Recently Rated Movies #56: Amerigo the Boredomful?

Bloody Mallory
Director: Julien Magnat // French, 2002 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

Down in the Valley
Director: David Jacobson // 2005 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

Yes, I have my devised own system for rating movies, but it doesn't mean that 1) it works perfectly, and 2) that I
am completely satisfied with it. (Am I ever completely happy with anything?) The problem with ratings systems is that they are, by state of being, merely numbered lists, and cold and swift in their doling out of opinion. There is no allowance in their efficient little stabs of icy preference over finely hewn lines of art, distinction or purpose between films of decidedly different ilk, nor is one able to discern within such ratings the notion of a film that is, in the parlance, "so bad it's good" as opposed to a film that is simply "good" or "bad." The number "6" is just a "6," and what that number means to the reviewer still requires further dissemination from that reviewer publicly for it to make true sense to the outside eye; to the reader, unless they are distinctly attuned already to the scale the reviewer has set as a pattern for judgment, they will have to read numerous reviews before being able to trust (or mistrust) such ratings at a mere glance.

I am not in this world to merely be placated with "average" fare. I want the sublime, whether it means extremely good or bad by definition, and it is with the hope of reaching this state that I continue to watch movie after movie. But these incredibly great or spectacularly horrendous films that make up the ends of the ratings spectrum only represent a relatively minor portion of the films produced over the last 100 years or so. As it is with most things, there exists a more expansive middle section that forms the generic core of everything created, where the most maddeningly ponderous entertainment ever committed to film will sleep soundly in their lumpen cocoons woven out of strands of unrefined blandness until poked at by unwary film-goers. Sadly, a large percentage of the unwary will end up believing that these dull sacs have sprouted wings of gossamer, and become convinced that they are worthwhile entertainment. But, I alone, despite my practically sandwich-boarded warnings of cinematic doom, cannot prevent this from happening. It is the way of things: the rabble will always flock to that which they are commanded, and most films released comprise both the general consumer market and this witless mass of quietly bubbling boredom.

On my scale, I have chosen "5" to represent this Grand Canyon of Averageness. For the most part, once I have seen a film befitting this rating, I no longer wish to see its like again. For many reasons, I wished to name this region "Columbia" after Chris Columbus -- the crappy director, not the explorer -- but I am afraid that an equally monotonous director named Vespucci will come along, and everyone will insist that it is obvious I must name the middle region after him instead. While the region may then truly represent by name the people who generally support the dullness of the films contained within, I just can't handle the controversy, and thus, I shall just keep it as "5" or "average."

On either side of this divide, there are two types of film: at "4" are the films that failed to be even good enough to be considered generic fare, but which have some saving grace of interest in them, that if the filmmakers had only focused a little more on certain aspects, they might have pulled off their effort, at the very least in an entertainment sense. I like to think of them as "noble failures."
I have chosen "6" on my scale of "9" to serve as my marker for a film that is merely "good," a notch above "average," and they are for the most part the type of film where I leave a theatre going, "Well, that was a bit of alright." (But only with a period; an exclamation point would mean that I enjoyed it even further, and that would move us into a more exalted realm.) And this is where the different ratings sections get tricky, because any film rated is also just a notch below the next highest level, or a notch above the next lowest, and for very different reasons, of either slight success or minor failure, two very different films can end up getting the same rating.

Merely "good" is where Bloody Mallory and Down in the Valley meet for me. Mallory is a slapdash, madcap French horror-comedy seemingly inspired by equal parts Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Men and papal mistrust, while Valley is a moody San Fernando-set slice of existential angst featuring an oddly beguiling turn by Edward Norton as a 30ish would-be cowboy who gets his freak on (understandably) with an easily influenced teen played by Evan Rachel Wood. How two such disparate examples could end up with the same rating points out exactly why I have such trouble with ratings systems, for truly, the only way to accurately gauge these films is by comparing them to others of their own ilk. And yet, I have only one system built by which to rate, and rate I must.

Mallory makes it to "good" simply by overcoming its own tremendous weaknesses -- script, special effects, not particularly strong acting, and obvious slices from (and possible nods to) far superior sources (though never in the manner which could be construed as "tribute") -- and somehow coming out as mindlessly enjoyable. Thankfully, because it is French, and though it is a film so primarily built on a not-very-subtle nihilism (or not-very-subtle anything)
, I am able to openly use the term joie de vivre to describe its overall and ultimate attitude, despite all the devilishly red splashes of blood. As Mallory the Bloody, Olivia Bonamy has an appealing spunkiness, even if she is never fully believable in the part. But, she grits her teeth well and fires a pistol convincingly enough to plow her way through legions of demons as she and her three counterparts -- including a immensely precocious psychokinetic child and an extremely tall drag queen/demolition expert -- try to rescue the Pope in a remarkably silly plot line. The jokes fly as fast as the body parts, and while it never escapes fully formed from its own self-imposed ghetto (nor does it ever reach that Jacksonian moment, such as in the lawnmower scene in Brain Dead/Dead Alive, where it gets SO over-the-top it becomes astonishingly lovable), there is a charming layer of frosted cheesiness that at least feels intentional. It really is a film where, when I finished it, I breathed lightly, grinned and said "Well, that was a bit of alright." (And after watching the remake of Pulse, I needed it...)

Down in the Valley, there exists an entirely different breed of cat, one that could have been a contender for top
gun in the county (at least, for me), but just misses out by never having enough ammo in the pistols it openly flaunts on its hips. I get why Wood would fall for Norton (and vice-versa, for she is scrumptious), and I get why her little brother Rory Culkin (who already is a far better actor than old bro' Mac) would also fall (in a mentor-like spell) for Eddie, too. What I don't buy into are his actions at the end of the film, especially given that the kids' stepfather (as played by David Morse) is basically a decent guy (so he drinks and whores around -- who doesn't?), and I really don't understand Culkin's compulsion to continue to follow Norton blindly (apart from pistol fear) even when it has become apparent that Norton is batshit crazy. (Yes, Norton fills him full of lies about Morse, but even in my daddy-hating teenage stage, where I was looking for any excuse to go off, I would have seen through Norton in ten seconds flat.)

If it is just so director/writer Jacobson can build up to his big "wild horse trapped and kicking in a suburban garage" metaphor, then it is all for naught. In what should be the most thrilling part of the film -- the chase through the hills of the valley following a shooting -- the film actually runs out of energy, both in story and character interest. I think the resolution only occurs because Jacobson's ideas have run dry, and possibly because Culkin has simply been hit with a mild case of teenage ennui. Also, Norton's character always remains too much of a cypher, and my chief wish while watching was that I knew just a tad more about his past, which is hinted at incessantly, but is never really made all that clear. This, however, is balanced out by Wood's surprisingly strong performance, and it is refreshing to see some fake nudity from her here, especially given that once Marilyn Manson is done perving out with her on film, we're going to be sick to death of the girl.

So, I only ended up merely liking the film, when it had a lot of potential to resonate far more than it eventually did. And somehow, this film with high-minded and noble intentions ends up sitting on the same shelf with another film with a serious case of lowbrow giggles, and both end up there for wholly different reasons. Which goes to show that ratings systems can only get you so far in judging a movie's worth. It's good for a spot check only, and it is why one should always delve deeper and find those with movie opinions whom they can trust. It won't be me, but never go by just a "thumbs up" or "down," especially on a movie poster. Read...


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