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 22, 2014

Review: Crash


A multi-character film supposedly examining racial relations and tension in modern day L.A. In characters perhaps superficially inspired by Gavin Newsom and current Fox News hottie Kimberly Guilfoyle, Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock are an LA District Attorney and his wife, whose car is stolen by gangbangers Ludacris and Warp...er...Larenz Tate. Terrence Howard is an African-American TV director who earns his wife Thandie Newton’s scorn when he doesn’t do enough to stand up to the clearly racist cop (Matt Dillon) who pretty much molests her in an unnecessary shakedown. Ryan Phillippe is Dillon’s shocked partner, whilst Keith David is the cautious police captain. Don Cheadle plays a cop who is sleeping with his Hispanic partner, played by Jennifer Esposito. Shaun Toub plays an increasingly frustrated Persian immigrant who blames a well-intentioned Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena) for his store being robbed. Pena, a loving and hard-working father, also gets the evil eye from Bullock when changing the locks at their place, because he apparently looks like he’s in a ‘gang’. William Fichtner has one scene as a slick IA guy with an interesting take on race. Loretta Devine plays a social worker whom Dillon verbally and racially abuses out of frustration over his ill father whom he is caring for (SPOILER: She’s racist too!).

 

I’ve already reviewed this 2005 Paul Haggis (“The Next Three Days”, writer of the much more sensitive and measured “Million Dollar Baby”) multi-character racial drama at Epinions.com, but I caught it again fairly recently, and I think there was enough material in my notes for another, and hopefully even better review. It’s always interesting to re-evaluate a film years later (in this case less than 10 years later), though I must say that my overall impression of the film is much the same, if perhaps even less favourable. It’s the worst Best Picture Oscar winner of all-time, and one of the most overrated films of all-time. Co-scripted by Robert Moresco, the film is appallingly heavy-handed and stereotyped, which makes it counterproductive in the extreme.

 

It starts off badly, with Jennifer Esposito berating an Asian motorist by mocking their accent. It’s embarrassingly bad and unrealistically stereotyped (The entire scene, and the ending which helps bookend the film, is just so stupid and corny). It doesn’t get any better when Shaun Toub’s character gets called ‘Osama’ in a stupid rant by an admittedly well-cast Jack McGee. But perhaps the film’s lowest moment is yet to come, as rapper Ludacris and perennial screen gangbanger Larenz Tate complain about negative racial stereotypes...and then carjack Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock. That’s not clever or ironic, it’s reinforcing stupid stereotypes. Tate gets a scene later that was probably meant to earn him sympathy, but this early fake-out made it absolutely impossible for me to have any sympathy whatsoever for his character. He’s a bad guy, simple as that. How did this film even get made, let alone win so many awards?

 

I also think the film is frankly a bit misogynistic, because whilst Thandie Newton, Jennifer Esposito, and Sandra Bullock all play raging harpy bitches, the guys at least have Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, and hell, even Matt Dillon’s character has some humanity in there, or at least some real complexity. In a terribly overcooked film, poor Thandie Newton probably fares worst of all. A terribly unconvincing drunk, her character is just appallingly written, almost as bad as Halle Berry’s character in “Monster’s Ball” to be honest (And at least Halle walked off with the Oscar as a retort to critics like me who think her role and performance were kinda demeaning). The character basically berates her husband for no good reason. Terrence Howard does the smart thing by not acting out. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t being realistic about the situation they were in. She’s just a mean, horrible person, and the terrible, forced dialogue (not just restricted to this character) doesn’t help. None of these are real people, they are writers’ constructs, and poor ones at that. Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe are well-cast and probably come off best here (along with the always likeable Michael Pena). Dillon earned an Oscar nomination for essentially being the only one here to break out of his initial stereotype, with a sympathetic back-story. However, the film just gets ridiculous when a ginormous plot contrivance allows him to atone for an earlier sin involving Newton. It plays out in horribly unconvincing fashion, but reaches its zenith when Newton tells Dillon to get away from her. Um...

OK, good luck with that then, sweetheart.

 

Phillippe’s best scene is with Howard and it almost approaches being more than 2D. Howard also gets one moving scene where he deals with Ludacris, in what is otherwise an extremely unpersuasive film (Not to mention that Ludacris really IS embarrassing). Keith David also has a genuinely interesting role as the African-American police captain who doesn’t wanna do anything about Dillon because he’ll look bad, as he has worked hard to get where he is as a black man in a white man’s world. William Fichtner doesn’t get much screen time, but playing one of the more complex roles, he plays things as well as he always does. Underrated actor. Don Cheadle is a good actor, but the film wants us to get hysterical over the fact that OH MY GOD, DON CHEADLE IS HAVING SEX WITH AN HISPANIC WOMAN! OH MY GOD! THE WORLD IS GOING TOPSY TURVY! Even Spike Lee is telling you to shut the fuck up, Mr. Haggis (whose directorial debut this was, by the way). There’s nothing remotely shocking, insightful, or interesting about that, and it’s a complete waste of Mr. Cheadle’s fine talent and effort. He’s a producer here, though, so he’s partly responsible I guess. Poor Shaun Toub, after earlier showing some subtlety and shading (basically showing that even otherwise ‘good’ people can have prejudices), eventually becomes a gun-waving Middle Eastern stereotype, albeit an ineffectual one that nonetheless ruins the subtlety and truth initially set up. He at least gets one more dimension that Sandra Bullock’s raging, upper-class bitchface, though. ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** Aw, look Sandra’s not a raging, racist snob anymore because her Hispanic maid saved her life when she threw her back out! ***** END  SPOILER ***** Let’s all hold hands across America!

 

Screw this movie. It’s an embarrassment to the very thing it is attempting to preach. One of the most overrated, overcooked, heavy-handed films of its decade. I don’t get this histrionic film’s appeal in the slightest. Solid performances by Michael Pena, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Brendan Fraser, and Don Cheadle, aren’t enough when the screenplay is so on the nose and the crappy digital cinematography by James Muro is the icing on the cake. It’s your typical monochromatic filtered nonsense that became too much of a fad around this time, and is still an eyesore today.

 

Rating: C

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Narc


Jason Patric is an undercover narcotics cop brought back into the fold after a past disgrace (something involving the death of an unborn child). His job is to find out the reason behind another cop’s slaying, and in this task he is to partner up with the dead cop’s former partner, Ray Liotta, a widowed man seemingly on the edge of literally foaming at the mouth, but also a cop who tends to get results. The thought homicide captain Chi McBride has in using Patric is that Patric’s descent into the seedier side of life means he probably has a few scummy contacts that might help in solving the case. But will partnering the troubled Patric with the clearly seething, violent Liotta do more harm than good? Patric’s wife (Krista Bridges) certainly has her concerns about her husband returning to such territory. Busta Rhymes has a small but pivotal role as a gangbanger who might know what happened to Liotta’s former partner.

 

One of the better cop flicks of the last decade or so, and one of the few that thankfully David Ayer didn’t have anything to do with. This 2002 film from writer-director Joe Carnahan (“The A-Team”, “Smokin’ Aces”, which I still say is underrated) is definitely light years ahead of “Training Day”. The big twist isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s not especially detrimental to the film. In fact, the only drawback of the film is that Patric’s wife needed just one scene where she wasn’t an unreasonable harpy so that we could sympathise with her concerns that Patric was headed back down the crapper. As is, we don’t see what he was like back then, and don’t see her as anything other than an angry bitch, which is a disservice to her and the actress playing her, Krista Bridges. But for the most part, this is pretty good stuff, with fine work by Jason Patric, Chi McBride, and even Busta Rhymes towards the end.

 

Far and away the most impressive performer, though, is a well-cast Ray Liotta, who at times can be an electrifying actor. He’s completely rabid and owns the film right from his very first moment, and he works well with Patric. I dunno if it’s his eyes (apparently prosthetic were also used to make his face look puffy, in addition to a weight gain), performance, or just his physical presence, but Liotta is seriously intimidating here. At any moment you are expecting this volcanic human being to erupt, and when he does it’s ugly, violent, and bloody frightening. Jason Patric’s character may have an ugly past, but just looking at Liotta, you know he has been through hell, and he gives a very strong performance here.

 

Carnahan (who probably hasn’t lived up to the potential shown here, it must be said) is an interesting visual stylist, and he varies things up here, making sure it’s not monochromatic. His films generally feature handheld camerawork, but Carnahan’s cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy (“Wanted: Dead or Alive”, and for some reason “Mrs. Winterbourne”) manages to keep a relatively steady hand for the most part. And the film has an interesting emphasis on texture throughout, whether it’s blood, dirt, fabric, or even the texture of a piece of paper, it almost looks 3D. Carnahan, like Neveldine/Taylor (the “Crank” guys) may take risks visually, but he’s no hack.

 

The film is good, solid corrupt cop stuff, but Ray Liotta gives this one a special lift. When it is his wont, Liotta can really be an asset to a film and that’s the case here. You can’t take your eyes off the guy.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: Hitchcock


A biopic not so much of Sir Alfred Hitchcock in totality, but instead focusing on the inspiration for and making of his most infamous film, “Psycho”. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate either. The film mostly centres on the relationship between Hitchcock and the most important person in his life and career. Dame Helen Mirren plays his wife and collaborator Alma Reville, who is being wooed by screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who worked on Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train”. Meanwhile, she’s worried that the randy old Master will try and make it with his two female stars Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel). The Master is also having a helluva time getting anyone interested in his disturbing film project, even Alma thinks it’s disgusting. Nonetheless, she is his biggest supporter and helps wherever she can. Toni Collette plays an office assistant named Peggy, Kurtwood Smith plays a humourless censorship board guy, James D’Arcy plays nervous leading man Anthony Perkins, Richard Portnow plays an unimpressed and impatient Paramount Studios head (even though the film was shot at Universal and merely distributed by Paramount, a bit of a cock-up by the filmmakers), and Michael Wincott plays serial murderer Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration for the character of Norman Bates.

 

This 2012 film from director Sacha Gervasi (the documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (“Man of the House”, with Tommy Lee Jones) manages to overcome three major cases of miscasting to eventually entertain, if not entirely satisfy. But boy, are those three miscasting big hurdles to overcome.

 

Chief among these casting issues is Sir Anthony Hopkins, proving that his Brando imitation masquerading as “Nixon” wasn’t a fluke. He’s much better here, but cast as famed British filmmaker Sir Alfred Hitchcock, he once again proves that playing real-life figures isn’t his thing. Some real-life figures don’t need a dead-on impersonation, but Hitchcock isn’t one of them and Hopkins is simply not good enough. He doesn’t look all that much like the director, but he sure as hell doesn’t sound even remotely like The Master. In fact, he does a pretty passable Michael Caine impersonation instead. He is right to make the voice sound a bit throaty, but it comes off like an insufferably nasal, young Michael Caine with a dry, sore throat instead. Worse still, he gets the inimitable Hitchcock slow cadence all wrong. That’s unforgiveable, every other Hitchcock imitator gets that one right at least. On the positive side, everything Hopkins does beneath the nose is pretty commendable. But even then, it’s all ‘performance’ and surface-level, no real acting as it were. One might argue that the real Hitchcock was too elusive for a 3D treatment, but no, Hopkins simply doesn’t do the character nor the film justice because the script paints an otherwise pretty 3D portrait of the man. It’s Hopkins’ performance that is superficial. I might’ve cast Brendan Gleeson in the role myself, but Hopkins just doesn’t cut it and during the scene where he narrates the driving scene in “Psycho” he flat-out sounds like Hannibal Lecter.

 

The other two problematic casting choices are the unquestionably miscast Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles. Oh, boy, do I even need to explain the problem here? Well, neither of them look even remotely like the actresses they are playing. With Biel, she’s a little luckier in that less people would be familiar with Vera Miles than Janet Leigh, but she looks even less like Miles than Johansson does as Leigh (Does the director even know what Miles looks like?). And believe me, Scarlett Johansson looks like no one other than Scarlett Johansson. The actress doesn’t even appear to be trying to act (And I personally don’t think Johansson can act to be honest). She’d make for a passable Marilyn Monroe, but as Janet Leigh? Unacceptable. It’s a miscasting made worse by the hair and make-up department presumably taking a ‘sickie’. They do try with Biel, but she’s so hopelessly miscast to begin with that it’s too late. At least with Hopkins there was a little more resemblance there to begin with. I stress ‘a little’, and he botches it with a lazy performance.  The worst sin? Showing photos of the real Janet Leigh and Vera Miles. That was a really, really bad idea. It left me with the impression that this was a film made by people who hadn’t even seen “Psycho” let alone had any idea about the people who actually made it. Obviously that’s not true (I would hope not, given this film is principally concerned with the making of “Psycho”!), but these three actors were hopelessly cast nonetheless.

 

So are there any positives to the film? Yes, and enough to make the film worthwhile, actually. The film’s tone, for instance is spot-on. Opening with two idiot gravediggers, one of whom whacks the other, and following it up with the Danny Elfman (“Batman”, “Mars Attacks”) re-do of the jaunty “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” theme is simply perfection. The film has a pretty damn perfect dose of typically Hitchcockian black humour throughout. Hitchcock’s vision for “The Diary of Anne Frank”, for instance, is awful...and awfully funny. The man had a truly nasty and delicious sense of humour and his William Castle (but a high-end William Castle) sense of showmanship is well captured: ‘Try the sandwiches, they’re real fingers’ Hitch says at one point. It’s a great line but also a very believable one. Less believable is Hitch saying ‘But what if someone really good made a horror picture?’ To me that sounded like too-cute screenwriting than something organic to the man himself. Meanwhile, whatever my issues are with Hitchcock’s vocal performance and physical appearance, he certainly gets the posture right. The film also gets the rather randy side of Hitch correct, too. There’s an especially clever bit where Hitchcock spies on Vera Miles, ala Norman Bates in “Psycho”. Even more amusing is the way that his jealousy of wife Alma and Whitfield Cook is played out like an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, almost. It’s quite a playful and funny biopic, something tricky to achieve. It’s nearly worth seeing the film for Hitch’s summation of the John Gavin-Janet Leigh love scene in “Psycho” alone.

 

The film doesn’t overly delve into Hitch’s arguable misogyny or his infatuation (or obsession) with blondes (See the TV movie “The Girl” for more of that), but it’s interesting when those topics are dealt with. I do think the film could’ve emphasised how Hitchcock could be quite an intimidating presence, especially for his actors. But let’s face it, you’d more likely see that in a film about the making of “Marnie” or “The Birds”, wouldn’t you? (Once again, see “The Girl”) From what I can gather, Janet Leigh got on with Hitchcock pretty well.

 

One thing I was very happy about was that Gervasi and McLaughlin clearly want to champion Hitch’s wife Alma, and the film definitely gives the long-time wife (and frequent script supervisor her due. True, Helen Mirren looks more like famed costume designer Edith Head than the real-life Alma Reville, but unlike Hitchcock or Janet Leigh, only nerds like me know that, and Gervasi was smart to give Alma a pair of eyeglasses seemingly modelled on the pair daughter Patricia Hitchcock sported in Hitch’s best film, “Strangers on a Train”. That was clever, I thought. But the way the character is written and the way Mirren plays her, is pretty much spot-on for what I’ve always envisioned Alma to be. She was the dutiful wife, of course, but casting someone with real power like Mirren gives the character an extra layer of strength. Alma was no mere mousy doormat (though in fairness, she did look a bit mousy, unlike Mirren), and was quite clearly the most important person in Hitchcock’s life. She’s an interesting and sympathetic character and I for one thought Mirren was terrific here (Many seem to disagree, which makes me wonder if they’ve ever read anything about the real Alma). Aside from Mirren as Alma, the film has two other very effective pieces of casting, one more fleeting than the other. Former “Karate Kid” star Ralph Macchio, aged 50 (Just so you feel as old as I do right now) plays “Psycho” screenwriter Joseph Stefano, and although he only has the one scene, he looks quite a bit like a young Stefano and is very effective with his limited screen time. Even more impressive (and prominent) is James D’Arcy as neurotic Anthony Perkins, Norman Bates himself. In addition to looking quite a bit like the real Perkins, he sounds a lot like him and gets his mannerisms and nervous speech patterns down as close to perfection as anyone could likely get. The film isn’t overly interested in Perkins (outside of his closeted homosexuality possibly aiding his performance), but when he was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes of D’Arcy. One could argue that he’s playing an exaggerated version of Perkins that seems modelled on his performance in “Psycho” but a) It’s a film about the making of “Psycho”, and b) I’ve seen Perkins in plenty of films and he’s always a bit like that. Whether that mirrors the real guy or not, I cannot say, but I think it would be churlish to complain. He definitely nails Perkins’ posture, though. I also rather liked the work of the always fine Danny Huston as writer Whitfield Cook. He doesn’t look all that much like the real Cook, but much as in the case of Mirren as Alma, he embodies Cook as I have imagined through reading about him over the years in Hitchcock biographies and such (Some have claimed that the film invents a potential affair between Alma and Cook, but I’ve heard the story before, so this film certainly didn’t invent it, true or not). And who better to play a cold, humourless Censorship board guy than Kurtwood Smith? Similarly, an almost unrecognisable Toni Collette is well-cast in a thankless role.

 

One controversial addition to the story is real-life murderer, necrophiliac and taxidermy enthusiast Ed Gein, who inspired the Norman Bates character in “Psycho” as well as films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Deranged” and to an extent characters like Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs”. Played rather well in a thankless task by the always fine Michael Wincott, Gein proves to be a mere spectre here, rather than a (sorry) fleshed-out human being. Nonetheless, Wincott is good enough in the role to make me want to see him in an Ed Gein film. I must say, though, that the film paints an offensively sympathetic portrait of the infamous murderer and necrophiliac. He was a sick, sick bastard, but then...so was Norman, and “Psycho” invites the audience to see things from Norman’s perspective at times, maybe even wish he gets away with his crimes. I will say, though, that at least the film doesn’t suggest that Hitchcock and Gein actually met, so anything else is fair game really.

 

Three pretty major pieces of miscasting threaten to derail this biopic. Thankfully, it’s well-written and interesting enough, and the subject matter is already fascinating enough to pick up much of the slack. Still, this film has to be considered somewhat of a disappointment. The Master deserved much better than a lazy Anthony Hopkins. 

 

Rating: B-

Review: Lay the Favourite


Rebecca Hall stars as former stripper Beth Raymer who heads to Vegas with ambitions to become a cocktail waitress, but finds that she has a knack for numbers. Bruce Willis is Dink, a somewhat stressed but amiable gambler who has his own sports bet operation he thinks Raymer would be a perfect fit for. She even becomes his good luck charm, though Dink’s demanding wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) becomes instantly jealous. Vince Vaughn plays a shonky rival gambler who operates out of New York, Joshua Jackson plays a nice guy who falls for Beth, Laura Prepon is the girl who first introduces Beth to Dink, Corbin Bernsen plays Beth’s loser dad, Frank Grillo plays one of Dink’s employees, and John Carroll Lynch plays a loser gambler.

 

Beware any film from a name director that features Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Vince Vaughn...that you’ve never heard of. True to form, this 2012 film from the respected Stephen Frears (“Prick Up Your Ears”, “The Grifters”, “High Fidelity”, “The Queen”), is a bit of a dud, and the usually charismatic and talented Rebecca Hall is completely miscast in a role that 10-15 years ago would’ve been nailed by Jennifer Tilly or Marisa Tomei. Beginning the film with Hall in her underwear dancing to ‘Unskinny Bop’ is certainly a helluva way to open a film, but it goes downhill from there. Hall, adopting a ridiculously unconvincing squeaky voice and American accent just isn’t right for the part (which is your standard Marisa Tomei ‘bimbo who has a hidden talent’ gig), as she proves over the course of 90 or so minutes. She’s not the only problem here, but definitely one of the biggest and most noticeable problems (Also noticeable? Laura Prepon has no problems going topless, but we are robbed of the strikingly beautiful Hall’s puppies. That’s just not fair!). Some actresses just can’t play stupid, and Hall seems to be one of them, though she gets a little better once she dials down on the helium. I’m totally in love with her by the way, just so you know, and I think she really is going to get a great role one of these days. This just isn’t it.

 

Bruce Willis is much better as a charming, if stressed sports gambling business operator. Although his character gets stressed from time to time, this is without question the most laidback and charming Willis has been since the 90s at least. I guess someone finally told him to take the pineapple out of his arse and lighten the hell up for a change. He’s genuinely likeable. But to be honest, Hall’s the only acting misfire here. Vince Vaughn is perfect playing Vince Vaughn as a bookie, finally finding a character that allows him to not stretch himself without being accused of phoning it in, unlike “The Watch”. His second scene in particular is genuinely hilarious. Catherine Zeta-Jones is even more perfectly cast as Willis’ somewhat high maintenance wife, who proves disarmingly sympathetic towards the end, narrowly avoiding a shrill harpy stereotype. Frankly I’m a bit sick of John Carroll Lynch always playing a patsy (albeit one who isn’t quite as dumb as he first appears), and Joshua Jackson simply doesn’t fare as well in big screen roles as he tends to on the small screen, but neither is around long enough to be too much bother. Meanwhile, does Frank Grillo have to turn up in everything? Can’t he give someone else a shot?

 

To be honest, the film is mostly a bore. Part of this is because I have such little knowledge of this sort of sports betting, and thus it was over my head. Filmmakers and screenwriters need to remember that not everyone is inside their head, and not everyone is gonna know what you know, and so you need to make sure that your story and its details can be understood by as many people as possible. But it’s also not consistently funny or interesting as a story, either, whether you understand the gambling stuff or not. The basic plot and lead character, true story or not, have been done to death already.

 

It’s refreshing to see Willis play slightly vulnerable for a change, but he and Hall’s incredibly hot body aren’t enough to win me over here. It’s a pretty flimsy, frivolous film, and Frears doesn’t do Hall any favours by casting her in a role she’s just not right for. It ends up being annoying and ultimately forgettable, despite fun moments provided by Willis, Zeta-Jones, and Vaughn. The screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis (who also produced, along with fifteen others!) is based on a true account by the real-life Beth Raymer (whom I have heard, amazingly, is very much as Hall plays her here. Except with Hall it comes off as affected and unnatural, especially since we know how Hall normally speaks).

 

Rating: C

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: The Sound of Music


Cheerful Maria (Julie Andrews) leaves the convent due to uncontrollable merriment, and takes on the job of governess to the seven Von Trapp children, evil little buggers who match in Satanic lock-step (OK, so the youngest girl is awfully cute, but the rest...Stay back, demon spawn!). Their mother has died, and their humourless father Capt. Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) has no idea how to cope with them, so treats them like military school students or something. However, with a song in her heart and an insufferably doe-eyed expression of saccharine-drenched sunshine on her face, Maria manages to brighten the children’s spirits, and even the stone-faced Captain seems to slowly thaw. Meanwhile, their secure life in Austria is under constant threat of Nazi invasion and occupation. Eleanor Parker plays The Baroness, the Captain’s would-be Bill Pullman...er...love interest.

 

Live long enough and if you’re into movies and reviewing as much as I am, you end up watching movies you once promised yourself you wouldn’t touch with a 50ft pole. Musicals tend to be my last resort for cinematic entertainment and Julie Andrews is generally a no-go zone for me. So this 1965 Robert Wise (“Cat People”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”) film version of the Rogers and Hammerstein (I nearly typed ‘Hammer Time’ there, I swear) ‘classic’ was indeed one of those films I promised myself I’d never watch unless I was absolutely desperate or being forced via threat of torture. This is what happens when you don’t want to go to bed because you know some fireworks would be fired off in the not-so distant future outside and would inevitably wake me up, making my attempt at slumber useless. The threat of neighbours acting like loud drunken tools was always a possibility, too. It was New Years Eve 2013, and I had already sat through “Can’t Stop the Music” years ago, so I wasn’t about to make that mistake again, no matter what Village People CD may or may not be in my CD collection. So...I finally relented and gave this one a go. Partly fired up by a dare from a family member who didn’t think I’d last more than 20 minutes, I managed to sit all the way through it too, albeit in two sittings. I had to go to bed eventually, of course, and DVR’d the rest. I also felt I needed to see the film because of my desire to see as many films as I can before I leave this mortal coil, and I’d hate for this to have been the last film I ever saw.

 

So what did I think of it? It’s not...a bad film in any way, shape or form. In fact, the basic story is a damn good yarn, even rather stirring at times, given its basis in fact. But boy did those Nazis take their damn sweet time entering the film to save me from a saccharine, sing-song, Julie Andrews overdose.

 

Without question the best thing in the entire film is the performance by Christopher Plummer. He may not have been a good enough singer to do his own vocals, but acting-wise, he’s really the one to watch. He is perfect casting (even if one wonders if the real-life Captain was quite as heroically anti-Nazi as Plummer portrays him) and steals the film instantaneously from everyone and everything except the wonderful scenery. The late Eleanor Parker fares second best and manages a jolly good try at making her character not seem like the obvious romantic obstacle she is. I also didn’t hate every single song in the film. Oh I ever so much hate the title song and ‘Do Re Mi’, and I think we’ve all endured more than enough bad versions of ‘Edelweiss’. ‘A Few of My Favourite Things’ is among my least favourite things (I do rather like whiskers on kittens, though). But ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria’? I don’t mind that one. Meanwhile, why did I know every word of every song here? I’ve never even seen the film before. Weird.

 

In addition to being a musical that actually has a story (one that shares a few basic similarities to “Jane Eyre”, which is a plus), I also like that this is a musical where the songs are spread out, instead of constant, ending up with sung dialogue. But just when there’s a moment or two that I didn’t mind, Julie Andrews had to go and ruin it with her frigging Julie Andrews...ness. Her obnoxious mugging and over earnest performance were borderline insufferable to me. She’s like a lethal injection of sugar, and her warbling was horribly self-absorbed at times. I don’t care if you have confidence you insufferable English twit. I’ve seen silent movie actresses with more subtle facial expressions and physicality than Andrews. All throughout the film I kept thinking: ‘So poor Anne Frank died, but so help me if this annoying singing nun doesn’t get rounded up soon...’. But I will give Andrews and the character one thing: As nauseating as Andrews is, I kinda like how Maria was an ill-fit at the nunnery due to her boundless enthusiasm and sense of merriment, the very qualities she calls upon to make life enjoyable for the miserable little von Trapp turds. It kinda reminded me of “Life is Beautiful” in that sense, though this is obviously a much lesser film.

 

The finale- yes the bit where the Nazis turn up- is definitely the film’s strongest, and most moving. I actually think this would’ve worked much better as a non-musical (Which may be difficult, given the singing is apparently part of the real story, but they could cut a lot of it out, surely). The basic story idea is fine, and throw in someone who can act in the lead like Ingrid Bergman and you’d have a much better film than this. Yes, I said the film does have a plot and the basic idea of it is fine, but the way it plays out in the Ernest Lehman (“The Sweet Smell of Success”, “North By Northwest”, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) script, it’s thoroughly predictable (though not exactly boring), the kids all blend together (except Liesl, who is just plain insufferable and 16 going on 25), and Julie Andrews is awful.

 

It’s not a great film, and it’s not my kind of film at all. But it’s not a bad one either, just one I have a bit of an allergic reaction to. I’ll never watch it again, but I’ve seen it now and I actually don’t regret it. I managed to stomach it. Barely. I’m surprised feminists don’t loathe it, though, especially with the strategic placing of ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria’ as a wedding march! I won’t give the film a bad score, nor a good one, but at least it’s one more film ticked off my list.

 

Rating: C+