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 24, 2015

The 10 Best Movies You've (Probably) Never Heard Of


Haven't done one of these in a while, they seem to get lots of hits. What can I say, I'm an attention whore, OK? Oh, and spare me the 'Well, I've heard of all of these films' messages. Obviously it won't apply to everyone, some of you out there are just as sad as I am and have likely seen some, if not all of these films. The operative word here is 'probably'. I think I've come up with a pretty decent list of ten that is far more obscure than other lists I've read. Enjoy!

 

10. The Incident (1967) - Now here's a startling, starkly-photographed film. The situation is simple and the characters are a bit stock, but this is strong, disturbing stuff. Martin Sheen (in a remarkable film debut) and wild-eyed Tony Musante are memorable as a couple of psychos who board a NY train and spend the night terrorising the passengers, basically breaking them down. For kicks, it seems. Whilst we all know the story of the passengers on board the fateful flight on 9/11 tried their best to fight back and take down their captors, the sad reality is that the more common situation is the one depicted here. Passengers here for the most part are picked on whilst everyone else is either too scared or frankly disinterested to help. And no one seems to notice the drunken bum asleep on the train the whole damn time. We don't want any trouble, and we'd rather not get involved. Sad, but often true, and the mostly apathetic passengers here will have you screaming at your television. I mean, they clearly outnumber these guys, so why don't they band together? They are infuriating...yet identifiable. This is intensely uncomfortable, nerve-wracking stuff from start to finish, with vivid turns by Brock Peters as an angry, rather militant African-American, Beau Bridges as a friendly good 'ol boy injured soldier who may be the only brave person on board, and Robert Fields as a seriously nervy gay man who provides an easy target for the two thugs. It's criminal how unknown this film is, it truly packs a wallop, especially one scene at the end with Peters, followed by the brilliant final shot.

 

9. The Last American Virgin (1982) - The Cannon Group made lots of shitty action films, as well as cheap, Israeli-lensed sex comedies during the 80s. But not only is this one of Cannon's crowning achievements, but it's a rare 80s teen sex comedy that stands out. No, it's not the all-time classic "Revenge of the Nerds" is, but it has something that practically no other film in the genre has: A realistic kick in the guts. Yes, it's all fun and silliness for the most part, but what everyone who has seen this film (which isn't nearly enough) remembers is the deflating, devastating, and yes, genuinely moving finale. It elevates the film from being a lark into a harsh dose of reality, as James Ingram's 'Just Once' reduces you to a blubbering mess. Oh yes, it'll happen, I promise you. Lawrence Monoson is the geeky teen looking to lose his virginity, Diane Franklin is the girl he wants, and Steve Antin is the jerk friend who beats him to the punch. Louisa Moritz has an hilarious cameo as a bored and horny Spanish woman, and there's an encounter with a hooker that is absolutely, positively nothing like "Pretty Woman" or even "Risky Business". Trust me, beyond all the randy hijinks of the first half, this one's got a sting in its tail that might hit home with you.

 

8. State of Grace (1990) - The only reason I can figure that no one ever talks about this 1990 Irish-American crime drama is because it was released the same year as the Italian-American gangster epic "Goodfellas", the pinnacle of the genre. But this Phil Joanou film is generally very well-regarded by the few who have seen it. Set in Hell's Kitchen, Sean Penn plays a former resident returning home after an unexplained ten year absence. He hooks up with extremely volatile childhood friend Gary Oldman, and former flame Robin Wright, who is sister to both Oldman and older brother Ed Harris. Harris is an Irish mobster currently trying to make peace with his Italian counterpart (a very fine Joe Viterelli), but unhinged Oldman destroys any chance of that after a drunken incident in a bar. This puts Harris (who likes to keep his own hands clean) in an impossible situation. That a film featuring Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Burgess Meredith (in a somewhat jarring but memorable cameo as an elderly tenant in debt to Harris), and a career-best turn by Gary Oldman can get overlooked is really mind-boggling to me. Oldman can go too far sometimes, but here he's scarily effective without being self-indulgently weird as is often his wont. It ain't "Goodfellas", but it's certainly one of the best of its type. The plot is too contrived and Joanou isn't the visual stylist Martin Scorsese is, but this deserves a much bigger audience.

 

7. Emperor of the North Pole (1973) - I really don't get why this one's been so forgotten over the years. Set in the Depression era it concerns hobo Lee Marvin and his younger companion Keith Carradine hitching rides on trains. They are pitted against a sadistic and brutal conductor named Shack (an incredibly mean Ernest Borgnine) who doesn't take kindly to freeloaders. At. All. A real 'guy' movie (from "Dirty Dozen" director Robert Aldrich, no less), Borgnine has one of his best-ever parts, and Marvin is the perfect choice for the grizzled, determined hobo. Lots of familiar faces, albeit in mere cameos in some cases. But this is one tough sonofabitch movie right here.

 

6. The Deadly Affair (1967) - Not one of Sidney Lumet's most well-known films, but this 1967 adaptation of a John Le Carre novel boasts a top international cast, colourful characters, and is definitely a film to see for fans of great British character actors. Harriet Andersson is a bit of a bore as British agent James Mason's wife, but the rest are top notch. Mason investigates the death of an ex-Communist official of the British Government (Robert Flemyng), not believing the initial cause of suicide. He receives help from sleepy, semi-retired but still tough cop Harry Andrews. Meanwhile, Mason's old spy buddy Maximilian Schell has turned up. This could've been an absolute classic if a better actress than Andersson were hired, and the villain not so completely transparent. However, it's still a terrific film full of interesting actors and performances. In addition to a cute cameo by a daffy young Lynn Redgrave, the film's best scene has Andrews roughing up a scummy informant played by the inimitable Roy Kinnear. The scene is a classic, the film itself is certainly worthwhile.

 

5. Clean and Sober (1988) - Michael Keaton has always been a versatile actor, but in this underrated drug addiction film from the creator of "Moonlighting" he shows genuine dramatic chops in what may be the best performance of his career. He plays a real-estate broker already in financial trouble when a night

of cocaine and partying sees him wake up the next morning with a literally frigid bed mate, and a whole mess of trouble awaiting him. He decides to flee to a rehab facility, but not for the right reasons. He doesn't even think he has a drug problem, he just wants to escape whatever trouble was headed his way. That simply won't do for no-BS drug counsellor Morgan Freeman, who doesn't want him wasting anyone's time if he's not going to admit to a drug problem. In addition to the excellent Freeman, M. Emmet Walsh gives a similarly realistic performance as Keaton's 'sponsor', and Kathy Baker is terrific as another addict Keaton attempts to romance. You've never seen Keaton like this- desperate, pathetic, going through detox, etc. It's a tremendously affecting turn that helps make up for the rather bland visual approach of the director. Not a flawless film but worthy enough to sit alongside the best in the genre like "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Lost Weekend".

 

4. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) - Almost all of Gordon Liu's entire family is massacred, and he seeks refuge with Buddhist monks. Phillip Ko is at first reluctant to accept Liu as one of them, fearing he has violent motives for wanting to join them and be trained by them. Obviously, being a martial arts movie, we know he's gonna become accepted, receive training, and kick arse seven ways to Sunday. My vote for the best Shaw Brothers martial arts flick (and possibly the greatest martial arts epic of all-time), this one's completely insane. It starts out rather sombre, but once the action kicks into gear, buckle up! Gordon Liu is rock solid as ever, but the scene-stealer here is Phillip Ko as a teeth-smashing monk elder. It's pretty damn violent at times, and is worth seeing for at least two action set-pieces: The first a fight between Liu and Ko, and the second is the wonderfully violent finale.

 

3. Wake in Fright (1971) - It may have been directed by a Canadian, but this 1971 outback nightmare is in many ways, frighteningly Australian. Steeped in a culture of beer-swilling, roo-shootin', gambling, and frankly intimidating machismo, it was not well-loved here in Australia on original release. It probably hit too close to the bone, but this city slicker thinks it got a lot of things uncomfortably right about certain parts of the country (and our drinking culture, which I'll never understand), and it's still a very effective film to this day. Gary Bond is the genteel English teacher who can't seem to get out of the dry, outback mining town of Bundayabba, where outward cheerfulness hides something sinister lurking beneath. Even the local copper, played by Aussie icon Chips Rafferty is a towering, intimidating figure. Donald Pleasence is unforgettable as the displaced English doctor who has gone to seed in drink. The kangaroo shoot (featuring real-life culling) is still hard to stomach to this day. It has been rediscovered by critics here and overseas and occasionally gets TV play, but I'd still wager most people here and abroad have never heard of it. It's hardly an Aussie tourism ad. But it's a powerful experience.

 

2. Voyage of the Damned (1976) - Not an Irwin Allen production, but certainly a disaster film, however this underrated all-star effort carries more weight than most. It's based on the true story of a ship load of German Jews in 1939 being transported to safe haven in Havana. Unfortunately, despite an apolitical, dutiful captain (Max von Sydow), it appears increasingly unlikely that they will be allowed to dock there. This ain't no "Poseidon Adventure" where you perversely enjoy the danger famous actors are put in, as the passengers suffer the harassment orchestrated by Nazi crew member Helmut Griem, and various political dignitaries pretty much wipe their hands of the situation, or at best, are merely

opportunistic (i.e. Orson Welles' wealthy Cuban industrialist). Some of the characters are more interesting than others (all Julie Harris really does is cry), but ultimately the tragic situation really draws you in and it ultimately moved me greatly. Max von Sydow is a tower of quiet, reserved strength and decency, Malcolm McDowell gets to play a nice German, and Lee Grant earned an Oscar nomination for cutting off her hair and doing her Lee Grant thing. Hey, she's good at it. Probably the most prestigious film B-movie scumbag Paul Koslo ever turned up in, playing a damaged, lower-class Jew. Worth seeing if you like disaster movies but want something with a little more substance than even the best of the genre like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno". It's nothing like those two films.

 

1. Streets of Fire (1984) - Labelled 'A rock & roll fable', this Walter Hill comic book-like action flick mixes styles from the 50s, 60s, and 80s into one helluva good time. Jim Steinman worked on many of the songs (others were written by Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and Bob Seger), which have a distinctly Meat Loaf/Bonnie Tyler vibe about them, and the blues rock score is by Ry Cooder. The film stars Michael Paré in his one good role as Tom Cody, a brooding mercenary-for-hire paid by dweeb Rick Moranis to rescue his client/girlfriend, singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a gang of New Wave punks, led by Willem Dafoe. Complications stem from the fact that Cody and Aim used to be an item. It's MTV meets "American Graffiti" meets "Sin City", decades before "Sin City" was even a film. Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe's Flock of Seagulls do vies with Bill Paxton's ridiculous redneck pompadour for bizarro hairdo of 1984.

Review: Saving Mr. Banks


A film that details the tug-of-war between Australian-born author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) over plans to bring Travers’ Mary Poppins character to the silver screen. Travers is a humourless, crotchety snob of a woman, who is fiercely protective of her work, worried that the House of Mouse will try and turn it into a cartoon. However, financial difficulties see her nonetheless make the journey to California to meet with avuncular Disney, and his team which include screenwriter Don DaGradi and songwriters Richard (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak). Even as she agrees to come to California, she has yet to actually sign on the dotted line, and makes everyone’s lives a living hell. At one point she even argues against the colour red being used in the film. However, flashbacks to her unhappy childhood in rural Australia with a well-meaning but deeply troubled father (Colin Farrell) and mentally unstable mother (Ruth Wilson), show there’s much more going on here than simply a snobby bitch thumbing her nose at crass Hollywood filmmaking. Paul Giamatti plays Travers’ personally assigned limo driver Ralph, a thoroughly decent and genial family man with a disabled child, who tries his best to get the woman to lighten the hell up for chrissakes. Kathy Baker is sadly underused as Disney’s loyal secretary.

 

Although one might be sceptical of a film about the battle over “Mary Poppins” from none other than Disney (Especially with Tom Hanks playing Walt Disney himself), this 2013 film from director John Lee Hancock and writers Kelly Marcel (The lame TV series “Terra Nova”) and Sue Smith is nothing to be sceptical about at all. It’s wonderfully entertaining, interesting, funny, and moving. Hancock more than makes up for the condescending and clichéd “The Blind Side” with his directorial effort here. I’ve purposely avoided watching “Mary Poppins” over the years for mental health reasons (“The Sound of Music” is as far as I’ll go, thank you very much and that took more than three decades of courage), but I always knew this was going to be one of the better films of the year, with its expert cast and fascinating true Hollywood story. It doesn’t disappoint, even though the supposedly Australian locations (All shot in California) for flashbacks are not remotely convincing (Palm trees? Really? Did they honestly think they were gonna get away with that?). Actress Ruth Wilson never quite gets her Aussie accent right, either, valiantly as she tries. She probably should’ve tried an Irish one, which might fit the period better anyway, given our colonial/convict roots. The flashback scenes are actually the most important in the film, really. They detail just why Mrs. Travers is so adamant about holding on to her story. Because in many ways “Mary Poppins” was indeed her story, and Mr. Banks was inspired by her father. I’m not normally a fan of flashbacks, but they are absolutely key here, and California or not, the locales do indeed look lovely. Colin Farrell is actually inspired and excellent casting as Travers’ father. He gets all of the shadings of this sad character down perfectly. He’s a well-meaning, but troubled alcoholic. As funny as this film can be, it’s the sadness that really resonated with me. It makes me want to watch “Mary Poppins” even less because of what Disney did to the film. Even in this supposedly Disney-fied version of the true story, you end up seeing things from Travers’ point of view. In fact, she hated the film even more strongly than is depicted here, so if anything Travers has been softened more than Walt Disney. Yes, Disney himself is cleaned up a bit, but the film shows what this story meant to Travers and what Disney did to it, so even Uncle Walt ends up rather tainted, Tom Hanks or not. One of the best scenes in the film that really brings it all home is when the inane songs intrude on Travers’ flashbacks of unhappy domestic issues from her childhood. It says it all, really. I also thought it was priceless that Disney would invite Travers on a tour of Disneyland.

 

Aside from the absolutely fascinating true story itself, the film’s strongest assets are the lead performances by Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. Mrs. Travers was said to be a most unpleasant, humourless woman, and Emma Thompson, lovely as she appears to be in real-life, is immediately perfect in the role. Yes you feel that she lays the snobbery on a bit thick, but a) This is a Disney film not a docudrama b) She’s bloody marvellously entertaining in the role, and c) The end credits have an audio recording of the real Travers, revealing that Thompson actually isn’t exaggerating things at all. The woman really was difficult and didn’t suffer fools in the slightest. Holy crap she’s scary. She was a spectacularly horrible person, perhaps with a good reason at times, but still…yikes. The first scene with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and the two Shermans (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, the latter stealing scenes as the most outspoken of the two brothers) is hilarious in how immediately and incredibly rudely she shuts them down. You’d be scared to open your mouth ever again. The fact that Travers would probably hate this film too is just the icing on the cake, really (It’s amazing that Disney got “Mary Poppins” made given that he ended up pretty much making it the way he wanted anyway, despite Travers’ objections). I must say, though, that Travers was right: Burton and Guinness are greats, Dick Van Dyke…no way. I much prefer watching Bradley Whitford embarrassingly sing in a terrible cockney accent here than Dick Van Dyke sing in an even worse one in “Mary Poppins”. At least Whitford is hilarious.

 

It’s to Thompson’s credit that although wonderfully funny in the role, and wonderfully horrible, she lets you see the scarred, fiercely protective human being inside. It’s no caricature, though it might be harder to make that argument had one not heard the real Travers. The casting of Tom Hanks as Walt Disney reveals the film’s bias, no doubt, but he’s the only actor I can think of who could pull the role off and indeed he gives a highly enjoyable performance (He’s also a distant relation of the man!). And since no other studio would really want to tell the story of a successful film from Disney’s archive, worrying about the filmmakers appeasing the studio is pretty pointless, really. It’s the only way the film would’ve gotten made. Neither Hanks nor Thompson exactly disappear into their roles, but both are persuasive and good fun, Thompson especially. I also must make mention of Paul Giamatti, who is perfectly cast, makes something out of nothing, and underplays quite nicely here. Rachel Griffiths is an absolute hoot as the ‘real’ “Mary Poppins”, a wonderful cameo.

 

A terrific entertainment, but also a very sad film about a most unpleasant woman, who was fiercely protective of a story very personal to her. Thompson dominates, and the film will make you think about “Mary Poppins” in a whole new way, more than likely. I’m still not fucking watching it, though. This isn’t the lightweight, simplistically pro-Uncle Walt film you might expect. Two great stars in a terrific, fascinating true story that I can’t imagine anyone not named P.L. Travers disliking, but I think it will probably appeal most strongly to film buffs nonetheless. You absolutely must stay for the end credits, to truly appreciate this film. My vote for best film of 2013.

 

Rating: B

Friday, January 23, 2015

Review: Metallica: Through the Never


A Metallica concert plays as a young roadie (Dane DeHaan) has a hellish, almost “Mad Max”-like adventure outside the arena, running an errand.

 

How the hell am I supposed to review this 2013 film from “Predators” director Nimrod Antal? For the most part, it’s a stylishly staged and photographed Metallica concert, and a damn good one, something akin to the brilliant Rolling Stones/Martin Scorsese “Shine a Light” at times, minus the grainy interview footage. I’m a fan of their music, well aside from “Reload” and especially the cheap knock-off “St. Anger”, an album I’ll never fork out the money for to add to my collection (Metallica seem to know the album sucks, there’s no song on that amateurish album played here). But this film wants to be more than a mere concert film, as it tries to tell a fictional story (penned by Antal and the band members themselves, apparently) happening concurrently to the concert. And told really badly, and so intermittently and half-arsed, so as to make one wonder why they even bothered with it in the first place. If this were just a concert film, I’d have no problems recommending this film. That part works, no question. But that’s not what this ultimately is, and while completely watchable, and while the music made sure I had a good time with it, as a film I simply can’t give this a good grade.

 

Perhaps the worst sin of all is that despite the title, the band never plays ‘Through the Never’ at any point. It’s not one of their best songs (but one of my three favourite songs is ‘Of Wolf and Man’, so don’t take my word for it necessarily), but for fuck’s sake, why call it that when you don’t actually play the song? Frankly, I think ‘Wherever I May Roam’, ‘Enter Sandman’, or particularly ‘Ride the Lightning’ would’ve made for better titles. One thing I did genuinely dig about this film is that the set list isn’t quite your standard post-“Black Album” set list where they only play the big hits and a couple from “Death Magnetic” (Their redemption album if you ask me). There’s a lot of “Ride the Lightning” songs on here (including the title track, the awesome ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, and my favourite from the album, ‘Creeping Death’), as well as the best song from “Reload”, ‘The Memory Remains’. We also get ‘Fuel’ from that same album, and although far from my favourite Metallica song, it’s one of the few times that the song being played comes close to working with the goings on outside of the concert with roadie Dane DeHaan getting into vehicular trouble (the rather heavy ‘Cyanide’ from their underrated “Death Magnetic” album also fits the visuals). On the flipside, I was disappointed that when they played the iconic ‘One’ from “…And Justice for All”, we didn’t get a “Johnny Got His Gun” motif, as the use of footage from that film in the band’s first ever music video is part of what made that song what it is and better than what they come up with here.

 

The song choices become more standard after a while (‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Battery’- which is better than ‘Puppets’ if you ask me, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Enter Sandman’, etc.), but you won’t hear favourites like ‘Seek & Destroy’, ‘The Unforgiven’ ‘Motorbreath’, or ‘Harvester of Sorrow’, interestingly enough, and ‘Hit the Lights’ is a truly bizarre choice to close out the concert (though not the film, which ends with the instrumental ‘Orion’, something for the die-hards). ‘Enter Sandman’ is somewhat overplayed by now (I’ll defend “The Black Album” to anyone, though), but like ‘Fuel’ it’s one of the better mixtures of song and film visuals on show here. For the most part, you don’t get to hear full-length songs here (The excellent ‘Wherever I May Roam’ stops after the intro, strangely), but I honestly didn’t expect to, and we get a lot more of the songs than I thought we would. So I was happy about that, even if it has its downside with the narrative.

 

It’s a nicely staged concert, better-looking than most, even if the front few rows of the crowd and the band don’t appear to be in the same room at the same time, if you catch my drift. The fans don’t behave like they’re really at a Metallica concert, and might have been green-screened in or something. I haven’t heard of any such thing being the case here, but it looked a bit fake to me. They seemed too posed and weren’t head-banging nearly enough (Then again, I wouldn’t head-bang at all if I attended a concert of any kind. But that’s just me. I’m old and an introvert). Perhaps the fact that this was originally intended for 3D viewing (IMAX 3D at that) and I saw it in 2D explains the disconnect/artificial look. It wouldn’t be the first damn time, as loyal readers of mine will understand. But it doesn’t explain the phony crowd behaviour. Also, laser shows are soooo not Metallica. Not in the slightest. They’re more Def Leppard circa 1991-2. I know because I saw Def Leppard in concert when I was 11 (Bloody good rock show too, as I recall).

 

The music is excellent, even if one suspects the audio has probably been ‘sweetened’ somewhat to make the band sound even better than they are (It’s a movie, though, so who really cares?). Also, fans of both Metallica and horror movies will be happy to see guitarist Kirk Hammett playing both a Lugosi “White Zombie” guitar and later a Karloff “Mummy” guitar.

 

Forget the mini-movie/plot, and just enjoy the music (especially if “Ride the Lightning” is your favourite album by the band, as it is for me) because that’s the only worthwhile thing here in this lazy cash-grab by a band already on thin ice in the last couple of decades with fans. Nice try at something a little different, but the plot aspect is so poorly and rarely integrated that it’s pointless and useless. I can’t imagine non-fans getting anything at all out of this and fans can get plenty of filmed Metallica concert videos/DVDs that don’t have the plot stuff tacked on (This has way less swearing than your average Metallica concert as well. No ‘Die, motherfucker, Die!’ during ‘Creeping Death’, disappointingly).

 

I had somewhat of a good time as a fan of the music, but as a film buff…not so much. So, I guess that means an Even Steven rating at best. Terrible ending too, especially if you already own their “Cunning Stunts” video/DVD.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Knock-Off


This embarrassing actioner is the worst thing that Belgian spin-kicker Jean Claude Van Damme and Hong Kong director Tsui Hark (the wildly imaginative “Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain” and “Double Team”, a previous Van Damme film of dubious merit) have ever been involved in, and it also proves to be the second dud screenplay the normally reliable Steven E. de Souza (“Commando”, “The Running Man”, “Die Hard”) has written for a Van Damme movie. He was previously the writer-director of the terrible “Street Fighter”, about which the less said, the better. Apparently Van Damme (whose other turkeys include “Derailed”, “Black Eagle”, “The Quest”, and “The Order”) had kicked the drug habit by this stage, but after watching this, I have to question if anyone at all was working sober on this ridiculous, insultingly awful film. Drugs are bad, people. Drugs are very, very bad. I mean, this film finds some truly spectacular ways to be thoroughly dreadful from its opening moment to the very end. It is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen in my 34 years on this Earth. And if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know I’ve seen a helluva lot of movies over the years.

 

The film certainly boasts one of the two or three worst premises for an action movie I’ve encountered in my movie-watching life; Van Damme and the seriously miscast Rob Schneider play a couple of  Hong Kong fashion designers (!!) who specialise in jeans of questionable quality (i.e. knock-offs) ready to be sent to the US. It seems someone has interfered with their goods and stuffed in them hi-tech tiny explosives that for some reason result in giant green balls of fire. Yes, green explosions run rampant across this film. Green. Fucking. Explosions. The plot has already descended into psychedelic levels of cinematic ineptitude at this point, but believe me, the wretchedness of this tale doesn’t end there. Lela Rochon (didn’t she used to almost be somebody once?) plays the ball-breaking company investigator who is wise to our supposedly likeable rogue protagonists’ dubious ways and is coming down on them hard (not in the good way, either). Paul Sorvino (!) turns up as a CIA man who is secretly meeting with an undercover agent, who turns out to be one of our two main protagonists (I won’t reveal which). Michael Wong and model Carman Lee play a couple of tough HK cops investigating things (though the latter gets dispensed with jarringly early), and somehow we get the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese worked into the film as a backdrop, though it’s not treated as any more than that. Aside from that it’s all double crosses, triple crosses, bad guys who you thought were good, good guys who you thought were bad, people who are undercover agents, and none of it is particularly coherent. And more pathetic green explosions. The worst CGI-assisted explosions ever.

 

Oh my Lord does this movie consist of seven flavours of suck. After about the fourth or fifth character reveals they aren’t as they appear to be, it has gone beyond tiresome and moved to just plain aggravating. Tsui Hark’s direction is nauseatingly obnoxious, masturbatory stuff that seems like a parody of the sort of style that he made famous in Hong Kong (I really liked “Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain”, which helped inspire John Carpenter to make the brilliant “Big Trouble in Little China”). I don’t want to start any false rumours, but watching this you’d swear the director (who seems like a nice enough guy, from interviews) had snorted the entire supply of cocaine on planet Earth before each day’s shooting. Meanwhile, the post-production dubbing is seriously some of the worst I’ve come across outside of a Jackie Chan movie. Honestly, after I while I became convinced that Wong Jing (who was responsible for Chan’s worst film, “City Hunter”) was the writer-director behind this, until I remembered he’s at least done some good work (“The Seventh Curse”, “The Last Blood”).

 

The direction may be obnoxious and the dubbing terrible, but Schneider manages to be both. Whoever thought it was a good idea to cast this guy in a semi-serious role should be taken out and shot. Schneider is painfully out of his depth here, and he and Van Damme create the worst buddy movie team of all-time (I’m especially hyperbolic today. Deal with it!). Van Damme for his part seems relatively fit, but he’s just not given anything to do action-wise. His few stunts are ruined by slow-mo antics that you’d normally associate with a Steven Seagal film from his ‘post-giving a crap’ period. And once again, I have to say, physically fit or not, he appears to be coked out of his eyeballs the entire time here. I’m just sayin’. Rochon is totally hot and an underrated actress, but there’s no way that she, Schneider and Van Damme belong in the same movie. It’s just a wrong, wrong mixture. Paul Sorvino is an extremely talented actor, and is so much better than this turkey. Did he lose money at the track? Why would he lower himself to this unholy mess?

 

Apparently Michael Wong’s a pretty big deal in HK action, but I found him rather dull, and was much more interested in Carman Lee, who sadly lets Wong do all the work, a wasted opportunity. Apparently the late (and troubled) Leslie Cheung (RIP) has a cameo here as a mechanic, but I never spotted him and won’t bother going back to look for him.

 

The cinematography by Arthur Wong and the HK scenery are terrific, but the film is a turd of epic proportions. Sorry, but it is.

 

Rating: F

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: The Bling Ring


Young Israel Broussard is brought into the fold of a group of vacuous teenage girls (Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien) who go online to read the whereabouts of various celebutants (Paris, Lindsay, Rachel Bilson, etc.), and turn up at their houses when they are out of town. There they hang out, goof off, and steal. The cops seem awfully slow on the uptake here, but you know it won’t be long before their larcenous exploits see them in a world of trouble. Leslie Mann plays the spaced-out mother of one of the girls.

 

This true story could’ve made for an interesting and enjoyable motion picture. Instead, writer-director Sofia Coppola (whose “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation” underwhelmed me) gives us a vacuous film about vacuous people. That’s not clever, it’s stupid and entirely pointless. Welcome to the emptiest film of 2013. Aside from the fact that one of them is a bloke, one of them is Asian, and one of them is Emma Watson, the characters are empty, interchangeable non-entities whom at no point does Coppola make an attempt to understand or give depth to. I don’t think Coppola was trying to be ironic in making a shallow film, I think the biggest clue to what Coppola has done here lies in the fact that some of it was filmed in Paris Hilton’s house, and the formerly relevant celebutant has a cameo in the film. It says everything you need to know about Ms. Hilton (one wonders what the other celebrity victims think about all of this being dredged up on the big screen), but it also seems to reveal that Ms. Coppola is really just giving us an empty, superficial film for the celebutant-obsessed crowd, and not out of some self-reflexive irony, either. The only ironic thing in the entire film is the casting of Emma Watson as one of the young hooligans. Watson is, although also an actress, a Gen Y fashion icon/celebutant herself.

 

Is Coppola trying to say that these young criminals idolise the celebrities? I don’t think they really do, as they are stealing from them. They want their clothes and their lifestyle, but that doesn’t really mean that they idolise the celebutants themselves. I doubt the real-life girls were actual fans of the people whose property they stole. That’s an overly simplistic cop-out, trying to blame the vacuous celebutant culture for the actions of this youngsters. These kids are crims, not every young celebrity in this modern pop culture has a criminal record. Emma Watson, for instance. What these twits really wanted was the clothes, the material things that these celebrities/celebutants have. And they stole from them. There’s plenty of youngsters out there who idolise rich celebrities, and they don’t all steal, like these kids did. There should be a reason for that. By seemingly not realising this, and by not fleshing out who these kids are and why they are the way they are, Coppola has presented us with 80 minutes of less than nothing. That it could’ve potentially been something is really quite aggravating and frustrating.

 

There’s one line in the film that seems to explain the motivation of the characters (I won’t spoil it), and the fact that Coppola thinks that one line is enough, is disgraceful. Similarly, Watson’s big speech towards the end is pathetically unconvincing, and surely not based on truth. She gets another speech at the very end that’s almost as dumb and unbelievable too. None of these characters are likeable, distinguishable, nor do they have a second dimension among them. Disaffected youth has never been so…empty. “The River’s Edge” it ain’t.

 

Coppola also refuses to show much of how these delinquents managed to get into these homes, for the most part, which is infuriating. The break-in scenes get awfully repetitive after 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, true story or not, nothing about Leslie Mann’s performance in this film remotely convinces. She plays a complete moron in such caricatured fashion that it almost has the film playing this real-life situation filtered through “Mean Girls”, but minus any laughs whatsoever.

 

What a stupid, empty non-film. I’m sorry, but Sofia Coppola is not a good filmmaker at all. I find her films elusive to the point of emptiness and this one’s not even elusive, just empty. One of the ten worst films of 2013, for sure.

 

Rating: D

Review: Getaway


Ethan Hawke stars as a former professional race car driver who left the industry after being branded too dangerous. Now he is being forced by a mostly unseen mystery man (the decidedly un-mysterious Jon Voight, with an “Anaconda”-level bad Germanic accent), to take a heavily-armoured Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake and drive it wherever the hell he tells him to, in as reckless and destructive manner as need be. You see, Voight (who communicates with Hawke through the car’s speakers and has cameras all over the car’s interior) has nabbed Hawke’s wife and will kill her if Hawke does not do exactly what he tells him to do. Car chases and vehicular homicides en masse ensue. In Bulgaria, I might add. Meanwhile, there’s also the little matter of the car’s young owner (Selena Gomez), who hops into the passenger seat demanding Hawke give her the car back. Girl, you just walked into something you have no idea about. No worries, though, Voight lets the girl come along for the fun and games too. Just why is Voight asking Hawke to drive in such a crazy manner and causing chaos on the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria? Bruce Payne plays Voight’s chief henchman, and Paul Freeman turns up at the end in a role best discovered for yourself.

 

From what I understand, this 2013 film has about a 3% rating on the popular RottenTomatoes.com, which is absolutely pitiful. The critics gave this one a royal shit-kicking. I don’t think my reviews make it to RottenTomatoes.com, and even if they did, I don’t think that rating would change. But damn it, I liked this film and I’ll wear that proudly. Well, until I see the film a second time one day and wonder what the hell I was thinking. But until that day, flame away, haters, this is a speedy, nifty little B-movie (It’s from Dark Castle, B-movies are their thing) that barely stopped long enough for me to think about its implausibility. In the moment, I enjoyed it. Well, aside from Jon Voight’s dodgy accent, but more on that later.

 

Not yet another remake of the 70s Steve McQueen film, but nonetheless a somewhat like-minded, car-centric film, this 2013 film from director Courtney Solomon (perhaps best known for the failed “Dungeons and Dragons”) is essentially one big-arse car chase film. I was particularly pleased with the way Solomon and cinematographer Yaron Levy (the 2013 crapfest “Fright Night II”) chose to shoot this film. At times they are working with low levels of light on DV, but at no point did it get murky or monochromatic. Solomon proves himself quite the visual stylist, even if I’m a philistine when it comes to digital filmmaking. Best of all, it is shot relatively free of the shakes. Also, this film probably contains the most cop cars (and other vehicles) destroyed on camera since “The Blues Brothers”. I honestly can’t believe that no one died whilst doing stunts on this film, it contains some of the most reckless driving of any motion picture I’ve ever seen (all crashes are apparently real and free of CGI, according to IMDb. Make of that what you will), and kept me buckled-in throughout. The car chases are excellently done, especially the climactic one, which is superlative and contains one very long, unbroken POV shot that almost deserves a standing ovation. The main car used in the film, supposedly a Shelby Super Snake Mustang, is freaking insane, and apparently so rare (and presumably mucho expensive) that the company had to make cars specifically for use in this film. If you love your cars, you’ll love this one, for sure.

 

Does the film have flaws? Sure. The music score by Justin Caine Burnett was probably the biggest irritant for me, it sounded cheap and video game-esque. I also didn’t like Jon Voight putting on an unnecessary, poor ‘foreign’ accent for the film. It’s silly and unconvincing, and the actor is barely making an effort here. I also thought it was stupid that they tried to hide his face for 99.99% of the film. It was so obviously him from the very start that the big deal they try to make out of the reveal is laughable. Selena Gomez was also a sore point for me in this film. Her actual performance was accomplished enough for me to think that she might be quite good in another role in another film, but she is all kinds of wrong her. Tiny and cherub-faced, she looks barely older than a toddler, and cast as a muscle car enthusiast and troubled rich girl (who dabbles in computer hacking) she is completely miscast. She tries her best, but no dice. The girl didn’t look tall enough to see over the steering wheel without a booster seat let alone look old enough to have a licence to drive, let alone convincingly play someone with a genuine interest and knowledge of cars. Didn’t buy her at all, couldn’t they have at least cast someone slightly more ‘streetwise’ looking, Kat Dennings maybe? She also didn’t convince as the type to move to Bulgaria, even under duress. Character actor Bruce Payne deserves a mention here. The poor fella has gone from playing the villain in “Passenger 57”, to replacing Julian Sands as the title character in the “Warlock” film series, to a mere bit part in this. Presumably doing his “Dungeons and Dragons” director a favour, he’s a pretty decent actor and deserves much better than a mere walk-on, if you ask me, and so does Paul Freeman, a veteran character actor you might remember from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It was a shame Solomon didn’t utilise their (modest but undeniable) talents more.

 

Amazingly, these flaws (and the notion of so many non-Bulgarians hanging out in Bulgaria) don’t detract too much from the overall product, and Ethan Hawke, unusual choice for this kind of thing or not (you’d think Nic Cage would’ve jumped at this script), provides an immediately likeable and empathetic protagonist. And that’s important given he probably injures the fuck out of a lot of people in this film, possibly even killing them, in addition to the massive auto carnage.

 

Minimalist and high-concept schlock to its core, you’d swear it was written by Larry Cohen (Expedient high-concept thrillers like “Phone Booth” and “Cellular”), but the script is credited to debutants Sean Finegan and Gregg Maxwell Parker. I know it’s silly as hell and probably has a million credibility gaps, but during its 90 minutes (Unlike the drearily overextended and mistitled “Speed”), I didn’t give a crap. I was too busy being on edge and hanging on for dear life…which is weird because I was sitting in a wheelchair at the time, not a muscle car.

 

If you like all car chases all the time, this one’s for you, and if you loathe cars, well you’ve hopefully stopped reading by now anyway. I’m not much of a revhead really, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the film on a completely mindless, in-the-moment level. It’s the best “Fast and the Furious” movie to never be associated with that mediocre franchise. Add me to the 3%, officially or unofficially, but 97% of you are wrong on this one. Just bear in mind that I’m also the only person who enjoyed Solomon’s previous “An American Haunting”.

 

Rating: B-