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 8, 2013

Review: The River Murders

Police detective Ray Liotta becomes the prime suspect in a series of murders of girls he has known in the biblical sense. Antagonistic FBI agent Christian Slater is called in to investigate, and takes an immediate disliking to Liotta. Liotta’s girlfriend Gisele Fraga, meanwhile, has a hard time hearing about her main man’s long string of former bed mates. Meanwhile, Liotta’s boss (Ving Rhames) and partner (Sarah Ann Schultz) do all they can to help him, whilst the audience is introduced to the real killer, a religious nutter played by Michael Rodrick, who has a connection to Liotta deep in his past that is slowly revealed. Raymond J. Barry plays Liotta’s recently widowed dad.


A tired and clich├ęd killer thriller, this 2011 film from Rich Cowan looks like a drab Canadian made-for-TV film (aside from some nice rainy scenery) and plays like a lame episode of “Criminal Minds”. Except with a lot more uses of the word ‘vagina’. Cinematographer Dan Heigh really ought to have turned a few more lights on. It’s not a bad film, but an entirely predictable one. It’s unfortunate that Cowan and writer Steve Anderson have not protected their twists well at all. I worked out what was going on within 15 minutes, even before any symbolism started turning up. The big twist, predictable as it is, I must admit is still rather brutal. But overall, this is just a tired, somewhat competent, but ultimately forgettable story.


It’s sad to see three well-known stars (Ray Liotta, Christian Slater, and Ving Rhames) slumming, but at least Liotta and especially Slater bring something to the table here. Slater’s overly loud, obnoxious turn is entirely entertaining, he cracked me up, intentional or not. He’s perfect casting at any rate, and seemingly enjoying himself. Liotta, meanwhile, shows he can play a good guy, albeit a good guy under suspicion. His weathered facial features and overall presence are a real asset to the mediocre material. Rhames, however, completely misses out in a role that really ought to have gone to a Bill Duke or a Charles S. Dutton. Just what is Rhames doing to his career these days? Meanwhile, not everyone can be a Rutger Hauer, John C. McGinley, or an Anthony Hopkins, but Michael Rodrick (Despite the plot being a ‘cop comes under suspicion’ story, we know he’s the killer very early on, even if we don’t know who he is exactly) brings absolutely nothing to the table as the chief menace. Also, as much as Gisele Fraga has a language excuse for her rather stiff performance, the terrible Sarah Ann Schultz has no such excuse. She just flat-out sucks. As for Raymond J. Barry, he’s a good actor, but admit it, every time you see him now you’re thinking: Wrong kid died. In all seriousness, he doesn’t have much screen time, but he does his job well as always.


This is an average film that needed to keep its twists well hidden, and also needed a lot more Christian Slater. I can’t believe I’m typing that last part.


Rating: C+

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: Reign of Assassins

The Dark Stone band of assassins steal half of the remains of a martial-arts expert and monk, apparently possession of the full remains is said to grant enormous power to the possessor. The Dark Stone assassins also murder the people currently in possession of said remains. However, during the chaos, one of the assassins, Drizzle (Kelly Lin) betrays her brethren and nicks off with the half of the remains. However, after hiding out with a monk named Wisdom (Li Zonghan) who helps her hone her sword technique (not a euphemism for sex), and later leads her towards a possible redemption for her past misdeeds. She ends up leading the quiet life, having taken surgical measures to hide her identity (hence Michelle Yeoh now playing the role) and pose as a simple merchant. She even shacks up with a guy (Woo sung-jung). Unfortunately, her past is about to catch up to her, as her old gang show up with a nasty replacement for her (an excellent Barbie Hsu), and bad intentions in mind.


Ten years after “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, we’re still getting all these wuxia epics, it seems. I haven’t kept up with all of them, but to be honest, the last really good one (and in fact, the best of the lot) I saw was 2006’s “Curse of the Golden Flower”. I haven’t seen a bad one, don’t get me wrong, but they’re all a bit samey, don’t you think? Having said that, this modern crop of wuxia films are essentially big-budget (i.e. Chinese financed) versions of old Shaw Brothers flicks anyway (and I do like some Shaw Brothers flicks very much, particularly “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”). This 2010 offering from Taiwanese writer/director Chao Bin-Su and producer John Woo (director of “The Killer”, “Mi2”, and “Face/Off”) isn’t bad but all the dopey “Mission Impossible”-style face-changing was a bit too silly for me. I mean, the sketches on the ancient wanted posters look so nondescript that changing your face seems pointless anyway. And c’mon, it’s Ancient China for cryin’ out loud, not modern day L.A. Apparently producer Woo had a hand in directing some of the film, and if so, it’s likely that the shitty plastic surgery nonsense was his input. Still, you don’t get to see flaming swords in a film very often, and flaming swords are always cool. The film also features what can only be described as a curling sword that might just be the coolest weapon I’ve seen in any martial arts film since “The One-Armed Boxer vs. Flying Guillotine”.


The action overall is really cool (the dopey character names, however are anything but cool), if not frequent enough for my personal liking. And hey, not every martial arts film has a eunuch in it, so there’s that. And a kid gets killed. You almost never have that happening. By the way, was that the Five Point Exploding Heart Technique being used? Looked like it to me (It also looked like at one point that Yeoh was paying homage to either the Stooges or Rowdy Roddy Piper). It’s also a really attractive film, as most of these things tend to be, with really nice use of light and shadow in particular. It’s certainly a vibrant-looking film, and it has more stylised rain than in a Wong Kar-Wai film.


But overall, this film is hampered by narrative and pacing issues that have it working only in fits and starts. The opening in particular gives us way too much information far too quickly to handle, despite the plot being rather simple. And yet at the same time, the film contains so many choppy wipes that you almost feel like you’re getting the film’s highlights. It eventually slows down, but perhaps a bit too much. Either that, or the lack of action and thrills are intentional, in which case the title is misleading. It’s a really bizarre and discombobulating narrative style and structure nonetheless. It really wouldn’t surprise me if Woo ended up taking over the film, because the film sure does feel like more than one person’s hands are on it, and not in a good way.


Yeoh has such a beautiful, graceful and commanding presence on screen and is always a welcome addition to any film. Her presence, in fact, makes the film seem fresher than it really is. But I can see why this film isn’t as well known as some of the other wuxia films: It’s not all that great. It definitely needed more flaming swords.


Rating: C+

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Faces in the Crowd

Milla Jovovich plays a kindergarten teacher who, after a night of drinking with her girlfriends (including Sarah Wayne Callies), is witness to a serial killer pouncing on his latest victim. Unfortunately for Jovovich, the killer sees her, and although she escapes, she ends up with a head injury. When she wakes up in hospital, something seems seriously screwy. She can no longer recognise faces. Amnesia? Nope, it’s a rare condition of facial blindness, where even those closest to her are no longer recognisable. Whilst Jovovich goes to see Marianne Faithfull to help her adjust to her condition, a pair of cops (including Julian McMahon) attempt to get her to recall what she saw. But given even her jerk boyfriend Michael Shanks’ face keeps changing on her, that isn’t going to be easy and the killer is still on the loose.


Cheesy as it is, this 2011 thriller from writer-director Julien Magnat (a second directorial effort, after much TV animation screenwriting) nearly manages to provide solid, silly entertainment. Nearly. Milla Jovovich is actually quite good in the lead, and for once she isn’t running away from fireballs and bad techno music (Though she’s playing a kindergarten teacher again, after playing one in “Stone”). She’s easily the best thing in the film. The central idea is really interesting too, if spectacularly silly at the same time. I mean, the condition Jovovich suffers from is probably derived from something real (I’ve certainly heard stories like it on TV current affairs shows), but I can’t say I bought the way it was presented. I mean, how can something that affects your eyes mean that you can’t recognise someone’s voice? She should very easily have been able to have recognised those close to her by their voice at the very least. And how bloody blind do you have to be to not notice that Julian McMahon is sporting the worst fake beard in cinematic history for the first two-thirds of the film? Personally, I was a bit suspicious about the hair on top of his head, too. If it’s not a rug then someone has fucked up in not noticing that his hair colour is completely different to his beard, and not in a ‘going slightly grey’ kinda way. I guess the reason for the faux goatee is that his character was going to shave it off anyway, so why bother growing a real one. Still, it’s the worst bit of fake facial hair you’ll ever see outside of “Who’s Harry Crumb?” (and that was a comedy).


McMahon is genuinely terrible here, though he’s never been much of an actor in my view. But every one of his scenes was just needlessly distracting, either because of his oddball visage or his poor performance. Sarah Wayne Callies, whose irritating work is one of the main reasons why I stopped watching “The Walking Dead” (The other reason? I can’t be bothered watching zombies for ½ an hour a week. It’s too repetitive), is also pretty poor here. She’s extremely annoying, and needlessly calling attention to herself in what is a pretty superfluous role. Completing the triple-threat of poor supporting performances, Marianne Faithful isn’t terrible, but she still has no business being in movies.


Getting back to the movie itself, the film attempts to throw in some red herrings to fool you, but even someone with a poor memory for faces could or should spot the killer very early by using a very simple movie law: Who is the least necessary character to the plot? Then again, the culprit actually doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. There’s simply no way they could get away with it, even with the convenience of facial blindness.


I also have to take issue with the character of the boyfriend. If I found the Bryce Dallas Howard character implausibly insensitive in “50/50”, I have to call this dude out for the same thing. I didn’t believe anyone could be that much of a dick. The ending is also a terrible downer, it just didn’t sit right with me.


Having said that, these flaws do not ruin the film, they simply make it watchable instead of genuinely good. It’s one of the few whodunits where you can still enjoy it even if you think you know the killer, because there’s still enough doubt that you might be wrong, even if you’re pretty sure you aren’t. And the central premise is so crazy that it’s entertaining enough that guessing the killer isn’t the be all and end all, perhaps. It’s also an extremely interesting-looking film, and you certainly don’t get a ‘Made in cheapo Canada’ vibe from it, though it’s a tad blue perhaps. I loved how every character was played by several different actors at some point, due to Jovovich’s facial blindness condition. That was a really cool and constantly disarming idea. I take issue with how Mr. Magnat has filmed the sex scene, though. It’s one of those frustrating and unhelpful ones where you see lots of facial expressions and a montage of belly buttons, chest hair, upper thighs, etc. It doesn’t give the scene any coherency at all. Sex scenes should not be art pieces or MTV montages. They should be treated the same way I think action scenes should be treated- as straight-forwardly done as possible.


Call it a near-miss, but it’s certainly a fine showcase for producer-star Jovovich, who isn’t an easy actress to cast. The central idea offers some fun, as dopey as it is.


Rating: C+

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: The Dictator

In a film dedicated in ‘Loving memory of Kim Jong-Il’), Sacha Baron Cohen stars as cruel and trigger-happy dictator Admiral General Aladeen, who despite a Middle Eastern accent is apparently ruler of a fictional North African country...that is rich in oil. He’s egotistical, racist, a misogynist, a murderer (with a seriously short fuse), has been sexually serviced by several Hollywood stars (male and Meagan Fox), is working on a nuclear weapons program, and is a complete tool. His presence is requested in New York for the UN, but his comrade-in-arms and uncle Tamir (Sir Ben Freakin’ Gandhi Kingsley!) has other ideas and arranges to have him snuffed and replaced by an impersonator. He avoids that, but is now in New York with nowhere to go and no one to help him. After being kidnapped and shaved of his beard by a local nutjob (an unfunny John C. Reilly), Aladeen (sounds like Aladdin, right?) walks into a greenie food store run by a lefty activist girl with a pixie cut and hairy armpits (Anna Faris, playing an unflattering and unfunny stereotype). Despite offending her and all of her co-workers, Aladeen (going by the oh-so hilarious name of Alison Burgers) manages to get a job there. In order to set things wrong (you can hardly side with a dictator, right?), he must team up with one of his former underlings, who has somehow survived execution and is living in America. Alongside every other person Aladeen had ordered to be executed. Supposed hilarity ensues, lots of cameos abound.


The good news: Unlike “Borat” and “Bruno”, this 2012 so-called comedy directed by Larry Charles has a genuine laugh in it. It’s the birth scene, in case you’re wondering and I feel very ashamed of myself for laughing at a fake vagina, but there you go. The bad news? The rest of the film is so appallingly unfunny and just generally appalling that it ends up being a worse film overall than “Borat” or “Bruno” (both of which were directed by Charles, btw). It is not, however, the most embarrassing and desperately unfunny film Sir Ben Kingsley has been associated with. That would be “The Love Guru”, so the film has that going for it. Most of the film is shockingly lazy and cheap, but Mr. Cohen and co-writers Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer (writers of the much funnier “Eurotrip”), should be genuinely ashamed of themselves for jokes about raping children (Ricky Martin’s boy band Menudo, specifically), and suggesting certain male actors have had sex with him, or in the case of Tommy Lee Jones, let a Chinese dignitary ‘roll it’ in his fingers). At least with the Meagan Fox gag, Ms. Fox herself is a willing participant in the film (though not remotely talented or funny), I hope Cohen informed the other actors that he was name-dropping them here. I doubt it, though, that’s not Cohen’s style to break character or ruin the surprise. I could forgive the offensiveness if it were funny, but that Menudo joke in particular simply isn’t funny.


However, at least this film isn’t a sub-par Norman Gunston ‘act goofy and embarrass real people who aren’t in on the joke’ knock-off, like “Borat” or “Bruno”. In those films you could never enjoy the ridiculing because Cohen’s schtick was so off-putting and unfair that you almost sided with his targets, even the disreputable ones. Instead, Cohen, director Charles, and the co-writers have concocted a film that is somewhere in between a lame TV comedy sketch stretched beyond its limits, and plot elements stolen from Adam Sandler’s awful “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (It plays a lot like something Sandler would find hilarious), and Eddie Murphy’s excellent “Coming to America”. The result is pretty half-arsed and sloppy, and the “Coming to America” fish-out-of-water romantic comedy stuff doesn’t work when the misplaced foreigner is an evil, murderous dictator!


A lot of people find Cohen’s climactic monologue to be the film’s highlight as it points out the hypocrisy of the US and compares it to a dictatorship. Personally I found it an obvious gag, but at least it wasn’t a terribly offensive one. The scene where Aladeen and his offsider are in a helicopter having a conversation about a Porsche that gets misconstrued by other passengers as a terrorist plot, had black comedy potential but doesn’t come off. Other gags such as Cohen’s character’s name becoming a word that means both positive and negative, are lame TV sketch show stuff. Ditto the scene where he is asked for his name and he makes up a series of lame fake ones based on signage he sees (Ladiz Washroom? A lot of 6 year-olds wouldn’t even find that funny).


The main character’s sexism and misogyny are also nowhere near as funny as Mr. Cohen (whose performance is entirely uninspired) and friends seem to think, and we get way too many of those sorts of gags in the film. The Osama Bin Laden jokes are even worse, completely unfunny and frankly a bit dated. Meanwhile, I normally like Anna Faris, but here she’s given a bit of a gross caricature to play, and it’s not funny at all. Even John C. Reilly is off his game here.


I guess if you’re a Sacha Baron Cohen fan, you’ll enjoy this film, but I got almost zero out of it. Cohen’s humour just doesn’t appeal to me at all (Remember his Oscars stunt where he poured ashes all over Ryan Seacrest? I would’ve decked him for it). For starters, going by the title, I assumed Cohen would lampoon Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”. I was wrong. Cohen has probably never even heard of Chaplin. He does appear to have seen “American Reunion”, however, as he essentially steals the gag where Jim’s cock is visible through glass kitchenware (except it’s not a pot lid here).


No, I didn’t enjoy this one at all. It just made me appreciate “Team America: World Police” (no great film itself) even more. It was just as childish, but at least it’s Kim Jong-Il jokes were genuinely funny.


Rating: D+

Review: That’s My Boy

Andy Samberg is the grown-up product of an illicit affair between a 13 year-old kid (Justin Weaver) and his seriously hot teacher (the latter played early on by Eva Amurri Martino). Years later, Samberg’s dad (now a washed-up ‘celebrity’ of-sorts played by Adam Sandler) wants to reconcile with his son, who is about to be married to wealthy heiress Leighton Meester and wants nothing to do with his estranged father. He views him as somewhat of an embarrassment on the level of a grubby venereal disease, and instead begrudgingly introduces him to the in-laws as an old buddy. Of course, Sandler has ulterior motives in wanting this reunion. He owes the IRS, is facing jail time, and has concocted a reality TV-style reunion pitch between himself, Samberg, and his jailbird mother. The supporting cast is full of Sandler cronies (Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Will Forte, Colin Quinn, Nick Swardson, Blake Clark), celebrity cameos (Ian Ziering, Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges as themselves, James Caan as a priest), as well as Milo Ventimiglia as Meester’s homophobic, bullying, military man brother, and Peggy Stewart as her horny grandmother.


Adam Sandler went 0-2 in 2011 with the desperate “Just Go With It” and the pathetic “Jack & Jill”, his worst film to date. Well, in 2012 he gave us this Sean Anders (the average comedy “Sex Drive”) directed dud, which although an improvement over “Jack & Jill”, is still a supremely lazy, cynical effort. Either that, or Sandler thinks this is genuinely funny, in which case, someone needs to slap him with a wet fish. Preferably a halibut. It’s as if Sandler cast the film full of well-known names and faces (many of whom are his friends and cronies), and just expected the laughs to take care of themselves. I’m sorry Mr. Sandler, but the basic premise of this film isn’t really appropriate for comedy (it’s statutory rape, after all), and playing almost my entire MP3 collection doesn’t make for a good movie (And why include several Van Halen songs only to exclude the most obviously relevant one, ‘Hot for Teacher’?). Nor does peppering the film with more swearing than “Funny People”, which at least had the benefit of being, y’know, his best work to date. The opening ten minutes in particular has way too many musical interludes for what is essentially a prologue.


Eva Amurri is hot as hell (daaaammmnn!), her mum’s casting is the only big laugh in the film (though ironically, she’s too old for the role given the time frame), the kid playing the junior version of Sandler is apt, but the rest is the damn shits. Speaking of shits, though, the taser scene wasn’t too bad. Fart gags are occasionally amusing, they just are. But believe me, there’s a whole lot of gags that misfire here, and badly. Sandler himself is appalling (pretty much ripping off his pal David Spade’s “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star”), and at times seriously embarrassing. The tattoo joke isn’t funny for all the effort it probably took the makeup department, and Sandler should be truly ashamed of the scene where he masturbates to a photo of Meester’s grandmother (Peggy Stewart). Even for the guy who made “Jack & Jill”, that’s appallingly unfunny and disgusting. Yes, the use of ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ on the soundtrack was apt, but not exactly a ‘joke’. Once again he adopts an idiotic voice for no reason whatsoever, and even “SNL” comedian Andy Samberg isn’t funny here.


Meanwhile, as much as the film is able to explain the miniscule age gap between father and son here (12 years in real-life), there’s no escaping the fact that Leighton Meester is way too young to be interested in Mr. Samberg. Also, why would Amurri’s character have been in prison for so damn long for statutory rape? That made no sense whatsoever. But believe me, even if you buy that, there’s so much more here to complain about, including Nick Swardson with a mullet and a morbidly obese stripper, though a Motley Crue musical cue (‘Looks That Kill’) made me chuckle. Cameos by Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges (unwisely shown taking drugs at one point) fail to generate any laughs. I guess Ice was meant to be the film’s Mike Tyson, but he and especially Bridges are completely useless here (and I didn’t even like “The Hangover”). I’m also surprised Ice allowed his signature tune to be played, since he apparently despises his old image. Milo Ventimiglia almost made me laugh when he seemed to quote R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket”, but I’m not even sure that was intentional. James Caan, meanwhile, should not be here. After Pacino flat out embarrassing himself in “Jack & Jill” and Caan here, I wonder if for his next film, Sandler digs up the corpse of Marlon Brando and goes for the trifecta. Sandler also does “SNL” alum Ana Gasteyer and Will Forte no favours with unfunny roles, but then Forte is one of the least amusing comedians in “SNL” history.


This is lazy-arse filmmaking, short on laughs and disastrously long in length, at just shy of two freaking hours. “Funny People” earned the right to run that long because it was well-written, funny, and surprisingly affecting. This...probably earned several Razzies, and like “Jack & Jill” it didn’t do much business at the box-office, usually Sandler’s safety net. He needs to think about that. The script had uncredited rewrites from Sandler himself, Tim Herlihy (co-writer of two of Sandler’s best films, “Little Nicky” and “Bedtime Stories”), Robert Smigel (the “SNL” cartoon guy), David Wain, and Ken Marino (of “Wet Hot American Summer” and the appalling “Wanderlust”), but is ultimately credited to (i.e. blamed on) David Caspe, whose only other credit is a sitcom called “Happy Endings”. Six people of alleged comedic credibility involved in the screenplay and the high points are one piece of stunt casting and a fart gag? Oh dear. It’s all well and good to make different kinds of films, but for Sandler to go from “Funny People” to his next three films isn’t doing different kinds of films, it’s simply following up 2009’s best film with three of the worst films of 2011-2012. Unsurprisingly, the film was produced by several of Sandler’s ‘Yes Men’. He really needs to start collaborating with a fresh crowd, I think. But then, he clearly doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. 


Rating: D+