31 March 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: MAY THE ROAD RISE EVER TO- AH, SCREW IT

So we arrive at what is, as of March, 2012, the last film in the much-derided and wholly-deridable Leprechaun franchise, and the first of the six that can be plausibly considered as an actual sequel to anything that has gone before it. I speak of 2003's Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, of course, which doesn't in fact reference 2000's Leprechaun in the Hood in any way, but also does not whatsoever contradict it or require particularly dubious fanwanking to get started, and this will have to do for a series that has previously suggested without blinking that the same villainous imp could be trapped in a North Dakota basement for a 10-year span that overlaps with the time he was in a cavern beneath tree roots in Hollywood and as the centerpiece of a rap impresario's art collection in Compton, that after exploding he could be turned into a statue with a magical necklace on it (twice), and somewhere in all of that he ends up on another planet in the future, though perhaps we can argue that Leprechaun 4: In Space, despite its numerical designation, is chronologically discontinuous with the rest of the films, and that there's room for dozens of sequels yet charting exactly how the horrid little Irish bastard left Earth to romance a space princess, and if the threatened 2013 reboot doesn't do exactly that, I will consider myself ill-used by Lionsgate.

Anyway, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood, the first little glimmer of continuity in the whole franchise. I imagine that there's at least a chance your reaction to that title is about the same as mine: your pupils widen, your tongue dries up a little bit, you cock your head ever so slightly, and your look is halfway between "oh, so that's what's been stinking up the refrigerator" and "wait, how can you tell a rattlesnake from a cicada?" Well, fear not, my idealised reader and compatriot in being vaguely threatened by the existence of a thing called Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood! In cold, probing fact, it's actually one of the best films in the franchise, which is one of the nastiest compliments you could pay a movie, sure, but it remains that this is nearer to the best-case scenario indicated by that name than the worst-case. I am agnostic on the question of which of the two Hood movies is superior: In the Hood is far more of a credible horror movie and generally treats the leprechaun with more respect, while Back 2 tha Hood has a more appealing protagonist and looks like it cost a whole lot more; both of them are more effectively funny that nearly anything else in the franchise, and both are kind of racist, but Back 2 tha Hood - fun game, every time you type it, your soul dies a little bit more! - is considerable less misogynist, and that may well end up being the tiebreaker, particularly because the film also lacks the unpleasantly surreal sight of Warwick Davis, in full leprechaun costume and with his unconvincing Irish brogue largely intact, rapping about a "lep in the hood, come to do no good".

In this film, we finally learn the secret history of how the leprechaun came to be, because insanely, it's apparently not just "leprechauns are greedy fucks who will kill the holy living shit out of you for stealing their gold". It seems that 2000 years ago, the King (of Ireland? Then they're off by about 600 years) was anxious to protect his gold from his many enemies, and called spirits out of the earth to be his guardians; after his death, all of these earth spirits returned... save one, and he grew corrupt and evil with the passage of centuries. For those keeping score at home, no, this has absolutely nothing to do with genuine Irish folklore, it's hard to square with the other five movies, and it absolutely smashes the notion that the discordant continuity in the franchise can be massaged out by saying that they're actually five different leprechauns, all of them coincidentally played by Warwick Davis; because if there's really and truly just one, then the gnarl I pointed out up above really does just sit there and stare at us, daring us to make a gram of sense out of any of it. But the history is related in a swell little animated sequence that looks like cartoon woodcarving, so it's all cool, even if the same exact material shows up in a far more narratively satisfying way about two-thirds into the movie.

So, our Last of the Leprechauns, having built a rap empire in Compton at the end of the last film, has apparently not become any nicer for it; when we meet him, he's hunting down a man of the cloth, Father Jacob (Willie C. Carpenter); it seems that the father stole some of the leprechaun's gold to finance the construction of a youth center, holding to the common low-grade ghettosploitation movie notion that it only takes one earnest reverend and a shiny new youth center to save all the teens in the area from drugs, gang violence, prostitution, and death in prison. Jacob will not get a chance to test his theory; though he succeeds in praying the leprechaun into hell with the aid of clover-infused holy water, the exertion gives him a heart attack and he dies on the spot. Because heart attacks are terrific ways to kill off the cast in a horror movie.

One year later, a group of teenagers bemoan the sorry state of their neighborhood since Father Jacob's passing: since we'll need to know who they are, it's fair to name them, although the movie itself will not do so for a good while. Emily (Tangi Miller) is our obvious Final Girl - the first Leprechaun movie to have a Final Girl since the very first one, no less - a resentful salon employee just trying to scrape together enough money to go to school at Kansas State; "the only [vernacular word meaning "brown-skinned person" derived from the Spanish negro] in Kansas!" cackle her unsupportive co-workers, kicking off a cavalcade of N-bombs that are frankly rather uncomfortable-making for this white critic, though writer-director Steven Ayromlooi is presumably not white (though where exactly his surname hails from, I can't quite figure out), unlike In the Hood's Rob Spera, and this at least knocks some of the ickiness off of it. The impression we get, anyway, is that Emily wants to go to Whiteland U.S.A. because it is the furthest possible thing from her current surroundings (which are never stated outright to be Compton, or even L.A.), and given the way she's treated, it's not hard to understand why. Her friends are Lisa (Sherrie Jackson), who isn't given much in the way of a personality beyond "likable", and Jamie (Page Kennedy), a grimacing nightmare from a marijuana-themed minstrel show who, I am thrilled to report, drifts to the sidelines almost the instant the plot itself kicks off. There's also, kind of, Rory (Laz Alonso, who managed to scramble his way to something like a real career after this movie), Emily's former boyfriend, now on the outs since he's turned to drug-dealing to make a career for himself.

The first 20 minutes and some establish, with unusual effectiveness for a direct-to-video horror-comedy, the personalities and dreams of the four principals, insofar as they have personalities and dreams, and then Emily falls into a hole right where the leprechaun last appeared; she explores around while Rory looks for a way to get her out, and in the process finds a chest of ancient gold coins. Stealing this from their subterranean hidey-hole turns out to be all it takes to revive the leprechaun - and was not Emily warned away from this exact possibility by the mysterious local psychic (Donzaleigh Abernathy) - and he sets about retrieving all of his treasure, though the foursome, having split the gold into equal quarters, have already spent enough by the time this happens that he's too busy chasing down loose ends at first to really focus on the actual thieves.

It sort of writes itself, really; and in another life, I might be inclined to call Back 2 tha Hood lazy and unbearable clichéd horror filmmaking that cares so little about itself that calling it "horror" is really little more than an honorific; this takes from In Space the dubious title of the most overtly comic Leprechaun movie. But in this life, I have seen the depths to which Leprechaun films can sink, and the mere facts that B2TH is entirely coherent in its storytelling, has reasonably well-defined characters, and some of the comedy actually lands in the vicinity of "funny", are enough to dispose me towards it; not to mention that the shot-on-video boom of the 2000s resulted in DTV horror and DTV horror-comedy so unbelievable bad that even a Leprechaun film looks decent in comparison. The horror movie fancier quickly learns the value of grading on a curve, and by 2003 standards, this is, if not exactly decent, surely not so terrible as to merit much comment on that front.

It's still got plenty of problems, above and beyond being a tepid horror-comedy; chief among them is that Ayromlooi doesn't really have much of a sense of what to do with the leprechaun, and the result is only the second time in six films where he doesn't speak in irritating rhymes, which was always pretty much the only thing separating him from Freddy Krueger; that trickles into Davis's performance, too, and in the end B2TH has the worst leprechaun business of any Leprechaun film. And this can be fairly considered a crippling flaw. But I'll say this: crippling flaws and all, the film didn't make me feel sorry for every decision I've ever made in my whole life, and in that respect it is a improvement over Leprechaun 3. Grading on a curve, folks. Sometimes it's all that stands between you and a howling abyss of Lovecraftian madness.

Body Count: 10 is a fairly absolute number, and that is already the series record; but there are also 2 other figures who almost certainly die, but they're thrown off-screen so thoughtlessly that I wouldn't swear to it in a court of law. As for what happens to the leprechaun himself, I am not quite willing to pull the trigger on calling it a death, but it's right on the knife's edge.

Reviews in this series
Leprechaun (Jones, 1993)
Leprechaun 2 (Flender, 1994)
Leprechaun 3 (Trenchard-Smith, 1995)
Leprechaun 4: In Space (Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
Leprechaun in the Hood (Spera, 2000)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (Ayromlooi, 2003)

29 March 2012

SUCH A JEALOUS GUY

The easiest, and indeed most accurate, way to describe Footnote would make it sound like an absolute chore: an Israeli family dramedy about a father and son pair of feuding Talmudic scholars, recently nominated for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar. If you are anything like me, the only word in that description that was appealing on any level was "Israeli", but the nasty little secret is that Footnote is actually a pretty worthwhile movie, with a first half frivolous enough that it's not as ghastly sentimental as it seems like it could be, and with a second half brittle enough that it's not as frivolous as it was when it started out. And the Talmud angle ends up being more of a prop with thematic resonance than an actual mainspring of the plot, which is a relief to those of us whose knowledge of, and interest in the Talmud hovers somewhere down there around "nonexistent".

The film opens with middle-aged Prof. Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) being inducted into the Israel Acadamy of Sciences and Humanities, to the great acclaim of his family and colleagues except for one man: his father, Prof. Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba), like his son a researcher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with an unbending notion of traditionalism and what Talumdic research ought to be that has kept him on the sidelines for most of his career. As we learn, the particular moment that pushed Eliezer into obscurity was when his decades-long analysis of texts, with an eye to reconstructing a now-lost document of the Talmud in an earlier state, was scooped by his bitterest professional and personal rival, Prof. Grossman (Michah Lewensohn), who found the actual physical text that Eliezer was trying to reconstruct almost completely by chance.

Things start to look up for the old man when he is called and informed that he has been voted the recipient of the Israel Prize, a major recognition that his life's work has been considered valuable by his peers; and this balances out the jealousy between father and son, until that selfsame Grossman brings Uriel in to explain a terrible mistake has been made: the committee - headed by Grossman - had voted in favor Uriel receiving the prize, and only a fairly inevitable series of basic human mistakes led to his father getting the call. The son is immediately terrified that this news will break the last of his father's vitality, and so he begins to fight for the committee to officially change their minds, right up to the point that a now-cocky Eliezer gives an interview where he claims, in essence, that people like his son and the rest of the Talmud department at Hebrew University are superficial, intellectually un-rigorous, and their reduction of the Talmud to soap opera questions of personalities is contemptible anti-research.* This naturally causes a bit of strain in the already-borderline father/son relationship.

The first marvelous thing about Footnote is its fleet tonal jumps: in the beginning, it is a sharp character-driven comedy that drifts so subtly into farce that you never notice it until the immensely funny scene between Uriel and the prize committee, a delectable exercise in chamber comedy and mocking stuck-up bureaucrats and keeping all sorts of absurdities in the air for the longest time possible. And then, about three-quarters through, the film is all of a sudden a rather dark study in the widening gulf between a father and son, precipitated by exactly the thing that was supposed to bring them together: for without ever stating it overtly, it's clear that Uriel went into Talmudic studies first to win his distant father's love and approval, and still as a grown man with his own family, wants to use the Talmud as the bridge between Eliezer and himself, rather than the wedge it invariably becomes. That's hard stuff, and the fact that it's mostly ushered in under a veil of comedy makes it all the harder.

Writer-director Joseph Cedar (of another Oscar-nominated film, Beaufort) is in magnificent form here, not merely navigating the sudden lurch from fluffy comedy to sober character drama so elegantly as to make the transition completely invisible, but using the lurch as the crux of his entire movie; for it is the frothy opening comedy that allows us to meet these characters and this situation without being immediately turned off by how sour it all is, while the increasing bitterness and drama is absolutely necessary to keep the whole thing from being only frothy, though truth be told, Footnote is a good enough comedy that it perhaps didn't need the jolt of aggressive realness. And that is a credit to Cedar, too, that he keeps the vaguely satiric humor as fresh and piercing for as long, and on the backs of two such impeccable characters.

For this is, ultimately, a character piece, in both its comic and serious modes, anchored by two absolutely wonderful performances from Bar-Aba and Ashkenazi. Part of the joke, and part of the social commentary, is that Uriel and Eliezer are both kind of awful people -Uriel is fatuous, pandering, and lazy, Eliezer is reactionary, judgmental, angry, and hypocritical - but the film does so much to explain why they are who they are, without necessarily forcing us to pick sides (Cedar playfully structures expository flashbacks as something like multimedia slide-shows, which not only gives the movie a blast of energy right at the beginning, but also suggests a level of objective removal from the two characters that makes it easier to seem them from all angles), that it's hard not to see what's worth liking about them in despite of their rather obvious flaws. Both actors (though especially Bar-Aba, a comedian lured back by this project after two decades away from film) play up the comic potential of the broad strokes of their characters without sacrificing the personality that makes them worth liking; in the end, one feels amused and exasperated by both men, rather like they're actually family.

Now, it is perhaps true that the title is largely prophetic, and Footnote is not destined to end up as any kind of classic in the years to come; certainly, its appeal (which is omnipresent) isn't terribly unlike that of dozens of movies in all sorts of languages every year. Funny, nasty-minded jokes; a sharp depiction of character relationships that we've all seen in a number of projects. It's a good version of something absolutely average. Somehow, that suits it; it is a movie ultimately about self-aggrandising men who don't realise that their struggles aren't remotely as world-changing as they would like to believe, and the fact that Footnote itself is no kind of life-altering experience just adds to our sense that the Shkolnik boys are puffed up about nothing. Thus we can rest certain that we're rather brighter than they are, and by extension the movie that contains them; that in turn makes it easy to feel affection for the picture, if not necessarily a whole lot more.

7/10

YEAR OF BLOOD: YOU KNOW THE LEP IS THE REAL O.G.

In the wake of Leprechaun 4: In Space, the Leprechaun series really didn't have any choice but to improve, assuming of course that in the wake of Leprechaun 4: In Space anybody still gave a shit about the franchise on any level. And initially, it seemed like nobody giving a shit was exactly the fate in store for Warwick Davis's angry little rhyming fay. The first three films in the series came out in three consecutive years, and there was only a one-year break between the third and fourth; but three years ended up going by before LF:IS was followed by Leprechaun in the Hood, and I cannot find it in me to assume that there existed a movie buff between 1997 and 2000 who was all that broken up about this turn of events, or that anyone greeted the news of the fifth film's release with a profound sense of gratefulness and relief. Because, Jesus H. Fucknuts, Leprechaun in the Hood. It's not Las Vegas or space, but that's still pretty concept-ey in the worst way possible.

But then again: the series really didn't have any choice to improve, and that's exactly what it did: I am inclined to say, all in all, that it is is the second-best film in the series up to that point, following only Leprechaun 2, which was the only previous Leprechaun film to take place in a predominately urban environment, allowing that Las Vegas is some kind of fantasy theme park nightmare that isn't actually "urban" in the sense that Los Angeles, California is, as depicted in either L2 or LITH. Perhaps there's something about the contrast between the indefatigable tweeness of the leprechaun and the griminess of the city streets; perhaps it's because Leprechaun 3 and Leprechaun 4: In Space are just so ungodly foul that the films bookending them can't help but look good in comparison, and it's just a coincidence. Regardless, Leprechaun in the Hood is a genuinely functional horror movie, and if "functional" doesn't sound like much of a compliment, that's because I never went so far as to say it's a good horror movie, but in the wake of the incomprehensible slurry of genre parody and stand-up routines that made up the fourth movie, "functional" is a breath of fresh air as warm and friendly as if this were a Dario Argento horror picture, and not a direct-to-video effort from the director of the first Witchcraft (his name is Rob Spera, though I hate to call a fella out in public for having directed both a Witchcraft and a Leprechaun picture).

After a superfluous opening scene of the leprchaun in an underground layer counting gold that exactly recalls the beginning of the first Leprechaun (nor am I certain that it's not the same footage), we arrive in the 1970s, when a young striver who will eventually go by the name of Mack Daddy Onassis (Ice-T) - because he "own[s] asses" in one of the film's piquant evocations of the pimp lifestyle - breaks into an underground room with his expendable meat buddy. Here they find a pot of gold and an ugly statue of a leprechaun wearing a gold medallion, and in their greedy haste, they snatch the medallion and bring the nasty little bastard to life - just like in Leprechaun 3, which makes the first three movies all referenced within the opening five minutes, as though continuity was suddenly a concern - though the future Mack Daddy accidentally re-seals the leprechaun into a stony tomb with the medallion. Thus armed with a huge pile of magic gold and knowledge of how to control the gold's true owner, he becomes a hip-hop impresario, and we jump ahead to the late 1990s, where a singularly dreadful rap group made up of Postmaster P (A.T. Montgomery), Stray Bullet (Rashaan Nall), and Butch (Red Grant) are trying to get their characteristic brand of anti-gangsta rap out in the world, and make life in Compton a better place with a message of tolerance, peace, and not slapping bitches up.

Their meeting with Mack Daddy goes fairly badly, but they manage in the process to steal a magic golden flute from his leprechaun pile, shoot him (not fatally, but they don't realise this fact), and free the leprechaun. Since the flute turns out to be the very device by which Mack Daddy came to rule a rap empire - it makes the listener more receptive to any kind of music you play along with it - that makes two insatiable monsters chasing our three heroes through Compton on a flute hunt, though only one of them speaks with a wobbly Irish accent that just flat out goes away in scenes when Davis has to focus on doing absolutely anything else.

It's not the most elegant set-up for what amounts to a feature-length chase scene that isn't remotely scary enough to qualify as horror (assuming the franchise even had horror as a background concern by this point), and quippy but not nearly as madcap as it would be if it were aiming for straight-up comedy; but hard on the heels of "something something space marines and also a Nazi mad scientist who's a cyborg", the straightforward simplicity of Leprechaun in the Hood is gratifying. It's a relatively tight little thriller with three characters - or at least, with Postmaster P - who are mostly human beings to root for, and for the first time in the Leprechaun franchise, a lot of the jokes actually manage to land: the most famous bit is certainly the leprechaun's philosophy about marijuana, "a friend with weed is a friend indeed; but a friend with gold is the best, I'm told", but scattered throughout are enough zingy one-liners - most of them not delivered by the leprechaun, in point of fact - that the whole thing isn't excruciating as comedy, even if it misses more than it hits.

That's probably the single best thing I can say for the film, though, which leaves a lot of room to be disappointed or outright repelled, though unlike the third and fourth entries, this film never left me with the feeling that I was being punished for something. The worst thing about it - or the most shocking in its badness, anyway - is that Warwick Davis is honestly just not much good in it, and that's after being the unequivocal best part of all four prior movies. Partially it's because he's given precious little to do, and a lot of that is outrageously stupid: in the back half of the film, he's set himself up as a pimp, meaning that Davis is obliged to play offensive stereotypes of two entirely separate cultures. But he does seem a bit tired, reciting gold jokes for yet another movie, or barreling through an insufferable, ostensibly comic rap at the end.

Beyond that, the acting is largely ephemeral: Ice-T is neither terribly good nor terribly bad in the context of all rappers-turned-actors, while the three protagonists are mostly underwritten. And of course, a film called Leprechaun in the Hood isn't exactly setting itself up to be a model of sociological insight, but there's a definitely middle-aged white guy vibe to the whole affair, depicting urban hip-hop culture with what I am certain the bevy of writers (five all told, of whom only Spera had any previous experience) thought was sympathy, but which looks more like the uncomprehending reduction of black people to the most basic sort of cartoons, possibly with an intellectual out in the form of "we're parodying blaxploitation!", which might be the only possible defense by which Mack Daddy Ownasses is even marginally acceptable as a character name. And that's not touching on the horrifying depiction of the Engrish-spouting Chinese shop-owner, or the film's unexpected detour to visit a drag queen.

It's not, like racist or homophobic, just sort of insensitive. It is sexist, indubitably so; other than Post's blind grandma (Bebe Drake), the significant female characters are the collective Zombie Fly Girls called up to do the leprechaun's evil bidding, while wearing very little clothing. But again, Leprechaun in the Hood. We can be offended, but surely not surprised in even the most marginal degree.

The film does absolutely nothing to hide its DTV roots; while not looking so obnoxiously cheap as Leprechaun 3, it relies on a small number of vague sets, there are only modest make-up effects, and the leprechaun himself looks a bit plasticky and threadbare; it helps that there's not so much of him (less, I think, than in any other Leprechaun film), but when he shows up he's just kind of chintzy, and not only because his dapper party-store Irish costume has never been the most compelling visual to grace a horror movie. All in all, the film neither looks nor acts like the people making it cared very much; but at least they were mostly competent. That might only count for a little bit, but it's a little bit more than the last two films could claim, and while 2000 was a better year for horror than 1995, there was still precious little good, solid horror filmmaking out there. It's not a very good film in any way, but it manages to be average, and that alone makes it a franchise standout.

Body Count: 9, flatlining from the previous movie; though an undisclosed number of women are killed offscreen, we are told; "fucked to death" by the leprechaun.

Reviews in this series
Leprechaun (Jones, 1993)
Leprechaun 2 (Flender, 1994)
Leprechaun 3 (Trenchard-Smith, 1995)
Leprechaun 4: In Space (Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
Leprechaun in the Hood (Spera, 2000)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (Ayromlooi, 2003)

28 March 2012

BEST SHOT: BONNIE AND CLYDE

To celebrate Warren Beatty's 75th birthday later this week, today's episode of Hit Me with Your Best Shot at The Film Experience takes as its subject Arthur Penn's iconic and infamous Bonnie and Clyde, a movie that I expect we've all seen, and if you haven't, it's really kind of important that you address that fact right away; it is one of the key films in the establishment of modern (post-1968) cinema.

Speaking personally, I've always found the film a touch overrated; its most exciting radicalism was really just copied over from various European movements of the 1960s - most famously the French New Wave - and as far as Penn/Beatty collaborations go, I prefer the jazzy neo-noir of 1965's Mickey One. That said, Bonnie and Clyde is obviously and even objectively a great and hugely important work of filmmaking, and one of the most visually audacious mainstream American films in its generation, so it's pretty ideal for a project like this one.

Everybody already knows that the film takes most of its cues from the Nouvelle Vague, but part of what makes the film so damn important is how it synthesises all of the visual ideas of '60s pop culture, so when I spooled up the film to look for a shot, I decided to focus on looking for a shot that demonstrates some of those other visual ideals; in particular, I recalled from my last viewing (which was at least six or seven years ago) that the film boasted a number of shots that recalled Roy Lichtenstein's famous paintings that mixed fine art with the hyper-melodrama of the comic book frame, and I wanted to hunt down one of those.

My memory was correct; what I didn't realise is how quickly I'd come across one, because my pick for Best Shot is all of three shots into the movie once the opening credits end:

All we've seen so far is Faye Dunaway's Bonnie Parker stomping around a bedroom being either angry, or frustrated, or bored; as this shot begins, she's lying on the bed, pounding at the bed frame. After a moment of this, she spins on her stomach, and strikes a pose that couldn't be more From The Pages of a comic book if it tried:



I'm not certain there's any way to make this shot "about" the whole movie, except insofar as Penn and cinematographer Burnett Guffey spend the whole film quoting this same pop vocabulary; and I might also add that the way in which Dunaway is flattened into a compositional element in this shot, rendered as a prop rather than an actress, fits in with the subtle way that the film consistently reduces the hero-villains at the center to effectively inhuman objects - the movie is frequently slagged for romanticising murderers, but the visuals throughout tell a different tale, in which these "romantic" figures are really just cardboard, even if they're being portrayed by two of the most glamorous stars of the era. I mean, look at Dunaway in those stills: Guffey has lit her to be as frankly unlovely as she's likely to get, and the actress's performance in this scene, all wrinkled brows and sullen pouts, hardly exudes "glamor".

From here, the shot ends with a zoom in to Dunaway's eyes, partially because it was '67 and zooms were a thing people did, and partially, I suspect, so we know that the Lichtenstein/Pop Art/Comic Book thing wasn't an accident, but a deliberate gesture in making the film into a treatise on the pop culture of the '30s and '60s alike.


27 March 2012

THE RULES OF THE GAMES

2012 is shaping up to be a banner year for Event Movies, and thank God for it - great cinema is nice and all, but there's something to be said for the sort of ginormous popular hit that everybody's excited to see and excited after they see it, and mostly people like it even if some people like it a lot more than others, and we can all talk about it at parties and such. Movies that are cultural moments that everybody needs to have an opinion about, I mean, and not just movies that are two hours of more or less disposable entertainment. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 certainly acted like one of these, but I think the sheer monolithic fact of the Harry Potter franchise sucked away some of the novelty; no, by my reckoning we have to go back to Avatar to find the sort of Event I'm thinking of.

My point being, we have no fewer than four such movies coming out in 2012, of which the first has just landed with a $211 million worldwide bang. I am referring, for the benefit of those living under a rock, to The Hunger Games, adapted from the first book in Suzanne Collins's young adult trilogy of thrillers set in a dystopian future. The books sold altogether well, but even that's not enough to explain the size of the splash the film made; even my notion that we as a filmgoing society have been starved for a big tentpole that isn't based on a superhero comic or an action figure for a geological epoch in pop culture time can't start to explain a number like that. But the point being: we are now living in the Hunger Games Moment, and will do so for at least a little while, and I take a considerable amount of nostalgic comfort in that thought.

It's all enough to make the movie at the center of it all seem a bit beside the point, but that is, after all, why we are gathered here. The first principle to be dealt with is the question on the mind of a thousand thousand adolescents and tweens: and no, The Hunger Games is not as good as the book. I am doubtful that it could ever, in any realistic circumstances, meet that bar, not only because Collins's novel is awfully damn good, but because of the particular ways in which it is good. For starters, the most salient element of style in the novel is that it's written in the first-person present tense, a startling and exciting decision in prose but largely redundant in film, which is already, by its nature, a present tense storytelling medium. After which, the screenwriters (Collins herself, along with Billy Ray and director Gary Ross) deal with the book's teeming exposition by nestling it in sequences that violate a strict first-person POV. In other words, merely by existing, this movie Hunger Games has already been obliged to compromise the effect of the book, and that's without touching on how it largely eschews the sociology of Collins's original, or its psychological complexity, or even its tonal nastiness.

That said, the movie on its own terms is an entirely likable thriller, if a bit light on intelligence and personality - but then, this was always the danger once Ross came on board as a director; he is notable more for making entirely fine movies than particularly good movies (Pleasantville and Seabiscuit make up the other two legs of his directorial canon), and in this context, it was pretty clear that his involvement represented a desire to not seriously fuck anything up than to provide a real directorial personality. He's not quite as anonymous and shallow as Chris Columbus was behind the camera of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, so let us at least be grateful for that.

The film takes place long enough in the future that North America has degenerated into a nation called "Panem", twelve rural/industrial districts ruled by the iron fist of a central capitol, whose primary external sign of power is the annual Hunger Games, a televised deathmatch in which 24 persons between 12 and 18 years of age - one girl and one boy from each district - enter an arena and don't leave until only one person is still alive. In this, the 74th Hunger Games, District 12 - the mining center that was once Appalachia - sends a stone-cold 16-year-old hunter named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers to saver her 12-year-old sister, and infinitely less stone-cold 16-year-old baker's son Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, a profoundly vanilla-flavored young actor who officially as of now has the best agent in the history of cinema). It's more of a fable, really, than an actual narrative; when you sit down and actually work out how much happens in the story, it seems faintly ludicrous that it stretches out to 2 hours and 22 minutes. And yet there's never really any lag, mostly because of how successfully the filmmakers dramatise the process of preparing for the Games, and then because survivalist action cinema is pretty damn hard to screw up, certainly if one is as blithely competent as Gary Ross.

Theoretically, this is a commentary on an America dulled by reality television, as well as a parable for the age of the 99%, though cautiously denuded of politics just enough that both Tea Partiers and Marxists can see "their" side in Katniss. In practice, the book was already a bit less willing to scurry down that rabbit hole than it could have been, and the movie scales things back even farther: there's simply not enough time to cover everything required to leave a coherent plot (which is only barely done: it passes the test that Harry Potter largely failed for functioning as a stand-alone narrative, though a few details are glossed over or not explained at all), and the cultural context of the material, as well as the psychology of anyone who isn't Katniss, is the first victim of compression; even Katniss herself is more of a reactive than an active hero in this version of the scenario, though an extraordinarily well-cast Jennifer Lawrence, essentially reprising her Winter's Bone character relocated to The Running Man, plays up Katniss's hard edges enough that she seems to be stronger than is necessarily the case on-paper. Lawrence isn't entirely alone in giving a good performance - the cast is too well-stocked with fey Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones and icy Donald Sutherland and heavily made-up Wes Bentley for that to be the case, though only Elizabeth Banks as an outwardly venal but obviously rattled Capitol lackey really wowed me - but the film does live or die based on the performance she gives, so it's lucky for all concerned that she's as marvelously granite as is the case.

What makes The Hunger Games really click, though, has nothing to do with its script or ideas or characters (which is a shame), but with its terrific world-building in the first act, and some really excellent action directing in the second. To start with, the film is a marvel of design: the costumes, make-up, and set design all work in perfect tandem to describe a society contrasted between the grimy, worn-out Appalachian hell of District 12, and the tacky Capitol, an effectively unimprovable depiction of a culture that has rotted on its own decadence to the point that only increased circus-like showmanship can possibly impress anybody. Post-apocalypse and dystopian films have been playing the "In the totalitarian future, everyone is a low-class drag queen" card since at least Mad Max 2, but rarely if ever has that approach been so suited to the future world being depicted as it is here.

As for the film's treatment of the Hunger Games themselves, it's a more than credible example PG-13 action that only occasionally yearns to be more violent - I have seen people making the same complaint and then admit that they're being just a prurient as the sick folks of the Capitol, but I'd counter that the more nauseating and harsh violence in cinema is, the more we feel it, and the harder it is to watch; as exhibit A, there is a certain character's death-by-spear that literally made me put the book down for a moment because it was so upsetting, and in the film is just sanitised enough to not really register - but is mostly quite brutal and grim, doing right by the book while impressing upon the viewer the gravity and danger of what we're watching. Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern use a hard, contrasty style marked with lots and lots (and lots and lots) of hand-held camerawork, and in the beginning, when there is not lots of death and mayhem going on, I wanted to scream a little bit for it to stop. But then we get to the part where it actually works to amp up the sense of danger and confusion, and though it is by no means the part of the story that best deserves highlighting, there's no question that the film does an excellent job of bringing the Games themselves to grueling life.

None of this leads us up to, "and that's why it's a great movie!", because it's not. It's a divertissement laced with just enough acid that it feels like there's something deeper to it than is the case in the hard light of day. But it is a nifty thriller, entertaining without feeling particularly stupid, and it looks terrific. That might not be worth a record-setting box-office take, but franchises have started from worse places.

6/10

26 March 2012

LAWS, SAUSAGES, AND CORPORATE ANIMATION

In the late 1990s, noted English music artist Sting was hired by Walt Disney Feature Animation to write the songs for a new film the studio was developing, titled Kingdom of the Sun. He agreed, including the small proviso that his wife, movie producer Trudie Styler, be allowed to tag along to make a documentary about the process of writing an animated musical. Disney acquiesced, and Styler made her directorial debut alongside her regular collaborator John-Paul Davidson with The Sweatbox, named for the screening room where Disney animators show their works-in-progress to the executives and other moneymen.

And that is where things stopped for a long, long time. The Sweatbox premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival, and Disney managed to snatch it up and shove it deep into the same cubbyhole where they keep the last surviving prints of Song of the South and the frames of Sunflower the black centaurette from Fantasia. As will happen when an artifact seen by virtually no-one is clamped down upon, the film started to accrue myths and legends: mostly of the "it makes post-Renaissance Disney look like a pit of monstrously stupid whores" variety, undoubtedly encouraging Disney to clamp down even harder.

Then, for about two days from 20 March to 22 March, 2012, the damn thing just showed up on YouTube (and on the 23rd, legendary animator Glen Keane resigned from Disney, which is probably a coincidence, but an enjoyable one). And since I am surrounded by kindly readers who know that I have some small affection for Disney animation, a small cluster of people made sure I was aware of this fact, though in the end I had to acquire it from another kindly reader who desires to stay anonymous. And now, thanks to all of these individuals, I can review it for the rest of you: the notorious, infamous, Disney-bashing The Sweatbox.

Or not. Really, I'm a bit confused why the company is so freaked out by this: it's only marginally more salacious than Waking Sleeping Beauty, Disney's in-house documentary about its legacy of missteps and fuck-ups, and all in all, it's as evenhanded, fair, and insightful as a movie, co-directed by Sting's wife, about Sting getting shafted by a massive entertainment corporation could ever hope to be. Better yet, it's perhaps the most inquisitive and detailed look at the process of making an animated movie that has ever been assembled, coming as it does from an outside perspective and freed of the requirement of Disney's own making of specials and DVD featurettes to pull extra duty as propaganda and advertisement. It is, for the most part, a film about a process; a uniquely torturous process, even by the often chaotic standards of filmmaking-by-committee, but a process that ultimately did do the thing it was set up for, whatever any of the rest of us might think of it morally or aesthetically.

For those not in the know: Kingdom of the Sun eventually saw release as The Emperor's New Groove in the 2000 holiday movie season, making very little money along the way, though it was by no means an exceptionally explosive bomb by the standards of early-'00s Disney animation. The story of how a serio-comic period musical riffing on The Prince and the Pauper in pre-Columbian Peru turned into a zany buddy comedy drawing more from the Warner and UPA stylistic grab-bags than anything in Disney's own history is the bulk of the film's subject, and Styler and Davidson can count themselves lucky for being among those documentarians who happened to be standing still while an extraordinary movie happened all around them, although Styler perhaps does not count herself lucky for having to share a home with Sting while all of this was happening.

The broad outlines of the story have been there to be known by those as are interested ever since 2000: director Roger Allers, who had taken the flailing production of King of the Jungle and brought the unprecedented blockbuster The Lion King out of the scraps, was developing an epic story of history and life based on the day/night cycle, and it was to be as earnest and serious as any Disney film had ever been, spiked with a cackling, comic villain played by Eartha Kitt and genial, wisecracking protagonists played by David Spade and Owen Wilson. The under-performance of Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules right in a row had put the fear into the higher-ups that full musicals and (for the first two) "serious" animated films were too shaky at the box office to justify keeping them in the pipeline, and it became increasingly clear that the movie Allers was making wasn't the movie that Animation division president Peter Schneider and his second in command Tom Schumacher wanted; eventually, Kingdom of the Sun was forced onto a course-correction that sucked out all the seriousness and music in favor of something frivolous and fun and above all cheap, under the guidance of Allers's co-director Mark Dindal.

It's not really the point of the movie, but the glimpses we get of Kingdom of the Sun, which was quite a long way into production when shit went down, are probably the most exciting parts of it for an animation buff: Disney is notoriously tight with letting their dead ends get any public air. We don't get enough of that material in The Sweatbox to answer the question of whether Allers's dream project would have been better or worse than the movie that came out - my own opinion is that the footage looks awfully Pocahontas-ey, and I am anyway not that much of a Lion King fan and don't think Allers deserves the benefit of the doubt; beyond which, The Emperor's New Groove is one of the least-typical projects in Disney's history, with an appealing stripped-down visual style that was a requirement of the incredibly shot time the movie had in which to be put together after Kingdom of the Sun was closed down. So personally, I will side with Schneider and Schumacher in this case, and not Allers and Sting.

Be that as it may, The Sweatbox is not putting forth the argument that Disney screwed the pooch by turning an epic into a farce; it puts forth the argument that Jesus Christ, these animated movies are nightmares to put together. It is a movie about the tortured process of moviemaking, in which egos are bruised and talanted, passionate people are quietly thrown on the ash-heap by executives straining so hard to keep their grins in place, you can almost see the sweat, though for as much as Schneider and Schumacher come across as glad-handlers, Styler and Davidson certainly don't embarrass them; it's quite clear that what they want is a movie that will do better with middle American audiences than Hunchback, because it is their job to want that.

And at the same time, you really have to feel for the artists pursuing Kingdom of the Sun with all their hearts: from Allers, who takes the news of his baby's death with the taciturn nobility of a man who genuinely believes that the greater good is more important than his ambitions, to animator Andreas Deja, a round-faced German who can't even pretend to hide his sadness that his dream of making a top-notch Disney villainess cannot possibly survive in the new project (he quit the character, rather than shepherd her de-evolution into the brunt of slapstick), to Sting, who's just unbearably tired by the end of it, less complaining at the end when he says that the project has gone beyond the time he allotted for it, than he is observing the cosmic unfairness of life.

The production's transition from ambition and enthusiasm to the "OMG let's get this done now" chaos of the end is reflected in the structure of the documentary itself, which starts off as a bubbly, almost EPK-like mix of test animation and genial talking heads, until at the end Styler and Davidson seem to be intruding their camera in the faces of people who would resent it, if they had any energy left for resentment, giving it a feel about as far from promotional lightness as possible. Not that The Sweatbox is a particularly exciting piece formally, for at all turns it is clearly being driven and shaped by its content, but that content is so fascinating and indeed unique that it ends up being enough for the filmmakers simply to wrangle it into a clear shape that brings us through the three year hell with clarity if not always enough context (at a minimum, The Sweatbox needs you to have seen the finished Emperor's New Groove to be able to follow along, and knowing names like Andreas Deja, Peter Schneider, and Roy Disney outside of this film could only be useful). But it's still one of the most unvarnished and bias-free studies of American animation that I can name, whatever else it lacks in explication, and even simply as a story of an artist in one medium being thrust into the strange bureaucracy of an entirely different art form and economic world - Sting in Wonderland, if you will - The Sweatbox is a making-of documentary that legitimately deserves comparison to the masterpieces of the form, films like Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams, where the focus is on the human toll of the process and not the end result. It is shy of being a masterpiece, but an excellent depiction of the nuts and bolts of animation that in its own cocked way pays tribute to the Disney process: if a film could endure this much endless shit and still come out as a functional object, they must be doing something right. At any rate, we don't need any more reasons to bag on the Walt Disney Company for hiding artifacts that absolutely deserve to see the light of day; but of all the things I have personally watched in despite of that company's wish that I hadn't, The Sweatbox is readily the most valuable both as a leaning tool for the Disney scholar and as a movie in its own right.

25 March 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: SEMPER FI! DO OR DIE! KILL! KILL! KILL!

There is a notion with some currency out in the wide world that outer space is where horror franchises go to die; it is the modern analogue to how every Universal Studios monster series famously ended with a visit from Abbott and Costello. To a certain degree, this trend is overstated, but there are enough examples that you can't shake it, and more than once it has represented the moment at which a franchise either ground to a close or jumped off the tracks to become some new and more awful version of itself. The best that I have been able to figure out is that this began with 1992's Critters 4, that it first infected one of the relatively A-list franchises with Hellraiser: Bloodline in 1996, and that here in the second decade of the 21st Century, the most notorious example of the form is the infamous Jason X of 2001. But we are here to speak of none of those films, but of the movie which I think represents the moment at which "... in Space!" was codified as the last refuge of scoundrels (owing in no small part to the shamelessness of "...in Space" being right there in its gosh-damned title), and is almost certainly still the best-known example after Jason Voorhees's trip to the future. We are here, ladies and gentlemen, to ponder over the singularly unlovely and weird piece of cinematic detritus from 1997 that is Leprechaun 4: In Space.

The film's grotesqueries do not end with the intense and unmistakably deliberate peculiarity of taking a centuries-old Irish sprite who was last seen burning to a crisp in Las Vegas, Nevada and putting him on a planet light years away from Earth in the far-flung future (that is, according to one tossed-away line of dialogue, sometime in the 21st Century). In fact, they barely begin there; by the time the really damn peculiar stuff starts hitting, the collision of Leprechaun with direct-to-video science fiction does not even register, nor is it fair or, frankly, useful to complain about narrative continuity. That ship had sailed, run aground on rocks, sank, and been looted by castaways by the time Leprechaun 4: In Space showed its shriveled head.

What is truly special and perverse about the film is its wantonness regarding tone and genre; horror-comedy is older than sound cinema, of course, and it's been part of Leprechaun since the beginning, so the mere fact that In Space is a very silly movie and very enthusiastic about it is not at all what I refer to; and the hybridisation of horror with sci-fi is common enough that the entire spectrum of "too much horror" to "too much sci-fi" is familiar to the point where the relative paucity of anything even pretending to be horror in this particular movie barely registers.

It's the kind of comedy and the kind of sci-fi that are so damn bizarre, and especially the way that it's all put together, as though writer Dennis Pratt had a list of concepts and a screenplay to hold them all, and got them confused at the last moment, leaving the filmmakers scrambling on set to find the connective tissue between scenes that play pretty much from beginning to end as "hey, wouldn't it be cool if the leprechaun did..." And it doesn't help any matters at all that whatever was true or not of Pratt's screenplay, the film was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, the man responsible for Leprechaun 3 as well (he is the series' only returning director), and a man whose work is generally kind of addled as to what direction it's supposed to be heading; his approach in this film was to continue shooting and pacing scenes like it was a conventional post-slasher movie, thereby stomping all over the humor and parody that dominate the screenplay to the point of exhaustion.

And thus we have a film straddling three compatible but unmistakably different narrative forms, and while film history is littered with successful examples of such hybrids, Trenchard-Smith is avowedly not the kind of man apt to succeed in this way; nor, ultimately, are the limitations imposed by virtue of being a Leprechaun picture all that conducive to flexible genre experimentation, and so to the surprise of absolutely nobody at all, In Space is just a shambles, colliding ideas with one another like a toddler slamming blocks onto the floor, hopscotching from general pop-culture riffing to specific parody of specific science fiction films and more general SF tropes, and further to the broad slapstick that's always just an inch under the surface of this whole entire franchise. It is somewhat bracing; and it is far more disorienting, and exhausting, and frustrating.

The plot involves that beloved favorite of post-Aliens filmmakers, space marines. These particular space marines are actually rather more like space mercenaries doing double-duty as space bounty hunters, and other than their Marine-ish chants and shouts, and the R. Lee Ermey-esque ranting of a stock sergeant with a metal plate on his skull (Tim Colceri), there is no particular reason to give them that name at all. But still, space marines, a most noble tradition from out of sci-fi/horror antiquity. When we meet them, these space marines on a planet where they expect to find... I don't exactly know how they end up at the planet, actually, but they find the leprechaun, played for the fourth time by Warwick Davis, whose enthusiasm for the role has not abated in the slightest, even as he is given far fewer lines worthy of the clotty Oirish accent that is, in and of itself, less prominent here than in previous entries.

The leprechaun has stolen a Dominian princess (if Dominia is a planet, a space-empire, or just a nation, we don't ever quite learn) named Zarina (Rebekah Carlton), and seduced her using the time-tested approach of "I might be ugly as all sin, but I have a good deal of money". This does not stop the marines from blowing up the leprechaun using all sorts of high tech weaponry, though he manages to take one of them out first (using a lightsaber), and even his scattered remains prove to be a bit of a danger when the cocky Kowalski (Geoff Meed) decides to celebrate his victory over the little creature by pissing on his head. This somehow allows the leprechaun's soul to travel into Kowalski's body, erupting from the man's penis the first time the marine gets a boner, and naturally the leprechaun makes a condom joke, though I am disappointed to report that he does not make a proper VD joke. Also, by using the word "prophylactic", Pratt steals even the small measure of comic energy generated hereby; just say the word once or twice. Prophylactic. Not very easy to get around it, isn't it? A clumsy word with too many plosive consonants. Not good for comedy, plosive consonants.

Anyway, the thing goes exactly where you expect: a bunch of space marines, chief among them Staff Sergeant "Books" Malloy (Brent Jasmer), who is presumably better able to fight leprechauns on account of having Irish blood in him, chase the little malicious bastard, and mostly get killed when they find him; civilian scientist Dr. Tina Reeves (Jessica Collins) stands around and furrows her brow and proves to be a more competent soldier than most of the space marines. And there is an evil Nazi scientist, Dr. Mittenhand (Guy Siner). Probably not a Nazi Nazi, but the first time you are watching Leprechaun 4: In Space, and a computer monitor swings into view and a leering bald head stares out of the monitor and screams invective at the characters in a sputtering "Orderz vich vill be oh-bayed vizzout kvestion!" accent, it's one of those privileged moviewatching moments where you understand with almost indescribable clarity that the filmmakers did not give any kind of fuck that there is to be given.

The film insures itself, a little bit, by being an overt comedy; but it would help if it were in any way a funny comedy, even a well-behaved post-Scream funny horror movie where most of the jokes were about how stupid horror movies are. Neither of these are the case; instead, In Space is either groin humor, or parodies of famous sci-fi movies running pretty much the entire history of sound horror up to the film's production date, or Warwick Davis saying sub-Freddy Krueger quips as he offs people. So basically, the comedy of all three preceding Leprechauns, only with the accompanying horror, even the watery, unscary horror of this franchise, skillfully removed.

Surprisingly, there's virtually no humor played from the one seemingly obvious angle: a folkloric being on a futuristic spaceship. The leprechaun has, by this point, almost completely shed whatever it is about him that was tied to myth in the first place: gold barely registers as a plot point, and there is essentially none of the rhyming singsong that was such a huge part of his personality till now. It's surely not an accident that the only moment of any kind of verbal poetry is also the absolute best thing in the film; considering his upcoming seduction of Zarina, the leprechaun muses that he can "wed her, bed her, and bury her, all in the same day". And boy oh Christ, it's not until you write "best thing" and that line in close proximity that you really realise just how far Leprechaun 4: In Space has gone wrong. At this point, the leprechaun shtick in toto is just a crutch for Davis to do space movie themed stand-up in a weird costume; I never would have thought I'd miss the clumsy antics of the older movies, but at least the character and the performance had something special to them. Whereas here, it's just a stock japing bad guy, and it falls entirely to the cartoony Dr. Mittenhand to keep the movie firmly in "so bad it's good" territory. I don't think he succeeds; I think, in fact, that the movie is so bad it's bad. It is, however, a more credible, professional piece of filmmaking than Leprechaun 3, with sets that look halfway decent and generally clear cinematography, and good sound recording, so it is better, I guess, to suggest that the series has plateaued - bottomed-out, rather - instead of hit a low. Still, the crappiness of Davis's leprechaun is new and unwanted, and that alone is enough to suck whatever quantum of joy this series has ever had to offer from this particular entry.

Body Count: 9, the high point in the series thus far. Because nothing says wacky genre hybrid comedy like an inflated death count.

Reviews in this series
Leprechaun (Jones, 1993)
Leprechaun 2 (Flender, 1994)
Leprechaun 3 (Trenchard-Smith, 1995)
Leprechaun 4: In Space (Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
Leprechaun in the Hood (Spera, 2000)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (Ayromlooi, 2003)

23 March 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: A LOSING STREAK

With Leprechaun 3 in 1995, the franchise made its perhaps inevitable leap to the muggy swamps of direct-to-video horror, from whence it never returned. "And who would be able to tell?" I thought during every cheap-ass moment of Leprechaun and Leprechaun 2, assuming that the chintzy props and bargain basement supporting casts and tacky lighting that attempted to make up for the films' inordinate lack of atmosphere with an industrial dose of lurid party gels couldn't really be any worse, and that the most striking difference between this third feature and its forebears would be a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Those were simpler, happier, more innocent days! For now I am on the flipside of Leprechaun 3, and have been reminded in a straightforward and even brutal fashion that as bad as a theatrically released mid-'90s horror movie can be, no explorer has yet reached the depths attainable by DTV horror.

It doesn't take all that long to get to that point, either. In fact, the last moment during which one can hold out much hope for the film is during its opening credits, when composer Dennis Michael Tenney unleashes the first overtly Irish-flavored music to be found in the Leprechaun series. That it is tinny electronic whinnying that sounds less like a movie score than the opening title loop for a 1993 SNES game titled Super Leprechaun Adventures or something like that, I think the open-minded viewer should be able to overlook.

Anyway, the next thing that happens is a bunch of aerial shots of Las Vegas, Nevada. And the quick-witted will immediately recall that when we last saw our wisecracking magical friend, he had just blown up in Los Angeles, California; but I guess one can come up with a plausible reason for his remains to end up just one state over. It's not as desperate as the jump from North Dakota to California between the first and second, and it's also something that I need to stop caring about if I have even the slightest intention of making it through the rest of this series with my sanity intact. More to the point, we know already, if we did not before, that this third chapter is doomed to be all about the leprechaun's adventures in Sin City, making this another first for the franchise, and even more unpleasant than when it crossed the DTV Rubicon: it is the first of four consecutive "destination" Leprechaun films, where the intent is that the mere fact of sticking the angry little creature in a new setting will have some kind of entrancing effect on the audience; in the future, this would end up taking him to places that make Las Vegas look positively artistic, but from the vantage point of 1995, it's an unabashed desperation move, and that's even before it becomes really, screamingly obvious how much screenwriter David DuBos and director Brian Trenchard-Smith were going to fumble the Vegas setting anyway (Trenchard-Smith is, incidentally, a sort of anti-hero of mine, for his work helming the unfathomable Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, and for popping up unexpectedly in my life a number of times since then).

Continuity not being a franchise strong point, it should not bother me - but it does, of course - that the leprechaun (played, as always, by the indispensible Warwick Davis) first shows up as a stone statue wearing a cheap-looking medallion, being sold by a dismal look old man to a pawnbroker. Gupta (Marcelo Tubert), with the admonition to never, ever pull the medallion off, in an unmistakeable and presumably accidental echo of the famous "Zuni fetish doll" sequence of Trilogy of Terror. The pawnbroker doesn't, and the movie ends, after one tepid and painfully amateurish, but agreeable short scene.

Nah, the pawnbroker grouses about how he'll never be able to sell anything so obviously fake, and removes the medallion. Moments later, the leprechaun comes to life and bites off Gupta's finger, making jokes about loving Indian food - because that's what a centuries-old Irish fay would do, of course - and we learn that the medallion can ward him off as effectively as four-leaf clovers back in the first movie. This being set up, we jump to another scene to meet our hero, Scott (John Gatins, who would one day grow up to write Real Steel), a rather boggle-eyed, gangly thing that we're meant to find sympathetic for some reason. He's stopping of in Las Vegas just for the night, before arriving in California for college; naturally enough, the first thing he does is cross paths with a pretty but no-nonsense girl named Tammy (Lee Armstrong), who works as a magician's assistant in one of the shittiest casinos imaginable. He all but begs her to sneak him in, just so he can see what the inside of one of these dens of sin looks like, and though she objects, his goblinesque charms eventually win her over, and within about fifteen seconds, he has ignored her injunction to not gamble a single penny, cashed in his mother's check for $23,000 for college expenses (for that is, naturally, the approximate amount of spending money a college freshman needs), and lost all of it to a fixed roulette wheel run by Tammy's shady "friend" Loretta (Caroline Williams). While this happens, Gupta has managed to find a CD-ROM of Irish folklore in a stalk of pawned software (CD-ROMs! Holy shit, the 1990s! And it looks and sounds like one, too! God, I miss when computers were strange magic boxes that nobody quite new what to do with), and is using its hugely plot-specific information about leprechauns to stay alive.

So far we have: pawnbroker being chased around a single set by Warwick Davis; and a milky hero losing all his money in an unconvincing casino set (the exterior is effected by hanging an obvious tarp reading "Lucky Shamrock" - because how else would we remember that it's a Leprechaun movie? - over the real sign of the real casino that let them film exteriors for one shot). Does that sound exciting? I hope so, because for 29 solid minutes, that is all the plot Leprechaun 3 desires to advance - almost one-third of its total running time. I apologise to the word "plot" for the awful thing I just did to it there.

Finally, the leprechaun kills Gupta, and Scott heads to the pawnshop to raise some cash off his watch, and for about 10 minutes we get some actual narrative momentum; he finds the leprechaun's single missing gold piece and discovers by accident, mostly, that it can grant him a wish, so the leprechaun starts to chase him down, but the coin keeps being stolen by the various shady people in the Lucky Shamrock: Loretta, her indeterminately homosexual partner in villainy, Fazio (John DeMita), the same crappy magician that Tammy works for, and the casino's owner, Mitch (Michael Callan), who looks like he got into casino running primarily because being a pornography magnate was too much effort. He's also being hounded by a pair of unnervingly shticky comic gangsters, Art (Tom Dugan), and Tony (Roger Hewlett). That sounds like a good number of potential victims, right? "Potential" will have to be the watchword, though, because it takes another 29 minutes for the next kill, during which the plot, having been briefly stirred by the appearance of something like rising action, yawns and turns over and dozes off, not to be roused no matter how hard we shake it, though when the leprechaun bleeds all over Scott and turns him into a human-leprechaun hybrid - Gatins's Irish brogue makes me want to take back everything bad I've said about Davis's to this point - it opens one eye, briefly.

The directness with which this went to video is apparent in nearly every single element: the paucity of locations and the somewhat undernourished quality therein (though the pawn shop looks pretty much like a pawn shop in Vegas had ought to). the crappy acting, the MIDI-scented musical score, and the unrelievedly shitty cinematography. Worst of all is how much the film does not know what to do with a leprechaun in Las Vegas once they get him there: one montage on the Strip, and a couple of lines about preying on human greed, and that is it - and somehow the filmmakers almost seem to be aware of this, putting in a scene where the little man pauses outside a girlie show, and decides he doesn't have the time, as much as admitting "we don't actually want to be as resolutely gaudy as this scenario would seem to demand." There is a sequence where the leprechaun meets an Elvis impersonator (Terry Lee Crisp), and Davis obvious has a field day doing his own Elvis routine; it is a stupid scene, but cute enough on its own terms.

The worst parts of the film, though, have nothing to do with budget or location: it's a simple, idiotic horror film that squanders its best resource in Davis's leprechaun, leaving him trapped in a pawn shop for much of the running time, wasting him on a sequence that requires him to use magic to torment Mitch through a television in a series of gags reminiscent of the absolute worst of Freddy Krueger's decline (he is much more of a Krueger knock-off in this picture than the other two, in fact), and giving him virtually no chance to interact with the main "plot", such as it is. DuBos deserves at least some credit for committing to the idea that the leprechaun communicates primarily in rhyming doggerel - I am not sure that he speaks any lines at all that don't rhyme, in fact - which increases the sense of whimsy and gives Davis a bit more to play with, though at the same time he is turned into more of a caricature, if that was even possible: impersonating E.R. doctors, quipping idiotically, and generally acting like somebody was very jealous of the violent cartoon logic of Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and hadn't the talent to make a successful rip-off.

And when Davis is shipped offscreen, we have instead a woefully uncharismatic lead who can't act, a romantic interest who can act a little bit, but isn't given anything to do, and a whole lot of filler, such that, while you can look at it when it's done and say what the story was, from moment to moment it feels like absolutely nothing is happening, and it's being inordinately slow about it. I know I have to leave myself some wiggle room, for it's still not at all as bad as the franchise ended up becoming, but that's really not saying very much at all; and Leprechaun 3 is so endlessly addled and pointless that it's greatest sin isn't that it's bad, but that it is stultifying and boring. It seems wrong that the leprechaun's adventure in Las Vegas should be, so much blander than his previous outings, but the mere fact that the filmmakers were able to make that happen is proof of how very little their film has going on in its vacant head.

Body Count: 8, and depending on how we read the scene where Evil Scott breaks out the hospital, maybe another 2 more; I take this to be the kind of film that seeks to indemnify its hero from doing anything wicked, but if that were the case, surely we'd have a shot showing that they were okay, and there is no such thing. Incidentally, while either figure is the biggest in the series, it absolutely does not feel that way.

Reviews in this series
Leprechaun (Jones, 1993)
Leprechaun 2 (Flender, 1994)
Leprechaun 3 (Trenchard-Smith, 1995)
Leprechaun 4: In Space (Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
Leprechaun in the Hood (Spera, 2000)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (Ayromlooi, 2003)

21 March 2012

JUMP TO IT

We all know by now that 21 Jump Street is actually, like, startlingly good, right? That, even though it looks hokey and dumb, it turns that dumbness to its advantage, makes a tool of it, et cetera. Well, if you managed to avoid hearing all that, you know it now: the movie is sort of pretty much awesome. There are a lot of theoretical reasons that explain why, but the short answer is that there are a lot of reasons: this film does as good a job as any movie has in months, at least, of stuffing in just about every sort of comedy you can name, from ruthless, claws-out social satire on down to the hallowed dick joke, and treating every vein of humor from the highest brow to the lowest with the exact same level of commitment and integrity. It is funny because it is pointed and smart, and it is also funny because it is unusually crass, but the chief takeaway here should be that it is funny, far more than an inveterate Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum hater like myself would have credited as being possible.

Less a remake or reboot of the 1980s series remembered mostly for kickstarting Johnny Depp's career, than a story set in a funhouse mirror version of the same universe, the movie first posts Hill and Tatum as a pair of high-school rivals, Schmidt and Jenko - the fat, smart, ugly geek and the idiot jock with a cruel streak and lanky long hair - who graduate in 2005, and some time later end up in police academy in Metro City. There, they become friends for the pragmatic reason that Jenko is too dumb to pass the exams and Schmidt is too out-of-shape to succeed in the physical training without some outside coaching; after graduation, and after bottoming out as cops, the team is assigned to an undercover program that sends young-looking officers to infiltrate high school crimes.

That is of course the concept rather than the plot; but the concept is really all that matters. Among its many faces, 21 Jump Street is a parody of and homage to the buddy cop genre, and the crime that Schmidt and Jenko investigate is noteworthy primarily for how much it resembles every story ever told in the 1980s. Now, if that's all the film had up it's sleeve, it wouldn't be worth talking about (for did not Hot Fuzz perfect the buddy cop comedy for at least a full generation?), and what's impressive here is that this is barely even a launching point; parody ends up being the very last thing on the film's mind, in point of fact, and it's the better for it.

As for what's first on its mind, there's a real question. The main thrust of the film ends up being how Schmidt and Jenko end up re-visiting high school, a mere seven years after graduating, to find it unrecognisable; the very fabric of jocks and rich kids at the top that not only informed their experience but also the '80s and '90s films that are the movie's real touchstone for "high school culture" - without saying it, the movie calls attention to the ubiquity of John Hughes's output as the template for how we think about adolescence, right before doing everything possible to subvert that template - has been turned into a magic new world where being concerned for the environment is the new gateway to social acceptance, and where the most powerful kids in school would sooner ostracise somebody for homophobia than make fun of the gay kid. It's rather impressive in a way I haven't quite figured out, that the film can be at once so obvious about its social commentary - unlike a lot of satires, there's really no missing the film's point - and still feel cunning and subtle about it; and then, too, it addresses not only the bigger question of how the 1980s became the 2010s by bits and pieces, but also the sucker-punch of being a 25-year-old just realising that while one is too young to be an adult, one is infinitely too old to be an adolescent - the film games this a bit by making 18-year-old Jenko look more like 1995 than 2005, but the point remains.

So it's a social satire? Well, no, because the script that Michael Bacall wrote from the story he put together with Hill (this has been, we are told, a passion project for Jonah Hill for quite some time now) is as eager to traffic in the customary Hillisms of dick jokes, drinking jokes, and slightly less filthy dick jokes as it is in questions of the lightning speed with which adolescent culture changes in the internet age, and then too, it spends almost as much time in the land of farce as either of those - a single moment of stupidity leads to them swapping cover identities, making the lunky jock into the nominal math and science whiz, and sending the pudgy introvert to mingle with cool kids, drama clubbers, and athletes. And by allowing the characters to sink into their cover stories too far to remember that they're actually twentysomething cops, it even manages to do the same parody/homage thing for vintage teen comedies that it does for vintage cop movies. That makes, if I'm counting right, five entirely different, if related, comic tones that are getting balanced here, and that's without even touching on the film's satiric approach to the very idea of pop culture remakes as a whole, beginning with the depressed admission that the Metro City PD has run out of ideas and is not just recycling concepts like a bunch of assholes, and ending with the expected Johnny Depp cameo that takes a considerably different form than I, at least, was anticipating.

It is, in short, a grab-bag with a little something for everyone, although the portion of everyone who dislikes dick jokes is going to have a much rougher go of it than the rest. The good news is that for the most part, it's all good - generally, it is better when it is less obvious (a bit where an angry black captain played by Ice Cube announces that he is well away of what a cliché it is to be an angry black captain clangs like the doorway to Hell, to me), and as one whose affection for Jonah Hill's Dick Joke Express didn't survive all the way to the end of Superbad, that flavor of comedy left me a bit chiller than the rest. But there's quite an edifying mix of the witty and the crude in the dialogue, sometimes both at once; and what is perhaps a little bit surprising is how well Hill and particularly Tatum hit their comic notes. Was it not just a month ago that The Vow reiterated how much of a leaden lump Channing Tatum is? And yet here we have him, nailing the hell out of a line like "I punched him, and then he turned out to be gay", and responding with the exact right degree of sub-clever slowness to Hill's bluster, and even managing to perfectly play scenes that aren't even scenes, like when we see him, out of focus in the background, cracking up at Hill praying to "Korean Jesus", in one of the tiniest and best pieces of comic acting in a long damn time. So, yay for Channing Tatum's hopeful future in comedy, and yay for 21 Jump Street for being exactly the right mixture of smart and appallingly dumb to showcase him and Jonah Hill, and for being, in the process, the most cutting and sly and at times utterly hilarious broad comedy in months, at least.

8/10

BEST SHOT: LADYHAWKE

The third season of Hit Me with Your Best Shot, one of the most enjoyable projects anywhere in the film blogosphere, starts today, courtesy once again of Nathaniel at Film Experience. To kick things off, he's selected the 1985 medieval romantic fantasy Ladyhawke, inviting anyone who wants to play along to select their favorite image from that movie.

In honor of our good host, a man with a singular love of the actress Michelle Pfeiffer, I'm going to take the liberty of choosing two favorite shots in the categories of Best Shot Overall and Best Shot Primarily Featuring Pfeiffer.

The first of these was a bitch to pick. I was able, relatively early on, to narrow it down to three choices, each of which described a different element of the movie's visual vocabulary, and that is considerable: it was shot by the genius and crazyperson Vittorio Storaro, which is all the guarantee you need that a lot of the shots are going to be so pretty that it's almost not fair; but what I wanted to focus on was not just shots of almost unspeakable picturesque beauty, even if those shots also contributed significantly to the narrative; for the film was also directed by Richard Donner, a filmmaker who I think does not get his due as an intelligent, considered craftsperson. No, he's not the most sophisticated visual storyteller out there, but there's far more cunning to his shots than he is typically credited with, and I saw it as my duty to call attention to that.

Here's what I ended up using:

There are three things above all else that stand out to me about the imagery in the film (after the prominence of crazy-ass lovely sunsets): the depth of the shots, creating a world that is as active on the Z-axis as it is on the flat plane, the authenticity of the sets, and how filled-in the mise en scène is. By which I mean, there are a great many shots where there is action in the background that cannot be defended in anyway that has to do with what we "care" about, in terms of character or plot; it functions only to define the film's world as a place where there's much more than just this one story. It is a living, functioning world, not of background peasants walking in diagonal lines out of focus, but of peasants doing specific jobs and implying personalities that we never otherwise explore. And so we have that little man on the left side of the moat, raising crates, not particularly worried about Matthew Broderick bobbing out of the water, nor the guards looking for him.

This shot also showcases the outstanding location sets the filmmakers scrounged up: plenty of '80s sword-and-sorcery movies were shot in European castles, but Donner and Storaro find ways to make those locations hit the screen with more of a realistic impact than anything else I have personally seen; going along with the lived-in direction of the backgrounds, it is overall one of the most convincing and detailed of all the films in this genre.

And I needn't point out, I assume, that it's gorgeous to look at: golden hour hasn't quite started but there's a pink hue to everything, and the reflections in the water give it all a painterly quality that is all the difference between a competent DP shooting pretty landscapes, and a truly gifted cinematographer shooting pretty landscapes.

Best Shot Primarily Featuring Pfeiffer was a lot easier. There are plenty of images that showcase her beauty and act as an advertisement for this New Star in Training, but there's one that showcases her not just as a gorgeous woman, but as an actress:

Note, if you will, the classic movie star gauze of the shot: yes, she is ill, but not so ill that her skin can't be made to look like porcelain. But let's focus for the moment on her physical weakness in this shot: almost perfectly horizontal, with a white dress that washes her out; a tiny spot of red that is one of the few prominent focal points of the shot, pointing out that she is, yes, wounded and bleeding. And her eyes, another focal point, are watery and not-quite focused, suggesting a mild throb of pain she's successfully keeping down.

But then we notice her smile - the only thing that moves in the entire length of this particular shot, from a flat line to the quiet smirk we see here. And it is, I beg to point out, a smirk, silently informing us that yes, she hurts, but she will get over it just fine thanks; and in the context of the scene, demonstrating how much sturdier she is than Broderick's easily-flummoxed thief gives her credit for, insisting on her strength without having to lapse into anachronistic power grrl excess.

My two runners-up below the jump.

19 March 2012

YEAR OF BLOOD: THUNDERING JAYSUS, DO YOU THINK I'M DEAD?

You didn't think I'd stop with just one? Faith and begorrah, there are six of the fecking things!

The first Leprechaun wasn't exactly a box-office dynamo, but it cost pocket change to make it, and profitable horror films weren't on every street corner back in 1993, so Trimark Pictures greenlit a sequel in short order, giving this one more than twice the budget and a somewhat posher release date (April instead of January). Leprechaun 2 also wasn't exactly a box-office dynamo, to the tune of just barely eking out a profit on its $2 million price tag, and the series' fortunes took a decisive hit as a result, but that story will wait for next time. Right now, we're here to dissect the corpse of a movie that only a few people, apparently, were ever really asking for, and which goes out of its way as quickly as possible to alienate anybody who held the original in sufficient esteem that they might have been enthusiastic to see its story continue.

The last thing we knew of our diminutive Irish pixie, played by the tattered scraps of Warwick Davis's dignity, he (or maybe just his angry disembodied spirit) was at the bottom of a well, his corpse melted by Jennifer Aniston. There are no wells in Leprechaun 2, nor is Jennifer Aniston around; in fact, there is nothing that connects the two films other than Davis himself, and the general appearance of his make-up and costume - though both of those have been redesigned ever so slightly, presumably to take advantage of the inflated budget, for it is undeniably the case that he looks far more like a magically malicious creature of fairy, and less like a dwarf in a Wal-Mart costume - and it is sometimes proposed by fanboys desperate, for some reason that even God does not know, to maintain the integrity of the Leprechaun franchise, that this leprechaun is a different one. In fact, this is an unnecessary intellectual soft-shoe: in the first scene, we are told by the leprechaun that he is 1000 years old exactly, and in the first movie, he was only 600. Therefore this movie's opening scene, despite looking like it's set in Ireland in the 1400s or so, takes place in 2592; when the movie skips forward another millennium, it is therefore 3592, and the Los Angeles of the distant future just happens to look like it did in 1993, because of Jungian cultural memory or some such.

Or maybe, screenwriters Turi Meyer & Al Septien just didn't care, and the fanboys need to get over it. It is a bit dismaying that whereas even a series as devoid of the minutest artistic seriousness as the Friday the 13th pictures could remember where they'd left Jason's body at the end of the last one, the folks behind Leprechaun 2 so transparently do not give a shit. But we're talking dodgy horror sequels from the mid-1990s. It is brutal idiocy to expect anything nice or decent to come out of this.

Anyway, even if it pukes all over continuity, my feeling is that Leprechaun 2 is a better movie, on the whole, than its predecessor. Or perhaps I'd be better to say that it has the better story and screenplay. This would have been achieved if all that had changed was the omission of the horrible kid-vid comic relief of the little boy and his mentally-challenged buddy, so it's not really saying much of the film, but it's still a generally more credible riff on the traditional idea of the leprechaun, and the plot isn't trying so hard to fit into the essentially dissimilar formula of a late slasher movie. It is, simply, a sturdier narrative, and much more adequate as a horror picture on account of reducing the leprechaun's clownish antics (he still gets to quip, and some of those quips still take the form of pop cultural references that the leprechaun would probably know about) and edging closer to actual violent violence, though the state of the culture in 1994 was still such that an R-rated horror movie is a fairly tame and neutered thing; though unlike its predecessor, I don't think Leprechaun 2 would have managed to swing a PG-13 if it came out now.

If the last film exploited the leprechauns' famous attachment to gold, the sequel hinges on their noted tendency to abduct and marry human females and commit terrible acts of bodily mutilation on them to turn them into leprechaun baby-making factories. This, at least, is what the filmmakers want us to believe. The mythology around it is kind of arcane and stupid: on their 1000th birthday and every 1000th birthday following, leprechauns can marry any human woman who sneezes three times without anyone telling her "God bless you". Our particular leprechaun was born on March 17th, conveniently enough, and in what is presumably 993 CE, he is thwarted in his effort to take a bride when his slave William O'Day (James Lancaster), her father, willingly sacrifices himself to the leprechaun's wrath to save her. 1000 years later, on March 17th (in blatant disregard of the calendar reforms of the intervening millennium, and yes, this fact bothered me through the whole movie), the leprechaun is revived when a bum drinks whiskey near the tree outside Harry Houdini's former home in L.A. where a contingent of Irish fans sent a tree to the magician, and it was apparently in this tree's root system that the leprechaun has dwelt all along, and not in a crate in North Dakota after all, unless he reincarnated back in the roots of his own proper tree after being killed, you know what, it's not even worth worrying about it. He comes back, in L.A. Done and done.

He immediately goes on the hunt for a descendant of O'Day, to marry her and fulfill a curse he laid on his former slave; he finds one in the form of Bridget Callum (Shevonne Durkin), a woman without any personality to speak of, outside of her contentious relationship with Cody (Charlie Heath), working as a huckster for a shady "death-places of the stars!" tour organised by a hard-living old drunk named Morty (Sandy Baron). The short version of what happens is that the leprechaun abducts and marries Bridget, but in the scuffle, he drops some of his gold, and Cody unknowingly pockets a single piece; and the leprechaun being an anal sort about gold (and shoes, the original film told us, but this trait is disappointingly dropped here), he can't consummate his new marriage until that last piece is found, which gives Cody and Morty time to plan a trap for the little beast, and Bridget time to continually not escape, because she is kind of a stupid person, and in one key moment runs deeper into the leprechaun's subterranean lair even though running up the stairs and out would require fewer steps.

So, okay, it's still awfully stupid, but at least it lacks as many outrageous contrivances and detours as the original had. We are obliged to take the bits of good where we can get them in these sorts of movies. At the very least, the leprechaun is a more believable threat here, and the chase to stop him makes quite a bit more sense, allowing the characters to be more active and not to simple permit themselves to be penned into a single building just because that's a thing that happens to horror movie people. And Warwick Davis continues to be genuinely good in the role, still chomping into an unbelievably dreadful Oirish accent and hamming up all the character's pointless rhymes and so on and so forth; still skittering around like a mad little bug, still being absolutely self-delighted. The overall darker tone helps to set off the character's comic moments better, and while the wisecracking killer is absolutely my least favorite kind, there are a few lines that got me, a little bit (the leprechaun's horror at being revived by blended Canadian whiskey chief among them).

Here is where my muted enthusiasm for the film absolutely stops: in pretty much every way that isn't the leprechaun himself, Leprechaun 2 is a wasteland, compared to the original, or on its own terms. Director Rodman Flender, despite an awe-inspiring name, doesn't keep things moving nearly as well as Mark Jones did in the last one, and he give into the film's tacky cheapness without fighting it even a little: sets are over-lit and underpopulated, the blocking is clumsy and exists solely to usher us from one line to another with minimum grace - at one point, Cody and Morty sit down, and then immediately stand up and leave, just so Cody can overhear some exposition that will be important later on.

And the acting... Christ. Baron's crabby New Yorker shtick works tolerably well, but the two leads are psychotically dreadful. Heath is apparently a decade too old to play his part, and never tries to "youth" himself up; his expressions are perpetually confused and his reactions always half a beat late. But he's got nothing on Durkin, who speaks with some peculiar mix of Eastern Europe and Irish accents and mis-emphasises virtually every single line of dialogue she is given, even simple ones like "What are you doing here?" Even by the standards of running around and screaming and maybe flash a bit of nipple (or maybe it's a body double; we never see breast and head in the same shot), she is an embarrassment to Leprechaun 2, a film that should presumably be impossible to embarrass.

On the other hand, that it comes even as close to being remotely tolerable as it does, with its relatively hole-free script and competent narrative development on its own terms is something of a surprise; Leprechaun is not at all a good movie, but I still would have imagined that it was the pinnacle of its franchise, and while Leprechaun 2 is still mostly a shitty '90s fantasy-horror picture, it's one of the more palatable of the field, shockingly bad performances and all. By and large it makes sense, and that is half the battle; and by setting itself in Los Angeles, it makes its industrial cheapness into a characteristic rather than a flaw. And even two films in, I'm growing attached enough to Davis's enthusiasm that an excuse to see him flit around and cackle is appealing on its own, though I do wish there was anything in these films that even came close to his level.

Body Count: 6, including the leprechaun's needlessly explosive demise. And though the gore is still pretty weak sauce - a finger dismemberment, and a death-by-lawnmower that the filmmakers seem positively ashamed of - it's a huge step up from the last one.

Reviews in this series
Leprechaun (Jones, 1993)
Leprechaun 2 (Flender, 1994)
Leprechaun 3 (Trenchard-Smith, 1995)
Leprechaun 4: In Space (Trenchard-Smith, 1997)
Leprechaun in the Hood (Spera, 2000)
Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (Ayromlooi, 2003)