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, May 24, 2014

Review: The Misfits


Formerly at Epinions.com, written and originally posted in 2003.

 

I'm not entirely sure what it is, maybe a haunting quality brought on by  the film's background, but I keep coming back to this film and it moves me like few others do, every single time. Some regard it as a deconstruction of the western myth, stripping it of all its glory, and I can see that, but it's a whole lot more to me. It’s simply a fantastic, sad film.

 

Not so much a plot-driven film, as a character-driven film it stars Clark Gable and Eli Wallach (especially good in a character I can, sadly, probably identify with in some ways) as a couple of cowboys; Gable is an aging macho-type who is slowly realising the world has little use now for 'mustanging' (if you like cute widdle horsies, you’d best not watch the film, by the way- you’ve been warned!), while Eli Wallach plays his pilot friend, a widow who feels just a little too sorry for himself for anyone to actually like him. Enter Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) a depressed divorcee whom attracts the attention and affections of both men, as she joins them on their adventures, despite the fact that she's clearly not a happy gal. Along the way they pick up another lost soul in disfigured young rodeo star Montgomery Clift (disfigured in real-life) who is having mother problems (as he apparently did in real-life). He has a scene with Monroe, two lost souls  comforting each other that is among the most moving scenes I've ever seen in a film. Another great moment is a scene where Gable asks Monroe something to the effect of 'What makes you so sad?'. Oh, if only someone had've told Monroe how wonderful and talented she was...Or perhaps she just didn’t want to listen.

 

The fact that this was the last completed work of Hollywood legends (a good-bye to that golden era, perhaps) Monroe and Gable, and the near-last film of the unfortunate but supremely talented Montgomery Clift adds an  extra haunting layer to this film, but the stark cinematography by Russell Metty (making everyone look flawed, even Monroe who is still astoundingly beautiful) and layered screenplay by Arthur Miller are also great. Miller does especially underappreciated work here, underappreciated even by Monroe herself who didn't understand that her flawed and close-to-the-bone character was actually a valentine from Miller. He knew Monroe could play this beautiful but vulnerable girl that everyone wants to be close to, if only to make them feel happy about themselves- it practically was Monroe. Similarly, Gable's character probably symbolised the trek he was currently going through in his career, and although far from my favourite actor, he is excellent here, leathery face and all. Eli Wallach, a method actor like Monroe, butted heads with Gable apparently, but does some of his best work as a not very likeable, but identifiable man. Add to the mix Clift's scarred rodeo dude and Thelma Ritter as the only optimistic character in the film, that of Monroe's friendly landlord who's seen it all and is content, and you've got a film where all the elements just come together perfectly. All of the actors perfectly match their characters and bring something extra to the party. I doubt this could ever be achieved again so successfully. Not that people thought that at first, even Gable was unsure what kind of film they were making, because it was against everything the Western, and a lot of films in general, stood for.

 

This film still doesn't get the recognition it deserves. It is my favourite film of all-time, and it is certainly a must for fans of any of these actors.

 

Rating: A+

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: The Terror of Tiny Town


Here it is, folks, the first all-midget western, just what you were all asking for, right? RIGHT? An evil calf rustler (Rhodes) pits two ranchers against one another so as to nick all their cattle for himself. Young lovers Curtis (our hero, wearing a white hat, naturally) and Moray caught in the middle of a war between their two respective families. (Intentional) comic relief comes in the form of a chef (Becker) chasing a duck around, whilst Krebs plays a pint-sized Dietrich-esque saloon singer. There’s also a wimpy, morally-conflicted sheriff (Joseph Herbst”) in here somewhere too.

 

Pitching somewhere in between Tod Browning’s exploitative but unforgettably nightmarish “Freaks” and Edward D. Wood’s seminal Worst Movie of All-Time “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, comes this all-‘midget’ western from 1938, directed by Sam Newfield (“The Mad Monster”, “The Monster Maker”, “Counterfeiters”). An obviously exploitative picture, it’s often included in ‘Worst Films of All-Time’ lists, and deservingly so. However, there is one definite point of difference between this and the oeuvre of Ed Wood: Unless you’re certifiably insane, there’s no way you could argue that this film was meant to be any good (At best it’s meant to be an oddball curio). I’m not saying it was meant to be incompetently made, and indeed it is incompetently made and rather boring in parts. But when you sit down to watch an all-‘midget’ western, you get what you expect to (a terribly made and exploitative cheapie), and largely what you deserve to. With Wood, despite being a bit of a huckster in getting his films financed, the poor guy thought he was making good films. He just wasn’t a remotely talented filmmaker and had no sense of objectivity.

 

Anyway, this is an awful, demented, and occasionally hilarious film, certainly among the worst of all-time. But hey, at least it’s short. Sorry...really I am, but it’s that kind of film, and if you’re watching it, obviously you’re not easily offended. This sure as hell wouldn’t get made today in our PC world (and I’m no anti-PC guy, necessarily). If it did, though, it’d be of a higher quality than this (and thus largely irrelevant, but never mind) badly acted, badly written western with truly terrible sound recording. However, I must say that every film buff ought to see this at least once before they die, it’s one-of-a-kind, at the very least.

 

One thing I want to get out there first is, as bad as the film is, and as exploitative as it might be (like the blaxploitation genre did for African American actors) this film at least gave its cast of little people a chance to work, even if they were mostly lumped together as ‘Jed Buell’s midgets’ in the opening credits (Buell had apparently made an all-Black western previously called “Harlem on the Prairie” which I’m sure is an NAACP favourite). I’m not so sure any were really proud of their work (and Billy Curtis is the only one of the bunch who I’ve seen in subsequent films like Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” and Clint Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter”), whilst the actors in “Freaks” (and anyone who watches it) were hopefully able to appreciate that film’s disturbing power and nightmarish ability to stay with the viewer afterwards. That film for me transcended any ideas of exploitation or cruel mockery. That said, the idea of the little persons riding Shetland ponies in this film is pretty damn funny, but the scene where a calf is roped, is kinda clever, on a logistical level. It also had me wondering how many stunt persons of small stature were available at the time. They didn’t use kids did they? Because that would be fucked up. But there’s no doubt that this isn’t just a curio, it steps over into being an exploitation piece, as we’re laughing at these people, or at least we’re encouraged to. And whilst it may be a horribly made film (dare I say it doesn’t measure up?), damn it, some of it’s really, really funny, wrong or not. Also funny is the idea that the characters walk underneath the saloon doors, with the doors admittedly being elevated to help sell the ‘gag’. Meanwhile, you haven’t lived, folks, until you’ve seen a Shetland pony-drawn carriage. Fabulous. I could also say that Curtis looks like half Mickey Rooney and half-half, but that would be mean, so I won’t say it. Oops. It’s actually kind of hilarious that the town is so clearly ill-fitting its population, which just seems a little wrong, doesn’t it? For starters, who built the town? Was it a bunch of ‘big’ people who did it as a joke and then left town? Bastards!

 

The only intentional comedy (of the non-derisive kind at least) that actually works, comes in the form of the cook character played by the quite competent Charles Becker, but unfortunately he couldn’t save the film on his own, even if they made him the main character. Most of it is actually deadly dull, I’m afraid (i.e. The actors, aside from Becker, are playing it straight), and it’s really only the ‘one-of-a-kind’ quality that will rope anyone in to watch it. None of these actors have the right voices for a western, let alone the right anything else, either! The lead villain (played by ‘Little Billy’ Rhodes) looked like an old woman, if you ask me, and the saloon singer (Krebs) looks and sounds eerily like a child beauty pageant contestant, making it all seem kinda ‘wrong’ (Not to mention she seems to be badly dubbed). The absolute worst decision made here was to make the film a musical (my least favourite film genre), because; a) No one here has a tolerable speaking voice, let alone singing voice, b) The sound quality is abysmal, though perhaps due to age, and c) It pads the running time. The film runs just over an hour, but it feels like 90 minutes at least. I can watch “Plan 9 From Outer Space” forever and not get bored with the unintentional hilarity, but in this film, the novelty wears off, certainly by the second viewing. The script is really just a stock-standard boring C-grade western story that merely happens to feature a bunch of little people in it. In some ways I suppose the cast and crew did the best they could, given I’m not sure how many genuinely trained actors there were among the little people community in the 30s, let alone how physically demanding the film would’ve been on them.

 

Tiny or not, this is a terrible film that I wholeheartedly recommend you view at least once. That said, I first knew of this film from an extended trailer on a VHS copy of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”. The trailer is terrific, and perhaps the best way to experience the film, as the full film wears out its welcome before an hour is up. The screenplay by Fred Myton (“Counterfeiters”) is apparently based on a stage show, but I bet it was more of a side-show.

 

Rating: F

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: Let No Man Write My Epitaph


Unmarried, hard-working Shelley Winters and her troubled son James Darren live in the slums, surrounded by drug addicts, drunks, and other unfortunates struggling to make their way through life. These people are supposed to act as sort-of protectors/godparents to Darren so that he does better in life than they have. Unfortunately, their own lives are such a miserable mess, including drunk and disgraced (but kindly) ex-judge Burl Ives, drug addicted singer Ella Fitzgerald, Walter Burke as a legless newsstand owner, hooker Jeanne Cooper (Yes, Mrs. Chancellor from “The Young and the Restless”), and washed-up boxer Bernie Hamilton. Darren has the talent to be a musician, but his low-economic standing and habit of hanging around with hoodlums look to set him on a course similar to his late, criminal father. Ricardo Montalban plays the sleazy and powerful gangster who romances Winters and then gets her hooked on heroin. Jean Seberg is the pretty young girl who wants to hook up with Darren, and is much less concerned with his economic standing than her lawyer father Philip Ober (who unsuccessfully represented his dad back in the day) is. Roy Jenson plays one of Montalban’s goons, whilst Percy Helton turns up in a brief cameo with a really bad comb over as a character named Baldy.

 

Some of this 1960 drama from director Philip Leacock (“The Kidnappers”, “Reach for Glory”) plays very awkwardly as it blends Capra-esque schmaltz (which worried me a bit at the beginning) with something far more hard-hitting. However, it’s such an interesting and unusual mix, and the performances are absolutely outstanding, so that it ends up being quite memorable. Whatever its flaws, it deserves credit for even tackling such harsh, depressing economic circumstances as these. Scripted by Robert Presnell Jr. (“Meet John Doe”), it’s based on a Willard Motley novel, and Motley earlier had a novel turned into the movie “Knock on Any Door” back in 1949. Here James Darren plays the son of the hoodlum character featured in that earlier film, though there is no need to have seen the earlier film in order to understand this one (I haven’t seen it myself). Darren was frankly never much of an actor, but this film at least gives him an opportunity to try. And y’know what? It’s the best work the guy ever did, even if Sal Mineo would’ve well and truly owned the part.

 

The most surprising presence in this film might be legendary songstress Ella Fitzgerald playing a pathetic drug addict. She has a very sad presence, and certainly isn’t the worst actress I’ve seen, either. I do think, however, that her character ends up kind of being neglected after a while, which is a shame. The three standout performances are clearly by Shelley Winters, Burl Ives, and somewhat surprisingly, Ricardo Montalban. It’s a shame Winters wasn’t nominated for an Oscar here, because as great as she was in the films she did get recognition for, this might just be the performance of her fine (if wildly uneven) career. Perhaps the film was too strange for the Academy voters to get their heads around, but Winters (in a rare leading role for her) deserves credit for going about as low as an actress could go in a film in 1960. It’s a really haunting, pathetic characterisation. Ricardo Montalban, more of an icon (“Fantasy Island”, “Star Trek”) than an actor, is nonetheless very effective as essentially the villain of the piece. He and Winters probably end up stealing the film. And that’s no easy task giving just how much of a brilliant scene-stealer Burl Ives was, and is here. He’s one of the all-time great character actors, with one of the most iconic (and effective) voices too. Like Ella Fitzgerald, it’s very difficult watching the likeable, grandfatherly Ives in such unfortunate circumstances here. For all the outward good cheer Ives presents, you can tell that just beneath the surface, he’s carrying more than just physical weight. It’s like he’s carrying his own problem, and everyone else’s burdens too. Like with Shelley Winters, the Academy really ought to have recognised Ives’ outstanding work here. Look out for character actors Walter Burke, Philip Ober, and the lovely Jean Seberg, who has nice chemistry with Darren. Burke is a long-serving character actor who probably didn’t get a better showing than he does here in a role I’m surprised didn’t go to Elisha Cook Jr. Ober, meanwhile, portrays just about the nicest character he ever played, whilst still being a bit of a snob.

 

I’m really not sure why this film isn’t better-known. I can understand audiences not being ready for it at the time, but it’s such a fascinating film I’m surprised it hasn’t been re-evaluated. It deserves to be seen, the performances deserve recognition. It’s a fascinating attempt at grit and realism, successful or not. Hollywood probably wasn’t ready for truly downbeat realism yet, and so it’s a bit treacly at times, too. And I’ve got to admit I was waiting for some of those hoodlums to snap their fingers and sing at any moment. But there’s still some grit there that you won’t get from many other films of the time. The cast full of sad and unfortunate characters reminds me a bit of my favourite film “The Misfits”, which probably helped ingratiate the film to me. Give it ago if it comes on TV sometime, especially if you want to see Shelley Winters, Ricardo Montalban, and James Darren at their best.

 

Rating: B

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


Set in France in 1766, Ben Whishaw stars as the grown-up version of an orphan who literally slept with the fishes, born in the Paris fish markets before his mother tried to kill him (for which she was executed). He grows up with a heightened sense of smell and obsessed with the desire to create and preserve the perfect aroma. This stems from the scent he smells off of a pretty young woman he meets on the streets (played by Karoline Herfurth of the vampire flick “We Are the Night”). Unfortunately, this smell was only known to him for a brief period, as in a moment of confusion and panic, he mistakenly smothers her to death. Soon after he hooks up with Italian perfumer Baldini (Dustin Hoffman!) and manages to convince him to take him on as an apprentice. However, this proves unfulfilling for Whishaw, who continues his ‘experiments’, killing a string of women until he meets the luminous Rachel Hurd-Wood, daughter of a local magistrate (Alan Rickman), whose virginal beauty enchants the young perfumer. He must have her.

 

Until the last five minutes, this 2006 film from co-writer/director Tom Tykwer (the overrated “Run Lola Run”) is an absolute winner, and pretty much unlike anything you’ll have seen before. And since I believe it impossible for a great film to have one of the worst finales of all-time, this film winds up being a three-star effort, which could’ve been more if not for that dud ending. It’s an appalling wrap-up that will leave you thinking ‘WTF?’. But boy is almost everything leading up to the ending terrific, making me wonder why the reviews have been so mixed. I get hate for the ending, but the rest is tops.

 

The film’s best asset is the wonderfully and oppressively nasty, foul atmosphere and texture it oozes from start ‘til finish. It’s no surprise that such a period setting could spawn a demented serial killer. But you almost feel sorry for the main character played by Ben Whishaw; What good is it to have a heightened sense of smell when you’re surrounded by mid 1700s Parisian shit and unwashed peasants? It must’ve been one of the worst periods in time to have lived. This is a truly wonderfully finely detailed film with terrific scenery and almost a sense that you’re actually in there, living in these mostly grotty conditions.

 

One detail Tykwer does get wrong is the catastrophic miscasting of Dustin Hoffman as a master perfumer named Baldini. I have no idea why Dustin Hoffman is here, but he shouldn’t be. Hoffman looks completely out-of-place and isn’t even really attempting an accent. Or much of a performance, really. The accent I can forgive, as no one speaks with a French accent in this film anyway, but his presence is incongruous in an otherwise strong film. How miscast is he? Forty or fifty years ago the role would’ve gone to Robert Morley. That’s how miscast Hoffman is. John Hurt’s weary, weathered voice makes for a perfect narrator, however. The lead character played by and the performance given by Ben Whishaw aren’t the most charming or charismatic, but that is as intended. He is one intense and obsessed dude. Truth be told, I think the character would’ve done better to capture the scent of the men in the film, rather than the women. Those are some powder puffs right there. Alan Rickman, meanwhile, doesn’t give the greatest performance of his career or anything but his face and voice drip with dread. He has one absolutely brilliant scene where he tells the kid exactly what he is going to do with him for the wrong he has committed against his family.

 

The closest film comparison I can come up with is “Psycho”, and that is purely in regards to the presentation of the dead and the murders. But that’s probably a stretch, you won’t really have seen anything like this. It’s a bold, uncompromisingly grimy film, and an unusual one from a horrid period in time most of us can’t even imagine ourselves surviving in. It is a film caked in an oppressively grim and dirty atmosphere that is very effectively conveyed without the benefit of smell-o-vision. It deserves to be seen more widely, and admired. I just wish it had a far less outlandish and frankly moronic ending. I would’ve bumped it up a grade. What a shame. Tykwer co-wrote the screenplay with Andrew Birkin (“Name of the Rose”, “Omen III: The Final Conflict”) and producer Bernd Eichinger (who had been trying to get this made since the mid 80s), from a 1985 novel by Patrick S├╝sskind (which apparently inspired Kurt Cobain to write ‘Scentless Apprentice’, featured on Nirvana’s “In Utero”).

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: Flight


Seasoned pilot Denzel Washington’s quick thinking and experience manage to pull off a miraculous landing after some big trouble up in the air. This results in the loss of some lives, but less so than might otherwise have been. He saved around a hundred people’s lives, for cryin’ out loud. The problem is, Denzel (who is also unhappily divorced), is an alcoholic and a drug user who was intoxicated at the time, something his newbie co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) suspects right away. But was Denzel’s rough shape what caused the crash? And if not, does it still matter? Could he have saved more lives if sober? Could another pilot have even done as much as Denzel did? Pilots union rep Bruce Greenwood (who knew Denzel from their days in the Navy together) and Denzel’s top lawyer Don Cheadle sure have their work cut out for them if they’re gonna save this man (for their own business-minded interests, in part) from a possible life sentence, especially if the incriminating toxicology report gets out in the investigation. Denzel, meanwhile, simply struggles to remain sober day-to-day. This man is in deep, deep trouble, both external and internal, fighting a disease he has been trying to deny exists within him at all. Kelly Reilly plays a recovering drug addict whom Denzel strikes up a tentative relationship with (whilst relationships with his own son and ex-wife are far pricklier), Melissa Leo plays the lead FAA investigator, John Goodman plays Denzel’s remarkably good-natured drug dealer/enabler, James Badge Dale plays a cancer patient, and Nadine Velazquez plays the air hostess Denzel had been banging, boozing, and snorting with the night before the flight.

 

Of all the 2012 films that had earned top Oscar noms, this Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away”) drama scripted by John Gatins seemed to get the least coverage. So when I watched it, going in all I knew was that Denzel played an alcoholic pilot and earned an Oscar nomination for it. Turns out it’s a pretty strong, mostly downbeat story in which Denzel gives his best performance in a very long time. You probably won’t have seen a performance like this from Denzel. He doesn’t quite commit himself to hitting the gutter like Nic Cage did in “Leaving Las Vegas” (the film itself isn’t quite as harsh and realistic and isn’t trying to be) or William H. Macy on “Shameless”, but boy will he still likely shock you with how committed he is to the honesty and degrading nature of such a role. He’s pretty damn powerful in a way completely different from his powerful turns in “Malcolm X” and “The Hurricane”.

 

I do have to point out that our introduction to the character as a boozing, coke-snorting, chick-banging (Yes, you do get to see Nadine Velazquez’s wonderful, splendiferous tits), ex-wife arguing all-round train wreck is a tad overdone. In fact, my only real gripe with the film is that it’s a tad overdone, though mostly in regards to the soundtrack. The scene where Kelly Reilly is taking drugs set to the Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Under the Bridge’ is unintentionally hilarious. Oh that’s so profound, see ‘coz it’s a song about drugs...yeah. Other song selections seem to be based around whatever is in Mr. Zemeckis’ CD collection. I love ‘Gimme Shelter’ by the Stones, ‘What’s Goin’ On?’ by Marvin Gaye, and ‘The Letter’ by Joe Cocker, but what the hell are they doing in this film? Did John Goodman have to enter to ‘Sympathy for the Devil’? Why would a scene of Denzel snorting coke be underscored by ‘The Letter’? Because Joe Cocker has had past substance abuse issues too? So what? It calls attention to itself and takes you out of some pretty strong drama.

 

Meanwhile, although Brian Geraghty is excellent in the opening scenes as a clearly concerned and fearful co-pilot, his second scene is marred somewhat by the idiotic caricature of his religious zealot wife who literally yells ‘Praaaaaise Jeezzusss!’ like she’s Pensatucky from “Orange is the New Black” or something. It’s unintentionally comedic, unnecessary, and if intended to be pro-Christianity, a complete failure (Nadine Velazquez’s fantastic breasts, however, were almost impressive enough to make an atheist like me praise Jebus).

 

The only other issue I have with the film is that although John Goodman’s lively performance is highly enjoyable, I think his character is jarring with the rest of the film. This guy is the most good-natured drug dealer you’ve ever seen...in a film that is absolutely not a fun ride whatsoever, and the character really shouldn’t be good-natured at all. He’s quite a horrible enabler, and the scene where Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood require his assistance in readying Denzel for his big court date just plays out bizarrely. Goodman’s terrific, but what the hell is the character itself doing in this film? Something is off about it. Other good performances are delivered by James Badge Dale, and a thankfully restrained Melissa Leo (in a thankless part).

 

Zemeckis once again gives us a plane crash, but this one’s not as effective as “Cast Away” (the benchmark for such scenes), relying way too much on tactics right out of a Lionel Ritchie music video. It was cool in 1987, but not so cool now. It’s a fascinating idea for a film, though, and it’s a subject often in the news. The Denzel character really makes one conflicted. I mean, did his substance abuse cause the crash? Nope, but he was intoxicated nonetheless, and people died. One would think that at least some penalty is in order, even though his piloting prowess saved lives too. Could he have saved more if he were sober, though? Very complex and interesting stuff, and since it’s Denzel, the audience also feels innately sympathetic towards him, muddying things even further. In another actor’s hands, you might not have given a shit about this guy’s plight. Great casting decision and Denzel has his working boots on. He didn’t deserve to win the Oscar, but he deserved it even less for “Training Day” and actually got it for that one, instead of “Malcolm X”. Funny how that works.

 

It’s a good film that could’ve been better, though I certainly think it gets the final judgement right on Denzel’s character. I wish the film weren’t so heavy-handed in other areas, then it’d be an even stronger film. I mean, did Denzel really need to have a giant jug of alcohol? Really, Mr. Zemeckis?

 

Rating: B-