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 25, 2015

Review: The Butler


The story of former White House butler Eugene Allen, fictionalised as Cecil Gaines here and played by Forest Whitaker. Cecil grew up rather harshly in the 20s on a cotton farm where his supposedly ‘crazy’ mother (Mariah Carey) was raped by the evil plantation owner, who then killed his father right in front of the boy. Matriarch Vanessa Redgrave takes kindly on the boy (or just flat out hates what her son did) and takes him out of the fields and inside the house to work as a servant. Eventually a teenage Cecil leaves the farm, and hooks up with a wiser, older hotel butler (Clarence Williams III) who teaches him the tricks of the trade. Cecil even ends up marrying a hotel maid (Oprah Winfrey) before getting his big break as a White House butler, starting under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and working all the way up to Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman!). In the latter half of the film, David Oyelowo plays Cecil’s son Louis, who becomes interested in social activism that at times puts him at odds with his father, who doesn’t like to rock the boat. Meanwhile, lonely wife Winfrey becomes needy and frequently drunk. Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. play a sleazy neighbour and one of Gaines’ fellow butlers, who becomes somewhat of an uncle figure to Cecil. The other political figures seen in the film include JFK (James Marsden), LBJ (Liev Schreiber!), Richard Nixon (John Cusack!), and Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda!!), whilst Lenny Kravitz plays another butler and Nelsan Ellis is Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Seriously lumpy and featuring some distractingly awful stunt casting, this 2013 film from director Lee Daniels (“Precious”, which I found pretty indigestible, and the not much better “The Paperboy”) and screenwriter Danny Strong (“Game Change”) gets by on a solid lead performance by Forest Whitaker, and a helluva story. A fictionalised version of the story of former White House butler Eugene Allen, the thing that worried me going into this film was that it was a story about, basically, a subservient African-American, and also I worried that like “Driving Miss Daisy” (a film I actually like, don’t get me wrong) it would be more about the white ‘master’ than the African-American character. Well, full credit to Daniels and Strong, they convinced me that this story indeed deserved to be told, and the white characters ultimately stayed in the background. At the end of the day, there is merit in this story, as it gives us a tour of the societal changes in America throughout the decades.

 

Especially interesting is the way the film depicts the title character’s rather subservient job opposed to his son’s radical activist activities, and manages to show us that both of these stories, both of these points of view are valid. The film uses the character of Martin Luther King Jr. (played by Nelsan Ellis) to give the title character and his brethren the respect, dignity and importance they deserve. They, like the militant activists are all a part of the African-American societal change experience, and the butlers and servants do their part by showing a strong work ethic at the very least, especially considering Gaines’ harsh upbringing.

 

The filmmakers have a tricky balance on their hands, but ultimately they win out. If it weren’t for the awful stunt casting, it’d be an even stronger film. Chief among the worst stunt casting is the parade of name actors playing various American Presidents. Of them, the only good casting choice was James Marsden as JFK. He’s always had the Kennedy good looks and has a pretty easy time of it in the role. He was born to play JFK in a film, if you ask me (I’ve read that Matthew McConaughey was originally cast but dropped out. That was a disaster thankfully averted. I mean, McConaughey doing JFK’s accent? I shudder at the thought). Robin Williams looked a bit like Teddy Roosevelt in the “Night at the Museum” movies, but here he’s playing Dwight D. Eisenhower, and whilst some have said that he’s a laughable casting choice, he gets away with it for me for one main reason: Of all the Presidents here, Eisenhower’s is inarguably the least known in terms of image and voice. I have no idea what he looked or sounded like, and simply judged Williams work as a performance free of any preconceptions. In that respect, he’s OK, if unremarkable. Americans and/or US history buffs have every right to disagree, though.

 

But the rest? Yikes. The absolute worst is unquestionably John Cusack as Richard Frigging Nixon. Yes, I know his middle name was Milhouse but today it’s Frigging. John Cusack doesn’t look anything like Nixon, doesn’t sound anything like Nixon, and spends his every minute of his screen time here looking, sounding, and acting like he knows he is miscast. He’s so poorly chosen for the role that he rivals Paul Newman stinking it up as a Mexican bandit in “The Outrage” and Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Marlon Brando impersonation as “Nixon”. Hell, Hopkins at least looked a little more like Nixon than Cusack does. I guess you could commend him for eschewing the caricatured Nixon gibbering voice, which he likely would’ve screwed up anyway, but instead he plays him like a shifty Lloyd Dobbler. Not good enough, not good enough at all (I would’ve cast “24” co-star Gregory Itzin myself). I must say, though, that the depiction of Nixon as a character isn’t uninteresting. Although we all know he’s one of the least popular US Presidents of all-time, at first he seems somewhat well-intentioned here, and it’s only once paranoia sets in that things start to turn. It’s certainly a more balanced presentation of the character than in the all-paranoia-all-the-time “Nixon”.

 

Liev Schreiber is immediately way too thin to play LBJ, and all I could think was: Why not find whatever cave in Canada Randy Quaid and his crazy star-whacker family are holed up in and throw the Emmy Award winner a bone? He’s already played the role before and is probably the right age to play it again without makeup or anything (He certainly has the jowls and big nose for it). It’s not an embarrassing turn by Schreiber, but it’s not a particularly convincing one either and there must’ve been so many more convincing casting options out there than Schreiber, surely (Tom Wilkinson? Character actor Nick Searcy would’ve been ideal I think). And did we really need to see LBJ on the crapper and using the ‘N’ word constantly? That was so undignified and unnecessary I thought, though he was the guy who gave African-Americans the vote, interestingly. Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan…oh boy. Even those of you who give Cusack a mulligan surely have to agree that Rickman is a whole lotta awkward here. He looks a tad more like Reagan than Cusack as Nixon, but his performance as the craggy-faced actor-turned-President is horribly constipated and unconvincing. I also think it’s unfair that Reagan cops the majority of Daniels’ and Strong’s criticism here, painting him as pretty uncaring, really (LBJ may have been fond of the n-word but at least he did what he could for civil rights, at least as depicted here). I’m no Reagan fan by a long shot and there’s a lot to dislike about his Conservative politics, but boy do they heap it on him in this one, you’d swear he was George Dubya Bush.

 

It’s not just in the Presidents that the stunt casting is problematic, however. Some might not see Oprah Winfrey as stunt casting here, and sure she’s done good work before (She’s the only thing I like about Spielberg’s “The Colour Purple”), but cast as the wife of Forest Whitaker…awkward. The scenes of her playing kissy-face with Whitaker, who is seven years her junior and looks even more than that, are very hard to watch. It made me feel dirty, even though seven years shouldn’t be that much of an issue. The bigger issue is that at no point did I sense the character, it was all Oprah all of the time. It was because it was Oprah, that I felt icky, more than anything else. And she wanted an Oscar nomination for this, you could feel it in every scene. No dice, Oprah, there’s nothing special about her performance at all, except it’s really uncomfortable to watch. Jane Fonda meanwhile, is hilariously cast as Nancy Reagan. I’m not going to say she doesn’t look much like her, I just couldn’t get past the fact that Hanoi Jane was cast as Nancy Reagan. If it was an in-joke, then well played. If not, it’s really distracting, albeit only a small role. It’s the very definition of distracting stunt casting, because instead of paying attention to the performance you’re guessing the motivation behind the stunt casting. Also distracting for me was Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. as one of Forest Whitaker’s fellow butlers. He’s meant to be the least socially conscious, happy-go-lucky of the butlers, but the way Gooding portrays the character, it comes dangerously close to reminding you of his Stepin Fetchit-ish routine in “Lightning Jack”. Gooding can be a charismatic and entertaining, lively actor but I think the combination of him and the character he is playing works against every other representation of African-Americans in this film. Part of that is intentional, as he’s meant to be the most laidback and fun-loving, maybe naïve of the characters, but Gooding’s performance pushes that uncomfortably over the edge. Basically the film’s comic relief, he’s not shuffling and all ‘Yessah, Massah!’ but he’s a lot more Stepin Fetchit than Malcolm X, that’s for sure.

 

One piece of stunt casting that does work is singer Mariah Carey as the title character’s mother. The biracial actress doesn’t say a word but she’s not only reasonably credible to play such an ethnicity, she’s also perfectly cast as a crazy woman, and isn’t around long enough to prove herself unable to act anyway. And I say that as someone who loves her voice, by the way. So kudos there, Mr. Daniels. I also liked the performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Clarence Williams III, in small but pivotal roles. Redgrave’s character is really interesting because she’s obviously a well-meaning woman, but she also uses the N-word and her idea of helping is to put someone in a subservient role inside the house, rather than out in the fields. But that’s the way things were back then, shameful but true, and for her time the Redgrave character was probably seen as pretty progressive. Williams is a sometimes electrifying actor, and here he’s excellent as the title character’s mentor who hates the N-word. Everyone should hate it if you ask me. It was also good to see the talented but erratic Terrence Howard well-cast and giving a good showing. He’s a talented guy, but not always someone who makes the best career choices. He certainly makes for a convincing sleaze.

 

But at the end of the day, this is Forest Whitaker’s film, and he gives an excellent, restrained performance. He’s a genuine talent when he wants to be, and I wish that were more often instead of stupid missteps like “Battlefield Earth”, “Pret-a-Porter”, “Freelancers”, and “Street Kings”. This may at first seem like a film that reminds one too much of painful and unfortunate racial stereotypes. But if you stick with it, you realise that there’s something far more intelligent and worthy going on here. It gives us an interesting POV of American history throughout the years, and a view of the African-American experience throughout those years. It also has a truly touching father-son story that might just get a tear or two out of you. It gives equal respect to those on the activist and social change side of things, but also those like the title character who perhaps haven’t always been given their due. It’s a tricky balance but through the characters of Cecil and Louis Gaines, we realise that without both of these types of African-American people, we might not have eventually seen Barack Obama. Yes, Obama seems to have disappointed a great many during his presidency, but that does not in any way diminish the power and importance of that moment when he was elected. It was a proud moment for all humanity, and by including this event in the film, whether it’s true to the real story or not (I have no idea if the real guy was still alive when Obama was elected), it enriches the rest of the film as it is indeed enriched by the rest of the film. It says it all, really.

 

This is a lumpy film with some really unfortunate casting choices and uneven performances. But there’s something genuinely of merit and power here, it’s not the awkward “Driving Miss Daisy” film you might expect. Whitaker is excellent in the lead, and the film certainly ain’t boring. It just could’ve and should’ve been even better (And should’ve featured Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford- WTF?).

 

Rating: B-

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Dallas Buyers Club


Set in the mid-80s, Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a Texan electrician, womaniser, drug-user and rodeo bull rider who contracts the AIDS virus, and is given one month to live (This is 10 minutes into the film. Movies are fun!). Fired, evicted, and now friendless due to homophobic fear and ignorance, Ron (who in the film is aggressively straight and quite homophobic himself) illegally obtains an experimental drug named AZT for his treatment. That’s because the hospital where Ron was diagnosed is running a trial on AZT, but half the patients get a placebo, in order for the test to work, which isn’t good enough for Ron. Unfortunately, that avenue eventually closes up and it doesn’t seem to be working anyway, so Ron goes to Mexico and meets a disbarred doctor (Griffin Dunne) who tells him that AZT is poisonous and prescribes vitamins and drugs not approved by the American FDA. We now cut to several months later and Ron is much improved. Being an enterprising fellow, he sees dollar signs in bringing in the not approved (but not exactly illegal) drugs from Mexico and selling them to HIV patients in the US. When his clearly compassionate doctor (Jennifer Garner) finds out that most of her patients are now suddenly turning up for drugs at the “Dallas Buyers Club”, and that another patient, transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto) is helping Ron run the business, she’s obviously not happy. However, she has also started to notice that AZT is hurting more than helping, something her superiors are uninterested in hearing. Steve Zahn plays a cop who always tries to look out for Ron, even when the prick doesn’t necessarily deserve it.

 

Although it was one of the critical darlings of 2013, I must say that this rather familiar and unsurprising film from director Jean-Marc Vallee (“Café de Flore”, and “The Young Victoria”, which I found greatly disappointing) and writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, owes a whole helluva lot to the Oscar-winning performance by Matthew McConaughey, by far the best performance of his career. Otherwise it’s pretty derivative of the excellent “Philadelphia” (a film that some people mistook for playing it safe, but was actually not aimed at the converted. It still amazes me that people didn’t get it), but with McConaughey playing both Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington rolled into one. Jared Leto, meanwhile, won an Oscar for basically playing William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, a showy part that Leto proves far less compelling in than does Mr. McConaughey in his role (Ironic that I’ve read comments by Leto criticising Hurt’s performance). Good supporting work by Steve Zahn, and especially Griffin Dunne’s best work in decades. You’ll wish they were in the film a lot more. Zahn in particular, I feel was deprived of just one more scene, I think, to really make his character’s connection with Ron fleshed out.

 

Jennifer Garner is pitch-perfect casting as well. You need a warm-hearted actress to play someone who is professionally meant to be clinical, but also have enough compassion to separate her from her colleagues/superiors. Well-done there, whoever came up with the idea of casting her. But it’s definitely McConaughey’s film, this one. Unlike Christian Bale in “The Fighter”, McConaughey doesn’t let his emaciated look call attention to itself as an actor losing/gaining weight to win an Oscar, he’s entirely inside this character’s skin from moment one. More than the physicality, he’s just simply right for this cocky, hard-drinkin’, man-whorin’ bull-rider character. Leto, by comparison, lets his showier role get the better of him, and is simply delivering a performance. It’s an entertaining one, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a performance…and not an original one, either.

 

Once the film really starts to focus on the drug angle, the film becomes much better and starts to develop its own identity away from “Philadelphia” (Which is good, because we’ve hopefully advanced a little bit since that 1993 film anyway), as does the McConaughey character, for the most part. He starts off as self-serving and homophobic, but if he’s dying, what good is money to him? So obviously, there’s a lot more going on inside that character than simply profiteering off of some dying gays, and that complex part of him is somewhat original and interesting. Hell, I’m not even sure I approve of what he was doing with the buyers’ club, not entirely anyway. But Leto’s character (fictional, by the way) stays the same, and whereas I was quite emotional during “Philadelphia”, this one left me a bit cold. It’s not the potentially fascinating subject matter or McConaughey’s performance at fault here, but this one’s more interesting than moving or sad. Also, the treatment of the doctors here becomes less even-handed the longer the film goes on. However, I must say, it’s still far more even-handed than a lot of others seem to be suggesting. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t entirely approving of what Woodroof was doing. He had the best of intentions (eventually anyway) and was clearly acting out of frustration with the medical profession’s stubbornly slow uptake on these drugs. However, it’s all well and good to say that the drugs the doctors were handing out were harmful rather than helpful, but with everyone going to McConaughey for his supposedly more helpful drugs (not approved by the FDA), the much-needed reliable data from medical tests is made much more difficult. So I was certainly conflicted about that.

 

Much more than the portrayal of the doctors in the film, I was annoyed at some of the changes to the true story the film is based on, to be honest. There’s some debate over it, but some who knew the real-life Woodroof say he wasn’t homophobic, and indeed was bisexual himself. But as there’s some conjecture on these views, I can’t really tax the film for it. It just irks me, because if true, that’s an awful lot of dramatic license to have taken. He wasn’t even a bull-rider. I’m not too sure what the hell that change was all about.

 

Not one of the strongest recommendations of 2013, but it just gets there in the end, and McConaughey has never been better. It’s not a bad film at all, derivative at times, and overrated, but worth seeing.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Crimes of the Heart


Focussing on three sisters in Mississippi; The youngest named Babe (Sissy Spacek) has just shot her husband. This brings fledgling actress Meg (Jessica Lange) back home from Hollywood, whilst spinster Lenny (Diane Keaton) has apparently just turned 30 (going on 38 by the looks of it, but 11 intellectually it seems) and gets pissy over people half-eating her chocolates. Oh, and family patriarch Old Granddaddy (Hurd Hatfield) is dying, too. Tess Harper plays a nosey, judgemental neighbour, whilst Sam Shepard plays local Doc, a former flame of Meg’s she reacquaints herself with.

 

A talented Aussie director and several of the most respected film actresses of the 70s and 80s, and this is what they come up with? Based on a 1980 play and adapted by playwright Beth Henley (“Miss Firecracker”) herself, this Bruce Beresford (“Don’s Party”, “Breaker Morant”, “Tender Mercies”, “Driving Miss Daisy”) film from 1986 really should’ve been better than this, even if no one in the cast is among my favourite actor or actress. I simply didn’t know what the hell to make of it, except that I found it irritating, dated, miscast, and frankly rather bizarre. I’ve heard that it’s meant to be a comedy, but if so, I have no idea why. This material and subject matter wasn’t funny to me. Maybe it worked on the stage, maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but I really didn’t get it. It’s unconvincing and unfunny.

 

Two scenes in particular stand out for all the wrong reasons; 1) The scene where Sissy Spacek commits her crime is just plain idiotic and not funny at all. 2) The scene where Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek laugh uncontrollably as they tell Jessica Lange that old granddaddy is in a coma, is appalling and a disaster. What were they thinking? No one behaves like the characters do in those scenes, and being a comedy isn’t an excuse.

 

Part of my problem with the film is probably personal taste. There are plenty of fine female-oriented films out there (“Places in the Heart”, “Untamed Heart”, even “Beaches” and “Ghost”), but then there’s the likes of “Steel Magnolias” where you really need a set of ovaries to enjoy the film. This film is somewhat in that latter category and even then just a really bad film. There’s too much noisy, shrill chatter by actresses unwisely adopting fake accents, for me to tolerate this. And the story is idiotic anyway. Case in point: In one scene, a grown-arse woman played by a miscast Diane Keaton is having a shrieking fit because Jessica Lange has half-eaten all of her chocolates. 10 minutes later, she’s having the exact same fit to Lange’s face. For fuck’s sake, will these women either get laid or shut the hell up? Joking of course, but still…no, I wasn’t on this film’s wavelength. Borderline middle-aged women screaming over a box of chocolates? Keaton’s character comes across as intellectually disabled and yet she’s meant to be the sane and sensible one!

 

The best performances by far come from veteran Hurd Hatfield and Sam Shepard. The latter is a tad oddball with his godawful crooked teeth, but gives one of the only ‘normal’ and least irritating performances in the film. Even Tess Harper’s Oscar nominated performance didn’t thrill me. I see why she gets praise for it, and her Madeleine Sherwood-esque  character (think ‘Sister Woman’ in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) is clearly meant to annoy, but why the nomination for such a small role? But at the end of the day, it’s the central trio of respected actors who fail miserably here, Keaton especially (She botches a Southern accent spectacularly), though Lange’s shouting grates too. All three of the actresses seem way too old to be playing such shrill, immature ninnies. Spacek even chews gum for cryin’ out loud. Geez, lady, why not wear your hair in pigtails while you’re at it? (Speaking of haircuts, Lange and Harper sport truly, truly embarrassing ones).

 

What a false and irritating film! This is a terrible film that is like spending two hours with three Scarlett O’Hara’s, with Diane Keaton in particular choosing to play Scarlett as a brain-damaged toddler. Fans of “Steel Magnolias” will probably like it…you freaks. I detested this skin rash of a film and I thought my ears were going to bleed by the end of it. Proof that pedigree alone doesn’t mean a damn thing.

 

Rating: D

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: Frozen (Disney)


Set in the fictional town of Arendelle, where princesses Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voiced Idina Menzel) have always been close growing up, but something seems to be drifting them apart. That something is the fact that Elsa has magical powers, and these powers are very difficult for her to control. At one point she nearly harms her sister, inadvertently, and it is decided by their parents that the sisters shouldn’t see one another as frequently anymore. Their parents also have Anna’s memory of all this wiped by trolls (Yes, trolls). Years later, and the two girls are now adults, and Elsa is set to be crowned Queen in a big public ceremony. Anna attends and immediately attracts the attention of Prince Hans, who almost instantaneously proposes marriage to the young princess. Anna, presumably under the impression that this is totally normal, accepts, but when they tell this to Elsa, she completely flips out and once again her magical powers run amok, in full view of everyone. Elsa flees into the wilderness, as the entire kingdom becomes covered in ice and snow. Anna chases after her, and is soon joined by an affable mountain man named Kristoff, his reindeer named Sven, and a dopey snowman named Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad).

 

The big animated hit of 2013, and I certainly can’t dispute that this is indeed a well-made and enjoyable film, if a touch overrated and featuring twice as many songs as necessary. I’m not really the demo for this film, I’m not a girl, I’m in my mid-30s, can’t stand Kristen Bell, and I hate Broadway-style songs, but for a film I thought I was destined to hate…it’s even better than “Monsters University” and “The Croods”, though all three are worthwhile films. I liked this, and I can see why others love it. Good for you, it’s just a little bit opposed to everything I stand for in order for me to embrace it that fully. But you can’t help enjoying this film, try as you might.

 

Co-directed/co-written by Chris Buck (co-director of Disney’s Oscar-winning yet still somewhat underrated “Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (co-writer of the enjoyable “Wreck-It Ralph”), it’s well-done on every single level and easily one of the best-looking films of 2013. It’s truly beautifully designed and a very pretty film, with lovely colours, pastels in particular. Objects appear to have a weight and solidity to them, and you can almost feel the textures here. The dangling icicles in particular, seemed tangible. The human characters aren’t photo-realistic, but they are undeniably pretty and cute. Jessica Rabbit and Ariel might have new competition for the Animated Hotties throne here, as the two female protagonists are stunningly beautiful. What? You’re the one being weird, not me.

 

Loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, the story and characters are both perfectly enjoyable, and no doubt little girls will love it, even if it’s not exactly one for feminists. I liked some of the sadder, more grief-stricken early parts of the film in particular. It even managed to surprise me with two of its plot twists. I honestly wasn’t expecting a love triangle kind of situation, and that’s less me being dense, and more the fact that it is well disguised. However, the fact that I didn’t guess what the act of true love would be, is probably more on me being dense than anything. Still, I didn’t pick it, and was pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure we needed a talking snowman character, but he ultimately turns out to be the highlight of the film. The characters in the film find him somewhat creepy, and best of all, he’s an idiot. How much of an idiot? He dreams of summer. The lack of saccharine sweetness to Olaf is definitely to the film’s advantage.

 

The voice work by Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel (a Broadway veteran, and boy can you tell), and Josh Gad is excellent, so it’s a shame the other voices are pretty forgettable. I also felt the film needed to explain Elsa’s magical powers. I’m not even sure we found out exactly what Elsa was. Human? Witch? Fairy? Highlander?  Hell if I could work it out. To be perfectly honest, I think there’s too many songs here, and the rather self-conscious Broadway-style of most of the songs was just not remotely for me. I liked the songs sung by Olaf and the trolls (If they haven’t released a line of these trolls as toys, I’d be shocked), but that’s because they clearly couldn’t sing, and it amused me to no end. I also thought some of the other songs had a kind of adorkable quality to them that made them a little more palatable. I’m pretty sure one of the girls did the robot during one song. The majority of the songs, to me, sounded like a far too self-conscious attempt by Disney to set the film up to be turned into a stage musical, ala “The Lion King”. Don’t believe me? I present ‘Let it Go’. As performed here, it’s certainly better than hearing Pearl Jam do it (I’ll never ever forgive them for it), but it’s still too Broadway for me, and I’ll live quite happily without ever hearing it again. Most of these Disney films are regular animated films that just happen to have songs in them. You can’t really say that here, it’s a musical that just happens to be animated. I prefer the other type, but I understand the appeal here.

 

If you love your Broadway and Disney animation, you’ll be obsessed with this film. Me, I think it’s a pretty damn good film for its kind, and all things considered, I’m surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. I thought it’d be a chore. Damn it, it’s kinda adorable actually. The screenplay is by Lee, with a story by the directors, and Shane Morris, loosely based on The Snow Queen.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Going Overboard


Adam Sandler plays a cruise ship waiter (!) and wannabe stand-up comedian who has the annoyingly contrived name of Shecky Moskowitz. Scott Larose plays ship comedian Dickie Diamond. True to his name, he’s a foul-mouthed, arrogant douchebag who has no time for Shecky’s hero worship. When Dickhead…er…Dickie gets locked in the bathroom (!) with a bout of food poisoning, Shecky might just get his big shot, even if angry hecklers like Billy Bob Thornton (!) prove a tough audience. Liza (Lisa) Collins Zane plays Miss Australia, one of several Miss World pageant contestants on board the ship. She gets on the wrong side of dictator General Noriega (Burt Young. Yes, that Burt Young) who sends a couple of goons to assassinate her for insulting him. Billy Zane (in his second film on a boat from 1989) turns up as the god Neptune (!), Peter Berg plays a dork on board the ship, Adam Rifkin is an awful punk rocker on board, and Tom Hodges (Chip from “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise”) plays Shecky’s buddy, who falls for Miss Australia. Milton Berle turns up as himself to help Shecky on his gags.

 

There’s no doubt that Adam Sandler’s first starring role is a truly appalling film. This is a really badly made, excruciatingly unfunny film. However, I find it hard to label this his worst film because a) My expectations for it were low to begin with having heard its reputation, and b) This is Sandler pre-“SNL”, let alone pre-“The Wedding Singer”, and so I’m not even sure this deserves to be thought of as an Adam Sandler vehicle. So although I’m going to give this film a lower score than any other Adam Sandler film to date, let me be clear that although this is the worst film he has ever appeared in (Yes, even worse than “Mixed Nuts”, which takes some beating), I consider “Jack and Jill”, “Just Go With It”, “That’s My Boy”, and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” to be the worst ‘Adam Sandler’ vehicles. This isn’t an Adam Sandler vehicle, it’s merely a film that he’s the lead actor in (though several of his cronies do appear in it as well like “Little Nicky” director Steve Brill and a shockingly young Allen Covert, who also served as Production Assistant) and occasionally presents a dry-run of his now familiar schtick in, but mostly plays a bland straight man with occasional “Ferris Bueller” asides to camera that aren’t remotely amusing.

 

Made in 1989, this film from debut writer-director Valerie Breiman (who has only directed three other minor films) is so bad that even Sandler himself (who only had a recurring role on “The Cosby Show” to his name) appears to be embarrassed by it. He doesn’t even list it in his filmography on his official website. Rather than a typical Adam Sandler vehicle it reminds one more of the bargain-basement, Israeli-made sex comedies from Golan-Globus or the T&A comedy of “Vice Academy” (Director Breiman later went on to direct a film called “Bikini Squad”, so there you go), or hell, even a lame Troma comedy (The presence of “Chopper Chicks in Zombietown” alum Billy Bob Thornton reinforces this), albeit without any of the sex or nudity that those examples would likely have provided.

 

Don’t let the names Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Zane, Burt Young (Who has never said ‘no’ apparently), and Peter (Pete) Berg in the cast fool you, Zane was the only person in the film who had appeared in anything worthwhile up to this point, and of the three, only Billy Bob shows evidence of the talent he would later prove to be. He’s not great, don’t get me wrong, but cast in a cameo role as a pissed off cruise patron, he walks off with whatever this film is worth. Zane, Young, and Berg are handed lemons, I’m afraid, there’s nothing funny about their characters or performances. In fact, Young’s role (used as a framing device, a really poor one) made practically no goddamn sense whatsoever in the film and Zane’s appearance (and performance) as the god Neptune is like something out of a bad “SNL” sketch. A really bad one. During the Randy Quaid/Robert Downey Jr./Anthony Michael Hall season where everyone was probably coked out of their skulls. I’ve never found Zane funny, though, so perhaps comedy just isn’t his thing. The whole thing is cheap and amateurish, and seriously boring. Special mention must go to two cast members, Scott Larose, and Aussie actress Lisa (Collins) Zane. The former plays the on-board comedian, but he is so thoroughly unpleasant, monotonously profane, and nauseatingly unfunny that you almost want to throw rotten fruit at the screen. As for the now former Mrs. Billy Zane, she’s not only a horrendous actress (one of the worst I’ve ever witnessed), but her apparently very real Aussie accent sounded so incredibly broad that I assumed she was a phony. Nope, she’s an Aussie and someone clearly told her to talk like Outback Jack, thinking that’s how a real Aussie talks (Not even close, and she should’ve told them to bugger off). Fine, but then why did she fuck up the Australian national anthem at one point? I think she’s singing the older version of it, but this film was made in 1989, I was 9 years old at the time, and we did not sing the older version of the anthem at school even as far back as 1986, let alone ‘89. Unless some parts of the country were slower on the uptake than New South Wales, then someone done fucked that up, and I think the actress herself, being Australian, must take the blame there. Meanwhile, Uncle Milty shows he’ll turn up in anything handed to him, but I have to say that his jokes, although not especially memorable, weren’t so bad that they needed the laugh track to compensate. That was a tad desperate I think. But I’m not adding anything to the rating for a couple of OK Milton Berle zingers, for cryin’ out loud, especially when they barely connect with anything else in the film.

 

Cast as a cocktail waiter on a cruise ship who wants to be a comedian, this plays like Adam Sandler has been transplanted onto a cheapo 80s sex comedy with all the sex gone, and Sandler’s voice pitched a tad higher (He was only 23 at the time). The results are sleep-inducing when not irritating. Moving on…

 

Rating: D-

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: Don’t Come Knocking


Sam Shepard stars as a long-time cowboy actor and notorious long-time hell-raiser, who walks off the set of his latest B-film. He’s headed home to see his estranged mother (Eva Marie Saint) he hasn’t spoken to in years. Meanwhile, the film company sends a guy played by Tim Roth to bring him back to the set ASAP. He may be a detective, bounty hunter, insurance agent, figment of your imagination- take your pick. However, Shepard is more interested in tracking down a former flame (Jessica Lange), whom his mother said called for him decades ago…and pregnant. He finally meets up with her in Butte, Montana to find her running a restaurant. Gabriel Mann is the local crooner (somewhere in between Roy Orbison and Nick Cave, but crap) who is clearly Shepard’s son, and may be going down a similar wrong path as his father. Unfortunately, the surly young man doesn’t take kindly to the sudden appearance of his father after all these years, let alone interfering in his life. Meanwhile, Sarah Polley plays a screenwriter’s construct…er…a young woman in Montana to collect and scatter her recently deceased mother’s ashes, and she clearly has a connection to Shepard as well. George Kennedy plays a film director, Fairuza Balk pretty much plays her usual self as Mann’s trashy girlfriend, Tim Matheson and Kurt Fuller play Hollywood execs, and James Gammon has a brief but memorable cameo as an old cowpoke.

 

I have the distinct impression that to enjoy this 2005 Wim Wenders (“Paris, Texas”, “Wings of Desire”) film scripted by and starring Sam Shepard, one need to be familiar with their earlier effort “Paris, Texas”. From what I’ve read, though, even fans of that film (Which I’ve not seen) are divided on this one. For me, well-cast Shepard’s performance is strong and the cinematography/scenery is nice, but this is full of needless and aimless eccentricities that are off-putting in what is, when you get down to it, a story that should’ve been pretty relatable. Well, except for the part about making westerns. I mean, how many westerns get made at all these days? Very few, to be charitable. Great shot composition from cinematographer Franz Lustig (“Land of Plenty”) and a cool blues/rock score by T-Bone Burnett (“Walk the Line”) aren’t enough to make this one work.

 

The character played by Sarah Polley is also a horribly written cliché that I frankly became impatient with, much like the film itself. Not only is it obvious who she is from her very first scene, but when it’s finally revealed, it’s so half-arsed that I honestly didn’t recall it happening and had to rewind the film. It’s pretty poorly botched if you ask me and for the most part she comes across like an irritating and nosy Yoda who seems to know everything and want to get involved in everyone’s life, whether they like it or not. I also have to single out Gabriel Mann for a genuinely terrible performance. He’s so amateurish that during one scene with Jessica Lange I was wondering if they were making the dialogue up on the spot. I’ve always thought that Lange gives the same drunk Blanche DuBois performance in every film, but here she might actually have been inebriated. However, it was nice to see Eva Marie Saint on screen and she steals her every scene, which sadly isn’t enough. I also thought the great George Kennedy was thoroughly wasted in a nothing role, and Tim Roth plays a truly idiotic and ill-advised character. He’s a source of annoyance in his every scene, never once convincing as a real person, at least not someone who should be in this film. I mean, if he’s not someone in law enforcement, why does he have handcuffs and act like an FBI agent? The scene where Gabriel Mann flips out and throws all of his furniture out into the street definitely shouldn’t be here. It’s jarringly over-the-top.

 

There’s something here about this father-son relationship (clichéd or not), but Shepard and Wenders foul it all up by trying to be different. Yes, there’s a lot of clichés here, but if done straight and without all of this other stuff, the film certainly would’ve been a bit better than it is. Such a waste of an excellent cast, this one just didn’t work for me. Sam Shepard is well-cast and the film looks great, but it’s clichéd, needlessly weird, and pretty aimless.

 

Rating: C

Monday, April 20, 2015

20 Movies That Sounded 'Can't Miss' (But They Ultimately Did)


20. Duplicity (2009) - For me, capers work best when they are light and fluffy, and this film is anything but light and fluffy. It's confusing, unrealistic, extremely unromantic, and incredibly dull. Even if you have more patience than I did and could end up following it, the plot was awfully stupid. I know corporate espionage goes on, but I didn't buy the over-the-top smartphone shenanigans in the later "Paranoia", and I found it entirely absurd that two rival soap companies would hire ex-MI6 and ex-CIA operatives to spy on each other. If it were funny, perhaps I could go along with it, but laughs do not exist in this dojo. It's a heavy slog, no fun at all, and although Clive Owen is perfect, Julia Roberts just seems to have lost her smile sometime around the late 1990s and has never regained it. She has a singularly unpleasant presence on screen. For a film that is meant to be part romance, that's fatal. Oh, and don't even get me started on the big secret when it is finally revealed. Hulk angry...Hulk SMASH!!!

 

19. 8 Million Ways to Die (1986) - The last theatrically released film from Hal Ashby ("The Last Detail", "Coming Home"), co-written by Oliver Stone ("Platoon", "JFK"), and starring Jeff Bridges and Andy Garcia. And yet, you've never heard of this cop/crime flick, have you? There's a good reason for that, it should've been called "8 Million Flavours of Suck". Apparently the production was troubled, yet although this isn't "Ishtar" or "Heaven's Gate", there's no doubt that all of these talented people should've led to something significantly better than what we ended up getting. Allegedly re-written by Robert Towne ("Chinatown") but also largely improvised, the dialogue in this is astoundingly bad, best exemplified by this charming monologue delivered by flat "Baywatch" actress Alexandra Paul; ‘The street light makes my pussy hair glow in the dark—cotton candy with a glow’. If that's not one of the worst lines of dialogue in cinematic history, I don't know what is (For starters, why use the word ‘glow’ twice in the sentence?). Most of the rest of the dialogue is made up of various forms of profanity. The plot could've been interesting but is completely botched- clunky and heavy-handed in the extreme, and I never bought ex-cop Jeff Bridges getting chummy with all of these crims, troubled ex-cop or not. Alexandra Paul is appalling and miscast, but Andy Garcia's especially disappointing as a villain. It's your typical wannabe-Tony Montana performance that is as unconvincing as the film itself.

 

18. W. (2008) - Whatever you may think of Oliver Stone, 'safe' and 'pointless' aren't often words one would think of when hearing that he was gonna make a biopic of President George Dubya Bush. Unfortunately, he indeed presented us with a boringly safe, rather pointless film. It's not just that I was expecting a scathing, entirely partisan film, although I'm shocked that Stone doesn't appear to have taken a side at all, it’s so unlike him. It's an extremely toothless film. No, what's so incredibly disappointing here is that Stone has taken a potentially fascinating subject and given us a portrait that I just didn't find credible. It's hokey and extremely caricatured (and I don't think the film was meant to be laughable), and I have absolutely no idea what Stone's point was with any of this. The casting is way off for the most part. Josh Brolin's caricatured performance is completely unacceptable, especially since he doesn't look, sound, or act anything like Dubya, but he also fails to get inside the character's head, and let us in. OK so his daddy didn't love him enough...AND? C'mon, you've gotta give us more than Dubya as a lunkhead who could never do right in his daddy's eyes. Ellen Burstyn isn't much better, forced to play Barbara Bush as a one-dimensional harpy. But the three most disappointing performances come from Thandie Newton (as Condi Rice), Jeffrey Wright (as Colin Powell), and Scott Glenn (as Donald Rumsfeld). Glenn's performance is fine, but he's been instructed to play Rumsfeld as a bit of a moron which, no matter my own personal criticisms of the guy, seems hardly credible to me. He may be a lot of things, but Donald Rumsfeld is no idiot. Jeffrey Wright I simply didn't believe because there was too much Jeffrey Wright in the actual portrayal, he never disappears and becomes Powell, a figure whom we're all pretty familiar with in look and sound. Worst of all, he's been written as another Bush Yes-Man, which to anyone who actually pays attention, simply isn't true of the real man. Stone really disappointed me by not delving into Powell's pretty widely known dissenting views on some things. As for poor Thandie Newton, she gives the worst performance of the lot. It's a gross, unflattering, and rather juvenile caricature, with Newton seeming rather constipated. Perhaps Stone had an axe to grind with Condi, but despite my being on the same side of the political fence as Stone, I think it's quite offensive to paint the seemingly articulate and reasonable Condi Rice as such a sycophantic bobble-head. It's surface-level stuff at best, and presumably meant to be seen as drama. I was particularly disappointed that Stone didn't really delve into Bush's religious conversion to Evangelical Christianity, beyond a couple of scenes. I never thought I'd see an Oliver Stone film about politics that seemed to have so little to say. Shocking. Richard Dreyfuss makes for an excellent Dick Cheney, however.

 

17. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) - Genius low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman was given the chance to work for a major studio with this gangster pic about Al Capone (Jason Robards Jr.) and George 'Bugs' Moran (Ralph Meeker). And he blew it big-time with this narration-heavy docudrama that takes a fascinating subject and tells it in the most distancing way possible. There's little chance for character development, leaving a lot of familiar names and faces with an impossible task. The film simply has no life or energy to it because the audience and actors are both rendered completely passive by a tell-all narration from Paul Frees, trying to sound like Orson Welles. It also doesn't help that the story is a bit too complex, though I hear it's relatively close to the truth at least. Jason Robards tries, but comes off like a poorly-defined blowhard, whilst George Segal's caricatured performance (as Moran's chief henchman) is never once credible, it belongs in a more comical film. Ralph Meeker is excellent as Moran, and there's some fun in spotting some of Corman's cronies (Jack Nicholson's Italian mobster voice is...wow. So bad), but aside from a few moments here and there and pretty good production values, this can't help but end up a crushing and seriously dull disappointment. Corman is a helluva guy and has made some terrific films (some of the Poe films in particular), but perhaps the Independent/low-budget scene really is where he's most comfortable and effective (And yet, this one actually only had a budget of $1.5 Million, despite being a studio picture).

 

16. Limitless (2011) - I guess there's no getting around the fact that the reason why I was so underwhelmed by this film has more to do with what it isn't than what it is. But the premise here was a cracker: A drug that gives you super brain power. The possibilities are endless with that. So what do director Neil Burger and writer Leslie Dixon do with this idea? They have Bradley Cooper win a lot at the casino and make a killing on the stock market. That's it? With all that brain power you just have him become a mixture of Phil Helmuth and Gordon Gekko? Sigh. The film scores well when dealing with drug addiction, but this guy could've cured cancer or become a supervillain who takes over the world. Nah, let's have him gamble. 'Coz that's really exciting and only people with super brains can do that, right? For a film called "Limitless" it seems to have a really limited imagination (Not to mention gullible, if the filmmakers really believe that myth about how much of our brain we use. Seriously, I hear that and a film is immediately pretty much dead to me. “Lucy”, I’m looking right at you, honey!).

 

15. Jack (1996) - Francis Ford Coppola, Bill Cosby, Diane Lane, and Robin Williams cast as a 10 year-old in the body of a 40 year-old. Gold, right? Wrong. Horribly, awkwardly, and disappointingly wrong. There was the possibility for a lot of terrific comedy here, either low-brow stuff or something a little more sophisticated like "Big" or "The World According to Garp". Coppola says 'Nah, fuck that. Let's make an awkwardly quirky family movie that won't please kids or adults or anything with a working brain'. It's awkward, sappy, unfunny, and goes to all the most obvious places. One expected more from this cast and director than a safe (if overly quirky) kids movie with fart jokes and Williams breaking kids' chairs and the like. It's a really subpar film. I guess one could be glad that it's not "Toys", but look at those credits and the plot and then watch the film and tell me you don't think it should've been a whole lot better.

 

14. The Ides of March (2011) - I've got some pretty controversial picks on this list, but this one might just make a few of you boil over. I can't help it, I was sorely disappointed with it, and still shake my head in disbelief. It's better than George Clooney's other film that year, the even more overrated "The Descendants", but maybe actually more disappointing. This seemed so amazing on paper and it just doesn't live up to the film one expected it to be. The high-powered cast and political subject matter had the makings of a real ripper of a film...but it never really happened. It's pretty clichéd, and the ending (which seems to have multiple interpretations) is completely unsatisfactory, no matter how you slice it. The thing that really bugged me is that it played like a more serious "Primary Colours", and as a result, seemed more applicable to the politics of the 1990s, rather than 2011 (Apparently it was based on Howard Dean's 2004 campaign). A sex scandal? Really? Been there, done that. Doesn't really say anything for today, and for a seemingly politically savvy guy like Clooney (who directs and co-writes), I find that surprising and disappointing. Maybe he didn't want to be accused of being negative towards Obama, I dunno. But this just felt really soft, half-hearted, unoriginal, and not very compelling, despite terrific turns by Paul Giamatti, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the ever beautiful and impressive Marisa Tomei (The only performance of hers I haven't loved is ironically her Oscar-winning turn in "My Cousin Vinny"). Clooney casts himself well as the President too, his combination of charm and smarm is spot-on. But...I was left so frustrated and disappointed that the script just wasn't up-to-date, or up to snuff.

 

13. The Godfather Part III (1990) - I'm not the biggest "Godfather" fan you'll ever meet by a longshot, but even I can see a staggering drop-off in quality between the first two films, and this clearly inferior effort. What the hell happened? Did Francis Ford Coppola and co-writer Mario Puzo forget everything that worked the first two times in the intervening sixteen years? I mean, yes Coppola's nepotism in casting his own, completely ill-equipped daughter in an important supporting role proved disastrous, but Sophia Coppola ain't the big problem here. Like several films on here, this isn't a bad film (Joe Mantegna and especially Andy Garcia are brilliant, Eli Wallach also steals his scenes), but it's definitely a noticeably lesser one. It's bloated and most crucially of all, there's really nothing necessary to tell here. Almost everything feels like it's been lifted from either one of the earlier films, and this was just an attempt at raking in money off the back of the fans of the first two films. Even die-hard fans of the first two films know that this one just isn't what it should've been. I mean, technically it should never have been made, but it should still have been much, much better than this.

 

12. Shutter Island (2010) - This one could've and should've been classic Gothic psychodrama stuff, unfortunately Martin Scorsese (for all his genius as a filmmaker) just isn't a schlock filmmaker. He showed us that with the pointless and uninteresting remake of "Cape Fear" and this is even worse. It's not his worst film (for me, that's actually "The Wolf of Wall Street"), but it's just not a good mixture of filmmaker and material. In a film that cries out for a Roman Polanski or Stanley Kubrick (not to mention a running time closer to 90 minutes than the 130 or so it actually runs for), we instead get Sledgehammer Scorsese, going too far with the spooky atmosphere (it could've been amazing in moderation), possibly to compensate for an immediately transparent mystery. It's not a great script and Scorsese's overblown approach to it simply alerts one to that fact. For what is at the end of the day more mystery-thriller than psychodrama, the transparency is fatal. The ear-splittingly overstated music score by the one and only Robbie Robertson doesn't help, either. The overblown style pulls you out of things, and the transparent mystery leaves you twiddling your thumbs for two hours waiting for the film and characters to catch up. Not much fun, but the supporting cast is really good.

 

11. Death Proof (2007) - Forget the fact that Australia never got to see "Grindhouse" as intended, even if we did, there's no way it would've satisfied, because whilst Robert Rodriguez held up his end of the bargain with the splat-tastic "Planet Terror", Quentin Tarantino...gave us "Death Proof". Not only was it not really a grindhouse film (those films tended to be gory horror films, sexploitation or a mixture of both), but it's not even a good film. It feels like QT, an unabashed fan of cult and exploitation films, has taken the idea of making a 70s car-oriented action pic like "Vanishing Point"...but failed to even do it right. It drowns in excessive and awkwardly hip dialogue to the detriment of pacing. There's a terrifically nasty performance by Kurt Russell (as a deranged movie stuntman) that goes absolutely to waste here because QT just has to be the coolest guy in the room and needs all of his characters to be Chatty Cathy's. This could've been so much fun, but it never really gets off and running. It was a particularly bad idea to give us two sets of characters to follow, as it makes the film seem disjointed in the extreme, but also even with all the dialogue, the characters don't really stand out aside from Russell's Stuntman Mike and Kiwi stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who let's face it, is hardly an actress. It definitely should've focussed on the second group of characters (Bell, the charismatic and beautiful Rosario Dawson, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead among them), and got rid of the earlier group. There's no doubt that this could've been a winner if it were much tighter, faster, and far less focussed on dialogue.

 

10. Changeling (2008) - A Clint Eastwood period mystery based on a true case, and starring Angelina Jolie. How in the hell did this not end up a masterpiece? Well, it's not a bad film, but the biggest problem is that true story or not, I didn't believe it. It's all well and good to place a 'Based on a True Story' label on a film, but if you don't actually take the steps to make me believe it, it's all for nought. Angelina Jolie, try hard as she indeed does, never really convinced me that she was a 1920s telephone operator and mum, despite being a mum herself in real life. Worse, the film's plot has echoes of "Sommersby", where a missing person comes back but their loved one is convinced that they aren't the same person but an impostor. It's an idea that has been done in more than just this film and "Sommersby" and I don't care if it really happened, I've never bought the possibility of such a thing. It's ridiculous, and it certainly didn't work for me here because it forces every other character just about, to look like a damn fool for not believing Jolie's character. She's the kid's mother, for cryin' out loud, she's the perfect person to attest to the identity of this child. The ridiculously overpitched incompetence of the police and one-dimensional portrayal by Jeffrey Donovan as an unhelpful police captain also threaten to sink the film. It's the kind of film where every few minutes you find yourself saying 'Oh, come on!'. And that's a shame, because although a little hammy, Jason Butler Harner is really unsettling as a slimy, clearly mentally unbalanced man. I'm not sure how one would've fixed these problems given it is indeed based on a true story, but there's no doubt that this film really should've been better and more convincing.

 

9. Super 8 (2011) - Leading up to seeing this J.J. Abrams tribute to Steven Spielberg, I had it in my head that this was gonna be a great kids sci-fi/fantasy/adventure film, somewhere in the vicinity of "The Goonies" (which Spielberg served as EP on) meets "E.T.". Wrong Spielberg movies (Although it does have some of the domestic issues Spielberg dealt with in "E.T.", but that was the more serious stuff in the film). No, instead this is more like a kids version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", not remotely one of my favourite Spielberg films I have to say, and the mixture for me had uneven and disappointing results. Yes, it's silly to rail on a movie for what it's not instead of judging it on what it is. That's why I say that I don't like what it is, and think it'd be so much better if it was what I had pictured in my head (Egotist much? I know…) This isn't just a case of expectations not being met, it's not very good at what it's trying to be, either (And Spielberg's surprisingly grim, hugely underrated "War of the Worlds" resoundingly kicks its arse). The child actors are frankly pretty unmemorable, and unlike "The Goonies", their characters don't pop at all. There's no Spielbergian sense of awe, wonderment or childlike innocence at all here. Hell, even "Close Encounters" got two out of those three right, even if I'm not a huge fan of it. I think the film gets better and more exciting in the second half, but even then the ending is appalling. It's a good-looking film, but lacks character depth, awe and wonderment. The basics are all there for something really special, but maybe J.J. Abrams just isn't half as special a filmmaker as his hero Mr. Spielberg (Then again, this is a much better film than Spielberg's two films of 2011, the useless "Adventures of Tintin" and the terrible and corny "War Horse". How's that for irony?).

 

8. Alone in the Dark (1982) - What a cast! What a premise! What a waste of potential! Coming from Jack Sholder, the director of the abysmal and frankly bizarre "Nightmare on Elm St. 2: The Kinky S&M One", coming to this film decades later I probably should've known not to expect much. But then you see the cast- 'Howling Mad' Murdoch (Dwight Schultz) from TV's awesome "The A-Team" as a family man and shrink! Jack Palance, Martin Landau, and hulking behemoth (and former Olympic wrestler) Erland van Lidth of "The Running Man" fame as escaped nutjob mental patients! Genre favourite (and occasional genuinely brilliant character actor) Donald Pleasence as a shrink who may be nuttier than his patients! And there's a city-wide blackout, which is full of potential fright and atmospheric chills. It's a truly great premise, as the three escaped nutters head for Schultz's house, convinced for some reason (they're nuts!) that he has killed their doctor (Pleasence). This could've been brilliant and terrifying, but Pleasence's scenes as the wacko doctor are unnecessary to what could've been better as more streamlined, and they also throw the tone out of whack. His scenes are bizarro, almost black comedy stuff, and the film is oddball when it need not have been. Just look at the highly underrated Canadian flick "Visiting Hours" (with frightening and intense Michael Ironside terrorising Lee Grant) or of course, the original "Halloween" as models for what this thing could've and should've been. Instead it's a bunch of good actors and a great premise that goes begging in favour of an off-kilter tone that just isn't necessary. What a huge disappointment.

 

 

7. Jackie Brown (1997) - There's a lot of things to like about this Quentin Tarantino film, especially the brilliant performances by Pam Grier (in a turn that should've, but largely didn't, revive her career) and Samuel L. Jackson. However, it has a serious identity crisis that holds me back from embracing it the way I've embraced most Tarantino films that have come after it (The "Kill Bill" films and "Django Unchained" especially). You see, on the surface this looks like Tarantino's tribute to Blaxploitation, and as a fan of that 70s film movement myself, it's what attracted me to the film. This could've been an awesome tribute to Blaxploitation from a man who clearly has an intense love for it. It would've been a helluva film. The thing is, though, that the text that Tarantino has chosen for this film is a book called "Rum Punch" by Elmore Leonard. It is not in any way compatible with Blaxploitation. Blaxploitation films were mostly fast-paced, action-heavy exploitation films. Crowd pleasers. That's not what we get here. What we get here is a character and dialogue-heavy crime flick that moves slowly (sluggishly at times, actually) and runs way too long. It's almost the antithesis of Blaxploitation. Maybe Tarantino thought he was making a Blaxploitation epic, but Blaxploitation films tended to run around 90 minutes, and as a fan of them, I can tell you, that's the most suitable running time for them. Tarantino has mixed two things that just plain don't go together here. The fact that it still remains a watchable film is mostly a testament to his cast, Grier especially, who hasn't lost a step as a leading lady since the 70s, and some genuinely good moments of dialogue here and there (Once again, mostly delivered by Grier and Jackson). I can see that QT feels passionately about Blaxploitation, but this simply wasn't the right avenue to express that passion.

 

 

6. Public Enemies (2009) - I'm not going to suggest that a stylistic choice is entirely to blame for this John Dillinger movie from the sometimes brilliant Michael Mann not working. However, it sure as shit doesn't help that Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti have used digital cameras for a 1930s gangster movie. I'm a philistine and film purist, but for once, my resistance to digital filmmaking I believe is even more justified than usual. In this period context, it just looks wrong, is muted, murky and jerky. It looks cheap. It's like Mann saw "The Untouchables" and decided...to do the exact opposite. That film is one of the best, if not best gangster movies of all-time and should have been a template for how to do this kind of thing right. Instead, Mann decided he wanted the story of John Dillinger to look like a bad home movie. The real-life story, like most real-life gangster stories, could've worked wonderfully well on screen. And with one of the world's most popular actors in Johnny Depp in the lead role, you'd think it would be impossible to make a boring film with such elements. Mann has somehow found a way, because this is entirely lacking in energy, and never really gets going. The characters are flat and unengaging, and Depp has an off day in the lead. One of the most charismatic and interesting actors around is surprisingly uninteresting, and lacking in presence. Christian Bale as the lawman hunting Dillinger down is equally uninteresting, though I've never been a fan of his. It's a dour, ugly, and totally unengaging film...and I would never have believed that was possible going into it.

 

5. Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) - The reason why this one's on the list is really, really simple. Look at the title. You're expecting a sexy film with lots of Sapphic action, aren't you? Well, "Vampyros Lesbos" this ain't. Few, if any of the women appear to be lesbians, and there's no sex at all to be found. Fuck you, lying movie title! Instead it's yet another Brit horror-comedy trying to replicate the success of "Shaun of the Dead". The fact that I didn't much like "Shaun of the Dead" furthered the pain and disappointment for me. Once you get past the fact that the film is a total prick tease, there's some merit to the film. It's actually fairly well-made, well-shot, and actually funnier than "Shaun". What it is not, however, is what it claimed to be by the title, and therefore it's not the film it should've been. This could've been brilliant if it added some Sapphic sex to the laughs, instead the film ends up just average, and a lying sack of crap.

 

4. The Village (2004) - And right here is where M. Night Shyamalan up and lost his mind and lost his credibility as a filmmaker. The premise was there, the film looked terrific, but it's dramatically inert, the big cast is completely muted and affected presumably by design, and the conclusion is so laughably ridiculous that it renders the entire film not only useless but an embarrassment. Its worst sin, though (aside from the portentous and awkward dialogue), is that it's so insufferably boring. He really had something here in conception, but the execution is botched to such a worrying degree that it makes you really question the filmmaker's mental faculties.

 

3. Australia (2008) - This was supposed to be the big blockbuster to lift Aussie cinema out of the doldrums. It was called "Australia" for cryin' out loud, how could it go wrong? Well, it was directed by Baz Luhrmann, that's how. Luhrmann is an OTT showman, more at home in the theatre than in the world of cinema, and his garish, caricatured musical-influenced style is the exact wrong approach for what could've and should've been a sweeping, "Gone With the Wind"-esque (or perhaps a more light-hearted film like "The African Queen") romantic epic. It's not a bad film, it's just that it's not the great one it should've and could've been in someone else's hands. In Luhrmann's (Jazz) hands, it's all a put-on, and often quite irritating and off-putting. Hugh Jackman and particularly Nicole Kidman are left helpless, though Bryan Brown is perfectly cast as a meanie, and David Wenham steals the show. But don't even get me started on the film's 11th hour attempt at serious social commentary on the plight of the indigenous people of this country, the final sentiment about the Stolen Generation is horribly offensive. No, this just didn't come off the way it should've. Such a shame.

 

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is inarguably the best film series since the original "Star Wars" trilogy, so when it was announced that he was going to shoot "The Hobbit", we all naturally assumed it would be awesome, right? Even the fact that he was taking a comparatively flimsy Tolkien text and stretching it out to three epic-length films didn't have me particularly worried about the resulting quality. And then I saw the first film and Peter Jackson broke my heart. 3D filmmaking meant that the forced perspective technique that helped create the magic of the "Lord of the Rings" films would never work, and thus the illusion was noticeably and distractingly shattered for me. No matter what new tricks (stand-ins & CG trickery) Jackson employed, it looked noticeably different to the earlier trilogy, and clearly very much worse. The makeup noticeably looks too much like makeup, and because some dwarves wear more makeup than others, what may have worked on the page, just doesn't convince on the screen. Even the CGI, in addition to being too plentiful, just doesn't come across seamlessly. I was truly, truly disappointed in this one, but more than anything, I was bored to tears. I don't know if it was because the shattered illusion meant I couldn't get into the story, or if the hour or so of dwarves and hobbits singing and doing sweet bugger all of interest, simply wasn't remotely interesting. Perhaps the fact that it was a flimsy story stretched out beyond breaking point was the issue. I don't know. What I do know is that this was one of my biggest movie disappointments in decades.

 

1. Jurassic Park (1993) - The big blockbuster of 1993. We all anticipated the hell out of it. Spielberg. Goldblum. Attenborough. Dinosaurs. How could this have been anything other than completely awesome? Well, Jeff Goldblum certainly held up his end of the bargain, he was hilarious. Unfortunately, the film turned out to be hollow, clichéd, and lacking the sense of awe and wonder that you'd think would be a given. Spielberg in my view is one of the all-time great cinematic storytellers, but his record is not clean and he was not on-point here at all. He gave us the dinosaurs in full view way too early, making a mistake that the Steven Spielberg of 1975's "Jaws" would never have made. Thus the dinosaurs, which even back then didn't look that impressive to 13 year-old me, simply didn't wow me. The characters were stock, the adult leads (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) seemed bored, the kid actors were annoyingly precocious, and anyone who has seen "Mr. Frost" and "Hideaway" knows Jeff Goldblum can't save a film on his own. Rather than an awe-inspiring adventure film it felt like watching a bunch of boring people on a day out at a dinosaur-themed amusement park (which is essentially the plot anyway, really). It's not a bad film, it's simply one of the biggest disappointments I've had at the cinema in my whole life.