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 16, 2015

Review: Five Man Army


Peter Graves plays an American mercenary dubbed ‘The Dutchman’ looking for four comrades to help steal $500,000 in gold dust from a Mexican military train with seriously protective armour, as well as seriously armed soldiers on board the moving vessel. These comrades are: Brawling and heavy-eating Mesito (Bud Spencer), stoic Japanese warrior ‘Samurai’ (Tetsuro Tamba), The Dutchman’s longtime comrade and explosives expert dubbed The Captain (James Daly), and thief-acrobat Luis (Nino Castelnuovo). Carlo Alighiero is their chief nemesis, the brutal Captain Gutierrez.

 

Although it’s definitely a spaghetti western, this 1970 film was directed by an American in Don Taylor (“Escape From the Planet of the Apes”, “Damien- The Omen II”), and reminds one of films like “The Professionals”, “The Dirty Dozen”, and “The Magnificent Seven”, rather than your average spaghetti western. Hell, if anything it’s a western version of TV’s awesome “The A-Team” with Peter Graves somewhere in between George Peppard’s ‘Hannibal’ Smith and the character he himself played on “Mission: Impossible”. Scripted by veteran TV writer Marc Richards (who even scripted an episode of “He-Man: Masters of the Universe”) and the inimitable Dario Argento (director of “Suspiria”, “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage”, and “Inferno”), it’s a B-version of all those films listed above, but B doesn’t stand for bad, it’s just on a second, lower tier than the top grade of westerns. It’s occasionally exciting and well-shot, if obviously not on the level of a Sergio Leone (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) or John Sturges (“The Magnificent Seven”, “Gunfight at the OK Corral”) western.

 

If it does count as spaghetti western, then it’s certainly one of the stronger non-Leone spaghetti westerns for sure, even if Taylor isn’t the dynamic filmmaker Leone was. He’s a workman-like director, but not inept. Just look at the really exciting, tense set-piece aboard the well-armed and guarded train. It’s a very well-done set-piece, and workman or not, Taylor’s no hack (Unless the rumours are true that someone else- possibly Argento- directed some of the film). The entire climax is actually really well-done, with Tetsuro Tamba proving himself a runnin’ fool long before “Forrest Gump”, in a really cool, extended sequence. The final stages are by far the best thing about the film, including the 11th hour twist that although maybe not 100% believable, is genuinely unexpected and interesting. The film has an interesting B-cast, too. Tamba doesn’t get to do much, but when he does- Yes, please! James Daly plays the Captain and he’s really good, having a somewhat world-weary vibe as he realises it’s a young man’s game and they’re severely outmatched and outgunned. If you were making a western in Europe during the 70s and needed an Ernest Borgnine or Jack Elam type for half the price, Bud Spencer was your dude. He’s good fun here as the rowdy, violent member of the five, and for once it’s his real voice you’ll hear, as he was usually dubbed (Despite being perfectly OK in English if you ask me). The lead here is Peter Graves, Capt. Oveur from “Flying High!” (AKA “Airplane!”), and although seemingly an odd choice at first, he has an affable, reliable demeanour about him that is appealing. He’s no Yul Brynner, but he’s certainly got more personality and charm than say Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott. As the chief villain, Carlo Alighiero is no Eli Wallach or Lee Van Cleef, but is a pretty damn good villain nonetheless. In fact, the film could’ve used more of him. Even the music score is good, as much as one regrets that Ennio Morricone is pretty much cannibalising himself here (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Death Rides a Horse” especially). At least it’s not a Morricone imitator.

 

This is pretty good fun and the cast is interesting. Certainly one of the better second-tier spaghetti westerns out there, with a thrilling climax. It deserves a much better reputation and bigger audience.

 

Rating: B-

Friday, May 15, 2015

Review: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt


Dana Andrews plays a novelist engaged to Joan Fontaine. One day he witnesses a public execution with Fontaine’s left-wing, anti-capital punishment newspaper man father (Sidney Blackmer) about the wrongs of capital punishment. Blackmer comes up with a cockamamie idea for Andrews (looking for inspiration for a book) to incriminate himself to such a degree that he gets arrested for a recent murder, and set to be executed. The idea will be that Blackmer will arrive just in time with all of the plans that prove that he is innocent and that it was just a stunt to prove that an innocent man can be executed (That they could get arrested for dicking around with the law never seems to enter into their, or the filmmaker’s heads). In order for this to work, Fontaine must be kept in the dark, because she’s a silly bobble-headed girl who can’t be trusted to keep a story straight, right? So, Andrews agrees for some godforsaken reason to be the ‘guilty’ party and away we go. Complications come via a freak accident that will make it very difficult for Andrews to prove his innocence. Whoops. Philip Bourneuf plays the aggressive DA, Edward Binns plays a cop, and Barbara Nichols plays a floozy ‘dancer’ who knew the deceased, a co-worker.

 

The last American film from director Fritz Lang (“Metropolis”, “Ministry of Fear”, “Clash By Night”, “The Big Heat”) is sadly not a good one. This 1956 twisty courtroom thriller/social message film plays like something Alfred Hitchcock would’ve thought up…and given up on because he couldn’t think of a way to make it work. Lang and screenwriter Douglas Morrow (“The Stratton Story”, “Jim Thorpe- All American”) have pushed on either undeterred or unaware of the problems. If you’ve seen “The Life of David Gale”, it’s quite a similar film, but not as good (and that film was no masterpiece).

 

This is the kind of film where a newspaper man played by Sidney Blackmer will claim in earnest that a newspaper can’t take sides. Really? ‘Coz I can think of at least one paper in Australia that calls bullshit on that, buddy. Unlike “David Gale”, I never felt Dana Andrews was committed enough to the cause to go along with this, and it’s only partly due to Andrews’ unpersuasive performance. In fact, almost no one in this film acts with any sense of urgency or interest. Hell, everything is subpar here- acting, script, direction. It’s all underwhelming. And incredibly preachy. Boringly preachy, actually, with Andrews looking deathly bored, and the talented Sidney Blackmer choking on his pretentious dialogue. After quite a ballsy opening scene of an execution, we get an awfully dry and inorganic post-electrocution discussion between Blackmer, Andrews, and the pro-death penalty DA (Philip Bourneuf) that stops the film dead.

 

Also hampering the film is the rather unconvincing performance by a thanklessly cast Joan Fontaine. An 11th hour twist is a pleasant surprise and helps nix a few concerns I had with the logic of the whole thing (I’d rather not delve into spoilers, to be honest, but you’ll have the same concerns believe me), but not nearly all of my concerns. Still, along with a fun performance by Barbara Nichols, the twist is the best thing.

 

The whole thing is just dated and unconvincing, it feels not like a B-picture, but a C-picture, and I’ve always held Lang a lot higher in esteem than that. It doesn’t even look memorable, which is quite disappointing for a Lang picture. What the hell went wrong here? It just doesn’t come off, and the fact that it was written by a law school graduate (!) almost makes your brain explode.

 

Rating: C

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: Elmer Gantry


Set in the 1920s, Burt Lancaster is the title shameless travelling salesman and con artist with a two dollar smile and the gift of the gab. After catching a revival meeting with Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons) he discovers a new way to make a buck and is soon trying to ingratiate himself into her inner circle. She’s initially frosty and sceptical of the shameless womaniser, but she sees something useful in his speechifyin’ and bluster. Before long, Elmer’s delivering passionate oratory sermons about damnation and sin at her revivalist meetings across the country, making both of them rich and famous in the process. That is until Elmer’s human failings (chiefly the sin of lust) threaten to derail the whole damn thing. Also following them is a cynical, atheistic newspaper journalist named Jim Lefferts (Arthur Kennedy), who is friendly enough, but isn’t for a second suckered into their ranting and raving, entertaining as it may be. Patti Page (apparently a pop singer) plays a na├»ve follower of Sister Sharon, Dean Jagger is Sister Sharon’s concerned manager, Shirley Jones plays a woman of ill-repute from Elmer’s past come back to cause trouble, and John Qualen (uncredited for some reason) plays a storekeeper friend of Elmer’s. Hugh Marlowe, Philip Ober, and John McIntire play religious figures who aren’t entirely on board with the rather showy, seemingly disingenuous revivalist movement, especially once Elmer becomes involved.

 

Although one might not consider it the most realistic, Stanislavsky-esque performance of all-time, Burt Lancaster definitely delivers one helluva performance in this powerful 1960 film from eclectic writer-director Richard Brooks (“Blackboard Jungle”, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “In Cold Blood”, “The Professionals”). Lancaster could be stoic and silent when need be, but he uses his great oratory skills and boundless energy to brilliant effect here. When he talks- which is often- you are riveted. It’s a showy and wonderfully entertaining performance that won the talented and versatile Lancaster his only Oscar. There’s an especially amazing scene where he enters an African-American church and joins in on their singing with seemingly great passion. Make no mistake, though, the character Robert Mitchum played in “Night of the Hunter” had more religious conviction than Elmer Gantry, albeit with a much nastier and homicidal disposition. It’s a cynical and damning film, but as Brooks (a wonderfully eclectic filmmaker) makes clear from the opening crawl, it’s not an anti-religion film. Devoutly religious people should be just as condemning of the hucksters depicted in this film as Brooks clearly is.

 

The supporting cast is excellent, with Jean Simmons absolutely robbed of at least an Oscar nomination for what is her best-ever screen work, along with the lesser-known “So Long at the Fair”. Hers is a very difficult role, and seeing her pull it off so well makes one so angry that most of her other performances don’t even come close to touching her accomplishment here. The relationship between Simmons’ Sister Sharon Falconer and Elmer Gantry is a fascinating one. Elmer’s pretty much an open book to anyone with a working set of eyes and ears, he’s a con man, albeit a likeable and thoroughly charming one who means no one any harm, and who does at the end of the day seem to lean more towards being religious than non-religious, hard as it is to see behind the used car salesman schtick (albeit enthusiastically delivered schtick). That’s what probably makes him so hard to dislike, because he does seem to be on the side of God, albeit largely because it benefits him. Sister Sharon is much, much more difficult to read. It’s obvious that she’s not quite everything she claims to be, but just how aware of that is Sister Sharon herself? It’s only towards the end of the film when Sister Sharon is asked to heal a deaf man that one gets a sense of the character definitively. The looks on both Elmer Gantry and cynical journalist Jim Lefferts’ faces say it all. In fact, the entire fiery climax is memorably horrifying. The film also offers up startling casting of Shirley Freakin’ Jones as a tarty, scantily clad hooker. Her negligee in her first scene is so loose you almost see Mrs. Partridge’s pear trees! Jones is surprisingly hot as hell in the role, but as good as she is in the part, it seems such a small role for her to have bagged an Oscar when the much more impressive Simmons failed to even earn a nomination in her lead role. The underrated Arthur Kennedy is pitch-perfect casting as the cynical, largely atheistic journalist (essentially based on the infamous H.L. Mencken) who covers Sister Sharon’s barnstorming revivalist shows. At times one wonders if he’s the bad guy here or the revivalist phonies he’s attempting to expose, and the casting of both Kennedy and Simmons has a lot to do with that slight ambiguity. Dean Jagger and the always welcome John Qualen also offer up nice, smaller turns, though Philip Ober, John McIntire, and especially Hugh Marlowe don’t get much to do. Marlowe has a particularly thankless role as a reverend who isn’t a fan of revivalism. McIntire says his few lines with absolute authority, however, as always.

 

Honestly, the only drawback to this film is the pretty awful, overly insistent and shockingly Oscar-nominated score by Andre Previn (“Bad Day at Black Rock”, “Porgy and Bess”, “My Fair Lady”). It’s particularly shrill and ear-bleedingly overboard over the wannabe Saul Bass opening credits. It settles down after that, but is still far too intrusive.

 

A riveting, well-acted look at revivalist con artists and charlatans, but it would’ve been a bit of a chore were it not so charismatically performed by a lively Burt Lancaster and surprisingly strong Jean Simmons. An absolute must-see and unforgettable once seen. Brooks’ screenplay also won an Oscar, based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis, which was apparently controversial in its day (the late 1920s).

 

Rating: A-

Review: The Backwater


Set in rural Japan in 1988, the film concerns a teenager named Toma (Masaki Suda), whose father (Ken Mitsuishi) is a physically and sexually abusive to his current girlfriend Kotoko (Yukiko Shinohara), and presumably Toma’s divorced mother Jinko (Yuko Tanaka) many years ago. Although he occasionally beds down with Kotoko himself, Toma has a girlfriend too (played by Misaki Kinoshita), and he is worried that his sadistic father’s influence will see him turn into a similarly monstrous bastard of a man towards her (Cheating apparently isn’t a concern, though). Meanwhile, Toma makes occasional visits to see his mother, who cleans and processes fish caught in the polluted local river.

 

Although relatively well-acted across the board and featuring nice backwater Japanese locales, this 2013 film from director Shinji Aoyama and writer Haruhiko Arai is endlessly unpleasant to no real point and not a whole lot of merit. Hell, even the sex is boring and one-dimensional.

 

Set in the late 80s and based on a popular novel, it’s just too thin, so that things play out too quickly, leaving the film nowhere to go and a lot of time to do so. Everyone here acts in slow-motion, it takes forever for anyone to take a stand. I know that happens in real life too, but in a film it becomes frustrating and off-putting very quickly. It’s 15 minutes of nothingness preceded by 70-80 minutes of ‘Is that all there is?’. Since it’s all so unpleasant and monotonous, there’s nothing much to keep you terribly interested.

 

I understand the film, I just don’t get the point as such, and it’s too unpleasant to care. I can’t see why anyone would willingly want to watch this. It’s little ado about even less, and ugly all-round. Well-shot, though, by cinematographer Takahiro Imai.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Captain Phillips


The true story of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his container ship crew’s encounter with desperate Somali pirates. Barkhad Abdi is Muse, the one giving the orders amongst the gang of pirates, armed with machine guns and not much patience. Familiar faces Chris Mulkey, Corey Johnson, and David Warshofsky are amongst Phillips’ crew, whilst Max Martini represents the Navy SEALS, and Catherine Keener is Phillips’ wife, glimpsed in the opening moments.

 

It’s a shame that this 2013 film from director Paul Greengrass (“Green Zone”, “The Bourne Ultimatum”) and writer Billy Ray (director of “Shattered Glass” and “Breach”) has been met with the news that one of the men in Richard Phillips’ crew tried to sue him. It kinda puts a taint on the film that, at a moment’s thought, really shouldn’t be there. The complaint was more about a difference in opinion concerning decisions the Captain made, not slandering the guy as a whole, let alone the film. The film itself is definitely worth seeing, so long as you can get past Tom Hanks’ ill-fitting accent and the shaky-cam nausea from Greengrass (a serial offender of nauseous aesthetics) and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (whose work on “The Hurt Locker” and Greengrass’ “Green Zone” was better than most shaky-cam jobs at least). I knew little about the real-life case going in, and perhaps that’s an advantage for a film like this.

 

Aside from the camerawork (suggesting a sentient being with invisibility capabilities but a severe drinking problem or possibly mild Parkinson’s), this is tense and efficient filmmaking and a good yarn, based on a true incident. As much as Hanks’ accent falls somewhere in between RFK and Mayor Quimby, it’s interesting to watch him in what is kind of a character actor part, albeit the lead in the film. It feels matter-of-fact, as does the film itself, really.

 

When you first hear of this incident and see how big the ship is, you’re in disbelief that this could happen. But these are desperate men from a third world country and they have guns. It can happen and it did. Barkhad Abdi is an immediate worry among the pirates. This is the kinda guy who is determined to prove he’s the boss, even though he’s really only the self-appointed captain for the sake of having one guy make all the decisions. But the power structure among these men is such that their real leader isn’t even among them, he’s back home. Any of these hot-headed characters (save maybe the youngest) could just as easily have been the guy to take charge on the boat. It’s not so much that these men are all  interchangeable, it’s just that, should Abdi die, the next guy will pick up where he left off quite easily, the power structure isn’t as easily defined as in say, “Die Hard”. It’s quite realistic to today’s geopolitics and terrorism, in that sense. Also, they are quite far from a well-oiled machine. Because the brains of the operation isn’t even with them, they don’t have a clear idea of what they are doing or how to cope when something doesn’t quite go right. Their first attempt is botched when their speedboat conks out, for crying out loud. I said that they were hotheads, and indeed the tempers on these guys is such that it makes for some very uneasy viewing. They are all quite volatile and unpredictable. And yet, as bad as these guys are, they’re following orders. In their part of the world, disappointment and failure are not an option. In that sense, they are more than one-dimensional villains, which I think speaks more to Ray’s script (even though I still can’t believe he co-wrote “The Hunger Games” and “Colour of Night”) and the performances than anything Greengrass does. In fact, Barkhad Abdi (Born in Somalia, but moved to Minnesota at age 14) gives us one of the most interesting villains in quite a while. He has a truly unsettling dead-eyed stare that suggests that he’s not even computing what anyone else is saying. He has one job to do, and he’s going to do it. He can’t afford to waver from it. Add to that the fact that he is armed, and that’s incredibly frightening. I’m not sure if we’ll see much of Abdi in the future (does he have range? We’ll have to wait and see), but he’s excellent here and deserved his Oscar nomination for a remarkable screen debut. He certainly doesn’t come across like a first-timer. Hanks doesn’t deserve an Oscar here (He deserved one for “Cast Away”, though, which I’m still pissed about over 10 years later), but he is sturdy and does what the role requires. He’s pretty convincing as an ordinary working man whose heroics are much subtler than those of a typical action hero. Hanks’ final scene feels so real that it’s almost unbearable to watch, and it’s his best moment in the film. I also liked the work of Chris Mulkey (who must be the most ubiquitous and long-serving character actor in mostly bit roles to still be working today. Ron Dean is the only other one who springs to mind) as the typical union guy. He’s an identifiable character, the guy who wants to remind you he’s a union guy at the first sign of trouble. I’m not sure why Catherine Keener turned up for what amounts to a glorified walk-on as Phillips’ wife. Bizarre.

 

Gripping stuff and way better than expected, if you can get past the shaky-cam nonsense and irrelevant gossip and accusations, this is really solid stuff. It’s what they used to call white-knucklers, kids. Adapted from a book co-written by the real Phillips. 

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: Starter for 10


Set in the mid-80s, James McAvoy stars as a working class lad who is somewhat of a know-it-all, though more of a quiz geek than an intellectual (Bit like yours truly, actually). So much so that he gets into Bristol University with hopes of one day appearing on the team for University Quiz, which is broadcast on TV, something McAvoy grew up watching with his mum (Catherine Tate) and now deceased dad. He does indeed manage to get on the team as First Reserve, earning the disdain of older student and nerdy team captain Benedict Cumberbatch. He also falls for pretty and friendly teammate Alice Eve (who comes from money). Meanwhile, he also has a bit of a teasing relationship with lefty student activist Rebecca Hall, who seems more his down-to-earth match, if only he could get past Alice’s wonderful cleavage to see the other girl. Dominic Cooper and James Corden play McAvoy’s working class mates back home who warn him not to become a wanker, whilst Charles Dance plays Eve’s snooty father.

 

If you can get past the fact that James McAvoy is playing a first-year Uni student when he’s clearly almost five years older than Rebecca Hall and Alice Eve (not to mention a year older than me, and I was 27 at the time of the film’s release, having already completed my somewhat useless Master’s degree), then this 2007 flick from director Tom Vaughan (“What Happens in Vegas”, the mediocre “Extraordinary Measures”) and novelist/screenwriter David Nicholls (“Simpatico”, “And When Did You Last See Your Father?”, “Great Expectations”) isn’t bad. I found it a bit tough to swallow the obvious age difference at first (Catherine Tate isn’t even old enough to be McAvoy’s mother for cryin’ out loud!), and the film becomes a bit predictable after a while. However, the only thing that really turned me off here was that I never want to hear Robert Smith and/or The Cure ever again. This film has a serious hard-on for The Cure, with at least five of their songs on the soundtrack and a ‘Thank You’ credit for Smith to boot. For some reason we also get Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’, which is awfully jarring, as it’s about the only American song on the soundtrack. And for a film that starts off with the glorious Motorhead, it sure takes a helluva nosedive with songs by Wham! on the soundtrack.

 

However, for the most part, this is pretty enjoyable stuff, and no matter his age, James McAvoy is very easy to like. Hall and Eve, however are even better. Hall is quite simply a star, she really has something, and although she has odd cheekbones, Eve looks positively edible in her underwear. Sorry, but it’s the only word to describe it. Both actresses are perfectly cast, and as much as I love Eve (who is able to navigate some tricky waters to emerge with a character you can’t actually hate- she means well, after all), Hall really comes out on top here with that star quality that you just can’t teach. All three are good enough actors that after a while, their ages won’t matter as much for some of you. The film is surprisingly funny at times too. McAvoy learns a lesson many of us poor fellows have been well-schooled in: Never, EVER ask a girl you like if she’s had many boyfriends. You do NOT want an answer to that question. I’m not really a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, but playing the British snob version of Sheldon Cooper here, he’s very amusing. The scene where he gets into a punch-up with Dominic Cooper is hands down one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. There’s also one very clever moment of irony that just has to be intentional, as it’s almost too cute: Hall and Eve play characters named Rebecca and Alice, and at one point McAvoy calls Hall ‘Alice’!

 

It’s a shame about the predictable trajectory, and I would’ve liked Charles Dance to have had a more substantial role, but Dance is often one to take on roles he probably shouldn’t have (“The Golden Child”, anyone?). On the whole, this isn’t a substantial, original, or memorable film but the performances are good and there’s some good laughs to be had. For some that might be enough. For me, it’s not too far off the mark.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Worth Winning


Mark Harmon plays a smarmy TV weatherman and all-round ladies’ man bachelor. His miserable married buddies (including Mark Blum and former “SNL” nobody and future Mr. Elaine Benes, Brad Hall) make a bet with Harmon. He has to get engaged to three specially chosen women within three months, and videotaped proof is necessary to complete the bet. After which he can simply dump them all like the prick he is. If he wins, Harmon gets Blum’s wife’s Picasso painting (The wife, by the way, is played by a humourless Andrea Martin). The three women are; ditsy Maria Holvoe, bored and married (!) Lesley Ann Warren, and smart, cultured but extremely strong-willed concert pianist Madeleine Stowe who loathes everything Harmon represents. Gee, I wonder which one he’s actually gonna fall for. Whoops, spoil…nah, I can’t even type that with a straight face. Arthur Malet mugs mercilessly in a recurring role as a movie ticket seller, and Kevin Dunn turns up at the end as a bidder at an auction.

 

Directed by Will Mackenzie (A TV veteran, having directed a lot of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Scrubs” episodes), this 1989 apparent ‘romantic comedy’ is completely botched due largely to a smug and thoroughly detestable character played with a surprising lack of charm by Mark Harmon. Also not helping things are the fact that there’s zero laughs here, and characters whose behaviour could only be seen as realistic if they were aliens and the film were set on Uranus. You know there’s gonna be a happy ending here, but under no circumstances whatsoever does this smug bastard deserve anything resembling happiness whatsoever. This plays like an episode of “Frasier”, but without the laughs, and instead of the character of Frasier Crane, a smug jerk weatherman. Mark Harmon has developed into a dependable TV actor on TV’s “NCIS” (which I refuse to watch now that Ziva is gone. I swear the new girl is just Ziva with a blonde wig, though. Anyone else see that?), and made for an interesting Ted Bundy in “The Deliberate Stranger”, but for most of his career, he’s been a bit of a lightweight. You can certainly see why Hollywood wanted to make him a star early on, being that he was a bit Tom Cruise meets Kevin Costner, but the combo never really helped him soar. Aside from the Bundy film, it wasn’t until he went grey that Harmon really came into his own as kind of a stoic, latter day Kevin Costner/Gary Cooper-type. He most certainly does not come into his own here and even George Clooney at his most smug (which is far too often if you ask me) is still preferable to Harmon here. I feel a bit sorry for him though, because right at the outset the film has him do oily to-camera asides, ala “Ferris Bueller” minus the rascally charm. For a high schooler, it comes across as rascally charm, for a guy in his 30s (presumably at least), you want to punch his schmuck face really, really hard.

 

And then the plot kicks in and makes matters worse. It’s kind of a precursor to “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, except the bet here is that Harmon needs to get engaged to three different women within a certain time frame. The problem is that Harmon and his buddies appear to be way too old to be engaging in such immature frat house (or in this case, snooty golf club) douchebaggery. And since these guys are preppy golf club guys, they’re unappealing dickwads anyway. Harmon may be handsome, but there’s just nothing he can do with this to sell it in any attractive way at all. In “How to Lose a Guy”, Matthew McConaughey managed to successfully navigate a character like the one Harmon plays here, but Harmon can’t, partly because the material is lesser. Mostly it’s just because this guy is a major dick.

 

The film itself isn’t very funny (one or two chuckles maybe), not remotely romantic, nor clever, or even original. It sure is creepy, though. The only bright spot here rather surprisingly to me, comes from Madeleine Stowe, who is really quite good, even if nobody could make that godawful multi-coloured tutu dress thing she wears at one point work. It’s truly hideous. Lesley Ann Warren is well-cast, too, though let’s face it, she’s one of the sure signs of a bad film, talented actress or not. “Colour of Night”, anyone? “Burglar”? “Life Stinks”?

 

A stupid film with an unlikeable leading man played by a likeable, if sometimes bland actor. The screenplay, presumably written on a bunch of dirty napkins, is by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott (who later collaborated on “Runaway Bride”), from a novel by Dan Lewandowski. Yes, the film was written by two women. Wow. I bet those two women are now really big fans of TV’s “The Bachelor”. Just a hunch.

 

Rating: D

Review: Swing Vote


Kevin Costner plays an apathetic blue-collar drunk from Texico, barely held together by his bright young daughter (Madeleine Carroll), whom he is struggling to maintain custody of. Carroll, although only 12, believes in doing your civic duty, and when sloshed ‘ol daddy fails to show up to vote, she decides to do it for him. She needed him to do it for her school project anyway. Unfortunately, something screwy happens with the voting card, there’s subsequently a tie between the two major candidates (and it’s crucial for the overall vote of the country, contri…er…conveniently), and it results in them coming to Texico, New Mexico to try and woo just one voter to their side as he re-votes. A guy who doesn’t give a crap, doesn’t think about much, and never wanted to vote in the first damn place. Now not only does he have the two politicians targeting him, but a huge swarm of media are camped outside his house, too. Kelsey Grammer plays the avuncular but smug incumbent Republican U.S. President, whilst Dennis Hopper is the somewhat wishy-washy, baby-kissing Democrat candidate, but both seem willing to take on any and all positions for that crucial vote. Costner, meanwhile, just wants this all to go away, especially as his co-workers and townsfolk start to resent all of the attention. Paula Patton plays a TV news journo in town who is very nice but clearly ambitious, Judge Reinhold is Costner’s redneck co-worker, Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci play the chief advisors to Grammer and Hopper, respectively. Willie Nelson, and several news figures play themselves, whilst George Lopez is Patton’s demanding boss. Mare Winningham is effectively pathetic in a helluva cameo as Carroll’s mum and Costner’s ex, who is in even rougher shape than Costner.

 

Director Joshua Michael Stern (later the writer-director of “jOBS”) and his co-writer Jason Richman (“Bad Company”, “Bangkok Dangerous”) take an interesting but unlikely situation and fail to do anything remotely interesting with it in this 2008 film. The film plays it so blandly safe with its politics that you can’t tell the difference between the Democrat candidate and the Republican candidate, and there’s no Libertarian candidate showing that this was the filmmakers’ intention. No, they are not trying to suggest that Republicans and Democrat pollies are the same, they just wanted to take advantage of the notorious ‘Recall’ vote (and they’re a bit late on that anyway), and haven’t got the balls to really do it in an intelligent and interesting manner (Though one can clearly see that the filmmakers slant slightly towards the Conservative side. Grammer’s Republican president is more silly than amoral, Hopper’s Democrat candidate is never afforded such dimension, and his first moment has him striking a very Nixon-like pose). And it’s done in such a clumsy manner, too, suggesting that maybe they were simply in a rush to get this one out. Hopper’s character is set up as a phony sell-out from the very first scene he has that when we hear that he used to stand for something we ask…When? Not at any point in this movie, that’s for sure, we’ve already seen him reading from cue-cards well before this point. At one point late in the film, Costner (who apparently changed from Republican to Democrat himself in recent decades) says that he thinks a helluva lot of both candidates. The audience is likely to ask why, because neither truly stands for a damn thing and both are willing to stand for everything. At best they learn the err of their ways, but we only see this with Grammer. Hopper’s character isn’t afforded the same chance, barely getting any scenes with Costner at all. It’s been completely botched, though Grammer (a Republican in real-life, though probably not a social Conservative) is certainly well-cast as the stuffy President.

 

The character played by the absolutely edible Paula Patton could’ve made for solid romantic fodder, but the filmmakers don’t seem to hem and haw their way with her character for so long that there doesn’t end up being any time for the romance to actually happen, so it just hangs there untouched. So why have the character at all? To show that the media are intrusive sell-outs? Nope, they soften her character so much that the point never really eventuates, at least not through her. So…nope, I’ve got nothing on that one. It just seems a shame, because the film clearly sets up the idea that Costner is barely holding custody of his daughter, and there’s this lovely woman right there who already gets along with the girl…but the film never goes there. Honestly, the screenplay is pretty damn lousy.

 

The best and funniest thing in the whole film is a truly brilliant ad for Grammer’s character, who suddenly decides to go pro-gay marriage in a manner that won’t alienate Republicans. You simply have to see it for yourself, it’s genius. I also liked the scene between Grammer, Costner, and ‘The Football’. Yes, that ‘football’. Otherwise, “Primary Colours” this ain’t. It’s not even “Wag the Dog”. Helluva big cast, but a lot are wasted, especially a miscast Judge Reinhold (as a redneck with a terrible handlebar moustache who nonetheless apparently votes Democrat??), and Stanley Tucci, who proves he can’t save every film on his own. Seriously, had Randy Quaid fled to Canada by this point? ‘Coz he would’ve been spot-on in the Reinhold part, and I’m not entirely convinced Tucci and Nathan Lane shouldn’t have swapped parts. Young Madeleine Carroll is sadly not a very good actress, in a pretty important part.

 

It’s a flimsy story that seems to also be missing another dimension, a romantic subplot perhaps. Or better yet, make the political stuff a subplot to a romantic comedy (though “The American President” made a nice balance with both). Instead it never really sets about being strongly about anything, kinda like its politicians. And yet it runs for just shy of two hours, which is almost criminal. On the positive side, Kevin Costner hasn’t been this perfectly cast in years (much as I liked him in “The Guardian” and “Mr. Brooks” too) playing the drunken mess barely held together by his smart young daughter. His character’s non-committal, disinterested douchiness (yet obvious paternal decency underneath) holds the film together at least part of the way. There are people out there like him in every country on Earth (thus a film about such a character isn’t a bad idea per se), which is why I don’t believe voting should be compulsory in Australia.

 

Unless you’re an American or it’s been your life-long dream to see Judge Reinhold with a handlebar moustache and mullet, I’d skip this. It’s wholly underwhelming, poorly scripted fluff, wasting a glowingly beautiful Paula Patton and an unlikely (Capra-esque is being too kind) but interesting idea of two opposing political parties courting one specific, disengaged person’s vote. It just doesn’t hang together.

 

Rating: C