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, January 3, 2014

Review: Otis


Newcomer Bostin Christopher plays the title character, an overweight pizza delivery guy who spends his spare time kidnapping young girls, keeping them captive, and re-enacting sick high school fantasies. Seems ‘ol Otis had some past girl troubles that he’s still trying to work out on stand-ins for his beloved ‘Kim’. Unfortunately, his latest choice for a victim, Riley (Ashley Johnson) causes all manner of complications, not the least of which being that Riley refuses to co-operate and be called ‘Kim’, and frequently attempts to escape. Jere Burns turns up as a supposedly successful but seemingly dumb arse, and frankly tactless FBI agent who...maybe...might possibly... get around to solving the case. Riley’s parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) are certainly unimpressed by his efforts, going to their own extreme measures to make this sick bastard pay. Then there’s Riley’s kid brother (Jared Kusnitz) who is frankly a perve...spying on his own sister in her underwear. But let’s not go there. Kevin Pollak plays Otis’ grubby, belligerent brother, who is unaware of just how sick and twisted Otis is.

 

This sick, twisted black comedy from 2008 directed by Tony Krantz will probably be polarising, but you’ve got to admire its balls. The material is probably a bit too serious and sick to work for laughs, but it’s very different and not remotely boring. It’s definitely something, and I’m pretty well sick of films that don’t strive to be anything much. Former child star Ashley Johnson has grown up (and boy has she) into a pretty good actress, and quite hot, albeit not quite as hot as she seems to think she is. Bostin Christopher is quite effective as the title sicko, who is more seriously creepy and sick than intimidating, despite his enormous girth. I appreciated that he didn’t chew the scenery, which could’ve been an easy thing to do.

 

Illeana Douglas, Kevin Pollak, and a fat Daniel Stern are pretty wasted (though Stern plays a panicky wimp pretty well), but the performances by Jere Burns and Jared Kusnitz deserve to be singled out. Kusnitz is actually more creepy than Otis, to be honest, playing the creepiest kid brother you’ve ever seen. I’m with Stern’s character, there’s something wrong with a kid who films his sister dancing in her underwear, even if she is Ashley Johnson. But that’s not a bad thing in my view, the film is aiming for seriously creepy and pervy and it achieves that. The cameraman is clearly getting into the pervy spirit too. Burns, a mainstay of film and especially TV has simply never been better as the world’s least sensitive FBI agent. He refers to one victim as ‘the one with the missing tits’.

 

The film boasts an interesting and eclectic collection of 70s and early 80s classics like ‘Venus’, ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ (the original versions, I might add), ‘I Ran’ by a Flock of Seagulls, Quiet Riot’s awesome cover of ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, and even ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’, which in my view could’ve used more cowbell. Sorry, I’m contractually obligated to do that joke or else Christopher Walken will come and beat me up.

 

The final stages aren’t as effective as the opening half, but at the same time it was inevitable in an otherwise unpredictable film. It’s just that Douglas and Stern seem to turn to vigilantism a bit too quickly and inorganically for my liking. It’s still an interesting, offbeat film like nothing you’ve likely seen before, though. Scripted by Erik Jendresen and Thomas Schnauz, I’d say the audience for this is seriously limited, but I kinda ended up liking it in a messed-up, completely objectionable way, even if it doesn’t entirely come off at the end of the day. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a film that tries for something different and nearly comes off, than a film that has modest aims that it barely achieves.

 

I also hope to see the promising Bostin Christopher in future film endeavours, though he might find himself being typecast if he isn’t careful. Oh, and take note of the name Dan Myrick amongst the producers. He once made a little sleeper you might’ve heard of called “The Blair Witch Project”

 

Rating: B-

Review: Imaginary Heroes


An already messed up family is struggling to deal with the shocking suicide of the star athlete eldest son (Kip Pardue). Youngest son Tim (Emile Hirsch) struggles to understand his place in the family, as well as having to live in the shadow of the ‘golden child’, even after his death. He gets into drugs and general piss farting around with his best friend, pretending nothing is wrong. And what are those bruises all over his body? He says it was the result of school bullying, but the viewer isn’t so sure. Dad (Jeff Daniels) refuses to break from the tradition of setting a place at the dinner table for his dead son, and barely acknowledges the existence of Tim, who is alive but nothing like his older brother. He has completely cut himself off emotionally from the rest of the family and is in the midst of a hopeless breakdown. Sister Penny (Michelle Williams) has been smart enough to go away for college and only comes back on holidays. And then there is mother Sandy (Sigourney Weaver, bringing humanity and authenticity to her role), who stupidly gets busted for trying to buy pot and gets involved with an oddball suicidal supermarket employee (played by a weirdly funny Jay Paulson), having gotten no emotional response from her husband in some time. She is, however, the most positive and loving influence in Tim’s life, which she reminds him at one pivotal point. She also has a long-standing feud with a next-door neighbour, the true nature and ramifications of which, are only slowly revealed.

 

The first directorial effort by then 24 year-old Dan Harris (screenwriter of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s underrated “Until Death”, as well as “X2” and “Superman Returns”) from his own screenplay, this 2004 family drama with subtle black comedy moments will remind you of “Ordinary People”, “The Ice Storm”, and “American Beauty”. It amazed me that I ended up so emotionally invested in and affected by the film, because it has some genuine problems on a narrative level. Harris overstuffs things a little, even when some of the irrelevancies are amusing, such as Jay Paulson’s frankly rather creepy but undeniably scene-stealing character. I’m not sure whether it’s a shame that his character’s constant reappearances are poorly explained, or if it’s annoying that such an extraneous character is included at all. I also think Michelle Williams’ character appears all-too fleetingly throughout, despite giving a rock-solid performance. I really wanted more with her character.

 

The film perhaps has one shocking family revelation too many as well, I’d argue, especially considering the revelation in question (which is tied in with another earlier revelation) seems to have an inadequate resolution to put it politely. I also think Harris needed to show his screenplay to someone outside of his circle, because some of the back-story was, to me at least, quite confusing.

 

Having said that, I can’t deny that this one got my waterworks going, especially a final confrontation between father and son that is just heart-wrenching stuff and superbly played by Jeff Daniels. Even more impressive is Sigourney Weaver, in one of her sadly all-too rare genuine ‘acting’ assignments. She’s absolutely terrific as an imperfect but in her own way loving mother and family matriarch. I could see similarities in her influence on Tim’s life and the matriarchal influences in my own life that really resonated for me. On her day and given a real character to play, Weaver can be one of the best actresses around and in this film she proves that. Emile Hirsch, who later got in my bad books with Sean Penn’s pretentious “Into the Wild” is quite impressive in the rather tricky lead role.

 

This isn’t a great film, and it’s a bit of a shame because Harris has some really great elements here, but hey, it’s a pretty good first directorial effort and that’s nothing to sneeze at. It definitely won’t be for everyone, as this is one extremely messed up family and things get messier and messier the longer the film goes on, but I found it rewarding, at least on an emotional level. I definitely recommend it, especially for fans of Sigourney Weaver, who damn well deserved an Oscar nomination for this. It’s a shame Mr. Harris hasn’t directed a film since, because, warts and all, he has made a good film.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


Haunted by a nasty childhood experience with an evil witch and a house made out of confectionery, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton and her duck face) have turned into bounty hunters as adults, now tracking down and killing witches all over Europe. In the town of Augsburg they take on the assignment of tracking and killing the witch who has abducted the town’s children to prepare for an upcoming Blood Moon ritualistic sacrifice. Famke Janssen plays Muriel, a powerful witch with a past slowly revealed, whilst the always nutty Peter Stormare plays the nasty local sheriff who takes an instant dislike to Hansel and Gretel after they interfere in a would-be witch-burning where Hansel thinks the intended guilty party is likely innocent.

 

A sure-fire turd of the first order...wait, this film actually isn’t bad? Colour me seriously surprised. The ads made this 2013 film from writer/director Tommy Wirkola (whose “Dead Snow” was a disappointing Nazi zombie flick that nonetheless was enjoyed by many other people) look like a terrible, anachronistic “Men in Black”-esque treatment of the well-known Grimm fairy tale. Hell, I was surprised to find it wasn’t a Summit Entertainment film, assuming that it was a follow-up to their terrible tweener version of “Red Riding Hood”. It certainly looked moronic and I felt embarrassed for Jeremy Renner participating in it, after great work in “The Hurt Locker” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”. It’s not a good film by any means, but if I gave “Arctic Predator” a decent rating, I have to do the same for this watchable fantasy flick. It’s not better than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (which is probably its closest cinematic approximation) nor the underrated “Jonah Hex”, but you could do a lot worse (“Van Helsing”, anyone?), and I was expecting the worst.

 

The prologue, essentially giving as the Hansel & Gretel story as we know it is good fun. The trademark gingerbread house looks like Tim Burton’s vision of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but it is far more appropriate here. Of all the Grimm fairytales, this one has always seemed the darkest and most sinister to me, and early on that’s how it’s played. The title design with Grimm illustrations/animation is really terrific, and by and large the film is certainly more convincing and lively than “Red Riding Hood” or Terry Gilliam’s messy “Brothers Grimm”. It’s still a silly film that Renner’s services are clearly too good for, I can’t deny. Gemma Arterton is astoundingly stiff, and Famke Janssen is surprisingly awful as the chief villainess (apparently she took the role to pay off a mortgage- fair enough, but she’s worse than the film itself. I must admit, though I couldn’t help but ask ‘How do you know she is a witch?’ at several points- Monty Python fan right here, folks. The witches in this are just awful, cackling, throaty-voiced clich├ęs that made me groan whenever they appeared.

 

The set design and costuming are top-notch, it’s surprisingly violent at times (decapitations- yay!), and the CGI troll is bloody good CG work. Hell, it’s more convincing than anything in “The Hobbit” not named Gollum, that’s for sure and knocks Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” out of commission too. Even the face is relatively convincing, and that’s awfully hard to achieve (once again, “King Kong”).

 

Look, if Arterton had more than one facial expression other than ‘just smelled a fart’ (why not just hire Posh Spice? She’s just as flat and stiff), If Janssen and the other witches were better, then this would be pretty good instead of just barely above average. Still, when you’re expecting the worst, ‘barely above average’ ain’t bad. Peter Stormare ends up rather wasted, however, after an amusing early stint.

 

Rating: C+

Review: West of Memphis


A re-telling of the trial of the ‘West Memphis 3’; Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and intellectually impaired Jesse Misskelley, charged with the murders of three young boys in Arkansas in 1993. The locals wanted blood, and these Metallica-loving defendants, especially Wicca enthusiast Echols, seemed like good enough culprits and were relatively quickly convicted with the belief that they were Devil-worshipping Satanists who killed the boys in some kind of penis-eating ritual. Yes, this really happened (this is in the Bible-belt of America, remember), and Echols was even given a death sentence. The “Paradise Lost” trilogy of documentaries detailed the trial and convictions, and argued that these three young men were railroaded (Misskelley’s ‘confession’ was embarrassingly inept and clearly led by the cops looking for an open and shut case) and pointed to other suspects.

 

This film details efforts made by New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson and wife/co-producer Fran Walsh, in conjunction with Eccols’ dedicated wife Lorri Davis to keep the investigation going and see the ‘West Memphis 3’ released. It goes even further than “Paradise Lost 3: Revelations” in pointer the finger of guilt towards Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the deceased boys. Meanwhile, celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Henry Rollins also take up the cause.

 

Although the story continued after the events shown in “Paradise Lost 3: Revelations”, I have to say that I wasn’t of the belief that we needed another film on the ‘West Memphis 3”. Having seen this 2012 documentary from director Amy Berg, I still don’t think it was necessary, though the final twenty minutes or so is at least relatively fresh and interesting. It’s also a more well-made and concise film than at least the first two “Paradise Lost” films, to be honest (“Revelations” is still the best, partly because the second one seems negated by it anyway, and hindsight means that “West of Memphis” is able to trim much of the fat and dead-ends).

 

However, there was just something that bugged me about it throughout. How come I hadn’t heard about the supposedly close involvement of NZ filmmaker Peter Jackson and his partner before? Or celebrities like Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Henry Rollins? Were all of these people (and Berg for that matter) trying to latch themselves onto the West Memphis 3 case and therefore trying to negate the importance of the three previous films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky? Or is it possibly the other way around? Or am I just reading too much into things? I have to admit that Jackson’s controversial faux-documentary “Forgotten Silver” did creep into my mind at points, and probably should not have. It just seemed odd that the “Paradise Lost” films made absolutely no mention that I can recall of Jackson and this film only really pays lip service to the “Paradise Lost” films, even though surely Jackson’s efforts would’ve been concurrent to at least the second or third of the films, right? Well, after seeing “West of Memphis” I have now read Joe Berlinger saying complimentary things about Jackson (though there was a little friction here and there), and mentioning that during “Paradise Lost 3”, Jackson asked to be left out of it and remain anonymous. Well, there you go. Nothing suspicious at all, but if you’ve seen “Forgotten Silver”, you’ll forgive my suspicions I hope (I still find scenes with Terry Hobbs’ daughter supposedly undergoing therapy to look awfully staged).

 

At any rate, it’s still an interesting, if somewhat redundant film, and the story is certainly an important indictment of Hicksville hysteria. Sure, there are some who still insist the West Memphis 3 are guilty as sin, but for me personally, I think of all the potential suspects, they are at the very least the most unlikely to be guilty, and this film more than ever makes it seem like Terry Hobbs is the numero uno suspect (the film even brings up his supposed history of abuse, some of which he is seen on camera admitting to, but also accusations by some of Hobbs’ family and neighbours). We get a particularly disturbing appearance by Hobbs’ supposed alibi for the night, David Jacoby (whose DNA, like Hobbs’, was found at the scene), who appears to be having a nervous breakdown on camera. Just sayin’. Hell, with the revelation of a supposed ‘Hobbs family secret’, it almost approaches Milat Family proportions of conspiracy. However, we’ll likely never know because the Alford plea verdict means that the case is closed, from an Arkansas point of view.

 

Getting back to the West Memphis 3, I must say that I was especially moved by the final scene involving Jason Baldwin, seemingly the most relatable, quiet-natured of the three (then) boys, as he has his first taste of freedom. Misskelley’s family reunion also brings home the years the trio have missed out on. I must confess, I even shed a tear.

 

So while a lot of this film may be redundant, and while I don’t really care that Natalie Maines and Johnny Depp wanted the West Memphis 3 freed, this is still a very interesting and quite sad film. It’s also kind of creepy, given that the real killer/killers are likely still out there.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Punch-Drunk Love


Barry (Adam Sandler) has issues. Constantly berated by his flock of sisters (one played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) who he just wants to leave him alone, crying at random moments, even admitting ‘I don’t like myself sometimes’. Working at a crummy toiletries company probably does that to you sometimes. He also has barely concealed rage issues (that he sometimes fails to conceal when he just can’t take his sisters’ crap anymore), and has recently found himself the victim of a scheme involving a phone sex worker, whose boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is none too pleased. But Barry is also a lost soul, and one day he happens upon another odd duck, Lena (Emily Watson), who seems to get Barry like no other. Their ‘dirty talk’, for instance, is just plain bizarre (‘I'm looking at your face and I just want to smash it. I just want to fucking smash  it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You're so pretty’). But with all the other chaos in his life, can Barry get it together to be with the girl he loves?

 

Rightly regarded as one of Adam Sandler’s best and most ambitious films, this 2002 unorthodox romance from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Hard Eight”, “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “There Will Be Blood”) takes the standard passive-aggressive/suppressed rage Sandler persona and puts it into an unusual and more meaningful context. Sandler’s uncomfortable performance is genuinely solid, and no one else could’ve played this part. Like “Funny People”, he was born for the role, and it’s a shame that he gives the impression of someone afraid or disinterested in stretching himself very often. Watching this and “Funny People” really does make you angry with him, he has so much untapped potential. The scenes where his family pretty much insult and berate him, are particularly amusing (‘C’mon gay boy, it’s time to eat!’) in a film that is neither comedy nor drama. Mary Lynn Rajskub is pitch-perfect as Sandler’s sister, as are the other actors playing his family. Philip Seymour Hoffman only has a couple of scenes, but his second one is the best scene in the whole film.

 

Emily Watson is probably the film’s only drawback, as she has a tendency to whisper most of her dialogue. Speak up, sweetie. Actually, the other flaw with the film is the irritating abundance of lens flares employed by Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit (“Boogie Nights”, “Hard Eight”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Magnolia”). I’m not sure if this was the film to really start the trend, but they are a permanent stain on a film and hard to ignore.

 

It’s a really unusual and somewhat surreal love story, and an intensely nervous experience as we fully expect Sandler to eventually blow up, but it’s kinda sweet in its own off-putting, suppressed rage kinda way. The music score by Jon Brion (who broke up with Rajskub before filming began. #Awkward) especially aids in the nervous tension, as it is a deliberately irritating (and therefore effective) score.

 

I would’ve loved to have been in the meeting where the idea for this film was pitched (How is this not a Charlie Kaufman film?). Nothing about it should have worked, and yet it does, proving that a love story can survive or maybe even be enhanced by having two oddball protagonists (they certainly help make the romantic formula seem a little more unpredictable). Everyone deserves to find love, even a Rageaholic like Barry.

 

This really good, but really strange film is the most uncomfortable experience you’ll ever enjoy. It also has the most unusual ‘guy chases down girl to say he’s sorry and win her back’ scene you’re ever going to see. That speech is so wrong and yet so very, very right.

 

Rating: B