Troy Duffy’s “The Boondock Saints II” – I’m strangely uncomfortable with it

And Shepherds we shall be, for Thee, my Lord, for Thee.
Power hath descended forth from Thy hand,
that our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command.
So we shall flow a river forth to Thee,
and teeming with souls shall it ever be.
In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

Spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for the original Boondock Saints film.

Troy Duffy’s 1999 film The Boondock Saints got a meager theatrical release, mostly owing to its proximity and minor resemblance to the Columbine High School shootings, but found quite a cult following on DVD. And my friends and I absolutely ate it up. Along with Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, this was my indie darling in high school. And oh, to be 15 again. To live in a cinematic world where heaven is a slow-motion shootout of dual silenced pistols, exploding cats, and gratuitous silicone tits, and where the best thing that can happen to a good movie is a sequel with an increased budget.

The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints’ Day, whose subtitle makes about as much sense as that of Die Hard 2, has more or less the same plot as the first film. Mobsters are bad, Jesus is good (kinda), and the McManus brothers – Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus), along with their father, Il Duce (Billy Connolly), and brand new Mexican sidekick, Romeo (Clifton Collins, Jr.), are anointed by God and cinema to wax as many evildoers as possible. With the mob, the Boston PD, and the FBI hot on their trail (after a very public mobster killing at the end of the first film), the boys must survive using only their wits, their guns, and their uncanny ability to avoid all return fire while sitting immobile on their haunches flailing their gun-arms wildly.

In the first film, Willem Dafoe had quite a memorable role as FBI Agent Paul Smecker, and while his investigation of the boys’ carefully delivered crime scenes didn’t make even the slightest bit of pop-forensic sense, it produced some of the most fun scenes in that film. Blaring opera music through his portable CD player, he cavorted omnisciently around each set piece reconstructing the crime in his mind, during which we saw flashbacks of that very crime in progress (since we only knew as much as he did by then). It was a silly, but effective storytelling device in that film.

After ten years, Willem Dafoe has gone on to bigger and…erm…better…things, and Paul Smecker has been replaced by Special Agent Eunice Bloom (Dexter‘s Julie Benz). She does the same superficial dance as Dafoe around the crime-scene, sporting earplugs instead of headphones (seemingly to block out the Boston PD’s endless cavalcade of incompetence and sexual harassment), and can miraculously reconstruct a perfect timeline of grisly events. But while Benz looks gorgeous as a redhead and is clearly having a great deal of fun in this role, her fake southern drawl is downright repellent, and she just comes off as a ham-fisted (and mostly unsuccessful) attempt to recapture the fun of Dafoe’s character.

In much the same way, Clifton Collins, Jr., one of the most talented and prolific character actors in Hollywood, has joined the party as the Saints’ new bumbling non-Irish sidekick, Romeo. The boys refer to Romeo as “[their] Mexican”, Collins’ mulleted, mustachioed, tattooed madman is utterly cartoonish, and yet an absolute pleasure to behold. His initial meeting with the Saints on the boat-ride from Ireland provokes the kind of instant acceptance seldom seen outside of a Dungeons and Dragons match (“You seem trustworthy!”). This character is ridiculous, but immensely fun.

But Romeo is really just a replacement sidekick for the Saints, following the departure (from this mortal coil) of their old buddy David Della Rocco (David Della Rocco). But don’t you worry, fans, Rocco may be dead, but he’s not gone. In the middle of the film…practically in the middle of a shootout, in fact, it suddenly and inexplicably cuts away to the boys sitting in an Irish pub, with Rocco behind the bar pouring them shots. The scene jumps wildly around from the bar to a downtown Boston [read: Toronto] rooftop, and finally to a hockey rink, as Rocco gives a blaringly incoherent, Denis Learyesque rant about what it means to be a man, and what a man should do (“things” is apparently the answer). The scene makes absolutely no sense, interrupts the flow of an already overlong film, and may be the worst example of pandering fan-service ever seen put to screen.

As for the Saints themselves, what can I really say? They’re back and doing their thing, and it’s basically the same as before, except they just look a bit more tired and deliver their awesome killing prayer (above) a lot more robotically. And while it seems Flanery and Reedus have aged about 15 years in the ensuing 10, Billy Connolly looks like he may have actually gotten younger, and the film tries to expand upon his character by giving Il Duce, the scourge of the Boston mob, his very own origin story. We can tell it’s a flashback because of the desaturated color (a trope I truly never get tired of), and Il Duce’s backstory is at least marginally interesting. Some mobsters killed his boss, he goes to kill mobsters, he realizes he likes killing mobsters, his buddy betrays him and then comes back for revenge (Yes, you read that correctly), and so on. There was a time when I might have found this story more compelling, but a decade and four seasons of Dexter later, all it inspired was a tepid yawn. His back story amounts to a fairly simplistic (and yet strangely incoherent) revenge and serial killer tale, and just comes off as padding a shallow film with needless exposition.

As a continuing fan of the first film who can admit that it’s actually not that good, I can’t see much here that justifies the sequel’s existence. It just feels like a ten-year reunion of callbacks to the first film, as reenacted by a high school drama department. The thoroughly engrossing soundtrack of grand, over-epic requiems and Celtic jigs has been abandoned in favor of abrasive and extremely generic rock music. In one scene, the music blares over Connor McManus sprouting a notable gun-boner over a pair of monstrous black pistols, with the lyrics inviting me to go “BALLS DEEP, MOTHERFUCKER!!!”. Sound advice.

As you might’ve guessed, even as a shadow of its predecessor, there is a meager amount to enjoy in The Boondock Saints II, as long as you’ve not strayed past a certain threshold of emotional maturity. This film definitely has all the ingredients of a high schooler’s “cult classic”, but I can only hope that if Troy Duffy returns after another decade-long hiatus to make The Boondock Saints III-D, a few of them might see the error of their ways.

FilmWonk rating: 3 out of 10
(mercifully, this was also the price of my ticket)

Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” – Horrific in the truest sense

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist boasts some of the most breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography of any film this year, and is easily one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen. It tells the tale of an unnamed couple, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who hike to their secluded cabin in a pristine wood called Eden to struggle with their grief following the accidental death of their toddler son.

At this year’s Seattle One-Reel Film Festival, I saw a short film called Tara, whose horror I described as “simple, mundane, and rather cryptic“. Like this film, it was boring and ponderous for much of its runtime, but played deeply and effectively on male apprehension about the secrets of women.

Antichrist explores similar territory, but in a more severe, graphic, and haunting manner. He is a trained therapist, treating his wife for her grief and fear, despite the obvious conflict of interest of their marriage and continued sexual relationship. She blames herself for their son’s death, while He seems largely unaffected by it. Meanwhile, they are visited by a series of animal apparitions – Grief, in the form of a doe, Pain, in the form of a fox, and Despair, in the form of a trickster crow. These animals – who come to be known as the Three Beggars – are each profoundly disturbing in some way, and without spoiling too much, I’ll simply say that they effectively encapsulate their associated emotions. It’s unclear if these animals are real, a hallucination, or some combination of the two, but they nonetheless contribute a great deal to the unsettling and episodic nature of the story.

I must also note that von Trier has crafted a film that is unrelentingly misogynistic. Its thesis is spelled out clearly by its female lead, who declares in a singsong voice that “a woman crying is a woman scheming”. This is after She informs us that the bodies of women are ruled by nature rather than reason. Her subsequent actions thoroughly bear out this view of women, whom von Trier seems intent on casting as evil and sadistic by nature.

And yet, the evil and sadistic one may in fact be von Trier himself. The self-styled “best director in the world” sits in his lair thinking, “Ah ha! Watch the foolish, PC, and mostly male film critics leap to the defense of women…playing directly into my hands!” In truth, I can only speculate about von Trier’s motives for making this film, but the most consistent message that I received from it was utter disdain for the audience – male and female.

Antichrist balances precariously between brilliant, independent filmmaking and a “MADtv” parody thereof. The performances (particularly Gainsbourg’s) are fantastic, but bewildering. It features some ravishing cinematography, and yet contains enough gratuitous slow-motion to make even Zack Snyder blush. It also depicts (and fetishizes) graphic sexuality, violence, and combinations of the two, in ways that seem exclusively intended to support the film’s thesis about the evils of women. And what of this thesis? After days of pondering it, I must conclude… Of course women are schemers. People are schemers, and women are people, no matter what Lee Majors might say. And while I doubt von Trier is the world’s best director, he is certainly one of its greatest schemers.

I once said to a friend (amid an argument about Terry Gilliam’s classic dystopian film, Brazil) that anyone can disagree with me about a film, but they must never insult my ability to form a valid opinion about it. With Antichrist, von Trier has succeeded in creating the closest thing to a criticproof film that has ever been hatched.

You’ve done me a grave insult, von Trier, and for this, you get a mere 5.

And another point for unleashing my inner turmoil. Now get out of my sight, you arrogant bastard.

FilmWonk rating: 6 out of 10