About This Blog

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: The Last Flight of Noah’s Ark

Elliott Gould is strapped for cash and looking for a gig. A qualified pilot, he is offered an opportunity by Vincent Gardenia to fly a bunch of animals and a missionary (Genevieve Bujold) to an island. Two annoying orphans (Ricky Schroder and Tammy Lauren) manage to stowaway on board too, but before Gould can get truly irritable (and believe me, strident animal lover Schroder really does grind Gould’s gears), they find themselves faced with an even bigger problem. Due to a plot contrivance involving a cassette player that frankly isn’t worth getting into, the plane has swayed way off course in the middle of the ocean. They soon find dry land in order to make a crash landing on a remote island. Seemingly deserted, it is in fact the current home (for 35 years!) of two long-displaced Japanese fellas (John Fujioka and Yuki Shimoda), who still think their country is at war with the US and are initially wary of Gould. Before long, though, everyone’s chummy and working on a way to get off the island. Yeah, they’re gonna do what you think they’re gonna do, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well you can watch the movie if you really want to. I’m not necessarily advising it, though. Dana Elcar and John P. Ryan play a bookie and his goon, the former of whom loser gambler Gould owes money to.


Weak attempt by Disney and director Charles Jarrott (“Anne of a Thousand Days”, “Mary, Queen of Scots”) to blend “The African Queen” with Disney’s own “Swiss Family Robinson”, and throwing in the insufferable Ricky Schroder and some frankly unattractive animals (chickens, a hideous-looking ox, etc.) to boot. This 1980 belly flop from The Magic Kingdom is mostly a chore, when it’s not being completely insulting to the Japanese. Elliott Gould and Genevieve Bujold play their Bogey-Hepburn roles quite well, though they aren’t terribly well-written (or likeable) characters. At least they don’t grate on your nerves like the way too loud and chatty Schroder, who will make your ears bleed. Seriously, was there ever a more annoying child actor? Does he have to shout his every line at the top of his lungs? The plot, as I said is cribbed from other films, and the pacing is truly deadly.


I had a miserable time with this one, even though I like Elliott Gould well enough as an actor. He can’t save the film, nor can an admittedly well-cast Bujold (I particularly liked that her character was somewhat competent in flying a plane), and the poor Japanese stereotypes played by John Fujioka and Yuki Shimoda are truly insulting. See, it’s funny har-har ‘coz them thar ‘Japs’ think the war is still going! Har-Har. Um, no it’s insulting and completely moronic. It’s enough to make you yearn for the stereotypical Asian pirates in “Swiss Family Robinson” (not a good film, but certainly better than this). Yes, Fujioka is likeable in the part, but not enough to wipe away the cultural insensitivity. Sure, they come up with the idea of turning the plane into a boat, but they also get made fun of because they sure do talk funny har-har. Sigh. The ‘oriental’ parts to the Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Mandingo”, “A Passage to India”) score are the final nail in the coffin.


The inclusion of a shark in the latter stages provides moderate interest, but the rest is a snoozer, and a huge waste of some interesting supporting actors (Veteran character actors John P. Ryan and Vincent Gardenia only feature in the opening). With ugly and charmless animals (They’re farm animals, so there’s no chimps, zebras, rosellas, pandas, or giraffes here), obnoxiously loud kids, an irritable leading man, and a somewhat repressed leading lady, there’s not much to get drawn into here. But for me it was the shamelessly unoriginal plot and half-speed pacing that really did this one in. It’s got no energy whatsoever, and it’s not much fun.


Based on a story by Ernest K. Gann (who adapted his own novel for the John Wayne film “The High and the Mighty”), the screenplay is by Steven W. Carabatsos (who wrote the story for the western “The Revengers”), George Arthur Bloom, and Sandy Glass. Hideous opening song ‘Half of Me’ by Alexandra Brown is nauseating, too. Crude and cheap film that has rightly been largely forgotten. Oh, and the animals aren’t even paired, so why the hell is the film and the title plane/boat called Noah’s Ark? Simply because it’s a boat with animals? That’s not good enough. The undemanding kids of 1980 (those who saw it, at least) might have fond memories of it, but believe me, let those memories stay. You’ll hate this as an adult.


Rating: D+

Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: Julius Caesar (1953)

Set in politically treacherous Ancient Rome, Louis Calhern plays the doomed and arrogant title character, plotted against by the insidious Cassius (Sir John Gielgud) and the more conflicted Brutus (James Mason). Marlon Brando is Marc Antony, looking to take down the conspirators of his fallen emperor. Edmond O’Brien plays co-conspirator Casca, with Deborah Kerr and Greer Garson appearing briefly as the wives of Brutus and Julius Caesar, respectively. A host of familiar character actors have peripheral roles (among them Michael Ansara, George Macready, Michael Pate, Edmund Purdom, and as two crowd members, John Doucette and Lawrence Dobkin).


This 1953 adaptation of the Shakespeare play from writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”, “Sleuth”)  has a lot of star power and for the most part it comes off rather well, and certainly more consistent than the 1970 version. In what surely must be one of the greatest casts ever assembled, top honours go to Sir John Gielgud and James Mason, which is probably no surprise to anyone. Gielgud (who played the title role in the 1970 version) is especially masterful as Cassius, whilst anyone would’ve been better than 1970’s horrendously miscast Jason Robards in the role of Brutus, but Mason is very fine indeed. However it must be said that American actors Marlon Brando (in one of his better performances), Louis Calhern, and Edmond O’Brien fare much better than you might expect with the language. I personally think the actors who played their roles in the 1970 version are superior, though (Charlton Heston was more persuasive as Marc Antony, Sir John Gielgud is simply a much better Shakespearean actor than is Louis Calhern, and Robert Vaughn was a sly surprise as the shifty Casca).


Deborah Kerr and Greer Garson don’t get much of a look-in here, but Kerr in particular plays her one scene well and never looked more beautiful. It’s quite regrettable that she’s not in the film more, I think (Truth be told, Brando’s Marc Antony isn’t in the film a whole lot, either), but to be honest, her character isn’t really all that necessary here. There aren’t too many duds in the cast, to be honest. Character actors Lawrence Dobkin and especially John Doucette (a veteran of westerns) sound way too much like Ernest Borgnine when they talk, which just isn’t right for Shakespeare, but they have very minor roles. The biggest dud is probably Douglas Watson as Octavius, he’s just awful and completely out of his depth here.


Aside from the sets (recycled from “Quo Vadis?” admittedly, but I for one needed to look that up, and so would you had I not told you) and most of the acting, there’s also a terrific music score by Miklos Rozsa (“El Cid”, “Double Indemnity”, “Spellbound”), a major asset. This is a definite must for fans of the language and fans of these actors, it’s not a great film but there are certainly great aspects to it. Definitely a most respectable effort, it looks sensational.


Rating: B-

Review: The Two Faces of January

Set in Athens, Greece, rich sophisticate Viggo Mortensen and his much younger wife Kirsten Dunst come across Greek-speaking American tour guide Oscar Isaac. The latter is somewhat of a charmer and small-time con artist, but the married couple (Mortensen in particular), appear to be hiding something shady too. Mortensen doesn’t trust Isaac in the slightest, but Dunst takes a liking to him, and it’s clear that Isaac takes a real liking to Dunst, as he offers to be the couple’s personal tour guide. However, all is indeed not right with Mortensen and Dunst, and Isaac finds himself tangled up in their mess as well. The rest you will have to discover for yourself.


Written and directed by Hossein Amini (the screenwriter of “Drive” in his directorial debut) and based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, this 2014 film is one of those movies where you keep waiting for the real story to get started, only to come to the end realising that nope, this really was the story after all. Given that early on Oscar Isaac and Viggo Mortensen exhibit subtly suspicious behaviour, you think it’s going to be all twisty and complex stuff, but it’s actually really mundane and old-hat. Hell, the longer the film goes on the less suspicious Isaac’s character gets, if anything. Perhaps that’s why no one has adapted the story until now, despite Highsmith’s work being the basis for classics before this (“Strangers on a Train”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”). Coming with that pedigree, not to mention the screenwriter of “Drive” being in the directorial chair, this just isn’t very interesting and it’s a bitter disappointment.


It’s frustrating in the extreme, though Oscar Isaac is excellent and it’s a terrifically scenic film. Less effective, and frankly miscast is Kirsten Dunst, who for me has never topped her auspicious debut in the uneven “Interview With the Vampire”. Whatever it is she’s attempting here, she’s failing, and is not remotely able to project anything beyond boredom and that heroin addict look she always has in her eyes. Dunst is aloof, and the character’s apparent charms prove elusive to the viewer. I’m just not a fan of hers, she’s a distressingly anaemic actress for the most part and not right for the role of the woman who comes between two men, though perhaps the screenplay didn’t give her much to work with from the get-go. I think she’s also young enough to be Viggo Mortensen’s daughter, but hey, some guys are into younger women so I can’t really criticise that. They just don’t seem right together is all I can say about it (Apparently the age difference is true of the novel, so perhaps it’s just the actors’ lack of chemistry that was troubling me). Meanwhile, if you wanna know why I rant and rave against actresses with ‘no nudity’ clauses in their contracts, just look at the scene in this where Dunst prepares to go to bed with her husband. Strained marriage or not, NO ONE changes clothes like that in front of their husband. NO ONE! It takes one out of the moment, unnecessarily.


Mortensen is certainly better than Dunst, but I kept thinking how, like Samuel L. Jackson, it’s a shame that Mortensen’s career took so long to really take off (His debut was in 1985’s “Witness” and he continued to act through the 80s and 90s, but I only became aware of him in 1993, with “Boiling Point” and 1995’s “The Prophecy”). He could’ve been a huge star if he were younger. Now he’s 56 years old for cryin’ out loud! (Jackson, in case you were wondering, is 66, which seems insane to me). But it’s the script and pacing that do this one in, no set of actors could possibly make something out of such nothingness. No, not even Jerry Seinfeld. The film is too short to be so damn slow, and the finale is way too neat (Not to mention a certain confession is made that simply isn’t necessary or even true, given we actually saw what happened there earlier. What the hell was that all about? Poor screenwriting, that’s what). Nothing happens for the first 35 minutes of a barely 90 minute film, and when something finally does appear to have happened, it turns out to be a false alarm. You keep watching because you’re convinced that there has to be something worth waiting for, but like I said earlier: Nope, this is all there is to it.


Take out the fancy locales, add some silicone breasts and hot sex, and you’ve got yourself a 90s made-for-cable/video thriller. Yes, the acting is better than you’d find in your average Shannon Tweed/Angie Everhart flick, but so what? I expected more from this film and was crushed and frankly a bit bored. Also, was the film really meant to be set in 1962? There was absolutely no indication of this being a period piece as far as I saw, so I was a bit perplexed by finding that out. Maybe I just wasn’t being very observant.  No, this one just didn’t do much for me, I’m afraid. It’s seriously ordinary, despite an impressive pedigree.


Rating: C

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Hour of the Gun

Beginning with the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral, this film concerns the ruthless vendetta waged between Wyatt Earp (James Garner) and the gang of outlaws led by Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan). When Clanton and his boys hit Wyatt close to home, this just makes town marshal Wyatt crave justice even more. However, tubercular right-hand man Doc Holliday (Jason Robards Jr.) is worried that Wyatt is making this too personal, and not just about legal right and wrong. Is it justice he is seeking, or cold-blooded revenge? Jon Voight plays Curly Bill Brocius, one of Clanton’s men, William Schallert plays a judge, Albert Salmi plays the lawyer for the Clantons, and Michael Tolan plays Pete Spence, another Clanton gang member Wyatt seeks out.


Director John Sturges (“The Magnificent Seven”, “The Great Escape”, “Bad Day at Black Rock”) apparently made this 1967 western to make up for what he saw as a lesser version of the Wyatt Earp/OK Corral story previously with “Gunfight at the OK Corral”. This one also begins with the words ‘This is how it happened’. It’s not a better film than “Gunfight”, and no this isn’t anywhere near close to how it happened. That said, it’s still a pretty solid piece of entertainment, so long as you don’t think about what it’s trying to pass off as truth. For the most part I was able to do that, but in regards to the characters of Doc Holliday and especially Ike Clanton, I found the bullshit too much to ignore given the film openly claims to be telling the truth.


 James Garner makes for a surprisingly (and effectively) grim Wyatt Earp, which may be the closest Hollywood has ever gotten to the real guy, who if you know your history, turned to the law more out of opportunism than an innate decency and morality. I liked this Wyatt, and in fact I liked the film’s overall grim tone. However, to counter Wyatt’s rather ruthless behaviour, Sturges and screenwriter Edward Anhalt (“Panic in the Streets”, “The Young Lions”) rewrite the character of Doc Holliday to act as Wyatt’s conscience, which is absurd and just plain wrong. Jason Robards is perfectly fine as gambler Doc, as the character is written. He’s the third best film Doc Holliday, but that is mostly because Kirk Douglas and subsequently Val Kilmer were absolutely brilliant in the role (Though admittedly Robards plays the character more sedately, which isn’t an uninteresting choice). However, it just wasn’t necessary to rewrite the character of Doc to say what the film was trying to say about Wyatt. It sullies not only the character, but the film itself. If this were just a random outlaw in a fictional film, the moralising would be fine by me. But this is supposed to be Doc, and Sturges is claiming historical accuracy. It’s just not right.


The character of Ike Clanton comes off even worse, despite a terrific performance from Robert Ryan. This simply isn’t Ike Clanton, so Ryan’s performance is all for nought. The character with that name here is your standard western posse leader bad guy with certain members of the law on his payroll. Ike Clanton, the real guy, was much, much closer to the snivelling, cowardly moron Stephen Lang brilliantly portrayed in “Tombstone”, and it’s a pretty well-known thing, too. Clanton was never a leader, he was a dipshit henchman who was unarmed and ran from the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Dramatic license is one thing, this is just plain wrong, and while it won’t ruin the experience for the uninitiated, to anyone else, it certainly stands out like a sore thumb. On a smaller note, a young Jon Voight just doesn’t cut it as Curly Bill Brocius, who is a nondescript henchman in this outing. However, I’ll let it slide because only “Tombstone” seems to treat his character with importance anyway.


The film definitely has its positives, including really nice cinematography by Lucien Ballard (“The Killing”, “The Wild Bunch”) and a terrific score by Jerry Goldsmith (“A Patch of Blue”, “Planet of the Apes”, “The Omen”). Ballard’s use of light and shadow in the night scenes is especially effective. The opening scene is a helluva tense way to start a film, too. It’s usually something that you’d find as the climax to other versions of this story.


A terrifically grim, charmless James Garner in perhaps his finest big screen performance heads this solid western. Unfortunately, despite his work and other positive attributes, the fact that the film comes billed as truth and strays very far from it pulls the film down considerably. If this were a straight western with no connections (claimed or achieved) to history, it could’ve been a cracker. As is, it’s just solid entertainment, and the latter “Tombstone” (which recreates a few moments from this one) simply outclasses it, even with its own strays from history (It’s probably the closest to being historically accurate, though). Still, at least it tries to set the record straight about the character of Wyatt Earp, who wasn’t the upstanding and unbending moral force other films (“Tombstone” included) purport.


Rating: B-

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro stars as Vietnam veteran and NY cab driver Travis Bickle, an extremely isolated and psychologically unstable man whose social ineptness leads to further isolation, and an unhinged desire to wipe the ‘scum’ off the streets. An unfortunate attempt at wooing a pretty blond political campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd) then sees him attempt to help a teenage hooker (Jodie Foster) get away from her sadistic pimp (Harvey Keitel). Eventually Travis’ deranged mind fixates on assassinating a political candidate. The streets are awash with filth, and Travis Bickle has a (an unsound) mind to do something about it. Peter Boyle plays Wizard, a veteran cabbie who tries to give Travis some advice, Joe Spinell is Travis’ boss, Albert Brooks is Shepherd’s nerdy co-worker, and Martin Scorsese himself turns up briefly as an enraged husband sitting in the back of Travis’ cab one night.


The kind of film I find myself admiring more than liking, but this 1976 American favourite from director Martin Scorsese (“Mean Streets”, “Raging Bull”, “Hugo”, “Shine a Light”) and screenwriter Paul Schrader (“Blue Collar”) is still pretty damn good. If it weren’t for one wrong-headed element, this might’ve actually been close to a classic, but because the film’s ending so offends me, it proves quite a big blow. Up until then, it’s mostly superbly done. Welcome to the most frustrating film ever made!


Although I think he has made better films (“The Untouchables”, “Goodfellas”, “The Deer Hunter”, “The Godfather Part II”, maybe “Raging Bull”), this is perhaps the finest performance of Robert De Niro’s career, whilst Jodie Foster is impossibly good, and both Peter Boyle and a cheesy-yet-sleazy Harvey Keitel steal their every scene. The opening sounds and images are unforgettable, as is Travis Bickle’s frightening opening narration. This is a film about an unpleasant world, but make no mistake, Travis Bickle is already a damaged man by the time we meet him. He just get a lot more unhinged as the film progresses. The brilliance in De Niro’s iconic performance is that he makes Travis believable. He’s normal enough that he can blend in for the most part, but ‘off’ enough that he doesn’t actually fit in. He fails to truly connect with anyone, and that combined with his mental instability and the scummy world around him create an urban nightmare about to explode in violence.


To be honest, I think the cinematography by Michael Chapman (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Raging Bull”, “Personal Best”) is a lot more impressive than the music score by the great Bernard Herrmann (“Citizen Kane”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “Psycho”, “Cape Fear”), which is overrated and a bit strident. I’m not entirely sure it fits the film, to be honest. The lighting in particular is superlative here, and just look at the yellow taxis through the window in the scene at the coffee shop with De Niro and Cybill Shepherd. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I doubt it. It’s just very clever filmmaking. The cinematography is so evocative here that you can almost smell the scum on the sidewalk.


Some might view the film as racist, considering the portrayal of African-Americans here as seedy criminals, however one must remember whose POV we are seeing all of this from. Is Travis really a reliable narrator? So I don’t think the film is racist, but Travis probably is (Apparently the original screenplay had Sport and several other characters as African-Americans, which might have made it a little harder to defend, so I’m glad changes were made). Although hardly a fun movie, it’s a well-observed, disturbing and to an extent interesting character study. The filmmakers and De Niro really get into this guy’s skin. He may be able to blend in, but Travis is a sick man who is completely socially clueless in a lot of ways. He takes a date to the porno theatre, because he’s already unbalanced and those are the movies he goes to. Headaches, obsession, social ineptitude, Vietnam war scars on his psyche, a desire to remove the city’s scum, etc. Spot-on. There’s a particularly heartbreaking scene between Travis and fellow cabbie Wizard (Peter Boyle), where Travis is clearly trying to reach out and get help for the issues inside his head, but a) He’s not socially articulate enough to express it, and b) Boyle’s brand of sage wisdom isn’t on the level of the kind of help Travis needs. Travis’ issues are above this guy’s pay grade.


There’s some really memorable work by the supporting cast here, including a nerdy Albert Brooks, arsehole-ish Joe Spinell, and probably the best work of Cybill Shepherd’s useless career. Although she’s not in the film very much, Jodie Foster is nonetheless startlingly good in a role probably only she could’ve played at the time the film was made. For me, aside from her, De Niro (obviously), and an excellent Peter Boyle, the most impressive and memorable performances are by Harvey Keitel and Scorsese himself. As the long-haired pimp Matthew, AKA Sport, Keitel looks completely ridiculous and sounds like a tool, but he is undeniably memorably sleazy and disgusting. The film itself is a bit heightened, so Keitel isn’t terribly difficult to swallow. Scorsese’s own cameo, meanwhile is so incredibly frightening one wonders why he doesn’t act more often. He’s terrific here.


It’s so well-observed for the most part, that when the ending comes along, it made me extremely mad that Scorsese and Schrader have ultimately fouled it up a bit. Sure, it still wouldn’t really be my kind of story even if the ending were different, but the ending as it stands now just doesn’t belong to the story they were previously telling. In fact, once Foster’s character re-emerges, it feels as if the film has taken a sharp turn into vigilante fantasy. People will vehemently disagree with me. I know I’ll get accused of completely misunderstanding the director’s intentions, but if so, the director should’ve made his intentions clearer. I don’t need to be spoon-fed, nor am I stupid, so if your intentions aren’t clear, that falls on the filmmaker. As is, it plays out like Scorsese is painting Travis Bickle out as some kind of hero, albeit in a possibly black comedy/ironic fashion. This goes against what the rest of the film has been, which is coming to understand who and what Bickle is so that we look out for his kind in the future, should anything like this come to fruition. I don’t believe in blaming movies for the violent actions of someone who is already disturbed, but given the ending here and what happened with John Hinkley and the Jodie Foster connection, I don’t think Scorsese has helped the argument one bit. It’s potentially dangerous, and he has put a big black mark at the end of a film that is otherwise unquestionably well-done. ****** SPOILER WARNING ***** If the film had ended at the shootout with Travis presumably dead, you have a much stronger film. Hell, you could even let him live without turning him into a ‘role model’ and still leave it as a warning for us to look out for a Travis-type in the future. The way it plays out, it doesn’t even work on its own internal logic because no one would think of Travis as a hero given the way things play out. He’s a creepy guy with a Mohawk. C’mon, people! It was the 70s, you could arouse suspicions with fuddy-duddies simply by having long, unkempt hair for cryin’ out loud, but a bloodied guy in a Mohawk who has just killed a bunch of people is immediately pegged for an upright avenger who acted in self-defence? I’m not sure how many people would necessarily have been witness to the final shootout, but I don’t buy the idea that the cops would spin it as Travis acting in self-defence, simply because his victims were lowlife scum that deserved it. That’s giving Scorsese and Schrader too much credit. I guess you could argue that the final stages are actually all in Travis’ deluded mind, I like that idea a lot, actually except that Scorsese and Schrader don’t emphasise it quite enough to buy it. One should note the different haircut Travis has at the end, so it’s certainly plausible, but I can’t 100% side with that reading. Scorsese says the sound we hear at the very end suggests that Travis is no hero and will go out on the prowl again. I buy the last part of that (it kind of points to what the rest of the film is saying), but I think he goes too far overboard in having Iris’ family praise Travis (not to mention the final bit with Shepherd) for it to be a condemnation of him ultimately. And since the rest of the film is pretty grim stuff, I can’t quite buy the idea that it was intended in a darkly comedic way, either. So no matter how you read the ending, or want to read it, I don’t think it’s even conveyed well enough to work. I really do think Scorsese and Schrader in some way approve of Travis here, and I cannot go with that moral, any more than I would praise the actions of Paul Kersey in the “Death Wish” films. ***** END SPOILER *****


This is a really, really well-made and unforgettable film. It’s worthy of artistic praise in many ways. However, the ending, whether you think it sends the wrong message, or is simply not conveyed with enough clarity, simply doesn’t work and drags the film down quite a bit. That’s a shame, because what’s great about this film is masterful. De Niro is so amazing here that it scares me to think of the research he might’ve done for the role. If you loved A Catcher in the Rye, this might just be your ideal film (Personally I think it’s better than that horrible book I was subjected to in high school).


Rating: B

Review: ABCs of Death 2

“A is for Amateur”: An assassin has a bugger of a time completing his latest job. “B is for Badger”: A pompous wildlife TV presenter is doing a story on badgers being affected by a local power station when a mutant badger runs amok. “C is for Capital Punishment”: Local townsfolk accuse a man of murder. “D is for Deloused”: Animated weirdness about bugs…or something. “E is for Equilibrium”: Two men on a desert island fight for the affections of a newly arrived woman. ‘Coz they’re both dicks. Or something. “F is for Falling”: About a female Israeli soldier stuck in a tree when a Palestinian with a gun comes along. “G is for Grandad”: A snotty young man moves in with his cranky old grandfather. “H is for Head Games”: Animated nonsense involving two people who pretty much obliterate each other’s faces. Yeah, OK then. “I is for Invincible”: A greedy family attempt to off their mother to get her money. It doesn’t go well. At all. “J is for Jesus”: Religious-y types try to exorcise the ‘gay’ out of a man. It doesn’t go well, either. “K is for Knell”: A woman is disturbed by murderous visions in a nearby apartment building seemingly caused by some mysterious force that eventually heads straight for her. “L is for Legacy”: It’s about a tribal sacrifice. “M is for Masticate”: A flesh-eating fat man goes on a rampage eating anyone he comes across. “N is for Nexus”: A Halloween tale set in New York from the POV of two people preparing for their date. “O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule)”: A Miracle cure for a zombie plague results in zombies now running the courts and prosecuting the living. Pretty sure this will be “Judge Judy” in a few years. What? You think this is just a straight-up synopsis? “P is for P-P-P-P Scary!”: Bumbling escaped convicts freak out at things that go bump in the night. “Q is for Questionnaire”: An intelligence test that has horrific consequences for anyone who aces it. “R is for Roulette”: A B&W segment about tiddlywinks. OK, so it’s about a game of Russian Roulette. “S is for Split”: A husband away on a business trip calls his wife just as an intruder enters and attacks her. “T is for Torture Porn”: The set of a porno gets seriously messy in all the wrong ways. Think Hentai porn…but live-action! “U is for Utopia”: An anti-septic futuristic tale about a chubster who doesn’t quite fit the mould, to his peril. “V is for Vacation”: A man makes a video call back home to his girlfriend, while on vacation. His dickhead best friend spoils things by showing her what he’s really been up to. And it only gets worse from there. “W is for Wish”: Two kids get transported into the world of their favourite “He-Man”-esque toy. Things prove far more grim and serious than they expected. “X is for Xylophone”: A babysitter gets the shits with the child constantly banging away at the xylophone. “Y is for Youth”: A young girl with revenge fantasies about her parents. “Z is for Zygote”: A husband leaves his heavily pregnant wife alone in a remote cabin but tells her to wait for him to return. Cut to thirteen years later and…


The first anthology film was a complete waste of time, as even the best of the segments were hampered by the time restraints of fitting in 26 short films into one two hour anthology film. This 2014 follow-up is at least a much improved version of the same damn thing (almost to the point of recommending it), but I still think the central idea is an ill-conceived one. The first film was 26 flavours of suck, whilst this time out I seemed to have more fun and the filmmakers seemed to better manage the time constraints than last time out. I must say, though, that barely any of the segments seemed to belong to the horror genre. As far as I was concerned, this one was a comedy, and sometimes hilarious. So let’s go through the entries one by one:-



“A is for Amateur” Directed by E.L. Katz: OK, so we get chicks going topless, dancing, and occasionally making out. Unfortunately, it’s been so choppily edited that you can’t enjoy any of it. I call it “A is for Prick-Tease and I don’t care if it starts with an A or not!”. It’s got a dumb story, isn’t remotely horror-related, and not funny in the slightest. Hardly a good start.


“B is for Badger” Directed by Julian Barratt: 30 seconds of this one is funnier than the entirety of the first “ABCs of Death”. Director Barratt is hilarious as the wonderfully pompous Toland. It’s not horror, but quite funny schlock that actually works within the time limit. Any longer and it’d be too dumb and run out of steam. Probably the highlight of the whole film.


“C is for Capital Punishment” Directed by Julian Gilbey: This one’s dopey and too short to be anything special, but it does at least show how difficult it actually is to decapitate someone. Not that I have experience in such matters, mind you. A disappointment from the director of the very fine “A Lonely Place to Die”.


“D is for Deloused” Directed by Robert Morgan: Interestingly ugly stop-motion animation, this is so fucking weird you’d swear David Cronenberg was involved. I’m not sure I understood any of it, but it sure is interestingly weird.


“E is for Equilibrium” Directed by Alejandro Brugues: WHAT?


“F is for Falling” Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado: Was this meant to be profound? ‘Coz it was stupid and once again you’re reminded that this thing is marketed as horror when it’s anything but horror. “No Man’s Land” did this basic idea a lot better at feature length.


“G is for Grandad” Directed by Jim Hosking: Nicholas Amer is terrific as the title character, whilst Richard Hardisty makes Iggy Pop look portly. This one’s actually a pretty amusing black comedy segment that works quite well at this length. Well-done!


“H is for Head Games” Directed by Bill Plympton: Scribbly hand-drawn animated segment, just plain stupid. It’s one-note stuff with a joke title that, like “A” just isn’t funny at all.


“I is for Invincible” Directed by Erik Matti: This one is like turning on a really fun, gory Asian horror film at the ¾ mark. I sorta found myself enjoying it, but only on a surface level. I’d prefer to see a whole feature-length film version of it, but at least this one was genuinely horror.


“J is for Jesus” Directed by Dennison Ramalho: This one really, really walks a tightrope, and even if it’s not ultimately homophobic (I kinda think it is, though when you think about it) it’s still very silly. More fleshing out might’ve helped. It’s possibly blasphemous too, actually.


“K is for Knell” Directed by Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper: Simple, well-shot and effective. One of the best segments. More like this, please!


“L is for Legacy” Directed by Lancelot Imasuen: Why the subtitles for people speaking clear and coherent English? This one’s interesting for Ethnic diversity, though it might be a tad racist. Best of all, it’s gory, stupid monster movie fun. It plays more like a movie trailer than an anthology segment, but hey, at least it sure is different! One of my favourites for sure.


“M is for Masticate” Directed by Robert Boocheck: Slow-mo zombie/cannibal nonsense until it reaches a genuinely hilarious punchline that almost makes it worthwhile.


“N is for Nexus” Directed by Larry Fessenden: Finally a filmmaker I recognise, but this is a shithouse piece of garbage from someone who should’ve known better. This seemed like a crap home movie with no context whatsoever.


“O is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule)” Directed by Hajime Ohata: Anything that contains the hilarious term ‘Apparent Death Syndrome’ can’t be too bad. This is typically crazy Asian nonsense that once again, would’ve been even more fun at feature length.


“P is for P-P-P Scary!” Directed by Todd Rohal: Pretty much everyone hates this segment and I’m no different. This is like Abbott and Costello, except it’s three Costello’s, they all have fake noses and stutter. Weird, but not in any entertaining way. Fucking cheat of a title, too. One of the worst.


“Q is for Questionnaire” Directed by Rodney Ascher: A cute idea is completely ruined by the dumb decision to give us all the information at once instead of playing out in linear fashion. Fail.


“R is for Roulette” Directed by Marvin Kren: This one ends just as it was actually about to go somewhere. WTF?


“S is for Split” Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno: Pretty interesting idea for a home invasion attack story and it works well within the time frame. Bloody harsh and has the best acting in the entire film for sure. You will NOT see the ending coming at all. It might be a tad on the nose, but boy was it a shocking twist. Bravo! Second best behind “B is for Badger”.


“T is for Torture Porn” Directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska: Full marks for…um…going somewhere I would never have expected and the joke title is actually hilarious. Two women being at the helm is no surprise, either. It’d be unbearable at feature length but here it works…just.


“U is for Utopia” Directed by Vincenzo Natali: The director of “Cube” and “Splice” gives us a dopey segment that looks like a commercial…that makes no sense whatsoever. The worst segment until…


“V is for Vacation” Directed by Jerome Sable: The most notorious segment of the film, this one has its fans. I think it’s sick, ugly, and pointless. Without question the worst segment in the entire film. Just irredeemably ghastly.


“W is for Wish” Directed by Steven Kostanski: A genuinely funny segment as two kids are transported into the world of a toy commercial ala “H-Man and The Masters of the Universe” as if it were a real place. And boy is it NOT kids’ stuff. Best toy commercial ever! Fantasy Man is a hoot. Oh, if only this were a full-length film. Picks up the Bronze medal here.


“X is for Xylophone” Directed by Julian Maury and Alexandre Bustillo: A sick joke. A really, really, really sick joke that is neither funny nor scary. It’s deeply troubling in ways the directors probably didn’t intend. If it was intentional, I question their morals. It’s not even clever.


“Y is for Youth” Directed by Soichi Umezawa: More Asian strangeness, probably less compelling than the others but still weird enough to work. There’s certainly some memorable…imagery.


“Z is for Zygote” Directed by Chris Nash: Yet another one-joke segment, but the joke is so out there you surely have to commend them for going there. It’s so damn stupid and I’m not sure why the ‘baby’ still has a kid’s voice 15 years later, but funny is funny, and unlike “V is for Vacation” it’s too damn silly to be offensive or off-putting.


Rating: C+

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Van Helsing

Hugh Jackman is Gabriel Van Helsing, who works for the Vatican in secret, ridding the world of evil monsters on orders by Cardinal Alun Armstrong (in a cameo, with a thick Romanian accent to boot). He is sent to Transylvania to tackle Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and his throng of vampires (Elena Anaya among them). Kate Beckinsale plays a gypsy vampire slayer who helps Van Helsing out, whilst her poor brother (Will Kemp) is cursed as a werewolf. David Wenham plays Van Helsing’s assistant Carl, some kind of monk/friar. An unrecognisable Kevin J. O’Connor plays Dracula’s assistant/servant Igor, Samuel West appears early as Dr. Frankenstein, with Shuler Hensley as his monstrous creation, whilst Robbie Coltrane kinda sorta turns up as a gigantic Mr. Hyde.


Oh dear. Stephen Sommers, you sir have gone way too far this time. Turning “The Mummy” into a phony, jokey “Indiana Jones” wannabe with shitty CGI was bad enough (the subsequent “The Mummy Returns” was surprisingly fun, though), but to take several classic horror movie characters and turn it into a 2004 film that is more “Wild Wild West” flop than Universal horror? That’s a criminal offence, my friend. To the stake with you!


Quite possibly one of the loudest, most obnoxious, and stupid films of the 00s, if not all-time, I think writer-director Sommers (whose “Deep Rising” was a fun B-movie, but his tedious live-action “The Jungle Book” was a massive disappointment) was attempting to turn the Van Helsing character into a comic book hero with Wolverine in the role, taking a classic and trying to appeal to a new, ‘cool geek’ generation. Whatever crimes you could charge “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” with, at least it took place in somewhat of an alternate universe, so that you could divorce yourself from the classic characters it was re-jigging. That’s more difficult to do here, I’m afraid (even for someone like me who prefers Hammer’s “Horror of Dracula” to Universal’s “Dracula”). This one sucks, and sucks really hard.


We start off quite well, with an excellent morph from a B&W Universal logo on fire to the usual ‘torch-bearing angry villagers’ deal. If not for a truly idiotic performance from Richard Roxburgh (why does he keep playing villains when he’s so flagrantly bad at it?) with a $2 Romanian accent, this opening segment would be a lot of fanboy/cinephile fun. But Roxburgh plays down to the horror genre, treating it like it’s a kids genre or something. That said, Sommers has pitched this as much more action-adventure/fantasy than horror. Still…no, Roxburgh is just insulting, refusing to take things seriously at all. Look at the late, great Christopher Lee. The man made a lot of schlock (and a lot of outright shit, let’s not mince words), but not once in his extremely long career did he ever phone in a performance nor treat it anything less than as seriously as required. He was a pro. Roxburgh may be a pro too, but not on evidence here. I’m sorry, but I take these characters quite seriously, thank you very much, and I don’t believe Sommers is trying for an alternate universe thing here, so much as a modernised take. So I feel justified in my anger. Roxburgh either thinks this is a kids movie or he’s just a fucking idiot. I’ll let others decide that one, but I will say that I think he should’ve been barred for life from the acting profession here for his embarrassing turn. The crap performances elsewhere in the film, however, probably saved him. David Wenham, unlike Roxburgh, has done fine work elsewhere (he was an hilariously dumb bogan ‘westie’ in “Gettin’ Square”), but he’s playing down to the material, too, with an annoying, comic performance. He’s basically playing Van Helsing’s Q. Yeah, apparently Van Helsing needs a Q. Sigh. The casting of an ironically wooden Kate Beckinsale as a vampire hunter (Wooden? Vampire Hunter? Get it? Yeah…) pretty much tells you everything you need to know here. This is Universal horror by way of “Underworld” but with Sommers’ typical tongue-in-cheek. It’s insulting and more importantly, crushingly boring. As for Hugh Jackman (is he the greatest bloke in the world or what? Does anyone have a bad word to say about him? Doubtful), well even he’s having an ‘off’ day here, a rarity for the usually very solid actor who is generally at home in a comic book world. This is his worst performance to date, he’s corny and surprisingly amateurish. 


The CGI here is as terrible now as it was in 2004, possibly even worse (Surprising given ILM and Weta were both involved). Just look at Mr. Hyde, for instance. Like in “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, the flesh is the right colour, but Mr. Hyde just doesn’t look like he’s really there in the same plane of existence as Hugh Jackman, and is too big by half. The Wolfman looks utterly ridiculous and makes no sense whatsoever. Why is he moving up walls during his transformation? ‘Coz it looked way totally awesome wicked cool to the director? Well, to everyone else it looks like totally fucking dumb, dude. As for Frankenstein’s Monster, he might look a little like Peter Boyle (and indeed Shuler Hensley played the role in the stage version of “Young Frankenstein”, I have learned), but he’s way too articulate and talkative. So stupid. The absolutely boobalicious Elena Anaya, meanwhile, is utterly wasted in a boring villainess part with unflattering long red hair.


I mentioned the corny humour before, and it truly is counter-productive and irritating. Even if this is action rather than horror, you’re still taken out of the experience because no one is taking anything seriously at all. If the film has anything going for it, well it only has one thing going for it: Aside from the CGI, it looks really amazing. I may not want a comic book version of these characters, but I can’t deny that it looks really slick and cool at times. The use of light and shadow by cinematographer Allen Daviau (“E.T: The Extra Terrestrial”, “The Colour Purple”), is especially appealing to me.


Quite possibly the most obnoxiously loud movie of the 00s (“Batman Forever” from 1995 probably pips it, all-time though), and certainly one of the dumbest. This is a long, ear-splitting slog and no fun at all. Aside from the CGI, it looks awesome, but that doesn’t earn it much praise from me I’m afraid. “House of Frankenstein” this ain’t, not by a long shot (It ain’t even “The Monster Squad”). An absolute stinker, albeit a stinker in a year with a few even worse ones (Philip Kaufman’s “Twisted”, anyone?). Probably contains the most unintentionally hilarious ending of the decade, too. How can you not laugh at that image in the sky at the end?


Rating: D

Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: The Prize

The setting is a Nobel Prize ceremony in which various luminaries are gathered in Sweden. Paul Newman plays a heavy-drinking, publicity shy author (who needs the prize money) who stumbles upon a plot involving Russian communists, and German-American physicist Edward G. Robinson, who doesn’t seem to be quite himself at the moment. Firstly, he seems to have forgotten that he has already met Newman before the big press conference. Also, one moment he’s patriotically refusing to defect to join the Commies, next minute he appears to be towing the party line. What gives? Elke Sommer plays the blond assigned to make sure Newman doesn’t get too sloshed, with Diane Baker as Robinson’s pretty niece, who hasn’t spent any time with the man until this recent trip. Sergio Fantoni and Kevin J. McCarthy play a couple of the other Nobel recipients, who are always arguing with one another over who stole what idea from whom. Veteran character actors John Qualen and Karl Swenson are Swedish hotel staff, whilst Leo G. Carroll plays a Nobel dignitary.


So Hitchcockian you’ll be shocked that The Master had nothing to do with it, this 1963 spy flick from director Mark Robson (“Bedlam”, “The Harder They Fall”, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”, “Valley of the Dolls”) and screenwriter Ernest Lehman (“Sweet Smell of Success”, “North By Northwest”, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “Family Plot”) comes from an Irving Wallace (“The Chapman Report”) novel. It’s actually a great deal better than “Torn Curtain” the Hitchcock dud that starred an unpersuasive Newman. Newman’s in much better spirits here, in a lively, funny, and seemingly slightly inebriated performance. He’s in drunk and flirty mode, and good fun to have around. Mind you, his character hates the press, accolades, he drinks and is a smart arse- is he even acting here? It’s a good thing that he’s approaching this with humour, because he has one absolutely barmy scene where he tries to evade dangerous-types by seeking refuge in a nudists’ meeting. A strangely indoors meeting I might add. Aren’t they meant to be one with nature and all that? At any rate, that’s probably the most Hitchcockian scene in the whole film, actually. Silly, but fun, Newman probably would’ve been all wrong to have taken things too seriously here. You could also see someone like James Coburn in this kind of amusing spy movie role, but Newman is really good.


While it’s fun to see Newman being light-hearted, and it’s always great to see the stunningly beautiful and underrated Diane Baker (who is genuinely sexy in this), old pro Edward G. Robinson walks off with this one, a sentence I’ve probably typed several times in reviews of his films. One of the greatest character actors who ever lived, he seems to take this one away from everyone else effortlessly, and there’s no slouches here, really. Baker and Elke Sommer are actually interestingly cast in this, conventional thought would’ve likely seen them switch parts, but they do just fine as is. Is it too obvious what’s going on with Robinson’s character? Yes but it still works overall, largely because there’s so many characters here (possibly two too many) that could all be involved in whatever intrigue is going on here.


A slow pace and a surprising dud music score by my favourite film composer Jerry Goldsmith (“The Omen”, “Planet of the Apes”, “A Patch of Blue”) are the only major drawbacks here. Goldsmith’s work here is horribly insistent, his worst-ever music score. It’s almost as if an Elmer Bernstein (“The Magnificent Seven”, “Hud”, “Big Jake”) western movie score has been overlapped by a Lalo Schifrin (“Bullitt”, “Dirty Harry”, “Magnum Force”) cop movie score. Very, very loud.


Newman’s character and performance are interesting, the plot is irresistible (if quite outlandish), the supporting cast is excellent, and it’s better than most of Hitchcock’s 60s output. How is this not a Hitchcock film? It’s got Hitch all over it! Worth seeking out, no matter who made it.


Rating: B-

Review: Inherent Vice

Set at the beginning of the 70s, Joaquin Phoenix plays hippie private eye Doc, who at the request of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) takes a look into the disappearance of her married rich lover (Eric Roberts), a real estate developer. The investigation, possibly not helped by Doc’s fondness for weed, takes on a labyrinthine amount of characters and twists and turns involving supposedly dead musicians (Owen Wilson), coke-head dentists (Martin Short), teenage runaways (“Pretty Little Liars” alum Sasha Pieterse in an unfortunate “Big Lebowski” rip-off character), and bizzaro ‘massage parlour’ attendants (Hong Chau). Also turning up are Doc’s occasional lover and Deputy DA (Reese Witherspoon), Doc’s lawyer pal (Benicio Del Toro), a black radical (the ubiquitous Michael K. Williams), and most prominently, a seriously angry police detective (Josh Brolin), a square-jawed cop who hates hippies…and Doc especially. Jena Malone plays the ex-druggie ‘widow’ of the supposedly dead Wilson (a case that does indeed somehow tie into the main mystery), whilst Joanna Newsom (apparently a singer, never heard of her) appears periodically as the film’s rather unnecessary narrator and Martin Donovan plays Pieterse’s creepy father (Donovan playing a creep? Wonders will never cease!).


Although far from the best film from Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”, “Punch-Drunk Love”, “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master” are all superior), this 2014 adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel sure is something. I’m not entirely certain it exactly appeals to my cinematic sensibilities, but I bet it’s someone’s favourite film of the year. It’s genuinely very funny at times, but also a bit over my head, plot-wise. Sure, it’s likely an intentional parody of the impenetrable mystery of “The Big Sleep”, but I still felt slightly removed from it.


The cavalcade of stars who pop up almost subliminally are a mixed bag, with some nonetheless standing out. Joaquin Phoenix proves to be a most unusual chameleon where he always looks like himself, yet plays characters who are a million miles apart and you never find yourself noticing the actor so much as the character. He works really well with uber-intense Josh Brolin, who I swear was born for 50s noir/crime films. Owen Wilson is also genuinely good here, showing as he did in the underrated “The Minus Man” that he can genuinely act. Others are good but not in the film enough, such as Reese Witherspoon (looking like 60s-era Jane Fonda), Michael K. Williams, Benicio Del Toro, and as a drug counsellor who teaches kids ‘about sensible drug use’, the underrated Jena Malone. She tells a funny, disgusting story you’d swear came out of a Kevin Smith film or something. An out-of-his mind Martin Short is delightfully sleazy and unexpected casting, competing with an actress named Hong Chau for most hilarious scene-stealer in the whole film. I think Short probably edges her out, but boy is it close.


The best thing in the entire film is the seriously lewd costume and set design, it’s brilliant (It’s nice that the attention to detail also extends to pubic hair, I might add). It’s also the only film you’ll see where a Ouija board message leads to a drugs score. Funny. Good use of Neil Young on the soundtrack, too and there seems to be a whole slew of genre influences spread throughout (Hunter S. Thompson, “The Big Lebowski”, “Harper”, possibly even “The French Connection II”). There’s some terrific performances from the amazingly versatile Joaquin Phoenix, and a supremely sleazy Martin Short in particular, but it’s the kind of film that I found myself enjoying aspects of very much, but rather mild on the whole. With fewer characters and more character depth (I’d have removed the extraneous character played by a mannered Joanna Newsom for a start), the film definitely would’ve been more appealing to me, but I understand that it probably wasn’t going for coherence. It’s not that kind of film, and perhaps it will play even better on subsequent viewings.


Loopy as fuck, it’ll definitely divide audiences. Personally, I think it meanders a bit, and the Coen Brothers did this sort of thing better in “The Big Lebowski”. I still kinda liked this one...sort of. How’s that for a recommendation?


Rating: B-

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review: Ong-Bak 3

Um…here it goes then. Tony Jaa is back as Tien, in this direct follow-up to “Ong-Bak 2”. This time out, Tien goes up against a tyrannical…er…tyrant Lord Rajasena (Sarunyoo Wongkrachang), who has pretty much given him the “Spartacus” treatment and left Tien for dead. Lord Rajasena has his own problems to deal with anyway, as he is haunted by a ghostly figure known as Ghost Crow, who ends up possessing Lord Rajasena’s body, making him even more evil, I guess. Tien finds himself brought back to full mental, spiritual and physical health by a Buddhist healer (Nirut Sirichanya) and his daughter. Then it’s off to face Ghost Crow/Lord Rajasena and his army in epic battle, with Tien’s spiritual enlightenment and inner peace perhaps giving him an advantage.


This is the one that apparently sent star Tony Jaa running away to a monastery to become a monk, the experience of this film was so frustrating for him. Thankfully for martial arts fans, that vocation didn’t stick and he’s back making films now. So is the film really that bad? No, but it’s pretty damn close to being a bad film. This 2010 flick co-written and co-directed by Jaa and Panna Rittikrai is quite clearly a freaking mess, and even worse than “Ong-Bak 2”, not to mention a long way from the excellent original. Apparently this film and “Ong-Bak 2” (also from the same writer-director combo) were originally meant to be one long-arse movie. That would’ve been a torturous experience, so at least there’s that small mercy bestowed upon us.


Things start well-enough, with ridiculous but pretty fantastic action, though glowering silent movie-esque villain Sarunyoo Wongkrachang is just absurdly over-the-top even before he starts being haunted by the Thai version of Eric Draven. He’s no real source of menace or threat whatsoever. Soon, though, the film becomes tediously self-indulgent with all the “Spartacus” (or perhaps “The Passion of the Christ”) religious pretension laid on way too thick for far too long. The key to the first film was its simplicity. It was just an arse-kicker. At first, this film’s weirdness helped keep me awake at least, but after a while even that loses its attraction for me. It’s a great-looking movie, the action is cool, I just couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it, and after a while I gave up trying.


It’s so damn slow and drawn out, and doesn’t make a damn bit of sense (I think it probably would’ve made more sense had I watched the previous film a day or two prior to seeing this one. It’s been a long while since I saw “Ong-Bak 2”). It’s a mess...and a lot of scenes of Tony Jaa doing what looks like a variant of Tai Chi. The thumping, thunderous music score and action scenes are really all that held my interest here. The epic climactic action is particularly standout, no movie with Jaa swinging from elephant tusks to kick someone can be all bad, I guess.


A massive letdown and a giant, incoherent mess. This is “The Crow” meets “Apocalypto” by way of “Spartacus” as if directed by the guy who made “El Topo”. Someone might find it fun, but I didn’t, outside of the action.


Rating: C