Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: WOULD YOU RATHER (2013); THE POWER OF FEW (2013); and CRAWLSPACE (2013)

(US - 2013)

If you enjoyed Jeffrey Combs' iconic turns in 1985's RE-ANIMATOR and 1986's FROM BEYOND, then you'll definitely want to take a look at his inspired performance in WOULD YOU RATHER.  Combs, an actor whose talents have been too frequently squandered in subpar DTV horror movies and on the convention circuit, lets it rip as sinister philanthropist Shepard Lambrick, who hosts a dinner game for financially-strapped guests looking for a way out of their desperate situation.  Iris (Brittany Snow), forced to drop out of school to deal with her late parents' mountain of debt and take care of her cancer-stricken younger brother (Logan Miller), ends up at Lambrick's mansion with other participants and the festivities begin with Lambrick offering the vegetarian Iris $10,000 if she eats a steak ("A lifetime of discipline...gone in an instant for $10,000!" he mocks).  After goading recovering alcoholic Conway (John Heard) into ending 16 years of sobriety by downing a decanter of scotch for $50,000, the stakes get higher with a twisted game of Would You Rather where it quickly becomes apparent that Lambrick and his goonish butler Bevans (Jonathan Coyne), a former British intelligence interrogator, are going to make them kill each other until only one remains.  Director David Guy Levy and screenwriter Steffen Schlachtenhaufen do a nice job of keeping the tension high and the pace swift, considering that most of the film takes place around a dining room table.  While it has grisly moments, Levy also wisely keeps the gore to a minimum, showing an understanding that what's implied and maybe only heard offscreen can be far more unsettling than seeing it up close.  It's a pretty misanthropic, feel-bad kind-of film that does occasionally succumb to cliché (of course, someone will scream "You sick fuck!" at Lambrick) and has some loose ends (Robin Lord Taylor, as Lambrick's sniveling son, disappears from the movie), but it's surprisingly engaging and Combs, bringing that "Who's going to believe a talking head?  Get a job in a sideshow!" condescension to his character, is just terrific.  (Unrated, 93 mins)

(US - 2013)

Here's yet another post-CRASH, "everything is connected" ensemble collection of vignettes and it's one of the worst.  Produced, written, directed, and self-distributed by "groundbreaking" would-be indie auteur Leone Marucci, the New Orleans-shot THE POWER OF FEW gathers a group of unlikable characters into a 20-minute time span--replayed from different perspectives--where fate causes their lives to intersect.  There's a homeless ex-news anchor (Christopher Walken) and his sidekick (Jordan Prentice), who come into possession of a dim cop's (Caleb Moody) misplaced firearm; a teenager (Devon Gearhart) attempting an impromptu robbery of a carryout because he needs to buy medicine for his infant brother; two undercover agents, one by-the-book (Christian Slater) and the other a hot-tempered cokehead (Nicky Whelan) in pursuit of a suspected terrorist (Navid Negahban); a quirky courier (co-producer Q'orianka Kilcher) hired by the suspected terrorist to deliver an important package, but she gets distracted by a meet-cute (Jesse Bradford) who's got bad people after him; and two thugs (Anthony Anderson, Juvenile) in pursuit of Bradford, only to be distracted by Few (Tione Johnson), a teenage girl with wisdom beyond her years, stowing away in the backseat of their car to plead with them to stop the violence and the killing. 

Announced in industry trades as far back as 2006 and shot in 2010, THE POWER OF FEW was hyped as an "interactive" community filmmaking experience, where fans would get to edit the movie.  That ended up being just a bit of a chase scene involving Kilcher and Bradford, though perhaps Marucci, not likely to be mistaken for Akira Kurosawa anytime soon, would've been better off letting random anonymous people on the internet work on this RASHOMON FOR DUMMIES.  Pompously self-important and gratingly self-indulgent, the amateurish THE POWER OF FEW never gets going because Marucci can't stop showing off, whether it's a POV shot from a gunk-filled bathroom sink or dizzying over-the-shoulder shots when people are running.  The writing is terrible (Slater: "We have to follow the law!"  Whelan: "WHOSE LAW?!"), there's a ludicrous MacGuffin subplot about the missing Shroud of Turin and what's actually in the mysterious package, Larry King appears as himself, and several actors get long monologues that just go nowhere.  Walken's might've worked if it wasn't painfully obvious that he's reading cue cards.  Walken is a guy who's breathed life into his share of shitty movies and when even he's bad, you know the project is doomed.  Put it this way:  thanks to THE POWER OF FEW, KANGAROO JACK is now the second-worst movie that Walken and Anderson have appeared in together. (R, 96 mins)

(Australia - 2012; 2013 US release)

CRAWLSPACE is somewhat of an Australian horror summit:  produced by WOLF CREEK and ROGUE director Greg McLean, co-written by Adam Patrick Foster (the brutal revenge thriller CLOSURE) and featuring a score by STORM WARNING and NATURE'S GRAVE director Jamie Blanks, it's also the feature directing debut of veteran makeup effects artist Justin Dix, who worked on films like LAKE MUNGO and RED HILL.  Dix gets a lot right with CRAWLSPACE, namely the sense of claustrophobia and his use of practical makeup and splatter effects, which in this era is almost an act of defiance, and he has a plethora of ideas, but whether it's meant to be twisty misdirection or just a fusing on influences, they all end up coming off as half-baked and unfocused, causing the film to drift into incoherence.  The Australian government has lost contact with a secret underground military base located in the desolate Outback and sends in the requisite elite unit to locate personnel and exterminate any quarantined prisoners that may have escaped from a certain level.  They also find a clearly non-human life form as well as Eve (Amber Clayton), an apparent amnesiac with a recent brain surgery scar.  Eve has no recollection of how she got there, and her existence is also of interest to squad leader Romeo (the awesomely-named Ditch Davey, which is perhaps Australian for "Almost Jason Statham"), who recognizes her as his dead wife.  The creature angle is quickly abandoned as the team, with Eve in tow, finds a couple of scientists who tell them of secret experiments involving memory implants and a new kind of espionage, a sort-of "psychic combat," where soldiers are trained to telepathically turn their enemies against themselves. 

Dix borrows/steals from a lot of other films here and can't really settle on what kind of movie he wants to make:  it starts off as an action-packed throwback to '80s fare like ALIENS mixed with the more recent RESIDENT EVIL, but then goes into a weird SCANNERS/UNIVERSAL SOLDIER hybrid, with elements of EVENT HORIZON and psychological horror tossed in at random.  It's always watchable and certainly competently-made, but the plot is all over the place and around an hour in, you'll just stop caring and give up trying to make sense of it.  Dix obviously has a knack for this sort of thing from a directing standpoint and he wears his love of these movies on his sleeve, which buys him a little breathing room, but it would be really interesting to see what he could do with a more disciplined script that didn't feel like it was bound with the pages in random order.  (Unrated, 87 mins)

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