Tag Archives: Ron Perlman

CAPSULE: CRAVE (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Charles de Lauzirika

FEATURING: Josh Lawson, Emma Lung, ,

PLOT: A freelance crime-scene photographer romances a younger woman in his apartment building, while suffering delusions and fantasizing about becoming a vigilante.

Still from Crave (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This movie is trying so hard to be like its big brother Taxi Driver that it’s embarrassing to watch at times; it has a certain grotty charm and good performances, but needs a huge wallop of subtlety. Its hallucinations are so clearly marked off as fantasies that they never threaten to swallow up the viewer, leaving its weird effect highly attenuated.

COMMENTS: An internal monologue of a disaffected white guy who’s convinced that humanity is rotten. The antihero drives aimlessly through the city at night, searching for scenes of depravity to reinforce his misanthropic vision. He awkwardly romances a beautiful woman who’s out of his league. He plans a crime, practices the exact words he will say to his victim. The delusional self-appointed vigilante eventually wreaks a gruesome vengeance on an absuer of women. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Taxi Driver was the deconstructed, arthouse revision of puerile crime-anxiety thrillers like Death Wish; Crave is an unneeded, on-the-nose reconstruction of Taxi Driver for the modern age. Crave‘s chief problem, for a movie whose promotional material promises that its photographer protagonist Aiden will be a hero whose “dark imagination starts to leak into reality,” is that the line between fantasy and reality isn’t blurry for the viewer—when redheads tear off their blouses and fall to their knees and Bill Gates shows up offering Aiden bags of cash, it’s fantasy. The clarity of that line and the lack of a radical subjective perspective removes a lot of potential tension that might result if we are wondering if what is happening is really inside Aiden’s head. Nor is Aiden delusional enough to create suspense via the gap between the dangers the audience recognizes and what our protagonist comprehends; he not only realizes his grip on his emotional throttle is slipping, he agonizes about it endlessly in voiceovers and heart-to-hearts with his tough-but-wise stereotype cop buddy. And some of the stuff that clearly is intended to happen in reality doesn’t make a lot of sense, like his hot neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment decision to screw Aiden senseless one afternoon just because he’s not terrible-looking and not obviously a psychopath. That’s bad writing, though, not dark imagination.

The script’s lack of originality and subtlety is a shame, because there is a lot of talent here. Josh Lawson is not bad as Aiden, although he lacks the scruffy anti-charisma necessary to take the role over the top. The supporting players fare better. Adorable Emma Lung somehow comes across as a real person, despite the fact that the only character trait the script gives her to work with is a baffling bad taste in men. Edward Furlong, who we last saw in the miserable This Is Not a Movie, redeems himself here as a hipster cad who nonetheless doesn’t deserve the his torturous fate. Ron Perlman’s square mug is, as always, a welcome sight; inhabiting his character with ease, he lends instant credibility to any project. The movie’s technical qualities are pro throughout. The neon-noir vistas of Chicago streets at night are memorable, as is the shot of spinning pinwheels reflected in Aiden’s eye. De Lauzirika, who has previously specialized in directing special features for major DVD releases (including Alien, Blade Runner, and three of the extras on the “Twin Peaks” Gold Box set), is a talented director who shoots a good-looking film and elicits fine performances from his actors. But, he may better serve his career in the future by directing scripts written by someone else.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The performances are] undermined by not just the clichéd story but director/co-writer Charles de Lauzirika’s misguided tone, which veers from straight-up impotent fury to a clunky humor that’s just not funny in the story’s overall context.”–Maitland McDonagh, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: BUNRAKU (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Guy Moshe

FEATURING: , Gackt, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, Ron Perlman

PLOT: Set in a post-apocalyptic future that outlaws guns but promotes copious amounts of sword-heavy battles, Bunraku follows two mysterious lone strangers—a card-playing cowboy (Hartnett) and a pacifistic Japanese warrior (Gackt)—as they strive to take down the all-powerful crime lord (Perlman) who controls the city.

Still from Bunraku (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The visuals are stunning and innovative and the effects are wildly impressive, but the cookie-cutter sci-fi/western tale and clumsy script hold it back from approaching true Weirdness.

COMMENTS: Introduced by a gorgeous animated sequence involving puppetry (which is also the only time the film’s title comes into play), Bunraku takes place in a type of future many films have already established. There was a world-wide nuclear war, everything was destroyed, and human beings build the world back up to create a lawless, decrepit landscape where everyone fights all the time.  The all-knowing, presumably winking narrator is upfront about what type of story this is, making cracks about the type of mysterious loners always found in places like these.  This self-awareness pervades the script and certainly makes the film more digestible.

The set-up and story don’t make a lot of sense, with bouts of under- and over-exposition that either confuse or bore.  Hartnett’s Drifter is stiff and stern, with no emotion and no reason for the audience to care about him.  Gackt’s Yoshi is likable enough (and magnetically androgynous), but like Drifter he’s so enigmatic there’s barely any character left for the actor to embody.  They’re one-dimensional archetypes to the fullest extent of the word, but Moshe seems fully aware of this. Woody Harrelson brings some levity and charisma to The Bartender, a friendly but heartbroken working man who doesn’t take sides but finds himself pulled into Drifter and Yoshi’s war against Nicola (Perlman), the vicious and world-weary “Woodcutter.”  Demi Moore is extremely out of place as the crime lord’s resentful woman, but her role is small enough.

Luckily there is plenty to distract from the weak characterization!  Bunraku is chock-full of fascinating visuals and downright exciting fight scenes.  The lighting is over-saturated and the locations are highly stylized, with cut-paper backgrounds and a few Caligari-esque sets.  A sizable chunk of the running time is devoted to intense action sequences, with an inexhaustible amount of literal Redshirts ready to be killed by our heroes (led by Kevin McKidd as Killer #2, easily the weirdest character in the film) in elaborate group scenes.  There are fistfights, swordfights, polefights, circusfights, axefights, and one cool car chase. The effects are excellent, transitioning from comic-book style animation to CG enhancements to miniatures with a believable flow.

For all its thrilling action and memorable visuals, Bunraku suffers from an overcomplicated yet under-explained plot and an inexcusably long running time.  It could easily have lost 30 minutes and become tighter, better paced, and more enjoyable.  The writing is hit and miss, with some really sly moments that show Moshe’s self-awareness and sense of fun, and others that are over-serious and dull.  Aside from its looks, the film doesn’t do anything different but it doesn’t mean to, so it’s forgivable.  It’s just a fantastical, stupid romp with the colors of a 1950’s musical and the stylized gore of a Frank Miller comic.  What’s not appealing about that?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Extremely cool-looking in the manner of ‘Sin City,’ but clumsily staged, slackly acted and mind-numbingly dull, Israeli director Guy Moshe’s English-language fantasy is set in a future when guns, and apparently coherent conversations, have been outlawed.”–Lou Lumenick, New York Post (contemporaneous)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: DARK COUNTRY (2009)

threestar

DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two blissful newlyweds driving back home from their wedding in Las Vegas

Still from Dark Country (2009)
Vegas hit a man in the middle of the road. He lives, but the couple finds he is not all that he seems, and are forced to take drastic measures against him.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it cannot create its own identity between the two stylings.  There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing.  It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that help the movie flow from scene to scene.  From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas ensues.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, newlyweds who don’t really know what they’re in for.  The young couple just made it official in Vegas, and are ready to go home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between them.  There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and they have secrets from each other right off the bat.  After their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between them.   From an artistic standpoint, Dark Country can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually, it’s a feast for the eyes,  and it’s tonally interesting.  Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way.  The CG is on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of “Reboot” when they wreck the car near the end!)  The green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with slick editing and nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading across any bold frontiers with Dark Country.  This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces: intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert.  It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinchingly bold.  It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you thinking on your toes for a while, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen.  With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The developments in Tab Murphy’s script are never quite as shocking to us as they are to Dick and Gina, and the story eventually builds the feeling of marking time on the way to its TWILIGHT ZONE-esque resolution… Jane’s visual sense assures that the film is always a spooky pleasure to watch, though…”–Micgael Gingold, Fangoria (contemporaneous)

29. THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)

“…someone who didn’t dream but, just the same, lived very well, yet would want to see, in dreams, a greater dimension of the imagination. For us, someone who is deprived of that is condemned to die. That’s part of what we wanted to say…  If one cannot dream and imagine things, and if one is sentenced to the everyday, to reality, it’s awful.”–Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

FEATURING: Ron Perlman, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Daniel Emilfork

PLOT:  A mad genius living on an abadnoned oil rig, who is growing prematurely old because he cannot dream, abducts children from a nearby port city and tries to steal their dreams.  His minions seize the adopted little brother of One, a foreigner and former sailor who now works in a carnival as a strongman.  One teams up with a streetwise orphan girl in the nameless, magical city to track down his little brother’s location.

City of Lost Children

BACKGROUND:

  • This was the second and final collaboration between Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, after the black comedy Delicatessan (1991).  Caro focused on the art direction, and Jeunet worked with the actors.
  • Caro and Jeunet conceived the idea for the film fourteen years before it was completed.
  • This visual effects spectacular, incoporating early CGI technology, was reportedly the most expensive film yet  produced in France at that time.
  • La cité des enfants perdus was the opening film at the Cannes film festival in 1995 and was in competition for the Palme D’or (losing to the seldom-seen Serbian film Underground).

INDELIBLE IMAGEThe City of Lost Children is a film that’s built around images: a CGI flea using its proboscis to insert a hypnotic drug into a man’s head, a disembodied brain in a fish tank, and a horde of frightening Santas all compete for honors—not to mention the city itself, a tottering port made up of rambling stairs, arches, balconies and alleys, which resembles Venice re-imagined as a Victorian junkyard.  The most iconic image, however, is gaunt old Krank in his gleaming lab hooked up to his dream stealing machine, a multi-tentacled headdress stolen from the laboratory of an avant-garde Dr. Frankenstien.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The City of Lost Children takes place in a magical city that could

Short theatrical trailer for City of Lost Children

not exist except in the imagination, in dreams.  It’s a fairy tale, but from the first scene—a child’s Christmas Eve dream that turns unsettlingly weird—it’s clear that this is no standard fantasy world that sets out a few simple deviations from our own, but instead a world of childlike wonder where the imagination is unleashed without respect for the possible.

COMMENTS: There’s a scene early on in The City of Lost Children where a dozing Continue reading 29. THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN [La cité des enfants perdus] (1995)