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, November 23, 2013

Review: Red Rock West


Gimpy, unemployed drifter Nic Cage turns up in Red Rock, Wyoming, and enters a bar owned by a guy named Wayne (J.T. Walsh). For some reason, Wayne confuses Cage for the guy he has hired for $5,000, to murder his cheatin’ wife (Lara Flynn Boyle). Needing cash, Cage doesn’t fess up, and aims to split with the advance he’s already been given, but when he meets the smouldering Boyle, he decides to warn her instead. And then the real ‘Lyle from Dallas’ turns up, and Cage finds himself in one helluva sticky situation. Oh, did I mention that Wayne’s ‘other’ job is as local sheriff? Timothy Carhart plays Wayne’s deputy.

 

Directed by John Dahl (“The Last Seduction”) and co-written by Dahl and his brother Rick (who has since only penned one other screenplay), this 1993 noir is certainly familiar and typical of the genre. In some ways, I can understand why it wasn’t released in cinemas in Australia, and debuted on cable TV in the US. However, spot-on casting, terrific noirish lighting (that almost makes you wish it was in B&W), and a droll sense of humour make it better than most modern day noir films you are likely to see. It’s certainly better than Oliver Stone’s later “U-Turn”, which the film rather resembles at times (and “Blood Simple” especially).

 

I’m hardly a fan of Nic Cage or Lara Flynn Boyle, but there’s nothing wrong with their work here. Hell, I’m not the biggest Gloria Grahame fan either, and since that’s who Boyle is essentially emulating here, she’s the right person for the role. Cage, meanwhile, is well-cast as the down-on-his-luck noir hero, and is thankfully restrained. However, the film definitely belongs to Dennis Hopper, and the late J.T. Walsh, who really makes you miss him, seeing him do such fine work here. The man died way too young, and was an excellent character actor at playing bland or wholly unsympathetic characters. I suppose you could argue that casting him and Lara Flynn Boyle in their roles gives the game away a bit, but they’re so good here I didn’t mind. Meanwhile, it really is amazing to see Nic Cage and Dennis Hopper in a film where neither guy goes terribly over-the-top. Hopper can be lots of fun and rein it in when he wants to. Cute cameo too, by singer/actor Dwight Yoakam as a surly trucker, giving us a glimpse of the fine character actor he’d become in films like “Sling Blade” and “Panic Room”.

 

This may not be anything new (though the twists and turns liven it up), but it does what it does effectively, and deserves to be more well-known. It’s also a real shame that Dahl mostly works in TV these days (on shows like the addictive “Dexter”). The icing on the cake are the fine, bluesy score by William Ovis, and the excellent lighting by cinematographer Marc Reshovsky, making the film seem more expensive than it probably was.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: The Sessions


John Hawkes stars as a polio-afflicted 38 year-old man, a poet and journalist confined to an iron lung, and paralysed from the neck down. He is entirely dependent on a series of carers of varying levels of dedication and demeanour. He is also a pretty devout Catholic and converses with easy-going priest William H. Macy about his desire to lose his virginity before it’s too late as he thinks his time is running out. The solution? Well, he’s already been commissioned to write an article on sex and the disabled, but this leads him to think about his own situation. The plan is to seek out a sex surrogate, someone who, unlike a prostitute, will sensitively guide him through the process of bringing pleasure, without seeking further business. After a few ‘sessions’, her work will be done, and will never need to see Hawkes again. But will it really be that easy for Hawkes and married (with a teenage son to boot) professional sex surrogate Helen Hunt once they have shared such an intimate experience? You’ll have to watch to find out. Annika Marks plays the pretty, young carer Hawkes lusts after, Moon Bloodgood plays the equally dedicated but more professional carer/nurse, whilst W. Earl Brown plays the...er...male carer, and Adam Arkin plays Hunt’s husband whose limits of understanding and acceptance of his wife’s work might be tested. Min Lo has a funny role as a curious hotel receptionist who tries in vain to pick up the rather studious Bloodgood.

 

As a flesh-and-blood, heterosexual, 33 year-old paraplegic myself, I’ve got to admit that I related to some of the things in this 2012 film from writer-director Ben Lewin (An Australian and former polio sufferer himself who directed “Paperback Romance” with Rebecca Gibney and Anthony LaPaglia). It ain’t easy being a disabled person with all the same wants, needs, and desires as an able-bodied person, and although I’m not nearly as impaired as the main character in this film (a polio sufferer confined to an iron lung), I was really moved by this film, based on the true story of Mark O’Brien (played by an Oscar-nominated John Hawkes in the best performance of the year). I can definitely understand why someone with a disability might feel the need to seek ‘professional’ means for personal pleasure, and the way the lovely, well-meaning young carer played by Annika Marks looks at Hawkes is a very familiar look that most disabled people will be painfully and awkwardly used to seeing from people who care, but don’t love them in ‘that way’. And although I’m a few years younger than Mark and probably not as likely to die any time soon, I’ve got to admit, the subject is never too far from my mind. It can’t be helped once you reach a certain age, especially if, like me, there’s a history of terminal illnesses and such (Cancer being the big one in my family, not that I’ve helped myself by ceasing my seriously terrible diet or embarking on some kind of exercise regimen). There was one scene here late in the film that was particularly harrowing to endure. Anyone who has a disability and feels vulnerable, will definitely relate to this scene.

 

Hawkes (who I’ve admired ever since “Deadwood”) is absolutely brilliant as Mark, but everyone is impressive here. Oscar-nominee Helen Hunt has never been better, despite a dodgy Bah-ston accent and a really distracting face. Either it’s the result of terrible cosmetic surgery that has made her skin look painfully stretched or an unfriendly cinematographer, though her body is pretty damn fine in my perverted opinion. Her final scene in particular really has you feeling for her. If you liked the earlier Helen Hunt film “The Waterdance”, this film covers slightly similar territory, but it’s a terrific film in its own right. William H. Macy (as a down-to-earth, compassionate, and somewhat ‘realist’ priest who probably realises that sermons are not what this guy needs) is also really amusing in a film that I didn’t realise was going to be so funny. But take it from me, being disabled isn’t always doom and gloom, though for someone trapped in an iron lung, it must take enormous strength of character to see the funny side of things.

 

I just wish it didn’t become so rushed towards the end, skimming over a very important relationship with Robin Weigert in the final third. I get that the film is called ‘The Sessions’ and it’s through those sessions that the main character gets to be in such a position, but still, it seemed a bit unsatisfactory from a narrative point of view, not to mention an emotional point of view. Here’s a film that could’ve actually stood to be a tad longer. However, this is a minor misstep in an otherwise strong, honest, and moving drama, one of the ten best films of the year.

 

Rating: B

Review: Poltergeist


This film centres around the Freeling family, who have newly moved into a new house in Cuesta Verde. It soon appears that the house is haunted, however it’s only when youngest daughter Carol Ann (the tragically short-lived Heather O’Rourke, who died in 1988) mysteriously disappears that this All-American family starts to take the spooky supernatural goings on seriously. It would appear that Carol Ann has been sucked into another realm, and the Freelings must resort to hiring a team of parapsychologists (including Beatrice Straight and Richard Lawson), and later a diminutive psychic (the late and inimitable Zelda Rubinstein), in order to bring their beloved little girl back from ‘the other side’. Oliver Robbins and Dominique Dunne (who was shockingly murdered not long after this film was made) play the other Freeling children.

 

No one’s going to tell you with a straight face that this is a bad film. It’s a solid film, no doubt about it. It is not, however, a great film, and I have serious questions about its true authorship that I have never quite shaken in all the times I’ve seen it. While this 1982 ghost/haunted house flick is credited to director Tobe Hooper, I ask you to look at Hooper’s work (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Lifeforce”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”), look at the work of executive producer Steven Spielberg (whether as director or producer), and you tell me whose creative vision we’re seeing on screen. Look at the opening scenes of All-American suburbia and tell me with a straight face that this is a Tobe Hooper film. Meanwhile, one shot in particular gives the game away, towards the end; A very familiar camera trick is used. It’s a great shot, no doubt, but if you’ve seen “Jaws”, you’ll recognise the shot immediately as Spielberg’s implementation of the “Vertigo” pull-zoom technique. I mean, it’s unquestionable in my eyes that Spielberg is George Lucas to Tobe Hooper’s Richard Marquand here. This is at least 90% Spielbergian, not a bad thing mind you (Spielberg is technically a more proficient director, and on his day, frankly unbeatable in my view), but Spielberg and horror don’t really go together. Or at least, they didn’t until 2005’s genuinely unsettling and underrated “War of the Worlds”. But in 1982, he wasn’t quite ready to go all-out, balls-to-the-wall scary, he couldn’t compete with films like “The Entity”, “Repulsion”, or 1963’s “The Haunting”.

 

It’s an entertaining family drama, no doubt about it, but as a horror film? Not really all that great, though business sure as hell picks up at the finale, with an excellent final twenty minutes. In addition, Heather O’Rourke is unsettling from moment one in a subtle way (there’s just something ‘off’ about her), and this might be the first and only film I can think of that makes ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ unsettling and creepy. Not to mention TV sets. Every kid who saw this, I imagine, has tried looking for something sinister in white noise. But creepy isn’t necessarily scary. And it’s not scary at all for most of its length, and it sure as shit ain’t anywhere near as unsettling as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. That’s not entirely a reasonable comparison, though, as this is a vastly different kind of horror film, but I still can’t help but feel that if this were truly Tobe Hooper’s vision, he would’ve made a far more unsettling and creepy film. This film just doesn’t seem like his work at all. I mean, look at the dopey scene where records and toys start spinning inside a child’s bedroom. It’s dopey, unconvincing, and clearly more Spielberg than Hooper.

 

Perhaps, the Spielbergian nature of the film is merely symptomatic of Spielberg having co-written the script with Michael Grais and Mark Victor (both of whom co-wrote “Poltergeist II” and produced the awful “Sleepwalkers”), based on a story by Spielberg. But I don’t think that tells the whole story, if you’ll excuse the pun. In my opinion, he has been neutered and reined in by Mr. Producer, so as to not entirely alienate the Spielbergian audience (In that sense, the boring, Spielberg-produced “Arachnophobia” springs to mind). And yet, it’s not great Spielberg, either, though perfectly fine second-tier Spielberg, and slightly darker than his usual stuff around this time. It’s such a professional-looking and well-designed film, with good use of sound and shot composition/lighting by cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti (“Commando”, “Red Heat”, “Action Jackson”), which is kinda more indicative of Spielberg than Hooper, though Hooper was obviously spending Spielberg’s money. Money which apparently didn’t extend to the awful animation FX, by the way, the one truly dated aspect. I normally like the work of Richard Edlund (“Star Wars”, “Ghostbusters”, “Big Trouble in Little China”, “The Monster Squad”), but by making the title entity something like Glinda the Good Witch, it’s obvious that Spielberg had his arm up Edlund’s arse, too, in addition to Hooper’s. Not ILM’s finest hour, at any rate, and although Oscar-nominated, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that the film lost out to (ironically) “ET”. I also highly doubt the meat and maggots were Hooper’s idea (The subsequent face-melting nightmare, however, was probably all Hooper).

 

But there’s no doubting the film has moments and elements worthy of praise. It has been imitated a billion times, but the chair-stacking scene works because it’s so sudden, low-key, and...impossible. Craig T. Nelson’s slack-jawed reaction to the mysteries of the kitchen is priceless too, and I have to give Hooper, Spielberg, and his co-writers credit for not turning Nelson’s character into a complete Doubting Thomas cliché. It’s real, it’s happening, and they need to get their daughter back, damn it. Jo Beth Williams is crucial here, and highly underrated and effective actress who instantly earns your sympathy. She’s the heart of the film. She also looks mighty MILFy in short shorts. Hot damn. I’m not normally a Craig T. Nelson fan, but this is far and away his best performance, and at times he looks entirely shattered and broken. He’s certainly more sympathetic and relatable than James Brolin in “The Amityville Horror” (Probably this film’s closest approximation). Beatrice Straight is OK as the parapsychologist, but her role really could’ve and should’ve been combined with Zelda Rubinstein’s psychic character. Straight and her cohorts just aren’t necessary and Straight gets a few too many syrupy lines of dialogue that makes her sound somewhere in between Jiminy Cricket and Glinda the Good Witch. Was the late Rubinstein a good actress? Not exactly, but she’s the most memorable thing in the film. She’s a total scene-stealer and a tad unsettling too. Sure, she gives off a bit of a ‘We represent the lollipop guild’ vibe that makes one wonder if Carol Ann has been welcomed to Munchkinland, but it’s when Ms. Rubinstein turns up that things really start to soar and she should’ve been in the film earlier and more often. Young Oliver Robbins is also excellent as the son, who looks genuinely shell-shocked after the genuinely terrifying scene with the tree, the one and only truly terrifying moment in the film. In fact, that creepy tree is just one example of the film’s good choice in locations.

 

Less effective, is the music score by my otherwise favourite composer Jerry Goldsmith (“The Omen”, “A Patch of Blue”, “The Blue Max”, “Planet of the Apes”, “Powder”). It’s an accomplished score in some ways, but also not especially effective for what it should be there to achieve. It’s a very Spielbergian (or John Williams-esque) and fantasy-oriented score, rather than horror and would be better suited to something like “ET”, “Close Encounters”, or John Carpenter’s “Starman”. Goldsmith did much, much better with his work on my favourite horror film “The Omen”, which also contains the greatest score of all-time in my view. But I’m someone who expects a lot from Goldsmith, so don’t necessarily listen to me, because the man still managed to get an Oscar nomination for it. I just felt like Goldsmith had been instructed by someone *cough* Spielberg *cough* to provide a very John Williams-esque score, instead of being free to do his own thing (Indeed, Goldsmith himself stated that he only worked with Spielberg, not Hooper).

 

If you view this film as a Spielberg film, it’s a good, but not great one. If you view it as a fantasy-drama, it definitely works. The central drama of the little girl lost is actually very affecting and the best thing about the film. Sure, some of the dialogue is a tad TOO quotable and easily mocked, but the performances by Nelson and especially Williams ground it in reality. It’s solid entertainment, no matter how else one categorises it. I just think it could’ve been even greater if it had more of an edge and more genuine terror. Tobe Hooper film my fat ARSE.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen


Talk about bloody barmy ideas, get this: Amr Waked plays a Yemeni sheikh who comes up with the cockamamie idea of introducing salmon fishing in the Yemen. To achieve this he has asked his British consultant Emily Blunt approach the Department of Fisheries, and specifically, socially awkward scientist Ewan McGregor. McGregor (whose character seems to suffer from slight Asperger’s), rightly scoffs at the very notion of it. I mean, introducing salmon fishing in the middle of the bloody desert? Enter the British PM’s press secretary, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who is desperately looking for something to improve relations between Britain and the Middle East, at least on a superficial, public level. Thus, McGregor finds himself reluctantly involved in the whole barmy exercise of having to export salmon naturally occurring in Scotland to the Middle East. Yeah. Rachael Stirling plays McGregor’s frumpy wife, who is unhappy in their marriage and goes off to Geneva for work. Meanwhile, Blunt has a British officer boyfriend currently on active duty in Afghanistan. Do you think there’s a chance that McGregor and Blunt might grow close due to circumstances, chemistry and all that? Good, you’ve obviously seen a movie or two in your time. Conleth Hill plays McGregor’s boss at the Department.

 

Worst title for a movie ever? Certainly it gives “Journey to the 7th Planet”, “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants”, and “Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came” a run for their money (to name but a few questionable titles from the annals of cinematic history). However, once you get over that, this 2011 romantic comedy from the always eccentric Lasse Hallstrom (“My Life as a Dog”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, two more films with strange titles) definitely has its charms. It sort of felt like “Local Hero” re-imagined as a romantic flick and written by someone like John Cleese or Michael Palin (though if it were written by them, the fish would be changed to a herring or an halibut, no doubt), but with a main character that you’d swear was written for a young Sir Alec Guinness. It’s certainly very, very British in the best sense.

 

I guess it’s one of those quirky romances you either go with or resist instantaneously, and your fondness for the main stars will probably help dictate your reaction, too. Ewan McGregor is instantly likeable and well-cast as a slightly dull fisheries expert. He might be a cool guy, but McGregor really does play nerdy very well. It’s the sort of role Colin Firth would’ve played a few years ago, but to be honest, I prefer McGregor on screen. Meanwhile, I love Emily Blunt. God I love her and I don’t care that her name sounds like very naughty cockney rhyming slang. I love the way she is always teasingly flirting with blokes in movies. She also has an almost slightly bitchy or at least cynical aspect to her that is strangely attractive. It’s the damndest thing. She’s also incredibly stunning. Basically I’m declaring my intention to marry her. The duo make for a really perfect screen couple, but I’m pretty sure I’ve said the same thing about Blunt and Matt Damon in “The Adjustment Bureau” and Blunt and Jason Segel in “The Five Year Engagement”. Kristin Scott Thomas isn’t the warmest of screen presences, but she has some fun moments, especially her way of dealing with her hoodie-sporting son. Very funny and unexpected. Amr Waked is also pretty enjoyable as the sheikh. Oh, and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) looks awfully bloody weird with hair. Even creepier than he is on “Game of Thrones”, sans hair.

 

Yes, it’s predictable of course, but all romantic films have a formula to adhere to relatively closely. That’s why they work (when they do work), and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (the overrated “The Full Monty”, the even more overrated “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the harrowing “127 Hours”) doesn’t really try and reinvent the wheel in adapting the Paul Torday novel. One slight stray from the usual romantic comedy formula that I especially appreciated was that Blunt’s boyfriend isn’t made to be the biggest jerk in the world. Like “Sleepless in Seattle”, this one avoids that little trap. I’m not exactly sure that the Rachel Stirling character of the frumpy wife is especially well-written or well-played, but the rest of this is really lovely and looks terrific. This is a nice (if quirky) film about nice people, whom you absolutely want to see together at the end. I found this one a really pleasant surprise and really charming.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Review: Drive


Ryan Gosling plays Driver, who is a stunt driver for the movies by day, and a getaway driver for-hire by night. Driver falls for lonely neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan), who has a young son. She also has a dipshit husband (Oscar Isaac) fresh out of prison, and Driver soon finds himself wanting to protect Irene and her son by trying to get said dipshit husband out of a jam with some very bad people, by getting involved in a heist. The heist goes terribly and soon Driver has a couple of mobsters (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) on his arse. A shockingly frumpy-looking Christina Hendricks plays an untrustworthy heist accomplice, and Bryan Cranston is Driver’s friendly employer, a mechanic who is trying to hook Driver up with a deal as a race driver.

 

If you like films such as “Bullitt”, “The Driver”, “To Live and Die in LA” and especially “Point Blank”, you’re gonna like this 2011 quasi-homage from director Nicolas Winding Refn (the rather extraordinary “Valhalla Rising”, as well as “Bronson”) and writer Hossein Amini, adapting a book by James Sallis. Some will resist the film as pretentious, wannabe cool piffle, but I just think it’s cool.

 

The film grabs you from moment one, whether it’s the pitch-perfect casting of Ryan Gosling as the film’s Steve McQueen of-sorts, or the fact that his character insists on driving a relatively non-descript car, making the character in the movie’s own world somewhat blend in with the rest of society, but also setting him apart from most protagonists of ‘car movies’ who tend to drive ‘cool’ cars. Hell, even the rather hilarious neon pink titles design is cool, and will remind you instantaneously of “Miami Vice”, “To Live and Die in LA”, and so on (the director claims the font was inspired by “Risky Business”, however). Very 80s stuff. No one can really be Steve McQueen except the man himself, but Gosling is the only guy in movies today I can think of who is able to come close to matching McQueen’s rather taciturn, monosyllabic form of ‘cool’. He is also able to get intense and intimidating when the film calls for it. It’s a minimalist performance, but an extremely efficient and effective one. It’s also a bloody good thing that he and Carey Mulligan have good chemistry on screen, because he’s not exactly the most endearing character in the world.

 

The opening getaway is a brilliant subversion of the usual scene, here having Gosling drive deliberately slowly and careful, even making the occasional stop, so as not to run into police cars or be detected by overhead choppers. Later on we get a real car chase, and whilst no cinematic classic, it at least establishes that the director knows how to direct a car chase, and one of the best in a long while. This ain’t no shaky-cam, ADHD-edited monstrosity. The film is classic ‘car movie’ stuff but with a little bit of freshness. The soundtrack and music score by Cliff Martinez might not exactly be my cup of tea, but in a way it reminded me of a 2011 re-interpretation of a Giorgio Moroder (“Flashdance”, “Scarface”, “The NeverEnding Story”) or Jan Hammer (“Miami Vice”) score or something. The digital cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel (“The Usual Suspects”, “The Trigger Effect”) is surprisingly effective. For once it’s not ugly, though dark, and is in fact genuinely gritty and sombre to match the mood of the film.

 

Carey Mulligan brings an interesting fragility to the screen, letting you know that this girl hasn’t had it easy. Some have said she is miscast in the film, but I find that assertion insane. She’s perfect for the role. Ten seconds into Oscar Isaac’s appearance and you know this isn’t a reliable dude. Not a villain exactly, but a lot more trouble than he is worth. Bryan Cranston has a terrific character role as the kind of likeable grizzled veteran you might’ve once seen Jack Warden or Keenan Wynn play (or even Karl Malden). Albert Brooks is interesting casting as the no-nonsense villain, but it’s a shame Ron Perlman’s immediately intimidating thug isn’t used often enough. I’m not as enamoured with Brooks as everyone else seems to have been, but it’s certainly a startling casting against type, whereas with Perlman he’s right at home. I’m not sure what to make of Russ Tamblyn’s virtual walk-on, which seems like a bit of a waste, but his fans will no doubt enjoy spotting his brief appearance here.

 

If there’s any problem at all that I have with the film it’s a rather strange one from me: It’s too violent. This is one seriously violent, brutal film, and for once, I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s jarring, and I don’t think it fits the vibe of the rest of the film. However, that’s a really minor complaint for what is an otherwise really effective update of the kind of slow-burning, brooding, car-obsessed B-movie they don’t often make anymore. Fans of old-school car movies will probably like this somewhat European take on such films, but it certainly won’t be for everyone. Don’t expect something like the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, as they’re a different kind of car movie. It’s not an action movie per-se, and the title might be a tad misleading for what is a real slow-burner, but it’s a damn good movie in its own right.

 

Rating: B