(Canada/France - 2013)
BRANDED, and sets a land-speed record for a movie bailing on its own established rules, already contradicting itself approximately five minutes in. The film is set on twin planets with "double gravity" orbiting around the same sun, where the rich and privileged live "Up Top" and the poor and disenfranchised "Down Below." Contact between worlds is forbidden and Each world has its own gravity and its own concept of matter--for instance, "inverse matter" taken from one world to another combusts after a short period. Adam (Jim Sturgess) from Down Below has loved Eden (Kirsten Dunst) from Up Top since they were children and their forbidden relationship was broken apart by the authorities. Eden was shot in the dust-up and suffers from varying degrees of amnesia. Years later, Adam finds out she works for Trans World, a Big Brother-type corporation whose skyscraper headquarters exists in both worlds, with floor zero being the point where Up Top and Down Below people can co-exist, even though the Up Top people are upside-down. Adam gets a job at Trans World, trying to sell his aunt's flying pink pancake mix as an expensive beauty product, when in fact it's a secret formula to negate the gravity of both worlds. By stealing various metals from Up Top, Adam is able to fashion a temporary protective under-armor to buy him some time appearing normal in Up Top (though he has to spray his mop-top down to keep it from floating up) before he inevitably starts to ignite. Because of her amnesia, Eden doesn't remember Adam, who will stop at nothing, dueling gravities or plot logic be damned, to be with his one true love.
Is there any wonder why this barely got released? It's fascinatingly stupid. Writer/director Juan Solanas obviously concentrated so much on the visual element that he never really mapped out the logistics of the concept. Even then, for a film this expensive, the CGI visuals are pretty second-rate, oversaturated, and unconvincing. The interiors and the exteriors frequently look like a cheap fusion of Orson Welles' THE TRIAL (1962), Luc Besson's THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997), and a prog-metal album cover. Even if the visual effects were up to par and Dunst and Sturgess weren't the dullest cinematic romantic pairing in years, the rampant lack of logic would be too much for UPSIDE DOWN to overcome. The story ignores its own basic rules when it's convenient for the plot or can provide a nice visual, and constantly backs itself into a corner only to simply make something up to explain it away. The only jaw-dropping thing about UPSIDE DOWN is the astonishing number of emergency dei ex machina that Solanas has stored up his ass. (PG-13, 108 mins)
(France/UK - 2012)
DRIVE director Nicolas Winding Refn commissioned this London-set remake of his 1996 Danish breakthrough about one week in the life of a low-level drug dealer who has to come up with some fast cash to get out of trouble with a powerful crime boss. While PUSHER 2012 is fast-moving and highly watchable, the biggest question is "Why?" Unless you're a complete subtitle-phobe or have an intense dislike of the sound of the Danish language, there's not really any need to see this almost carbon-copy redux, which goes so far as to cast the same actor (Zlatko Buric) as the pusher's main antagonist. Ambitious but small-time London coke dealer Frank (Richard Coyle) sets up a potentially lucrative deal with heroin borrowed from Serbian drug lord Milo (Buric). When cops bust the deal, Frank dumps the dope in a lake and is on the hook to Milo for its value plus money already borrowed, plus a tacked-on fee that Milo imposes simply because he's pissed off. Frank spends the rest of the film pursuing debts from his clients and setting up additional deals that inevitably fall through, all to keep Milo and his goons off his back. Director Luis Prieto goes for a hypnotic, flashy sort-of Danny Boyle meets Guy Ritchie look, all set to a throbbing, driving score by Orbital, and it's not a bad film at all, just an unnecessary and overly familiar one. It doesn't add anything to Winding Refn's original (which was successful enough to spawn two sequels), and everything about it seems like you've seen it all before, because you have...if not in the earlier PUSHER, then in any number of other British crime thrillers over the last 15 years. Coyle is solid in the lead and Buric is very entertaining as the outwardly gregarious ("Easy peasy lemon squeezy!") but thoroughly ruthless Milo, but PUSHER's biggest problem is its complete lack of a reason to exist. (R, 89 mins)
HANSEL & GRETEL GET BAKED
(US - 2013)