Kill Order (2017)

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David Lee is a cute high school kid with a deadly secret. He has nightmares of a burning man, symptom of some under-the-table neurological experimentation since he was yea high. When threatened, his pupils dilate and change color and he becomes an unstoppable, one-man killing machine, kind of like The Incredible Hulk only without the hulk. Someone, somewhere, must have implanted a Kill Order in his brain. David first learns of his subconscious killer instincts when a heavily-armed SWAT team invades his Psych 101 class and the puzzled student leaves no SWAT team member unturned. But what is all this? How did he develop these mad skills? And where will it all lead, or end? Kill Order is a slickly-produced bit of hokum from writer/director James Mark, a former fight coordinator and stunt performer on such films as Pacific Rim (2013), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). It shows. There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat in the film, lots of spinning and kicking and flipping, but you’d be hard pressed to find a whole lot more than that in its scant 77-minute running time. David does use swords and sticks occasionally, but it’s mostly feet and fists—I might have dozed off a couple of times but I swear whenever I started awake there was David kicking someone in the head. Chop chop, sock sock, crime scene. David is played by Chris Mark. “Chris is known for his work on Kill Order (2017), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), and The Hunger Games (2012).” He’s pretty young. And, like his big brother David (and boss on this picture), Chris is also a stuntman. One of the film’s earlier taglines was “He has no name. Only purpose” but they changed that to “The Perfect Weapon. The Ultimate Target.” Probably because everyone in the film calls David “David.” As for its plot, Kill Order plays suspiciously like 2015’s American Ultra (which also featured a dude who doesn’t realize he’s a highly-trained sleeper assassin). I liked that movie better; it had better characters and better tone and it was a lot more fun to watch. Kill Order isn’t terrible, but it will likely appeal more to those who prefer their martial arts mayhem free of such contrivances.


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Angst (1983)

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Controversial filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, Enter the Void, Love) recently cited the little-known 1983 Austrian serial killer movie Angst (which had finally seen a DVD release) as one of his favorite films, praising it thusly: “It’s got the most amazing camera work in the history of cinema. Not so many movies that really impress when it comes to the camera work… But the camera work of this movie is so real. It added to a very violent story… And it’s got a [unique] voiceover. But the mix of that cruelty, the voiceover, and the camera put in positions that you’ve never seen before made me be obsessed with the movie.” The film’s cinematography, by Oscar-winning Polish animator/experimentalist Zbigniew Rybczynski (who is also credited as co-screenwriter with director Gerald Kargl), is special indeed. Rybczynski’s camera is literally all over the place—frequent, soaring aerial assaults by crane when you don’t half expect them; roving dollies from underneath or astride the action; fluid, angular tracking shots that follow our protagonist (an effective and emaciated Erwin Leder from Das Boot) as he scours the Viennese streets searching for victims, and even reverse-strapped to Leder himself, so that we see the psycho killer coming at us from mere inches away, way too up close and impersonal. And it’s got a pulsating electronic score by krautrock wunderkind Klaus Schulze which adds immensely to the creep factor. Noé is clearly enamored of Kargl’s film, one which he claims to have seen upwards of 50 times, and its influence on his own forays into controversial cinema is without question. For example, the Cult Epics release of Angst features an optically-restored tunnel murder scene that clearly lays the groundwork for Noé’s similarly sickening underpass sequence in Irréversible (2002). Noé picked his inspiration well: Angst provides an unusual perspective on the machinations of a disturbed individual by the strength of its techniques—camera, score, internal narration—and it remains a fascinating experience despite the sordid subject matter.


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Mom & Dad (2017)

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On hearing that the subversive dark comedy Mom & Dad, starring Nic Cage and Selma Blair, centers around a 24-hour period of mass hysteria in which parents torture their kids, my waggish 15-year-old wondered why that would be any different from the remaining 364 days of the year. No, literally torture them I explained, with power tools and kitchen implements and the like. They truly try to kill them, making Brian Jonah Hex Taylor’s latest more a horror film than its black comedy billing would suggest, although it does have many a moment of absurdity. Cage is right at home here of course, embarrassingly over the top and just plain terrible actually (‘Wicker Man terrible), while Selma Blair takes it down several notches and garners our sympathy with her conflicted portrayal of a mother hell bent on offing her offspring. The kids, played by Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur, are also surprisingly strong. Director Taylor has a good eye for pandemonium; the pace is brisk, the editing kinetic, and the 83 minutes simply fly by. The frustrating thing about this flick, though, is that the madness is never fully explained—not even slightly, actually—and the unsatisfying denouement just sort of sits there, down in the family basement, as if the filmmakers simply ran out of time, or money. Watch it if your children are driving you nuts, maybe. You might just pick up a few pointers.


(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

The Trip to Spain (2017)

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Back in 2010, working with director Michael Winterbottom (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) and playing not even close to thinly-disguised versions of themselves, funny man Steve Coogan (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) and funny man Rob Brydon (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story) took The Trip to the North of England. There they sampled the region’s eclectic cuisine and, to keep themselves entertained no doubt, sparred along the way, competing for the best comic impression of Sean Connery, or Michael Caine, or Woody Allen. The gastronomic fare bit was under the guise of writing a series of restaurant reviews for the UK’s ‘Observer magazine.
     In 2014 the lads then took The Trip to Italy, taking in that country’s culinary delights and delighting us with more flavorful mimicry… of Sean Connery, Michael Caine, and Woody Allen.
     Since nothing succeeds like making the same exact film twice over, one positively dripping with snooty scads of white male privilege, Coogan and Brydon take their show on the road a third time with… The Trip to Spain. To wit: more spectacular European countryside, more spectacular local food, and yes those same dueling celebrity impersonations—Connery, Caine, Allen—although this time around we get even Moore! Roger Moore. And in one painful scene, more Moore than any one individual could be expected to handle in a single sitting (Brydon’s dining companions appear game but he simply will not give it a rest).
     The semi-improvised dialogue flows easily, fueled by flame-grilled sides of beef, olive oil sardines, and poached eggs with white truffles, but covers no new ground. Even the petty faux dramas—this time involving partners and offspring saddled with unanticipated pregnancies—remain; they’re wholly unnecessary. In fact, the whole bumpy ride is starting to feel a little stale and unashamedly lazy.
     The Trip to Spain is still watchable though, since there’s the sumptuous scenery and the mouthwatering meals to distract us from our entitled 50-somethings rambling on about Laurie Lee, Mick Jagger, and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, not to mention Coogan’s pet project Philomena (as producer and co-writer, Coogan picked up two of its four Oscar nominations and won’t give that fact a rest either).
     Completion of this repetitive triptych (pun intended) would be a wise time to end the franchise, I’d say, before we wind up in Germany with bratwurst-laced double entendres delivered via thinly-veiled takes on Curt Jurgens (The Spy Who Loved Me) and Christoph Waltz (Spectre). “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to dine!”


(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com