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 28, 2015

Review: Jersey Boys


The story of musical group Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and the Four Seasons, as we see them graduate from young 1950s New Jersey hoodlums to 1960s hit-makers. We also witness band member Tommy De Vito’s (Vincent Piazza) continued hoodlum ways and money problems threatening to derail the band, and the troubled home life of Valli (struggling to play husband and father whilst constantly on the road or in the studio). Other band members are played by Michael Lomeda and Erich Bergen (the latter playing the chief songwriter and keyboardist), whilst Renee Marino is Frankie’s frankly wholly unsuitable wife, Christopher Walken plays a local mob boss who helps the boys out from time to time throughout their lives. Joey Russo pops up as future actor Joe Pesci, who played a pretty big part in the band’s history.

 

Who would’ve imagined one day that Clint Eastwood would direct the film version of a stage musical? Well, the versatile director (“White Hunter, Black Heart”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Unforgiven”, “Play Misty for Me”, “Gran Torino”) has indeed given us this sturdy, if not especially challenging 2014 film about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Then again, he did previously direct the Charlie Parker biopic “Bird”, but that was a jazz guy and everyone knows Clint loves that genre. This is a biopic covering a very different musical genre. You could even argue that Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons were a ‘boy band’, albeit with actual talent and better songs. There’s nothing much different here from most other musical biopics, but what small differences the story does have, make the film worthwhile. Basically, it plays like “Goodfellas: The Musical” at times (right down to a character named Tommy DeVito and Joe Pesci himself being a part of the real-life story here. Amazing, but true!), and the thuggish background of the main characters helps give the film a bit of needed grit. It’s just a shame that the guy playing Pesci looks and sounds absolutely nothing like him, but still, you can’t make this stuff up, folks. Real-life is truly weird sometimes. Watching the film I was quite surprised at how shady Valli’s journey was. For some reason I had just assumed he was squeaky clean, but he and his buddies were quite the young hoodlums, not Pat Boone-types at all. I’m not sure how pervasive the F-word was during this time, but I’m not gonna argue with Clint Fuckin’ Eastwood if he tells me that these guys swore a lot. 80+ years old, but he still scares the crap out of me, OK?

 

John Lloyd Young probably gets a little too squeal-y with the falsetto as Valli, but for the most part does a damn good job vocally. For cryin’ out loud, the music was recorded live, so let’s give the guy some respect for coming relatively close. Young won a Tony for playing the part on Broadway, but in terms of acting, I actually think he gets blown away by co-star Vincent Piazza. In fact, Young is just OK in the lead (despite looking more like Eugene Levy than Frankie Valli), and the weakest of the four principal actors. I know I’ve made this mistake before, but if Piazza doesn’t become a star, I’ll be shocked. Interestingly, he’s the one guy out of the principal group who hasn’t already appeared in a stage version of this story. But I’m telling you, whatever ‘it’ is, Piazza has ‘it’. He plays the roughest of the Jersey boys, and has a brooding intensity and charisma to him that renders everyone else pretty much invisible. What Piazza has can’t be taught, and it’s amazing that the one guy with the least experience with this story is the one to come out on top in my eyes. The other acting standout here is much less surprising, Christopher Walken. Playing a somewhat genial local mobster known to the boys, he’s still damn intimidating and steals his every scene as is his wont. C’mon, it’s Christopher Walken in a Clint Eastwood movie, what’s not to love? He gets the film’s funniest line during a tense scene involving Tommy’s monetary issues spiralling out of control. I won’t spoil it, you need to hear it for yourself, but it’s hilarious. I’m surprised, though, that he didn’t think Valli and the Four Seasons needed more cowbell. I think that was an oversight.

 

The film is good-looking, so long as you can take Eastwood’s trademark low-level lighting via cinematographer Tom Stern (“Million Dollar Baby”, “Flags of Our Fathers”). It’s a very brown/grey-looking film, almost B&W, but for me it suits the era and the material. I also actually appreciated the film’s to-camera narrative device (retained from the musical), I found it as charming as the four-letter words and violence. Scripted by the writers of the musical, Marshall Brickman (“Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”) and Rick Elice, I was less enamoured with the annoying choppiness of the structure overall and with Eastwood once again taking cheap pot-shots at gays. After making the rather more complex “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and after hearing that he believes it’s no one’s business if gays want to get married or not (rather surprising to hear from the guy who made “The Eiger Sanction”), I was just a bit disappointed with the way Eastwood has portrayed one rather prominent gay character in this film as being swishy, decadent and untrustworthy. Having said that, perhaps this is more indicative of the musical, rather than any prejudice on Eastwood’s part. Also, the character becomes softened somewhat after a while anyway.

 

One of the best things about the film is that despite being based on a stage musical…it’s not actually a musical. It’s a biopic about musicians that contains some songs. That’s good for someone like me who generally hates musicals. The funny thing is, I watched this film with the impression that I wasn’t a fan of Frankie Valli. I love 50s and 60s music, but the only Valli song I could recall at the time was ‘Oh What a Night’ which I hate with a passion. Then as the movie progressed, time after time I found myself realising that I knew all of these songs and really loved most of them. ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘My Eyes Adored You’, and ‘Walk Like a Man’ are bonafide classics that I assumed someone else sang. ‘Sherry’ is another good song on show here, it’s hard not to like that one. So I guess you could say that the one thing I learnt overall here, though, was that I actually do like Frankie Valli’s music, something I really didn’t think was true going in. Well…let’s qualify that a bit. I’d like to say ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ was a favourite, but hearing it so often in movies (“The Deer Hunter” and “Forrest Gump” immediately spring to mind) has rendered that thing a fucking earworm for me. It’s a good song, I just never want to hear it again. EVER. I still hate ‘Oh What a Night’, too (And it shouldn’t even be here given it came from the re-formed group, sans Valli!). Having said that, the song and dance set piece involving that song over the end credits made my heart feel glad. It’s just so…nice, despite the song (And you can bet it’s the one reason Walken signed on to do the film, so he could get out there and dance). I’m not kidding, that song needs to die already. Hate it. I also have to mention once again, good songs or not, Valli’s voice (or Young’s occasionally shriek-y interpretation of it) is almost too much to bear after a while.

 

A solid, if standard biopic, it’s good for what it wants to be. The grittiness here is the chief asset, and that is more a credit to the story than Clint Eastwood’s direction. Vincent Piazza is one to watch in the future.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb


Egyptologist Andrew Keir gives his staggeringly beautiful daughter Valerie Leon a new ring for her birthday. This isn’t any ordinary ring, though, as Leon eventually discovers that her father found it in (and swiped it from) the tomb of Queen Tera, an ancient Egyptian ruler who was executed for supposedly engaging in sorcery. And get this- Leon was born on the same day that the tomb was discovered by Keir and looks exactly like Queen Tera! (Just ignore the fact that Keir has lustful thoughts for his daughter’s doppelganger, mind you). Meanwhile, for some bizarro reason, Keir has Queen Tera’s amazingly perfectly preserved body lying in his cellar. That’s awfully convenient, since Queen Tera now seems to be having some kind of evil influence on Leon. One by one the people on Keir’s excavation of Queen Tera’s tomb start to be bumped off. James Villiers plays an unscrupulous colleague of Keir’s who is always skulking about, whilst Mark Edwards plays Leon’s boyfriend. The members of Keir’s excavation crew include George Coulouris and Rosemary Crutchley, whilst Aubrey Morris plays the family doctor (not named Dr. Deltoid, however), and James Cossins is a vile insane asylum attendant.

 

One of Hammer’s best early 70s efforts, this 1971 version of Bram Stoker’s Jewel of the Seven Stars is vastly superior to the mediocre Charlton Heston movie from the same source, “The Awakening”. The film’s original director Seth Holt (Hammer’s “The Nanny”) died during filming, with Hammer producer Michael Carreras (son of Hammer founder James, no less) taking over but you can’t see the seams at all. Scripted by Christopher Wicking (“Demons of the Mind”, “To the Devil- A Daughter”), sometimes a gradually revealing plot can be annoying, but here the opening twenty minutes or so are genuinely intriguing. Valerie Leon’s world class cleavage is only a couple of the major assets here. Seriously, her and fellow Hammer babe Stephanie Beacham (“Dracula AD 1972”) had the best cleavage in the biz outside of a Russ Meyer film.

 

The atmospheric opener is good stuff, and the film rarely disappoints from there, with a particularly fine Tristram Cary (“The Ladykillers”, “The Fourth Wish”) score, one of Hammer’s best scores. The premise is as irresistible as Ms. Leon’s ample charms, and the set designer must’ve had a particularly good time on this flick. It surely must’ve been the second best job next to whoever got to gaze upon Ms. Leon’s beauty every day. The cast, although lacking a Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee is pretty much as good as you can get otherwise. Leon isn’t just a gorgeous set of eyes…or tits. She’s genuinely underrated and does a jolly good job at playing the two very different incarnations of her character. She certainly ain’t one of the Collinson twins (“Twins of Evil”), that’s for sure. I also think her cleavage deserved at least a couple of Golden Globes. But enough of the sexism for terrible comedy’s sake. Given how terrific he is at playing a snotty, untrustworthy prick here, it’s a shame that James Villiers didn’t go on to better things. Like the late Ralph Bates, one feels like his career should’ve panned out much better. He’s no Christopher Lee, but he’s probably the next best thing for imperious, disdainful villainy. Stalwart character actor Andrew Keir is a very solid hand and a reliable, respectable presence on screen. He was a replacement for Peter Cushing when the latter’s wife dying saw him pull out. Keir certainly gives the impression of being more than just a last minute replacement. Richard Chamberlain-lookalike Mark Edmonds is no Olivier, but so far as Hammer romantic leads go, you could do a lot worse. The in-joke with his character being named Tod Browning is cute too. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, though one of the best, Rosalie Crutchley is much better than the tiny role she has affords her to be. The always eccentric Aubrey Morris has a rather extraneous role here, but as always he is so eccentric he seems to come from a different planet and you can’t help but want to see more of him. George Coulouris, like Crutchley, has certainly seen better days. I mean, the guy was in “Citizen Kane” for crying out loud. However, at least he gets to be a part of the film’s best scene, as he totally flips out in an insane asylum and gets attacked. The camera goes similarly nuts, too. It’s a wild moment, and apparently Carreras was responsible for these scenes. James Cossins also turns up as an orderly, and is his usual odious self. I’m sure he was a helluva guy, but he’s a spectacularly loathsome screen presence.

 

The film’s view of sexual content is typically British, but marginally more risqué than the usual Hammer film. Leon is seen eating a banana at one point and both she and the director knew exactly what they were doing. However, Leon’s a bit coy in showing her breasts beyond ample cleavage, but she (or possibly her body double) shows us what a lovely bum she has. Also typical of a Hammer film, there’s more violence on display than sex. If you like your throat-slashing, this movie’s got you covered. Lovely stuff.

 

I’m not about to call this an A-grade horror movie or anything, but for a film made during Hammer’s last gasp, it’s pretty solid entertainment, especially if you like your mummy movies. Villiers, Leon, and Keir definitely deliver, as does the film on a technical level for the most part. 

 

Rating: B

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: Tusk


Justin Long is a nerdy but arsehole-ish podcaster who hosts ‘The Not See Party’ (apparently pronounced ‘Nazi Party’, because…Kevin Smith failed high school, maybe?) with his buddy Haley Joel Osment (yep!). As part of the podcast, Long travels to all kinds of places to follow up on viral video stories and make fun of the people who have made or starred in them. He’s headed to Canada to visit ‘Kill Bill Kid’ but learns when he gets there that the Kid has committed suicide. He thinks the trip has been a bust, when he comes across an interestingly weird note on a urinal notice board (?) at a bar, from a supposedly lonely old man promising interesting and wild tales of seafaring adventures. Because Long is a movie character, he thinks it’d be a great idea to check this story out, and winds up at the abode of old windbag Michael Parks, whose interior decorating mostly consists of animal trophies and other macho but weird oddities. Unfortunately, the longer the old man talks, and the more tea Long drinks, the drowsier her gets, until he completely fades out. When he awakens, he finds that his legs have been amputated! Parks claims it was a spider bite and that a doctor (whom he won’t let Long see) has amputated his legs, sedated him and suggested he rest up at Parks’ house. Long is suspicious, and soon finds out that Parks is a complete loon who has a very peculiar repurposing of Long’s body in mind! Genesis Rodriguez plays Long’s way too-hot girlfriend back home, whilst a very famous, unbilled movie star (you’ll recognise him immediately unless you’re incredibly myopic) turns up as an idiotic, French-Canadian detective.

 

After the commercial buddy movie sell-out “Cop Out” and the strangely unenlightening misfire of “Red State”, writer/director Kevin Smith (“Dogma”, and a bunch of stuff that isn’t as much fun as “Dogma”) takes to bringing a podcast episode to the big-screen with this 2014 flick that might be even worse than his two previous outings. Supposedly based on a true story, the actual truth is that this is merely a big-screen expansion of a podcast episode centred around Smith finding a bizarro classified ad. He has thus turned the finding of that ad into a fictional film where the ad isn’t the same one that he talked about on the podcast! (The one in the podcast stated that the person needed to dress like a walrus and be fed fish. Here the poor sap is unawares) Not only that, but the person who originally placed the ad fessed up to it being a prank anyway. I’m sorry, but that’s a pissweak excuse for labelling something a ‘true story’, Kevin. The film itself is a failure, an unfortunate stretching out of a fun, but incredibly thin story idea. There’s simply not enough material here for a feature length film, and the longer it goes on, the more obvious this is.

 

The performances bar one are pretty terrific (it’s some of the best work Michael Parks has ever done), and the Robert Kurtzman FX/makeup provide a very funny visual (He’s the K in KNB EFX, who have been around for decades). I also liked something that was the one thing that worked for me with “The Human Centipede”: The evil scheme makes absolutely no sense, and nor should it. The guy is nuts, and he’s doing a nutty thing because of his general nuttiness. That’s all. I kinda liked that lack of real explanation. Anything else would’ve likely disappointed. Still, it’s not nearly enough to make the film worthwhile, though Parks’ house interior is hilariously overstuffed with macho animal trophies. It’s a one-joke movie, though, better suited to a segment in a horror anthology movie. It works up to a certain point (if typically talky for a Kevin Smith film, which may not be to your liking), but then it’s all played out, pretty much and with far too much screen time left to go. And who the fuck posts an ad at a urinal? Who the fuck answers an ad they see at a urinal? Not a smart person, that’s for sure. Also not helping matters is one bit of self-indulgent buffoonery from an uncredited but blatantly obvious eccentric star, who mugs mercilessly and heavily-accented, to negative gain. You’ll want to slap the guy in question silly, and then slap Smith for letting him run all over the film.

 

I just don’t know what the fuck Smith was thinking here, if he was just having a lark, perhaps he should’ve just kept it to his inner circle, because it’s not funny enough to the rest of us. Pretty lame, really, and even the “Degrassi” jokes aren’t funny. Even worse are the ‘Not See Party’ gags. ‘Not See’ only sounds like Nazi, if you’re an American or Canadian, elsewhere the joke falls flat.

 

Justin Long is perfectly believable as a douchebag who used to be a likeable nerd before semi-fame went to his head. He’s wonderfully obnoxious and glib, Parks is believably and amusingly weird. The film just doesn’t cut it, and directors need to stop indulging the every whim of eccentric movie stars, even ones who quite often hit it out of the park.

 

Rating: C

Review: The Interview


James Franco stars as an idiot egotist trashy TV interviewer/host named Dave Skylark (think Matthew Lillard doing Ryan Seacrest as the host of a Larry King type-show), who learns he has a fan in North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). He and his more sensible producer (Seth Rogen) are ecstatic when they land the interview of the century, but soon realise the gravity of the whole thing when the CIA (personified by a bemused Lizzy Caplan) come knocking, hoping to seize an assassination opportunity. Even then Skylark seems all gung-ho about it, that is until he meets a disarmingly sweet and cool Kim Jong-un, who loves margaritas and Katy Perry. Diana Bang plays the pretty North Korean woman given the task of handling Skylark and his producer, the latter of whom sparks seem to fly with!

 

Here it is, the film at the centre of the Sony hacking scandal. The film that was potentially never going to be released. Frankly, this 2014 comedy from co-director pairing Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the writing duo behind the enjoyable “Superbad”) isn’t worth the hype, scorn, or…well, it’s not worth much of anything. It pretty much sucks, but even on that level it’s not especially memorably bad. It’s just a really dumb and really lame film not terribly worth talking about at great length.

 

I won’t deny I chuckled a few times, but for the most part this one’s a bit of a snoozer. The opening scene is an example: A cute little North Korean girl singing a song about wishing bad things for America in a sweet voice….Yawn. It’s “South Park”-style humour, except “South Park” was (at least until Isaac Hayes left and it went downhill) frequently uproariously funny, and actually occasionally very clever. This film goes to all of the obvious places, plus lots of scatological humour thrown in for no good measure. It’s your typical militantly non-PC comedy, and whilst I’m not the biggest PC guy (i.e. I believe it’s a good thing, but also believe it gets taken too far sometimes), I think I probably hate the anti-PC brigade even more. I mean, outside of “South Park” and Billy Connolly, I don’t tend to find such flagrantly non-PC style comedy all that uproarious, usually because there’s nothing else going on. Just breaking taboos for the sake of it and expecting this alone to be funny. It very rarely is. With “South Park” there was always a point to it, with Billy Connolly, it’s always part of a story that is being told. So this is just your typical non-PC Rogen/Franco collaboration full of dick and pussy jokes and a few lame political pot-shots. There’s an audience for this film, but I’m not it.

 

To be honest, I tend to prefer Seth Rogen and James Franco separately rather than together, and this film does nothing to change my mind on that. Franco is quite simply miscast and painfully unfunny. Although he is one of the worst and most random choosers of projects, the Oscar-nominated actor has very obvious talent. Solely in dramas, however. The guy just isn’t a comedic actor at all, and playing a smarmy, ego-driven TV interviewer in a supposed comedy just isn’t in his wheelhouse whatsoever. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Franco’s role should’ve gone to Ashton Kutcher. That’s how bad Franco is. He’s awful. Just look at his Gollum impersonation. It’s terrible. In fact, for all of the “Lord of the Rings” references throughout the film, I don’t think Franco, Rogen, or Goldberg are actually fans at all. Sure, Kutcher’s not terribly funny, either, but at least I’m pretty confident that ‘douchebag TV interviewer’ is in Kutcher’s very small wheelhouse. The only time in the whole film Franco made me laugh was his rant about missing the ‘money shot’, which is pretty terrific. As for Rogen, he’s more palatable, and slightly funnier than Franco, but rather boring to be honest. He seems somewhat neutered. You really know you’re in trouble when Eminem gets the biggest giggles in the film. He parodies his reputation for being homophobic and it’s genuinely amusing as he (seemingly subliminally) appears to ‘come out’ on TV. Hell, even Rogen gets a good line exclaiming ‘Eminem’s gay on our show!’. It was a nice surprise in a film full of obvious and unfunny gags. In fact, I liked that it was ‘gay humour’ without actually being homophobic, a tricky balance that I think the film narrowly succeeds in navigating. Lizzy Caplan’s got ‘something’, but it’s not the ability to choose good scripts. She’s given so little to work with here, but her obvious charisma shines through nonetheless. Randall Park doesn’t look remotely like Kim Jong-un, and isn’t the slightest bit funny, either (“Team America: World Police”, from the “South Park” guys, was much funnier in lampooning his kooky dad in marionette form), though Diana Bang sure is a cutie I’d like to see in more films. Preferably decent ones. She’s a real find, I think (Diana Bang is an awesome name for a Bond girl, too if you ask me).

 

This is so boring and badly done on the whole that I couldn’t even be bothered getting outraged by it. I won’t deny that there are a few chortles throughout, but only a few, and only chortles. This wouldn’t start WWIII so much as bore people to death. The most memorable thing are a couple of really cool musical choices, such as Isaac Hayes’ excellent cover of ‘Walk on By’ and the amusing usage of Scorpion’s whistle-tastic ‘Winds of Change’ (possibly the funniest moment in the film). Love that song, cheesy or not.

 

It isn’t as bad as “Your Highness” or “This Is the End” (the latter being the previous directorial effort from Rogen and Goldberg), but it’s not much better, either. It sure as shit ain’t “The Great Dictator” (or “Spies Like Us”, for that matter). It’s so boring, lazy, and doesn’t remotely deserve any of the attention or press (good or bad) it received. If it weren’t for the whole Sony scandal, this would be instantly forgettable. Fuck it, it’s not even getting into my Bottom 10 of the year, either. It’s not worthy of such distinction. The screenplay is by Dan Sterling (interestingly, a former writer for “South Park”, as well as producer of the US version of “The Office”), from a story by Sterling, Rogen, and Goldberg.

 

Rating: D+

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Dracula Untold



Set in Transylvania in the 15th Century but starring the very English Luke Evans as Vlad, a prince who refuses an order by a rival Turkish leader to hand over 1,000 youths for their army, including Vlad’s own son. This means a war is certain to break out between the two leaders, but before the battle begins (a battle Vlad’s decidedly smaller army will surely lose), Vlad goes off to a mysterious cave, in desperate search for a solution. There he makes a deal with a vampire (played by Charles Dance) whereby drinking the vampire’s blood will temporarily give him the vampire’s powers. However, he must refrain from feeding on blood for three days or else he will permanently become one of the undead. Vlad returns to take on the Turkish army…and defeats them singlehandedly. Like, he’s the only one out there fighting them, and he kills them. All of them. On his own. Killed dead. Unfortunately this results in his people (not to mention his wife, played by Sarah Gadon) being deeply suspicious of him, ‘coz y’know, he went all Dr. Manhattan on an entire army by his lonesome and he looks a lot more like Luke Ford than Dr. Manhattan. Meanwhile, the slimy Turkish sultan (played by Dominic Cooper) waits for the perfect opportunity to attack once more.

 

The kind of movie you go into expecting to hate, and end up almost kinda liking. In fact, if the film was just about a random vampire and not Vlad the Impaler (AKA Dracula), this 2014 Gary Shore (a feature film debutant) flick would be quite enjoyable. But it is, and therefore it’s not. Oh, well, it does have its moments, however, especially the cameo appearance by Max Schreck-like Charles Dance, by now an old pro at classing up crummy material (And no, I’m not talking about “Game of Thrones”, nothing wrong with that material). He’s excellent, but sadly not in the film much at all. He is more Dracula-esque than Luke Evans is, if you ask me.

 

Rather than Dracula, for the most part this plays like “Braveheart Already Told” (with a lot of “300” and “Lord of the Rings” thrown in on the cheap, too). Given any other title about any other character, this really wouldn’t be too bad. Luke Evans is genuinely solid in the lead. Unfortunately, he’s playing Dracula and this Dracula is a total pussy. This guy doesn’t even much live up to the name Vlad the Impaler, let alone the fictional Dracula. He’s Aragorn-lite, a noble hero/warrior who only impaled his enemies so that those left alive would fear him. Uh-huh, yeah he was supposed to have done that, but still it’s glossed over here, no one really questions how fucked up that is, no matter the reason behind it. We’re just meant to assume that ‘ol Vlad had noble intentions despite the cruelty of the act itself. It was just a PR stunt meant to protect his people (Never mind that the real Vlad Tepes apparently staked his own people too!). Sure, it’s trying to give us a different take, but it’s so far removed so as to be completely unrecognisable, inconsistent, and rather pointless. It’s such an easy problem to correct that it ends up being really frustrating. I could’ve enjoyed this, but I ultimately didn’t because of the false advertising.

 

There’s some nice FX as Dracula is hit by sunlight and it causes his skin to flake off his skull a bit. However, they half-arse his transition to full-on Dracula by having him betrayed and burned before he gets a chance to lose his fight against his animalistic instincts. It’s bullshit revisionism, making Dracula (who, unlike Vlad Tepes, is a fictional character, mind you. There’s nothing in history to really bring the two together as one and the same) a reluctant blood-sucker pushed to the edge. Hell, even when he feeds on his wife, it’s only because she insists, and she’s dying anyway. Basically, by casting him as hero/anti-hero, this Dracula lacks bite, and Dominic Cooper isn’t especially believable casting as the villain. I did like how he prepared for the final fight by pouring silver coins all over the ground, though. That’s clever. The ending is interesting, suggesting a modern day-set sequel, though I would be surprised to see the franchise continue all that much further if this is the best they can do.

 

The film is a lot better than expected, but it’s so hard to recommend when it’s so toothless, non-committal, and inconsistent about its title character. Revisionism isn’t always a bad thing (and once again I’ll point out that Dracula is a fictional character), but in this case, it doesn’t work because the character ends up not making any sense whatsoever. Ultimately, the film is just watchable, though Luke Ford is solid in the lead (Thank Jeebus that the casting of Aussie bogan Sam Worthington never panned out!), and Charles Dance is excellent in a creepy cameo. Better than “Francis Ford Coppola’s Shitty Version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula” at any rate (And “Dracula 2000” for that matter). Pretty good, thumping music score by Ramin Djawadi (“Game of Thrones”, “Iron Man”, “Pacific Rim”), is a highlight. The clichéd, tepid screenplay is by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (who both went on to the Vin Diesel flick “The Last Witch Hunter”).

 

Rating: C+

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


The evil Foot Clan is wreaking havoc across the city and ambitious reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) wants to get a big scoop to impress her boss. What she stumbles upon is The Foot being attacked by shadowy avengers of some kind. These avengers eventually reveal themselves to be the title pubescent (?) reptiles, who live in the sewers and are the thought-to-be-dead product of a mutation experiment that April’s father was working on when she was a little girl. Yes, these are the same test subjects she helped name after famous artists that she was totally aware of as a child. They are; Stoic leader Leonardo (Motion-Capture performance by Pete Plozek, but voiced by a bland Johnny Knoxville), juvenile party dude Michaelangelo (Noel Fisher, a million miles from TV’s “Shameless”), brainiac Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and the brooding warrior Raphael (Alan Ritchson). Their sensei is a former lab rat turned sage paternal figure named Splinter (Danny Woodburn, but voiced by an unrecognisable Tony Shalhoub). The big evil plot here involves Foot leader Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) attempting to release the mutagen that birthed the turtles and Splinter, into the wider community. Or something like that. William Fichtner turns up as a smarmy rich former business partner of April’s deceased father (who totally isn’t a bad guy at all- honest!), Whoopi Goldberg (seemingly distracted and vaguely cognisant- just like she is on TV!) plays April’s bemused boss, while Will Arnett plays April’s bemused cameraman.

 

I can’t quite remember exactly when I stopped liking the Ninja Turtles, because I distinctly remember seeing the first two films, but I don’t remember how I actually felt about them, except that I didn’t love them. I do however, remember watching and enjoying the cartoon and owning several of the toys, so I must’ve been a fan of the franchise for at least a while (Yet I had no idea they were a comic book creation until years later. Go figure!). The Turtles (That’s the Ninja Turtles, not the hit-makers behind the brilliant ‘Happy Together’) never really went away, as there have been a few more TV incarnations, an animated movie, and now here’s the 2014 live-action version for the current generation directed by Jonathan Liebesman (the underrated “Wrath of the Titans” the unwatchable “Battle: Los Angeles”). It’s extremely colourful and the CGI creatures look terrific, but overall it’s not significantly better than the 1990 film (though, as I said, I remember very little about it, so who knows?). It’s a bit less juvenile, I suppose, but I would’ve preferred an entirely CGI film. That’s how strong the CGI is here, and how annoying the rest is.

 

Producer Michael Bay (“Transformers”, “The Rock”) has clearly instructed cinematographer Lula Carvalho to go with the shaky-cam mode of camerawork, which is annoying and undoes some of the good work Carvalho and the FX team do in the visual department. Or maybe it was a directive from Liebesman, whose shaky “Battle: Los Angeles” was a visually incoherent eye-sore. I also found it strange that despite some of the actors playing/voicing them being white, the Turtles here seemed distinctly African-American in voice and attitude…but the more I thought about it (i.e. For about two seconds), I wasn’t sure what I even meant by that idea, and decided that I was just being silly. It probably wouldn’t make sense for them to be skater/surfer dude types in 2014 (Or maybe it would. I literally know nothing about kids today. I’m old. And I hate kids). They’re Ninja Turtles for the youngsters of today, so having them raised on hip-hop culture is probably smart and natural, and really it’s only Michaelagelo who seems like a real hippity-hopper, and since he’s always been the party animal of the group, it makes sense. And they do still retain some of the skateboard-riding anyway. Aside from Michaelangelo, they’re all kinda interchangeable as characters. If I weren’t already familiar with the characters, the only significant difference I’d detect between them is that Michaelangelo is a tool who needed to be punched out. He was every kid’s favourite when I was young, but he’s super-annoying in this.

 

As for leading lady Megan Fox, she has two acting modes: Open-mouthed pout and closed-mouthed pout. Hey, that’s one more than Kristen Stewart, at least. The film begins well with a cool graphic novel-like opener to get us up to speed. However, it’s not long before the unnecessary shaky-cam and Megan Fox failing to act bring things down. The supporting cast of comedically-inclined people is a bit of a headscratcher (Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Wylde, Taran Killam, Will Arnett), with Arnett spending the entire film with a ‘I do NOT want to be here’ look plastered on his face. Meanwhile, when William Fichtner turns up as a rich guy, he might as well be playing a guy named Dominic Badguy. Normally the highlight of a film, Fichtner actually phones it in for once. He’s playing the least surprising bad guy of the decade, so perhaps Fichtner just didn’t give a shit. I also wasn’t buying Megan Fox as someone who would name four turtles after famous artists. Even I first heard those names from this franchise, and I’m willing to bet I was more cultured as a kid than she has been at any stage in her life. As Shredder, Tohoru Masamune is far more badass and fearsome before he suits up, disappointingly.

 

Take out the shaky-cam and the lens flares and you’ve got a seriously pretty-looking film. However, you’ve still got a pretty uneven film and it still stars Megan Fox, backed up by a disinterested William Fichtner and a suicidally unhappy Will Arnett (he looks like he’s about to vomit when he delivers the ‘heroes in a half-shell’ line. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong!). It’s a lot better than it could’ve been, but nothing substantial. It’s just sorta…there, but at least it’s better than any of the “Transformers” films, as the turtles themselves are given far more emphasis than the title characters in those bloated misfires. Based on the Eastman and Laird comics, the screenplay is by Josh Appelbaum (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”), Evan Daugherty (“Snow White and the Huntsman”, the terrible “Killing Season”), and Andre Nemec (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”).

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: Predestination


We start in 1975 with an unsuccessful attempt at thwarting the plans of a terrorist named The Fizzle Bomber. We then come back to 1970 and Ethan Hawke is working as a bartender when a patron calling themselves John (Sarah Snook) claims to have a doozy of a story for him. It’s a story of abandonment, identity, and even female astronauts. And then Hawke shows John something that may change not only John’s future, but the unhappy past too. Noah Taylor turns up as a recruiter for the space program.

 

Based on a Robert Heinlein (“Starship Troopers”, “The Puppet Masters”) short story, this 2014 sci-fi/time-travel film is the mild best film so far from Aussie writer/director team The Spierig Brothers (who previously gave us the tedious zombie flick “Undead” and the overrated vampire film “Daybreakers”). It’s better than the much-loved (for some reason) “Looper”, but I think “Project Almanac” still stands as the best time-travel film of recent years. At about 90 minutes, it’s far too short for a film that only introduces its time-travel element 50 minutes in, so that it ends up feeling like two ever-so slightly underdone films instead of one wholly realised film. And yet, both parts of the film are pretty interesting on their own. It’s definitely the Brothers’ most impressively-mounted film, with a really cool noir-ish look to it that I really dug. It’s somewhere in between “Darkman” and “Dark City”, and very, very slickly shot by Ben Nott (“Daybreakers”, “Skin Trade”, “Tomorrow When What Happened Was Yesterday After the Day Before Two Weeks From Today”- No, I won’t stop making that joke!).

 

I was all set to fry the film for being yet another annoying time-travel film where two versions of the same person interact (something I rarely buy in time-travel films), but…here’s one of the few times where it actually works. OK, so Sarah Snook here makes one think of Tilda Swinton doing a late-90s Leonardo DiCaprio impersonation, as coached by Hilary Swank. I couldn’t shake it from my mind throughout. However, while her performance initially comes off as a self-conscious and unconvincing gender-bender deal, by the end of the film, you absolutely understand that she and the Spierig’s know what they are doing here and Snook’s performance is as good as any actress could manage under these circumstances. I have to be careful not to reveal anything too secretive here (I don’t think it’s remotely a secret that the film deals with time-travel), but as much as I’m not 100% sure if the internal logic totally holds up, the film’s twists and turns really gave me pause about the whole ‘meeting your future self’ thing (Not that you should get too stubborn or nitpicky on something fictitious like time-travel, I suppose). I think these guys have found a way to make it work satisfactorily for me. If nothing else, the film is a really interesting spin on the idea, and it’s pretty damn audacious I have to say.

 

Still, this isn’t the great film many are championing it to be. You can see great fragments here, there’s potential for greatness overall, but it’s underdone (Another Aussie film, “The Infinite Man” does a lot of the things this film does, but slightly more satisfactorily). The film needed fleshing out, and promises more than it delivers, due to the constraints of its running time. That makes it a much more frustrating experience than watching something with far less ambition and potential. Boy, is there some really interesting stuff in here, though, and it looks terrific.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Sexy Beast


Ray Winstone plays a retired gangland figure softened and tanning himself in sunny Spain with his ballsy wife Amanda Redman. An acquaintance (Cavan Kendall, who sadly died before the film’s release) brings news of the impending arrival of Winstone’s former boss (Sir Ben Kingsley), who has a job offer for Winstone back in London. Winstone isn’t interested. Kingsley isn’t interested in the word ‘no’. Kingsley is a volcano about to erupt in explosive, venomous profane tirades delivered in an ear-shatteringly loud manner towards the imposing-looking but laidback Winstone. Kingsley’s a scary fucker in small packaging, basically, even if his rantings aren’t always grammatically correct (My favourite being a response to Winstone turning the opportunity down: ‘You’ve got to turn this opportunity YES!’). Ian McShane plays the leader of the proposed criminal enterprise, whilst James Fox turns up briefly as the owner of a bank, whom McShane is attempting to dupe by pretending to be romantically interested in him.

 

Foul-mouthed, entertaining mixture of gangster pic and black comedy from 2001 directed by debutant Jonathan Glazer (“Birth”, “Under the Skin”) benefits from top-drawer performances by Ray Winstone and cast-against-type Sir Ben Kingsley. Winstone is perfectly cast as the crass, sun-tanning Brit in Spain. The opening scene hilariously introducing him and his pasty fat body as the title ‘Sexy Beast’. For some reason, that obvious ironic joke went over a lot of peoples’ heads. If you don’t think Ray Winstone has one of cinema’s greatest speaking voices, then you and I don’t have much use for one another, I’d say. However, the film truly comes alive when Gandhi himself, Ben Kingsley turns up as the diminutive but extraordinarily intimidating gangster. The venomous tirades are frightening enough, but his stillness and fixed gaze are also seriously unsettling…and yet funny too. His violently, psychotically stubborn character is a terrific movie creation, that is as frightening as he is hilarious- a tricky balance! Even the sight of Kingsley taking a piss with his hands on his hips is funny to me. It’s the kind of brilliant performance that makes you mad that Kingsley has pretty much pissed his career away outside of this film, “Schindler’s List”, and of course “Gandhi”.

 

To be honest, I think the film works best if you take it as a dark comedy. I mean, the only one here who isn’t scared of Kingsley is Amanda Redman, which is hilarious. The funniest moment in the film is probably when Kingsley is asked to put out his cigarette while on a plane. It goes comically poorly. I have to say, it’s pretty amazing how much the normally hardened and explosive Winstone tones it down here opposite the volatile Kingsley. Meanwhile, the soundtrack and the music score by Roque Banos are really good, giving the film a pulse. The big ‘heist’ is truly nuts, unlike anything I’ve seen before, so it’s a shame that the film is so short and doesn’t focus on it much. If there’s any real flaw, though, it’s with the unnecessary visual flourishes/dream sequences that just don’t seem to belong. It was Glazer’s first film, so perhaps he wanted to show off a bit (he came from a music vid background prior to this), but it isn’t to the benefit of the film.

 

I would’ve liked a few more scenes with James Fox, and particularly the very fine Ian McShane (who steals his every scene), whose characters aren’t really in the film enough to be fleshed out. Other than that, I don’t have an issue with the screenplay by first-time screenwriters Louis Mellis (who went on to write the bizarro western “Blueberry”) and David Scinto (who did not). One of the better Guy Ritchie-era British gangster movies, but this one really does work best when not taken too seriously. Winstone is excellent, Kingsley is incredible. 

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Imposter


The incredible true story of the disappearance in 1994 of 13 year-old Texan kid Nicholas Barclay, who supposedly disappeared. Three years later, Nicholas’ mother and sister receive word that Nicholas has been miraculously found…in Spain. They are shocked, Nicholas’ sister in particular (it is she who utters the hilariously ignorant line: ‘But that’s across country!’. Nicholas, however seems to have changed, and tells a wild story of kidnap and sexual abuse/torture. Why does he have different coloured eyes? Why does he now speak with a thick French accent? Well, that’s because he’s not Nicholas, but a con artist named Frederic Bourdin, who managed to fool the Spanish government, the FBI, and yes, Nicholas’ hick family. The fact that I’m telling you all of this (and the fact that the film itself is upfront about it by its very title!) shows, however, that there’s a lot more to this story. A whole lot more.

 

I already saw the fictionalised version of this story in “The Chameleon”, and this 2012 Bart Layton documentary indeed shows that yes, this really did happen and yes, this really is the most insane true story you’re ever likely to hear. It’s so unlikely that if you hadn’t heard that it were a true story, you wouldn’t believe it. You still might not believe it. It’s a good documentary (it’s really well shot, actually), but it’s a helluva story. If, like with “Sommersby” or “Changeling”, you roll your eyes at the basic premise of this having any believability at all, stick with it, because there’s a lot more than meets the eye here, lots of twists and turns, and at the end of the day, probably more questions than answers even after the film is over. About the only thing I was 100% sure of here was that the FBI and Spanish officials come out of this looking like complete fucking morons. No, it’s not just the bad dye job, it’s the accent. I mean, this guy’s not just speaking with an accent that he’s acquired over time (like when Aussie celebs move to the US for a while and come back sounding like a Yank), he genuinely speaks like someone for whom English is a second language. There’s a clear difference and it took them forever to notice it, it seems.

 

The thing that struck me most about this doco version of the story is just how many other missing kids Frédéric Bourdin could’ve ended up impersonating. It’s fascinating to ponder how things might’ve worked out had he instead tried to impersonate someone else. Did Bourdin really luck out here or what, given the kid he chose to impersonate had a gap in his teeth just like him? Even as the story takes twists and turns that seem to even surprise Bourdin, Bourdin still comes across as one helluva proficient con artist. Frank Abignale eat your heart out. The most interesting thing about the story to me is that you do get a bit of insight into why Bourdin did what he did and why he is the way he is given his own childhood. That is, if you can take anything he says for truth, which I don’t suppose you really can.

 

Aside from the fascinating story itself, it’s a genuinely well-made doco. The re-enactment footage has been shot in a rather cinematic manner, and we get some interesting cinematic storytelling tricks like inter-splicing cop show footage to represent the story this guy is telling. It’s cleverly done. I also think the story works best as a documentary, rather than fiction because it’s so incredible that being a documentary you are more likely to accept that this really did happen. I mean, when you hear his explanation for why he now has brown eyes when Nicholas Barclay had blue, the only reason why you accept it is because it’s a documentary and it really happened. You already know that this is the story of a con artist (and even then there are twists and turns that will surprise you) at the outset, so it’s easier to swallow because you already know going in that this really did happen and people really were fooled, perhaps by more than one person.

 

Just see it, it’s amazing. Trust me. A great true story that you won’t believe, but it really did happen.

 

Rating: B

Review: Silent Hill: Revelation


Sean Bean and his daughter Adelaide Clemens have moved towns several times over the last 6 years for reasons she doesn’t quite understand. However, she’s about to find out, as private detective Martin Donovan catches hold of her and explains that he has been hired to find her. He knows her real name, and says that she is supposed to come to a place called Silent Hill. Spooked, Clemens and new school chum Kit Harington (in his film debut) head home from school to see her dad, only to find that he is gone, and the words ‘Come to Silent Hill’ are written in blood on the walls. So it’s off to Silent Hill they go, a dreamscape place where demons and monsters, and insane Malcolm McDowell live. An unrecognisable Carrie-Ann Moss turns up as the chief villainess of the piece, whilst Deborah Kara Unger and Radha Mitchell briefly reprise their roles from the first film.

 

Although I’m not really a gamer (certainly haven’t played anything in about a decade at least), I nearly took a liking to the film adaptation of “Silent Hill”, and this 2012 sequel from writer-director Michael J. Bassett (the similarly OK “Solomon Kane” and the genuinely underrated “Wilderness”) isn’t so inferior as to require a lesser rating. You could do a helluva lot worse in the video game adaptation subgenre than these atmospheric, visually pleasing flicks, even if neither quite makes it into ‘good movie’ territory. Bloody close both times, though.

 

We don’t get off to a terribly auspicious start here. Although we get what looks like a Cenobite version of a merry-go-round, it’s followed up with one of cinema’s oldest clichés. Even more annoying than the ‘It was just a dream’ cliché, is the ‘It was just a dream…no wait, it wasn’t!...or maybe it was, Haha!’ cliché. I hate that shit right there. Meanwhile, Radha Mitchell returns in ghostly (i.e. Contrived) form to pretty much set up the film’s plot, unnecessarily I might add, in a scene set between the events of the first film and the beginning of this film’s plot. Confused? Yeah. However, I did like the casting of perennial pervert Martin Donovan as a character who is really only creepy and suspicious because he’s played by Donovan, and who may just be a red herring.

 

Like the first film, this is a good-looking, fog-enveloped nightmare of a film. Meanwhile, aside from the unnecessary involvement from Mitchell, the set-up to this actually isn’t uninteresting. It might remind you a little of an “Elm St.” sequel as the survivors of the previous film realise they can’t quite escape the nightmare. As with last time, there’s lots of cool, creepy imagery, and this one’s actually surprisingly gory at times too (You’ll get faint “Hellraiser” echoes at times). Lead actress and Michelle Williams doppelganger Adelaide Clemens (If you’re an Aussie, why would you name your child after one of our own states? Poor thing!) is pretty damn good in the lead role, easily the best actor in the entire film. A pre-“Game of Thrones” Kit Harington proves here that he knows nothing about American accents, though to be fair Sean Bean does about as good a job of it himself. Bean, by the way, has almost as much of an expository function in this film as does Mitchell. He’s just there to fill in the necessary narrative gaps and provide in his final scene the most shameless set-up for a second sequel that I’ve ever seen. Malcolm McDowell doesn’t do what I’d consider GOOD acting here, but he’s having a ball and makes for an amusing loon. Carrie-Ann Moss is no Alice Krige, however, by a long stretch.

 

What really bothered me about the film is the same main flaw the original had: After a while it becomes a whole lot of walking around, so that the creepy visuals and atmosphere are the chief pleasures, and after a while that sees the film lose you a bit. It’s the same ‘ol thing with a predominantly new cast. Not bad, not good, it has much more visual imagination than narrative imagination. That carries it somewhat, and the gore helps too.

 

The atmosphere and creepy visuals kept me more interested in this than I was expecting. Lead actress Adelaide Clemens impresses, and the film’s a lot better than it has any right to be. I mean, it’s not “Doom”, OK? That counts for something doesn’t it? Just shy of a recommendation, however. 

 

Rating: C+