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 31, 2014

Review: Jack Reacher

Five people dead from a sniper’s fire, and the likely guilty suspect is believed to be a disgruntled former Iraq war army veteran. Tom Cruise is the title character, a super-elusive former military investigator who has a history and grudge against the suspect. And yet he agrees to help out Courtney’s Defense attorney (Rosamund Pike), who is the estranged daughter of the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins). And soon, the duo uncover a whole lot of stuff that might just get Reacher to put his grudges aside and come around to Pike’s way of thinking: The suspect may in fact be innocent. The audience, meanwhile, already knows that the suspect is a patsy set-up by criminal mastermind ‘The Zec’ (German director Werner Herzog, playing a Russian), whose personal assassin (Jai Courtney) did the deed. David Oyelowo plays the cop who arrested the prime suspect, and Robert Duvall turns up briefly as a gun shop/shooting range owner who provides critical info. Alexia Fast plays a rather trashy girl named Sandy, whose boyfriend tries to rough Reacher up.


One of my pet peeves is when a trailer gives you all the best bits or the best jokes in a film. However, you also need to be wary of a trailer that tells you next to nothing about a film beyond the title and star. Case in point is this 2012 film that plays like a hybrid of John Grisham and Tom Clancy, only completely ineffectual, more like lesser Clancy or Grisham. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (writer of “The Usual Suspects” and “Valkyrie”) and based on a Lee Child novel, it’s a film where the characters really could have saved themselves and the audience a whole lot of time by reading Ebert’s Little Movie Glossary, because this film’s mystery can easily be solved by Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters (or whatever name he later changed it to). That’ll narrow it down to two possible bad guys at the very least.


McQuarrie shows quite an interesting visual style early on, and it begins in a rather cold-blooded, 70s spy/thriller kinda way, something like “Day of the Jackal” (apparently a source of inspiration for the author, I’ve heard) or “The Mechanic”. Unfortunately, from Tom Cruise’s cheesy first scene onwards, it’s flat and dull. In addition to having the campest name I think I’ve ever heard, I was surprised that no one in this film claimed that Jack Reacher was the ‘best of the best of the rest of what’s left’. The film might be something of a mixture between Grisham and Clancy thriller, but the way the character of Reacher is presented, it’s as if Steven E. de Souza (“Commando”, “Die Hard”) or Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Boy Scout”) were brought on board at the last minute for some re-writes. Reacher is totally an 80s action movie relic, with far too cheesy humour. It’s clunkily done and never believable. Sure, the bar fight is amusing, but it’s really stupid at the same time (and do bars still play House of Pain?), because it’s meant to have been a set-up but the way it plays out, one finds that hard to believe. Really bad writing. It’s just a really poor idea to have the henchman come across as incompetent knuckleheads- no credibility or threat, and it leads to a dull film. Jack Reacher is borderline Steven Seagal, and at least Steven Seagal eventually got fat and old. Reacher is just Superman with a slightly questionable name, and whilst Cruise looks great for 50, I still found him very silly in action. This is the first time since “Vanilla Sky” that I’ve actually found Tom Cruise really boring and charmless in a film. What did he see in this material? He’s certainly not well-cast in a role that really cries out for a Jason Statham, and even then it’d still be cheesy as hell.


Rosamund Pike, meanwhile...where do I start? People have been commenting for years now that she seems to have this (possibly Botox-induced) constant look of arched eyebrow surprise on her face. Well, if you ask me, she spends the entire film here in total awestruck of being opposite Tom Cruise, to the point where it seems like she’s incredibly horny. I’m not kidding, I swear her panties dropped (out of frame) at one point. How did the director not see this? I felt really embarrassed for her, but to be honest, she’s a professional and should know better than to alert everybody to the fact that she seriously wants to fornicate Tom Cruise violently and passionately. At one point I think I even heard her have an orgasm listening to Cruise talk. An actual orgasm, not a figurative one. It may be that these are hints towards a romance between the two characters that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor, but even so, surely someone would’ve looked back over this film and realised there was something really, really wrong going on here. Rosamund does have awfully lovely Pikes, though I must say.


Robert Duvall turns up for a complete waste of his time and talent, and Richard Jenkins is here too, but let’s face it, he’s like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”- he’s always been here. He gives the same damn performance he always does, and is perfectly fine. The two performances that do actually stand out are by Alexia Fast and rather surprisingly, famed director Werner Herzog. I’d never heard of Fast before, but she’s quite impressive opposite some pretty big names. Herzog, meanwhile steals the entire film coming across like Armin Mueller-Stahl but positively chilling and dead-eyed. A film about his character would’ve been so much better than what is really just another film about a disgruntled and unstable American soldier. Yawn.


With a clichéd and transparent plot that wouldn’t cut the mustard on “NCIS”, silly machismo, a boring hero, and a lead actress who can’t contain her fan girl crush, there’s not much to see here. Even fans of Grisham or Clancy thrillers would have a hard time staying awake during this one, though McQuarrie does show some promise as a visual stylist.


Rating: C

Review: Iceman

A drilling expedition in the Arctic uncovers a Neanderthal man encased in ice. The body is transported to a scientific research facility where it starts to thaw, much to the shock and awe of the anthropologists attempting to study it. Moving him to a kind of bio-dome living space, young Dr. Shepherd (Timothy Hutton) attempts to communicate with the now dubbed ‘Charlie’ (John Lone). Meanwhile, other scientists (David Strathairn, James Tolkan, and Josef Sommer among them) are debating whether or not to ‘donate his body to science’ so to speak and learn about how he has managed to stay so well-preserved for so long. Dr. Shepherd is obviously displeased with this rather clinical approach, and attempts convince another doctor (Lindsay Crouse) to join his cause and save Charlie’s life so that we can learn more about ourselves through our ancestors. Danny Glover has a small role as one of the people in charge of monitoring Charlie’s simulated habitat at the compound.


Although its central idea has more often than not been the subject of ridicule and comedies over the years (“Encino Man”), or at least done to death (“Instinct”, “Nell”, etc.), this 1984 Fred Schepisi (“The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith”, “Roxanne”, “A Cry in the Dark”) sci-fi drama is worth a look for patient and appreciative viewers. It is well-made in every respect (certainly better than “Nell” was), there’s nothing wrong with it, and I wish I was more into it than I actually ended up being.


Timothy Hutton and Lindsay Crouse are perfectly cast (so too David Strathairn), and James Tolkan (who I thought was dead for some reason, but I’ve read that he’s very much alive in 2014) has a fun role, too. It’s a shame that the talented Josef Sommer isn’t given much screen time, as I really like him. As for John Lone in the all-important title role...well, it’s an impossible role to come out of very well, and the best I can say for him is that he is convincing. It’s interesting I guess that they’ve cast an Asian guy (Lone being Chinese-born) as a caveman, and the makeup is really good too, but the role itself just isn’t all that interesting.


Some might find the film a bit dry, but I liked its matter-of-kinda-fact approach to what is basically a bullshit concept. It can be a bit risky taking something like this seriously, but as written by John Drimmer and Chip Proser (the latter of whom co-scripted Joe Dante’s fun “Innerspace”), it pretty much worked for me. Here’s a film with some genuine ideas in its head and at the time it was probably truly impressive. Certainly not a film for mindless popcorn movie lovers. No wonder it has been largely forgotten about, then. It’s a solid film, and a convincing and interesting one, but perhaps in the passage of time and subsequent films, some freshness has been lost. Worth seeking out, though, if you’re looking for a slightly fantastical but thoughtful, humanistic sci-fi film. It’s certainly nowhere near as silly or foolish as it could’ve been in less assured hands than Aussie director Schepisi (And it’s definitely miles ahead of any version of “The Thing” you care to name, as this is yet another arctic-set film involving frozen life forms thawed by a team of scientists).


Rating: B-

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: Cassandra’s Dream

Scotsman Ewan McGregor and Irishman Colin Farrell play two working class London brothers somewhat financially hard up but full of dreams. Farrell wants to buy a house for his girlfriend (a blonde Sally Hawkins), but is a ne’er do well gambling fuck up of a human being. McGregor for his part wants money to move to California with his beautiful but high maintenance actress girlfriend (Hayley Atwell). When a visiting uncle (Tom Wilkinson) with money and Hollywood connections comes to ask a favour of them, they see this as the answer to their prayers. All he asks is that they murder a colleague who has dirt on him that could ruin him. Once the deed is done, the increasingly ambitious McGregor seems to be enjoying himself, but poor Farrell takes to drinking and a serious bout of guilt. He just can’t live with what they’ve done, and it has the potential to make things difficult for McGregor and Wilkinson in the process.


I hadn’t even heard of this Woody Allen (“Deconstructing Harry”, “Annie Hall”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”) film 2008 before seeing it, and to be honest I can see why (And not just because it was strangely released direct-to-DVD here). It’s an unremarkable and ultimately uneven film that doesn’t outwardly present itself as a typical Woody Allen film. But I’ve seen a lot worse from Woody, and it’s a pretty bleak and tragic film (and not terribly amusing at all), just not a wholly successful one. I liked it a bit more than his overrated (but much more well-known) “Match Point”, which it shares a few cosmetic similarities. For starters, neither film gives off any Woody Allen vibes at all beyond the opening credits and Woody’s familiar font of choice. Anyone could’ve directed this material. For some like me, that’s not immediately a bad thing.


At first Colin Farrell seems a bit wasted but he really does win you over by the end, with a tragic (almost of the Greek variety) performance. Once his character truly starts to crack, the versatile actor’s talent really does show through. Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell, meanwhile are such charismatic and likeable actors that you might not even notice that they actually aren’t very likeable here at all. That said, I wasn’t so sure Atwell was so high maintenance so much as McGregor, in trying to impress her, kept talking himself up and buying up big. Sure, she seems to enjoy it, but to me it said more about his insecurity than anything else. McGregor’s character’s progressing ruthlessness actually kinda sneaks up on you a bit by the end of the film. It’s not so much that he’s an evil person, it’s just that one evil action starts the train moving and he’s on a trajectory that’s hard for him to stop, really. He’s probably just as shocked at himself as we are shocked with him. Atwell, meanwhile, certainly fares much better in British films than American crud like “Captain America”, and is very pretty too. She’s really good, and certainly better than Scarlett Johansson in “Match Point”. Probably the best work I’ve seen from her, actually. Sally Hawkins is here too...I wish she wasn’t. Her inarticulate manner of speech is nails on a chalkboard to me. She seems smart enough to not speak in such a manner, but like Jamie Oliver, persists with the cockney gangster accent nonetheless. It suits the character sometimes, but she speaks this way in every film. Like Brenda Blethyn and Julie Walters before her, I just can’t take to the woman, but thankfully her character is somewhat on the periphery here. I think Tom Wilkinson is a tad overrated, but he’s certainly solid, and is very much so here.


The material is more interesting and less predictable than “Match Point”, but although watchable, it meanders for a bit. It’s quite scary how things snowball out of control, though, I just wish it was overall better than it is. I think I still like it more than most seem to, though. It might be one of the more ‘normal’ films Woody has ever done, if one can really call it ‘normal’. Just a strange choice of subject for such an esteemed and lauded filmmaker. I’m not quite sure what was going on with Woody around 2005-2008, but at least this isn’t pretentious or irritating. It just seems to indicate a filmmaker struggling to find his place in a world (cinema) he arguably once ruled. But at least in this case, he’s not putting out something tedious, irritating, or pretentious. Just...passable.


Rating: B-

Review: To Rome With Love

Woody Allen and Judy Davis play an American couple vacationing in Italy. He used to be a music promoter (!), and when he hears the father (Fabio Armiliato) of his soon-to-be daughter-in-law (Alison Pill) sing in the shower (don’t ask), he’s convinced the next big opera voice has been found. Meanwhile, Jesse Eisenberg is dating Greta Gerwig, but finds he is clearly more compatible with her friend Ellen Page. Alec Baldwin plays a middle-aged architect who becomes Eisenberg’s romantic adviser as he contemplates an illicit relationship with Page. In another story, Roberto Benigni plays a reticent ‘reality TV’ star, whose mundane life is tailed by paparazzo. Formerly feeling ignored and insignificant, he now finds he has no privacy whatsoever. Be careful what you wish for. The final story involves a newlywed couple (Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi) find themselves separated, with Tiberi has a ‘meet cute’ with a prostitute (Penelope Cruz), whom he has to introduce to his visiting parents as his new wife, through screwball circumstances.


Most people hate this 2012 Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Deconstructing Harry”, “Celebrity”) ode to all things Eye-talian, but for my money, it’s far less nauseatingly pretentious than his much more popular “Midnight in Paris”. Bear in mind, as always, I’m not even remotely a Woody Allen fan. This one’s an uneven collection of vignettes as Woody is clearly not in peak form here, but some of it is good fun. It should’ve cut out some of the lesser vignettes (which are easy to spot as you won’t recognise many of the actors in them), and the ending is pretty poor, but geez, it’s not that bad.


Although his role is ill-defined, Alec Baldwin effortlessly steals his every scene, Roberto Benigni is perfectly cast as well in an amusing dig at reality TV, though apparently I’m the only one who enjoyed this segment. I found it hilarious to hear Benigni’s wife getting the Joan Rivers treatment on the red carpet, whilst he is inundated with inane questions about his choice in underwear. It’s hardly an original concept, but it’s certainly a lot cleverer and funnier than what Woody was trying for (and failed) in “Celebrity”. Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page are also well-matched, even if I find Page rather annoying (less-so in this film, though) and find it strange that Eisenberg would rather be with a girl who looks like a ten year-old boy than the lovely (if overrated) Greta Gerwig. Best of all, Woody showcases Rome as a lovely place to look at, even if my aversion to scenic-yet-boring locations holds me back from ever wanting to visit (I don’t care for the food or music, so why bother?).


Penelope Cruz looks gorgeous, but I wasn’t a fan of her storyline with a newlywed, nor the story of the newlywed man’s wife, both of whom were incredibly boring. Woody’s own storyline was good fun though, even if Judy Davis finds herself incredibly wasted as Woody’s wife. Like I said, I really liked Alec Baldwin in this but his character made absolutely no sense whatsoever. At first I thought he was just a figment of Eisenberg’s imagination dispensing wise ladies’ man tips to nerdy Eisenberg. But since Page sees and interacts with him as well, that can’t be the case. Except...at times she appears unable to hear or see him. What the hell? Still, Baldwin is spot-on in the role, and I especially loved him pointing out that Page was quoting just enough literature to make herself sound smart. We all know people like that. Gerwig is appealing, but hey, so are a lot of actresses. What’s the big deal?


With a couple of the stories thrown out, there’d be much more room for character depth. As is, I’ve seen Woody do a whole lot worse. And hey, at least this one’s not misogynistic. That’s an improvement over some Woody films, and he gets some good lines in too (‘I was never a communist. I couldn’t share a bathroom!’). It’s not nearly as egotistical and infantile as “Midnight in Paris”. It’s not bad, but it’s not very significant, either. The jaunty music is pretty on the nose, too. We get it, you’re in Italy, dude. No need to go for cliché. At least ‘Nessun Dorma’ (if that’s the correct spelling) has a legit reason for being used in the film, but the rest is just horrible stereotyping. This ain’t a pasta sauce commercial. Sorry, but it bugged the hell out of me.


Rating: C+

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Leaving Las Vegas

The story of the relationship between an alcoholic who refuses help (Nic Cage) and a prostitute (Elisabeth Shue) in Vegas. Cage has lost his job, his family, and frankly his will to live. He is committing suicide via the somewhat elongated route of drinking himself to death. He hires Shue to sit and listen to him, and he listens to her. Before long, despite Cage’s presumed odour and obvious drinking problem, the two fall in love. They realise they need something in one another, but Cage asks Shue to never ever ask him to quit drinking. They’re clearly not headed for a traditional happy ending, but at least they have each other. Meanwhile, Shue’s occupation has its own dangers, one of whom is her unstable pimp named Yuri (Julian Sands) who has a hold on her. Graham Beckel, Danny Huston, and Julian Lennon play bartenders, Steven Weber and Richard Lewis of all people play former business associates of Cage.


I’ve held off seeing this 1995 descent into alcoholism and paid sex from writer-director Mike Figgis (“Internal Affairs”, “One Night Stand”) for 18 years. Nic Cage + alcoholism seemed like the least appealing cinematic endeavour one could take. And having now seen the film, I’m certainly unlikely to watch it again. It wasn’t wise of me to make a double-bill out of this and the 2009 film “A Single Man”. But make no mistake, this is a terrible, terrible story...and that’s a compliment. Not every movie is meant to be a nice experience that you walk away from with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, and I’m at an age now where I can appreciate that. This is an extremely well-made and effective film, and yes, Nic Cage pretty much deserved his Oscar for this. On a bad day, the guy is capable of giving the worst performances of all-time (“Deadfall” and “Vampire’s Kiss” specifically), but even a broken clock is right twice a day, and thus even Nic Cage is capable of doing good or even great work. Is he quite often seriously wired and obnoxious here? Yes, but that’s because he’s playing an obnoxious alcoholic who has seemingly no idea just how obnoxious and presumably foul-smelling he is, and in that Cage is spot-on. He’s so incredibly disgusting and pathetic, he’s the kind of guy you’d cross the street to get away from. It’s heartbreaking to see someone degrade themselves like this, and Nic Cage isn’t just being weird and hyper and eating bugs just because he can. No, he has crawled right inside one of the saddest excuses for a human being you’ve ever seen and isn’t holding back one bit. Even when he gets a bit cartoony on occasion, I believe these are intentional moments of humour to lighten the mood before things get even more depressing (Is it meant to be funny that Cage’s boss is named Bill? Is his last name Wilson? Just a thought that went through my head watching the film). If this film were any more realistic it’d be unbearable, so people who say Cage still looks too healthy...seriously, go watch a documentary or something. This is as realistic as you’re going to get for Hollywood.


I can understand why Cage won his Oscar yet Elisabeth Shue didn’t, but don’t dismiss the work by Shue, either. She has been quite enjoyable and commendable in other films, but this is obviously and instantaneously the role of her career. As much as Cage has pissed away much of the goodwill he earned from this film, it’s especially sad to have seen Shue not follow up her good work here in subsequent films. Even Cage has at least managed a relatively high profile career. Actresses are often called ‘brave’, as a way of commending them for getting their tits out on camera, but believe me when I tell you, Shue is incredibly brave here (As is Cage for that matter).


What saves this film from being harrowingly unwatchable is how heartbreaking it is. These are two of the most lost souls you’ve ever come across. They both need saving, and it’s so incredibly moving that someone with her own problems like Shue would want to save a dirty, zonked-out drunk like Cage. Everyone needs someone I guess, but as much as you want this relationship to work out, you know Cage’s problems in particular are so incredibly deep-rooted that the ending will more than likely not be happy.


Veteran bad guy Julian Sands also deserves a mention for his seriously unpleasant, frightening, and slightly pathetic performance as an abusive pimp. When given the chance, Sands, like Cage, can actually deliver, and he must’ve enjoyed the chance to tackle something a little more substantial than a “Warlock” film.


Figgis makes all those pretty lights and Vegas casinos seem like the ugliest, loneliest town on Earth. Once again, that’s a compliment. He should also be commended for a genuinely solid, jazzy score, though opinion seems divided on that. Meanwhile, you’ll never hear ‘Lonely Teardrops’ the same way again after this, in a soundtrack that perhaps one too many Sting songs for my liking (There’s also numbers by Don Henley and Michael McDonald). In some ways this film reminds me of something that really ought to have been made in the late 60s or early 70s like “Midnight Cowboy”, “Looking for Mr. Goodbar”, etc. But I guess being made in 1995 allows for much more realism than those previous decades would’ve been afforded.


In a seriously eclectic cast, look out for brief appearances by R. Lee Ermey, Valeria Golino (who briefly injects some sweetness), Danny Huston, singer Lou Rawls as a good-natured cabbie, Mariska Hargitay, Ed Lauter, Carey Lowell, and Julian Lennon as a bartender. This is one helluva film, a truly shattering experience that I don’t for a second regret seeing nor will I ever quite shake it from my mind. I just think it would be too much to go through a second time. If this movie leaves you lifeless and unmoved...you’re probably dead. Figgis’ screenplay is based on a novel by John O'Brien, who apparently shot himself around the time the film started shooting. According to his father, the book was his suicide note.


Rating: B+

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review: End of Watch

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena play a couple of ratbag LAPD officers, also the best of friends, who get up to their necks in trouble when they start sticking their nose in the territory of a Mexican drug cartel that has moved into the South Central area. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal is recording their day-to-day procedures on a handheld camera for a film course he is taking. Anna Kendrick plays Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend, whilst Natalie Martinez is Pena’s pregnant wife. America Ferrera plays a tough Hispanic cop.


If you can get past the shaky-cam employed by writer/director David Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, then this 2012 police flick is good stuff, if a bit déjà vu and stereotyped. The thing is, if it weren’t for that stylistic decision, the film would probably be even better than good. Either you accept the camerawork as being in-the-moment and realistic, or you say it simply alerts your attention to the presence of a camera and it takes you out of the moment. I’m of the latter, though I acknowledge that at least in this instance, the handheld camerawork is being employed by the main characters in the film as well. The thing is, though, that there’s a difference between something having a reason and logic, and something being necessary. I don’t think the first-person camerawork is necessary here, even if logic and reason are given. Still, this is leaps and bounds ahead of Ayer’s previous forays into cop flicks, the overrated “Training Day” (which he scripted) as well as the embarrassingly bad “Street Kings” (which he directed), and probably about on par with his script for “Dark Blue”.


The best thing about the entire film are Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, who have an easy, somewhat douchy chemistry on screen that makes it seem like their dialogue is improvised, because it sounds so authentic and organic. The film itself is surprisingly funny and relaxed at times. At some points you have to wonder if these cops are complete dickheads or if their sarcasm and silly pranks are a kind of coping mechanism for the extremely strenuous, sometimes frightening job they have. Their frat-boy mentality (somewhat reminiscent of Gyllenhaal’s “Jarhead”) is funny at times, but at the same time, rather scary. These tools have very serious jobs. Meanwhile, I’m declaring it now: Anna Kendrick, I’m madly in love with you. Small girl, big talent (and a couple of other big things too if I might be so perverted...er...

bold). She’s absolutely charming and charismatic on screen. She just seems...nice, and absolutely natural too, like the male leads. She gets one hilarious scene where Pena’s drunk wife is telling her all the sex stuff she’s gonna have to do for Gyllenhaal when they get married; ‘The internet made that up!’ is Kendrick’s very funny and cute response. How can anyone not love this girl?


Less loveable is America Ferrara, who attempts to remind everyone she’s Hispanic by crying ‘Arriba!’ at one point. Is she Tito Fucking Santana or something? That racial stereotyping unfortunately extends to the film’s villains, who are borderline cartoony, and only seem to speak in twelve-letter words. Authentic to a degree, perhaps, but hardly interesting, and certainly not very threatening. The cops may clown around a lot, but these are still gritty circumstances, and the silly bad guys detract from what could’ve been an absolutely devastating ending. That and Mr. Ayer’s obvious obsession with first-person shooter computer games, opting for similar camera style in the opening and closing shots of the film. You’re not clever, dude. In fact, you’ve prevented your film from being better than it actually is. Such a shame.


I’m not sure Mr. Ayer brings anything new to the table here, a genre that Sidney Lumet has already covered a million times over, but this is probably the best cop flick since “Narc” at the very least. It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you’re not yet tired of cop movies.


Rating: B-