Remember that poem ‘Tiger Tiger’ by William Blake? I always loved that one in school and Burning Bright, horror film that combines several high concepts for an odd but entertaining mix, isn’t quite as poetic enough to live up to the Blake piece but works well as a kind of low grade Grindhouse SyFy deal. How do you make your chamber piece/creature feature more scary these days, or any thriller at all for that matter? Set it during a hurricane, of course. I think I saw like three movies this year alone set during a typhoon and revolving around every other central threat you can think of from bank robberies to alligators to street gangs. Here it’s obviously a tiger and the hurricane only serves to delineate that the lead characters can’t simply leave the house to escape it. This is an especially vicious and ‘evil’ tiger, or so we’re informed early on by hammy circus boss Meat Loaf as he pawns it off to no-good stepfather and ‘safari ranch’ entrepreneur Garrett Dillahunt, a perennially sinister fellow who looks like he could be Will Forte’s evil twin. His stepdaughter (Briana Evigan) and autistic stepson (Charlie Tahan, so young here!) find themselves boarded up in the family home alone with this tiger while the hurricane rages on outside. How did this happen? I won’t spoil it but you can sorta kinda sus it out from what I’ve said already. This allows for a sweaty, impressively suspenseful battle of wills against the animal, as the daughter tries to protect both of them and shelter the boy because he doesn’t quite… grasp what’s going on. This is a fun, solid film that doesn’t take its premise too far into WTF-ville or overstay it’s welcome, and although a tad aloof and awkward in spots, the scenes in the house where they face off agains the tiger are very well done, thanks to use of actual tigers over CGI. The film almost doesn’t deserve a title based on property like Blake when the story overall is so… just regular. I’d have almost preferred a surreal, dark film that just started with the kids already stuck in the house with the tiger and no setup, hurricane or sidebars, a simplistic, dreamy art piece based on the single concept. What we got is decent enough, but man the title is so much more evocative.
DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, a fascinating hybrid between go-for-broke, tweaked out drug cinema, bloody, violent crime revenge thriller and moody, jazz soaked neo-noir, with a central performance from a committed Val Kilmer that goes waist deep in all three. I would say that it was ahead of its time and for that reason didn’t quite fully find its audience, but upon years of reflection I think it’s just such a specific piece that one has to be tuned in just right, and invest enough attention to appreciate it, the first time anyways. Kilmer is washed out meth head snitch Danny Parker, playing both sides of the narcotics game in hazy LA. Or is he trumpet player Tom Van Allen, haunted by past tragedy? The first half of the film sees him awash in an endless cycle of drug fuelled debauchery, stuck in a tireless set of hijinks with his tweaked out ‘friends’ (Adam Goldberg, Peter Saarsgard and more), and habitually snitching out dealers to two very corrupt cops (Doug Hutchison and Anthony Lapaglia, both royally sleazy). The second half shows us why, what dark passage of events led him to the lifestyle and the cursed trajectory he finds himself on in the final act. Kilmer is a restless fallen angel in the role, a man with secrets that the film respects by taking its time unfolding and not revealing too much too soon (avoid any trailers). His Danny even begs the audience to stick around, promising us there’s more to his story than rampant substance abuse. The cast is thick with talent, including Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Chandra West, B.D. Wong, Shirley Knight, Luis Guzman, Meat Loaf, Deborah Kara Unger and a crazed, memorable Glenn Plummer. The scene stealer award has to go to thespian Vincent D’Onofrio though as one of the antagonists, a terrifying drug baron called Pooh Bear because he railed so much blow they had to cut off his nose and replace it with a disturbing prosthetic. His favourite pastimes include reenacting the Kennedy assassination with pigeons and an air rifle, smoking crack to yodel music CD’s and setting a rabid badger called ‘Captain Striving’ loose on the genitals of disloyal employees. The film finds a demented dark humour in him and many other characters, but the other side of that coin is the emotional turbulence and tragic resonance to Kilmer’s arc, two conflicting energies that seem to somehow coexist beautifully. The score by Thomas Newton is noirish and sad, with strains that sound almost like heavenly choirs too, giving the city of angels a half lit, otherworldly quality. The title is important; the Salton Sea represents three key elements to the film. The incident that spurs Kilmer down the rabbit hole takes place right near the picturesque titular place, but it also represents both the sea of excess and scum that Danny basks in, and the ocean of anguish, regret and sadness that engulfs Tom. A brilliant piece.
There’s no excuse for films as shitty as Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne. I know he’s a notoriously slipshod filmmaker and he somehow manages to get the rights to all these awesome video games which he then butchers with kindergarten level gong shows like this, but this one is especially bad. Now, before he goes and reads this and wants to come fight me like those other critics (he owns a restaurant a few blocks from where I work, so I gotta be careful lol), I should say that, contrary to popular opinion, he has in fact made some good films. Attack On Darfur and Assault On Wall Street come to mind as two solid dramas where he actually took his craft seriously and made something worthwhile. But Bloodrayne? Holy shot this movie sucks the big one and doesn’t even have the courtesy to swallow after. It’s loosely based on a pretty cool medieval vampire adventure game from years back, but resembles an episode of Xena Warrior Princess made by preschoolers. The protagonist is hottie vampiress Kristanna Loken, who was the kickass female Terminator in T3, and also gets to kick some ass here, between steamy porno scenes with other vampires. The only cool bit is a stunt sequence where she gets to fight a giant ogre thing and bash its head in with a gigantic war hammer. The cast is absolutely stacked here, as is strangely the case with most of Boll’s films. Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez look hella out of place in Middle Ages garbs playing fellow warriors, Ben Kingsley is rigidly constipated as the big baddie, Meat Loaf has a laughable cameo as some kind of Shakespearean pimp, Billy Zane hilariously shows up as a despot, and the list goes on, including the likes of Udo Kier, Michael Paré and Geraldine Chaplin. I wanna be fair to Boll, as the guy clearly has a lot of passion for trying to get films made and simply being productive, and like I said before, some of his output is actually really decent. It’s just whenever he tries to adapt a video game the resulting product turns out hopelessly disastrous. It’s the same case with Alone In The Dark, House Of The Dead and Far Cry, and the guy keeps going. Bloodrayne is a cartoonish, awkwardly staged, terribly acted EuroTrash dumpster fire, something no one should have to sit through just to see their favourite actors embarrass themselves. I can’t believe he went on to make like three sequels.
Looking for a moody Atlantic City crime drama that isn’t Boardwalk Empire? Well you’re gonna get a review of one, anyway. Gunshy may not have all the bells and whistles of a studio produced film, and admittedly is a little tattered around the edges as a result, but it’s still a solid, quaint little fish out of water story about a man out of his depth and in deep water with some dangerous people. Jake (William L. Peterson) is a failing journalist who yearns to live on the edge, mired in the doldrums of a creative sinkhole. After his boss (R. Lee Ermey cameo) fires him, he heads to the one place that offers unconditional solace to us writers all over: the bar. After an altercation with a violent scumbag (Meat Loaf offering up ham to go with his edible moniker), he meets an event more violent individual in the form of Frankie (Michael Wincott) a volatile mob enforcer. Frankie takes a shine to Jake, and in particular is fascinated by his literacy and knowledge of the written word. Frankie offers a bargain: show him the world of books and intellectual fare, and he will navigate Jake through the seedy world of organized crime, teaching each other a thing or two along the way. The plot thickens when Frankie’s girlfriend Melissa (Diane Lane, stunning as ever) drives a wedge between them, effectively creating a romantic triangle. These three leads take subpar material and make it shine, especially Wincott who rarely gets a lead role, but steals every scene with his childlike curiosity contrasted with violent tendancy. The boardwalks do make an appearance here, and they just beg to be filmed, really. In a genre centralized mainly in L.A. or New York, I’d love to see more pieces set in the baleful, windswept oceanfront locales of Atlantic City. There’s numerous supporting turns including Musetta Vander, Kevin Gage as a cop who harassed Frankie on the daily, and intense Michael Byrne as his gruesome gangster boss. It’s silly in places and clunky in others, but when it works, it works, mainly thanks to the great turns from Wincott and Lane, who seem very naturalistic and unforced as a couple. Give it a go.