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, July 4, 2014

Review: A Touch of Class


Married American George Segal wants nothing more than to have an affair with cynical Brit fashion designer Glenda Jackson, but things keep getting thrown in their way…including the fact that their feelings for one another deepen beyond those convenient for a casual arrangement. By the way, Jackson is divorced, and they both have kids, just so you know. Paul Sorvino plays Segal’s annoying work colleague who keeps turning up at the wrong time (and advises Segal to rethink things), whilst Hildegard Neil plays Segal’s wife.

 

It somehow earned Glenda Jackson an Oscar, but this 1973 so-called romantic comedy from director/co-writer Melvin Frank (writer of “White Christmas” and “Road to Hong Kong”) is the complete antithesis of what a romantic comedy should be. For starters, it’s about a guy trying to cheat on his wife. The woman he wants to cheat with? A cynical, glum-faced, cold-hearted bore of a woman, played thoroughly unappealingly by the overrated Glenda Jackson (who seems to be in great pain when attempting to move her facial muscles) who isn’t remotely believable as someone with any maternal qualities whatsoever. This is…yuck.

 

I make no judgements about infidelity in and of itself, that’s for others to say. But at no point and under no circumstances do I find infidelity to be romantic comedy material. I can’t stand films that try to get smart, witty or profound about infidelity or casual sex, and this film is in that category. It’s pretentious in the extreme. Romantic comedies should be light and fluffy (but hopefully with a little substance, of course), and making infidelity the main plot point surely means a messy, complicated situation, not to mention characters who aren’t very likeable. Should we really want these two characters to get together? If George Segal’s character were unhappily married, then yes I could see that being the case. Like I said, I’m not one to judge these things, especially in real life. But he claims to love his wife. So how can one support what he and Jackson are doing? And if they don’t end up together, where’s the fun in that, either? That’s why there aren’t many romantic movies centring around an adulterous relationship. Some might consider it all very modern and grown-up, and that’s fine…in any other genre. Just not this one, or at least not done like this. This isn’t “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. It sure does devolve into a poor version of that film after a while, however. Two people bickering is even worse than them trying to have an affair, to be honest.

 

The funny thing about this film is that George Segal plays the adulterer, and yet he’s the charming one. He can’t save the film, but he’s perfectly fine in the role. Not the case with Jackson, but her character is so bitter and hateful and the actress so cranky that you feel she’d be better off as the married one. At one point she claims to be fed up with their arrangement, but she’s such a miserable shrew of a woman one wonders when she was actually happy with it. And there’s absolutely no chemistry or romantic spark between the two. So even if no infidelity were involved, it still wouldn’t work. It’s the fatal blow.

 

The one element of the film that doesn’t suck is the lively performance by the underrated Paul Sorvino, who steals the show, for whatever it’s worth. It’s easier to see why this has been somewhat forgotten over the years than it is to understand how Glenda Jackson got an Oscar for it, let alone the film being nominated for Best Picture (!).

 

A miserable ending caps off a completely miserable, unromantic film. Frank wrote the desperately unfunny, Oscar-nominated screenplay with Jack Rose (“Road to Rio”, “The Great Muppet Caper”).

 

Rating: D

Review: Hercules (1997)


The story of Hercules (voiced by Tate Donovan), the son of Hera (voiced by Samantha Eggar) and the almighty Zeus (voiced by Rip Torn), who in a slightly botched Machiavellian plan by the jealous god Hades (voiced by James Woods), is turned into a mortal, descends to the world of men, but maintains his godly strength. Although adopted by a mortal couple (one of whom is voiced by Hal Holbrook), Hercules finds himself ostracised by both the world of men and the gods. Zeus hooks him up with Philoctetes (voiced by Danny DeVito), a trainer of gods of-sorts, to help redeem Hercules so that he can defeat Hades and re-join the world of gods. Susan Egan voices Megara, whom Hercules falls for, but who has ties to Hades.

 

Beginning in 1989 with “The Little Mermaid”, Disney hit a bit of a purple patch with their animated films, but kinda hit a wall with this slightly better than mediocre 1997 effort from directors Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid”, “Aladdin”, “Treasure Planet”). The story of Hercules perhaps wasn’t a good fit with the Disney mould, and so many changes and liberties abound here in what has turned into a story of a zero who becomes a hero. That’s quite disconcerting and underwhelming as we watch a hunky but skinny young (and mortal) Hercules only become the strong hero after training. I get the story they are trying to tell here, but this is still supposed to be Hercules, not that scrawny kid at school who started to hang out at the gym and take ‘roids. The weird thing is that although Hercules is turned mortal via villainous machinations that are botched enough for him to retain his strength…it doesn’t play that way. He needs to train to harness his inherent strength, but because Hercules looks so skinny (certainly skinnier than he was at “Wrestlemania III”. What?), it looks like he’s training to bulk up. After fifty odd minutes he’s basically the Hercules we all know and love, and yet even then he’s voiced by the not terribly macho Tate Donovan. Perhaps indestructible godly heroes just don’t gel with the Disney mindset, so they tried to humble the character somewhat, but it’s frankly a bit too clichéd, neutered, and underwhelming (And believe me, this is just one detour from the known mythology, other reviews will point out the rest, no doubt) to be of much interest.

 

My other two big problems with the film are in regards to the music and animation. Hearing Hercules belt out a boring tune is disconcerting enough, but someone though the story needed to get all hippity hop, and so we get a group of R&B ‘muses’ to act as somewhat of a Greek chorus throughout the film. Call them Destiny’s Muses or The Ancient Weather Girls, they are so awful and unnecessary, you keep expecting them to belt out a rendition of ‘It’s Raining Gods’ or something. Why did this need to be a musical? Is this the price we pay for Elton John and “The Lion King”? At least some of those songs were memorable, these tunes (most of which are performed in the half-hearted Rex Harrison mould) are utterly forgettable. The story, if told a little more faithfully could’ve worked well enough on its own that such musical interludes would be unnecessary. These songs are so bad that even fans of musicals must surely cringe.

 

The animation, meanwhile just plain sucks. It’s so angular, ugly and nondescript that it could pass for any Nickelodeon TV animation of the last 15 years or so. In fact, Hades’ two minions look like characters from “Ren & Stimpy”, which is fine if you actually liked that crap, I guess. Apparently the design of the characters comes from artist Gerald Scarfe, and when I think of Disney, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” totally comes to mind…as the exact opposite of how a Disney animated film should look. This is Disney and I expect the highest of standards from them. This simply will not do, it’s woefully inferior to any Disney animation prior (except the somewhat similar “Pocahontas” and “Mulan”, both rather dull Disney efforts), which shouldn’t be the case. But it’s not a matter of technological ineptitude, merely a failed artistic choice. The baby Pegasus is adorable, however. It’s like a flying “My Little Pony”.

 

Thankfully, the film does manage to get a few things right. For instance, as bland as Susan Egan is voicing Megara, the character itself is relatively complex for a Disney female love interest. Sure, she gets more conventional as the film progresses, but she’s still pretty layered and interesting for a Disney animated character. Most of the voice work is pretty good too, whether it be the perfect narration by Charlton Heston, the inimitable Danny DeVito, or the well-chosen Hal Holbrook and Rip Torn as Hercules’ mortal and godly father, respectively. In fact, grizzled Torn is such fun as the lightning bolt-throwing Zeus you wish he were in the film more. He’d certainly make for a more dominating, forceful screen presence than this take on Hercules.

 

By far the best thing in the film, however, is the insult comic stylings of one James Woods as the villainous Hades, who gets all the best moments and lines like; ‘For Pandora it was the box thing, and the Trojans? Well they bet on the wrong horse, didn’t they?’ You’re a wonderful audience, Shecky Woods suggests you try the lobster. The villain being the standout character in a film called “Hercules” is a real shame, but Mr. Woods deserves credit for making anything out of this film. There’s also a cute gag about the Venus de Milo at one point too, so perhaps the film fares best viewed as a comedy. It certainly fails as a retelling of Greek mythology, that’s for sure.

 

Barely adequate filmmaking, I’m afraid. I expect a bit more than that from The Magic Kingdom to say the least. Based on a Barry Johnson story, the script is by the directors along with Bob Shaw, Don McEnery, and Irene Mecchi (the latter of whom co-wrote “The Lion King”).

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review: Aladdin


An Arabian Nights tale with the title street thief (voiced by Scott Weinger) finding a genie in a bottle (voiced by Robin Williams) who aids him in pretending to be a prince so that he will seem more attractive to the beautiful Princess Jasmine (voiced by Linda Larkin), whom he had but a fleeting chance encounter with, and whom is given but a few days by her father the Sultan (voiced by Douglas Seale) to find someone to marry. In Aladdin’s way stands the nefarious Jafar (voiced by Jonathan Freeman), a treacherous palace advisor with designs on both Jasmine, and the magic lamp that contains the powerful genie.

 

One of the films that saw a resurgence from Disney in the late 80s-early 90s, this 1992 animated film is solid entertainment, bolstered unquestionably by the force of nature that is Robin Williams as the genie. Some say that Williams runs riot in the film to the very detriment of the story. To those people I say, lighten up, Francis. The story is still there and it’s much more entertaining than say “Hercules”, which messed around with the mythology to not much good. Yes it’s a show-stopping performance in a way, but anyone who doesn’t find Williams’ genie bundles of anarchic fun needs to look up fun in the dictionary, and then take a good look at themselves, because they’re clearly so sad they had to look up fun in the dictionary. “Hercules” felt like a story uncomfortably turned into a Disney product, whereas this is more kiddie fare to begin with and fits the Disney mould much better. It actually benefits from Williams’ comic stylings and anarchic energy, working well as both comedy (My favourite moment being Aladdin searching for a compliment for Jasmine, and the Genie offering: ‘Punctual!’) and romantic adventure. Genies are usually awful in movies, but that’s definitely not the case here. The weird thing about Williams (and the animation matches him) is that he’s so anarchic, that he seems like a “Looney Tunes” character more than a Disney character (Look out for a funny cameo by a classic Disney character from the 40s, by the way).

 

Next best to Williams is the inimitable Gilbert Gottfried as squawking parrot Iago. An annoying parrot is the role Gottfried was born to play. Jafar is a classic Tim Curry-esque villain as voiced by a very fine Jonathan Freeman. And if you can’t pick veteran Frank Welker’s voice from a mile away, you’ve probably not grown up on morning cartoons in the 80s. His work here is minor, but nice to hear as always, even if you find yourself wondering where Inspector Gadget is.

 

The animation here is pretty good, and certainly not as angular-looking as in “Hercules” nor having an old/new animation technology identity crisis like “Treasure Planet” (A film that also overdosed on anachronisms and wannabe hipness that “Aladdin” only dabbles in). It’s all very colourful, if perhaps a bit too reliant on blues and browns. It’s still one of the better-looking Disney animated films of the 90s. Although Aladdin and Jasmine are fairly stock-standard Disney lead characters (in every respect), I did like the design of the nefarious Jafar, clearly modelled on Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty”, with a touch of Vincent Price. And that cute monkey almost steals the show from the Genie. Almost.

 

There’s probably a few too many songs here by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (the Oscar-winning team behind “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid”), with Tim Rice (“The Lion King”) chipping in when Ashman died. Having said that, most of the songs are pretty good, including the opening ‘Arabian Nights’, and especially Williams’ ‘Friend Like Me’. No, Williams can’t sing, but it works anyway, and will get stuck in your head. ‘A Whole New World’ isn’t my favourite Disney number but it’s a whole lot better than that ‘Colours of the Wind’ shit from “Pocahontas”, even if I can’t understand why the characters sing the song instead of the original artist. The same thing pissed me off about “The Lion King”.

 

This is a solid Disney film, in fact it’s better than “The Lion King” in my opinion. However, the rushed finale holds this one back from being even better than it is. Still an enjoyable film for young and old. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid”, “Hercules”, “Treasure Planet”) co-wrote the screenplay with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (scribes of “Little Monsters” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films).

 

Rating: B-

Review: The Fox and the Hound


Adapted from a 1967 novel (and apparently only very loosely), this is the story of the ups and downs in the relationship of a fox named Tod (voiced as a youngster by Keith Coogan, credited as Keith Mitchell, and as an adult by Mickey Rooney) and a hound dog named Copper (voiced as a youngster by Corey Feldman, and an adult by Kurt Russell), two species of animal destined to be sworn enemies, unbeknownst to them. Copper’s sour (but not very bright) owner Amos Slade (voiced by Jack Albertson) intends to raise Copper as a hunting dog like grizzled, mean-spirited Chief (voiced by Pat Buttram), who is now getting a bit long in the tooth. Jeanette Nolan voices Widow Tweed, Tod’s adopted owner, and the polar opposite of Amos. Pearl Bailey voices the wise old owl Big Mama who looks out for Tod, especially as a youngster. John McIntire, Sandy Duncan, John Fiedler, and Paul Winchell (AKA Tigger) round out the cast of characters, voicing the cranky Badger, female fox Vixey, the aptly named Porcupine, and woodpecker Boomer, respectively (The latter of whom is more in keeping with modern Disney output and their cute comedic side characters).

 

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but this 1981 Disney animated film is awfully cute and an easy watch. Yes it’s got a lot of “Bambi” to it, but the array of different animal characters here are more interesting. The title characters are especially adorable as youngsters and the film leaves you all warm and fuzzy inside. The songs, few as they are, are terrible, with Pearl Bailey doing much better with her voice work as Big Mama than with her singing. The entire voice cast is excellent, though it’s a bit disconcerting to hear Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”) as a mean old hunter, and you’ve also got Kurt Russell here as Copper the same year he first essayed the role of Snake Plissken. Full credit to the inimitable Mickey Rooney for not making the adult Tod sound 40 years older than the adult Copper. It’s remarkable how young The Mick sounds here. The man was middle-aged in the 60s for cryin’ out loud. I’m not a Sandy Duncan fan, but she plays well off Rooney here in a brief part (which was apparently animated by an uncredited Tim Burton, not that you’ll believe me). It’s also great to hear veteran character actor John McIntire briefly, as the crotchety old badger.

 

It’s probably not as good as “Bambi”, especially since the central premise is a tad tough to accept as something to get misty-eyed about (foxes are pests, for starters, and it’s a fact of life that hounds track foxes), but it means well, and is perfectly sweet and cute. It’s a nice, if unmemorable film that although not classic Disney (and I consider underrated films like “Robin Hood” in that category along with “Pinocchio” etc.), has more elements of classic Disney than just about any Disney animated film to come after it.

 

The film comes from the directorial trio of Ted Berman (“The Black Cauldron”, “The Rescuers”), Richard Rich (“The Black Cauldron”, “The Swan Princess”), and Art Stevens (co-writer of “101 Dalmatians”). Based on a Daniel P. Mannix book (which sounds much, much darker), the script is by Larry Clemmons (“The Jungle Book”, “Robin Hood”, “The Rescuers”), Ted Berman,  David Michener (“The Great Mouse Detective”, “The Rescuers”), Peter Young (“The Great Mouse Detective”), Burny Mattinson (“The Great Mouse Detective”, “Beauty and the Beast”), Steve Hulett (“The Great Mouse Detective”), Earl Kress, and Vance Gerry (“The Jungle Book”).

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever


The title characters (played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, respectively) are formerly a married couple who continue to remain best friends after ending the romantic relationship. This is at the mild disdain and confusion of their engaged friends Eric Christian Olsen and Ari Graynor who find their behaviour and quirky banter bizarre and off-putting. But although the ambitious ‘trend spotter’ Celeste and infrequently employed artist Jesse are wildly different in many ways, they still manage to venture where few others have done so, and keep their friendship after the marriage has fizzled. That’s their story, at any rate, and they’re in the process of a divorce anyway. To anyone paying attention, the duo are still very much in love, which poses quite the problem when Jesse- sick of waiting around for Celeste to change her mind about the divorce he never really wanted- has moved on to the casual dating scene.
 
And that’s when things really go awry, as one of Jesse’s one-night stands changes his whole life forever. Celeste, upon hearing this news is shattered, seemingly now realising that she really wants to be with Jesse after all. But former slacker Jesse has different priorities now, so Celeste may just be a little too late. Meanwhile, nice guy Chris Messina has arrived on the scene, intent on winning Celeste for himself. Elijah Wood turns up as Celeste’s tragically un-hip, possibly gay co-worker.

 

Lee Toland Krieger (in his second and most high-profile film to date) may be the director, but alongside Will McCormack, Rashida Jones co-scripts, produces and stars in this 2012 attempt at a modern romantic comedy. I used to think of Ms. Jones as talented, likeable, and intelligent, but on evidence in this film…well it gives me pause. “Like Crazy” did this material so, so much better. That film had likeable characters occasionally behaving in selfish ways that at the end of the day you could understand and rationalise. Celeste and Jesse, by contrast are insufferably irritating and unlikeable twits, immature users incapable of committing to one person, and at one point **** SPOILER WARNING **** they were messing around with the life/future of an unborn child. That shit just ain’t right, and was far too messy for a romantic comedy not to collapse from underneath all that weight. **** END SPOILER **** At one point Celeste accuses Jesse of being childish, but she’s completely infantile too!

 

Truth be told, the characters lost me from moment one. The supposedly quirky banter between the lead characters is nowhere near as amusing as it was in “The Five Year Engagement”, a much better and more mature modern romance (And don’t even get me started on the ‘quirky’ soundtrack full of artists who can’t sing, like Biz Markie). They are annoying idiots, not cute or endearing. Their friends are right, they’re under the mistaken impression that they have separated. They clearly haven’t, and whilst they continue to deny this and act like infantile morons, they leave a trail of bodies behind that is larger than in some slasher films. I know that the lovers in denial thing is a staple of the genre, but it usually works a whole lot better than this. Honestly, the character of Celeste is its own massive problem. For starters, no one in the past, present, or future of human existence would write a book called Shitegeist, let alone be allowed to promote it on television. That’s a suspension of disbelief on steroids. And dumb. Then, so called ‘trend spotter’ and author Celeste claims that all reality TV sucks, which is simply an exaggeration, albeit fairly slight. But when the very same Celeste, who hates reality TV (and singing competitions) and has arrogant disdain for the really bad, Ke$ha-inspired pop tart (played typically ineptly by Emma Roberts, who just can’t act), claims to be a Justin Bieber fan…bullshit. Bieber has no talent or brains and I refuse to believe Celeste would hold such a positive opinion of him. There is no way that all of the parts of this woman make any sense together whatsoever. The character of Celeste’s work colleague played by Elijah Wood certainly makes no sense. He’s seemingly supposed to be gay but unsure how a gay best friend/co-worker is supposed to behave…it just doesn’t work, and makes you wonder if in a previous draft he was a straight person pretending to be the stereotypical gay best friend. It’s just confusing and inept screenwriting, certainly not funny.

 

Frankly, I think Jones is miscast as Celeste anyway. Ari Graynor seems a better fit for the selfish character, but she’d still be an unsympathetic, self-centred and arrogant cow. I felt particularly bad for the character played by Chris Messina, who was the only grown-up in this entire film. At one point I found myself questioning whether he and Celeste were even dating, and if so, whether she actually knew this. Mind you, Messina’s the one who introduces cannabis to the story, and I’m sick to death of marijuana being incorporated into supposedly romantic films. Call me a square, but I just don’t think it’s necessary, and the characters should’ve shown a bit more maturity than to be tokin’ it up. Speaking of immaturity, apparently Andy Samberg is talented and funny. People like him. I am aware of this. I just have absolutely no idea why, and although his character is made to grow up somewhat throughout the film, I remained unconvinced of this by the end. I also frankly just don’t get the whole casual dating thing, and would rather it not be part of a romantic comedy. You want to be able to latch on to a couple to hope to see them weather the storm of romcom clichés and get together by the end. That’s pretty hard to do when for the most part, there really is no couple here because one of the central two is dating chicks more often than they change their underwear.

 

I must also rake cinematographer David Lanzenberg over the coals. Severely. His handheld shaky-cam is appallingly wobbly for no good goddamn reason. It doesn’t add immediacy, intimacy, or realism. It adds an awareness to the camera and a separation between the viewer and the film. Invest in a tripod you pretentious wanker!

 

I’m all for a romantic/relationship movie that takes place somewhere close to reality, but this is the pits. And the shits. Take a look at the plot synopsis of this and ask yourself why anyone would want to turn this situation into a romantic movie. It’s unromantic, depressing, and the protagonists are awful people. Hell, I’m not even certain I believe the film’s ending is really the end for the characters. I don’t think they have learned a damn thing, especially the selfish Celeste.

 

What a horrible, unromantic film. Celeste and Jesse Forever? Sounds like absolute hell to me.

 

Rating: D

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Manhattan


Woody Allen plays a 40ish wannabe novelist dating a 17 year-old girl (Mariel Hemingway) when he finds himself clicking with the mistress (Diane Keaton) of his married best pal (Michael Murphy). Meanwhile, Woody is fretting over the upcoming release of a tell-all book written by his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) who left Woody for another woman. This is the very same ‘other woman’ whom Woody allegedly tried to run over with his car, I might add.

 

It seems like I’m a glutton for punishment, as I wouldn’t have been caught dead watching a bunch of Woody Allen films years ago, even though I’ve liked a couple of them such as “Annie Hall” and “Deconstructing Harry”. But over the last 12 months I seem to be going through them, especially his more recent ones (“Everyone Says I Love You”, “To Rome With Love”, “Cassandra’s Dream”, etc.) But this time I was heading back to 1979 with one of his earlier and more serious films (though there’s a very funny line about orgasms). And y’know what? Co-scripted by Marshall Brickman (“Sleeper”, “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan Murder Mystery”), it’s one of his better films in my view. Yes it’s overrated, rather simple, and yes some of the material looks awfully dubious in hindsight (even if, like me, you don’t believe the unseemly allegations against Allen over the years). But it’s a solid and enjoyable film.

 

Woody’s chemistry with Diane Keaton here is undeniable, and their relationship is really quite nice (There’s gotta be a helluva reason why they haven’t worked together in ages, right?), even somewhat recalling “Annie Hall”. Unlike the later “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, they aren’t insufferably and incessantly nannering away here, though Keaton’s flaky pseudo-intellectual character is one you’d hate to run into in real-life, I would think.

 

Shot in B&W by Gordon Willis (“The Godfather”, “Annie Hall”, “Zelig”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”), it’s lovely to look at, and features some of the nicest NY scenery ever captured in a Woody Allen film. He also captures some nice light and shadow throughout.

 

I must say I wasn’t all that fussed with the performance from Mariel Hemingway. She’s mousy and dull, and just doesn’t seem ready to be in a movie at that point in time. And it has nothing to do with her character, who is supposed to be young and innocent, but not a shrinking violet. It’s a one-note performance, though not a huge flaw, and the Academy disagreed, giving her an Oscar nomination. So there you go.

 

Even to someone sceptical of the tabloid gossip hurled at Woody like me, the relationship between her character and Woody’s (possibly based on his relationship with Stacey Nelkin who was 17) plays quite uncomfortably some 30 odd years later, and not just for that reason. It’d be dubious even without the real-life rumours, and playing a 17 year-old, Hemingway looks much younger and sounds even younger than that. Paedophile or not, Woody’s a weird guy who definitely likes ‘em young. I’m not sure the film comes up with the right ending. **** SPOILER WARNING **** The wrong girl is chosen if you ask me. However, in a refreshing lack of ego from Woody, he doesn’t win the girl in the end, anyway. So I’ll give him that, no matter what. **** END SPOILER ****

 

To be honest, there’s not all that much to the film in a sense, but this is an entertaining and pretty accessible Woody Allen film. Well, except for that one dubious element…

 

Rating: B-