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, September 5, 2014

Review: Hell Baby


A nice couple with a baby on the way (Leslie Bibb and Rob Corddry) move into a house they soon realise is haunted. Crazy shit happens, neighbour Keegan-Michael Key acts weird, Vatican priests (Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant) arrive to save the day. Paul Scheer turns up as a cop, Riki Lindholme is Bibb’s free-spirited sister.

 

Co-directors/co-writers/co-stars Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon strike out with this desperately lame horror spoof from 2013 that makes the “Scary Movie” franchise look brilliant by comparison. And that’s a bit surprising because Garant’s “Balls of Fury” had its moments, Lennon has been funny at times too (as the snooty German in “Balls of Fury” especially), and they both co-wrote the “Night at the Museum” films which were kinda fun. But then you remember that the film comes from Millennium Films, has Rob Corddry in the lead, and supporting performances by C-list comedians Paul Scheer and Keegan-Michael Key, and it starts to make more sense.

 

Why are we getting a parody of 1970s Satanic horror in 2013 anyway? At least the Wayans family mostly spoofed targets from the period in which their films were made, mediocre as those films are. I know “Repossessed” spoofed “The Exorcist” in 1990, but at least that film had some genuine laughs in it (though it doesn’t play as well now as it did when I was 10). Laughter does not exist in this dojo. Someone must’ve found this boring piece of human waste funny. They should’ve gotten a second opinion because there isn’t one laugh in the whole thing.

 

Leslie Bibb (whose character seems to go all Linda Blair after a while) tries really hard here and deserves better. Meanwhile, Rob Corddry being cast in a kind of Charles Grodin role just doesn’t work. Milquetoast he ain’t. As for Mr. Key, I found him more irritating and bizarre than funny. The character was too unrealistic, even for a silly film like this. And while I applaud Ms. Lindholme for giving us rare full-frontal nudity, she should’ve had a couple of hamburgers first. And found a genuinely funny script. Her performance is stupid and clichéd, but she’s been handed a lemon in the first place.

 

Most of the people involved here come from TV comedy, and if you’re a fan of any of them, you might not find this an unendurable load of garbage.

 

Rating: D

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review: The Jewel of the Nile


Sometime after Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) and author Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) set sail at the end of “Romancing the Stone”, we pick up with Joan being enlisted by Middle Eastern sheik Omar (the very Arabic-sounding Spiros Focas) to help him with some PR by writing his biography. Joan agrees, leaving Jack behind. When Jack’s boat is almost immediately blown up, he realises something fishy is going on. And indeed, the benevolent sheik is much more than he appears (After all, this is a guy with an apparent PR problem, right?). It’s about this time that Jack runs into a very disgruntled Ralph (Danny DeVito), still sore about being pinned for his part in the kidnapping of the first film. However, when Jack is approached by Tarak (the very Tarak-sounding Paul David Magid) who warns Jack that Omar is a very bad man and must be brought down. He is apparently not the rightful ruler, and in order to set things straight, Jack must find the Jewel of the Nile, which Omar has stolen. Oh, and while he’s there he might want to rescue Joan, too. Ralph, seeing dollar signs with this ‘Jewel’ convinces Jack to partner up, and away we go.

 

A big comedown from the previous “Romancing the Stone”, the most memorable thing about this 1985 follow-up is the hit single by Billy Ocean ‘When the Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going)’. That song still holds up perfectly well today, if you ask me (The music video with Michael Douglas trying his best to look like he’s not embarrassing himself is hilarious, too. He’s trying to be cool, at least). The choice of director is a big downgrade from last time, with B-director Lewis Teague (whose best film is inarguably “Cujo”, where he displayed a genuine knack for tension and terror) replacing the great Robert Zemeckis, but the first sign of a lesser quality film here is that composer Alan Silvestri has been replaced by Jack Nietzsche (“Blue Collar”, “Stand By Me”, “Revenge”). The change brings with it a whole lot of 80s synth. I might love me some Billy Ocean, but the rest of the soundtrack and score here just doesn’t fit the action going on. It’s jarring and cut-rate, giving off a Golan-Globus/Cannon Films vibe. It actually even gave me Vangelis (“Chariots of Fire”, “Blade Runner”) vibes at times, not really appropriate for a Saturday matinee romantic adventure. Jan De Bont (“Soldier of Orange”, “Cujo”, “Die Hard”, “Basic Instinct”), however, gives it a professional sheen with his cinematography, aided by dusty desert scenery.

 

Michael Douglas is back as producer, and the man can’t help himself this time, changing the focus of the film from Kathleen Turner’s character in the first film, to his charming rogue character here. Sadly, that means Turner is far less interesting, with her character mostly functioning as a plot device. Also, and this is crucial, the spark between her and Douglas only comes in fits and starts this time. They seem disinterested in the film and in each other, like a bored married couple or something. So why should the audience care about them either? (Indeed, the stars were apparently reluctant to make the film, even producer Douglas, but the contract specified a sequel) Danny DeVito is still fun, even if his opportunistic Peter Lorre-ish character has been softened somewhat this time out.

 

The awfully Greek-sounding Spiros Focas is better as the main villain than whoever had the part in the previous film, but this just isn’t nearly as fun the second time around. There’s not a lot of wit or charm in the script by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner (“Superman IV: And You Thought the Third One Was Bad”, “Desperate Hours”, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, “Mona Lisa Smile”). It’s all very workmanlike.

 

The best thing I can say about this film is that the difference in quality between this film and the first film isn’t as great as the difference in quality between “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (And no, I’m not saying “Romancing the Stone” was as great a film as “Raiders”).

 

Rating: C

Review: Romancing the Stone


Kathleen Turner plays romance novelist Joan Wilder, who gets embroiled in a plot similar to the kind in her novels when her sister (Mary Ellen Trainor) gets kidnapped in Colombia. Once there, Wilder enlists the aid of dishevelled-looking soldier of fortune (and fellow American) named Jack Colton (Michael Douglas) and the duo set out to find a precious stone wanted by the sister’s kidnapper, which they’ll exchange for her release. Meanwhile, another displaced American, unscrupulous Danny DeVito is also skulking about, hoping to get his filthy, stubby little mitts on the stone. Alfonso Arau plays a rather disarmingly agreeable bandit, and Holland Taylor is Wilder’s publisher in the States.

 

Although I’ve heard the screenplay had its genesis in the late 70s, the main inspiration for this 1984 romantic adventure from director Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump”) was likely “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a touch of paperback romance to boot. I also see something else in the casting/characters at work here. You’ve got Michael Douglas in for Bogey, Kathleen Turner as the 40s/50s heroine of your choice (she sounds here a bit like Lauren Bacall and looks a tad Kate Hepburn-ish), and Danny DeVito is quite clearly in the Peter Lorre role here. It’s a helluva good show based on a nifty premise, and bolstered by a trio of well-cast stars. You can definitely see the influence on “Crocodile Dundee” here as well.

 

It’s interesting that Douglas produced this because this is very much Kathleen Turner’s story. It’s the best performance of Turner’s underwhelming career and she sells every facet of the character from moment one. It really boggles the mind that this once intelligent and charismatic actress has ended up a German drag queen. What? Have you heard her lately? It’s true! I could argue that Kurt Russell would be even better than Michael Douglas in the roguish hero role, but would Russell have the chemistry with Turner that Douglas undeniably has? Perhaps not. Danny DeVito, however, runs off with the entire film as the shifty little runt that you can never quite hate. DeVito really throws himself into the role, one of his best-ever. There’s also a funny part for actor-director Alfonso Arau as a bandit who just so happens to be a fan of Turner’s books. I know directing called to him, but it’s a shame we didn’t get more cute bits like this and his turn as the villain in the sorely underrated “Three Amigos!”.

 

It takes a little too long to set the plot in motion, otherwise this one’s a real winner that remarkably holds up just as well 30 years later. It hasn’t aged a bit. Well, aside from the score by Alan Silvestri (“Young Guns II”, “Forrest Gump”) and his sexy sax. The man was clearly in Jan Hammer (“Miami Vice”) mode at the time. But other than that, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this film.

 

A great cast and a clever premise involving a lonely romance novelist getting to live out her own romantic adventure, provide terrific entertainment. The screenplay is by the late Diane Thomas, who, after the film’s release was tragically killed in a car accident just as her career was taking off.

 

Rating: B+

Review: The Lion King


Takes a look at a lion pride from the point of view of Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, with Matthew Broderick taking over as an adult), whose Machiavellian uncle Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) conspires with a pack of hyenas to orchestrate the death of Lion King and Simba’s dad, the regal and noble Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones), so that Scar can blame it on Simba and ascend the throne himself.

 

This enormously successful 1994 Disney animated movie from directors Roger Allers (“Open Season”) and Rob Minkoff (“Stuart Little”, “The Forbidden Kingdom”) is a little overrated. It’s an OK film, but quite slow, and basically a musical revamp of “Bambi” with a large helping of Shakespeare for good measure. The highlights of the film include a wonderful, “Bambi”-inspired opening showing all of the animals, as well as a helluva good stampede scene later on.

 

The voice cast is uneven, undeniably bolstered by the magisterial James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and one of the best things Jeremy Irons has ever done, as his villainous usurper, Scar. At times he reminded me of Sir Peter Ustinov in “Robin Hood”, and his every line reading is perfectly insincere. Rowan Atkinson, meanwhile, is an absolute hoot as Gilbert Gottfried in “Aladdin”. Oh, OK, that was a little unfair. Accurate, though. Atkinson’s Zazu gets the film’s funniest moment where he sings a very famous Disney song that Scar HATES. The seemingly vanished Jonathan Taylor Thomas is adorable as the voice of young Simba, but Matthew Broderick simply won’t do as his adult counterpart. He doesn’t bring much to the table at all.

 

I also think it’s bizarre that the film only gives us the expected Disney comic relief characters, Pumbaa and Timon almost an hour in. They’re fun, though, as voiced by Ernie Sabella and Nathan Lane, respectively. The hyenas I wasn’t so enamoured with, as voiced by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin. It brings up a chief flaw with the film- it’s somewhat toothless, in pursuit of kiddie-friendly entertainment. “Pinocchio” was plenty scary, so I’m not sure why Disney felt the need to pull punches here. The hyenas are a bit fatuous, if you ask me, rather than menacing. They’re too comedic without actually being funny. But the whole film pussies out a bit, by not only making sure to hammer home the point that something bad is about to happen to Simba’s old man. “Bambi” didn’t need such foreshadowing. Even Scar gets softened somewhat by he and the hyenas not being the ones who actually kill Mufasa, merely orchestrating a stampede. As I said earlier, I think the film is a bit slow, to the point where Scar is forced to accuse Simba of murder and then confess to having committed the murder himself all in the same scene!

 

The soundtrack really is a mixed bag, largely because the Elton John songs are actually not sung by John himself in the film, for some bizarre reason. You have to wait for the end credits to hear Elton do ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’. It’s his song for fuck’s sake, let him sing it in the damn movie! Meanwhile, Nathan Lane gets at least three songs too many, even if one of them is the awesome ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’. I hate ‘Hakuna Matata’ with every fibre of my being, however. I think your uncle orchestrating your father’s murder is definitely worth worrying about, thanks. Also, JTT and Rowan Atkinson have a number together, and instantly show why no one has heard the song since.

 

It’s all a bit hokey and preachy, with an uneven soundtrack. “Bambi” kept it simple and is the much superior film, though this film certainly has much better animation, being one of the strongest Disney films of the period in that regard. The screenplay is by Irene Mecchi (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Hercules”), Jonathan Roberts (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”), and Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast”, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”).

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Pain & Gain


Based on a whacked-out true story, Mark Wahlberg is a meathead bodybuilder with a lot of ambition, and not much in the way of smarts. He considers himself a ‘doer’, and after listening to a motivational speaking seminar delivered by the ever-douchy Ken Jeong, Wahlberg has come up with what he sees as his chance to achieve a piece of the American Dream. Along with fellow bodybuilders Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson (the latter a reformed drug addict and ex-con now with Jesus in his heart) he plans to kidnap one of Wahlberg’s obnoxious, rich clients (Tony Shalhoub) and coerce him into relocating his wealth into their pockets. Being dumbarses, however, things don’t exactly go swimmingly. Ed Harris turns up as a PI who is supposed to be retired, but it hasn’t quite stuck with him. Rebel Wilson turns up as a horny nurse who attempts to help Mackie with his ‘supplement’-derived impotence issues.

 

At first glance it might seem distasteful to take a very serious true crime incident and turn it into black comedy. Meanwhile, spending two hours in the company of director Michael Bay (“The Rock”, “Armageddon”, “Transformers”), his shaky-cam, and anti-charismatic Mark Wahlberg didn’t seem terribly enticing to me, either. But lo and behold, this 2013 bizarro true caper story is much better than it has any right to be.

 

I think the humour and mostly likeable cast give the film a lift. They might make the characters more reputable than deserved (I should probably point out that I hate PT’s and overly motivated people in general to be honest), but they also make the film easier to stomach than a straight retelling of the real-life story might’ve been. So in that sense, the approach by screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (who previously teamed up for “Captain America: The First Avenger”) is clever, no matter if it’s morally right or wrong. Such a sleazy story probably shouldn’t be taken so lightly, yet these guys are so flagrantly dumb, it’s hard not to find them damn funny, those with more intimate knowledge of the real-life case may be far less amused. I sincerely hope the ninja outfits and Tasers were part of the real incident, because it’s hilarious. Sorry, but it really, really is funny stuff. As for my shaky-cam concerns, there’s certainly a lot of swooping camerawork from cinematographer Ben Seresin (“Unstoppable”, “World War Zed”), but not nearly the queasy disaster I was dreading.

 

One thing that bothered me right off the bat was casting Mark Wahlberg and especially Anthony Mackie as bodybuilders. Um, what? The Rock, absolutely. But Wahlberg and Mackie do not look like bodybuilders in the slightest (despite apparently having bulked up- maybe it’s hard to tell when you’ve also got a pro wrestler in the room?). Thankfully, Mackie has a bit of an excuse because his character is obsessed with juicing up, but even so, wouldn’t that be more incentive to hire someone with actual bulging muscles? Mackie could definitely pass for a sportsman or track athlete, but he ain’t no condom full of walnuts. As for Wahlberg, I have no doubt he’d be useful in a scrappy street fight, but he just looks like too much of a ‘regular Joe’ to convince, and way too short. When they’re lined up against The Rock, the issue is made blatant. It’s a shame they weren’t playing mere gym employees, I could at least buy that.

 

Thankfully, though, I bought into other aspects of their performances. Wahlberg is well-cast as a self-absorbed meathead, very well-cast and amusing. His dumb-arse optimism is almost infectious. These guys are in serious shit, but Wahlberg has no capacity for foresight, and ambition can be a dangerous thing if you have sawdust for brains. At one point he utters the immortal words ‘I watch a lot of movies. I know what I’m doin’!’ No you don’t. No you don’t. It’s telling on multiple levels that someone here is accidentally killed with a dumbbell. Although I think Terry Crews would’ve been much better in the part, Mackie is genuinely funny as the supplement-obsessed idiot, and provides a good contrast with The Rock, too. I normally loathe Aussie ‘comedienne’ Rebel Wilson, but she’s amusing here, as is Tony Shalhoub. Ed Harris and his terrific voice are well-cast too, if pretty wasted, all things considered.

 

The Rock AKA Dwayne Johnson owns the film from moment one where he beats the holy crap out of pro wrestler and Olympic gold medallist Kurt Angle. Through sheer physical presence and charisma, the guy just dominates the screen. The role he plays is very different for him, and the film is worth seeing just for the fantastic ‘One Way: Jesus’ shirt he wears (Also, any film that works in a Stryper reference has to be OK in my book). His character is perhaps the most sympathetic, simply because he is a troubled man being somewhat exploited by Wahlberg and is about to get in to some serious shit as a result. Johnson’s terrific, and kind of the heart of the film, in an effectively troubled, and affecting performance. He’s not a bad man, just a messed-up one, though the real guy was probably awful.

 

These are some seriously dumb schmucks and it appears as though Bay knows it. However, I don’t think the film paints these guys as heroes. Wahlberg’s character is a total jerk for manipulating Johnson, and I think Bay understands this, even if some critics don’t seem to have gotten it.

 

Even with Wahlberg and Mackie looking awfully puny for bodybuilders, the performances really give a lift to this film. Without them, the story elements would make for tough viewing. That isn’t to say the plot is not interesting, just unsavoury. But with a fine cast and an amusing script, this proves to be Bay’s best film as director by far. It’s even quite restrained by his uber standards.

 

It’s not terribly substantial but I liked this, it’s different from the usual crime story with its ugly but interesting backdrop of idiot juice-heads, porno kings, and shonky pseudo entrepreneurs/motivational speakers. Note, however, that mug shots shown at the end of all the real-life participants show that none of the actors even remotely resembles their real-life counterparts, even by ethnicity!

 

Rating: B-

Review: Shelter


Julianne Moore stars as a psychologist who specialises in debunking cases of multiple personality disorder she claims doesn’t exist. Her shrink dad Jeffrey DeMunn calls her one day to arrange for her to meet with a disturbed young man, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. He supposedly suffers from the aforementioned disorder, and one of his personalities is even in a wheelchair! Moore believes it to be cheap theatrics and tries to prove so. Things get weird, though, when one of Meyers’ personalities appears to be that of a murdered man, and Meyers seems to know very intimate facts about him. And then other personalities emerge, ones that Moore herself is tied to. Frances Conroy turns up as the rather sad mother of a murdered young man.

 

I don’t think this 2010 film (also known as “6 Souls”) from directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein (“Underworld: Awakening”) and writer Michael Cooney (James Mangold’s highly underrated “Identity”) is so bad it deserved to remain unreleased in the US until 2013. However, I can still see why it has a bit of a poor reputation nonetheless, and might’ve left studios unsure of how to market it.

 

It feels like two films in one, and the second half is much worse than the first as it throws all kinds of weird and silly horror stuff that actually isn’t all that necessary. I love horror, but the film was working much better as a psychological thriller, even with a miscast Jonathan Rhys Meyers continually proving to be out of his depth in a very demanding part. As a troubled man with possible multiple personalities, he goes to all of the obvious places and reminds you of just how damn good Edward Norton is at this kind of character. Meyers just hasn’t got the chops for it at all. He certainly gets a chance to botch two different kinds of American accent, though, which is some kind of achievement. At one point you’d swear he was Irish.

 

After a slightly overwrought early scene at a bar, Julianne Moore proves very well-cast here, and character actor Jeffrey DeMunn walks off with the whole film as her dad, the film needed much more of him. I might even suggest that it’s his best performance to date Frances Conroy can really only really play one character, but she’s given basically that role here, and she’s actually spot-on. A little with her character tells a whole lot. Although a little shaky, it’s a well-shot film with nice, rather bleak and ominous scenery at times and good shot composition too.

 

There’s something here, but the psychological horror/serial killer stuff didn’t mesh with the plague/illness/curse stuff whatsoever, and it becomes very, very silly. Like any film with a mystery, you keep watching to see where it goes, but the longer it goes, the more you wish it’d turn back. It just doesn’t all come together into a workable film, and the bone-crunching FX whenever Meyers changes personalities are just dopey.

 

It’s got a helluva central idea, and it’s not awful, just misshapen and disappointing in the end. It’d certainly be better with a superior actor than Jonathan Rhys Meyers, but even Larry Olivier would struggle to make this one work.

 

Rating: C

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: The Wolverine


Hugh Jackman is back as the clawed Wolverine (AKA Logan) who is brooding in the Canadian wilderness and still haunted by the memory of his deceased lover, Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). A young Japanese swordswoman (Rila Fukushima) urges Wolverine to leave his den of misery and come to Tokyo with her to see an old acquaintance; The Japanese soldier whose life Wolverine saved back in WWII. Played in the present by Haruhiko Yamanouchi, he’s now an elderly and apparently dying head of a technology company. He dies shortly after Wolverine arrives, and the man’s death sees a whole lot of nefarious goings on as everyone seems to want control of the dead man’s company. Wolverine manages to prevent the soldier/tycoon’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) from Yakuza threat, but whilst they are on the run, Wolverine discovers that he’s not healing as quickly as he normally would and is getting weaker. For this he can thank the dead man’s carer, who is in fact a mutant named Viper (and played by Svetlana Khodchenkova. Hiroyuki Sanada turns up as the deceased man’s son, and Okamoto’s father.

 

The previous Wolverine film “X Men Origins: Wolverine” (a prequel to the “X-Men” trilogy) was a tedious, filmed on the cheap disappointment, but based on the trailer, I thought this 2013 film from director James Mangold (“Cop Land”, the very fine “Walk the Line”, and the highly underrated “Identity” and “Knight and Day”) and writers Mark Bomback (“Die Hard 4.0” and “Unstoppable”) & Scott Frank (“Dead Again”, “Get Shorty”, “Minority Report”) looked somewhat better. In particular its Asian setting intrigued me, with the promise of some martial-arts flavoured action. Nope, this one’s a bore too, and very, very dumb. I’ve seen some ridiculous ‘running away from advancing fireballs/explosions’ scenes in my time, but the opening scene in this film might just be the silliest. And it’s followed up by another anti-favourite of mine, the nightmare within a dream.

 

Set somewhere after the “X Men” trilogy, star Hugh Jackman (AKA Everyone’s favourite human being on the damn planet) and the character of Wolverine prove far more interesting company here than in the previous “Wolverine” film (previous meaning, the released immediately prior to this one), but he can’t save this one on his own. Choosing actors who aren’t terribly fluent let alone expressive in English doesn’t help. Redhead Rila Fukashima is especially dull and inexpressive, and her character ends up pointless, useless, and unnecessary. It’s little surprise this is her feature film debut, but fellow debutant Okamoto is OK, though. Having said that the Uma Thurman-lookalike villainess (Svetlana Khodchenkova) is just as wooden as Fukashima. And by the way, at one point she even dons the Poison Ivy hair and makeup. What the hell was that all about? If you’re gonna rip-off a Batman character, why one from a Joel Schumacher Batman movie? (The universally ridiculed “Batman and Robin”)

 

I was glad that the film didn’t follow the clichéd Bond Girl rule of having one goodie and one baddie, but the flashbacks/visions involving the deceased Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) are irritating and unnecessary. As for the Asian-influenced plot, well it’s not really Asian-influenced, so much as set largely in Japan and feeling like a discarded Steven Seagal film post-“Half Past Dead” and featuring Wolverine instead of whatever former special ops turned wannabe Samurai with a distractingly Cajun-sounding accent character Seagal would likely play. It just feels like Wolverine has walked into someone else’s movie (though apparently Wolverine did have some adventures in that part of the globe in the comics).

 

And boy is it a stupid, stupid movie. I mean, the villain/s have the substance Wolverine is made largely out of and their big idea is to make a Robbie the Robot? Wouldn’t you rather another Wolverine who can at least pass for human? Mangold thinks a robot with Samurai armour looks cool. Um, no it just looks redundant. Think about it, doofus. The climax is especially lame, which is a shame because the action scene atop a train is a pretty good one, despite the efforts of Aussie cinematographer Ross Emery (“Bait”, “The Condemned”) to shake ‘n’ bake the hell out of the image. The rest of the action is hard to watch.

 

It’s no better than the previous “Wolverine” pic after all, despite Jackman’s efforts. Not your finest hour, Mr. Mangold. Crushingly disappointing stuff.

 

Rating: C

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: The AristoCats


Set in Paris in the early 1900s, the film centres around the treasured cats of a wealthy elderly woman (voiced by Hermione Baddeley) who wants to change her will to leave all her belongings to her cats. Her scheming butler Edgar (who will only inherit the fortune after all the cats are dead) hears of this and plots to get rid of the cats. After being dumped in the middle of nowhere the cats, led by matriarch Duchess (voiced by Eva Gabor!) try to find their way home. Along the way they run into jazz-loving alley cat O’Malley (voiced by the inimitable Phil Harris), who agrees to help them get back home, and along the way, introduces them to the toe-tapping delights of jazz music. Scatman Crothers voices Scat Cat, a hip musician associate of O’Malley.

 

Here’s a Disney animated film I needed to catch-up on, as this 1970 film from director Wolfgang Reitherman (“Sleeping Beauty”, “The Jungle Book”, “Robin Hood”) came out ten years before I was born, and it hasn’t appeared on TV much since. That’s a shame, because although no classic, it’s still quite a lovely film. It’s an adorable film, really, and you just want to cuddle it and squeeze its cheeks. Just don’t watch “The Aristocrats” by mistake, they are absolutely NOT the same movie.

 

Things don’t get off to a great start, I must say, with an entirely unintelligible song by Maurice Chevalier. I seriously couldn’t understand one word of it. Thankfully things improve after that and never look back. The animation of the characters is in the mould of “The Fox and the Hound” and nothing brilliant, but as a cat lover, these are some really lovely pussies…er…cats. The French scenery backgrounds are interesting too, and as much as the hand-drawn Disney animation has dated, it sure didn’t date as fast as the more recent mixture of angular hand-drawn animation and computer-aided animation of the 90s-00s, which already looks awkward by 2014 standards.

 

The voice cast, however, don’t sound French for the most part. The inimitable Pat Buttram and his hayseed voice is particularly out of place here, and it’s rather unfortunate that Roquefort the mouse (voiced by Sterling Holloway) sounds exactly like Winnie the Pooh for obvious reasons. And as for Nancy Culp, AKA Mrs. Hathaway voicing a horse named Frou-Frou…no comment. When Phil Harris’ jazzy alley cat O’Malley turns up and leads the cats to see a performance by Scatman Crothers’ Scat Cat (who actually sounds more like Louis Armstrong, and apparently Satchmo was supposed to play the part originally but couldn’t due to illness), one gets the feeling this ought to have been set in New Orleans. Harris is nonetheless good as always, and Crothers steals the whole show (as he quite often did over the years). Their duet together is terrific and the film’s highlight. Eva Gabor is absolutely spot-on as the only remotely non-American or non-British sounding character in the film. Truth be told, though, the accents don’t matter because even Buttram is fun in a dopey slapstick way. There’s a very funny bit involving two very British tourist geese who try to teach O’Malley to swim…not very successfully.

 

If I have any real criticism with the film, it’s that the plot involving a butler trying to get rid of the cats who are the sole inheritors of his employers estate, comes off like a plot from a Looney Tunes cartoon. You could easily see Sylvester and Tweety acting this scenario out (And I say that as a Looney Tunes fan, don’t get me wrong). I’m not sure why it took a whopping seven people to write such a simple screenplay, in addition to two others writing the story. The screenplay is by Ken Anderson (“Pinocchio”, “Cinderella”, “The Jungle Book”), Larry Clemmons (“The Jungle Book”, “Robin Hood”, “The Fox and the Hound”), Eric Cleworth (“Sleeping Beauty”, “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”), Vance Gerry (“The Jungle Book”, “The Fox and the Hound”, “The Black Cauldron”), Julius Svendsen (a former Disney animator), Frank Thomas (a former Disney animator), and Ralph Wright (“Peter Pan”, “The Jungle Book”, “Lady and the Tramp”).

 

Personally I think this is a slightly better film than “The Fox and the Hound”, and is a cute and entertaining film. The music and the vocal trio of Scatman Crothers, Phil Harris, and Eva Gabor are worth seeing alone, even if you’re a cat hater. But if you’re a cat hater, you pretty much suck then don’t you?

 

Rating: B-

Review: InAPPropriate Comedy


The premise is a tablet containing the most offensive Apps in the world, including “Flirty Harry”, “The Amazing Racist”, a porno movie review show, and so on.

 

I can’t believe I’m going to type this, but…from the man who brought you the “ShamWOW” and the “Schticky” (Seriously, who would ever buy the ‘Little Schticky’? I’ve never understood that) comes one of the worst sketch comedy movies you’ll ever see. This 2013 so-called comedy comes from the one and only Vince Offer, who serves as director, co-writer and bit player in this desperately unfunny film about raunchy ‘Apps’, that are really just a bunch of TV show parody ideas, so the ‘App’ thing seemed rather unnecessary and arbitrary to me. It should’ve been about a YouTube channel or something, though I’m not exactly a big technology guy, so maybe there are Apps something like these ones. Or at least make these a bunch of sketches found on just one App, that would make much more sense to me.

 

Not one of these ideas is remotely funny, unless the idea of Academy Award winner Adrien Brody playing a gruff but gay cop in something called “Flirty Harry” is your idea of humour (‘Go ahead, make me gay’). If it is, I think I can safely say that you have astoundingly low standards, just like Offer and co-writers Ken Pringle and Ari Shaffir. Shaffir deserves to be singled out as the star of one of the least funny sketches in a film full of them, something called “The Amazing Racist”. It’s not remotely funny because there’s zero truth or plausibility to it. I get that all the Apps are meant to be offensive, and thus they’re all unlikely to be plausible, but it wasn’t that this was meant to be a show that I found implausible. I just found the character itself completely implausible and I couldn’t discern the supposed gag. Shaffir is clearly Jewish, for starters, and unless I missed it, I don’t think the character was necessarily meant to be. So when he asks a Jewish girl how her hair gets so curly and we see that he has curlier hair than she does, WTF? It just doesn’t make sense, even within its own App world. The sketch, much like the film as a whole isn’t anti-PC, it’s just deliberately being offensive as though that in and of itself is a joke. It’s not.

 

There comes a point in “The Amazing Racist” where it stops being about laughing at how wrong this guy is and you’re encouraged to find his racism funny. That makes it racist humour, not anti-PC humour but actual racist humour which is entirely different. I believe PC goes too far sometimes, but it’s still a necessity in my book. Some speech is genuinely bad and not all speech deserves to be heard. I don’t always buy the Libertarian line that you should let everyone talk and let them hang themselves with their own words instead. That said, I’m against banning films, so maybe I do buy into it a little bit, and at least with films I have a right of reply to such offensive material. The cheap abortion sketch later in the film is even more racist, and indeed African-Americans are depicted horribly on the whole in this film. Even most of the “Candid Camera”-style ‘victims’ of “The Amazing Racist” (which, unlike say Sacha Baron Cohen’s stuff- which I still don’t like- are clearly scripted and fake) end up mostly conforming to stereotypes too, with pretty much every African-American person in the film painted as foul-mouthed and/or a gangbanger stereotype. But this is a film that opens with a parody of “127 Hours”. In 2013. So the bar is set shockingly low from the outset. That said, at least the “127 Hours” parody could, if written to be funny, have worked a few years ago. “The Amazing Racist” wouldn’t be funny in any year.

 

And don’t even get me started on the Marilyn Monroe “Seven Year Itch” parody with ankle bracelet-sporting Lindsay Lohan, and Mr. Offer as an up-skirt pervert. The bulk of that gag (which at least involves the use of an App, unlike the rest of the film) comes from what, 1955? And then we get to Rob “Big Stan” Schneider and Michelle Rodriguez as a couple of porno reviewers. The sketch gets off a ShamWow reference, but is otherwise awful. Rodriguez in particular acts like she just turned up on set unprepared, and is like a bad “SNL” guest host reading off cue cards. Woeful, she should be embarrassed with her performance here. Meanwhile, I’m genuinely unsure what the joke is with the “Sperm Lake” sketch. The title, maybe? Because sperm jokes are old, so it can’t just be that, surely. The theme of ‘what’s the actual joke here’ reaches its zenith with the hot tub sketch. I have zero clue where the inappropriateness is here. Either couple could qualify to be honest. Or neither. No clue. If you’re gonna make an offensive ‘comedy’ (And I’m a fan of “Blazing Saddles” and “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”, so I’m no stick-in-the-mud, easily offended person), at least give us well thought-out jokes…and preferably ones that are actually, y’know, funny.

 

Here it is, folks, a film from 2013 that’s even worse than “Movie 43” and “21 & Over”. I never thought it would be possible. Adrien Brody should be ashamed of himself here and issue a public apology to not just the gay community, but anyone with a genuine sense of humour, as your sense of humour will feel violated after this. A shameful and shamefully unfunny film. I hope Brody and Rodriguez were paid in Schticky’s for agreeing to appear in this garbage. The little ones.

 

Rating: D-