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, August 15, 2013

Review: Lone Star


Set in a small Texas border town where human remains and a sheriff’s badge are uncovered, believed to be slain former sheriff Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson), dead for around thirty years. Chris Cooper is the current sheriff, Sam Deeds who suspects his famed late deputy father Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey) was the killer of the intimidating, bigoted Wade, whom he succeeded as Sheriff when Wade mysteriously went missing after a fight between the two. Everyone else in town hasn’t got a single bad word to say about Buddy as Sam (forever in his dead father’s shadow) tries to get people to open old wounds, and we sense that Sam knows differently about his father. Meanwhile, we meet other members of the racially mixed community; Elizabeth Pena is Sam’s former lover from way back. She’s now a schoolteacher whose more balanced history teachings to reflect a multicultural perspective are raising eyebrows amongst some of the white parents in (the predominantly Hispanic) town. Her wayward son provides the reason for the former lovers to speak for seemingly the first time in years, and things go from there. Ron Canada plays Otis, long-time owner of the only bar in town open to blacks. Otis, interestingly claims to be part Native American, and is somewhat of a historian on Native/African American half-breeds. As a young man (and played by Gabriel Casseus) Otis was kind of a hustler, and now his Colonel son Del (Joe Morton) has recently turned up presiding over a nearby military base. The two haven’t spoken for decades, but geographical proximity makes a reunion pretty much unavoidable. Clifton James plays the elderly town mayor and one of Kristofferson’s former deputies, Frances McDormand plays Sam’s lonely and extremely tightly wound ex-wife, Tony Plana plays one of Sam’s deputies who may run for sheriff if Sam should give the job away, and Chandra Wilson plays a troubled army private whose answer to Del’s question about why she joined the army is eye-opening.

 

This 1996 offering from writer-editor-director John Sayles (screenwriter of “Battle Beyond the Stars” and “The Howling”, two of my favourite films) plays like a Tex-Mex precursor to “Magnolia” (minus the apocalyptic rain of amphibians and excessive use of the C-word by an A-list star) as it deals with various personalities and races co-existing in a small Texas border town (there’s also a dash of “Chinatown” too).

 

It’s a flashback-heavy film that mixes racial issues with a murder mystery, and somewhat fractured family relationships. Yes, there’s way too many characters here (resulting in the film being a little unfocused), but this is John Sayles we’re talking about, character is always going to be key. Still, I would’ve excised a story strand or two (The subplot involving Chandra Wilson and Frances McDormand’s bizarre cameo are entirely extraneous) in favour of beefing up McConaughey’s role in particular. I get that the perception of his character was meant to change throughout, but I’m not sure I ended up getting enough of a handle on him, and it frustrated me because all of the other characters seemed well-written. Given Buddy Deeds was a big part of the central mystery (albeit seen entirely in flashbacks), it didn’t seem right to barely feature his character at all whilst focusing on at least a couple of other characters who don’t really matter a damn.

 

That said, the film is nonetheless never boring, and features several very fine performances, especially Kris Kristofferson at his meanest (and most dangerous), a well-cast Chris Cooper (he’s at his best playing characters with inner turmoil), and veteran character actor Clifton James. It’s also Elizabeth Pena’s best-ever work, as well. I’m not quite so sure I believed world-weary Cooper as the son of Paul Newman-esque McConaughey, nor Ron Canada as the older version of Gabriel Casseus (who always seems to get picked on by racist white people in movies, doesn’t he?), but that’s a pretty minor gripe. It’s a solid and interesting film, but Sayles might’ve employed the services of his editor a bit more. That’s the problem when you are your own editor, I guess. But Sayles earned an Oscar nom for his screenplay, so what do I know?

 

When it’s on target, it’s really good stuff. I think this one’s more for film buffs and the indie crowd, but there’s some really interesting stuff here about the various generations and ethnicities in town, and some memorable characters. The time and place are seemingly realistically captured, and Sayles definitely deserves credit for making the somewhat unwieldy material fairly easy to follow. It’s worth a look if you haven’t caught up with it already, though a bit overrated in some quarters.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: Skyfall


007 (Daniel Craig) is nearly killed on assignment in Istanbul during an attempt to nab a hard drive with crucial info on NATO agents. He gets accidentally (and almost fatally) shot by flirty fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), whilst in a tussle with a baddie on top of a train. Laying low for a bit, he is eventually called back into active duty by M (Dame Judi Dench) when MI6 HQ in London is bombed by a rogue (and frankly loony) former agent named Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyber terrorist who has one helluva axe to grind (Not the most original motive for a Bond villain, but nevermind). Meanwhile, MP Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), M’s superior, is hovering about seemingly wanting to put M (and Bond for that matter) out to pasture. Bérénice Lim Marlohe plays the exotic Severine, an abused woman closely associated to Silva, whom Bond attempts to get to. Ben Whishaw is the new Q, and Albert Finney turns up as a grizzled old man with a long-standing connection to Bond himself.

 

Daniel Craig and I just don’t see eye to eye, especially in his stint as James Bond. In fact, I’m yet to see a Daniel Craig 007 film that I’ve liked and I still think he’s the weakest thing about the films themselves. He’s just too thuggish and lacking in charm for my liking. However, the films are at least getting better, and judging by this 2012 entry from director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”, “Road to Perdition”, “Jarhead”), the next one will perhaps be a genuinely good one. This one, though? It almost makes the mark, but is at least watchable and that’s certainly something. I still don’t understand how Craig’s charmless 007 scores with women when he drinks and broods all day long and has a face like a torn arse, but I guess I’ll just never understand the appeal with him.

 

The film got on my right side early on, with a cute Bond musical sting to start us off, and I immediately took to the enormously appealing Naomie Harris as a Bond Girl, though by the end of the film one realises all isn’t as it seems with her, and I’m not talking about the Good/Bad Bond Girl thing. Yes, she does at first appear to play Carey Lowell to Bérénice Lim Marlohe’s Talisa Soto in a film that does remind one quite a bit of Timothy Dalton’s best Bond film, “Licence to Kill”, but there’s an added twist that some of you will guess (I did).

 

The film easily has the best (and best-looking) Bond girls of the Craig era. The whole opening section of the film is fun, with some relatively stable camerawork by Roger Deakins (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”) in the cool rooftop motorbike chase. The scenery may not be as exotic as in previous globe-trotting Bond films, but Deakins’ lensing of more British locales works here. Meanwhile, a nice bit of biffo on top of a train makes good use of Craig’s ruggedness, even if ruggedness is pretty much all the guy brings to the party aside from brooding and sulking. And anytime Bond’s fate is left in doubt is always a memorable way to start a Bond film, though it’s certainly not the first time (“You Only Live Twice”).

 

Like all Bond films, the little details are always important in assessing the film’s worth, and this film has one of the best (and somewhat old-school) main title designs in at least a decade, by Daniel Kleinman (“GoldenEye”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Casino Royale”). Meanwhile, no one can really complain about Adele’s Oscar-winning title song, which has the right sound and feel for a Bond song moreso than any other since Tina Turner’s underrated title tune for “GoldenEye”, even if it’s not her best vocal. At the very least, it’s my favourite Bond song since Garbage’s underrated title tune for “The World is Not Enough”, and it’s probably better than that too. Also, I have to credit Thomas Newman (“Less Than Zero”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Pay it Forward”, “In the Bedroom”) for giving us a score post-1999 that doesn’t sound like his work on “American Beauty”. I wouldn’t exactly call it a Bondian music score, but it’s certainly Bond-like, and every now and then, you’ll hear something familiar. I truly marked out when the James Bond Theme, bass guitar included, was featured about 90 minutes into the film. At the end of the film, another old favourite makes its appearance, as the film pays tribute to 50 years of Bond.

 

I said earlier that I really liked Naomie Harris, and in fact she’s not only really appealing (and although only two years younger than Honor Blackman was in “Goldfinger” she looks much younger than Blackman did), but she works well with Craig. The glum, moody bastard needs softening and Harris helps him with that. I’ll give Daniel Craig one thing, in this one he finally gives us some (glib) humour in the Connery vein, and has a particular line in sarcastic quips. It’s something, at least, and I appreciated the subtle improvement, as Craig brings 007 somewhere in between Connery, Dalton, and Lazenby, but closer to Dalton and not nearly as close to Ian Fleming’s original creation as many of Craig’s defenders will assert. And since we’ve had 50 years of Bond films, I think fidelity to Fleming is a moot point anyway. The films are an entity of their own nowadays, especially since Fleming is no longer really being drawn upon. He’s not quite as dull as in his previous two stints, but I still prefer “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “Licence to Kill” to this film, let alone most of the Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan films. And I still believe Craig would make for a much better henchman than he does Agent 007. I’ll credit the Craig films with one thing, they’ve shown an aging 007, which is something that definitely ought to have happened by now.

 

The film takes an awful long time to really give us the villain, but so did “You Only Live Twice” and that one featured my favourite villain, Donald Pleasence’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Javier Bardem’s rogue former agent Silva isn’t a match for Blofeld, but he nonetheless steals the entire film and is easily the best Bond villain since Louis Jourdan’s urbane Kamal Khan in 1983’s underrated “Octopussy”. I prefer Jourdan’s urbane villainy, but Bardem is good, more unpredictable, volatile, and sinister. Yes, I would’ve liked him more front and centre early on, but he makes his every moment on screen count. I don’t know whether it’s the blond hair, but he’s creepy fun (borderline ‘swishy’ too) and is the Bond villain that Christopher Walken should have been in “A View to a Kill”, but ultimately disappointed. I also rather enjoyed a Bond villain who entered Bond’s home turf for a change, rather than being in some exotic, foreign hideaway. In a way, that brings it a sense of reality and even prescience (and only slightly tipping over into real world terrorism situations, which I find off-putting in a film like this, but thankfully it’s only a minor element and it won’t annoy everyone). I’m not sure we needed a rather obvious “Silence of the Lambs” rip-off with Bardem escaping his glass casing, though.

 

Less enjoyable is Ben Whishaw’s new and younger Q. While it was nice to find out what the ‘Q’ stands for, I found it a shame that Q has been turned into a mere computer hacker. I’d be fine with the character if it had been given any other name, to be honest. Meanwhile, I wonder if MI6 could use the services of Edward Snowden or Julian Assange. Q does get off one nice line, however: ‘Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that kind of thing anymore’. I also think that in addition to more Bardem, the film could’ve benefited from more Ralph Fiennes as bureaucrat Mallory. The role becomes more important as it goes along, but at first it seems like a somewhat dull, nondescript role for the esteemed Fiennes to take on.

 

Dame Judi Dench is awfully bloody good as M, but let’s face it, the material she has been given far outweighs anything Bernard Lee or Robert Brown were given. I could argue that the Craig 007 films try too hard to be great dramas instead of great Bond films, but none of it was boring here and the M/Bond relationship has always been interesting, not just with Craig but even with the Brosnan Bond films where Dench first started her stint in the role. I do have to question, though, just how many criminal masterminds M unwittingly knows, because there was one in “The World is Not Enough”, and another here. No wonder she’s considered a bit of a relic here. The film also boasts an interesting extended cameo from Albert Finney, even though it’s mostly interesting because you can tell the role was clearly meant for the retired Sean Connery. It’s a shame Connery couldn’t be persuaded to take on the role, especially for the 50 years of Bond thing, but it’s a terrific little role for Finney (who I’m not normally much of a fan of). It actually reminded me a lot of Patrick Macnee’s role in “A View to a Kill”. Finney sure as hell doesn’t sound Scottish, though, but then again Connery sounded awfully Scottish for a Spaniard in “Highlander”, didn’t he?

 

Meanwhile, the action and spectacle throughout is pretty damn effective, and not just the opening rooftop chase and train fisticuffs. The action is tough without being too blunt or dull, and Bond isn’t a mere thug, despite being played by a guy with a face like a torn arse (Hey, you loved it the first time I used the expression, why not repeat it?). There’s also an excellent train crash unlike any that you’ve ever seen. The Scottish sequence with Finney is pretty cool in that it makes you think the action is about so slow, but in fact, it is actually reaching its climax with a fiery skirmish. But this brings me to another flaw I found with the film, albeit more of a disagreement in style. Whilst I applauded the steady camerawork of Mr. Deakins, his use of colour correction/filters was seriously off-the-charts annoying to me (Faithful readers surely knew I was going to get to this eventually, right?). Yes, there was a truly amazing and beautiful dark blue hued scene where a fistfight takes place in the shadowy foreground, with a giant jellyfish screensaver-like image in the background. That was incredible, and Deakins thankfully uses more than one colour throughout, though I wish it were more than one at a time. However, a lot of the time the use of colour is either silly or incoherent. An underground tunnel with yellow light globes that is entirely bathed in neon blue? The interior of a building just so coincidentally has the exact same dark/neon blue lighting? Except in some parts that are amber? Um...yeah. M has a white light in her office but it lights up amber in colour? WHAT? The Scottish finale has a ridiculous amount of amber lighting/filters during what is already an explosive sequence, making everything look like hell on earth. That may be intentional, but it’s also absurd. Like “Let Me In”, it makes a cold climate look inappropriately volcanic. This won’t bother everyone, but it’s my biggest pet peeve in cinema. The set design, however, is really interesting in that both MI5 and Bardem live in somewhat post-apocalyptic surroundings, and not ugly surroundings, just barren. It’s a very interestingly designed film.

 

Scripted by the trio of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (who have written the previous two Daniel Craig entries), and John Logan (“The Last Samurai”, “Sweeney Todd”, “Rango”, “Hugo”), this isn’t exactly what I would call a good Bond film, but it is slowly steering the series back on course and is certainly watchable, if somewhat cannibalistic of other Bond films (“GoldenEye” and “Licence to Kill” especially). I’d rank it 13th out of 25 Bond films (including the rogue entry “Never Say Never Again”, and both film adaptations of “Casino Royale”, but not the earlier TV version of it, which surely no one counts).

 

Rating: C+

Review: The Golden Child


Eddie Murphy stars as a smart-arse locator of lost children hired by a humourless young woman (Charlotte Lewis) to locate a missing Tibetan boy (played by a girl, J.L. Reate) with special mystical powers, who has been kidnapped by a disciple of Satan, played by Charles Dance, who is surrounded by idiot thugs (Played by Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb and Tiger Chung Lee). Murphy treats everything flippantly, even when it becomes obvious that Lewis isn’t a crackpot and Dance clearly is operating on some higher power of evil than the everyday crims one encounters. Victor Wong plays a Chinese mystic and pickpocket, and fellow “Big Trouble in Little China” alum James Hong and Peter Kwong also have minor roles.

 

Some people revisit the films they loved as a child. Me, I’ve been revisiting childhood duds lately, including this golden turkey from 1986, directed by Michael Ritchie (“Fletch”, “The Couch Trip”) and scripted by  Dennis Feldman (who would later pen the mediocre, “Alien”-esque “Species”). I’m a sick, sick man. Seemingly an attempt to mix Eastern fantasy with wise-arse Eddie Murphy urban action-comedy ala “Beverly Hills Cop” (or perhaps even Ritchie’s own “Fletch”), but with a gentler, less profane Murphy than usual, it’s entirely witless and a sign of things to come from the increasingly family friendly Murphy.

 

Aside from some lovely Tibetan scenery, the only tolerable thing in the entire film is the music score by Michel Colombier (“Purple Rain”, “The Money Pit”, and the amusing, “Fletch”-like “Who’s Harry Crumb”). Meanwhile, James Hong, Victor Wong, and Peter Kwong are not able to fool me into thinking that this is “Big Trouble in Little China” (which I think was released after this). Hong in particular is wasted in a bit of casting that only exists because it is written in the ancient scrolls of movie stereotyping that he has to be in every Asian movie made in America. In this one, though, he’s not given a damn thing to work with. Still, he might consider himself luckier than Wong, who plays not just an Asian stereotype, but an embarrassing Asian stereotype.

 

I suppose there is something to be said for seeing Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb in a top hat at one point, but he’s given an even less entertaining thug henchman role than usual, opposite one-time WWF/E ‘jobber’ Tiger Chung Lee. Meanwhile, someone told Charlotte Lewis she’d make a good actress. That person is fucking evil. She is a terrible actress, and unless I blinked, she never changes facial expression once in the film. As the central villain, the very fine Charles Dance looks entirely bored (Murphy looks bemused too, to be honest) in a casting decision obviously modelled on Steven Berkoff in Murphy’s excellent “Beverly Hills Cop”. The role isn’t as meaty, and Dance clearly knows it. Like Sir Ben Kingsley, however, he seems to have an unfamiliarity with the word ‘no’. By the way, does Dance’s character really work for The Claw? I’ll get you, Gadget!

 

Perhaps the worst box-office hit of all-time, it’s a terrible misfire, sluggish and slow, with a seemingly bored Murphy no-selling all the danger around him. Almost an hour in and he was still being flippant to all the trouble he was getting himself into. It’s an incredibly annoying performance that reminded me of Robert Downey Jr.’s later and similarly flippant performance in the overrated “Iron Man” series. It’s just Murphy being flippant for 90 minutes, playing the same one note over and over. He sure as shit ain’t no Jack Burton, that’s for damn sure (and the special FX are far worse than in “Big Trouble in Little China” which came out the same year), and the material certainly isn’t of the equal of “Beverly Hills Cop” (though part of the finale appears to take place in a remarkably similar location to the climax of that film). But the reason for this film’s utter failure (outside of box-office) can probably best be encapsulated in the scene where Murphy is visited by Charles Dance and his cronies in his dreams, Charlotte Lewis is tied up with toilet paper, and the whole thing has a live audience and ‘applause’ scene. Is this shit for real?

 

The thing is, though, it could’ve all worked if not for the fact that it isn’t remotely funny. It’s also topped off by a horribly underwhelming ending. I honestly think the late, great Roger Ebert is the only person on the planet who liked this movie. Is it Murphy’s worst-ever film? All I know is it’s boring, slow, and there’s not one laugh in it.

 

Rating: F

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: Bad Ass


68 year-old Danny Trejo stars as 60ish Vietnam veteran Frank Vega, who has found employment opportunities limited and has mostly worked as a hot dog vendor. However, he at least becomes a YouTube sensation when he decides to bring the pain to a couple of dopey skinheads on a bus, which is filmed by another passenger. Sadly, that same day his best buddy (Harrison Page) is murdered, and decides to do something about it, since the cops don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The trail leads to a gangster named Panther (Charles S. Dutton, of all people), who is in cahoots with the town’s corrupt mayor (Ron Perlman, much easier to believe). Meanwhile, Frank also gets involved with a young boy (John Duffy, in an amateurish turn) and his mother (Joyful Drake), who has a douchebag husband.

 

Although the title and star Danny Trejo suggest a “Machete”-esque arse-kicking action movie, this 2012 film from director/co-writer Craig Moss (who mostly works in the field of parodies like the mostly laugh-free “41-Year Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall And Felt Superbad About It”) is more of a late 70s/early 80s style trashy vigilante movie. Or perhaps a Mexican version of a blaxploitation movie with more emphasis on drama inspired by a true story. You’ve seen it all before, but you haven’t seen it with Danny Trejo, and that makes for some difference. In fact, this is like the kinder, gentler side of Danny Trejo...except for the parts when he’s beating people up. Still, Frank’s a flesh-and-blood, relatable human being, not a hulking Mexican bad ass (if you’ll pardon the pun) mofo.

 

It’s not exactly a good movie, and not schlocky enough, either, but I kinda liked it in a poor man’s “Gran Torino” sort of way. I just wish the action were more in the “Machete” mould, instead of the urban vigilante mould, though Trejo is certainly preferable to a latter day Charles Bronson. Unlike most 60ish actors, formerly incarcerated Trejo is one guy I really wouldn’t try my luck with in a fight. Trejo is solid and perfectly cast (his kick-arse theme music is awesome too, much as I hate hippity hop), but the rest of the cast is a mixed bag. “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” and “Wrong Bet” co-star Harrison Page is good fun and makes for a good buddy relationship with Trejo, but he leaves the film far too early. Meanwhile, Ron Perlman is appallingly wasted and who shockingly never gets to interact with Trejo, despite basically being the main villain. That puts a helluva lot of weight on the broad shoulders of character actor Charles S. Dutton (like Trejo, an ex-con in real life and in his 60s), dressed like Cee-Lo Green, and seemingly having a lot of fun playing the bad guy for a change. I’m not sure it’s a change I terribly like, but he’s certainly lively, if unthreatening. He’s certainly a better class of actor than you normally find in this sort of thing. Aside from a great cameo by Mickey from “Seinfeld”, all of the other actors are nondescript and underwhelming, although I did like the character of the local cop who looks out for Frank, clearly knowing that he has a habit of getting into trouble.

 

I have to say that the film features the worst CG flames you’ll ever see in your life. My Lord are they godawful fake. Apparently the film is loosely based on real events (the real-life character was apparently more of a loudmouth arsehole), but it’s standard urban violence stuff for the most part, and needn’t have been tied to anything factual.

 

It’s not a great film, but it’s a watchable one that will especially please fans of Trejo, who is perfect here. It’s certainly more enjoyable than “Harry Brown” or “Death Wish”. Terrifically nasty bit with a garbage disposal unit, too. Ouch.

 

Rating: B-