About This Blog

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

Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: Inside Llewyn Davis


Oscar Isaac stars as the title character, a folk singer in and around NY’s Greenwich Village scene in the early 60s (Pre-Bob Dylan, so it’s really just about to take off). Llewyn, who isn’t easy to like, is clearly struggling in his pursuit of his dream. He relies on friends and acquaintances to let him sleep on their couch, as he has no real home of his own. His agent is pretty ineffectual, his musical partner has recently killed himself, his sister doesn’t ‘get’ him, his dad is in a nursing home, and he seems to have had a thing with fellow musician Carey Mulligan, only now she’s reluctant to let him crash at her place or even really speak to him. She’s pregnant and can’t be sure whether it’s his or not, thus she’s pretty pissed off and wants Llewyn to pay for an abortion. He has also found out that he has a child he never knew about from a previous relationship. We follow his adventures during one week in his life, meeting all kinds of people and doggedly determined to make it as a solo folk artist. Adam Driver plays another folk musician, ditto a very ‘square’ Justin Timberlake, whilst John Goodman plays a rather ornery jazz guy and junkie whom Llewyn travels with on his way to Chicago for an audition. F. Murray Abraham plays the jaded guy in Chicago he’s hoping to audition for. Max Casella and Ethan Phillips play, respectively, a friend and guy whose couch Llewyn sleeps on sometimes (and whose cat he loses and spends much of the film trying to find).

 

I’m not normally one to praise The Coen Brothers films as you probably know by now. I’ve disliked (“Raising Arizona”, “Fargo”, “The Hudsucker Proxy”, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, “Burn After Reading”, “The Ladykillers” to name just a few) far more than I’ve enjoyed (“Blood Simple”, “Intolerable Cruelty”, “The Big Lebowski”, and “True Grit”), let alone those ones falling  somewhere awkwardly in between (“No Country for Old Men”, “Miller’s Crossing”). However, this 2013 film about the folk music scene in the early 60s is a pretty easy watch I must say. It’s one of their better films for sure.

 

I’m not much of a fan of folk music to be honest (I can appreciate some of the greats, but my 60s-70s tastes are mostly Beatles, Stones, CCR, Joe Cocker, Black Sabbath and Hendrix), but Oscar Isaac makes a pretty good account of himself both in terms of singing and especially acting. He seems more like the writer/poet-type to me more than a singer, but he’s undeniably good in the lead. However, I think the positively incandescent Carey Mulligan (who was born to play a folk singer I think) and a very cranky (and very funny) John Goodman threaten to steal the show. Goodman is hilarious as the crankiest old windbag you’ll ever come across. I do worry about him though, dude’s looking all latter-day Orson Welles these days isn’t he? He’s a terrific character actor, so I hope he’s looking after himself. Justin Timberlake in a dorky jumper screams of stunt casting to me, but he and an inexplicable Adam Driver (in a scene that reminds me of The Coens at their most irritatingly affected and weird) aren’t in the film enough to really distract or detract. F. Murray Abraham turns up briefly and gives his best performance in the last what, two decades maybe? At least. Helluva talent, worst person at choosing scripts in the entire film industry. Ultimately, though, I think Isaac owns this film, it’s probably his best performance to date. He, like the film itself grows on you.

 

There’s also some really nice shot composition and shadowy lighting by Bruno Delbonnel (“Amelie”, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, “Dark Shadows”), too and he was rightly nominated for an Oscar. My one and only quibble with the whole film is that a pretty significant issue is brought up fairly early about Isaac…and then never referred to again. It feels like it was going somewhere, and to be honest I think it really should have been dealt with or never mentioned at all. As is, it sticks out awkwardly and leaves you wondering why it was included. The film overall doesn’t really have that much plot, so it may not bother you as much as it did me that this one story strand turned out to not really be much of a strand at all.

 

If you like folk music and/or The Coen Brothers, you’ll be in love with this one, and you’ll certainly want the soundtrack. This is one of The Coen’s best and most ‘normal’ films to date (though decidedly unromantic about its subject matter), probably ahead of “Intolerable Cruelty”, but behind the others I listed above as their best films.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel


Set in a fictional Eastern European nation (Then why reference Budapest?), author Tom Wilkinson recalls how as a younger man (played by Jude Law) he stayed at the title hotel, which was well past its used-by date. It is here that he met the owner (played by F. Murray Abraham) who in turn tells him the story of how he as a young immigrant came to first work at the hotel (and now played by Tony Revolori) under the tutelage of the hotel’s head concierge, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). The death of a wealthy eccentric (Tilda Swinton) propels what counts for a plot in this film. Edward Norton turns up as a fascist military man, Harvey Keitel is a tattooed prisoner, Willem Dafoe and Adrien Brody play weirdo antagonists of Gustav’s, Jeff Goldblum is a family lawyer, and lots of other familiar faces turn up (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Lea Seydoux, etc.)

 

The world is divided into two types; Morlocks and Eloi. Wait, no wrong story. The world is divided into those who get Wes Anderson films…and the rest of us. It seems the latter is a much smaller group, but that’s OK, we’re right (Relax, it’s called humour). I sorta didn’t mind “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”, but the creepy “Rushmore” (and star Jason Schwartzman) made my skin crawl, “The Royal Tenenbaums” I just sorta shrugged my shoulders at and hated all of the characters. Now comes this 2014 film inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig. I’ve never heard of the bloke and yet again I was kept at a complete distance by Anderson and his ‘unique’ vision. It’s not often that a critic will use the phrase ‘I didn’t get it’, but I’m afraid that was the case for me here. If I’m missing something amazing here folks, fair enough. All I can say is that Anderson and I aren’t on the same wavelength and I got pretty much nothing out of this film. If it was supposed to be funny, I didn’t understand why (Was it screwball? Farce? Black comedy? Satire? Deadpan? I have no idea). If it was supposed to be interesting, it bored me to tears. I. Just. Didn’t. Get. It.

 

I thought the production/set design was absolutely wonderful, colourful but ugly enough to evoke a hotel past its used-by date. It was also nice to see F. Murray Abraham, surely one of the best talents to be a truly awful discerner of suitable film projects, and his performance was perfectly fine, albeit brief (Don’t even get me started on the fact that he’s a completely different ethnicity/skin colour to debutant Tony Revolori playing him as a young man, though). But Anderson’s insistence on being cute with using different aspect ratios to delineate between different eras a) Was completely unnecessary, and b) Is completely useless on TV/DVD. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s preferential to see a film first in the cinemas, but films are made to be re-watched over and over, and that means the small (er) screen. It’s simply a fact. The technique’s cleverness is rendered not only ineffective on smaller screens, but in my opinion, really annoying and stupid. Having everything framed front and centre gets old real fast, Wes. How about a wide shot or two? No? Sigh. It forces us to look at ugly, garish, and grotesque close-ups that I didn’t appreciate at all. Aside from that one issue, it’s certainly a good-looking movie without a single poor performance in it…it’s just completely useless to me because I simply didn’t click with Anderson’s deader-than-deadpan jive. If it was meant to be funny, I couldn’t work out the jokes/humour, and found a lot of it like watching paint dry. Nice paint, though.

 

There’s something really smug about Anderson’s films in my view. It’s like everyone involved had a whale of a time, and fuck you if you’re not hip to their scene (Apparently the film is full of movie references, so you’d think that’d be my way into the film. I didn’t spot a single reference, and if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know I’m a cinematic savant. Or is it a cinematic idiot? No, that doesn’t sound right). I didn’t get into the story or the characters because, although not badly performed, I felt the whole thing was an arch, deadpan put-on with little reward, and I was never drawn into the story at all. For what I had heard was meant to be a light entertainment, I actually (like all of Anderson’s films) found it rather heavy, as in heavy-handed. Lots of familiar faces amongst the cast provided the only source of (fleeting) entertainment for me. Ealing Studios would’ve known how to do this basic story justice, you could easily imagine Sir Alec Guinness in the Ralph Fiennes part. Maybe even multiple parts. It certainly wouldn’t be so arch, mannered, and off-putting. I’m not going to score it as a ‘bad’ film as such, just a really mediocre one bordering on bad. I have to be honest, because I just didn’t get anything much out of it. Believe me, I wish I ‘got’ this, I want to be like all of you, I really do. But…no. It’s not for me, and if you think it’s a masterpiece, that’s cool. You got it, I didn’t. Moving on…

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Night Train to Lisbon


Jeremy Irons plays a rather lonely academic professor in Switzerland, teaching languages. One day he saves a despondent young Portuguese woman from jumping off a bridge, but before he knows it, she has run off. However, she has left behind a book that takes the professor’s fancy. Written in Portuguese, it’s an autobiographical tale written by Amadeu do Prado (Jack Huston in flashbacks), and concerns the revolutionary goings on in the country in the 70s. Although not normally the impulsive type, he’s so taken by this book (and presumably the young woman) that he abruptly leaves his post and heads for Lisbon to track down the author. Once there he manages to locate the author’s sister (Charlotte Rampling), a haunted-looking woman extremely reluctant to talk at all. However, a friendly optician (Martina Gedeck) leads him in the direction of her elderly uncle, Tom Courtenay. Now in a nursing home and extremely difficult, he was one of the author’s revolutionary colleagues. Bruno Ganz and Christopher Lee turn up as another former colleague and a priest, respectively. August Diehl plays the younger version of Bruno Ganz’s character in flashbacks, whilst Melanie Laurent and Lena Olin play the younger and older versions of yet another important part of the revolution.

 

I rather enjoyed this 2013 Bille August (“Pelle the Conquerer”, “The House of the Spirits”) film, especially for the terrific all-star cast and rather dour atmosphere. However, I think this will play best for those among you more intimately familiar with 70s Portguese politics. I’m not sure how large an audience that would be, but for me, coming into this one with zero knowledge of such cultural/political matters, I found myself a bit lost, and a tad removed as a result through the flashback scenes. The fact that these flashback scenes involved some of the least interesting and least high-profile actors probably didn’t help either.

 

Jeremy Irons has never been my favourite actor, but he fits the role of a lonely professor like a glove. He’s like a seedier, older Colin Firth in a way. It might seem like a stretch that someone would leave their life and do what Irons’ character does in this, but when you basically have no life, perhaps an impulsive departure from that lack of a life and going off on some mysterious journey is understandable. Irons is spot-on as a man who doesn’t normally strike one as the impulsive type, but for some reason is compelled to act this one time. He is backed up by excellent performances from Christopher Lee, Bruno Ganz, and especially Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. There isn’t a bad performance in the film, but it’s those two you’re gonna remember here more than anyone, even Irons. Rampling looks positively haunted and pained from her very first scene, it’s a really vivid performance from her. The underrated Tom Courtenay, meanwhile, contributes an interestingly dour, bitter performance. These two characters have clearly seen and endured a lot, but one is more willing to talk about it than the other. Martina Gedeck is absolutely lovely too, as Courtenay’s niece, who takes somewhat of a liking to Irons during the film. The then 91 year-old Lee had clearly lost some height over the years and has a walking stick here that may or may not be a prop. But he looked in better health than in some of his recent films like “The Resident” and “Burke & Hare”. Playing a man of the cloth not for the first time, Lee is like everyone else here; sorrowful, world-weary, etc. Rock-solid work from one of cinematic history’s longest-serving actors. Bruno Ganz plays perhaps the most damaged character in the entire film. This guy is extremely cagey and depressed, and Ganz is more than up to the task. As is August Diehl, who plays the younger and less embittered version of the character. Of all the actors in the flashback scenes, he’s the only one to stand out. Melanie Laurent and Lena Olin look so far removed from one another however, that at least one of the two has to be considered miscast as the two versions of the same character. Since I find Laurent absolutely lovely, I’ll go with Olin (BTW, the character is a spy with a photographic memory. I’ve always found that to be not very helpful. I mean, if the information is in your head, it puts your life in more danger than say, having it written down somewhere. Seems short-sighted to me). Jack Huston is merely OK as Amadeu de Prado, but to be honest, based on the character’s writings read by Irons, he sounded like a pretentious dick to me. So there was a bit of a disconnect for me there.

 

The film’s look and atmosphere are characters unto themselves here, and fascinating. Obviously the locales and architecture here are fantastic, even if the lighting by cinematographer Filip Zumbrunn is at times a tad muted in night scenes. More than anything, though, it’s the somewhat dour, pained, and cagey mood created here that stands out. It’s not just in the performances, it’s in the look and overall feel of the film. This looks like such a nice, peaceful and quaint place that the characters inhabit, but there’s clearly a dark history to it.

 

I somewhat resented screenwriters Greg Latter and Ulrich Herrmann for not giving the uninitiated a helping hand with their adaptation of the Pascal Mercier novel. I don’t expect to be spoon-fed, but my studies in history at school didn’t quite extend to Portugal, I’m afraid, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in that. I’m happy to share some of the blame with my obvious ignorance of such historical matters, however. I found enough to like here to give it a mild recommendation, but I think history buffs and the arthouse crowd are the best audience for this one.

 

Rating: B-

Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai


A bunch of British WWII POWs under the command of Col. Nicholson (Sir Alec Guinness) enter a prison camp overseen by the rigid Japanese Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), who expects all prisoners to help construct the title bridge. The equally rigid Col. Nicholson, however, informs Col. Saito that he will not allow his officers to do so. Thus a battle of wills ensues, though one side has a ‘hot box’. So there’s that. Nicholson, by the way, refuses to let his men plan any escapes, because his superiors have ordered that they surrender. Shaking their heads at all this are British medical officer Maj. Clipton (James Donald) and a cynical American POW Shears (William Shears). Shears actually manages to escape, and the second half of the film has him and a British Major (played by Jack Hawkins) plan on blowing the bridge up once completed.

 

Although not without flaw, this 1957 David Lean (“Oliver Twist”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “A Passage to India”) WWII film is one of the best on the subject of the madness of war. ‘Madness’ isn’t just a moment of dialogue spoken in this film by James Donald, it’s a description of pretty much everything that goes on in the film. War is made to seem pointless, and both sides made to seem petty and arrogant at times, and do some pretty crazy things. It’s actually pretty ballsy for a film from the 1950s, because neither Sir Alec Guinness’ Col. Nicholson nor the Japanese Col. Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) come out of this looking stellar. Col. Saito, although seemingly winning the psychological battle over his naïve British counterpart, is a violent and brutal man. Col. Nicholson is well-meaning, but his decision to help the Japanese build a bridge on the River Kwai is indeed ‘madness’. I mean, not only are they the ‘enemy’, but Col. Saito has been punishing Col. Nicholson already for not allowing any of his officers engage in manual labour. Why give in to the ‘enemy’? And don’t even get me started on his pig-headed, rigid application of his orders to not escape from prison camp, as his higher-ups ordered him to surrender. Everyone knows POWs are duty-bound to escape and generally make things impossible for the enemy. But orders are orders, and Col. Nicholson won’t let his men orchestrate any escape plans whatsoever. Col. Saito, of course is also acting on orders from above, so you can see where this is going to go. Nowhere. Madness. You could argue that Col. Nicholson (determined to prove British superiority…even in bridge construction!) and Col. Saito are essentially two big swinging dicks, like many commanders in war, with James Donald the cool-headed observer who witnesses the ‘madness’.

 

There have been better POW films (“The Great Escape” and “King Rat” spring to mind), but I can’t think of any that depicted the harsh, arduous life for POWs than this one. There is no doubt that David Lean is a helluva filmmaker when it comes to these epic-length films. In terms of epic visuals and scope (or should that be CinemaScope in this case?), I don’t think he has ever been equalled. The Oscar-winning B&W cinematography by Jack Hildyard (“The Sundowners”, “Hobson’s Choice”, “Topaz”), and the inimitable Malcolm Arnold (“Hobson’s Choice”, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness”) music score are immediate grabbers, the latter (also an Oscar-winner) of course implementing the infamous (and infamously inspiring dirty derivations we all learned in the schoolyard, right?) ‘Colonel Bogey March’. It’s probably one of the finest music scores of all-time.

 

However, it’s Sir Alec Guinness you’ll most remember here, as the hopelessly naïve Colonel who has no idea who he’s dealing with. Does he really think Col. Saito gives a crap about following Geneva convention protocol? To the hot box with you! Sure, Nicholson it could be argued wins the battle of wills in the end, but look at how he turns out? Whether he intended it or not, I’d say Col. Saito gets to Nicholson towards the end, at least temporarily. Guinness has never given a bad performance that I’ve seen (I’ll even defend his portrayal of an Indian in “A Passage to India”, even if casting an actual Indian person would’ve been better), and this stiff upper-lip job is clearly one of his best, earning him a Best Actor Oscar. Watching him get broken down slowly bit by bit to the point where he basically loses rational thought is really quite harrowing. Oscar-nominee Sessue Hayakawa isn’t the greatest speaker of the English language, but is still really effective as a guy who clearly has his orders, but is unquestionably brutal and harsh. There’s at least a bit of nuance there, though, which is appreciated. I mean, this is a guy who, if he doesn’t follow orders and get the bridge completed in time, will need to commit hari-kari. Ouch. James Donald, a most underrated character actor is absolutely terrific as the humane medical officer, perhaps the coolest head in the entire film, pretty much rolling his eyes at the two big swinging dicks and the craziness of it all. Personally, I think it’s disgraceful that William Holden and Jack Hawkins are listed ahead of Guinness in the credits. Hawkins doesn’t even enter the film until after an hour and fourteen minutes. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the scenes featuring Holden and Hawkins away from the prison camp, but there’s no doubt that the second half is less interesting than the first half. Yes these scenes have bearing on the plot and Holden has a nice line in cynicism, but I honestly think Lean devotes too much time to this side mission. Dare I suggest the film could’ve stood to be leaner?

 

A well-staged, well-acted and intelligent war film, but clearly an overlong one. The William Holden scenes occupy too much screen time, and the film although good, is ultimately not great. It does however, contain great elements and is absolutely a must-see at least once in your life, if not more. The screenplay is by blacklisted Michael Wilson (“A Place in the Sun”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Planet of the Apes”) and Carl Foreman (“The Men”, “High Noon”, “Smiley Gets a Gun”), who because of their blacklisting were not handed the Oscar. Instead it was given to the author of the novel, Frenchman Pierre Boulle (author of the book “Planet of the Apes” was based on), who obviously had minimal involvement. Sadly, by the time the situation was rectified retrospectively in 1984, Wilson was dead, and Foreman passed the day after the announcement was made. 

 

Rating: B

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: The Trip to Italy


Comedians and frequent collaborators Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon take on another tour of fine dining and comedic riffing, this time throughout Italy. Meanwhile, Coogan is seeking a closer relationship with his son, whilst Brydon is seemingly unhappy and restless in his marriage. Oh, and they also have Alanis Morrisette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ playing in the car for some reason (Hey, I have the album too, don’t get me wrong, I just think it’s really random to find it in this).

 

Like the terrific predecessor, “The Trip”, this 2014 follow-up from director Michael Winterbottom (“9 Songs”, “24 Hour Party People”, “The Killer Inside Me”) was first seen on British TV in several parts. Unlike the terrific predecessor, this one’s not terrific. In fact it’s more of the same, only worse, and with a few key changes that are absolutely not for the better. Both films are essentially faux-documentaries with the leads playing versions of themselves, and featuring actors playing the leads’ families and other assorted characters, in a film that is scripted but heavy on improvisation. It worked last time because the personas projected on screen matched the public perception of the glib, vain and competitive Steve Coogan, and the affable, if sometimes irritatingly self-pleased Rob Brydon. Coogan the star who thinks he’s worth more than he has gotten, and with a personal life in shambles was complemented by Brydon’s happily married, likeable character. This time around it’s Coogan who is trying to reconnect with family, and Brydon’s the one seemingly going through a midlife crisis and noticing other women. Unfortunately, as much as Brydon is probably right to say that he’s less affable than people think, he’s still clearly too affable and straight-laced to convince as someone with a wandering eye and no shame about it (The fact that he’s so affable that he can get away with saying that he’s affable without sounding like he’s full of himself, really says a lot about him. He’s clearly a good person, and that’s the problem).

 

It plays out incredibly unconvincingly, and unlike last time I found myself acutely aware that this was fiction. The earlier film had actors in the other parts, of course, but I noticed it more this time around. Part of the reason, however, should also be blamed on the fact that the film just isn’t fresh nor as funny as last time out. Changing the dynamic between Brydon and Coogan, whilst fatal to the film, isn’t exactly what I would call doing something original, either. It’s simply a role-reversal and an unconvincing one. But as I said, the film’s just not nearly as funny. Sure, the impersonations were uneven last time (neither guy could do a good impression of anyone from America, for instance, something they prove yet again here), but when they were on, they were dead-on and extremely funny. I’m still laughing at the duelling Michael Caine impersonations, the Christopher Lee as Scaramanga impersonations, and however in the hell we managed to go from ABBA to “Inglourious Basterds” I’ll never know, but it nearly caused me to literally bust a gut.

 

I knew we were in trouble early on here when Brydon confuses Sylvester the Cat for a Hanna-Barbera creation (He’s a Looney Tunes character, you tit!), quotes “The Godfather Part III” when he’s actually talking about “Part II”, and does his awful Pacino impersonation yet again. And then they discuss sequels not being as good. Yeah, they did that gag in “Muppets Most Wanted” too, guys. It was better in that one (One of the few things about that film that didn’t suck). After ten minutes they are giving us a repeat performance of the duelling Michael Caine’s. They’re great at it, so I don’t mind, but it does show a lack of originality. We even get a slight reworking of the eulogy scene from the first, by having Brydon give an acceptance speech on behalf of Coogan for his Lifetime Achievement Award, because Brydon has killed him. Ugh. Thankfully we also have a great bit about Tom Hardy and Christian Bale on the set of “The Dark Knight Rises” driving crew members insane with their impenetrable voices. Brydon’s Christian Bale sounds like Brando, and I think intentionally so, making it even funnier, but Coogan’s Tom Hardy is particularly funny.

 

There’s definitely some funny stuff here, whether it’s Brydon all alone in a hotel room trying out some of his schtick and morphing into Tom Jones, or Brydon imitating Parky interviewing Coogan, which legitimately cracks Coogan up. You certainly never saw Coogan break up at anything Brydon did in the previous film. We also get two very funny (and accurate) duelling Roger Moore’s this time around. I also loved Coogan’s absolutely brilliant reaction shot where he can tell Brydon’s leading up to his (seriously brilliant) ‘man in a box’ routine. It’s a priceless moment, ruined only slightly by the fact that Rob actually doesn’t do the routine as well as he normally does. And that typifies the film’s humour, really. Spotty. They are clearly off their game this time. Brydon’s Dustin Hoffman has improved greatly from the first film, but the only reason why Coogan can be said to do a better De Niro impersonation is because Brydon’s is appalling. The film also has a terribly anticlimactic ending, a sudden stop out of nowhere.

 

No, this film just isn’t good enough. There are moments, but a miscalculation in the dynamic, and two stars being off their game (Brydon especially, much as I normally prefer him greatly over Coogan) bring this one down to a very average (and bordering on poor) rating. It’s also more interested in food and scenery than comedy this time around, which I think is a mistake as well. Pretty lazy film.

 

Rating: C

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: If There Be Thorns


Moving the story of siblings/lovers Cathy and Christopher (Rachael Carpani and Jason Lewis) ahead several years sees the duo playing happy families with their two kids Jory (Jedediah Goodacre) and Bart Jr (Mason Cook). Trouble comes when Cathy and Christopher’s estranged mother Corrine (Heather Graham) secretly moves in next door and tries to ingratiate herself into the two boys’ lives. Jory isn’t interested, but Bart Jr. (the offspring of Cathy sleeping with her mother’s lover) can’t help but be intrigued. Also making an impression on the boy is Corrine’s creepy manservant John Amos (Mackenzie Gray, who might remind you a tad of Angus Scrimm from the “Phantasm” movies), who knows all of his family’s dirty secrets and hands the boy his grandfather’s diary. Just what is John Amos’ deal? And what will happen once Cathy and Christopher inevitably meet their new next door neighbour?

 

I am reliably informed that the series of Virginia/VC Andrews books are fun trash, but this 2015 TV movie from director Nancy Savoca (Going from directing River Phoenix in “Dogfight” to this? Wow. Just…wow) and screenwriter Andy Cochran (who has written one episode of TV’s “Teen Wolf”) continues the trend of poorly written, poorly acted adaptations. The two previous films from 2014 were pretty awful, with “Flowers in the Attic” being a total botch-job and “Petals on the Wind” being a tediously generic and silly soap opera. This one’s much less soapy than “Petals”, but a long, long way from being a good film.

 

Lead actor Jason Lewis has a Ted Bundy/Patrick Bateman ‘handsome psycho’ seedy look about him that kinda works for his character (he’s got a touch of Red Skull about his face, too. Am I the only one?). I like that they’ve tried to push the incest factor as far as a TV movie is allowed, but that so far has been this series’ only real credit. I will say, though, that this is the best-looking film in the series, with a really nice, slightly Gothic-look to it. Elsewhere the film is seriously lacking, especially in the scripting department. Having the evil mother move in next door is a massive contrivance that probably worked much better in the book, mostly because it wouldn’t have a ridiculous Heather Graham in her weakest performance of the series. She gives a horribly affected and caricatured turn here. And why does she half-heartedly try to conceal her face, yet still calls herself Mrs. Foxworth? Geez. That’s just poor writing, whether it’s Andrews or Cochran to blame. And then she dramatically takes off her veil…as if we didn’t already know it was her. Wow. So stupid. I also have to say that, although Graham is amazingly in her 40s, she doesn’t even look close to old enough to be mother to Aussie TV actress Rachael Carpani (How the not-so mighty hath fallen?), no matter how many make-up assisted crow’s feet and grey streaks of hair they put on her. They’re practically the same age, and clearly look it. There’s something really creepy about the lies she spins, but Graham’s performance is too overwrought to work. Even worse is Mason Cook as Bart Jr., who is almost as bad as the twit who played the temperamental dancer in “Petals on the Wind” (And that guy was fucking abysmal). Much better, and continually stealing scenes is creepy-looking Mackenzie Gray as Graham’s servant, who knows too much. The interesting thing about him is that he’s the only morally righteous person in the entire film (I would’ve said Jory’s girlfriend, but then she completely sullies herself by having the most unbelievable change of heart in the history of changes of heart. She was dead to me after that). Unfortunately, by film’s end they’ve turned him into a stock standard raving, violent religious loon like dear ‘ol granny was.

 

I also take exception to what surely must’ve been Cochran taking a pot-shot at Conservatives, by a mention of ‘Leftists’ at one point by one of the main characters. I’m a lefty myself, but the film clearly wants to equate all this incestuous creepiness and hypocrisy to Conservatives, which is just foul and unnecessary. Why bother tacking that on?

 

A little more interesting than “Petals on the Wind”, but overall still really poor and massively contrived. I have no idea how close this gets to the original text, but I can’t say I got much entertainment value out of this one. 

 

Rating: D+

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Review: Lone Survivor


Based on a true story from 2005 about a group of Navy SEALs (played by Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch) on a top secret mission in Afghanistan. They are assigned the task of killing an important Taliban leader, but when communications with their base breakdown and a decision by team leader Wahlberg to be lenient towards some approaching goat herders proves unwise…the four soldiers are in the fight of their lives up in the mountain terrain. Eric Bana plays their commanding officer back at base, and the notorious Dan Bilzerian (seriously, Google the guy) plays another soldier.

 

Aside from a title that bizarrely gives everything away, this 2013 true war story is easily the best film to date from director Peter Berg (“Very Bad Things”, “Friday Night Lights”, “Battleship”, “Hancock”), who also adapted the Marcus Luttrell memoir himself. It’s certainly Berg’s best-looking and most traditionally shot film to date. Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (“The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3”, “Battleship”) isn’t shakin’ all over, and the scenery is truly stunning. Sure, Berg might go to the well one too many times with the aerial shots, but when it looks this good, why complain?

 

The characters don’t exactly pop, but the idea here is to give off a pretty matter-of-fact, straightforward vibe, so it’s fitting. Like “Black Hawk Down”, this one’s less concerned with character depth and more interested in making the situation itself seem as realistic and convincing as possible. It’s not on that earlier film’s level, but it’s still pretty damn good. The actors certainly make for an easy bunch to relate to, they seem relaxed yet only because they are so incredibly efficient and sure in their capabilities. Mark Wahlberg in particular has never seemed this laidback and cool. The guy is Cpl. Hicks-level rock-steadiness here. I also really liked that although Ben Foster plays a more trigger-happy character than Wahlberg, the talented actor (one of the best of his generation if you ask me) doesn’t go over-the-top at all. This isn’t one of his crazy-eyed Dennis Hopper turns, and his character isn’t a bad guy- he simply cares more about his own men and is worried about letting Iraqi prisoners go, even unarmed young/elderly ones. There’s not a bad performance in the whole film, to be honest, nor a false moment that I could pinpoint. The film also has a nicely built sense of quiet unease throughout. It also shows just how dangerous military combat is, and how easily you can lose your life. It certainly shows how fucked up situations can get in battle if just one little thing goes wrong, like a communications failure at the least opportune moment. Or a guy who can’t stop talking loudly because his bloody wounds have made him delirious while you’re attempting to hide from the enemy.

 

Easily one of the best and most visceral and exciting (if that’s not too distasteful a term) war films since “Black Hawk Down”. This isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, and the title is awful, but Berg and his cast do a damn good job here. I really wish he changed the title (and preferably the opening scene too), because not everyone is already familiar with this story, and so giving it all away in the title is a real shame. Other than that, definitely recommended.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues


Set as the 70s give way to the 80s, idiotically macho newsman Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is back and he’s still a moron. Pushed aside by the San Diego newsroom (via boss Harrison Ford) in order for wife/co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) to tackle the news desk on her own, Burgundy’s world- and marriage- fall about. He becomes a lousy drunk who can’t seem to hold down a job, not even hosting a dolphin show at Sea World. But then he gets a call about a gig at a proposed 24 hour cable news channel centred in NY, and thing might just be about to pick up. This despite the fact that he gets racially inappropriate with new producer Meagan Good, who happens to be black. He gathers together the old team of Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd, whose character had been dabbling in porn…or pet photography, it’s hard to tell), sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner, who had been working at a supremely redneck fast food chain), and space cadet weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell, who casually wanders into his own funeral) and get set to cover…the graveyard shift, whilst Ken doll news anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) gets the prime gig. Undeterred, Burgundy and co make a bet that they can out-do Lime in the ratings. Needless to say, it’s no easy thing, though eventually Burgundy figures out how to get good ratings by giving viewers dumb sensationalist shit that they crave. Fred Willard returns briefly as Burgundy’s former station manager back in San Diego, Josh Lawson is the allegedly Australian station owner in NY who also owns an airline, Greg Kinnear is Corningstone’s ponytail-sporting douchy new boyfriend, and Kristen Wiig plays an oddly introverted, seemingly dense receptionist in NY who locks eyes with Brick. Cameos by every actor and comedian (plus Kanye West and “Degrassi” alum Aubrey Graham. What? It’s not like he’s done anything since, right?...) you’ve ever heard of come thick and fast throughout.

 

Pretty much everybody is back for this 2013 sequel from director Adam McKay (“Anchorman”, “Talladega Nights”, the underrated “The Other Guys”) and his co-writer/star Will Ferrell. They’ve also brought most of the laughs, too. Sadly, most isn’t all, and this is indeed a slight step down in quality from the first film, which is one of Ferrell’s better comedies. This one’s pretty typical Ferrell (“Blades of Glory”, “Talladega Nights”), with good bits, and a fair amount of spaced in between those good bits.

 

The problem is that the film’s main target is Fox News (Why else would the owner be an Aussie?), and because the film tries for satire and is far too exaggerated, it just doesn’t work. Yes, Fox News Channel is awful, but they didn’t become a success by being as moronic and simplistic as this film suggests. Fox News isn’t a station devoted to mindless car chase stories or cute pets, it’s a bit smarter than that (sneaky is probably a better word, though), and much more devoted to right-wing politics and conservative cultural issues. Hell, their actual news coverage is little different to most other networks, it’s the political opinion shows that are biased beyond belief (“Hannity” especially). I loathe the network and wish someone would really stick it to them, and make it funny (“The Colbert Report” is an excellent take on “The O’Reilly Factor”), but anyone who has watched Fox News knows that it’s already hilarious on its own, and certainly funnier than this. Hell, the film is set about 10 years too early to make sense anyway. By not sticking to what they’re good at (and had success with before), McKay and Ferrell only hit the mark on occasion, and usually in the moments that aren’t taking jabs at Fox News.

 

I also think the character and performance by Meagan Good is a complete failure. I’m not sure who exactly is to blame (though Good is certainly spectacularly awful in the role), but nothing with this character works at all, her motives are fuzzy and confusing right until the very end. If she was genuinely into him, she certainly didn’t play it that way for most of the film’s length, she came across like she was trying to dupe him for some reason and then all of a sudden seemed sincere. I’m not sure if Good chose to play it this way or was instructed to, but it’s a mess. As for Aussie comedian/actor Josh Lawson playing a very broad caricature of an Australian media mogul…I hope it was worth selling your soul and selling out your country, Mr. Lawson. I heard him in press gigs saying he was told to play up the accent because our natural accent is apparently not what the yanks associate with us. So? Tell ‘em to fuck off then, Josh! No Australian talks the way he does in this film. No one. No, not even Kerry Packer, and certainly not the Americanised Rupert Murdoch. Lawson sounds like a hyperactive Kiwi trying to imitate a pom trying to imitate an Aussie. It’s not even funny, which might’ve at least saved Lawson.

 

The celebrity cameos come thick and fast, but to be honest, the only funny one is Liam Neeson, pretty much spoofing one of his best roles. A shockingly unfunny Harrison Ford in particular looks distressingly suicidal for his recurring cameo, while Greg Kinnear basically plays Tim Robbins in “High Fidelity”, with similarly unfunny results. The film also shamefully wastes the brilliant comedic stylings of Fred Willard in a boring, borderline serious station manager role. What the hell? Truth be told, even Christina Applegate doesn’t get much to do this time out. I also don’t think Paul Rudd’s porno schtick was funny, and David Koechner’s Randy Quaid-esque character wasn’t nearly as funny this time around (His ‘Chicken of the Cave’ was funny, though).

 

Consistent or not, the film definitely has some very funny moments. I didn’t take to Steve Carell last time out, but this time he really worked for me, despite still being a bit shrill. His first moment on screen at a funeral is pretty damn funny (and incredibly stupid), and nearly every other moment with him works too. As funny as it was to hear Ferrell unable to stop saying the word ‘black’ when he first meets Good, it’s downright hilarious when Carell mistakes his own shadow for a black man. WHAT? Is Carell’s character even human? “SNL” alum Kristen Wiig’s brand of humour is generally unappealing to me. All of her characters on the show are oddballs, usually with some kind of physical deformity or intellectual disability, that I personally find offensive (and not just because I’m a paraplegic) and more than a little odd. Here she’s doing her weirdo introvert thing, and cast as Carell’s love interest, she’s certainly not miscast, if not my idea of funny, either. At least Rachel Dratch or Cheri Oteri weren’t cast in the role.

 

Ferrell’s Burgundy continues to be a brilliantly stupid, and stupidly arrogant character. It’s a terrible joke in a way, but Burgundy talking jive to Goode’s family is terribly amusing. Meanwhile, the idiotic logic behind Burgundy being unable to masturbate anymore because he’s blind is insanely funny. Also funny is Ron’s early descent into a creepy Sea World dolphin show emcee. But the humour is really spotty, and the celebrity cameos really go into overdrive towards the end, and at times are just plain bizarre instead of being funny (Kirsten Dunst was a particular head-scratcher, ditto Will Smith). It’s a shame that the filmmakers have forgotten what the first film was founded on, and instead have tried to mix stupid humour with political/media satire, the latter of which they just aren’t good at (Just look at Ferrell’s “The Campaign”, which was appalling).

 

I just didn’t enjoy this one as much as last time, and in fact at times I found myself disengaged from it and focusing on the awesome 70s/80s soundtrack of rock tunes (Van Halen, Christopher Cross’s ‘Ride Like the Wind’, Styx’s ‘Babe’), and R&B (Earth, Wind, and Fire’s classic ballad ‘After the Love is Gone’, Hot Chocolate etc.) Still highly watchable, but uneven on the laugh-o-meter, and pretty disappointing given how long we had to wait for it. Oh, and shame on you, Mr. Lawson. Shame on you!

 

Rating: C+