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, August 24, 2013

Review: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid


James Coburn (whose eyes say a lot here) is Pat Garrett, a former gunslinger turned lawman by Gov. Wallace (Jason Robards Jr.) and corrupt cattle baron John Chisum (Barry Sullivan, in a role Coburn himself played later in “Young Guns II”) and hired to track down his one-time partner in crime, William H. Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid, and played by Kris Kristofferson. Has Garrett sold out or simply moved with the times, realising his old life was somewhat incompatible with long-living? (The film indeed seems to be the death knell for the Western outlaw way of life) Billy, for his part, stubbornly refuses to budge, and the two are obviously headed for a showdown that frankly neither really wants. Aiding Garrett are the likes of Sheriffs Baker (Slim Pickens) and McKinney (Richard Jaeckel), God-fearing deputised prison guard Bob Ollinger (a volatile R.G. Armstrong), another deputised prison guard named J.W. Bell (Matt Clark), and Alamosa Bill (Jack Elam). Billy’s cronies include Black Harris (L.Q. Jones), Charlie Bowdre (Charles ‘Charlie’ Martin Smith), Luke (Harry Dean Stanton), Holly (Richard Bright), and Eno (Luke Askew). Veteran character actor Chill Wills plays foul-mouthed bartender Lemuel, whom Garrett tries to pump for information. Katy Jurado plays the feisty Mrs. Baker, Bob Dylan turns up as a guy named Alias who hangs out with Billy and his crew, while Dub Taylor and Elisha Cook Jr. also have cameos.

 

Acting like the Wild West’s grim final hours, this 1973 offering from director Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”, “Straw Dogs”, “Convoy”) is never quite as good as you want it to be. Scripted by Rudy Wurlitzer (“Two-Lane Blacktop”), but apparently largely re-written, it’s a rambling, shambling mess of a movie with a harsh tone I appreciated, but the revisionist approach to the story was not to my liking, and no matter which cut of the film you see, it’s a disjointed and unsatisfying affair. This, despite boasting one of the greatest western casts ever assembled, and especially fine work by James Coburn (for once charmless and grim as a lawman who frankly seems law in badge-only), a surprisingly profane Chill Wills, and a grim-faced R.G. Armstrong in particular. There’s also good, smaller turns by Jack Elam (who gets the film’s best scene as a man who clearly doesn’t want the job he’s been assigned), Charles Martin Smith (in the role Elisha Cook Jr used to play), Matt Clark, and L.Q. Jones. If you love your western character actors, you’ll find pretty much every one of them in here somewhere, even if some of the best like Slim Pickens (whose brief cameo is a head-scratcher), Elisha Cook Jr. (not given nearly as much screen time as Mr. Smith), and Dub Taylor barely get a look-in. The only actor who really disappoints (aside from maybe Jason Robards Jr., who looks like he’d been out drinking the night before with Peckinpah- and likely was) isn’t even an actor, it’s Bob Dylan, whose appearance here never feels organic, nor necessary. His songs are also wildly uneven, though everyone surely loves ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, which plays in the background to Pickens’ one scene. Still, it has to be said that the man is most certainly no actor.

 

There’s some worthwhile stuff here, but it doesn’t end up hanging together and it’s awfully lethargic in pacing. I mean, for a film about Garrett’s attempt to pursue and Billy’s attempts to flee, neither seemed to be in any damn hurry. Part of that is because neither guy really wants to kill the other, one assumes (though in Garrett’s case, he’s somewhat annoyed and exacerbated by Billy making the job hard for him), but that’s only part of it. It just meanders for a seemingly unending amount of time for something that really only begins in the middle (i.e. The story begins with the Garrett and Kid relationship well past its used by date, perhaps not the right decision).

 

I also took exception to Peckinpah re-writing this with a far too geriatric Billy the Kid. It just doesn’t work. Clean shaven or not, would you believe then 37 year-old Kris Kristofferson as someone named Billy the Kid? The laconic actor/musician nearly pulls it off, to his credit, but no. Apparently the then-31 year-old Bo Hopkins was the director’s initial choice, and might’ve looked a bit more convincing. Peckinpah’s seeming disinterest in telling this story straight just annoyed me. I mean, even “Young Guns” and “Young Guns II” come out looking like models of historical accuracy compared to this film. If that doesn’t bother you, you might like the film more than I did. Worth a look, especially if you’re into darker and harsher westerns, but it’s not entirely successful. Being that the director was a raging alcoholic with marital issues, who according to Coburn was only coherent about four hours a day, perhaps it’s somewhat understandable that the film isn’t what it could’ve been. Then again, given the same circumstances, it could’ve been even worse.

 

Rating: C+

Friday, August 23, 2013

Review: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot


Sly Stallone stars as tough cop Sgt. Joe Bomowski, whose uber-macho slob world is turned upside down when his strangulating, interfering mother (Estelle Getty) comes to stay. She embarrasses him at work (baby photos and such- ZZZzzzz), interferes in his love life with Lt. Gwen Harper (JoBeth Williams), and manages to witness a murder. Thinking she’s helping her son’s career, she lies to the other police officers about what she really witnessed, as Stallone finds himself investigating the death of a gunrunner, flanked by his whiny mother. Roger Rees plays the smarmy villain, with Martin Ferrero and Gailard Sartain his boob henchmen. Richard Schiff is a gun shop owner, with Dennis Burkley doing illegal business outside out of a van.

 

I decided to give this notorious 1992 bomb from competent director Roger Spottiswoode (“Terror Train”, “Under Fire”, “Turner & Hooch”) a second chance. The verdict? It’s still one of the worst films ever made, featuring an embarrassed Sly Stallone, a thoroughly unlikeable Estelle Getty, and absolutely, positively no laughs whatsoever. But that’s what you get when you sit down to a supposed comedy that features Roger Rees (“If Looks Could Kill”, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”), Martin Ferrero (who was in the Stallone flop “Oscar”- which I actually liked), and Gailard Sartain (the “Ernest” movies). The ‘cute’ titles animation are another dead giveaway that you’re watching a turd.

 

Getty’s character, meant to be endearing, behaves in an entirely unrealistic and frankly irritating manner. The scene where she cleans Stallone’s gun (not a euphemism, you dirty pervs!) is especially moronic, as is the notion that Mommie dearest thought an illegal automatic firearm purchased out of a van (sold by the trustworthy Dennis Burkley, no less) would make a nice present for her police officer son. Intentionally stupid or not, it isn’t funny and is thus twice as stupid for the attempt at humour. Oh, and surely no one, old lady or not, decides to vacuum the fucking house at 4 in the morning in a house that isn’t theirs, while their police officer son is trying to sleep. Not even Betty White could make this character interesting, charming, or funny, but Getty is especially teeth-grinding.

 

I’m not even sure anyone here knows what kind of comedy it was meant to be, as it’s neither dark enough to be black comedy, nor are the characters likeable enough to work otherwise. Ving Rhames shows charisma for his 10 second cameo as a hood, and I won’t ever say anything bad about JoBeth Williams or Dennis Burkley, but this film is appalling. It reminded me a little of a sketch comedy flick I saw a while back (“The Onion Movie”, perhaps?) where there was a fake trailer for a new Steven Seagal movie called “Cock Puncher”. The trailer was brilliant, but there’s no way it could be stretched to feature-length. I feel like this film is a goofy-arse trailer stretched to feature length, except even the trailer isn’t funny. A complete failure. “Kindergarten Cop” it ain’t. It’s not even “Turner & Hooch”. At least Tom Hanks and that damn dog were somewhat likeable.

 

The pathetic screenplay is by Blake Snyder, William Osborne, and William Davies (the latter two having had success with “Twins” before going on to write another flop, “The Real McCoy”, co-starring Sartain). Apparently Sly considers this his worst film, but geez, I’d have a hard time splitting between this, “Rhinestone”, and “Stayin’ Alive” (which he directed but did not star in). “Cobra” was pretty crappy too, now that I think of it.

 

Rating: F

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: The Grey


An emotionally broken Liam Neeson is one of a group of fuel plant workers in Alaska whose plane crashes in the harsh wilderness, killing some of the men on impact. Neeson, going through some kind of personal grief (we see him acting suicidally early on, thankfully not going through with it), nonetheless acts as leader, as he was employed by the company as a sharpshooter to take out any threat from wild beasts. Yes, not only are the men having to battle the weather and possible starvation, but there are hungry, nasty wolves out there ready to pounce. Frank Grillo plays the most antagonistic of the workers, whilst others are played by Dermot Mulroney (“Young Guns”), Nonso Anozie (“Brighton Rock”), and Dallas Roberts (a million miles from the chilling surgeon he played in “Tell-Tale”).

 

Director Joe Carnahan (“Narc”, the underrated “Smokin’ Aces”) and star Liam Neeson atone for “The A-Team” with this harsh (really harsh), macho 2011 man vs. nature flick. Aside from a rather monotonous voiceover narration that is soon dropped, Liam Neeson is perfect in this (Bradley Cooper was apparently the original choice, and I can’t imagine that working at all). I’m not sure if he was using cinema for cathartic reasons, but his own real life tragedy was on my mind throughout. The scene where Neeson prepares a dying man for the inevitable and calms him down is quite affecting and even beautiful in a gritty, macho kinda way. In fact, were it not for the lack of depth afforded supporting characters (Frank Grillo should be commended for not quite overplaying his 2D role), and some of Mr. Carnahan’s stylistic choices, this film would’ve been even better.

 

None of the other actors get much to chew on (Grillo and Dallas Roberts come off best), but at least Dermot Mulroney gets one helluva final scene. As is his wont, Carnahan and his cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Warrior”) adopt a muted, dark, and grainy visage for the film. The grain doesn’t add texture, it adds fake dirt (and clearly added in post), and during night scenes it’s a tad dark and murky. That said, I must say that even the occasional use of shaky cam wasn’t as bothersome to me because it makes the wolves seem more ferocious than they probably really were on set. It is certainly employed a lot more effectively than in “The A-Team”. The day scenes, despite the grain, are also really well-shot and attractive. Meanwhile, grainy or not, if that shot of the wolf pack’s eyes peering out of darkness doesn’t send chills down your spine, then you’re clearly even more disabled than I am (I’m a paraplegic, just in case you think I was being horrible for the sake of it).

 

I have no doubt that some of the wolves’ eyes are fake (either CG or prosthetics), but they’re more convincing than usual. That surprises me given the names Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are in the credits, and those guys tend to be pretty uneven (The FX in “From Dusk Til Dawn” being rather fake, for instance). The sound design is terrific too, here, and the film has the biggest and most effective ‘jump’ scare I’ve had in ages. You will not see it coming. There are also few things more blood-curdling than the sound of a wolf pack howling. The opening plane crash is overly stylised and crappy, however. “Cast Away” set the benchmark for plane crashes and hasn’t been improved upon since.

 

Although not original or especially brilliant, this film will be loved by a particular audience. It’s one grim, tough sonofabitch, and I don’t think I’ve seen a film that more effectively encapsulates the fear of impending, inevitable death. Scripted by Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (the equally grim but uninteresting vigilante flick “Death Sentence”) from the latter’s short story, this is a solid genre film. Stay through the end credits for an hilariously macho final moment.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: The War Wagon


Ex-con John Wayne seeks revenge on rich bastard Bruce Cabot by gathering some men to help rob his title stagecoach. Kirk Douglas is his old acquaintance who has actually been hired by Cabot to kill Wayne, but decides to join his old buddy instead and go after the big money. Howard Keel is Wayne’s somewhat hapless Indian friend, Robert Walker Jr (son of the great Robert Walker from Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”) is the young explosives expert who drinks too much. Character veteran Keenan Wynn, meanwhile, is the inside man. Nice bit part by Bruce Dern as one of Cabot’s men near the beginning (Dern, of course is the man who infamously killed The Duke in “The Cowboys” and received many a death threat for his troubles).

 

Not-bad 1967 Duke vehicle has the virtue of having comedy-western veteran Burt Kennedy (“Support Your Local Sheriff!”, “Hannie Caulder”) at the helm, but the comedy here is often dated (cue Keel as a supposedly smart-arse Indian. I didn’t laugh once!), and the title vehicle is unfortunately not utilised nearly enough.

 

Still, it’s interesting to see just how much Walker looks like his dad, scene-stealer Douglas is fantastic (and that leather shirt is just about the damndest thing I’ve seen in a western) in the film’s best role, and The Duke is pretty loose here, too. Well, loose for him (The film works best in their initial exchanges). Chances are, if you love The Duke, you’ll like this an awful lot (he kinda sorta plays a baddie in this one, but he’s also the only guy we’re truly rooting for), and there is a very fine example of the standard ‘saloon brawl’, you won’t want to miss.

 

The screenplay by Clair Huffaker (“The Comancheros”, another OK Duke vehicle from the 60s) has elements of the heist movie thrown in, but not enough for my liking. The Dimitri Tiomkin (“High Noon”, “The Alamo”) score is fine, but that Frankie Laine-wannabe title song by the talentless Ed Ames is terrible.

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review: Rock of Ages


Based on the Tony Award-nominated musical of the same name and set in 1987, Julianne Hough plays small town girl Sherri Christian (And no, Shandi, Rosanna, and Janie are not here. Missed opportunity!), who comes to LA on a hope and a dream. She wants to be a singer. Or maybe she just wants to get on that midnight train that leads anywhere (Or does it just go on and on and on?- Get used to it folks, semi-obscure musical in-jokes aplenty in this review). Diego Boneta is Drew, a bartender at rock club The Bourbon Room, on Sunset Strip, and he too dreams of being a singer. Meanwhile, the Bourbon’s owners Dennis and Lonny (Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand!) lament a Conservative campaign to shut the joint down by Mayor Whitmore’s (Bryan Cranston) wife Tipper...er...Patricia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Tom Cruise plays zonked-out rock star Stacee Jaxx, who got famous from playing the Bourbon a while back, and has agreed to come back for a show (He also has a monkey companion that may or may not be a nutless monkey). Will the anti-Rock crusade put the kybosh on these plans? And will the seriously dissolute and drunk Jaxx even be in a condition to play? Paul Giamatti plays Jaxx’s sleazy manager, wrestler Kevin Nash (AKA Big Sexy, AKA Diesel) plays one of Jaxx’s bodyguards, Malin Akerman plays a hot Rolling Stone reporter who comes to interview the semi-coherent Jaxx, R&B ‘star’ Mary J. Blige plays a stripper, and various other music identities have cameos.

 

I always knew that this 2012 film version from director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”, TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance”), of the stage musical of the same name would be the furthest from my kind of thing possible. Yes, I love 80s rock/hard rock/metal music, no doubt about it. But this film version (I can’t comment on the musical itself, so bear in mind that my comments may/may not reflect something in the stage show as well) as scripted by actor-writer Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”), the dreaded Allan Loeb (“The Switch”, “The Dilemma”, “Just Go With It”), and the musical’s creator Chris D’Arienzo really does reflect the “Glee”-fication of popular culture (and especially music) that I thoroughly detest and am mind-boggled by the success and popularity of. Applying it to music in my personal CD collection just angered the Def Leppard fan in me more and made it damn near certain that this was a film to be mocked.

 

The crux of the problem with this film is most clearly shown at the film’s climax where a PMRC-like Conservative activist group has a sing-off of sorts with a group of rock fans. The song that Catherine Zeta-Jones and her concerned citizens sing? Twisted Sister’s brilliant and iconic metal anthem ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’. Meanwhile, the rock crowd retorts with Starship’s rightly ridiculed, rock music equivalent of a Happy Meal, ‘We Built This City”. Whether the lyrics match or not, shouldn’t it be the other way around? For starters, Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider was one of the star witnesses in the whole PMRC thing anyway, and really stuck it to Tipper Gore and co., who were baffled by a hard rocker who, y’know, spoke coherent and fluent English (Snider tells this story in every single freakin’ interview I’ve seen with him, and it’s getting annoying, but anyway...) The rock crowd, by the way, includes Skid Row front man and metal icon Sebastian Bach, Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, 80s stadium rock band REO Speedwagon’s front man Kevin Cronin, and the 80s answer to Britney Spears, Debbie Gibson. Forget the complete inappropriateness of the Starship song, this mishmash of 80s/90s music icons is jarring and offensive enough. And all of this appears to be played without any sense of irony whatsoever. How do I know it wasn’t being ironic? Because Rolling Stone magazine had ‘We Built This City’ as the Worst Song of the 80s, and a Rolling Stone reporter is one of the characters in the film. No way is this film aware of the irony. Oh, and Sebastian, you are officially not cool anymore. I could forgive the “Gilmore Girls” appearances, but a Starship song? At least sing the good one! (‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’- Don’t lie, you enjoy belting it out too, readers!).

 

Frankly, the film kinda died for me one minute into the film with the insufferably self-conscious, chipmunk-voiced Julianne Hough and others sing Night Ranger’s pathetically wimpy power ballad ‘Sister Christian’. It’s smart to play so many power ballads, given that these cast members would sound laughable singing something by Judas Priest or Ozzy Osbourne, but no self-respecting rock fan likes that damn song. But I really do draw the line at that climatic scene, which was truly unforgiveable. My point is that whether it’s Mr. Shankman (who always comes across as an affable guy on “So You Think You Can Put Up With Mary Murphy’s Voice For Two Hours”) or Mr. D’Arienzo, someone in the creative process has shown a complete lack of understanding of the whole rock music scene of the 80s. I think these are musical theatre guys who approach the music from that perspective (Don’t forget that Shankman was the director of the sanitised, musical version of John Waters’ subversive “Hairspray”). They needed someone with a real knowledge of the music, how it should sound, which songs belong in the film, and which ones don’t. As it stands, the film will only work for the musical theatre crowd and Gen-Y Gleeks who don’t know any better. And yes, we do get a rendition of Journey’s now unlistenable (Fuck you, “Glee!”) ‘Don’t Stop Believing’. You knew it had to be here, and all the Journey songs (strangely not their best song, ‘Open Arms’) just make the “Glee” comparisons all the more unavoidable (Shankman even directed an episode!). The film is so unbelievably uncool that it throws off the entire Conservatives vs. Rockers deal by lumping songs by Foreigner, and Quaterflash’s ‘Harden My Heart’ (!) with Twisted Sister’s metal anthem ‘I Wanna Rock’ and Def Leppard’s stripper anthem ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’. And Pat Benatar? She’s like P!nk’s idea of a rock star, and should never be associated with the likes of Poison, Whitesnake, or G ‘n’ R. Hell, even Gunners fans would scoff at them being associated with Poison (Though Slash did audition to be in Poison, I hate to break it to Gunners fans but it’s true). But more importantly, the PMRC were more interested in WASP’s ‘Animal: Fuck Like a Beast’ and Twisted Sister’s ‘Under the Blade’ than one-hit wonder soft rock hacks like Quarterflash or borderline ‘easy listening’ bands like Foreigner. That just shows a complete lack of knowledge of all the different subsets of not just rock ‘n’ roll, but hard rock and heavy metal (not to mention a lack of understanding about historical events/issues). Hell, I’m surprised they didn’t just throw a rendition of Styx’s *snicker* ahead of its time *snicker* ‘Mr. Roboto’ out there for good measure. And while I might have albums by artists from all forms of rock music (not to mention disco, R&B, pop etc.), the majority of die-hard rock fans, especially in the 80s, were always very particular about what bands were cool and what bands were uncool under the Rock ‘n’ Roll banner. To lump all these bands together and give phenomenally overrated R&B diva Mary J. Blige (rockin’ out there, dude! Throw up the devil horns Mary, you tool!) a big supporting role is basically giving a large proportion of rock fans the middle finger. I mean, why give us a giant Motorhead billboard in the same film that gives us Foreigner and ‘Sister Christian’? Give me one good goddamn reason why Mary J. Blige is in this film. She has no business whatsoever being here.

 

Look, I’m not just some nitpicking nerd who is gonna go on about how some of the songs on the soundtrack are quite clearly from well before 1987. No my problems with this film are bigger than that. The scene where Hough sprays hairspray into her hair is but one of many examples of how this film is clearly just a pretender. Hairspray may have been a fashionable thing for women especially, in the 80s rock scene, but it was just one of many elements and the scene typifies Ms. Julianne Hough’s inability to project a natural screen presence (as much of an oxymoron as that might sound).

 

The people doing the singing in the film is also a sore point for me as it pertains to the complete lack of understanding of the music. The film is about as rock ‘n’ roll as P!nk (Actually, that’s unfair to honorary Aussie Alecia Moore, she at least plays the part of a rocker off-stage even if her music is a way too pop to be considered rock). I mean, as much as I love ‘I Wanna Rock’, it loses something when a frizzy-haired, big-nosed, make-up wearing freaky dude is replaced by a kid who looks straight out of “High School Musical”. The filmmakers/producers are not fans of this music, and most of the cast appear to be clueless too (“So You Think You Can Dance” alum Mia Michaels being listed as choreographer doesn’t help give this rock cred, either). Julianne Hough, in particular, has been given songs that are just plain wrong for her small, pretty (if slightly husky) singing voice. It’s not quite Mariah Carey singing Def Leppard’s ‘Bringin’ on the Heartbreak’ levels of badness, and Paul Giamatti sounds just as bad, but Julianne Hough has absolutely no business singing a Whitesnake song. Ever. Does she have a voice? Yep, but so does Xtina Aguilera and I still fast forward through her performance alongside the Rolling Stones in the otherwise brilliant “Shine a Light” (But I could talk to you all day about why I hate Ms. Aguilera passionately). Some people just shouldn’t sing rock ‘n’ roll, and Hough’s girly-voiced rendition of Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ made me hate my CD collection momentarily. Co-lead Diego Boneta fares better, and his version of Poison’s ‘Nothin’ But a Good Time’ is OK under the decidedly ‘soft cock’ soft rock circumstances. Meanwhile, according to the filmmakers, strippers didn’t actually strip in 1987. On the Sunset Strip. Although I’m straight, I’m a proudly pro-gay (and pro gay marriage for that matter) kinda guy, but this is why you never hire a gay musical theatre director to do a film about the 80s Sunset Strip music scene. It’s just not Shankman’s thing, as one assumes he hasn’t seen Motley Crue’s iconic ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ clip (That damn clip made a man out of me, let me tell you!).

 

The film is also one-dimensional (yet strangely with too much plot, the PMRC stuff almost being forgotten about), and frankly, a bit one-note. It’s the same thing over and over, with only the songs changing. As to the former, the funny thing is that the plot could be from a 50s movie about the devils of Elvis’ thrusting pelvis. I’m not sure Shankman and co are in on the joke, however, or even aware of it. You’d think the basic scenario would be more ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (or Nikki Sixx’s “Heroin Diaries” perhaps), but instead, plays like “Beach Blanket Rock Concert” by way of Poison’s ‘Fallen Angel’ (‘Talk Dirty to Me’ gets a play, by the way, and it’s the actual Poison version, not a karaoke wannabe- make all the Poison jokes you want, as a fan I’ll decline). Seriously, listen to the lyrics of that underrated hard rock song and tell me it’s not Hough’s basic character arc!

 

The material also forces some of the actors to dumb things down, with Catherine Zeta-Jones in particular giving an amateurish performance that belongs in a Christmas pantomime or something. Amazingly, even Russell Brand seems incredibly forced, and although I suppose someone thought he and Alec Baldwin were funny...just not me. Baldwin is actually pretty embarrassing and miscast. He sure as hell can’t sing, either (at least Zeta-Jones can claim to be one of the better singers in the film and she looks a LOT better in leather than Rob Halford ever did). I also have to disagree with most people who suggest a duet between Baldwin and Brand leads to the single funniest moment in the film. It’s a potentially funny moment ruined by poor song choice, and not just because it’s the other REO Speedwagon (Everyone knows ‘Keep on Loving You’ was their only good song). No, as soon as you hear the piano intro of ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’, you know exactly what the joke is going to be. It also bugged me for another reason. Given Shankman’s sexual preference, it seemed odd to me that he’d seemingly poke fun at the homoeroticism of heavy metal/hard rock, because the rock scene has been homoerotic enough (Leather-clad Rob Halford anyone? Poison’s “Look What the Cat Dragged In” album  cover, even?) that the joke isn’t necessary and is rather insulting. Or it would be, if I didn’t know Shankman is gay. What is he trying to say? I’m not sure. I do know, however, what was trying to be said about rock ‘n’ roll fighting off the emergence of boy bands and hippity hop, and I’m sorry, but Paul Giamatti’s character was right and the rest of the film wrong- rock really did die and the first wave of boy bands (New Edition, New Kids on the Block) took over. It’s true. So the film lies and destroys rock music all over again.

 

So is there anything worthwhile in this film at all? Well, no, not really, but I have to admit that Tom Cruise at least got into the right spirit of things (Paul Giamatti and Bryan Cranston are also well-cast and effective in minor roles). That is to say, he’s the only actor in the entire film who knows this is a joke and acts accordingly. I don’t necessarily think that results in a good performance per se, but at least he’s not taking this shit seriously. Better still, he’s one of the better singers in the entire film, which surprised me because the trailers made him sound awful. His version of ‘Paradise City’ sounds more like Vince Neil than Axl Rose, but at least it’s in the same ball park and his version of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ is a lot better than the trailers made it seem. He also handles Def Leppard’ stripper anthem ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ (a great song from the greatest album of all-time, “Hysteria”) rather well given Joe Elliott’s vocals at that time were pretty damn good. Whether Cruise is truly acting appalling on purpose or not, it’s at least an entertaining performance. On what level, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. His cod piece is the single greatest thing in the entire film. I wonder if it shoots sparks. That’s one for the W.A.S.P fans out there. It’s just a shame that his interview with journalist Malin Akerman (whose singing is up there with Cruise and Zeta-Jones) didn’t take place poolside. Yep, another obscure W.A.S.P reference for y’all, but the way Cruise drinks from a bottle suggests that at least he gets it. Also, the pistol tattoos he has that point down towards his crotch are hilarious. Also, as much as I hate Foreigner and find Mia Michaels annoying, the choreography in the make-out scene between Cruise and Akerman is hilariously lurid, you’d swear it was a Whitesnake clip. But I’m afraid that’s it for niceties.

 

This is not for fans of 80s rock, hard rock, and/or heavy metal. It commits more crimes against rock ‘n’ roll than any other film in history. It’s for the tweeners who don’t know that Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ isn’t really all that rock ‘n’ roll (unless it’s Ms. Jett herself singing it perhaps), and it’s for the theatre crowd who loved the stage musical. Pretty much everyone else will loathe it, especially if they have good taste in music and movies, for that matter. And I say that as someone whose taste in music even extends to ABBA, and a movie buff who- Pierce Brosnan’s tragically bad singing aside- found “Mama Mia!” rather good-natured fun, even for someone like me who hates musicals passionately. So I’m not easily pigeon-holed. But if this was never meant for rock fans in the first place then why does the musical take its name from a Def Leppard song? (Yes, the term ‘rock of ages’ has a longer history than that, but c’mon...). Then again, Def Leppard apparently performed at the film’s LA premiere, so I probably shouldn’t be using Def Leppard (who have created great music, but have definitely struggled to remain relevant since about 1992 and seemingly turned into Collective Soul for a while there in the late 90s early 00s) in my arguments anyway.

 

This one’s for the “Glee” crowd and fans of stage musicals, neither of which include me, so see it and make up your own mind, but I hated the hell out of it.

 

Rating: D+

Review: Traveller


A film about a close-knit ‘family’ of Irish-American grifters, headed by stern Luke Askew. Along comes young Mark Wahlberg, whose father was exiled from the family (for marrying an ‘outsider’), and thus Wahlberg is treated coldly as an outsider by all except Bokky (Bill Paxton), one of the senior-ranked grifters. Bokky stands up for the young man and decides to take him under his wing and teach him the Traveller lifestyle. Basically, ripping people off. Julianna Margulies plays a barkeep and single mum who the duo target, but Bokky starts to fancy her. Hmmm, wonder what Askew is gonna think of that. Nikki DeLoach plays the pretty young Traveller Wahlberg fancies, who just so happens to be Askew’s daughter. James Gammon plays a grizzled old con man the duo meet on the road (and who helps set up a big counterfeit scam in Vegas with a dangerous mobster as the target), and Rance Howard plays one of their intended victims.

 

For a slightly odd film that doesn’t quite come off, this 1997 flick never is dull. Directed by debutant Jack Green (a veteran DOP of Clint Eastwood films who has only directed one film since) and scripted by Jim McGlynn (who seemingly has not produced anything since), it feels like two films in one, or at least the second half gets away from the kind of film it seemed to be in the first half. It starts out like a quirky Irish gypsy/Southern Gothic flick early on, settles into a buddy movie in the middle, and then a violent crime flick towards the end. Things just don’t quite fit together, and the crime stuff seems a little too serious for what are really just a family of small-town grifters. Also, the gypsy stuff sets up a contrived conflict. Why is it necessary for them to stick to their own kind in order to do what they do? It’s not, though the very Italian-looking Julianna Margulies’ very casting might suggest an ethnic issue.

 

Yet, the film is interesting and enjoyable, even as is, and the gypsy element sure does make it stand out amongst the pack. It’s a lumpy mix, but certainly not without merit. Grizzled James Gammon steals the show in a performance that might’ve earned him an Oscar nomination if the film had garnered a higher profile. Bill Paxton, meanwhile, is pitch-perfect casting (he seems more comfortable off the beaten path), and everyone else here is solid (except the awful Nikki DeLoach), particularly the underrated Luke Askew. For some strange (i.e. sloppiness) reason it’s really hard to catch on to the characters’ names here (it’s really bizarre, but tell me I’m wrong), but whoever that is playing the Vegas crime boss, he’s a terrific mixture of Sidney Greenstreet and Telly Savalas.

 

You can definitely see why this offbeat film didn’t take, but it’s worth a look if you’re curious. It’s gotta be someone’s idea of a great movie, just not mine. Absolutely awful rendition of ‘King of the Road’ by Randy Travis, however.

 

Rating: B-