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, January 11, 2014

Review: The Life of Pi


****SPOILER WARNING***** I don’t plan on overtly spoiling anything here, but this is one of those films where no matter how careful I am with my words, some might still pick up on little hints that lead them towards working something out. So if ever you were to adopt the system of saving the review until after seeing the film, this really is that time.

 

The title character (played at varying stages by Ayush Tandon, Suraj Sharma, and Irfan Khan) is an inquisitive sort who wants to investigate and embrace all faiths, despite his more agnostic father’s protestations that this is no better than believing in nothing at all. His family owns a private zoo, but decide fairly early in the film to relocate to Canada by ship, taking some of their animals with them, including a tiger, named Richard Parker (!) whom Pi’s father had previously taught the boy to approach with caution and understanding that he is no friend of man. A freak storm hits, resulting in Pi adrift in the middle of the ocean with a few of the animals...

including Richard Parker. Gerard Depardieu plays a racist French ship’s cook, in a throwaway part (I guess he wanted to work with the director).

 

Being an agnostic atheist, I wasn’t especially looking forward to what I assumed would be a preachy, Eastern religion flick. If you’re into that kind of thing, cool, but it’s not really my bag, though at least most Eastern religions seem to be more about spirituality than strict adherence and acceptance of religious doctrines/texts. Thankfully, this 2012 offering from eclectic-yet-sensitive director Ang Lee (“The Ice Storm”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and screenwriter David Magee (“Finding Neverland”) isn’t as black and white or preachy as one expects. In fact, one could even argue that the film (based on a supposedly ‘unfilmable’ novel by Yann Martel), might tell a few truths about religion and holy scriptures that some religious folk might strenuously object to (Though I’ve heard of several pro-religious interpretations of the film, too. Perhaps everyone sees what they want to see in it, I can only speak of my own take on it). Some will scoff at the film, and maybe even refer to it as an Indian “Forrest Gump” because it’s told by a guy on a park bench, destiny is sought, and there’s a big storm on a boat. But I think the comparison is a bit of a stretch, though I’ll acknowledge the film will likely leave some cold. You either go along for the journey or you don’t, and rather surprisingly to me, I thoroughly embraced the journey.

 

This is easily the most beautiful-looking film of 2012, it’s absolutely stunning, and at times it really does look like the illustrations of a children’s book. Although very little of the animal footage is real (some of the shots of Richard Parker are real, and the rest is at least based on real tigers, lest the poor young actors be sentenced to certain tiger food!), very little of the CGI is less than seamless. At times you feel like this is kind of a spiritual “Jungle Book”. For some of the shots where the tiger is moving, you can tell it’s CGI, and a moment’s thought would make you realise it’s unlikely that the tiger and the main character would be in a boat together, but that didn’t register with me at the time because I was caught up in the beautiful story. Overall, even with the motion issues, I think Richard Parker is still the most convincing and best CG creation since Gollum. Tigers are such beautiful, majestic creatures...but they absolutely scare the shit out of me, too. There’s one moment here in particular that I can guarantee only the completely deaf will fail to jump. I was also convinced that the orangutan was real, like all chimps it looks so human-like and expressive. Nope, it was CGI too apparently. Very bloody convincing CGI. There’s an absolutely stunning scene where you see a bunch of glowing fish underwater at night that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This movie is more magical than a lot of movies from The Magic Kingdom! The weakest CGI, however, comes with some flying fish, which are pretty fake-looking and are also the one time that the 3D element reared its ugly and distracting head during my 2D experience of the film. So unnecessary. The storm/hurricane scene, however, is simply one of the best in all of cinema.

 

The film comes dangerously close to screwing up at the end (did I mention M. Night Shyamalan was originally chosen to direct? Just sayin’...), before actually becoming something quite brilliant and in my view, true to life. It doesn’t negate everything coming before it, because really, it’s only at the end that the point of the rest of the film is truly revealed. And I think both atheists and religious folk with maturity, intelligence and an open mind will be able to embrace it (the author apparently deliberately left the ending open to interpretation, from what I’ve read. I’ve also read a connection to Edgar Allen Poe that might actually slant in one favour over the other, however. Check out IMDb’s trivia section for that, it’s interesting). I might not believe in God, religion, or faith (though my Agnostic bent allows me to admit that none of us know anything for certain), but I was able to appreciate what this film was saying about those subjects, and maybe even found a new kind of respect and understanding of those who choose to believe (a belief that is obviously extremely personal), even if the belief is at the very least a mixture of fact and parable/allegory. Sometimes us non-believers (and to be fair, some believers too) can be awfully arrogant and intolerant of others’ opinions and beliefs. Hell, I’ve had my moments too, and ultimately what does it matter? So long as you’re not forcing your beliefs on others, let’s all just believe what we want to believe if it helps one get through life’s ups and downs. Some would argue that psychological or even spiritual truths are still truths just the same, and I’m not going to deny those people the right to believe such things if they need them to survive. This film, whether it is ultimately a pro-faith or atheistic film, certainly made me appreciate and sympathise with the other side a bit more, even if ultimately I don’t really go along with Pi’s preferred way of seeing the world, personally, or have his ‘faith’. I think it’s pretty telling that the main character in the film is keen on learning and embracing all faiths (though whether this includes embracing a ‘lack’ of faith as a possible option as well, I’m not sure). At any rate, the film will get you thinking and most likely debating (hopefully in a respectful manner).

 

If I have one complaint, it’s really only a minor one. Since some of the Indian actors are more fluent in English than others, I wonder if subtitles might’ve been a better idea. But seriously, that’s the nitpick of all nitpicking. This is such a lovely movie, a smart, thoughtful, sensitive, and questioning one, without damning one side or the other but instead letting everyone choose which side they personally prefer.

 

There should be more films like this as far as I’m concerned, despite my initial reservations. It’s more spiritual and philosophical than religious if you ask me, humanistic even (though certainly fantastical, too). It’s easily one of the top three films of 2012, and it’s the film I wanted Danny Boyle’s overrated and jarringly ugly “Slumdog Millionaire” to be. Hell, it might even be Ang Lee’s best film to date as well, as it was certainly a brave undertaking of such a potentially difficult story, and he in my view has unquestionably pulled it off.

 

Rating: B

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Saw


Leigh Whannell plays a photographer who awakens to find himself chained to a pipe in the grottiest-looking bathroom you’ve ever seen. Also there in a similar predicament is a surgeon played by Cary Elwes. And there are also various items hidden around the joint, including a saw. The saw sure doesn’t look like it could cut through metal, though. It turns out that they are the playthings of a killer known as Jigsaw, and Jigsaw wants to make seriously unpleasant choices in order to free themselves...or die. Danny Glover plays a psychologically tortured and weary detective attempting to nab Jigsaw, who has already ‘murdered’ several people. Monica Potter plays Elwes’ wife, Ken Leung and Dina Meyer are detectives, Michael Emerson plays a creepy suspect, and Shawnee Smith plays a disturbed young woman targeted by Jigsaw.

 

I really liked the second film in this serious of ‘torture porn’ films (it was simple and effective for what it was trying to be), but by and large after that, they became rather disgraceful cash-grabs, with only “Saw V” earning anything close to an average rating. As for this 2004 original from director James Wan and fellow Aussie writer Leigh Whannell (who would later go on to make the even better “Insidious”), well it’s exactly as I remembered it back in 2004: A good try, but uneven, and I’m sorry, some of the shit from the mostly awful sequels can’t help but taint this a little bit. I don’t begrudge Wan and Whannell one bit for making some money, it’s those corporate hacks at Lionsgate I blame. Truth be told, it’s not my type of horror film anyway, but there’s definite issues with this one.

 

One thing it definitely has in its favour is that unlike the sequels, this one isn’t quite a horror film, it’s more of a mystery/puzzle box film mixed with police procedural (“Cube” meets “The Usual Suspects” as designed by Pinhead from “Hellraiser” would be the best description). So at least it stands out from the sequels, that is good. It’s a watchable film and a bloody good try, just not a bloody good film, though Wan’s direction is rather nifty at times.

 

The acting in particular, is wildly inconsistent. Whannell is surprisingly not bad, if a bit iffy on the American accent. But the film (and the entire series, really) overdoses on actors I can’t stand, with Cary Elwes stinking up the joint in his usual beige manner, and the less said about Dina Meyer the better. The best performances by far come from Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, and Michael Emerson, who is particularly well-cast for the function he serves. **** SPOILER WARNING **** I grew quickly tired of Bell as the sequels went on and on and the character just became a pompous windbag with nothing beyond the waffle (kinda like Laurence Fishburne in the second “Matrix” film), but here he’s effective. For the purposes of this film, Jigsaw is a fine adversary. **** END SPOILER **** Monica Potter is another thing altogether. She’s particularly lousy in a poorly written role. The biggest offender comes from (at least at the time) a surprising source, Danny Glover. Glover was once a very effective actor (and even impressed more recently in “Dreamgirls”), but here with clearly ill-fitting dentures and a director giving him far too much rope, he has some of his worst ever moments on screen. It’s sad to watch. I get that he’s playing an obsessed cop and is trying to act a little bit ‘off’ to make you suspicious of him, but either Glover is just absolutely awful, or Wan has given him too much freedom. Either way, he gets even worse as the film goes on.

 

I hate the piss-and-vomit stained look of these films, but at least in this one, the bathroom set is unique. Meanwhile, the flashback structure, whilst not containing compelling material, is a good way of at least not letting things get too monotonous and stagey.

 

It doesn’t fare well on repeat viewings because the sequels became so awful, convoluted, self-cannibalising and repetitive that it makes you a little less interested in revisiting where it all began, superior to most of those films as it may be. Meanwhile, as much as I liked “Saw II”, and even with this film’s (frankly absurd) ending withstanding, I still believe this film should never have been turned into a series. Look at how thin (yet convoluted) the material got the longer the series went on. Sorry folks, even patriotism can’t get me to be as big of a fan of this film as some seem to be. But I’m glad to see a couple of Aussie make big bucks, and one day they might even make a great film. It’s not like Wan directed any of the sequels himself, after all, but here’s a film I admire the effort in making than I enjoy actually watching.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Alex Cross


Tyler Perry stars as the police detective and intuitive criminal profiler of the title, who is pitted against a buff, sicko serial killer calling himself Picasso (Matthew Fox) who leaves sketches at the crime scene. In fact, after preventing one of Picasso’s killings, Cross might just get a little too up close and personal with the pain-obsessed killer. Ed Burns plays Cross’ partner on the force, Aussie Stephanie Jacobsen plays an early murder victim, John C. McGinley plays the police captain who is frankly a bit useless, Jean Reno plays a rich CEO who may be one of the killer’s next targets, and Cicely Tyson plays Cross’ no-nonsense mother. Giancarlo Esposito turns up as an acquaintance of Cross’, on the other side of the fence.

 

I’ve seen some bizarre casting decisions in my time, but replacing Morgan Freeman with Tyler Fuckin’ Perry for this 2012 James Patterson adaptation from director Rob Cohen (director of the terrible “Fast and the Furious” and the enjoyable fantasy “Dragonheart”) is pretty jaw-dropping, and sadly, mostly ineffectual. Whether this was meant to be a prequel or simply a reboot, casting the cross-dressing director-actor known for making comedies aimed mostly at an African-American market, is a pretty fatal mistake. Apparently Idris Elba was originally considered for the role, and I think he or Eamonn Walker, would’ve been better in the role. Hell, even Don Cheadle would’ve at least had the screen presence and acting chops Perry simply doesn’t have. I can’t see much chance of Perry’s built-in audience coming over to this film, so the casting decision really is mind-boggling. I had no trouble putting Freeman out of my mind, don’t get me wrong, as this version of Cross turns into a kind of vigilante after a while, making him closer to Sam Jackson’s “Shaft” reboot than Freeman’s intelligent detective/profiler. Freeman probably couldn’t have played this version of the character even 20 years ago, let alone in 2012. The problem is that Perry is simply not a good enough dramatic actor and Cohen has thrown the poor guy out there without a safety net. I think Perry would make for a good sidekick or partner, and it’s not just because he’s black, it’s just that he’s far too laidback and not a strong enough actor to run this show. Credit where it’s due, he gets a bit more intense as the film goes on, and gets all Avery Brooks (if not quite Samuel L. Jackson) on us, but I doubt we’ll be seeing Perry as Cross again.

 

That’s if they even bother making another one of these films. None of the previous two films was anything to write home about, but they were much better than this film, which as scripted by Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson, comes across like a pilot for an Alex Cross TV series. Perry might actually be a more acceptable presence on the small screen, come to think of it. Matthew Fox also continues the casting-against-type as the film’s chief whack-job, and although he is miscast, he certainly tries really hard, and the film certainly tries hard to make him seem creepier and more intense than he actually is. Fox simply hasn’t got a menacing enough voice to play a nutjob killer, and just seems too nice, which he probably is. The casting doesn’t come off ultimately however (despite Fox’s best efforts to ape Pruitt Taylor Vince’s crazy darting eyes), but Fox doesn’t flop as badly as Mr. Perry. I just think a more physically dominating actor like Tom Hardy or a more intense actor like Ben Foster would’ve been better. A much more believable source of intensity is veteran character actor John C. McGinley, who once brilliantly played a serial killer in “Intensity”. Unfortunately, here he plays an image-conscious, somewhat douchy police captain. Hardly the best use of his versatile talents. Ed Burns, meanwhile, does what Ed Burns does, and if you like him you’ll like him here too. There’s a good small role for Giancarlo Esposito, but neither he nor Jean Reno are enough to save this mediocre, uninspired detective film.

 

You keep watching it because, like all of these things, the mystery keeps you going, but this one’s ultimately not very rewarding at all, and Cohen never really ratchets up any tension or urgency. Special mention must go to Cicely Tyson, who is surprisingly terrible as Cross’ mother. Boy is she having an off day here. I would also like to single out cinematographer Ricardo Della Rosa for his idiotic use of shaky-cam where none is called for. It’s not just used in the action scenes, but disastrously employed when someone is looking at a computer screen. That doesn’t create or enhance tension, it just creates an alertness to the camera’s presence and the cinematographer’s fondness for cinematic wankery. Just invented a new word there, remember that one kiddies.

 

The earlier James Patterson adaptations had their problems, but this one (apparently not very faithful to Patterson at all) is seriously flat and uninspired. Only if you’re a desperate crime-thriller buff. Seriously desperate. And have never watched “Criminal Minds”.

 

Rating: C