Encapsulated Cinema: Catfish, Born to Raise Hell, and City Under Siege

Newsflash: I watch a lot of movies. And when I say a lot of movies, I mean A LOT of movies. My weekly cinematic consumption is damn near frightening and more than a little embarrassing; regardless of what I’m doing around the house, there’s almost always a movie playing somewhere in the background. Sometimes I’m thoroughly distracted by what’s on the screen, which, occasionally, causes me to fall behind in other, more important areas of my daily life. In order to chronicle these peculiar activities, as well as impart some knowledge onto those who are seeking guidance in the world of filmed entertainment, I present to you a weekly trio of capsulized reviews.

Here are this week’s contenders in no particular order.

Catfish (2010)
Although the film has been completely mismarketed as a “Paranormal Activity”-style horror flick, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s “Catfish” — the supposed true story of a mildly obnoxious group of New York filmmakers who discover that their buddy’s internet girlfriend isn’t as forthcoming as she claims to be — is actually a touching and well-crafted documentary about a startling discovery one naive twenty-something makes during his extended and frequently steamy online relationship with a mysterious young lady and her artistic family. The heart of the picture arrives once the filmmakers embark on an investigatory road trip to meet this suspicious brood, an adventure which seems to have a deep and profound effect on everyone involved. The last half-hour of the picture is remarkably depressing, though, at the same time, oddly uplifting. Unfortunately, the film may never find its audience, as those who would enjoy it most will no doubt be turned off by its shamelessly misleading marketing campaign. What a pity.

Born to Raise Hell (2010)
Written by the iconic Steven Seagal and frequently overdubbed by a shoddy, second-rate impersonator, director Lauro Chartrand’s generic 2010 direct-to-video effort “Born to Raise Hell” finds the aging action hero returning to the familiar world of international intrigue. Seagal stars as Bobby, an American law enforcement agent who must pursue a sadistic homicidal maniac through the seedy underbelly of the Eastern European drug trade. Chartrand’s admittedly muddled direction, combined with some embarrassingly awful music video-style editing, make the entire production look cheap and woefully amateur. However, despite the incredibly weak story and the overall lack of polish, the action sequences are frequent, intense, and suitably brutal. “Born to Raise Hell” might be all sorts of entertaining to those who thrive on this sort of stuff, but it’s definitely a step backwards for Seagal. You’re better off watching a rerun of “Lawman”, instead.

City Under Siege (2010)
Simply put, writer/director Benny Chan’s seriously misguided action/comedy “City Under Siege” is a terrible movie. That having been said, it’s actually quite entertaining, though maybe not in the way the prolific filmmaker had intended. The film — a quasi-serious chronicle of a circus troupe’s subterranean encounter with a gas that transforms them into super-powered mutants — careens wildly between unbelievably silly slapstick comedy and over-the-top sci-fi action with reckless abandon. And while it does happen to sport a handful of nifty fight sequences, the picture never truly knows what it wants to be. Despite these crippling flaws, “City Under Siege” somehow manages to coast by on sheer absurdity alone, but those looking for a dark and brooding superhero outing will only be met with weak special effects, lukewarm comedy, and one seriously dopey protagonist. Unless that sounds like fun, I would approach this one with extreme caution.