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, September 18, 2015

Review: The Room (2003)


Tommy Wiseau stars as successful banker Johnny, whose girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle) is cheating on him with his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero, who wrote a book on his ‘experiences’ making this film). Mark feels guilty about doing this to his well-meaning friend Johnny, but Lisa is positively ruthless in her pursuit of him. How long, though, until Johnny finds out? Useless subplots (some never resolved) abound, including that of young Denny (Philip Haldiman), a street kid taken under Johnny’s wing, who gets involved in drug dealing, in between making awkward sexual advances on Lisa (which Johnny, amazingly doesn’t take too poorly) and claiming to like watching them having sex (which Johnny also amazingly, doesn’t take too poorly!).

 

Said to be this generation’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (there’s even been midnight screenings, ala “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”), this 2003 bad movie favourite is frankly far too tedious and unfunny to earn such a distinction. Clearly today’s generation don’t understand what a ‘good’ bad movie really is. This sure is a stinker, and ‘filmmaker’ Tommy Wiseau does appear to have Edward D. Wood’s hopeless delusions of grandeur, but it’s just not much fun to take the piss out of this film.

 

The problem is that it’s a romantic drama, and a bad romantic drama is just plain enervating to watch. Still, I appear to be in the minority on this one, a lot of people think this thing is hilariously awful. It’s certainly awful; Horribly out-of-sync post-production looping by Wiseau himself (he has a thick, possibly Polish accent, by the way), dreadful dialogue scenes that seem to contradict themselves by the end of the scene, and the worst choreographed sex scenes since 1978’s Aussie softcore flick “Felicity” and just a few of this film’s ‘special’ qualities. At times it seems like characters are having two totally different conversations. One minute, Wiseau is asking his psychologist friend for advice, the next second he’s berating him for playing the shrink! Horrendously incoherent. The sex is particularly painful to endure (for the audience, I mean. Sickos you are!), especially since there’s so much of it in the first half. Coupled with the terrible dialogue and shocking acting, you’d swear it was a porno if not for the fact that the sex is decidedly softcore. When you add Wiseau’s repellent, sleazy anti-charisma and pasty yet sinewy, shredded physique it makes for seriously uncomfortable viewing. I’m talking Sly Stallone in “The Specialist” levels of eye-sore here, and Wiseau (whose face looks like it’s melting off his skull!) is one of the most incompetent actors I’ve ever seen, in addition to being one of the creepiest. I’m sorry, but the guy is skin-crawling, matched only by the super-creepy Denny (or was it Danny? Donny? Dunny? Duddy? No one in the film seems to agree!), a bizarro character of oddly vague age played by Philip Haldiman. This kid’s just plain straaaaaange, like the creepy love child of Joshua Miller from “Near Dark” and pervy Bud Bundy from “Married…With Children”. This pervy, drug-buying street kid seemingly put into the film to make Wiseau’s character seem somewhat likeable, is awkward and pathetic. A total miscalculation of character and performance.

 

Why the fuck is this called “The Room”? Why the fuck is the apartment rooftop green-screened? I don’t know, and I somehow get the impression Wiseau (whose personal quotes on his IMDb page are funnier than anything in this film) hasn’t got a clue, either. I’m glad I’ve seen this terrible film at least once in my life so that I can now be a part of the conversation, but unlike Ed Wood’s oeuvre, I don’t think this one has much re-watch value as a bad movie classic. I got some laughs out of it, but overall it’s a bit of a bore. I can’t for the life of me believe it actually got released. It seemingly was a bit of a struggle, as apparently Wiseau originally envisioned it as a play (never staged), then wrote it as a 500-page book (never published), and ultimately a film, where he was able to finally see it released. Seeing the film you have to assume Wiseau’s bank account must’ve been pretty sizeable at the time (apparently he sold a lot of Korean leather jackets to help finance the film. Yep.) or perhaps he has a surprisingly large amount of loyal friends and family, because this really is a piece of shit.

 

One of the worst films of all-time? Maybe, if it’s a long list. Either way, it’s certainly an awful film. The funniest thing? After getting a critical pasting, Wiseau now claims that the film is an intentional ‘black comedy’. Give it up, Tommy. Just give it up. You’re not fooling anyone. Actually, that’s not the funniest thing. The funniest thing is the strange but true fact that writer-director-star Wiseau hired a giant billboard to promote the film…and left the billboard up for 5 years, at $5,000 a month! Yeah…I’m gonna leave you with that one for you to ponder. Oh, and leave your stupid comments in your pocket!

 

Rating: F

Review: I, Frankenstein


We begin with Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) killing Frankenstein’s wife, and Frankenstein himself (Aden Young) also dies in pursuit of the monster. The monster ends up at a cathedral that houses a group of gargoyles headed by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), who takes the creature in, and dubs him Adam. Flash-forward to modern times (?) and Adam is helping his fellow immortal (really?) gargoyle friends (including Jai Courtney and Caitlin Stasey) battle demons, led by Naberius (Bill Nighy). Yvonne Strahovski plays a human scientist caught in the middle. Socratis Otto plays Naberius’ number two, whilst Bruce Spence has a walk-on as another scientist.

 

Look, this isn’t a good film. Based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (who co-wrote the story here and came up with the concept for “Underworld”), this 2014 film is clearly more inspired by “Underworld” than Mary Shelley, and that’s a shame. Directed by Aussie Stuart Beattie (director of “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, screenwriter of “Collateral” and “30 Days of Night”), it’s a messy hodgepodge and pretty much of an “Underworld” rip-off (from the same producers), right down to the casting of Bill Nighy, and instead of werewolves and vampires, it’s gargoyles and demons.

 

The strange thing is it’s really kinda watchable in a seriously goofy way. It doesn’t remotely work or come together as a cohesive whole, but boring it ain’t. This is especially so when Bill Nighy is around as the chief villain. He doesn’t phone it in like you might expect, and dryly glides through the whole thing like the coolest mofo in the room. Massive waste of Aussies Aden Young and Bruce Spence, though, barely getting cameos. Looking alarmingly like Christopher Lambert in the early scenes, Aaron Eckhart tries his best to take this thing seriously and not look too silly. However, if I were him, I wouldn’t have taken on this part, it doesn’t give him a whole lot to work with. Miranda Otto tries really hard too, but her character and her followers suffer from Beattie’s not so strong storytelling here. It’s a pretty wretched narrative at times, choppy and confusingly underdone in parts. That’s weird given Beattie’s background, but at times I found it hard to peg down the time and place this was set in, let alone just what species Otto and her cohorts were. Having said that, it’s all so crazy and weird that choppy or not, you keep watching the damn thing anyway.

 

Some of the CGI is good, some definitely isn’t. However, the camerawork by Aussie cinematographer Ross Emery (“Bait”, “The Wolverine”) is busy and pretty enjoyable. Beattie is clearly a visual stylist. The best asset in the film is the impressive music score by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, making the film seem bigger and classier than it actually is.

 

I don’t know what is wrong with me but I didn’t hate this. I know I should have. It’s stupid, awfully messy, and I’m not a fan of the “Underworld” series that it quite clearly emulates. Scripted by Beattie, it’s too strange to be boring though, and you’ll keep watching it out of some kind of odd curiosity, even if it doesn’t really come off. I think many have been a bit mean towards this one. It’s not “Frankenstein” or even “30 Days of Night”, but it’s not “Van Helsing”, either.

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Review: Age of Consent


James Mason stars as financially successful American-based Aussie artist Bradley Morahan, who decides to retreat to a simpler life back home away from snobby art aficionados and the city lights. He makes money, but seems to yearn for more than that in his work. He holes up in an old shack on a remote island (on the Great Barrier Reef) with his dog. Into his life comes local girl Cora (Helen Mirren, in her first major film role) who will become his latest nude model in an attempt to inspire something of merit in his work. Morahan’s presence on the island and his choice of muse are much to the anger of Cora’s fiercely overprotective grandmother Ma Ryan (a way overboard Neva Carr-Glynn). Also turning up are a shifty old pal of Morahan’s named Nat (Jack MacGowran) who has his eyes on Morahan’s money, whilst a randy young local (Harold Hopkins) has his eyes on Cora. Look closely for a young-ish Judith McGrath (from TV’s “Prisoner” and “All Saints”) as a bimbo at the racetrack.

 

Before the bodacious (but pretentious) “Sirens”, there was this 1969 Michael Powell (the extraordinary “Peeping Tom” and “Black Narcissus”) film based on a 1938 novel by the Aussie painter/author Norman Lindsay, which was seemingly semi-autobiographical. Adapted by Peter Yeldham (“The Liquidator”, “Call of the Wild”), this Australian-UK co-production is about as Aussie as a mostly non-Aussie film of the time could possibly get. Don’t forget, the ‘New Wave’ of Australian cinema hadn’t happened yet. It’s a solid enough film, but perhaps a bit too slight for some. I for one appreciated that it was a film about Australia from the late 60s-early 70s that thankfully didn’t focus on outback scenery and ‘ocker’ knockabout beer-swillers. Yes, in terms of land mass we are more comprised of outback/desert area than anything else, but from my experiences from 1980 onwards we really are more of a beach and urban culture over here, with some mountain areas thrown in here and there. This story happens to have been filmed on the absolutely stunning Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, which makes the job of cinematographer Hannes Staudinger (who otherwise worked in Austria and Germany) pretty damn easy, not to mention the local wildlife.

 

James Mason, so perfect as Humbert Humbert in Stanley Kubrick’s excellent “Lolita” is, on paper a pretty damn good choice to play the Lindsay counterpart here. If he weren’t so crap at Aussie accents, I would’ve personally cast James Coburn, as I think the rather counter-culture painter and ‘pants man’ role is better suited to someone more suave with the ladies than the guy famous for playing one of literature’s most notorious genteel perverts. Yes, even considering he’s still playing a guy cavorting about with a girl of questionable age. Hell, ex-pat Aussie Rod Taylor would’ve been perfect here, so long as he could lose the Yank twang he developed over the years. However, Mason (one of cinema’s greatest ever character actors) is still a fine choice, even if he too proves to be unable to quite nail the accent. At times he even seems to forget to put one on. When he does put on the accent, he certainly doesn’t mangle it, though it’s strange that he pronounces Brisbane (Bris-bn) correctly, yet botches Queensland for some reason. You’d think the latter would be much easier to correctly pronounce. Little things like that alert you to the fact that this isn’t a full-blooded Australian film (It’s co-produced by an ex-pat Aussie, though in character actor Michael Pate), but hardly ruin the film. In fact, given that there was a time when the Aussie and English accents weren’t too dissimilar from one another, it’s rather a minor issue. Non-Australians will barely even notice the problem I suppose.

 

Dame Helen Mirren has one of her earliest roles here, and she too struggles with an Aussie accent. Like Mason, she hits it pretty well some of the time, but other times she sounds awfully cockney for a native. I’ve never found her attractive, but you can’t deny she has a hot body here. Hell, it looks an awful lot more voluptuous than it later would in “Caligula” and “Excalibur”. I was quite surprised, though the hairy armpits did detract a lot for me. Yuck. The film isn’t quite as liberal with nudity as “Sirens”, but for its time I bet it was seen as pretty racy, especially towards the end of the film. I must say, though, that given the title and subject matter, I can’t quite work out why the film is called “Age of Consent” when Mirren was 23 at the time and looks a few years older, and unless mistaken, I don’t recall her character’s actual age even being specifically mentioned. She certainly looks older than a girl hovering around the age of consent, so that was weird. Look out early on for national treasure Frank Thring. Although Australian, Thring always sounded like an upper crust Englishman (and appeared in several big films internationally), and to be honest, always gave around about the same performance in everything. He wasn’t so much a character actor as he was a true character himself. He’s supposed to be playing a New York art gallery owner but doesn’t even try to change his accent, bless his heart. He gets away with it simply because he’s so much fun to watch and listen to, the film could’ve used more of him. Meanwhile, I’m not sure if I was meant to find the late Harold Hopkins hilariously awkward or not, but playing a wannabe lothario who never wears a shirt, he’s hilarious in his film debut.

 

A somewhat entertaining and certainly beautiful-looking film (both above and underwater), but there may not be enough plot here for some. Helen Mirren has never looked better, and typically rock-solid James Mason tries his best to affect somewhat of an Aussie accent, hardly disgracing himself in the part. Worth a look, certainly from a cultural perspective, and for the fact that it was sadly close to Michael Powell’s last feature directing gig.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Review: Snakehead Swamp


Dave Davis is still moping about the fact that his favourite girl has just gotten married, when his friend (and obvious soul mate) Ayla Kell suggests he join her on a boat trip with some friends…and her dipshit boyfriend Ian (Ross Britz). Davis’ ranger mother Terri Garber doesn’t much like the idea, but Davis goes nonetheless. Some giant snakehead fish attack, which might be the result of a science experiment gone amok, or if you listen to local voodoo-babbling William Boudreaux (Antonio ‘Huggy Bear’ Fargas!), it’s because of a curse on the swamp put there by his voodoo priestess ancestor. Either way, scantily clad chicks with big boobs are on the menu.

 

A B-movie veteran at the helm and a blaxploitation favourite in the supporting cast aren’t enough to make this 2014 SyFy flick much better than the norm. Directed and shot by Don E. FauntLeRoy (helmer of three Seagal films; “Today You Die”, “Mercenary for Justice” and “Urban Justice”- the first and last being kinda OK) and scripted by Greg Mitchell (the terrible SyFy flick “Zombie Shark”), it’s mostly better-looking than most SyFy films but pretty boring and slow-moving. I say ‘mostly’ because for some stupid reason FauntLeRoy (who also expertly shot “Jeepers Creepers” for Victor Salva) has decided to give us a little ‘snakehead-vision’ POV shot every once in a while, and it looks terrible. Still, the scenery is absolutely gorgeous and the lighting is exemplary for a SyFy film. It’s also nice and gory at times, which I appreciated.

 

Some of the acting is well above this sort of thing, but Fargas is wasted in a mixture of ‘Crazy Ralph’ and ‘Local voodoo expert ethnic stereotype’ role that is far beneath his talents. Basically his job is to just stand there and look worried the whole time. The worst actress by far is Terri Garber, who I like to call Butch Ranger Stacey. She’s appalling, and I was shocked to learn that she’s a soap opera veteran. Oh, there’s plenty of bad soap actors, but they usually aren’t the veterans. The only character who stands out is Ian (Ross Britz), AKA The Worst Human Being since Adolf Hitler. He’s a dickhead of the highest order. The film could’ve used a lot more from that machine-gun packing grandma (the perfectly named Peaches Davis) if you ask me, why wasn’t the film about her? Most of the girls are pretty forgettable, except for the chick with the gigantic rack, who of course is the first to bite it, because FauntLeRoy and Mitchell don’t want anyone to have fun. At least she wears a bikini, though, there’s one chick who wears a one-piece lingerie outfit. To go swimming. In a fucking swamp. That shit looks expensive and you’re gonna go for a dip in that brown muck? What a moron and a prude. What 25 year-old with a hot bod would wear a one-piece for cryin’ out loud? Then again, we’re talking about youngsters dumb enough to go swimming in a swamp. No one swims in a brown swamp. No, not even swamp people.

 

As for the title creatures, they are basically just piranha. They look pretty terrible, but at least they look more rubbery than shitty SyFy-budget CGI. They probably are CGI, mind you (everyone else is saying it’s CGI), but don’t look like it to me. That’s not to say, the FX are good, like I said, they look terrible, they just look like puppets is all.

 

There’s not much Mr. FauntLeRoy can do to lift this standard SyFy monster flick out of the muck, but it’s not the worst of the lot at least (It’s no “Frankenfish”, thankfully). Some terrific lighting, a couple of tolerable performances, and one perfectly punchable character in support. But next time, can we keep the hottest girl around for a bit longer?

 

Rating: C

Review: Piranha (1978)


Heather Menzies is looking for missing youngsters in Lost River Lake and requests the aid of surly boozer local Bradford Dillman. They find an army test site and the backpacks of the two missing teens near some murky water. They decide to drain it, thinking the kids’ bodies might be there. Crazy scientist Kevin McCarthy turns up to tell them they done fucked up. You see, there was a secret Government experiment way back when that saw genetically-mutated piranha created and intended to be used in the waters of North Vietnam during the war, to gain an advantage on the enemy! Much to McCarthy’s annoyance, the war was soon won and the experiments not needed anymore, so they were stopped. And now Dillman and Menzies have unwittingly released these deadly piranha from the pond and out into the open river. With a resort to be opened and a summer camp for kids nearby, this is a very, very big problem. Not that greedy Texan resort owner Dick Miller or arsehole camp director Paul Bartel will hear of it. Barbara Steele plays an ominous government scientist who turns up, Keenan Wynn plays Dillman’s drinking buddy, future soap star Melody Thomas (Scott) plays a spankable camp counsellor, as does Belinda Balaski (less spankable, though in my opinion).

 

Less a spoof of “Jaws” as often reported than a low-budget rip-off from Executive Producer and noted penny-pincher Roger Corman, this 1978 film, the sophomore effort from Joe Dante (“Gremlins”, “The Howling”, “Innerspace”), is easily the best of the post-“Jaws” films. It’s not even close. Scripted by John Sayles (“Battle Beyond the Stars”, “The Howling”) from a story by Sayles and Richard Robinson (“Kingdom of the Spiders”), it’s especially fun for film buffs, like most of Dante’s films. And unlike Mr. Spielberg, Dante gives us full-frontal female nudity in the opening scene. I bet Corman (who essentially ripped this one off too, a couple of years later with “Humanoids From the Deep”!) demanded that one himself, bless his heart.

 

I was especially taken with how the water in this one looked. It looked dirty and swampy as is appropriate, yet it somehow looked beautiful. It takes a talented cinematographer to pull that off, I think. Corman (a genuinely savvy guy) may be a B-producer but he usually churned out quality B product, and Dante sure isn’t a hack director, either. He’s certainly a smart enough director to shoot the attack scenes up close to hide the FX (Which are apparently rubber puppets on sticks being thrashed around!). He also creates one helluva chaotic, bloody finale. There’s not as much humour as everyone seems to think, though the “Jaws” computer game was a nice touch. It looks almost as good as the “E.T.” computer game (A little gamer nerd comedy for you).

 

Bradford Dillman isn’t my favourite actor, but he’s an interesting choice for the lead. He has a kind of irritable Bruce Dern quality to him, rather than just trying to be a poor man’s Roy Scheider. Long-serving character actor Keenan Wynn, meanwhile, doesn’t get much screen time but plays perhaps the most likeable character of his career. His performance in his final scene is amusing, and clearly not his finest hour as an actor. The standout, however, is easily Kevin McCarthy, who is cast to perfection. His initial, crazed appearance and rantings are a brilliant in-joke referencing his role in 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (a role he also seemed to reprise in an excellent cameo in Philip Kaufman’s highly underrated remake from 1978), probably the comic high point of the film. The speech he has where he talks about how the piranha were experiments to fuck with the Viet Cong during the war is hilariously absurd. The closest this thing has to genuine parody of “Jaws”, though, is in the way over-the-top amount of blood in the film. Priceless stuff from the Corman school of exploitation filmmaking, but if you want to think of this as a parody, that’s the only element in which I can see real evidence of it. One-scene veteran Dick Miller gets the funniest line in the whole film, however: ‘I swear to you on my honour as a Texan!’. Playing the Murray Hamilton role from “Jaws”, the line is hilarious because although he tries his best to put on an accent, Dick Miller and ‘Texan’ do not remotely belong in the same sentence.

 

Although she’s perfectly cast, I do think Dante probably should’ve gotten more out of ‘Scream Queen’ Barbara Steele as a military scientist. She’s excellent and beautiful in that sexy-yet-demonic kinda way, but really doesn’t end up playing that much of a role. Cult filmmaker Paul Bartel sure does play a perfectly creepy, jerk camp director, though. Points off for Steele and McCarthy pronouncing ‘piranha’ in the most bizarre and just plain incorrect manner: ‘pir-ahn-ya’? Really? Who the hell pronounces it like that? No one, outside of this film. The music score by Pino Donaggio (“Don’t Look Now”, “Dressed to Kill”, “Blow Out”) is wildly eclectic and uneven. When he’s aping John Williams and Bernard Herrmann, it’s really quite effective. But the electronic shit? Cheapo stuff and not appropriate at all.

 

I don’t think it’s quite Dante’s best film (I’d place “The Howling” and “Gremlins” ahead), but from a directorial and cinematography point-of-view, it’s certainly very impressive for what was clearly intended to be tongue-in-cheek schlock. It’s as if Dante took this film as his chance to show what he could do from a visual standpoint, ably backed up by cinematographer Jamie Anderson (Dante’s debut, “Hollywood Boulevard”, “Unlawful Entry”, “The Juror”) and stunning choice of locations. A lot of fun so long as you can appreciate this kind of thing. I’m not sure that speedboat stunt near the end was necessary, though, that seemed tacked-on by request of the producer to me.

 

Rating: B

Monday, September 14, 2015

Review: Bully (2012)


A documentary showing the horrible epidemic of bullying in schools, and the ways students, parents, and schools try to deal with the situation. It ain’t pretty, folks. Bullying, especially bullying in schools is one of those issues that I have very deep, personal views on. I was not bullied a whole helluva lot myself, but I’ve been around such behaviour (I’ve probably had my own moments of being mean, to be honest) being in a rather unpopular circle of friends at school. The issue has always as it does now, angered me to no end. It’s a serious cancer on society that I sincerely wish one could find a cure for. High school in particular sucks for everyone, and no one has the right to make someone else’s high school experience even worse through bullying of any kind. It makes my frigging blood boil.

 

So why didn’t this 2012 documentary (which only aired on Aussie cable in 2015, by the way) on the subject from director Lee Hirsch move me more? It’s not just because the film only focuses on the bullied than the bullies, a complaint I’ve read several times. That didn’t bother me at all, in fact I didn’t even think about it until the film was over. It’s perhaps because it’s a film with moments that outraged me, but overall never really enlightened me, and therefore kept me at more of an emotional distance than I was expecting (So perhaps there is something to be said for including the bullies in the film. But who would consent to that? Surely the parents of bullies would never want to show their kids in a bad light). The issue is much more worthy than the film, basically. It’s not a great documentary. And yet, I absolutely want everyone to see this film, purely because of the issues involved, not because of any artistic merit. It may not have told me anything I didn’t already know, and that may have pulled me out of it a bit, but I still think its message needs to be heard, heard loudly, and heard yet again.

 

We start off with an excellent decision to show a school choir version of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, which just seems to fit the film if you ask me. Like “American Teen”, it seems a stretch that these kids would legitimately misbehave in the presence of cameras, but I won’t call bullshit on it. We live in the era of selfies, viral videos etc. It’s the reality TV/YouTube era and people do all kinds of mean and dumb stuff on camera, with not all of it being fake. The moments of outrage in this film for me were the either misguided and naïve, or just plain fucking horrible behaviour of teachers and faculty. There’s the misguided idea by a teacher to ask the class how many friends they each have. This is a minor infraction all things considered, and hopefully no kid is dumb enough to admit they have no friends, but still it could’ve gone really wrong. It’s the one moment in the film that reminded me of my own experiences with ignorant teachers, especially my absolutely revolting First Grade teacher (Don’t even get me started on that woman!).

 

One of the most likeable on-screen subjects in the film is a teenage lesbian named Kelby, seemingly a very lovely girl who says she has tried to kill herself three times already. School isn’t even over. Wow. This is so wrong, people. Bullying needs to stop. It has the potential to kill our kids, or at least scar them emotionally. Kelby relates how even teachers have gotten in on the act. This is in Iowa, of course, but what if it’s not just Iowa? I mean, it’s bad enough that it is happening in Iowa. Please let kids pass as safely as possible through this awkward and difficult part of their life, I implore everyone. However, the worst example of faculty/adults behaving badly comes at the expense of poor Alex Libby. Alex is one of those kids who just don’t have much of a chance, because he looks a bit different and hasn’t got the social skills necessary to navigate his way successfully through school, especially when bullies see him as such easy pickings. Although some have been critical of them, I actually really felt for Alex’s parents here. Yes, his dad seems clueless, but he and especially Alex’s mother clearly love him. It’s heartbreaking to watch Alex’s mother try in vain to get Alex to open up about what is happening to him at school. The problem is, Alex himself doesn’t seem fully aware of it. I’m not sure if he’s just gullible or immature, or if he has some kind of intellectual disability, but he just doesn’t seem to realise that his ‘friends’ aren’t really his friends, and he barely seems to register that his mother is trying to talk to him sometimes. She can’t help him if he won’t let her in. Some have suggested that his mother is blaming him or picking on him, which is absolutely untrue. She is trying to get answers from him so that she has a better understanding of what is going on so that she can help.

 

However, the real issue here is not Alex, it’s what’s going on at the school. If the faculty at his school weren’t so inept and wrong-headed in their handling of Alex’s situation (at least from what we see in the film), he might’ve been having a better time of it. The scene where Alex’s mother goes to meet the Assistant Principal Kim Lockwood is just jaw-dropping in her complete ignorance to the situation and the awfulness of her own behaviour. This woman is seemingly so clueless, that she has the gall to meet Alex’s mother’s complaints (not to mention video evidence supplied by the documentarians!) with photos of her own grandkids because…um, no I have no idea why she shows photos of her own family. That’s insane. Ms. Lockwood has apparently since apologised for the way she comes off here, but wow. Just wow. Another attempt at mediation by Lockwood, is less alarming but similarly naïve as she rightly tries to teach kids that two wrongs don’t make a right, but when she gets a bully and his victim to shake hands, you just know the bully is merely playing nice in front of an adult. The bullying will likely continue.

 

One of the film’s strengths for me was that although it’s very easy to point fingers of blame, the film shows just how complex this issue is. It’s easy to blame the bully, and indeed you should blame them. However, quite often they have been bullied themselves, so one must be careful in how you deal with them. These are kids, after all. It’s easy to blame the parents, but what can they do if their kids won’t communicate with them? And yes, it’s easy to blame the teachers and faculty, especially when they’re as shockingly inept as Ms. Lockwood…but can they be around to watch the kids all day every day? Meanwhile, one must also concede that bullied kids who retaliate in kind are also not helping the situation. However, I think we can all agree that the biggest problem here is bullying and bullies are at fault. The film also shows just how important it is for you to find yourself a group of friends and never take them for granted or sell them out in an attempt to look cool. Even if your social group as at the lowest end of the totem pole, there’s safety in numbers. It would also, on evidence in this film, seem to be a good idea if you also don’t ride the bus. Wow, I’m glad I never had to endure that hell ride.

 

The film stops short of being memorable, despite being based on an issue of vital importance in my opinion. It’s a film of affecting moments, but it ends up slightly underwhelming as a whole. Perhaps it would’ve been better to have just focussed solely on Alex’s story, as it’s clearly the most interesting. I never quite got as emotionally invested as I would’ve liked, perhaps because I wasn’t getting enough from each of the stories. Yes, I liked Kelby, and my heart really went out to the parents of the bullied kid who killed himself, and how they still seem shell-shocked and at a loss as to how to move on. That was really moving stuff. But a streamlined narrative I think would’ve made for an even stronger film. Also, it’s really only at the end that the film addresses some of the possible answers to the problem of bullying, I would’ve liked more on that (We see some stuff, and of course it’s the amazing parents who are at the front of this heroic crusade). Still, this is a film that needs to be seen. Lessons need to be learned. Problems need to be solved. Bullying needs to be stopped. Our kids’ lives depend on it.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: Maleficent


This re-interpretation of “Sleeping Beauty”, young Stefan wanders away from his local kingdom into the moors, where trolls, fairies and other magical creatures live. He meets Maleficent, a winged fairy, and the two become fast friends, and before long Maleficent has developed even stronger feelings for the boy. As the years pass, Maleficent (now played by Angelina Jolie) ascends to become the leader of her people, whilst the king of the human world attempts to attack the kingdom of the moors. A now grown-up Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley) has ambitions to take over the thrown from the aging king (played by Kenneth Cranham). He is tasked with killing Maleficent (anyone who does so will take over from the dying king), but instead he drugs his former companion and removes her wings. Stefan becomes king but earns an enemy in the now vengeful Maleficent (who is already probably jealous that Stefan has moved on to another woman. ‘Coz y’know how chicks are, right?), who disrupts the christening of his daughter Aurora and places a curse on the newborn; On her sixteenth birthday Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep from which she can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. The new king promptly sees all spinning wheels removed from the kingdom and has his newborn baby taken away to the woods to be raised by the three good fairies (played by the likes of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville). Curiously, Maleficent secretly keeps an eye on the child through the years, before finally coming face to face with her (with Aurora now played by Elle Fanning). Although Maleficent tries to keep a frosty distance, the lovely young girl can’t help but win Maleficent over. Oh dear, what has she done, dooming this girl to a prickly fate? Yep, went there. Brenton Thwaites plays the charming Prince Phillip, Sam Riley plays Maleficent’s sidekick, formerly a crow (Yep, a crow).

 

The most important credit in this entire film from 2014 is Angelina Jolie’s Executive Producer credit. For although this re-imagining of the classic fairy tale is directed by Robert Stromberg (a debutant director who formerly served as production designer on the overrated and corny “Avatar”) and written by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”, and most tellingly, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”), everything that appears on screen suggests a vanity project for the star/EP changing the perfectly workable story so that the villainess is the main character and Jolie’s ego can be fed. However, the problem is, this re-invention has not been for the better. It simply doesn’t work comfortably. Maleficent, in addition to being the title character, isn’t merely fleshed out into a 3D character, she has been completely re-written to the point where not only is she unrecognisable, she also ruins the damn story, really.

 

You see, in this version of the story, Maleficent isn’t evil. She’s merely driven to vengeful/spiteful behaviour after being wronged by men. It results in a character with absolutely no consistency whatsoever. One minute, Maleficent is scary and condemning an innocent baby to a coma from age 16. Next minute, she’s being maternal and caring about her, in addition to also being rather comical and light-hearted. They make her far too cruel at the outset for the later softening to make any credible sense, even for a fairy tale. Since they end up softening the blow so much with the character, it ultimately leaves us with no villain, to the point where the screenwriter has to work overtime to turn King Stefan into the villain in the last quarter. Up until that point there was too much shading and ambiguity to really call him the villain. By the time he finally goes full-on villain, it’s too late. It seems jarring, tacked-on, and unconvincing. Maybe if they made it clearer that he cuts off Maleficent’s wings for selfish/cowardly purposes it might’ve worked, but the way I saw it, he was torn between his greed and lingering feelings for Maleficent. He was supposed to kill her, instead he merely pretends to kill her and cuts off her wings. That’s not terribly black-hearted to me, certainly not black-hearted enough. He has basically made sure that no one else will think to kill her because they already think she’s dead. That’s how I saw it, at least (Others see Stefan as a date-rape drugger, which is too absurd an analysis for even me to champion. I mean really, it’s not a roofie he’s giving her for crying out loud, it’s still a family movie!).

 

Instead of a genuine desire to put a new spin on a classic, it’s seemingly a project re-shaped to serve the ego of its star, albeit a perfectly cast star. All the scenes of Maleficent hanging around in secret as the three fairies raise Aurora not only diminish the character’s evil, but seem tacked on to give Jolie more screen time. It’s obvious and it pisses me off because if this were done in more traditional fashion for the most part, it’d be really strong stuff. The funny thing is, it might’ve still worked to an extent as a re-invention if it weren’t quite so skewed to serve its star. Maleficent is too evil in placing the curse, far too remorseful afterwards, and awkwardly comedic at other times. The way it has been done, Maleficent comes off as the hero, villain, anti-hero, and love interest all in one. Yes, she’s even the love interest. Watch the film and tell me I’m wrong about that (Don’t. I know I’m wrong, it’s a ‘motherly’ kiss. I was being facetious. But still…c’mon). That’s how out-of-whack they’ve gotten the story, that Maleficent is essentially every character. Except the comic relief, and even then she indulges in that on an occasion or two. My God, was everyone else involved too scared to speak out against this egotism run rampant? And despite being written by a woman, produced and starring a woman, the whole things reeks of sexism, strangely enough. Given that this is already a story with a heroine who is passive/unconscious for much of the story, I just find it really foul that Maleficent’s motivation should be so simplistic, antiquated and frankly sexist as being motivated by being betrayed by a dude. For fuck’s sake, why not give her PMT as well? A woman wrote this? In what century? Seriously, even the Disney version from the late 50s is more modern in thinking than what Woolverton gives us in this version (Woolverton’s attempt at a feminist/modern spin in the opening of “Alice in Wonderland” was that otherwise fine film’s weakest aspect by far. It was tacked-on, unnecessary, and uninteresting). Feminists will hate this film even more than the Disney version, unless they were supposed to be distracted by Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites’ beefcake factor? The villain is motivated by a broken heart and the heroine is wet, useless, and occasionally completely passive (and the latter is true in every version, admittedly). Wow, real bra-burning stuff this is. The film is man-hating to an extent, but it’s so antiquated that I’d argue that it sets women back a few decades by being so simplistically man-hating.

 

The most insane thing? Janet McTeer narrates the film as the adult Aurora! So why did she short-change herself in the telling of the story? To correct the record, sure, but it has been skewed too far in the opposite direction. No, it just won’t do. I must say though, that for all the problems I have with the film, boredom isn’t remotely one of them. It’s a somewhat entertaining film, and it certainly has its strong points.

 

Chief among the assets is oddly enough Angelina Jolie herself. Whatever issues I have with the script, I must say that this is Jolie’s best performance since the 1998 cable TV movie “Gia”. Maleficent, whether watered down/inconsistent or not, is quite simply the role she was born to play. She is particularly effective during the darker moments of the film. If this were a more traditional (yet still fleshed-out) version of the “Sleeping Beauty” story, Jolie really would’ve knocked it out of the park, and her performance is still the best thing here. She is so good at being so damn evil, and perfectly fine the rest of the time, no matter what I think of the character. She also looks absolutely perfect, with her drastically-altered (presumably digitally, I don’t think makeup would’ve been enough) cheekbones and gorgeous eyes. The film itself also looks absolutely stunning. It reminds me a tad of the Ridley Scott flop “Legend”, only not quite as creepy. I’m not sure how much is the work of Aussie cinematographer Dean Semler (“Razorback”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Apocalypto”), or the FX team, but whoever it is, they have definitely done their job well. The CGI woodland creatures are excellent and far more convincingly rendered than anything (outside of Gollum) in “The Hobbit”. The shrunken versions of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple…and the ‘other’ one, are also really cute and not at all creepy like I had anticipated. The music score by James Newton Howard (“Diggstown”, “Glengarry Glen Ross”, “Signs”, “Waterworld”) is especially impressive, too.

 

Although the role by design isn’t terribly interesting or strong, Elle Fanning is a positively lovely Sleeping Beauty/Aurora, and it’s always nice to see old pro Kenneth Cranham, however briefly. Brenton Thwaites isn’t much of an actor, but he at least shows Chris Hemsworth how to put on an English accent without sounding like you’re in a bad ‘old timey ye merry England’ “SNL” sketch. Sure, it’s barely a change at all from his natural Aussie accent, but the subtlety is actually appreciated. At least he doesn’t sound like he has the flu and a bunch of plums in his mouth. The weakest member of the cast by far is the awkward and not very well-cast South African actor Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) who tries and fails to maintain a Scottish brogue as the conflicted/confusing/maybe evil King Stefan. Copley seems a bit lost with the role, and he completely bollocks’ the accent too. It’s a shame because the character is actually interestingly shaded for at least the first half of the film before it goes awry.

 

It looks and sounds magnificent, it’s never boring, and Angelina Jolie is ideally cast, but the classic story has been re-shaped (whether by Jolie, producer Joe Roth, screenwriter Woolverton, or whoever it may have actually been) in a too-skewed fashion that doesn’t really work, especially when there’s already a version out there that still works just fine. If you’re gonna go the “Wicked” route, you have to make sure you actually pull it off. This one, which is closer in fact to “Oz the Great and Powerful” than “Wicked”, just doesn’t quite come together, despite interesting elements. “Wicked”, didn’t actually use the basic plot of “The Wizard of Oz” all that much. It focuses on a lot of stuff that happened before Dorothy turns up, enhancing the well-known story and characters. It’s a backstory. “Maleficent” is a re-write. Watch the Disney animated version, it’s not one of their masterpieces, but it’s pretty good and better than this watchable but disappointing ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ cliché. It’s not a bad film at all, but why watch this when there’s other, better versions?

 

Rating: C+

Review: Legendary


Devon Graye is sensitive, intelligent teen Cal, who is doing well in life and school, despite losing his father to a tragic car accident ten years ago, and a ne’er-do-well older brother Mike (WWE Superstar John Cena) he hasn’t seen in years. Mike, a decorated high school wrestler, blamed himself for dad’s death (He was in the car also, and they were on their way to a match) and hasn’t been home in years. However, Cal makes the somewhat surprising decision to join the school’s wrestling team in its smallest weight division. He’s also rather scrawny and gets picked on at school by the likes of jock Tyler Posey, who is none too pleased to see Cal on the team. Cal goes in search of Mike, and finds him a drunken mess, arrested for getting into a bar fight, and not especially interested in getting to know his younger brother. He sure as hell doesn’t want to return home and face mum. But eventually, the kid gets through to him, and he agrees to teach him how to wrestle. Can this hurt family come together and heal, at long last? The film is narrated by crusty old ‘Red’ (Danny Glover), a local fisherman whom Cal befriends. Madeleine Martin turns up as Cal’s long-time best friend Luli, and the town slut, albeit that she only flashes her boobs for the boys. Not that Cal sees her in that way (Luli on the other hand...)

 

Directed by Mel Damski (yes, the guy who directed “Yellowbeard”!), written by John Posey (who also plays the coach), this 2010 sports drama was produced by WWE Films, and features arguably the WWE’s biggest star since The Rock, in John Cena. Despite being an on-and-off wrestling fan myself, I wasn’t actually looking forward to this much to be honest. For starters, what is Cena, known by (especially older) fans for having a fairly limited ‘move-set’ doing in a film where he teaches someone to wrestle? Smart-arses who don’t enjoy the WWE in fact might wonder why a ‘fake’ wrestler is teaching real wrestling (And FYI, wrestling is no more or less fake than ballet or stunt work, just sayin’!). But all kidding and semantics aside, the main thing that held me back from watching this film any earlier was simply poor word of mouth. It had a ridiculously short transition from big screen to small screen and the reviews weren’t much good, either. Personally I think it’s far from awful, but it’s definitely forgettable, cliché-ridden, and mostly not very well-acted. It’s harmless enough, but pretty damn toothless and nothing you haven’t seen a million times before (Think “Billy Elliott” meets “Rudy” meets “The Wrestler”).

 

Cena isn’t the main star here, that would be young Devon Graye. There’s nothing wrong with his performance, but even putting him in the smallest weight division didn’t for a second have me buying him as an amateur wrestler. I don’t doubt that some kids who get picked on could perhaps make a go of it as high school wrestlers, but not this pipsqueak, sorry. He looks about 13 years-old at most (Co-star Tyler Posey, by comparison looks closer to 18). And it’s a pretty big deal, all things considered. I mean, he doesn’t even look like he gets all that much better by the end of the film. I also felt like the film was never quite sure why he’s wrestling. There’s some mentioning here and there about wanting to get to know his big brother, but there’s also the bullying element, and I wasn’t sure if it was either one or just a combo of both. I’m not even sure if the character himself really knew. I also have to question the idea of pitting Graye against a bully who ends up on the same wrestling team. What’s the point? Where’s the drama in that? The bullying issue, thus never gets any kind of legit payoff.

 

John Cena is actually a problem too, to be honest. Cena is pretty well-known in and out of the WWE for being largely the same guy. That is his on-air character is just as clean-cut, morally upright and so forth as he seems to project himself in real-life too (whether he really is that person is another matter entirely. Who knows?). So casting him here as the often drunk, brawling, ne’er do well does not play to his strengths (for lack of a better word) as a performer. Although a bit old for the part (even as an older brother), I’m not sure if he’s miscast exactly (though it might give pause to those wrestling fans out there who are tired of his Dudley Do-Right persona and want more edge to him, to change their minds), but he’s still pretty wooden and unmemorable. I actually don’t think he’s all that bad an actor, but he doesn’t do much here. His physique, by the way, is monumentally ridiculous. It wasn’t so egregious in a schlocky actioner like “The Marine”, but here he’s meant to be a regular guy, albeit a former athlete. Sure, Cena really is a wrestler (of the pro kind), but the guy’s got no wrist connecting his hands to his ginormous forearms, it just doesn’t look right (Hmmm, wonder why that is...) Then there’s the truly sad case of Danny Glover. This guy used to be able to act, let me tell you. Watch the four “Lethal Weapon” movies, “The Rainmaker”, and even “Switchback”, for proof. But then, around the time of the first “Saw” film, something happened. He developed a slight lisp (dentures, seems to be most people’s guess) and a whole lotta rasp to his voice in many of his films (“Shooter” especially), and his performances have been wildly uneven. In “Saw” he was flagrantly awful, and in “Shooter” he seemed to have lost his damn mind (and that’s not to mention some of his controversial political statements and actions in recent years that have upset many people). Here, Glover is in a no-win situation, cast as the noble Morgan Freeman-esque African-American narrator, his old coot performance borders on the Uncle Remus at times. He’s hardly in the film, but more to the point, his character seems to have hardly any relevance outside of giving that narration. If this were a boxing movie, he’d be the guy taping up the kids hands and tending to his cuts, whilst telling him to let the bigger, more powerful boxer tire himself out. It’s a tired cliché, poor racial stereotype (though his character’s skin colour is never made an overt issue at all), and Glover can’t do a damn thing with it. As for the truly weird, baby-voiced Madeleine Martin...I still don’t know what to make of such an unusual screen presence (I’ve never watched a full episode of “Californication”), except I found her mannered and off-putting. The most impressive performer is probably Patricia Clarkson, who I’m not normally a fan of. She does a solid enough job, though I found her character a little too overprotective, to the point where she was almost unreasonable.

 

I also have to take issue with the handling of the wrestling in the film. We barely learn anything about the sport in the entire film, the training scenes reveal little that even a novice (i.e. John Cena, just kidding) wouldn’t already know.

 

The whole film is pat and Disney-ish (or perhaps more Hallmark Channel), even with elements of bar-brawling and alcohol imbibing. It’s inoffensive, but derivative and not really worth your time. You’ve seen it a hundred times before, and it’s always the same damn thing, just usually better than this.

 

Rating: C