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, May 2, 2015

Review: Vehicle 19


Paul Walker plays a ne’er do well ex-con meant to be on his best behaviour. He ventures to South Africa in order to be with his estranged diplomat lover (Leyla Haidarian). Unfortunately, as he steps into his mini-van rental car, the worst day of his life begins. The car is the wrong one, but the rental car company tells him to suck it up. And that’s when he finds an assortment of oddities in the car; a gun, a cell phone that keeps receiving odd text messages, and a woman (Naima McLean) bound and gagged hidden behind the backseat. Yep, you read that correctly. Oh, and a voice on the phone tells him to return the car to a certain location and no harm will come to him. What in the Wide World of Sports is a-goin’ on here?

 

Even if I had seen this 2013 film from writer-director Mukunda Michael Dewil before the slightly similar “Getaway”, it’d still end up being the far weaker of the two films. Where that film was constantly on the go and featured very strong car chase action, this one is dreary and slow, and it only has two car chases, neither of which last long enough to leave any impact whatsoever. It’s pretty boring, has zero tension, and you’d think a Paul Walker film would at least get the car action right. He served as EP here, and obviously saw something in it. All I saw was an idiot who when he finds a gun in a car that he already doesn’t own, decides to keep said gun. This guy is already in trouble when we meet him, and since the car is meant to be a rental, anyone in their right mind would take the bullets out of the gun, throw the gun out the window, and throw the bullets out somewhere else. But like I said, he’s an idiot.

 

About the only thing this film holds over “Getaway” is that South Africa is an infinitely more interesting location than Bulgaria proved to be in that film. It’d be even more interesting if the cinematography weren’t of the shaky-cam variety. In fact, it has been appallingly shot. The film opens with an ultra-shaky shot of Walker’s baby blues in Sergio Leone extreme close-up, while he’s inside a moving car. Why is the image shaking, though? The car would hardly be seen to shake from the outside let alone the inside, let alone Walker himself shaking. Move, yes, but violently shake from side to side? Not unless he’s an terrible driver with Parkinson’s. Then again, when you find out the nefarious plot behind it all, ask yourself why the woman in the car is bound and gagged instead of simply being killed. That seemed ridiculously unbelievable to me.

 

This is just subpar stuff, tedious, poorly filmed, and Walker isn’t good enough of an actor to keep you engaged, either. Watch “Getaway” instead, hell even some of the “Fast and the Furious” films aren’t as bad as this, and believe me, that’s saying something. Fans of the late Walker might find something of interest here, but sorry, I was never a fan at all.

 

Rating: D+

Friday, May 1, 2015

Review: The Bad and the Beautiful


The story of a manipulative, ruthless, and selfish Hollywood film producer (played by Kirk Douglas), and the people he used and abused along the way. Making up the latter are director Barry Sullivan, troubled star Lana Turner, and author/screenwriter Dick Powell. Walter Pidgeon plays the schlock producer Douglas and Sullivan start out working for, Gilbert Roland plays a Latin lover star, Leo G. Carroll plays a fussy British director, and Gloria Grahame plays Powell’s wife.

 

One of the best films of its type, this look at Hollywood from 1952 was directed by Vincente Minnelli (“Brigadoon”, “Lust for Life”) and written by an Oscar-winning Charles Schnee (“Red River”, “Butterfield 8”), who must’ve had some real-life figures in mind when writing this script. It’s certainly a commendable look at movie-making from a time that was still very much a part of the Golden Years of Hollywood. One is immediately impressed with the music score by David Raksin (“Laura”, “Kind Lady”, “Jubal”, “Separate Tables”), not really known as one of the top film composers, but undoubtedly doing a great job here. The opening really is wonderful, including the first shot of Barry Sullivan doing that director/crane movement thing you always see in films about movie-making, but it’s really well-done here. Lana Turner, meanwhile looks immediately edible. Yes, I really am going to let that statement stand on its own. It’s a really nifty way Minnelli and Schnee have managed to introduce is to most of the main players so early on. I was also really impressed by the excellent, noirish lighting throughout the film by B&W cinematographer Robert Surtees (“Intruder in the Dust”, “The Sting”), a definite highlight of the film.

 

The film boasts several good performances, but by far the most impressive is Kirk Douglas. Playing a slick, self-serving producer apparently meant to represent producer David O. Selznick, it’s one of the great, passionate actor’s best-ever performances. This guy is monumentally manipulative and a little creepy, really. He does some truly horrible things throughout, and yet Douglas doesn’t play this out in any kind of hammy or showy way. It’s a fantastically measured performance. I’ve always found Lana Turner to be a phony, melodramatic actress, but in this film she’s really, really good. And really, really sexy. B&W really seems to work for her, if you ask me. The only flaw in her performance, and it’s the only false scene in the entire film, is a silly, borderline psychodrama-level hysterical, car-driving meltdown. It’s the only trace of the Lana Turner I know and dislike, and it’s an aberration on an otherwise pretty believable film for its time. I’m not sure I like Turner getting top billing over Kirk Douglas, though. Both were stars at the time and Douglas has the lead role, so what gives?

 

I believe Turner, Douglas, Surtees, and Raksin all deserved Oscars for their work here. Surtees was the only one of the four to do so (it’s a gorgeous film), whilst Douglas lost to Gary Fucking Cooper for the overrated “High Noon”, and Turner wasn’t even nominated, which is insane. Of all the Oscars the film did actually win, some seem surprised that femme fatale specialist Gloria Grahame won Best Supporting Actress for playing the rather superficial, southern belle wife of screenwriter/author Dick Powell. Grahame’s an acquired taste and doesn’t really have a terribly large range (and even then “The Big Heat” was her obvious high point), but here she’s actually going a bit outside that range. At least, the way I read her character. ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** Every review you’ll read of the film refers to her character running off with Gilbert Roland to have an affair. This may be true, but that’s not how I saw it. The way I read the film, she died in the plane crash on her way to somewhere with Roland before anything had necessarily started between the two. Look at the grieving Powell, he clearly doesn’t buy his wife cheating on him, and on the evidence we’re presented with, I’m not sure I buy it, either. I think it’s left up in the air. So in that sense, I don’t see Grahame as playing her usual vampish part at all, and it’s the only time I’ve not been distracted by her bizarre, quivering lip. ***** END SPOILER ***** Is she anything memorable in the part? Not especially, and I honestly think she won the Oscar for her body of work, as well as for something that happens to her character in the film, and even then it’s a bit of a surprise that she was the one to win an acting Oscar in this film. Especially considering she only enters the damn film with about ½ an hour left to go. What the hell? Did Jack Palance read out the wrong name at the Oscars? Actually, Oscar does have a tendency to sometimes give awards to the least impressive performer in the cast. Beatrice Straight in “Network” springs to mind (Though at least in that case Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch won for their excellent performances too). I’m surprised Turner wasn’t even nominated at all given at one point she even gets sloshed, pretty startling to see.

 

I’m not a fan of Barry Sullivan or Walter Pidgeon and his permanently pursed lips, but both are fine here. In fact, this is probably Pidgeon’s most interesting performance alongside “Dark Command”. I rather liked the early scenes of Sullivan and Douglas finding their way in the industry via Pidgeon’s schlock pictures, which are somewhere in between stylish Val Lewton chillers and William Castle cheapies. When faced with an embarrassing costume for a schlocker called “Cat Men” (possibly a reference to Lewton’s excellent “Cat People”) Douglas’ character interestingly stumbles upon a very important asset to horror films: Darkness. You can see why Barry Sullivan was never a star, he’s a walking stiff in a lot of his films, but he’s fine enough here, and Pidgeon is more than capable in his role, too.

 

Apparently British character actor Leo G. Carroll is meant to be playing Alfred Hitchcock here, but to be honest, I didn’t really see it, though it’s interesting to note that Carroll was a frequent co-star of the man’s films. To be honest, he could be playing just about any finicky, tech/gimmick obsessed-filmmaker (And director David Lean worked for Selznick too, remember), and he certainly doesn’t look or sound anything like Hitch, though if Douglas is indeed meant to be Selznick, I suppose it makes sense. I was a bit disappointed that more wasn’t made of Carroll’s character, partly because I’m a fan of the reliable actor. Similarly, Paul Stewart doesn’t get much to do, though he never quite did get the meatiest of roles. He always gave his best, though, and this is no exception. Gilbert Roland is amusingly cast in the film as a dashing lothario matinee idol…pretty much playing himself really, and doing it perfectly. It’s a pretty good showcase for him, actually. Truth be told, I think there’s not much point to playing ‘Guess Who?’ with every role here, as the character of Von Elsteen could easily stand in for Preminger, Von Stroheim, Von Sternberg, or even Fritz Lang, really. Who the hell knows? Does it even really matter? But I did kinda suspect that Turner was playing a version of Selznick’s wife, actress Jennifer Jones, though other sources list Diana Barrymore, whose father John Barrymore was a notorious alcoholic, which certainly fits. Maybe it was a mixture of both (Hell, the father could’ve easily been Errol Flynn, too).

 

Poor Dick Powell really only comes into focus in the film in the last quarter of the film. He sure smokes a mean pipe, though. Unfortunately for him, Grahame acts him right off the screen, which isn’t hard because he’s the most wooden actor in a film that already has Barry Sullivan and Walter Pidgeon. Truth be told, the pipe was a more impressive actor and there’s plenty of other more interesting options out there if you ask me who could’ve done more justice to the role, small as it is (Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotten, Harry Morgan, Wendell Corey, hell even Whit Bissell would’ve been more impressive). Look sharp and listen closely for a young Barbara Billingsley as a costume designer in an uncredited cameo. The voice of Mrs. Cleaver is unmistakable. Special mention must go to Elaine Stewart, who steals her every scene as Lila, the film’s femme fatale.

 

Honestly, the only real problem with this film is its narrative structure. It’s done in such a flashback-heavy way that you only deal with one of the characters’ story/POV at a time, and the other actors are mostly absent until it’s time for their story. It’s not the most satisfying way to unfold a story, I’m afraid and it holds the film back from being even more than it is. The flashback structure is unworthy of this film. I also think the ending rings just a tad bit false to me. Only a tad, though.

 

Overall this is a very fine film, and you can definitely see the influence this film has had on the likes of “The Player”, “Bowfinger”, and even “Ed Wood”. It’s a fascinating film and a pretty strong drama with a more cynical and harsh view of Hollywood and movie-making than a lot of films of its era and beforehand. I mean, this is a film about the Golden Years of Hollywood (albeit focussing largely on films perhaps just a shade or two below A-grade Hollywood at the time), made while the Golden Years were still pretty much going.

 

This is a very good but not quite great film. The flashback structure robs the film of the power it might’ve had if done linearly. Still, it’s damn good, and features particularly strong performances from Lana Turner and especially Kirk Douglas, as well as a more than solid supporting cast. Definitely a must for film buffs, it’s one of the best films of its type and darker than you might be expecting.

 

Rating: B+

Review: The Mountain Men


Set in pre-Civil War Wyoming, the film is about two aging trappers, played by a humourless Charlton Heston and a grizzled and loud Brian Keith. The plot mixes ‘grumpy old man’ buddy movie relations (they bicker and argue over which Indian tribe has been following them) and tense relationships between the trappers and local Indian tribes as the fur trappers start to see the end of the road for their way of life. Along the way Heston rescues Native American woman Victoria Racimo from a fearsome Indian warrior (Stephen Macht). Needless to say, said fearsome Indian warrior ain’t too happy about losing his woman, and sets out to scalp the two rowdy old fellas. John Glover turns up early as a dandy businessman who hooks up with our protagonists, whilst Victor Jory plays an elderly Native American, and Seymour Cassel plays a Cajun associate of Heston and Keith.

 

Pretty much the only feature film effort (and the first) from TV director Richard Lang (who directed many episodes of “Kung Fu” among other shows), this 1980 western was given a major shit-kicking by critics at the time. For the life of me, I can’t understand why, though a lot of westerns in the 70s and early 80s suffered similar critical savagery. It’s a forgettable piece of nothing much, that if not for the fact that it features two great stars in Charlton Heston and Brian Keith, would have almost nothing worth talking about. Bad movies I can talk for hours on, but mediocre ones? I hate reviewing mediocre films, it almost doesn’t seem worth it.

 

Oh well, if I must then…

 

Scripted by Heston’s son Fraser Clarke Heston (“Mother Lode” and “Treasure Island”, both starring his dad), the film reminds one of some of the light-hearted westerns where John Wayne or Robert Mitchum would team up with say Kirk Douglas, albeit usually very reluctantly and with a lot of comedic bickering along the way. Unfortunately, this is really inferior stuff, and while Charlton Heston was a great star and Brian Keith an excellent character actor, they play completely uninteresting and ill-defined characters here. This just isn’t nearly as fun as you’d like it to be, I’m afraid, though I must admit that I’m shocked no one likes it. It’s not so flagrantly awful that I can’t see it having at least a small fanbase.

 

The supporting cast has some interesting faces, with John Glover as a dandified tenderfoot being a nice contrast to the gruff, grumpy old stars. Unfortunately he ends up rather wasted. Victoria Racimo never quite made the grade as a star, but gives by far the best performance in the whole film, and it’s always nice to see character actor Seymour Cassel, even if you don’t see nearly enough of him. Stephen Macht, however, is abysmally unconvincing as an intense Native American. Appallingly miscast, his war paint is entirely ridiculous, making him look like he’s doing Cesar Romero in “Batman”, only he botched the makeup so badly he ends up looking more like an Italian greengrocer with a bloody nose. Veteran actor Victor Jory, in his final film role, is much more convincing as an elderly Native American, but even the names of the Native American characters seemed made up to me. Running Moon? Medicine Wolf? Are you freakin’ serious? It just made me think of the “Hot Shots!” films, not ideal.

 

The film’s biggest plus is undoubtedly the stunning Wyoming scenery captured by cinematographer Michel Hugo (“Head”, “They Only Kill Their Masters”). It’s so breathtakingly beautiful that you wish that the film encased in it were up to snuff. Sadly, it’s not, and that’s a bit of an insult to mother nature, really. A rather rowdy, loud film about cantankerous fur trappers in their near-twilight years, it’s all a bit one-note, really. I tired of it fairly quickly. The scenery, however, is outstanding.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: Mr. Morgan’s Last Love


Sir Michael Caine plays the title character, a retired professor living in Paris who nonetheless doesn’t speak any French. His beloved wife (Jane Alexander, seen in flashbacks) has just died, and he has no idea what to do with himself. He’s despondent without her, even as we flash-forward a few years. But then he meets pretty, young Parisian cha-cha teacher Clémence Poésy and she seems to bring him back from the brink and give him a new lease on life. His kids visiting from the States (played by Justin Kirk and Gillian Anderson), however, have no idea what to make of this new development and question the much younger woman’s motives.

 

Although far from the biggest turd Sir Michael Caine has dropped in his lengthy and uneven career, this 2013 film is insubstantial, clichéd, and unworthy of his enormous (if uneven) talent. Unlikeable supporting performances by Justin Kirk and Gillian Anderson certainly don’t help, but the main issue here is that writer-director Sandra Nettelbeck (“Mostly Martha”) doesn’t give us anything new, interesting, or even cinematic. This is TV movie material, and very, very small. The characters of the selfish and seemingly uncaring kids played by Kirk and Anderson (who really miscalculate their performances) are beyond tired and hackneyed.

 

That said, I wasn’t entirely happy with the main character, either. I know the French have a reputation for being rude, but the locals in this have a point: Caine, if he was going to live in France, should’ve learned the damn language.

 

Caine and pretty co-star Clemence Poesy are pretty good (though Caine still can’t navigate his way around an American accent after all these years), but the film isn’t, and the very talented Jane Alexander yet again finds herself wasted in a nothing role. What did Caine see in this material that made him want/need to make this? It’s old-hat and way too long for a story so insignificant. It follows an extremely familiar trajectory with the only difference being that it’s Michael Caine this time around. If that’s enough of a difference for you, have at it. I needed more.

 

Pretty mediocre stuff, I’m afraid, and it gets worse the longer it goes on as it doesn’t even adequately payoff the obvious May-December romance the filmmaker obviously starts out heading towards. The ending is terribly unsatisfying and not believable at all for these characters.

 

Rating: C

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review: Equus


I have to confess to personally loathing horses (anything bigger than me tends to scare me, which I guess covers a lot of things), but this flick about a boy who seems to love horsies just a little too much, I particularly loathe and likely still would even without the horses. But the horses definitely are part of the problem.

 

A screen adaptation of a play that was probably a little more sane, it stars Richard Burton as a troubled shrink going through a rough patch in life, with a childless, loveless marriage. A friend (Eileen Atkins, very good) asks him to look into the case of young Peter Firth, as a young man who has apparently been compelled to blind six horses with a metal spike.

 

Initially reticent to talk at all (he sings ad jingles whenever Burton gets too close), Burton slowly discovers that this young man has some seriously warped views concerning religion and sexuality. This, it seems, stems from the conflicting views on these two subjects by his religious nutcase mother (a shrill Joan Plowright, surprisingly ‘off’ here, given her usual high standards) and cranky atheistic father (a well-cast Colin Blakely). Harry Andrews (one of the best of all British character actors) is on hand for a few scenes as a stern stable master who was Firth’s employer. Jenny Agutter (who has a celebrated nude scene, whilst Firth is unfortunately naked quite a bit) is the alluring tease of a girl who unwittingly provides the final nail in Firth’s psychological coffin, so to speak.

 

You can talk all you want about the wonderful use of symbolism, the interesting themes and fine acting (Oscar nominated Burton, Andrews, and Blakely are well-cast and Oscar nominated Firth does the absolute best that anyone could under the circumstances in trying to make the whole thing not quite so barmy), and so on. But what it all boils down to is that Firth loves horsies…a lot. He rides them bare-arse naked and seems to get some sort of sexual gratification from this experience (though we are spared too much explicitness, we still know what’s going on). And this just plain disturbs me, and makes me want to have a cold shower. How such a talented filmmaker as Sidney Lumet (director of great films like “12 Angry Men”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, and “Serpico”) can look at himself in the mirror after making this monstrosity is beyond me, and it boggles the mind just what the thought he could do with the already loony material. And no amount of good acting can come even remotely close to saving such a sicko oddity.

 

The idea that unhappy Burton sees some sort of merit in this young man’s lunatic and depraved behaviour is such a stupid, stupid point to argue, I can’t believe someone with such intelligence as playwright Peter Shaffer or Lumet could try such a thing. When you combine this with all the heavy symbolism (including one hilariously over-the-top homoerotic dream sequence involving Firth, a deep-voiced stud and his steed, which simply boggles the mind), you get a bizarre and rather sick bit of lunacy that tries to over-complicate what is an otherwise fairly standard psychological drama. It should’ve been a simple story of a shrink trying to unlock the mysteries of the mind of a troubled young boy. I’m all for bringing a new spin on an old genre, but, to quote David Spade (ha!), this film is nucking futs! And before you tell me that the play is oh-so much better, you can forget it. I watch movies, not plays, and prefer to judge the film as it stands. And as it stands, it sucks. Lumet doesn’t even try to hide the stage origins, with Burton having about a half dozen portentous rantings and ravings direct to camera. One of the worst films of the 1970s.

 

Rating: F

Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: The Amazing Spider Man 2


We begin with Peter Parker struggling with his obvious feelings for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but also the promise he made at the end of the first film to her policeman father (Denis Leary), to stay away from her for her safety. Gwen, by the way, works for OsCorp, but is considering a scholarship at Oxford. Meanwhile, a lonely nerd engineer has an accident at OsCorp, turning him into the all-powerful Electro, who demands everyone notice him. Dane DeHaan plays Harry Osborn, an old acquaintance of Peter’s who takes over the family business from rich, dead daddy (Chris Cooper). Unfortunately, not only does Harry get drunk on power, he also inherits a family illness and needs Peter to ask his good buddy Spider Man to hand over some of his blood to save him. When Spidey says ‘Nah, fuck that shit’, Harry goes a bit evil and a whole lotta green, leaving Spider Man with two villains to take down. Also causing a bit of havoc, is Russian-accented Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), a looney mobster thug who has an early skirmish with Spider Man, and turns up again at the end, new and improved as Rhino. Sally Field returns as Peter’s Aunt, whilst Colm Feore and Felicity Jones have small roles as OsCorp employees.

 

I thought the previous “Amazing Spider Man” movie from Marc Webb (it was only his second film as director after “(500) Days of Summer”) bordered dangerously close on being a bad film, but he has steered this 2014 sequel somewhat in the right direction. However I’m yet to see a single “Spider Man” film that I can whole-heartedly recommend. Scripted by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”, the first two “Transformers”), and Je Pinkner, the film definitely improves on the previous film in several areas. Peter Parker is far less of a Spider Douche, for instance. Last time out the character was thoroughly unlikeable and pretty much to blame for a lot of bad stuff that happened in the film (Thankfully his status as the ‘black death’ of comic book heroes only rears its ugly head once at the end of the film). He bordered on being the villain last time if you ask me. He seems mostly over that self-absorbed douchy behaviour now, and thus Andrew Garfield is much more palatable in the film, if still nowhere near geeky enough to convince as Peter Parker. The spidey suit sure is cool-looking, though. I also kinda liked how Peter struggled with the promise he made to Gwen’s dad (Denis Leary, happy they found a way to include him in the sequel) to keep her from harm and stay away from her. It helps make him seem more mature this time out and less of a dick. Andrew Garfield’s designer ‘bed hair’ still bothers the crap out of me, however.

 

Meanwhile, Gwen Stacy may not be much of a character, but Emma Stone manages to make her far less ‘Emma Stone-ish’ this time around, which is a great thing for me because I find Emma Stone insufferably snarky and “Juno”-esque. She’s genuinely acting for a change, albeit in a thankless role. So that’s another major improvement. Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan instantaneously proves to be the best Harry Osborn/Green Goblin to date (Yes, he’s the Green Goblin, not Green Goblin II), with all due respect to James Franco (who can be brilliant on frustratingly rare occasions that don’t include “Spider Man” films). Not only does he look somewhat goblin-esque (I swear Emma Stone has a Gremlin head. Not an insult, just an opinion), but he’s excellent in his performance. Unlike the Sam Raimi films, Peter and Harry aren’t as close this time, or at least they’ve been separated for quite a while, which is an interesting change. He’s the big standout in the film for me, even if there’s more than a little of Andrew from “Chronicle” here, somewhat unavoidably. In fact, it’s probably Jamie Foxx’s character who ultimately becomes a bit like that character. As good as DeHaan is, however, I hope he never plays another comic book villain again. He’ll get typecast if he’s not careful (Then again, you only need to look to Mr. Franco to see that going the other extreme of branching out isn’t always fruitful, either. Just ‘coz you can appear on “General Hospital” and in a Jason Statham film doesn’t mean you necessarily should). Good cameo by a very green Chris Cooper as Osborn Sr., too, though it’s weird the role is so tiny. I think he gets about as much time as Stan Lee’s cameo (With even more of a wink and a nod than his other cameos).

 

When Jamie Foxx first turned up in mannered nerd genius mode here, I had seriously bad Richard Pryor in “Superman III” vibes. Thankfully they don’t go there, and whilst not as effective as DeHaan, Foxx’s Electro proves to be a pretty decent villain. He’s more Doc Ock meets Ed Nigma meets “Chronicle” than Richard Pryor, ultimately. His character is definitely a villain, but there’s also some sympathy there because he’s the result of an accident and can’t help himself. Beneath the dangerous electricity lies a dork who just wanted to be remembered by somebody. It’s a shame that Foxx’s performance is somewhat hampered by the FX, because the character itself isn’t exactly uninteresting. It’s just hard for Foxx to do anything with all the CGI. For all the Jamie Foxx allowed to come out, he might as well have been covered in latex or prosthetics or something.

 

The third villain in a film that really only ought to have had one, is Rhino, played in very, very broad fashion by Paul Giamatti with a Russian accent. Some might be turned off by Giamatti’s approach, but I found him such a hoot that I felt ripped off that he was only in the beginning and climax of the film. There’s a chance that he may get more to do in a subsequent film, but the way he is kind of treated as a bit of an ineffectual tool by Spider Man, makes me think not. In a genre where things can get all too mopey and existential, Giamatti is…fun. Remember fun, folks? Yeah, it’s not a given with the superhero genre these days. Giamatti is genuinely funny and steals his two scenes easily.

 

The film has several funny moments, actually, especially when you hear what Peter Parker’s ringtone is. But…I’m still not quite on board with this one. Yes, it makes some improvements, but not enough. As much as the film contains the best Spidey swinging footage to date, I was mostly resistant to the work of Director of Shaky-cam Dan Mindel (“Star Trek Into Darkness”) here. Early on it rears its ugly head for a fight on a plane, and no it isn’t to replicate the turbulence on the plane, it’s for the fight/struggle. And it’s dopey and unnecessary. I also think Webb indulges in way too much slow-mo, but that’s a minor complaint by comparison. The film ultimately overdoses on talk and has way too many characters. Not only do we have three villains fighting for screen time, but Colm Feore does the best with the very little he’s afforded, and poor Felicity Jones may just have the least-defined role played by a name actor of the year. She’s a real talent, and it’s a shame to see her afforded so damn little here. Her role seems over before it really gets integrated into the film. Marton Csokas, meanwhile, turns up as the Man in Black from “Halloween 5”. What? That’s all I could get from what we see of him, OK? None of the characters are boring, they just don’t all get enough room to breathe.

 

This is definitely an improvement over the previous film, but with too many characters to properly deal with and much more talk than action, it’s just watchable at best. “Spider Man” fans might appreciate it more, though, and the ending is somewhat ballsy for reasons best discovered yourself.

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy


Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a human soldier of fortune raised by opportunistic aliens known as Ravagers (One of whom is played by a very blue Michael Rooker). He thinks he’s a much bigger deal than he is, often annoyed that people have never heard of him by his other title, Star Lord. Basically, Quill is a flippant douchebag. Quill’s prized possession is the Walkman his mother gave to him with her favourite songs before she tragically died (In the saddest opening scene to a comic book film in cinematic history). His latest mission has him retrieving a mysterious orb, that others are seeking, including the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace). Quill is eventually arrested and imprisoned, with the orb taken away from him. This is where he meets the strange, disparate characters who will eventually become a band of misfits hell-bent on escaping prison and retrieving the orb before Ronan can get his evil hands on it. These characters are; Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper), a diminutive and genetically engineered racoon who loves guns, Groot (voice by Vin Diesel) a tree-like creature with a seriously limited vocabulary, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), essentially a Thing-like hulking brute who harbours a grudge against Ronan, and green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin of the same species as Ronan, but with wildly different morals. John C. Reilly and Glenn Glose play a military guy/cop and planetary leader, respectively. Djimon Hounsou plays a chief henchman, and Benicio Del Toro cameos as the oddball Collector, briefly seen at the end of “Thor: The Dark World”. 

 

Probably the best Marvel comics adaptation thus far, this 2014 space adventure from James Gunn (The disappointing “Slither”, the trashtastic “Tromeo & Juliet”) is also the least like any other Marvel film I’ve seen. It’s more “Battle Beyond the Stars” with tongue-in-cheek humour, than superhero film, and for me that helped make it stand out. I’ve not been the biggest fan of the other Marvel films (“Thor: The Dark World” being the only other one I’ve thus far liked), but this one was more up my alley. And when in the opening credits Chris Pratt was seen dancing to music emanating from his headphones…I felt genuinely, unabashedly happy. It’s a glorious moment, and the soundtrack choices throughout are mostly perfect. Hell, it made me like ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ for the first time in about two decades. We all hated that one in the 90s, right? Fucking dancing baby. Funniest of all is that Pratt has the worst song of all-time on his playlist: Rupert Holmes’ ode to awful pick-up lines ‘(Escape) The Pina Colada Song’. Meanwhile, one Jackson 5 number leads to the cutest moment in the whole film. You’ll want to hug the screen.

 

Pratt is actually perfect here as the Ryan Reynolds of Han Solo’s. Watch the film and tell me I’m wrong about that, I dare you. Pratt deftly walks a tightrope of smart-arsery without falling into ‘Will someone please punch this glib dickhead on the nose’. Robert Downey Jr., for instance, lost that battle. He’s well backed up by an interesting and eclectic cast, including Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper lending their voices to two pretty convincing CGI creations. Cooper’s Rocket is a fun character, and best of all you can’t really pick Cooper’s voice, or at least I didn’t. Groot obviously doesn’t give Diesel much to do, it’s probably the most thankless role of all-time. However, Groot sure does seem to be going through an existential crisis throughout the film, doesn’t he? Zoe Saldana somehow manages to be sexy as hell in green skin, and unlike “Avatar” you can actually see her. Hers is one of the most interesting characters in the film, nicely shaded. I must give Batista (Dave Bautista) credit here for making an immediate impression and being easier to take than in his most recent and ill-fated WWE run. He’s actually really solid here, and even funny at times. Playing a big idiot who actually thinks he’s smart is a funny idea. Michael Rooker is always good value, and John C. Reilly has a funny moment or two as well. Benicio Del Toro, meanwhile, gives the strangest performance of his career since “The Usual Suspects”. Unlike in that otherwise excellent film, the performance works this time. Djimon Hounsou is a tad wasted, though, which is a shame.

 

The one low point in the film comes thankfully at the end of the end credits with a random cameo by the title character from one of the biggest movie flops of all-time (Hint: Think George Lucas). Apparently the character turned up in the Marvel universe from time to time, but if he makes any more appearances in what I assume will be a franchise here, I’ll throw myself out of my bedroom window.

 

One of the biggest assets the film has going for it is its look. This is one bright, incredibly crisp and pretty film. It’s bright and colourful without going overboard into Joel Schumacher garishness. Based on the comic book created by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, the screenplay is by Gunn and Nicola Perlman. The film is nothing brilliant, but impossible not to enjoy. Bright, funny, and perfectly enjoyable space adventure entertainment. Along with “Thor: The Dark World”, DC’s “Green Lantern” and “Man of Steel”, and the likes of “Sin City” and “Watchmen”, this one stands out as one of the best modern comic book films. All it’s missing is a strong villain, otherwise pretty fun stuff for anyone who doesn’t have a pineapple up their arse or thumbs their nose at things like...fun.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Mistaken for Strangers


A documentary centred around two brothers, filmmaker Tom Berninger and his musician older brother Matt Berninger. Taking place in 2010, Matt has invited his estranged, shambolic brother Tom on tour with his indie rock band The National, as a roadie. Tom (who lives with his lovely parents), unfortunately is an idiot, is socially inept, and has seemingly no concept of what a roadie actually does. His innately irritating personality and his ever-constant camera (not to mention the annoyingly inane questions he asks) quickly grate on the various members of the band, but older brother Matt tries his best to accommodate Tom and act as peacemaker in the situation. Not an easy thing when…did I mention that Tom’s an idiot? Well, he is, and becomes quite a boorish alcoholic in record timing. He’s also a heavy metal fan (and amateur horror film director), not being into his brother’s more folk rock indie stylings.

 

2013 has delivered some pretty good documentaries, but this useless ‘rockumentary’ from director Tom Berninger isn’t one of them. I’m a music fan (and with a diverse taste that runs from ABBA to Motorhead to ZZ Top) but I haven’t listened to much from the last decade or so and modern indie folk/rock puts me to sleep nine times out of ten. But the band focussed on here, The National….ZZzzzz. Apparently they’re pretty popular, but I’ve never heard of them (But we all watch movies from first-time directors we’ve never heard of, so that didn’t stop me), and if the music on show in the film is truly indicative of what they normally sound like…yikes. They sound like an out-of-tune Coldplay, and I HATE Coldplay passionately (Doesn’t everyone?). So obviously there was a disconnect here with me due to the music being featured. I mean, if you’re the brother of the lead singer and your brother and his wife are producers on the film, wouldn’t it occur between the three of you that you should present the band’s musical performances in the best possible light? Or are the band really this out of tune? But this is really a film about two very different brothers, depressed and socially inept Tom Berninger and older brother Matt, the Chris Martin lookalike lead singer of The National. The problem? The film really only has one note to play, and it gets played out within the first 10 minutes of a film that at less than 70 minutes is at once too short and unendurably too long.

 

I did not enjoy this at all. It’s a really flimsy and empty film to be honest, and the only positive with it comes over the end credits as we hear the immortal Rob Halford (whom Tom is a big fan of) belting out a heavy metal version of ‘O Holy Night’ which may just be the most brilliant thing the guy has done since Judas Priest’s insane ‘Nostradamus’ concept album (Seek it out, it’s…something). Otherwise there’s five minutes worth of material here, and whilst Matt is your typical pretentious indie rock singer, his brother Tom is an entire universe of irritation unto himself. He’s basically the stupidly ignorant Zach Galifianakis man-child of documentary makers/subjects. And boy do I loathe Zach Galifianakis. This guy is a douchebag with no idea of how much of a douchebag he really is, and clearly has no idea what a roadie is supposed to do. Look, fat arse, if you want the meanies to stop yelling at you, get off your arse and do your freakin’ job, OK? It’s obvious that this guy struggles with depression and low self-esteem and I like to be sympathetic to such people, because I know plenty of them and have experienced minor versions of such feelings myself. But one gets the impression that Tom is the source of most of his own problems. He’s an immature, irresponsible, unambitious tit of a human being. By comparison, Matt’s a nice guy who wants to do right by his tit of a brother, and after an hour you even get to feel that. But it’s too late and not enough to sustain a film anyway. One also can’t help but feel that the idea of this overgrown adolescent getting a gig as a roadie simply because his estranged brother is the lead singer, is awfully contrived. I didn’t really buy it, documentary or not.

 

Also, I’ve gotta call bullshit on the interview with the band’s guitarist, who complains that no one wants to talk about him, they only want to talk about the lead singer. We’ve all seen “Almost Famous”, stop making drama up, you poseurs. The only interesting moment in the whole film comes from a trip to see mum, who shows the two brothers’ artwork to show how different they are. The rock guy’s artwork is Picasso-like abstract crap, and the roadie’s stuff is really good comic book-style stuff. Their parents are awesome, actually. I feel sorry for them.

 

This isn’t a movie, it sure as shit ain’t no “Some Kind of Monster”. It’s better off as a DVD extra on a concert DVD for The National, there’s just not nearly enough material (let alone interesting material) for a feature film. There’s nothing worse than a shit band fronted by a guy who thinks he’s a God-like poet. Russell Crowe, anyone? Thirty Odd Foot of Would You Please Get Back to Your Day Job, is more like it. Fans of The National might like this, but I’ve never heard of them and they sound like the out-of-tune garage band version of Coldplay. The film itself is flimsy, one-note, uninteresting, irritating and useless to anyone who isn’t already a fan.

 

Rating: D+