Recently Rated Movies #47: A Saturday Spent In Hell (If I Believed In That Crap...)

Even when you know deep inside that a movie is going to suck, sometimes you have higher hopes for it. Witness below three flicks that, due to the subject matter or the original source material, I had reason to believe that they might get turned around into something surprisingly good. In all three cases, I wasn't so much disappointed in their outcomes, as I was disappointed in myself that I expected more of them. Read my tales of woe and take the walk of shame with me...

The List:
Faust: Love of the Damned
Dir: Brian Yuzna // 2001 [Showtime]
Cinema 4 Rating: 4
A film version of a much-touted “graphic novel” from a few years back. There was a point in time where I really wanted this book to appear at my comic shop because it was one of those "unrated" comics, was reportedly very adult in nature, and loaded with equal amounts of sex and gore. Once upon a time, dirty comics were very important to me, not so much because they were dirty, but because they upset people. In a comic world where the bulk of the books still came stamped with the stultifying mark of the Comics Code Authority, the fact that comics could once again cause mothers to get the vapors was immensely satisfying. Of course, there was the pervy side of me, and at that time, anything short of Betty and Veronica going down on each other was bound to disappoint me. (Oh, who am I kidding? I'd still like to see that... let’s throw that little minx Midge in there while we’re at it.) When Faust appeared in the comic shop, and after I consumed numerous positive reviews from friends I once considered to have decent sense, I purchased the entire series. And, yeah, it was indeed loaded with sex and gore; while it turned out to be not the worst comic I had ever read, I found it merely OK. Even worse, once the main character changed to his demonic form, he bore the stupidest-looking costume in the Modern Age of Stupid-Looking Costumes (Rocket Racer and Spider-Ham notwithstanding…) Not a surprise then that the movie version has the same problems in story and costume, but seeing Yuzna's name in the credits made me think that perhaps, as with Return of the Living Dead Part III and Bride of Re-Animator, this might get pulled off into something somewhat fun to watch. Faust as portrayed in comics would almost seem to warrant some hardcore film approach, but Yuzna does manage to pull off the erotic aspects of the story far better than he does the violence, which comes off as too cheesy. There are great doses of gore on hand, but if it is all meant to add some dramatic grittiness to the happenings, it gets offset by how truly moronic both the costume and the actor filling the costume appear. I did rather like Andrew Divoff as the satanic M and Mònica Van Campen as his generally naked aide-de-camp/seductress Claire, but that’s about it. Even a nearly Society-style orgy scene at film’s end can’t save it..

Mysterious Island
Dir: Russell Mulcahy // 2005, made-for-TV mini-series [Hallmark]
Cinema 4 Rating: 3

Remember when Highlander looked like the greatest movie in the world and it's director, Russell Mulcahy, felt like he was the Second Coming of Somebody Important in the Film World? Remember when we thought that he actually had some thought going on behind what seemed to be a remarkable visual sense? Remember when Highlander II came out five years later, and suddenly everyone went "What the hell?", and the world got their first dose of what would happen later with the Matrix and Star Wars series, where you got the sense that these guys really didn’t have it all worked out in advance… that they were just winging it? Remember when, even though Christopher Lambert was clearly one of the worst actors in the world, you stuck with him because he was an awesome Tarzan and, hell, he played the Highlander? Today, even on a bad-movie day, I can't get near the original Highlander anymore, but I did stick with Mulcahy up through Ricochet and his not-altogether-bad version of The Shadow. (I will always be sort of fond of his wonky pre-Highlander Aussie flick Razorback.) Here, Mulcahy is assigned to tackle the Jules Verne "classic", which is not even half the quality as a Nemo adventure as 20,000 Leagues is, but I love the crazed Captain, so it's cool that Verne felt he had to follow up. While it might seem nice that Patrick Stewart has been corralled to play the part, he is all wrong for Nemo, of course, and truly seems to be nothing onscreen but the nose-holding receiver of a paycheck in this one. Kyle MacLachlan comes off better as the hero, but he, too, has that faraway "just trying to get through the scene" look at all times. Perhaps this was his way of combating the gnawing pain that at some point his actions would be matched up with some truly horrendous CGI creatures. Or perhaps it was his way of dealing with the notion of action with the most ludicrous pirates this side of a Captain Crunch commercial. Either way, it's the viewer who truly needs that faraway look -- this thing runs almost four goddamn hours, so if you are going to commit to it (like I did), be warned that you will eventually know just how many holes there are on each acoustic tile on your ceiling. (426,226 to be precise.) Nowadays, Mulcahy has apparently settled into his true form as a hack -- nowhere is this more evident than the fact he has recently signed on to direct a film about an animal smuggler who is mystically turned into a koala. The film is called -- surprise! -- Russell, and when I saw the title, I at first thought it would be an autobiographical tale of a man whose artistic career has turned to shit. Turns out, his actions speak far louder than any film biography of himself ever could.

Starkweather
Dir: Byron Werner // 2004 [Showtime]
Cinema 4 Rating: 4

I was going to pass on this trifle, figuring that no one could possibly even come close to topping Terrence Malick's Badlands, which not only used the same series of shocking late 50's murders as its source material, but also presented it in a deeply poetic and immensely satisfying way. (I firmly hold it to be one of the ten best films from the 70's.) Then I noticed on the information page on my DVR that Starkweather featured the star of the amazingly something Spring Break Shark Attack, Shannon Lucio, in the role of Caril Ann Fugate, the willing (or is she?) tag-along girlfriend of Midwestern whackjob Charles Starkweather. Now, I know well enough that most of these gigs for an actor are considered to be steps up in a career, and I would not judge Ms. Lucio for appearing in such dreck. A job's a job... you do what you can to pay the rent. So, I am not ripping on her for appearing in what turns out to be a dreadful interpretation of this tale. Honestly, I tuned in because she reminded me in the shark flick of Jennifer Jason Leigh when she was much younger, and Ms. Lucio, despite the interference from this film, continues that resemblance in my mind. Her performance is OK -- no knock on her -- it's simply that this film, whatever its intentions, shouldn't have even tried. If the intent was to give a more accurate portrayal of the events than as represented in Badlands, well, perhaps they succeeded here and there in this endeavor, but dramatically, the film falls apart the instant, which happens very early on, that they introduce Charlie's shadowy "influence", a character voiced by Lance Henriksen that is probably supposed to be the devil in Charlie's head, if not Ol’ Scratch hisse’f . This gives certain areas of the film a “Freddy Krueger” feel that is completely unnecessary, especially when it seems like the filmmakers are trying to achieve a more realistic feel elsewhere. Any look at any number of movie sites will find comments by people who “really lived where this story took place” or “remember these events as a child”, and they will invariably comment on the clothes and the cars and the facts and the street names and the locations all being wrong. I don’t give a shit about this. Malick went off the facts for Badlands, and the result was a stunning masterpiece of incomprehensible violence, marked by moments of seemingly misplaced beauty. One can be creative and still capture the mood of a true story. Bring the Devil into this story in this particular fashion, though, and you’ve turned it into nothing but a silly melodrama. Might as well have Charlie and De Deb’bil duel it out on guitars Crossroads-style or have a drag race for Charlie’s soul. And have cute little Lucio, who was almost twice the age of her thirteen-year old character when she filmed this, stand in the middle of the Badlands in her TV-shark-film bikini and have wave a blood-soaked scarf to start the race. Then nobody would care that the characters are standing on the wrong street in the wrong town when they blow somebody’s head off, and that they escape in the wrong make of car. I suppose if someone made a movie about Robert Hansen and didn't film it in Alaska, I might raise a similar stink. But, you know... I watched Northern Exposure all the same. Bunch'a nitpickers! Starkweather is bad enough on its own merits; it doesn't need inaccuracies in location to show what a shite-fest it is.

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