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.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review: Pete’s Dragon


Sean Marshall is young orphan Pete, whose best friend is a dragon no one else seems to be able to see. Fleeing the filthy Grogan clan (Shelley Winters, Charles Tyner, and Jeff Conaway) who wish to ‘own’ the boy, Pete ends up in the small town of Passamaquoddy, where lighthouse keeper Mickey Rooney and his daughter Helen Reddy take the boy in. Reddy won’t hear any talk of this dragon, though, but drunk Rooney claims to have seen it for himself. Meanwhile, travelling snake oil salesman Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale, with top hat and English accent- he’s the villain) and his associate Hoagy (Red Buttons) arrive, and when Dr. Terminus gets wind of the story of Pete’s dragon, he sees dollar signs, and tries to catch it for himself. It’s invisible, it doesn’t go well. Jim Backus has a cameo as the Mayor of Passamaquoddy.

 

An attempt by Disney to mix live-action with animation, ala their previous “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, this 1977 fantasy from director Don Chaffey (“Jason and the Argonauts”, “One Million Years B.C.”) and screenwriter Malcolm Marmorstein (“Return From Witch Mountain”) is neither as bad as I expected, nor anywhere near as enchanting as “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”.

 

For me, what actually holds it back is the very thing most people (even those who dislike it) tend to praise: The title character. The animation has dated badly (using it for scenes set in broad daylight was a mistake), and the voice given to the dragon by Charlie Callas is an insipid disaster. It renders the character sans personality, let alone voice. And that surprises me, because the animation department on this film features known names like Animation Director (and Disney traitor) Don Bluth (who worked on Disney’s “Robin Hood” before making his own films like “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time”), Ken Anderson (screenwriter of “Pinocchio” and “The AristoCats”), and Ron Clements (Co-director of “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”) as one of the character animators. Whoever actually came up with the idea of the voice itself is a tool. Callas makes it sound like a muffled fart. The central conceit is cute in theory, but the execution is poor, though there’s some fun to be had in the scenes where the dragon is invisible to the audience and causing slapstick calamities. For the most part, though, the dragon is not remotely interesting or endearing, and pretty much the only drawback to the film. Sadly, it’s a pretty big drawback, a one-note character who should’ve remained invisible, ala “Harvey” the rabbit. Speaking of rabbits, those who want some animation with their live-action best watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” instead. That 1988 film finally got the mix right.

 

Thankfully, there’s enough human interest to have kept me awake, as the film works best as a comedy, oddly enough. The funniest thing about the whole film is that the only person other than young Sean Marshall (who isn’t too bad in the lead) who can see the dragon is a drunk Mickey Rooney. He’s mugging mercilessly but The Mick is fun, if unsubtle. He steals the film, really, and does a better job of selling the dopey dragon than the animators do! I also enjoyed the early work by Shelley Winters, Charles Tyner, and an unrecognisable Jeff Conaway. Winters and Tyner can’t sing for the life of it, but are nonetheless very, very funny, especially the latter. I’m not a fan of musicals, but hearing these grotty, unpleasant people singing about all the horrible things they’re gonna do to little Pete is genuinely funny, and a tad dark for Disney. The songs aren’t exactly memorable, and the singing is uneven, but they are undoubtedly lively and upbeat. Disney songs ended up taking themselves way too seriously from about the 1990s onwards. I do wish there weren’t so many songs, though.

 

Ex-pat Aussie Helen Reddy is surprisingly charismatic and appealing in an admittedly not terribly interesting role. She’s also quite clearly the best singer in the film, and although no Angela Lansbury on screen, she’s not as insufferably Julie Andrews-ish as…well, Julie Andrews. Jim Dale and Red Buttons seem to have wandered in from “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” or one of Disney’s more slapstick-oriented live-action films, but like I said, the film works better on that level anyway (The whole thing is like a blend of that film, “Harvey”, “Mary Poppins” and “Oliver!”). Dale is particularly effective, though Buttons is amusing in drag at one point. It’s completely shocking and wrong, but the bit where Dale (who I swear looks dressed like the villainous fox from “Pinocchio” but in human form) claims he has a potion that’ll bring on Pete’s puberty two years early is hilarious. How the hell did that gag make its way into a film like this?

 

This obviously isn’t a good film, and the animation is as far from seamless as the film’s tone appears to be. However, it’s nowhere near as bad as reputed by some, and certainly not the clunker I was expecting. It’s just that the title character sucks arse, and at over two hours, it’s at least 30 minutes too long. The screenplay is based on a story by S.S. Field & Seton I. Miller (The latter of whom worked on “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “The Sea Hawk”, and “Ministry of Fear”).

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review: A Clockwork Orange


Set in a supposedly near-future England, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell, in his signature role) and his gang of ‘droogs’ patrol the streets looking for a bit of the ‘ol ‘ultra-violence’, and maybe a bit of the ‘ol ‘in-out’ while they’re at it. They are amoral rapists and hooligans, but after a botched burglary, Alex is turned on by his followers (who include a young Warren Clarke), who are sick of being led, and decide to stitch him up. Alex is arrested and eventually convicted of burglary and murder, and sentenced to prison for 14 years. Inside he plays the model prisoner an eventually signs up for a radical, experimental rehabilitation therapy. After this drastic process, Alex comes out seemingly a different man than when he first arrived in prison. But what of the world around him? What will his former ‘droogs’ make of him now? Patrick Magee plays a victim of Alex who reappears later on in the film with a much changed dynamic, Aubrey Morris plays family doctor Deltoid, and Michael Bates is a very loud prison guard.

 

Misunderstood by a myopic few (the late Roger Ebert for instance) at the time, hailed as a masterpiece by others then and now, this controversial 1971 film from Stanley Kubrick (“Lolita”, “The Shining”, “Paths of Glory”) was kind of the “Fight Club” of its day, except with a much more stunning aesthetic. Whatever you make of its content or message, this is one of the most striking and unusual films ever made, and in my opinion very well-done. It may be the only film one can consider dated, current, and ahead of its time all at once, if that makes any sense. In fact, it’ll only make sense to those who have seen the film. It’s the damndest thing, really, and I think it’s because everything has been heightened, as Kubrick has a truly unique vision. I mean the narration alone is seriously bizarre, as Malcolm McDowell’s Alex sounds like smartened up jargon, and yet it’s nothing that I’ve ever heard before or since. Meanwhile, the behaviour of Alex and his ‘droogs’ comes across as the ultra-violent extreme version of the smart-arse personas The Beatles exhibited in “A Hard Day’s Night”, with their sarcasm and mocking.

 

The production design is a warped blend of artistic, futuristic, and pornographic, and the music is mostly classical, rather than contemporary. The music score itself by Walter Carlos (who became Wendy Carlos the following year!), however is of the synth variety, and it’s absolutely spot on for this film, giving it a futuristic kind of sound (Synth tends to be associated more with the 1980s, this was made in the early 70s). The penis statues, by the way, seemed excessive in the later “Caligula”, but here they work in darkly funny fashion, as Alex uses one as a murder weapon at one point.

 

The film has a real brain in its head and lots to say, even if I personally don’t share the viewpoint. A more scathing depiction of the reform and rehabilitation process one cannot find in cinema. Kubrick is clearly thumbing his nose here. There’s a particularly funny scene where Alex is in prison reading the bible and is interested in all the violence and sex which he seems to fantasise further about. He even sees himself as the guy torturing Jesus. Brilliant. However, I’d argue that the point being made at the end is a little more open to interpretation than some might suggest. ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** Is Kubrick saying that Alex is incurable or is he saying that the rehabilitation process is useless if we don’t give prisoners a chance once they are released? Is he simply saying that the rest of the world is just as violent as Alex so that ‘curing’ him only makes him a lamb to the slaughter? Is the film a criticism of the inhumane ‘treatment’ methods? I don’t think the film gives us an easy answer to any of that, perhaps on purpose. Hell, he might not even be entirely serious here. Look at the hospital scene towards the end. One of the photographers is quite clearly made up to look like Adolph Hitler. I have no idea why, but it’s there and very funny to anyone clever enough to spot it. Whatever you think the message is, at least it will get you thinking. ***** END SPOILER *****

 

The film was pretty controversial for its time, but Kubrick cleverly uses classical music (not to mention a memorable use of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’) and sped-up footage for the film’s more violent and/or sexual scenes that kinda allows him to get away with a lot more. Of all the films from the 70s that indulged in similarly violent/sexual themes like “Straw Dogs” and “Last House on the Left”, Kubrick’s film stands tallest, mostly because he was a true artist and genuinely had something to say, whatever one personally makes of it.

 

The cast in this film is top-notch from top to bottom, with the perfectly cast Malcolm McDowell towering over all as Alex. His lack of sincerity in particular is hilarious, but he eventually becomes almost a sympathetic figure the longer the film goes on. It’s remarkable, and a testament to McDowell that it’s also believable. I also loved the supporting performances by Patrick Magee and the highly underrated and eccentric Aubrey Morris. Magee’s reappearance in the latter stages is wonderful, whilst Morris is unforgettably bizarre as Dr. Deltoid, who seems to come from another planet entirely.

 

The only thing in the entire film that fails to work for me is the performance by Michael Bates as the prison guard. His shouty performance verges on Pythonesque at times. Otherwise, this is a truly unforgettable, undeniably very well-made film, that admittedly isn’t an easy watch. Is it pretentious? Every damn frame, but so what? It works, as Kubrick’s insane vision really gives this one a lift. Outstanding camerawork by John Alcott (“The Shining”, “The Beastmaster”) is a particular highlight, with a memorably bold use of colour. Based on an Anthony Burgess novel, the screenplay is by the director.

 

Rating: B+

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: The Call


Halle Berry plays a veteran 911 emergency operator who loses her nerve somewhat after call ends really badly through a mistake someone of her experience shouldn’t have made. After spending some time in a training role, she finds herself reluctantly pulled back in to the job when a call comes in from an abducted young woman (Abigail Breslin), who is currently stuck in the boot of the car of a disturbed man (Michael Eklund). Now it’s up to Berry to save the girl and thwart Eklund’s nasty plans. The kicker? Eklund is the same nutso killer from the incident that saw Berry take a hiatus from active duty is a 911 operator! Roma Maffia and Jose Zuniga play work colleagues, whilst Morris Chestnut and David Otunga are cops, the former also being Berry’s boyfriend.

 

Before it climaxes with an unfortunate thud as Halle Berry goes above and beyond her job description, this 2013 woman-in-peril film from director Brad Anderson (best-known for “The Machinist” and the frankly wonky indie romcom “Next Stop, Wonderland”) and WWE Studios is quite entertaining, if rather unpleasant stuff. Some critics really went to town on this one, calling it sick and whatnot. They mustn’t like thrillers or horror films, because so far as women-in-peril thrillers go, this one is for the most part pretty tense and unsettling stuff.

 

The premise is such a cracker I’m surprised it hasn’t been used much before, if at all. There must be few worse jobs in the world than a 911 operator. You need to be alert with any kind of switchboard or reception gig, but with 911 it can be a life or death situation. That must be hell to deal with. It’s fast-faced paced, high concept B-movie stuff so that you barely even notice that the phone works, then doesn’t, then does, as dictated by the needs of the plot. I mean, the bad guy clearly must know the phone is there, why not take it away?

 

Michael Eklund is one of my favourite character actors going around (if you have a strong stomach, go and watch “The Divide” immediately), but in this film he’s less seedy and more deranged, which is a less interesting thing to watch. To be honest, the film isn’t much interested in him or Abigail Breslin, who has grown up to become ‘normal’ and boring. This is the Halle Berry Show, and that’s fine by me, because although she didn’t deserve her Oscar win for “Monster’s Ball” a decade or so ago, she’s perfectly cast in this and easy to warm to. Morris Chestnut is as boring as ever, and as for the WWE obligatory casting, Jennifer Hudson’s handbag David Otunga talks about his body within the first two minutes. He doesn’t get much screen time, but it’s more screen time than he’s had on WWE programming in the first 9 months of 2014, so there’s that I guess (Psst. He can’t wrestle. At all.) He’s perfectly OK, and at the very least, he fares better here than his otherwise much more talented (in the wrestling world that is) co-worker Wade Barrett did in his virtual walk-on in “Dead Man Down”.

 

Screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio (who hasn’t written a produced screenplay since 2001’s “Exit Wounds” and “Thir13en Ghosts”) puts himself in an unfortunate situation where what happens is probably necessary, but the ending just flat-out didn’t work for me. Whatever catharsis it is supposed to bring, it doesn’t, and the entire finale, inevitable or not simply isn’t as interesting or effective as the rest of the film. I’m also not as fond of unflattering and pretentious close-ups as director Anderson is, but that’s a minor complaint.

 

Chalk this one up as a near-miss, but it’s quite nifty at times and certainly not worthless, just ultimately less than it could’ve been.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Basic Instinct 2


Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) is back and seemingly up to old tricks in London, as a sexcapade in a car turns into an accident, and the poor bloke is killed. Drugs are found in the victim’s system, and thus Ms. Tramell comes under suspicion from cop David Thewlis. As she is to go on trial, Crown psychologist David Morrissey is called in to assess her. The poor sap has no idea who he’s dealing with or what he’s in for. Tramell manages to wiggle her way out of legal trouble, and sets her sights squarely on her shrink, playing all kinds of games with him. And then dead bodies start turning up. Charlotte Rampling plays Morrissey’s mentor, Indira Varma plays Morrissey’s ex-wife, and Hugh Dancy plays the tabloid writer his ex-wife is banging.

 

I’ve never been a fan of Sharon Stone, but at least in “Basic Instinct” (average film as it was) she was convincing in the part, though I’m not one who finds her drop-dead sexy, either. But after giving terrible performances in flops like “Sliver”, “The Specialist”, “The Quick and the Dead”, “Sphere”, and “Catwoman”, I can see why she was lured back to reprise her role in this 2006 film from English director Michael Caton-Jones (“This Boy’s Life”, “Rob Roy”, “City By the Sea”) and writers Leora Barish (“Desperately Seeking Susan”) and Henry Bean (“Internal Affairs”, “Deep Cover”).

 

In theory, that is.

 

One glance at the script, not to mention her leading man and the English setting should’ve told Ms. Stone that this was going to end up very, very bad. And indeed it does. Nothing about it works, interests, or entertains, I’m afraid. At least with 2009’s direct-to-DVD “Streets of Blood”, Stone only had a supporting role, and could lay the blame elsewhere (whoever shot the damn thing, would be my starting point. It looked hideous), here she’s front and centre. What worked for her once (modestly, at least), fails to work a second time, and if she signed on to this willingly after reading the script, she should be ashamed of herself.

 

And then there’s the actual performance she gives. Wow. Her whole performance is like she’s impersonating herself playing the character in the first film. Worse, the character has no subtlety. Last time we were probably meant to assume she was guilty by the end of it, but the ending was at least a little ambiguous. Here she may as well have titled her book ‘If I DID IT’. It’s a terribly overpitched performance and character. It’s never organic or convincing, and neither is the film. We start off with a ridiculous high-speed masturbation scene that is a rip-off of “Crash”. It’s a really bad and moronic scene that no one could’ve made work. The whole film, though, comes off as Catherine Tramell making a bizarro appearance on “The Bill” (An episode in which there’s apparently a shortage of coffee and no one has slept in weeks). Co-star Morrissey is indeed a British TV veteran (And looks alarmingly like an underfed Liam Neeson, it must be said). There’s a reason why he never became a movie star, and this is it. At least last time Stone could play off the sleazy charm of Michael Douglas, but this guy is so stiff he’s like a well-mannered corpse. In fact, a corpse would probably look a bit more comfortable, and it ain’t his character. He’s just genuinely uncomfortable with any of this, and he plays the dumbest and weakest man in cinematic history. It’s a big call, but it’s true. He, and the film, are typically British in their approach to sex: Dry and analytical, as opposed to the wet and animalistic American approach. OK, not really, but you get what I mean. No sex please, Brits! Morrissey seems to regard sex in the same manner as John Cleese in the sex ed sketch from “The Meaning of Life”. It’s all ridiculously quaint- Ooh, the Brits have discovered doggystyle! Good for them, I guess.

 

Truth be told, by the time this came out, it had already become passé. And more than a little stupid. The original film spawned an entire catalogue of softcore thrillers, even some mainstream ones. By 2006, this was so fifteen years ago. Watching it in 2014, it’s even more useless.

 

About the only thing I could tolerate here was the relaxed performance by David Thewlis, who is good enough to not look bored or embarrassed making this film. He steals it, for what little it’s worth. He brought his working boots with him, but needn’t have bothered. As for Ms. Stone’s body, it’s OK but she showed a lot more of it the first time around. The Brits are way too restrained and repressed to do this sort of thing well (but then, even American cinema is strangely conservative on sexual content these days), and the film is just a really, really bad idea, executed in kind. It’s like one long interrogation scene stretched out, but missing the money shot. Or any sign of life whatsoever, outside of David Thewlis.  

 

Rating: D+

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: Pocahontas


British colonists and Native Americans clash when the former arrive on the latter’s land seeking gold. The colonists are led by Gov. Radcliffe (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) and the more even-keeled Capt. John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson), who encounters Native American girl Pocahontas (voiced by Irene Bedard). She’s curious (despite a marriage with a Native boy already arranged), he’s smitten (despite her being a ‘savage’), but their two tribes are quite clearly headed for war. Billy Connolly provides the voice of Smith’s rowdy mate, and a young-ish Christian Bale is the voice of an impressionable young seaman.

 

Directed by Mike Gabriel (“The Rescuers Down Under”) & Eric Goldberg (previously an animator on “Aladdin”), this 1995 Disney film might be just about rock-bottom so far as Disney animated fare goes. I did so much eye-rolling in the first fifteen minutes alone that I was worried my eyes wouldn’t set themselves right again. It’s one of the least feminist films to feature a fully-clothed female lead, the treatment of Native Americans and their culture is patronising and insulting (despite several Native Americans in the voice cast), the animation is ugly as hell, and the songs are awful and insipid, especially the ghastly ‘Colours of the Wind, which may have the worst lyrics to a song not done by The Black Eyed Peas. Seriously, these songs have putrid lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell”) and are poorly sung to boot (I mean, why on Earth would you ask a bobcat why he grins? Why would anyone write a song lyric about grinning bobcats? Were they dropped on their head as a kid?). They’re done in the Broadway style of the subsequent “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, but nowhere near as successful.

 

How un-feminist is it? The basic set-up with Pocahontas boils down to an arranged marriage, for cryin’ out loud…which I might add was pretty much the deal in Disney’s earlier (but better) “The Little Mermaid”. I know the story has some basis in kinda sorta fact, but the fact that Disney would give us such a clichéd and frankly outdated depiction of a young woman, especially when they’ve done the same damn thing before, is just lazy and insulting. And the way it deals with cultural differences between the white fellas and Native Americans shows that Disney animation is just not the right place for such things. The film plays the same note over and over, and over. We get it, the white man is the true savage, everyone needs to hold hands and kiss each other for world peace. Whatever, Disney. But it’s kinda hard to take this thing seriously anyway when Linda Hunt turns up to provide the voice of a talking tree. Yes, Pocahontas talks to a fucking tree. That pretty much sums up everything wrong with this film, to be honest. Kids deserve much better than this nonsense. Aside from the arranged marriage unpleasantness, the basic plot is perfectly fine, it’s just that screenwriters Carl Binder, Susannah Grant and Philip LaZebnik have botched it. Meanwhile, if Pocahontas is so ignorant and a savage, how come she speaks fluent English? That’s the thing, you have to ignore shortcuts like that in order to accept what this film gives us. Kids won’t notice it, but will they care about this colonial historical/war story? I get the feeling Disney weren’t sure, hence the shoehorning…er…inclusion of the hummingbird and raccoon characters as ‘cute furry animal comic relief’. These two may just be the worst such sidekicks of all-time, they don’t even talk! There are out-of-place, jarring, and pandering in the worst way.

 

And then there’s the animation, which may be an all-time low for Disney, yes even worse than the subsequent mediocrity “Hercules”. It’s angular, ugly, and boring, especially the Native American characters who at times look strangely flat-faced. Pocahontas in particular has only one facial expression (the biggest animation sin of all), looks like a man with her off-putting, strangely-shaped head. Disney’s attempt at making human hair look textured just makes it look cheap to me. There’s also way too many shampoo commercial spots with the Native Americans’ hair blowing in the wind and leaves also blowing in the wind for fuck knows what reason. The film incorporates some CGI in amongst the traditional hand-drawn animation, but there’s so little of it that when you see it, it’s obvious and not remotely seamless. The animation overall is seriously under par. And I swear no one involved in this film has any idea what a pug looks, sounds, or behaves like, because the one here only gets the tail right. The rest looks like a bulldog. It sounds nothing like a pug, and believe me, pugs have a very distinctive sound, not just their bark but their breathing too. This one sounds like one of those shitty little terrier things. Whoever envisioned a pug as snooty and pampered has never owned a pug. It’s inaccurate in the extreme. They are ‘people dogs’ who in particular love children, and aren’t known for being particularly prissy. Pugs have been in my family since my mother was a child, let alone me (and I’m 34), so I know what I’m talking about. Others won’t care, but it pissed me off.

 

So did I like anything about the film? The seafaring stuff was pretty enjoyable, as was the fat Captain Hook-like Gov. Radcliffe, nicely voiced by Winchester himself, David Ogden Stiers. He looks like Captain Hook has eaten the crocodile that ate him. I’m not sure Mel Gibson and Billy Connolly’s voices really match the character designs they’re assigned to, but the film would be even more boring without their enthusiastic efforts.

 

Not as useless as “Fantasia”, but worse than the lazy “Treasure Planet”, this is clearly one of the worst Disney animated films ever. Twee, patronising, and suffocatingly boring. I can’t imagine this being a childhood favourite of many.

 

Rating: D