Haywire (2012, Steven Soderbergh) – Working much better at home than it did on it’s original theatrical release, Soderbergh’s early 2012 hitwoman thriller still has a lot of faults thanks to screenwriter Lem Dobbs’ wonky proto-feminist-but-not-really story, but on the smaller screen there actually seems to be a bit more dramatic weight and tension than there appeared to be originally.
MMA fighter and former American Gladiator Gina Carano makes her big screen debut as Mallory Kane, an ace hitwoman for a private defence contractor run by her former lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). After being asked for specifically on two back-to-back jobs that turn out to be connected by a couple of suspect suits (Antonio Banderas and Michael Douglas), Mallory finds herself marked for termination and in search of answers to go along with her revenge.
The problems really begin and end with the screenplay, which tries to be ambiguous almost to a fault. The true motivations behind Mallory’s double-crossing are never made fully apparent or explained in a satisfactory manner. While the plot seems elaborately structured, it’s really quite basic. Also, It’s implied quite heavily that despite her gruff exterior, Mallory can’t stop sexualising her male co-workers. The unspoken argument at the heart of the film seems to be that her own sexuality makes her less of a killer (not to mention that it seems to be the direct reason she’s in this mess to begin with), despite wonderful fight sequences and laudatory patches of dialog that speak to the contrary. The actual thematic message at the heart of the film is maddeningly hard to peg down. Haywire aspires to art, but it’s really dumb as a box of hammers, which feels far more passable when watching from the comfort of the couch.
The DVD also boasts a sharp transfer from Soderbergh’s digital negative and a lush sound mix. The extras are kind of light. There’s bunch of trailers strung together and disguised as a featurette, but the other two special features add some spice. An interesting fifteen minute look at Carano’s training also takes viewers behind the scenes of three key fights in the film involving McGregor, Michael Fassbender, and Channing Tatum, and some brief interviews with the male characters in the film yields some nifty tidbits from Tatum and Banderas. (Andrew Parker)
The Innkeepers (2011, Ti West) – In 2009, Ti West directed Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, a direct-to-DVD, unnecessary beat horse sequel which embodied the huge plague upon the horror genre where even original ideas are strung out into irrelevancy. Ti West disowned it, and even requested his name be swapped with an Alan Smithee. So, in that same year, West also released House of the Devil, a character driven, style-drenched, brooding paranoia picture, showing what amazing things can be still be done in a genre that’s seen it all. If West was looking for a way to be disassociated from Spring Fever, he found a way, and if horror fans were looking for a fresh new talent, they had certainly found him. As his first film since The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers is Ti West’s opportunity to show a winning streak, or at least an uncanny corridor. It also happens to be a chance for star Sara Paxton, often cast as that pretty blonde in really forgettable roles, to earn a new start, not unlike West himself.
The Yankee Pedlar is a slow hotel in a small, even slower town. On its last weekend of business, slacker part-timers Claire (Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) have one last marathon shift before moving on to whatever’s next. Luke’s brought a generous amount of beer, but Claire’s brought an excess of curiosity about the Pedlar’s rumoured haunted reputation, something they had both taken casual interest in during their employment. Luke, a proud dropout and pessimist, is confident his rusty, amateur, GeoCities-level web design will carry his future career, while Claire has literally never thought about the next step until provoked by sitcom-actress-come-spiritualist-come-inn-patron Leanne Rease-Jones (Top Gun and Stake Land’s Kelly McGillis.)
A far more modestly produced feature than House of the Devil, The Innkeepers is much more interesting in terms of its identity. The Yankee Pedlar and the cast within it makes our heroes more likeable, though Lucas’ web flavoured cynicism edges on the stock side. The terror that lurks above Claire is less about fearing a grotesque, shocking sight ahead as it is you fearing for her safety and well being. The Innkeepers has unconventional priorities for a horror film, using scares as a feature instead of the purpose of the movie. You can almost talk about the film without talking about ghosts at all. There’s uncertainty in the air; there may or may not be something in the dark, making you more vulnerable to attack. Most importantly, it shows Ti West has absolutely no desire to create stale, routine horror films, the like you’ve seen in the last decade.
The pristine picture quality of the Blu-ray contrasts nicely with the spooky sound mix. West also pops up for two commentary tracks (one for the tech nerds and one for the more general viewer) and a behind the scenes featurette. (Zack Kotzer)
The Wicker Tree (2010, Robin Hardy) – Almost 40 years after his original cult horror classic The Wicker Man (no, not the Nicholas Cage one), Hardy crafts a leadenly unfunny satire for a sequel that treads closer to the Cage/Neil LaBute debacle than anything remotely approaching actual suspense or comedy. In short, like many sequels, it has absolutely no reason to exist.
In fairness, The Wicker Tree isn’t so much a sequel, but a reimagining of Hardy’s own 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ, where a reformed bad girl turned Christian country singing sensation and her cowboy boyfriend (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett) take up a missionary position (despite their vow of celibacy) to bring the word of the lord to “the lost people of Scotland.” “Somewhere along the border with England” the young lovers get tempted by some creepy townspeople involved in some similar hippy crap, but are also embroiled in some local intrigue involving a nearby nuclear plant. None of it is any interesting.
Intentional cheese can be fun, but Hardy’s just trying to hard here to make a bad movie. The actors don’t seem to get that there’s a thick sense of irony and social commentary, and Hardy directs them with some atrocious beats between lines that makes it seem like everyone is reading the lines of cocktail napkins being held at a great distance. The film does manage a sly Christopher Lee cameo and some good cinematography, but a complete lack of surprises, crappy performances, the worst shot day for night conclusion possibly ever, and an unfunny demeanour sink this to the lowest levels of straight to DVD dreck.
Deleted scenes and a behind the scenes featurette offer no insight as to why this stinks so badly. (Andrew Parker)
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