Monday 1 November 2021

On DVD - Barrie Pattison plunders the $5 remainder box to find - DARFUR (Uwe Boll, USA, 2009) and HEARTBREAKERS (David Mirkin, USA, 2001)

You don’t have to spend your time scouring YouTube or working obscure events to come up with overlooked material. The five dollar box in DVD stores has generated enough to last my life time.

Uwe Boll has never had (to my knowledge) a commercial film run in an Australian cinema. TV and Festival shows are unknown. The Canada-based German director makes a selling point of the trashiness of his (English speaking) output. It’s not like Roger Corman showing he could turn out watchable product for not enough money. Boll’s speciality was video game movies when he never played video games. His Blubberella’s selling point is its relentless bad taste and shoddiness.


On the other hand, he was one of the first people to use Elizabeth Moss and there’s his (Attack on) Darfur.


Here’s a switch - a film of high seriousness from Boll and his team and it turns out to be impressive.  They quote the Darfur conflict between the African Moslems and the Arab Moslems of the militant Janjeweed as being “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today.” It’s been called the first genocide of the current century.


The film starts off with American reporters, guided by African Union peacekeepers in camouflage uniforms and green helmets, traveling across the African desert. They give a white car to the faction who hold the highway and this is a sufficient payment to let them pass. Hard to spot the familiar face movie stars doing overlapping dialogue in the crowded truck but Billy Zane, Ed (Terminator) Furlong and Matt (Max Headroom)Frewer are in there. They pull up to photograph a pit full of human remains - whitened bones and skulls (plausible.)


The team come to a peaceful village (constructed out back of Cape Town from authentic Darfur materials). Its people live in terror of a raid where the women will be raped, the men killed and the children recruited as soldiers.


The reporters mix with the locals and get to know some of their stories, the child left fatherless, the man with his family history kept for hundreds of years. The tribals emerge as innocents caught up in the race war.


However, as the visitors prepare to leave, a group of armed horsemen with a few motors (striking image) appear in the dust on the sky line. They are  Sammy Sheik’s raiding party and they give the outsiders five minutes to be gone. One mother shoves her baby into the car saying “America” but Sheik spots it and drops it from shoulder height. The leader doesn’t care about any permissions the visitors have and considers them to be pushing their luck after their country’s colonialist history.


The machete slashings, shootings, sexual assaults and burnings are already starting. Down the road, two of the Americans decide they will go back. They can’t take the camera. Its owner tells them it isn’t insured. Peacekeeper Captain Hakeem Kae-Kazim goes with them, having given the men pistols in defiance of the rules of engagement.


He manages to take down a few of the murderous raiders - “Where did that come from?” Sheik (all the cast are impressive) is busy overcoming the objections of the soldier who asks “Do we have to do this” as they set about burning the timber and grass building with the surviving women and children inside. “Poison the well!”


The disturbing small-scale depiction of atrocities is entirely plausible with Boll bringing the knowhow from his slasher movies. Placing this assured film craft in the context’s real events produces a dissonance with the good works movies we are used to seeing - Schindler’s List, Hotel Rwanda-  and disturbingly suggests that tasteful is a suspect route for these. 


I could have done without the mournful ending music but by and large bringing a trash movie sensibility to serious material is enough to make this one register. We get the subject without a comforting layer of High Art to protect us from reality. The comparison is at very least is confronting. The film is now twelve years old and I have yet to hear it discussed either as comment or product. That is alarming in itself.


Equally ignored and from the other end of the scale comes 2001’s Heartbreakers, an ambitious film with Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Jason Lee and Ray Liotta,  directed by The Simpsons’ producer David Mirkin (Romy and Michele's High School Reunion). That cast, in a film no one remembers - there’s got to be something wrong with it, doesn’t there?


The set-up is formula - female Dirty Rotten Scoundrels- con artists in lush settings. We wait for all this top dollar talent to screw up. However rather than disintegrate, this one finds its feet - about the time Hackman shows up as a Big Tobacco millionaire.


Kicking off with the Jersey wedding of chop shop garage operator Liotta to so glamorous Sigourney, they delay for her to dance with his bottom grabbing associate - and the bus boy. That’s too much - so Ray races her upstairs and starts removing her eye-catching sleepsuit - using his clasp knife. This was actually better with Laura Antonelli and chauffer Michele Placido in the Luigi Comencini Mio Dio, come sono caduta in basso!/TillMarriage Do Us Part in 1974. By the time he’s finished she’s asleep and he has to go to the office before they can get it on. There his low cut dressed secretary Love Hewitt gets to start blowing him behind the desk, as Sigourney shows up - hair stuck in his zipper. Expensive divorce.


Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sigourney Weaver, Heartbreakers

Yes, the women are not what they seem. Jennifer, who is adept at charging the tank full of gas to the distracted fellow pump user’s company card, is explaining that she wants to go it alone and Sigourney whose seduction times are slowing tells her she’s not ready. Then ruthless Internal Revenue collector Anne Bancroft shows up wanting payment on seven years of unlodged returns. No choice but to hit Palm Beach where they eye the prospects from a boat on the river, rejecting ones with embedded mothers.


In the bar, amiable Jason Lee strolls over to offer Jennifer a drink and she puts a massive chill on him, only to be told he’s the barkeeper. Turns out he’s also the owner and the place is worth three million. Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis  are on staff.


A plan to run chain smoker Hackman over spikes on the deserted highway goes amok before Gene shows up to burst his airbags. Nice physical gag routine. Jennifer in the tight dress checks out Lee’s base in the swamp where he watches the stars with his telescope  - (“entitled to their privacy” she objects) and he asks if she is a climate researcher-stalker-mud wrestler.


Sigourney works her fake Russian nobility routine on Gene at an auction, getting stuck with the hundred and eighteen thousand dollar full sized male sculpture with the anatomically correct willy, when Gene drops his paddle coughing. Further complications when he takes her, in the show stopper black outfit, to the Russian restaurant where the waiter susses that she can’t speak the language and gets her put up to lead the classic song they start to sing along and her doing a great save when she switches Oleg Stefan’s band to a rousing “Back in the U.S.S.R.”


More competition from severe housekeeper Nora Dunn  who has been working Gene for seven years. Gene gives Sigourney the restored statue which we thought we were going to see used in a body swap – a cut?


In the middle of full con Liotta shows up offering a ring. I never thought of him as a comic actor but he gets the big laughs (“Can I dispose of a body? I’m from Jersey!”) the way he did in the 1986 Jonathan Demme Something Wild. There’s twist on twist. In an agreeable and just about plausible ending everybody comes good and they all start working a new scam.


Biggest laugh - Sigourney telling Ray that if his eye ever strays to an appealing younger woman, he should remember that Sigourney could be paying her. It works better than it did with Yvonne De Carlo in The Gal That Took the West.


This one has all the qualities to look for in a multiplex entertainment and should have started Mirkin on a major comedy director’s career. I’m sorry it didn’t. He likes the same gags I do.

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