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Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)
A workable premise that has no solution
A movie like "Vanishing on 7th street" has two things that can work for it: firstly it has to be character driven, building upon the relationships of the people stuck within its dark premise. Secondly, it has to evolve to allow for a small bit of understanding, give us a little peek at the man behind the curtain so we go home guessing. In both categories, "Vanishing" leaves us not wanting more, but needing and expecting more. It is a waste of time.
A movie projection operator played by John Leguizamo finds himself suddenly plunged into darkness during his job. When the lights come on, the people in the movie theater, and apparently, the world, have vanished, leaving nothing behind but their clothes. This has a delicious twilight zone appeal, and as the movie set up the premise of the survivors finding each other in a bar 72 hours after zero hour, I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, this movie suffers from the same fate as the series "Lost". A premise which attracts cannot sustain without some proof that the people writing know more than the audience does about the world that they have created. Sadly, the movie is all premise with no delivery, a movie that says all that it can say within the first twenty minutes. The writer and director seem to hope that the audience's imagination can improve upon their own creation by giving us bland, unknowable scenes of vagaries that leave us slightly confused and bored rather then imparting the slightest bit of tension or fear.
It ends without giving us any satisfaction, like an M. Night Shyamalan film where the director dropped dead before he could gasp the final stupid twist into the replacement director's ear.
The characters in this movie on several occasions breathlessly gasp "I exist, I exist!" before vanishing. Perhaps this movie is about a horrible script attempting to absorb itself into nothingness, the Ouroboros of stupid movies slowly eating itself alive.
Case 39 (2009)
An evil young woman... eh
This movie begins with a half decent premise - an abused and shy young girl is rescued from her fanatic parents who seek to burn her alive in their extra large oven by a zealous social worker. After this point, the plot begins to take false steps - people begin to die around the social worker (Renee Zellweger), and she quickly - a little too quickly - comes to the conclusion that the little girl is some kind of monster/demon type thing.
The problem I have is based on motivation, as always - in horror movies it's easy to kill someone random off and say the killer is just "evil" why why why has to be the question. Why does the little girl choose this boy in her group as her first target, why then does she kill the psychologist. What is her motivation? To kill random people close to whoever takes care of her and scare the crap out of them? This leaves much to be desired as a plot. At the very least they could have used the little girl transforming into a demon to better effect, since that was the only bullet they had in an otherwise empty gun, it is used twice to very little effect.
I think a tense line could have been walked between thinking that the girl is a demon, and wondering if the woman is just crazy, but they are fully set on shoving the monster in your face as soon as possible, allowing you to get a long look at how silly the whole thing really is before they end it on a weak note, like an orchestra who is slowly eaten by a giant snake, it ends with a frail trumpet fading off into puzzled silence.
Gamer captures the worst of the digital age
Gamer is a movie about a technology that allows people to control other people through a neural interface. Basically this means shadowy colorless basement ugly people puppeting attractive people around in the real world. Think sims with real people, and I guess somehow these people get a thrill watching things unfold vicariously. For some reason this technology has seemingly taken over the entire world, though it is portrayed as almost disgustingly abhorrent. The technology has spread to a new area which is the real life version of a first person shooter. Death row inmates (who are always used for these weird futuristic TV show games) are controlled by people and if they get their avatar through 30 matches, the death row inmate walks free. The big bad guy who's winning all the matches is Kable, who only has 2 matches to go, and knows some super secrets about the billionaire bill gates type who invented the technology. Really this movie is filled with holes. Who gets to control a death row inmate in these fights? I assume there aren't thousands of these battles going on every month, allowing every pimply kid to get his own player, so how did the 17 year old kid who controls Kable get the reins? Why does Kable get all the credit if he's being completely controlled by this kid? Where are the floating cameras that follow cable wherever he goes, allowing the kid to play him video game style? How expensive must this lifestyle game be to control real people - if you had to pay to play real people sims characters, the price would be astronomical, especially since these human avatars are limited to young, attractive people. The problem is that this is essentially a science fiction storyline, but told by a rabid Michael Bay/Tony Scott fan who has no time for details, just time to shake the camera and explode everything. Even in slower scenes the camera jigs and jogs like it's being held by a crack addict waiting for his next fix. The tone of the movie is all wrong, the villain exists in a semi dark comedic nightmare, and the hero is the earnest, just wants his family back humorless avenger. When they meet, the movie goes into an orgasm of complete stupidity, and the ending takes your brain and shoves it into a garbage disposal. There are some sad pointless little cameos by John Leguizamo, Keith David, and the guy from heroes. Michael C Hall is a bit cringe-worthy as the villain with a wispy southern accent that seems to come and go. The real star of this film for me was Amber Valletta's ass.
The Tournament (2009)
"The Tournament" - a decently cool idea staggers, crawls, then dies.
The Tournament - a deadly game played out every 7 years, where the world's richest people put 30 of the world's deadliest assassins in an out of the way town, and bet on who will be the last man (or woman) standing. The surprise (aha( is that through a plot twist, a drunken priest played by Robert Carlyle becomes an unwilling participant. Ving Rhames, Kelly Hu and that dueshbag from LOST round out the character actors.
A movie like this, for me, needs two things - badass characters - and I mean MAKE THEM BADASS! Have a guy who uses snakes as weapons, and has an eyepatch, and uses a boomerang! Have a girl who has poisons and throwing stars, and who killed her whole family when she was 3 years old - I want some bloody history goddammit. Have assassins who get their arms pulled off and still keep killing. What we get here is a stupid video game sequence for each of the top 5 assassins, THE TEXAN, THE FRENCHMAN, THE Asian CHICK, etc, kicking and punching a bit before freezing for the camera. This is not the way to go. Show them in their environment. SHOW us, don't just tell us how badass they are.
The movie has a stupid subplot where Ving Rhames's wife has been killed, and hes there for revenge, blah blah blah, these movies tend to get all cocked up when they try to make an emotional plot work, and this one is no exception. I feel like having this tournament, plus a bystander who's a priest who then becomes one of the players is more than enough plot for an action movie, the rest can be just watching the carnage unfold, and if the characters are interesting, and the action scenes are creative, that's all it really needs. This movie tries to straddle both, and ends up having mediocre characters having mediocre fight scenes (the two fight scenes with the FRENCHMAN were the exceptions, mostly because I'm a sucker for that parkour jumping around stuff).
One last thing - movies like this need to understand the idea of contrasting elements. Contrast these deadly killers against a very normal town! Show them getting coffee at starbucks, fighting in a wal-mart, contrast crazy with normal. Instead the towns people seem to barely exist, the cops are nowhere, you never get that moment where a kid looks at a bleeding murderer from behind a box of paper towels, and the killer goes "hey there buddy" before blowing away a crazy monkey fighter who leaps over the tootsie roll display. This place is the town equivalent of an empty warehouse.
People are comparing it to death race, but I actually liked that better, because it embraced it's stupidity, and didn't try to have that emotional subplot. The Tournament is really a movie best enjoyed after at least four beers, and even then you might find yourself nodding off near the end.
Zombieland meanders down a river of corpses
I enjoyed Zombieland, and yet I was left feeling unsatisfied. It seems to have been well reviewed because there is nothing necessarily bad about the movie, but beyond a few laughs, there really isn't much good about Zombieland either. I wanted to like it, and I enjoyed the first two thirds of the movie, but then I got this sinking feeling that it just isn't going anywhere. There's some stabs at character development, but it is incredibly simplified - the main character is a neurotic baby Woody Allen type, Tallahassee is tough because he lost someone or something, and the girls don't trust anyone, because... they just don't. Some people have been comparing this to "Shaun of the dead", but I think that was a vastly superior film, mainly because the zombies were an actual threat in "Shaun". In Zombieland, the zombies exist more for their slapstick appeal. The plot is loose and unconnected, and makes no real sense. This is a movie that cried for a dark side, just a glint of pain, disaster, personal loss. I was not a fan of the ending either, it felt like a TV ending, leaving everything open so there can be a sequel, and almost nothing is resolved. The acting is solid, I have to lay the blame on the script, the story's arc was weak, even if many of the scenes were strong. Finally, don't get me wrong, it's worth seeing, just not worth gushing over.