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 15, 2013

Review: The Warrior’s Way

South Korean actor Dong-Gung Jang plays an assassin in the Sad Flute Clan who refuses to kill the last member of an opposing clan, an infant girl. He and the girl (who is adorable, by the way) high tail it to the Wild West (!) and a town full of travelling circus folk. Apparently he was hoping to live in peace, and also to see an old friend, who he soon discovers has died. His quest for a peaceful existence is shattered upon the arrival of badass Colonel (Danny Huston, 100% pure evil) and his men. Meanwhile, his comrades (led by the legendary Ti Lung) have also come looking for him and the task he failed to carry out. Kate Bosworth plays a tough rootin’ tooterer (she’s not shootin’, though, she throws knives) with revenge on her mind, Geoffrey Rush is the town drunk, who also narrates the film (incongruously).
 
Better than “Sukiyaki: Western Django”, this 2010 Asian Western/martial arts hybrid from newbie writer-director Sngmoo Lee has its moments (and Lee proves a visual stylist at least), but plays like a 90 minute trailer instead of a real, flesh & blood movie. I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did (Ninja vs. cowboys! Sounds epic!), but I felt like the characters were caricatures and that we were only getting a cliff notes version of character relations. Filmed mostly with a green-screen, it’s bloody impressive-looking, the stylised action is cool when we get it (kinda like “Ninja Assassin” or “Versus”), and Danny Huston walks off with the entire film. He seems to be going for somewhere in between Jack Palance and his own dad John, and is effortlessly menacing. The guy makes mince meat out of the scenery in the best way possible, and he deserves his own damn movie (or at least to be in a better one than this).
 
Unfortunately, there’s not enough action, Geoffrey Rush plays a role beneath him (It’s the old Thomas Mitchell/Edmond O’Brien/Jack Elam town drunk role), Kate Bosworth is terrible and miscast (as a Yosemite Samantha type, even saying ‘tarnations!’ at one point), and the ‘townies’ are so caricatured that we even get the town ‘midget’ played by “Bad Santa” co-star Tony Cox. Bosworth is so bad, she seems to be basing her performance off Jessie the Cowgirl in the “Toy Story” films. Embarrassing.
 
It’s weird, never really comes off, and looks like ¼ of it was directed by Terry Gilliam, as the travelling circus thing never really feels organic to the rest. Terrific music score, though with Morricone influences, and the cinematography is so eye-popping, you’d swear it was in 3D. It’s washed out, but still visually arresting, with especially fine shot composition.
 
Unfortunately, it’s all so empty and the East/West marriage is an extremely lumpy one. Meanwhile, at times I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was a real town or just a travelling circus, it never quite came off. Flashy, occasionally interesting (when Huston’s around), but not very filling. It’s weird enough to be watchable, though.
 
Rating: C+

Review: Black Forest


Ben Cross plays Cazmar, who runs a tourist bus deal where he takes dopey tourists to Stonehenge-like sites (though this appears to be set somewhere else in Europe, perhaps Germany) he claims are magical. On his latest run he stops to do some kind of magic chant thing for the tourists’ amusement, and hey presto Cazmar vanishes and the tour group are left to fend for themselves in forest surrounds that seem a whole helluva lot different than when they first ventured there. They have found themselves in a fantastical alternate reality where fairy tale characters come to life, and aren’t friendly at all. Tinsel Corey appears as a mystery woman who pops up in the alternate reality and claims to know how to survive, whilst Sapphire Elia plays an au pair to a married couple with a young child.

 

Every now and then, the SyFy channel turns out a decent genre movie that surprises me. This 2012 Patrick Dinhut fantasy flick is not one of those films. In fact, it’s pretty crummy and rather cheap. The basic concept might’ve made for a fun episode of TV’s “Lost Girl”, but stretched to feature length, and as written by Frank H. Woodward, there’s just not enough material for a film. It also seems to mix up the fairytales, with a Goldilocks set-up turning into an attack by what appear to be blood-thirsty dwarves. Very weird scene.

 

The characters are boring as hell, and the accents are all over the place. Ben Cross’ wavering Irish accent (or is he a pirate?) is particularly bad, but when you find out he has an Indian daughter with an American accent, it’s even more comical. Cross (playing the very Irish-named Kazma, by the way) can act but he’s lost the will to give a crap at this point in his career.

 

Conceptually, this is what I was expecting the TV show “Grimm” to be like, but it wasn’t, and that show lost me before the end of the pilot episode. This film isn’t any better, though the basic idea was certainly workable and I do like that SyFy have tried something a little left of centre for a change. It just hasn’t been thought out enough, and is cheap and stupid, cornball stuff. To be honest, aside from the seriously hot Sapphire Elia, the only thing that kept me awake here was the fine music score.

 

Not the worst SyFy film, but not among their modest entertainments, either. Nothing to see here, move along...

 

Rating: D+

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: 13


Sam Riley and his family (including sister Gaby Hoffmann) are struggling to cope with the medical bills for his ailing father. Working at his job as an electrician, he overhears a conversation about a get rich quick scheme, and sees the exchange of an envelope. After the guy whose house he was working at suddenly dies, Riley grabs the envelope and follows the enclosed instructions. Posing as the dead man, the instructions lead to a remote location where a game of Russian Roulette is played out, bet on by a bunch of wealthy clients. Riley is in over his head, but forced to participate in the game (by Alexander Skarsgard among others), as now he knows too much. Ray Winstone plays the defending champion of the game, a mentally disturbed man brought in by his brother (Jason Statham). Mickey Rourke is another participant, David Zayas is a police detective, Ben Gazzara is one of the rich gamblers, Michael Shannon is the impresario of the game, and 50 Cent (AKA Curtis Jackson) plays an onlooker who chats with Rourke from time to time.

 

With a cast like that, you’d think there’s no way this 2010 Russian roulette film from director/co-writer Gela Babluani could miss. Given that it’s based on a 2005 French/Georgian film also directed by Babluani, you might also find it hard to see a failure on the horizon. Unless you remember George Sluizer’s remake of “The Vanishing”, of course. As I haven’t seen the original, I can’t attest to which is the superior film, all I can really say is that this particular film is annoyingly structured and frankly not very interesting. The beginning in particular is clunkily and confusingly done, and whilst there’s a reason for it eventually, it still bugged me.

 

Co-written by Greg Pruss, it’s a bit thin, really, and the cast, whilst uneven, are still the highlight of the film. Sam Riley is better here than he was in “Brighton Rock”, though his American accent is a bit unconvincing. Alexander Skarsgard walks off with the entire film in a small but enjoyable role. The guy’s got something, star quality perhaps. Mickey Rourke and Jason Statham are perfectly cast, 50 Cent amusingly cast (Actually, Rourke is amusing too, ‘coz if it weren’t for “The Wrestler”, I could totally see Rourke ending up in a situation like this one in real-life. I’m not even kidding). 50 Cent isn’t exactly an actor, but he’s got presence and authenticity, and chooses roles that work with what he has. Smart guy. Rourke, similarly just does his hard-drinking piece of shit schtick, but it’s something he does well. For some reason his first second on screen cracked me up, too. Ray Winstone doesn’t have much to work with, but he looks disturbingly zonked out and despite lacking any physical resemblance, sounds credible as Jason Statham’s brother. Both Winstone and Statham are on hand for presence alone, really, and they deliver on that. David Zayas proves here in a small turn that he’s better at playing cops (TV’s “Dexter”) than crooks (“The Expendables”). Gaby Hoffmann (who I haven’t seen on screen basically since she hit puberty!) and the absolutely stunning Emmanuelle Chriqui are good too, but have the most poorly defined roles. More scenes with them would’ve been appreciated (even if the flashback structure is confusing and annoying, as well as kinda predictable too).

 

Not everyone comes out of this looking good, however. The late Ben Gazzara, for instance, is pretty bad, and frankly, looks like a corpse. It’s distressing to watch him here, especially given how fine the rest of his body of work has generally been and the obvious ill health he had at the time. Michael Shannon, meanwhile, gave one of his best-ever performances in “Take Shelter”, but here in a one-dimensional part, he simply shouts. Constantly. It’s all he does. Why wasn’t Al Pacino cast, then? Shouting has become his thing. At any rate, it typifies Shannon; Great one minute (“Take Shelter”, “Bug”), awfully unhinged the next (this, “Revolutionary Road”). The dude clearly needs a strong director.

 

I liked some of the little touches about near-death experiences and chance, but the large cast deserve better than the underwritten characters they have been given. Also, when you get right down to it, this film is just a Russian roulette version of Albert Pyun’s B-grade shoot ‘em up “Mean Guns”, hardly a film you’d want to emulate. I’m not sure why a director would remake their own film, let alone after only a few years (and is this his second film? What’s he going to do for a third, a sequel to the original?), and this bland and thin story is a waste of a pretty good cast. Not even a good B-movie.

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Blue Collar


Searing, ferocious, and surprisingly funny 1978 directorial debut by screenwriter Paul Schrader (the screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” who went on to direct “American Gigolo”) about three increasingly disgruntled auto workers (Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, and Richard Pryor) who discover they’re being screwed not only by management, but by their own corrupt union. At first, they don’t want to believe it, even being rather hostile to the suggestion of corruption by nosy FBI man Cliff De Young, at one point. But eventually, they see things for what they are and devise a kind of payback, planning to rob the HQ of the union, a decision that will change each of their lives (and their relationship with each other) forever. Keitel, the white man of the trio, is happy to be a dutiful (and blissfully ignorant) employee at first, but the stresses of low pay, long hours, and increasing family commitments (i.e. His kids’ expensive dental bills) become too much to bear. Kotto is the cool, imposing, potentially volatile (but generally laidback) ex-con, a bachelor who likes to party, screw, and take drugs. Pryor is the fast-talking, foul-mouthed, highly-irritable family man who is badly in debt to the IRS, leading to an especially funny scene where he gets a visit from an IRS man questioning his claim that he has six kids (i.e. He has to borrow three of the neighbours kids. And wait ‘til you hear their names!). Lane Smith plays ineffectual union rep Clarence Hill, Ed Begley Jr.  is another co-worker and Harry Bellaver is the patronising, completely dishonest boss.

 

Written by Paul and brother Leonard Schrader (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”), this is a scathing, extremely angry film (I bet Michael Moore loves this movie!), with several outstanding performances (Kotto and a mostly serious Pryor the best among them, and apparently all three actors hated each other passionately and violently!) and powerful scenes (Kotto’s harrowing final scene is forever etched in my memory), and although the film slides into melodrama towards the end, there’s a lot of realism here, too.

 

My one real criticism would be that I found the partying and fornicating on the parts of married men Kotto and Pryor just didn’t seem to fit into a film where they are supposed to be sympathetic characters. But then, maybe I’m just being judgemental (And yet I had no problem with them committing robbery?). Absolutely top-notch, blues soundtrack and score by Jack Nietzsche (“Stand By Me”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) is a definite standout. Absolutely worth seeking out if you’ve missed this one.

 

Rating: B+

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Ironclad


Set in the 13th Century, Paul Giamatti play King John, yes that King John, who has just signed the Magna Carta pretty much by force, but being a prick, he changes his mind quickly. Thus England is once again under his brutal rule. The Duke of Albany (Brian Cox) takes exception to the King’s arseholishness (if that’s not a word, it is now), and with the blessing of the Archbishop (Charles Dance), he sets about recruiting a small army (seven in total) who hole up in the Alamo...er...Rochester castle as the King’s army set to attack. This army includes a Templar Knight (James Purefoy), archer Mackenzie Crook, and rowdy warrior Jason Flemyng. Derek Jacobi and Kate Mara play the Duke of Rochester and his neglected young wife, the latter of whom takes a liking to Purefoy, while the former of whom is too busy grumbling about his castle being commandeered to notice his wife might be soon commandeered as well.

 

A good try, but this 2011 flick from director/co-writer Jonathan English doesn’t quite come off, despite a good performance from Paul Giamatti as the selfish and brutal King John. English has attempted to make a Medieval version of a spaghetti western, or at the very least “The Magnificent Seven”. At one point we even get what sounds like a Gregorian chant version of an Ennio Morricone score. Unfortunately, the action, whilst extremely brutal, isn’t frequent enough, and the heroes are surprisingly boring, despite being headed by the blustery Brian Cox (the best of the lot), and featuring Jason Flemyng among them. Aside from Cox and Purefoy, none of them have any depth, and Purefoy plays a Knight Templar, who doesn’t quite make for a dashing Medieval hero. You’d think that kick-arse warrior monks would equal kick-arse entertainment, but it only comes in fits and starts. Cox does get one great line, however; ‘You’re no more King than the boil on my arse!’. It’s a shame he’s not the lead, he’s certainly more colourful than Purefoy. Charles Dance is fine as the Archbishop who gives Cox his blessing, but neither he nor the usually classy Derek Jacobi (I hear he’s a great Shakespearean actor. Just ask Frasier Crane) get much to do here.

 

The film is only two hours long, but whenever Giamatti isn’t on screen, it seems like four (Meanwhile, it appears to have about eleventy billion producers- what’s up with that?), despite not having enough character development. There seems to be way too much waiting around for the action to kick into gear, and the waiting isn’t interesting. Worse still, the camerawork occasionally herks and jerks “Saving Private Ryan”-style, so that even a guy getting his skull cut in half doesn’t have the same impact because the cameraman has Parkinson’s. It’s also unevenly lit, looking like a dull made-for-TV cheapie at times, especially early on, but really nicely lit at others, and seemingly not with any good reason. There’s some particularly nice shots of soldiers coming through the fog, which I appreciated.

 

Watchable, but more Giamatti would’ve helped, more character depth would’ve been nice too. Still, there’s some interesting things going on here from time to time, and Giamatti’s John is the very worst kind of King imaginable.

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: Natural Born Killers


Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play lovers and killers on a cross-country killing spree that earns them media attention and cult status, adored by the public as anti-heroes. Uh-huh. Aussie-accented schlocky crime TV host Wayne Gayle (Robert Downey Jr.) is on their trail, seeing dollar signs and ratings bonanza in them. Meanwhile, tracking them down is seedy, limelight-loving cop Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), who doesn’t seem much better than the sicko killers he’s chasing. Tommy Lee Jones turns up as a sadistic, ridiculously coiffed warden, Rodney Dangerfield and Edie McClurg are Lewis’ grotesque parents, and James Gammon appears briefly as a victim.

 

Controversial filmmaker Oliver Stone (“Platoon”, “Born on the 4th of July”, “JFK”, “W.”) has had a seriously erratic career, but this over-the-top 1994 wannabe media satire/road movie/serial killer character study is him hitting rock bottom. No wonder writer Quentin Tarantino (who would make his popular “Pulp Fiction” the same year) has attempted to distance himself from what ended up on screen. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, if Stone’s point is to criticise the media’s glorification and fascination with serial killers, well, he has fouled it up. For starters, you’re making a movie about it, Mr. Stone. An ultra-violent one that in my view ultimately glorifies or at least glamorises this stuff for the most part. Hypocrite much? If you were to read this film’s message without any prior knowledge of what its supposed message was, you’d swear that Stone and QT (who only gets story credit here) thought that the media’s glamorisation of murder and crime was totally awesome, dude. If Stone wants us to see any of this in a negative light, well he has succeeding in making a shithouse film, but I don’t think that’s what he meant.

 

A combination of Juliette Lewis being Juliette Lewis (in what is her third film seemingly inspired by the infamous Starkweather-Fugate killing spree after “Kalifornia” and “Too Young to Die”, both co-starring Brad Pitt) and Robert Downey Jr. supposedly mangling an Aussie accent resulted in me waiting 19 years to get around to seeing this film, and now I have...well, I’ve heard worse Aussie accents in my time. In fact, he almost sorta nails it on a couple of occasions. Yep, that’s it for praise here, folks. I shouldn’t have bothered seeing it at all.

 

I’m sure Stone’s aggressive, overly fancy style will be some people’s cup of tea, but I truly loathed it. In order to make his points, Stone and the normally very fine cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Platoon”, “Born on the 4th of July”, “JFK”) simply bombard the viewer with arty, hyperreal images and sounds, thinking that merely inserting TV and music references into scenes and very occasionally subverting them, is somehow profound. It’s not, and all it does is annoy the viewer after about five minutes, and slow the narrative down to a crawl. I was watching this film around the time of the Oscar Pistorius murder case, which was on several TV channels, whilst “Capturing the Friedmans” was on another. Flipping between those two things one night kinda made Stone’s point a lot more cohesively than this entire film does. It’s the rock bottom of MTV-inspired filmmaking, and plays exactly like it sounds: Oliver Stone doing a Tarantino movie. It’s ugly and unrestrained.

 

Stone eventually gets around to making his point (the media glamorising violent killers) in the second half of the film, but it’s too late. The first half completely negates anything said in the second half by glorifying it all so that the film ultimately isn’t commenting on our desire for media-glorified stories of violence, it’s giving us a media-glorified story of violence. That’s not the same thing, I’m afraid. I guess Stone thinks that only some media glamorisation is a bad thing and his films in particular are free from criticism. Um...no, Oliver. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in blaming films for real-life violence (something needs to be wrong in a person’s head to begin with), but if you’re gonna make a film that attacks the media for idolising killers, don’t make it look sexy, you idiot. The ending definitely suggests that the film is anything but a criticism of media violence and is absolutely reprehensible. Having said that, time has been kind to the violence in the film itself. It’s no longer shocking, so I guess there’s that going for it. I’ve heard Stone’s initial idea for the film was a more traditional, if light-hearted action blockbuster. Make of that what you will.

 

And why is some of this in B&W? Because Stone can, that’s why. Ditto the animation sequence. Yes, an animation sequence. It certainly doesn’t worry about being consistent with its camera POVs and faux-documentary style. I mean, is it a ‘found footage’ film? Faux-documentary? Who is the cameraman, then? It’s like no thought has gone into the logic of it. Meanwhile, Juliette Lewis plays a slightly less trashy and slightly more psychotic variant on her performance in “Kalifornia”, merely riffing on the one-note she knows how to play (except she doesn’t know how to play it), which sums up her entire career, really. Even the talented Woody Harrelson is having an off day here in an uninteresting performances. And why does Lewis insist on singing? She has even less vocal ability than Courtney Love. Perhaps worst of all, though, is Academy Award winning actor Tommy Lee Jones, whose performance here is probably his nadir. Certainly it’s a waste of his time and talent, and I felt rather embarrassed for him. He actually seems to be acting in a completely different, more comical film. Not funny, but more comical. Once he turns up, though, the film has truly become a wretched mess. It stops being so much about the two killers and being more about Downey, Jones, and Sizemore. Downey in particular is over-indulged by Mr. Stone. And if anyone can tell me what was the point of the trippy peyote freak-out scene with the late Russell Means...um, nah, keep it to yourself. I bet Means had no idea what film he was in.

 

When a relatively serious Rodney Dangerfield is your best and only commendable element, you know you’ve made one of the worst films of all-time. But even Dangerfield’s scenes are kinda stupid, playing like a David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”) version of “The Honeymooners”, complete with gaudy colours and a laugh track, but without any true wit. Still, Dangerfield is quite nasty and well-cast (To what end?). Meanwhile, it’s quite sad to see Tom Sizemore looking younger and reasonably healthy in this. The next few years were seriously up-and-down for him. The guy does have talent, even if this film is far from the best showcase for that talent. And hey, don’t he and Downey look like jokes for appearing in this given their off-screen troubles after this film?

 

This is one of the worst films I’ve seen in my life, and features just about everything I hate in cinema, including characters with no redeeming or interesting qualities, Juliette Lewis’ abysmal singing, and some truly ridiculous and pointless tinted lenses. Don’t worry, I won’t go on one of my patented colour filter rants, you know the drill by now. Oh, and as far as I’m concerned, a little Leonard Cohen goes...not very far. A lot goes...nowhere. Based (well, kinda) on a story by Quentin Tarantino, the screenplay is by Richard Rutowski, David Veloz, and Stone himself. And yet no one between the four of them could manage to make anything cohesive or coherent out of it, apparently writing some of it during production. I’ve read that the film’s editing process was 11 months, which is ridiculous considering it still barely makes any damn sense. At the end of the day, whatever Stone’s message, his methods contradict it, making the film a horrible, putrid mess.

 

Rating: F