About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: Silver Linings Playbook


Bradley Cooper plays Pat, who has lost his house, his job, and his wife, and he has just spent eight months in a mental health facility. But now he’s out, diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder and living with his parents (distant, sports-betting father Robert De Niro, loving mother Jacki Weaver), and...he’s still obsessed with getting back together with his wife. This makes his family and few friends worry that Pat is headed right back to the ‘loony bin’ if he’s not careful. But Pat is determined to talk to her, and a little restraining order isn’t going to deter him from his mission. To help him, he enlists the aid of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a somewhat guarded girl with seemingly deep-rooted issues of her own, who will deliver a letter to the wife, but with a price. Tiffany is a dancer, though not the kind of dancer girls named Tiffany usually are. No, she wants to enter a dance competition, but needs a partner, and ropes Pat into being said partner. Neither of them are professional dancers, mind you, Tiffany’s just barely OK herself, and Pat is a complete novice. At first, Pat is resistant, and it doesn’t seem like the two even like each other. Pat’s inability to filter every thought that comes into his head before speaking certainly doesn’t help. But eventually, a bond develops between the two of them, and Tiffany is clearly sweet on Pat. But can he forget about the wife who probably isn’t coming back, long enough to notice the girl in front of him?

 

Meanwhile, Mum tries to get Pat and his father (whose own ‘issues’ are hinted at throughout) to bond over the latter’s interest in sports, specifically American football. John Ortiz is hilarious as the best friend who feels completely suffocated being married to Julia Stiles, who is Tiffany’s older and more stable sister (and perfectly cast, I might add). Shea Whigham plays Pat’s brother, who is far more interested in sports than Pat, whilst Chris Tucker plays Pat’s fellow mental patient who keeps trying to flee the cuckoo’s nest as it were.

 

I held off watching this critically acclaimed 2012 film from eclectic writer-director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”, “The Fighter”) for quite a while, mostly because I haven’t found Jennifer Lawrence to be a particularly accomplished actress so far, and although he seems rather swell in real-life, Bradley Cooper projects a somewhat slimy, jerk persona on screen in most films (I liked him on “Alias”, but so did everybody!) and hasn’t terribly impressed me with his thesping skills. I just didn’t think this would be endurable, for me, even with Robert De Niro and our own Jacki Weaver. Well now I’ve seen it and...yeah, OK Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper can act. I can’t really deny that this is a pretty good, if slightly overrated film, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting. That said, I think the basic idea of a romance between one or two mentally/emotionally troubled souls was done much more effectively in P.T. Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love”, though the films do have definite differences. This one’s a bit more formulaic, for instance, though that isn’t exactly a fatal flaw on its own.

 

Pretty much everyone here gives a spot-on performance, with John Ortiz and Chris Tucker being especially good fun (Shea Whigham is perfectly cast too), I didn’t even know the latter was capable of being funny. I fully believed Chris Tucker as a mental patient, by the way (in a funny running gag), whilst Ortiz is downright hysterical as a suffocated husband. It’s a shame Weaver doesn’t get a whole lot to do as the supportive mother, but she does it well just the same. I’m not quite sure why such a small role warranted an Oscar nomination, but Dame Judi Dench has won with less screen time, so fair enough.

 

Robert De Niro is 70 years old. Is anyone else shocked about that? It doesn’t seem right does it? The best thing I can say about his Oscar nominated turn here is that he’s not phoning it in for a change, and he gets one absolutely fantastic scene that on its own probably earned him the nod, and he probably deserved the nomination. It’s the best piece of acting he has done at least since “Meet the Parents”. It’s really touching how this man clearly wants a relationship with the kid, he just doesn’t know how. It’s not his best work by any means, but it’s one of his better turns of the last couple of decades in one of the more worthy film projects he has acted in of late. Then we come to the two leads.

 

As I said, Jennifer Lawrence had yet to prove to me that she wasn’t a terrible actress, but the difference between her here and in “The Hunger Games” or “X Men: First Class” is truly remarkable. I’m not sure if I would’ve given her the Oscar, but I can’t deny it, she’s really impressive here. Is she great? Nope. Did she deserve the Oscar win? Perhaps not, but is this her best performance to date? Unquestionably, and it’s not an easy role, either. Her character is genuinely interesting too, as I’ve known people with some of the traits her character has.

 

Bradley Cooper is well-cast and really believable here, despite a couple of unnecessary quirks that make the film seem a tad too sitcom-like (the garbage bag vest, for instance), though they only slightly detract from his otherwise truly spot-on performance. This is by far his best and most substantial role and performance to date, though I did have to wonder at times just how much crazier the guy had to get before he got thrown back in the nuthouse. He seems to get away with an awful lot here. Again, the garbage bag vest is just insane to me. Some of the humour in the film actually works, such as Cooper’s complete lack of a filter. He and Lawrence work well together, and although he seems a good 10-15 years too old for her (he’s too old for Julia Stiles as Lawrence’s sister, if you ask me), at least the issue is actually addressed in the film. The idea of a romance between two ‘crazies’ is hardly new, and turned me off a bit before I actually saw the film, but it is for the most part realistically (if serio-comedically) handled. These are pretty much the only two people out there who could deal with one another on a long-term basis, so you really hope they get it together by the end. The film certainly deserves credit for making me want that to happen, as it doesn’t always happen in romantic films. And that’s what this film is, at the end of the day. A good, solid romantic comedy/drama, with eccentric lead characters that never quite fall into sitcom quirkiness. It does tend to be a bit shouty, though.

 

By the way, take a look at the street lights in this film. No amber filters or colour correction, just normal lights and a lot of darkness. I know no one else cares about this issue, but it bugs the shit out of me, and I wholeheartedly appreciated cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey”) taking a more natural approach to lighting the film. The shaky-cam, I appreciated quite a bit less, but I’m sure many will see a thematic relevance to such a shooting approach. And while we’re talking barely relevant, trivial matters, Danny Elfman (“Batman”, “Mars Attacks!”, “Sleepy Hollow”) contributes the least Elfman-esque score of his entire career. It’s practically invisible. The film is based on a novel by Matthew Quick, and there seems to be a lot of debate as to its faithfulness to the text, which I’m afraid I haven’t read. Whatever, I just know it’s a good movie, if not quite worthy of being in the Top 10 of the year.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Circus of Fear


We begin with a daylight robbery of an armoured car in London, which eventually sees most of the crooks nabbed by Scotland Yard inspector Leo Genn, whilst the search continues for ‘inside man’ Victor Maddern who has been instructed by an unseen boss to hide both of their shares of the loot in a secure location, whilst the Yard manage to track down some of the rest of the loot. The trail leads cluey Genn to a circus owned by Anthony Newlands, whilst another gang member (Klaus Kinski) is also skulking about, no doubt up to some kind of no good. Poor Madden finds himself dead before long, however, and soon there are other bodies too. And no trace whatsoever of the money. It appears a masked murderer is bumping people off, and the circus is full of extremely dubious suspects including; Masked lion tamer Gregor (Christopher Lee) whose face was scarred by a lion a few years ago, Carl the ringmaster (heavily accented Michael Pate lookalike Heinz Drache) who seems very interested in the investigation and suspects the lion tamer  is hiding more than his face, a jealous knife thrower (Maurice Kaufmann) who certainly has the tools of the killing trade, and there’s even the small possibility that the resident dwarf (Skip Martin, from “Masque of the Red Death”) is the killer. Yup, I went there. Margaret Lee plays Kaufmann’s girlfriend, a young Suzy Kendall plays Gregor’s daughter, and Cecil Parker turns up from time to time as Genn’s frustrated superior.

 

Boasting one of the worst prints I think I’ve ever seen, this 1966 Harry Alan Towers production from director John Llewellyn Moxey (“Horror Hotel”, also with Christopher Lee), was also scripted by Mr. Towers himself (who produced Christopher Lee’s silly “Fu Manchu” series) under the pseudonym Peter Wellbeck. I think everyone involved would’ve been well advised to adopt a pseudonym, though at least Christopher Lee (by now a bonafide Horror star) gets to hide his face behind a balaclava for 98% of his screen time.

 

It’s a cheap, unconvincingly performed story that you’ll keep watching because of the whodunit aspect. On that front, I must admit I didn’t peg the culprit, but make no mistake, nothing else about this shoddy film works, aside from the OK-at-best performances by Dirk Bogarde-lookalike Anthony Newlands and old pro Cecil Parker (who is barely in it). Leo Genn is surprisingly stiff, Klaus Kinski is barely in it (A shame, because he’s creepy as hell), and Christopher Lee might not as well have been cast given we don’t see his face for the first 70 minutes or so and he’s stuck with a not terribly good Slavic (?) accent. Truth be told, I only watched it because of his involvement (he’s one of my top five favourite actors), but even he doesn’t come out of this one unscathed, balaclava or not.

 

Boring, cheap, and appallingly made. There’s some particularly bad jump cuts at the beginning, too, suggesting some edits. I saw a version that ran for about 90 odd minutes, so it’s definitely not the heavily cut American release. “Circus of Horrors” it ain’t.

 

Rating: D+

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Seven Psychopaths


Colin Farrell plays a boozing, idiot writer who has come up with a great title: ‘Seven Psychopaths’. And that’s about it. Oh, it’s going to be a pacifist story, too (!). He’s about to get some up close and personal inspiration, though, and not just because he has placed an ad in the paper for psychos to sell their stories to him (An idea possibly born out of idiocy or alcohol, maybe both). Farrell’s idiotic unemployed actor friend Sam Rockwell has a dog-napping/reward grabbing scam going with Christopher Walken, whose wife is in the hospital with cancer. They kidnap the Shih Tzu (unknowingly the pride and joy) of psycho gangster Woody Harrelson, who is looking for blood. Michael Pitt appears in the amusing opening scene as a would-be hitman, Abbie Cornish plays Farrell’s fed-up girlfriend, Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton play colourful psychopaths (the former a killer of other killers), Olga Kurylenko plays Harrelson’s girl, Gabourey Sidibe plays a woman who gets on the wrong side of Harrelson, and ubiquitous character actor Zjelko Ivanek (is there any TV show or movie he’s not in?) plays Harrelson’s right-hand man. Long Nguyen plays a possibly fictitious Viet Cong soldier whose family tragedy at Mi Lai inspires him to dress as a priest and exact bloody revenge in the US!

 

Writer/director Martin McDonagh follows up his hilarious debut “In Bruges” with another amusing black comedy from 2012. With McDonagh at the helm and a cast that includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Harry Dean Stanton, I knew this would be fun, and it doesn’t disappoint. The best way I can describe it is to call it the kind of thing Quentin Tarantino might dream of at night, or to call it the film the “Boondock Saints” films tried and failed to be. It’s truly insane stuff. Maybe not quite psychopathic, but definitely insane, as McDonagh seems to have a real aptitude and weird affection for idiot crims. And boy are they ever idiots, especially the characters played by Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson (the latter being cute casting as a ‘psychopath’ when you think about it). I may have hated “Natural Born Killers”, but Harrelson is a genuinely talented, if erratic actor who is good here, and even a little menacing. Wow, “Cheers” really does seem a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Sam Rockwell is probably nothing like his scummy, shifty screen persona, but he plays unlikeable douchebags effortlessly. How much of a douchebag is he in this film? He openly criticises Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophies, that’s how much. Colin Farrell is similarly well-cast as a drunken Irish tool, in a race to see who can be the bigger douchebag. Farrell certainly makes for an utterly convincing idiot, I love how his writer character goes from creating a Buddhist psycho to an Amish Psycho...no, let’s make him a Quaker instead. And then the Amish guy turns out to be a cigarette-smoking, vengeance driven guy, which is simply marvellous. Even funnier is the story of the Vietnamese guy, that would be awfully offensive if it didn’t sound genuinely plausible as the kind of back-story you’d get in a cheesy, reactionary, Vietnam-themed 80s action movie. And it’s truly hilarious. Walken probably plays the least comedic role in the film, but is good here in what is basically one of the few ‘good guy’ roles in the film (Yes he is a dog-napper and thief, but not without motive, if not excuse). His first scene is a hoot though, with the dog-nabbing, money-making scheme he and Rockwell have going being quite funny. Look out for a very funny and very weird appearance by Tom Waits, who sounds like a latter day Nick Nolte (or is it the other way around perhaps?) and has a stupidly hilarious flashback to his criminal past as a Starkweather/Fugate-esque serial murderer. They even kill the bunny-loving Zodiac killer! Those poor bunnies are orphans, now.

 

Ruthlessly violent (lovely head splatter, I must say), blackly humorous, incredibly unusual, and hard not to like. I mean, here’s likely the only film you’ll find where someone actually follows the ‘come alone’ directive, whilst another guy refuses a ‘stop or I’ll shoot!’ request. Those never happen. Good stuff.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: She (1965)


Set in the Middle East in 1918, ex-soldier John Richardson, and his companions Peter Cushing (an adventurer and archaeologist) and Bernard Cribbins (a loyal manservant), get embroiled in some ancient tribal hokum after Richardson becomes besotted with the beautiful Ayesha (Ursula Andress), who gives Richardson a map and urges him to prove his worth by coming to find her. Upon arrival he finds that Ayesha is otherwise known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, an unbending ruler who believes Richardson to be the reincarnation of her dead lover. Together they must bathe in the Flame of Really Bad 60s Special FX. Or something like that. Christopher Lee plays scheming high priest Billali, who is the man behind the woman behind the title of the film.

 

Directed by Robert Day (“Corridors of Blood” with Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee, “The Haunted Strangler” with Boris Karloff), this 1965 adaptation of the H. Rider Haggard (“King Solomon’s Mines”) adventure novel is, like most Hammer films impressively made on what today would be regarded as a relatively modest budget. It almost works, actually, as it’s hard not to find some of this nonsense really watchable. However, it falls apart by the end because of the way the title character has been written. Writer David T. Chantler (who relocates the action from the Arctic locale in the novel, to the Middle East here) wavers on whether She is a villainess or not, and because of that, Christopher Lee only gets to stand out at the end, and by then it’s too late. Before the finale, his character feels like the ‘He’ behind ‘She’. Faithful to the source material or not, I believe the film would’ve been unquestionably better if Lee was made the top villain from the get-go, manipulating She.

 

Still, as is it’s quite fun if you like this sort of Saturday matinee thing, with Peter Cushing and the stunning Andress (who rightly gets top billing for playing the title character, despite Cushing and Lee being Hammer’s premiere stars) particularly enjoyable. Cushing actually starts off a little seedier than usual, seemingly getting off on watching Palestinian belly dancers. But before long, it becomes your typical Cushing ‘know it all’ character and he’s terrific. Nice Freud beard, too. Andress is the perfect vision of beauty...so let’s not talk about her acting ability or anything irrelevant like that. Boy do I need to see “Slave of the Cannibal God” as soon as possible. Although clearly dubbed, Ms. Andress otherwise makes for the perfect She Who Must Wear the Pants. Male lead John Richardson is frankly a bit stiff and forgettable, but most male leads in these sorts of films tended to be a bit bland. He’s tolerable but not remotely memorable. Rosenda Monteros, meanwhile, is flagrantly awful as the secondary female love interest, a pretty slave girl. I would’ve cut the role entirely to be honest. An alarmingly bare-chested Andre Morell, despite being a fine actor, just seems miscast as an elderly slave (and Monteros’ father). “Carry On” regular Bernard Cribbins gets the Anthony Newley comic relief role, and does it well (Nice hat, too). Unlike Andre Morell, Christopher Lee is one of the few Caucasian actors who can play a whole multitude of different races without seeming too silly (His “Fu Manchu” has dated, though). There’s nothing wrong with Lee’s performance here except he gets little screen time and even less dialogue. Apparently this was a point in his career where he was simply exhausted and unhappy to be on set. He may not be in the film much, but being the pro he is, you can’t tell he’d rather be somewhere else.

 

As is always the case with Hammer, the film looks more expensive than it presumably was. Hammer were second only to Roger Corman in getting a lot out of very little. The interior design in particular is outstanding, and She’s statue temple is awesome. It’s one of the coolest things you’ll see outside of an Iron Maiden album cover. The costumes, however...wow are they ever hit and miss. Andress at one point wears an outfit that can only be described as Big Bird after an accident with a hot stove. I bet she hated wearing that thing.

 

It’s not really my kind of Hammer film (And not just because I’m more a fan of Lee than Cushing), but it’s pretty watchable, if undoubtedly silly. The scene where a bunch of slaves are thrown into a molten pit is probably the most lasting image in the entire film. It’s quite nasty. Interestingly downbeat ending, though I’m not sure if it quite fits with the rest of this Saturday matinee adventure (Richardson’s uninspired performance doesn’t help, either).

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Chasing Sleep


Jeff Daniels’ wife is missing, he can’t sleep (though he seems to have trouble keeping track of the time), the police (led by Gil Bellows) are possibly suspicious of him, and oh yeah...he’s starting to lose his freaking mind. Did I mention the severed finger that just won’t flush down the toilet? Well there’s that, too. Meanwhile, college professor Daniels is also being tempted by one of his lovely students (Emily Bergl) who makes a home visit when he fails to turn up for work. Julian McMahon plays one of his wife’s colleagues, whom she may be having an affair with, whilst Zach Grenier plays a not very helpful police shrink.

 

Written and directed by debutant Mike Walker, this 2000 horror/thriller is one of those films that you feel like you’ve seen a bunch of times before. It’s typical “Twilight Zone” or Stephen King stuff about insomnia, missing persons, holes in the wall, old drain pipes and so forth. Nothing you really need to see again. And that’s a shame, because it features a perfectly fine performance by the generally reliable Jeff Daniels. He’s an interesting actor who generally plays losers and spineless guys, and yet there’s always something innately decent and well-meaning that Daniels tries to bring to the characters. He’s interesting and on edge early here, but without going bug-eyed Nic Cage crazy from the get-go.

 

The mediocre supporting cast featuring TV actors Gil Bellows and Aussie ex-pat Julian McMahon don’t help, nor does the most confusingly lensed sex scene I’ve ever seen. Emily Bergl looks perfectly lovely naked, but it almost feels as if they need to move the camera around and change angles to compensate for how crap she and Daniels are in bed. Which is weird because it’s simulated. Huh? Meanwhile, things really only turn to horror when the weird overgrown baby turns up. Seriously, what the hell is that?

 

It’s a clich├ęd film with a terrible ending, but Daniels should be commended, he looks seriously frazzled by the end. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just that it’s been done to death already. Watch “Repulsion” instead, that’s a masterpiece.

 

Rating: C