7/12/2019

Blu-ray Review: The Loveless (1981)


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In his first lead role, Willem Dafoe's biker ex-con Vance vroom vrooms his way into a sleepy southern stopover town as the de facto leader of the pack.

A film that feels like it came from the same part of the solar system as David Lynch, The Loveless plays as though producer Roger Corman hired Douglas Sirk to direct a Noir remake of The Wild One as penned by a lost member of the Beat Generation.

Set in the late 1950s yet filtered through a lens of postmodernism, what sets the film apart from its overwhelmingly masculine influences is its rampant female gaze which seeps through the leather and chrome — sometimes sneakily, sometimes not — courtesy of Monty Montgomery's Loveless co-writer and co-director Kathryn Bigelow.


Bigelow's graduate thesis film at Columbia, The Loveless is the first of what, for the filmmaker, would evolve into a decades long fascination with telling the stories of men — from the vampires and surfers in Near Dark and Point Break to The Hurt Locker's military bomb squad — who dominate their terrain by moving through life in packs.

To penetrate the film's tight-knit group of bikers whose bond was forged when they did time together back in Detroit, Bigelow uses a technique she would return to as a screenwriter in Near Dark. Bypassing the character who throws knives and shoots guns like a stereotypical alpha male in favor of the charismatic, enigmatic outsider among the band of outsiders who's slightly out of step with the rest, Bigelow fixates on the man who's the real alpha because he thinks for himself.

Introducing us to Vance as he combs his hair and buckles his belt as if to make sure he looks the part before he gets back on his bike and rolls into town, despite his bedroom eyed posturing and swagger, Vance is a man who does one thing while we hear another. Describing himself as "ragged, beyond torn up," Vance's tough exterior is quickly compromised by his starkly poetic sensibility as evidenced in the film's opening voice-over narration.


Predicting he'll be "no man's friend today," and using a lighter instead of his crew's choice of matches throughout, in Vance we see a conflicted soul who figures that if they're going to burn, it's better to do it fast.

Bursting with pheromones that cut right through the smell of gasoline and tobacco, lingering in the humid Georgia air and following him wherever he goes, Willem Dafoe's lead might believe he's "going to hell in a bread basket," but befitting of the genre, he soon meets a seductive girl (Marin Kanter) who swears that she could send him "to heaven." The fact that she says this in the passenger seat of her beautiful red Chevrolet Corvette while he is at the wheel is the only encouragement he needs to take her up on her offer before The Loveless takes the first of a few dark turns.

A largely plotless endeavor overall, Bigelow and Montgomery's film is heavy with mood and ambiance (and as such, it nicely prepares Montgomery for a future producing David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart).


Still, whether it's in the way that Vance is predominantly framed by himself or the way that the filmmakers emphasizes the loneliness of a nearly empty room by lensing it from far away, more is said with the movie's careful composition than in its sometimes awkward Beat speak. With On the Road style lines like, "We go nowhere. Fast," the dialogue occasionally calls enough attention to itself that it disrupt the otherwise hypnotic spell that the film casts on its viewers.

Chronicling what happens when a group of Beatnik bikers take an unwelcome pit stop in a closed-minded town, The Loveless is inherently focused on the divide between us vs. them. From terse words to loaded stares, it doesn't take us long to realize that everything the townspeople fear about Vance's crew is everything they represent — namely, freedom and sex.


Epitomized by the characters' bikes and the film's dialogue, freedom is there for all to see from the very first frame. But when it comes to sex, although The Loveless is as turned on as its characters are, it subverts its sexual desire in a myriad of ways.

While a character's eye-line is a dead giveaway of where their mind is at (as evidenced in a notorious men's room scene), the filmmakers get in on the fun with the camera itself. Mischievously experimenting with angles and perspective throughout the work, The Loveless heavily utilizes its female gaze to turn its men into eye candy.

Lingering on the leather jacket clad, shirtless, glistening abs of Phillip Kimbrough's Hurley, cinematographer Doyle Smith zooms in awfully close to several bikers' silver belt buckles before the shot eventually cuts or the camera oh-so-slowly tilts up. Wondering if it is truly the bike that drives them or if sex is the real fuel they need, when Robert Goron's Davis bids another character to "come close to me," for knife target practice in the lustful Loveless, it sounds like another "send you to heaven" come on.


Using "people as iconography," as Willem Dafoe shares in a new behind-the-scenes featurette, we learn that Bigelow and Montgomery frequently sought out cast members because they had the right look, undoubtedly to convey the right feeling they needed without exposition. And while Loveless may have been slow to catch on in the United States, elsewhere the picture's implied — read between the shots — sexuality aroused fans as much as the film itself. After a midnight screening of The Loveless in London, the film became a smash hit with gay audiences and, as Dafoe reveals, played there for years.

Still a personal favorite of many of the original cast members, it's a treat to watch them share great making-of stories on the spotless new Blu-ray transfer, including Dafoe who confesses that he lied about knowing how to ride a motorcycle to get the job before brushing up on the basic shifting patterns at the public library.


Featuring a great soundtrack care of musician Robert Gordon, who stars in The Loveless as Vance's right hand man Davis, although it's sure to attract viewers who can appreciate the subtext and symbolism as well as its many influences, it's safe to say the film is not for everyone.

Clocking in at a mere eighty-two minutes, the degree to which its running time feels longer depends upon one's patience. Also important is just how much we're able to acclimate to not only the film's nontraditional approach to storytelling but its slower pace as well, which gets teased out even more due to the length between cuts.

Feeling slightly stagy at times, most notably in the film's ending which, despite circling back to an earlier conversation, comes off as a heavy-handed coda to a chaotic sequence, The Loveless has a much stronger build than finish. Still, devotees of not only Bigelow and Dafoe, but also those well versed in art and classic film are sure to find much to feast their eyes upon, including an endless supply of lustful looks and smoke, belt buckles and chrome, and of course, leather and testosterone.

So, baby, vroom, vroom.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Blu-ray Review - Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019)


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Swinging for the fences while trying not to snack on the scenery, as a B-movie villain who jovially rattles off creepy anecdotes to intimidate his hostages at a moment's notice, Devon Sawa commands our attention in Escape Plan: The Extractors (aka Escape Plan 3).

As it turns out, however, he's one of only a few bright spots in this otherwise bland, paint-by-numbers actioner. Borrowing from the Game of Thrones playbook, The Extractors is shot in so much darkness that you'll probably wonder — as you squint along — if you either forgot to pay your electric bill or there's something's wrong with your TV.


But just when we think we've seen enough to know we're not going to miss much if we hit eject, Sawa and fellow new cast member Jin Zhang show up to change our mind. As the Sylvester Stallone franchise's newest dastardly villain and kick-ass hero respectively, Sawa and Zhang are so entertaining that viewers will probably wish they'd been tapped to play the leads in a new (and hopefully much better) action movie.

Like a silent, black-and-white movie from the 1920s where a kidnapped woman is left helplessly tied to the railroad tracks, Extractors' entire plot — what little there is of it — revolves around not one but two damsels in distress.

Called to action after a Chinese technology mogul's daughter is kidnapped and a flash drive with his name on it is found at the scene of the crime, Stallone's security (and escape) expert Ray Breslin prepares to go on the hunt to bring her back from an abandoned old Latvian prison where she's being held.


Raising the stakes by making her captor none other than Breslin's corrupt ex-partner's son (Sawa) — who grabbed her more to kick off the long game of revenge than collect a ransom — the film's screenwriters try to give it more emotional heft by visiting their favorite creative well again.

Not content with just one lady in waiting, The Extractors rinses and repeats the film's plot as Stallone's onscreen girlfriend (played by a tragically underutilized Jaime King) gets abducted and thrown in the Latvian pokey known as the Devil's Station as well.

While Dave Bautista has an absolute blast blowing stuff up and fighting his stunt double (which in Hollywood, I'm sure counts as some sort of action star on-the-job therapy), from a wasted King and a blink-and-you-missed it return by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson to a one note turn by Stallone, the rest of the franchise's previous stars just seem bored.


To inject the series — which was a huge hit in China — with a much needed shot of adrenaline, Stallone recruited dynamic Chinese star Jin Zhang, who bursts onto the screen and takes down a number of Breslin's co-workers with the aid of an umbrella. Fortunately, the two men aren't rivals for long. After the battle is over, Zhang's Shen teams up with Breslin because it seems that damsel in distress number one is his girlfriend.

Having multiplied the same plot point by Breslin and employed it twice, as director and co-writer John Herzfeld's film continues, we discover that that's one time and one damsel too many when the otherwise terrific Zhang and Harry Shun Jr. get kicked to the curb in the disappointing movie's largely lifeless second half.


And shockingly, although Stallone comes alive in a brutal — and from what I gather unchoreographed — actual fight with Devon Sawa that left both men bloody and battered, as written, Extractors might've worked better if Zhang had been promoted to the lead, Sawa and Bautista were left in the mix, and Stallone and King played an even smaller role.

As a lifelong Stallone fan, that's a hard truth to write, although it's probably not as hard as Zhang knocking down human obstacles with his trusty umbrella or Sawa exclaiming that he loves the sound of prison bars locking up for the night with the same glee that a child has after watching their first Stallone movie fight.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Trespassers (2018)


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AKA: Hell Is Where the Home Is

In this ambitious work of home invasion horror based upon Jean-Paul Sartre's existential play No Exit, the action is set not in a single room in hell but a deserted rental property in SoCal where "you can check out any time you'd like but you can never leave"* … especially not when there are masked men with machetes waiting outside.

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that's taken a toll on their marriage, Sarah (Angela Trimbur) and her husband Joseph (Zach Avery) arrive at the modern home they've rented, ready to meet up with her wild high school best friend Estelle (Janel Parrish) and Estelle's boyfriend Victor (Jonathan Howard).

The type of guy that goes on vacation with his girlfriend and within the first five minutes, asks a guy he's never met if he wants to go check out some strip clubs, Victor might not have much of a filter but we learn on night two that what he does have is street sense.


Telling the others not to open the door when a stranger comes knocking after dark, after the bespectacled woman with car trouble (played by Fairuza Balk) says she needs to come in and use the phone, his antennae immediately goes up. Announcing that he wishes they could go back in time "five minutes and leave the f***ing door closed," Victor's concerns get ignored, perhaps less because of any point he's trying to make than no one else wanting to admit that a guy like Victor might be right.

And right, we gather, is precisely what he is when Balk wanders in, eavesdrops, offers weird unsolicited advice like, "sometimes you can't stop what's coming," and seems to be in no hurry to leave, especially not after she tells whoever she calls on the phone that she's waiting, "here with her four lovely new friends."


Remembering the eerie opener, in which a group of masked men with machetes abduct the homeowners and dispatch them outdoors, we know whatever is coming for the four won't be good.

Emotions running on high — fueled by the stress of the situation and Victor's drugs — long before the inevitable weapon-wielding tormentors show up, they begin to torment one another as long-held secrets and pent-up anger come tumbling out.

An unorthodox work of horror, with so much interpersonal drama going on, the success of Trespassers depends upon how invested we are in the characters overall. Though elevated by its affable cast — most notably the excellent Parrish and Howard who brings the film considerably to life — with so little backstory revealed or time spent developing their characters as people, we don't really know who they are (or care much at all). Not involved enough to give any serious thought to who breaks or makes up throughout, as we watch the leads fight, we feel like we're eavesdropping Fairuza Balk style.


Nonetheless ratcheting up the intensity enough to deliver a slam-bang final act, one of the things I admired most about Corey Deshon's script is that a moral quandary following a frenzied confrontation is what ultimately kicks it into high gear. Raising a (suitably) existential question of what you can live with and how you define right and wrong, while it doesn't marinate over the moment long because — in a horror movie especially — every action causes an equal or opposite reaction and violence begets violence, it's still a refreshing way to disrupt a formula we know by heart. Slightly above average in that respect, unfortunately one clever twist doesn't make up for its ho-hum first half.

With genre working to its advantage, director Orson Oblowitz's Trespassers is the type of film that should play better streaming than on the big screen because, as a home invasion scarer, it makes you look over your shoulder enough that you'll be eager to recommend it to others and/or share it with a friend. And once Trespassers really commits to Sartre's idea that "hell is other people" based on our tendency to think after and not before we do something, everything from the film's cast to its pacing becomes compellingly frantic and machete level sharp.


* "Hotel California," by The Eagles

Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Movie Review: Three Peaks (2017)


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You know how it goes. You meet someone and you get a crush. You start dating, you find out they have kids, and suddenly your attraction to them moves beyond all the superficial stuff. You see them together and get a glimpse at what real life with them might look like instead of the best behavior version of you both that you put on for dates.

You meet the kid(s) and hope they're as crazy about you as you are about them. You begin spending time at their house — it's easier, after all, for them — and maybe move in. Things go well at first. Every night's a slumber party until the power games start and then suddenly it's not. They take up residence in your bed and your relationship suffers as they test your limits in a mildly annoying way that could escalate if you lose your cool and handle it wrong. You're on icy terrain and you start to slip. It's harder for you if you fall; if it ends, you lose at least two and they're only out one.

And while for you it means a break-up, in Three Peaks, it could cost Aaron (Alexander Fehling) much more — a limb perhaps or maybe his life. Wanting to remedy this problem and find better footing before an avalanche, Aaron takes Lea (Bérénice Bejo), his beautiful girlfriend of two years and her eight-year-old son Tristan (Arian Montgomery) on vacation to the Italian Dolomites.


Patiently teaching Tristan to hold his breath and swim in an opening scene that comes full circle in Three Peaks later on, shortly after they journey up to a cabin nearer to the peaks, Aaron begins to feel like they've forged a stronger connection. However, when Tristan goes from calling Aaron dad — which in itself weirdly freaks out his mom — to talking to his actual dad nonstop on a cell phone he's given him in secret, we realize that Aaron's breakthrough with the boy is short lived.

Emotions ping-ponging all over the place, though the two have their moments, Tristan acts out, habitually sleeping in their bed to usurp his mom for himself (and kill any chance for romance) before seeing what happens when he grabs Aaron's hand saw and places it across the man's arm.

An unsettling and provocative domestic thriller — hot off the festival circuit — in cinematographer turned writer-director Jan Zabeil's sophomore feature film, he drops us right into the heart of the discomfort to make us an honorary member of this small makeshift family.


Empathizing the most with Aaron, it's through his eyes that we see most of the conversations between Lea and her son as well as Tristan's manipulation of his mother play out. In a critical scene that speaks volumes for its honesty no matter how much it might hurt, Aaron tells the woman he loves that there are moments when he feels so close to Tristan and others where he feels like the boy's suffocating Lea and wishes he that he wasn't there at all.

Needless to say, it's a two way street. And while this sentiment is undoubtedly shared by the boy too young to articulate it in any of the three languages that he speaks, Zabeil also lets it reverberate off of the awesome yet daunting landscape of the Dolomites that — much like a new member of the family — lets you get only so close to it before it pushes you away.

A favorite technique of the filmmaker, Jan Zabeil previously employed nature as a vital backdrop in his acclaimed 2011 debut effort, The River Used to Be a Man. Addressing this in a director's statement in the Peaks press notes, he reveals his love of using the external to symbolize internal emotions and shares his belief that "away from the securities of the civilized world, my characters become less deliberate, more emotionally truthful and are likely to lose control over their actions."


Making the metaphorical link to the environment a dangerously literal one in Peaks, this is precisely what happens in the film's third act when Zabeil moves what had thus far been a domestic drama firmly into nail-biting thriller territory. It's a gamble that works well initially but doesn't quite pay off. While the emotional build-up was always going to erupt, even after Three Peaks takes its first deadly turn (sans hand saw), Zabeil seems hesitant to go along, waiting until the desperate final minutes of the film to fully commit to the new, darkly suspenseful tone.

Nonetheless a highly compelling endeavor, Three Peaks boasts superb cinematography by talented lensman Axel Schneppat and knock-out turns by newcomer Montgomery as Tristan and Fehling as Aaron. Unfortunately, as her character hems and haws and changes her mind almost as much as her young son, it saddles the usually impressive Bérénice Bejo with an underdeveloped role.

Still mostly effective, the work is sure to keep you riveted … even if it might just scare you off the next potential mate you meet with kids as, no matter how many times you've lived the first part of this plotline before, trust me, when it comes to Three Peaks, you don't know how this story goes.


Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.