Sunday, 19 May 2013

No.192 : Witness to the Mob

Witness to the Mob at the IMDb

 More TV movie true crime now as the merit free life story of  mob underling Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano gets the ‘Goodfellas-lite’ treatment.

We open in the present day as the orange jump-suited Sammy considers his life having spent the last decade behind bars. In a familiar narrative style we dissolve back to his youth and chart his progress through the ranks of the New York mafia. We occasionally revisit Sammy in the present day and we are treated to his voice-over throughout as he makes obvious observations and ridiculous statements to justify his worthless existence.

The flashback opens with Sammy’s hair a few shades darker, but he’s still as fat. He’s hanging about with Christopher out of ‘The Sopranos’ and trying to make an impression on the local boss. He gets some tips from the Library Detective off ‘Seinfeld’ and carries out a blood free hit on a man sitting in the front of his car. The film’s TV movie credentials are clear from the off when the hit is devoid of blood and no one says ‘motherfucker’.

Soon Sammy has a girlfriend whom he impresses by re-enacting several scenes from ‘Goodfellas’ - Bobby Vincent that ain’t! In fact the whole film from its ‘rise and fall’ story-line to the narrative device of the flashback and voice-over is lifted wholesale from that much better film and although we are dealing with gangsters here, you’d have thought they’d have shown some decency and mix stuff up just a little bit, but they don’t.

The excuse would no doubt be that this is a true story and sure enough Tom Sizemore shows up as John Gotti. Our man soon ingratiates himself with the Teflon Don and they knock off the ageing boss, possibly because he’s the worst actor you’ve ever seen. Our man is number three in the mob now, wait number two; Frank off ‘The Sopranos’ has just been blown up. Soon our mans ascent to grace reaches its pinnacle and things start heading south - what mistake will land him in prison and will his life expectancy on release be equal to that of a chocolate éclair at a Weight Watchers meeting?

This was a really awful offering that has nothing to recommend it. It deals with gangsters but has no swearing, sex or real violence - why didn’t they do a Teletubbies film if they were so scared of offending people? In truth there was one splash of blood but that was a bucket full thrown over a jukebox when someone got shot in the head - very convincing.

The main trouble was the characters and the acting. There wasn’t a sympathetic person on show and although despicable people can be entertaining they won’t be with acting this bad. The cast was all the usual Italian American suspects with the role call looking like a try out for ‘The Sopranos’ which started the next year.

The lead played by Nicholas Turturro  was a strange casting choice as he’s a small fat man devoid of acting talent. Maybe this was a good match with the real life Sammy but some dramatic licence should clearly have been granted. Even familiar turns like Paulie walnuts and Frank from ‘The Sopranos’ were on poor form with Paulie especially poor on witnessing a hit - ‘Mamma Mia!’.

The production values were poor with one car explosion the extent of the budget. As the film ended I had no interest in the lives portrayed and it’s not because these were evil men; just flat and faceless ones.

Best Bit : Oh good the ‘made man’ scene he’s getting it …what?!
W Score 7/23

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

No.191 : Wagons West

Wagons West at the IMDd

Isn’t it strange how many western films have names that starts with a ‘W’? It may be down to our only watching films on the 24 hour western movie channel but that can’t be the whole story, can it? Maybe some great marketing guru foresaw this blog and the chance to have his film promoted to our whole readership of seven.

‘Wagons West’ is about as standard a western as you can imagine - wagons, cowboys, Indians, people eating beans - it’s got the lot. Except a plot, decent characters, acting worth a mention…

The film opens with a lonesome, aging cowboy enjoying beans by the river. A young lad approaches him with his dog - and that’s all that happened your honour! The boy has run away from home and although he acts tough with his Pop’s gun we can see he’s scared. So can our hero cow poke who humours the boy into accepting his beans and possibly some other stuff - it is rather dark. The boy is upset that he’s leaving on a wagon train and fate would have it that our man is the wagon master - a sort of old west tour guide, the virtues of whom were extolled in a scrolling paragraph at the start.

We cut to a saloon where some people are bitching about the wagon master and how he’s probably off drunk and chasing women - red faces all round when he shows up with the boy! The wagon master, Jeff, soon exerts his authority with a handbags at dawn style fist fight with Clay, a bastard with a black neckerchief - he’ll be trouble!

The wagon train soon begins its trip west but only after taking on another wagon that may have a desperate criminal on board and certainly a pregnant woman - it’s almost as if they’re trying to create situations here! The wagons barely get five minutes out of town when they get some injun trouble. Jeff knows the local braves can be bought off with some fish hooks but rather than patronise these noble people Clay shoots one in the back causing a shit storm to rain down on the wagons. Actually the Indians shrug it off but only because Clay and his bad family plan on selling guns to the natives. Further complications ensue when Jeff gets all kissy face with Clay’s pretend fiancée - this pair aren’t fooling anyone!

Soon we have the big finale when the circled wagons are attacked by a bunch of Indians, who look suspiciously like stock footage in the group shots. The bad family are given guns but can they be trusted to use them to fight the Indians? Will the baby appear on cue and can Jeff persuade the girl to be his beard?

Hailing from 1952 you have to forgive this film for its thin plot and broadly drawn characters. Every cliché in the book is wrung for all it was worth and no surprises were to be had. Rod Cameron in the lead was dreadful - an arrogant bully devoid of any charm whatsoever. His nemesis Clay was no better with his expressions straight out of a silent movie as he overacted every time his feeble plans were foiled. The ladies showed not an inch of flesh below the neck and the romance subplot was as convincing as the ‘frontier’ sets.

The plot, as it was, offered nothing in the way of commentary or excitement and it was basically ‘wagons ho!’, ‘look some Indians’, ‘let’s get on our way’ - it beggared belief that the strung that out for 70 minutes!

As a throwback and an oddity this was decent stuff but as a historical document intended to teach us about the past whilst entertaining us it was about as much use as General Custer’s pension plan.

Best Bit : Ooh shiny fish hooks - Bang!   ‘W’ Score 10/23

Sunday, 12 May 2013

No.190 : Water for Elephants

Water For Elephants at the IMDb

Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon star in this circus drama which was a lot more enjoyable than I’d expected.

The film opens and closes with old Hal Holbrook wandering about a closed circus. Luckily the carnie folk don’t rob him and stick him in the hotdog machine, but choose to listen to his tales of the circus life he’d lead. His narration slowly dissolves into that of Robert Pattison and we head back in time…

Pattison plays Jacob, a young student in depression era America who is studying to become a vet. Alas, he literally sits down to take his final exam when the police arrive to tell him his family is all dead and the house is being repossessed - I hate mornings like that. Jacob goes walking the railway tracks, as you do, and hops on the first open carriage that passes him. This could have been a mistake as it’s full of carnies but happily Bishop Brennan is there to take him in and offer him some lunch.

The train is a travelling circus and after meeting the enigmatic ringmaster (Christoph Waltz) he gets a job shovelling shit. His near veterinary qualifications come in handy when the star turn horse gets sick and Jacob uses all his skill to shoot the nag in the head. This enrages the hot tempered ring master but endears him to his wife who presumably didn’t like the nag anyway.

The boss soon gets over his desire to chuck Jacob off the train and soon has him as his chief vet. Jacob also starts to make friends with his midget bunkmate and several other carnival folk note of whom are nasty apart from Ken Foree, and he had that bad experience with zombies to blame for his less than sunny disposition.

The circus is always in money troubles and Waltz decides that an elephant is the answer. Alas the elephant is rubbish and gets many well deserved beatings from the hard pressed ring master. Jacob however discovers that the elephant speaks Polish and soon she’s doing all manner of tricks to save the show. Whether anyone noticed the irony of exploiting an elephant to show an elephant being exploited isn’t explored.

As time passes Jacob and the ring master’s wife get closer just as the top hatted one  gets more violent and irrational. Can true (cheating) love prevail and will the elephant survive? We know Jacob will as we see him as an old man, but how can the lovely Reece be saved? And who’s putting all those animals back?

This may have the accursed tag of ‘family film’ but there was plenty to like with lots of elephant beatings and adultery to keep the kids happy. Pattison doesn’t have much of a range but he seems a decent guy  and I’m sure he’ll be OK by the time he gets to Hal Holbrook’s age. Reece, who decently starred in her husband’s drink driving video, was fine in her skimpy costumes but she didn’t convince as the child found on a box who had grown up in the circus - didn’t even swear once and had no tattoos! Waltz was the star turn but his mania here was a bit too random to be convincing and it wasn’t clear why he has such a loyal staff when his redundancy policy consisted of chucking them off a train.

The sets and locations were great with classic evocations of hot summers days and elephant shit. The animal scenes were well done although there was a touch of CGI in the final scene of the animals escaping  - goddamn sissy extras! The finale was well earned, and although a bit schmaltzy, I’m all for it.

Overall a  good, solid, well made slice of depression era circus life with animals beaten, justice served and people murdered - sounds like a fun night out!

THE Tag Line - Come to the Circus - Maulings extra  76%

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

No.189 : Widow on the Hill

Widow on the Hill at the IMDb
Made for TV true crime drama next - you can accuse us of cherry picking here at the Definite Article Movie Blog.

Natasha Henstridge stars as Linda, the titular widow who is a nurse with a penchant for low cut tops. The film has the narrative device of a TV show interviewing Linda as she faces a murder charge. The story is then told in flashback with occasional cuts to the present day as the interview develops. We learn from the off that Linda has been accused of killing her new husband, James Brolin.

We meet James in livelier times as a wealthy landowner whose wife is dying. He hires a nurse from an agency and gets Natasha - Bingo! James’ daughters don’t like the new lady in their Dad’s life and worry she’s a gold digger. Pretty soon James’ wife shuffles off and in no time Natasha is in the wife’s fur coat and in his bed. Her sexy style turns the old man’s head and she’s married to him in no time flat.

His daughters however fail to be won over especially as the new wedding ring is the one mum promised to her daughter. The lovely Natasha starts to woo her way into the county set but we all know she’s after his cash - or is she? Have we been seduced by the evil schemer or does she really just have a taste for James’ silver locks and outdoorsy style?

It’s not long before she starts shagging the staff and threatening the family - can this total bitch get away with ruining the family and inheriting the house?

This was a decent enough TV drama but there wasn’t too much to recommend it apart from Natasha running about in a fetching black bra and panties set. Her character was thinly drawn and we knew she was a wrong ‘un from the off with her scheming and manipulating. She didn’t offer much that would garner our sympathies and although she was set up to be a villain she just came across as a bit of a bitch.

Brolin is always likeable but he lacked believability as the rich sucker being drawn in by feminine wiles. His two suspicious daughters were just annoying and the supposedly drunk one didn’t look like ever had as much as a sweet sherry.

The narrative device of the news show was a decent stab at keeping us guessing with the story being broken down to small chunks, with the present day Linda commenting on the events we’d just seen. There was no prospect of any surprises however with Brolin’s fate sealed before we met him. The script was so biased against the slutty wife that we knew the outcome early on but it was good fun to see how evil she could get while wearing a succession of bras.

It was a strange choice to have the whole film build up to the trial and then cover the court action itself with a couple of on screen captions. Maybe they ran out of cash or indeed underwear.

The production values were decent enough but it was essentially a family drama set in a small town so it didn’t need a Death Star or cast of thousands. It wasn’t anything to rave about but it’s certainly worth a look if you catch it on late night TV.

‘W’ Score 15/23

Sunday, 5 May 2013

No.188 : Waterloo Road

Waterloo Road at the IMDb
No, it’s not the BBC yoof soap, what we have here is the black and white 1945 war time kitchen sink drama.

It’s the time of the Blitz and local doctor Alistair Sim has a part time job book ending the film with his wise words and inner monologue. He buys a toy train for a young child and his mind wanders off as we drift into the film proper.

An East end family is making do with the lodger trying to get his breakfast as the family all squabble. The pretty but dim daughter is under fire as she’s walking out with local spiv Stewart Granger, despite being married to John Mills who’s off fighting the war. A busybody sister writes to Mills telling him about the slattern’s antics and soon the squaddie is AWOL and seeking to sort things out.

Mills has several adventures as he has to evade the military police and fate intervenes as she slips out of his hands on several occasions as she sees the town in the company of the spiv. Mills also enlists the help of a fellow deserter and uses his wiles and fighting skills to evade capture.

Eventually as the bombs start to fall the spiv gets the girl in his lair as Mills is tipped off by the doctor as to their whereabouts. Can he stop his girl giving up the goods to the douche layabout and will the toy train recipient be a surprise to anyone?

I really liked this brief slice of 1940’s life. There was certainly no attempt to glamorise our brave boys fighting the war as most we met were on the run or up to some illegal antics. I’m sure this was a tonic to the home front as the stiff upper lip was replaced by a cockney sparrow who was as quick with his fists as he was with his wits.

There were plenty of laughs and I liked the scene where the MPs raid the dance hall looking for deserters. Our hero heads for the toilet only to find a queue waiting to escape out of the window! The action all takes over the place of a day and you can’t say much was invested in the plot which was basically an hour of a manhunt before a ten minute punch up where the baddie gets his just desserts. The characters are great however with Stewart Granger doing well in the thankless role of the gadabout trying to deflower the lonely wife. John Mills is fine as the small but wiry squaddie and there are plenty of great characters showing up to raise a smile.

I was less impressed with the prick tease wife who seemed a bit wet to be getting all the frenetic attention she enjoyed. At the end things all got sorted out neatly and although the blitz scenes were mainly stock footage it didn’t detract from a good knockabout drama that had more laughs than most comedies.

Best Bit : Punch Up!
W Score 18/23

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

No.187 : Waiting for Forever

Waiting for Forever at the IMDb
If you are into films with car crashes, explosions, hot sex scenes and zombies you’d be best to avoid ‘Waiting For Forever’. If however you like people with issues exploring relationships set against and endless indie music background - and who doesn’t?- then you might just want to give it a look.

The film opens with an over saturated flashback with lots of jumpy cuts to pictures of young kids on cine film. We learn that two brothers were orphaned when their parents were killed in a train crashed spelling an end to their idyllic childhood of endless summers and sentimental music.

We arrive at the present day and meet Will. Will is very annoying and wears pyjamas and a bowler hat. He’s portrayed as an innocent who comes out with words of wisdom but he’s essentially a tit who juggles. Will wanders around America following his childhood sweetheart, Emma, who has gained modest success on a TV show that she herself dislikes. She is in a destructive relationship with a cast member and has had an affair with one of his friends. He finds out and confronts the friend while Emma flees to her parent’s house with Will in hot pursuit.

Emma doesn’t know of Will’s puppy dog devotion with the misfit happy just to be in the same town as his fantasy girl. Sadly juggling doesn’t pay much so he’s forced to freeload with his friends at their furniture shop - good to see the chubby one out of ‘Hairspray’ has found gainful employment at last! He also meets up with his banker brother who is unhappy at his sibling’s choices. He’s meant to come across as a dick but frankly he talks a lot of sense, despite no support from his wife who’d presumably be happy if her husband ran off to join the circus.

Emma’s home life isn’t much fun either with her warring parents at each other’s throats. The mum is a bit neurotic and the Dad, who played the same role in ‘Six Feet Under’, clearly doesn’t have long for this world. The mum is star struck when the boyfriend arrives to reclaim his cheating girlfriend but she throws a hissy fit and runs off, only to meet the creepy juggler in the street. The pair hit it off to some degree as they recount their lost youth but she steps away slowly when he starts talking to his dead parents - strange that.

We learn in a flashback that the cheated on boyfriend actually killed his love rival and poor old stalker Will is in the frame. Will Emma choose the right man and will Will beat the rap? Is there time for one more number from the dull, trendy but forgettable soundtrack before the inevitable enigmatic and romantic ending?

I’m sure some people will  love this film but I’m too cynical to see beyond its glaring plot holes and unlikely character developments. The cast are young and attractive but it was a mistake to hang the film on a guy in pyjamas and a bowler hat. He may be an innocent who speaks great words of insightful wisdom but he’s damn creepy too.

The pace of the film was good and although not a lot happened it passed by easily enough, not asking much of the viewer. The slight element of peril was brushed away in five minutes and only the mystery of why the girl goes looking for the twat in the hat remaining. The settings and sunny outlook were all well done and the cast was mostly likable apart from all of those who were thinly drawn - douche bag banker and control freak boyfriend, you know who you are!

This isn’t a terrible film just a forgettable one. I wasn’t willing anyone on at the end and although the pat conclusion was seen a mile off there was no way it could have gone any other way. Simple rom-com stuff with no com to speak of.

Best Bit : Vagabond Will gets grilled by the cops
‘W’ Score 13/23