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, January 15, 2015

Review: Action of the Tiger


Set in Greece and Commie Albania (the latter role played by Spain), Van Johnson is a boat captain and cynical soldier of fortune (!) hired by a French woman (Martine Carol) to smuggle her into Albania so that she can organise the rescue of her imprisoned political prisoner brother (Who is blind, of course). A group of Albanian refugee children are also in need of rescuing (once again, of course), much to surly Johnson’s annoyance. Herbert Lom turns up as an amorous, gregarious Albanian bandit roped into helping them out, though his main concern is taking the French girl for himself. A young Sean Connery plays Johnson’s frequently drunk and volatile first mate.

 

Surprisingly lousy C-movie from director Terence Young (“Dr. No”, “From Russia With Love”) and screenwriter Robert Carson (“A Star is Born”, “Beau Geste”, “Western Union”) features a decent cast, but goes nowhere for far too long. By the time lively Herbert Lom shows up he doesn’t have to do a whole helluva lot to steal it, and he’s welcome to it.

 

Lead actor Van Johnson is merely OK, and surprisingly charmless. It’s not an ideal role for him, something better suited to Robert Mitchum, Robert Taylor, or a latter day Clark Gable. Hell, Richard Widmark would’ve been perfect. Johnson is a fine actor, but he ain’t no Richard Widmark, that’s for damn sure. He does bring a bit of cynicism to the part, just not much masculinity or toughness. Martine Carol has a hot body, but is otherwise a bland actress and a run-of-the-mill 60s era European beauty (She was a rather sad woman it seems, who died in her 40s of a heart attack). Talented character actor Anthony M. Dawson (“Dr. No”) is wasted in a throwaway part as a villainous security officer, and he seems dubbed to me, too.

 

The scenery and Muir Mathieson (“Genevieve”, “21 Days”, “In Which We Serve”, “Henry V”) music score stand out (some sources credit Humphrey Searle for some reason, but the opening credits say Muir Mathieson), but the film evaporates before your very eyes. Interesting casting of pre-James Bond (and pre-Playboy interview) Sean Connery as a drunken, lecherous thug, though. Real interesting indeed. The film itself is slow, tedious, and perhaps deserves to be forgotten.

 

Rating: C-

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review: Edge of Tomorrow


Earth has been invaded by a war-mongering alien race called Mimics, who are seemingly unstoppable, though we’ve just scored a minor victory in battle. Enter Major Tom Cruise, a Communications officer (PR guy for the military) and frankly a bit of a smug coward. General Brendan Gleeson thinks it might be a good idea to send him to the front lines to film the latest battle, thinking things are headed in our favour. Cruise objects, is tasered and wakes up in an infantry unit, demoted to Private for desertion and sent into battle with no weapons or special armour training whatsoever. It doesn’t go well, his entire platoon is wiped out, and although he somehow manages to take out a Mimic, he also gets killed. It’s almost as if the Mimics knew they were coming and were fully prepared. The next thing he knows, Cruise has woken up to the same day, the same events, and the same conclusion. No matter how hard he tries to avoid the outcome, death keeps coming to him and his platoon. Eventually he works out a way to save celebrated war hero Emily Blunt (but not himself), who tells him to come and find her when he wakes up again. Seems she knows a little bit about what Cruise is going through. Kick Gurry plays a member of Cruise’s platoon, Bill Paxton (in borderline R. Lee Ermey mode) is a no-nonsense Master Sergeant who doesn’t have time for Cruise’s bullshit, and Noah Taylor plays Blunt’s brainiac scientist associate who knows more about the aliens than anyone.

 

It’s “Starship Troopers” (or “Pacific Rim”) meets “Groundhog Day” (or “Source Code”) in this rather classic 2014 sci-fi actioner from director Doug Liman (“Swingers”, “Go”, “Fair Game”). Based on a Japanese graphic novel, Tom Cruise and ‘sci-fi’ prove a winning combination yet again. Like the previous year’s “Oblivion”, Cruise is in a sci-fi film that is quite familiar but well-told and an easy watch. There’s something very computer game about this repetitive premise when you think about it (Cruise getting better each time he is ‘killed’ and starts over), but that’s not at all a criticism and it’s definitely a film experience, no doubt about it. The special FX are pretty damn good, especially the futuristic military ships. The battle scenes are excellent imaginings of what warfare might be like in the future against aliens. They look quite realistic, a little “Saving Private Ryan”-esque. The aliens are particularly well-designed, following my line of thinking that aliens really shouldn’t especially recognisable or discernible. It’s an incredible-looking film, very well-shot by Aussie cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Miami Vice”, “Collateral”, “Chicago”), and thankfully not nearly as shaky as some films like Liman’s “The Bourne Identity”. The sense of scope in the battles is really impressive, with wonderful landscapes on show. The terrific, thunderous music score by Christophe Beck (who has otherwise scored awful films like “The Hangover II”, “This Means War”, “The Watch”, “Due Date”, “The Sentinel” and “Garfield”- WOW!) is a major asset too.

 

Tom Cruise may come across as an arrogant nutjob off-screen, but here he’s really well-cast and easy to take as a guy who starts out as a selfish, cocky, cowardly jerk, a typical Cruise character in some ways but like in “A Few Good Men”, “Rain Man” and the underrated “War of the Worlds”, he never quite loses your sympathy. That’s because you know he’s about to go on a journey, he’s going to be thrust in the midst of battle and be forced to be proactive for a change. His character’s journey is actually somewhat old-fashioned, when you take away the futuristic trappings (It could almost work as a pro-military or pro-war film if you were to take all this nonsense seriously enough). And it gets really interesting when the “Groundhog Day” stuff reaches its delirious/despondent phase for Cruise’s character (Who comes to realise that he’s doomed to repeat history anyway, whether he forgets it or not).

 

Emily Blunt isn’t the first actress I’d think of for a film like this, but she’s excellent and hot. That last part is important, by the way. It’s certainly a better film and performance from Blunt than the overrated “Looper”. She and Cruise certainly make for an easy pair to latch onto. There’s also great support from Aussies Kick Gurry and Noah Taylor, who seem to have been able to keep their native accents (Taylor’s got a bit of a posh accent, but it still sounded Aussie to me). I still have no idea what sick parents would name their child Kick, though. Best of all, Bill Paxton is here to essentially play the Al Matthews role from “Aliens”, amusingly. I prefer Paxton being wild and crazy, but he’s certainly versatile and is one of the more entertaining things about the film.

 

This is a really good, action-packed sci-fi film that doesn’t reinvent the wheel and doesn’t need to. I really can’t say anything bad about this one, it achieves what it sets out to and is what it is: A dressed up, entertaining A-budget, B-movie. The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”, Cruise’s “Valkyrie”, the underrated “The Tourist”) and Jez & John-Henry Butterworth (Liman’s tolerable but rather disappointing political/CIA film “Fair Game”).

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: American Hustle


Inspired by real events and starting in the late 70s, Christian Bale (with a bad comb-over and “ET” stomach) plays a middle-aged con artist who along with his sexy partner/lover Amy Adams is forced to work for unorthodox FBI man Bradley Cooper in bringing down as many corrupt Jersey politicians and officials as possible. One man in their sights is passionate Jersey mayor Jeremy Renner, a family man who genuinely wants to do right by the city, but is willing to do the wrong thing to get there. Complicating matters is Bale’s immature, shrill wife Jennifer Lawrence (who is immediately jealous of Adams), as well as the involvement of the Miami mob, represented by Robert De Niro. Louis C.K. plays Cooper’s long-suffering FBI boss, Alessandro Nivola is Mr. C.K.’s superior, Michael Pena plays an FBI agent who poses as an Arab sheik, Shea Whigham is a criminal associate, and Anthony Zerbe appears briefly as a corrupt politician.

 

One of the bigger disappointments of 2013, this crime flick has some good performances, but director David O. Russell (the interesting “Three Kings” and “Silver Linings Playbook”, and the overrated “The Fighter”) and his co-writer Eric Warren Singer (“The International”, a mediocre Clive Owen vehicle) fall well short of the Scorsese crime picture standard that they are clearly inspired by. “Goodfellas” it ain’t, this one comes off as “Casino”-lite, and that’s a shame because I was really looking forward to this and expected something pretty special. That’s why it’s always good to go into a film free of expectations I guess, but that’s easier said than done. The film’s a bit of a poseur, really, it’s superficial and artificial, though there’s a pretty brilliant twist towards the end that I didn’t expect at all. Well done there.

 

The fake baldness and especially the protruding gut adopted by Christian Bale are particularly unconvincing and call too much attention to themselves (As does Jeremy Renner’s pompadour). Apparently Bale really did put on 40 pounds for the role, but the gut actually looks fake. It reminds me of some stars who do their own stunts for things that in the finished product either look faked, or you can’t really tell whether they did it or not anyway. Is it really worth putting on the pounds if it looks fake and seems heavy-handed? I guess Bale got to show off in front of “Raging Bull” himself, so maybe that’s all that mattered to Method Man Bale. Bully for you, dork. That’s a shame, because Bale’s performance is otherwise OK, and I’m really not a fan of the guy (I think he’s a terrible Batman/Bruce Wayne), as I can always hear the gears turning inside him with every performance. However, I do have to ask, if Bale needs to change so much about himself in order to play the role, is he really the right guy for it? It’s a question worth asking I think.

 

But it’s not just Bale’s “ET”-like visage calling attention to itself here, Russell goes all-out Scorsese with his soundtrack choices (no ‘Gimme Shelter’, though, strangely), but shows he hasn’t learned a damn thing from the man. He actually has Jennifer Lawrence sing along to ‘Live and Let Die’ in the film as it plays on the soundtrack. Why call attention to the soundtrack like that? It’s stupid, and Paul Thomas Anderson already did it in 1999 anyway. I have zero idea why Elton John’s excellent ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ is used at one point, it does not fit in here at all. In fact, there’s way too much soundtrack and not enough movie for my liking.

 

There’s certainly some things I liked about the film. The opening title card reading ‘Some of this actually happened’ is brilliant and hilarious. Bradley Cooper, once again not my favourite actor, is a lot better here than Bale. His is the most surprisingly strong performance in the film for me, along with “Silver Linings Playbook” it’s his best work. Amy Adams, meanwhile, looks absolutely sensational…no edible, in fact. It’s the sexiest performance she has ever given (Even if you count “Cruel Intentions 2”). I wouldn’t normally think of her as sexy per se. Beautiful, adorable, sweet, and a damn good actress, absolutely. But sexy? Yes here she’s dead sexy. Her English accent is imperfect, but she’s playing a shonky American con artist putting on a fake English accent to fool people who have probably rarely heard a real English accent, so it’s appropriate. If there’s one issue I have with her, it’s that she seems to have trouble getting rid of the British accent when speaking in her character’s normal American accent. But that’s a minor flaw in an otherwise very strong performance that probably deserved an Oscar except it was a tough year (And Our Cate was already owed one, damn it!). Yes, it’s weird that Jennifer Lawrence plays Bale’s jealous younger wife to Adams’ older mistress/business partner, but let’s face it, Lawrence would be hopeless in Adams’ role, and Adams is excellent in the role.

 

Lawrence is quite solid in her role, if maybe still a tad young. Jeremy Renner isn’t in all that much of the film, but he’s strong as always, so long as you can forget about the stupid hairdo. It’s an interestingly complex character he plays. Michael Pena is hilarious in a small role, too, though I wish the talented Shea Whigham were afforded a more interesting role, he’s an underrated actor. In other corners of the film, Louis CK has never been funnier (I don’t normally find him funny in the slightest), it’s great to know Anthony Zerbe is still alive, and it was nice to see Alessandro Nivola for what seems like the first time in about a decade. Where the hell has he been? Some have cited Walken as his influence here, but I swear Nivola has modelled his performance and vocal intonation on Alan Arkin, not Christopher Walken. Am I the only one? The film is undoubtedly bolstered by an excellent cameo from a very 70 years old Robert De Niro, even though his presence is yet another reminder of what this film is trying and failing to be. Still, it’s one of De Niro’s better performances in recent decades.

 

The film didn’t really grab me, the story isn’t as riveting as everyone involved seems to think. The screenplay to be honest was a bit problematic, going all over the place in the opening 30 minutes in particular, which is annoying. The fact that much of the film was improvised by the actors might help explain things. Improvisation is cool and all, but there’s got to be a clear direction adhered to surely, at the end of the day. I wanted to like this one a whole lot more than I eventually did. It’s actually a pretty average, if watchable film, and needed a lot more Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro, Shea Whigham, and Michael Pena. The dual narration was kinda cool, though, and the performances by Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and even Jennifer Lawrence are all good. I’ve heard the film was meant to be somewhat of a comedy, but I didn’t pick up on that in the slightest, so maybe I just didn’t ‘get’ this one.

 

Rating: C+

Review: The Scapegoat


Sir Alec Guinness stars as a rather despondent English teacher on holiday in France, who runs into his seemingly exact double, a wealthy Frenchman (also played by Guinness), at a pub. After some heavy drinking, the Englishman wakes up the next morning a little worse for wear, and his French counterpart nowhere in sight. However, the latter’s chauffeur (Geoffrey Keen) believes him to be the Frenchman, and eventually Guinness agrees to go to the Frenchman’s lavish estate to meet him and clear the confusion up. Unfortunately, his double is not home, either, and his eccentric family members refuse to believe his crazy story that he’s really an English tutor and bachelor. The Frenchman’s Italian mistress (Nicole Maurey) won’t hear of it, either. And then the wife apparently falls from a window to her death. Accident or foul play? Bette Davis plays the Frenchman’s bed-ridden mother, Annabel Bartlett is his precocious but slightly odd daughter, Irene Worth plays his wife, Pamela Brown is the taciturn Aunt, and Peter Bull his brother-in-law, who runs the family business.

 

Although it’s not terribly highly regarded, this 1959 adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier book is jolly good Hitchcockian fun. In fact, as directed by Robert Hamer (“Kind Hearts and Coronets”), it’s vastly superior to Hitch’s own Daphne Du Maurier films, the vastly overrated “Rebecca” and the uneven “Jamaica Inn”. Sir Alec Guinness (Du Maurier’s own choice for the dual lead roles, apparently) looks to be having a good time of it playing doppelgangers, and with one exception, there isn’t a bad performance to be found in the entire film.

 

I said that Guinness appears to be having a good time, but one of the film’s strengths that helps set it apart from many other mysteries, is that it’s a rather melancholy mystery. Neither character Guinness plays is terribly happy with their lot in life. One’s life feels empty and is despondent, the other’s life is apparently too full. I’m not normally a fan of voiceovers, but when the voice is as mellifluous as Guinness’, one can’t complain. Guinness is held in high esteem as an actor, and in my opinion, that esteem isn’t high enough. He’s a brilliant actor, and does terrific work here. Also impressive are the inimitable Bette Davis and young Annabel Bartlett. Davis does a pretty damn convincing English accent here, and although not given much screen time, she makes an immediate and lasting impact. If you like Bette in “Baby Jane” or “Sweet Charlotte” mode as I do, you’ll enjoy her work here. She steals her every moment on screen, and in a way it’s quite a shocking role for her. It’s a real treat to see two of cinemas finest actors and greatest movie stars sharing the screen, and in my opinion, they don’t disappoint (Apparently they weren’t terribly fond of one another, and knowing Bette’s tempestuous reputation in particular, I can imagine that). It’s a shame Annabel Bartlett never acted again, because she’s good, and plays well off Guinness. Everyone’s a bit cracked here, and like the rather melancholic outlook of its protagonist, it adds something unique to the film. The one dud performance here is from Pamela Brown, who has been made up to resemble Mrs. Danvers from “Rebecca” to an annoying distraction and gives a rather stiff performance.

 

Excellent, noirish B&W cinematography by Paul Beeson (“Dunkirk”, “To Sir With Love”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), and an immediately impressive score by Bronislau Kaper (“Gaslight”, “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “Song of Love”, “Them!”, “Home From the Hill”) add much to the overall effectiveness of the film.

 

Scripted by the director and Gore Vidal (“Ben-Hur”, the notorious “Caligula”), I wish it weren’t so transparent from the outset, because it’s otherwise a really interesting and unusual mystery. The film has an interesting ending that isn’t as conclusive as you might think, or as conclusive as the filmmakers might think, even (The novel, however, makes it clear, as does one important storytelling device in the film. So there is a definitive answer). Like the film itself, the ending probably works better today than it did on original release (It was a box-office flop, unfortunately).

 

Reminding one of films like “The 39 Steps” and “North by Northwest”, this is a nifty nourish mystery, with some fine performances and an unusually sad tone. It’s just a shame that the title pretty much gives the game away.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: The Spectacular Now


Miles Teller plays boozy high school senior Sutter, a party animal with seemingly no direction in life and an absentee father whom his well-meaning mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) won’t tell him anything about. He stupidly seems to avoid any thought towards the future, content to drink, hang out, and live in the now. That sees him lose a girlfriend (Brie Larson), but there’s clearly something damaged inside of Sutter that may explain why he is the way he is. After a night of hard partying, he wakes up on the lawn of a neighbour. He gets to talking to this neighbour, nice, comic book geek Aimee (Shailene Woodley), who goes to the same school as Sutter but obviously runs with a different social crowd. A relationship develops between the two (After their hangover-inspired ‘meet cute’. Yep. That’s romantic), though Sutter tells his peers that he’s just bringing the girl out of her shell. It’s obviously something deeper for Aimee (a virgin who has never had a boyfriend), but the question remains: Is Sutter really just trying to show Aimee a good time, or does he have romantic feelings for her? Well, he still can’t quite stop talking to his ex at every opportunity, so there’s that.

 

Kyle Chandler plays Sutter’s MIA father, whom the boy decides to look up one day, and drags Aimee along with him. The experience has him learning a thing or two not just about why his parents’ marriage failed, but also about himself. Andre Royo plays a teacher who tries to get Sutter to stop being such a sarcastic dick and actually apply himself.

 

Although I haven’t read it, the Tim Tharp novel that this 2013 film is based on, is probably pretty good. Unfortunately, one major piece of miscasting helps ruin this film adaptation from director James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”) and screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”). Because of the casting of the inherently douchy Miles Teller in the lead role of Sutter, and the way in which he plays the character, I found myself deeply disliking Sutter, and entirely mistrusting his intentions towards the character of Aimee (played by Shailene Woodley). If Sutter was meant to have good-hearted intentions towards this girl, I didn’t believe it. He spends the first portion of the film acting like an aimless, borderline alcoholic douchebag who thinks he’s charming when he’s anything but charming. Call him a mixture of John Cusack in “High Fidelity” and Vince Vaughn in just about anything. An irritating mix, this guy’s the worst kind of aimless douchebag: The aimless douchebag who could actually stop being an aimless douchebag if he really wanted to. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do when I was in high school, let alone my final year. But I wasn’t an aimless, ambivalent douchebag like Teller’s Sutter. I was merely focussed on stuff that ultimately ended up not mattering so much in the grand scheme of life. Sutter seems focussed on…hell, I don’t even know, and he’s extremely irritating because of it. I understand that the character of Sutter is clearly a troubled one who worries he may be turning out like his estranged dad, but because it seems so unlikely to begin with that someone like Sutter would be interested in someone like Aimee, he comes across as creepy and cruel. I mean, this is a kid who, when he realises he’s becoming just like his dad, his reaction is to try and become even more like him so that he can hate himself. There’s only so much of that I can take, especially when conveyed by the charmless Teller. Surely he needs at least some likeable qualities. At one point, his mother says that Sutter has the biggest heart of anyone she knows, and all I could think was that she needed to get to know a few more people, because her son is an aimless louse. And that falls mostly on Teller, who simply isn’t able to earn our sympathy one bit. I can understand why someone would be into Aimee but I just don’t understand why this particular guy seems into her. If it’s because she’s the exact opposite of his ex, then not enough is made of that. If he’s leading her on, then he’s even worse. I don’t care what good intentions you have in wanting to boost someone’s self-esteem, you can’t let them think you’re romantically interested in them whilst they are very clearly falling in love with you. That is cruel, and at some point he is clearly made aware of it. By the time one figures that he might actually have developed genuine feelings for this girl, it’s too late to care. Casting a more inherently likeable actor in the role might’ve helped with this confusion (Nicholas Hoult or Logan Lerman would’ve been perfect), but even then it’d be an uphill battle. The character’s intentions are just never made clear enough. I feel like there’s some scenes missing with his rather sad ex, that help explain just what was going on between those two. It’s a bit vague in the finished film, and the scenes we do get between Teller and his ex just make it seem like Sutter wants to get back with his ex, and has no romantic interest in Aimee whatsoever.

 

The hatred I had for the main character was further exacerbated by the fact that Aimee is such a sweet and likeable girl, who deserved so much better than this creepy douchebag. I’ve taken a genuine disliking to Shailene Woodley’s performances/characters over the years (less so than Kristen Stewart, however, who is just awful), and especially disliked her performance as loathsomely self-absorbed Amy Jurgens on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”. As this Aimee, however, she’s immediately very likeable, and the only relatable human being in this whole damn film. I still think Woodley always looks like she’s been sneezing off-camera, though. Anyone else sense that? Anyway, you’ll find her character relatable, you’ll have known girls like Aimee (I certainly have), and because Woodley holds up her end so well, it makes you like Aimee and absolutely HATE Sutter even more than you already do.

 

Someone should’ve looked at the finished film and realised that there was a major problem at its centre. Unfortunately, the film has other problems as well. I admire the film for trying to tackle more serious issues than the average teen film, but the whole thing plays like it’s trying to find its way to a point, and only starts to find that point towards the end. The director obviously thought his ending was cool, but all it left me doing was shrugging my shoulders and saying ‘Well?…I’m waiting...’ It never seemed to come to a real ending. The film starts off in one direction, wanders around drunkenly in all other directions, and only reaches its true purpose in the last ten minutes, before just conking out at the final scene. That’s seriously clunky filmmaking. I will say, though, that now I want to read the novel to see if it’s as clunky and if the main character is so unlikeable, I can’t imagine that being the case (I hear the ending is much clearer, and pretty downbeat. That sounds about spot-on to me).

 

I also appreciated the contributions of Kyle Chandler and the absolutely stunningly…well, perfect Mary Elizabeth Winstead. This is immediately Chandler’s best-ever work. It’s like he’s known this character all of his life. He’s so good that you barely even notice that he’s playing the biggest cliché in movies: The deadbeat dad. Chandler makes him authentic instead of caricatured and unconvincing. He and Woodley are the best, and among the only good things here. As for Winstead…sigh. On the surface, her character is meant to feel somewhat superior to and separate from her family. However, in her scenes with Teller, Winstead’s character is shown to obviously care about her brother. She may be a little removed from his life, but there’s none of that usual, bratty brother-sister crap going on here, and I really appreciated that. Did I mention that she’s beautiful? More beautiful than usual, even. Is she getting more beautiful with age or what? Honestly, I might’ve spaced out and missed some of her dialogue because I was so awestruck by the woman’s beauty. She’s going to do something great one day, I believe. Anyway, enough of me being a creepy stalker…

 

No, I didn’t get this film at all, and the crucial miscasting of Miles Teller in the lead is a truly fatal blow the film never recovers from. It also only contains one surprising moment in the entire film, and that’s about 70 minutes in. A couple of quite good performances and one belated surprise aren’t enough to rescue this miscalculated, poorly scripted coming-of-age film. Proof that being a ‘realistic’ and ‘serious’ teen film, doesn’t always equate to being a ‘good’ teen film.

 

Rating: C-