Friday, January 27, 2017


(US - 2016)

The story of the USS Indianapolis is familiar to anyone who's seen JAWS, where Robert Shaw delivers arguably the greatest monologue in film history as salty shark hunter Quint recounts his experiences on the doomed ship near the end of WWII. After completing orders to deliver the materials for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima, the Indianapolis, without sonar and with no customary escort due to the top-secret, classified nature of the mission, was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-58 between Tinian and Okinawa. It sank within 12 minutes, as Captain Charles Butler McVay ordered the crew to abandon ship, leaving them stranded for five days in shark-infested waters. Of the 1196 on board, nearly 300 died in the initial attack. Of the remaining 900 left in the water, only 317 survived, the rest dying from dehydration, saltwater poisoning, drowning, and, as JAWS fans know, shark attacks.  It's a horrific tragedy that deserves a more dignified presentation than USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE. The 1991 CBS TV-movie MISSION OF THE SHARK, with Stacy Keach as McVay, did a better job with the limited expectations of being a made-for-TV movie. This film, starring Nicolas Cage as McVay, is undoubtedly sincere in its intentions but can't overcome a trite, cliched script and rock-bottom visual effects that makes it look like an Asylum production debuting on Syfy. The explosions are laughable and the CGI sharks jump out of the water looking like deleted SHARKNADO files e-mailed to director Mario Van Peebles.

The film is divided into three sections, with the interminable opening act devoted to the camaraderie and ballbusting among an interchangeable and impossibly dull group of sailors, focusing on two--wholesome, all-American Bama (Matt Lanter) and gregarious D'Antonio (Adam Scott Miller), who does everything short of yell "Hey, you's boys wanna play some stickball?" to let you know he's from Brooklyn--who fall in love with the same woman (Emily Tennant). The second is the sinking of the ship and the five days stranded in the water, where Van Peebles turns the film into a cheap jump-scare shark attack horror movie, and third is a courtroom drama when the Navy, looking for someone to scapegoat for their failure to answer multiple distress calls (they thought it was the Japanese trying to deceive them), decides to court-martial McVay, saying he could've "zig-zagged" the ship to avoid the torpedoes. McVay's story is a sad one--he committed suicide in 1968 after over two decades of harassment and death threats by the families of the dead sailors even though he was fully supported by the survivors as well as by I-58 commander Mochitsura Hashimoto (Yutaka Takeuchi), who testified that there was no way McVay could've avoided the torpedoes. McVay and the men aboard the USS Indianapolis deserved something a little more polished and professional-looking than a WWII movie that looks like it was directed by Anthony C. Ferrante. The writing isn't much better--try not to laugh at the torpedoes hitting the ship a nanosecond after a guy playing dice in the mess hall rolls snake eyes. Or at decisions being made in darkened and ominous film noir-lit rooms filled with cigar-sucking fat cats ("War's good for business, and business is good for America!"). Or at McWhorter, the Chief Petty Officer played by Tom Sizemore in what's apparently an extended tribute to William Bendix (and of course, McWhorter's wife just had a baby that he describes as "nine pounds of rompin' stompin' dynamite!" which is code for "McWhorter's never going to meet his kid"). There are scattered moments where USS INDIANAPOLIS rises above its schlocky, Redbox-ready nature: Thomas Jane does some nice work in a small role as Lt. Adrian Marks, the pilot who disobeyed orders and made a daring water landing to rescue as many survivors as he could, and Cage, who's subdued and surprisingly restrained throughout, shares a scene with Takeuchi very late in the film where both actors are demonstrating such raw emotion that they almost convince you that they're in a better movie. With more money, a better script, a supporting cast of actors that you could actually tell apart, more directorial flair (Van Peebles' heart may be in the right place, but his bland direction is pure clock-punching and irrefutable proof that his NEW JACK CITY and POSSE days of being a filmmaker of note are long gone), and a time machine to go back to around 2000 when Nicolas Cage movies were still major events, the well-meaning USS INDIANAPOLIS could've been a strong WWII movie instead of what has to be the cheapest-looking $40 million movie ever, looking like total amateur hour despite having 30 credited producers and the participation of RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION cinematographer Andrzej Sekula. (R, 130 mins)

(US - 2016)

There's absolutely no reason why this shouldn't be a nifty little desert noir B-movie in the vein of '90s video store mainstays like RED ROCK WEST and BLACK DAY BLUE NIGHT, but the barely-released THE HOLLOW POINT just never gets its shit together. Content to churn out a nearly decade-too-late ripoff of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego (APOLLO 18, OPEN GRAVE) and first-time screenwriter Nils Lyew waste an inspired and entertaining performance by the great Ian McShane in total Al Swearengen mode as Leland Kilbaught, a gruff, grubby, hard-drinking, burned-out sheriff of Los Reyes County, right along the Arizona-Mexico border. Kilbaught's got a reputation among the locals for not really caring much about the rules, and after he shoots Clive Mercy (Nathan Stevens) in the head during a traffic stop, he's relieved of his duties and new sheriff Wallace (Patrick Wilson) is sent in to replace him. Kilbaught knows what Clive was up to--running armor-piercing ammo into Mexico as a flunky for a cartel operation. Clive's equally hapless loser brother Ken (David Stevens) ends up killing a mid-level cartel figure after a botched ammunition run before skating back to Los Reyes County and hiding out. Complicating matters is that Wallace, who's from the area and couldn't wait to get away, knows his ex-wife Marla (Lynn Collins) is hooked up with Ken, which puts her at serious risk when the cartel sends unstoppable killing machine assassin Atticus (John Leguizamo as Javier Bardem) to find Ken and kill anyone who knows him, including Marla and sleazy used car dealer Shep Diaz (Jim Belushi), who also has connections to the cartel.

Other than a truly startling moment when Atticus hacks off Wallace's right hand with a machete, the only thing THE HOLLOW POINT has going for it is McShane, who single-handedly saves it from total oblivion. Lyew's script is an incoherent mess, Lopez-Gallego, who also serves as his own editor, couldn't generate any dramatic momentum if his career depended on it, occasionally resorting to stupid POV shots like the one from inside a spinning washing machine at a laundromat. The entire film is so sloppily-constructed that we never get a full grasp of who's who or why they're even in danger. Leguizamo is just Anton Chigurh with a better haircut and Belushi, sporting a cheap suit and a hideous combover, can play this kind of obnoxious shitbag in his sleep. But McShane valiantly tries to save the day, with his gravelly line readings and snide deliveries of mellifluously poetic bon mots like "You are not an unfortunate man...you're an auspicious parasite!" and "Buenos Diaz!" He seems to be having a blast playing this character, making it almost criminal that his efforts are squandered on such an uninspired and otherwise completely forgettable project. (R, 97 mins)

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