Vengeful Cinema Gods

Through some weird coincidence, I’ve somehow managed to sit through three horrible C-grade films in the last three days, and while I don’t really think they’re worth writing about in fullness, because you can only say ‘this film was terrible’ so many times, there were a few things that stood out from each that I do think deserve special attention.

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The first was Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race remake – I’m no particular fan of Paul Bartel’s original, but it seems to know what it’s trying to do, and pulls it off with just a hint of serviceability. It’s crude, but still occasionally interesting – in particular, the aeroplane sequence.

But, this film. This is a film where every character – every one – says something like, “aw, fuuuuuck meeee!” or, “oh shiiiiit” just before they meet their end. This is a film where Joan Allen tells Jason Statham, “fuck with me and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk.” This is a film that stops dead-still for a four minute long ass-montage, twice, set to hip-hop music.

And, most obviously, this is a film where you can’t tell what’s going on, in the race(s). Paul W.S. Anderson has always invested in what’s currently being called MTV-editing, but here, he’s taken it to another level of incomprehensibility, and it’s not at all helped by his introduction of stilted zooms that he uses to underline everything. And, what’s interesting is, this isn’t confined to the racing scenes, either. There’s a scene very early on in the film, where Statham’s character is in the middle of a riot in the front of his workplace – a refinery-plant that looks suspiciously like the prison used later in the film – and, I don’t know what happened. There were shots of faces, riot batons, and Statham hitting someone. I leave them for you to assemble into a coherent picture.

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The second was the just-recently released G.I. Rise of Cobra – initially, I had no real interest in it aside from my mild astonishment that it was garnering a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, but something piqued my curiosity about it – reading about how Sommers had been locked out of the editing room, and just how open Paramount has been in general about how bad the film had turned out was what had gotten me .

And, of course it is. That’s a foregone conclusion, really. But, you don’t expect something that seems like it’s actively trying to be a terrible film. What really struck me was what Sommers seemed to consider good character development –

– One of the characters, Scarlett, goes from “Emotions aren’t based in science” (yes, that’s a real line of dialogue, and it is played seriously) to, at the end of the film, “I’m feeling – emotional.”

– Flashback after flashback after flashback, seemingly placed at random throughout the film. Twice, I only realized about halfway through a scene that this was what Sommers’ considered ‘backstory.’ And, there’s one in particular, with the character Storm Shadow, that doesn’t really have any context at all, and only seems to be present to finish off the thread line from the other two – which pop in, respectively, in the middle of a fight sequence and as a character is turning around, later on.

– Oh, and all these characters know each other. Duke was Cobra’s best friend, and he was in turn the little brother of the girl he was going to marry, who later became Cobra’s hench-woman, Baroness.

– Sommers’ idea of an origin story for his characters is to have them say things like, “you can call me – Cobra Commander!” Or, “you are McCullen no more! Now, your name is – Destro!” And, that’s that.

All respect to Roger Ebert, Transformers 2 – while still a bad film, I agree – can’t approach this film with a ten-foot pole.

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The third was Neil Marshall’s Doomsday, and while I’d probably agree with you that it’s a bit hyperbolic to place it in the same league as the previous two films mentioned, it really is just a mess. It’s just a mishmash of references to Escape From New York and Mad Max that range from actually pretty well-done to ‘well, that’s just ridiculous.’ Rhona Mitra sneaking up on a guard and bashing his head in with a tire-iron after he gives her a sheepish grin? Alright, I can buy that. Characters named Carpenter and Miller? Okay.

But, neither of these directors made schlocky horror films, which is the impression that Marshall seems to have gotten, half the time. And, while the ending is interesting conceptually, it doesn’t really make sense in terms of Mitra’s character. Why has she chosen to stay with the mutants, inside the city? Is it because she considers herself too much of an animal to return to society? Is she – just too disgusted, or what?  It doesn’t particularly follow – she chose to stay behind to find her old home, where her father finds her. She gives him the recording she’d made earlier, and – that’s it.

There’s an interesting essay, just by the way, that examines all three as well as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine from Where The Stress Falls, “Road Warriors, Anti-Heroes, and Astronauts: Some Thoughts on Film Genre,” that’s well worth a look.

It’s like I’m some sort of unintentional cinemasochist. However, I did have the fortune to finally see the director cut of Luc Besson’s Leon, which I’d somehow never seen. And, that just nearly made up for all the hurt.

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