Cutter’s Way (1981) – Movie Review

Cutter’s Way, directed by Ivan Passer, is a decent enough film that presses some interesting ideas, however, one can’t help but feel that it could have been something more. The acting, cinematography, direction and score are all good, but it’s the script that weighs everything down, and it’s not even a bad script, just one laden with numerous flaws.

The movie starts with Rick Bone, played by a pre-“Dude” Jeff Bridges, living the cushy lifestyle until witnessing the murderer of a teenage girl as he was dumping the body, however, after leaving his car after it breaks down by where the body is found he becomes the prime suspect of the homicide. Soon, Rick recognizes the murderer in the parade–J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliot,) a rich oil tycoon. Rick’s friend, an alcoholic and physically-disabled Vietnam vet named Alex Cutter (John Heard) prompts Rick to inform the police that Cord was the one who dumped the body, but Rick is reluctant to, possibly because he fears endangering his lifestyle if Cord comes after him. As a result, Cutter decides, along with the victim’s sister Valerie Duran (Ann Dusenberry) to try to blackmail Cord, believing that if Cord pays-up it would be an admission of guilt and Cutter will bring this information to the police. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as planned and Rick Bone’s life becomes in jeopardy.

While the movie is classified as a “thriller” and the plot reflects this, the center of the movie is Rick’s relationship with Alex and his wife (Lisa Eichhorn). Rick, like Alex, is a liberal but unlike Alex is lazy and more adamant about maintaining his easy lifestyle. Rick is obviously correct in believing that blackmailing a wealthy oil tycoon is a terrible idea, but he offers no other solution and would much rather keep quiet, allowing an evil to go unresolved. Even after he recognizes Cord as the guy he saw the night of the murder he quickly changes the story, insisting on the possibility that he was wrong. Throughout the film Rick denies the obvious while Alex cuts through the B.S. However, Alex is a violent, emotionally-disturbed but driven man whose obsessed with enacting “justice”. To Alex, Cord represents the evil, rich man who eludes justice while everyone else is massacred in the trenches. The scenes where Rick and Alex argue over the morality of their decisions constitute the best the movie has to offer for they are the most intellectually intriguing as well as the best-acted and most memorable.

Some of the drama also takes place between Rick and Alex’s wife who is lonely. Alex and his wife’s relationship is quite damaged as their sex life has dwindled into nothing (due to the pain of Alex’s wounds–the left side of his body is missing an eye, a forearm and leg,) and they both cannot emotionally deal with one another thanks to Alex’s drunkennes. Rick and Alex’s wife are obviously smitten with one another, or at least lust after one another, however Alex’s wife continually denies Rick’s advancements. While some of these scenes are good they don’t carry as much as the aforementioned scenes with Rick and Alex. And the scenes where Rick finally does become intimate with her drag on for way too long. One could argue that their sex scene has to go on and on in order to capture the discomfort Alex’s wife has in betraying her husband, but the surrounding scenes with the two (the minutes before and after they have sex) are far too bloated and plod along ever so slowly.

Another flaw comes with Rick’s character and his not going to the police to tell them about seeing Cord. Even though he wants to protect himself I just couldn’t by his possible reasoning for not claiming that he witnessed Cord. It just didn’t seem all that believable that he wouldn’t want to say anything because the audience isn’t given enough reason behind his motivations. This reeks of the screenwriter trying to push the plot forward by disregarding reality, which is kind of frustrating to watch.

But the script’s greatest problem comes at the end (warning: spoilers! skip this paragraph and the next if you don’t like spoilers!!!) At the end, after Alex has blackmailed Cord, Cord fucking burns his house down with his wife in it. Rick suggests that maybe his wife burned the house down on her own after Rick left her alone (he basically admits to having an affair to Alex at this point,) but it’s obvious that Rick is just lying to Alex and himself for it’s apparent that Cord was responsible. So, Rick and Alex infiltrate a party being held at Cord’s mansion. Rick thinks that Alex is just going to negotiate with him, but then he learns that Alex is going to straight-up murder the dude. This leads into a few chases with Cord’s security chasing Alex and Rick around. Rick is caught and is confronted by Cord (the first time he is shown up close and speaks) while Alex commandeers a horse from Cord’s stable. This is where the movie decides to drop right off the cliff. Alex rides along the side of the pool (or I should say, a stuntman wearing the world’s worst hairpiece) and then launches himself through Cord’s office window where Rick and Cord are. This scene is so over-the-top, doesn’t fit with the rest of the film’s tone and borders on comedic–if it were in another film it would have been amazing, but here it’s just jarring. I know Alex is supposed to be self-destructive and obsessive and this scene was supposed to culminate with all of that, but come on!

Then Rick goes to tend to Alex, but Alex dies due to the broken glass (I guess) after handing him the gun. Rick looks up and fires in Cord’s direction (Cord is shot off-screen). The End. What’s weird about all this is how the ending is both over-the-top nonsense and anti-climatic at the same time, what with Alex’s shenanigans and Rick just plainly shooting Cord (we don’t even get to see Cord dying!) One of my friends, whom I was watching the film with, came-up with an even better ending where there’s ambiguity as to whether Cord really was the killer, yet Alex murders him anyway out of spite for what he represents, not for what definitely did, and then the aftermath. This would have been a more poetic ending and would have also fit better with the movie’s themes, but the filmmakers seemed like they didn’t know how the end the movie so they just ended it…with that, nearly ruining what could have been something pretty good.

Unfortunately, Cutter’s Way, is another film that could have been so much more, but it’s still pretty decent. However, it still contains some depth which makes it a more engaging watch than the fucking schlock that Hollywood is pumping out these days like Think Like a Man Too! Who wants to see that bunch of slop! Am I right?!? Guys?!?!

Oh wait, there’s this one scene I forgot to mention. Early on in the movie, Alex is super-drunk and plows another car out of his driveway, pushing it into his neighbor’s front lawn. The neighbors are, predictably, furious at such hooliganry and call the cops. While the cops come Alex heads back into his house and drinks some mouthwash (this shows how smart Alex is–he is masking his breathe whilst still sating his alcohol addiction!) He comes out and talks to the police officer in the most civil way possible, but in a way that’s entirely believable. The cop sympathizes with Alex and only writes him off a ticket for an expired license. This scene is great because it shows that, despite his convictions, Alex is a hypocrite for he doesn’t take responsibility for a crime he committed, choosing to weasel his way out instead. Despite his pursuing of justice he is more interested in seeking revenge–the man is entirely selfish, even though the audience can sympathize with him, just like the cop.

So I guess I would recommend this movie, despite its being overlong, for the few scenes that contain some great depth and dialogue.

247 °F (2011) – Movie Review

247 °F, directed by Levan Bakhira and Beqa Jguburia, is one of those movies that had the potential to be an incredibly stupid B-movie. After learning the premise of the film, a suspense thriller about three people getting trapped in a sauna, I anticipated the movie to be complete dreck. Fortunately, the film turned out to be actually decent, with some nice suspense and attempts at characterization.

The first twenty minutes are dedicated to boring expository scenes necessary to establish what needs to be established: Jenna (played by Scout Taylor-Compton) survives a car accident that killed her boyfriend. Three years later she is still traumatized, depressive and taking pills. To help push her out of her bubble a friend Renee (Christina Ulloa) insists that she stay with her and her boyfriend, Michael (Michael Copon) and his friend Ian (Travis Van Winkle) who takes an interest in Jenna, in a cabin for a weekend getaway. The cabin is owned by Ian’s cool uncle Wade (Tyler Mane) who smokes pot and lives a drive away. As Renee’s and Michael’s relationship starts turning sour due to Michael getting more and more wasted, Ian tries to flirt and converse with the reluctant Jenna. They drink, smoke weed, etc. and talk about going to a party that’s nearby. These scenes, while kind of dull, are actually alright compared to similar films as the writing and acting is better than average. At this point I was somewhat surprised but was just waiting for it all to start going downhill.

So they soon decide to check out the gas-powered sauna in the cabin that Ian’s pot-smoking uncle built. This is where I was expecting the movie to falter in some terrible schlock that I can laugh at. Eventually, after the drunk Michael has a fight with Renee he leaves the three who stay and sizzle in the sauna. Moments later, Ian tries to open the door but seems to be unable to. They quickly realize that they are trapped in what is perhaps the world’s most poorly-built sauna as there is no way to shut-off the heat from the inside. What makes 247 °F better than most films of its genres (and how it exceeded my expectations) is how the characters handle the situation. Ian, as established before, is actually quite well-read and seemingly intelligent as he tries to assess their situation without panicking (at least at first.) The two others that are trapped as well, Jenna and Renee, suggest that they break the tiny window, but Ian points out that the cool air that would come in as a result might be detected by the sauna’s thermostat and the heat will continue to rise within the sauna. But he eventually breaks the glass so that they could get more air and so that Ian can try to figure out if they can somehow move whatever’s blocking the sauna door. So what makes this particular movie stand out is that the characters aren’t completely stupid and thus annoying to watch. However, I wondered why Ian didn’t just take the heating rocks out, either with the towels or the wooden spoon, from the wire basket and let them cool, then block the gas valve. Some posters on the Imdb forums even thought of this as well, but maybe when one is in that kind of situation, mentally debilitated by the increasing heat, it’s understandable to be unable to think of a reasonable solution. Regardless, it’s still refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t try to build its suspense and horror from the dumb actions of its characters.

Another thing that works to the film’s advantage is that all of the film’s drama and conflict seems to be the result of human fallibility, rather than from some sinister force, psychosis, or madness. From Ian’s uncertainty as to whether removing the sauna’s thermostat is a good idea or not, to Michael’s accidentally jamming the door, and to Wade for thinking he can build a sauna on his own. Another thing that is also interesting is Ian flipping-out toward the end of the film as opposed to Jenna who becomes the more level-headed one in the moment. One would expect Jenna to be mentally worse than Ian, who was the most rational for a while, in that situation. This sort of reminds me of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia where the mentally unstable character is better able to rationally deal with incoming doom than her sister, who before was the more “normal” character. But a slight problem does arise out of this, as the audience isn’t surprised (and were probably expecting) Jenna to become the “hero”. This is like in Jack the Reaper where the audience just knows that the girl who was molested by her father would survive. I should also mention that when Ian finally does go nuts it ends up being pretty fucking hilarious, rather than terrifying.

So yeah…not a bad film. Not great by any means as there are some scenes that seem to drag, killing some of the tension, but still, I was sweating so much that it made my seat wet! Get it? Because the movie’s about a sauna. So the “reveal” that Michael was the one that trapped the other characters in a stove, and unintentionally, was supposed to be a surprise. But when Renee and Michael are arguing and Michael stumbles away I already knew that he was the one that was going to cause all the shit, and that he wasn’t expecting to as well because there would be little reason for him to block the door on purpose even though he was pissed-off and disappointed by his girlfriend. Other than that the movie is alright. Did I mention it’s based on true events? That’s pretty crazy ain’t it, except for the minor deviations from reality, like the fact that the sauna was actually electric-powered and that they were able to switch off the heat. But other than that this shit really happened!

247 °F is a decent B-movie that might be worth watching if nothing else is on or if you’re hankering for something suspenseful that isn’t total garbage. But be warned, the characters won’t be the only ones sweating! Wait, I already used that joke. Shit. Um…you’ll have a blistering good time! Yep, that’ll do just fine.

Shadow People (2013) – Movie Review

Like Jack the Reaper, this is a horror movie with a potentially interesting premise but instead settles for mediocrity; at least Shadow People isn’t nearly as bad as Jack the Reaper but it is also a dull ride. The main problem is with Matthew Arnold’s screenplay (he also directed.) When reading a synopsis for the movie one would expect something more intriguing, but Arnold unfortunately doesn’t do anything with the ideas present in the film and instead presents a mostly-standard, competently-made horror/thriller. 

The movie is about Charlie Crowe (Dallas Roberts,) a radio talk show host discussing topics relating to the paranormal. In contrast to the callers he receives on his show Crowe is a skeptic. But he soon gets involved investigating the suspicious death of one of his callers whose paranoia about shadowy creatures that kill during the night might be justified. From here the movie gets predictable for we know that Crowe is destined to become a believer and soon be obsessed by what he discovers about the “Shadow People” as he probes deeper into the conspiracy. There are also other familiar tropes such as the fact that Crowe is divorced and has a hard time connecting with his son. Such bland characterization may have worked if it were presented more interestingly to the viewer, same with the entire plot, it also doesn’t help that Roberts simply isn’t a good actor. It’s good that he doesn’t feel the need to over-emote, but at the same time he doesn’t seem to be his character but rather vacantly occupy his role. While this approach may have been desired for the character is supposed to be detached but it doesn’t really work. 

Perhaps the most unique element about the film is that the bulk of the action is seemingly recreated, as in the film implies that the events have actually happened and that the movie mostly consists of reenactments as if this is an extended episode of a show on Discovery or the History Channel. We get “real-life” footage of Charlie Crowe (who looks nothing like the actor in the reenactment) as well as talking-heads and interviews with witnesses. Of course these sections are fictional as well but are purposely presented as real in order to ground the events of the film in real-life, thus making the phenomena of “shadow people” in the realm of possibility. This is an interesting gimmick and it reminds me of movies like Paranormal Activity or various horror movies that introduce themselves with a “Based on a True Story” disclaimer. These sections are also done well and the acting is actually pretty decent and believable. Unfortunately, they are spliced within the film haphazardly, either letting long stretches of time go without a real-life witness confirming the events, or stuffing a bunch of footage and information into one area with little reason. 

The other technical aspects such as the camerawork aren’t bad, but aren’t good either and don’t exactly illicit much in the scare department unless you’re easily frightened by shadows. The titular baddies themselves are CGI creations and I doubt they would inspire much more than a yawn from the viewer. Perhaps the most successful and effective tool used is the lighting which manages to create a creepy atmosphere to the film. 

Overall, this movie isn’t nearly as bad as Jack the Reaper but it is nowhere near good as well. Story-wise it doesn’t deviate too far from the template thus making it too uninteresting and predictable to make it effective in creating a good scare, but if the movie had better cinematography then the movie could have been saved, if only somewhat. The acting, aside from Roberts is all around decent, but nothing great. This is just a below-average horror flick that could have been something greater if Arnold would have done something more with his interesting concept. Meh.