New Releases for Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Directed by: Jörg Buttgereit, Michal Kosakowski and Andreas Marschall
Run time: 112 minutes
The Lowdown: Watching German Angst, the 2015 horror anthology, is like being treated to three 3-star Michelin chefs preparing and executing the best meal of their lives.
The film is presented as a trio of stories, each more unnerving and intense than the last. The films vary in subject matter – from parental sexual abuse to cultural racism and finally sexual sadism and submission – yet retain enough connective and creative tissue to work together intrinsically.
First up is Final Girl by Jörg Buttgereit, the cult director of Nekromantik and Der Todesking: The Death King.
Buttgereit frames the opening tale around the inner mechanisms and machinations of guinea pigs. As a narrator explains the effect of different types of surgeries on the furry, oversized rats, viewers watch as a young 14-or-15-year-old girl moves through her unkempt, cramped apartment, finally settling on a back bedroom where her father lies strapped to a bedframe. Eventually, she experiments on him as you learn that he was both a hard-ass parent and a pedophile. Is the father the guinea pig, or his little girl?
Next comes Michal Kosakowski’s Make a Wish, a blistering and fully-realized nightmare of wish fulfillment and arcane magic that deftly combines brutal Nazi imagery with the current climate of societal and national opposition in Germany to anyone of Polish descent.
Kosakowski, whose only previous credit is Zero Killed, a series of shorts focused on graphic murder fantasies, narrows his focus, exerting a laser focus that produces moments of stark beauty amid the chaos. Make a Wish opens with a deaf and mute couple out for a stroll when they discover an abandoned office complex to explore. The young man gives the girl an amulet and uses sign language to share its story. But they’re interrupted by a gang of German youth who begin to torment and torture them, until the girl clutches the amulet, unleashing its otherworldly abilities. What happens next is both a flight of nightmarish fantasy and a grueling odyssey of revenge that comes with a stark price.
The best of the three shorts, however, belongs to Andreas Marschall, the cult director behind Tears of Kali and Masks. His effort, titled Alraune, is the most erotic and gory, and carries German Angst over the cliff into rarefied air. Alraune is the story of Eden and Maya, a couple on the outs. Eden, a photographer, begins to explore his darker leanings, which lands him in a German fetish club waiting to meet a woman he discovered online, who goes by the handle of Snow White. The woman he meets, however, is more than he bargained for. They end up making out in a dirty bathroom stall before Eden does a rail of cocaine off her thigh.
At first, Alraune feels out of place. Eden’s thoughts are conveyed via a voiceover that sounds like a poor-man’s German Vin Diesel. Eden follows the woman across Berlin to a private residence with a red door. He’s met by a man known as the Master who tells him that to become a member of this particular private soiree, he must pledge his allegiance to him and agree not to freak out when he witnesses acts of an unspeakable nature.
Eden is played by Milton Welsh, an actor who resembles the love child of Miguel Ferrer from Robocop and Chris Kattan. He's not very likable and, for a while, you actually want bad things to happen to him. He's such a pompous douche that every strict order he receives from the Master, you just know he is going to ignore. The Master tells him about a strange tree goddess. He makes him get naked and smoke from a huge pipe. Then he handcuffs and blindfolds Eden. “You have to trust me,” he says. Eden agrees even though they just met minutes earlier. What follows is a hallucinatory, psychedelic sex scene unlike any you’ve seen before.
Throughout, Marschall cuts back and forth between Eden’s surreal experience in the private fetish club to him retelling the story to Maya after they have reconciled. Eden explains his addiction, how he felt hooked and obsessed with finding the woman he first met in the club, which he does. He calls her and she tells him that he has stumbled into a German nightmare, and that if he dares return to the Master’s private residence, he must peek out from beneath his blindfold in order to fully understand. Then he shows up at her home, which is populated by nude portraits of herself. He finds her in a gorgeous bathtub trying to commit suicide. Things go spectacularly, gorily off the rails.
What does Eden do? He returns to the Master, of course. He rescinds his devotion to the Master. German Vin Diesel narrator tells Maya, “So, this was my story, and now you are my happy ending.” They are both now back in Eden's apartment, and all seems okay.
Um, yeah, that’s probably not a good portent. Alraune ends with one of the most over-the-top, unbelievable sequences of erotic horror that I’ve ever seen. It’s simply jaw-on-the-floor good. To say more would be a disservice to fans who need to experience this first-hand with as little advance information as possible.
I’m not sure exactly what overarching message German Angst is trying to convey, but I do know this: If, and when, I ever travel to Berlin, I will not let my guard down, not even for a second.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Gratuitous. Gore – Gratuitous.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Pedophilic parents, skinhead thugs and a tree-god monster.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
China Salesman (Cleopatra, 110 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): China Salesman, the new movie starring President Trump’s second-favorite Russian citizen, Steven Seagal, is bad.
Not dumpster fire bad.
Not discount bin bad.
It’s so bad that the whole reason this movie even exists, the chance to watch a swollen and tubby Seagal go fisticuffs with an illiterate Mike Tyson, takes place within the first 11 minutes. That’s right, Tyson vs. Seagal, Hard to Kill versus Difficult to Understand when Speaking, takes place in a dingy dive-bar in South Africa. There’s an ear gag right off the bat before Seagal starts abusing him. Then Mighty Mike lumbers back. Seagal’s stunt double looks absolutely nothing like him. Tyson wins.
You know China Salesman is going to be God-awful bad the minute Tyson opens his mouth. It’s like watching Eddie Murphy play Tyson.
“My people are not extinct!” he kind of shouts at one point. “I do not drink! I stick to my phaif!”
Whereas The Fifth Element had Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, China Salesman has Tiny Lisper.
It’s fascinating to watch Tyson act. He looks like he is looking just past whoever he’s speaking to so he can see someone behind them holding up a cue card with his lines. I mean, it’s tough being an actor. I get it. In the first 13 minutes, Tyson has to say the following 15 words:
My people are not extinct.
I do not drink.
I stick to my faith.
Whereas the main event brawl between Seagal and Tyson is mostly underwhelming, the fight that precedes it is actually pretty spectacular. Tyson box-fights a group of thugs and punches his way through a host of heavy wooden furniture lobbed at him by the bad guys.
That said, after those first two fights, there aren’t any other fights, which begs the question – what’s the effing point of China Salesman? The point seems to be some bizarre attempt at Hollywood-style propaganda on the part of the Chinese financiers footing the bill for this abomination.
You see, the hero of this tale is Yan Jian (Dong-xue Li), an IT engineer with a company that is bidding on a multi-national business venture. Tyson plays Kabbah, an African warlord hired by Philip (Marc Philip Goodman) to spy on Yan Jian and his company to ensure they don’t get awarded the contract. Philip, the character, is played by Marc Philip, the actor, as if White Goodman from Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was an actual person and not a fictional, cartoonish lout. Seagal plays Lauder, who owns a bar and has hair that appears to have been shellacked to his head.
Yan Jian never gets called by his name. In the first half-hour, he’s referred to twice as China Salesman and once as That Chinese guy. In one, tense, early scene, both Yan Jian and Kabbah stare at laptop screens. Back and forth, the camera cuts between the two men, both staring so intently at their respective screens that at any second you expect one of those crazy video screamer moments to happen.
FYI, China Salesman is about the corruption surrounding an international telecommunications contract. Why hasn’t this been the plot-through-line of a Mission: Impossible movie yet? “Ethan Hunt, your mission, if you can stay awake long enough to complete it, is to oversee the international telecommunications contract negotiation and make sure no one does anything illegal. This message will go to sleep in 3…2…zzzz.”
In another, equally tense, scene, Yan Jian and an Australian diplomat straight-up kidnap an African baby – as in, they rip said baby out of the arms of a tribal healer – in the middle of a medical procedure. Then they get chased by tribal elders on horseback. And Yan Jian straight-up gets lassoed Indiana Jones-style out of the bed of the truck. All of this just so the pretty blonde Australian lady can realize, ‘Holy shit, I just kidnapped a black baby and now I don’t know what to do!?!’
Did I mention that Kabbah’s given name should be Mike Tysonbot. Seriously, he alternates between acting robotically and looking terrified to be on camera saying words in the form of a coherent sentence.
The China Salesman slur comes back up. Yan Jian tells the Australian diplomat he doesn’t appreciate being disparaged. “We’re at a global telecom bidding,” she tells him. “None of that matters.”
That’s about the time that Kabbah blasts into the bidding chamber IN A TANK while shouting ‘Destroy them all!’
Apparently, people in South Africa take their global telecommunications contracts super fucking seriously. Like, whoa.
After what seems like an interminable period, but is actually just 30 minutes, without some more propaganda, China Salesman presents Yan Jian, in the middle of a vicious firefight in the African desert, unfurling and waving a Chinese flag, which immediately makes the African warlord trying to kill Jian and his entourage respect him as a Chinese national and declare a cease-fire.
Cue the uplifting, patriotic music.
Now, even the South African police commissioner respects Yan Jian.
Because China Salesman is all of us. He is the normal man who rises to the occasion. If this was Star Wars, surely someone would say, ‘Help us, China Salesman. You’re our only hope.’
I'm sure plenty of people will give China Salesman a watch simply to see Tyson and Seagal fight, but the entire film truly deserves to be experienced, if only to appreciate its epic W-T-F-ness.
The Endless (Well Go USA, 111 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead should be more well-known. They deserve the kind of high praise typically reserved for the true icons of genre fantasy cinema.
With just their third film, The Endless, they have completed a trilogy of epic originality that began with 2012’s Resolution and was cemented with 2014’s Spring. Connective tissue from both those movies plays a central, pivotal role in The Endless, which tells the story of Justin and Aaron Smith (played by Benson and Moorhead), two brothers who escaped a UFO death cult only to discover they no longer quite fit in the outside, real world.
Years after making their break, Aaron receives a mysterious VHS tape that includes a bizarre message from the cult members they once considered family. It sparks a desire to revisit the isolated commune, if only to remind themselves of what they left behind and why.
If you’re a devoted fan of Resolution, the VHS tape is an immediate clue that The Endless exists in a shared universe. What makes less sense, at least initially, are the strange symbols that Aaron and Justin begin to notice all around them in nature and in the sky. And, when they arrive back at the commune, it’s like no time has passed whatsoever. No one appears to have aged, but it’s clear that the group is preparing for something significant to happen.
Justin is more resistant to the pull of their old life, while Aaron falls back in step easily with the comforts of their former home. The leader of the group tells Justin to follow his intuition and seek out answers. That leads Justin to dive deep into a nearby lake, where he discovers something both horrific (which is never shown) and something tangible, which he retrieves. It’s another videotape, this one containing footage that you realize is being directly pulled from Resolution.
Then they take a walk out away from the commune’s main encampment and there they stumble upon the same remote cabin from Resolution, as well as the two main protagonists from that film, Michael (Peter Cilella) and Vinny (Chris Daniels), who are still trying 10 years later to escape an endless loop of frustration and futility.
The Endless is by no means a sequel to Resolution, or a continuation of Benson and Moorhead’s first cult feature, but instead it exists like a devouring force of nature, showing how one single unexplainable phenomenon can stretch beyond any borders to envelop multiple lives.
With Spring, the two directors showcased the impact of practical special effects with a few sequences of genuine awe and wonder. They expand on that promise in The Endless, which culminates in a sustained rush of apocalyptic craziness that should delight genre fans with the sheer ambition of the duo’s brazen bravado.
Hopefully, Hollywood will take notice. I would love to see what Benson and Moorhead could achieve with a budget that finally matches their abilities as true storytellers.
A Taste of Phobia (Artsploitation Films, 90 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Here’s what I have an aversion to, anthology films that sputter and fail to achieve liftoff, despite a solid premise.
Such is the case with A Taste of Phobia, which despite the pedigree of 14 international directors, and the limitless wellspring of different phobias that terrify people, finds little new to say or visualize during its first few short films, which made me lose interest and eventually turn off my DVD player with 11 short films remaining.
Seriously, the first few shorts focus on a fear of medicine, a fear of body hair and a fear of feces. For medicine, the subject is a pharmacist who reluctantly takes some cough syrup that later is revealed to be poisonous; for body hair, the focus is on a weird, completely bald guy who tortures a woman and shaves her skin off; and, for feces, viewers get to watch a naked man battle a shit-covered stuffed animal in a tiny bathroom.
A Quiet Place (Paramount, 90 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra HD): Relentless, unnerving and expertly staged, A Quiet Place is not only a fantastic alien invasion thriller, but a moving character study of two parents trying to save their family in the midst of an unthinkable nightmare. Yes, the majority of the film plays like a silent picture, but it’s not a gimmick and it never feels contrived.
This is guerrilla-style filmmaking, unapologetically in your face, that hurtles toward its abrupt, but breathtaking, climax.
The Addiction (Arrow Video, 82 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): As a director, Abel Ferrara cut his teeth in the 1970’s lensing adult X-rated movies, before turning to the pulpy genre stylings of cult-classics like Ms. 45 and The Driller Killer. In the early 1990’s, Ferrara enjoyed his heyday, the one-two punch of King of New York and Bad Lieutenant.
By 1995, when The Addiction, a black-and-white vampirism-as-drug-addiction thriller, was released, critics and fans were still stuck bashing his Madonna-starring Dangerous Game, and largely dismissed this moody and muted horror exercise.
The Addiction isn’t as unabashedly bonkers as Bad Lieutenant and it never reaches the gritty, gory realism of Ms. 45, but it’s not a bad movie, per se; just an uneven one.
Lili Taylor plays a philosophy student who has a fatal run-in with Annabella Sciorra’s wickedly hot blood-temptress, Casanova. That leads to some hands-on, newbie vamp training from Christopher Walken’s immortal Peina. And the film culminates in an alluring and unhinged human buffet, where Taylor’s Kathleen Conklin basically invites all of her friends and role models to a party to serve as the main course for all of the new vampires she has created with her blood thirst.
Where The Addiction falters is in Ferrara’s determination to marry vampirism and drug addiction. Sure, he bludgeons his point home by having the vampires offer their victims a choice – turn and walk away, or suffer the consequences – but the implication comes off like a paper-thin indictment of an addict’s cognitive willpower. How many users, when offered a hit of a drug, would theoretically say no?
Mission: Impossible 1-5 4K Ultra HD (Paramount, 623 minutes, PG-13, 4K Ultra HD): Arriving just in time to energize long-time fans of Tom Cruise’s IMF Agent Ethan Hunt, in advance of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which hits theaters on July 27, Paramount Pictures has released all five previous M:I adventures in crackling 4K Ultra HD.
Of all the Hollywood celebrities and all their myriad controversies and foibles, Cruise has somehow managed to always stay one step ahead. Sure, he’s lost some fans due to his continued embrace of Scientology, the lingering rumors about actresses having to audition to be his girlfriend and his omnipresence in the tabloids. But BVB still loves Cruise, especially in action mode, and the Mission: Impossible franchise has proved an enduring and entertaining vehicle for the past 22 years.
What’s most surprising about these 4K Ultra HD releases is how well Mission: Impossible III has held up, and just how good that film overall really is.
If there’s a culprit to be blamed for this series’ longevity, M:I III is it.
Released in 2006, and directed by then-red hot J.J. Abrams, whose Lost was reaching maximum exposure, Mission: Impossible III represented a Hail, Mary-effort at resuscitating the franchise after 2000’s enjoyable but addled, John Woo-helmed Mission: Impossible II. Woo’s signature style, which worked wonders in his import films like Hard Boiled, didn’t marry as well to the M:I format, but those dueling motorcycle wheelies, oh my.
M:I III, however, drafted the blueprint for every Hunt adventure that’s followed, including showcasing one or more death-defying stunts performed by Cruise. III also worked well because it humanized Hunt in exactly the same way that II tried to make him an indestructible super-agent-hero.
Abrams’ gift is creating memorable characters, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain, international arms smuggler Owen Davian, is one of the best bad guys to be introduced into the franchise.
The central plot – Davian is seeking the Rabbit’s Foot, a mythical biohazard capable of rebooting life on Earth – plays second fiddle to Hunt’s race-against-time to save Julia (Michelle Monaghan), the young doctor he marries after retiring from the Impossible Mission Force.
As showcased in 4K Ultra high-definition, the Mission: Impossible films pop with vibrancy while delivering a crystal-clear portal into the numerous action sequences, so much so that you’ll feel like a member of the IMF team.
Jack Reacher 4K Ultra HD