Covering cinema from the highest of the highbrow to the lowest of the low-grade.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
On DVD: RETREAT (2011), THE TUNNEL (2011), WYATT EARP'S REVENGE (2012)
Another entry in the new wave of apocalypse cinema, RETREAT uses the end of the world as the basis for a psychological thriller. Clearly troubled married couple Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton head to an isolated island cottage in the middle of nowhere. She's devastated by a recent miscarriage and resentful of Murphy's apparent non-reaction to it. The cottage owner isn't answering his CB, the generator goes, military planes start flying overhead, and she feels the need to cover herself with a towel when he tries to enter the bathroom. Into this already tense situation comes dazed, bloodied Jamie Bell. He has a gun and claims his boat sank, but he brings worse news: a superflu pandemic is wiping out the rest of the world and it's only a matter of time before it reaches them. Bell starts fortifying the cottage as it becomes a powderkeg of unresolved issues, lingering tensions, shifting roles, and head games. Plus there's the very real possibility that the increasingly unhinged Bell is making it all up. Director/co-writer Carl Tibbetts moves things along quite briskly and somewhat rushes through things (Newton's inevitable Stockholm Syndrome/questioning of Murphy's manhood hits and passes so quickly that you might miss it) and isn't very subtle with the foreshadowing (when Murphy pulls out an inhaler early on, do you think there's any chance he'll be stricken by a sudden asthma attack at a crucial moment later on?), but it's a diverting thriller that actually has a creative and unpredictable twist and Bell (will it ever be possible to look at him and not see BILLY ELLIOT?) makes a very credible creep. (R, 90 mins)
THE TUNNEL (2011/Australia)
Another BLAIR WITCH-inspired faux documentary with long scenes shot in night vision? With a misspelled blurb ("skilful"?) on the poster art? Yes, but before dismissing it entirely, know that the low-budget Australian import THE TUNNEL is a surprisingly effective knockoff that gets a lot of mileage out of a great location and believable performances by its four leads before succumbing to familiarity late in the game. When the New South Wales government abruptly abandons its much-ballyhooed plans to build an underground water recycling plant in the miles of unused train tunnels under Sydney and won't tell the media why, ambitious TV news reporter Nat (Bel Delia) thinks it has something to do with reports of homeless people disappearing in the tunnels where many have made a makeshift home. Nat, producer Peter (Andy Rodoreda), camera operator Steve (Steve Davis), and sound man Tangles (Luke Arnold) sneak into the tunnels unauthorized and soon wish they hadn't. They find evidence of people living there, but no one's around, and Tangles starts picking up strange whispers in his headset. And because Nat never bothered to run any of this by their boss, no one knows they're down there. Director Carlo Ledesma isn't breaking new ground here and there's been no shortage of underground tunnel-related fright flicks in recent years (CREEP, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, STAG NIGHT) and certainly no shortage of faux documentary/found footage films. But like the terrific LAKE MUNGO, another fairly recent Australian film with the overused faux-doc set-up, THE TUNNEL succeeds despite everyone being sick of its type. It even provides an excuse for why Steve continues to film all of the action instead of putting the camera down and running (it's their only light source after the flashlights mysteriously vanish). Only near the climax, when Ledesma starts cribbing a little too brazenly from BLAIR WITCH, right down to the same tilted angles that date back to Ruggero Deodato's CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, does it start to seem stale and dated. But when the quartet finds themselves hopelessly lost in the endless, narrow, claustrophobic catacombs under the city, listening to every sound and eerie whisper, coupled with the way Ledesma very subtly lets the menace be seen in very fleeting glimpses, there's no denying that THE TUNNEL gets the job done. (Unrated, 90 mins)
WYATT EARP'S REVENGE (2012/US)
Val Kilmer's iconic performance as Doc Holliday in 1993's TOMBSTONE will likely go down as his finest work, especially since he's spent most of the last decade in some of the worst DTV swill out there, in addition to his unholy alliance with 50 Cent (STREETS OF BLOOD, GUN, BLOOD OUT). I still think Kilmer's got an Oscar-worthy performance left in him, and he occasionally finds himself in supporting roles in quality films, but those are few and far between. So bad are most of Kilmer's films these days that the dull and uninspired WYATT EARP'S REVENGE isn't even that good and yet, it's one of the classier DTV films he's done. Kilmer's participation is minimal, playing an aged Earp in 1907, telling his story to a newspaper reporter. The bulk of the film focuses on Earp 30 years earlier, and played by Shawn Roberts, who heads a cast of basic cable and basement-dwelling network mainstays playing cowboy dressup and making YOUNG GUNS look like THE PROPOSITION (half the cast seems to have been recruited from the CW's HART OF DIXIE). When Earp's fiancee Dora (former AMERICAN IDOL runner-up Diana DeGarmo) is killed by vicious outlaw Spike Kenedy (Daniel Booko), he forms a posse, which includes Bat Masterson (KYLE XY's Matt Dallas), and they're off in hot pursuit. WYATT EARP'S REVENGE isn't awful, but except for some incidental swearing and one gruesome bullet removal, it feels like it was made for the Hallmark Channel. All of Kilmer's scenes have him seated, talking to the reporter and looking like he borrowed his get-up from one of those old-timey photo booths at an amusement park. He was probably on and off the set in a day, two tops, and still manages to turn in a better performance than everyone else. The only other name of note is country music star Trace Adkins, who's second-billed but doesn't even appear until 70 minutes in and can't act to save his life. Given its low-budget DTV origins, the film is surprisingly well-shot, with only Adkins' terrible acting and a couple of ineptly-staged fistfights to provide unintended laughs. Tired and forgettable but, simply by default, one of Kilmer's more tolerable recent efforts. And that's just sad. (PG-13, 93 mins)