Sunday Movie Roundup (5/14/2017)

This was a great week.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  discovering unexpectedly good films in out-of-the-way places is one of the things that keeps my faith in cinema alive.  There are good things happening out there; you just have to be persistent and know how to wade through all the sewage.

Tank 432 (2016)

Director:  Nick Gillespie

A weird psychological drama that straddles the boundary between war film and horror film.  The plot:  a group of mercenaries in an undisclosed location are on some kind of operation that involves transporting prisoners from point A to point B.  Right away, we get the feeling that the entire team is on edge and dealing with frayed nerves.  Nothing goes right, they scream and shout at each other, and ominous, unseen enemies stalk them everywhere they go.  They eventually take “refuge” in an armored vehicle sitting the middle of nowhere.  This turns out to be a big mistake.  To make things worse, they find vials of orange powder in the tank that apparently are linked to hidden physical powers.

If all this sounds bizarre, it’s supposed to be.  This has to be one of the most claustrophobic movies ever made; the tension is real and is sustained for the entire film.  But this is not really a “horror” film, unless we consider horror to be the disintegration of the human psyche under stress (which it is).  I was disappointed to find out that this film received negative reviews after its release.  Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but I love these kinds of British movies.  The UK seems to have a long, distinguished tradition of supernatural story-telling:  ghost and horror stories are taken seriously there (as well they should be).  And things are done in an intelligent way that never condescends to the audience.

So don’t listen to the critics on this one.  Think of this as a film version of one of those “Weird War Tales” comics that used to be published in pulp form decades ago.  This is an imaginative, well-done exercise in psychological horror and emotional breakdown that succeeds on every level.  Well done.


Crossing Point (2016)

Director:  Daniel Zirilli

Another success here.  The plot:  innocent American dude Michael (Shawn Locke) is on vacation with his Mexican girlfriend in Baja.  Everything looks lovey-dovey until she gets kidnapped by a drug dealing gangster who gives Michael an ultimatum:  either carry a load of drugs across the border to the US, or your girlfriend will be killed.

Michael begins his odyssey of compliance.  On his trail is an honest Mexican cop from Tijuana and a few other sinister figures, among them Tom Sizemore (glad to see he’s still making movies).  Part chase movie and part thriller, this film delivers on every level.  The action is unrelenting and never lets up; what’s even better, this is not your typical Hollywood fantasy.  The bad guys here are truly bad, and there are double-crosses waiting around every street-corner.  Even worse, it becomes clear the love of Michael’s life turns out to be quite different from what he originally thought, to put it mildly.  See this movie.


Come And Find Me (2016)

Director:  Zack Whedon

This was a big disappointment.  What a wuss film.  I’d call it the polar opposite of Crossing Point, reviewed above.  The plot:  beta nice guy David (Aaron Paul) falls in love with a “mysterious” girl named Claire he meets in Los Angeles.  We have to endure scene after scene of their fake lovey-dovey bliss, so that the director can hammer home the point that they are into each other.  OK, we get it.  Then mysterious woman goes missing.  David mopes around for a year, feeling terrible about it, and decides to go off on a quest to find her.  It turns out–of course–that Claire was some kind of “secret agent” leading a double life.  The trail gets more and more dangerous as David closes in on the mystery.

What really irritated me about this movie was the standard Hollywood role-reversal that we’ve come to expect in recent years.  The man here is portrayed as a simpering housepet who can’t live without his lost “girlfriend.” For her part, she seems to find him tolerable at best.  Of course, the woman is given the role of the alpha character:  she’s an assertive, decisive, girl-power infused, ass-kicking secret agent, and all the other bullshit that Hollywood dumps into the feed-trough of moviegoers these days.  The boyfriend spends the entire film following in her footsteps, a pathetic whiner chasing after some chick who doesn’t seem to care very much about him.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against strong female characters in action roles.  Nothing at all.  But it has to be done realistically.  You can’t just stack up one totally ridiculous scene after another and expect audiences to believe it.  There’s got to be balance and realism.  Here’s an example.  The best female action film heroine in history was Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986).  I loved this movie and thought she pulled off something very, very rare in films:  she created a female action character that was both a take-charge, action-oriented person and at the same time conveyed vulnerability and femininity.  I can’t think of any actress who has pulled off a similar feat.  Her role in this movie (and in the earlier Alien) was my kind of female action hero.

But this is how these writers and directors see gender relations (or how they want us to see them).  There is zero subtlety and zero nuance:  everything is in comic-book black-and-white.  We get schlock films like Come And Find Me, that rub our noses in unrealistic bullshit and expect us to enjoy it.  I don’t accept this, and you shouldn’t either.