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, October 10, 2014

Review: Alice in Wonderland


The story of young Alice (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont), who follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland, a most curious place indeed, and one in which she might just lose her head, if not careful.

 

Although I prefer “Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”, “Robin Hood”, and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, this 1951 Disney animated version of the infamous and enduring Lewis Carroll classic is highly enjoyable stuff. This is what Disney animation does best, not crap like “Fantasia” or “Treasure Planet”. Classic stories well told.

 

I liked the Tim Burton version from 2010, but if you’re gonna skip the book and watch the film (Don’t!), make it this one. This one hits all the main beats of the story, and the scenes with an oversized Alice are particularly fun, and probably a challenge at the time from an animation standpoint. I actually think the story works better than the animation here, though the latter is fine. It’s a very pretty and colourful film. It’s a cracker of a story to begin with, and although being Disney means it’s probably a tad less weird than other versions, the story hasn’t been ruined or anything, at least not the important bits (Carroll purists will complain that the film is a hodgepodge of the two Alice stories, instead of just the first one, though).

 

It’s a shame about the awful singing (Kathryn Beaumont in particular can’t hold a tune at all, though otherwise terrific), but even that fails to get in the way of the fun here. In fact, poor singing or not, the tunes themselves are positively infectious…possibly earworm like. There’s lots of wonderful characters here, even down to the cute talking flowers. What can I say, I love pansies OK? What? What did I say? The caterpillar voiced by Richard Haydn is possibly the trippiest thing in the film, and quite memorable. Weird as hell, but memorable. I swear this story is about drugs, man…opiates specifically. It has to be. The Mad Hatter’s tea party is quite possibly the most insane thing in a very insane story. I mean, this is a story where we get a bird with a body made out of a birdcage that houses another bird.

 

But far and away the most memorable characters are the White Rabbit (voiced by the inimitable Bill Thompson), The Mad Hatter (voiced by an insane Ed Wynn, a million miles from “The Diary of Anne Frank”) and The Cheshire Cat (voiced by none other than Winnie the Pooh, Sterling Holloway), who easily runs off with the whole film. When I think of the Cheshire Cat, it’s this version of the character I think of, and boy is he tripping balls. Also unforgettable for me are the army of playing cards. I just love that idea, wonderfully realised on-screen here.

 

Yes, it works better for kids than adults, but that’s the way it was once upon a time. Animators weren’t often concerned with pandering to adults in their children’s fare back then. When Disney tried to appeal to adults, we got “Fantasia” and “Fantasia” fucking sucks, OK? The film was directed by the trio of Clyde Geronimi (“Cinderella”, “Lady and the Tramp”), Wilfred Jackson (“Peter Pan”), and Hamilton Luske (“Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”). It was scripted by a slew of writers from various Disney animated films, too many to list without seeming like a pretentious know-it-all.

 

Rating: B

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: The Conjuring


Set in the 70s, when a seemingly typical American family (Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, and daughters played by Joey King, Shanley Caswell, and Mackenzie Foy) is terrorised by a sinister presence in their new Rhode Island home, they must call in the services of paranormal investigators (and God-fearing husband and wife to boot) Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to rid this house of evil.

 

I honestly didn’t expect “Insidious: Chapter 2” to be the best James Wan (“Saw”, “Death Sentence”) film of 2013, but indeed this old-school supernatural flick is the lesser of the two films from the Aussie director for the year. However, it still earns an above average grade from me, if only just. I was quite disappointed, actually, as word of mouth had this pegged as a really scary horror film. It just didn’t get there for me.

 

Perhaps I have underrated the screenwriting efforts of Leigh Whannell, because this one comes penned by Chad and Carey (W.) Hayes, who previously gave us the tedious remake of “House of Wax”. The main problem I had was with the structure. I understand why it was done, but by switching between the situation with the family and with the husband-wife team of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, it’s hard to maintain tension to the point where genuine scares occur. It distances you from the action a bit, taking you out of the situation. The movie would’ve been so much better had the opening scene been removed, and only introduce us to the Wilson-Farmiga characters once weird crap starts going down at the house. After about 50 minutes or so, boy does this ever get started. But if the Hayes’ had made the changes I suggested, we’d get there after, what? 30 minutes at most? It’s a damn shame because, original or not, this could’ve been something really, really good. But every return to the private lives of Wilson and Farmiga and that stupid doll is regrettable and unnecessary.

 

The film is aiming for “The Exorcist” meets “Poltergeist” by way of “The Amityville Horror”, basically. Like “Amityville” it’s based on supposedly true events, a claim pretty hard to swallow considering how dubious the real-life “Amityville” case is. And considering the real-life paranormal investigators here also investigated the “Amityville” case…well, let’s just say I’m not buying it. Still, the structure is the main flaw here. And actually, there’s a fair bit to like here, no doubt about it. The best thing about the film for me is that even the sceptics aren’t as stupidly pigheaded and closed-minded as usual. In a film that is going to rely on some well-worn clichés, it’s good to avoid at least that most irritating and unnecessary one. Also, I have to say that the title crawl and even the font used in the credits is perfect for this sort of thing. Those sorts of small technical details are important to me. I’m a dork, OK?

 

The casting is really quite clever, too on paper. Patrick Wilson isn’t my favourite actor in the world and I’ve previously only liked Vera Farmiga on “Bates Motel”, but casting them and Lili Taylor is really quite cute. In addition to Mrs. Bates Vera Farmiga, you’ve got Wilson from Wan’s “Insidious” movies, and Lili Taylor of course was in the lame remake of “The Haunting”. Aside from their previous roles, the casting of these actors (and indeed Ron Livingston) is that they all seem like normal, decent people, not kooks. And among the cast, Farmiga is particularly good (as a character who is religious, a paranormal investigator, and a clairvoyant to boot!), and although I didn’t like the intercutting between the two storylines, she and Wilson play quite interesting characters. Meanwhile, I absolutely would not have wanted to be in Lili Taylor’s head on the set of this film. That would NOT have been a fun character to get inside of.

 

Although the film can’t refrain from some corny FX, the exorcism sequence is the best seen on screen since 1973. Best of all is the film’s visual style and camerawork from cinematographer John R. Leonetti, who did terrific work on the “Insidious” films. There’s plenty of terrific, creeping camerawork, with very good shot composition. We even get some lovely foggy exteriors, though not enough of them if you ask me! Leonetti really does help give this film a lift, it might be his best work to date. Also, as much as the basic story elements have been done before, it’s kinda hard not to go down “Amityville” territory (especially in this case), and I’d much rather something like this than the umpteenth movie about pretty, pot-smoking jerk 20 year-olds. And boy does the house in this film have the most mind-blowingly effed-up history in the history of haunted house films. This house has mucho problems encased within its walls.

 

This is a perfectly OK film overall, but it could’ve been something truly special if the structure of the plot were changed. As is, it’s hard to get much tension built up when you’re constantly cutting away.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: House of Wax (2005)


A bunch of dead-heads (Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Paris Hilton, Jon Abrahams, and Robert Ri’chard) get lost in the backroads of Baton Rouge. And then something happens to their car. A local hick (played quite well by Aussie character actor Damon Herriman- the film was shot over here) agrees to take Cuthbert and Padalecki to the nearest town, leaving the others behind. At this town they run into mechanic Brian Van Holt, who says he has the parts they need to fix their car. They also come across an old wax museum. And that’s when people start dying.

 

Although the idea of a house literally made of wax is a clever one in conception, this 2005 remake of the 1953 Vincent Price classic (or the 1933 “Mystery of the Wax Museum”, if you prefer) from first-time feature director Jaume Collett-Serra (Who went onto the OK “Orphan” and the enjoyable thriller “Unknown”) gets pretty much everything wrong. The 1953 film was macabre fun with a terrific ham special from Vincent Price, but this one’s a tedious slasher film featuring an underwhelming Brian Van Holt. Jesus, couldn’t they at least have gotten Geoffrey Rush (who had the Price role in the remake of “House on Haunted Hill”)? Jeffrey Combs? Tim Curry?

 

The 1953 film didn’t need a bunch of twenty-ish Jason Voorhees victims, and this film gives us a quartet of TV stars (Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, and Jon Abrahams) and a celebutant, all of whom are now pretty much irrelevant in 2014, except maybe “Supernatural” star Padalecki. I don’t think I’ve seen Cuthbert in anything since about 2008, and Paris Hilton has only recently re-emerged from obscurity in 2014 because she and Kim Kardashian may or may not be cool with each other again. I really never got Paris Hilton. She looks like a deflated sex doll, or a Barbie doll with no boobs moulded yet. Or perhaps there was a tragic accident at Mattel where Barbie and Ken got blended together. As an actress she is hamstrung by an inexperience with any form of human emotion whatsoever. Anyone who has ever seen her interviewed knows exactly what I mean. Hilton is giving a guy a blowjob in the first ten minutes here, whilst poor Cuthbert had to dye her hair because apparently you can’t have two blonde chicks in the film. She has nice jugs here, but if she wasn’t gonna show ‘em playing a hooker in “The Girl Next Door”, you had to know you weren’t getting to see them here. She’s also apparently stolen Jessica Biel’s wardrobe from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”.

 

The film actually seems more influenced by the 2003 remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (which I rather liked) than any previous “Wax” film, and not a goddamn thing happens in the first 30 minutes except some boring party scenes badly shot by cinematographer Stephen F. Windon (“Fast Five”). In fact, ¾ of that 30 minutes is really just the characters standing around doing nothing. After 45 minutes, something actually sorta kinda happens, but even then it’s still tedious because there’s nothing interesting about any of these characters or performances. It’s a really ugly film thanks to Windon and the drab production design/colour scheme, the title house isn’t as interesting in actuality as it is in theory. The climax with the melting house is well-done, but how can one care when the characters suck?

 

Really, the only memorable thing about the entire film ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** is Hilton’s death scene, which is good, and frankly an international service ***** END SPOILER *****. No one in the making of this film was remotely interested in a house of wax or a house made out of wax. Or anything requiring thought. They just wanted to kill a bunch of people, and even then it takes almost an hour, and only one of the deaths is remotely memorable. The bulk of the film is just people wandering around. Ugh. No, this just won’t do, Dark Castle by and large have released a bunch of disappointments (Their best films seem to be their few non-remakes like “The Hills Run Red” and “Unknown”, though “Orphan” also had the distinction of an absolutely brilliant 11th hour twist, as mediocre as the rest was), and this is certainly one of them. Supposedly based on the Charles Belden play the other “Wax” films were based on, the screenplay is by Chad and Carey W. Hayes (who unsurprisingly come from a TV background).

 

Rating: D+

Review: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah


Three supposed time travellers from the year 2204 (Chuck Wilson, Richard Berger, and Anna Nakagawa) and an android arrive in Japan to warn of the radioactive disaster that is Godzilla. If the big green lizard isn’t stopped, it will mean disastrous things for Japan’s future, environmentally. The future humans travel back in time with Terasawa (Kosoyuke Toyohara, as the author of a book on Godzilla) to the 1940s, where Godzilla was just a regular dinosaur (!) who actually helped the Japanese in WWII (!) before nuclear tests turned him into the radioactive giant lizard known as Gojira/Godzilla. However, these future humans and their ‘cute’ little creatures they bring with them aren’t all they appear to be. Oh look, those cute little ‘Dorats’ appear to be turning into a three-headed, dragon-like monster. That’s what happens when you feed them after midnight. Megumi Odaka essays her usual role of ESP-gifted Miki, who travels with Terasawa etc.

 

Socially conscious 1991 Godzilla film from writer-director Kazuki Omori (the previous “Godzilla Vs. Biollante”) isn’t bad and has a fun, if not always air-tight plot (It’s a slight variant on “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, it seems), but it’s cheap-looking, even by 1991’s standards, which is unacceptable. It’s not as fun as the original series of films (the best of which was the all-star monster effort “Destroy All Monsters!”) nor as well-made as subsequent films like 1993’s “Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla” and “Godzilla vs. Mothra: The Battle for Earth”. In fact, the film feels like a dry run for the latter two films (not to mention the more recent likes of “Godzilla 2000” and “Godzilla: Final Wars”) which managed to iron out this film’s kinks somewhat, or at least improve the FX. It’s neither bad nor good (that robot is pretty dumbski, though and a cheap T-1000 rip-off), but a warm feeling welled up inside me upon hearing the strains of the familiar “Gojira” theme by the inimitable and invaluable Akira Ifukube (“Gojira”, “Destroy All Monsters!”), who does a typically excellent job here.

 

Godzilla’s first appearance is pretty cool, making him look massive with a nice use of scale. Dodgy blue screen, though. Yikes! The monster design seems more akin to the films of the 60s than the 90s, if you ask me, but that may or may not be a criticism depending on your sensibilities. And the Dorats are the creepiest fucking things ever, giving me nightmares for days. Holy crap they are freaky little buggers. As for Ghidorah, he was always the coolest-looking monster, but ungainly and frankly useless in battle. I always like seeing Ghidorah…until I remember that it never works out quite as awesome as I expect it to. However, there’s nothing more fun than watching Godzilla pick up Ghidorah by the tail and smacking the fuck out of it. ‘MechaGhidorah’ (as it should be known) is pretty damn bad-arse looking, it has to be said, too.

 

I tend to favour the “Godzilla” films with an alien or time travel bent, but the cool plot is really this film’s only big selling point. Otherwise it’s a pretty middling, cheap-looking film at around the time the series was gearing up for more technologically impressive things. Series fans will no doubt want to see it, but there’s much better entries out there.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, October 6, 2014

Review: Crossing Over


Several stories centring on immigration to the US. Harrison Ford (perhaps a tad too old) plays a veteran ICE agent who agrees to help illegal immigrant Alice Braga get reunited with her son before she is to be deported. Unfortunately, he doesn’t act quickly enough and she has already been sent back, the woman’s plight now haunting his conscience. Summer Bishil plays a proud 15 year-old Muslim who in addition to being an illegal immigrant, unwittingly announces herself to the FBI (represented by Jacqueline Obradors as a woman with a vaguely Arabic-sounding name) as a possible terrorist threat after she indicates in an essay that she understands (but doesn’t condone) the actions of the 9/11 hijackers. Oh, and her bedroom is ‘austere’, which is apparently code for: This bitch be Jihad crazy, ‘yo! Ashley Judd is the immigration lawyer attempting to help her, whilst also working on the case of a young African orphan. Her husband is Ray Liotta, an immigration official who attempts to help struggling Aussie actress Alice Eve, who doesn’t have the correct paperwork to stay and work in the US. His solution? He’ll see she stays in the country in exchange for being his sex slave for two months! Meanwhile, a British musician/teacher (Jim Sturgess) tries to acquire residency by claiming to be a very religious Jew, and not the casual atheist that he actually is. Cliff Curtis is Ford’s co-worker who comes from a proud and traditional Iranian immigrant family. His dad is about to get his US citizenship, whilst his wild and family black sheep sister continues to shame her family’s good name with her promiscuous behaviour. Oh, and then there’s the young Korean dude who starts hanging out with the Asian equivalent of Doughboy etc. in da hood, ‘yo. Aussie export Tammin Sursok appears briefly as Eve’s friend, whilst Lizzy Caplan is a Jewish school teacher who catches Sturgess’ eye.

 

The promise South African-born filmmaker Wayne Kramer showed in his feature debut “The Cooler” doesn’t come to anything much with this extremely clichéd, exaggerated, and rather silly 2009 film (shot in 2007) about immigration and the American Dream. Or something. It’s attractive to look at, and I can sort of see what Kramer is trying to get at, but well-intentioned or not, this is just as clichéd, overblown, and heavy-handed as the overrated “Crash”. In fact it’s even worse than that undeserving Best Picture Oscar winner, because of how incredibly silly it all is in the execution. Yes, even sillier than “Crash”, the film where Sandra Bullock putting her back out helps her be less racist to her Hispanic maid.

 

Nothing about the film convinces as remotely real here, Kramer and co-writer Kevin Brodbin (who wrote the tedious and clichéd Steven Seagal flick “The Glimmer Man”, oddly enough) have totally botched it. There’s something to the Alice Eve character, an Aussie aspiring actress who resorts to degrading herself to try and stay in the country, but even this subplot doesn’t work. In one scene, Ray Liotta is bribing her for sex (and rear entry at that), next scene she’s acting like his mistress, then he develops feelings for her, and all of a sudden she’s cold and cruel towards him. What? Jarring and unconvincing, and as hot as Alice Eve is, why would anyone cheat on Ashley Judd in the first place? You’ve already won the lottery you stupid, greedy bastard! Eve is hot, but Judd is clearly and infinitely hotter to anyone with a working set of eyes. Liotta’s character is more convincing than Eve’s, and quite multi-layered. He’s a creep and yet he’s genuinely willing to help Eve out at the same time. So creep or not, he has at least a hint of a second dimension to him.

 

The least convincing story by far, however, is that of Summer Bishil as a strident high school student and Bangladesh-born Muslim who finds herself in trouble with the Feds for writing an essay and speaking in class on the topic of the 9/11 hijackers in which she openly agrees that their methods were incorrect but that they weren’t actually cowards for doing what they did. Say fucking what now? Taking on a point in an essay in school gets you in trouble with the Feds now? Um, no, that’s insane and would never happen, even for an already illegal immigrant like Bishil’s character is. She also wouldn’t stand up in class and say any of the things she said in the strident and scrunchy-faced manner she does in the film, either. It’s ridiculous, as is the federal agent character played by Jacqueline Obradors (whose entire dialogue calls attention to the screenwriters’ message) in a manner that suggests she thinks it’s all a teeny bit bullshit, too. I mean, I know America has become a bit paranoid in this post 9/11 world, hell most nations and governments have, but this is laughably absurd melodramatics (and don’t tell me her illegal status was the issue. If so, why do they keep harping on about her beliefs? Please…), not helped by Bishil’s terrible acting. She wasn’t quite so bad in the deeply offensive “Towelhead”, but typecast in an already unconvincing role, the poor girl is helpless, given no choice but to overact. Aside from her, the performances are generally fine here, though Cliff Curtis and perhaps Harrison Ford, are the only ones who actually come out of it positively (with one overblown scene excepted). The rest are stuck with unconvincing characters and/or situations, though British actress Alice Eve (and her absolutely perfect arse) deserves credit for putting on a mostly pretty good Australian accent. It occasionally ventures towards Kiwi and Eve’s own native England, but you’ve heard a lot worse (People who already mistake her for Aussie actress Rachael Taylor will be extremely confused here). In fact, her overall performance is as good as possible under the circumstances. As I said, there’s something to her story, you really feel bad for her, but I think I had more sympathy for her than Kramer seemed to. Ashley Judd is perfectly convincing in her role, but the film doesn’t seem terribly interested in her. And what a waste of the charismatic Alice Braga and Lizzy Caplan!

 

How did they get this all so horribly wrong? (I highly doubt the removal of scenes with a character apparently played by Sean Penn are to blame. The film would’ve been longer, not better) How in the hell does this film help anyone? Like “Crash”, it only reinforces negative ethnic stereotypes. Meanwhile, take a look at the ultimate fate of both the Alice Eve and Jim Sturgess characters and tell me what happens is fair. It ain’t. Not even a bit.

 

The climax is utterly ridiculous, featuring a confessional taking place at a citizenship ceremony. “Star-Spangled Banner” and all, and boy does the National Anthem singer overdo it big time. The only scene in the whole film that works is where Sturgess is being grilled over his ‘Jewishness’. It’s actually a brilliant little scene. The rest? Not even close, and as much as Alice Eve looks absolutely sensational nude (earning the film most of its still very poor grade), that’s what internet screen caps are for (Or so I’ve heard…)

 

With this cast, Kramer’s previous success, and heavyweight producers Frank Marshall (a long-time producer of Spielberg films and an occasional director) and the Weinstein’s behind it, this film is a massive disappointment, and just all-round pretty badly done.

 

Rating: C-