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.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Killing Them Softly

Two low-life morons (Aussie tool Ben Mendelsohn, and Scoot McNairy) team up with a low-level crim and Laundromat owner (Vincent Curatola) to rob a secret mob poker game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). Markie has been accused of robbing the game himself before (and rightly so), so they figure it’s easy money and the unfortunate Markie will make for a perfect patsy. In spite of their own idiocy they manage to pull the job off and go their separate ways. Richard Jenkins plays a nerdy-looking middle-man in the mob who looks like an accountant and who hires expert hit-man Brad Pitt to clean this situation up once it becomes pretty clear that Markie didn’t do it, but these two idiot losers. However, Pitt even goes after Markie to appease the disgruntled card players, whether he’s actually guilty this time or not. Pitt, as the title suggests, likes to kill his targets from a distance, without them even knowing he’s there. Basically, he would’ve hated being the guy sent to whack John Turturro in “Miller’s Crossing”. A tired-looking James Gandolfini plays a formerly efficient hit man Pitt calls in to do the up-close work. Unfortunately, this guy has now gone to waste in some kind of pathetic midlife depression/drunken stupor that makes him practically useless. Sam Shepard has a strangely miniscule role as the mob boss (Did most of his scenes get cut?)


Written and directed by Aussie Andrew Dominik and based on a book by George V. Higgins, this 2012 crime flick with occasional moments of hilarity is very near a bullseye. In fact, it might just be the best Coen Brothers movie that the Coen Brothers never made, and is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the slightly similar, but irritating and overrated “Fargo” (The film is somewhere in between “Fargo” and the 70s Robert Mitchum caper “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” which was based on a Higgins novel). Brad Pitt is OK as the top hit-man, but much more enjoyable are the downright hilarious Ben Mendelsohn (love the dish-washing gloves for a bank robbery), a perfectly-cast Ray Liotta (as a loser scapegoat, basically), and a sad and erratic James Gandolfini (one of his last roles). Mendelsohn brings a brilliant touch of dumb arse Aussie bogan to his drugged-out idiot crim role, and the tiny dog is just icing on the cake. Scoot McNairy also deserves praise as the ‘other’ dumb arse crim, easily the best work the actor has done to date.


I also liked the working class New Orleans scenery (post-Katrina), kind of a character unto itself, in a film full of fascinating, if wholly unlikeable characters (The book was set in Boston, however, and that actually might’ve been even better). It’s a good-looking and interesting film that gets more serious (and possibly slower) in the second half, but I wouldn’t say that one’s interest wanes to any great degree for the tonal shift.


The film tacks on a bunch of news statements by US Presidents Obama and Dubya about America’s financial woes, and apparently the connection to the characters in the film is there, but on first watch I found the connection tenuous at best, and overall thought the device was frankly rather expendable (and not featured in the original 1974 novel of course, the film being reset in 2008) in an otherwise really strong, really enjoyable crime-caper. Yes, the final speech by Pitt does spell it out somewhat, but it’s one helluva long bow on my first viewing. Maybe multiple viewings are in order to give the film additional resonance, I dunno, I just felt the film worked well enough as a crime caper that it didn’t also need to be a political allegory on top of that. I don’t think I missed the point of it exactly, just the necessity of that point being made in that way. This minor issue aside, it’s definitely one of the best films of the year, if not quite on par with Dominik’s earlier films “Chopper” (which also mixed crime and black humour) and especially the vastly underrated “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”. Check out those opening credits too, which, intentional or not, are hilarious. Accompanied by discordant music, they’re like something out of “The Shining” and very strange.


Rating: B

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Fire With Fire

Josh Duhamel stars as a fire-fighter who witnesses white supremacist crime boss Vincent D’Onofrio murder a couple of people in a convenience store. Cop Bruce Willis puts Duhamel into Witness Protection so that he can testify at D’Onofrio’s trial. This sees him completely leave his life and loved ones to be relocated in New Orleans, under the watch of federal agent Rosario Dawson, whom eventually becomes his lover (and also teaches the ‘Average Joe’ Duhamel how to fire a gun). Sometime later, it appears that D’Onofrio has gained access to Duhamel’s identity, and is putting his loved ones back home in the hospital. Duhamel has taken just about all he can take and decides to fight back. Bonnie Somerville plays the Assistant DA, Julian McMahon plays an assassin in D’Onofrio’s employ, James Lesure plays Duhamel’s best friend back home, Richard Schiff plays D’Onofrio’s soulless lawyer, 50 Cent and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson play a couple of gangbangers, Vinnie Jones plays D’Onofrio’s chief arse-kicker, and Kevin Dunn plays Dawson’s boss.


Don’t be fooled by the familiar names and faces all turning up in this 2012 thriller from director and former stunt man David Barrett (who has directed episodes of TV shows like “The Mentalist” and “Under the Dome”) and first-time writer Tom O’Connor. This film might have Bruce Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson, and 50 Cent (to name a few), but it wasn’t even considered good enough to get a theatrical release in the US let alone here in Australia. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not that Josh Duhamel isn’t leading man movie star material. One of these days he’s gonna find the right role, I’m sure of it. It’s just not a good film (the six thousand EP’s and producers, including 50 Cent explains a LOT), and Duhamel’s problem is that he’s just not very good at choosing scripts. Meanwhile, it doesn’t remotely surprise me that Mr. Barrett is more at home with the TV medium (though he tries to ape Tony “Enemy of the State” Scott’s frenetic style), but it’s definitely the screenplay that is the problem here.


There’s a pretty good, chaotic shoot-out, partly undone by Barrett’s decision to employ shaky-cam, but there’s just something wonky about this film’s structure and I think that falls on Mr. O’Connor. It feels like it has a far too long first act. After 20 minutes, you’re still not sure what the main plot is going to be, and not in a good way. It feels like the plot gets reset three times in the first half-hour. It needed grounding. It’s clunky, too long and yet underdone at the same time, with Rosario Dawson’s character proving to have less depth the longer the film goes on to the point where she just ends up a damsel in distress. Yes, Duhamel employing his skills as a fireman in the finale covers this issue somewhat, but still, this is a woman who starts out as a competent (if somewhat unethical) federal fucking agent, and in the end she turns out to be in need of rescue by the guy she was protecting earlier in the film. This is a guy who, aside from being a fireman, is just an average Joe (something I actually like about the character). Then again, this is the same character who, thanks to the shitty narrative, is seen boning Duhamel before her character has any definition at all. That should’ve been the tip-off, perhaps. I really, really like Rosario Dawson. She’s beautiful, charismatic, and a good actress. She’s an extremely underutilised talent, and she is certainly underutilised here in a film that at times feels like a dusted-off Steven Seagal script. Hell, there’s even a scene where Duhamel walks into the middle of a convenience store robbery. He doesn’t snap any wrists, though, which is a shame.


The one thing I really did like about this film was that Duhamel’s life keeps getting messed with and he has to leave it and/or the people he loves. Anyone would find that difficult to adjust to. But I’m sorry, that isn’t enough to save a film, nor is the seriously creepy performance by Vincent D’Onofrio. I’ve not been much impressed with the actor over the years, and he looks a tad too multicultural to be playing a Neo-Nazi, but his kind of latter-day Orson Welles (but more restrained), Cajun-accented bad guy is an absolute scene-stealer. He gives off a creepy-as-hell, intellectually superior serial killer vibe. That said, he and his goons don’t wind up being terribly effective, as they seem to only send people to the hospital. You’re supposed to send them to the morgue, aren’t you? Or is that just the Chicago way?


50 Cent is well cast, if underused, and UFC badass ‘Rampage’ Jackson is amusing as a gangbanger thug/enforcer. Vinnie Jones gets even less screen-time, but I never get tired of Vinnie Jones yelling at people. It amuses me to no end. I’m not sure what’s going on with Julian McMahon’s identikit fetish at the moment, but once again, he is sporting fake facial hair only to remove it later on. This time it’s a Super Mario moustache. Jesus Christ, Julian. It’s a little less fake-looking than in “Faces in the Crowd”, but wow. It’s interesting that James Lesure has a role here, given he was Josh Duhamel’s right-hand man on “Las Vegas”. Did Duhamel do a brother a solid and get him some work? Meanwhile, Kevin Dunn might just have the longest amount of screen-time for an uncredited (at least to my eyes he wasn’t in the opening credits) actor in cinematic history.


And then we get to Bruce Willis. Oh how the mighty hath fallen. Is he bored? Despite having a before-the-title credit (and his screen time definitely doesn’t warrant that I might add) you can certainly tell that he is giving the barest of minimum effort here in picking up a paycheck. Even worse, he has one allegedly dramatic scene that is the worst piece of acting he has ever done. He’s talking over the phone to someone and admittedly there’s not enough depth in the relationship between Willis and Duhamel to give Willis much to work with, but even so it’s incredibly embarrassing. And I’ve seen “North”, “Hudson Hawk”, “Bonfire of the Vanities”, and “Colour of Night”.


I’ve seen a lot worse films than this get a theatrical release (and I’m not just talking about the ones with “Friday the 13th in the title or Adam Sandler in the cast), but I can certainly see why this one wasn’t given one. Having 50 Cent in your cast, for instance, is usually the kiss of death, even though I think he’s one of the best rapper-turned actors. As I’m fond of saying, there’s something decent in this film, but it’s just not all there on screen. How and why did so many known entities sign up for this? I think Josh Duhamel has everything needed to be a big movie star, but I think he needs to let someone with more wisdom choose his scripts for him. And if someone already is, fire the fuck out of them.


Rating: C