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 30, 2015

Review: The Tall Man


Set in the small town of Cold Rock, which has fallen on seriously hard economic times mostly due to cases of child abduction by a rumoured local spectre nicknamed ‘The Tall Man’. Jessica Biel plays a dedicated and caring nurse whose young son appears to have been abducted. She gives chase, but is felled by injury, unable to save her son. And that’s when this film offers its first of several twists, as there’s a whole lot more to this situation than meets the eye. Stephen McHattie plays a federal agent and William B. Davis is the local sheriff.

 

This quietly creepy 2012 French-Canadian crime-thriller from writer-director Pascal Laugier (the startling and rather disturbing “Martyrs”) has enough twists and turns to keep you somewhat engaged, but at times I found it frustratingly confusing. I kept watching, and it’s never dull (especially the final passages), but if it were a little more coherent (without spoiling any of the surprises and twists, of course) this could’ve really been something. A low-key Jessica Biel has never been better, if a tad too distractingly deglamourised, practically screaming ‘serious actress’. Being an EP on the film, she clearly felt connected to the material in some way. It’s also always good to see veteran Canadian character actors Stephen McHattie and William B. Davis (even if “X Files” alumni Davis seems about 25 years too old for his role), but this one just comes up a bit short for me.

 

Confusion lessens the impact of the issue Laugier is ultimately delving into here, and it is indeed an interesting subject worthy of debate. I also found that there was a few too many scenes of characters skulking about for my liking- long passages of it, actually. It’s not like it was supposed to be a stalk-and-slash film. The cinematography by Kamal Derkaoui features some nice night-time lighting, and foggy forestry shots that always warm my black heart. There’s certainly tinges of horror/thriller here (Echoes of Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz in particular), but it’s definitely more of a mystery-drama at the end of the day. Casting ominous-looking actors like Davis (who looks about 90 here, by the way) and McHattie in supporting authority figure roles certainly has your guard up for something sinister throughout, though.

 

A not always successful, but certainly interesting and rather bleak film that goes to places you don’t always expect, constantly pulling the rug out from under you. I just wish it were a little easier to follow. It’s no “Martyrs”, but it’s no disaster, either.

 

Rating: C+

Friday, May 29, 2015

Review: Nymphomaniac vol. 2


Picking up where the last volume left off, self-confessed nympho Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) continues telling her life story to the very curious Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard). This time we hear about her excursions into S&M with Jamie Bell, and becoming a debt collector/bizarro torturer for Willem Dafoe.

 

Think it couldn’t get worse after “Vol. 1”? Oh how na├»ve you are then. Probably even more profanity than usual from me here, but believe me, it’s all warranted and in my view the correct vernacular to be used in this particular context (Not that I tend to use profanity just for its own sake anyway).

 

This 2013 Lars von Trier (“Dancer in the Dark”, “The Idiots”) film was formerly the back-end of a four hour opus of explicit pointlessness now separated into two unequally awful halves, the worst of which this most definitely is. More pretentious wankery from the Dogme specialist, this one even brings up references to Caligula and the Whore of Babylon for cryin’ out loud. That and a bunch of kinky and occasionally nastily violent sex combine to create…not a damn thing, really.

 

The problem with this shit can best be exemplified by the scene where two black dudes with admittedly impressive erect penises have an argument over who gets to stick it in whichever of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s holes, only to be interrupted by a verbal debate between Gainsbourg (still telling her story) and Stellan Skarsgaard on politically correct terminology for black people. I mean, go fuck yourself Lars, seriously. I was already tired of this woman well before the end of the first part, but it wasn’t long here before I was screaming for her to shut the hell up already. You are NOT special in any way, shape or form. You are NOT profound. You are an insufferably dull, insanely pretentious, and ear-bleedingly irritating mouthpiece for a filmmaker who doesn’t have nearly as much of a point as he probably thinks he does. The annoying thing…well one of them anyway, is that forget being one four-hour film or two two-hour films, this material easily could’ve been pared down into one far less painful two hour film. You can’t convince me that at least half of the ‘chapters’ in these two films aren’t needless filler.

 

There’s no doubt that this one’s the far worse of the two films. It’s not just bad, it’s spectacularly silly. S&M and that sort of thing always comes across as ridiculous to anyone not actually engaging in the activity themselves. And believe me, von Trier and Gainsbourg deserve public ridicule for this. It’s an embarrassing film, and Jamie Bell is embarrassingly miscast as an S&M guy. He’s laughably wrong for the part. Willem Dafoe…let’s just pretend you weren’t here, OK? But things get truly insane when out of nowhere, Gainsbourg gets into the debt-collecting business with a penchant for sexual torture. It’s here that the film unquestionably goes off the rails, if it had ever been anywhere near the track to begin with. But it’s pathetically silly having Gainsbourg tell people sexy stories to give them erections to expose their dirty little fetishes/sexual leanings. I mean, even if this is meant to be funny, it’s not. It’s embarrassing, though at least we’re told that the main actors don’t actually engage in any of the hardcore sex seen in the film (Though I’ve heard conflicting reports of either body doubles or CGI being used, which just muddies the waters a bit).

 

Gainsbourg’s character was never really likeable in the first film, but I found her utterly despicable in this film. She’s a horrid woman, albeit a horrid woman treated in a horrid fashion by others even more horrid than she. And von Trier himself is just as horrid for his unpleasant, juvenile, and heavy-handed vision, and then having the hide to try and gussy up this pointless filth with discussions on gender politics and bias at the end of the film. Perhaps the worst sin committed is when von Trier gives us in my view easily the least erotic lesbian sex scene of all-time. Those of you familiar with my particular tastes will realise how painful it is for me to say such a thing. How could von Trier take something so potentially beautiful and turn it into something off-putting? Believe me, he finds the one way to do it. He also caps things off with a truly disgusting ending, a cheap and cynical point that really wasn’t necessary at all.

 

Far worse than “Vol. 1”, this is the worst film of 2013 by a long shot, though both volumes have fared better with many critics than some of von Trier’s other efforts. So it could be partly a personal taste thing. Total waste of the bizarro Udo Kier as a colourless waiter, too. What the hell?

 

Rating: D-

Review: Nymphomaniac Vol. 1


Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as Joe, first seen bruised and battered in an alley, before a quiet-natured middle-aged man (Stellan Skarsgaard) takes her in. While she heals, she tells the rather dry and dull man her life story. Joe (played as a young woman by Stacy Martin) is a nymphomaniac who became sexually promiscuous at a very early age, and seems to think that this makes her all very special and profound. One begs to differ. Christian Slater and Shia LaBeouf (both attempting to sport English accents) appear in flashbacks as, respectfully, Joe’s rather gentle father and the man who not only takes Joe’s virginity as a teenager, but later ends up her employer. Connie Nielsen appears briefly as Joe’s mum, and Uma Thurman plays the pissed off wife of one of Joe’s conquests.

 

The only reason this 2013 Lars von Trier piece of crap doesn’t get a lower rating is because “Vol 2” is even worse. I’m neither a fan of Mr. von Trier nor the Dogme movement of pretentious trash and really ugly handheld cinematography (No idea if this film itself really comes under that strict movement, however), but even fans have to admit that this is trash unconvincingly trying to dress itself up as art. And just an all-round fucking awful movie. You can tell the film is pretentious because the main character is the only woman in the entire world who refers to her genitalia by the ‘c-word’. Oooh, how daring! She’s saying a naughty word! Please. No self-respecting woman would refer to that part of the anatomy in such a crude way. Actually you can tell it’s pretentious from the very beginning because we start with a black screen with no sound for way too long, followed by Stellan Skarsgaard walking along a street with German heavy metal playing in the background. Why? Because Lars von Trier. Kudos, though, to Mr. von Trier for hiring a cameraman who doesn’t suffer from Parkinson’s for a change. The film almost looks normal. Meanwhile, Christian Slater turns up in flashbacks with an uncomfortable English accent to play Charlotte Gainsbourg’s nature-loving doctor father (!). Why? You guessed it, because Lars von Trier. Same goes for Shia La Beouf and his even shakier English accent (Playing a character who may very well be more than one character in fact). I was kinda hoping for the paper bag over his head, to be honest. Bit disappointed by that one.

 

Mr. von Trier’s little visual jokes are juvenile and unfunny, and I have no idea what the point of any of this is, or why anyone would be attracted to the material in order to star in this. It’s sleazy trash without the honesty to present itself as such. Instead, von Trier tries to convince us it’s high art. That makes it the very worst kind of film, if you ask me. I mean let’s face it, anyone with half a brain can see that this is basically a modern day “Emmanuelle” film with darker and more disturbing sex, and a lot of pretentious, half-arsed sexual psychobabble (Well, we got that in the “Emmanuelle” series too, admittedly). There’s absolutely no realism whatsoever to the dialogue Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgaard have in their scenes here (Classical music, fly-fishing, Fibonacci numbers, and Gainsbourg prattling on about her promiscuity like it actually means something worth a damn). It’s clearly and distractingly written and unnatural. 30 minutes in and I was scratching my head wondering how in the hell they were gonna get another volume out of this simplistic, one-note film. I mean, we get it, OK? She’s a nymphomaniac. Good. Fine. So? It’s not profound, artistic or even interesting.

 

This is a botched Russ Meyer titty flick (the visual ‘gags’ in particular remind me of a poor Russ Meyer imitation). At least ‘ol Russ was honest and up front about what kind of flick you were gonna get, and rarely tried for anything loftier than that (Nor was he much interested in anything below the waist, but that’s a whole other story). Mr. von Trier can’t even get the sex right, it’s boring and clinical, and before you try and tell me that von Trier isn’t trying to make a porno or anything, bear in mind we get a bunch of still photos of penises, so let’s not call him David Fucking Lean, OK? Even if the film isn’t titillating it’s still far too needlessly graphic to be considered anything other than a pretentious ‘dirty movie’ (And that’s not a derisive attitude towards porn on my part, by the way. Porn’s perfectly fine by me, I prefer more mainstream cinema, but each to their own). It’s graphic (but not as ‘real’ as it looks. Prosthetics, CGI, and body doubles were used. It looks convincing, though) but lacking in any passion or eroticism whatsoever. This is just pretentious rubbish, but coming from von Trier I can’t even get mad about it. He already threw “Dancer in the Dark” at us. Nothing can hurt me after that dreadful effort (I’ll at least concede that my anger towards “The Idiots” might say more about me being disabled than any merit the film itself might have).

 

Stellan Skarsgaard is the only one who escapes with any dignity, but a) His role is a boring observant one, and b) He loses his dignity in “Vol. 2”, unfortunately. Look, if von Trier were honestly aiming for something artistic here, why does he need to use graphic unsimulated sex to get his points across? He doesn’t. Because he’s not. I wasn’t remotely offended by anything in this film, but this has about as much artistic merit as your run of the mill porno and less than half the fun. I mean, von Trier is not genuinely examining this subject the same way Steve McQueen examined sex addiction in “Shame” (whatever I may have thought about that film’s quality, it was certainly a serious-minded enterprise). He’s basically dicking around like a naughty school boy and then gussying it up with a wannabe arthouse sheen. I better stop, I need to save some of this scorn for the second one (It’s really one long film split into two. God help you if you had to watch the whole thing all in one sitting. I pity you), which is even worse. Oh let me count the ways…

 

Rating: D

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: Criminal


Con man John C. Reilly sees younger, small-time schemer Diego Luna about to get into deep shit with a two-bit casino scam, and decides to help the kid evade trouble. He then offers him a gig as his accomplice, and eventually they get involved in a huge scam to rip-off rich Scottish-accented businessman Peter Mullan. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Reilly’s embittered sister, who may or may not have valid reasons for her disposition (They are currently suing each other over parental inheritance money). Jonathan Tucker plays Reilly’s younger brother, who works at a hotel with Gyllenhaal, and seems to idolise his big brother.

 

This 2004 Americanised remake of the Argentine “Nine Queens” from director Gregory Jacobs (whose only other directorial assignment to date was the OK 2007 thriller “Wind Chill”) and his co-writer Sam Lowry (who is really filmmaker Steven Soderbergh using a pseudonym because he’s pretentious) is neither original nor a great film. It is, however, a genre that I enjoy, and this is a respectable entry in it. It’s far better than any of Soderbergh’s own tedious caper films).

 

John C. Reilly isn’t the first person I’d cast as a con-man, but he’s still very good and I can see why he was cast here. His character is not a nice man, and has many, many flaws. He becomes a worse human being the more we learn about him. Casting the likeable, every man-ish Reilly helps smooth over some of those flaws with the audience so that he’s not insufferable to be around. I still would’ve preferred a more handsome, outwardly slick (but still untrustworthy enough that he’d need a fresh-faced accomplice) actor for the role. Edward Norton or Ed Burns, perhaps, Colin Farrell would’ve been ideal. But Reilly’s fine, and has some lovely, cynical dialogue, especially early on. I wish the film did more with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Mullan, as both actors are very good with what they are given. Mullan is especially strong as a heavy. Nice, intense cameo by Michael Shannon (as an accomplice), who also would’ve been nice to spend more time with.

 

The plot is really interesting in how it constantly keeps on surprising you and keeping you guessing for its entirety, despite not re-inventing the wheel. The constant problems thrown in Reilly’s way are amusing and interesting. Boring title aside, this one’s a pretty enjoyable genre entry, with interesting actors, and although I’m not sure it 100% checks out, the twist ending sure is a doozy that I didn’t remotely predict in advance.

 

Worth a look, unless you’ve seen the original (and won’t find any of this fresh or surprising), or if you’re the type of snooty twit who thumbs their nose at the very idea of an Americanised remake in and of itself, and can’t spot an enjoyable caper in its own right, whether it’s a remake or not.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Shocker


Peter Berg stars as a supposed star quarterback who is so clumsy and unfocused he runs right into the goalpost and knocks his damn self unconscious. He sure must’ve gotten loopy, because once revived, he finds himself having violent visions of a serial killer. And those visions prove to be not just horrible dreams/nightmares, but visions of brutal events yet to happen. The killer is one Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi- where are you?), and eventually he is nabbed and sent to ‘ol sparky. However, not before Pinker murders Berg’s foster family, save him and one other. Unfortunately, all the electricity seems to do is give him a new way to do his deeds and taunt Berg while he’s at it. Yep, he lives through electricity and can jump into people’s bodies, compelling them to commit his grisly murders (What if there’s a city-wide blackout, though? A question that sadly never comes up in the film). Pinker wants revenge on Berg for sending him to the chair. Michael Murphy plays John Saxon…er, I mean Berg’s policeman foster father, Cami Cooper is Berg’s girlfriend, Ted Raimi plays an assistant football coach (!), and Dr. Timothy Leary…is here too. Don’t even get me started on that.

 

I don’t know whether he was instructed to by the studio or willingly did it, but writer-director Wes Craven (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “The Hills Have Eyes”) gives us a wannabe-“Elm Street” with this lame, incredibly lazy and ineffectual horror pic from 1989. Craven didn’t seem to like what others had done with the “Elm Street” sequels, and yet his own film here is worse than almost all of those sequels (It’d be pretty hard to make a film worse than “A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy’s Revenge”). If it weren’t for the generally OK performances, this would be bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, and since Craven both wrote and directed it, the film’s failure rests pretty much entirely on him, at the end of the day, even if he was asked by producers to make a Freddy-like imitation.

 

We start off in the worst way imaginable with a really bad and seriously lame title song by a band supposedly called The Dudes of Wrath. It’s an appallingly poseur name, and the song is sung by not only KISS front-man Paul Stanley (not at his best), but also Desmond Child, a noted songwriter-musician-singer. His songwriting credits are actually quite prolific: Most of Bon Jovi’s biggest 80s hits, several Aerosmith hits (including ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’, one of their best-known), and perhaps most importantly of all, Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’, which is so metal, right? The title song here was co-written by a guy called (I shit you not) Guy Mann-Dude. Yep, that’s not compensating for anything is it? He even had a metal band with that name and plays the guitar. Wow.  The soundtrack also includes Megadeth’s excellent cover of ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, but the rest is pretty rank. Why am I focussing on the soundtrack so much early on? Because the film is pretty uninteresting, to be honest.

 

Horace Pinker is second only to Jacob Goodnight from the “See No Evil” films in the lame horror villain name stakes, and is clearly just Freddy Krueger before being burnt (or electrocuted as happens here). Add to that Peter Berg standing in for Heather Langenkamp and Michael Murphy for John Saxon, and you can see just how obviously a rip-off this is. This time the kid dreams about other people being murdered, but that and the gender switch are the only variations here.

 

What the film has going for it are pretty good performances by Berg (albeit he’s initially too comically clumsy) and Murphy, and a sense of genuine sadness and shock at people being murdered, that seems absent from most films of this sort. I appreciated that difference, but the rest is completely useless and third-rate. There’s a potentially interesting back-story/connection between Berg’s character and Pinker, but either Craven or the studio weren’t interested in that, and it just sorta hangs there not fully dealt with. Why bother with that, when the kiddies just want another Freddy Krueger, right? The body swap angle is also appallingly handled, it seems to come out of nowhere. Sure, we get one line mentioning Pinker’s fondness for voodoo, but that’s it for explanation (nothing in Pileggi’s performance makes the idea plausible and organic to the character anyway), and it seems like a rip-off of another horror film, the previous year’s excellent “Child’s Play”. It’s like Craven was just throwing out ideas and hoping some of them would land. Future “X-Files” co-star Mitch Pileggi is OK as the wild-eyed psycho Pinker. He’s over-the-top, which is fine, it’s just that the role hasn’t much depth or originality to it to stand out. But acting isn’t the film’s problem, creative bankruptcy and corporate greed are. Meanwhile, the visual FX here don’t help poor Pileggi one bit. They are appallingly cut-rate even for 1989. The absolute nadir of the film is when Berg’s comfy chair becomes inhabited by the spirit of Pinker and even magically grows a set of eyes! That shit wouldn’t even pass in an “Elm St.” sequel. No, not even the 3D one. No, Mr. Craven. Just…no.

 

Everyone regards Craven as a master of horror, and although he has made good films (“A Nightmare on Elm St.”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Scream”, the underrated “Deadly Friend”), people seem to forget that he also started with the abysmal “Last House on the Left”, and has given us stinkers like “The Hills Have Eyes Part II”, “People Under the Stairs”, “Cursed”, “Scream 4”, and this dud. He ain’t perfect, and he ain’t a master of anything. No, this just won’t do. It’s not scary, it’s not funny, it’s not clever, and it certainly isn’t original. But the title is apt, I’ll give it that.

 

Rating: D+

Review: Dobermann


Vincent Cassel is criminal Yann Le Pentec, the titular canine being his nickname. He’s the leader of a group of whacked-out crims, including his deaf mute girlfriend Nat (who is played by Mrs. Cassel, Monica Bellucci). They are planning a big heist, whilst a veteran cop (Tcheky Karyo) pursues them, though years of chasing Dobermann may have rendered him crazier than the thieves he is chasing. And believe me, Dobermann and his gang are pretty ‘out there’.

 

There’s a bloody good reason why you’ve probably never heard of this wannabe-cool 1997 action/crime flick from French-Dutch director Jan Kounen (whose subsequent “Blueberry” was flawed but vastly superior to this) and screenwriter Joel Houssin (who has worked mainly in French TV, it appears). Like 2006’s unbearable “Sheitan” (also starring Vincent Cassel, a dynamic and accomplished actor when he wants to be), this is an excruciatingly in-your-face, irritating piece of crap that will truly test your patience.

 

Right from the word go you know you’re in for a real chore as a stupid, poorly animated opening credits design has a gun-toting anthropomorphised dog pissing on the credits. Yep. I could end the review there, really, because the dog really did speak for me I’m afraid. Cassel and real-life wife Monica Bellucci are immediately terrible here, playing wannabe “Natural Born Killers” in a film that might be even worse than that one. That takes some doing, let me tell you. Mr. Kounen has obviously grown up on a steady diet of “Natural Born Killers”, “Pulp Fiction”, and “A Clockwork Orange”. Well, at least the last one is kind of a classic. But visually this is just too busy and obnoxiously in-your-face that you feel it’s all a put-on. As such, I never became drawn into the story.

 

The acting is just as ham-fisted as the filmmaking, with everyone seemingly told to pitch their performances somewhere in between Juliette Lewis in “Natural Born Killers” and Gary Oldman in “Leon: The Professional”, another film (and performance) I’m not in love with. Bellucci is particularly badly used here, playing a deaf mute, she mugs a lot. Embarrassingly. She has also looked far better than she does here. At one point she gets shot in the arse. It’s a fleeting moment, and I only know because staring at her arse proved the only entertainment value in the entire film. As for Mr. Cassel, well the film might be slightly more digestible than “Sheitan” I suppose, but they’re both appalling.

 

If the film is just one big joke, then it has been so overpitched that the joke is ruined. The close-ups are an eye-sore, and the film is just as boring as it is annoying because you’re never invested in any of it. The talented Tcheky Karyo is no stranger to poor scripts, but he’s well above this. All he gets to do for most of the film is chomp on his cigar and glower hammily. Eventually, his role becomes just as messed up as everyone else here, and one gets the feeling that if this were remade in English, the role would be given to Gary Oldman or Nic Cage. So it could certainly get a whole lot worse.

 

An obnoxious, overdone piece of crap, and boring as hell to boot. If you want to see a cool heist/cops vs. robbers film, re-watch “Heat” or “Point Break”. This is the cinematic equivalent of getting root canal surgery whilst staring into ghastly strobe lighting and the only sounds are the culturally confused strains of Rednexx’s ‘Cotton-Eye Joe’. What a mess. 

 

Rating: F

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: The Medusa Touch


Italian actor Lino Ventura plays French detective Brunel, on exchange in England, and taking on the case of a brutal attack on an author named John Morlar (Richard Burton). He’s alive but in the hospital in a coma, as Brunel investigates Morlar and the mysterious circumstances that led to him being attacked, interviewing those familiar with him. It seems Mr. Morlar was a seriously troubled, brooding man who believed he could make catastrophically bad things happen merely by thinking about them. For some reason, everyone in the film calls this phenomenon ‘Telekinesis’, which isn’t entirely accurate. Lee Remick plays Morlar’s psychiatrist, Derek Jacobi is Morlar’s publisher, Michael Byrne plays Brunel’s partner, Harry Andrews plays Brunel’s English superior, Gordon Jackson is Morlar’s doctor, Sir Michael Hordern plays a supposed psychic, Norman Bird is Morlar’s a-hole father in flashbacks, and Alan Badel plays a judge. Keen spotters of character actors will also spot the likes of Jeremy Brett (who was one of the more popular actors to play Sherlock Holmes), Phillip Stone (from “The Shining”), and Robert Flemyng in small roles.

 

It gets a bit of a pasting critically and I think audiences at the time were a bit dismissive of it too, but I think this 1978 film from director Jack Gold (“Man Friday”, “Aces High” and a lot of TV) nearly works. Nearly, but not quite. Scripted by John Briley (“Gandhi”, “Cry Freedom”, “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery”) and based on a Peter Van Greenaway novel, it’s a bit like a mixture of “The Fury”, “The Dead Zone”, and “Carrie”. In fact, I think it’d make for an interesting movie marathon with those films. You’ll also be reminded of the Aussie genre flicks “Patrick” and “Harlequin”, though I think this is a bit better than those two. It’s certainly one of the better Lew Grade productions (along with “Voyage of the Damned” and “The Cassandra Crossing”), the Michael J. Lewis (“Julius Caesar”, “Theatre of Blood”) score is cheesy but awfully good fun, and the climax is all kinds of crazy.

 

However, there’s definitely some flaws here. For one, the film boasts one of the finest international casts of the 1970s…and proceeds to waste pretty much all of them. Very few of them stick around long enough to make an impression, save a shockingly young-looking Michael Byrne (he had hair once!), the solid Lino Ventura (who has a perfectly weary and sardonic face for a detective), and the perfectly cast and always intense Richard Burton. Burton makes for a much more interesting coma patient than “Patrick” did, partly because we get flashbacks that allow Burton to genuinely act. He’s really good here. No, not “Virginia Woolf” good, but better than you might expect. He certainly looks suitably heavily burdened, borderline suicidal, and this might’ve been the one time in the 70s where that was the intention (We’ve all seen “Exorcist II: The Heretic” and “Equus”, right?). No one was better at being a bitter, spiteful, depressed-looking prick than Burton. Good actor, too (ZING!). Lee Remick gives one of her least stiff performances of this period, though her stunned facial expression gets a tad overused here if you ask me. I would’ve liked more scenes with the wonderful Harry Andrews, Sir Michael Hordern, and Derek Jacobi. Andrews was always the best at playing tough old coppers, Jacobi makes an immediate (if brief) impression, and Michael Hordern is so good as a shonky tarot card reader that two minutes (if that) just seems a criminally short amount of time to spend with him.

 

The film’s view of telekinesis is also ricockulous. Simply thinking about disasters and then having disasters occur is not telekinesis. It’s called precognition (or ESP) and being a miserable arsehole (Albeit a fascinating and intense, miserable arsehole). Hell, Burton’s not even present at some of the scenes of these ‘accidents’, so how can telekinesis (moving objects with your mind) be the cause? Sure, there’s the aeroplane scene where it appears he’s moving it through thought, but at best that’s a way overblown representation of telekinesis and most of the rest of the time, it appears more precognition with a touch of spite, which isn’t exactly what telekinesis is (Then again, we’re talking about something that no one believes really exists, right? Right?).

 

Still, if you liked “The Dead Zone” and/or “The Fury”, you’ll get something out of this. I found it ridiculously watchable, but it’d be much lesser without Burton and much better if the rest of the cast were given more to chew on. There’s a great cast here, why not frigging use them? So I ended up a bit frustrated and disappointed, whilst at the same time having to acknowledge that it’s better than I anticipated from reviews.

 

Silly, unusual, and despite a lot of talk, it’s not remotely boring. This one’s a bit underrated. Not really for those looking for a straight horror film, but it’s certainly got horror elements. Look, it’s not a bad film at all, it’s just that it’s so frustratingly close to being a good one that it leaves you in a bit of a bad mood afterwards.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning


Scott Adkins stars as John, who wakes one night to check on his daughter, only for he and his family to be set-upon by masked intruders. One, it seems, is Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who takes his mask off before killing John’s wife and child right in front of him without even a hint of emotion. It’s several months later when John awakens in hospital but with no memory. After leaving the hospital, he tries to remember everything and track down Luc for his revenge. However, the brutal Magnus AKA ‘The Plumber’ (MMA fighter Andrei ‘The Pit Bull’ Arlovski) has been dispatched by shadowy government so-and-sos to rub John out, as a conspiracy appears to be afoot. Meanwhile, we keep cutting to Luc and Sgt. Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), the UniSols from previous films who appear to be free-thinkers now and are trying to de-program other UniSols, but are they doing so for villainous or virtuous purposes? And just who was John before that awful night he lost his family? David Jensen turns up as a creepy government scientist, and Kristopher Van Varenberg (Van Damme’s son) has a small role, too.

 

John Hyams previously gave us the pretty decent “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” (and “Dragon Eyes”, a dull film with Jean-Claude Van Damme in a recurring cameo), but this 2012 film is something altogether different. It’s unlike any other film in the franchise, and Hyams’ very Neveldine/Taylor (“Crank”) filmmaking style (though the tone is less crazy and more brooding), plus a relatively unusual narrative structure for this sort of thing will make this one a like it or hate it film, for sure. Aside from a truly nauseating use of strobe-lighting on a couple of occasions, I really dug this, it’s the best “Universal Soldier” film since the first one. This is the one time that oft-used statement really does mean something, by the way.

 

If you’re watching this film solely for Jean-Claude Van Damme, and particularly Dolph Lundgren, you might be disappointed, as their time on screen is rather small. Scott Adkins fans like myself, however, certainly have no cause to be disappointed as our man is front and centre here. More so than a “Universal Soldier” film, this really does feel like a mixture of the grim-faced first “Terminator” film, “Scanners”, “Memento”, and “Crank” (possibly even “Blade Runner”, though I’m not a fan of that film). If that sounds like a good mix to you, or you’re already a series fan, give this one a go, it’s certainly a conversation starter.

 

I really was reminded of the original “Terminator” here in tone/mood, as it’s a very unsettling, quite brooding film. The throbbing music score by the trio of Will Hendricks, Michael Krassner & Robin Vining is a bit reminiscent of Brad Fiedel’s iconic work on “The Terminator”, it’s really cool. The violence is harsh, brutal, and seriously-handled. Hyams’ ain’t fucking about here, folks. There’s a pretty good car chase and crash for what probably wasn’t a huge budget. There’s also an excellent fight in a sporting goods store with Andrei ‘The Pitbull’ Arlovski, Adkins, and baseball bats and other assorted sporting related objects. At one point, Adkins uses Pitbull’s head like a fucking tee-ball, knocking half of it right off. Wow. There’s also a good, violent fight between Adkins and Lundgren where Lundgren gets some of his old personality back and they hack away at each other with knives and machetes between the punches and kicks. Hyams’ style might be a tad annoying at times, but he’s clearly got talent. Adkins’ talents are seriously underrated, as he proves yet again here that he should be a huge star well before now. His arse-kicking prowess on screen is second-to-none, and although he’s certainly best seen in stoic roles and probably shouldn’t venture outside of the action genre much, he’s got enough acting chops to stand pretty close to the top of the heap of action stars in that regard too. Any action star who can at least act a bit really ought not be relegated to the Direct-to-DVD market if you ask me, no matter how narrow their acting range may be. He’s certainly leagues ahead of Chuck Norris, that’s for damn sure. I think someone has done him a disservice here by listing him third on the poster. He’s the lead actor and plays a dual role for cryin’ out loud. That’s just shitty if you ask me.

 

Although the film isn’t quite as wild and crazy as I expected, so much as ambitious, violent, and grim, there certainly are whacked-out moments. One particular moment of splatter featuring Adkins and “Creature” co-star David Jensen (who is terrific in a cameo here) reminds one of “Robocop 2”, except Robocop didn’t get up and murder the fuck out of everyone with his fists and legs. Don’t fuck with Scott Adkins, people. When will you learn? ‘Pit Bull’ Arlovski is even better utilised in this film than the previous one. He’s a straight-up pummelling machine here, at one point making Roy Jones Jr. his whiny bitch. Brute, blunt force, no fuss. Lundgren gives an interesting performance where he’s like a loyal disciple/preacher, but is he preaching good or evil? Only gradually do we learn. Every now and then, pieces of the old Andrew Scott make themselves known, but he’s not cutting anyone’s ear off or anything. Meanwhile, is this the best use of Jean-Claude Van Damme? Nope, but it might just be the best use of his craggy, weary, dead-eyed face. Some will say he’s boring in this, but I don’t think so. He’s fascinatingly weird, Zen, and almost Col. Kurtz-esque with his big bald head and B&W makeup. He’s clearly having fun here doing something different. The obvious problem with JCVD and Lundgren is that they just aren’t in the film enough. It’s a shame, there’s very few flaws here, but that one might piss a few people off. Obviously this is Adkins’ film, but there really ought to have been more time spent with the other two as well.

 

A really creepy ending is an excellent end note to a very different, very interesting, but likely very divisive film. I’m not entirely sure who I’d recommend this film to outside of Scott Adkins fans, but it definitely deserves to be seen and praised. Hyams deserves credit for taking this franchise and doing something unexpected, different, and seriously fucking brutal with it. I’m not kidding, you are so damn warned, people. This is one straight-up brutal film and you won’t be left feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Bleak ain’t the half of it. Based on a story by Hyams and producer Moshe Diamant, Hyams wrote the screenplay with Jon Greenhalgh (a debutant screenwriter who edited Hyams’ “Dragon Eyes”) and Doug Magnuson (another debutant feature film screenwriter, who also produced a making-of documentary for the film).

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Review: The Lego Movie


A blue collar Lego man named Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) gets mistaken for a ‘master builder’, and recruited to join the Fellowship…er…to join a group of other ‘master builders’ (Batman among them, I might add) to stop the evil President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) from unleashing a deadly weapon called ‘The Kragle’. Or something like that. Morgan Freeman voices a Gandalf-rip off named Vitruvius, who babbles on about a prophecy and Emmett being the One. A bunch of pop culture figures and known superheroes turn up in Lego form throughout (Including a well-cast Jonah Hill voicing Green Lantern).

 

Surely the most disappointing and overrated film of 2014, this animated film based on the classic building block/playset toys wasn’t anywhere near as good as I had heard. Based on the good word of mouth I had heard from adults, I assumed this would be a family film, but no it’s kiddie fare. The difference being that family films have something for everyone, but this? I couldn’t see anything of merit or interest here for anyone over the age of 13 at best. It’s stupid, and almost entirely lacking in wit. While it was kinda cool to see “Star Wars” Lego, writer/directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”, “21 Jump Street”) fail to do anything remotely interesting or amusing with them (Batman was an unfunny douche too). I guess I was expecting something a little more subversive, sophisticated and ‘meta’ (“Wreck-It Ralph” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), but the filmmakers even manage to botch a perfect chance at a “Clash of the Titans” joke. The whole film is clearly leading up to the cry of ‘Release the Kragle!’, and the film features Liam Neeson voicing one of the characters. So of course he’s not the one who gets to do the line. You’ve got to be kidding me. Why even bother with it then? Epic fail from Lord and Miller, who co-wrote the story with Dan and Kevin Hagerman.

 

I didn’t think much of the film’s late stage breaking of the fourth wall, either. It’s poorly integrated and to be honest, not very original anyway **** SPOILER ALERT **** And what architect uses Lego anyway It’s stupid, even for a kiddie movie. I rolled my eyes at that one. **** END SPOILER ****. But then, I’m the only person in existence who thought the conceit in “Toy Story 3” (Shouldn’t Andy have thrown away his toys before senior high school at the latest, not college?) was strange, not affecting, so don’t take my word for it.

 

I also think it’s a major missed opportunity to not film this in stop-motion with real Lego pieces (Ever seen Monty Python’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’ song done with Lego? It’s hilarious and clever), or at least some tangible facsimile (ala “Robot Chicken”). Yes, it’s a time-consuming process, but CGI seems cheating, pointless, and not nearly as creative to me. Others might find I’m nit-picking (and will likely bring up the wonderful “Toy Story”, to which I haven’t got a great reply admittedly), but it bothered me.

 

Instead of a big theatrically released family motion picture, this seemed like one of those straight-to-DVD ones the kids watch while you do housework, like those “Tinkerbell” movies that I swear I know nothing about (And indeed, there has been previous direct-to-DVD Lego films apparently). If it weren’t for the celebrity voices, I really don’t think this would’ve gotten a theatrical release or any attention whatsoever. It was cute to see the production company logos in Lego, but since it’s not real Lego (and obviously so), I was a bit underwhelmed right away. It only got worse. ‘Everything is Awesome’ is nauseating and only partly intentionally. It’s without question the worst Oscar nominated song since ‘The Morning After’ from “The Poseidon Adventure” (which even won!). It borders on Crazy Frog meets dubstep, ear-bleeding, excruciating pain. The horror. The horror!

 

It’s (superficially) colourful to look at I guess, I also kinda liked that it took place in various Lego ‘realms’ that are actually Lego sets/worlds. There’s also an amusing gag making fun of the generic faces of Lego figures. I also found the difference between Michelangelo and Michelangelo to be funny (Yes, it’s exactly what you think), but the confusion between Dumbledore and Gandalf was just wrong. They’re nothing alike so why would such confusion be funny? Only to stupid people who think all fantasy novels are the same or that “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are the same thing. Other than that, everything is overrated I’m afraid. Couldn’t the screenwriters have come up with better names than Bad Cop and President Business? The Piece of Resistance? Ugh (Middle Zealand was almost clever, though). And don’t even get me started on the dorky ‘Wildstyle’ name. Yes, I know how the film turns out and whose POV it is meant to be from, but I think it’s insultingly simplistic and dorky nonetheless.

 

The rather lame quest/prophecy-propelled plot was so tedious I had to force myself to stare at the screen and keep watching. This might be even more facile and pointless than “Turbo”, and that turkey was about a tiny snail who became a NASCAR sensation watched by huge crowds who even with the big screen probably couldn’t have spotted him on the racetrack. Bright and colourful, and the kids might like it, but whatever it was that adult filmgoers and critics got out of this thing has eluded me entirely. Playing with Lego yourself is more fun and rewarding than this stupid, stupid film (I almost wish I had some right now, no kidding). I’m sorry, I know it was a bit of a cultural phenomenon, but I honestly can’t work out why. I’m not calling you stupid for liking it, there seems to be much more of you than there are of me, so this one’s on me I guess. I don’t care about the egregious product placement as some others seem to (Look at the title, geniuses!), however this is anything but awesome, unless you’ve got ADHD (It’s a seriously hyperactive sugar rush of a film, but without the taste). Oh and one more very important thing: The plural of Lego is Lego, not Legos or Lego’s or Legos’. Yes, I am a grammar Nazi.

 

Rating: D