Saturday, October 6, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: RED LIGHTS (2012) and IRON SKY (2012)

(Spain/US - 2012)

I'd probably have to go back to 2010's LEGION to find a horror film that starts off so promisingly and implodes as catastrophically as RED LIGHTS.  Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes (the "Ryan Reynolds in a box" cult thriller BURIED), RED LIGHTS is an initially intriguing look at the world of academic skeptics debunking the supernatural.  Psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her physicist assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) have never encountered a case of supposed paranormal activity or psychic phenomena they couldn't disprove.  Meanwhile, long-retired 1970's blind celebrity psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) has emerged from self-imposed exile and Buckley wants to go after him, despite warnings from Matheson that Silver--with whom she's dealt before--is dangerous and nothing like the typical scam artists they usually face.  Cortes gets things rolling very effectively and there's a nice John Carpenter vibe to the film's first half, but it starts seriously skidding with the unexpected exit of one major character and the story just gets sillier by the scene, culminating in an infuriating twist ending that renders the preceding 105 minutes moot.  There's a lot of good actors left stranded--Joely Richardson, Toby Jones, and Elizabeth Olsen have supporting roles--and Cortes wastes an excellent performance by Weaver but, sorry to say, De Niro is a major reason why RED LIGHTS doesn't work.  He's horribly miscast, visibly bored, and just completely wrong for this film's personification of psychic evil.  It's never believable for a moment that Silver's return would cause such a media frenzy, and at no point does De Niro convey the kind of charisma that a huge celebrity of this sort should.  He's just a stone-faced, sleepwalking bore throughout, and for some reason, I kept picturing how perfect someone like Jeff Goldblum might've been as Silver--someone who can convincingly demonstrate both the eccentric charm and the sense of supernatural menace that's required.  Hell, even a Nicolas Cage would've at least brought some energy to the role.  I think De Niro was more engaged in FREELANCERS--either he's coasting for a quick paycheck and a free Spanish vacation or underplaying it to the point of catatonia. It's a shame, because RED LIGHTS starts off so well and is one of those rare horror films geared toward an adult audience, cast with living legends like De Niro and Weaver, and it just ends up a crushing disappointment. Almost worth seeing for the laughable Simon Silver flashback where a young actor with a stick-on mole does the worst De Niro impression this side of an open-mic night at your local Chuckle Hut.  Barely released in US theaters, grossing $52,000 on just 18 screens. (R, 114 mins)

(Finland/Austria/Denmark/Germany/France/Australia - 2012)

Stylized, absurdist sci-fi comedy centered on the conspiracy theories that after WWII, the Nazis set up a secret base on the dark side of the moon.  Here, in 2018, they're led by the current Fuhrer, Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier) and they're planning on attack on Earth with their space fleet let by the massive warship Gotterdammerung.  They're accidentally discovered by two US astronauts.  They kill one and take the other, African-American James Washington (Christopher Kirby) prisoner, bleaching his hair and skin white to give him the perfect Ayran look.  Meanwhile, Washington is forced to accompany Kortzfleisch's ambitious second-in-command Adler (Gotz Otto) and his fiancee Renate (Julia Dietze) to Earth to obtain more of Washington's "computer phones" (cell phones) to aid in their takeover plot.  They end up sticking around on Earth when they cross paths with fashionista Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant), the bitch-on-wheels image consultant to the dim-witted, slogan-spouting Sarah Palin-esque US President (Stephanie Paul), who incorporates Renate's Nazi platitudes into her speeches.  Before long, Kortzfleisch arrives with the fleet and Adler puts the invasion in motion, with the Gotterdammerung forced to take on the space warship USS George W. Bush.

There's some sharp-edged satire throughout IRON SKY, particularly with the presentation of the American political scene (the US President is overjoyed that she gets to be a wartime President, citing that "They always get re-elected!"), and various plays on stereotypes (when Washington is a fugitive on the moon, the Nazis issue a news alert describing him as "unarmed and possibly angry"), and an inspired bit where Renate, a teacher, describes Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR to her class as "a famous ten-minute short film," unaware that Nazi officials have censored the rest of it (I also liked the scene where United Nations representatives laugh at North Korea's hapless attempt to claim responsibility for the invasion of Earth).  There's some big laughs in IRON SKY, but it still seems like an SNL skit dragged out to feature length.  Perhaps a bit more sophisticated, yes, but it has long sections where it just seems to putter along.  Co-written and directed by Timo Vuorensola (who made two films in the STAR WRECK series of Finnish STAR TREK spoofs), IRON SKY got some attention in Europe as part of a new movement of communal, participatory filmmaking where online fans at an IRON SKY forum got to contribute ideas and pitched in with donations to help fund the film.  That's not to imply that it's some homemade, DIY film, when in fact, it's a multi-country co-production with an international cast, shot in several countries, with most of the interiors done in Australia.  IRON SKY isn't altogether successful and at times feels like a party guest who won't leave, but it does exhibit some occasionally daring bits of ballsy humor, and is definitely worth a look if you're in the right mood. (R, 93 mins)

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