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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Wrong Turn - Review

Tuesday 10 June 2003, by Webmaster

Wrong Turn. If you like to hunt campers with bows and arrows, chop them up on the dining-room table, eat their boiled meat, and keep their possessions as souvenirs, you might be a redneck. Or so it would seem in Wrong Turn, a horror film predicated on the notion that the wilderness of West Virginia is home to horrors much worse than the country roads and mountain mamas John Denver used to sing about. So medical student Desmond Harrington discovers when, after encountering a traffic jam on the way to a job interview, he decides to take a shortcut through the woods. There, he bumps into five stranded hikers on a vacation designed to cheer up heartbroken Eliza Dushku, whose mind shifts from her loutish ex-boyfriend to more immediate concerns when a trio of cackling, overalls-clad, misshapen mountain men begin picking off the group one at a time. Like House Of 1000 Corpses, Wrong Turn is a throwback to the friends-get-terrorized-in-the-middle-of-nowhere subgenre of horror films that thrived in the 1970s after the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Here, the hills again have eyes (and pickup trucks and shotguns), but Wrong Turn lacks the creepiness and craft of the films that inspired it. There’s at least a tinge of satire when the heroes come across an elephants’ graveyard of bloodstained SUVs, but otherwise, the film is as devoid of humor as it is of scares that don’t rely on people suddenly appearing from the edge of the frame when least expected. Stan Winston co-produced Wrong Turn, and his studio provided the makeup effects, but like the rest of the movie, the villains seem pretty half-assed, like the subjects of Brother’s Keeper dressed up in leftover George Romero zombie garb. (Don’t expect a scene in which Harrington and Dushku battle a rubber-caked baddie, in a studio set unconvincingly dressed to look like a towering treetop, to make any future highlight reels touting the power of movie magic.) Up to a finale that leaves her bound, gagged, and in need of rescuing, Dushku reprises her tough-girl persona from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but this is otherwise the sort of unthinking horror product that Buffy should have put out of business by now. Everyone does the wrong thing at the wrong time, and women suffer the worst of the consequences. Or maybe it’s the West Virginia Department Of Tourism that suffers the most. Actually, it’s probably the audience. -Keith Phipps

Chi-hwa-seon: Painted Fire "If you want to paint," advises 19th-century Korean artist Jang Seung-Up in Im Kwon-Taek’s disjointed period opus Chi-hwa-seon, "you must first learn how to drink." Never has the rocky history of artist biopics been summed up more succinctly: If most of the movies about great painters are to be believed, aspiring young masters should know that an understanding of art history and a rigorous commitment to craft are not prerequisites, but boozing and womanizing are essential. Much like Pollock, Ed Harris’ overwrought imagining of Jackson Pollock, Chi-hwa-seon casts Jang (who was better known under the pseudonym Ohwon) as a tempestuous, self-destructive outsider who challenges the art elite, but spends his downtime getting loaded and smashing things, including his own delicate canvases. The suggestion behind all this rock-star misbehavior seems to be that behind every austere masterpiece are a thousand trashed hotel rooms, a cliché that Im’s movie has now confirmed as universal. Having made nearly 100 films over four decades, Im has earned his status as South Korea’s aging grandmaster. That lends some gravity to Chi-hwa-seon’s closing scenes, when history deposits the once-revered visionary back where he began, in poverty and obscurity. But more often, the simple clarity of Im’s previous effort, 2000’s sumptuous fairytale Chunhyang, gives way to a murky and confusing treatment of the same period, cluttered with jarring flashbacks, characters that drop in and out of sight, and a woozy depiction of the changing political tides. In an impassioned and ultimately dignified turn, Choi Min-Sik plays Ohwon as an erratic genius whose natural gifts were constantly at war with his fiery temperament and lack of social graces. Chi-hwa-seon traces his roots as a beggar on the streets of Seoul, where a benevolent stranger (Ahn Sung-ki) saves him from a beating and in return receives a drawing that testifies to the boy’s prodigious talent. As a young adult, Ohwon gains a reputation for infusing meticulous copies of old Chinese drawings with his own exquisite melancholy, but his problems with nobility are exacerbated by his discomfort in negotiating art with commerce. His lusty desire for pleasure to inform his work presents another obstacle when the woman he loves (Yu Ho-jung) is forced to flee from Catholic persecution. In the scope of things, Ohwon’s story is a route into the larger story of an uncertain and tumultuous period in Korea, and it’s here that Chi-hwa-seon loses its grip: For those unschooled in 19th-century Korean history, events such as a peasant revolt, a battle between Conservative and Reform movements, and several invasions from China and Japan will seem like a hopeless jumble. With poor Ohwon left twisting in the wind, a slave to the random vicissitudes of politics and fate, it’s no wonder he turns to the bottle. -Scott Tobias

A Decade Under The Influence Peter Biskind’s trashy, riveting book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls offers a compulsively readable portrait of the 1970s’ top filmmakers as mostly drug-addled hedonists who somehow crafted a remarkable body of work when not self-destructing on a Shakespearean scale. A Decade Under The Influence, a documentary on Hollywood’s 1970s golden age directed by screenwriter and script doctor Richard LaGravenese and the late Ted Demme, seems designed as an antidote to Biskind’s book (and, presumably, to the forthcoming TV documentary that adapts it). Where Biskind overdoses on sleaze and gossip, Influence errs in the opposite direction, shamelessly mythologizing its subjects as artistic saints. Title aside, Influence dishes surprisingly little dirt. Though it shares much of the same cast and covers much of the same ground as Easy Riders, the drugs, womanizing, madness, and rampant egotism that defined Biskind’s book are glossed over or ignored. That may make the iconic filmmakers more likable, but it also renders them less human. A conventional look at an unconventional era, Demme and LaGravenese’s film employs the standard litany of talking heads, film clips, and montage sequences in articulating how an ambitious generation of young directors shook up American filmmaking and created an atmosphere where risk-taking and experimentation thrived. Grizzled veterans Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Towne, Martin Scorsese, and William Friedkin make up part of Influence’s massive mutual-admiration society, praising each other’s work while studiously avoiding criticism. The rare discordant note is struck by Julie Christie, who points out that the abundance of juicy roles in groundbreaking films were disproportionately doled out to men. Pam Grier’s presence aside, Influence also gives short shrift to the black film and filmmakers of the era, skipping over milestones like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and paying only the faintest of lip service to the blaxploitation movement it helped spawn. For neophyte cinephiles, A Decade Under The Influence should serve as a lively primer on a seminal film era, but its reverent tone is antithetical to the rule-breaking spirit it celebrates. -Nathan Rabin

Love The Hard Way Adrien Brody’s character in Love The Hard Way reeks of writerly contrivances: A fast-talking, Kerouac-quoting hood with a poet’s soul, he outwardly disdains uppity book-learning, but he secretly reads poetry, collects antique books, and works on an autobiographical novel. When Brody meets cute with vivacious college student Charlotte Ayanna, their path seems certain. Ayanna will bridge the gap between Brody’s tough-guy veneer and sensitive interior, while Brody will add a dash of much-needed excitement and danger to her staid existence. Love The Hard Way begins like a predictably quirky romance-of-opposites, but then it defies expectations at every turn, showing a welcome disregard for the strictures of formula and genre. A romantic drama with a film noir’s heart of darkness, the film crafts a heartbreaking love story out of self-degradation, sordid crime, and an extended trip to a personal abyss. Despairingly in love with a brittle emotional porcupine and unable to break through his ironclad defenses, Ayanna tries to become as jaded, tough, and cavalier as Brody, inspired equally by revenge, desperation, and a desire to win him that knows no limits. Fearlessly exploring the tricky point where love ends and masochism begins, Love The Hard Way has a perfect lead in Brody, who radiates the effortless swagger of a one-man Rat Pack and remains sympathetic even when he’s subjecting Ayanna to horrific emotional abuse. Brody’s layered, intricately textured performance carries the film, but his counterpart holds her own, making her character’s obsession and descent into self-degradation plausible and tragic. Brody’s Oscar victory and newfound star power might have secured Love The Hard Way its theatrical release, but his depth and charisma are what make the film haunting and surprisingly resonant. -Nathan Rabin

Versus For diehard cultists raised on anime, kung-fu, the Evil Dead trilogy, and other bad-ass cinematic junk food, Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus comes custom-ordered for the most jaded geek, a non-stop action gorefest with elements of Highlander, George Romero’s zombie movies, and graphic comic books. The set-ups for fight sequences are quick and rudimentary, with the scenes running together like successive rounds of a Mortal Kombat game powered by a pocketful of quarters. None of the characters have names-the credits list them as "Hero," "Heroine," "Ponytail," "Suit," and so on-because they’re all defined by their varying degrees of style and exuberant nastiness. (For example, "Villain" is the dude who sinks his teeth into a still-beating heart as if it were Chairman Kaga’s fresh red pepper on TV’s Iron Chef.) In short, Versus delivers every item in the super-cool catalog, needing only a minimal excuse to rev up the electric guitars or dance-club percussion and dive straight into the bloody mayhem. So why is it all so dull and dispiriting? Just as few feel inclined to watch a pornographic video all the way through, there’s a limit to what the senses can handle before overloading and shutting down. Without any connective tissue, such as a compelling story or interesting characters, the multiple climaxes are diminished by repetition, exciting for a few isolated minutes but excruciating over two full hours. Making his entrance with a guard’s severed hand dangling from his handcuffs, Tak Sakaguchi stars as an escaped convict who waits on the edge of the woods for a rendezvous with Yakuza men, who will presumably help him reenter society. But when the first wave of Yakuza arrives with guns blazing, Sakaguchi grabs their mysterious female hostage (Chieko Misaka) and heads into the fabled Forest Of Resurrection, where the dead are reborn into samurai zombies. The scenario seems simple enough until chief baddie Hideo Sakaki arrives for a predestined mano-a-mano with Sakaguchi, a battle between immortals that will open "a portal to the other side," whatever and wherever that might be. The central problem with Versus is similar to that of the Highlander series: If two warriors are fated to fight each other for eternity (or however long the sequels and TV spin-offs will take them), then there’s really nothing much at stake. Making his feature debut, Kitamura shows off a full arsenal of high-tech guns and swords, moves the camera in 360-degree swirls, and gives each character plenty of time to strike a cool pose before zipping around on wires. His kitchen-sink aesthetic leads to a few winning bits of slapstick horror, but by making every second exciting, the hours pass in an excruciating crawl. -Scott Tobias

The Weather Underground The Weather Underground, a compelling reflection on a radical leftist splinter group that formed in 1969 and continued its activities through the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, premiered at Sundance in late January and is now receiving a theatrical release in early summer. In the time between, the war in Iraq began and quickly concluded, a testament not only to the efficiency of the American military, but also to the swiftness with which dissent was squashed before any significant resistance could be mobilized. While feelings of nostalgia aren’t exactly appropriate for a wrong-headed organization like the Weathermen-which, after all, was responsible for numerous bombings of American government institutions-Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s documentary sheds a cold light on how far the Left has fallen. Inspired by a line from Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"), the Weathermen broke away from the group Students for a Democratic Society during its annual convention in 1969. Furious that peaceful antiwar demonstrations had only resulted in further escalation of the war and increased government oppression, the Weathermen’s founders decided to answer violence with violence-or, as their motto put it, "Bring The War Home." Their initial strategy was radical in the extreme, based on the terrorist philosophy that all Americans were legitimate targets of attack, because so-called "innocents" were in essence acquiescing to an ongoing atrocity. But after a homemade bomb short-circuited in a New York townhouse, leaving three members dead, the Weathermen determined it was wrong to advocate indiscriminate violence and worked to ensure that future bombing targets were cleared of civilians. To a large extent, The Weather Underground tells an ironic success story: Over the better part of a decade, the Weathermen carried out several audacious attacks on public buildings, helped spring Timothy Leary from a California prison, and eluded the FBI until they voluntarily turned themselves in. (Amazingly, the only member who served any real prison time was arrested on unrelated charges; most were released due to the FBI’s illegal surveillance methods.) Green and Siegel round up several former Weathermen, including Bernardine Dohrn (once called "the most dangerous woman in America" by J. Edgar Hoover) and Mark Rudd (leader of Columbia University’s student strike), for a thoughtful postmortem that finds them regretful but not exactly repentant. With a skillful assemblage of interviews and archival footage, the film examines the group’s relationship (or lack thereof) with other leftist militants like the Black Panthers, the impact (or lack thereof) of its symbolic bombings, and the extent to which its extremism played into the government’s hands. But most of all, The Weather Underground serves as a fascinating window into an era of radical dissent that now seems centuries past. -Scott Tobias

Whale Rider Myth shares a slow, solemn handshake with modernity in the New Zealand-made Whale Rider, a film of ancient legends, contemporary mores, and the little girl who might be able to mend the rift between the two. A resident of a Maori settlement on New Zealand’s east coast, Keisha Castle-Hughes has spent her first decade surviving the quiet desperation that comes from the unconcealed disappointment of those around her. While her father travels the world exhibiting his Maori-inspired art, Castle-Hughes has been left to be raised by her grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), a loving but distant tribal chief who can’t look at her without being reminded of her stillborn twin brother—who, as a first-born son, was destined to replace Paratene in time. Able to trace his family line back to the ancestors who first rode the whales to New Zealand, Paratene has no desire to see it severed, particularly when so many other traditions have fallen by the wayside. Adapting a novel by Maori author Witi Ihamaera that’s become a staple of New Zealand high-school reading lists, writer-director Niki Caro captures the sources of Paratene’s despair without overstating them. His village seems in danger of abandonment, and those who have stayed have slipped into apathy or worse; Caro lets these details float in the background without explicit comment. When Paratene takes to training all the first-born sons to find a successor while overlooking his own granddaughter, Castle-Hughes decides to do some training of her own, with or without his approval. She’s like Billy Elliot, but with messianic ambitions, and though there’s a formula at the film’s core, Whale Rider still has the good taste to make that formula go down easy. Taking her cues from Lisa Gerrard’s ambient score, Caro lets the film drift at its own pace, an approach which greatly enhances its careful journey to a predetermined destination, as do Castle-Hughes and Paratene’s endearing but unsentimental performances. When the film finally tugs at the heartstrings, it feels less like manipulation than the result of gravity. -Keith Phipps