Thursday, June 6, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: IT'S A DISASTER (2013); CHARLIE ZONE (2013); and THE BIG BAD (2012)

(US - 2013)

Beating the all-star THIS IS THE END to theaters by a couple of months, this indie apocalypse comedy continues the end-of-the-world depictions of recent films like MELANCHOLIA, TAKE SHELTER, 4:44: LAST DAY ON EARTH, and SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.  Featuring several members of the improv comedy outfit The Vacationeers, writer-director Todd Berger's IT'S A DISASTER has four couples meeting for Sunday brunch at the home of the about-to-divorce Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes), only to find out that a series of dirty bombs have gone off and that an incredibly toxic, lethal nerve gas has enveloped the city and possibly beyond.  Petty bickering and long-held grudges boil over as the couples are trapped inside the house, and it works when it's played for some squirm-inducing comedy of discomfort, a specialty of David Cross, who plays Glenn, the newcomer to the group on his third date with Tracy (Julia Stiles).  But mainly, it's a lot of ennui and whining among the eight characters.  There's also the six-years-engaged Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace), who's preoccupied with an eBay auction for a rare X-Men comic, and swingers Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin M. Brennan, who reminded me of a young Nicolas Cage), who try to goad Glenn into a threesome.  Some of it is cleverly-written, dark, and well-delivered, particularly Stiles coldly refusing to let a perpetually tardy fifth couple in the house after they arrive late and clearly infected with the nerve gas ("Maybe you should learn to show up to things on time, huh?") and getting emotional over the things she's never done: "I never went to Europe.  I never even went to Montreal...that's almost like Europe. I never went scuba-diving.  I never went to the ballet.  I've never been in love.  I never even watched THE WIRE!" to which Cross replies "All of those things are overrated.  Well, except for THE WIRE.  That was really good.  Maybe not the last season, but..."  But these characters generally aren't very interesting despite some laughs throughout, and a late-film revelation of a previously unseen side of someone does result in the term "Johnny Crazyballs" being introduced into the lexicon.  IT'S A DISASTER has some good moments, the closing scene is very funny (the cut to the credits is perfect), and it's still recommended, but there's just not quite enough here to sustain feature length.  (R, 90 mins)

(Canada - 2013)
Shot in 2011, this wildly uneven and frequently heavy-handed Canadian thriller runs the gamut from sincere drama to sleazy exploitation and is effective and trite in almost equal doses.   Set in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia, the film finds disgraced First Nations boxer and ex-con Avery (Glen Gould) hired by Ava (Jennie Raymond) to rescue her younger, junkie half-sister Jan (Amanda Crew) from the clutches of a pair of drug pushers.  Avery quickly infiltrates their drug den in the seedy "Charlie Zone" slums and rescues Jan, but gets more than he bargained for when people show up to kill her.  The people Ava represents are indeed not Jan's "parents" at all but a pair of contract killers hired by Ava to make Jan, and Avery by association, disappear for reasons that will form a bond between the two outcasts as Jan tries to start her life over and Avery finds protecting her as a path to redemption. 
Like most of the cast, Gould (who projects a very Danny Trejo persona here) has logged a lot of time on various Canadian TV shows (only Crew seems to have cracked the US market extensively, co-starring in SEX DRIVE, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, and CHARLIE ST. CLOUD) and handles himself well when the material permits it.  Plausibility isn't one of CHARLIE ZONE's strong suits (what exactly is it about his past as a boxer that makes Avery an ideal undercover bounty hunter?), and you'll realize Avery is being duped long before he does.  It's structured very much like a TV-movie throughout, only with copious F-bombs and hard-R violence, and the too-tidy climax feels like the wrap-up of a LAW & ORDER: SVU episode.  CHARLIE ZONE is an odd little film, almost like director/co-writer Michael Melski couldn't find a specific focus and threw in a little of everything:  we spend a lot of time with the drug den shitbags long after they're no longer pertinent to the story, and there's a rush to cram in elements of Avery's past when we meet his grandfather (Agumeuay Nakanakis) and ex-girlfriend (Cindy Sampson) that he walked out on years ago. There's also some embarrassing dialogue along the lines of Avery telling Jan "You've got me in your corner now."  CHARLIE ZONE tries to accomplish too much, can't settle on a tone, glosses over some seemingly important details, and could've benefitted from more sure-handed direction, but Gould and Crew do some good work throughout.  (R, 103 mins)
(US - 2012)
This very low-budget Long Island-shot indie horror film was somehow picked up for VOD release by Phase 4 last year, though it's hard to believe this ever made it beyond the festival circuit.  A dreary, ugly, and molasses-paced revenge thriller/werewolf movie, THE BIG BAD draws obvious parallels to "Little Red Riding Hood," but transplanted to a modern setting, largely in a dive bar called The Big Bad.  Red-headed Frankie (screenwriter Jessi Gotta) is after an elusive werewolf named Fenton Bailey (Timothy McCown Reynolds), who slaughtered her family and happens to be her ex-stepfather.  Frankie loses an eye in the process, allowing Gotta and director Bryan Enk to pay homage to THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (there's also a JAWS-inspired scene with Gotta and lesbian lycanthrope Jessica Savage comparing scars), and eventually has her showdown with the big bad wolf, but man, what a tedious movie.  It's shot through the kind of hazy filter that ABC uses on Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer, and Enk is far too reliant on pointless shaky/jump edits that try to make it seem "edgy" or "grindhousey" but instead make it look like a VHS tape with tracking issues.  The werewolf makeup is surprisingly OK, but otherwise, THE BIG BAD isn't particularly clever, well-written, or original, the performances are community theater-level at best, it feels hours longer than it is, and it isn't the least bit enjoyable as a thriller, a horror movie, or an homage. It looks like a bunch of friends got together and had all the equipment and software necessary to make a professional-looking home movie.  I'm sure Gotta and Enk are nice kids and everyone has to start somewhere, but this is just terrible.  (R, 78 mins, also available on Netflix streaming)

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