My reviews often contain spoilers. So consider yourself warned.
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All right, kids, I’m sending out a warning. Avoid Siren. I admit I was easily drawn in. Maxim UK gave it a five star review. Some other websites wrote about it and made it sound like it was a trip worth taking. It features Anna Skellern, who was one of the few enjoyable things about The Descent Part 2 and she fills a similar role here. She is a really good actress. I like seeing her in genre work – but she deserves better. The film supplies us with some throwaway references to Greek mythology. It features a scantily clad woman on the cover. The packaging is misleading and will guide you to your doom. Things start out semi-intriguingly enough – Anna and her boyfriend Eoin Macken attempt some role play sex in a dingy rest stop bathroom before meeting up with Anna’s old college pal Anthony Jabre. The threesome head out on a boat christened Persephone (of course) and plan to make their way to the villa of Anna’s boyfriend’s boss. They don’t quite make it and for a brief moment Siren appears to be pulling a Triangle. A distress call later a man dies aboard the boat (bleeding from his ears) and they meet a strange and seemingly traumatized vixen named Silka (Tereza Srbova) on a nearby island, where they decide to set up camp when Persephone putters out. Silka knows more than she is letting on and when the dudes start tripping out hardcore, Silka seduces Anna. None of it makes sense in any satisfactory way and there is no payoff to pull it all together and reward us for our time spent. The tune employed for “the siren song” however is quite good – a moody and menacing little number by a band called Warpaint – it is worth checking out even if this mess isn’t. Plug up your ears, cover your eyes and pass Siren by. D
The Grindhouse films have one hell of a feminist slant – and coming from two prominent male directors, working at the top of their game, this is something to behold (especially for the podophiliacs among us). In the first feature, Planet Terror, not only does Fergie know exactly what is wrong with her car when it overheats, but she also doesn’t need any man to help her fix it. And Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer who loses a leg in a zombie attack, initially takes the new with tears and even though it is her ex-flame Freddy Rodriguez who gives her the power to see beyond it (and first the wooden stump to replace it and later the iconic machine gun) it is she who comes out of the film as the supreme hero. When escaping from the military base in the final act, even Freddy stands back as she vanquishes the foes with her new appendage – and he is a character presented to us as major player, masterful with weapons, even awakening respect in the hard ass sheriff when his true identity is “revealed.” He is El Wray, after all. But it is Cherry Darling who in the end protects and continues the human race, seeking the lost and misplaced and taking them to her kingdom by the sea.
Planet Terror: B+
Death Proof is even more female empowerment – Kurt Russell playing an insane and homicidal stunt man may ravage and ruin five beauties before getting his due, but is it a new generation of female drivers who give him his comeuppance, not about to let him get away with his little joyride. Death Proof is also remarkable for the time it takes to introduce us to the various characters, to let us live with them for a while and experience their world – they don’t exist merely to give us something pretty to look at before being quickly executed. We follow two separate sets of girls for quite considerable durations before the mechanics of the plot kick in – the girls are verbal, catty and supremely enjoyable. The majority of this film is simply us listening in on the conversations they have as they hang out – this is significant not only because these passages are made as exciting as the action sequences – but because they exists at all. How rare is it not only for a film to feature such strong women in central roles – but so many of them – and to allow them to actually fill the screen and come into their own while other elements – the cars, the carnage – take a backseat. Give a glance to the male counterparts and you’ll find they’re all disappointments, dicks or psychotic. The Grindhouse films may be a throw back to the 70s flicks that inspired the directors (complete with fake trailers and mangled and missing reels) but they are about as far from exploitation as you can get.
Death Proof: B+
The Box (2009)
So, remember when I was pontificating recently about those directors who are making films that are clearly their own riffs on the Twilight Zone and that perhaps the filmmakers would be better served by simply filming one of the old television scripts? Well, I still stand by that. Let us not use Richard Kelly’s The Box as an example of my idea put into practice.
The Richard Matheson short story that this is based upon did not begin life as a Twilight Zone script – it was a piece he wrote in 1970 entitled “Button, Button” and it wasn’t until the “new” 19801 Twilight Zone reboot that the story was translated into episode form. Incidentally, Richard Matheson is responsible for some of the best original Twilight Zone scripts of the series – he is a seminal horror writer and a master at what he does. One of the reasons Richard Kelly’s adaptation of The Box fails is because Kelly personalizes the story with especially odd filler that he apparently culled from his own childhood – there is too much that is simply not necessary. The story would have (and did in Matheson’s own version) worked much better without everything being explained – more should have been left open for interpretation. I recently complained in my review for Vanishing on 7th Street that the script supplied us with nothing – no resolution, no answers why, and The Box is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. A nice middle ground is what is required, especially for mind twisters of this ilk. Kelly offers no subtlety here – it is as if he no longer trusts his audience to come to conclusions on their own. Oh, how seriously the movie takes itself. Oh, how little reason there is for us to do the same.
I am a bit surprised that Kelly is able to keep getting funding for his films from major studios. Donnie Darko is a film I consider a minor masterpiece but the director’s output since then has been nearly disastrous. I have not seen Southland Tales and I have no interest to – from all I have heard it is a film to be missed. Now The Box. Another blunder. Kelly seems to be making films he feels strongly about and putting his heart and soul into them and I do hate to fault a filmmaker for that, but he really needs to reign himself in. The man who so spryly and wittily dissected an era and the mind space of the numerous characters inhabiting it, is nowhere on display here.
Some scenes do come close to conjuring up some potent paranoia, but they never quite make it. The script is a wild goose chase with some especially atrocious dialogue, the ending is a total wipe out and the rest is a plodding mess. The acting is less than captivating and Cameron Diaz trots out a truly heinous and mangled accent. The only performance I did enjoyed was from the always reliable Celia Weston, who portrays the mother of Cameron’s character. I wish they’d used more of her.
The score deserves a better film to showcase it – it goes a long way in making the proceedings feel more tangible and doom laced than they ever are. When James Marsden says late in the game, “I’m looking for the nearest exit” you’ll know just how he feels. C-