Sunday, October 28, 2012
(Canada/France - 2012)
Written and directed by Michael J. Bassett. Cast: Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Sean Bean, Carrie-Anne Moss, Malcolm McDowell, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Radha Mitchell, Peter Outerbridge, Roberto Campanella. (R, 94 mins)
Directed by Christophe Gans (BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF) and written by Roger Avary (PULP FICTION, THE RULES OF ATTRACTION), the 2006 film version of the video game favorite SILENT HILL wasn't exactly a model of narrative cohesion, but it was a triumph of atmosphere and mood and has found a devoted cult following in the years since its release. It's doubtful that anyone will ever be looking back fondly on the belated sequel SILENT HILL: REVELATION. Written and directed by Michael J. Bassett (WILDERNESS, SOLOMON KANE), SILENT HILL: REVELATION is based on the SILENT HILL 3 video game, but also has to function as a sequel to the Gans film, so some characters from the game end up having their roles filled by characters from the first film, which is a reasonable liberty. I was a little rusty on the first film and revisited it the day before seeing the sequel, and even that doesn't make REVELATION's plot any more coherent. Bassett's script has the characters spouting pages and pages of exposition to get the viewer up to speed on who's who and why they're important, but you almost have to be equally familiar with the plots of the video games to figure out what's going on. The end result is a chaotic, unfocused, and boring film that relies heavily on tired genre cliches and jettisons the atmosphere and mood for dreary, ugly visuals, graphic gore, noise, and mostly uninspired 3-D.
Being a fan of the 2006 film as well as a fan of Bassett's earlier work (WILDERNESS is a gem waiting to be discovered), I had high hopes for SILENT HILL: REVELATION, but between its terrible pacing, incoherent script, abandoned plot threads, and the obvious disinterest of its slumming cast, among other major issues, it's really hard to find anything worthwhile about this depressingly dismal sequel.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
On DVD/Blu-ray: TAKE THIS WALTZ (2012), SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE (2012), and THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH (2012)
TAKE THIS WALTZ
(Canada/France - 2012)
While Polley's script (and a lot of Williams' and Rogen's dialogue feels improvised) is frequently more quirky than it needs to be (Daniel works as a rickshaw driver?) and the dialogue in the early going too obviously prophetic (Margot on air travel: "I'm afraid of connections"), it eventually displays a level of honesty and complexity rarely seen in films like this. You ever notice in movies how, when men have affairs, they're selfish assholes, but when women have affairs, it's because they need to "find themselves"? Polley approaches it differently. Her characters are real (she takes a big risk by making Margot frequently obnoxious) and they're flawed. She and the film don't take sides, they don't make excuses, and they don't provide any easy answers. And when certain things are revealed, the characters respond like real people would respond (Rogen is especially good late in the film). TAKE THIS WALTZ can best be summed up by a line during a scene in a gym shower where Margot is listening to Lou's recovering alcoholic sister (Sarah Silverman, also good in a serious role) talk about the sense of boredom, the routine, and the lack of "new" in her own marriage, and an older woman overhears them and offers some simple words of experience and wisdom: "New things get old, too." (R, 116 mins)
SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE
(US/Russia - 2012)
SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE never takes itself seriously, and at times, it seems like it might cross the line into actual comedy. But even as a cliche-filled action film, it's a total guilty pleasure. Director Maxim Korostyshevsky does a good job making a low-budget film look a lot "bigger" than it really is. It's very nicely shot in some scenic Ukraine areas (a welcome change of pace from the dreary Bulgarian locations usually seen in this type of thing), there's some daring stunt work, convincing explosions (some CGI, some real), minimal shaky-cam, and a good mix of CGI blood with actual splattery squibs so as not to look completely cartoonish. There's nothing here you haven't seen before (sweeping aerial shot of the heroes walking a narrow path along the top of a mountain? Check! Sneering villain strutting into the room where the nabbed heroes are being held and gloating "Hello again, gentlemen..."? Check!), but the ensemble cast works very well together and they seem to be having a good time. Not a great or even a very good film by any means, but it's a lot of fun and accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and definitely deserved more than a 50-screen dumping with no publicity at all. (R, 94 mins)
THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH
(France/Poland - 2012)
Thursday, October 25, 2012
(US - 1953)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Written by Howard Sackler. Cast: Frank Silvera, Paul Mazursky, Kenneth Harp, Steve Coit, Virginia Leith. (Unrated, 62 mins)
Almost from the time it was released, Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) disowned his debut feature FEAR AND DESIRE (1953), dismissing it as "amateurish." Rumors persisted for decades that he'd had as many prints of it as possible rounded up and destroyed, but a few managed to survive in private collections, and once the film fell into the public domain, there was little he could do to bury it completely. It was considered a lost film for many years, and was never officially released on home video, though copies could often be found on the bootleg circuit. It's been shown at various film festivals over the years (most notably at Telluride in 1993), and ran on Turner Classic Movies in late 2011, but with Kino's new HD restoration (from a Library of Congress print), Kubrick's feature films are finally represented in their entirety on DVD and Blu-ray.
|Kenneth Harp as Lt. Corby, with|
Frank Silvera and Steve Coit
|Virginia Leith with Silvera|
|Kubrick on the set of FEAR AND DESIRE|
FEAR AND DESIRE won't generate much interest beyond devout Kubrick completists. But if you've got the Kubrick Blu-ray box set from Warner, and the Criterion editions of PATHS OF GLORY and THE KILLING (which features KILLER'S KISS as an extra), then it's definitely worth picking up to have essentially everything (minus a couple of those early industrial shorts) done by arguably cinema's greatest filmmaker. Just know going into FEAR AND DESIRE that everyone has to start somewhere. But even that early on, you can tell the wheels were turning.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
(Australia - 2008; 2010 US release)
Written and directed by Joel Anderson. Cast: Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Steve Jodrell, Martin Sharpe, Talia Zucker. (R, 87 mins)
"Alice kept secrets. She kept the fact that she kept secrets a secret."
While it owes a tremendous debt to elder statesmen trendsetters like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), the found footage/faux documentary subgenre really exploded with the runaway success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009). PARANORMAL ACTIVITY has spawned three sequels (four if you count Japan's tenuously-connected and still-unreleased-in-the-US PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: TOKYO NIGHT) and countless imitations in the short time since its release, as the subgenre is particularly ideal for ghost stories and demonic possession, as we've seen with films like THE LAST EXORCISM (2010) and the terrible THE DEVIL INSIDE (2012). PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sat on the shelf for a few years before its eventual release (remember how the ads informed us that we demanded it?), which also happened--at least in the US--with the Australian film LAKE MUNGO. Shot in 2007, LAKE MUNGO was made around the same time that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was starting to be screened at horror festivals but well before it became a pop culture phenomenon with the general public, and while it deals with ghosts and video cameras, it really does stand on its own and can't simply be dismissed as a knockoff. But at the same time, one must acknowledge that LAKE MUNGO very likely only got its belated 2010 US release because of the huge success of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.
To relay any more of the plot would do a disservice to those who haven't seen it, but LAKE MUNGO is ultimately a fright film of surprising depth and emotion, which is not to imply that it forgets its primary mission: there are several sequences in this film that recall--and equal--the level of disturbing creepiness in the "shared dream" sequences of John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987). Any fan of PRINCE OF DARKNESS feels the hairs on their neck stand just with the mere mention of those scenes. When Anderson breaks out the found footage on a cell phone that Alice buried out of fright while partying at Lake Mungo with friends, LAKE MUNGO establishes its horrific bona fides and cements its place as a modern cult horror classic. The cell phone scene is definitely LAKE MUNGO's money shot, as it were. But all throughout the film, Anderson does such a terrific job of creating an ominous, dread-filled, slow-burning atmosphere that something as played out as a ghost story manages to feel fresh, inventive, and truly terrifying. To date, Anderson, whose only prior credit was a 2002 short, has yet to make another film.
By 2010, the After Dark fests were barely getting into theaters, so no one really got a look at LAKE MUNGO until it turned up on DVD, and it didn't take long for word of mouth to spread via DVD review sites, movie discussion boards, and social networking that there was a little more going on with it than first impressions would indicate and that it really was a sleeper gem that was worth seeing. Aside from being one of the most consistent and convincing in the realm of faux documentaries, it's also one of the most devastating and genuinely scary horror films of the last decade.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
(US - 2012)
(US - 2012)
(US - 2012)
(US - 2012)
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
(UK - 2012)
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Zeljko Ivanek, Harry Dean Stanton, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kevin Corrigan, Linda Bright Clay, Long Nguyen, Brendan Sexton III. (R, 110 mins)
Writer/director Martin McDonagh's follow-up to his acclaimed IN BRUGES (2008) again demonstrates his deftness at mixing the comedic and the dramatic and doing so without jarring or uneven shifts in tone. SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS adds a "meta" element that's somewhat reminiscent of Shane Black's 2005 cult favorite KISS KISS BANG BANG (a great film totally abandoned by its distributor). With rare exception--KISS KISS BANG BANG, for example--self-reflexive meta films of this sort tend to exude a certain air of smugness about them, almost as if the filmmakers are too busy marveling at how preciously clever they're being. For the most part, McDonagh does a good job at keeping that element in check, but it doesn't always work as well as it should, or as well as McDonagh thinks it is. Contrary to what the trailers, TV spots, and poster art are selling, this isn't exactly the wacky comedy about a ragtag group of criminal miscreants that it appears to be. It's *A* film like that...just not the one being advertised.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
(US/UK - 2012)
Directed by Scott Derrickson. Written by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Vincent D'Onofrio, Fred Dalton Thompson, James Ransone, Clare Foley, Michael Hall D'Addario. (R, 109 mins)
Horror fans can often the most demanding, nit-picky, and impossible-to-please movie audience out there. I include myself in that to a certain extent and of course there's things one could grumble about in SINISTER but they're relatively minor and for a film dealing with the supernatural and a demonic serial killer with the possible ability to traverse realms of existence, you can't complain about something not being "realistic," or, as one IMDb commenter states, "The wife sure is a heavy sleeper!" Just shut up. SINISTER is one of the best horror films to come down the pike in some time, and if you're tired of CGI silliness or torture-porn excess or creatively-bankrupt remakes, then you'll forgive the minor lapses in logic and the lack of documentary realism. For the most part, SINISTER is smart, character-driven, deeply unsettling and genuinely terrifying.
Friday, October 12, 2012
(US - 2012)
Directed by Ben Affleck. Written by Chris Terrio. Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham, Kerry Bishe, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Bob Gunton, Philip Baker Hall, Titus Welliver, Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Michael Parks, Adrienne Barbeau, Richard Dillane, Keith Szarabajka, Jamie McShane. (R, 120 mins)
ARGO is a riveting, relentlessly-paced chronicle of the covert operation that rescued six Americans who escaped from the US Embassy in Iran as the 1979-81 hostage crisis unfolded. They spent nearly three months hiding in the home of Canadian ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) before CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed) was able to put an extremely unlikely rescue plan in motion, or as Mendez's boss Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston) puts it: "This is the best bad idea we've got."
|Tony Mendez meeting with President Jimmy Carter |
in 1980 after completing the "Argo" rescue mission.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
(US - 2012)
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 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)
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US
(US - 2012)
(US - 2012)
(US/Canada - 2012)
Originally slapped with an NC-17 rating, CHAINED is pretty repulsive but still isn't as gory as most of these things go. It seems more concerned with establishing that HENRY feeling of claustrophobic tension, but it just doesn't work. Lynch lets D'Onofrio run wild, doing some weird accent that sounds like a lisping Noo Yawker with a severe head cold. There's a backstory involving Bob's abusive father forcing him to have sex with his own mother, and one seemingly throwaway line of dialogue lets the cat out of the bag that there's going to be an inane twist ending. There's a couple of squirmy shots of Rabbit giving Bob a sponge bath, Bob playing with what appears to be a piece of a severed limb, and we do get a shot of a nude D'Onofrio covered in blood and sprawled atop one of his victims. I'm a big fan of D'Onofrio while at the same time conceding that he can be a divisive actor. A lot of people disliked him on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, but I thought he was brilliant. He excels with a good script and a disciplined director, but when he's not kept on a tight leash, things like CHAINED happen. Unfortunately, he's at his most mannered and affected here, and a lot of CHAINED's problems wouldn't be had he played it straight and not made the "Hey, check me out! It's THE VINCENT D'ONOFRIO SHOW!!!" decision to use a distracting, ridiculous accent and bust out every tic and twitch in his repertoire. On the plus side, Farren is effective as the tortured Rabbit and just by exhibiting some quiet restraint, manages to make a stronger impression than his veteran co-star. (R, 94 mins)
Sunday, October 7, 2012
(US - 1989)
Directed by Albert Pyun. Written by Kitty Chalmers. Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon, Alex Daniels, Ralf Muller, Haley Peterson, Terrie Batson, Jackson "Rock" Pinckney. (R, 86 mins)
The making of CYBORG was apparently an arduous process. The budget was low, the project thrown together, and the director was fired during post-production. One of the cast members--Jackson "Rock" Pinckney--lost an eye in a mishap with a prop knife. According to legend, Cannon honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had deals in place to with Marvel to produce SPIDER-MAN and with Mattel on a sequel to 1987's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, and both were to be shot simultaneously by journeyman director Albert Pyun (THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER) in North Carolina at the deserted DEG Studios. DEG Studios was constructed by Dino De Laurentiis for his short-lived DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group, which released a bunch of movies in 1986 and 1987 before going bankrupt by the end of 1987 (many DEG titles were held in limbo for years, such as BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, acquired by Orion and released in 1989, and William Friedkin's RAMPAGE, completed in 1987 but unreleased until Miramax picked it up in 1992). By 1989, Cannon was on life support from a string of costly, high-profile box office duds borne of Golan & Globus' quest to be respectable, high-rolling, Oscar-baiting A-listers; a bunch of standard-issue B-movies that were no longer making money (including many cheaply produced at their Apartheid-era South African branch that they denied existed); the ill-advised purchase of Thorn-EMI's movie division; and far too many dubious and impulsive business deals drawn up on cocktail napkins. Golan would leave the partnership and form 21st Century Film Corporation later in 1989, though Cannon would wheeze on until 1993 with Globus and, briefly, Italian schlock king Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR, TENTACLES) running things, with occasional desperation Hail Mary's like 1990's LAMBADA that inevitably tanked and became industry punchlines. In short, Cannon's best days were clearly in the past, and they simply didn't have the cash flow to be dealing with big-budget superhero movies, as clearly evidenced by 1987's pitiful SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE.
In order to recoup some of the money already spent on their never-to-be SPIDER-MAN and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 2, and to spotlight rising star and "Muscles from Brussels" Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose 1988 breakthrough BLOODSPORT provided Cannon with one of their very few recent successes, Golan & Globus had Pyun use some costumes and some sets that were constructed for the abandoned projects and, with screenwriter Kitty Chalmers (apparently a real person), hastily assemble the post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller SLINGER, which ended up being retitled CYBORG by the time it was released in April 1989.
|Jean-Claude Van Damme as|
|Dayle Haddon in the title role as the cyborg Pearl Prophet|
|Vincent Klyn as Fender Tremolo|
Cheap, disjointed, derivative (the most creative element is that all the characters are named after some kind of musical equipment brand or music term) but strangely entertaining, CYBORG also feels oddly retro for 1989, with a look and feel that seems more fitting for the string of post-ROAD WARRIOR ripoffs that petered out around 1985. And, despite being an American film shot in English, it almost feels like an Italian post-nuke since everyone but Van Damme appears to be dubbed. Pyun had CYBORG taken away from him during post-production, but he began selling his "director's cut" DVD, culled from a VHS workprint copy, on his web site in 2011, with more violence (CYBORG was apparently cut to secure an R rating), a completely different score, and without some of the reshoots he did back in 1989 (Fender's demise is different in each version). In Pyun's director's cut, Klyn (or the guy dubbing him) dubs every male character except for Van Damme, which was probably intended as a "placeholder" dubbing track until a final mix could be arranged. I haven't seen Pyun's cut, but by all accounts, the theatrical version supervised and edited by Cannon is the much more polished and professional film (and if Pyun's post-1980s output is any indication, I believe it). Pyun had worked with Cannon before on 1986's DANGEROUSLY CLOSE, 1987's DOWN TWISTED, 1988's ALIEN FROM L.A., and he directed most of 1989's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (shot mostly in 1986) even though Rusty Lemorande gets sole credit. And there must've been no hard feelings over CYBORG with Golan, since Pyun's next project would be CAPTAIN AMERICA for Golan's 21st Century. MGM just released CYBORG--in its 86-minute theatrical version--on Blu-ray in a surprisingly solid HD transfer at a low price, so fans of this cult classic--yes, it has a devoted fan base--will definitely find that worthwhile.
CYBORG was a moderate box-office success and arguably Cannon's last hit (though Chuck Norris' THE HITMAN grossed a few million in 1991), and proved popular enough in video stores and on cable to spawn two non-Cannon sequels. 1993's CYBORG 2 had little relation to Pyun's film other than cyborgs and a brief stock footage shot of Van Damme in a dream sequence. Directed by former Cannon production assistant Michael Schroeder, CYBORG 2 was notable at the time for the appearance of a slumming Jack Palance--a year after his CITY SLICKERS Oscar--bellowing dialogue like "If you want to dine with the devil, you'll need a loooooong spoon!" as a cyborg named "Mercy," but back in 1993, no one knew much about second-billed, 18-year-old newcomer Angelina Jolie as "almost human" cyborg Cash Reese. Schroeder also helmed 1995's CYBORG 3: THE RECYCLER, which brought back the Cash Reese character but replaced Jolie with Khrystyne Haje from the ABC sitcom HEAD OF THE CLASS (1986-91). CYBORG 3 featured a cast that screams "1995 straight to video," including Malcolm McDowell as "Lord Talon," Richard Lynch, Zach Galligan (GREMLINS), William Katt as "Decaf," Margaret Avery (THE COLOR PURPLE), and Kato Kaelin, credited as "Beggar" in what must've been a real stretch.