Thursday, October 11, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE HOLE (2012), ROSEWOOD LANE (2012), and (2012)

(US - 2012)

For much of his 1980s GREMLINS heyday working in conjunction with producer Steven Spielberg, director Joe Dante was generally considered a capable, commercial genre craftsman.  He made entertaining movies that made money.  But going back to his days editing trailers for 1970s Roger Corman productions, and with his own early directing efforts like PIRANHA (1978) and THE HOWLING (1981), Dante's work exhibited knowing winks, nods, and loving homages to his own influences from classic horror films to vintage Looney Tunes, including giving some of his favorite and still-living old-time actors some meaty late-career roles long before Quentin Tarantino made it cool.  Nowadays, critics recognize Dante's often subversive wit and anarchic style and even a film like THE 'BURBS, savaged by critics in 1989, has enjoyed a resurgence as a cult film with a lot more going on beneath the surface.  Dante films like GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990) and SMALL SOLDIERS (1998) have been praised for their cutting social commentary in the guise of popcorn genre fare. Now, at a still-youthful 65, Dante, like his contemporary John Carpenter, has lived long enough to see many of his dismissed films re-evaluated and to find himself considered an auteur.  And like Carpenter, Dante seems content to enjoy his emeritus status and has opted to focus more on interviews, retrospectives, and conventions rather than worrying about remaining topical and trendy in a world of cinema that's simply changed too drastically for him to be as commercially viable as he once was.  Dante was unstoppable in the 1980s.  His latest film took three years to get picked up by a company called Big Air Studios.

THE HOLE, shot in 2009 but unreleased in the US until a very limited theatrical run (in 3D) in September 2012, is Dante's first feature since 2003's troubled LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION.  In that time off, he's directed episodes of CSI and the new HAWAII FIVE-0, a short film accompanying a GOOSEBUMPS amusement park ride, two episodes of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR (including the acclaimed anti-war screed "Homecoming"), and the wraparound segments of the terrible 2008 anthology film TRAPPED ASHES.  THE HOLE almost feels like a GREMLINS-era 1980s throwback in many respects, probably the main reason why it took so long to find a distributor, even with being shot in 3D.  Entertaining if a bit lethargically paced, THE HOLE has single mom Teri Polo moving to a small town with moody teenage son Chris Massoglia and younger son Nathan Gamble.  The brothers and cute girl next door Haley Bennett discover a locked door in the basement floor, which leads to a seemingly bottomless pit.  They keep this finding a secret, but are soon confronted by--stop me if you've heard this one before--the physical manifestations of the things they fear the most.  For young Gamble, it's evil clowns.  For Bennett, the spectre of a ghost girl straight out of RINGU, and for Massoglia, it's a nightmarish version of his abusive, long-absent father.  As charmingly old-school as THE HOLE can be, the script by Mark L. Smith (VACANCY) is really stale, and even at 92 minutes, the film feels padded.  I thought Massoglia and Gamble both did good work, and I liked the feel of the early scenes, which really took me back to seeing Dante films like GREMLINS and EXPLORERS as a kid, but once the plot kicks in, you'll know every twist and turn, and only in the finale, when Massoglia ventures into the hole, does Dante really attempt anything unique.  Also with Bruce Dern as Creepy Carl, the house's previous owner who tries to warn them about the hole, and the venerable Dick Miller in a silent cameo as the world's oldest pizza delivery guy.  THE HOLE is a pleasant, if extremely slight film, nowhere in the vicinity of top-tier Dante, but it's nice to see a new film by him. (PG-13, 92 mins)

(US - 2012)

I can't fathom there being a more absurd, laugh-out-loud thriller in 2012 than ROSEWOOD LANE, the latest from Victor Salva, who's a long way from JEEPERS CREEPERS here.  Salva is a filmmaker known more for being a registered sex offender (I'm not going to rehash it here, check his Wikipedia page if you don't know the story), but credit where it's due:  JEEPERS CREEPERS is a pretty great horror film.  The sequel was terrible, and so is ROSEWOOD LANE, an instant Bad Movie classic that Universal didn't even bother releasing in theaters. Talk radio shrink Dr. Sonny Blake (Rose McGowan) moves back into her childhood home in the suburbs after the mysterious death of her estranged father.  It seems to be a quiet, peaceful neighborhood in a cul-de-sac on Rosewood Lane, but the neighbors live in an all-consuming fear of psychotic paperboy Derek Barber (Daniel Ross Owens).  Derek is almost immediately sneaking into Sonny's house, rearranging ceramic figurines, confronting her in the basement, calling in to her show and taunting her with nursery rhymes...and a great introductory deal on a subscription, but she better act now to save!  And he's not really making any effort to hide what he's doing.  Even old neighbor Fred (Rance Howard, Ron's dad) says "Yeah, sometimes I hear him walkin' on my roof...I seen him up on yours, too."  THEN DO SOMETHING!  During a housewarming backyard BBQ, Derek takes a leak on Sonny's on-again/off-again boyfriend Barrett (Sonny Marinelli) through a hole in a privacy fence.  But the paperboy always seems to disappear into thin air before anyone can confront him.  And no one seems really eager to deal with the issue.  Do-nothing detective Briggs (Ray Wise) says there's no evidence and questions if Sonny's just imagining all of it as a psychological reaction to being back in a traumatic environment, and since Derek's a minor (the actor Owens is 29 and looks it), they can't go after him without his parents' permission.  So, Derek's reign of terror escalates and the body count starts piling, and well, gosh darn it, there just isn't anything that can be done about it.

I have a few questions: did Salva intend for this to be a comedy? What is the deal with Derek? Where are his parents? Why do the neighbors just put up with him routinely entering their homes and terrorizing them? Why does everyone just accept the lunatic antics of this little shit as part of life on Rosewood Lane? And does he do this to the rest of his paper route? Why just this dead-end street?  Has anyone called the newspaper and asked to speak with Derek's supervisor?  Why do the cops look the other way? Actually no, I take that back. They don't look the other way. They look right at it. And do nothing. Derek even calls Sonny's show at one point and flat-out says he buried Barrett alive in Sonny's backyard...but when the cops go there, they just stand around and bitch because they can't find anything, and only notice the snorkel sticking out of a mound of dirt when one cop trips over it. No, really. Also with Lauren Velez, Lin Shaye, Bill Fagerbakke, and Lesley-Anne Down (still a knockout after all these years), ROSEWOOD LANE is professionally-made and competently-acted, but the film is almost as out-to-lunch hilarious and as off-the-charts stupid as THE ROOM. Come on, Salva. Seriously. What the hell is this bullshit? (R, 96 mins, also streaming on Netflix)
(UK - 2010; 2012 US release)

It took Universal two years to dump this occasionally diverting but overlong British crime thriller straight to DVD in the US. Written and co-directed by KIDULTHOOD and ADULTHOOD writer and sometime DOCTOR WHO guest star Noel Clarke (who shares directing duties with Mark Davis), has some cast members that would seem to guarantee at least a limited US theatrical release, but apparently, Universal didn't see a Simon Pegg thing happening with Clarke.  Highly reminiscent of Doug Liman's GO (1999), details the wild weekend of four young London-based women and highly unlikely friends--American expat Jo (Emma Roberts), wealthy and virginal piano prodigy Cassandra (Tamsin Egerton), street-smart lesbian Kerrys (Shanika Warren-Markland), and mousy, introverted graffiti artist Shannon (Ophelia Lovibond).  Starting on a Friday afternoon and told in four roughly 25-minute segments, we follow the path of each through the weekend--including a quick trip to NYC for Cassandra--going back after each until all the plot lines and characters converge.   There's sex, a diamond heist, Viagra, stolen cars, Pringles, a panic room, mistaken identity, a misplaced note, familial dysfunction, convenience store mayhem, club brawls, a NYC racist confronted by a large group of thugs ("Hey, come on guys...I voted for Obama!") led by Eve, and a ruthless assassin (Michelle Ryan).  Lots of familiar British TV faces and Clarke pals turn up (Sean Pertwee, Ashley Thomas, Ben Miller, Camille Coduri, and others), in addition to Mandy Patinkin and even Kevin Smith in a likable supporting turn as the gregarious Big Larry, who becomes an unexpected friend of Cassandra's in NYC. isn't likely to achieve the cult status of GO or the early films of Guy Ritchie (another obvious influence), and it could probably lose 15-20 minutes, but it's not bad and the cast seems to be having a blast.  (Unrated, 117 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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