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 21, 2014

Review: We’re the Millers


Jason Sudeikis stars as a small-time drug dealer who gets mugged of both cash and stash by a bunch of teens. This lands him in hot poop with supplier (and all-round sarcastic jerk) Ed Helms. Helms gives Sudeikis an out, whereby he must agree to transport a drug supply from Mexico. To do this, Sudeikis comes up with the genius plan of using a dorky Winnebago and hiring people to be his wholesome, All-American family, so as to not alert the attention of the border patrol. He approaches people who live in his apartment building, including stripper Jennifer Aniston, Goth-like Emma Roberts, and nerdy Will Poulter. And away we go. Along the way, they encounter a Flanders-esque family headed by Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn, and a gay and corrupt border patrol cop played by Luis Guzman. Thomas Lennon plays one of Sudeikis’ clients, who gives him the inspiration for the ruse.

 

Rawson Marshall Thurber, the improbably named director of the likeable and funny “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” strikes out with this unlikeable, uninteresting, and largely unfunny comedy from 2013 that seems far too inspired by the horrible “Hangover” films. It’s got a plot that I find more horrific than funny (like the “Hangover” films), two poorly miscast leads who I don’t normally like anyway, a “Hangover” alumni (Ed Helms) who is even more miscast, features the horribly untalented Emma Roberts in a major role, and gives the talented Will Poulter a truly embarrassing character to play. He is asked to perform oral on Luis Guzman, and a spider bites his testicles for crying out loud. I mean why not give him severe acne, a stutter, and a bed-wetting problem while you’re at it? He ends up being rather creepy to be honest. I have no idea what all that hippity hopping was about. Was that supposed to be good? Funny? It was just…weird.

 

The casting here is way off, with the bland and unfunny Jason Sudeikis playing a role that should’ve gone to Seth Rogen or James Franco, and more importantly Jennifer Aniston abysmally cast as a foul-mouthed stripper. Yes, the woman Brad Pitt left for Angelina Jolie is for some reason seen in lingerie as yet another stripper who actually doesn’t strip, and isn’t especially attractive, let alone sexy. You have to have a body for starters, preferably a good one too. Each to their own, but Aniston doesn’t do it for me at all, especially when she can’t be bothered nuding up even when playing a woman whose job description is to take her fucking clothes off. Also, Aniston swearing is apparently meant to be a thing. It’s not. It’s just swearing, and she’s done it before in “Horrible Bosses” anyway. Worse, this is an actress who is willing to swear incessantly on camera and make incest jokes (and perform faux-incestuous acts for comedic purposes for that matter), but won’t show her tits even though it’s more pertinent to the film than the incest humour or the swearing. She’s playing a stripper! Amazingly, even the Mexican drug lord in the film doesn’t complain about the lack of nudity from her. What if someone was cast as a lifeguard who had to get in the water at some point but the actor didn’t want to take his top off? The actor wouldn’t be hired. Simple as that. If she were funny in the role, I wouldn’t mind so much, but as usual, Aniston plays every role through the guise of Rachel from “Friends” because it’s the only thing she knows how to do, only the roles change, not the performance. It results in Aniston being more convincing as goody-goody Mrs. Miller than as the stripper, which is an epic failure. It’s almost as if they’ve missed the point by casting Aniston and Sudeikis here. The humour is supposed to be in scummy people pretending to be white bread folk, not the other way around which it almost is here. I’d actually be ashamed if I were Aniston here, to be honest. Her role is appalling for womankind. She’s already playing a stripper and it takes the barest of poor circumstances for her to agree to become a drug transporter too. Hooray for women’s lib!

 

The third major piece of miscasting comes from Ed Helms. Yes, the nerdy milquetoast guy from “The Hangover” films plays the bad guy. I know he played a smug jerk relatively well in “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” (yet basically imitated Ben Stiller the whole time for some reason), but he is one-note sarcasm and not remotely threatening in the role. Also one-note? Emma Roberts, who still has no business being in the acting profession. As a sullen young woman she literally rolls her eyes at one point, gee that’s a brave acting choice right there, I wouldn’t have thought of that. She also looks as much like a teenager as I look like Brad Pitt. Kathryn Hahn plays Kathryn Hahn yet again, and gets no laughs from it.  Poor Luis Guzman has no chance, cast as a gay Mexican border patrol cop. Isn’t he Puerto Rican anyway? I normally love Guzman, but he shouldn’t have taken on this role.

 

Look, there are some chuckles here and there, I won’t deny it, especially Thomas Lennon’s early cameo. Truth be told, it’s better than the “Hangover” films, albeit only slightly. But the film can’t decide if it wants to be cynical and dark or mushy and sentimental. It ends up not being much of anything, and none of the characters are remotely appealing. These are creepy, creepy people whom I had zero interest in spending time with, nor did I care about the unseemly plot. And when the outtakes are funnier than anything in the film itself (the reference to Aniston’s best-known work is hilarious), you have to question the comedic sensibilities of the director himself. The screenplay is by the dual pairing of Bob Fisher and Steve Faber (who, like the director, previously made a genuinely funny film, “Wedding Crashers”) and Sean Anders & John Morris (The surprisingly good “She’s Out of My League”, and the near-miss “Hot Tub Time Machine”).

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: An Education


Set in London in the 60s, Carey Mulligan plays a teenager whose father (Alfred Molina) is happy that she’s trying to get into Oxford…so she can meet important people. She meets an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who seems very worldly and sophisticated to this girl on the verge of womanhood, and they begin a romantic relationship. Mulligan has always been a bit of a wannabe sophisticate and is far more intellectually-minded than most girls her age (she wants to live in Paris), so it’s no surprise that this older man would seem to suit her. Amazingly, Dad doesn’t frown too much on the relationship, especially when he hears that Sarsgaard knows author C.S. Lewis. Who needs college when your daughter can marry a well-connected man who can help her climb the social ladder? More concerned with all this is Mulligan’s teacher (Olivia Williams) who hears the gossip and whispers, but Mulligan is defiant in pursuing this relationship. Sarsgaard takes the girl to auctions and jazz clubs, and introduces her to his business partner Dominic Cooper (who disapproves of the relationship and is much more 3D than he first appears) and the glamorous and well-meaning but uneducated and insecure Rosamund Pike. But there is a dark side to Sarsgaard and his friends, as Mulligan is about to get herself an education, alright, just perhaps not the scholastic kind.

 

Aside from one plot point that really ought to have been excised, this is a strong film from director Lone Scherfig (“Italian For Beginners”). Scripted by Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”, “High Fidelity”) from a memoir by Lynn Barber, this 2009 film features a lot of things to like, and is an interesting condemnation of social climbers who seem to find nothing much wrong with the idea of a 30 year old man entering into a relationship with a 16 year-old girl. Even when the school headmistress (played by a wasted Emma Thompson) finds out, she is merely concerned with the school’s reputation in the face of scandal, not the welfare of this teenage girl. It’s quite shocking, really, even for a film set back in the early 60s when attitudes were a tad different. But what held the film back just a tad for me was that I didn’t quite understand the things the character played (brilliantly) by Carey Mulligan was willing to accept and what she wasn’t. ***** SPOILER WARNING ***** Being young and na├»ve is one thing, but I couldn’t quite understand why this girl was willing to accept that this guy was a thief, but gets really upset that he’s married? I get that being married is deceitful and hurtful to Mulligan, and the film comes from a different time, but even so, why would she accept the theft? See, if you take this one element out of the film, everything else still works (And perhaps the original text handles things much better). Then again, the fact that he’s married specifically to Sally Freakin’ Hawkins was an affront to my delicate sensibilities I must say. I almost felt sorry for him, actually. ***** END SPOILER *****

 

It’s no surprise that this was the film that made Carey Mulligan, and she definitely deserved her Oscar nomination. Whatever ‘it’ is, Mulligan has it in spades. I’m not sure she entirely convinces as a teenager, let alone a schoolgirl, but if Gabrielle Carteris can play a teen on TV in her mid-thirties (“Beverly Hills 90210” for those of you lucky enough to be too young), then I can give Mulligan a pass here. She’s certainly a pretty young-looking 23 year-old and does a terrific job as the somewhat sophisticated girl, but not quite grown-up enough yet to dial down the French-speaking before it becomes a bit pretentious. Peter Sarsgaard is unconventional casting here perhaps, but when you think about it he’s pretty perfectly cast. The character is cracking on to a teenager (which today would paint him as a one-dimensional paedophile, no doubt, though Mulligan’s character is- barely- of age here), and Sarsgaard always gives off a slightly odd, creepy vibe on screen which is perfectly suited to a guy who may have the walk and talk of a sophisticate, but is underneath a creep, a fraud, and a cad (although maybe so much so that you expect him to turn out even worse than he is). He also, to my Australian ears, has a near-flawless English accent.

 

Rosamund Pike looks positively glamorous in an interesting part as a somewhat insecure woman. She’s terrific and also looks a lot less permanently surprised than usual here too. Even better is Olivia Williams as Mulligan’s bespectacled, well-meaning, rather repressed teacher. Despite being somewhat bookish, she has a warmness that the other characters in the film lack. As much as this is very much Carey Mulligan’s show, I have to say that Alfred Molina threatens to walk off with it himself as Mulligan’s well-meaning but single-minded father. He’s hilarious, especially his first awkward meeting with Sarsgaard. But he’s also not a terribly good father, far too concerned with social standing, and so there’s definitely a serious side to things, much as there is some sprinklings of humour throughout. I was actually surprised that the film was much more of a period coming-of-age film, I was expecting something a little darker (and a lot less funny). In fact, not only is the film set in the 60s, but it felt like a film from the 60s, something you could see Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset, Lynn Redgrave, and/or Jane Birkin in. The period detail certainly convinced me (this is London just on the verge of ‘swinging 60s’), and the film is capped off by Duffy’s excellent ‘Smoke Without Fire’.

 

The film is certainly a solid one, but it could’ve been an even better one if the condemnation of some of these self-absorbed characters was a little stronger, and if the Sarsgaard character weren’t also a thief. That detail was unnecessary and led to problems the film really didn’t need. Still, I really liked this one, and it’s an excellent showcase for Mulligan and Molina.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: Scoop


Scarlett Johansson plays an American journalism student in London who is called on stage at a performance by magician Splendini (Woody Allen), and things get weird. In one of those ‘step inside the box and I’ll make you disappear’ illusions, Johansson is spooked by the spirit of recently deceased Brit journo Joe Strombel (Ian McShane). Strombel gives Johansson the scoop he himself was poised to write about; Rich, handsome Brit aristocrat Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is the sought after Tarot Card Killer, a serial killer of prostitutes. Johansson tells Splendini (AKA Sid Waterman) about her experience, and the duo start investigating Lyman. Once Johansson meets the handsome aristocrat, however, romantic sparks shoot off. Surely this charming nice guy can’t possibly be a serial murderer, right? Charles Dance plays a newspaper editor, Anthony Stewart Head is a detective, and Julian Glover is Lord Lyman, Peter’s father.

 

The second collaboration between writer-director Woody Allen and star Scarlett Johansson proves to be even lesser than the overrated “Match Point”. This 2006 murder-mystery with occasional touches of supernatural whimsy isn’t a bad film, it’s just that it’s not much of a film at all, and the mystery is entirely transparent. It’s kinda frivolous and empty, and not all that dissimilar to “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, though obviously quite a bit better and a whole lot less annoying than that film was. It’s easy to see why this isn’t regarded as one of the filmmaker’s best.

 

Woody himself is ideal here and often funny as a corny magician, but co-star Johansson tries way too hard. She comes off affected and actory, like she knows she’s in a comedy. In fact, she comes off like she’s doing improv games or a barely rehearsed “SNL” sketch. It’s a really amateurish performance. Honestly, I just don’t see her talent, though it’s pretty damn obvious why Woody cast himself alongside her. ‘Coz y’know…boobs. But why then did he have her wear a one-piece swimsuit? If I was a horny director I’d have her in a flimsy string bikini at most.

 

Hugh Jackman is perfectly fine casting, but Woody doesn’t seem interested in his character as anything except a plot point, really. I actually think Hugh Grant would’ve been even better. Talented actors like Richard Johnson, Charles Dance, Julian Glover, Anthony Stewart Head, and Sanjeev Bhaskar are also terribly wasted (and in the latter three cases, strangely uncredited) in nothing roles.

 

It’s unfortunate that, like the awful “Midnight in Paris”, the film takes flights of fancy. Woody for me is at his best when he either plays things in real world terms, or only dips his toes into fantasy, ala “Play it Again, Sam”. Having said that, it’s through no fault of actor Ian McShane, who is excellent (He’s come a long way since playing the toyboy in 1973’s “The Last of Sheila”), it’s just that the supernatural element comes across as incredibly clunky and corny. This isn’t the worst Woody Allen film you’re ever going to see, but it might be just about the emptiest. Woody’s performance is fun, but the film is sorely lacking.

 

Rating: C

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: The China Syndrome


TV reporter Jane Fonda and long-haired freelance cameraman Michael Douglas stumble upon one helluva story when the nuclear plant they’re doing a routine puff piece on suddenly appears to have a near-problematic incident. And by that I mean that a nuclear meltdown was narrowly avoided by some risky but quick thinking from veteran plant supervisor Jack Lemmon. The TV network fearing a lawsuit sees Fonda’s station unable to use the footage they captured of the incident. And yet the powers that be insist that there was no risk of any harm whatsoever, it was just a minor hiccup, apparently. Cover-up, anyone? Fonda tries to get Lemmon to talk after tracking him down in a bar, and at first he is reluctant to speak. But some digging of his own gives him a sudden burst of conscience, and he decides he wants to do something about the situation before it gets even worse. Peter Donat and James Karen play Fonda’s superiors, whilst Richard Herd and Scott Brady are the plant higher-ups trying to cover things up and protect the bottom line. James Hampton is the plant’s PR stooge, and Wilford Brimley plays the plant employee who is reluctant to rock the boat and risk his pay check.

 

In one of the strangest and most unnervingly prescient examples of life imitating art, the situation depicted in this 1979 film from director/co-writer James Bridges (“The Paper Chase”) was followed just 12 days after its theatrical release by a similar real-life nuclear incident in Pennsylvania. So in historical terms, it’s an extremely important film (though for full disclosure, there was at least one nuclear incident that occurred prior to the film being made as well, and subsequently, nuclear energy has become quite common in several countries, not seen quite as negatively today).

 

As for the film’s merits as cinema, it’s a terrific yarn well-told by Bridges in very matter-of-fact, almost docudrama fashion. In 2014 it still holds up extremely well, all things considered. It seems to have been a little bit forgotten about over the years, but given what happened after its release, I personally think it’s still an important film. We need to learn from our mistakes, and not scoff at the seeming impossibility of such things ever happening in real-life, because they bloody well did end up happening here. Today the relevant subject matter might be something different, but the message is still the same.

 

We get off to a mixed bag start, with an hilarious singing telegram news story, funny because the set-up suggests a more hard-hitting piece of investigative reporting. But we also get a truly awful opening song by Stephen Bishop, trying to be Christopher Cross or Bob Seger. He’s decidedly neither, and the fact that his awful number was chosen over the originally intended song by a band of nobodies called The Doobie Brothers (an unknown number called ‘What a Fool Believes’. You’ve never heard of it. I mean, it’s not like it’s their best-known hit or anything…), boggles my mind. I don’t care if the song didn’t fit the subject, producers were on the wrong side of prescience in at least this one instance. The Doobie Brothers have become and have stayed somewhat relevant, whilst Bishop never even was (Oh come on, you don’t remember the song he did for “Tootsie” any more than I do). However, once the story kicks in, this is really compelling stuff, and the lack of an actual music score helps with the near docudrama stylings of the film (You can see moments where a score would’ve kicked in and the film is all the better for avoiding one). In some ways it reminds me of “All the President’s Men” except with TV and nuclear energy as its subjects, not print journalism and political scandal.

 

The performances are absolutely top-notch all-round here, the film wouldn’t be half as tense without caring for these characters and their situation. The actors, therefore, are deserving of some of the credit. In one of her best roles, Jane Fonda is perfectly cast here as the fluff reporter looking for real journalistic endeavours. I think she was born to play this character. Michael Douglas produced the film, so it’s hilarious that he’s the one guy in the film who pronounces nuclear as ‘nucular’ several decades before George Dubya Bush. However, he’s great fun here as the cynical, sometimes pissed off, smart-arse freelance cameraman.

 

For me, though, the two most memorable turns come from Wilford Brimley and an Oscar-nominated Jack Lemmon. Brimley doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but he has the saddest, and perhaps most troubling role in the film. This guy is in no real position to speak out and make waves, he has a job he wants to keep, mouths to feed, and probably isn’t the most PR savvy guy in the world. You’ll feel sorry for this guy, he’s a pretty relatable blue-collar kinda guy in a tough spot. Lemmon proves here as he did several times throughout his career (especially in “The Days of Wine and Roses”, “Glengarry Glen Ross”, and the underrated “Dad”) that he wasn’t just a light comedian and movie star, but a seriously talented and versatile actor. Here he has the most crucial role in the film, he’s the character who undergoes a real change, gradually suspecting that there may indeed be a problem at this plant. Like Brimley he has a lot of pressure on him to shut the hell up, but unlike Brimley, he’s a little higher up the authority chain and might just be able to do something here before the situation gets even worse. Look out for a perfectly cast James Hampton, a most underused and underrated character actor who plays the plant’s PR hack.

 

The film isn’t flawless, in fact the film’s understated, matter-of-fact approach is unfortunately broken in one unwise scene that is dumb and over-the-top. Involving Douglas’ fellow cameraman (and the token minority in the film, I might add), you’ll know it when you see it because it’s the only inauthentic moment in the entire film.

 

The brightest spot in James Bridges’ underwhelming directorial career (Are you seriously going to champion the merits of the dreadful “Urban Cowboy”?), this efficient and very effective nuclear disaster drama is one of the best environmental message movies you’ll ever see, hell it’s probably top of the heap. Bridges wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay with Mike Gray (Chuck Norris’ “Code of Silence”, of all films) and T.S. Cook (whose other credits are mostly TV movies of little note).

 

Rating: B+