Sunday, November 18, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: DARK HORSE (2012) and [REC] 3: GENESIS (2012)

(US/UK - 2012)

Easily the least confrontational film yet from WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE and HAPPINESS misery auteur Todd Solondz, DARK HORSE still has some of the expected excruciatingly uncomfortable moments, but shows signs of its maker perhaps mellowing with age.  Jordan Gelber (who looks like he could be the younger brother of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM's Jeff Garlin) is Abe, an overweight, obnoxious, self-deluded 35-year-old suburban New Jersey man-child who lives with his parents (morose dad Christopher Walken, sporting a hilarious wig, and enabling, coddling mom Mia Farrow), collects toys and action figures,"works" at his dad's real estate company (meaning, he sits in his office all day perusing eBay, not getting his work done, and coasting on the fact that he's the boss' kid), drives a garish bright yellow Hummer, and angrily lives in the shadow of his younger, successful doctor brother (Justin Bartha).  Abe meets Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding and makes awkward conversation.  She also lives with her parents, suffers from crippling depression and is overmedicated to the point of near-catatonia, but she somehow doesn't run when Abe pursues her, and even accepts a marriage proposal after one evening of hanging out at her house.  Solondz repeatedly blurs the line between reality and fantasy and maybe for the first time since Heather Matarazzo's Dawn Weiner in WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, actually feels some empathy for his central character.  Sure, Abe is kind of a dick, talks a lot of shit, and brings much of his troubles on himself, and while Solondz refuses to allow him a happy ending, he also seems intent on showing us that deep down, Abe's really not a bad guy and still could be a winner--a dark horse (all underscored by uplifting and gratingly cheesy pop songs).  Solondz has had some ups and downs in the years following his masterpiece HAPPINESS.  DARK HORSE feels like a minor and forgettable film, but all things considered, it's one of his better recent works, certainly a step up from the dismal HAPPINESS sequel LIFE DURING WARTIME.  Over his last few films, it seemed like Solondz's misanthropic, poking-people-with-sticks act was running out of gas, and DARK HORSE at least finds him trying something a little different, almost like he took some kind of reflective, self-imposed time out.  Who knows?  Maybe there's an uplifting crowd pleaser somewhere in Solondz's future.  One point of interest is the closing credits listing Blair as "Miranda (formerly 'Vi')," Vi being the character she played in Solondz's 2002 film STORYTELLING, and if they are the same character, the events of STORYTELLING would certainly explain some of Miranda's current mental state.  (R, 86 mins)

(Spain - 2012)

Pointless third entry in the Spanish found-footage horror franchise about a viral demonic possession outbreak in an apartment building. Directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza had a hard enough time stretching the film out to the disappointing first sequel--now Balaguero sits this one out and lets Plaza fly solo, and he doesn't even seem interested in making a [REC] film. Set at a wedding reception for Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martin) that's ultimately revealed to be taking place at the same time as the events of the first film, [REC] 3 opens with a 22-minute pre-credits sequence of standard-issue found-footage shaky-cam courtesy of a professional wedding photographer (Sr. B) and his steadicam unit and Koldo's teenage cousin (Alex Monner) and his handheld. All hell breaks loose when Koldo's uncle (Emilio Mencheta) turns out to be infected from a dog bite, spreading the demonic virus among the partygoers. Plaza abandons the found-footage element altogether after 25 minutes or so, which sort of renders the whole [REC] element meaningless and the film becomes standard issue zombie fare (owing a little to Lamberto Bava's DEMONS and Michele Soavi's THE CHURCH), and only a semi-serious one at that. The first [REC] (remade in the US as QUARANTINE) still stands as one of the best in the recent endless string of found-footage films, but Plaza approaches this entry using a vastly different tone. Sure, some of the humor works, like the comical sight of Koldo spending half the film in medieval armor that he finds in a nearby church, and a childrens entertainer with a cheap sponge costume calling himself "SpongeJohn" to avoid copyright violations is funny a couple of times until he completely wears out his welcome. By the time Clara finds a chainsaw, slices off part of her wedding dress and repeatedly shouts "This is my day!" as she slices through the skulls of demonic ghouls, turning into a Spanish Milla Jovovich by way of Bruce Campbell, Plaza has effectively jettisoned any semblance of straight-faced horror and it plays out like a tired EVIL DEAD knockoff.  Was this even supposed to be a [REC] film? For all its faults, it's still a marginally more entertaining film than the previous entry (which lost its way midway through and never recovered), though it has just as little reason to exist.  And yes...Balaguero is apparently returning to direct [REC] 4.  For some reason.  (R, 80 mins)

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