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, December 6, 2014

Review: A.C.O.D.

Adam Scott stars as a successful restaurateur, dating the absolutely stunning yoga instructor Mary Elizabeth Winstead. He comes from a bitterly divorced couple played by Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara. They were divorced when he was young, and they still hate the fuck out of each other. So when younger brother Clark Duke is about to get married (to a real woman? Really? Did he chloroform her first?), it’s up to Scott to try and get his parents to put their venomous hatred aside for the sake of the impending nuptials. And that’s when things take a turn for…um, well something at least. He visits childhood therapist Jane Lynch for her insights into how to get the bickering oldies to simmer down temporarily. It’s here that he finds out that Lynch is not really a shrink exactly, but that Scott was placed by his parents into a study on the effects of divorce on children conducted by researcher Lynch, who then wrote a best-selling book about it that Scott somehow never found out about. Oh, and having managed to force mum and dad into being in the same room together for dinner one night has too much of an effect: Despite having both moved on to other people (Jenkins with bitchy Amy Poehler who is probably a bitch because she’s no longer young enough to be a trophy wife, and O’Hara moving on with nice guy Ken Howard) and hating the fuck out of each other…they amazingly start having an affair! Families are messed up. But even Scott finds himself tempted when seeking out other subjects in Lynch’s book, i.e. sexy Jessica Alba (whose skanky tattoos are a dopey short-hand for emotional scars or something).


Coming off like an idea for a Woody Allen film that never quite got to being fleshed out into a full screenplay, writer-director Stu Zicherman, in his directorial debut nonetheless ventured on with this 2013 film anyway. Co-written by Ben Karlin (the sometimes hilarious TV show “Modern Family”), it’s an uneven film with infrequent laughs, and frankly no overall point that I could ascertain. I really think it needed a re-write or two.


I’m also not sure that producer/star Adam Scott is leading man material, at least not on evidence here. An able supporting player particularly in jerk roles (“Step Brothers”, for instance), he’s a bit forgettable really, and so is his character (the straight man amidst a bunch of screw-ups) and the film itself. Complete waste of Jessica Alba, whose character is pretty much dumped and forgotten about by the end (though, let’s face it, Alba hasn’t shown any talent or personality since “Dark Angel” began its unfortunate and inferior second season). But there are elements here that I liked, particularly the performances of Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins (who make “The War of the Roses” look like a water balloon fight), the latter of whom runs away with the film. His embittered divorcee gets some great lines regarding O’Hara like ‘If I ever see that woman…I’m gonna kick her in the balls!’. He’s very, very bitter, and very, very funny. I don’t know if Catherine O’Hara has ever worked with Woody Allen, but she absolutely should. She’s in perfect form here in a character that seems written for her.


Jane Lynch, the only thing about “Glee” that doesn’t make me want to punch a wall, is in her element here too in the role that most resembles a Woody Allen conceit (It’d be at home in his excellent and quite underrated “Deconstructing Harry”, for instance). As in “Role Models”, she’s completely demented here- Is she even a doctor/shrink? Does she even know if she is or not? In a smaller role, although she doesn’t get a whole lot to do, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is simply one of the world’s most beautiful women and has a lovely screen presence here. I also think Ken Howard gave a nice performance as poor ‘ol Gary. So there’s some nice stuff going on here, it’s just not wholly satisfying, and we also have to suffer through creepy Clark Duke (the creepy nerd from TV’s “Greek”) playing creepy Clark Duke again. Will the police just arrest this creepy perve already? Or at least find a different screen persona, dude.


Re-title this film “Divorced Parents of Adult Children”, focus on Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara, and you’ve got yourself a good film. As is, the film focuses on the least interesting character and actor (not named Clark Duke), and only works in fits and starts. It’s watchable, but no more than that, though it probably meant a lot to Zicherman, who based it somewhat on his own experiences as an Adult Child of Divorce. This Adult Child of Divorce wasn’t especially impressed, though.


Rating: C+

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: Nowhere Boy

The early years of John Lennon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), raised in 50s Liverpool by his tough Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). And then his free-spirit mother (Anne-Marie Duff) re-enters the picture, encourages John’s musical pursuits, and all-round makes the boy feel very confused and conflicted between the two women in his life. Since his home life is a bit of a wreck, the young Lennon seeks refuge in the world of music, and tries to start a band, which after a line-up change or two, features the likeminded young Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and a young George Harrison.


It’s often difficult watching a movie based on the life of a very well-known person, especially when that person is played on screen by someone who just doesn’t convince. This 2009 film from debut director Sam Taylor-Wood and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (“Control”, “The Look of Love”) is a pretty interesting film that almost fails because of the dreadful miscasting of Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a fella named John Lennon. Y’know, the John Lennon who everyone knows exactly what he looks and sounds like? Yeah, that John Lennon. Apparently Ms. Taylor Wood (Who I believe is now Sam Taylor-Taylor-Wood-Wood-Johnson-Johnson-Fortenski having married her leading man) has never fucking heard of John Lennon, because Aaron Taylor-Johnson-Burton-Rodham-Clinton is absolutely nothing like John Lennon in any way, shape, or form. The film gets John’s penchant for biting sarcasm, but Taylor-Johnson botches the execution of it and gets nothing else right, either. Sure, this is the pre-Beatles John Lennon, but I’m pretty sure Lennon as a youngster didn’t have different coloured and different size eyes, curly hair, and a non-Liverpool accent (The kid playing young George Harrison looks significantly more like John than does Aaron Taylor-Johnson). In fact, no one in this entire film has a Liverpool accent. It’s a film set in 1950s freaking Liverpool! Oh, but Taylor-Johnson has glasses…so there’s that at least. Miscasting the lead role is almost always a fatal blow in a film like this, so it’s amazing that the film manages to stay afloat in spite of Ms. Taylor-Wood’s idiotic casting decisions. That’s because the miscasting, which also includes Thomas Brodie-Sangster as…um…maybe Paul McCartney (it’s hard to tell since he looks and sounds exactly like nerdy little Thomas Brodie-Sangster. I know he was the ‘nice’ one, but geez!), is the only damn thing wrong with it. Everything else works, hell even some of the casting works.


The story is undeniably fascinating, as there was no way this story was going to be dull, so long as you don’t expect a film about The Beatles. Lennon’s early life sure does seem like it was filled with a lot of confusion, sadness and deep disappointment, but we also see his early stages as a budding musician. It’s an interesting and in some ways entertaining film, with a terrific performance by Kristin Scott Thomas in particular as his tough but loving Aunt, as well as Anne-Marie Duff as John’s flaky and possibly incestuous mother (The film doesn’t play this angle up as much as other sources do but the hints are there), who clearly wasn’t the right person to bring the boy up. Music, production design and period costuming are all perfectly convincing.


It’s just a shame that they’ve cocked up the crucial casting, because the film would’ve been a real winner. These guys don’t even convince as younger versions of these characters, and the accents from everyone are way, way off. Maybe Ms. Taylor Wood had other concerns than getting the right casting for these characters, if you know what I mean. As is, it’s an interesting and enjoyable film in spite of its flaws.


Rating: B-

Review: Drinking Buddies

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are flirty friends and co-workers at a brewery (run by an uncredited Jason Sudeikis), who are nonetheless in committed relationships with Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick respectively. However, a weekend away between the couples sees them questioning just how committed they are, and exploring the possibility that they might just want to steal each other’s spouse, who they clearly have more in common with.


I think I can see what everyone’s striving for here, but this 2013 indie romcom Joe Swanberg (“LOL”, “VHS”) gets it really, really wrong by not properly understanding its characters, the situation it has set up, and the genre within which it is working. Swanberg probably feels that his film is about the question of whether ‘drinking buddies’ and/or co-workers can/should become lovers. I get that. Unfortunately, the way it’s done, it doesn’t play out like that at all.


What Swanberg, intentionally or not, has done is set up two couples who would be absolutely 100% happy if they’d only switch couples. It’s completely obvious, and completely botched. To get into things further, though, I’m gonna run into spoiler territory, so if you’re crazy enough to be reading this before seeing the film, CEASE READING NOW. COME BACK LATER. WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE? SERIOUSLY, I TOLD YOU TO GO ALREADY!


If Swanberg wanted to make the point that just because you’ve got more in common with your friend than you do with your partner, it doesn’t mean you should get together with your friend, then he has drawn the wrong four characters to make his point and it ruins the entire film. These two couples come across as absolutely wrong for each other and completely dissatisfied and restless in those relationships. When Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston and Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get some alone time with one another, not only does it amplify that Kendrick and Johnson and Wilde and Livingston don’t belong together, it shows that Kendrick and Livingston (despite one helluva age gap) and Wilde and Johnson do belong together. They are a perfect match for one another (and it’s obvious between Wilde and Johnson from the opening scene, due to Swanberg’s poor direction of Wilde, who gives the gig away immediately), and the previous configurations were awful matches.


If the point is to show that Wilde and Johnson don’t really belong together and that Wilde and Livingston really do belong together, then you need to make the audience believe it. Swanberg fails spectacularly. He has Kendrick tell Johnson that the kiss with Livingston meant nothing to her and she’s not into him. Based on what we see and know about these characters, that is complete bullshit. Kendrick and Livingston are a perfect match insofar as we get no indication as to why they aren’t one. It’s your job to fill us in, Mr. Swanberg. And he gives us a half-hearted argument between Wilde and Johnson as a way of getting out of that relationship that isn’t even remotely convincing, nor organic. It comes out of nowhere and isn’t credible from everything before it. If for some reason I’m wrong and that this idea of buddies not being suited romantically isn’t Swanberg’s point, then he has failed miserably anyway by giving us a completely unhappy, unsatisfying non-ending (That I’m not even sure I understood, as Wilde and Johnson seem to be kinda flirting again). It also does a great disservice to the characters played by Kendrick and Livingston in particular, to be honest. So either way the film is completely botched, staggeringly so actually. Who wants to watch a romcom where the couples are mismatched and end up still mismatched? Because it’s real? Fuck reality, I already live in it. I want a movie. Frankly I think the material is too thin for a feature film anyway, Swanberg is spinning his wheels within fifteen minutes here to the point where he has Livingston tell Wilde she’s dumped twice.


In addition to being miscalculated, it’s also a whole lot of nothing much at all. The most frustrating thing here is that producer-star Olivia Wilde is absolutely wonderful in the lead (and looks amazing in a bikini- and briefly topless!), and all three of her co-stars are good enough (and in Kendrick’s case, adorable enough) to deserve a whole lot better than this poorly thought out crap with its boring and mundane ‘mumblecore’ dialogue. The fact that almost all of it was improvised isn’t remotely surprising to me, but surely the beats of the narrative itself were still there on paper, and presumably character details. That’s enough information to see that the whole thing was going to fail.


I feel like there’s something potentially interesting here, but Mr. Swanberg needed to let someone read his script over, because as is, the whole damn thing doesn’t make one bit of sense. I get the idea of seeing if you’re right with someone, realising you’re not, and going back to the status quo. But here, it’s quite clearly true that the couples should swap, so it falls apart. Not all best buds should get together romantically, but these two definitely should have, and although not all films should have a happy ending, most in the romantic comedy genre certainly should.


What a waste of time and talent, not even my love for Anna Kendrick (which is totally a secret between you and me, OK?) could keep me from getting angry here.


Rating: D

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Set in the early 90s (pre-internet, and mixed tapes were still a thing. Boy do I remember this period!), Logan Lerman stars as a 15 year-old with a whole lot of problems, including coping with the suicide of someone close, his own mental illness, an older sister (Nina Dobrev) whose boyfriend is physically abusive, as well as an overall feeling of not fitting in with his peers, and memories of a deceased Aunt (Melanie Lynskey) that still haunt him, and slowly reveal something very disturbing. A lifeline is thrown this young man’s way in the form of Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, two non-conformist step-siblings and all-round music snobs, who take the troubled, lonely kid into their fold. He also enjoys a student-mentor relationship with an easygoing English teacher (Paul Rudd), who gives him novels to read. Unfortunately, Lerman’s psychological issues aren’t going away, in fact, they may just cause him to crack. Johnny Simmons is a jock who is secretly dating the openly gay Miller, Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh are Lerman’s clueless parents, Mae Whitman is the ‘Buddhist punk’ girl who is sweet on him (while his heart truly yearns for Watson), Tom Savini is a short-tempered ‘shop’ teacher who has it in for Miller, and Joan Cusack appears at the end as a doctor.


Although some of the characters initially grated on me with their pretentiousness and snobbery, I ultimately found myself rather moved (unexpectedly so) by this 2012 film from writer/author/director Stephen Chbosky (So, presumably it’s a faithful adaptation of his novel). It’s got a lot more going on than the average coming-of-age/teen movie, dealing with several rather heavy issues without becoming too depressing. The film isn’t telling you anything new about the high school experience, but by dabbling in darker areas from time to time, the film stands out. Hell, it probably gets the high school experience closer to its reality than many other films, especially if you’re a nonconformist like these kids. To that darkness, it ends up really delivering a kick to the guts, but it’s entirely seamless, it doesn’t seem to ring false or feel jarring. It’s always there, lurking in the shadows.


Logan Lerman is excellent in the lead, this character ultimately reveals himself to be heartbreakingly sad and troubled. You care for him and really, really worry about him throughout. Emma Watson gives the only good performance of her career thus far, and Ezra Miller is ideal, if rather annoying. These two characters are a bit ‘too cool for school’ for my liking (Miller’s character is kind of a twat, really), especially early on. And would high school students in the 90s really put on a performance at midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”? Really? I very highly doubt it).


However, they ultimately prove immensely appealing through their acceptance of Logan, and their obvious affection for him. I’m not sure I buy Watson and Miller befriending a student from a year below them, but that’s a minor quibble. When the pretentiousness and music snobbery (I’m convinced that no one is really a fan of The Smiths, people have likely mistaken them for The Cure, The Saints, or The Clash) is stripped away for a few scenes between Lerman and Watson, they prove to be normal, relatable, if troubled characters. In fact, Watson will likely remind many of you of that cool girl in school. No, not the popular cheerleader-type, but just ‘cool’.


I also found Paul Rudd more appealing than I had previously thought possible, as Lerman’s friendly, laidback English teacher (He might remind you of Kevin Kline in affable, good guy mode). I would’ve liked a few more scenes with him, hell I wish he were my Englishh teacher. Makeup man extraordinaire Tom Savini is hilarious as Rudd’s polar opposite, an arsehole woodwork teacher. The most startling casting choice is Melanie Lynskey as a character darker than anything she has played since “Heavenly Creatures”. She’s spot-on, though, because her innate sweetness may prove to be something far more sinister. She’s the real kick in the guts here.


Slightly annoying, especially early on, the film eventually settles down and delivers some real truths about high school and wanting to belong, but with a dark underbelly threatening to boil over. I almost did a complete 180O on this one. I started out not liking it, thinking the characters were pretentiously quirky, and slowly but surely, the film completely won me over. Terrific performances by the three leads in particular, this one’s a real winner.


One final quibble: The characters are music snobs, yet they are unaware of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ and Watson loves Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ abominable one-hit wonder ‘C’mon Eileen’? I didn’t buy that for a second, the latter especially (Perhaps people only discover Bowie in their 20s, I’m too old now to remember). Music snobs do not embrace one-hit wonders generally, especially one of the worst songs of all-time like that one. Is she a fan of Plastic Bertrand too? Hayzee Fantayzee? Kajagoogoo, perhaps? And if you’re a fan of The Smiths and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, believe me, you know David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Sorry, but it just bothered the crap out of me.


Rating: B

Review: Runner Runner

In order to pay for his tuition at Princeton, Justin Timberlake earns money by recruiting fellow students to sign up for an online poker site. The university dean (Bob Gunton) doesn’t appreciate the initiative and, concerned with the college’s reputation, shuts his operation down. Needing quick cash, he puts all of his savings into playing online poker and loses. However, Timberlake feels he was cheated, and suspects a scam going on. Angry, he travels to Costa Rica (which I guess you can fly to for free?) and presents the site’s rich playboy mogul (Ben Affleck) with the news that someone is rigging his system and screwing players over. Affleck apologises and offers Timberlake a high-paying gig working for him. He also meets Gemma Arterton, who is kinda sorta Affleck’s girlfriend, but quickly becomes involved with Timberlake. Unfortunately, it’s not long before Timberlake realises that Affleck is not entirely on the level, and it may be too late for him to break free. Louis Lombardi plays one of Affleck’s underlings, Anthony Mackie turns up as an FBI agent who tries to recruit Timberlake, and John Heard is Timberlake’s loser gambler father whose troubles bleed into his son’s already dicey predicament.


There’s nothing much wrong with this 2013 film except that it’s completely useless. Directed by Brad Furman (whose previous “The Lincoln Lawyer” was rock-solid entertainment) and scripted by Brian Koppelman & David Levien (“Rounders”) the film’s inclusion of gambling into the story suggests it should’ve been made around 1998 when Ben Affleck’s best bud (still?) Matt Damon made the underrated “Rounders” (The film even has a similarly useless ‘it girl’, instead of Gretchen ‘who?’ Mol in the former, it’s Gemma ‘duck face’ Arterton). Sure the film features online gambling, unlike “Rounders”, which makes it a little less outdated, but truth be told it’s ultimately not interested in poker anyway.


No, what this film really is, is something a whole lot older than even that. This is yet another film where two big stars play characters of opposing morality, and a female star plays the woman involved with both of them. Everyone will have seen this idea before, for me “Tequila Sunrise” was the first film that popped into my head, for others it might be countless others (as far back as the 40s with “Out of the Past”, remade in the 80s as “Against All Odds”). Either way, very little about this film is remotely fresh, and most of it is incredibly old hat. There’s even a bit of “Boiler Room” to it, with Ben Affleck yet again scamming away and trying to recruit an army of worker bees to exploit. The gambling stuff is tacked-on fluff, albeit not exactly a McGuffin, just not dealt with in any depth. And that’s a shame, because at least poker is something I’m interested in, passé or not. But it’s also an overblown depiction of poker. As the old guard of poker players has started to give way to the new guard of mostly online players, this exaggerated party boy view of poker is ridiculous. Most young poker players are Average Joes, computer nerds, and math geeks. There have been some online poker scandals, sure, but most of those have actually seen members of the old guard in disgrace (Howard Lederer and Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, for instance), not the new guys. So even if the film were interested in poker, it doesn’t get the depiction right anyway.


The cast are mostly fine, but if ever you wanted to show that script is king, this is your example. There’s nothing the cast could’ve done, when this appears to be the best the screenwriters could come up with. It’s pretty dull and predictable from moment one. Justin Timberlake and (particularly) Ben Affleck are perfectly fine, whilst Anthony Mackie steals a few scenes in the role of Denzel Washington (Watch the film and tell me you’re not thinking the same thing). Bob Gunton may not have much range, but playing a humourless Princeton dean is that range. John Heard looks horrible, but is convincing as JT’s deadbeat father, and at least it’s not “Sharknado”. However, Gemma Arterton can’t act. At all. The fact that no one amongst her family, friends, or colleagues has told her this fact is an act of extreme cruelty. She is absolutely horrendous, and horrendously miscast in the role of a woman that a guy would find attractive, let alone two guys, let alone two guys played by Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. Seriously, tell me she doesn’t look like a duck.


You’d think JT and Ben Affleck would be a winning combination. Affleck really impresses as a guy with enough power to not have to get violent too often to get results, reminding me a bit of Burt Lancaster’s granite-like ego in “Sweet Smell of Success”. Both leads are good enough to suggest that they could indeed be a winning combination…if this film weren’t so clichéd and passé. If you’re looking for an entertaining poker movie (and the prospect of watching a film made before 1995 scares you because you’re a freaking idiot), watch “Rounders”. It’s a better film- from the same damn screenwriters!- and Matt Damon is a much better actor than Ben Affleck. By the way, Leonardo DiCaprio produced this film. Why?


Rating: C

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Polyester

A neurotic view of American suburbia, focussing primarily on the dysfunctional Fishpaw family. Divine (somewhat successfully deviating from his/her usual persona) is the rather fragile Francine, whose pornographer husband Elmer (David Samson) cruelly flaunts his philandering in her face. Teen daughter Lu-Lu (Mary Garlington) is a proud slut (Hey, in Waters’ world, that isn’t a derogatory term, believe me it’s an extremely accurate character description) who is pregnant but wants to have an abortion. Both of these incidents start to drive poor Francine crazy. Son Dexter (Ken King), meanwhile, is apparently a foot-fetish pervert skulking about the neighbourhood. Bland former 50s heartthrob Tab Hunter turns up as Tod Tomorrow, a romantic stranger who may just be Francine’s dream man. Mink Stole plays Elmer’s grotesque mistress, whilst Edith Massey plays Francine’s one true friend, Cuddles Kovinsky. Yep, Cuddles.


Whatever you thought of John Waters’ trashtastic “Pink Flamingoes”, it was every bit the film Waters wanted to make, and it sure wasn’t ‘safe’ or mainstream. It was unforgettable. Unfortunately, most of his subsequent films have indeed felt rather ‘safe’, if not entirely mainstream, though 2004’s amusingly grotty “A Dirty Shame” was as much a return to offensive form as modern conservative times would allow. But with films like “Hairspray” and this 1981 outing, the king of trash seems unsure of just what he’s trying to do here.


The nostalgic “Hairspray” is the better of the two films, though (And “Cry-Baby” is even better), as this one is deprived of much plot, or much of a point, to be perfectly honest. Working with New Line clearly gave writer-director Waters more money to play with ($300,000 apparently), and the film is certainly a lot less rough around the edges than “Pink Flamingos”, and we even get a score by Michael Kamen (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, “Licence to Kill”, “The Three Musketeers”), as well as a title song written by Debbie Harry (who appeared in Waters’ later “Hairspray”) and sung by co-star Tab Hunter. The performances are certainly better than in “Pink Flamingos”, though the one and only Edith Massey is the same as she was previously. Personally, I’m fine with that. She’s clearly giving a terrible performance (apparently she had a hard time remembering her lines, and it shows), but some of that may be intentional, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because she’s memorable. In a weird, grotesque way, she’s even kind of adorable. Mary Garlington is hilariously stupid as the slutty teen daughter, it’s a wonderfully silly performance.


Aside from the abortion jokes (abortion is never funny to me), it’s one of his most accessible films, and some of it is funny (particularly Mink Stole and David Samson cruelly taunting Divine), but none of it is memorable, and I have no idea what it all really adds up to aside from showing that Waters has seen several Douglas Sirk melodramas. So have I, John. So what? More than anything it just seemed like a bunch of hyperreal characters, mostly from the same family, acting weird and crazy, with the barest of plots housing them. I wasn’t quite able to embrace this one, though I guess I find suicide jokes hard to laugh at post-Robin Williams’ shocking suicide (I’m aware Waters revels in bad taste, and usually I’m cool with that). But no, it’s just not that special.


I’m particularly surprised by the fact that Waters has Tab Hunter here for stunt casting, but barely uses the guy until the film is nearly over. Given how bad an actor he is, however, I’m not necessarily upset by that, but it still seems wasteful. He embraces the crazy, whacked-out exaggerated soap opera/melodrama spoof spirit of the thing, though I guess.


It’s better than “Serial Mom” (which shares some plot and tone similarities, actually), and occasionally funny, but overall I found this film sorely lacking substance, and since it’s not got the shock value of “Pink Flamingos” for the most part, it doesn’t really add up to enough. Maybe Waters was hamstrung by New Line, or maybe he willingly strived too hard for mainstream acceptance here, and diluted himself too much, I dunno. I bet the William Castle-esque ‘Odorama’ scratch-n-sniff gimmick added something to the original theatrical experience, but as is it’s just hovering around slightly above average at best without it. Listen carefully for a song on the soundtrack sung by the one and only Bill Murray. Yes, that Bill Murray. I have no idea why, either, but there you go.


Rating: C+

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: Dreamgirls

Beginning in the 60s, this is the story of The Dreamettes an all-girl African-American trio of singers comprising of headstrong lead vocalist Effie (Jennifer Hudson), outwardly beautiful and marketable Deena (Beyonce Knowles), and the other one (Anika Noni Rose). Smooth, Berry Gordy-esque manager Curtis (Jamie Foxx) hears them at a talent show and signs them up as the renamed The Dreams, starting as the backing singers for troubled singer James Early (Eddie Murphy), and eventually having them break out on their own. Their songs are written by Effie’s brother C.C. (Keith Robinson). Tensions arise when Curtis suggests that Deena would be more marketable to a mainstream audience as lead singer, angering the tempestuous Effie, who clearly has the more powerful voice. The record sales might sore, but the ‘family’ start to crumble, whilst James Early (who despite being married, hooks up with impressionable Lorrell, played by Rose) completely bottoms out due to wildly self-destructive behaviour.


Although musicals are about as far from my kind of thing as you can get, this 2006 big screen version of the 1981 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical from writer-director Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”, “Twilight: Breaking Dawn”) is overall a good movie. The early stages of this unofficial Diana Ross and The Supremes story are easy, breezy, and fun. There’s an especially brilliant bit where a Pat Boone-ish piece of nothingness takes one of C.C.’s songs and scores a vanilla hit with it. It’s a good facsimile of the real deal, unlike a lot of films about musicians that end up being phony poseurs that don’t convince. Eddie Murphy may very well have been robbed of an Oscar here in the role he was simply born to play: A James Brown rip-off with a touch of Rick James self-destruction and a smidgeon of Chuck Berry perversion. His character always seems to be on the verge of public nudity/humiliation. His singing gets the job done too, as there’s a little bit of Levi Stubbs to his voice. Murphy atones for ‘Party All the Time’ here, if not “Harlem Nights” and “Pluto Nash”.


It gets less interesting the darker and longer it gets, but there’s no doubting the Oscar-winning ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’ is an absolute show-stopper of singing and acting by Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson. Hudson as a singer has always had a bit of an issue with control for me, all the way back to “American Idol”, but here she quite simply soars vocally, even more so than Beyoncé Knowles, and it’s not because Beyoncé is holding back like others would have you believe (I did wonder if Beyoncé thought Hudson was the wind beneath her wings at one point, though). I refuse to believe someone would hire Beyoncé for a movie to be upstaged and invisible. It’s an absurd notion meant to protect her image as (wait for it, Kanye) ‘The Greatest of All-Time’. I almost felt like giving Hudson a standing ovation at the end of her big number, and I’m a paraplegic (I think the best song in the film, though, is Hudson’s ‘I Love You I Do’). Could Beyoncé sing that song as well as Hudson does? Hell no. I dare her to try. Don’t believe it? Listen to Beyoncé’s big number, which is easy to spot because it has quite clearly been shoe-horned into the film. She shows that she can technically belt out a tune, but hey, lots of girls can. Beyoncé delivers generic ‘big’ vocals with zero life to it, no texture (And even then she pales in comparison to Mariah and Whitney). Hudson has all that in spades, and best of all she can act, too. It’s quite simply one of the best movie debuts ever. Part of the reason why Hudson can sing ‘And I’m Telling You…’ whereas Beyoncé would fail, is because the song really only works in context (Hence why it never works when singers try to do it on “American Idol”), and you really do need to be a top actress as well as singer to do it justice. Hudson has the acting chops and screen presence, Beyoncé doesn’t. In fact, I’d advise against acting ever again. She’s frankly miscast here, not because she’s too talented, but because she isn’t talented enough. That’s why Hudson, Murphy, and even Jamie Foxx all steal the film from Beyoncé (Then again, she's playing the 'star' of the group, not the best singer so perhaps it's perfect casting in that sense). It’s a shame co-star Sharon Leal (one of the most beautiful women in the entire world) is stuck playing the replacement role, because the singer-actress would’ve been exponentially better in the role than Beyoncé and has charisma oozing out of every pore.


A slick Jamie Foxx is rock-solid here, and although not a great singer, he’s good enough to play one. In that sense it’s a shame his vocals in “Ray” were dubbed for the most part. I understand why, but it’s good to hear him here nonetheless. Danny Glover also contributes one of the better performances of his post-dentures career, as Murphy’s arse-kissing agent.


Overall, this is a good movie, and Jennifer Hudson is sensational. I just wish some of the second half was shorn to make the film shorter and better.


Rating: B-

Review: Impostor

Set in 2079, where Earth is at war with an alien race who are now using replicants (android clones) that come equipped with bombs. The replicants don’t seem to know they are replicants nor that they carry these bombs. Gary Sinise plays an important weapons designer who is arrested by Major Hathaway (Vincent D’Onofrio) on suspicion of being a replicant (He’s basically the global version of an NSA guy). Sinise is adamant that his human and flees Maj. Hathaway’s torturous interrogation, hoping to prove to everyone (perhaps even himself) that he is truly him, and not an alien replicant. Madeleine Stowe plays Sinise’s doctor wife, Mekhi Phifer plays an underground revolutionary/mercenary-type who helps Sinise, Gary Dourdan is Hathaway’s second-in-command, Tony Shalhoub essentially plays Robert Costanzo from “Total Recall”, the late Elizabeth Pena is also seen underground, whilst Lindsay Crouse, Tracey Walter, and Clarence Williams III all have small appearances (the latter two being uncredited for some reason).


Originally designed as a 40-minute short, this 2002 sci-fi film from director Gary Fleder (“Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, “Don’t Say a Word”, “Runaway Jury”) received an absolute shit-kicking from critics. Adapted from a Philip K. Dick (“Blade Runner”, “Total Recall”, “The Adjustment Bureau”) story, I think it’s a perfectly ordinary film not much worth discussing at great length, really. But is it really that bad? No, not even close. Go watch “Journey to the 7th Planet” or “Battlefield Earth” and then tell me that this film sucks. It’s not memorable enough to suck.


The chase element of the film works far better than anything else, aided by Gary Sinise’s professional turn, and a typically solid Mark Isham (“The Hitcher”, “Point Break”, “The Cooler”) score. It’s basically “The Fugitive”, but not nearly as good, and fitted with FX and production design that makes this 2002 vision of 2079 look like 1997’s vision of 2079 (And indeed, parts of the film were shot a long, long time ago). Or a cheap-arse TV show on SyFy, which is ironic given actors Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe ended up TV mainstays, albeit not on SyFy (or sci-fi shows for that matter, the former on “CSI: New York”, the latter on “Revenge”). Roles for other familiar TV faces like Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”), Lindsay Crouse (“Buffy”), Gary Dourdan (“CSI”) and Vincent D’Onofrio (“Law & Order…I’m gonna go with SVU? Criminal Intent?”) doesn’t help, either. Sinise produced the film, so he must’ve believed in it somewhat, and the film certainly has familiar Dick themes (Dick themes? You know you were thinking it) with androids, aliens, and identity issues. The chase/wrong man sequences are also reminiscent of a later film based on Dick’s work, the superior “Minority Report”. But Sinise (who doesn’t look remotely embarrassed to be there) comes off much better than the film itself, I’m afraid. Hell, even Stowe, of whom I’ve never been a fan, is pretty good too.


It’s the kind of film that keeps you watching without doing anything remotely impressive or particularly interesting, though I will say that I didn’t see the twist ending coming. Otherwise, the familiar Dick trappings (ouch!) end up working against the film, because you feel like you’ve seen it a billion times before and usually with much better FX. Also working against the film? The annoying and overly mannered performance by Vincent D’Onofrio, a talented actor who kinda loses his mind from time to time and becomes irritatingly affected. He shows all of his worst traits as an actor in this one performance, he’s just too eccentric that it rings false.


This may not be another “Battlefield Earth”, but there’s still nothing much to see here, and not much of it is convincing or original. It’s just…meh. Adapted by Scott Rosenberg (“Beautiful Girls”, “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, “Con Air”), the screenplay is by Carolyn Case (who did uncredited work on “Don’t Say a Word” and “Runaway Jury”), Ehren Kruger (“Arlington Road”, “Scream 3”), and David Twohy (director of “The Arrival”, “Pitch Black”, and more importantly, co-writer of “The Fugitive” and “Waterworld”), who should all have known better.


Rating: C