(Denmark/UK/South Africa - 2014; US release 2015)
Directed and co-written by von Trier's Dogme 95 colleague Kristian Levring, THE SALVATION is an absolutely riveting western that could've been a hit if it had gotten a wide release. One of the most commercially accessible films to come out of the von Trier camp--and a complete break from Dogme 95 for Levring--THE SALVATION presents one of the most dour and hellish looks at the west this side of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, and the town is populated by what may very well be the western genre's most shameless cowards--the mayor (who's also the undertaker) and the sheriff (who's also the minister) not only sacrifice a frail, elderly woman and a disabled man ("I don't bother anybody! I don't want to die!" the legless man cries) rather than do their jobs, but when Jon sells his land back to the mayor for a measly $150, the mayor tells him to keep the money in his boots strictly so he'll know where to recover his $150 when Delarue strings Jon up and lets him bake in the sun later on. And in an infuriating display of tone-deafness, the old woman's grandson (Alexander Arnold) actually calls Peter a coward for not stepping up to stop Delarue's reign of terror. Mikkelsen and Morgan make outstanding adversaries, and even playing mute doesn't make Eva Green tone down her usual crazy-eyes routine that Eva Greeniacs have come to know and love in her performance as "The Princess," the silent widow of Delarue's younger brother. She had her tongue cut out by "savages" as a little girl and has a strange relationship with Delarue where she's both co-conspirator and captive. As is the case with so many movies these days, it's some dodgy CGI late in the game (some really unconvincing fire) that takes you out of the film, but subtracting that, THE SALVATION is a must-see for western fans, a film that very effectively invokes nihilistic memories of classic spaghetti westerns--right down to its Kaspar Winding score that emulates the more somber, reflective side of Ennio Morricone--without becoming winking or self-conscious in any way. This one's a small masterpiece that's going to find a strong cult following very quickly. (R, 92 mins)
INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE
(US - 2015)
GRIZZLY. A movie about a bear chasing people through a forest shouldn't have this much behind-the-scenes strife. Fittingly, the film went straight to VOD, since its climax would probably get it laughed off the screen in wide release. There's ample evidence to suggest that INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE knows that it's garbage--no one's going to argue that a mauled-and-presumed dead Billy Bob Thornton reappearing with the left side of his face hanging off as he takes aim at the grizzly isn't entertaining as hell, or another character sinking into a rotting, maggot-infested deer carcass like it's quicksand doesn't deliver the gory goods, but INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE keeps stumbling every time it gets some goofy momentum going.
The script, co-written by BUNRAKU director Guy Moshe, works in entirely too much family squabbling between estranged brothers Rowan (James Marsden who, between this, THE LOFT, and ACCIDENTAL LOVE, has become the Patron Saint of Shelved Cinema) and Beckett (Thomas Jane). Rowan is an ex-con just paroled after a seven-year stretch for manslaughter, and Beckett is the deputy sheriff in their small Alaskan hometown. Rowan is back to look for local guide Johnny (Adam Beach), who's been missing with two hunters in the "Grizzly Maze" for nearly two weeks. There's evidence that a rampaging, rogue bear is on the loose, but nature-minded Beckett, who's tagged and collared numerous bears in the forest in order to protect them from being hunted, doesn't want Sheriff Sully (Scott Glenn) or eccentric local bear expert Douglass (Thornton, functioning as the "Jon Voight-in-ANACONDA" or "Henry Silva-in-ALLIGATOR" asshole) to just go in and kill it. There's some attempt at statement-making with Douglass, a Grizzly Whisperer if you will, incessantly talking about how man has upset the balance of nature and the bear is pissed off and ready to eat anything that gets in its way to restore that balance ("He's a machine. He doesn't give a shit. You all taste the same to him!"). Beckett, Rowan, and local medic Kaley (Michaela McManus) end up joining forces, both to find the bear and to locate Beckett's deaf wife Michelle (Piper Perabo), a nature photographer and conservationist who went exploring the forest to take shots for a new project, because sure, a deaf person in a forest ruled by potentially pissed-off bears who have had it with poachers and loggers is a great idea (SPOILER ALERT: the bear sneaks up behind her multiple times). Until Hackl gets way too comfortable resorting to unconvincing CGI, INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is an intermittently fun B-movie throwback. There's a good amount of stuff to like about it: Thornton knows what kind of movie he's in and is clearly enjoying himself as the hectoring, antagonizing Douglass, who ventures into the maze on his own solo mission to exterminate the bear and keeps taunting Rowan and Beckett when they periodically cross paths, and the location shooting in Utah and in Vancouver is often breathtakingly beautiful. But there's just too much needless backstory on everyone, from Rowan and Beckett's tortured dad and cancer-stricken mom to their dad and Douglass having some falling out years earlier, to the real reasons behind Rowan's incarceration, and Sully allowing poachers into the forest because he's about to retire and needs a cushier nest egg. It's a movie about a killer grizzly...no one gives a shit about Sully's pension. The ending flies off the rails in a way that will amuse followers of bad movies, but it didn't need to be that way. Clumsy editing, subpar special effects, reshoots, and a plethora of post-production and "additional editing" credits show the tell-tale signs of a project in which no one was really sure what they wanted. You'd think it would be hard to screw up a B-horror movie about a killer bear, but INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE too often manages to do it. (R, 90 mins)
(US - 2015)