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 30, 2013

Review: Robot and Frank


Set in the near-future, Frank Langella plays an aging former cat burglar, who isn’t quite ‘former’ yet. He lives on his own, seems to be heading towards dementia and refuses to admit that he can no longer properly look after himself. His long-suffering, family man son (James Marsden) buys Frank a new robot helper to do the various household tasks, allowing Frank the chance to relax a bit. This robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard is initially met coldly by the curmudgeonly Frank, but it’s not long before Frank (who has already served two prison terms, once for tax evasion) has enlisted the robot’s help in planning a new jewel heist. The robot hasn’t been programmed for law and order, so it can’t really turn Frank in, merely try to encourage him towards other, less dangerous pursuits. Meanwhile, Frank starts a relationship with a local librarian (Susan Sarandon), whose store is set to be modernised thanks to rich yuppie Jeremy Strong, a techno tycoon and neighbour who eyes Frank and the robot with suspicion. Frank’s eyes are more fixated on the jewels contained inside Strong’s house. Liv Tyler plays Frank’s globe-trotting, charity-working daughter who hates the robot.

 

I’m guessing it was a shitty year at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that saw this sci-fi/caper/geriatric drama hybrid played. First-time feature director Jake Schreier and the actors do their best, but I was immediately and irreconcilably distanced by the very plot devised by writer Christopher D. Ford (also a debutant who might just remain as such). This is a well-made idiotic film that I just couldn’t swallow. A geriatric cat burglar rigs his robot carer so that it’ll help him on a jewel heist? On the list of terrible movie ideas, well this one’s certainly on it. Adult-oriented robot movies can be a tricky thing to pull off, and whilst this isn’t as moronic as “Runaway”, it’s far too silly to warrant the participation of so many fine actors, let alone my attention. The best thing I can say is that it wasn’t nearly as stupid or awful as it looked from the trailers.

 

It wasn’t just the robot/jewel heist thing that repelled me, however. A near-future society where robots exist and are extremely sophisticated, but libraries still exist? Um...no, maybe if this were Japanese it’d work, but I wasn’t buying it. True, the film gets around to showing us that technology is starting to make libraries obsolete, but a) That’s not even really a near-future concept, it’s the here and now, and b) If it hasn’t already been done to death in movies, it sure feels like it. So the film is too old-hat yet too implausibly futuristic at the same time (I’m sure the Japanese have had robot servants for decades, but it’s hardly widespread, let alone as sophisticated as this).

 

The other problem the film has and isn’t able to overcome, is that its lead character is pretty much unlikeable, through no fault of the very fine Frank Langella. This guy treats his well-meaning son horribly (What supposedly uncaring son would travel five hours every week away from their own kids to visit their dad?), and he also basically intends to steal from a character the audience really likes. Yes, he’s doing it for what he considers a good cause, but then he decides on a jewel heist and his motives aren’t nearly as easy to rationalise.

 

I’m sorry, but this film just doesn’t come off. And that’s a shame because the cast is game, and there’s definitely something here about a lonely old man slowly slipping into dementia. That’s something a lot of people will relate to. The rest is for the birds. Everyone involved here deserves better, this story was never going to be turned into a good film, it’s too infantile, not to mention predictable as hell. Meanwhile, the big twist could’ve been great except it actually doesn’t add up when you look back over character interactions. In order to conceal the twist (which some may pick anyway), some fudging had to be done. Then again, the idea of James Marsden and Liv Tyler being Frank Langella’s kids seemed a bit of a stretch to me to begin with. In reality it’s plausible, but Tyler looks much younger than her 35 years (and far too beautiful to be Steven Tyler’s daughter now I think of it) and more like Langella’s granddaughter. Langella actually looks too old for the part, but Clint Eastwood is older and played a cat burglar in “Absolute Power”, so what do I know? Tyler, by the way, is far too sweet and lovely to play Langella’s well-meaning, but self-absorbed, well-travelled daughter.

 

I loved that Sarandon’s robot helper was named Mr. Darcy, but other than that, this is a well-acted movie serving a seriously dopey idea I could never take seriously. I also absolutely do not want a robot servant voiced by Peter Sarsgaard. That’d be about as reassuring as a GPS voiced by John Malkovich.

 

Rating: C

Friday, November 29, 2013

Review: El Gringo


Scott Adkins stars as an extremely thirsty man-with-no-name who arrives in a shitty Mexican border town with a bag full of American money well over a million bucks. Whilst all manner of seedy townsfolk (gangsters, corrupt lawmen, street thieves etc.) try to alleviate him from the pressure of having to carry that bag, we get to find out slowly how he got to be in possession of the money in the first place. He might be staying thirsty for a while, though, it seems. Christian Slater plays a DEA guy investigating the deaths of several agents, and chasing Adkins, whom he has an apparent history with. Erando Gonzalez plays the corrupt sheriff. Yvette Yates plays a sexy bar owner who refuses to give Adkins a glass of water, but eventually allows him to sleep upstairs while he waits for the next bus out of town. Something tells me he might be staying in town for a while though, too.

 

I’ve always been convinced that Scott Adkins could and should be the biggest action star going around. “Undisputed II: Last Man Standing” is probably the best martial arts fighting/tournament movie ever made. Unfortunately, he’s pushing 40, and his role in “The Expendables 2” was as the chief henchman to Jean-Claude Van Damme. You’d think with his combo of fighting skills, good looks, acting ability, and affinity for accents Adkins (a former soapie star in the UK, by the way) would have reaped more substantial rewards by now. This 2012 flick from director Eduardo Rodriguez (a Venezuelan with only one prior directing assignment, a Dolph Lundgren film) and writer Jonathan Stokes is not the film that will make his star rise.

 

It’s not a bad film, but Rodriguez overdoes it with the slow-mo, stupid rapid-fire editing, and shaky-cam from cinematographer Yaron Levy (the recent “The Getaway” with Ethan Hawke) that make it difficult to enjoy Adkins’ arse-kicking prowess. Credit where it’s due, some of the fight choreography is nifty, even with all the nonsense Rodriguez throws in its way, though Adkins sadly does more punching than kicking here. Honestly, the strobe-like editing might just induce seizures in some people, it’s that bad. I will say that Mr. Levy gives the film an interesting washed-out look that was probably an attempt to make Bulgaria look more like Mexico, and that works rather well. It’s very harsh-looking and sun-drenched, if obviously a wee bit pretentious. Points off, however, for whoever the fuck thought it was a good idea to shoot and edit the big sex scene in such a way that it never quite gives us a look at Ms. Yvette Yates’ no doubt rockin’ body. Why bother having her clearly nude if we can’t actually see the goods for ourselves. A no-nudity clause? Then don’t fucking hire her. It’s not like she’s Meryl Streep or even Anne Hathaway in acting ability.

 

It’s quite bloody and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the script, direction, and editing (Rodriguez serving as co-editor as well) aren’t worthy of Adkins’ talents. As for Christian Slater, I guess this is better than appearing in the studio audience for “American Idol” (Seriously, why are he and Anthony Hopkins always in the audience?) and we all know why he’s stuck picking up cheques in flicks like this. He has a limited amount of time on screen, and perhaps a bit too perfectly cast to be honest. Cute reference to Montezuma’s Revenge, and an hilarious theme song at the end by heavy metal band Manowar (sounding somewhere in between Rob Halford and Ennio Morricone) are nice, but hardly enough to make the film memorable. Hell, even Mel Gibson’s slightly similar “Get the Gringo” was better. I’m not sure Mel Gibson should be making better action films in 2012 than Scott Adkins.

 

In addition to Mr. Adkins himself, both action uber-producer Joel Silver (“Commando”, “Lethal Weapon”, “The Matrix”) and Isaac Florentine (director of the aforementioned “Undisputed II: Last Man Standing”) served as EPs. Better luck next time, Scott, I guess (“Undisputed 4” may well be on its way from what I can tell, so that’s a positive sign).

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Review: Death Race: Inferno


Dougray Scott plays a nasty billionaire who has taken over the Weyland Corporation and its ‘Death Race’ concept, which he hopes to expand to various parts of the globe. The latest race is to be held in the Kalahari desert, with Carl Lucas (Luke Goss) once again coerced into competing, at the threat of his friends (mechanic Danny Trejo, navigator and main squeeze Tanit Phoenix, and baby-faced tech-head Fred Koehler) being killed. The new competitors include the aptly (if lazily) named Psycho (Jeremy Crutchley), returning driver 14K (Robin Shou), and Olga Braun (Michelle Van Schaik). Ving Rhames reprises his role as Weyland, who having been displaced by Scott, has a somewhat shift in allegiance this time around.

 

The original “Death Race 2000” was an hilariously nasty Roger Corman-produced cinematic precursor to “Carmageddon” and other computer games of that nature. The more recent remake “Death Race” and its sequels/prequels have been lesser films, but each has their merits, including this 2012 entry from director Roel Reiné (“Death Race 2”, the well-shot WWE action sequel “The Marine 2”) and screenwriter Tony Giglio (“Death Race 2”, and “Arena”- which was essentially “Death Race” without the cars). Unfortunately, the film starts out with a recap of the previous film, and why would you watch this film without having seen the two previous films? Also, the whole thing moves far too slowly for what is essentially the same damn film as “Death Race 2” set in the desert. It eventually gets into second gear (pardon the pun), and offers some fun, it’s mindless entertainment at best and too exposition-heavy for my tastes.

 

Luke Goss, surely the only ex-Britpop boy band member to turn into an action movie star is serviceable once again, but he’s hardly on the level of a Scott Adkins. Much more interesting is Jeremy Crutchley as the amusing, but poorly-named ‘Psycho’. Dougray Scott is hardly menacing as the villain, but he’s actually better than usual. His hilariously savage and unreasonable criticism of his blonde secretary is a film highlight. Tanit Phoenix, meanwhile, still has no idea how to act naturally and convincingly on camera, but isn’t as flagrantly awful as she is on “Femme Fatales”. As for the two biggest names in the cast, Ving Rhames and Danny Trejo, I have no idea why either actor feels the need to turn up in direct-to-DVD sequels to something like “Death Race”, let alone two of the sequels. Rhames is a genuine talent gone to waste and it is truly tragic. He’s the new Rutger Hauer except Rutger Hauer was savvy enough to usually get lead roles. Mind you, that could be considered a bad thing I suppose, given lead actors tend to have to wear it when a film is crap. Trejo is Trejo, and that is never a bad thing, though these films never get much use out of him. It’s interesting, though, that ‘Machete Don’t Text’ but Trejo apparently uses Google in this. Cute.

 

Olga Braun is an obvious recall to Matilda the Hun from “Death Race 2000”, but unfortunately the character barely registers. I really think Reine and Giglio missed a big opportunity for some fine Sapphic lovin’ between Olga and her female navigator. The hetero drivers get some action, why not Olga? I’m really pissed about that.

 

Still, this is a film about a futuristic race featuring prisoners in a Kalahari desert prison, and so you can’t really hate a film like that. The voiceover narration for the broadcast in particular is very funny and over-the-top. I’m almost certain it’s done by the guy who narrated the TV show for “The Running Man”, which wouldn’t be surprising given both are derivations of “The Most Dangerous Game”. I liked the addition of Kalahari crime gangs providing an interesting and amusing pitfall for the racers. That was clever and fun. I also fully endorse this film’s treatment of false starters. Blow the fuckers up.

 

If you like car race movies, obviously you’re tolerance of this film will be far higher than most, but for me the best thing was the gorgeous use of desert scenery and cinematography by Wayne Shields (in his first gig in that position, he’s been a gaffer on many other films). Shields’ use of shadow and silhouette is really nice in particular. Some of his camerawork gets a tad repetitive down the stretch, but at least it’s not annoying, shaky, or incoherent like in the first film.

 

This isn’t bad for the trashy kind of film it wants to be, but I still think “Death Race 2000” is pretty unbeatable as far as these things go and holds up well today. Better pacing, especially early on might’ve helped, especially given how derivative it is, but if you’ve stayed with the series so far, why not keep going? You could do worse.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: The Campaign


Will Ferrell stars as swaggering idiot Democrat congressman Cam Brady, who has stood unopposed for years, until a public embarrassment leads to a drop in the polls and the two Conservative powerbrokers backing Brady, The Koch...er...Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to put their support behind a new candidate in the upcoming North Carolina elections instead. Their choice? Naive, somewhat thick-headed black sheep Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), a Christian who wears knitted jumpers, comes from a rich family, has a couple of cute pugs, and is generally an embarrassment to his father (Brian Cox) and douchebag brother (Josh Lawson, of all people). Needless to say, ruthless campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) has a lot of work to do with dorky, soft-hearted Marty. He even replaces the pugs with ‘American dogs’. Wait, which one’s the Democrat again? Anyway, let the mud-slinging begin, as for the first time ever, Brady has a fight on his hands and he doesn’t much like it. Jason Sudeikis plays Cam’s long-suffering campaign manager.

 

Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, and director Jay Roach are all apparently very talented men in the field of comedy. But for me, whilst Ferrell (“Anchorman”, “Stranger Than Fiction”, “The Other Guys”) and Roach (“Meet the Parents”, “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”) are capable of delivering the laughs, Ferrell in particular can be wildly hit-and-miss. Meanwhile, I find Zach Galifianakis not only completely unfunny, but he has a screen presence something in the vicinity of one of those creepy dudes who collects toenail clippings and spends a lot of time in the torture chamber he has fashioned his basement into. He’s creepy, unpleasant, and weird- the kind of guy you’d walk to the other side of the street just to get away from, that’s if he ever ventured outside of his creepy basement. Sudeikis, meanwhile, may have the good looks of Chevy Chase to go with his “SNL” cred, but not only have I never laughed at him on “SNL”, I don’t find him especially interesting, either. Combine this with some uninspiring trailers and I went into this 2012 comedy not expecting a whole lot. It turns out that the film is far, far worse than I had even anticipated. Oh dear, where do I begin?

 

It’s just not funny. Usually Ferrell’s films have at least some laughs, even if they aren’t sustained for the entire running length. “Blades of Glory”, for instance, is really funny stuff in parts, and even “Talladega Nights” had its moments (We’ll forget about “A Night at the Roxbury” and “Semi-Pro”). But there aren’t any laughs at all in this one, aside from one cute line from Ferrell: ‘I’m Cam Brady and I seductively approve this message’, and even that one comes from one of the dumbest ideas in the entire film (a candidate who purposely films a sex tape of himself and the other candidate’s wife just to embarrass his opponent? Really?). There’s been a lot of bad films in 2012 (and yet, more 3 ½ star ones than in 2011), and this is definitely one of the worst. Any film that pokes fun at the expense of beautiful, adorable pugs is a film that immediately makes an enemy of me. Pugs are awesome, and if you don’t like pugs...you suck at life.

 

This is lazy, bad “SNL” sketch stuff founded off a not very interesting or comedic idea, and not one worthy of a 90 minute film. There is nothing new here. To Americans, a politician being taught how to act butch, and two pollies trying to one-up each other with a masculine handshake might be biting satire. In Australia, it’s just Liberal (That’s the Conservative party to you non-Aussies. I know...) MP Christopher Pyne being Christopher Pyne, and Mark Latham and John Howard’s awkward handshake. There’s no cleverness to it. It’s not humorous, it’s just sad and pathetic. Is this honestly the best they could do? The smear campaigns aren’t funny, mostly because they’re not far removed from reality, and the tone the film is obviously going for the rest of the time is absurdist, not “Wag the Dog”-esque biting commentary. The scene where Brady struggles to recite the Lord’s prayer in particular, is embarrassingly moronic. I’m an atheist and even I could’ve made a better fist of it than this idiot, and he does such an unrealistically bad botch of it that it’s not actually funny because there’s zero truth in it. So no matter what approach the film takes, it fouls it up.

 

Meanwhile, Dylan McDermott (playing a character named Tim Wattley- no, not that Tim Wattley) is convincing in a film that throws conviction out the window immediately. Does he know he’s in a comedy? Then again, no one else seems to know either. How the hell did this get the go-ahead for a release? No laughs, just a lot of swearing, because everyone involved is a stupid man-child.

 

Why is Galifianakis supposed to be funny here? He appears to be trying for Ned Flanders, but just comes across as ‘stranger danger’, with Ferrell doing his dumb-arse, mediocre George Dubya Bush impersonation mixed with Ron Burgandy which combines to make the supposedly Democrat Brady seem awfully Republican. I mean, what credible Democrat would proclaim to be for ‘America, Jesus, and Freedom’? What the hell? For his part, Jason Sudeikis is pretty much doing a boring version of his already not-very impressive Mitt Romney, and the film forgets about his character (essentially the only person in the film with both intelligence and a conscience) for great stretches anyway. John Lithgow is too good an actor for this crap, Dan Aykroyd...well, he lost all credibility by the time he directed and starred in 1991’s “Nothing But Trouble” and hasn’t really looked back. I guess it’s nice that Aussie comedian/actor Josh Lawson has managed to find a role in a Will Ferrell comedy, but his role is pretty boring and forgettable. That may not be such a bad thing given how terrible the film is overall.

 

Getting back to Mr. Galifianakis, however. If you don’t believe he’s a severe casting mistake in this, just look at the scene where he convinces Ferrell’s son that his dad doesn’t love him and he should be his daddy instead. It’s set on a park bench, even. The only thing missing is Galifianakis wearing a trench coat. Creepy beyond belief and not intentional, either. Then again, this is the same film that thinks casting Karen Maruyama as an Asian maid who talks like Mammy from “Gone With the Wind” is the height of hilarity. It’s not, it’s just an odd bit that has no connection to anything else in the film. Meanwhile, what in the hell is with John Goodman’s walk-on? That was a complete waste of time. Oh, and Mr. Roach...punching babies isn’t new. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that in a comedy before...and it was funnier.

 

A terrible excuse for a comedy, and frankly a terrible excuse for a feature film of any genre. The screenplay is by Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy, the latter of whom co-wrote Ferrell’s genuinely funny “The Other Guys”, so I guess I’ll leave most of the blame here to the ‘other guy’, because even Roach has had some previous cred with political films, such as the interesting Palin-McCain film “Game Change”.

 

Rating: D