About This Blog

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

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Pete’s Dragon

Sean Marshall is young orphan Pete, whose best friend is a dragon no one else seems to be able to see. Fleeing the filthy Grogan clan (Shelley Winters, Charles Tyner, and Jeff Conaway) who wish to ‘own’ the boy, Pete ends up in the small town of Passamaquoddy, where lighthouse keeper Mickey Rooney and his daughter Helen Reddy take the boy in. Reddy won’t hear any talk of this dragon, though, but drunk Rooney claims to have seen it for himself. Meanwhile, travelling snake oil salesman Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale, with top hat and English accent- he’s the villain) and his associate Hoagy (Red Buttons) arrive, and when Dr. Terminus gets wind of the story of Pete’s dragon, he sees dollar signs, and tries to catch it for himself. It’s invisible, it doesn’t go well. Jim Backus has a cameo as the Mayor of Passamaquoddy.


Another attempt by Disney to mix live-action with animation, ala “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, this 1977 fantasy from director Don Chaffey (“Jason and the Argonauts”, “One Million Years B.C.”) and screenwriter Malcolm Marmorstein (“Return From Witch Mountain”) is neither as bad as I expected, nor anywhere near as enchanting as “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. For me, what actually holds it back is the very thing most people (even those who dislike it) tend to praise: The title character. The animation has dated badly (using it for scenes set in broad daylight was a mistake), and the voice given to the dragon by Charlie Callas is an insipid disaster. It renders the character sans personality, let alone voice. And that surprises me, because the animation department on this film features known names like Animation Director (and Disney traitor) Don Bluth (who worked on Disney’s “Robin Hood” before making his own animated films like “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time”), Ken Anderson (screenwriter of “Pinocchio” and “The AristoCats”), and Ron Clements (Co-director of “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”) as one of the character animators. Whoever actually came up with the idea of the voice itself is a tool. Callas makes it sound like a muffled fart.


The central conceit is cute in theory, but the execution is poor, though there’s some fun to be had in the scenes where the dragon is invisible to the audience and causing slapstick calamities. For the most part, though, the dragon is not remotely interesting or endearing, and pretty much the only drawback to the film. Sadly, it’s a pretty big drawback, a one-note character who should’ve remained invisible, ala “Harvey” the rabbit. Speaking of rabbits, those who want some animation with their live-action best watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” instead. That 1988 film finally got the mix right. Thankfully, there’s enough human interest to have kept me awake, as the film works best as a comedy, oddly enough. The funniest thing about the whole film is that the only person other than young Sean Marshall (who isn’t too bad in the lead) who can see the dragon is a drunk Mickey Rooney. He’s mugging mercilessly but The Mick is fun, if unsubtle. He steals the film, really, and does a better job of selling the dopey dragon than the animators do! I also enjoyed the early work by Shelley Winters, Charles Tyner, and an unrecognisable Jeff Conaway. Winters and Tyner can’t sing for the life of them, but are nonetheless very, very funny, especially the latter. I’m not a fan of musicals, but hearing these grotty, unpleasant people singing about all the horrible things they’re gonna do to little Pete is genuinely funny, and a tad dark for Disney. The songs aren’t exactly memorable, and the singing is uneven, but they are undoubtedly lively and upbeat. Disney songs ended up taking themselves way too seriously from about the 1990s onwards. I do wish there weren’t so many songs, though.


Ex-pat Aussie Helen Reddy is surprisingly charismatic and appealing in an admittedly not terribly interesting role. She’s also quite clearly the best singer in the film, and although no Angela Lansbury on screen, she’s not as insufferably Julie Andrews-ish as…well, Julie Andrews. Jim Dale and Red Buttons seem to have wandered in from “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” or one of Disney’s slapstick-oriented live-action films, but like I said, the film works better on that level anyway (The whole thing is like a blend of that film, “Harvey”, “Mary Poppins” and “Oliver!”). Dale is particularly effective, though Buttons is amusing in drag at one point. It’s completely shocking and wrong, but the bit where Dale (who I swear looks dressed like the villainous fox from “Pinocchio” but in human form) claims he has a potion that’ll bring on Pete’s puberty two years early is hilarious. How the hell did that gag make its way into a film like this?


This obviously isn’t a good film, and the animation is as far from seamless as the film’s tone is. However, it’s nowhere near as bad as reputed by some, and certainly not the clunker I was expecting. It’s just that the title character sucks arse, and at over two hours, it’s at least 30 minutes too long. The screenplay is based on a story by S.S. Field & Seton I. Miller (The latter of whom worked on “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “The Sea Hawk”, and “Ministry of Fear”).


Rating: C+

Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: Petals on the Wind

10 years after Cathy (Rose McIver), Christopher (Wyatt Nash) and Carrie (Bailey Buntain) escaped the attic, their treacherous mother (Heather Graham), and cold-hearted grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), we follow the kids’ attempt to move on. Cathy goes to New York to become a ballerina, and falls for the tempestuous star Julien (Will Kemp). Christopher studies medicine under doctor Nick Searcy and becomes involved with his sweet, naïve Southern belle daughter (Whitney Hoy). But Cathy and Christopher still find themselves drawn to one another in that way that dare not speak its name. Meanwhile, their young sister Carrie has troubles fitting in at boarding school. All the while Cathy is waiting for her opportunity to get revenge on her grandmother and her mother, the latter by sleeping with her dopey husband (Dylan Bruce).


I loathed the botch-job director Deborah Chow and screenwriter Kayla Alpert did to V.C. Andrews’ “Flowers in the Attic”, but since this 2014 TV movie from the same writer was my first experience with “Petals in the Wind” I found the experience better. It still sucks, though, even if like “Flowers” it may well be faithful to the source. Directed this time by Karen Moncrieff (yes, of “The Dead Girl”) one gets the feeling, though, that what we’re getting here is the Cliff notes version, and it all probably plays out better on the printed page. For starters, the film opens at the funeral of a character we’ve never actually met. And later, a car accident and baby revelation come from out of nowhere, feeling rushed. Also, since Ellen Burstyn’s and Heather Graham’s characters were laid so completely exposed by the end of the first film, it leaves this one feeling largely redundant, as I’d feared. Somewhere towards the end of this one, Cathy remarks towards her grandmother; ‘All these years I had nightmares about you. You’re just a pathetic old hag!’. Yes, Cathy, but she was just a pathetic old hag in the previous film as well. That’s the damn problem. Burstyn is a bit better this time around, but her character wasn’t strong enough or frightening enough in the previous film to make her feeble physical appearance here really count for something.


As was the case in the previous film, the incest angle is the only thing that works here, and boy do they not shy away from it. Hell, they damn near make Cathy and Christopher seem like normal, well-adjusted human beings…compared to the other freaks in the film. Aside from Burstyn and the woeful Will Kemp, the performances aren’t terrible. In fact, I really liked the work done by Whitney Hoy, as the redheaded Reese Witherspoon-lookalike Southern belle Christopher shacks up with. She’s so sweet you actually feel sorry for the situation she has innocently walked into, in more ways than one. Familiar character actor Nick Searcy is pretty wasted as her doctor father, though.


Although not quite as bad as the previous film, this is actually really tedious, clichéd stuff, with Cathy half-heartedly going all “Black Swan” (before the angle is never mentioned again) and young Carrie facing bullying problems at boarding school. Real soap opera stuff, but with incest thrown in, and poorly done. The “Black Swan” stuff is particularly bad because, although Cathy shows herself to be revenge-minded in terms of her mother and grandmother, we are given absolutely no indication that she’d do what she does here to get ahead in the ballet world, and not for one moment did I buy it. Poor Heather Graham, well-cast as she is, has a particularly bad time of it this time around. That’s because the majority of her scenes feel like she’s waiting to get written into the story. The film definitely needed to be longer, or preferably never made at all if this was the best Moncrieff and Alpert could do.


I had less of an agonising time with this one, but if I’m being honest, most of that has to do with the fact that I came into this one not having read the book nor has there been any previous film or TV version. It’s still really poorly done all-round, but watch out for Whitney Hoy in the future. She’s got something.


Rating: D+