Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #95-99


 

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#95. All Cheerleaders Die (2014, McKee/Siverton)

Lucky McKee and Chris Siverton’s remake of their 2001 low-budget film of the same name. A shredded mess, but that still puts it several notches above McKee’s previous film The Woman (will he ever again make something approaching the ballpark quality of May?). A concoction of everything in late 90’s high school-set genre tomfoolery, with a direct-to-video feel that reflects what a mid-tier theatrical release of the time might have looked like. To say there’s a lot going on plot-wise is a giant understatement. None of it’s particularly good, some of it is downright awful, yet all of it frustratingly contains potential. The film we see at the beginning transmutes into something different every half hour. I love a lot of what’s here…on paper that is; feminist-streaked witchcraft, ladies wreaking revenge, glowing crystals and even simultaneous orgasms! Is it a snark-fest comedy or an upbeat diatribe on violence against women or a lesbian love story or a horror film about literal solidarity between women?

Perhaps the biggest problem, besides a tonal disconnect that moves forward, seemingly on a lark, is that none of the motivations of or connections between the girls harbor consistency. Take Maddy’s (Caitlin Stasey) initial undercover cheerleader revenge plan. It’s prompted by the loss of her friend Lex, who we only see in the first five minutes through video footage shot by Madd. Lex is shown as particularly annoying, and the montage fails to contextualize the friendship in any basic way. Since Maddy is behind the camera, the impetus for the story has no standing with the audience. That failure to establish connections where we’re meant to see them continues throughout. Adversary Terry (Tom Williamson) has a very throwaway episode-of-the-week baddie vibe to him.

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#96. Bob Roberts (1992, Robbins)

Political satire as horror film.  Certain satires, such as NetworkTo Die For or The Stepford Wives, are distinctly eerie in tone. And now that I’ve seen Bob Roberts, a skewering of Bush-era conservatives on the campaign trail, it can mosey on up and nuzzle itself in with that lot. Much of the said creepiness comes from Tim Robbins’s performance as the titular ‘rebel conservative’ character (although there really are no characters in Bob Roberts, just well-drawn ‘types’), an inverter and perverter of 1960’s counter-culture. He’s an empty enigma. The few times we are granted unfiltered covert access to him, what we see is curdled and rotten, Robbins with a glassy look in his eyes. Like a adult psychotic Kevin McAllister.

The ‘mockumentary’ format, usually used for broader comedy (especially up to 1992), makes up the other shuddersome airs. We are kept at a conspiratorial distance from Bob and his corrupt team (who includes Ray Wise and Alan Rickman), his folksy political persona seen from the public’s perspective. The deceitful vérité gradually shifts to doubt and investigative journalism. The cracks in the veneer start to show. There are fellow glassy eyed folk in the surrounding fanatical devotion (including Jack Black in an early role). The ‘is the camera off’ scene is alarming. A rare look into the belly of the corrupt beast, made impactful for how inaccessible said corruption is made to the audience, and thus the general public, up to that point.

Bob Roberts is largely about how the media is used and misused through politics and campaigning. Gore Vidal, playing Bob’s running opponent, basically plays himself, riffing on and mourning the general state of things (and though Vidal is engaging to watch, his running monologues directly oppose the more immediately catchy folk songs and persona of Roberts) within the loose context of the ‘documentary’. The last act, from the sketch show on, is a bit of a wash, at least compared to the rest. A mite over-prodded to its predictably hopeless conclusion. Sound is consistently used as a weapon of assault on the audience, with Robbins and the sound designers purposely blanket the film in overlapping aural layers of bullshit.

It’s the Little Things:
Shot of Giancarlo Esposito’s luckless crackpot journalist reflected in the TV, his voice and image never making it to air despite speaking the truth.

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#97. Deep Cover (1992, Duke)

Um, so I absolutely loved this. Neo-noir that deals with race relations and the hypocrisy and political corruption within the War on Drugs with surprising directness. Poetically edged hard-boiled narration delivered with the low steady hum of Laurence Fishburne’s cop who grapples with right and wrong, cop or criminal, and questioning where can he do the most good within a cracked system that uses his race as an asset for the higher-ups. Then bring in Jeff Goldblum’s indispensable magnetic eccentricity to his role as a slightly unhinged lawyer yuppie, self-described as having a “condescending infatuation with everything black”. He’s fighting for power and money yes, but most importantly for respect amongst the criminal minded. A very moralistically preoccupied film about choices and compromise and where is the invisible line. I thought I had past my expiration date for undercover cop stories, but Deep Cover’s nixed that with its ability to balance heady and charged politics with two consistently engaging leads that transcend the walking cliches we’re used to seeing.

It’s the Little Things:
“We’ll have barbecue jumbo shrimp motherfuckerrrrrr!!!” – Guess who

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#98. Light Sleeper (1992, Schrader)

A introspective man isolated within his own cityscape environment, contending with change and battling his own sense of self and place within the mess of the world. We’re used to this kind of thing from Paul Schrader, but what completely caught me off-guard here is the noted lack of nihilism. Willem Dafoe isn’t serving typical on-the-brink brood. He may have an obsessive streak and a addictive past, but he’s pleasant, well-meaning, and even keen to listen to psychics! I don’t think, in fact I know, that I’ve never seen Willem Dafoe smile this much! There’s such a natural familiarity between him and longtime associate, employer, and friend Ann (Susan Sarandon). He is alternately haunted and comforted by the past in his daily interactions, and very nervous about the future. Will Ann really leave the business this time? Where does that leave him?

Dana Delaney’s character seems comfortably past her demons, then desperately trying to hold on to her hard-earned stability. Dafoe is earnest but selfish in his persistence with her. By casting Dafoe, Schrader brings in a certain set of expectations and then sets on defying every one of them. This is a hopeful character piece in the guise of a thriller. We mainly follow the ins-and-outs of a drug dealer surrounded by and aiding the lonely and desperate folks in their crummy abodes. That last scene is very reminiscent of another 1992 crime drama, The Crying Game, and is similarly optimistic, celebrating the power of deep connections between two people.

One False Move

#99. One False Move (1992, Franklin)
Another 1992 crime drama that focuses on racial tensions, this one not as initially explicit as Deep Cover. Where Deep Cover focuses on the War on Drugs, One False Move is about latent racial hierarchies, specifically in the South, and two interracial groups on opposite sides of the law, each dealing with their own dysfunctions as they gradually move towards a bloody collision. In L.A, a trio of criminals have just slaughtered six for money and drugs; conflicted and drugged out Fantasia (Lynda Williams), horseradish hick Ray (Billy Bob Thornton, who co-wrote the screenplay), and intelligent bespectacled sociopath Pluto (Michael Beach). Over in a small town in Arkansas the enforcers await the criminals eventual suspected arrival, which includes two L.A top brass (Earl Billings and Jim Metzler) and overcompensating gosh-darn-it rube Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton).

Starts with heavily felt and resonant murders (in an incredibly disturbing scene that manages to actually show little violence), carrying into a maintained constant tension over the threat of violence, and the when-and-how these two groups will meet (even when it becomes clear that they will spend most of the film merely in orbit of each other). Geographic markers make us aware of the increasingly narrow spatial relationships.

Once you think you’ve got a clear read on Bill Paxton’s huckster and his arc, a hidden connection recontextualizes how we see him, bringing the racial tensions to the forefront. Michael Beach is frighteningly centered, and Carl Franklin and James L. Carter frame him as such. The poignant ending, in the immediate aftermath of quick and sweeping violence marks the possible beginning of another long overdue interracial relationship, one that notably took a lot of unnecessary death to bring about.

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