Eric Plaag and Matt Smith

Eric’s December Capsule Reviews

In Film, Reviews on December 16, 2011 at 9:31 am

By Eric Plaag

Road to Nowhere

If the Aqua Teens were right, and the frat boy’s mantra is, “Dude, my father owns a dealership,” then Road to Nowhere–the long-awaited return of director Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop) with a script from Steven Gaydos–proves that the hipster’s corollary is, “Hey, man, I’m making a movie.” With a promising opening that features an unseen murder, Road to Nowhere follows director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) as he shoots a true crime film dedicated to solving the unsolved. When Haven casts unknown actress Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon) as femme fatale Velma Duran, numerous eyewitnesses to Duran’s life comment on the unsettling resemblance between the two women. Haven, meanwhile, begins to fall for his leading lady, underscoring one of the film’s numerous tortured clichés. Complicating matters is the fact that Rafe Tachen (Cliff De Young), Velma’s partner in crime, is supposed to have died in a plane crash into a nearby lake, but his regular presence as someone still alive outside the production of the film and who influences the actions of those working on the production raises the first questions about where the lines of reality and imagined reality blur. The attentions paid by the actor in Tachen’s role (also De Young) to the young Miss Graham only serve to confuse Haven as his production spins out of control. This, ultimately, is Road to Nowhere’s only riff, a faint doppelganger of Lynchian-style imaginings whose most burning question about the film within the film seems to be, “Is it live, or is it Betamax?” After all the fatuous acting finally deflates in the film’s final scene, viewers are left only with the realization that some hipsters never outgrow their desire to seem deep simply by remaining unintelligible.

DVD, 1 out of 5 stars

Pontypool

It really is a fabulous set-up: Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a former shock jock banished to a backwater radio station in a small Ontario town comes to work one morning after a disturbing encounter with a local resident who pounds on his car window, utters some gibberish, then disappears into the dawn’s blinding snowstorm. Moments after Mazzy goes on the air, frantic calls from local residents come in, suggesting that something terrible is happening in town, something that causes residents to become disoriented, act like a hungry horde, then mutilate their fellow residents. Trapped in the basement broadcast studio at a former church, Mazzy, station manager Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle), and technical assistant Laurel-Ann Drummond (Georgina Reilly) must decipher the mediated clues delivered to them from the outside world to determine whether this is an elaborate hoax or the beginning of a deadly outbreak. The sudden arrival of Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak), who may be both the cause of the outbreak and an infected person himself, only contributes to the chaos. And sadly, this is what Pontypool becomes in its final act. Priding itself on its apparent discovery of the synchronicities of the world and the power of language to elicit subconscious responses in human beings, Pontypool and its director Bruce McDonald turn the final third into a masturbatory exercise in linguistics, aurality, and enunciation. Pontypool’s makers would suggest that this negative review contains the very virus that ails the human race. I can assure you, however, that reversing the linguistics here to suggest that this is actually a good film will not do anything to make it a better one.

DVD, 2 out of 5 stars

Duck, You Sucker (1971)

I know it was 1971, but you have to respect a western that starts out by quoting Mao about the revolution being an act of violence, not a social dinner, then shows a man peeing on an anthill while thunderheads loom in the distant sky. Auspicious, to say the least. And in many respects, Duck, You Sucker, lives up to all that bombast. The second in a trilogy of Zapata westerns from Sergio Leone, this underappreciated epic follows the exploits of Mexican outlaw Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) and his reluctant partner, the former IRA explosives expert and expatriate, John Mallory (James Coburn). Although Juan is in it strictly for the money, a series of surprising coincidences results in his being named “the great, grand, glorious hero of the Revolution,” and not just once, but twice. John knows what happens to revolutionary heroes, though, especially those who rely on the loyalty of others, and as their fortunes turn and the two are secretly betrayed, John repeatedly tests Juan’s commitment to him. Duck, You Sucker may not be a great western, and it runs a little long in the tooth at times. But it is certainly a very good film that raises intriguing questions about loyalty, the meaning of revolution, and the real consequences of massive political and social upheaval. Leone was right that the victims of any violent change are always the people, not the system, and Duck, You Sucker poignantly illustrates this point, as well as the absurdities that inevitably accompany any revolutionary struggle.

DVD, 3 out of 5 stars

The Bad Seed (1956)

Based on William March’s 1954 novel and a subsequent Maxwell Anderson play of the same name, The Bad Seed tells the story of Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack), a young, bright, pretty, and viciously evil little girl who loves her pigtails and neatly pressed dresses. Her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) is wise to the evil that lurks within her daughter, but she spends much of her days trying to shield Rhoda from the prying eyes of suspicious neighbors and authorities while also convincing her husband (William Hopper) that all is suburban bliss within Rhoda’s world when he is away on business. The gig is finally up, though, when the grieving mother (played with a startling edginess by Eileen Heckart) of Rhoda’s schoolmate Claude Daigle accuses of Rhoda of drowning Claude in order to steal back the penmanship award that Rhoda believes she should have won instead of Claude. Rhoda knows exactly how to solve such problems, however, and as the body count rises, we learn the terrible secret behind Rhoda’s psychopathic tendencies. Director Mervyn LeRoy and Warner Brothers studio went to great lengths to hype and protect The Bad Seed‘s secret, so I won’t spill it here, but be warned that this is only part of the film’s final twist. Eli Roth promises that a remake on steroids is in the works, and I can’t wait to see if his version lives up to this deliciously original take on the bad little girl we all loved to hate when we were kids.

DVD, 4 out of 5 stars

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