Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (2013) and BLACK ROCK (2013)

(Canada - 2013)

When he isn't helming crummy video-game adaptations, Uwe Boll has made a habit of belatedly jumping on bandwagons that have already passed through long ago, be it torture porn horror (SEED), an end-of-days LEFT BEHIND ripoff (THE FINAL STORM) or a late '80s-style Vietnam exploitationer (1968 TUNNEL RATS).  Dr. Boll is slightly more topical with his latest, ASSAULT ON WALL STREET, which boasts his best--relatively speaking--cast in years in a hysterically hyperbolic attack on big-money fat cats and assorted one-percenters while putting his "hero" through an introductory hour of deck-stacking misery.  Dominic Purcell stars as armored truck guard Jim Baxford, a decent, hard-working, blue-collar guy just trying to make ends meet in the aftermath of his wife Rosie's (Erin Karpluk) battle with a brain tumor.  The prognosis is good, but she still needs some expensive treatments, and Jim's reached his insurance cap.  At the same time, the economy crashes and he loses his savings in some bad investments, and through some legal fine print in a real estate deal, finds he's on the hook for an additional $60,000 that he doesn't have.  He borrows $10,000 from his buddy (a haggard, bleary-eyed Edward Furlong) to retain the services of a high-priced attorney (Eric Roberts), who then never takes his calls. Then the bank forecloses on his house and his boss is forced to let him go after a collection agency tries to garnish his wages.  Then Rosie kills herself.  Jim decides to make Wall Street pay for ruining his life and does all the textbook things that pissed-off-guys-on-rampages do in movies: wanders the streets, glowering and chain-smoking; rents a room in a fleabag hotel; has maps, newspaper headlines, magazine covers, and pics of the financial bigwigs he's targeting pinned to the wall (of course, he draws a big red "X" through their mugs after he kills them); spends hours listening to talk radio; lets his calls to go voice mail; buys some guns and ammo from a skeezy creep (Clint Howard!); and practices drawing his weapons in front of a mirror.  Stopping just short of giving himself a mohawk and saying his name is Henry Krinkle, Jim arms himself to the teeth with various guns and grenades and goes after the firm that mishandled his savings. 

Boll's glamorization of Jim is appalling.  Of course we're supposed to hate these financial assholes, but the way it pans out--with Jim confronting callous, heartless, egotistical CEO Jeremy Stancroft (John Heard, seated at the same desk in all of his scenes, probably shot in one day) and turning the tables on him in the most improbable way imaginable--makes Jim out to be some avenging superhero of the middle class. There's supposed to be a gray area when it comes to vigilante protagonists.  Movies like DEATH WISH (the first one, not the later ones), TAXI DRIVER, and ROLLING THUNDER justify the cathartic actions of the vigilante in the context of the film but stop short of legitimizing them as "heroes."  Not here.  It's probably just his way of again poking people with sticks, much like POSTAL's jokes about 9/11 and concentration camps, but in POSTAL's defense, it is a comedy. When Jim starts mowing down investment brokers, is the audience supposed to stand up and cheer?   Boll's done ripped-from-the-headlines drama before with surprisingly competent results--his ATTACK ON DARFUR really isn't that bad--but his frothing histrionics over the Wall Street implosion and eventual bailout don't make for a credible film.   It would be one thing if Boll presented this as some anarchic, absurdist, satirical fantasy but up until Jim goes on his rampage, ASSAULT is humorlessly stone-faced and serious, handled with zero subtlety (does any character name scream "rich asshole" like "Jeremy Stancroft"?), and prone to ham-fisted proclamations by the characters (Michael Pare and Keith David, as Jim's disgruntled cop buddies, almost serve as a Greek chorus, spouting dialogue like "We bust homeless people and issue citations for jaywalkin', but the real criminals are downtown, on fuckin' Wall Street, wearin' suits that cost more than we make in a year!").  Purcell doesn't help matters.  This guy's a lumbering bore in everything he does, and even from the outset, Jim comes off like a ticking time bomb with a huge chip on his shoulder, so it's hard to really "like" the guy.  It's also hard for a film to establish any credibility when it casts Edward Furlong as someone who has $10,000 readily available.  (R, 99 mins)

(US - 2013)

Upon first glance, BLACK ROCK looks like writer/producer/mumblecore icon Mark Duplass (BAGHEAD, CYRUS, JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME) designed it as a vanity project for his wife Katie Aselton, who directed and co-stars.  But it's actually a surprisingly effective fusion of character piece and wilderness/survivalist thriller, a sort-of chick flick version of DELIVERANCE or SOUTHERN COMFORT.  Sarah (Kate Bosworth) arranges a weekend getaway with Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Aselton) to a distant, abandoned island they explored as children.  It's also a chance for Sarah to play peacemaker for Lou and Abby, who haven't spoken in six years since Lou drunkenly slept with Abby's then-boyfriend.  Tensions flare between the two and when they seem to be making progress toward a reconciliation, they find they aren't alone on the island.   Henry (Will Bouvier), Derek (Jay Paulson), and Alex (Anslem Richardson) stumble upon the girls' camping area, carrying hunting rifles.  They recognize Henry as the younger brother of Jimmy, a guy in their graduating class (Abby to Lou: "Didn't you blow Jimmy in high school?") and Abby invites them to hang out.  Married Abby gets drunk and starts aggressively flirting with Henry, eventually luring him into the woods where they start making out while Derek tells Sarah and Lou about their dishonorable discharge from the military for a murderous act that they justify by saying "you do what you have to do."  Abby tries to stop it from going to far and when Henry gets forceful, she bashes him in the head with a rock.  Enraged, Derek and Alex decide to kill the women but they manage to get away, leading to an all-night pursuit through the island's dense forest.

BLACK ROCK admirably doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is: a suspenseful B-movie.  There's some clever sleight-of-hand in the way what seems like a mumblecore drama focused on three old friends having a weekend getaway quickly shifts gears and becomes a gritty, intense, brutal thriller.  There's nothing particularly inventive here, but it's well-acted, fast-moving, wastes no time, and does what it does, all in the span of 80 brief minutes.  The three stars have a solid chemistry and really feel like old friends in the way they read each other and know how to push one another's buttons and in the way the set aside the baggage of the past and deal with the serious shit at hand.  The lean and admittedly slight BLACK ROCK isn't a threat to the supremacy of DELIVERANCE or SOUTHERN COMFORT (or even RITUALS) in this sort of genre offering and it only made it into a handful of theaters in early summer, but it's likely to find an audience on DVD, VOD, and its inevitably long life as an eventual Netflix streaming title.  (R, 80 mins)

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