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 10, 2015

Review: The Untouchables


Set in crime-riddled 30s Chicago, where gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro) seems to rule the city, one brave team of lawmen decide to take the fight to Capone. Straight-arrow, ambitious treasury agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) learns from his department’s tax attorney (Charles Martin Smith) that Capone can be taken to court for tax evasion! Sean Connery plays Malone, the tough, Italian-hating veteran Irish copper who acts as mentor and comrade-in-arms to Ness, along with rookie sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia). Billy Drago plays Capone’s slithery hired gun Frank Nitti, whilst Patricia Clarkson has an early role as Ness’ supportive wife.

 

The one high point in the career of director Brian De Palma (“Scarface” and “Dressed to Kill” probably have their fair share of champions I suppose), and probably the best film Kevin Costner has thus far made, this 1987 cops vs. gangsters movie is one of the most entertaining motion pictures I’ve ever seen. Others seem to disagree but I’d also suggest that the film holds up wonderfully well nearly thirty years later. The film fires on all cylinders; Direction, screenplay, design, performances, score composition, etc.

 

It’s master composer Ennio Morricone who gets us off to a perfect, exciting start with one of the best main themes in cinematic history. It’s exciting stuff that you won’t get out of your head for weeks, even evoking Morricone’s previous work on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” with the use of harmonica. Oddly, it’s Morricone who most comes under fire these days from people who find his music score unoriginal and anachronistic. Frankly…nope, I got nothing. I can’t even begin to understand the logic. Yes there are modern drum beats in the score for what is meant to be a Prohibition-era story, but for some reason it has never struck me as incongruous or anachronistic. Mainly because it’s just fucking brilliant. It’s an energetic, weird, and eclectic score that I truly count as one of the best of all-time, from a man who has delivered several other best scores of all-time.

 

The look of the film is equally sensational, with expert Giorgio Armani costuming, outstanding production design, and above all else, dynamic filmmaking from director De Palma and cinematographer Stephen H. Burum (“Rumble Fish”, De Palma’s pathetic “Body Double”). In terms of shot composition, this film is full of great angles, camera movements, etc. If this film weren’t storyboarded down to the finest detail, I’d be shocked. The film’s bravura moment from a purely cinematic point of view is obviously De Palma’s tribute to the ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence from the landmark “Battleship Potemkin”. De Palma has earned my ire over the years for being a plagiaristic, Hitchcock wannabe hack, but here’s the one time when paying homage (this time to Sergei Eisenstein, rather than Alfred Hitchcock) came off for him. The reason why it’s such a brilliant scene is because it’s not just De Palma wanking over cinematic history. Those who know the reference get it, those who don’t can still enjoy a fantastically shot and edited set piece that still manages to fit seamlessly into the story and the fabric of the film. It’s masterful.

 

The film boasts an impressive cast, with several actors exhibiting their finest-ever work (Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Billy Drago, and Richard Bradford), as well as two top stars offering up excellent displays of show-boating (Robert De Niro, Sean Connery) that add, rather than distract from the film. Kevin Costner has always had a Gary Cooper/Jimmy Stewart/Gregory Peck ‘old school, decent man’ hero vibe about him and it serves him perfectly in the role of crusading Chicago cop Eliot Ness. I don’t know why people so underrate his work here, it’s spot-on as the upright, unbending lawman who also has the task of keeping his family safe while he’s crusading against the likes of Al Capone. Costner is an easy sell as the relatable, virtuous hero of the story, who is just shy of wearing a cape, because Costner grounds him in reality as a family man and good, honest lawman at a time and place when crime was running rampant. Sean Connery won his only Oscar for his colourful supporting turn as a tough, possibly racist, but honest Irish copper. Sure, he’s the only Irish cop in cinematic history to have a Scottish accent, but Connery gets almost all of the good lines in the screenplay by David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross”). His final scene is one that, although a powerful dramatic scene, is nonetheless hilariously quotable. Personally I prefer his work in “The Hill”, “The Offence”, and “Robin and Marian”, but this is definitely Connery’s best film. Robert De Niro isn’t exactly subtle here, but playing gangster Al Capone, showboating is exactly what is required, and boy does De Niro make his every scene (surprisingly few) count. In a role originally meant for Bob Hoskins, De Niro is clearly the right casting choice as the loudmouth, short-tempered, baseball bat-wielding bully-boy. Although not normally a physically imposing-looking man off-screen, De Niro somehow manages to scare the shit out of you on screen in films like “Mean Streets”, “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, and to a certain extent the overblown remake of “Cape Fear”. He certainly has an intimidating presence here, and I doubt Bob Hoskins would’ve come anywhere near as close as De Niro in the role. He simply is Capone, with a little 30s-era Edward G. Robinson thrown in for good measure.

 

In smaller roles, Richard Bradford, and especially Charles Martin and Billy Drago are also impressive. Bradford is a veteran player of authority figures and has one of his most visible roles here as a fellow Irish copper who warns Connery not to go down the path of trying to clean the city up. Smith brings some comic relief as the Treasury accountant who comes up with the brilliant idea of targeting Capone for tax evasion. In years past, it’s the kind of role that would’ve gone to Elisha Cook Jr. If you don’t feel kicked in the guts by his final moment on screen, what the fuck is wrong with you? Veteran B-grade action movie henchman Billy Drago has easily his most high-profile role here as Capone hired assassin Frank Nitti, AKA The Man in White (for those of you who grew up with the seriously impossible C64 computer game). In his first scene and just a few words, Drago oozes snaky evil in a vivid, scene-stealing turn (And if you don’t believe Mr. Drago’s appearance here was the inspiration for Michael Jackson’s all-time great music video ‘Smooth Criminal’, well Drago did later appear in a Jackson video, so come on, that’s too much of a coincidence!). Also worth noting is the cameo by famed acting teacher Del Close as a truly slimy, bribe-offering alderman.

 

This really is one of the great American stories, and certainly one of the great true crime stories (albeit given the ‘Hollywood’ treatment if you know what I mean. Switching the juries? Really?) as a top gangster is taken down by a top cop…for failing to pay his taxes! You couldn’t make it up. If there’s any flaw to the film, for me it’s the Canadian border scene. Every time I see the film, I can’t work out what it is, but the scene just doesn’t work for me. It seems out of place. Perhaps it’s the wide open plains. Maybe it’s the mixture of gangster epic and John Ford western vibe. It’s definitely partly due to the awful actor (Robert Swan) playing the leader of the Mounties. It’s the film’s one imperfection, even if the scene contains Smith’s best moment in the film and one of Connery’s best lines: ‘Enough of this running shit!’.

 

A masterful blend of top-notch acting and showy filmmaking, at the end of the day, this is also just a great yarn. One of the most entertaining films you’re ever likely to come across, and proof that just about any director can hit it out of the park at least once in their career. 

 

Rating: A+

Review: Blood


Although a loving family man and respected copper, Paul Bettany is clearly burnt-out and a case involving a murdered 12 year-old girl stirs in him bad memories of a similar past case that has never been solved. Bettany and his weaker younger brother Stephen Graham are so convinced that the guilty party here is a smiling little bastard named Jason (slimy Ben Crompton), but he has to be released due to insufficient evidence. This does not sit well with Bettany (who has started to unravel), and he decides to take matters into his own hands, bringing Graham along for help. He’s guilty, they just know it. They’ve clearly crossed a line, but what if Jason was actually innocent? The two men are obviously plagued by guilt, but more than anything, they’re simply worried that they are now in a whole mess of trouble, with white knight colleague Mark Strong (who is seen as aloof by his colleagues) looking into the matter. Meanwhile, the two brothers’ former cop father (Brian Cox), who used to be a real strong-arm type, is suffering from dementia and thinks cops have now gone soft. Apple, meet tree much? Adrian Edmondson (yes, that Adrian Edmondson) has a key cameo as an important witness.

 

Based on a 2004 TV series, this 2012 flick from director Nick Murphy (the rather good supernatural film “The Awakening” with Rebecca Hall) and screenwriter Bill Gallagher (“Lark Rise to Candleford”) feels awfully slim. Was the TV series cancelled really early in its run? It’s certainly not a bad film, it just feels way too slight, short, and obvious from the get-go.

 

Paul Bettany gives an outstanding performance complemented by the gloomy, oppressive visuals and atmosphere, reflecting the claustrophobic situation he and Stephen Graham (particularly well-cast as a lifelong sidekick/follower to the more dominant Bettany) are in. Bettany’s character is not in a very good headspace to begin with, and he puts himself into an even worse situation by acting out the way he does. However, the very fine Mark Strong (although solid as always) seems to spend much of the film waiting around to be written into the film, and it’s pretty shitty to use Brian Cox’s character as a mere tension-builder based off his inability to keep his trap shut and his inconsistent, Alzheimer’s afflicted memory. The role also offers the talented and often powerful Cox absolutely nothing to work with. Memorable cameo by the inimitable Adrian Edmondson, however, and Ben Crompton makes for a very creepy prime suspect, stealing his every moment.

 

This should’ve been a cracker, and it has oppressive atmosphere to spare, but the obvious plot does this one in. Watchable at best, mostly due to the underrated Paul Bettany, and the fantastically doomy and gloomy cinematography by DOP George Richmond (mostly a camera operator, he did shoot “Ghost Machine”, however). But it’s not the Greek tragedy ‘sins of the father’ classic it seems to be aiming for.

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: RED 2


Retired CIA op Bruce Willis is living the ‘normal’ life with his main squeeze Mary-Louise Parker, when buddy John Malkovich turns up to warn him about leaked information that wrongly implicates the two of them in the cover-up of a top-secret nuclear program from the late 70s. After unsuccessfully attempting to get Willis to join him in action, Malkovich is apparently blown up. They have a funeral for him and everything. It appears that several nefarious people are after Willis, including old nemesis Byung-Hun Lee, cold-eyed Government assassin Neal McDonough, and even former associate, icy ex-MI6 operative Dame Helen Mirren has been given the hit order against Willis. Catherine Zeta-Jones turns up as a Russian operative and former flame of Willis’, Sir Anthony Hopkins turns up as a once brilliant British scientist who may be senile, David Thewlis is a snooty assassin known as The Frog, and Brian Cox (The ‘other’ Hannibal) is back as the friendly ex-KGB guy with a soft spot for Mirren.

 

The original “RED” was lightweight fun that really ought to have been even better, given its cast. This 2013 sequel from director Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest” and a whole lotta TV work) and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber (“Battleship”, “RED”) is also lightweight fun, and in my view better than the first film. It also really ought to have been even better, given its cast. But given that it’s a rare sequel that is better than the original, maybe I shouldn’t complain. I didn’t have quite the same sense of being underwhelmed with this one, though the first film was perfectly OK, don’t get me wrong. I certainly didn’t miss Morgan Freeman and the late Ernest Borgnine like I figured I would this time out.

 

The film starts out in funny fashion, with John Malkovich receiving awfully high billing for someone dead in the first five minutes. Gee, do you think he’s really dead? Bruce Willis’ eulogy for him is genuinely funny, and I almost admired the screenwriters for not even bothering to explain the impossible, because in its own way, it makes it funnier. John Malkovich doesn’t get as many moments to shine this time out (and didn’t get much more last time, either), but the very idea of Malkovich essentially playing Mel Gibson to Willis’ Danny Glover in a schlocky action film is kinda priceless. If nothing else he shows he can be an ensemble player without having an especially meaty role. Meanwhile, I’m not normally a Neal McDonough fan, but he impresses early on here as a charming but cold-blooded assassin. He’s actually legit scary, if underused. Willis is Willis, but he plays comically exasperated very amusingly, and plays off both Mary-Louise Parker and Malkovich extremely well. They make for a fun trio. Even more so than last time, Parker (who I refuse to believe is in her 40s, she looks better than ever) runs off with the whole show. Her cheeriness in the face of danger, violence, and confusing espionage is truly infectious. Catherine Zeta-Jones looks absolutely ravishing, she hasn’t looked this edible since 1999’s “The Haunting”. This is miles ahead of her previous teaming with Willis, “Lay the Favourite”. The idea of Dame Helen Mirren looking all regal while drowning a guy in acid is an old concept by now…but she sure plays this well. She gets into the right comic spirit, even pretending to be a crazy person who thinks she’s the queen, at one point. Clever stuff. Sir Anthony Hopkins’ first scene reminds one of his first scene in “Silence of the Lambs” (presumably deliberately), and gives an interesting performance here. Far from doing lazy schtick, Hopkins has you wondering if his character is too nutty to be useful, merely pretending to be, or a little nutty but acting even nuttier to be deceptive. Both he and a returning Brian Cox look like they are having the most fun here, along with Parker. It’s a shame Neal McDonough, a well-cast David Thewlis, and barely glimpsed Steven Berkoff (before he gets a shuriken shoved into him by Storm Shadow) get short shrift here, but Byung-Hun Lee is a good fighter and proficient enough in English that I’d like to see him in his own martial arts film.

 

The action in this film isn’t as flamboyant as in the first film, but in its own way just as enjoyable. I especially enjoyed a nice car/bike chase through narrow Paris streets that has a cute ending, too. All of the performances here are terrific, and the film is lightweight fun. For some, that’ll be enough. Not every film has to be “Citizen Kane”, and if you’re not entertained by this film, maybe it says more about you than it does about the film.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: The Big Stampede


Set in New Mexico, John Wayne stars as John Steele, hell-bent on taking down a bunch of cattle rustlers, headed by Noah Beery. For an unorthodox assist, he ropes Mexican bandit Sonora Joe (Luis Alberni) into helping him. Mae Madison plays a purdy settler, whilst Paul Hurst is the chief henchman.

 

An early John Wayne film from 1932, this film from director Tenny Wright is a tolerable enough B-western, if very, very basic. I mean, it clocks in at under an hour, and Wayne’s horse ‘Duke’ gets a co-starring credit, so it’s hardly “The Searchers”. It’s more your Saturday matinee/serial type deal. A minor affair, but not an unpleasant one.

 

Scripted by Kurt Kempler (“A Shriek in the Night”, with Ginger Rogers and Lyle Talbot) from a Marion Jackson novel, it’s certainly worthwhile as a curio. I mean, John Wayne actually smiles in this one. There’s a reason why he rarely ever did that in a film. A very, very good reason. Wayne is shockingly young and obviously doesn’t have the screen presence or masculinity you might be used to from him. His mysterious character is somewhat interesting, if nowhere near as mysterious as the filmmakers no doubt imagined (It’s pretty obvious the stars Wayne keeps leaving behind mean he’s a lawman. 1932 audiences might’ve been slower on the uptake, though).

 

Most of the minor parts are filled by cardboard cut-out level actors, but Noah Beery is clearly the most accomplished member of the cast, and Luis Alberni is pretty decent as roguish cattle thief Sonora Joe. There’s a clever bit where Sonora shoots out the lights and they all have a shootout in a darkened saloon. I haven’t seen something like that in too many subsequent B&W westerns, I must say. The title stampede is rather well-staged and lensed for the period (Though I hear it was cribbed from an earlier, silent film version of the story). The ending is awfully rushed, though.

 

It’s a watchable film (though hardly a film at all, really), and hell it’s better than some of his later films to be honest (“The Green Berets”, anyone? “Rio Lobo”?). It’d be much lesser without Noah Beery, however.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Flash Gordon


Big screen adventure for the famed Alex Raymond comic book creation, starring Sam J. Jones in the title role. Flash is the quarterback for the New York Jets, who is on a plane with pretty Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) when they start to notice the sky is all kinds of crazy, and their plane eventually crashes. They land in the midst of the laboratory of Dr. Zarkov (Topol!), a crazy scientist who coerces them into joining him in his rocket ship. They land on the planet Mongo, overseen by Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), the evil ruler of the universe. Ming promptly plans to execute Flash, marry Dale and add her to his harem, and relieve Zarkov of his brilliant brain power. However, a hitch in those plans may come from Ming’s daughter Princess Aura (Ornella Muti), who has amorous designs on Flash herself. Brian Blessed turns up as King Vultan, leader of the Viking-like winged Hawk Men, and Timothy Dalton plays Prince Barin, this film’s Lando Calrissian, of-sorts. Peter Wyngarde plays the masked sadist Klytus, Ming’s henchman, who has strong desires for Princess Aura. Richard O’Brien turns up in a small role as one of Prince Barin’s men.

 

While I can hardly give this 1980 Mike Hodges (the original “Get Carter”, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”) space adventure a glowing recommendation, it’s hard not to enjoy some of its charms. Yes it’s high camp, yes the production values are more “Barbarella” than “Star Wars” (and believe me, I love “Barbarella”- more than this film certainly), and yes Melody Anderson is pretty terrible as Dale Arden. All true. Hell, even leading man Sam J. Jones is a bit stiff and forgettable. But from the very moment that Queen’s iconic and frankly just plain brilliant title theme kicks in…it’s hard to resist. Just don’t try to convince anyone that it’s a good movie. We all know what this is.

 

Truth be told, I’m probably being a tad harsh on Ms. Anderson, the dialogue handed to her by screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (“Pretty Poison”, “Never Say Never Again”, “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle”) is pitiful. I mean, it’s hilarious (especially when you hear it in the Queen title song) when Arden cries ‘Flash! I love you! But we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!’ But come on, there’s just not much the poor girl can do with such lines. Meryl Streep couldn’t sell this stuff much better. While, I think the sets and costumes by Danilo Donati (“Fellini Satyricon”, the Oscar-winning costumes for Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet”) are quite good in a campy “Barbarella” way, the blue screen work here is horrid. Given that 1980 was the year of “The Empire Strikes Back”, such shoddy work just isn’t acceptable. This more than anything brings the film down a peg, and certainly reminds you that Dino De Laurentiis (“Barbarella”, “King Kong”, “Mandingo”, “Dune”, “Conan the Destroyer”) is the producer here. Sure, I get that the film is striving to be like the cheesy serials of “Flash Gordon” and “Buck Rogers” that inspired “Star Wars”, I’m just saying that I personally prefer the upgraded model of the “Star Wars” trilogy, to this deliberately retro tribute.

 

Thankfully, there’s still a lot to like here. For starters, it gets off and running very quickly and rarely slows down. Pacing is an underrated thing in cinema I think, and keeping this one at a good clip is definitely to its advantage. You might not have enough time to notice all of the flaws. The Queen soundtrack is so impressive it practically demands a better film worthy of its awesomeness. True, Queen are among my 10 favourite bands, so I’m biased, but if there’s one band who can provide a rock score for a space adventure film and not have it seem jarring, it’s Queen. That’s because Freddie and the boys were always camp, over-the-top, and at times very operatic and grand. This is a pop-rock score on freakin’ steroids and wearing stilettos just because Freddie damn well can. Whilst the leads might be a bit underwhelming, the supporting cast definitely picks up some of the slack. Max von Sydow is the perfect Ming the Merciless. Immediately perfect, as he brings a sly, almost evil sensuality to the part, which is interesting. Peter Wyngarde is also good as Ming’s Skeletor-looking number two, if underused. His dry delivery of dialogue is a malevolent highlight. The booming voice (oft-parodied) of Brian Blessed turns the scenery into a freakin’ buffet with his wonderfully loud, boisterous and frankly quite silly performance as the leader of the Viking-esque Hawk Men. Blessed is capable of subtlety, but why be subtle when you can ham up a storm and shout a lot? The man is having a whale of a time, and so will you every time he’s on screen. Topol, as Dr. Zarkov easily acts circles around Anderson and Jones. Timothy Dalton is merely OK as the Errol Flynn-gone-rogue Prince Barin, and Ornella Muti is pretty but not much better an actress than Anderson. I never quite understood the appeal of her. There’s plenty of prettier actresses who have far greater talents than she (albeit none of them in this film). Her character is a bit more interesting than that of Dale Arden, however. The talented Richard O’Brien, meanwhile, is poorly wasted in a nothing part. In a film full of outlandish characters, you’d think Riff Raff would play one of them, but he barely has a character at all.

 

In addition to the awesome Queen soundtrack, they also compose the music score itself and do a bang-up job of it I must say. The soundtrack may be rock opera, but the score is a mixture of 60s era historical epic and rock opera/synth. It’s awesome. Far less awesome, and frankly regrettable is the scene where Flash crash-tackles Ming’s guards. We get it, he’s a gridiron player, but it’s sooooo stupid. Yes, even for this film.

 

This is definitely a gaudy, colourful, and campy film. Dumb fun is the best way to describe it. It’s not a bad movie, not even close. This is pretty much the movie all concerned wanted to make. But it’s not exactly a good movie either. Killer soundtrack, though, one of the best of all-time, and you’ll never…ever get it out of your head. Flash! Ah-ah! 

 

Rating: C+

Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Captain America, AKA Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is still adjusting to modernity after the time travel of the previous film. After completing a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), our patriotic hero is visited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has just escaped an attempt on his life, and urges Rogers to be careful and trust no one. He also hands him a flash drive, before running afoul of an assassin. It appears that someone has ordered a hit on Rogers too now, and an ambitious politician (played by Robert Redford!) and a seemingly unstoppable assassin who triggers memories of long ago in Rogers, appear to be behind it all. The assassin is dubbed The Winter Soldier, but the rest you’ll have to see for yourself. Frank Grillo and Aussie actor Callan Mulvey turn up as security/mercenaries for S.H.I.E.L.D. Emily VanCamp plays another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and Anthony Mackie turns up as former soldier Sam Wilson, AKA, The Falcon, AKA an actual African-American Marvel superhero…who plays sidekick to Captain (White) America here. Toby Jones, Cobie Smulders, Garry Shandling, and Hayley Atwill all reprise their roles from previous Marvel flicks, as does one other person whose identity and character will remain a secret here.

 

I didn’t like the previous “Captain America: The First Avenger”, because I felt like it was unmemorable, underused its cool-looking villain, had poor FX, and the title character didn’t seem superhero enough to me. It was a seriously bland film. Now comes this 2014 sequel from co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo (brothers who previously directed “You, Me, and Owen Wilson” plus TV shows like “Arrested Development”), and not only is it a huge improvement in just about every way, but it’s the only other film than “Thor: The Dark World” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” in the Marvel Comics film oeuvre that I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed (I’m not counting the pre-“Avengers” era ones, but if I did, you could add “Blade” and the third “X-Men” film to the list). It might even be the best one so far. I still think Captain America proves to be a cooler superhero in theory than actuality, but at least in this one he’s far more of a superhero in nature than he was in the previous film when he was 90% propaganda public speaker/recruiter. And his shield to me renders him pretty damn ineffective in battle, it’s such a cumbersome and defensive weapon for such little benefit.

 

The film also brings up some really interesting ideas early on about military might and all the nostalgia stuff from Cap’n USA’s time-travel at the end of the first film. It’s weighty stuff and the best thing in the entire film is that we get to see an older Peggy Carter to make the ending of the first film not seem so offensive. It still pisses me off, but this is definitely a better and more interesting and thought-provoking film, whilst not neglecting what it needs to be as an adventure/action spectacle. It’s not flawless, mind you. Although the film is still very good-looking (I still say the Captain America suit is too dark, though), the shaky camerawork by Trent Opaloch is problematic (Opaloch is a three-time offender now after the zoom-happy “District 9” and shaky “Elysium”). Chris Evans is still wooden in the lead role (he seems distracted throughout), which leaves an empty hole at the centre, somewhat. Also, the big reveal of the identity of the “Winter Soldier” is underwhelming to the point that one might ask ‘Who was that guy again?’ were it not for the inclusion of flashbacks (suggesting that even the filmmakers realise it’s a bit lame).

 

However, there’s a lot to like here, the good far outweighs the bad. For instance, this is a rare modern comic book/superhero movie that seems to understand and navigate the tricky balance of treating this stuff seriously but also not forgetting to be comic book entertainment. It certainly starts off excitingly and hardly lets up throughout. Samuel L. Jackson and an especially well-used Robert Redford play this thing for serious drama, as it should be, but the film still delivers the action and enjoyment. It also has a supporting cast who more than pick up Evans’ slack. Scarlett Johansson is much better here than in “The Avengers” (It’s her best performance to date, unless you count “Her”), Jackson and Redford own their every scene, and Anthony Mackie is a lively presence on screen. The amusing thing about Jackson is that even in a comic book film he’s playing a guy who feels racially profiled by cops. I love it, and it leads to one of the better action sequences I’ve seen of late. It’s great to see Jackson’s Nick Fury getting amongst it, and even the shaky-cam doesn’t quite spoil the action fun here. Meanwhile, the casting of Redford brings up memories and themes from “Three Days of the Condor” and even “All the President’s Men”. Sure, you know the deal with his character before it’s revealed (another character has ‘surprise bad guy’ practically tattooed on their face from moment one), but he has a weighty presence in this that’s not only unusual and beneficial for this kind of thing, but surprising coming from, let’s face it, the more lightweight star from “The Sting” and “Butch Cassidy”. Paul Newman was always considered the actor, Redford the matinee idol, but he can also act when it’s his wont. I also need to single out Toby Jones, who is even better in this than he was in the previous “Captain America” film. He’s creepy, eccentric and wonderful…and yet sorta not in the film at all. You’ll know what I mean when you see the film. I’m not sure what’s going on with all these TV actresses turning up in the franchise (Kat Dennings, Cobie Smulders), but “Revenge” star Emily VanCamp in addition to having a distracting nose (Seriously, what’s with that? It’s not huge or anything, but you keep finding yourself staring at it for some reason), has only one facial expression the entire film: ‘Oops. I crapped my pants!’. Tell me I’m wrong, people. Speaking of weird faces, poor Garry Shandling looks like he had an allergic reaction to shellfish, and then the whale that seemingly swallowed Shandling afterwards seems to have had an allergic reaction to the allergic reaction that the shellfish Shandling ate in the first place, had to Shandling’s weird plastic surgery. Seriously, what the hell happened to him?

 

Although this film would be even more fun without the shaky-cam and a more committed actor than Chris Evans in the lead, this still proves to be one of the best comic book films of late. It’s interesting and thought-provoking, but crucially, still a lot of fun, even if it seems like everyone in the film is a top MMA fighter. This is the film “Iron Man” should’ve been, had it not gotten the balance completely wrong. I don’t normally like real geopolitics entering my comic book flicks, but if the entertainment and excitement are still there, I can put up with it, especially when it’s as interesting as this. Here we have a character taken out of the more na├»ve and innocent 1940s and transplanted to the modern era (or a comic book rendering of such), for a film that evokes memories of films from the cynical and questioning 1970s, a time of much political conspiracy, questioning, and falls from grace. It proves very interesting and clever stuff without seeming jarring or anachronistic for a film set long after the 1970s. Perhaps that says something about our current world.

 

I was truly pleasantly surprised by this one, and you need to see it if only to see Robert Redford playing his seeming polar opposite, and pulling it off rather well. Seriously, though, why is the “Captain America” suit so dark and borderline monochromatic? The guy’s called Captain America but seems ashamed of the red, white, and blue. The screenplay is by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, who wrote the previous “Captain America” film, but also tellingly, “Thor: The Dark World”.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Seeds of Yesterday


Mostly focussing on the now adult Bart Jr. (James Maslow) as he invites his family to the newly restored Foxworth Hall, restored from money he has inherited from his grandmother. So along come Cathy (Rachael Carpani) and Chris (Jason Lewis), as well as successful dancer Jory and his pregnant wife Melodie (Leah Gibson), as well as trashy young adopted Cindy (Sammi Hanratty). Bart Jr., is still a bible-thumping loon, and seriously unhappy to find out that the family jewels so to speak will be overseen by Chris until Bart Jr. turns 35. Things get progressively worse from there, as Bart Jr. takes the bad news terribly badly- and takes it out on those around him. Meanwhile, Cindy seems to have a thing for her adopted brother Bart Jr., or is she just messing with him for the hell of it?

 

Directed by Shawn Ku (“Beautiful Boy”) and scripted by Darren Stein (writer-director of the 1999 “Heathers” rip-off “Jawbreaker”), this 2014 TV movie appears to be the last of the current Virgina/V.C. Andrews adaptations about the inbred Dollanganger family (There’s apparently a prequel, but I have no idea whether they’ll ever adapt it). Not one of these films has been remotely worth watching, and that’s certainly true of this one.

 

The story is a bit more interesting this time around, but it’s not well-told at all. Bart, for instance (played by Wil Wheaton-lookalike James Maslow) has been overplayed. It’s obvious before this film even begins where he’s headed due to how he was portrayed in the previous film, and this film may as well have given him a twirly moustache. The crazy thing is that he’s one of the least amoral people in the whole damn series. Even when he finds himself having lustful feelings towards someone he feels he shouldn’t, all I could think was, well she’s not his actual sister so that’s considerably less fucked up than most of the rest of his family. And yet, at times he was indeed painted as twisted and evil. The character of Bart is itself poorly and inconsistently written, where at times he basically comes off as Damien Thorn, which is just too over-the-top to be credible, especially when you consider how the film ends. I’ve come across schizophrenics with more consistent behaviour than this guy.

 

The film is also sloppily and choppily done, with Jory’s wife sleeping with Bart way too suddenly and quickly to be remotely credible. I have no doubt that this played out much more smoothly in the novel. Speaking of Jory’s wife, special mention must go to actress Leah Gibson for delivering one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. Also, look for the big dance routine, which is the funniest I’ve seen since “Stayin’ Alive”. Meanwhile, as a paraplegic myself, I can honestly tell you that Jory wheeling himself into the swimming pool to try and drown himself is gut-bustingly funny stuff. You just wouldn’t do it like that, dude. Just…no.

 

I’m sure this series of TV movies has its fans, just as the books have, but I bet it’s a much smaller fan base than the books. They’ve all been pretty lousy and poorly acted, and this one continues the trend. Only recommended to the most devout of followers of this series.

 

Rating: D+

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Review: Endless Love (2014)


Working class kid David (Alex Pettyfer) has just graduated high school, but will probably continue helping out his widowed, hard-working mechanic dad (a surprisingly well-meaning Robert Patrick) at the garage. Gabriella Wilde is Jade, another graduate, who comes from a wealthy family, but feels she never really connected with any of her classmates. She took it particularly hard when her beloved brother died from cancer a while back. David has always had a crush on Jade, but kept it to himself. Hell, they’ve never even spoken to one another. The two get to finally meet one night when David and his ebullient best friend Mace (Dayo Okeniyi) are working as valets, and before long, she’s inviting him to attend the party her parents are letting her throw for her classmates that she never got to know. Unfortunately, David and Mace are among the precious few teens who attend, but things get interesting when David and Jade find themselves in a closet together. From there a passionate teen romance is born, much to the concern of Jade’s overprotective, slightly snobby father (Bruce Greenwood), who has big plans for his daughter’s future (i.e. career), and sees David as a stumbling block in the way of all that. But Jade won’t give David up for anything, as she’s having fun for the first time in…maybe ever. Joely Richardson plays Jade’s more supportive mother, and Rhys Wakefield plays Jade’s still-living brother.

 

Based (apparently very loosely) on a book by Scott Spencer, the 1981 “Endless Love” was a shockingly miscalculated, quite badly acted film from the usually reliable Franco Zeffirelli. Although Shirley Knight struggled valiantly with one of the worst-written characters I’ve ever come across, the only memorable thing about the damn film was the timeless Diana Ross-Lionel Ritchie title song. This 2014 remake from director Shana Feste (whose “The Greatest” was OK) and co-writer Joshua Safran isn’t nearly as miscalculated as the earlier film (but apparently only slightly more faithful to the text), aside from the bizarre decision not to include the title song. Seriously? No Bieber-Miley twerkin’ redux? I’m shocked (Oh alright, what about say, John Legend and Alicia Keys then? That’d be the 2014 equivalent of Ritchie-Ross, right?). It’s problem is that it plays it all far too safe, far too bland, and it all adds up to…bubble wrap. Scratch that, bubble wrap is somehow addictive, the comparison is unwarranted. I love bubble wrap and so do you. No, this is just kinda…there. The earlier film was terrible and went complete cuckoo, practically into psycho-stalker/arsonist territory, but by removing a lot of that stuff, Feste and Safran have simply given us yet another bland ‘teen lovers kept apart by non-understanding adults’ story. Yawn, been there, done that. The ‘It’s not over!’ scene was played for histrionics last time (Martin Hewitt was the drizzling shits), but is done flatly here, and there’s no real hint of psychodrama this time out…just lots of vanilla.

 

Gabriella Wilde is extremely pretty (unquestionably prettier than Brooke Shields, and a better actress too), Robert Patrick is perfectly cast as the working class dad (in the film’s best performance by far), and former Aussie soap star Rhys Wakefield acquits himself quite decently in a rather unnecessary part. However, about the only thing I genuinely liked about this film is the way the character of Wilde’s mother (The Shirley Knight role, here played by Joely Richardson) was written. Last time out, it was an embarrassing role where Knight had to get all hot and horny as the bored housewife who kinda sorta wanted to jump her daughter’s boyfriend’s bones. Or something. I never quite worked that one out. Thankfully, Feste and Safran have changed things so that she’s…well, the role is practically perfunctory now, but can we all just agree that it’s the lesser of two evils? Other than that, I really don’t have a whole lot of nice things to say here. Sure, it’s preferable to the overpitched original, but it doesn’t leave you with much of interest to watch as an alternative, unless you’re firmly entrenched in Gen-Y and you haven’t heard of “Romeo and Juliet”.

 

I must say my bullshit detector went off pretty early in this, with Wilde supposedly being a beautiful rich girl who was so sheltered that she never got to know anyone at her school. That is to say, it’s exaggerated beyond belief (Same issue I had with Ione Skye in the overrated “Say Anything…”, actually). I also had serious problems with the character of Mace and the performance by Dayo Okeniyi. Okeniyi overdoes the flippant black best friend thing to the point that I thought I was watching “Not Another Teen Movie” for a second. We get it, you’re a horrible cultural stereotype, the outdated comedy relief African-American best friend. He was borderline Stepin Fetchit (Google him, kids), and a constant irritation. And that’s not even including the scene where he and the only other African-American person in the film are conveniently paired off in a dance competition and do a routine to…Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’. In 2014. All black people in 2014 have that as their jam don’t they? They get jiggy to a song from the mid-to-late 80s, right? It seemed borderline racist to me, or hopelessly out of touch at least (Just like a wannabe-paid film critic who still uses ‘jiggy’, probably incorrectly too). And then he later talks about getting high, and is pretty much responsible for getting everyone arrested. Yeah. That actually happens here. He is, by the way, essentially the character a young (and awful) Tom Cruise played in the original, only ten times more culturally awkward.

 

The character of Wilde’s father, played as well as possible by Bruce Greenwood starts out really well-written. He seems like a decent man and loving father whose objections to this relationship are predominantly to do with concerns for his daughter’s future. You can see his POV, even if you don’t entirely agree with it. This is a crucial time in his daughter’s life and he doesn’t want anything getting in the way (He has also lost his Golden Child, and is probably scared of losing another child). Unfortunately, about the midway point, the character undergoes a practically psychotic, black-hatted change that sabotages the character entirely. Hell, it’s the closest the film gets to the psychodrama of the original…but with the wrong damn character. **** SPOILER WARNING **** The screenwriters have awkwardly and unconvincingly turned him into a philanderer. It’s not believable and the character only gets worse the longer the film goes on. He’s pretty much the true villain here. In the original, it’s the protagonist who commits arson having been driven crazy by his love for the girl and being kept apart from her. Here it’s an accident caused by Greenwood’s character who has gone pretty much nuts…until he’s ultimately, and unconvincingly, redeemed by the protagonist. Ugh. **** END SPOILER ****

 

By far the biggest stumbling block the film has is leading man Alex Pettyfer. Sure, he’s a bit more competent than Martin Hewitt in the original, but he’s boring and wooden, not showing anywhere near enough passion, let alone obsessive love. Yes, this is a sanitised, less obsessive take on the story, but Pettyfer is still dreadfully uninteresting. And looks about 33 years-old to boot (That they are both in their 20s and Wilde is the older of the two doesn’t matter. He looks a year or two shy of my age, and I’m old!). Wakefield acts him off the screen, despite having a dud role.

 

Finally, a note about the film’s approach to sex and nudity. The original fireplace scene wasn’t exactly “9 ½ Weeks” for teens, but here it is obvious that they are trying to show these youngsters naked without actually showing nudity. It’s calculated to the point where it’s all you can focus on. Sure, Feste pushes that PG-13 rating rather far compared to many other films of late with that rating (M-rated here in Australia, though), but it merely alerts you to the fact that they’re too scared (or the producers were) to push things to the point of a more adult rating, losing their target profit…er…audience.

 

Everything about this remake is subtler than the original. Some of that is admirable, some not. It’s a bland film that would be nothing without Wilde’s beauty and the sturdy presence of Robert Patrick. It’s a better film, remarkably for being bland, but it’s that same blandness that also makes it entirely skippable. It’s not a good film, but a superior remake of a shit film. There’s your sound-bite right there.

 

Rating: C

Review: Town & Country


Warren Beatty is an architect married to fashion designer Diane Keaton, with two grown kids (Josh Hartnett and Tricia Vessey) who frankly don’t need him anymore. The film follows Beatty as romantic/sexual liaisons with other women just seem to magically happen to him. Meanwhile, his long-time friend Goldie Hawn is suspicious that her husband Garry Shandling (whom Beatty is also close with) is having an affair. She’s right, but boy is that not even the half of it. Beatty’s romantic/sexual conquests include sexy cellist Nastassja Kinski, and goofy heiress Andie MacDowell who is just as eccentric as her foul-mouthed parents (Marian Seldes and Charlton Heston. Yes, Charlton Heston. An armed Charlton Heston, even). Jenna Elfman turns up as the owner of a fishing supplies store whom Beatty and Shandling meet whilst on a male bonding trip.

 

One of the biggest box-office flops of all-time, this mixture of romantic comedy and farce from director Peter Chelsom (“Funny Bones”, “The Mighty”, “Hannah Montana: The Movie”) is clearly a misfire. Released in 2001 but mostly filmed years earlier (1998, which might explain why former ‘somebody’ Jenna Elfman is featured prominently), it’s definitely a failure and a complete waste of its talented cast. He’s an excellent awards show host, but you know you’re watching a bad comedy when Garry Shandling turns up. “Mixed Nuts”, anyone?

 

Personally, I knew I wasn’t gonna have a good time with this one early on when we see an old lady get ‘comically’ bowled over by two giant dogs. I’m not a huge fan of farce at the best of times, but boy is the timing way off in this one. Part romantic comedy, part screwball farce, this is a bit like Woody Allen’s mediocre “Everyone Says I Love You” without actors singing badly, and a little “First Wives Club” thrown into the mix. Hell, Goldie Hawn’s in all three films, which doesn’t help shake the feeling. Chelsom and writers Buck Henry (yes, that Buck Henry) and Michael Laughlin botch things from the get-go by showing us a scene from later on in the opening, letting us know that happily married Warren Beatty will cheat on his wife Diane Keaton with Nastassja Kinski (Kinski, by the way, is surely way too old for her ‘younger woman’ role). I don’t often like films starting with scenes out of context, but here it’s particularly stupid and suicidal. So although it was probably meant to be cute that renowned pants man Warren Beatty was playing a committed married man, the gag casting is immediately killed. Besides, Beatty has been happily married to Annette Bening for years, so even if the joke weren’t ruined, it’s not as funny as it would’ve been pre-Annette Bening.

 

To be honest, I’ve never gotten Warren Beatty. Yes, I love “Bonnie and Clyde”, but otherwise I find him a wooden, smug bore of an actor. That’s ever the case here, believe me. He’s a block of wood, if not an entire forest of trees. He also spends the entire film with an expression on his face that suggests there have been far too many rewrites for him to keep track of, and now he has no fucking idea what his lines are. He looks constantly befuddled and surprised, and it is not to any good effect whatsoever. Either that or he’s drifting in and out of consciousness at times, it seems.

 

Keaton and Hawn are pretty likeable (Hawn looks terrific) and Shandling is well-cast, but the material just isn’t here, no one seems to know what kind of film they are making, and the director is completely tone-deaf. How did no one see the problem with Beatty being introduced to Andie MacDowell before we even get to find out how he ended up screwing around with Kinski? It’s a mistake because the scene obviously tells us Beatty and MacDowell will get together at some point, so why should we even care about how he ended up in bed with Kinski? There’s a really stupid bit of farce when a spilt drink leads to Keaton and Hawn in a restaurant bathroom with all of the other women Beatty has slept with turning up. It’s appallingly done, but even worse, nothing happens. At all. It’s a lumpy, messy film (Look at my plot synopsis. Does that seem coherent and cohesive to you? For once, it’s not my lazy-arse writing, either), much as the majority of the cast try their best. Shandling probably fares best, but there’s not much for the taking here. Andie MacDowell, meanwhile, gives her most embarrassing performance since “Greystoke”. She’s terribly ‘off’ here. Although he has one or two very unfortunate moments (which I think everyone focuses on way too much in reviews), the late Charlton Heston at least gets to let his hair down here for a change. The very serious-minded actor rarely got a chance to play comedy, as far as I can recall and he’s better at it than you might expect. Jenna Elfman, whose particular comic talents (making goofy, squinty faces?) has always eluded me, brings a little too much whimsy and randomness to a film that is already all over the damn shop. I mean, this is a film that has Beatty dressed as a polar bear and Shandling as Elvis at one point. Why? Who knows. I’m still trying to work out why Holland Taylor has a nondescript walk-on as an awards presenter. What the hell?

 

This is a bad film, very clearly. You can tell it was a troubled production, as apparently there was much rewriting, re-shooting, re-casting, and so on. To be honest though, it’s not nearly interesting enough to warrant its extraordinarily bad reputation. In that sense, it kinda reminds me of another Warren Beatty flop, 1987’s infamous “Ishtar”, which was frankly too damn boring to write about. This one sucks, it doesn’t work, and that’s that. Let’s move on, shall we? Don’t watch this, unless your goal in life was to hear Diane Keaton say ‘cock’ and ‘pussy’.

 

Rating: D+