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On DVD/Blu-ray: RAMPAGE: PRESIDENT DOWN (2016); A BIGGER SPLASH (2016); and THE DARKNESS (2016)

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RAMPAGE: PRESIDENT DOWN
(Canada - 2016)


The finale to Uwe Boll and Brendan Fletcher's RAMPAGE trilogy is the clumsiest and preachiest yet. On the positive side, Boll seems to be walking back his gushing admiration for Fletcher's insane lone-wolf domestic terrorist Bill Williamson. Where the first sequel RAMPAGE: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT felt like a love letter to mass shooters, PRESIDENT DOWN at least admits that words and actions have consequences and by the end, Bill is most certainly the villain with a lot of blood on his hands. But the road there is paved with some welcome bits of old-school Boll idiocy that's not helped by the director struggling with his lowest budget yet. His German tax shelter heyday of being able to afford the likes of Ben Kingsley, Jason Statham, and Burt Reynolds a fading memory, Boll can't even corral cheap labor on the level of past RAMPAGE co-stars like Matt Frewer or Lochlyn Munro. Boll unsuccessfully tried to crowdfund the film--originally titled RAMPAGE 3: NO MERCY--on Indiegogo and Kickstarter but failed to meet his goal, leading to an inevitable YouTube meltdown excoriating fans for giving their money to Hollywood studios while not helping out important artists like Dr. Uwe Boll. So with a lot less money at his disposal, Boll relies heavily on flashbacks and stock footage from the first two films, and mainly has Fletcher's Bill posting YouTube rants from his hiding place in the middle of nowhere, which may be the perfect metaphor for 2016 Uwe Boll.





Long thought dead after the events of the previous film, Bill emerges from hiding to assassinate the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense during a speech to Congress. Of course, how he manages to accomplish this is a mystery, since it happens offscreen. The FBI, vowing to get to the bottom of the assassinations, assigns two--yes, two--agents, Molokai (Steve Baran) and Jones (Ryan McDonnell) and a Bureau computer expert (Scott Patey) to run the investigation out of what looks like an underfunded police precinct. Bill manages to hack into their computer system with the help of a mole inside the FBI, and once Molokai and Jones (worst cop show title ever?) spot him on some surveillance footage outside the White House, he starts taunting them from his undisclosed location and threatening their families. Unfortunately, the agents are unable to convince their bosses that Bill is the culprit because a publicity-hogging ISIS claims responsibility for the assassinations, prompting the reactionary new Commander-in-Chief to round up all the Muslims and Syrian refugees in the US, close all the mosques, and nuke the Middle East "with the full support of Russia and China." The notion of an irrational, knee-jerk US President content with blowing up a good chunk of the world is an uncomfortably prescient notion that Boll completely sidesteps and never mentions again. There's no satire, no poking people with sticks--instead, the focus is on Molokai and Jones finding out where Bill is hiding and leading a raid where of course, Bill gets the edge on everyone, but Jones makes it easy by not even bothering to wear a bulletproof vest.



The message is muddled: Bill says he wants a world without violence in a film that opens with him shooting a random pedestrian in cold blood and concludes with him killing about a hundred FBI agents. Nothing here makes sense: why does Bill suddenly have a girlfriend (Crystal Lowe) and a kid? And how can he be presumed dead when he's actively posting videos to his YouTube channel to his legion of supporters? And when news of the assassinations of the President, VP, and Defense Secretary hits the wire, watch the only two news anchors seen in the film exclaim "Oh my God! The President is dead!" as the camera pans down to her reading the info off of a second page, as if that news a) would come over a teletype in 2016, and b) would be relegated to the second page. And are we to believe that the only two guys investigating the murder of the President, VP and Defense Secretary would exit a building and be confronted by one reporter? And it's one of the two news anchors we just saw? Boll ineptly inserts talking points about gun control and police brutality, but then he and Fletcher (they co-wrote the script together) go off on tangents about Hollywood's richest celebrities. There's jabs at Tom Cruise and Jennifer Aniston, and the murders of Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Mark Zuckerberg among others are announced over the course of the film. These bits sound less like legitimate grievances about tabloid culture and more like a case of sour grapes from Boll and Fletcher because they aren't in the club. Canadian actor Fletcher's been around since the late '90s and was in hits like AIR BUD and FREDDY VS. JASON, and some Canadian arthouse films. He's also made eight movies with Uwe Boll. Dude, maybe that's why you're not in the club. You were in THE REVENANT (notice that Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't make Bill's Hollywood shit list). Maybe take a break from Uwe and start hanging out with Leo or Alejandro Inarritu a little more. You'll have time: Boll was so angry about the lack of fan support for the funding of RAMPAGE: PRESIDENT DOWN that he announced it would be his final film. Indeed, a post-credits stinger finds a pensive Boll tipping his hat to the camera and walking into the sunset. If that's the case, let me just say that for all your many, many faults, you were certainly never boring, Dr. Boll. Thanks for everything. I guess. (Unrated, 100 mins)








A BIGGER SPLASH
(Italy/France - 2016)


The first English-language work by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino reunites the director with Tilda Swinton, the star of his 2009 art-house breakthough I AM LOVE. Where that film showcased the director's adoration of all things Stanley Kubrick and Alain Resnais before settling into a sort-of Luchino Visconti autopilot mode (faux-Visconti is something THE GREAT BEAUTY director Paolo Sorrentino does a lot better), A BIGGER SPLASH feels a lot like the 1990s Bernardo Bertolucci that made THE SHELTERING SKY and STEALING BEAUTY. A remake of Jacques Deray's 1969 film LA PISCINE (released in the US as THE SWIMMING POOL), A BIGGER SPLASH is essentially one of these European films where some wealthy bourgeois types get together and things escalate into a powderkeg of unresolved issues and psychosexual mind games. Aging glam rock legend Marianne Lane (Swinton) blows out her voice on tour and has to take a significant amount of time off to recover from vocal cord surgery. She can only speak at a whisper and is convalescing on Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily with her younger lover, photographer/filmmaker Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts). Their days are spent lounging naked by the pool, getting massages, reading, and having a lot of sex until they get an unannounced visit from Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), Marianne's producer and ex-boyfriend, who's brought along Penelope (Dakota Johnson), the 22-year-old daughter he only recently found out he had. The boisterous, gregarious Harry brings a manic and disruptive presence to their quiet, idyllic getaway, even inviting a couple of other people--Mireille (Aurore Clement) and Sylvie (Lila McMenamy)--along, and it's clear that there's a past between these people that's still gnawing at both Harry and Paul. There's also numerous instances of Harry acting in a not-fatherly way with Penelope, and an uncomfortably close rendition of "Unforgettable" between the two at a karaoke bar creeps out Marianne enough that she confronts him, leading to Harry shouting "I'm not fucking my daughter!" in front of a bunch of people in the street. As Harry keeps professing his love for Marianne, Paul and Penelope go off exploring on their own, and anyone who's ever seen a movie before can see that things aren't going to end well.





Despite the serious subject matter, A BIGGER SPLASH is fairly lighthearted a lot of the time, right down to its slapsticky title that seems more fitting for a romantic comedy. It certainly doesn't portend the shift the story takes in the last 35 or 40 minutes, when an unexpected event occurs that gets the local police involved. A lot of this is due to a rambunctious performance by Fiennes, whose Harry is really a grating, insufferable asshole but the actor finds ways to make you like him and even feel sorry for him. Whether he's yammering on about his sexual exploits (it's suggested that Mireille and Sylvie, who may be mother and daughter, are among his conquests), humble-bragging about his uncredited contributions to the Rolling Stones' 1994 album Voodoo Lounge, or busting out the moves like Jagger while blasting their 1980 hit "Emotional Rescue" (a scene that must be seen to believed), Fiennes is the unabashed show-stealer here and even dominates the film when he's not onscreen. Working with screenwriter David Kajganich (whose credits include, of all things, the underrated 2009 horror movie BLOOD CREEK), Guadagnino leaves enough ambiguity to keep an audience discussing the events after the film is over, and manages to keep things focused even with the many changes in tone and some showboating filmmaking techniques in the early going, things that are mainly used when Fiennes is onscreen to accentuate what a loud jackass Harry can be. Guadagnino, Kajganich, Swinton, and Johnson are tentatively reuniting for the latest announced incarnation of the perpetually in-development remake of Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA. (R, 125 mins)



THE DARKNESS
(US - 2016)



With 2005's WOLF CREEK, Australian filmmaker Greg McLean seemed to be a new voice in horror, but that voice has had nothing to say for several years running. His follow-up film, the outstanding killer crocodile flick ROGUE, was buried by the Weinsteins, and McLean has yet to bounce back, with another six years passing before he resurfaced with the belated and over-the-top WOLF CREEK 2. Working with horror factory Blumhouse, THE DARKNESS is McLean's first Hollywood production and it couldn't possibly be any more predictably generic and lazy. During a family trip to the Grand Canyon, autistic Mikey Taylor (David Mazouz) finds some rocks with strange symbols and takes them as souvenirs. It isn't long before paranormal activity manifests itself back home, with Mikey talking to an unseen entity called "Jenny," and sooty handprints turning up all over the house. Dad Peter (Kevin Bacon, visibly bored) and Mom Bronny (Radha Mitchell) are too preoccupied to notice the supernatural goings-on or that their angry older daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) is bulimic and saving containers of her purgings under her bed as a way of acting out her resentment toward Mikey. After more shenanigans, like a possessed Mikey starting a fire and trying to kill his grandmother's cat, and all manner of standard-issue Blumhouse jump scares, Bronny discovers that some Anasazi curse has latched itself to Mikey and starts to believe this is some kind of karmic retribution over her past alcoholism (she falls off the wagon) and Peter's past infidelity (and he's tempted again by young intern at work).





Taking a page from THE EXORCIST in the way the demon enters a world in disarray, making it easy to possess Regan, McLean and co-writers S.P. Krause and Shayne Armstrong (the latter two co-wrote the Australian "sharks-in-a-supermarket" opus BAIT) toy with the idea of the demonic invasion of the home being a response to the various unspoken dysfunctions in the family. But they don't really do anything with it and everything is resolved too easily to get to the rote horror histrionics. Keeping your vomit in bags and tupperware containers under your bed is pretty odd, but hey, one visit to a therapist and moody, abrasive Stephanie is healthy and chipper. Instead, the filmmakers follow a Blumhouse checklist right down to the last-15-minutes introduction of a pair of eccentric demonology experts who do a quick drive-by exposition drop before an impromptu exorcism of the house. The film's twists and turns come straight out of Plot Convenience Playhouse. Is Paul Reiser only in this for a few scenes as Peter's fist-bumping, asshole boss just because the boss has a wife (Ming-Na Wen) who happens to have recently started pursuing an interest in Hopi Indian mythology? Well, that immediately qualifies her as an expert to advise Bronny after she figures out they're being haunted by a pissed-off Anasazi spirit. What are the odds? It's that kind of movie. THE DARKNESS plays like a Blumhouse sampler platter with a dash of INSIDIOUS and a scoop of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but topped off with a generous sprinkling of some old-fashioned POLTERGEIST to make a total shit sandwich of a horror movie. It's a film that doesn't even try, and it's almost perversely impressive how it manages to go an entire 90 minutes without pursuing a single original idea. Where did THE DARKNESS go wrong? Who cares? Blumhouse and Greg McLean certainly don't. (PG-13, 92 mins)



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