Mediocre: Home Invasion

Home Invasion (2012)

Directed by Doug Campbell
Written by Michal Shipman, Ken Sanders, Christine Conradt, Doug Campbell
Produced by David Japka, Robert Ballo, Ken Sanders, Douglas Howell, Tosca Musk, Christine Conradt, Timothy O. Johnson
Starring Lisa Sheridan, Haylie Duff, Jason Brooks, C. Thomas Howell, Kyla Dang, Al Sapienza, Barbara Niven, Taymour Ghazi, Jason Stuart

Synopsis

In the commission of a botched burglary, a career criminal (Ghazi) is greased by the restaurateur (Sheridan) whose home he’s invaded. His partner (Howell) is afterward walloped and left for dead in the wild by the deceased’s girlfriend (Duff), who then locates her burglarious beau’s killer, joins her support group, and exacts revenge by assault, arson, contamination of pine nut salad dressing, and swimming lessons for her target’s lubberly foster daughter (Dang).

Script

Shipman’s and Sanders’s story is formulaically fabricated to sequentially press every relevant button in the psyches of the alcoholic housewives, careerists, and cashiers of dollar stores addicted to Lifetime’s crime dramas. It’s a notch above most of its type simply because it’s less silly, notwithstanding the spoken surplusage of Conradt’s and Campbell’s screenplay. Naturally, this is all but a fantasy: intraracial crime committed by white Americans rarely involves breaking and entering.

Direction

Probably the most successful director in the stable of Johnson/Shadowland, Campbell heads this as procedurally as he has his hits in series such as …at 17 and Stalked By My Doctor. Expect nothing approaching experimentation or innovation from his workmanlike manner, and he’ll never disappoint you.

Histrionics

More often the victim than villainess in televised and direct-to-video productions, pouty Duff can twist her smile sweet to sinful at the drop of a hat, but she’s too cute to convince as a verisimilitudinous vehicle of vengeance. Good old C. Thomas chews his scenery as spicily as ever in his limited time onscreen, which is a treat for some nostalgists, who might notice that he’s at least 10 years too old for his role. He’s almost as entertaining when Stuart’s fruity chef peckishly reproves his crew. Everyone else is as unremarkably able as their director. Sheridan bears a striking similitude to Margot Kidder in her youth, but she hasn’t her personality, or personality disorders.

Score

This reviewer is all but sure that most or all of Michael Burns’s and Steve Gurevitch’s percussion, pianism and syntheszised synthpads are algorithmically generated.

Highlights

Spoiler: C. Thomas’s hapless lout resorts to squatting, survivalism, and subsistence on dog food through the first and second acts, yet he’s smoked straightaway early in the third by Duff’s schemer. A quick, requisite catfight between Sheridan and Duff precedes a sanguinary ending.

Flaws

Fulsome flashbacks and moronically explanatory dialogue are provided for viewers whose attention spans are so deficient, they could almost be diagnosed with anterograde amnesia. After trekking through miles of wilderness, C. Thomas’s pristinely white sneakers are clearly brand-new.

Conclusion

Neither will these trespasses view themselves, nor those boxes of plonk drink themselves. Enjoy, ladies.

Execrable: Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill!

Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! (2006)

Written and directed by Chad Ferrin
Produced by John Santos, Trent Haaga, Giuseppe Asaro, C.W. Ferrin
Starring Timothy Muskatell, Charlotte Marie, Ricardo Gray, Granny, David Z. Stamp, Jose I. Lopez, Marina Blumenthal, Amy Szychowski, Kele Ward, Trent Haaga, Ernesto Redarta

Synopsis

While working her nursing night shift, a sonsie single mother (Marie) intrusts her retarded, adolescent son (Gray) to the care of her boyfriend, a sordidly psychotic career criminal (Muskatell) who invites a bloated, crippled drug dealer (Stamp) and a pair of putrid prostitutes (Szychowski, Ward) to party at her residence. Neither they nor other lurking malfeasants (Lopez, Blumenthal, Redarta) are safe from a stealthy, resourceful murderer who’s observing Easter behind a leporine mask.

Script

With repulsive prolongations and domestic disputes, Troma alumnus Ferrin stretches 25 minutes of story to occupy 90 minutes of running time forming his trashy, inane, admittedly fun farcical horror, which piques a lot of laughs but no scares for anyone beyond their pubertal years. Its comic crudity is as stupidly amusing as one could hope for.

Direction

His claustrophobic close-ups, zooms, full-figure and drifting shots (no few of which shamelessly blazon busty Marie’s considerable cleavage) are all framed with calculated carelessness, but Ferrin has a knack for capturing his players’ most unflatteringly, goofily humorous angles.

Cinematography

Most of this flick’s interiors are lit like begrimed bedrooms from which camgirls stream, and the lurid hues clothing Giuseppe Asaro’s shiteo beseem its sleazy cheese.

Editing

Jahad Ferif hacked Ferrin’s footage together with occasional flair, though this reviewer can’t readily tell how many of his overzealous cuts are imputable to ineptitude or imitation of B-schlock.

Histrionics

In adherence to Ferrin’s style, everyone onscreen overplays their one-dimensional roles by yards over the top to some risible effect. As the fat, flagitious felon, Muskatell seems lucky to swagger and fume through the movie without suffering cardiac arrest. Only Granny, a plumply precious rabbit cast as the pet of Gray’s peevish peabrain, performs naturally.

Score

Synthesized noodlings and tacky, often funky prog rock courtesy of Goblinishly epigonic duo The Giallos Flame is crummily fun, like most else here.

Highlights

Marie’s buxom mother alternates between indulgence and violent discipline while voicing minced oaths; the piggish pervert portrayed by Stamp is gleefully aroused by a chance to prey on a mentally disabled teenager; every exchange and murder is in some way funny.

Flaws

True to his roots, Ferrin created a video that’s as embarrassingly edgy and intensely ugly as it is legitimately laughable. Every shot is shoddy, and all presagements patent. One predictable twist is explained with a fatuous flashback.

Conclusion

This is less like exploitation movies from the ’70s than how Xers and early Millennials would like to remember them. If you’ve an appetite for raunch and gore, and absolutely nothing better to do, it’s a tickling way to pass 1.5 of your overtly disposable hours.

Palatable: Eyewitness

Eyewitness (1981)
Directed by Peter Yates
Written by Steve Tesich
Produced by Peter Yates, Kenneth Utt
Starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer, James Woods, Steven Hill, Morgan Freeman, Pamela Reed, Kenneth McMillan, Irene Worth, Albert Paulsen, Keone Young, Chao Li Chi, Alice Drummond
Burdened by supernumerary character development, Yates’s and Tesich’s second coaction after Breaking Away doesn’t quite compass its potential as a murder mystery or a romance. A janitor (Hurt) employed at a palatial office building reports the murder of a businessman (Chi) who’d leased an office therein to two cynical detectives (Hill, Freeman), who correctly suspect his maniacal buddy (Woods) of means, motive and opportunity. Their case is complicated by the unsophisticated custodian’s incomplete disclosure — recounted first to them, then to a fetching news reporter and chamber pianist (Weaver), who’s enticed by the prospect of breaking a story that’s closer to home than she imagined. Tesich’s story is timely and absorbing, but his script’s plagued by his zeal to humanize nearly every single character with at least one deepy personal, expository monologue or discourse — all of which are delivered so well by Yates’s eximious ensemble that one almost doesn’t notice this superfluous sentiment. Singly fresh from Altered States and Alien, Hurt and Weaver effortlessly inhabit proper parts with charm and conviction, but their shortage of chemistry does nothing to make their amorous developments seem any more probable. Woods hyperactively betokens some of his best work to come as the volatile Vietnam vet who drives the plot. Most notable for its population of established and ascending stars, this one almost hits its mark, and almost satisfies.

Sublime: The Wailing

The Wailing (2016)
Written and directed by Hong-jin Na
Produced by Suh Dong Hyun, Ho Sung Kim, Xian Li, John Penotti, Robert Friedland
Starring Do-won Kwak, So-yeon Jang, Jun Kunimura, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim, Jung-min Hwang, Kang-gook Son, Do-yoon Kim, Jin Heo, Seong-yeon Park, Chang-gyu Kil, Bae-soo Jeon, Mi-nam Jeong, Gwi-hwa Choi

“It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.”

–H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916

Attentive viewers (especially those versed in Catholic scripture and Korean folk sortilege) will best appreciate the innuendo of Na’s creepingly circuitous chiller, but such insights can’t conduce prospicience of its outcome. A village’s police are confounded when locals are sanguinely slain by ensorcelled relatives, who then succumb to grisly afflictions. This unaccountable spate coincides with sightings of an earthy, impertinent beauty (Chun) and an old Japanese (Kunimura), the latter of whom is a subject of macabre and concordant scuttlebutt. When the daughter (Kim) of the force’s sluggardly sergeant (Kwak) manifests incipient behavioral and dermal symptoms common to the doomed murderers, he’s desperate to interrogate both strangers. Refreshing restraint and professional calculation characterize Na’s masterly direction, which discloses minimally in slow zooms and pans as his plotted convolutions gradually unravel, without ever relaxing the intensity of his drama or action. By Kyung-pyo Hong’s photography, South Korea’s sylvestrian beauty is blazoned in establishing landscapes, and many figures are strikingly limned in silhouette and shadow. The cast is exceeding, but its concerted excellence admits of certain standouts. Kunimura’s internationally recognized for his versatility as villains and victims alike; his stony stare and mutable mien here sustain his loner’s imperative mystique. A dynamically antipodal approach by Hwang to a shaman hired by Kwak’s deviled officer informs his energic exorcism preceding the movie’s centerpiece, a clamorously violent, elaborate, apotropaic rite not to be forgotten. Kim’s metamorphosis from sweet schoolgirl into maledicted malefactor recalls Linda Blair’s most famous role — and she interprets it with analogous anguish and audacity. All of the seven deadly sins are committed, but their significance is primarily representative. Na’s moral compass is pragmatically oriented, indicating how obtuse skepticism, inaction, misjudgment, and hysteria result in a small, appalling tragedy. These misdeeds frustrate the talismanic and lustrative white magic that might’ve dashed demonomagy conjured by and thriving for vice, folly, and confusion.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Exorcist.

Mediocre: Late Phases

Late Phases (A.K.A. Night of the Wolf) (2014)
Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
Written by Eric Stolze
Produced by Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle, Greg Newman, Zak Zeman, Joel Alonso, Luis Flores, Lex Ortega, Andrea Quiroz, Hamza Ali
Starring Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tom Noonan, Erin Cummings, Rutanya Alda, Tina Louise, Caitlin O’Heaney, Larry Fessenden, Dana Ashbrook, Karen Lynn Gorney, Al Sapienza, Bernardo Cubria, Charles Techman, Haythem Noor, Frances Sherman, Karron Graves, Raina, Kareem Savinon, Pun Bandhu, Ralph Cashen
Should you in the autumn of your years confront lycanthropy, take as many of the beasts with you as you may. That’s the intent of a blind Vietnam vet (Damici) whose first night at a cloistered retirement community leaves his service dog (Raina) and neighbor (Gorney) messily murdered under a full moon. He has a month before the next to reconnoiter his settlement, investigate its inhabitants, and arm himself to the teeth and death. At least as much a drama as a horror, this curiosity is enriched by Bogliano’s thoughtful direction, Aaron Crozier’s meticulous editing and its fantastic, familiar, graying players. From gait to diction, Damici’s studied turn as the tough, sightless, cantankerous soldier makes his truly challenging role seem facile when tossing off Stolze’s wittily brusque rejoinders as naturally as he avouches rigors and regrets to a local priest created reticently by Noonan, who understates (as usual) a boundless sympathy for his flock, though he’s no less striking or suspect than Guest, his most faithful congregant. Embry now resembles an ugly Henry Ford, but his concerned and uncomprehending filial army brat is well-rendered as a solid foil for Damici. Unfortunately, two of the movie’s most compulsive thespians are merely peripheral: warmly wolfish co-producer Fessenden haggles with Damici over the cost of a tombstone as though it’s a used car, and seedy Ashbrook fills his order for silver ammunition with his enduringly boyish bubbliness. During intervening lunar phases, Stolze dispenses exposition with sensible and conversational reserve, painting his protagonist with a humane detail that transcends cliché. Any viewer patient to wait for the showdown between geriatric werewolves and grizzled warrior will be rewarded with its smartly plotted and gorily impressive action. Transformational effects here can’t compare to those of the classics from ’81 that inspired them (The Howling and An American Werewolf in London), but they’re gruesomely realized with an adequate balance of makeup, prosthetics and CG. Damici’s facial makeup ages him realistically, yet few old men have such glabrous and blemishless upper extremities. Softer passages of Wojciech Golczewski’s score contribute to a minatory miasma cleft by sharp strings that are outsize and unharmonious for such a modest production. Hardly a classic, this umptieth filmic treatment of the loup-garou is nevertheless a poignant portrait of familial and mortal affairs put in order.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Bubba Ho-Tep.

Palatable: In the Name of My Daughter

In the Name of My Daughter (2014)
Directed by André Téchiné
Written by Renée Le Roux, Jean-Charles Le Roux, André Téchiné, Cédric Anger
Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier, Guillaume Canet, Christine De Jekel
Starring Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve, Adèle Haenel, Jean Corso, Judith Chemla, Mauro Conte, Pascal Mercier, Tamara De Leener, Jean-Marie Tiercelin, Laetitia Rosier, Ali Af Shari, Hubert Rollet, Jean Vincentelli, Jean-Paul Sourty, Grégoire Taulère, Tanya Lopert, Paul Mercier

“Certain loyalty comes only through dependency.”

–Richard Nixon, Leaders

If an account of criminal and juridical history constitutes spoilers, so be it. In mid-’70s Nice, widowed gaming proprietress Renée Le Roux (Deneuve) sustained fraud and silent threats by Calabrian mafiosi backing her covetous competitor, Jean-Dominique Fratoni (Corso). After refusing to appoint her underhanded lawyer Maurice Agnelet (Canet) as her gambling den’s manager, he conspired with her criminal rival to unseat her by seducing her grasping, gaumless daughter Agnès (Haenel) before manipulating her to vote against her mother’s reappointment as the casino’s president. During the gaming house’s liquidation, Agnelet either iced the junior Le Roux or lured her to her assassination, then assumed the 3M francs of their joint accounts that Fratoni paid her for her filial recreance. Despite the absence of her corpse, Agnelet was eventually convicted of her murder after three trials nearly thirty years later.
Technical excellence, unsurprisingly superlative enactments and a virtuous restraint elevate Téchiné’s dramatization of this shameful affair above most of its kind. Like his womanizing, sleazily smarmy subject, Canet isn’t at all obvious in his interchange of allurement and quiet menace. Brainless, bitchy, bovine Haenel (French cinema’s face of Americanized, fourth-wave feminism) is usually awful in lubricious roles, but apt for the acquisitive, confiding, lovelorn, ultimately unsympathetic victim opposite Deneuve, who once again meets expectations as Téchiné’s (and everyone else’s) favorite leading lady with a perfectly poised, then mournful personation of her maternal crusader. Téchiné’s style is more commonly cinematic here than in his early work, in which his floating and sweeping pans, and occasional zooms would’ve been unimaginable; they’re as slick as Hervé de Luze’s painstaking editing, which is essential to no few of the director’s conceits. Floral hues pop brilliantly against verdancy and richly textured wood and stone before Julien Hirsch’s lenses, which capture both the rural beauty of numerous landscapes and Lucullan interior detail of casino and courthouse alike. As credible as the cast, Olivier Radot’s production design reflects an intricate but sensibly limited attention to period detail, manifest best in Pascaline Chavanne’s crack costumery. Only two errors mar this otherwise premium production. Most of Benjamin Biolay’s charming score (especially its peppy, neoclassical main theme) couldn’t be more tonally incongruous. Téchiné was wise only to portray the major events of this case that were publicly confirmed, but his ruth for the faithless, frivolous heiress is unjust. Most contemporary French aren’t prepared to accept that some victims earn their fate.

Palatable: Omar

Omar (2013)
Written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad
Produced by Hany Abu-Assad, David Gerson, Waleed Zuaiter, Joana Zuaiter, Abbas F. Eddy Zuaiter, Ahmad F. Zuaiter, Farouq A. Zuaiter, Waleed Al-Ghafari, Zahi Khouri, Suhail A. Sikhtian, Baher Agbariya
Starring Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat, Eyad Hourani, Ramzi Maqdisi

To do injustice is more disgraceful than to suffer it.

–Plato, Gorgias

On the high road where he steps lightly in concern of its political and religious facets to evade complications and assure the commercial and distributive viability of his pictures, Abu-Assad’s cannily unveiled the humanity of the Palestinian struggle with Paradise Now, then this superior crime drama that demonstrates how dretchingly personal and martial imperatives can snarl. A baker (Bakri) regularly hazards gunfire by the IDF’s snipers and their patrols’ persecution to scale a border wall that segregates Palestinians from Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where he visits his militant friends (Hourani, Bisharat) and one’s lovely sister (Lubany) with whom he’s smitten. Jailed and railroaded for nicking a car as transportation to a military outpost where one of his buddies assassinates a soldier, he’s taught by a gauntlet of incarceration, torture, betrayal, heartbreak, and the legerdemain by an agent (Zuaiter) of Shin Bet — who offers him highly conditional freedom in exchange for his comrades — that one of his own is as perfidious as their oppressors. Corporate perpetrators of stodgy, overproduced fare could learn something from Abu-Assad’s economical feature, which is adeptly plotted, performed, shot and cut with lavish twists, a gripping pair of pursuits, one deeply moving, ruined romance, and an unforgettable conclusion, without a moment of hokum. It’s also one of but a handful of movies to relate that for aggrieved Arabs and Jewish occupiers alike who participate in the everlasting conflict provoked and perpetuated by the world’s most prosperous, parasitic, hypocritical, fraudulent and remorselessly abusive apartheid state, there is no contrition, no reprieve, no guarantee of anything, save death and reprisal.

Mediocre: Fatal Charm

Fatal Charm (1990)
Directed by Fritz Kiersch
Written by Nicholas Niciphor
Produced by Bruce Cohn Curtis, Jonathan D. Krane, Douglass M. Stewart Jr., Chuck Marshall, John Strong
Starring Amanda Peterson, Christopher Atkins, Mary Frann, Lar Park-Lincoln, James Remar, Andrew Lowery, Andrew Robinson, Peggy Lipton, Ned Bellamy, Ken Foree, Robert Walker Jr., Shelley Smith
Fading starlet Peterson piddled the proximate twelfth of her destined fifteen famous minutes as an unconditionally unguarded high school senior garmented in frumpy frocks, who’s obsessed with a handsome goon (Atkins) on trial for six rapes and murders, and convinced that such a megababe can’t possibly be guilty! Following his conviction and incarceration, the lovable ladykiller’s menaced by hulking inmates, then tranferred for his safety to a county jail, where a jailbreak permits him to visit his pneumatic pen pal. A palatable plot and cast keep this forgettably tawdry crime drama afloat, but most of its interesting actors are stinted screen time and dull dialogue. Severally, Frann, Remar, Robinson and Lipton are all cast well to types in their roles of Peterson’s mother, her creepy boyfriend, a local sheriff and the trial’s prosecutor; Foree makes the best of his juicier turn as an intimidating convict. Prettier and peppier than her co-star, Park-Lincoln outclasses Peterson in all of their best friends’ shared scenes. Steamy seductions and slayings committed by Atkins’s homicidal hunk (including gratuitous close-ups of his victims’ T&A) are typical of Showtime’s sinfully sultry fare.

Instead, watch The Guest.

Palatable: Batman: The Movie

Batman: The Movie (1966)
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Produced by William Dozier, Charles B. Fitzsimons
Starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp, Reginald Denny
Holy collusion! When the Penguin (Meredith), Joker (Romero), Catwoman (Meriwether) and Riddler (Gorshin) assay to abduct nine delegates of an international security council and eliminate Batman (West) and Robin (Ward) with a weaponized dehydrator that reduces its targets to colored dust, the dynamic duo investigate and confront those four flamboyantly fiendish felons with their arsenal of chiropterously-themed weapons, vehicles, gizmos and solutions for every eventuality! Effectively an extended, widescreen episode of the gaudily deadpan, televised farce, this theatrical feature’s dotted by Semple with an argosy of his eccentricities: sight gags, cockamamie contraptions and punch lines integral to its plot; amusingly aimless extravagances; historical and literary references; fulsome fracases; abundant adnomination. Halting West and squawking Meredith are parceled and optimize his funniest dialogue, but all of these wry heroes and manic rogues make every minute hilarious. In routine conformity to the series’ style, Martinson frames the scoundrels exclusively in Dutch angles at their hideout, but reserves those exclamatorily onomatopoeic captions for a climactic melee upon a spheniscine submarine. Fans of the series have naturally seen this; anyone else partial to high camp is sure to adore it.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Superman III or The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

Palatable: Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave (1994)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by John Hodge
Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allan Scott
Starring Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Colin McCredie, Peter Mullan, Leonard O’Malley

“Greed is in: guilt is out.”

–Anonymous, 1987

Applicants of Edinburgh seeking a room let in the ample apartment shared by a journalist (McGregor), a doctor (Fox) and an accountant (Eccleston) are by them subjected to a battery of jocose harassment and irritating interrogation, until a unflappably affable, purported novelist (Allen) impresses them with his sangfroid and a thick wad of bills for deposit and lodging. He perishes not a fortnight into his stay from heroin habituated, leaving his flatmates his corpse, a suitcase packed with cash, and their concomitant millstones: mounting anxiety, an inquirendo conducted by a sardonically subtle detective (Stott), and an eventual visit from a pair of truculent thugs (Mullan, O’Malley) who wouldn’t think to let a few murders come between them and a small, stolen fortune. Still at the crown of their careers — and superior to the wildly overrated Trainspotting — Boyle’s and Hodge’s sharp, spare first feature was smoothly scripted and shot on a small budget to a deservedly warm reception. Pans at every common focal length and a modicum of gimmicky shots are as fun as raillery between the protagonal buddies before and after their relations sour, without ever diverting from terrific performances that propel every scene. One can’t readily imagine anyone better suited severally to play this flick’s queasy creep or obnoxious charmer than Eccleston and McGregor, and Allen quietly steals his few scenes, especially in discourse with Fox, who masterfully balances bitchy jest with glimpses of an underhand frigidity. Unfailingly funny and suspenseful, this umpteenth version of Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale instances how avariciousness and paranoia among some depredates friendships and lives alike.