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, May 30, 2014

Review: Dead Man Down

Colin Farrell has infiltrated NY criminal Terrence Howard’s inner circle with the specific purpose of seeking vengeance on him for the ordered hit on he and his family. His wife and kid died (all three are Hungarian immigrants, by the way!), but the idiot Albanian hit man didn’t check Farrell’s vital signs closely enough and now he’s going to take them all down one by one. Dominic Cooper plays another guy in Howard’s criminal organisation who joined around the same time as Farrell and has become a trusted friend to him. Meanwhile, Noomi Rapace plays a fragile, physically scarred neighbour who blackmails Farrell into helping her with her own vengeance plan. She wants him to kill the drunk driver whose actions caused permanent scarring to her face. F. Murray Abraham turns up as one of the trusted few who know of Farrell’s plan and true identity, Isabelle Huppert (!) is Rapace’s partially deaf mother, and Armand Assante has a cameo as one of Howard’s associates who starts to get nervous once bodies start turning up thanks to Farrell. Look (really hard) for British-born WWE Superstar Wade Barrett as one of Howard’s henchmen.


One of the oddest films to find WWE Studios attached (among several other companies mind you), this 2013 crime-drama from director Niels Arden Oplev (the original Swedish version of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) and writer J. H. Wyman (writer-executive producer of TV’s “Fringe”) is extremely, dour, obviously European-influenced (it looks, plays, and feels it), and wastes WWE Superstar Wade Barrett (real name Stu Bennett) in a throwaway henchman role. When he was mocked for it on WWE shows, I assumed it was an exaggeration. Nope, Mr. Barrett (whose best asset as a wrestler is his ability on the ‘stick’ as it were- talking) really is given a nothing role, and I’m not entirely certain his awful attempt at an American accent is the main reason for it. What a waste, because no matter how far in the background he is, you can’t take your eyes off the guy. He has undeniable presence. As for the rest of the film, it’s amazing that so many recognisable names signed on (even if it weren’t a WWE flick), because the script is ridiculous, and the film itself far too drawn out and lacking in any energy whatsoever. It’s just absurd that no one recognises Farrell from the past, just because he has concealed (and boy is that contrived) his accent. Sure, others were sent to do the job back then, but c’mon it’s absurd.


Awful cinematographer Paul Cameron (“Swordfish”, the “Total Recall” remake), meanwhile, strikes again and makes things horrible to look at, too. Horrid, smoky, murky and dark. Would it have killed someone to turn on a fucking light during this movie? It ain’t noir, noir mixed shadow and light. This is all shadow, all the time.


Acting for the most part isn’t a problem, though Noomi Rapace and Isabelle Huppert don’t remotely convince as mother and daughter. Dominic Cooper is actually the only one who disappoints and never convinces in his role (Why are there so many non-Americans in an American film anyway?). Rapace and Farrell (although he broods a bit too much, good as he is at it) are the best thing, especially Rapace, and their characters have an interesting noir vibe about them. The rest of the story, however, is just too silly, though Terrence Howard is clearly much more comfortable as a bad guy than good guy, so I’m glad he has turned heel once more (to use wrestling parlance).


The film would’ve been much better if it just focused on Farrell helping Rapace out, instead of his stupid revenge deal (the former ends up rather superfluous and underdone anyway). Or at least make him an Irishman who kept his accent instead of a Hungarian who lost his accent and was trying to find his way in between an Irish and American accent. I don’t care what reason they give Colin Farrell for stretching his job out, there’s no reason for this film to run so slow and nearly two hours long. At 85-90 minutes, the film would’ve been a great deal more enjoyable. As is, it’s frustratingly unenjoyable. It broods...and that’s all it does, terrific as Noomi Rapace is. Who would’ve thought we’d ever see the day when WWE and Isabelle Huppert would work together? They really shouldn’t have. Kudos to WWE for trying to attach themselves to something resembling a ‘serious’ movie (as opposed to an action movie or comedy), but this one’s not very good.


Rating: C

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review: Oz: The Great and Powerful

James Franco stars as Oscar (AKA ‘Oz), a shonky but likeable magician/con man working the Kansas beat when his quick escape plan via hot-air balloon during a tornado goes awry- funnily enough due to the frigging tornado. He finds himself having been transported to the land of Oz, where everyone thankfully has a colour TV. There he encounters a talking monkey (voiced by Zach Braff), and a witch named Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes he is the prophesised rightful ruler of Oz. Theodora’s sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), however, says that in order for the prophecy to be truly fulfilled, he must first kill the Wicked Witch of the South. But when he finds this witch, named Glinda (Michelle Williams), who is both beautiful and the embodiment of goodness, Oz begins to see the other two bitch...er...witches in a completely different light, especially when one of them turns a bit green (Sure to piss feminists off, too). Veteran character actor Bill Cobbs turns up as the Master Tinker, whilst Tony Cox turns up as the only Munchkin you’re gonna see in the first hour of the film.


Didn’t we learn from the terrifying debacle “Return to Oz” to leave L. Frank Baum alone? Apparently Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”, “Darkman”, “A Simple Plan”, “The Gift”) didn’t get the memo, and has attempted with this 2013 film to give us somewhat of a prequel to the beloved “Wizard of Oz” (though no doubt, Raimi will claim the film is more closely related to Baum’s 14 “Oz” novels than it is to the 1939 film. Whatever). Well, the good news is that Raimi’s film won’t likely give the kiddies nightmares like “Return to Oz” (I’m basing this on my own personal experience, by the way. I was 5 and I don’t want to talk about it, OK?). It’s better than “Muppet Wizard of Oz” too (Seriously, what the fuck was that?). The bad news is, that this is an unimpressive, disappointing and surprisingly cheap-looking film, and Raimi proves unequal to a task that really ought to have been left to Spielberg (Scorsese and Burton would’ve gone way too dark with the material).


I have no doubt that Raimi’s visual conception of Oz here is captured on screen exactly to his liking, and that lots of money was probably spent. Unfortunately, it actually looks like something out of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, from 1988, a combination of live action and 2D cell animation. It’s not that of course, but that’s how bad it looked to me. I could never get lost in the story because the world created looked so clearly artificial that it kept me at a distance in a way that the 1939, for all of its technological limitations, did not for the most part (Those flying monkeys were terrible, though. Hell the entire final third took a bit of a nosedive if you ask me).


It doesn’t start out too terribly, with Zach Braff and Michelle Williams interestingly playing dual roles, ala “The Wizard of Oz”. In fact, Braff is one of the very best things about the film, even if in his larger role, the CGI talking monkey, the visage is clearly fake. Worse still, with its bellboy outfit, the monkey is the creepiest thing I’ve seen since “Return to Oz”. I also found it interesting that the soon-to-be Wizard grew up in Kansas and the girl he wants to marry is set to marry someone with the last name ‘Gale’. Cute stuff, without getting in the way for people who don’t get the references. I doubt the kids of today will get the transition into colour, though. In the 1939 film, the transition from sepia to technicolour would’ve been seen as wondrous- hell, it still is to me and I was born in 1980. Here, the B&W beginning will lead many kids to assume something is wrong with the picture, and the rest will quickly lose interest. Sad, but true. The film’s transition to colour this time is sadly ruined by the over-reliance on poorly rendered (intentional or not) CGI. The 1939 film did it much better with vastly inferior technology. The CGI birds and flowers look terrible. They look like cartoons, as I said earlier- “Roger Rabbit” stuff. Hell, this has the technological sophistication of MC Skat Cat and Paula Abdul. Technicolour can look hyperreal at times, but it never gives you quite the impression that what you’re seeing isn’t really there on screen. There’s just no sense of physicality to the images and surrounds, it looks incredibly flat, unsophisticated, and artificial. The 1939 film also looks beautiful to this day, whereas this one looks garish. It probably worked better when seen in 3D, but you know my feelings on 3D by now. I’m sorry, but Raimi has cocked this one up. The porcelain doll character is one of the better CGI jobs, but the character itself is just a stupid idea. She sure as hell ain’t no Tin Man. I will say this, though: The winged baboons here are a lot scarier and more convincing than the flying monkeys in the original film. Comparisons between the films are inevitable (whether Raimi based the film on it or the books is irrelevant, the film is far more deeply imbedded in the public consciousness than the books), and here is the one time that this film comes out on top (The film’s conception of ‘The Great and Powerful Oz’ himself was clever, though). Not so the case of the Wicked Witch’s transformation scene, however. Whose dumbfuck idea was it to turn the green-faced Wicked Witch into the Incredibly Dopey Hulk? When she turns up during the munchkin scene, it’s cute, but she still looks like Hulk in a Hat. The Emerald City is perhaps most disappointingly rendered of all. It looks like it has been carved out of the same material as the Green Goblin’s mask. Bravo, Mr. Raimi, for getting in a shameless reference to one of your own films. It doesn’t even look frigging emerald. Did you ever think about that, Sammy boy?


When you think about the film, as well as the 1939 film, and the title character, something rather odd and frankly disastrous will dawn upon you. ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** In this film, Raimi and writers Mitchell Kapner (“Into the Blue 2: The Reef”) and David-Lindsay-Abaire (“Rise of the Guardians”) have the soon-to-be Wizard saving the day...through chicanery and misdirection, and casts Glinda the supposedly Good Witch in a negative light for being complicit in a lie that ultimately sets up the situation the inhabitants of Oz find themselves in when Dorothy lands there in the 1939 film. It’s hard to forget that this good-natured charlatan becomes a far less good-natured charlatan ruler, and it’s quite an off-putting note to end on. Hell, it kinda insults the memories we all have of the original (And please don’t bring up the books. Books are books, films are films. This is a film). ***** END SPOILER *****


The casting in this film is quite curious and eclectic, I must say. James Franco is an interesting choice for Oz, and he nor the character bear much resemblance to the character in the 1939 film. Franco is an actor capable of genuinely accomplished, powerful performances (“127 Hours” in particular), but spectacularly bizarre career choices, too (“General Hospital”, “Your Highness”) that make you almost second guess him. He’s likeable enough here, if not especially outstanding, and he appears to be trying to channel Johnny Depp at times. He won me over, in the end, but not in any way I could concretely remember the next day. I guess that means he’s OK. Michelle Williams is an interesting Glinda, taking a much less smiley, saccharine sweet approach, but still quite clearly conveying the character’s goodness. That’s one perfectly fine piece of casting. On the other end of the scale is Mila Kunis as one of two other witches in the film. In her first scene, she acts like Franco isn’t even on screen acting opposite her. Either that or she has decided her character is seriously myopic. It’s mostly a very odd and stiff performance, and there is absolutely no subtlety to her character’s inevitable change. It’s obvious from moment one. Hell, it’s obvious from the trailers. Her performance ends up improving once she’s allowed to cut loose a bit, but by then it’s too late. As her sister, Rachel Weisz is quite a considerable improvement. It’s your standard Disney witch character (she even brandishes a fucking apple at one point. Subtle, guys. Real subtle), but Weisz plays it well. Raimi offers up the usual Bruce Campbell cameo, once again giving his friend and colleague a menial part, as is customary for their working relationship. He even gets whacked on the head, presumably due to Raimi thinking it’s hilarious to subject his friend to ridicule (Read Campbell’s autobiography, it’s hilarious and insightful and paints the Campbell-Raimi relationship much more affectionately than I’m probably making out. They just carry on like a couple of frat boys at times, it seems). It might take you a while to spot him beneath the makeup, though.


One of the biggest plusses of the entire film (if not the biggest) is the terrific music score by Danny Elfman (“Batman”, “Beetlejuice”, “Mars Attacks!”). The score is such that you won’t even need to read his name in the credits to know who it is.


Even if you don’t hold the original “Wizard of Oz” film nearly and dearly, what Sam Raimi offers up here is simply not up to snuff. It looks horribly artificial, and something you’d expect from the late 80s or early 90s, and certainly not from such a talented director as Raimi. Then again, he is the same man who gave us “The Quick and the Dead”, and this film is at least better than that. It’s just hard to go along for the ride, and frankly rather boring. This film should’ve been much, much better, and the presentation of the title character as the film’s hero plays out very weirdly for anyone familiar with the 1939 film. I like Disney, but they have had three cracks at “Oz” (this, “Return to Oz”, and “Muppet Wizard of Oz”), all unsuccessful. It’s time for them to let it go. At the end of the day, I doubt this film is going to please anyone terribly much and it certainly didn’t do much for me.  


Rating: C-

Review: Oblivion

60 years ago, an alien invasion left the Earth looking like Chernobyl and now seriously underpopulated. We won the war, but it sure as shit doesn’t look like it. Whilst most of the human survivors are now on one of Saturn’s moons, Tom Cruise and his absolutely stunning mission partner Andrea Riseborough have quite possibly the dullest job in the world, overseeing Earth, and maintaining drones and watching out for the few alien scavengers still hanging around. It’s near the end of their mission, but it’s not like they have any fond memories or anything, because their memories are actually wiped before the start of their mission. So why is Cruise dreaming of the beautiful Olga Kurylenko, dreams that seem awfully like memories that he can’t quite comprehend? A creepy Melissa Leo plays the pair’s no-nonsense remote commander, Morgan Freeman turns up as a cigar-chomping leader of a human rĂ©sistance still on Earth. An underused Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is also a part of Freeman’s crew.


A lot of people have criticised this 2013 film from director Joseph Kosinski (whose debut “Tron: Legacy” did nothing for me) for being unoriginal, and a bit of a rip-off of “Moon” in particular. I’m not one of them, though, because although it is very similar in plot to “Moon” (and has elements of other classic sci-fi films like “Blade Runner”), it’s at the service of a more traditional sci-fi action/adventure, a blockbuster, whereas “Moon” was a far more quirky, existential film. So I think that saves the film from any accusations of being plagiaristic. How many original plots are there out there anyway? The film certainly operates on classic sci-fi themes, though, and you’ll be reminded of “Silent Running”, “Outland”, and “Dark Star” as well. But that doesn’t make it a rip-off of anything. I mean, was “Star Wars” terribly original? Hell no.


Scripted by Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”, “Toy Story 3”) and Karl Gajdusek (the truly awful “Trespass”, with Nic Cage and Nicole Kidman), and based on Kosinski’s own graphic novel (strangely unreleased at the time of the film’s release), this is a really good yarn, I think, especially the first half. It’s an extremely unique-looking film, with bloody interesting visuals I must say. The film’s conception of a post-apocalyptic scorched Earth bucks the usual trend by actually looking rather unrecognisable and alien. I actually think that works to the film’s advantage because it sets the film apart from other films that present a post-apocalyptic view of Earth. It’s a tricky thing to balance a desolate and post-apocalyptic look whilst maintaining a pleasing aesthetic. “The Book of Eli”, for instance, looked putrid. I see so many badly-shot, ugly films with crap CGI and colour-corrected cinematography these days that I feel I really need to praise something like this. So Kosinski and his cinematographer Claudio Miranda (“Tron: Legacy”) definitely deserve credit here. The throbbing music score by Anthony Gonzalez and M.8.3 is really cool too, if a bit techno and “Tron: Legacy” esque at times (or at least Giorgio Moroder/Vangelis in their heyday), but it suits the visuals, and the sound design is cool as well.


The film looks like it’s going to go in a much lesser direction (but still interesting) when Morgan Freeman turns up, only to head in a much more interesting direction than first thought. I still think the first half is the best, but this isn’t one of those films that takes a significant nose-dive at the halfway point. Some will argue that the action scenes are like a video game and a bit reminiscent of the pod race in “The Phantom Menace”. I don’t care, the action is exciting, even if I found the shape of Cruise’s ship to be rather uncomfortable (It’s a cock and balls, quite clearly). I’m really not sure why some people were disappointed in this film, even Melissa Leo for once didn’t bother me. She’s remarkably low-key and straightforward for a change. Freeman’s role, meanwhile, ends up being more interesting as the film progresses and it’s good to see him doing something different. He can’t narrate everything, you know.


It’s actually Cruise, who disappoints if anyone (along with the stiff Olga Kurylenko), he’s a bit colourless in this one. Andrea Riseborough, meanwhile, is good enough that you wish she was in the film even more. She also has a fantastic arse that absolutely needs to be singled out for praise. Seriously, it’s bloody fantastic.


I’m not sure I entirely understand the ending, but I’m an idiot, so it’s probably on me. This is solid space adventure stuff, and so long as you’re not expecting a reinvention of the wheel, you’re gonna have a good time with it. I just wish Tom was more fun to be around. It’s not one of his best performances, to say the least.


Rating: B-

Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: Murder By Numbers

Sandra Bullock plays a hardened homicide detective with a very dark past, who along with new partner Ben Chaplin is investigating the murder of a young woman. The prime suspects are disaffected and probably insufficiently supervised high schoolers Ryan Gosling (socially adept and popular) and Michael Pitt (shy and bookish). The audience knows they’re guilty, these two teens from different social circles have come together to perform what intellectual Pitt sees as the ‘perfect crime’. Yet, to Bullock’s consternation, her superior (R.D. Call) wants her to focus more on the local janitor (Chris Penn), who sells drugs to students. But Bullock persists in her pursuit of the two teens, perhaps with a little too much aggressiveness. Agnes Bruckner plays a fellow student who finds Gosling revolting but is nicer to the more chivalrous Pitt (Something that seems to make Gosling go all Leopold and Loeb-like jealous).


Oh if only this film were as smart, interesting and creative as its two young serial killer antagonists. A copycat wannabe with a Leopold-Loeb bent, this 2002 Barbet Schroeder (“Barfly”, “Reversal of Fortune”, “Kiss of Death”) film from a script by Tony Gayton (who co-wrote the underrated Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Faster”) squanders  some interesting ideas in the service of beefing up the role for miscast actor/executive producer Sandra Bullock. Every time the film cuts to her and partner Ben Chaplin (which is far too often), my interest went away and we’re left with half a good film and half a waste of time. Bullock’s not remotely convincing in the rather complex role, and it bothered me that her troubled past seemed tacked on to appease an actress/producer who didn’t think the role meaty enough as written. It just didn’t feel organic, nor did Ms. Bullock’s performance. This is supposedly a woman who is bold and assertive in the bedroom, yet Bullock herself clearly refused to break the no-nudity clause in her contract so she has sex with her clothes on like I’m sure everyone does (Bullock is notorious for this nonsense, having quite steamy sex in the little-seen “Fire on the Amazon” but with very visible obstructions to her nipples. Don’t sign on for the role in the first place, sweetie). This is a woman who goes out of her way to pursue a guy and basically demand to have sex with him...but she asks that her shirt stays on? How does that make sense for the camera? Oh there’s a reason alright...a clearly tacked-on one. Everything about the character feels tacked on, even how her past trauma connects to her current circumstances. It didn’t convince me that it wasn’t added after Bullock signed on. I could be speculative and wrong here, but I couldn’t shake the feeling throughout and the film would certainly be much improved with her role being downplayed.


But as I said, this is half a good film, and whenever Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling are on screen, this is fascinating stuff. Bad guys are always more interesting than the hero, and I’ve always had a (perfectly healthy!) interest in serial killers and serial killer stories. Truth be told, the characters played by Pitt and Gosling are a bit more reminiscent of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock from “In Cold Blood”. Gosling got all the praise here and we know the actor/star he has become, but for me, Michael Pitt is sorely underrated as the timid psycho manipulated by the more outwardly charismatic and socially adept Gosling. You can’t praise one performance and not the other, in my view, they’re both good, a perfect team and I just don’t understand why Pitt gets ignored in favour of Gosling. The intelligence and craftiness of the Pitt character, demented as he is, is very interesting stuff. It’s kinda funny to me that the dipshit, superficial charm displayed by Gosling’s character here is essentially what everyone loves about Gosling in every other film he has made since. Watch this and tell me I’m wrong. I’m not saying he’s a serial killer in real-life or even a bad actor (anyone who has seen “The Believer” and “Blue Valentine” knows he can act), just that he’s one slick dude, kinda like Richard Gere or George Clooney, but less smarmy in my view.


Ordinarily I’d get annoyed when we see the killers finally start to make mistakes, since they’re otherwise very smart. However, one must also remember that they are teenagers, and teenagers, smart or not, fuck up sometimes, overlook things, or will crack under pressure. Yes, even sociopathic ones.


Ben Chaplin is insufferably dull, as he tended to be throughout most of his career until “London Boulevard”. The late Chris Penn and character actor R.D. Call (a friend of Sean Penn’s a might add) are well-cast but underused as a janitor who sells pot on the side, and Bullock’s concerned boss, respectively. Mr. Penn was a talented character actor and genuinely missed. The best performance outside of the two crims comes from the lovely Agnes Bruckner, an actress who deserved a much better career than she has gotten, and is really quite appealing here. She genuinely worries you, and that’s all due to Ms. Bruckner herself.


Such a shame. Here’s an OK film that really could’ve been better if its entire world didn’t revolve around Sandra Bullock. You really want to like this a lot more than you actually do. And that, in a way, is more frustrating than if the film were simply bad. “Copycat” and “Se7en” it ain’t, let alone “In Cold Blood”


Rating: C+