New Releases for Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Directed by: Onur Tukel
Run time: 96 minutes
The Lowdown: The cinematic oeuvre of Onur Tukel falls somewhere close to Bobcat Goldthwait, meaning Tukel has never met a social setting or situation that isn’t ripe for skewering.
His prveious films, Applesauce and S.O.B. (Summer of Blood), are challenging, subversive interpretations of more-traditional genre tropes.
Much like Goldthwait’s brilliant 2011 social satire, God Bless America, Tukel has created his own vehicle, Catfight, for eviscerating wealthy one-percenters, war mongers and elitist artists in one fell, brutal swoop.
Tunkel’s two protagonist/antagonists are Anne Heche as Ashley, an angry lesbian artist striving for mainstream acceptance, and Sandra Oh as Veronica, a boozy socialite whose husband is a government defense contractor hoping to reap a windfall on the eve of a fictional global crisis following the election of a brash non-politician as POTUS.
Tukel, as you can tell, isn’t shy about making sure his audience knows his influences.
Ashley and Veronica used to be friends, but Veronica couldn’t handle it when Ashley came out as gay and wanted to advance their friendship into something more.
They reconnect years later at a dinner party hosted by Veronica’s husband’s military contracting firm where Ashley is helping out her girlfriend (the wonderful Alicia Silverstone, in an equally effective and offensive role as a vegan, non-GMO, tree-hugging environmentalist) by serving drinks and hors d'oeuvres.
Ashley and Veronica start talking, and things go south in a hurry. The two women eventually meet in a stairwell for a vicious, no-holds-barred fistfight that leaves Veronica in a coma.
Tukel’s acerbic wit and razor-sharp screenplay make it clear that neither Ashley nor Veronica is a good person. And he structures his narrative in three arcs – Veronica’s fall from grace, and near-death experience; Ashley’s rise to adulation, and near-death experience; and, finally, a reconvening of the two frenemies for one last fateful encounter.
The structure isn’t bad, and it perfectly positions both stories to maximize how little sympathy either woman is due, but it also neglects any opportunity for enlightenment by either character, or I should say, undermines that opportunity for enlightenment at every turn.
Maybe that’s the point. In Tukel’s worldview, such wantonly shallow characters don’t deserve a happy ending. They should be forced to suffer and endure all manner of humiliation en route to rock bottom. If so, he doesn’t hold back. For every positive step that Veronica takes, the specter of Ashley threatens to drag her right back into the backbiting cesspool of upper-crust pettiness that informs the wealthy class.
Catfight is a blisteringly funny and surprisingly gory black comedy not for the squeamish. It won’t reinforce your faith in humanity, but it also won’t change your perception of the dual castes that it draws its characters from.
If you already believe that boozy socialites need to be knocked down a peg or 50 until they are penniless and broken, this movie serves to mirror that. And if you find socio-conscious artists to be an insufferable lot of shrill, butch femme liberals who only want to flout their nonconformity in your face, well, you get the idea…
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No. Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Elitist one-percenters.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Detour (Magnolia Home Entertainment, 97 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): UK writer-director Christopher Smith has made one classic film, 2009’s twisty time-travel serial killer thriller Triangle, and three above-average genre films, Creep, Severance and Black Death.
He’s a seasoned professional, yet his latest, Detour, a pulpy slice of millennial noir, feels like the first film by an unknown auteur looking to make a splash and generate name recognition.
Sprinkled throughout his tough-talking pastiche, populated with a cast of predictable characters (the charismatic killer, the cliched hooker-with-a-heart-of-fading-gold and the fresh-faced right guy in the wrong place anti-hero), there are moments of genuine film-making prowess that elevate the so-so script and hint at Smith’s true potential.
The true standout is Bel Powley, whose big egg-shaped eyes, pouty lips and world-weary makeup stains say more about her character Cherry’s life station than her occasional bursts of dialogue.
Detour is an above-average approximation of True Romance for the millennial age. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it shows – through a series of gorgeous single-take shots, slow-motion fistfights and panoramic vistas – that Smith may yet still deliver another genre classic on par with Triangle.
Underworld: Blood Wars (Sony, 91 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The fifth film in the Underworld franchise – Blood Wars – is actually a return to form for both the long-running series and the black-PVC-clad bloodsucking central femme fatale Selene (Kate Beckinsale), who was absent for the werewolf-centric third film prequel, but reappeared in 2012’s Underworld: Awakening.
These movies really exist for two reasons: Beckinsale, who is just jaw-droppingly hot in Selene’s signature shiny catsuit, and the direct-to-DVD market that champions sequel-happy series like Underworld well after theater-going audiences have found another bright-and-shiny to occupy their attention.
Much like Resident Evil, the Underworld franchise has defied the typical path that such B-grade action-horror hybrids normally take. While the second entry, Underworld: Evolution, upped the ante and recruited some A-list supporting actors following a surprising box office take by the original film in 2003, it was mostly downhill from there. The third film, 2009’s Rise of the Lycans, was a mess, and Awakening used a well-worn trope – the introduction of a child – to motivate Beckinsale’s Selene to keep up the fight.
Blood Wars relies heavily on the events of Awakening, including bringing back Theo James as the vampire David, but a surprising thing happens here that isn’t necessarily the norm for the fifth installment of a waning campaign. Blood Wars is unexpectedly effective and creates almost a James Bond kind of espionage-spy-thriller vibe that propels its central narrative.
The basic thrust is that the vampire council is still feuding with a repurposed and heavily-armed lycan resistence led by new No. 1 werewolf badass Marius, and suddenly Selene and her vampire-hybrid child Eve, who was conceived when Selene was with the vampire-lycan-hybrid Michael in the first two films, are at the top of the lycan wish-list.
It turns out Selene and Eve’s blood holds the key to ending the centuries-long feud between the vampire and werewolf factions, especially since Selene and Eve can walk in sunlight without bursting into flames.
There’s lots of talking, lots of loud gunfights, lots of silly CGI werewolves and lots of fetishized costuming to make the Hot Topic kids clamor for some cool Selene-inspired accessories, but it also almost all serves a purpose, which is to advance the plot to a fantastic mid-point swerve that makes you sit and up and pay attention.
That central moment is key to the success of the third act, which really sticks its landing and provides a rousing conclusion to Blood Wars.
It’s not really a spoiler to say the door is left fully open for a sixth feature, and that’s actually OK.
Blood Wars has reinvigorated this franchise, and who are we to say no to Beckinsale donning her PVC best one more time?
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Rupture (AMBI Media Group, 102 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Finally – a smart, gory surprise to reaffirm fans that good horror-sci-fi creature features can still be found.
Rupture is a blast.
As directed by Steven Shainberg, who previously helmed 2002’s Secretary, the best movie ever made about BDSM and the D/s relationship, and written by Brian Nelson, who previously drafted both 2007’s 30 Days of Night and 2005’s Hard Candy, this is one brutal head-screw reinvention of the tired alien abduction subgenre.
Rupture grabs viewers from the get-go, introducing single mom Renee (the awesome Noomi Rapace) as she’s about to venture off on a weekend getaway.
Things go awry quickly, and before the audience can catch its breath, Renee is sequestered in a non-descript facility where her most primal fear, namely anything to do with spiders, is used against her in a sick and twisted experiment.
Shainberg and Nelson wisely keep the central thrust of the story – who is Renee and why is she is being subjected to psychological torture – to themselves for the first hour.
And they also wisely allow Renee to escape her containment cell for an extended sequence whereby she spies on lots of other, similar torture chambers where she watches a host of everyday folks like her being forced to confront their deepest fears, as well. It’s a blistering and brutal, but compelling, narrative path that eventually rewards the audience with a humdinger of a Who/What/Why reveal.
Veteran genre actors Michael Chiklis and Peter Stormare provide excellent support, but Rupture is really a showcase for Rapace, and she runs with every opportunity the script affords her.
Buoyed by great practical effects, as well as some above-average CGI, Rupture is a devious and delightful funhouse of horrors that begs for a follow-up sequel.
Black Rose (ITN Distribution, 83 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Hollywood has long had a love affair with the Russians, especially when it comes to the ‘buddy cop’ genre.
In fact, you can trace this sub-niche back to the mid-1960s with the original The Man from U.N.C.L.E. spy show, all the way through the 1980s and Red Heat, which gave the world the dream pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi (Kidding!).
It’s been a while since anyone tinkered with this formula, but that’s the one, and only, nostalgic charm to be found in Black Rose, a pretty pedestrian procedural that demands an unorthodox (meaning, doesn’t follow rules) detective from Moscow must be recruited to Los Angeles to assist in a serial killer case involving multiple Russian prostitutes.
Alexander Nevsky, who also directs, plays Russian Maj. Vlad Kazatoy, the kind of cop who shoots first, reloads, shoots again and then yells ‘Freeze!’ Kazatoy gets partnered with LAPD Det. Emily Smith, who is played by Kristanna Loken with the same blank expression that she brought to the role of T-X in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Black Rose isn’t smart enough to subvert expectations and do something unexpected, like have both Kazatoy and Smith try to one-up each other in the super-cop stereotype. And it’s not campy enough to qualify as a cult drive-in B-grade classic.
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