(On-demand Video, March 2012) As honorable it is to try to find something nice about every film, no matter how low-budget or low-imagination they can be, sometimes there’s no going around saying it outright: Cross is a bad, bad movie, and the fact that it’s interestingly flawed doesn’t make it any better. At least its first five minutes won’t create any false hopes: From the first moments, the awkward attempts at humor, the cringe-worthy macho bluster, the incompetent direction, the terrible dialogue, the low-quality no-originality pseudo-comics introduction, the subtitles standing in lieu of characterization… everything about this film stinks of bad ideas piled on top of each other. The plot is a lame variation on overused urban horror clichés, and the development has trouble making it feel interesting. The presence of Vinnie Jones as the antagonist brings to mind the similar The Bleeding, except that that Cross has even more macho attitude and even less charm. The film’s most thought-provoking facet is the casting: For a film having reportedly cost a mere two million dollars (and looking like it), how did it attract name actors such as Jones, Michael Duncan Clarke, Jake Busey (who does get a few of the film’s better lines) and Tom Sizemore? We may never know, but the result really doesn’t do anyone any favors. Cross often strays into unintentional comedy, but in such a plodding way that it’s more a pitiful sight than a guilty pleasure. It introduces a flurry of characters but barely make use of a few of them. It aims for macho swagger without having the substance to back it up. In many ways, Cross attempts tricks that would work in better movies, but is so badly-made that the attempts all backfire and make the film feel even cheaper than it is. The focus on meaningless violence, big guns, scantily-dressed women, muscle cars and comic-book-inspired fantasy elements make Cross feel juvenile in ways that most kids’ movies aren’t, and it’s hard to respect the results. This is as low as filmmaking can go and if it isn’t, I don’t want to hear about it.
(On DVD, January 2012) This surprisingly acceptable British thriller comes across the pond in humble DVD format, setting up low expectations that are eventually surpassed by the content of the film. Initially presented as the story of a criminal operative, The Heavy eventually morphs into a far more engaging political/family thriller. A timeline-hopping structure keeps things mysterious until it’s no longer time for them to be, but good cinematography, fine performances, an intriguing soundtrack by Paul Oakenfold, good direction by writer/director Marcus Warren and unusual characters do the rest. The film gets better as it goes on and while it doesn’t end happily, it finishes on a satisfying note. (Screenwriters with a desire to kill off most of their lead characters may want to study this film and understand why some downbeat endings work better than others.) There are, to be sure, a number of bad flaws in the mix: Nearly every scene involving the protagonist’s parents are written so on-the-nose as to be wince-worthy. Gary Stretch is OK as the lead, but a few other performances aren’t as polished and Vinnie Jones’ character seems overly sadistic as a corrupt cop. The Heavy, to be entirely fair, doesn’t take place in our reality as much as one in which criminals and influent politicians can take out convoluted contracts on each other… so don’t expect realism as much as a satisfying shuffling of known archetypes. Still, The Heavy is absorbing-enough as it plays, and the strong ending makes it look quite a bit better than it may be in its entirety. The DVD contains three short making-of featurettes, rounding up the film without any extra flashes of brilliance.
(On DVD, January 2012) I enjoyed The Bleeding for all the wrong reasons. Let’s be clear: this is not a good movie. It revels in clichés, terrible cinematography, dull plotting and unsuccessfully tries to ape much better films. Still, it’s aimed at horrors fans, and I can recognize the wolf-whistles aimed at that particular constituency. A vampire movie loaded with hot cars, heavy weaponry, occasional female nudity and death metal music, The Bleeding desperately wants to please the sometimes-insular horror film fan community, and nearly every misstep that the movie makes is due to blatant fan-service. The protagonist’s over-the-top narration is so grotesquely filled with pretentious tough-guy talk that it borders on parody; a sudden dismemberment scene is designed to please the gore-hounds; the female character ecstatic over the protagonist’s car is designed to appeal to a specific kind of movie-watcher. If you have some current or past affinity for that crowd (male, white, 18-to-34, undiscriminating horror fanatic, often single; I’ve been there) then The Bleeding will find a place in the happy place of your brain, even as you recognize that it’s terrible. More seasoned audiences will still be fascinated by the film’s attempt to re-create better films, and why the attempts don’t work: Stone-faced Michael Matthias tries hard to be Vin Diesel (and you can almost imagine how Diesel would play that role more forcefully), but the script gives him some lines of dialogue that have to be heard to be believed. Michael Madsen, at least, has a little bit of self-aware fun as a gun-toting priest. Kat Von D shows up briefly (but not as briefly as Armand Assante’s one-scene cameo) while Vinnie Jones growls a standard-issue villain and DMX shows up for a hilariously convenient bit of exposition. The script is terrible in a quasi-charming way, being made almost entirely of macho posturing and onrushing exposition. The cinematography isn’t confident enough in itself and feels forced to bathe everything in super-saturated monochrome. No doubt: The Bleeding is bad… and yet, at the same time, kind of entertaining. You already know if you want to see it, don’t you? The DVD contains three inconsequential featurettes, plus The Bleeding’s own trailer –which is even funnier after seeing the film!
(In theaters, January 2001) Well, if you loved director Guy Ritchie’s first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, get ready to run and see Snatch, because it’s pretty much the same film. Low-level English criminals, complicated plot, multiple camera tricks, fast editing, time-shifting, incomprehensible English accents; it’s all there, and the level of quality is pretty much identical. While it’s not as delightfully surprising as the first film, it’s probably more self-assured. (It is somewhat darker, though) Most of the actors are excellent in their respective roles, but special notice must go to Brad Pitt as a gypsy boxer. Make sure to turn on the subtitles before watching the film. Good fun.
(Second viewing, On DVD, August 2001) Sure, a great script is always a good basis for a great film, but it usually takes more than that. Director Guy Richie is this element for Snatch, confidently mixing virtuoso editing, unusual -but appropriate- camera tricks, wonderful music and an assured mastery of all that’s cool. Part of the success must be shared by the actors, of course (with a special emphasis on Vinnie Jones and Brad Pitt), without whom coolness would have no face. This is one film which you won’t get tired of watching, if only because of the density of some of the material. The DVD is everything you’d hope about Snatch, from an informative audio commentary to a honest making-of featurette. Snatch Snatch as soon as possible!