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, October 12, 2013

Review: Tasmanian Devils

Base-jumping thrill-seekers (Kenneth Mitchell, Roger Cross, and Terry Chen among them) end up in deep poop in Tasmania (by way of Vancouver it seems) when they find that the location they have chosen for their latest jump is full of Tasmanian devils. Not just any Tasmanian devils, though. No, these buggers are huge, blood-thirsty ancestors of the relatively small, cute-ugly (in that pathetic three-legged dog kinda way) Aussie marsupials. Don’t worry, though, because park ranger Danica McKeller (yes, that Danica McKeller) is on hand, and in addition to being kinda sorta law enforcement (ish), she’s also a Masters student who just so happens to know a thing or two about Aussie wildlife. So she says, anyway. I’m still not sure about that myself, being actually from Australia.


It takes a special level of incompetence to deliver a worse SyFy Channel film than usual, and so director Zach Lipovsky (who apparently comes from a special FX background) and writer Brook Durham (who scripted another SyFy cheapie called “Witchslayer Gretl”) have absolutely outdone themselves here. Not only do their title creatures fail to resemble anything even remotely akin to real Tasmanian Devils (or even ancestors of such creatures- nice try, guys), but based on the geography and truly appalling accents here, I doubt anyone involved in this film has ever ventured to Australia, let alone Tasmania. I’m sorry, Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), but my nostalgic love for “The Wonder Years” can only carry this terrible, cheapjack film so far. She might be a genius maths whiz, but Ms. McKeller sure ain’t no prize chooser of scripts these days, it seems. The gore is good, however, and quite surprising. It’s got that going for it.


Would it have killed someone to do even a little research? I know we’re in a different hemisphere and all, but c’mon. The film’s ultimately Canadian roots show from the casting alone, with Canadian actor Terry Chen among the cast. If he’s in your film, nine times out of ten, it’s a Canadian film. If the photography looks brown and dim as it does here by cinematographer Norm Li, it’s also probably Canadian. I have no idea where it was filmed (Vancouver?), but it sure as hell ain’t anywhere near Australia. The accents by the few supposedly Australian characters are even worse than the Seth Effriken ones masquerading as Aussie accents on “Lost”. There’s one little girl in particular (Julia Sarah Stone, I believe) who seemed in complete agony delivering whatever the hell that accent was meant to be. The guy playing the Aussie Robert Shaw from “Jaws”, meanwhile, is one of the single worst actors I’ve ever seen. There’s plenty of Aussie talent abroad, presumably many of them willing to work cheap, so what gives? Danica McKeller looks tired and haggard, and the only ‘real’ actors of the bunch (Terry Chen and Roger Cross) aren’t given enough to do to either suitably embarrass themselves nor save the film.


The Tassie devils, as I said, look appalling and wrong, even if I’ve seen much worse CGI. Real Tassie devils are about half the size of these things (so using giant machetes like they do here to kill Tassie devils is unintentionally hilarious), and look nothing like them. They’re like a small, ugly pig, not a huge wild boar, dumb arses! So even if they are off-shoots of real Tassie devils, they still don’t suffice. Tazzie Devil looks nothing like a Tassie Devil, let alone these stupid critters which are more like small dinosaurs or razorback pigs on steroids. Prehistoric my arse, the filmmakers simply didn’t do any research and used the ancestral thing to cover their lazy arses. The funniest thing, however, was that McKeller’s character claimed to be an expert on ‘Tasmanian Mythology’! What. The. Fuck. Even the supposed Aboriginal cave paintings look far too monochromatic and nondescript to convince. How ignorant can an entire film cast and crew possibly be? Or did they just assume no one would give a shit? Sure, it’s a silly SyFy film, but c’mon...you’re begging to be mocked, and not in a fun way.


In the end, the film is nice and gory, but not nearly enough to help you forget how appalling and staggeringly ignorant it is. About the only decent thing I can say about it is that the pacing is quite quick after a slow opening 15-20 minutes. Sorry, Winnie, but I always thought Kevin should’ve chosen Madeline anyway.


Rating: D+

Review: The Sitter

Jonah Hill is a dipshit college dropout (well, he was suspended actually) asked by his incredibly understanding divorcee mother (Jessica Hecht, who is surely way too young to be Hill’s mother) to mind the neighbours’ (Erin Daniels and D.W. Moffett) kids for the evening, after Hecht has already arranged to go out on a double date and the neighbours’ babysitter calls in sick. Meanwhile, Hill’s manipulative girlfriend (Ari Graynor) wants Hill to score her some drugs and deliver them to her at a party. So Hill decides to take the kids with him and get her some drugs in exchange for the sex he’s clearly never going to get from her because she’s obviously using him. Unfortunately, these kids are more than a handful; Max Records plays the over-medicated wimpy kid, Landry Bender is the wannabe Kardashian celebrity who wears a seriously inappropriate amount of makeup, and Kevin Hernandez is an adopted Hispanic kid prone to running off. And taking frequent pit stops that are merely an excuse to let off explosives and steal stuff. Yeah, that last kid’s gonna be a problem (BTW, you can call him Long Duk Dong). Anyway, Hill attempts to score some coke from bizarro drug dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell, imitating Ben Stiller from “Dodgeball”), but ends up pissing the guy off when Hernandez nicks one of his prized egg-shaped artefacts that contains a mountain of coke. How do we know it contains coke? Because Hill accidentally breaks it and immediately realises he’s in deep shit. Kylie Bunbury plays a sweet former college acquaintance Hill bumps into, Nicky Katt plays a corrupt cop, and Bruce Altman is Hill’s rich, douchebag father whose help Hill begrudgingly calls upon.


Jonah Hill clearly loves the 80s. Like his buddy Seth Rogen, he also clearly loves weed. So it surprises me that this 2011 babysitting comedy from director David Gordon Green (“Undertow”, “Pineapple Express”) is scripted by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka (writer-producers of a TV show called “Animal Practice”), not Hill himself. I assumed Hill must’ve had a hand in writing this after watching a bunch of 80s comedies (principally “Adventures in Babysitting”, “After Hours”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and any 80s flick- usually terrible- featuring criminals hiding drugs in priceless artefacts) and smoking a ton of weed. Hill really needs to get off the weed, man, but I guess so do Green, Gatewood, and Tanaka because this is a lame, mostly unfunny rehash of old ideas that in some cases weren’t funny the first time around, let alone now (The whole drugs/artefacts deal is one of the worst plot points you can utilise). The weed must’ve been especially strong because some of it is very poorly written, especially the clunky way the we get to the central conceit.


A couple of bits are funny throughout the film, but not gut-bustingly so, and the film is also pretty similar to the more recent “Date Night”, which wasn’t any better than this (Shit, you could even say it has similarities to Green’s uneven “Pineapple Express”).


Jonah Hill doesn’t have an especially likeable presence on screen, but he has one or two OK moments, especially a heartfelt chat with young Max Records, even if one wonders if the character really means what he is saying. Records, despite having the strangest name for an actor I’ve heard in a while, is the best of the three kids, with young Landry Bender being especially irritating and unfunny. Sam Rockwell, meanwhile, has been better, and rapper Method Man plays a poor racial stereotype. Or is Method Man himself a poor racial stereotype?


Oh, well. At least it’s a lot better than Green’s previous film, the appalling Medieval fantasy spoof turned stoner sex comedy “Your Highness”. A sledgehammer to the head would be more enjoyable than “Your Highness”, however. Kylie Bunbury is underused but is so charismatic and likeable you wish the film was about her. Instead it’s your standard, clich├ęd ‘Crazy, hellish night’ comedy, stealing bits and pieces from other comedies. This includes two plot points stolen from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. 1) The precious car you know is gonna get wrecked, and 2) The mad dash home before the parents come home and the jig is up.


Sorry, but this is lazy filmmaking, and the cocaine subplot is just unnecessary seediness. Just ‘coz you do drugs, Jonah, doesn’t mean you need to make movies all the time with drugs in them. At least this isn’t “Mr. Nanny”, but that isn’t exactly praise.


Rating: C

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: Broken Embraces

Lluis Homar stars as a blind writer going by the pen name Harry Caine, who used to be a filmmaker under his real name Mateo Blanco. The film flashes back to the mid 90s as we discover a tragedy from his past, and learn why he ended up changing his name to Harry Caine. He fell in love with the star of his latest film, Lena (Penelope Cruz), a former prostitute whose jealous rich lover acted as producer on the film (At the beginning of the film, in the present day, we find that the producer has just died). All of this is relayed to young Diego (Tamar Novas), the son of his production manager Judit (Blanca Portillo), the latter of whom checks in on Mateo from time to time and is clearly devoted to him. Ruben Ochandiano plays the mysterious ‘Ray X’, apparently a screenwriter who wants Mateo’s help on a script that seems like an act of revenge against an insufferable father. However, Mr. X is really a figure from Mateo’s past come back to haunt and potentially hurt him. Or does he have other motives altogether?


Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar (“Tie Me Up!, Tie Me Down!”, “The Skin I Live In”, “Talk to Her”) seems to be maturing over the years, but that doesn’t mean that all of his most recent work is better than some of his wilder and more unrefined work. “Volver”, for instance, was a silly little film that I didn’t enjoy at all (Aside from that and his seriously dull debut film “Pepi, Luci, and Bom”, all of his films are at least watchable). This 2009 film from the writer-director isn’t that bad, in fact it’s pretty watchable, but I did find it far too predictable, after an interesting start. The mystery (or perhaps ‘secrets’ is a more precise word), frankly, wasn’t all that mysterious to me, though how it all managed to remain a mystery, was certainly mysterious- and implausible.


Also, the performance by Ruben Ochandiano as ‘Ray X’ is corny as hell, not helped by the worst wig you’ve ever seen, in the flashback scenes. Almodovar films tend to be melodramatic at the best of times, but I just found him awfully silly and jarring in an otherwise pretty serious, rather sad film. Nothing with this character worked for me.


That said, both Penelope Cruz (who has never looked more gorgeous) and especially Lluis Homar (who isn’t my type) are terrific, and there some fine moments, especially at the beginning. That scene early on when Mateo asks a girl that he took home with him to describe herself, is just beautiful. A borderline pervy scene as well, but that’s Almodovar for you.


Overall, the material’s just not that compelling once it turns into a formula mystery, and perhaps some of the ‘old’ Almodovar might’ve helped spice it up. As is, it’s just a bit forgettable.


Rating: C+

Review: Talk to Her

A story of two men (Lonely but outwardly caring and genial nurse Javier Camara and sensitive journo Dario Grandinetti) and the two comatose women they love (dancer Leonor Watling and female bullfighter Rosario Flores, respectively), albeit in very, very different fashions as neither woman is expected to make any sort of recovery. Camara (who spent most of his life looking after his mother) loved but barely even knew Watling before an accident struck her down, and he has attended to her ever since. The two men, meanwhile, form a bond as Camara (who is rather obsessively in love with Watling, but clearly a devoted and well-meaning sort) attempts to get the more pessimistic Grandinetti to converse with his loved one, no matter how hopeless their circumstance appears to be. Geraldine Chaplin plays Watling’s rather maternal dance teacher, whilst Elena Anaya turns up briefly as Grandinetti’s ex.


In addition to being my favourite Pedro Almodovar film, 2011’s “The Skin I Live In” was a film that seemed to pretty much perfectly blend the raunchy and controversial ‘early’ Almodovar films with his more recent, critically acclaimed character pieces like “All About My Mother”. This 2002 film from the writer-director seems like a dry run for “The Skin I Live In”. It’s far more of the latter day ‘mature’ Almodovar than the early ‘bad boy of Spanish Cinema’ Almodovar, and although a solid film overall, one element stops it from being something more. One important character’s inappropriate and unforgiveable actions, no matter how noble the motives might have been (and I won’t endeavour to spoil anything here), throw the film out of whack, not to mention they might reveal a thing or two about the director himself (who does tend to make his films personal, so it’s fair game to at least wonder). Up until this point, not only was the film really moving and interesting (especially any scenes involving the care of the two patients), but the character in question seemed thoroughly sympathetic- even though there was always something slightly ‘off’ about him. It didn’t render the rest of the film unwatchable, in fact, it was still an entertaining viewing with interesting things to say about masculinity in particular, but...it went in a different direction that although I understand why Almodovar took things in this direction, I’m not entirely sure it was helpful nor was it preferable. I think if Almodovar had stopped just short of where he takes it, the film wouldn’t lose a damn thing for it, even if he’d need to tweak the climax and ending. The unsavoury character development actually reminded me of a more serious version of Antonio Banderas’ character in Almodovar’s unforgettably kinky “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”.


But look, this was a mostly pretty strong film with especially good work by Javier Camara (and his puppy dog eyes), the always fine Geraldine Chaplin (perfectly cast), and Leonor Watling’s fantastic breasts. Hey, they’re clearly important to Almodovar (not unknown for treating the female form in a rather fetishistic manner), so I feel I have a right to mention their impact on me, too. They left quite an impression, let me tell you (The similarly bodacious Elena Anaya, meanwhile, has a small role here and starred in “The Skin I Live In”, as did Marisa Paredes who has a cameo here). Grandinetti, meanwhile, is also very empathetic and easy to take to as the frequently tearful, sensitive journalist.


The best moment in the entire film, although tonally off-key perhaps, is a brilliantly funny and frankly juvenile silent film fantasy that simply has to be seen to be believed. No, it doesn’t really belong here thematically or narratively (though I suppose in a way it provides a clue to the character twist I had issues with now that I think about it), but it’s Almodovar, you’ve gotta cut the guy some slack. Besides, it was insanely pervy and just plain wonderful.


A solid film that could’ve been even more than that if not for an unfortunate turn of events that I’m not entirely sure was necessary. I also didn’t much take to the dance pieces in the film, that kind of pretentiously art flailing about called ‘interpretive dance’ (Which I call ‘making shit up’- That won’t offend anyone, right?). Still, it’s a must-see film for Almodovar fans, who I’m sure have already seen it anyway. At least it’s not remotely boring (few Almodovar films could be accused of that, whatever their merits). Meanwhile, I’m hoping Almodovar one day makes a full-length silent homage to “The Incredible Shrinking Man” after seeing the infamous segment in this film (Those who go for symbolism will be in heaven during this film and in this segment in particular).


Rating: B-

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

After being blamed for the ‘murder’ of Harvey Dent, Batman hasn’t been seen in years, and brooding millionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become uber-reclusive. A new villainous threat, the hulking and seemingly unstoppable Bane (Tom Hardy) is wreaking havoc on Gotham City, and this reluctantly coaxes the Dark Knight out of exile. Meanwhile, a sexy but selfish cat burglar named Selena Kyle (AKA Catwoman, for the slow-witted) has just stolen some Wayne family jewellery, which may or may not be her idea of foreplay. Let’s just say they’re both into tight rubber suits. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays idealistic young cop John Blake, Marion Cotillard plays a smouldering business colleague of Wayne’s, Matthew Modine plays Deputy Commissioner to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, Aussie Ben Mendelsohn plays a rich villain, and we get return appearances by Michael Caine’s loyal butler Alfred, and Morgan Freeman’s equally loyal gadget man Lucius Fox.


I don’t like the Christopher Nolan (“Memento”, “Inception”) vision of Batman or Gotham City, nor do I think Christian Bale makes for a good Batman. He’s terrible (and just as bad as Val Kilmer and George ‘Hi, I’m Batman!’ Clooney), and only slightly better as Bruce Wayne. It’s just not my idea of what Batman is. I know comic book...er...graphic novel nerds...er...enthusiasts will tell me that Nolan gets it spot-on, but I don’t give a rat’s arse. Batman has become an icon well past one format’s interpretation of the character. Everyone has their own idea of what a Batman film should be like, and for me, Tim Burton got it right with 1989’s “Batman”. It was a dark, Gothic vision without forgetting to be entertaining or indulging in glum brooding tortured soul crap. Hell, I even have a soft spot for the campy 60s TV show, and believe Cesar Romero is the definitive Joker. And I feel no shame in saying that.


Each film in Nolan’s trilogy has had its positives, usually in regards to the supporting cast. “Batman Begins” had Morgan Freeman and Rutger Hauer. “The Dark Knight” had fantastic performances by Aaron Eckhart and the late Heath Ledger as a psychotic Joker far removed from Cesar Romero’s cackling campiness (or Jack Nicholson’s quite enjoyable interpretation for that matter), but undeniably compelling nonetheless. So it is with this 2012 final entry into the “Dark Knight” trilogy, that for all its flaws, the film still contains scene-stealing work by Anne Hathaway’s naughty Catwoman (the best Catwoman of all-time, hands down), and especially Tom Hardy as the fearsome-looking Bane. Hathaway has come a long way as an actress, and her Catwoman is naughty, flirty, beautiful, and sexy as hell. The character isn’t the straight-up villainess you might be used to (though she does have ties to Bane), nor the semi-super heroine Halle Berry played in the reviled borderline 90 minute Revlon commercial “Catwoman”, but that makes her somewhat intriguing and elusive, as well as somewhat hardened and aloof. That aloofness is perfect for the part. She’s also surprisingly tough and effective in action scenes, something that might surprise you. In fact, my only problem with her is that she’s left off-screen for great stretches of the film, which is almost criminal, really because Catwoman gets lost in the shuffle whilst Batman/Wayne undergoes his Eastern mysticism variant of the “Rocky IV” training montage which stops the film dead. It’s way overlong and seems out of a Shaolin monk film, not Batman. The absolutely stunning Marion Cotillard is no slouch as the other major female character in the film, but she too could’ve used more screen time. There is a lot of wasted talent in this film, with Michael Caine in particular barely used. Then again, I’ve never found his cockney accent a precise fit for Alfred the Butler anyway.


As for Tom Hardy’s Bane, it’s unfair to compare him to Ledger’s Joker for a variety of reasons, but they are different kinds of villain and I think Hardy’s Bane is really effective in its own way. I’m not sure why Hardy has chosen to mimic Patrick Stewart’s voice projected through a muffled mask (apparently Hardy based the voice on a bare-knuckle fighter I’ve never heard of, but get stuffed, it’s Jean-Luc Picard for sure), but he otherwise makes Bane an incredibly commanding orator under very constrictive circumstances. It’s a tricky role, because physically he’s so restricted and even his voice is modulated, so either you’re hooked into the character and find it compelling or you simply never get into it. I got into it wholeheartedly. There’s a touch of real-world terrorism to the character that I tend to rally against in a comic-book film, but I think that’s an issue with Nolan’s vision, not Bane. No matter who the villain was, he’d work in some of that stuff anyway. At times he comes across like a Bond villain, but a tad too outlandish for that perhaps. That makes him spot-on for a comic-book villain, however. He also has a strong, bulked-up, and fearsome presence on screen that is somewhere in between animal and machine, with barely a human trace outside of his verbal skills. Bane is one badass mofo, and a very formidable opponent in his own extremely physical, seemingly perfectly prepared way.


Also worthy of a mention is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a dedicated young policeman, and the twist regarding his character might be guessed in advance by some of you. It’s a really interesting role and Gordon-Levitt is certainly more appealing on screen than frumpy, tired-looking Gary Oldman, once again miscast as Commissioner Gordon. Aussie Ben Mendelsohn, however, impresses in a small role that is certainly better than his work in “Trespass”, and more likely to get him noticed, too. Nice job.

Unfortunately, Christian Bale is still in the title role of Batman/Bruce Wayne and he is still terribly unconvincing and uninteresting. Bale’s gruff, tacked-on Batman voice is laughably forced and takes me out of the film every single damn time. As Bruce Wayne, Bale does a slightly more interesting repeat of his tortured soul/wannabe Shaolin monk deal than in “Batman Begins”, but there is way too much emphasis on it as I mentioned earlier (despite Batman probably playing a smaller role in the film than ever before), and this bleeds into one of the film’s biggest issues; The story is too epic in scale and populated by too many characters, the whole thing needed serious streamlining. For starters, it results in Batman looking too much like an “Avengers”-style team player and not the Lone Wolf he’s meant to be (except for Robin and Batgirl of course). And there are some characters here that just aren’t necessary, and merely take up screen time that could’ve been afforded elsewhere. The characters played by Matthew Modine and Burn Gorman are especially extraneous. But this is what happens when people think comic book movies need epic length, character depth, and endless brooding. I feel like films like these ones and “Iron Man” have lost some of the point in pursuit of gravitas and depth. For starters, in this case it results in a film with no excitement or energy whatsoever. Fun is the most important element, depth is a bonus. Start with fun. I must say, though, that I did find some of the character stuff interesting, especially as it relates to unfortunate childhoods and class systems and so on, that see similarities in Bruce Wayne, Bane, Catwoman, and Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake (The Occupy Gotham stuff, however...Grrrr).


The other thing that bugs me about this film, as with the previous films is Nolan’s directorial visual style and his vision of Gotham City. I’m of the belief that Tim Burton’s ‘Gothic’ Gotham City was absolutely spot-on, whereas Nolan’s version of Gotham could be...Anytown USA. Or New York. Yes, I know Gotham is a nickname of New York and Frank Miller describes Gotham as ‘New York at Night’ (though this film was filmed in Pittsburgh), but I’m sorry, it just doesn’t look like Gotham to me and it’s called Gotham, not New York. It’s a fictional city, at the end of the day. Everyone has their own ideas about Gotham, and none of us are right or wrong, but to me, it should look more...Gothic. Nolan’s Gotham is as boring as batshit. Even Metropolis tends to be presented as an uber-Metropolis. But Nolan’s Gotham? It just looks like a city. And don’t even get me started on the Batsuit, which is clunky and more rubbery-looking than Joel Schumacher’s nipply S&M designs which at least looked more comic book-esque. As for the rest of Nolan’s visual style, well I’m a huge detractor of his over-reliance on amber filters employed by cinematographer Wally Pfister (Nolan’s “The Prestige”), which just make the whole thing look ugly and...well, amber. Nolan’s other films haven’t overly indulged in this sort of colour correction nonsense, but this trilogy is rife with it. A fireplace does NOT bathe everyone and everything entirely in amber you half-wit!


Credit where it’s due, the music score by Hans Zimmer (“Rain Man”, “Inception”) is far and away the best in the entire trilogy, which is to say, I actually noticed it this time around. His previous scores (shared by James Newton Howard, who is absent here) contained nothing iconic, stirring, powerful, or memorable, but this time around he pretty much nailed it.


A good 20-30 minutes long, and with problems regarding the central character (or performance), and Nolan’s visual interpretation of Gotham City, this is once again not my kind of Batman film. If you’re a fan of the series, good for you. I’m not a fan in the slightest. However, like the previous films, there are a few fine elements here and there, and especially good work by Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway keeping things watchable.


Rating: C+