Film Review: In the Blood (dir by John Stockwell)


Do you remember Haywire?

Haywire was an action film that came out in 2011.  It briefly got a lot of attention because it starred MMA fighter Gina Carano in her feature film debut and it was directed by Steven Soderbergh.  I have to admit that I didn’t care much for Haywire.  Some of that is because Gina Carano herself didn’t seem to be a very good actress but my main issue with the film was with Steven Soderbergh.  Don’t get me wrong — I know that Soderbergh can be a genius.  However, he’s also a remarkably pretentious filmmaker.  Sometimes that pretension works, like with The Girlfriend Experience.  But, in the case of Haywire, all the pretension served to do was to make a thin story even more annoying.

John Stockwell, on the other hand, is a director who is the very opposite of pretentious.  Whereas Soderbergh often makes genre films that try too hard to be art, Stockwell makes genre films that are so unapologetic about being genre that they often become art despite themselves.  Stockwell may never be as acclaimed as Soderbergh but, on the whole, he’s a much more consistent filmmaker.

Take In The Blood for instance.  In the Blood came out earlier this year, got thoroughly mediocre reviews, and disappeared from theaters pretty quickly.  When I watched it last night, I had very low expectations.

But you know what?

In the Blood isn’t bad.

In fact, it’s a perfectly entertaining and, ultimately, rather empowering film.

In In The Blood, Gina Carano plays Ava.  Ava, we quickly learn, has led a difficult life.  Raised in extreme poverty by a father who taught her early how to fight and how to defend herself, Ava is a former drug addict.  When she goes to rehab, she meets and falls in love with fellow addict Derek (Cam Gigandet).  Once they’re both clean, Ava and Derek marry despite the concerns of Derek’s wealthy father (Treat Williams).

For their honeymoon, Derek and Ava go to the type of Caribbean island where bad things always happen in movies like In The Blood.  They meet Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova), who agrees to be their guide on the island.  One night, Manny takes them out to a club where Ava ends up getting into a huge fight with literally everyone on the dance floor, including a local gangster played by Danny Trejo.  The next morning, Manny takes them zip lining but Derek ends up plunging from the zip line and crashing down to the ground below.  He’s rushed to the hospital where he promptly vanishes.

Despite being ordered to return to America by police chief Luis Guzman, Ava is determined to figure out what has happened to her husband and she’s willing to beat up the entire island to do it…

Obviously inspired (much like almost every other low-budget action film released over the past few years) by Taken, In The Blood is a familiar but enjoyable burst of pulp fiction.  As opposed to Soderbergh’s approach to Haywire, Stockwell doesn’t worry about trying to disguise the genre roots of In The Blood.  Instead, he simply tells the story and he tells it well.  In The Blood is a film that’s full of beautiful island scenery, villainous character actors, and enjoyable melodramatic dialogue.  The pace never falters and the action is exciting.  In a few years, the club fight scene will be remembered as a classic of action cinema.

And best of all, Gina Carano kicks ass!  In The Blood gives her a chance to show what she can actually do when she has a director who is willing to get out of her way.  As opposed to Haywire, where she often seemed to get lost amongst all of Soderbergh’s showy techniques, Gina Carano gives a confident and determined performance in In The Blood.  After having to sit through countless action films where every female character is either a victim or a pawn, there is something so wonderful about seeing a movie where a woman gets to do something more than whimper and beg.  Regardless of how predictable the film’s plot may be, the fact that it’s a woman — as opposed to a man — who is getting to kick ass (and look good while doing it!) serves to make In The Blood something of a minor masterpiece of the pulp imagination.

If nothing else, In The Blood shows that sometimes it’s best to keep things simple.

Guilty Pleasure No. 12: Pandorum (dir. Christian Alvart)

pandorum_posterSometimes a really bad film just does enough to push my buttons to actually make me like it. One such film was 2009’s scifi=thriller Pandorum.

The film was one of those that had some hype behind it prior to the film’s release. It had a nice marketing angle which included some very disturbing biomechanical imagery that harkened back to classic H.R. Giger artwork from both Alien and Dune. The film even had an interesting premise which was about a mental affliction caused by long exposure to space travel called “Pandorum”.

When the film finally came out to say that it bombed would be quite an understatement. While the ideas behind the film were interesting enough the overall execution of said ideas were haphazard at best and unimaginative at it’s worst. There’s nothing worst than a B-movie trying to stand out from the dregs and failing because it’s dull and boring. Yet, despite all that I’ve been fascinated by Pandorum ever since I’ve caught it on video.

German director Christian Alvart might be lacking some style in his direction of the film, but the cast itself manages to work their damnedest to make the film work. Ben Foster does his usual twitching performance where we don’t know if he’s about to go psycho on everyone around him or just curl up in the corner and start sobbing like a newborn. Dennis Quaid chews the scenery so much in every scene he’s in that his work in the film almost comes off as performance art.

Even the idea that people who were gentically-enhanced to adapt and evolve to their surroundings was a new one. The film even goes further by making the foundation of rapid evolution come from the ship itself. All the cannibalism involved just added that grindhouse touch to the proceedings.

The one thing that really brings me back to watching this film as one of my many guilty pleasure’s was this was the first film that introduced the world to Antje Traue. She’s better known as one of the few good things to come out of Man of Steel. Even in this first feature film for Antje Traue we already see examples of how much a badass she can be. It’s a shame that the film around her wasn’t better.

Pandorum never improves with each repeat viewing, but it doesn’t get worst either. It just straddles that fine line where one or two things changed for the better would’ve made it a good film. But for the life of me I have no idea why I like it and continue to watch it. Sometimes even bad films will push enough of the requisite buttons for people to like it and this film certainly pushed the right ones from me.