Street Kings (Ayer, 2008)

A destructive and unpredictable urgency oozes from the scum-sucking underworld of Los Angeles cop movies. This cinematic unease produces a visceral menace which ultimately overruns the ability of law enforcement to protect the innocent. Random violence and sacrifice rule the roost, even in the most controlled situations. Street Kings director David Ayer’s fourth foray into such terrain (after writing Training Day and Dark Blue while writing/directing Harsh Times), again dives head first into the shallow graves of dirty cops and drug dealers, liquor store massacres and curb side attacks. Ayer’s muse is the shimmer of Neo-noir pavement and the moral complexity of cops turning into murderers and monsters, gleefully capturing the blood and greed of a hard days work. But Ayer’s attention to genre detail doesn’t pave any new ground, nor does it produce the dangerous angst of his better projects Dark Blue has a number of devastating moments of violence which stick with you). Street Kings contains some interesting ideas, but lives and dies on its shoddy foundation, a script that suffers from over-written prose and incessant narrative idiocy. Too bad, because this sort of iconography doesn’t need much help to be electric.

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Doomsday (Marshall, 2008)

For a filmmaker who usually injects weighty characterizations and story elements into his hardcore genre movies, Neil Marshall completely dismisses logic, science, and any sense of plausibility in his often entertaining but completely ridiculous apocalyptic romp Doomsday. The premise, which lays out the devastating effects of a Scotland-based plague, attempts to put Britain in America’s shoes of a modern super-power forced to bend ethical concerns for the good of national security. In response to the highly infectious outbreak, London politicians build a wall around Scotland, sectioning off its dying inhabitants from the rest of the world. The ramifications of this anti-humanist action cannot be fully fathomed until super cop Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is sent over the wall thirty years later to find a cure. Her team discovers two societies of archaic warriors battling each other; one a Mad Max like group of cannibals and the other a Medieval themed horror show run by Malcolm McDowell. As Sinclair begins to ad-lib her mission, it seems Marshall begins to improvise his script, using the brilliantly chaotic battle scenes as anchors to keep the whole afloat. With its clear cut boundaries between two separate hells, one an unknowing product of the other, Doomsday has plenty of allegorical potential. But the film completely undermines itself in the second half, turning into a relentless and gory house of horrors with little substance beyond the arterial spray that often splatters the camera. Marshall is at his best in cramped tight spaces where his conflicted heroes often sacrifice morality for survival (see Dog Soldiers and The Descent). Doomsday, with its sprawling scope and limitless potential, gets silly then out of control and never fully recovers.

Framed (Karlson, 1974)

Framed mixes the violent angst of 1970’s American cinema with old school Noir seediness in a diabolical revenge story from genre giant Phil Karlson. In this Southern tale of sadism and brutality, Joe Don Baker’s gambler/bar owner shifts from fall guy to merciless hound after a long prison stint, returning to the society that failed him with writhing intensity and impatience. The entire film feels like one long, sweaty foray into a bloody domino effect created by corrupt institutions covering up their slimy exploits, and the end result isn’t pretty. During its almost comedic final moments, Framed comes close to glorifying it’s violent heroes through a mix of smarmy charm and grotesque casualness, as if getting your ear blown off or being eaten by a dog is just a part of everyday life.

Babe: Pig in the City (Miller, 1998)

I’ve always been fond of the two Babe films, and revisiting the sequel only reinforces why this particular character resonates with me. Unlike Babe’s origin story, Pig in the City establishes an intriguing clash between the darkness and limitation of urban existence and the gracious simplicity of farm life. George Miller doesn’t skirt around the brutality of pitting animals against humans (the raid on the Animal hotel, where black booted storm troopers capture Babe and his friends, is blatantly defined by Gestapo tactics). Like Mumbles, the Puffin hero of Miller’s masterpiece Happy Feet, Babe leads not just by his clarity of purpose, but by a thoughtful selflessness that transcends family movie cliches and enlightens a dark world consumed by their own ideas of normalcy. Babe’s quest evolves out of the kindness and harshness of those around him, something even the faceless, emotionless humans of Miller’s universe seem to understand.