Monday, June 17, 2013

Film Review: Double-Feature: Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) & Skeleton Lake (2012)

     I remember 2010.
     I was working as a brand manager for a horror-genre merchandising company.
     Part of the perks of performing that job was I got paid to travel around most of the eastern half of the United States of America and participate in horror-genre conventions as a vendor.
     Part of the drawback of talking to thousands of people each weekend as part of the process of separating them from their money in exchange for things they don’t need is that you hear a lot of stupid fucking opinions like, “I liked the Nightmare on Elm Street re-make.” and “You should really watch the Texas Chainsaw Massacre re-make.” and “Sid Haig is a great actor.”.
     You also get people asking you if you watched the latest movie that they went to see or their current favorite recent horror film so they can pretend to listen to what you thought about the experience of viewing the film while waiting to tell you what they thought about it.
     Let’s get one thing clear.
     If I ask you what you thought about a film, I’m asking because I want to know what you thought about a film, not because I’m waiting to tell you what I thought.
     I’m asking you your opinion because if we’re having a conversation about film and you like films that suck, then I can pretend to be taking mental notes about your film recommendations while thinking about something totally different.   Maybe wondering what your girlfriend looks like naked or, if you’re a girl, wondering what you look like naked.   Or, if your girlfriend is really fat or really ugly, or, if you’re a girl, and you’re really fat or really ugly, or really old or really young, I’ll try to imagine how you might die.   Imagine you and your girlfriend stopped at an intersection in your sedan and some tractor trailer having its brakes fail as it comes in behind you and smashes into the back of your sedan, bending the frame and trapping you inside, but that doesn’t kill you, because the tractor trailer pushes your vehicle across the road into a construction site where your sedan is pushed into the raised teeth of the bucket of a shovel truck which shears the top off your vehicle decapitating you and your car full of loved ones, so you and your girlfriend and your best friend and his girlfriend, sitting in the backseat, all become gushing blood-fountains, and then the tractor trailer truck pushes your car, and the shovel-truck, which is being pushed backwards, into a gas tanker, which doesn’t make the tanker explode, but gets it rolling backwards too, and, thankfully, the drivers of the two tractor trailers manage to jump out of their vehicles before anything really regrettable happens, because this daisy-chain of destruction is only rolling along at, like five miles an hour, and then the whole fucking death train rolls off the edge of a cliff and the gas tanker explodes into a mushroom cloud of flame which would be beautiful were it not so terrible.   The bodies of you and your friends are all instantly vaporized, not even the fillings in your rotten godforsaken teeth remaining behind as evidence of your existence for the investigators to discover in a week or so when the accident site finally cools down enough for anyone to investigate.   And no one would really notice or care because everyone secretly hated you and was kind of relieved that you haven’t been annoying them via the internet or by cell phone or in person.
     And then you say, “Hey! Were you paying attention?” and I say, “Yeah, I was just making a mental note to watch that movie you were recommending.”.
      And if you ask me about my opinion, I’ll give you my opinion, because you asked for it, but if you immediately start off your reply with “Well, I thought…” you might as well spare yourself the effort and prepare yourself for my disapproving expression which, as I practice it in the mirror, is composed of a furrowed brow, a narrowing of the eyes, and a subtle frowning of the edges of my mouth that is meant to let you know that I have no interest in hearing your opinion about the film that you just asked me for my opinion about because I didn’t ask for your opinion because I don’t care if you liked it or hated it or what-the-fuck-ever.   You probably like a lot of stuff that’s about as appealing to me as a dogshit popsicle on a hot summer day.   When I ask you what you thought about something then it’s your big chance to have your opinions listened to, but until then, keep them to your fucking self because no one asked for your fucking opinion.

     In 2010, people were asking me if I had seen Hobo with a Shotgun (2011).
     “Have you heard about Hobo with a Shotgun?” they would ask with that knowing glitter in their eye.
     “Nope.” I would reply, hoping that would be the whole conversation.
     Question and answer.   And we could go on with our lives.
      But some people never seem to be able to pick up on the non-verbal cues that you’re not interested in the sounds they’re making with the hole with the teeth in it in the front of their face.
     “Well, you should see it. It’s good. I liked it. You’d probably like it.” They would say.
     Then they would say, “Are you listening to me?”
     And I would reply, “Yeah, I was just making a mental note to watch that movie you were recommending.” and smile dreamily.
     So I didn’t watch Hobo with a Shotgun in 2010.   I didn’t watch it in 2011.   Despite the fact that people kept telling me that if I wanted to watch it I could watch it on Netflix.   And I would tell them that I don’t have Netflix and sometimes that would shut them up.   I didn’t watch it in 2012.   Despite the fact that people kept asking me if I had seen it so I mostly just watched it so that people would stop recommending that I watch it.   So that I could say, “Yeah, I watched it.” and people could say, “Well, what did you think about it?” and I could reply, “Well, message me on Facebook and I’ll send you a link to my online review blog where I posted a review.” and they might ask, “What’s the name of your blog?” and I can say “No One Asked For Your Fucking Opinion” and they’ll take a breath and start up with, “Well, I thought…” and I make my disapproving expression and hold out a hand like I’m going to sing the first line of “Stop In The Name Of Love” by The Supremes, and I ask them, “You do remember the name of the blog, right?” and hopefully they have a sense of humor and they can laugh about it or they’re offended and go away.

     Regardless, I downloaded and watched Hobo with a Shotgun (2011).
     It took me a couple watches to figure out how I felt about it.
     Not because the story was overly difficult to understand.
     It’s a simple story with characters pretty clearly divided into good guys and bad guys and extras.   The bad guys do bad things to the good guys and the extras and are generally unlikeable assholes.   The good guys have bad things done to them by the bad guys and then have a reason to avenge the injustices committed against them by the bad guys.   And the extras are just fucking extras, mostly just getting caught up in the conflict between the good guys and the bad guys.
     Rutger Hauer is a hobo.   At least they dressed him like one, kind of, and he grew his beard out, kind of.   You may remember Rutger Hauer from his role as the leader of the off-world androids Roy Batty in the seminal sci-fi film Blade Runner (1982) and nothing much since.   If Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon was a card game, you’d hate to be dealt a Rutger Hauer.   Looking him up on IMDB, he was apparently an actor in 139 titles, only around ten of which I had heard of before and only five of those I cared about.   I’m not going to try to take a cheap shot at the actor for doing independent stuff to pay the rent because he’s one of the few things that makes this film watchable.   Without Rutger Hauer, Hobo with a Shotgun would just be another contemporary Troma Entertainment caliber film redemptive only for the language, violence, and nudity.
     I know that there are some fans of Troma Entertainment and the films that if they are reading this would probably take offense.   Who am I kidding?   Everyone know those idiots can’t read!   I kid.
     Pretty much, fans of Troma films are to film what Juggalos are to music.   They’re fanatically enthusiastic about something that sucks and nothing that you say or do can ever convince them of the aesthetic deficiency of the films that they know and love and celebrate and somehow, like Juggalos, they manage to find other people that like the same awful thing that they do and they gain confidence in numbers, confusing popularity with quality which is the principal argument of the philistine used to defend the object of their enthusiasm against the critical.
     What I’m trying to say is that I’ve given about half of the films distributed by Troma a screening, and some of them more than one screening because people I liked as people recommended the films and I always thought there was something I was missing.
     Now I realize that it’s pretty much the same as if you get on an elevator with a stranger and the stranger starts playing a slide-whistle, inexpertly limping through an off-key rendition of
The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down, squeezing a whoopee cushion between their knees to accentuate the beat like a one man band of annoying “musical instruments” and at first you try to just mind your own fucking business because it’s a free country, right?   And who are you to tell someone else what to do?   You’re not the boss of the elevator are you?   But it’s a long elevator ride and eventually you turn to the stranger and ask them if they wouldn’t mind cutting the shit because as much as you’re all for the public expression of personal freedom, they’re really starting to get under your skin with their bullshit.   Then, the stranger, indignantly stuffing the slide-whistle back into their pocket scoffs and says, “Well, I guess you just don’t like music do you?   No reason to be a jerk about it.”.
     That’s how I feel whenever someone tries to recommend that I revisit a film produced or distributed by Troma Entertainment that I’ve already seen.
     “Yeah, but did you see The Toxic Avenger?” some Troma fan asks.
     “Yes. For fuck’s sake. Like, ten times.”, I reply exasperatedly, “I’ve seen all four Toxic Avenger films at least twice.   Once because I thought, as a fan of independent film I was supposed to, and again because I thought I might’ve missed something the first time around.”
     I didn’t miss anything the first time around.   Those movies sucked.
     I know that Hobo with a Shotgun was distributed by Magnet Releasing and not Trauma Entertainment, but fans of Hobo with a Shotgun seem to have the same sort of fanatical gleam in their eyes and if you’re a fan of Hobo with a Shotgun we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.   I’m always going to think that you like shitty movies and you’re always going to think that I just don’t get it and try to explain to me why Hobo with a Shotgun is a good movie and I’m going to have to explain again and again like explaining something to a child that I get it, I just don’t like it.
     I totally get it.   I probably actually get it better than you do.
     I know that Brian Downey in his role as “Drake” is kind of like a combination of Jello Biafra’s Bruce Coddle character in Terminal City Ricochet (1990) and Jim Jarmusch’s Amos Dade character in Alex Cox’s Straight To Hell (1987) and you’re probably wondering what the fuck I’m talking about which is why I get to review films.   Also Gregory Smith as Slick and Nick Bateman as Ivan are a lot like Lance Fenton and Patrick Labyorteaux as Kurt and Ram in Heathers (1988).
     In some strange or maybe not-so-strange way, Magnet Releasing has kind of become the Troma Entertainment of the digital download generation.   They distributed the all-hype no pay-off V/H/S (2012) and the contemporary definition of hit-or-miss the by turns execrable and excellent ABCs of Death (2012) as you can see by visiting the Magnet Releasing website at:
     But, wait, they also distribute Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) and God Bless America (2011) and the films 13 Assassins (2010) by Takashi Miike 13 and  Outrage (2010) by Takeshi Kitano  and S&man (2006) by J.T. Petty which are all great films so it’s not all bad.
     Anyway, Rutger Hauer as a bum shows up to Scumtown, a contemporary Canadian independent version of Mortville from John Waters’s Desperate Living (1977).   Terrible things happen in this terrible place.   Well, kind of.   The film consistently chooses style over substance and can’t decide if it wants to be horror or humor.   Also I’ve never been really comfortable when film-makers decide to try to play the disenfranchised of our society for humorous or dramatic intent unless it is done tastefully.
     There are exceptions to this.
     I remember kind of enjoying Frankenhooker (1990) which exploits prostitution and I know I love C.H.U.D. (1984) which exploits the homeless living in the tunnels of New York City.
     Hobo with a Shotgun also exploits prostitution and homelessness.
     You can argue that the two heroic characters are a homeless person and a prostitute respectively, but the travails that the unlikely duo are subjected to, although it gives them an excuse to pursue revenge, is exploitative, it’s a meta-realistic example of a monstrous society where the “bad guys” are a rich guy, his two rich kids, a couple crooked cops, a pedophilic guy in a Santa Claus outfit, and other random awful people.   My problem isn’t the portrayal of these establishment iconic symbols as corrupt and morally bankrupt.   I don’t give a fuck what you do to or with Santa Claus as a character.   My problem is that the bad guys get to say and do awful fucking things to the characters that are playing disenfranchised characters for the purpose of entertainment.   Some of the misogynistic dialogue written for Slick and Ivan and the corrupt cop that harasses the prostitute character really made me cringe.   I’m not a big fan of watching rape unless it’s portrayed as truly monstrous and the misogyny in this film is scripted as comedic moments and I don’t really enjoy watching people say dehumanizing things to women, even if the characters are supposed to be “bad guys”.   I have the same problem with rape/revenge films.   If you’re a horrible person and you’re sexually aroused by rape, then you get to enjoy watching the sexual violence and dehumanization of the rape and then you get to enjoy the violence and gore of the revenge.   That’s why they make those films, in case you were kind of confused about the popularity of rape/revenge films.
     Again, there are exceptions to the rule.   I don’t think that a lot of people were aroused by the eight-and-a-half minute rape scene in Irreversible (2002), and Revenge Is Her Middle Name (2012) is another rape/revenge film that it’s really tough to be sexually aroused by.   Rape, prostitution, pedophilia, homelessness, and social injustice are unfortunately all still symptoms of humanity’s intolerance of itself and I don’t think that any topic should be forbidden to be explored through media, but as I have said in other reviews, the use of certain unpleasant topics and themes for comedic or exploitatively shocking effect should be handled delicately, if at all.   Hobo with a Shotgun is not a delicate film.
     Coincidentally in what I hope was an intentionally self-referential scene, the titular hobo encounters an amateur film-maker actively exploiting the homeless by paying them to fight each other while he films them.   The amateur film-maker offers the hobo ten dollars to participate in the fights and it’s not a flattering portrayal.   The hobo returns to try to raise some money and in exchange for twenty dollars, the amateur film-maker films the hobo breaking a bottle over his head and then makes the hobo chew the broken glass from the bottle the film-maker had the hobo break over his head.   So, it makes you a bad person if you pay bums money to fight each other, but it’s supposed to be entertaining if you film someone pretending to film bums fighting for money?
     It’s like in I Spit on Your Grave (1978) where it’s implied that rape is a terrible, horrifying, dehumanizing thing to happen to a woman… so we’re going to show you three rapists raping the same woman one after the other, because it’s awful, and now you can see how awful it is, and then, because rape is not a nice thing to do, to a woman, we’re going to show the woman taking revenge against the men who raped her.    It’s like someone downloading child pornography so that they’ll know it when they see it or buying a child pornography magazine to “take it out of circulation”.
     Other than my problem with all of the preceding, it’s a well made film.
     The composition of the shots, camera movement, editing, set design and character design are all well done.   It’s obvious that Jason Eisener and his crew can make a film.   The color is so saturated that at times it feels like it’s going to drip off of the screen.   The Plague are a great pair of super-villains in the vein of the homicidal monsters in Neon Maniacs (1986).   And the practical special effects sequences are all competently executed and a lot of fun to watch.   So, in essence, it’s a beautifully made awful exploitation caliber film.

     A year later, another movie about a wizened old Vietnam veteran was made in Canada.
     Must have been something in the zeitgeist that inspired people to make movies about Vietnam veterans about that time.
     Skeleton Lake (2011), was later retitled Battleground, but the version I watched was titled Skeleton Lake and I think that title is hilarious so I’m going to stick with calling it Skeleton Lake.
     The IMDB synopsis reads as follows: “A bank robbery goes awry and the robbers hold up within a forest, but there is another that dwells here, an ex Vietnam vet. Soon, a battle of survival erupts as the thieves' now have to fight for their very existence.”.   And that’s exactly what you get.
     The whole bank robbery device is a bit weak, but you’ve got to have a reason to get a bunch of hard-cases out into the woods for Hugh Lambe, whose character is called “The Hunter” to pick off.
     For the first third of the film you have to endure the actors trying their best to act like they’re the guys from Reservoir Dogs (1992) or Begbie from Trainspotting (1996).   You know the type.   Natural born bad-asses that chew bullets and spit nails.   The actors in this film don’t quite pull it off.   You can tell that they’re trying real hard to be bad-asses, they really want to do this right and they’re trying their best, and maybe they are in real life, but if so it doesn’t really come through on screen.   The only exception is Bob Cymbalski as “Texas”.   He brings it for real and totally commits, even helping to lend credibility to some of the other characters in the ensemble.
    Anyway, they argue and talk tough and brandish guns and shoot each other for a while and decide to bury the guy that they shot for fucking up the heist by shooting a cop.
     The next day, their van is gone, as well as the dead body they buried and the men are understandably wary because now they have to get the fuck out of there on foot.
     The rest of the film is sort of Rutger Hauer from Hobo with a Shotgun crossed with John Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator (1987).
     Make no mistake, these woods belong to The Hunter, and these on-screen hard-asses made a grievous mistake thinking that they could just walk on through without suffering some losses.
     The remainder is pretty formulaic.   The hard-cases try to defend themselves as The Hunter picks them off one by one using a variety of traps and weapons.   That’s really all there is to be said about it.   If that’s the kind of sort of thing you’re into, then you’re going to enjoy watching this, and that’s kind of the sort of thing I’m into sometimes, so I enjoyed it.
     There was a female character shoe-horned into the film.   Maybe to keep it from being a complete sausage-fest of a film, but the film would be just as good without her stumbling around wide-eyed and incoherent.   The inclusion of her character doesn’t add anything to the film and, if anything, kind of takes away from it because her sudden appearance is pretty contrived.
     It’s not a great film.   But it’s a good one.   Solid, but not exceptional.
     As I said, if this is the kind of thing you’re into then you’ll probably enjoy experiencing it and should make an effort to search out a copy and give it a viewing.
     I gave it six out of ten stars on IMDB.

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