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John Allman

If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.

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New Releases for Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Posted Jun 11, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 11, 2012 at 02:39 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

The Collapsed
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Thriller
Directed by: Justin McConnell
Run time: 82 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: DVD

The Lowdown: “The Collapsed” is unlike any post-apocalyptic thriller you’ve ever seen.

Yes, those are mighty bold words.

Let me explain – Most end-of-the-world thrillers focus on the bombast, the exploding buildings, the falling bombs, the crush of humanity flooding the streets. “The Collapsed” is much smaller. Save for a few scenes early on of bodies lying in the street and flames licking out of upper-story high-rise windows, there’s very little of the actual apocalypse on display.

McConnell instead focuses almost exclusively on the Weaver family, dad Scott, mom Emily, daughter Rebecca and son Aaron, as they make their way from an unnamed city in Canada to a more rural enclave where the family’s older son lives. They hope to discover if that son has survived whatever catastrophe has happened.

“The Collapsed” is a quiet movie, filled with lots of scenes of the Weaver family trying to avoid detection from other survivors for fear they might try to pillage their meager supplies. It’s effectively quiet, and the tension ratchets up organically, especially after something terrible happens once the family moves into the woods and begins the long trek by foot to the rural enclave.

Personally, these extended scenes of basic survival, walking all day, keeping watch at night, felt much more real to me than anything depicted in “The Road,” which favored a much bleaker, ashen world to something more familiar like the still lush woods where the Weaver’s hide.

McConnell has a lot more up his sleeve, however. For those who watch and complain that the first 60 minutes is too slow, too plodding, just wait. I’d be interested to know if you too experience the same sense of disassociation that occurs when “The Collapsed” does just that, seemingly collapsing into a different film entirely.

If it feels jarring, I think that’s McConnell’s point.

Working on a low-budget, using as much of his outdoor locale as possible to save money on more expensive sets, he spends his money when it counts, and the last 20 minutes of “The Collapsed” has a go-for-broke bravado that exhilarates as much as it surprises.

I really, really, really dug this movie. I will admit, and I do so as a disclaimer for any who follow me down this road, there are several moments where a character does something that either seems completely nonsensical (like stopping to shave) or utterly ridiculous (this one involves an extended chase through the forest). The nonsensical moment is trivial. Don’t sweat it. The chase, however, is important and it will make sense.

Just wait.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Yes.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Depends on your perspective.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Safe House (Universal, 115 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Let’s face it, most action movies today are completely derivative. They all cannibalize each other, plucking big explosive set pieces and specific fighting moves. Then they try to one-up the last time that move or explosion was shown on screen.

“Safe House” is enjoyable, if for no other reason, than it doesn’t try to be anything more than a hearty slice of escapist entertainment. And it’s fun, a lot more fun than I was expecting. I’m no huge fan of either Denzel Washington or Ryan Reynolds, and I personally thought Washington’s last few action flicks, “The Book of Eli” and “Unstoppable,” were below-average, at best.

But both actors do a fine job in “Safe House,” particularly Reynolds, who is tasked with seeming much more naïve than you expect him to be.

There are four exceptional set pieces, including an extended chase at a packed South African soccer stadium.

“Safe House” doesn’t reinvent the action wheel, thankfully. It just rolls along comfortable in its own skin, which often is plenty enough for a slow night at home.

John Carter (Disney, 132 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): There’s a 10-minute scene about halfway through “John Carter,” the big-budget adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fantastic science-fiction series that first published in 1917, where my inner geek came rushing out.

John Carter is battling an army of Tharks, the giant, four-armed Martian species, all by himself. And as the pile of Thark bodies grows, Carter is eclipsed by the shadows of the dead, yet still he fights, slashing and ripping with his sword, even as he is overrun.

It’s a scene lifted directly from “John Carter, Warlord of Mars,” the 1977 Marvel Comics series, written and illustrated by the iconic Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane.

And in that moment of geeking out, I realized two things that distinctly colored my final opinion of “John Carter,” the movie:

1 – Director Andrew Stanton is a fan, and obviously had seen the particular issue of the comic series that featured just that moment in glorious, four-color panels.

2 – Disney didn’t have a clue what to do with Burroughs’ source material, and obviously hounded Stanton to make something closely resembling “Avatar,” which completely ruined any hope longtime fans (like me) might ever have for a proper big-screen John Carter adventure.

As it is, Stanton’s two-plus-hour epic feels overstuffed and underwhelming. There’s too much story here for one movie, almost, and I think that’s because the writers – there were three, including Stanton – decide to pull the villainous Therns from the second book in Burroughs’ series, and make them the big bad here.

The introduction does two things, neither of them good. It forces the film to give short-shrift to several key Thark storylines from the first book, A Princess of Mars, that helped frame the original story. And it introduces a practical explanation for how Carter came to be on Mars, which then becomes an unnecessary subplot that bloats the film.

In the book, John Carter wishes on a star, literally, and wakes up on Mars. In the movie, he encounters a Therns priest in a cave while trying to escape the Apache, and he kills the priest and grabs a silver disc and is instantly transported to Mars.

The Therns are given much more power on film than in the books. They essentially become the marauding American military force in “Avatar,” which Jake Sully was forced to side against.

By jumping around in time – the film opens on Barsoom, the official name for Mars, then leaps to 1880 then to 1860 then back to Barsoom then back to 1880 by the end – Stanton’s narrative feels disjointed. There are too many characters between the Tharks and the ruling family of Helium (Princess Dejah Thoris and her father and subordinates) to properly introduce them all.

And, as John Carter, young Taylor Kitsch does a decent job, but he doesn’t quite resonate the way longtime fans likely hoped their hero would. I don’t know who would have been perfect for the role, but I know it isn’t necessarily Kitsch.

But “John Carter” looks amazing. You can truly see the $250 million that was spent. The mixture of live-action and CGI blends seamlessly, and the artistic realizations of both the planet, the temple of Issus, the Thark’s village and Helium and its flying warships are jaw-dropping.

If only everyone would have gotten out of the way more.

Burroughs’ books, both John Carter and the Tarzan series, have been pillaged for decades. They are the quintessential archetype that has become stereotypical and clichéd after so many years – a stranger in a strange land, discovering new races and species, adopting a cause and fighting a battle on behalf of the people he meets.

You can pretty much track any 20th-or-21st-century origin story back to Burroughs. “Avatar” had the same tropes. “Dances with Wolves” did too. Hell, even “Conan the Barbarian” was a variation on the same themes, although Robert E. Howard distinguished himself with his visceral imagery and bloody carnage.

To call “John Carter” a ripoff, then, is not fair at all.

Better to use a word like “disappointment,” because that’s much more accurate.

Bad ##### (Fox, 90 minutes, R, DVD): God love Danny Trejo. The longtime genre star, he of the leathered skin and plethora of tattoos, who looks mean enough to scare the Devil, but actually is a nice, nice guy, has found much love of late.

Robert Rodriguez has built an entire franchise around Trejo – the should-have-been better “Machete,” and its coming-soon follow-up, “Machete Kills.”

Trejo continues to appear in films both unexpectedly good and uproariously awful.

“Bad #####” is another starring vehicle, and it’s based on the true story of a retired veteran who beat the snot out of some punk kids on a public bus, only to have the entire fight captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, thereby cementing his local celebrity status.

“Bad #####” imagines what might happen if such a viral sensation took himself very seriously and transformed into a neighborhood vigilante, going after the street thugs, drug dealers and lowlife criminals the cops rarely touch.

Trejo has never been known for his range, but he does a fine job here portraying an old guy who is capable enough with a punch and kick to level men twice his size.

And the film itself is enjoyable as a lightweight genre offering. This isn’t Trejo’s take on Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which considered a slightly similar theme, but in a much more nuanced way.

If you’re a fan already, you will enjoy cheering on the decent fights and chuckling at Trejo’s delivery, particularly when making a joke. If you’re not a diehard Trejovian, then you probably aren’t going to rent or buy this title anyway.

Also Available:

Falling Skies: The Complete First Season

Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season

Journey 2: Mysterious Island

Act of Valor

Hits So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel

Act of Vengeance

Hondo

Machine Gun Preacher

Burn Notice: The Complete Fifth Season

Catdog: Season Two, Part Two

G.I. Joe: Renegades: Season One, Volume One

Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eighth Season

Thundercats: Season One, Book Two

Arn: The Knight Templar

Fairly Legal: The Complete First Season

Ransom

The Color of Money

Cocktail

Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Second Season

Rogue River

Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood

White Collar: The Complete Third Season

Not to Be Overlooked:

A Serbian Film – Uncut (Invincible Pictures, 104 minutes, Unrated, DVD): There are few films out there as truly disturbing as “A Serbian Film,” and I say that as someone who immediately respected director/co-writer Srdjan Spasojevic after seeing the uncut version last year.

Why did I respect Spasojevic, you say? Why – how – could I possibly respect a filmmaker who actually went so far as to mix gratuitous violence, hardcore sex, necrophilia and pedophilia into one big orgiastic bloodbath of debauchery and sadism?

Well, I’ll tell you. See, I don’t consider “A Serbian Film” all that much different from “A Clockwork Orange.” Now, now – hold on – I’m not comparing Spasojevic to Kubrick, per se.

But both films take a hard, decidedly dark, decidedly fetishized look at a crumbling society. “Clockwork” imagined a dystopian Britain rife with rape, murder and socio-political oppression.

“A Serbian Film” goes one further. It’s a scathing indictment on the war-torn European country’s current state and its decidedly bleak future. Spasojevic, who hails from Belgrade, depicts his homeland as a numb, ambivalent wasteland, filled with human monsters so desensitized that only the most extreme taboos can produce any type of sexual stimulation. Life no longer matters. It is a commodity, a lark, a middling distraction to be used up and discarded.

Spasojevic centers his film around Milos, his country’s greatest X-rated actor, a man capable of maintaining his performance regardless of any distraction happening around him. Milos is like John Holmes, Ron Jeremy and Peter North all rolled into one. He’s also retired, and raising a family.

There’s a decidedly nasty subplot involving Milos’ brother, a cop, who secretly covets Milos’ wife, that further slams home just how depraved and immoral Serbia has become. It’s a country where not even brothers can trust one another.

The film kicks off with a mysterious benefactor calling on Milos with the opportunity of a lifetime – a payday of unrivaled proportion – if he will come out of retirement for one last film. The money is so good that the offer must be considered. Thematically, the catch also is a good one: Milos must agree to act without a script, with no knowledge of what will be happening around him or what circumstances under which he will be asked to perform.

Of course, he agrees. And that’s where “Serbian” takes off.

There’s very little of what follows that I can even discuss, and not entirely for fear of spoiling the film. This is a movie that doesn’t just earn its former “Banned!” label, it all but spits in your eye and dares you to keep watching. And trust me, some of the gags that Spasojevic concocts may make you question his sanity, his sanctity and his human goodness.

But unlike “The Human Centipede II: Full Sequence,” where director Tom Six seemed to revel in being as vile as inhumanly possible, I still go back to my contention that every awful image on display in “A Serbian Film,” every escalating act of vulgar debasement, must be framed, in part, through the lens of a social commentary. Only by depicting the most heinous acts of sexual depravity and violence can one fully understand the moral decay that has permeated this culture.

This is also an unbelievably gory horror movie, and as such, there’s certainly a swath of fans who will appreciate some of the more incredible stunts that they pull off. In all honestly, there are things depicted here that I’ve never seen on film before, much less imagined. This is not mass-market entertainment. Be forewarned. It’s entirely possible that every shred of decency in you will be offended to the point of petitioning against the distribution of the film.

Hopefully not, however. I think most fans of this kind of extreme genre experience will survive a viewing intact. They may even appreciate the technical aspects on display. Who knows, they too might even voice respect for a director who used his chosen artistic medium to so viscerally, violently rage against the dying of his country’s light.

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