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, March 14, 2015

Review: Body Heat


Set in hot, steamy Florida (shot during cold, frigid winter!), William Hurt stars as a somewhat gullible lawyer with lustful intentions towards Kathleen Turner. Although she plays a little hard to get, it’s not long before they are in the midst of a window-breaking (literally), torrid affair. But Turner is married to a rich businessman, an older man played by Richard Crenna. She says they have a pre-nup and the only way she can get to his money is if he dies first. And that gets Hurt to thinking, something he’s not exactly brilliant at or else he’d see the shitload of trouble ahead of him. Chicks, man. Ted Danson and J.A. Preston play Hurt’s two acquaintances (the former an assistant DA, the latter a cop), whilst Mickey Rourke turns up as a former arsonist Hurt once defended, whose ‘knowledge’ Hurt seeks at one point.

 

So quintessentially, plagiaristically (is that a word? Well, it is now) Brian De Palma…and yet it was written and directed by debutant director Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”, “I Love You to Death”, “Grand Canyon”). Go figure. This steamy 1981 noir won’t win any prizes for originality, in fact it’s pretty much “Double Indemnity” in colour, but it is nonetheless entertaining and really well-made on every level. I’m not sure I’d cast the rather aloof, almost creepy William Hurt in the Fred MacMurray role in a steamy thriller, but I can see why Kasdan cast him. He’s not the most expressive actor, but you do get the sense of him being completely infatuated with Kathleen Turner and driven to murderous intentions. He’s a sap, but not a total one, as he’s the one who suggests the murder…or has Turner simply made him think he’s the one to suggest it?

 

This is Kathleen Turner’s film all the way, though, it’s a truly wonderful film debut. She’s definitely got the Barbara Stanwyck role (yet playing it with a heavy dose of husky-voiced Lauren Bacall), and the future Jessica Rabbit is a natural fit for such a sultry, femme fatale part. And it’s no easy thing, not every actress can do the 40s femme fatale thing, just look at Hillary Swank in “The Black Dahlia”. Who would’ve known Turner would turn into a German-accented transvestite years later? Yes, I will continue to tell that joke. I mean, have you heard her lately? As much as “Romancing the Stone” was a great showcase for her, this was the part Turner was born to play- and it was her first!

 

He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but Richard Crenna is instantly perfect as the husband. Like in “Wait Until Dark” he’s playing a believably affable guy who may be (and in the earlier film, was) sinister beneath that external fa├žade of respectability. One of the things that I liked about the film was that Crenna’s character isn’t an abusive monster or anything, and thus murdering him makes Hurt- our protagonist- look somewhat amoral. That can be a tricky thing without making us lose interest in the lead character, but it works here. Mickey Rourke also only appears briefly, but gives one of his better earlier performances here as Hurt’s criminal acquaintance. Meanwhile, stealing their every scene are J.A. Preston and a bespectacled Ted Danson, who may have been letting casting directors know he could fill in for Christopher Reeve any time. Preston, best known as the judge in “A Few Good Men”, is just shy of being too big and theatrical for his role. It’s a colourful character part, and he reins it in just enough to get away with it (The film itself is just shy of being overworked, too). Danson always plays Danson, to one degree or another, but his kind of laidback presence here is a great way for him to be noticed, given how frustrated Hurt is and how horny Turner is.

 

Although I think the film is sweaty and humid rather than ‘steamy’, it’s a bloody good try and really well-shot by cinematographer Richard H. Kline (“Camelot”, “The Andromeda Strain”, “Howard the Duck”). It’s hazy and smoky, but it absolutely suits this material. I also loved the jazzy score by old pro John Barry (“Dr. No”, “The Quiller Memorandum”, “Robin and Marian”, “Dances With Wolves”). But at the end of the day, this is easily Turner’s film for the taking (especially in the first half), creating a classic but standout femme fatale that is perhaps even more memorable than the film itself. It’s a strong debut by her, and to an extent Kasdan. His only flaw is that he takes things just a tad too slow, especially since it’s hardly a new story being told here. Still, of all the ‘modern’ derivatives of this basic set-up, this is probably the best of the bunch.

 

Rating: B 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Review: Mandingo


Set in Louisiana in the mid-1800s, James Mason stars as Warren Maxwell, a racist plantation owner and wealthy slave trader. His limping son Hammond (Perry King) is to wed the histrionic and selfish Blanche (Susan George), but Hammond much prefers the company of slave Ellen (Brenda Sykes) as his ‘bed wench’, especially when he finds out that Blanche lied about being a virgin. Blanche, meanwhile, becomes unhinged with jealousy over her husband’s preference for slave girls and starts to make moves on Mede (boxer Ken Norton), the ‘Mandingo’ fighter Hammond bought at the same time he bought Ellen. Poor Mede isn’t in any position to refuse Blanche’s advances, either, or else she’ll cry ‘rape!’. Richard Ward and Ji-Tu Cumbuka play slaves named Agamemnon and Cicero, the former of whom tries to keep Mede and Cicero from speaking or acting out of turn (Slaves are forbidden to read, for instance). Paul Benedict plays a slave-trading associate of Warren’s, and Ben Masters plays Blanche’s brutal, racist, and frankly creepy incestuous brother (Who, along with Blanche, are Hammond’s first cousins, by the way. Yep, this is one well-adjusted family right here, even without the obvious racism and brutality). That’s the extremely fit Earl Maynard (“The Silent Flute”) as a strangely West Indian-accented slave whom Mede has a rumble with at one point.

 

I don’t normally like to review cut versions of films, but since this 1975 racial drama from director Richard Fleischer (Fine films such as “Fantastic Voyage” and “The Vikings”, and the corny but watchable “Red Sonja”) and screenwriter Norman Wexler (The excellent “Serpico”, the pathetic “Saturday Night Fever”, and Schwarzenegger’s terrible “Raw Deal”) has only been released uncut in the US it seems, I think it’s fair enough for me to review this ‘International’ version of the film. Besides, as much as I’m a fan of the naked female form, there’s no amount of sex, nudity, or violence that could really rescue this film, which sits rather uncomfortably between “Roots”-style serious drama and Blaxploitation/sexploitation trash. The credit ‘Dino De Laurentiis presents’ says it all, really.

 

I’ve read that this film was trying to rebuke the Hollywood view of the South in films from preceding decades like “Gone With the Wind” and the notorious “Song of the South”, but Fleischer and Wexler (presumably by order of Mr. De Laurentiis) go way too far. I mean, you’ve heard of pot-boilers, right? This film literally gives us African-American slaves being tortured by roasting them in the biggest goddamn boiling pot you’ve seen outside of Looney Tunes. No, I don’t believe the claims that this film was trying to set the record straight about the horrors of the South for African-Americans. When you see James Mason ordering African-American children to act as foot-rests, you know this is just Dino De Laurentiis trying to dress up a Blaxploitation film. The thing is, a lot of Blaxploitation films are fun. I really don’t see anyone finding this thing fun. Quentin Tarantino managed to pull it off miraculously in his best film to date, “Django Unchained”, but that film had a lot more going on than just a tribute to/upgrade of “Mandingo” (It is not, however. As good or important as “Roots”, QT. Get your head out of your arse!). And the black guy was the lead in that film, whereas here, the racist white folk are the leads, which just boggles the mind.

 

Former boxer Ken Norton makes zero impression in the title role, he’s barely even in the film’s first hour, which is insane. Much better is gravel-voiced Richard Ward as slave Agamemnon, and Ben Masters is OK as a brutal bigot with a hankering for his sister, played by Susan George. Perry King doesn’t make much of an impression at all in a rather crucial role, but he’s never been much of an actor, and Irene Tedrow might’ve done well had she actually been given a role worth a damn here, she’s barely in it here as a midwife. The rest of the performances are pretty rank, with the spectacularly miscast James Mason and poor Ms. George faring especially poorly. I thought Mason’s Southern accent in “Cold Sweat” was bad, but boy is he awful here (Paul Benedict’s Southern accent is appalling, too but Mason is in much more of the film than Benedict). He’s an excellent actor, not that you’d know it here. It’s absolutely the worst performance of his career, and he’s quite embarrassing. The late Roger Ebert put it most hilariously when writing in his review: ‘What James Mason, as the old master of Falconhurst, is doing in this film is beyond me; He told one interviewer he needed the money for his alimony payments, but surely jail would have been better.’ Susan George’s Southern accent is a bit better than Mason’s, but she ends up pretty ridiculous in an already pretty ridiculous, overblown film. Her big scene with a pregnant servant is incredibly embarrassing. I almost feel sorry for her. Composer Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Dr. Zhivago”, “A Passage to India”) is a respected name, but he perhaps more than anyone should be ashamed of himself here. His music score is terrible, with the African tribal drumming being particularly offensive. What the fuck was he thinking with that shit? By far the film’s strongest asset is the cinematography by Richard H. Kline (“The Andromeda Strain”, “Body Heat”, “Howard the Duck”), which even in a faded print shows off some mighty pretty scenery.

 

This film might bring up a lot of worthy stuff, but not with a high-minded purpose. With more restraint, it might’ve been something, and bear in mind I’m saying this about the already censored International version. I would imagine that the American cut of the film is even harder to stomach. If De Laurentiis (the wonderful “Barbarella”, the awful 1976 “King Kong”, the interminable “Dune”) wants to go about exploiting everyone and everything- fine! The problem is he hasn’t done it in an interesting or entertaining fashion, though it was quite a box-office success in its day for some reason.

 

The film is more boring than dreadful, it plays like a stale third-rate TV miniseries crossed with a trashy exploitation film. This isn’t an abysmal film, just a boring and poor one best forgotten with the sands of time. I’m not sure there’s even much curio value, though I’m sure QT sees merit in it (He also dislikes “Roots”, which I find mind-boggling. It’s the greatest miniseries of all-time, along with “Shogun”).

 

Rating: C-

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review: Adventures in Babysitting


High school senior Elisabeth Shue isn’t having a good day, after her jerk boyfriend (the perfectly cast Bradley Whitford) stands her up. And now she’s being asked to babysit nerdy teen Keith Coogan (who lusts after Shue, only a few years older than him) and his Thor-obsessed kid sister Maia Brewton. Also turning up is Coogan’s even nerdier friend Anthony Rapp. When Shue receives a call from her friend Penelope Ann Miller to say she regrets having run away from home, and broke, she needs a lift home, Shue and the kids make the trek into the city. Unfortunately, the journey is full of mishaps involving jealous tow-truck drivers, car thieves, menacing crooks, and surly mechanics (the latter played by Vincent D’Onofrio). Oh, and there’s a Playboy magazine featuring a centrefold that looks an awful lot like Shue. George Newbern turns up as a nice guy college student, Ron Canada is a crook, Calvin Levels a soft-centred car thief, and a young Lolita Davidovich (billed as Lolita David) turns up briefly at a party.

 

I probably shouldn’t have left watching this 1987 teen flick from debut director Chris Columbus (“Home Alone”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, writer of the seminal kiddie adventure flick “The Goonies”) and writer David Simkins (who went on to write episodes of “Lois & Clark”, “Charmed”, and “Warehouse 13”) until now, but what can I say? It escaped me all these years. And now that I’ve seen it? Meh. I’ve never been a fan of this ‘one crazy night in the city’-type plot (“After Hours”, “Cold Dog Soup”, “Date Night”, etc.), but it’s not a bad entry in that subgenre, I guess. It’s a good showcase for the charismatic and stunningly beautiful Elisabeth Shue (in a role that, amusingly to pop culture nerds like me both Christina Applegate and Nicole Eggert, among others auditioned for), but not much else.

 

It has been a bit overrated by some, to be honest and only sporadically amusing. The blues club scene in particular is cringe-worthy, though everyone else seems to consider it the high point of the film (That’s OK, you’re allowed to be wrong). Keith Coogan is well-cast as a likeable nerd, juvenile TV actress Maia Brewton steals scenes as she always tended to, and there’s a funny bit where they accept a lift from a hook-handed tow-truck driver who drives them to his house to confront his wife and her lover. He shoots, the kids get into the lovers car…and find themselves in the presence of car thief Calvin Levels. Clever, and Mr. Levels proves to be something altogether different the more time the protagonists spend with him. However, do I need to point out that when Shue says ‘I’m too old to babysit’, my reaction was ‘That ain’t the half of it, sister’? Things get even more Gabrielle Carteris (look her up, kids) when Penelope Ann Miller turns up as Shue’s best friend. It was only three years later she’d play the mother of a kindergartener in 1990’s “Kindergarten Cop” for cryin’ out loud (Meanwhile, Keith Coogan would apparently need babysitting again four years later in the not dissimilar “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead”, with Christina Applegate).

 

Maybe worth a glance on TV if you’re a Shue fan, or wanna know what Lolita Davidovich’s natural hair colour is, though she only has a cameo. Pretty sure Vincent D’Onofrio ain’ a natural blond, by the way.  Oh, and don’t listen to IMDb, it’s not known as “A Night on the Town” in Australia. I saw it on cable under “Adventures in Babysitting”. Not sure what’s going on there.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: Farewell, My Queen


Set in the late 1700s as France is on the verge of Revolution, the film takes the point of view of one of the few devoted to the reigning Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). As unrest spooks most out of the Queen’s palace, a beautiful young servant, the Queen’s reader Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) refuses to flee. Charged with judging reading material appropriate to the Queen’s ever-changing mood, the younger woman is romantically infatuated with the somewhat temperamental Queen, and is seemingly willing to die for her. However, the Queen’s heart lies with another, Duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen), her lover for quite some time now. Outside, meanwhile, the rebelling citizens are drawing a list of offending Royals and aristocrats to behead (286 names in total!).

 

Released in Australia in 2013, this French-Spanish drama comes with a cracker of a premise, as well as a volatile backdrop of France on the eve of Revolution. It’s a solid film, well-acted and often fascinating. Why the fuck aren’t all films on Marie Antoinette centred around her lesbian leanings, damn it? Yes, I’m a pervert. Your point? However, what’s disappointing about it is that it squanders the potential for genuine eroticism. It centres around a young woman who has lustful longings for Marie Antoinette (who in turn is madly in love with the Duchesse Gabrielle de Polignac), and yet…the film never delivers the goods with any of these couplings. It’s infuriatingly chaste, as the sexiest the film gets is a pair of nude scenes. I honestly couldn’t believe it, but it’s not just the sexual activity that is lacking (I’m a perve, but hopefully not a single-minded one), but there isn’t quite enough depth to the actual relationships between these three women in my opinion, a much more crucial flaw. I could accept a chaste approach if I were still able to invest in the characters and their relationships. There aren’t nearly enough scenes between Lea Seydoux and Diane Kruger, and Kruger and Virginie Ledoyen to really get invested in either relationship. It’s so frustratingly understated, but also underdone.

 

Part of the problem may be that the position that the Seydoux character is in, requires that she doesn’t mix with the queen all that often, and true the film is about longing and somewhat unrequited love, but still, there’s too few scenes between the characters for my liking. It’s almost as if there’s a second act missing here in the screenplay by director Benoit Jacquot (“The School of Flesh”) and co-writer Gilles Taurand.

 

And yet, the film has enough positive qualities to still earn a passing grade, amazingly enough. Firstly, and most superficially, the three central women are absolutely gorgeous. Seydoux has a marvellous bust, and a truly, truly outstanding body overall. The camera wants to have its way with her. As for Ms. Ledoyen? I want one. Diane Kruger in my opinion has never looked more beautiful, despite playing a somewhat aging Queen. It’s a shame that Kruger wasn’t made to look this beautiful as Helen of Troy.

 

The film itself is aesthetically pleasing as you’d expect, with beautiful production/set design and costuming. And the occasional rat thrown in. France was on a downward spiral here folks. The film definitely nails the fear and anxiety over the impending crumbling of an empire. So on the level of a look into the goings on in pre-Revolution France, it’s fascinating stuff. Despite lacking the emotional pull and being quite restrained, stars Diane Kruger and Lea Seydoux try their damndest to compensate, and do a really good job of it. Seydoux does a much better job through her performance of suggesting lust and passion than anything else in the film. Even better is Diane Kruger, showing that even the Queen of France can have woman troubles, and feel helplessly, insanely, and obsessively in love. I have no idea how true any of this is, but it was fascinating and believable. Kruger nails the character’s rather cold, brittle side. She’s a bit cruel at times, but you want to forgive her, given she has a country to run and it’s verging on rebelling against her! I don’t understand why this film isn’t so well-known, but it’s not entirely successful.

 

There’s a lot to like here, but you can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed when it’s all over. And that is down to the development of the relationships that are at the heart of the film. Such a shame, because this could’ve been even better (and hotter) than it is. The screenplay is based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, a work of ‘historical fiction’.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: My Tutor


Matt Lattanzi plays a high school virgin who keeps trying to ‘lose it’, but wacky circumstances continually get in the way. Being that he is failing French, his demanding father (Kevin McCarthy) worries the boy won’t get into Yale. So he hires a French tutor for the strapping young lad. Enter 29 year-old blonde Caren Kaye, who while staying at their house not only tutors the boy in the language of love, she frequently skinny dips at night and sends his hormones in to apoplexy. She wouldn’t be interested in a teenager, right? Nope, but since we’re talking about Matt Lattanzi, you’re supposed to ignore common sense. Crispin Glover plays one of Lattanzi’s pals (Believe me, that’s one of the easier things to swallow here), Arlene Golonka is his wacky mother, Amber Denyse Austin plays a pretty girl at school, and Kitten Natividad’s ‘assets’ are on show as a very mammer-able hooker in a brothel. And no, I will not apologise for that awful joke. Don’t pretend you didn’t giggle.

 

Occupying an odd and unsatisfying place between “Last American Virgin” 80s sex comedy and “Private Lessons” older woman/teen sex fantasy flick, this 1983 film from director George Bowers (“The Hearse”, “Private Resort”) and screenwriter Joe Roberts (who apparently never worked in the industry again) tries to cram way too much stuff in for one movie. The combination of “The Last American Virgin” and “Private Lessons” proves quite irritating actually, because you can’t quite latch on to any one thing when Roberts is throwing out so much stuff from all directions. You’ve got the lead character, the tutor, another hot chick as back-up (the hot Amber Denyse Austin, who sadly never gets naked), the “Risky Business”-esque stuff with the kid, his dad, and college, and the kid and his buddies trying to lose their virginity right out of “The Last American Virgin” or “Porky’s”. All in one 90 minute film. It’s a real mess and ultimately not very satisfying.

 

Casting issues in regards to leads Matt Lattanzi and Caren Kaye don’t help, either, though seeing Olivia Newton-John’s now ex-husband in a film that tries to make aerobics workout montages seem sexy, is quite ironic. All that thrusting in unflattering costumes doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid. Lattanzi is an awful actor, and leaves a black hole at the centre of the film. Kaye’s a genuinely decent actress (It boggles my mind that she left the industry pretty quickly afterwards), but although she is beautiful and has a sexy body, she’s all wrong for this part. Her character in the film is meant to be 29, but being born in 1951, Ms. Kaye was about 33 at the time, and pretty much looks it. A stunningly beautiful 33 years-old, absolutely without question, but definitely 33. There’s definitely a difference between 29 and 33. As a man in my mid-30s, I know the difference all too well. The bigger problem? Lattanzi himself was 25 at the time and looks every bit of 25, maybe older. So we’ve got a May-December set-up going on here between two actors who look like consenting adults (and then some), and are visibly only 8 years apart in age in reality, let alone that 29 really doesn’t seem that scandalous anyway, at least not as scandalous as say 35-45 would be. Then again, this is a film that wants us to believe that a high schooler played by Matt Lattanzi would still be a virgin in his final year. Um…no. With those eyes and that six-pack, he’s not having any trouble getting a root I guarantee you (He does come across as a complete dork, though. I don’t think it’s intentional, however).

 

As I said, Kaye’s performance is technically very competent for this sort of sleaze, but her demeanour and screen persona here send off entirely the wrong vibes. I kept thinking I was watching Lattanzi trying to make it with Doogie Howser’s (Belinda Montgomery) or Kirk Cameron’s (Joanna Kerns) TV mum. A sexy tutor getting it on with her pupil, should absolutely, positively never give off ‘TV mum’ vibes. It’s bizarre, but let me make it perfectly clear that this is a casting problem, not an acting one. Kaye’s sincerity in her performance is actually one of the film’s strongest assets, even if she doesn’t have that essential Sybil Danning/Leslie Easterbrook/Kelly LeBrock vibe. Her sexy body is undoubtedly another asset (or three), of course.

 

But even if you can get over the bizarre central casting, the filmmakers do a total botch job by having the first sex scene come from out of nowhere. There’s not enough investment shown on Kaye’s part, and barely even enough on Lattanzi’s part to let her know he’s interested in her. It’s bizarre that director Bowers ended up a successful editor in the years after this, because it feels so jarringly put together, or maybe it’s merely a flaw in the screenplay. Either way, I think they blew their wad way too soon here for a 90 minute movie. If you still find yourself accepting all of this (and the fact that Lattanzi reads the Kama Sutra after having sex with the tutor), you still have to contend with the fact that the big sex scene is accompanied by an appallingly shrill and loud love song by Kathy Brown called ‘The First Time We Make Love’, that absolutely kills the mood.

 

And even if you can accept all that, you won’t believe how the filmmakers resolve the central romance/relationship. In fact, they barely even try to resolve it. (**** SPOILER ALERT **** Notice that she never actually dumps him, she simply goes to France for a bit and he decides to move on to the other girl. Is he nucking futs? Apparently so. **** END SPOILER ****). The funny thing about this plot, is that when you think about it, it’s not too far removed from something you’d see on video or cable in the 90s, but with a different tone. In the 90s, it’d be a thriller where the tutor would be fucking several members of the family, plotting to kill the wife, running off with the dad, and framing the son, whilst eventually bumping off the dad too. Watch the film and tell me I’m wrong.

 

The usually excellent Kevin McCarthy must’ve lost money at the track, and barely invests anything in his performance here as Lattanzi’s dad. He and Arlene Golonka are beyond wasted. There’s a few chuckles here and there, mostly from Crispin Glover being Crispin Glover (in his movie debut, no less), a cute “The Graduate” reference (It’s computer chips this time, not plastics), and you get to see the notorious Kitten Natividad’s spectacularly huge (and hugely spectacular) mammaries for you Russ Meyer fans out there. Lattanzi fainting at the sight of them is pretty hilarious.

 

So it’s not a dud, just barely average, miscalculated, and having a pretty putrid view of women throughout (Even for this kind of thing. I haven’t even mentioned Katt Shea as a female mud wrestler, or the waitress/whore. Believe me, she really is a waitress/whore). Oh, and whoever advised Lattanzi to skip in the air at the end like a Toyota commercial should be taken out and shot, dug up, taken out and shot again.

 

Rating: C