About This Blog

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: A Perfect World

Kevin Costner and Keith Szarabajka are escaped convicts in 1963 who kidnap a young Jehovah’s witness boy (T.J. Lowther) after an attempt at robbery doesn’t go so well. The charming, but still clearly dangerous Costner seems to form a bond with the boy (he’s got a problem with anyone who mistreats children, and both had/have absentee fathers), and tries to give him all the fun things that his family’s religion frowns upon. There is no doubt, however, that he’s also manipulating the boy into helping him whilst on the run. Meanwhile, aging Texas Ranger Red Garnett (Clint Eastwood) is searching all over Texas with his team in a fancy new mobile command post (i.e. A trailer at the back of a big truck). Laura Dern plays a female criminologist tagging along at the request of the Governor. Her theories and overall psychobabble approach generally gets on Garnett’s nerves, and she resents the boys club and general sexism in Garnett’s approach. Bradley Whitford plays a gung-ho, frankly loathsome agent also assigned to Garnett’s crew.

 
This 1993 Clint Eastwood (“Play Misty for Me”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Hereafter”) flick is ¾ of a good movie. Kevin Costner gives one of his best performances as a complex and interesting bad guy. Every scene featuring him and young T.J. Lowther is really terrific stuff (I have no idea why Lowther hasn’t acted all that much since). It was a really smart idea putting Costner and Lowther together in a road movie kind of dynamic, given both of their upbringings, not to mention Costner’s differing persona to his fellow escapee. I liked Keith Szarabajka as Costner’s more overtly nasty cohort, his voice alone is memorable (and unsurprisingly, it’s his voice that has kept the actor busiest in the years since).

 
Unfortunately, Eastwood himself doesn’t hold up the other end of the film quite as well, at least not in the way the screenplay by John Lee Hancock (who later wrote and directed the overrated sports drama “The Blind Side”) unfolds. His performance as the gruff lawman is perfectly fine, if little different from the usual Eastwood persona. It’s just that the character isn’t as interesting (I’m not sure a manhunt flick is the right film for a laconic, laidback lawman character), and his manhunt is completely perfunctory.

 
The conclusion also lacks a certain punch, not to mention it’s a little too leisurely paced, which is surely partly why it wasn’t a big box-office success at the time, let alone well-remembered today. When you add a completely irritating and clichéd performance from the extremely lightweight Laura Dern (in a role screaming for a Rene Russo, let alone for more depth), as I said earlier, you end up with ¾ of a good movie at best.

 
Still, it’s worth seeing for Costner, who for some reason gave off old-fashioned movie star vibes to me here (Frank Sinatra and Paul Newman specifically came to mind).

 
Rating: C+

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Once Upon a Time in Mexico


Antonio Banderas is back as El Mariachi, out for revenge against the General who killed his beloved (Salma Hayek, in flashbacks). He is hired by oddball CIA agent Sands (Johnny Depp) to assassinate the General, thus stopping a coup set up by drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe, with a bad tan), who has orchestrated the assassination of the President (Pedro Armendariz Jr). Ruben Blades plays a retired FBI agent on Barillo’s tail, Mickey Rourke plays a Chihuahua-loving, American hood in the employ of Barillo, and Eva Mendes is a Mexican FBI agent trying to make her mark in a world of machismo. Smaller turns are provided by Enrique Iglesias as one of El Mariachi’s allies, Cheech Marin plays the same bartender he essayed in “Desperado”, and Danny Trejo turns up briefly in a role that may or may not be the character he played (and who died) in the aforementioned “Desperado”.

 

I was not terribly interested in the first two films in Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” trilogy, those being “El Mariachi” and the rather silly “Desperado”. However, I’m fully on board with this conclusion, which as the Leone-esque title suggests, is the most epic and ambitious of the three by far, and the most entertaining. Hell, despite finding the weaponry in “Desperado” stupid, I fully embraced the guitar machine gun in this one. I mean, it’s like El Mariachi heard Hendrix emulating gunfire with his guitar at Woodstock and decided he could go one better (Enrique Iglesias’ guitar case flame thrower is also too gloriously ridiculous not to forgive).

 

One thing that is definitely improved over “Desperado” is that Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are far more comfortable than they were in that film. Banderas oozes sweaty, Spanish machismo and is completely persuasive in the part. He gets one particularly cool moment sliding down a flight of stairs. Hayek’s performance, although the role is lesser, is definitely an improvement, and Banderas seems to have gotten the hang of the English language by now (something he struggled with a bit early on and worked hard to improve) and wears his character like a suit. Which is a good thing given the role isn’t exactly afforded a whole lot of depth, perhaps due to the large array of other characters fighting for screen time. The most enjoyable of these is easily the scene-stealing Johnny Depp, who is clearly having fun indulging his eccentric self shamelessly, and this is one of the occasions where the audience will enjoy the weirdness too (Unlike say, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”). Depp is simultaneously oddball and unspeakably hip, and the prosthetic arm is the icing on the cake. I don’t know whether it was Rodriguez or Depp himself, but whoever came up with the line ‘Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can’t?’ deserves a pat on the back. Edward Norton’s Brando impersonation in “The Kingdom of Heaven” was pretty good, but anyone who doesn’t laugh at Depp’s hilarious Brando impersonation is...too young to get it, I guess. Also hilarious is he and Danny Trejo rigging a bull-fight, which has to be seen to be believed.

 

The supporting cast is pretty interesting, with a great small role for Ruben Blades, and I suppose singer/heartthrob Enrique Iglesias is well-cast too (in a kind of Ricky Nelson/James Darren role). Mickey Rourke was in the midst of his comeback here (started with “The Rainmaker”), and whatever you might think of his talents, he’s well-used here. Danny Trejo’s badass presence is welcome for a few scenes, and the existence of Eva Mendes in this film is entirely justified by one of the all-time greatest camera shots as we see her shot from below in a tight black shirt. You just have to see it, it’s glorious. Willem Dafoe was definitely cast for his cold, dead eyes, as an homage to Henry Fonda in “Once Upon a Time in the West” (The whole film seems like Rodriguez’s tribute to that masterpiece). The gag doesn’t really work, though, because Dafoe is ludicrously cast as a Mexican, and his casting as a villain isn’t a surprise like it was with Fonda.

 

Although the complex plotting and overabundance of characters are a definite drawback, at least the plot and characters are more interesting than in either of the previous films. I do think it results in the Banderas character taking a slightly less important role for great stretches of the film, though (It’s like he has the Charles Bronson role in “Once Upon a Time in the West”, though I can’t really say Depp has the Jason Robards role). The music, as is usually the case with Rodriguez (who composed it), is a star in its own right. The blazing guitar in Trejo’s first scene is reminiscent of Morricone’s work for Henry Fonda’s first scene in “Once Upon a Time in the West”, and “Kill Bill vol. 2” fans should pay close attention to the song Mariachi plays for the President. It’s awfully familiar.

 

This isn’t high art, but it’s certainly more epic and ambitious than anything writer/director/cinematographer/composer/editor Rodriguez had previously attempted. I don’t know why this doesn’t have a better reputation, because it’s got a lot to like about it. Admittedly it has too much of everything, but still, I had fun with it, especially whenever Depp was on screen. Rodriguez is an uneven filmmaker, but when he’s on, he sure makes terrific screen entertainments.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Margin Call


A look inside a Wall Street investment firm (barely fictionalised) just prior to what we now know as the Global Financial Crisis. Employees are getting sacked left, right, and centre (about 80% of the film!), including senior risk management guy Stanley Tucci. On his way out, Tucci hands over a USB drive to young trader (and Tucci’s protégé) Zachary Quinto, and tells him to ‘be careful’. It’s something Tucci had been in the middle of prior to getting the arse, and after taking a look at it, Quinto (whose college education means he could’ve been a rocket scientist but likes money too much) and his even younger colleague Penn Badgley are worried enough to call his immediate (and newly appointed) boss Paul Bettany back from an after work party (a ‘yay, we didn’t get fired!’ party, it would seem) to get him to look at it too. Before long, the floor manager (Kevin Spacey, solid as always as a man with a conscience in a job that demands he ignores it) is called back to work to take a look at it as well, and eventually an emergency all-nighter is called, including CEO Jeremy Irons, and his underling executives Demi Moore and Simon Baker (the latter is an absolute snake). They have some very tough decisions to make about the company’s future. Why? Because it would appear that the company’s questionable business practices have resulted in it being a tiny bit broke, and its assets useless. Meanwhile, no one seems to be able to find the disgruntled Tucci. Well, the company did disconnect his mobile phone, so I wouldn’t really want to be taking calls from those bastards, either, even if the phone was working. Mary McDonnell appears briefly in a wholly inappropriate sheer negligee as Spacey’s ex. There are no heroes in this film, just people with varying degrees of integrity and morality. The insular concerns these characters have are if not surprising, certainly horrifying. None of them seem to give a crap about anyone outside of the company, and given what eventually happened globally and economically...like I said, horrifying.

 

Writer-director J.C. Chandor does something remarkable in his debut film from 2011. There was barely a moment of detailed, jargon-heavy dialogue in this film that I wholly comprehended, and yet, I was still somehow able to go along with it and follow the gist of it. When you’re making a film about a Wall Street investment firm about to crash and burn, casting Jeremy Irons as the CEO tells you a lot. If you’ve seen “Boiler Room”, that helps too, as the film reminded me a bit of the latter stages of that film, although there’s nothing illegal per se going on here, just amoral (dare I use the term ‘morally bankrupt’?). And of course, if you’ve followed the headlines of the last 5-10 years, even if you are as shite at maths as I am, you can certainly follow this film’s trajectory, no matter how incoherent the numbers talk seems to be.

 

There isn’t a dud performance to be found (though Badgley, like his character, seems kinda expendable), but the three standouts are definitely Paul Bettany (as an affable but completely nonchalant yuppie), Stanley Tucci (as the recently sacked worker who started the investigation before passing the data onto Quinto), and best of all a completely soulless Jeremy Irons, pitch-perfect casting. His callousness, ego, and selfishness are truly frightening. Tucci, for his part, steals his every scene (it’s rare that he isn’t a scene-stealer), which is sadly too few, because his is one of the more sympathetic characters in a film full of devils, amoral snakes, sycophantic ‘yes’ men, hardened bitches, and ambitious youngsters. I wasn’t as impressed with Kevin Spacey as others seem to have been, but that may just be because I’ve seen Spacey do incredible work in so many other films. His subtle facial expressions here, however, say a helluva lot.

 

I can’t wait to see what Chandor comes out with next, after this impressive debut, which earned him a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the Oscars. I was particularly impressed with how he took potentially dry, dull, and dense material, and managed to make it interesting and at times even thrilling. The pacing, in particular is really impressive for a film that’s all talk.

 

It’s a solid and interesting film, even though the jargon is somewhat indecipherable, and the ending didn’t sit right with me. Or at least, I’d prefer it to have ended on a scene with someone else, the person it ends on is perhaps one of the more sympathetic characters, but still too morally compromised for the emotion the filmmaker is seeking from the audience. But then, I can’t figure out which character I’d prefer it to end with (no one comes out of this cleanly except maybe Badgley or Tucci), so perhaps I’m just nitpicking, I just felt somewhat letdown at the end.

 

Certainly Americans would get more out of this than most, but it was called the global financial crisis for a reason, so I don’t think its appeal is all that limited.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: This Means War

FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are spies and best buds attempting to nab international terrorist Heinrich (Til Schweiger). But who cares about that when we can watch them fight over the girl (Reese Witherspoon) they’ve both met over an internet dating site. Well, Tuck does at any rate, it’s just unfortunate that she meets FDR on the same day as her first date with Tuck and is attracted to him (strange, given he’s an egotistical dickhead). The game to win her heart is on, and no dirty trick or spy device is left unused. Chelsea Handler plays Witherspoon’s snarky, married best friend, Angela Bassett is the spy boss, and Laura Vandervoort is Tuck’s ex-wife and the mother of his son.


Well this sure is an idiotic misfire, isn’t it? This 2012 so-called romantic comedy from alleged director McG (the light and pleasant “Charlie’s Angels”and its entirely empty-headed sequel) seems to want to be “Knight and Day”for Gen-Y. It fails spectacularly on just about every conceivable level. The basic plot is beyond absurd, as two supposedly top spies end up fighting over the same girl, and commandeer their spy technology to serve their personal romantic pursuits. That’s quite simply the worst idea for a movie since Rob Schneider learned kung-fu to avoid being prison raped in “Big Stan”.Yes, “True Lies” used the basic idea, but that was just in a subplot, and more importantly, it was funny. There is only one laugh in this entire film, and it comes from Pine’s co-worker in regards to Hardy’s pursuit of Witherspoon; ‘I think that’s a New British Invasion what just happened there’. Also, ‘Itsfate.net’ might just be the worst name for a dating website ever, so that was cute too. Otherwise, it’s so empty-headed it makes “Men at Work” look like pure genius. I kinda wished I’d re-watched that harmless 1990 film instead (Keith David was awesome in it!).


The film fails on the romance front too, because Tom Hardy shares absolutely no chemistry with Witherspoon whatsoever, and although Chris Pine shares slightly more, he has such an unlikeable, jerky presence on screen that you don’t care. Honestly, I think Chris Pine might just have the most unlikeable and off-putting screen presence of any actor currently working. He’s as much of a dick here as he was in “Star Trek”, only the film itself is much, much worse. But it’s not just the romantic chemistry that’s lacking, Pine and Hardy simply don’t gel together, either, and are incredibly unfunny. Even as rivals, they don’t work, and as friends they’re completely incompatible. They’re like oil and turds. I like Tom Hardy as an actor, and early in this film he had me convinced that he should’ve played James Bond instead of Daniel Craig. He’s suitably rugged but an interesting actor too, unlike the wooden Craig. But this film does him no favours after the opening scene.


I find sarcastic comedienne Chelsea Handler occasionally funny, but a little of her goes a long, long way because she only plays one snarky note. Here her scenes as Witherspoon’s best pal, ala Carrie Fisher in “When Harry Met Sally” or Rita Wilson in anythingRita Wilson appears in, seem to come from a different film entirely. Technically, they should seem organic to the schmaltzy material, but there’s something ‘off’, and I think it must be Handler’s performance. Not only do I think there’s no way on earth she and Reese Witherspoon could ever be friends, but I feel like Handler performs all her scenes like no one else is in the scene with her, even when they are. Maybe she needs to earn the art of‘listening’, indicative of her inexperience in films. Til Schweiger is good casting as the villain I suppose, given he, Pine, and Hardy all look like GQ models, but the film barely manages to give a crap about the terrorist plot and the fine actor is wasted. And although I think Angela Bassett was quite right to criticise Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball”, if the price she paid was to turn up as the angry black boss in shit like this, maybe it wasn’t such a smart thing for her. Wasted doesn’t even begin to describe her appearance here. It’s a one-note role and Bassett can’t do a damn thing about it. Remember when she used to be an actress?


I don’t know who out of writers Timothy Dowling (the enjoyable “Role Models”, the desperate “Just Go With It”) and Simon Kinberg (“Mr.& Mrs. Smith”, “Sherlock Holmes”) is responsible for the nauseating dialogue in this film, but they should’ve watched “When Harry Met Sally” to learn how to do it right. Not even an actor as solid as Tom Hardy can make the ‘ground rules’ scene work due to the awful dialogue he is given. But the writers botch a whole lot more than that, having the two protagonists’dilemma revealed after barely 30 minutes. That should’ve been far more prolonged. Once they start spying on each other, it hits rock bottom- 40 minutes in. I did like the cute song selection, though, with The Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ and Sade’s ‘Smooth Operator’. I loathe Sade, though, she’s basically hipster elevator muzak.


It’s a stupendously moronic film, the only saving grace being the beautiful and immensely likeable Reese Witherspoon, but not even seeing her dance around in her underwear can save this crap. She tries her perky little heart out, though, and is absolutely charming. Well, except when she claims that Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” is inferior to his work from the 60s onwards. Nope, it’s far better than any film he made during the 60s and early 70s except “Psycho”. Everyone knows that. It’s not even a matter of opinion. I liked “Topaz”. That’s an opinion. Besides, it makes no sense to trash everything pre-1960 by Hitchcock (what about his best film, 1951’s “Strangers on a Train”?) when this film’s mixture of spy flick, romance, and comedy, is basically riffing on Hitchcock’s spy films of the 30s and 40s, which in addition to “The Lady Vanishes”, include the classic “39 Steps” and “Notorious”. I can forgive Witherspoon’s character perhaps, but not the idiots who wrote the character. I have also never seen her look so stunning on screen. Is she single right now? I know I ask that about a lot of actresses but seriously, I want to marry that girl. Yes, DUI rant and all.


Having said that, even Witherspoon’s character is unlikeable too. She basically gets away with murder, two-timing Pine and Hardy. So you’ve got a love triangle with absolutely no likeable characters, and really only one charming performance. Meanwhile, it’s all-too obvious from the outset who Witherspoon is going to choose, even without the chemistry on show. The way the characters are situated in their lives makes it entirely transparent, but it wouldn’t matter who she chose. None of these people are right for each other.


Wow, what a botch-job. This is a flimsy, stupid excuse for a film that can’t even be enjoyed on the level of a disposable piece of romantic fluff. Some might think I was a bit harsh towards “New Year’s Eve”, but I’m sorry, that film, like this one isn’t even competent on its chosen, lightweight level. It deserves to be roasted.


Rating: D

Review: D-Day: The 6th of June


A ‘Two officers in love with the same swell gal’ picture, as married American officer Robert Taylor is assigned to London to work for a maverick Colonel (Edmond O’Brien), and falls for pretty Brit Red Cross worker Dana Wynter, whose fiancé Richard Todd is a British paratrooper currently fighting elsewhere. Oh, and it’s prior to the D-Day assault during WWII, just so you know. John Williams plays a disgruntled elder statesman of the British military early in the film.

 

The title and romantic/relationship trappings might suggest something along the lines of “From Here to Eternity”, but this Henry Koster (“Harvey”, “My Cousin Rachel”, “The Virgin Queen”) film from 1956 has neither the depth of character nor the epic scale of that timeless film. The screenplay by Ivan Moffat (“Giant”, “The Heroes of Telemark”) and Harry Brown (“Sands of Iwo Jima”, “A Place in the Sun”, “The Virgin Queen”, “El Dorado”) is so poor that the Richard Todd character is barely featured in the film, rendering the central love triangle (which wasn’t much good the following year in “Bitter Victory”, either) completely worthless. Actually, it’s a quadrangle, if you add in Taylor’s wife, but nevermind. For a film that doesn’t even run two hours, it’s unforgiveable to have Todd’s character only appear in what, three or four scenes? Where’s the dramatic/domestic conflict?

 

Worse still, the film is hardly about D-Day (what?), and the whole thing ends on a whimper. It feels like a large chunk has been taken from the middle of the film. Robert Taylor (who served in the Navy during the war, apparently) is also rather bored-looking, though Dana Wynter is excellent (and beautiful, despite a far too glamorous hairdo for her character) as the woman caught between two men. It’s a real shame Richard Todd (a real-life paratrooper who actually took part in the Normandy invasion) makes such fleeting appearances in the film, because he’s a much better actor than Taylor ever was. Edmond O’Brien and Hitchcock regular John Williams are well-cast but not well-used, as the latter has barely a cameo. And yes, O’Brien does have at least one requisite drinking scene. It wouldn’t be an Edmond O’Brien role without one.

 

I must admit that, undernourished or not, the film takes an interestingly light stance on infidelity for most of its length. Hell, the participants aren’t even terribly discreet about it. I think the affair in “From Here to Eternity” had more discretion involved. Meanwhile, why is the American hunk in these sorts of things always called Brad?

The best thing about the film are the well-staged action scenes. They come too late, but are effective nonetheless.

 

I’m sorry, but this feels like half a movie, or at least a half-baked one. It sets up battles on both the romantic and military fronts, and fails to deliver on the former, and is somewhat misleading about the latter. It is not about the Normandy invasion for the most part. What the hell happened here?

 

Rating: C