Sunday, April 1, 2012

New on Netflix streaming: I MELT WITH YOU (2011), THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (2011), HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS (2011)

(US/Canada - 2011)

Critically annihilated when it opened in limited release in late 2011, I MELT WITH YOU has already developed a fervent cult following if the "this movie spoke to me like no other!!!11" posts on IMDb are to be believed.  Directed by Mark Pellington (who made Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" video before moving on to films like ARLINGTON ROAD and THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES), I MELT WITH YOU is bold, audacious, bloated, excessive, self-indulgent, misanthropic, overlong, abrasive, ridiculous...in short, it's a total mess.  But it's the kind of fascinating mess that seems destined to become a cult classic. Even when it's wallowing in idiotic excess, it grabs you, gets under your skin, and displays intermittent flashes of brilliance in spite of itself.  Four old college friends (failed novelist-turned-high school English teacher Thomas Jane, about-to-be-indicted stockbroker Jeremy Piven, doctor/prescription-drug-dealer-to-the-rich Rob Lowe, and bisexual Christian McKay, whose career is never mentioned), beaten down by middle-aged ennui and self-pity, meet up for their annual vacation getaway at a secluded beach house in Big Sur.  Intending to spend a week forgetting their careers, their ex-wives/significant others and their failures, drowning in a narcisstic haze of booze, drugs, and every kind of debauchery, things don't go exactly as planned and they're reminded of a pact they made 25 years ago that at least one of them intends to follow through.  After the first hour, the film plows into "Is this shit really happening?!" territory and also takes occasional detours into suspense thriller territory, as a local sheriff's deputy (Carla Gugino) with a lot of time on her hands keeps dropping by the house, rightly suspecting that something strange is going on.

I MELT WITH YOU takes a turn toward the ludicrous by the time it's all over, though it takes itself dead seriously throughout.  Regardless of how you feel about it--and good or bad, this film DOES provoke a reaction--there's no denying the commitment of the four leads, particularly Jane.  Pellington gets a bit too preoccupied with showboating and directorial wankery at times, with stylistic flourishes left over from his music video days, but it really does feel like a John Cassavetes film amped up on E and coke and even darker and more bitter in tone.  Many will find I MELT WITH YOU unpleasant and unwatchable, and I really can't argue against that.  But part of me admires it for unapologetically being what it is and not really giving a fuck what anyone thinks. (R, 122 mins)

(US/The Netherlands - 2011)

I actually thought highly of the first HUMAN CENTIPEDE.  It was remarkably restrained, given its subject matter, and with a brilliant, iconic performance by the awesomely-monikered Dieter Laser.  In this sequel, writer/director Tom Six directly responds to those who may have over-reacted to the original by going so far in the opposite direction that it makes SALO look PG-13. I think Six made a bold choice in filming this in black & white. It adds to the oppressive, grim nature of the film and actually makes the gory parts even rougher to watch. This, coupled with a legit candidate for the most repulsive protagonist in cinema history in Martin (Laurence R. Harvey), could've made HUMAN CENTIPEDE II an effective film if Six hadn't regressed to being a child in the "obsessed with poop" phase. This is so sick, so graphic, so astonishingly over-the-top that it ceases being "daring" or "transgressive" and just gets boring.  Six's only--and I mean only--concern by the end of the film is to see just how much blood, shit, piss, vomit, phlegm, snot, afterbirth, and even other bodily fluids he can splash across the screen and on the camera. And a baby's head gets squashed. And it might be funny if it weren't played so depressingly straight for the first 50 or so minutes. Six's whole deal here is to shock and outrage and to lash out at the first film's detractors. 

The plot, such as it is, has the HUMAN CENTIPEDE-obsessed Martin abducting victims and trying to create a 12-person human centipede as a tribute to his favorite movie. Renting an abandoned warehouse in dreary, constantly rainy London, he leaves his victims there until he attains his ultimate prize--HUMAN CENTIPEDE co-star Ashlynn Yennie, who he somehow lures to London by claiming to be holding auditions for a Quentin Tarantino film. Lacking the surgical expertise of Laser's Dr. Heiter character, Martin resorts to tools, kitchen utensils, a staple gun, and duct tape to create his mouth-to-anus magnum opus. So Six gives us close-up shots of rectums being sliced open, lips stapled to anuses, knee tendons being sliced, etc. And because of the sloppy, unsanitary surgery (the warehouse is filthy even before the floor is coated in human waste), the ass-to-mouth fusion isn't exactly airtight, so when the laxatives kick in....need I continue?  Six is currently shooting THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE III (FINAL SEQUENCE),  which I can only imagine involves the coprophilic auteur taking audience contempt to new extremes by going door-to-door to force-feed fans a bucket of his own feces.  (Unrated, 88 mins). This review was originally published on the Mobius Home Video Forum in October 2011 and pertains to the unrated theatrical version streaming on Netflix (which is apparently missing the full "masturbation with sandpaper" scene), not the uncut 91-minute version on DVD/Blu-ray.  Which means, yes, it gets even sicker.

(US - 2011)

Speaking of audience contempt, check this out:  Dimension Films realizes they're about to lose the rights to the dormant-since-2005 HELLRAISER franchise and their long-planned remake of Clive Barker's original 1987 classic.  To retain the rights, they need to produce another sequel...fast!  Dimension head Bob Weinstein, Harvey's slightly less-obnoxious brother, gives $300,000 and a hastily-written script to certified DTV hack Victor Garcia (RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, MIRRORS 2) and tells him to crank out a new HELLRAISER sequel in 11 days.  This is the result.  Garcia gives it the old Corman try, keeping almost the entire film in one location, and a lot of it plays more or less like a remake of the 1987 film to some extent.  In a prologue that allows Garcia to hop on the "found footage" bandwagon, two college-age douchebags mess around with the Lament Configuration puzzle box after obtaining it from some guy in a bar who looks like Will Ferrell's homeless art class model on SNL.  Of course, they summon Pinhead and his Cenobites.  Some time later, their families are haunted by Pinhead when one of the guys suddenly returns home.  There's plenty of dime-store gore, but the story is incomprehensible nonsense and the actors are terrible on an almost Tommy Wiseau level (frequent TV guest star Steven Brand, as one kid's dad, is the only cast member who seems like he's been in front of a camera before, and Nick Eversman, currently seen as Ashley Judd's missing son on MISSING, is embarrassingly bad).  And if you're wondering why Pinhead looks like Michael Chiklis, that's because series mainstay Doug Bradley took a look at the script, deemed it "unfinished" and refused to reprise his iconic role.  Pinhead is now ineffectively played by one Stephan Smith Collins, taking his rightful place alongside Joe Besser, Coy & Vance Duke, and Gary Cherone in the Bad Replacements Hall of Shame.  Made not as a film but as a legal business obligation, HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS is cheap, cynical Hollywood hucksterism at its worst.  I would've respected it a lot more if it was just 75 minutes of Bob Weinstein giving me the finger.  (R, 75 mins)

Vic Mackey?!

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