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, March 30, 2013

Review: Bigfoot


Set in South Dakota, rock promoter and DJ Danny Bonaduce is trying to get some trees chopped down (near Mount Rushmore, I might add) to pave the way for the set-up of his planned rock festival. Not having any of this are Bonaduce’s former crony turned environmental activist Barry Williams and his hippie pals, who chain themselves to the equipment, before the local law enforcement (headed by sheriff Bruce Davison and including Sherilyn Fenn) come along and arrest Williams. Later, the concert goes ahead, with Bonaduce even letting Williams on stage to perform one of his hippie songs to placate him. Oh, and Alice Cooper turns up for a few seconds...before he’s devoured by the ginormous title character, who has already been terrorising locals. Bonaduce and Williams transfer their bickering over to whether Bigfoot should be captured and turned into a tourist attraction (or even killed), or taken to a wildlife sanctuary. Howard Hesseman plays the local mayor.

 

Directed by actor Bruce Davison (Oscar nominated actor for “Longtime Companion”) for the SyFy channel, this 2012 flick wants to do for Danny Bonaduce and Barry Williams what “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid” did for Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. The result isn’t as fun (which is saying something, given that film wasn’t exactly good), though Bonaduce is enjoyable as always. Is he a good actor? Not really, but he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself, and that enjoyment is kinda infectious. Hey, at least he’s not an angry and scary steroid freak anymore. Besides, Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were singers, not actors, and yet Gibson did alright for herself (Tiffany has no business being in front of a movie camera, however). Fellow former child star Williams is genuinely terrible, but not in any entertaining way (hey, at least “The Brady Bunch Hour” was unintentionally hilarious), whilst former sexpot Sherilyn Fenn looks shockingly like a soccer mum these days, and Davison completely botches Alice Cooper’s far too brief cameo. Or perhaps screenwriters Brian Brinkman and Micho Rutare are to blame for not finding genuine humour in the dopey situation (Unintentional humour would’ve even sufficed).

 

I think the problem with Williams is he’s a shitty actor trying to give a performance, whereas Bonaduce is basically just giving us his usual persona. Playing a ‘shock jock’ is hardly a stretch for the angry ginger. Williams’ character, and the environmental cronies he hangs around with, rubbed me the wrong way. I was never sure if Williams was the good guy in the film or not. Bonaduce plays an outright sleazy a-hole, but Williams’ character is a bit disingenuous and douchy, or perhaps that’s just the way Williams plays the character. He’s a little bit like a mixture of the Tiffany and Debbie Gibson characters in “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid”, further highlighting the laziness of the film. Meanwhile, the other ‘greenie’ characters are seen as spaced-out morons to the point where I couldn’t work out just what was being said here. Yes, even a film called “Bigfoot” is surely trying to say something.

 

The best performances actually come from veteran Howard Hesseman and Davison himself, though they aren’t in the film enough. Still, they are sturdy in a film that doesn’t necessarily require decent acting. But why would Davison choose to direct something like this? I just don’t get it. Maybe the only way he’d sign on to act is if he could direct, I dunno. Or maybe he was poking fun at himself, having starred in the TV version of “Harry and the Hendersons”. It just seems odd that after sixty odd years as an actor, this is the film he chooses to direct.

 

At least SyFy manage to get the FX wrong this time. Yes, the appalling CGI is actually an asset...well, kinda. See, most of these SyFy films offer up average-to-poor FX, and that just isn’t enjoyable, nor is it acceptable on any legit level, either. If you’re gonna offer up a stupid monster movie, and you don’t have the money for good CGI, it’s best not to even try and just go for practical FX, where even if they’re bad, at least they’re enjoyably bad. I usually find that bad CGI isn’t able to be enjoyed on a ‘bad movie’ level as much as poor practical FX are, but this film seems to be the exception. Bigfoot looks hilariously inept, he’s so gargantuan in size that it makes one wonder why so many people fall for the dodgy bigfoot sighting video footage that shows a fairly human-sized ‘creature’. At one point, Bigfoot manages to fit a human being inside his hand! WTF? Meanwhile, I’m pretty sure at that size his movements would cause earthquakes, not just big footprints. If Bigfoot were truly the size of King Kong, wouldn’t we have had definitive proof of his existence by now? Worse still, the CGI creation moves with no realism whatsoever, and one almost yearns for Rick Baker in a shitty monkey suit. Almost (Even Jim Belushi would do- thank you to anyone who gets that gag). At times it looks like Bigfoot is jogging on the spot. But let me reiterate, these are positive attributes of the film...just for the wrong reason. It’s a terrible film, but the film’s negatives are among its only real positives, and it’s probably more fun (in a bad movie way) than most other SyFy films.

 

Still, shit is shit, and the film is at times a bit of a lazy rip-off, so I can hardly recommend it. And yet, I think this is precisely the movie everyone involved intended to make, and some people (like me) are probably going to want to see it once just for the hell of it. So what does that all add up to? Ouch, my head hurts!

 

Rating: C-

Review: Glengarry Glen Ross


A film about a group of increasingly desperate New York real estate salesmen paid a visit by a heartless, insulting suit (Alec Baldwin) hired by the owners to give the salesmen a pep talk. There is a monthly contest where the third prize is unemployment. The top two sellers of the month will get access to the ‘Glengarry leads’, i.e. the best ones. But to get to that, they must sell as much to the far lesser leads handed out by their heartless manager (Kevin Spacey). Things don’t look good, especially for veteran salesman Shelley (Gil Gunderson...er...Jack Lemmon), who is in a long-running slump, and has a sick daughter. His pleas to Spacey to hand him some of the good leads fall on deaf ears. Things are going better for hot-shot Roma (Al Pacino), however, and he is currently trying to woo meek Jonathan Pryce. Meanwhile, embittered Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and his offsider George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) are planning on sticking it to the company by stealing the Glengarry leads and selling them to a competitor.

 

This “Wall Street” for losers was just about the swearin’-est movie of 1992, wasn’t it? Directed by James Foley (“At Close Range”, “Confidence”) and scripted by David Mamet (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “The Verdict”, “The Untouchables”) from his own play, this predictably stagey, but otherwise brilliantly acted ensemble piece is strong enough to make you forget for the most part you’re watching a filmed play, essentially. It doesn’t surprise me that some of these guys turned up on their off days just to watch the other actors, because this is some pretty top-drawer talent on display here. Only Jonathan Pryce misses out in a rather dud role. Still, it boggles my mind that the only acting Oscar nomination in the film went to Al Pacino. He’s perfectly fine, but not really among the standouts.

 

The standouts in the cast for me are Kevin Spacey (in his usual a-hole boss role, but probably the first such incarnation), and especially Alec Baldwin and Jack Lemmon, but no one’s really a dud here. Spacey, Baldwin (in a role not found in the original play), and Ed Harris get most of the showboating moments of the film, whilst Lemmon is the one who tugs at the heartstrings. In fact, in his scenes with Spacey, Lemmon’s authentic and sympathetic showing of frustration and desperation make sure that Spacey doesn’t steal their scenes (I’ll just say it right here. Lemmon was flat-out robbed of an Oscar nomination and win for this). Alec Baldwin unquestionably steals his one scene, however. He gives a riveting, rather frightening speech that commands your attention (‘Fuck you. That’s my name!’), and might represent the best work Baldwin has ever done (BTW, Ben Affleck’s highly amusing cameo in the similar “Boiler Room” is essentially a riff on this character and performance). It’s so unbelievably venomous, it might just singe your eyebrows off.

 

With Spacey, you can tell that he has approached his role as though he’s not the bad guy. He has a job to do, a family to support, so why should he risk all that just to be a nice guy? Given what some of his salesmen get up to (including even Lemmon), you could argue that they’re worse than he is. He’d certainly argue that. That said, he does prove to be an absolutely petty piece of shit, except in his scenes with Pacino, who is the one character who won’t take any of Spacey’s shit, despite being in no better position of power than the other salesmen. It’s a crucial scene when you consider a later scene between Lemmon and Spacey where Lemmon gloats big-time and gives it to Spacey, after finally closing a lead. Spacey, clever and petty bastard he is, knows (as does the audience, likely) it’s one small victory for Lemmon, soon to be followed by another rough patch. Spacey also gets one unforgettable exchange with Alan Arkin, who quite simply Will. Not. Go. To. Lunch. It’s not a great role for Arkin, but his best scenes are actually the ones without Harris. Otherwise he’s essentially playing a meek, naive sycophant who just repeats everything Harris says and goes along with it. Harris is convincing as the shonky salesman who actually has some legit grievances towards the higher-ups, but who then goes and does something completely wrong that makes it hard to sympathise with him at all. But none of these guys are heroes (or even villains, strictly speaking), even Lemmon’s Shelly, who is a real ne’er do well loser. You pity him, but he’s far too wimpy and grovelling to actually like. Pacino (in a solid performance, thankfully not too much Shouty Al) seems to be playing one of the more likeable guys, but in his scenes with Jonathan Pryce, he ultimately proves just as much of a manipulative salesman as anyone else in the film. It’s all about business and self-preservation, and screw what happens to anyone else. That’s the mantra set-up by Baldwin’s character (‘always be closing’), and administered by heartless Spacey.

 

Mamet’s dialogue is at its best showing here. It’s all about the rhythm and delivery by the actors, and nowhere is that more evident than in this film. Watch any scene with Spacey or Harris in particular, those two guys really seem to get it. Meanwhile, the funniest thing about the film? In 2012 ‘Patel’ wouldn’t be the name of a lead, it’d be the last name of the guy trying to sell you something. That’s just about the only dated element in the entire script.

 

I said earlier that the film is a bit stagy, but I have to commend Foley for his use of pouring rain throughout the film. It’s a nice way to give us a feeling of claustrophobia, as these guys are stuck in the office, stuck in their seemingly hopeless situation, Lemmon especially.

 

This is riveting stuff about 99.99% of the time, with only the ending proving a bit of a fizzer. I think the film ends on a very strange, relatively inconsequential moment. It should’ve ended either just before or just after this moment.

 

Other than a dud ending and some staginess, this is a winner. Any fan of great screen acting needs to see this film. Nice, jazzy score by James Newton Howard (“Signs”, “The Dark Knight”, “The Happening”), is pretty cool too.

 

Rating: B

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: My Name is Modesty


Alexandra Staden is Modesty Blaise, a casino worker in the employ of an underworld figure named Louche (Valentin Teodosiu). A group of terrorists headed by Miklos (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) storm the casino, kill Louche, take everyone hostage, and threaten to bump them off unless someone gives them the combination to open the casino vault. Modesty, protective of her co-workers assures Miklos that Louche’s chief lieutenant (Raymond Cruz) is the only one who can get into the vault, and they must wait for his arrival. In the meantime, she uses her wits to play a game of roulette; Every time Miklos wins, the mysterious Modesty must tell him a story about herself, usually about her rough upbringing as an orphan in Bosnia. Every time Modesty wins three in a row, a hostage will be released.

 

You’ll have to excuse my ignorance, for I have not heard of the comic strip that this 2004 film directed by Scott Spiegel is based on. Hell, looking at the title character’s name alone (Modesty Blaise), I assumed the last name was pronounced ‘blasé’ not ‘blaze’. Having now watched the film, I struggle to see how this film (if it is any indication of the comic) would’ve worked in an enjoyable or exciting fashion in its original form. There’s potential for a sexy and fun female Bond, Saturday matinee adventure, but the script and structure are counterproductive.

 

The film is mostly told in flashbacks apparently detailing a pre-history to the character of the comic strip, whilst the wrap-around is Staden’s title character telling her back-story whilst she and others are held hostage to terrorist Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and his cronies. So, on the one hand, you have a stagy and inert wraparound structure, and on the other hand are snippets of the story of how Modesty came to be. The flashbacks are really the main plot, with a hostage situation that really could’ve been changed to just about anything else without it mattering a damn. Exciting and rollicking adventure, it ain’t. Why the fuck wasn’t the film about the person Modesty became? Surely it would provide far more adventure, energy and excitement than her war-torn, orphaned upbringing. I would’ve spent ten minutes on that stuff at the beginning of the film, and then just moved forward to Modesty being the street-smart arse-kicker she is touted as. We never really get to see how formidable she actually is, because she’s either seen as a useless, unskilled orphan, or stuck negotiating the release of hostages via a combination of roulette (Sadly not even Russian) and storytelling, which ends up like a gambling addict’s idea of ‘Truth or Dare’. And the film has a strangely uncertain position on the reliability of Blaise’s tales anyway that kinda renders much of it bloody pointless.

 

I’ve heard that this Miramax released, ‘Quentin Tarantino presents’ film was meant to be almost a film version of a TV pilot for a prospective ‘Modesty Blaise’ series. The film failed and the series never eventuated, probably because this is more of a ‘proposal’ or ‘studio pitch’ than a real film. And it sucks, so that doesn’t help.

 

Coster-Waldau (who has since perfected an English accent on TV’s enjoyable “Game of Thrones”) is pretty good as the handsome villain, but the stagy nature of the film renders his character less interesting and less menacing the longer the film goes on. Not to mention, there’s no way on Earth a terrorist would let a hostage go so long as they promised never to tell anyone. Yeah, right. Still, it surprises me the guy has never quite broken out as a star, because he’s handsome, charismatic, and even as early as this film, his grasp of the English language was perfectly fine.

 

Lead actress Staden seems more like a model than an actress, albeit a horribly skinny and frankly plain-looking model. She speaks English fluently, but not expressively. She’s awfully wooden and her character isn’t nearly as interesting or charming as Spiegel and writers Lee and Janet Scott Batchler seem to want us to think. She’s like a mixture of James Bond, Lara Croft, and Anne Frank, without any of the interesting qualities they each have. Sure, she has underworld ties, but those aren’t as heavily emphasised as I would’ve liked. For the most part she just seems like a casino worker and protective mother hen to her fellow employees. I was expecting something closer to “Cleopatra Jones”, what we get is like “Die Hard” if Bruce Willis had gotten caught and rounded up with the other hostages. And all that stuff about a rough upbringing in the Balkans bored me shitless. The film is also horribly tame for something brandishing the names Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill”, “Grindhouse”) and Scott Spiegel (a Sam Raimi chum who worked on “Evil Dead II”). Someone might like this film, but I certainly didn’t get much from it. I sure hope the Peter O’Donnell comic strip was more entertaining than this.

 

Rating: C-

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: Man on a Ledge


It’s practically impossible not to spoil at least some of the twists and turns in the plot synopsis alone here, so if you haven’t already seen it, I’d advise you to save this review for later, which is what I usually do. Just glance at the rating and come back later. ***** SPOILER WARNING***** from here on in.

 

Sam Worthington is a jailbird and ex-cop who loses an appeal against his sentence of 25 years for a diamond heist. He’s allowed out for his father’s funeral, and wastes no time in making his escape. He ends up in Manhattan, checks into a hotel, and goes out onto the ledge. Cops (Ed Burns and Titus Welliver) turn up on the scene, worried he’s a suicide jumper. I mean, why else would he be out there? Worthington says he’ll only talk to Elizabeth Banks, the police shrink, who is soon dragged out of bed with an obvious hangover. She also has a somewhat dubious past that sees her not especially popular with other cops. Obviously he’s not going to jump or else the movie would be over. So just what the hell is he doing? Apparently it’s a diversionary tactic, but in aid of what? Well, it seems to involve clearly nefarious rich guy Ed Harris, Worthington’s estranged brother (Jamie Bell) and the latter’s hot girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez). Anthony Mackie plays Worthington’s one loyal friend on the force, Kyra Sedgwick is an annoying TV news reporter on the scene from down below, and William Sadler plays a hotel bellboy.

 

Directed by Asger Leth (a feature debutant) and written by Pablo F. Fenjves, this 2011 flick is highly watchable in a junky kind of way, but is saddled with the most ridiculously contrived plot I’ve come across in a long time. You keep watching it because you want to see how everything connects, and because heists are usually fun, but by the end, there’s too many questions and contrivances to really recommend the film. I mean, what if Worthington wasn’t allowed out for the funeral? What if he didn’t manage to escape? And was it absolutely necessary for Worthington to be out on a ledge for everything to work? Surely something a little less overboard could’ve been thought of and still achieve the same goal. I get why it was used, but I still think there must have been a different way to achieve everything that was achieved from Worthington being out on the ledge. I guess it helps in making it different from other heist movies, and I kinda went with it for a while, since it’s not like I could actually think of a different way of doing it myself.

 

It does start out intriguingly and entertainingly, but takes a bit of a flying leap when Worthington decides to confess something to Banks, and it just keeps on flying and leaping from there. And unlike the issue with the ledge, I could no longer give the film the benefit of the doubt. Like “The Next Three Days”, here’s a film where the solution to righting a wrong is apparently to commit a crime. Yes, it’s to prove that an earlier crime wasn’t committed by Worthington, but still...a robbery was committed at the end of the day, right? Shouldn’t someone (not just Harris for the original crime) get in trouble for that? The way the film ends, it’s possible that some time was served, but we don’t really see it. Hell, even if they forget about the robbery, what about wasting police time, among other offences committed throughout the film? Escaping police custody? You’re not meant to think of these things, and in a really good film, you wouldn’t. That’s the problem here.

 

I also think it’s pretty easy to guess one of the film’s twists merely through using Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters (or whatever the hell he calls it these days). Hell, anyone with half a brain could work it out anyway given the person in question is too familiar to appear in such a seemingly tiny role. Even more annoyingly, a trip to the IMDb will spoil the surprise in the cast list anyway. I shouldn’t have glanced at it beforehand, but there you go. Why do they do that?

 

Still, it’s a more enjoyable heist movie than “Tower Heist”, that much is true. The cast is interestingly eclectic, though a lot of them are left with nothing to do. Sam Worthington still hasn’t got a handle on an American accent, but if you like him, you’ll like him here. I don’t and didn’t. He just can’t act. Jamie Bell is well-cast, the fantastically named Genesis Rodriguez is incredibly hot as his girlfriend. They make for an amusingly combative team. Elizabeth Banks at first glance seems an odd casting choice, but she’s actually really charismatic and freakin’ hot here. Ed Harris is especially good as the chief heavy, if underused. I certainly wouldn’t want to piss this guy off. Kyra Sedgwick doesn’t look much like a Morales to me (it could be by marriage, but you actually need to explain these things in movies), and as a clichéd nosy reporter, she’s not only incredibly irritating, but entirely superfluous, and ultimately wasted.

 

As dopey and contrived as the film gets, the very basic idea of the film is pretty irresistible, and with some changes, could’ve made for a really great heist movie, especially if it went for a comic bent. I mean, surely you can’t take this seriously. Unfortunately, it’s just too implausible and contrived to quite make it over the line, even if it’s compellingly silly at times. It’s OK.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: The Hunger Games


Set in a future America where the country is divided into twelve regions and ruled by a decadent dictatorship that requires twelve boys and twelve girls from each district (aged 12-18) to participate in ‘The Hunger Games’, a “Turkey Shoot”-style gladiatorial contest, a fight to the death broadcast nationwide on TV. The contestants are selected by lottery draw, and at the end of the contest, there can be only one winner/survivor. Jennifer Lawrence plays 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen, whose younger sister Primrose is selected to compete, but Katniss throws her own hat in the ring instead to protect her sister. Josh Hutcherson plays the chosen male from Katniss’ district, Donald Sutherland plays the societal patriarch, a fantastically bearded Wes Bentley plays the chairman of the Hunger Games, and Stanley Tucci is a facile, blue-haired TV host who interviews the contestants like a campy Ryan Seacrest. Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson play Effie Trinket (the gaudy-looking selector of the lottery) and Haymitch Abernathy (a sympathetic but mostly drunk mentor to the contestants, who survived the games himself). Liam Hemsworth plays a cutie from Katniss’ district, Toby Jones is Tucci’s offsider, and Lenny Kravitz plays a sympathetic fashionista in charge of dressing Katniss for the games. ‘Coz cold-blooded combat could always use a nice pant suit or some accessorising, apparently. Beware, because in the future UFC will be sponsored by Revlon and Prada!

 

Although my initial fears that this 2012 film would be a sanitised rip-off of “Battle Royale” proved unfounded (i.e. It also rips off the shitty Ozploitation film “Turkey Shoot” and every other “Most Dangerous Game” variant, so who cares?), this Gary Ross directed, big screen version of the first in the trilogy of young adult books by Suzanne Collins (whose claim of never watching “Battle Royale” is, however, clearly bullshit), is still a terrible, idiotic waste of time. How is it that Ross could make the wonderful “Pleasantville” and now this lame-brained junior “Turkey Shoot”?

 

In fact, this is only Ross’ third film, after the aforementioned and “Seabiscuit”. If he’s a picky director, I’m not sure how he landed on this hackneyed stuff, and sadly he proves completely incompetent. He is most certainly not aided by the normally excellent cinematographer Tom Stern (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”, “Flags of Our Fathers”). Yes, the film is good-looking, but most of that is due to the scenery and use of colour. The actual camerawork is another matter entirely, as it kills whatever good work Stern does in choosing what to shoot. If ever a film needed to be shot in shaky, hand-held style...this isn’t it. And I’m talking about dialogue scenes as well. Handheld camerawork, when used necessarily and judiciously, can be effective. When used unnecessarily, it makes shot composition entirely irrelevant. It’s incompetently done. Shaking the camera does nothing terribly effective in reflecting the main character’s POV (which I’ve heard suggested), it only serves to alert you to the camera’s presence. Forget about the PG-13 rating in the US neutering the violent content (given the target audience, it’s a Catch-22 anyway), the awful camerawork fails to register much of the violence coherently anyway. It’s not neutered, it’s incompetent, uninteresting, and ineffectual.

 

The screenplay is by Ross, Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass”, “Breach”, “Flightplan”), and Collins herself, and their three supposed talents combined prove incapable of bringing life to what is essentially the same hoary old “Most Dangerous Game” scenario but with young people. Yeah, let’s do all the character-building stuff in flashbacks, mostly mute, and edited into smithereens. Yeah, that’s the ticket. And I don’t think that the novel’s first-person account is enough of an excuse. The set-up is terrible. It’s really bizarre and not even the title crawl is very helpful in getting us into the situation.

 

Also, the character names are all frankly a bit naff. I mean, Katniss Everdeen? Really? These are some of the worst character names since “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and I bet the book ain’t no classic on the level of Harper Lee’s masterwork. This is just poorly written, and even the action hasn’t been beefed up in absence of the character stuff. It’s just lots of time-wasting instead, with Ross having absolutely no sense of pacing whatsoever. For a film with a hackneyed plot, that’s disastrous (I’ve read that Ross’ decision to use shaky-cam was for a feeling of ‘urgency’. Um...then why not hurry the pacing then, you idiot?). The first hour of the film plays like the Mad Hatter’s tea party stretched out and crossed with a Nicki Minaj concert. And it conks out at this point because the killing still hasn’t even started yet, and there’s nothing else going on, either. Talk about glacial-pacing, and there’s gonna be two more of these things! Hopefully they get to the bloody point a whole lot quicker.

 

I said earlier that it’s a rather attractive film, but my God the costume design (including very “Turkey Shoot”-like garb for the henchmen) and makeup in this is atrocious and frankly just absurd. Let’s just say that the flaming chariots aren’t the only things here that are flaming, OK? (And I’m not just talking about the lame-arse CGI forest fire. Couldn’t they have just used a real fire? Like they used to in the movies?) It’s so off-putting and awful that it renders a lot of the cast completely helpless. This is especially true for Elizabeth Banks and the usually excellent Stanley Tucci. Tucci is saddled with a very silly role in an already very silly film, and has ridiculous blue hair. Elizabeth Banks looks and acts somewhere in between “Alice in Wonderland” and “101 Dalmatians”. Truly absurd, I almost felt sorry for her. Usually she’s very good, but here she’s really, really not. Anjelica Huston or Meryl Streep might’ve done something with the role, but not Banks. Wes Bentley, meanwhile, has fantastic facial hair and an intense stare, but he does not have a character worth a damn. That’s true of a lot of the cast here, though. For instance, although Liam Hemsworth appears on screen here, his character does not exist in this film. Yes, I know that’s impossible, but watch the film and tell me I’m wrong. Donald Sutherland’s character, although seemingly important, has less than one dimension. Sutherland is often a terrific actor, but even he can’t perform miracles (He did essentially play Jesus, though, in “Johnny Got His Gun”). Impish Toby Jones, meanwhile...gets to sit next to Stanley Tucci. I only worked that out after 90 or so minutes, though, that’s how much of an impression he makes.

 

Sadly, the two leads are even worse, the phenomenally overrated (and now Oscar-winning) Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. I haven’t seen her Oscar-winning turn in “Silver Linings Playbook” as of yet, but based on her work in “X Men: First Class” and now this, I have to say that I find Jennifer Lawrence boring as hell. She’s one-note, has one facial expression throughout the entire film (boredom, by the looks of it), and based on what I’ve seen of her thus far she has zero charisma or presence. I don’t know why, but I also find her extremely uncomfortable to watch on screen, despite seemingly like a lovely girl in real-life. Maybe it’s the inflated lips, tiny eyes and general young Renee Zellweger visage she has going on. Or perhaps she’s just really, really bad here. She certainly isn’t an interesting enough actress for her to have so many long stretches of silence. We get it, she’s “The Last of the Mohicans”. Enough with the bow and arrow crap already. So she joins Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Chastain, and Kristen Stewart in the category of actresses I just don’t ‘get’.

 

As for Josh Hutcherson, well, he’s even less interesting and charismatic than Lawrence, and given these are the two actors afforded the most character depth, you can understand why the killing scenes have absolutely no impact whatsoever. We only get to know two of the damn participants, to the point where I didn’t realise until the film was over that one of the other kids was played by the creepy girl from “Orphan” (Isabelle Fuhrman). On reflection, I know who she played, but given how short shrift the character is given, she made no impact on me during the film. With “Battle Royale”, the film was violent and disturbing enough that it didn’t much matter that the characters tended to blend together (and it kinda fit the uniformity and rigidity of the culture anyway), but by going the PG-13 route here (unavoidable or not), the violence is rendered ineffectual. But this film didn’t need the violence, so long as it was an otherwise good movie. It’s not.

 

By far the best and only genuinely good performances come from Lenny Kravitz (in a brief turn), and especially Woody Harrelson. Kravitz proves yet again to be a decent actor, while Harrelson’s the only one here having any fun at all. He’s good fun, the film isn’t.

 

Anyone who likes this film is either a Kool-Aid drinker fan geek, or has seen two or three movies in their lifetime and read two or three books. That said, it’s not as bad as “Turkey Shoot”, so that’s...something I guess. If this, the “Twilight” series, and “Tomorrow, When the Red Dawn Rip Off Began” are indicative of the quality of young adult fiction, then young adult fiction clearly sucks balls.

 

I’d suggest that this awful film flops around and dies for two hours, but that would suggest a level of energy that this film does not possess. And where were Locke and Charlie? Did they find Claire’s baby? And when do we find out the secrets of the island?

 

Rating: D

Review: Street Kings 2: Motor City


Members of a corrupt narc squad are being bumped off, and young gun Shawn Hatosy is put in charge of the investigation. He is aided in his investigation by veteran narc squad guy Ray Liotta (wading in very familiar territory), who after a bad drug bust a few years ago left him with a gimpy leg, has since degraded himself further by donning a dog suit as McGruff the Crime Dog, a mascot who talks to school kids...about crime stuff, I guess. Liotta was the partner of one of the dead cops, and refuses to believe his partner was dirty. Hatosy doesn’t much like Liotta’s interfering, nor his penchant for not often following the rule book, but eventually the two strike up a bit of a friendship. Internal Affairs, meanwhile, are breathing down everyone’s necks. Charlotte Ross (formerly of “NYPD Blue”) turns up as Liotta’s wife, whilst Clifton Powell and Kevin Chapman are among the dirtiest of cops.

 

The original “Street Kings” was a terrible film that had a pathetic screenplay, combining with obvious casting, awful overacting, and a shockingly revealing trailer to create an entirely transparent experience. I figured out who the villain was before the film started, something that had previously only happened to me once before (“Twisted” being the culprit). This 2011 direct-to-DVD sequel from director Chris Fisher (who has worked on the updated “Hawaii Five-O”) and writers Ed Gonzalez (a debutant) and Jeremy Haft (“Grizzly Mountain”) is smart enough to give us the identity of the villain fairly early on so that whilst it makes the film just as transparent, at least it’s not trying to make the audience guess whodunit. The result is watchable, if formulaic and unoriginal. Let’s face it, it’s very hard to do anything new in the corrupt cop genre, and this film certainly does nothing new. It’s better than the first film and “Pride and Glory”, but it’s way behind “Narc”, “Dark Blue”, and the granddaddy of them all, “Serpico”. It has seemingly modest aims and largely achieves them.

 

The first thing I noticed about this film is that it provided me with a possible answer to one of my main bugaboos in cinema, the amber-filtered lighting scheme in many (way too many) films these days. I’ve never understood until now why American streets at night are lit entirely in amber, but early on here we are shown a guy taking a piss on the street. There you go, case closed, thank you for that, cinematographer Marvin V. Rush. Filters aside, it’s a colourful film and not as murky as many video-shot films.

 

The second thing I noticed about the film (aside from the surprising absence of direct-to-DVD mainstays 50 Cent, Val Kilmer, and Cuba Gooding Jr- what gives?) is that it has a bloody good, bluesy soundtrack.

 

I also need to commend Ray Liotta’s performance. Yes, I know, I’m shocked too. He gives a solid, layered characterisation here that represents one of his only good performances since “Narc” (which was his only good performance since “Goodfellas”, except maybe “Turbulence”- hey, he was hilarious in it!). He’s an uneven actor, but when on target, a terrific one. However, watching him in this makes me mad. He’s too good an actor to be making direct-to-DVD films, though from what I can ascertain, he pissed his career away on his own. Shawn Hatosy is pretty solid too, but he gives off a TV cop show vibe to me, I could see him on a cop show surrounded by the likes of Kevin Dillon, Donnie Wahlberg, Christian Slater (remember when he used to be somebody?), and Zack from “Saved By the Bell” or something. There’s something a little bit lightweight about him, and next to Liotta he looks about 19 (Or perhaps it’s just that Liotta looks about 60).

 

There’s a particularly excellent cameo by Clifton Powell, who steals the film with his sleazy charm and presence. He also appears to be dressed like it’s 1973, and I kept expecting him to be flanked by Richard Pryor (It’s Kevin Chapman instead). Unfortunately, after a scene or two, he leaves the picture jarringly and all the poorer without him.

 

If you’re into this genre, you could do a lot worse...especially if you’ve seen the first film (which this sequel bears little relation to). It’s standard fare, but competently staged for the most part, and better than I expected.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Bullet


Mickey Rourke plays Butch ‘Bullet’ Stein, recently released from prison after eight years (for a crime he apparently had very little to do with) to live with his family. There’s his angry father (Jerry Grayson), worried mother (Suzanne Shepherd), his wannabe graffiti artist younger brother (Adrien Brody), and his mentally unbalanced ‘Nam veteran older brother (Ted Levine, seemingly having problems moving his mouth muscles). Drug-abusing Bullet spends his days mostly palling around with Brody and muscle-obsessed best friend Lester (John Enos III), but is ultimately set for a collision course with the local drug dealer (Tupac Shakur) he’s known since they were kids, and who was responsible for Bullet’s prison stint.


Seemingly a personal film for Mickey Rourke, this 1996 (but made in 1994) drama from director Julien Temple (“Earth Girls Are Easy”) comes with a script by Bruce Rubenstein (“Hendrix”) and Rourke himself (under the pseudonym ‘Sir’ Eddie Cook). It also features a couple of Mickey’s relatives in cast and crew. Unfortunately, the film is annoyingly stylised by director Temple (the drug scenes in particular are irritatingly shot), and combined with constant profanity, a lack of any real point, and at least three self-consciously ‘method’ performances, it’s a complete mess. Given the actors involved, I bet this was an absolute nightmare to shoot.


Of the aforementioned three method performances, Rourke’s is probably the best, but it’s obvious he’s doing Brando here (Which is kinda funny because early in his career he had more of a James Dean thing going), and he’s far too old playing a character who himself is probably too old to be a legitimate thug gangsta (Not to mention he’s a whole lot less convincing as a Jew than say Adrien “The Pianist” Brody). That’s a shame, because the performance itself is one of Rourke’s best, pre-“The Rainmaker”. That’s perhaps not saying much (especially since I never much liked the guy before 1997), but it’s true nonetheless. Adrien Brody, in one of his most prominent early roles, plays one of the least repugnant characters in the film, but there’s a self-consciousness about him as an actor here that bothered me.


Worst of all, however, is the usually outstanding Ted Levine. Saddled with the spectacularly clichéd psychologically damaged war veteran role (think Dennis Hopper in “The River’s Edge” or Randy Quaid in “The Wild Life”), deep-voiced Levine is all manner of self-consciously weird, and seems to be playing around with his already deep voice to a ridiculous and irritating degree. It’s a bizarre character to begin with, one totally at odds with what should’ve been something grittier and more real, and an unrestrained Levine cranks it up beyond 11. Worse still, his showboating isn’t entertaining (like it was in “Silence of the Lambs” or “Delirious”), it’s annoying and lends itself to parody (Justin Long did a great Levine imitation on a talk show once that I was reminded of here). Combined with Rourke’s obvious miscasting, they manage to ruin any chance the film has of being taken seriously. Watching a scene involving the family at the dinner table, the three actors’ antics stop the film dead.
 

The late (and supremely overrated) Tupac is well-cast as a posturing gangsta thug, and somewhat authentic, but the character is a cliché, much like Tupac (and gangsta rap as a whole) himself if you ask me, and isn’t afforded any real depth to begin with.


Those with more tolerance for method acting, gangsta rap, stylised direction, and inarticulate dialogue might find this some kind of unheralded masterpiece. Aside from hearing Barry White’s awesome ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, I got nothing out of it at all, and had no trouble seeing why the film sat unreleased for a couple of years after being made in 1994. It’s just not very good and no one would give a shit about it if Tupac weren’t in it. It’s not that well known even considering the presence of Tupac, actually.

 
Look out for cameos by Peter Dinklage as an angry (dwarf) employer, and New Kid’s wannabe toughie Donnie Wahlberg as a lowlife thug named ‘Big Balls’. It was Donnie’s first credited acting gig, and although pretty lame here, he ended up being quite a decent character actor if you ask me and better than his supremely overrated brother.

 
Rating: D