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 17, 2014

Review: A Single Man

Colin Firth stars as a fiftyish British-born professor at a college in LA in the 1960s. He is a closeted gay man who lost his long-time lover and partner in life (Matthew Goode, in flashbacks/visions) about six months ago in a car accident. Now he is grief-stricken, and believing that he has lost the one reason to go on living (and the only other person in his life who truly understood what it was like to be gay in 60s America), he is planning on killing himself. A seeming connection with one of his students (Nicholas Hoult) seems like it might distract him from those plans, however. At least momentarily. Meanwhile, he is in infrequent contact with his one close friend, played by Julianne Moore as another relocated Brit who is in a very sorry state herself. Ginnifer Goodwin appears briefly as a friendly neighbour.


A brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance by Colin Firth is the chief selling point of this 2009 drama from debutant director and fashion designer Tom Ford. Firth has this quality to him where he’s almost dull but thoroughly decent and inherently sympathetic and he’s absolutely spot-on here in a heart-breaking portrayal of a man who feels that his one reason for living is now gone. Your heart aches for him in this film, and for the most part it is a sad and really haunting experience. I’m not sure why, but the film also had me thinking about films like “Accident” and “Victim”, both starring Dirk Bogarde and made in the 60s. Julianne Moore, playing a Brit, is slightly affected, but I believe that’s an affect adopted by her character, who is putting on an act to hide her own issues. By the end of one scene in particular, you really see what’s going on. This woman is in love with Firth and is dreadfully lonely on top of that.


Unfortunately, there are a few things that just stop this film short of being as effective a motion picture as it could’ve been. Chief among these is Ford’s design of the film. The clothes horse just can’t help but overdesign it all, even though he’s actually not the credited costume designer as one might expect. There’s just a little too much emphasis on hairstyles, colour and so forth to the point where it sticks out, rather than feeling organic. It’s a little hyperreal and completely at odds with what is otherwise something so very real, and quite intimate. Totally unnecessary, and perhaps someone else should’ve directed it. That’s a shame, not only because this is an incredibly moving film otherwise, but also because Ford quite clearly was trying his best to get the details right. He tried, but perhaps tried too hard, and it just took me out of the drama a little. You’re not Michael Powell or Emeric Pressburger (“The Red Shoes”), dude. Just tell the damn story.


The other big problem I had with the film was the ending. For a painful and moving story, this film finds the absolute most inappropriately devastating manner in which to end. It’s just too depressing and made me angry, not sad or moved. Whether this is the novel’s ending or not is irrelevant. It’d be like following “Precious” for two hours, have her escape her depressing squalor, only to then be hit by a bus and killed. I mean, come on! It’s meant to bring a tragic irony, but so what? Why is there a need to bring a sense of tragic irony? To be cool and swerve the audience? Fuck off. There’s no need for a gimmick here in an otherwise beautifully restrained and understated film. Maybe if Firth’s character were a decade or two older, the ending might’ve worked better and achieved its poetic irony, but as is...Hell no.


I also found it strange that there was such a mixture of not only British and American actors but British and American characters in a film set in the US (With Brit actor Nicholas Hoult playing an American and American actress Julianne Moore playing a relocated Brit). What was that about? Also, the relationship between Firth and Hoult lacked a little bit of clarity and definition for me, it bordered on half-arsed.


Overall, this is a sad film with a truly moving, subtly nuanced turn by Colin Firth (forcing a calm demeanour when he is truly crumbling on the inside), who has never been better and quite possibly will never match this performance, either. He’s that impressive here, and is almost guaranteed to bring the hardest of hearts to tears. Ford co-wrote the screenplay with  David Scearce, from a Christopher Isherwood (“The Great Sinner”, “The Loved One”, “Diane”) novel. Isherwood, for what it’s worth, was a Brit (and gay, too) who had a long stay in Hollywood.


Rating: B-

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: Kill For Me

Katie Cassidy (from the remakes of “When a Stranger Calls”, “Black Christmas”, and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”) stars as a troubled young woman who is trying to put the disappearance of her former roommate behind her and move on. She requests a new roommate and college girl Tracy Spiridakos answers the call. Cassidy has a thug ex-boyfriend (who may know something about the roommate’s disappearance), and Spiridakos has a drunk for a father (Donal Logue), so it’s not long before they form a quasi-Sapphic bond. When Spiridakos saves Cassidy from the violent wrath of her ex, she calls for Cassidy to help her likewise. And that’s just the beginning of this twisty little yarn as one wonders whether to take things at face value or not.


Directed by Michael Greenspan (“Wrecked” with Adrien Brody, who gets ‘thanks’ in the credits in this one), this 2013 thriller really ought to have been a TV movie. It looks like a Canadian TV movie, the plot is strictly run-of-the-mill Canadian TV movie stuff. But there’s just enough lesbian content to have probably kept this from being a TV movie. Unfortunately, Greenspan and his co-writers Christopher Dodd and Christian Forte (the latter having scripted Kevin Spacey’s OK directorial debut “Albino Alligator”) don’t really give us anything else, and even the lesbian content is somewhat mild, and eventually dropped altogether. So what has this film got? Nice swampy scenery that for once means a Canadian film that could pass for an American one. It also has a more than decent, elusive performance by character actor Donal Logue, and hints towards interesting back-stories for the lead characters that are unfortunately not nearly well-enough explored. That’s about it, I’m afraid, and it’s pretty lethargically directed too.


Katie Cassidy (daughter of David, apparently) is especially uninspiring in the lead, Tracy Spiridakos (best known for TV’s “Revolution”) isn’t much better, and there’s nothing you haven’t seen here before and miles better.


Donal Logue kept me barely awake, as his character could be just as bad as he’s believed to be, or he could just as easily be entirely innocent. It’s only near the end that we find out. The whole thing felt like a slightly more risqué episode of “Pretty Little Liars”, but without the elusive, conspiratorial machinations that make that teen-oriented show slightly above the disposable pack. It probably wants to be “Wild Things” (with a touch of “Strangers on a Train” and its ‘criss-cross’ murders), but the cast and black humour just aren’t there. Nudity might’ve helped, but not much.


Rating: C

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: Deconstructing Harry

In a plot supposedly inspired by Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”, Woody Allen plays a writer named Harry Block, who is about to be honoured by the University he was years ago thrown out of. Meanwhile, we encounter the fictional characters in Harry’s novel (Demi Moore, Richard Benjamin, Stanley Tucci, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus), as well as their real-life counterparts who are somewhat enraged with Harry for his rather thinly-veiled fictional takes on them. Harry’s journey of self-analysis leads him down some bizarro paths, including a meeting with The Devil himself (played by Billy Crystal). Judy Davis is Harry’s especially enraged sister-in-law whom he cheated on Amy Irving with, before ditching both of them for Elisabeth Shue. Kirstie Alley is another of Harry’s ex’s, a shrink and the mother of his kid, she is also the inspiration for the Moore character. Caroline Aaron plays Harry’s estranged sister who thinks Harry is a self-hating Jew. She is also married to a Conservative Jew (Eric Bogosian), leading to some tension between the three, especially when Harry turns up for an impromptu visit with his ‘kidnapped’ son (don’t ask) and an African-American prostitute named Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) on their way to the University!


Along with “Annie Hall”, this quite dark and profane 1997 comedy is my favourite Woody Allen film, though I’m far from a fan of the writer-director. But this one is definitely among his funniest and least pretentious. Plot-wise it’s pretty standard stuff but done in a non-linear and interesting way. Yes it does contain Woody’s trademark misogyny, but Judy Davis’ big tirade against Woody is nonetheless a terrific moment, and although Richard Benjamin is at least twenty years too old for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, they certainly have at least one very memorable moment together. The one thing in Woody’s defence here is that he’s criticising himself, basically. The women here rip into him, often for writing bad, thinly veiled things about them. All Woody films tend to have some psychoanalysis but this one’s a lot darker (to a degree that might make you wonder about the guy) and even surreal at times. The Grim Reaper is in it, for starters.


There’s a particularly great bit where Robin Williams plays a literally out-of-focus actor. ‘Take some rest and see if you can sharpen up’ is the advice he gets. It’s really funny and a clever idea, with Williams reunited with “Awakenings” co-star (and Marge Simpson) Julie Kavner as his wife who gets seasick from looking at him! Woody himself has a funny moment with his character’s son, and yes it does turn to penis talk. I also liked the bit where Woody actually encounters Richard Benjamin, who is a literary version of himself. It’s like meta-psychoanalysis times infinity. And then Woody gets scolded by the very psychoanalyst he creates in his own mind! The funniest gag in the whole film, aside from the Williams character, is the “Star Wars” bar mitzvah, which is just brilliant. Billy Crystal, meanwhile, plays the most Vegas incarnation of Satan you’ve ever seen. He’s like a really bad insult comic. See, ‘coz Satan is ‘bad’? Get it? Thank you, I’m here all week. Try the lobster. I also have no problem believing that most of Woody’s sexual fantasies involve Josef Stalin’s daughter. My only problem with the entire film is the use of jump cuts, which are always annoying and unnecessary to me.


Woody’s depiction of women, and his depiction of his character/alter ego’s relationships with women are interesting here; Only in a Woody Allen film, for instance, would a shrink played by Demi Moore (pretty funny here) be interested in her patient played by Stanley Tucci. Meanwhile, anyone who ditches Amy Irving to have an affair with Judy Davis is insane...unless they end up with Elisabeth Shue on the way to meeting Davis for a rendezvous. Davis, however is clearly miscast from the very moment you hear Irving get jealous of her and say that she’s so beautiful. She looks like a manic depressive drunk, and that’s presumably with a lot of makeup and ‘movie magic’. Sorry, but it’s true and plays very strangely in the film.


Is the film a series of bits and running Woody monologues? Yes, but for once, most of it is actually funny (The story about an elderly fellow keeping an old, extremely dark secret from his wife stands out like a sore thumb and should’ve been cut). Egotistical, but funny,. This is a sorely underrated, and often funny film about self-analysis, self-loathing, angst, religion, and Death it (and him) self. A whack on the knuckles for all the jump-cuts, though. That’s so amateur hour.


Rating: B

Review: The Sapphires

Beginning in the late 60s in a remote part of Australia where Irish MC Chris O’Dowd spots a trio of Aboriginal sisters (played by Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, and Miranda Tapsell) at a dopey pub talent show. He sees something in them, and wants to manage them, though he suggests they change their preferred genre from country music to soul/R&B. The girls take the drunk but laidback Irishman on as their manager, and before long, they have added their fairer-skinned cousin Shari Stebbens to the act and head for Vietnam to entertain the troops. In the midst of all this, Stebbens’ rejection of her colour/race (she is a half-caste victim of the ‘stolen generation’), forthright Mailman’s jealousy of Mauboy taking over lead vocals, and flirty Tapsell’s romantic issues (including a dalliance with an American GI) provide side stories. Hell, O’Dowd even tries to tame the rather tempestuous (and protective) Mailman and win her heart.


Everyone knows I’m not the biggest fan of musicals (to be seriously euphemistic), but when the songs are an organic part of the story, as in a film about musicians, that is often a difference maker for me. This is especially so when I like the music, as is predominantly the case here. So (belatedly) supporting local filmmaking I decided to watch this 2012 Aussie crowd-pleaser from director Wayne Blair. Basically Australia’s answer to “Dreamgirls” but with more connection to fact (“Dreamgirls” was a fictional account of Diana Ross and The Supremes), I’m actually a bit ashamed that I hadn’t heard of the real-life story before the film came out. Is it a great film? Nope. Is it my kind of thing? Nope. Does the story have clichés up to ying-yang? Yep. But it’s a story that deserved recognition and as a film, it’s one that makes you happy and is an easy watch. Scripted by Tony Briggs (who is the son of one of the real-life Sapphires and whose 2004 play the film is based on- and Blair co-starred in it) and Keith Thompson (The inconsequential “Clubland” with Brenda Blethyn and Rebecca Gibney), I actually liked this more than “Dreamgirls”. And hell, the clichés might actually help to make it more relatable to foreign markets, apparently it did pretty well at Cannes that year.


Smile on my face or not, though, it’s still a bit overrated, at least locally. We’re not talking film of the year here, folks. I mean, those country singers sure do take to the soul music pretty damn quickly, don’t you think? Perhaps audiences were just happy to finally have an Aussie film that didn’t make you want to slit your wrists. I think we’ve all had enough of that to last us a lifetime, to be honest. Maybe we can all agree that it was the best Australian film of the year then? I’m OK with that.


The film’s two chief assets are clearly Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy, who is basically this film’s Jennifer Hudson, except she actually won her season of “Idol”. Hearing Mauboy sing (the others are dubbed by the likes of Jade McRae and Mahalia ‘Tin Lid’ Barnes) old soul songs just reminded me of how miscast she is in the world of modern R&B. She’s an old school R&B-soul/pop singer for sure, but that sort of stuff just isn’t selling, I guess. Deborah Mailman has a winning smile and is by far the best actress of the four protagonists, but when Jess Mauboy smiles, the whole damn world lights up. And when she opens her mouth to sing here, everyone else is invisible. She’s a good singer (better than Beyoncé, who I find phenomenally overrated and apparently allergic to anything resembling a melody) and awfully cute. Mailman seems a bit old for her role to be honest, but she’s especially likeable and has all of the film’s best lines. In fact, as much as Mauboy blows everyone away vocally, Mailman still ends up stealing the film through personality, charisma, and acting talent. Certainly her character resonates more than Mauboy’s (Which one could once again relate to how Jennifer Hudson’s character in “Dreamgirls” resonated more than Beyoncé’s I guess).


One thing I really liked about the actresses cast in the title roles was that each of them is on a different part of the spectrum in terms of skin colour. Not all aboriginal people look the same, and some you might not even know their nationality. It’s perhaps an obvious point, but I appreciated it nonetheless. I also liked that although the film brings up some pretty heavy issues, it never brings the tone of the film down too much. Meanwhile, Irish actor Chris O’Dowd is funny as the likeable drunk Irishman who discovers the girls and manages them. It annoys me that his supporting role was overly promoted in overseas advertising (not racism, mind you, just shameless commercialism), but he’s great fun nonetheless. The music is great, too, if a bit eclectic. ‘Run Through the Jungle’ by CCR is one of my top 3 songs of all-time, but what the hell is it doing opening this film? And I love the idea of showcasing Aussie music, but I’m not sure The Seekers were really the best option. But those Motown songs? Classics all of them. The best thing about the entire film comes at the very end when you see a still photo of the real-life Sapphires all grown-up.


This isn’t a great film, but it’s a feel-good one that also celebrates a perfectly valid and interesting (if seemingly familiar) story in Australia’s music (and cultural) history. So what if it’s all surface? Sometimes, feeling good is worth celebrating. Yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying that, either. I thought I was supposed to hate musicals?


Rating: B-