Friday, April 24, 2015

Worth Mentioning - If It Bleeds, It Leads

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

More anacondas and crocodiles, and Gyllenhaal plays a nightcrawler that isn't a mutant or a worm.


Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an incredible, and incredibly creepy, performance in this film, the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Real Steel, The Bourne Legacy).

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a man who is lying and thieving his way through life until he happens across the scene of an accident one night and sees a viable career for himself: he could become a nightcrawler, one of those guys who traverse the city with cameras at hand, looking to film crime and accident scenes so they can sell the footage to news outlets.

With a police scanner and a cheap camera, Lou dives right into the profession and finds himself to be a natural. He's not a people person, so he has no qualms about dispassionately filming people at the worst moments of their lives, sometimes their last moments, for his financial gain. Establishing a partnership with an unethical news director (Rene Russo) who revels in the horrific imagery he captures, Lou is a success, able to hire an assistant (Riz Ahmed), buy better equipment, and even get himself an awesome car.

Lou manipulates everyone around him like a sociopathic puppet master, but danger enters the picture when he also starts manipulating the crime scenes and breaking laws so he can get the perfect shot, overcome a competitor (Bill Paxton), and be on the scene for bigger, better, bloodier events.

Nightcrawler is a great movie that centers on a character who is a terrible human being and yet fascinating to watch. The subject matter is deeply disturbing, the callous way the characters disregard the lives of others in the name of money and ratings is an example of real life horror. This goes on every day.

The film received some awards season recognition - Gyllenhaal was nominated for a Golden Globe, Gilroy for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar - but it's somewhat surprising that it didn't get more. It was definitely one of the best movies of 2014 and Lou Bloom is one of the best roles of Gyllenhaal's career.


The fourth film in the Anaconda franchise officially establishes a pattern where each odd numbered movie is titled Anaconda, while the even numbered entries are titled Anacondas.

Shot back-to-back with part 3, Trail of Blood was directed by that film's director Don E. FauntLeroy from a script by its co-writer David Olson and is based around a plot element that first came up in the second movie, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.

Funded by terminally ill pharmaceutical representative Murdoch (John Rhys-Davies reprising his role from 3), a lone scientist has continued the quest to create a fountain of youth/miracle cure drug from chemicals found in the Blood Orchid. His process has included making a hybrid flower with twice the potency of the Blood Orchid, and the tests he has done on an anaconda, the only creature to which the orchid chemicals aren't toxic, have caused the snake to grow to a size much larger than average and become unnaturally aggressive.

When the snake breaks out of its cage, eats the scientist, and escapes into the Romanian countryside, Murdoch thinks the scientist has simply run off with his findings and thus sends a team of mercenaries into the wilderness to track him down, gather his research, and kill him. The mercenaries are also ordered to kill part 3's heroine Amanda Hayes (a returning Crystal Allen) if they cross paths with her, and she is indeed out in the same wilderness with a couple of cops, seeking to find and destroy any trace of the Blood Orchids the pharmaceutical company she used to work for might be growing out there.

Complicating matters further, there is also a team of anthropologists conducting a dig in the forest, and a young aspiring paleopathologist who wandered out there hoping to join them.

The characters collide to do battle with each other and the rampaging snake, which has a special ability due to its genetic modifications: this anaconda is virtually invincible, as it has the ability to regenerate and recover from almost any wound. Getting cut in half is just a minor inconvenience.

In making 3 and 4 back-to-back, the production company basically gathered the cast and crew in Romania to make the same movie twice. There's very little to say about 4 because it's 3 all over again; Amanda and mercenaries getting chased through the woods by scientifically twisted snakes. This one is just a less interesting, less exciting, David Hasselhoff-less version of its predecessor. If you didn't see the snakes kill enough people in Romania last time, here are some extra snake kills for you.

It's a decent diversion, and I'd watch 4 over part 2 any day. Still, when it comes down to it, the first Anaconda is the only one I would recommend to more than just the fans who actively seek this sort of thing out. If you didn't already know by now that there was an Anaconda 4, you're probably not in the target audience.


As far as the filmmakers behind the Lake Placid franchise are concerned, Lake Placid 2 must have cracked the code for how to make the perfect Lake Placid movie, because both sequels that followed use the same set-up: Put an authority figure in the area of Aroostook County, Maine's Black Lake, in this one Elisabeth Röhm as the town's new sheriff, and give them a young child, this time Poppy Lee Friar as the sheriff's newly graduated daughter Chloe. Then put a group of youths in the wilderness around Black Lake to be terrorized by the lake's resident crocodiles while the authority figure tries to deal with the crocodile issue and their child is put in jeopardy. If the child can be with the group of youths, all the better. Screenwriter David Reed knew this formula, since he also wrote part 3.

Some things have changed around Black Lake, though. The crocodiles in the lake are no longer considered regular crocodiles, since they have survived in conditions no regular croc would. They're now called "crocodile creatures" and are considered an endangered species, since they only live in this one lake. The Army Corps of Engineers builds an electrified fence around Black Lake to keep the crocs in and people out. (Bonus: the head of the fence crew also has a young son who gets in trouble.)

Hired to supervise the croc creatures is a returning character from part 3, Yancy Butler as hunter Reba, who appeared to succumb to her wounds at the end of the previous film but actually lived and is doing just fine.

Despite the best efforts of authorities, things soon fall apart at Black Lake and multiple people are once again devoured by the mutant crocodiles. Not only do a team of hunters, including horror icon Robert Englund as a man named Jim Bickerman (son of Betty White's character from the original film), sneak into the containment area, but a series of unforunate events also leads to a bus whose passengers include Chloe and her school friends driving into the containment area.

Hunters and teenagers are picked off one-by-one as the sheriff, Reba, and some others try to fix the situation.

I watched Lake Placid: The Final Chapter with great interest due to the fact that it was directed by Don Michael Paul, who has gone from being the star of Rolling Vengeance and the writer of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man to taking the helm of the next installment in the Tremors series, which is set for release this October. I am highly anticipating the new Tremors movie, and I figured that seeing how Paul handled mutant crocodiles would give me an idea of how he might handle the Graboid species.

The Final Chapter was still a low budget Syfy TV movie, but thankfully it's a much better looking movie than the two previous sequels. Hopefully Paul won't display dodgy CGI as openly in Tremors 5 as he does in this movie, but overall his Lake Placid entry didn't give me much reason to worry about the look of his Tremors entry.

The movie isn't terrible, but it's not all that good. It's very blasé, middle of the road. None of the Lake Placid movies have blown me away, and though there are some bright spots scattered through them, I wouldn't say any of them are really worth seeking out. I thought I'd get more out of a series about killer crocodiles than I did. These movies weren't for me, which is kind of surprising.

No comments:

Post a Comment