Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie Reviews: Afflicted, Riddick

directed by Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse
This horror movie is like a meeting of the minds between The Blair Witch Project and A Werewolf in London. It combines seemingly low production values based on found or in a nod to the internet, blog and facebook streamed camera footage, with a roadtrip across Europe as experienced by two best friends. They run into something which shouldn't really exist but does. By the time that they have figured out exactly what's going on it's probably really too late to do much about it. The special effects were adequate but didn't really impress. This film gets most of its scares from old fashioned camera angles and movement, a general sense of unease as exemplified by the lighting and shooting in darkness, and of course the acting. What a concept. So this wasn't a great film but it's a good addition to the horror genre. I probably would have been a bit less impressed had I seen this in the theater. As a directorial debut Afflicted is a welcome step away from the visual or narrative styles of the Twilight or Underworld movies. Some things remain unexplained in the film. There is no convenient clergyman, avuncular anthropologist or brilliant bookdealer to let the protagonists and viewers know what's going on in a suitably charming Old Word accent. Cliff (Cliff Prowse) and Derek (Derek Lee) are friends that go way back together. They're like peanut butter and jelly or thunder and lightning. You see one, you see the other. Apparently the two men are in their early twenties, technically adults but still young enough to do wild and crazy things without being ridiculed or worrying about mortgage payments, nagging wives or officious bosses. So there's still good times ahead or so they think.

Cliff and Derek decide to go on a trip across the world and document their journey in photos and videos on their blog and facebook feeds. In fact they will also let their friends and viewers decide where they should travel next. This long planned trip is especially important to the dynamic duo as Derek suffers from a chronic and possibly deadly brain condition. There's no telling how much time he has left in this world. So despite the worries of their families or rather the worries of Derek's stick up the behind older brother, the two pack up and head out to see the world in all its glory, glamor and grit. As they are also somewhat on the nerdy side of the scale there is of course some hope that by being the cool foreign guy in another country they will be able to become quick friends with the local humans blessed with XX chromosomes.
They touch down in Barcelona and later meet up with some college friends who are in an indie band in Paris. Well, like their more successful commercial brethren, indie bands have fans. Derek, despite being notoriously inept with the ladies, has met a beautiful but camera shy woman named Audrey (Baya Rehaz) in a club after the show. The two hit it off. To the astonishment of his friends and the millions of others (well maybe a few hundred more) watching on the webcam, Derek shows that he knows what goes where and why. He successfully invites Audrey back to his hotel room, telling his friends to stay away for at least a few hours. After all some things are best done in private. Bemused, Cliff decides after a relatively short time that it would be hilarious to break into their hotel room and either catch his buddy doing the do or prevent his buddy from doing the do. But when Cliff and company burst into the room they find Derek unconscious and bleeding from wounds in his neck and shoulder. The room window is open and Audrey is gone. Derek doesn't remember anything and is adamant that he and Cliff continue their road trip. 
Well you can see where this is going, yes? Derek starts to show a sensitivity to the sun, apparently inhuman strength, speed and leaping abilities, a more irritable nature and a growing inability to eat any sort of food. The duo document these changes assiduously but Derek refuses to go to the hospital or return home. Their friends and family are getting more worried. Later Derek decides he needs to retrace his steps and find Audrey. This was different. I'll say that. It probably could have been an even shorter film though it only runs 85 minutes. I'd be interested to see what these directors could do with a larger budget and more fleshed out story. Cliff occasionally comes across as both whiny and stupid. To be fair, anyone who has ever dealt with a stubborn and sickly family member or friend may sympathize with some of Cliff's choices. I liked the concept of Cliff sending increasingly worried responses home and eventually becoming nervous about Derek seeing him do that.

directed by David Twohy
There's a saying that you can't go home again. Well this movie is an example of someone who tries and mostly fails in doing that. It's a virtual remake of the first movie. It's not really shot for shot but it has just about everything that the first movie had. The hero is abandoned on a harsh planet with inexplicably deadly wildlife and is being hunted by vicious bounty hunters, some of whom nonetheless either have a soft spot for the hero or come to respect him during or after their ordeal. And the hero is not really a good guy but an extremely violent murderer who will stab you in the back to take revenge or if it means his survival. He may have a soft spot for kids, women he's trying to sleep with or pets but that's it. So if you liked the first movie you may like this one. I liked the first two movies. I was really looking forward to seeing how Riddick (Vin Diesel) dealt with his new role as leader of the Necromongers, a fanatic group of superhuman or subhuman death dealers who claim to have exterminated all life on Riddick's lost home planet Furya.

With the possible exception of the more numerous Necromongers, Furyans are the most dangerous warriors in the universe. In the previous installment of this trilogy Riddick killed the Necromonger commander and thus by Necromonger law became their leader. Although they hated him they were bound to follow least publicly. They weren't above various assassination attempts, including one failed try by one of Riddick's harem women. Keep a close eye on your harem women I always say. A man in Riddick's position can't afford to be careless, something Riddick reminds himself of once his position has changed. Unfortunately this film spends almost no time on what I thought could have been a very interesting storyline with the non-believer Riddick leading the nutty Necromongers, most of whom downright despise him. It also didn't have Thandie Newton in it which was another loss. No, rather than focus on the intrigues and whether or not there really is a supernatural reality underlying the Necromonger beliefs this film has the Necromongers, at Riddick's direction, take him to what he thinks is Furya. When he determines it's not Furya, they leave him for dead and skedaddle. After that, Riddick finds a waystation for mercenaries and bounty hunters, sends out a beacon and well after that you can basically just reread the first paragraph.
Diesel is a better actor than what's on display here. This movie lacks a strong second for him to play against though the despicable and sadistic Santana (Jordi Molla) comes closest. You hurt a man's dog or the closest thing that passes for it on this planet, you're just begging to get handled, Riddick style. Eye candy is provided by Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) who claims to be lesbian but obviously is the target of Santana's lecheries. Dahl can handle Santana with ease but she might be willing to switch for our sharp dressed hero. Some of the disposable mopes in this film include B-movie stars like Bokeem Woodbine and Dave Bautista. This was an OK movie to watch if for whatever reason you don't feel like going out. There are a few, well quite a few setpieces, that make you cheer at what a bada$$ Riddick is. But ultimately I didn't think this movie was as good or as interesting as either of the first two films. There is a short story by Robert E. Howard titled "By This Axe I Rule". He originally wrote it with Kull as the put upon outsider king but later rewrote it for his Conan character. In both instances an outsider becomes king and is tied down by laws and stupid customs before facing an assassination attempt and reverting back to his barbaric nature to survive. I was expecting a little more of that vibe here. No biggie I guess. Matthew Nable is Boss Johns, Dahl's leader and a mercenary who's a tad more professional than Santana. Karl Urban has a virtual cameo as Vaako, the Necromonger second-in-command. Keri Hilson also has a blink and you'll miss her spot.

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