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 29, 2014

Review: Treasure Planet


A futuristic update of “Treasure Island” sees young Jim Hawkins find a map supposedly showing the title planet, where a famed pirate is said to have hidden untold riches. A family friend, milquetoast Dr. Doppler (voiced by David Hyde Pierce) funds an expedition that sees he and the boy join the crew aboard the ship (and we’re not talking the water-logged kind, either) of prim and proper Capt. Amelia (voiced by Emma Thompson). Unfortunately, there be nasty cutthroats among the Captain’s crew, headed by Long John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray), a cyborg who has self-serving motives in mind. Martin Short voices an absent-minded robot named B.E.N., whilst Roscoe Lee Browne voices the first mate, Mr. Arrow, and Patrick McGoohan lends his voice to the character of Billy Bones.

 

The Magic Kingdom simply give up trying here in this lame, lazy 2002 attempt at modernising “Treasure Island” with the barest of sci-fi variations. It is one of the worst Disney animated films to date, and more indicative of the kind of lame, lazy-arse TV cartoon show found today, not at all indicative of the classic Disney brand that has given us enchanting tales like “Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”, and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. This is truly pandering piffle, even watering down the classic character of Long John Silver, unmemorably voiced by Brian Murray. It’s a toothless interpretation that makes one wonder what Disney would do with Captain Hook if “Peter Pan” were remade today. As for Jim Hawkins? He’s a Yank this time out, like I said, pandering, but the character is seriously dull.

 

Worst of all, though, are the contributions of David Hyde Pierce and Martin Short. Pierce suffers the same fate that befell his “Frasier” co-star Kelsey Grammer in “Toy Story 2”, in that he is using his far too identifiable Niles Crane voice. Some actors are more versatile with their voice than others, but although the character he voices is similarly nerdy and effete, he is nonetheless distracting throughout. Yes, it worked when he played Sideshow Bob’s brother on “The Simpsons” (and Grammer’s Bob was a different enough character that he changed his voice somewhat), but that was an in-joke to some extent. Here it just bothered me to no end. As for Martin Short, he’s an acquired taste (but seemingly a very nice man in real-life), but is a long way away from “Three Amigos!” or Jiminy Glick here. His frazzled robot character is more in league with irritating “SNL” creation Ed Grimley, and at least there he was only on show for short bursts. Here he is unendurably annoying, and once again pandering. He may be the worst example of the clichéd Disney animated comic sidekick of all-time. He comes off like a very, very poor man’s Robin Williams. Suffocatingly annoying.

 

The only vocal standouts for me were Emma Thompson and Michael Wincott, and more briefly the late Roscoe Lee Browne. Browne, like Pierce is a somewhat theatrical-sounding American often playing regal or Shakespearean-sounding characters, but he passes more easily for British than Pierce. It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t feature enough of his cultured voice. As for Wincott (who despite not being British is quite adept at British accents, as anyone who watched “24: Live Another Day” can attest to), he’s perfectly cast as an evil arachnid-like henchman, and it’s a shame he’s not playing Long John Silver. Thompson is positively wonderful as the regal, prim and proper ship captain. However, her character is also part of the other big problem with the film: The animation. The characters all look ugly and uninteresting, with the Captain in particular looking ghastly, like a plastic surgery nightmare or maybe a Thundercat that has stepped into a hall of mirrors. Disney were getting all experimental from the mid-90s onwards, perhaps trying to compete with the emergence of CG animation, of which this film features some here and there. This is an ungainly, ugly attempt by Disney to move with the times, but not so much so that they rely solely on computer animation. As a result, it looks cheap and a hodgepodge as the hand-drawn stuff is ‘enhanced’ with all the seams showing as a result (much like the film itself, mixing pirate movie with outer space movie, now that I think of it).  But one character is seriously just a pink blob. That’s insultingly lazy from a studio one expects a lot better of. Why use modern technology if you’re going to be so creatively and artistically bankrupt with the character design?

 

Jazzing up a sea-faring classic with sci-fi elements just seems desperate to me. It should be beneath Disney, and it is boring as hell. The mixture of old-and new animation technology is not seamless at all (and what was with that awful alt-rock soundtrack? WTF? Were Disney aiming for something like a kids version of “Heavy Metal”?), and the film seems like a very uncool person trying and failing to get jiggy wit’ it. Do kids today still get jiggy?

 

The film was written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”, but also the average “Hercules”) with a writing assist by Rob Edwards, the team of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (who were the duo behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), and according to IMDb, about 6 others. Really? 11 hands in the pie and this is what we get from such a genius think tank? Why didn’t they just do another standard version of the still-effective Robert Louis Stevenson tale? Nah, too many cyborg Happy Meals to sell, I guess (The film flopped pretty miserably at the box-office, amusingly enough). And this apparently took Disney ten years to make? Really?

 

If not the worst Disney animated film of all-time, certainly the worst since the unbearable dirge that was “Fantasia”.

 

Rating: D+

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Man of Tai-Chi


(Tiger) Hu Chen stars as Tiger, a student of Tai-Chi who proves so impressive at a martial arts tournament that he earns the attention of sleazy businessman Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves!) who invites him to fight for money in his own underground tournament. Tiger has been brought up to believe that using such skills for financial gain is morally wrong, but when he finds out that his Master’s ancestral temple is to be torn down, he finds what he believes as an honourable motive for fighting for cash in a tournament streamed worldwide on the web. Meanwhile, HK police officers Karen Mok and Simon Yam are looking to nab Donaka Mark for his illegal activities.

 

So the time has come that Keanu Reeves makes his directorial debut with this martial arts flick from 2013 that has about 5,000 producers and EPs. You’ve never heard of it, but Keanu the director doesn’t offer up an “On Deadly Ground” (Steven Seagal), if miles away from “Night of the Hunter” (Charles Laughton) or “Frailty” (Bill Paxton). It’s pretty standard martial arts tournament stuff, but aside from one ill-advised strobe lighting and a touch too much wire-fu from choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (“Kung Fu Hustle”, “The Matrix”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) in the 2 on 1 fight, the fight scenes are actually pretty enjoyable and varied, and seemingly free of the wire-fu. They are mostly bloodless, but certainly more impactful and violent than you’d expect from a film featuring Tai-Chi. But this ain’t no ordinary Tai-Chi being used. Like the Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films that dealt with the spiritual origins of the martial art before ultimately using it to kick arse, Tai-Chi is made to look pretty impactful on screen. I have no idea how close this relates to real-life, but who cares? It’s a martial arts movie for cryin’ out loud. The film definitely has the protagonist’s Master frown upon his application of Tai-Chi for brutal and money-making reasons (which go against the very teachings of the rather peaceful Tai-Chi), but the film makes it clear that Tiger must fight for money in order to save his Master’s temple from being torn down.

 

The film has an enjoyably retro quality, mostly playing like a Shaw Brothers film but with an imported star, mixed with a little American martial arts tournament movie vibe. The use of technology to show the fights to overseas markets is a bit “Tekken” or “Death Race” and rather clichéd, but at least most of the fights here are enjoyable. That’s the important thing, and thankfully this isn’t another bloated wuxia epic. I’ve gotten a bit sick of those, and Thailand and Indonesia are kicking China’s arse in the martial arts game these days anyway (look for “The Raid” star Iko Uwais in a perhaps too-small part), so a change is welcome. Kudos too for the promo video for the big fight which is hilarious and OTT, which is no complaint. So the film doesn’t take itself so seriously that it thinks it’s reinventing the wheel or something.

 

(Tiger) Hu Chen is the film’s main star, and I must say he looks like Gordon Liu with Fisher Stevens’ haircut circa “Hackers” or John Cazale in “Dog Day Afternoon”. He’s a talented bloody fighter, no doubt about it, and I’d like to see him in other, better films than this.

 

It’s a good thing that Reeves the director has made this with more of an Asian feel to it, because it means there’s only one real dud element to the film: Reeves the actor. Oh boy, where do I begin? Reeves gets picked on as an actor quite frequently, but in films like “Parenthood”, the “Bill & Ted” movies, “The Matrix”, and “Point Break”, he can be used effectively. In “The Gift” he even made a decent stab at being an abusive redneck piece of shit. His performance as the villain in this film, however, is somewhere in between his awful serial killer in “The Watcher” and whatever the hell he thought he was doing in “Johnny Mnemonic”. In fact, he’s even worse, which I never thought was possible. This is his worst screen performance to date, unless you count his laughable James Dean impersonation in Paula Abdul’s ‘Rush Rush’ clip (Seriously, YouTube it sometime. He’s hysterically funny). His presence in the film cheapens it and makes it seem more like a cheesy Americanised “Mortal Kombat” film, sadly dragging things down a couple of notches. The man needs to choose roles that suit his idiot surfer dude speaking style. A corporate baddie who holds underground MMA fights is no such role. FBI agent masquerading as surfer dude? Perfect. Reeves has one moment here that is the single most unintentionally funny moment of his career. I don’t need to tell you what it is, because you’ll spot it a mile away. It’s stupendously silly, and some of his facial expressions throughout the film are ridiculously perplexing. It’s like he’s an alien attempting to impersonate a human, and getting it all wrong. Really embarrassing, and such a shame given the rest of the film is fine, if formulaic. As for his big fight with Hu Chen, well only a stunt double is listed but I swear Mr. Reeves grows about three inches taller and looks pretty different to me. I could be entirely wrong, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest Keanu’s not on screen for the entirety of his shots in that scene. The man’s a block of wood and it’s a shame the role didn’t go to Scott Adkins, Mark Dacascos, or Siu Wong Fan, as they can all fight and act. Hell, co-star Simon Yam would’ve done a better job, instead of being wasted in a nothing role. One bad actor spoils the fun in an otherwise respectable, if insubstantial underground fight tournament movie. I liked its old-school vibe and the fights are mostly fun, but Keanu the actor drags down Keanu the director’s debut.

 

The screenplay is by Michael G. Cooney, who comes from quite a prolific short film background). It’s a watchable film and exponentially better than I was expecting, but could’ve been more than that with a better villain and more for the talented Simon Yam and Karen Mok to do.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Everyone Says I Love You


Centred around the lives of an extended family and told from the POV of Natasha Lyonne, daughter of Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn, who have long been divorced but still friends. Hell, Woody’s practically best friends with her husband, Alan Alda. The film is mostly centred around Lyonne’s step-sister Drew Barrymore’s engagement to the very nervous Edward Norton. Meanwhile, recently single Allen tries to chat up a beautiful, but artistic younger woman (Julia Roberts) very different from himself. Lukas Haas plays Alda’s arrogant son who has recently announced his Conservative political leanings. Gaby Hoffmann and Natalie Portman play a couple of teenagers who are both into the same boy. Tim Roth turns up as the pet project of progressive Hawn, a recently paroled man whose path to reform may still have a few rough spots yet to hit.

 

I can think of few things worse than a musical, but a musical made by Woody Allen? That might just be the in-flight movie on the way down to my own personal Hell. In fairness, though, this 1996 film from the infamous writer-director is not as bad as all that, all things considered. In fact, it’s not even Allen’s worst film (which from the films I’ve seen, would be the pretentious and infantile “Midnight in Paris”). But if ever there was a film that just wasn’t aimed at me…boy is this it.

 

The biggest problem is that Allen has made a stylistic choice to feature actors who are not very good singers. He has done this deliberately. He’s a fucking idiot. What’s worse than a musical made by Woody Allen? A musical made by Woody Allen in which hardly anyone can hold a frigging tune. Take Edward Norton, for instance. Normally one of the most talented and intelligent actors of his generation. His opening number is classic Hollywood musical stuff…except he’s an awful singer barely putting in an effort. Bad movies are sometimes fun, bad singing is painful to endure. And that’s what makes Woody’s approach saw bafflingly wrong-headed. But Norton’s actual performance is disappointing to. Whilst Natasha Lyonne is essentially the film’s Woody surrogate (weird given Woody himself has a role anyway) and one of the better things about the film, Norton has seen fit to actually impersonate Woody. It’s obvious and he’s not even good at it. His Woody is a great Gene Wilder impersonation. A rare misfire from Mr. Norton. Goldie Hawn, meanwhile is clearly playing a Mia Farrow character, and let’s face it, Mia was always a replacement for Diane Keaton anyway. It’s a shame, because when Goldie gets to play Goldie and do her Goldie thing, she can be a delightful movie star. Here, she’s just not right for the part.

 

How bad is Drew Barrymore’s singing voice? So bad apparently, that she insisted someone do the singing for her. I know Marni Nixon made a career out of singing for other people, but if Woody wanted a film full of awkward singers (including himself, most unwisely), why dub someone because they can’t sing? No one here, really can. Drew does look absolutely stunning, however, and is always lovely on screen. The once lovely Julia Roberts is all kinds of wrong here. It’s egotistical of Woody to cast her as his potential love interest to begin with, but I refuse to believe that she knows any more about art than Woody. In fact, I bet she doesn’t even know who Kirk Douglas is, let alone Van Gogh. Her performance is extremely forced, and she certainly can’t sing. I know this because as the worst singer on the entire planet, I’m pretty much of an expert.

 

There were a few things here that keep it from being an all-out bad film instead of just below par. Cinematographer Carlo DiPalma (“Manhattan Murder Mystery”, “Bullets Over Broadway”) manages to capture Venice, Paris, and New York scenery absolutely stunningly. It’s a beautiful-looking film, no doubt about it. The performances from Lyonne (though I prefer her in edgier, more cynical roles), the always solid Alan Alda, and especially Tim Roth are good. Roth is terrific, actually, and supplies the only humour in the entire film, aside from the punchline involving Lukas Haas’ character, which is amusing (His overall performance, however is unfunny and strident). Woody himself is actually OK, so long as you can tolerate him. I also kinda admired how this plot is so very unsuitable for a cheery musical.

 

But I just wasn’t on this film’s wavelength. Especially bad is the scene where the ghosts of grandparents past emerge during a funeral to sing a calypso-themed song and dance routine. Even if it was meant to be funny, it’s beneath everyone concerned. Some of it is just padding, including the Halloween song, and the Groucho Marx song and dance routine. The latter is clever but pretentious and unnecessary, much as Woody does an OK Groucho impersonation.

 

This is best described as an awkward musical. I generally hate musicals but I wouldn’t normally think of them as awkward. That’s Woody’s vision and it doesn’t work. It’s kinda dumb, really. Glorious cameo by a Sikh taxi driver, though, who proves to be by far the best singer in the entire film. Second best? Roth. Distant third is Alda, and he’s not that good. The rest are varying degrees of ‘shut the fuck up, my ears are bleeding’. When your musical only contains three singers who don’t actively suck and one of them is a mere bit player…yikes.

 

I’d still put it ahead of “Midnight in Paris”, “Manhattan Murder Mystery” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”, but this is a very, very average film and hard to take. Imagine if Pierce Brosnan played all the roles in “Mamma Mia!”, and you’ll get the general painful idea here. Woody’s a long way from “Annie Hall” or even “Deconstructing Harry” here.

 

Rating: C

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: We’re No Angels (1955)


Three seedy prisoners with life sentences over their heads (Humphrey Bogart, Sir Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray) break out of Devil’s Island and whilst hanging around a French port, they plan to steal from a local shopkeeper (Leo G. Carroll). However, the shop’s books aren’t looking so good right now, and so the hardened crims decide to pose as handymen willing to fix the shop’s damaged roof, in exchange for Carroll and his family giving them food and lodging. They’ll get to the looting later. That’s their story at least, their melting hearts seem to suggest otherwise. Basil Rathbone turns up as Carroll’s cold-hearted cousin come to inspect the books for the shop he owns.

 

This 1955 crime-comedy from director Michael Curtiz (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Casablanca”) and screenwriter Ranald MacDougall (writer of “The Mountain”, director of the underrated “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil”) is nothing stellar, but it’s an entertaining one with a fine cast. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

What I really appreciated about the film is that for most of the film’s length, the trio of escaped cons are a pretty scummy, disreputable brood. You know they’re going to be softened a bit eventually, but thuggish Aldo Ray and even Sir Peter Ustinov still look rather sleazy and filthy, and I kinda appreciated that. The element of danger/sleaze to the characters, and Ray in particular, really lifts this film. Ustinov pretty much steals the show, and relatively thin here he looks remarkably like Tom Hardy. It’s a completely unsubtle, constantly mugging performance, but a bloody good one. Although he looks disconcertingly pale, Bogey is pretty good, but for the most part he was the same in everything, wasn’t he? He gets to wear a pink apron in this one, though, so that’s different. Although he’s not as impressive here as he was in “Welcome to Hard Times”, Aldo Ray is perfectly fine, rounding out the trio as a tattooed thug with a soft spot for the fairer sex.

 

Outside of the central trio we have appearances by two of cinema’s finest ever character actors, Leo G. Carroll and Basil Rathbone. Carroll is in fine form as one of the few likeable characters in the film, whilst Rathbone plays such a stingy bastard that even Scrooge thinks he’s a heartless bastard. Playing a most discourteous, snooty and cranky part is definitely in Rathbone’s wheelhouse- he’s terrific. As the good-hearted counter to Rathbone, Carroll, is solid as ever, and gets the film’s best line when finding out that someone has died in their sleep: ‘That was very considerate of him’. Also funny, by the way, is the scene where our central trio are trying and failing to get anyone to ‘find’ a certain dead body. The funniest scene, however, is when the trio decide that they will alert a certain someone’s attention to a certain poisonous animal in their bedroom…and slowly get around to doing so. Very, very slowly.

 

Although this is the least French-sounding group of characters for a film set in France you’ll likely ever see, the stars here are great fun, and the film is easy, breezy, and amusing. Good-looking, too.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: The Railway Man


The story of Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), an English railway enthusiast who has never gotten over the physical torture and psychological effects of being a POW held captive by the Japanese during WWII. On one of his regular train trips, the timetable-obsessed Lomax meets and quickly romances Patti (Nicole Kidman). After they are married, Lomax’s unhealed scars make themselves known, and Patti feels at a loss as to what to do. She turns to fellow former POW Finlay (Stellan Skarsgaard), but he warns her against prying too much. Meanwhile, Finlay learns that the Japanese interpreter who witnessed the torture is still alive and now works at a war memorial. Jeremy Irvine plays the younger Lomax, whilst Hiroyuki Sanada plays the older version of the interpreter.

 

Strong, sincere performances give a lift to otherwise fairly well-worn territory in this 2013 film from Aussie director Jonathan Teplitzky (who made the amusing bogan crime-comedy “Gettin’ Square” in 2003). Based on the memoir by Eric Lomax, as adapted by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson, it’s a clichéd story, true or not. However, with Colin Firth as its anchor, you’re willing to put up with that a bit. Is there an actor alive better at conveying a thoroughly decent (if dull) man crippled with inner turmoil than Firth? I don’t think so. Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgaard, and later the ubiquitous Hiroyuki Sanada (admittedly a little young for the part, perhaps, but very strong nonetheless) are all solid backup, though Skarsgaard and Kidman aren’t in the film all that much, rather surprising in the latter’s case. The flashback scenes without any of these actors suffer a bit, as the lesser-known actors aren’t interesting (though Jeremy Irvine is quite convincing as a young Firth) and the prison camp clichés are similarly not all that fascinating.

 

The one fresh element here is the chance at revenge/resolution given the Firth character in the latter stages of the film, taking things into a much more interesting and darker area. And that’s why Firth is so crucial, as his innate decency helps one from becoming alienated from the character and his darker impulses. Firth helps you to want to understand this man and what makes him tick, far more than any of the flashbacks could.

 

It’s not a great film, but it’s a solid and genuinely very sad one, especially if you like these sorts of stories about the psychological effects of POW experiences. Well-shot by Garry Phillips, in classical fashion, a sad rarity in these days of shaky-cam nonsense.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl


Um…here we go. Supposedly hunky Takumi Saito is romantically pursued by bitchy VP’s daughter Eri Otoguro, but quiet girl Yukie Kawamura beats him to it, giving him a special chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Said chocolate contains her blood, and since she is a vampire, it leaves him craving blood too. Meanwhile, Otoguro’s dad the VP (Kanji Tsuda) is in the basement with the school nurse conducting experimentations in the reanimation of the dead. You see where this is heading, no doubt, but I bet you never counted on the ‘Wrist-Cutting Championships’. Yep. You read that correctly.

 

Based on a comic book, this 2009 exploitation film from directors Yoshihiro Nishimura (“Tokyo Gore Police”) and Naoyuki Tomomatsu (the latter of whom scripted) is further proof that this sort of stuff was done better in the 80s and 90s, and usually in Cat III films from Hong Kong. One splatter effect involving a partial skeleton suggests the filmmakers have seen “The Seventh Curse”. Me too, and it’s a thousand times better than this. I liked “RoboGeisha” (and Nishimura did makeup FX on that film), but this one was just trying way too hard to be all crazy, all of the time, and I checked out mentally pretty early.

 

It’s the kind of thing that sounds a lot more fun than it actually is, because when you watch it you can see it’s just crazy for the sake of it. That usually doesn’t work, and certainly doesn’t here. It’s actually pretty boring. The tone has simply been botched in execution. It’s trying to be crazy funny, and failing. When a film gives you a woman with hands that have eyeballs, where there should be nipples, the lack of entertainment value is a head-scratcher. Either I’m broken, or the machine-gun approach to crazy splatter humour ends up sinking the whole thing because there’s no breathing room. Or a second note to be played.

 

The only good gag in the whole film is a visual one: A character ends up wrapped up like a mummy. Think about it. Clever. Actually, there’s another clever idea in the film, if not exactly hilarious: The scientist morphs into a kabuki scientist and descendant of Dr. Frankenstein. That made me chuckle. The rest? Eh, though Yukie Kawamura is pretty good (and cute) as the vampire girl.

 

The film definitely needed a lot of sex to go with the gore, it has none, and gets rid of the sexy school nurse way too early. It’s certainly the bloodiest movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen “The Story of Ricky” for cryin’ out loud. But that film worked (well, for anyone who can stomach its ultra-violence), this one doesn’t.

 

The problem with this film isn’t that it’s racist (blackface gags), offensive (jokes about ‘cutting’) or shocking (Get your decapitations here, folks). It’s trying too hard to be those things, and forgetting to be either a good movie or a bad one. It’s neither. It’s a botched ‘bad taste’ comedy, and the version I saw was apparently subtitled by a drunk person. Just thought you should know that.

 

I’m sure someone will respond favourably to this film (Japanese audiences will certainly relate to the cultural trends being lampooned, the blackface thing is apparently an exaggeration of a true trend in Japan), just not me, and I even like some Troma films for chrissakes. 

 

Rating: C