Thursday, February 25, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: FRANKENSTEIN (2016) and DIABLO (2016)

(Germany/US - 2016)

Bernard Rose's ongoing freefall into absolute irrelevance continues with this aggressively awful, straight-to-DVD/Blu-ray modern updating of Mary Shelley's classic novel, co-produced by Avi Lerner and Cannon cover band NuImage. Rose, who established his horror bona fides with 1989's PAPERHOUSE and 1992's CANDYMAN, hasn't made a good film since the late '90s (his most recent efforts include the found-footage SX_TAPE and the atrocious Paganini biopic THE DEVIL'S VIOLINIST) and for a while, his take on FRANKENSTEIN is promising enough that it starts looking very much like a comeback. Accordingly, since everything Rose has touched for nearly the last 20 years turns to shit, so goes FRANKENSTEIN. Set in present-day Los Angeles, the film finds Victor Frankenstein (Danny Huston) and his wife Elizabeth (Carrie-Anne Moss) conducting top-secret experiments at a high-tech research facility. Using digital technology, they've created "Adam" (Xavier Samuel), who's essentially a baby in the body of an adult. Elizabeth bottle-feeds him and Adam learns to say "Mama," but the experiment is deemed a failure when boils start developing all over his body. An attempt at euthanizing him fails when the presumed-dead Adam jerks awake as his skull is being sawed open. He escapes from the facility and creates havoc all over Los Angeles, with the strength of ten men and seemingly impervious to bullets. When he's arrested and the cops find Elizabeth's work ID in Adam's possession, they call her in but Adam goes berserk when she claims to have never seen him before. Rejected by his "mother," the increasingly monstrous-looking Adam escapes police custody and is befriended by homeless, guitar-strumming blind man Eddie (Rose's CANDYMAN star Tony Todd), who dubs him "Monster" and hooks him up with Wanda (Maya Erskine), an area streetwalker-with-a-heart-of-gold who takes him to a fleabag motel and doesn't seem to mind that he's starting to resemble The Toxic Avenger.

Until Adam escapes from Frankenstein's research lab, FRANKENSTEIN is actually OK. Samuel's performance was credible and there seemed to be enough clever ideas that this was shaping up to be a promising reinterpretation and Rose's best film in a long time (particularly memorable is a ghoulishly macabre bit where Adam gets the upper hand on the Frankenstein associate--named Dr. Pretorius, of course--conducting his autopsy). But once Adam is out of the lab and on the streets, FRANKENSTEIN just crashes and burns on an almost LEGION level. It's not really conveyed in a proper time element how Adam goes from having the cognitive and motor skills of an infant to learning how to shower, being coordinated enough to take on a couple of gang members, and eventually programming a GPS on a dead hooker's smart phone to find out where the Frankensteins live, possibly the dumbest tech-based plot development in a horror movie since Simon Callow faxed his own ejaculate in 2009's unwatchable CROWLEY. Approaching FRANKENSTEIN with the apparent goal of turning it into MARY SHELLEY'S TIME OUT OF MIND, the second half of the film focuses on the friendship between Adam and Eddie, in a tired and obvious revamping of the blind hermit segment in James Whale's THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, moved to the mean streets of L.A.  Rose throws in embarrassingly ham-fisted commentary on bad L.A. cops (one is played an overacting Jeff Hilliard in the world's worst tribute to Bill Paxton-as-Hudson-in-ALIENS), and even resorts to a philosophical Eddie invoking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "Free at last!" in reference to Adam. Rest assured, Rose is taking this completely seriously, but you may be distracted when your mind wanders off to questions like "Who thought this was a good idea?" and "Does this take place in a world where Frankenstein movies have never existed?" and "At what point do Rose's loved ones stage an intervention?"  He tweaks elements of both the novel and the early FRANKENSTEIN films that starred Boris Karloff, and yes, there's even a climactic funeral pyre, where CGI flames engulf both the monster and what's left of Rose's credibility as a filmmaker. (R, 90 mins)

(US - 2016)

Scott Eastwood looks and sounds a lot like his legendary dad Clint, and that was probably all the makers of DIABLO felt they needed to make it work. It also borrows core ideas from THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and UNFORGIVEN and enough of a particular 1973 western that one could sarcastically dub this HIGH PLAINS POSEUR. The setting is Colorado in 1872, and Eastwood is Jackson, a Civil War vet whose farm is set ablaze by a gang of Mexicans who take off with his new bride Alexsandra (Camilla Belle). Following the trail south to Mexico, Jackson sets off on a vigilante mission to rescue his wife and kill her abductors. He's hindered in his efforts by the mysterious Ezra (THE HATEFUL EIGHT's Walton Goggins), an overtly Mephistophelian figure who keeps appearing on the trail saying things like "Your soul is the toll," and "You're on my road, you pay my price." It's some pretty obvious soul-sellling, "Road to Hell" symbolism that probably seems like deep stuff to screenwriter Carlos De Los Rios, whose credits include several Asylum mockbusters like THE DA VINCI TREASURE and PIRATES OF TREASURE ISLAND. Unfortunately, De Los Rios and director Lawrence Roeck (who has a tenuous connection to Clint; he was a camera operator on THE EASTWOOD FACTOR, one of former Time film critic and full-time Clint BFF Richard Schickel's shamelessly slurping documentaries on the iconic actor) aren't done yet, as DIABLO goes along on an unspectacular but inoffensive path until about 50 minutes in, with a total bullshit plot twist that's the hoariest cliche this side of waking up and finding that it was all a dream. You can't even hint at what it involves without completely giving it away, but let's say the twist is similar to a certain beloved 1999 film with an unreliable narrator. The twist completely derails Eastwood's performance which, while not great, was decent enough to that point to carry a small, low-key western that inexplicably feels the need to switch gears and become a horror movie midway though. There's some really beautiful cinematography by the veteran Dean Cundey and brief appearances by jobbing pros like Danny Glover, Adam Beach, and Joaquim de Almeida, but by the time the asinine finale rolls around, DIABLO only succeeds in shooting itself in the foot. (R, 83 mins)

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