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 9, 2013

Review: Savages Crossing


A group of strangers take refuge in an outback pub, during a freak rainstorm and flood. Among them are mother and son Angela Punch-McGregor and Charlie Jarratt, who have apparently fled from Phil (John Jarratt), the supposedly dangerous, drunk husband and father of the aforementioned. Other stranded peoples include lesbian Sacha Horler and best mate Rebecca Smart, and the pub owners Craig McLachlan and Jessica Napier. Phil turns up, of course (apparently out of jail...or was it rehab?), to involve everyone else in his domestic squabbles, which apparently revolve around money Phil feels he is owed. Also turning up is Chris Haywood as a cop who has been hired by Punch-McGregor to take care of Phil, if you know what I mean. With the flood keeping them trapped, and the increasingly frazzled and unstable Phil ranting and raving, everyone’s lives are now in danger. Or is his unstable behaviour mostly a result of his unfair treatment by a greedy wife?

 

Although directed by Kevin James Dobson (“Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain”, and TV’s “Babylon 5”) this 2009 Aussie thriller is a Jarratt family affair. It stars John and son Charlie Jarratt, and John co-wrote and co-produced the film too. Cody Jarrett is credited as co-screenwriter/co-producer as well, and although there is a spelling difference in the last name, IMDb has a link to an “Australian Story” episode that seems to be about Jarratt (and “Wolf Creek”), and I’ve read elsewhere that they are husband and wife (So why doesn’t Cody take her husband’s name then? Weird, though marrying someone with such a similar last name is weird too). The thing is, though, that the most memorable work in the film is by director Dobson. Sure, a director is only as good as the talented crew around him (cinematographer, editor, composer, etc), but this is an atmospheric and particularly well-shot film for something clearly shot on digital. The composition and lighting are particularly impressive for what I assume was a fairly low-budget project. The use of stormy weather almost becomes a character itself, it’s actually very convincingly staged. It might just be the rainiest film I’ve seen since “Hard Rain”. Dobson does the best he can with the material and cast at hand. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a good-looking film with a familiar story, clichéd characters, and uneven performances. The story is pure cliché, right down to McLachlan’s attempts to get back to town and see Napier, whilst villain Jarratt is also heading there, and bringing a helluva rainstorm with him. It’s the kind of ‘noble hero must try to get to loved ones before the evil force of nature (i.e. Jarratt) beats him to it’ thing. Admittedly, it goes beyond that, eventually but even then it becomes a very stagey, dialogue-heavy story that isn’t any better.

 

The best performance comes from old pro Chris Haywood, who walks off with the film...unfortunately he walks off far too early for my liking. Still, it’s a wonderfully forceful, grim-faced, slightly hammy performance (in the best Bill Kerr tradition), the best Haywood performance in years. Sadly, John Jarratt himself is also hammy, but to the opposite effect. He’s completely ineffectual as the film’s chief menace. He’s playing a much more mundane menace than he did in “Wolf Creek”, but unfortunately, he plays it like De Niro in the overrated remake of “Cape Fear”- he’s overbearing to the point of being cartoony. I guess it was hard for Dobson to tell the co-writer and co-producer to dial it down a bit, but he should have, as it derails the film with his fatuous, comical performance. It just seems an ill-fit with the rest of the film, in terms of tone. Aside from his work in “Wolf Creek”, the scariest thing about Jarratt is that based on his somewhat bizarre off-screen behaviour in recent years, and his acknowledgment of alcohol problems in the past, there’s the sense that he might really be a bit of a drunken bastard in real-life. I doubt he’s that bad (and it’s unfair to speculate based on tabloid TV reports), but it’s kinda morbid that as co-writer and actor, he’s written himself such an ugly role and I couldn’t shake it from my mind. It’s even more disturbing if Cody is indeed his wife. He should also be raked over the coals for giving himself the cheesy one-liner ‘Daddy’s home!’, suggesting “The Shining” is a favourite film in the Jarratt clan.

 

The scariest thing in the entire film is the following credit: ‘Music by Craig McLachlan’. Beware the wrath of Check 1-2! Speaking of the former soapie star turned one-hit wonder, he’s little better than Jarratt. His stoic hero schtick is painfully forced, as though the actor (who isn’t without talent) is a little rusty in front of the camera. Oh look, Craig knows how to swear, what a hard-arse he is! I did like him referring to Jarratt as ‘Fuck knuckle Phil’, however. I have no idea what that means, but it’s hilarious. It’s just strange that two out of the four most senior actors (the other two being Haywood and Angela Punch-McGregor), are two of the weakest in the film. As for Jarratt the Younger, I think it’s almost a form of child abuse for dear ‘ol dad to put the clearly novice actor (in his first film role, and perhaps last) in such an important role. He’s well out of his depth, though it isn’t quite as catastrophic as Sophia Coppola in “The Godfather Part III”. There is fine support, however, from Jessica Napier, Sacha Horler, and former child star Rebecca Smart, who deserved more screen time in my opinion (despite her character being a complete moron at times).

 

Overall, this is a great-looking film, but with a story you’ve seen before (and better), a stagey feel, and uneven performances, it’s not as good as you would like it to be. 

 

Rating: C+

Review: Fluke

The title character (played in doggie form by Comet, who starred on TV’s “Full House”. I think he played one of the Olsen Twins) is first seen as an orphaned Labrador puppy picked up by a homeless woman, who later dies of a heart attack. From there, Fluke hangs out with street-smart dog Rumbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), who helps him adjust to life on the mean streets. But Fluke is no ordinary dog, it seems. He’s having visions of what appear to be a former life...as a human...and seeing the lovely Nancy Travis. Rumbo wants Fluke to forget all that, but Fluke is determined to track down this woman, and her son (Max Pomeranc) and fill in all the gaps to this mystery, which also includes a slicked-back businessman played by Eric Stoltz. Bill Cobbs plays a vendor with a special rapport with Rumbo, Jon Polito turns up as a gruff but amiable-type who looks after Rumbo, and Ron Perlman plays an antagonistic thug who takes an intense dislike to Fluke.


Have you ever heard that you should never revisit things you loved as a kid? Well, it’s still disappointing when you revisit something you just kinda liked as a youngster. I remembered enjoying this 1995 film version of the James Herbert novel, from Italian co-writer/director Carlo Carlei (“Flight of the Innocent”). I couldn’t remember why exactly, but I do remember that it made me a bit teary-eyed, and I’m a sucker for cute puppies. Watching it again in early 2013, the film doesn’t hold up, and given I was 15 the first time I saw it, maybe it wasn’t all that great back then, either. It’s still a watchable movie, but it doesn’t quite come off.


The movie has a cheap, made-for-TV look to it (it was released direct-to-video in Australia and most other places), and the vocal work by Matthew Modine in essentially the lead role is flat and boring. The maudlin and overly calculated music score Carlo Siliotto (“Flight of the Innocent”) is irritating, and the film didn’t wring any tears out of me this time, anyway. I also think that although there appears to be enough plot for ten movies at first, it ultimately feels like a very thin idea stretched out beyond breaking point, and everything else is just irrelevant padding. Meanwhile, whenever Nancy Travis and Max Pomeranc are on screen, it feels like a different movie altogether. A safer, more sitcom-like movie.


Then there’s the film’s treatment of the ‘villain’ played by Eric Stoltz. I don’t want to spoil anything, suffice to say that the screenplay by Carlei and James Carrington treats that character in a rather deceitful manner that left a bad taste in my mouth, and actually has you rethinking the entire film and even hating the main character. Yes, I actually hated the damn dog, it was a most unreliable of unreliable narrators. It’s a dishonest way of arriving at the film’s basic message, which if delivered straightforward, would’ve been perfectly bloody fine. In fact, it’s a really, really nice message that even an atheist like me can stomach, if not believe (Not all religious people believe in the idea of reincarnation anyway).


But look, there are still some things that appealed to me about this film. For starters, it earns points for showing the underrated “Robin and Marian” on a TV screen. And although Modine is terrible in voicing Fluke, Comet the dog manages to give one of the best performances in the entire film in the title role. He does, however look awfully red for a Golden Retriever to me, though I’m no doggie expert (The dog from “Full House” wasn’t red, so methinks something screwy is a-goin’ on there). The dogs are awfully cute, and it’s hard to look away when they’re on screen. Like “Milo and Otis”, it’s fun to just watch these animals do what they do. The POV camerawork (despite the seemingly TV quality of the actual photography) and scant dialogue in the early going are interesting and unusual, making the film stand out a bit (And you don’t need much dialogue to tell you that the guy with Cro-Magnon facial features ain’t a guy with good intentions!). Meanwhile, did you know that while androids might dream of electric sheep, apparently puppies dream of Nancy Travis? Travis has such a warm and likeable presence on screen, it’s such a shame that even today (after having seemingly vanished towards the end of the 90s) she’s bouncing from one generic mum character to another (though now it’s mostly TV work she’s getting). There’s a nice small role for Jon Polito, and best of all is the voice work of Samuel L. Jackson as Fluke’s doggy pal.


I’m not sure how well this would play with kids, given some of the strange material and the unusual POV work and small amount of dialogue, but it’s certainly an OK film. With a more honest narrative and better vocal work in the title role, it might’ve been even better than that. It’s probably best to stick with the book, ultimately, though.

 
Rating: C+

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Prometheus

Set in 2093, after scientists Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green had discovered ancient cave paintings in Scotland a few years earlier depicting man reaching for the stars, literally. Now the duo are part of a crew aboard the spaceship Prometheus on a mission sanctioned by the Weyland Corporation (dum-dum Dum!) to search for the planet closest to the star system depicted in the cave paintings (which are also found in other locations on Earth). Two of the more important figures on board are the ice-cold Weyland Corp representative Charlize Theron, and an android (Michael Fassbender) who seems modelled after Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”. Both of these two seem to know a lot more about this mission than they are letting on (Theron, for instance, is rather unenthused about the scientific possibilities of the mission, and yet she was also in charge of most of the recruitment for the mission). They soon land on the planet, and after some exploration, they make some rather astounding discoveries linking humans with an alien species. However, they also discover some nasty alien creatures who run riot amongst the crew. Idris Elba plays the ship’s ‘no-nonsense, no questions’ Captain, Sean Harris is one of the crew, and Guy Pearce appears in old-age makeup as Peter Weyland, the mega-rich backer of the expedition.


I am not a fan of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” nor his “Blade Runner” for that matter (wait...don’t go!), and this 2012 sci-fi flick from the director seems to exist in a universe incorporating elements of both, especially the former. Comparisons to those films (especially “Alien”) will be unavoidable, but it’s more a companion piece than prequel to “Alien”, and is actually a more enjoyable film, in my opinion (I’ve always much preferred James Cameron’s “Aliens”). There are certainly problems, but the film is more entertaining and aesthetically pleasing (aside from some shite CGI) than the much-loved 1979 sci-fi film.


I always felt that aside from Sigourney Weaver, “Alien” wasted its terrific cast, so I was glad that Scott gives several of the actors here distinct and memorable characters to play, with Michael Fassbender and (surprisingly) Charlize Theron coming off especially well. Even the characters played by Rapace, Elba, and Logan Marshall-Green (who is surprisingly good) ‘pop out’ for more reasons than just the recognition of the actors playing them. I felt the whole Peter O’Toole thing was a bit bizarre and unnecessary, but Fassbender’s android is the film’s scene-stealer by far (and he does so immediately). The guy has come a long way since delivering a pretty underwhelming villain on TV’s otherwise fun “Hex”. Here he’s just ‘off’ enough to cause concern, especially if you’ve ever seen any of the androids in the “Alien” series. He has this thing about him where you’d almost swear he had a menacing, somewhat mocking intention to the things he says. And yet, he’s not human. It makes you constantly uneasy around him.

 
Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace play two very different and (interestingly different) female characters here. Performance-wise, though, Theron is definitely the better of the two (Rapace is OK, she just needs another facial expression or two). Theron is actually quite menacing at times, not to mention uneasily android-like. The relationship between Theron and Fassbender is really, really interesting.


But look, everyone’s at the very least ‘decent’ here, though some actors aren’t in the film enough for my liking. I mean, Sean Harris, as the most deranged-looking geologist looked set to become the film’s Bill Paxton, but instead, he’s in the film even less than Kate Dickie and Benedict Wong, whose functions are basically to be the Scottish chick and the Asian dude. They don’t have characters beyond their nationalities. I guess you get what you deserve when you decide to mess with a space cobra. An unrecognisable Guy Pearce is quite fun, behind not especially convincing makeup, in a small but memorable role.


The film improves upon “Alien” by being a much more vibrant-looking film, not the anti-septic, rather dated “THX-1138” style at all. The CGI is terribly unconvincing, but in terms of set design, this is pretty stellar stuff.


If there’s one flaw with the entire film (aside from the connection between the aliens and humans being hard to swallow) it’s that Scott goes too far in referencing the “Alien” Quadrilogy for a film that is supposedly merely set in the same universe, not directly related to any “Alien” film. Using similar fonts to the “Alien” series is one thing, but the film’s ending not only gives us a definite connection to the series, but in regards to the Fassbender character, it pretty much references “Alien 3”, if you ask me, albeit only slightly. I understand the desire to please fanboys, but I found it all a bit unnecessary. The film was doing a decent job at telling its own space yarn (though no matter how good Noomi Rapace’s English is, at no point was she convincing me she was Patrick Wilson’s daughter), and the script by Damon Lindelof (one of the people behind TV’s “Lost”) and Jon Spaihts (“The Darkest Hour”) could’ve otherwise stood on its own. I did, however, like the use of the alien pods. That was one genuinely effective way to bring tension because we all know those pods can open at any second, and out comes a face-hugger. The best FX scene by far is an amusing reference to the chest-burster from “Alien”, without actually really referencing it. WETA apparently did some of the FX and the Australian company Fuel VFX worked on the film, too. I hope we did the latter scene, then.


Overall, I liked this film, and surprisingly so. It improves upon “Alien” in terms of set design, pacing, and character development. It’s nothing earth-shattering, though, and if you go in expecting greatness, you won’t find it.  

 
Rating: B-

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

In Switzerland, Leslie Banks and his sharp-shooter wife Edna Best are caught up in assassination plot when a dying secret agent whispers something into Best’s ear. The bad guys (including deadly but outwardly polite assassin Peter Lorre) kidnap their daughter to prevent them from revealing what they apparently know. Hugh Wakefield is pretty good as a friend of the family.


1934 Sir Alfred Hitchcock (“Strangers on a Train”, “The 39 Steps”, “The Wrong Man”, “Vertigo”) thriller (said to have originally been conceived as a “Bulldog Drummond” serial entry) is actually about on par with the same director’s American remake. That film was slow and long, whilst this film is slow and short, although it picks things up a bit towards the end, thankfully.
 

This one doesn’t seem to have as much feeling to it, the two parents never seem all that bothered by the kidnapping of their young girl, something the remake conveyed a bit better. This one does, however, contain Peter Lorre’s English-language debut, and despite a thick accent and poor sound, he’s excellent. In fact, the villains are more interesting than the rather boring protagonists (which was somewhat true in the remake, but to a less noticeable degree), and the dentist scene (featuring Henry Oscar, who would turn up in Hammer’s “Brides of Dracula” some 25 years or so later) is fairly memorable (and much better than the remake’s counterpart, set in a taxidermist!).


Not as thrilling or visually interesting as other Hitchcock films, but the story is still pretty good. The screenplay is by A.R. Rawlinson (“Gaslight”, “King Solomon’s Mines”), Charles Bennett (“The 39 Steps”, “Secret Agent”, “Young and Innocent”, “King Solomon’s Mines”), D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, actor-writer-director Emlyn Williams, and Edwin Greenwood (“Young and Innocent”), from a story by Bennett and Wyndham-Lewis.


Rating: C+

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Gunfight at the OK Corral

Rigid lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) saves the life of Doc Holliday, a tubercular gunslinger/gambler/dentist and the two subsequently form an uneasy bond. They both end up in Tombstone, Arizona, with Wyatt leaving behind pretty gambler Laura (Rhonda Fleming), much to her chagrin, after a short romance and a promise that Wyatt would settle down and retire. Wyatt has ventured to Tombstone in order to help his town marshal brother Virgil (John Hudson) and brothers Morgan (DeForest Kelley) and James (Martin Milner) take down the Clantons and McLowerys (the latter including cockeyed Jack Elam), a gang headed by Ike Clanton (Lyle Bettger) and including wily gunslinger Johnny Ringo (John Ireland), who has taken up with Kate Fisher (Jo Van Fleet), Holliday’s occasional lover and more than occasional sparring partner (it’s a volatile relationship to say the least). Meanwhile, Doc’s health continues to deteriorate. Ted de Corsia plays nasty cattle baron Shanghai Pierce, Frank Faylen is the weak-willed and corrupt sheriff Cotton Wilson, Earl Holliman plays Wyatt’s deputy Charlie, Lee Van Cleef is disgruntled gunman Ed Bailey, Whit Bissell plays Mayor Clum, and Dennis Hopper plays young Billy Clanton, whom Wyatt tries to dissuade from turning out like his kin.
 

Not quite on the level of John Sturges’ other masterpieces “The Great Escape” and “The Magnificent Seven”, this 1957 western is nonetheless a highly enjoyable and persuasive rendition of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday story. Burt Lancaster is spot-on and stoic as the unbending lawman, whilst an edgy and volatile Kirk Douglas steals the show as the tubercular gunslinger and the two frequent co-stars have an undeniable chemistry on screen. The opening scenes in particular are wonderfully tense and exciting, as is the title gunfight. The film also has something to be said about the dangers of a life of gun-slinging for the young and inexperienced. It’s a time and place where even the ‘fastest gun in the west’ is likely to eventually run into the one guy faster than them on the draw. A young Dennis Hopper makes a memorable early appearance as one such dumb young kid whom Wyatt tries to steer onto the right path.


Terrific supporting turns by Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, and especially Earl Holliman, and lots of other memorable faces too (DeForest ‘Damnit, Jim!’ Kelley, Jack Elam, Ted de Corsia, Lee Van Cleef, etc). Outstanding cinematography by Charles B. Lang (“The Big Heat”, “Some Like it Hot”, “How the West Was Won”, “Last Train From Gun Hill”) is a definite asset, with the film shot on location in Arizona, including Tombstone.


The two chief drawbacks are the lack of a memorable lead villain (Ike Clanton is the lead villain here, played unmemorably by Lyle Bettger), and the godawful, repetitive songs by Frankie Laine, who would later seemingly lampoon this work in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”. These drawbacks could’ve almost dragged the film down to a B-level, but not quite. It’s a durable story well-told by a highly underrated director of great entertainments. Sturges would have another crack at the story a decade later with “Hour of the Gun”, and whilst not as exciting as this, it’s a thoughtful and interesting film in its own right (And one that the director himself preferred over “Gunfight”, actually).


An absolute must for fans of classic westerns, not to mention the two stars. The screenplay by Leon Uris (“The Angry Hills”, Hitchcock’s “Topaz”) was based on a magazine article by George Scullin.

 
Rating: A-

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: Pinocchio


Timeless classic about a lonely toymaker named Geppetto (voiced by Christian Rub), who creates a wooden marionette boy he names Pinocchio. Seeing a shooting star one night, he wishes for a real boy of his own. He then goes to bed, along with his pets, Cleo the Fish and Figaro the Cat. Meanwhile, the Blue Fairy (voiced by Evelyn Venable) appears and turns Pinocchio into a living but still wooden boy (now voiced by Dickie Jones). So long as he promises to be good, she will eventually turn Pinocchio into an actual boy. The next morning, Geppetto is overjoyed, and eventually sends Pinocchio off to school. Unfortunately, along the way, Pinocchio runs into a fox named Honest John (voiced by Walter Catlett), who leads Pinocchio astray, wagging school and Honest John and his mangy cat companion make a buck off of Pinocchio’s ‘living puppet’ status, and putting him into the clutches of the nasty impresario Stromboli (voiced by Charles Judels). The inimitable Cliff Edwards voices Pinocchio’s ‘conscience’, Jiminy Cricket, who constantly breaks the fourth wall, and hasn’t much success in keeping Pinocchio on the straight and narrow.

 

“Pinocchio” is in my view, the greatest animated movie of all-time and one of my all-time personal favourites of any genre. And although it was released in 1940, it still works perfectly today for the young and young at heart. Directed by Ben Sharpsteen (Disney’s “Dumbo”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) and Hamilton Luske (“Fantasia”, “Peter Pan”, “Cinderella”), this is one of those rare films for which the term ‘magical’ really does seem to fit, and the film has absolutely everything you could possibly want in family entertainment. Best of all, at 85 minutes, there isn’t a wasted moment in the film.

 

The story hasn’t aged a bit, and even the animation still looks beautiful, especially on DVD. The characters are all unforgettable, with a very cute fish, but the film is stolen by Figaro the Cat and of course, Jiminy Cricket. Figaro is adorable, and no matter how bratty and childish he can be, for some reason I always forgive him. Jiminy, meanwhile, even manages to get across a few adult gags here and there, such as accidentally putting his hand on the giant derriere of a statue of a young lady. But the title character himself has some great moments too, especially when he constantly asks ‘Why?’ in that special, annoying-yet-cute way kids always do. I also loved the cuckoo clock which hilariously has a woman spanking a child instead of the usual cuckoo bird coming out. The songs are terrific, with Jiminy’s ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ (which won an Oscar, as did the music score) making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s one of the greatest movie songs of all-time, and it’s no wonder that it has become Disney’s theme song.

 

It’s actually a clever story. It’s clearly a film about boys learning to behave themselves and follow the right path. So far as messages go, that’s not a particularly bad one, but cynics might see something weird in a story about blue fairies, old men who dream about having a boy of their own, and wooden puppets who grow a bird’s nest on the end of their erection. And is Honest John essentially pushing Pinocchio into child prostitution? Is Pleasure Island as suggestive as it sounds? But these were simpler and more innocent times, at least in literature and cinema, so such (misguided) concerns presumably never arose (Get it? Arose?). Honest John, for instance, is more of a Fagin-esque character to Pinocchio’s Oliver Twist, rather than anything more sinister. Still, it’s fun to analyse the film nonetheless, so long as it doesn’t stop you from being entertained and enchanted.

 

The film is quite scary, and yet it still remains perfect kids entertainment. I have no idea how that is achieved, but it’s true. Pleasure Island is the creepiest amusement park you’ll ever see, it sure ain’t no Never Never Land. Things get seriously creepy once kids start turning into jackasses, literally. And yet, kids surely won’t come out of this terrified. That’s movie magic, folks.

 

One flaw with the film (yes, even a five star classic can still have flaws) is that I never understood why Pinocchio turned into a donkey too. He’s not a real boy at this stage, just a wooden puppet. Oopsy. Even a fantasy needs internal logic at the very least. Actually, I also felt that the story transition from all of this into Geppetto getting swallowed by a whale, is sloppily done, too. How did he get there? And Pinocchio finds out about it by an act of God, basically. Meanwhile, do you get the impression that the reason why Pinocchio never makes it to school is more because it wouldn’t be convincing whilst he’s still a wooden puppet? I’m not advocating truancy, though, kids. Stay in school! Still, it does provide for a memorable, exciting climax to a wonderful motion picture for young and old. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, folks, and that’s a damn shame.

 

The screenplay is by Ted Sears (“Alice in Wonderland”), Otto Englander (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, “Fantasia”), Webb Smith (“Fantasia”), William Cottrell (one of several directors of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”), Joseph Sabo (“Fantasia”), Erdman Penner (“Alice in Wonderland”), and Aurelius Battaglia, from the Carlo Collodi story. How a film with two directors and at least six screenwriters can result in perfect entertainment is another example of movie magic.

 

Rating: A+

Review: Die

A bunch of seemingly random people wake up to find they are locked in cells at an unknown facility, greeted by a man (John Pyper-Ferguson) who forces them at gunpoint to engage in a series of die-rolling scenarios whereby the fate of one of the others is determined. How severe that fate actually is, is left up to the chance roll of the die, but it’s extremely likely that something bad will happen. Meanwhile, the group try to figure out just what it is that they share, which has brought them into this situation and try to forge an escape plan. Away from all this, police detective Caterina Murino is trying to track down her missing partner Elias Koteas, a depressed cop who happens to be one of the unwilling participants in this sick and twisted game. Stephen McHattie has a cameo in a prologue as the father of Pyper-Ferguson.


This dreary 2010 Dominic James (his first major directing gig) film tries to take the basic “Saw” idea and transplant it into the psychological thriller genre. A Canadian-Italian co-production, the results are a lot less unpleasant than some of the worst in the “Saw” franchise, but it’s no more successful or interesting in its moralising. Scripted by Domenico Salvaggio (who comes from a short film background), I think it’s pretty bloody boring, though the underrated Aussie-born John Pyper-Ferguson is perfectly fine as the chief villain. It’s not a great role, but Pyper-Ferguson is a real talent (Does anyone else get a Charlie Manson vibe from him? Just me?). Elias Koteas, however, is slumming it in a boring part.
 

Why does everyone here speak in hushed tones here? Like many low-budget Canadian films, it looks monumentally drab, poorly lit and filmed in browns and bilious greens for the most part. This seems to be intentional on the part of cinematographer Giulio Pietromarchi, but that doesn’t mean I have to appreciate it.


If you like this basic idea (from a story by Nick Mead) but aren’t an outright horror fan, maybe you’ll get something out of this, but I largely didn’t. It’s more drama than thriller or horror, and seriously morose. I guess the die rolling adds a real cruelty to it, but it’s not an especially interesting cruelty, outside of providing a cool, dual-meaning title. Pretty uninteresting stuff.

 
Rating: C-