Friday, August 31, 2012
(Sweden/Norway/Denmark/Germany - 2011; 2012 US release)
(US - 2012)
(US - 2012)
Directed by Ole Bornedal. Written by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White. Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Matisyahu, Grant Show, Natasha Calis, Madison Davenport, Jay Brazeau. (PG-13, 92 mins)
It's been nearly 40 years since the release of THE EXORCIST, and the knockoffs show no signs of slowing down. Produced by Sam Raimi, THE POSSESSION is better than most, with an experienced figure behind the camera in veteran Danish horror/suspense director Ole Bornedal (1994's NIGHTWATCH and its 1998 US remake), but except for one nicely-done scare and some impressive production design, there's little here we haven't seen before. Written by Juliet Snowden & Stiles White (KNOWING), THE POSSESSION utilizes most of the standard-issue possession motifs (or as much as its PG-13 rating will allow) fused with more J-Horror imagery (are we done with this yet?), and relies too much on loud crashes and piercing music cues in place of actual tension and scares. However, Bornedal does a nice job establishing an unexpected, almost European look to the film in the early going (featuring the most Kubrickian-looking basketball practice gym you'll ever see), with some impressive camera movements and lighting and lots of interesting technical aspects that, for a while, set THE POSSESSION apart from the usual DTV-level time-killer that it eventually becomes.
|Jeffrey Dean Morgan dares to open the Dybbuk box.|
|Natasha Calis as the possessed Emily|
|Madison Davenport and Kyra Sedgwick|
|Exorcist Tzadok (Matisyahu) tries to save Emily|
Thursday, August 30, 2012
(US - 2012)
Directed by John Hillcoat. Written by Nick Cave. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor, Lew Temple, Bill Camp, Tim Tolin. (R, 116 mins)
Director John Hillcoat and musician/screenwriter Nick Cave previously collaborated on the viscerally brutal 2006 western THE PROPOSITION and reunite for this adaptation of Matt Bondurant's novel The Wettest County in the World. Bondurant's book was loosely based on the Prohibition-era bootlegging experiences of his grandfather Jack and his two great-uncles Howard and Forrest Bondurant, who ran a major moonshine operation in Franklin County, Virginia. LAWLESS has a lot of the same grim, stomach-turning violence that made THE PROPOSITION so memorable, but as a whole, it's not quite as good. It wants to be a 1930s gangster version of THE PROPOSITION, but it has commercial obligations to fulfill, and it's not as well-constructed, with a propensity for corny one-liners and implausible characterization, and a villain who's ultimately too over-the-top for his own good. It's certainly an entertaining film, but it often feels like its issues stemmed more from the editing and not the writing. THE PROPOSITION was a great film, while LAWLESS is merely a good one.
|Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf as|
two of the Bondurant brothers
|Guy Pearce as the evil Charlie Rakes|
|Gary Oldman as big-time gangster Floyd Banner|
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
aka MAX SCHMELING
(Germany/Croatia - 2010; US release 2012)
Directed by Uwe Boll. Written by Timo Berndt. Cast: Henry Maske, Heino Ferch, Suzanne Wuest, Vladimir Weigl, Yoan Pablo Hernandez, Arved Birnbaum, Arthur Abraham, Enad Licina. (Unrated, 123 mins)
Absurdly retitled FIST OF THE REICH for its straight-to-DVD US release, MAX SCHMELING was a longtime pet project of bad movie icon Uwe Boll, long mocked for his awful video game film adaptations (ALONE IN THE DARK, etc) and various attention-seeking publicity stunts (shit-talking his actors on commentary tracks, challenging his detractors to boxing matches) that border on performance art. After going several years without the German tax shelter loopholes that enabled him to spend large amounts of money to hire slumming name actors like Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, and Burt Reynolds (IN THE NAME OF THE KING) and Ben Kingsley (BLOODRAYNE), there's been a marked decline in not just the "entertainment" value of Boll's films, but also his budgets. Lately, Boll's idea of a big name is getting Edward Furlong or Michael Pare. These lower budgets inspired Boll for a while--1968 TUNNEL RATS and POSTAL were alright and the grim prison drama STOIC was actually, dare I say it, good. But lately, Boll hasn't even been trying: BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH was awful and the simultaneously-shot BLUBBERELLA was his career nadir, which for Uwe Boll, is really saying something. A couple of years ago, Boll got a co-production deal with a Croatian company and shot at least four films back-to-back on the same trip to Zagreb: MAX SCHMELING was his priority, but he also got BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH and BLUBBERELLA done next, and his still-unreleased-in-the-US Holocaust drama AUSCHWITZ was shot right after.
|Yoan Pablo Hernandez as Joe Louis, |
fighting Max Schmeling (Henry Maske)
Boll is delusional enough that he probably thought MAX SCHMELING was the kind of sincere, reverent biopic that would put him in the same league as Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese. Schmeling (1905-2005) is arguably the most famous boxer in German history, one who became a major celebrity in early 1930s Germany due to his own success as well as his marriage to popular Czech-born German movie star Anny Ondra. Schmeling came to America and fought (and befriended) the great Joe Louis (their friendship was the subject of the 2002 film JOE AND MAX) and other American boxers (Jack Sharkey, Max Baer) before retiring from boxing and serving as a paratrooper in the Luftwaffe during WWII, though he never supported Hitler or the Nazis. He attempted a comeback after WWII (when he was already over 40), but it was short-lived and after leaving boxing for good, became an executive with Coca-Cola's German office and lived out his years as boxing royalty before he died in 2005 at the age of 99.
|Suzanne Wuest as Max's actress wife Anny Ondra|
|Heino Ferch as trainer Max Manoch|
|Not the one used in the film, but another pic|
of the real Max Schmeling, with Henry Maske.
What the hell? Who leaves the commentary track of their pet project just over halfway through the film? Sure, this is a guy who regularly answers his cell phone and eats cheeseburgers during commentary tracks, but this is an ostensibly serious film. Boll doesn't give a shit. Why should we? I guess we should just be thankful that he resisted the urge and waited until BLUBBERELLA to cast himself as Hitler.
|"Here's what I think of sticking around for the whole commentary!"|
Sunday, August 26, 2012
On DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix streaming: THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS (2011) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (2011)
THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS
(Australia - 2011; 2012 US release)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
(Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina - 2011; 2012 US release)
Friday, August 24, 2012
(US - 2012)
Directed by David Koepp. Written by David Koepp & John Kamps. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Jamie Chung, Aasif Mandvi, Wole Parks, Henry O, Christopher Place. (PG-13, 90 mins)
While never quite crashing and burning, PREMIUM RUSH gets off to such an exhilirating, entertaining start that it feels a little more disheartening than you'd expect when it starts sputtering around the midpoint. The major problem is that director/co-writer David Koepp (veteran journeyman screenwriter of films as varied as APARTMENT ZERO, JURASSIC PARK, CARLITO'S WAY, PANIC ROOM, and SPIDER-MAN among many others) can't settle on a tone, and has so many balls juggling throughout that he eventually just gives up and PREMIUM RUSH falls victim to what almost every real-time thriller succumbs: the complete abandonment of anything resembling a plausible time element. This is an inherently cartoonish thriller, starting with the central character's name, but Koepp plays so fast and loose with time that it becomes too distracting and too ludicrous to ignore.
|Gordon-Levitt immediately after an accident during filming|
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
On DVD/Blu-ray: Slumming Actors Triple Feature: FREELANCERS (2012), ONE IN THE CHAMBER (2012), and ASSASSIN'S BULLET (2012)
(US - 2012)
Everything here is the definition of by-the-numbers and the only surprise is that Val Kilmer is nowhere in sight. The script by L. Philippe Casseus is riddled with cumbersome exposition, laughable contrivances and no character consistency at all (Jonas: "Sarcone's been like a father to me!" Really? Because you just met him; and Jonas doesn't recall that he witnessed his father's murder until the plot requires him to), and the amateur-night direction by Jessy Terrero (reuniting with Fiddy after their GUN triumph) is filled with continuity errors and he makes no effort at all to rein in an overacting Whitaker, turning in another in an alarming string of excruciatingly awful performances after THE EXPERIMENT and CATCH .44. Whitaker does little more here than yell, twitch, snort blow, strut, and wave a gun around while barking absurd lines like "I can make you vanish! POOF!" What's going on with him? THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND was only six years ago, folks. And of course, being that Fiddy is one of 29 (!) credited producers, he gives himself a gratutious sex scene with hot bartender Beau Garrett (who co-starred with Whitaker on the awful CRIMINAL MINDS: SUSPECT BEHAVIOR). Vinnie Jones shows up long enough to do his "Fookin' 'ell, mate!" schtick as a Sarcone-Baez go-between who seems to be making a killing on old-ass 1990s computer monitors. Dana Delany appears briefly as the wife of a dead D.A. and is rewarded with 19th billing and her name misspelled "Delaney" in the closing credits. But the real story with FREELANCERS--other than the shocking decline in Forest Whitaker's acting ability--is a totally disinterested De Niro in the "Richard Harris-in-STRIKE COMMANDO 2" role of his career. De Niro sleepwalks through this and looks mildly irritable throughout, forced to utter lines like "This is about money, fear, and respect!" Eternal respect, Mr. De Niro, but I fear this one is just about the money. (R, 96 mins)
ONE IN THE CHAMBER
(US - 2012)
(US - 2012)
It all has something to do with multiple personalities and brainwashing, and of course, you can never trust any big name actor who doesn't appear to have a lot to do with the plot, especially when he has the hero join up with people we know are killers and tell him "Your life's in their hands!" as the camera zooms in on his untrustworthy, grinning face. Slater and Sutherland are competent pros who are just on working Eastern European vacations here, but the film's biggest problem is Portnoy, who's not only a terrible actress, but--and there's no way to say this without sounding like a total dick--she has a bit of a crooked face and just looks...odd. Which would be fine if she weren't playing a role that requires the hero to not know that she's wearing disguises. It's never believable for a second that a former FBI agent (or anyone with functioning eyesight) can't tell that blonde Vicky and red-wigged Ursula are the same person, especially when they both have a rather large mole above their right eye.
And who the hell watches an Isaac Florentine joint for scenes with Slater sensitively strumming an acoustic guitar as Portnoy improvs a Bulgarian folk song? Florentine is the man when it comes to crazy DTV action, but he's seriously out of his element here and it feels like an Elika Portnoy vanity project that he simply ended up directing. Also featuring Timothy Spall for some reason, ASSASSIN'S BULLET is a major disappointment from Florentine, and easily the director's worst film. (R, 91 mins)
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
(Hungary/France/Switzerland/Germany/US - 2011; 2012 US release)
Directed by Bela Tarr, Agnes Hranitzky. Written by Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Bela Tarr. Cast: Erika Bok, Janos Derszi, Mihaly Kormos, Ricsi. (Unrated, 155 mins)
Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr, best known for the seven-and-a-half hour epic SATANTANGO (1994), announced his retirement from filmmaking with THE TURIN HORSE, which runs a relatively brief 155 minutes. THE TURIN HORSE is grim, oppressive, slow, and monotonous, but Tarr finds beauty in the bleakness, with rich, stark, black & white cinematography that reveals every detail in the harsh confines of the characters' lives.
Monday, August 20, 2012
There's not much I can add to what's already been said over the course of the day. The shocking bridge-jump suicide of veteran director Tony Scott has led to an outpouring of grief and condolences from all over the world. Adding to the tragedy: Monday afternoon brought reports that the 68-year-old Scott was recently diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.
|Tony Scott with favorite star Denzel Washington. The pair|
collaborated on five films from 1995-2010.
Until one takes a good look at his list of credits, it's easy to forget just how many hit films he made over the last 30 years, despite constantly being in the shadow of his more critically-acclaimed older brother Ridley Scott. In the eyes of the critics, Ridley was always the visionary, Tony the journeyman hack. And that is true to a certain extent, but considered as a whole, Tony Scott made some entertaining movies. His were often a triumph of style over substance, and over the last decade, his style often relied on hyperactive camera work, sudden changes in film stock, and other jarring directorial tricks that, for better or worse, proved to be an influence on younger filmmakers. Tony Scott made his mark, and had the kind of financially successful career of which most aspiring filmmakers can only dream. Scott's TRUE ROMANCE (1993) is generally regarded as the closest he came to making a legitimate, critically-validated "classic" but he will never be considered a "great" director. He wasn't John Ford. He wasn't Akira Kurosawa. He wasn't Stanley Kubrick. His films never won any prestigious awards. And like any director with a long career, he had his share of misfires (I've never been a TOP GUN fan, but I'd probably cite the headache-inducing 2009 remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 as his worst film), but Tony Scott made entertaining movies that audiences liked. He made the kinds of movies that you happen upon while channel-surfing and end up watching all the way to the end, even if you've seen them multiple times already. If you stumble on something like this scene from 1995's CRIMSON TIDE, there's no way you're not watching the rest of the movie.
While Scott served as a producer (through he and Ridley's Scott Free Productions) on a few projects that have yet to be released, the riveting 2010 runaway train thriller UNSTOPPABLE, starring his favorite actor Denzel Washington, is as good a film as any for him to go out on. Tony Scott movies have been such a common presence for the last 30 years that it's hard to believe there won't be any more.
**UPDATE: Tony Scott's family has denied that he was suffering from brain cancer.**
|THE HUNGER (1983)|
|TOP GUN (1986)|
|BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987)|
|DAYS OF THUNDER (1990)|
|THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991)|
|TRUE ROMANCE (1993)|
|CRIMSON TIDE (1995)|
|THE FAN (1996)|
|ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)|
|SPY GAME (2001)|
|MAN ON FIRE (2004)|
|DEJA VU (2006)|
|THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2009)|