About This Blog

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

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review: Planes


Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook) is a crop-duster who dreams of being a racer in the Wings Around the Globe, an international flying race. In his qualifier he finishes sixth, but after a disqualification, he slots into 5th and qualifies for the race. This earns him the ire of the current champion Ripslinger, who scoffs at the notion of a crop-duster entering such a race. But this only makes Dusty more determined to win. Stacy Keach voices Skipper, a supposed war veteran who reluctantly coaches Dusty towards victory, Teri Hatcher voices the supportive mechanic Dottie, Priyanka Chopra is the voice of Indian plane Ishani (whom Dusty is sweet on) John Cleese voices the pompous but loyal British plane Bulldog, Carlos Alazraqui is the voice of Dusty’s fellow competitor and friend El Chupacabra, and Jessica Marais (!) voices the Aussie object of El Chupacabra’s affections, with the not very Aussie name of Rochelle (Does she fly from Milan to Minsk?).

 

I didn’t much like Pixar’s “Cars”, but Disney (who now own Pixar) manage to trump that film significantly with this 2013 follow-up from director Klay Hall (a supervising director on the redneck “King of the Hill” animated TV comedy series). A lot of the credit must go to screenwriter Jeffrey Howard (who has worked on several direct-to-DVD animated films) who at the very least doesn’t pilfer the plot from “Doc Hollywood” for this film, and keeps it really simple. Set in the same universe as “Cars”, it’s basically just a car racing film, but with planes instead. The plot is barely more than that, and while nothing original, you can’t really call it a rip-off of anything in particular (some have suggested the same year’s “Turbo”, but that film was insulting and best forgotten). I do wish, though, that the film didn’t have the exact same animation style as “Cars”, it makes one feel that billing it as being from the same world is a cheating way for animators to not put much imagination into the film’s look. Having said that, the animation in “Cars” was by far the best thing in that film, and this film still looks great. There’s some really stunning, textured scenery throughout, and it’s certainly a very colourful film. You can see that the film is a slight upgrade in quality of the animation from “Cars”, particularly with the beautiful backgrounds.

 

The voice cast is a mixed bag, to be honest. Dane Cook makes for a rather boring protagonist, actually. However, Teri Hatcher was so youthful-sounding and unrecognisable that I thought throughout that it was Amy Adams. Her voice is surprisingly sweet, I only wish the character had more screen time. Less interesting is the nondescript work of Aussie Jessica Marais (in a role voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the US version, which un-patriotic or not, I would’ve preferred here), whilst I actually didn’t pick up on the gag voice cameos by Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. The best work, however, is done by veterans Stacy Keach (doing an excellent impersonation of Chris Cooper doing an R. Lee Ermey impersonation, it sounds like), and the inimitable John Cleese, as well as the relatively unknown Carlos Alazraqui. Alazraqui’s El Chupacabra is hilarious, and the plane itself is just so cute! I also have to mention the brilliant gag cameo of a voiceover person at JFK airport. Yes, it sounds like you-know-who. Funny stuff.

 

This is nothing new, but it’s superior to “Cars”, despite the fact that planes racing around plays much slower on screen than cars. It’s a fairly minor film, but focussing pretty much solely on the race aspect allows it to at least escape ripping off any Michael J. Fox films. For that, I was thankful. It’s cute, easy to watch, and damn good-looking to boot. Howard’s screenplay is based on a story by him, the director, and John Lasseter (the director of “Cars” and “Toy Story”).

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: Frozen Ground


Set in Alaska in the early 1980s, the film deals with Alaska’s most notorious serial killing investigation. Nic Cage plays a veteran state trooper nearing retirement, who doggedly pursues the killer, who has been getting away with it for about 13 years. We know pretty early that the killer is John Cusack (although at first it’s just an abduction case), a rather unassuming family man with all kinds of issues bubbling beneath the surface (and a criminal record that no one seems to have noticed), who abducted more than 20 women, played with them for a bit, then took them out into the wilderness and treated them like wild animals to be hunted down. Vanessa Hudgens plays a teen prostitute whose claims of narrowly escaping being killed have thus far gone unchecked, but whom Cage sees as key to bringing this guy (who claims to have an alibi) to justice. Kevin Dunn, Kurt Fuller, and Dean Norris all play cops, Radha Mitchell plays Cage’s annoyed wife, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson plays Hudgens’ scummy pimp, and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe plays a drug-abusing hooker who takes Hudgens under her frankly not very trustworthy wing.

 

Written and directed by Kiwi director Scott Walker (his first full-length film assignment and only one as of early 2015), this 2013 killer-thriller/drama comes with the advanced warning that despite featuring an Oscar winner (Nic Cage), an actor enduringly popular with both audiences and critics (John Cusack), and a Gen-Y icon (Vanessa Hudgens), it still managed to avoid cinemas altogether. It also claims to be ‘Based on actual events’, which is code for ‘It was originally based on a true story, and then we altered the fuck out of it to suit our needs’. It was also produced by hippity hopper 50 Cent (along with eleventy billion others), so bear that in mind too. Needless to say, the film’s not very good at all, and having seen the film, I’m not remotely surprised it avoided cinema release.

 

It’s basically a mixture of “Insomnia” and the John Wayne Gacy TV movie “To Catch a Killer”, but not nearly as good as either, despite two OK performances in key roles (Though no one bothers to sound remotely Alaskan, just thought I’d point that out). The best thing about the film is undoubtedly John Cusack, continuing where he left off in “The Paperboy” by playing against type as an accused serial killer. He does the outwardly affable thing well, and underplays it just enough that it’s still credible that he could be a creepy killer underneath. It’s a tricky balance, and the character becomes more overt after a while, but nonetheless Cusack plays this quite admirably. Cusack has never been an over-actor, but he dials it down so much here that it’s genuinely creepy how unemotional he is at times. Very grim-looking, and seemingly without remorse or the capacity for empathy- and yet, he’s a well-liked family man. Vanessa Hudgens, meanwhile, is actually very good as a teen hooker and occasional stripper, who of course is the only stripper in town who has a no-nudity clause in her contract. Given her character’s age, though, I don’t really care about that.

 

Much less effective, however, is Nic Cage, once again in mopey and boring mode. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe hyper scenery-chewing Cage even more, but as much as being emotionless is to Cusack’s advantage, it absolutely does not work for the character Cage is meant to be playing. He gives the line ‘He’s done it before, he’ll do it again!’ the least effort of any actor to have won an Oscar. Sure, he’s playing the hoary old cliché of the cop near retirement, but sweet Jebus, Nic, you signed on for the film, at least try and sound like you believe in it. He gives his lines no emphasis whatsoever, and for someone who can at times be the worst over-actor in movies, at other times he is capable of being the worst at the other end of the scale too. The supporting cast has some capable hands (Kevin Dunn, Kurt Fuller, Dean Norris), but Australia’s own Radha Mitchell sadly gets saddled with yet another one-dimensional unsympathetic wife role, and it’s hard to do anything with that. I’m not sure why her Hollywood career hasn’t quite soared, there’s weaker Aussie actors out there whose careers have proven more lucrative than hers (Sam Worthington, Poppy Montgomery, Rebel Wilson, Dustin Clare, etc). Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (where has she been lately?), meanwhile, overacts in her small turn as an experienced hooker. It’s the kind of role that 10-15 years ago would’ve gone to Gina Gershon, and Ms. O’Keefe ain’t no Gina Gershon. The weirdest thing about 50 Cent being here isn’t how small his role is in the film, but how appallingly cinematographer Patrick Murguia frames him. The role is certainly miniscule, and you’d think with 50 being a producer on the film, he’d at least make sure that you can properly see him in the frame for each of his brief scenes. Did he even bother to look at the dailies? Does he know what dailies are? Murguia further tarnishes the film by taking some truly wonderful Alaskan scenery (not to mention showing the less rural parts of Alaska that you rarely see in the media) and nearly destroys it with his murky, shaky cinematography. It’d actually be a pretty ugly film without the scenery. Murguia favours the unnecessary and unhelpful shaky-cam side of things, even in mere walk-and talk-scenes. Hell, he uses it for an interrogation scene for crying out loud! Why? To ratchet up the tension? That’s what acting is for! Let the actors act, and if you feel they aren’t capable of it, why hire them to begin with? As I’ve said countless times, all shaky-cam does is alert my attention to the artifice of filmmaking, not draw me into the story.

 

The film has a potentially interesting story, albeit one that could be done for TV. I love true crime and serial killer stories, call me a sicko if you want. But Walker isn’t a very good storyteller on evidence here. In one ridiculous scene, Cage gives his superior Kurt Fuller a bunch of stuff he has investigated…but we’ve never seen him actually do the investigating in the first place. This is cinema, dopey. Show, Mr. Director, don’t tell!

 

Woefully inadequate and unworthy of fine performances by John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens, it’s easy to see why this clichéd and frankly uninteresting film was released direct-to-DVD. The mystery is how it attracted a pretty big name cast. Incriminating photos would be my guess. But hey, if you’ve been waiting your whole life to see 50 Cent play an Alaskan pimp (!) then…actually, you barely get to see him, so don’t even bother.

 

Rating: C-

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: In a World…


Lake Bell stars as the daughter of a revered movie trailer voiceover guy, a pompous arse (played by Fred Melamed) who went up in stature with the passing of the late, great Don LaFontaine. Bell is doing OK as an expert coach in accents and also an ADR dubber, but dreams of breaking into the thus far male-dominated world of movie trailer voiceovers. She’d like to be the first woman to utter LaFontaine’s infamous line ‘In a World…’. When an upcoming quadrilogy of YA Fiction adaptations is on the horizon, Bell sees this as her big opportunity. The title phrase hasn’t been used since LaFontaine’s death, but this upcoming series will apparently see its return. Meanwhile, her dad has always dissuaded her from joining the fold, and is mentoring a rival voiceover talent, played by Ken Marino. Alexandra Holden plays Melamed’s much younger bimbo girlfriend, Rob Corddry plays the husband of Bell’s sister, Geena Davis plays the big-time producer of the upcoming film franchise, and Jeff Garlin and Eva Longoria parody themselves, the latter needing Bell’s help with a cockney accent, the former as the host of the industry awards (And I could totally see Garlin being the host of such second or third-string awards).

 

Writer-director-star Lake Bell (whom you might know from “Boston Legal” or “No Strings Attached”) makes things very difficult for herself with this lame, unfunny 2013 comedy. The film is about a woman trying to break into the predominantly male world of movie trailer voiceovers, and specifically those with the immortal words ‘In a world…’ (Coined by the late, immortal Don LaFontaine, who is revered in the film. I always preferred Adolph Caesar’s blaxploitation trailer voiceovers myself). Why is this problematic, you ask? Oh, let me count the ways…

 

Let’s get the most petty flaw out of the way: How often do trailers come with voiceovers these days anyway, let alone with the phrase ‘In a world…’? Yes, it’s just a movie, but that thought kept nagging away at me throughout. I couldn’t think of the last film trailer I saw that had a voiceover, to be honest. But perhaps the situation is different in America, so fair enough, I’ll let that one slide, and at least the film explains that the title phrase was retired in honour of LaFontaine’s passing. However, this film concerns a character who wants to not only voice movie trailers, but be the first woman to use the holiest of movie trailer voiceover phrases ‘In a world’, to be resurrected. At some point during the writing of this film, Ms. Bell seems to have realised what you and I will immediately realise: That the likelihood of a woman being given the ‘In a world…’ assignments is very, very low, and there’s no real reason why except…it just doesn’t sound right most of the time (And I’m not endorsing that thought, by the way. It’s a stupid, stupid way of thinking. But it’s nonetheless the feeling most of us will have and history shows that women haven’t been given the gig. Can’t argue with that, sadly). So Bell tries to find a way around this by first having the initial choice pull out with a sore throat. Then the only way she can find of allowing her character to utter the phrase is…in a quadrilogy of Young Adult lit adaptations. Chick fare, basically. Way to half-arse your female empowerment there, Lake. We all know she’s compromised the point she sets out to make at the beginning of the film (It’s in the title!), and the whole thing crumbles as a result. I mean, OK you can do that quadrilogy. Then what? The thing is, if she didn’t aim for the ‘In a world…’ gig, the film would’ve worked a bit better. We all know women can do trailer voiceovers, and damn well should do them. Just not this kind. It’s such a simple thing to correct, and the bizarre thing is that Bell has her character’s father pretty much point out the problem 10 minutes into the film.

 

I also don’t think that Bell should’ve cast herself in the role. Let’s face it, the only reason she’s playing it is because she wrote, directed and produced it. She’s clearly not a voiceover talent. When she tries to do the film trailer voice herself, she sounds like a woman trying to sound like a guy. At least cast a woman with an already masculine-sounding voice, for chrissakes if that’s what you’re aiming for. At one point, Bell says ‘Women should sound like women’. WHAT? You’re helping to ruin the point of your own damn movie, you idiot! Meanwhile, her character is meant to be a master of accents, and tries to teach Eva Longoria how to do a cockney accent. Problem? Bell’s cockney accent isn’t much better than Longoria’s supposedly comically bad one. The joke is therefore completely botched.

 

Sorry, but this film is a complete failure. It’s a stupid and misguided film with a thin storyline, and the only funny joke is the dad’s douchy license plate: ANUNC8. As the dad, Fred Melamed (apparently a stage-trained actor turned voiceover talent on TV, especially sports and commercials) is pretty good, though I was surprised Bell didn’t hire actors well-known for their voices in roles here (Brian Blessed, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Lee, Michael Shannon, Michael Ironside etc.) Otherwise the likely only audience here are Lake Bell fans, and people with first and last names that are ‘things’. For me, Bell’s personality isn’t able to hide the lack of story or character depth, nor the fact that I didn’t believe in any of it (even for a comedy). Pathetic waste of Geena Davis, too. Oh, and Ms. Bell, you should probably know that trailers for new movies don’t announce themselves as the first in a quadrilogy when the first film hasn’t even been released yet. That’s a cock-up right there. The film was popular at Sundance and has its fans, so don’t take my word for it, but it does suck.

 

Rating: D

Monday, May 4, 2015

Review: Alvin Purple


Graeme Blundell plays the title character, a likeable and not terribly bright sort, who seems to attract the attention of horny women everywhere. Employed as a door-to-door salesman of waterbeds, he finds himself practically raped by his customers. But none of this makes Alvin happy, so he seeks psychiatric help. Unfortunately, his shrink (Penne Hackforth-Jones) is sexually repressed herself, and her boss (George Whaley) ropes Alvin into ‘helping’ some of his sexually repressed patients, which essentially turns Alvin into a male prostitute, getting himself in trouble with the law. The one girl Alvin does have feelings for (Elli Maclure) is so horrified by his man-whoring that she runs away to become a nun. Lynette Curran and Jacki Weaver play a couple of the horny women who make advances of Alvin (the former being his neighbour), Christine Amor plays one of a throng of schoolgirls who pursue Alvin on the way home from school each day when he’s a teen, Abigail is a sexy young woman Alvin spies on the bus one day, and Carole Skinner (Perhaps Bea Smith’s toughest adversary in later seasons on TV’s “Prisoner”) plays a Mother Superior at the end.

 

Directed by Tim Burstall (The excellent “Last of the Knucklemen”) and written by actor Alan Hopgood (mostly known as an actor, he was Jack Lassiter on “Neighbours” and Wally on “Prisoner”) of all people, this 1973 Aussie ‘classic’ is like “Alfie” in reverse, with a dorkier lead and lots of T&A. There’s also elements of “The Graduate”, “Carry On”, “Benny Hill” and TV’s “Number 96” thrown in. The result actually isn’t a bad time-waster (It’s a Russ Meyer film with smaller tits), and certainly funnier than the awful TV series that followed. I’m not really into this snickering and knickers, “Carry On”-style comedy, but there’s some things to enjoy here. I mean, where else are you gonna see Lynette Curran and Jacki Weaver fully naked? (Curran looks sensational, by the way, but you’ll need the ‘Pause’ button for Weaver’s annoyingly staged scene) In a film featuring a title song sung by Brian Cadd, no less! And then there’s the late Penne Hackforth-Jones, future star of an infamous Sultana Bran TV commercial I grew up with. Here she’s cast as a sexually-repressed shrink who gets all in a huff when Alvin rejects her. Noel Ferrier, essentially the Aussie version of Robert Morley, is perfectly cast as a judge who enjoys hearing and seeing Alvin’s exploits a bit too much.

 

It’s a real time capsule this one (I mean, an Abigail appearance anyone?), and amusing enough on that level, though the second half does get bogged down a bit and a tad too serious, which is a shame. In fact, it pretty much stops dead after the trial ends. I also didn’t like the fact that the music score ripped off “Benny Hill” from time to time, that was so unnecessary. Yes this film is incredibly sexist…if you take it seriously, which would be stupid. Blundell is such nerdy and unconventional casting that it’s almost kind of a cute film. On its chosen level, it’s sort of fun, though with no Sapphic content and frankly not all that much sex of any kind, its appeal was limited for me. So far as trash goes, this one’s almost sweet. How many ‘tits and bum’ flicks can you say that about?

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Review: Blue is the Warmest Colour


Teen Adele (played by then 18 year-old Adele Exarchopoulos) attends a gay bar with a male friend and meets blue-haired college student Emma (Lea Seydoux, ten years her co-star’s senior), and there’s an immediate attraction. Before long, the older and more experienced Emma is leading Adele into her first lesbian experience. They form a tight, passionate bond, though as with many relationships, there are setbacks, conflicts, and confusion throughout the duration of their relationship.

 

I’ve been wanting to see this 2013 lesbian romance/drama from director/co-writer Abdellatif Kechiche (“Black Venus”) for quite a while now, because I’m a pervert. Turns out that it’s a solid movie, while the sexual content actually has its plusses and minuses. Co-scripted by Ghalya Lacroix from a 2010 graphic novel by Julie Maroh (I need to start reading these graphic novel things), it’s not the masterpiece I was expecting from its reputation, and I think three hours is far too long for what is a pretty simple romance/relationship story to be honest. However, the two lead performances by Lea Seydoux and especially the remarkable Adele Exarchopoulos really give the film a lift. I don’t think blue hair is very fetching on the otherwise lovely Seydoux, but Exarchopolous is absolutely stunningly beautiful. More importantly, her performance is so outstanding that I think she was robbed of an Oscar nomination. I’d place her performance as the third best lead female performance of 2013 behind only Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” and Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”. She’s that good. Her handle on facial expressions is masterful from the first scene to the last. It’s actually one of the best female coming-of-age performances I’ve ever seen, possibly the best. The chemistry between the two actresses (which seems to have translated off-screen too, though to what degree is hard to discern from confusingly different reports) is there and powerful from their very first conversation. I also need to point out that both actresses have amazing lips. That’s very important to note.

 

I was worried that the film would go down a very dangerous path and have one of the two girls decide she was straight after all and become a film about infidelity and confused sexuality. That’s a frankly tired cliché and not a helpful one either, so thankfully the situation here is more complex than that. In fact, the ending we finally arrive at is probably the correct one to be honest for these specific characters. However, it can’t be denied that the basics have been done before, even as recently as “Eloise” (both have teenage lesbian romances involving an art student), though this is the much better film.

 

I just don’t think it’s nearly enough material to stretch to three hours without an awful lot of filler and extended scenes. Do we really need to see elongated scenes of people eating spaghetti or making uninteresting small talk for ten unbroken minutes? The lead actresses let you know everything necessary with their facial expressions in less than two minutes. It’s too much movie, and possibly too much of a good thing in the case of the sex. In some ways, the big sex scene (which runs for almost the same time as the spaghetti-eating and tedious small-talk but much more pleasurable to watch) between the two actresses is the greatest sex scene of all-time. Yes, even better than anything in films like “Bound” or “Emmanuelle II”. However, it seemed to me to be far too spectacular and ‘creative’ given one of its participants is a high-school girl having her first sexual experience with another woman. On that level, it was quite unbelievable, though hardly the biggest issue in the world (It ‘works’ great if taken out of context. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge- Hey, it’s that kind of film OK?). The actresses certainly help a lot, and both have incredibly sexy bodies, Seydoux especially, and they tackle the scene like Romeo and Juliet in their intensity and passion for one another (Though I don’t seem to recall Romeo and Juliet ever 69ing in any version I’ve seen).

 

Overrated, overlong, and full of filler, but when this film is good…it’s great. It’s just a shame that the entire film isn’t great. Finding a different roadblock in the relationship than the tired convention of infidelity would’ve certainly helped, but there’s still a lot to like here.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Kid Galahad (1937)


When opportunistic boxing manager Donati (Edward G. Robinson) witnesses hayseed bellhop Wayne Morris knock out the heavyweight champ after the latter insults Donati’s good-hearted mistress nicknamed ‘Fluff’ (Bette Davis), Donati sees dollar signs in the big lug. Dubbed ‘Kid Galahad’, he becomes a big deal pretty quickly. Donati organises a fight with the champ’s mobster manager Turkey (Humphrey Bogart), but because the jealous Donati suspects that The Kid has a thing for his sister (Jane Bryan) and that ‘Fluff’ has a romantic interest in The Kid too, Donati may not have The Kid’s best interests at heart, even less so than usual as he starts seeing red. Harry Carey plays the veteran ‘cut man’ working for Donati, whilst Soledad Jiminez plays Donati’s loving, immigrant mother.

 

Pretty enjoyable boxing movie from 1937 directed by Michael Curtiz (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Casablanca”) and scripted by Seton I. Miller (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Ministry of Fear”). There’s some pretty big stars on show here and at least one terrific character actor to boot. Later remade with Elvis, this version’s an easy watch, even if Bette Davis’ character feels rather beneath her mammoth talents (She had already made “Jezebel” by this stage, for instance). The supporting performances by a slightly amateurish Jane Bryan (who seems to think she’s in a silent movie) and a miscast Soledad Jiminez (flagrantly awful as Edward G. Robinson’s immigrant mother) don’t do much for the feminine side of things either.

 

Personally, I think this basic set-up was done far more effectively in “The Harder They Fall”, with Bogart in the Edward G. Robinson role, pretty much. This is no world-beater, but it’s an entertaining film, and Robinson in particular is excellent. He’s played a lot of roles, but I think he was born for this one. He’s a perfect huckster/promoter/con artist. It’s unquestionably Robinson’s show here. Davis is perfectly fine, and looks surprisingly young given it would only be another four years before she played Regina in “The Little Foxes”. It’s not a great role (especially in the latter half), and having her play a nightclub singer was a bit unfortunate, but she’s otherwise good in it, and surprisingly attractive. I never thought of Davis as a looker, to be honest. It’s nice, if unusual, to see her so young and affable on screen. It’s not the best use of her, but it’s certainly interesting to see a different side of her. Bogey is the heavy in the film and is in rock-solid form, though he looks remarkably thin. Wayne Morris is OK as the innocent nice guy bellhop/boxer. Harry Carey gives nice support as the veteran ‘cut man’, even if like Davis, he sort of disappears in the second half.

 

This one’s not trying to cure cancer or reinvent the wheel, it’s just there to be enjoyed and indeed you’ll have a good time with this one. But then go and watch “The Harder They Fall”, to see a much meatier film on this subject.

 

Rating: B-