Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New on DVD/Blu-ray: INTO THE ABYSS (2011), SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011), THE DARKEST HOUR (2011)


Werner Herzog's latest documentary is an examination of capital punishment in America and has some fleeting moments of undeniable power, but suffers from a lack of focus and no real expansion on Herzog's personal point of being against the death penalty.  Originally conceived as a look at five different capital punishment cases, Herzog narrowed it down to one for a feature film, and the rest became episodes of the Investigation Discovery TV mini-series ON DEATH ROW.  INTO THE ABYSS looks at convicted killers Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, who murdered three people in Conroe, TX in 2001.  Perry and Burkett killed nurse Sandra Stotler in a home invasion because they wanted her Camaro.  After disposing of the body in a lake, they returned and waited for her son Adam to return home, then killed him and his friend Jeremy Richardson.  It only took police a matter of days to figure out that they were responsible.  Perry and Burkett, not the brightest sorts, were driving around in the Stotler vehicles, claiming to some that they bought them with a $4000 winning lottery ticket, while openly bragging to others that they killed three people and stole their cars. A cigarette butt with Perry's DNA was found under Adam Stotler's body in a wooded area where they'd disposed of it.  And at some point between the murders and being apprehended, Perry needed to go to the hospital and used Adam's ID and was calling himself "Adam Stotler," who hadn't been seen in nearly a week. 

But oddly, once Herzog begins interviewing the subjects, with occasional exceptions, the film starts spinning its wheels.  He's not trying to exonerate anyone, as Errol Morris was in THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) or as Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky were with the PARADISE LOST films There's absolutely no doubt that Perry and Burkett committed these crimes.  Herzog states he's against the death penalty and flat out tells Perry, interviewed eight days from his July 1, 2010 execution, that he doesn't like him but respects him enough as human being that he shouldn't be executed.  Through interviews with Perry, Burkett, Burkett's incarcerated father, and relatives of the victims, we see that pretty much everyone in Conroe comes from a broken home with much tragedy in their lives.  Like CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, INTO THE ABYSS feels like a 45-minute TV documentary special stretched out to feature length.  Tedium occasionally sets in as Herzog makes his points and belabors them with interview footage that supports his thesis.  I found that the best moments of INTO THE ABYSS are the ones where no one is talking:  the way Herzog incorporates the truly disturbing police crime scene video into the early part of the film.  We see the dead bodies of the Stotlers and Richardson, as they were found, and Sandra Stotler's house, with blood spatter on the walls, the TV still on, dirty dishes in the sink, a baking sheet half filled with dough as she was in the middle of baking cookies when Burkett rang the doorbell.  Or, a decade later, Sandra Stotler's red Camaro, the reason three people were brutally murdered, weather-beaten and still sitting in a police impound lot, where it had to be moved once because a tree grew under and through it in the previous spot where it was parked.  Or Herzog's camera slowly panning across the graves in a prison cemetery for those executed.  These chilling moments are without question the most hauntingly effective in INTO THE ABYSS, because other than saying "I'm against capital punishment," Herzog really isn't saying anything at all.  Lip service is paid to the fact that Texas administers more executions than any other state...why not examine that?  (PG-13, 107 mins; also available on Netflix streaming)


Australian novelist Julia Leigh makes her directing debut with this maddeningly indecipherable, Jane Campion-presented look at the enigmatic Lucy (SUCKER PUNCH's Emily Browning), a college student working multiple jobs.  She goes to class, works in a cafe, does some secretarial duty in an office, earns money from being a medical test subject, and is a part-time prostitute by night.  She also gets a job as a semi-nude wine server at dinner parties for a group of rich weirdos at an EYES WIDE SHUT-type mansion where the rest of the topless serving team look like they just walked out of a Robert Palmer video gone S&M.  Her boss at this "service," Clara (Rachael Blake, eerily channeling Charlotte Rampling) gets her a side gig for the same old pervs where she's given a sedative that knocks her out for eight hours, during which time the client can do whatever he wants with her aside from vaginal penetration.  Leigh fills the film with obscure symbolism (berries spilling from Lucy's hand!) and shoots it in a very claustrophobic, non-cinematic style with static, stationary shots and very limited camera movement.  It goes nowhere fast, though Browning should be given props for an often daring performance as she lies motionless while several veteran Australian character actors (including Hugh Keays-Byrne, aka MAD MAX's "Toecutter") strip completely nude (for those who've waited patiently for a shot of Chris Haywood's taint, your prayers have been answered) and climb on top of her, fondle her, lick her, cradle her like a baby, sadistically burn her with a cigarette, etc.  But what's the point?  Lucy remains a cipher throughout.  She has no friends other than an alcoholic shut-in (Ewen Leslie), seems to be juggling a series of lies to all her acquaintances, and as such, it proves difficult to get to the heart of a protagonist who has no core. We don't know Lucy, what she is, who she is, how she came to be, or why she does what she does.  Add to all of that a frustratingly ambiguous ending that resolves nothing, and you end up with a highbrow, pretentious Skinemax flick that's as impenetrable as its heroine when she's on duty.  (Unrated, 102 mins; also available on Netflix streaming)


Director Chris Gorak's 2007 debut RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR was a terrifying dirty-bombs-going-off-in-L.A. paranoia thriller that served as an introduction to a promising filmmaker.  Now working with a much bigger budget and increasingly irrelevant NIGHT WATCH auteur-turned-Hollywood hack Timur Bekmambetov, Gorak delivers a shit-the-bed sophomore slump of the lowest order with THE DARKEST HOUR, one of the least scary horror films you'll ever see, indifferently acted by a bored cast of talented actors who shouldn't be this cynically coasting so early in their careers.  Emile Hirsch (already a long way from INTO THE WILD) and Max Minghella are two douchebag software designers trying to close a deal in Moscow when the city is attacked by...lights?  They're actually tiny aliens housed by a protective outer field, and...well, who gives a shit, really?  Hirsch and Minghella end up on the run from the aliens with vacationing American Olivia Thirlby and Australian Rachael Taylor, plus Swedish asshole Joel Kinnaman (probably the best thing about the TV series THE KILLING), who screwed Hirsch and Minghella out of their business deal.  Combining elements of at least ten other better movies, THE DARKEST HOUR is terribly-written (by Jon Spaihts, one of the writers of Ridley Scott's eagerly-anticipated PROMETHEUS), badly-acted, thoroughly lacking in suspense or scares, sluggishly paced, and frankly, boring as hell.  It's bad.  I'm talking SKYLINE bad.  Plus, bottom-of-the-barrel visual effects and shoddy greenscreen that had to look even worse in theaters when this played in 3D.  An utter waste of time.  (PG-13, 89 mins).

No comments:

Post a Comment