Deadgirl (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel
viewed: 02/26/10

I’d been on a little horror jag for the day, not planned, though I’d queued all the films up and they were all sitting here, waiting to be watched.  No planning.  No plan.  The only theme being that they were recent horror films.  I’d watched the moderately entertaining Norwegian nazi zombie film Dead Snow (2009) and followed it up with the ridiculously disgusting and comic Ti West film Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009) and I had Deadgirl on tap, actually having gotten interested in it having seen a trailer for it on the DVD of The House of the Devil (2009), Ti West’s other film from 2009.

The parallels built themselves, oddly enough.  This film, as in Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever featured both actor Noah Segan, hero of the former, villain of the present.  And also, the actor Michael Bowen showed up again, this time as a drunken mom’s boyfriend rather than gay high school principal, but you know…how often are you going to watch two films back-to-back with those two actors in it?  That’s like the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon thing or something.

Deadgirl is a strange premise.  Actually, I would say that the premise is perhaps the most strange because of the accepted behavior of the two lead teenage boys, Segan and his buddy, our hero, Shiloh Fernandez.  So, two teens go drinking beer and raising hell in an abandoned mental hospital (we’ve all done that, right?)  And their explorations uncover (literally) a naked woman, strapped down to a table deep in a basement.

Rather than immediately seeking the help of police or trying to rescue her, Segan suggests that they “keep” her.  While Fernandez is scandalized by this, he doesn’t turn his buddy in, but goes home to brood over this and the all-American girl he yearns for who hardly knows he’s alive.  But Segan seeks him out and tells him that he’s made a discovery.  The girl is dead.  But can’t be killed.  He’s tried.  She can’t be killed.

Turns out that Segan has been fucking around with the deadgirl and discovered, after choking her to death and breaking her neck 3 times that she, much like the Energizer bunny, just keeps on going.  And he proves this to Fernandez by plugging her with a couple of bullets.  So, this is when he gets the idea that this deadgirl isn’t really human and should be kept for a sex slave.  A continually rotting, more and more disgusting, sex slave.

Okay, this is the thing.  The concept is putrid.  And perhaps even more putrid than the concept is the fact that the writers and directors of this film seem to think that while our hero “has issues” with this, he not only does nothing, but there are several other fellows who think that raping a living corpse is just peachy.  Is this really concieveable?  I mean, I know we’re dealing with a living corpse but the regular people, are they believeable?  Would no one run to the authorities, wonder who she was/is, try to find her the help she needs?  Not empathize with the amoral horny teenagers?  And would teenagers so gladly embrace necrophilia?

That’s what we’ve got here.  Necrophilia and teenagers.  Torn from the headlines.

The bottom line is that the plausibility of this world is just too much to make.  And the fact that the authors consider the morality of the human teenager to be so suspect as to believe that they’ll fuck anything (including her pus-oozing bullet wounds — No Shit!) is just beyond my ability to believe.  I mean to believe that one, really fucked up and alienated teenager might go to such extremes or that even say two might…well fucked up shit does happen, but when even your moral pillar, your hero, as much as he turns his prudish nose up at it ultimately (in the happy? ending) seems to take to his own deadgirl, you just have to say “what the fucking fuck?”

What I liked about the film was its far extremity of bad taste and subject matter, and even its twisted scenario in which something so crazy is the setting for the story.  But it’s too much to take that everyone is so fucking disgusting and amoral that raping a living corpse is a good time (to be had by all comers).  It’s sick.  Not sick like the gross-out Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever special effects and pus and ooze (though it has its small share) but sick in the way that it just assumes that it makes sense that no one went to the police to report such fucking strange and bizarre phenomena as a living dead woman.

This film, while reasonably interesting, I’ve found to be quite morally repugnant.  And maybe coming from someone who can enjoy such a gross-out flick as Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, maybe that means nothing.  But on the other hand, who is this film for?  Is it for those lonely teens who wish, wish, wish that they had their own living dead girl to enact sexual deviance upon?  To gang rape a corpse?

Excuse me.  Puke.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Ti West
viewed: 02/26/10

As you can probably guess from the title of this film, Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, an unfortunate title any way you slice it, this film is the sequel to the film Cabin Fever (2002), the film that put Eli Roth onto the the film world.  Though Roth also directed Hostel (2005), he’s perhaps better recognized these days as the “Bear Jew” from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), in which he shares the screen with Brad Pitt, announcing the “might just be my masterpiece” line (am I the only one who snags on that?)

However, Cabin Fever 2 is directed by another horror phenom, Ti West, director of The House of the Devil (2009).

I don’t know, I’ve had a penchant for horror films of late and today turned into a mini festival of sorts, starting with Dead Snow (2009), followed by this one and followed again by another.  It’s the kind of indulgence that I allow myself every once in a while.  But the strange thing, is this one turned out quite fruitful.

Cabin Fever 2 is a surprisingly decent, if not actually pretty darn good, horror comedy.  The casting is good, featuring several young actors who have good character in their roles.  The film is funny.  Actually quite amusing, riffing on the ultimate gross-out of disgustingness.  And yes, it’s a gore-fest of note.  I mean, I don’t watch gore movies for gore, generally speaking, but you have to appreciate the over-the-topness of the buckets of blood, intestines, oozing pustules, ugh.  Much very cringe-worthy material.  Not for the faint of stomach.

The story opens initially with a quick wrap-up of the original, which splats a body with a school bus, and suddenly you get the title sequence.  It’s meant to be punchy and funny, and it is.  The title sequence is a cartoon that shows how the deadly flesh-eating ebola-like virus of the first film gets into bottled water and gets distributed to a high school just in time for prom.  Basically, we’ve got a whole school of teenagers about to rot and bleed and fall to pieces.

The story (there actually is one) that follows the loner guy who desires the pretty girl (who is a friend) (who has a violent jock boyfriend) and how he strives to get the girl.  Sure, it’s a story as old as the hills, but it’s set to this shocking and gory background.  And yet, it kind of works.

The movie works not just on shock value, but actually works because it’s got good enough characters, a tasteless and overt humor, and the goriest gore that I’ve seen in a long, long time.  Again, it’s not my usual thing, but the film takes the gore to a high, high level and it’s not all digital crap but some very painful to watch, nauseating, disgusting sequences.

In short, it’s a minor masterpiece.  I know I’m overstating it to say that, but what the hell.  I liked it.

And oddly enough, it featured Michael Bowen, who I mainly am aware of because of my liking for the film Valley Girl (1983), in which he played the bully bad boy.  This film seems to tip its hat a bit to Valley Girl, having Bowen, now in his 40’s, as the gay principal of the school, but appearing at a gaudy prom, and featuring the song “Monster of Love” by Sparks, which is a key song from Valley Girl.  Now, I know that may sound like some seriously nerdy aspect of the film, but heck, it was there.  I noted it.  So there.

Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Tommy Wirkola
viewed: 02/26/10

When you’ve seen one Norwegian Nazi zombie movie, you’ve seen ’em all.

That said, it’s not all that often these come along.

Dead Snow, I think I just summarized it reasonably well for you, is your typical horror genre film, a bunch of young people in an isolated cabin (in this case in the Norwegian mountains, which are quite beautiful), and the stirring of stolen Nazi gold, hidden away for decades, brings to life an army of zombie German soldiers leftover from WWII.  You know how that can happen.

The film is a pretty by-the-book affair despite the premise, but with a lot of fairly gory blood-letting and a few gruesome surprises.  Director Tommy Wirkola seems to have a particular penchant for intestines.  In fact, the film’s most novel point has one of the vacationing medical students hanging by some stretched-out intestine of a defeated Nazi zombie, dangling over a cliff while he battles another of the creatures.

Beyond that, there is something aesthetic about the Nazi zombies in their military regalia, stark against the snow.  Maybe aesthetic in some video game sort of way, something gruesome and absurd, yet titilating.

While there is obviously some subtext here, these hidden, lost Nazis, both historical and literal among the outlying reaches of clean and modern Scandanavia could carry some weight.  But in the end, that’s about all the subtext there is.  Only one of the campers has a 1/4 of Jewish blood somewhere and the film isn’t too bothered with Nazi evils other than greed pretty much.  Certainly, there’s that.  But in the end, they’re just nattily-clad zombies, who work together as a military group might, with the aim of dismembering the young and old alike.  Like I said, you know how that can happen.

The Last Station

The Last Station (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Michael Hoffman
viewed: 02/23/10 at the Albany Twin Theater, Albany, CA

The Last Station is a film about the turbulent last year in the life of a great writer and the love of his life.  In this case, the great writer is Leo Tolstoy in his 80’s and the love of his life is his wife of more than 40 years.  I had thought it interesting that I’d also relatively recently seen another film about the last year in the life of a great writer, the poet John Keats, and the love of his life.  Bright Star (2009) is Keats and love and tragedy and youth, while The Last Station is Tolstoy and love and tragedy but at the end of a long and full life.

Perhaps the comparison really ends there.  Perhaps not.

The Last Station is what I refer to as an “actorly” film (I don’t think I coined that phrase but spell checks, when I think to use them, like to correct that word), and as an “actorly” film, not the kind of film to which I am normally drawn.  The reason being is that what I mean by “actorly” films is that these are films in which big actors are given juicy roles to play, and the draw to the films is to see the actors, engaged in acting, gunning often for awards.  And, of course, this is certainly something that appeals to a lot of people.  I prefer films that are made by directors, made with somewhat more of a sense of authorship and meaning, character, and vision.  And I find that most of these films that are primarily stages to be trod by actors, they have less in the sense of vision and meaning, even if they are well-made.

For me, The Last Station is a good version of an actorly film, though not one that is overtly driven by the director’s sense of film.  But it’s also driven by its story, the reality of the final year in the life of one of the great writers of the world, and for me, someone that I was particularly interested in biographically.  I just finished reading “War and Peace” after the new year and had read an interesting article on Tolstoy a few years before, so was more open to seeing this film than perhaps I might be many others that I (perhaps very subjectively and not necessarily correctly) have deemed to be “actorly” films.

The acting is good, of course.  Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, and James McAvoy to name the bigger of the names.  Mirren and Plummer get the most plum work, and McAvoy’s character, a Tolstoy devotee who lands the job as a secretary to the great writer, while not the most interesting of roles, is actually quite good.  Mirren’s character, the Countess Tolstoy, gets the most overt drama, big histrionics, and comic turns, depicting a woman given to drama.  She’s pretty much the center of the film.  Plummer is well-embedded in his character, oozing the joy of life of a man of greatness, yet also the frustration with the dramas going on around him.

Tolstoy, in late life, became very politicized and inspired by religion, and looked upon his wealth and status as a very negative thing.  His desire to commit to a more spiritually-driven and focussed life made the Countess feel deeply rejected and threatened, especially by the people who surrounded Tolstoy, seemingly looking to profit from his good nature and generosity.  Ultimately, Tolstoy is driven away from his wealth and his family in escape from the drama, but the Countess as well.  And the key of the story is that they have a great and true love that has existed and endured many decades, much devotion, much collaboration, and is hanging by a thread.  Love can endure, but it can still be a pain in the ass.

Perhaps this focus on love, in the last year of a great writer’s life, at two polar ends of the spectrum of the length of life, is what drew me to the comparison between the Keats film and this one.  Tolstoy died at 82, Keats at age 25.  But perhaps more than I could draw from these biographical examinations (both films are adaptations of biographical books), is also the artistry of filmmaking.  Jane Campion’s film, Bright Star, is much more a work of an auteur, a film that is more than the material and actors and story, is part of the filmmaker’s breadth of work and a much more moving and vivid film.  The Last Station, while well-acted, well-produced, and quite a decent film, is much more pedestrian of an experience by comparison.  To me, anyway.

That is opinion but also perhaps observation.  Not meant to denigrate the Tolstoy film, but to make a point, perhaps about the types of films that I choose to watch.

Whip It

Whip It (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Drew Barrymore
viewed: 02/22/10

I’ve liked Drew Barrymore since I first saw her as Gertie in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) when she was all of about 6 years old.  I was charmed like many people by her and saw her in Firestarter (1984) and Cat’s Eye (1985).  And while I didn’t follow her career exactly as she went through her drug and rehab stints as a young girl and had come out the other end by 1990, writing her “biography” at age 15 in “Little Girl Lost”.

I did, however, take a liking to her re-rise to fame in trashy films like Poison Ivy (1992), Guncrazy (1992), and Doppelganger (1993), and her big turning point, The Amy Fisher Story (1993) when she was suddenly “back”.  As she built up her modern image in light fare aimed at young girls: Ever After (1998) and Never Been Kissed (1999), I still liked her even if I wasn’t interested in her movies.  And I thought she’d done well for herself, developing a production company and making it big with Charlie’s Angels (2000) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003).

But to see her take up directing?  Wasn’t really necessary.

Whip It is a movie about girls’ roller derby, a retro sport that has gained popularity over the past several years, and stars the chipper Ellen Page of Juno (2007) fame.  It’s the sort of lightweight teen outsider comedy mixed with the sports film, set to a fair amount of 1980’s tunes and populated with a number of recognizable faces.  The film is about exactly what you would imagine it to be, light as a feather, shallow as a puddle, and relatively entertaining nonetheless.

Barrymore appears in it as a character that could well-be considered her self-image persona, the pretty, goofy, rowdy girl who fits right in with the brawling babes.  Also on their team, the Hurl Scouts, are Kristen Wiig, Eve, and Zoe Bell (who was last seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007)).  On the opposing side is Juliette Lewis (who also could be argued to playing a close version of her rock’n’roll self) and mom is Marcia Gay Harden and dad is the very likeable Daniel Stern.

When the fim came out last summer, some of the criticism ran agains it and Jennifer’s Body (2009) that the films’ supposed adoption of “grrrl power” motifs were limp-wristed and going-through-the-motions.  I haven’t been able to take that particular slant, but I would say that this film depicts the tough-guy gals as comical but clean.   It’s just good-ol’ fun, and while Page’s mother wants her to be dressed like a proper lady, the call to the identity of the American girl individual is there.  But the world, with its under-age drinking, isn’t drawn up to be dark or scary.  The worst thing that can happen is the boy you like gives your favorite t-shirt to some other girl.  But that’s men for you.

Actually, the worst thing about this film is Jimmy Fallon who plays the announcer/party-thrower.  He’s Jimmy Fallon.  Need I say more? He’s frickin’ annoying (I’ll keep this clean since Drew kept her film clean).

Drew, I still like you but you really don’t need to make any more movies if this is what you’re going to make.  Then again, it might as well be you because they’ll keep getting made by somebody, I suppose.  And God knows, it could have been more annoying.

Old Joy

Old Joy (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Kelly Reichardt
viewed: 02/20/10

A movie about a couple of guys who go camping, find a hidden hot springs, take a bath and chat.  What’s not to like, right?   Honestly, I’ve never been one for camping.  And watching two guys go camping in a movie lacks the inconvenience of really doing it yourself, but not the dull boredom.

Oddly enough, I kept thinking of the film Wendy and Lucy (2008), which I’d seen last year, about a girl stuck in the Pacific Northwest, on the down-and-out, amid the humdrum small town in which she finds herself stranded.  Oddly enough, I say, because that film also was by writer/director Kelly Reichardt, adapted as well from a story by Jonathan Raymond.  And it’s both milieu and style that ties these things together, a minimalist naturalism, aimed at the dull, non-overwhelming actuality of life and its less exciting rhythms.

Old Joystars the musician Will Oldham as one of the two friends who go camping.  He’s the wandering one who smokes dope and knows where the hidden hot springs are.  His friend is a father-to-be whose life perhaps at one time mirrored that of Oldham’s character, but is now settling into “something that he can’t easily extract himself from,” which Oldham’s character considers one of the keys to his life.

Nothing in particular happens, so the film is really one of tonality, of suggestion (since much more perhaps goes unsaid than said) and their friendship and yet alienation from one another is sort of the point of the exercise.  But it’s a hard sell.  To be honest, a film in which the most dramatic point is where one guy gives another guy a shoulder massage, you’ve got to be committed to the experiment and the style to follow.

As in Wendy and Lucy, there is a real earnest approach to narrative here, to representing stories of the Northwest, of people that we might easily recognize from the coffee shop or the park bench.  And while I think that this film worked a little more than Wendy and Lucy, it still feels like something is missing (and I don’t mean a car chase or an explosion or two), but I think to pull off this type of subtlety and tonality, in many ways you have to be more a master craftsperson than one who does make digital blue people and things pop off the screen with computers.  It’s hard.  And while I give merit to it, I also wish that it succeed more than it seemed to.

Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke (1999) movie poster

(1999) dir. Jane Campion
viewed: 02/20/10

Since watching An Angel at My Table (1990) and Bright Star (2009) last year, I’ve been on a determined path to catch up by watching all of director Jane Campion’s films.  No real order to this, so I’ve selected a sort of odd film of hers here, 1999’s Holy Smoke which is perhaps most pointedly, compared to her other films, a comedy.  All of her films seem to have comic elements at times, but in this case, the whole cast is a bit of an over-the-top decpiction of the Australian family.

While Campion herself is from New Zealand, this film is about a suburban Sydney family who fears that their wayward daughter (played by always charming Kate Winslet) has fallen under the spell of an Indian mystic and has turned into a cultist.  They hire a hot-shot American deprogrammer (played by Harvey Keitel) to come out and break her.  The whole thing turns hurdy-gurdy and eventually climbs to pretty significant absurdist heights.

I’ve noted before, which may or may not be true but there seems in Australian cinema, a picture of Aussies as pretty freaking loopy.  The semi-nuclear family here features some broads caricatures of the gay brother and his boyfriend, the straight brother and his flowzy tart of a wife, the over-bearing but well-meaning mom, and a whole cast of other characters who I never fully got a grasp on their relationships.  To a big extent, this is one of the film’s main characteristics.

But the film is about the highly-confident deprogrammer who goes on his own Australian adventure, drawn in by the rebelious, sexy Winslet, who is both broken according to plan but also manages to “break” her deprogrammer too.

I’d say this film is by no means as strong as Campion’s other films, though it has its charms.  Winslet and Keitel are both compelling.  Winslet’s slutty sister-in-law, played by the tarty Sophie Lee is also quite funny.

But after having become a bit of an “Intervention” junky (the A&E television series that depicts real interventions, though not deprogrammings), some of the methodology and approach seemed kind of strange and suspect.  I guess it’s not really meant to be taken seriously, though it does raise some interesting points, such as whose reality is genuine?  I mean, her family lovingly commits to trying to bring her back, but they are a kook-fest of their own and Keitel’s version of reality becomes so compromised that it’s hard to know just what the grounding is for the ultimate return to “sanity”.  Though the film does find its way there eventually.

I’d say this is definitely a lesser Campion film, but one that might be interesting in an Australian cinema analysis.

Red Riding: 1983

(2009) dir. Anand Tucker
viewed: 02/16/10

The final part of the Red Riding Trilogy, Red Riding: 1983 wraps up the narratives of Red Riding: 1974 (2009) and Red Riding: 1980 (2009), though with much more focus on 1974 than the other.  As with the other films, this one is adapted from the final book of David Peace’s series about North Yorkshire crime and corruption in this period of 9 years and adapted by writer Tony Grisoni.  And this film is directed by yet another director, Anand Tucker, who has perhaps the least impressive resume of the three directors and gets stuck with the most convoluted of the three scripts to direct.

Now that I have seen all three films, which were made originally for England’s Channel 4, but are being released theatrically (and on cable’s On Demand) in the States, I can say that the whole is more and better than the sum of the parts.  The parts, the three films, on their own are decent, maybe a tad above what one typically considers “made of TV” movies, though as I noted, “made for TV” movies in Britain tend to be better than ones in America, with the potential exception of some now produced for cable.

Red Riding: 1983 has the misfortune of having to resolve all the narrative tropes of the series and therefore finds itself almost half of the time in flashback mode, using some clips from the prior films, but also just “explaining” the story.  There is a mystery here.  The child murders of 1974 are brought back to life when a new child disappears.  And a dissipated barrister and one of the bad cops who develops a conscience help to oust the black heart of the corruption and seek redemption.

The period is interestingly photographed.  England’s countryside is beautiful, the moors and the hills, but the poverty of the housing districts, all of England under heavy black clouds, is hung under a depression.  Perhaps with some more context for the larger political and social landscape outside of the North would have added to this historical vision.  But the story is all about the North, how in the North the motto is “This is the North, we do what we like.”  And all the top police, businessmen, and even the priests are all part of a murderous mafia whose deepest, darkest evil is a child molestation and pornography ring.

Frankly, it’s hard to fathom that so many people who were in the police would be able to stomach the knowledge that a child murderer, child rapists, child abductors and exploiters were at work.  Of all the crimes that collusion would be brought together upon, the idea that that many prominent figures could participate or willingly allow such a thing to happen is just hard to believe because it is so morally reprehensible, that someone within this circle would have to have balked and fought against it.

For Red Riding: 1983, the whole thing has to be revealed, and I actually found it a bit confusing in its revelations at times, so it’s not handled as well as it could be.  The whole of the series is better when the finale is there because the story is more complete, so I would say that these films on their own are not the way to go.  It’s a series that should be seen that way.  However, though the series is more than the sum of the parts, it’s still not fantastic.  It’s got some interesting things going on in it, some good actors and good performances, and it intrigues.  But on the whole, … eh.

The Wolfman

The Wolfman (2010) movie poster

(2010) dir. Joe Johnston
viewed: 02/15/10 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

The latest Hollywood re-make in the theaters is the new Benicio Del Toro-starring re-do of the Universal “classic” The Wolf Man (1941).  While it would be probably erroneous to say that the film doesn’t represent further creative bankruptcy and cynnical re-heating of Hollywood of its own creative high points (since what films out there are either not re-makes, sequels, or semi-plaguerized riffs anymore?), their is a dedication to the original film, even citing Curt Siodmak, writer of the original screenplay, as the initiator of this story.

Del Toro (who started his career in cinema as a fur-face in Big Top Pee-Wee (1988)  as “Duke the Dog-Faced Boy”) is the unsmiling and tortured “prodigal son” who returns to his family’s English estate after many years in America to find out about the gruesome murder of his brother.  His brother’s widowed fiance, played by the attractive Emily Blunt, who is a ringer for their tragically dead mother, shows some liking toward him as well.  His father, Anthony Hopkins, is the gun-toting baron of a massive estate, in deep decay (no doubt a moral reflection in this very Victorian/Gothic aesthetic given to the art direction).  And Hugo Weaving is the London detective sent to investigate the series of “Ripper-like” murders.

Del Toro, in seeking out the gypsy camp to find out more about his late brother, finds himself at the center of a ravenous attack by the loose werewolf, and though he is bitten, he survives.  And of course, he becomes the “Wolfman” himself.

This Wolfman racks up a much higher body count than perhaps any other ever before.  Limbs are ripped off, heads are swiped from their shoulders, claws sprout through mouths and eyes, entrails are everywhere.  In one night out in London, “Dozens” are killed according to the following morning newspaper.  The monster will take on whole crowds, whole towns, whole caravans, whole cities.  And he’s extremely muscular.

Even the design of the Wolfman is a nod to the 1941 original.  He is a “wolf-man”, more man than wolf, generally walking on his hind legs, though to really get running fast and furious, he’ll use all four.  He also lacks the muzzle of a true canine, so the face retains the human behind the make-up a tad.

The “change” effects are created by the master Rick Baker, who has done his share of werewolf morphing.  He designed both The Howling (1981) and the most frequently cited and influential An American Werewolf in London (1981), not to mention, Wolf (1994).  I actually thought that the effects were one of the film’s strongest points.

As a whole, though, the film never really rises above the functional.  That is to say that while it’s by no means terrible, it’s also by no means excellent.  Hopkins is quite good as the tyranical, macho father figure, clad, head to toe and home in animal pelts, deer antlers and the like.  And Hugo Weaving manages to give his inspector a few good scenes (enough so that he’s probably the most interesting or potentially interesting one in the film.)  But like so many re-makes, re-treads, and re-boots, because the film lacks a true reason for being, a true vision (perhaps a stronger director properly motivated could have shaped the material better), the whole thing, while not a lost cause, is also nothing spectacular either.

Now my last note here will be the quality of a spoiler, so you can stop reading if you want, but I do want to mention since it’s one of the key elements of this film in contrast to its predecessor is that the backstory isn’t about a gypsy werewolf who bites Del Toro but rather it’s his father who is the werewolf all along, so there is this familial heritage astpect to the story, which is kind of interesting, but really what it allows for is a battle royale between two big, powerful werewolves, fighting to the death.  That’s the modern twist on the story, the truly 21st century additive.  More monsters, more dead people, more fighting.

Red Riding: 1980

(2009) dir. James Marsh
viewed: 02/10/10

Red Riding: 1980 is the second of the film trilogy Red Riding made initially for England’s Channel 4.  This installment is directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire (2008)) and follows Red Riding: 1974.  While the whole series, adapted by Tony Grisoni from a series of books by David Peace, follows the year-oriented installment plan, for some reason they skipped what would have been “part 2”, 1977.  I don’t know why, perhaps budget reasons, narrative tightening? 

Anyhow, the filmic part 2, Red Riding: 1980 picks up six years after the first installment and does recall certain incidents from that film, the bloody shoot-out in a local pub that was part of the first film’s finale.  However, by 1980, the story if fixed upon the case of the real-life Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 women over a five year period.  But the story isn’t just about the real crimes, though it starts off with the discovery of one of the victims.  The story is really concerned with the over-rife corruption in Yorkshire in this period, one in which the police’s failures to find and convict the killer has led to opportunity to hide other crimes under the Ripper’s style.

A hot-shot officer from the South is sent up North to perform his own investigation of the crimes, empowered by the State and not beholding to the local magistrates.  He is met with a great deal of disdain, not only as an outsider, but as an outsider who had once before been through, trying to clean up another murky internal affairs issue (perhaps the story of the missing 1977 episode), and as he constructs his team of detectives and delves into the murders, he begins again to stumble across the hidden crimes of the police department.

Since these films were made as a series, aired on British television perhaps a bit more like a mini-series rather than three individual films, it’s hard to know how entirely to deal with these individual pieces of the puzzle.  Perhaps, to try to see them a bit more uniquely, one might even try to watch them out of order rather than in order.  Or maybe it just simply should be seen as parts of a whole.  The directors of the three films are all different, though not different enough to stand out dramatically, attached as they are to a coherent vision of the story through a single adaptation and not necessarily directors of significantly unique “styles”.

Again, as in Red Riding: 1974, the film is solid, well-acted, intriguing, and compelling, but not massively so.  The build-up upon the prior story does seem to add to the whole, but isn’t yet complete enough.  It still feels sort of “television quality” or, to be fair, perhaps “telly quality” as the English do tend to make far more solid television movies than one would see in America outside of cable.

Catching them as I have on On Demand, which is my experiment of the year, films that are “Same Day as in Theaters”, I am trying to decide how I feel about it.  With this series not actually playing locally outside of a short-run film festival, my guilt about watching on television versus going to the theater is not so apt.  However, I’ve been having trouble getting the third act to play, so that may be the final decision-maker for what I think, both about these films and about On Demand.