The Gambler

the gambler poster

Well, I certainly can’t think of a better way to ring in 2015 than to write about some old movies from 2014. That being said, let’s take a look at the latest Mark Wahlberg vehicle, The Gambler. A remake of Karel Reisz’s 1974 film of the same name, the film was at one time being optioned by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, though they both presumably declined to follow through with the production in order to make The Wolf of Wall Street instead, to the immense relief of everyone on Earth. Eventually, the film ended up in the hands of director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriter William Monahan, and suffered for it.

Wyatt, previously responsible for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and The Escapist (2008), helms this wholly unnecessary reiteration of a perfectly serviceable, and more to the point, superior film. Wyatt’s style might best be described as competent yet unremarkable, but the real issue, as is so often the case, stems from the poor writing. William Monahan is a peculiar figure in the film industry because, over the course of his career, he’s been responsible for some real standouts like Scorsese’s The Departed (2006), as well as some absolute shit, like Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion (2013) and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). Monahan is slated to write for the upcoming Jurassic World as well, and considering his rather checkered past, you might as well flip a coin to determine how that particular picture will turn out.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular gambler Jim Bennett, whose obsessive gambling addiction lands him in hot water with a collection of unsavory underworld figures as he tries to pay off his debts before they break his knees or shoot him in the head or something equally as unpleasant. Jessica Lange also makes a cameo appearance as Jim’s jaded and contemptuous mother, Roberta. Though her performance has garnered a positive critical response, I’m convinced now that Lange literally has only one role in the last ten years; that of the cantankerous fading beauty. Granted, she plays that one role passably well, but we’ve seen the same thing so many times now that it kind of fails to make much of an impact at this point. Wahlberg himself seems a little lazy in this production, and having given it a bit of consideration, I’m not sure that his natural, lovable earnestness is a good fit for the character he’s trying to play; it’s a bit like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

Now let me get back to the writing that I was harping on earlier. I’m having some trouble deciding where to begin, frankly. The protagonist is a whiney, pretentious, pseudo-intellectual; the chemistry between the Bennett and his love interest fizzles out like a cigarette in a thunderstorm; the intrigue is cliché and utterly fails to engage the audience in on any level other than the purely superficial; and instead of characterization being woven and gradually revealed throughout the plot, the audience is treated to mercilessly drawn-out and almost unwatchable expository monologues in which Wahlberg explains how great his character is to an eye-rollingly exasperated audience.

If the film has one saving grace, it’s John Goodman’s cameo appearance as the shady loan shark Big Frank. It seems like Goodman is the only actor in the entire production that realized what a shit-show he was involved in, and brings across his character’s bored, contemptuous indifference with admirable aplomb.

The Gambler is a movie that has no reason to exist, and even more mind-bogglingly, Paramount was initially in favor of a limited-release, in an attempt to facilitate an Oscar-qualifying running strategy. If we’re to take anything away from that little piece of info, it’s that Paramount does not think very highly of the movie-going public, and/or that they have the self-awareness of a dead dog on the side of the road. Do yourselves a favor and skip this one.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Disturbo 13: Eraserhead


Part 13 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

Although writer-director David Lynch has gained a considerable reputation in recent years due to such projects as Blue Velvet and the television series Twin Peaks, his first feature film will forever be his most twisted. Shown originally mostly in art houses and at film festivals, Eraserhead is so unfailingly creepy that no one can completely forget it. The movie is structured with the logic of a nightmare, its characters are abnormal people who consume meals that may or may not be still alive, and its protagonists are the parents of a grotesque little baby that is definitely not human. At ninety minutes in length, the movie nevertheless seems to go on forever for anyone trying to anticipate what’s going to happen next, any why.

Shot is stark black-and-white, the movie shows Lynch at his most outrageous, as unsettling image after unsettling image unspools across the screen like the loosening bandages of a critical accident victim. Cineteratologist Richard Meyers has called it “a live action Monty Python animation made in Hell.” Whatever Eraserhead may be, it can be truly considered one of those films that forever changes your perception of “reality.” At the very least, you get the incomparable sensation of being awake in the center of a truly disturbing, bad, bad dream.

Netflix Movie of the Week #18: Snowpiercer


The most recent movie in a growing list of American films made by prominent South Korean directors, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer is one of the most ambitious and challenging sci-fi thrillers in recent memory. The extremely brutal, often bizarre film follows the last group of humans on Earth, after a weather experiment to stop global warming freezes the planet. Aboard the perpetual motion train SNOWPIERCER, a group of oppressed, lower-class survivors led by Curtis (Chris Evans), hatch a plan to make their way to the front of the train to take control, and in doing so improve the quality of life for the passengers living under a makeshift military dictatorship in the rear. Curtis, aided by a series of cryptic messages, pushes his ragged crew through increasing resistance, all while discovering horrific truths about the society they live in aboard the train.

In a time when the science-fiction film market is catered to primarily by sequels and remakes of existing sci-fi properties, a film like Snowpiercer offers fans of the genre a breath of figurative fresh air. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the film combines original concept sci-fi with Bong Joon-Ho’s unique directorial sensibilities to create a bleak and extremely engaging film. Joon-Ho builds a sense of claustrophobia and dread in the narrow, fastidiously designed train, each car looking markedly different than the last and offering new challenges for the core group of characters.

While the film is in many ways an action movie, Bong Joon-Ho’s style shines through in the myriad moments of conflict and confrontation. Action sequences are often brutally violent and the hyper stylized, providing ample opportunity for Joon-Ho to show off his directorial chops, and remind us why he remains one of Korea’s premier filmmakers. The film is not particularity averse to the idea of killing-off characters, and despite the underlying glimmer of hope that the protagonists cling to, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that things will not end well by the time the story reaches its satisfying and unexpected climax.

If you are interested in something a little out of the ordinary for your next Netflix session, Snowpiercer might be the film for you. Though most of the news surrounding the film was due to its shockingly high VOD sales in comparison to a lackluster theatrical release, Snowpiercer  is ultimately a really good film, and presents a complex and thought provoking story within the framework of its slick, hard sci-fi presentation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Disturbo 13: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS


Part 11 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

Not the first motion picture to exploit the sadism of the Nazis during World War II, and certainly not the last, what is so disturbing about Ilsa is that it has become a cult classic. What the attraction may be of a beautiful female commandant (played with gleeful relish by Dyanne Thorne) in a camp where only female prisoners are endlessly tortured as part of ghastly “scientific experiments” is certainly open to question. Just the idea of using torture as a form of entertainment is reprehensible enough, but when one realizes that all the tortures depicted in the movie may have actually occurred in the concentration camps, the mind if not the stomach certainly reels. (Add to this the report that the film was shot on the standing set of the television series Hogan’s Heroes, and the stomach reels as well.)

There isn’t a single likable character in the movie—and when Ilsa isn’t whipping some naked prisoner, she is shown as a nymphomaniac fucking a different man every night. And any man who doesn’t satisfy her insatiable sexual desires is summarily tied down on the operating table and castrated the next morning. Fortunately—if that is the right word—the acting a direction are so over the top that Ilsa can perhaps be thought of as “camp”—a Nazi version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Amazingly enough, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is only the first in a series, each movie placing the immortal Ilsa in a different time period and section of the globe. For those who need to know: Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia, and Ilsa, Wicked Warden. (Originally titled Wanda, the Wicked Warden and later transmogrified into an official Ilsa movie.) Like the first film, each is filled to vomiting with well-staged scenes of sexual perversion and torture to titillate the fancies of any true sadist.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Mockingjay Poster

I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of The Hunger Games series, but that being said, I’d wager that I went to see Mockingjay with a more objective mindset than I might have otherwise. I did read the first book and half of the second, but I never got around to reading the third; an associate of mine whom I sometimes pretend to respect once told me that, for whatever reason, there was a pretty drastic drop-off in quality between the second and third books. As the book-to-movie adaptation debate rages on, let’s see how THG:M-1 measures up in its own right.

Francis Lawrence reprises his directorial role from 2013’s Catching Fire, though he is joined by screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong—both newcomers to the series. Lawrence, just like the last time around, proves to be functional if uninteresting, and as is generally the case with this sort of thing, I place the blame for Mockingjay’s shortcomings squarely on the writers. I’ll delve deeper into the minutiae in a moment, but at present, suffice it to say that the film is one of the most childishly melodramatic and hollowly plaintive films that I’ve seen in a long while.

Even the acting left me a little disappointed, though admittedly there was little for the cast to do besides mope around and look sad. I’m aware that I’ve got a slightly unpopular opinion of Jennifer Lawrence, in that she’s a serviceable actress though vastly overrated, but her performance in Mockingjay was extremely “one-note,” if you follow me. Again, I’d say that’s more a fault of the writers that J-Law’s. Likewise, the vast majority of dialogue came off as extremely stilled and awkward, presumably in an ill-placed attempt at soaring emotional impact. To my mind, only Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the washed-up District 12 victor Haymitch Abernathy, provided at least a tenuous grounding in reality, despite all the other character’s spouting overblown nonsense at one another.

Now, let me get back to the writing. From what I can tell, neither Craig not Strong have to many scripts to their credit, apart from Craig’s co-writer status on the 2010 film The Town. As far as the plot itself is concerned, I’m fairly indifferent; I get that it’s mainly a set up for the big finale in the upcoming part 2. It’s mostly the dialogue and delivery thereof that got to me.

You know it’s always a big sign when the actors are delivering lines like they know they’re being filmed, and by that, I mean I lost count of the number of times that characters stared stoically into the middle-distance and quoted overblown, cheesy, melodramatic lines, presumably intending to elicit an emotional response, every single one of which come off as hollow and token. Even Lawrence, who’s usually better than this (even by my own admission) isn’t immune from the ravages of un-ironically awful dialogue.

Some of my associates have posited that this is the best entry in the Hunger Games series to date, though to my mind, Mockingjay Part 1 belies just how immature and silly the series actually is. I actually favored the glorified death-match setup of the original Hunger Games as well as Catching Fire, as they tended to have an undertone of almost otherworldly, surreal bleakness—savagery and blood sport beneath a gilded veneer of garish flash and sparkle. Meanwhile in Mockingjay, it’s all melodrama, all the time.

Mockingjay Part 1 advances the rather sparse plot of the series, but that’s about all it does, frankly. Despite my general indifference to the series, my hopes aren’t particularly high for part two, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Disturbo 13: Nekromantik


Part 10 of 13, excerpted from an essay entitled “Disturbo 13: The Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made” by Stanley Wiater.

This German film by Jorg Buttgereit may well qualify as one of the most repulsive movies ever made. The basic plot is enough to turn away all but the most jaded: a young ambulance driver named Rob brings home unclaimed accident victims to show off to his wife. At first he simply collects pieces of the bodies in glass jars.Later on, the couple try to bring some joy back into their listless love life by going to bed with a recently discover corpse. Since the penis has long since rotted away, they trim off a broom handle, slip a condom over it, and stick it into the groin of the corpse. Then it’s a sweaty ménage a mort.

For some strange reason, his wife leaves him, and Rob unsuccessfully attempts to find sexual release with other women. When he can’t, he’s forced to murder his lovers before he can become sufficiently aroused to conclude the act. Finally, suicide seems like a sensible turn-on when all else fails.

Nekromantik is such a black hole of nihilism that if it weren’t for the second-rate special makeup effects, it would be all but impossible to sit through.

The Wolverine: Rampant Cinemania Episode 13


This Week: Albert Cantu, Andrew King, Gabriel Vogel, Joe Holley

Show Notes

The World’s End 0:43 – 3:22

Lay the Favorite 3:22 – 6:24

The Conjuring 6:24 – 8:36

R.I.P.D. 8:36 – 11:56

The Late Quartet 11:56 – 14:25

The Master 14:25 – 15:55

The Way Way Back 15:55 – 19:42

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 19:42 – 21:02

Hard Eight (Sydney) 21:02 – 23:30

The Wolverine 23:30 – 50:43

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