Directed by: Michael O'Shea
Run time: 97 minutes
The Lowdown: In 2008, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson wowed fans when he introduced his visceral and haunting vampire story, Let the Right One In.
Alfredson revived a genre that had grown wearisome with its fascination for imagining vampires as flashy and self-aware. He nailed the loneliness and isolation that such creatures would likely feel, and he perfectly encapsulated those emotions by transplanting them in a much-older-than-she-looked young girl whose desire for a friend eclipsed the life of tortured servitude that she demanded in return.
Nine years later, New York-based filmmaker Michael O’Shea has delivered a worthy bookend to Alfredson’s masterpiece.
Seemingly fueled by a host of influences ranging from Abel Ferrara to early David Cronenberg, O’Shea’s The Transfiguration is a revelation. It’s an intelligent, unnerving and ultimately deeply satisfying treatise on what it might mean for someone to truly believes they are a vampire, a pariah, a natural-born killing machine.
O’Shea frames his story through the eyes of a haunted young African-American teenager growing up in an urban jungle populated with dangerous drug dealers, predatory pedophiles and easy prey. That boy, Milo, as played by Eric Ruffin, is both infatuated and conflicted with the monster that has bloomed inside him.
The Transfiguration challenges viewers from its opening scene – Milo is feeding on an older man inside a train station bathroom stall – with its refusal to address a key, central question: Is Milo truly an undead ghoul, or simply a misguided child acting out on uncontrollable adolescent urges?
Milo is as isolated as Eli, the young bloodsucker in Let the Right One In. He’s bullied at school for being a weirdo. He lives with an older brother who also has purposefully isolated himself from the world due to a conflict with a local gang that lurks outside their tenement building. And Milo’s mother has recently died, leaving her two sons to struggle through life alone.
Then Milo meets Sophie (a breakout Chloe Levine), an equally troubled young girl living in what seems to be an abusive household. Milo slowly opens up to Sophie, and despite her repulsion at some of his more overt actions – O’Shea nails a quiet moment when Sophie is bleeding from a cut, and Milo attempts to lap at her blood in a rare moment of vulnerable trust – she consistently returns to his side.
The Transfiguration demonstrates amazing restraint, allowing its brief, feral flashes of genuine horror to resonate that much deeper. O’Shea’s style – a combination of cinéma vérité and gritty, 42nd-Street exploitation (Imagine an arthouse Henenlotter minus the comedic excess) – draws viewers in, but it’s his brilliant third act that cements The Transfiguration as something truly special.
Without spoiling the revelation, O’Shea delivers a gut-punch denouement that is both shockingly unexpected and perfectly realized.
Go, now, and seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Minimal, but effective.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Is self-awareness a bad thing?
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Warner Bros., 126 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): And for my next six-word review: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Excaliburs.
I kid, I kid.
Except, I'm not, really.
In trying to find a new way to tell a classic story, writer-director Guy Ritchie decided to go with what he knows best, which explains how his version of King Arthur and his knights and their round table basically became a cockney gangster saga with an unhinged Jude Law menacing a petulant Charlie Hunnam while a bunch of computer-generated, dinosaur-sized battle elephants reduce Camelot to rubble.
Let’s face it – you just can’t top John Boorman’s 1981 masterpiece, Excalibur, which mixed sorcery, sex and swordplay into an intoxicating brew of blood and battles that no other filmmaker has come close to replicating since.
Thankfully, Ritchie doesn’t even try. The direction he chooses, however, is a curious one.
This isn’t Sherlock Holmes bad, but it’s close.
That’s not to say there aren’t portions of King Arthur that are fun to watch. Ritchie’s iconic, kinetic style is on full display. The fight sequences crackle with jump edits, slow-motion punches and spraying plasma. And some of the exchanges are a hoot. You almost anticipate Brick Top from Snatch to come strolling out at any moment to feed a disgraced castle guard to the pigs.
But too many artistic choices just don’t work.
Ritchie reimagines Excalibur the actual sword as a weapon of divine intervention, capable of imbuing its handler with a near-sixth-sense when fighting. That’s a cool concept, but Ritchie doesn’t have a clue where to run with the idea.
He ditches Merlin (who is named but never shown), Morgana, Guenevere and most of the characters people remember most from the legend.
And his decision to turn Arthur into a street urchin turned hustler turned brothel kingpin also doesn’t work, especially when it becomes clear Arthur is destined to wield Excalibur. He doesn’t want that privilege or that responsibility, and Hunnam comes off more like a child begrudgingly following in his father’s footsteps, while bitching every step of the way, instead of a boy king who would inspire a legend that spanned generations.
There’s also a big problem with the build-up to the big climatic battle between Law’s evil Vortigern and Hunnam’s noble Arthur.
Ritchie tries to milk mystery where there is none, and his feeble attempt at disguising Vortigern’s role in the death of Arthur’s parents is basically the worst-kept secret ever.
By the time the two finally square off, there’s zero anticipation and even less urgency, and the fight itself gets overshadowed and overwhelmed by too much CGI.
Coming on the heels of 2015’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which was Ritchie’s most satisfying film since before he met Madonna, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword could have been a mindless summer blockbuster.
Instead, it feels like a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the best, and worst, examples of Ritchie as an artist.
Re-Animator – Limited Edition (Arrow Video, 86 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): There was a time, many, many years ago, when not that many people knew of the greatness that was Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator.
I was 15 when I first discovered Herbert West. I had dabbled in Lovecraft lore, but had yet to fully immerse in his rich mythology. Re-Animator changed all that.
There’s little that hasn’t been said about the importance of Gordon’s 1985 masterpiece. There are few – dare I say, none – genre fans who didn’t fall transfixed under its spell. It immediately catapulted Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton into genre icons status. And it succeeded not just because of its gleeful gore, but its subversive wit. Re-Animator didn’t just wedge its thumb in the eye of authority. It earned its cult classic status by smashing conventional filmmaking over the head until it was bludgeoned into submission.
There are plenty of versions of the film available, but this limited edition boxed set from Arrow Video is special. It’s not just a cash-grab. It’s a love letter to one of horror’s most enduring properties, and worthy of your hard-earned funds.
Now on Video-on-Demand:
Armed Response (Saban Films and Lionsgate, 93 minutes, R, VOD): Armed Response, the new movie starring Wesley Snipes and Anne Heche (!?!) as members of an elite military squad, truly has to be seen to be believed.
The film – directed by former ‘80s heartthrob John Stockwell – is a confounding mish-mash of ideas and imagery that goes full-on Jim Jones Guyana Kool-Aid crazy in its third act.
See, this isn’t an action movie, despite its misleading (and generic) title, which suggests viewers can expect Snipes and co. to be leading a hardcore military assault against some extreme threat. It’s a supernatural thriller. The only problem is, it’s not a very good supernatural thriller.
In fact, there’s little to no supernatural thrills for the first half of its runtime.
Instead, Stockwell focuses on Snipes and his team as they investigate The Temple (which should have been the film’s title, just saying), a high-tech government prison that uses algorithms based on things like body temperature and brain waves to anticipate resistance from violent inmates. Basically, The Temple knows the deepest, darkest secrets of the people within its walls, and uses those memories to constrain its population.
Except The Temple has experienced a glitch, and another elite military squad dispatched to investigate has disappeared.
So Snipes, Heche and the rest of their team, which includes WWE professional wrestler Seth Rollins, using his given name, Colby Lopez, because WWE Films co-produced Armed Response, enter The Temple and…very little happens.
For a good, long while.
Editor’s note: Why is Anne Heche in this movie? Seriously, what exactly about her acting career would lead anyone to consider her for the role of the lone female soldier in an elite covert ops team?
Eventually, the soldiers start discovering the bodies of their comrades. Then a notorious criminal kingpin is found locked in a sensory deprivation chamber. Then Snipes gets to interrogate him.
Finally – after what feels like forever – there’s some action. An invisible entity is identified on surveillance cameras killing Elite Squad No. 1, which understandably freaks out Elite Squad No. 2. Several of those soldiers then experience some strange happenings. One guy gets crushed by a transport van with no driver. There’s a bunch of shouting and finger pointing.
Then – and why not, really – Stockwell travels back in time to a war zone in Iraq or Afghanistan and Elite Squad No. 2 is busy interrogating a friendly local. Things go bad. Lots of innocent people get killed. And suddenly, it’s revealed that the spirits of those innocent people have somehow materialized inside The Temple through its crack-science-tech(y)-hoo-ha, and those spirits are exacting revenge on Snipes and his team.
And then – all hell breaks loose!!!! Well, not exactly, but a bunch of crazy shite does set off, including hands that materialize out of walls and rip the weapons out of the hands of the soldiers. Those same hands also rip one poor SOB limb from limb.
None of this is explained.
Is this part of The Temple’s program, or some supernatural freak occurrence?
It’s easier if you just make up your own answer, and go with that.
Armed Response is BVB’s bat-guano pick of the week.
For a movie that makes zero sense, it’s surprisingly watchable.
Pilgrimage (Image Entertainment, 96 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) team up as monks in 13th-century Ireland who must ferry a sacred artifact across the country’s rugged and violent terrain.
Savage Dog (XLrator Media, 94 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Scott Adkins hits a lot of people. If you like Adkins as an action star, you’ll like this variation on the innocent man wrongly imprisoned who must survive a brutal underground prison death-fight contest. ‘Nuff said.
Fargo (20th Anniversary Edition Steelbook)
John Wayne Double Feature: Rio Lobo/Big Jake
Cinematic Titanic: The Complete Collection
Seijun Suzuki’s The Taisho Trilogy Limited Edition
Teen Wolf – Collector’s Edition
Teen Wolf Too – Collector’s Edition