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, January 2, 2016

Review: Vampyros Lesbos


Swedish actress Ewa Stroemberg (looking like a post-Spice Girls Geri Halliwell) plays the very Swedish-sounding named Linda Westinghouse (dubbed into German too, for added incoherence), working for a Turkish legal firm. Got all that? Anyway, poor Linda is plagued nightly by visions of a mysterious and alluring female vampire calling to her. One night she is taken to a nightclub by her boyfriend and sees a strange yet erotic stage act involving a supposed nude mannequin and the woman from her dreams! Afterwards, her firm sends her to a remote Turkish island to sort out an inheritance issue for someone named Countess Carody (Soledad Miranda), who of course turns out to be the woman from her visions and the woman in the stage act that so fascinated Linda. They go skinny-dipping, sun-bathing, and drink lots of wine. Too much wine for Linda, in fact as she has to go take a lie down in the Countess’ bedroom. In her bed. Making sweet, Sapphic love with the Countess. The next morning she wakes up in a clinic, and Dr. Seward (Dennis Price!) warns Linda to stay away from the Countess, and indeed it appears the Countess is attempting to turn Linda into a vampire like herself, having become obsessed with the sexy blonde girl. Meanwhile, we also see one of Dr. Seward’s deranged patients (Heidrun Kussin), supposedly a previous victim of the Countess now in a crazed state. However, there’s much more to the ‘good’ doctor than meets the eye. Throw in a creepy cellar-dwelling pervert named Memmet (played by the inimitable Jesus Franco himself), a hulking manservant named Morpho (José Martínez Blanco), and lots of random zooms on scorpions, and there’s your movie. Paul Muller turns up as Linda’s psychiatrist, who dismisses her nightly visions as her just being sexually frustrated. Y’know, ‘coz she’s a chick.

 

One of the films that helped make a man out of me (wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more!), I won’t deny that this 1970 film from infamous Eurotrash director Jesus Franco (“99 Women”, “She Killed in Ecstasy”, “Count Dracula”) is a film of mostly Sapphic pleasures. However, beyond that, the film has a haunting, dream-like vibe that, combined with the funktastic score by Manfred Hubler & Siegfried Schwab (Franco’s “She Killed in Ecstasy”), and the melancholic lead performance by the late Soledad Miranda (a forgotten member of the tragic ‘27 Club’), has the film staying with you long afterwards. Good or bad film (it’s certainly not the latter), the film is utterly unforgettable. And yeah, there’s lesbian action and lots of tits, too. The late Soledad Miranda had made quite a few films before this one, and made this, “The Devil Came From Akasava”, and “She Killed in Ecstasy” (all for Franco, one of cinematic history’s most prolific directors at the very least) in fairly quick succession before dying in a tragic car accident in Portugal, on her way to sign a contract with Franco (Such a shame that with Miranda’s death and Stroemberg promptly leaving the industry, two promising stars were never to be). Best exemplified in this film, she had a strange, doe-eyed, vacuous-yet-haunted quality to her that was mesmerising and inimitable to her. It suits her especially well here as Countess Carody, who seems somewhat sad and weary.

 

I think the film escapes homophobia in that sense (it’s more sexist, if anything), as she’s much more complicated than a mere man-hating Sapphic predator. For starters, she’s not even human anyway, but a vampire. And although she is indeed predatory, with Linda she finds herself getting lost in, she herself becomes bewitched by this girl. It’s fascinating. In fact, as much as I’m not going to call this a thinking person’s vampire movie in the slightest (It’s called “Vampyros Lesbos” for fuck’s sake!), it’s not brainless, either. There’s a lot of psycho-sexual stuff going on here. In addition to the Countess-Linda relationship, you’ve got a horny-as-hell female Renfield character in Agra (Heidrin Kussin), and at least two sleazy male characters in the creepy pervert and sadomasochistic psychopath Memmet (creepily and effectively played by director Franco himself) and a rather brutal and hypocritical Dr. Seward, an interesting inversion of the famous Bram Stoker character (played by the once respectable Dennis Price, in his alcohol and no-giveashit phase). Try not to look too close at Mr. Franco, by the way, or else you’ll realise his ‘hunchback’ character is literally just Franco bending over a bit. Hilarious. Although it’s not an official retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it certainly plays like a psychosexual pervy slant on the tale, wrapped up in a rather dreamlike/nightmare vibe overall. It’s very much its own thing.

 

Whatever you might think of Franco (and there’s lots of opinions), he’s definitely got his own worldview on show here and whilst hardly “Intolerance”, it’s got more going on here than just lesbian vampires. Whether what’s going on here (and that includes the lesbianism) is your cup of tea, well I’m guessing if you’re still reading this you’re at least somewhere on the spectrum of this film’s wavelength. But it’s definitely not going to be for all tastes. In fact, Franco’s style alone has been known to put more than a few people off. Yes, just as Franco has his own twisted, kinky worldview, he also has a very distinct filmmaking style. I’m not going to call him a great filmmaker or artist in the slightest, hell I’m not even going to say he’s a great storyteller. He could never, however, be accused of being a journeyman hack with no discernible style. In most cases you’ll know very early on in a Franco film just who directed it (His legit- if still loose- take on Stoker, “Count Dracula” might take you a while to catch on, however. That was his one attempt at mainstream appeal, I reckon). It’s all about the zooms, seemingly randomly zooming in and out on various insects, scorpions and the like. Do not make a drinking game out of this, you’ll die of alcohol poisoning before the end of the first act! It’s actually not random, though. In fact, it’s pretty blatant symbolism on show. However, if you hate zooms (as many indeed do), this film will drive you nuts. Even with the zooms, I think it’s a really stunningly shot film, with cinematographer Manuel Merino (“The Teacher and the Miracle”) capturing some truly gorgeous imagery, and I’m not just talking about the stunning naked bodies of Miranda and Ewa Stroemberg. I mean, my God would you look at that fabulous, red-lit spiral staircase? That’s like something out of a Corman-Price-Poe flick right there. The bold use of the colour red throughout is wonderful and obviously deliberate by Franco. Although I had to be told the film was shot in Istanbul, Turkey (despite being a West German-Spanish film), the seaside scenery is gorgeous and completely unlike anything you’ve seen in this kind of film before. Vampires don’t tend to do much sun and sand, after all, and there ain’t a foggy Transylvanian castle in sight here (Though the Countess has ties to Dracula, as expressed in one fascinating bit of dialogue). But Franco wants what he wants, and so we get scenes of the Countess skinny-dipping and sun tanning, albeit with big ‘ol sunglasses on. You’ll certainly never forget the film’s opening stage act, a bizarro performance art piece with the Countess dancing sexily with what appears to be a nude mannequin, but which by the end of the scene appears to be very much alive. Is it completely ridiculous? Sure, but it’s also undeniably erotic, aided immeasurably by the sexy actresses and the sensational, funky music score.

 

I hadn’t seen this film since I was about 19, and seeing it again at age 35, it was like not one day had gone by. Such is the film’s staying power. There are more sexually explicit films out there. There are more professionally well-made and thought-provoking films out there. None of those films, however are “Vampyros Lesbos”. I actually think it has held up a helluva lot better than Hammer’s far more sexually repressed Karnstein trilogy, not to mention the arty “Daughters of Darkness” (which it does share a few similarities with). See it, because it’s sexy as hell. See it because it’s a rite of passage for every heterosexual male. See it for the strangely haunting Soledad Miranda. See it for that funky soundtrack. See it for Jesus Franco’s distinctly bizarro and kinky worldview. See it, so that you can say you’ve seen a film called “Vampyros Lesbos”. And see it, because damn it, it sure is something! The screenplay is by Franco, Anne Settimó (assistant director on “She Killed in Ecstasy”), and Jaime Chávarri (a writer-director in his own right), though the latter denies having any hand in writing the script despite the credit.

 

Rating: B+

Review: Unbreakable


Bruce Willis is the sole survivor of a horrific train crash, and even more miraculously, he doesn’t even have a scratch on him. Comic book art dealer Samuel L. Jackson gets in touch with him, and asks if he remembers ever being injured or sick in his entire life. Willis responds that he doesn’t recall any such thing, and Jackson thinks he has an amazing theory as to why. Jackson, by the way, is almost the exact opposite of Willis- he’s physically extremely fragile, easily prone to bones breaking (he came out of the womb with both arms and both legs broken!). Robin Wright plays Willis’ estranged wife, Spencer Treat Clark is their son, and Eamonn Walker appears early as a perplexed doctor witnessing the birth of a very unusual child.

 

“The Sixth Sense” wasn’t the debut from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan (whose later “Signs” is also quite underrated), but it’s the first film of his that anyone had heard of, let alone seen. So, in a sense this 2000 flick was his sophomore effort, and typical of ‘second albums’, this one didn’t go over quite as well. I was pretty mild on it at the time myself. Looking at it again now, I probably took to it a little better, but the same basic problem remains the same: Shyamalan has an interesting idea here, but doesn’t tell it in the best fashion possible. I understand his desire to slowly have Bruce Willis’ character uncover his true nature, and for the film to not want to spell out just what kind of film it is right away. I get that. However, it takes 77 minutes for the film to really get going, and whether I understood why or not, it’s still hard not to get rather impatient. It’s not just the ending that I really liked here, as I said, it starts to go somewhere quite a bit earlier than that. However, I think it really ought to have started at its ending, because it’s the most interesting thing about the film. What comes before the 77 minute mark simply isn’t worthy of anything after it. This is less an issue of screenplay or even structure, though.

 

The main problem is Shyamalan’s air of pretentiousness, his typically mopey tone, and the agonisingly slow pace. This is the kind of film that pisses me off more than a bad film, because Shyamalan’s really got something here on a conceptual level, I’m just not sure he’s the right director for it. His ponderous, low-key trademark tone as a filmmaker just isn’t beneficial here at all. It sucks all the fun out of what eventually reveals itself to be a fun concept (Though the idea at work here, or the ‘Shyamalan twist’ if you will, aren’t hard to spot in advance. We know the deal with Bruce Willis 20-30 minutes in, and I think one unfortunate line of dialogue reveals the final twist around the same time. Hell, the opening title cards are practically big red sirens themselves). If there’s one story that needed to be told in a drawn-out, hushed manner, it’s not this one, though it might just be the originator for a bunch of similarly pretentious, high-minded films in this particular genre (I’m being as spoiler-free as I possibly can, much more so than Shyamalan is himself, really). I wanted to enjoy this film, and the way it’s presented it feels like Shyamalan didn’t want anyone to enjoy the film.

 

I did, however, dig Samuel L. Jackson’s performance, whilst Robin Wright is fine also. As for Bruce Willis, he’s been worse, but has been encouraged to adopt the Shyamalan ‘low key to the point of coma’ approach to acting that worked better in “The Sixth Sense”. Everything worked better in “The Sixth Sense”. There are moments where the film gets to where it might approach greatness…but almost isn’t the same as getting there. Meanwhile, the director’s egotistical insistence on casting himself in important small roles reaches its nadir here. His performance is distractingly awful, to the point where you’re not even sure what he was going for, not helped by credited himself in the role of ‘Stadium Drug Dealer’, even though I don’t think that’s quite accurate (but because of Shyamalan’s performance, I can’t even be certain). As for the end title cards, if the writer-director was aiming for something in the vicinity of faux-documentary or docudrama, he hasn’t set that up well enough at all.

 

I almost hate this film more than Shyamalan’s worst films like “The Village”, because he’s stumbled on a pretty great concept, that with a filmmaker possessing a greater sense of energy and fun, might’ve resulted in a really good film. Get rid of the spoiler-y moments in the film, speed things up a tad and lighten the fuck up, then you’ve got yourself a film worth watching. As is, you’ve got a most frustrating film that nearly works in spite of its filmmaker’s portentous approach. But nearly isn’t good enough, though it’s apparently a favourite film of Quentin Tarantino’s, so there’s that.

 

Rating: C+

Friday, January 1, 2016

Review: Horrible Bosses 2


This time out our central trio (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) invent their own shower product (The awkwardly named ‘Shower Buddy’), but get royally screwed by smug investor Christoph Waltz, who pulls out after the boys have already started manufacturing to meet Waltz’s order. It bankrupts them and allows Waltz to buy the product cheaply. In retaliation the boys decide to engage in some kidnapping, nabbing billionaire Waltz’s jerk son (Chris Pine), holding him for ransom so they can get their money back. Being that these three are slightly brainier than The Three Stooges, the plan doesn’t go smoothly. Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Foxx return as the nymphomaniac former boss of Day (now running a sexaholics group!), and inept criminal Mother Fucker Jones, respectively. Kevin Spacey has two short appearances as one of the other horrible bosses from the first film, now in prison but delighting in the central trio’s sticky predicament. Jonathan Banks turns up as a crusty old cop investigating the supposed kidnapping.

 

The original “Horrible Bosses” was a pleasant and funny surprise to me, as it seemed like another crass “Hangover” variant, but was much, much better than that. This 2014 sequel from director Sean Anders and his co-writer John Morris (who collaborated on the enjoyable “She’s Out of My League” and the tolerable “Hot Tub Time Machine”) is pretty much what you would expect: An inferior sequel, albeit still a watchable one. It’s a little disappointing, but certainly no stinker, it definitely beats any of the “Hangover” films.

 

Things start off brightly with a genuinely funny demonstration on a perky morning TV show that goes from bad to bad times infinity. Meanwhile, as one of this film’s bosses, Chris Pine has probably never been better if you ask me. He’s a perfect callous douchebag, and the progression of his character throughout the film is a highlight. As his also horrible boss father, Christoph Waltz is his usual Christoph Waltz self. That act is going to get old soon, but his polite, smiling interpretation of a ‘horrible boss’ is still fun when he’s in the film (sadly not as much as one would like). For the film’s first half, it really did work well and I was having a pretty good time. Even the returning Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) still amused me by referring to our central trio as ‘colonisers’ and claiming that Charlie Day’s character has ‘Klan eyes’.

 

Having said all of that, I don’t think it was a great idea to bring the character back, as the joke isn’t as funny the second time around and is pretty much indicative of the film overall. I enjoyed quite a bit of it, but not as much as last time. In fact, the second half contains not one single laugh. Not one, and both the intimidating (if seriously old-looking) Jonathan Banks and the returning Kevin Spacey end up completely wasted. I mean, Spacey only gets one scene but Jennifer Aniston gets to recreate her completely unfunny and miscast nymphomaniac schtick from the first film all over again? Spacey’s an Oscar-winner for cryin’ out loud! Perhaps Spacey had a busy schedule, otherwise that defies any good sense in my view. I mean, even in just a couple of minutes, the guy makes everyone else invisible when he’s on screen (and venomously insulting everyone as only Spacey can). As usual, Aniston proves completely incapable of convincingly inhabiting an actual character. She’s not an actress, she’s Rachel from “Friends” in different roles each time. She’s awkward and unfunny here. Also, I wasn’t overly keen on Charlie Day last time out, but this time the Bobcat Goldthwait-sounding guy annoyed the ever-lovin’ shit out of me this time. The normally smarmy Jason Sudeikis, however, has never been funnier, picking up some of the slack, especially in that strong first half. Also, much as I found him annoying, Day’s lack of affinity for accents is pretty damn funny.

 

If the second half of the film featured some genuine laughs, and if Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Banks, and Christoph Waltz were given more to do, this film would be significantly improved. As is, it’s got a strong first half and a pretty lame second half, and it depends an awful lot on your fondness for the central characters (or actors). On that front I liked two of them (Jason Bateman is always dependable), but Charlie Day and I just don’t mesh. Still, so far as sequels go, this is typically inferior but not at all bad. I’m just shocked at how the laughs dry up so suddenly at the halfway point. 

 

Rating: C+

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: The Left-Handed Gun


A re-telling of the story of William H. Bonney, AKA Billy the Kid (Paul Newman) who becomes embittered and violent when his mentor, genteel rancher Tunstall (Colin Keith-Johnston) is gunned down by a sheriff’s posse (one being corrupt Sheriff Brady himself), working for an intimidating rancher named Morton. Billy makes it his mission to hunt down Tunstall’s killers and get revenge, aided by two of Tunstall’s men, Charlie Bowdre (James Congdon) and Tom O’Foliard (James Best). The latter two are somewhat in over their heads however, as Billy is much more violently motivated than they are, shocking even hero-worshipping writer Moultrie (Hurd Hatfield). Complications arise when Billy’s new ally Pat Garrett (John Dehner) tires of his friend’s gun-happy ways and (after Billy breaks an amnesty) finally decides to give in to the demand that he become sheriff, setting up a showdown between the two pals. John Dierkes plays Tunstall’s loyal business partner McSween.

 

Although 30+ year old Paul Newman is clearly too old to play a guy who died aged 21, he gives one of his more interesting early performances in this rather grim 1958 western from debut film director Arthur Penn (“Little Big Man”, “Bonnie and Clyde”). Scripted by Leslie Stevens (whose play The Lovers was turned into the 1965 film “The War Lord”) from a teleplay by an apparently disgruntled Gore Vidal (“Ben-Hur”, “I Accuse”), the only major issue with the film (aside from playing extremely fast and loose with known facts to say the least) is that it’s way too much story to be telling in one 99 minute film. “Young Guns” had to tell it in two 90 odd minute films. An hour into a 90ish minute film is simply too late for Pat Garrett to still not be appointed sheriff, as it leaves Penn and Stevens having to rush things in the final half-hour.

 

In the role of Garrett, it must be said that John Dehner is the screen’s best-ever, much as James Coburn (who played him in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”) is one of my favourite actors of all-time. It’s not even close, with all due respect to Coburn, Patrick Wayne (“Young Guns”), and William L. Petersen (“Young Guns II”). I never quite got Petersen’s take on the character, as he came off as a smug prick who never seemed credible as a former ally to Billy. At least with Coburn in “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” the rather antagonistic relationship between the two fit in with the tone of the entire film. As for pale-eyed Dehner, his Garrett is given stronger motivation for siding against Billy than was Petersen (who seemed to be portraying Garrett as vain without any context for it). In this outing, Garrett is a decent, peace-loving man who used to be a bit of a scallywag. He sympathises with Billy and agrees to hide him, but when Billy starts shooting it up at his wedding and breaks the amnesty, Garrett draws a line in the sand. That makes much more sense than Garrett simply being an ambitious and glory-seeking dickhead.

 

Also impressing is the always sturdy John Dierkes in a supporting turn as McSween, the lawyer character Terry O’Quinn brilliantly portrayed in “Young Guns”. Lantern-jawed character actor Dierkes is a tower of quiet strength and decency, as the Bonney ally, stealing his every scene. Roscoe P. Coltrane himself, James Best is an appropriately dumb hick Tom O’Foliard (there’s a bit of Roscoe in the performance), if a bit underused, as is his “Dukes of Hazzard” co-star Denver Pyle as one of Garrett’s posse. James Congdon doesn’t get a lot to do as Charlie Bowdre (later immortalised by the underrated Casey Siemaszko in “Young Guns”), but his final scene is actually quite harrowing. As for Mr. Newman, inappropriate in age or not (and let’s face it, Tunstall was meant to be in his mid-20s and every film gets that one way wrong!), he gives a suitably taciturn, revenge-minded characterisation of the famed youthful outlaw. I think Emilio Estevez better conveyed Billy’s somewhat psychotic, trigger-happy side, but Newman is fine in his own way, too, one of his better early performances before his career really took off.

 

The one weak link in the cast is clearly Hurd Hatfield, whose character Moultrie is perhaps meant to be a blind hero-worshipper who gradually sees the disturbed man he has turned into a myth. Unfortunately, the oily way Hatfield portrays the character is so incredibly bizarre and mannered, that he’s inappropriately creepy and seems somehow sinister. He strikes every wrong note and stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent cast. Definitely worth commending is the stark, stunningly beautiful B&W cinematography by  Peverell Marley (“Night and Day”, “The Greatest Show on Earth”), a highlight of the film for sure. Deaths in this film really seem differently handled to any western prior, and it’s one of the film’s chief strengths. It’s a bit more shocking, uglier, and more pronounced than most westerns before it.

 

Even though this is in many ways a traditional B-western, there’s an extra kick in the guts that, combined with some very good performances, elevate the film into something of a minor classic. It’s chief flaw (aside from perhaps the title being based on a dispelled myth) is covering a lot of material later seen in the “Young Guns” films, but with only 99 minutes, it does so too quickly and in not quite enough detail. Still an interesting, brooding, and stark film well worth re-discovery.

 

Rating: B

Review: Automata


Filmed in Bulgaria and set in 2044 where most of humanity has been erased due to huge solar flares. Antonio Banderas plays an insurance agent for a big robotics company, but the dire living circumstances have seen robots built with a certain cost-effective, low-tech in mind. Robots have been configured to help humanity in their day-to-day lives, but also making sure that they can’t repair themselves (or each other), as well as the standard Asimovian condition that they never harm human beings. However, one such robot is indeed believed to have broken the ‘Thou shalt not repair thyself’ commandment and it’s up to Banderas (whose wife Birgitte Hjort Sorensen is about to pop out a baby) to investigate. See, if a robot can repair itself, chances are it’s capable of improving its intellectual capacity. When that happens, it’s plausible (if not probable) that they might just want to say ‘nah, fuck that’ to not harming humans. Banderas visits a ‘clockmaker’ (played by that great player of cinematic intellectuals, Melanie Griffith) who has a sex robot (!) that seems to be able to repair itself. And that’s when the film takes a turn best discovered for yourself. Or not. I’d go with not, because SPOILER ALERT the film sucks. Robert Forster plays Banderas’ boss, David Ryall plays Forster’s boss, and Dylan McDermott plays a somewhat antagonistic cop sent after Banderas when the latter goes missing.

 

Cheapjack 2014 sci-fi flick is a rip-off of “Blade Runner”, “I, Robot”, and “A.I.” (the first two especially), and you’d swear it was the handiwork of hack director Albert Pyun (“Cyborg”, “Omega Doom”) working for the Cannon Group. Nope, it’s Spanish director and FX guy Gabe Ibanez at the helm (in his second feature-length effort), co-writing the plagiaristic script with Igor Legarreta and Javier Sanchez Donate, and made for Millennium Films (Pretty much the modern equivalent of Cannon, or as someone over at ‘Good Efficient Butchery’ calls them, a ‘Cannon cover band’. Damn, I wish I’d have come up with that one!). It’s a depressingly boring, sluggishly paced and distressingly unoriginal hack-job (the pathetic Michael Crichton ‘rogue robots’ thriller “Runaway” is another obvious influence here), with a glum and miscast (and bald) Antonio Banderas to match, seemingly inspired by Harrison Ford’s glum performance and miscasting in “Blade Runner”. Like that overrated Ridley Scott film, it’s no fun at all. Unlike that overrated Ridley Scott film, it doesn’t feature Rutger Hauer or Edward James Olmos (it does have Robert Forster essentially in the M. Emmet Walsh role, however), and the visual design looks like something created on an Apple II. The cityscape may look like a micro-budget “Blade Runner” (hideous green-screen work), but I liked the film’s rather low-tech future idea, sort of a shitbox “I, Robot” where they can’t afford truly hi-tech robots. Sadly, the film itself is a shitbox “I, Robot”, and “I, Robot” wasn’t much chop to begin with.

 

Banderas must’ve seriously needed the cash, because this is terrible and the normally charming actor looks miserable. But this kind of role just isn’t his thing, for starters all the technical mumbo-jumbo doesn’t mesh well with a thick Spanish accent. Dylan McDermott, meanwhile, adopts a Clint Eastwood rasp and wears sunglasses to try and hide his hatred for himself. He sounds like an idiot and isn’t fooling anyone. As for Melanie Griffith (who was presumably still with Banderas at the time), she looks cryogenically frozen. Botox has rendered an already terrible actress even worse at her chosen craft. The idea of automatons eventually gaining enough power and intelligence to become wholly independent, was done a lot better in “Her”. This one’s a standard issue ‘robot paranoia’ take, and deathly dull.

 

If not the worst film of 2014, this is certainly the most miserable. The low-tech robots are somewhat interesting, the film itself is a derivative, cheap-looking, glum slog with unhappy performances from actors who ought not be here. And a frozen Melanie Griffith. The whole thing broods itself into a coma and a bald-headed, glum Banderas seems to be playing a role intended for Jason Statham or Luke Goss (Final thought: Is Antonio Banderas set to become the new Rutger Hauer? If you take out “Puss in Boots”, their career paths have taken on somewhat similar trajectories. Sure, Banderas rarely plays villains and is a weaker actor than Hauer, but the comparisons are there and rather scary. Take more care in your career choices, Antonio!).

 

Rating: D

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Review: Hellraiser


Larry (Andrew Robinson) and new wife Julia (Claire Higgins) have just moved to the family home in England. Larry is unawares that his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) is hiding out there, after opening a strange puzzle box that unleashed demonic creatures known as Cenobites. He’s not quite the same, though. In fact, Frank is pretty much dead. You see, the Cenobites are kinky sadists who derive pleasure from pain and have torn Frank apart. When a drop of blood inadvertently finds its way to Frank’s body, however, it partially revives him (but now played by Oliver Smith for some odd reason) and that’s when Higgins discovers his skinless existence. Julia, who was previously Frank’s lover unbeknownst to Larry, is persuaded by Frank to lure men to their deaths so that Frank can feed off their blood and regain his former self. A fly in the ointment comes when the dreaded Cenobites (led by Doug Bradley’s formidable-looking Lead Cenobite, AKA ‘Pinhead’) come for Frank, unhappy that he has escaped them. Ashley Laurence (who looks alarmingly like Winona Ryder in this, I think) plays Larry’s daughter Kirsty, who isn’t terribly fond of her wannabe Joan Collins stepmother. The other Cenobites are played by Grace Kirby, Simon Bamford, and Nicholas Vince.

 

I’ve never been the biggest fan of this seriously nihilistic 1987 horror/fantasy from writer-director-author Clive Barker (adapting his own short story The Hell-Bound Heart), but after seeing it several times over the last 25 years or so, I think I do have to finally concede that it’s a well-made film with ambitions far exceeding most horror flicks of the mid-80s. I still admire it more than I find it enjoyable (and prefer Barker’s underrated “Nightbreed” much more), but I can’t deny this one’s got its own vibe unlike anything else out there even today, really. Along with the “Elm Street” franchise, this is definitely the most ambitious and strange of the iconic 80s horror franchises, and I bet it messed up a lot of straight-laced folk back in ‘87. This is some weird, fucked-up S&M meets demons and angels and purgatory themed stuff right here and Barker probably got this gig simply because no one else could make heads or tails of it other than the man himself.

 

There’s some genuinely terrific elements; The excellently moody Christopher Young (“The Dark Half”, “Drag Me to Hell”, “Priest”) score, a memorably bizarre-looking and chilling iconic character (Doug Bradley’s Pinhead), nasty imagery of ripped hunks of human flesh hanging from hooks, and what sicko kid didn’t want to have their own Lament Configuration? Ashley Laurence may not have really gone on to anything else of note, but she’s forever memorable as Ashley in this film. She’s definitely a better actress than “Nightmare on Elm Street” star Heather Langenkamp. The cinematography by Robin Vidgeon (“King David”, “The Crucifer of Blood”) contains some really nice lighting throughout. With all the flesh-ripping and kinky S&M-looking demons one wonders how the hell this thing even got green-lit. It’s clearly because Barker does it so damn well, and with such style that I’m surprised he hasn’t directed more often. In particular, there’s a really terrific- and completely disgusting- transformation/regeneration scene that makes good use of obviously limited funds.

 

There are two obvious flaws with the film, the biggest being the cold fish performance given by TV veteran Claire Higgins. A third-rate Emma Samms (who in the 80s was a second-rate mixture of Joan Collins and Barbara Carrera, herself), her performance and character are so cold and bitchy, that it’s frankly hard to care about anything that happens to her. Andrew Robinson is the biggest name and best actor of the bunch here, and yet this is a surprisingly weak performance from him. He’s a bit hamstrung by a somewhat dull character, however. His best asset is that he’s such an unfriendly-looking actor that cast here you’re never sure what his intentions are. Doug Bradley makes easily the biggest impression as lead Cenobite now affectionately referred to as Pinhead. He’s no master thesp, but he delivers the immortal ‘We’ll tear your soul apaaaarrrrrt!’ with chilling malevolence that might remind you a little of Christopher Lee. Unfortunately, Pinhead and the Cenobites represent the film’s other problem. They are the most poorly utilised great horror villains in cinematic history. None of the “Hellraiser” films have treated them right, and that’s as true here as in any of the subsequent sequels. Frankly, the way this film plays out as kind of like a Hammer version of an Edgar Allen Poe story (the Julia/Frank/Larry grisly love triangle in particular seems very Poe to me), the Cenobites aren’t even necessary, and feel tacked on awkwardly. They’re awesome (Simon Bamford is particularly grotesque as the aptly named Butterball). I understand not wanting to overexpose them, but I’m not sure they even really belong in the film at all. Or maybe the film should’ve been about them with the Poe-esque stuff to the sides instead of the other way around. As is, you can certainly see the seams and it takes more than 40 minutes for the Cenobites to be even remotely integrated into the story. That’s way too long. Having said that, the film still works as is, just somewhat disjointed. I also like how ambiguous the Cenobites are. I mean, Higgins and Frank are clearly the film’s villains, but are the Cenobites therefore heroes, given they’re after Frank? Hardly, with all that flesh-ripping. It reminds me of the angels from the “Prophecy” franchise in terms of character ambiguity there.

 

OK, so this is absolutely not the film to start with as your first-ever horror film. Although not exactly ‘scary’, even today this is some disturbing, otherworldly sadomasochistic stuff right here that’ll fuck you up seventy billion different ways (It might even be the forefather of ‘torture porn’). It’s well-done, though, even if I’d prefer a warmer cast of characters. As is, my level of giveashit about all this is a bit lesser than many people’s will be. Still, this is undeniably iconic, memorable, and compellingly weird.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road


Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) finds himself tenuously aligned with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her group of young women (Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton), who are the five designated wives of tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe (the eccentric Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in “Mad Max”), whose employ Furiosa was previously under. One of the girls is even pregnant with Immortan Joe’s child. Needless to say, Immortan Joe (who has a spectacular breathing apparatus attached to his face) isn’t a happy camper and he unleashes his gangs of savages (including the ‘War Boys’) who pursue Max and Furiosa across the desert wasteland. Nicholas Hoult plays Nux, one of the ‘War Boys’, who despite trying to use poor Max as a blood donor (Immortan Joe likes to keep his ‘army’ replenished after all) is actually a pitiable character, as he is essentially chained to Max for much of the duration with no one really concerned for his safety or well-being in all the mayhem. No, not even his brethren. 78 year-old character actress Melissa Jaffer, TV veteran Joy Smithers, and absolutely gorgeous Aussie supermodel Megan Gale turn up late as members of Furiosa’s tribe, The Vuvalini, with the latter playing a character named Valkyrie. A shirtless Quentin Kenihan (yes, that Quentin) has a brief part as a character named Corpus Colossus, whilst Angus Sampson, Richard Carter (as Immortam Joe’s brother), John Howard (the actor, not the former PM playing a guy named ‘People Eater’!), Aussie-born former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones (as Immortam Joe’s hulking son, with Corpus Colossus his other son), and martial arts vet Richard Norton (as The Prime Imperator) all play characters in villainous pursuit of our heroes.

 

Geez, calm down everyone. It’s not “Citizen Kane”, for cryin’ out loud. Yes, this 2015 film from Dr. George Miller (“Mad Max”, “Babe”) is another example of how Aussies can make a good genre film when we try, but can we quit with the second coming of Jesus Christ stuff? It’s slightly better than “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”, and quite entertaining, but the original 1979 “Mad Max” still stands far taller for me. In fact, this ‘reboot’ plays very much like a mixture of “Mad Max II” and “Beyond Thunderdome”. Still, on the strength of the four “Mad Max” films alone (I’m not a “Babe” fan in the slightest) Miller really ought to make more films. He’s clearly a helluva director of action as this film once again shows. Like “The Road Warrior”, you’ll find yourself wondering how in the hell no one got killed filming this stuff. You’ve got to hand it to the man, he has the balls to give us a 115 minute car chase. Yes, that means that it’s ultimately lacking in story and character, but for what it is, it’s pretty bloody impressively done. There’s not all that much CGI going on here, which is extremely admirable, but the CGI that is apparent (explosions and a sand storm) is far, far too apparent for my liking.

 

The other issue I have with the film is that although Charlize Theron is really very good here (she’s much less forced at this sort of thing than Scarlett Johansson), her character seems to force the title character to the sidelines. So much so that I really wish Max weren’t in the film at all, just make it a “Mad Max” spin-off with a new lead character inhabiting the same world. As is, it feels like two stories fighting for screen time and Theron’s Furiosa wins the battle. Tom Hardy is quite a good choice for Max, and does a decent stab at an Aussie accent, though it comes across like Aussie spoken by someone who has been out of the country for a few years, which may annoy some people. I pretty much bought into it, and his gravelly voice is pretty perfect too.

 

It’s a shame Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe isn’t given a whole lot to say or do as the main villain, but anyone who doesn’t smile at his very (awesome) appearance, is clearly undergoing rigour mortis. That’s one fantastically fearsome-looking villain if ever I’ve seen one, it’s just that the chase nature of the film means there’s not much time to stop and chat. Hell, the whole thing looks pretty awesome, set and production design is at a scale beyond anything in Aussie cinema (or at least genre filmmaking) since “Beyond Thunderdome”. The vehicles, meanwhile are absolutely insane (one car, a VW, looks like a giant echidna! I want one now!), and whoever thought of having a rock band perform atop one of the vehicles (with a flame-thrower guitar!) is a freakin’ genius. Also, look out for a visual moment that briefly recalls Toecutter’s final second or two in “Mad Max”. We see it here re-imagined as a nightmarish vision for Max (Strange to see something from the first film in a reboot, but it’s cool for fans like me, nonetheless). Yes, this is almost like the Baz Luhrmann of “Mad Max” films in a way (except uber-macho), but for sheer spectacle it really does work.

 

It’s a shame that Miller very occasionally resorts to colour correction (to make day look like night) and a little bit of CGI, because for the most part he doesn’t do a whole lot to the landscape. He doesn’t need to, Namibia does enough of the work itself. That said, CGI or not, the sand storm scene is still pretty amazing (It’s really the B&W inserts that I have a problem with. Why do that?). Terrific thumping music score by Junkie XL (“300: Rise of an Empire”) and there’s just something so lovely and charming about hearing someone yell out ‘Fang it!’. I don’t know why, it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

 

One thing the film definitely does have going for it is that the cast are clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves here, and that includes a very random but in my view a very much appreciated appearance by Quentin Kenihan. Long ago seen interviewed as a boy with brittle bones disease by journo Mike Willesee on “A Current Affair” back in the 80s, Quentin (now in his 40s!) plays the film’s version of Angelo Rossitto’s character from “Mad Max II: The Road Warrior”, basically. It was just awesome (but like I said, random) seeing him there, and I bet he had a great time, too. Nicholas Hoult is pretty good in a more substantial role, even if he looks like Voldermort before he got his nose bitten off. Scarred and surly-looking character actor John Howard looks to be having the time of his life in a small part. Playing Immortan Joe’s brother, one of the nicest surprises in the film is an awesomely angry-looking Richard Carter atop a car that has been turned into a tank. A tank! Brilliant, and Mr. Carter maximises his minutes like a pro, if he were in the film more he might’ve actually stolen the show. On a sour note, all the press leading up that suggested the absolutely stunning (and just plain lovely if you ask me) supermodel Megan Gale was gonna nude-up for this film is pure bullshit. Yes, she’s naked, but she’s shot from so far away that you don’t see a damn thing. Hell, it might not even be her. Ripped. Off. In terms of her acting, she’s actually good enough that you wish she were in a lot more of the film. She gets rubbed out awfully abruptly, I must say.

 

It’s been a long, long time coming, and so perhaps it’s forgivable that there’s been a hyperbolic positive reaction to this long-awaited film. The film looks and sounds ‘hell yes’, and I’m always keen to see an Aussie genre film, even if this one’s not the milestone many have propped it up as. A film with great moments rather than a great film, I like it more for what it represents culturally, than perhaps what it is in terms of quality. It’s proof that we can make quality blockbuster genre movies when we put our minds (and $$) to it. An easy watch, though I highly doubt it’ll make much of a blip come Oscar time. Having Max play second fiddle here was definitely a mistake, but Charlize Theron is pretty terrific as an action heroine and Tom Hardy always delivers a fine performance. It’s probably best recommended to those people out there who think the first “Mad Max” is the weakest entry in the series (If there’s anyone out there like that). I think the first one is the best, but this one’s pretty good too. It works well on a purely superficial level, and at least there’s no Lost Children with their ‘googy-egg speak’. Expertly shot by old pro John Seale (“Gallipoli”, “Witness”, “The Hitcher”), who apparently came out of retirement for the film. The screenplay is by actor Nick Lathouris (who actually had a brief role in the first film, and you may remember him as Alex Dimitriades’ frankly awesome dad on TV’s “Heartbreak High”), Brendan McCarthy (a comic book artist and designer by trade), and Miller.

 

Rating: B-

Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: The Sting


Set in the mid-1930s, Robert Redford is Hooker, a small-time con man in league with the elder Luther (Robert Earl Jones), who has hopes of getting out of the game soon. Sadly, he’s out permanently when they unknowingly con an associate of big-time racketeer and (cheating) gambler Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a no-nonsense gangster who has Luther killed. Hooker gets the hell outta Dodge and heads for Chicago to look up an old associate of Luther’s named Henry Gondorff, apparently Luther’s mentor in the con game. Gondorff seems a grumpy drunken bum, but when he sobers up, he and Hooker devise a big-time con to take Lonnegan for all his worth (setting up a completely fake horse-betting joint!), with a little help from friends such as J.J. Singleton (Ray Walston) and Kid Twist (Harold Gould). Representing the law are Charles Durning as a crooked cop, and Dana Elcar as an FBI man. Jack Kehoe plays an associate of Hooker’s, Eileen Brennan plays a friend of Gondorff’s, Dimitra Arliss plays a tired-looking waitress Hooker chats up, and Charles Dierkop is Lonnegan’s chief goon.

 

One of the all-time greatest entertainments, this 1973 George Roy Hill (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “Slaughterhouse-Five”, “The World According to Garp”) caper is practically flawless and a joy from start to finish. It’s one of those films like “The Great Escape”, “Jaws”, “Star Wars: A New Hope”, or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that it’s virtually impossible not to like it. If you don’t find it wholly entertaining, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe it’s you?

 

The film is most well-known for its Scott Joplin ragtime music, adapted by an Oscar-winning Marvin Hamlisch (“The Way We Were”, “The Spy Who Loved Me”), and yes it is indeed unforgettable. Sure, it’s a little out of step with the time period actually being depicted, but unless you’re a musical nerd, you won’t know that and it nonetheless feels right, even if it technically isn’t. The rest of the period stuff- costumes, cars, sets etc., all convince as authentic to the 1930s so far as this 1980-born person can tell (Some of the film is set in Chicago, some is the Universal backlot in California. I certainly bought it!). Meanwhile, the casting of such character actors as Ray Walston (whom I could listen to delivering dialogue all day long), cynical and dry-witted Eileen Brennan, and the dapper Harold Gould (best dressed person in the film by far) also seems to evoke a much earlier era than the period in which the film was actually made. However, for all of the jaunty ragtime music and fun con games the film features throughout, it is actually depicting a time and place that is harsh, violent, and dangerous to be messing around with criminal bigwigs. People seem to forget that about the film, and it doesn’t actually get in the way of the entertainment, it’s part of it. Throw in the always intense gaze and hardened demeanour of Robert Shaw as the lead villain/mark and you’ve got a film that is as tense as it is fun. It’s a tricky balance, but Hill and Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward (writer-director of minor but enjoyable comedies like “Major League” and “King Ralph”) seem to make it look effortless. And cool. This is quite simply one of the coolest films you’ll ever see. It’s so much fun watching these guys work their magic and trying to put one over on Shaw’s Irish-American racketeer.

 

Robert Redford and Paul Newman are absolutely perfect in this, with Redford very much taking the lead, and Newman essentially having a supporting role. I’ve seen this film about 10 times, and it was only on this most recent viewing that I realised how little he’s in the film. It’s Redford’s film, and he gives one of his best-ever performances as the cocky, impatient upstart to Newman’s washed up but not finished veteran con man. Newman is clearly having a ball here, particularly when his character impersonates a drunken, crass American in a card game with a clearly none-too-bloody-impressed Lonnegan. His arrogance and refusal to get Lonnegan’s name right is priceless (and a perfect fit for Newman). The latter’s obvious volcanic rage just below the surface is hilarious in a film that isn’t exactly a comedy so much as a caper. In fact, as great as Newman and Redford are, it’s Robert Shaw for me who steals the show with a frighteningly intense stare that makes one feel like they’ve been stabbed fifty times in the eyeballs. Shaw might be playing the straight man here, but he’s a great villain. All of the cons in the film are great fun to watch (and most, if not all, seem to be pretty plausible to me), with the ‘big con’ being not just on the villain, but also the audience. If it’s your first viewing of the film, it’ll really surprise you. Speaking of surprises, an actress named Dimitra Arliss provided the biggest one for me the first time I saw the film. What happens with her will remain a secret from me, but suffice to say I was floored on first viewing. It’s a very well-guarded surprise. In other turns, perpetually middle-aged character actor Jack Kehoe is rock-solid as always, and Charles Durning is terrific as a hard-nosed jerk cop, whilst hulking Charles Dierkop (who looks like a “Dick Tracy” villain without the need for elaborate makeup) has the funniest reaction shot in the entire film during the fixed card game on the train.

 

This is the best of all movie capers, it’s a perfect mixture of light and dark, great music, terrific performances up and down the line, and is a must for…well, everyone as far as I’m concerned. It fully deserved its Best Picture win at the Oscars. One of the best movies of any genre you’ll ever see, certainly one of the most entertaining. And good luck getting the music out of your head afterwards!

 

Rating: A+

Review: Last Dragon Master (The Last Tycoon)


Spanning the early 1900s to the late 1930s China, Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiaoming) is in love with Ye Zhiqiu, who left him and their home town to become an opera star in Beijing. Cheng Daqi is framed for murder and imprisoned, where he meets Mao Zai (Francis Ng) a somewhat mysterious figure who helps Cheng Daqi bust out of prison…and teaches him how to kill. He starts a new life in Shanghai, takes up with Bao (Monika Mok), a singer, and becomes aligned with mob boss Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung). Some years later, Cheng Daqi (now played by Chow Yun-Fat, and having become a somewhat ‘honourable’ gangster himself) is shocked to catch a fleeting glance of his former love Ye Zhiqiu (now married to someone safe and boring, and played by Quan Yuan), and vice versa, having not seen one another in all this time.

 

As the Second Sino-Japanese War during WWII breaks out in 1937, Mao (now high up in the National Revolutionary Army) arranges for three plane seats out of danger, with Cheng Daqi, Ye Zhiqiu and her husband, whilst Bao volunteers to stay behind. However, Mao isn’t all that he appears, and it’s up to Cheng Daqi to rescue Bao and stop the plans of the Japanese General.

 

Referred to as “The Last Tycoon” in other English-speaking countries, I guess Australian distributors figured everyone was going to confuse this 2013 film from the eclectic and extremely prolific Wong Jing, for the shithouse 1976 Robert De Niro-starring film. It’s a surprisingly mature, stylishly lensed film for someone of Wong Jing’s rather…schlocky reputation (To put it mildly. Some call him the HK Roger Corman, but I think that’s being a bit insulting to ‘ol Roger, if anything). It’s also messy and clichéd, and the director definitely seems more at home with the action than anything else. There’s a particularly solidly staged bombing scene that seems to suggest the director actually had a decent budget and wasn’t just making a crude cheapie here.

 

Having said that, some of his cruder films are vastly more enjoyable than this. Sure, he’s the guy responsible for the pathetic Jackie Chan film “City Hunter”, but this is also the man who wrote and directed the insane action-comedy “The Last Blood”, wrote the sleazy but stylish action-thriller “Naked Killer”, and co-wrote the wild and gory “The Seventh Curse”, which was great fun. The choppy, montage-heavy mode of storytelling from the director and co-writer makes it really hard to latch onto anything. The flashbacks are also far less interesting than the rest of the film I must say. We get it, there love was never meant to be. Now get back to Chow Yun-Fat and Sammo Hung being all bad arse, OK? Even then, it feels very piecemeal, like you’re skim-reading or something. I also have to admit to being heartily sick of these Hong Kong and Chinese stories having Japanese as the go-to villains. I mean, c’mon. Let it go, guys. Let. It. Go. Chow Yun-Fat (who is strong presence personified and is wonderfully contained) and Francis Ng were the main things that kept me awake here, both are excellent, and Sammo is solid too, in a sadly too small role for my liking.

 

I’ll commend the director for tackling something a little more dramatic and ambitious here (he’s usually a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none), but he just hasn’t done a good job of it. It looks good, and Chow Yun-Fat is persuasive in the lead, but I felt at arm’s length for the most part, because I could never really latch on to anything. It felt like I was watching a 110 minute trailer to a longer film. It’s the damndest thing, and ultimately not very satisfying. Small, white subtitles that flash on and off way too fast don’t help, either. The screenplay is by the director, Manfred Wong (writer-director of “Bruce Lee, My Brother”), and Philip Lui (“Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen”, which also had a heavy anti-Japanese skewing).

 

Rating: C

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: Scenes of the Crime


Soon-to-be-married Jon Abrahams is a mechanic and occasional driver for gangster Peter Greene. On one occasion, Greene kidnaps rival gangster Jeff Bridges, and puts him in the back of Abrahams’ van. Greene’s boss wants them to sit tight while he makes a financial deal with Bridges’ business partner (Bob Gunton) Abrahams is a bit nervous about all of this, but his boss is a dangerous (if low-level) gangster so he just does his damn job. Unfortunately, the whole thing goes to hell and Bridges’ team of enforcers (led by Noah Wyle) are itching to take Abrahams out. Abrahams has a gun, though, which is also handy in case Bridges decides to do a runner on him. He tries to call Greene’s boss (Brian Goodman), whilst Bridges tells him he can’t trust the guy, and that he needs to listen to him if he wants to get out of this situation alive. Part of the action takes place in and around local deli, attended to by Madchen Amick and Morris Chestnut, whilst R. Lee Ermey plays a lonely elderly man of slightly diminished capacity, and Henry Rollins plays Wyle’s number two. Aussie Dominic Purcell is seen briefly as one of Goodman’s bodyguards.

 

Despite a top-notch B+ cast and an irresistible true story, this film from first-time feature director Dominique Forma (a music video director) seems to have slipped through the cracks. Never given theatrical release in the US or Australia, this true crime story from 2001 is actually worthy of rediscovery. Sure, a lot of the characters end up somewhat pointless, and not many people seem to like the ending, but the journey is certainly enjoyable. Really good music score by the underrated Christopher Young (“Hellraiser”, “Flowers in the Attic”, “Drag Me to Hell”), too.

 

At first glance, the plot sounds like something out of a lame Corey Haim flick from the early 90s: Young man who acts as driver for gangster, gets into hot water just days before he is meant to be getting married. It ends up being a much more serious film than that, though the underrated Jon Abrahams isn’t a million miles away from Haim-ness, much as his character models himself on Steve McQueen. He’s good and a relatable enough presence on screen, I think he deserves a better career than he seems to have been handed to be honest. He is also backed up by a pretty impressive array of B+/A- actors, but it’s such a shame that few of them really get a whole lot to do here. I was especially disappointed that the naturally intimidating Henry Rollins has to play the dumb sidekick of the flagrantly miscast Noah Wyle, who plays the least-threatening mob enforcer of all-time. Peter Greene looks to be in rough shape (and based on what I’ve read on the guy, he’s had troubles over the years), but is pretty well-cast as the gangster. R. Lee Ermey is very interestingly cast against type as a doddering old man, who isn’t in the film much, but proves more than meets the eye. I wish he was in the film a whole lot more. Too much Ermey is never enough! Jeff Bridges is a bizarre name to be seen in something like this, but despite obviously only being here for marquee value, he’s OK too as the somewhat ‘respectable’ mobster. I’m afraid Morris Chestnut and Madchen Amick are only here to provide familiar faces no matter whether or not they are actually suited to their roles as deli employees (Morris Chestnut working at a deli? Really? I bet they get a shitload of young female customers, then).

 

The film’s real strength (aside from quite tense direction by Forma), and the reason why it gets a solid rating from me is in regards to its plot. It builds slowly but intriguingly, with things going on at different locations, as you slowly start to work out how things all fit together. It’s an interestingly plotted, twisty film. Yes, by the finale some of the characters feel rather pointless and unnecessary, but they actually are necessary, even if it’s only to disguise the film’s twists and turns. You’re gonna be surprised by one big twist, and you’re gonna feel like an idiot because it’s so obvious. But mark my words, you won’t see it coming. Nobody seems to like the ending but I was fine with it, felt it was kind of amusing, really.

 

I just don’t understand why this film went nowhere. It’s a solid true-crime flick, tensely directed, extremely well-plotted, and has reliable performances from Jon Abrahams, Jeff Bridges, R. Lee Ermey, and Bob Gunton (in one of his better turns, as a mob bigwig). Look out for this one, it’s no world-beater but it doesn’t deserve to have been completely forgotten. The screenplay is by Forma, Daniel Golka, and Amit Mehta, the latter two having not written anything before or since, amazingly enough. Nor has Forma directed a feature film since. There’s gotta be a helluva reason behind that, and it’s not the quality of this film, that’s for sure. This film truly is no crime against cinema, so if anyone has any idea why these people haven’t made a movie since, please let me know. The true crime is that it’s so unknown!

 

Rating: B-