Sunday, October 29, 2017
(US - 2017)
(US - 2017)
It sounds like a standard-issue prison melodrama, but Waugh constructs SHOT CALLER in a way that it becomes a character study of a man using his intelligence to stay alive in a horrible situation. In a typical scenario like this, the story would be about what the prison system does to convicts. Everything that happens to Jacob in his transformation into Money is of his own volition. The pieces don't all fit until much later--indeed, there are moments here with the storytelling seems muddled, especially with exactly what Money's parole officer (Omari Hardwick) is really up to, but it all becomes clear by the end (though I'm still not quite sure what happened to Jeffrey Donovan's "Bottles," a key gang figure who vanishes from the film with no explanation). The main reason SHOT CALLER works so well is Coster-Waldau. Money is a quiet man who can only be pushed so far, and Coster-Waldau, in one of 2017's best performances that no one will see, never goes over the top and rarely raises his voice, internalizing Money's rage, always playing it smart and reading the room before making a decision that shows he's several steps ahead of everyone else. SHOT CALLER premiered on DirecTV before going straight to VOD after two years on the shelf. This deserved a much better release strategy than it got. (R, 121 mins, on Blu-ray/DVD)
(US - 2017)
Basically HOME ALONE with Satan worshipers instead of bumbling burglars, THE BABYSITTER has Cole evading Bee and her accomplices, setting traps for them, and using his wits to take them out one by one. Considering it's after midnight and they're in a neighborhood, it's surprising no one calls the cops with all the mayhem going on, but hey, whatever. The kills are goofy and gory and the set-ups for some of the splattery gags are surprisingly smart in some foreshadowing and joke construction that's far more clever than it has any reason to be. It's a little more small-scale than you 'd normally expect from brainless blockbuster purveyor McG (CHARLIE'S ANGELS, TERMINATOR: SALVATION), who really goes for a sort-of Joe Dante vibe here. It's a guilty pleasure and I'm probably way past the target demographic, but it was funny and surprisingly enjoyable and just the right length at 85 minutes. Look for this to become a big cult movie with teenagers. (Unrated, 85 mins, on Netflix)
(China/UK - 2017)
CULT OF CHUCKY
(US - 2017)
Friday, October 20, 2017
(US/UK/Sweden - 2017)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini and Soren Sviestrup. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Jonas Karlsson, Chloe Sevigny, Toby Jones, James D'Arcy, David Dencik, Ronan Vibert, Genevieve O'Reilly, Jacob Oftebro, Adrian Dunbar, Michael Yates, Jamie Clayton, Peter Dalle, Sofia Helin, Leonard Heinemann. (R, 120 mins)
THE SNOWMAN is the first big-screen adaptation of Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series. Though I believe the intended pronunciation is "Hol-uh," the fact that they didn't take into consideration that the name "Harry Hole" is only going to induce Beavis & Butthead snickers for English-speaking and American audiences, especially since they just say "Hole" throughout the movie (I've read two of Nesbo's Hole novels, and it's easy to overlook on the page) is a good indication that this was never going to work. Nesbo's books--his non-Hole novel Headhunters was turned into a film in 2011--were part of the post-Stieg Larsson/Girl with the Dragon Tattoo explosion that launched the Scandinavian mystery subgenre into the literary mainstream (see also Henning Mankell's Wallander novels, adapted for television with Kenneth Branagh in the title role, and Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, which was turned into a movie trilogy) and generated renewed interest in older works by the influential Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, and others. THE SNOWMAN is a bit fashionably late to the party as far as movie adaptations of Scandinavian noir go, and it was originally conceived several years ago with Martin Scorsese planning to direct. Scorsese eventually left the project in 2013 as it was put in turnaround but remains credited as a producer, having passed it on to Tomas Alfredson to direct when it was given the green light again in late 2015. Alfredson has two classics to his credit--2008's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and 2011's TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY--but THE SNOWMAN looks like a film that's been so mangled in post-production that everyone involved simply walked away and gave up trying to fix it. After the film opened to disastrous reviews in Europe, Alfredson attempted to do some damage control in the days prior to the US release, saying that the film was rushed into production with little planning, and when it came time to hit the editing room, he found that he only had, by his own admission, "85%" of the footage he needed, forcing him to use voiceovers and restructure character arcs in an attempt to put everything together. The Band-Aids precariously holding THE SNOWMAN together are all too obvious, starting with several name actors having nothing to do with anything, at least two critical subplots dropped without explanation, that there's a plethora of credits for "additional photography" and a team of editors (including Scorsese's legendary secret weapon and right hand Thelma Schoonmaker), and the fact that virtually none of the footage, dialogue, or implied plot developments in the trailer are actually in the movie. If you're enough of a film nerd, you can tell when a movie has had a troubled production and the end result is barely hanging together. And if you're familiar at all with film editing, you know that if Thelma Schoonmaker can't make it work, then it just wasn't meant to be.
location work in Norway, and I'm a sucker for cold, snowy, depressing mysteries. As the glum, alcoholic Hole, Michael Fassbender keeps the story interesting even as it's falling apart at the seams. In relatively crime-free Oslo, a serial killer is decapitating single mothers and putting their severed heads on snowmen (the mechanism used is similar to that seen in Dario Argento's 1993 film TRAUMA). He also seems to be stalking cold-case detective Hole, sending him a taunting note calling him "Mister Police." Hole has nothing to do ("I'm sorry about Oslo's extremely low murder rate," his boss tells him) and can go on weeklong benders with no none really noticing he's gone, so he teams with younger investigator Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems hellbent on tying wealthy Oslo politician and businessman Arve Stop (J.K. Simmons) and fertility doctor Idvar Vetlesen (David Dencik, a fixture in Scandinavian mystery adaptations) to the murders. Hole also digs into secret files Katrine has stashed away about a similar string of killings nine years earlier in Bergen, which were investigated by corrupt detective Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer). Hole's obsession with cracking the case puts a strain on his relationship with Oleg (Michael Yates), the teenage son of his ex-girlfriend Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Hole is still on good terms with Rakel, even though she's involved with shrink Matthias Lund-Helgesen (Jonas Karlsson), but Hole sticks around because Oleg has always viewed him as a father figure and, unbeknownst to the boy, Hole is his biological father (not a spoiler--it's divulged very early).
Monday, October 16, 2017
(US - 2017)
Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Marc Blucas, Mustafa Shakir, Thomas Guiry, Dion Mucciacito, Geno Segers, Willie C. Carpenter, Fred Melamed, Clark Johnson, Pooja Kumar, Victor Almanzar, Calvin Dutton, Michael Medeiros, Devon Windsor, Tobee Paik, Rob Morgan, Philip Ettinger. (Unrated, 132 mins)
With 2015's horror-western hybrid BONE TOMAHAWK, novelist/musician/jack-of-all-trades S. Craig Zahler immediately established himself as a filmmaker worth watching. The best description being "THE SEARCHERS if remade by Ruggero Deodato," BONE TOMAHAWK was an instant cult classic that was deserving of the label. Influenced by everything from Hollywood classics to Italian splatter films to underground metal (his musical projects include singing and playing drums in a band called Realmbuilder, and playing drums in the black metal band Charnel Valley), Zahler tackles the prison genre with BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, a hyperviolent and stunningly brutal revenge melodrama with the kind of wonderfully old-school title you'd expect to find on a mid '50s Allied Artists programmer. In a welcome departure from roles he's been coasting through for years and what the little-loved second season of TRUE DETECTIVE hinted at, Vince Vaughn is almost the spirit of Lee Marvin incarnate as Bradley--do not call him Brad--Thomas, a man with a dark past who's just trying to make an honest living and get by. Stoical and serious, and with a large cross tattooed on the back of his shaved head, Bradley and his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) are recovering alcoholics living in a small house in a crummy part of town. Bradley drives a wrecker for a local mechanic, but business is slow and he's let go. Arriving home, he finds Lauren about to take off for some afternoon delight with a man she's been seeing for the last three months. Bradley is not an abusive man but he reacts in the only way he can at that moment: by calmly and methodically tearing apart her car with his bare hands.
Friday, October 13, 2017
On DVD/Blu-ray: THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2014); ARMED RESPONSE (2017); and OPEN WATER 3: CAGE DIVE (2017)
THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES
(US - 2014)
You'd assume this must be a terrible movie, but the end result is quite surprising. It's unfortunate that the found-footage genre has played itself into overexposed irrelevance, because THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES is one of the best of its kind. There's no jump scares to be had and the gore is minimal, but its violence and intensity are such that it's quite dark, disturbing, and sometimes difficult to watch. It's hard telling if that's why MGM got skittish about releasing it, but the closest comparison I can draw to illustrate just how utterly real and horrifying this film can be is the sad and heartbreaking Australian found-footage outing LAKE MUNGO. Set up as a faux talking-head documentary, THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES chronicles the exploits of the east coast serial killer The Water Street Butcher, tracing his murders back to 1991 via a vast collection of homemade snuff videos found in his house in 1996. The madness begins with the abduction and murder of a little girl right from her front yard, escalates to a couple being kidnapped on their way home to Poughkeepsie from Pittsburgh, and soon, he's very intricately crafting the murder sites to deliberately mislead the investigators and misdirect the profilers when the FBI is called in. To throw them off even more, he changes his M.O. and kidnaps 19-year-old Cheryl Dempsey (Stacy Chbosky), holding her captive as a sex-and-torture slave in his basement. He even shows up at Cheryl's house and films himself talking to her mother, laughing and taunting her ("If there's anything I can do...") before running away once the mom realizes she's looking right at the man who kidnapped her daughter. The murders go on, with the killer deliberately leaving DNA behind as if he's trying to get captured, and that's when things take an unexpected and even more horrific turn, with Dowdle even working in 9/11 in a plausible, non-exploitative fashion.
(US - 2017)
There's potential for some insightful, layered commentary here, but ARMED RESPONSE goes the generic route, offering a bunch of cliched military hardasses in lieu of characters or interesting ideas. The whole idea behind "The Temple" is half-baked and never really clearly expressed, and it only gets remotely interesting when Gabriel has to reboot the system and The Temple slowly regains its power, with its cinder block walls coming to life and reaching out to unlucky victims, yanking their arms out of their sockets. That kind of craziness would've been helpful in the 85 minutes up to that point, but director John Stockwell, a former actor (CHRISTINE, MY SCIENCE PROJECT, TOP GUN) who made some successful movies (CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, BLUE CRUSH, INTO THE BLUE) before his post-2011 slide into the world of VOD/DTV (CAT RUN, IN THE BLOOD, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE) just seems to be coasting through, and the end result looks like an updated and slightly higher-end version of something Roger Corman's Concorde would've released in 1989. Snipes and Heche are the big names here, and while they're in the whole movie and don't pull any Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal phone-ins, they're definitely sidelined in favor of the bland Annable. The film was produced by WWE Studios (hence, Rollins' involvement) and upstart Erebus Pictures, a production company formed by none other than KISS icon and NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE villain Gene Simmons, who also briefly appears in either a bald cap or sans wig (looking a lot like late-career Michael Ansara) in a flashback as a suspected terrorist. Simmons is also all over the accompanying making-of featurette, and if you watch that beforehand, you might think that he's the star of the movie. (R, 94 mins)
OPEN WATER 3: CAGE DIVE
(Australia - 2017)
47 METERS DOWN, CAGE DIVE opens with the remains of a digital video camera found on the ocean floor, its memory card still intact. Faster than you can say "I wonder who the real sharks are," we're watching shaky, handheld footage of Americans--siblings Jeff (Joel Hogan) and Josh (Josh Potthoff), and Jeff's girlfriend Megan (Megan Peta Hill)--traveling to Australia to visit Jeff and Josh's Sydney-born cousin (Pete Valley) before heading off to a cage dive, digital camera in tow since Jeff wants to get them all on a daredevil reality show. They head out on a group excursion, and while the three of them are in the cage, a freak tidal wave appears out of nowhere, capsizes the boat, and the few survivors who weren't killed in the impact are soon eaten by great white sharks until only Jeff, Josh, and Megan remain, treading water. Of course Jeff never stops filming, even as hypothermia and delirium set in, and writer/director Gerald Rascionato (also credited with producing, photographing, editing, and casting) also makes time for turgid melodrama with Jeff finding out what the audience already knows from his camera being left on earlier: Megan is cheating on him with Josh, which really puts a damper on his plans to propose to her on the trip. OPEN WATER 3: CAGE DIVE has some convincing shark action, but relies too heavily on characters doing stupid things (luck sends a lifeboat drifting their way, so of course Megan sets it ablaze when she freaks out and mishandles a flare) to the point where you'll eventually start rooting for the sharks, in which case, you'll get a happy ending. (R, 81 mins)
Friday, October 6, 2017
(US - 2017)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, Edward James Olmos, Wood Harris, Hiam Abbass, David Dastmalchian, Tomas Lemarquis, Sean Young. (R, 164 mins)
Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER, based on Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is so highly and rightfully regarded as an influential sci-fi masterpiece to this day that it's easy to forget that it only did middling business in theaters in the summer of 1982 and the reviews weren't all that great. Over time, thanks to incessant cable and TV airings and the reconstruction of the "director's cut" in 1992 (assembled from the workprint and Scott's notes; he was busy working on 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE at the time and wasn't directly involved in it other than being consulted) and later with Scott's official "final cut" in 2007, the film's reputation and significance grew. The compromised theatrical version was a thorn in the side of both Scott and star Harrison Ford, who wasn't pleased about adding hard-boiled voiceover narration and made every effort to ensure that it sounded as if it was doing it at gunpoint. The director's cut removed the narration and added the much-debated unicorn scene, meant to ambiguously convey that perhaps Deckard (Ford), the titular blade runner, was himself a replicant just like those he was assigned to pursue and "retire." In the unlikely event you haven't seen BLADE RUNNER since it was in theaters and all you know is the now-obsolete theatrical version, then you're going to be completely baffled as to what's going in BLADE RUNNER 2049, which uses the director's cut as its springboard. With Scott onboard as executive producer, the original film's co-writer Hampton Fancher (his first credit since 1999's THE MINUS MAN) contributing to the script, and acclaimed filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS, SICARIO, ARRIVAL) at the helm, BLADE RUNNER 2049 established its bona fides before filming even began. Villeneuve promised to remain true to the beloved original and he more or less does. It in no way insults or diminishes the memory of the 1982 classic, and it throws in plenty of winking callbacks, but at the end of the day, it's still a 35-years-later sequel that doesn't succeed in justifying its existence.
"Tears in Rain" monologue before his final, resigned declaration of "Time to die." And while Vangelis' synth score is one of the 1982 film's most memorable components, the score here by Hans Zimmer is so aggressively, overbearingly bombastic that it almost qualifies as self-parody. Vangelis enhanced the mood and the vision and contributed to the hypnotic nature. Zimmer's score stampedes and bulldozes over everything to the point where it's an overwhelming, suffocating distraction that actually detracts from the effectiveness of numerous scenes. I gave BLADE RUNNER 2049 time, fidgeting through its laborious first hour and legitimately intrigued by a major plot reveal that finally seems to set things in motion, but it resumed dragging ass shortly thereafter and Zimmer's score got even more obnoxious, and no matter how captivating the visuals were, I finally had to accept the fact that it was well past two hours into this thing, its contrivances and developments were getting more half-baked and nonsensical (I'm still not sure what's going on with the replicant "revolution" that gets brought up near the end and is instantly dropped) and the point had passed where I ran out of excuses and had to admit to myself that I wasn't connecting with it at all. BLADE RUNNER was slow in a methodical way that was never boring. BLADE RUNNER 2049 is so concerned with replicating that feeling that it never finds its footing and never gets any momentum going. Maybe I'll look at it again in a year.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
aka DANGEROUS OBSESSION
(Italy/Spain - 1986; US release 1991)
Directed by Lucio Fulci. Written by Ludovica Marineo, Vincenzo Salviani, Jesus Balcazar and Lucio Fulci. Cast: Brett Halsey, Corinne Clery, Blanca Marsillach, Stefano Madia, Bernard Seray, Paola Molina, Eulalia Ramon, Lucio Fulci. (Unrated, 83 mins)
With the release of 1979's ZOMBIE, genre-hopping journeyman Lucio Fulci established himself as the foremost Italian splatter auteur, launching a seemingly unstoppable run of trailblazing films over a few busy and prolific years--most of them produced by Fabrizio De Angelis--that ran until 1982's MANHATTAN BABY. It was during that film that the working relationship between Fulci and De Angelis went south after the producer slashed the film's budget by 75%. Following their acrimonious split, De Angelis started directing Italian ripoffs of American blockbusters under the name "Larry Ludman," while Fulci returned to his role as a director-for-hire, dabbling in the sword-and-sorcery CONQUEST, the post-apocalyptic THE NEW GLADIATORS, and the FLASHDANCE-inspired giallo MURDER-ROCK: DANCING DEATH. Some serious health issues sidelined Fulci for much of 1984 and all of 1985, and 1986's THE DEVIL'S HONEY marked a comeback of sorts, though he'd never attain the heights of fame and infamy that he had in the days of ZOMBIE, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, or THE BEYOND. The latter years of Fulci's career have a few interesting moments--fans generally cite TOUCH OF DEATH and his meta cut-and-paste job CAT IN THE BRAIN as the high points--but are mostly dreadful affairs like SODOMA'S GHOST, DEMONIA, and the boring DOOR TO SILENCE, a 1991 dud that proved to be his final film before his death in 1996. He was scheduled to direct the Dario Argento production WAX MASK, but his rapidly declining health forced him to back out and he was replaced by Italian makeup maestro Sergio Stivaletti, though Fulci did receive a co-writing credit on the film, released a year after his death.
RETURN OF THE FLY). Instead, he tested the waters of the European film industry in the 1960s where he found much more success in 007 knockoffs like SPY IN YOUR EYE and spaghetti westerns like TODAY WE KILL, TOMORROW WE DIE. He was married to future THUNDERBALL Bond girl Luciana Paluzzi from 1960 to 1962 and to popular German singer and actress Heidi Bruhl (THE EIGER SANCTION) from 1964 to 1976. For some reason, even though he was established and known in America and Europe and enjoyed a certain level of success as Brett Halsey, he inexplicably tried to reinvent himself and made a few movies from 1968-1970 using the name "Montgomery Ford." This only served to confuse his European fans and do nothing for his career, so he switched back to Brett Halsey when he decided to give Hollywood another go. He spent the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s doing countless guest spots on tons of TV shows, including mandatory stops on THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND (shockingly, he never ended up on a MURDER, SHE WROTE), in addition to writing several Harold Robbins-esque beach-read novels about the movie industry.
husband of Diane Keaton's Kay Corleone in THE GODFATHER PART III. Halsey approaches the content of THE DEVIL'S HONEY as fearlessly as his alluring co-stars, whether it's brushing his mouth over Marsillach's pubic hair, removing Clery's fingers from her crotch and putting them right in his mouth, or groping a prostitute (Eulalia Ramon) in close-up as she masturbates with a fingernail polish brush (Halsey even gets naked in this thing, probably assuming none of his Hollywood friends would ever see it). He turns in a solid performance, even though he didn't stick around for the dubbing and has been revoiced by someone else. Halsey continued working on American TV in the 1990s and still pops up every now and again (his most recent TV credit is a 2008 episode of COLD CASE) in a low-budget DTV movie. These days, he mainly does conventions and gives interviews for Blu-ray releases of his old movies (he can be seen on the Criterion edition of the late '50s sci-fi cult movie THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE in their "Monsters and Madmen" set), and is revealed to be an engaging raconteur at 84 on the DEVIL'S HONEY bonus features. He speaks fondly of his old movies, doesn't dismiss the trashy ones, and doesn't pull any punches, saying Fulci was always nice to him but could be a tyrant with others, and flat-out admitting that he absolutely hated Marsillach and wished the film gave Clery more to do (he doesn't stop there, also saying that ESMERALDA BAY co-star Ramon Estevez--one of Martin Sheen's sons--was "a nice kid, a really nice kid," but had no business being in a movie). There isn't much in THE DEVIL'S HONEY that's distinctly Fulci--it's not a Filmirage production, but with its hazy, late '80s Filmirage look, it feels more akin to a Joe D'Amato movie than anything--but it's perversely sleazy, entertaining trash that's right alongside MURDER-ROCK as the standouts of his post-Fabrizio De Angelis years.
|One of the more subtle moments of THE DEVIL'S HONEY|