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, February 8, 2014

Review: The ABCs of Death


“A is for Apocalypse”: (writer/director Nacho Vigalondo) The world is about to end, and a housewife is finally given the excuse to kill her husband. “B is for Bigfoot”: (writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano) A babysitter tells her charge a story about a monster that kills children who aren’t in bed by 8PM, just so she and her boyfriend can have uninterrupted sex. Gee, I wonder who comes knocking? “C is for Cycle”: (Writer/director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza) Looking into strange holes in the background leave a man beside himself. I thought C is for Cookie? That’s good enough for me, at any rate. “D is for Dogfight”: (Writer/director Marcel Sarmiento) An underground fight between a man and a dog. “E is for Exterminate”: (Director Angela Bettis) A man with spider removal problems. “F is for Fart”: (Writer/director Noboru Iguchi) A student with an extremely bizarre and extremely gaseous same-sex attraction to her teacher. “G is for Gravity”: (Writer/director Andrew Traucki) It’s about a surfer. “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion”: (Writer/director Thomas Cappelen Malling) Story of a British canine pilot during WWII. “I is for Ingrown”: (Writer/director Jorge Michel Grau) A scene of torture porn as a woman is tied up and left to die by her husband. “J is for Jidai-Geki (Samurai Movie)”: (Writer/director Yudai Yamaguchi) We witness the execution of a samurai. “K is for Klutz”: (Writer/director Anders Morgenthaler) A woman is haunted by an un-flushable turd.
 
“L is for Libido”: (Writer/director Timo Tjahjanto) A bizarre ritual involving masturbation and torture. “M is for Miscarriage”: (Writer/director Ti West) A woman has a miscarriage but can’t seem to ‘get rid of it’ down the toilet. “N is for Nuptials”: (Co-writer/director Banjong Pisanthanakun) Guy buys a bird for his girlfriend, bird violates one of the fundamental rules of the Bro Code. “O is for Orgasm”: (Writer/directors Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Pretty self explanatory, really. “P is for Pressure”: (Writer/director Simon Rumley) About a single mother hitting seriously hard times in trying to feed her kids. “Q is for Quack”: (Writer Simon Barrett, Director Adam Wingard) The filmmakers discuss what to do for this segment and settle on killing a duck. ‘Coz they go quack. And quack starts with Q. Yay! “R is for Removed”: (Co-writer/director Srdjan Spasojevic) A man tries to escape the captors who have operated on him. “S is for Speed”: (Writer/director Jake West) A woman and her hostage attempt a fast getaway, but are pursued by a masked figure. “T is for Toilet”: (Writer/director Lee Hardcastle) A Claymation story about a young boy’s wasteful experiences in the bathroom. “U is for Unearthed”: (Co-writer/director Ben Wheatley) A scene from the middle of a horror film as someone is being pursued by a vampire for reasons perhaps left on the cutting room floor of Ben Wheatley’s mind. “V is for Vagitus”:  (Writer/director Kaare Andrews) A futuristic tale involving robots and unsubtle abortion debate subtext. “W is for WTF”: (Writer/director Jon Schnepp) The filmmaker ponders what to film, whilst a whole bunch of W ideas are presented all around him. “X is for XXL”: (Writer/director Xavier Gens) A fat chick thinks she has found a cheaper way to ‘trim the fat’. “Y is for Youngbuck”: (Writer/director Jason Eisener) Is allegedly about a child and their abuser. “Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)”: (Writer/director Yoshihiro Nishimura) See review below, a plot synopsis would be useless for this entry.

 

A film that collects a bunch of short stories about death is not an endeavour without promise. However, when the number of short films is 26 (as in the 26 letters of the alphabet), that means you’re likely getting 2 minutes a film, at best. If anything, they play like a lone scene of a film, something you might do to get investors to give you money to make the rest of the film. Perhaps these 26 films represent potential investments that were never picked up. 26 letters of the alphabet, 27 directors, and a whole lotta nothing. I’ve seen trailers longer and more whole than these films. This 2012 anthology is a complete botch job, I’m afraid.

 

“A is for Apocalypse”: Pretty gory, with a nice sliced hand, but this already tips you off to the fact that these aren’t films, they’re barely sketches. “B is for Bigfoot”: is not only misnamed- it should be the Abominable Snowman- but it’s a one-joke idea that isn’t funny. “C is for Cycle”: C is for Clearly Badly Shot trailer masquerading as a short film. A well-shot and full-length version of this “Twilight Zone”-esque idea would be interesting but at this length? Worthless. “D is for Dogfight”: More like D is for Dumb. It’s a pointless and disgusting fight scene between a boxer and a dog. I mean, come on. Are these filmmakers even trying? “E is for Exterminate”: This one is from weirdo “May” actress Angela Bettis. And it sucks. A spidery tale that was done a lot better with cockroaches in “Creepshow”, an anthology horror outing that knew how to work the format. “F is for Fart”: Yep, it sure is. From the director of the hilarious “RoboGeisha”, here’s a segment that actually achieves what it aims for. It mixes sex and toilet humour like a Cat III film from the 80s. I’d prefer if the sex and the toilet humour weren’t in the same scene, but at least I could see the influences here, appreciate them and have fun with it. It’s too short, but it’s one of the only ones that seems designed for a short format, albeit longer than the 2 minutes or so afforded it. It’s funny in a stupid way, and clearly making fun of Asian sex fetishes, especially of the Japanese school girl variety. Everyone else hates this segment, but they simply don’t get it. “G is for Gravity”: Aussie director Andrew Traucki was one of the talents behind the excellent “Black Water”. Go watch that instead, because I completely blanked on this one. I didn’t get it at all, and shot like a “Crank” movie without the fun, it was a complete waste of (very short) time. “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion”: The single dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m convinced director Thomas Cappelen Mallory didn’t take this assignment remotely seriously, and I have absolutely no idea what the point of this WWII story with dogs and cats is. Drugs are bad, m’kay? “I is for Ingrown”: One scene of ‘torture porn’ without any real context for it. Zero entertainment value. “J is for Jidai-Genki (Samurai movie)”: Moving on... “K is for Klutz”: This one’s about a turd that won’t flush. At least with “Fart” there was some subtext and obvious influences going on, this is just a crappy Nickelodeon cartoon.

 

“L is for Libido”: This one is probably the second best, but only because it’s compellingly bizarre. You keep watching just to see where it’s all going. What the hell? “M is for Miscarriage”: Is about 10 seconds long and thus it’s potential for shock and controversy is null and void. “N is for Nuptials”: is about 20 seconds longer and is about a talking parrot who blabs about a guy’s infidelity. Seriously, how did this damn movie even get a release? “O is for Orgasm”: Weird, abstract, kinky, and not nearly as much fun as it could’ve and should’ve been. Pretentious and arty, and it took two directors to make it. “P is for Pressure”: Next! “Q is for Quack”: Tries to be meta by being about the making of this segment. It’s got boobs and cocaine, and a duck supposedly supplying the only ‘real’ death on screen. Whether that’s a good or bad thing doesn’t matter because the segment still sucks, and the duck gets out alive anyway. What was the point, Adam Wingard? “R is for Removed”: This one is one of the closest attempts at something beyond the length of a title card. It’s nearly about something (Film buffs will appreciate it more). Otherwise, why not just flash the title cards up on screen and be done with it? “S is for Speed”: Director Jake West proves he has seen “Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!”. He doesn’t prove anything else, however. “T is for Toilet”: Or C is for Crap Claymation. “U is for Unearthed”: Ben Wheatley gives us a middle scene of a horror film without any context whatsoever. At least that means it’s not an interminable dirge like “Kill List”. Then again, the anthology it’s a part of is probably on the whole even worse than “Kill List”. “V is for Vagitus”: The title makes no sense as Kaane Andrews gives us a trailer for a lens-flare obsessed SyFy Channel TV show with robots. Hooray if you like robots, I guess. “W is for WTF”: Is literally just the filmmaker giving us a bunch of ideas for the ‘W’ segment without giving us one, so they’re even shorter than the real entries. Pathetic and uncreative, Mr. Joe Schnepp. “X is for XXL”: Xavier Gens is at least an appropriate name for a director for the X segment, but his story of a fat chick who goes to painful means to cut some fat is sorta clever, yet only sort of an idea as well. I expected more from the director of the shattering, unpleasant, but unforgettable “The Divide”. Disappointing. “Y is for Young Buck”: Get back to me on this one, will ‘ya? ‘Coz I got nothin’... “Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)”: Japanese Nazi chicks with giant prosthetic penises containing swords, and a chick who shoots potatoes out of her you know what. And then they make love. One chick has a building tattooed on one boob and a plane on the other. Uh-huh. This needs to be turned into a feature film immediately. I’d leave out the 9/11 gag, though. Fun, if short segment to end an absolutely terrible waste of two hours.

 

Most of the filmmakers made it difficult for themselves by creating ideas that needed more fleshing out in order to either be enjoyed or simply make sense. The project was doomed the moment the decision was made to have each of the segments last less than two minutes. 2 ½ hours would’ve been a bit of an endurance test, but it’s also the only way to do this right. But there’s no way “Gravity”, “Hydro-Electric Diffusion”, “Quack”, and “Young Buck” were ever going to work, no matter the length. And as is, the only segments that don’t suck are “Fart”, “Libido”, and “Zetsumetsu (Extinction)”. What a stupid filmic endeavour, and I’m not sure how the hell it qualifies as ‘horror’, either.

 

Rating: D-

Review: Gaslight


 

Ingrid Bergman marries pianist Charles Boyer and they move into the London home formerly occupied by her Aunt, who was murdered several years ago. Things seem to be going well until Bergman starts to slowly lose her mind...but is someone giving her a helping hand? Angela Lansbury (in perhaps a forerunner to her role in “Kind Lady” 6 years later) plays the couple’s young, floozy maid, who has little sympathy for the lady of the house. Joseph Cotten plays a Scotland Yard policeman (about as British as Col. Freakin’ Sanders!), who suspects something is not quite right with the couple, whilst Dame May Whitty plays a nosy but friendly neighbour called Bessie.

 

The basic plot might’ve become a staple of TV movies in recent years (not to mention I’d wager author V.C. Andrews is a fan), and some would argue that the 1940 film version is the better one, but this 1944 George Cukor (“Little Women”, “The Women”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Adam’s Rib”) psychodrama is still a rock-solid display of slow character transformation. Adapted from a Patrick Hamilton (“Rope”) play, the film might be almost 70 years old, but it’s still hard not to feel disgusted by what is being done to Ingrid Bergman here. Some have said the shine has worn off the film, but I found it an uncomfortable, unsettling experience watching it all play out. I mean, it’s truly evil what is going on here.

 

Charles Boyer is absolutely sensational as the husband, perfect casting right there. The man could be charming or downright evil at the flick of a switch. With his arched eyebrows and cold, dead eyes, I’m surprised Hitchcock never worked with Boyer. It might seem trivial, but Boyer is such a beacon of calm throughout the film that when he finally raises his voice, it’s quite startling.

 

The other scene-stealer in this is a young Angela Lansbury, in her startling debut. Seeing the depth and range of this actress from her early roles, through “The Manchurian Candidate”, and her later and popular TV success on “Murder She Wrote”, is remarkable. She instantly steals her scenes with a wonderfully snotty performance. Her character is actually quite shocking for the time. I mean, Oscar-nominated screenwriters John Van Druten (“Gone With the Wind”), Walter Reisch (“Niagara”, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”), and John L. Balderston (“Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “Gone With the Wind”) can’t really say it in so many words, but you’d swear that Lansbury was playing the biggest tart of all-time here.

 

Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for her sympathetic portrayal here. She looks so young and delicate, but by this point she had already made “Casablanca”, so she was hardly a newbie. I’m not going to suggest she didn’t deserve her Oscar win here, and indeed I’ve become quite a fan of hers over the years, but it’s just that Boyer and Lansbury (who both earned Oscar nominations) commanded my attention more. No doubt about it, though, her physical appearance becomes more sickly and confused as the film goes on, rather well-done. Her performance is actually deceptive because most actresses would camp up a storm in the role, but because Bergman doesn’t, she seems to be overshadowed by the showier Boyer and Lansbury. Yet, if she adopted some histrionics, it would look silly and out-of-place. So I actually appreciate her restraint.

 

Also worth mentioning is the great Dame May Witty as Blood-Thirsty Bessie, who despite the crude name is your typical chatty old lady of the period, the kind of role Witty plays perfectly. In fact, the only one who misses out here is a thoroughly wasted Joseph Cotten. One of the greatest and most underrated actors in my opinion, Cotten is above this secondary male lead role (originally written as a sardonic old man, which apparently wouldn’t appeal to young women in 1944) that honestly anyone in the vicinity of Fred MacMurray, Hugh Marlowe, Farley Granger or Van Johnson could’ve tackled adequately. This role just doesn’t give Cotten anything to work with, and by this time he had already worked with Hitchcock and Welles (the latter several times). Maybe if the role actually had more prominence in the film, as is he drops in and out far too much to make a great deal of impact.

 

I also found the conclusion to be a bit of a letdown in one aspect. These days, “American Pickers” would have this mystery solved in less than half an hour.

 

For me what actually holds this film back a bit is George Cukor’s restrained direction and lack of style. Outside of some wonderfully foggy exteriors at the outset and some jarringly effective camerawork by Joseph Ruttenberg (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Mrs. Miniver”, “Julius Caesar”) towards the end, there wasn’t much sense of style or atmosphere here. In terms of reining in performances, ‘woman’s director’ Cukor is perfectly capable. But if ever there was a story that could’ve benefited from a director more commonly associated with thrillers, chillers or even noir, I think it’s this one. Then again, Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” isn’t all that far removed from this, and despite Hitch’s talent, “Suspicion” was weak as piss. I guess it comes down to a matter of personal taste, if anything. Some will like Cukor’s more dramatic/character approach. The film does deserve praise, though, for the Bronislaw Kaper (“Lili”, “Song of Love”) music score, which is instantly memorable and foreboding.

 

I’m sure you would’ve seen a lot of these plot elements before and since, and the film could’ve used a touch more macabre atmosphere, but all in all this is pretty entertaining stuff, with at least three top performances. Boyer and Lansbury, in particular are incredible.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: The Master


RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman. I have no words...but I’ve decided to bump up this review (written a few weeks ago, for full disclosure) as perhaps a tribute (or a big pageview earner, if you want to be cynical about it). He will be missed.

 

I don’t know how he does it, but writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “Punch-Drunk Love”, “There Will Be Blood”) has yet to make a dud, and this strong, if unusual film from 2012 is no exception. Allegedly based on the early days of Dianetics (i.e. Scientology), it’s a shattering story of a disturbed WWII veteran and alcoholic drifter Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix- perfect casting) taken under the wing of a charismatic cult leader fantastically named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This Dodd is part PT Barnum, part author (sci-fi?), part would-be philosophical thinker, and a bunch of other things wrapped into one avuncular (maybe even paternal) whole. Dodd’s movement, The Cause, is still in its infancy, and before long, Freddie is like a son to Dodd, whose wife Peggy (Amy Adams) is fully involved in the movement too, and Freddie also becomes heavily involved. However, cracks slowly emerge in Dodd’s ‘Cause’, with a strong possibility that it is merely a whole lot of wishy-washy nonsense meant to manipulate the damaged and confused. Is Dodd, as is suggested at one point, just making all this up as he goes along? Certainly, the processes of ‘The Cause’ don’t look to have solved Freddie’s massive problems with alcohol or aggression, and Peggy suggests it might be better to have Freddie cast out of The Cause. Dodd, however, is insistent on ‘curing’ the troubled man.

 

Less a film about the specific inner workings of Scientology (though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a PTA dartboard at the Scientology head office), and more a film about post-war aimlessness and psychological control/manipulation through hypnotic processes, I came out of this film rather overwhelmed. It’s actually a pretty frightening film, seeing someone who is already scarred being potentially psychologically manipulated relatively easily. **** POSSIBLE SPOILER **** And whilst the film suggests that such ‘Causes’ (be they Scientology or more ‘traditional’ forms of religion) and their leaders bring more harm than good, one is left eerily unsure about Freddie by the end of the film. Is his psyche beyond repair? I think he’s better off by the end, but perhaps not for long. **** END POSSIBLE SPOILER ****

 

The other thing that struck me about the film is that although it is a film from today set in the 1940s or 50s, it felt in terms of mood and the characters, something that would’ve been made in the 70s. Yes, P.T. Anderson’s implementation of 65mm cameras and so forth definitely captured the period remarkably well, to the point where it almost felt like technicolour. It’s a fascinating-looking film. But I was mostly thinking of Kurt Vonnegut (“Slaughterhouse-Five”) in terms of story, Robert Altman in terms of direction (not the first time Anderson and Altman have been mentioned in the same sentence, no doubt) and was imagining a film starring Jack Nicholson (Think “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) or Bruce Dern (Think...well, Bruce Dern says it all, really) in the Freddie role, and John Huston, Burt Lancaster (and not just for name similarity) or Burl Ives in the Dodd role. I couldn’t shake it.

 

I also couldn’t (and still can’t) shake the haunting portrayal by Joaquin Phoenix, who after (allegedly) pretending to basically lose his mind in “I’m Not Here” gets to play psychologically damaged in a film that is actually not a boring, unfunny piece of crap that should be permanently erased. It’s without question the best performance of his career to date, and displays some Nicholson-esque ferocious aggression and profanity, with Jack’s charming and anarchic spirit replaced with a dose of Brando brooding. Phoenix (who looks rather weathered and worn here) was impressive as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line”, but he’s another level entirely here. Your heart aches for him as you can see this broken man is potentially being broken down even further.

 

Hoffman is also brilliant (when isn’t he?) and powerful, rather intimidating even in a role that is arguably modelled on L. Ron Hubbard. He is certainly more commanding and believable than the bible-thumping fanatic Paul Dano played in Anderson’s otherwise rock-solid “There Will Be Blood”. Amy Adams, as was the case in “Doubt”, once again easily slips into a period setting, but her character is deceptively compliant. She’s actually the one who really wears the pants in the marriage (You can call her Lady Macbeth), as one rather shocking masturbatory scene shows. I’ve often felt Adams has a Teresa Wright sweetness about her, but I sure as hell don’t ever remember seeing Teresa Wright jerking a guy off.

 

Whether you take this film as a story of a broken and lost man trying to find himself (or some kind of inner peace), the psychological hold a cult leader can have over his followers, or witnessing the beginnings of a Scientology-like cult, this is clearly much more than a mere trashy expose of Scientology. It’s a really moving, unusual period drama with some very, very frightening themes. Meanwhile, Anderson once again chooses an oddball score, this time by Jonny Greenwood.

 

This film won’t be for everyone, but I found it fascinating, powerful, and moving. Being that my favourite film is “The Misfits”, it’s probably no surprise that I responded to this tale of a broken man looking for direction/meaning. Phoenix and Hoffman are incredible, Anderson is a helluva filmmaker, and I think this film will benefit from subsequent viewings. On first viewing, it’s pretty damn impressive.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Rise of the Guardians


The title characters are a band of all your childhood favourite *cough* imaginary *cough* characters; North AKA Santa (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), The Sandman (who is mute), and Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine). Jack has a bit of a chip on his shoulder and feels like he has been overlooked in favour of the other guardians (who were all created by the Man in the Moon, by the way), because he is invisible to humans (Um, so are the others, aren’t they? No, that foul-smelling department store Santa doesn’t count). So he has shunned them for a somewhat lonely, invisible existence. Anyway, when darkness appears to be on the horizon in the form of the evil Pitch (voiced by Jude Law), the Guardians seek the counsel of Da Man in Da Moon, who insists that the key to destroying Pitch’s dark influence over the world is to bring Jack into the fold before Pitch has children the world over forgetting all about the Guardians. It’s clobberin’ time!

 

This 2012 DreamWorks fantasy from director Peter Ramsey (a debut feature director from a storyboard and 2nd Unit directing background) and writer David Lindsay-Abaire (“Robots”, “Oz: The Great and Powerful”) isn’t bad, but given the cracker of a central idea, I was expecting a whole lot better (though on reflection, doesn’t the plotline seem to be a rip-off of “The Fellowship of the Ring”?). It’s OK kids entertainment, but not quite filling enough for the rest of the family, despite fine voice work by Jude Law as the villain. I also have to say that I found this film’s depiction of the Sandman to be extremely creepy-looking, and the idea of a weird little creature who sneaks into kids bedrooms and puts sand in their eyes to get them off to sleep is already pretty bloody dubious to me. I would’ve found a different ‘Guardian’ to be honest. From an action/adventure/fantasy spectacle standpoint, it makes for diverting entertainment up to a point, I just thought it was going to be better.

 

The film opens with a nice, festive version of the DreamWorks logo with snowflakes, but some of the animation seemed a little soulless to me. The background characters in particular looked like mere marionette puppets to me. They acted a lot like the ‘Townies’ from “The Sims”, except they didn’t unexpectedly get stuck bumping into walls. Meanwhile, Santa (or North, as he is moronically called here) having ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ written on his forearms is a funny gag for those who get it, but awfully inappropriate for a children’s movie at the same time (After all, it comes from a movie about a sleazy, demented convict posing as a preacher who terrorises two children!). I initially wasn’t sold on the idea of the Easter Bunny being an Aussie, but a) Hugh Jackman doesn’t entirely go into Steve Irwin ‘ocker’ territory here, and b) What nationality would you prefer the Easter Bunny to me? Eventually I just went with it. The Tooth Fairy here, by the way, is certainly much cuter than The Rock. But it’s definitely the character of Pitch (AKA The Boogeyman) who steals the show here, he’s like a character out of a Tim Burton film. Law doesn’t quite have the theatrically malevolent voice of a Tim Curry, but Tim Curry would scare children witless in this role, so Law’s a good fit. His wraith-like steed is also a wonderfully creepy, Gothic creation. In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about him is that he looked a little too much like the main character in Burton’s excellent “Frankenweenie”, from the same year.

 

I also think the rather arrogant Jack Frost, is the perfect role for the always arrogant Chris Pine, who provides his voice. But the character itself I found kind of a bore, and frankly not very ingratiating. I think I have a real problem with Mr. Pine. Perhaps it’s because he shares the same name (but with a different spelling of the last name) as my least favourite Australian politician of all-time. Or perhaps simply because Pine comes across like a self-absorbed jerk, even when simply providing his voice.

 

Overall, whilst there are some fun elements here, I have a feeling the William Joyce novels this film is based on, are a whole lot more successful and a whole lot more fun. I don’t think this film is destined to become a Christmas classic. That said, it’s kinda cute having “The Shadow” play Santa Claus, Capt. Kirk play Jack Frost, Wolverine as the Easter Bunny, and Borat’s wife as The Tooth Fairy. Very Danny Elfman-esque music score by Alexandre Desplat (Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer”, also an Elfman-esque score) I must say.

 

Rating: C+