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, December 12, 2015

Review: Witness


Harrison Ford is John Book, a Philly cop called in to investigate the murder of a cop at a train station. The only witness to the crime is a young Amish boy (Lukas Haas) travelling with his mother (Kelly McGillis). Although distrustful of outsiders, the mother and boy co-operate with Book and the latter identifies an African-American narcotics officer (Danny Glover) as the killer. Book soon realises the danger the boy is in and attempts to hide them, eventually settling on taking them back home to Amish territory, where seemingly no one would dare enter. He also comes to realise that the amount of people he can trust is much smaller than he first thought. Josef Sommer plays Book’s superior officer and trusted friend/mentor, Brent Jennings is Book’s partner, Alexander Godunov (in his English-language debut) and a young-ish Viggo Mortensen (in his screen debut) play Amish men, with Jan Rubes as McGillis’ stern and untrusting father. That’s Timothy Carhart as the cop getting bumped off early on in the film.

 

I’d forgotten just how good this 1985 crime-drama from Aussie director Peter Weir (“Picnic at Hanging Rock”, “Gallipoli”, “The Truman Show”) is. The plot isn’t terribly complex, and I have a few character issues with it, but this is damn good stuff, possibly a minor classic. An Oscar-nominated Harrison Ford gives one of his best-ever performances, the Oscar-nominated synth score by Maurice Jarre (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Train”, “Ghost”) is excellent, and cinematographer John Seale (“Gallipoli”, “The Hitcher”, “Gorillas in the Mist”) delivers top-notch work.

 

I found Kelly McGillis’ performance not quite believable to be honest. Even for an Amish woman who might be curious about what she’s been missing, she seems a tad too bold and wilful to convince in the part and way too old to be on rumspringa. But hey, how many Amish people do I know? Zero. I do know, however, that despite being a terrifically underrated character actor, Josef Sommer’s character proves far too clichéd and predictable. The game is given away by his first second on screen, and I don’t think it’s the actor’s fault entirely. Other than that, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this one.

 

It’s a pretty terrific piece of filmmaking right down to the ending that gets it as right as possible. It’s not a downbeat ending or anything, but a happier ending than this one just wouldn’t work, so I’m glad Weir and Oscar-winning screenwriters Earl W. Wallace (otherwise a minor TV writer) and William Kelley (a veteran of TV who only had one more credit after this, despite not passing away until 2003) resist the temptation to go for cliché there.

 

Young Lukas Haas is excellent in support (Just watch him in the murder scene at the train station. A remarkable talent for someone so young), as is a villainous Danny Glover, pre-“Lethal Weapon”. The late Alexander Godunov might seem strange casting as a smiling but cautious Amish person, but he’s actually pretty decent in the role, as is Jan Rubes playing essentially the Amish version of the Hassidic elder he later played in Sidney Lumet’s terrible rip-off “A Stranger Among Us”. I must admit, though, that Godunov can’t help looking like he wants to break someone’s skull, squish their brains and churn it like butter. He’s just got that look about him, it was his lot in life. The Amish characters on the whole aren’t free of stereotype, but are presented in much less of a clichéd manner than in other films with Amish characters you may have seen.

 

Apparently the script is highly thought of due to its simple but effective structure, and it’s certainly a pretty well-written film, if perhaps not quite Oscar-worthy in my view (And that goes for its Best Picture win as well). I’m so glad I revisited this one, I only wish I had done so sooner, because it’s a really entertaining film.

 

Rating: B

Review: The Rescuers


A young orphan girl has been kidnapped by the ghastly thief Madame Medusa (voiced by Geraldine Page) and forced to search for a precious diamond stuck in some kind of cave. The poor girl’s only hope appears to be two mice from the Rescue Aid Society, Bernard (voiced by Bob Newhart) and Miss Bianca (voiced by Eva Gabor). Jim Jordan voices Orville the Albatross, who flies the mice to the girl’s rescue. John McIntire voices an aging cat named Rufus who befriended the girl prior to her kidnapping, John Fiedler voices an owl, and Pat Buttram voices a superfluous drunken bumpkin muskrat.

 

This 1977 Disney animated movie appears so rarely on TV that I actually saw the 1990 sequel first. The sequel (“The Rescuers Down Under”) is better, I might add, but this one’s pretty good in its own right and was obviously enough of a box-office hit to spawn the first-ever sequel for a Disney animated film. Things don’t start out too well I must say, with an absolutely dreary opening credits song ‘The Journey’ by a Barbra Streisand wannabe named Shelby Flint (The majority of the songs are drippy, Maureen McGovern-sounding dirges. Hardly ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ or ‘The Bear Necessities’). We also have what I consider to be the worst Disney character animation up until 1995’s  “Pocahontas” (The 40s and 50s era Disney animation is better than this). I’m sure this was a restored version I was watching, but you wouldn’t know it from how muddy it all looks. Gee, do you ‘ya think soon-to-defect Don Bluth was part of the animation team here? Bernard and Bianca in particular look totally lifeless and charmless here, despite typically good work by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, respectively. The only character who worked for me on a visual level was the intentionally horrid-looking villainess.

 

Still, the premise and title characters are charming (just not visually), as are the supporting characters. Veteran western character actor John McIntire is terrific as elderly cat Rufus, and Geraldine Page voices one of Disney animation’s best villains, Medusa. She steals the show as the ghastly-looking (and sounding), alligator-riding (!) monster of a woman. She’s like an animated Wicked Witch of the West, and I’d argue she’s a better Disney villain than the very similar (and still terrific) Cruella De Vil, simply by being in the film a lot more than Cruella was in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”. John Fiedler’s vocal talents sadly end up wasted voicing an owl who only speaks with 15 minutes to go.

 

It’s a briskly paced film, and better than “The Great Mouse Detective”, but a tad dreary visually and aurally. Still, it’s pretty cute and Medusa’s really something to behold. The trio of directors are John Lounsbery (a former animator in his directing debut), Wolfgang Reitherman (“Sleeping Beauty”, “The Jungle Book”, “Robin Hood”), and Art Stevens (“The Fox and the Hound”). The film is scripted by Ken Anderson (“Pinocchio”, “Cinderella”, “The Jungle Book”), Vance Gerry (“Robin Hood”, “Hercules”, “The Great Mouse Detective”), Larry Clemmons (“The Jungle Book”, “Robin Hood”), David Michener (“The Fox and the Hound”, “The Great Mouse Detective”), Burny Mattinson (“The Fox and the Hound”, “The Great Mouse Detective”, “Beauty and the Beast”), Frank Thomas (an animator on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Fantasia”), Fred Lucky (a veteran storyboard artist), Ted Berman (“The Black Cauldron”), and Dick Sebast (a storyboard artist and occasional TV director), from the Margery Sharp series.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review: Chappie


Set in a future South Africa where robots designed by the Tetravaal Corporation comprise the police force. Robot designer Deon (Dav Patel) has been trying to perfect an artificial intelligence and believes he has finally worked it all out. Unfortunately, Tetravaal CEO Michelle Brady (Sigourney Weaver) won’t allow him to use one of the police robots to test it out, preferring he stick to making killing machines. Meanwhile, a trio of oddball would-be robbers (Yo-Landi Vi$$er, Ninja, and Jose Pablo Cantillo) are having trouble plying their trade with the rather successful police robots thwarting their every attempt. This leads them to kidnap Deon, who has just managed to get his hands on a robot that was damaged in the trio’s latest heist attempt and installs his newly developed A.I. chip into it. These annoying twits think the robots must have an ‘Off’ switch and that a smart fella designer like Deon should be able to help them out with that. He tries to show them that it doesn’t work like that, and in the process activates the newly A.I. fitted robot, which he names ‘Chappie’ (voiced by Sharlto Copley). Chappie, due to the way the A.I. works, starts off as a childlike innocent, and is easily led astray by the unscrupulous, crude robbers, who try to recruit Chappie in their crimes, angering Deon. However, if Deon is correct, Chappie should eventually be able to think and even feel for himself. That’s if he doesn’t get himself destroyed hanging out with no-good types and helping them commit robberies. While all of this is going on, Deon’s unscrupulous, military-minded rival Vincent (Hugh Jackman) slowly works out what Deon has been up to, and conspires to sabotage things so that his more hardcore military robots will become the robots of choice moving forward, rather than Deon’s police bots.

 

I was about the only person in the world who hated Neill Blomkamp’s dopey first film “District 9”, and one of the only people in the world who kinda liked his follow-up “Elysium”, even if I’m still not sure what the hell Jodie Foster was up to with her stiff performance and awkward accent. Now he’s decided to blend “Short Circuit” (and a little “Short Circuit 2”), “RoboCop”, and “A.I.” for this 2015 flick, his third film. It’s better than it sounds and a lot better than it looked in the trailer, but it’s still a bit uneven, and two supporting performances from poorly chosen non-actors really hurt it.

 

It’s actually not the rip-off it initially appears to be, the closest it gets to ripping anything off is when the characters played by Dav Patel and Hugh Jackman have their little internal squabble over whose robot technology should be used. That’s clearly a steal from “RoboCop”, with Sigourney Weaver playing Dan O’Herlihy, pretty much. When Jackman’s ED209-ish robot turns up, it’s pretty overt. That said, in practise, Jackman’s robot would kick ED209’s arse for sure. Other than that, I think the film is enough of its own film to not be called plagiaristic, so much as it has its clear influences. I do call bullshit on Hugh Jackman claiming to be sporting a mullet haircut in this film. As someone who kept a mullet hairstyle on and off for…far too many years, I can honestly say that there’s not nearly enough ‘party at the back’ to go with the ‘business at the front’. Those familiar with that hairstyle will know exactly what I mean. It looks more like a ‘faux-hawk’ with a bit of length at the back.

 

Although he seemed a bit “RoboCop” meets ‘Johnnny 5’, I’ll admit that Chappie is an interesting low-tech police robot...in theory. Sharlto Copley was terrific in “Elysium”, but isn’t an actor of the calibre of Andy Serkis, and can’t manage to motion-capture (or voice) an interesting performance in the role. His voice work is a bit forgettable, really. Anyone could’ve been doing it, and frankly the character is taken to all the most obvious and uninteresting places. There’s too much devoted to him learning hippity hop speak and profanity, like a corny fish-out-of-water thing. I hate that sort of comedy, more often than not (I liked it in “Short Circuit 2”, but I was 8 and haven’t seen it since), and when you add the irritating hippity hoppers…ugh. Spare me. Blomkamp had the potential for something interesting there, but he chooses to focus too much on his dopey Seth Effriken hippity hop pals than the intellectual, humanistic Patel. I think that’s a real mistake (And apparently the director refuses to work with Mr. Ninja again, after he proved to be quite the dick on set. Even Jackman, nicest guy in the world apparently got tired of his shit. If Hugh doesn’t like you, then I don’t like you either!).

 

Still, the robots are pretty terrific-looking, the FX here are a significant upgrade from the cheapo “District 9”, that’s for sure. The human cast has its ups and downs, but Dev Patel is ideally cast as the kindly, well-meaning inventor, and Hugh Jackman makes for a surprisingly enjoyable and surprisingly intimidating villain. He’s clearly enjoying the opportunity to play a bad guy in this one, not to mention hanging on to his natural accent (He ramped up the ocker a bit more in “Australia”, here it seems more natural). Seth Effriken hippity hop stars Yo-Landi Vi$$er (yes, that’s how it’s spelled!) and Ninja are by far the weakest links in the cast. They can’t act, they’re shrill and irritating, and major buzzkills to be honest. Their every moment on screen is excruciating, and I doubt we’ll see either of them (Yo-Landi in particular seems to find the very word ‘acting’ to be foreign to her) ever again in a film. I don’t know what the director was thinking there, but it drags the film down considerably. Also, why does Blomkamp include subtitles for scenes in which people are speaking clear and coherent English? I don’t find the Seth Effriken accent terribly hard to decipher, and I hope that’s the case for most.

 

Better than the “RoboCop” remake, and perhaps the film “Automata” (review forthcoming) wanted to be, this one’s wildly uneven, but there’s quite a bit to like here and there. The robots are pretty cool, the photography is thankfully stable, and Hugh Jackman makes for a good villain. However, the decision to cast a couple of hippity hoppers who seriously and aggressively cannot act, hampers things considerably, as does the lack of Sigourney Weaver. Watchable and significantly better than “District 9”, but not entirely satisfactory. Blomkamp co-wrote the screenplay with Terri Tatchell (AKA Mrs. Blomkamp, who worked on “District 9”).

 

Rating: C+

Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb


 

Things aren’t going well at the Natural History Museum, as Larry (Ben Stiller) discovers the exhibits are starting to freeze up and reverting to their wax state, perhaps permanently. The cause of this is that Ahkmenrah's (Rami Malek) tablet is starting to corrode. Now he must travel to the British museum to seek the exhibit that houses Ahkmenrah’s father (Sir Ben Kingsley) and get his help in correcting the problem before it’s too late. The whole gang, of course, accompanies Larry, including his teenage son (Skyler Gisondo), Dexter the monkey (played by Crystal the Monkey), and even a caveman exhibit who looks awfully familiar. Once they get there they also must contend with an arrogant Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens), and a horny security guard (Rebel Wilson). Ricky Gervais (insincere museum owner, Steve Coogan (Octavius), Owen Wilson (Jedediah), and the late Robin Williams (Teddy Roosevelt) all reprise their roles, whilst the three unscrupulous security guards from the first film are back too (played by Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs, and the late Mickey Rooney).

 

Even if Robin Williams’ death didn’t cast a pall over it, this 2014 film from Shawn Levy (the two previous films and “Cheaper By the Dozen”) would still be pretty pitiful and paltry anyway. The wheels completely fall off this otherwise cute but pretty disposable family franchise. I almost liked the first two films (the central idea is terrific), but this one’s just no fun at all, and I’m not at all surprised that Amy Adams didn’t return, and they even had to replace the kid (Skyler Gisondo in for Jake Cherry. I swear the former looks like Edward Norton and talks like Owen Wilson!).

 

The film starts with a random and frankly half-arsed “Indiana Jones” wannabe prologue, which immediately sends off alarm bells, though it’s always nice to see the underrated Matt Frewer on screen in a cameo. But half-arsed indeed sums up this whole film, from the cowboy and gladiator (Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan) discovering YouTube videos, to Rebel Wilson doing the same stupid shit she always does and is Never. Ever. Remotely. Funny. She also delivers the worst English accent of all-time. Yes, even worse than Dick Van Dyke’s cock-er-knee in “Mary Poppins”. Yes, even worse than Anthony LaPaglia’s pale Ozzy Osbourne imitation as Daphne’s brother on “Frasier”. Even the plot here feels more like “Night at the Museum 2.5” than “Night at the Museum 3”. Or perhaps “Night at the Museum: The Really Stale TV Movie that Somehow Made it to Theatres”. You really know a franchise is running out of gas when they move to another country/continent, and I say that as someone with a bit of fondness for “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”. It’s hardly “Police Academy: Mission to Moscow”, but it’s pretty tired. The strangest thing is that Ricky Gervais dials up the insincerity to 11 to the point where it seems like he’s phoning it in and somehow that still makes him amusing.

 

There’s amusing moments here and there in the film, I can’t deny that. The caveman who looks alarmingly like Stiller’s Larry (and there’s a good reason for that), is the highlight of the whole film. He’s hilarious. Also brilliant is Crystal the monkey, whose opening aerial stunt is spectacular, although hopefully faked with CGI. It’s amazing…and more than a little weird. There’s a cute reference to Pompeii, and a funny Jewish joke delivered by Sir Ben Kingsley, who clearly says yes to every script handed to him. Dick Van Dyke’s first moment on screen made me smile too (Bill Cobbs, meanwhile, always makes me smile. Love that guy!), though Mickey Rooney looks seriously unwell in his last film role.

 

As for the late, beloved Robin Williams…the film simply isn’t worthy of him, though let’s face it, he made worse films (There’s also a kind of tragic irony to the actor, late afflicted by Parkinson’s playing a wax figure come to life, but slowly losing their movement). His final scene kinda transcends a fictional film and goes straight to your heart, however. You’ll know what I mean if you see it. He is sorely missed to this day. Unfortunately, that moment is ruined by an ending that doesn’t even make any goddamn sense given everything that came before it! Ugh! Also, points off for not knowing that a Triceratops (or in this case, the re-animated skeleton of one) is a herbivore, not a carnivore, and thus would likely not chase after humans, let alone wax figures come to life. Who the hell doesn’t know that? And yes I do know how silly I sound. I’m still right. The cameos by Hugh Jackman and Alice Eve are truly awful. Hugh’s a great bloke and can do lots of things, but he ain’t naturally funny, especially when he’s trying to be (Eve is even more awkward and forced). As for the totally not fictitious Sir Lancelot (played by Dan Stevens), he’s Buzz Lightyear in the first “Toy Story”, a belligerent arse who doesn’t know he’s not really ‘real’. Like Buzz, he gets annoying real fast.

 

Tedious and tired, the monkey and the caveman are the only things worth a damn in this one I’m afraid. Even Stiller (in his main role at least) comes across as particularly irritable here, and until his final scene in the film, the late Robin Williams is just…there. What a waste. It’s kinda crap, and mostly unfunny. The screenplay is by David Guion and Michael Handelman (writers of the mediocre “Dinner for Schmucks”), from a story by them and Mark Friedman (“Home of the Brave”). Read a book instead, kids.

 

Rating: C-

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Review: Against All Odds


Jeff Bridges plays a footballer named Terry who is getting on in years and plagued by injuries. He’s pissed when he ends up cut from the team, despite being there a long time and always putting in 110%. Now strapped for cash until he can find a spot on another team, he gets a job offer from an old friend, Jake (James Woods). Jake is a nightclub owner and bookie whose girlfriend Jessie (Rachel Ward) stabbed him during one of their many fights and ran off on him, taking $50,000 of Jake’s money with her. She did leave the dog, though, which is nice of her. Jake loves her, though, and needs her back. Terry then goes to visit his team owner (played by Jane Greer) and her business partner (Richard Widmark) to see if she can put him back on the team. When Greer finds out about Jake’s offer, she makes Terry a counter-offer: See, Jessie is Greer’s estranged daughter, and she wants her found too…so she can get her the hell away from the vile Jake. She won’t reinstate Terry, but she is willing to pay him more than Jake is offering. She suggests he look down in Mexico, though Terry’s training coach (Alex Karras) suggests he stay the hell out of it, while he sees if he can get Terry a coaching gig. Terry ignores this advice and heads to Mexico where he indeed comes across the runaway rich girl. Knowing that Terry has been sent either by Jake or her mother, she’s reluctant to have anything to do with him. However, he’s hot, she’s hot, and you know how these things go. They become lovers, enjoying some fun in the sun. And then Karras turns up out of the blue and that’s when things get truly messy. Saul Rubinek plays the sleazy team lawyer, Swoosie Kurtz plays Rubinek’s lonely secretary who has the hots for Terry, Dorian Harewood plays Jake’s lackey, and Bill McKinney appears briefly as an assistant coach.

 

This 1984 loose Taylor Hackford (“Proof of Life”, “Ray”) remake of the noir flick “Out of the Past” is one of those frustrating films that inches so very close to being a good film…but never quite gets there. There’s a lot to like here, but small issues add up and prevent it from making the grade. Pacing, for instance is a problem. Building the relationship between Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward is important and the island locales are lovely, but Hackford and screenwriter Eric Hughes (Hackford’s “White Nights”) spend too much time with them at the beach, at the expense of pace and tension. Ward, by the way, doesn’t even enter the film until about 30 minutes have passed, which doesn’t help. Also, as much as I love the Grammy-winning (and Oscar-nominated) Phil Collins title song, I don’t think it actually suits the story at all, nor does the very 80s pop score by Michel Colombier (“Purple Rain”, “Posse”) and Larry Carlton (a well-known rock guitarist who at one point was in Steely Dan) fit in at all. I’ve heard Hackford originally wanted Dire Straits front-man Mark Knopfler to do the score, and his more blues-rock sensibilities would’ve suited this story much more than the Jan Hammer (“Miami Vice”) knockoff we ultimately get (not to mention that the soundtrack also has numbers by Stevie Nicks, Peter Gabriel, Big Country, and Mike Rutherford. Very, very 80s). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad score at all, it’s just that it’s one that doesn’t really belong here. Combined with the ricockulous and unnecessary sports car chase between Jeff Bridges and James Woods, you have something that ill-fittingly plays like a Tony Scott (“Top Gun”, “Revenge”) flick at times. And don’t even get me started by the on-screen musical performance by some entity known as Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Yeah, I was just listening to their latest jam the other day, lemme tell you. No seriously, who the hell are they? The best elements of the music score incorporate the Collins song, much as I think the song is too epic to fit this particular story. Yes, Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward are a good match, but their love story didn’t seem epic enough to warrant such an epic love song. But it’s still a great song, so it makes sense that the best moments in the score feature the familiar strains of that song. So those are the small problems I had with the film, that ultimately added up to just enough of a problem to drag the film down from what it could’ve been. Pretty much everything else works just fine.

 

I’m not entirely sure I bought Jeff Bridges as a football player, but I had zero issues once he turned amateur skip tracer/detective. He’s a solid and relatable presence on screen. I must say, though, that every other actor in the film steals the film from him, right down to the intimidating and freaking scary Bill McKinney in a bit role as a football coach. Aussie resident Rachel Ward and character actress Swoosie Kurtz do some of their career-best work here. Ward was born for noir, something Carl Reiner obviously realised when casting her in the underrated spoof “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”. It’s weird given that noir is kind of an American genre (albeit with a French name) and Ward is an English-born Aussie resident, but she has that perfect duality for noir where she could play a femme fatale or merely ‘damaged goods’ waiting to be rescued by the hero. It’s a credit to her that you spend a lot of the film unsure just which of these things she may turn out to be. Swoosie Kurtz really does have the showiest character part here and plays it to the hilt. You’ll remember her long after the film is over, and the only shame is that she’s not in more of the film. She’s a hoot. Screen legend Richard Widmark doesn’t get much screen time, either, but he says a helluva lot with the most subtle of facial expressions. That’s kinda interesting when you consider the rather colourful, psychotic characters he started his career with, but Widmark was a most versatile character actor. Jane Greer is pretty good too, playing the mother of the character she played in the 1947 original. I also enjoyed the smaller contributions by Saul Rubinek and particularly Alex Karras, who steals the opening moments of the film. Hell, he even manages to steal a scene from Widmark, not an easy thing. You may remember him as the adoptive father on TV’s adorable “Webster”. Rubinek has obviously become typecast as sleazy lawyers and that’s no different here, but isn’t he great at it?

 

If you’ve seen the film, you’re probably realising that I’m saving the best for last here: James Woods. Woods doesn’t always get it right as an actor (I still don’t think he deserved an Oscar nom for “Ghosts of Mississippi” and he wasn’t quite right in the “Straw Dogs” remake, either), but when he’s on, he’s practically unbeatable. Here he’s in great James Woods form and perfectly cast as a pathetic weasel villain. Like Kurtz, you wish he was in more of the film, but when he’s around, everyone else is practically invisible. He’s so incredibly oily in this I was getting grease stains on my eyeballs. It’s interesting to see him in the same film as Richard Widmark when you consider that a lot of Woods’ bad guy performances are pretty similar to Widmark’s early work.

 

A terrific cast can’t quite overcome a sluggish pace and a somewhat jarring soundtrack, as this modern noir almost but not quite comes off. James Woods, Swoosie Kurtz, and Rachel Ward are outstanding, however, and the story has its moments too. It’s just shy of a recommendation.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Snowpiercer


 It’s the near future and an attempt to end global warming has accidentally created a new ice age instead. The few surviving humans are aboard a train created by wealthy Ed Harris and constantly in motion. They are divided into two groups, with the elite privy to all privileges and luxuries occupying the front of the train, whilst the remainder are living pretty much in squalor in the back, limited to eating black protein bars made from an unknown substance. Led by Chris Evans, however, some of the back inhabitants are set to revolt and make their journey to the front of the train to take it over. Tilda Swinton plays the Thatcher-esque ‘minister’ (of propaganda?) in charge of keeping those in the back in line, whilst John Hurt and Jamie Bell play two of Evans’ comrades. Octavia Spencer plays one of the people in the back, whose son has been taken away for mysterious reasons, Allison Pill is up the front of the train as a heavily pregnant teacher, and Song kang-ho turns up as a drug-addict who will play an important role in the planned revolt (He’s the engineer who designed the doors on the train).

 

 

Although some have seen this 2014 film as a right-wing allegory or left-wing allegory, I really think it’s just a film about class difference. Directed by Bong Joon Ho (Whose monster movie “The Host” was pretty good) and co-scripted by the director and Kelly Masterson (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), this graphic novel adaptation is a good-looking (you’d swear it was a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film), tough bastard of a film that although hardly subtle in message (the film is heavy-handedly allegorical), keeps you on your toes because of its rather merciless offing of characters. People die before you expect them to, and whilst it may not be surprising at all on a thematic level (nor does it go anywhere much on a navigational level), it still keeps you wondering where the plot itself is headed.

 

A grim and dour Chris Evans has never been better (it’s not even close), Ed Harris is well-cast, and the only things wrong with the film are Jamie Bell’s constantly disappearing Irish accent and Tilda Swinton’s absolutely ghastly performance. Seemingly modelled on Effie from “The Hunger Games” and Margaret Thatcher, Swinton gives a horrible caricature of a performance that puts a black mark on an otherwise pretty interesting film. What in the hell was she thinking? In an otherwise dour, low-key film, she’s camping it up to high heaven and it’s just a wrong note. A silly, overly-affected and overly-designed performance and character. Picking up her slack somewhat is a very fine John Hurt, perhaps cast as a nod to “Midnight Express”. Or not. Either way, he’s not phoning this one in like you might expect him to. South Korean actor Song kang-ho (from the highly underrated “Thirst”) manages to be a total badass before he even really does anything on screen.

 

I guess you could point to a major contrivance with all of this mayhem in the back carriages of the train seemingly going unnoticed by anyone at the front of the train, but that’s the kind of thing you really only think of after the credits have rolled, and the ‘haves’ catch onto the ‘have-nots’ fairly quickly anyway so it doesn’t annoy too much. This isn’t a nice film, in fact if you’re looking for cheerful popcorn entertainment, you might find this one a bit too grim or harsh for you. It’s a little like “The Grey” in terms of tone. I mean, the Donner Party sounds like a Happy Meal compared to the amazing, sick story Evans tells at one point. That said, I couldn’t quite understand why I was meant to be so horrified by the identity of the ingredients in the ‘protein bars’ people in the back were eating. People eat stuff like that in real life the world over, it ain’t “Soylent Green” for cryin’ out loud. I think they’re kinda sickos, mind you, but it’s not an uncommon delicacy, so that was rather strange.

 

Heavy-handed in theme, wonderfully grimy in visuals, and a really interesting, harsh film that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but you end up feeling rather horrified by the situation this one gives you. A real shame about Tilda Swinton’s terrible turn (and overworked Yorkshire accent), because this is certainly not boring for a moment. Grim stoicism serves Chris Evans surprisingly well.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review: What About Bob?


 

Richard Dreyfuss is a pompous shrink who brushes off a disturbed new patient named Bob (Bill Murray) to go on vacation with his family (Julie Hagerty, Kathryn Erbe, and Charlie Korsmo). Bob (whose best friend is his goldfish named ‘Gil’), being seriously troubled and desperately needing to stick to a routine, decides to find out where his doctor is vacationing and visit him, because he feels he needs help real bad. He feels abandoned. Dreyfuss is bemused bordering on simmering rage when Bob shows up out of nowhere, but because Bob is so polite and friendly, Dreyfuss’ family can’t help but take to the guy. Yep, definitely simmering rage now as Dreyfuss feels he’s the only one who sees a disturbed mental patient turning up to his shrink’s vacation spot uninvited as somewhat of a giant frigging problem.

 

Whether fuelled by the fact that stars Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss didn’t get along (just ask Dreyfuss), or their respective talents (and appropriate casting), this 1991 Frank Oz (the still underrated director of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, “Bowfinger”, and the original “Death at a Funeral”) comedy would be so much lesser without the two of them. They’re both terrific and perfectly cast in an entertaining, clever, if not always gut-busting film.

 

The pompous shrink character played by Richard Dreyfuss could’ve come across as insufferably arrogant, maybe even a one dimensional villain. Dreyfuss certainly holds up his end of the bargain by playing this jerk to perfection, but the fact that his family is so sweet and loveable, and that they clearly love him, helps soften the blow. He’s a jerk to his new patient (he even gives him a copy of his book!), but he must have some redeeming qualities. It’s just that he treats his family like patients and, well, you can see how he treats his patients. Dreyfuss, as arrogant as he can seem at times throughout his career, is strangely somehow likeable too, which also helps (How the hell does he manage that?). It’s smart casting. Just as important as casting Dreyfuss as the cranky and pompous shrink, is the casting of Bill Murray as the patient. If Dreyfuss is cranky and arrogant, Murray’s Bob is a disarmingly child-like innocent, despite acting wholly inappropriate throughout. The joke is that he’s far more likeable than his doctor (his previous doctor calls him a ‘model patient’), and indeed it’s one of the most likeable characters Bill Murray has ever played. It’s the showier of the two roles, and Murray doesn’t disappoint (Though Robin Williams was also considered and he would’ve been excellent too). Almost all of the film’s laughs come from him, he’s hilarious from moment one. And yet, this guy is kind of a creepy stalker when you think about it. So if it weren’t for Murray giving Bob a childlike innocence and Dreyfuss being a pompous arse, the plot just wouldn’t work.

 

The one flaw with the whole film (apart from 25 year-old Kathryn Erbe looking like the oldest teen since Gabrielle Carteris and Luke Perry) is that Dreyfuss would surely call the cops pretty quickly in real life, and the only reason why he doesn’t is because the screenplay doesn’t have him do it. When you think about it, this could so easily be psycho-thriller material (especially if Bob weren’t so likeable). “Cape Fear” springs to mind. Turning it into a slightly dark comedy and then casting Bill Murray in the title role shows some real ingenuity. Sure, Dreyfuss’ character does seem a bit Frasier Crane-esque (especially when he finally loses his shit), but Dreyfuss is wonderfully bemused and arrogant just the same. But this is Murray’s showcase for sure, and his fans will love this. Is it a great comedy? No, and I do wish there were more laugh-out-loud moments (there’s a great line about Neil Diamond, though), but it is a display of two terrific talents nonetheless and solidly directed by Oz. The screenplay is by Tom Schulman (“Dead Poets Society”, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”), from a story by veteran Alvin Sargent (“Julia”, “Ordinary People”) and producer Laura Ziskin (“Accidental Hero”).

 

Rating: B-

Review: Night of the Creeps


Prologue: 1959. An alien lands on Earth near a local ‘Lover’s Lane’ area near Corman University (!) and attacks a couple of lovebirds. Present day: Jason Lively is Chris Romero, a nerdy college kid, who along with his disabled buddy James Carpenter-Hooper (Steve Marshall) joins a fraternity to impress hot chick Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). In order to get into the fraternity, however, they have to go through the usual ‘steal a body from the morgue’ frat house nonsense. Things hit a bit of a snag when on their mission instead of stealing a regular dead body, they find a cryogenically frozen body from a lab in college research facility. Said frozen body currently houses parasitic alien slugs which, now unleashed, soon set upon the local college campus and turning people into zombies! Tom Atkins turns up as Det. Ray Cameron, a veteran cop plagued by nightmares of similar events from long ago. David Paymer turns up as an attendant at the research facility.

 

Although it has its fans, I think this 1986 horror/sci-fi/comedy is a less successful attempt by debut writer-director Fred Dekker at the nostalgic blend of horror and teen movie that he mildly succeeded with the following year’s “The Monster Squad”. That was a cute teen-oriented homage, but Dekker doesn’t quite get the balance right with this one, it’s never as satisfying a combination of horror and comedy as you’d like. The opening B&W 50s sci-fi/horror movie homage with the giant baby alien suits that totally don’t show the zippers is effective/cute, and the photography looks nice. All of the name-dropping to famous film directors (Corman University, whilst Romero, Hooper, Cronenberg, Carpenter, Cameron, Landis, Raimi, and even Miner- hack director Steve Miner- are character names here) is cute for a cinephile like me, too. Dekker even shows “Plan 9 From Outer Space” playing on a TV at one point. Sadly, Mr. Dekker (who also directed the disappointing “RoboCop 3”) is no John Carpenter or Joe Dante, and the film is somewhat bland and lukewarm, really.

 

It’s not bad, but you keep waiting for it to get good and it never really does. And that, as I said is because Dekker doesn’t get the balance right (Confusing plot elements certainly don’t help, either). He surprisingly does alright with the horror, especially in building tension for the scary scenes. However, the jocular teen comedy material undercuts it, instead of complementing it, as it’s all just a little too laidback. The humour also frankly isn’t strong enough, despite some solid performances by an ideal Jason Lively (still best-known for playing Rusty Griswold in “European Vacation”) and particularly Steve Marshall, as basically this film’s Stephen Geoffreys/Evil Ed ‘sidekick’. It’s just not that funny, though character actor Tom Atkins is having an absolute ball in the film’s best performance as a nightmare-plagued, hard-boiled cop. He’s good fun (it’s apparently his favourite role of his own), as is ‘one scene wonder’ Dick Miller as a guy in charge of the police armoury. Love that guy. As for leading lady Jill Whitlow, she is one of the most smokin’ hot chicks you’ll ever see (even if her mammaries aren’t to my particular, Russ Meyer-esque personal taste), but not quite a Jill Schoelen or Jennifer Connelly in the acting stakes, to say the least. She’s just OK. Fans of character actor David Paymer, meanwhile will delight in the fact that even in 1986 he still looked like a dork.

 

The film is really weird at times, but is proof that weird doesn’t always equate to interesting or worthy, hell sometimes it just doesn’t make any damn sense (I’m not sure the 50s prologue was really all that necessary to be honest). The gory FX are amusing at times (the gore isn’t offensive or disgusting, more goofy and fun), it’s certainly a little more mature than “The Monster Squad” (whose protagonists were kids), just not as good. The budget definitely shows in the final big ‘explosion’ where it’s blatantly obvious that small portions of the house have merely been lit on fire, not an actual explosion. Nice try, LOL (Is that my first LOL in a review? And to think, I have a Masters in Communication!).

 

This ain’t no “Gremlins” or “Fright Night”, hell it’s not even “The Monster Squad”. The directorial name-dropping and gory FX take it some of the way, and Tom Atkins is a hoot. However, overall, this one’s pretty mediocre. It does have a fairly decent following out there, though, so don’t necessarily take my word for it. Probably best aimed at fans of the much later, quite similar “Slither” or even “Tremors” (neither of which did much for me, either).

 

Rating: C+

Monday, December 7, 2015

Review: At the Circus


Kenny ‘Not R2D2’ Baker plays a circus owner and singer who gave up his inheritance for the circus that he is now in danger of losing the business to his no-good partner who wants to take over. Right-hand man Chico and assistant strongman Harpo (!) decide to call in a lawyer (Groucho) to help Baker out before he has to declare bankruptcy and lose the business. Margaret Dumont, as always, plays a rich socialite who cuts all ties with nephew Baker when he joins the circus racket. Florence Rice plays Baker’s romantic interest and singing partner. Eve Arden plays a circus performer named Peerless Pauline, whilst Fritz Feld turns up briefly as a pretentious conductor named Jardinet.

 

 

Much less irritating than the previous “A Night at the Opera” and “A Day at the Races”, this 1939 Marx Brothers comedy from director Edward N. Buzzell (the subsequent “Go West”) and screenwriter Irving Brecher (“Meet Me in St. Louis”, “Bye Bye Birdie”) is just ‘meh’. This one actually has a plot, a standard and ancient circus plot mind you, but hey, that at least gives it a leg-up over its immediate predecessors. Best of all, all three of the Marx Brothers play relatively clearly defined characters with specific roles in the plot, whereas in the two previous films they just seemed to be playing themselves (or playing the characters of The Marx Brothers, to be more precise) and going through the motions in between schticky bits. Having said that, they still on occasion manage to get in the way of the story to do their annoying comic ‘bits’, and by the end the plot seems to be thrown out altogether. Was the fucking crime even solved?

 

But let’s stay on the positive: At least the problems, whilst still evident, are somewhat lesser here. Sure, I still find Groucho in particular an annoyance, as even in this film he seems to be wanting to just get to his one-liners. But at least in this one, some of the humour is actually genuinely funny, even if very few of those moments are Groucho’s ‘zingers’. There’s a priceless bit where Harpo gets out of a taxi in the pouring rain walking with a seal. It’s so random you have to laugh. There’s a funny and once again weird bit where the seal helps Harpo to play checkers. I particularly liked the visual gag with Groucho and Chico entering the circus midget’s (Jerry Maren) trailer and it’s entirely fit to his size. The best gag in the film is when Harpo comes along with the world’s biggest match and matchbox! I hear the great Buster Keaton (a far more innovative comedian than the Marx Brothers, IMHO) was on hard times at this point and actually helped out with some of the gags in this film. Perhaps this sequence is evidence of that? I’m not sure, but it’s a possibility. On the downside, Groucho and Chico do an allegedly ‘comic’ bit where Chico won’t let Groucho on the train. Even though, according to the plot, he’s the one who invited him! Harpo plays his harp again and it’s as it was in the two previous films, except completely needless and senseless this time out. The musical interludes in general here are far more random and more annoying than previously.

 

I just don’t get the appeal of these guys or their poorly made films. The Marx Brothers seem to do everything they can to get in the way of the stories of their own films! Why did they even bother making movies if they clearly weren’t interested in storytelling? Film is a storytelling medium! This one’s a lot better on that front though, and is even funny on occasion. However, the problems are still there, the humour is inconsistent, and romantic leads Kenny ‘Not That One’ Baker (who talks like a girl!) and particularly Florence Rice are a couple of boring drips. Below par, but certainly better than its two predecessors. Fans will probably enjoy the heck out of it, though, and want to wring my neck. There’s quite a long waiting list for that, though, I’m afraid.

 

Rating: C

Review: Two Fists, One Heart


 

Set in Perth, Daniel Amalm plays an Italian-Australian boxer who would rather forego his training in favour of pursuing Anglo Aussie girl Jessica Marais. Amalm’s Sicilian father/trainer (played by Ennio Fanastichini) used to be a boxer himself, and doesn’t understand (nor tolerate) this sudden change. Amalm, meanwhile doesn’t understand why the old man pushes him so hard to be a success, though the truth about the end of his boxing career eventually comes out. Marais, for her part, fails to understand the uber-macho, violent boxing culture Amalm has been steeped in his whole life, and she’s rather repulsed by it. Rai Fazio (the film’s screenwriter) plays an ex-con fresh out of prison, also a promising pugilist whom Fanastichini takes on board instead of his reticent son. Tim Minchin turns up as Marais’ arty, smart-arsey brother.

 

There’s a market for this boofy, blokey, second-generation Aussie boxing drama stuff from debut feature director Shawn Seet (Who is Malaysian-Australian, apparently) and screenwriter Rai Fazio. I’m not that audience in the slightest, but I’m sure this will be enjoyed by some of you out there, even if it has a title that sounds an awful lot like a Jimmy Barnes album. All I can do is give you my own take on the film, so if this story resonated with you in some way, that’s awesome. I found it tiresome, clichéd, and distressingly unfocussed.

 

I detest boxing in reality, but I like a good boxing movie (“Rocky”, “Raging Bull”, “The Harder They Fall”, “Requiem for a Heavyweight”, “Rocky III”), but this isn’t a good boxing movie at all. Combined with all of the ethnic/cultural clash stuff this 2009 boxing drama/interracial romance/drama is a bit tedious, I’m afraid. The fact that the lead character played by former “Home and Away” heartthrob (and apparently now musician) Daniel Amalm, came across like a common thug with little charm, didn’t help either, and Amalm doesn’t really register much on screen in terms of charisma or presence, unlike his memorable stint on “Home and Away”. He’s convincing in all aspects of the role, just completely dull.

 

However, it’s really former boxer Fazio’s script that’s the problem here, not Mr. Amalm (even though he’s basically early 90s Alex Dimitriades with abs, let’s face it). It’s the character and story (which is apparently semi-autobiographical) that I rejected. The entire world on show here is one that will appeal to quite a few Australians no doubt it, especially those with similar ethnic/immigrant backgrounds to the characters, or those interested in boxing or this kind of posturing macho douchebaggery. I just find myself rolling my eyes at this sort of stuff, it’s just so ridiculously macho, posturing, and thuggish, none of which describes yours truly (I have scoliosis, for starters, so my posture is terrible. See what I did there? Just checking to see if you’re awake!). Amalm’s macho wanker is only different from the other macho wankers in the film because the film says so. I think I’m meant to see the Amalm character in a positive light, but I actually found myself siding with the Jessica Marais character in her observations of Amalm’s world, and not just because I’m Anglo-Australian (I live in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, so I’m working class through and through, Marais’ character is from a more upscale background). I think I’m meant to view Amalm’s character as different from his boofhead brethren, but he really isn’t. His differences to his uber-macho father really have nothing to do with the problems I actually have with the Amalm character. His desire to change is motivated solely by pussy, he’s hardly a man of character. “Two Fists, No Brain, Swinging Dick” would be a better title for this one I think. This is the kind of film where arseholes who mistreat women are beaten up by thugs whose only distinguishing feature from the recipients of the beating is that they only hit men, not women. It’s a distinction, and I get it, but it doesn’t entirely excuse the violence nor make it particularly interesting to watch, especially when I already felt like the Amalm character wasn’t exactly a shining example of humanity.

 

The mixture here of ex-cons and boxing may be somewhat accurate (and it paints boxing in a very negative light, seemingly unintentionally), but it’s unappealing to me personally. When you add in the macho Italiano, I just find myself unable to get into it (and to be honest, the film could be about Greek-Australians and not be any different whatsoever. Maybe even Anglo-Australians, to be honest). Others will receive the film more warmly, and that’s the great thing about different opinions from people who come to films from a different perspective perhaps. However, even then you’ve surely got to acknowledge that this is pretty old-hat stuff and that it seriously lacks focus. Is it a boxing film? A father-son flick? An ethnic drama? Multicultural/class-based romance? It seems to be trying to be all of the above, but there’s not enough emphasis on any of these things for it to really work. It just ends up looking unfocussed, underdone, and clichéd. The film takes so damn long for Amalm to actually focus on boxing that it ends up having to rush to get to the ending. Sure, at least by that point the film was at least headed in a clear direction, but it was too late. Meanwhile, the resolution to the romance between Amalm and Marais involves a literally non-existent lack of reasoning. It just is what it is because the film needs it to be that way.

 

The one brief bright spot is comedian (Or is he a musician? It’s hard to tell because I don’t think he’s overly funny or a good musician usually) Tim Minchin, whom I normally find overrated. Essentially playing himself here as Jessica Marais’ artistic smart-arse brother (by way of Tim Friedman of The Whitlams perhaps), he’s at least interesting and idiosyncratic in an otherwise very blah film. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t like his character nearly as much as I did, because he ends up watching the big fight on a TV at the end. The filmmakers have clearly sympathised with the wrong people (and once again, it’s not because of an Anglo vs. Italian thing, it’s macho boofhead bullshit I have a problem with. The Italian stuff is just cringe-y cliché stuff that isn’t my thing), to the point where those who shouldn’t be on Amalm’s side end up on his side for…reasons. The whole film paints a sociopathic view of the boxing world in Australia and then tries to excuse the abusive father away by ‘prison messed me up’. Or ‘I pissed away my Olympic dream by getting thrown in prison’. I wasn’t buying it, it’s half-arsed, if not downright morally repugnant. The only way this film and its lead character could’ve been saved for me is if he completely abandoned the world he had been living in and evolved with his new girlfriend. Like I said, though, the director and writer clearly don’t feel the same way about the main character (nor his psychotic thug of a father) as I do, though.

 

A bit dull and low-key, this Aussie boxing movie/ethnic romance-drama hybrid just isn’t very good and lacked focus for me. However, it contains elements that really aren’t terribly appealing to me, yet may be much more appealing to others, so don’t just take my word for it. Essentially “Rocky” meets a macho “Strictly Ballroom”, someone out there will probably like it, just not me.

 

Rating: D+

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Review: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock


 ***** The Most Spoilerific movie review of all freaking time ahead. So if you really don’t wanna know what you don’t wanna know, save the review for later. This will be your final warning. And stop picking your nose. Yes, I can see you. You should be ashamed. Seriously, you already know I can see you picking your nose and now you’re just gonna go ahead and eat it too? Filthy. *****

 

With the tragic death of Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the previous film, a pall seems to have been cast over the Enterprise and its crew, who return to space-dock. For Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), however, his behaviour is even more disconcerting. He simply isn’t acting like himself. In fact, it seems as if he has been possessed. A visit from Spock’s father Sarek (Mark Lenard) indeed confirms that Spock had probably mind-melded with McCoy before his death. The plan is to steal the Enterprise (which has been decommissioned by Starfleet), fly out to the Genesis planet (seen previously in “The Wrath of Khan”), and bring Spock’s soul and his body together. Meanwhile, Klingons led by Commander Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) provide a fly in the ointment, taking Saavik (Robin Curtis) and Kirk’s son David (the late Merritt Buttrick) hostage and wanting to find out the secret powers of the Genesis planet. The planet, however, has other ideas, as it appears to be extremely unstable. And yet, Saavik and David have detected life on the planet. Who or what could be living there? James Doohan (engineer Mr. Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Walter Koenig (Chekov), and George Takei (Mr. Sulu) reprise their usual iconic roles. Dame Judith Anderson appears briefly but memorably as a Vulcan high priestess.

 

Cosmo Kramer’s favourite “Star Trek” film, and yes mine too. Forget the odd-even number thing, this 1984 follow-up to everyone else’s favourite “Star Trek” movie, marked the directorial debut of Spock. Even if you don’t agree with me that this is the best of the films, surely you can’t deny that Leonard Nimoy proves a much better director than did William Shatner for the universally yawned “Final Frontier”. The “Star Trek” films made pre-“Next Generation” were always on the low end of hi-tech FX, hell even “TNG” films don’t have the A-grade FX of the current J.J. Abrams incarnations, but in this film you surely can’t tell me that the FX aren’t a step above the first two films in the series. In fact, I reckon this one’s the first truly cinematic “Star Trek” film. The first one was woefully inadequate, and even “The Wrath of Khan” had a lot of call-backs to the TV show. This one has a few, sure (and some will consider it “Wrath of Khan Part II”, which isn’t exactly unfair I suppose), but of all the “Trek” films except maybe “First Contact”, this is the closest the series ever got to being action-adventure. Some hardcore fans may consider that a bad thing, but as someone far more “Star Wars” inclined than a Trekkie/Trekker/Pedantic Nerd, I prefer the action/adventure aspects of “Star Trek” to its space exploration side, as I’m more of a fan of cinema than I am of TV (I do love TV, mind you). There have been action scenes on the various “Star Trek” TV shows, of course, but nothing big-scale, this feels much bigger. So that’s probably the thing that sets this one truly apart from at least the other original crew films. The scene where Kirk and crew ‘steal’ the Enterprise, is particularly exciting.

 

Personally I’ve always preferred the “Next Generation” crew, but I have some affection for the original crew, and this one gives my favourite among them, DeForest Kelley’s cranky Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy some of his biggest and best exposure, as his mind appears to have been ‘melded’ with Spock’s. It’s easily the actor’s finest hour as Bones finds himself possessed by the spirit of perhaps his least favourite being in the entire galaxy, Spock. It’s equal parts ironically amusing (amusingly ironic?) and genuinely affecting. In fact, the ‘death’ of Spock in the previous film finds itself casting quite a heavy (but not dour) shadow on the film, without getting dreary or dull. Even with a hambone actor like William Shatner in the lead, it manages to be rather emotional (ironic given Vulcans tend to suppress emotion). The thing with these actors is, that they may not be great actors, but in these roles, James Doohan, George ‘Oh My!’ Takei, and yes William Shatner all work. Hell, even their voices sound perfect for their characters, don’t you think? In most non-“Star Trek” roles, Shatner can come across as a bit ridiculous (even though his best work to date has been as Denny Crane on “Boston Legal”, before it got a bit too silly), but as Kirk he fits in nicely. Of the other major cast members, James Doohan’s loveable Scotty is probably the only one to stand out. I’m afraid Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig don’t get a whole lot to work with here. I will say, though, that Koenig and Canadian-born Doohan really do deserve credit for their flawless foreign accents. I’ve heard them speak outside of this series, but had I not, I would never have guessed that Doohan wasn’t Scottish or that Koenig wasn’t Russian (Koenig is an American with Lithuanian ancestry).

 

In smaller roles, TV veteran Mark Lenard is pretty good as Sarek, Spock’s father, however Robin Curtis is completely wooden as Saavik, Kirstie Alley being vastly superior in the role (Apparently Ms. Alley either didn’t want to be typecast or asked for too much money, depending on who you believe. Kirstie was probably filming “Runaway” around this time anyway. Gee, that was a wise decision, Kirstie!). Curtis is appallingly stiff, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. As much as I’m a huge fan of the Klingons as an alien race, Christopher Lloyd is merely OK here as the chief villain. He just doesn’t quite disappear into the role, possibly because the makeup isn’t all that great in this film. He also suffers from coming after Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, even if I’m not as huge a fan of that performance as everyone else seems to be. Khan was an iconic villain, Kruge is a somewhat enjoyable blowhard. His best moments are with Kirk, when he is able to assert a little authority and aggression. I love Klingons, but these ones are a tad cartoony, though they nonetheless get the job done well enough. One must remember that the Klingons are basically an alien representation of Mongols (the facial hair is a dead giveaway), or a warrior race, who aren’t known for being intellectually gifted. They are pretty one-dimensional by design, aside from Worf in “TNG”. For a film that is mostly about, well the search for Spock, it’s OK that the Klingons aren’t great (They’re not even in the final quarter of the film, and we don’t really miss them). Besides, Lloyd’s Commander Kruge gets to strike a huge personal blow against Kirk, leading to William Shatner’s best acting moment in the entire series. Also, the Klingon Bird of Prey is still my favourite alien spaceship of all-time, except maybe the ship with titties from “Battle Beyond the Stars”.

 

As much as I earlier championed the film as being more action-adventure than the two previous “Trek” films, I actually think most of the best material in the film is the Spock-Bones stuff, as well as the whole idea of the Genesis planet, which is really fascinating. However, I’m still glad that the film has the action-adventure material, to open things up and take this series in a more cinematic direction, without taking itself in a non-“Trek” direction where there’s no thought or conscience behind it all. Unlike the first film, stuff actually happens in this one. However, points off for without question the worst costume design of any “Star Trek” film. I hate the boring and monochromatic uniforms on the short-lived TV series “Enterprise” even more, but these costumes are just ghastly and gaudy. What the hell were they thinking?

 

A nice balance between thought and action, this is the best of the “Star Trek” films, and although it’s best if you’ve seen the previous “Wrath of Khan”, you don’t really need to have seen the TV series to appreciate this one. Shame about Robin Curtis and those hideous costumes, because everything else works splendidly here. Typically excellent James Horner (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, “Battle Beyond the Stars”, “Aliens”, “Braveheart”) score is icing on the cake. The screenplay is by producer Harve Bennett (who co-wrote the screenplay for the overrated “Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales and Bad Comedy”), from a story by Bennett and Nimoy. I’m really not sure why this one only gets mild appreciation from others, but then I hate the universally loved “Star Trek IV”, so there’s that.

 

Rating: A-

Review: Boyhood


 

12 years in the life of young Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), his struggling single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and the infrequent presence of his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). The film starts with Mason Jr. at age six, and finishes with him at age 18. During all of this we witness his mother’s struggle to raise him, educate herself, and deal with a string of disappointing, abusive partners. Meanwhile, Mason Sr. gets to have the kids with him for every second weekend, driving in his truly sweet-arse ’68 GTO (the real-life possession of the film’s director), that early on Mason Sr. promises to pass down to his son one day when he’s old enough. Lorelei Linklater plays Mason Jr.’s bratty older sister Samantha.

 

If you’re gonna use a gimmick like filming a film during respective schedules over a period of 12 years, you really need to make sure that the film is best told through this gimmick, and that the story is actually worthy of the gimmick so that it doesn’t feel like, well, a gimmick. That’s why this 2014 film from indie darling, writer-director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”, “School of Rock”) only earns a soft recommendation from me. It’s really just an OK, kinda interesting, but thoroughly familiar and unspectacular film with a script not worthy of its gimmick. Nope, wasn’t wowed by this one, folks.

 

Starting off with a frigging Coldplay song was not the way for Mr. Linklater to endear me, but I have to say that I was immediately impressed by young Ellar Coltrane, and that impression held up throughout the film as we see the actor and character both age and mature before our very eyes. That’s interesting, but not in and of itself worthy of massive praise. Nor will I award the film a high rating simply because of the inherent pitfalls the film could’ve fallen into (Actors could’ve quit, someone could’ve died, etc.) All interesting stuff, but not in my view terribly relevant to the quality of the film.

 

From a story perspective this really did seem like a 70s film to me. “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” springs to mind. Thing is, not only am I not a fan of that film (“Boyhood” is actually better), but if I was meant to side with Patricia Arquette in her Oscar-winning performance…nope, just didn’t happen. In fact, Arquette, as usual, failed to make all that much of an impression with me. She always seems so mousy and beige wallpaper to me, it amazes me that she’s chosen acting as her profession when on screen she comes across as lacking any self-confidence. Here she’s perfectly OK as the long-suffering, hard-working mother with bad taste in men, but I was much more interested in Coltrane and his dad, played well by Ethan Hawke (especially the former, though). In fact, Arquette’s character rubbed me the wrong way. She knows her professor husband is violent and nearly hit her son in the head with a glass. So what does she do? Leave all the kids with him and drive off for a bit. The fuck? Hawke plays the typical divorced dad who gets to have all the fun with little of the responsibility (but who slowly matures throughout the film), whilst Arquette does all the hard work. Yet Arquette felt invisible to me as usual, Hawke (hardly my favourite actor, but he has his moments) ended up making the stronger impression on me, and Coltrane eclipsed them both. This kid (well, he’s 19 by the end) is one to watch, folks. Linklater’s nepotism in casting his daughter Lorelei as the older sister is a real problem for me. She’s forced from start to finish and looks absolutely nothing like either of the actors playing her parents, nor her brother. Look at her skin colour for cryin’ out loud! She’s not in the film a whole lot (and despite begging to be cast, she apparently got bored with the project temporarily), but when she is, she’s an unnecessary distraction. Marco Perella, however, is absolutely perfect casting as the insecure, alcoholic professor Arquette marries at one point.

 

One of the things I really liked about the film is that it lets you work out where you are in the story on your own. Sometimes that can be annoying, but here it’s actually not too confusing at all and I liked the confidence Linklater showed in not babying the audience. I did, however, wish there were more scenes between Hawke and Arquette. I know they were divorced, but it still felt like their relationship (and in parenting a child, they do essentially still have a connection of sorts) was lacking on screen. Hell, I think there’s a lack of scenes between Hawke and young Linklater, too now that I think of it. This is a 2 ¾ hour long film, and yet it felt a bit underdone. Weird.

 

Look, there’s a little bit more to this film than its filmmaking gimmick. However, said gimmick is still the standout thing. Plot and character-wise it offers nothing new. And wow, people get more conservative as they get older? Who knew? Shocking revelation there. In some ways I almost wish the Linklater did run into some major problem in making the film. I’m not saying I wanted any of the cast or crew to die of course, but if something caused someone to leave the project for let’s say a non-fatal reason, it might’ve meant taking the film in an unexpected direction. As is, it plays like a fictional film trying to be a documentary, and ends up looking a bit aimless and pointless. In fact, it seemed to be lacking an overall point if you ask me. Ethan Hawke and particularly young Ellar Coltrane are really good, though, and the film is never boring, I just wasn’t moved like I expected to be.

 

A lot of people really found this profound, I felt it was really quite clichéd. It’s certainly OK, there’s not a whole lot drastically wrong with it, it’s just that it’s not worthy of its ground-breaking gimmick, nor the actual effort to have made it over 12 years (a few days each year, apparently). I think it wants to be an American classic (something like a film version of my favourite TV show “The Wonder Years”, perhaps), and it’s nowhere close to that, I’m afraid. Fucking terrible ending, too. Seriously, what the hell was that? I hope to see Mr. Coltrane in more films, however. Anyone that good at 7 years old (let alone the rest of the film as he gets older) has a definitely bright acting future if you ask me.

 

Rating: B-