Saturday, February 10, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: Every house has a history. This one has a legend.

The Black Hole (1979): I’m usually a sucker for Disney in their dark/weird phase, but Gary Nelson’s leadenly directed science fiction feels like an overpriced TV movie, and not a good one at that. Perhaps it’s the cast of tired looking veterans (some of whom I usually love) that gives this impression, or dialogue so leaden it’ll give US SF cinema of the 50s a run for its money, or the script that randomly cobbles together elements of Star Wars, the pulp SF that influenced that film (but without George Lucas’s understanding of the form), 2001 and any old crap the writers could come up with.

In any case, the handful of good, dark and interesting ideas here and the sometimes brilliant production design can’t make up for characters whose actions don’t even make sense if you interpret them as walking talking clichés, desperately lame action sequences (the worst actually a laser gun fight between our heroes and a bunch of robots standing unmoving in one line), and the film’s complete failure to create a coherent tone.

Mayhem (2017): Joe Lynch’s horror comedy about a corporate lawyer (Steven Yeun) and a woman with foreclosure troubles (Samara Weaving) using the automatic get out of jail free card of an outbreak of a rage-inducing virus to murder their way up to the executive floor of his company on the other hand does know exactly what tone it is going for. It’s mildly cynical carnage, pretty people bathing in the blood of their enemies and some very obvious satire of the evils of capitalism (as embodied by Steven Brand and his underlings). It’s a pretty fun time, if you’re okay with a bit of slaughter (and who isn’t). It is well paced, sometimes funny enough for a series of guffaws, and certainly acted with full involvement by everyone on screen. I do wish its capitalism critique were a bit more nuanced/interesting/unobvious, though I am not completely certain the sort of angry, bloody slapstick this is going for could actually carry more depth.

Eve’s Bayou (1997): Last but pretty much the opposite of least, there’s Kasi Lemmons’s brilliant black southern gothic movie that camouflages as magical realism for the the mainstream viewer. It’s a sumptuously (but never the kind that’s just for show) styled tale of a black upper middle-class family in the Bayous of Louisiana, of the way secrets and lies are as much part of what forms a family as is love and understanding, of the ways we construct memory regardless of what’s the factual truth about things and persons and perhaps even about the things we did or were done to us. It’s heady stuff, told with great assuredness, and full of small and large complexities and ambiguities in the ways its characters behave and relate that feel truthful to the way actual human beings are.

At the same time as she’s being honest about people, Lemmons gives the film’s gothic melodrama quite a bit of oomph, using her brilliant ensemble cast (of exclusively African American actors, but the film doesn’t make a big thing out of that, as it shouldn’t need to) for gestures grand and small.

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