Monday, December 7, 2009

Capsule Reviews Again

A mere trifle, but I do hope you enjoy it...

The Hills Run Red (d. Dave Parker) - On paper, this one sounds like absolute catnip for me, even though I kind of knew it wouldn't pan. A young guy named Tyler (Tad Hilgenbrink) is obsessed with a lost slasher film from the 1980s called The Hills Run Red, directed by a mysterious fellow named Wilson Wyler Concannon (William Sadler), who, following his film's brief theatrical release, and almost immediate horrified withdrawal, disappeared. The film hasn't been seen since, and therefore quite a cult fascination has developed around it. So Tyler, his buddy Lalo (Alex Wyndham), and unhappy, unfaithful girlfriend Serina (Janet Montgomery) venture out to find Concannon, his film, and produce a documentary about their search. Their one lead is Alexa (Sophie Monk), Concannon's daughter, now a stripper and heroin addict. Apart from the always welcome Sadler, precisely two things about the film work. One is an early line of dialogue, spoken by Lalo to Tyler. Lalo is trying to get past Tyler's bullshit claims about why he's interested in this lost film, and he says, in effect, "All you want to do is show everyone that you're more obsessed than they are." That's a reasonably cutting analysis of a certain segment of fandom, which the filmmakers promptly fail to develop. The second effective moment -- effective in theory more than in reality, to be honest -- is the reaction of one of the characters when he finally gets a chance to view the mysterious The Hills Run Red. This reaction is, again, a fairly pointed swipe at modern horror film violence, and not only our reaction to it, but our intended reaction. But this is all buried in a fairly amateurish bit of moviemaking, where none of the actors (Sadler again excepted) register, and which you realize is actually just a slasher movie, gussied up. The script, by horror writer David Schow, might have gone somewhere had it been run through the typewriter a few times more, but the whole production has the feel of something that someone desperately wanted to have finished and on screen. So inauthentic is the film that at one point, Sophie Monk is shown shooting heroin, and I pointed out to my wife that Monk did not make a believable heroin addict, to which my wife responded, "And when you shoot heroin, I'm pretty sure you don't stick the needle straight into your arm."

Deadgirl - (d. Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel) - Inside the DVD case for Deadgirl, when you remove the disc, you see on the inside flap of the paper insert/cover a reproduction of the film's poster, with the tagline: Every generation has its story about the horror of growing up. My immediate reaction to reading this was "They do?" and "So?" More importantly, that sentence might give you an idea of the willed air of significance that directors Sarmiento and Harel, and writer Trent Haaga, want so desperately for their film to radiate. And, to be fair, the film ain't that bad. Two teenage pals, Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan), while frolicking, as teens will, in an abandoned insane asylum, discover what they initially believe to be the naked corpse of a young woman, but soon realize is the naked zombie of a young woman. Rickie freaks out, but JT sees the potential sleazy benefits of having a secret sex slave chained up in a locked room no one else ever enters. JT's immediate spiral into the darkest of perversions is offset by Rickie's unrequited pining for his classmate JoAnn (Candice Accola). The film is supposed to be a story about the horror of growing up, and it's well-enough made, and the acting is across-the-board solid, keeping the story grounded. But what it's really about is how dangerous the filmmakers think it is when teenage boys can't get laid. Which, okay, fine, if zombies really existed, I have no doubt that some of the prettier ones would be chained up and used in this very way. But the straining for significance that comes along with Rickie's unhappy quest for love has the effect of rendering the whole film sort of laughably earnest and immaterial. You're left wanting the filmmakers to grow up and stop thinking about their dicks all the time. Also, it's too long.
Then again, maybe the film is a metaphor for internet porn.

The G. I. Joes in The Price of Cobras (d. Stephen Sommers) - It is because of Sommers that one of the worst things in the world, Van Helsing, exists at all. Knowing this, I watched his G. I. Joe movie anyway, because, second-generation G. I. Joe fan that I was, I had a whole army of those little action figures, each with his or her (well, his) own combat specialty and codename and history and gun. I had two armies, even, what with Cobra and all. And I waged many a mighty battle as a young boy, battles which, in all honesty, I still remember certain specific moments from, and still remember fondly. So in the interest of nostalgia, I figured what the shit, and gave Sommers' movie a look. And I enjoyed it. Oh, it's stupid. Don't get me wrong -- it's dumb as a sack of lightbulbs. But it's fun. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the central action sequence, which takes place in Paris and involves a car chase, punching, shooting, nano-somethings, ninjas, and high-powered metal combat suits, is a blast. I was fairly stunned that this section of the movie had me as wrapped up as it did. It is precisely the kind of action setpiece that made me love summer movies, and the absence of which caused me to start hating them some years back. But, okay, yes, it's stupid. Yet I didn't care. There's a scene where the G. I. Joes are all in a giant robot shark, which is swimming towards Cobra's underwater lair, and only briefly did I think, "Robot shark?? The G. I. Joes actually made a robot shark submarine at some point, hoping it would come in handy down the road?" After thinking this, I then thought, "Yeah, okay." Sue me, but I had a good time.


Greg said...

Sue me, but I had a good time.

You'll be hearing from my lawyer... as soon as I find one that's free and doesn't take a cut. Just does it out of the kindness of his heart. And then you'll hear from him. When I find him.

Robot shark? Jesus that sounds stupid but I know what you mean. I've (we've) enjoyed stupid movies from time to time. Sometimes recognizing their awfulness up front helps. It also helps if they're on cable which you're already paying for so you didn't have to spend any extra money or anything on them. That's pretty much how I end up seeing all such stupid movies including almost all Nicolas Cage movies (National Treasure, Knowing).

But Van Helsing? We've talked about it before and brother, you're right. It's one of the worst things ever hoisted upon an unsuspecting humanity. There's a small part of me that actually believes he should serve some real prison time for that movie.

bill r. said...

Well, I got GI JOE on pay-per-view, but it was really exactly what I wanted it to be. It's one of those movies that shouldn't be any better than it is. It's just a good, exciting, dumb action movie. And that Paris bit is really great, despite some occasionally dodgy CGI. It's also one of those movies where the big action piece in the middle of the movie is far, FAR better than the climactic action scene. Theoretically, that one should be the real showstopper, but a lot of times the director runs out of steam after that first big sequence, and the end is kind of ordinary. There's a couple of nice moments at the end though.

But it's a stupid movie.

And yes, VAN HELSING is truly atrocious, junk of the absolute worst order. There's not a good second in that whole film. Great to laugh at, though.

Roderick Heath said...

Van Helsing...*shudder*...

Maybe we should institute an award for worst CGI sequence of the year. My vote for anno '09 is the utterly awful cliff diving in New Moon.

bill r. said...

Rod, why in the world did you go see that movie? This is twice in the same day that you've recounted your sorrow for having done so, but you must have known. You must have!

Also, I suddenly have an urge to see VAN HELSING again.

Wings1295 said...

Yeah, I had high hopes for THe Hills Run Red, too. And I was disappointed, too. Dang it.

Roderick Heath said...

I promised a friend I'd take her to see it. She was bored and I had to keep jamming my fist in my mouth.

No, resist the temptation, Bill, resist!

bill r. said...

Temptation successfully resisted.

John said...

Funnily enough, I felt the same way about The Hills Run Red, that exactly two things about it worked. But, of course, I had two different things in mind.

God, what a dull, dumb mess of a horror movie.

Brian Doan said...

Bill, I think my response to GI JOE was roughly the same as yours-- I also hated VAN HELSING (which a friend dubbed VAN CRAPPING) and approached JOE with great trepidation, but thought an ok cast and the overall "dumb fun" concept could overcome Sommers' numerous flaws. And I think it mostly did-- it was a goofy lark, and that Paris scene (as well as the scenes in the plane with Wayans, and some of the training stuff) are well-staged. Although he's not on screen enough, I think the movie benefits from the square-jawed presence of Dennis Quaid, an underrated actor who's great precisely because he gives himself to even the dumbest material like this without condescending to it. For me, the whole thing had the look and feel of an old 30s serial, blown up large but still maintaining its pleasing air of cheesiness.

My word verification is "amish," which strikes me as ironic on a blog.

bill r. said...

John - What did you think worked in THE HILLS RUN RED?

Brian - I largely agree with you about GI JOE, except, weirdly, what you say about Quaid. Weirdly, because I also like him, but he was in it so little, and when he did appear he seemed a little stiff. And not stiff in any sort of military way that might fit the character, but more in a "what exactly am I supposed to be doing again?" kind of way.

Also, I thought Brendan Fraser's cameo was unintentionally hilarious. I have nothing against Fraser -- he's a decent actor, he was really good in GODS AND MONSTERS, and so on -- and I know that his appearance here had everything to do with his connection to Sommers through those MUMMY movies, but still...did anyone get all excited because, holy shit, is that really Brendan Fraser!?!?

But everything else you say, yes, I agree with, particularly the comparison to an old serial. That was exactly the vibe I got, particularly with the robot shark.

Ed Howard said...

I don't know, when I hear "robot shark," I generally think of this. I imagine that's nothing like what's in G.I. Joe, though. Unfortunately.

Otherwise, I haven't seen any of these movies so I'll just say I really enjoyed your reviews.

bill r. said...

Ed - Thank you. But you're right, that is NOT the kind of shark featured in GI JANE IN EYES OF THE COBRA. That would have been something else, though.

Greg said...

My favorite robot shark is still the one in On Golden Pond, always will be.

David N said...

I enjoyed G.I Joe too, after loathing Van Helsing, which is one of those films so bad you are just reduced to a sort of stunned silence - you can't even really mock it, its awfulness defeats humour.

More than stupid, I think G.I Joe is silly. Transformers 2, say, but also Wolverine and Terminator Salvation, are stupid because they seem to take themselves moderately seriously. They have all the gaps in logic and badly written dialogue and cardboard characters of your average Summer movie, yet they seem bizarrely assured of themselves.

Sommers and his movie seem to know exactly what they're doing and there are even a few winks towards the audience - that Eiffel Tower sequence is surely a nod to Team America, which came from the same studio, no? - and an appealingly campy sense of fun to the whole thing, absent in the other films I mentioned above, all of which are grindingly serious in intent at least.

Plus the fight scene between the two little kids in GI Joe stunned me. It was ridiculously intense and features head butts and knives, which cracked me up. When did that become ok?

bill r. said...

Greg -

My favorite robot shark is still the one in On Golden Pond, always will be...

You mean Jane Fonda? Yeah, she was awesome.

David - Yeah, well, you nailed it. I should have written what you wrote. GI JOE is a perfectly silly movie, and even if you DID hate it (which I obviously didn't) you can't get too upset about it because, what the just wanted you to have a good time.

Then again, so did VAN HELSING, and I really am kind of mad about that one. Why is that? Maybe because I venerate the icons it was so ignorantly abusing far more than I do the plastic toys I used to enjoy pretending were shooting each other.

Plus the fight scene between the two little kids in GI Joe stunned me. It was ridiculously intense and features head butts and knives, which cracked me up. When did that become ok?...

Ha! But I didn't much care for the Snake Eyes backstory. I guess they needed something to tie him and Stormshadow together (I can type those names and not feel weird about it), but did it have to originate with food?

David N said...

Yeah, Snakes Eyes/Storm Shadow - deep breath - need their own movie.

There. I said it. Sequel? How much money did this one make?

Oh, and another thing. Cobra Commander is the best thing JG Levitt has ever done. Hilarious.

Ok, maybe I like him more in Brick. Just.

Brian Doan said...

Um, to be honest, I didn't even notice Fraser in the film. So I guess that cameo's effect went right by me (I like him as an actor, too).

I agree with you that Quaid isn't in the movie enough-- it might have been interesting to do this movie 20 years ago, and cast him in the Tatum role--but while I wouldn't disagree he's stiff in the film, I thought that sort of fit the character in an odd way. It's not his best performance at all, but I enjoyed it.

And this is why VAN HELSING pisses me off-- aside from Bill's excellent point about its mockery and misuse of horror icons, I just couldn't tell what was happening half of the time. I don't mean to sound like the "get off my lawn!" guy, and I often like quick, disjunctive editing that messes with space, but in an action movie? I kind of like to be able to follow the action. In JOE, Sommers (or someone feeding him Ritalin between shots) calms down enough to let the characters fight and flow through space in a more coherent way, and I think it's this ability to follow the action that makes the Paris scene so effective.

bill r. said...

Brian, yes, there was a really nice sense of geography in the Paris scene, as well as a good variety to the action. It was creative, and well planned out.