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, August 15, 2014

Review: The Lone Ranger

Dandified DA John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a man of the law who turns into the masked vigilante of the title when his brother (James Badge Dale) and fellow Texas Rangers are murdered by a gang of outlaws headed by the scarred William Fichtner. But Fichtner is a mere cog in a criminal wheel in a much bigger conspiracy involving railroad tycoon Tom Wilkinson. Johnny Depp plays possibly screw-loose Indian loner Tonto, who nurses a wounded Reid back to health after the ambush of the Rangers. Ruth Wilson plays Reid’s sister-in-law, whilst Barry Pepper plays an army captain with a more questionable spine than a paraplegic (Of which I am one, so please spare me the angry emails), and Helena Bonham Carter turns up as a madam.


This 2013 film from Gore Verbinski (The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and “Rango”) is exactly what I thought it would be from the trailers. It’s a bloated showcase for Johnny Depp to run amok in a film more interested in the sidekick than the hero, which ends up playing far too much like “Wild Wild West” for comfort (with a little “Once Upon a Time in the West” thrown in for good measure). I’m no aficionado of the character of The Lone Ranger, but this film simply won’t suffice. It should’ve been called “Tonto”. Director Verbinski and star Depp fared much better in the western genre with their terrific animated film “Rango”.


Armie Hammer is disappointing in the title role, but given the character feels repositioned as a sidekick to the more proactive Tonto, I feel a bit sorry for him (Producer-star Johnny Depp gets top billing in a film called THE LONE RANGER!). Did they have no faith in the title character? Then write it better. They’ve kind of worked this as an origin story, but even then, having the character essentially start out as the dandiest of the dandy, seems plain wrong. I’ve heard that it’s pretty faithful to the established origins of the character, but I bet he wasn’t this much of a tenderfoot early on. It feels overdone. As Tonto, Depp adds nothing (except running time that would’ve been better spent on Helena Bonham Carter and Stephen Root, who get scant screen time) and subtracts a lot. The framing device of the old-age Tonto narrating the story is awful, because the way he tells it, you can’t be sure if he’s serious or not. He plays Tonto without any respect for the character whatsoever. It’s Cap’n Jack with a different accent and a bit more deadpan. There is no reason for Tonto to be played in this self-consciously, self-indulgently quirky manner.


But this mirrors everything else about the film, as Verbinski delivers even the best things about the film with the heaviest of hands. Tom Wilkinson steals the show effortlessly, but there is absolutely no subtlety to his character from moment one. ‘Railroad baron’ is western shorthand for most evil motherfucker in town, and it’s a hoary old plot device. Wilkinson’s bloody good in it, though, and William Fichtner is also good fun in a slinky, slimy bad guy turn that is equal parts Christopher Walken and Billy Drago. But Verbinski even manages to deliver the action in heavy-handed fashion. We’re meant to feel bad about senseless slaughter. This is NOT a fun movie at all. It’s actually quite miserable and a complete miscalculation. Speaking of miserable, leading lady Ruth Wilson is absolutely awful. Thank God she’s not in the film enough to do too much damage.


Getting back to the action, the only bright spot is the finale, which is exactly what the action in the rest of the film should’ve been like: Exciting and fun. And even then, I have issues with the way Verbinski and composer Hans Zimmer (“Backdraft”, “Gladiator”, “Inception”) incorporate the infamous ‘William Tell Overture’. It suits the rhythm and excitement of the climax, but it should’ve been used throughout the film not as functionary excitement music (not to mention a throwaway gag at the beginning), but tied closely to the main character. Otherwise, this is a very fine score from Zimmer, evoking the great Ennio Morricone (“Once Upon a Time in the West”) at times. And why not?


Director Verbinski clearly loves the western genre and has made a terrific one. It’s just not this. It was “Rango”. Here he favours dark and supernatural themes that aren’t necessary, and gives star Depp far too much leeway. This should’ve been an easy story to tell, but Verbinski has cocked it up, with an assist from writers Justin Haythe (the surprisingly terrible “Revolutionary Road”), Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio (scribes of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films).


It’s not an awful film (and I loved seeing a choo-choo chugging away in the background of the preceding Disney logo), just awfully boring, bloated and focussed too much on the least interesting characters. Damn good scenery, though. Go watch “Rango” again instead, this isn’t fun at all.


Rating: C

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Set in the fictional French Riviera town of Beaumont-sur-Mer (Though actually filmed in Nice), Michael Caine plays debonair con man Lawrence Jamieson, whose con game is so sophisticated and lucrative that it has even afforded him his own butler (Ian McDiarmid, Emperor Palpatine to you and I). His con usually involves impersonating a rich prince attempting to raise funds for resistance fighters back home. But he always refuses women’s’ charity at least at first, before thanking them kindly and ‘reluctantly’ accepting. It’s a good gig, but Lawrence’s world is about to be turned upside down by a crass interloper, gauche American Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), a decidedly smaller-scale confidence man who robs gullible women blind by offering a sob story about his sick and dearly beloved grandmother. Not only is Jamieson feeling threatened by someone moving in on his territory, he’s offended by the third-rate con artist’s shameless, classless (i.e. American!) methods. But after attempting to rid himself of this little problem (by getting his French police inspector cohort Anton Rodgers to throw him in jail and deported) to no success, the two men decide to play a little game; The object of the game is to be the first one to clean out a rich and naive soap heiress named Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly). The winner gets the fortune, the loser gets the hell out of Beaumont-sur-Mer forever! Needless to say, there’s lots more twists and turns along the way. Barbara Harris plays one of their dopey victims, a rich Omaha native named Fanny Eubanks.


There exists a snobbery in the critical community towards the American comedies of the 1980s, many of which starred the same sorts of people (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, John Candy, etc.) I just don’t get the derision at all, but then one of my favourite comedies is “Revenge of the Nerds”, and a lot of people won’t get that, either. This misguidedly derisive attitude must stop, and not just because many of these films are among my all-time favourite comedies. Well, OK, so it’s primarily for that reason, but hey, I’m right, so there! This is a list that includes such largely unheralded classics as “Ghostbusters”, “The Blues Brothers”, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, “Spies Like Us”, “Beverly Hills Cop” and many, many others. This Frank Oz (“What About Bob?”, “Bowfinger”, “The Score”, “Death at a Funeral”) remake of the Marlon Brando film “Bedtime Story” is definitely on the list and represents the high point of Oz’s career (Yes, I’m including voicing Miss Piggy in that equation).


I know a lot of people love the original “Bedtime Story”, but if you’re of the belief that casting isn’t 90% of the work in making a successful motion picture, you really need to see this film. Caine (whose thin moustache is probably a tribute to “Bedtime Story” star David Niven) and Martin are pitch-perfect as two very different kinds of con men, but most importantly, they are such charismatic and likeable stars that the audience has an interest in them that might otherwise not be there with other actors in the roles. Sure, Caine has played his fair share of unlikeable and sleazy villains, and Martin’s innate likeability might just tip the scales of audience sympathy to his favour (even though Caine’s character is the only one to show any remorse for their behaviour!), but these actors really do seem to make it alright for audiences to spend 90 minutes with them, and maybe even root for them. And that absolutely should not be the case, given that they are, at the end of the day, shameless crooks. Meanwhile, the biggest Dirty Rotten Scoundrel of them all, is actually Ian McDiarmid. Thank you to the two of you who get that fanboy gag.


Caine shows a genuine gift for comedy here, especially his perfect facial expressions and reactions. The guy is clearly having a whale of a time being silly in such gorgeous surroundings. Martin, for his part, shows himself to be a masterful physical comedian, whether it’s his hilarious body language in his attempt to look and act sophisticated, or in his genius comedic turn as Ruprecht. Who is Ruprecht, you ask? Well, most of you didn’t ask because you’ve seen the film and know Ruprecht is simply one of the funniest characters in cinematic history. But for those unaware, Ruprecht comes about when Caine and Martin are teaming up in scamming women, and Martin gets saddled with the role of Caine’s intellectually-challenged, Simian-like brother Ruprecht. Watching Martin banging spastically on pots and pans, or sitting at the dinner table with an eye patch, a trident, a cork on his fork, and a constipated look on his face, is one of the funniest scenes in the movies. Growing up, I’d quote from the scene constantly, especially Ruprecht’s request to relieve himself, an indescribably hilarious scene. Almost as funny is the scene where Martin is doing his ‘wounded soldier whose lover left him for a TV dance show host’ routine to woo the gullible Headly. Caine, impersonating a clipped German-accented psychiatrist, believes Martin’s case is psychosomatic. His methods of extracting this out of Martin (i.e. Getting him to expose his pantomime) is one of the most sadistically funny things you’re ever likely to see. The facial expressions of both men in the scene (Martin in comedic pain, Caine- whether in character or not- taking great delight in it all) are priceless. Actually, it’s almost worth seeing the film just to watch Caine’s bemused reactions to Martin’s phony paraplegic act. I especially love Martin’s attempt at gaining sympathy from a couple of sailors (wheelchair and all) whilst watching Caine dancing with Headly at a disco. I don’t know if it’s the hilariously profane dialogue (‘What a piece ‘o sh*t!’) or the cockney accents of the sailors (‘Get up and dance ‘e says, I’d like to smack ‘im one!’), but it’s just a very funny scene that I would rewind over and over again as a youngster.


I just don’t get the mild reaction of mainstream critics to this film. What were they on at the time? I mean, this is surprisingly classy stuff for an American comedy of the 80s, and not just because of the French Riviera locales and the top-notch music score by Miles Goodman (“La Bamba”, “The Muppet Christmas Carol”), which at one point even incorporates ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’. That’s all great, but the whole film is just so clever, especially the way in which Caine manages to remove Headly from Martin’s clutches and right into his own. Even if the critics weren’t huge fans of some of the sillier (but in my view, still great) comedies of the 80s like “The Blues Brothers” or “Spies Like Us”, this film is, forgive me, in a class of its own. What I mean by that is, that it seems like the sort of comedy critics would love even if it is a remake.


By the way, it must be said that this isn’t just a boys club here, as Ms. Headly (in her career highlight, perhaps sadly) acquits herself very well indeed. There’s a little naive Marilyn Monroe quality to her work here, and presumably wholly intentional (Indeed, if you remember MM in “How to Marry a Millionaire” it will likely remind you of that). She’s extremely convincing as the innocent sheep being courted by a couple of wolves (née, jackals!) It must be said, though, that it’s a little strange that the female romantic lead only enters the film after 44 minutes. What’s up with that? Meanwhile, Caine caps the film off with one of the worst (and funniest) Aussie accents ever. It’s a funny conclusion, but I actually think they should have ended the film with the previous scene (set at an airport) which is even better.


The screenplay is by Dale Launer (“Blind Date”, “My Cousin Vinny”, and more importantly “Ruthless People”), and based on the original screenplay by Stanley Shapiro (“That Touch of Mink”, “Pillow Talk”) and Paul Henning (creator of “The Beverly Hillbillies”). I suppose its origins are part of the reason why it’s so much classier, wittier, and more intelligent than many others from the 80s, but I doubt the original is as laugh-out-loud funny as this film often is.


Rating: A

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: Emmanuelle 4

Sylvia Kristel stars as Sylvia, a woman sick of her relationship with Marc (a young Patrick Bauchau, yes, that Patrick Bauchau), but knowing how likely it is that she’ll end up falling under his spell again, she undertakes some very extreme measures. Flying from Hollywood to Brazil, she undergoes a complete plastic surgery procedure, which somehow winds back her biological clock ten years, but also somehow makes her a virgin again (!). Going from brunette to blonde and now calling herself Emmanuelle (played by Mia Nygren) she is encouraged by sexy psychiatrist Donna (Deborah Power) to explore her new self, if ‘ya know what I mean.


This 1984 sequel from dual writer-directors Francis Leroi and Iris Letans is a long way from the heights of “Emmanuelle II”, but is a massive improvement over the dismal “Goodbye, Emmanuelle”. Oh it’s one helluva stupid film, don’t get me wrong, but at least it’s under no illusions as to what genre of filmmaking it belongs to.


This time out, either a dissatisfied Ms. Sylvia Kristel or producers looking to cash Kristel in for a younger model, sees the title character undergoing radical and extensive plastic surgery to emerge as an entirely different actress, Mia Nygren. The change is for the better in my opinion, as I was just never that much of a fan of Kristel. Nygren is much more beautiful, if a tad thin, and has a truly spankable arse. Emmanuelle spends a lot of the film masturbating it seems, and frankly, I don’t blame her. Meanwhile, the film doesn’t want to let go of Kristel entirely, and has her appear throughout in…um…dream sequences, maybe? Non-sequitur? Buggered if I know, her scenes here just confuse things.


As for the sex? It’s actually pretty good. It’s the most explicit of the four films, absolutely, and the highlight is definitely the climactic scene between Emmanuelle and her female shrink, played by a sultry Deborah Power. It’s not the most explicit scene in the film, don’t get me wrong, but you want to see these two get together from the very beginning, and that investment in their relationship makes it resonate. Another earlier lesbian scene between two minor characters is poorly established, has one participant fully-clothed, and only seen from behind, and yet still manages to be surprisingly explicit for the early 80s. There’s a couple of scenes that seem to stop short, and that appears to be because they featured hardcore material cut out of every version of the film except in some corners of Europe. I don’t think the film loses too much without the material, except that the material has been unartfully cut out so as to be very noticeable. The film also has more shots of vaginas than any of the previous films by far. So there’s that.


So why does the film get the same grade as the first film, you ask? Because it’s frigging idiotic (and a feminist’s nightmare), that’s why. The film starts in Hollywood, but everyone speaks French…like the natives do, of course. And then there’s the matter of the plastic surgery. Sylvia/Emmanuelle is told ‘it’ll change your whole life’. Really? That’s a bit ridiculous. And of course the plastic surgery covers her entire body…and her voice box, apparently. All done in one go. It’s the most overblown and ridiculous way to write an actress out of a film series I’ve ever seen, and the surgery scene itself is hilarious. And that’s before we get to the idea that Emmanuelle/Sylvia’s mind has apparently been made ten years younger, and since she has a new body, it also means she’s a virgin. Uh-huh. It’s pretty foul on a women’s lib level, but let’s face it, it’s a softcore film made by a man (and a woman, admittedly) for the consumption of horny men. Feminist concerns are counter to this film’s sole purpose. Still, it’s pretty outrageous that the only message one can really ascertain from this film is ‘Chicks, man…’


So yes, this is indeed a decent recovery from the awful “Goodbye, Emmanuelle” but with ghastly sexual/gender politics, and quite possibly one of the dumbest plots in cinematic history, this can hardly be considered a good film. It sure isn’t boring, though. 


Rating: C+

Review: Goodbye, Emmanuelle

Set in the Seychelles, Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel, stunning but back to short hair, unfortunately) seems bored with the carefree sex her open marriage to husband Jean (Umberto Orsini) affords her. In fact, she spends most of the damn film pursuing a seemingly disinterested documentary filmmaker (Jean-Pierre Bouvier). Could it finally be over between Emmanuelle and Jean? Not if the increasingly jealous Jean has anything to say about it.


After hitting the heights of the softcore genre with the previous film, the “Emmanuelle” series completely bottoms out with this dreadfully dull, ill-conceived serious entry from director François Leterrier (mostly coming from a TV background) and co-writer Monique Lange. There is absolutely no fun to be had in this dreary affair which not only tones down the sex considerably (every scene had potential but looks heavily cut- which turns out not to be the case. This is the film as it was designed to be), but also ruins Emmanuelle as a character. It turns the title character into a cold, distant shell of her former self who eventually tires of the hedonistic lifestyle she and her husband have been partaking in for years. Who the hell thought this was the appropriate direction for a softcore film series? Let’s just remember it was co-written by a woman, OK?

Even moreso than before, the husband’s jealousy makes zero sense. He was much less jealous in the second film, really and a total dickface in this one. But it’s really Emmanuelle’s constant foul mood that sinks this one. She’s a total buzzkill and the film wouldn’t be any good no matter how much sex was in it this time because of that fact. The lovely Seychelles scenery as captured by cinematographer Jean Badal is the only bright spot.


I just didn’t get this film at all. Who wants to see a softcore porn film about a jealous husband and a now-frigid wife? Add to that some appallingly tame and unsexy sex scenes and you have a major miscalculation. The title song by Serge Gainsbourg is absolutely awful French pop crap, too.


Not much sex, too much walking around and looking at scenery, and focusing on two pretentious, self-absorbed dicks, one of whom is in a seriously foul mood. Skip this one and move onto “Emmanuelle 4”, or better yet, just watch “Emmanuelle II” again. 


Rating: D+

Review: Emmanuelle II

After a dalliance with another passenger on an all-girl cruise to Hong Kong, Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) is reunited with her husband once again (This time the husband is played by the very different-looking Umberto Orsini). Although the reunited lovers are quick to give into their animal lust for one another, the film involves Emmanuelle embarking on a variety of other sexual adventures, some with her husband in tow (including a sensual group massage in a bath-house), some not (such as a rendezvous with a tattooed polo player seemingly just for the hell of it). She also befriends young dancer Anna Maria, whom Emmanuelle discovers is a virgin. Emmanuelle thinks it’s her duty to change that. First she boinks Anna Maria’s dance teacher, of course.


I wasn’t much impressed with the 1974 original, it hasn’t aged well and is incredibly tame. However, this 1975 sequel from director/co-writer Francis Giacobetti is a massive improvement on just about every level. So long as you know what kind of film this is, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with this one.


Things don’t start off so great, though. Sure, Sylvia Kristel has thankfully grown her hair out, but it looks like someone played a prank on cinematographer Robert Fraisse (“Emmanuelle”) and left the lens cap on for the opening scene. And early on it feels like the only difference between the two films is going to be the mode of transport Emmanuelle takes to meet her husband. Meanwhile, watching a bunch of Filipino women basically rape another woman doesn’t really rock my boat. The subsequent lesbian scene with Kristel and the aforementioned woman is shot too close-up and has no nudity, which is a shame. But after the early darkness, Fraisse’s work exponentially improves, it’s a much better-looking film than the previous film. The scenery is certainly a major improvement, looking rather cut-rate in the original.


I also warmed to the title character much more in this film as she is far less of a prude, and much more experienced in sexual pleasure now. Best of all, whether the film is any more explicit than the first film or not, it’s certainly done in less arty fashion, and all the more erotic for it. The first film’s idea of eroticism was a bit disturbing to me, and aside from that early scene, this one is much sexier, even managing to make acupuncture seem sexy. I’d never considered that before to be honest, and for a 1975 softcore film, this is pretty damn sexy. It’s perhaps a little too obsessed with masturbation (insert joke here, followed by a joke about inserting something) this time around, but at least the film is doing its job. All of the sex scenes are pretty steamy, but there are two standout sexual set pieces. The first features Kristel, a masseuse played by the one and only Laura Gemser (star of her own cheaper and more explicit series of films with a similar name), and two other chicks having one helluva sensual massage, along with Emmanuelle’s husband and another masseuse. Despite not really being a sex scene per se, is one of the most genuinely erotic scenes in cinematic history. The scene, the most well-known in the entire franchise, is stunning, if a little silly when you think about it. But why would you think about it, stupid? But the film really hits its erotic heights during the climactic three-way between Emmanuelle, her husband, and dancer Anna Maria, who despite looking to be in her mid to late 20s, is really the equivalent of the teenaged Marie-Ange character from the first film, this time paying it off, however. It’s pretty damn explicit all things considered, and even hotter than the massage scene. The most explicit moment in the film actually comes from a hilariously naughty animation Emmanuelle views at one point.


If there’s a problem with the film, it’s that it’s essentially the same damn plot as the previous film, just with a more experienced title character. People don’t watch these films for plot, sure, but it still needs to have one, and this one’s kinda plagiaristic. But this is a film that basically suggests the height of intelligence is to not care that your husband fucks around. So let’s not do much thinking or over-analysing here, OK?


Overall it matters not whether this is a great piece of storytelling, what matters is that it is an absolutely outstanding example of its chosen genre. It’s one of the greatest softcore erotica films of all-time (Small praise perhaps). If you see any “Emmanuelle” film from the first four in the series, this is the one to see. Co-written by Bob Elia, the film is based on a novel by Emmanuelle Arsan.


Rating: B-