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, March 1, 2013

Review: Wake of Death

Jean-Claude Van Damme (in a quite forceful performance) plays a former low-level underworld figure whose social worker wife (Lisa King) brings home a little Chinese refugee girl. Poor wifey is murdered by goons employed by the girl’s estranged mobster father Simon Yam. Van Damme (whose character also has a young son of his own) decides that revenge is a dish best served bloody and violent, or at least bloody violent! Danny Keogh plays a crooked cop who informs Yam of his daughter’s whereabouts.

A serious, grim-faced Jean-Claude Van Damme continued in his attempt to do generally good acting work in films of reasonable-to-good quality with this film. Released in 2004 this Philippe Martinez (taking over from HK filmmaker Ringo Lam who apparently left the project early on) blend of Chinese Triad flick and Bronson-esque revenge picture might be a tad incoherent (If anyone has any idea just who Van Damme’s cronies were, and exactly what he didfor them back in the day…), but Van Damme gives it his all. This is especially so in a scene where he actually takes his anger out on the little girl verbally, and one drunk and crying scene where he is in clear emotional distress. He is not terribly restrained here, but hey, any emotion coming from Van Damme is a pretty startling discovery for many people. I mean, can you imagine Seagal playing scenes like these? Hell no. Seagal always has to be unflappable on screen (save perhaps “Machete”where he was the bad guy), and that’s one of his problems. He don’t do vulnerability, folks (that would require effort). Van Damme, by contrast, is seemingly happy to be seen as a tortured soul on screen.

The film has a dark, violent (but slick) quality for those inclined to enjoy this sort of thing. Although a little sketchy on the details of Van Damme’s background, I really liked the plot in this one. It has a definite Asian action movie vibe. It might not be the best of Van Damme’s films of the last decade (that would be“Replicant” or “Until Death”) and it’s certainly not better than his two best films early in his career (“Bloodsport”and “Wrong Bet”), but Van Damme is really trying hard, and you could do much, much worse (“Derailed”, “The Quest”,and “Street Fighter” all come immediately to mind).

Director Martinez has a bit of the Michael Bay/Michael Oblowitz school of filmmaking in him, except unlike Bay or Oblowitz, he’s talented enough to know when to pile on the stylistic touches (a particularly effective, if slightly over-edited car chase comes to mind. Yes, Van Damme involved in a car chase. He also shoots guns a lot) and when not to. Meanwhile, the opening song and accompanying titles have a bit of a Bond vibe about them, which is cool. Van Damme’s requisite sex scene and frequent viewing of his body, however, are even more gratuitous than usual, especially at his age.

Simon Yam (the leading man from the Hong Kong Category III classic “Naked Killer”) makes for quite a good, grim-faced adversary for the former ‘Muscles from Brussels’, even if several of the other performances are a tad ordinary (Tony Schiena springs to mind. A decent martial artist but terrible actor). He speaks OK English, but more than anything, Yam says so much when he’s not saying anything at all. And what the hell was Burt ‘Kato’ Kwouk doing here in such a trivial cameo role? A true WTF? moment if ever I’ve seen one. Did he lose money playing mah-jong or something? (Do they even bet money on mah-jong? Hell if I know).

The screenplay is by Martinez, Kristina Hamilton, Mick Davis (“The Invisible”), and Laurent Fellous. It probably contains a couple of characters too many, but unless you’re expecting wall-to-wall action I can’t see anyone coming out of this at least somewhat satisfied. Worth a look, at any rate, for anyone still paying attention to JCVD’s career. It’s such a shame some of Van Damme’s recent films weren’t made earlier in his career, given that few people care anymore, because he’s really improving as an actor by great strides.

Rating: B-

Review: The Expendables 2

As was the case last time, Sly Stallone is Barney Ross, leader of the title band of mercenaries which include right-hand man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), possibly insane Gunner (Dolph Lundgren), explosives expert Toll Road (Randy Couture), and gun nut Hale Caesar (Terry Crews). They’ve also picked up some new blood in Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth), perhaps due to Jet Li’s Yin Yang literally parachuting out of the film in under twenty minutes. Bruce Willis returns as the mysterious Mr. Church to give the gang their next mission. It’s an apparently simple task, but it’s one that results in them being a member short. This provides them, and Ross in particular with a thirst for revenge to take down the aptly named Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Villain is a merciless fellow looking for untapped weapons-grade plutonium somewhere in the former Soviet Union, with martial arts star Scott Adkins playing his right-hand man, whose stoic stare makes it perfectly obvious he’ll be seeing Statham’s Lee sometime in the near future. Vilain captures the information the gang were sent to retrieve, and it leads him to the whereabouts of the plutonium. Arnold Schwarzenegger gets in on the action this time, returning as Ross’ rival mercenary Trench, who helps Ross out to return a favour. Nan Yu’s safecracker adds a little feminine spice as another new addition to the crew (by order of Mr. Church), whilst Charisma Carpenter is back as Lee’s girl, and one Chuck Norris literally turns up out of nowhere for an extended cameo as a guy named Booker, who may or may not be the same guy from “Good Guys Wear Black”, and who may or may not be a Lone Wolf.


The original “The Expendables” was watchable, but a little too self-serious to be a truly enjoyable 80s throwback like we were all hoping it would be. Although extremely bloody, the shaky-cam employed by Jeffrey Kimball (“Top Gun”) presumably at the behest of director/star/co-writer Sly Stallone meant it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as one would’ve liked. And you could count the minutes on-screen some of the big-name stars (some of whom weren’t quite ‘big’ enough or ‘star’ enough for my liking- I’m looking at you Mr’s Randy Couture, David Zayas, and Terry Crews) had on one hand. I suppose that it was a lot better than it could’ve been, though. I mean, it was better than most of the films Stallone made in the 2000s, let’s face it.


Well, for this 2012 sequel, Stallone has handed over directorial duties to Simon West (the underrated “Con Air”, the enjoyable remake of “The Mechanic”), and aided by cinematographer Shelly Johnson (“Nightflyers”, the solid remake of “The Wolfman”), and writers Stallone and Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”, West’s “The Mechanic”), the film is infinitely more enjoyable than the first film. It’s actually an entertaining B-movie and nostalgia piece, though it still bothers the shit out of me that Van Damme (who plays the villain named Vilain) and a guy famous for banging Miley Cyrus are on the poster, but martial arts star Scott Adkins (who plays Van Damme’s chief henchman) isn’t.


West immediately proves himself a much cleaner director of action, but without losing any of Stallone’s love of the red stuff. The action is really good, and West, aided by cinematographer Johnson, only goes the shaky-cam route once, and that’s for a chopper crash. Wow, you can actually see what goes on, someone was obviously listening to the online chatter. Meanwhile, it’s good to see that although Jet Li is in and out of the film really quickly, West manages to sneak in an action scene for him anyway. Liam Hemsworth can fuck off (I won’t say that to his face, though), but at least he’s not the human blocked nose like his brother (he certainly speaks his native tongue- English- more fluently and clearly than brother Chris), and is actually not in the film as much as one suspects. So why is he on the poster and why is Scott Adkins not one of the heroes? I guess Adkins would be underused as a sniper, but it’s one of the film’s only flaws that he’s so underused as Van Damme’s No. 1 henchman (he’s in it enough to warrant being on the fuckin’ poster, though). Hell, I would’ve preferred another go-round for Mickey Rourke rather than Hemsworth. I heard that it was Van Damme’s idea to give Statham and Adkins their final fight scene (originally envisioned as part of the Van Damme-Stallone showdown), and Adkins (whose ‘moose and squirrel’ accent from the “Undisputed” sequels is back again) should be forever thankful to his frequent co-star Van Damme (they had worked together four times at this point, ditto Van Damme and Lundgren- I guess the latter two don’t hate each other anymore), it’s his best scene in the movie, and probably just the best scene in the movie, period. As soon as you see the propeller you know where it’ll end up, but boy is it nasty when it comes. Adkins might be wasted, but he’s still a vast improvement over Gary Daniels from the first film. I really liked that his character doesn’t fuck around and is just straight-up bad arse. I would’ve preferred to see Adkins tear it up with Jet Li, but Statham’s legit enough (as an athlete, at any rate. Hey, Van Damme came from a ballet background in addition to kickboxing, so diving’s certainly nothing to scoff at, then!) to be a formidable opponent, as this isn’t his first martial arts fight scene.


The other big standout scene is of course the epic clash between Van Damme and Stallone. I don’t know if Van Damme still does all of his own stunts (or if he ever did, for that matter), but the editing and camerawork suggest it’s all Van Damme and he is easily the most in-shape of the movie’s big 80s action movie titans. Certainly things would be different if it were Steven Seagal vs. Stallone, with the former now looking like a sweaty, immobile piece of luggage (Hi, I’m George Hamilton!) and too damn lazy to even do his own post-production looping at times. Van Damme looks to be in good health (Jet Li and Arnold have aged relatively gracefully too), and although Stallone’s face looks like it’s about to fall off his face, it’s a good, crowd-pleasing fanboy fight. But seriously, I’ve seen professional wrestlers on less steroids than Stallone. My God.


Other fanboy moments are pretty much hit or miss. Arnold yelling ‘Cut me loose, Frankenstein!’ to Stallone was a great, semi-obscure line, but Crews’ subsequent Terminator line is a bit groan-inducing (Seriously, was Michael Jai White busy at the time?), as is a “Rambo” reference. Even worse is Arnold using Willis’ most famous line, though Willis’ preceding line to that is pretty damn funny. And let’s face it, this is what we wanted from the first film, Arnold, Sly, and Willis trading quips and one-liners with a bit more screen time for Arnold and Willis than last time, so if Arnold’s a little cheesy here (even for this film), it’s no biggie. Welcome back, Arnold. You’ve been missed. By the way, there’s a brilliant choice of vehicle for Willis and Arnold towards the end (they get into the action this time around), and Willis’ reaction to a severed head might just be the funniest moment in the entire film. Stay tuned during the credits and look closely when Arnold’s name appears for yet another “Terminator” reference, but a good one this time. I must say, though, that when Willis, Stallone, and Arnold joke about belonging in a museum, I don’t get the impression that Willis (whose cameo was one of the best things about the original) realises it refers to him, too.


Dolph Lundgren (who isn’t in bad shape, despite the rough head) once again gets all of the film’s funniest moments simply by acting like a nutter, but this time mixing it up with a disarming intelligence (Based on truth, he really does have a Masters in Chemical Engineering). Did he really need to throw that chicken, though? Every line that comes out of his mouth is hilarious, especially the bit about the baby seal. You sick, sick bastard, Dolph. Meanwhile, as much as I loathe Chuck Norris passionately (and not just because he’s a homophobic Republican), his appearance is fall-down hard funny, mixing references to two of his films, an Ennio Morricone musical cue (one of the big ones), and even a Chuck Fact! Points off, though, for it not being the fact about him telling time. That was my favourite one. The guy can’t act and looks like he’s a reanimated corpse, though.


There’s no doubt in my mind that Jean-Claude Van Damme walks off with the entire film, and is clearly having a whale of a time as the film’s uber-cool bad guy. He and Adkins make for a cool spinning kick/knife combo, too. He’s actually not given that much screen time, but West smartly spreads out his scenes (as with Arnold and Willis) to make them count. Van Damme’s entrance, in particular, is quite memorable. It’s great that Van Damme no longer cares about being the hero, because he proves here as in “Replicant”, that he’s a really effective bad guy. He is Bad. Ass. Hell, he’s practically built up like a Bond villain here, and it’s just nice to see him clearly enjoying himself. Stallone is more easygoing this time around, and has a nice rapport with Statham, in fact, they’re a lot more fun in this than they were in the first film. I used to loathe Statham early in his career, but in the right role, he can be enjoyable. This is definitely the right role. I wish Stallone would quit with the geopolitical crap, but he’s eased off a bit this time. It’s still there, but not as much.


I didn’t much care for Nan Yu as the female member of “The Expendables”. Unless it’s Michelle Yeoh, we don’t need a female member of the group if you ask me, and her performance is awfully wooden. She has one constant dopey expression on her face, and she doesn’t even look like she blinks at all. Still, it amazes me that even she doesn’t get on the poster. She’s in it more than Miley’s handbag. Charisma Carpenter continues to be beautiful but completely irrelevant to this franchise. I’m telling you, if they do a third one, Michael Jai White or Tony Jaa (is he still at the monastery?) better be in it! Hell, throw in The Rock or even John Cena (Both, even. They’re wrestling rivals as I write this, so why not make ‘em Hollywood rivals too?), maybe Siu Wong Fan (“Riki Oh”), and Wesley Snipes if he’s out of prison.


This film’s tagline ought to have been ‘If you want blood (you got it!’), as it’s an absolute blood feast, and I was helping myself at the buffet table. I think this might be the largest body count in movie history, and it’s a jolly good thing that Conservative Chuck didn’t get his way on that. I think there might’ve been more dead bodies in this than live ones.


Credit where it’s due, Mr. West gives us basically the movie we wanted. It’s good for what it is, and I like what it is. It certainly puts the film version of “The A-Team” to shame.


Rating: B-

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: Hugo

Set in Paris in the 1930s, the title character (played by Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who lives in hiding in and around a Parisian train station. His father (Jude Law) and drunk uncle (Ray Winstone) are both dead, with the latter having been in charge of the giant clock in the station. Now Hugo sees it as his responsibility, as well as trying to repair the Automaton, one of the only possessions his late his father left behind. Hugo’s life changes when he is caught stealing some spare parts from Georges (Sir Ben Kingsley), a toymaker who owns a store inside the large station. The rather grumpy Georges is terse with the boy and also confiscates his notebook, a cherished possession his father left behind, containing his drawings/designs of the Automaton. Hugo makes a connection with Georges’ beret-sporting young niece (Chloe Grace Moritz), and in searching for Hugo’s notebook, they make some startling discoveries about the old shopkeeper. He may in fact be the one and only Georges Méliès, renowned cinematic pioneer, now reduced to being a tortured, embittered old man. Meanwhile, Hugo also has to keep a lookout for the humourless station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who doesn’t like loiterers, and wants to send Hugo to an orphanage, a fate even his sour uncle seemed to want to save the boy from. Helen McCrory plays Mama Jeanne, Georges’ wife, who wants nothing more than for her husband to be happy again. Emily Mortimer turns up as a florist who turns the nasty station inspector into a pussy cat. Richard Griffiths is hilarious in a very thankless role as a newsagent sweet on a cafe owner with a dog that just HATES him. Christopher Lee plays kindly bookseller Monsieur Labisse.


First things first: I saw this in 2D, because that’s how we’ll all be seeing films eventually, so why bother seeing something with an artificial and extraneous third dimension? Sorry, but no one is going to change my mind about it, and I’m not being a stick in the mud, I’m being realistic.


Based on the trailers, knowing that director Martin Scorsese (“Mean Streets”, “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”, “Shine a Light”) is a fan of “The Magic Box” as much as I am (and indeed the film is somewhat influenced by that 1951 all-star British biopic of forgotten cinematic pioneer William Friese-Greene), I had expected this 2011 film to be almost certainly atop my Best Films of the Year list. That it isn’t, does not really reflect poorly on the film, which is actually nice, sweet, and nostalgic in a much less pretentious way than say Woody Allen’s egotistical “Midnight in Paris”. It’s not the great film I was expecting, but you can’t hate it. In fact, you want to hug it. How many Scorsese films can you say that about? I mean, Christopher Lee is in it, and even he is playing a kindly old bookseller expressing the wonderment and joy of reading. It’s one of his rare good-guy roles, and he’s terrific, getting more dialogue and screen time than in most of his recent films combined, it seems. And if you know anything about Lee, the idea of him playing a book-lover is awfully cute and totally appropriate. I bet he thoroughly enjoyed himself working on this, too.


Like “Midnight in Paris”, there’s lots of name-dropping here. In addition to the slight resemblance to “The Magic Box”, the opening scenes feature set design and architecture clearly inspired by “Metropolis”, and real-life film pioneer Georges Méliès (played here by Sir Ben Kingsley) plays a major part in the film, as do his films. But it’s not mere name-dropping, Scorsese and writer John Logan (“Sweeney Todd”, “The Last Samurai”, and “Rango”, still number one on my top 10 of 2011) actually bother to tell a story, based on an illustrated novel by Brian Selznick. It might be set in 1930s Paris, but it’s no nostalgia-fest, wank job postcard, either, nor does he suggest that mechanical clocks are vastly superior to Broadband internet and cries out for a return to the 20s, like “The Artist” (a fun film, no doubt) kinda did. Scorsese makes sure that you can enjoy this film by not beating you over the head with how much of a baguette-eating smarty-pants he is. You don’t need to be a film buff to enjoy the film, as Scorsese doesn’t throw it in your face, but it helps if you’ve seen “Metropolis” and “A Trip to the Moon” at least.


The film is totally unlike anything Scorsese has attempted in terms of story, tone, and look (it seems more like a Terry Gilliam film, only a bit more mainstream), and yet from seeing Scorsese in interviews and in documentaries, it feels like it captures the cinephile in him. It sits somewhere in between a kids movie and a movie for adults, and although moving a little slowly, the reverence for the Silent Era and early cinema is more effective here than in “The Artist”. I would’ve liked the film to have been set in maybe the 40s instead (isn’t it too early to be nostalgic about the Silent Era in the 20s when “A Trip to the Moon” was made in 1902?), but Méliès died in 1938, so it probably wouldn’t have worked any other way.


The best scenes are easily the ones where we see Méliès at work on his films, which are just wonderful. As I said, there’s a bit of “The Magic Box” in this, except with Méliès instead of William Friese-Greene, though Kingsley’s Méliès suggests what the Friese-Greene of “The Magic Box” might’ve been like had he been forced to give up his dream to keep his family fed. If indeed Méliès’ films were mostly burned and turned into shoe heels, that’s so incredibly sad. If you haven’t seen “The Magic Box” (starring the greatest actor who ever lived, Robert Donat), Marty and I implore you to do so. Friese-Greene doesn’t even rate a mention when one person suggests that ‘The Lumiere Brothers had invented the movies’. However, Scorsese’s own cameo (a definite homage to “The Magic Box”) suggests he knows very well what Mr. Friese-Greene’s contribution was. The Lumiere’s are much more famous, and so adding Friese-Greene and Thomas Edison to the story would be unnecessarily complicating things anyway.


The film looks incredible, even if the film’s cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Platoon”, “JFK”, “Shine a Light”) is a tad too reliant on yellow lighting for my liking (Lights do tend to be yellow, but they don’t tend to make everything else in the room entirely yellow, from my experience. But if you’ve read my rants...er...reviews before, you’re already aware of my opinion on the subject). The colour palette is otherwise very interesting, muted but not monochromatic, with lots of yellows, blues, and browns, and a lovely attention to detail. A cross between Dickensian, Orwellian, Parisian, and Lumiere-esque is the best way I can describe it. It’s a storybook look, which is quite apt given its literary origins. The set design is beautifully hyperreal. This isn’t really France, it’s Scorsese’s interpretation of France through cinema’s past. That doesn’t mean it’s a soulless shopping list of references, it has a story to tell, but it also doesn’t mean that the film can’t be enjoyed on a cinephilic level too. The “‘Allo, ‘Allo” music score by Howard Shore (“The Lord of the Rings” films, “Panic Room”) and the entire wardrobe given to young Moretz grate on one a bit (was that striped shirt a tribute to Marcel Marceau?), but other than that, it’s charmingly nostalgic, minus most of the pretension.


The film is also a must for tinkerers and people fascinated by doohickies and thingamajigs. Mr. Scorsese seems a touch enamoured with young Asa Butterfield’s big eyes, but I can see why. Butterfield, who was in the excellent “The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas” is fine in the lead role. However, as the film becomes more about Méliès in the second half, I feel that the title character actually gets a bit lost. Chloe Grace Moretz is actually really terrific here, and strangely enough, she showed more sexual ambiguity here to me than in the very disappointing “Let Me In” (The Americanised remake of the slightly less disappointing “Let the Right One In”). Her British accent is also practically faultless, a job well-done there. She’s so much more interesting in this, no doubt about it. Ben Kingsley is terrific in one of his rare attempts to give a genuinely good performance. The guy is one of the best actors in the world when he wants to be, and his grumpy, rather tortured performance is both amusingly humourless and quite affecting. The most interesting casting choice is comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, whose look and performance suggest a cross between Lionel Atwill in “Son of Frankenstein” and the guy with the dodgy accent from “‘Allo, ‘Allo” who was always trying to fool the Nazis (His face and costume are almost dead-on, actually). I thought for sure Cohen was going to say ‘Good Moaning’ at any given moment. Cohen actually has an outrageous accent of his own here. In playing a Frenchman, he has adopted a bizarre cockney accent. Some found him miscast, I found him hilarious whenever he opened his mouth. The accent, appropriate or not, is very funny. Furthermore, his character is actually really interesting, and ultimately even a bit sympathetic. It’s one of the few times I’ve actually liked Cohen’s work.


The one real flaw with the film is one that I really shouldn’t be talking about given I saw the 2D version. Still, if you make a film in 3D you first need to make sure it works in 2D, as it’s how we’ll be viewing it forever more. Well, the film does work in 2D, I can’t deny that. However, the use of 3D is completely obvious, distracting, and in my view, makes the experience a bit lesser. Sure, I wouldn’t notice it if I were watching it in 3D, but like I said, none of us will likely be watching it in 3D outside of the cinemas in years to come, so that argument doesn’t hold weight. And sadly, there are some CGI flames that look a lot more dodgy in 2D than they probably did in 3D. Scorsese is a smart man and is better than that. I’m particularly disappointed that Scorsese has resorted to throwing things at the screen. It’s so unnecessary and so very beneath a filmmaker of Scorsese’s standing, intelligence, and talent. I know that in one scene it’s used to give the audience the sensation of a train coming at them, ala the famous stories regarding one of cinema’s first films. One scene doesn’t justify the whole thing, though, and these filmmakers are basically leaving stains on their films that will likely never be erased.


Overall, I don’t know whether this will appeal to a wide audience of kids and/or adults, so much as small pockets of either camp (I’m sure there are some kids out there who are cinema buffs, I became interested in movies relatively early myself), but I don’t judge a film solely based on who it appeals to, as it really only matters whether I liked it, and if I think it will appeal to others, that’s a bonus. This is a charming fantasy film in my opinion, and it’s a must for film buffs and historians at the very least. However, I honestly don’t think you need to be up on your cinema history to enjoy what is a lovely story in its own right. It’s not a great film, and I’m disappointed in Scorsese’s adoption of the latest cinematic fads, but it’s hard not to enjoy this very sweet and interesting film.


Rating: B-

Review: Monster’s Ball

With a title derived from the term used for a condemned prisoner’s final night before execution, this heavy drama stars Billy Bob Thornton as a prison worker in the South in charge of carrying out executions. Joining him is his sensitive son Heath Ledger, who may not have the stomach for the job, as Thornton warns him of getting too friendly with soon-to-be executed murderer Sean ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ Combs. Thornton’s father (Peter Boyle) is a retired prison officer himself, now basically an invalid. He’s also a vile, unrepentant racist, and has clearly influenced his son with his views to an extent. Meanwhile, Combs’ wife Halle Berry prepares for the inevitable, whilst also scolding her obese son (Coronji Calhoun) for sneaking sugary snacks. After the execution is over, Thornton himself goes through a traumatic sense of personal loss, and when he and Berry happen upon one another one day, a seemingly impossible (or at least implausible) bond starts to be formed between these two damaged people. However, Berry is not aware of the role Thornton played in her husband’s execution, though she is about to meet his dear ‘ol dad.


Some of you are probably going to hate me for this review, and most of you in that category will do so having misunderstood me. So please read carefully. I am absolutely not a racist, and if you think I am based on this review, you’re not reading it properly. Although I wanted to, I didn’t much like this Marc Forster (whose “Stranger Than Fiction” was the best film of 2006 in my view) film the first time I saw it in 2001, and now in early 2013 I enjoyed it even less. It tells its story of very serious subjects in a truly perplexing, and in my view, rather offensive and completely overblown manner. As a result, important themes, and fine performances by Heath Ledger and a genuinely disgusting Peter Boyle go largely to waste because Forster and writers Milo Addica and Will Rokos (who are way too ambitious for first-time screenwriters) have decided that the solution to grief and racial hatred is “Jungle Fever”. It’s like “How Stella Got Her White Man On”. Sorry, but it’s how I see the film, and it’s a shamefully simplistic and trashy take on some very important and complex issues.


Instead of being moved, the lasting impression is Halle Berry taking it up the arse (or at least being taken from behind) and shrieking pathetically ‘Make me feel goooood!’. It’s almost laughable...except it’s really, really not. This film should not have a scene that is widely available on porn sites on the internet. Not that I know that for a fact, of course. No...I’d never. The whole film seems to have a very odd view of women. They seem to just be there to have anal (or at least doggystyle) sex with. Sure, the Berry character seems to have some depth early on, but then she and Yessir Massir hook up and it all feels both misogynistic and racist. It’s probably neither, but I felt deeply uncomfortable with this film. The big sex scene is quite frankly the most ridiculous, laughable, and needlessly elongated sex scene of all-time. No sex scene involving Billy Bob Thornton needs to be so long and dynamic. It’s absurd and makes the supposedly cathartic message seem really offensive. These are damaged people in need of healing, not Sting-like tantric sex. There is something here, but Forster lets it get out of hand (Dare I say he blows his load?).


It also feels like several films in one for starters; The interracial romance (more like a shag-a-thon), Berry’s overweight kid, the deep-rooted racism of a family, etc. The whole thing isn’t believable for these two specific characters anyway. Thornton might not be quite as racist as his father (There are probably more racially sensitive KKK members than this guy), but he’s nowhere near likely to engage in any kind of romantic or sexual relationship with an African-American woman, even if both characters do have a common bond and do both need healing. It’s overcooked and unbelievable because the issues of racial hatred are too deep-rooted in this guy’s family that the only one with any hope of escaping it would be Ledger’s, and well...you’ll see how that works out in the film. It’s also completely contrived- Berry just so happens to be Thornton’s favourite waitress, Berry’s husband is the prisoner whose execution Thornton oversaw, and although she surely visited him several times and they live in a small town, she doesn’t know Thornton, etc. Geez. I’m sorry, but no catharsis is worth stacking this many contrivances and so many histrionics. Hot sex and ice cream are NOT the keys to resolving deep-rooted racial issues or even the loss of a family member. Even if the sex is with Halle Berry (Apparently Queen Latifah was in line for the role. Make of that what you will. I’m totally not suggesting anything...noooo).


If you removed the fairly explicit and prolonged sex scenes and have the relationship play out more tentatively, then the message becomes easier to take. I really think in time, the people who lauded this film will feel very, very silly (Ditto with “Crash”). And that’s a shame, because the good stuff here is very, very good. With more subtlety it might’ve even worked as a whole. Billy Bob Thornton’s performance, for instance, has the subtlety and measure the rest of the film lacks, even though his character’s transition is utterly ridiculously implausible. Boyle isn’t meant to be subtle. He’s an unrepentant, nasty, racist cracker and awful father, too pitiful and pathetic to truly hate in my view. He’s not worth your hatred. Thornton and Boyle ought to have won Oscars for this, if you ask me (However, were they even nominated?). Thornton is believably taciturn and tortured, especially early on. Boyle will shock many who only know him from his comic roles, and is spot-on playing this horrible excuse for a human being who has driven at least two people to end their lives. Heath Ledger, meanwhile, projects a real sensitivity and fragility in this film (and seemingly in his sadly short life, too), and although he isn’t in the film much, he’s impressive. He is still missed to this day. Mos Def also shines in a small role, but he and Ledger, good as they are, end up somewhat overshadowed here. Ditto P. Diddly Widdly Doo Da, who has an affecting moment or two of reflection and fear of imminent death. I thought Halle Berry’s Oscar win was a beautiful moment (Denzel, less so), but the film is overblown and on the nose. And to what end is her performance anyway? Her performance on my second viewing of the film was actually less impressive because it eventually becomes demeaning (Angela Bassett was right to criticise the character, I’m afraid). It’s through no fault of her own, though, as overwrought as she is. It’s clearly the script, and this performance guided by that script and the character itself make me deeply uncomfortable and not in any rewarding way.


It’s not a terrible film, just a misguided and misjudged one in my view. There was certainly merit in the story of three generations of prison guards and the passing down of racial hatred through the generations. But it is ultimately overshadowed and ruined by Halle Berry (whose character is shrill and never wears a damn bra) having hot, lengthy sex with the son of a racist old cracker and who also pulled the switch on her husband. Oh shut up. Whatever its intentions, based on what we see, it should’ve been called “White Guilt, Milk Chocolate” (Seriously, did the ice cream at the end have to be chocolate?), and the film is sadly begging to be mocked. Perhaps I’m misreading what Forster intended, but perhaps he simply didn’t succeed in conveying it. I know which camp I’m in. At best, it’s hopelessly naive. Sorry, but I didn’t like this at all. I would LOVE to hear Spike Lee’s thoughts on the film.


Rating: C

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The 20 Most Disappointing Films of All-Time

20. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest- The first film was such a disarmingly cheeky, oddball surprise and a rollicking adventure that you couldn't even really chastise cast and crew for making a film based on a Disneyland ride. It was jolly good fun and Johnny Depp gave a totally original, drunkenly charming, and completely memorable performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, as well as well-cast roles for Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, and Geoffrey Rush. I can see why a sequel was made (and two more followed after this), in theory. Unfortunately, the result was a bloated and cynical retread of the original, with absolutely zero impact. The charm is entirely gone, with Johnny Depp's repeat schtick rather boring, second time around, and scenes that just drag on and on with no interest or excitement. The first hour or so is especially tedious as we are forced to catch up with the old gang again before getting onto this film's plot. That's just way too long. Bill Nighy is fine as the hideous Davy Jones, but that's about it here. Things picked up a bit in the next film, before completely crapping out again for the fourth "At World's End". Sometimes one really is more than enough, folks.


19. Death Proof- I was seriously pissed off when "Grindhouse" was split into two films and most of the faux-trailers (and thus, the grindhouse experience) were missing. However, even if I did see the complete film, it would only be half a good film, for while Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" was a good piece of gory schlock, Quentin Tarantino's end of things was mostly a dull, egotistical, and talky disappointment. A great villainous performance by Kurt Russell and some cool stunts are unable to make up for the film's many shortcomings. Even QT himself has recently cited the film as his only dud. The first hour is mostly mindless chatter, with Michael Parks and his son draining the film's energy in one particularly tedious scene. By the time the action came, I didn't care. If most of the characters (save Russell, kiwi Zoe Bell, and the charismatic Rosario Dawson) and dialogue were removed, the film might've been a lean, mean, grindhouse machine. Instead it's largely a waste of time, and hardly indicative of grindhouse cinema anyway. What a shame.


18. Mother of Tears- Giallo master Dario Argento wraps up his 'Three Mothers' trilogy (begun with the popular "Suspiria") twenty-seven years after the middle entry, "Inferno" (an excellent film), and the result is...ugh. I know Argento hasn't made anything worthwhile in decades, but this tired and silly film simply won't do. It looks cheap and frankly non-descript, and has way too much talking by not very impressive actors (Udo Kier's cameo is fun, however). A shame, because it's a fantastically gory film, especially the finale which has one of the best death scenes I've ever seen. The music's good, there's lots of titties, but overall, it stinks. The only good thing I can really say about it is that it's not as bad as Argento's "Phantom of the Opera". 27 years for this? Perhaps Argento should hand things over to the younger generation. It's OK Dario, you've done your part. There's no shame in calling it quits.


17. Die Hard 4.0- None of the sequels has come close to reaching the heights of the excellent 1988 original, but this 2007 sequel (known in some areas as "Live Free or Die Hard") is weak as piss. I don't so much mind that the wise-cracking John McClane of old is replaced by Bruce Willis' now patent stone-faced grump, but this is such an amazingly unexciting action film, playing mostly like a lame episode of TV's "24". Timothy Olyphant is a good actor, but his techie villain is poorly matched against granite-like uber-action hero Willis. John McClane vs. Cyber terrorists? Pretty much says it all, really. Maybe if Jeff Goldblum or John Malkovich played the role, it'd be more appropriate, but even then you're left with the action scenes that are either boring or ridiculous. This one's disappointing enough to make a grown man cry.


16. Little Fockers- The first film was terrific (one of the best comedies of the 00s), the second was OK, but the third time was most certainly not the charm. I barely chuckled during this amazingly desperate comedy. New edition Jessica Alba is embarrassingly unfunny in a frankly demeaning part, Ben Stiller has an off day, Robert De Niro flounders in a sea of erectile dysfunction gags, and the rest of the cast are wasted. It's just too forced and contrived, and rarely amusing. No wonder Jay Roach bailed.


15. W.- You'd expect conspiracy nut, noted lefty, and occasionally brilliant filmmaker Oliver Stone to go into attack mode here in this biopic of polarising American president George Dubya Bush. Unfortunately not only does he give a fairly 'safe' and boring account of Dubya, he also seems to be not taking any stance at all, let alone making any damn point. I'd actually prefer a pro-Bush film to the pointless, bizarrely seriocomic take Stone gives us. It's a strange and completely ineffectual film, not helped by several miscast actors, something that killed Stone's previous "Nixon". Thandie Newton, in particular, suffers from an idiotic makeup job and one-dimensional writing as toady Condoleezza Rice (Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell aren't sohot, either). Lead actor Josh Brolin deserves some of the blame, as does whoever decided to cast him. Not only does he seem more like Will Ferrell's poor imitation of Bush than the real Bush, but at no point does he get inside the man's head. He's not awful or incompetent in the role as written, but he doesn't look or sound remotely like the guy, and the lack of depth leaves him somewhat helpless. Aside from being a ne'er do well who wanted his daddy's love, what else are we meant to think of him? A lunkhead ne'er do well? Really? It's just such a narrow and stupid portrayal from a filmmaker I expected a lot more from.

Toby Jones and Richard Dreyfuss are the only bright sparks here. Jones is decent as Karl Rove, but Dreyfuss is frightening in one of his best performances in...a helluva long time at least. But overall, I was less shocked that Stone didn't go on the attack than I was that he didn't seem to be telling us anything remotely interesting or insightful at all. One of his worst films by far.


14. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls- The poster child for films whose laughs are all spoiled by trailers, this lame-arse sequel to the surprise hit that basically introduced Jim Carrey to moviegoers (well, those who didn’t see “Once Bitten”, “The Dead Pool”, or “Earth Girls Are Easy”) had the added baggage of said trailers being played over and over for months on end, it seemed (I know because this was a time when I was going to the movies quite regularly). When I finally did see it, the only decent laughs were spoiled and the rest was amazingly desperate, old-fashioned, and unfunny. I'm actually surprised Jim Carrey's career survived this tiresome so-called comedy.


13. Public Enemies- Sometimes the way a movie is shot can do an awful lot of damage to the film, and nowhere is this more evident than in Michael Mann's Depression-era gangster pic...filmed in hi-def digital video. Mann is capable of making great movies ("Heat" and especially "Last of the Mohicans"), but he got bit by the video bug in "Miami Vice", which looked lousy, and has ridiculously and fatally appropriated it for a story of 1930s gangsters. 'Coz what "The Untouchables" really needed was jerky, muted-looking camerawork, right? Wrong. There's being different and then there's being a complete tool, and  gangster movies should never be Dogme films. Add in some ugly amber filters (the bane of my existence) and you've got an unwatchable film even before you get to the script, pacing, and acting.

The pacing is glacier-like, and never really kicks into gear for what should've been an exciting story. None of the characters are memorable, but even most of the performances are unmemorable (Billy Crudup's J. Edgar Hoover is the one standout), including the usually entertaining Johnny Depp. He doesn't let you inside Dillinger's head at all, and is surprisingly charmless. Less surprisingly charmless is the overrated Christian Bale, who is so boring and bored-looking he seems to want to be somewhere else I don't blame him. How the hell did Mann manage to screw this up? Even the machine guns sound like the modern kind of machine guns you'd hear in "Heat", not the 1930s.


12. Australia- How can you call a film Australia, cast a bunch of top Aussie actors, and not produce a disappointment? I mean, we all hoped this epic would be our "Gone With the Wind", but I think secretly, we all knew it would be closer to "Around the World in 80 Days", if anything. Although I knew this would be a disappointment, actually experiencing it was another thing altogether. This over-directed, hyper-stylised epic from Baz Luhrmann (the wrong director for the material) is a very silly and frankly irritating experience. Luhrmann has decided to direct this great, romantic epic in slapstick fashion. Yeah, that'll work, Baz. He overdoses on close-ups, and due to Luhrmann's idiotic mishandling of tone, there's absolutely no dramatic weight. The cast, therefore, are helpless but to go along with the hyperreal style, and in this, some actors (Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown, Barry Otto, and David Wenham- who steals the film) fare much better than others (Nicole Kidman and Jack Thompson). The wrongheaded, campy approach also means that the potentially moving final sentiment rings embarrassingly false, though Luhrmann overall does fare better in the depiction of Indigenous characters than 'whites'. The funny thing is, I still think this is Luhrmann's best and most ambitious film, because I've hated his other films so much. Some of the story is still interesting, and the scenery is terrific. But this should've been an almighty epic. It's a stupid, quirky romp, instead.


11. The Jungle Book- The 1994 live-action version of the Rudyard Kipling classic is nowhere near as charming as the animated Disney version, I'm afraid. The animals are occasionally fun, but not in the film enough, and the stiff acting from Lena Headey, Sam Neill, and especially the usually awful Cary Elwes help to drag it down. Not even John Cleese gets much to do here. I can see that they were trying for a 1940s Sabu juvenile adventure movie feel, and if you're into that kind of thing you might like this, but even in cinemas, this was kinda boring to me and extremely bland (I rarely go to cinemas, and even rare is it that I've disliked a movie in cinemas. This, "Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey", and "Highlander III" are the only films I've genuinely disliked in cinemas). The climax isn't bad, though.



10. Army of Darkness- Sam Raimi's 1982 "The Evil Dead" is one of the most intense, but fun B-horror films of all-time, and among the best-directed, too. For his third film in the series, however, Raimi takes the character of Ash (the inimitable Bruce Campbell) into an entirely new arena, a light-hearted, semi-spoof of sword and sorcery flicks. Yeah, 'coz that's what we were all thinking would happen when watching the first film, right? It's all rather cheap and silly, even for someone like me who loves fantasy flicks. In fact, it plays more like a dry run for producer Rob Tappert's "Hercules" and "Xena" TV series'. Geez, at least "Xena" had some nice lesbian subtext. The acting, aside from the always game Campbell (who gets a great pick-up line; 'Gimme some sugar, baby!'), is woefully amateurish, and the only scene that genuinely amused me was one featuring a 'bad' Ash and a bunch of malignant, tiny Ash's. The Harryhausen-esque army of the title aren't bad, but other FX scenes are spotty. Too cute, too stupid, and too far removed from the rest of the franchise, but it does have its fans out there, apparently. I'd rather watch the original, or even "Bubba Ho-Tep", starring Campbell as a geriatric Elvis combating a zombie with an African-American JFK played by Ossie Davis.


9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)- In this supposed 're-imagination', Tim Burton is said by many to have followed the Roald Dahl classic a lot closer than the 1971 film version did. My arse. The Roald Dahl novel is actually one of his sweeter, and more innocuous efforts, and the 1971 film version is one of the greatest family films of all-time. Tim Burton's version is a garish, ugly, supremely creepy and off-putting film, at which Johnny Depp's turn as Willy Wonka serves as the absolute nadir. Bizarre for the sake of it, Depp's off-the-wall, unpleasant take on the character is more akin to Michael Jackson than the master chocolate maker. This is a cold and unfriendly film that overdoses on its own charmless weirdness. Even the chocolate looks entirely unappetising. The best thing in the entire film is Christopher Lee's cameo as Wonka's cold father, mostly because it's not related to anything in the book or the 1971 film version, so I have nothing to unfavourably compare it to. Horrible.


8. King Kong (2005)- After giving us one of the top 5 movie trilogies of all-time, Peter Jackson decided to take a crack at one of his childhood favourites, and unfortunately, he cocked it up. The fact that it's not as bad as the 1976 version is more a reflection of how bad that film is, than any reflection on Jackson's sorry version. Jack Black and Adrien Brody are simply all wrong, the blend of CGI and motion capture is a complete failure this time out (Kong is WAY too big for a start) and renders any attempt at emotional pull moot, and the whole thing goes on and on. It's boring as hell because I never believed any of it for a second and was kept at a distance throughout. The classic 1933 version, with its archaic stop motion, is strangely more effective and affecting, and about 80 minutes shorter.


7. The Village (2004)- I defended M. Night Shyamalan with "Signs", but he completely up and lost his damn mind with this one. The ending makes no damn logical sense whatsoever, and the film preceding it, although good-looking, is completely stiff and boring, despite a great cast (on paper).


6. Jumanji (1995)- How can a movie about a board game come to life possibly turn out to be a turkey? Presenting Exhibit A, Your Honour. A boring, phony-looking (the FX are awful) so-called entertainment that is frankly no fun at all. I really couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this as a 15 year-old. It seemed like such a sure-fire concept, especially with Robin Williams in the lead. Well, obviously, his value as an indicator of a good movie went down after this one. It's all so fake that you never find yourself getting into it.


5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)- If ever you've thought that George Lucas was a sell-out, here is your absolute proof, a shameless, lazy-arse animated movie that is nothing more than another cash-grab. My thoughts on this so-called film are best expressed in the following review/angry rant found at this link: http://www.epinions.com/review/Star_Wars_The_Clone_Wars_George_Lucas/content_474757959300


4. Batman Forever (1995)- Nauseatingly loud and garish, Joel Schumacher's first Batman movie is a costume designer's masturbatory fantasy run amok, and nowhere near as satisfying as the earlier Tim Burton films (the best Batman films by far). Val Kilmer is clueless as Batman/Bruce Wayne, too skinny as Batman and seemingly uncomfortable the rest of the time. He's a truly odd and wrong choice for the part. Tommy Lee Jones is having more fun as villain Two-Face, but he's a bit hollow in his campiness at times. Jim Carrey is even campier as The Riddler, which is what you'd expect, but he just wasn't ready for the role in 1995. He's completely fatuous and silly, never remotely threatening in the role, though he does fine as alter-ego Ed Nigma. The film has its moments, but the soundtrack is the only thing that doesn't disappoint.


3. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)- The first film was and still is terrific stuff, a perfect blend of action and thought/faux philosophy. This sequel gives us so much more of the same that after a while one realises the filmmakers didn't have enough material for more than one film, and Laurence Fishburne's quasi-philosophising started to ring annoyingly hollow. It’s so bad that I didn’t bother seeing the third one for years (it turned out to be considerably better than this one, by the way).


2. Super 8 (2011)- J.J. Abrams seems to be a Spielberg buff, but in his juvenile alien invasion homage, he doesn't appear to be much of a student of Spielberg's tone or sense of childlike awe. This is a dark, serious, and not terribly enjoyable film. It should've been "The Goonies" meets "ET", instead it plays like "Close Encounters" for kids. That's simply not as interesting or fun to me, and although it gets better as it goes along, it’s still pretty average and not fun.


1. Jurassic Park (1993) - The most over-hyped movie ever made, one of the loudest movies ever made, and sadly, it's all a bit average. Jeff Goldblum is amusing, but the special FX are used too early and too often, suggesting Spielberg had forgotten the art of suspense and slow reveal he demonstrated an affinity for in "Jaws". It's all a bit predictable, safe, and corny. It's the kind of film that leaves you saying 'That's it?'. In fact, almost everyone I saw the film with was left saying exactly that. A mammoth disappointment.