Sunday, February 25, 2018
(US/UK - 2018)
Written and directed by Alex Garland. Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi, Sonoya Mizuno. (R, 115 mins)
Though he initially made his name as an acclaimed author with his 1996 novel The Beach, Alex Garland has become much better-known in recent years for his contributions to sci-fi cinema. He didn't pen the screenplay adaptation for Danny Boyle's 2000 film of THE BEACH, but he did team with the TRAINSPOTTING director on two future projects, scripting 2003's zombie apocalypse trailblazer 28 DAYS LATER and 2007's underrated environmental sci-fi gem SUNSHINE. Garland also scripted Mark Romanek's 2010 future dystopia drama NEVER LET ME GO, based on Kazuo Ichiguro's 2005 novel, and Pete Travis' 2012 cult classic reboot DREDD. But it was with his 2015 directing debut EX MACHINA that Garland really gained some serious momentum, including an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. EX MACHINA brings us to his first major-studio filmmaking effort, the $40 million ANNIHILATION, an adaptation of the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. Garland uses the book for the core concept and the structure, but largely takes it in his own direction, and anyone who's seen EX MACHINA or the films he's scripted will see recurring themes and ideas. As shaped by Garland, ANNIHILATION is densely-packed and thought-provoking, and while the utilization of ideas from films that have come before--the 1982 version of THE THING, EVENT HORIZON, THE RELIC, THE DESCENT, various old-school Cronenberg-derived body horrors, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, ARRIVAL (which was hitting theaters when this was in production in 2016), and even a mutant bear on loan from 1979's PROPHECY--do give the story mechanics a too familiar feel at times that keeps it just shy of perfection, ANNIHILATION's real success lies not with the What, but with the Why, the How, the Who, and the When. Garland introduces some heady, hard-science ideas throughout, and it's refreshing to see a horror film trust and respect its audience enough to refuse to spell everything out for them. ANNIHILATION expects you to pay attention and keep up (multiple viewings are likely required). This trust and respect Garland placed in the audience caused friction with Skydance CEO and co-executive producer David Ellison, who was concerned about a disastrous test screening and complained that the film was "too intellectual." When Garland refused to make any changes and co-executive producer Scott Rudin remained supportive of the filmmaker's vision and backed him up (Rudin had final cut written into his deal, essentially pulling rank on Ellison), Skydance partner and distributor Paramount--perhaps out of spite or fearing they had another CLOVERFIELD PARADOX on their hands--sold the distribution rights to Netflix everywhere in the world but North America and China, then decreased the US theatrical screen count to around 2000.
THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER, so much so that even the recurrent use of Crosby Stills & Nash's "Helplessly Hoping" starts to make you uneasy. This is an uncomfortable film whose images and soundscapes burrow under your skin and haunt you, with at least two nerve-shredding sequences of extended creepiness that aren't easily shaken. Whatever commercial potential Paramount thought ANNIHILATION might've had is irrelevant after the opening weekend. Mainstream audiences probably won't be very receptive to it, but Garland's film--pretty close to an instant genre classic--is a reminder that there was once a time when major studios welcomed creative artists with open arms and championed intelligent and challenging films that might stand the test of time rather than merely clean up at the box office for a week or two and quickly fade from memory. It will probably be out of theaters in two weeks, but ANNIHILATION is a film that's playing the long game, and it's one that fans will be discussing and debating for years to come. And coupled with EX MACHINA and his screenwriting resume before, it unquestionably establishes Alex Garland as a leading figure in sci-fi cinema today.
Saturday, February 24, 2018
(UK/Germany - 2018)
Directed by Duncan Jones. Written by Michael Robert Johnson and Duncan Jones. Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, Dominic Monaghan, Robert Sheehan, Gilbert Owuor, Jannis Niewohner, Rob Kazinsky, Noel Clarke, Mia-Sophie Bastin, Lea-Marie Bastin, Daniel Fathers, Andrzej Blumenfeld. (Unrated, 126 mins)
After establishing himself as a major new voice in intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi with 2009's MOON and 2011's SOURCE CODE, Duncan Jones jumped to the megabudget realm in 2016 with the $160 million WARCRAFT, an adaptation of the popular video game series. Met with a lukewarm response from the critics who loved his more brainy earlier films, WARCRAFT looks for now to be a franchise non-starter despite being a moneymaker everywhere but the US. After WARCRAFT and several tumultuous, emotional years of ups-and-downs in his personal life--his father David Bowie died in January 2016 and his beloved childhood nanny passed a year later, and he also became a father with a second child on the way after his wife emerged victorious in a battle with breast cancer--Jones decided it was time to make his long-gestating dream project MUTE, a script he wrote with Michael Robert Johnson (SHERLOCK HOLMES, POMPEII) way back in 2001 and was talking about as a potential second film nearly a decade ago when he was doing press for MOON. Jones was unable to generate any studio interest in MUTE at the time, but with Netflix agreeing to distribute pretty much anything, he finally found a way to get it done with little interference, allowing him to make exactly the film he wanted to make. A Guy Ritchie-esque crime saga in its earliest drafts, MUTE's screenplay went through numerous transformations over the years as Jones would periodically rework it before stuffing it back in the bottom desk drawer until he had more time.
"Moss Garden" from 1977's "Heroes" and the Bowie-derived Philip Glass composition "Symphony No. 4 (Heroes)" making soundtrack appearances. There's shout-outs to German expressionism with one character owning a poster of the 1930 Emil Jannings/Marlene Dietrich classic THE BLUE ANGEL, and a general sense of melancholia that brings to mind what might've happened in an alternate universe where Wim Wenders made BLADE RUNNER. Further showing off his love of even the most off-the-wall German cinema, Jones at one point has Rudd's Cactus--who also carries a large Bowie (wink wink) knife--wearing a gaudy coat that makes him look like Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Wolf Gremm's 1982 sci-fi cult oddity KAMIKAZE '89.
Friday, February 23, 2018
(US - 1967)
Directed by Larry Peerce. Written by Nicholas E. Baehr. Cast: Tony Musante, Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Ed McMahon, Diana Van der Vlis, Mike Kellin, Jan Sterling, Gary Merrill, Robert Fields, Robert Bannard, Victor Arnold, Donna Mills, Kathleen Smith, Henry Proach, Marty Meyers. (Unrated, 100 mins)
Though it has a devoted cult following, THE INCIDENT is a film that's flown under the radar for a half-century, vividly remembered by the few who saw it during its 1967-68 theatrical run and those who caught it on late-night TV well into the 1980s. After a 1989 VHS release, it's been unrepresented on home video until Twilight Time's new "Limited Edition Series" Blu-ray release (in her essay in the package's accompanying booklet, Julie Kirgo writes "Where has this extraordinary movie been all our lives?"). Shot in black & white at a time when it was used very sparingly aside from the occasional IN COLD BLOOD, THE INCIDENT has been restored to all of its edgy, gritty glory and is long overdue for discovery. Even now, over 50 years after its release, THE INCIDENT is an artifact from a bygone era that remains a visceral, shocking gut-punch today. Though it came just before the introduction of the MPAA rating system and is devoid of F-bombs, the language used and situations depicted in the film (including one pretty clearly alluding to a sexual assault taking place just below the frame) induce such a level of tension and unease that it's still worthy of an R rating even now. THE INCIDENT is a film that leaves you exhausted, shattered, and physically drained when the closing credits roll. It's arguably the best American film of the 1960s that nobody knows about, and it's possibly more potent today that it was then. There's certainly elements here that couldn't fly in the present without being labeled "problematic" or "triggering" and leading to numerous outraged thinkpieces, including the use of homophobic and racist slurs. This is a troubling, uncomfortable, claustrophobic, and profoundly unsettling film that stays with you long after it's over. Even revisiting it after 20+ years, scenes and dialogue remained etched in my memory and even though I knew what was coming, I could still feel my heart racing, my stomach in knots with tension, and a palpable anger brewing as a bad situation gets uglier by the minute.
Spike, but even he gets into the act, immediately figuring out that Kenneth is gay and slyly seducing him into earning his trust. "You gotta help me...this guy I'm with is real buggy," Artie deceptively confides before beating him, calling him a "rotten fag," forcing him to dance with him and Joe, and spending the rest of the film referring to him as "The Princess" and making him sit in the corner. Joe exposes tough-talking Tony as a coward by sidling up to Alice and, judging from her body language and the pained faces she's making, doing things out of frame that couldn't be explicitly shown in 1967 as Tony freezes and does nothing. And starting with a loaded "Sho 'nuff!," he then demolishes Arnold, who's only too happy to watch a train car full of "crackers" being verbally and physically assaulted ("I'm with you, Jack," he smiles at Joe), but has it thrown right back at him when Joe repeatedly calls him the N-word and insinuates that his "smell" is all over the train. Throughout all of this, no one speaks up or makes any serious attempt to deter them other than Teflinger, but even he backs off after suggesting they "settle down" and Joe grabs him by the neck.
|Martin Sheen, Larry Peerce, and Beau Bridges|
at a 2017 TCM Festival screening of THE INCIDENT
|THE INCIDENT opening in Toledo, OH on 3/29/1968, paired with |
the Bette Davis "thrill hit" THE ANNIVERSARY, also a time
when someone thought a drive-in double bill of THE GOOD,
THE BAD AND THE UGLY and FITZWILLY was a good idea.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
(Japan - 2017; US release 2018)
Directed by Fumihiko Sori. Written by Hiromu Arakawa. Cast: Ryosuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Atom Miziushi, Misako Renbutso, Kanata Hongo, Shinji Uchiyama, Jun Kunimura, Yo Oizumi, Ryuta Sato, Fumiyo Kohinata, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Natsuki Harada. (Unrated, 134 mins)
Based on Hiromu Arawaka's extremely popular, long-running manga that's already been adapted into two Japanese anime TV series and two anime films, FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST is the first live action version, which was released by Warner Bros. to mixed reviews and decent but below-expectation box office in Japan last December before landing in the US this week as a Netflix Original. Thanks to THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, the term "Netflix Original" is quickly growing synonymous with "major studio dumpjob," and FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST does little to dispel that perception. Having creator Arakawa onboard to write the screenplay seems like a good idea in theory, but the end result is a jumbled mess that tries to accomplish more than a 2 1⁄4 hour movie can cover. If you aren't already up to speed with the characters, their relationship to one another, their motivations, or what alchemists, homonculi, chimeras, and "The Gate of Truth" are in Arakawa's extensive world building, then good luck making heads or tails of much of FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
THE FLORIDA PROJECT
(US - 2017)
SUNLIGHT JR, it benefits from a loose, improvisational, verite feel with its effective location shooting in the seedy vicinity around Walt Disney World (whereas SUNLIGHT JR was filmed in economically-depressed areas of Clearwater). Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) lives at the Magic Castle motel in Kissimmee with her single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), who redefines the concept of the irresponsible parent. While Moonee plays with downstairs neighbor Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), a little girl who lives with her grandmother (Josie Olivo) at a nearby motel, Halley gets high, watches TV, and engages in various scams to get the necessary weekly rent money for Magic Castle manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The kids are a handful, and certainly products of their environment and upbringing, with Moonee especially prone to being a foul-mouthed brat. Bobby's patience is always wearing thin (when they spit on someone's car, spill ice cream in the office, or sneak into the maintenance room and turn off the power to the entire motel), but he's very protective of the kids and realizes it's not their fault. Director/co-writer Sean Baker (TANGERINE) lets the story develop very slowly, instead focusing on the world in which these characters live in ways that recall the work of British filmmaker Andrea Arnold. Vinaite's performance in particular is reminiscent of Katie Jarvis, a non-professional who won the lead in FISH TANK after Arnold happened to see her arguing with her boyfriend on a street corner, as well as Sasha Lane, who was cast in AMERICAN HONEY after Arnold saw her sunbathing on a beach. Likewise, Vinaite had no acting experience and ran a small marijuana-themed clothing line when Baker discovered her on Instagram. Her performance--Halley's attitude boiling with rage and desperation but doing what she does because she loves her child even if she still acts like one herself--is quite remarkable.
The same goes for young Prince, who's a natural (watch her give Jancey the tour of the motel and the rundown of the residents: "This guy gets arrested a lot and this lady thinks she's married to Jesus"), and both actresses work beautifully with an Oscar-nominated Dafoe, playing perhaps the warmest and most empathetic character in a career largely spent personifying creeps and weirdos. Baker delves into a little of Bobby's life too and the wrong turns that make him sympathize with Halley and Moonee, even when Halley doesn't really deserve it. We see Bobby's day-to-day job duties, which include fixing a broken ice machine, dealing with the removal of a mattress in a bedbug-infested room, chasing a pedophile off the property when he starts talking to the kids, plus he has a fractured relationship with his own son (Caleb Landry Jones), who he frequently calls to help him with stuff around the motel. Perhaps the most moving scene in the film is when Halley and Moonee take Jancey to an empty field to watch the Disney fireworks from a distance for her birthday, celebrated by blowing out a candle on a small cupcake the three of them share. As the fragments begin to cohere into a genuine story, the outcome isn't going to be good, but it does put you in the mindset of children forced to use their imagination to survive the grimmest of circumstances. (R, 112 mins)
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL
(Japan/UK - 2017)
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL was sold as Miike's 100th film. While the exact tally is a mystery and might even be to Miike himself, this is an odd choice to herald such a milestone. It's based on a popular manga by Hiroaki Samura, but Miike doesn't really bring much of a personal touch to it. As he pushes 60, it's entirely possible he's moved beyond the poking-people-with-sticks years that helped establish his legend (or he's just exhausted), and while he's done very well in this genre before (2010's 13 ASSASSINS was his best film in years), he really seems to be going through the motions with BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. The convoluted story has disgraced samurai warrior Manji (Takuya Kimura) on the run after killing his corrupt lord and his six shogun constables, including his brother-in-law, whose death drove Manji's sister Machi (Hana Sugisaki) mad with grief. After Machi is killed by a bounty hunter and Manji massacres his small army, he nearly dies from his injuries until he's granted immortality by 800-year-old witch Yaobikuni (Yoko Yamamoto). 50 years later, a depressed Manji wanders the countryside wishing he could die, but he finds a purpose when he's sought out by Rin Asani (also played by Sugisaki), who wants revenge on shogun warrior Kagehisa Anotsu (Sota Fukushi) after he kills her parents and gives his associate Kuroi Sabato (Kazuka Kitamura) the severed head of her mother to mount on his shoulder. Manji feels sorry for the girl, who reminds him of his baby sister and may very well be her reincarnation (Rin even starts affectionately calling him "Big Brother"), so they embark on a journey to kill Anotsu and anyone who stands in their way. Of course, there's shifting alliances, double crosses, and various supernatural hijinks, but after a smashing start, the film rapidly devolves into repetitive set pieces and becomes a laborious slog. Even when it comes alive for an epic climactic showdown, it still feels like Miike's just recycling ideas and images from 13 ASSASSINS and other similar films. Manji is a sort of Wolverine/Logan crossed with a shogun HIGHLANDER, so no matter what happens to him or how many appendages get hacked off in battle, the "bloodworms" planted in him by Yaobikuni will heal him by reattaching the limb and he continues to live. There's plenty of spectacular action sequences and squishy sound effects as inventive weaponry guts through flesh, and KILL BILL fans will like seeing Chiaka Kuriyama--aka "Gogo Yubari"--in a supporting role, but at nearly two and a half hours, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is a good 35-40 minutes too long as Miike somehow manages to be both self-indulgent and disconnected from the material at the same time. (R, 141 mins)
Monday, February 19, 2018
(Italy - 1980; US release 1984)
Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti). Written by Dardano Sacchetti. Cast: David Warbeck, Tisa Farrow, John Steiner, Tony King, Bobby Rhodes, Margi Eveline Newton (Margie Newton), Massimo Vanni, Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi), Dino Conti, Gianfranco Moroni, Edoardo Margheriti. (Unrated, 96 mins)
Veteran Italian journeyman Antonio Margheriti became synonymous with jungle explosion movies in the 1980s with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ripoffs like THE HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA, THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD and JUNGLE RAIDERS, and a WILD GEESE-inspired commando trilogy with British TV star Lewis Collins (CODENAME: WILDGEESE, COMMANDO LEOPARD, THE COMMANDER), but it was his partnership with New Zealand-born David Warbeck that initially got the ball rolling. Shot in the Philippines on some of the same locations and abandoned sets from APOCALYPSE NOW, 1980's THE LAST HUNTER (belatedly released in the US in 1984 by World Northal) was the first teaming of the director and star and the first of countless Namspoitation actioners to come from Italy throughout the decade. Filmed under the title IL CACCIATORE 2 in response to the Oscar-winning THE DEER HUNTER being known there as IL CACCIATORE (from Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2 to Ciro Ippolito's ALIEN 2: ON EARTH, unofficial bogus sequels were a trend in Italian exploitation at the time), THE LAST HUNTER is more of gritty, down-to-the-basics riff on APOCALYPSE NOW. In January 1973, burned-out Capt. Henry Morris (Warbeck) is given a top secret assignment. Dropped in an area swarming with VietCong, he meets up with a small group of soldiers--Sgt. George Washington (Tony King), Carlos (Bobby Rhodes), and Stinker Smith (Edoardo Margheriti, the director's son and assistant)--who are accompanied by war correspondent Jane Foster (Tisa Farrow) as they make their way toward a destination known only by Morris, who's haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. They're ambushed by VC along the way, and Stinker is ripped apart by a spiked booby trap, but they eventually find refuge at a rowdy outpost run by the very Kilgore-like Major Cash (John Steiner), who sends daredevil Phillips (Massimo Vanni) on dangerous coconut runs outside the camp's perimeter that are in no way meant to remind you of Lance's surfing during a bombing raid in APOCALYPSE NOW.
OPERATION NAM), the Italians avoided the revisionist, flag-waving "This time we're gonna win!" mythology of the American Namsploitation movies and went for full-on bleak hopelessness. Of course, in 1980, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris had yet to embark on one-man missions to bring the POWs back home and as such, THE LAST HUNTER is certainly more in line with the grim elements of APOCALYPSE NOW and THE DEER HUNTER, particularly Washington's memorable death scene and Morris' final decision at the end. It's also quite brutal and often incredibly gory, so much so that it earned a spot on the UK's infamous "Video Nasties" list. Margheriti wasn't one to indulge in the graphic gore of his contemporaries like Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi, but 1980 saw him going all in on the splatter. The same year, he directed CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, his lone entry into the Italian cannibal cycle. Also known as CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS and INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS, the film fuses the cannibal subgenre with Namsploitation, as Vietnam vets John Saxon, Giovanni Lombardo Radice ("John Morghen") and THE LAST HUNTER's Tony King return home infected by a cannibal virus, their PTSD manifesting itself as an insatiable craving for human flesh that sends them on a rampage through Atlanta.
THE SQUEEZE and 1979's KILLER FISH. But overall, THE LAST HUNTER is one of the great Namsploitation offerings and a masterpiece from the glory days of the Italian Ripoff. It helped set the course for Margheriti's output for the rest of the decade and established Warbeck as an action star in Italy. Known for some UK TV roles and small parts in British horror films like TROG, TWINS OF EVIL, and CRAZE, as James Coburn's doomed friend in Sergio Leone's DUCK, YOU SUCKER, and as the male lead in Russ Meyer's BLACK SNAKE, Warbeck's status as a Eurocult legend would be cemented thanks to his work with Margheriti and Lucio Fulci in the 1980s. Warbeck's star would dim as the Italian exploitation cycle declined in the late '80s, but he did land one major A-list gig with a supporting role in the 1984 Tom Selleck vehicle LASSITER. Code Red/Kino Lorber's new LAST HUNTER Blu-ray (boasting the obligatory Code Red packaging typos as producer Gianfranco Couyoumdjian becomes "Grand Franco Couyoumdjian"--honesty, isn't "Gianfranco" the easy part of that name?) also features an interview with the well-traveled Tony King, who retired from the NFL after one season with the Buffalo Bills in 1967 before drifting into modeling and acting in the early '70s. His standout performance in 1975's underrated REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER should've made him a star, but nothing happened, and by 1980, he was working in Italy, reteaming with Margheriti and Warbeck for 1982's TIGER JOE. He moved into social activism and upon changing his name to Malik Farrakhan in the late '80s, became well-known as the head of security for Public Enemy. King's life and career have gone down some unexpected paths, and he has some good stories about working in Italy, and fond memories of the cast and other films he's worked on, though the interview's most memorable moment is when someone starts banging on his door and shouting "Tony, open the motherfuckin' door!"
Friday, February 16, 2018
(US/UK - 2018)
Directed by Tim Hunter. Written by Jerry Rapp. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney, Marc Blucas, Ernie Lively, Kassia Conway, Jacque Gray, Kimberly Hittleman, Bill Boldender, Barry Minoff, Jason Wixom, Atticus Worman-Pope. (R, 103 mins)
We're a little over halfway through February and LOOKING GLASS is already Nicolas Cage's second VOD release of the year. Unlike January's excellent MOM AND DAD, LOOKING GLASS is the kind of bland, forgettable, perfunctory clock-punch that typifies the bulk of Redbox-era Cage. It's hard telling what drew him to the project other than its setting might've stirred memories of his cult classic desert noir RED ROCK WEST, John Dahl's terrific 1993 thriller that ended up premiering on cable only to become a big word-of-mouth hit in video stores. It could be the involvement of screenwriter Matthew Wilder*, who wrote Paul Schrader's DOG EAT DOG, one of Cage's better recent films, though at some point between LOOKING GLASS' announcement in the trades and its release, Wilder's shared writing credit with Jerry Rapp (GUTSHOT STRAIGHT) vanished and now he's one of about 30 credited producers, with Rapp getting sole credit for the screenplay (though Wilder is still credited on IMDb). Ray (Cage) and Maggie (Robin Tunney) are a married couple still grieving the loss of their young daughter in a vague accident that may have involved a fall, Maggie's substance abuse, and Ray's infidelity. They look to heal in the dumbest way possible: by packing up and driving across the country to a small Arizona town where Ray bought a motel he found for sale on Craigslist. The locals are odd but welcoming, including gregarious trucker Tommy (Ernie Lively), who always has a different young girl in tow and always requests room 10. The previous owner, Ben (Bill Bollender) abruptly left town and Ray has no way to contact him. He's got some questions, especially once he discovers a secret crawlspace in the pool maintenance room that leads a two-way mirror that looks right into room 10, which seems to be the most requested room for another guest, mysterious prostitute and professional dominatrix Cassie (Kassia Conway), who states "10's a peach...I'll take 10."
*(note: in the interest of full disclosure, I was once Facebook friends with Matthew Wilder, but a 2012 disagreement over Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME resulted in him unfriending and blocking me, followed by his immediate creation of the hashtag #attackfilmsocialismeanddie. I have had no contact with him since)
Thursday, February 15, 2018
On Blu-ray/DVD, Special "OK, Seriously, Enough Already" Edition: HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT (2018) and DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE (2018)
(US - 2018)
Dimension kept the HELLRAISER franchise going in the '00s by essentially taking existing scripts and shoehorning Pinhead into them. With the Oklahoma-shot JUDGMENT, Tunnicliffe is basically going for a do-over, pretending REVELATIONS didn't happen and almost rebooting the series to a degree. That said, it feels just like every other straight-to-video HELLRAISER sequel where Pinhead seems like a post-production addition. After an introduction where Pinhead (now played by Paul T. Taylor, who's no Doug Bradley but he's a definite improvement over REVELATIONS' hapless Stephan Smith Collins) declares "Obsolete...irrelevant!" over the Cenobites' dwindling necessity in an increasingly perverse world but could just as easily be commenting on the current state of the HELLRAISER franchise, the story shifts to two detective brothers after a serial killer known as "The Preceptor." The killer is patterning his murders on the Ten Commandments and has killed 14 people so far, apparently unaware of both the meaning of "Thou shalt not kill," and how to count to ten. There's also a dilapidated house on Ludovico St, a sort-of inter-dimensional, Kafka-meets-William S. Burroughs halfway house where a demonic emissary known as The Auditor (played by Tunnicliffe, who must think he's M. Night Shyamalan) works as a go-between with Pinhead, luring the worst of society to the house to see if they're deserving of Cenobite judgment. But Pinhead is sidelined for most of the movie, with the focus on the boring procedural, with set design and murders straight out of SE7EN (one victim has her live dog--named "Baby"--sewn into her belly) and death traps on loan from SAW. The whole movie plays like a drab homage to '90s horror, starting with the SE7EN ripoff opening credits, somehow still being copied 23 years later. There's also pandering to the fanboys with cameos by FEAST director John Gulager and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET's Heather Langenkamp as a grouchy landlady (what, were Larry Fessenden and Maria Olson unavailable?). HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT pulls numerous dei ex machina out of its ass, like introducing a sultry, echoing angel near the end just so Pinhead can ignore her orders and have The Auditor declare "Did you forget? She's the angel who banished them from the Garden of Eden!" Yeah? And? And why is Pinhead suddenly in a position where he's answering to other figures? Tunnicliffe delivers the gore and the grim atmosphere, but in his quest to create an all-new mythos around the HELLRAISER concept and the figure of Pinhead, he just overwhelms himself and completely loses the plot. On one hand, with its bizarre, surrealistic imagery in the Ludovico house, JUDGMENT deserves a little credit for trying since that's more than REVELATIONS ever did, but you don't get a pass when that ingenuity is quickly jettisoned and the end result is a derivative, convoluted mess that plays like HELLRAISER fan fiction. Maybe Dimension should just let this franchise go, since they clearly have no idea what to do with it. (Unrated, 81 mins)
DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE
(US - 2018)
DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM, then a DAY OF THE DEAD remake in 2008, and now another remake titled DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE, which plays like a bad episode of THE WALKING DEAD. They co-produced both DAY remakes with Avi Lerner's Cannon cover band Millennium and managed to secure a few recognizable names for the 2008 travesty (a slumming Steve Miner directed, and the cast was headlined by Mena Suvari, Ving Rhames, and, for some reason, Nick Cannon). All DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE has in the way of star power is Johnathon Scheach in the "Bub" role. This time he goes by Max, and in a prologue, he's a creep with a rare abundance of antibodies in his blood, which is being regularly tested and studied by med school research team. Max is fixated on one student, Zoe (Sophie Skelton), and he's even carved her name into his right arm. He attempts to rape her after a blood draw but he's cock-blocked by a re-animated corpse, which kicks off cinema's umpteenth zombie apocalypse, this time on the unconvincing "normal American city" streets of the Nu Boyana backlot in Bulgaria.
Five years later, Zoe is a doctor at High Rock, a military installation and refugee camp where survivors live under the rule of commander Miguel (Jeff Gum, which may be a secret code word for "Almost Joe Pilato") while the zombie horde--aka "Rotters"--are kept outside behind a massive fence. When a young girl comes down with a new strain of bacterial pneumonia that threatens to infect the entire facility, Zoe and some of Miguel's soldiers--including his younger brother and her boyfriend Baca (Marcus Vanco)--take some Humvees to the abandoned med school for some vaccines and antiobiotics. Why they wouldn't have attempted this five years earlier remains a mystery, but a zombified Max is still at the hospital, and secretly hitches a ride under one of the Humvees. This allows him to easily infiltrate High Rock undetected, hiding in the vent shafts and plotting his pursuit of Zoe. That's right--he's a zombie, but he's still obsessed with Zoe. Once he's discovered, she recalls his rare blood condition and believes he could be useful in developing a Rotter vaccine. Max, meanwhile, just wants Zoe. With the exception of Schaech and Gum, the entire cast sounds dubbed, but aside from that, DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE is plenty gory and, from a tech standpoint, it's professionally put together by Spanish director Hector Hernandez Vicens, whose THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ generated some festival buzz a few years ago. It would just be another dumb and forgettable zombie movie if was simply called BLOODLINE, but the invoking of Romero is cheap and lazy. And if that wasn't offensive enough, the original tag line for this was a LOVE STORY-inspired "Love means never having to say you're zombie," which is pretty tone-deaf considering the rapey nature of Max's obsession. He was a rapist before turning, and in the #MeToo and Time's Up era, maybe now's not the best time for zombies to be committing sexual assault. Of course, we lost George A. Romero in the period between this being shot in 2016 and its release in 2018, and yeah, Romero was more than willing to throw his name on dubious projects during his lifetime for quick and easy cash, as anyone who's seen the two GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS DEADTIME STORIES horror anthologies can attest. That said, maybe now that Romero is gone, it should also be Time's Up for the Dudelsons and their cynical cash-ins on his name and his legend. Considering the Bulgarian locations and crew, Lerner's Millennium gang was probably more involved in the day-to-day operation of this shoot, but the Dudelsons are still getting paid. They own the remake rights. And if that wasn't bad enough, do you really want to know how little these guys care? The fucking name of their company is misspelled "Tauras" in the credits. No one involved in this movie gives a shit. Neither should you. (R, 91 mins)
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
(US - 2018)
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Dorothy Blyskal. Cast: Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Tony Hale, Thomas Lennon, P.J. Byrne, Jaleel White, Ray Corasani, William Jennings, Bryce Gheisar, Paul-Mikel Williams, Vernon Dobtcheff, Steve Coulter, Mark Moogalian, Isabelle Moogalian, Chris Norman, Jeanne Goursaud, Alisa Allapach. (PG-13, 94 mins)
THE 15:17 TO PARIS, the last and easily the least of Clint Eastwood's unofficial American Heroes trilogy (following AMERICAN SNIPER and SULLY), tries to get by on the stunt casting of the real heroes involved in thwarting a terrorist attack aboard a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris in 2015. US Air Force staff sergeant Spencer Stone, US Army National Guard soldier Alek Skarlatos, and their non-enlisted childhood buddy Anthony Sadler were aboard the train to their final stop on a European backpacking trip when Ayoub El-Khazzani (played here by Ray Corasani) opened fire, leading to Stone, then Skarlatos and Sadler leaping to action to subdue him and tend to passenger Mark Moogalian (also playing himself), who was shot in the back and the neck trying to stop El-Khazzani before he made it to the car with the three Americans. It's a riveting story of heroism, adrenaline, and making split-second decisions, but does it warrant a 90-minute movie? Eastwood ran into this situation with 2016's SULLY, which took a five-minute incident and padded it out to feature-length and even had to manufacture its own drama in the process by inventing a vengeful head of an investigatory panel who did everything short of twirl a non-existent mustache to show his seething contempt for Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his obsessive desire to nail the heroic pilot's balls to the wall. That never happened, even by Sully's admission. The closest thing to a villain in the Sully Sullenberger story is a flock of birds in the wrong place at the wrong time.
JERSEY BOYS, and whether it's getting facts right or even something simple like establishing where characters are, he just doesn't seem concerned. Mark Moogalian, an American who long ago relocated to France and is a professor at the Sorbonne, was one of the first to confront El-Khazzani, getting shot and almost bleeding out on the train, but he's not even an afterthought here, not even worthy of the end-of-film "Where are they now?" captions that the three Americans get. Is it because he doesn't fit the profile of the "America! Fuck Yeah!" narrative of Eastwood's American Heroes trilogy? British businessman Chris Norman was also on the train, helped disarm El-Khazzani, and plays himself in a few fleeting shots, but we never even get his name.There's no way UNFORGIVEN-era Eastwood would've made a film this shruggingly indifferent. It's insensitive and incorrect to chalk this up to his mental faculties (though talking to an empty chair in support of Mitt Romney a few years ago wasn't a good look) or a declining ability to handle the workload. He's almost 88 but I don't believe that's the case. I do, however, believe his being almost 88 is a reason he simply doesn't give a shit like he used to. His films are getting sloppier and he's more concerned with getting them done than getting them right (remember that baby in AMERICAN SNIPER?). Maybe he's earned that privilege after seven decades in the business, and maybe he continues working because it keeps him going and maybe he feels he can keep time at bay for a little while longer if he stays busy. But if THE 15:17 TO PARIS is any indication, he'd need to put forth more effort to even reach "coasting." It's because Eastwood is such an iconic legend of cinema that watching him half-ass it in his emeritus years is so distressing.