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, June 28, 2014

Review: Cromwell


Brooding Richard Harris is the 17th century Englishman, an idealistic member of the House of Commons, who wishes to rescue his beloved England from its supposedly unfair system where King Charles (Sir Alec Guinness) reigns autocratically and his sycophants do all the talking, not the common man. He takes up the fight with his fellow Parliamentarians against the King and his Royalists, and not just on the battlefield as Cromwell defends the downtrodden who have had no voice. Timothy Dalton plays the King’s rather incompetent, foppish nephew Prince Rupert. Robert Morley is the duplicitous Earl of Manchester, a parliamentary rival of Cromwell’s. Charles Gray, Douglas Wilmer and Geoffrey Keen play Cromwell’s parliamentary allies.

 

1970 historical biopic from writer-director Ken Hughes (of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” fame) gets generally poor reviews from people probably more qualified to talk about its lack of historical accuracy (among other supposed flaws) than myself. All I can say is that I found it generally persuasive and not at all dull. Harris, whilst not ugly enough for the role in some people’s eyes, is a fine casting choice in my opinion, and I found him most believable and suitably passionate. Also excellent in a top-drawer cast are Guinness (who manages to make you understand the proud and stubborn ruler’s position, and conveys his overall decency), Nigel Stock (one of his meatier character parts), Gray, and the always wonderful Morley (as the film’s only real heavy). A young Timothy Dalton has a good small role, too.

 

It’s neither the best nor worst costume drama I’ve seen, but I particularly appreciated that it didn’t entirely demonise either of its two opposing main characters, and it’s actually pretty interesting stuff. Not the stuffy, bloated, and cold-hearted film I was expecting from what I had read. Perhaps being unfamiliar with the subject made me more open to this film version (Cromwell is still a hated figure in Ireland and Scotland for reasons I was unfamiliar with when watching the film, so if you’re Scottish or Irish, perhaps this film isn’t for you). I’m usually pretty knowledgeable on historical figures, but I had only vaguely heard of Cromwell before seeing the film.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Manhattan Murder Mystery


Woody Allen and Diane Keaton star as a married couple, and the latter comes to suspect that their neighbour (Jerry Adler) has murdered his wife. Woody wants her to keep out of it, they hardly knew the couple anyway, but Keaton can’t let things lie, even as the cause of death is ruled a heart attack. Their mutual friend (Alan Alda) humours Keaton, though, and pretty soon even Woody’s poker-playing work colleague Anjelica Huston is joining in on the sleuthing, too. Look for Zach Braff as Woody and Keaton’s son. He looked the same in 1993 that he would a decade later on TV’s “Scrubs” (Or now, for that matter).

 

Although popular with audiences and critics, I have to say I found this 1993 Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, “Hollywood Ending”) comic murder-mystery practically unbearable. Co-written by Marshall Brickman (“Sleeper”, “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”), it’s boring beyond belief and both Woody and Diane Keaton play the dullest couple in cinematic history. Why was any of this filmed? Why should I care about such whiny and neurotic people? This reunion of Woody and Keaton almost taints the memory of “Annie Hall”. Their conversations are tedious and never-ending, and Keaton’s obsession with a murder that may or may not have even happened played to me like a boring person trying to imagine some excitement for her otherwise uneventful life. It’s the same problem I had with “Date Night”, really as they stick their noses in other people’s business to compensate for their own deficiencies and inadequacies. The Keaton character is just pathetic, and even more annoying than Woody.

 

But the worst thing is the mystery itself. It takes forever for the audience to be given any indication whatsoever that a murder has even taken place. For the longest time, we’re still of the belief that a heart attack is the most likely cause of death, and don’t understand what the hell Keaton’s problem is. Finally, after an hour of endless conversations and nothing of substance, we at least get the impression that something weird and sinister is going on, but still not enough to say a murder has taken place.

 

Oh well, at least it’s set in Manhattan, so Woody got that part right, but even the scenery is dull here, which is a surprise from Woody. There’s also not one single laugh in the film, and an irritating beyond belief jazz soundtrack that just doesn’t fit. Just because you like jazz, Woody doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in every frigging film, fella.

 

It’s also moronically repetitive, too: Keaton snoops, informs Woody, he nebbishly panics and kvetches. Rinse and repeat. I did like the cute cinephile finale, though, with the mirrors and Orson Welles movie showing. Normally that kind of thing might seem pretentious- and it is- but being a cinephile myself, I dug it.

 

With two unbearable protagonists and an appalling murder mystery, it’s a bust. Good work by Alan Alda, Jerry Adler (who is nicely mysterious- unlike the film itself), and Anjelica Huston can’t save it. One of Woody’s worst, for sure. It’s not clever, it’s not funny, and it’s not interesting. Gimme a film about Alda and Huston, without a murder-mystery, and you’ve got something much more worthwhile.

 

Rating: D+

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Elysium


Set in the year 2154 where the populace is divided by wealth. The rich have relocated to the title space station where they enjoy technological innovations in health care and the like. The rest of human society, however are pretty much worker drones on an overpopulated, but decrepit Earth. Matt Damon plays a ne’er do well former car thief in need of a ride to Elysium after coming into contact with radiation that leaves him with about a week left to live. Meanwhile politician Jodie Foster enjoys the affluent life on Elysium and is attempting to introduce anti-immigration laws so that the status quo is kept. Damon has enlisted the aid of some of his former contacts from the bad old days, who agree to help him get to Elysium- for a price, of course. This involves a heist, and the CEO (William Fichtner) of the company Damon works for. Said CEO (who therefore works for Elysium) has a bunch of super-secret, super-important information stored in his head. He is also in league with Foster, who is attempting to usurp the president on Elysium. When she finds out that Damon has hijacked the shuttle the CEO was on, she resorts to re-hiring an unhinged, recently fired mercenary (Sharlto Copley, as a feral badass) to take care of Damon. Alice Braga plays a childhood acquaintance with a sick child, whose help Damon enlists.

 

I was the one guy on the planet who hated the previous film from writer/director  Neill Blomkamp, “District 9”. It was boring, facile, horribly shot, heavy-handed, and cheap-looking. Well this 2013 sci-fi flick is a huge improvement, only faltering with one poor performance, and the unnecessarily shaky hand-held cinematography by “District 9” offender Trent Opaloch. It’s more stable than in “District 9” but so are most wedding videos. But overall, yes this one’s at least interesting and entertaining, if hardly re-inventing the wheel (you’ll see all kinds of influences, and I’m not just referring to the J.J. Abrams school of lens flare eyesores).

 

The prologue makes you think this is going to be a rip-off of an earlier 2013 sci-fi flick, the rock-solid “Oblivion”, but Blomkamp takes things elsewhere, thankfully (at times it actually reminded me of a version of “Johnny Mnemonic” that didn’t suck, or perhaps “Metropolis”). Also thankfully, Matt Damon and his giant head are more interesting company than Tom Cruise was in “Oblivion”. Even better, and rather surprising to me, is “District 9” lead Sharlto Copley, who pretty much runs off with the whole film with a hoot and a half of a performance. As a grungy, “Mad Max II”-inspired hired killer, he like the director atones for his earlier sins. Alice Braga is pretty good too, continuing to prove that she’s a better version of what Maria Conchita Alonso was in the 80s.

 

Like “District 9”, this is a film with a message, but it’s done a lot more effectively. Some have suggested that it’s a film about US immigration policy, but I actually think the subtext is closer to universal health care (The film works better than a certain website, however).

 

Not everything about the film works, though. In addition to the poor cinematography, there’s one of Jodie Foster’s worst-ever performances to contend with. Foster’s career choices haven’t always worked out (“Nell”, “Flightplan”, “Anna and the King”), but she’s really disappointing in this, and looks both really, really old, and really, really unhappy. I’m not sure what accent she’s going for here, but I think it’s Seth Effriken, and boy does she never, ever hit it. Some have suggested British, some have suggested an indistinct accent befitting the non-regional vibe one might expect on a planet like Elysium. I think it’s just really, really bad and botched. But her entire performance is stiff, glum, and unenjoyable. What was she thinking? William Fichtner is well-cast in a sort of “Max Headroom” kinda performance, but he too seems to be trying and failing at some kind of accent, and it’s distracting. If they were indeed both going for South African accents, then did they not listen to their Seth Effriken cast mate Copley? That might’ve helped. Overall, though, this is a really interesting and entertaining sci-fi film that shows its influences, but never in a way that suggests a rip-off.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review: Behind the Candelabra


A biopic of the infamously flamboyant ivory tinkler, who remained a closeted homosexual (perhaps only to deaf and blind people), in order to be accepted by mainstream audiences. The film mostly focuses on his tumultuous relationship with former foster child Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), his much younger bisexual lover. Rob Lowe plays a cosmetically altered plastic surgeon acquaintance, who introduces Scott to the California diet, that turns him into a paranoid, drug-addicted mess. Scott Bakula plays Thorson’s best friend, an unrecognisable Debbie Reynolds (who was friends with the real Liberace) plays Liberace’s ailing Polish mother, Dan Aykroyd is Liberace’s long-serving manager, and Paul Reiser has a small role as Scott’s lawyer.

 

Said to be the last feature film from Steven Soderbergh (“sex, lies, and videotape”, “Traffic”, “The Good German”, “Contagion”), this 2013 biopic debuted on cable in the US, but had a theatrical release elsewhere. It’s probably one of Soderbergh’s more accessible and conventional films…well, for a film about Liberace at any rate.

 

Based largely on the book by Scott Thorson himself, I found it a pretty easy watch, even if 40 odd year-old Matt Damon was clearly miscast and seemingly ill at ease playing Scott, who was much younger during the period depicted in the film (from his teens and into his early 20s!) than Damon was at the time of filming. I don’t know whether to blame Damon’s performance, Soderbergh’s direction, or screenwriter  Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King”), but the character of Scott seems a bit confused to me. At times he doesn’t seem to be in love with Liberace at all, and so when we get to the final stages of their relationship, something was amiss for me.

 

The title character and lead performance from Michael Douglas fare considerably better. Douglas is frankly odd and a little creepy as the flamboyant ivory tinkler (This is Gordon Gekko in the role, after all and Liberace liked ‘em relatively young), but not only does he do a reasonable impersonation of the guy, it’s fascinating (and sometimes amusing) watching him play a guy who is probably the polar opposite of who Douglas is. The fact that he manages to pull it off might be more impressive than if they cast a mere impersonator in the role. The fact that there’s something inherently masculine and macho about Douglas strangely enough doesn’t torpedo the portrait. He’s a bit jarring perhaps, but compelling to watch. Douglas is a fine movie star, but here he is actually acting, not something he is always called upon to do. He certainly deserves credit for not descending into mere one-dimensional caricature. Liberace was so guarded that you’re never gonna get a 3D portrait of the man, but Douglas and the film get as close as presumably possible.

 

Soderbergh shows a sense of humour not only in casting 80s heartthrob Rob Lowe as a plastic surgery nightmare, but also in having this character be the one to suggest plastic surgery to Liberace. The guy looks hilariously warped.

 

Easily the glitziest, sparkliest thing you’ll see all year, as it well should be. It focuses less on Liberace’s piano playing (which was wonderful) and more on his flamboyant and salacious personal life, but one surely must expect that. It’s a pretty solid, entertaining film, if nothing substantial. Watch it for the glitz and Douglas’ entertaining performance.

 

Rating: B-