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, June 6, 2015

Review: Escape Plan


Sly Stallone stars as a man who set up his own security company that revolves around him being sent into prisons and finding all their flaws and possible escape plans, and then sending his report to them. He’s even written a successful book on the subject. One day a woman shows up to Stallone’s HQ with a high-paying offer for Sly and his cohorts (Amy Ryan, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, and Vincent D’Onofrio) to venture into a privately-funded super-secure facility housing all of the worst and most hardened criminals in one place. The prison isn’t ‘official’ yet (i.e. it’s illegal), and yet somehow the deal is accepted. However, before Stallone gets there, he’s knocked out by some thugs, and wakes up inside the prison. It appears something has gone awry, he’s been screwed over and looks set to rot in this prison, overseen by whiny warden Jim Caviezel, and his band of brutal, masked guards (One of whom is played by Vinnie Jones). Undeterred, Stallone does his best to find a flaw in the system and make his escape, and receives some help from old-timer prisoner Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Sam Neill plays the prison doctor, whom Stallone pegs for a man with a conscience who might just be able to help him get out. But then he learns something about the prison itself…and that’s all you’re getting out of me on that.

 

Unless you count the superior “The Expendables 2”, the teaming of Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t produced any better results than their individual efforts of late (“Bullet to the Head”, “The Last Stand”). This 2013 prison film from director Mikael Hafstrom (the rather scary Stephen King flick “1408”) is a decent-yet-unmemorable trip down memory lane from the 80s/90s action titans. The main problem here is that it’s not an action film, it’s a prison escape film, and thus it’s trying to evoke nostalgia for a kind of film that it really isn’t an example of itself. It doesn’t allow its stars to really play to their strengths as action movie icons, and thus it can’t help but be just as disappointing as the two stars individual efforts of 2013 (Though at least “The Last Stand” and particularly “Bullet to the Head” can claim to be somewhat in the action genre). There’s nothing wrong with these guys individually making different sorts of films, but why waste an Arnold-Sly teaming on something that doesn’t quite see them at their best advantage? There’s certainly very little action in it, just one mock prison fight, a fight between Sly and Vinnie Jones that ends before it even gets to be fun, and some gunfire at the climax, so it’ll disappoint anyone looking for 80s action goodness above all else.

 

It’s certainly not a faulty premise in and of itself (it’s like a prison version of “Sneakers”), you could see a low-rent version of this starring say Steven Seagal paired with Christopher Lambert or Rutger Hauer or something. Hell, I’d cast Kurt Russell and either Ving Rhames or Samuel L. Jackson, as the above names probably suggest something action-oriented too. But with Arnold and Sly? You expect something more muscular, though it must be said that Arnold’s looking a bit tired and haggard these days (Being old tends to do that, I guess) and it’s also a film that expects you to believe 50 Cent as a guy who knows how to turn a computer on, perhaps the most jarring thing of all (Well, except the fact that it comes from a company best known for releasing a bunch of crappy tweener vampire romances).

 

It’s not a bad film by any means, just an awkward and underwhelming one for its stars, and Jim ‘Jesus’ Caviezel is a totally unsatisfactory villain. I’ve always been of the belief that you need the right villain to go up against the hero/es, and Caviezel is in no way a match for Stallone and Schwarzenegger. He’s like putting Timothy Olyphant in “Die Hard 4.0”, except at least Olyphant could be (and has been) a legitimate dangerous threat elsewhere. But a thirty-ish computer hacker against Bruce Freakin’ Willis? I don’t think so. Caviezel similarly has the wrong vibe about him, but even worse, he simply isn’t menacing, scary, or in any way threatening, not to anyone let alone Rambo and John Matrix. Co-star Vinnie Jones would’ve been a much better choice, that guy legitimately scares the fuck out of me (They honestly let that guy play football? Wow). Or better yet, dig up an 80s bad guy specialist to make it a true throwback: Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe, Robert Davi, or even Brian Thompson (who at least has tangled with both stars before in “Cobra” and “The Terminator”). I’m certainly shocked Robert LaSardo doesn’t appear here somewhere, he always turns up in prison movies somewhere. But Caviezel as the chief villain?…Isn’t he a TV actor these days anyway? Well, he’s the least threatening prison warden since another TV guy tackled such a role, “G.P.” actor Michael Craig in the trashy Australian flick “Turkey Shoot”. Having said that, I guess it’s kind of amusing to think we have Rambo, The Terminator, 50 Cent, Vinnie Jones, ‘Gomer Pyle’, and Jesus all in the one film. Meanwhile, if screenwriters Miles Chapman and Arnell Jesko (really Jason Keller rearranging his name for whatever reason) thought they had devised a clever surprise villain, director Hafstrom and the actor in question (someone known for being distractingly mannered at times) ruin the surprise from the actor’s very first scene. Whoops, though at least the revelation isn’t kept for the 11th hour, that’d be a crushing disappointment, instead we get the reveal about an hour in. There is one twist in the film that I don’t think anyone could foresee, and although I commend the screenwriters for coming up with a doozy, I’m not entirely certain how plausible it is that no one had previously worked out what was going on there. I think it would’ve been better if we were clued into that from the get-go instead of making it a twist.

 

The funny thing about the film is that although Stallone and Arnold aren’t the best fit here (especially when you find out Stallone’s former job. This is a guy who can barely speak English and clearly uses HGH), they’re still the best thing about the film. It’s just that if other, less action-oriented stars were cast in those roles, the film would play so much better. It’s through sheer screen presence and charisma that Sly and Arnold entertain here, not through actually being good in their roles. It’s interesting that Arnold takes a clear backseat to Sly in this, maybe he doesn’t want to overexpose himself before we get the full Ah-nold in the next “Terminator” film. The best part of the film is undoubtedly the climax, with Arnold acquiring a big f’n gun, and although ridiculous, it’s the only fun action set-piece in the film. Vinnie Jones is always game, but unfortunately he and the other prison guards are decked in black and wear dopey department store mannequin-like black masks throughout. Why? ‘Coz the director thinks it’s cool. It’s not cool and it completely neuters Jones. Sam Neill is here, and there’s probably a helluva fascinating reason why. He looks like he was coerced into appearing in the film, possibly water boarded. And his character is apparently the worst doctor in the world, because he actually has to look up the Hippocratic oath online. Either he’s a moron, or seriously mentally impaired, either way I wouldn’t let him prescribe me a fucking Panadol.

 

A better prison-set film than “Turkey Shoot”, “Lock Up”, and “The Rock”, and it features two undeniable action movie icons. But misusing those icons in a film that isn’t a good fit for them, Caviezel’s major miscasting, and a few screenplay faults prevent this film from being anything more than watchable.

 

Rating: C+

Friday, June 5, 2015

Review: Bangkok Revenge


A Bangkok cop and his family are targeted by masked killers (really corrupt cops). They kill the parents, but one of the gang fails to properly finish off the young son, who is taken to hospital. He was shot alright, but the bullet to the head somehow didn’t kill him. I believe the doctors have diagnosed him as Hard to Kill. When a pretty nurse (Aphiradi Phawaphutanon) doesn’t like the look of some of the visitors outside the boy’s room, she takes matters into her own hands, whisking the boy away to a small village to be raised by her and her martial arts master friend (Kowitch Wathana). From very early on it appears that the young boy has lost all capacity for empathy, but Wathana teaches him to fight, and he seems to take well to that. When the boy (named Manit) grows into a man, a now elderly and dying Phawaphutanon fills Manit (Jon Foo) in on the circumstances of his parents’ deaths and gives him all the information she has gathered through the years about the crime. Now it’s time for Manit to exact his revenge. Along the way he is aided by a couple of French people, reporter Clara (Caroline Ducey) and kickboxer Simon (Michaël Cohen), the former of whom is investigating local corruption and gangs.

 

If viewed outside of its chosen martial arts genre, this French-Thai co-production from writer-director Jean-Marc Minéo (his first feature-length film) probably doesn’t stack up brilliantly. But it is a martial arts film, so what kind of crazy person would try and evaluate it on any other terms? For what it is, it’s a pretty good martial arts film and Jon Foo’s lead performance is at least a damn sight better than the monotonous one he delivered in “Tekken” (You may have also seen him pretty much stealing the show in Tony Jaa’s disappointing “The Protector”). He does a pretty acceptable job playing this rather damaged, emotionless character who might remind you of a more palatable “Ichi the Killer”. In fact, when you combine his performance with his ability to speak English fluently (he was born and raised in London and has spent time in the US as well, which explains his semi-English, semi-American accent) and his good looks, I think I may have been wrong to suggest in my review of “Tekken” that he’ll never be much of anything. He’s also one helluva impressive fighter as this film definitely displays several times. It takes a while to get to the goods, though, frustratingly The opening bar brawl is pretty disappointing, it looks like it was lensed through a frigging fish bowl, so you can’t get a handle on what you’re seeing. The second fight is almost as bad, done entirely in shadow cast on a brick wall. Are you kidding me? Thankfully, the third fight out in the street is excellent. Foo is incredible, and it doesn’t look to me as though wire-work would even be possible in this scene. Wow. The fourth fight in an elevator is brief, but it’s IN AN ELEVATOR! And 2 on 1 at that. After 20 minutes I was left thinking that Mr. Foo had surely beaten up half the population of Thailand. But given that half of this film’s cast appear to be French, maybe it’s just a quarter. Later on, Foo beats up four guys in a car…from the middle backseat! It’s short, but how in the holiest of fucks did he do that? Short as some of the bursts of action are, they sure are creative. We also get a terrific, brutal fight on a train carriage, even if the inside of the train compartment looks too roomy to be real.

 

Meanwhile, scenes with the kidnapped French journo threaten to take this film into Women in Prison movie territory. Really bizarre stuff, but the film sure as hell ain’t dull. Most of the time, the film will remind you of Steven Seagal, specifically “Hard to Kill”, but with all the moving parts jumbled about so that it’s the kid who gets nursed back to health and comes back for revenge. The similarity, especially in the first act is so obvious that there’s no way Mr. Minéo wasn’t influenced by that classic 1990 action film (with a touch of Van Damme’s “Kickboxer”). And that’s no complaint, either, because that film is almost 25 years old (Shit, did I really just type that?), so who cares? The opening scene is definitely “Hard to Kill”, with the masked assailants come to kill Foo’s parents for the father’s knowledge of something nefarious.

 

If I do have any complaint here, it’s with the absolutely abysmal performance by Caroline Ducey as the journalist. She’s really awful and her accent is at times truly impenetrable. It’s really quite silly that the film is in English when Foo is the only English speaker here who doesn’t appear to be speaking phonetically. Other than that, any complaints are minor, such as the rather repugnant death of a dog used to show the main character has lost all capacity to feel (Was it really necessary? Really? And do they honestly have poodles in Thailand?), and a former French policeman being given the very French last name of Webber. What the hell?

 

If you want a solid martial arts movie, this one pretty much fits the bill. Some of the early fights are duds, but once Foo gets going, boy is he impressive. Just don’t judge this film outside of its chosen genre, it really isn’t fair. This is a good example of the kind of film it’s trying to be. You can’t ask for much more than that.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review: Breathless (2012)


Gina Gershon is the trailer trash (literally) wife of chubby Val Kilmer. She has just conked him on the head with a frying pan under suspicion that he robbed a bank and has been keeping the money from her. Kelli Giddish plays her equally trashy best friend who arrives on the scene. They tie the unconscious Kilmer to a chair, and hope to get him to spill when he regains consciousness. Unfortunately, one accident with a gun and an exploding head later, and the two women are left none the wiser about the money’s whereabouts. And then the local sheriff (a bloated Ray Liotta) turns up to complicate matters even further.

 

Released on DVD in the US in 2012, but not appearing in Australia until a cable TV showing in late 2014, this blackly comedic crime/thriller is lousy and flimsy. There’s not enough material here for a feature film and it stops dead before it even starts. Don’t let the big names in the cast fool you, a fat and stringy-haired Val Kilmer (who is having fun but has barely a cameo), bloated Ray Liotta, and overly made-up Gina Gershon are far from their best here. Lesser known co-star Kelli Giddish (a veteran of TV’s “All My Children” and “Law & Order: SVU”), meanwhile is just horrendous. She acts like she only got the script about 5 minutes ago.

 

Co-written and directed by Jesse Baget (who made the hilarious-sounding “Wrestlemaniac” with Rey Mysterio Sr. I need to see that one), it’s not remotely funny, it’s not original, and it’s not enough of anything to work at feature length. Worst of all is the opening credits montage that completely rips off “Dexter”, as does the music score by Jermaine Stegall (“B.T.K”, “Blood Out”). The only difference is the choice of meat sizzling. There’s even eggs and blood involved! I mean, that’s just theft right there. The whole thing plays like an episode of “Femme Fatales” without the sex or Tanit Phoenix pretending to be a sexy TV host, and instead everyone acts like the whole thing is a put-on. That’d be fine if there were any laughs, but aside from Gina Gershon and especially Ray Liotta (who is particularly bad here, a rarity) struggling to maintain ill-fitting Southern accents, the humour is sorely lacking. Liotta, by the way, looks fatter than Kilmer, and that takes some doing, believe me. Richard Riehle turns up about 70  minutes in as a deputy sheriff with no introduction whatsoever, and not much to do. At least Kilmer got out early.

 

With so much talk (shouting, really) and 99.99% of the film taking place inside one cramped location, it comes off rather stagey. It also looks like there were no toilets on set because the cinematographer has clearly taken a dump on the camera lens. Brownest film I’ve seen in a long time. No fun at all, this is like “Thelma & Louise” except they don’t go anywhere and there’s lots of blood everywhere that on a tonal level seems out of place. The film needed a strong, artistic vision, a genuinely funny sense of humour, and well-cast actors in order to overcome its static nature, clichés, and flimsy story. It’s nothing and it goes nowhere. Terrible. Baget co-wrote the screenplay with Stefania Moscato. Yes, it took two whole people to write a screenplay that could’ve almost been written on a Post-It note.

 

Rating: D

Review: Cube2: Hypercube


Another group of diverse people awaken to find themselves inside…a slightly different four-dimensional cube structure with doors to other rooms, and no idea how they got here or how to get the hell out. Unlike last time, the rooms bizarrely mess with time and even gravity. Geraint Wyn Davies plays a surly private investigator, Kari Matchett is a psychiatrist, whilst Barbara Gordon is a doddering old lady, who used to be an executive. She may also be a numbers savant, but her brain is deteriorating seemingly by the nanosecond.

 

I’m going to give this 2002 sequel from director/cinematographer Andrzej Sekula (who previously shot “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”) the same score as its predecessor. However make no mistake, this is almost entirely a remake of the first film. So how does it get the same score? Well, as much as seeing an almost exact replica of the first film does make the whole thing seem kinda pointless and hard to get into, the simple fact is that it’s pretty much an improvement on the original in at least one major facet. In my view, that makes it ultimately about on par with the original in terms of an overall score. So what does that mean for a recommendation? Well, if you’ve seen the first one, I wouldn’t bother. However, if you haven’t seen the original, skip right to this one and don’t look back. You certainly don’t need to have seen the earlier film to understand this one.

 

There’s no Meryl Streep or Monty Clift here, but the cast are an immediate and huge upgrade from the first film where only the competent David Hewlett seemed as though he had acted before. Canadian actor Geraint Wyn Davies will be a familiar face to most of you, and as was the case with Hewlett, the most familiar actor is by far the most talented. The weakest amongst the cast is clearly Barbara Gordon, but it may not be her fault. Her character seems to have been directed/designed to be played for comedy. The approach doesn’t work, nor does it belong, and her character is also the one that most reminds one of the earlier film. Aside from the comical approach to her character, it also seems to serve the exact same function as the savant character from the first film. The exact same, and she’s not the only one. The characters and basic plot are redundant, making it hard to get invested in any of it. You keep watching because you want to see the basic puzzle solved, even though you suspect it won’t be different enough from the original to make it worthwhile. All the gimmicky multi-dimensional and gravitational stuff is like the same car with a slicker, new paint job. At best.

 

This is some seriously lazy screenwriting from Ernie Barbarash (director of “They Wait” and “Hardwired”), Sean Hood (“Halloween: Resurrection”, “The Legend of Hercules”), and Lauren McLaughlan. The film also contains really bad CGI. It’s “Langoliers” bad. That said, the music score by Norman Orenstein is interestingly bizarre. It’s like elevator muzak with an African drum beat and turned into a ringtone. Oddly enough, that proves not to be a bad thing. I also have to say that the cinematography by the director and overall production design is just as good as the first film, even if there’s a bit of grain that bothered me.

 

So look, this is the same damn movie, slightly better due primarily to the upgrade in acting. But I really think this series has squandered a basic premise with a whole bunch of different directions it could’ve but hasn’t gone in. So while I’ll give this the same score as the first film, there’s no doubt that sitting through the same damn story twice leaves one feeling pretty underwhelmed. I’m kinda pissed off about it to be honest. I do love the title, though. It’s genius. See, ‘coz it’s the second film and it’s called "Cube2", or Cube Squared, basically. Hilarious. Oh, and the 2nd Assistant Director is named September Death. Just thought you’d like to know that.

 

Rating: C+

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: Cube


Six strangers (Maurice Dean Wint, David Hewlett, Nicky Guadagni, Andrew Miller, Nicole de Boer, and Wayne Robson) wake up inside separate square rooms, having no idea where they are or how they got there. These rooms all combine to make up the giant geometrical structure of the title. Each room has a door leading to another room, some of these rooms have potentially deadly booby-traps in them. These six people will need to band together to figure out how to get out of the cube. With some of the temperamental personalities in the mix here, however, that’s easier said than done.

 

It has some seriously dodgy acting and really starts to go astray after about 50 minutes, but this 1997 gimmicky thriller from debutant director/co-writer Vincenzo Natali (who went on to make “Cypher” and “Splice”) has quite a bit to like.

 

There’s some interesting ideas going on here, the mystery is kinda interesting, and from a production design point-of-view it’s striking. But once one particular character has lost their cotton pickin’ mind, it goes downhill, and there’s no getting around the fact that aside from the quite solid David Hewlett (the only actor you might recognise, playing the only interesting character), the cast is pretty rank. Chief offender is the especially terrible Nicky Guadagni, who acts like she’s never even heard of the acting profession before, let alone studied the craft. She’s that bad, not to mention her character behaves inconsistently, and I doubt it’s just the script that’s the problem. Next worst is the almost literally eye-popping and mouth-foaming Maurice Dean Wint, in an especially poorly modulated performance where you can’t tell when he actually went bonkers because it seems like that’s how he started. I understand that the film was shot in something like 20 days, but the performances are way too bad to really excuse.

 

The film starts off in the best possible way, with an awesome slice-and-dice. It had me wondering if these characters had somehow found themselves stuck inside the Lament Configuration puzzle box from “Hellraiser”. The set design is immediately striking and effective. It’d probably look even better if the film were in B&W, if you ask me. The angles get varied up so that you get bored, either (Amazingly, only one or two rooms were actually built, Natali varying colours up to fool you into thinking it’s more expansive- and expensive- than it really is. Bravo!). The premise is irresistible, and might remind you quite a bit of “Saw” (which came out much later of course), except with violence that is ‘fun’ instead of that yucky ‘torture porn’ stuff. I find the basic situation here much more frightening than the “Saw” films, probably because it taps into my own fears: I’m absolutely crap at mathematics, and would be completely fucked in this situation. Prime numbers? Fogedaboutit.

 

With better performances and a less histrionic final third, this could’ve been a minor gem. As is, it’s just a shade below a recommendation. The screenplay is by Natali, Andre Bijelic, and Graeme Manson.

 

Rating: C+

Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: The Purge: Anarchy


It’s Purge Night, and Carmen Ejogo and activist-minded daughter Zoe Soul have learned that their terminally ill father/grandfather John Beasley has offered himself up to the affluent as a suitable target for purging, so long as his family are handsomely paid for it. But before they have time to fully digest this bit of crazy selflessness, thugs break into their apartment and drag them away. Watching this unfold is a brooding white guy (Frank Grillo) who is trying his best not to act the hero. He seems to have something else he’d rather be doing, possibly even purging. Unfortunately for him )but fortunately for Ejogo and Soul), his conscience dictates he must intervene and helps the two women escape. They are soon joined by a young couple (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Gilford) who ran into danger when their car broke down on the one night in the year that you absolutely do not want that to happen. Now this band of five must stick together (or at least stick to Grillo like glue, as he’s a real butt-kicker) if they’re gonna survive the one night of the year when pretty much everyone is out to kill you. Jack Conley plays a mystery man who shows up, and Michael K. Williams is a revolutionary leader whose voice is heard throughout the film trying to convince everyone that ‘The Purge’ is merely an attempt to commit genocide against the poor and undesirables of society.

 

It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoyed the original “The Purge”, from writer-director James DeMonaco (writer of “The Negotiator”), and he has followed it up with another winner. This 2014 film takes the same premise as the original, but takes it into a whole different genre, really. Rather than the tense home invasion horror/thriller of the original, this one’s going for a kind of post-apocalyptic (or maybe just apocalyptic) urban nightmare action/thriller, something in between George Romero (“Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead” in particular) and John Carpenter (think “Assault on Precinct 13”- DeMonaco wrote the remake of that one- and “Escape From New York”), and a touch of Walter Hill’s “The Warriors”. It’s the same film, but much more expansive in scope. In terms of the result, it’s pretty much on par with the original, I think, but if they’re gonna make any more of these films, they really ought to explore other crimes. The Purge allows for all crimes to be on the table, so why is murder (or attempted murder) the only one we ever see being carried out?

 

Things begin ominously, with ‘Stay Safe’ having become the standard phrase uttered in this film’s world instead of say ‘See you later’ or ‘Talk soon’. That’s kinda unsettling right off the bat. We also get long-time military technical adviser Dale Dye playing the ‘new founding father’ in what surely must rank as one of the most brilliant pieces of stunt casting in a cameo role ever. R. Lee Ermey would be the only other candidate better in the role, unless someone can dig up and reanimate Charlton Heston’s corpse. Meanwhile, ‘crazy face paint guy’ (whom you may remember earned TMZ’s attention for his bitching and moaning at not being paid for the filmmakers using his image on poster art) is clearly this film’s version of ‘creepy albino guy’ from “End of Days”. He may not have much screen time, but you’ll remember him, and he contributes to the uneasy sense of impending doom, which the original also had going for it. There’s also a really good, throbbing music score by Nathan Whitehead, something reminiscent of “The Running Man” or “Escape From New York”.

 

The multi-character approach here allows us to see how different people approach ‘The Purge’ differently, but it also opens the film up too, especially once we venture outside. And yet DeMonaco manages to maintain the tension throughout, just as well as he did in the first film. That’s pretty remarkable, considering the differences between the two approaches. The main family here (Carmen Ejogo, John Beasley, and Zoe Soul) are pretty easy to like, even when their ethnicity seems incredibly confusing. I’m guessing they are meant to be of mixed race, but Ejogo and Soul look Hispanic (but aren’t, the former is Nigerian-Scottish!), and character actor Beasley (whom I’ve seen plenty of times before) I already knew is an African-American and definitely looks it. Their friends and neighbours all appear to be Hispanic or at least not Anglo or African-American, adding to the confusion. It may not bother you, but I wasn’t sure what to think, and maybe that says more about my obsession with possibly irrelevant details, I dunno. But they’re definitely not affluent white folk, who are seen as pretty much the enemy here, so at least that difference was easy to understand. At any rate, Ejogo, Beasley, and Soul are definitely more likeable than the protagonists from the first film (Noel G., meanwhile is particularly repellent in a memorable cameo performance that might remind you of Tom Towles from Tom Savini’s remake of “Night of the Living Dead”, though a fair bit more subtle). Frank Grillo may be a cut-rate Jason Statham in a sense here (or at least Michael Biehn from “The Terminator” with a bit of an edge), but he does quite fine as the somewhat anti-hero. It’s a shame that he dumps his car so early in the film because that thing is straight out of “Death Race 2000” and all kinds of awesome.

 

There’s something really sick about a society that allows a loving father and grandfather of a minority background and lower economic standing to offer himself up as an intended murder victim to satiate the bloodlust of affluent white folk, just to provide for his family after he is dead. It’s not the most thought-provoking film of all-time, but it certainly has a few things to say and says them pretty well. At times, especially near the end, it’ll remind you of the “Hostel” series (with a touch of “Surviving the Game”), except this film does it right and doesn’t depend on cheap ‘torture porn’ and sleazy characters. It also wears its influences on its sleeve proudly. In addition to the films and directors I’ve cited above, the original (and in my view, the best) “Mad Max” springs to mind, especially with the Grillo character and especially the second half of “Mad Max”. It’s a really good-looking film, with excellent shot composition and some awesome urban nightmare imagery. It’s kinda cool, if a tad over-reliant on slow-mo for my liking. The lighting is especially worth praising, not relying on just one colour, but many. It’s terrific, so kudos to Jacques Jouffret there, who also shoots things in a far more stable fashion than was the case in the original.

 

The drastic change from home invasion horror/thriller to more action-oriented, multi-character flick will alienate some who enjoyed the first film, and be accepted by some who disliked the first one. I was able to enjoy both films pretty equally in their own way, to be honest. But next time, Mr. DeMonaco, how about exploring different kinds of ‘purging’? Just a thought.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Hot Rods to Hell


Sedan-driving Dana Andrews (recovering from a bad back and psychological/emotional stress from a previous car accident) and his typical American family (wife Jeanne Crain, kids Laurie Mock and Tim Stafford, AKA Jeffrey Byron) set off from Boston in their sedan across the Californian desert landscape to take up post at a motel. Unfortunately, they are harassed along the way by hot-rod driving youths (The not very youthful-looking Paul Bertoya, Gene Kirkwood, and Mimsy Farmer), who had a good thing going with the previous owner, and don’t much like a bunch of ‘squares’ taking over. Said former owner is Mr. Daley (George Ives), who also owns a nearby jukebox joint where the crazy kids like to get far out and outta sight. Or something. Sensing that their Saturday night jitterbugging fun is about to end with dorky Andrews at the helm, the hot rod punks set about making the family’s life a living hell. Oh, and one of the young punks, named Duke, develops kind of a thing for virginal teen Mock. And she might sorta kinda be fascinated by the supposed ‘bad boy’.

 

Originally conceived as a TV movie, but eventually aimed at the drive-ins, this 1967 film from director John Brahm (A TV veteran of “Dr. Kildare” and “The Twilight Zone”) and writer Robert E. Kent (“The Fastest Guitar Alive”, “Twice-Told Tales”, “Tower of London”) doesn’t even know what genre it wants to aim for, let alone what medium. It’s certainly too tame to have worked for the exploitation drive-in crowd. Part juvenile delinquent/hot rod film and part pre-cursor to the ‘Normal happy family terrorised by psychos’ flick (“Straw Dogs”, “Last House on the Left”, etc.), it ends up being a whole lotta awkward with a side order of dead-arse boring. That’s because the latter subgenre didn’t really come about for another few years, and the former sees the film playing more like a cornball early 50s film than late 60s (Or to put it another way, it’s a whole lot more like “The Wild One” than “Easy Rider”, which came out in 1969). So it occupies its own unique, awkwardly dated space.

 

Washed-up movie star Dana Andrews (genuinely good in his day) makes for a convincing Ward Cleaver/Robert Young in the earlier, happy scenes (which otherwise play like a bad sitcom), but spends most of the film in a pretty foul mood. He’s perfectly fine in terms of his actual performance (aside from a weird attempt at a possibly Boston accent on a couple of lines), but can’t work miracles, and looks in really rough shape. He did have a drinking problem at times in his career, I’ve read, so maybe that had something to do with it. Laurie Mock is flagrantly miscast as his supposedly virginal (but curious and horny) teenage daughter. She looks far too grown up and far too sex-kittenish to convince in the role. She looks like she’s having an orgasm in every scene, and it makes for a very confusing character. If she was meant to have a bit of temptress in her, then she’s way overdressed at the very least. The worst performances are by the lead hooligans, Paul Bertoya (who looks about 34 years old) and Gene Kirkwood, as the very scary-sounding Duke and Ernie. Yes, Ernie. These guys are such dorks that they wouldn’t even intimidate me, and I’m a seriously anxious and frightened paraplegic. Ernie’s about as scary as Scott Baio, for cryin’ out loud. Meanwhile, their top chickie, played by exploitation fave Mimsy Farmer, looks like she’s about to do some go-go dancing at any moment.

 

The ridiculous cars, bad projection work, and lousy sped-up footage had me wondering when The Munsters were gonna turn up in their car and wipe the floor with these sodey pop dorks. Seriously, the cars look like something out of the 60s “Batman” TV series. But the absolute worst thing here? What exactly do these hot rod hooligans actually do that’s so menacing? They hoot and holler and drive really fast. In real life, that can be something to get worked up about, but in a movie…it seems pretty sleep-inducing and wimpy. Special mention must go to Police Constable Public Service Announcement of the Talky Exposition PD (Paul Genge), a most unwelcome and pretty-tacked on presence. He’s a terrible actor firstly, and an annoying and completely incongruous character on top of that. Every appearance by Deputy Dudley Do-Right is a total snore. The best performance by far comes from George Ives as the unscrupulous, Hawaiian shirt-wearing former owner of the motel. Sadly, even he’s not the most menacing threat in the world, either, but at least Ives’ performance is rock-solid.

 

For all the talk of ‘squares’ in this film, this is the squarest thing you’ll ever see, and it feels like a decade between this and “Easy Rider”. If it weren’t so boring it’d at least have some curio value, but as is, it’s best forgotten altogether. Nice scenery, though.

 

Rating: C-

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: The Expatriate


Aaron Eckhart plays a former CIA op who is now in Belgium lending his services as a security systems consultant for a big corporation that has a branch there. He is currently living with his estranged teen daughter (Liana Liberato), after the death of her mother back in the States. Liberato isn’t terribly happy with the move, and even less happy that dad constantly misses important things in her life to stay back late at work. One day Eckhart walks into his office at work to find…nothing. Nothing is there. Nothing. No one. No trace that there had ever been a corporate office building there at all. When he contacts the company’s HQ in the US, they seem to have no knowledge of any branch in Belgium whatsoever. Even his email account is completely gone. And then someone starts shooting at him. He also finds that several of his co-workers have been targeted for extermination (and weren’t so lucky). So now he and the daughter who frankly resents him have to stick together and go on the run in order to find out what the hell is going on. Olga Kurylenko plays Eckhart’s former CIA handler (and former flame), who may or may not be trying to help Eckhart.

 

I’m not sure why Aaron Eckhart is all of a sudden turning up in direct-to-DVD thrillers, but his innate likeability (yes, the guy from “In the Company of Men” is now innately likeable, contradictory as that may sound) and obvious solid acting talent really do elevate this 2012 film from director Philipp Stolzl (writer-director of “Goethe!” and director of Garbage’s clip for ‘The World is Not Enough’) and writer Arash Amel (who went on to script the flop “Grace of Monaco”). The film is actually much better than its direct-to-DVD status and eleventy billion credited production/distribution companies suggest. Sure, for a Belgian-set film there’s not one Belgian sounding person in the whole damn thing, but it has the kind of seemingly impossible mystery/thriller that I find irresistible. You keep watching because you can’t work out just how the hell this guy is gonna get out of the jam he is in nor exactly where it’s headed.

 

Eckhart (who also produced) is perfectly cast, much better than the Wesley Snipes’, Steven Seagals, and Cuba Gooding Jrs who would normally headline this kind of thing (albeit a much lesser quality version of it). Mind you, I did have one quibble with his character forgetting that his high school-age daughter has a peanut allergy. I mean, come on. By that age, you guys should have that sort of thing down to a fine science, surely. Deadbeat dad or not, that’s just dumb in an otherwise relatively well-written film. The big surprise in the cast is that the normally bland Olga Kurylenko is actually quite good here. I didn’t know she had it in her to be so competent. I also liked that the film is pretty damn merciless about death. Good or at least innocent people die in this film, unflinchingly. The best thing about the film is just how damn beautifully shot it is, by DOP Kolja Brandt (“Goethe!”). In fact not only is the cinematography good, but the scenery and set design also combine to make this look a lot nicer and more expensive than it probably was. Although Garrick Hagon (Biggs Darklighter from “Star Wars: A New Hope”) is pretty decent as the Robert Vaughn/Kevin McCarthy-type character, it’s a bit of a shame that his character proves such a 2005 cliché in a 2012 film. Sure, you’re initially unsure where this is all headed, but once Hagon turns up, it’s a bit old-hat, really. Haliburton much? That and the insanely irritating character played by Liana Liberato (just shut the fuck up and do what your father says, you miserable tit!) aren’t enough to drag this one down, though.

 

It may not be anything new, but it’s a solid and engrossing film in the moment, and a cut above most of these Europe-set spy-thrillers. It deserved a better fate, it’s certainly better than many theatrically-released action/thrillers one could name.

 

Rating: B-