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 15, 2014

Review: Wreck-It Ralph


John C. Reilly provides the voice of the title character, the big, lumbering villain in a computer game called ‘Fix-it Felix Jr.’, where the hero is a goodie two-shoes plumber...er...carpenter voiced by Jack McBrayer from “30 Rock”. But Ralph isn’t such a bad guy after all, and he’s sick of playing the bad guy, longing to be accepted by his co-stars who don’t socialise with him when the game isn’t in use (I should probably point out at this juncture that the video game characters, like the toys in “Toy Story” are ‘alive’ to an extent). He wants to be the hero, just once. Not being invited to an anniversary party for the game is the last straw, as Ralph decides to enter a different computer game, ‘Hero’s Duty’ (a “Gears of War”-like shooter game) to win a medal and be the hero. After that, though, something goes awry and he ends up in a “Mario Kart”-like go-cart game called ‘Sugar Rush’, and his medal is ‘borrowed’ by Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman, surprisingly perfect), a wannabe go-cart racer who cashes the medal in to get herself in the race. Ralph is suitably irritated, but poor Vanellope is apparently a ‘glitch’, a character that wasn’t supposed to be in the game and is mocked by the fellow racers. So Ralph decides to help her win the race. Unfortunately, Ralph has unwittingly brought something along with him from ‘Hero’s Duty’, that might just unleash hell all over the saccharine-themed game. Meanwhile, Fix-it Felix has been sent to find Ralph, before the game goes from ‘out of order’ to unplugged. The true villain of the piece is King Candy, ruler of ‘Sugar Rush’, appearing and voiced by Alan Tudyk to resemble veteran comedian Ed Wynn.

 

Directed by Rich Moore, this 2012 Disney animated film is consistent with most of the animated films these days from either Disney or Pixar, which is to say it’s jolly good fun, but hardly “Pinocchio” or “Peter Pan”. The voice casting is particularly good, and although the animation isn’t photo-realistic or anything, it’s not meant to be, as it emulates (albeit with an upgrade) computer games and their characters. The design of the world for the ‘Sugar Rush’ game is almost too pretty and saccharine that it borders on diabetic. Just as I was unmoved by the ‘throwing away your toys when you go to college’ theme from “Toy Story 3” (I threw mine out in early high school, because I’m almost normal), I’m not entirely sure that championing a ‘glitch’ makes much sense for a message (though it eventually becomes a moot point as the film goes along), and I found the idea of video arcades still being around (and populated) to be a bit bizarre I have to be honest (are they still around?), let alone machines housing such antiquated games as ‘Fix-it Felix Jr’ which would’ve been around when I was a kid (mid 80s). The filmmakers must’ve sensed this, because although the animation isn’t “Rango”-level, it sure as hell ain’t Commodore 64 or Atari-level, either for the most part. Hell, ‘Sugar Rush’ seemed more like a console-era game to me, not an arcade one.

 

Other than that, though I had a really good time with this, having not expected much at all. It’s kind of a “Toy Story” for gamers (instead of being abandoned or thrown out, the characters are scared of their game being ‘out of order’), and indeed gamers will get even more out of the film, as there are references and cameos galore on that front. For starters, Fix-it Felix the character is quite clearly modelled on a certain moustachioed plumber, Ralph is kinda like Donkey Kong in human form, and the game itself isn’t too far removed from one of my favourite games, “Rampage” where you could play as various monsters (one named Ralph, no less) destroying buildings. As more of a film buff than a gamer, I particularly loved the “Wizard of Oz” reference involving the Oreo guards (What’s that they’re chanting?). I’m sure Moore (a debutant with animation experience on “The Simpsons”) and writers Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee had a whale of a time coming up with this concept (apparently star Reilly also had a hand in the creative process), and the enthusiasm is pretty infectious, if not entirely long-lasting. It made me feel good for 90 minutes or so, and I think that’s all it was designed to do.

 

The inclusion of such faves as Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders kinda made me feel nostalgic. I was a bit sad that “Leisure Suit Larry” and “Turrican” (the latter being my favourite game of all-time) didn’t make cameos, though. Here’s a rare computer game movie that works, referencing a whole bunch of games without really being a big-screen translation of any of them in particular.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild


The bizarrely named Quvenzhane Wallis stars as the equally bizarrely named Hushpuppy, who lives in Louisiana bayou country, a place she calls ‘The bathtub’. Hushpuppy’s father (Dwight Henry) is a troubled, sometimes violent man who frequently abandons the girl, due to an unnamed illness he is being treated for. It’s an ugly and almost post-apocalyptic existence, full of poverty as the land they occupy is pretty much sinking around them, but they resist the call to evacuate. Hushpuppy is also having apocalyptic visions of giant wildebeests that look like something out of a Vincent Ward (“Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey”) film.

 

Based on a play by Lucy Aibar, this is unlike any American film I’ve ever seen. It feels like a foreign film, and yet it’s American and in English. Directed and co-written by debutant Benh Zeitlin, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it and the camerawork by Ben Richardson is appalling, but it’s too odd to be dull I think. I don’t really think young Quvenzhane Wallis deserved her Oscar nomination to be honest. She’s not terrible or anything, she’s just...a kid (6 years-old I think). She might develop her talent over the next few years but here she’s hardly ‘acting’, is she? At least previous Oscar-nominated child actress Keisha Castle-Hughes was a teenager at the time (13). She’s doing what she has been instructed to by the director (or, if you believe IMDb, her own mother who was on set- cheating, really), but at that age, no way is she really giving a ‘performance’, nor would she likely have much understanding of what she is doing. Anyone who thinks she’s truly acting, is clearly reading too much into things, and I really wish Oscar voters would think seriously before nominating someone so young and so clearly not ‘acting’. I mean, I think Drew Barrymore stole the show in “ET”, but she wasn’t acting, she was doing what she was told to do by Spielberg, and impressed with her charisma and adorability. That’s clearly not the same thing as acting talent. She was just being a cute kid, albeit cuter than most, and Wallis doesn’t even have that going for her. Wallis is not charismatic, articulate (just listen to her bits of narration), or terribly impressive. She’s just a regular kid, at least for now, and she was coached and directed to the point of doing what was necessary. She’s fine, just not great, and certainly not Oscar nomination worthy.

 

I was much more impressed with the work of Dwight Henry as her seriously troubled, occasionally violent, but ultimately loving and caring (in his own way) father. This guy is crazy as a nuthouse loon, occasionally negligent, and abusive at times, but also somewhat cognisant of the fact that he has a responsibility to look after and teach this girl how to survive and mature into adulthood. Henry, like Wallis (and the rest of the cast for that matter), is a non-professional actor and in fact a baker by trade, but unlike Wallis at least he’s old enough to understand what he is doing and why he is doing it, and is therefore giving a genuine performance worth praising in the role instead of praising the casting director for choosing the right kid to ‘be’ the role. He can use his whole life experience (He’s a father of several kids I believe) for getting into this role. How the hell would Wallis find something in her own life to bring to her role? Simply by being a kid? Hushpuppy is more than just a regular kid.

 

As I said, the camerawork is horrendous. It’s not just that it’s shaky-cam, it’s the fact that Richardson has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. Some of it is even out of focus, which is really mind-boggling and unacceptable for one of the supposedly big and important films of 2012. The director apparently used the camera to project a child’s point of view. Um...a child’s point of view is just as stable as an adult’s. A child’s vision is not shaky or blurry unless they have the early on-set of Parkinson’s and are in dire need of a visit to the optometrist to boot. Steady low angles would’ve sufficed. The scenery and local flavour give this film something different, but at the same time, the scenery is awful because how could anyone live like this? Yes, it’s kinda stunning in its own decrepit Southern Gothic kinda way, but also really depressing because these people are refusing good advice to get up and leave their life of squalor. After a while, you kinda lose sympathy for anyone not seeing common sense and risking death due to some misplaced duty to stay in their dirty, soon-to-be underwater home.

 

Overrated for sure and probably not a film I’ll want to revisit. But a bad film? No, just a badly-shot one. And that’s a shame, because I’ve never seen anything quite like this before, and it has elements worthy of praise, if somewhat overpraised.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Like Crazy


Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones play college kids who quickly fall in love. He’s got designs on being in the furniture-making business, she’s a British exchange student who shares his love of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’. Graduation comes and out of sheer, stupid laziness, Jones allows her visa to have expired. So after spending time back home in the UK, she finds she is unable to gain entry into the US. With Yelchin now having his own furniture business, he is unwilling to move, and Jones wouldn’t think to ask. So the couple attempt the long-distance relationship route, hoping one day that Jones will be cleared to travel. In the meantime, they understandably find themselves being offered more convenient romantic options (Yelchin with Jennifer Lawrence, Jones with Charlie Bewley). But it just isn’t the same. And yet, if Jones’ travel issues were sorted, would things still be the same as when they left off? Or would the moment have passed?

 

I could probably count on just one hand the number of great romantic/relationship movies out there. To be honest, I think Rob Reiner got it pretty damn perfect in 1989 with “When Harry Met Sally”, which hasn’t aged one bit. This 2011 film from director Drake Doremus (who has done very little before or since) and co-writer Ben York Jones (a writer-actor in mostly short films) is not quite up to that film’s standards, but it’s nonetheless clearly a romantic film written by an actual human being. The sleeper of 2011, it’s actually kind of a beautiful love story, and with one or two exceptions, there aren’t very many ‘Hollywood’ or ‘plot-driven’ moments. Even when a spanner is thrown in the works at the least opportune time...it’s not an unrealistic one. As for the central mistake that pretty much sets things in motion, it’s a completely infuriatingly idiotic one...but also an extremely common one that I’m sure some will relate to. Here, for once, is a pretty believable contrivance, albeit also an easily bloody preventable one. You could certainly argue, though, that if one person has a travel issue, it might be easier for the other person to just move, instead of investing all your time in getting the person’s travel issues sorted. The issue is brought up, but probably not as early and often as I would’ve liked. But that doesn’t really make the film unrealistic, it’s more nitpicking than anything.

 

This film feels achingly real, like you’re actually witnessing a real long-distance relationship, between two genuinely likeable, flawed people who you actually want to see end up together by the conclusion. These aren’t perfect people, but they are nice people, and that’s sadly rare in movies. Hell it’s more sadly rarer still in real-life.

 

The two central performances are also crucial here, as is the supposedly largely improvised dialogue. Anton Yelchin is one of those guys capable of being likeable, but also being just a hair away from being ‘creepy, bi-polar stalker guy’. Jesse Eisenberg being the poster boy for such a thing. But here, he’s definitely likeable and relatable. Even better is Emma Roberts lookalike Felicity Jones, who thankfully is a much, much better actress than Roberts. This girl really has something, is extremely appealing like a British version of Anna Kendrick or something. She’s absolutely terrific. I did find it ironic, though that a pre-Oscar win Jennifer Lawrence would play the ‘other’ girl, whilst Jones hasn’t done a whole helluva lot since this film (Sadly, because she’s far more appealing and talented than Lawrence if you ask me). At any rate, Yelchin and Jones have undeniable chemistry here and that is absolutely vital.

 

Sadly, the film isn’t without flaw. Cinematographer John Guleserian should be figuratively taken out and shot for his completely unstable, ruinous hand-held cinematography. I’m not sure if he was nervous, has Parkinson’s, or is just really bad at his job, but if ever there was a film that needed some Dogme crap stuff, it’s not this one. Such cinematography isn’t realistic, it’s just another kind of artifice.

 

It’s a beautiful, sometimes painful story and any kind of technical intrusion merely pulls one out of the experience. The ending is kind of moving, but I’m not sure it’s the right ending for this particular film. The film, and these characters seemed to deserve a much more upbeat, if unrealistic ending. That said, it’s somewhat left open to interpretation, and I don’t think the ending plays as pessimistically as some have suggested. It’s just not as enthusiastically happy as I would’ve liked. But that’s seriously nitpicking, folks. If this film didn’t look like it was filmed like a crap home movie, it would be a pretty terrific film. As is, it’s pretty good, one of the better romantic films of the last decade, and quite realistic. It’s not very well-known, but check it out if you have the chance. You might hate it, you might really like it, there seems no middle ground here. I was firmly in the latter category.

 
Rating: B

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Blood Simple


Cuckolded husband and frankly unpleasant bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) thinks his wife Abby (a young Frances McDormand) is cheating on him. And she is, with Ray (John Getz), an employee of Marty’s, no less. Marty, enraged, hires a scumbag PI (M. Emmet Walsh) to first spy on, and then (when he has photographic evidence) kill them both. But in this film full of shifting motives and flawed characters (did I mention that the PI is a scumbag?), things aren’t that simple. But then, murder is never simple is it?

 

I’ll never be confused for a Coen Brothers fan, and although their 1984 low-budget debut (directed and co-written by Joel, Ethan serving as co-writer) is a bit overrated, it’s still a pretty easy watch I must say. I’d been wanting to see this one for about 20 years, hell I would’ve gladly traded this for some of their crappier films I’ve seen up until now. It’s a bit too slow and hardly up to the standard of their two best films “The Big Lebowski” and “True Grit”, but it sure as hell ain’t no “Fargo”, “Raising Arizona” or “Burn After Reading”, either. It’s hardly a classic, but it’s a far more entertaining film than “No Country for Old Men” (which lulled whenever Chiguhr wasn’t around, and killed off another character in a totally unsatisfying manner) and overall worth a look. It’s an odd mixture of noir and macabre, almost bordering on being a horror or suspense picture at times.

 

If nothing else, the film works as a showcase for The Coens in putting themselves on the map, and also the superlative efforts of veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh who has never been better. He steals the film from his very first, sleazy moment. Fellow character actor Dan Hedaya is also excellent as the menacing, cuckolded husband. It might be his finest hour, too. Debutant actress Frances McDormand (later Mrs. Joel Coen, and Oscar winner in the Coens’ terrible “Fargo”) and John Getz are a bit bland (and Getz isn’t remotely credible as a Texan, either), but so are their characters. They improve once their characters seem to become truly shell-shocked and horrified at having to commit violence and recoil at the sight of blood. In that respect, it’s pretty damn realistic and Getz becomes quite sickly and tortured-looking after a while. However, it must be said that Getz’s character makes far too many dumb arse mistakes throughout. It’s hard to warm to someone so incredibly dense.

 

I should also single out the cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld (“Raising Arizona”, “Miller’s Crossing”, “Throw Momma From the Train”) which makes the film look really cool, moody and dark. The Coens show off a pretty nifty visual style, including an interesting tracking shot along a bar, including over the head of an unconscious drunk. The camera is always active, suggesting that The Coen’s good buddy Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”) might’ve given them some tips. The throbbing, unnerving music score by Carter Burwell (“Raising Arizona”, “Miller’s Crossing”, “Barton Fink”) is definitely a standout. The film also has an excellent sound design that helps with the slow-building tension, though ultimately it was just a tad too slow for me as I said. I also wasn’t entirely enamoured with the dialogue to be honest. It’s a bit clunky, and the delivery a bit stilted.

 

Overall, this is a solid B-movie wrongly elevated to A-status by some. It’s fine on that B-level, though. But if you rate this film highly, you surely must rate the similar “Red Rock West” highly too (not to mention a lot of noir films of the 40s and 50s like “Double Indemnity”). Their plots are pretty damn similar, but with obviously great differences in tone. This film lacks that later film’s sense of humour and twisty narrative. There’s a lot to like in this film, but like almost everything Coen Brothers, it has been elevated to a lofty status that it is somewhat undeserving of.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: A Christmas Story


Set somewhere in the 1940s, Peter Billingsley is young Ralphie, whose only wish for Christmas is for Santa to get him a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle. Yes, a BB gun that will surely put his eye out. But Ralphie is nine, and nine year-olds don’t care about stuff like health and safety and good vision. He drops various hints to anyone he can, be it his mother (Melinda Dillon) who is indeed concerned Ralphie will put his eye out, his hard-working father (Darren McGavin), and even his school teacher. Meanwhile, we are witness to typical tropes of being a kid like swearing in earshot of your parents, despicable school bullies (Zack Ward’s thoroughly obnoxious Scut Farkas. Yes, Scut Farkas) and double dog dares that seemed like a good idea at the time until someone (Scott Schwartz, take a bow) gets their tongue frozen to a pole in the middle of winter. Will little Ralphie get his prized Red Ryder BB gun come December 25th? You’ll have to watch and see for yourself.

 

Aside from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, my usual Christmastime viewing habits have undergone a bit of a change in recent years. “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” haven’t been played in a while, so one of the films I caught this time around (along with “Rise of the Guardians” and another viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life”) was this irreverent Bob Clark Yuletide comedy from 1983. Based on a collection of stories by Jean Shepherd (who actually narrates the film), it’s OK and has some fun moments but...I think I might’ve left it a bit late in life to have picked up this one. It’d be like never having grown up with the Rankin/Bass stop-motion classics and trying to watch “Rudolph” for the first time as an adult, I guess. And to be honest, I’d rather go to the unnerving “Black Christmas” for my Bob Clark Christmas Classic (Clark was able to make this personal project due to the success of “Porky’s”, by the way, which is hilarious. The fact, not “Porky’s” itself, which is mediocre).

 

Peter Billingsley is absolutely adorable in the lead role of the nerdy Dennis The Menace, but this kind of narrated nostalgia thing always pales in comparison for me to “The Wonder Years”, my favourite TV show of all-time (And no doubt that show was influenced by this film). Some of the observations are funny such as Ralphie becoming a ‘connoisseur of soap’, whilst others are not so amusing. I mean, what’s wrong with a C+, Ralphie? I would’ve been perfectly happy with a C+ at your age, or even in high school. The still-active Zack Ward is the perfect snotty school bully too, and the bit where poor Scott Schwartz gets his tongue frozen stuck on a pole is a movie classic. Message to children, dumb arses and dumb arse children: Do not under ANY circumstances stick ANY part of your body to ANYTHING during winter. Especially when it’s a dare. Kinda ironic that Mr. Schwartz should end up doing the odd porno later in life, though. Darren McGavin is pretty good as the long-suffering dad, his almost pitying expression to Ralphie’s ghastly Christmas present from Aunt Clara is particularly priceless.

 

The film won’t be too hard for children of today to relate to, even if we no longer have decoder pins (Based on fact, too), BB guns, cowboy heroes etc. Adults will certainly still relate to the film’s critique of shameless advertising with the events of the latter stages of the film. The idea of a kid wanting a gun for Christmas would make it awfully hard to get this film made today, I must say. The racist Chinese caricatures would certainly never cut it today, and were frankly on the nose to me. That’s a shame. But the crux of it, is a timeless Christmas story, and what I really liked about it was that it was irreverent but still embracing the Christmas spirit (So long as you accept that Christmas is about commercialism and family). There’s a slight naughtiness to it that I liked too, even if the big swear word is only alluded to on screen. It’s certainly not a sugary sweet film. It certainly ain’t no Charlie Brown. I just wish it were a better film.

 

I don’t think it’ll become an annual Yuletide viewing ritual for me, I’m afraid, but it’s not bad. You certainly can’t hate a Christmas movie where the kid lies and gets away with it. The screenplay is by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown (Shepherd’s wife), and director Clark.

 

Rating: C+