Mladen and Del review ‘The Black Demon’

Image courtesy of The Avenue.

Starring Fernanda Urrejola as “Ines,” Josh Lucas as “Paul,” Venus Ariel as “Audrey,” Julio Cesar Cedillo as “Chato,” and Jorge A. Jimenez as “Junior” and others; Directed by Adrian Grunberg; Rated R; 100 minutes; Amazon Prime

Mladen’s take

Like a good movie can be ruined by one bad scene, a bad movie can be redeemed with one good bit of filmmaking. The problem with “The Black Demon” is that you must watch the mostly bad movie to the end to see that one good scene. You’ll know when you see it because the antagonist and the protagonist are calm when death arrives.

“The Black Demon” offers a duel between a big shark body armored with sturgeon-like scutes and humans of varied races and socioeconomic status. The big shark is the Aztec god Tlaloc incarnate. Come to think of it, maybe that’s also a reason I found the film good enough. The gringos in “The Black Demon” are unable to pronounce the name of the god without help from native Spanish speakers. The “Tl” in Tlaloc throws English speakers off balance. As a guy with a first name that also juxtaposes two seldom, if ever, side-to-side consonants in the English language, “Ml,” I sympathized with the villagers trying to teach Americans the correct pronunciation.

Anyway, Tlaloc, the god in shark’s clothing, appears as a deformed megalodon to avenge the destruction of a riveting sea polluted by the unchecked gush of oil from an offshore rig. Huh, a riveting sea polluted by the unchecked gush of oil from an offshore rig. Sound familiar? You’ve already forgotten the months-long British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil hemorrhage in 2010 that all but wrecked my beloved Gulf of Mexico, haven’t you?

Of course, the humans hunted by the black demon find themselves stranded on the oil rig without a way to communicate with shore or hope that some boater will come along to rescue them. And, there’s no way for the humans to wait for someone on land to realize they’re missing and send a search party because the rig is falling apart. Its demise is aided by Tlaloc occasionally ramming it. Oh, the shark god has some sort of telepathic power that allows it to conjure foreboding hallucinations in humans when they’re in the water.

The movie’s cheap thrills come along by placing children in harm’s way. I hate that. And, there’s always the accidental fall into the water or the decision to kill the shark by using a person as live bait and then what? Poison the multi-ton shark by pricking it in the mouth with a 5-inch-long, 25-gauge hypodermic needle? No, no, that was “Jaws.” Explode the shark with a jerry-rigged dart bomb triggered by attaching the contraption via cable to a car battery? No, that was “Deep Blue Sea.” Damn, how was the meg in “Meg” whacked?

Del will belly ache about the movie’s derivative character. He’ll complain about the mediocre CGI. All of that will come after he details to the nth minutia the history of big shark movies and their impact on pop culture, our eating habits, environmental preservation, and treatment of toenail fungus. My advice to you? See the movie because it’s good enough to be entertaining and among the better of the B-schlock films that have blazed across the big screen since pictures started moving.

Del’s take

Poor Mladen.

By the way, I pronounce that “muh-LAH-den.” As far as I know, that’s correct. I pronounce the Aztec god Tlaloc “tuh-LAL-oc.” I think that’s correct. And Mladen thinks I dwell too much on detail.

Yes, I’m a gringo who mispronounces the names of Aztec fish gods. I also recognize the role sharks play in the environment, but like many gringos who can’t pronounce the names of Aztec fish gods, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that environmental role when it means having the lower half of my body reduced to shark kibble. So I’m a fan of sharks only if they come no closer than the movie screen – speaking of which, did I mention I’m tired of movies about sharks. I mean, what are we up to now? “Jaws 47”? “Meg XXXI”? “Deep Blue Sea: The Neverending Story”?

Mladen, by making me watch “The Black Demon,” thought he was punishing me for inflicting “Chopping Mall” and “Barbie” on him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d already seen “The Black Demon,” already noted the shitty FX, and yes, already thought it was stupid.

“The Black Demon” is a good example of the chaff Amazon Prime uses to flesh out its movie offerings. While there’s room in my heart for bad sci-fi and horror movies, that room is leavened by nostalgia. I don’t watch “The Tingler” or “The Giant Claw” for their riveting depictions of human drama. I watch them because they remind me of when I was a little kid and believed that crap could actually happen. Alas, “The Black Demon” does not evoke such happy memories. It’s the seaside version of “Maximum Overdrive.” I watched it, didn’t like it, and flushed it down the toilet, like you would that favorite swordtail you found floating belly up in your aquarium.

I mean, c’mon. The premise of “The Black Demon” is idiotic. An American petrochemical engineer takes his wife and kids on one last job in Mexico, leaves them in a town full of hostile locals, makes his way to a haunted oil rig, the wife and kids follow along, everyone except one altruistic soul are in league with the shark, and somehow they’re supposed to defeat this – this creature that’s big enough to take out an oil rig and swims faster than a speeding cigarette boat? Next you’ll be telling me Marjorie Taylor Greene has an IQ higher than a cement block.

One point on which I and the movie agree: The real villain is the corporation responsible for the leaky oil rig, in this case an outfit called “Nixon.” Get it? Nixon, so very, very subtle. Why didn’t they just call it “Satan” and be done with it? And the real black demon may not be the shark or the pissed-off fish god, but the stuff leaking from the oil rig. But somehow I doubt that much thought was put into the movie’s subtext. In fact, I don’t think there is any subtext. I think “The Black Demon” is a movie about a supernatural shark picking off people responsible for trashing the environment in and around the oil rig. Or more basically, a movie about a scary shark-like something-or-other.

I’ll grade this movie a C- because I’ve spent worse hour-and-forty-minute time spans of my life, but unless you’re a fan of modern schlock, which I’m not, then stay out of the water.

For a real shark movie check out “Blue Water, White Death,” a darned good doc from the early ’70s. They don’t make those, or schlocky B-movies, like they used to.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Epic Pictures Releasing.

“JeruZalem” Starring Yael Grobglas, Yon Tumarkin, Danielle Jadelyn and Tom Graziani. Directed by Doran and Yoav Paz as The PAZ Brothers. 94 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Del’s take

The found-footage film has found a home in the horror genre, resulting in classics like “REC,” “V/H/S,” “Troll Hunter” and the grandwitchy of ’em all, “The Blair Witch Project.” It also has produced some amazing clunkers. “Paranormal Entity,” “Area 407” and “Apollo 18” come to mind.

Falling somewhere in between is “JeruZalem,” an unlikely pairing of the weighty and the frothy (Judgment Day from the point of view of a teen girl’s spring break getaway). How far it leans toward “Blair Witch” or “Apollo 18” depends on the moviegoer’s charity. While some people loath found footage as a lazy director’s approach to storytelling, others appreciate its clarity of viewpoint.

I find myself bouncing between those two worldviews. I think movies like “Troll Hunter” and “Cloverfield” are masterpieces of the genre. I even liked “Apollo 18” for what it was – a space-based horror flick with limited ambitions. But some movies don’t benefit from the found-footage viewpoint and “JeruZalem” may be one of them. Third person probably would have been a perfectly acceptable storytelling vantage point, and I would not have been distracted by irrelevant technical details such as how the lead character kept her device charged throughout the apocalypse.

I’ll probably be asking myself the same question about my phone after this Korea thing blows up.

In “JeruZalem,” young Sarah Pullman (Jadelyn) is whisked away from her overprotective and Skype-stalking father (Howard Ripp) for a whirlwind tour of the old city of Jerusalem during Yom Kippur. At the Tel Aviv airport they meet good-looking Kevin Reed (Tumarkin), an antiquities student who promises to hook them up with a hostel in the old city and show them the best clubs and sights.

There, they hook up with Omar, the young hostel owner, who takes them out for a night on the old town and stakes his claim to Rachel (Kevin has already targeted Sarah). They dance the night away as dear old dad vainly tries to Skype his daughter because he has been watching the news and hears that something weird is going on in Jerusalem.

The quartet discover the city has been quarantined and Israeli troops are battling – something. They hear gunfire, explosions and screams in the distance, not to mention an unearthly growling and screeching reminiscent of the time you accidentally shut the door on the cat’s tail.

From that point “JeruZalem” becomes an escape caper with the two American girls and their vacation boyfriends struggling to get out of the old city while monstrous events unfold around them.

The story is displayed from a pair of Google Glass-like eyeglasses that belong to Sarah, and yes, I would really like to know how she kept the damn things charged through her ordeal. My new phone will maintain a charge over a couple of days’ heavy usage, but then my phone has a battery the size of a Pop Tart. Sarah’s Glass didn’t – unless the Pop Tart was hidden in her blouse pocket.

The actors carried their parts effectively and there were no gaping holes in the plot, at least none I would try to drive a truck through. Special effects were acceptable and pacing matched the plot well enough. The found-footage viewpoint was not overly distracting, although at times the integration of technologies struck me as too seamless to be believed.

If I had a substantial criticism it would be that the storytelling mechanism trivializes the subject material. Mysterious stars in the sky over Jerusalem portending a religious disaster, sinister film footage smuggled from the Vatican showing the alleged execution of a demon, and air raid sirens that warn of something far worse than incoming Palestinian rockets are all gamely revealed through the lens of a silly pair of internet-capable glasses that display a frowny face and flash “fatal error” when dropped.

It’s all in the name of fun, however, and I confess I enjoyed “JeruZalem” despite its limited flaws.

I would give the movie a B- grade for its interesting premise, decent plot and pacing, and occasional (although sparse) flashes of genuine weirdness. I mark it down for its found-footage viewpoint, which did not serve the story effectively.

I watched it on Netflix.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

“The Happening.” Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Lequizamo, and others. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. 91 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

Terrorists have just attacked your city. An airborne agent is causing people to commit suicide en masse. You are standing in line to board what may the last train out of the danger zone. Do you:

(a) Get in line as quickly as possible and hope you actually find a seat on the train, or

(b) Make everyone wait as you and your wife have a long, soulful conversation about the strains in your marriage.

If this is an M. Night Shyamalan movie the answer is (b) of course, and that scene is emblematic of the problems with what could have been a nifty little horror movie, “The Happening.”

Two giant flaws will keep “The Happening” from joining my DVD collection – at least until it reaches the discount bin at Walmart: writing and direction. Shyamalan has been living off the good will generated by “The Sixth Sense” for many years, but he may have used up that charity. “The Happening” is an unrecoverable mess.

The movie begins with such promise. People in Central Park suddenly begin killing themselves in a plague of violence that spreads across the city. The first five minutes offer some really scary scene-setting – construction workers hurling themselves off a building, and cops shooting themselves in the head with their own guns.

Science teacher Mark Wahlburg is summoned from his classroom after telling kids that some events are merely natural cycles that will never be explained (Galileo must be spinning in his grave) and learns a terrorist attack has threatened New York City. He calls his wife, Zooey Deschanel, and arranges to meet with a friend at the train station to evacuate. It is there that they have their marriage encounter as mobs of terrified civilians scramble to get aboard the train.

As they flee the city and the contagion spreads, they begin to realize the event is not a terrorist attack at all but a response from plants to the assault on the natural world by humankind.

The movie is filled with quietly gruesome scenes – a man lies down to allow a riding lawnmower to chop him to bits, or tree-trimmers hang themselves from the branches they were preparing to cut.

But it is the inane and distracting subplot between Wahlburg and Deschanel that ruins “The Happening.” Civilization is crumbling around them yet they pause – usually during moments of duress – to fret about their troubled relationship, which on the face of it doesn’t appear to be that troubled: Deschanel went out with a male coworker to enjoy an ice cream cone.

Not exactly “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

One more gripe: Throughout the movie the attack is referred to as “the event,” yet the title is “The Happening.” Why?

I think Shyamalan has succumbed to the bane of the untouchable creator – he who cannot be edited most desperately needs editing. It’s a shame because with a decent script and a more grounded director, “The Happening” could have been another sleeper like “The Sixth Sense.”

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.