The Road Within
I was more than a little disappointed to learn that "The Road Within" is a remake of the German film "Vincent Wants to Sea" ("Vincent will Meer") because it seemed like such a lovely and original project. Mind you I still love what director/adapter Gren Wells and an amazing cast have wrought but the bloom is slightly off the rose knowing it's been done before – and of course by European filmmakers. The story involves young Vincent (Robert Sheehan), who suffers from Tourette Syndrome and who is placed in an experimental care facility by his father (Robert Patrick) after his mother's death. The parents had divorced; dad is now married to a younger trophy wife and running for political office in Reno. At the clinic, Vincent is paired with the germaphobic OCD Alex (Dev Patel) who is vehemently opposed to having a roommate – as Dr. Rose Kyra Sedgwick is brilliant in this scene (as she is throughout) as she simply goes about installing Vincent and paying little mind to Alex's protestations. Vincent also meets the anorexic Marie (Zoe Kravitz) who gives him a tour of the place. It is Marie who steals the doctor's car keys and enables Vincent to head to the sea so he can scatter mom's ashes. When Alex threatens to tell on them, they kidnap him. Dad and the doctor are soon in pursuit of a trio so hapless they haven't considered they might need money for gas and food.
The tone of comedy mixed with drama is set right at the beginning of "The Road Within;" the first scene is of the mother's funeral where Vincent can't suppress his Tourette's and blurts out obscene speculations about the officiating priest's sexual proclivities. The easily offended should pass by this film (though they'll be missing a marvelous one) because it gives the f-word and the c-word and various other words I can't repeat here a healthy workout. And if deriving humor from (but decidedly not making fun of) mental challenges upsets you steering clear is likewise advised. In her scripting and direction, Wells has crafted a production that moves smoothly and surefootedly through humorous, dramatic and even tragedy territory. Part road trip, part feel-good movie, part romance – this film blends together so many elements and does it seamlessly. Some of what results may be on the predictable side – such as dad's realization that he's actually proud of the son who embarrasses him – but how the film arrives at them is a delight. Copping top honors in the acting department is Sheehan who spent several weeks with a Tourette's activist in preparation for the role. If awards and stardom don't come his way, there's no justice in this world. Kravitz turns in a sensitive and moving performance and Patrick and Sedgewick take what might have been one-dimensional portrayals and imbue them with life. Even Patel, who I think is very overrated, contributes an admirable performance with terrific comic timing. Remake or not this is one delightful, wonderful film.
2014 / Well Go USA / 102m / $29.98 BR [NR]
1990: The Bronx Warriors
Escape from the Bronx
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Enzo G. Castellari's "The New Barbarians" and found it a considerably wackdoodle but entertaining production. His "1990: The Bronx Warriors" and its sequel, "Escape from the Bronx," are in much the same vein but not set in a post nuclear apocalypse world so the absurdities aren't quite as overwhelming. The Bronx has become a No Man's Land ruled over by an assortment of rival gangs. A young woman (Stefania Girolami) runs away from her school in Manhattan and falls in with a motorcycle bunch headed up by Trash (Mark Gregory), a muscular chap sporting a mop of curly hair, no appreciable acting talent (save for crying on cue) and jeans so tight he's fodder for a raft of Leggy Mountbatten jokes. Ann is on the run because her 18th birthday is coming up and she's slated to become president of an evil corporation – that she might influence its direction toward being less naughty is never considered. Attempting to retrieve her is a military type, Hammer (Vic Morrow, who goes so over-the-top crazy at the end that he's clearly taken acting lessons from Tod Slaughter), and a snitch, Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly). Trash has to attempt to unite the gangs by approaching Ogre (Fred Williamson), the so-called King of the Bronx. As per usual in a Castelli movie all the men have colorful names.
There's minimal plot; most of the film is taken up with Trash's journey across the Bronx to see Ogre and his combative encounters with the other gangs. "1990" is all about fights and vehicles – and the costuming of course. Ogre's bunch dresses like disco gangsters and drive customized vintage cars. There's a group called the Zombies that goes about on roller blades and dresses like refugees from "Barbarella," a group that dresses as though they're a particularly low-budget Vegas musical act and another called the scavengers that look to be zombies. It all leads to a huge fight between the gangs and the military types that includes some spectacular stunts with flame throwers that surely must have risked the safety of those involved. The flamethrower gags start early in "Escape from the Bronx," which has the titular locale being emptied so the evil corporation can raze the area and put up spiffy new buildings. The residents are promised modern solar digs in New Mexico but evil guy Henry Silva's minions are tossing people out windows and beating the stuffing out of them (and probably killing them). Trash's parents have been blowtorched when they refuse to move out of their dilapidated hovel.
Trash hooks up with the remnants of the gangs, now headed up by Toblerone (Antonio Sabato – the dad not the son) and once again a massive fight ensues that leaves most of the principle characters and who knows how many dozens of extras dead. (One Internet site calculates 174.) While these are Italian productions all the exteriors were lensed in areas around Manhattan – the Bronx hasn't that many abandoned. Decrepit buildings so Brooklyn and Queens were also used for locations. The various underground places, tunnels and basements and the like may be actual locations or studio creations (I spotted rails in one, which suggests an old coal delivery tunnel – an unlikely detail in a soundstage construction). Either way they're visually interesting and Castellari uses them well; I have to admit he has a gift for arresting camera compositions that compensates for the obviously derivative nature of the films (John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" and Walter Hill's "The Warriors" are obvious, um, inspirations). These two flicks may be a tad less goofy fun that "The New Barbarians" but I suspect they'll provide some entertainment for the less discriminating action fans.
1982,983 / Blue Underground / 92, 89m / $29.98 each BR [R, R]
Yann Demange's historic action film, "'71" takes place in the titular year at the height of the "troubles" in Ireland. Newbie British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O'Donnell) gets separated from his unit when they pull out after a group of Belfast citizens has a violently angry confrontation over their presence in the community. The military is there in support of the local constabulary, which is going house to house searching for weapons and roughing up the residents in the process. Hook sees a comrade shot point blank in the head before he's thrashed into unconciousness by some of those residents. When he comes to, he wanders about in an unfamiliar landscape, uncertain where he is and where he should go. (Early on the soldiers have been warned in a briefing that there is one area where they should never, never, ever go.) Before the night is over he will be further brutalized, not the least by a building that explodes when freedom fighters therein are careless with the explosives they're concocting. Hook will find surprising friends and discover that some of his superiors are secretly colluding with members of the IRA. I almost said enemy but, really, who is the enemy here? The Protestant and Catholic citizens of Belfast are warring against each other and the British are seen as hated invaders by both. It is in this murky political situation that Hook finds himself and the viewer is never quite sure with who – if anyone other than Hook – to empathize.
Where "'71" comes up somewhat short is that – aside from O'Connell's charisma and that we have seen Hook playing with his younger brother early on – the film gives us no particular reason to root for Hook, either. Yes, he's obviously a naïf nice guy who is first brutalized and disoriented and in enemy territory (not unlike his character in "Unbroken") and then comes to realize seeing that his colleagues – who he's thought are the good guys – are just as thuggish as the supposed bad guys, some of whom turn out to be decent human beings. But as a character, Hook is a cipher, a kind of tabula rasa for the lesser characters to swirl around. That there are nice people and nasty ones on both sides of a conflict isn't exactly news, is it? And while the film may be set in historic times and accurately reflect the situations in play then, the plot (if such a minimal storyline can truly be called that) is fictional. So, pardon me for asking, but just what is the point here? Demage has directed the film beautifully, eliciting strong yet subtle performances from all of his cast and an outstanding one from O'Connell. The film is visually impressive – part of Hook's nighttime journey is so borderline surreal I was reminded of Jean Cocteau's "Orpheus" – and it is masterfully handled. The sequence that leads up to the citizens confronting the soldiers begins with children on the street drumming out an alert as the military arrives and builds brilliantly to the explosive confrontation. As filmmaking it is outstanding but I never grasped why it had to be made.
2015 / Lionsate / 99m / $19.98 [R]
The Bridge (Bron, Broen)
I'm usually reluctant to review second seasons of TV shows where I have not seen the first. There's simply too much catching up on the show's format and information about the leading characters. And in "The Bridge" there is a good deal of catching up with Swedish detective Saga (Sofia Helin) who is socially inept to put it diplomatically. She cannot fathom or feign social niceties and when she attempts the latter she isn't convincing. She's prone to cutting to the chase with those she's interrogating, such as when her first question to a witness is querying, "Did you know your daughter was doing porn?" Martin? (Kim Bodnia), her colleague and sometimes partner from Denmark, is currently separated from his wife following a series of infidelities and the death of their son at the hands of a former fellow policeman. Part of the second season's story arc involves his trying to come to grips with this and to reconcile with his wife. Saga's arc involves dealing with her first live-in boyfriend, a situation complicated by the fact that she mostly wants to be alone and can't abide having his possessions intermingled with hers. It took me at least three episodes to get up to speed on these two and even if you're tackling this season with some familiarity of the first, it's a somewhat slow go for over the first few episodes. (And this may also be true if you've seen the U.S. remake – I haven't so I can't say.)
Fortunately "The Bridge" has a compelling criminal case for Saga and Martin's collaboration. It begins when a ship unaccountably runs aground and five young men and women are discovered chained up below deck. It also turns out they've been contaminated with pneumonic plague in an attempt to spread the infection to the populace, beginning with the investigators and EMTs responding. Thus turns out to be the first in a series of acts by an eco-terrorist group, some of whom are a tad more homicidally inclined than the others. This group of four dons animal masks to make You Tube videos claiming responsibility but it soon becomes clear they are merely pawns in a sick scheme that has nothing to do with ecological activism and much to do with financial gain. The season is wickedly plotted with many twists, turns and surprise revelations. Possibly the most intriguing touch is that manycharacters and their sub-plots are introduced very early on, long before their involvement – or at any rate their apparent involvement – in the series of crimes comes into play and so they are fully formed characters by that point. It may cause you to scratch your head as to why the episodes are spending time on them however. In some ways the template here is derived from U.S. police procedural shows but the makers of those series could learn a thing or two by what's been done with it (I'm looking at you, "CSI").
2013 / MHz International Mystery / 580m (4 discs) / $49.95 [NR]
Roman De Gare (Criss Cross)
Claude Lelouch's "Roman de gare" is a delicious, witty and complex thriller that will keep you guessing as it unreels in a marvellously calculated slow-burn fashion. It starts with Huguette (Audrey Dana), a woman of many failed relationships traveling with her doctor fiancé to meet her parents on their remote farm. Their bickering, over her smoking among other things, escalates until they reach a rest stop to refuel and he abruptly drives off leaving her abandoned. Not to mention furious because it is, after all, her car. She is offered a ride part of the way to her destination by Pierre (or maybe his name is Louis, played by Dominique Pinon) who we have seen performing magic tricks for a young girl at the rest stop. Is he perhaps a recently escaped serial killer (who we have been told lured his prepubescent victims by performing magic tricks)? Or is he a teacher who has gone missing, abandoning his wife and kiddies? Or is he, as he tells her, the ghost writer for a famous mystery novelist (Fanny Ardant) who he claims is too busy with jet-setting to write her own books? Or is he, as he later "confesses," merely her secretary? Huguette convinces Pierre or Louis to pose as her fiancé for the overnight visit with her folks and despite the relaxed and often humorous approach the tension is high, particularly once they reach the farm and he strikes up a relationship with Huguette's teenage daughter. It seems unlikely he'd kill her when they go to a remote locale to catch some fish but sometimes serial killers (if that's what he is) can't restrain themselves.
That is perhaps only the first half hour or so of "Roman de gare" and telling you much more would be a disservice. I can tell you that this may be the most successful humorous thriller I've seen since "Charade;" there's a delicious subplot that has the wife of the missing teacher falling for the detective investigating the disappearance and beginning to hope her husband will remain missing for starters. And then it turns out Pierre/Louis is not the only one with a secret – is Huguette a hairdresser or a prostitute – or a hairdresser to prostitutes? Lelouch's film is ultimately a study of how complex life can be and as the director weaves together these apparently unrelated subplots their resolutions turn out to provide important clues to the puzzle presented at the beginning. The performances are sublime. Circus performer turned actor Pilon continues to provide some of the most eccentric character studies since Klaus Kinski passed from the scene and Dana is tremendous as the insecure and neurotic woman who finds herself unaccountably falling for the man she has asked to impersonate her fiancé – and who may become her killer. Ardant contributes a memorable turn, as comic as it is ultimately tragic, in the role of the novelist. Lelouch brilliantly manipulates time in a way that you may not even notice until you think about the film afterward and adds a second mystery in the third act after the question of who Pierre/Louis has been settled. The result is a film that works successfully as a thriller but is also elegant, droll and filled with perceptive observations. Really you must not pass this one by.
2006 / First Run Features / 103m / $24.95 [R]