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, June 20, 2014

Review: The Winds of War


Chronicling the exploits of American naval officer ‘Pug’ Henry (Robert Mitchum), who becomes Ambassador to Germany, and his various family members’ activities from 1939-1941. Concurrently, the film also charts the rise of Germany’s Fuhrer Adolf Hitler (Gunter Meissner), and the effects his growing influence has on not only Germans, but the rest of the world, and especially the Jewish people. Polly Bergen is Henry’s increasingly bored, gauche wife, who starts to see an awful lot of widowed uranium scientist Peter Graves (who is working on the atomic bomb!), when her husband is away for long periods of time. This proves to be a very long time, as Henry is stationed in Berlin, London, Rome, and even Moscow, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy) himself, to be his observer. But don’t feel sorry for ol’ ‘Pug’ (who also gets to meet Hitler, Churchill, and Stalin!), he’s got the charming young Brit Victoria Tennant to hero-worship him (and more, if he’ll only let her!). Jan-Michael Vincent is the family ‘black sheep’ son Byron, who goes to Italy to work as a research assistant for famed American author John Houseman. There he falls in love with Houseman’s stuck-up, stubborn, rich-girl niece Ali MacGraw. Lisa Eilbacher is Henry’s stubborn daughter who finds her niche working for CBS. Ben Murphy, barely in the film, is Henry’s other son, a fighter pilot who ends up stationed at Pearl Harbour (Gee, I sure hope that works out for him!). David Dukes plays MacGraw’s constantly rebuffed, rather petty would-be suitor, a nerdy diplomat. Dukes and MacGraw are forever trying to convince the stubborn, elderly Jew Houseman that Italy is no longer a safe haven for him and he should return to the US while still possible. Jeremy Kemp excels as the fictitious Gen. Armin Von Roon, a proud and dutiful German who disapproves of what Hitler is doing, but is nonetheless loyal to Germany and it’s ruler. A lively Topol has a glorified cameo as MacGraw’s Polish uncle (therefore Houseman’s estranged brother) Berel, who uncovers the implementation of concentration camps. Australian-born Allan Cuthbertson and everyone’s favourite Nazi Anton Diffring play attachés, British and German, respectively.

 

This extremely long (shown over about a week on Australian cable TV, where I saw it. Around about 15 hours in length, anyway) but rewarding and entertaining 1983 mini-series directed by Dan Curtis (“House of Dark Shadows”), was scripted by Herman Wouk, from his own novel. With the amount of story and significant events needed to be worked through here (depicting the period between 1939-1941 before the US became engaged in WWII), Wouk has perhaps skimped on the details at times and resorted to some less than 3D characters and soap opera-like situations. There’s way too many romantic dalliances here for one story and the Pearl Harbour seems rushed to me, like it was only in there because it had to be there. However, this is such a massive undertaking and as such it works a lot better than it could have, and it still holds up quite well today, with a few reservations (which I’ll get to in a minute). WWII has many stories ready for telling and, it’s a war that even I myself find interesting to read about, learn about, and watch WWII films.

 

The casting is mostly very effective, with stalwart Mitchum a fine anchor, even if he’s far too old for his role, the film wouldn’t be as strong without his presence and stubborn (but ultimately noble), granite-like persona. Tennant, meanwhile, looks rather spiffy in a uniform, playing the daughter of a British journalist who becomes acquainted with Mitchum, when he’s away from the wifey. She’s all English pleasantness and posh accent, but does rather well considering some of the silly soap opera dialogue she gets. For me, however, the standouts were in the supporting roles, notably Kemp, Bellamy, Dukes, Houseman, Diffring, Ferdy Mayne, and Meissner. Kemp plays the film’s most interestingly layered character (the audience’s entry into the minds and actions of the German military, really), and proves what an underrated actor he is, stealing the show. Well, stealing the show from everyone but Bellamy, who makes an indelible impression as the aging FDR, always armed with that signature cigarette holder rigidly held between his lips. He brilliantly plays the American President as a physically frail and outwardly paternal man, but also clearly a sharp and crafty politician. Dukes (who for some reason reminded me of David Strathairn in this one) does well to make his sometimes unsympathetic character somehow understandable and you even feel a bit sorry for him. Old pro Houseman could recite the phone book and make it sound enthralling with his wonderful voice. Diffring does his usual snobbish Nazi thing to perfection in a small role, whilst Mayne is genuinely affecting in a few short scenes as a Jewish merchant who rents his home to Mitchum and his family, with the new Nazi laws making life very difficult for him and his own family.

 

Gunter Meissner, familiar to many as Slugworth in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” gets the plum role here of the Fuhrer, a role he was able to play several times in his career, despite usually being cast in SS roles (Nazis were his specialty, it seems). He seems a sticking point with many, but I found he portrayed Hitler exactly as the director and Wouk have instructed. The character doesn’t call for much subtlety, and the frightening-yet-blowhard Meissner doesn’t provide subtlety (though the rigid arm movements are a bit phony). He does overdo it one scene in particular, but it’s a scene where such an approach was essential to show just how nuts this guy was. Even though in previous films I’ve noted how much Meissner looks like Goebbels, he also looks rather a lot like the Fuhrer here, albeit a bit slimmer. I like Meissner and he makes quite an impression here at any rate, and it’s nice to see him getting such a major role.

 

There are also solid smaller appearances by Cuthbertson and Israeli actor Topol, the latter of which should’ve had a much larger role, if you ask me. Aside from Tennant (and a cameo by ‘Scream Queen’ Barbara Steele, strangely credited as a producer here), the female roles are not quite as well-handled, notably a miscast and talentless MacGraw (too old for her part by about 10 years, though her co-star for most, Jan-Michael Vincent was no spring chicken himself) and a horribly shrill, unbearable Bergen. The former (an actress of zero talent or charisma. Yeah, I said it!) is entirely colourless and gives her character a harshness and coldness, and an ego that make her entirely unlikeable. The latter is playing an embarrassing, ‘ugly American’ stereotype, but Bergen is incapable of subtlety and takes the stereotype to even more histrionic heights that her performance becomes more embarrassing than the character (no easy thing to do!). I hated the selfish and stupid character and hated the way Bergen played it.

 

And whilst we’re speaking of flaws, time has not been so kind to the film’s rather uneven FX work, decidedly dodgy in several places (mostly the action scenes with unconvincing models and blue-screen work). Anyway, these are minor distractions in an otherwise still impressive and mammoth TV miniseries undertaking that is definitely worth seeing, especially for fans of WWII stories.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: A Town Like Alice


Set in WWII, Virginia McKenna is one of a group of women and children forced by the Japanese to march on foot to a prison camp in occupied Malaya. From there they are told there is no room and they must march on to the next camp, and then the next, and so on. Along the way McKenna strikes up a relationship with larrikin Aussie Peter Finch (who really was an Aussie, but has a barely adequate accent here, strangely), a fellow POW (given truck driving duties) who seems to make battling the elements (heat, famine, disease etc.) a little more tolerable, with stories of...well, look at the title.

 

Simple but generally watchable 1956 Jack Lee (“Robbery Under Arms”, “The Captain’s Table”) World War II POW film (somewhat based on fact, though the characters aren’t) needed to either beef up the relationship between McKenna and Finch, or excise it entirely. It’s an ill fit as is, though there are some strong moments here and there. Finch is particularly excellent and the film is quite grim for a film of this era, not necessarily a bad thing. Fans of this sort of thing will get a lot more out of it than perhaps I did, but it’s OK. The screenplay is by W.P. Lipscomb (“Pygmalion”, “Dunkirk”) and Richard Mason (“The Wind Cannot Read”), from the novel by Aussie Nevil Shute (“On the Beach”, “No Highway in the Sky”, turned into an eccentric Jimmy Stewart film).

 

Rating: C+

Review: Boyz N the Hood


The story of three young African-American men trying to survive their lower-middle class surroundings of gang and crime-infested South Central L.A. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Tre, whose aggression and rebellion as a child forced his upscale, workaholic mother (Angela Bassett, very good in a thankless role) to send him to the ‘Hood in the care of his father Furious (Laurence Fishburne), an intelligent, discipline-oriented mortgage broker (whom Bassett is divorced from) in order to make a man out of her wayward son.
 
Now in his teens, Tre, against the anti-violence, independent-thinking teachings of his father (who refuses to leave the neighbourhood and his people), falls in with some of the ‘bad seeds’ of the neighbourhood, like childhood best friend Doughboy (Ice Cube), a delinquent who is constantly derided by his mother (Tyra Ferrell), in favour of his athletically-gifted, more promising brother Ricky (Morris Chestnut). Ricky wants a college scholarship, made somewhat difficult by his needs to support his young child to his girlfriend, whilst also passing his SAT’s. For his part, Doughboy seems to have no ambition and makes frequent trips in and out of prison. Tre has a decent job, college potential and has been romancing sweet Nia Long, who is a Catholic, and her religious convictions are putting a damper on Tre’s...well...let’s just say Tre ain’t gettin’ any for a long time. But none of that is going to matter if Tre can’t make it out alive, as the neighbourhood is fraught with crime and thugs, and the ever-present fear of a drive-by shooting.

 

Boy am I completely unqualified to comment on a lot of this stuff, but to hell with it, this non-American ‘honky’ is gonna give it a crack anyway. This extraordinary 1991 debut film from John Singleton (“Higher Learning”, “Poetic Justice”) is for me far more authentic and palatable than most of fellow African-American filmmaker Spike Lee’s ‘joints’, especially “Do the Right Thing”, where nearly everyone was racist except Lee’s own character (I do love “Malcolm X”, though and “Do the Right Thing” is still a solid film). Spike is a talented guy who sadly seems more interested in himself than anything else, and holds himself as the only person who is allowed to present the African-American perspective on screen, if you’ve heard any of his comments in the media (This isn’t meant to be an Anti-Spike rant, but a comparison of the two filmmakers I feel is totally necessary to understand the effectiveness of this film). For the most part, Singleton doesn’t big-note himself nor sledgehammer his points home (even in the underrated “Higher Learning” Singleton seemed to play fair, even though that film was a little more hyper-real), and the film is a pretty damn convincing, occasionally heartbreaking tale whose message of ‘Increase the Peace’ (as opposed to Spike Lee’s endorsement of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” in “Do the Right Thing”, perhaps? I’m just putting the question out there) sadly didn’t really seem to change anything, at least not in the immediate years after the film’s release (there was even violence at initial screenings of the film, apparently, in different cities). Yes, sadly folks, this film is still completely relevant 20 years later, or at least, it certainly doesn’t seem like ancient history (Unless you’re looking at the career path of Ice Cube, or for that matter Cuba Gooding Jr. My how times have changed for those two!).

 

The film also has other things to say about African-American experience, and for my money, Singleton mostly keeps things even-handed by outlining yes, the inequality of things (Eurocentric SAT exams for instance), but not solely pointing the finger at ‘whitey’ (Even one of the racist cops happens to be a self-hating African-American). Singleton outlines the influence of environment and family life on a person’s upbringing, as the characters here generally come from fatherless homes (the film touches on issues of manhood and responsibility) and are well-acquainted with crime and violence from a very early age. Singleton is actually pointing fingers at African-Americans (the violence in the film is mostly black-on-black anyway) and asking them to take a look at themselves, too and see what they themselves can do to improve their situations. The film paints a much subtler and more thoughtful picture of modern racism (if there is such a term as ‘modern’ racism) than anything that had come before it. Fishburne (who would also do excellent work as another strong-willed black mentor in “Higher Learning”) is brilliant here as the thoughtful, caring father (y’all wish you had this guy as your dad, believe me) who wants to project a positive, self-sufficient, and productive representation of African-Americans. He is a strong role model that illustrates what Singleton sees as the need for African-American males to be responsible parents (something he’d later revisit in the less well-received “Baby Boy”) and decent citizens of society. It’s true, though, that in this character, Singleton (who deservingly was Oscar-nominated for his direction, the youngest ever, at age 23) also fumbles a bit, by having Fishburne, a mostly wonderfully positive role model (for whites or blacks, by the way) talk about African-Americans helping themselves (fair point), but also a supposedly alternate, positive spin on segregation, that I just didn’t think was something that Fishburne’s character would genuinely believe in. I’m no expert on the subject (nor will I ever pretend to know what this life is like) but while I get the notion of African-Americans coming together instead of killing each other, I don’t see segregating races to be a positive thing under any circumstances. But hey, maybe Fishburne and Singleton are right (I’m with them on the Eurocentric SAT exams, certainly), or maybe, just maybe, Singleton is merely offering the viewpoint up, amongst other viewpoints in the film, as one person’s attempt to make sense of a nonsensical, absolutely insane situation (Singleton certainly has a handle on his characters, and why they are the way they are). However, I still think it’s the one moment in the film where I genuinely felt lectured to by Singleton, whereas the rest of the film weaves its messages into the fabric of an interesting story that merely presents the experience of these characters.

 

Other than that, there is very little wrong with this film at all, and I admire Singleton for having the balls to look at things critically on more than one side. Very brave for such a young and novice filmmaker. When the film focuses on the issues these characters, especially the younger ones face (as the ‘hood itself seems to be a depressingly inescapable cycle of black-on-black gang violence), the film is powerful stuff.

 

All of the performances, especially those of Fishburne and Gooding Jr. (aside from one brief burst of overacting from the latter- you’ll spot it), are truly first-rate. Singleton also gets good work out of rapper Ice Cube by casting him in a role that allows for him to largely be a variant on his public persona at the time, but with a lot more depth to it. This may not be the most ‘fun’ to watch (though there are certainly moments of levity and at times it comes across like an African-American “Stand By Me”, apparently intentionally), but it is a very important film that everyone should see at least once. Oscar-nominated screenplay is by Singleton himself, who based many of the characters on people from his own personal experience.

 

I wouldn’t pretend to know anything much of the African-American experience in South Central LA, but through this film, Singleton gave me a bit of an education, and did so without making me feel like it was a lecture. Singleton makes it more of an experience, right down to the buzzing police choppers and potential for a spray of gunshots at any moment, making you get at least a taste of that danger, tension, and utter dire straits. The fact that he made this assured film at just 23 is truly astonishing (Kinda depressing though, is the fact that he also went on to make the abysmal “2 Fast 2 Furious”, but that’s another thing altogether). Best of all? Singleton merely gives himself a frivolous cameo as a mailman, not hogging the limelight for the sake of it. Take that, Spike, you arrogant twit!

 

Rating: B

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: Felicity


Canadian-born English resident Glory Annen (who is undeniably beautiful) stars as the title virginal Catholic boarding school student, who after a bout of skinny-dipping with her best friend (Jody Hanson) receives word that her father has arranged for her a holiday in Hong Kong, staying with her aunt. It is here that Felicity will have the sexual awakening she yearns for, getting laid by a moustachioed he-man on the bonnet of a car, visits a brothel-on-a-boat with a sexy local named Mai Ling (Bond girl Joni Flynn), who will later introduce her to the joys of lesbianism, and so on. She also meets a sensitive Aussie boy (Chris Milne) who rescues her from local ruffians, and before long the two are shagging like rabbits in heat. Or something.

 

It doesn’t reach the softcore heights of “Emmanuelle II”, but this 1978 film from writer-director John Lamond (who has a fun cameo as a peeping tom) is a bit better than I was expecting. Oh, it’s a pretty poor film in any traditional sense, but for a dopey Aussie softcore flick in the “Emmanuelle” vein, well, it’s a big step up from jokey tits and bum stuff like “Alvin Purple”.

 

The sex and nudity are pretty explicit and plentiful by Aussie film standards, though not always effectively staged. One lesbian scene in particular featuring Glory Annen and Joni Flynn isn’t anywhere near as sexy as it should be because either the actresses or the director seem to have absolutely no idea how lesbians pleasure each other. It’s actually absurd to behold, but not much of a turn-on. Then there’s the massage/bathhouse scene, which although not bad, is an inferior rip-off of the massage/bathhouse scene from “Emmanuelle II”, one of the sexiest scenes ever committed to film. Here it looks like the girls don’t know how to kiss one another. The “Emmanuelle” comparison is unavoidable, given the book itself is mentioned here, and the film takes place in a similar locale.

 

One thing this film has over the “Emmanuelle” films is that there’s no moralising. In fact, it’s a pretty upbeat film, really, especially in the first half. It has to be said that it’s impossible to believe that Felicity is such a novice to sexual matters given the first 20 minutes of the film show her having an obvious carefree attitude towards sex and nudity. Virginal my arse. But it’s best not to do any thinking at all in this film and simply enjoy the camp and exploitation of it all. The former is delivered by the bucket-load in not only Annen’s hilariously pretentious musings on her own sexual awakening. And then there’s the performance by TV personality John Michael Howson whose apparent heterosexuality is as dubious here as it is in real life. Cast as an apparently lascivious clothing store owner, Howson’s ridiculous performance is mincy high camp, wholly inappropriate, highly confusing, and extremely entertaining. But there’s the possibility that it’s tongue-in-cheek, as the character’s sexuality is even questioned by Felicity. And don’t get me started on the moustachioed bloke who takes Felicity’s virginity away in a car. He thinks he’s god’s gift to women, and may well be if you’re idea of a hunk is somewhere in between Sam Elliott and Aussie cricket legend Dennis Lillee.

 

The film’s merits as a film frankly aren’t all that relevant, but although a bit better than I was expecting, even the sex here isn’t terribly memorable. It is, however, an important chapter in Aussie cinema, and there’s plenty of nudity to keep you awake, and a few laughs too (intentional or not). 

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review: Wanderlust


Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are a moderately successful couple who purchase what realtor Linda Lavin calls a ‘micro loft’ (a tiny studio apartment, really), and everything seems to be going swimmingly. Unfortunately, soon after, Murphy’s Law comes around to bite them in the arse, Rudd becomes unemployed and the documentary Aniston is pitching to HBO is passed on. So they move in with Rudd’s douchebag philandering brother (Ken Marino) and family in Atlanta. Rudd’s even offered a job by Marino, but this seems mostly so he can brag and berate his brother. Obviously this situation isn’t going to work, but one day they stumble upon a hippie commune called Elysium. Despite the creepy nude dudes like Joe Lo Truglio, they even stay the night. And through a series of situations that can only happen in the movies, they end up staying longer, even contemplating living there for good. But can their marriage withstand a ‘free love’ lifestyle? When Rudd eyes hottie Malin Akerman, it seems easy...but maybe he’s not so sure. Alan Alda plays the befuddled founder of the commune who still hangs around, whilst Justin Theroux (badly) plays the horny, Christ-like spiritual leader who clearly has designs on Aniston. Lauren Ambrose, Jordan Peele, and Kathryn Hahn are amongst the hippie freaks.

 

After an excellent performance from a both touching and funny Linda Lavin gets us off to a good start, the laughs entirely dry up in this seriously lame 2012 film from director David Wain and writers Wain and Ken Marino (who also has a supporting role here). OK, that’s not entirely accurate. Aniston has a funny scene between her, a bitchy and pregnant HBO exec, and her cowardly, sycophantic associate. But after that, I only laughed twice; once for this line from one of the hippie idiots (Kerri Kenney-Silver); ‘Some people call it verbal diarrhoea, I just call it word shit’. The other laugh comes from Rudd’s brilliant reaction shot to Malin Akerman making a particular statement I dare not reveal here. Ray Liotta’s walk-on made me smile too, but only a smile.

 

Although I enjoyed “Role Models”, I didn’t much care for Wain’s “Wet Hot American Summer”, and this film is even worse, and it’s not just because the trailers promised a ménage-a-trois joke absent from the final film (Aniston was also rumoured to be naked, so presumably there actually was a scene at some point), though I’m sure that’ll piss a lot of people off. Wain simply isn’t interested in exploring the free love lifestyle, I’m afraid. No, this film is just plain desperate, even if it did include the ménage-a-trois, it wouldn’t be much better. I mean, it even resorts to the old ‘greedy people wanting to turn the property into a casino’ deal. Wasn’t that the plot of “Ernest Goes to Camp”? It starts out OK, but once Rudd and Aniston decide inanely to shack up in a hippie commune, it becomes painfully desperate and idiotic.

 

I guess my basic problem is that I think people who are all one with the earth and who hate modernity are tool buckets. Fuck finding yourself, if you invested in a mirror, you’d see yourself. These aren’t characters, they’re clichés and caricatures, unfunny and uninteresting ones. It’s almost like two characters in the Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn mould have been dropped into a movie-length version of a third-rate TV comedy show, with awful comedians...and Alan Alda (Several of the people in front and behind the camera here are indeed TV comedy people). And it’s not just the hippies, as Ken Marino plays a ridiculously obnoxious character who could never exist in reality, nor is he remotely funny. I didn’t believe anyone or anything in this film (Lauren Ambrose’s labour scene in particular is completely degrading, unfunny, and stupid), once the film departs from that initial moment of truth to head off to the peace and love and communal shower brigade. Never for a second did I believe the central characters would make the initial decision to stay here, but things hit absolute rock bottom when Rudd and Aniston have a chance to leave, and yet still choose to stay. This despite a) Rudd getting a potential job offer, and 2) They are clearly NOT hippie free love idiots. They only stay because the plot requires it. Even for a comedy, this simply won’t do, and not just because it fails to provide the laughs. One of the reasons it fails to provide the laughs is because of the ridiculousness and contrivance of it all. And this decision to stay leads to two things that absolutely torpedo the film. Firstly, Rudd has a genuinely embarrassing scene (apparently improvised by the actor) preparing himself to experience free love with Akerman, and it only gets worse when he meets up with her and has the exact same spastic reaction. Secondly, Jennifer Aniston’s character turns into a horrible liar by suggesting that Rudd is the one who convinced her to stay and get involved in the free love. Um, no, you lying cow, he wanted to go to his job interview. You suggested they stay, even though he warned you what that meant. Rudd doesn’t even pull her up on this, by the way, meaning that his character is ultimately no more sympathetic than her. Actually that isn’t true, because (**** SPOILER WARNING ****) he ultimately doesn’t go through with the infidelity, she does. So he’s definitely got that over her, even though he doesn’t have the balls to kick her to the curb for good. **** END SPOILER **** He’s a wimpy but basically decent human being in a film full of freaks and jerks.

 

Why Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin”) put his name to this as producer is beyond me, it’s far from worthy. It’s like a lame TV sketch (note the participation of Jordan Peele of “Key and Peele”. I think Key was here too, come to think of it) stretched beyond its limits and then some.

 

Jennifer Aniston once again plays a character in exactly the same manner as every one of her other performances. No matter what the character is, it always ends up as Rachel from “Friends” (a show where she was by far the least amusing of the ensemble), even when they’re nothing alike. Aniston simply can’t act. Rudd is better (aside from that awful improvised scene), but “Funny Farm” it ain’t.

 

This is a terrible film full of contrived and unbelievable situations, moronic plotting, idiotic caricatures, an unlikeable character and performance from Aniston, and precious few laughs. And what the HELL is Alan Alda doing here? Embarrassing himself for the most part. I love me some Spin Doctors, though. I genuinely thought those guys were going somewhere, man.

 

Rating: D+