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 22, 2014

Review: The Beastmaster


Marc Singer is Dar, the title Beastmaster, who was fated to die as a child by the evil sorcerer Maax (Rip Torn), but saved from certain death and raised as the son of a simple farmer. Now a fully grown, buff warrior-type, who has a special ability to communicate with animals. When his adopted family and village are slaughtered, Dar and his animal companions (an eagle, a panther, and two thieving ferrets) head for the kingdom of Maax, who has recently usurped the king and instituted a ritual of child sacrifice. Because he’s evil as fuck. Along the way he even picks up human companions like warrior John Amos and slave girl Tanya Roberts, who is Dar’s guide into Maax’s temple.

 

Revisiting beloved childhood favourites can be a daunting undertaking, especially when the film was never viewed especially favourably by critics. However, I’m happy to say that this 1982 sword-and-sorcery tale from co-writer/director Don Coscarelli (“Phantasm”, “Bubba Ho-Tep”) holds up just as enjoyably as it did when I first saw it as a kid. I hadn’t even seen it since I was about 13 (which Americans will find hilarious because apparently it played on TV constantly in the 80s and 90s over there), but it definitely holds up better than any other film of its type (which might not say much for the genre, in fairness). It’s far less gloomy and more fun than “Conan the Barbarian”, even if it barely resembles the 1959 outer space-set novel by Andre Norton it was based on.

 

It takes a little while to really get going, but in this case it’s because it’s genuinely taking the time to tell its story, as this ain’t no mere cheapo “Deathstalker”, “Dungeonmaster” or “Kull the Conqueror”. It shares more in common with the excellent “Ladyhawke” if anything, only with a better music score by Lee Holdridge (“Splash”, “Big Business”), though he’s no Basil Poledouris (the best thing about “Conan the Barbarian”), admittedly. The roving camerawork by John Alcott (“A Clockwork Orange”, “Barry Lyndon”, “The Shining”) is excellent and surely must’ve been an influence on “Ladyhawke”.

 

Marc Singer may not be the actor of Rutger Hauer’s versatility or charisma nor can his rather lean physique compare with that (Credit: Clive James) ‘condom full of walnuts’, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but his hero Dar has one thing those guys didn’t get a chance to show: A sense of humour. This film isn’t a comedy but it, and the very fine Singer do not take the whole thing too seriously, giving the film a much more appreciably lighter tone, without condescending or coming off as cheap spoof like “Army of Darkness” or TV’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”. He has a much warmer and ingratiating screen presence than any other screen warrior/barbarian before or since, and he lifts the film. He’s even sensitive, he cries at one point for chrissakes. I don’t think even “Red Sonja” cried. That’s a positive in my book, because Conan felt like he was dead inside, to me. He was a bore. But that doesn’t mean he’s so buffoonish or wimpy that he fails to have the gravitas needed to be a hero. In fact he reminds me of “He-Man” in this. Forget the Dolph Lundgren movie, this one serves as a better film version of “Masters of the Universe”, if you ask me. There’s even a version of Cringer here…a tiger painted black to look like a panther. Best not to ponder that one too much, as the poor thing allegedly died from the toxicity from the paint. It’s the kind of cheap-arse thing you’d expect Roger Corman to try, and even he might not be that stingy. Without question, though, the animal companions who steal the show are the adorable, but rascally ferrets. What a couple of hams they are!

 

On the villainous side of things, the one and only Rip Torn somehow found his way into a B-grade sword and sorcery movie. And thank God, because he’s such an entertainingly mean sonofabitch as always. Subtle he ain’t, but a film can never have too much cranky arse Rip Torn in my view. Haha, that sounds wrong. Sorry, having a juvenile moment. Torn absolutely blows the horribly miscast James Earl Jones in “Conan” out of the water here. If you haven’t seen this in a while, you might be surprised by all the massacre and mayhem here. It isn’t as brooding as “Conan”, but cute ferrets or not, it ain’t a kids movie, either, especially when Mr. Torn is around sacrificing children! He’s quite clearly the High Priest of Murdering the Fuck Out of Everyone. Tanya Roberts, for that matter, ups the adult content factor too when she gets naked along with another chick at one point. Hooray for PG-rated boobies! It’s certainly a more substantial contribution than she made to “A View to a Kill”, and a slightly better performance too. The red/brown hair brings out her gorgeous eyes I must say. Rock-solid contribution by John Amos as a staff-wielding pilgrim who joins the title character. It’s kind of a Woody Strode part, but Amos makes it his own. The film has a pretty good, fiery finale, and no I don’t know what the bird man army is about, either. WTF?

 

Honestly, this may not be a masterpiece, but it’s one of the most underrated films of the 1980s, if not all-time. And I can honestly say that there’s only a little bit of the childhood favourite bias in that statement (My grade might be another story, but to hell with credibility). It’s jolly good fun. The spiky, Day-Glo S&M freak henchmen are a bit questionable, however. The eclectic Coscarelli co-wrote the screenplay with producer Paul Pepperman.

 

Rating: B+

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Time After Time


Beginning in the 1890s, Malcolm McDowell stars as H.G. Wells, who has gathered together a group of friends and colleagues to show off the new time machine he has just invented. Yes, he invented it. Unfortunately, it’s at this time that the police show up looking for the man responsible for the Whitechapel murders, y’know that Ripper of a fella named Jack. And while Wells is dealing with the cops, one of his guests Dr. Leslie John Stephenson has decided to commandeer the time machine and heads for the future. Yep, you guessed it, Stephenson is the Ripper. When Wells realises what has happened, he sets about going after him, landing in late 70s San Francisco, where ‘ol Jack is starting to get up to old tricks. Whilst trying to track down Stephenson, Wells takes in the marvels of the modern era, lamenting that it isn’t the violence-free utopia he had envisioned. He does, however, meet a sweet bank teller played by Mary Steenburgen, so the future’s not all bad I guess.

 

One of the best time travel movies you’ll ever see, and one of the rare times you’ll see Malcolm McDowell play a mild-mannered hero, this 1979 ripping yarn comes from writer-director Nicholas Meyer (director of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek VI: Better Than the Shatner One”). The creepy opener is terrific, with one of the best music scores in the career of Miklos Rozsa (“Double Indemnity”, “Spellbound”), and lovely thick fog-set atmosphere conjured by Meyer and cinematographer Paul Lohmann (“Coffy”, “Nashville”). Rozsa deserves a particular mention because he bloody well should’ve been nominated for an Oscar here. I’m not sure what the point was of disguising David Warner’s true identity in the opening scene given how quickly we find it out anyway, so that was a little strange. It’s a bit of a shame about the Roto scoping FX, but this is 1979 we’re talking about. And some of the FX do have a certain charm to them.

 

It’s interesting that this was made around the same time as the infamous “Caligula”, as McDowell shows here that he can indeed play a good guy, and a mild-mannered one at that. He’s terrific, though some of his villains have a certain charisma and impish, rascally spirit to them too, when one thinks about it. He has a thoroughly charming timid quality to him here mixed with a certain aloofness, but one born out of such an overwhelming overload of curiosity in his ‘futuristic’ surroundings. He finds it a bit hard to focus on what people are saying to him, because he’s so fascinated by everything.

 

David Warner is an interesting choice for Jack The Ripper, at first glance you’d think he and McDowell would do better in each other’s roles. However, as an evil intellectual match for Wells, he’s bloody good. Whether that makes him a convincing Ripper might be another matter, however. The Ripper may have been skilled and knowledgeable in surgical matters somewhat, but I’ve never suspected a great intellectual mind there. He seems more Bond villain than 1800s cobblestone street stalker. But then, no one knows who he was, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s a shame, though, that the Ripper character is a bit underdeveloped. Warner brings his A-game, but I wanted to get inside his head a bit more. Eventually, we start to see more of a sense of his homicidal impulses and their motivation, and it proves to be the bad guy performance of Warner’s career. I wanted more depth still, but Warner’s really very good here.

 

Mary Steenburgen (later to feature in another time-travel film, “Back to the Future III”), meeting her real-life future (and now past) husband McDowell on this film, looks shockingly young. I’ve never been terribly much of a fan of hers, but this is by far the best performance of Steenburgen’s career. It’s the clich├ęd ‘woman who meets someone from the past/future and assists them’ role, but this is by far the best example of such a character. She’s genuinely very sweet and a nice match for McDowell, even without the knowledge of their eventual real-life union. At one point she also manages to look convincingly paralysed with fear by Warner.

 

Truth be told, fish-out-of-water comedy rarely works for me, and this film indulges in a bit of it, with Wells attempting to navigate a McDonald’s menu, for instance. Usually films with such humour end up themselves being fish out of water, horribly dated and corny. However, scenes of Wells going to pawn shops and banks are far more interesting and acceptable, and Meyer handles these scenes far better than Leonard Nimoy did in the overrated “Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales”. I also thought it was cute that Wells gets disorientated from taxi travel at one point. The reason why Meyer gets most of this fish-out-of-water stuff right is that he adds a societal statement/commentary to it. After all, this is the same film where Wells believes the future (i.e. The late 1970s) to be a utopia, and would have stamped out violent crimes like those of the Ripper murders from his time. This of course is laughable, because there were plenty of serial murders in the 1970s and 80s, and Meyer no doubt knew this. Also look at the very funny timid reaction Wells has to witnessing a war movie. Funny, but with a point. Likewise, it’s amusing how easy the Ripper is able to pick up his trade in 70s San Francisco. It’d be even funnier if it were set in Yorkshire, though (Think about it, crime buffs).

 

**** POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING **** I do think, however, that Meyer cocks up at one point by having Wells need to get the cops to check on Steenburgen by confessing to the murders himself. If they believe he’s a self-confessed murderer, why the fuck would they do anything for him? Also, after the film is over, Meyer gives us an epilogue telling us all about Wells’ life and death. Given everything depicted in this film, I’m not entirely certain if any of it really makes sense. I have my doubts, though. **** END POSSIBLE SPOILER ****

 

This isn’t a perfect film by any means, but it’s a terrific yarn with a trio of excellent performances and even a cameo by a young, though unmistakable Corey Feldman. Keep an eye out for him at the museum. I don’t normally advocate remakes, but I reckon this one could fare well with another go round, and not just with whiz bang FX, either. If you like your time travel films, this is one of the best and features Jack the Ripper and H.G. Wells as an added bonus. What’s not to enjoy?

 

Rating: B

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Lizzie Borden


Set in Massachusetts in 1892, this is the true story of Lizzie Borden, a supposed wild child alleged to have murdered her father (Stephen McHattie) and stepmother, and put on trial. Clea DuVall plays Lizzie’s more stable and upstanding sister, who believes in her sister’s innocence, but with increasing reservations. Billy Campbell turns up as Lizzie’s lawyer who argues a woman is incapable of caving in two skulls with an axe, and Gregg Henry plays the other side of the fence.

 

AKA “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax”. The underrated and frankly underused Christina Ricci (who earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, deservingly) is the whole show in this not very interesting TV movie retelling of the famed true crime story. It’s directed without distinction by Nick Gomez (Writer-director of “Laws of Gravity”, and “Illtown”), but it’s the screenplay by Stephen Kay (who has directed TV movies mostly, as well as the underrated “Get Carter” remake and writing the film version of “The Mod Squad”) that’s not remotely up to snuff.

 

The real-life story should’ve made for a much more interesting story, but Kay treats it as a courtroom drama with far too much emphasis on whether Lizzie did or did not commit the crimes. History (or at least really, really old gossip) has pretty much written her off as a crazy murderess at this point, making any whodunit aspect seem somewhat moot, really, even though as this film points out, it’s not as cut and dried as that. We’ve just all grown up with this notion of Lizzie Borden being a crazy chick with an axe, and assumed it was true, pretty much cut and dried.

 

While I get that the real-life case is actually still somewhat up in the air, Kay doesn’t give us an interesting take on it. Hell, he doesn’t even give us a strict adherence to the known facts, anyway, if you do any research on the case. Kay pretty much gives us a 90 minute episode of “Law & Order”, right down to the tacked on twist that changes everything, in the cheapest way imaginable. **** SPOILER WARNING **** The film spends so much time casting doubt on the notion of Lizzie’s guilt. Way too much in fact, and then tacks on a twist at the end akin to ‘LOLZ, I totally did it. Or did I? It’s a mystery! OK, see ya, bye!’ If you’re gonna do this story, at least take a side and have the courage of those convictions. **** END SPOILER ****

 

Lizzie, murderess or not, deserved a much more interesting treatment than this, and so do the cast. Ricci is spot-on, and both Clea DuVall (who plays the most interesting character in the film, actually) and Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie are well-cast in the period setting, though Billy Campbell is the most boring man on the planet not named Patrick Wilson. McHattie in particular may not be in the film much, but is really fine as the stern but ineffectual father, and seems like something out of a Poe story. And a Poe picture wouldn’t have been a bad thing for this film to aspire to be something in the vicinity of. The story has grisly melodrama all over it. The film…not so much.

 

I must also rake composer Tree Davis over the coals for providing the least appropriate music score of 2014. The film is set in 1892, but Davis trip-hops his (her? Do trees have genders?) way through the film like it’s a Massive Attack video rapped over by Kanye West. Then after a while we get a down home banjo type deal, which is only marginally better. I mean, this ain’t “Deadwood”, either dude.

 

It’s the very notion of treating this as a courtroom drama to begin with that bothers me most. Read the damn plot synopsis and tell me this wouldn’t make for a better horror film. Unfortunately, this was made for the Lifetime Channel, a station devoted to TV movies, I gather, and thus that was never going to happen (HBO might’ve taken a crack at it, though). But still, who though that, looking at the story, the film was best told mostly in the courtroom? It’s dry as hell as a result with no room for character depth. We want to know what made Lizzie tick, and hatred of her stepmother is a pissweak motivation. Surely there was a chemical imbalance there too, right?

 

No, this just won’t do. We may not know for certain that Lizzie did it, but the legend makes us believe so, and this film doesn’t create enough credible doubt, despite Ricci being awfully petite for an axe-wielder. The film is thin, flimsy, and focuses on the least compelling facets of the case.

 

Rating: C