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, May 4, 2013

Review: The Squeeze


Michael Keaton stars as one of those quirky artists who work multimedia into their dopey sculptures. Rae Dawn Chong is the gumshoe who comes knocking on his door looking for him to pay a debt he owes a former lover, who turns out to have been murdered. The unlikely duo team up to investigate what turns out to be a conspiracy to rig the lottery with magnets in the little balls. Ronald Guttman plays a wealthy European industrialist, John Davidson is the cheesy lottery host, Meat Loaf is a sweaty thug named Titus, Leslie Bevis is a femme fatale, and Joe Pantoliano plays Keaton’s best bud.

 

Although he got off to a successful start in “Night Shift”, Michael Keaton’s career kinda floundered in mediocrity until 1988-89, wherein he hit the box-office big time in “Batman”, and also did great work in “Beetlejuice”, and an unforgettable dramatic turn in “Clean and Sober”. Hell, throw in the underrated comedy “The Dream Team” too. However, in order to get from “Night Shift” to “Beetlejuice”, it was a helluva bumpy ride with some pretty lukewarm films like “Mr. Mom”, “Touch and Go”, “Johnny Dangerously”, and “Gung Ho” (AKA “Working Class Man”). Those films are Oscar-contenders, though, compared to this completely witless 1987 flop from director Roger Young (a TV movie veteran) and writer Daniel Taplitz (who didn’t amount to much after this debut effort). It’s Keaton’s version of “The Golden Child” (it doesn’t deserve to be compared to “Fletch”, despite the plot sounding like it could be), and it’s kind of a miracle that Keaton’s career recovered.

 

Keaton is a gifted actor with a specialised talent that needs the right vehicle. He has really only found it in fits and starts (with “Beetlejuice” and “Clean and Sober” being his best vehicles), and this film gives him absolutely nothing to work with at all. He seems lost and bored. Keaton seems to know it’s awful, and his multimedia triceratops art piece is the most ridiculously unfunny and stupid thing I’ve seen since Max Headroom.

 

Even dumber is the film’s MacGuffin. I mean, my God that’s just beyond ridiculous. This is shitty sitcom material, and although Keaton had already made the sitcom-like “Mr. Mom”, at least that would’ve made a decent sitcom. This? No chance. But Keaton isn’t really the problem. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Eddie Murphy couldn’t do anything with this awful script. Rae Dawn Chong certainly can’t do anything with it, and is even worse than usual. Despite playing a gumshoe in a mystery movie, she ends up being sidekick to Michael Keaton, who already has Joey Pants for a sidekick. So she’s twice as irrelevant. Chong is also saddled with a too-cute gumshoe outfit that is just pathetic, and the film is further proof that Rae Dawn Chong simply didn’t learn how to act until 1994’s little-seen “Boulevard”. Why does her character get so damn pissy when it appears Keaton has had sex with Leslie Bevis? She and Keaton have barely any relationship and even less chemistry, so he can bang whoever he wants. That’s just awful work on Taplitz’s part, even Meryl Streep couldn’t find the emotional truth or motivation of that scene.

 

The only actor who emerges from this relatively unscathed is surprisingly Meat Loaf. He plays his character effectively, and the shitty screenplay doesn’t really affect him because he has no dialogue. Ronald Guttman, meanwhile is astonishingly bad, and his very first scene gives the game away.

 

The worst element of the film by far, however, is the music score by Miles Goodman (“Footloose”, “La Bamba”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). It’s exceptionally loud, ear-splitting, and drowns out every other sound.

 

It’s probably one of the worst comedies of the mid to late 80s, a period that also gave us “High Spirits”, “Teen Wolf Too”, and “The Golden Child”, among other turkeys. It also needed a lot more Joey Pants, the gifted character actor barely gets a look in. A terrible, terrible film, you may as well just watch “Night Shift” or “Beetlejuice” again.

 

Rating: D-

Review: Lady in a Cage


Olivia De Havilland is a wealthy middle-aged woman with a broken hip, who travels up and down stairs in her house via a special lift, hence the film’s title. Her son (William Swan) has left for a weekend away with friends, having left behind a letter that seems to suggest her dependency on him has taken its toll on him severely. When the power lines outside accidentally get knocked out, De Havilland finds herself stuck in her lift between floors, with Swan not due back for days (if he comes back at all). A filthy wino (Jeff Corey) breaks in, takes possession of a few items and pawns them off, hoping to go back for more. Unbeknownst to him or De Havilland, Corey has attracted the attention of some young hoodlums (James Caan, Rafael Campos, and Jennifer Billingsley) who follow him to the house and set about running riot, frightening the bejesus out of a helpless and vulnerable De Havilland. Ann Sothern plays a plump hooker whose help Corey enlists to reappropriate De Havilland’s belongings.

 

Although it has dated in some areas, this 1964 terror flick from director Walter Grauman (“633 Squadron”, and many TV shows like “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Streets of San Francisco”) and writer Luther Davis (“The Hucksters”, “Across 110th Street”) has some really effective moments. Particularly in the first half, Grauman manages to ratchet up the tension to a bone-chilling, almost unbearable degree. The Herrmann-esque music score by Paul Glass (“To the Devil- A Daughter”) playing over the titles (very Saul Bass-esque) immediately made me feel uncomfortable. And whilst some of the scenes where De Havilland’s pleas for help are drowned out by other sounds are a little implausible (one of the dated elements I was referring to), some of the time, the sound design is pretty damn effective. The idea of De Havilland’s predicament falling on the deaf ears of a seemingly uncaring society is a valid point to make, but it is done so with mixed results, because some of the sounds used to drown out De Havilland’s screams or alarm bell simply wouldn’t be loud enough in the real world. Good idea, doesn’t quite convince.

 

I also found some of De Havilland’s inner monologues a little corny and dated (especially when she starts getting poetic), but they’re probably necessary, and overall, she gives a typically excellent performance. What I liked most was that in her performance are hints that she is a rather overbearing and smothering person and one can see the problems between her and her son. Hell, it borders on incestual, or at least Oedipal. A protagonist with flaws isn’t necessarily an unsympathetic protagonist, and this is a real tour-de-force for the fine actress. I also loved the hammy, frankly revolting work by veteran character actor (and acting teacher) Jeff Corey as a filthy, rotten drunk thief. It’s a bit of a silly performance, but he’s not the chief menace in the film, so that’s fine.

 

Less effective indeed are the chief villains played by a young James Caan, Rafael Campos, and Jennifer Billingsley. All three have their moments, but between Caan’s obvious Brando-isms (According to IMDb, he apparently based his performance on Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”- why?), and the fact that they behave more like typical wise-acre 50s hipster youth hoodlums (ala Brando’s motorcycle gang in “The Wild One”), they simply lack menace for the most part. I thought they were going to start calling everyone ‘Daddy-O’ at some point, and it renders them almost as ineffectual as the campy killers in “Last House on the Left”. It hampers what is an otherwise pretty stark, unrelentingly ugly film, albeit not to a degree that the film is poor. Caan (in his first major film role) is brooding and unpleasant, but it seems like his idea of being menacing is burping. Really? Burping? I must be a serial killer, then. I know this is a film from the 60s, but it really felt more indicative of the 50s to me, especially in the method stylings of Caan and co. who seem to think they’re in an AIP juvenile delinquent flick. Campos in particular seems to have taken acting tips from Timothy Carey, and even then, only half paid attention to his advice. And yet, the home invasion plot is more indicative of the 70s, films like “Last House on the Left” and “Straw Dogs” (though there are definitely shades of the underrated “Kind Lady” from 1950).

 

I also felt the ending was a bit of a mess, leaving the fate of at least two characters if not unexplained, then certainly not satisfyingly explained. I’ve heard the film was cut of scenes that explain the fate of these characters, and unless it was for censorship reasons, I can’t for the life of me see a reason for them to have been cut. The film ends on a real sore point as a result.

 

It’s still a solid film, just not a great one, and certainly not as good as similar films like “Kind Lady” and “Sorry, Wrong Number”. Nonetheless it’s a B-movie with an irresistible and watchable premise and worth a look. Best thing is the excellent B&W cinematography by Lee Garmes (“Duel in the Sun”, “A Big Hand for the Little Lady”), really giving you a sense of just how helpless De Havilland is stuck up there. Look for a youngish and surprisingly thin Scatman Crothers as a pawn shop employee.

 

Rating: B-

Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: Street Smart


Magazine journo Christopher Reeve struggles to find a story to impress his snobby editor (Andre Gregory), but finally comes up with the idea of doing a story on a pimp. Unfortunately, his attempts at getting the likes of hooker Kathy Baker to talk to him go nowhere and girlfriend Mimi Rogers is worried about his safety in such seedy surroundings. Desperate for a story, he eventually decides to just make up the story about a fictional pimp named Tyrone.

 

Things become complicated when a crusading prosecutor (Jay Patterson) claims that the story is clearly based on a pimp named Fast Black (Morgan Freeman), who is currently on trial for the death of a ‘john’, a second degree murder charge. Reeve (who eventually moves into TV journalism) protests his innocence, but refuses to divulge his real source...because obviously there is none, and he’d get into even more hot poo if anyone found out. Needless to say, Patterson doesn’t believe a word he says and subpoenas him. And then he finally meets Fast Black, via Baker, whom he becomes involved with (causing Rogers to dump him). Fast Black decides to talk to the reporter for real, but wants him to provide an alibi for him to get off his charges. And Reeve only gets in deeper and deeper from there. Erik King plays Fast Black’s gopher Reggie, whilst Anna Maria Horsford plays another of Fast Black’s ho’s.

 

Morgan Freeman is one of those actors like Gregory Peck who lend a respectability and quiet, thoughtful authority to just about any film they’re in. Also like Peck, Freeman’s attempts to portray villainous characters have been uneven. However, both actors have had at least one rare exception to the rule (Peck’s was “Duel in the Sun”), and this 1987 crime-drama from director Jerry Schatzberg (Underrated flicks like “Scarecrow” and  “Panic in Needle Park”) is definitely one of Freeman’s best-ever performances. Ain’t no folksy narration in this one, folks. Freeman’s a mean, volatile sonofabitch pimp, capable of snapping at any moment.

 

For her part, Kathy Baker might not be the first person you’d think of to play a hooker, but just as she did in playing a junkie in “Clean and Sober”, the talented actress makes it work nonetheless. It’s an interesting film, with other fine performances Andre Gregory (who plays a complete schmuck, but a likeable one), Jay Patterson (as a morally upright but jerk prosecutor), and Erik King (love those sunglasses, dude!), but Freeman’s the one you’ll remember. He’s never been so smooth, dangerous, and unpredictable on screen. He certainly wipes the floor with Christopher Reeve, who along with the icy Mimi Rogers, don’t make for much of a couple on screen. In fact, the late Reeve (a personal hero of mine off-screen) always floundered on-screen without his red cape and red undies. He’s a pretty vacant presence on screen here, in a passive role that doesn’t really help him. Sure, he looks the part of a TV journo, but that’s it.

 

This was apparently a pet project for Reeve, and he managed to get Cannon studios to do it with him in return for making “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” for them. Unfortunately, whilst never dull, the film still isn’t good enough to make up for having made the awful “Superman IV”. In fact, at times it’s a bit tough to swallow, especially towards the end, which sometimes goes against the gritty look of the film. It doesn’t help that Reeve’s character is frankly not very likeable and even less intelligent. Playing a similar character in the later “Shattered Glass”, Hayden Christensen did a much better job of selling such a seemingly stupid, lazy individual.

 

Still, Freeman is dynamite and the film has some strong moments, though the ending disappoints. At any rate, it’s one of the best and most ambitious films from Cannon, who I guess were taking a break from making Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson cheapies. The screenplay is by David Freeman (“The Border”), who apparently based the film on his experience working for New York Magazine.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Battle Royale II: Requiem


Three years after the first film and surviving teen Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is now seen as a dangerous terrorist who declares war on all adults. Meanwhile, a new class of over 40 students is about to be introduced to a slightly varied rendition of the brutal, dehumanising blood sport. Brought together by psycho teacher Riki (Riki Takeuchi), armed to the teeth and fitted with exploding collars (ala “Deadlock”) they are forced to take part in an assassination plot against Nanahara. But when they finally arrive at his island hideout, things aren’t what they seem, and Nanahara provides the students with an alternate scenario. One of the young combatants, played by Ai Maeda, is the daughter of Takeshi Kitano’s ‘Kitano’, the teacher from the first film (And yes, Ai Maeda is the younger sister to Aki Maeda from the first film who briefly turns up

 

here). The original “Battle Royale” was a wickedly funny, shocking twist on the old “Most Dangerous Game” plotline. This 2003 follow-up from directors Kenta and Kinji Fukasaku (the former taking over for the latter- his father- who died during filming) is seriously disappointing, and mostly boring. It’s ridiculously long (I saw the 150 or so minute Director’s Cut) and slow, and fails in its attempt to take the story in a different direction whilst also trying to provide the same “Most Dangerous Game”-style goings on. I initially admired the attempt at something different, but it ultimately doesn’t come together and the film is lots of blood-splatter with no impact.

 

Another big problem is, the film also fails to generate interest in any of the characters, once again (yes, even in the supposedly more character-based cut I saw), but because this is a sequel, it’s not nearly as easy to forgive, even with the somewhat troubled production in consideration. The film should’ve focused on just a couple of the characters (the daughter of Kitano, certainly should’ve been front and centre), and used back-stories/flashbacks early and often. Obviously you would want all of the characters to be beefed up, but even with my suggestions, the film would be even longer than it already is, and because most of the back-stories come in the second half the film is dramatically inert. I mean, we don’t even see Kitano in flashbacks until about 90 minutes in. Besides, killing lots and lots of kids is this series’ M.O., but for the most part the characters don’t really ‘pop’, and thus it’s hard to care. It’s obvious to me that Kitano’s daughter should’ve been the main character (and one does initially find her intriguing), but she ends up completely lost in the shuffle in this mess, despite having the most potential interest of any character. Her relation to the teacher (Kitano) in the first film is barely even brought up at the end, which is just insane to me.

 

Meanwhile, the motivation for all the killing here is a lot weaker. In the first film, it wasn’t even a choice, unless you wanted to die yourself. Here, once the students meet those on the other side, surely the solution is easy: Team up, destroy their true enemy. Unfortunately, what should’ve taken an hour ends up taking more than two hours as things seem to turn into Peter Pan’s Lost Boys meets “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”. There’s also some really oddball logic here, like the supposed young ‘terrorists’ planning on killing all the adults in Japan. Think about that for a second. Isn’t that a tad short-sighted? Or was I just meant to ignore that little oversight by writers Kenta Fukasaku and Norio Kida? Also, attempts at bringing real world war/geo-political issues into the film are bizarre, offensive, and seemingly irrelevant to what is a Japanese splatter flick, essentially.

 

Sadly, the splatter this time around (hitting the camera lens, I might add) is rendered largely unwatchable by the “Saving Private Ryan”-esque camerawork by Junichi Fujisawa. It’s initially hilarious as Fujisawa stages an early skirmish like the Omaha beach landing from “Saving Private Ryan”, but sadly, it’s not just an in-joke, it’s the entire film’s shooting style. And it’s absolutely no fun to watch at all, as there’s nothing entertaining to me about watching the camera shake all about. It just alerts me to the fact that I’m watching something being filmed by an inebriated cameraman. As such, the action can really only be enjoyed by gamers, perhaps. Hell, that goes for the whole film, really, though I do love me some exploding throats (Even if I’m surprised the heads didn’t pop off).

 

I also took issue with the idiotic performance by Riki Takeuchi as this film’s menacing teacher. Am I the only one who thought his scowling facial expressions were modelled on Paul Sorvino at his hammiest? It’s a ridiculously phony, wannabe tough performance that doesn’t for a moment convince. Takeshi Kitano was infinitely more menacing by barely bothering to act at all. He looked positively dead inside and very creepy (and hilariously deadpan). This guy? Uh-uh. It was an embarrassing performance, and I wasn’t buying it. I was, however, totally buying the music score by Masamichi Amano (who scored the original in similar fashion) and the opening title crawl, which combine to give this a genuinely funny, over-the-top start. Well, I found it funny, at least, and Amano, at least to my ears, didn’t seem content with merely rehashing the original score, most of the time.

 

A mixture of the original film, “Wedlock” (or “Deadlock” depending on where you live), and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, this sequel to the spectacularly nasty, satirical original is a disappointing, overextended, underdone mess. With poor characterisation, slow pacing, and mostly unwatchable action, it’s a huge letdown.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

10 Worst Appearances by Familiar Faces on "Prisoner"


With the debut of the re-imagined "Wentworth" to Aussie TV screens, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the familiar faces from Aussie stage, TV (Future "Neighbours" and "Comedy Company" alumni in particular), and film who turned up on the original "Prisoner" (or "Prisoner Cell Block H" as it is known elsewhere) over the years of its run. However, whilst there have  been some genuinely enjoyable performances and memorable characters played by well-known actors over the years (Sigrid Thornton, Rowena Wallace, Ray Meagher, Caroline Gilmer, Diane Craig, Anne Charleston, Anne Haddy, Tina Bursill, Tommy 'GoGo Mobile' Dysart, Maurie Fields, and Bill Hunter among the best), I instead wanted to focus on those now well-known names or faces whose appearances on the popular prison soap were less than memorable, except in retroactive 'Holy crap, did I just see John Blackman playing a mincing gay art buyer?' fashion. In fact, some of these people probably wish we'd forget their stint on the show. In one case, the casting proved rather prophetic too.

 

 

HM: Lindy Davies (Ruth Ballinger)- Ms. Davies is more well-known for her theatrical work than anything else, and thus I wouldn't say she was a big enough name to get onto the list proper. However, she deserves a mention for giving without question the worst performance of any actor on "Prisoner". As crime boss' wife and peddler of kiddie porn Ruth Ballinger, Ms. Davies' overly theatrical, completely ridiculous turn was one of the series' comic highlights...for all the wrong reasons. Was that constant stare and smirk meant to be intimidating? The woman looked like Montgomery Burns with Gary Glitter's hairdo. And in that horrible blue outfit, you’d swear she was about to belt out ‘Life is a Cabaret!’ at any moment.

 

 

10. Tottie Goldsmith (Gloria Payne)- Most of the actors and actresses on this list can at least claim to be legitimately talented in other parts of their career. Tottie, however, was a Jill of all trades and master of none. It's bloody hard to work out just what she has done to deserve being so well-known (albeit her cache isn't what it used to be) A one-dimensional actress and TV host (Anyone remember that sex talk show she had for a bit?), her best work was probably as part of 80s girl pop group The Chantoozies, except she was clearly the least talented (if arguably most prolific) of the group. She's also best known for her relationship with TV host Richard Wilkins. Goldsmith isn't as bad here as other people on the list, but that is mostly because

playing a somewhat trashy bimbo mistress (to the husband of series' mainstay Myra Desmond, no less) was in her wheelhouse as an actress...except she looks rather chunky here, and still has some baby fat, which is weird. It meant she was neither physically believable in the role (We're meant to believe Gloria thought she was hot stuff, after all, let alone Myra's jerk of a husband), nor was her acting up to snuff.

 

 

9. Marianne Fahey (Kelly Fraser)- Yes, that was Kylie Mole herself, TV comedienne Marianne Fahey playing a disagreeable tenant of the Halfway House, during Julia Blake's stint as the strict proprietor of said establishment. And she does it in her Kylie Mole voice, no less.

 

 

8. Virginia Hey (Leigh Templar)- Virginia Hey is a striking model who was rather popular in the 70s and 80s. On evidence here, she was a shockingly bad actress whose rather mousy and shy demeanour really showed she had no damn business acting to begin with. As imprisoned model Leigh Templar, you'd think Hey would've been at an advantage, but with her boring arse presence, you'd be wrong. Conveying any kind of emotion seems entirely foreign to the poor woman.

 

7. Mark Mitchell- Yes, Con the Fruiterer himself had a couple of brief cameos on the show, including a restaurateur who calls the cops on escapee (and all-round feral harpy) Lou Kelly. I kept waiting for Col'n Carp'ner to turn up as a drunk or something.

 

 

6. Peter Moon- Yet another "Comedy Company" alum (Mitchell and Fahey, as well as Ian McFadyen all had cameos on the show), Moon had a couple of brief cameos on the show (once as a priest and also as one of Pixie Mason's 'husbands'), and the man was clearly no actor.

 

 

5. Julia Blake (Evelyn Randall, Alice Dodds)- A respected actress of stage and screen, Ms. Blake certainly put forth better performances than Lindy Davies, but as an unfriendly woman in charge of the Halfway House, and a herbalist prisoner with an interest in poisons, she was definitely not at her best. Both characterisations were pretty one-note.

 

 

4. Debra Lawrence (Nurse, Sally Dean, Daphne Graham)- Best known as Pippa from "Home and Away" (the second and longest-serving Pippa), Lawrence had three roles, one as a nurse, one as a hopelessly inept trainee prison officer, and more prominently as plant-loving, child-woman Daphne. The latter is every bit as silly and hard to watch as it sounds. The performance is just so silly you can barely believe it made it to air, and it made Collette Mann’s sometimes child-like Doreen look like the model of maturity.

 

 

3. John Blackman (Art Buyer)- Everyone who saw even snippets of that godawful short-lived holiday resort soapie from the late 70s (or was it early 80s?) knows "Hey Hey It's Saturday" comedian/voice over artist John Blackman is a truly appalling actor. What was that show called, "Holiday Island" or something? All I know is that it was terrible and featured several "Prisoner" cast mates. Just to further prove that point he played an extravagantly mincing gay art dealer on two episodes of the show, opposite Rod Mullinar's duplicitous David Austin. The funniest thing is that by the second episode, the gay aspect of the character had been completely forgotten about. I wonder why...

 

 

2. Jane Turner (Belinda Johns)- The character of blind inmate Belinda Johns could've really been something special, but when Kath from "Kath & Kim" is playing her, unintentional hilarity ensues. Yes, Turner actually does the lame arse 'crossed eyed' routine. Look, my eyes are crossed so I must be blind! Why were so many comedians cast on this show anyway? She lasted a lot longer than any of her comedy brethren did, for some strange reason. I just could never get past the crossed eyes, probably because she would do the same damn act on "Fast Forward" for different characters. It certainly played like a soapie parody character.

 

 

1. Robert Hughes (Ram)- Yes, the infamous star of "Hey Dad! (Don't Touch Me, You Perve)" had a brief stint as a supposed tough ringleader of a bunch of militant terrorists who barge their way into the prison to grab Ruth Ballinger out of prison, kidnapping corrupt prison officer Joan 'The Freak' Ferguson', and shooting popular prisoner Myra Desmond along the way. Hughes' phony rasp, wild, googly eyes, and hilarious play acting as he prances around the prison corridors like a wannabe

Rambo, is one of the single funniest things in the history of Australian TV. He has absolutely no idea what he is doing. Oh the (alleged) irony of having this guy turn up on a prison show and rescue a child pornographer. You just can’t make this shit up, can you?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Kidnapped


Fernando Cayo, his wife Ana Wagener and daughter Manuela Velies have just moved into a new home. Unfortunately, there will be no house-warming, as three dudes in hoods barge in and hold the family captive, terrorising them. One of the men takes Cayo to an ATM to get all the money out of their bank accounts, whilst the women are left vulnerable at home. And these guys ain’t fuckin’ around, either.

 

This 2010 Spanish thriller from director and co-writer Miguel Angel Vivas isn’t for me. I don’t much like the home invasion/rape subgenre of thrillers, not even some of the better ones like “Straw Dogs”. The combination of simplistic plot (almost “Don’t Say A Word”, minus the disturbed girl) and unpleasant goings on rarely manages to keep me interested, let alone entertained. It’s not as slow or painfully uneventful as “The Strangers”, and is certainly more professional than any version of “Last House on the Left”. I just didn’t care.

 

The opening scene ends up not so much a red herring as completely irrelevant, whilst the ending is cruelly devastating, but ultimately pointless beyond having a bleak ending for the sake of it. The film isn’t nearly as revolting or extreme as I was expecting. On the one hand, I appreciated that cutting away from the home situation to the father means that some of the unpleasantness is kept off-screen, but on the other hand, it breaks any tension whatsoever. The scenes with the dad try for their own tension, but it’s clich├ęd. It reminded me of “Firewall” and the remake of “Mother’s Day”, for instance (not sure if the latter came out after this, though). The use of sound FX is effective, but there’s still a difference between leaving it up to our imaginations and simply cutting away to something different for far too long stretches. So even on its own level, it’s not as effective as it probably wants to be.

 

The camerawork by Pedro J. Marquez is pretty good, I must say. It starts with some annoyingly pretentious close-ups and shaky-cam, but eventually it settles down with some good, roving camerawork as we move through the house, ala “Panic Room”. Good stuff there. Split-screen, however, is occasionally employed and breaks any illusion of reality whatsoever.

 

I liked the performance by Manuela Velies, even though her 18 year-old character is treated by her parents like she’s 15. I’m not sure how they do things in Spain, but an 18 year-old is an adult in Australia, so it seemed weird to me. Maybe things in Spain are different or maybe the director and his co-writer Javier Garcia don’t know what they’re talking about.

 

Although I think that some will find this quite effective, I didn’t appreciate it, and don’t understand what I was meant to enjoy about it. I’m not a fan of the genre, however.

 

Rating: C

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: Superman


We begin on Krypton, where Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is attempting in vain to convince his colleagues (Trevor Howard and Harry Andrews among them) that their planet is on the brink of extinction. Having failed to do so, he manages to help his baby boy escape before the planet explodes. The boy’s capsule lands on Earth, and the baby is found and soon adopted by Ma and Pa Kent (Phyllis Thaxter and Glenn Ford). The boy, renamed Clark, grows up trying to fit in with regular kids at school but it’s pretty obvious he has super powers- super strength and speed, imperviousness to pain...oh, and he can also fly. Eventually it becomes clear that there is a greater good to be served by Clark that stretches beyond his modest farm home in Smallville. Moving to the busy city of Metropolis, he assumes the identity of a mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter (now played by Christopher Reeve). But a quick phone booth change allows him to shed the dork glasses, don blue tights and a cape to become the city’s superhero, Superman. Meanwhile, he becomes attracted to co-worker Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), who in turn, has the hots for Superman. Gene Hackman plays Lex Luthor, an egomaniacal supervillain and real estate developer with dastardly deeds planned (involving nuclear weapons, the San Andreas fault and his own beach-front property), but flanked by an idiot (Ned Beatty’s Otis) and a bimbo (Valerie Perrine’s Miss. Teschmacher), respectively. Jackie Cooper is Clark’s boss at the Daily Planet, Perry White, with Marc McClure as young co-worker Jimmy Olsen. Terence Stamp appears early as arch-villain General Zod, who (along with Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran) plays a more prominent part in “Superman II”.

 

For me, this iconic 1978 Richard Donner (“The Omen”, “The Goonies”, “Ladyhawke”, “Lethal Weapon”- all among my favourite films of all-time) blockbuster is the superhero movie that tops them all. It has never been equalled, and may never be. It’s everything I believe a superhero movie should be (only Tim Burton’s “Batman” comes close in that regard but the character was much darker by design), and one of the greatest movies ever made of any genre. From the wonderful opening credits, featuring the inimitable John Williams (“Jaws”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) theme, right to the very end, this film is exactly what I believe a superhero film should be like. It is the benchmark, free of the mopey, unpleasant moodiness of the Christopher Nolan “Batman” movie in particular. Sure, it was made during a simpler time, but I feel this kind of material should be relatively simple, iconic, lightweight entertainment. Perhaps that’s why I warmed the fantasy/superhero vibe of the recent “Green Lantern” more than most seemed to. The funny thing is, and I’ll be disagreeing with a lot of people here, I think the strongest scenes in the film are the ones before we get to Metropolis. Even though I’m no Marlon Brando fan, I really love the scenes set on Krypton. Brando even manages to enunciate clearly in English for a change (seemingly influenced by Richard Burton’s accent and vocal intonations), and whilst Stamp might be underused here, it’s still one of his best and most iconic performances. I’m not sure why he, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O’Halloran get sentenced to an eternity of looking like a Queen album cover, though (Seriously, tell me it’s not the cover of Queen’s Greatest Hits!). Sure, the sets might not look hi-tech today, but they’re really special. The destruction of Krypton is quite well-handled by 1978 standards. Like the “Star Wars” films, these early scenes contain FX and production values that hold up better than a lot of FX films from the period. The production design is gorgeous and imaginative throughout the film, with the Fortress of Solitude being a particular favourite once we move away from Krypton. Seriously, I want one.

 

The scenes in Smallville are also really lovely, despite a goofy-looking Jeff East as Clark (Clark, by the way, is my middle name). Glenn Ford only turns up briefly, but he’s terrific, with a humble, decent, quiet authority and presence that go a long way. The man barely even seems to be acting, he just is Pa Kent. In fact, these scenes are more enjoyable than about 80% of the entire run of “Smallville” on TV. It’s classic fantasy storytelling, something that is often lost these days. In fact, given that Smallville is meant to be in Kansas, you could make a connection to “The Wizard of Oz”. Both films feature characters leaving Kansas to embark of a big adventure that is seemingly their destiny (Green, meanwhile, is the colour of Kryptonite, The Wicked Witch of the West’s face, and of course, The Emerald City- too much thought here? Perhaps, but it’s fun to analyse nonetheless). Is over half an hour too long for a prologue? Yes, but it’s the best stuff in the film, so I wouldn’t cut a damn thing. Having said that, what kind of dick leaves his elderly mother to fend for herself and operate a farm on her own? Sure, he arranges for financial support, but still, it’s something that I’ve never thought about the other sixty million times I’ve seen this film, but stood out here. Superman’s a bit of a douchebag.

 

The only real flaw for me in this film is that unless I fell asleep in exactly the same part of the film every time I’ve seen it, there is absolutely no explanation as to why Superman has to be...Superman. That is, I get that he’s an alien with special powers, but we don’t get any inclination as to how or why he decided to become a superhero or crime-fighter in particular. What motivated him to do this? We got that from every damn version of “Batman” and even “Spider Man”, but we don’t get it with “Superman”. Perhaps we were just meant to go along with it, maybe we were expected to have grown up with the character from comics. Other than that, the only thing I’ve never really understood about this film is Kryptonite. Superman is supposed to be basically allergic to it, and yet, he clearly has it with him as an infant. So that makes no damn sense. Any ideas, nerds...I mean, readers? (I say it as one of you, believe me)

 

Things are perfectly fine in the Metropolis section of the film, especially whenever Margot Kidder or Gene Hackman are on screen. All other superhero leading ladies pale in comparison to Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane, a real flesh and blood character. She’s also a strong, cynical woman, despite needing to be rescued at times. Hey, the film’s 35 years old, that’s older than me, so cut it some slack, OK? Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor might not be the right supervillain for every superhero film (He’d be out of place against the brooding Batman character for instance, especially in the Nolan films), but he’s the perfect one for this film. I love that he’s not so much brutal or evil, as he is scheming, crafty, intelligent, and flamboyantly egotistical. It’s a more light-hearted but pitch-perfect villain for a more light-hearted superhero film than one tends to get these days (Batman would never rescue a little girl’s cat from a tree), without going too far into outright comedy. Hackman is simply having a whale of a time being a supreme egotist who would be absolutely unstoppable if he weren’t flanked by a couple of boobs. Ned Beatty is perfect as nincompoop Otis, but you’d swear if this were made in Britain, it’d be the perfect role for Roy Kinnear. Meanwhile, the now obsolete Valerie Perrine is wonderfully acerbic as the ample-bosomed Miss Teschmacher. Larry Hagman, meanwhile, has a cameo as an army guy that simply doesn’t make sense, but is amusing nonetheless.

 

In the all-important title role (or dual roles if you like), my personal hero the late Christopher Reeve is underrated and iconic. He may not have been that great of an actor, but he will always be Superman and Clark Kent above anyone else for me. He’s certainly believable in both roles, even if it’s become a bit of a joke that there’s so little physical difference between Superman and Clark Kent. It’s called suspension of disbelief, folks. Like Margot Kidder, Reeve just is the role. Some actors aren’t even lucky enough to achieve that.

 

I haven’t gotten terribly analytical or academic here, but to be honest, I don’t need to. It’s a ginormous epic spectacular, for starters. To see this film is to love it, and one loves it because it’s one of the greatest entertainments of all-time for reasons that simply need to be experienced for yourself. If you don’t enjoy this film, then you don’t enjoy enjoyment. It’s one of those films that I am able to watch over and over, without getting bored. So the film might be somewhat simple in a way, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t rich in entertainment value that lasts a lifetime. It joins a select few films in that regard (The “Star Wars” films, “The Goonies”, “The Great Escape”, “Big Trouble in Little China”, “Halloween”, and a few others).

 

The screenplay is by Robert Benton (“Bonnie and Clyde”, director of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Places in the Heart”), David Newman (“Bonnie and Clyde”, “Sheena”, “Superman III”), Leslie Newman (“Superman II”, “Superman III”), and Mario Puzo (author of “The Godfather”), with a story by the latter. Winner of an Oscar for its FX work (the climactic earthquake is bloody well done for the time, in fact it’s better than anything in “Earthquake”), Williams’ nominated score ought to have won that year, and how the film wasn’t nominated for (and didn’t win) the Oscar for Best Picture is one of the Academy’s biggest-ever fuck ups. I like “The Deer Hunter” an awful lot, but it is not better nor more important in the history of cinema than “Superman” (nor are any of the other films nominated that year, including the very fine “Coming Home”). 

 

Rating: A+