About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: The Prisoner of Zenda

Englishman Stewart Granger, vacationing in a small (fictional) European town, comes across that country’s King, who happens to be a dead ringer for him (and is also played by Granger, using quite acceptable screen trickery), and indeed is a distant cousin! When the King, about to wed Princess Deborah Kerr, runs afoul of the devious plans of Rupert of Hentzau (a slimy Sir James Mason, giving Claude Rains, Henry Daniell, and Basil Rathbone a run for their money) and the King’s duplicitous and envious half-brother Robert Douglas, the lookalike commoner is asked by advisers Louis Calhern and Robert Coote to take his place for a while. But whilst awaiting this dastardly plot (with Douglas hoping to claim the throne- and the Princess- for himself) to be uncovered, the well-meaning imposter falls for Kerr himself! And for her part, she seems to like this sudden change in personality, even as she is perhaps suspicious of it. Jane Greer turns up as Douglas’ commoner mistress who starts to worry what will become of her once Douglas positions himself on the throne.

This 1952 Richard Thorpe swashbuckling costumer is a virtual shot-for-shot remake of a 1937 version of the same Anthony Hope novel (which had also been made into two previous silent film adaptations), only this time done in grand MGM technicolour splendour. I haven’t seen the earlier films or even read the book, so bear that in mind when I tell you that this film was jolly good fun. Thorpe is often referred to as a ‘one-take’ director, but just look at some of the fine costumers he has made; “Ivanhoe”, “Knights of the Round Table”, “Quentin Durward” (all with Robert Taylor in the lead, just out of interest). He even directed Elvis in one of his better films, “Jailhouse Rock”. Sometimes, one shot is all you need to get it right!

Although he makes a terrible drunk (Hmm, maybe a few retakes might’ve been handy here after all, Mr. Thorpe!), Granger is thoroughly enjoyable in dual roles (I much prefer him as a swashbuckler to Errol Flynn and Robert Taylor), Kerr is charming too (though the material seems a tad beneath her, Douglas is rock solid, and Calhern is one of the finest of character actors. Towering over all, however, is a lip-smackingly devious Mason as the chief villain, adding a little extra Machiavellian quality to proceedings. Only Greer disappoints in a half-baked femme fatale role, barely getting enough screen time to make much of an impression.

Gorgeous colour cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg (“Gaslight”, “Julius Caesar”, “Gigi”, “Kind Lady”) is of the usual opulent MGM standard. If you’re a fan of this sort of thing, you’ll surely get some enjoyment out of this, the story alone is still rousing and enjoyable stuff. The screenplay is by John Balderston (the 1937 version of “The Prisoner of Zenda”), Wells Root (the 1937 version of “The Prisoner of Zenda”, and the 1954 version of “Magnificent Obsession”), and Noel Langley (“The Wizard of Oz”, “Ivanhoe”, “Knights of the Round Table”).

Rating: B-

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Meeting Evil

Samuel L. Jackson (nice suit and fedora hat in check) stars as an oddball drifter who seems to come out of nowhere to make life a living hell for down-on-his-luck real estate agent Luke Wilson. This poor guy’s marriage to Leslie Bibb is on the rocks, he gets fired from his job, and their own house is in foreclosure. Now he’s gotta deal with nutty Jackson, a serial killer who takes him on the express lane to hell, as a witness to his killing spree. Peyton List stars as Wilson’s hot former co-worker, and Muse Watson is a nosey police detective who thinks Wilson is doing all the killing (I guess he’s never seen “The Hitcher”).

Samuel L. Jackson used to be both a real actor and a real movie star. Unfortunately, that seems longer and longer ago with every poor career choice, and some of his films are barely getting a theatrical release in the US, let alone anywhere else (“Arena”, for instance). In this virtually unheard of 2012 film from writer-director Chris Fisher (whose “Street Kings 2: Motor City” was better than the shitty predecessor), Jackson has now resorted to working with Luke Wilson, bypassing the more talented Owen Wilson altogether. Wilson’s a never-was who isn’t above doing C-grade schlock himself. Predictably, the results are mediocre to put it charitably.

This mixture of “The Hitcher” and “Cape Fear” is subpar Stephen King-esque material, and the fact that Jackson’s performance is better than his work in “Arena” and “The Spirit” doesn’t make up the difference. He’s still slumming big-time, and the guy really needs to be careful because he’s a terrific and powerful actor when it’s his wont. He could’ve made this watchable if he took on a more seriously malevolent approach to his character, instead of camping it up. He’s not embarrassing like in “The Spirit”, just disappointing. Call QT, Mr. Jackson. Immediately (And I didn’t even like “Pulp Fiction”!). I’m sure he had fun picking out his character’s wardrobe, however. Worse still, despite Jackson seemingly murderising the fuck out of everyone, it’s rarely shown on screen. That’s unforgiveable for a non-TV movie.

Wilson’s role is a bit thankless, but as much as I don’t see him as a real estate kinda guy, but a hopeless loser? Perfect casting there. Muse Watson, meanwhile has improved a helluva lot as an actor over the years, but this ain’t “NCIS”. He’s got a Kris Kristofferson vibe to him and is pretty good in a crap role. Leslie Bibb, hot as ever, is stuck once again as the standard love interest/wife, and although it becomes a little more than that after a while, it’s still not very demanding of her. Special mention must be made of Peyton List. ‘Coz she’s smokin’ hot, that’s all.

The direction and cinematography are definite positives, but the derivative script is as much of a loser as Wilson’s character. It also strains credibility. No way on Earth would any cop talk about someone having an affair in front of that person’s children. Bibb’s response to it, however, is excellent and nearly makes her presence here worthwhile. Nearly (Apparently I’m the only one who liked Bibb’s response, every other review I’ve read has lambasted Fisher for writing it). And just what is the point of the whole film? I could never quite work it out, and unlike “The Hitcher”, this film isn’t good enough elsewhere for you to overlook its vagueness.

To be honest, even Larry Olivier and John Gielgud couldn’t liven up this tired crap, let alone Jackson and Wilson. Based on a Thomas Berger (the author of “Little Big Man”? Really?) novel, it’s pretty sorry stuff. The final twist is admittedly not something I predicted, but the denouement is otherwise woefully unconvincing and rushed.

Visually terrific, with some very attractive lighting, but you’ve seen this film a billion times before, usually a whole lot better. Oh, and although I’m not much of a car guy, that blue GTO is pretty sweet.

Rating: C

Review: Scarecrow

Gene Hackman is a gruff ex-con with dreams of opening a car wash in Pittsburgh, Al Pacino is an affable returning seaman wanting to see his wife, who had their child not long after he left. The duo team up to go on the road to meet their destinations, making various stops along the way. Ann Wedgeworth is a potential love interest for Hackman, Eileen Brennan plays a tart, Dorothy Tristan is Hackman’s likeable sister, Penny Allen is Pacino’s estranged wife, and Richard Lynch is a ‘prison farm’ heavy who tries to ‘make’ Pacino.

Despite featuring two of the biggest stars of the 70s (if not all-time), here’s one you might’ve missed. This 1973 flick from director Jerry Schatzberg (“The Panic in Needle Park”, “Street Smart”) and writer Garry Michael White (“Sky Riders”, with James Coburn) isn’t as substantial as other films in the careers of Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, in fact it plays like a much less-seedy “Midnight Cowboy” at times (especially towards the end). But it’s a good film that, although not soaring like you want it to, nonetheless wouldn’t be out of place named alongside the likes of “Midnight Cowboy”, “Five Easy Pieces” and “The Last Detail”. I have absolutely no idea why it’s not better known, and definitely think it’s worth a look, so long as you can tolerate spending two hours or so with a couple of (likeable) losers. Apparently this film’s box-office failure is what caused Hackman (who pretty much retired in 2004, I believe) to mostly choose commercial films from thereon after. At any rate, it’s great to see two of the biggest stars and most respected actors doing their thing on screen.

I prefer Hackman to Pacino greatly, but both are good here, Hackman especially (‘Popeye’ was always going to make for a convincing seaman, after all!). They also seem to have a genuine rapport on screen (surprising given I’ve heard Pacino say they didn’t have much chemistry), and for the most part it’s a really likeable film. Terrifically sinister turn by veteran (and late) character actor Richard Lynch, looking quite young but still as evil as ever. Funny small role for Eileen Brennan too, who has nice tits. Hey, these things are important.

For me, the finale doesn’t quite come off, although well-performed. It just seems like too much of a jarring turn with so little time left, though the scene where Pacino calls Allen is pretty incredible, no matter how unconvincing it becomes immediately afterwards. Terrific Midwest scenery captured by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Blow Out”) is a definite asset.

The two stars have made better and more significant films over the years, but this one’s among the best road movies (also a buddy movie and a character study) you’re likely to see.

Rating: B-

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Arabian Adventure

Treacherous Caliph Alquazar (Christopher Lee), who has imprisoned his own soul in a mirror, learns that he can be defeated by the magical powers of the Rose of Elil. If he can get his hands on the Rose, he will attain ultimate power. When he finds out that Prince Hasan (Oliver Tobias) has the hots for his daughter Princess Zuliera (Emma Samms), and vice versa (despite never having really met!), he manipulates the Prince into searching for the Rose with the promise of the Princess’ hand in marriage. Meanwhile, the Rose is currently in the possession of a young scallywag street urchin named Majeed (Puneet Sira), who eventually joins up with the Prince (along with Majeed’s pet monkey). Milo O’Shea and John Ratzenberger play a couple of servile, sycophantic followers of Lee’s evil sorcerer, a shamelessly hammy Mickey Rooney plays a bizarre fellow inside a giant fire-breathing robot, and the late Capucine appears as a benevolent sorceress trapped inside the Rose. A young Art Malik (but still looking remarkably the same as he did in 1994), has his debut role here in a mere cameo as a guy named Mahmoud. Peter Cushing has a small role as an imprisoned holy man with the strangest name I think I’ve heard: Wazir Al Wuzara. Sounds like Dr. Seuss’ idea of an Arabic name, if you ask me.

These Arabian Nights/Ali Baba-type flicks aren’t really my thing, and I have to say that this 1979 film from director Kevin Connor (“From Beyond the Grave”, “Motel Hell”) and writer Brian Hayles (who sadly died before the film’s release) is a pretty corny affair. In fact, it seems to want to be more of a “Jungle Book” meets “Clash of the Titans” rather than anything terribly Arabian. Unfortunately, it hasn’t got the budget to cope, aside from terrific interior set design. The animation FX in particular, are pretty awful, and the whole thing has dated poorly. A decent sandstorm and fun brief appearances by Milo O’Shea (in a snivelling Peter Lorre kind of role) and Peter Cushing are the highlights (a young Emma Samms is very pretty, by the way), but even the title gives away just how nondescript this all is. I mean, we even get a genie in a freakin’ bottle (an appallingly animated one) and a magic bloody carpet. Stop-motion might be an archaic FX technique, but I have to admit, I really think this film could’ve benefited from Ray Harryhausen, instead of going the animation FX route.

It’s also especially tough to watch Cliff from “Cheers” play a weaselly guy named Achmed (or is it Akmed?). I mean, really? The great Christopher Lee gives the exact performance you expect him to as the chief villain. If, like me, you’re a fan, that’s not a bad thing as he plays an Arabian Fu Manchu, essentially. He has never given a bad performance that I’ve seen, nor does he ever give less than 100% in every role (Anyone else think he’d have made a great Darth Vader?). But let’s face it, the role’s not especially interesting, though he does refer to the kid as ‘Boy’ so often you’d swear he was the Tall Man, not merely ‘Tall, Dark, and Gruesome’.

Personally I think the film is spoiled for star power (though Puneet Sira is no Sabu) given how little the material deserves such talent. Strange cameo by Mickey Rooney, who seems to be channelling The Wizard of Oz, though he’s not exactly uninteresting (even though all he really does is cackle), just bizarre.

Kids might like it, and aside from the dodgy FX, the film looks great, and is certainly colourful. More scenes with the cute monkey would’ve helped.

Rating: C