Thursday, July 9, 2015

On DVD/Blu-ray: SLOW WEST (2015) and ABSOLUTION (2015)

(UK/New Zealand - 2015)

A quirky western that owes debts to Jim Jarmusch, the Coen Bros., and Robert Altman, SLOW WEST is a slow burner that's more interested in character than shootouts. Make no mistake, you get the shootout, and it's a great one that recalls both OPEN RANGE in the speed of its escalation and THE PROPOSITION in its blood-splattered ferocity. Up to then, it's a quiet, introverted character piece, with gangly, 16-year-old Scottish tenderfoot Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) venturing to America to find his true love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), who fled Scotland under mysterious circumstances with her father John (Rory McCann). Naive, hailing from a world of privilege, and woefully unprepared to deal with the harsh terrain and even harsher denizens of the barely settled west, Jay reluctantly forms an unholy alliance with wily, opportunistic outlaw Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), who will function as his guide and mentor through the trip. What Silas doesn't tell Jay is that there's a bounty on the Ross duo's heads that has to do with why they left Scotland, and he has every intention of using Jay to get him to the $2000 reward for bringing them in "dead or dead." As Jay learns from each hardship and obstacle, Silas takes a liking to the sheltered boy, which helps since they're being pursued by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), the leader of a gang of psycho desperadoes that Silas left years ago. Every gunfighter and bounty hunter in the region is on the same trail, as all parties are destined to converge at the Ross homestead in the middle of nowhere.

Running a brief 84 minutes, the beautifully-photographed SLOW WEST lives up to its title in terms of pacing, as writer/director John Maclean is more concerned with character building and the occasional odd touch of humor. As tragic as the situation is, there's one bit involving salt and an open wound late in the film that's one of the most darkly funny gags of the year, with the kind of absurd visual punchline that would almost be at home in an AIRPLANE! spoof but somehow works here in a way that's brutally harsh and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time. SLOW WEST is mostly slight and a little pokey, but it looks great and has some fine performances by Fassbender and Smit-McPhee and the patient viewer will discover that it all comes together in the cruel, bitter, and yes, amusing end. Like Fassbender's divisive THE COUNSELOR, this is a film whose treasures don't all reveal themselves until subsequent repeat viewings. Look for a cult to be forming around this very soon. (R, 84 mins)

(US - 2015)

As far as Romania-shot Steven Seagal joints go, ABSOLUTION is almost sort-of OK. Sure the plot isn't interesting and Seagal's younger, thinner stunt double logs about as much screen time as the star, handling the action shots while the director cuts to a close-up of Seagal grimacing or waving his hands around as his adversaries pretty much just run into him, but he's made worse. ABSOLUTION reteams the perpetually coasting star with his favorite director/enabler, Keoni Waxman, and unlike their previous projects, ABSOLUTION actually made it into a few theaters simultaneous with its VOD release. It's still standard-issue DTV material, with Seagal as John Alexander, a Black Ops legend in the wrong place at the wrong time (not unlike a moviegoer watching a new Steven Seagal film) when some generic Eastern European flunkies chase Nadia (Adina Stetcu) into a swanky bar where Alexander and his affable buddy Chi (Byron Mann) are having a drink. Nadia falls right at his feet and of course, Alexander breaks several limbs in the process of showing these guys how to treat a lady. It turns out Nadia escaped the HOSTEL-like dungeon of The Boss (Vinnie Jones, an actor who has even less range than Seagal if that's possible, doing his usual wild-eyed, "fookin' 'ell, mate!" schtick), a syndicate overlord who has both ties to Alexander's US government contractor associate (Howard Dell), and a secret penchant for abducting pretty young women and torturing them to death. Wanting to do "something good" for a change and seeking a shot at absolution after mourning his wife's death from cancer, Alexander decides to help Nadia and take out The Boss.

For about 80 of its 96 minutes, ABSOLUTION is strictly standard, typically phoned-in Seagal, who's doubled even in shots when his character walks into a room, the double shot from behind with a quick cut to a Seagal close-up after he sits down. Seagal acts like it's an inconvenience to show up for his own movies and actually interact with his co-stars, and with his painted-on hair, glued-on goatee, and wide array of tinted eyewear, looks like he's in witness protection with disguises provided by Professor Balls. He moves awkwardly (seen that Russian karate demonstration video from a couple months ago?), mumbles incessantly, and often looks confused, unlike his surprisingly solid turn as a mob boss in the little-seen indie GUTSHOT STRAIGHT. ABSOLUTION never quite manages to get the dated torture-porn horror subplot to work but gets a tremendous lift from a spirited and fun performance by Mann. And for all the idiocy on display--Chi gets shot in the back at close range, and it's explained away with Alexander saying "You got shot.  You OK?" to which Chi replies "Yeah, I'm all good," as he resumes kicking ass like nothing ever happened--sticking around all the way through pays off. During the final showdown where Alexander and Chi--both of whom are proficient in walking away from explosions in slo-mo--take on The Boss and his goons in the Boss' nightclub with a backdrop of random screensaver designs, ABSOLUTION suddenly becomes self-aware. Instead of attempting to seamlessly edit, Waxman practically starts calling attention to Seagal's double, with the heroes' coordinated attack on The Boss approaching PUNISHER: WAR ZONE levels of over-the-top violence and silliness. Seagal's movies are so downbeat and self-serious these days--if the rest of the film was as goofy as the last 10-12 minutes, ABSOLUTION would be much more entertaining.  Seagal is still the laziest actor in Hollywood, but he showed in GUTSHOT STRAIGHT that he's able to cut loose and have fun if he wants to--why he continues to play his action films in such a dour and depressed fashion is a mystery. (R, 96 mins)

1 comment:

  1. Think you nailed it.....It was okay, Absolution. I was surprised at how "small" the story was. Vinnie Jones is in it for about two seconds and I was expecting a bigger battle between him and Seagal at the end. That said it was so swiftly placed that it's watchable. I liked Seagal's relationship with the former Tongs member but wish they hadn't explained it so lazily and unnaturally for us. I think the woman who escaped Vinnie Jones butcher shop where he filmed his snuff films was one of the worst actors in any film I've seen in many years.