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, June 1, 2013

Review: Black Moon Rising


Tommy Lee Jones plays a government-employed thief hired to get the dirt on a large corporation suspected of all-round dodgy behaviour. He manages to procure a tape with the information needed, but is forced to hide them inside a nearby car. This ain’t no ordinary car, though, it’s the super hi-tech Black Moon, a race car, the type of which is designed to break speed records. And worse than that, the car ends up being stolen by another thief (Linda Hamilton!), who works for a stolen car racket headed by tycoon Robert Vaughn. So now Jones, aided by the car’s owners (Richard Jaeckel and William Sanderson) must break into Vaughn’s skyscraper and get the car (and the tape) outta there. Easier said than done. Bubba Smith (!) plays the government man who hired Jones, a well-dressed Lee Ving (with awful hair) is the man Jones stole the tape from, and Keenan Wynn is an associate of Jones’.

 

You know you’re watching a bad 80s movie the minute you see one of those cheesy ‘futuristic’ cars that look like a cross between a Lamborghini and an Atari computer. Directed by the unfortunately named Harley Cokliss (who worked as 2nd Unit director on “The Empire Strikes Back”) in 1986, it’s most notable for one of the several hands involved in the writing process; The one and only John Carpenter (“Halloween”, “Big Trouble in Little China”), who obviously contributed the slight Snake Plissken-esque vibes the film has on the edges, but which are ultimately diluted by the presence of fellow screenwriters William Gray (the excellent horror film “The Changeling” and the interesting sci-fi film “The Philadelphia Experiment”) and Desmond Nakano (“American Me”, “White Man’s Burden”). I doubt that very much of Carpenter’s original story remains in the finished script. In fact, the script was apparently finished ten years earlier, and the role eventually played by Tommy Lee Jones was envisioned for Charles Bronson. The central idea isn’t awful, but the script is a loser and I doubt if even John Carpenter could’ve turned it into a winner if he took on directorial duties.

 

The biggest problem is that it is completely boring, as Cokliss has no sense of pacing at all and the film has zero energy. That’s fatal for an action movie. It’s a shame because as I said, there’s a potentially interesting heist movie idea in here, except for the stupid Atari car. Make the car a bit more plausible, and hire a director who knows how to make an exciting action film, and you’ve got an infinitely better film.

 

Tommy Lee Jones (who is rarely the problem in any of his films) is decent enough to suggest he might’ve made for an OK action star, but this is pretty stale and flat, ruining any chances of that happening. It’s OK, his career recovered, obviously, and he offers up a different action hero vibe here that I liked, even if the film sucks. Good cameo by veteran character actor Keenan Wynn, though one wonders if Jack Warden was busy or something. The film is a complete waste of Richard Jaeckel, Bubba Smith, Lee Ving, and especially the usually quirky and fun William Sanderson. Ving is probably the best of them, but none get much screen time.

 

This is far from the worst film of the 80s, but it contains just about everything wrong with 80s filmmaking; The aforementioned car, a godawful synth score by Lalo Schifrin (“Cool Hand Luke”, “Bullitt”, “THX 1138”, “Enter the Dragon”), Linda Hamilton who sucks in anything not featuring “Terminator” in the title, a slumming and lazy Robert Vaughn as the villain, a Bubba Smith appearance, former punk rocker Lee Ving (who is solid as usual but rarely appears in anything worth watching), etc. Hamilton’s dreadful hairdo also deserves a mention, it’s like a cross between Prince and a poodle that has up and died on her head. You do get a brief look at one of her tits in this, though. She’s actually miscast if you ask me. The Linda Hamilton of “Terminator 2” might’ve been able to play a thief, but not the Linda Hamilton of 1986, I’m afraid. She has no edge or toughness, something that wouldn’t have been a problem with say, Linda Fiorentino in the part. Sorry, but this film is pretty damn awful.

 

Rating: D+

Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: The Bedford Incident


Cold War flick in which Richard Widmark’s NATO battleship is intruded upon by two newcomers; replacement doctor Martin Balsam, and visiting reporter/photographer Sidney Poitier. Both men will get on the nerves of the tough, unbending captain Widmark (in full-on, hard-bitten, bordering on psychotic mode), who it appears is slowly coming apart at the seams, obsessively chasing after a Russian sub. He antagonises meek doctor Balsam for trying to coast along in a cushy job to hide from his failed marriage (not an undeserved criticism, exactly), and refuses to go along with any of his fitness and health ideas (which might actually give Balsam something to do on board!). He constantly barks at new recruit James MacArthur for minor mistakes. He won’t even take on the advice of the ship’s West German advisor (now a NATO ally, of course), the Commodore (a classy Eric Portman), a WWII U-boat specialist who might actually have some damn insight. Meanwhile, Poitier quietly, cynically observes the slowly unravelling madness, occasionally prodding the captain, sensing a scandal in his past. A youngish Wally Cox turns up as the mousy Sonar Technician, who is perhaps the only person the captain truly has any regard for, and even then it’s only because he needs his expertise. Look for a young Donald Sutherland in the opening scene, this was his first feature film role.

 

Naval films or submarine movies don’t tend to be among my favourite kind of films, but here’s one of the better ones. This tense 1965 James B. Harris (who later helmed two James Woods flicks “Fast-Walking” and “Cop”) drama has great performances, interesting characters, interesting points to make, and moments of tension. It really is a solid film. It is not, however, an outstanding one. Harris (mostly a producer of Stanley Kubrick films like “Lolita” and “The Killing”) isn’t a good enough director to keep the tension going throughout, thus the film’s shock ending didn’t quite work for me in the intended way. I was startled to be sure, but mostly because I was starting to get fidgety and had to rewind it, because I actually missed it the first time. Partly my fault perhaps (Like I said, I’m not a fan of these films to begin with), but not entirely.

 

Anyway, Poitier is solid in a dull role (some say he’s the audience’s POV, but I disagree), whilst a well-cast Widmark and particularly Balsam (one of his best-ever roles as the true POV of the audience, flawed as he is) are outstanding. It’s a good film, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you might even consider it even better than that. The screenplay by James Poe is from the novel by Mark Rascovich.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: Contraband


Mark Wahlberg plays a family man and former smuggler forced to do (wait for it) one last job when his wife Kate Beckinsale’s delinquent younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) runs afoul of drug dealer Giovanni Ribisi and his goons. Jones nearly gets nabbed in a customs raid, dumps a whole lotta cocaine, and earns the ire of volatile Ribisi. Ribisi wants compensation for the discarded blow, and has no qualms in killing all three of them, if he doesn’t get his damn money (and that’s $750,000). So what’s a former smuggler to do? Reunite his old crew, head on over to Panama, grab a whole bunch of counterfeit dinero, and presumably sell it. And using a container ship (captained by a grumpy J.K. Simmons) as basically a courier vessel. Needless to say, it’s a whole lot easier said than done, especially considering crims (and even criminal associates) aren’t a terribly trustworthy lot. While he’s away, Wahlberg entrusts his best pal Ben Foster to look after the wife and kids. Lukas Haas plays one of Wahlberg’s sidekicks, Diego Luna is a Panamanian gangster contact of Wahlberg’s, and David O’Hara is another long-time criminal acquaintance.

 

I’m not sure if this has ever happened before, but Baltasar Kormakur was the star of Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and now here he is directing this 2012 Americanised remake. I haven’t seen the original, but I must say, this one’s a lot better than I was expecting. I absolutely hated the film’s ending, though, because it shows that not one of the film’s characters has learned a single thing from their experiences here. And since this is a bit grittier, harsher, and more realistic than your usual heist flick, I couldn’t quite get rid of that bad taste in my mouth. The situation was too messy for it to have such a tidy, Hollywood ending (No idea how the original ended, though), and I’m not entirely certain Mr. Jones was worth helping out, family or not. Up until the end, the film is highly watchable, if a tad lumpy.

 

The film mixes the traditional heist movie with the standard Mark Wahlberg character of the morally-conflicted guy either drawn into a life of crime (“The Yards”), or being part of a family with criminal influences (“We Own the Night”). Actually the film kinda combines those two character-types together here. This is better than lots of other films of this sort, and the rather limited Wahlberg is effective as a bad guy taking on worse guys. Wahlberg makes the character believable as a reformed crim drawn back into the old life for good reasons. Meanwhile, the no-nonsense David O’Hara and always watchable Ben Foster steal every one of their scenes without really trying, though O’Hara isn’t around nearly enough. Co-star Giovanni Ribisi could learn a lot from watching those two guys. Ribisi certainly isn’t miscast here, and nails the slimy douchebag characteristics of his character. However, as is the actor’s wont, he goes too far by affecting an accent and vocal intonations that are just silly. The man has talent, genuine talent, it’s just that he has no idea what to do with it, and needs a director strong enough to smack him upside the head every now and again. By going the extra mile, he makes his character a complete non-threat. He’s a tool and his posse are all incompetent tools. You want to punch the actor, not just the character, and that’s not really the desired effect. Diego Luna, however, is terrific in a smaller role as a criminal acquaintance of Wahlberg’s, mixing menacing threat and outward (albeit phony) joviality in entertaining fashion. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be hiring Lukas Haas on any more heists after fucking up here and in “Inception”. Dude’s bad luck, y’all.

 

The film is never dull and quite entertaining overall (if overly dark and yellow), but the problems don’t end with Ribisi’s nonsense. For instance, as beautiful as Kate Beckinsale may well be, an actress she is not. I’ve never seen any talent there at all, whereas at least Wahlberg can be effective in the right role. Beckinsale only fails to suck here when...she’s unconscious. She’s great then.

 

I suppose I should’ve guessed the identity of the film’s surprise villain, especially given who plays the part, but I must confess to having an ‘off’ day. I was fooled, perhaps because the casting seemed too obvious (though the actor in question certainly doesn’t foam at the mouth or signal anything). I also thought it was incredibly stupid that in order to get Caleb Landry Jones’ (who looks a tad young, but I know nothing about crims, so I’ll let it slide) character out of trouble...they involve him in the central heist. Wouldn’t that potentially put him in more trouble? Still, it’s an enjoyable film overall, especially if you like crime movies and heist movies. Adapted by Aaron Guzikowski, it’s certainly a lot better than I had been led to believe. 

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: The Young Lions


Marlon Brando is Christian Diestl, an idealistic young German soldier serving under Adolf Hitler, who initially has hopes that the Fuhrer will do great things for Germany (Hitler was an absolute monster, but one has to also remember that prior to WWII, he was Germany’s economic saviour, basically, so they were optimistic about him at that time). Serving in North Africa, however, proves a disillusioning experience for him. Meanwhile, we also follow American crooner Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) in his attempts to avoid serving on the front lines for as long as humanly possible, despite his girl (Barbara Rush) doing her part in the war effort, making him feel guilty and developing a drinking habit (Or was free alcohol just the hook to get Martin to sign on to the film?). When called up to the draft board, Martin meets young Jewish American Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift), and they become fast friends. Noah, who becomes the target of anti-Semitic bullying by fellow soldiers (including a sergeant played by a staggeringly thin Lee Van Cleef), also begins a romance with a pretty WASP girl named Hope (conveniently played by another Hope, Hope Lange). Her father Vaughan Taylor is uneasy about his daughter dating a Jew...until he meets nice guy Noah. Maximilian Schell turns up as a Nazi Captain and Diestl’s superior, who is very pro-German, and whose sexy wife (May Britt) has designs on his young, blond Lieutenant, Diestl. Liliane Montevecchi turns up as Diestl’s other possible love interest earlier in the film, a very patriotic Frenchwoman.

 

Montgomery Clift is in my view one of the greatest actors of all-time, whilst fellow ‘method’ actor Marlon Brando has always irritated me. The guy’s ‘method’ is always right there on show, and you never really see the character, unlike the more naturalistic thesping from Clift, Paul Newman, and to an extent Robert De Niro. So it’s interesting that in this 1958 WWII film, Marlon Brando steals the show in his best-ever performance (he has you actually caring about a German officer during WWII), whilst Clift is stuck with a character that borrows a few too many beats from his character in “From Here to Eternity”. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (“The Caine Mutiny”, “Warlock”), it’s one of the best WWII films, and somewhat underrated, not to mention it’s one of the few WWII films to give the German POV in addition to the American side of things. The film provides a really interesting balance between ‘Old Hollywood’ and a grittier, more ‘method’ American cinema.

 

In addition to providing nuance on the German side of things, the film is willing to include fear, reticence, anti-Semitism (by Americans, no less), death, suicide, you name it. True, the talk of Concentration Camps and the Holocaust is seriously dialled down, but under the circumstances, that’s understandable. It also didn’t bother me that Dean Martin’s extremely reticent character eventually goes off to war, because even then he’s still extremely reluctant to be there. He offers a very different kind of American soldier in WWII, and I appreciated that (I was less impressed with the obvious attempt at recreating the Frank Sinatra/Monty Clift pairing from “From Here to Eternity”, with Sinatra’s pal Deano. It doesn’t quite go all the way there, but still the superficial resemblance annoys nonetheless). I mean, if I had to choose between patriotism and, y’know, not dying, I’d choose to stay alive. Fuck patriotism at that point, so I totally understand any reticence to fight. Brando’s excellent here, in a very restrained performance, and proves to be quite good with accents it must be said. At no point does the hand-wringing, wrinkled forehead brooding crap go into overdrive here, and there are no cotton balls in his damn cheeks.

 

Although there are elements to Clift’s character that reminded me of “From Here to Eternity” (except here he gets bullied by fellow soldiers due to anti-Semitism, not a reluctance to box, which is probably easier to swallow, really), there is no doubting the man’s talent as an actor. A very sad and troubled man, his vulnerability and seeming insecurity as a human being (especially after his horrific car accident two years before this film) appeared to lend him a humility and sensitivity that made him both magnetic and sympathetic on screen. Didn’t anyone ever tell him how great he was? His scenes with Hope Lange in this might’ve been mundane in a lesser actor’s hands, but Clift’s sensitivity and awkwardness make them very sweet. Or maybe he had just been on a bender with Deano the night before, who knows. At one point he says to her; ‘I guess I thought if I was myself, you wouldn’t look at me twice’. Car accident or not, only Monty Clift could look the way he did, deliver that line, and get away with it. One thing I didn’t get, though; After one of his fellow soldiers has already beaten the crap out of him, why do they keep beating him up? We know why Clift keeps fighting, but what else is there for the other guys to prove? Surely even racists would stop after one beating, and move on to someone else, right? The eventual turnaround of these men is a tad hard to swallow, too, and even I can’t defend Clift going AWOL in yet another WWII film. The pairing of supposedly Jewish Clift and WASP Lange is a tad obvious, and to be honest, her dad Vaughan Taylor looks more Jewish than Clift, but those are minor issues, really.

 

Deano’s pretty good in his role, which was apparently originally intended for Tony Randall (which would’ve been interesting). He’s not the actor Sinatra was, but he has charisma and presence (I always found him much more likeable than Frank). Having him play a singer and reticent participant in the war, makes sure his isn’t just Maggio from “From Here to Eternity” played by Frank’s right-hand man. He gets one great, borderline vomiting reaction shot late in the film, in particular. Deano’s obsession with alcohol in this is, however, rather disconcerting. Look out for an excellent small role for Maximilian Schell as a very different kind of German to the one he played in “Judgment at Nuremberg”. He’s a genuine worry every time he appears. In fact, at times he might actually remind you of Christoph Waltz from the more recent “Inglorious Basterds”. There’s also memorable small roles for French-Italian actress Liliane Montevecchi and a seriously hot Swedish actress May Britt. The former only appears very briefly as a potential love match for Brando, named Francoise, while the latter’s two scenes as Schell’s sexy wife are starkly different, starting out as a Gloria Grahame-esque femme fatale (except hot), before reappearing a somewhat deglamorised woman. I guess war does that to people, even if they’re not the ones fighting in it.

 

I’m not sure where the film was shot, but it all looks very authentic (the scenery is very nice), and the battle scenes, whilst not terribly large scale are seemingly real too. Having some of it take place in Africa also gives it some distinction, with some shots of stark, bare landscape and trees (The film is in B&W, and I couldn’t possibly imagine it in colour).

 

This film is no “From Here to Eternity” and will be too long and slow for some, but I found it all really interesting, and somewhat disarming in its treatment of at least the Brando character. It’s in showing different viewpoints and angles towards the war that the film really differentiates itself, despite an occasional similarity to “From Here to Eternity” (BTW, anyone else think the scene where Clift is chastised by an SO for his reading material would’ve been funnier if he had been reading “From Here to Eternity”?).

 

The structure of the film is somewhat episodic, but with two storylines and lots of ground to cover, it’s necessary, as is the length. It’s an ambitious but also impressive and interesting film. It’s so impressive that you likely won’t even notice the first time around that our two main storylines don’t converge until right at the end. And it actually works anyway! Why has this film been largely forgotten? I just don’t get it. The screenplay by Edward Anhalt (“Becket”, “Hour of the Gun”) was based on the Irwin Shaw novel, with apparently quite a difference between the two, something that annoyed by Shaw and star Clift. So perhaps (reading between the lines) the things I liked most about the film are the least connected to the source material.

 

Rating: B+

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: The Hole (2009)


Chris Massoglia moves into a new town and new house with his mother (Teri Polo) and younger brother (Nathan Gamble). We are told that this is the latest of several moves the family have made. An adult male is conspicuously missing. Anyway, one day, Massoglia and Gamble are messing around in the basement when they come across a mysterious hole (which was padlocked, before the boys decided to open it). A seemingly bottomless one. Soon they’ve even got the pretty teenage girl next door (Haley Bennett) intrigued by the hole. And then sinister things start happening; ghosts appear, clown dolls seemingly come menacingly to life. Hmmm, seems like there might’ve been a good reason why the hole had been covered up and padlocked. Bruce Dern turns up as the previous owner of the house, named Crazy Carl, for pretty obvious reasons.

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Joe Dante. He always comes across as a nice, affable guy, and an unabashed film buff, especially in regards to schlocky movies. I almost feel like we’re kindred spirits. As a filmmaker he has Steven Spielberg’s imagination and sense of childlike wonder, but usually with a dark sense of mischief and a film buff’s vision that sets him apart from others. Unfortunately, I very rarely enjoy his films as much as I want to. “The Howling” and “Gremlins” are terrific films, no doubt about it. But outside of those, there are a few solid films (“Innerspace”, “Matinee”, “Piranha”) but even most of those have an element of disappointment about them. Endings in particular are a frequent sore spot in his films, though in the case of the underrated “Explorers” I can at least understand what Dante was getting at with that ending. While I don’t like people referring to him as Spielberg-lite, but I can’t deny I know we’re they’re coming from. Still, an average Joe Dante film is usually more likeable and watchable than a lot of other filmmakers’ best output. This barely released 2009 kiddie horror pic is certainly among his lesser films, though there are still elements to like.

 

The basic plot and character dynamics are a complete cliché, it must be said. It’s rather disappointing that a guy as talented as Dante has given us what is, in essence, a mixture of “The Gate” and “The Goonies”, minus the humour and loveable characters of the latter. Familiarity can be comfortable and enjoyable, but for a man who rarely makes movies these days, I have to say I was expecting more than this. The basic character dynamics of two brothers and their cute new neighbour just seemed so ‘been there, done that’ and beneath Dante, who in peak form, can really deliver the goods (“The Howling” is one of the best werewolf movies ever made and “Gremlins” is a maliciously funny middle finger to the silly season). Hell, the broken family theme is right out of Dante’s buddy Spielberg, with the lovely Teri Polo essentially subbing for Dee Wallace Stone. I wasn’t especially bothered that Dante played this material largely straight, but the lack of awe and urgency was particularly troubling. Whether it’s the fault of actress Haley Bennett (who is a lot better here than in “Music & Lyrics”) or Dante, there’s no sense of ‘wow, gee whiz!’ when Bennett finds out about the mysterious hole.

 

However, it’s really the pacing that kills this film. I could handle the clichéd set-up a helluva lot more if it weren’t so damn slow to go anywhere. For a film that gets us right to the discovery of the hole, it sure takes its sweet time to go anywhere after that. A film that is narratively playing it so safe really needs a sense of urgency or energy, but Dante seems a bit rusty, or else he thinks the screenplay by Mark L. Smith (“Vacancy”) is a lot more original than it actually is. Compare that to a film like “1408”, which is a thoroughly cliché haunted room/house film, but an absolute nail-biter from start to finish, it never lets up. This film never quite warms up.

 

Having said all this, the basic premise still has a workability about it. You keep watching because you’re intrigued by the hole and want to know what the hell is going on down there. There’s one seriously messed-up moment involving a human eye that might just fuck your kids up for life. It’s definitely aimed at the 11-16 market, and those in such an age bracket will get more out of the film than perhaps I did, especially if your frame of cinematic reference doesn’t go very far back.

 

The film is definitely better than “Super 8”, another film in the Spielberg-protégé mould that also favoured chills over thrills, but much less enjoyably. The characters here, for instance, are easier to gravitate towards than the nobodies in “Super 8”, and unlike that film, I kinda knew what this film was going to be like going in so I wasn’t disappointed or felt misled. I also really liked the work of Teri Polo, even if the role required little of her. Dante regular Dick Miller gets it worse, however, in a silent walk-on as the world’s oldest pizza delivery boy. What the hell? Bennett, as I said, is improving, and I liked that she’s a little goofy here too. She’s got something. The film is stolen, however, by old pro Bruce Dern, who was clearly born to play a guy named Creepy Carl. He’s a great talent, and gives an excellent performance, though the role isn’t big (Fun fact: He killed John Wayne in a movie once, and probably still gets shit for it today. Poor guy!).

 

The film is extremely well-shot and well-lit, and although not as full to the brim with film references as other Dante films, I did like that there was a glove factory named Orlac. Nice one, Mr. Dante, I see what you did there. Hilarious use of a talking Cartman doll, too. Damn I miss “South Park”. Is it still running new episodes? I haven’t seen it in years. I was a lot less impressed with the menacing jester-like clown doll screaming ‘You want a piece of me?’ at a terrified child. Clowns and dolls freak me out, but that was just dumb.

 

Originally intended for 3D screenings before going straight to DVD in America and Australia, the film also shows the scars of having been intended for such a medium. The film’s special FX simply look too artificial in 2D, whereas the 3D probably would’ve masked the budget.

 

An OK film, but one that moves too damn slowly and is far too familiar to warrant such a pace. I mean, it’s not until the last twenty minutes that the protagonists work out what the hole is doing and decide to go down there. That’s a bit late if you ask me. I like the idea of a kids ghost movie, and it is creepy at times, but perhaps not often enough. It’s no “Gremlins”, or even “Explorers” or “Matinee”, but if you were disappointed with “Super 8”, this one’s slightly similar and a bit better. I just think it’s a bit shy of the mark, for my liking.

 

Rating: C+