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, December 19, 2014

Review: Jack

When Diane Lane goes into labour well before her due date, the doctors are somewhat perplexed and alarmed. It only gets weirder as she gives birth to the title character, who is growing at a much faster rate than normal human beings. The film proper picks up with Robin Williams playing the character as a ten year-old in what looks like the body of a 40 year-old. A really, really hairy 40 year-old. For the past ten years, Jack has been home-schooled by tutor Bill Cosby, but Jack yearns to be with other kids, and his parents (which include dad Brian Kerwin) reluctantly allow him to attend school, to be taught by the enormously sweet Miss Marquez (Jennifer Lopez). Most of the kids are rude or simply weirded out by Jack, but he makes fast friends with one boy (Adam Zolotin), who invites him to play basketball, and eventually the others fall into line and embrace his eccentricities (Like all kids would, right?). But Jack’s experiences being a ‘normal’ kid, after having been sheltered by his well-meaning parents for so long, may be short-term as the realities and complications of his condition come to the fore. Fran Drescher plays Zolotin’s floozy mother, who thinks Jack is the principal, Michael McKean turns up at a bar, and Don Novello plays a bartender at that bar.


Everything about this 1996 film from Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather” trilogy, “The Outsiders”, “The Rainmaker”) seems promising in theory. Then you see the film and it just doesn’t work at all (Even “Benjamin Button” was better, and that film wasn’t much good at all). One of the more disappointing flops of the 90s, this one’s no “World According to Garp”, and struggles to be much of anything to match up to the talented names involved.


Coppola (who I frankly think is completely overrated) apparently wanted to make a kids movie here, and that’s a shame. He’s got the perfect lead in Robin Williams, and a mostly fine supporting cast, but Coppola (who never puts a defining stamp on the thing) and screenwriters James DeMonaco (“The Negotiator”, writer-director of “The Purge”- both much better than this) and Gary Nadeau (who has barely worked in the industry before or since) have taken the most obvious, sappiest and most boring avenues from the film’s intriguing basic starting point. Even taking into account that it pilfers from “Garp” and the vastly superior “Big”, this still should’ve been a lot better and loftier. Williams and Bill Cosby are ideal (the film could’ve been even more awkward without Williams’ innate warmness), Diane Lane and a pre-relevance Jennifer Lopez are incredibly sweet (though Lopez treats her 10 year-old students like they are 5 year-olds. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong!) but Coppola wrongheadedly pitches this as a kids movie. It should’ve been a comedy, and not really a family one. As such, it’s a bore, more “The Sandlot Kids” than “Garp” or “Big” in execution. Coppola’s vision and the script are thoroughly underwhelming.


Williams overdoes the little boy voice at times, but he can’t really be faulted here. He’s perfectly cast and nails the character’s vulnerability and insecurity as a picked-on kid who is a bit ‘special’ (and really hairy). But anyone who has seen “Toys”, “Death to Smoochy”, or “Jumanji” (another film that should’ve been terrific but sucked) knows that Williams was never a miracle worker.


I mentioned Coppola’s vision earlier, but truth be told, the only thing that tells you that this is a Coppola film is the (perfect) casting of Diane Lane. Otherwise this is subpar, nondescript, formula filmmaking that any Happy Meal directorial hack could’ve helmed. And don’t even get me started on that far too whimsical opening childbirth scene where Diane Lane is dressed as Morticia Addams and Brian Kerwin (who is the one poor casting choice. He’s a boring nobody who never was) dressed as The Tin Man. That belonged in a whole other film (Notice I said other and not nother? That’s because only idiots say ‘nother’. It’s not a word, people!). It doesn’t even work as a kids movie. We get farting, puking, porno mags, impersonating the principal, overgrown man-children breaking chairs, etc. Is this the best they could come up with? If it had to be a kids movie, Bill Cosby himself could tell a more interesting story than this on his own. Then again, Cosby’s the guy who willingly starred in “Ghost Dad”, an even worse film than this. The kids are boring, and the concept of a 10 year-old in a 40 year-old man’s body is close enough to Michael Jackson territory that it ends up incredibly awkward. Why don’t the parents complain about Jack? Stranger Danger, anyone? Because it’s pitched as a kids movie, we’re just expected to ignore that, I guess.


The only plot development in the film that Coppola kinda succeeds with is Jack’s growing attraction to his teacher, which is probably the least juvenile aspect of the film, too. Lopez plays this angle really well, with great sensitivity. She also shows a lot of charisma that would not present itself much in the following decades. I guess she was still Jenny from the block at the time. Anyway, the scene stands out because the rest is such a subpar kids movie. This one has an identity crisis up to ying-yang, folks. The central character’s situation can’t be properly dealt with under kiddie movie restraints, and Coppola tries to submit the thing to his will and make a kiddie movie out of it, or else. Coppola should’ve either gone for adult drama, or a straight-up comedy. By doggedly pursuing a kiddie demographic, Coppola makes everything awkward and unsatisfying. It’s not “Toys”, but it is crap.   


Rating: D+

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: A Passage to India

Based on the classic E.M. Forster novel and set in the 1920s, Judy Davis stars as young Miss Quested, who travels to British-governed India with the elderly Mrs. Moore (Dame Peggy Ashcroft), who is most excited to see something of the ‘real India’, not the British-tainted stuff. Nigel Havers plays Ashcroft’s magistrate son, and Miss Quested’s intended, who just doesn’t understand their curiosity with India. Much more helpful is the rather liberal, educated Dr. Fielding (James Fox), who introduces the women to his good friends, the cheerfully and eager to please Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee) and the elderly, somewhat daft Hindu teacher named Godbole (Sir Alec Guinness!). Dr. Aziz and Miss Quested get along famously, and in a moment of haste, Dr. Aziz suggests taking her on a trip to some local caves. Unfortunately, something happens to Miss Quested inside the caves, and she later emerges to accuse Dr. Aziz (who seems to have a sweet infatuation with her) of attempting to rape her, and the good doctor finds himself on trial. Needless to say racial tensions flare up to buggery over the whole thing. It seems highly unlikely that the cheerful, seemingly harmless Dr. Aziz could be guilty, and Dr. Fielding certainly believes in his innocence, but just what in the hell did happen to Miss Quested in those caves? Art Malik has an early role as Dr. Aziz’s best friend, who helps defend him alongside Roshan Seth, and Richard Wilson plays the opposing counsel.


One of the main problems with this highly-decorated 1984 David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dr. Zhivago”) film is that not only does it treat its subject in a manner that has dated since it was released, the fact is, it’s extremely old-fashioned for 1984 as well. I’m not saying this subject matter shouldn’t have been touched in 1984, but perhaps David Lean (who also scripted and edited the film) wasn’t the right guy to touch it. Capable of making very fine films (“Bridge on the River Kwai”, “Hobson’s Choice”, and especially “Oliver Twist”), Lean’s approach to this already historical subject, has seen it age progressively worse with time. It’s a very old-fashioned film (from a director whose last film was fourteen years prior), and it seems a decade or two out of touch at least. About the best thing I can say is that Sir Alec Guinness’ performance as an elderly Indian man is not only rather entertaining, but he narrowly gets away with it too, partly due to the rather light application of makeup on him. Ben Kingsley got an Oscar for doing so in “Gandhi” don’t forget. Yes, he has Indian heritage, but would you have known that from looking at him outside of the film? Nope, so casting a Caucasian or biracial actor isn’t always a bad thing. Anyone who has seen Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” surely can’t be too harsh on the comparatively subtle Guinness here, whose quite respectful, non-caricatured performance is actually more interesting than the rather trivial character he actually plays.


However, other aspects of the film have not aged nearly as well and aren’t nearly as interesting or entertaining. Characters here that are seen as rather liberal or forward-thinking for the time the film is set, don’t seem all that worldly or cultured for the time in which the film was released, and even less so now. India and its people are treated by those people in the film as somewhat of a quaint little curio, and in turn, by the filmmaker, it seems. It has aged so much that while there may have been that difference between the time the film is set and the time in which it was made, that difference doesn’t seem all that substantial today, I guess is the best way of putting it. As such, the film really only comes alive in the final quarter when it at least turns into an intriguing mystery/courtroom drama. This part of the film has its flaws (it seems like two films in one, and not seamless at all), but at least it’s intriguing enough to keep one awake, probably because it’s a tad similar to one of my favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, though obviously with a much different setting.  Unfortunately, there’s one fatal flaw that even this section of the film cannot escape; The tragic, albeit Oscar-nominated, miscasting of Australia’s own Judy Davis in ostensibly the lead role. It’s not so much that she isn’t terribly attractive that’s the problem. In fact, her rather plain looks are made into an issue within the film later on. That’s fine. However, anyone who has ever seen the head-strong Judy Davis give any performance in any other film will tell you that she is all kinds of wrong for this role (The fact that she got into heated arguments with the director and hurled profane insults at him is further proof. Sure, some actors can play people opposite to their own personalities, but Judy ain’t one of ‘em). She’s far too hardened, and tends to be cast in cynical, strong women roles. That’s because she’s rather good at that kind of thing. This fragile and naïve role is requiring something in the vicinity of Julie Harris, or even the likes of Lee Remick/Lee Grant with a British accent (Though obviously a younger version of those actresses). Sure, Lee Grant was known for playing shrill bitches too, but she was also known for playing fragile women prone to emotional hysterics, which is a key part of the character here that Davis fails to make credible. Judy Davis would be the one slapping the shit out of that hysterical woman, and her casting plays even more wrongly decades later. She’s just not fragile or dainty enough to work in the role. I’ve seen her play neurotic in Woody Allen films, but really, a fragile ingénue (albeit not an absolute stunner) would’ve been better. Or better yet, make the film in the 60s and cast Julie Harris for cryin’ out loud.


The supporting cast around Davis is thankfully solid enough to ensure the film isn’t a bad one, just uneven. Oscar-winning Peggy Ashcroft, and especially Victor Banerjee are particular standouts. James Fox is also rock-solid, Richard Wilson does his best with a rather one-dimensional part, and it’s always good to see character actor Clive Swift, however briefly. The excellent cinematography by Ernest Day earned an Oscar nomination, and helps lift the film a bit.


A film set in the 1920s (based on a book that was penned in the 20s as well), made in the 1980s, but made by a veteran filmmaker very much of the 50s and 60s, this is a lumpy and dated film. It has a few merits, but it’s not a terribly easy watch in 2014 (The wild monkeys rampage is awfully on the nose, I have to say). Tragic central miscasting does not help one iota. A very uneven film. Having said that, it’s also not my type of film at all (the East-West cultural clash thing is pretty tedious to me, aside from “Gandhi”), and one should probably keep that in mind. You may very well have a different opinion about it to me. It was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that year, after all.


Rating: C+

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Counsellor

Um…I’ll do my best here, folks. Michael Fassbender plays the title character, who is never called anything else in the film. He’s a Texan lawyer with a lovely fiancé (Penelope Cruz) and a stupid belief that it’s a good idea for him to make some money through a drug deal with his more experienced partner Reiner (Javier Bardem), and cowboy hat-sporting middle man called Westray (Brad Pitt). Things don’t go according to plan, including something involving the no-good son of The Counsellor’s imprisoned client (Rosie Perez) causing big problems for The Counsellor and anyone close to him. Cameron Diaz turns up as Bardem’s cynical, femme fatale girlfriend who ain’t no dummy, Bruno Ganz turns up as an Austrian diamond jeweller, Sam Spruell plays a nasty member of the drug cartel, and Ruben Blades is a kingpin called ‘El Jefe’.


Some people might like this 2013 crime flick from director Ridley Scott (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “American Gangster”) and author turned screenwriter Cormac McCarthy (who also wrote the novel that was the basis for the overrated “No Country for Old Men”, as well as the interesting “The Road”). Those who like it are probably the few people who actually understood it. As for me, it wasn’t until about an hour in that I started to wade through the pretentious, incomprehensible coded dialogue to a point where I could follow the basics of the plot. Sort of. Even then I still felt like I didn’t really know the characters themselves. I understand that no one wants to be spoon-fed, but I’m sorry, I found McCarthy’s dense screenplay intensely irritating (the endless scene early on between Fassbender and Bruno Ganz was a real test of endurance and patience), and the film ultimately lost me. I kept watching, of course, but without much engagement, outside of the lively performances by Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem, who are well-cast and clearly having fun.


Not nearly as much fun, and frankly boring and blank is Michael Fassbender, and sadly he is our lead character. Unlikeable, but also underdeveloped, one never quite grasps onto his character, so that when things truly start to unravel and he gets in over his head, I simply didn’t care. Giving us more of a sense of who this guy was before he turns to crime, would’ve been extremely beneficial. Fassbender, a talented and often charismatic actor, doesn’t help in the slightest, he simply doesn’t register on screen beyond a boring ‘cool’ reserve (Before the fit hits the shans at least). Perhaps he was still trying to understand who his character was, too, but he just doesn’t earn our sympathy, and frankly doesn’t deserve it anyway, once we do get to know him a bit. I also didn’t believe that from what little I knew of his character that he would resort to criminal means just to keep up a lavish lifestyle for his lady love. Sure, he’s a lawyer and knows lots of crims, but so do a lot of lawyers and not all of them are the type to actually conspire with them on criminal endeavours. Scott, McCarthy, and Fassbender failed to make me believe it.


It’s a good thing that the studio execs nixed Cameron Diaz’s apparently horrendous Jamaican accent in post-production, because she’s pretty damn unconvincing in her role here as is. Some actresses can play ball-busting, unscrupulous, piranha-like women, but the sunny Diaz is as far from one of them as you can get. I’m all for actors trying to branch out, but as was the case in “Bad Teacher”, she’s terribly miscast and not remotely credible in the role. Sorry, Cameron, but you’re just too nice to play this. She and Bardem (and their two cheetahs!) seem to have walked in here immediately from filming scenes for Oliver Stone’s “Savages” that somehow didn’t make the cut and were spliced in here instead, though at least Bardem acquits himself entertainingly well. Diaz is terrible and her character is all unconvincing artifice. But no, they aren’t characters from “Savages”, though this film does share that (otherwise entertaining) film’s stupidity for hiring actresses to play highly sexual characters who are clearly unwilling to deliver the goods as required for their characters. Diaz’s character is supposed to be someone so uncontrollably erotically charged that she spread eagles and fucks a car at one point…but in other scenes carefully arranges her body so as not to show any nudity. There’s an obvious and frustrating disconnect there, and Diaz does a complete disservice to her character in that sense, and overall (She’s also starting to look seriously weathered, which doesn’t help her supposedly sexy character here). I’ve read Angelina Jolie was originally slated for the role, and she definitely would’ve been the right casting. But even then, the car-fucking, cheetah-taming role is too much of a put-on to really work. Poor Penelope Cruz is better, but rather wasted as less of a character and more of a plot point.


On the positive side of things, a flamboyant Javier Bardem looks to be having a lot of fun. He ain’t remotely subtle, but he brings energy that is otherwise sorely lacking in this talkfest. Brad Pitt is also genuinely good, even if I’m not entirely certain his character was necessary. Ruben Blades, not seen often enough these days, is excellent in a cameo, and even Rosie Perez is a lot less annoying than usual and quite effective. Also, if there’s a more evil-looking guy in movies today than Sam Spruell, I haven’t seen them.


Ultimately, although the film wasn’t exactly bad per se, it was simply too dense, enigmatic and aloof for its own good. I started out somewhat intrigued, but after a while, it really wore on me, and ultimately defeated me. I don’t want a film to spoon-feed me like a moron, but there comes a point where a film will piss me off by stubbornly refusing to make this any easier to follow when it easily could have done so. I wasn’t distracted whilst watching it, the film really is difficult to follow, and not good enough or engaging enough to make me want to try any harder. Being enigmatic is one thing, but when you carry that too far, you risk the entire thing being an enigma. Its dense dialogue and endless flowery speeches are insufferably pretentious (not organic to the kinds of people in the film, really) and pretty much impenetrable. Scott is an experienced (if erratic) filmmaker, McCarthy is a debutant screenwriter, the former should’ve seen the problem and corrected the latter. I mean, the basic premise of the film is, well, pretty basic. It’s the way that it has been told that is the problem. And if Scott was happy with things the way they are on screen in the film as is, well, like I said…he’s an erratic filmmaker.


I was simply at too much of a distance with this film. I didn’t enjoy it at all, certainly not enough to make me want to see it again to figure it all out. That’s the thing with films, if you want to make a film that improves on repeated viewings, you still need to make it work on the initial viewing. My first viewing simply wasn’t enjoyable enough. Perhaps you’ll make more out of it and enjoy the rather elusive experience. I found it aggravating and unenlightening.


Rating: C