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, April 4, 2015

Review: Thor: The Dark World


 

Set after the events of “The Avengers”, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is back on Asgard, and his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is now sentenced to imprisonment. A race of dark elves (led by Christopher Eccleston) poses a new threat with something called The Aether. And this is where Thor’s human acquaintance Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) comes in. An ill-advised investigation of some kind of wormhole/inter-dimensional portal has somehow seen Jane become possessed by The Aether. Thor has a plan to use Jane as bait for the dark elves, but unfortunately this means letting Loki loose and forming a shaky alliance with his untrustworthy brother. Their father Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) has no knowledge of this plan, and won’t be happy when he finds out. Kat Dennings returns as Jane’s friend Darcy, with Stellan Skarsgaard back as their scientist colleague Erik, who has gone considerably nuts since we last saw him and has made a public spectacle of himself at Stonehenge. Chris O’Dowd has a cameo as a guy Jane is on a date with, but can’t seem to concentrate on him at all.

 

In what may be the biggest leap forward in quality from originator to sequel, this 2013 film from director Alan Taylor (who has directed episodes of the compelling “Game of Thrones”) is just good enough to earn a solid rating. Just. But given how mediocre (borderline poor) the original was, that’s one helluva jump forward in quality, believe me. In fact, it may be the mild best of these Marvel comic films of late, small praise as that is. The only things I really liked about the first film were the scenes on Asgard, and the solid villainy by Tom Hiddleston. Thankfully, this film is predominantly set on Asgard, and the film is all the better for it. The opening really grabbed me, not only with the otherworldly Vikings shooting lasers, but the genuinely good music score by Brian Tyler (“Frailty”, “The Expendables”). And true to form, Tom Hiddleston immediately steals the film as the treacherous Loki. Sir Anthony Hopkins is also in fine form here as patriarch Odin, making much more of his character than is perhaps on the page. There’s a sadness and a slight bit of madness to go with the gravitas he brings to the part. He, Loki, and Thor make for an interestingly warped, messed-up family dynamic, actually. The other standout here is Stellan Skarsgaard. As much as I prefer the film being on Asgard, I can’t deny that Skarsgaard’s every scene is hilarious. His character has clearly lost his mind, and apparently his clothes.

 

Stan Lee also gets one of his funniest cameos ever, too. I was also glad that the highly underrated and too little seen Rene Russo got more screen time (and dialogue) here than last time. I just wish her role was worth a damn. To be honest, though, I’m not sure Russo’s entirely right for a comic book fantasy setting. I personally would’ve cast Barbara Hershey or ideally Dame Helen Mirren. Then again, Mirren was terrible in “Caligula” and “Excalibur”, so perhaps not. Idris Elba doesn’t get a whole lot to do, but still manages to be the coolest guy in the film, whilst Ray Stevenson is more than able to play essentially the Brian Blessed ham and cheese special role.

 

The film looks positively stupendous, when on Asgard. This is a truly handsomely mounted film, with great set design and colour, and terrific special FX. The giant rock creature at the beginning is genuinely impressive, with great texture and seeming to have weight to it. There’s also a stunning Viking funeral, which I still say is the absolute best way to go out. I can’t claim to be an absolute expert on the specifics of the plot, but whilst on Asgard, things are gorgeous and not remotely boring. The whole time ripple thing is a bit “Star Trek”, and indeed there is a bit of a “Trek” feel to the film, with the dark elf villains in particular being bad arse “Trek”-like villains. Not a complaint. The director should be applauded for giving us action and spectacle without shaking the fuck out of the camera.

 

So it’s a shame that we have to spend some of our time on Earth with Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings. Sure, Chris O’Dowd has a fun cameo being all Chris O’Dowd, but as much as Portman survived the clunky dialogue of “Star Wars”, she completely flounders here. She looks bored, to be honest. Why sign on to make it then, sweetie? (Indeed, she was allegedly unhappy with the replacement of the originally intended director and tried to get out of the film to no avail. Most actors would try to hide their displeasure, however. I believe it’s called being professional). As for Dennings, she isn’t an actress. Like Jennifer Aniston, she has one act. It’s grating, and she’s not getting her jugs out, so I don’t care about her annoying, useless character. Yep, that wasn’t offensive at all. As for Chris Hemsworth, he continues to be the worst thing about the franchise. His dialogue is puerile, but Hemsworth is just awful and lacking in any charisma whatsoever. Taking an even more tongue-in-cheek approach to the role than last time, he pratfalls over his British accent, like a bad American host of “SNL” in an unfunny medieval sketch written by people who don’t like medieval history or fantasy. He really makes you appreciate someone like Viggo Mortensen all the more.

 

If you remove the Kat Dennings character and recast Thor, you’ve got yourself a terrific movie. As is, it’s undoubtedly a huge improvement over the first film, and certainly very watchable. Based on the Marvel comics and a story by Don Payne (who co-wrote the first film) and Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”), the screenplay is by the trio of Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (who wrote “Captain America: The First Avenger”, “Pain & Gain”, and the “Narnia” films), and Christopher L. Yost (who has a slew of comic book-based animated writing credits).

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Review: Superman III


Richard Pryor plays a ne’er do well who discovers he has an amazing affinity for computers. He even figures out a way to pinch pennies from the big-time company he has recently started working for. When big money boss Robert Vaughn catches onto what Pryor is doing…he employs his services to suit his nefarious needs, destroying his competitors and causing all kinds of chaos. This alerts the attention of the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) who attempts to put a stop to things. Unfortunately, a mishap with some subpar synthetic kryptonite sees Superman turn super-douchy and not really giving a crap about saving the world anymore. Meanwhile, Clark Kent (also Reeve) travels to Smallville to attend his school reunion, sparking up old feelings for prom queen Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Gavan O’Herlihy plays the Smallville jock turned loutish security guard, Pamela Stephenson plays Vaughn’s bimbo, whilst Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper, and Marc McClure briefly reprise their roles as Lois Lane (who is off in Bermuda for most of the film!), Perry White, and Jimmy Olsen.

 

And here’s where the wheels completely fall off, folks. Director Richard Lester (“Help!”, “The Three Musketeers”, “Superman II”) lets his slapstick sensibilities run right over the Man of Steel, and this 1983 film ends up a crushing disappointment as a result. It’s a cheap joke of a film where the only thing in the main plot that really works is Superman turning into Super Douche. Sadly, even that isn’t as effective as it could’ve been because of the manner in which it comes about. Superman stupidly touches kryptonite…willingly. What the hell? We know it’s not 100% pure kryptonite of course, but it certainly looks like kryptonite, so why in the hell would he touch it when he knows it’s poisonous to him? Even if he detected it wasn’t real, it still messed with him, so touching it just makes him look like a giant moron. Screenwriters David and Leslie Newman (who worked on the two previous films) should’ve figured out a way to get the end result by having Superman get exposed to kryptonite by accidental touch. It’s a shame because Super Douche is very, very funny as he flings beer nuts at beer bottles in a bar. The guy’s not evil, just an uncouth douchebag and Christopher Reeve seems to be having a ball with it. He does easily his best acting job of the series in this one. I may not be a fan of Lester’s comedic over-indulgences here, but in this case it worked, and it ain’t Reeve’s fault the film as a whole fails. I also found it fascinating when Clark and Superman (or Super Douche) split up so to speak and Clark sees what his alter ego has become. The resulting struggle seems to suggest that there’s Superman in Clark Kent just as there’s Clark Kent in Superman, if you catch my drift. Of course it’s ridiculous and nonsensical (and you’ll remember that Clark Kent is Superman and therefore Clark is never his own person), but fascinating to think about in a film pretty thin on interesting ideas. Although the previous film probably gave us a few too many heroic rescue action sequences, the scary fire/explosion set piece early here is a good one.

 

As for the rest of the film…oh dear. The big bold lettered ‘Alexander Salkind Presents’ is our first credit on screen, and pretty much lets you know that Mr. Lester isn’t the only one to blame here. Pamela Stephenson is one of the first people we see here, and boy is Mrs. Billy Connolly certainly no Valerie Perrine. Combine her with the opening pratfalling set-piece (involving hot dog carts and phone booths tumbling, no less) over the opening credits and the film immediately announces itself as a comedy. The entire sequence is appallingly inappropriate. It’s a wrong-headed approach, made even worse by the casting of Richard Pryor, who to me neither screams superhero film nor computer genius. He absolutely should not be here, and I say that as someone who liked “Moving” and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil”. I’ll admit that I chuckled at Pryor’s reaction to his second pay check, but overall I got the feeling that Pryor was playing an American version of Lester regular Roy Kinnear. Thing is, as much as I love the late Roy Kinnear, I’d complain just as much if he were cast in the role. The character and the tone he brings with him is horribly inappropriate. If I rag on several modern superhero films for not living up to my idea of what a superhero/comic book film should be, then I have to do the same here. Pryor gets one particularly awful moment where he messes with a computer to screw up the traffic signal light so the green man and the red man get into a punch-up. Fuck off, that’s just insulting. Later on we get a computer game-like scene where Robert Vaughn uses missiles against Superman, and it looks like awful 80s Atari crap (And indeed, Atari were responsible for it). Vaughn, meanwhile, seems to play the scene as though he’s back on the set of Corman’s underrated “Battle Beyond the Stars”. If you’ve seen both films, you’ll know what I mean.

 

For all the film’s faults, Robert Vaughn’s casting isn’t one of them. He’s no Gene Hackman or Terence Stamp, but he makes for a perfectly fine comic book villain. He does what he can with what is essentially a poor man’s Lex Luthor character. It’s a shame that he’s stuck in scenes with Pryor and Stephenson, they really make it hard to see the merit in Vaughn’s sturdy work. Margot Kidder’s mere cameo here as Lois was apparently due to her dislike of Lester taking over from the fired Richard Donner in the previous film. To be honest, after how things ended (badly) in the previous film between Lois and Clark (or Superman), there wasn’t much use for Lois anymore. In this one, her basic function is fulfilled by Superman’s mum…er…by Lana Lang, played by a youngish Annette O’Toole. The scenes of Clark going back to Smallville and rekindling something with Lana are actually pretty nicely done. Hell, it’s more interesting than the main plot. O’Toole is a bit of a stretch for ‘prom queen’ if you ask me, but has a really sweet and immediately likeable presence as Lana. She certainly convinces as a nice Midwestern girl.  It’s absolutely disgraceful how Lana is forgotten about in “Superman IV”, not just because of how things end here, but also because Lois Lane and Clark don’t exactly get back together in “IV”. So it’s so stupid to have written Lana out after setting up things so nicely here.

 

There’s some interesting stuff in here and a few solid performances, but on the whole this is a gross miscalculation, especially in regards to tone. Director Lester, the Newmans, and the Salkinds do somewhat of a disservice to the Superman legacy here. The presence of Richard Donner and Mario Puzo is sorely missed and glaringly evident. And sadly, this was merely the beginning. This is pretty lousy and very lucky to just scrape in with an average score rather than a poor one.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)


Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreamer with no social life, who works for “Life” magazine processing the photo negatives, including for the cover. When the all-important negative for the intended cover photo appears to have gone missing, Walter’s already threatened job is in even more danger from smug new boss Adam Scott (already suggesting that expendable employees will be let go mercilessly as they move to digital publication). So Walter tracks down the whereabouts of elusive photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) to Greenland, and sets about finding him, and get the photo. Kristen Wiig plays a co-worker whom Walter had just plucked up the courage to talk to prior to going on this voyage, which will take him to various parts of the globe. Kathryn Hahn and Shirley MacLaine play Walter’s sister and mother, respectively, whilst Patton Oswalt is an eHarmony employee who tries to get Walter to flesh out his profile, difficult given Walter has yet to do anything exciting or memorable. Perhaps now is his chance?

 

Director/star Ben Stiller (“The Cable Guy”, “Tropic Thunder”), aided by screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Weather Man”, “The Pursuit of Spelling Happiness Correctly”) is trying for something a little loftier than his usual comedic films with this 2013 (loose) adaptation of the James Thurber short story. Previously made with Danny Kaye in the late 40s, the film is mostly a drama, and although interesting to see Stiller try to tackle more substantive material, it ends up just OK, bordering on good. Hell, I think “Tropic Thunder” ends up the more enjoyable and successful film, less ambitious or not.

 

The film looks absolutely stupendous, with crisp cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh (“Once Were Warriors”, “The Tempest”) and a visual design somewhere in between “Stranger Than Fiction” and the rather anti-septic “One Hour Photo”. The HQ of the magazine looks so sterile I’d be afraid to touch anything there for fear of leaving fingerprints. Stiller is ideal in the lead, playing a guy who works for “Life” magazine (which in reality, is long gone, by the way) but has no life himself, and until the main plot kicks in, it appears he has the most boring (yet quite vital) job at the organisation. There’s something really interesting with Walter’s unfulfilled life reaching its mid-point and finding himself on a big adventure for the first time in his life. It’s quite relatable.

 

The biggest and most pleasant surprise for me was actually Kristen Wiig. I’ve never liked her, find her comedic schtick more bizarre than funny, and when I heard she was Ben Stiller’s love interest in this I couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone want to date her? She has such tiny hands! Semi-obscure comedy references aside, she’s relatively attractive here, quite normal and genuinely likeable. For the first time ever, she’s actually appealing and relatable.

 

I must say, though, that although the central idea and themes are relatable, the intrusion of fantasy sequences felt inorganic and unnecessary. It pulled me out of the film, though the “Benjamin Button” bit was very funny, and very Ben Stiller. Otherwise, they don’t work and they aren’t necessary. All the little slogans and quotes throughout felt pretentious too, like a lesser “L.A. Story”. But as far as I’m concerned, any film that features the line ‘Stay gold, Pony-Boy’ has to be alright in my book. The film’s an odd duck, full of all these film references, supposedly profound words, and odd fantasies, with some working better than others. I’m not sure any of it was really necessary, but it’s certainly something. I must confess to being a little over Kathryn Hahn by now, she always seems the same, and is a bit irritating here. Adam Scott, meanwhile, sports an unconvincing beard and makes douchy jerkdom seem bland and uninteresting, somehow. Awful waste of Shirley MacLaine too, in a nothing part. However, Sean Penn’s first appearance leads to the film’s biggest laugh when Stiller realises where the missing negative is. Oops. Patton Oswalt, meanwhile, single-handedly makes eHarmony a whole lot creepier, in a small but amusing turn.

 

It’s not quite as successful or as profound as it seems to think it is, nor is it as good as the slightly similar “L.A. Story”, which was brilliant (It’s a bit better than “Joe vs. The Volcano”, however, another film it reminds me of). Yet it’s not remotely boring, and Stiller is excellent in the title role. It’s certainly not a film I expected from Stiller, that’s for sure and one of the best-looking films of 2013. Definitely worth a look, even if it doesn’t quite soar like it clearly wants to. Or perhaps for you it will. I have a feeling this one will speak to a lot of people, if not quite me.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: Superman II


General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his cohorts (Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran) are set free from their imprisonment in the Phantom Zone by a nuclear blast from an atomic bomb Superman (Christopher Reeve) has thrown. It was planted on the Eiffel Tower by a terrorist group, and the Man of Steel was just trying to be Earth’s protector. Now he has unwittingly unleashed a trio of supervillains who use their superpowers to bring Earth to its knees. Meanwhile, while on the job in Niagara Falls, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) discovers Clark Kent’s big secret. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) also reappears, trying to uncover Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, and then lending his services to General Zod. E.G. Marshall lends sturdy support and the worst rug you’ve ever seen as the US President, and Clifton James plays hick Sheriff J.W. Pepper (his Bond franchise character) in all but name here. Susannah York returns as Superman’s birth mother because…Marlon Brando.

 

I can’t attest to the controversial Richard Donner cut (I’ll get around to seeing it eventually I hope), but this 1980 sequel from director Richard Lester (“Help!”, “The Three Musketeers”, the haunting “Robin and Marian”) is certainly lesser than Donner’s 1978 classic “Superman”. For me, that still stands as the greatest superhero/comic book movie of all-time. Lester’s effort plays like a rock-solid B-movie at best, but there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Hell, I love B-movies, and this is a good one. But the dip in quality from the first to the second film is pretty staggering, only matched by the dip in quality of the next two entries in the series.

 

Like the first film, the best stuff is at the beginning on Krypton, though I still prefer the opening of the first film. It’s fun, though, even if Zod and co.’s holding cell looks like the cover of “Queen’s Greatest Hits” album. John Williams’ “Superman” theme is one of life’s greatest pleasures in my opinion, so it’s a shame that the film score wasn’t overseen by him. It’s in the hands of Ken Thorne (Lester’s “Help!” and “How I Won the War”) who misuses Williams’ material in my opinion. He takes the Williams theme and just isn’t half the man Williams is. It’s used in a really cheap way, and not as nicely woven into the overall score, because this time, Williams isn’t the one doing it. It’s surrounded by Thorne’s frankly ordinary compositions. In a way it sums up the whole film. It’s clearly and obviously an inferior product.

 

There’s far too many characters this time and too much stuff going on for one two-hour film. For instance, Lex Luthor shouldn’t be in this film at all. The film already has Zod and his two companions, and there is no good from adding Gene Hackman’s Luthor to the mix. Hackman was the perfect villain for the first film, but doesn’t belong in this one. Sure, the tone of Lester’s “Superman III” was comedic, but here the film is mostly played straight and Lex’s services aren’t the best fit. He’s a comic book villain, often very funny (but still a dangerous threat) but in a film that is otherwise not geared towards laughs for the most part (Clifton James’ cameo and a gag about an ice-cream are the only other examples of comedy, really). Although you could argue that there’s camp in the performances by Terence Stamp and Sarah Douglas (always good for camp value, but another sign of being a B-movie), I don’t believe Zod is the same kind of comic book villain as Lex at all. He’s a deadly serious, cold and evil bastard of a supervillain. So putting the two sets of villains in the same film sends the tone out of whack. But that’s not the main issue I have with Lex being here. The problem is he’s not remotely necessary, nor well-used. In fact, he plays like a third wheel and the role gives the talented Hackman absolutely nothing to do. His top billing in the credits is one of the biggest jokes in cinematic history. With about an hour to go, Zod and his crew have only just started their reign of terror, but Hackman’s Lex has done sweet bugger-all. He has escaped prison, visited the Fortress of Solitude, and that’s about it. He’s an afterthought in a film he really shouldn’t have been in at all. In fact, this film turns him into a coward and opportunist, instead of the cunning genius supervillain he was in the first film. He’s General Zod’s lackey, basically. Lex Luthor. Think about that. Everything with Hackman and Lex here is a big mistake (And apparently, it’s all Donner’s work. Most of the rest of the film is Lester’s).

 

Margot Kidder isn’t at her best in this one, she actually makes Lois Lane seem rather unlikeable for some reason. Having said that, I’d be in a cranky mood if I were the female lead but listed in the credits behind Sarah Freakin’ Douglas and Ned Beatty. It was amusing to find that Lois can barely speak French in this despite Canadian actress Kidder having played a French-Canadian woman in Brian De Palma’s “Sisters”. Also amusing, for completely unintentional reasons that couldn’t have been dreamed up at the time, was Kidder uttering the line: ‘Not only have I lost my mind, I’ve lost my comb!’. I don’t need to explain why that one’s funny, do I? Other than that, the only notable thing involving Lois here is the big secret she finds out, and sadly someone must’ve gotten cold feet about it, and they put the kybosh on it by the end of the film and it’s never brought up again in the subsequent films.

 

The film’s biggest problem is just how unwieldy the whole thing is. For a film that already has too many characters to properly fit into the film, there’s way too many Superman action/rescue scenes. The result is an entertaining and exciting film, but unwieldy and underdone at the same time. The first film was about the same length, but with much less clutter. Oh well, it’s certainly not boring and better than many other films of this type I could name. In fact, there was some really cool stuff in this one. The late Christopher Reeve had really settled into the title role (and especially his bumbling humanoid alter-ego) by this stage, and the best thing about this film is the dual characters of Superman/Clark Kent. You’ve gotta feel sorry for ‘ol Clark, he’s the only man in history to cock-block himself. Meanwhile, Terence Stamp is so damn good as General Zod, and if I prefer Hackman’s Lex in the original, that is absolutely not slight on Stamp. He gives the film the exact villain required, it’s just that Zod has less dimensions to him than Lex. Zod’s climactic destruction and chaos is cheesy, but lots of fun and never quite comical.

 

Scripted by the trio of David Newman, Leslie Newman and Mario Puzo (who all scripted the first film), some people actually believe that this film is even better than the first film, so don’t just take my word for it. It’s certainly enjoyable and worth seeing, no matter which film you prefer. I can’t say that about the next two in the series. But for me, this is still a big stepdown from the original, which as I said earlier has never been surpassed and may never be. I think that may be because although Richard Lester might’ve wanted to make a film here close in look to that of comic books, I believe Donner (who I must confess I’m a much bigger fan of than I am Lester) in the first film was able to evoke the spirit of comic book adventure whilst giving the Superman legend the grandeur and loftiness it deserves. I don’t think Lester has really gotten that point, and “Superman III” pretty much proves I’m right. But that’s a review for another day…

 

Rating: B-