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.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: Freedomland


Julianne Moore plays a white woman who walks into an emergency room claiming to have been carjacked by a black man while coming home from the projects as a volunteer worker. Samuel L. Jackson is the police officer assigned to her case, and it’s not long before he learns that Moore’s young son was in the car at the time. Thus, the case becomes far more immediate. Meanwhile, the predominantly black local residents seem increasingly closer to revolting as the police presence in their community becomes greater. Greater, perhaps, than would be the case if it were a black child, and this sees the residents start to resent the previously well-regarded Moore for supposedly bringing this police presence to their community (the ‘hood is put on lockdown while the investigation is carried out). Jackson, who clearly has a foot in both camps (which both sides clearly resent him for) is uncomfortably forced to play piggy-in-the-middle, and occasionally becomes collateral damage in the scuffle. Although he comes to care for her somewhat, he also suspects that the increasingly hysterical Moore (a recovering addict) is not being entirely truthful.

 

Meanwhile, the case seems to bring up personal issues for Jackson, who has a grown son serving time in prison. And then Moore’s cop brother Ron Eldard turns up to start some shit, bringing tensions to a boil. William Forsythe plays Jackson’s buddy on the force, Edie Falco runs a group for women who have lost children in similar circumstances, Anthony Mackie plays a young African-American resident ready to throw down if the cops dare look at him the wrong way, and Philip Bosco has a cameo as a priest.

 

There hasn’t been much love given to this 2006 investigative drama from director Joe Roth (best-known for teen comedies like “Coup De Ville”, and the underrated “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise”) and screenwriter/novelist Richard Price (“Bloodbrothers”, “Sea of Love”), and I have no idea why. I had my issues with it (one seemingly important character turned out to be rather pointless), and it’s an extremely ugly film that I’m not sure I’d like to revisit again, but unlike say “Precious”, I didn’t find that the ugliness and depressing material completely suffocated me in the end. Watching this blend of “Do the Right Thing” and “Gone Baby Gone” a little while after the George Zimmerman verdict was read out (and the subsequent, exaggerated/exacerbated fear of race-related riots) probably added something of an x-factor to my experience as well, though the film is more reminiscent of the myriad of real-life kidnapping cases over the last ten years or so.

 

And the performances are mostly terrific. A lot of people seem to think Julianne Moore was overly histrionic here (in a performance not too far removed from Amy Ryan in the later “Gone Baby Gone”), and whilst I’m not entirely sure how her extremely emotional behaviour throughout the film quite meshed with her previous ‘much loved community volunteer’ persona, I only thought about that after the film was over. For the duration of the film, I found her absolutely riveting, heartbreaking, and frankly a bit pathetic- and most of all, persuasive. She was really, really convincingly trashy and pathetic, not simply ‘take off my makeup, put on a push-up bra, now gimme an Oscar!’-stylings. In fact, in my view it’s her best performance to date (I’m not normally a fan). I guess you either go with her (and the film) or you don’t. I mostly did, and was quite affected by her and the film. Samuel L. Jackson gives a rock-solid performance too, even if his health issues weren’t quite explained as well as I would’ve liked (Diabetes? Asthma? Both? Certainly he had asthma, but what was with the injection at one point? It seemed over-the-top to me). Edie Falco is fine too, but her big scene that everyone regards as the best in the film, came off as too well-written to me, it didn’t feel organic.

 

I’m not sure what everyone’s problem was with this film, it’s a hard watch, but in my view, at least somewhat rewarding and Julianne Moore is incredible. Give it a go if you missed it on release.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review: Dead Again


We get two timelines here; In 1940s LA, a bearded, slightly-accented Sir Kenneth Branagh stars as Roman Strauss, an expat-German composer/conductor who is arrested and convicted of the murder of his wife Margaret (Emma Thompson). He had apparently accused her of having an affair with an American reporter (a sleazy-looking Andy Garcia). Roman claims he’s innocent right up to his execution. In present day L.A., Branagh again appears as a slick PI given the task of identifying a woman (Emma Thompson yet again) who has no memory or voice. The investigation leads him to an eccentric antiques dealer and hypnotist (Derek Jacobi) who puts Thompson through hypnosis, thinking that a past trauma may be the key. Under hypnosis, Thompson (who eventually regains her voice) has visions of Roman and Margaret that she just can’t shake, making her suspect that Branagh (who looks like Roman, naturally) is going to kill her, despite the two getting closer together. Wayne Knight turns up as Branagh’s shonky journo pal, Hanna Schygulla appears in the flashback scenes as Roman’s housekeeper, and Robin Williams has a cameo as a bitter, disgraced psychiatrist who now makes ends meet working in a supermarket.

 

When I first saw this film, I thought it was one of the worst films I’d ever seen. It was 1991, and I was eleven, so I recently decided to give it another go. Nope, it sucks alright. I bet it’s Shirley MacLaine’s favourite movie, though. Directed and starring Kenneth Branagh (“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”, “Hamlet”, “Henry V”) and scripted by Scott Frank (“Little Man Tate”, “Malice”, “Get Shorty”, “Minority Report”), it’s an overblown, overcooked, awfully silly, and egotistical film that is like a crap blend of “The Seventh Veil” and “Song of Love”. Branagh is definitely interested in 40s melodrama and psychodrama, as shown in the B&W inserts, but it’s all style and name-dropping. It’s not necessary to add the B&W, we can tell the difference between flashback and present day by the facial hair and different accents.

 

Meanwhile, there is way too much focus on a romance that involves both Branagh and Emma Thompson (radiant, but having a rare ‘off’ day) being in love with the same person: Kenneth Branagh. Like a lot of real-life couples, they show little chemistry here and were a lot better in “Much Ado About Nothing”. Branagh, with his Olivier-esque fascination with Germanic accents is unbearable self-satisfied and mannered in dual roles, though his American accent for the main character is pretty spot-on. Poor Thompson is saddled with a character who is mute early in the film, and has to resort to facial mugging, and she seems far too ‘modern’ (despite her subsequent period piece roles) and jarring in the B&W scenes. Her relationship with Branagh in the film moves far too quickly, and her character starts to talk all too suddenly. Past lives or not, I just wasn’t buying it.

 

Robin Williams has a non-comedic cameo, but anyone could’ve played his role. He’s appropriately sleazy and bitter, but the role is nothing much. The best work by far comes from Derek Jacobi (The Crane brothers’ favourite actor, y’know) and Andy Garcia, who are both perfectly cast, and Wayne ‘Newman!’ Knight is also amusing in a small, colourful part. Miriam Margolyes, however, has a very silly, baby-voiced cameo appearance that is just plain bonkers (And why so many poms with Yank accents? Why set this in America?). Equally silly and far, far too melodramatic is the Golden Globe-nominated score by Patrick Doyle (“Henry V”). It’s dynamic but way too much, as was the case with his score for Branagh’s “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” which was similarly egotistical, melodramatic, and overblown.

 

I like a good melodrama or psychodrama, but this is an awful one, largely because it thinks it’s so high-brow and super freakin’ awesome, which just makes you realise it’s schlocky B-stuff with its head up its arse. I just don’t get the appeal of this stupid, wannabe masterpiece. It’s not the material I object to, it’s the drearily self-important, yet entirely overblown treatment that offended me. Branagh (who, as usual, wants to be seen as the modern Olivier- he would eventually play the man very well in “My Week With Marilyn”, of course) seems to think he has made “Citizen Kane” at times here (check out the scene with an elderly Andy Garcia), and it’s not. No, not even close, Mr. Branagh, you smug bastard. One murder scene does appear to rip off “Psycho”, though. You’ll know it when you see it, and it’s entirely unnecessary. If it weren’t for the egotism, you’d swear this overdone nonsense was a botched Brian De Palma (“Body Double”, “Raising Cain”) film.

 

Alternately ridiculous (the finale is eye-rollingly histrionic) and boring, this is one of the most overrated, pretentious films I’ve ever seen. But I seem to be in the extreme minority here.

 

Rating: D-

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Cannibal Holocaust


Robert Kerman stars as a professor venturing on the request of studio executives to the Amazon to retrace the steps of a documentary crew (Carl Gabriel Yorke and Francesca Ciardi among them) who have gone missing. He finds their documentary footage, and after getting back to the US, he views it. He becomes shocked at the gross violence and depravity by not just the native tribes, but the doco crew, who seem to have lost their minds out there in the jungle and pissed off the natives in the process. Things deteriorated to the point where the difference between the natives and the crew seems awfully murky at best.

 

Directed in 1980 by Ruggero Deodato (the not-bad “Cut and Run”) and scripted by Gianfranco Clerici, this is one of those infamously controversial films with such extreme content that a great many people will loathe it or might not even be able to finish watching it (Though with that title, what are you expecting?). In fact, of all those films (which include such infamous titles as “Cannibal Ferox”, “Last House on the Left”, “I Spit on Your Grave”, and several others you’re probably casually familiar with) this one is probably the most ‘uber’ controversial. I’m not going to give this film an awful score and certainly can’t say it’s a badly made film, because it’s really not. The cinematography and scenery are really nice, ugly film or not.

 

However, there came a point where as far as I’m concerned, Deodato crossed a line not only into bad taste, but to senselessly slaughter a real animal before the camera for the sake of making a schlocky fictional jungle adventure film...it offended me. You can’t just do something like that for something of such little artistic or higher merit. Hell, I’m not even sure there’s any justification at all (Apparently the animals were fed to the locals, but still, that wasn’t the original purpose) and I wholeheartedly support the director being charged with animal cruelty in that regard. And that’s a shame, because if Deodato had been able to refrain from his rather more questionable ‘shock’ tactics (that somewhat negate the point he is trying to make about media violence and bloodlust, I might add), there’s a not-bad film here. But when you factor in the truly disgusting (and real) slaughter of a live turtle (among other animals), and add in the rather foul scenes of simulated sexual violence towards women, it becomes far too tough to take, and just entirely unnecessary. In fact, the simulated stuff probably offended me more (some of the sex, by the way, is apparently non-simulated. Not the rape, though), because although not ‘real’, I guess I’m more sensitive towards the poor treatment of humans than animals (Being a meat eater, I find this to be a bit of a murky area to begin with- I’m pretty sure animals don’t like being eaten for food and yet we do it, don’t we?).

 

The director is clearly talented but he becomes his own worst enemy in the pursuit of going ‘all out’ to shock us (I hear he since regrets making the film, especially the animal killings. That’s awesome, dude. Glad you found your moral compass). There’s something here, but...Deodato ruins any chance for praise from me because it becomes indefensibly cruel and disgusting. I think that everyone involved with this film, so long as they knew what was going on, should be ashamed of themselves. Like “Cut and Run”, this isn’t horror, just a seriously violent jungle adventure movie that will only appeal to gore or exploitation aficionados, and even then, only a select group of them who can see past the grossness.

 

This is the movie that was “Blair Witch Project” before there even was a “Blair Witch Project”. Except that this film doesn’t do the pseudo-doco thing nearly as well. That isn’t to say it’s badly made (given its reputation you’d be excused for assuming it would be, though), just that it doesn’t manage to keep up the illusion. It’s never boring, and whatever its flaws or merits, it will get you thinking and talking. I’d say that “Cut and Run” is the better and far more accessible film, however, and the acting and dubbing in this film are rather poor. This isn’t a poorly made or boring film (and don’t even get me started on the director being charged with murder...later acquitted of course), but it’s an ultimately indefensibly disgusting one that I can’t see any replay value in whatsoever. If there were someone on-set with something of a moral compass, this might’ve been something worthwhile. Oh well.

 

See it if you must and make up your own mind, but I’m not going to recommend it despite its reputation and crazy on-screen and off-screen goings on. It’s certainly not for someone with a weak stomach or sensitivity towards the ethical treatment of animals. You’ve been warned. No, I’m seriously not fucking kidding.

 

Rating: C