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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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Review: Dredd

Set in a post-apocalyptic USA, and principally Mega-City One, a place of barely contained anarchy. The Judges are all that stand in the way of total chaos, and Karl Urban stars as the titular Judge Dredd. He is partnered with Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with apparent psychic abilities. They are sent to a place called Peach Tree, a ginormous apartment block ruled by a drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who runs an extremely tight ship, and orders that every inhabitant of Peach Tree do their part in taking out the two judges. Anyone who aides them will be killed. Like something out of a classic western, the two Judges are considerably outmanned and outgunned, and reinforcements aren’t coming anytime soon. Wood Harris plays a murderer and Ma-Ma’s chief lieutenant, whom the Judges manage to apprehend early on and drag around with them, in order to bring him to justice, as it were. Which is precisely why Ma-Ma won’t let the Judges and Harris leave alive.


The majority of the world wasn’t exactly crying out for another Judge Dredd movie, and this 2012 film from director Pete Travis (2008’s nifty “Vantage Point”) and writer Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”, “Sunshine”, author of “The Beach”) isn’t quite good enough to recommend. It is, however, decent enough to make up for that ‘other’ “Judge Dredd”, which was just awful and best forgotten. Fans of the original comic book at least seem willing to own this one, so one assumes it’s pretty close to the source.


It definitely suffers from a lack of a strong protagonist, however. Karl Urban is infinitely better in the role than Sly Stallone proved to be (Sly just played Dredd as Sly), but the character still holds no interest whatsoever. It’s through little fault of the actor, Dredd is just a boring, monosyllabic character, though the hard-boiled narration at the start sets the tone and situation in a not uninteresting manner (Despite Urban’s voice perhaps not being quite gravelly enough. Then again, at least he doesn’t sound as phony as Christian Bale’s Batman).


By far the most interesting character and performance is the lovely Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson, a rookie Judge, and mutant with psychic powers. I’m becoming quite the fan of the fetching Ms. Thirlby, and although the blonde mop she’s sporting here isn’t to my personal tastes, she’s probably the most flesh-and-blood thing in this entire film (despite not really being human- go figure!). Lena Headey provides interestingly calm-voiced villainy, I just wish she was in more of the film. You’d think her role would be one that would lend itself to hysterics and shouting, but Headey does a lot with glares and scowls, and never really raises her voice. It’s an interesting approach (to a character that for some reason kept reminding me of Aunty Entity), and Headey proves to be one of the few actresses who can play mean and tough without coming off as a ‘try-hard’.


It’s a shame that the CGI blood is so phony-looking because this is one lovely, gory film and me likey a lot (The body count, according to IMDb is over 100). The slow-mo is a bit overdone, though. The production design is interesting as well, giving everything a gritty, grungy look instead of the Steve Jobs design of the future that most futuristic films go for these days. The worldview here is one of decay and barely containable (violent) civil unrest. I wouldn’t exactly call it original, but it’s certainly not unappealing, either. The music score by Paul Leonard-Morgan is good stuff, mixing throbbing beats (circa a mid 80s Schwarzenegger film) with grungy guitar.


I saw the film in 2D, and honestly I can’t imagine 3D being of any use to this film. I’m not a fan of the fad to begin with, but this seems like a particularly strange candidate for the gimmick to me. I like this film’s grit, and some of its performances, and if you want all action all of the time, this one makes a pretty OK fist of it. I’m glad it’s not as much of a “Robocop” meets “Demolition Man” rip-off, too. I just wish it were about anyone other than this Judge Dredd fellow. He’s dull as dishwater.  


Rating: C+

Review: Black Rain

Michael Douglas is a sleazy-looking, hog-riding cop with an IA investigation and financial concerns at home dogging him. He and his slightly more ingratiating partner (Andy Garcia) are witness to a brutal Japanese Yakuza slaying (admittedly unconvincingly staged in broad daylight), and after a pursuit, they manage to apprehend gangster Sato (Yusaku Matsuda). They are ordered to escort him on a flight back to Japan, which of course gets botched and Matsuda manages to flee. Douglas doesn’t want to go home since his job hasn’t been properly carried out, and thus the American duo form an uneasy alliance with their more by-the-book, reserved Japanese counterparts. Chief among these is humourless Ken Takakura, who is a real swell, fun guy. Kate Capshaw turns up as an American manager of a local nightclub, whom Douglas seems to fancy (Because he’s Michael Douglas and she doesn’t have a penis).


Released in 1989, this crime/action flick from director Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Legend”, “Prometheus”) and scribes Craig Bolotin (Director of “Light it Up” and one episode of “Miami Vice”) and Warren Lewis (“The 13th Warrior”) had passed me by all these years, but now I’ve seen it, and it’s a solid and good-looking film, one of the better films of its type. It loses a little something when Andy Garcia isn’t around (he steals his every scene), and the US-Japanese relations stuff wasn’t even new in 1989 (I did find it funny, though that Douglas demands Japanese people to speak English. In Japan. What a dickhead!), but I’ve got to admit that Scott goes a long way to making you forget that your really just watching another fish-out-of-water buddy cop film.


It’s a very slickly done film, whatever its flaws (Why would American cops be chosen to escort a Japanese crim back home in the first place?). Scott and his chosen cinematographers Howard Atherton (“Fatal Attraction”, “Indecent Proposal”) and Jan de Bont (who went on to direct the horribly overrated action pic “Speed” among other films) shoot this like it’s film noir, and the film is all the better for it. The mixture of darkness and neon might remind you a bit of Scott’s “Blade Runner”, but in my view this is a much better film, and Michael Douglas fares much better in a neo-noir (neon-noir?) protagonist capacity than Harrison Ford did (Not sure if he convinces as a hog-rider, though). Douglas also shares good chemistry with Kate Capshaw. I’m still not convinced that she would be known today if she didn’t marry Steven Spielberg and appear in one of the “Indiana Jones” films, but credit where it’s due, this is Capshaw’s best performance.


Getting back to the film’s look, Scott and Atherton (who did most of the work, but eventually was replaced by de Bont when he apparently got frustrated on set) make Japan look absolutely beautiful, if mostly dark and noirish. But when the film does go the neon route, unlike say Las Vegas, the neon lights and glitter don’t look like putting lipstick on a pig (though it is still depicted as a crime-ridden place, don’t get me wrong). It’s genuinely beautiful to look at. I think we got one too many breaking dawn shots, though. In that sense it looked more Tony Scott than Ridley to me (And indeed it does look at times like it could’ve been a Tony Scott film too, even though usually the brothers’ filmic styles are pretty different). It’s kind of like noir meets “Miami Vice” in Japan, with a real Jan Hammer special from composer Hans Zimmer (“Gladiator”, “Black Hawk Down”, “Inception”), probably the film’s biggest drawback. Seriously, it’s an awful, awful score.


The hog-riding Japanese gangsters were a tad silly, but lead villain Yusaku Matsuda is genuinely good in his last film role. Sadly, he knew he was dying during filming, and passed away from bladder cancer not long after the film’s American release. Look for small roles by veteran action movie Asian bad guys Prof. Toru Tanaka (in barely a walk-on) and Toshishiro Obata. They’re always fun to spot, as is actor/stuntman Al Leong (who normally plays Chinese or Vietnamese characters), credited here only as a stuntman even though he is quite clearly seen on screen. His long hair and Fu Manchu beard are unmistakable.


But for me, this is Andy Garcia’s film to steal, and he looks like he’s having a whale of a time doing it, especially in the scenes where he has to translate all of Douglas’ insults to the polite, if humourless Japanese cops. I can’t tell if he’s acting, having fun, or is completely buzzed, but the scene where Garcia sings ‘Tell Me What I Say’ is pretty damn funny (and apparently Garcia’s idea).


This isn’t anything great, and at times it gives off a distinct 80s vibe (which may or may not be a problem for you), but it still holds up better than other films of its type like “Year of the Dragon” or “Rising Sun”. I’m glad I finally got around to seeing this one.


Rating: B-