Inferno

inferno-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 28, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: David Koepp

Directed by: Ron Howard

Ron Howard is a fairly prolific filmmaker, having maintained a schedule of roughly a film every two years throughout a 40-plus-year long directorial career. He’s not quite Woody Allen but his oeuvre is extensive enough to suggest the guy just likes staying busy, and it certainly explains his involvement with fluffy B-movie action schlock like Inferno.

Howard’s third cinematic translation of Dan Brown’s popular thrillers is pretty much business as usual as it once again follows Tom Hanks‘ Professor Langdon on a globetrotting adventure in search of some historical artifact/macguffin that becomes a particular point of interest, stringing along a female companion who goes from being incidental to the plot to playing a significant role in the way the mystery unfolds. Inferno shares in its predecessors’ sense of reckless abandon, often falsifying or embellishing historical fact for the sake of advancing (or even resolving) the conflict the world’s most famous symbolist finds himself in.

Unlike in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons our trusted Harvard prof starts off in between a rock and a hard place, waking up in a hospital bloodied and completely oblivious to the events of the last several days. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) informs him that he has temporary amnesia as a result of a bullet grazing his head. While trying to make sense of the moment, a member of La Polizia Municipale shows up on the scene and it quickly becomes clear she’s not here for questioning. The pair manage to escape to the doctor’s apartment, where she immediately demands answers.

Dr. Brooks’ apartment is where our adventure begins in earnest. An unlikely starting point, but that’s part of what makes these films entertaining. Langdon remains an unreliable protagonist for much of the first half of the film, his inability to shake visions of what appears to be Hell on Earth making for a refreshing change of pace from the infallible history geek he usually is. It’s no coincidence that the film begins with a fire-and-brimstone lecture delivered by billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zubrist (Ben Foster) on the matter of mankind’s imminent demise. His extreme views — he essentially plans to halve the global population by releasing a virus, the Inferno virus, in a popular tourist location — position him as the film’s obvious antagonist, but the story takes an unexpected turn when he commits suicide.

Langdon finds himself caught in a race against time when he learns that the maniac has left a trail of breadcrumbs for someone else to follow. The clues begin with something Langdon finds on his person, a pocket-sized digital device that has the image of Dante’s Map of Hell stored inside. From there they bounce between the crowds of Florence and Istanbul, having to contend with the interests of other organizations like the World Health Organization and shady underground entities like Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan)’s Consortium, a private security firm. These people have their own, equally convoluted agendas. Double-crossers like Omar Sy’s Christopher Bouchard only serve to make matters more complicated.

Along the way the familiar beats are delivered: a few twists, some pulse-pounding chase sequences, a lot of conveniently timed revelations and of course an inconveniently timed betrayal. All of this would have resulted in some fairly entertaining viewing, but unfortunately Inferno becomes bogged down by a plethora of technical issues that consistently undermine the film’s raison d’être, which is to provide easily digestible, easily disposable entertainment. We haven’t witnessed a production so disorganized and incoherent since Howard attempted to mount a sophisticated kind of situational comedy in the baffling and underwhelming The Dilemma.

Here, Howard almost comes across amateurish: Inferno‘s direction is spastic and, well, directionless; action set pieces are rushed and largely forgettable while the fundamental reason we are all here — the fun in solving the puzzle (possibly well ahead of the characters) — is all but sidelined in favor of an obsession with style and adrenaline-spiking editing. It gets to the point where many of the scenes depicting Langdon’s mental anguish feel like they’re sampled from a tutorial in iMovie. Those flourishes also present far too often, disrupting whatever flow the narrative is able to build while Hans Zimmer’s score is little more than a collection of uninspired electronic sound samples whose cacophonous presence only compounds the headache.

Suspension of disbelief has always been requisite of this franchise, whether you’re turning pages or experiencing Howard’s interpretation of them. You usually have to take these pseudo-intellectual adventures with a grain of salt, but Inferno will demand you swallow the entire damn jar. Hanks’ predictably amiable performance and some fun supporting performances, namely Khan’s scenery chewing, almost — ALMOST — make that kind of dry mouth worth it, but not quite.

inferno

Recommendation: Inferno‘s slapdash construction gives the impression it was thrown together last-minute. Absolutely a lesser Ron Howard film and perhaps one of his worst. The things I can recommend about it are basically limited to Tom Hanks and Irrfan Khan. Maybe Felicity Jones. These three seem to give it their all but the story around them and some atrocious editing sadly let them down. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “The greatest sins in human history were committed in the name of love.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Hell-Bent

'Hell-Bent' movie poster

Release: Monday, May 23, 2016 (YouTube)

[YouTube]

Written by: Shayne Kamat; Lorenzo Cabello

Directed by: Foster Vernon


The following piece is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. Thank you James for giving me the chance to talk about this new film student production.


Hell-Bent is clearly the product of film student passion and represents something of an experimental comedy, one that unfortunately becomes too silly for its own good and struggles to justify the half-hour runtime.

The premise is nothing if not inventive. It involves a writer named Michael (Justin Andrew Davis) working at a fictional magazine called Brimstone and who is struggling to find confidence in himself. When the editor makes available an assistant editor position Michael finds himself in a cutthroat competition with his fellow writers, namely the overconfident and unnecessarily bitchy Beth (Ashley Kelly) to get a pay raise. Goodness knows it’d make paying the rent easier for Michael.

He does a little poking around for any local stories of interest and quickly finds one. Turns out, the older lady who works with them has a pretty interesting private life. When he goes over to her house one day he discovers a pentagram drawn on her basement floor. Agatha (Leslie Lynn Meeker) casually explains this is where she summons up a demon whenever she needs some company. She demonstrates, speaking gibberish until actor Steven Trolinger, painted head-to-toe in red paint, pops up out of nowhere. He’s Ricky, and he’s evil. We know this because he has a really foul mouth and likes being a nuisance.

At first Michael is terrified but soon realizes he has the perfect idea for his next article. He’ll write about the “good in evil” that he’s found, and will go into detail about how one of Brimstone Magazine’s own has made a pact to be homies with the Darkness. Meanwhile, Beth is on an office tear and making fun of everyone else’s attempts to come up with their best story. It’s a matter of time before she publicly decries Michael’s story as garbage, too.

That she’s supremely confident the promotion is already hers leaves one wondering whether the overacting is an indictment of people in the industry or that it’s showing certain people just seem like they were born to go to hell (also see: Timothy J. Cox as the douche-mitten of an editor Mr. Bowers). The script may not exactly be subtle but it’s still not really clear which it is. Oh well, let’s just agree that everyone at work seems to suck; that Michael’s only real friends seem to be a woman who is friends with some of Satan’s crew and that the paint splattered on Ricky is pretty sloppy. (We can see it’s in his hair.)

Hell-Bent is written, edited and lensed by Fairleigh Dickinson University film student Shayne Kamat. Direction is provided by newcomer Foster Vernon. The whole enterprise has a loose comedic dynamic to it that helps us overlook the amateurish execution of plot and some cringe-inducing acting. It’s the kind of fun you have to take lightly and not think twice about, because the second thought will invariably draw attention to the limitations that a virtually nonexistent budget, one largely generated by the filmmakers’ IndieGogo fundraising campaign, ensures.

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Recommendation: Hell-Bent is a strange experiment designed to parody genre features centered around the occult but it’s not very successful. It’s a short film that doesn’t have much of an identity but given the lack of experience both in front of and behind the camera, I can forgive it a little easier. Motivational and inspiring enough for students who are figuring out just what it is they want to with their careers but not much else.  

Rated: NR

Running Time: 26 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . . ]

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.youtube.com

Baskin

'Baskin' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 25, 2016 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Can Evrenol; Ogulcan Eren Akay; Cem Ozuduru; Ercin Sadikoglu

Directed by: Can Evrenol


This review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. It’s another underground foreign film that I have heard few, but interesting, things about and I’d like to thank James for the opportunity to talk about it.


Eye-gougings. Keyholes in foreheads. Buckets of frogs and portals to Hell. Welcome to the mad, blood-soaked world of Baskin, the debut feature from Can Evrenol, one of only eight Turkish films ever to receive distribution in North America. If you want the truth, there’s no good way to prepare yourself for the craziness that awaits once you decide to enter, and given its incredibly nasty conclusion, perhaps only the most ardent of gore hounds will emerge unscathed from the visceral stylings of this extended version of Evrenol’s 2013 short film of the same name.

Baskin (Turkish for “police raid”) centers around a squad called upon for back-up at a remote location where they encounter a scene so shocking it puts even the most heinous of FBI and DEA crime scenes to shame, a blood-splattered dungeon inhabited by the film’s big bad, a satanic cult leader referred to as Father Baba (Mehmet Cerrahoglu, whose rare skin condition mostly affords the character his creepiness). This nameless pit is an infinitely grim place where torture and misery run rampant and to which the majority of the production budget was clearly funneled. Unfortunately it’s also one of the only bright spots in a film constantly drowning in its own mess.

Thematically, it’s tough to get a sense of what Evrenol is trying to convey here. (Satanic cults are hazardous to your health; try to stay away from them, mmmmmkay?) Overt religious imagery does not on its own constitute thematic depth or innovation. Granted, not every horror flick has an obligation to deliver the goods in symbolic fashion, but if they have any interest in staying competitive, they must then rely much more heavily upon the novelty of the story being told, not to mention whatever evil lurks in the shadows. In the case of Baskin, the story’s not quite solid enough to justify the work we have to put in to make sense of what’s going on. As for the villain? More on that later.

One of the cops in this group is the young Arda (Gorkem Kasal), who to this day struggles to overcome haunting memories from his childhood. He possesses some kind of telepathic ability that’s never properly explained, giving Evrenol free range to implement extremely interruptive flashbacks that kill the momentum being built in the present. If it’s Arda’s perspective from which we’re meant to derive any meaning here, it’s not established enough to make any impact. If we’re meant to be watching this all play out from the otherwise omniscient camera angles, those aren’t employed effectively enough either. In short, we’re left with a confused point of view that doesn’t improve even when we descend into what appear to be the bowels of the Underworld.

If there’s one thing Baskin excels at it’s shock value. The violence is so great so as to threaten comedy, but fortunately it stays on just the right side of exploitative. Torture never descends into parody, though it’s so nasty you’re desperate to force out a fake chuckle or two. At the heart of the evil is Cerrahoglu’s hooded Father figure, a vile creature who explains to his captives that Hell isn’t necessarily some place you go to. It’s “something you carry with you” at all times. Father Baba is an unequivocal nightmare, one of the more original-looking and genuinely terrifying villains in recent memory. James Wan may conjure up some good scares in his haunted houses but he could learn a thing or two about creating truly nasty baddies.

Indeed, if there’s any real takeaway from the chaos that becomes Baskin‘s slide into total depravity it’s that first-time actor Cerrahoglu has a promising future, should he decide to pursue acting further. He makes for a truly unsettling presence in a film that struggles to create much in the way of suspense and intrigue. There are some interesting ideas at play, including telepathy, but none of it is capitalized on with a story that prefers ambiguity over logic and coherence.

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Recommendation: Baskin is somewhat of an extreme film, though comparisons to contemporary boundary-pushers like Gaspar Noé and Tom Six might be in themselves extreme. Can Evrenol’s film certainly can be looked at as a depressing, nihilistic work and its denouement gives viewers the same sense of hopelessness that John Carpenter’s The Thing gave audiences decades ago. Though this is neither body horror nor the kind of dread-inducing cauldron that Carpenter’s picture has been cemented in history as, nor is it quite as gross as Human Centipede, Baskin sits somewhere in the middle — a purgatory of nastiness that is likely going to struggle to find a fanbase. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 97 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hell and Back

'Hell and Back' movie poster

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015

[Netflix]

Written by: Tom Gianas; Hugh Sterbakov; Zeb Wells

Directed by: Tom Gianas; Ross Shuman

Hell and Back is the result of a very goofy experiment. It manifests as Tom Gianas and Ross Shuman’s crude mash-up of Beavis and Butthead‘s juvenile sense of humor with Team America‘s suggestive (offensive?) usage of stop-motion animation.

The long and short of it? If you’re a fan of things like South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut or even just the episodes of the show where Satan plays a prominent role in the narrative, this gleefully profane trip to the bowels of the underworld is going to be right up your alley. You probably won’t even mind the fact that ultimately the farcical adventure succumbs to being just too stupid — most of the time you’ll be so caught up in the visual oddity, the spectacle of buffoonery that it really is, that you will have missed the memo about anything making sense here.

Three . . . I guess you could call them friends . . . work at a shabby theme park that is about to be foreclosed upon due to its being just a total POS. There’s the hipster/punk Remy (Nick Swardson), chubby Augie (T.J. Miller) and the conniving Curt (Rob Riggle) who is really good at bumming things without paying back. When he once again callously thieves a mint from Remy after taking a blood oath, he finds himself getting dragged down to hell via a portal that opens up in the tent of the bizarre Madame Zonar. Remy and Augie chase after him by jumping in to the same portal.

The sooner you accept this development as the catalyst for the rest of your viewing entertainment, the better, because Hell and Back is very adept at upping the ante when it comes to the bizarre. Hell is depicted as a (spoiler alert) miserable place where souls are tortured without mercy, and Satan (Bob Odenkirk) rules like a badass while trying to impress the beautiful Angel Barb (Susan Sarandon). This is a world filled with degenerates and supreme underachievers . . . and H. Jon Benjamin-voiced trees that happen to be sex offenders. On the matter of torture, it can be hard to watch: there’s the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut split restaurant where you can’t buy pizza, only Taco Bell products; neapolitan ice cream is available but only the strawberry flavor and the escalators don’t work so you have to use them like stairs.

The adventure pits Remy and Augie against hell’s aggressive demons and myriad other dangers but they also find assistance in the form of Mila Kunis’ Deema. With her the pair set off to find Orpheus (Danny McBride), a Greek legend who can remove mortals from the depths of hell. They believe he’s their only hope of finding Curt and escaping with their lives. Unfortunately when they encounter him Orpheus is loathe to help as he claims to have retired from the game of saving mortals. (More on his story if you so choose to watch this film, but I won’t ruin it here.)

Hell and Back is a patently absurd production, and the deeper we venture into it the more the guys behind this seem to revel in the weirdness. Though it lacks a lot of the really pointed criticisms of contemporary society that Trey Parker and Matt Stone infuse their work with, this collaborative script is a relentless parody of Biblical cliché where the jokes (and swear words) flow freely and the visuals complement the material disturbingly appropriately.

When it comes to the impact of said jokes this is certainly a case of quantity over quality but that’s not to the complete detriment of the film as a lot of them land and land hard. A superb range of voice talent brings a ridiculous cast of characters to life, and while the story does sag like something I can’t mention here, when all is said and done, reveling in the weirdness is just too fun.

Curt chillin with Satan

Recommendation: Fans of Beavis and Butthead, South Park and Family Guy need apply. Delightfully tacky yet unrefined (wait, whoops), Hell and Back fits the bill of a guilty pleasure for those with a more cynical sense of humor. Some pretty good fun to be had here.

Rated: R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “I’m so scared my shit just shit its pants.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.dailydead.com; http://www.aceshowbiz.com 

OCMC: Chris Nielsen in What Dreams May Come

wdmc-1Despite What Dreams May Come possessing a healthy amount of material that tends to bring tears to the eye, here’s an ultimately uplifting and sweeping drama that appeals on a more universal level than Bobcat Goldthwait’s darkly comic rumination on the nature of the living memorializing those who have passed.

For anyone concerned about “what happens after death,” this film could be looked at as more than just powerful suggestion. Snagging the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1998, Vincent Ward’s epic love story tells of a man wandering the afterlife in search of his wife after she kills herself when she finds it impossible to cope with the loss of her entire family in two separate car accidents.

In another one of my favorite dramatic overhauls, Robin Williams is at once vulnerable and desperate as Chris Nielsen. Once in heaven he does everything in his power to understand what is going on and how he can reconnect with his fragmented family. But when he learns an act of suicide means a direct ticket to Hell, Chris finds an entirely new purpose in the afterlife: rescuing his dear beloved from eternal agony.

To be completely honest I’m still reeling in the wake of the news but it’s getting easier each day. I miss the man dearly. I like to think he’s soaking up some nice shade underneath that beautiful blue Jacaranda.

*

Quoted: “A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we’ll all be together forever.”


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Rover

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Release: Friday, June 13, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

People often are products of their environment. In the case of The Rover, it seems to be the other way around.

If that sounds like a call for the environmentally-minded to flock to their nearest indie/arthouse theater to see this flick, I don’t believe I could be more misleading. This unrelentingly bleak drama about a desperate man in search of his stolen vehicle in the middle of the sprawling Australian Outback has as much to do with environmental sustainability as Twilight has to do with vampires sucking blood.

Random reference? Sure, it might seem so. I’d be lying to you though if I said The Rover doesn’t rely on a moving performance from one Robert Pattinson (of said sugar-coated vampire-tale fame).

You know what, I actually did just lie. Well, only slightly. While the film provides ample screen time for Pattinson’s Rey — a homely and somewhat dim-witted young man whose backstory isn’t very clear — its gut-punch is delivered through the tension building up between both its leading males, that of Pattinson and the brutal role Guy Pearce has once again been saddled with. This time he plays Eric, an enigmatic loner seen in the film’s open taking a long pause in his car before stumbling into a shack and pouring himself a large drink.

Eric is no sooner tipping the glass back in an extended gesture of despair — welcome to the unforgiving realms of the place those on the outside (i.e. me) like to simply call ‘The Land Down Under’ — when he hears his car being stolen. The event is both dramatic and beautifully understated, playing out as a seemingly singular event from which we ought to recover soon. We don’t. In fact we go tumbling down the rabbit hole instead, as Eric quickly goes in pursuit and subsequently as things go from bad to vile.

The Rover can hardly be accused of overcomplicating things. Here’s a very simple premise that may even border on the pointless. Yet to dismiss the narrative as such would be to grossly overlook the startling themes that are presented. Set in a world a decade after the fallout of society as we currently know it — a subtitle before the movie gets going contributes to a sense of disorientation very early on — we are forced to confront a reality that has been teetering on the edge, only now pushed beyond it and here is the aftermath. What better location in which to film in order to convey this idea than in the unforgiving deserts of the Outback. Each scene featured in The Rover emphasizes a lack of humanity and an abundance of misery.

Each one also categorically confronts us with the truth about the power of currency and how powerless society could will be without it. A myriad of camera angles lingers on many a broken and decrepit edifice, on dirt floors and people existing in squalor — ordinarily stuff that wouldn’t be very compelling to watch on their own terms. But there’s a larger plot at work here, beyond the search for Eric’s car. Michôd’s story, an effort resulting from the collaboration between himself and Aussie native Joel Edgerton, attempts to reduce humans to their material possessions when faced with the alternative of having absolutely nothing at all. That it does very well through the winding plot of Pearce going after the one thing he can’t stand to lose.

The Rover ought to be viewed as a straightforward drama whose personality only gets slightly confused when it attempts to break from its oppressive shackles of physical and emotional brutality. Scenes such as the tumbling SUV as viewed through a window, and a particularly sensitive moment for Rey as he sings along to an American pop tune jut out but only distractingly. There aren’t any other scenes like these, which may prove more problematic for some viewers than for others. Alternatively, they may be looked at as welcomed oases from the misery.

Featuring another turn for Scoot “my middle name is Bleak” McNairy, who plays Rey’s conflicted brother, this is a film that most definitely supports the cliché ‘it’s really not about the destination, but the journey in getting there.’ Fortunately there’s slightly more to the affair than that, such as the evidence Pattinson provides for his case that he can, in fact, affect drama significantly.

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3-5Recommendation: The Rover is likely to prove too uneventful and even more conceivably, far too dark for many. This isn’t a film that cares to celebrate humanity. However there is enough drama and suspense to satisfy a more niched audience, and Aussie audiences are bound to find the use of the unforgiving reaches of the Outback compelling cinema. Bolstered by solid work from a consistent act in Guy Pearce and further buoyed by Pattinson’s odd but affecting support, this film won’t be as impacting as the director’s previous effort, Animal Kingdom, but it is intensely watchable and that’s good enough for me.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Your brother left you to die. He’s abandoned you out here to me.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com