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 19, 2015

Review: The Big Store


Tony Martin plays a singer who wants to sell his half of a department store inheritance to pursue his musical dream and marry store employee Virginia Grey. His rich aunt, played by Margaret Dumont has the other half of the inheritance, and figures into the scheme of store manager Douglass Dumbrille. When thugs attack Martin, Dumont hires a private detective, played by Groucho Marx. Chico plays Martin’s good buddy, with Harpo playing Chico’s brother (how imaginative!), but more importantly, Groucho’s assistant.

 

Directed by Charles Reisner (Buster Keaton’s “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”), this 1941 Marx Brothers flick is truly the pits. Even fans surely can’t defend this complete waste of time. As per their other films, Chico talks-a with-a the funny accent-a, Margaret Dumont plays Margaret Dumont, Harpo plays the harp (twice!), and Groucho refuses to act like he’s genuinely part of the film’s plot. In fact, sometimes Groucho is so defiantly smart-arsey here that he doesn’t even bother to make sense. When his fur coat starts to shed some fur, an unaware Groucho looks at the hair on the floor and remarks ‘I could’ve sworn I shaved this morning!’- What? The fur has clearly been shed, so how the hell does that even make sense? Groucho doesn’t care, so long as he looks like the hippest cat in the room. Well fuck Groucho Marx, I say.

 

I place character and story above all else in a film, so that’s probably why The Marx Brothers and musicals don’t tend to work for me. Even though the songs are better than the humour, if you removed the songs and The Marx Brothers from their films, they’d be significantly improved. And about five minutes long. This is by far their worst film by focussing entirely on the two things I like least, ignoring storytelling and characters almost completely. The suited villains in this one are especially tedious. One joke sums this whole boring affair up perfectly: A bed emerges out of a wall that makes it look like a bank safe. Chico says ‘That’s a safe-a place to keepa the kids!’, as a bunch of kids are on the bed, and thus vanish when the bed folds back up again. It’s a terrible joke because there has been no effort made to make the bed look remotely plausible and only serves to point out that the gag is all that matters…even though that’s what botches it. Also, how is the scene of Harpo and Chico playing the piano any different to the scene of them doing so in previous films? It’s not, outside of the audience they play for being women instead of the usual children.

 

There’s nothing of worth in this film, unless seeing Aunti Em from “The Wizard of Oz” in a cameo as a department store customer is enough to get you interested. It’s not even close to enough for me. This sucks, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. The screenplay is by Sid Kuller, Ray Golden (both of whom worked on the Don Ameche version of “The Three Musketeers”), and Hal Fimberg (“Our Man Flint”, “In Like Flint”).

 

Rating: D-

Review: The Judge


Robert Downey Jr. stars as a slick big city lawyer who comes home to Carlinville, Indiana for his mother’s funeral. He reunites with his somewhat estranged brothers Vincent D’Onofrio (a former baseball hopeful until an incident involving he and Downey saw an end to that) and the slightly intellectually disabled Jeremy Strong, as well as his cranky, emotionally distant father Robert Duvall, a local judge of great experience but precious time for Downey. If mother dying isn’t bad enough, things get even worse when Duvall turns murder suspect, accused of deliberately running over a long-time foe with his car. The old man swears he remembers nothing of the incident, and forbids Downey from representing him (The old man is honest, Downey is sneaky, thus he doesn’t want that kind of help). These two seriously don’t get on, and no they don’t want to talk about it, OK? Downey sticks around anyway, as a hopelessly hapless local furniture store owner and attorney (a priceless Dax Shepard) takes up Duvall’s cause. Meanwhile, Downey has a little trip down memory lane with a former flame (Vera Farmiga), whose young daughter (Leighton Meester) Downey met at the local bar. Billy Bob Thornton plays the ruthless prosecutor with a bit of a grudge against Downey, whilst David Krumholtz has an early cameo as one of Downey’s colleagues back in Chicago.

 

Seeming for all money like a John Grisham adaptation (“The Client”, “The Rainmaker”), this 2014 legal drama from director David Dobkin (previously the director of enjoyable comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “The Change-Up”), is actually the work of screenwriters Nick Schenk (“Gran Torino”, the remake of “RoboCop”) and debutant Bill Dubuque, not based on a novel. It’s pretty solid stuff, though it actually works better on the family drama front than the legal front, where Billy Bob Thornton seems awfully wasted as the ruthless prosecutor, though dude is truly ice fucking cold when called upon. Were most of his scenes left on the cutting room floor? Much better company is an hilariously nervous Dax Shepard as a comically inexperienced defence attorney. If he were in any more of the film, it might tip things into overkill, but as is, he’s an unexpected hoot.

 

At its heart, this really is a family drama with characters who frankly don’t make it easy for us to like them, let alone for them to like each other, which saves the film from being too schmaltzy on that front. Robert Downey Jr. once again shows off his unique talent for playing characters who are kind of glib jerks…that you can’t quite hate. Here he plays a slickster who only represents the guilty, because they’re the only ones rich enough to afford him. He’s also once again playing the smartest guy in the room, as he proves with a couple of barroom bullies, whose prior convictions he manages to intuit. Clever. I’m not overly keen on this snarky, glib persona invading the superhero realm, where it feels condescending, so it’s good to see Downey acting in the real world again for a change. If Downey is an arrogant, spiteful, sarcastic prick, then Robert Duvall as his father is a stubborn, emotionally closed-off old bastard. It’s a really fascinating character dynamic, and an Oscar-nominated Duvall more than holds up his end of things. When he’s on as an actor, he’s really on, and here he brings the kind of gravitas that has to be lived, not taught. The first meeting between father and son here…wow. This is not a tight family to say the least. Sure, none of this family drama stuff is particularly new, but it is played by the actors (including a solid Vincent D’Onofrio) in a bitter, brooding, and harshly raw manner with great sincerity and conviction.

 

If there’s a flaw here, it’s the unnecessary romantic subplot involving a tattooed and unconvincing Vera Farmiga, though Leighton Meester once again proves the only good thing to have spawned from “Gossip Girl” with an amusing performance. Shepard is an absolute riot as a lawyer…and furniture store owner. Meanwhile, I’m guessing David Krumholtz has spent the last few years since “Numb3rs” got canned, working in a bakery. Wow, dude has really packed it on and gotten all doughy.

 

In my notes, I remarked that if this were indeed a Grisham adaptation, it may not be the best, but it’s the only one that has left me close to tears by the end. Even though it proves not to be a Grisham adaptation, I think the sentiment still holds true. It’s an OK courtroom drama, with a slightly underwhelming conclusion, but as a bitter family drama, it’s actually pretty moving.

 

Rating: B-

Friday, December 18, 2015

Review: Sugar Hill (1974)


The title character (played by Marki Bey) is incensed when her club owner fiancé Langston (Larry B. Johnson) is beaten to death by thugs in the employ of white drug lord Morgan (Robert Quarry). For some reason, Sugar’s solution to all of this is to visit the ‘old voodoo priestess (Zara Cully), who gets Sugar in touch with top hat-sporting, maniacally laughing Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), lord of the undead. He unleashes a horde of previously dead African-American slaves conveniently buried in the swamp land, to help Sugar do her bidding. His help, of course, comes with a price, and apparently that price is tang. Anyhoo, on Sugar and her zombie army march to seek revenge against Morgan and his cronies. Richard Lawson plays Valentine, a cop and old acquaintance of Sugar’s, who is worried for her. Betty Ann Rees plays Morgan’s bitchy, racist moll who loathes Sugar (I guess she doesn’t have a sweet tooth).

 

No, not the 1994 urban drama, but a 1974 blend of “Coffy”, “Foxy Brown” and voodoo-flavoured zombie pic, from director Paul Maslansky (yep, the “Police Academy” producer in his sole directorial effort!) and screenwriter Tim Kelly (ironically his last screenwriting credit). Unfortunately, the blend of crime pic and zombie/voodoo movie doesn’t quite come off. Marki Bey ain’t no Pam Grier (she’s a bit wooden), and the title character comes across as a strangely unsympathetic, almost villainous character that throws the whole thing out of whack. Yes she has a sympathetic bone to pick, and yes the villains are (white) criminals, but for some reason I could never fully sympathise with Sugar the way I could “Coffy” or “Foxy Brown”. I know it makes no sense since all three are vigilantes with understandable motives, but the fact that Sugar’s revenge involves unleashing an army of the undead somehow made her seem less righteous to me. The fact that I’m not overly interested in voodoo-themed horror probably didn’t help, either. I also could never quite work out if Sugar was in charge or if Baron Samedi (a Haitian mythological character often used in popular culture, most prominently in “Live and Let Die”, whilst former WWF/E wrestler Papa Shango is also somewhat of a derivative of Samedi) was, as it seems to alternate confusingly.

 

The imposing Don Pedro Colley is a bit silly as Baron Samedi, and certainly nowhere near as memorable as Geoffrey Holder in “Live and Let Die”. He’s a poor substitute, right down to the maniacal laugh. And then you see him as a construction worker by day (occasionally a taxi driver too) with even more makeup on than the guy from The Village People. Having said that, Colley gives it all he has and kinda grew on me a bit. He’s certainly seven flavours of WTF? And that’s ultimately the film’s chief selling point: It may not be a good film, but it sure isn’t as boring as say “The Black Godfather” or “Dolemite”. It’s pretty frigging weird and quite watchable, even if it doesn’t remotely come together as a good film in the traditional sense despite solid performances by Robert Quarry, Betty Anne Rees (as the bitchy, racist moll Celeste), Zara Cully, and the underrated Richard Lawson (now best known as Beyoncé’s father-in-law!) as a maroon suit-wearing cop named Valentine. Like the late Thalmus Rasulala, he’s a cool cat and a much better actor than he has to show for it in his filmography, one feels. Unfortunately, whilst Lawson probably gives the best performance in the film, it’s in the dullest role. Quarry’s no Shelley Winters in “Cleopatra Jones”, but there’s been a lot worse blaxploitation villains out there, and he’s an experienced enough actor to get the job done. Hell, if you give Colley points for camp value, the only real dud performance comes from the seriously wooden Larry D. Johnson and his godawful spangly grey jacket.

 

The voodoo scenes offer up nice shots of snakes, alligators, and swampy waters that you just don’t normally get in a blaxploitation film, setting it apart from the pack. Meanwhile, wait until you see the goofy-yet-memorable zombies with their silver ball bearing eyes. They’re goofy as fuck, but undeniably amusing. The one great thing about the film is that the zombies here are former slaves, whilst the villains are white. That’s really clever (albeit not too far from “Blacula” as well) and deserving of a better film.

 

This one’s just so-so, if so, so freaking weird. It’s probably someone’s favourite blaxploitation film, but not mine. I’m not going to give this one a great score, it’s no “Blacula”, but at least it’s not deathly dull. I suppose it’s one of the better voodoo films, all in all. However, as someone who doesn’t like voodoo films, perhaps I’m not the best judge. At any rate, you’ve not seen anything quite like it. Top-notch, catchy opening and closing song ‘Supernatural Voodoo Woman’ by The Originals (a Motown act) is a highlight.

 

Rating: C+

Review: The Emperor’s New Groove


Kuzko (voiced by David Spade) is an insincere, egotistical Aztec emperor who is targeted for assassination by his scheming underling Yzma (voiced by the legendary Eartha Kitt), after he fires her. She tries to poison him, but in some kind of toxicological mix-up, she ends up turning him into a llama! Now he needs the help of a humble peasant farmer (voiced by John Goodman), who unfortunately doesn’t trust the emperor given he was all set to callously demolish the man’s village to build himself a swimming pool. This is a tenuous partnership to say the least. Meanwhile, Yzma and her idiot bodyguard Kronk (too dopey to be truly villainous, as voiced by the great Patrick Warburton) are still trying to kill Kuzko. Wendie Malick voices the farmer’s wife.

 

It’s a bit of a shame that I waited so long to watch this Disney animated film from 2000, because it’s actually pretty good. I normally loathe angular animation, it’s something that helped ruin “Pocahontas” and “Hercules”, but here’s one film where it actually suits the story, and isn’t ugly. Directed by Mark Dindal, it’s not the horrible, wannabe hip musical that the title might suggest. Instead, it’s basically a comedy, with its jokey spirit far more akin to Warner Brothers/Merrie Melodies than the House of Mouse, which surprised me as well (The film’s director having cut his teeth previously on WB’s “Cat’s Don’t Dance”). It’s not classic Disney and it doesn’t want to be. It just wants to provide fun, and that it certainly does.

 

Really goofy and warped, the voice casting of insincere smart-arse comedian David Spade in the lead role proves inspired. It might just be his best film role ever (Apologies to the three “Joe Dirt” fans out there). He is backed up by a pretty strong cast, with a very Puddy-esque Patrick Warburton stealing the entire show as a dumb bodyguard. Very dumb. Super-duper uber dumb. Dumbski even. The inimitable Eartha Kitt, meanwhile is spot-on as the film’s villainess. Wendie Malick and particularly John Goodman are also well-chosen for their roles, if not used to their fullest potential. Meanwhile, the Tom Jones-sung opening song is random as hell, but fun. Speaking of songs, Sting is credited with songs, but aside from the end credits one and the opener by Jones, there’s no songs in the film at all- thankfully! (There’s a story behind Sting’s lack of work featured in the film, if you want to go to IMDb. Basically, the film as is, is entirely different to the one originally planned, which Sting was heavily tied to. Only one of his songs now remains in the film).

 

The angular animation may not be to my personal taste, but this is an amusing romp, and much more enjoyable than I was expecting. David Spade is surprisingly palatable in the lead. In fact, it’s his showcase, though he’s well backed-up in support. The screenplay is by David Reynolds, from a story by the director and Matthew Jacobs.

 

Rating: B-

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: Blacula


18th Century African prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) pleads with Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to end the slavery of his people. He gets it in the neck for his troubles, causing him to become the title blood-sucker. Cut to the 1970s and two gay American interior decorators transport and unwittingly release Blacula/Mamuwalde from his coffin. Taking in the hip nightclub scene in between the occasional midnight snack, he becomes obsessed with Tina (Vonetta McGee), who he thinks is the reincarnation of his late, beloved wife Loova. Thalmus Rasulala plays police forensic pathologist Dr. Gordon Thomas, investigating a series of strange killings involving suspicious bite marks. Denise Nicholas plays Michelle, Tina’s best friend and Dr. Gordon’s co-worker. Elisha Cook Jr. turns up as a hook-handed hospital orderly, Ji-Tu Cumbuka plays a mutual friend named Skillett, and Gordon Pinsent plays a police lieutenant.

 

Of all the blaxploitation flicks that turned out pretty good, this 1972 William Crain (“Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde” with Bernie Casey) flick might just be the most unlikely success story. I mean, look at that title for cryin’ out loud. Scripted by Raymond Koenig and Joan Torres (both of whom would script the sequel “Scream Blacula Scream” and curiously nothing else), the screenplay is certainly better than the cheesy, jokey title suggests. In fact, aside from the 70s setting and mostly African-American cast, this is your standard ‘Dracula becomes obsessed with woman who looks like his long dead lover reincarnated’ story. There’s also some fascinating racial politics going on in the opening scene between Mamuwalde and Count Dracula.

 

It’s a silly film of course, but I think some of the lines of dialogue are deliberately humorous. Best of all, it’s one of the better-acted films in the blaxploitation sub-genre. Through all of it Shakespearean actor William Marshall refuses to ham it up here. Playing the thing for more than it is probably worth, Marshall is the closest thing this film has to a Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing and one is forever grateful for his presence here. The makeup and fangs are really shoddy (making Marshall seem quite uncomfortable), but he’s very good in the dialogue scenes, sans fangs. He lends the part and the overall film a baritone-voiced dignity, backed up quite well by the cool and fabulously named Thalmus Rasulala. Despite wearing a dorky grey skivvy in some scenes, Rasulala could just as easily have filled in for Richard Roundtree in “Shaft”. He is the coolest dude in the room and like Marshall, plays the thing completely seriously, to the film’s advantage (It’s a funny film, but you don’t need the actors to ‘act’ funny). He also manages to make skivvies (that’s turtle-necks to you yanks, by the way) look super-cool. Even a grey one, and I hate grey. We also get choice cameos by gap-toothed Ji-Tu Cumbuka (doing his best Jimmie Walker impersonation: ‘He’s one straaaaaaange duuuuuude!’ he says of Mamuwalde. Twice!), veteran character actor Elisha Cook Jr. (as an orderly with a hook for a hand, which seems unlikely), and Charles Macaulay as Dracula. The real scene-stealer, though, is Ketty Lester as a cabbie named Juanita, who makes the mistake of getting a little too lippy with ‘ol Blacula. Don’t be sassin’ Mamuwalde, or you’ll get it in the neck for your back talk. This leads to the best scene in the film later on, as a vampiric Juanita jumps out at poor Cook and kills him. It’s the closest this decidedly un-scary film gets to being genuinely creepy and it’s definitely memorable for its bizarro imagery and creepy atmosphere. As for Macaulay, he looks a little like Vincent Price and although hardly Christopher Lee, is OK in a hammy way. Denise Nicholas is a bit bland, and the underrated Vonetta McGee is for once, rather wooden actually.

 

The camerawork by John Stevens also deserves a mention. Like a lot of blaxploitation films, the budget obviously wasn’t huge and that can often result in more innovation, and Stevens’ work will remind you a bit of the later “Black Caesar” in the use of handheld camerawork and lots of eerie, discomforting close-ups. On the downside, a low-budget (this is an AIP flick, in case you can’t tell) also results here in poor makeup, FX, and production design. It all looks cheap and fake. Also, the film isn’t remotely scary (creepy on one or two occasions), but that may not be a big deal to you. I doubt very much that anyone involved thought they were making a legit horror movie, as such. I mean, were we meant to take Blacula seriously when he starts growling mid-attack? ‘Coz…yeah. If anything, the film really needed a dose of sex and nudity, which you’d think any blaxploitation movie would supply let alone something like this. On smaller notes, the opening titles design is cool, The music score by Gene Page (“Brewster McCloud”, “Fun With Dick and Jane”) is funky as hell, and The Hues Corporation (Remember ‘Rock the Boat’?) even perform a blatant self-promotion…er…I mean they perform a song. It’s no ‘Rock the Boat’ but it’s still cool. I also couldn’t believe that in 2015 I was able to watch a film on TV (from the 70s, mind you) that mixed Dracula with the slave-trading of African-Americans. And the film makes it work! It’s interesting thematically, but silly enough that you can’t get offended. Well, maybe the two swishy guys at the beginning are a little offensive and non-PC in 2015, I’ll admit that.

 

Far better than it has any right to be, this is one of the best films of the blaxploitation era, mostly due to the committed, oddly dignified performance by William Marshall who plays it straight, even when the dialogue occasionally seems to be going for humour. I could listen to that guy’s fine baritone all day long.

 

Rating: B

Review: Go West


Chico and Harpo venture west and hook up with con man Groucho, despite the latter previously having been duped at the train station by the former two (even though he initially set out to con them- confused?). Together they get caught up in a land claim struggle over a place called Dead Man’s Gulch. Chico and Harpo acquire the land deed fair and square, but scheming John Beecher (Walter Woolf King) and Red Baxter (Robert Barrat) have nefarious plans to grab it for themselves. John Carroll plays the grandson of the old prospector who gave the land deed to Harpo and Chico, with Diana Lewis playing his intended.

 

Even Marx Brothers fans usually concede that this 1940 film from director Edward Buzzell (the previous “At the Circus”, which was at least not awful) is a dud, and boy is it ever. The second worst of the five Marx Brothers films I’ve seen by far, it’s boring, unfunny, and as has been consistently the case, the humour is counter-productive to getting into the story. Once again, Groucho isn’t so much a comedic actor as he is a smart-arse sideline commentator who just so happens to also be the main star playing the main character. Given that Groucho himself is a character being played by the real-life Julius Henry Marx, it feels even more like a put-on. Whilst Chico and Harpo have a purpose for travelling west here, I swear Groucho has absolutely no character in this film at all. He’s just Groucho and there he is…because stuff. And whilst I know the characters they play are coming from the East, I still think it’s ridiculous that Chico keeps his ‘a-pizza-pie, mamma mia! Spaghetti-O!’ green grocer accent in this. He’s not meant to be from East Italy, for chrissakes.

 

At some point, even in a comedy, there needs to be some kind of reality, even if it’s only within the confines of the film’s fictional world that has been set up. The Marx Brothers, at least in the five films I’ve seen of theirs, don’t give a shit about any of that, and neither the director nor screenwriter Irving Brecher (“At the Circus”, “Meet Me in St. Louis”) help much, either. It’s not just Groucho, though, Harpo and Chico are also so bad here that they might as well be in a TV comedy sketch with a fake western background (And indeed, the backgrounds here do look fake). At least Chaplin and Keaton made ‘real’ movies. This is amateurish and not remotely concerned with being an actual movie. Sure, we get a railroad being built, something called Dead Man’s Gulch (Is that where Stinky Pete lives?), and a Hatfield-McCoy style feud getting in the way of young (middle-aged, really) love, but those are the oldest clichés in a genre full of seriously old clichés. It’s really just a gag reel though, and sadly the gags suck, I doubt Buster Keaton (who worked on the screenplay, in terms of the gags) had all that much input to be honest. The train-bound finale has a bit of a Keaton vibe to it, but certainly isn’t anywhere near as clever as the usual Keaton standard (It ain’t “The General”, that’s for damn sure). We get an eye-rolling gag where Groucho is trying to make money off of the other two, that is really just a replay of the awful gambling routine in “A Day at the Races”, but with Groucho switching places with Chico this time, and not being as successful at the duping as Chico was in the earlier film. For the most part, this is just a bunch of so-called comedians acting too cool for the room (something that perhaps won’t annoy fans, I concede), and the room is the movie itself. Add to that far too many musical interludes with a songstress (an unfortunate June MacCloy) who sounds distressingly masculine and can’t effing sing, and you’ve got yourself one helluva bad time.

 

Clichéd, catastrophically flippant, this was almost unendurably bad for me. With all the schticky moments and musical interludes (all of which are pretty rank), there’s practically no room for plot and character. What plot and character we do get is ancient, even for the period, and The Marx’s just act above it all anyway. Terrible, though as always with comedy, your tastes may wildly differ.

 

Rating: D

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: The Road to El Dorado


Miguel (voiced by Sir Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (voiced by Kevin Kline) are likeable con artists who win a treasure map in a dice game that points to the legendary El Dorado, AKA The Lost City of Gold (Anyone else have the theme from “The Mysterious Cities of Gold” in their heads now? Awesome song!). On the run from a con that went awry, they somehow stumble/luck their way into El Dorado. Once there, they are proclaimed Gods by a local High Priest (voiced by Armand Assante), and hey, who are they to disagree? All the better to disguise their plans to run off with a whole lotta loot. However, this High Priest isn’t all that he appears, and it’s not long before our charming rogues find themselves in all sorts of trouble as unwitting pawns in a power struggle between two tribal elders of very differing morals/temperament. Helping them out is Aztec girl Chel (voiced by Rosie Perez), who knows what the two men really are, and wants to escape with them and a cut of their pilfered riches.

 

A good, funny first half and a draggy, less funny second half add up to an overall watchable whole at best with this 2000 DreamWorks animated movie. Directed by Eric ‘Bibo’ Bergeron (“Shark Tale”) & Don Paul (previously an FX animator for Disney) and scripted by the team of Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (“Aladdin”, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), there’s some very funny moments early on, with the horse being a particularly strong source of humour despite not even saying anything or even doing much. Kevin Kline is perfectly cast and Sir Kenneth manages to be refreshingly loose, they’re a really fun team of likeable scoundrels/con artists. Kline’s casting is especially important, because these guys are scoundrels, but Kline is the guy you hire when you want to make your scoundrel likeable. Kline definitely delivers, and if Branagh is less likeable, that’s somehow all the better for it because it sets him apart from Kline’s character.

 

The animation is pretty decent, if a tad angular for my liking. It’s certainly a lot better than in Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “Hercules”. Certain horny male viewers who don’t quite go for the traditional Disney princess look (or the pneumatic Jessica Rabbit for that matter) might be quite enamoured with the design of Chel, who is perhaps the first animated movie character for viewers who have an anal fixation. Trust me, you’ll be unable to think of anything else when you see her. As for me, whilst she’s not as disproportionate as Lilo’s sister in “Lilo & Stitch” (the animators went too far and turned her into a dugong with the legs of a New Zealand Rugby Union player!), the character is a bit squat-looking for my tastes. At least the animators have found a way to make such ethnic characters look different without turning them into borderline anthropomorphised sea creatures. I must say that I was slightly pleasantly surprised that the normally nauseating Rosie Perez’s voice is much toned down here. Also, despite adopting a strangely inappropriate English accent of sorts, Armand Assante is pretty good as a villain, even if the film feels to have hit a dead stop once we get to this section of the film. It’s definitely no fault of Assante’s, more that his character’s villainy just isn’t emphasised enough in the story. The non-character animation is pretty solid, with water in particular looking quite textured.

 

The film also comes with a particularly strong music score by John Powell (“Antz”, “Happy Feet”, “Rio”, “Kung Fu Panda”) & Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King”, “Gladiator”, “Kung Fu Panda”, “Inception”), and although far from memorable the songs by Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice are at least not as sombre as “The Lion King”. This is a romp, after all. Like the Phil Collins songs in Disney’s “Tarzan”, the songs are probably bland as hell on their own, but featured in the film they give it a little extra something.

 

Not bad, and the first half is good fun, but if you’re looking for an animated excursion to the lost city of gold, I’d suggest the brilliant 80s kids show “The Mysterious Cities of Gold”. This one has its moments, but the villain isn’t in the film nearly enough to resonate, and the film overall is just a tad under.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Pink Cadillac


Clint Eastwood stars as a skip tracer and all-round master of disguise. After her dipshit husband (Timothy Carhart- who else?) runs off with some neo Nazi morons (led by Michael Des Barres!), Bernadette Peters makes off with their large stash of counterfeit cash and their 8 month old baby, and attempts to drive off in her hubby’s prized pink Cadillac, before getting busted by the cops, looking for Carhart and co. After posting bail she once again sets off in the car, and this is when Eastwood is sent after her. He manages to track her down in a casino in Reno, and so starts a love-hate relationship as Eastwood attempts to bring her in to the authorities, whilst the baddies pop up from time to time looking to get their money back. John Dennis Johnston, Michael Champion, Sven-Ole Thorsen, and Bill Moseley play Des Barres’ associates, whilst Geoffrey Lewis turns up as a hippie phony passport maker. Frances Fisher (soon to be Mrs. Eastwood for a brief while) plays Peters’ sister, Gerry Bamman plays Eastwood’s jerk boss, William Hickey plays a landlord, Bill McKinney is a bartender, James Cromwell plays a goofy motel owner, Jim Carrey has a cameo as a Vegas stand-up comic, and Paul Benjamin appears as a judge.

 

Clint Eastwood appears to be trying for light-hearted goofball action-comedy in this 1989 flick from director/stuntman Buddy Van Horn (“Any Which Way You Can”, “The Dead Pool”). Unfortunately, Eastwood just isn’t a natural comedian, and overall this kind of rowdy action/comedy is more Burt Reynolds’ bag than Eastwood’s anyway. Clint tries (not something you can always say about him), but boy is he unconvincing as a supposed master of disguise and accents. Also miscast is Michael Des Barres, the slick, English-born musician/actor being an ill-fit for the leader of a gang of white supremacist, backwoods yahoos (Then again, one of them is played by bodybuilder Sven-Ole Thorsen, now I think of it. So maybe they weren’t going for realism). He seems far too urbane, and can’t do an American accent for the life of him. Thankfully, Clint’s paired up with Bernadette Peters who is perfectly cast and enjoyable. She’s second only to Rene Russo in “In the Line of Fire” in terms of on-screen chemistry with Clint (She’s certainly a lot more palatable than Sondra Locke or Genevieve Bujold).

 

Scripted by John Eskow (“Air America”, “The Mask of Zorro”), the film itself has some enjoyable moments here and there, and a pretty large cast of familiar names and faces. The one to make the most memorable impression is probably Eastwood regular Geoffrey Lewis, having a whale of a time in a dopey ponytail playing a hippie creator of phony IDs. He’s a lot of fun, and I haven’t got a clue why he’s uncredited in the opening. John Dennis Johnston (most familiar from “48HRS”), James Cromwell, and Gerry Bamman (the a-hole uncle in the “Home Alone” films) are also enjoyable, the latter two are particularly amusing. I was pretty disappointed, however, by how little the inimitable Bill Moseley (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”) and especially Michael Champion (“Total Recall”, “Toy Soldiers”) were given as two of Des Barres’ henchmen. Moseley has a few scenes, but Champion gets practically no dialogue at all (Apparently Champion quit the biz in the late 90s to devote his life to God, interestingly enough). Veteran character actors William Hickey and Paul Benjamin probably deserved a bit more love, but their roles are such that it probably wasn’t possible to write them into the film more. Look out for Jim Carrey’s second appearance in an Eastwood/Van Horn film, here playing a comedian doing a bizarro Elvis routine that Mr. Eastwood’s character seems a bit dismissive of. Me, I thought it was the comic highlight of the film. He’s funnier in 10 seconds than Eastwood is throughout the entire film. 10 minutes later, Eastwood proves my point by trying to do an impersonation of Peters. He fails. Badly. Really badly. By far the best asset is the blues rock score by Steve Dorff (“Waltz Across Texas”, “Pure Country”), it’s pretty kick-arse stuff.

 

If you’ve ever wanted to see Clint Eastwood with a clown nose, here’s your movie. I prefer to see him in roles he’s actually a comfortable fit in. He ain’t Chevy Chase and this box-office flop ain’t no “Fletch”. Bernadette Peters is terrific, and the film is certainly watchable and light-hearted, so long as you’re an admirer of films like “White Lightning” and “Gator”. Wet fart of an ending, though, which is a shame. Recast the lead and the villain (Burt Reynolds, Kevin Costner or Jeff Bridges in for Eastwood, R. Lee Ermey, Joe Don Baker or Charles Napier in for Des Barres), and you’ve got a much better, if still dumb (fun) film. As is, it’s almost but not quite worth seeing.

 

Rating: C+

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review: So, I Married an Axe Murderer


Charlie Mackenzie (Mike Myers) is a commitment-phobic San Francisco beat poet (no idea what he actually does to make money, though) who begins dating a local butcher named Harriet (Nancy Travis). However, despite things going quite well, Charlie once again finds a ridiculous reason to want to break things off: Having been told by his tabloid-reading Scottish mother (Brenda Fricker) of a supposed ‘Honeymoon Murderer’, Charlie is convinced that all of the tell-tale signs point to Harriet! Is Charlie just being a paranoid commitment-phobe or is Harriet really a serial killer? Myers also plays the role of Charlie’s insult-hurling, Col. Sanders-hating Scottish father Stuart, forever deriding Charlie’s younger brother, whom he only refers to as ‘Heed’ and constantly makes comment of the size of his, well…heed. Anthony LaPaglia plays Charlie’s cop friend who wants his sensitive boss (Alan Arkin) to be more like the angry police bosses in movies. Amanda Plummer plays Harriet’s sister Rose, whilst Debi Mazar plays LaPaglia’s ditzy girlfriend.

 

It wasn’t a hit with critics or audiences in 1993, and some of it is admittedly pretty ordinary, but when this Mike Myers romantic-comedy from director Thomas Schlamme (A TV veteran of three episodes of “The Wonder Years”, EP of “The West Wing” and “Sports Night”) hits, it’s some of the funniest moments he has ever had in his entire career (film or TV). I like the “Wayne’s World” films and the two “Austin Powers” sequels (the original was too spotty), but for me, this is his best film to date. The screenplay comes from Robbie Fox (his only significant credit to date, really), but I’d be shocked if Myers didn’t do a lot of ad-libbing or at least have some creative input here. He has a UK familial background, and apparently he based his second role of Stuart Mackenzie on his own father. The basic romantic comedy/thriller plotline was probably already in place before Myers came to the project, but I reckon Myers had a lot to do with the rest, both good and…not so good (names like Chevy Chase and Woody Allen were tossed around to play Charlie initially. Do you see Woody or Chevy playing a Scottish-American?).

 

Not all of the laughs in the film come from Myers’ Stuart, but certainly all of the film’s best comedic moments come from this character, who in my view is one of cinema’s greatest comic creations. He is such a non-stop collection of great one-liner insults from his very first scene, that even on my sixth or seventh viewing, I was nearly in pains with laughter before that first scene of his was over. Whether it’s yelling ‘Now give ‘yer mother a kiss or I’ll kick ‘yer teeth in!’ in his Scottish brogue, or trying to convince his son Charlie (the lead character played by Myers) and his cop friend played by Anthony LaPaglia of the existence of the Pentaverate (and Col. Sanders membership in said secret organisation), he’s a show-stopping riot. In fact, I’m convinced that LaPaglia’s continued corpsing in the scene was unscripted, he’s just as bowled over by the character as the audience is and can’t help himself. A line like ‘Fine. Go. You’ve stayed your hour!’ has become a go-to line in my own family, when it’s time for someone to leave a family function. Meanwhile, for years I always thought the line ‘Do you link your own sausage?’ asked of Nancy Travis was actually ‘Do you lick your own sausage?’. No, that line doesn’t make sense and the real line is dirty enough (and funny enough) as it is, but I just thought I’d give you an indication of what was going on in my 13 year-old head. I was a very naughty boy! I actually think one of the reasons why there’s not that many funny moments outside of the Stuart scenes is simply to give the audience time to breathe, or else you’d die from laughter.

 

There are still plenty of funny non-Stuart moments in the film (and believe me, I haven’t ruined all of the best Stuart moments at all!), even if they’re not all gutbusters. As Stuart’s tabloid-loving wife, Brenda Fricker is lovely and daffy, a perfect match for the rather rough and bellowing Stuart. The scene where she has a kiss goodbye with LaPaglia that gets a little…familiar, is a particular highlight. Alan Arkin, meanwhile is similarly likeable and amusing as LaPaglia’s mild-mannered police chief, trying not very successfully to turn into the ‘angry police chief’ stereotype. I’d like to think it’s this role and performance that signalled his late career revival. Also funny in cameos are the late Phil Hartman, brilliant as an Alcatraz guard called Vicky, and the monotone Steven Wright perfectly cast as a narcoleptic pilot. Top cameo honours, however, go to Charles Grodin, hilariously understated as a barely co-operative man whose car gets commandeered by LaPaglia. He and the perfectly cast Amanda Plummer (doing that kooky thing she always excels at) are the highlights of the film’s comedy-thriller climax. Less effective and in hindsight incredibly uncomfortable is Michael Richards’ cameo as an angry and insensitive person. Yeah, let’s leave it at that shall we?

 

Although I think the film works far better in the comedy department, there’s no denying that Myers (in the lead role of Charlie) and Nancy Travis play nice, likeable people whom you want to see get together in the end. Well, so long as Travis doesn’t turn out to be an axe murderer. They’re pretty good together, in fact I’ve always liked Nancy Travis as an actress. She’s never been particularly outstanding as such, but I’ve rarely seen her step a foot wrong, either, in terms of performance (She wasn’t very well cast as a grumpy wife in “Auggie Rose”, however). Meanwhile, Charlie’s commitment phobia is funny (albeit very “Seinfeld” meets Woody Allen), as is the line he has about a Scottish form of martial arts (Hint: It sounds an awful lot like a profane insult, just in a Scottish accent). However, the wannabe beatnik poetry nonsense just isn’t funny. In fact, it’s incredibly annoying, a black stain on an otherwise highly enjoyable film. If Myers had his time over again, I would hope he’d get rid of that nonsense (Unless removing “The Love Guru” from existence takes up all of his time. One must prioritise, of course!).

 

There’s a lot of enjoyable elements here, but there’s no denying that the film’s best moments are with Stuart Mackenzie. Those moments are so hilarious that they make this film more than worthwhile on their own. It’s a highly enjoyable, occasionally gut-bustingly funny film, even with the insanely irritating beatnik poetry falling flat. Oh, and I hope you love ‘There She Goes’, because you’re gonna hear that song a whole lot throughout this film.

 

Rating: B+

Monday, December 14, 2015

Review: Run All Night


Liam Neeson plays a drunken, largely retired hitman forced to protect his estranged limo driver son (Joel Kinnaman) from his former boss and long-time friend Ed Harris, when Kinnaman witnesses Harris’ douchebag son Hoyt Holbrook commit a double homicide. Harris (now considered a legitimate businessman) gives Neeson a call to see if he can diffuse the situation, but when Holbrook ends up dead, he is forced to take Kinnaman on the run as Harris promptly puts an end to their long-standing friendship/employ and targets both Neeson and Kinnaman for assassination. Holbrook may be a sack of shit (he was trying to organise a drug-smuggling deal without daddy’s consent), but he’s family. Meanwhile, Vincent D’Onofrio plays an honest but disgruntled police detective with a long-standing hatred for both Neeson and Harris. Common plays an assassin for Harris, Bruce McGill is Harris’ right-hand man, Lois Smith is Neeson’s ill mother, and Genesis Rodriguez is Kinnaman’s wife, pregnant with their third child. Nick Nolte has an uncredited cameo as Neeson’s estranged brother.

 

Yet another Liam Neeson movie where he’s in brooding action/thriller mode, this 2015 film comes from director Jaume Collet-Sera (“Orphan”, and two solid Liam Neeson thrillers “Unknown” and “Non-Stop”) and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby (co-writer of the uneven “Out of the Furnace”). It’s basically an urban update of John Sturges’ underrated western “Last Train From Gun Hill”, where Kirk Douglas clashes with old friend Anthony Quinn, over the latter’s dipshit son killing his Native American wife. However, while the former ended up somewhat of a siege-based/revenge film, Collet-Serra and Ingelsby turn the basic idea into more of a chase film. They also divert from the earlier film (and it’s not an official remake anyway, you could also cite “Road to Perdition” as an influence) by having Neeson’s son go on the run after Ed Harris’ wayward son tries to kill him.

 

It’s a solid film, but it is never quite as claustrophobically tense as it should be, with everyone pretty much blocking Neeson and son from getting out of the city. You never quite get the real-time tension you’d expect for a film that has that title and covers a 16 hour period in New York City. It’s still a very watchable film, and what it does have in its favour is weight and sorrow in its characters. It works better on that front than as an urban action movie, actually. It really is a tragic story, when you get right down to it, though there’s few things more enjoyable than seeing Liam Neeson blow away bad guys as The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ plays on a jukebox. Fuck yeah!

 

Although lens flares and filters continue to be the bane of my existence, it’s a pretty slick-looking film as shot by Martin Ruhe (“Control”). The camerawork is pretty lively and the action is well-shot without much shaking going on. The rain-soaked streets are particularly beautifully lit I must say. What’s with the fake-arse lightning, though? Why do something like that? So silly-looking. The cast is pretty damn terrific here, particularly the two old pros Neeson and Harris. Neeson is first seen as a Bad Irish Santa, which is probably more amusing than it was meant to be, but there’s no doubt that he is believably troubled. I wish he’d lighten the hell up, but the fact is, he’s good at these sorts of roles. Ed Harris is equally terrific, even if I reckon Ray Winstone would’ve been even better casting. It’s a nicely shaded bad guy performance from Harris (He knows his son is a dipshit, but it’s still his son), but boy is he not one to be messed with. Of the actors playing the two sons, Hoyt Holbrook makes the biggest impression with the least amount of screen time. He’s a truly punchable dipshit of the highest order. Kinnaman certainly makes more of an impression here than he did in the “RoboCop” remake. Hippity hop guy Common makes for interesting casting as a supposedly efficient, ice-cold hitman, a sort of John C. McGinley circa 1994/Michael Ironside kind of role. An unbilled Nick Nolte apparently had most of his scenes cut, and has seemingly finished his transformation into a grizzly bear. No, I won’t stop telling that joke, it’s hilarious. I understand the cutting down of his role for pacing reasons, but it’s still a shame because he’s an interesting presence on screen.

 

Expertly acted, this fathers-and-sons film works best as a kind of Greek tragedy, though some of the action is also effective. I wish there was more claustrophobic tension to it, but it’s still pretty good and both Neeson and Harris are in fine form. I’d still recommend seeing “Last Train From Gun Hill” first and foremost, though, as that one still reigns supreme.

 

Rating: B-

Review: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West


 

After being forced out of their New York home by cats, the Mousekewitz family head west to Green River at the suggestion of one Cat R. Waul (voiced by John Cleese), who makes bold promises of a better way of life for all mice. Mr. Waul, however, is a nasty scheming cat who has nefarious plans for the mice. Also following the mouse family out west is scaredy cat Tiger (voiced by Dom DeLuise), the one cat who seems to be a friend to all mice, especially his good buddy Fievel (voiced by Phillip Glasser). Amy Irving voices the object of Tiger’s affections, Miss Kitty, whilst Nehemiah Persoff is the voice of the Mousekewitz family patriarch, Jimmy Stewart (in his last feature film) voices the tired old dog sheriff of Green River, named Wylie Burp, and Jon Lovitz voices a spider.

 

For some reason, the original “An American Tail” has always eluded me, but I decided to press on anyway with the 1991 sequel directed by Phil Nibbelink (“We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story”) and Simon Wells (The grandson of HG Wells, as well as co-director of “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” and the live-action remake of “The Time Machine”). Produced by the one and only Steven Spielberg, its Jewish mice characters are obviously important to him, but I have to say I tired of them, and the film rather quickly. Although it’s always nice to hear the voice of veteran character actor Nehemiah Persoff, they are pretty rank clichés and the real stars of the show are the voices of John Cleese and Dom DeLuise. Cleese (as the wonderfully named Cat. R. Waul) probably should’ve taken the offer to do Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast” rather than play the villain in this, because the big scheme he is cooking is woefully underwhelming. When you find out what he’s up to, you immediately want to know what he’s really up to. Nope, that really is the plan. However, there is no doubt that he was born to play a pompous, heartless villain in an animated film and he really gives the flimsy material more than it deserves.

 

Dom DeLuise, meanwhile, is terrific in pretty much imitating Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion in the form of a scaredy cat who is friends with a mouse, in a film where cats are otherwise rather hostile towards them. He’s a lot of fun, the film isn’t, and why waste the inimitable Jon Lovitz voicing a nondescript spider? Faring much better is old pro Jimmy Stewart as the ancient lawman Wylie Burp. Yeah, I hate the name too, but Stewart is terrific. The character is an old dog, and Stewart sure was old at the time, and being Jimmy Stewart he also talks slooooowly. Perfect, really. There’s a cute bit where Fievel and Tiger come across one another in the desert but each thinks the other is a mirage, and it was great to hear The Blues Brothers version of ‘Rawhide’ at one point. I also liked the bit where Wylie Burp tries to teach Tiger the ‘lazy eye’. It goes comically wrong. However, on the whole this is boring. It’s devoid of energy and the mice aren’t interesting in the slightest. Fievel’s sister in particular lacks any depth whatsoever. I assume she was more interesting in the first film, but here she just breaks into song from time to time. Also, it’s telling that the only memorable song is a replay from the first film (The lovely ‘Somewhere Out There’ by Linda Rondstadt in the original, Cathy Cavadini this time out).

 

Animation-wise, it’s a little more interesting than the films Disney churned out in the 80s, but I wouldn’t call Spielberg’s alternative a huge improvement. It’s colourful, but very dark to the point that it looks like it has been drawn/painted with the heaviest of hands. It does enough to differentiate itself from Disney, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘pretty’ film, either, and the wild west is animated unimpressively I must say.

 

An instantly forgettable sequel made at a time when Disney had made “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” was on the horizon (It was also released the same day in the US as “Beauty and the Beast”, which was unfortunate for this film). You’d think Spielberg and animation would be a match made in heaven, but this and the later turkey “The Adventures of Tintin” suggest otherwise. Some of the voice-work is good, but the script is woefully underdeveloped (did they run out of money before the end?) and the pacing is shockingly slow. Not much fun, really, but it’s Jimmy Stewart’s last film appearance, which counts for a little something in my book. The screenplay is by Flint Dille (who has done a lot of work in TV and video games), from a story by Charles Swenson (“Twice Upon a Time”).

 

Rating: C

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: The Corpse of Anna Fritz


Three frankly creepy young men (Cristian Valencia, Bernat Saumell, and shy morgue employee Albert Carbo) interfere with the corpse of the title celebrity (played by Alba Ribas) at the local morgue. It’s like they’re all named Buck, and they like to…well, you’ve seen “Kill Bill vol. 1”. At least I hope so. ***** POSSIBLE SPOILERS FROM HERE ON ***** Things go on a downward spiral when it appears that the corpse of Anna Fritz isn’t quite as frigid as first thought, and she knows what they have done to her. Uh-oh, they done fucked with the wrong marine. Or the wrong dead celebrity’s corpse.

 

There’s a market for this 2015 horror-thriller from debut Spanish director Hèctor Hernández Vicens and co-writer Isaac P. Creus. If you enjoyed “Very Bad Things” or “Donkey Punch”, but wished they were Spanish, involved necrophilia and only running 71 minutes, perhaps this is the film for you. I found those films distasteful, boring, and populated by not a single interesting or likeable character, and this one may be even worse on all fronts. I’m sorry, but adding necrophilia to the same basic ‘sleazebags fatally mess up and now have to debate whether to fess up or cover up’ formula isn’t enough innovation for me. And don’t get me any pretentious feminist theory crap about the film dealing with the ‘male gaze’, either. That shit bored me to tears at Uni, and believe me, it was the farthest thing from the minds of anyone working on this film. Don’t even go there, the film isn’t worthy, nor do I buy the horseshit about the film criticising the belief that fans feel some kind of ownership of celebrities. Nice try, but this is a film about three guys fucking a dead girl who then makes them pay for it when she without explanation awakens. That’s all.

 

This is the kind of film where the supposed protagonists (or were we meant to side with the dead/undead girl? She seemed a bit cold and frigid to me) seem to be OK with being necrophiliacs and enjoy snorting coke in a morgue…but don’t want to be accused of rape. ‘Coz that’d be the worst thing ever, right? Da Fuq? I simply didn’t believe anyone’s behaviour in this (yes, even for a film about a re-animated corpse the behaviour has to make sense within its world), let alone found it remotely entertaining on any level. I’m not even sure it really counts as horror, for cryin’ out loud. I just didn’t understand these people, even if I could in some way understand why they would want to fuck a dead person, I still couldn’t understand why killing said dead person when they somehow get re-animated, would be any problem for them. I mean, you’re already necrophiliac sleazebags, the girl has clearly already died once, why debate on whether to send her to the grave a second time? I also have to single out actor Cristian Valencia, whose Ivan is a giant knobhead of a magnitude not seen since James DeBello’s thoroughly loathsome Bert in the similarly sleazy and unpleasant “Cabin Fever” (In addition to being a necrophiliac, he’s a drug addict and repugnantly racist).

 

The whole plot of the film is wrong for me, and it needn’t have been in order to get the same basic idea of seeing a dead famous person’s body, across. Cast the characters as a few years younger (and have them be likeable enough to care about whether they die or not), have them merely curious to see the corpse of the celebrity, sneak into the morgue, and simply have her rise from the dead to chase them around the hospital in a ‘paying for your curiosity with your life’ kinda deal, instead of ‘three 25+ year-old creeps trying to fuck a corpse because…feminism’. Movie infinitely and easily improved, without really making any giant changes to the basic idea of seeing a famous person’s corpse (albeit a change in themes), when you think about it. Sadly, that movie is likely to only remain in my head, instead we get this boring piece of shit that outside of necrophilia isn’t remotely shocking or horrific in any way.

 

Illogical (So was she a zombie? Never really dead? Who knows…), loathsome supernatural thriller about a bunch of lowlife scumbags who make 71 minutes seem like 171 minutes. Nothing redeeming here, even the acting is unmemorable. But it’ll be someone’s idea of entertainment…you sick freaks. I do rather like the original Spanish title, however: “El Cadaver de Anna Fritz” sounds considerably cooler than “The Corpse of Anna Fritz”, don’t you think?

 

Rating: D