About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Wait Until Dark


Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman whose husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is away on business, leaving her all alone in her apartment. He has been trying to teach her to be independent and not reliant on the assistance of others, aside from the brat across the hall (Julie Herrod’s Gloria) who occasionally helps her with some of the chores Hepburn can’t do on her own. However, Hepburn is to face her biggest test yet when three crims attempt to enter her apartment, looking for a doll supposedly containing heroin inside (which Hepburn clearly knows nothing about). Richard Crenna is the affable-seeming one who uses his charm to try and get what they need (pretending to be an old friend of Zimbalist’s paying a visit), whilst Alan Arkin is an outright bizarre psycho who may even be dangerous to the people he’s working with, let alone a danger to Hepburn. Jack Weston rounds out the trio as a portly crim who looks about as trustworthy as well, nothing at all, so it’s a good thing Hepburn can’t actually see him while he masquerades as a police detective in a ruse to get Hepburn to hand over the doll.

 

No one likes a well-made genre movie more than me, and this 1967 ‘blind woman in peril’ film from director Terence Young (“Storm Over the Nile”, “Dr. No”, “From Russia With Love”, “Cold Sweat”) is pretty much the best film of its type. Adapted by Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington from a play by Frederick Knott (“Dial M for Murder”), this is pretty irresistible stuff and boasts fine performances from an Oscar-nominated Audrey Hepburn, and especially Richard Crenna and Alan Arkin. The basic set-up may have been done to death since, but this is the originator, and it’s a cracker.

 

The set-up is longer than in most films of this type, but it’s to the film’s advantage, because it means we get to know the characters. The film is an excellent showcase for Ms. Hepburn, who probably deserved her Oscar nomination, but for me the real stars here are Crenna, Arkin, and the excellent, shadowy lighting by cinematographer Charles B. Lang (“Sudden Fear”, “Some Like it Hot”, “One-Eyed Jacks”). Crenna is probably best-known for playing Col. Trautman in the “Rambo” series, but he’s cast somewhat against type here as one of the villains. He’s surprisingly excellent as the most outwardly ‘respectable’ of the trio of crooks here, you certainly wouldn’t pick him for an associate of Jack Weston (spot-on as the sweaty fat man of the trio) or Alan Arkin, that’s for sure. There’s something seemingly affable and trustworthy about Crenna that you wouldn’t even need a working pair of eyes to sense that the other two don’t have similar qualities. It’s amazing that Arkin hasn’t played many more villains over the years, because he proves here that he can definitely do it. He’s mannered, not remotely subtle…and fascinating to watch as he has a field day here, it seems. Like Dwight Yoakam in “Panic Room” (one of the better variants of the ‘woman in peril’ conceit) he’s totally unpredictable and not particularly trusted by the other two guys. I know that they could run into other tenants in the building, but I still think it’s a bit odd that Arkin keeps donning different disguises given Hepburn is blind, but nonetheless it allows Arkin to give one helluva entertaining performance. You’ve never seen him like this before or since, believe me. Meanwhile, in the role of most horrid little monster who absolutely deserves to die: Gloria, the little shit who lives across the hall, played without any sympathy or likeability whatsoever by Julie Herrod. If the intention is to make the audience want to hate her, Ms. Herrod does a superlative job.

 

The self-deprecating blind jokes are a touch precious, but I rather liked that Hepburn’s husband does his best to teach her to be independent and self-reliant, as her other senses help her figure out what’s going on after a while, which is rather nifty. I’m not sure if this film was the originator of the ‘always check that the killer is really dead ‘coz he’s not’ cliché, but I reckon it’d have to be pretty close to the first. Being that Hepburn is blind, it’s actually an understandable oversight this time, however.

 

A clever, stylish and well-made genre piece where pretty much everything not named Efrem Zimbalist Jr. works. Gripping stuff, only ever-so slightly suffering from the passage of time. Terrific, typically 60s-era music score by Henry Mancini (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “Days of Wine and Roses”, “The Pink Panther”), too is worth a mention.

 

Greatest bit of trivia you’ll ever read: 20 years before this film, Audrey Hepburn was a young volunteer nurse during WWII, and one of the soldiers she nursed back to health was Terence Young. You can’t even make this stuff up, people!

 

Rating: B-

Review: Turbo


A snail named Turbo (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) is an Indy 500 freak, and a freak accident during a street race sees him magically afforded the speed necessary to race like a pro. And play songs like a car stereo. One day he and his brother Chet (voiced by Paul Giamatti) are snatched up by a couple of taco truck vendors (voiced in not remotely racially stereotyped casting by Michael Pena and Luis Guzman), who run snail races on the side. For some reason. And when one of the men notices Turbo’s great speed, Turbo tells the man of his dream. And because this is a stupid movie, he’s able to hear the tiny snail’s voice and agrees to help him enter the race, to the derision and laughter of everyone else. And every other character in the film. Samuel L. Jackson voice a couple of other snails, whilst an unrecognisable Bill Hader voices the pompous French Indy car driver Guy Gagne.

 

Here’s where things get tricky, and possibly a little silly. You see, I had zero problems accepting talking planes with different accents racing around in “Planes”. Suspending disbelief is often necessary in children’s/family films. But a talking, normal-sized snail wanting to be an Indy 500 racing champ? The actual, regular-sized Indy 500? With actual cars and human drivers? This I have many, many problems with.

 

What a stupid, stupid little film, and it’s obvious the thought process for director David Soren (who worked on the dialogue for “Shark Tale”) and his co-writers Darren Lemke (“Jack the Giant Slayer”) and Robert D. Siegel (who worked on “The Wrestler”, of all films) began and ended with the mere idea of this premise. Any more thought than that, and someone would’ve realised that the central premise just plain doesn’t work. I’d be surprised if there weren’t even some kids out there who were thinking; ‘Hey, wait a minute, why would a car-racing audience want to see a snail racing against cars when you can’t even see the snail from the stands?’ This is one of the worst and most insulting animated films to come out in a long, long time, and even the high-calibre voice cast are mostly dull. It’s hard to make a bunch of snails interesting, if you ask me. Like the penguins in “Happy Feet”, snails just aren’t all that interesting or visually appealing. Paul Giamatti probably fares best as the title character’s best buddy, and is certainly more impressive than Ryan Reynolds in the lead, who is nondescript. I feel a bit sorry for Giamatti, though. Even when voicing a snail, he’s still playing sidekick to a heartthrob. But none of the characters really pop here, human or snail.

 

The best thing I can say for the film is that the car-racing scenes feature excellent, almost photo-realistic animation. And even then there’s the problem of making an interesting spectacle out of this teeny tiny snail trying to compete with the cars. It’s not so much the idea of an animal trying to outrace a bunch of cars that bothers me, nor that it’s a notoriously slow animal. There’s something clever in that at least. It’s that it’s a teeny tiny, itty bitty snail, colour-coded slug body or not. The scale makes for a boring race not only for the cinematic audience, but presumably the audience of racing enthusiasts in the film. How did no one see this? Like I said, they didn’t care. They came up with a one-joke premise and were happy delivering 90 minutes of just that. A dog would be hard enough to keep track of, but greyhound-racing is at least a known sport. But a snail? The scale is just wrong for a spectator sport, fictional kids animated movie or not, it’s a problem. The filmmakers seem to know this because they have Turbo’s ‘engine’ emit a bright blue light trail so you can see it. That doesn’t make it interesting for a spectator sport, geniuses. Even seeing him get squished wouldn’t be as much ‘fun’ as a car crash. The whole thing would have to be watched on the giant screen, and even then I think the animators get the scale of the big screen image all wrong.

 

Also, as much as some of the animation is almost photo-realistic, some of the scenery actually looks cartoony. It’s uneven, with the human characters in particular being poorly rendered. They look like video game avatars from five years ago. Not good, both “Planes” and the same year’s “The Croods” had much better and more consistent animation. The animated crows have nice texture, though, the best animated creatures in the film by far.

 

One of the other things I liked about “Planes” is that it was content to merely be a racing film, with not much meat on the bones, plot-wise. This is because the previous “Cars” saw fit to rip-off the plot of the mediocre Michael J. Fox comedy “Doc Hollywood”, something I still find bizarre of Disney/Pixar to do (Why not the much better “Teen Wolf”? Or “Back to the Future”?). Well, “Turbo” has a bit of a plot too, and although it doesn’t rip-off any Michael J. Fox films, it’s nothing special, either.

 

The title character’s turbo speed is silly, and a snail racing the Indy 500 with actual real-sized cars is a silly idea for a film, even one aimed at youngsters. It’s a one-joke premise, and should’ve formed the basis of a 10 minute short preceding a more substantial animated film. A fine cast (and Ryan Reynolds) can’t do much with this, it’s boring and not just juvenile, but infantile. Why would anyone want to watch a snail race the Indy 500 when you can’t even see it from the stands? No, this is just lazy and moronic, though it does contain Kurtwood Smith’s most animated performance to date. Yep, went there.

 

An embarrassing film, and anyone over the age of nine who enjoys this film should be ashamed of themselves. Yeah, parents aren’t gonna take offense to that at all, are they?

 

Rating: D+

Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: Diana


Detailing the supposed love affair between Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) and Pakistani-born heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), during the last two years of Diana’s life where she had been separated from Prince Charles.

 

What should’ve been an absolute cracker is only pretty good at best, I’m afraid. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel (the rather extraordinary “Downfall”, about the last days of Adolf Hitler) and writer Stephen Jeffreys (“The Libertine”), working from the book by Kate Snell have taken a fascinating subject in the final years of Princess Diana’s life…and chosen to focus on the least interesting aspects. They eschew the Diana and Dodi love affair for the rumour that she only cavorted with Dodi al Fayed because her true love, heart surgeon Hasnat Khan couldn’t hack it in the public eye and left her completely heartbroken. Apparently Diana arranged for the paparazzi to take happy snaps of her and Dodi to make Hasnat jealous. I’m not going to suggest that there’s zero truth to all of this, but far less people know about this Hasnat fella than Dodi, and the stronger image of Di was that she shied away from publicity, not courted it. So even though there may be aspects of both of those things that are true, I just didn’t entirely buy this Diana-Hasnat relationship as being her true love. I mean, it’s not like any of us really know the truth, is it? So it comes down to what you believe, and I ultimately didn’t buy this situation (I also didn’t believe in the character of Diana’s confidante, played by Geraldine James. It felt invented for cinematic purposes). Those more familiar with this Hasnat fella might buy into it a bit more, but I had honestly never heard of him, and the central romance as I said didn’t work for me. The wigs, the slightly stalker-ish behaviour exhibited by Diana, just didn’t ring true, even if it really did happen. You have to make me believe it.

 

What doesn’t help is that the film presents Hasnat as the most boring human being on the planet. I get that maybe Diana was looking for a nice, normal guy, but Hasnat is portrayed as so thanklessly dull that I simply didn’t care about their relationship. I also didn’t believe for a second that these two belonged together. It’s blatantly obvious that Hasnat wasn’t cut out for being suitor to a celebrity. It’s not that they couldn’t make it work, it’s that they shouldn’t have even tried. She’s too public (albeit shy), he’s too private, so why am I following the story of two people who should never have gotten together to begin with? I just don’t get why we’re seeing this and not the Di & Dodi story. That’s where the real interest lies.

 

The amazing thing is that the film is still somewhat interesting and entertaining in spite of all this. In fact, despite lead actress Naomi Watts herself calling the film ‘a sinking ship’, it’s a lot better than I had been led to believe. Perhaps there’s an inherent fascination with Diana as a character, and indeed the film works well as a character study, even if it fails as a great romance. The weirdest thing? The section of the film in which the Diana/Hasnat relationship is the focal point is still the most interesting section of the film in spite of itself. The relationship may be a fizzer, but it’s in this first two thirds that you really get to know Diana as a character. As a study in the loneliness of Royal (or ex-Royal) life, the film is pretty well spot-on. The latter stages dealing with the tabloids and the theory that she hooked up with Dodi just to make Hasnat jealous are far less interesting. ‘The People’s Princess’ may have been somewhat manufactured, but our connection to Di was somewhat real. We thought could sense how unhappy she was, how uncomfortable she was at times. She wasn’t really one of us (Like it or not, Fergie has always been more of a commoner than Diana), but we still sympathised with her. The romance might not work for me, but it’s obvious that Jeffreys (or perhaps Snell) has really gotten into who she was and what it must’ve been like for her, pure speculation or not. This is a portrait of a deeply unhappy, restless woman, and I believed it (I also fully believed that one of Diana’s favourite TV shows was “Coronation Street”. Dunno why, I just do). The string of lovers Di apparently had might sound scandalous, and indeed became tabloid fodder, but no matter how many lovers she might’ve had, it’s still believable and obvious that she was incredibly lonely at certain times in her life. Relationships would not have been easy to maintain. I actually feel somewhat ashamed that I have more sympathy for her now than I did as a teenager when she was still alive.

 

The film also absolutely nails Di’s occasionally off-script behaviour. I remember that being true of her at the time. She didn’t always act as a Royal or ex-Royal was supposed to. She was a human being, for starters. And even when she courted the media, I believe it was mostly for the purpose of highlighting her social causes, though this film also posits that she used the paparazzi for ulterior motives as well (I doubt that she courted publicity in the way celebutants do today, though). Whatever her flaws, she was an undoubtedly compassionate woman. Fergie may have been a commoner, but Diana had the common touch (I don’t think either lady was really cut out to be royalty, to be honest). As a presentation of Diana’s mindset around this unhappy time in her life, the film works. I wish the film showed more of her as a mum, but obviously that was never gonna happen. Meanwhile, the film doesn’t dwell on the notion that Diana was having thoughts about her own mortality around the time of her death, but the idea is there nonetheless in and around the edges.

 

Naomi Watts may not be a fan of the film, but in my opinion she gives an excellent performance in it that she probably should’ve been Oscar-nominated for. Like Michelle Williams in “My Week With Marilyn”, she looks both like the person and herself, which is to say that she looks enough like Diana already that minimal hair and makeup was likely needed. She gets the somewhat shy posture and demeanour of Diana down pat. At times the act is uncanny, especially in one TV interview scene that nearly had me doing a double-take. She’s a bloody good actress in the right part, and this one fits her like a glove. Watts has a warmth about her here that Diana herself seemed to have, and she gets the soft-spoken quality to her voice, too. If there’s a reason to see this film, Watts is 99% the reason to see this film. Naveen Andrews is perfectly fine in support, it’s just unfortunate that he’s playing the most singularly uninteresting love interest in a motion picture in the year 2013.

 

If you can get past the rather unconvincing romantic aspect to this biopic, you’ll find an undeniably interesting and convincing portrait of an extremely lonely and restless woman who although flawed, was an undeniably good person who left us far too soon. Watts is terrific, the film less so, but certainly underrated.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: Seduced and Abandoned



Although the central conceit isn’t remotely believable, this 2013 documentary directed and co-starring filmmaker James Toback (“Bugsy”, “Two Girls and a Guy”, “When Will I Be Loved”), is a fascinating, sometimes hilarious, ultimately incredibly depressing film about just how movies get made these days. Aspiring filmmakers beware, this film will tear your insides out, as it appears that movies get made these days with great difficulty, and with artistic merit not very high on the priority list of those who finance projects. Co-starring actor Alec Baldwin, he and Toback present the idea that they are attempting to pitch a movie loosely reworking Bernardo Bertolucci’s frankly overrated and off-putting “Last Tango in Paris” (But starring Alec Baldwin and Neve Campbell, and being a sex romp set during the recent Iraq war!). I was worried about that, because it sounded unlikely, and Bertolucci’s film is of zero interest to me in the first place. I pretty much loathed that film. But really, it’s just used as a way into the larger discussion about getting film deals made in today’s climate, as well as a discussion on Cannes Film Festival juries over the years (Baldwin and Toback take their pitch there, hoping to find interested parties in their project). The whole “Last Tango” thing really doesn’t end up being mentioned a whole helluva lot anyway, except as an entrance point.

 

The film is full of memorable, often jaw-dropping anecdotes and moments, the best of which are;

 

- Scorsese dishing on Cannes jury reaction to his “Taxi Driver”, with jurors Costa-Gavras and Sergio Leone very much in favour of the film, but jury head Tennessee Williams didn’t like it at all.

- The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy with a very interesting story about Robert Altman being upset with critic and Cannes juror Pauline Kael. If true, it makes Altman sound like a complete fucking idiot.

- Nu Image head honcho Avi Lerner being the most cynical person of all, claiming to not care about the creative side of filmmaking (If you’ve seen most of Nu Image/Millennium Films output, it’s believable). The guy is hilarious, and doesn’t give a flying fuck about anything except money.

- Truly genius offerings by actor Ryan Gosling. Seriously, aspiring actors will want to run out into open traffic after hearing his take on screen acting. It’s almost worth seeing the film just for his story about being on a plane possibly about to crash and all he cared about was finishing his meal (Toback asks him if he’s ready for death). Hey, I love my steak too.

- Further proof that Martin Scorsese is more fun and interesting to listen to than any other filmmaker, as he tells a story about Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas” that even I didn’t know: The ‘funny’ scene was Pesci’s idea and based on personal experiences.

- The unsubtle bemusement on Diane Kruger’s face as Toback and Baldwin pitch their film idea to her. She hates the idea, and has zero idea if they’re joking or not. It’s hilarious.

- Universal Studio’s Ron Meyer gets the film’s best and most depressing moment where he basically says it can be better to make a bad movie everyone sees than a great movie no one sees. Sad, but we all know it’s true, and some of your favourite filmmakers are pretty much to blame. Spielberg and Lucas essentially started the blockbuster era, and inadvertently created a monster (Or perhaps producers who tried to jump on that train time and time again, are to blame).

- A startling, seemingly out-of-left field moment where Francis Ford Coppola starts to talk about one thing (a film he had made fairly recently) and it ends up turning into an extraordinary confession from the man about a personal tragedy. Yes, that one. 

- I’m not remotely surprised to learn from Jessica Chastain that her acting teachers thought she was too serious and needed to play more. It shows in her acting, if you ask me.

 

The film also offers insights into just how some actors are viewed in terms of their ability to sell a film off of star power alone. To this end, I’m not sure if it’s intended or not, but Neve Campbell gets an absolute shit-kicking from most of the producers in this film. However, to be fair, so does Mr. Baldwin himself, who is seen as mostly a TV actor now, apparently. I’m surprised that he’s not also viewed as an absolute arsehole of a human being with too much baggage. But then, not one person in this film questions the marquee (or even artistic) value of Mr. Toback, which was the most surprising thing of all to me. I think he’s got the least cache of anyone in the entire film (Have you seen any of his films aside from “Fingers”? Didn’t think so!).

 

Whether you consider this documentary or pseudo-documentary, or something unto itself, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is one of the best films of 2013. It’s extremely depressing, but a must-see for any film buff.

 

Rating: B

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: We’re the Millers


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

 

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

 

The casting here is way off, with the bland and unfunny Jason Sudeikis playing a role that should’ve gone to Seth Rogen or James Franco, and more importantly Jennifer Aniston abysmally cast as a foul-mouthed stripper. Yes, the woman Brad Pitt left for Angelina Jolie is for some reason seen in lingerie as yet another stripper who actually doesn’t strip, and isn’t especially attractive, let alone sexy. You have to have a body for starters, preferably a good one too. Each to their own of course, but Aniston doesn’t do it for me at all, especially when she can’t be bothered nuding up to play a woman whose job it is to be freaking naked. Also, Jennifer Aniston swearing is apparently meant to be a thing. It’s not. It’s just swearing, and she’s done it before in “Horrible Bosses” anyway. Worse, this is a woman who is willing to swear incessantly on camera and make incest jokes (and perform faux-incestuous acts for comedic purposes for that matter), but won’t show her tits even though it’s more pertinent to the film than the incest humour or the swearing. She’s playing a stripper! Amazingly, even the Mexican drug lord in the film doesn’t complain about the lack of nudity from her. What if someone was cast as a lifeguard who had to get in the water at some point but the actor didn’t want to take his top off? The actor wouldn’t be hired. Simple as that.

 

If Aniston were funny in the role, I wouldn’t mind so much, but as usual, Aniston plays every role through the guise of Rachel from “Friends” because it’s the only thing she knows how to do, only the roles change, not the performance. It results in Aniston being more convincing as goody-goody Mrs. Miller than as the stripper, which is an epic failure. It’s almost as if they’ve missed the point by casting Aniston and Sudeikis here. The humour is supposed to be in scummy people pretending to be white bread folk, not the other way around which it almost is here. I’d actually be ashamed if I were Aniston here, to be honest. Her role is appalling for womankind. She’s already playing a stripper and it takes the barest of poor circumstances for her to agree to become a drug transporter too. Hooray for women’s lib!

 

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

 

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

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: Night and the City (1950)


Aside from the occasional lapse back into his giggling psycho “Kiss of Death”  schtick, this is Richard Widmark’s best performance, most memorable character and a fine, underrated noir from Jules Dassin with some superb acting and memorable moments.

 

Widmark plays Harry Fabian, a hopeless loser who is the last to realise it. He’s somewhat of a fish-out-of-water, an American ne’er do well hustler in London who tries to break into the boxing world, but is set for a fall when crossing powerful, somewhat petty nightclub owner Francis L. Sullivan (one of the greats of British cinema, and not just a poor man’s Sidney Greenstreet as some say), and deadly serious gangster Herbert Lom (whom I swear doesn’t blink once in the entire film!). Long-time Aussie resident Googie Withers gives the best and most uncharacteristic performance of her career as Sullivan’s cold, duplicitous wife with ambitions of her own. Gene Tierney is added to the mix for marquee value as Fabian’s long-suffering and naïve girl, whilst Hugh Marlowe is here for no reason at all as her cynical artist pal, both roles a little undercooked. Hulking former wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko makes much more of an impression in a positively touching turn as the Greco-Roman wrestling old-timer Widmark enlists to make it big, but unfortunately he’s the father of Lom, who has upset his dad by preferring the more modern form of wrestling, with veteran heavy Mike Mazurki featuring with Zbyszko in one impressively brutal and lengthy match-up that is the film’s most famous scene. Lom might be a gangster, but he dearly loves his dad and doesn’t want to see him and his reputation soiled by the two-bit Fabian.

 

This film works wonderfully on two-levels; firstly as a fascinating, powerful character study of a not-so likeable man’s foolhardy attempts at making it big in an area he probably shouldn’t be entering (furthering the fish-out-of-water angle), but ending up having to look over his shoulder should someone stick him in the gut or pop him full of lead- with his problems mostly his own doing. Widmark brilliantly conveys the character’s desperation and ambition and also his ruthlessness. His Harry Fabian is one of cinema’s great losers. Secondly it works on the level of a traditional noir, with wonderful use of light and shadow and a gallery of colourful supporting characters, particularly the unscrupulous double-act of Sullivan and Withers, and Herbert Lom, who along with Sullivan is one of the most underappreciated (and versatile- see him as the deadly serious wannabe Italian gangster in “The Ladykillers”, the Inspector from the “Pink Panther” series, the likeable Italian immigrant buddy in the B-classic “The Hell Drivers” and the doctor in “The Dead Zone”  to name but a few) character actors of all-time (and actually, Widmark has never really gotten his due, either). True, Marlowe’s character never seems to be a part of the same film as everything else, but he’s not in it enough to sour the experience. Those final moments in particular are some of the tensest moments I’ve experienced watching a movie in quite some time.

 

The film was unsuccessfully remade in the early 90s, set catastrophically in NYC and featuring a merely OK Robert De Niro in a role James Woods should’ve played and Jack Warden giving the only truly fine performance in the film (Alan King essentially had the Lom part but wasn’t commanding enough, and Cliff Gorman for chrissakes had the Francis L. Sullivan part, whilst one of my all-time least favourite actresses Jessica Lange stunk up the screen yet again in what I suppose was meant to be a combination of the Tierney and Withers roles). Funnily enough, the remake gets about as much mention in the public sphere as the original, but is clearly a greatly inferior film.

 

Rating: A

Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: 40 Days and 40 Nights


Josh Hartnett hasn’t gotten over his ex-girlfriend (Vinessa Shaw) dumping him six months ago, and sleeping with ‘randoms’ isn’t helping any. When he learns that she has moved on, it’s the final straw. He comes up with an extreme solution to his problem: Inspired by the religious practise of Lent, he decides to abstain from all sexual contact (even with himself) for 40 days. When his best friend (Paulo Costanzo) and co-workers find out, they start up a website taking bets on how long Hartnett will last with this unlikely challenge. All manner of breastacled objects keep popping up, trying to throw themselves at Hartnett. Then he meets and falls for the pretty Shannyn Sossamon, and things start to get really awkward. Emmanuelle Vaugier plays one of the one-night stands, Griffin Dunne is Hartnett’s sleazy boss, Adam Trese is Hartnett’s trainee priest brother, Keegan Connor Tracy plays a horny co-worker, and Mary Gross (remember her?) is Hartnett’s mother.

 

Detestable, brain-dead, so-called romantic comedy from 2002, directed by the once promising Michael Lehmann (who burst on the scene with “Heathers”, and then fed us “Hudson Hawk”, “My Giant” and this) and scripted by Rob Perez (who has only written one feature film subsequently). The whole premise of this film is stupid, and it’s therefore no surprise that Perez’s resumé is thin. You don’t need to give up all sexual contact for 40 days to become mature. You just need to stop acting like a douche and start being mature. Stop putting your dick into every woman who will let you, that’s a good enough start. Better yet, forget about matters of the flesh and put more emphasis on being an all-round good person. Given the douchebags he works with and associates with, perhaps that is a bit too much to ask, but still, it’s a stupid, stupid premise for a romantic comedy. The fact that no one realised that this premise was pathetic is truly shocking and disheartening to me. But then, this is a film co-starring Griffin Dunne, an actor who made a film called “Me and Him”, about a man who talks to his penis. So perhaps no one here knew any better. No, this just plain sucks.

 

I just didn’t understand why Josh Hartnett’s ex getting married had anything to do with his taking up abstinence. I didn’t see the connection, and at one point, even his roommate (Paulo Costanzo) seems to point it out. Perhaps he was the only one who read the damn script. The premise is so stupid: Hartnett takes a voluntary vow of chastity when he finds out his ex is engaged. Then he falls in love. That last part is the film’s idea of conflict and drama. It makes Hartnett sound like a First World tool. There are kids starving in Africa, fuckstick and you’re kvetching over wanting to stick your John Thomas inside Shannyn Sossamon because you’ve needlessly and stupidly volunteered to try and keep your dick in your pants due to the nonsensical reason that your ex who you are no longer with is going to marry someone else, and now all of the meaningless one-night stands have become meaningless? SAY WHAT? It tries to make a profound statement out of something insultingly superficial, crass, and infantile. Congratulations, you’re not a man-whore anymore, you’ve matured! Um, except that you’re still constantly thinking about it and objectifying women with your eyes.

 

The character played by an atypically charmless, typically mumbling Hartnett is detestable. He’s small-minded, mind-numbingly single-minded, and self-absorbed to a seriously punchable level. He’s meant to be a nice guy who has come to loathe his lothario ways, but if that were true, he wouldn’t have been a lothario in the first place. Nope, not a nice guy, and although capable of being charming, I think Hartnett is miscast as a guy who would willingly go without sex, and at times, seem quite uncomfortable with the subject. The fact that he’s not a naturally funny guy doesn’t help, either. Shannyn Sossamon was, like Gretchen Mol and Natasha Gregson-Wagner, one of those ‘It Girl of the 90s’ actresses who just never panned out in the long run (Parker Posey is probably the one 90s ‘It Girl’ who has fared best longevity-wise, unless you count Natalie Portman perhaps). I never warmed to her, there was always something affectedly, wannabe-cool about her. She even wears a tie at one point. Only pretentious, wannabe hip women wear ties. I hate that type of girl, and it’s only partly because they refuse to date me. Yes Sossamon has amazing eyelashes and a nice (but overworked) smile, but who the hell cares about eyelashes? She’s a boring and forgettable actress. At least Hartnett usually had a kind of James Dean/Brando-esque charisma about him, Sossamon doesn’t have anything much at all. I have no idea what idiot decided that Sossamon should be the lead female and the thoroughly winning, frankly bloody wonderfully talented Maggie Gyllenhaal should play the smaller, best friend role, but they’re nuts. Gyllenhaal steals her every fleeting moment. She’s still a name actress in 2014, unlike Sossamon (whose acting range goes from smiling to bottom lip-biting). Just thought I’d point that out.

 

I mentioned conflict before, and the film throws a second source of conflict in for good measure…and it’s even more nonsensical. Hartnett’s co-workers have developed a website and are taking bets on when he will break his vow. When Sossamon finds out she’s mad at him. WHAT? WHY? It’s already dumb enough that Sossamon (whose job is to block porn sites) finds out about the website because it’s hosted by a porn site, but there is absolutely no good goddamn reason for Sossamon to be upset with Hartnett over this, other than the fact that his vow of abstinence is founded on a reason that makes no goddamn sense in the first place. She’s already perplexed by his behaviour, and finding out about the vow merely explains said bizarro behaviour. That’s surely a good thing, right?. No, instead she flies off the handle and shows herself to be as self-absorbed as him, thinking that bet was merely to not sleep with her. Um, sweetie, if you’d look at the website, you’d realise that the bet really has nothing to do with you personally, it’s his own personal vow of chastity that others are betting on, and then he met you and wants to break the vow. Get over yourself for just a second. Or did you block the site before you read it? Because then you’re not just an idiot, you’re an ignorant, irresponsible idiot. Even movie characters should be smarter than this chick. At one point she says that Hartnett should’ve told her about his ex. Why? Because she inspired his vow? No, what he should’ve done was either never start dating you in the first place or stop the vow once he did. Why was he still doing the vow after falling in love? Why did he do it in the first place? No good goddamn reason known to intelligent man, that’s why.

 

If you want to be mature, then grow the fuck up. This is an appalling screenplay, Perez really ought to have shown it to someone outside the loop, because it makes no logical sense whatsoever, and doesn’t take place on any realistic plane of existence, and although fictional, the film is clearly meant to take place in the real world. On the plus side, Emmanuelle Vaugier kinda sorta briefly flashes parts of her tits, and Sossamon shows her nipples, but she and Hartnett have the silliest love scene since “Animal Crackers” met “Armageddon”. It’s not even a love scene, just an orgasm scene. Just watch the film, or better yet, don’t even bother.

 

If there were any laughs in this film, the moronic plot would be much less of a problem. I mean, “American Pie” was similarly sex-obsessed, but it was also genuinely funny (not to mention occasionally perceptive and relatable. And the characters were high-schoolers, known for being shallow and sex-obsessed!). I didn’t even crack a smile once. One of the worst comedies of the early 00s (and that’s saying something of the era that gave us “Freddy Got Fingered” and “Tomcats”), worthless, moronic, and not even remotely romantic. Barely escapes a bottom-of-the-barrel rating by the mere charming presence of Maggie Gyllenhaal.

 

Rating: D-