Author: Pete Laurie

MOVIE REVIEW | The Last Man on Earth (1964)

When Will Smith’s I Am Legend came out in 2007, I remember the reviews and general feeling being kind of apathetic.  No one calling it outright bad, but no one jumping to its defence either.  I finally caught it on DVD a few months later and thought it was pretty good for what it was.  I totally capable actioner with a strong Will Smith performance, which was pretty handy since a fair whack of the movie is just the Fresh Prince and his dog with the odd burst of action and monster fighting (much like The Queen starring Helen Mirren*).

Before 2007’s I Am Legend, there was the book I Am Legend, then The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston in 1971.  But in between the book and the Heston joint was the first film adaptation, 1964’s I Am Legend, starring Vincent Price.  Having now seen this version, I see a lot more flaws in the Smith vehicle.  2007’s version came with the kind of budget, slick effects and intense action sequences you’d expect from a Will Smith blockbuster.  Whereas The Last Man on Earth looks like it was made for about $7.50 and stars an old man in a cardigan who can’t run.   Yet, for all that, the older version is the most effective of the two in telling the story.

For the most part, the stories are the same.  Vincent Price, the titular last man, is a scientist who has somehow proved immune to an airborne virus that has turned the rest of the world into vampires (although, they’re more zombie like…  If zombies could half-talk).  He lives a miserable life of monotony, sneaking about killing vampires by day, bunkering down in his home at night while they try to gullumph their way in.

Also similar to the Smith version, Price’s Robert Morgan meets another survivor, but here’s why they diverge.  In 2007, Smith just meets a couple of survivors and that’s about as deep as their characters go.  In The Last Man on Earth, the new woman in Price’s life actually comes with a back story that is intrinsically linked to Price and his story.  It also makes the title I Am Legend mean so much more.  Which is ironic since this version ditched the title while embracing the book’s twisty payoff, while 2007’s kept the title while losing all relevance to it.

The Last Man on Earth accomplishes all this despite what looks like a non-existent budget and even less knowledge from anyone involved on how to make a movie.  Actually, that’s being a little harsh.  The shot composition, editing and most other technical aspects aren’t terrible, but the fight scenes and stunts undeniably are.  I wasn’t exaggerating earlier when I said Vincent Price can’t run.  In a sequence where he chases the other survivor on foot, you can see her trying to run slower to avoid leaving Price in the dust.  And the stunt work is even worse.  Every altercation with the vampires, and the climactic set piece, look like rehearsals for a bad school play, roughly blocking the scene, but never bothering to figure out the specifics of how it will play out on show night.  If only 1964’s The Last Man on Earth had 2007’s I Am Legend budget. Exclusive**  You can watch the entire movie free, right now, right here !

*I never got around to actually seeing The Queen, but I think I got the gist of it from the trailers.

**This offer is in no way exclusive to

MUSIC REVIEW | Falling in Reverse – Fashionably Late (2013)

What happens when “heavy” and “edgy” are watered down in an attempt to appeal to tweens?  Fashionably Late from Falling in Reverse happens, that’s what.  While vocalist Ronnie Radke is pushing thirty, his lyrics sound like a middle added man writing the way he thinks “cool kids” talk.  Radke’s so hip and now, he calls shoes “sneaks”.  “Bag Girls Club” is the worst offender, all poppy synths, Avril Lavigne style bad grrrl ‘heys’ and references to Twitter, hash tags and Google.  Lyrically, Fashionably Late really is on the cutting edge of 2010.


MOVIE REVIEW | Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

One of the advantages to watching old movies is, you can really go in cold, having absolutely no idea what you’re about to see.  It’s impossible to avoid the marketing for new release big blockbusters where you see most of movie in the trailer.  And if you read movie blogs and pop culture sites like The AV Club or Vulture, chances are you already even know a fare bit about the latest little indy films too.  But when you watch a movie that’s half a century old, it really is possible to know absolutely nothing about it going.  Which is exactly what happened when I pressed play on Days of Wine and Roses.

I don’t even remember where I got my copy, I just know I’d been meaning to watch it for ages, but the opening titles were enough to convince me I’d made the right choice.  When you see the names Jack Lemon and Lee Remick, you’re on a winner.  For the first fifteen or twenty minutes, I assumed I was watching a rom-com.  Lemon plays Joe Clay, a PR guy for San Francisco firm.  They meet-cute as Lemon delightfully mistakes Remick for a prostitute he’d arranged for a Saudi oil prince… Maybe the darkness of this should have tipped me off to what was to come, but there was still another ten minutes of them fight / flirting before Remick’s Kirsten finally agrees to go on a date with Lemon.  It turns out, rom-com clichés are even older than I thought.  But it also turns out, this is no rom-com.

Until this stage, Lemon’s character has been shown as a fun, funny, sociable drinker…  Much like Dudley Moore as his hilarious character ‘Arthur’.  But it turns out, Lemon’s Joe Clay is really a desperate, annoying, horrendously un-funny  drunk…  Much like Dudley more in his real life role as Dudley Moore.  But the real kicker?  Remick is a teetotaller and has never touched the stuff…  Until Lemon lies to her about the alcoholic content of Brandy Alexander.   She discovers the joys of getting muntered, they fall in love, get married and pop out a kid.  The end.  Well, it would be the end if it wasn’t only half an hour into the movie and director Blake Edwards had no interest in kicking you in the guts with a massive mood swing.

The remainder of Days and Wine and Roses is a viscous cycle of drinking, attempted sobriety, redemption won and lost, an awesome performance by Jack Klugman and some of the best drunk acting you’ll ever see.  Lemon and Remick both get to showcase the full gamut of tying one on.  From minor slurs and stumbles like your uncle on Christmas morning, to full blown booze-based euphoria like your uncle after Christmas lunch, to guilt addled depression like your uncle on Boxing Day, Lemon and Remick nail them all.

It flies through the exposition, the years and the stages of their problems faster than I was expecting and glosses over the little things giving the scenes that matter, and the performances in those scenes, plenty of room to breathe.  Lemon and Remick were both Oscar nominated for Days of Wine and Roses and after watching it, that really isn’t a surprise.

MOVIE REVIEW | Cape Fear (1962)

So it turns out, they don’t make men like they used to.  If you’re a dude under 60, Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum have done craps manlier than you and every bloke you know.  The second these two badasses come face to face, you know it’ll be an epic match up.  And even better, that initial standoff happens almost immediately.  Which is one of the many strong points if Cape Fear, it’s not here to mess around.

Peck plays lawyer Sam Bowden, the man of morals who eight years ago gave testimony that sealed the conviction of Mitchum’s Max Cady, a sociopath who takes whatever and hurts whoever he wants, never once stopping to even consider what gives him the right to do so.  After a stretch in the big house, Mitchum approaches Peck in the courthouse carpark and makess his vengeful intentions pretty clear from the get go.  This movie seriously has no intention of starting slow, it’s out of the gates and racing from the get go.

Straight away, Peck calls in a favour from his police chief friend who’s more than happy to enact little gross misuse of power and start harassing Mitchum.  But Mitchum’s smart, he’s always just on the right side of the law, meaning Peck is more and more seen as the antagonist.  Soon, Peck is compromising is morals and integrity in an attempt to keep up with Mitchum’s increased harassment.

What’s that you say?  You’re not overwhelmed by the engine oil musked manliness of a Peck / Mitchum combo?  “Fuck you”, says Cape Fear as it does a one handed push up.   “How about I throw in some Telly Sevalas?”, it growls, taking a belt of scotch and repressing its emotions.  Oh yeah, you better believe this movie doubles down on the masculinity and  transforms the Peck / Mitchum dude-duo into a Peck / Mitchum / Sevalas holy trinity of testosterone when Peck hires Sevalas’ PI,   Charlie Sievers.

But it’s more than just the balls out blokiness of these three going head to head to (not yet bald Sevalas) head.  The movie is sure to throw in a little passive aggressive misogyny too, like when Peck tells his teenage daughter, “It’s a mistake to teach women how to tell time. They always hold it against you.”

By starting at full throttle and only getting more intense from there, Cape Fear really is one of the most effective thrillers I’ve ever seen.  And even though the ending is ultimately pretty predictable the way it gets there more than makes up for it.  It even manages to work in a pretty interesting message about the importance of the law, even when you don’t like the people it’s protecting.  This is summed up by Police Chief Mark Dutton (Mark Balsam), “Either we have too many laws, or not enough”.

MOVIE REVIEW | Ordinary People (1980)

Before watching Ordinary People, the directorial debut form Robert Redford, all I knew was it was the movie that beat Raging BuIl at the 1980 Oscars.  Not just for Best Picture, but also beating Scorsese for Best Director.  This has gone down as one of the great cock-ups in Oscar history, possibly only outweighed a decade later when Scorsese was again beaten.  This time it was his undisputed masterpiece Goodfellas, losing to the Kevin Costner wank-fest Dances With Wolves.  It must have taken the entire Academy working together to make a mistake that big.

So, does Ordinary People deserve to be remembered for more than just ruing Martin Scorsese’s night in March 1981?  The answer is…  Sort of?

First things first, this thing is out and out Oscar bait.

Story involving dead kids and/or suicide?…  Check.

Someone famous for comedy having a red hot crack at a bit of drama?…  Check.

A collection of just some of the most miserable people you’ve ever seen?…  Check.

A no bullshit psychiatrist who tells it like it is?…  You better believe it.

But all clichés aside, it is definitely worth watching, even if it’s just as a showcase of some pretty great actors doping some pretty great acting.  Donald Sutherland is the dad and most sympathetic character in the movie.  Mary Tyler Moore is the mother and afore mentioned comedienne trying her hand at drama.  Timothy Hutton is the suicidal son and Judd Hirsch is the bullshitless shrink.  Hirsch is also reason enough to watch Ordinary People.  Every scene he’s in is a relief from what preceded and gives you a little something to help get through what’s to follow.

As a director, it doesn’t seem like Redford was too interesting in reinventing the medium with his first at bat.  It’s a downbeat story and is shot that way.  He does work with some great locations though, letting his natural Illinois surroundings and weather do the heavy lifting in creating and sustaining just the right (depressing) mood.

All this sounds like I hated Ordinary People, and while I have no plans to ever watch it again, I definitely didn’t hate it.  The story is a little on the nose and designed for maximum heart string pullery, but the performances really do make it worth two hours of your time.

MOVIE REVIEW | Behind the Candelabra (2013)

If, like me, you’ve been kept up at night wondering, “What does Scott Bakula look like moustachioed and shirtless?”, the answer is waiting for you in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra…   And the answer is glorious.  Liberace is a celebrity I’ve only ever known as a sketch show punch line, so going in, I was more interested in Behind the Candelabra as director Steven Soderbergh’s supposed final film before retiring from the medium, than I was in its subject.  Which lead to an awesome surprise…  Liberace is an amazingly interesting, tragic and compelling character.

The story of a years long affair between Liberace (Michael Douglas) and Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), Behind the Candelabra is at its core, a cautionary tale built on a famous Liberace quote, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful”.  The movie wastes no time getting to the relationship.  Racing through their initial introduction and quickly moving the story along to Damon’s live-in status with Douglas, it also wastes no time mapping out what’s to come.  No sooner has Damon become comfortable with his lavish new surroundings, than the houseboy who’s seen it all is letting Damon know he’s just the latest in a long line of inevitably replaceable playthings.  But before the unavoidable comedown, the first half of the film focuses on two people very much in love, enjoying a life of extravagance and indulgence.  The second half gives us the flips side, focusing on two people falling (and eventually completely fallen) out of love, in a lot of ways caused by that life of extravagance and indulgence.

Douglas and Damon are both note perfect in the leading roles, but they’re almost outshone by some of the supporting players.  The afore mentioned Bakula is clearing having fun every second he’s on screen and Dan Aykroyd is in form rarely seen these days as Liberace’s manager, that makes you almost forget Blues Brothers 2000…  Almost.  But the MVP of Behind the Candelabra is, without a doubt Rob Lowe, as the plastic surgeon and distributor of his personally developed and fully pharmacological “California Diet” (patent pending).  If I was told Behind the Candelabra 2: The Legend of Liberace’s Gold was in production and consisted of nothing more than Lowe’s stretched face and dead doll’s eyes staring blankly into the distance, I’d be in the cinema opening day.

Will this be Soderbergh’s swan song?  For a filmmaker so prolific, he’s had to compete with himself for an Oscar, I’d be very surprised if it turns out that way.  But if it is, Behind the Candelabra is an impressive, lavish and more than satisfying end to an eclectic, sometimes brilliant (sometimes, not so brilliant) career.  He really has gone out in style.  Gouache, tacky, golden jewel encrusted grand piano, over the top style.

One great little added bonus, I finally get the “I wish my brother George was here” joke from the Warner Brothers short Three Little Bops, that has puzzled me my entire life.