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, December 28, 2013

Review: The Man With the Iron Fists

A far too low-key RZA stars as a freed slave and blacksmith in 19th century China. No, I’m serious. He makes weapons for the two warring clans, and is trying to save enough money to free his girlfriend Lady Silk (the gorgeous Jamie Chung) from continuing to work in a brothel run by Madame Blossom (Lucy Liu). Things get complicated when Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le) turn up to fuck shit up, looking for supposed hidden treasure and a mercenary named Zen Yi (Rick Yune). Zen Yi is son of Gold Lion, the leader whom Silver and Bronze Lion have overthrown. When the blacksmith refuses to tell them where Zen Yi is, his hands are removed from the rest of his body. He is nursed back to health by a mysterious, possibly psychotic, and frankly pervy English brothel patron named Jack the Knife (Russell Crowe), and his hands are replaced by huge iron fists. Now joined by Zen Yi, the trio are ready for battle, but Silver and Bronze Lion also have the hulking assassin Brass Body (Dave ‘Batista’ Bautista), who is very aptly named. Meanwhile, the very strange Jack the Knife proves to be much more than meets the eye.


This 2012 homage to Asian martial arts classics of the 70s and early 80s is directed and co-written by Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, and it’s a shame that he also stars in it. This is a lot of fun and an impressive directorial debut, but RZA is a terrible actor who can barely even enunciate. That latter point is especially unfortunate, because he also made the dumbarse decision to narrate the film too. I’m not much of a fan of hippity hop music, nor including it in a more historical setting, but the rap music here strangely isn’t all that inappropriate for what is essentially a Shaw Brothers update anyway.


The violent opening credits are good fun in a similar Shaw Brothers way too. Yes, this is RZA’s version of “Kill Bill”, but with much less spaghetti western vibes (aside from maybe Russell Crowe), and more “Monkey Magic” with a touch of “Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain”. It’s much more fantastical than Tarantino’s martial arts homages.


Russell Crowe, having a whale of a time, is absolutely hilarious and I think he’s meant to be. This is certainly a better outing for him than “The Quick and the Dead” at any rate. Lucy Liu is perfectly (type) cast in an underdeveloped role, and former WWE Superstar Dave Bautista (Batista) is also spot-on as a seemingly indestructible monster badass. In addition to having the most unrealistic physique in wrestling history, here he shows lots of presence and charisma. Rick Yune, whose character probably deserved more depth, would’ve made for a better lead actor than RZA and has some seriously cool weapons. RZA, sharing Tarantino’s affection for blaxploitation legend Pam Grier casts her in a cameo role as a maid, but seemingly older and much larger, I took a while to recognise her. Wow. Look out for Shaw Brothers mainstay (and co-star of both “Kill Bill” films) Gordon Liu as a monk (or abbot) in the scene where RZA shaves his head, ala Liu himself in “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”. Cute.


The ultra-violent finale is lots of fun, especially the bit where Lucy Liu kicks a guy’s head off. The whole set-piece is by far the film’s highlight, including a nice nod to “Enter the Dragon” and its hall of mirrors finale. Fight choreographer Corey Yuen (“Lethal Weapon 4”, “The Expendables” and director of “DOA: Dead or Alive”) definitely earns his keep here.


If it weren’t for RZA’s ego and lack of talent and charisma, this might’ve made it into my top 10 of 2012. Oh if only Michael Jai White, a solid and charismatic actor and terrific fighter, had been cast. As is, it’s just outside. If Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films were better than many of the films they referenced, then this film is as good as most of them, but probably not better. Warts and all, though, it’s damn good fun, even if I can understand why I might be the only one to like it. It’s no “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”, “One Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine” or even “Big Trouble in Little China” if you want a somewhat post-modern cultural pastiche, but it’ll do. ‘Presented’ by Quentin Tarantino, the film is scripted by RZA and “Hostel” director Eli Roth (My guess is that the disembowelment was Roth’s input).


Rating: B-

Review: Being Flynn

Based on a memoir by Nick Flynn, Paul Dano stars as- get this- Nick Flynn, a wannabe great writer, who is the estranged son of Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro), a wannabe great writer in his own right. Actually, he already equates himself with the greatest of American authors like Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. Yeah. But in reality, Jonathan (who also works as a taxi driver. Yeah, I’ve seen that movie too...) is on the skids and going to waste. He has been evicted from his messy apartment, is racist and homophobic, and now needs the son he hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years to come pick him up. So Nick, flanked by his gay and African-American roommates (*sigh*) go and collect the old man. The next time he sees his father, Nick is working in a homeless shelter when Jonathan (an alcoholic) walks in looking for a roof over his head for the night, having exhausted the patience of everyone else in his life. Unfortunately, Jonathan proves more than a handful, and frankly just ungrateful and mean.


Meanwhile, Nick (who doesn’t let anyone read his work) is plagued by the tragic death long ago of his loving but fragile mother (Julianne Moore, in flashbacks) whilst Jonathan was AWOL (in prison for some of the time, apparently). Olivia Thirlby plays a pretty girl who works at the shelter and loves Nick. But is Nick doomed to screw things up for himself just like his father before him? Will Jonathan be able to quit with his delusions and lies (he seems to always have financial interest in his grand, unfinished novel) and get his damn act together? The latter seems far more unlikely than the former. William Sadler turns up briefly as an old acquaintance of Jonathan’s, and Lili Taylor and Wes Studi help run the homeless shelter.


Two things occurred to me about this largely unseen 2012 film from writer-director Paul Weitz (“American Pie”, “About a Boy”). The first is in regards to its biggest name, Robert De Niro. Long gone are the days when De Niro seemed to care about his career or body of work, outside of maybe versatility. His mind and heart seem more invested in his film festival and restaurant chain than in making movies. One of America’s greatest ever actors seems to choose movie projects that aren’t necessarily the best use of his immense talent (I haven’t seen his Oscar-nominated work in “Silver Linings Playbook” yet, though. My aversion to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is keeping me away at the present. Ditto “American Hustle”, which otherwise looks good).


The second thing that occurred to me about this film is that the character De Niro plays in this film seems far more like a Jack Nicholson role or a Dustin Hoffman role than a De Niro one. I couldn’t shake that feeling from my mind for some reason throughout this film. The baseball bat and aggression could be applicable to De Niro, and certainly the taxi driving. De Niro opening the film by narrating from a taxi is awfully unnerving I must say, as is his plan to ‘transform this cesspool of a world’. But playing a pretty irresponsible, dishevelled, wannabe charming rogue with delusions of grandeur and infrequent bouts of homelessness aren’t to me the best fit for De Niro, nor does the role deserve his major talents (nor Jack Nicholson’s for that matter). He’s fine in the role, I suppose, but it’s still not a good fit for him nor worthy of him. Is this one of his worst films? No, I can actually see some people liking it, just not me. It has its moments and is light years ahead of “The Last Tycoon” and Weitz’s own terrible “Little Fockers”, but the material here just isn’t worthy. Both of the main characters are pretentious douchebags, and that impedes one’s enjoyment of the film. Why should I care? I have sympathy for the homeless, but not for pretentious and delusional twits like the one De Niro plays here. Paul Dano and I don’t get along most of the time, but I’ll admit that I’ve seen him do a lot worse. It’s a shame the film doesn’t get much mileage out of the trio of Julianne Moore, Lili Taylor (whom I have learned is the real-life spouse of Nick Flynn!), or William Sadler. Moore does as well as she can with a crappy role, whilst Taylor and Sadler barely have walk-ons, ditto the unfortunately rarely seen Wes Studi (Where has this man of great power and presence been since about 2002?). The best performance by far comes from the lovely Olivia Thirlby, but one really good performance (playing a character who drifts in and out of the film) can’t save a film that just doesn’t inspire you to take an interest, because the two main characters seemingly don’t deserve our attention.


There is something incredibly tragic about working in a homeless shelter and having to serve your own father, but with this delusional idiot, like I said, it’s hard to care. Acting isn’t the issue, the script is just pedestrian, formulaic, and unengaging. 


Rating: C

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review: Savages

Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as a philanthropist Buddhist) and Taylor Kitsch (as a former Navy SEAL) play a couple of Laguna Beach marijuana dealers, who are so close they share just about everything, even O (Blake Lively). They have gained the attention of powerful and ruthless Mexican drug czar Elena (Salma Hayek), her sadistic chief henchman (Benicio Del Toro) and her unscrupulous attorney (Demián Bichir). Elena offers the trio a chance to join up in partnership, and things go to hell when they refuse (our resident Buddhist wants to retire to do charity work in Africa!), leading to O’s kidnapping. John Travolta plays a corrupt DEA agent whose allegiances seem to go to the highest bidder. Emile Hirsch plays a tech wizard associate of the central trio.


Oliver Stone might be the most erratic and inconsistent filmmaker currently active (capable of great films like “Platoon”, “JFK”, and “Born on the Fourth of July” as well as turds like “Nixon”, “U-Turn”, “W.”, and “Natural Born Killers”). So with that wildly uneven pedigree combined with my general disinterest in films about druggies and drug dealers, and my general aversion to Blake Lively, I went into this 2012 film from Stone and co-writer Shane Salerno (“Alien vs. Predator: Requiem”) not expecting much. At first, I wasn’t enjoying it. Oliver was busy showing us that he has seen “Sunset Blvd” with the ‘I may or may not already be dead’ narration thing, and it was kind of like a gorgeous-looking film (Laguna Beach may be known for crap reality TV but it looks like paradise here).


Unfortunately, it seemed to be at the service of a sleazy story about sleazy people doing sleazy things. It didn’t seem like my cup of tea, especially with Blake Lively being her usual completely unconvincing self, including not showing her skin during a whole lotta kinky sex activity. Mystery is one thing, but why cast her at all if she ain’t gonna show the goods in what is clearly a pretty sexy film and playing a pretty liberated, trashy character? Is the flower tattoo and talk of fucking and orgasms meant to compensate? It doesn’t, it merely magnifies a director’s obvious acquiescence to a no-nudity clause in a film where nudity is obviously necessary. This is “Gossip Girl”-trashy, when the material clearly calls for something much more risqué. But Lively’s miscasting (her narration is nauseatingly bad) is an issue unto itself, just as she was wrong for her trashy role in “The Town”, too.


I also thought the idea of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s hippie drug dealer with a social conscience just wasn’t convincing. But his character and performance get better as the film goes along as he starts to lose his nerve a bit. Taylor Kitsch, meanwhile, might not be a great actor, but he shows quite a bit of presence and macho charisma here in a film that actually doesn’t suck. And y’know what? The film does get better as it goes along. It’s even quite exciting and tense at times. Some of the performances also work. Shea Whigham has a nice small role, and Demián Bichir (seemingly the new Joaquim de Almeida) is pretty good too, but even more impressive is the scene-stealing Benicio Del Toro. He’s creepy as hell, nasty, and intimidating in his every moment on screen. Salma Hayek, meanwhile, makes for a much better villainess than you might think, actually. If you can get past the insanely fake-looking eyebrows and awfully receding hairline, John Travolta gives one of his best and most restrained performances in years. He ain’t trying to be uber-cool (Stone can’t help himself at times, though), he’s just doing his damn job and he and the film are all the better for it. Meanwhile, what in the hell has happened to Emile Hirsch’s career? I’m not a fan, but it seems odd that he’d go from a lead role in a sex comedy (“The Girl Next Door”), to an acclaimed role in a (overrated) Sean Penn film (“Into the Wild”), to lead role in a Russian-lensed sci-fi flop (“The Darkest Hour”), to a pissweak borderline cameo in this. He seems to be slowly vanishing from relevancy as an actor.


This is a fine enough film, I just wish it had characters I cared about (and who aren’t as young- it doesn’t seem credible), then it’d be even better. Unfortunately, the antagonists and protagonists are all sleazy and unlikeable. I also have to harshly criticise the film’s ending. There was potential here to close out on a brilliantly nihilistic moment, but instead Stone opts for an absolutely awful ending that seems, at least in my view, to send the wrong message. Apparently this second ending was not in the original source material by Don Winslow, which just makes me even angrier. An horrendous, breathy-voiced version of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by some entity known as Yuna is the arsenic-laced icing on the cake.


Warts (and severed heads- you’ve been warned!) and all this is a pretty watchable, if sometimes silly film, with some fine elements. Lively’s miscasting, the unlikeable characters, and a shithouse ending hold it back from being even better. And ‘wargasms’? Really, Mr. Salerno? Geez.


Rating: B-

Review: Bambi

The story of the titular young fawn as he makes his way through life into adulthood, learning many of life’s lessons. We’re not just talking about the nice lessons either, as the threat of hunters with their guns is always in mind, leading to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the history of cinema.


Although it doesn’t reach the magical heights of “Pinocchio”, how can anyone not love this 1942 Disney classic from (supervising) director David C. Hand? Not only is it basically a rite of passage for every youngster, but without this film there would certainly be no “Lion King” (probably its most direct descendant- we won’t talk about “Bambi II”, nor will I ever watch it), “Fox and the Hound”, or “Finding Nemo”, to say the very least. It’s the archetypal Disney animated film with animated animal characters. It’s such a lovely film in many, many ways, but it’s often referred to as a coming-of-age film, and yes Bambi does learn that this is a cruel piece of shit world sometimes, and people die. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes it just plain craps on you for no understandably good reason. For many kids this was and probably still is their first encounter with the concept of death. On that front it’s extremely effective, if a bit fucking cruel. It’s also a bit of a trailblazer, talking about man’s destructive influence on the environment and its creatures long before that even really became a thing.


It’s also just a really pretty, almost dreamlike film and certainly a painterly-looking one, which has its positives and negatives (more on the latter in a minute). It’s a film with a lot of cuteness, which will rub some people the wrong way, but not me. Animated bunny wabbits are so cute. Not real bunny wabbits, they’re creepy and always staring at me in judgement. Personally I think Thumper (despite not actually appearing in the original novel) steals the entire film from Bambi, and the film would be a lot lesser without that character who largely serves as very cute comic relief. T


True to life, the characters get uglier once puberty has set in. I won’t say that the film is overrated, simply that it gets less interesting as it goes along. I also have to confess that the usual Disney choir gets a helluva workout here to an almost laughable degree.


This is adorable, and if you hate this film, you’re not human, and you have neither a heart nor a soul. It may not be the great entertainment of “Pinocchio” (it sure beats the overrated “Fantasia”, however), nor is the animation terribly impressive- it’s extremely pretty, but like I said, painterly and thin. But look, it’s “Bambi” and everyone loves “Bambi”, right? By the way, is it just me or is one of those adult deer voiced by J. Peterman from “Seinfeld”? Tell me I’m wrong!


The script is by Perce Pearce (who co-directed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with Hand and several others) and Larry Morey (ditto), from a Felix Salten (writer of the novel “The Shaggy Dog” was based on) novel, with several others having a hand in bringing the story to the screen as well.


Rating: B

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review: Tears of the Sun

All hell has broken loose in Nigeria, and rebels have assassinated the President and his family. Bruce Willis leads a Navy SEAL team sent there to rescue an American (by marriage) doctor who runs a small Catholic mission in the jungle. There is only a small window of time afforded to them, and when they get there, the good doctor (played by Monica Bellucci) is reluctant to leave without her 70 odd sick/injured patients. The higher-ups (represented by Tom Skerritt with a walkie-talkie) say no, but Willis and his men find themselves having a crisis of conscience. Eamonn Walker, Cole Hauser, Nick Chinlund, and Johnny Messner play the other SEALs, whilst Fionnula Flanagan plays Athene Seyler, from “Inn of the Sixth Happiness”, basically.


Remember John Wayne’s “The Green Berets”, the Vietnam war film where the sun ludicrously set in the East? Well this 2003 Antoine Fuqua (the overrated “Training Day”, the inexplicable “King Arthur”) flick may not be anywhere near as offensive or dated as that clunker, but it’s still a clichéd, jingoistic piece of crap, with Bruce Willis seeming to imitate The Duke at his worst. It’s by far the least giveashit performance of his entire career. The film is somewhat critical of the heartless brass giving the orders, but otherwise it’s another rah-rah Yankee Doodle Dandy film about America being the one to settle the disputes of others. If it weren’t so clichéd and boring, I probably wouldn’t mind so much, and the action at the end is well-staged, but by then it is far too late.


The colourful scenery (you won’t guess that it’s actually Oahu, not Nigeria) is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Mauro Fiore (“Driven”, “Avatar”), and gives the film a texture it otherwise lacks in the script. Basically, this film is simplistic and corny as fuck, right down to the score by Hans Zimmer (“The Dark Knight”, “Inception”). It might not be as bad as Willis’ “North” or “Colour of Night”, but how can you not groan at clunkers like ‘We’re already engaged!’ when one of Willis’ men warns him of the rules of engagement. The script by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo really does feel like a dusted off John Wayne script, and poor Tom Skerritt is confined to a role that essentially plays like a ticking timer on a bomb, just there to apply some artificial urgency. The antagonists, meanwhile, are given absolutely no depth whatsoever. They’re pantomime villains from out of some silent movie, basically. Cole Hauser tries his best, and although a tad too Avery Brooks (i.e. Inappropriately Shakespearean) at times with his booming voice, Eamonn Walker has undeniable screen presence and charisma. Monica Bellucci, meanwhile, is one of the world’s most stunning movie stars, unquestionably, and is perfectly OK under the circumstances. Her role, however, is probably the biggest cliché of all.


I guess if you like simplistic, Cannon-esque rah-rah action entertainments, you might tolerate this film, but even so you’re dealing with an incredibly clichéd film with no character depth whatsoever and some of the most eye-rolling dialogue you’ve ever heard. Even if you’re OK with American intervention in foreign disputes (and the second Iraq War was firmly in my mind when I originally watched- and hated- this back in 2003), it doesn’t adequately deal with its message about senseless slaughter, nor does it remotely entertain as an action/war film. And what would’ve happened if Bellucci weren’t married to a Yank? Exactly...


Rating: D