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, November 7, 2014

Review: Red Dragon


After discovering consulting psychologist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is the very serial killer he was supposed to be helping to apprehend, FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) has retired to family life with wife Mary Louise Parker and son. However, Graham (who was injured by Lecter) is drawn back into the fold several years later by FBI director Crawford (Harvey Keitel) with a new serial killer nicknamed ‘The Tooth Fairy’. And the only way Graham is going to nab this sicko is to once again seek the counsel of Dr. Lecter. Meanwhile, we get to know ‘The Tooth Fairy’ AKA Francis Dollarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), a disfigured, surprisingly meek and heavily withdrawn and lonely man who is striking up a tentative relationship with a sweet-natured, blind co-worker (Emily Watson). Philip Seymour Hoffman plays repugnant, tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, who is always skulking about, whilst Frank Whaley plays Watson’s sleazy co-worker, and both Anthony Heald and Frankie Faison reprise (initiate?) their roles from “Silence of the Lambs” as the smug Dr. Chilton and orderly Barney, respectively.

 

This 2002 film from director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”, “After the Sunset”, “Tower Heist”) and writer Ted Tally (“Silence of the Lambs”, “The Juror”) gets a bit of a bad rap as a film cheaply trying to cash in on the success of “Silence of the Lambs” by merely remaking “Manhunter” (based on Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon with Silence its sequel) but with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter instead of Brian Cox. It’s not a great film, but in my opinion, neither was “Silence of the Lambs”, and at the very least this one’s a massive improvement over the frankly disgusting “Hannibal”. This may be inferior to “Silence of the Lambs”, but at least it’s not as shameless as that awful Ridley Scott sequel.

 

I won’t deny that it’s a shitty reason to remake this just to beef up the Lecter role and change the casting (Do you really expect anything less from producer Dino De Laurentiis, however? The guy produced “Dune” and the awful remakes of “King Kong” and “Desperate Hours” after all). However, there’s quite a bit to like here, even if Edward Norton’s coasting here. Is Norton well-cast as Will Graham? Yes, absolutely. It’s just that it’s one of the least interesting roles in the film, and while Norton is an immensely talented actor, he can’t work miracles. Thankfully, those around him mostly score. There is no doubt that Sir Anthony Hopkins is infinitely better and more subtle as Hannibal than he was in “Hannibal”. In particular, the opening scene is note-perfect. However, he is actually upstaged by the performances from Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman is bloody hilarious as the shameless scumbag tabloid reporter, and you can’t wait to see him bumped off. Even his final scene is hilarious in a sadistic way. The best scenes in the film, though, are between Fiennes and Watson. Fiennes’ character (a role both Jeremy Piven and Michael Jackson were interested in playing. I’ll let that sink in…) has a few too many Norman Bates trappings, but nonetheless gives one of the best performances of his career. He’s alternately frightening, intimidating, and strangely pitiful. Norman Bates didn’t have enormous tattoos, nor was he a scary fucker like this guy. Watson is genuinely sweet as this poor blind woman who chooses the absolute worst candidate for a love match imaginable. She’s truly touching and worrying, and their scenes together have a whole lotta stuff going on, tension in particular. This poor woman can’t see the monster in front of her, and not just because she’s blind.

 

The film also boasts two terrific small turns from an amusingly sleazy Frank Whaley, and the inimitable Anthony Heald in a reprisal of the role he played in “Silence of the Lambs”. He is simply the greatest portrayer of smug, wimpy, academic arseholes in cinematic history. I’m not sure Harvey Keitel’s role here is the best use of his talents, but I’m also not sure where the hell Harvey Keitel even is these days, so re-watching this film in 2014, it was nice to see him anyway. Bill Duke is similarly wasted, but I gotta say, if Duke has daughters (and I have no idea if he does or not), I would hate to be the teenage boy turning up at the door for a date and seeing that big, scary sumabitch staring at me. I believe he’s an arse-kicking Green Beret, too.

 

One of the film’s best attributes is the excellent music score by the dependable Danny Elfman (“Batman”, “Darkman”, “Mars Attacks!”), which sends off immediately ominous, foreboding notes to put you in the right macabre mood. This film certainly has its flaws, but I think most people had a bug up their arse about this one that I just don’t understand. It’s a solid and interesting film, with at least three excellent performances, and a reliable one from Hopkins in his signature role.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Journey to the 7th Planet


Formerly at Epinions.com Written in 2010, at the age of 30. That last part is the truth, I swear.

 

A sci-fi flick charting the first manned trip to Uranus, led by Carl Ottosen. The planet, Uranus, that is. What they find there (aside from a surprising amount of vegetation for such a supposedly gaseous planet) is the stuff of their dreams, nightmares, and Earthly remembrances, as a one-eyed alien brain somehow uses all of this in its plot to destroy them. Oh, and they encounter some hot chicks, who may or may not be illusionary, and may or may not be the ex-girlfriends of the crew members. B-movie stalwart John Agar (whose career used to be somewhat legit before this) plays one of the crew members, presumably for B-grade marquee value (at best).

 

Depending on your sense of humour, this review is either going to be the funniest thing you’ve ever read, or the most juvenile. I’d like to think it’s somewhere in the middle. When I looked at my notes, I realised pretty much all I had was a bunch of methane jokes. Oh yes folks, I am going to go there. This film deserves it. I mean, look at the title and you immediately know why this 1962 Sidney Pink sci-fi cheapie (a clearly inexpensive US-Danish coproduction, AIP being the American distributor) is one of the worst movies ever made. It’s basically “Journey to Uranus”, and no matter how much scientists (and this film’s makers, clearly worried) want us to pronounce it ‘ur-ahn-us’, we all know it’s ‘your anus’, don’t we? That’s right, this is “Journey to Planet Methane”, folks. Someone genuinely thought it would be a great idea to make a movie about a journey to Uranus. Well, it was the 60s, so who knows what kind of substances Mr. Pink and his co-writer Ib Melchior (who made the pretty terrible “Angry Red Planet”) were on at the time. Anyway, apologies in advance to those who cannot tolerate potty humour, but anyone who has seen this film knows it’s impossible not to make these jokes, and I’m going the extra mile by putting them into a semi-coherent (hopefully) review. Actually, by semi-coherent, I mean ‘bunch of anal joke peppered with the occasional film critique interruption’.

 

The one good thing I can say about the film up front, is that although cheap, dull and painfully serious-faced, it’s a pretty colourful film and the plot is just beyond nuts. It sure is one-of-a-kind. But other than that, it’s a stinker. Sorry, but how can you not have these juvenile thoughts in your head when you’ve got a phallic symbol rocket headed for Uranus, and followed by much talk of losing their trajectory? Nope, you sure don’t wanna get lost on your way to Uranus! These guys couldn’t find Uranus with their hands! But believe me, as much fun as I’m making of this film, it is not actually fun to watch, at least not on your own. I’m just purging myself of the poison this film has inflicted me with by lampooning it. Did I mention that our heroes encounter a force-field on Uranus? Yup, and one guy pokes it with a stick, while another guy nearly loses an arm sticking it into Uranus’ force-field. I swear, I am not making any of this up!

 

Seriously, the only real problem with this film, budget aside, is Uranus itself. By choosing this particular planet, the film’s chances of being anything other than the butt (sorry!) of a lot of anal jokes, is ruined. I mean, when our heroes set up a campfire on Uranus, how can I not start thinking about “Blazing Saddles” and baked beans? And that just leads to questions like; Is there a volcano on Uranus? An epicentre? A landing strip? Mine shaft? Do they experience any earth tremors? Any visible surface cracks? Fault lines? And wait, is that the back door they’re going through? Why is there radiation and quicksand on Uranus? And should audiences really be subjected to scenes of interrogation on Uranus? Is that green lava growing on Uranus? Um...you better get to a doctor, quick! Why is there a tarantula on Uranus? This sure ain’t “Fantastic Voyage” (easily the best film of its type), folks. And hey, just when you think the trip to Uranus was a boys only adventure (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), up pop a blonde and brunette chick on Uranus. I’ll let you make the joke about that one.

 

Oh, and asphinctersayswhat? (I really did write that in my notes, I’m not kidding!)

 

The moral of this story appears to be that women are just troublesome, illusionary distractions from Uranus. So when we discover that the planet dishes out man’s deepest darkest fears and greatest desires...I think we all know what that means, right? RIGHT? I’m not remotely homophobic myself, by the way, I’m just thinking about the characters and the era the film was made in, you’d think that kinda thing would indeed be man’s deepest, darkest fears, at least these macho guys, so maybe this was intentional. Sorry, but it’s that kind of film, really, and I gotta say it says a whole lot more about Pink and Melchior than I think any of us wanted to know.

 

Other thoughts during viewing the film: Oh my god, a one-eyed monster on Uranus! Thankfully it’s not a one-eyed trouser snake, though (one for you Python fans out there). It’s a Cyclops “Godzilla”-like creature and absolutely awful, too. Oh hell, what is that baby poo brown ooze? Um, wait...I think I know the answer to that question. The alien brain (a smart-arse? Yeah, I went there!), when we finally get to it, functions and sounds like a laserium, the kind that used to play Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ for LSD-addicted youngsters. Hmmm, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, nope, no joke there. And it doesn’t help that it looks like a turd with a big eye on it.

 

Look, the colour and trippy (if cheap) FX offer some amusement, but this is just the most conceptually inexplicable film I’ve ever seen, even beating out “Equus”, and that dealt with a young man who loves to ride naked on a horse! Agar’s a dependable character actor, but here he looks totally ashamed, and well he should be. The dialogue he and the other guys have to spout is full of your typical ‘She was some dame, what a doll!’ type dialogue that seems more indicative of the 50s than 60s and gets super-annoying, super-fast. Speaking of super-annoying, the score by Ronald Stein (“Dementia 13” and “Spider Baby”, both for AIP), seems more indicative of the irritating jazzy, horn section-heavy crap AIP usually attach to their films (especially those composed by Les Baxter), which I loathe. I have since learned that it’s an AIP replacement score for the original one by Ib Glindemann, which surely couldn’t have been worse!

The film actually reminds me a little of the “South Park” episode where Mr. Garrison tries to get fired by showing the kids what happens when he shoves a gerbil up Mr. Slave’s behind (probably based on that rumour about Richard Gere years ago) and we get to see things from the gerbil’s point of view. Except that was (shamefully) hilarious, this is just laughable, in between long stretches of tedium. The end credits feature a godawful “Love Boat”-esque theme by Otto Brandenburg, with the lyric ‘Let your dreams become reality, I wait for you’. I’ll let you make up a joke about that one.

 

In the end, I’ve had a hundred times more fun writing this review than I did actually watching this film. You need only read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Sorry about the smell.

 

Rating: F

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: Swiss Family Robinson (1960)


The title family find themselves shipwrecked on an island deserted save for wild animals. Eventually the Robinsons adapt to their new surroundings, and dad (Sir John Mills, flexing whatever he has instead of muscles) even builds a home in the trees. Meanwhile, the youngest Robinson (Kevin Corcoran) sets about trying to trap himself a wild animal (presumably out of some kind of idiotic death wish). Oh, and Mum Robinson (Dorothy McGuire) gets all depressed because she’s a useless homemaker stuck on an island without an oven (Don’t blame the author, blame the screenwriter, apparently she was far more useful in the novel). Cecil Parker and Janet Munro play a grandfather/granddaughter team who are set upon by vicious pirates (Led by Sessue Hayakawa). Brawny Fritz (James MacArthur) and brainy Ernst (Tommy Kirk) rescue the girl, squabble over her, and then join the rest of the family in preparing for the inevitable moment the pirates discover their island home.

 

This 1960 Ken Annakin (“Third Man on the Mountain”) family flick is a Disney favourite of many, but I’m not among that group. Scripted by Lowell S. Hawley (“Babes in Toyland”, “The One and Only”) from the 1813 novel by Johann Wyss, I found it twee, mostly uninteresting, and about as realistic as “Gilligan’s Island”. It doesn’t help that Sir John Mills, although giving an OK performance, is horribly miscast. His two eldest kids (James MacArthur and Tommy Kirk) look manlier than he does, in a role that really ought to have gone to a Rod Taylor or Kirk Douglas. Mills looks like the type who would get sea sick just reading Treasure Island. And why would anyone cast him in a role that requires him to be shirtless for most of it? My eyes! My eyes are burning!

 

There’s a perfectly fun family vs. pirates story in here somewhere, but they’ve chosen to focus on the twee family/animals stuff instead. That means we get idiotic scenes where the family races animals (sitting atop ostriches, zebras, and baby elephants), the nadir of the film. James MacArthur (faring best among the ‘youngsters’), a 23 year-old grown-arse man at the time, even races atop a Shetland freakin’ pony! These poor animals are not pets! A grown-arse man (and he ain’t small, either!) should not be riding a freakin’ Shetland pony! It also means one has to accept that all of these wild animals, many dangerous could co-exist with this family peacefully. Sure, after a while they build themselves a treehouse, but c’mon. I liked the first 20 minutes or so because the film goes out of its way to make the animals (several, by the way, are on the ship with the family to begin with) seem threatening. It really piles on the tension early. But once we get to the island, that seems to go, and it just seems like bullshit to me, fun as the animals are to watch. Being real animals certainly helps, but there’s too many of them in one place to be realistic. Want proof? Look at the scene where a trapped zebra is about to be pounced on by hyenas and vultures. Awesome animals (the zebra is cute as hell), but it’s too much.

 

However, it’s the family here that gave me the most problems. For starters, either the family looks too well-fed to be credible, or there’s way too much meat walking around on the island. I don’t think a diet of nuts, fruit, and grains is the answer here. Nope, someone just done fucked up and forgot to show us what they were eating (Not to mention that it looks like the treehouse gets built in a matter of hours, which is just ridiculous). This becomes especially problematic at the end, of which I’ll say no more. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll be screaming at the TV like I was, believe me.

 

The human characters themselves are really problematic. The youngest son, played by Kevin Corcoran in particular is an absolute disaster. Not only did the little shit’s constant shouting during the shipwreck drive me nuts, but the character is a thoroughly unlikeable, reckless little turd who deserved to be tiger food. His attempts to rope the various animals is not remotely endearing. It’s cruel, dangerous, and any harm that comes to him is his own stupid fault. This kid is one of the worst child characters I’ve ever encountered on film. Sadly, the women folk don’t get it much better. It might reveal the age and sexual politics of the original novel’s era, but there is a really poor depiction of women in this film. Dorothy McGuire gets it worst, cast as a woman who finds herself depressed and helpless because she’s out of her element here. She’s rendered pretty much useless, as you can tell that a woman absolutely did not write this. Janet Munro, meanwhile is saddled with the ‘girl pretending to be a boy’ cliché, before being the piece of meat brothers James MacArthur and Tommy Kirk basically squabble over. Yikes. Why don’t y’all just go get yourselves a couple of sodey pops and play something on the jukebox, you crazy mixed-up kids!

 

As I said, I liked the pirate stuff. The finale (a huge influence on George Lucas, as you can see in “Return of the Jedi”), whilst a bit silly, is the most exciting thing in the film. It should’ve been the whole film. I mean, you’ve got one of cinema’s greatest ever character actors in Cecil Parker and you keep him on the sidelines in favour of a family riding wild animals? As far as I was concerned, I wanted to see whatever movie Parker, the pirates and the native tribe (where the hell were they the rest of the film?) were making. The best things in the entire film are the music score by William Alwyn (“Odd Man Out”, “The Magic Box”, “The Winslow Boy”) and the terrific set design by Jack Stevens (“Octopussy”).

 

No, this film didn’t do much for me at all. The giant snake attack was pretty good, the first twenty minutes are tense, and the finale was also good fun. But overall, the animals and excellent scenery deserved a lot better than this twee nonsense that wants us to believe that two dogs can scare away a tiger. Yes, they’re big dogs, but the tiger is still winning that fight all day long. Gimme a break. This one just hasn’t held up well at all. And where was Robbie the Robot? (Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week).

 

Rating: C

Review: Kick-Ass 2


Aaron Taylor-Johnson is back as Dave, but when we first meet him here, he has hung up his Kick-Ass costume to return to normal teenage life. But it just doesn’t feel right, he decides to seek out Hit Girl, AKA Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is now 15, and her vigilante activities are getting hard for her guardian Marcus (Morris Chestnut) to contain. Dave wants to team up with Mindy, but before they can start training together, Marcus gets wise to what’s going on and puts a stop to it. Mindy ends up falling into line with the societal norms of high school life…puberty and joining a clique! This leaves Dave looking for a sidekick, and the ultra-lame Dr. Gravity (Donald Faison), who introduces Dave/Kick-Ass to a team of superheroes led by the gruff Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey), whilst also hooking up with the spunky Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). Meanwhile the former Red Mist, AKA rich twit Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is still nursing a grudge against Kick-Ass, and has rebranded himself The Motherfucker. He uses his inheritance to try and hire a team of super badass supervillain cohorts. John Leguizamo turns up as the personal assistant his late mother (a sadly underused Yancy Butler) assigned him.

 

I wasn’t a huge fan of the original film, but it had less to do with moral objections (Hit Girl’s very real use of the c-word bothered me more than the staged violence) and more that it was an uneven film, and frankly not even all that original. Well now comes this sequel from 2013, written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (“Cry Wolf”, “Never Back Down”) and…it’s about on par with the first film, which was pretty much par itself. There’s sadly no Nic Cage as a fat “Batman” in this one, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse is once again very funny as the stupid and petulant rich kid turned stupid and petulant super-villain, this time called The Motherfucker. Yep. He really is the new Stephen Geoffreys, though I’d advise him against going full-throttle down the same career path. If you know Geoffreys, you know why. He might even be better in this than in the first film, he’s certainly the highlight. The new outfit for The Motherfucker is absolutely brilliantly ridiculous, bravo right there.

 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is as he was last time out (meh), but Chloe Grace Moretz is older, more accomplished, and far easier to stomach as Hit Girl than last time. The character is 15 now, and frankly should’ve been in the first place. I didn’t find the character terribly shocking the first time, but she’s certainly more palatable at age 15. Hit Girl falling prey to cliques and pubescent desire is really quite clever. I normally can’t stand Morris Chestnut, but seeing his character try to play Cliff Huxtable (or Carl Winslow, perhaps more accurately) to a teenage girl who is also a violent superhero/vigilante is somehow very funny to me. Less funny is the returning Clark Duke, who needs a new act yesterday. Every time I see him I either want to punch him or yell ‘Stranger Danger!’. There’s just something creepy about him (I didn’t even like him on “Greek”, a show I swear I’ve never even heard of), though he’s probably a genuinely nice guy. Donald Faison makes for an amusingly lame sidekick to Kick-Ass, however.

 

Meanwhile, if Comic-Con were anything like the final fight in this film, it might be fun to go. It’s the only good action scene in a film where Wadlow and DP Tim Maurice Jones (who did much better work on “The Woman in Black”) favour shaky-cam nonsense. It makes most of the action awful to look at. Other drawbacks include the waste of John Leguizamo in an unfunny role, and more substantially, a completely disappointing and uninteresting Jim Carrey in a role perhaps better suited to Henry Rollins. Let’s face it, Carrey regrets making this movie because a) Hindsight is a bitch, and real life gun-related violence does bad things to a movie’s image, and b) He’s boring in it. He was uneven as The Riddler, but he’s still talented and it’s really disappointing he didn’t nail this.

 

The film will be easier to stomach for people who objected to Hit Girl last time (though why no one had any problems with the title vigilante also being a high-schooler is awesome hypocrisy right there), but at the end of the day, this is just as uneven as the first film. It’s watchable.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Gardens of Stone


1968, and the Vietnam War is raging. D.B. Sweeney plays a soldier (and son of a soldier) who wants nothing more than to do his bit fighting over in Vietnam. Instead, he’s in the U.S. as a part of the ‘Old Guard’, in charge of guarding the Arlington National Cemetery, and their main duty is to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers at their funerals, killed while fighting in Vietnam. Sweeney is taken under the wing of Sergeants James Caan and his more upbeat and easygoing pal James Earl Jones. Caan would like to be doing something more constructive, even though he personally disagrees with this particular war. The more gung-ho, but far less experienced Sweeney just can’t wrap his head around such complexities. Meanwhile, Caan strikes up a relationship with liberal Washington Post reporter (Anjelica Huston), who lives just down the hall from him, and Sweeney bumps into his former sweetheart (Mary Stuart Masterson), whose Colonel father disapproves of dating below one’s rank (Masterson’s parents are played by her real-life parents, Peter Masterson and Carlin Glynn). Dick Anthony Williams plays a hard-arse officer, Laurence Fishburne is a squad leader, Lonette McKee is Jones’ wife, Elias Koteas plays a military clerk, Casey Siemaszko is another soldier, and Dean Stockwell plays Caan’s superior officer.

 

A flawed, but somewhat underrated war story from Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather Trilogy”, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”), this one from 1987 boasts a mostly excellent cast, with James Caan and especially James Earl Jones standing out. Jones and his inimitable voice glide right through this film. His voice is quite simply the greatest gravitational force on Earth. He speaks, you hear nothing else. It’s really interesting to see noted Republican actor Caan play a guy who is pro-military, yet against the Vietnam War specifically. He thinks the war can’t be won, and it’s being hamstrung by politics. It’s a very, very interesting role, and Caan shows rather surprising sensitivity, I must say. Hell, even Huston is quite sensitive and lovely here, which isn’t quite what I would’ve expected from her.

 

Leading man D.B. Sweeney never quite worked out as an actor, so it’s a bit of a shame that the central role is given to an unmemorable performer. He’s not bad or anything, just…boring. His best scene is his first shot, with a perfect slack-jawed look on his face. This kid is green, and in for a real learning experience. For me, the only truly dud notes here are struck by a badly miscalculated scenery-chewing effort from the late Dick Anthony Williams (I love R. Lee Ermey, but this film didn’t need an R. Lee Ermey-type, let alone a third-rate imitation), and the woefully insistent, terribly overstated dirge-like music score from Carmine Coppola (“Apocalypse Now”, “New York Stories”). Lawrence Fishburne (still called Larry at this stage) shows Williams how to chew scenery without getting silly, in a smaller role, though James Earl Jones shows ‘em both how it’s really done. Lonette McKee doesn’t get many scenes, but she shows warmth and vitality when given the chance.

 

I think it was a bit of a shame to start the film with the ending. Oh, I get the point being made, but I got it too early. In fact, the only problem with the latter stages of the film is that not only does the audience know a certain someone isn’t coming back alive, the characters in the film act like they’ve read the ending, too. It plays wrong.

 

I’m not really a Coppola fan to be honest, but this different take on war is easily one of his better films (I like the first two “Godfather” films, “The Rainmaker”, and “The Outsiders”, but that’s about it), despite his father’s disastrous music score and a miscalculation or two that prevent it from being even better than it is. Based on a novel by Nicholas Proffitt, the screenplay is by Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”, “Sleeping With the Enemy”).

 

Rating: B-