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Fodder for the Film School Fops
Stalker is one of those 'important' films that people who call movies films are very serious about. I mean, they LOVE Stalker and if you don't LOVE Stalker the way they LOVE Stalker it's because you don't UNDERSTAND Stalker. As in, you like spolsions and car chases and all those western cinema (oh, they call movies cinema a lot as well) clichés while they appreciate mood and lighting and probably opera.
So, to be clear, I understand Stalker. I understand the journey the characters undertake and why. I just wish they arrived at someplace a little bit more - ambitious.
The fun takes place in a future time in an unnamed country (Estonia). One day, a meteor strike destroys most of a small community and leaves behind a danger zone called 'The Zone'. The cool thing about the Zone is the rules of reality don't apply there and it even features a special room called 'The Room' which grants wishes! Highbrow!
That's all preamble, the story proper begins with the title character Stalker saying good-bye to his very unhappy wife and setting off on his latest guided tour of the Zone. The two members of his party referred to simply as 'The Writer' and 'The Professor', cause, you know, names are dumb, both hope the Room will grant them what their hearts desire, in their cases to be relevant and famous.
The journey that follows is populated with series of long conversations about the meaning of life. Interesting I guess, except the topics soon become repetitive and the mood sullen. These are not nice people. The Writer stating all human actions are selfish except for the creation of art is as debatable and it is smug. The Stalker claims his motives for guiding people through the Zone are purely altruistic yet he routinely sends his clients in first when exploring a dangerous path while he brings up the rear. And the Professor has a hidden agenda which I won't spoil for you because if you make it to the third act you deserve some sort of reward.
At about the 60 minute mark it became clear to me Stalker was going to be about the ride and not the destination. That's fine and as other reviewers have said it is a very, very pretty film to look at I just wish the characters had moved beyond the trite 'What's it all about anyway?' Sunday afternoon coffee shop chit chat and actually tried to come up with some answers for themselves.
Near the end of the film Starkers party is able to deduce (based on nothing) what the Room really offers people. This reveal serves the plot but it's no great insight into the human condition. It certainly isn't worth the 2 hour wait it took to get there.
Darker More Serious Arnie Outing Worth a Look!
Sabotage. Arnold is the leader of a crack team of DEA agents who have spent much of their time going under cover to fight the cartels. Well that's nothing new. Oh, his team are made up of basically the same obnoxious, macho bores we see in ever team special forces type movie. (Hello 'Expendables') As if that wasn't cookie cutter enough, Arnie is coping with the loss of his family who died, well, badly. Expect blood. Can revenge be far behind?? Again standard 'Commando' hijinks.
So why do I give it an 8? Because this film takes a comic book idea and gives it some depth. Our boy is a deeply damaged sole leading troubled people on a not-so-happy journey. With lots of blood, like I said.
It is grim, a little slow and borderline awesome.
First, my one real peeve with this film is it's bloody. I mean victims discovered with their intestines pulled out bloody. Graphic, ugly gore that adds nothing to the mystery and really just distracts the viewer.
Now the good points. Some pretty fine acting, writing, a decent mystery and seeing Arnold step slightly out of type for once was a nice surprise. The last point is maybe the most important, Sabotage reminds us Arnold has range, he can put the gun down for a few minutes and still be interesting. An example is the way he broke away from his action films in the early 90s and started doing comedies.
I lot of people don't like this film because, well it has problems, but mostly it wasn't what they were expecting. Give it chance. OR wait a month for 'Fast and Furious 26 - Racing in Racine' to come out on video. It will be what you're expecting I read in the trivia section the director submitted two endings that were both rejected and replaced with a more familiar 'justice be done climax.' Too bad.
Boring Art School Thriller Wastes Great Cast, Arbitrary Ending
I had never heard of 'Stay' before finding it in the $2.99 bin at my local video store but, just based on the cast (Bob Hoskins!) and the assurance on the back of the box the film was an 'Edge of your seat thriller!' I slapped down my money.
'Stay' focuses on Ewen McGregor a New York psychiatrist who inherits depressed college student Ryan Gosling from another doctor. Naomi Watts turns up now and again as Ewens former patient now girlfriend but her character has so little to do you can pretty much forget about her. Sorry Naomi! 'The Ring' was awesome!
Anyhow, the film plods along for the first 20 minutes in an unremarkable but serviceable way eventually hinting this new patient might be a threat to himself and others.
Then it gets silly.
You see, for some reason that is only explained at the end, Dr. Ewen starts to become paranoid and begins to lose his grip on reality.
'Stay' sets aside character development and, you know, actual thrills, and instead employs some pretty obvious editing and camera devices designed to make us feel a sort of disassociation with what's happening on screen. Lots of sudden cuts, images and events repeated, jerky camera work, you know, like they teach you in first year film school. Only not as good.
That's the film.
The really annoying thing about any movie that employs a gimmick as a major plot device is when the viewer takes the time to develop theories as to what's going on it would be nice to see some kind of logical conclusion. Not so in this case. The final reveal feels like, as I state in the title line, an arbitrary choice at best, a cop out at worst. One of several options just chosen at random giving no deeper insight into the characters, their world or life in general.
A clumsy attempt at a film genre that is clearly beyond the film maker's talents.
Rent 'The Ring' instead.
Storage Wars Canada (2013)
Storage Wars Canada a Fake? YYYYYYYYYUUUPPPP!!!!
A year or so ago Dave Hester shocked (maybe not) the world with the news that hit A&E reality series 'Storage Wars' routinely salted storage lockers with valuable items for bidders to 'find' while on camera.
Now, the spin off Storage Wars Canada has followed suit by salting lockers after only being in production a few months.
I sat down with someone close to the show who explained people from the production would arrive at the storage site the day before shooting with items to be found then the actors - sorry, bidders, arrive the next day to discover treasure in the trash.
It seems everyone, the crew, production company, even the storage sites know everything about the show is faked for the camera.
I'm told in an upcoming episode set in Scarborough, Ontario a locker containing a Dracula mask might be hiding something else. O.k., it's another safe. I know, Storage Wars stopped doing safes years ago but this is Canada.
In Their Skin (2012)
Brief Nudity and Slow Pacing Does Not A Thriller Make
First off, I know this film has been compared to a lot of other similar movies but, since I haven't seen any of them, I will be judging this one on it's own merit. It's not very good. 'In Their Skin' presents us with a professional couple attempting to move past a recent family tragedy. Together with their 8 year old son and faithful golden retriever they retreat to a pretty spiffy, secluded home in the woods. What follows is a good 25 minutes of awkward PG-13 sex, minimal plot advancement and lots of moody scenes that all pretty much say 'I blame you for the pain I'm in'. Dry stuff. Finally (thankfully!) a trio of creepy neighbors appear and the thrilling really begins! Sort of. Here's the problem - If the invaders were just that, home invaders victimizing the people they randomly came across then fine, o.k., simple but plausible. But no. Instead, we are asked to believe the main villain played by James D'Arcy who, I'm just going to say it, is basically impersonating Bruce Dern throughout most of the movie, which is fine, but we already have a Bruce Dern, we are asked to believe he is actually attempting some complicated identity theft scheme that was worked out way in advance. And this is idiotic. Like most junior Mansonites these three all have problems with impulse control and clearly don't have the means or follow through to execute such a long term plan. I will admit the pacing does improve in the 3rd act and there are some tense moments but they are too few and too far in between. A lot of film school students might tell you otherwise, but there is nothing deep or introspective about a series of meandering scenes that lead to an arbitrary climax that could have occurred 40 minutes sooner. And just to save me the time of adding a note under the IMDb 'goofs' section I'll end with a simple question. How did they finally call 911? Check out 'Cabin In the Woods' More thrills, a few laughs, much better choice!!
The Internship (2013)
Google Commercial Disguised as Heartwarming Buddy Comedy
First off, like most of you, I loved Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson in Wedding Crashers and like most of you, I went into The Internship hoping for more of the same.
What I found was a very safe, very by the numbers 'under dog' story featuring two ageing salesman trying to start over in the tragically cool world of Google employment.
Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson are two veteran pitchmen who learn their current company has just gone out of business and, in a reality only Hollywood could create, there are no other sales jobs anywhere in the universe! We know this because Vince spends 3 minutes using Google (not Workopolis or Monster??) to find a new gig only to have a sudden and unexplained epiphany that the search engine he's using to find a job IS the job. Deep.
What follows is a stock plot about the seniors taking on a group of outcast geek interns and teaching them to party, keep it real and - this is new - there is more to life than computers.
The film, written by Vaughn, plays it very safe, heartwarming feel good lessons replace well, comedy.
On the positive side, if you want to learn A LOT about the hipster, self absorbed world of Google this film is for you. Nowhere is the mega company joked about, ridiculed, parodied or in anyway presented as anything other than the ideal final destination for everyone on the planet who wants to ride silly colored bicycles and waste their lives typing code.
Rent Dodgeball. A FUNNY Vaughn movie with the same plot.
Howie Do It (2008)
Usual Howie Garbage!
I had the displeasure of being in the audience for this show, basically, a ripoff of Candid Camera where real life people would be set up by Howie and, in this case, other family members.
I won't bore you with the details but of the 4 separate families we had to sit through 3 misfired, in other words the victim, instead of getting upset and crazy which seemed to be the point, kept their composure and decided as a family they would work through it. Big credit to the victims, no credit for idiot Howie.
The final target was so upset she started crying and became so hysterical she had to be seen to by the set medic. Big laughs there.
Mandel has never been much of a talent and this pathetic, badly written outing shows how only 'Canadian content' rules set down by the CRTC keeps losers like this on the air.
Avoid at all costs!!
I first saw this film back in '83 and I think for people who didn't grow up during the Cold War era this could be looked at as just another disaster film of the angry alien or global warming melting glaciers variety. The difference is, this could have really happened. People get up, leave for work on a normal day and then, in the middle of Sesame Street, the world just ends.
Testament focuses on the lives of one family in a small California town surviving this fate. The tag line on the film stressed it was a 'realistic account' of how things might be after a nuclear war. No explosions or Mad Max violence, just regular people deciding 'What now?' The first half of the film deals with this pretty well and the family members are sympathetic and likable. The problem that I have, have always had with Testament, is act 2.
After a few weeks of living with the shock of what has happened the family begins confronting their grief and the realization that the television isn't going to be coming back nor will the Red Cross be dropping by with coffee and blankets. They are on their own. Forever.
Oh, and radioactive fallout has started making everyone sick.
So what does our leading lady do? As the mother of her 3 kids plus several newly orphaned neighbour children does she load up the Volvo wagon with her family and supplies and head to Canada?
No. She does not.
Instead she goes to increasingly futile town meetings and talent shows. Her narrative is concerned with how people in the future will remember how they (the town) lived, not about surviving for another day. She rattles around her house as people start dying around her and the filmmaker wants us to see this as noble.
The message of Testment isn't 'The human spirit overcoming terrible odds' or 'Strength of family will get you through' or even 'Modern science will doom us all.' No. The message here seems to be 'Die with dignity.' And that, it would seem, includes those dependant on you.
Given the option I would rather be Mad Max.
The Walking Dead (2010)
The Walking Dead opens with Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) becoming involved in a violent shoot out that ends up with him lapsing into a coma. Shortly there after, Grimes regains consciousness in a hospital room only to learn while he slept the world has fallen apart and most of the population are now flesh eating zomb- I mean, walkers. If this sounds at all familiar it's because the film 28 Days Later started pretty much the same way save for the gun violence.
Future episodes have Grimes searching the walker dominated Georgia countryside for his family and other survivors. Based on a comic of the same name the premise is pretty interesting if not all that original.
To it's credit, the pilot features some great zomb, uh, walker make up effects that would be worthy of any feature film. These effects apparently aren't cheap because in future episodes the walkers are moved more and more into the background.
The problem with the Walking Dead is it is slow and dull. Basically, it suffers from the same problems that crippled the cancelled t.v. show Jericho. For those who remember it, Jericho centred around a group of residents of Jericho, Kansas who faced an uncertain future after most of the major cities in the U.S. were nuked as a result of domestic terrorism. Again, another interesting idea saddled with bad writing.
Getting back to the show at hand. The Walking Dead scripts are bogged down with long, ponderous spurts of melodrama. Two dimensional characters endless whine about their feelings, worries etc. The format is so predictable the formula reads like this. Scene opens with walkers. Then lots of slow paced yip yap. Paragraphs of dribble that could be summed up in a couple of sentences. Then, just before the commercial break, more walkers. Return from commercial, repeat.
The other choice the producers made was to run the show almost in real time. One episode follows where the last one left off. This results in a story arc that moves at a dead (sorry) slow pace.
Jericho, after it was cancelled, was revived briefly for a few episodes to tie up the various plot lines. The sad thing is these final episodes, which focused more on rock then talk, were pretty good. A glimpse of how the series could have been if handled better.
The Walking Dead is at the same crossroads. Series 2 has to do a better job developing the main characters, giving their actions more purpose and dropping the drab introspection and trait tension that now exists.
If you want to watch a much superior example of similar material check out the film 'The Crazies' (awful title I know) which is about yet another small town sheriff trying save his wife and other survivors from savage cannibals. It's worth a watch because The Crazies offers much smarter writing that brings tension, horror and even logic and humor to the script. This, plus better acting, some neat effects and cinematography make it a much better use of your time.