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 30, 2014

Review: Ichi the Killer



Tadanobu Asano stars as Kakihara, who works for a Yakuza boss who has gone missing. A rumour is heard that the boss has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Kakihara, a violent and twisted sadomasochist tortures a rival gang member, which gets Kakihara kicked out of the gang. And that’s when he hears that his boss has been murdered by a mysterious killer known as Ichi (Nao Omori). Ichi is an odd character, docile and shy for the most part, and yet capable of great displays of gruesome violence. This is the handiwork of Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto), a cruel manipulator who hates Kakihara’s gang, has turned Ichi into a killing machine by brainwashing him into thinking that everyone he kills was responsible for bullying him as a child. He also seems to get some kind of sexual charge out of killing, just so you know. Kakihara becomes obsessed with Ichi, perhaps sensing an ultra-violent kindred spirit, or perhaps because he’s a sadomasochistic perve. Yeah, let’s go with both of those.

 

Even if you’ve seen other films from director Takashi Miike (who also has a role in the film) like his extraordinary “Audition”, this 2001 Yakuza film will still shock the hell out of you. Unfortunately for me, some of Miike’s shock tactics here work against what is otherwise a pretty strong and interesting gangster film. The gore I’m cool with, after all I thoroughly enjoyed the uber-violent HK flick “The Story of Ricky”. The scene where someone’s cheeks are stretched to the extreme is an amusingly sick example. Even the torture didn’t bother me, because it’s all so whacked out and extreme that one can’t be offended so much as stunned, though I’m no fan of the ‘torture porn’ flicks. It’s almost surreal, and I think even the proudest of piercing enthusiasts will find themselves wincing throughout this. However, I simply couldn’t put up with the extreme violence- both physical and sexual- committed against women in this film. Gore is silly, but women being beaten and raped? Only sickos find amusement in that. It’s foul, nasty, and a stain on an otherwise fine and memorable film with a solid story and interesting (if unpleasant) characters. Perhaps your heart is blacker than mine and can appreciate this film more (It’s certainly one of his most popular and notorious films), but I was slightly held back a bit because of this one unsavoury and in my view detrimental element. Miike has simply gone a bit too far, even for him.

 

I also found the hand-held cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto (“Audition”, “The Grudge”, “The Great Yokai War”) to be ugly and murky in the extreme, especially early on. That offended me much more than the self-inflicted tongue slicing, to be honest. I also think the finale is all a bit too silly, and a letdown (Though actor Shinya Tsukamoto sure is one helluva condom full of walnuts).

 

If you think you can stomach the film, by all means give it a go, but be warned that in the opening ten minutes alone we are witness to a woman being beaten and raped, and we see a room splattered with blood and intestines. The film gets even messier after that. Yep. ‘Fucked up’ is the only way to describe this one.

 

Tadanobu Asano and Nao Omori are both excellent as the insanely masochistic Kakihara and the complex title character, respectively. I do think the film would’ve been better if the title character were introduced a lot earlier, but even then the unsavoury violence against women would make it hard for me to give this a genuine recommendation. I’m no prude, I mean, I loved the bit where a guy punches Kakihara in the mouth and his fist gets stuck. So, clearly I like my violent cinema. But…no, I can’t in good conscience support this film. Such a shame, there’s really something here, but Miike is as Miike does, and goes too far. He’s a genuine, but sometimes unrestrained talent.

 

No, I’ll just watch “Audition” again, thanks, painful as that film sometimes is. Or maybe Miike’s bizarre, yet somewhat benign “Great Yokai War”. Based on a manga by Hideo Yamamoto (apparently not the same Yamamoto who shot the film), the screenplay is by Sakichi Sato.

 

Rating: C+

Review: The Croods


The title refers to a prehistoric family, whose cautious patriarch Grug (voiced by Nic Cage) refuses to let the clan leave their cave aside from finding food, because…dinosaurs. And if not dinosaurs, then other beasties that like to eat smaller things that move. Grug’s motto is ‘Always be afraid’. The clan also includes a mother (voiced by Catherine Keener), a baby named Sandy, an aptly named son Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), a grandmother (voiced by the amazing Cloris Leachman), and a rebellious teenage daughter Eep (voiced by Emma Stone). Eep wants more to life than the cave, she craves the outside world, and sneaks out one night, attracted by a bright light. The light turns out to be fire, something Eep knows nothing about. But hunky Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) certainly does. But before the two have any chance to consider a teenage caveman romance, the ground beneath them starts to crack, destroying the Crood family home. Looks like they’re all gonna have to brave it in the wide open world now, with Guy continually showing up Grug with his ingenuity.

 

The notion of a caveman animated movie featuring the vocal stylings of Nic Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, and Clark Duke (Surely the creepiest actor who isn’t meant to be creepy) seemed like my idea of hell, to be honest. Having now seen this 2013 film from DreamWorks and co-writer/co-directors Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”, “How to Train Your Dragon”), I find myself with quite a few positive things to say about it. It’s no “Rango”, and it’s not even the best animated film of 2013, but it’s a fun film, and behind “Rango”, the best-looking animated movie post-“Toy Story”. If it weren’t for the largely bland characters and forgettable voice acting, it would’ve been a real winner, actually.

 

We start off in very cute fashion with a cell animation cave painting type deal, which is nice. But once the film starts proper, we get some seriously beautiful, colourful animation. It’s much closer in style to “Rango” than other computer animated films, where the characters are a tad hyperreal or exaggerated, but texture-wise, it’s pretty photorealistic and looks more like seriously advanced stop-motion than animation, if anything. In other words, you almost feel like you can reach out and touch things on screen.

 

The visuals are definitely the best thing in the film, as everything else is a bit lacking. Chiefly the voices. The only voices I even immediately recognised were Nic Cage and Ryan Reynolds, but that’s not a problem. The problem is, none of their voices proves remotely interesting. In fact, as much as I found it a bit of an act of mercy that Cage was amazingly restrained by the animation film genre, the fact is, it renders him pretty bland. Catherine Keener fares worst of all, as her character is distressingly useless and underused. I’m not remotely an Emma Stone fan, but her Bam-Bam ish character fares best of all. It’s kind of amusing to find a bored and tempestuous teenage girl in this kind of situation, really.

 

The film’s premise is a cute one: Seemingly the last caveman family around trying to survive their extremely harsh world. However, it has to be said that at times it feels like “Ice Age” with humanoids at the centre. Having said that, though, the final fifteen minutes or so are really quite wonderful, even a little affecting. I honestly didn’t expect much out of this film, but I ended up quite enjoying it, and it certainly looks fabulous.

 

The screenplay is based on a story by De Micco, and of all people John Cleese. Apparently the film was originally intended to be a Claymation collaboration between DreamWorks and Aardman Animations (The British Claymation specialists), but Cleese moved on when Aardman pulled out, so how much of his input is in the final product is up for debate I guess.

 

Rating: B-

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space


Apparently our weapons-building and warmongering is pissing off inhabitants of other planets, worried that one day we might turn our war machines against them. In order to stop this from happening, these aliens (headed by The Ruler, played by the flamboyant ‘Bunny’ Breckinridge) enact Plan 9, resurrecting our dead to conquer the Earth. Gregory Walcott is our hero, pilot Jeff Trent, who teams up with army Colonel Tom Edwards (Tom Keene) and a police inspector (Duke Moore) to thwart the pompous aliens’ plans. Tor Johnson and Vampira turn up as the resurrected Inspector Clay and ‘Ghoul Woman’ respectively. Meanwhile, Bela Lugosi (who died during filming) stumbles about in his cape as another zombified corpse, credited as ‘Ghoul Man’. He was replaced in some scenes by Dr. Tom Mason, the chiropractor of Wood’s wife at the time!

 

Being that this 1959 Edward D. Wood Jr (“Glen or Glenda?”, “Bride of the Monster”) accidental classic is a one-of-a-kind film experience, rather than give you a traditional film review, I figured instead I’d give you essentially a copy of my notes as I watched this film. It’s an updated and in my entirely not humble opinion, refined version of something I attempted during my stint at the now defunct Film Asylum. Hopefully it’ll give you an idea of what it’s actually like to watch this film, but in a more unique way than a simple review. Everyone knows what this film is, and whether they want to see it or not by now.

 

I may or may not be using sarcasm in what is to follow….

 

- We start off with shonky psychic Criswell struggling valiantly to read from an autocue. What a truly moving depiction of dyslexia this is, the likes of which I’ve never seen before nor since.

 

- Realising the senseless waste of money on unnecessary expensive special FX when children are starving in Africa, Ed Wood heroically and selflessly torpedoes his own artistic merit in order to do his bit for those less fortunate by giving us paper plates on a string to represent flying saucers. I applaud this act of selflessness and economy.

 

- This alien invasion also serves as Mr. Wood’s tribute to Orson Welles, who didn’t need expensive special FX to scare the shit out of people with his “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. Wood, like Welles wants us to use our imaginations to make the FX look better in our own minds. What a novel and forward-thinking concept. Wood meet Welles once, y’know. I’ve seen footage of it!

 

- Not only has Mr. Wood helped out his financially struggling chiropractor by giving him a cameo in his film, but look, he has cast two of the man’s patients in roles too, Tor Johnson and Vampira. Their performances as reanimated corpses are enhanced by their obviously very real spinal issues. I never said he was a good chiropractor.

 

- When the planned documentary about Lugosi was interrupted by the star’s death, enterprising Mr. Wood decided to film a fictional film around it that allowed him to not only pay for Mr. Lugosi’s funeral expenses through making a film, but also promote the local cemetery so that the fans would know where to go to pay their own tribute. The film itself could also serve as a shrine to the great man (Bela Lugosi Jr. doesn’t surf the web, right?)

 

- The seamless splicing of fictional film footage and documentary footage of a confused and drug-addled Bela Lugosi is a wonderful comment on art imitating life or crossing over into life and the cheap exploitation of aging horror stars dependant on drugs, which could only be achieved by cheaply exploiting an aging, drug dependant star.

 

- Bravo to Mr. Wood, for managing to give this chiropractor a way to earn more money by not only acting, but sharing a character with Mr. Lugosi. Some would simply write an extra character for the two actors, but Mr. Wood, being ingenious finds a unique way to employ both actors without using up extra running time that an additional character would require (Yes, I really am going to go all the way with this!).

 

- Ed Wood does his bit for the betterment of society by giving a Swedish immigrant a major role in his film, showing that no matter where you come from, you can contribute to America and make it great! What a patriot!

 

- You might say that the performances in this film are terrible. However, unlike the cruel and wasteful Stanley Kubrick, Ed Wood understands not to waste precious film, time, and talent on the needless pursuit of perfection. I for one think it’s truly moving watching these people even try to give competent performances. Their constant failure (and that of the director himself) is a still relevant lesson for us to always have a backup career plan.

 

- When the flying saucer seems to propel people to hit the deck, that is Mr. Wood’s timely reminder that in the event of a fire or nuclear blast, you need to get down low! A film and a public service announcement? Is there nothing this great man can’t do?

 

- Does Bela Lugosi look anything like the chiropractor? Through brilliant costuming Wood has created a startlingly effective trick whereby you are so mesmerised by his fetching cloak that you don’t notice it’s a completely different guy who is a different size to Lugosi. That’s thinking on your feet, and trend-setting fashion too! (Disclaimer: I may have taken off my glasses at this point to clean them).

 

- Decades before Fox Mulder told us the truth was out there, Ed Wood was hot on the case of military cover-up of alien invasion.

 

- Ed Wood was also a pioneer of LGBT rights, giving a prominent role to transvestite Bunny Breckinridge, while one of his other actors was also such a champion of the love that dare not speak its name that it’s actually in his name: Dudley Manlove.

 

- Brilliant editing as day and night intermingle in order to represent both the living and the dead, reinforcing the film’s central concept. That’s some seriously deep subtextual thought right there! It’s also used in a masterstroke of filmmaking genius to keep the audience on edge. If day can suddenly turn into night and back again in the blink of an eye, what else could happen in this film?!

 

- I believe what this film is truly about is a cautionary tale meant to inspire us to cremate the dead, rather than bury. It’ll take up less space, too!

 

- ‘Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!’, quite clearly this line is Wood’s heartbreaking plea to be understood as a cross-dresser. This poor man ripped his own heart out and presented himself to the world in “Glen or Glenda?” and what happened? We either ignored the film or laughed at him. For shame!

 

- ‘After all we’ve seen tonight, guns won’t do any good’- Actor Paul Marco (who plays a dopey cop), with what I believe is a truly profound statement that, decades ahead of its time, tried to show us the error of our gun-loving ways as human beings. Have we listened? Of course not.

 

- There’s a very important lesson to be learned near the end of this film: If you’re unconscious or in some way infirmed during a fire, and your only hope is a woman…Well, you’re shit out of luck. Instead of putting out the fire, she’s gonna sit there and scream ‘Wake up!’ and get all in a tizzy. Thank you for teaching me this most valuable lesson, oh great one.

 

Thank you, thank you. You’re a wonderful audience. Try the lobster, it’s delicious!

 

Rating: F

Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: Empire State


Set in the 80s and based on true events, Liam Hemsworth stars as a Greek-American from a working class family, who wants to be a cop. A poor decision at a Black Sabbath concert with his reckless pal Michael Angarano years ago dashes those hopes. But Hemsworth feels bad that his hard-working father (Paul Ben-Victor) is stuck pretty much being a janitor disrespected by the local thugs, and he wants to help his parents out financially. For the time being he gets a job driving armoured cars and monitoring the depository. Things go awry on just his second day when veteran partner and family man Michael Rispoli is gunned down by robbers. After this, Hemsworth starts to become disillusioned. Rispoli’s family isn’t being taken care of by the company, the security cameras are dangerously easy to get around, and often he’s the only one there guarding all this money at the depository. The place is almost begging to be cleaned out. So Hemsworth starts to entertain the idea of robbing the joint. He also makes the mistake of relaying this mere thought to idiot best friend Angarano, who sees nothing but dollar signs, and unlike Hemsworth, is just a greedy bastard. He also has criminal connections, and being an idiot, he has alerted them to the heist plan. Meanwhile, a detective (Dwayne Johnson) has been sniffing around the depository ever since the first heist was pulled off that resulted in Rispoli’s death. Emma Roberts plays a local waitress who Hemsworth sorta has a thing with, or would if the screenwriter bothered to address the issue. Meaningless parts are filled out by Nikki Reed, Shenae Grimes (a former “Degrassi: TNG” alumni), Jerry Ferrara, and Roger Guenveur Smith (as a cop).

 

I hadn’t heard of this fact-based 2013 film from director Dito Montiel (“The Son of No One”) and writer Adam Mazer (2007’s interesting thriller “Breach”) before watching it. Now I know why: It’s not much good. The film’s setup is potentially interesting, with this seemingly inept, woefully negligent armoured truck company depository basically begging to be robbed. They’re almost giving the money away, so it makes you wonder if maybe stealing would be justified. I also appreciated the performances of a scene-stealing Michael Rispoli (all-too briefly appearing, though), and especially Michael Angarano as a truly reckless guy you can’t stop worrying about, because you know he’s going to get himself in deep shit if he’s not careful (which he never is). He’s a complete idiot of the highest order. Yes, it’s predictable, but it’s also pretty credible. Even Liam Hemsworth proves to be a better actor than his permanently blocked nose brother, though he looks less like a ‘greaseball’ than the guy in the film who calls him one.

 

But after a while the film’s predictability and clichés, true story or not, lead it pretty much nowhere. At least nowhere you’ve not been before and better. I also found that Dwayne Johnson’s casting in a colourless supporting role screamed of ‘marquee value’, and the former Rock wasn’t cast to his best advantage. Sure, it’s kinda interesting watching him try to be a character actor, and he’s a talented and charismatic guy, but he’s trying a little too hard. You can see the wheels turning in his performance, unfortunately. Woeful waste of Nikki Reed in a virtual walk-on (She must’ve been a victim of the cutting room floor), though at least we were spared the sight of Emma Roberts trying and failing to act, she too has little screen time. Still, they point to a serious lack of character development on the female side of things. Character actor Paul Ben-Victor is pretty good as Hemsworth’s ne’er do well janitor father, though.

 

It could’ve been something, but it feels way too short and underdone, despite Michael Angarano’s best performance to date. Like “The Son of No One”, it just doesn’t add up to much of anything at the end of the day, despite seemingly being produced by 76% of the human population (judging by the credits).

 

Rating: C

Review: The Stone Killer


Charles Bronson plays a violence-prone but honest cop tackling the case of one arm of the Mob (represented by Martin Balsam) attempting to wipe out the other arm of the mob for a massacre committed against them in the 1930s! To do this, Balsam has hired mercenaries to carry out the hit, including war vet Stuart Margolin, and bisexual, jazz-loving weirdo Paul Koslo. Norman Fell plays a police chief, Ralph Waite plays Bronson’s shit weasel racist partner, Charles Tyner turns up as a doctor, Walter Burke plays a marijuana dealer, and John Ritter has a small role as a cop.

 

A great cast of character actors goes to waste in this boring 1973 attempt by hack director Michael Winner (“Death Wish”, “Chato’s Land”, “Lawman”, “The Mechanic”) and hack star Charles Bronson to give us another “Dirty Harry”. Hell, even composer Roy Budd (“Zeppelin”, “Get Carter”, “The Carey Treatment”) tries out his best Lalo Shifrin (“Coogan’s Bluff”, “Bullitt”, and “Dirty Harry”) impersonation here, with one of the most irritating electronic scores you’re ever likely to hear. Based on a novel by John Gardner (“The Liquidator”), the script by Gerald Wilson (“Lawman”, “Scorpio”, “Chato’s Land”) gives Bronson some truly clunky “Dirty Harry” dialogue, and the only difference between his character and Harry Callahan is that Bronson seems to be against racism. Other than that, this is a total rip-off and a tedious one at that. The ashram scene is completely absurd, at least “Coogan’s Bluff” was an otherwise solid movie so that its depiction of hippies was only a small blemish on a good film.

 

There’s only two things in this whole uninspired film that work; A solid supporting performance by scummy Paul Koslo (albeit cast as an old “Dirty Harry” favourite, the bisexual/gay henchman), and top-notch L.A. and New York location shooting by cinematographer Richard Moore (who went on to direct the bizarre cult film “Circle of Iron” AKA “The Silent Flute”). It’s crap, but well-shot crap at least. Sadly, those two elements aren’t nearly enough to rescue this wet fart of a crime flick that comes ominously billed as ‘Dino De Laurentiis Presents’ in a film already directed by a loser like Winner. Be afraid, be very afraid. Actually, I’m being a little unkind, as there’s one good chase scene through the streets and some market stalls that Bronson just mows the fuck down. Meanwhile, Walter Burke also does terrific small work as a drug dealer/snitch. He sounds awfully wheezy, and indeed the long-serving character actor died of emphysema in 1984. He steals his two scenes and deserved more.

 

I was especially disappointed that Sidney Greenstreet-like Robert Emhardt was utterly wasted in a colourless part as a man who witnesses a crime. It’s probably the most ‘normal’ part he ever played, but also the dullest. Norman Fell is perfectly fine, but doesn’t get enough scenes to really make an impact, and Stuart Margolin’s casting as a hired mercenary is as eye-rolling as the absurd plot (Not to mention Winner’s botching of it. It’s almost impossible to tell what city Bronson is in half the time!). And that brings us to our chief villain, a supposedly intimidating Mafioso played by Martin Balsam. Yep, the level-headed, unassuming jury foreman from “12 Angry Men” and the ill-fated detective from “Psycho”. Balsam is one of the greatest character actors of all-time, but he hasn’t got an intimidating bone in his body, and is seriously miscast. He’s not as silly as Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”, but that’s not say much, believe me. He is boring, and hamstrung by the fact that his character is on the sidelines for most of the film. Imagine Emhardt in the role, he’d be creepy fun for sure.

 

As I said, the plot is absurd. Once you catch onto it, you won’t believe it, and it has absolutely no place in a film that is otherwise trying to be gritty. Also jarring is the ridiculous pink blood spattered around way too much for just a gunshot or two. Geez, Winner, calm the fuck down, son. You’re not making a giallo film for cryin’ out loud, it’s a cop movie. The ending flat-out sucks, it’s so incredibly underwhelming and unsatisfying that if you don’t have any food to throw at the screen, you’ll be so enraged that you’ll consider going down to the supermarket to find food to go back and throw at the screen.

 

Winner isn’t a good director (“Lawman”, “The Jokers” and “The Mechanic” were all OK, but the rest…yikes), and star Bronson stopped giving a fuck in the 70s (I know it’s an unfair comparison but look at him in this and then “The Great Escape”. He could act when he wanted to). So when coupled with an unoriginal script, a miscast villain, and ghastly music score, this one’s just no fun at all. It hasn’t got an identity of its own, and Bronson looks bored beyond belief. Nope, not even the least demanding of viewers deserve this thrust upon them.

 

Rating: D-

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Review: Chariots of Fire


A film concerning the performance of the British track team at the 1924 Olympic Games. The two primary characters are religious Scotsman Eric Liddell, and Jewish Cambridge student Harold Abrahams, who has to overcome prejudice from colleagues and educators (hello Sir John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson). Sir Ian Holm plays Abrahams’ athletic coach Sam Mussabini, Cheryl Campbell and Alice Krige (who looks anaemic) are the two athletes’ respective spouses, Brad Davis and Dennis Christopher play a couple of American runners, Nigel Davenport turns up as a Lord, and Patrick Magee is a seriously cranky Lord.

 

There’s potential for great drama and interest in the story of Olympic runners, but this 1981 Best Picture Oscar winner from director Hugh Hudson (the subsequent “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan”) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Colin Welland (who also scripted “A Dry White Season”) chooses the wrong real-life story, in my view. I just couldn’t get into the story of a bunch of snooty, toffee-nosed Cambridge students/athletes, or their stuffy elitist masters. Not even the fact that Sir John Gielgud and director Lindsay Anderson were playing the racist university heads could rouse much enthusiasm within me. For the most part it bored the pants off of me, and if one runner’s crisis of conscience about running on the Sabbath was meant to be a genuine source of drama, it failed to engage me one bit, true story or not. It seemed like such a piddly issue to me, and it gets resolved in a polite, diplomatic, champagne-sipping fashion (Even Gielgud’s racism is so very wordy and polite that you almost don’t even realise what he’s really saying). It’s a very, very polite film, old chap and boring as fuck. With all this snooty aristocratic foppery, all I could think of was Monty Python’s ‘Anyone for Tennis?’ sketch. Oh, how I wish this film turned out like that. At other times, I was reminded of the portion of  Python’s “Meaning of Life” set at a boys’ school. You really don’t want to be reminded of comedy sketches during a supposedly dramatic work.

 

The only living, breathing things in the whole damn film are the strong supporting turn by Sir Ian Holm, the excellent cinematography by David Watkin (“Robin and Marian”, “The Three Musketeers”, “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan”), and the clearly anachronistic but unforgettably iconic, Oscar-winning music score by Vangelis (“Blade Runner”). I don’t normally like anachronistic scores (though, when you think about it, classical scores for historical epics are all anachronistic too), but this is the one time where it works. The opening images in particular, are truly iconic and the score is certainly a wonderful accompaniment to them, even if it clearly comes from the 80s, not the 20s period depicted in the film. At least the score gives the film some much-needed vitality. In fact, the running scenes in the film are excellent in every way. It’s just that I didn’t really care who won. Actually, I do have to say that the director and his editor massively botch the climactic race by getting all “Don’t Look Now” on us and alternating between the race and post-race celebration. What the hell is that? You’re spoiling the result as the race is being run you idiot!

 

Of the actors here, Sir Ian Holm definitely fares best, even if he doesn’t look remotely like a biracial man. As in the case in “Greystoke”, there’s little subtlety to his performance, but he’s good, and clearly enjoying himself. In a smaller turn, Nigel Davenport steals his every scene wonderfully well as always, and despite everything, both Sir John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson are certainly more interesting than the younger set here. Patrick Magee can often be a wonderfully demented and intense presence in a film, but here he looks like his head is about explode, and the performance seems to belong to a different film. Probably a more entertaining one. Of the runners, the only one who stands out is maybe Ben Cross, who is just OK. What sets him apart is that his Jewishness sets his character apart from the rest, he’s never quite fully integrated into the hoity-toity British academia snobbery.

 

Look, it’s kind of the same issue I had with “A Passage to India”: Set in the 1920s, made in the 80s, mostly in the style of the films of the 60s. But it’s also just not my kind of thing. This is a very stuffy, stiff upper lipped film. I just don’t understand why you would take a wonderful concept like an Olympic athletics triumph, and give it the Merchant-Ivory treatment. Surely there are more exciting Olympics stories out there to tell. This one comes from a remote, pompous, and in my view, pretty un-relatable POV. I wanted to be pulled into this triumphant Olympics story, but I was kept at arm’s length. I didn’t care about these tea-swilling, champagne-sipping, hoity-toity twats, and all their foppity fop frippery drove me around the bend. I didn’t really get this one, and I think the fact that it’s one of the least talked about Best Picture Oscar winners today really says something. 

 

Music and cinematography are triumphant, and there are sounds and images here that you’ll never forget. But as drama? It’s pretty unengaging and enervated, with the basic heroic Olympics concept completely at odds with all the Merchant-Ivory-esque foppety fop. Just remember, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was released the same year as this, folks. By far one of the worst Best Picture winners of all-time.

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Blue Steel


Jamie Lee Curtis is a rookie cop who gets involved in a bit of a mess when forced to shoot a convenience store robber (Tom Sizemore), and then has to explain to her superiors (Kevin Dunn and Clancy Brown) where the robber’s supposed gun has vanished to. The audience knows that Wall Street trader Ron Silver (who was in the store at the time) picked up the gun and pocketed it himself. Curtis is suspended over the incident. Silver is, it turns out, a nutjob on a power trip who becomes obsessed with Curtis and starts murdering random people with Curtis’ name on the bullets. He also manufactures a ‘meet cute’ with Curtis, and charms his way into dating her. Eventually he reveals his true self to her, but Curtis can’t seem to make charges stick to him, so he is free to terrorise her. Phillip Bosco plays Curtis’ abusive bastard father, Louise Fletcher is strangely cast as her doormat mother, the late Elizabeth Pena is Curtis’ best friend, Richard Jenkins is Silver’s clueless lawyer, and Matt Craven plays a would-be suitor for Curtis.

 

Not one of the better films from Kathryn Bigelow (“Near Dark”, “Point Break”, “The Hurt Locker”), but it’s really the screenplay by Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red (“Near Dark”, “The Hitcher”) that disappoints here in this 1990 cop movie/psycho-thriller cum slasher movie produced by the one and only Oliver Stone (“Platoon”, “Wall Street”, “JFK”). And that’s a bit of a surprise, because Red’s work tends to be pretty decent for the most part. The film just comes off as awkward, blending female “Dirty Harry” (or any other 70s cop movie you care to name) with “Halloween” sequel, and the two absolutely do not go together, at least not as written by Red in this film. Curtis needs to be both an armed policewoman and slasher movie ‘final girl’. Sure, that makes her less of a victim than say, any other girl in a slasher film, but it also means that she alternates between being hero and victim rather awkwardly. It might sound clever in theory, but watching a law enforcement officer (rookie or not, female or not) being stalked for 90 minutes isn’t all that much fun. The plot starts out somewhat interesting, but it devolves into stalking alternated with scenes of Silver getting caught, let go, and away we go again. There’s a bit too much of that. Coming from a female director, it’s rather awkward seeing Bigelow trying to have an each way bet with Curtis here. Also awkward? The whole ‘Hey, there’s a psycho killer out there obsessed with you…but let’s forget all that and fuck like rabbits, OK?’ scene. Talk about a tacked-on sex scene. Logic doesn’t tend to play a big part in slasher movies (even some of the best ones like “Child’s Play” and “The Hitcher”, if you classify those as slashers), but in cop movies and thrillers it certainly helps.

 

But look, the film isn’t awful. In fact, Bigelow is a good enough director and visual stylist to make things attractive at the very least. The lighting by Amir Mokri (“Freejack”, “Man of Steel”) is particularly excellent. The titles design is really cool, giving off a Stallone vibe with its gun/phallic motif. Jamie Lee Curtis is immediately the right casting choice for the lead. I might question the idea of blending cop movie with slasher movie, but she’s spot-on here. Also, wrongheaded mixture of genres or not, I can’t deny that there’s a slightly uneasy vibe early on here. The understated score by Brad Fiedel (“Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, “True Lies”) also gives off a slight sense of dread, to help the atmosphere of the film. The late Ron Silver immediately walks off with the film as the psycho, the film makes no bones about the fact that he’s a nutter from the word go. He’s also a Wall Street trader by day, which makes sense when you think about it. Silver (who got a few knocks late in life for having some Conservative political views, but if you do your research, he was socially relatively liberal and who really cares anyway?) is a sorely missed presence on screen, there were few performances were he didn’t give his all, and this is no exception. He’s actually genuinely unsettling here, it’s like this guy’s not even from our solar system, that’s how off his tree he is at times, and yet because he’s played by Ron Silver, he can believably turn on enough charm to seem like a relatively respectable, normal member of society, and possible love interest. He dials down the charm just a tad, though, to make himself a believable psycho. Silver isn’t just Michael Myers here, for starters, he actually has a human face.

 

I also liked the supporting turn by the versatile Clancy Brown, whose cop character is a bit of a dick at first, but soon comes around to sensing Curtis may be telling some version of the truth after all. He makes for a good arsehole, but a decent cop too. Look out for a young, skinny, and pasty-looking Tom Sizemore in his film debut as a convenience store robber. It’s a good cameo, though Sizemore’s stunt double looks absolutely nothing like him. Oops.

 

This film isn’t anywhere near as bad as you might’ve been led to believe by others. The performances are all terrific, and the film looks and sounds great. But the screenplay is a bit of a dud, unfortunately. That’s the thing when you’re a filmmaker who doesn’t make many films, you need to make sure every one of them is a winner. This is just borderline OK and probably deserves to be forgotten, aside from Silver’s excellent and rather complex turn as an unpredictable Yuppie psycho.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: After Earth


Set in the future, where humanity has left planet Earth due to a huge environmental disaster and relocated to another planet called Nova Prime. Will Smith stars as a decorated and fearless ‘Ranger’, who agrees to take his aspiring Ranger teenage son Jaden Smith on his next mission. Their spacecraft runs into trouble and crash lands on the nearest planet. The planet turns out to be Earth (but it looks rather alien and the atmosphere is toxic), and the only survivors of the crash are Jaden and his injured father. With his dad incapacitated and likely dying, Jaden must make the long and dangerous trek to locate and activate the emergency beacon. It looks like the son might just get his chance to prove his worth to his soldier father. Does he have what it takes to complete this mission, especially on an Earth that seems to have evolved/devolved into an evil, dangerous (yet aesthetically pleasing) planet? Sophie Okonedo plays the wife and mother of our respective protagonists.

 

Every new film M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”) comes up with now gets a pillocking from critics and generally audiences stay away, too. However, I’ll always defend “Signs” (which showed he could definitely direct and had a visual style) and even “The Happening”, though I hated “The Village” (despite its visuals), and “Lady in the Water” really should’ve stayed in his kids’ bedroom. Well, now you can add this 2013 film from the director, who co-writes the screenplay with Gary Whitta (the awful post-apocalyptic dreariness “The Book of Eli”). The more important name here, however is probably star Will Smith, on whose story the script is actually based. He also produced the film, and apparently was in charge of much of the film’s directorial decisions, especially in helping his real-life son Jaden with his performance. I wouldn’t exactly call Shyamalan a director-for-hire here, merely that it appears to be somewhat of a team effort. Perhaps that’s why this film is one of Shyamalan’s better ones, as he finds himself sharing the creative process with others for a change (You can see why he was attracted to the project however, with its father-son bent). It’s a flawed film, but I think critics got it wrong on this one and I’m happy to be the lone dissenter here, if that be the case. More survivalist film with a father-son coming of age bent than a sci-fi film, it’s classic storytelling mostly well-told.

 

Particularly early on, the performances by The Smiths (see what I did there?) are a bit mannered, with slight but oddly affected accents distracting somewhat. I also think Jamie Foxx would’ve been a better choice for Will Smith’s part, but I’m sure Jaden had a great time working with his dad here again after “The Pursuit of Correct Spelling”. I actually think Jaden (who proved unbearably entitled in the wrongly titled “Karate Kid” remake) fares better than his dad here, who is a bit stiff and stoic, perhaps suppressing every other emotion along with his character’s fear. Like his underrated earlier work in the average remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, Jaden’s performance and character here will annoy some people. I believe this is somewhat intentional. He’s playing an impetuous teen on the verge of manhood. This story is his coming-of-age. He certainly conveys sheer terror perfectly. Like Dakota Fanning in the remake of “War of the Worlds”, he’s a kid and acts like a kid would in a situation like this (Not to mention some adults…myself probably included). The best performance probably comes from Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo, who doesn’t seem to have capitalised on her success in 2004’s “Hotel Rwanda”, and sadly isn’t in the film long enough to make her good performance mean a whole lot.

 

It’s certainly Shyamalan’s best-looking film since “Signs” and the CGI creatures are rather well-rendered too. The film’s cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (a veteran of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “Krull”) is to be truly commended here, you can almost feel the textures of the scenery here. It’s a gorgeous film. Meanwhile, I especially appreciated the nifty way Shyamalan (or whoever may have been responsible) allows Will to be able to look out for his son, despite being immobile.

 

Once we get to the meat of the story, I didn’t really see any problems here, it’s a good yarn. Give it a go if the Shyamalan name initially made you wary. This is pretty sturdy and traditional storytelling without the need for schlocky twists or quasi spiritual mumbo-jumbo (Some have accused the film of being pro-Scientology, which I saw no indication of whatsoever. I’d say it’s lightly Buddhist at best). This one really surprised me in the most pleasant way possible.

 

However, can the phrase ‘take a knee’ just fuck off and die already? You don’t need to take knees, most of you are born with two already. It’s a stupid, stupid wannabe-profound saying and I can’t stand it.

 

Rating: B-

Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: Jack


When Diane Lane goes into labour well before her due date, the doctors are somewhat perplexed and alarmed. It only gets weirder as she gives birth to the title character, who is growing at a much faster rate than normal human beings. The film proper picks up with Robin Williams playing the character as a ten year-old in what looks like the body of a 40 year-old. A really, really hairy 40 year-old. For the past ten years, Jack has been home-schooled by tutor Bill Cosby, but Jack yearns to be with other kids, and his parents (which include dad Brian Kerwin) reluctantly allow him to attend school, to be taught by the enormously sweet Miss Marquez (Jennifer Lopez). Most of the kids are rude or simply weirded out by Jack, but he makes fast friends with one boy (Adam Zolotin), who invites him to play basketball, and eventually the others fall into line and embrace his eccentricities (Like all kids would, right?). But Jack’s experiences being a ‘normal’ kid, after having been sheltered by his well-meaning parents for so long, may be short-term as the realities and complications of his condition come to the fore. Fran Drescher plays Zolotin’s floozy mother, who thinks Jack is the principal, Michael McKean turns up at a bar, and Don Novello plays a bartender at that bar.

 

Everything about this 1996 film from Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather” trilogy, “The Outsiders”, “The Rainmaker”) seems promising in theory. Then you see the film and it just doesn’t work at all (Even “Benjamin Button” was better, and that film wasn’t much good at all). One of the more disappointing flops of the 90s, this one’s no “World According to Garp”, and struggles to be much of anything to match up to the talented names involved.

 

Coppola (who I frankly think is completely overrated) apparently wanted to make a kids movie here, and that’s a shame. He’s got the perfect lead in Robin Williams, and a mostly fine supporting cast, but Coppola (who never puts a defining stamp on the thing) and screenwriters James DeMonaco (“The Negotiator”, writer-director of “The Purge”- both much better than this) and Gary Nadeau (who has barely worked in the industry before or since) have taken the most obvious, sappiest and most boring avenues from the film’s intriguing basic starting point. Even taking into account that it pilfers from “Garp” and the vastly superior “Big”, this still should’ve been a lot better and loftier. Williams and Bill Cosby are ideal (the film could’ve been even more awkward without Williams’ innate warmness), Diane Lane and a pre-relevance Jennifer Lopez are incredibly sweet (though Lopez treats her 10 year-old students like they are 5 year-olds. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong!) but Coppola wrongheadedly pitches this as a kids movie. It should’ve been a comedy, and not really a family one. As such, it’s a bore, more “The Sandlot Kids” than “Garp” or “Big” in execution. Coppola’s vision and the script are thoroughly underwhelming.

 

Williams overdoes the little boy voice at times, but he can’t really be faulted here. He’s perfectly cast and nails the character’s vulnerability and insecurity as a picked-on kid who is a bit ‘special’ (and really hairy). But anyone who has seen “Toys”, “Death to Smoochy”, or “Jumanji” (another film that should’ve been terrific but sucked) knows that Williams was never a miracle worker.

 

I mentioned Coppola’s vision earlier, but truth be told, the only thing that tells you that this is a Coppola film is the (perfect) casting of Diane Lane. Otherwise this is subpar, nondescript, formula filmmaking that any Happy Meal directorial hack could’ve helmed. And don’t even get me started on that far too whimsical opening childbirth scene where Diane Lane is dressed as Morticia Addams and Brian Kerwin (who is the one poor casting choice. He’s a boring nobody who never was) dressed as The Tin Man. That belonged in a whole other film (Notice I said other and not nother? That’s because only idiots say ‘nother’. It’s not a word, people!). It doesn’t even work as a kids movie. We get farting, puking, porno mags, impersonating the principal, overgrown man-children breaking chairs, etc. Is this the best they could come up with? If it had to be a kids movie, Bill Cosby himself could tell a more interesting story than this on his own. Then again, Cosby’s the guy who willingly starred in “Ghost Dad”, an even worse film than this. The kids are boring, and the concept of a 10 year-old in a 40 year-old man’s body is close enough to Michael Jackson territory that it ends up incredibly awkward. Why don’t the parents complain about Jack? Stranger Danger, anyone? Because it’s pitched as a kids movie, we’re just expected to ignore that, I guess.

 

The only plot development in the film that Coppola kinda succeeds with is Jack’s growing attraction to his teacher, which is probably the least juvenile aspect of the film, too. Lopez plays this angle really well, with great sensitivity. She also shows a lot of charisma that would not present itself much in the following decades. I guess she was still Jenny from the block at the time. Anyway, the scene stands out because the rest is such a subpar kids movie. This one has an identity crisis up to ying-yang, folks. The central character’s situation can’t be properly dealt with under kiddie movie restraints, and Coppola tries to submit the thing to his will and make a kiddie movie out of it, or else. Coppola should’ve either gone for adult drama, or a straight-up comedy. By doggedly pursuing a kiddie demographic, Coppola makes everything awkward and unsatisfying. It’s not “Toys”, but it is crap.   

 

Rating: D+

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: A Passage to India


Based on the classic E.M. Forster novel and set in the 1920s, Judy Davis stars as young Miss Quested, who travels to British-governed India with the elderly Mrs. Moore (Dame Peggy Ashcroft), who is most excited to see something of the ‘real India’, not the British-tainted stuff. Nigel Havers plays Ashcroft’s magistrate son, and Miss Quested’s intended, who just doesn’t understand their curiosity with India. Much more helpful is the rather liberal, educated Dr. Fielding (James Fox), who introduces the women to his good friends, the cheerfully and eager to please Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) and the elderly, somewhat daft Hindu teacher named Godbole (Sir Alec Guinness!). Dr. Aziz and Miss Quested get along famously, and in a moment of haste, Dr. Aziz suggests taking her on a trip to some local caves. Unfortunately, something happens to Miss Quested inside the caves, and she later emerges to accuse Dr. Aziz (who seems to have a sweet infatuation with her) of attempting to rape her, and the good doctor finds himself on trial. Needless to say racial tensions flare up to buggery over the whole thing. It seems highly unlikely that the cheerful, seemingly harmless Dr. Aziz could be guilty, and Dr. Fielding certainly believes in his innocence, but just what in the hell did happen to Miss Quested in those caves? Art Malik has an early role as Dr. Aziz’s best friend, who helps defend him alongside Roshan Seth, and Richard Wilson plays the opposing counsel.

 

One of the main problems with this highly-decorated 1984 David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dr. Zhivago”) film is that not only does it treat its subject in a manner that has dated since it was released, the fact is, it’s extremely old-fashioned for 1984 as well. I’m not saying this subject matter shouldn’t have been touched in 1984, but perhaps David Lean (who also scripted and edited the film) wasn’t the right guy to touch it. Capable of making very fine films (“Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Hobson’s Choice”, and especially “Oliver Twist”), Lean’s approach to this already historical subject, has seen it age progressively worse with time. It’s a very old-fashioned film (from a director whose last film was fourteen years prior), and it seems a decade or two out of touch at least. About the best thing I can say is that Sir Alec Guinness’ performance as an elderly Indian man is not only rather entertaining, but he narrowly gets away with it too, partly due to the rather light application of makeup on him. Ben Kingsley got an Oscar for doing so in “Gandhi” don’t forget. Yes, he has Indian heritage, but would you have known that from looking at him outside of the film? Nope, so casting a Caucasian or biracial actor isn’t always a bad thing. Anyone who has seen Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” surely can’t be too harsh on the comparatively subtle Guinness here, whose quite respectful, non-caricatured performance is actually more interesting than the rather trivial character he actually plays.

 

However, other aspects of the film have not aged nearly as well and aren’t nearly as interesting or entertaining. Characters here that are seen as rather liberal or forward-thinking for the time the film is set, don’t seem all that worldly or cultured for the time in which the film was released, and even less so now. India and its people are treated by those people in the film as somewhat of a quaint little curio, and in turn, by the filmmaker, it seems. It has aged so much that while there may have been that difference between the time the film is set and the time in which it was made, that difference doesn’t seem all that substantial today, I guess is the best way of putting it. As such, the film really only comes alive in the final quarter when it at least turns into an intriguing mystery/courtroom drama. This part of the film has its flaws (it seems like two films in one, and not seamless at all), but at least it’s intriguing enough to keep one awake, probably because it’s a tad similar to one of my favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, though obviously with a much different setting.  Unfortunately, there’s one fatal flaw that even this section of the film cannot escape; The tragic, albeit Oscar-nominated, miscasting of Australia’s own Judy Davis in ostensibly the lead role. It’s not so much that she isn’t terribly attractive that’s the problem. In fact, her rather plain looks are made into an issue within the film later on. That’s fine. However, anyone who has ever seen the head-strong Judy Davis give any performance in any other film will tell you that she is all kinds of wrong for this role (The fact that she got into heated arguments with the director and hurled profane insults at him is further proof. Sure, some actors can play people opposite to their own personalities, but Judy ain’t one of ‘em). She’s far too hardened, and tends to be cast in cynical, strong women roles. That’s because she’s rather good at that kind of thing. This fragile and naïve role is requiring something in the vicinity of Julie Harris, or even the likes of Lee Remick/Lee Grant with a British accent (Though obviously a younger version of those actresses). Sure, Lee Grant was known for playing shrill bitches too, but she was also known for playing fragile women prone to emotional hysterics, which is a key part of the character here that Davis fails to make credible. Judy Davis would be the one slapping the shit out of that hysterical woman, and her casting plays even more wrongly decades later. She’s just not fragile or dainty enough to work in the role. I’ve seen her play neurotic in Woody Allen films, but really, a fragile ingénue (albeit not an absolute stunner) would’ve been better. Or better yet, make the film in the 60s and cast Julie Harris for cryin’ out loud.

 

The supporting cast around Davis is thankfully solid enough to ensure the film isn’t a bad one, just uneven. Oscar-winning Peggy Ashcroft, and especially Victor Banerjee are particular standouts. James Fox is also rock-solid, Richard Wilson does his best with a rather one-dimensional part, and it’s always good to see character actor Clive Swift, however briefly. The excellent cinematography by Ernest Day earned an Oscar nomination, and helps lift the film a bit.

 

A film set in the 1920s (based on a book that was penned in the 20s as well), made in the 1980s, but made by a veteran filmmaker very much of the 50s and 60s, this is a lumpy and dated film. It has a few merits, but it’s not a terribly easy watch in 2014 (The wild monkeys rampage is awfully on the nose, I have to say). Tragic central miscasting does not help one iota. A very uneven film. Having said that, it’s also not my type of film at all (the East-West cultural clash thing is pretty tedious to me, aside from “Gandhi”), and one should probably keep that in mind. You may very well have a different opinion about it to me. It was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that year, after all.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Counsellor


Um…I’ll do my best here, folks. Michael Fassbender plays the title character, who is never called anything else in the film. He’s a Texan lawyer with a lovely fiancé (Penelope Cruz) and a stupid belief that it’s a good idea for him to make some money through a drug deal with his more experienced partner Reiner (Javier Bardem), and cowboy hat-sporting middle man called Westray (Brad Pitt). Things don’t go according to plan, including something involving the no-good son of The Counsellor’s imprisoned client (Rosie Perez) causing big problems for The Counsellor and anyone close to him. Cameron Diaz turns up as Bardem’s cynical, femme fatale girlfriend who ain’t no dummy, Bruno Ganz turns up as an Austrian diamond jeweller, Sam Spruell plays a nasty member of the drug cartel, and Ruben Blades is a kingpin called ‘El Jefe’.

 

Some people might like this 2013 crime flick from director Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “American Gangster”) and author turned screenwriter Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote the novel that was the basis for the overrated “No Country for Old Men”, as well as the interesting “The Road”). Those who like it are probably the few people who actually understood it. As for me, it wasn’t until about an hour in that I started to wade through the pretentious, incomprehensible coded dialogue to a point where I could follow the basics of the plot. Sort of. Even then I still felt like I didn’t really know the characters themselves. I understand that no one wants to be spoon-fed, but I’m sorry, I found McCarthy’s dense screenplay intensely irritating (the endless scene early on between Fassbender and Bruno Ganz was a real test of endurance and patience), and the film ultimately lost me. I kept watching, of course, but without much engagement, outside of the lively performances by Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem, who are well-cast and clearly having fun.

 

Not nearly as much fun, and frankly boring and blank is Michael Fassbender, and sadly he is our lead character. Unlikeable, but also underdeveloped, one never quite grasps onto his character, so that when things truly start to unravel and he gets in over his head, I simply didn’t care. Giving us more of a sense of who this guy was before he turns to crime, would’ve been extremely beneficial. Fassbender, a talented and often charismatic actor, doesn’t help in the slightest, he simply doesn’t register on screen beyond a boring ‘cool’ reserve (Before the fit hits the shans at least). Perhaps he was still trying to understand who his character was, too, but he just doesn’t earn our sympathy, and frankly doesn’t deserve it anyway, once we do get to know him a bit. I also didn’t believe that from what little I knew of his character that he would resort to criminal means just to keep up a lavish lifestyle for his lady love. Sure, he’s a lawyer and knows lots of crims, but so do a lot of lawyers and not all of them are the type to actually conspire with them on criminal endeavours. Scott, McCarthy, and Fassbender failed to make me believe it.

 

It’s a good thing that the studio execs nixed Cameron Diaz’s apparently horrendous Jamaican accent in post-production, because she’s pretty damn unconvincing in her role here as is. Some actresses can play ball-busting, unscrupulous, piranha-like women, but the sunny Diaz is as far from one of them as you can get. I’m all for actors trying to branch out, but as was the case in “Bad Teacher”, she’s terribly miscast and not remotely credible in the role. Sorry, Cameron, but you’re just too nice to play this. She and Bardem (and their two cheetahs!) seem to have walked in here immediately from filming scenes for Oliver Stone’s “Savages” that somehow didn’t make the cut and were spliced in here instead, though at least Bardem acquits himself entertainingly well. Diaz is terrible and her character is all unconvincing artifice. But no, they aren’t characters from “Savages”, though this film does share that (otherwise entertaining) film’s stupidity for hiring actresses to play highly sexual characters who are clearly unwilling to deliver the goods as required for their characters. Diaz’s character is supposed to be someone so uncontrollably erotically charged that she spread eagles and fucks a car at one point…but in other scenes carefully arranges her body so as not to show any nudity. There’s an obvious and frustrating disconnect there, and Diaz does a complete disservice to her character in that sense, and overall (She’s also starting to look seriously weathered, which doesn’t help her supposedly sexy character here). I’ve read Angelina Jolie was originally slated for the role, and she definitely would’ve been the right casting. But even then, the car-fucking, cheetah-taming role is too much of a put-on to really work. Poor Penelope Cruz is better, but rather wasted as less of a character and more of a plot point.

 

On the positive side of things, a flamboyant Javier Bardem looks to be having a lot of fun. He ain’t remotely subtle, but he brings energy that is otherwise sorely lacking in this talkfest. Brad Pitt is also genuinely good, even if I’m not entirely certain his character was necessary. Ruben Blades, not seen often enough these days, is excellent in a cameo, and even Rosie Perez is a lot less annoying than usual and quite effective. Also, if there’s a more evil-looking guy in movies today than Sam Spruell, I haven’t seen them.

 

Ultimately, although the film wasn’t exactly bad per se, it was simply too dense, enigmatic and aloof for its own good. I started out somewhat intrigued, but after a while, it really wore on me, and ultimately defeated me. I don’t want a film to spoon-feed me like a moron, but there comes a point where a film will piss me off by stubbornly refusing to make this any easier to follow when it easily could have done so. I wasn’t distracted whilst watching it, the film really is difficult to follow, and not good enough or engaging enough to make me want to try any harder. Being enigmatic is one thing, but when you carry that too far, you risk the entire thing being an enigma. Its dense dialogue and endless flowery speeches are insufferably pretentious (not organic to the kinds of people in the film, really) and pretty much impenetrable. Scott is an experienced (if erratic) filmmaker, McCarthy is a debutant screenwriter, the former should’ve seen the problem and corrected the latter. I mean, the basic premise of the film is, well, pretty basic. It’s the way that it has been told that is the problem. And if Scott was happy with things the way they are on screen in the film as is, well, like I said…he’s an erratic filmmaker.

 

I was simply at too much of a distance with this film. I didn’t enjoy it at all, certainly not enough to make me want to see it again to figure it all out. That’s the thing with films, if you want to make a film that improves on repeated viewings, you still need to make it work on the initial viewing. My first viewing simply wasn’t enjoyable enough. Perhaps you’ll make more out of it and enjoy the rather elusive experience. I found it aggravating and unenlightening.

 

Rating: C