Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN (2015); STANDOFF (2016); and FLIGHT 7500 (2016)

(France/Belgium - 2015)

Mystery novelist and screenwriter Sebastien Japrisot (1931-2003) was considered "the French Graham Greene" and is still held in high regard by fans in his home country. Though the 2004 film A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT is probably the best known adaptation of his work to modern arthouse audiences, the late '60s/early '70s saw a string of French films that were either based on Japrisot's work or were original screenplays penned by the author himself, including two of Charles Bronson's biggest hits from his star-making European sojourn: 1968's FAREWELL, FRIEND aka HONOR AMONG THIEVES and 1970's RIDER ON THE RAIN. One such film was 1970's THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN, the final work by veteran journeyman Anatole Litvak, scripted by Japrisot and based on his novel. LADY was remade in 1992 as the Estonian/Russian THE LADY IN THE CAR, which doesn't appear to have ever been released west of the Baltic Sea, and 2015 saw this remake that didn't really generate much interest in France or elsewhere. Director Joann Sfar sticks close to the novel and doesn't really do much to differentiate this version from Litvak's other than adding some more explicit sex and violence. In fact, he even makes a concerted effort to keep the story set in an early '70s setting and trots out some De Palma split-screen and other stylish and colorful tricks. The whole point of the project seems to be to emulate 1970 as much as possible while deliberately avoiding the self-conscious retro fetishism.

There isn't much reason for this remake to exist, but it's an enjoyable thriller with an appealing performance by Freya Mavor (Samantha Eggar in the 1970 version) as Dany Doremus, a frumpy wallflower in gaudy, oversized specs (of course, she's drop dead gorgeous when she takes them off). Dany is a secretary for wealthy Paris businessman Michel, played by Benjamin Biolay (Oliver Reed in the original). Michel has an important report Dany needs to type, so he has her come to his house and stay the night, since he and his wife Anita (NYMPHOMANIAC's Stacy Martin; Stephane Audran in the original) and their daughter are going out of town for a few days. Michel has Dany drive them to the airport in a vintage Thunderbird with instructions to take it back to their house and take a few days off work with an extra bonus for all of her trouble. Instead of taking the car back to Paris, she impulsively heads to the south of France because she always wanted to see the sea. On a road she's never taken to a place she's never been in a car she's never driven, everywhere she goes on the way, people insist they've seen her the previous day and she's even already signed in to a hotel where she tries to book a room. She's also attacked and has a wrist broken in a gas station restroom and can't trust a seemingly concerned mystery man (Elio Germano; John McEnery in the original) she meets in the hotel lobby. Things get even more bizarre when a body turns up in the trunk of the T-Bird. Is she suffering from amnesia or is there a conspiracy to drive her insane? The ludicrously contrived final explanation is so simple, quaintly old-fashioned, and beholden to coincidence and convenience that it's no wonder this didn't really get much play with today's twist-accustomed moviegoers. But right down to the score with some very Morricone-style 1970s cues, the 2015 version of THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN is a slight but fun and entertaining throwback that wears its love of early '70s French thrillers on its sleeve and tries hard to please its audience. It's just too bad that its audience is still back in the 1970s. (Unrated, 95 mins)

(Canada/US - 2016)

There's a lot of dumb things you need to overlook, but STANDOFF is the kind of compact B thriller that would've played the bottom half of a double bill back in the old days, and that's meant in a nice way. Visiting the graves of her parents who were killed in a car accident, 12-year-old Isabelle, nicknamed Bird (Ella Ballentine) witnesses several service attendees on the other side of the cemetery get gunned down by cold-blooded hit man Sade (Laurence Fishburne). Realizing he has a witness--and she was taking photos--he chases her to a ramshackle farmhouse where PTSD-plagued Iraq War vet Carter Greene (Thomas Jane) is drinking himself into a stupor with the intention of building up the courage to blow his brains out. Sade shoots Carter in the ankle, and a shotgun-toting Carter grazes Sade's side. Carter's got one shell left and heads to the top of the stairs with Bird, shatters some light bulbs and scatters them on the steps in case Sade decides to sneak up on them. Sade, meanwhile, waits in the living room for the perfect time to take them both out. Hence, STANDOFF.

Written and directed by Adam Alleca, who hasn't done anything since scripting the 2009 remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, STANDOFF has a simple set-up that can't fail: stick the characters in a powderkeg of a situation in an enclosed space and just let it boil. Alleca's script sometimes falls victim to some overbaked tough-guy posturing and pissing contests as Sade and Carter repeatedly shout at each other and Sade constantly invokes how they're both soldiers following orders. Fishburne, whose dialogue and his delivery of it seem to suggest that Alleca wrote the part for Samuel L. Jackson but Fishburne was probably more economically priced, has a blast playing a thoroughly despicable shitbag, while Jane does a nice job as a shattered man whose life has completely fallen apart after his combat experiences and his procrastinating about picking up a tire in the high grass, inadvertently leading to his young son's death when he tripped over it and cracked his head open on a rock. Sure, it's a hackneyed plot device that Carter, whose wife left him after their son died, sees saving Bird as his last shot at redemption, just like it's hopelessly maudlin to have the son's death symbolized by his red balloon floating away (also, why isn't anyone looking for the missing sheriff's deputy that Sade kills?), but STANDOFF overcomes its missteps by excelling where it matters, with the actors (young Ballentine is very impressive) and the intensity of the situation. Alleca also shows his horror influences with several striking shot compositions throughout, and some interesting and unexpected stylistic touches and some occasionally Argento-inspired colorgasms. These positives allow you to overlook things like Sade hectoring Carter with philosophical nuggets like "You don't look the devil in the face without takin' a ride to the bottom floor," which is probably the best bit of Satanically-based life coaching this side of mercenary-of-the-future Jack Palance incomprehensibly bellowing "If you're gonna dine with the devil, you're gonna need a looooong spoon!" in 1993's CYBORG 2. Fishburne and Jane were among the small army of producers, which also includes actor Hayden Christensen and, of all people, Rich Iott, a former Republican congressional candidate from Ohio and occasional Nazi fashion enthusiast. (R, 86 mins)

(US/Japan - 2016)

When a passenger has a violent seizure, vomits blood, and dies shortly into a Los Angeles-to-Tokyo flight, a supernatural presence makes itself known in this dismal and long-shelved English-language horror film from J-Horror auteur Takashi Shimizu, best known for 2002's JU-ON and its 2004 American remake THE GRUDGE. Filmed in 2011 with a trailer arriving online and in theaters early the next year for its planned August 2012 release under its original title 7500, FLIGHT 7500 was yanked from the release schedule by CBS Films and simply vanished until its premiere overseas in 2014. Lionsgate ended up acquiring the film for the US and sat on it for another two years before quietly dumping it as a DTV title with no publicity at all. The end result looks a lot like what might happen if M. Night Shyamalan remade one of the later, dumber AIRPORT sequels, filled with characters for the most part so loathsome that you hope the plane crashes five minutes after takeoff. With a running time of just 79 minutes, FLIGHT 7500 plays like something that's been truncated and mangled in the editing room, obviously the kind of film that was simply abandoned by everyone involved. The Shyamalanian plot twist at the end is a hoary cliche that negates everything that happened before, like the death of the seizing passenger or the douchey dudebro who tries to steal his Rolex. There's some talk of that passenger carrying a "death doll" that has something to do with Japanese folklore, but that's forgotten as soon as it's mentioned. Then a couple of dead passengers turn into zombies and the survivors are chased by what looks like the output of an '80s metal band's malfunctioning fog machine, but nothing comes of it and nothing is ever fully realized or even remotely explored for that matter, at least in this version.

In the midst of all the paranormal inactivity, Shimizu and screenwriter Craig Rosenberg (THE QUIET ONES) start focusing on the uninteresting characters' melodramatic, daytime soap-ready backstories--flight attendant Leslie Bibb coming to the realization that pilot Johnathon Schaech is never leaving his wife and kids for her; flight attendant Jamie Chung and her prolonged engagement; paramedic Ryan Kwantan and wife Amy Smart trying to get over their second miscarriage; ENTOURAGE's Jerry Ferrara and his germphobic bitch of a Bridezilla wife Nicky Whelan (who continued her unintentional "airline disaster-as-metaphor-for-her-career" motif by later co-starring in the Nic Cage remake of LEFT BEHIND) on their honeymoon; and sullen, tattooed goth chick Scout Taylor-Compton serving as this film's Basil Exposition when it comes to the spirit world and the whatever else thing this is trying to say. A film so bad that the post-production clusterfuckery has to be more interesting than anything in the finished product, FLIGHT 7500 might've had some good ideas at some point, but what's here is an incoherent disaster that's been chopped down as much as it can while still barely qualifying as feature-length. On top of that, after Capt. Schaech orders lights out for the duration of the flight, most of the film takes place in such murky darkness that you can hardly see half of what's going on. Some good films just have bad luck and get lost in the shuffle when it comes to finding a place on the release schedule--this is not one of them. Still, I can't help but think that having George Kennedy turn up as a ghostbusting Joe Patroni would've salvaged the whole thing. (PG-13, 79 mins)

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