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.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: The Left-Handed Gun


A re-telling of the story of William H. Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid (Paul Newman) who becomes embittered and violent when his mentor, genteel rancher Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston) is gunned down by a sheriff’s posse (one being corrupt Sheriff Brady himself), working for an intimidating rancher named Morton. Billy makes it his mission to hunt down Tunstall’s killers and get revenge, aided by two of Tunstall’s men, Charlie Bowdre (James Congdon) and Tom O’Foliard (James Best). The latter two are somewhat in over their heads however, as Billy is much more violently motivated than they are, shocking even hero-worshipping writer Moultrie (Hurd Hatfield). Complications arise when Billy’s new ally Pat Garrett (John Dehner) tires of his friend’s gun-happy ways and (after Billy breaks an amnesty) finally decides to give in to the demand that he become sheriff, setting up a showdown between the two pals. John Dierkes plays Tunstall’s loyal business partner McSween.

 

Although 30+ year old Paul Newman is clearly too old to play a guy who died aged 21, he gives one of his more interesting early performances in this rather grim 1958 western from debut film director Arthur Penn (“Little Big Man”, “Bonnie and Clyde”). Scripted by Leslie Stevens (whose play The Lovers was turned into the 1965 film “The War Lord”) from a teleplay by an apparently disgruntled Gore Vidal (“Ben-Hur”, “I Accuse”), the only major issue with the film (aside from playing extremely fast and loose with known facts to say the least) is that it’s way too much story to be telling in one 99 minute film. “Young Guns” had to tell it in two 90 odd minute films. An hour into a 90ish minute film is simply too late for Pat Garrett to still not be appointed sheriff, as it leaves Penn and Stevens having to rush things in the final half-hour.

 

In the role of Garrett, it must be said that John Dehner is the screen’s best-ever, much as James Coburn (who played him in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”) is one of my favourite actors of all-time. It’s not even close, with all due respect to Coburn, Patrick Wayne (“Young Guns”), and William L. Petersen (“Young Guns II”). I never quite got Petersen’s take on the character, as he came off as a smug prick who never seemed credible as a former ally to Billy. At least with Coburn in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” the rather antagonistic relationship between the two fit in with the tone of the entire film. As for pale-eyed Dehner, his Garrett is given stronger motivation for siding against Billy than was Petersen (who seemed to be portraying Garrett as vain without any context for it). In this outing, Garrett is a decent, peace-loving man who used to be a bit of a scallywag. He sympathises with Billy and agrees to hide him, but when Billy starts shooting it up at his wedding and breaks the amnesty, Garrett draws a line in the sand. That makes much more sense than Garrett simply being an ambitious and glory-seeking dickhead.

 

Also impressing is the always sturdy John Dierkes in a supporting turn as McSween, the lawyer character Terry O’Quinn brilliantly portrayed in “Young Guns”. Lantern-jawed character actor Dierkes is a tower of quiet strength and decency, as the Bonney ally, stealing his every scene. Roscoe P. Coltrane himself, James Best is an appropriately dumb hick Tom O’Foliard (there’s a bit of Roscoe in the performance), if a bit underused, as is his “Dukes of Hazzard” co-star Denver Pyle as one of Garrett’s posse. James Congdon doesn’t get a lot to do as Charlie Bowdre (later immortalised by the underrated Casey Siemaszko in “Young Guns”), but his final scene is actually quite harrowing. As for Mr. Newman, inappropriate in age or not (and let’s face it, Tunstall was meant to be in his mid-20s and every film gets that one way wrong!), he gives a suitably taciturn, revenge-minded characterisation of the famed youthful outlaw. I think Emilio Estevez better conveyed Billy’s somewhat psychotic, trigger-happy side, but Newman is fine in his own way, too, one of his better early performances before his career really took off.

 

The one weak link in the cast is clearly Hurd Hatfield, whose character Moultrie is perhaps meant to be a blind hero-worshipper who gradually sees the disturbed man he has turned into a myth. Unfortunately, the oily way Hatfield portrays the character is so incredibly bizarre and mannered, that he’s inappropriately creepy and seems somehow sinister. He strikes every wrong note and stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent cast. Definitely worth commending is the stark, stunningly beautiful B&W cinematography by  Peverell Marley (“Night and Day”, “The Greatest Show on Earth”), a highlight of the film for sure. Deaths in this film really seem differently handled to any western prior, and it’s one of the film’s chief strengths. It’s a bit more shocking, uglier, and more pronounced than most westerns before it.

 

Even though this is in many ways a traditional B-western, there’s an extra kick in the guts that, combined with some very good performances, elevate the film into something of a minor classic. It’s chief flaw (aside from perhaps the title being based on a dispelled myth) is covering a lot of material later seen in the “Young Guns” films, but with only 99 minutes, it does so too quickly and in not quite enough detail. Still an interesting, brooding, and stark film well worth re-discovery.

 

Rating: B

Review: Automata


Filmed in Bulgaria and set in 2044 where most of humanity has been erased due to huge solar flares. Antonio Banderas plays an insurance agent for a big robotics company, but the dire living circumstances have seen robots built with a certain cost-effective, low-tech in mind. Robots have been configured to help humanity in their day-to-day lives, but also making sure that they can’t repair themselves (or each other), as well as the standard Asimovian condition that they never harm human beings. However, one such robot is indeed believed to have broken the ‘Thou shalt not repair thyself’ commandment and it’s up to Banderas (whose wife Birgitte Hjort Sorensen is about to pop out a baby) to investigate. See, if a robot can repair itself, chances are it’s capable of improving its intellectual capacity. When that happens, it’s plausible (if not probable) that they might just want to say ‘nah, fuck that’ to not harming humans. Banderas visits a ‘clockmaker’ (played by that great player of cinematic intellectuals, Melanie Griffith) who has a sex robot (!) that seems to be able to repair itself. And that’s when the film takes a turn best discovered for yourself. Or not. I’d go with not, because SPOILER ALERT the film sucks. Robert Forster plays Banderas’ boss, David Ryall plays Forster’s boss, and Dylan McDermott plays a somewhat antagonistic cop sent after Banderas when the latter goes missing.

 

Cheapjack 2014 sci-fi flick is a rip-off of “Blade Runner”, “I, Robot”, and “A.I.” (the first two especially), and you’d swear it was the handiwork of hack director Albert Pyun (“Cyborg”, “Omega Doom”) working for the Cannon Group. Nope, it’s Spanish director and FX guy Gabe Ibanez at the helm (in his second feature-length effort), co-writing the plagiaristic script with Igor Legarreta and Javier Sanchez Donate, and made for Millennium Films (Pretty much the modern equivalent of Cannon, or as someone over at ‘Good Efficient Butchery’ calls them, a ‘Cannon cover band’. Damn, I wish I’d have come up with that one!). It’s a depressingly boring, sluggishly paced and distressingly unoriginal hack-job (the pathetic Michael Crichton ‘rogue robots’ thriller “Runaway” is another obvious influence here), with a glum and miscast (and bald) Antonio Banderas to match, seemingly inspired by Harrison Ford’s glum performance and miscasting in “Blade Runner”. Like that overrated Ridley Scott film, it’s no fun at all. Unlike that overrated Ridley Scott film, it doesn’t feature Rutger Hauer or Edward James Olmos (it does have Robert Forster essentially in the M. Emmet Walsh role, however), and the visual design looks like something created on an Apple II. The cityscape may look like a micro-budget “Blade Runner” (hideous green-screen work), but I liked the film’s rather low-tech future idea, sort of a shitbox “I, Robot” where they can’t afford truly hi-tech robots. Sadly, the film itself is a shitbox “I, Robot”, and “I, Robot” wasn’t much chop to begin with.

 

Banderas must’ve seriously needed the cash, because this is terrible and the normally charming actor looks miserable. But this kind of role just isn’t his thing, for starters all the technical mumbo-jumbo doesn’t mesh well with a thick Spanish accent. Dylan McDermott, meanwhile, adopts a Clint Eastwood rasp and wears sunglasses to try and hide his hatred for himself. He sounds like an idiot and isn’t fooling anyone. As for Melanie Griffith (who was presumably still with Banderas at the time), she looks cryogenically frozen. Botox has rendered an already terrible actress even worse at her chosen craft. The idea of automatons eventually gaining enough power and intelligence to become wholly independent, was done a lot better in “Her”. This one’s a standard issue ‘robot paranoia’ take, and deathly dull.

 

If not the worst film of 2014, this is certainly the most miserable. The low-tech robots are somewhat interesting, the film itself is a derivative, cheap-looking, glum slog with unhappy performances from actors who ought not be here. And a frozen Melanie Griffith. The whole thing broods itself into a coma and a bald-headed, glum Banderas seems to be playing a role intended for Jason Statham or Luke Goss (Final thought: Is Antonio Banderas set to become the new Rutger Hauer? If you take out “Puss in Boots”, their career paths have taken on somewhat similar trajectories. Sure, Banderas rarely plays villains and is a weaker actor than Hauer, but the comparisons are there and rather scary. Take more care in your career choices, Antonio!).

 

Rating: D

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Hellraiser


Larry (Andrew Robinson) and new wife Julia (Claire Higgins) have just moved to the family home in England. Larry is unawares that his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) is hiding out there, after opening a strange puzzle box that unleashed demonic creatures known as Cenobites. He’s not quite the same, though. In fact, Frank is pretty much dead. You see, the Cenobites are kinky sadists who derive pleasure from pain and have torn Frank apart. When a drop of blood inadvertently finds its way to Frank’s body, however, it partially revives him (but now played by Oliver Smith for some odd reason) and that’s when Higgins discovers his skinless existence. Julia, who was previously Frank’s lover unbeknownst to Larry, is persuaded by Frank to lure men to their deaths so that Frank can feed off their blood and regain his former self. A fly in the ointment comes when the dreaded Cenobites (led by Doug Bradley’s formidable-looking Lead Cenobite, AKA ‘Pinhead’) come for Frank, unhappy that he has escaped them. Ashley Laurence (who looks alarmingly like Winona Ryder in this, I think) plays Larry’s daughter Kirsty, who isn’t terribly fond of her wannabe Joan Collins stepmother. The other Cenobites are played by Grace Kirby, Simon Bamford, and Nicholas Vince.

 

I’ve never been the biggest fan of this seriously nihilistic 1987 horror/fantasy from writer-director-author Clive Barker (adapting his own short story The Hell-Bound Heart), but after seeing it several times over the last 25 years or so, I think I do have to finally concede that it’s a well-made film with ambitions far exceeding most horror flicks of the mid-80s. I still admire it more than I find it enjoyable (and prefer Barker’s underrated “Nightbreed” much more), but I can’t deny this one’s got its own vibe unlike anything else out there even today, really. Along with the “Elm Street” franchise, this is definitely the most ambitious and strange of the iconic 80s horror franchises, and I bet it messed up a lot of straight-laced folk back in ‘87. This is some weird, fucked-up S&M meets demons and angels and purgatory themed stuff right here and Barker probably got this gig simply because no one else could make heads or tails of it other than the man himself.

 

There’s some genuinely terrific elements; The excellently moody Christopher Young (“The Dark Half”, “Drag Me to Hell”, “Priest”) score, a memorably bizarre-looking and chilling iconic character (Doug Bradley’s Pinhead), nasty imagery of ripped hunks of human flesh hanging from hooks, and what sicko kid didn’t want to have their own Lament Configuration? Ashley Laurence may not have really gone on to anything else of note, but she’s forever memorable as Ashley in this film. She’s definitely a better actress than “Nightmare on Elm Street” star Heather Langenkamp. The cinematography by Robin Vidgeon (“King David”, “The Crucifer of Blood”) contains some really nice lighting throughout. With all the flesh-ripping and kinky S&M-looking demons one wonders how the hell this thing even got green-lit. It’s clearly because Barker does it so damn well, and with such style that I’m surprised he hasn’t directed more often. In particular, there’s a really terrific- and completely disgusting- transformation/regeneration scene that makes good use of obviously limited funds.

 

There are two obvious flaws with the film, the biggest being the cold fish performance given by TV veteran Claire Higgins. A third-rate Emma Samms (who in the 80s was a second-rate mixture of Joan Collins and Barbara Carrera, herself), her performance and character are so cold and bitchy, that it’s frankly hard to care about anything that happens to her. Andrew Robinson is the biggest name and best actor of the bunch here, and yet this is a surprisingly weak performance from him. He’s a bit hamstrung by a somewhat dull character, however. His best asset is that he’s such an unfriendly-looking actor that cast here you’re never sure what his intentions are. Doug Bradley makes easily the biggest impression as lead Cenobite now affectionately referred to as Pinhead. He’s no master thesp, but he delivers the immortal ‘We’ll tear your soul apaaaarrrrrt!’ with chilling malevolence that might remind you a little of Christopher Lee. Unfortunately, Pinhead and the Cenobites represent the film’s other problem. They are the most poorly utilised great horror villains in cinematic history. None of the “Hellraiser” films have treated them right, and that’s as true here as in any of the subsequent sequels. Frankly, the way this film plays out as kind of like a Hammer version of an Edgar Allen Poe story (the Julia/Frank/Larry grisly love triangle in particular seems very Poe to me), the Cenobites aren’t even necessary, and feel tacked on awkwardly. They’re awesome (Simon Bamford is particularly grotesque as the aptly named Butterball). I understand not wanting to overexpose them, but I’m not sure they even really belong in the film at all. Or maybe the film should’ve been about them with the Poe-esque stuff to the sides instead of the other way around. As is, you can certainly see the seams and it takes more than 40 minutes for the Cenobites to be even remotely integrated into the story. That’s way too long. Having said that, the film still works as is, just somewhat disjointed. I also like how ambiguous the Cenobites are. I mean, Higgins and Frank are clearly the film’s villains, but are the Cenobites therefore heroes, given they’re after Frank? Hardly, with all that flesh-ripping. It reminds me of the angels from the “Prophecy” franchise in terms of character ambiguity there.

 

OK, so this is absolutely not the film to start with as your first-ever horror film. Although not exactly ‘scary’, even today this is some disturbing, otherworldly sadomasochistic stuff right here that’ll fuck you up seventy billion different ways (It might even be the forefather of ‘torture porn’). It’s well-done, though, even if I’d prefer a warmer cast of characters. As is, my level of giveashit about all this is a bit lesser than many people’s will be. Still, this is undeniably iconic, memorable, and compellingly weird.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road


Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) finds himself tenuously aligned with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her group of young women (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton), who are the five designated wives of tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe (the eccentric Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in “Mad Max”), whose employ Furiosa was previously under. One of the girls is even pregnant with Immortan Joe’s child. Needless to say, Immortan Joe (who has a spectacular breathing apparatus attached to his face) isn’t a happy camper and he unleashes his gangs of savages (including the ‘War Boys’) who pursue Max and Furiosa across the desert wasteland. Nicholas Hoult plays Nux, one of the ‘War Boys’, who despite trying to use poor Max as a blood donor (Immortan Joe likes to keep his ‘army’ replenished after all) is actually a pitiable character, as he is essentially chained to Max for much of the duration with no one really concerned for his safety or well-being in all the mayhem. No, not even his brethren. 78 year-old character actress Melissa Jaffer, TV veteran Joy Smithers, and absolutely gorgeous Aussie supermodel Megan Gale turn up late as members of Furiosa’s tribe, The Vuvalini, with the latter playing a character named Valkyrie. A shirtless Quentin Kenihan (yes, that Quentin) has a brief part as a character named Corpus Colossus, whilst Angus Sampson, Richard Carter (as Immortam Joe’s brother), John Howard (the actor, not the former PM playing a guy named ‘People Eater’!), Aussie-born former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones (as Immortam Joe’s hulking son, with Corpus Colossus his other son), and martial arts vet Richard Norton (as The Prime Imperator) all play characters in villainous pursuit of our heroes.

 

Geez, calm down everyone. It’s not “Citizen Kane”, for cryin’ out loud. Yes, this 2015 film from Dr. George Miller (“Mad Max”, “Babe”) is another example of how Aussies can make a good genre film when we try, but can we quit with the second coming of Jesus Christ stuff? It’s slightly better than “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”, and quite entertaining, but the original 1979 “Mad Max” still stands far taller for me. In fact, this ‘reboot’ plays very much like a mixture of “Mad Max II” and “Beyond Thunderdome”. Still, on the strength of the four “Mad Max” films alone (I’m not a “Babe” fan in the slightest) Miller really ought to make more films. He’s clearly a helluva director of action as this film once again shows. Like “The Road Warrior”, you’ll find yourself wondering how in the hell no one got killed filming this stuff. You’ve got to hand it to the man, he has the balls to give us a 115 minute car chase. Yes, that means that it’s ultimately lacking in story and character, but for what it is, it’s pretty bloody impressively done. There’s not all that much CGI going on here, which is extremely admirable, but the CGI that is apparent (explosions and a sand storm) is far, far too apparent for my liking.

 

The other issue I have with the film is that although Charlize Theron is really very good here (she’s much less forced at this sort of thing than Scarlett Johansson), her character seems to force the title character to the sidelines. So much so that I really wish Max weren’t in the film at all, just make it a “Mad Max” spin-off with a new lead character inhabiting the same world. As is, it feels like two stories fighting for screen time and Theron’s Furiosa wins the battle. Tom Hardy is quite a good choice for Max, and does a decent stab at an Aussie accent, though it comes across like Aussie spoken by someone who has been out of the country for a few years, which may annoy some people. I pretty much bought into it, and his gravelly voice is pretty perfect too.

 

It’s a shame Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe isn’t given a whole lot to say or do as the main villain, but anyone who doesn’t smile at his very (awesome) appearance, is clearly undergoing rigour mortis. That’s one fantastically fearsome-looking villain if ever I’ve seen one, it’s just that the chase nature of the film means there’s not much time to stop and chat. Hell, the whole thing looks pretty awesome, set and production design is at a scale beyond anything in Aussie cinema (or at least genre filmmaking) since “Beyond Thunderdome”. The vehicles, meanwhile are absolutely insane (one car, a VW, looks like a giant echidna! I want one now!), and whoever thought of having a rock band perform atop one of the vehicles (with a flame-thrower guitar!) is a freakin’ genius. Also, look out for a visual moment that briefly recalls Toecutter’s final second or two in “Mad Max”. We see it here re-imagined as a nightmarish vision for Max (Strange to see something from the first film in a reboot, but it’s cool for fans like me, nonetheless). Yes, this is almost like the Baz Luhrmann of “Mad Max” films in a way (except uber-macho), but for sheer spectacle it really does work.

 

It’s a shame that Miller very occasionally resorts to colour correction (to make day look like night) and a little bit of CGI, because for the most part he doesn’t do a whole lot to the landscape. He doesn’t need to, Namibia does enough of the work itself. That said, CGI or not, the sand storm scene is still pretty amazing (It’s really the B&W inserts that I have a problem with. Why do that?). Terrific thumping music score by Junkie XL (“300: Rise of an Empire”) and there’s just something so lovely and charming about hearing someone yell out ‘Fang it!’. I don’t know why, it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

 

One thing the film definitely does have going for it is that the cast are clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves here, and that includes a very random but in my view a very much appreciated appearance by Quentin Kenihan. Long ago seen interviewed as a boy with brittle bones disease by journo Mike Willesee on “A Current Affair” back in the 80s, Quentin (now in his 40s!) plays the film’s version of Angelo Rossitto’s character from “Mad Max II: The Road Warrior”, basically. It was just awesome (but like I said, random) seeing him there, and I bet he had a great time, too. Nicholas Hoult is pretty good in a more substantial role, even if he looks like Voldermort before he got his nose bitten off. Scarred and surly-looking character actor John Howard looks to be having the time of his life in a small part. Playing Immortan Joe’s brother, one of the nicest surprises in the film is an awesomely angry-looking Richard Carter atop a car that has been turned into a tank. A tank! Brilliant, and Mr. Carter maximises his minutes like a pro, if he were in the film more he might’ve actually stolen the show. On a sour note, all the press leading up that suggested the absolutely stunning (and just plain lovely if you ask me) supermodel Megan Gale was gonna nude-up for this film is pure bullshit. Yes, she’s naked, but she’s shot from so far away that you don’t see a damn thing. Hell, it might not even be her. Ripped. Off. In terms of her acting, she’s actually good enough that you wish she were in a lot more of the film. She gets rubbed out awfully abruptly, I must say.

 

It’s been a long, long time coming, and so perhaps it’s forgivable that there’s been a hyperbolic positive reaction to this long-awaited film. The film looks and sounds ‘hell yes’, and I’m always keen to see an Aussie genre film, even if this one’s not the milestone many have propped it up as. A film with great moments rather than a great film, I like it more for what it represents culturally, than perhaps what it is in terms of quality. It’s proof that we can make quality blockbuster genre movies when we put our minds (and $$) to it. An easy watch, though I highly doubt it’ll make much of a blip come Oscar time. Having Max play second fiddle here was definitely a mistake, but Charlize Theron is pretty terrific as an action heroine and Tom Hardy always delivers a fine performance. It’s probably best recommended to those people out there who think the first “Mad Max” is the weakest entry in the series (If there’s anyone out there like that). I think the first one is the best, but this one’s pretty good too. It works well on a purely superficial level, and at least there’s no Lost Children with their ‘googy-egg speak’. Expertly shot by old pro John Seale (“Gallipoli”, “Witness”, “The Hitcher”), who apparently came out of retirement for the film. The screenplay is by actor Nick Lathouris (who actually had a brief role in the first film, and you may remember him as Alex Dimitriades’ frankly awesome dad on TV’s “Heartbreak High”), Brendan McCarthy (a comic book artist and designer by trade), and Miller.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: The Sting


Set in the mid-1930s, Robert Redford is Hooker, a small-time con man in league with the elder Luther (Robert Earl Jones), who has hopes of getting out of the game soon. Sadly, he’s out permanently when they unknowingly con an associate of big-time racketeer and (cheating) gambler Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a no-nonsense gangster who has Luther killed. Hooker gets the hell outta Dodge and heads for Chicago to look up an old associate of Luther’s named Henry Gondorff, apparently Luther’s mentor in the con game. Gondorff seems a grumpy drunken bum, but when he sobers up, he and Hooker devise a big-time con to take Lonnegan for all his worth (setting up a completely fake horse-betting joint!), with a little help from friends such as J.J. Singleton (Ray Walston) and Kid Twist (Harold Gould). Representing the law are Charles Durning as a crooked cop, and Dana Elcar as an FBI man. Jack Kehoe plays an associate of Hooker’s, Eileen Brennan plays a friend of Gondorff’s, Dimitra Arliss plays a tired-looking waitress Hooker chats up, and Charles Dierkop is Lonnegan’s chief goon.

 

One of the all-time greatest entertainments, this 1973 George Roy Hill (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Slaughterhouse-Five”, “The World According to Garp”) caper is practically flawless and a joy from start to finish. It’s one of those films like “The Great Escape”, “Jaws”, “Star Wars: A New Hope”, or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that it’s virtually impossible not to like it. If you don’t find it wholly entertaining, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe it’s you?

 

The film is most well-known for its Scott Joplin ragtime music, adapted by an Oscar-winning Marvin Hamlisch (“The Way We Were”, “The Spy Who Loved Me”), and yes it is indeed unforgettable. Sure, it’s a little out of step with the time period actually being depicted, but unless you’re a musical nerd, you won’t know that and it nonetheless feels right, even if it technically isn’t. The rest of the period stuff- costumes, cars, sets etc., all convince as authentic to the 1930s so far as this 1980-born person can tell (Some of the film is set in Chicago, some is the Universal backlot in California. I certainly bought it!). Meanwhile, the casting of such character actors as Ray Walston (whom I could listen to delivering dialogue all day long), cynical and dry-witted Eileen Brennan, and the dapper Harold Gould (best dressed person in the film by far) also seems to evoke a much earlier era than the period in which the film was actually made. However, for all of the jaunty ragtime music and fun con games the film features throughout, it is actually depicting a time and place that is harsh, violent, and dangerous to be messing around with criminal bigwigs. People seem to forget that about the film, and it doesn’t actually get in the way of the entertainment, it’s part of it. Throw in the always intense gaze and hardened demeanour of Robert Shaw as the lead villain/mark and you’ve got a film that is as tense as it is fun. It’s a tricky balance, but Hill and Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward (writer-director of minor but enjoyable comedies like “Major League” and “King Ralph”) seem to make it look effortless. And cool. This is quite simply one of the coolest films you’ll ever see. It’s so much fun watching these guys work their magic and trying to put one over on Shaw’s Irish-American racketeer.

 

Robert Redford and Paul Newman are absolutely perfect in this, with Redford very much taking the lead, and Newman essentially having a supporting role. I’ve seen this film about 10 times, and it was only on this most recent viewing that I realised how little he’s in the film. It’s Redford’s film, and he gives one of his best-ever performances as the cocky, impatient upstart to Newman’s washed up but not finished veteran con man. Newman is clearly having a ball here, particularly when his character impersonates a drunken, crass American in a card game with a clearly none-too-bloody-impressed Lonnegan. His arrogance and refusal to get Lonnegan’s name right is priceless (and a perfect fit for Newman). The latter’s obvious volcanic rage just below the surface is hilarious in a film that isn’t exactly a comedy so much as a caper. In fact, as great as Newman and Redford are, it’s Robert Shaw for me who steals the show with a frighteningly intense stare that makes one feel like they’ve been stabbed fifty times in the eyeballs. Shaw might be playing the straight man here, but he’s a great villain. All of the cons in the film are great fun to watch (and most, if not all, seem to be pretty plausible to me), with the ‘big con’ being not just on the villain, but also the audience. If it’s your first viewing of the film, it’ll really surprise you. Speaking of surprises, an actress named Dimitra Arliss provided the biggest one for me the first time I saw the film. What happens with her will remain a secret from me, but suffice to say I was floored on first viewing. It’s a very well-guarded surprise. In other turns, perpetually middle-aged character actor Jack Kehoe is rock-solid as always, and Charles Durning is terrific as a hard-nosed jerk cop, whilst hulking Charles Dierkop (who looks like a “Dick Tracy” villain without the need for elaborate makeup) has the funniest reaction shot in the entire film during the fixed card game on the train.

 

This is the best of all movie capers, it’s a perfect mixture of light and dark, great music, terrific performances up and down the line, and is a must for…well, everyone as far as I’m concerned. It fully deserved its Best Picture win at the Oscars. One of the best movies of any genre you’ll ever see, certainly one of the most entertaining. And good luck getting the music out of your head afterwards!

 

Rating: A+

Review: Last Dragon Master (The Last Tycoon)


Spanning the early 1900s to the late 1930s China, Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming) is in love with Ye Zhiqiu, who left him and their home town to become an opera star in Beijing. Cheng Daqi is framed for murder and imprisoned, where he meets Mao Zai (Francis Ng) a somewhat mysterious figure who helps Cheng Daqi bust out of prison…and teaches him how to kill. He starts a new life in Shanghai, takes up with Bao (Monika Mok), a singer, and becomes aligned with mob boss Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung). Some years later, Cheng Daqi (now played by Chow Yun-Fat, and having become a somewhat ‘honourable’ gangster himself) is shocked to catch a fleeting glance of his former love Ye Zhiqiu (now married to someone safe and boring, and played by Quan Yuan), and vice versa, having not seen one another in all this time.

 

As the Second Sino-Japanese War during WWII breaks out in 1937, Mao (now high up in the National Revolutionary Army) arranges for three plane seats out of danger, with Cheng Daqi, Ye Zhiqiu and her husband, whilst Bao volunteers to stay behind. However, Mao isn’t all that he appears, and it’s up to Cheng Daqi to rescue Bao and stop the plans of the Japanese General.

 

Referred to as “The Last Tycoon” in other English-speaking countries, I guess Australian distributors figured everyone was going to confuse this 2013 film from the eclectic and extremely prolific Wong Jing, for the shithouse 1976 Robert De Niro-starring film. It’s a surprisingly mature, stylishly lensed film for someone of Wong Jing’s rather…schlocky reputation (To put it mildly. Some call him the HK Roger Corman, but I think that’s being a bit insulting to ‘ol Roger, if anything). It’s also messy and clichéd, and the director definitely seems more at home with the action than anything else. There’s a particularly solidly staged bombing scene that seems to suggest the director actually had a decent budget and wasn’t just making a crude cheapie here.

 

Having said that, some of his cruder films are vastly more enjoyable than this. Sure, he’s the guy responsible for the pathetic Jackie Chan film “City Hunter”, but this is also the man who wrote and directed the insane action-comedy “The Last Blood”, wrote the sleazy but stylish action-thriller “Naked Killer”, and co-wrote the wild and gory “The Seventh Curse”, which was great fun. The choppy, montage-heavy mode of storytelling from the director and co-writer makes it really hard to latch onto anything. The flashbacks are also far less interesting than the rest of the film I must say. We get it, there love was never meant to be. Now get back to Chow Yun-Fat and Sammo Hung being all bad arse, OK? Even then, it feels very piecemeal, like you’re skim-reading or something. I also have to admit to being heartily sick of these Hong Kong and Chinese stories having Japanese as the go-to villains. I mean, c’mon. Let it go, guys. Let. It. Go. Chow Yun-Fat (who is strong presence personified and is wonderfully contained) and Francis Ng were the main things that kept me awake here, both are excellent, and Sammo is solid too, in a sadly too small role for my liking.

 

I’ll commend the director for tackling something a little more dramatic and ambitious here (he’s usually a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none), but he just hasn’t done a good job of it. It looks good, and Chow Yun-Fat is persuasive in the lead, but I felt at arm’s length for the most part, because I could never really latch on to anything. It felt like I was watching a 110 minute trailer to a longer film. It’s the damndest thing, and ultimately not very satisfying. Small, white subtitles that flash on and off way too fast don’t help, either. The screenplay is by the director, Manfred Wong (writer-director of “Bruce Lee, My Brother”), and Philip Lui (“Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen”, which also had a heavy anti-Japanese skewing).

 

Rating: C

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: Scenes of the Crime


Soon-to-be-married Jon Abrahams is a mechanic and occasional driver for gangster Peter Greene. On one occasion, Greene kidnaps rival gangster Jeff Bridges, and puts him in the back of Abrahams’ van. Greene’s boss wants them to sit tight while he makes a financial deal with Bridges’ business partner (Bob Gunton) Abrahams is a bit nervous about all of this, but his boss is a dangerous (if low-level) gangster so he just does his damn job. Unfortunately, the whole thing goes to hell and Bridges’ team of enforcers (led by Noah Wyle) are itching to take Abrahams out. Abrahams has a gun, though, which is also handy in case Bridges decides to do a runner on him. He tries to call Greene’s boss (Brian Goodman), whilst Bridges tells him he can’t trust the guy, and that he needs to listen to him if he wants to get out of this situation alive. Part of the action takes place in and around local deli, attended to by Madchen Amick and Morris Chestnut, whilst R. Lee Ermey plays a lonely elderly man of slightly diminished capacity, and Henry Rollins plays Wyle’s number two. Aussie Dominic Purcell is seen briefly as one of Goodman’s bodyguards.

 

Despite a top-notch B+ cast and an irresistible true story, this film from first-time feature director Dominique Forma (a music video director) seems to have slipped through the cracks. Never given theatrical release in the US or Australia, this true crime story from 2001 is actually worthy of rediscovery. Sure, a lot of the characters end up somewhat pointless, and not many people seem to like the ending, but the journey is certainly enjoyable. Really good music score by the underrated Christopher Young (“Hellraiser”, “Flowers in the Attic”, “Drag Me to Hell”), too.

 

At first glance, the plot sounds like something out of a lame Corey Haim flick from the early 90s: Young man who acts as driver for gangster, gets into hot water just days before he is meant to be getting married. It ends up being a much more serious film than that, though the underrated Jon Abrahams isn’t a million miles away from Haim-ness, much as his character models himself on Steve McQueen. He’s good and a relatable enough presence on screen, I think he deserves a better career than he seems to have been handed to be honest. He is also backed up by a pretty impressive array of B+/A- actors, but it’s such a shame that few of them really get a whole lot to do here. I was especially disappointed that the naturally intimidating Henry Rollins has to play the dumb sidekick of the flagrantly miscast Noah Wyle, who plays the least-threatening mob enforcer of all-time. Peter Greene looks to be in rough shape (and based on what I’ve read on the guy, he’s had troubles over the years), but is pretty well-cast as the gangster. R. Lee Ermey is very interestingly cast against type as a doddering old man, who isn’t in the film much, but proves more than meets the eye. I wish he was in the film a whole lot more. Too much Ermey is never enough! Jeff Bridges is a bizarre name to be seen in something like this, but despite obviously only being here for marquee value, he’s OK too as the somewhat ‘respectable’ mobster. I’m afraid Morris Chestnut and Madchen Amick are only here to provide familiar faces no matter whether or not they are actually suited to their roles as deli employees (Morris Chestnut working at a deli? Really? I bet they get a shitload of young female customers, then).

 

The film’s real strength (aside from quite tense direction by Forma), and the reason why it gets a solid rating from me is in regards to its plot. It builds slowly but intriguingly, with things going on at different locations, as you slowly start to work out how things all fit together. It’s an interestingly plotted, twisty film. Yes, by the finale some of the characters feel rather pointless and unnecessary, but they actually are necessary, even if it’s only to disguise the film’s twists and turns. You’re gonna be surprised by one big twist, and you’re gonna feel like an idiot because it’s so obvious. But mark my words, you won’t see it coming. Nobody seems to like the ending but I was fine with it, felt it was kind of amusing, really.

 

I just don’t understand why this film went nowhere. It’s a solid true-crime flick, tensely directed, extremely well-plotted, and has reliable performances from Jon Abrahams, Jeff Bridges, R. Lee Ermey, and Bob Gunton (in one of his better turns, as a mob bigwig). Look out for this one, it’s no world-beater but it doesn’t deserve to have been completely forgotten. The screenplay is by Forma, Daniel Golka, and Amit Mehta, the latter two having not written anything before or since, amazingly enough. Nor has Forma directed a feature film since. There’s gotta be a helluva reason behind that, and it’s not the quality of this film, that’s for sure. This film truly is no crime against cinema, so if anyone has any idea why these people haven’t made a movie since, please let me know. The true crime is that it’s so unknown!

 

Rating: B-

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Review: We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story


A dinosaur named Rex (voiced by John Goodman) is living in modern day America, when he notices a bluebird named Buster getting picked on. He decides to relate a tale to the bird, of how he managed to turn up where he has. It’s all because of a scientist (fairy? God?) named Captain Neweyes (voiced by Walter Cronkite!), inventor of a contraption that reads kids dreams and makes them come true. The kids apparently want dinosaurs roaming the streets of New York, singing and dancing in parades, and joining the circus. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Neweyes’ evil brother Prof. Screweyes (voiced by Kenneth Mars), inventor of a nightmare-capturing contraption that can turn dinosaurs into monsters. ‘Coz apparently the default setting of a dinosaur is cute and placid. Learning is fun. Screweyes operates a circus and his scheme is to house the scarified dinosaurs under his Big Top. Wouldn’t the cute and cuddly versions be less of a financial risk on his part? Just a thought.

 

I’m not a fan of Steven Spielberg’s ‘other’ dinosaur movie from 1993, but this pitiful effort from Spielberg’s Amblin/Amblimation is flimsy, stupid, and a complete waste of a thankfully short amount of time. Scripted by John Patrick Shanley (screenwriter of “Congo”, writer-director of “Joe vs. The Volcano” and “Doubt”) and directed by Phil Nibbelink (“An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”), Simon Wells (grandson of HG, co-director of “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”), Dick & Ralph Zondag (mostly animators, though the latter directed another animated film called “Dinosaur”), there’s barely even a movie here and what little there is, is just insulting. In fact, it might just be the worst animated movie I’ve seen since 1940’s overrated “Fantasia” and although he didn’t direct it, it’s probably the most shameful thing Spielberg has ever put his name to. Yes, including “War Horse”.

 

The voice cast is fascinating on paper (Martin Short, Felicity Kendal, Jay Leno, Lisa Simpson, and Julia Child all in the same film?), but only veteran news anchor Walter Cronkite (in his only acting role) really comes off well. He’s perfect, and Kenneth Mars isn’t too bad, either as his polar opposite. The usually ebullient John Goodman in particular sounds bored out of his skull, however, and the rest are completely forgettable. Martin Short, meanwhile, voices a clown and gives a dry run for his Jiminy Glick voice, but simply isn’t given funny material here. As for Yeardley Smith, having her voice a little girl here was a mistake, as she can only do her Lisa Simpson voice. Why? Because that’s pretty much how Yeardley Smith herself speaks!

 

However, it’s not the voice cast one should blame here, it’s mostly Shanley actually, working from a book by Hudson Talbott. It’s a terribly flimsy and stupid story. You’ve got dinosaurs, and how do they get used in this film? They travel to New York, go in a parade, and join the circus. The fuck? I know “Jurassic Park” was pretty clichéd, but that is just infantile. That’s great if you’re an infant, and one must remember that family movies do have children in mind, but that doesn’t mean I can’t detail my own reaction to the film, nor do I think films should really only keep the young ‘uns in mind given who usually takes them to the cinema in the bloody first place (I know it’s a semi-relevant rant, but it always annoys me when people say that you can’t criticise a kids movie unless you’re a kid yourself. Ridiculous).

 

The story makes no sense whatsoever. It’s told in flashback by a golf-playing dinosaur (voiced by Goodman), involves some half-explained God/fairy godmother bullshit to start the film, and whilst all of the dinosaurs can talk, they are treated like the reptilian terrors you’d expect by most of the human characters. There’s no consistency whatsoever, and whilst I can buy fantasy (I love fantasy), you need to properly and coherently set-up your fantasy world first. This one tries to have its cake and eat it too. Hell, it doesn’t even tell you its central conceit until about ten minutes in. Given it’s about an old fart who grants kids wishes to have dinosaurs back, I kinda wished I didn’t know. It’s a dreadfully stupid premise, even for something aimed at younger folk. If those wishes were really granted, there’d be no more children left. Or any humans. We’d all get eaten or stomped to death (Hence why the film clumsily attempts to differentiate between how the dinosaurs were in the Prehistoric age, and what they’ve become thanks to Prof. Neweyes’ invention. It’s facile). But even the film’s ending makes no damn sense. It doesn’t explain why the T-Rex is playing golf instead of being with the others, and the story he tells to the little bird (the basis for the entire film) seems to have no bearing on the bird’s situation whatsoever! What the hell? How did they manage to rope in so many big names for this shit? It defies all rational thought.

 

The animation is sub-par, too. The darkened palette later featured in “Fievel Goes West” has been applied here, too, so it must indeed be the Amblimation style. It looks ugly and muted, like someone is pressing too hard with their crayons, especially the dull character animation. The dinosaurs are singularly unappealing, and the darkened palette makes everything look like it’s 4PM. The background animation is just flat, painting-like backgrounds that don’t mesh with the character animation/style at all.  Meanwhile, the dinosaurs are way too small as depicted here. Yes I know why, it’s to have them interact with the kids in the film, but it looks absurd. According to this film, Pterodactyls were the size of a small horse.

 

No, this just won’t do. The whole thing, running under an hour I might add, just has the general vibe of ‘get it done fast’. Maybe 6 year-olds will like it, but even then I’d say only 1993’s 6 year-olds. Hell, even in 1993 I would’ve recommended 1988’s “The Land Before Time” instead (It has a Spielberg connection too, by the way). No idea what the modern equivalent would be, but certainly it’d have to be better than this nonsense. It’s pathetic, from people who really ought to have known better. Weak as piss.

 

Rating: D-

Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit


Set in Hollywood in the late 1940s, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is a PI hired by an animation studio to work a case of possible marital infidelity. You see, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) is the top star in Toon Town, and he’s worried that his bodacious wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner) is having an affair. Eddie takes some snaps of Jessica indeed seemingly playing footsie with gag creator Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). The next day, Acme is found dead and Roger is the numero uno suspect. He swears his innocence, and pleads with toon-hating Eddie to help prove his case before the hideous Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) gets to him. Joanna Cassidy plays Valiant’s loyal but increasingly fed-up waitress girlfriend. Countless cartoon characters across several studios turn up throughout the film in cameos/guest spots.

 

It had been a helluva long time since I last saw this 1988 Robert Zemeckis (“Romancing the Stone”, “Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump”) blend of live-action detective story and animated comedy, hell it might’ve been the first time I’d seen it since its original release. In that time I must’ve forgotten just how good it is. It probably plays better to me now as a 35 year old than it did the first time at around age 8. That said, even as an 8 year old, I knew that Jessica Rabbit was all kinds of wrong in all the right kind of ways. Sexiest animated character of all-time? Hell yes, and I’m calling it now: She has one of the best entrances in cinematic history. Deal with it. Kathleen Turner is perfect as the voice of Jessica Rabbit. I have no idea why Amy Irving provides a separate singing voice, though. Is Turner really that bad at singing?

 

The blend of detective story and ‘Hollywood insider’ story is jolly good fun, and it’s an absolute must for animation buffs. The best thing is that you can’t really call the blend of animation and live-action dated, because the film isn’t going for Gollum-esque realism. CG animation would be beside the point. This is about 2D cell animation characters interacting with the ‘real’ world. It’s better than “Space Jam”, that’s for damn sure. “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” was pretty good, but I bet even Joe Dante would concede that this film is better. I mean, this film was clearly made by animation buffs. It’s cute that a ‘toon’ killed Bob Hoskins’ brother, but it’s priceless that it dropped a piano on his head! Meanwhile, Roger Rabbit is accused of murdering someone by dropping a safe on their head. Repeated viewings are essential, as you’ll pick new things up each time. For instance, there’s the scene where Roger literally hops onto a soapbox. Brilliant gag there. There’s also the funny recurring gag of tweeting birds circling whenever someone hits their head, straight out of “Looney Tunes” cartoons. My personal favourite was probably the scene where Benny the toon car gets to drive a ‘real’ car at one point. That’s insane…or looney, perhaps. Fans of “Looney Tunes” in particular will love all the references to ACME, especially in the climax.

 

However, the biggest source of fascination here is quite clearly all the cameos by cartoon characters not only from Warner Brothers, but also Disney. Yes, you’ll get to see Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny share a scene together, which is really quite amazing. I’m surprised that the WB characters don’t get short shrift here given Touchstone Pictures is related to Disney (Steven Spielberg’s Amblin also produced). You’ll see a funny cameo by Dumbo, the dancing hippo and brooms from “Fantasia”, a frog who looks a lot like Michigan J. Frog from the classic “Looney Tunes” cartoon ‘One Froggy Evening’, etc. My favourites include; a very funny bit with Daffy and Donald Duck playing duelling pianos (possibly a spoof of Chaplin/Keaton in “Limelight”?), a great cameo by a perfectly cast Betty Boop as a waitress, the always hilarious Droopy as an elevator attendant, and an almost as funny cameo by Tweety Bird. Porky Pig turns up at the end, but look out for the rather sick gag involving a poster with him advertising pork sausages! Yep, this movie’s a little bent. I have no idea what the singing sword is all about, but it’s an hilarious Frank Sinatra-inspired creation nonetheless. Good luck keeping score of all the animated characters who literally burst out at the climax! Personally I think Beaky Buzzard from “Looney Tunes” was a shameful absence, but you’ve got pretty much everyone else you could possibly wish for.

 

I’m sure some will tire of him, but I really liked the title character, memorably voiced by Charles Fleischer. Is Roger annoying? Hell yes, but for some reason I kinda like that. It’s a warped, somewhat dark (or at least not kiddie-oriented) film anyway, so it makes sense that Roger is over-the-top, annoying, and borderline insane. At least he’s not sickeningly sweet, and he’s not a wise-arse carbon copy of Bugs. He’s a unique character. Also terrific is Baby Herman. Although he gets kinda forgotten about for most of the film, he’s one of the film’s early highlights. The best thing about the cute, WB-style opening cartoon is when the director calls cut and you hear Baby Herman talk for real. He sounds like the late Robert Loggia! Funny stuff.

 

On the human side of things, this is one of Bob Hoskins’ best roles, and probably the only time he adopted a convincing American accent. Neither he nor the very fine Joanna Cassidy (one of her best performances too) talk down to the material one bit, which is crucial in our buying it for 90 or so minutes. If it weren’t for his unmistakable voice, it might take you a minute or two to spot Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom. Although I think giving him weasel sidekicks is way too much of a spoiler, he is also a very memorable part of the film. He makes an immediately creepy impression, in fact he’s one of the creepiest villains you’ll ever find in a film that is fairly family-friendly on the whole. If Jessica Rabbit is scandalously hot for a family film, then Lloyd’s Judge Doom is a little bit scary for the young ‘uns. Lloyd has played many a memorable character over the years, and this is definitely one of his best. A funny thing happened to me watching this film. Like I said, I hadn’t seen this in forever, but as soon as Judge Doom approached the chalkboard, an unpleasant memory and feeling of dread immediately hit me. I knew the squeaky chalk horror that was to await me. People who saw this as kids also seem to recall being horrified by the ‘dip’ scene with the animated shoe. Yikes! Apparently Tim Curry read for the role, but was considered terrifying by Spielberg, Zemeckis, etc. I wish there was recorded evidence of that audition, because holy shit he must’ve been positively Satanic in the role!

 

This is a lot of fun, especially for animation buffs. The only reason you won’t find it in my top 10 for 1988 is because 1988 had a whole lotta great films. This still holds up even today, I’m pleased to say. And Jessica Rabbit….va-va voom! Based on a Gary K. Wolf novel, the screenplay is by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (co-writers of the OK buddy-cop movie “The Hard Way”).

 

Rating: B

Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: Road House


Patrick Swayze plays Dalton, a top bouncer recruited by Kevin Tighe (cast against type) to clean up his rowdy bar in Jasper, Kansas City (A fictional town, as Jasper is really in Missouri). Unfortunately, the town is ruled with an iron fist by gangster Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara), who has a habit of sending his goons around to mess with establishments who won’t play ball when he tries to extort from them. Dalton (who is into philosophy and Tai-Chi!) doesn’t take kindly to Wesley’s corruption, and further pisses the crime boss off by taking with the pretty doctor (Kelly Lynch) Wesley happens to be sweet on. With Wesley continuing to put the pressure on Dalton, he decides to call in a ringer, his good buddy and fellow bouncer Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott) so they can take Wesley and his gang of goons down and clean up the town. Kathleen Wilhoite plays a bartender, Red West plays a defiant local store owner, Marshall Teague plays Wesley’s karate-kicking chief henchman, Keith David plays a bartender, John Doe and Terry Funk play a couple of sour local thugs who get on the wrong side of Dalton and end up hooking up with Wesley. The Jeff Healey Band perform on screen as the bar band, with Healey himself (in his first and last acting role) playing Dalton’s buddy Cody.

 

Like the later “Point Break”, this is another idiotic actioner…and pretty damn underrated. Sure, “Point Break” is easily the better film, but that one was helmed by Kathy Bigelow, this 1989 actioner is the work of one Rowdy Herrington (OK films like “Jack’s Back” and “Gladiator”), a journeyman, not a visual stylist like Bigelow. It’s good, violent, dumb fun…just don’t try to tell anyone it’s art. You can’t hate this one: It’s got Swayze, Sam Elliott, blues rock, and mullets. What more could you possibly want?

 

Sure, Kevin Tighe’s character feels like parts were left on the cutting room floor, and Kelly Lynch has always been one of the lesser model-actresses (Rene Russo, she ain’t!), but the rest is almost too much fun. Watch the scene where Swayze is doing Tai Chi and tell me that this thing is meant to be taken completely seriously. Don’t get me wrong, Swayze was a pretty serious dude. Rowdy Herrington? Not so serious. The funniest thing in the entire film is the one thing that Herrington probably meant for us to take seriously: A bespectacled Kelly Lynch as a doctor. Yeah…no. But the rest? It’s deliberate cheese, albeit with a side order of folksy authenticity supplied by Red West and ‘Sunshine’ Parker that just can’t be taught. Swayze is Swayze, and you can’t deny he’s got a ton of charisma and what really helped him as an actor was an innate sincerity that always made him appealing on screen. You get some of that even in something like this, as well as enough macho confidence to fake it in the fight scenes. His spin kicks aren’t in the league of Scott Adkins, and it’s pretty obvious that Marshall Teague is a much better fighter than Swayze and Sam Elliott combined. However, Swayze (who was trained in kick-boxing for the film, apparently) doesn’t look too silly, which can’t be said of Mr. Teague, whose denim-on-denim ensemble is just wrong. Also wrong is his attempt at macho one-liners: ‘I used to fuck guys like you in prison!’- WHAT? Are you sure you wanna be admitting that, Mr. Teague? Sam Elliott isn’t in the film until the second half, and even then he’s not in it as much as you’d like. Every film could use a little Sam Elliott, the guy is freaking awesome, as is his greasy, stringy long hair here. It was already a fun film in the first half, but Elliott gives it an extra lift. Like Billy Dee Williams and the late James Coburn, Elliott is just plain cool. The best performance in the entire film probably comes from Ben Gazzara, who seems to be having a whale of a time as the villain, without going too far overboard. It’s one of his best performances of the last 30 years or so, actually. In a film full of ridiculousness, Gazzara’s ‘trophy room’ takes the freaking cake. That’s a lotta dead animals he’s got right there, did he shoot up the local zoo? It’s a shame that the charismatic Keith David gets such a tiny role in this, and unlike Tighe a trip to IMDb does indeed confirm that his role was cut down considerably. That’s a real shame, as the guy has talent and presence. Kathleen Wilhoite isn’t in the film much, either, but she gets the film’s best reaction shot. You’ll know it when you see it, and women in particular will appreciate it. Look out for crazy-arse wrestling legend Terry Funk as an a-hole bouncer who gets booted out by Swayze. His acting is quite a bit better than you might expect. How in the hell did Bill McKinney and Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb miss out on a gig in this?

 

Also deserving a mention is the late, underrated Jeff Healey and his band, who perform on-screen throughout the film. They do a bunch of rock-solid blues rock covers of songs like ‘Roadhouse Blues’ (natch), ‘White Room’, ‘Knock on Wood’ (with co-star Kathleen Wilhoite sharing the vocals), ‘On the Road Again’, etc. Their version of ‘Travellin’ Band’ isn’t a patch on CCR’s, but neither was Def Leppard’s live cover, and I love Def Leppard almost as much as I love CCR. Healey was a talented guy, and sadly missed to this day. The film has also been expertly shot by Dean Cundey (“Halloween”, “The Fog”, “Back to the Future”), whose lighting is particularly nice, as usual.

 

Look, it’s called “Road House”, it’s a Joel Silver (“Lethal Weapon”, “Die Hard”) action movie about bouncers, and it’s directed by a guy named Rowdy. It is what it is, and it ain’t interested in being anything else. I for one, find it a lot of dumb, macho fun. Others may be considerably less amused, just don’t tell me it’s a bad movie. It’s cheesy, not bad. Fuck it, it’s a good movie. There, I said it. Credibility be damned! If you can’t find at least something to enjoy about this movie, then I’m afraid you and I just can’t hang. The screenplay is by Hilary Henkin (“Romeo is Bleeding”) and David Lee Henry (“Out for Justice”, the terrible “8 Million Ways to Die”).

 

Fun Fact: Several of the characters in the film are named after famed real-life figures of the Wild West, such as Dalton (of the Dalton Gang), John Wesley Hardin, Doc Holliday, Pat Garrett, Emmett (one of the famed Dalton gang), and Younger.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review: Se7en


Morgan Freeman is NYC police detective Somerset, one week from retirement and extremely jaded. For this last week he is partnered with brash, younger detective Mills (Brad Pitt), whose career is on the rise. They investigate the murder of an obese man force-fed until his stomach exploded. After another body is soon found, Det. Somerset realises the crimes are connected, as the words ‘Greed’ and ‘Gluttony’ are found at both scenes. It would appear a serial killer is at work, using the Seven Deadly Sins as inspiration, and there are obviously five more morally-inspired crimes set to be committed. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Det. Mills’ sweet-natured wife Tracy, R. Lee Ermey plays the police captain, Richard Roundtree plays the city mayor, John C. McGinley plays SWAT team leader ‘California’, Richard Schiff plays a slimeball lawyer, and both a frightened Leland Orser and slimy Michael Massee turn up at the scene of one of the ‘Lust’ murder.

 

Brilliant, gloomy modern day killer-thriller/detective movie from 1995 directed by David Fincher (“Alien3- It’s a good film damnit!, “Fight Club”, “Panic Room”, “The Social Network”, “Gone Girl”). Stunningly disgusting production design, wonderfully oppressive, rainy atmosphere, but most importantly a terrific screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (“Hideaway”, “Sleepy Hollow”). Walker gives us well-matched characters played by perfectly cast lead actors, and a fascinating, dark story with one helluva sting in its tail. I’m fascinated by serial killer cases in real-life. Not so much the gory details, more the whodunit aspect and all the little peculiarities of the cases. This film definitely taps into that side of me. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are immediately perfect here, with Freeman the sage, observant, literate and intelligent veteran detective, and Pitt the cocky, abrasive, impulsive, and not well-read younger detective. Crucially, though, Pitt isn’t obnoxious enough that he loses your sympathy, nor does Freeman come across like a self-satisfied know-it-all. In particular, Pitt’s slightly douchy, talkative character could’ve gone horribly wrong and become either an unlikeable dickhead or an implausible moron. Pitt navigates the waters perfectly. It’s my favourite of his performances to date, just ahead of “The Assassination of Jesse James” and “Kalifornia”. The difference between the two characters is perfectly conveyed: Freeman says only what is necessary, Pitt is an oxygen thief. The progression of their relationship is excellently done, too.

 

The supporting cast is excellent, too, even if only two of them really get enough screen time to resonate. This is easily Gwyneth Paltrow’s best performance to date, she’s genuinely likeable here, which not only helps in making her sympathetic to the audience, but also humanising Pitt’s character as well. It’s amazing that the Gwyneth Paltrow in this who is warm and likeable is the same Gwyneth who can be cold in other films, annoying on the Oscar stage stealing Cate Blanchett’s award, and well…Goop. Need I say more? But she is the only source of warmth and sunlight in this film, and it’s very, very much needed. Without her, this film might feel like stepping too far into the abyss, never to return. Speaking of light, you can’t help but laugh at the uber-macho John C. McGinley and his uber-macho SWAT guys. They’re hilariously dumb jock-types who add a little bit of (perhaps ill-fitting in tone) levity in one memorably scary-funny scene. The only other light moments you’ll get here are Pitt’s ignorance about “Of Human Bondage” and The Marquis de Sade. His pronunciation of the latter is very funny.

 

The other memorable supporting performance here is for the actor playing the killer. Since the film is 20 years old (and it’s not really a film where the audience is invited to guess the culprit I suppose), I could probably name him, but I’ll resist just to be safe. All I’ll say is that with this film and another similar performance the same year, he would soon become the go-to guy for this sort of intelligent, glib evil stuff. The actor can display dispassionate arrogance, malevolence, and sarcasm better than anyone. Here as the high-minded, literate serial killer he’s perfectly disdainful, and sickly amused with himself like the cat that swallowed the canary. But then, even Det. Somerset has a jaded view of the city and society. He criticises the wave of apathy swept across the city as his reason for being glad to be retiring, yet also acknowledges that he no longer has hope for anything better, somewhat apathetic himself.

 

The film’s look is fantastic, with impressive, almost Gothic architecture showing off a very ‘Gotham’ New York (The city isn’t named in the film, but it’s obvious, and Walker apparently based the film partly on his experiences in New York) without quite being Batman’s ‘Gotham’. It’s just realistic enough and just artistic enough to work in this very dark and oppressive thriller where you can almost smell the scum and the muck. It’s really quite visceral, disgustingly visceral. The cinematography by Darius Khondji (“Panic Room”, “Magic in the Moonlight”) is truly excellent, lighting and shot composition are really top-notch. It’s dark without being murky and hard to see, it’s just right, and the rainy look of the film is perfect for such a dark film too. It’s not an action film in the slightest, but Fincher does give us one of the better non-vehicular chases you’re ever likely to see. I will admit that the ‘Lust’ murder is a bit over-the-top (Rob Bottin’s weakest makeup in an otherwise jolly good job by him), but Leland Orser (who seems to turn up in a lot of serial killer films) is affecting, and Michael Massee chillingly dispassionate in their one scene. Getting back to the script, some will see the twist finale coming, but on my first viewing I have to admit I was floored by it. Watching it for maybe the fifth time, I can see some foreshadowing, but only in the moments just prior. It’s a reasonably well-guarded secret. Which ironically leads me to ***** SPOILER TERRITORY ***** It’s actually what John Doe does to Pitt’s character that is the true evil genius here. He plays him like a violin the entire car trip, and the poor guy hasn’t got a clue. It’s a tragic, devastating outcome (though Pitt gives one of the funniest and most-imitated line deliveries in cinematic history- I’m sure you know which one!) that Freeman sees the moment he opens the box but can’t do anything to stop the chain of events Doe has carefully and masterfully put into place. John Doe wins, Pitt is ruined. The End. Fuck. It’s just amazing. ***** END SPOILER *****

 

A model of its type, and it holds up perfectly well 20 years after its initial release. Hell, I think it’s better than the slightly overrated “Silence of the Lambs” even. Direction (Fincher is clearly the best of the music video graduates), writing, production design, and acting are all winners here. It really is that good. It’ll be too dark for some to want to take the journey (Walker would later go a bit too far into the abyss with the whole diseased and seedy side of society thing in the unpleasant “8MM”), but for those willing, it’s pretty fascinating and bleakly powerful stuff. It actually stays with you long afterwards.

 

Rating: A-