Jobs (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Jobs</strong> (2013)

(Video on Demand, November 2013) I will admit that I was among the skeptics when they announced that Ashton Kutcher would be playing Steve Jobs in a film biography: How could Kutcher’s slacker personae fit with the Apple founder’s latter-day visionary reputation? As it turns out, Kutcher’s casting is one of the best things about Jobs, an average docu-fictive effort that nonetheless has a few good moments.  Kutcher is at his most Kutcher-esque early in the movie, playing Jobs at a time when the man was a free spirit open to eastern mysticism and counter-establishment thinking.  Much of Jobs follows its subject during the eighties as he becomes a shrewd businessman, combining visionary thinking with available technology.  It’s not a seamless nor magical film: Despite a rich re-creation of the nascent personal computing industry in the 1980s, Jobs gets progressively sparser at it moves throughout the nineties, eliding some important transitional periods in Jobs’ life (such as the years at NeXT, his co-founding of Pixar, the way he reconciles with his daughter or indeed much of his personal life) in the rush to present him triumphantly re-taking the reins at Apple.  Little is said after 1997 save for a 2001 prologue introducing the iPod, and nothing at all about Jobs’ last years.  Visually, the film is a bit flat save for the period re-creation, and while there are several interesting actors in small roles (including James Woods in a single early scene!), there isn’t much here to raise the film above made-for-TV specials.  On the other hand, Kutcher is surprisingly credible, so at least there’s that.  One hopes that Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming competing effort will be a bit flashier, and hopefully more substantial.

Parker (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Parker</strong> (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) Jason Statham can act quite a bit better than his usual screen personae allows, and while I do like his stock character a lot, it’s a shame that we don’t see him attempt more ambitious movies than cookie-cutter efforts such as Parker.  It’s not that Parker is badly made: Director Taylor Hackford knows what he’s doing and gives a nice gloss to his visuals –especially once the action moves to Miami Beach.  Statham is his usual gruff-but-charming self, while Jennifer Lopez gets a few comic moment as a desperate real estate agent.  But Parker really can’t rise above its generic nature: Not only has the “left for dead good-guy criminal seeks revenge” shtick been done to death, it has often been executed in far more economical fashion: For a film with such as straightforward plot, Parker overstays its welcome at nearly two hours –Lopez, nominally billed as one of the two lead characters, doesn’t show up until mid-movie.  It’s a bit of a shame that this first titled adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels is so generic: I recall Mel Gibson’s 1999 vehicle Payback with a lot more fondness.  (It’s not the only late-nineties to be favorably compared to Parker – it’s hard to see Lopez in this film without thinking about Out of Sight.)  The dead-end romantic subplot doesn’t help, and there’s a sense that much has been wasted in this hum-drum effort.  Ironically, the best reason to see Parker remains Statham himself –even in the most generic of vehicles, he remains curiously compelling.

Lo imposible [The Impossible] (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Lo imposible</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Impossible</strong>] (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) There are disaster movies made to be entertainingly exhilarating, and there are other designed to make the audience experience going through an ordeal themselves.  So it is that watching The Impossible feels like going through a natural catastrophe.  Dramatizing the life story of a British family that survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, The Impossible spares no effort in graphically showing the devastation unleashed by the natural disaster.  Watching some of the sequences of the film, it’s hard to believe that director J.A. Bayona has found a way to stage this amount of mayhem without destroying an entire country.  Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a couple who find themselves (and their three boys) separated from each other, forced to survive and find each other despite all odds.  (Watts gets the most thankless role, including a gory moment in which the extent of her leg injuries are revealed.) It’s a harrowing film –the tsunami sequences are brutal, but they’re the only fun part in a film that graphically portrays an incredible amount of suffering and destruction.  The end of the film, as heart-warming as it is, comes as a welcome return to comfortable reality for viewers.  The Impossible is impressive, but it’s certainly not a pleasant experience, and anyone looking for easy entertainment may want to push this one further back in the queue of upcoming viewing.

Man of Steel (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Man of Steel</strong> (2013)

(Video on Demand, November 2013) There’s something both annoying and admirable about the entertainment industry’s insistence at rebooting and shoving down superhero movies down our throats.  DC’s maniacal insistence at reviving Superman after the 2006’s disastrous Superman Returns is understandable: Superman is iconic, the superhero film genre is still going strong, and there’s still some goodwill among genre fans for a good Superman film.  Man of Steel, fortunately enough, is pretty much as good as it gets from a narrative perspective: Screenwriter David S. Goyer (with some assistance from Christopher Nolan) has managed to find a compelling story to tell about a fairly dull character, and it’s more thematically rich than we could have expected.  Man of Steel, in the tradition of Nolan’s Batman films, voluntarily goes gritty: Zack Snyder’s direction favour pseudo-documentary aesthetics, the cinematography is more realistic than glossy, and the final act’s destruction feel more traumatic than purely entertaining.  Much of this grittiness feels wrong for those raised on the squeaky-clean Superman character, causing more discomfort than necessary.  On the other hand, the result is a film that’s reasonably captivating to watch: Superman has an inner conflict to solve, the action sequences aren’t generic and there’s a real effort to ground Superman to an identifiable reality.  Henry Cavill is pretty good in the lead role, while Amy Adams does the most with a somewhat generic character.  Michael Shannon brings some unexpected complexity to the antagonist, while both Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner get small but plum roles as the protagonist’s two fathers.  While Man of Steel is (ironically) a bit too down-to-earth to feel like a blockbuster epic made to be re-watched over and over again, it’s a cut above the usual superhero fare: There’s some real pathos here, an origin story built on well-used flashbacks, sense of personal growth for Superman (something rarely seen) and the solid foundation for further entries.  Recent superhero movie history has shown that it could have been much worse, and if I’ll happily take a glossy Superman movie over an unpleasantly gritty one, it would be churlish to deny the successes of this version of the character.

Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden</strong> (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) Seeing this HBO documentary right after Zero Dark Thirty, I’m most struck by the way the fictional film isn’t nearly as interesting, dramatic or compelling as the real story.  Manhunt isn’t much more than talking-head testimonials cleverly intercut by director Greg Barker with stock-ish footage and computer-generated infographics.  But the talking heads are largely CIA analysts, case officers, high-level officials and expert journalists, so the true-life espionage drama they paint of the hunt for Osama bin Laden is fascinating.  Manhunt starts by explaining that a group of CIA analysts (mostly women, hence “The Sisterhood”) started tracking down bin Laden in the mid-nineties, and their efforts intensified following 9/11.  The film acts as a big primer on real-world espionage activities, underlining the mixture of signal interception and street-level human work required to track down bin Laden.  While some linkages remain curiously elusive (I blame operational security), there are fascinating stories built in the narrative, including the fantastic almost-buried story of how al Quaeda consciously mounted an offensive operation against the CIA, killing a number of Agency operatives at Camp Chapman through a triple-agent.  While Zero Dark Thirty does portray the same event, Manhunt does so in a more fascinating way, and ends up being far more effective in two hours than the fictional film’s nearly-three-hour running length.  Nearly everyone interviewed for the film leaves us wanting more; in particular, people like Nada Bakos, Marty Martin, and Cindy Storer (who apparently wrote the infamous “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US” memo) seem endlessly fascinating: enthusiastic, reflective, knowledgeable and often funny.  They bring a human face to a lengthy collective effort, and do so far more effectively than the fictional film.  This being HBO, the film isn’t blind to the ethical implications of targeting an individual for termination –it ends on a fairly somber note far away from triumphalism: Sure, the man is dead and the symbolism is powerful, but the ideas live on.  While Manhunt is worth seeing on its own, it becomes essential viewing for anyone who has seen Zero Dark Thirty.

Double Down: Game Change 2012, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

<em class="BookTitle">Double Down: Game Change 2012</em>, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

Penguin, 2013, 512 pages, C$31.50 hc, ISBN 978-1-594-20440-1

In an age of twitter-sized text bites, continuous news cycle and fragmented constituencies, there is something to be said for long-form narratives that seek to explain months of events and incidents.  This goes double for attempts to describe something as complex as a presidential campaign.  Following in the footsteps of their vastly entertaining Game Change (which tackled the 2008 presidential campaign, with a focus on the Obama/Clinton primary challenges and the impact of Sarah Palin on the campaign), Mark Halperin and John Heilemann have spent much of 2011 and 2012 following the main players involved in the 2012 American presidential campaign, and Double Down is an attempt to weave what they’ve learned into a coherent narrative.

The biggest problem with the 2012 campaign, of course, is that it was a fairly dull affair: Barack Obama went into the contest with the advantages of the incumbency, while Mitt Romney was seen as the least-objectionable pick from an uninspiring selection of candidates from a Republican party fractured between the older establishment and the extreme tea-partiers.  Save for a lopsided first debate that temporarily upset expectations, the campaign had few dramatic moments.  By the time November rolled around, the only people claiming a close election were media outlets hyping up their viewership number and the Romney campaign itself.  Watching the results at home, I knew enough about the possible swing-states to be able to call the election for Obama roughly three minutes before CNN did.

As a political junkie, I’m the natural audience for a book such as Double Down… even though I spent much of 2012 a step removed from American politics, preoccupied with a brand-new baby at home.  And while I may have opened this review with lofty goals of narrative-making, let’s be honest: I read book such as Double Down to get pieces of gossip, new revelations and an idea of what I’d missed from the usual open sources of information.

As it turns out, Double Down is most interesting when it does delve into what I’d missed: Mostly the early stages of the Republican nomination process, as promising candidates decide (or are strongly encouraged) to sit out the 2012 election cycle.  This, improbably, opened up the field for Romney, who managed to remain the least-terrible alternative after a succession of other would-be nominees flamed out early on.  The look behind the scenes of those failed contenders is often fascinating, and perhaps more affecting than the winning campaigns: I never thought I’d feel a bit of sympathy for Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry, but seeing them struggles with (respectively) debilitating migraines and post-operative back pain is enough to remind you that for all the overheated partisan rhetoric, these are still real people running for office. 

Amusingly, the authors also have to contend with their own precedent in writing Double Down: Parts of Chapter 3 are spent describing the White House’s dealing with the authors, while one of the most hilarious anecdotes of the book has VP nominee Paul Ryan trying to calm down before his major convention speech by watching… the HBO movie adaptation of Game Change, focusing on the shortcomings of his predecessor Sarah Palin.  Fortunately, the book itself is not perceptibly biased, save for siding with the winner and being harsher on the losers: While Obama is criticized for his failings as a contemplative president and as a reluctant candidate, Romney gets worse by being described as a curiously ambivalent candidate, one that maybe didn’t want the presidency enough.

The authors have a knack for creating a compelling narrative (even though their vocabulary often runs wild, along with their tendency toward nicknames or metonymy) and the book is a joy to read, although a good background in American national politics is required before making sense of most details.  Still, it’s worth remembering that Halperin and Heilemann are part of the old-school of journalism.  Never mind the off-handed (and faintly reprobate) mentions of social media (and even, just Twitter –never Facebook!) as if it was just a fringe phenomenon: this mentality leads to a few curious omissions in what is otherwise a complete account of the campaign. 

For instance, while nothing made me smile wider than seeing the author dismiss Ron Paul as a man whose “radical libertarianism, out-front isolationism, and just plain kookiness— from his abhorrence of paper money to his ties to the John Birch Society — made him more likely to end up on a park bench feeding stale bread to the squirrels than become the Republican nominee”, Paul did earn more votes during the primaries than many other candidates described at length during the book.  I suspect that access has to do with this snide dismissal: that is, if the authors were rebuffed by the Paul campaign, then they found nothing interesting to say about him.  Far more troubling is Double Down’s refusal to mention Nate Silver even once.  Silver, as you may recall, was the most visible of the web-based statistical pundits who uniformly predicted an Obama victory, even as the traditional media was still creating a smokescreen of uncertainty over the election.  Also significant is the lack of discussion about the Romney campaign’s ORCA IT problems, which may have led to a false sense of confidence in the final weeks of the campaign in a supposedly data-centric organization.  Those stories were well-covered in the days immediately after the election, and it seems curious that they don’t even rate a mention even as figures who played no part in the election such as Haley Barbour rate pages of anecdotes.  (And let’s not even mention Chris Christie, who should consider sending copies of this book to registered Republicans in anticipation of his 2016 run… or not.)

And this brings us to my original assessment of Game Change, which holds true for Double Down as well: It’s become a quadrennial gossip rag for the political set.  Data, infrastructure, trends and strategy aren’t nearly as important in Double Down as screaming, shouting, money problems and dramatic narration.  That’s to necessarily a bad thing, as long as readers understand that this is political reporting as entertainment.  Insight will come from elsewhere.

Is it any surprise that a movie adaption has already been announced?

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Zero Dark Thirty</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) Given the acclaim that Zero Dark Thirty received upon release (all the way up to Oscar nominations) and the interest in its premise, I frankly expected more than I got from the film.  Telling the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden seemed essential given his decade-long bogeyman stature in the American psyche… but who expected a film about such a gripping subject to be, well, so dull?  Clocking in at a near-oppressive two-and-a-half-hour, Zero Dark Thirty takes forever to tell its story, underplaying some moments (such as the strike against CIA employees at Camp Chapman) while letting others take place in near-real time.  The pacing is tepid, and the basic tools of the film (cinematography, dialogue, direction) aren’t all that compelling either: For all the good that I think of her films up to and including The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow’s work here seems more average than anything else, and does little to fight against the heaviness of the rest of the film. Fortunately, the performances are quite good: Jessica Chastain is splendid as the personification of the “Sisterhood” of CIA analysts that doggedly pursued bin Laden for more than a decade, while Jason Clarke is curiously compelling as a CIA interrogator.  As far as the gulf between fiction and reality is concerned, a look at the HBO documentary Manhunt should help clear up the historical liberties taken by Zero Dark Thirty –although viewers should be forewarned that Manhunt is considerably crisper and more compelling than its fictional counterpart.

Argo (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Argo</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) This Iranian-hostage thriller annoyed me for several reasons: Never mind the last few lines that so generously allow Canada to take credit for a CIA operation, or the selective political context, or the way that a Hollywood production self-importantly suggests that Hollywood can be important on the geopolitical stage (no wonder it won the Oscar…): the way real-life facts are tortured until they end up with the kind of breathless thriller in which a departing plane is followed by jeeps filled with would-be killers is enough to make your eyes roll waaay back.  Shamelessly rearranging history to suit the purposes of crowd-friendly entertainment, Argo practically demonstrates how bad Hollywood can be in distorting reality.  But the real surprise is that despite all of those flaws… the film is actually quite enjoyable.  Director Ben Affleck manages a third solid film in as many attempts, even through Argo is a bit more ambitious in its historical setting than the Bostonian crime dramas of either Gone Baby Gone or The Town.  The rhythm of the film is steadily engrossing, and the Hollywood interludes (featuring a splendid Alan Arkin) bring a bit of levity to a premise that naturally lends itself to a somber tone.  Argo arguably becomes more interesting as it deviates further and further away from reality, as the CIA agent goes rogue in refusing an order to abort the operation, as the fake film-crew takes unjustifiable risks, as the Iranian security forces get closer and closer to the fleeing fugitives.  By the time the jeeps are chasing the departing plane on the airport tarmac, it’s practically an unintentional comedy.  It’s hard to deny that Argo is splendidly entertaining, and that’s a significant edge over the not-dissimilar Zero Dark Thirty.  Still, as a Canadian I feel a duty to tut-tut this film over its historical inaccuracies.  You should still see it for its craft… but follow it up with a documentary such as Our Man in Tehran for a more thorough overview of the real events.

Our Man in Tehran (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Our Man in Tehran</strong> (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) While Canadian Caper documentary Our Man in Tehran was not entirely motivated by the historical inaccuracies in Argo (it began planning well before Argo made it to screens), there’s no denying that the film earned enormous publicity and good-will (at least in Canada) as being “the answer” to the Hollywoodized fictional account.  It’s certainly riveting as a companion piece, as much for the context it establishes around the event than for the ways it reveals a true story often more interesting than the fiction itself. (Consider that the Swissair plane that flew the hostages out of Tehran was named… Aargau.)   Canadian diplomat Ken Taylor is the acknowledged titular hero of Our Man in Tehran, but much of the film’s credit go to writer/directors Larry Weinstein and Drew Taylor (along with Robert Wright, who wrote the book on which much of the material is drawn) as they spin a talking head montage into a short history of the Iranian revolution, a narrative of the Canadian Caper and gentle jabs at the Hollywood version of events in which the CIA “allows” Canada to claim credit for the success of the operation.  There’s a lot of interesting material here, not the least being how much Canadian assets contributed to the reconnaissance portion of the failed Desert Claw rescue operation.  It’s easy to label Our Man in Tehran as an essential companion piece to Argo… but that’s undermining the film, which is equally worth a viewing by itself.

Un Monstre à Paris [A Monster in Paris] (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Un Monstre à Paris</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">A Monster in Paris</strong>] (2011)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) With advances in rendering technology and more widely-shared expertise, the universe of computer-animated feature films is getting bigger and more diverse, leading to the existence of charming oddball entities such as A Monster in Paris.  Set in flooded 1910 Paris, this is a story about a flea being transformed into a seven-foot-tall signing sensation, but it’s remarkable in that it’s more heartfelt than comic, and definitely recognizable as a French film.  The script is strange in ways that may feel unpolished to Hollywood-fed audiences: its concept of a “protagonist” is a bit fuzzy (The first five minutes are arguably devoted to a sidekick), the humor is all over the place, the villain is too broad to be taken seriously and the concept of a flea becoming a soulful singer can’t work without a bit of arbitrary super-science and audience suspension of disbelief.  The animation is noticeable less polished than the current state-of-the-art, but the film’s charm more than compensates for simpler visuals.  Writer/director Bibo Bergeron definitely gets to show an original vision on-screen, and the character design is frequently lovely, to say nothing of the songs put together by Mathieu “-M-“ Chedid.  (Vanessa Paradis’s “La Seine” is instantly catchy: Hear it now) A Monster in Paris becomes more conventional as it goes on, but its charm gets stronger at the same time, leading to a fuzzy pleased impression in time for the end credits.  It’s a pretty good family film as well, as if you needed any further reason to give it a try.

Red Dawn (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Red Dawn</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) Most remakes are useless, but this one is more useless than most.  The original Red Dawn was a product of its time: a Reagan-era jingoistic anthem that dared take an implausible premise (The United States gets physically invaded by its enemies) and run with in in full macho glory.  This time around, though, the premise is flat-out impossible enough that the film never gets past its own ability to suspend disbelief.  It doesn’t help that there’s little of value in Red Dawn: At best, it’s a by-the-number treatment of an obvious premise, with a few good action sequences and some likable young actors (most notably Chris Hemsworth) in the lead roles.  There’s practically no thematic depth: the most intriguing idea (that the Americans are suddenly forced in the insurgency role they confronted in their recent military excursions) isn’t developed beyond a brief mention, and it gets turned into patriotic pap anyway.  For a more intriguing treatment of the same basic idea, adventurous viewers are advised to take a look at the 2010 Australian invasion film Tomorrow, When the War Began, which isn’t all that good, but certainly feels more interesting than this limp American effort.

Antiviral (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Antiviral</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) So the “Best Cronenberg movie not directed by Cronenberg” award goes to… Cronenberg.  Brandon Cronenberg, that is: son of David, who’s been on an extended break from his body-horror shtick for a bit more than a decade but who finds his own tradition more than upheld by his writer/director progeny.  By targeting celebrity worship through willingly transmitted diseases, Cronenberg-filsAntiviral certainly goes for the gross: people with a sensitivity to seeing graphic close-ups of needles breaking skin, coughed blood, quasi-cannibalism, virulently sick people and other joyous expressions of the frailty of human flesh may want to steer far away from this film.  The clinically white-dominated direction is as cold as its characters, which is both unnerving and easy to dismiss.  For all of its strengths and ideas, Antiviral just doesn’t work as well as it should.  While Caleb Landry Jones is a special effect of his own as the red-headed, spectacularly-freckled protagonist, he’s saddled with a script that doesn’t give him much to do but act sick and mumble lines enigmatically.  As a result, Antiviral is watched at a remove, as it features unpleasant characters doing even more unpleasant things to themselves and each other.  There are no heroes (and fewer sympathetic victims than you’d expect): one wonders if a better movie about ideas of celebrity worship could have been achieved through the viewpoint of someone becomes a celebrity without intending to.  Alas, this would have required quite a bit more emotions that are on display here.  While Cronenberg has enough directing skill and writing ideas to maintain interest in Antiviral from beginning to end, it’s not as successful as it could have been.

This Means War (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">This Means War</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) On paper, This Means War has a terrific (if risky) premise: What if two spies vied for the same woman?  What could they do with the resources of the state at their disposal if the goal was all-and-out romance?  It’s a promising idea, tempered only by the balance required to tone down the unbound misogynistic stalkerism inherent in the premise.  But that’s asking far too much of director McG’s rather silly take on the idea, as he’s barely able to present the basic idea in an entertaining fashion.  The fault, to be clear, isn’t in leads Chris Pine, Tom Hardy or Reese Witherspoon: All three are capable actors more than able to use their established screen persona to elevate the film above its true weight. But it’s just not a good script, and McG’s execution doesn’t do much to make it better –to the point where it’s easy to wonder what happened to the guy who delivered two relatively successful Charlie’s Angels film in the more or less the same vein.  It’s easy to blame a mid-sized budget: This Means War was visibly shot in Vancouver (all the US Post boxes in the world can’t hide the Vancouver Public Library, President’s Choice breakfast cereal, or transform an HMV store into a video-rental place) and its obvious Hollywood gloss (spies in shiny high-tech offices, implausible apartments, CIA having access to priceless paintings, a foreign national working for the CIA… aaaagh.) only make it a lazy, contemptuous film.  The most infuriating thing about it may be how it makes a mess out of a can’t-miss idea, a director who’s done good things in the past, and three actors who basically show up to play their usual kind of role.  (Tom Hardy is particularly wasted given his chance to riff off his violent-guy persona into something more accessible.)  While there are a few suitable scenes of mayhem, a few good quotes and the occasional directorial flourish, there’s very little in This Means War that works on a sustained basis.  It’s the kind of Hollywood film that gives a bad name to Hollywood films, and the fact that they shot a film set in Los Angeles in Vancouver may be all that is required to be said.

Guns, Girls and Gambling (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Guns, Girls and Gambling</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) One of the small underrated pleasures of watching movies on specialized cable TV channels is the opportunity to discover small films that otherwise flew underneath everyone’s radar, especially when so much attention goes to theatrical releases.  So it is that we get to Guns, Girls and Gambling, a low-budget crime comedy that doesn’t try to innovate, but still manages to earn its share of twisty comic pleasures.  Featuring Christian Slater in a lead role good to remind everyone that he can actually be funny, this is one of those crime comedies heavily-narrated in non-linear fashion, and where seemingly-random bizarre occurrences in the first half are (almost) all explained by the twists of the film’s second half.  It works as long as you’re willing to cut writer/director Michael Winnick a lot of narrative slack (and even then, you can’t really explain characters such as “The Blonde” assassin in anything resembling our reality.)  It works if you want to play along, but it’s certainly rough around the edges: many of the recurring gags are a bit exasperating, and there’s a sense that another pass at the script would have cleaned up some of the less-funny material.  Many of the last plot twists can be guessed ahead of time as the only sane way to explain what’s going on (If you’re thinking Lucky Number Slevin after the first half-hour, well, you’re not far off), and the violence gets a bit excessive for what is otherwise a fairly amiable comedic romp.  Also disappointing is the film’s rather less-than-promised exploitation content: With a title like Guns, Girls and Gambling, I would have expected a lot more of all three, and definitely more Girls.  Still, those with a tolerance for the film’s own brand of excess are likely to get a few laughs out of the film: It’s genuinely attempting to be funny, and a number of the cameos are successful: Gary Oldman as an Elvis impersonator is, by itself, enough to warrant a look at the film’ trailer.  Winnick’s direction is both stylish and engaging, and some of the sugar-rush enthusiasm of the film’s early moments produces enough momentum to keep viewers past the repetitiousness of the second third and well into the revelations of the final act.  For a film that seemingly came out of nowhere and onto DVD shelves and movie channel line-ups, Guns, Girls and Gambling is a decent find.

Evil Dead (2013)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Evil Dead</strong> (2013)

(On Cable TV, November 2013) This remake was unnecessary.  After all, they have remade 1981’s The Evil Dead, and it was called Evil Dead 2, and it remains one of my favourite films ever.  So I went into this Evil Dead walking backwards, not expecting much… and “not much” is what I got.  I’ll grant that director Fede Alvarez knows what he’s doing: the film drips with atmosphere, and the direction of the film is amazingly self-assured for what it tries to do.  Unfortunately, the film really wants to be the kind of film that leaves me cold: balls-to-the-wall gory horror with enough pouring blood to drown entire litters of kittens.  Story-wise, Evil Dead feels like an empty, poorly-motivated return to clichés: Oh, here’s an evil book, here’s someone dumb enough to read it out loud, here are the inevitable consequences.  Wasn’t The Cabin in the Woods an attempt to move on from this kind of thing?  All of which to say that despite the film’s tree rape (sigh… again), mutilated jaws, self-amputations (can electric knives cut through bone?), pouring rain of blood, doppelganger fight and chain-saw eating, there’s not a whole lot of interest here.  The late protagonist-switching is interesting from a narrative point of view, but that’s a thin veneer of interest in what is a by-the-number gore-fest, even if it’s a well-made one.  It could have been worse, but by aiming itself squarely at gore-hounds, Evil Dead earns itself a big faintly-nauseated shrug from everyone else.