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.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: Matilda

Mara Wilson plays Matilda Wormwood, the largely forgotten daughter of a shonky car salesman (Danny DeVito, of course) and his insipid wife (Rhea Perlman), who along with their other child are brainless TV addicts. Matilda is different. She yearns to learn, spending hours a day at the local library, having been left to fend for herself by her thoughtless family. She also has unusual powers, such as telekinesis, not that her dopey parents bother to notice. Matilda, at age 6, decides she wants to go to school. Her parents, who actually angrily protest and believe that she’s only 4 years old, decline, until DeVito comes into contact with Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), a fearsome former shot-put and javelin thrower turned headmistress of the oppressive and decidedly Gothic-looking Crunchem Hall. Once there, Matilda encounters a place full of children (and teachers) frightened of setting off the tempestuous, impossibly strong Trunchbull, who is fond of throwing children out of classroom windows if they’re unlucky enough to look at her the wrong way. But also at Crunchem is the perfectly named Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) an empathetic teacher who notices Matilda’s intelligence, passion for reading, and unhappy home life. Miss Honey also has a long-standing connection with Miss Trunchbull, that is gradually revealed and gives Matilda a reason to use her special powers for some karmic revenge.


Although we all love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I have fond memories of the rather nasty The Witches and The Twits, my favourite Roald Dahl novel will forever be Matilda. Not only is it blackly humorous, and just flat-out cruel at times, but there’s also a good message in there about reading (not to mention themes of childhood abandonment) with the majority of the adult characters being  basically sadistic or TV-obsessed twits (I should probably point out at this point that I spend far more time these days in front of the box than reading books, rather ironically). So when I tell you that this 1996 Danny DeVito (“Throw Momma From the Train”, the underrated “Jack the Bear”) film version of the novel is a pretty good film, bear in mind that it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a brilliant translation of the book. It’s not. The Americanisation of the book doesn’t fare nearly as badly as you might expect, but if anything, DeVito aims a little too much in the ‘family entertainment’ direction, which is somewhat surprising.


As a kids movie, it’s good fun, and as an adaptation of the novel it definitely has its moments. Most of these belong to Pam Ferris as the perfect cinematic Trunchbull. She’s spot-on. Embeth Davidtz is a good and empathetic choice for Miss Honey as well. Danny DeVito himself and Rhea Perlman (by this time a long-time couple in real-life) are fine as Americanised versions of the TV-idiot parents, but the mixture of their rather gauche, used car salesman American schtick with the clearly very British story, and Trunchbull character just doesn’t quite mesh. DeVito’s decision to also serve as narrator is jarring as well, since he’s not playing the same character and his voice is unmistakable. That was definitely an err in judgment on his part. I also didn’t find any humour in the FBI agents played by Tracey Walter and Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens, either. Jon Lovitz is hilarious, however, in a cameo as a sleazy game show host. Seriously, I could imagine Lovitz hosting a really bad game show one of these days.


Mara Wilson is irritatingly cute in that ‘Thindy Brady’ kind of way that kinda tips the scales into schmaltz a bit too much for my liking, and she’s frankly not a very believable actress (at least not by this stage, I have no idea if she’s still acting now). She overdoes everything, though I’ve got to give the girl credit for soldiering on here despite a personal loss in her family during filming. That’s tough at any age, let alone while you’re contractually obligated to work.


Pam Ferris is brilliant, as I’ve said, and although DeVito kinda gives them a soft landing, it’s still wonderfully cruel to watch Trunchbull hurl children out of the window. The scene involving the giant, greasy-looking chocolate cake (I’d still have a crack at it myself) is also a most memorable moment. This is a nice try from DeVito, and relocating things to the US could’ve proved a disaster in the hands of a filmmaker with a far lighter and more mainstream touch, but that said, DeVito actually seems to be holding back. It’s a fun watch (especially if you haven’t read the book, but I’d urge you to do so), but the book is much, much better and darker. And it doesn’t have Mara Wilson mugging for the camera like she’s plugging Happy Meals for McDonalds on TV either . Based on the 1988 Roald Dahl novel, the screenplay is by Nicholas Kazan (better-known for adult fare like “At Close Range” and “Reversal of Fortune”) and Robin Swicord (“Shag” and “Little Women”, of all things).


Rating: B-

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: Lawless

Set in a small rural Virginian town in the early 30s, we follow a family of moonshiners during Prohibition. They are the Bondurant brothers, headed by imposing, taciturn eldest brother Forrest (Tom Hardy), who along with youngest brother Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) run a restaurant that is really just a front for their less reputable business. Into their happy little arrangement involving bribed local cops comes federal agent Charlie Rakes (an incredible Guy Pearce), an effete-looking but seriously brutal man from Chicago intent on bringing the Bondurants down. Gary Oldman plays the head of a rival outfit, Jessica Chastain plays an out-of-towner who is hoping to seek quiet refuge and employment with the boys, Mia Wasikowska plays a quiet girl from a religious family whom Jack tries to woo, and Dane DeHaan plays a sweet-natured family associate/accomplice who isn’t quite right in the head.


Although it’s about lesser criminals and the much lowlier crime of bootlegging, this 30s-set crime flick from Aussie director John Hillcoat (the memorable post-apocalyptic film) and inimitable writer/musician Nick Cave (who collaborated on “The Proposition”, a rather overrated film), played to me like a successful version of Michael Mann’s terrible John Dillinger film “Public Enemies”. Unlike Mann, Hillcoat and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme (“The Proposition”) manage to incorporate digital camerawork without making it look like a shonky, shaky home movie. It’s not your stylised “Untouchables” kind of gangster film, but this is a more rustic, rural-set flick anyway. The rural scenery is well-captured, feels authentic, and it doesn’t look like a shitty wedding video. Some of these locales are really gorgeous, in a hick kind of way. Meanwhile, horror movies should have lighting as good as this film has. Anything necessary is lit, everything else is pitch dark at night. Perfect.


Shia LaBeouf is better than you might expect (and has never been better) in an admittedly pretty easy role. I was worried about his casting because it seemed to suggest a more superficial crime/mob movie for teeny-boppers like “Mobsters”, but thankfully this is a more substantial and consistent film than that. The reliable Tom Hardy (surely one of today’s best actors) is a helluva presence if a tad mumbly. He’s really good as always, but I found him easier to understand behind that mask in “The Dark Knight Rises” than here. Guy Pearce, however walks off with the entire thing as the vile, almost dandified lawman who is one of the best villains in years. It’s an instantly creepy, off-putting performance. The lack of eyebrows is a great touch, and his bow-tie is just priceless. And yet, Pearce’s Charlie Rakes is brutal as hell, and frankly sociopathic. In any other time period, his character might’ve been a serial killer, but in this tough time, he’s a lawman. Go figure. It’s probably Pearce’s best performance since 2001’s “Memento”.


I do wish Jessica Chastain would let someone else get a role every now and then, and her ‘damaged goods’ role is kind of a cliché that she’s not all that great at playing. She can’t even smoke a cigarette without drawing unnecessary attention to herself. Not remotely authentic. I guess now that I no longer find Meryl Streep quite so inauthentic as an actress, Chastain has taken over that mantle. Gary Oldman gets almost no screen time, but his accent was spot-on to my ears, and it’s an interestingly shaded character. In any other film he would be the villain, and thankfully the actor often fond of chewing the scenery decides on a more modest approach. That’s smart given Guy Pearce is essentially given what used to be called the Gary Oldman role. Aussie character actor Noah Taylor is also amusingly dopey as one of his idiot henchmen, whilst Dane DeHaan’s sensitive Cricket for some reason had me flashing back to Fodderwing in “The Yearling”.


Really good music score by Cave and Warren Ellis, that sounds a bit like the theme from “Deadwood”. God I miss that show. Based on actual events (and a book written by the grandson of Jack Bondurant no less), this is a really solid, quite violent crime story that if nothing else, gives at least four Aussie actors (Guy Pearce, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska, and Noah Taylor) some work. In the case of Jason Clarke however, he probably deserved a bit more to chew on.


I don’t think it’s a particularly great film to be honest, but Pearce’s performance is incredible, and Hardy certainly commands attention in every scene he is afforded. The story is a bit clichéd and predictable, but it’s certainly not a dull film. Call it a memorable villain in an OK but unmemorable film. 


Rating: B-

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is now a vampire, as Edward (Robert Pattinson) tries to teach her to control her bloodlust, as they also care for their child Renesmee. Things get a wee bit complicated when vampire Irina (Maggie Grace) reports to the Volturi about Renesmee’s existence, under the mistaken belief that she is an abomination, a vampire child, i.e. A human child who has been turned and therefore will stay as a child forever and never mature. However, she is in fact half-human by birth, and apparently that doesn’t make her a sick, freaky abomination who will bite the shit out of your neck in the middle of the night to satiate her uncontrollable bloodlust. The Volturi, led by Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning see this as reason enough to go to war (why didn’t they just get her birth certificate?), and the Cullen clan (including Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, and Kellan Lutz)set out across the globe to gather forces, vampires who will testify that Renesmee is a half-human atrocity, instead of a full-blooded vampire atrocity. Taylor Lautner is still moping around as werewolf Jacob, who has apparently ‘imprinted’ on Renesmee, and although I have no idea what that means, his protestation of ‘it’s not what you think’ and Bella giving him the stink-eye, has me seriously not wanting to know.


It’s a shame in a way that there won’t be any more “Twilight” movies because finally after five movies, one comes along that doesn’t actually suck. Having said that, this 2012 final instalment in the film adaptations of Stephanie Meyer’s tweeny abstinence/pro-life allegories is a long, long way away from being a good film. Truth be told, the fact that “Breaking Dawn Part 1” was so hilariously stupid (easily the comedy highlight of 2011) might’ve helped make this film look more reasonable by comparison, too. But I cannot deny that this is at least a semi-competent film that certainly deserves a higher grade than the films prior to it.


Directed and written once again by Bill Condon (The once respected director of “Gods and Monsters” but also the appalling “Sister, Sister”) and Melissa Rosenberg (scribe of the previous “Twilight” films) respectively, I just find this worldview that Meyer has created to be so completely moronic and in a way, offensive. It defangs horror tropes in favour of dopey teen romance and then throws in conservative morality that simply doesn’t work within the vampire genre, defanged or not. As I said with the previous film, forget the endangerment of the woman giving birth, there’s something even more ludicrous going on in Meyer’s literary universe. In reality the Mormon church (which Meyer subscribes to, it is widely known) would be far more horrified by vampires (let alone human-vampire romance, let alone teen human-vampire romance) than abortion. To suggest otherwise is an insult to anyone’s intelligence. Thankfully, this film actually gets away from that side of things now that Bella and Edward have had sex and yes, had a baby. However, it does seem odd to see so many beheadings in a tween-oriented film based on a novel by an apparently devout Mormon. I guess beheadings are OK with Jesus (I must say, though, that Maggie ‘Shannon’ Grace has been begging to be decapitated- hypothetically of course- since she fucked everything up on “Lost”. Stupid, selfish cow) but I thought it was a pretty nasty and inappropriate film for teens, and I’m not even remotely prudish nor do I give a crap about teens. The only thing this film lacks is blood, otherwise it’s really violent stuff. That sends a seriously messed-up message to me, making violence seem bloodless and palatable, which it isn’t nor should it ever be. If you’re gonna be all moralistic, at least get it right. And although we get away from the abortion and abstinence crap, the film is still loaded with religious (or at least pseudo-religious) messaging, including talk of ‘witnesses’ (and I’m pretty sure one character is meant to be Moses, as you’ll see when you watch it), but mixed with the vampires and werewolves it’s just so incredibly dopey.


However, I’m more concerned with this damn freaky child with the dopey name of Renesmee. As shown as a baby and also in some scenes as a young girl, this kid is at least partly if not entirely CGI and it’s terrible (The CG werewolves, however, are still pretty good). I mean, this isn’t just ‘uncanny valley’ stuff, it’s the Grand Freaky Canyon! It’s particularly bad once it develops into a toddler before transitioning into a real child actress and I just can’t understand how someone thought this looked seamless. It’s a disaster. Meanwhile, there’s still some seriously stupid ideas going in here, including the fact that Bella needs to be coached by a bunch of vampires on how to act ‘human’ now that she has been turned. Um, I’m pretty sure she was a human like one movie ago, and therefore has been human much more recently than any of these other vampires. What the fuck? How am I supposed to take this shit seriously? Then again, we’re talking about a film that apparently features an actor named Booboo Stewart, and that alone had me in stitches. Is there an actor named Owie Patterson too? Aaarrrgggghmyfinger Lautner perhaps?


Always a source of unintentional hilarity is Billy Burke as the world’s least giveashit dad, and once again he pretty much no-sells his way through this one too. Truth be told, every actor here is too damn solemn and moody you’d swear they were all on downers. It’s especially disappointing to see the lovely Ashley Greene and Elizabeth Reaser stuck in such mopey surroundings where they really can’t do much to save it. The one exception is actually Michael Sheen. I haven’t much liked him in the previous films, but here he comes into his own and seems to be the only actor in the entire franchise who recognises the inherent camp, playing it accordingly. Everyone else thinks it’s a manic depressive version of “Romeo and Juliet”, and it’s freaking not. “Romeo and Juliet” is a masterpiece of young romantic tragedy, “Twilight” is fatuous tweeny-bop nonsense.


As is always the case, the period flashbacks are far more interesting than the film itself. Someone needs to make a movie about that stuff. I guess it wouldn’t have enough teenagers in it, though (So?). ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** I also have serious issues with the ending. I mean, an entire series of films about the war between vampires, humans, and werewolves that ends in a fuckin’ non-violent truce? What the fuck? A villain who simply has a change of heart? Shit, imagine if WWII were that easy! This set-piece (and there’s even more inanity to it than I’ve described) was not in the original text, and probably shouldn’t have made its way to the screen. As for the aftermath, it plays like the series finale to a teen TV drama. That’s appropriate, but I’m not being complimentary. ***** END SPOILER *****


Like I said, this is the best of the “Twilight” films and it won’t make my bottom 10 of the year list for a change. It’s neither as stupefyingly dull as the first two, nor as hilariously confused and batshit crazy as “Breaking Dawn Part 1”. It’s just...kinda forgettable and mediocre, really. This one certainly has the best and least monochromatic cinematography of the series, as lensed by Guillermo Navarro (“Cronos”, “The Resident”, “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1”), so I really appreciated that.


Rating: C