving wife (Jessica Chastain) and a hearing-impaired daughter (Tova Stewart). Shannon starts being disturbed by visions or dreams of a giant apocalyptic storm, and subsequently becomes obsessed with building a storm shelter to protect his family. To do this, he takes out a loan, which concerns his wife, and he borrows tools from work, which concerns his boss and co worker/best friend (the latter played by Shea Whigham). However, always troubling Shannon is the possibility that this is all just in his mind. He is aware that he has a history of mental illness in his family, with his paranoid schizophrenic mother (Kathy Baker), and so he attempts to seek psychiatric help. Meanwhile, his erratic behaviour is unsettling his family, friends, and colleagues. Katy Mixon plays Chastain’s best friend, Lisa Gay Hamilton plays a counsellor.

 

Although a trifle predictable, this film from writer-director Jeff Nichols (directing just his second film) is unique, fascinating, and ultimately a very moving and unusual experience. It’s one of the best films of 2011, easily, and the uneven (but gifted) Michael Shannon gives one of his best performances to date, once again reminding me of other idiosyncratic, darkly mysterious actors as Christopher Walken, Michael Keaton, and Jeff Goldblum. He’s a tough actor to rein in, but when given the right role (and no, his Oscar-nominated turn in “Revolutionary Road” was not the right role) and a strong director, he’s superb (40s and 50s film noir would’ve done great things for him, I believe). He went way overboard in “Revolutionary Road”, but although one scene here calls for a giant outburst, he handles that scene as well as anyone could (it’s pretty startling), and is nicely restrained the rest of the film. Is it just me, or does he seem to struggle to get his words out, like he’s in enormous physical pain trying to speak? Just an observation. It’s a moving performance, because you are afraid for him rather than of him. You sense an innate decency in him, and all of his visions/motives/delusions are to do with saving his family from a threat. But what if he really is losing his mind and the threat is actually him?

 

Although I don’t understand why Jessica Chastain feels the need to turn up in every movie made these days (other actresses must hate her passionately), I was glad to see Kathy Baker, as always. She’s an extremely underrated actress, and I reckon she looks younger here than she has in some of her other films in recent years. It’s an interesting role for her and she handles it with her usual considerable talent.

 

With elements of “Signs”, “Repulsion”, and “Frailty” (not to mention the most oppressive weather and atmosphere since Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave”, this is a slow-burner, but a quietly disturbing film. I found myself being quite upset by some of it, especially some of the rather scary dialogue, but also the seeming normality and realism of the rural setting and characters helps in making it just that much more unsettling. Some of it could’ve been really silly in less assured hands.

 

The ending is problematic, however. I believe I understood it but it’s actually even more open to interpretation than I believe Nichols had intended (And I’ve read that he indeed intended an open ending). ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** Just because Chastain is seeing what Shannon is seeing, doesn’t mean he’s not simply imagining her seeing what he is seeing. Don’t get me wrong, I think the storm is real. Why else would Nichols include the previous false alarm? It had to be real (whether it’s a huge storm and whether they survive or not is up to the viewer), but because Shannon has these visions and also a family history with schizophrenia, one can never be truly sure. Even though this would be his first delusion to focus on someone else’s POV, how do we know this isn’t his delusional mind trying to justify its delusional self as being real? Perhaps this is the open-endedness Nichols is talking about, but I doubt it. I think he just fucked it up a bit. ***** END SPOILER ***** Still, this is a fascinating, well-acted, atmospheric, disturbing, and ultimately powerful film. I never could work out, though, why Shannon and Chastain insisted on whispering around their sleeping child. She’s fucking deaf you idiots! Seriously, that just pissed me off. Anyway, a terrific film well worth seeking out, even if the finale frustrates. It’ll certainly have you talking.

 

Rating: B

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson is a fledgling screenwriter attempting to make it as a novelist. He’s in Paris with his bitchy fiancé Rachel McAdams and her Republican parents (including dad Kurt Fuller). McAdams has little interest in Wilson’s Francophilic love of Paris nor his ambitions to be taken more seriously as a writer. In fact, she seems far more interested in know-it-all academic Michael Sheen than her own fiancé. Wilson’s fantasy life would be to live in 1920s France to mingle with all the literary luminaries and artistic geniuses hung out. And whilst walking the streets alone one midnight, he appears to be magically transported back to Paris in the 20s, and indeed gets to hang out with the likes of the Fitzgeralds’ (Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), as well as meeting Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), Luis Bunuel (Adrien de Van), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), and others. He also meets the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Picasso’s mistress, whom he becomes attracted to. He loves this world so much, he doesn’t want to leave it, even though he isn’t quite sure how he got there in the first place (Nor is the audience, but you’re not meant to think about that, I guess). Lea Seydoux plays a nice street vendor Wilson meets, whilst France’s then first lady Carla Bruni plays a tour guide.


2011 seemed to be the year for cinema to embrace itself, but unlike Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” or Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” (both of which were entertaining, the former especially), writer-director Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Match Point”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”) has decided to not just embrace French cinema (to an extent, so did “Hugo” and “The Artist”), but Francophiles and France itself. Unfortunately, the result is a film only to be enjoyed by people with their heads up their own arses. I bet it’s Melissa George’s favourite movie, though (Hey, I’m already likely pissing hundreds of people off, what’s one more angry complaint?). The formula is something like: Wine + France + Pseudo-intellectuals + vapid WASPs + Woody Allen= My flesh crawling. I’m sorry, but this is a Francophile wank job, all pretentiousness and no substance or thought whatsoever. If you’re not on Woody’s wavelength (and I’ve only been on his wavelength a couple of times, such as “Annie Hall” and “Deconstructing Harry”, so bear that in mind), it becomes an almighty chore, but if you’re one of the champagne sniffers and baguette eaters, you’ll probably love it. Hell, it looks like Woody made it specifically for high-brow critics and no one else (It seems like it was made for the Michael Sheen character, actually. So why is he seen as a kind of villain, then?). It offers nothing for anyone else, and I hated every minute of it.

 
The story is actually amazingly stupid. It’s basically a snooty version of John Candy’s underrated “Delirious”, minus the amnesia and the laughs (Yeah, “Delirious” is better than a Woody Allen movie. I said it). It’s pretty infantile, and when you think about it, extremely egotistical. Wilson is essentially a Woody stand-in, and he’s palling around with all kinds of artistic and cultural luminaries. Nice one, Woody. You’re so humble. How in the hell did this win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay? I guess there’s lots of snooty Francophiles in the Academy.


A likeable Owen Wilson tries hard and is well-cast (though that also means he’s doing Woody schtick that tends to grate at times), but most of the other actors are at Woody’s mercy here. Alison Pill, for instance, merely gives a ‘performance’, an affected, Katharine Hepburn-esque, irritating performance. Rachel McAdams, meanwhile, suffers from Woody’s oft-criticised poor treatment of female characters. Her character is a shrill, insensitive cow, and the lovely McAdams has no choice but to play that one note. Not even Oscar-winner Kathy Bates can escape the arch and caricatured way these characters are written and gives us one of her lesser turns. The best of the lot is the beautiful Marion Cotillard, who looks lovely and is a lot easier to put up with than McAdams. However, it is a tad strange to hear French beauty Cotillard bung on the French accent more than usual. I don’t know whether it’s simply because she’s been playing more Americanised characters of late or if Cotillard naturally speaks with a much more subtle French accent than the one here, but it did annoy me a bit. Adrien Brody’s cameo is even worse. He’s amusing himself by speaking with a funny accent. That pretty much sums up the whole film, really. The idea of Wilson speaking to surrealists is a good one in theory. But Woody’s not really interested in exploring that. He’s not interested any of these people and thus the actors can do very little. He doesn’t really care about Ernest Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Bunuel, etc., he’s just dropping their names ‘coz he thinks he’s clever.


The most bizarre thing of all is that even though you’d expect Woody to present Paris in its most beautiful light, he and his filter-happy cinematographer Darius Khondji (“Se7en”, “The Ruins”) seem far more interested in lighting set-ups than they do the city’s architecture. I honestly didn’t think Woody would ever stoop to that irritating modern stylistic choice. Personally, I think the film should’ve been shot in B&W anyway.


I got some of the references (Woody practically beats you over the head with the T.S. Eliot one) but didn’t for one moment care because it’s a dopey short film idea stretched out to feature length. It’s one joke repeated over and over, and it wasn’t remotely funny the first time. At least “Hugo” had a genuine storyline, and wasn’t just a bunch of references being tossed-off. It also referenced real-life characters, but with much more depth afforded to them than this film. This is 90 minutes of pretentious name-dropping and it made me want to beat my own brains in before the halfway point had even been reached.
 

It has no story and seemingly no point, either (Yes there’s a moral, but that doesn’t mean there’s a point to the film having been made). I’m surprised Woody didn’t end it with ‘it was all just a dream’. That’s how lame it is. And talk about a tacked-on romance at the denouement (I can use French words too, Woody!) and seriously underwhelming ending! Wow!

 
If Woody Allen were to write an episode of the excellent “Frasier”, this would be it. And it would suck. I guess I just wasn’t meant to be a Woody Allen fan, I seem to be the only one on the planet who hated this. You’re all wrong, I tells ‘ya! 

 
Rating: D+

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Review: Doc


As the title suggests, a film about ‘Doc’ Holliday (Stacy Keach), the tubercular gunslinger and gambler. However, this time, the film deals more with his romantic relationship with prostitute Katie Elder (Faye Dunaway), with sheriff Wyatt Earp (Harris Yulin) somewhat on the sidelines. Michael Witney plays Ike Clanton, whom ‘Doc’ won Katie from early in the film in a game of poker, and who stirs up trouble in Tombstone for Doc and the politically ambitious Wyatt. Denver John Collins plays The Kid, attached to Ike’s gang, who wants to be a gunslinger.

 

The majority of the films about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp have been pretty good, if not even better, with “Tombstone”, “Gunfight at the OK Corral” and “Hour of the Gun” being especially memorable. This 1971 film from director Frank Perry (“The Swimmer”, ““Mommie Dearest”) and writer Pete Hamill (“Laguna Heat”, a TV movie with Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards, and Rip Torn) offers a lower rung than those films and isn’t entirely successful. It is, however, still an interesting film, with terrific work by Stacy Keach and Faye Dunaway in what is essentially a character study of Doc Holliday and Katie Elder. Yes, Katie Elder has been roped into the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday story in this revisionist film, and I’m not entirely certain it was necessary to do so, to be honest. Dunaway’s Katie Elder is miles removed from “The Sons of Katie Elder”, who surely wasn’t the dirty hooker Dunaway plays here. Why not just go along with the generally accepted character of Kate Fisher? Certainly nothing of significance is gained from the inclusion of Elder, though Dunaway, as I said, plays the role excellently. So even though it’s possible that Elder went from hooker to frontier woman, it was too much of a leap for me, having already seen the earlier film. ****UPDATE 01/03/14**** Kate Elder is believed to have been an alias Kate Fisher/Big Nose Kate used, albeit not for very long, and from further research "The Sons of Katie Elder" isn't exactly based on fact, either, and is likely not meant to be the same character. But since the alias wasn't used all that much, I don't see why they bothered with it here. Strange.

 

The other big problem with the film is the character of Wyatt Earp, and the miscasting of character actor Harris Yulin in that role. Yulin is a decent supporting actor, but his niche is villains or functionary/bureaucrat parts, not Wyatt Fuckin’ Earp, and he’s just plain wrong here, as is the character itself. The character has been re-imagined as somewhat more political and ambitious than we’ve been used to in other films, but overall I never got the feeling that Yulin or the film ever managed to get a handle on Wyatt and what we were supposed to make of him. Anti-hero? I hope not, because Wyatt Earp isn’t a frigging anti-hero. Sure, James Garner gave him a ruthlessness in “Hour of the Gun” (and was wonderful), but Wyatt should in my view always be the upstanding lawman. Even if it’s more legend than truth, I say print the legend. I also thought maybe Wyatt’s the one who should’ve had the soft spot for young Kid (Denver John Collins) instead of Doc. In “Gunfight at the OK Corral” it was Wyatt who tried to teach the youngest Clanton a lesson, but here it’s Doc, since it’s his movie. At any rate, poor Yulin looks alternately bored and confused throughout. It’s a dull performance from a guy who can act, but cannot play Wyatt Earp, even a re-imagined one. He might’ve made a good Ike Clanton, however.

 

Unfortunately, none of the other actors are able to help Keach and Dunaway carry Yulin’s slack, either. The actors playing the other Earps, in particular, are appalling. The best of the lot is Michael Witney as Ike Clanton, and he’s merely OK at best. Thankfully, Doc and Katie are the main focus here, and although I have my misgivings about Katie being here, the relationship is an interesting, “African Queen”-ish one. The film has a nice, dry sense of humour that is much appreciated in a somewhat low-key film. Keach’s Doc isn’t as flashy a performance as Val Kilmer’s, but he’s definitely as forceful as Kirk Douglas, and there’s afford a softer and more mature side to Doc here, with still a touch of his trademark volatility underneath the surface too (Not to mention a touch of ruthlessness, evidenced during the gunfight at the OK Corral). The underrated Keach definitely deserved an Oscar nomination here if you ask me, but perhaps not enough people saw the film. The pairing of Keach and Dunaway is excellent, even if Dunaway’s idea of unglamorous appears to be messy hair and fake soot on her face. A movie star to the end, I suppose, but she’s a damn good actress too and gets even better here the longer the film goes on.

 

Some might find this film a touch slow or uneventful, but it’s more of a character study really. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s certainly not worthless. The casting of Harris Yulin stinks, and the revisionism bothered me, but otherwise, this is still an interesting film and Earp/Holliday buffs will definitely want to check it out.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Sucker Punch

Emily Browning is Baby Doll, who fails in an attempt to stop her sister being raped by her stepfather, shooting her sister accidentally instead. Her stepfather throws her into an insane asylum, wherein five days a doctor (Jon Hamm, in a pointless cameo) will perform a lobotomy on her. Whilst in the asylum, she seems to envision herself as a performer in a strange Moulin Rouge-esque dance establishment run by the cruel Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), who in reality, is just an asylum orderly. The asylum’s head shrink Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) is envisaged as a veteran dance teacher whose looks are now fading. The dance routines, of course, represent therapy sessions. However, there is a third level of reality going on here. When Baby Doll dances, we don’t see it, instead we see Baby Doll’s dance routines interpreted through the form of videogame-like battles, as she and the others take on hordes of samurai, Orcs, dragons, you name it. And there is a quest. In order to escape the asylum within five days, Baby Doll must collect five items: A map, fire, a knife, a key, and an as yet unknown item that will become apparent in due course. In addition to Baby Doll, there is spunky Rocket (Jena Malone), her somewhat aloof sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), the poorly named Blondie (played by brunette Vanessa Hudgens!), and Amber (Jamie Chung), all of whom adorn fetish-style outfits. Scott Glenn plays their somewhat mystic spirit guide, who adopts several personas throughout the film to fit each of the fantasy situations.

 
This imaginative, highly-stylised 2011 film comes from the mind of director/co-writer Zack Snyder (“300”, “Watchmen”, and the unnecessary remake of “Dawn of the Dead”), and is somewhere in between Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films and “Sailor Moon”, with a dash of “Girl, Interrupted” to boot. I kinda wish it lent far more heavily on the Tarantino side of things, to be honest, because if ever a film required exploitation sleaze, it’s this one (Look at all those schoolgirl fetish outfits. The whole thing cries out to be a HK Cat III film, for sure!). I kept thinking that the Graphic Novel must be so much kinkier, only to learn that this is original material from Snyder and co-writer Steve Shibuya. Doesn’t Snyder like naked chicks and lots of sex? It felt like a pervert’s vision interpreted by a prude, or a boy on the verge of puberty, who hasn’t quite experienced it yet. Having said that, what we do get is still fun in a “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” meets “Girl, Interrupted: The Graphic Novel” (No, it doesn’t exist. I just made it up) kinda way. Unfortunately, I’m one of precious few who saw and enjoyed “Sky Captain”, so perhaps I’m not the best indicator of a film’s entertainment value. I mostly liked it, even though I wished it was trashier and sexier, but overall I kinda dug this film’s groove. I think the critics got it wrong on this one, though you might well agree with them and think I’m out of my mind.


I gotta say, for something that seems so dopey and fluffy on the surface (and it definitely is), Snyder’s actually trying for something deep here. What he’s attempted here is a female empowerment film where the story takes place on three planes of existence; 1) The real, cold, and depressing world where Browning needs to avoid a lobotomy 2) The presumed fantasy world where the mental institution is re-envisaged as a fancy dance hall/bordello, and 3) The fantasy Browning and her fellow inmates concoct where they’re like the heroes in a video game fulfilling battle quests to pick up essential items they need to escape plane 1, and in a sense, plane 2 as well. In its own way, this is really interesting and clever stuff, and for the most part I was down for the ride. However, a moment’s reflection shows that planes 2 and 3 aren’t really convincing coming from the imaginations of the characters, but likely more the fantasies of Snyder himself. What woman would envisage themself as a PG-13 version of a bordello worker? And whilst I know there are plenty of female gamers out there, the quests shown in the film are often of the WW2 skirmish variety, and other favourites of teen boys, not really girls (It reminds me of a lot of those robot and machinery-obsessed Manga and anime that young boys seem to go for). So whilst I enjoyed this film for being so bizarre and ambitious (in a way), the fact remains that the film isn’t as good as it could’ve been. For instance, I would’ve made the second plane of existence a lot less hyper-real, which would also enhance the third plane, which is the definite fantasy level.


Interesting casting in the supporting roles, with Scott Glenn essentially playing the role of David Carradine in “The Silver Flute”/”Circle of Iron”, and a special mention going to Carla Gugino as the most beautifully voluptuous dance teacher of all-time. Bravo on that one, Mr. Snyder. Jenna Malone is the best of the younger set in a spunky part, whilst Browning is better than I had expected, but fellow Aussie Cornish is actually pretty terrible. She looks bored, and looks nothing like her supposed sister Malone. Her American accent is also a lot worse than Browning’s. The adorable Jamie Chung and Vanessa Hudgens don’t get nearly as much to do, as character development isn’t the film’s strong suit. The film is dense and superficial at the same time.


A big plus is the excellent camerawork by Larry Fong, even managing to stay coherent in the sometimes hand-held action scenes, whilst also maintaining a beautiful (if filtered) aesthetic.


So it’s certainly not as naughty or violent as I would’ve liked, and Snyder hasn’t quite thought it out enough. I also think the constant music montages slow the pace down a little too much, so that the energy comes and goes. The fact that I’m not a fan of the music (mostly alternative/indie stuff that sounds an awful lot like Bjork to me), doesn’t help. But on a superficial action movie and bizarro spectacle level, it’s highly watchable. I mean, this is one weird, perplexing, and fucked-up film, and Snyder is an amazing visual stylist at the very least. It’s certainly not lacking in imagination (or music montages, of which there are a few too many), and since I’m a glass half-full kinda guy, I’ll recommend it. Gamers will get more out of it than most, however, as I liked it (cool CGI dragon, for instance), but I wanted to love it, and I didn’t. It is underrated, however, and I bet it was a big hit in Japan.

 
Rating: B-

Review: Blast


Terrorists (led by former soccer hooligan turned actor Vinnie Jones) posing as an environmentalist group hijack an oil rig with dastardly plans in mind. But they haven’t counted on (say it with me) one man- ex-fire-fighter turned tugboat captain (!) Eddie Griffin, who attempts to save the day when his boat is taken over by the baddies. Did I mention his adopted 10 year-old son is on board? Breckin Meyer plays a member of Jones’ gang who may or may not be an FBI agent, a snitch, a liar, or some combination of these. Viveca A. Fox is the FBI agent trying to contain the situation from land. Latina hottie Nadine Velazquez and requisite behemoth Tiny Lister Jr. are a couple of hench...persons. Shaggy also turns up, but you won’t see much of him. I think he was one of Griffin’s crew, I don’t remember, it was such a meaningless part anyway.


Everything about this 2004 action-thriller screams ‘Hack C-grade Rip-off’. It’s directed by Anthony Hickox, the man responsible for “Warlock II: The Armageddon”, “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth”, and the “Waxwork” films, so you know you’re in C-grade territory already (And just what the hell is a mostly horror director doing on an action film anyway? Failing to be the next Renny Harlin. Think about that). And if it’s “Die Hard” on an oil rig plot sounds familiar- it should, it’s a rip off of “Under Siege” and “Die Hard”. And the screenplay was co-written by the one and only Steven E. de Souza, of “Die Hard”, “Die Hard 2”, and “Commando” fame. Add to that comedian Griffin attempting to portray a Wesley Snipes meets Steven Seagal action hero (who has adopted a young white kid- who thought Griffin was right for this character?), and you’ve got yourself a flat, thoroughly unoriginal film.


Griffin simply doesn’t work in the action man mould or even the comedic action man mould (were the entire male Wayans family members busy? Then how about Ice-T? Ice Cube? Icy Blu?), but Jones is an enjoyable baddie (despite not being terribly credible) and Meyer slips effortlessly into the role Griffin should’ve had- the weaselly comic relief guy. Fox, meanwhile, must’ve overdosed on the Botox, ‘coz I swear her facial muscles don’t move at all in her clichéd scenes, fixed on an expression of humourless disdain for the whole thing.


It occasionally arouses interest, mostly because the plot, old as it is, is still somewhat fun (especially with the hilarious notion of Greenpeace as terrorists!). But don’t bother, folks. You’ve seen it many times before, and usually better than this. The screenplay is by the aforementioned de Souza and Horst Freund (the latter’s contribution is curiously listed at IMDb as ‘teleplay’).


Rating: C