Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray: EXCISION (2012) and BRINGING UP BOBBY (2012)

(US - 2012)

When you subject yourself to enough crappy straight-to-DVD titles (or titles that get released on five screens before being dumped on DVD), it's all made worthwhile when you're rewarded with a genuine overlooked sleeper that manages to sneak in when no one's looking.  EXCISION is an audacious and inventive teen horror film that seems destined for a DONNIE DARKO-like cult status.  In a bold, uninhibited, and often startling performance, 90210 star Annalynne McCord is 18-year-old Pauline, the kind of gawky, awkward, slouched, pimply, and just plain odd high school outcast who makes Carrie White look like the most popular girl in school.  She has vivid sexual fantasies about surgery and mutilation while trying to survive her domineering, religious mother (Traci Lords) and her spineless father (Roger Bart).  She does have an almost-normal relationship with her younger sister (Ariel Winter), who's suffering from cystic fibrosis.  As her mother tries to make her more "ladylike" by forcing her to go with a bunch of younger girls to a cotillion class, Pauline grows increasingly obsessed with death, disease, self-mutilation, and bodily functions ("I want to lose my virginity while I'm on my period"), while engaging in rebellious acts like guzzling ipecac to vomit on a bitchy classmate and blurting out anything to rile up her uptight mother ("I'm going to marry a black guy!"), until of course, the film takes a dark and horrifying turn. 

Written and directed by Richard Bates, Jr., EXCISION is surprisingly ambitious, with some hypnotically beautiful shot compositions, stunning use of color, and some dream sequences that are almost Jodorowsky-esque in their surrealism. The 25-year-old McCord has done a lot of TV work, but I've only seen her in a pair of terrible 50 Cent movies. She turns in a star-making performance here, and even Lords, never mistaken for a good actress, knocks it out of the park. There's a few recognizable faces in some small supporting roles, like Ray Wise as the principal and Marlee Matlin as the cotillion instructor, but if EXCISION has any problems, it's that it's a little distracting and disruptive to the film's mood to see Malcolm McDowell as a high school math teacher and, even more intrusive, John Waters as a minister (though I get his presence here, as a few of the film's more shocking transgressions--one involving a bloody tampon--wouldn't have been out of place in an old-school Waters film, but he still doesn't exactly disappear into a serious role). But overall, EXCISION is dark, disturbing, and frequently uncomfortable and gross, but it's also very funny (Pauline asking the health teacher if you can contract STDs from dead bodies, Matlin signing to an ASL-illiterate Lords that "seeing you and your daughter argue makes me grateful for my hearing loss"), and refreshingly devoid of snarky teen cliches. It's a smart and unique film that sometimes feels like MEAN GIRLS if remade by David Cronenberg, and one of 2012's biggest surprises. Highly recommended, but admittedly not for all tastes. (Unrated, 81 mins)

(US/UK/The Netherlands - 2012)

Milla Jovovich has an engaging screen presence and some legit acting chops, but she hasn't had a lot of luck recently outside of the RESIDENT EVIL franchise.  She turned in an Oscar-caliber performance in 2010's barely-released STONE, managing to steal the film from both Robert De Niro and Edward Norton, but nobody saw it or several other disappointing films she's done that got shuffled off to the DVD scrapheap.  The appallingly bad BRINGING UP BOBBY is a near-total disaster that marks the writing/directing debut of veteran character actress Famke Janssen.  Sure, as far as reliable character actors debuting behind the camera in 2012 go, this isn't nearly as horrid as Vincent D'Onofrio's DON'T GO IN THE WOODS, but there's still nothing to recommend about it.  Jovovich is Olive, a Ukrainian con artist in Oklahoma with her 11-year-old son Bobby (Spencer List).  Together, the pair steal used cars, shoplift, and try to scam insurance companies.  It all catches up to Olive, who gets arrested and loses Bobby to Kent (Bill Pullman) and Mary (Marcia Cross), a rich couple they met after Kent accidentally hit Bobby with his car.  Kent and Mary have never recovered from the death of their own son, and grow to genuinely love Bobby and even welcome Olive to be a part of his life after she gets out of jail.  But her presence proves disruptive when Bobby starts acting out and Olive faces temptation to restart her old criminal life as numerous heart-tugging montages ensue, set to the likes of Cat Stevens and Jorma Kaukonen.

Everything about BRINGING UP BOBBY comes off as forced and phony, starting with its sitcom-worthy title, the grating performances of Jovovich, List, and Rory Cochrane (incredibly annoying as Olive's not-so-bright partner in crime) and the transparent stabs at precious indie quirk (Olive's retro wardrobe, Bobby's ridiculous habit of wearing two different-colored socks with one pulled all the way up to his knee).  The mother's a criminal and the kid is a completely obnoxious, thoroughly unlikable little shit, and Janssen gives us little reason to care about either of them.  It starts off like it might be wacky and "fun," but soon turns maudlin and manipulative, and it just doesn't work.  The abrupt ending is one of the laziest examples of a quick, convenient wrap-up in recent memory.  After "irresponsible mom" roles in two terrible films (this and the equally unseen DIRTY GIRL), it's time for the completely capable Jovovich to start finding better projects to explore her serious side.  Janssen based this film on her own childhood experiences as a Dutch immigrant, but I don't see the film having anything at all to do with the immigrant experience other than making Olive from Ukraine and allowing Jovovich to use a hammy accent that's more fitting for Natasha Fatale. Any statement or observation Janssen intended on making got lost somewhere along the way to being a Lifetime movie with intermittent profanity.  BRINGING UP BOBBY was shot in 2010 and opened in September 2012 on one screen, ultimately opening wider to...three screens, for a total theatrical take of $4600.  (PG-13, 95 mins)


  1. Ugh. I more or less *hated* EXCISION. I felt that in its attempts to be shocking and edgy, it forced an annoying frontwoman on us who was impossible to like, sympathize with, or even watch. She really felt detached from her relatively grounded surroundings; a shame, since most of the rest of the cast (especially Lords, as you mention) turned in great work.

    To each their own, I suppose. Besides, if we all liked the same movies it'd sure make conversation boring!

  2. Yeah, I can see this being a divisive, love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I don't know...McCord's character and performance really worked for me. Granted, the whole thing is over-the-top, especially the finale, but the only parts that didn't really gel for me involved some of the straight-from-the-Chiller Theatre-convention casting choices: Malcolm McDowell essentialy playing "Malcolm McDowell: dickhead math teacher" (not that he's bad, but he's just too recognizably "Malcolm McDowell" for such a minor role). And John Waters is awesome, but he can't pull off a generally serious role. All due respect to them, but I guess we should be thankful that Sid Haig and Bill Moseley didn't turn up somewhere as well. I'm pretty sure they're a package deal at this point. And who ever thought Traci Lords would turn in a great performance in anything?