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 26, 2013

Review: Attack the Block


South London nurse Jodie Whittaker must rely on the help of a bunch of stupid young thugs (who all blend together) who mugged her when their neighbourhood is besieged by nasty alien creatures. Nick Frost plays the friendly local weed grower.

 

Written and directed by Joe Cornish (who co-wrote the Steven Spielberg-Peter Jackson dud “The Adventures of Tintin” with Edgar Wright), this 2011 alien invasion flick seems to have a real cult following, and earned some nice reviews too. Personally, I can’t see what the fuss is about and pretty much hated it and everyone in it. Debut director Cornish (whose real-life mugging by youths helped inspire the film apparently) commits one of the most basic crimes in screenwriting; In order to care about what happens, we must first care about the characters. Either make ‘em really interesting, or make ‘em likeable. Cornish aggressively fails to do either. Young British hooligans aren’t my favourite movie characters at the best of times, but these guys aren’t even threatening enough to work as villains (same problem I had with “Harry Brown”, actually), let alone interesting enough to work as protagonists. They ride push bikes! Oh, that’s so hardcore, dude...seriously. The villains from “Die Hard” would make for better protagonists than these twits, because at least some of them commanded the screen. Yes, I said protagonists. That’s how irritating and ineffective these guys are that a villain like Hans Gruber would make for a better ‘hero’ than these idiots. For starters, I could barely understand most of the dialogue, despite them apparently speaking English. They don’t speak it, they butcher it. And it’s their native tongue. How am I supposed to care about a film where the supposed ‘good guys’ are juvenile delinquents who all talk like Ali G? Don’t people realise that was a comedy character lampooning people who talk and act stupidly? Admittedly he wasn’t actually funny, but he was certainly meant to be. For the love of God, people ‘innit’ is not a word. It’s just not, OK?.

 

Other films have used unsavoury-types as the protagonists before (“The Dirty Dozen” and “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” spring immediately to mind), but it doesn’t work here at all, and the slightly more interesting character played by Jodie Whittaker ends up playing second fiddle to these little “Grange Hill” maggots. In Australia, and especially the suburb I live in, street youths preying upon a young nurse and then turning out to be the heroes, is a bit hard to stomach, due to a certain brutal crime from the 80s over here, to be honest, and it was on my mind at the time.

 

If this film was meant to be comedic too, it’s almost entirely witless. The only laugh in the entire film comes from the sight of one of the boys armed with a machete and riding his scooter...with L plate showing. That was funny. The rest...isn’t, and things don’t even get better when the adults turn up, either. Nick Frost plays one of them, and as usual, he’s playing a seedy, unpleasant, and frankly repugnant-looking bum of a human being. I simply can’t stand the guy, even in the one film he was in that I really liked (“The Boat That Rocked”). I’m no hardcore anti-drug kinda guy, but weed movies rarely make me laugh (“The Big Lebowski” being the exception), and people who smoke weed on a regular basis don’t generally interest me very much.

 

I could credit Cornish for not messing around and getting right to it, but we’re talking about a brit “Boyz ‘N the Hood” meets “Critters”. It hardly seems worth it, and frankly, I wanted the aliens to win in this, and believe me, they sucked too. Cornish deserves praise for obscuring our view of the aliens for a while, when we finally do see them one realises that Cornish was hiding them because they look like cheap Halloween costumes. They look ridiculous, and since neither the protagonists nor antagonists convinced or even interested me, the film was a complete dud for me. Also, once again I have to point out the irritating coloured lighting/filters used for night scenes. At first I thought that maybe it’s just that I don’t go out at night and this is really how things look. But then I noticed that the streets are lit either orange/yellow (like a dodgy urine sample) or blue, and it’s the exact same blue lighting used on the aliens’ faces. Nope, it’s just a stylistic device and it annoys the holy hell out of me. Even worse is the nauseating ‘doof doof’ score that was so bad that I almost wished my neighbours would turn their own obnoxiously loud music up (They were playing the same crap, so it wouldn’t have mattered, I guess).

 

I didn’t much like “Shaun of the Dead”, and this irritating, cheapo flick is even worse, coming from the same producers too. Unlikeable, uninteresting, and unfunny. But apparently I’m in the minority. Strange, innit? Innit?

 

Rating: C-

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Chronicle



Dane DeHaan stars as high school ‘loser’ Andrew, who has taken to filming everything in his life on a video camera, including the way his bullying father (Michael Kelly) treats him, and even filming his terminally ill, bedridden mother. At a party one night, his much cooler cousin (Alex Russell) and the resident popular student politician (Michael B. Jordan, who despite the name looks identical to Mariah Carey’s wife, Nick Cannon) ask him to bring his camera over to investigate a mysterious giant hole in the ground close-by. Of course, being young and stupid, they go down the hole to investigate, and come into contact with a strange crystal-like object. Next thing they know, the trio find themselves equipped with special powers, able to lift and move things telepathically. At first the trio have prankish fun with this new discovery, and eventually hone their skills further. Andrew also enjoys bonding with his protective but very different cousin, and the easy-going, immensely likeable Jordan. However, Andrew’s unhappy existence combined with super powers, ultimately prove a dire combination for anyone who dares cross him. Ashley Hinshaw plays a pretty high schooler whom Russell is sweet on, and who also has a video diary for her own blog.

 

I was worried about this 2012 film from debut director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (Yes, that Landis. He’s John Landis’ son). I haven’t much liked the brooding/realistic crop of modern superhero movies, and I felt that adding shaky-cam to the mix would be an absolutely cataclysmic mistake. I was wrong in my fears, for the most part. This is a smart film that is more about superpowers than superheros, and makes things as realistic as possible without being boring or unpleasant like “Iron Man” or the Christopher Nolan “Batman” movies. In fact, it seems more like an update of “Carrie” (or if you prefer, “The Fury”) for the YouTube and “Jackass” generation, at times. Or maybe an Americanised, non-anime “Akira”, as many have already suggested.

 

I was hugely surprised, and the camerawork ultimately isn’t much of a problem. A lot of it is smoothly shot, without looking too fake so as to take you out of the situation. Having not been based on any previously existing (and beloved) comic book franchise helps, too. Having said that, this isn’t quite what I would call a ‘found footage’ film. More than one camera source is used throughout. In fact, in one of the film’s few flaws, the first video camera is seemingly forgotten about altogether, and yet the footage shot on that camera is still shown to us. Oopsy. I’ll let it slide, though, even though it’s quite clearly a bit of a cock-up. I wish it weren’t done in a video camera style, but that’s the central conceit, and for what it is, it works. Kudos to director Trank and cinematographer Matthew Jensen for not making my head spin at least. There’s one particularly ingenious moment where we manage to get an overhead shot, which I thought was genuinely cool.

 

The early scenes, although having moments of tension, are mostly a combination of teen drama and borderline stoner comedy as our central trio come to terms with their newfound powers. Some of it is genuinely funny, especially the bit with the teddy bear and the talent show scene. The bit with the car is funny, but we were all a bit overexposed to it in the trailers, I think. This kind of silly, juvenile shit is exactly what a lot of youngsters would do in this extraordinary situation. And teens will film just about anything, these days and share it. Just look at the crap people film and put on YouTube, if you don’t believe me.

Aside from character actor Michael Kelly (whose character is a giant moron, perhaps too much of one), the actors are all unknown to me, but are pretty impressive, especially Dane DeHaan, and the pretty and charismatic Ashley Hinshaw (whose character is clearly the best cameraman in the entire film, by the way). DeHaan has the trickiest role, a sort-of teenage Magneto, a supervillain with a somewhat sympathetic back-story. It’s a fascinating character, with his trouble both at home and school really well set-up, but not in a way where you find his descent entirely predictable. His slow progression from protagonist to antagonist is interesting, with enough signs there throughout, but not shoved down your throat. At one point he’s referred to as not being a ‘bad person’, but I’m not so sure. They’re all given essentially the same superpowers, so anything that he does with them surely comes from whatever is inside of him, or are we to entirely blame his shitty upbringing? If so, then why is Magneto considered a villain? (Personally, I found Magneto easier to relate to in “X Men: First Class” than the rest of the characters) That’s not a criticism so much as an observation.

Here’s a film about people with superpowers that makes you think, but still manages to entertain you. It’s one of the best films of 2012 I’ve seen thus far and a huge, pleasant surprise.

 For more on my Top 10 of 2012 (and previous years) go to:

 http://ryancmcdonald.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/top-10-films-of-year-1950-2010.html

Rating: B

Review: The Avengers


Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the evil brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has obtained the powerful energy source known as the Tesseract (and seen in “Captain America: The First Avenger”). He has also ‘turned’ both energy specialist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgaard) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). The latter is an agent of SHIELD, AKA Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, a peace-keeping organisation headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury is using the Avengers Initiative to stop this threat. In addition to SHIELD agent Natasha ‘Black Widow’ Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), Fury seeks the aid of several superheroes; Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) AKA Hulk, egotist millionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his Iron Man suit, and of course Thor. Clark Gregg reprises his role as Agent Coulson, Cobie Smulders is another SHIELD agent, Gwyneth Paltrow returns briefly as Stark’s assistant/girlfriend Pepper Potts, whilst Jenny Agutter and Powers Boothe play United Nations-like talking heads.

 

I didn’t much like any of the superhero films leading up to this 2012 all-star effort (I haven’t seen “The Incredible Hulk”, though), so when I tell you that this Joss Whedon (creator of the shamefully addictive “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) film is the best of the lot, bear that in mind. Or in other words, I know I’m representative of like 0.0001% of the movie-viewing public here, so don’t crucify me just ‘coz I don’t think this is like the way coolest sick arse movie ever, OK? It’s called an opinion, and mine’s better than yours (I kid!). Look, it’s a tolerable and watchable film, and at least there were moments and attributes I liked. It’s a million times better than the “Iron Man” films, at any rate, but boy is it seriously overrated by most of you. It sure as hell ain’t no “Superman”, that’s for sure.

 

Although I still feel that an all-star superhero film should’ve had a far more well-known supervillain, I have to say that Tom Hiddleston’s Zod-like Loki is the best thing in the entire film. But don’t you think it’s odd that all these superheroes are needed to defeat Loki, when Thor nearly beat him on his own in another movie? I think it was called “Thor”. He may not be a great villain, but when backed up by Skarsgaard and Renner (both of whom are ‘turned’ very early here, though Skarsgaard kinda already was in “Thor”, too), they make an effective trio. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson is immediately better in this than in the last three films I saw him in. He drifts in and out of the film far too frequently for my liking, but Nick Fury is one of the more interesting and arresting characters in the film, certainly. In fact, he’s probably my favourite, even if he doesn’t actually do anything cool as such. Jackson’s innate coolness is enough to make you wish you were watching a film entirely centred on Nick Fury.

 

Kudos to Mr. Whedon for starting the film out with the three of the best actors; Jackson, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Jeremy Renner. The film would’ve gotten off to a disastrous start if we began with the trio of Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris ‘The Human Blocked Nose’ Hemsworth (who doesn’t even turn up for about 30 minutes). Anyway, the film starts out OK (because Thor isn’t around yet?), and I enjoy a good ragtag assembly, and this film follows the familiar pattern of such films, even if this team is kinda crappy. Hell, as much as I hated Robert Downey Jr.’s flippant attitude in the “Iron Man” films, it fits in a little better in this all-star effort. He’s a bit less of a colossal dickhead egotist this time out and just a smart-arse. And Pepper Potts is still Gwyneth Paltrow’s best screen work. Her jean shorts aren’t enough to make me forget she stole Cate Blanchett’s Oscar and married a giant toolbag, though. By the way, are AC/DC now contractually obligated to be Iron Man’s backing band? I did take issue with the early fish-out-of-water hijinks with Captain America, though, which are even more annoying than the similar scenes in “Thor”.

 

One pleasant surprise of the film was the performance of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. The frankly irritating and overrated actor is nonetheless really well-cast here. He gets one great line, too; ‘They want me in a submerged pressurised container?’. Also, it has to be said that an invisible air base is just about the coolest thing ever. It’s mind-boggling to me how little Thor is in the film, though. Yes, I hate Chris Hemsworth and only liked the scenes of “Thor” set on his home planet, but when the main villain is Thor’s brother, don’t you think Thor should be given a prominent role? He’s barely in the film at all, and seems like he’s in less of it than he actually is. According to IMDb, he’s in the film even less than Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (more on her later, believe me), and only Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is in the film less. Truth be told, none of the characters really pop, partly because I don’t really like any of these guys, perhaps, but Johansson and Evans are in the film way too much for my liking. Downey and Ruffalo do make for an amusing double-act, but that isn’t capitalised on enough. But writer-director Whedon, working with Zak Penn (“Last Action Hero”, “Elektra”, “X Men: Last Stand”), struggle valiantly to bring all these characters together into a coherent plot. It can’t have been an easy thing to do, and I definitely commend Whedon for making this move a whole lot quicker than it could’ve been under these elongated circumstances. There’s certainly enough going on that it never gets bogged down and isn’t boring like the other films. That said, there’s not enough action nor character interplay to really elevate the film, I’m just coming from the perspective of having disliked all the preceding films.

 

There’s definite problems in the script. I mean, it feels like Johansson’s Black Widow is meant to have some kind of connection with both Bruce Banner and Hawkeye, but...we never really get enough of a sense of it. It’s not so much an issue with Banner, but **** SPOILER WARNING **** when Black Widow tries to barter for Hawkeye’s release, one feels like it must be due to a deep connection, or else she’d surely be more interested in getting Stellan Skarsgaard’s brainiac energy expert released from Loki’s hold than a guy who can shoot arrows really, really good. The longer the film goes on, the sillier that decision seems to be **** END SPOILER **** Personally I think Captain America sucks (I’m still pissed off that “Captain America” ended the way it did- bizarrely- just to get him into this film), but at least in this film he actually gets to be a for real superhero instead of a goofy war bonds spokesperson with a big shield. But making him a glum party pooper is a giant mistake, though once again, you can blame the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger” for that. He’s a real cranky pants, here though. Hemsworth’s Thor, meanwhile, comes off like a character from a bad “SNL” sketch about Vikings, transplanted into this film. Or maybe an extra on “Spartacus: Blood and Sand”. However, most of that is Hemsworth’s terrible acting (and desperate need to get his permanently blocked nose seen to by a doctor). Speaking of terrible acting, presenting Scarlett Johansson and the unfortunately named Cobie Smulders (the fifth most talented person from “How I Met Your Mother”). Both of these actresses attempt to be tough chicks, but they end up coming off like a bad parody of female sci-fi/action characters. For Smulders it’s probably just the dopey headset she wears, but Johansson’s performance in this reminded me of Sigourney Weaver’s bimbo turn in the “Star Trek” parody “Galaxy Quest”. She’s so dopey and forced that I couldn’t help but laugh at her every staged pose and awful line reading. Everyone else probably loved her initial action scene, but the stunt double was completely obvious to me, and I found it quite silly. Also, for a character who has seemingly been robbed of most (if not all) of her super powers, Black Widow is in way too much of this film for my liking.

 

Downey’s Iron Man gets one great scene where Stark is thrown out of a skyscraper window and his suit has to rush after him and form around him. The action finale isn’t bad, but it would’ve been even better if I was more invested in the characters. The FX are lame throughout, too, with the 3D making it far too obvious when seen in 2D. It all looks like a computer game, especially anything involving The Hulk. Yes, they still can’t get it right. He’s still too damn big to convince as a CGI character, and interact with non-CGI characters and backgrounds. It looks like a computer game character instead of seamlessly fitting into the fabric of the film. However, credit where it’s due, Hulk also features in the two best and funniest moments in the entire film. Both are near the end, firstly a brief bit where Hulk punches Thor for Odin knows what reason. The second one is a brilliant bit where Hulk flings the absolute fuck out of Loki and shouts ‘Puny God!’. Stupid beyond belief (especially considering Loki would surely be in a billion pieces) but hilarious.

 

This film is OK and has its moments, but is phenomenally overrated. If you’re into the franchise, you’ve already seen and loved the film. I’m still a bit ‘meh’ about it, but it’s easily the best film in the franchise. Faint praise is an underrated thing. Oh, and why the hell does Harry Dean Stanton have a cameo in this? It’s an amusing cameo, sure, but why? 

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: Absolute Power

Clint Eastwood is Luther Whitney, a veteran cat burglar who chooses the absolute wrong place and time for his latest operation. Attempting to rob a mansion when his plans are interrupted by a young woman (Melora Hardin) and much older man (Gene Hackman), drunk and engaging in some hanky-panky. Being that the man is drunk and a sleaze, he starts to get rough with the girl and things end really, really badly, as two men come barging in and one (played by Dennis Haysbert) shoots the girl dead. And then comes the clean-up and cover-up, because the dirty old man at the centre of all this is none other than the President of the United States (Gene Hackman). And although we only learn this about twenty minutes or so in, it’s not a spoiler, because the film is mostly about the cover-up and the pursuit of wily Whitney, who although unseen at the scene of the crime is soon pegged by just about everyone as the killer. This pursuit involves not only the dodgy Secret Service (who know Whitney didn’t do it), but also a paid hitman (Richard Jenkins), and two cops (played by Ed Harris and Penny Johnson). Also thrown in danger is Whitney’s long-estranged daughter (Laura Linney) whom he has recently attempted to reconnect with, with little success to say the least. Judy Davis plays the ball-breaking Chief of Staff, and E.G. Marshall plays the wealthy philanthropist and long-time friend whose wife was being banged (or banged up?) by the Prez, and whose mansion they were using.

 

This idiotic, catastrophically overblown 1997 politically-tinged thriller from director-star Clint Eastwood (“Play Misty For Me”, “Mystic River”, “Gran Torino”) is easily one of his worst films, behind “The Rookie”, “Tightrope”, “City Heat”, and “The Eiger Sanction”. That’s not good company to be keeping. However, I’m most disappointed with the fact that this complete and utter bullshit comes from the pen of one William Goldman (“All the President’s Men”, “No Way to Treat a Lady”, “Misery”), adapting the David Baldacci novel. The entire set-up is ricockulous (if that’s not a word, it is now), with the American President a sleazebag woman-basher and an accidental death and subsequent cover-up of said death. All witnessed by an aging thief who just happened to be robbing the place where this was going on. Even if you’re a Marilyn Monroe/JFK/RFK conspiratorial kinda person, this is just a step too damn far.

 

Not only does the film not recover, it gets worse. Yes, I’m talking about the scene where Clint Eastwood watches a TV news story at a bar and sees that the man he witnessed was (dum-dum-DUMB!’) the President of the United States! Obviously he already knew this and it was just to let the audience see that he recognised the President. Then why not include something during the opening scene? It might’ve been difficult to do so, but the clunkily way it plays, it seems like Clint’s a dumb arse who doesn’t recognise the President of the United States. Some have suggested it was more about Clint realising what a lying scumbag the President is, but given what we see of him in the opening scene, what’s one more unflattering personality trait? Nope, it was done to inform the audience, and results in Clint looking like a tool. I mean, it takes about an hour for this scene to occur, making it even more absurd.

 

 It’s all just so stupid, and completely overblown (not to mention contrived as hell), including Hackman’s hammy performance. It’s a dud role, but Hackman must take some of the blame, too considering he’s hardly miscast (He practically played the same damn role in the superior “No Way Out”, only more effectively there). The role is overblown and so is his lazy performance. Sadly, stone-faced Clint doesn’t much hold up his end of things either in a role he’s not quite suited to even if you get past the name (Does he look like a Luther Whitney to you?). He’s far too conspicuous-looking to play an elusive, veteran cat burglar.

 

It’s left to a rock-solid Ed Harris and E.G. Marshall to steal the show in the film’s only interesting roles. Marshall (one of the greatest and longest-serving character actors of all-time) in particular gives a strong and dignified performance in a most undignified film. Meanwhile, Richard Jenkins is seemingly miscast yet surprisingly good as an assassin (but the role is tiny), and Judy Davis’ character has even fewer dimensions than Hackman’s POTUS. She does not come out of this film well, and should’ve passed on playing this one-note role. However, Scott Glenn almost (but not quite) escapes a dud role. He’s a good actor, sometimes misused, but the screenplay here never quite gets around to caring about him, even though he’s actually well-cast here, on paper. There’s some retroactively amusing casting with Dennis Haysbert and Penny Johnson playing a trigger-happy Secret Service agent (with even less depth and ambiguity than Glenn) and lady cop, respectively. Later on they would play the African-American US President and his scheming First Lady on TV’s “24”.

 

With more subtlety this might’ve been something tolerable, but casting the American President as a spineless abuser of women and overall villain is simply insane, no matter what your thoughts on some of the real-life American Presidents have been. Even Oliver Stone would likely call this film nuts, and it’s the kind of shit you could see Cannon coming out with in the 80s, with Charles Bronson in the lead, Michael Ansara as the President, and Richard Lynch in the Haysbert role. Seriously, the only people in the film more incompetent than POTUS, are his two chief Secret Service agents, one of whom committed the murder in the first damn place. I guess Davis wears the pants for everyone here. And even if the portrayal of the President were more measured, you’ve still got to put up with one of the most tedious and comatose openings to a movie of all-time. It should’ve started from the very moment Eastwood breaks in, and as a director here he shows no sense of urgency nor aptitude for energy. There’s an early scouting mission, the elongated death sequence, and the elongated cover-up. All of this could’ve been done in ten minutes, instead of what is at least twenty. And at that point, the film is truly dead in the water, never to return.

 

The cinematography by frequent collaborator Jack N. Green (who directed the interesting but little-seen “Traveller” the same year) is also appalling, as the film is horribly lit, especially early on. Being shadowy and noirish is one thing, making it impossible to see a damn thing is altogether different. I could understand it perhaps in the break-in scenes, but I swear no one turns on a freakin’ light throughout the damn movie! No one outside of the movies enters a room without turning on the light pretty damn quickly.

 

Who the hell green-lit this absurd abomination? I can understand why so many familiar faces were attracted to the idea of working with Eastwood on a Goldman script, but whoever allowed this film to go ahead should be ashamed of themselves. This is one of the worst thrillers of all-time, and half an hour overlong to boot.

 

Rating: F

Review: The Way


Agnostic ophthalmologist Martin Sheen receives word that his estranged son (seen in flashbacks/visions and played by Emilio Estevez) has died whilst embarking on a pilgrimage from France to Spain. Sheen travels to France to identify the body, and after having his body cremated, Sheen comes to the decision that he himself will take the trek, even using his son’s gear and backpack. A Catholic French cop (Tcheky Karyo- where has he been the last 10 years or so?) explains the spiritual nature of the trek, but warns Sheen that it might not be the best thing for someone his age. Sheen is determined, however, and heads off, scattering his son’s ashes at certain points. Along the way, he encounters other people making the pilgrimage, though the rather solitary Sheen attempts to discourage much interaction. Yorick van Wageningen plays a jovial, pot-smoking Dutchman, Deborah Kara Unger is an embittered, chain-smoking Canadian, and James Nesbitt plays an Irish writer looking to cure his writer’s block. Veteran character actor Matt Clark has a small role as an American priest abroad.

 

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez, starring his real-life father Martin, dedicated to his grandfather and apparently inspired by his son, this 2010 movie is quite obviously a very personal film for the Estevez/Sheen clan. Apparently Sheen, his grandson and Sheen’s friend actor Matt Clark went on their own pilgrimage several years earlier. I’m sure father and son had a memorable time making this movie (though they’ve worked together several times before), just as I’m sure the real-life inspiration was important to them. It’s a very small film with modest aims, but it’s heartfelt and on its chosen level enjoyable and effective.

 

Sheen is pitch-perfect in the lead (it’s his best work since “The West Wing” no doubt), and there are fine smaller turns by Yorick van Wageningen, James Nesbitt (typecast, but he’s good at it), veteran character actors Matt Clark (who directed Sheen in “Da”, where Sheen was the son returning for his dad’s funeral in Ireland), and Tcheky Karyo, and Estevez (whose directorial career goes as far back as the 1986 flop “Wisdom” and includes the more well-received “Bobby”) himself even pops up from time to time. I just wish Emilio would get in front of the camera far more often than he does behind it. He’s a much better actor than director.

 

I have no idea what in the hell has happened to Deborah Kara Unger here. Her performance is fine enough, but her extremely emaciated face and obvious cosmetic surgery combine to make her rather alarming to say the least. Certainly distracting at any rate, but maybe she lost weight on purpose for the rather strung-out character. By the way, did you know the Canadian-born Unger was partially educated at NIDA here in Australia?

 

It’s nothing brilliant, but I actually liked this film, despite my being what one could call an agnostic atheist (i.e. Someone who doesn’t believe in a religious God, but also has no idea what is or isn’t possible, nor do I feel such a question is even terribly important). Those with religious/spiritual convictions (and indeed Martin Sheen is a well-known devout Catholic) will probably respond to this film even more favourably. It’s an easy watch, and not nearly as preachy or as treacly as I was dreading.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) believes criminal mastermind Moriarty (Jared Harris) is the fiend behind a series of bombings all around Europe that appear to want to promote war between France and Germany. But why? Meanwhile, Sherlock’s friend and confidante Watson (Jude Law) is getting married. You will not be surprised to learn that stag night shenanigans are not the only trouble Sherlock is about to get Watson into as the duo (also aided by Sherlock’s diplomat brother Mycroft Holmes, played by Stephen Fry) try to work out just what Moriarty is up to. Rachel McAdams returns briefly as Holmes’ acquaintance Irene Adler, now in the employ of Moriarty. Noomi Rapace plays a French gypsy fortune teller, and Eddie Marsan briefly reprises his role as the rather humourless Inspector Lestrade.

 

My fears that Guy Ritchie (“Swept Away”, “Snatch”) would turn the beloved Arthur Conan Doyle character into a pugilistic thug were thankfully not realised in the first of his Sherlock Holmes adventures. It mostly played like any other interpretation of the character, and Robert Downey Jr. seemed perfect in the role. Besides, I’m no scholar of the character, so there’s the possibility I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I do know what I like and don’t like, however, and unfortunately, in this 2011 follow-up, Ritchie and his star open things up with Sherlock engaged in fisticuffs. Some of the film is amusing, but most of it is a bore, and a lot of it is overdone, including Downey. The talented Oscar-nominated actor, rather than playing Sherlock Holmes, seems to be aping Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in a somewhat entertaining but a little too self-indulgent performance. Did Sherlock really need to dress up as a woman at one stage? Really? Downey isn’t as self-indulgently flippant as he was in “Iron Man” to the complete detriment of the film, but he certainly tried my patience after a while. Funny, his performance never bothered me (nor brought up Depp comparisons) last time out.

 

The banjo score by Hans Zimmer (“Rain Man”, “The Lion King”, “Gladiator”), although suiting Ritchie’s interpretation of the characters (as was the case previously), actually irritated me here. It’s too insistent, and at times it even reminded me of the theme music for TV’s “Dexter”.

 

Overall, this is more of the same, only less. Sherlock engages in way too much physical activity for a drug-addicted intellectual detective. The first film got away with it, but this one doesn’t, especially when it appears that Sherlock Holmes was the inventor of aikido! Ritchie is seemingly obsessed with machinery and artillery, but what does any of this have to do with Sherlock frigging Holmes? The nefarious plot, as it unfolds in the script by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney (husband and wife, and I believe, part of the same Mulroney clan as actor Dermot), deals with arms dealings and seemed far more Bondian than Holmes to me. I may have bought it last time, but here I kept wondering why Ritchie bothered making a Sherlock Holmes film at all, let alone two.

 

There are positives, albeit much fewer than last time. The production design is fabulous and very appropriate, aside from all the mechanical doohickies that seem like leftovers from “Wild Wild West” (and they weren’t appropriate there, either). Jared Harris makes for an effective Moriarty, even if he doesn’t perhaps seem like the first actor you’d cast as an intellectual. One expected a bigger name in the role (Lord Laurence Olivier has played the role previously, for starters), but the rather underrated Harris is nonetheless very good (I’m convinced his vocal performance is based on the late Patrick McGoohan, anyone else agree?). Stephen Fry was seemingly born to play Mycroft Holmes if you ask me, and is spot-on. He’s easily the gayest thing in the film, but I must admit, when Holmes and Watson dance together at one point, I did wonder...not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jude Law, as was the case last time, is a terrific Dr. Watson, at least Guy Ritchie’s version of Dr. Watson.

 

The ladies are a disappointment, however, with Rachel McAdams offering a mere cameo reprisal, and (the ubiquitous) Noomi Rapace’s French accent coming and going annoyingly frequently.

 

For the most part I found this film a tedious reprisal of things that mostly worked the first time, but served to either bore or irritate this time. It’s only about two hours long, but the film seems interminable.

 

Rating: C-