A trio of disappointments – Jonah Hex, Black Death and Splice reviewed

When a movie meets expectations, or even exceeds them, it’s a great sensation. For a moment you feel like there’s still hope for cinema as a storytelling medium to compete with the new generation of big “event” TV shows. However, the disappointment experienced when a movie fails to meet expectations can transform a mediocre film into a complete turkey.

During the past few weeks I’ve unfortunately had my hopes dashed several times. Finally watching a handful of films that I was really looking forward to, they just refused to deliver on their potential. Letdowns all around.

Jonah Hex: It was a surprise when pulpy Western comic adaptation Jonah Hex went straight to DVD in South Africa. Sure it had bombed spectacularly in the US but many a turd pile has still been dumped on South African cinemagoers.

And Jonah Hex certainly has a big name cast and interesting premise: Hex (Josh Brolin) is a hideously scarred bounty hunter with the ability to communicate with the dead. When his arch nemesis, genocidal Civil War general Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) gets his hands on a nation-destroying super weapon, Hex is recruited by the US government to stop the madman. Rounding out the cast are Michael Fassbender as Turnbull’s knife wielding right hand man and Megan Fox as Hex’s tough prostitute love interest

The big problem with Jonah Hex is that the movie embodies the worst excesses of Hollywood’s Summer blockbuster season. It’s loud, it’s predictable yet simultaneously incoherent, it thinks that ridiculous weaponry alone will elevate the film’s coolness factor (Gatling guns mounted on horses, dynamite-loaded hand crossbows), and worst of all it feels like 20 different people have tried to edit it. It’s right up there in awfulness with Wild Wild West, although that disaster at least was laughably ridiculous. Jonah Hex is dour for the most part, with Malkovich surprisingly reigned in as the villain. I will give Jonah Hex credit in two areas though: Brolin turns in an excellent performance as the grimacing antihero and the “corpse communication” scenes are cleverly executed with an enjoyable logic to them.

Profiled as part of this blog's Trailer Tuesday feature here.

Black Death: A gritty British-made thriller about religious hysteria during the Middle Ages, sparked by the devastating Bubonic Plague? What an original, interesting concept. How could the filmmakers possibly go wrong? Well, they did, kind of, with Black Death.

Black Death isn’t a bad movie at all, but it’s a sad case of missed potential. The film IS its trailer, almost entirely. Pious Sean Bean and his band of mercenaries are hired by the Church to investigate and potentially “cleanse” a remote settlement unaffected by the Plague. This is reportedly due to the presence of a necromancer. Eddie Redmayne is the young monk guiding the warriors through the marshland to the village, all while struggling with his faith. Carice van Houten is the charismatic village leader.

Performances in Black Death are very good, and the fight scenes are well choreographed and appropriately graphic. However, the film just seems to plod along. It never really ramps up its intensity and for some strange reason – perhaps because we’re looking at events from the perspective of a contemporary audience – we’re always five steps ahead of the characters in terms of understanding. We see through the supernatural charades; the various bluffs in play, to see the decidedly non-supernatural truth behind events. Not only is there a disappointing lack of ambiguity to Black Death, but it never does anything more than poke at interesting issues. Is all religion (whether organised or pagan) evil? Do older faiths empower women whereas Christianity oppresses them? Is the Plague a punishment from God or the work of the Devil? Exploration of these topics is as muddy as the swamps Bean and company scramble around in.

Profiled as part of this blog's Trailer Tuesday feature here.

Splice: I expected this sci-fi thriller to be an enjoyable Species knock-off, combing shocks, sauciness and even some intelligent thought on the topic of genetic experimentation. The reality though is that Canadian Indie production Splice is dour B-grade rubbish with several unintentionally funny moments.

In the film Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play ambitious geneticists who go behind the backs of their pharmaceutical bosses and splice together a forbidden human-animal hybrid. The result is the rapidly growing Dren (Delphine Chanéac), a highly intelligent but unpredictable creature that the couple have to keep hidden. This situation places pressure on the couple’s career, and particularly their relationship as it becomes increasingly difficult to view Dren objectively as an easy-to-terminate experiment.

The creature design and effects in Splice are well done and there’s enough back-story included to explain the flickflacking, but nonetheless interesting psychology of the leads. There’s also some twisted sex included for those after saucy Species kicks but mostly things are ruined by typical Hollywood hysteria, moralising and general stupidity regarding scientific progress. Never, ever is there any good that comes out of pushing boundaries, and often the scientists are more monstrous than their creations.

There isn’t much more to say than I’m very glad I didn’t pay to see this one at the cinema.

Profiled as part of this blog's Trailer Tuesday feature here.


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