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, January 2, 2015

Review: Breakout

Robert Duvall is framed and stuck in a Mexican hellhole prison on a murder charge, so his wife (Jill Ireland) turns to laidback pilot Charles Bronson to help spring him out. To do this he enlists the aid of right-hand man Hawk (Randy Quaid), floozy Sheree North (to provide a distraction), and a chopper pilot (Alan Vint). John Huston is Duvall’s grandfather, a corrupt millionaire businessman responsible for framing Duvall, who learned of his shonky ways and started to kick up some trouble that Huston couldn’t stand for. Roy Jenson turns up as North’s current squeeze, who doesn’t much like Bronson (who has a history with North).


Loosely based on a 1971 incident in the US, but also later the inspiration for a similar incident in Australia, this 1975 flick from director Tom Gries (“Will Penny”, “The Greatest”) is well-cast and particularly well-shot. However the supremely awful Jill Ireland sticking out like a sore thumb and rather boring villains are problematic. They hold the film back from being even more than it is, though only a tad. Yes, that includes John Huston, whose character gets forgotten about at the end. We needed at least one more scene with his character, but perhaps he had a plane to catch or something. He’s repeating his “Chinatown” performance from the previous year here, but with only slightly more than half the effort and effectiveness. He’s just OK.


Much better is Robert Duvall, who in playing this thing like a serious drama, sets himself apart from everyone else and walks off with the film. This guy is clearly going through a transformative experience in prison. Leading man Charles Bronson is relatively relaxed and likeable for a change in one of his better 70s performances (Even if the role could’ve just as easily been played by James Coburn, Joe Don Baker, or Steve McQueen). It’s a shame his wife Ireland is such a terrible actress and an odd duck of a woman, even wearing giant sunglasses and a bandana ensemble at one point. I’ve never found Ireland a good fit in a film, but here…wow. The supremely underrated Sheree North is in her trashy element here and a young Randy Quaid plays a thinner, lankier, and nerdier version of the redneck yokel he’s so good at. Quaid makes for the absolute ugliest woman you’ve ever seen, and gets all of the film’s few comedic moments.


The best element on show here is the widescreen cinematography by Lucien Ballard (“The Killing”, “Hour of the Gun”, “Will Penny”, “The Wild Bunch”), which is superlative for what is essentially a B-grade prison breakout film. The music score by Jerry Goldsmith (“The Omen”, “Planet of the Apes”) isn’t the great man’s finest work, but it’s solid and a little odd.


A solid prison break film and a pretty good Bronson vehicle, but a few elements hold this one back from being even more than it is. The screenplay is by Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman (“Oklahoma Crude”, “The Killer Elite”, “Cutthroat Island”), and Elliott Baker (“A Fine Madness”).


Rating: B-

Review: Paranoia

Liam Hemsworth and his techie team are given a chance to impress company head Gary Oldman, or be fired. They don’t impress and are promptly fired. Their genius reaction to this? Spend up big on their company credit card before the presumably Alzheimer’s-afflicted Oldman remembers to cancel their cards. After a night of hard partying and a roll in the hay with sexy Amber Heard, Hemsworth, who desperately needs to pay for his Emphysema-suffering dad Richard Dreyfuss’ medical bills, is dragged in by stooge Julian McMahon to see an understandably pissed off Oldman. Oldman now claims that Hemsworth owes him, and uses threats of harm to his techie pals and father as leverage to get Hemsworth to act as a corporate spy against his hated rival, Harrison Ford (!). And who happens to be Ford’s marketing exec? Why, Heard of course. #Awkward, y’all! Embeth Davidtz plays Oldman’s ice queen cohort, and Josh Holloway plays an FBI man.


Beware any film from several production companies and about 20 credited producers. Aussie helmer Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”, “The Ugly Truth”, “21”, “Killers”) directs this 2013 film with a title that sounds like a 60s junker with a slumming Carrol Baker. It’s actually a technological thriller, and sadly a pretty uninteresting and silly one. I’m not sure the frothy, lightweight Luketic is the right guy for this kind of thing, but direction isn’t really the problem here, nor is acting (Though actual casting is a bit iffy).


The main issue is the laughable screenplay by Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy, from a novel by Joseph Finder. Skulduggery in the smart phone world? Really? And we’re not talking a ‘Big Brother’ kinda thing like the underrated “Enemy of the State”, no this one is trying to make a thriller out of the corporate side of computer/phone technology companies. To use the modern parlance, LOL. Perhaps this film wasn’t really made for me (I don’t even currently own- or want- a mobile phone, let alone a smart one and wouldn’t want a phone ‘that changes the way we live’), but whether this has any basis in reality or not, I found it eye-rolling. Those who think mobile phones are the like most seriously important things ever might get something out of this nonsense, but I just don’t buy Bill Gates as a corporate spy kinda guy. Maybe it happens, but this film didn’t convince me of it, and that’s the key. You’re crazy if you think it happens anything like this.


I certainly didn’t buy Harrison Ford (in particular) or Gary Oldman as guys who know how to turn a computer on let alone know how to create smart phone technology. Sure, they can hire people smarter than they are to do the techie stuff, but still…c’mon. Ford used to be a carpenter for cryin’ out loud. And remember “Firewall”? This isn’t any more convincing, even Ford (known for being pretty media shy) clearly knows he can’t sell the idea of him playing a guy who genuinely believes his tech products make peoples’ lives better. He gives a grumpy, uncomfortable performance, an unfortunate trend in the last decade or so. I would’ve cast Patrick Stewart or Dan Aykroyd (Remember his schtick in “Ghostbusters”?), and Jeff Goldblum or Michael Keaton in these two roles instead. On a smaller scale, I found Josh Holloway way too seedy and redneck to convince as an FBI agent.


The actors who fare best are the ones who are least miscast; Amber Heard, and yes, Gary Oldman. I know what I just said, believe me. Oldman doesn’t convince as a techie, but as an amoral bastard? Spot on and the most entertaining performance in the film by far. I still say they should’ve cast Keaton or Goldblum, though (Kevin Spacey would’ve been ideal). Heard doesn’t seem like a techie either, and her bogan hairdo is ridiculously inappropriate for an executive (I know it’s called ‘ombre’ or something and it’s supposedly fashionable, but it was around ten years ago too and it wasn’t fashionable then), but if you want an actress to be hot yet aloof, Heard’s your woman. Actually she’s Johnny Depp’s woman and I hate him so much right now. Aussie Liam Hemsworth seems a bit too much of a boofhead (or meathead, if you’re an American) to play a techie, but he’s easily the more interesting and talented of the Hemsworth brothers. OK, so that’s admittedly saying less than nothing, because Chris is appalling, but still, it’s true. He’s OK here, if not terribly interesting or cast to his best advantage, though he’s likeable enough that I might enjoy seeing him in something else. The lovely Embeth Davidtz continues the miscasting as a corporate ice queen (Were Famke Janssen and Eva Green busy?), though her face certainly seems frozen enough. The film shamefully wastes the excellent talents of Richard Dreyfuss in a role that has him asleep for several scenes, and not very well-cast as a blue collar security guard who is about 10 years too old to be Hemsworth’s emphysemic dad. Seriously, who cast this thing?


Luketic is lucky that Oldman brings his A-game here (not always a given), slightly miscast or not, because he’s the only entertainment value on show here. No, I didn’t get much out of this one. It’s not convincing, not particularly well-cast, and just not made for me. It’s pretty dopey, really to use smart phone corporate espionage as a big thriller plot, and the totally unrealistic happy ending will make you want to throw something. Possibly a smart phone. Oh, and where was the paranoia? Not anywhere in the film, that’s for sure.


Rating: C

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review: Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling stars as a Thai-based drug dealer and owner of a kickboxing club, the latter of which is really a front for the former. His wayward brother Tom Burke has raped and killed a 16 year-old prostitute. The girl’s father is distraught and turns to ex-cop Vithaya Pansringarm for guidance. The ex-cop tells the father he must kill Burke, which he promptly does. This brings about the arrival of the brothers’ mother, Kristin Scott Thomas, who wants bloody revenge for the murder of her favourite son. This ugly, bloody situation is surely going to get even worse as Gosling and Pansringarm are clearly set on a collision course.


This is my third Nicolas Winding Refn film after the cool “Drive” and the pretentious but memorable and violent “Valhalla Rising”, and this 2013 revenge drama/thriller isn’t quite on the level of those films. In fact, it is a little emptier than those films on the whole. However, none of the three films is remotely boring, and the writer-director certainly has a lot of undeniable talent. This one certainly isn’t boring, and whilst reminding me of a lot of other filmmakers’ work (Kubrick and Tarantino come to mind), it’s very much its own thing, too. This is essentially a straight-up, ultra-violent revenge film served cold and hard as hell, but looking like it was directed by a post-“Dr. Strangelove” Stanley Kubrick.


To be honest, I think Ryan Gosling has played the glaring, monosyllabic thing one time too many (he wants to be Steve McQueen, but isn’t as interesting to me), and although sometimes extremely attractively shot by Larry Smith (who indeed shot the Kubrick dud “Eyes Wide Shut”), the film is a tad repetitive, visually. It’s all uninteresting stares, and way too many dreams/visions/whatever that slow the film down just a tad too much.


But at the same time, I couldn’t look away and I wasn’t bored for a second, even with the slowed down pace. I was especially mesmerised by the performance from Vithaya Pansringarm as the mysterious, almost Terminator-esque ex-cop (who it could even be argued, might be One-Eye from “Valhalla Rising” reincarnated. If you think about it, it kinda fits). He may not have a terribly imposing frame, but his Hannibal Lecter-like posture is inexplicably unsettling, and he immediately if quietly announces himself as a man with whom to absolutely not fuck. He absolutely walks off with the whole film with a scary and quietly intense performance. The funny thing is, it’s he, not Gosling, who is really on the side of ‘good’ here. Gosling may in some ways be a ‘good guy’, but he’s exacting revenge for the death of a repugnant creep who deserved it, and he’s doing so on the orders of a nasty criminal- who just happens to be his own mum. I’ve never much liked Kristin Scott Thomas, but she’s really something special in this one as a tough woman with no filter and possibly no morals, either. She makes an immediate impression too, as a ghastly piece of work on more than one level (The actress ain’t looking her best). I was also struck by the film’s use of music and sound, and although it gets repetitive, the film’s bold use of colour and shadow is memorable.


I can see why this pretentious film has divided critics. It definitely won’t be for everyone, it was even booed at Cannes, apparently. It’s a simple, violent revenge film with an arthouse veneer that might be off-putting to fans of violent revenge films or arthouse cinema. I think its merits are more in the former than the latter, it’s not as profound or artistic as the director probably thinks. Still, I found it oddly compelling and entertaining of sorts, if a little repetitive. I kinda dug it, God help me, but its pretentious approach to exploitation plotting and violence will definitely annoy some.


Rating: B-

Review: Solomon Kane

Set in the early 1600s, Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is a pirate mercenary in the middle of a raid in Africa, but runs afoul of the Devil’s Reaper (Ian Whyte), who wants to claim his damned soul. But Solomon manages to escape, and we pick up a year later, with Solomon seemingly a changed man working towards redemption, though still plagued by his decision to abandon his father (Max von Sydow) as a wayward young man. He ends up accompanying pious Pete Postlethwaite and his family (including Alice Krige and Rachel Hurd-Wood), before they are attacked. Solomon has sworn to a life of non-violence, but an act of the most shocking evil, Solomon knows he must take to violence once more, even if it means damnation for his soul. He must thwart the evil, masked Overlord (Sam Roukin), though he is merely the servant of sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng). Along the way he reunites with his elderly father, who delivers some (not-so) shocking news about The Overlord’s true identity. Mackenzie Crook turns up briefly as a slightly odd priest.


Stylish, but slow-moving 2009 (though filmed much earlier, and only released in Australia in 2010) adaptation of short stories from the popular Robert E. Howard (“Conan the Barbarian”, “Red Sonja”, “Kull the Conqueror”). Written and directed by Michael J. Bassett (the underrated UK survival action/drama “Wilderness”), it’s never quite as exciting as you want it to be, with James Purefoy lacking the necessary charisma, acting chops, and gravitas in the lead. The character is fascinatingly tortured and solemn, but Purefoy plays him in singularly uninteresting fashion. I mean, this guy shows Jesus was a bit of a pussy, he doesn’t need a magic show to survive crucifixion, pulling himself off the nailed cross! Take that, Jesus! But Purefoy is just…kinda there. He never really puts his stamp on it or sells any of it in interesting fashion. I know Viggo Mortensen can’t play every stoic fantasy hero role, but it just goes to show how bloody fantastic he was in the “Lord of the Rings” films, he would’ve been a perfect Solomon Kane. I guess one can be thankful that Christopher Lambert didn’t play the role, perhaps (Indeed, he was interested in it at one point. Crisis averted there!).


It seriously perks up in the last 10-15 minutes with an enjoyable climax being by far the best part of the film. It’s a shame that Jason Flemyng’s highly entertaining villainy is confined solely to this final stretch. The opening scene is good fun too, I mean the Devil’s Reaper has a flaming sword for cryin’ out loud. A flaming sword! Perfectly cast pros Max von Sydow, Alice Krige, and especially the late (and very sorely missed) Pete Postlethwaite help make up for Purefoy’s slack somewhat, as does the director’s visual style.


The snowy Czech scenery and cinematography by Dan Laustsen (who lensed the terrific genre-hopper “Brotherhood of the Wolf”) are stupendously impressive, I must say. But this pulpy fantasy-action stuff is played out a bit too sluggishly for my liking here. We only get to Solomon’s main quest after about 30 minutes or so. A mixture of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Shane”, “Ghost Rider” and the underrated “Season of the Witch” and “Jonah Hex”, it never quite delivers the goods. I bet Howard’s work is a helluva fun read, but the film is just a tad disappointing, despite some really interesting elements and a terrific premise.


I liked some of this very much (and brave is a film that will have its hero refuse to take violent action to save a child, and then the child is killed!), but Purefoy’s dull performance and Bassett’s poor sense of pacing hold one back from truly embracing it. Not bad (It’s better than Uwe Boll’s “In the Name of the King” for instance), not quite good. But bear in mind, I’m not a “Conan” fan either.


Rating: C+

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Ichi the Killer

Tadanobu Asano stars as Kakihara, who works for a Yakuza boss who has gone missing. A rumour is heard that the boss has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Kakihara, a violent and twisted sadomasochist tortures a rival gang member, which gets Kakihara kicked out of the gang. And that’s when he hears that his boss has been murdered by a mysterious killer known as Ichi (Nao Omori). Ichi is an odd character, docile and shy for the most part, and yet capable of great displays of gruesome violence. This is the handiwork of Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto), a cruel manipulator who hates Kakihara’s gang, has turned Ichi into a killing machine by brainwashing him into thinking that everyone he kills was responsible for bullying him as a child. He also seems to get some kind of sexual charge out of killing, just so you know. Kakihara becomes obsessed with Ichi, perhaps sensing an ultra-violent kindred spirit, or perhaps because he’s a sadomasochistic perve. Yeah, let’s go with both of those.


Even if you’ve seen other films from director Takashi Miike (who also has a role in the film) like his extraordinary “Audition”, this 2001 Yakuza film will still shock the hell out of you. Unfortunately for me, some of Miike’s shock tactics here work against what is otherwise a pretty strong and interesting gangster film. The gore I’m cool with, after all I thoroughly enjoyed the uber-violent HK flick “The Story of Ricky”. The scene where someone’s cheeks are stretched to the extreme is an amusingly sick example. Even the torture didn’t bother me, because it’s all so whacked out and extreme that one can’t be offended so much as stunned, though I’m no fan of the ‘torture porn’ flicks. It’s almost surreal, and I think even the proudest of piercing enthusiasts will find themselves wincing throughout this. However, I simply couldn’t put up with the extreme violence- both physical and sexual- committed against women in this film. Gore is silly, but women being beaten and raped? Only sickos find amusement in that. It’s foul, nasty, and a stain on an otherwise fine and memorable film with a solid story and interesting (if unpleasant) characters. Perhaps your heart is blacker than mine and can appreciate this film more (It’s certainly one of his most popular and notorious films), but I was slightly held back a bit because of this one unsavoury and in my view detrimental element. Miike has simply gone a bit too far, even for him.


I also found the hand-held cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto (“Audition”, “The Grudge”, “The Great Yokai War”) to be ugly and murky in the extreme, especially early on. That offended me much more than the self-inflicted tongue slicing, to be honest. I also think the finale is all a bit too silly, and a letdown (Though actor Shinya Tsukamoto sure is one helluva condom full of walnuts).


If you think you can stomach the film, by all means give it a go, but be warned that in the opening ten minutes alone we are witness to a woman being beaten and raped, and we see a room splattered with blood and intestines. The film gets even messier after that. Yep. ‘Fucked up’ is the only way to describe this one.


Tadanobu Asano and Nao Omori are both excellent as the insanely masochistic Kakihara and the complex title character, respectively. I do think the film would’ve been better if the title character were introduced a lot earlier, but even then the unsavoury violence against women would make it hard for me to give this a genuine recommendation. I’m no prude, I mean, I loved the bit where a guy punches Kakihara in the mouth and his fist gets stuck. So, clearly I like my violent cinema. But…no, I can’t in good conscience support this film. Such a shame, there’s really something here, but Miike is as Miike does, and goes too far. He’s a genuine, but sometimes unrestrained talent.


No, I’ll just watch “Audition” again, thanks, painful as that film sometimes is. Or maybe Miike’s bizarre, yet somewhat benign “Great Yokai War”. Based on a manga by Hideo Yamamoto (apparently not the same Yamamoto who shot the film), the screenplay is by Sakichi Sato.


Rating: C+

Review: The Croods

The title refers to a prehistoric family, whose cautious patriarch Grug (voiced by Nic Cage) refuses to let the clan leave their cave aside from finding food, because…dinosaurs. And if not dinosaurs, then other beasties that like to eat smaller things that move. Grug’s motto is ‘Always be afraid’. The clan also includes a mother (voiced by Catherine Keener), a baby named Sandy, an aptly named son Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke), a grandmother (voiced by the amazing Cloris Leachman), and a rebellious teenage daughter Eep (voiced by Emma Stone). Eep wants more to life than the cave, she craves the outside world, and sneaks out one night, attracted by a bright light. The light turns out to be fire, something Eep knows nothing about. But hunky Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) certainly does. But before the two have any chance to consider a teenage caveman romance, the ground beneath them starts to crack, destroying the Crood family home. Looks like they’re all gonna have to brave it in the wide open world now, with Guy continually showing up Grug with his ingenuity.


The notion of a caveman animated movie featuring the vocal stylings of Nic Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, and Clark Duke (Surely the creepiest actor who isn’t meant to be creepy) seemed like my idea of hell, to be honest. Having now seen this 2013 film from DreamWorks and co-writer/co-directors Kirk De Micco (“Space Chimps”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”, “How to Train Your Dragon”), I find myself with quite a few positive things to say about it. It’s no “Rango”, and it’s not even the best animated film of 2013, but it’s a fun film, and behind “Rango”, the best-looking animated movie post-“Toy Story”. If it weren’t for the largely bland characters and forgettable voice acting, it would’ve been a real winner, actually.


We start off in very cute fashion with a cell animation cave painting type deal, which is nice. But once the film starts proper, we get some seriously beautiful, colourful animation. It’s much closer in style to “Rango” than other computer animated films, where the characters are a tad hyperreal or exaggerated, but texture-wise, it’s pretty photorealistic and looks more like seriously advanced stop-motion than animation, if anything. In other words, you almost feel like you can reach out and touch things on screen.


The visuals are definitely the best thing in the film, as everything else is a bit lacking. Chiefly the voices. The only voices I even immediately recognised were Nic Cage and Ryan Reynolds, but that’s not a problem. The problem is, none of their voices proves remotely interesting. In fact, as much as I found it a bit of an act of mercy that Cage was amazingly restrained by the animation film genre, the fact is, it renders him pretty bland. Catherine Keener fares worst of all, as her character is distressingly useless and underused. I’m not remotely an Emma Stone fan, but her Bam-Bam ish character fares best of all. It’s kind of amusing to find a bored and tempestuous teenage girl in this kind of situation, really.


The film’s premise is a cute one: Seemingly the last caveman family around trying to survive their extremely harsh world. However, it has to be said that at times it feels like “Ice Age” with humanoids at the centre. Having said that, though, the final fifteen minutes or so are really quite wonderful, even a little affecting. I honestly didn’t expect much out of this film, but I ended up quite enjoying it, and it certainly looks fabulous.


The screenplay is based on a story by De Micco, and of all people John Cleese. Apparently the film was originally intended to be a Claymation collaboration between DreamWorks and Aardman Animations (The British Claymation specialists), but Cleese moved on when Aardman pulled out, so how much of his input is in the final product is up for debate I guess.


Rating: B-