About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: Safe

Jason Statham plays an emotionally devastated former cop/ex-Special Forces guy who by chance encounters a 12 year-old Chinese girl (Catherine Chan) who is a mathematics whiz highly sought after by just about every criminal (James Hong, Reggie Lee, and Russian mobster Sándor Técsy), crooked politician (Chris Sarandon as a NY mayor) and corrupt cop (Robert John Burke) in NY. Statham becomes her unlikely protector, perhaps being given a reason to go on living.


A Jason Statham movie that critics didn’t hate? Surely it must favour a good story and characters over action then. It’s true, this 2012 thriller from writer-director Boaz Yakin (“Fresh”, “Remember the Titans”) gives Statham a more interesting role than usual, and the film is never dull and has an intriguing plot (albeit a tad too similar- but better than- “Mercury Rising”) and downbeat tone.


However, Statham is actually not quite up to par for what the role requires, and is lethargic and uninteresting. Yes, he’s always the same, but while that works well in the underrated “Crank” films, this film requires a bit more of him emotionally than he seems willing or capable of giving. I’m not sure if it’s Statham (who has absolutely no grasp on a particular accent here), the script, or both, but the connection between him and young Catherine Chan just isn’t where Yakin seems to intend.


Meanwhile, the narrative approach, especially early on is frustratingly discombobulating. For once, here’s a film that is trying too hard to cut to the chase, either that or the editor was a speed freak. The jumps in time are truly insane, and not in a good way. Also insane is the potentially fine martial arts fight in a restaurant...rendered ineffective due to the camera shaking. Dear Stefan Czapsky (“Vampire’s Kiss”, “Batman Returns”), STOP IT! All it does is alert me to the presence of a camera.


Positives include an underused but scene-stealing turn by veteran James Hong, and pretty good work by Reggie Lee in support. I also found it kind of interesting that the film had several sets of villains, and how Statham was forced with some of them to take out the others. However, a shitty wrap-up seems to let several of the bad guys off very lightly, if not completely.


With a superior lead actor, better camerawork, and a cleaner narrative, this might’ve been better. And for a Jason Statham film, frankly, I’d much rather watch him in his element in the “Crank” films than something that he’s just not equipped for.


Rating: C+

Review: Teen Wolf Too

Jason Bateman stars as the cousin of Michael J. Fox’s character in the original “Teen Wolf”. Bateman is headed to college and is a bit of a science geek, though the nasty dean (John Astin) wants him on the boxing team, hence why he has been admitted on a sports scholarship. Despite not showing any signs of being even remotely sporty. Could it be that Astin hopes Bateman carries the family’s lycanthropic curse and that his animal instincts will prove a money-maker in the boxing ring? Yep, and it does. Like last time, though, with great success comes great assholery as he shuns the pretty ‘good girl’ (Estee Chandler) for a party-hardy lifestyle. James Hampton is back as Fox’s dad and Bateman’s uncle, Kim Darby is a concerned science teacher, Beth Ann Miller is the hot blonde ‘bad girl’, Mark Holton reprises his fat guy role, Paul Sand plays the coach, and Stuart Fratkin takes on the role of Styles, formerly Fox’s best bud and now Bateman’s (formerly played by Jerry Levine in the original film).


The original “Teen Wolf” was no great movie, but released in 1985, it was good fun and one of my first ever trips to the cinema. This 1987 sequel from director Christopher Leitch (who went on to co-write “Universal Soldier”), however, is one of the worst films of all-time, and certainly one of the worst sequels of all-time. I only re-watched it because of stinking hot weather and bugger-all else on TV. Scripted by R. Timothy Kring (ever watch a TV show called “Heroes”?), from a story by Joseph Loeb II and Matthew Weisman (who both scripted one of Whoopi Goldberg’s flops, “Burglar”), it’s a shameless retread of the first film, except boxing instead of basketball (Instead of ‘Eye of the Tiger’, though, he has ‘Hair of the Dog’- I’m here all week, folks), and crappy vocal performance of ‘Do You Love Me’ instead of car-surfing to the Beach Boys (And although I loved that moment in the original, I doubt either scene is something teens of the 80s would go for). The cosmetic, minute differences are truly insulting (obviously everyone was hoping that Michael J. Fox would return, and obviously he read the script and bailed), so it’s no wonder the film was routinely panned.


Full credit to Jason Bateman (who, like Fox, started out on TV and was doing “Valerie” AKA “The Hogan Family” around this time) for recovering from this about 15-20 years later, after this film threatened to kill his promising career (mostly grounded in TV at the time). Don’t blame poor Jason for this, his dad Kent produced the film and probably used emotional blackmail to get Jason to agree to it (Total speculation on my part and not remotely serious).


It’s a cheap rip-off of a fun B-movie inspired by a famous B-movie of the 50s. Perhaps not incompetent, more shamefully unoriginal, creatively bankrupt, and tedious. The only improvement over the original is that brunette Estee Chandler is ten times as hot as blonde Beth Ann Miller (in a horrid performance that was one of her only appearances to date), so you actually want the brunette to get the guy. Michael J. Fox (who acted opposite Bateman’s sister Justine on “Family Ties”) picked the wrong one last time, if you ask me.


John Astin gives a lively performance that might be considered the only positive aspect of the film (though Mark Holton’s cut-rate Stephen Furst facial mugging isn’t bad), but he is swimming upstream here. He tries hard in a film way beneath his talents. James Hampton is once again OK, but in the film a whole lot less.


The biggest problem with the film for me (aside from the oddball Kim Darby and her irritating pixie cut) is that although he was a bit old for the part, Michael J. Fox’s lycanthropy in the original was like “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, dealing with the changes to a young man’s body during puberty. Bateman, by contrast, is in college before he is even made aware of the lycanthropic family curse. Aside from the awesome ‘Send Me an Angel’, there’s a pretty run-of-the-mill soundtrack here, with two Oingo Boingo songs. It seems a whole lot more 1984-5 than 1987 to me. Where are the likes of Bon Jovi, G’n’R, and Poison? (“Revenge of the Nerds II” had a similar soundtrack the same year, but that was in-keeping with the songs from the first film, I guess) It just seemed odd to me. What can you say about a film that both Michael J. Fox and the original ‘Styles’ turned down? When Jerry Levine doesn’t sign on, you know you’re in for a world of hurt.


There isn’t a single laugh in the film, no matter how hard Astin and Holton try, and the cynical plagiarism at work here is practically criminal.


Rating: F

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Searching for Sugar Man

The subject is Sixto Rodriguez, a folk rock obscurity whose two albums in the early 70s flopped in his native America despite fine reviews, but were huge and important successes in Apartheid-era South Africa (which of course was pretty much cut off from the rest of the world at the time) before rumours went around that the man had killed himself on stage during a performance. The film (through intrepid South Africans like record store owner Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew) investigates just what happened to the man, leading to some big surprises.

It’s almost impossible to discuss this film without revealing some very important content, so I’d advise against reading this before seeing the film, even moreso than usual. Spoiler Town from here on in.

This 2012 Oscar-winner from Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul has received a bit of flack for apparently exaggerating the obscurity of its subject, Sixto Rodriguez. Yes, it’s true that he toured Australia (even as recently as 2013 in fact) and was just as famous here as he was in South Africa, but a) I’m Australian and had never heard of him, though I swear Whitlams’ front man Tim Friedman has stolen his voice (it’s uncanny!), and b) It’s hardly the bloody point. The point is that fame in the United States eluded him and the filmmakers wanted to investigate why so few people in his home country seem to know of him when his work was so resonant and inspiring for South Africans, who were not all pro-Apartheid types.

I must say I was quite moved by this tale of one of those genuine talents who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, perhaps. Rodriguez’s folky inner city poet/troubadour stylings might not have been to my personal liking (I’m not a Bob Dylan fan and he’s essentially a second-rate Dylan vocally), but some of the man’s lyrics are truly amazing (something like a Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield, the song ‘Sugar Man’ is very “Superfly”-esque) and he definitely deserved more fame than he attained.

The film is definitely strongest in its first half, as it tells the investigation into just what happened to Rodriguez, with all the conspiracy theories and rumours, as well as what an impact he had on the South African people. You can tell that the film has been made with the knowledge that Rodriguez was indeed very much alive, but once again, that isn’t the point. The film is trying to put you in the mindset of the South Africans who grew up with this man’s music, were fascinated by his elusive identity, and shocked that Americans didn’t seem to know much of anything about him. The film certainly isn’t trying to be deceptive, it’s more or less Bendjelloul getting the likes of Segerman to retell their investigation of things. When we catch our first glimpse of the now older Rodriguez at his window, I audibly gasped. The story of just what he had been doing for all these years since is fascinating stuff, as he has done a complete turnaround and become a real blue collar labourer-type (yes, he has also toured South Africa several times by the time he is actually interviewed on screen, but that’s not the point). He comes across as a remarkable, down-to-earth, extraordinarily humble human being. He is also seemingly extremely reticent and a man of few words, and that is my only problem with the entire film. He seems like a very reticent subject, not really having much to say, with most of the information supplied by family, friends, and other interviewees. And so whilst Rodriguez and the film continue to be fascinating, there’s just something slightly deflating about the film and something still very elusive about the man himself. That isn’t the fault of the filmmakers, as this is a pretty impressively told story. It just proves that Rodriguez isn’t the best person to talk about himself, especially his musical career because he doesn’t seem to share the same interest and astonishment at how unheralded his music career had been in America. I guess that makes the film more engaging in the moment than on reflection, but I still recommend it strongly because this guy deserved to have his story told, just as he probably deserved to be more of a success.

How many more almost-successes like Rodriguez are out there still waiting to have their story told? I’m not at all surprised this film won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It’s must-see stuff, and it might inspire you to seek out the man’s records.

Rating: B

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Framed by Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) relating a story to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), this film details the young Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman) going on a journey with a bunch of dwarves, at the request of wizard Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen). Led by the extremely proud dwarf warrior Thorin (Richard Armitage), they are to reclaim a lost dwarf kingdom from a dragon known as Smaug. Bilbo has been recruited due to his expertise at ‘acquisition’ of items, i.e. theft. Along the way they encounter giants, orcs, The Goblin King (voiced by Barry Humphries!), and even a little tricksy fellow named Gollum (Andy Serkis), who is in possession of a very ‘precious’ ring. Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, and Hugo Weaving briefly reprise their roles from the “Lord of the Rings” films as soon-to-be-evil wizard Saruman, Elf elders Galadriel and Elrond, whilst Sylvester McCoy plays a wizard named Radagast.


I absolutely loved Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, and consider the trilogy to be one of the best of all-time. But he disappointed the hell out of me with his remake of “King Kong”, which was miscast, bloated, caricatured, and the mixture of CG and motion-capture flopped where in “Lord of the Rings” it was phenomenal and seamless. Now he has gone back to Middle Earth for this 2012 fantasy adventure, and unfortunately he has given me the biggest cinematic disappointment I’ve had since 1993’s mediocre “Jurassic Park”.


Jackson, as was the case with “King Kong” has become too interested in technological innovations it seems. I’m not sure if it was because I was watching a 3D film in 2D (and I think you know my stance on this issue by now), or if it was the dreaded 48 frames per second, I don’t know enough about such matters, to be honest. I do know this, however: The film looks completely artificial from moment one, and I was never truly invested in the story or characters for its entire near three hours. Aside from Gollum- astonishing and seamlessly integrated as ever- the CGI looked like CGI to me, the costumes and makeup particularly looked artificial as hell (Having a new costume designer in Ann Maskrey might explain something here), and some of the casting of the dwarf characters especially just seemed wrong to me, to the point where it seemed to ruin the magic of forced perspective that Jackson had perfected in the “Lord of the Rings” films. I understand that there were a lot of dwarf characters in this story and to an extent one needed to differentiate between the various characters, but the makeup here was absolutely appalling. One some characters like the one played by James Nesbitt...well, it was so sparsely used that all you could see was James Nesbitt being fake shrunk pretending to be a dwarf (i.e. His proportions are all-too human, which shouldn’t be right for a dwarf). He is far too recognisable for such a sloppy makeup job. Actors Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, and Dean O’Gorman, are even worse. Turner and O’Gorman are basically male model-types, once again fake shrunk to supposed dwarf-size, and it just looks ridiculous. They do NOT look like dwarves in the slightest, and the makeup is even more sparingly used on them than bloody Nesbitt. But Richard Armitage as Thorin...oh boy. Whilst forced perspective and excellent makeup seamlessly made the rather tall John Rhys-Davies look like the perfect embodiment of a dwarf, Richard Armitage...looks human. He’s around 6ft tall and at times, he sadly looks it. He looks like Rupert Everett with a giant rubber honker, and sadly he is a main character. You’d swear he had just wandered on set after auditioning for the title role in “Cyrano de Bergerac”, except his acting skills are something in the vicinity of TV’s “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena”. I understand that the dwarves are meant to be a bit taller than hobbits, but there are times when the forced perspective has been so clearly cocked up that Armitage would be as tall as Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf (a wizard, who is meant to be very tall) if not for Gandalf’s hat. A wizard named Radagast (played by one of the many “Doctor Who” actors, Sylvester McCoy) further complicates things, because he actually looks more like a hobbit, and far more diminutive than the normally tall race of Wizards. I haven’t read Tolkien’s text (I am, however, pretty well-versed in fantasy literature), but that just seemed odd and wrong to me. I was simply taken out of the whole experience because of this.


How did Jackson get it all so horribly wrong? Does making a film in 3D somehow ruin CG and forced perspective when viewed in 2D? Or was it just really sloppily done? Most people I know who have seen both the 3D and 2D version seem to think the 2D is preferable, especially in regards to light levels. But to me, the film just doesn’t look right, and since the “Lord of the Rings” films were all in standard 2D, I can only assume that the cause of the problem has something to do with either 3D, digital filmmaking as opposed to celluloid (which would be my guess for the main problem), or just plain sloppy filmmaking. One could argue that because the number of dwarf characters in this film is much higher than in the “Lord of the Rings” films where Gimli was surrounded by a whole lot of different sized characters, this changes something, but that doesn’t excuse the casting of some of the actors nor the awful makeup. My point is, in the “Lord of the Rings” films, I was transported to Middle Earth and totally bought into the characters and world to the point where I felt like my 13 year-old, fantasy-loving self again. That experience was not replicated here at all. All I saw was a whole lotta rubbery faces and shrunken humans, and if I was seeing the 2D (and presumably 24 FPS) version, I sure hope the 3D (48 FPS) version looked a whole lot less artificial. Sadly, this 2D version is the one we’ll all be forced to watch until the end of time, and I really wish idiot filmmakers would remember that when they permanently stain their films in the pursuit of smoother motion (I’d also like them to go back to celluloid, but I know that’ll fall on deaf ears and to an extent I understand why).


The funny thing is, I knew from the trailers that this wouldn’t be on par with the “Lord of the Rings” films, but I still figured I’d like it, because I like the genre. And when it first started, I was in a positive frame of mind. Even though the addition of characters not in “The Hobbit” in written form was obviously a marketing ploy and pretty unnecessary, I can’t deny that I immediately felt like I was at home, or visiting old friends. Being that I’m Australian and the films were lensed in New Zealand probably helped in that regard too and the scenery (at least the non computer-generated stuff) worked once again. I so desperately wanted to love this. Unfortunately, then I saw the CGI buildings, which were already ‘ringing’ false with me. That never happened in the “Lord of the Rings” series. And then the Weta makeup just sent me right over the edge- in the first 20 minutes. Some of the damn dwarves looked animated and cartoony. Some looked like leprechauns, others looked like human dwarves (i.e. What were once called midgets I guess, but seem rather like hobbits here, really), and others, as I’ve earlier said, merely look like artificially shrunken full-sized humans. It’s more “300” than “Lord of the Rings” at times, lifeless and artificial. Do you like R2D2? Me too, but would you like a whole film full of R2D2’s? No, didn’t think so, but that’s what this film is like. Oh, and then the singing starts. Singing? I don’t care if it’s in Tolkien’s text , I do NOT want singing hobbits. Ever. They just come off like grubby, non-blue Smurfs. I mean, this isn’t fucking “Brigadoon”! I did not sign up for singing! The rabbit sleigh was kinda cute, though, and I am aware that Tolkien wrote this story with youngsters in mind.


Even Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf stood out for all the wrong reasons here. I know McKellen is some 10 years older in real-life now than when we last saw Gandalf, but chronologically, Gandalf is meant to be younger here. McKellen looks older, but he also sounds a lot older, and somewhat sickly. Why does he sound about 20 years older than he did 60 years later? It bugged me every time he turned up.


Pacing is a giant issue here, too, because with all the singing and general dwarf/hobbit eccentricity, the film hasn’t even got out of first gear (or The Shire) after 30 damn minutes. And that ain’t the last of the singing, either. Ugh. There’s gonna be two more of these damn films? Really?


There were definitely things I liked about the film, and not just the wonderful cameo by Gollum. I missed the pathetic, tricksy little bastard, he’s one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history, and this film would be much poorer without his few moments. It actually seemed like more care was put into this one barely seen character, than anything else in the film. He’s certainly more ‘real’ than any of the damn dwarves. Much of the NZ scenery still looks fabulous (Rivendell still looks astoundingly beautiful), and the CGI orcs looked pretty good too (they seemed to have real weight to them), even if the CGI isn’t all that necessary in my view. There was also one hilarious moment involving the dwarves’ reaction to all the ‘green food’ offered by the elves; ‘Have they got any chips?’. Aussie legend Barry Humphries is good fun as the voice of The Goblin King (I thought that was David Bowie?), even if the CGI, whilst still pretty good, isn’t stellar. If you didn’t know it was Humphries at first, his very Dame Edna-esque singing voice definitely gives the gig away. He’s creepy and fun, but not believable or seamless like Gollum. I believed in Gollum, I didn’t truly believe in anything here, especially the dwarves who come off like Terry Pratchett or “Time Bandits” characters, striking a comedic and silly tone where none is needed. Sure, Gimli was comic relief in “The Two Towers”, but that was his function, whereas here the dwarves are the main characters and are meant to have a seriousness to them.


I enjoyed the performance by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, he’s a great choice for the character who was played by Ian Holm in the “Lord of the Rings” films. He can’t save the film on his own, however. I also commend Jackson for giving Aussie Neil Finn a gig contributing to the soundtrack. Oh shut up, Crowded House are an Aussie band so we’re claiming him. You Kiwis can have Tim Finn, though, if you like.


I’m sorry, but I found this film a crushing and frustrating disappointment. Even if the characters weren’t so irritating and uninteresting to me (and they were), there are still huge roadblocks here in the way of my enjoyment. The switch to digital filmmaking seems to have done extremely detrimental things to Jackson’s vision, and combining that with some genuinely poor makeup and costumes, it makes for a film that is extremely difficult to suspend disbelief in. And this comes from a fantasy fan, and someone who absolutely adores the “Lord of the Rings” films. I know that this was meant to be a different kettle of fish to “Lord of the Rings” in some respects, and if you’re a fan of the text, I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. I just thought that it wasn’t even a well-made film (and certainly not up to the “Lord of the Rings” standard), and was incredibly letdown by it. Please, someone help Jackson find his mojo before the next film. Jackson co-wrote the screenplay with his regular team of Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (“Cronos”, “Hellboy”, “Pan’s Labyrinth”), of all people.


Rating: C