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, April 12, 2013

Review: Ricochet

Denzel Washington plays a top cop and Law school student who apprehends assassin John Lithgow. Denzel gets branded a hero, gets married, and in time becomes a media savvy Assistant DA. Meanwhile, Lithgow stews in jail, plotting an escape plan and eventual revenge on his captor. Once out of jail (after faking his own death) he sets about making Denzel’s life a living hell, tarnishing his good name with all manner of phony set-ups. And then it turns deadly. Kevin Pollak plays Denzel’s cop partner, Victoria Dillard plays Denzel’s concerned wife, Lindsay Wagner is the DA, John Amos is Denzel’s preacher dad, Ice-T is a drug dealer, John Cothran Jr. turns up as an associate of Denzel’s whom Lithgow frames as a paedophile (and making sure to have Denzel implicated too). In a strange bit of cross-promotion, Mary Ellen Trainor plays the same pushy reporter she played in “Die Hard”, and apparently still hasn’t learned her lesson yet about tact.


Flashy Aussie director Russell Mulcahy (“Razorback”, “Highlander”) will never be accused of being subtle, and this 1991 thriller is so ludicrously overbaked at times it verges on parody. The explosive finale, paying homage to “White Heat”, and a “Highlander”-esque prison fight between John Lithgow and Jesse Ventura (!), in particular, are absurd in the extreme. The latter is apparently a deliberate homage as well, but less obvious than the former, with an actual clip from the film shown. It is, however, surprisingly entertaining (including the aforementioned scenes), and certainly a lot more of a pleasant diversion than Martin Scorsese’s similar “Cape Fear” remake from the same year (which it has often been compared to). Just be warned that it comes from uber action movie producer Joel Silver (“Commando”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Predator”, “The Matrix”), so if his films aren’t your thing, stay well away.


Many will disagree with me, but the reason why this film works (and why the original “Cape Fear” worked) and the “Cape Fear” remake didn’t is because in this film, our protagonist is entirely likeable, and not just because he’s played by Denzel Washington (it helps, though). Scorsese made everyone flawed, which is fine, but completely unlikeable, which is absolutely fatal to my enjoyment of a film more often than not (unless you’re not meant to like the characters of course). So no matter what this film’s flaws may be, at least it gets the character dynamics right for this kind of thing. Mulcahy also gets the casting right. Denzel is pitch-perfect and charismatic as hell as the upstanding Assistant DA and former cop whose past deeds as a cop come back to haunt him and jeopardise his career, his family, and his life. John Lithgow is even better as the intelligent, cunning and revenge-minded criminal trying to ruin his life. Lithgow is an extremely versatile actor but just as he would later prove on TV’s “Dexter”, he makes for a terrific villain (We’ll forget about “Raising Cain”). Kevin Pollak plays the doomed partner role that he would later essay in “End of Days”, but at least here he gets to do his Peter Falk impersonation. Ice-T is also pretty good as a neighbourhood drug kingpin who goes way back with Denzel.


The film isn’t exactly good per se, but the performances make it more persuasive than it could’ve been. At any rate, it kept me watching throughout. Hey, Denzel has certainly made a lot worse than this one (“Virtuosity”, “Man on Fire”, “The Book of Eli”, “Training Day”, “Power”, “The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3”). The ‘no-think’ screenplay is by the one and only Steven E. de Souza (of “The Running Man”, “Commando”, and “Die Hard” fame), from a story by Fred Dekker (director of the cult faves “Night of the Creeps” and “The Monster Squad”) and Menno Meyjes (whose bizarre credits include “The Colour Purple” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).


Oh, one more thing: Be kind to your local crack dealer. You might just need his help when some nutjob frames you with embarrassing (but staged) photos of you conked out and in bed with a hooker who somehow gives you a venereal disease!


Rating: B-

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: The Five Year Engagement

Although the elaborate rouse leading to his proposal is spoiled, San Fran sous chef Tom (Jason Segel) and psychology grad student Violet (Emily Blunt) get engaged. Tom is also in line for a promotion at the restaurant he works at, under the butch Lauren Weedman. Meanwhile, Tom’s best bud (Chris Pratt) and Violet’s sister (Alison Brie, an American sporting a flawless Brit accent to me. I didn’t even know!) have hit it off, and end up going down the aisle before Tom and Violet get a chance to. And then Violet gets accepted into a Michigan university, under professor Rhys Ifans. This is the first test of their relationship, as Tom agrees to move to Michigan for the sake of her career, at the expense of his own. That’s what couples do, and he’s OK with it. However, once there, Tom finds it hard to find a suitable job given his far more upmarket culinary experience is seemingly unnecessary in San Francisco. He ends up working in a sandwich shop with stoner-ish metal head Brian Posehn (in a performance that really stretches the guy, I’m sure). Meanwhile, Violet is getting very caught up in her research, and that professor sure is paying her a lot of attention. Things are obviously set to get worse before they get better. Jacki Weaver plays Violet’s cynical mother, Chris Parnell plays the sweater-sporting spouse of one of Tom’s co-workers, Dakota Johnson plays a bit of a blonde bimbo and possible relationship roadblock, David Paymer is Tom’s dad, Michael Ensign and the fabulously named Clement von Franckenstein are among the other relatives, whilst Mindy Kaling, Randal Park, and Kevin Hart play Violet’s fellow grad students.


The two main guys behind “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” are back (Jason Segel, who co-writes and stars, Nicholas Stoller, who directs and co-writes) with this film that, despite a misstep here or there, is one of the best, funniest, and most perceptive and honest romantic comedies to come along in ages. It’s certainly the only film where you’ll find two grown women having a serious conversation whilst talking like Elmo and Cookie Monster, respectively (I have no doubt that this scene is all Jason Segel. Muppets are his thing, as anyone who has seen “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Muppets” knows). And that is but one of the many hilarious moments in the film. Any moment featuring Brian Posehn or Randal Park is pretty much hysterically funny (Comedienne Mindy Kaling, however, gives a forced performance that is always ‘on’, and thus grates on one’s nerves). Chris Pratt gets one genuinely funny speech where he recounts all of Segel’s ex’s to the tune of Billy Joel’s excellent ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’. Posehn’s drunken speech later in the film is hysterical too. Outside of that, his performance felt a bit stiff to me. Meanwhile, although she barely gets any screen time, it’s amusing to hear our own (two-time Oscar nominee!) Jacki Weaver making dry comments about marriage. Something tells me she’s had a bit of experience with dud husbands.


Jason Segel and the absolutely stunning Emily Blunt are two of the most charismatic leads a romantic comedy could wish for (albeit goofy-looking, in Segel’s case). I’m not sure if the chemistry they seem to have on screen is anything more than a deep friendship, but hey, a deep friendship isn’t the worst place for a loving relationship to start, and their combined star quality pretty much does the rest. You’re with them from the opening scene involving a supremely nervous Segel’s attempts to create a ruse on his way to proposing to Blunt. Their sometimes quirky (just look at how they met), funny rapport is really lovely, actually and they convince you as a couple immediately. Even when their characters don’t behave in the best and most selfless way possible, you want these two to make it work, and the actors are the chief reason for this, I think.


Personally I think the film loses its way a tad on the road to its climax, but I think that’s got less to do with their characters exhibiting unlikeable behaviour and more to do with an abrupt jump forward in time (**** SPOILER WARNING **** I can understand some people feeling less sympathetic towards Blunt when she ends up hooking up with Rhys Ifans after having protested earlier that their almost-indiscretion was meaningless. It’s so clunkily done that you’d swear an explanatory scene was cut, perhaps for pacing reasons, but it results in a jarring effect. And why does Segel concede that he cheated on Blunt when we see absolutely no evidence of it on screen? Parts of the later stages of the film play out a bit clunkily to say the least. **** END SPOILER ****), but by and large these are likeable, interesting, and seemingly real characters, much more real than the usual cookie-cutter romantic leads we’ve been subjected to in the years since “When Harry Met Sally” pretty much set the benchmark for romantic comedies, that every film since has failed to reach, let alone surpass (The best in recent years? “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, though that was aimed at a slightly younger set. It’s still a romantic comedy at heart, though).

Basically, it’s a romantic comedy for grown-ups, despite Segel and particularly Blunt still being relatively youthful. I’m pretty much smitten with Emily Blunt (who isn’t?), but part of her appeal in the past has been her slightly ‘unattainable’ vibe, she’s like the popular girl at school who you adore but have absolutely no chance with. But you want her anyway. Ain’t that always the way? Interestingly here in a comic setting, her appeal is for once, a bit more down-to-Earth, even if the movie star glamour is still there. Maybe it’s because being in a comedy allows her to relax a bit more, or something. I dunno, but she’s terrific and enormously appealing, even when her character might not always be.


The early scenes of Segel and Blunt trying to make things work, and still seemingly happy together, are especially enjoyable, and also very relatable. However, that doesn’t mean I have issues with the darker parts of the film simply because the film is no longer fun or optimistic. That would be a silly complaint. No, my only other gripe with the film is that some of the humour is more in line with producer Judd Apatow and co-writer/star Segel than it is with the specific characters in the film (Apatow blended this humour and seriousness more effectively in his own “Funny People”, though this film overall is still very good too). The whole segment with Segel going through an early mid-life crisis and turning into a bizarro redneck/Sasquatch combo is at odds with the more realistic, observational humour in the rest of the film. It doesn’t feel organic to the material (which mostly plays like a comedic “Blue Valentine”), and isn’t particularly funny (in what is an otherwise consistently funny film), despite Chris Parnell making me laugh for the first time in his entire mediocre career.


But when this film gets it right, it’s thoroughly winning stuff, far better than most of its kind. And even when it kinda gets things wrong, you’ve got Rhys Ifans inexplicably showing himself to be a parkour expert, hilariously. So it never gets to be boring, that’s for sure. It’s also better than Stoller and Segel’s previous “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, fine movie as that was in its own right. It’s a very interesting and entertaining look at the kinds of dilemmas and hurdles most romantic comedies don’t concern themselves with (Although possible infidelity is definitely a romcom cliché). That is to say, most of these films don’t tell you how hard work relationships can be, especially if you’re gonna be in it ‘til death do you part.


Funny, perceptive, honest, and well-cast, this is easily one of the best films of the year. Just don’t expect the usual fluffy date movie, because this one’s got a bit of bite to it. Oh, and one more thing: Is Emily Blunt single? Do you think she might go out with me?


Rating: B

Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: Attack Force

Steven Seagal plays the shamefully named Marshall Lawson (Get it? Here, have a cookie!) a special forces commander whose men are massacred by some nasties hopped up on some kind of super drug that makes people uber-strong but uber-roid rage as well. Throw in some standard issue Eurotrash baddies (it’s set in France but presumably filmed in the much cheaper Romania), and a paunchy has-been star who can’t be bothered delivering his own dialogue, and you’ve got one hell of a calamity.

This lame, uber-cheap 2006 Michael Keusch (the not-awful “Shadow Man”) atrocity joins “On Deadly Ground”, “The Foreigner”, “Ticker”, and “Out For a Kill” at the very bottom of the Seagal pile, this bizarro action-thriller makes little sense, and no one is trying very hard at all. The worst offender may be Seagal himself, who co-wrote this muddled flick (which was apparently meant to be about an alien plague- as some plot synopses suggest, but I could find no such references in the actual film) and gives one of the laziest performances in an increasingly lazy career. So half-arsed is he that someone else actually dubs a lot of his dialogue for him! And sounds not a damn thing like him! Methinks somebody has mucho contempt for his audience.

It’s all exceedingly dull and unoriginal, too (it has a very Golan-Globus vibe to it, albeit twenty years too late), making it hard to enjoy on a bad movie level either. It’s the absolute drizzling shits. The screenplay by Joe Halpin (“Shadow Man”, and Seagal’s much better “Into the Sun”) and Seagal himself was clearly nowhere near ready to put to film.

Rating: F

Review: My Week With Marilyn

A film dealing with the somewhat tumultuous filming of “The Prince and the Showgirl”, a 1951 pairing of director-star Lord Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and American movie star/sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. The former a classically trained, egotistical figure of British cinema royalty, the latter a ‘Method’-trained, deeply insecure, star of mostly innocuous American musicals and comedies. A witness to this meeting of two opposing movie titans is Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) a young man who wrangled his way into a Third Assistant Director’s gig on the film, and who becomes a close confidante of the troubled Monroe during the course of filming. This causes problems with his relationship with a pretty costumes department girl (Emma Watson), whilst Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) wonders whether or not Monroe is a threat to her marriage. Dougray Scott plays Marilyn’s writer husband Arthur Miller, Zoe Wanamaker is her constant companion and acting consultant Paula Strasberg, and Dame Judi Dench plays actress Sybil Thorndike, who sympathises with the fragile Marilyn. Toby Jones plays a sly press agent in the early scenes (who went on to become the producer of the “Planet of the Apes” series, by the way).


Like “Hugo” from the same year, I knew this 2011 Simon Curtis directed, Adrian Hodges scripted film would be one of the best films of the year because the subject matter interested me (despite “The Prince and the Showgirl” being one of the few MM films I’ve not yet seen). It turned out that I liked this one even more than “Hugo”, though that may be because my expectations of “Hugo” were even higher. Yes, this film plays very much like something that could easily appear on BBC instead of the big screen (Director Curtis is a TV veteran in his big screen debut), but so what? There’s really not much to complain about here, aside from Dougray Scott not seeming intellectual enough (or American enough) to play Arthur Miller. That was bizarre casting, and the miscast Julia Ormond looks and sounds nothing like Vivien Leigh, even if the character itself is interesting nonetheless. She looks more like Jean Simmons if you ask me, but I’m not sure who you would cast as Ms. Leigh. Ginnifer Goodwin or Jennifer Morrison, maybe, but that’s all I can come up with at the moment, and neither of those are good enough actresses in my view. Aside from that, this is fascinating, mostly well-acted stuff.


The standouts in the cast are (perhaps unsurprisingly) Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, and Dame Judi Dench. Williams is incredible as Marilyn, and in my view, was robbed of the Oscar win. She’s got this weird thing about her where she looks like herself at every moment, but also quite often looks like MM too, even if the voice isn’t quite right (And given MM pretty much played MM once she changed her name, that’s not really a flaw, is it?). Yes, she seems too short and thin, but that’s the difference between women of the 50s and the women of today. And that’s meant as complimentary towards women of the 50s, by the way. Those were real women. If one were to go by body size alone, you would’ve been confined to Christina Hendricks or maybe Scarlett Johansson. The former would’ve been disastrously miscast on looks alone, the latter wouldn’t be much better and isn’t much of an actress, either. Nope, Michelle Williams is quite simply the next best thing to the real Marilyn herself, and it’s not like there are too many actresses willing to pack on the pounds for a role, Charlize Theron excepted. Williams certainly gets some of the patented mannerisms and facial expressions down perfectly (causing one to occasionally do a double-take at the uncanniness), but more importantly, she and writer Hodges (working from the real-life Colin Clark’s published diaries) manage to get her character absolutely spot-on. It’s a very, very good performance and a quite well-drawn character, clearly not an easy one to play, and a character one enters the film with some expectations and pre-conceived notions of. This is by and large the Marilyn that those of us who have read all about her and loved her movies will most identify with. Williams even conveys the sense that MM didn’t quite know just how great she was, and I’ve always sensed that from reading about her, too. When she says to Redmayne’s Clark ‘Don’t forget me’, you believe the real Marilyn would say that, and yet you find such a statement incredulous.


Perhaps she’s shown to be a tad less intelligent than the real deal seemed to be (I always thought the ditzy persona was largely an act), but the ginormous insecurity and fragility, the seemingly insurmountable pressure of having to be Marilyn Monroe- it’s all near perfectly captured in my view. Don’t forget, this film only covers one of her films, and as the title suggests, only a very brief timeframe. And yet, on evidence here, MM was bruised, battered, and about ready to crumble already. There was still a few more unhappy years ahead of her, I’m afraid. It’s the best any fan could hope for (except for a film based on my favourite film “The Misfits”!), if perhaps a bit too softened for some of her detractors out there. No one has gotten this close to capturing her essence, her look, and her mannerisms all in one. She’s clearly done her homework, and is certainly better than Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd in “Norma Jean & Marilyn”, that’s for sure. And is it possible to get an absolute handle on the rather elusive Ms. Monroe? How much was a ‘performance’ and how much was the real her? That’s part of the fascination, really. But every now and then, you get a glimpse...just as you got a glimpse in something like “The Misfits”, of the real woman, before her life was tragically cut short. The film definitely gets across the idea that she was still just ever so slightly beyond our reach, beyond our help. This film doesn’t deal with the end of her life, but there’s definitely the sense that people wanted to reach out to her, to save her, and we all know it’s a fruitless exercise.


I said earlier that she doesn’t really sound like MM, but I will say this: Michelle Williams does her own singing here and is genuinely impressive, though MM herself was never known for having a great voice (I liked it, though), which might’ve helped Williams. She also looks absolutely luminous. One thing I found odd, though, was that Williams seemed to have a body double at times for brief nude shots, and not only did the body double look just as thin as Williams (which for continuity’s sake I understand), but why would the seemingly happy to disrobe Williams need a double anyway? If I have one issue here (a minor one) it’s that Marilyn doesn’t seem to be in the film quite as much as I would’ve liked. Whether this was out of necessity (i.e. I’m not sure how much of a presence she was in these real-life events), or not, it occasionally comes across as an unintentional parody of the real MM’s tempestuous (or ‘difficult’ if you prefer) nature, making me think that Ms. Williams was taking her performance to ‘method’-like heights and acting like a diva on set and they had to work around her mood swings, ala Ms. Monroe herself. I’m joking, of course, but I do think, the characters played by Ormond, Eddie Redmayne, and Emma Watson take up time that could’ve been afforded to Williams and Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier. But it’s based on fact, so we get what we get. Maybe I’m just being greedy and unreasonable, or maybe I’m right and the film could’ve played with some creative license a tad (Are we assuming Clark’s word as gospel anyway?).


Kenneth Branagh’s career has seemingly been modelled on Lord Laurence Olivier, so it’s perfectly apt that he should play the famed stage and screen actor, and it is easily the performance of Branagh’s career in my view. Like Williams, he looks enough like Olivier to convince, and he also captures the voice of the man quite well too. More importantly, he simply plays the man. It’s not a dead-on impersonation, but it’s bloody close, and often bloody hilarious. He’s clearly having a whale of a time playing an actor clearly having a bugger of a time. It’s hilarious how everyone adores Marilyn except him (though he clearly lusts after her, too), and you almost feel sorry for the poor, pompous bastard. Almost. Branagh definitely deserved an Oscar for this, and listen out for what is surely a reference to Olivier’s best film, “The Entertainer” when Branagh as Olivier claims to be ‘dead behind these eyes’. I refuse to believe that line wasn’t an intentional homage.


Meanwhile, Dame Judi Dench as is her wont, damn well nearly steals the entire film as the amazingly patient and kind-hearted veteran actress Sybil Thorndike. I don’t know how accurate a portrayal it is (I know the name and have probably seen Ms. Thorndike in something, but can’t really place her at this time), but it’s convincing and memorable. It’s every bit as impressive as her Oscar-winning cameo in “Shakespeare in Love”, maybe more.


There’s also good smaller turns by Toby Jones and by Zoe Wanamaker as the intimidating and interfering Paula Strasberg. The latter wasn’t intimidating enough or butch-looking enough for my liking, but is nonetheless 99% on point, and it’s not like I’m an expert on the character anyway. Jones, meanwhile gets one of the film’s funniest lines about making allowances for someone with a great pair of tits and a nice arse. Eddie Redmayne and to a lesser extent Emma Watson are fairly forgettable, the former in an important role. I find Redmayne creepy and unseemly on screen (especially after seeing him get jerked-off by his on-screen mother Julianne Moore in the deeply uncomfortable “Savage Grace”), and felt he was a tad miscast this time out. He does get the film’s truest line, however, about how the film ultimately will not serve either Monroe nor Olivier well in what each other was looking for.


Emma Watson has grown up, but not much grown as an actress, though her part is superfluous. She’s easily the weakest of the three “Harry Potter” leads, and I’ve always thought so. Also worth mentioning is the film’s cinematography by Ben Smithard. I don’t know how the man did it, but he comes as close as any modern film I can think of in capturing the Technicolour look for certain scenes. It’s amazing.


This is definitely a film for any fan of 1950s cinema to see, and absolutely for Marilyn Monroe fans. It’s one of the year’s best films for sure.


Rating: B