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 26, 2014

Review: Brass Target


Ordered by Gen. Patton (George Kennedy), American GI’s are on a train carrying gold worth $250 million late in WWII. However, the train is ambushed, 59 GI’s are killed, and the gold stolen. World weary Maj. John Cassavetes is called in by Col. Bruce Davison to investigate what appears to be an inside job, with Patton trying to keep the suspicious Russians calm. The audience finds out early that the culprits are three subordinates of Patton including homosexual Colonel Robert Vaughn (!), and his right-hand man (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more!) Col. Edward Herrmann. Said culprits have hired elusive hitman Max von Sydow to rub Gen. Patton out. Sophia Loren plays the poor Polish war survivor (!) caught between former lover Cassavetes and some very bad acquaintances. Patrick McGoohan plays Cassavetes’ wily Colonel pal who was also in on the heist.

 

This 1978 John Hough (“Twins of Evil”, “The Legend of Hell House”, “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”) film scripted by TV veteran Alvin Boretz (who scripted episodes of “Kojack” and “Ironside”) from the novel by Frederick Nolan gets a really bad hammering from most critics. Apparently it plays very fast and loose with known facts, as a lot of people will know Gen. Patton died in a car accident, whereas here he is targeted for assassination. Personally, I took one look at the rather broad approach George Kennedy (who in real-life actually served under Patton!) took to playing Patton and just went along for the ride.

 

The cast really do give this one a boost, and even if Kennedy’s Patton isn’t to your liking, he’s hardly in the film anyway. A flamboyantly dressed Patrick McGoohan steals the early portion of the film with a feather in his hat and a not terribly convincing American accent. Yes, he sticks out like a sore thumb, ala Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”, but he’s highly entertaining (again, like Donald Sutherland in “Kelly’s Heroes”). John Cassavetes is a sturdy presence in the lead, offering up a world-weary Bogey-esque turn. Max von Sydow, meanwhile, takes over where McGoohan leaves off, in a terrific turn. McGoohan may be having more fun than anyone else in the film, but it’s von Sydow who walks off with it. I also appreciated the work of Robert Vaughn, who while not stretching himself, has quite an interesting role to play, especially for those paying close attention. A young-ish Bruce Davison also does sturdy work early on. The only wrong note here is struck by Sophia Loren, who just looks far too glamorous for her role. Look at her hair and makeup and ask why she lives where she lives. It just doesn’t convince.

 

The film is well-shot by Tony Imi (“The Sea Wolves”, “Enemy Mine”), as well. It’s a ‘What if’ scenario, and in my view it’s neither a boring or poorly made film. In fact, it was adding Lucky Luciano to the plot that bothered me more, that was stupid and actor Lee Montague is awfully stiff in the part. Otherwise, lighten up, it’s only a movie, and a fun little B-movie at that, albeit quite silly.

 

Rating: B-

Review: The One That Got Away


Hardy Kruger plays real-life hot-shot German pilot Franz von Werra, who does his absolute best to escape from British imprisonment and get back to the Fatherland. Bungling/negligent British captors don’t seem to make his efforts especially difficult. I mean, these guys are pilot to a mind-blowing fault.

 

The eclectic Roy Ward Baker (“A Night to Remember”, “The Anniversary”, “The Vampire Lovers”, “Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires”) directs this mini-“Great Escape” from 1957, and although it’s got nothing on that all-time classic from 1963, it does have merit. It gives handsome young German star Hardy Kruger (a real-life WWII POW who made three escape attempts, the third successful) a terrific showcase for his underrated talents. His character isn’t a die-hard follower of Nazism, merely a glory-seeking flyboy, full of (over) confidence. Remarkable as it may seem for a British film about WWII, Kruger’s Lt. von Werra, although arrogant and stubborn, isn’t demonised. I was honestly shocked, and it helps make the film stand out from the pack. It ain’t “The Great Escape” but it’s a fascinating and unusual take on the POW escape story.

 

Sure, it’s a helluva gamble to present us with an arrogant little German and expect us to want to see him escape, but blimey, it bloody well works. The fact that we never really see him kill anyone helps. He’s a personal glory seeker and proud German, but not a Nazi zealot nor a one-note killer). Kruger’s character is fascinating and multi-dimensional, whilst it’s the British characters who are underdeveloped and kept to the sides. In a British made film. About Nazis. Where the German fella outsmarts them at every turn. Wow.

 

I could mention that cinematographer Eric Cross (“The Little Kidnappers”, “Tiger Bay”) would’ve done better to shoot the lovely countryside in colour instead of B&W, and it’s not often I’d favour the former over the latter. But given the scenery and the fact that Kruger’s physical appearance come into play, colour would seem beneficial. However, the film is still well-shot as is, and it’s not much of an issue in the grand scheme of things.

 

If there’s anything to fault here (aside from spoiling the ending from the outset, which is unfortunate), it’s that Baker and writer Howard Clewes (“The Day They Robbed the Bank of England”, “Up From the Beach”) choose to close this true-life story at about the ¾ mark of the real von Werra’s story. Epilogue text tells us that there was much more to this man’s journey to freedom (Spoiler my arse, look at the title, dudes!) than we see enacted in the film. It’s a little deflating, suggesting the filmmakers ran out of money or something. Up until then, though, this is a pretty damn entertaining yarn, and Kruger is ideal in the lead.

 

Looking at the synopsis, you’ll be surprised at how palatable this is, and the charismatic Kruger is a large part of the reason why. Yes, he was a part of the Hitler Youth in real-life, but so was every young German at the time, just about. And what really matters is that he’s good in the role, and he is. Worth seeking out this one, I bet it was a bit controversial in its day. Similarities to “The Great Escape” are unavoidable, but this is a fine smaller-scale, B-grade alternative, even though I can understand why this one hasn’t become the beloved TV staple that the later, all-star film has become. It’s a neat little escape film, warped POV and all.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Tales of Ugetsu


(Originally at Epinions.com Date written 2003, by a very angry Uni student)

 

In my Asian Cinema class at Uni, we watched some pretty decent films ("Chinese Ghost Story" the best of the bunch), but we also watched our fair share of tedious, pretentious, archaic, intellectual/arthouse claptrap. Welcome to the world of Kenji Mizoguchi, folks, or as I like to call it, Celluloid Hell.

 

During the Civil War, peasant Masayuki Mori leaves his wife and kid behind to go on a perilous (and interminable) journey with brother Eitaro Ozawa and meets eccentric Machiko Kyo (From Kurosawa's interesting, if long-winded "Rashomon") who may or may not be a ghost.

 

At least I THINK that was the plot, I might've slept through great chunks of it. This was the only film I saw in class where I had a blank sheet of paper after the screening. I followed the narrative comfortably, there was simply nothing I had to say about the film...at least not positive.

 

The film has some rather effectively creepy moments early on, where it actually reminded me a little of John Carpenter's "The Fog" by way of "Grapes of Wrath", but after that, the fog loses its welcome and the film plays its one note over and over, interminably. This is a trademark of Mizoguchi- scenes so drawn-out as to rob them of any suspense or intrigue whatsoever.

 

Save for a clever but eventually obvious "Sixth Sense" type of ending, the film hasn't even got an entertaining or original bone in its body. When not ripping from "Grapes of Wrath" (those journey scenes, etc.) the film even borrows from Mizoguchi's better, but frankly AIP-ish "Sisters of Gion". Seriously, take away the ghosts and you'd have almost the same film! The acting isn't awful, but the cast are at the mercy of a narcoleptic overrated director who doesn't have a clue about editing or pacing whatsoever.

 

Rating: D

Review: Bullet to the Head


Sly Stallone plays a New Orleans hitman named James Bonomo, better known as Jimmy Bobo, who along with partner Jon Seda bump off a dirty ex-cop. However, not long afterwards, a hulking former mercenary named Keegan (Jason Momoa) kills Seda. Enter Washington cop Sung Kang, who thinks the two murders must be related, and travelling to N.O., he approaches Jimmy Bobo to question him about it. You see, Kang was the former partner of the deceased scumbag cop. Unfortunately, local cops on the take start targeting Kang too (partly because Kang is a giant moron or at least exceedingly gullible), leading to Kang having to form an uneasy alliance with criminal Jimmy Bobo, who isn’t an ‘ask questions first’ kinda guy (I mean, what questions does a hitman need to ask anyway?). Out for revenge, Bobo just wants to kill every last sonofabitch responsible for his partner’s murder (which is easier than say, killing every corrupt person in New Orleans, which according to this movie is pretty much everyone, so that’d be one helluva body count). Kang claims he’ll still arrest Bobo after it’s all done, though. Christian Slater (a scummy lawyer) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (a greedy developer) play two guys higher up the criminal food chain than Keegan, and Sarah Shahi plays Bobo’s tattoo artist daughter.

 

I want to report that Sly Stallone’s retro actioner from 2013 is a significant improvement over Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand”. I really do. Unfortunately, this film from veteran action director Walter Hill (“Streets of Fire”, “48HRS”, “Extreme Prejudice”, “Undisputed”) and screenwriter Alessandro Camon (who did much better co-writing the powerful “The Messenger”) is on about the same level of entertainment value: Pretty average.

 

There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and better. I’m also not entirely convinced that Sung Kang can carry an entire film on his shoulders as pretty much the co-leading man here. Sly brings out the best in him in a buddy movie kinda way, but when Sly isn’t around, he’s incredibly boring to watch. Whoever approved that casting is an idiot, the guy just doesn’t cut it. Sly, meanwhile, is much better here than in anything since maybe “Rocky Balboa” (Despite some of the corny dialogue in that film). He’s somewhat likeable, and yet the film doesn’t shy away from showing him murdering the fuck out of people (The CGI blood is noticeably more fake-looking than usual. It looks a bit silly).

 

The supporting cast is pretty strong, with gimpy but suave Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and the more crass Christian Slater particularly well-matched. I know Slater fucked up off-screen several years back (this was his first role in a ‘major’ theatrical release in 8 years apparently- it feels longer to me), but he’s far too talented to be as wasted and underused over the years. He’s probably a bit wasted here too to be honest, but a good performance nonetheless. Playing Brian Thompson in “Cobra” (Sly’s narration in this, by the way, is a billion times better than in “Cobra”), Jason Momoa doesn’t get much screen time, but when he does, no one else exists. Dude has undeniable badass presence. As for the feminine side of things, Sarah Shahi is an instant burst of sex appeal and charisma. I still have no idea why she didn’t become a star after stealing her every scene on “The L Word”, which I swear I never watched.

 

Based on a graphic novel, it looks good, sounds good, Sly is fine enough…but the script is clich├ęd beyond belief. I like the hook of a cop and hitman teaming up, but here’s not one surprise in the whole damn thing, and Hill is pretty much coasting here. It also should’ve ended a scene earlier, as you’ll surely agree when you see it (If you’ve not done so already). Terrific, blues/rock score by Ry Cooder, who has apparently changed his name to Steve Mazarro. Oh, alright, it’s not Cooder at all, but it might as well be. It sounds like vintage Cooder to me.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: The Bay


Inexperienced TV reporter Kether Donohue (with a dumpy wardrobe and cropped hair) narrates video footage telling the tale she witnessed firsthand of an ecological disaster that befell a small Maryland town a couple of years back where human beings dropped like flies after becoming infected with a deadly parasitic virus. Christopher Denham plays an oceanographer, and Robert Treveiler is a doctor for the CDC.

 

Noted director Barry Levinson (“Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Rain Man”, “Wag the Dog”) tries his hand at ‘faux-doco’ filmmaking with this dry and boring 2012 mixture of ‘found footage’ horror film and hippie Greenpeace movie. It doesn’t go well. It never convinces as real, the actors are clearly actors, with the very recognisable Christopher Denham from “Argo” and Robert Treveiler as one of the CDC guys is a veteran of many films and especially TV shows, though at least in his case I wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly where I recognised him from (Probably his two stints on “Dawson’s Creek”). The illusion is thus shattered. Then again, if this is meant to be a film based on a supposedly official TV news report, why is it shot like a bad wedding video by cinematographer Josh Nussbaum? Because no one here has any idea what they’re doing, that’s why. It’s hard to look at and focus on anything, at least for me it was. There are practically no stable shots except when the camera is fixed (CDC Conference calls, for instance). That’s awful camerawork, both in fictional and real terms.

 

I was out of this film’s world from moment one and never recovered. This is such a shame, because if Levinson had made this as a straight horror film, it might’ve had a chance. Why did he make it this way? The faux doco thing is about ten years past its used by date anyway. If anything, it feels like a message movie masquerading as entertainment. It certainly isn’t effective as entertainment, as it’s done in completely dry fashion. Even “Contagion” wasn’t this dull, and “Contagion” was pretty damn dull.

 

Lead actress Kether Donohue is certainly quirky and unusual in a not unappealing way, but that’s about it for being nice, I’m afraid. This film ended up making me angry for what it could’ve been and isn’t. The screenplay is by Michael Wallach from a story by he and the director. What were you thinking, Barry?

 

Rating: C-

 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Cool Hand Luke


Paul Newman stars as Luke, a WWII veteran who ends up with a two year stint on a chain gang after a moment of drunken stupidity and boredom saw him decapitate a couple of parking meters. If you think two years prison is harsh, just wait until you meet the head prison ‘Boss’ (Strother Martin), who doesn’t take kindly to troublemakers, and ‘ol Luke marches to the beat of his own drum, so you know there’s gonna be issues between the two. Meanwhile, he also has a tough time getting on the good side of his fellow prisoners, who are headed by the hulking hillbilly Dragline (George Kennedy), leading to a boxing match between the two. But ultimately it’s the prison staff (Morgan Woodward, Luke Askew, Charles Tyner, and Clifton James) who don’t take kindly to Luke’s stubborn, almost arrogant refusal to play by their rules (which sees the anti-hero somewhat idolised by the other prisoners), and will do their absolute best to break him. Luke’s fellow prisoners are played by the likes of J.D. Cannon, Wayne Rogers, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Joe Don Baker, and Ralph Waite. Jo Van Fleet appears briefly as Luke’s ailing, estranged mother, and Anthony Zerbe plays a sour prison trustee (In his film debut, along with Waite).

 

Like his rival Steve McQueen, Paul Newman didn’t always play the most likeable of screen characters. In fact, sometimes he rubbed me in such the wrong way that I found it hard to really get into the films (“The Hustler” and “The Verdict” spring to mind, he was just a sour jerk in those, so I’m not as high on them as other people seem to be). But as was the case with the excellent “Hud”, this 1967 prison film from Stuart Rosenberg (“The Laughing Policeman”, the underrated “Voyage of the Damned”) provides Newman with such a truly fascinating character that, likeable or not, when combined with Newman’s excellent performance, a great supporting cast, and an entertaining story, it’s hard to resist. All the stars, so to speak, were aligned and the film has become an enduringly popular classic, despite some really harrowing material.

 

Newman’s stubborn, defiant, anti-authority Luke is one of the great actor’s best-ever performances. I’ve seen Newman give the occasional poor performance over the years (“The Outrage” in particular was embarrassing), but he was a rare ‘method’ actor who didn’t seem like he really was one. You never did see the wheels turning like you did with Marlon Brando, for instance. Unlike a lot of ‘method’ performances, Newman makes you forget about the ‘acting’ and just see the character, and it’s an occasionally quite harrowing, Oscar-nominated performance, as the prison ‘bosses’ try their best to break Cool Hand Luke.

 

Of the supporting cast, there’s lots of familiar names and faces, but the ones who make the biggest impact are George Kennedy, Strother Martin, and more briefly Jo Van Fleet. Kennedy won Oscar for his work here as tough, but likeable Dragline, the put-upon leader of the prisoners. He’s pitch-perfect as the big tough bear of a human being, who turns out not to be such a bad guy after all. Strother Martin became somewhat of a pop culture icon, or at least the most often quoted person in the film as the incredibly harsh prison boss. It is he who delivers the immortal line known by filmgoers and Guns ‘n’ Roses fans alike; ‘What we've got here is…failure to communicate’. He was never better or better-served than in this film, the rather nasal-voiced character actor usually played scummy, sewer rat henchmen in westerns, but here displayed quite an authority, menace, and intimidating presence as a man so damn cold-hearted that he’ll lock a guy up in the hole just because he feels the prisoner might run off to a loved one’s funeral. Damn. Jo Van Fleet only has one scene, but it’s an absolutely show-stopping cameo as Luke’s ailing mother. It’s an unforgettable and really sad scene because you know mother and son will never see each other again.

 

In small roles, Clifton James, Luke Askew, and Morgan Woodward deserve to be singled out as the three ‘bosses’. Character actor James could play his role in his sleep, as perhaps the most ineffectual of the bosses (That’s no criticism of the actor, merely a description of the character). Pitch-perfect casting right there. Meanwhile, as good as the always rock-solid Askew is as one of the meaner ‘bosses’, Woodward deserves credit for saying a lot whilst saying nothing and wearing sunglasses the whole damn time. Scary dude. Look out too for a young Dennis Hopper, and Harry Dean Stanton, who sings a couple of songs (quite well too) like ‘Ain’t No Grave’ (a familiar song for fans of Johnny Cash and/or professional wrestling) and ‘Midnight Special’. Hopper is seemingly not even acting here, he’s off his nut on some kind of hallucinogens for real. You’ll also likely feel sorry for poor Ralph Waite’s character, who clearly just doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude for hard prison life.

 

The film’s best-remembered scene is the egg-eating contest, which is a rare light moment in the film. It’s the damndest thing. I hate even the smell of eggs, so eating them must surely be worse, let alone 50 in one hour. This Cool Hand Luke isn’t just stubborn and determined, he’s unbreakable. The scene does conclude with one of the few dud moments in the film, though, with Newman’s post-contest Jesus Christ pose striking a rare wrong note. The only other flaw I can see here is that none of these prisoners seem remotely dangerous. However, you don’t really think about that until maybe the tenth time you’ve watched the film.

 

The other element worth pointing out is one of the best music scores in the career of composer Lalo Schifrin (“Bullitt”, “Enter the Dragon”, “The Cincinnati Kid”, “Coogan’s Bluff”). In fact it might even be his best (it earned him an Oscar nomination), and anyone paying close attention to the scene where the prisoners speed up their prison work, will hear the familiar strains of the Channel 9 news theme (Apparently it was also used for an American news program too). It’s a subtle, but absolutely unforgettable score.

 

Excellently performed, sometimes harrowing, sometimes irreverent, always fascinating, they just don’t make prison movies like this one anymore. One of the best of its type, and an absolute must for Paul Newman fans, who might feel he deserved the Oscar that year more than Rod Steiger, winner for “In the Heat of the Night” (No knock on Steiger, it was one of his best-ever performances). The screenplay is by novelist Donn Pearce, and Frank R. Pierson (“Dog Day Afternoon”, “The Happening”), from a novel by the former, who spent two years in prison himself.

 

Rating: A