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, July 13, 2013

Review: Safety Not Guaranteed


Aubrey Plaza plays a deadpan intern for a magazine hired alongside young Karan Soni to join womanising journo Jake Johnson to investigate a bizarre newspaper ad requesting a companion for time travel (ending with ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’). Travelling to Washington they track the source of the ad down to a particular post office box and stake the place out. Eventually Mark Duplass turns up, a slightly savant-ish seeming, local supermarket employee who indeed claims to have a device for time travel. After Johnson makes an unsuccessful attempt to interview the extremely cagey Duplass, he decides a little feminine persuasion is needed and gets Plaza to approach him instead. It doesn’t go exactly flawlessly, but after helping him procure (i.e. steal) some lasers, she leaves enough of a positive impression on him that Duplass entrusts Plaza with being his companion on their mission. Of course, Duplass knows nothing about the article Johnson hopes to write nor Plaza’s complicity in it. The funny thing is, after a while, Plaza is questioning her feelings for Duplass, who doesn’t really seem all that much more of a dorky misfit than she is, and they even seem to share similar tragedies in life. Hell, she might even be buying into the whole time travel lunacy. But is there a more sinister/worrying side to Duplass? Is he really just a harmless eccentric? A couple of feds tailing him seem to think he’s enough of a concern.

 

Meanwhile, Johnson is embarking on a personal mission of sorts, tracking down the ‘one that got away’, an old girlfriend (Jenica Bergere) who lives close by. Mary Lynn Rajskub plays the magazine editor, whilst Kristen Bell plays an important person from Duplass’ past.

 

This 2012 film from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly (both making their debut film) does the seeming impossible. Unlike films such as “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, this film blends romantic comedy with the concept of time travel just about perfectly. In fact, for 99% of the film’s length, it’s completely up in the air as to whether the character played by Mark Duplass (whose “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” was much ado about nothing) is genuinely capable of time travel or just a delusional weirdo loner. It’s very cleverly done, and even the side-story involving Johnson doesn’t feel completely extraneous, nor does it eat up too much of the running time. In fact, it ties into one of the themes of the whole film, as Johnson wants to revisit a former love (even though her Facebook profile pic shows her to be a bit on the ‘heavy’ side for the sensitive, New Age Johnson) and Duplass’ reason for time travel is to correct a past issue involving a former love of his own. Johnson also deserves credit for making his character palatable. After all, this is a guy who passes off the work onto two interns so he can track down the girl who years ago gave him the best head ever. Amazingly, you don’t hate him, probably because you know he’ll mature somewhat by the end of the film.

 

The ending is simply perfect (in my view anyway), and the preceding 80 minutes or so are also tremendously enjoyable, quirky, likeable, and funny. Aubrey Plaza in particular is a standout among the cast, though I even liked Kristen Bell for a change (probably partly because she’s only featured in a cameo role). But Plaza is definitely key, she has a line in deadpan sarcasm and snark without getting to “Juno”-levels of skin-crawling irritation.

 

Inspired by a real-life Classifieds ad from the late 90s (well, a fake ad published by a writer looking to fill space, but still, you know what I mean), this film won’t be for everyone, but it really won me over. The tone is spot-on, mixing some rather heavy themes, laughs, and science-fiction themes (though the film is not really a science-fiction film at all) without being messy or tonally inconsistent. Look out for this one if you haven’t already seen it, I think it might become a cult favourite. It’s the kind of film that when it ends, you almost feel like saying ‘Thank You’.

 

Rating: B

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Act of Valour


Based on real-life heroic deeds of American Navy SEALs, the film concerns a group of SEALs tasked with rescuing a kidnapped CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez). The bad guys are two former childhood friends, Christo (Alex Veadov) and smuggler Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle) who are planning to bomb various places in the US.

 

Directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, and scripted by Kurt Johnstad (“300”) this 2012 action movie wants the audience to get swooped up in ‘rah-rah’ Yankee-Doodle Dandy patriotism for American servicemen, and hope that you can overlook a fair amount of shortcomings. Unfortunately, just because the guys in this film are great at the real-life derring-do that they perform, it doesn’t make them necessarily convincing or interesting movie heroes. I wouldn’t have minded a role for R. Lee Ermey (a former Marine and now actor) or Dale Dye (who has been a technical adviser and bit-player in countless war films), but these guys certainly can’t carry a film on their own.  The directors felt actors wouldn’t be able to tap into what it’s like to be these guys 24/7. So what? If they can’t act, the SEALs won’t be able to convey any of that anyway, and that’s what happens. A bad or boring performance by a real-life Navy SEAL is no better or worse than that of a bad or boring actor playing a Navy SEAL.

 

None of the characters or actors here grabbed me (though I almost appreciated that these characters were pretty normal-seeming dudes), and thus I wasn’t much interested in the story, either. They aren’t bad actors, per se, they’re actually surprisingly competent (except the awful monotone narration). It’s just that they are kind of like an entire cast full of Michael Paré-types. They’re colourless, slightly monotonous, and lacking charisma, except the Senior Chief who thinks he’s hilarious (He’s not, though he has better acting ability than any of the others- slightly). The scene between him and the terrorist (played by the not terribly ethnic-sounding Jason Cottle, who used to be Dustin Hoffman’s son-in-law) is awful because there’s no sense of urgency while he’s playing such a smart-arse. BTW, isn’t Abu Shabal the name of an INXS album? Just sayin’. Meanwhile, killing off the only known actor in the first ten minutes in a film full of non-actors, perhaps wasn’t the smartest idea.

 

It’s a bland film and leaves you somewhat cold, with scenes featuring the main characters that are choppily done and episodic. They seem more like individual set-pieces even though they actually are part of the same story. It’s also full of clichés like the guy who’s about to be a proud papa. Uh-oh, we know what that means. It is, however, so well-shot that it might just be the best American military advertisement you’ll ever see (And indeed the film was originally conceived for recruitment purposes, I’ve read). It’s the kind of film you can just imagine Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer orgasming to, even though it’s really only in the last ten minutes that things get truly corny and hero-worshipping. Although it gets a little dark in night scenes (not good when the characters are all interchangeable) the cinematography by Christian Bale’s favourite cinematographer Shane Hurlbut (“Terminator Salvation”) is actually really attractive, and Hurlbut thankfully even manages to keep a fairly steady hand during one pretty cool vehicular chase scene. That was well-done.

 

Look, this isn’t an awful film, it’s just too earnest, clichéd, dry, and colourless. It’s just not worth your time or interest.

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: Valhalla Rising


A medieval Viking tale divided into several chapters (Wrath, Silent Warrior, Men of God, The Holy Land, Hell and The Sacrifice), Mads Mikkelsen plays mute warrior known as One-Eye, who escapes his pagan captors with the aid of a young boy (Maarten Stevenson), who seems to know the silent man’s inner thoughts. Along the way they hook up with crusading Christian Vikings (including Gary Lewis) who are in search of the Holy Land. But with much blood-shed and carnage, are they worthy of entering the land they seek? And when they get there, will it be all that they imagined? Meanwhile, the mysterious One-Eye is uninterested in their quest, driven only by the visions that come to him that may not be in line with the Crusaders’ quest.

 

I don’t expect this Nicolas Winding Refn (the in-your-face “Pusher” series, “Bronson”, and “Drive”) film from 2009 to top too many Best Films of the Year polls or anything, but I gotta say I thought it was really something. A mixture of arty stylishness and gory adventure flick, it’s like if Quentin Tarantino and Ingmar Bergman got together and made a baby. A Brit-Danish co-production, this right here is the film “300” should’ve been.

 

Although it brightens up from time to time, this is predominantly muddy, misty, violent stuff and the opening scene has Mads Mikkelsen biting a chunk out of a guy’s throat before strangling him to death. A later scene in which a guy gets his brains bashed in will likely be a tune-out/walk-out moment. If that doesn’t do the trick, then a rather realistic-looking severed head and disembowelment might. Y’all have been warned, this is one brutal-as-fuck film. But this is the Middle Ages, for cryin’ out loud, a time of the Black Death.

 

For once, a somewhat murky look is beneficial to a film, the fog is thick as hell and wonderfully oppressive. This is some incredibly foreboding and unwelcoming scenery, let me tell you. There’s some gorgeous (if arty) colour flashes throughout, too in between the greys and browns. It may not be pretty, but it’s pretty bloody effective. Or to put it another way, it’s gorgeous in a very, very harsh and bleak way. Cinematographer Morten Soborg really earns his pay here, and there’s not all that much camera shaking, either, thankfully. There’s one especially gorgeous, brief shot of a lake laced with fog that is truly stunning. Obviously foggy scenes don’t look as good on digital as they would in celluloid, but it’s bloody well-done for digital camerawork nonetheless. The colour flashes and voice-over narration seem to suggest something approaching arthouse (it has been compared to “El Topo”, which is a bit insulting given that “El Topo” is practically unwatchable), but I think this will play best to action/gore fans more than anyone (and it’s in English, so those who don’t like reading- i.e. idiots- won’t complain), and even then the audience will be limited. It will not appeal to...well, lots of people, really. I say that as an admirer of the film, however, don’t get me wrong.

 

The sound design in particular is really strong, and kinda creepy actually. Mikkelson doesn’t say a word and isn’t the most expressive actor in the world, but the role is a stoic one anyway. He’s like an Angel of Death or The Black Plague incarnate, because bad shit happens to all those around him. He kinda gives off stoic samurai vibes to me, in what is actually kind of a violent story about the Crusades. When one of the (admittedly Celtic-sounding) ‘Christian Viking’ warriors claims that Christ sacrificed his life so that we could be free of pain and suffering, the film clearly takes a cynical stance on this and has a particular distrust of Fundamentalists. So do I, so this is certainly not a film for particularly sensitive Christians, even those who liked “Passion of the Christ”. The film seems to suggest that religion has little place in such a harsh environment full of dread, blood, and guts. And that goes for the Pagans as much as the Christians. Mikkelsen is like the Anti-Jesus; Yes, he’s meant to be a stand-in for Christ, that much is obvious. However, follow him and die!

 

The only problem with the entire film is that the characters in the screenplay by the director and Roy Jacobsen are, frankly not very cluey. And that is being charitable. I mean, come on, Mikkelsen is quite clearly a bloody jinx, right? But that’s a minor complaint.

 

At the end of the day, it’s bloody arresting stuff for anyone who can take it, it’s probably the most doom-laden film I’ve ever seen. And that’s a compliment. The tone is harsh and realistic, the visuals border on otherworldly or at least afterlife, and yet it all came together for me. I didn’t mind the similar “Pathfinder”, but this leaves it for dead. Why hadn’t I heard of this film before? See this, and make up your own mind about its worth. It may be slow and somewhat uneventful, but on a visual and visceral level, it’s incredible.

 

Rating: B

Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: The Philadelphia Experiment (2012)


A 1940s test to devise a warship cloaking device is revived under secret government hush-hush means, and succeeds in bringing back the Eldridge, a naval ship which had vanished for 70 odd years. There’s even one survivor on board, played by Nicholas Lea, whilst all other crew members have been fused into the ship. Unfortunately, there are rather dire consequences of bringing the ship back, as a nosy local sheriff (John Reardon) makes the mistake of boarding the ship, and not coming back out, as the ship then vanishes again, before materialising again elsewhere. Sometimes crashing into buildings and killing people. The secret government hush-hush people, send a goon (Michael Paré) to clean the mess, whilst Lea meets up with his granddaughter and experienced hacker (Emilie Ullerup), and an elderly scientist (Malcolm McDowell) who suggests Lea needs to return to the ship in order for things to be set right. Meanwhile, government scientist Ryan Robbins tries to help out from his end, and work around his heartless government overseer (Gina Holden), before everyone is killed and the entire time space fabric continuum is altered irreparably.

 

This 2012 TV movie remake of the 1984 sci-fi flick might come with a SyFy Channel pedigree, but all things considered, it’s not all that much different in entertainment value because the central concept is a winner. Directed by Paul Ziller (SyFy movies like “Stonehenge Apocalypse”) and scripted by Andy Briggs (the not bad SyFy movies “Dark Relic” and “Ghost Town”), it moves at a good clip, and is an enjoyable yarn that proves not all remakes are duds, even if they’re from the SyFy Channel. In fact, this might by SyFy’s best-ever movie, whatever that might mean to you. If you’re into your B-movies or TV shows like “Sliders” or “Quantum Leap”, this provides 90 minutes or so of solid entertainment, despite some variable FX (better than in the original, however) and performances.

 

The one real problem with the film is character development. Emilie Ullerup’s character is essentially an amalgamation of two characters from the first film, and while she is rather appealing early on (and in the words of Jackie Chiles, she’s a damn fine sexy lady!), her character ends up rather wasted. Ditto John Reardon’s local cop, who is essentially the Bobby DiCicco character from the original but re-imagined. Once he goes to investigate the ship and kinda gets stuck to it, he’s essentially inert. The other black mark against the film is B-movie icon Michael Paré, the star of the original, who this time plays a mysterious hired goon. Somewhat unceremoniously thrown into the film, he has held up well over the years physically, but is totally phoning it in here. That’s a shame, because his performance in the original was one of the livelier performances the stoic actor has ever given. Nice to see Malcolm McDowell playing a benevolent figure for a change, though, even if he’s about 20 years too young for his role (The ship disappeared 70 damn years ago, and McDowell only looks about 65). Meanwhile, you don’t lose much in the acting department by replacing 1984’s Michael Pare to 2012’s Nicholas Lea (the Canadian actor best known for playing a rogue agent on “The X-Files”).

 

Personally, I found the science easier to follow in this one than the original, as Mr. Science Guy explains it a bit better this time. The film has a durable concept and it’s a solid piece of entertainment. If you’ve seen the original, there’s not much difference here for better or worse. If you liked that film, you should like this one, too. My bias towards film over television probably dictates that I’d recommend the original first, but give this one a go, too.

 

Rating: B-