Many directors remake their own films, with varying results. But some foreign made stuff just doesn’t translate well into Hollywood from its more abstract, Euro-centric sensibilities and unfortunately Gela Babluani’s 13 falls victim to that, and hard. You can gloss it up all you want with studio dollars or cast as many heavy hitter actors to pad the lining, but if you do the shot-for-shot thing and ape what you did the first time around, it can just feel weird, awkward and unbecoming. I’ve never seen the original film (also called 13) but I could just simply tell by the structure and tone here that Babluani tried to literally translate his initial piece and the results are just plain bizarre.
This story tells of a super scary underground Russian roulette competition in which handlers enter mentally unstable rejects into an intense round robin of revolvers to the head, with maniacal sports commentator Michael Shannon playing ringmaster and chewing more scenery than he did in The Shape Of Water, which is really saying a lot. Sam Riley, an actor I’ve always greatly admired and seen as underrated, plays a young dude who’s down on his luck and enters this ordeal not fully knowing what he’s up against. The thing here is that several standalone aspects really do work and are interesting, but they’re too episodic and disjointed to pulley the film together into something that makes sense and doesn’t feel cobbled together from used parts. Mickey Rourke is terrific as a jaded ex-con competitor who’s just looking for a way out, but he classes up anything he’s in as a given. Jason Statham plays a posh handler whose fighter (Ray Winstone, also great) is an unhinged lunatic. 50 Cent is also there because I’m pretty sure there’s some clause in low budget genre films where he has to appear in every third one or something (seriously, look at his IMDb). The great Ben Gazzara turns up, obviously wracked with the illness that would end him a few years later, but you’ve gotta hand it to the guy for showing up at all given his condition. Others are around including Alexander Skarsgard, David Zayas, Wayne Duvall and Emmanuelle Chriqui but they’re mostly lost in the shuffle.
The scenes of Russian roulette are intense enough but not too affecting because we don’t give a shart about the characters, apart from perhaps Rourke. This ain’t no Deer Hunter in terms of scenes like that. Your best bet is to check out the original I suppose, which I still have to do. This one has a fantastic cast who are all just tossed to the wind in a flurry of shoddy editing and suspiciously slapdash storytelling. Shame.
It’s easy to see why audiences are having sort of an icy reaction to Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark, an oblique, austere Alaska set thriller with esoteric undertones. On a platform as diverse yet decidedly commercial as Netflix, it will take some time for the riskier, more artistic and less accessible projects to gain traction, and for the casual viewers to warm up to varied aesthetics that they often lazily dismiss in a lump sum as ‘weird.’ They’ll come around. For us who are tuned in, however, we can appreciate that these risks are being taken and that money is being spent on challenging, anti Hollywood stuff. Although not as tightly wound or succinct as Saulnier’s first two efforts (Blue Ruin and Green Room), Hold The Dark is definitely my favourite as I have an affinity for snowy settings and dark, ambiguous mysteries. Jeffrey Wright is great here as as an outdoorsman and wolf expert hired by the mother (Riley Keogh) of a child supposedly snatched by wolves to find the beasts and kill them. I won’t say much more except that things are so far from what they seem at first that you’ll truly have no inkling of where the plot is going to take you next, which is a sign of great, inspired scriptwriting. There’s an eerie edge to the whole thing, but the film’s secrets aren’t divulged willingly or at all half the time. Alexander Skarsgard is implosive and lupine himself as the boy’s haunted father, on his own freaky quest for a goal shrouded in enigma like fog swells throughout the Alaskan mountains, actually Alberta here. James Badge Dale is great as the intense local sheriff, Julian Black Antelope is a standout talent as a shady local villager involved in the central mystery, and the cast includes fine work from Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Jonathan Whitesell and Tantoo Cardinal. Playing around with genre and tone, Saulnier and cinematographer Magnus Nordendorf Jønck deserve huge props for staging a fucking volcanic firefight scene that has to be up there with the best shootout scenes of all time, it goes on for something like ten minutes, more bullets are fired than in a Rambo movie and there’s some gnarly violence. There are some spooky, intangible ideas at play here and almost none of it is made obvious.. it may leave some in WTF mode, but clearly a stylistic language is being spoken here, with some deep, disturbing things to say about nature, humanity and the dark symbiosis held over them, particularly in lonely, desolate places such as this. This won’t be everyone’s thing, but it’s stayed with me all day since I saw it last night, I’m on board with it.
Before The Monuments Men, there was a dopey little WWII art heist flick called The Last Drop. Alright, it’s a tenuous connection but they’re centred around the same idea: what better time for a heist than the fog of war? Well, chaos is indeed the name of the game with this scrappy, obviously low budget barrel of fun, both in terms of setting and the film itself. The cast is the main draw, as is always the case with B movies.. without a few names, some veteran charisma, pieces like this would just be bereft of any value. Well they got Michael Madsen, because every movie needs a Michael Madsen, getting more screen-time than usual here as an American military honcho on the hunt for some priceless works of art that have gone missing from Berlin. It’s pretty much just a European wartime Rat Race, with various factions scrambling to find the loot and not get killed along the way. A platoon of Brits blunders across Holland, led by Sean Pertwee and including Tommy ‘Chibs’ Flanagan, Nick Moran, Rafe Spall, Alexander Skarsgard and more. A volatile German double agent (intense Karel Roden) pursues them all. Oh yeah, and Billy Zane calmly and deliberately poses for the camera as a Yankee operative with a fetish for wistful wartime romance, being as weird as Zane ever was. It all doesn’t make a ton of sense or add up to anything much at all, but it’s B movie bliss, and honestly I’d willingly watch this cast install drywall for ninety minutes, so one can’t complain about a silly little war flick that’s a bit rough around the edges. Good times.