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, September 28, 2013

Review: Looper

Time travel has been invented but banned by the Government and now used exclusively by criminal organisations to dispose of their unwanted bodies. They are sent back in time to be assassinated by ‘loopers’, headed by Abe (Jeff Daniels), who travelled back in time himself. When a looper’s contract is said to be done, his future self is sent for him to dispose of, leaving him with 30 years of life left. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays one such looper, and he runs into his future self (Bruce Willis), who isn’t all that interested in being killed, and manages to escape. Whilst Gordon-Levitt attempts to pursue him, Willis is attempting to locate the child version of The Rainmaker, the crime boss of the future. Emily Blunt plays a rural property owner and young mum quick to draw a shotgun on trespassers, Garret Dillahunt is a disarmingly polite henchman, Paul Dano is a screw-up pal of Gordon-Levitt’s, and Piper Perabo plays a hooker/stripper known to Gordon-Levitt/Willis.


With science-fiction movies, especially ones that incorporate time-travel, you’re either persuaded to go along for the ride, or you spend the entire time picking the film apart and/or mocking it (“In Time”, for instance, although not a time-travel film, simply didn’t make its futuristic conceit remotely convincing to me. Time isn’t money, I’m afraid). I mocked this 2012 film from writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) big time for all of its length. All time-travel is bullshit, but often I’m persuaded to accept a film’s bullshit, usually because there’s some kind of internal logic or adherence to already accepted ‘laws’ of time-travel. This film breaks just about all of them, and in the case of the ‘butterfly effect’ tries to have a bet each way (Closing the ‘loop’ ain’t as easy as Mr. Johnson seems to think, there’s still many ‘butterfly effect’ related issues to contend with) by acknowledging it early on in a scene involving the Dano character, before botching/ignoring it at several other points.


The biggest thing I had a hard time swallowing was the notion that two versions of one person, a present self and a future self, could exist on the same plane of existence. Anyone who knows anything about the paradoxes in time-travel theory knows they can’t, and whilst I know I’m being silly for accepting several other kinds of bullshit but not this bullshit, all I can say is that this bullshit was every bit as unconvincing as the miscasting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as two different ages of the same person. The makeup department has gone out of its way to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look even less like Bruce Willis than he already does, and believe me, Joseph Gordon-Levitt already looks nothing like Bruce Willis. Bravo, makeup team, you’ve achieved less than zero there. But I blame that mostly on the idiot casting director who has given the makeup department an impossible task from the get-go. Why not cast someone more believable in the first place? Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks more like Christian Bale or Timothy Hutton than he does Bruce Willis.


So practically nothing about this film worked for me, and I’m kinda shocked that some have called it not only a good science-fiction film, but a great one. It’s a truly silly, half thought-out idea for a film. I mean, if in the future we’ve worked out how to do time-travel, and we know that ‘loopers’ exist in the present, wouldn’t the people in the future who are set to be sent back to the present/past to be killed, have worked out a way around their predicament? And what kind of intellectually-challenged society knows how to invent time travel but has no idea how to dispose of a body in their present? I know it’s silly to want rules and consistencies with something fantastical, but you’d think someone would’ve found a way around this situation before now. And why would you put up with a system where YOU are responsible for killing your future self? People would surely be reluctant to kill themselves, right? Unless they were suicidal, so surely getting someone else to do the job would be far more productive.


The absolute worst scene in the film is a diner conversation between Gordon-Levitt and Willis that frankly makes no goddamn sense whatsoever: Gordon-Levitt basically tells Willis that he’s had his life already and should just hurry up and die. That’s you, you moron. I know the intent of the scene is to bring up smarty-pants intellectual ideas of self and identity etc., but it comes off here as incredibly silly that two versions of oneself would be arguing with one another about how one has already lived their life and why don’t you just die. You can’t be in two places at once, and certainly two different stages of yourself can’t be in the same place at once, and if they were, they wouldn’t act so callous towards...themselves. Wouldn’t what is going to happen to Bruce Willis’ character have already happened in some way or another? If Willis and Gordon-Levitt are two versions of the same person, wouldn’t their perspectives and understandings be far more in-sync? When you think about it, both Willis and Gordon-Levitt are being selfish, and Gordon-Levitt really shouldn’t be as antagonistic towards Willis. What would change in Gordon-Levitt’s situation whether he killed Willis or not? I get that killing his future self closes the loop but the only thing that would really matter is if he got caught by Jeff Daniels and his goons. So why don’t they team up, kill the bad guys, and both versions of the same guy can ride off into the sunset in the present. Yes, that’s stupid and nonsensical too, but not as stupid and nonsensical as what actually happens. And don’t even get me started on the kid with telekinetic powers, holy crap, it’s almost as bad as the idea that time travel would be used solely to send people back in time to be assassinated.


The film also looks horrible. The cinematography by Steve Yedlin is ugly, murky, and far too dark-looking. I’m also already beyond sick of lens flares. They look like blemishes on the screen, so fucking stop it! Emily Blunt is lovely and does a convincing Southern accent, but she’s no miracle worker, nor is the rock-solid Jeff Daniels. Garret Dillahunt also gives an interesting performance as a rather polite bad guy.


If it were a better movie, I might not have thought of such things (“Source Code” probably makes no goddamn sense either, but it entertained me, whilst the “Back to the Future” and “Terminator” films are probably the best examples of time travel films in my view), but I was out of this film three minutes into it. There’s the kernel of something good here, but the film takes the idea of time travel into a lot of uninteresting and unconvincing areas. If you can accept its own interpretation of the ‘rules’ of time-travel (and many would say that it only needs to conform to its own rules- I just found it silly from the get-go), you might tolerate the film more than I, but it’s also incredibly, fatally dull. No, I didn’t enjoy this one at all, and for sci-fi movies starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I much preferred “Inception”


Rating: D+

Review: Marvin’s Room

Diane Keaton stars as a middle-aged woman who has been caring for her father (Hume Cronyn), who has been bedridden and slowly dying for years. When Keaton’s doctor (Robert De Niro, the film’s producer) tells her she has leukaemia, she decides to call her estranged sister Meryl Streep (who got outta that home quick smart, unlike her sister) to come and get tested for a bone marrow match to have a transplant. Streep, a trainee cosmetologist with two sons (one of whom is a destructive teen delinquent played by Leonardo DiCaprio), reluctantly packs the family up and heads to see the sister she has had no contact with for 20 years. Needless to say, old wounds will be brought up and not necessarily healed (nor will they necessarily be between the two sisters), whilst there is also the small matter of the extremely hostile DiCaprio (who we see early on in a mental institute after burning the family home down) not wanting to get tested, though the other son has no qualms about it. Gwen Verdon plays the daffy, elderly Aunt, who is too frightened to be left to fend for herself for even a minute, and is happiest sitting in front of the TV watching corny soap operas (“All My Children”, specifically, which Verdon herself was actually on). Dan Hedaya is hilarious as De Niro’s moron brother whom he hires as a receptionist.


Despite huge star power and a seemingly can’t miss story, this 1996 drama from director Jerry Zaks (a Broadway veteran making his debut film) and playwright Scott McPherson (who sadly died in 1992, two years after the play was first produced) falls just short. Although there are powerful performances from Diane Keaton and especially Hume Cronyn (conveying much without saying a word in his swan song), it never quite gets the waterworks going, even for an old softie like me. This is due to three things;


Firstly, although I found the performances of both Dan Hedaya and veteran hoofer Gwen Verdon absolutely hilarious and charming, the comedy and quirk don’t quite mesh with the otherwise serious subject matter and indeed soften the blow. I understand the intention to soften the blow, but if you’re gonna make a tear-jerker, you need to be careful not to soften things too much.


Secondly, not only is Meryl Streep completely unconvincing as a trainee cosmetologist (a role best suited to Cher- not something I ever thought I’d type), but the character is a bit too hardened even by the end. You never quite warm to her, even though her wayward oldest son is a legit pain in the arse and her marriage was a volatile one to say the least.


**** POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING **** Thirdly, the film tries to differentiate itself from most films about terminal illness by not giving us the conclusion one normally finds in these sorts of things. You can talk all you want about the film being about a fractured family coming together, but ultimately it belongs to the tear-jerker subgenre of drama, and those films tend to end a certain way because it’s quite simply the only ending that works. This film leaves way too many loose ends hanging and is not satisfying in the slightest (especially given there are two dying people here), though many seem to disagree with me. **** END POTENTIAL SPOILER ****


Still, there are strong moments, and it’s one of Keaton’s least affected and irritating performances to date. When she says she’s frightened of not waking up, you’ll probably contemplate that being a possibility in your own life eventually, and it’s absolutely terrifying. Even then-teen heartthrob DiCaprio gives one of his better performances of the mid-to-late 90s (an up and down period for him, if you ask me), though he has some rough moments of overacting here early on. However, Robert De Niro is pretty worthless here as a nervous doctor, a superfluous and distracting role.


Overall, it’s an OK film that could’ve been an even better one, especially given the subject matter would potentially resonate with a huge audience (Sadly, most of us are destined to become carers and the cared for, at some point in our lives). About the best thing I can say for it is that at no moment did I feel like I was watching a filmed play, which is a rarity for cinematic adaptations of plays.


Rating: C+

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: Running on Empty

Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play a pair of former student radicals on the run for fifteen years after they bombed a University lab that was apparently making napalm. Their actions resulted in a janitor’s blindness. They have two kids, high schooler River Phoenix, and the much younger Jonas Abry, whom they had during their period on the lam. Due to Hirsch’s paranoia, they rarely stay in one town very long and frequently change identities. If Dad says they gotta go, they gotta go, no ifs ands or buts. This could cause a problem when the nearly graduating Phoenix is encouraged by a music teacher (Ed Crowley) to attend Julliard due to his gift with the piano. He is also dating said teacher’s rebellious daughter, played by Martha Plimpton. To accept this offer, Phoenix would have to leave the fold, and probably never see his family again. This would be impossible for Hirsch to accept (he sees the family as an unbreakable unit), but Lahti, a former music student with unfulfilled potential herself, knows how Phoenix feels. Steven Hill plays Lahti’s estranged father, and L.M. Kit Carson (who looks alarmingly like the late Richard Lynch to me) is a former radical associate turned wannabe bank robber.


This 1988 Sidney Lumet drama isn’t one of his classic films (“12 Angry Men”, “Serpico”, “Network”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “The Hill”, “The Offence”), and to be honest, the plot truly is movie-of-the-week stuff (in fact, Lahti and Hirsch have indeed been frequent presences on TV over the years). I mean, the ‘uh...my school records got lost in this great big convenient plot contrivance...er...fire’ cliché is as old as the hills, and pure TV hokum not worthy of inclusion in a film. But Lumet, backed by an excellent cast makes the script by Naomi Foner (whose greatest creations to this day are children Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal) seem honest and believable for the most part. Hirsch and especially Lahti (one of the most underrated actors ever, if you ask me) are believably cast as former hippie radicals who have had to live ever since with the consequences of the actions taken in their irresponsible, reactionary youth. An Academy Award-nominated Phoenix is spot-on in a really choice role for him, playing into his sensitivity and intelligence, but also to an extent his unorthodox family upbringing probably gave him something to turn to here. Along with young Jonas Abry, they make for a very convincing, slightly offbeat family and that’s the best thing about the whole film.


Martha Plimpton and Steven Hill also make their moments count, with Plimpton a great match for Phoenix (Not surprising, they were also paired in “The Mosquito Coast” and Plimpton would also be paired with River’s brother, the soon-to-be Joaquin- Leif- Phoenix in “Parenthood” as her on-screen brother). Hirsch and Lahti for me, though, are the keys, because their characters are potentially selfish and unlikeable. But thanks to their expert performances and Lahti’s innate warmness and empathy (just watch the underrated “Whose Life is it Anyway?”), you feel you understand their plight and sympathise with them.


It’s not a great film, but it’s certainly a sincere and eventually quite emotional one, despite the clichés. An imaginary eleventy billion points off for making James Taylor’s insufferable ‘Fire and Rain’ a big part of the film. Hate that fucking song. Actually, I hate every fucking James Taylor song (Here’s a thought...why not use Jackson Browne’s ‘Running on Empty’? It’s the name of the damn movie, after all!). The themes are worthy, but the story itself seems old hat. Frankly I think the film is a bit overrated, but it’s pretty well-done nonetheless and an easy watch. 


Rating: B-

Review: Ted

Mark Wahlberg is John, formerly a friendless child who once wished his teddy bear could really talk and be his one true friend. One fucked up Christmas wish granted later, and it comes true, causing a media frenzy in the process. Twenty years later, John is still best buds with Ted (voiced by Peter Grif...er...Seth MacFarlane), and they spend a lot of time together, usually smoking dope and talking about their love for all things “Flash Gordon”. Somehow, John has managed to get himself a hot girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis, who is starting to find Ted’s appeal wearing a bit thin. She wants John to get serious with her, and worries that he’ll be too busy goofing off with Ted to make a real commitment. Throw in an uber-creepy father (Giovanni Ribisi) and son who want to buy Ted from John, and “The Soup” host Joel McHale as Kunis’ lecherous boss, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Of some kind. Patrick Warburton turns up as a co-worker of John’s who may be gay, Jessica Barth plays a slutty checkout chick whom Ted attempts to woo (yes, you read that correctly), and Bill Smitrovich plays a prospective boss of Ted’s (yes, you read that correctly, too).


This 2012 Seth MacFarlane comedy isn’t for me. I won’t deny I laughed, just as I can’t deny some of the “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones references on “Family Guy” have made me chuckle. But just as there’s nothing else on “Family Guy” that appeals to me (it comes across as a poor man’s blend of “The Simpsons” and “South Park” to me), this film makes you wade through a fair bit of crap to get to the laughs. It reminds me of his otherwise smug Oscar-hosting gig where the only funny thing was his ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ song (Funniest of all was that several major news outlets seemed to not realise that the ‘offended’ actresses in the audience were in on the joke and acting).


The premise is beyond stupid (even for a comedy), and MacFarlane is as seriously lazy a comedian as he is a seriously lazy first-time filmmaker, falling back on toilet humour, more “Star Wars” and Indy jokes (funny or not), and a whole lot of recycled material from “Family Guy”. This goes all the way to having the exact same font here as featured on that show’s credits (same shade of blue, too), and MacFarlane’s lazy-arse vocal performance as Ted is basically Peter Griffin with a lower register (And having Ted say ‘Oh, come on! I do not sound that much like Peter Griffin!’ at one point, doesn’t make you clever, Seth!). Hell, the idea of a talking, foul-mouthed teddy bear is basically a dressed up version of Brian the dog from “Family Guy” anyway (Meanwhile, Mila Kunis sounds like a Meg Griffin rip-off to me...what? What did I say?). Add to this a miscast Mark Wahlberg in a role that screams out for Seth Rogen (who essentially played Ted as an alien in “Paul”) or Jason Segel, and a botched cameo by Norah Jones (why bother having her play her one hit song only to have her play it in such a different arrangement that you can’t recognise it? Hell, I didn’t even recognise her at first she looks so different, so the joke didn’t work at all). In fact, the funniest thing about the Norah Jones segment was Wahlberg singing (badly) Rita Coolidge’s underrated ballad ‘All Time High’ from “Octopussy”.


I also think MacFarlane and co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild (both “Family Guy” staff) get a bit lost towards the end with the intent/tone of the film and forgets he’s a wise-arse for a moment. The prologue seems to be spoofing schmaltzy holiday films with ‘magical’ premises, but by the end, it seems like MacFarlane isn’t being snarky about it anymore, and disastrously wants to take the central premise (a pathetic one, I might add) somewhat seriously. That’s ridiculous, because in that case it leads one to question things like why would someone as hot as Mila Kunis want to be in a serious relationship with a guy who has a magically talking douchebag teddy for a best friend, even if the guy is Mark Wahlberg? Sure, Kunis herself questions it at one point, but how did they end up together in the damn first place? That’s the problem when you start to treat your own stupid premise seriously or when you try to shoe-horn a relationship movie/romantic comedy into your weed-smoking, foul-mouthed magically talking bear comedy.


Basically, MacFarlane starts off by taking pot-shots at “ALF”, but by the end, the only thing separating it from that (highly underrated) TV sitcom is the raunch factor. If you take the premise semi-seriously, you’re doomed to enter sitcom territory. It’s not a bad film, in fact I was expecting it to be far worse, but it’s an especially lazy one and there was quite a few stretches of the film where I didn’t laugh at all (Meanwhile, Kunis not recognising the Imperial March nearly made my head explode! What is wrong with that woman?).


The film’s high point is definitely the set-piece revolving around Ted and John’s love of the movie “Flash Gordon” (which has one of the greatest soundtracks of all-time, by the way), culminating in an appearance by a very game Sam Jones himself. Everything about the scene is hilarious. I loved Ted’s discussion about the vocal trends in 90s music, with a gut-bustingly funny rendition of a Hootie and the Blowfish song. Meanwhile, Patrick Warburton’s every moment on screen made me laugh, even if he’s still doing the same deadpan, Puddy from “Seinfeld” delivery. Cute payoff with a celebrity superhero cameo there, too. I wasn’t overly fussed with Patrick Stewart’s narration (you like “Star Trek”, Seth. We know, OK?), but the opening scene does have an amusing payoff when people first learn that Ted can really talk (‘Look what Jesus did!’). I also think Giovanni Ribisi gives one of his best-ever performances in a profoundly creepy role, even if it’s not an especially funny performance. And I completely agree with John, the c-word is terrible and sharp. I hate that word, too. I was a little bit disappointed with “The Soup” host Joel McHale, though, as he has been much funnier elsewhere. However, it’s hard to do much with the stock-standard ‘sleazy boss who hits on the hero’s girlfriend’ character.


I’m not really on MacFarlane’s comedic wavelength, but if you are, and don’t mind that every single one of his projects is essentially a repeat of “Family Guy”, you’ll find this film hilarious. I found it a one-joke premise that was stupid beyond belief from a one-trick pony comedian, but yeah...I laughed a few times. I won’t lie. It’s just that for every laugh, there’s a whole lot of eye-rolling. I mean, why recreate the “Saturday Night Fever” parody from the classic “Airplane”/“Flying High” without an actual joke/point of your own attached, Seth? Or is it just meant to be funny that you’ve seen that movie and remember that scene? Big deal! Meanwhile, are we even going to remember this film in ten years? That seems to be an unfortunate trend with movies these days, they seem unlikely candidates for re-watching through the years. But hey, whatever puts arses in seats at the cinemas is all that matters, right? Yeah...


Rating: C+

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Swordfish

Hugh Jackman plays a recently paroled computer hacker who isn’t even allowed to touch a computer anymore. That doesn’t stop sexy Halle Berry and her employer John Travolta (an anti-terrorist guy who may or may not be a terrorist himself) from trying to hire him to aid them in an almost $10 billion electronic bank robbery (hacking into a secret government account). Berry uses her sex appeal (and her $500,000 breasts), but what really gets the reluctant, relative nice guy Jackman on board is the chance to regain custody of his daughter (Camryn Grimes) from her porn star mother (Drea de Matteo) and mum’s porno director new squeeze. Don Cheadle plays an FBI agent well-known to Jackman, and possibly on another collision course with him. Vinnie Jones and William Mapother are associates of Travolta’s, and Sam Shepard plays a corrupt Senator.


A boring action/crime flick from 2001 is further rendered near unwatchable due to a wank-job treatment by director Dominic Sena (who began work in music videos for Janet Jackson before directing “Kalifornia”,  “Gone in 60 Seconds”, and “Season of the Witch”) and cinematographer Paul Cameron (who would later overdose on cinematic masturbation in the remake of “Total Recall”), and a typically fatuous ‘Ain’t I cool?’ bad guy performance by John Travolta. The whole film overdoses on wannabe cool, and is entirely irritating, from performances, direction, cinematography, wardrobe, music score, and even the frosted tips in Jackman’s hair which make him even fruitier than when he played Peter Allen (He also wears a purple shirt at one point. Were they having a joke about his theatrical past or something?). Sena and Cameron’s go-to tricks are annoying colour correction (monochromatic colour tints/filters) and in one absolutely ridiculous and fake-looking scene, a circular tracking shot of a CGI explosion. It’s perhaps the most ridiculously over-the-top, pretentious set-piece I’ve ever seen...except there’s one later in the film that absolutely is the most ridiculously over-the-top, pretentious set-piece I’ve ever seen (you’ll know it when you see it, believe me).


The action is beyond ludicrous but not in any fun way because there isn’t any effort in providing genuine thrills, just style. The coloured filters are so bad that I couldn’t even enjoy Berry’s usually lovely skin colour, as it’s alternately green or yellow at times in this film (There is a lot of yellow here). Meanwhile, did you know that government agency interrogation rooms have green lighting? And matching interior decorating? At one point we even get purple lighting. Where outside of the movies do you find these places with such bright-coloured and all-consuming lighting? It’s the bane of my existence, as any of you familiar with my reviews are well aware of by now. You’d swear it was directed by an interior decorator or hair stylist.


Mr. Sena also has no concept of pacing or tension, something fatal in what is essentially a heist film. It takes at least 45 minutes before Travolta’s character finally brings up what is going to be the main heist in the film. That’s at least 15-20 minutes too late for a film that only runs a little over 90 minutes. The squeaky techno score by the normally reliable Christopher Young (“Hellraiser”, “Flowers in the Attic”, “Drag Me to Hell”) is nauseating and headache-inducing.


The characters are frankly all scummy and unlikeable, except maybe Jackman’s, but his is a cliché. His performance is probably the best of the leads, though (BTW, he also wears an earring. Forgot to mention that earlier. Sweet Fancy Moses). Acting is certainly not to Ms. Berry’s advantage, Oscar statue or not. Her performance is horribly forced here, and she certainly isn’t able to convey the complexities of her character, who is ultimately revealed to not be who she first appears. She can’t even get the femme fatale part right, let alone the twists and turns in her role. The mousy, sweet, somewhat fragile actress is clearly miscast. Being hot is only half of what is required of you, sweetie. Meanwhile, her expensive topless scene merely shows up the film’s rather quaint views on sleaze and sex. It’s not nearly as sexy as it thinks it is, few films are since the late 90s. Also, when you look at her roles in this, “Monster’s Ball”, and “Die Another Day”, one gets the feeling Berry wouldn’t be a favourite actress amongst feminists or strong, African-American women. There’s something a little bit questionable about her choice of roles, don’t you think? And coming from me, that’s saying something.


But Travolta’s the biggest problem, though opening the film with him talking about Hollywood making shit with bad performances is unintentionally hilarious. I guess Travolta’s character must’ve seen a lot of Travolta’s own films. Then again, this is the same idiot who thinks “Dog Day Afternoon” (which along with “Asphalt Jungle”, is the gold standard of all heist films) came out in 1976. Try 1975, douchebag. Well, OK, screenwriter Skip Woods (“X Men Origins: Wolverine”, the film version of “The A-Team”) is probably the douchebag. The name ‘Skip’ pretty much guarantees it, right? Travolta’s climactic terrorism/patriotism speech, meanwhile, is one of the most tired, clichéd things you’ll ever hear. Travolta has never impressed me as a bad guy and here he’s still imitating Nic Cage (His haircut even seems inspired by Cage). I didn’t like the impersonation in “Face/Off” (another action wank-job) and I don’t like it here, either. He isn’t even remotely threatening. You want to punch him, but that’s the actor, not the character. I think it’s the stupid beret that was the tipping point for me. I’m sure Travolta had fun playing the part (and admittedly the character isn’t at all what he first seems to be), but I took no pleasure in watching him. Vinnie Jones is well-cast but underused, Don Cheadle and Sam Shepard are wasted. Tate Donovan fares even worse, essentially playing ‘guy who sits while Shepard talks’.


I just had a really bad time with this one, but it’s a matter of style and taste for the most part, and I was never able to get into the film from the beginning. If you’re on this film’s wavelength, you’ll probably view it a lot more kindly than me. But for me it aggressively represents everything I hate about action movies from the years since it was made. It’s a pretentious, wannabe piece of crap film.


Rating: D