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, May 1, 2014

Review: London Boulevard


Colin Farrell stars as an ex-con with underworld ties, and said underworld ties are trying to get him reacquainted with them. Farrell tries to resist, however, and lands a gig as a handyman and all-round bodyguard to a famous actress, played by a little-known actress by the name of Keira Knightley (she’s got a bright future ahead of her let me tell you). Apparently the poor lass is in hiding after some kind of meltdown/breakdown living in her mansion with a drugged-out actor companion (David Thewlis) her only company. Well, unless you count the throng of scum-sucking paparazzi outside. Ben Chaplin plays a shifty old acquaintance of Farrell’s whom he helps out on shakedowns from time to time, but swears he will never completely go back into the old ‘business’. Notorious gangster Ray Winstone, however does everything within his mighty power to reel Farrell back in. ‘No’ isn’t a word that this guy is used to hearing. Meanwhile, a romance develops between Farrell and Knightley. Sanjeev Bhaskar plays a surgeon whom Farrell befriends, whilst Anna Friel plays Farrell’s flighty sister whom the good doctor hooks up with, amusingly. Eddie Marsan plays a slimy crooked cop, always lurking around.

 

I hadn’t heard much about it beforehand, and I don’t believe it was a great financial or critical success, but this 2010 crime pic from debutant director William Monahan (writer of “The Departed”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, and “Body of Lies”) and his co-writer Matt Sherring, is definitely worth a look if you initially missed it. More drama than crime flick at times, but it also surprised me with how funny it is at times. It could use some plot clarity but also some pruning to the running time, perhaps contradictorily. The plot just seems a little ungainly and disjointed at times, and I’m not sure it was wise to hire an ex-crim to look after a publicity-shy movie star. But otherwise, this is a good film that really ought to be more well-known, especially given the names in the cast.

 

The acting is particularly top-notch here and is worth seeing the film for. This is definitely one of the better roles of Colin Farrell’s recent career (he’s terrific at playing ne’er do wells), and although ostensibly the film’s good guy, he’s still got a real way with violence, as one poor sod finds out when he gets up close and personal with a beer glass. Ouch. I’ve lately been rediscovering my love for Keira Knightley, first forged during “Love Actually”. The bangs aren’t remotely flattering, but I just find it hard to keep my eyes off the girl. You just can’t teach charisma, folks, and her very casting in this role is frankly bloody priceless. She gets one great speech in particular where she talks about the roles women get in movies, that rings depressingly true.

 

The real delights, though, are found in the supporting cast, especially Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, and an almost unrecognisable Ben Chaplin. Ray Winstone excels at this kind of nasty, powerful crim character like just about no other. He’s so impressive and intimidating that even Eddie Marsan (sleazy as hell) finds himself trembling in fear of him. The brilliant thing is that he doesn’t ever really explode. He doesn’t need to, he’s instantaneously intimidating (the audience certainly knows he means business, because we’ve seen what Winstone’s other characters have been like) and thus no one will fuck with him...except Farrell, who doesn’t give a shit how hard Winstone thinks he is. They have one very memorable dinner scene together showing just this dynamic. David Thewlis, as a seriously strung-out actor, is having the time of his life stealing scenes and getting all the best lines like ‘If it wasn’t for Monica Bellucci, she’d be the most raped woman in European cinema’. But even his very first moment on screen was inexplicably funny to me. A really underrated actor, I’ve thought so since he stole the show in “Dragonheart”. I’ve never liked Ben Chaplin before, but he’s revelatory here as a truly dumb arse, untrustworthy little turd. His fear of Winstone is very, very funny stuff, but also very, very understandable. He’s a scary dude, that Ray Winstone, and this is undoubtedly Chaplin’s best-ever performance.

 

The smaller turns by Sanjeev Bhaskar and Anna Friel as the doctor and Farrell’s sister are also terrific. Bhaskar is likely the last familiar face you’d expect to find in something like this, and that just made me smile even more.

 

The film itself has an old-school British crime flick and flavour about it that I rather liked. The opening prison-set scene kinda reminded me of the underrated, taciturn Oliver Reed film “Sitting Target”, and you’ll have “Get Carter” and “Long Good Friday” vibes at other times. The locales and soundtrack are both important contributors as well. If you like your Yardbirds, you’ll like what this film has to offer (The Stones’ ‘Stray Cat Blues’ is also featured). Meanwhile, the paparazzi are hilariously awful bottom-feeders here, perhaps an accurate description, perhaps not.

 

I’m not sure why this film has been somewhat overlooked, it’s an enjoyable, retro British gangster pic with a leaning towards drama, and extremely well-acted by a terrific cast. It’s a good yarn.

 

Rating: B-

Review: This is Spinal Tap


As the title suggests, this supposed documentary has documentarian Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) follow the title British heavy metal band for a 1982 American tour, their apparent comeback, which is plagued by disaster from the very beginning and only gets worse. There’s rhythm guitarist and lead singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), petulant moron lead guitarist Nigel Tufnell (Christopher Guest), fabulously moustachioed bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), and zonked-out keyboardist Viv Savage (David Kaff). The band have also had a disturbingly long line of drummers who don’t seem to last very long on account of death by bizarre misadventure.

 

I’m not as much of a fan of this 1984 Rob Reiner (“Stand By Me”, “Misery”, “A Few Good Men”) mockumentary as many others out there, but I can’t deny it has some very funny moments and has become quite influential. Fans of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath (both the Ozzy and Dio incarnations), Status Quo, Motorhead, and/or Jethro Tull will probably get even more out of this than most, as Reiner and his fellow screenwriters (Spinal Tap themselves- McKean, Guest, and Shearer) have clearly done their homework. But it never gets specific or nasty, it’s all in good fun. I’m definitely convinced Canadian prog rock band Rush had to be an influence here.

 

The best thing about the film are actually the songs, which are not only very funny, but to be honest, they’re actually fun to listen to as well, probably because they are only slightly pitched above reality, and Michael McKean’s singing is surprisingly not bad. Spinal Tap, unlike most movie bands, are good enough that you’d probably fork out the money to go see them, though obviously partly because you’re in on the gag. Whether it’s their funny, Beatles-esque early tune ‘Pop, Look, and Listen’ back in the 60s (with Ed Begley Jr. looking like a dork on the drums), the ridiculously pervy ‘Sex Farm’, the Queen-inspired ‘Big Bottom’, or my personal favourite ‘Stonehenge’, they’re hilarious and very clever. Actually, the entire Stonehenge sequence is a riot, with its hilarious prop that may or may not have been inspired by a similar incident (but done in reverse) involving Black Sabbath. The real-life incident happened around the time of the film being made, so I’m not entirely sure which came first, but either way it’s hysterically funny, and the dwarves are the icing on the ‘Safety Dance’ cake. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this bit. My absolute favourite gag, however, is the one where the band get lost on their way to the stage. The funniest thing about it is that it later happened to Canadian metal band Anvil in their ‘Real Spinal Tap’ documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. On a similar note, the band’s all-black album cover for ‘Smell the Glove’ was apparently inspired by the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ but would later be adopted by Metallica for their ‘Black Album’ (possibly in tribute to Spinal Tap). You just can’t make shit like that up, folks (Instead of the Bon Scott deal, someone here chokes on someone else’s vomit!). And just wait until you see the the original, controversial idea for the ‘Smell the Glove’ album cover, holy crap! The bit where Harry Shearer’s Derek Smalls gets trapped on stage by a malfunctioning prop and needs a blowtorch to get him out is hysterically funny. I also loved the petty backstage bit with Nigel Tufnell fretting about the geometric inconsistencies of the food supplied by catering.

 

Some of the film is funnier than other parts, as the party scene in particular is a bit of a bore, even with Patrick Macnee turning up, and Billy Crystal as a mime. But when it’s on-target, it can be quite genius (check out the increasingly zonked out keyboards player!), and frankly, more accurate to the scene than the more serious “Rock Star”.

 

This is easily the most convincing of all the so-called mockumentaries to feature these same guys (and others), but overall I still prefer Christopher Guest’s “A Mighty Wind” (about folk musicians), which had more consistency and more heart. This one’s just not as great as everyone else will tell you it is. Yes I’m a metal fan, but this is not just about being the butt of jokes. The jokes are wildly inconsistent. Some of it is great, some of it isn’t. Overall, it’s good, but that’s all. The amps may go to eleven, but the film is about a seven.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars


(Formerly at Epinions.com. I had to transplant this review, because although Disney now have control of the franchise, I’m still frigging angry about this film all these years later)

 

The following is a letter from a former devoted fan of “Star Wars”. AKA Me. Apologies in advance for the profanity, but it was necessary in getting my points and feelings across. Trust me, it is entirely warranted and justified.

 

Dear Mr. Lucas, or may I call you George? No I may not? Well, too bad, ‘coz I’m gonna call you Georgie Boy quite a bit.

 

I have long been a great admirer of your work, especially the “Star Wars” series. In fact, I have grown up loving the original trilogy, even the one with the Ewoks. I love Ewoks. There. I said it. I have also admired your shrewd sense of business, with the “Star Wars” merchandise sales being a credit to that, and you should never be looked down upon for being a smart businessman. I also went along to see the first of your 1997 Special Editions of these films in the cinema, and caught up with the other two later. Yes, you were just trying to make a little more cash from the “Star Wars” series, by adding a few extra minutes of footage and ‘improving’ FX, but these were not terrible offences in my mind. The films themselves did not suffer in quality in my view. I also attended midnight screenings of your much-maligned prequel trilogy of “Star Wars” films and will defend them to the end of the Earth (Kudos for finding work for the great Christopher Lee, by the way), especially the wholly entertaining “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”. Many people- supposed “Star Wars” fans- complained that you had turned the series into kid-friendly, video game spectacles. I defended you, demanding that those critics take a good look at themselves and they’d realise that their attitudes merely reflect their naive belief that as they have aged since the original trilogy, Lucas needed to follow suit. The prequels, flawed as they are, have around the same level of FX-driven, kid-friendly sensibility as the original trilogy (give or take), any assertion to the contrary is hogwash.

 

I have just watched your latest “Star Wars” offering, Mr. Lucas, “The Clone Wars”, and I’m afraid I have a few issues with it. In a nutshell, it’s a piece of shit, George, and you have raped me of my childhood memories! This 2008 Dave Filoni animated “Star Wars” film is nothing more than a cynical, shameless 90 minute trailer for the crappy “Clone Wars” animated TV series. You know it George, and so do I. And I’m calling you out on it, beeyatch!

 

This is a cheap sell-out with a terrible story that did not need to be told. It’s set between “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” (the latter being the weakest in the series up until now, BTW), and so we don’t need to know any of this George, because “Revenge of the Sith” (or if you were to think about the story chronologically, the original trilogy) tells us the important parts to the rest of the story. If any of this were really important, you’d have included it in your previous films! This is just 90 minutes of cheap filler! But you knew you could sell us any old crap, no matter how tangentially related to “Star Wars” it was, and those of us who made it through your prequel trilogy, would lap it up. I want to love anything “Star Wars”-related, but seriously George, what’s next, the story of Admiral Akbar’s childhood done as a TV sitcom? An all-Ewok musical?

 

Even if I were to set aside the idea that I was just watching an extended pilot for an animated TV series, the opening moments of this film put me into a strange, negative mood. Why am I seeing a Warner Brothers logo at the start of a “Star Wars” film, George? And although the cute, “Starship Troopers”-like narration at the start has a nice B-movie feel (after all, “Star Wars” has always been a dressed-up B-movie, and an animated “Star Wars” is always going to be even lesser than that), the cheap arrangement of the inimitable “Star Wars” opening music is completely messed up. It sounds like the kind of thing you’d hear in a “Star Wars” computer game...actually, no, the music in “Galactic Battlegrounds” is vastly superior to this tinny, imitation John Williams crap.

 

And then we get to the plot: Count Dooku (Christopher Lee- woo-hoo!) hatches a plan to capture the son of Jabba the Hutt (!), and frame the Jedi’s for it, leaving a newly-formed truce between Jabba and the Jedi’s somewhat up in the air. On hand for the rescue mission are Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and young padewan Ahsoka Tano. Look for a cameo by badass Jedi hero Mace Windu (a slumming Sam Jackson) at one point, a few moments with Yoda (quite a good Frank Oz imitation), and an appalling Ian Abercrombie (Mr. Pitt from “Seinfeld”!) does the voice of Emperor Palpatine.

 

That’s it, George? That’s the best you could do? Rescuing Jabba the Hutt’s kid? Holy crap, you must have a low opinion of your audience. Mind you, makers of “Star Wars” tributes/parodies/student films across the globe already know that about you, don’t they! And whilst I have defended the dialogue, characters, and performances in the prequel trilogy (all y’all Natalie Portman haters out there need to be watchin’ Carrie Fisher’s stilted work, ‘yo!), the majority of the work here makes one yearn desperately for Hayden Christensen.

 

Which brings me to your newest creation, Mr. Lucas, the sassy young padewan Ahsoka Tano. I threw you a frickin’ bone on Jar-Jar Binks, George (less-so on the irritating General Grievous), but this wannabe ‘cool’ tweener Jedi-in-training is the single most annoying character in the entire “Star Wars” universe. This is without question the most horrendous bit of pandering to what you think your audience wants, that I have ever seen. The dialogue has a horrid, modernised American feel to it (aside from the battle dialogue- all that annoying ‘Red Leader, standing by!’ crap that admittedly worked OK in the original trilogy) that is just shameless pandering. I mean, ‘Sky Guy’, George? Sky...Guy...? Someone oughtta take a fatwa out on whoever came up with that one! This film should not have been “Top Gun” meets “90210”, but that’s pretty much what you’ve given us here. This film drowns in expository dialogue scenes, but even when the action does come, for the most part, it’s underwhelming (though the sound FX aren’t bad). It’s like watching someone play “Galactic Battlegrounds” and not playing it yourself. No fun watching 90 minutes of ‘cut scenes’ from a game, is it? The one action highlight is a cool fight in the sand between Dooku and Anakin, and it is enjoyable.

 

As for the animation, it is gobsmackingly bad, artless, and unbelievable. It’s all in 3-D, but the characters all have the appearance of blocky Easter Island Statues and rock carvings. If ever a film needed the “Beowulf” treatment, this was it, and I can’t believe you’d sign off on this hack work, George. You’re not short of money and you’ve employed the best of the best before, so why have you opted for a shonky job this time? Saving pennies for your retirement? The job on Mace Windu isn’t bad (he looks a bit like Sam Jackson), R2D2 looks quite good, there’s some nice light and shadow, and the already CGI droids don’t suffer much under this process, but that’s it for niceties.

 

This is a thoroughly empty, joyless (what an anti-climactic ending!) experience that even a clearly hard-working Lee (the film’s best asset, one of cinema’s greatest voices) cannot save, though he did keep me awake. Screenplay by Henry Gilroy, Stephen Melching, and Scott Murphy, from a story by Lucas.

 

I’ll continue to enjoy the previous “Star Wars” offerings ‘til the day I die, but a little of me died during these 90 minutes. Do you hear that, George? It’s the sound of millions of nerds re-evaluating their wasted lives. Fuck You, George. I’m Out.

 

Signed, Ryan McDonald, former “Star Wars” fan.

 

PS: Huttlet? A frigging Huttlet, George? Huttlets, Padewans, and Ewoks- Oh, My!

 

Rating: D+