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 21, 2015

Review: Mad Dog Morgan


As the title suggests, the story of legendary Irish-Australian bushranger ‘Mad Dog’ Dan Morgan (a game Dennis Hopper, Irish brogue and all), a failed prospector in Victoria in the mid-1800s, who turns to opium and a life of crime. This eventually lands him a stint in prison under the brutal watch of Bill Hunter’s nasty guard/sergeant. After this, Morgan becomes an infamous outlaw romping and hell-raising the countryside from NSW back to rural Victoria. This brings him to the attention of Superintendents Winch (Michael Pate) and the cold-blooded Cobham (the inimitable Frank Thring), who strategise to bring Morgan to justice. Hunter’s Sgt. Smith is dispatched to take care of the outlaw, with Jack Thompson’s Detective Mainwaring also figuring into things, as it is Mainwaring’s account that the story is based on. David Gulpilil play’s Morgan’s aboriginal companion, Graeme Blundell plays a meek Italian, and a who’s who of 70s Aussie actors turn up throughout (Bruce Spence, John Hargreaves, Reg Evans, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Roger Ward, and a memorably nasty Max Fairchild among them).

 

Although apparently shit-faced the whole shoot and rather difficult to deal with (there are stories…many of them), Dennis Hopper gives one of his better performances in this 1976 bushranger tale from writer-director Phillippe Mora (who went on to helm the craptastic “Howling II: Stirba, Werewolf Bitch” and the bizarre Aussie follow-up “Howling III: Marsupials”). The fact that Hopper (who got himself deported from Australia not long after shooting wrapped, because he was being pre-“Hoosiers” Dennis Hopper) managed to give a genuinely accomplished (or at the very least, entertaining) performance is really quite mind-boggling. It’s one of the best Aussie films of the 70s, and the one bushranger film you really ought to see.

 

It’s a tough, ugly bastard of a film that just happens to have stunning scenery, lensed by Mike Molloy (“The Shout”, “The Return of Captain Invincible”, Stephen Frears’ “The Hit”). Morgan’s an interesting character, even if I’m not sure his opium addiction wasn’t merely to cater for Hopper’s perennial hangover and apparently frequent cocaine use at the time. There’s something to be said for the harsh surrounds and circumstances shaping the increasingly vengeful and crazed Morgan into what he was. In that sense, outback/bushland Australia comes across like the Wild West of America. David Gulpilil’s aboriginal character, for instance, reminds one of the ‘good injun’ noble savage character you’d sometimes find in the slightly more thoughtful westerns of the 50s (Morgan himself is hardly a hero, though. Like all bushrangers, he’s a real anti-hero). However, the film isn’t exactly a Western, it just has elements of one. The 1970s version of “Ned Kelly” with Mick Jagger was much more of an attempt at an American Western set in Australia, and it didn’t come off at all. This is definitely very much an Australian film through and through, it works much better by seemingly being more authentic.

 

There’s some interesting work by the large supporting cast. A scary Bill Hunter gives one of his best-ever performances as a brutal sergeant/jailer, whilst there’s not enough words to do the wonderful Frank Thring justice. He was one of our very best and gets a plum role here. It was also nice to see Hollywood mainstay Michael Pate accept a job back home here, too and he does it well. Jack Thompson is the surprising black mark here, his performance is slightly overripe. I’m just not sure what the hell that was all about. I’m also not sure Alvin Purple (Graeme Blundell) really convinces as an Eye-talian, but the role is small enough not to really matter.

 

I’m not sure why this one often gets lumped in with the Ozploitation label, there’s nothing exploitation about it, though it’s certainly violent. It’s a dour, serious-minded period drama, though hardly “Picnic at Hanging Rock”. It’s not pointless, arty-farty crap, for one thing. It’s not a great film, but is however, a good film and a still underrated and underseen film. If you only see one bushranger film in your lifetime, make it this one. It’s harsh, violent, yet beautiful and quite well-acted. Easily Mora’s crowning achievement, which is kind of sad, really given how early in his career it was.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Meet Dave


Eddie Murphy plays a spaceship (!) that looks like a human being, and is manned by a miniature crew, captained by Eddie Murphy. Yep. They’re on some kind of retrieval mission and apparently the thing they are looking for somehow got lost and landed in the bedroom of a young boy (Austin Lynd Myers). Before they can get the special item back, the boy’s mother (Elizabeth Banks) accidentally hits the vessel with her car. Assuming she has just hit a person, she tries to make nice and invites the ‘man’ to her apartment, noticing only slightly how weird it is that, y’know…he’s not killed the fuck dead or anything. The spaceship (thanks to the quick-googling crew) uses the terribly common name of Dave Ming Chang, and quickly builds a rapport with both child and single mother, especially the former. Meanwhile, the crew learn about Earth/human culture. Gabrielle Union, Ed Helms, and Kevin Hart play members of the crew, Scott Caan is an idiot conspiracy theorist cop, and Marc Blucas plays the EXACT same character Marc Blucas ALWAYS plays (i.e. The guy who wants the girl but never, ever gets her unless the guy the girl really wants goes off to make his own spin-off TV show and only occasionally turns up to act all moody and broody. I digress).

 

Eddie Murphy used to be dangerous, hip and often painfully funny once upon a time, I’d like it to be known. It was called the 1980s, a glorious era began by the birth of yours truly (And yes the deaths of John Lennon and Bon Scott, but c’mon…). Unfortunately, even in his heyday he was hit (“48HRS”, “Beverly Hills Cop”, “Trading Places”, “Coming to America”) and miss (“Best Defense”, “Harlem Nights”, “The Golden Child”). Now, the man’s hits (“Bowfinger”, “Shrek”, and the musical-drama “Dreamgirls”) are far outweighed by the misses (too many to list, really), most of which are alleged comedies that are ‘family friendly’ in nature. This 2008 film from director Brian Robbins (“Varsity Blues”, “Ready to Rumble”, the infamous “Norbit”) and screenwriters Bill Corbett (“Mystery Science Theatre 3000”) and Rob Greenberg (TV’s occasionally funny “How I Met Your Mother” and the very clever “Frasier”), isn’t quite the “Innerspace” rip-off that the ads made it look like, but it’s still an entirely witless, neutered affair well beneath the talent of its surprisingly stacked cast. It’s basically a fish-out-of-water comedy about an alien, something like “The Coneheads” with somewhat normal speaking voices and regular-shaped heads. That film was awful, and the only moment in this entire film that I liked (aside from a chuckle-worthy bit with an MRI scan) is where the kid asks ‘They don’t high-five where you’re from?’ and Dave replies ‘No, but they should!’. It’s a cute moment because he’s trying to relate to the boy. Either that or he just thinks high-fives are like totally awesome. Either way, it’s a brief moment that works. The rest is the drizzling shits, though the seemingly absolutely lovely Elizabeth Banks manages to emerge relatively free of shame.

 

Eddie is in typical mugging kids movie mode here (and in his second role as the captain, he’s insultingly half-arsed), and he can’t even get laughs with a bit of John Cleese/Jerry Lewis-inspired silly-walking early on. The level of humour we’re working with here is your usual stupid fish-out-of-water stuff where the aliens talk in slightly stilted, William Shatner-esque fashion, and the film wants to find amusement in the aliens’ lack of understanding of social conventions and department store names etc. Dave even drinks tomato sauce (I will not call it ketchup!) right out of the bottle, ‘coz…comedy, apparently. It’s the kind of shit that if it were even remotely realistic, would result in the human characters’ suspicion immediately aroused. Instead, Elizabeth Banks is made to look like an idiot. Usually a character will stupidly assume the alien is merely from out of town or a foreigner. Here, it’s assumed that Dave acts that way because he has suffered a brain injury after Banks hits him with her car. No, he’s an alien vessel and you might even guess that if this were real life, because Dave makes Sheldon Cooper seem inconspicuous amongst normal human beings. But sadly you’re just an idiot in a movie and assume he’s brain damaged. Sigh. It’s so corny and unfunny.

 

After 20 minutes of this stale shit I was genuinely contemplating hurling myself out my bedroom window. Which was shut and locked at the time. At times, the film is even more insipid and childish, with a character named Lt. Buttocks, and even a ‘silent but not deadly’ joke. The scene where Dave literally poops out money is without question the worst and most embarrassing thing he’s ever done. Yes, even more embarrassing than ‘Party All the Time’, “The Golden Child” and the infamous transsexual hooker. For fuck’s sake, Eddie. What happened to you, man?

 

Never known to be humble (remember the opening credits of “Harlem Nights” that seemed to credit Murphy about ten times?), Murphy proves so egotistical here that in playing both Dave and the Captain inside of him, it leaves his crew members played by Gabrielle Union, Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, and several others, with practically nothing to do. It’s not just Eddie or the filmmakers at fault here, though, as Ed Helms and the super-fine Gabrielle Union (one of the most beautiful women to have ever walked the Earth) give the same kinda ‘phony “Star Trek”-style show’ performances as well, which is really insulting and lame. Kevin Hart tries really, really hard, but he’s not on screen much and the material sucks. He’s also the only one of the characters inside Dave who doesn’t talk like a cliché, it’s pretty much Kevin Hart as normal, minus the profanity.

 

I said earlier that it’s not really a rip-off of “Innerspace” (or “Fantastic Voyage” if you’re old like me), it’s more of a variant I suppose. That said, it’s the safest, most useless (to anyone over 10 years-old) variant possible. It’s stale, tired, unfunny, and a waste of both time and talent. Next!

 

Rating: D

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: Tequila Sunrise


Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell who play old high school buddies whose friendship is being increasingly tested due to one fact: Gibson is an ex-drug dealer who may not be quite so ‘ex’, and Russell is a narcotics cop assigned to proving that Gibson is indeed still a dealer. A major drug deal with Gibson and a mystery man named Carlos is supposedly about to go down. Caught in the middle is restauranteur Michelle Pfeiffer, whom Russell has the hots for and whose restaurant Gibson frequents. She develops feelings for both men, but what are their feelings for her? J.T. Walsh plays Russell’s a-hole DEA colleague who is the head of the operation to bust Gibson. Arliss Howard plays Gibson’s loser brother, whilst Raul Julia plays a Mexican cop helping out the Americans, Ann Magnuson plays Gibson’s ex, Ayre Gross plays Gibson’s wannabe drug-dealing lawyer, and veteran B-western director Budd Boetticher of all people (“Ride Lonesome”) plays a judge who frequents Pfeiffer’s restaurant.

 

Terrific 80s stars give a definite boost to this 1988 cops-and-crims drama with a romantic edge from writer-director Robert Towne (writer of Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”, writer-director of “Personal Best”). Slickly photographed by Conrad L. Hall (“In Cold Blood”, “Cool Hand Luke”, “Road to Perdition”), armed with the sweet 80s sax of the score by Dave Grusin (“Tootsie”, “The Goonies”, “Lucas”, “The Fabulous Baker Boys”), here’s a calculated ‘star vehicle’ that is also a bloody good movie. Towne was smart to hire two leading men who aren’t just stars but genuinely good (and in Kurt Russell’s case, entirely underrated) actors as well. Kurt Russell is just a little bit oily and Mel Gibson is just a little bit charming so that you can’t entirely hate or love either of them. You do get the sense though, that the pressures of their respective trades has put such a strain on their relationship that a lot of bitterness and resentment is starting to bubble up between them. They work really well together, and this is one of Michelle Pfeiffer’s better turns as well, as the woman between them. There’s a complexity to the love triangle here because for a really long while you’re not entirely sure if Gibson or even both guys are using Pfeiffer to get at the other guy. It’s really complex and kinda twisted.

 

There’s also terrific support from the dearly missed J.T. Walsh, shifty Arliss Howard, and especially the late Raul Julia. Walsh (one of the best character actors of the 80s and 90s) makes for the perfect humourless a-hole authority figure, whilst Julia may not have been the most consistent actor but when he was ‘on’, he was really ‘on’. He’s definitely ‘on’ here. The only flaw with the whole film is that the identity of Carlos is obvious the moment you hear the actor’s voice. I won’t spoil it here, but believe me you’ll work it out right away, unless this is your first movie.

 

Great stars, good filmmaking, and character complexity help take a fun but ancient concept and turn it into something a little more special. Give this one another go if you saw it ages ago, it’s one of those films I think gets better on repeated viewings. A pretty underrated film that is due for re-evaluation in my view.

 

Rating: B

Review: Big Hero 6


Set in the fictional hybrid city of San Fransokyo, Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a 14 year-old robotics genius but also a young tearaway constantly getting into mischief by entering illegal robot fights with battle bots of his own making. His concerned older brother Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney) manages to steer him away from a probable lot of legal trouble by showing him around the lab he works at under the avuncular Prof. Callaghan (voiced by James Cromwell). It is here that Hiro first meets Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit), a medical assistant robot of seemingly inflatable exterior. He also meets Tadashi’s co-workers (voiced by T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., and Genesis Rodriguez), and is eager to join them and work under the brilliant Prof. Callaghan. The rest of the plot you will have to watch the film to discover. Maya Rudolph voices Hiro’s Aunt, whilst Alan Tudyk voices Prof. Callaghan’s more glory-seeking technological rival, a mega-rich CEO.

 

Although popular with seemingly everyone else, this 2014 Disney animated film from directors Don Hall (The 2011 “Winnie the Pooh”) & Chris Williams (co-director of “Bolt”) didn’t do a whole lot for me. I think this one’s exclusively for the kids, I can’t really see anyone older than that really finding much of interest here. The character of Baymax to me was a major miscalculation. Not only did I spot the twist with the character within 15 minutes (40 minutes in and a line of dialogue practically tells you outright), but the character isn’t remotely interesting or appealing. The idea of the robot is kinda cool (if a bit Johnny 5 to me), but the look is completely uncreative, bland, and uncharismatic. It looks like a Michelin man without any of the detail added in. Why is the robot full of air? A blow-up robot? How in the hell would that work? Who would want such a thing? It’s basically a white balloon with a computer inside. Think about that (Apparently there’s something called ‘soft robotics’, but I’ve got no idea what that means or how close Baymax is to something like that. I just didn’t buy it here). When some colour is finally added to him through modifications, it just makes Baymax look like an iMac instead of a meringue/balloon (Apparently Baymax is very different in the comics). Hell, even his voice is cliché and right out of 1984. I did laugh, though, when it got deflated and refers to the cat as a ‘hairy baby’. That was cute, and I also liked the amusing David vs. Goliath robot fight. However, getting back to the design, it’s only when the robot gets a final red and blue upgrade that it looks like a genuine improvement, because it finally looks somewhat robotic instead of a pool toy that’ll get you electrocuted if you go for a swim with it.

 

The character animation of the humans is awfully rubbery and cartoony, and the interiors look too clean and cartoony. The movements of the humans are also awkward to an almost “Thunderbirds” degree. The photo-realistic “Rango” was in 2011, why is character animation now going backwards? However, the film’s biggest strength is in the background/exterior animation which is truly stunning and colourful. I found the film’s American-Japanese hybrid world somewhat confusing and not quite explained well enough, but I can’t deny that the very Tokyo-esque ‘San Fransokyo’ is just gorgeous to look at, it’s a work of art. The other thing I really liked about the film is the excellent music score by Henry Jackman, bringing a touch of class to the whole thing. Although his character isn’t in all that much of the film, James Cromwell also adds something to the vocal department. He is, in fact, the only voice actor to remotely stand out. The rest are boring and nondescript, with special dishonourable mention going to Damon Wayans Jr. and whoever the fuck thought it would be a good idea to have the African-American character the scaredy cat of the group of super-nerds? I mean, why not just go ahead and name the character Stepin Fetchit while you’re at it? Meanwhile, I’m not sure when a leather jacket and some hair dye became the signifier for ‘cool chick’ but it has become a rather nauseous cliché at this point. I did like the brother-brother relationship at the heart of the film, and kind of wished it was emphasised even more because it’s really quite sweet. Unfortunately, a big emotional moment in the film is lessened by the fact that one character is practically a solid non-entity. The best moment in the entire film comes post-credits when a guy who normally turns up in cameos in live-action films of this sort of thing turns up in a cameo in animated form. Yes, that guy. It’s brilliant, the film itself is terribly overrated.

 

This felt like a dumbed-down, corny, Americanised ‘Happy Meal’ version of something frankly best left to the Japanese to do. They would’ve made a better stab at this kind of thing and it would’ve likely had more appeal to those outside of grade school. I think this is teen fare or one for anime/comic book nerds, but instead Disney have skewed it towards kiddie fare instead where the title team take a backseat to a cuddly “Short Circuit” meets “E.T.” by way of “Bambi” story for kids. Hell, they’ve even ‘white-washed’ the comic so that while it’s still got some Japanese influence, it’s set in a weird fictional Japan-US hybrid with mostly very American-looking and sounding characters. The comic was apparently set in Japan with entirely Japanese characters, so the fault definitely doesn’t lie with Marvel here (And indeed, this isn’t a ‘Marvel Film’ per se, merely a Disney film based on a Marvel product). Some won’t care about that and will be fine with a ‘kids movie’ that appeals solely to kids (and it appears I’m the only adult who doesn’t like it anyway, so what do I know?), but all I can say is that I didn’t get a whole lot of out of this. The exteriors are stunningly beautiful, however, and the film earns a point or two simply for being a pretty active film. Boring it isn’t, and it’s better than “The Boxtrolls”. That’s not all that much of a compliment, though. Loosely based on a Marvel comic book, the screenplay is by Robert L. Baird (“Monsters University”), Daniel Gerson (“Monsters University”) and Jordan Roberts (writer-director of the bland drama “Around the Bend”), from a story by Roberts and co-director Hall.

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: The Apartment


Jack Lemmon is C.C. Baxter, working for a big insurance firm trying to ascend the corporate ladder. Part of this involves lending out a key to his apartment to some of the company execs to use for their extra-marital affairs in the hopes of a good word leading to a promotion. Meanwhile, Baxter is working up the courage to ask out the pretty elevator attendant at his building, Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), unawares that she herself is the mistress of Baxter’s married boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). Ray Walston plays one of the schmuck company execs, and Jack Kruschen is Baxter’s Jewish doctor neighbour who thinks Baxter is a gigolo.

 

Although there’s a few wannabe-cute lines in the otherwise excellent Oscar-winning script by I.A.L. Diamond (“Some Like it Hot”, “Cactus Flower”), this 1960 Billy Wilder (“Double Indemnity”, “The Lost Weekend”, “Some Like it Hot”) film is easily one of the best romantic comedies ever made. True, it’s not often referred to as a romantic comedy, the romantic aspect is mostly confined to the finale (and may not be conclusive enough for everyone). However, it has certainly had its influence on the genre over the years (and not just the Michael J. Fox remake “The Concierge”). Also, the general plot mechanics have a romantic comedy feel to them if you ask me, with the obstacles put in the way of our hero meeting up with his ideal girl.

 

I think it’s the seediness and melancholy of the characters that stops most people from noticing that this even is a romantic comedy (or romantic comedy-drama, if you really must insist). Made at just the right time where films of this sort could afford to get a little darker, the film paints its characters in slightly seedy fashion, actually. I think that’s the key to why it still works today, the film has a maturity and sadness that earlier films of this sort don’t quite have (Attempted suicide is a plot point, for instance). There’s a whole lotta office sexism going on in this film (long before TV’s “Mad Men”), which might not have been shown in film much before this. Although I maintain that the film is a romantic comedy, the film isn’t solely concerned with whether our hero gets the girl. It’s much more complicated and more cynical than that. Jack Lemmon’s character is somewhat of a weak-willed butt-kisser, a corporate sell-out who finally discovers his backbone…and his soul by the end of the film. Jack Lemmon’s casting in this is crucial. Since Baxter starts out being somewhat sycophantic and a little pathetic, you need a relatable guy like Lemmon in the role so you can sympathise with the guy. Shirley MacLaine has never been sweeter or more likeable than she is here, a perfect match with Lemmon (both were Oscar nominated, neither won). You really want to see these two together by the end of the film. Part of the reason for that, however, is because of just how effective Fred MacMurray is at playing a cowardly, heartless heel. I think he’s better in “The Caine Mutiny” and “Double Indemnity”, but he really is a solid jerk here (Much better than Jack Kruschen, who actually got an Oscar nomination for his ethnic character work here. He’s fine, but MacMurray is definitely more memorable). His best scene is his first, where he works his way around to getting Lemmon’s spare key. It’s a nice bit of acting and a great bit of writing from Diamond. MacMurray plays a real piece of work, and sadly he’s the kind of guy a lot of women will fall for. Here, though, there’s the chance that the girl will finally stand up for herself and choose the nice guy over the already married jerk. Look for some energetic scene stealing from a young-ish Ray Walston as one of the sleazy execs. He steals his every scene simply by looking like he’s enjoying the hell out of himself.

 

Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, there’s some really great bits in this, including the funny bit where Lemmon is trying to watch TV but all he keeps hitting on is commercials. That shit still happens today, even with the amount of channels you get on cable. In fact, it might be even truer today than it was in 1960. I swear TV stations time their ads to keep you from switching stations! There’s also a very funny scene where Lemmon needs to cancel one of the exec’s plans to use his key, because Lemmon is going home sick. The labyrinthine series of re-shuffles he has to navigate, might just be the funniest thing in the film.

 

Although I’m not entirely sure this film really needed to be in B&W (and I love B&W films, believe me), I loved the visual of just how ‘samey’ and uniform the office scenes are designed and play out. The corporate world is obviously meant to be somewhat soulless and dehumanising here. It’s nice to get a point across with something visual instead of through dialogue for a change. There are some great bits of dialogue throughout though, right down to the random and weird bit with a girl at a bar babbling on about Castro. What the hell? If the film has any downside, it’s with Diamond getting a little too cute and quirky by having Lemmon end words with ‘wise’, several times. It’s an annoying gimmick that isn’t necessary and just alerts you to the fact that someone is putting the words in Lemmon’s mouth.

 

Terrific entertainment from a time when comedies didn’t have to have a gut-buster per minute. It’s not my favourite romantic comedy of all-time, but it’s highly entertaining and influential. It’s also somewhat unusual, romantic but slightly seedy. A rarity for its time. This has an enjoyable plot, great characters and performances, a bit of edge, and it holds up exceptionally well some fifty years later.

 

Rating: A-

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: The November Man


As we open, Pierce Brosnan is CIA man whose attempt at mentoring Luke Bracey hits a snag when Bracey’s firing of a gun during an assassination attempt on an Ambassador results in the death of a kid. Brosnan admonishes the young upstart for refusing to listen to an order. Several years later and Brosnan is out of the CIA, but his former boss Bill Smitrovich calls in a favour, asking him to see to the protection of a Russian spy set to defect to the US with saucy information on the guy next expected to become the Russian President. The female Russian spy, by the way, is Brosnan’s ex-lover. Unfortunately, the spy gets taken out by Bracey on orders by the new CIA head, played by Will Patton. Olga Kurylenko plays a Belgrade social worker who knows the identity of a key person (a Chechen refugee) who can put the Putin-wannabe in the shitter. Eliza Taylor has a small role as Bracey’s neighbour, who clearly wants to get into his pants. Both women get caught in the middle of the penis-measuring contest between Brosnan and Bracey, master and student.

 

Reminding everyone that he’s by far the second-best Bond (behind Sean Connery, of course), Pierce Brosnan also shows in this 2014 action-thriller that he can do Daniel Craig’s 007 much more interestingly than Craig himself. Directed by Aussie journeyman Roger Donaldson (“No Way Out”, “Cocktail”, “The Recruit”, “The Bank Job”) it’s a well-directed and nice-looking genre film, even if the cinematography by Romain Lacourbas (“Taken 2”) is a tad jittery for my liking. Scripted by Michael Finch (co-writer of “Predators”) & Karl Gajdusek (“Oblivion”, the Nic Cage flop “Trespass”), it’s B-movie material with an A-list lead, but to be honest I actually think it’s better than the best of Daniel Craig’s Bond films, “Skyfall” (which was almost a good movie).

 

Although he seems better suited to work for MI5 than the CIA, Brosnan is as good as he damn well always is. I was particularly partial to his character’s dark, remorseless side here, even though he’s quite clearly the good guy. This character is definitely closer to Jack Bauer than Brosnan’s streamlined, efficient version of 007, and Brosnan is more than up to the task. This guy is really fucking harsh and uncompromising in achieving his mission. The film also contains TV character actor Bill Smitrovich’s best work since “The Practice”, and Olga Kurylenko is pretty decent too. She’s getting a lot better at speaking English expressively, so it’s a shame Hollywood has already forgotten her somewhat. She wears a black dress at one point that makes her so sexy that she might just be lethal. Faring less successfully, Aussie TV’s favourite teenage bogan, Eliza Taylor has lost the ‘Cotter’, and isn’t really in the film much, fans are better off watching that sci-fi show she and fellow former Aussie soap actor Bob Morley are on (Can’t remember the name, I don’t watch it. Don’t care to look it up). Will Patton is a face I haven’t seen in a long time for some reason, but he’s here and has a toupee that makes him look alarmingly like Scottish actor Peter Mullan.

 

A good but not great film, it’s an easy watch, if not the most surprising story in the world and it moves at a good clip. The only thing that really bothered me was that Luke Bracey’s cocky upstart character’s vendetta against Brosnan seems to have very little motivation. What we see in the opening scene just doesn’t seem like enough of a reason to me. Their beef just seems ridiculous. I also have to take Finch and Gajdusek over the coals for featuring one of those pretentious scenes where the title gets explained. The worst thing? The explanation really needs an explanation itself!

 

Definitely one of Donaldson’s better efforts, this one deserved a better fate on original release (It went direct-to-DVD in Australia for some reason, despite an Aussie director and former Aussie soap stars Luke Bracey and Eliza Taylor in important roles). If you like Bond and TV’s “24”, this is like a mixture of the two, and worth a look.

 

Rating: B-

Review: They Drive By Night


George Raft and Humphrey Bogart play brothers and truckers, who endure long hauls hoping to earn enough money to pay off their truck and go into business for themselves. Bogey’s a family man, whilst Raft has just met cynical waitress Ann Sheridan. Plans go up in smoke after a bad accident leaves Bogart without an arm. Raft decides to take up an offer from boozy acquaintance Alan Hale to work for him in an office gig. Lupino plays Hale’s no-good wife, whom Raft is known to, and Lupino would like him to get to know her even better. When Raft rejects her advances…well, bitches be cray cray, as the kids today say. Joyce Compton plays a bimbo whom trucker Irish (Roscoe Karns) meets, whilst Gale Page is Bogey’s wife.

 

Although I have a personal preference for the rugged 1958 British trucker movie “Hell Drivers”, this 1940 flick from Raoul Walsh (“White Heat”, “Dark Command”, “The Lawless Breed”) is rock-solid, too. Seedy-looking George Raft is an interesting choice for the lead and perfectly fine. Normally cast as gangsters, his casting lends the character a slight edge to what might’ve otherwise been a bit of a dull part. However, an underused Humphrey Bogart steals every scene from him, whilst Ida Lupino and especially Alan Hale take off with the whole thing. Hale, in another of his back-slapping boozy fool roles, has a nice line in laughing at his own terrible jokes. You almost feel sorry for the guy, he has no idea what a piece of work Lupino is (Hint: She’s nucking futs!). Ann Sheridan’s cynical waitress schtick at the beginning is annoying (you’d swear she was about to say ‘Why, I oughta…!’ at any moment), but she eventually settles down nicely (she’s quite pretty, too), and more briefly Joyce Compton is convincingly stupid in a bimbo role.

 

An interesting look at truckers who are tired, overworked, and underpaid. I must say, though, that although occasionally quite exciting, the film makes truck driving seem just a tad too dangerous to be credible. I mean, these guys are either just terrible drivers or blind, not merely tired and overworked. Still, the sense of irritability and fatigue is mostly well-conveyed.

 

It’s a good film, it’s just a shame that Bogey drifts in and out of the film, because he’s more charismatic company than Raft. Based on a book by A.I. Bezzerides (screenwriter of “Kiss Me Deadly”, and Bogey’s later “Sirocco”), the screenplay is by Jerry Wald (“Out of the Fog”, producer of “Johnny Belinda”), and Richard Macaulay (“Out of the Fog”, “Across the Pacific”). I still think “Hell Drivers” is better and grittier, but this is an easy watch too, especially for fans of the two leads. And remember, the doors made me do it!

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: Popeye


Robin Williams stars as the title forearm-heavy sailor who comes to the town of Sweethaven, renting a room with the Oyls. Popeye is searching for his long-lost pappy, but in the meantime strikes up a relationship with the ungainly Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall, in the role everyone agrees she was born to play), after they find an abandoned baby whom Popeye names Swee’pea. Olive, however is engaged to the hulking and frankly mean-spirited Brutus. Paul Dooley plays hamburger-loving Wimpy, Ray Walston plays the very familiar-looking (and sounding) Poopdeck Pappy, whilst (a debuting) Linda Hunt and (an almost unrecognisable) Dennis Franz can be seen in small roles.

 

Notorious 1980 misfire from director Robert Altman (“Nashville”, “The Player”, “Short Cuts”) could’ve potentially killed Robin Williams’ career in just his first starring vehicle. All these years later, one has to admit that it’s not a terrible film (nor was it a box-office flop like everyone seems to mistakenly recall), just a failed one that probably should never have been made. With Altman all wrong in the director’s chair this was poorly scripted by Jules Feiffer (“Carnal Knowledge”, of all things), and they just don’t have a clue what’s funny. It’s all over-stylised and heavy-handed. It’s no fun at all.

 

More than anything, I just don’t think the Elsie C. Segar comic strip (nor the Max Fleischer cartoon) is appropriate material for a film adaptation in the first place. There’s just not enough depth to any of the characters, and it leaves the actors one-dimensional cartoons to play instead. Nowhere is this more evident than in the lead performance given by Robin Williams (in only his second feature film appearance). He later proved in the animated “Aladdin” that a cartoon character doesn’t always restrain him as a performer, but in this instance, the gruff-voiced, disproportionately muscular sailor does indeed restrict Williams as a performer. The naturally dynamic actor looks the part and does as well as anyone could possibly do. However, the mumbly Popeye is frankly not an interesting or appealing character, and there’s nothing Williams can do about it. Popeye the Sailor Man is a bit of a bore, I’m afraid and Williams lacks energy for once. Williams can play Popeye, but perhaps he shouldn’t have bothered.

 

On the bright side, Shelley Duvall practically is Olive Oyl, and both Paul L. Smith (as Bluto as anyone could be) and Ray Walston are good enough in their roles that you wish they were in more of the film. In fact, as Poopdeck Pappy, Walston is probably the only person who does Popeye better than Williams has managed (For starters, you can understand all of Walston’s dialogue). The sound FX are cute, especially as implemented in an enjoyable barroom brawl that also nicely employs the familiar theme tune.

 

On the whole, the film itself is alternately dull and annoying, partly due to the awful decision by Altman to make it a musical, with songs by (of all people) Harry Nilsson. ‘I Yam What I Yam’ is especially bad, with only Olive Oyl’s ‘He Needs Me’ standing out in a good way. The rest are badly sung duds. A lot of attention has been paid to set design and costuming, whilst no one seems to have realised that there’s no film to be made of this material. The first half is especially lacking in plot and character development. The romance between Popeye and Olive Oyl is particularly underdone.

 

Look, the cast try hard, but this is dull, if not as outright terrible as its reputation might suggest. The film has its staunch defenders, but I found it pretty unfunny and unenjoyable. 

 

Rating: C

Review: Rachel, Rachel


Joanne Woodward plays a shy schoolteacher nearing middle age who still lives with her rather demanding mother above the funeral parlour her late father (Donald Moffat, in flashbacks) used to run. She’s always on hand to make sandwiches for the old biddies her mother brings to the house. Woodward is the textbook definition of a spinster. However, incidents involving a couple of hippie-meets-evangelical preachers (one played by redheaded Geraldine Fitzgerald) her lonely yet outwardly cheerful best friend (Estelle Parsons, as a woman just as trapped as Woodward has been) who takes her to her church, and an attentive but lothario former acquaintance come back to town (James Olson), see Woodward come out of her shell, to potentially finally start living her own life.

 

Having recently read an autobiography on Paul Newman, I knew that this directorial debut was first and foremost something that his long-time wife Joanne Woodward wanted to do, and Newman just somehow ended up getting so caught up in it that he eventually decided to be the one to direct it. As a showcase for the much-loved yet still somehow underrated Woodward, it certainly does its job. However, all of that credit really must go to Woodward herself, who is terrific as the lonely young woman who starts to have something of a sexual awakening that frightens her as much as it excites her.

 

The film itself is a bit aimless and simple, I’m just not sure there’s a whole helluva lot to it. It’s a small, independent film that just happens to have been directed by one of the most popular movie stars (and let’s face it, one of the best actors) of all-time. I also thought the scene of religious fervour actually played more like Newman was laughing at the hysterics of these religious-types, when apparently the point of the scene was meant to be Woodward being swept up in emotion for the first time in her life. The way Newman and cinematographer Gayne Rescher (“A New Leaf”, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”) shoot everyone in garish close-ups (something they do in the scene with Woodward’s nagging mother and fellow old biddies as well), I thought it was halfway between mocking and something out of “Rosemary’s Baby”, so it took me a little while to work out what Newman was really saying here. I guess I was predicting a “Repulsion”-style psycho-thriller about repressed sexuality. Nothing of the sort goes on here. It’s a much simpler, more sensitive, dramatic film than that.

 

Although some of the handheld work is a bit pretentious, it’s a very lovely-looking film at times. I loved the movie theatre scene where you can clearly hear Newman’s voice as an actor on the movie screen. Funny, Mr. Newman. Very funny indeed. It’s quite sensual for its time, and provides some interest in seeing Newman directing his first film, but aside from that and some good performances by Woodward, James Olson (never better or livelier), and Estelle Parsons (as well as a terrific cameo by Geraldine Fitzgerald), I’m not sure it adds up to all that much in the end. Mrs. Newman proves much more worthy here than Mr. Newman (a sentiment I think he’d likely agree with most of the time, but this is the one time where I’ve been more impressed by her than him as an actor).

 

It’s certainly not the kind of film I ever thought I’d see Newman directing. That’s hardly enough in the ‘win’ column for a recommendation, though. This one’s just watchable, although Newman certainly casts his wife perfectly as a repressed school teacher, pretty much her wheelhouse. See it for Woodward’s strong performance if you’re a fan (Pretty much everyone likes her though, right?), everyone else needn’t bother unless it’s for free. The Oscar-nominated screenplay is by Stewart Stern (“Rebel Without a Cause”, “The Rack”, “The Outsider”). The film also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress (Parsons). By the way, I hear this is Jerry Seinfeld’s favourite movie…(You were all thinking it!).

 

Rating: C+

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: A Most Wanted Man


When a suspected militant jihadist Half-Russian Half-Chechen man comes to Hamburg, German anti-terrorist expert Philip Seymour Hoffman suggests waiting and watching, rather than immediately nabbing him. Unlike the head of German Intelligence (not to mention visiting CIA woman Robin Wright), Hoffman wants to see where this young man possibly will lead them. Rachel McAdams plays a German human rights lawyer, Willem Dafoe plays a German banker helping the man with an inheritance from the man’s dodgy father, Homayoun Ershadi plays a Muslim philanthropist who may be more than he appears, whilst Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl play members of Hoffman’s super-secret team.

 

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s second last film, this 2014 John Le Carre (“The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, “The Deadly Affair”) adaptation from director Anton Corbijn (the solid Ian Curtis biopic “Control”) and screenwriter Andrew Bovell (who co-wrote the pathetic Aussie film “Book of Revelations” and the overrated “Lantana”) won’t be for everyone. If you like your Le Carre (he was the EP of this, by the way) and can get past some pretty questionable accents it’s a pretty good slow-burner.

 

Playing out like a chess game, it’s a bit complex, although I must say it’s a tad familiar too. It reminds me somewhat of “Unthinkable”, except done right and instead of involving torture, the suspect is allowed to roam about observed from afar (I guess you could argue it’s the polar opposite of “Unthinkable” in that sense, but no matter, it’s still the film I was thinking of as I watched this. Both films are about post 9/11 terrorism and involve asking tough, rather unsavoury questions). In a performance that somehow had me thinking of both Stellan Skarsgaard and a muted Charles Laughton, Hoffman is terrific and ultimately owns the film despite Willem Dafoe (especially) and Robin Wright (in her best effort since “Forrest Gump” 20 years ago- Yes, it really was that long ago. We’re old!) threatening to take it out from under him with excellent support. Dafoe in particular is great here. He might swing and miss as an actor sometimes, but when he hits, he’s a truly mesmerising actor. Hoffman has an interestingly shambolic, pockmarked and world-weary quality here. He’s not my favourite Le Carre lead (that would be Richard Burton in the wonderfully brooding “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”), but he’s one of those actors who are interesting even when they’re not saying anything. Rachel McAdams is just OK and never gets a handle on her German accent. Yes, PSH sounds a tad Seth Effriken at times too, but McAdams stands out like a sore thumb (Dafoe’s German accent is only slight, but ends up being the far more convincing of the three). I’m not sure she’s cast to her best advantage here, I’m afraid but what she does have in spades is something that can’t be taught: star quality.

 

It’s such a shame that the talented Daniel Bruhl has a tiny and colourless part, otherwise I rather liked this one. Although the observatory, chess game-like behaviour of Hoffman’s character is interesting, I do have to wonder how credible it is that in a post-9/11 world that a suspected terrorist (or person with suspected ties with terrorism) would be given such freedom to roam about while everyone waits and sees where it leads.

 

Typical slow-burning Le Carre stuff with an excellent downbeat ending. If this sort of thing is your idea of a great time, you’ll certainly get more out of this than others might. Frankly, I think it’s more interesting (and less dense) than “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, which I found very heavy going. Hoffman is terrific, yet again reminding us of the talent he has ultimately deprived us of seeing for years to come.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Equilibrium


Set in a cold-hearted, gloomy 21st century (2072 to be exact) where people are drugged daily to suppress emotion, and a law enforcement agency of ‘Clerics’ has been formed to ban and destroy all works of art and books that might inspire feelings or emotion. The ‘Clerics’ are also trained in a highly-specialised combat style called ‘Gun Kata’, which through highly-attuned statistical analysis, ‘Clerics’ can maximise the effectiveness of their attack, whilst also dodging return fire with amazing aversion precision. One such top ‘Cleric’ is played by Christian Bale, who discovers that his partner (Sean Bean, in everything that inevitably entails) has been reading poetry on the sly. After this traumatic event (or at least, it would be if he were allowed to feel), Bale accidentally misses a daily dose and this causes him to feel for the first time. It changes his entire outlook on things, even developing feelings for a woman he arrests (Emily Watson). It also causes him to seek out an underground movement of rebels who have a plan to uprise against this emotion-free society. William Fichtner plays the leader of the underground movement, Taye Diggs plays Bale’s suspicious, smug new partner, and Angus McFadyen plays the second-in-command to Sean Pertwee’s governing political figurehead known as ‘Father’. Dominic Purcell plays a resistance fighter in the opening scene.

 

Well here’s a fun little Dystopian future-set action/sci-fi flick that somehow slipped through the cracks. I guess Christian Bale wasn’t quite at the heights of acclaim that he is now. Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer (writer of the rock-solid action movie “Salt”, and terrible films like “Street Kings”, “Law Abiding Citizen”, “Sphere” and the remake of “Total Recall”), it certainly wasn’t handled very well at the time in terms of marketing and its actual theatrical release. This 2002 blend of “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Matrix” is not as good as either of those films, but it’s certainly far from the worst sci-fi flick of the 00s. I think it’s time for this one to be re-discovered, it doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it does provide some kick-arse action and tells a pretty good yarn based on classic sci-fi themes.

 

It’s got an interesting central concept and the title itself is pretty clever when you think about it. Some people have complained that the film contains too many emotional outbursts/displays from characters supposedly suppressed of all emotion, but I think that’s a bit inaccurate and unfair, actually. One character’s sudden displays of emotion are fully explained by the plot, and there’s only one brief outburst by Taye Diggs where his displaying of emotion is wrong-headed. He’s charging someone with ‘sense crimes’, so it’s probably not a good idea for Mr. Diggs to be displaying any overt emotion while doing so. Otherwise, I didn’t mind the occasional display of emotion because while they were given drugs to suppress emotions, they are still human beings, not robots. So obviously, if the drugs are starting to fade or if the circumstances are extreme, I think it’s plausible that some cracks would appear. I mean, the drugs are meant to suppress emotion, but would they truly kill any possibility of emotion? Doubtful. Besides, if the actors didn’t display any emotion, you’d be watching a film entirely populated with characters that resemble Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner”, and the audience would commit suicide en masse. Honestly, it’s such a petty, insipid criticism.

 

As I said earlier, “Fahrenheit 451” is the main inspiration here, as both stories focus on a future society where books are banned as they are believed to create unwanted and unhelpful outbursts of emotion in the reader. The difference between the two stories, however, is that in the earlier one it was a loss of culture and learning being feared by the protagonists. In this one, the loss of feeling and emotion is more the driving factor for our hero. That’s what helps turn this into a film influenced by “Fahrenheit 451” rather than simply ripping it off.

 

The film also works as a kick-arse action movie with style. It’s incredibly cool, perhaps a touch too much so, but not so much that it becomes pretentious John Woo/Luc Besson nonsense. The action is occasionally incredibly brutal and with plenty of wrist-snapping that suggests that its ‘gun-kata’ fighting technique was designed by Steven Seagal. Christian Bale plays such a bad arse mofo in this with his incredibly fast take-downs that almost appear subliminal. In one absolutely hilarious moment, Bale proves himself to be such a bad arse that he dispatches a bad guy before he even gets to have a swing! Yes, it’s problematic I suppose to have an unbeatable hero, but it’s cool and very, very funny. Seriously, how was this not inspired by Steven Seagal? The fights play like every Seagal fight you’ve ever seen, where the bad guys don’t connect even once. It’s as if Wimmer is saying: ‘You want a drawn-out boss fight? Fuck you, I’m not giving you one!’. Well played, Mr. Wimmer. Well-played. In fact, Bale comes off as so cool and unflappable that when he (and, it must be said, I too) gets completely blindsided by a major plot twist, instead of registering much of that devastating shock, he simply goes back into implacable ‘saviour of the world’ mode. Not a lot of films could get away with something like that, but somehow this one does. You got duped, Mr. Bale and so did I. It’s just that you’re a lot cooler about it than me. It’s a really slick, impressive-looking film, too, as shot by Aussie Dion Beebe (“Chicago”, “Collateral”, “Miami Vice”, “Edge of Tomorrow”). The seriously cool action-packed opener (somewhere between “The Matrix” and “Assault on Precinct 13”) in particular features some terrific use of darkness, shadow, and light. He also thankfully eschews the shaky-cam shit in action sequences. Amen to that! The vision Wimmer, Beebe, and the production designer Wolf Kroeger (“Last of the Mohicans”, “The 13th Warrior”, “Reign of Fire”) have for the future is interestingly grey, drab, and somewhat industrial-looking.

 

If the film has any flaw, it might be in the casting department, though Christian Bale is perfectly cast as a stoic, pensive guy just cold enough to pass for someone not meant to be showing a whole lot of overt emotion, but not completely bland, either. I’m not a fan, but at least he’s not hammy and going all wannabe-Method on us for a change. Taye Diggs, meanwhile is punchably (a new word I just invented to piss off Spellcheck) smug, you’ll seriously hate the guy in this. Playing a jerk suits him well. I suppose Angus McFadyen is well-utilised too, as when he is called upon in films to display overt emotion, he can be an overacting disaster. Here he’s playing someone meant to be entirely devoid of emotion. He hasn’t been this good in “Braveheart”. He hasn’t been any good since “Braveheart”. Emily Watson, however, is surprisingly dull, perhaps taking the ‘emotionless’ idea a tad too far. William Fichtner finally gets to play a good guy here, and it’s clear why he doesn’t get the chance very often: He’s much, much better playing oily bad guys. He and the rock-solid Sean Pertwee, however, don’t get very much screen time. In fact, the long stretches of film that Fichtner’s character is absent for are a definite flaw. The film is full of familiar names and faces, and there’s just not enough for all of them to do here. Sure, we all know what Sean Bean is going to do the moment he pops up (insert your own ‘red shirt’ Sean Bean meme here), but why does Aussie TV and film actor Dominic Purcell completely disappear after the first scene? Was it his first Hollywood gig or something? More scenes for the Pertwee and Fichtner (no matter what I think of his casting) characters would’ve made for a stronger film. I mean, the late David Hemmings even pops up for a cameo to make it hard for anyone who knows him from his 60s work to explain to younger generations that yes, he used to be a sex symbol.

 

An emotion-based spin on “Fahrenheit 451” that plays as if it were directed by The Wachowskis (“The Matrix”, “Bound”). Actually, that’s a little unfair, as this was clearly made by a real visual stylist and so Kurt Wimmer (whose screenwriting credits are extremely dubious if you ask me) deserves the credit, wholeheartedly. It won’t be a mixture for everyone, but I reckon this one’s extremely underrated and wholly entertaining. Give it a go if you missed it on original release (which probably factors in just about everyone!). I have absolutely no idea why it was so appallingly mis-marketed and barely released, but it appears to be slowly gaining a deserved cult following.

 

Rating: B-