Sunday, September 28, 2014

single-scene reedus: pandorum and i'm losing you

Pandorum: (2009. dir: Christian Alvart) It's a darkly-lit, quickly-paced, sci-fi psychological thriller, and monsters come included in the package. Probably it belongs loosely in a category with Alien and Pitch Black, but also with a foot set firmly in Moon territory. If it fails ultimately to satisfy, the fault lies with its method of communicating the onset of madness: filming with quick cuts and from strange angles a man moving fast and erratically, giving a beetle-like effect, coupled with the usual "I'm mad! I'm mad!" grins and grimaces. Unfortunately, enough of it is included in the climactic scenes that it's hard to hold the tension; it crosses into unintentional humor.

Outside of that, I can't find much to fault it, as long as you're willing to exercise your suspension-of-disbelief muscles some, but it's hard to get excited about it, either. The monsters are a sort of nefarious cross between orcs and Firefly reivers, and waking disoriented from suspended animation on a long space voyage is a brilliant device for setting up ongoing horror and doubt. Ben Foster is the lead, and there's something inherently creepy about him, which plays well when we're trying to figure out the good guys from the bad, but in the end it's hard to fully buy his nice-guy act.

I just watched this movie about half a year ago, and I honestly didn't remember Reedus was in it, so I watched it again. There he is, in one great scene, a member of the flight crew on this vast, crippled, chaos-riddled ship, living in the throes of ongoing terror and privation, when our newly-roused hero runs across him. He gives us a full five minutes of nothing but varying degrees of panic, dread, and psychic anguish. When I watch him in something like this, or Red Canyon, in which he's so fully assured in his task, it makes me think that his failures come when directors fail simply to give him enough to do. When he has a pointed task to accomplish, or a heightened enough emotional state to explore, he never sets a foot wrong. It's in the meandering movies in which he stumbles, when the stakes aren't high enough, the emotional demands diffused. Maybe the director's hand is too weak to guide him. Or maybe he just gets bored.

Rating: two and a half stars
Reedus Factor: two and a half stars

I'm Losing You: (1998. dir: Bruce Wagner) Unapologetic melodrama, leavened some by Jewish mysticism, set amongst the Hollywood elite and its offspring. (Wagner is the guy who wrote the screenplay for Cronenberg's new and controversial, anti-Hollywood acid-scather, Maps to the Stars.)

The best part is that there's some interesting talk about menstruation, a subject infrequently addressed on the silver screen. Reedus is going down on the Rosanna Arquette character until interrupted by, well, menstruation. She says to him, "Older men like the blood," to which he retorts, horrified, "Well, then, go fuck an old guy." As he's leaving, she laughs and says, "Don't go away mad. Just go away." Those two lines of hers, taken together, are some of the most startling and unexpectedly delightful I've heard from an onscreen woman's mouth in some time. Reedus' unnamed boytoy character (she avoids introducing him properly to her brother and niece as he's leaving, and after he's gone, refers to him as the plumber) really only exists to more sharply delineate her, and then he vanishes, nameless, no doubt to find a less complicated woman, leaving her to her philosophical musings and the crowd of whispering voices in her head.

This movie is a kind of a familial soap-opera fortress from which one stands protected whilst staring at death: the main characters are a grown brother (Andrew McCarthy) and adoptive sister (Arquette) whose father (Frank Langella), the wealthy producer of a Trek-ish type sci-fi TV franchise, is dying. Death, in fact, is omnipresent. The dead and dying and death-obsessed pile up in heaps before the end. This film-maker wants you to think about it, the shuffling off of the mortal coil, but his attitude can pretty much be summed up in the fact that the AIDS-stricken Elizabeth Perkins character is in the story as long as she's still beautiful and well-coiffed, but tastefully leaves the screen before crumbling into the unsightly grotesquery of her death-throes. In short, this guy wants you to think about death, poetically and philosophically, but he doesn't trust you to deal with its physical realities.

Rating: one and a half stars
Reedus Factor: one and a half stars

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

norman reedus film festival: night of the templar


(2012. dir: Paul Sampson) Aristotle said, "If one listens to the wrong kind of music, he will become the wrong kind of person." If there'd been cinema back then, he'd have included it in his caution, and I'm beginning to wonder if, as I dig down into the dregs of Reedus' resume, I might be slowly mutating into some older, more troglodyte form. Certainly I'm cursing more than I used to. That's all preamble to my warning to you: even the keenest Reedus fans may have some trouble with this one.

You know how sometimes at a party someone will ask what what was the worst movie that you ever saw? and the question covers too much ground, it's too huge, you can't even begin to answer it? I'm not saying this is the worst movie I've ever seen, but I guarantee it'll be one of the select which pop into my head next time someone asks.

First of all, it's a vanity project. This guy Paul Sampson wrote it, directs it, stars in it. That should set off your crap-detector right there. Nobody but Woody Allen should try all three at once, and, for the last thirty years, not even him. We'll allow Warren Beatty his Reds, and Orson Welles his Citizen Kane, but those pieces of genius are the exceptions, not the rule.

It's a double story, jumping back and forth in time. It begins in the 14th century, with a band of Crusaders led by their own Percival, a blood-smeared, holier-than-all-of-thou guy named Gregoire. Lord Morris (possibly Maurice?) McGuirk Gregoire of Reading, to be exact. Reading is in England, not far from London; Ethelred and Alfred the Great fought the Vikings there in the 9th century, and lost. McGuirk is an Anglicized version of a Gaelic name which shows up in Scotland and Ireland from the late 13th century. So is this cat Scottish (and,if so, what's he doing in Reading, for crying out loud?) or did his family come over from France with the Conqueror? he has a modern American accent, with some Bronx in it, I think, although he tries to soften it by throwing in the odd "'tis"; he says "pureness" when he means "purity" and "prophesized" instead of "prophesied". I don't know. I'm just saying.

Anyway, you have a band of Templars, some of whom turn treacherous, sell their souls in exchange for "ten lifetimes of excess," assassinating poor, pure Gregoire in the meantime, who vows, with his dying words, to return at the end of the allotted lifespans to wreak his vengeance upon each and every one. The other half of the story is set in modern day, in a medieval castle, where the reincarnation of Gregoire has been hired as "events coordinator" for an assemblage of disparate folks gathered to experience the Weekend of Their Dreams. Never mind that the dream of one is to rape all the women, which might easily interfere with the dreams of the women. None of that matters, because in truth these are the reincarnated Judas-Templars at the end of their given stretch, and it's time to pay the righteously angry piper.

This is where things get dodgy. First of all, we're on theologically shaky ground, since Thomas Aquinas will tell you (with rage in his voice) that the Catholic Church holds no truck with metempsychosis, and the Templars were unequivocally Catholic soldiers, so what's up with the reincarnation? unless you want to argue the Templars were worshipping some other god, like the notorious Baphomet, or belonged to some Manichean strain of pseudo-Christian heresy, but it's evident from the basics of the story as told that these good Knights certainly thought they were fighting for the Pope and the Catholic Church.

Alright, that's nitpicking, granted. The real crux of the moral problem lies elsewhere: since only a few of the victims recall their true identities and so know they're walking into battle, what we end up with is the piecemeal slaughter of unarmed women and weaklings. Henry Flesh (Reedus) is one of the latter. He's a sensualist (ie: a chain-smoking, sex-fiend, rapist guy who enjoys some kind of "animal thing" which is never explained), a fellow who's looking for a big fuckfest and who winds up instead on the skewery end of a Crusader sword, splattered all over the barkdust. Is that really holy revenge? Ten incarnations past the wrongdoing, defenceless and unprepared, and the wrath of God descends in the form of a hardened warrior to, what, cut a woman's throat while she's drawing a bath? What kind of God is this, again? I don't know. I'm just saying.

I'm talking about these things because I don't know what else to talk about. Some movies make you feel like a bully just for reviewing them, because they're so far subpar they don't even count as real movies.

To his credit, Reedus throws himself with glee and enthusiasm into the role. He's wearing old-school Keds on his feet, or are they Converse All-Stars? it's endearing, and kind of funny, and they figure into his death scene. He gets to say things like, "You see her? I'm gonna do some dirty shit to that one," and, during a blow-job, he takes off his belt and wraps it around his neck, which would normally seem an inspired choice, except that this is David Carradine's last movie, and so it seems creepy instead.

I want you to wrap your mind around that. This was David Carradine's last hurrah. What kind of foul luck is that?

Rating: zero stars
Reedus Factor: one and a half stars

Saturday, September 20, 2014

norman reedus film festival: red canyon


(2008. dir: Giovanni Rodriguez) A van full of partying college kids heads out into the desert, into Bofuck, Nowhere, where two of the kids, a brother and sister, have rights to an abandoned and dilapidated family home. After some ominous encounters with unfriendly locals, the law, a vicious dog, and decrepit tunnels, the kids have a nice picnic and go home.

Kidding! Actually, they get picked off, one by one, beheaded and impaled and eviscerated and such, during a night of extreme terror. And the town is not really called Bofuck, Nowhere, but Cainsville, which gives you a hint right off the bat about some pending revelations. Most twists of the "mystery" are pretty easy to guess, and, indeed, the "mystery" is not really the point, is it? The point is that we all get to watch some uppity kids suffer and die! Wahoo. Good times.

The story is that some years earlier the siblings had endured an ordeal in a nearby "partying" cave, an incident which the girl has never been able to remember clearly or to move beyond. Apparently the moral here is that sometimes opening old wounds doesn't so much lead to healing as, well, opening newer and possibly fatal wounds. It wasn't just the two kids affected, either, but the whole town. As the Reedus character puts it, "What happened in the cave that day fucked us all."

Reedus is Mac, the cold-bloodedest sociopath you'll ever see, and he brings him roaring to life with his usual panache and with total commitment. You remember in the Deuces Wild review when I said that if he'd played the character five years later, it'd have been better? This is what I meant. This character also has not one ounce of the good kind of humanity in him, he is the Utter Embodiment of Malevolence, same as that other guy, but in this one he storms onscreen full-bore, no quarter given, and you never doubt he's a full-bodied person. You can taste his sweat in your mouth as soon as he walks onscreen.

It was filmed in the badlands of Utah, so the scenery is strange and gorgeous. The Climactic Reveal flashbacks are edited so that you can't exactly tell what's happening, which kind of negates the point of a Climactic Reveal, if you ask me, and one of the characters speaks with so heavy an accent they subtitle him, which is distracting and a little odd. And, OK, whatever happened to the venerated slasher film tradition of the Last Girl's ultimate triumph? All of the men in this movie exist solely to kill or be killed, and the women exist solely to be raped and die. Does all this add up to a good time for somebody?

Rating: two and a (reluctant) half stars
Reedus Factor: three and a half stars

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

norman reedus film festival: the bad seed

(2000. dir: Jon Bokenkamp) This movie is fundamentally flawed, at its core, and then again at nearly every layer up to its skin. The editing is bad, the pacing is off, the music is intrusive and godawful. In other hands, it might have been an interesting psychological thriller. Maybe. But it's another one of those plots predicated on a woman A) dying B) being idealized and C) existing solely to instigate a cycle of violence among men. (See Sand, for instance, which distributes the three conditions among two women, but both exist solely for the one purpose. Or A Crime, in fact, fits the same bill, although it redeems itself through strong direction and by employing a living, flawed, active woman as its main character and internal dynamo.)

The basic premise is this: a woman tells her husband she's been having an affair, but it's over. He storms out of the house, and when he returns, she is dead. After that, the ex-lover and the husband set about trying to kill each other while the cops are after them both.

Much of the dialogue and feeling-tone of the movie (set in Tacoma, in the rain) can be summed up in the statement (I'm paraphrasing, of course) "Women. Can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em. Oh, wait, maybe you can." It's about men being abandoned by women and how they deal with their anger and grieving. That's what it wants to be about, anyway, but instead it pretends to be an action movie, with chase scenes, then fight scenes, then chase scenes, then fight scenes, few of them compellingly captured. It's got a three man cast: Luke Wilson is fully bemused in the nice-guy-in-a-trap role that Edward G. Robinson used to play in the old noirs, Dennis Farina gives a game effort as the private dick he hires to help him, but it always feels like he's a character in a television drama, and Reedus is surprisingly miscast and one-dimensional as the jilted lover of the dead woman.

The role as written calls for a young (or emotionally-stunted, anyway) man who's led an entirely sheltered life, devoting the bulk of it to caring for his damaged brother while working in a bakery. The dead woman is the only adventure he's ever known, and this is the fiery internal furnace which fuels his homicidal rage at her loss. The trouble is, Reedus is too streetwise to come across that way. In order to make it work, we need some of the innocent-Reedus we saw in Six Ways to Sunday or Gossip, and he's just not here. When the husband reads the lover's old diary, the wow-I-got-a-girlfriend entries are absurd coming from the jaded, even world-weary Reedus.

In the end, there's some sweetness to the melancholy, but it's not in the saccharine places the script-writer wanted them, which were at the bus-stop, in the jail visiting room, and in the cemetery. Those are all clumsy and unaffecting. Without giving too much away, the sweetness comes from Reedus' face at the gas station, when the actor's world-surfeited persona finally melds with his character's emotional exhaustion.

Rating: two stars
Reedus Factor: two stars

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

norman reedus film festival: sand

(2000. dir: Matt Palmieri) Here's a hypothetical situation: you live a quiet life in a mellow, surfside town with your beach-bum pals. Two cokeheaded, trailer-trash douchebags (John Hawkes and Rodney Eastman) show up from the desert and try to rape your beloved sister. You take the toughest of your beach-bum pals, find the malefactors and fuck them up, really humiliate them. Then, once recovered, the aforesaid douchebags catch you alone on the beach. They pull a couple of Glocks (maybe not Glocks, but some kind of badassed weaponry) on you and, just as they're getting ready to dust your sorry ass, your surfer buddy Trip (played by Emilio Estevez) shows up swinging a piece of driftwood and knocks them both cold.

This is my question: what do you do next? Do you
A) take their guns to the cops and tell your story, trusting that you'll get the benefit of the doubt over these obvious criminal low-lifes, or
B) take their guns and destroy them? perhaps you might throw them in the ocean, or bury them someplace unobtrusive, or even disassemble them and distribute the pieces throughout various dumpsters in town, or
C) have a laugh with your friend Trip and leave the lethal weapons lying next to the now-twice-humiliated, violence-prone douchebags, assuming they won't bother you anymore?

If you chose option C, you're of the same mindset as Jack (Norman Reedus), which is really kind of sad for both of you.

Sand looks like it wants to become a love story, but it doesn't, and the eponymous girl (Kari Wuhrer) actually turns out to be a lesser character. She has a few good scenes in which she comes to life, but in the end you might be forgiven for mistaking her for a gussied-up plot device. In truth, this is the story of how men kick the bejesus out of each other while citing women as the excuse, and how you can tell the bad ones from the good because the bad blame women for their problems, whereas the good blame the fucked-up male side of their family.

Whoever this Matt Palmieri guy is, he has some friends in the business. (And now that I'm looking at his bio on IMDB, I can see why.) He gets people like Harry Dean Stanton to take tiny non-roles. He hires Denis Leary to do his motor-mouthed jive-talk thing, depending on it to carry too many scenes. There are way too many endless partying improvisations, his cameraman doesn't know when it's appropriate to pull in for a close-up, and there's a protracted near-rape scene which was probably majorly improvised or it wouldn't have gone on so long, as if the director, and then the editor, got really impressed by what the actors were coming up with and didn't want to cheat us out of a single moment. There's also Jon Lovitz and Julie Delpy who are just plain awful as bickering motel-owners. There's so much wrong with this movie, it's hard to know where to start and how to proceed, how to rate what's most important in the wrongheadedness.

But it carries a heap of refulgence, as well. Lots of good music playing while the camera watches an old Ford drive down Highway 1, and the colors of the whole thing are vivid and lovely, stunningly lit. David Baerwald (remember that one-hit-record band David & David? Alright, you're probably too young) is in charge of the music, and that works to the good. In fact, Palmieri leans too much weight on that, too, expecting it to carry long segments and segueways and one particular b&w memory sequence which he just LOVES and sticks on perpetual, annoying repeato-loop mode.

Jack is the kind of role a lot of actors would have suffered some difficulty over, having to reconcile that he truly is a nice, good-hearted kid with his switchover (well-motivated, granted) into a ferocity of violence. Not Reedus, though. This is the kind of apparent contradiction at which he excels. His vastness easily encompasses this dichotomy; in fact, he specializes in it.

Rating: one and a half stars
Reedus Factor: three stars

Sunday, September 14, 2014

norman reedus sick and twisted double feature

Six Ways to Sunday: (1997. dir: Adam Bernstein) Whoa! Sick and twisted! It feels justified in styling itself a dark comedy because its tongue is shoved so far into its cheek that its face is deformed. Certainly it's not comic in the sense that it tries to use humor at all. The only laughs it wants from you are the shock-value groans inspired by the grossness or vulgarity or unbearable moments of awkwardness or sudden violence. It's not the lowest form of comedy, I guess, but it's probably the least enjoyable one.

This is a modern gangster story about a young man with severe Oedipal problems who, between his long-suffocated rage and a peculiar sexual peccadillo which demands that he commit violence in order to get hard, finds that he possesses unusually strong talents as a hitman. Technically, the movie is well done, with fine acting, editing, camera work, and particularly good lighting. Reedus is especially well photographed, showcasing his subtlety of facial gesture to great effect. He gives us a believable character arc, from graceless boy to suave assassin who turns back into a clumsy kid when his mom is around.

If there is a weak link in the cast, it's Deborah Harry in a thankless turn as the predatory, maternal harridan. She has good moments and bad, but it's a tough role, with an absolute zero chance of garnering the smallest sliver of audience sympathy, and absolute zero chance any of us will ever relax in her presence. All we, the audience, can do is tense up and endure until she's off the screen and we can loosen up a little with some more prettily-colored ultraviolence.

It's a story which finds its pleasure in flaunting its perversity. At the end, young Harry (Reedus) says, "I didn't come out clean. I took a bath, but I didn't come out clean." And that about sums it up. I feel exactly the same way.

Rating: two stars
Reedus Factor: five stars


8mm: (1999. dir: Joel Schumacher) My heart always sinks when I'm watching the opening credits roll and I see the words, "directed by Joel Schumacher." Still, although he has a penchant for taking a potential piece of gold and making shit of it, he also has a way of taking a piece of shit and making... not gold, exactly, but a less stinky piece of shit, anyway. I like his editing on this one (by frequent collaborator Mark Stevens). Very smooth, and the camera movement, too, smooth and creeping without drawing attention to itself. Schumacher loves building up tension in a scene the cheating way, through the use of bombast-music. Although it's a dirty trick and I hate it, I have to admit he (along with his collaborators) knows how to do it well. Then there's one great, climactic scene in which a death metal record comes to a screeching halt and the tension is built by the sound of the phonograph needle stuck and repeating in that end groove. Very nice.

As far as the story goes, though, why does anyone think it's a good idea to make a picture like this? Why would anyone pour money into it? It wasn't a good idea when Schrader made Hardcore, why would it be now? A billion-dollar movie fixated on showing us the inner workings of the snuff-porn industry? Who exactly was the audience for this?

This is the gist of it: an apparent snuff film is found in the private safe of a dead tycoon; his grieving widow hires a private dick (Nicolas Cage) to trace it, find out if it's real, hoping that it's not. He follows the trail of a missing girl to Hollywood and delves into its seedy underworld, risking the loss of his soul, just as George C. Scott before him. The moral of the piece is succinctly spoken early on by Joaquin Phoenix's Max, a wonderfully, drily funny kid working in a porn store: "You dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change. He changes you." So we delve further and further into the world of porn and potential snuff, hanging out with dirtbags played by James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare and Chris Bauer, all having a whale of a good time.

But first, we see Norman Reedus in his single scene. He's a kid whose dreams have prematurely died and his heart with it, a cold-blooded, nasty-talking kid doing a dime in the state pen for a B&E. Reedus knows just what to do with it, but we only get him for a few minutes.

After that, it's a matter of following along as the self-righteous vigilante violence gathers steam. There's a saving grace, in that Cage has that great, broken-looking, dissolute face and at the end, when he's bravely smiling at his wife and daughter, who are the only reason he didn't lose his soul entirely, the smile is so brittle and threadbare that we are willing to overlook the fact that this just barely escapes being, as I so recently described a different Reedus vehicle, "a prurient pile of crap masked as hardcore piety."

Rating: two and a half stars, creeping up on three
Reedus Factor: two stars

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

norman reedus film festival: a crime


(2006. dir: Manuel Pradal) At a skin-surface viewing, the story looks so precariously balanced on such a massive and untenable coincidence that it invites rejection. It's not, though: Pradal makes it clear early and throughout that this agitated, eruptive piece of film-making is, first and last, a sort of aching ode to Fate, to the workings of the Dharma and how it employs humans and human obsession as tools with which to manifest itself, to recreate balance. It's about reaping what you sow, about the total impossibility of escape, not only from the consequences of your own actions, as embodied in the boomerang which Harvey Keitel's cab-driver so lovingly hones and wields, but also from the repercussions of occurrences thrust upon you.

It's another three-human piece: Reedus is Vincent, a man suffering a perpetual uproar of grieving over his murdered wife, Emmanuelle Beart is the drunken neighbor, fixated on him and determined to arrange his emotional closure, and Keitel is the fall guy she seduces to her purpose. The thing Pradal does best is to give these actors plenty of space in and around the dialogue, room in which to move into fullness and life, and they do. It conjures some of the best from Reedus, who communicates wonderful things just through breathing, stillness and watching. There is a long and electric sequence, mostly wordless, in which Vincent sets up the man he is certain murdered his wife. Once his prey is in his power, he drives at night to a riverside, a wild place. There, he hesitates, retreats into the brush and we see him, lying still and silent, completely on fire with triumph and anticipation and a sort of incredulity that his dream of vengeance is coming true. It's a breathtaking moment.

The second half of the film drags some, but it's interesting to watch Alice (Beart), once she has achieved her own dream at such terrible expense, enjoying the companionship of the man she has so long desired. There's a hint of Adele H. in it: she seemed so much more alive when she was actively yearning for him, and, once he's in her arms, it seems she has to dampen herself, that her joy becomes an enforced mask behind which she hides. When she at last sets out on her final trek to finish redressing the wrong, it is not with Vincent that she shares a protracted, emotional, and loving farewell, but with his dog, the beloved Vickie, itself a symbol of both characters' ongoing blood-quest to bring the killer to recompense (Vincent's wife had bought the puppy the day she died, and Vincent races it, sort of feverishly, living off its meager third-place winnings).

"A love from hell," the cab-driver calls his relations with Alice, and the whole movie is sort of a chthonian love-song to the city, raising urban angst-scapes into hard, cement-gray life. When Alice and the cab-driver make love, wordlessly, in his subterranean flat with the subway trains thundering past, there's something infernal and awesome about it.

Rating: three and a half stars
Reedus Factor: five stars

(photo courtesy of fanzone50: