House at the
end of the street
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Elisabeth Shue & Max Thieriot
House at the End of the Street was conceived nearly a decade ago by Jonathan Mostow, who made the Bruce Willis robot movie Surrogates, and directed Kurt Russell in the excellent Breakdown.
The plan was for Mostow and Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) to co-direct this from Kelly’s script.
And that could have been a very fine thing indeed.
But in Hollywood, the best laid plans have a way of ending up in a shallow grave.
Director Mark Tonderai and screenwriter David Loucka are not quite in the same league as the original pairing – and several years down the line, the film that actually got made is a forgettable affair, a faint shadow of what might have been.
Jennifer Lawrence is angsty teenager Elissa, who isn’t one bit happy about moving from Chicago to the sticks.
But her mother (Shue) is escaping a divorce, and besides, they’ve gotten a good deal on this grand house near the woods. They learn why soon enough.
Turns out the house nearby was the scene of a double murder not too long ago, when apparently young Carrie Anne (Eva Link) took a hammer to her parents’ bedroom.
They say the girl is dead now too, though some of the locals insist that she still prowls the woods.
Which is really, really bad for property values in the neighbourhood.
The girl’s brother Ryan (Thieriot) escaped her DIY experiment, and lives alone in the house now. The townsfolk give him the old fashioned plague treatment, but Elissa decides to make friends.
And of course they click, lonely, sensitive souls who get each other.
It’s what Twilight could have been, if Edward had a hipster beard and Bella was a singer-songwriter, all excited about the upcoming battle of the bands.
And I can only imagine how badly the world wants to see that.
There’s been a lot of critical whining about how a fine up-and-coming talent like Jennifer Lawrence could let herself get involved with a turkey like this, as if none of the great actors ever made a duff move.
Or indeed, as if The Hunger Games counts as a shining jewel on her CV.
In any case, to borrow from John Giles, you can only play what’s in front of you.
And sometimes what’s in front of you on paper bears only a passing resemblance to the end product, after it’s been through a battalion of inept hands.
So in fairness to Lawrence and the rest of the cast, they give it a decent go.
Indeed, there is some very well played mother-daughter tension between Lawrence and Shue – a fine actress who was absent from the big screen for ages, then turns up two weeks in a row.
No complaints here.
But there’s no denying House at the End of the Street is a bit of a mess.
You can see what the aim was, but Loucka and Tonderai don’t even come close to hitting it.
After laying out their stall early, they go for a twist that they never quite manage to pull off – whipping out the tired old shock moves instead of crafting some genuine suspense.
Tonderai can film a fine stylish shot, and manage a decent scare, but anyone who’s ever seen a film in their life will have guessed what’s coming a mile off.
Or at least you will if you’ve been to the Bates Motel.
It’s not a total loss, though.
Anyone familiar with the music of The Hollies will be humming the wonderful Carrie Anne for the rest of the day.
And that’s never a bad thing.
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Starring: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta
Oliver Stone has never lost his knack for filming a great scene – and Savages shows off plenty of this technical mastery.
He still has that old desire and ability to shock, too.
But it’s debatable whether any of that makes up for the fact that he can’t seem to tell a good story anymore.
Savages is narrated by a girl called O, played by Blake Lively, who was surely paid a consolation bonus for speaking some of the worst dialogue in recent memory.
O (real name Ophelia, but I suppose life is too short) is a housemate and shared plaything for a pair of unlikely business moguls.
Chon (Kitsch) is a Navy SEAL war vet, and Ben (Johnson) is a botanist.
Together they’ve produced some of the finest pot on the planet and trade is booming.
In steps Salma Hayek as ruthless Mexican drug cartel boss Elena, looking for a piece of the action.
The boys decline the offer, a foolish thing to do with a henchman like Lado (Del Toro) enforcing the rules.
Elena has O kidnapped, a little incentive for the lads to see sense.
But if it was that simple, well, there’d be a lot less blood on the floor when it’s over.
Savages is pretty savage, gratuitously violent at times, and not for the squeamish. Worse than that, it’s not for anyone hoping that Mr Stone is back to his best.
There’s flashes of his old brilliance, and he brings out the best in John Travolta, who shines as a crooked drug enforcement agent.
But his script (co-written with Shane Salerno and original novelist Don Winslow) is a dreadful thing, his characters border on the ridiculous, and his good work is undone by that unfortunate tendency to be almost childishly self-indulgent.
It doesn’t help that his three central players have the combined screen charisma of gravel.
At one point a character references Butch and Sundance, bringing to mind that great bandit trio of Redford, Newman and Katherine Ross.
Stone – and every other director, for that matter – can only dream of that kind of quality and class.