About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Kurt & Courtney

A documentary surrounding the death of grunge icon and Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain, his marriage to Courtney Love, and the possibility that the latter may have had something to do with Cobain’s death. He even manages to get a brief interview with a burly, beer-drinking former ‘musician’ named El Duce, who claims Love hired him to whack Cobain. This Nick Broomfield documentary is a hard one to get one’s head around. It’s never dull and frequently fascinating, so I can’t rightly give it a bad grade, as entertainment is a really big factor in assessing a film’s worth for me.


However, as a film, and more importantly as a documentary, it’s so intrusive, subjective, prejudiced and borderline defamatory that it’s actually a bad film in some ways. The fact that I dislike Courtney Love only slightly less than Broomfield seems to (and he quite clearly thinks she’s Satan) helped me tolerate Broomfield’s nonsense a bit more, though I firmly believe Cobain killed himself. However, for a lot of people, this is going to be the opposite of what they feel a documentary should be, and I feel a duty to lay it all out there for you. It’s rambling, involves some seriously dodgy people saying rather dubious things whilst potentially on mind-altering substances, and I’m not even sure it has a real statement being made by the end except that Kurt Cobain died and Courtney Love is the most fake-arse, horrible person on the planet. It gets those two points across, no doubt about it.


Thank God that the subject matter, slanted or not, is mostly interesting (especially to someone like me who was about 14 when Cobain died) because Broomfield’s poor man’s Michael Moore ambush tactics are appallingly sloppy. Especially considering he’s not really ambushing anyone, it’s just that he’s so incompetent it comes across like he’s planning an ambush. Dude, you’re barging in to buildings with a camera and boom mike, and you’re surprised to be met with hostility? Really? I’m not buying your phony indignation, I’m afraid. I enjoyed Broomfield’s doco on female serial killer Aileen Wuornos (“Aileen Wuornos: Selling of a Serial Killer”), but even there he got a little too close to his subject, and injected himself into the story far too often. Here more than ever before, Broomfield at times comes across like he’s more concerned with his own struggles to make the film, than being about either Kurt Cobain or Courtney Love or their relationship, or Cobain’s death. I’m not even sure Broomfield is a particularly accomplished documentarian, and it’s obvious that several of his interviewees are dubious in the extreme (Courtney Love’s deeply bitter father and the truly absurd- and clearly drunk- ‘El Duce’ in particular). I mean, even Kurt’s Aunt Mary has a kind of ‘Groovy Christian/Guidance Counsellor who isn’t anything remotely groovy’ vibe about her, nice as she seems (and she clearly nurtured Kurt in his early interests in music). It’s hard to really accept a documentary when so many of the people interviewed either have an agenda or are inebriated to some degree, and Broomfield should’ve been smart enough to weed a couple of the more dubious ones out as they aren’t terribly helpful to him or his case (Neither is Broomfield himself, but anyway...). I’m still not 100% convinced every one of these people even knew either Love or Cobain personally.


True, Courtney Love’s interference and litigious threats impacted on the film itself to the point where Broomfield (who had all kinds of funding issues during filming) had to be very careful about what music he used in the film. Even so, the film isn’t a technical masterpiece in the slightest, and his anti-Love agenda comes across as almost as spiteful as Love’s father’s, deserved or not. Love may well have declined an offer to participate, but that doesn’t mean Broomfield can use her lack of cooperation (or his anger towards her for that) as an excuse to half-heartedly infer that she was complicit in a murder that kinda sorta 99.99% more than likely didn’t happen. Sure, some of the interviewees are sceptical of the murder theory, but there’s no doubt Broomfield has slanted things in favour of that theory, at least slightly, before finishing the film without ultimately coming down firmly on either side. Like I said, it’s half-hearted (at least Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, and Glenn Beck are fully committed in their conspiracy theories), much like when Broomfield and his cronies, a couple of lame-arse PI’s, get an opportunity to speak to Love herself and pussy out (though Broomfield does do a bit of gatecrashing/Grand-standing at an ACLU function in Love’s honour, which is amusing in a douchebag way).


But I can’t deny that I was engrossed in a lot of this, even when I was offended and appalled by a lot of Broomfield’s frankly douchy behaviour. I mean, he may sound a bit like Louis Theroux but he’s not as talented and twice as annoying and egotistical. It’s quite an entertaining watch, if a tad unpleasant, of course. Those interested in the subject matter will hardly find it boring, if incendiary, and a lot of the points being made about Ms. Love are likely not far from the truth. Did anyone really buy her ‘I’m a movie star now!’ turnaround of 1996/7? Not me, and not Broomfield, that’s for sure. It sure was a bizarre moment in time, though, wasn’t it? Let’s face it, with this many people verbally attacking her (axes to grind or not), some of this has to stick, right?


Meanwhile, some very well-chosen childhood photos and sound recordings provided by Kurt’s Aunt are especially affecting towards the end. Kurt was a cute kid, once, and a million miles away from everything he’d become, good and bad. And clearly bitter or not, the entire film is almost worth it to hear from Roz, a former boyfriend of Love’s who rants and raves to camera about how she basically stole his career. He’s hilarious, and probably one of the least chemically impaired interviewees in the entire film. As for El Duce (is that pronounced ‘El Douchy’? Just wondering), you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the clip for his ‘Sex Slave’ song. Wow. But honestly, you won’t believe a word the guy says, especially considering he claims to be in his mid 30s but looks to be well over 50!


I almost hated this film, it’s frankly not very well made, and yet...I’m not giving it a bad score. Yeah, figure that one out. Or better yet, watch the film (most people probably have by now) and tell me you don’t come out with a similarly complex reaction. It’s worth seeing at least once, but I’d rather re-watch the excellent 2007 documentary “Kurt Cobain- About a Son” (which really made Kurt seem like a sweet-natured, generally nice man with a helluva lot of problems). Hmmm, maybe I’m the one being half-hearted here. I guess what I’m saying is that although not a good movie, it’s a piece of trash, and sometimes I (like many people) am fascinated or at least amused by trash. I watch “TMZ” every now and then, for instance. That’s good trash, for the most part. This is OK trash.


Rating: C+

Review: The Darkest Hour

Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella are a couple of entrepreneurial Yank web designers in Russia hoping to sell their product internationally, but who get screwed over by a Eurotrash colleague (Joel Kinnaman) almost as soon as they land. As soon as the duo are about to drown their sorrows, however, things go to hell. A citywide blackout, followed by strange lights emanating from the sky. Oh, and people suddenly being zapped and evaporating. The Russians...er...aliens are coming! The Aliens are coming! Our heroes, their douchy Eurotrash rival, and a couple of pretty young tourists (Aussie Rachael Taylor, and American Olivia Thirlby) must stick together, evade the aliens, and find safe refuge. And formulate a plan of retaliation.


Directed by Chris Gorak (a former production designer in only his second directorial gig) from a script by Jon Spaihts (the polarising “Prometheus”- which I personally liked), this 2011 alien invasion film is neither as bad as you’ve heard, nor as good as it could’ve been. It ain’t “War of the Worlds” (nor the post-apocalyptic “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” for that matter), and the FX are so bad you’d swear the film was a ‘work print’ released by mistake. It was filmed and set in Russia, so one assumes money wasn’t exactly free-flowing, but I’m really surprised it was released, they’re that phony. No wonder the trailer was so bare-bones, they didn’t want you to know how cheap it looks. Speaking of cheapo Russian locales, the film tries for an eerily empty “28 Days Later” vibe, but it just looks like typical ugly Russia to me (Where the sun is apparently just another shade of grey. Like Melbourne, I guess).


Still, the basic story, clich├ęd or not, is pretty durable, and I found there was a surprise death or two as well. I also like the idea of aliens messing around with our electricity, it seems pretty plausible, so far as alien invasions go (I still think aliens just need to knock out our electricity and sit back and wait for us to kill each other). Meanwhile, unlike “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Cloverfield”, you can actually follow the action. Hooray for the steady camerawork of Scott Kevan (who previously wobbled his way through “The Losers”). It’s pretty dark, but it was originally shown in 3D and probably looked even worse there. In fact, I bet the 3D was completely useless here. It’s interesting that one of the protagonists in the film is actually a bit of a villain, it’s just that there’s much bigger villains here. It’s also kinda fun to see a film like this set in Russia where several decades ago, the aliens would be an allegorical reference to the threat of Communism. I could’ve done without the obvious “28 Days Later” rip-off with the old dude and the girl, though.


The cast doesn’t set the world alight (Emile Hirsch is terrible here, Aussie Rachael Taylor can’t act, and poor, likeable Max Minghella is typecast), but Olivia Thirlby is a definite standout. Hirsch is less punchable than he was in “Into the Wild”, however. The film’s strongest asset is a good, throbbing score by Tyler Bates (The tolerable remakes of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Halloween”).


Geez, it’s not that bad guys, and it contains elements that could’ve been worked into a decent film, if the budget and cast were jacked up a bit. Spaihts’ script is based on a story by Spaihts, M.T. Ahern and Leslie Bohem (Van Damme’s “Nowhere to Run”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child”, the underrated “Daylight”). Worth a look if you set your sights real low.


Rating: C+

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Big Jake

Set in the last moments of the Old West, young Jacob McCandles (played by John Ethan Wayne, The Duke’s 8 year-old kid) is kidnapped by Richard Boone’s gang, who demand a hefty $1 million for the boy’s safe return. Grandma Maureen O’Hara reluctantly enlists the help of the boy’s estranged grandfather, the title character played by The Duke himself. Along with two other estranged sons (Christopher Mitchum and Patrick Wayne, the former employs newfangled motor vehicles and an automatic pistol, whilst the latter just hangs shit on the old man whenever he can) and the ransom money, Jake sets off to meet with the captors and get the kid back. But is that really all he has planned? Bruce Cabot is solid as Wayne’s Indian scout buddy who helps out, and John Doucette is similarly fine as the sheriff who, on orders by O’Hara, travels by automobile with his separate posse to try and get to the kidnappers first. Did I mention The Duke comes armed with a vicious (but loyal) Collie? Well, there you go. Just don’t call him Lassie! (No really, don’t. It’s name is ‘Dog’).


One of The Duke’s better latter day films (along with “The Shootist”), this 1971 George Sherman (a B-western veteran who also produced “The Comancheros”, an OK Duke film. This was to be his last film) western is tough, violent (that opening shootout is terrific stuff), occasionally amusing, and action-packed stuff. It’s almost never dull, barely stopping to take a breath.


Duke is as he always is, if perhaps a bit better, Boone is brilliant as the heavy (When wasn’t he? Easily one of the screen’s most underappreciated talents), and the always taciturn O’Hara is...thankfully not on screen much. Harry Carey Jr, with what looks like shit-stained teeth, steals several scenes as one of Boone’s scummy crew.


Definitely a Wayne flick that more modern audiences should get some rowdy entertainment from, even if it isn’t as grand, brilliantly made, or insightful as some of his other, earlier films (“The Searchers”, “Rio Bravo”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, and “Stagecoach” probably being the best of them). Nice to see The Duke’s son Patrick playing one of his on-screen sons, though Mitchum is pretty awful as another on-screen son (and never looks like anything other than Bob Mitchum’s kid).


Very underrated, with Wayne and Boone’s eventual showdown a particular highlight. This one’s worth rediscovering, even if you’re not a Wayne fan (I’m certainly not). The screenplay is by Rita M. Fink and Harry Fink, of the first three “Dirty Harry” flicks.


Rating: B-

Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: The Crucible

Inspired by the Salem Witch trials of 1692 Massachusetts, teenaged Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) and several other young girls are spied dancing nekkid in the woods by Rev. Parris (a rock-solid Bruce Davison). Scared of the consequences in this time and place of bible-thumping and harsh punishment for anything perceived to be ‘witchcraft’ (a crime punishable by death), one of the girls seems to have worried herself into a coma-like state, whilst the other girls (headed by Abigail) put all the blame on black Jamaican slave Tituba, who presided over the whole thing. They claim Tituba forced them into participating in the sacrificial ceremony (a ceremony, which, in all fairness was quite childish, harmless, and not really witchcraft), whilst an expert on witchcraft, Rev. Hale (Rob Campbell) is brought into town to investigate matters. It’s not long before the girls, the deceitful and vengeful Abigail in particular are throwing others to the wolves with (false) accusations of being in Satan’s service. Abigail, you see, has designs on John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis), whom she has been infatuated with since being in his employ and under his roof. When Proctor’s wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) had suspicions of an affair between the two, she had Abigail cast out of the household. Abigail sees this latest hysteria as the perfect opportunity for revenge against Elizabeth, as she too is accused of being a tool of the Devil. Basically, Abigail is a living embodiment of that old saying about a woman scorned. Paul Scofield plays Judge Danforth, the stern authoritarian who is determined to find Satanists and bring them to their due punishment (Whilst the younger Rev. Hale starts to wake up to the possibility that the investigation might be corrupted by unreliable testimony). Jeffrey Jones, Peter Vaughan, and Frances Conroy play other townsfolk and elders, whilst George Gaynes is one of Scofield’s fellow judges.


Scripted by playwright Arthur Miller (“Death of a Salesman”) himself, this 1996 film version of his play from director Nicholas Hytner (“The Madness of King George”, “The Object of My Affection”) is pretty strong stuff and features several good performances in a mostly excellent cast. Among the best, a perfectly cast Daniel Day-Lewis (a truly persuasive actor who is both stirring and stoic here), authoritative Paul Scofield (in his last role), and a crazy-eyed, horny Winona Ryder (one of her best-ever performances) are especially strong here, though Rob Campbell is completely one-note as Rev. Hale. It’s clear that he’s a stage actor, and like Rebecca Pidgeon, for instance (a terrible actress thankfully not present here), he hasn’t worked out that the two mediums require a somewhat different approach, even if you’re working from a script based on a stage play. He’s actually quite annoying, if a lot less mannered than say Pidgeon.


I got a little lost from time to time, especially with so many Goodies and seemingly no Baddies around. I swear, one of the characters is named Goodie Good. It’s true, look it up. I mean, where were Goodie Goodie Gumdrop and Goodie Goodie Yum-Yum then? All kidding aside, this is still an extremely relevant story, perhaps even more relevant today. Lies, accusations, fundamentally religious superstitions, and witch hunts aren’t just confined to the Salem Witch Trials nor the McCarthy hearings Miller was initially inspired by, and it’s really scary when all this can happen due to some very silly jealousy, revenge, spitefulness, superstition, ignorance, and the ever helpful scapegoat. Don’t think for a second that it couldn’t happen in some form or another today. That’ll be your first mistake.


A really underrated and frankly disturbing film (from a very important text), though anyone not familiar with Miller’s version of period language might have to pay especially close attention. Like any good version of Shakespeare, however, if the acting is up to snuff, you’ll get the sense of it at least. I don’t normally go for this kind of “Dr Quinn’s Little House on the Prairie” thing normally, but this is darker and more thematically interesting and a lot less hokey or twee than you might expect.


Fun Fact: Daniel Day-Lewis actually met his future wife here, she being Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur.


Rating: B-