|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of "Bullitt County," "The Fog," "Hunter Killer" and "Mid90s."
Set in 1977, the low-budget indie drama ''Bullitt County'' kicks off as three old friends--Keaton (David McCracken, who also wrote and directed), Robin (Jenni Melear) and Gordie (Mike C. Nelson)--reunite for the first time in nearly a decade to commemorate the impending nuptials of the latter with a bachelor party consisting of a trip down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to hit as many distilleries from their misspent youth as they can find. Of course, with Gordie being a recovering alcoholic and all, this doesn't seem like the smartest of ideas but it proves to be only the first of a series of very bad decisions. As the three, joined by Wayne (Napoleon Ryan), who appears to be the only friend that Gordie has made in the last decade, begin the tour, Gordie hears a rumor about a enormous cache of cash buried somewhere in the remote woods by a local family of bootleggers back in the day. Intrigued, the four decide to switch their plans for a little bit to take a look for themselves, conveniently ignoring all the ''No Trespassing'' signs posted along the way. What happens from this point on shall be left for you to discover but suffice it to say, the end results are actually even more nightmarish and grisly than a typical bachelor party.
The film has been made with some skill and there are a couple of key moments in the early scenes that do not play out as expected that lead you to believe that the whole thing is going to be like that. Unfortunately, McCracken's screenplay quickly reveals itself to be little more than a pastiche of bits culled from a wide variety of other films, ranging from the works of the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino to specific titles like Sam Raimi's unsung drama ''A Simple Plan'' to any number of horror movies involving dopes being stalked in the woods to a couple that I cannot even cite here because to do so would tip a couple of key plot points. Likewise, the performances are okay but they grow gradually less interesting once the characters stop acting like real human beings and begin acting like pawns being moved around in the service of the script. McCracken's directorial debut is not completely without interest and it might be interesting to see what he can do when working from a stronger screenplay than the one he has presented himself with here.
Long out of theatrical distribution due to the lack of playable prints, John Carpenter's 1980 horror film ''The Fog'' has been given a 4K restoration and is returning to theaters for a brief engagement, presumably in order to tie in with both Halloween the holiday and ''Halloween,'' the deeply disappointing sequel to his 1978 masterpiece that saw him and the iconic Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the franchise fold after long absences. In the film, which was his eagerly awaited theatrical followup to ''Halloween,'' he switched from mad slashers to ghosts with a tale of Antonio Bay, a quaint California seaside that was founded on shocking acts of greed, betrayal and murder committed by its founders. Now it is exactly 100 years since those events and while the town prepares to celebrate the centenary, a malevolent fog begins rolling in containing the pissed-off ghosts of those who were wronged who proceed to wreak bloody revenge while the populace--including deejay Adrienne Barbeau, drunken priest Hal Holbrook, councilwoman Janet Leigh, trucker Tom Atkins and hitchhiker Jamie Lee Curtis--struggle to survive the night.
Although I still consider John Carpenter to be one of the great genre directors of our time--most filmmakers would kill to have even one films of the caliber of ''Assault on Precinct 13,'' ''Halloween,'' ''Escape from New York,'' ''The Thing,'' ''Prince of Darkness'' or ''They Live'' on their resume--it must be said that ''The Fog'' is not one of his better efforts. After viewing a rough cut of the film, a dissatisfied Carpenter reworked and reshot nearly a third of the film in order to make it scarier, gorier and more comprehensible. Alas, the story is pretty sloppy and disjointed throughout and not even a prologue featuring John Houseman (one of the scenes added during the reshoot) that tries to set the entire film up as the kind of ghost story one might tell around a campfire (short on nuance but high in BOO moments) is able to smooth over some of the rougher patches. And yet, while the film as a whole may not work quite as smoothly as some of Carpenter's other works, there is still plenty of stuff that does work that makes it worth watching and not just because it is infinitely better than the misbegotten 2005 remake. Many of the individual moments do work on their own in terms of supply viewers with shocks or laughs (there are plenty of in-jokes on display here, including the revelation that the town coroner is one Dr. Phibes) and the performances from the eclectic cast are fun as well. Carpenter's mastery of the 2.35 frame is also brilliantly in evidence here--with the help of ace cinematographer Dean Cundey, he has created an uncommonly good-looking horror film in which any portion of the screen could be hiding some potential fright inducer. Most impressively, he even manages to transform something as seemingly benign as a fog into a force of genuine menace to be reckoned with. Like I said, ''The Fog'' is not one of the great Carpenter films by any stretch but if you are a horror fan and happen to be living in one of the areas where this restoration is getting theatrical play, you owe it to yourself to experience it in all of its big-screen glory.
If ''Hunter Killer'' had come out in the early 1990s in order to cash in on the vogue for the works of techno-thriller author Tom Clancy, especially in the wake of the enormous success of the film adaptation of ''The Hunt for Red October,'' it would have be dismissed as a cheesy, laughably simplistic and oftentimes ludicrous work that made Clancy’s overheated narratives and purple prose seem like genius by comparison. Coming roughly a quarter-century beyond its seemingly optimum shelf date, it instead comes across as a cheesy, laughably simplistic and oftentimes ludicrous work that now feels like a musty relic from an era that has no great degree of nostalgia attached to it. After a surprise attack sinks both a Russian and American submarine at the bottom of the ocean outside of Russia, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gary Oldman. . . yes, Gary Oldman) sends a newly minted captain and his crew to investigate. This is no ordinary new captain, mind you--this is Joe Glass (Gerard Butler), a two-fisted man’s man who is the best at what he does and plays by his own rules. It eventually transpires that a mad Russian general is responsible for the sinkings, merely the first moves in an elaborate conspiracy that finds him and his men staging a coup and taking the Russian president (Alexander Diachenko) prisoner. As part of a two-pronged and top secret response, Glass and his men rescue the Russian sub's captain (the late Michael Nyqvist in one of his last roles) and try to convince him to lend assistance while on land, a Navy SEAL team secretly lands behind Russian lines in a dangerous attempt to attack the general and his men and lead the president to safety without seemingly instigating World War III in the process.
That ''Hunter Killer'' is a bad movie will probably not come as a surprise to most people--from its generic title to its familiar premise to Butler himself, an actor whose very presence suggests that a lot of other stars passed on the material before it came his way, it seems to have been designed to disappear from theaters after a couple of weeks before eventually resurfacing on basic cable until the end of time. What may come as a surprise to some people is just how dull the whole thing turns out to be. Despite the enormous stakes that are theoretically at hand in the story, director Donovan Marsh approaches the material in such a slack manner that he never manages to generate even the slightest amount of genuine tension. Even more strangely, although the sub and its crew would theoretically seem to be the dramatic hook here, most of the actual action is carried out by the blandly anonymous sub crew, a decision that leaves the submarine often feeling like a bystander in its own story. Possibly as a result of being shunted to the sidelines for the most part, Butler does not come across as aggressively awful as he has in many of his earlier films but is as blandly forgettable as the surrounding film. On the other hand, Gary Oldman (who filmed this long before winning his long-overdue Oscar) is at his scenery-chewing worst while the rest of the strangely ad-hoc cast (including Linda Cardellini and, perhaps inevitably, Common) just stand around looking as if they are trying to figure out how they wound up in this project in the first place. Overlong, under-cooked (virtually nothing happens of interest for nearly the entire first hour) and never once making any sort of case for its existence, ''Hunter Killer'' may be the cinematic equivalent of the kind of fat and meaningless novel one reads to pass the time while on an airplane but in terms of quality, this one is pure JetBlue.
Marking the directorial debut of actor Jonah Hill, ''Mid90s'' will no doubt strike many observers as being a kinder, gentler (though not by a lot) version of Larry Clark’s notorious art house exploitation film ''Kids.'' Set in the era cited in the title, it follows the story of Stevie (Sunny Suljic), a 13-year-old kid who lives with an abusive older brother (Lucas Hedges) and a mother (Katherine Waterston) that he is growing more distant from. Lacking any sense of personality or direction, Stevie struggles to develop both on his own until he runs into a group of mostly older skateboarders--leader Ray (Na-kel Smith), fuckup Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt), would-be filmmaker Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) and younger hanger-on Ruben (Gio Garcia)--and starts hanging out with them even though he doesn't have the slightest idea of how to skateboard. At first, the others, aside from Ruben, barely seem to acknowledge him but as time passes, he becomes more ingrained with the group, much to Ruben’s eventual consternation, and as time passes and his mother frets from the sidelines, Stevie undergoes any number of adolescent rites of passage (including one at a party with an exceedingly kind older girl) while taking a number of lumps, both literally and metaphorically, along the way.
The best part about ''Mid90s'' are the kids themselves--although some may grow weary of their relentlessly vulgar verbiage (which is not to say that it is inaccurate in any way), watching them (with Sulijic being the only professional actor among them) interact with each other, both on their boards and off, is an undeniable pleasure throughout. There are also a number of individual scenes that are impressive and contain an absolute ring of truth to them--I love the moment where Stevie sneaks into his brutal brother’s off-limits room to take careful note of all the music that he listens to for future reference. At other times, however, Hill's status as a beginner filmmaker is more obvious--the visual strategy (shooting in 16MM in the Academy ratio) is just a little too calculated for its own good, there are too many moments when he allows his story to become overwhelmed by empty nostalgia for the period being depicted and the heavy-handed plotting and speechifying of the later scenes clashes uneasily with the looser and more easygoing feel of the early going. ''Mid90s'' is not entirely successful and at times feels like a rough draft for something smarter, funnier and more incisive. However, it does have its moments of glory and some nifty performances and while Hill has not quite made an entirely good film here, he shows enough promise to suggest that he might have one in him that is ready to come out before too long.
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originally posted: 10/26/18 23:18:02
last updated: 10/27/18 03:06:28