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.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Review: Men in Black III


When devious alien Boris (Jemaine Clement) escapes from prison on the moon (!), with the intention of killing arch-nemesis Agent K of the Men in Black (Tommy Lee Jones). To do this, he apparently has to travel back in time to 1969. Meanwhile, through some idiotic chocolate milk-drinking plot contrivance, Agent J (Will Smith) is his usual smart-arse self, whilst everything else around him has changed, including the death of his partner. His only solution is to travel back in time himself, hook up with the 1969 Agent K (played by a grimacing Josh Brolin) to try and save him from the death that has already happened, and has yet to happen. I think. Emma Thompson and Alice Eve play the older and younger versions of Agent O.

 

The 1997 original disappointed the hell out of me. I thought with Will Smith in the lead it’d be something closer to “Independence Day” meets “Ghostbusters”, a mainstream blockbuster, but hopefully a good one. However, in the hands of director Barry Sonnenfeld it proved more “Alien” meets Sonnenfeld’s “The Addams Family”, a quirkier film that didn’t entertain or amuse me in the slightest (I can understand why many people loved the very things that failed to appeal to me, though). The aliens in particular were elaborate but ugly and uninteresting creations by the overrated Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London”, “The Nutty Professor”), and Will Smith’s title song is still enormously overrated as it was back in 1997. The pug was great, though. The second film was even worse (so was Will Smith’s irritating title song), and now the seemingly absent for a few years Sonnenfeld is back for a third time with this 2012 offering (yes, a whopping ten years after the previous film). Scripted by Etan Cohen (the hilarious “Tropic Thunder”), it’s more of the same, only even worse, deadeningly slow, and with no Frank the pug. Sorry, but I’m just not on this series’ wavelength at all. I’ve always wanted to be, but I’m not.

 

The supposed jewel in this film’s crown is a time-travel plot that allows Josh Brolin to apparently mimic stony-faced Tommy Lee Jones, as his younger self. Unfortunately, Brolin does almost as shitty a Tommy Lee Jones impersonation as he does a George Dubya Bush impersonation. For starters, he’s not aping Jones, he’s just repeating his George Dubya Bush impersonation. Occasionally he’ll pull a facial expression a little like Jones, but he sounds nothing like him. As this film and the overrated “Face/Off” prove, actors mimicking other actors doesn’t tend to work well unless you’re Kevin Spacey on “Inside the Actor’s Studio”, and the joke falls completely flat here because Brolin is a shitty mimic.

 

Even worse is the film’s villain, Jermaine Clement, in a performance that is profoundly silly without being funny or entertaining. I’ve never found him remotely funny, though. Emma Thompson is also here. I really wish she wasn’t. She’s a complete embarrassment from moment one, and the only good thing I can say is that her performance in “Beautiful Creatures” looks to be even worse.

 

I guess I could give credit to Will Smith for being more restrained than in the previous films, but that is faint praise indeed. He looks to be doing this one solely for the money, but he also didn’t release a hippity hop single for the film, so I’ll be eternally grateful to him for that, at least. Meanwhile, making fun of Tommy Lee Jones’ character’s grumpy humourlessness isn’t funny because Jones himself genuinely doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour. Or joy. C’mon, we all saw the Golden Globes in 2013. And then when he got a chance to show us his ‘happy face’ (to quote him from the only funny moment in “Man of the House”) at the Oscars just recently, you realised that he’s even scarier when attempting to smile. Good actor, no doubt about it, but comedy generally isn’t seen to be his thing. Here there’s literally no difference between real-life humourless Tommy Lee Jones, and the guy in the movie lampooning his straight man image...by playing the straight man. So where’s the joke? And as usual, Hollywood doesn’t understand time travel paradoxes, fucking it all up once again. Not only that, but does Josh Brolin look 29 to you in this? He was 44 at the time, and looks at least 35! Also, is that the most counter-productive and least user-friendly computer you’ve ever seen or what? How are you meant to read that text? Meanwhile, the potential humour in Smith being racially profiled by a couple of white 1960s cops accusing him of stealing a car is ruined by the fact that...he did steal the car. That’s the joke, of course, but one’s complete awareness of it makes it entirely unfunny, as does the fact that the angle is entirely dropped after that. One supporting character, meanwhile, serves no other purpose than to be a magic wand and fix any logic holes. It’s a total cheat, and the character ought to have been called Griffin from the planet Deus Ex Machina.

 

About the only laugh in the whole thing is a cute reference to that ugly dugong thing that was in the news a while back. For the most part, the film is tired, agonisingly slow-paced, and painfully unfunny. If you like the previous films, you might still struggle to get much enjoyment out of this film which is not only belated but really unnecessary.

 

Rating: D+

Review: The Wizard of Oz


Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) dreams of a life ‘Over the Rainbow’ and away from her dreary Kansas home with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry (Clara Blandick and Charley Grapewin). Her wish is granted when a huge tornado whisks her and dog Toto (Terry) away...and their house I might add. They end up in the land of Oz, a place of Yellow Brick Roads, Munchkins, flying monkeys, and witches both Good (Billie Burke’s Glinda) and Bad (Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West). Dorothy, wanting nothing more than to go home, is encouraged to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City. There she should see the Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan), to ask to be transported back to Kansas. Along her journey, she is joined by a trio of helpers (Ray Bolger’s brainless Scarecrow, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, and Jack Haley’s heartless Tin Man), who also have something they want from the Wizard. However, they must be wary of the Wicked Witch and her band of flying monkeys.

 

Aside from my mother, I can’t imagine anyone not loving this classic 1939 screen adaptation of the 1900 L. Frank Baum novel. I mean, it’s just not normal to dislike this film, and probably a bit abnormal to merely ‘like’ it. However, I’m not quite as enamoured with it as most people. In fact, I think the film peters out the moment the flying monkeys turn up. They are for me, the only truly dated aspect of an otherwise timeless and magical film, one of the few musicals I enjoy. Remove the stupid and cheap-looking monkeys (which apparently scared a lot of kids), and maybe tighten up the prologue in Kansas a bit (the film is a little too long), and you’d have a damn near perfect film. Sure, Judy Garland’s voice grates a bit after a while (she starts to sound like her daughter Liza), and things wrap up a bit too quickly in Oz, but those are minor issues.

 

Make no mistake, I do love this film...for the most part (I fucking HATE the lollipop guild song, though! If there’s a Hell, that song is played on a loop!). I just don’t think it’s a perfect film, but hey, for a film that’s more than 70 years old, it holds up very well indeed. The transition from sepia tone to colour is movie magic (even if it might not have the same resonance as it did in 1939 when colour films were somewhat rare), and this is quite simply one of the most beautiful technicolour films of all-time. Even today it still seems so vibrant, thanks to the wonderful (and frankly rather bizarre) costumes by Adrian (“Grand Hotel”, “San Francisco”, “Camille”), set design by Edwin B. Willis (“A Night at the Opera”, “San Francisco”, “Gaslight”, “The Yearling”), and Oscar-nominated cinematography by Harold Rosson (“Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”, “The Bad Seed”). The sepia tone is actually really beautiful, and I bet the makers of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” were inspired by the colour and set design in the Oz scenes. It’s gorgeous to behold, I mean, look at how vibrant those ruby red slippers are! The Oscar-winning music score by Herbert Strothart (“Waterloo Bridge”, “Random Harvest”) is also top-notch, and most of the songs by Harold Arlen (“Cabin in the Sky”, “A Star is Born”) and E.Y. Harburg (“Cabin in the Sky”, “Finian’s Rainbow”) are good fun, even for someone who hates musicals like me. The film could stand to lose a number or two (Might I suggest the fucking lollipop guild song? Is it wrong that I want to punch them when that song starts?), if you ask me. However, the Oscar-winning ‘Over the Rainbow’ is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs of all-time in one of cinema’s most memorable moments (‘Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead’, ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’ and the title song are all fun, too). Meanwhile, I’m absolutely convinced Bert Lahr was drunk during the filming of his ‘If I Were a King’ song, another one I might have cut. I do love the word ‘impoceros’ (not sure how you spell it), though. Also memorable is the tornado scene, which was well-done for the time. It plays like a bad dream, which is rather poignant when you think about it

 

It’s a spectacularly weird and trippy film when you think about it- Talking apple trees (straight out of “HR Pufnstuf” it seems), flying monkeys, munchkins, tin men, cowardly lions- it’s pretty fucked up, really, but unlike the later “Return to Oz” it never gets too dark that it loses its appeal to the whole family. I always found the munchkins to be a bit creepy to be honest, and looking at the film again, I’m pretty sure some of those munchkins are actually kids. Given the rumours of rowdy and drunken behaviour on set, I hope the kids didn’t get trashed alongside the other munchkins!

 

The plot of the film is somewhat simple, but it’s clearly been influential to any movie with a ‘quest’ plot. What one remembers most (and enjoys most) about this film are surely the characters and performances. Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West is easily one of cinema’s greatest cackling villains (her entrance as Elvira Gulch in the Kansas scenes is unforgettable), and a joy to watch, even when having to put up with those flying monkeys. I think the underrated Billie Burke is every bit her equal playing her polar opposite, Glinda the Good Witch. BTW, the creepiest image in the entire film for me is whenever a witch dies, you see their feet curling up. Not sure why, but it creeps me out.

 

Garland is winning (if slightly shrill at times) as Dorothy, but the real scene stealers are Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, and especially Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion. Bolger is appealing and shows himself to be perfectly at home in song and dance and comedy as the brainless Scarecrow. Morgan does a great job playing several different roles, including the title character. Personally, I think he makes the biggest impression of his roles as the phony fortune teller. When I was a kid I was always drawn to Jack Haley’s Tin Man the most, but seeing the film again, I have absolutely no idea why. Haley’s OK (though he looks too dandified in the Kansas scenes if you ask me), and his song and dance number is fun, especially given the limitations of his costume. Clearly, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion steals the show, though. Did you know he went on to front Metallica? What? What did I say? In all seriousness, Lahr is infectious, loveable, and hilariously silly all at the same time (Snagglepuss has a helluva lot to answer for, by the way) and gets most of the film’s funniest moments. For some reason, patting his face with his tail just cracks me up every time, and the funniest moment in the film is when he exclaims ‘Somebody pulled my tail!’. Trust me, it’s funny in the film. Frank Morgan is the underrated actor here, having the task of playing at least five different roles, including the title role. He’s particularly excellent as kindly travelling fortune teller Professor Marvel.

 

The screenplay is by Noel Langley (“Ivanhoe”, “The Prisoner of Zenda”, “Knights of the Round Table”), Florence Ryerson (who worked on a couple of “Philo Vance” detective flicks), and Edgar Allan Woolf (“Freaks”, “The Mask of Fu Manchu”), whilst Victor Fleming (“The Good Earth”, “Gone With the Wind”) and King Vidor (“The Crowd”, “The Champ”, “The Mask of Fu Manchu”, “Duel in the Sun”) were the main directors, along with uncredited work by George Cukor (“Little Women”, “Gone With the Wind”, “My Fair Lady”). Richard Thorpe (“Ivanhoe”, “The Prisoner of Zenda”, “Knights of the Round Table”) was the first director attached, but none of his work made it into the finished film. It was a troubled production (Buddy Ebsen had to vacate the role of the Tin Man because the silver makeup violently disagreed with him), but none of that turmoil shows up on screen. This is a wonderful, wonderful film, but not a perfect one. The flying monkeys are crap, the ‘Lollipop Guild’ song is a hellacious musical number that will stay in your brain forevermore, and the film drags towards the end (yet rushing things at the end, strangely enough).

 

But make no mistake, for its first ¾, this is a magical film experience and deserving of being seen and being loved. It’s certainly a more worthy film than “Gone With the Wind”, from the same year.

 

Rating: A-

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Avenging Angel


Betsy Russell plays Molly, who four years after the events of the first film is now studying to become a lawyer, when she hears that cop/paternal figure Lt. Andrews (Robert F. Lyons) has been killed. This motivates Molly to once again walk the streets as hooker Angel, to find his killers. Her other surviving surrogate family members are back; retired showbiz cowboy Kit Carson (Rory Calhoun), foul-mouthed lesbian Solly (Susan Tyrrell), and the Chaplin-esque street performer Yo-Yo Charlie (Stephen M. Porter). Ossie Davis (yes, the man who delivered Malcolm X’s eulogy) plays a police captain, Tim Rossovich (the poor man’s Brion James) is a thug, Robert Tessier (is a tattooist), and Liz Sheridan (Jerry! How could anybody not like you!) plays a sanatorium nurse.

 

Made a year after the original “Angel”, this 1985 sequel from director and co-writer Robert Vincent O’Neill (who made the original), is probably even worse. It’s certainly duller, and aside from the always fine Ossie Davis (!), the acting is worse, particularly lead actress Betsy Russell. Replacing original lead Donna Wilkes, Russell shows why she’s seriously one of the worst actresses of all-time. In her few moments of cuteness and sweetness she’s tolerable, but whenever she tries for seriousness, conviction, or toughness, she’s astoundingly bad. Watching her fail to act in a scene with the great Ossie Davis is particularly painful, and it’s interesting to note that she was as facially immobile in 1985 as she is today.

 

As was the case before, the mixture of gritty subject and sudsy treatment is an issue (Solly becomes surrogate mum to an abandoned baby in this one!), but the tone is a bit less uneven perhaps. In a weird way, I kinda miss the harsher stuff, and certainly this one has a lot less nudity. There’s just not enough sleaze, instead it focuses more on the goofy stuff that I hated in the original. Yes, Rory Calhoun’s character gives the film it’s only energy and amusement, but it also makes the film unrealistic and silly. I said last time that Calhoun looked like a senile old man wheeled out of the old folk’s home in his old costume, and put in front of the camera like in an Ed Wood film. Here he first appears getting busted out of a sanatorium. Close enough. Replacing Cliff Gorman as the paternal police officer this time is Robert F. Lyons, who looks and acts nothing like Gorman. He seems younger, for a start, and is pretty awful.

 

The villains are a step down from the creepy John Diehl from the original, I must say, but Ross Hagan isn’t too bad as the chief henchman. Credit where it’s due, though, the drag queens in this are a hundred times more convincing than Dick Shawn in the first film. But then, so is Dame Edna. Bizarre soundtrack featuring Bronski Beat and several tunes by our very own Split Enz (well, OK, New Zealand’s own, but we can still claim Crowded House, right?). Never thought I’d read the name Split Enz in the end credits to this. 

 

I can’t believe they made two more of these films after this one. Someone must be a fan (the original raked in over $20 million in the US), but why? This one is so awfully bloody redundant, with the only real differences being that Angel is now an almost Law School chick, and there’s a revenge motif. O’Neill co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph Michael Cala once again. Why didn’t somebody stop them?

 

Rating: D+

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review: Suicide Kings


A group of rich college kids (Sean Patrick Flanery, Jeremy Sisto, Jay Mohr, and Henry Thomas) kidnap businessman and former mobster Christopher Walken, take them to nerdy associate Johnny Galecki’s family mansion, tie him to a chair, and drug him. When Walken awakens, one of his fingers is missing, and he is made aware of the situation: Thomas’ sister has been kidnapped by two goons (Brad Garrett being one of them), with a $2 million ransom being demanded.

 

Unfortunately, the father of the kidnapped girl has managed to screw things up, and so now they want Walken to use his mob connections to get the girl set free. Walken claims to be out of that life now, but the boys are having none of that. But Walken is a wily bastard and starts playing his captors against one another, even suggesting that there might be an ‘inside man’ on the kidnapping. Is this true or is he just fucking with them? Denis Leary plays Walken’s chief henchman, who is trying to locate his boss, with Cliff De Young playing Walken’s concerned legal counsel. Leary’s henchman character is some piece of work. He wears $1500 stingray shoes, freely gives money to a homeless guy, but then turns it all around when his shoes get damaged. Obviously his sense of charity is handicapped by his intense rage. He also has a hatred for women bashers, and in one great scene (apparently the only one with dialogue not improvised by Leary) lets us in on just why that is.

 

Directed by Peter O'Fallon (whose cinematic directorial debut this was after directing episodes of “Northern Exposure” among other things) and scripted by Josh McKinney, Gina Goldman, and Wayne Rice, this 1997 flick is one of the better crime flicks to come out in the wake of Tarantino’s overrated but influential “Pulp Fiction”. The mixture of gangster and dark comedy isn’t always on target and there are a few too many characters, but there are some fine moments and not a bad performance in sight. Particularly impressive are Christopher Walken and Denis Leary (the latter is brilliant), but Jay Mohr (as the hot-head of the group) and Johnny Galecki (simply born to play a whiny guy named Ira) have their moments too.

 

I think the solution is predictable from before the midway point, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the film’s ending. It’s certainly a ruthless and perhaps even appropriate ending, maybe unavoidable. But it leaves you with a different feeling than the preceding 90 or so minutes had.

 

Overall, this is enjoyable stuff, especially for genre fans. I’d certainly much rather watch this than “Pulp Fiction”, or Flanery’s uneven “Boondock Saints” movies, for that matter.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Impulse


Meg Tilly and boyfriend (a doctor, played by Tim Matheson) return to her Midwest hometown after hearing of a bizarre and nearly fatal incident involving her mother. Before long they realise that the townsfolk seem to have become afflicted by some kind of illness that sees them abandon all inhibitions, and results in maddening violent incidents. Hume Cronyn is the local doctor, John Karlen is Tilly’s protective dad, Bill Paxton is Tilly’s rebellious brother, and Claude Earl Jones is the local sheriff, who has one very disturbing scene indeed.

 

Reminding me of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and some of Stephen King’s work, this 1984 sci-fi/thriller from director Graham Baker (“Omen III: The Final Conflict”, “Alien Nation”) sounds interesting on paper but the execution is a sorry disappointment. The cast certainly can’t be faulted, with the underrated Meg Tilly in particular impressing. She really is the polar opposite of Jennifer isn’t she? Her performances always have a shy, sweet-natured, vulnerability about them. Jennifer, by contrast is usually brassy, shrill, and slutty (And I mean those as compliments, I actually really like her).

 

The characters are pretty thin, and I felt particularly sorry for Hume Cronyn and Bill Paxton here, whose roles were pretty poorly written. Paxton, in particular, has a disturbing secret that, when revealed, leaves one with a bad taste in the mouth because there are some things you really need to be careful in including in a horror/sci-fi flick, and I don’t think this film deals with that subject anywhere near well enough to justify it. I also think that some of the supposed suppressed urges aren’t well-enough defined so that you know that this really is a behaviour that they are suppressing. Sometimes it comes off like they are acting in a manner entirely different to their nature, not acting on a suppressed nature. That’s the problem when characters aren’t well enough established.

 

What really hurts the film are the deadly slow pace, and the thin script from Nicholas Kazan (“Frances”, “At Close Range”, “Bicentennial Man”) and Don Carlos Dunaway (Stephen King’s underrated “Cujo”), the former using the pseudonym Bart Davis, perhaps out of dissatisfaction with what ended up on screen. In addition to being clich├ęd (it’ll also remind you of “The Crazies” and the relatively recent “The Happening”), it feels like a short story idea is being stretched out to feature length, and rather unsuccessfully at that. Also, whilst the pacing is very slow, the transition from ‘normal’ to loony plays out far too quickly. We never really get much of a sense of the townsfolk before the fit hits the shans, so why should we care? Baker seems to have no sense of proper pacing or energy whatsoever, the film is painfully lacking in excitement or tension.

 

Good late cameo by Peter Jason (a regular of John Carpenter’s films), though, and the ending is nicely nihilistic. In fact, if it wanted to be even bolder, it could’ve gone even bleaker. Still, it’s the best thing about the film. There are some OK moments, but not enough. It’s just not very original and it’s just not very well done, I’m afraid. 

 

Rating: C