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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: Gangster Squad


Set in LA in 1949 (and loosely based on a true story), gruff police chief Nick Nolte places grim-faced sergeant Josh Brolin in charge of hiring a small crew of cops to help bring down boxer-turned-gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), whose payroll seems to include cops, judges, you name it, everyone except Nolte, Brolin, and his soon-to-be-formed squad. Helped by his pregnant wife, Brolin brings together smart-alec ladies’ man Ryan Gosling, veteran sharpshooter Robert Patrick (who comes as a package deal with his Mexican sidekick/ace driver Michael Pena), techie Giovanni Ribisi, and African-American cop Anthony Mackie. Emma Stone turns up as a woman attached to Cohen who would much rather attach herself to Gosling.

 

This 2013 gangster pic with graphic novel aesthetics from director Ruben Fleischer and writer Will Beall isn’t “The Untouchables” that it aspires to be. I also found Fleischer’s hyperreal sensibilities to be hit-and-miss, and it sure as hell ain’t another “Zombieland”. But taken as pure entertainment, it pretty much gets the job done, though it’s pretty lumpy. I just don’t think the story of the dogged pursuit of gangster Mickey Cohen should’ve been made this way. In terms of his performance, Sean Penn is perfectly fine for the rather 2D, superficial approach Fleischer and Beall are adopting. But his performance is absolutely torpedoed by the appalling makeup job that seems to be trying to turn Cohen into a wannabe Jake LaMotta. I get that Cohen was a boxing nut (and indeed a former boxer), but they lay it on way too thick, and not just the makeup. To me it seemed less about Cohen being a boxer and more about how the director saw “Raging Bull” and thought it was heaps wicked cool. But indeed, that makeup is appalling (check out the Jimmy Durante schnozzola!) and it turns the character (and yes, to a degree Penn obliges with his performance) into something resembling Mumbles or Pruneface from “Dick Tracy”. Some might not be too bothered by this, and Penn’s performance isn’t dull, it’s just...disappointing from an actor who is usually so much more than ‘OK’. He makes you appreciate De Niro all the more (his Capone in “The Untouchables” is the benchmark for this kind of showy gangster role), let alone guys like Cagney and Edward G. Robinson who started it all.

 

I also don’t think Ryan Gosling has taken quite the right approach to his character. At first, I thought he seemed somehow too ‘modern’ for the role. But what has actually happened is that Gosling has deliberately taken the approach of differentiating himself from everyone else by adopting a slightly higher pitch to his voice, and it’s off-putting and frankly out-of-place. He just doesn’t seem masculine or tough enough to be playing this 40s lawman character, and it really is mostly because of his voice. It’s almost as if the director told him the film was about ‘wiseguys’ and he got the wrong idea. I also felt that his characterisation was far too unflappably glib. I wanted to slap the guy around a bit. That said, it’s not a boring performance in the slightest.

 

Meanwhile, I’ve since learned that indeed there were African-American police officers as far back as the late 1800s, but it was pretty rare (and how many of you knew that? I had to look it up!) and I think the decision to have Anthony Mackie play an African-American cop here was unnecessarily tacked-on PC stuff to be honest (Pena’s Hispanic cop was to me a much easier pill to swallow for the period). I say tacked on because the script barely deals with the subject at all, so why bother? Mackie’s perfectly fine as always, but it just seemed superficial once again.

 

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the film at all doesn’t it? Surprisingly enough, it ended up being more entertaining than not. Aside from the cartoony makeup, the film’s look is really attractive. Yes, it’s a bit hyperreal, but not enough to be entirely artificial-looking. The lighting and colour (despite this being a somewhat muted palette) are really gorgeous at times and Aussie cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Chicago”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”) is to be commended for not making things too dark or monochromatic. The neon lights really pop in the exterior shots and the interiors are almost technicolour-esque. Maybe a tad too hyperreal for me, but nonetheless attractive and interesting. The sepia-toned WB and Village logos set the right mood from the outset. The film looks somewhere in between B&W noir and graphic novel without being cartoony. I also enjoyed the music score by Steve Jablonsky (the remake of “Friday the 13th, “Your Highness”), so that’s another thing in the film’s favour. Meanwhile, they don’t get much screen time, but Nick Nolte and especially Robert Patrick steal their every scene as grizzled veterans. In fact, Nolte looks and sounds so grizzled here you’d swear sometime between his infamous arrest and this film he literally morphed into a grizzly bear. Perfect casting, and although he looks seriously old, he nonetheless looks in good health as he chews the ever-lovin’ shit out of the scenery here. It seems wrong that Robert Patrick should be playing the ‘old dog’ role, but he’s bloody convincing and having more fun than anyone else on set. I’m not sure Hollywood ever quite figured out what to do with Patrick, but he steals the show here as a virtual cowboy.

 

In the lead role, a square-jawed, grim-faced Josh Brolin is the perfect choice in the kind of thing you used to see Sterling Hayden or Charles McGraw play. He probably fits into the period setting better than anyone else. Emma Stone and I don’t get along, frankly. I find her snarky screen persona almost “Juno”-levels of annoying, especially in “Easy A”. I didn’t think she’d have a clue what she was doing in a period setting like this, but surprise of all surprises, she’s perfectly fine. The look and the way she is photographed at times annoyed me, but that’s nothing to do with her performance. She also shares quite convincing chemistry with Gosling too, and his best scenes are with her.

 

The film is highly watchable, but a bit more superficial than I was expecting and not particularly memorable. It’s certainly a much better film than “Mobsters” and “Mulholland Falls” (with Nolte in the lead), however. In fact, I’ve gotta say it’s a whole lot better than it could’ve been. It’s not easy to get these kinds of period crime flicks right, and perhaps because I feared the worst from the trailers with its hyperreal look, I ended up liking it more because it was better than expected. It’s an OK bounce-back for Fleischer after the seriously disappointing sophomore effort “30 Minutes or Less”

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: The Last Stand


Drug lord Eduardo Noriega and his souped-up corvette are headed to the Mexican border, after escaping police custody. Standing in his way? Small border town sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a small army of helpers (including nervous deputies Luis Guzman and Jaimie Alexander, and explosives nut Johnny Knoxville). Peter Stormare plays Noriega’s scummy criminal associate who is already waiting for him in sleepy ‘ol Sommerton, and his foreign presence hasn’t gone unnoticed by Schwarzenegger (The townsfolk haven’t noticed, however that their sheriff is quite clearly fucking Austrian, but nevermind). Meanwhile, assistance from Las Vegas FBI agent Forest Whitaker (whose custody Noriega escaped in the first place) seems a long, long way away. Harry Dean Stanton plays a stubborn, shotgun-sporting local who tries to stand up to Stormare. Rodrigo Santoro plays Dean Martin in “Rio Bravo”.

 

I wanted this 2013 film from director Jee-woon Kim to be a fun return to action movie stardom for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately, this mixture of latter-day Clint Eastwood and “Rio Bravo” (or “Assault on Precinct 13” if you’d prefer) just doesn’t cut it. It’s surprisingly slow, low-key, and not nearly as much cheesy fun as its initial poster art seemed to suggest. I’m not sure that this was the best choice for Arnold’s returning starring vehicle. Character-wise it’s more of a team effort, and the pacing is far too leisurely for what is essentially a siege film, which should depend upon building tension. If ever a film needed to be directed by the late, flashy Tony Scott, this is it. Walter Hill might’ve even given the concept its dues. I’m not sure this was the right project for the director of “A Tale of Two Sisters”, “I Saw the Devil”, and the bizarre “The Quiet Family” to be honest. Who thought that he would be a good match for this material? Sure, he can direct an action scene, but what about all the stuff that happens in between those scenes? Not so great. I can’t deny, though, that the car that bad guy Eduardo Noriego (who is amusingly callous to his woman but lacks menace) drives is cool, noisy, and the best damn thing in the entire film.

 

Peter Stormare seems to be channelling Timothy Carey here more than ever, but neither he nor Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker (in a dull, functionary role) are given enough screen time to really count. His Federal Agent is kinda like what the bomb squad are in every other action movie. I hope the man was well-paid, ditto Harry Dean Stanton’s worthless cameo. Oddly enough, Johnny Knoxville, though not in the film much, is probably used to his best advantage. In small doses he can be fun and is well-cast here. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the film cries out for more of him and character actor Luis Guzman (who looks incredibly fat here, by the way).

 

The action, when it comes, is fine and thankfully mostly shot with a steady hand. But there’s just not nearly enough of it, though after the hour mark, things do perk up a bit. Terrific use of a cornfield in one chase scene, too.

 

This film just isn’t very good, nor is it worthy of Schwarzenegger’s stature. It’d be better off with Chuck Norris or Burt Reynolds in the lead. It’d make for a decent Rutger Hauer direct-to-DVD film, for instance (And that’s no knock on Hauer, who I think deserved a better career than he has received). Casting Arnold gives off the completely wrong impression. Having said that, as ridiculous as the final fist fight seems in light of the ‘I’m too old for this shit’ angle the film has up until then played up. I didn’t care. If you don’t enjoy that fight scene, the fuck you. It’s your loss.

 

Look, I know why this plot was stretched out the way it is, but a director with some sense of pacing, and a judicious editor on hand, could’ve found a way to trim the fat to make this a far more effective and exciting film. Arnold’s laidback, clearly aging characterisation is interesting, but the film is only intermittently enjoyable because the set-up is too drawn out to maintain any tension. Car nuts might like it more than me, but who goes to a Schwarzenegger film for the cars? Far from the man’s worst, though. This ain’t “Raw Deal”, despite a similarity or two. But the man who made “The Terminator”, “Terminator 2”, “Commando”, “Predator”, “The Running Man”, “Total Recall”, “Red Heat”, and “True Lies” has seen much, much better days. The clichéd screenplay is by Andrew Knauer (who has otherwise done nothing worth mentioning thus far), Jeffrey Nachmanoff (ditto), and somewhat surprisingly George Nolfi (director of the excellent “Adjustment Bureau”, but also the writer of the transparent thriller “The Sentinel”).

 

Welcome back, Arnold, but perhaps you should knock on that “Titanic” guy’s door. Or at least Joel Silver. Oh, one more thing: Why have Schwarzenegger make a statement about being an immigrant, when his character is given the oh-so Austrian name of Ray Owens? Is he from Canada?

 

Rating: C+

Review: Amour


A loving elderly couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are faced with having to deal with the deteriorating health of the latter (A stroke and a descent into dementia). Trintignant wants to keep her home to go through this with whatever dignity is possible. Their daughter Isabelle Huppert disagrees but lives abroad and thus comes in and out infrequently without putting up too much of a fight.

 

This 2012 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner is an odd choice for writer/director Michael Haneke (the notorious “Funny Games” and “The Piano Teacher”) to have made. It’s well-done up to a certain point, but I believe Haneke goes a step too far in going for realism here. I’ve always believed that even realistic films should be just a tad shy of total realism (and I’m talking about fictional films here, docos are a totally different subject and out of the equation), and Haneke slightly crosses over the line on this one. At what point does showing someone going through the undignified process of dying and dementia stop being accurate and start being simply undignified and unnecessary? I don’t think you need to show absolutely everything in order to get the reality of a situation across (Especially to anyone for whom this material will be somewhat familiar to one’s own reality, as it was for me). Some will disagree and that’s fine, but a little bit of sentimentality or a slight pullback from reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing in fictional cinema if you ask me.

 

I also found it odd that an 80 odd year-old was being left to look after another 80 odd year old with minimal assistance. That was the one break from reality to me (it has certainly not been true from my own experiences with elderly family members), as the Isabelle Huppert character just seemed unrealistically negligent and unlikeable. Sure, the old man refuses to accept hospice care for his wife (and can be quite hostile himself- but with reason), but surely the daughter should be insisting, being far more firm about it than she is. But that’s a minor complaint to be honest. I wanted to like this film more than I did, but I felt, even being fiction, this was exploitative (not to mention hardly anything new). Not quite on the level of “Precious” where it was unbearable, and this is a better film than that, but for a film featuring two characters who want to save others from witnessing the indignity of death, it felt strange that Haneke wanted the audience to see it. That’s a shame, because the central relationship, lead performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant (who is better than Oscar-nominated co-star Emmanuelle Riva if you ask me. She must’ve gotten the nom for having her arm tied up), and themes all have merit.

 

I don’t necessarily morally disagree with what happens near the end, but that doesn’t mean I needed to see it, either. When a filmmaker heaps on too much misery, I’m afraid I have a tendency to reject it somewhat. This is a good film and the central relationship is mostly lovely, but it could’ve been an even better one with a little more restraint. The final two minutes or so could’ve stood to be made a lot clearer, too. I’m cool with being left to fend for myself a bit, but that really was a bit of a head-scratcher to me (I’ve subsequently got a pretty good idea of what Haneke was getting at, but really only after reading others’ views on it).

 

I appreciate a desire to not over-sentimentalise something, but Mr. Haneke just seems a bit too unsentimental for this material, and his ultra-realistic, grim approach stops the film from being all that it could be (though it’s also not much in terms of plot, either really). Trintignant is heartbreaking, but being realistic doesn’t mean you’re being profound. I hate to be the ‘cinema is escapism’ guy, but that guy does have a point.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger


Set in London, Anthony Hopkins and Naomi Watts play father and daughter, both unhappy in love. Hopkins leaves wife Gemma Jones for a younger hooker named Charmaine (Lucy Punch), whilst Watts’ marriage to frustrated writer Josh Brolin seems to be on the outs, as she has her eye on her charismatic boss (Antonio Banderas), and he has been spying a pretty neighbour (Freida Pinto), whilst fretting about the impending response to his latest work. Pauline Collins has an idiotic role as a shonky psychic medium who gives Jones the title prediction (groan).

 

Continuing my masochistic tour of Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Deconstructing Harry”, “Match Point”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”) films, with this not terribly well publicised 2010 film from the celebrated writer-director. It’s a shockingly pointless, uninteresting film in which Woody doesn’t appear to be saying anything interesting, insightful, profound, or funny. Not a very good idea to use the ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’ quote from Macbeth to start your film, Woody when you really are signifying nothing- and without much sound or fury to boot. It left me thinking: What the fuck was that all about? Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly enough entertained to want to go back and see if I could figure it out. Woody seems truly lost at sea these days, extremely erratic and perhaps struggling to find a reason to keep making films. Great, so stop then! A great cast (and Lucy Punch) is not very well served here at all.

 

The film begins, as many Woody films do, with an old standard, this time a godawful version of the classic ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, which immediately got me offside with the film. Don’t fuck with Jiminy Cricket, Woody. Just don’t. We’re then expected to accept Josh Brolin as a one-hit wonder writer. I didn’t buy him as a writer at all. He seems a bit too brawny to be a writer, somehow. Maybe it’s because the film I most associate him with is still “The Goonies”. If Brolin is meant to be the film’s middle-aged Woody surrogate, it’s poor casting. The annoyingly ironic New York accented narrator isn’t much better, either. Brolin does get one absolutely brilliant line- the only decent line in the entire film- ‘I believe you will meet the same tall, dark stranger that we all eventually meet’. Anthony Hopkins can be hit-and-miss, but he’s very rarely dull. So his work here joins the interminably funereal “Meet Joe Black” in that magical feat of tediousness. Much more acceptable and interesting are Naomi Watts and especially Antonio Banderas, who are well-cast and charismatic. Watts looks especially lovely here, but she nor Banderas can escape the fact that these are uninteresting and unlikeable characters in a film that is making clichéd and simplistic points. As soon as we see that Anthony Hopkins (looking rather fit. Must be the t-shirt) has left his wife for a bimbo half his age, we know the point being made. It was old thirty years ago, Woody. The fact that anyone would leave anyone for Lucy Punch, an actress who looks like an explosion at a plastic surgeon’s operating room, is the icing on the cake. Sorry, nice girl I’m sure, but very, very weird-looking to be playing someone that is in a profession where they get paid to have sex. The cartoon-featured Punch’s ditzy bimbo act is far too superficial (pardon the pun) and caricatured for someone of Mr. Allen’s esteem. It also doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film, which is more serious. How bad is she? She seems to be doing a Sally Hawkins impersonation, which combined with everything else I already hate about Lucy Punch, is pretty much my worst fucking nightmare (Bizarre fact: IMDb states Nicole Kidman was originally cast in the role. How the hell do you go from Kidman to Punch?). Woody has seriously weird taste in women and it affects the logic in his films. “Celebrity” had Lilith Crane cast as a hooker, and Kenneth Branagh cheating on Amy Irving with Judy Freakin’ Davis! But it’s absolutely insane that Brolin is married to the beautiful Naomi Watts, but is distracted by another woman (the lovely but bland Freida Pinto), and also thinks Lucy Punch is a ‘hot little number’. WHAT? I could understand someone being attracted to a person with a great personality and average looks, that’s perfectly normal. I can even see Punch being someone’s ‘type’, not everyone likes a classically beautiful or drop-dead sexy girl, so I’m not merely being insulting. But Punch’s character is a caricatured bimbo who is clearly self-absorbed from the get-go. Combined with her plastic surgery nightmare visage (what was that I said about not being insulting?), it just doesn’t work. The girl (a great person in real-life, I’m sure) is tragically miscast. By the way, is it just me or is this review every bit as misogynistic as people tend to criticise Woody Allen’s films for being? Unintended irony FTW!

 

I’m sorry, but this is terribly boring stuff and only mildly less pretentious than the supremely overrated “Midnight in Paris”. The characters have no personality, nothing interesting to say, and the plot is clichéd and trite. Is this really all there is? Acting talent and charisma just aren’t enough to get this one even close to average. Meanwhile, having the talented Anthony Hopkins act out a Viagra joke isn’t as bad as the banana scene from “Celebrity”, but it’s still juvenile and beneath Hopkins’ talents. That said, I don’t blame the guy for needing some outside help to inspire him into arousal when with Lucy Punch.

 

No, I didn’t get anything much out of this one at all, and unlike some Woody apologists out there, I very much doubt pointlessness was the intention (Seriously, if you want to have a really good laugh, read some of the more forgiving reviews of this film online. It’s terrific sarcastic entertainment). When Woody Allen makes a film with Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, and Josh Brolin and practically no one has ever heard of it- Beware! When it takes until 2013 for a Woody Allen film with that cast to have gotten an Australian release, stay well away!

 

Rating: C-