A short review of “Vanishing on 7th Street” (2011)

“Vanishing on 7th Street” (2011) kicks off with an extraordinarily good start — it’s begins as an especially frightening supernatural apocalyptic thriller.  Nearly everyone in the City of Detroit disappears at once, leaving only several survivors to cope with ubiquitous shadow figures that wish to visit the same fate upon them.  The opening scenes completely intrigued me, and one early moment made me jump.

Hayden Christensen is good enough in the lead role — he actually is a competent actor, despite the movies for which he gained infamy in the early 2000’s.  (And I won’t name these widely panned films in which he starred, because I don’t want to start any wars with its ardent fanbase.)  Thandie Newton is predictably quite good, John Leguizamo is predictably awesome, and the young Jacob Latimore is terrific too.

How sad, then, that this creatively conceived thriller so utterly loses its way.  The film stumbles completely by the end of its first hour.  We spend far too much time listening to four characters bicker in an isolated stronghold while the failing lights flicker around them.  We also visit the same basic scare sequence a bit too often.  (It’s pretty damned scary when the shadow figures encircle our protagonists at first, only to recoil when they’re repelled by the light.  But it gets progressively less scary after the fifth or sixth time the movie shows this happening.)

There are enormous logistical questions about the plot’s setup and elements, too.  Virtually all are left unanswered by the movie’s somewhat ambiguous ending.  Was this … intentional?  Was the movie intended as some sort of open-ended abstract art film, instead of a complete horror story?  It certainly didn’t seem that way from its detailed and effective early scenes.

I can’t actually recommend this film.  But it’s … different and interesting, I’ll grant it that.  Based on the parts of it that scared me and piqued my interest, I’d rate it a 5 out of 10.

 

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A review of “The Dead Don’t Die” (2019)

“The Dead Don’t Die” indeed has the greatest zombie cast ever assembled.  Seriously, just look at that poster below.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the best zombie screenplay ever written, or the best direction ever seen in a zombie film.  This would-be classic was a surprisingly average viewing experience; I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.

I almost feel guilty for feeling so unenthusiastic, because I like so many of these actors so much.  Bill Murray and Adam Driver actually are quite funny as the movie’s two torpid police officers; Chloe Sevigny makes them even funnier as their panicked straight man.  And the addition of Tilda Swinton’s zany Scottish samurai undertaker makes them the perfect comedic quartet.  (I think this is the first time I’ve seen Sevigny in a movie, as she mostly does arthouse films — including 2003’s ignominiously reviled “The Brown Bunny.”  And I had no idea that Driver was this talented, given his milquetoast turn as a villain in the most recent spate of “Star Wars” films.)  I honestly would love to see the four of these characters battle apocalyptic threats in a series of comedies — aliens, vampires, killer robots from the future … whatever.

Other big names shine here as well.  Tom Waits and Caleb Landry Jones are both surprisingly funny, delivering little bouts of quirky, laconic, character-driven dialogue in a film that seems intended as mashup between “Cannery Row” (1982) and the first two “Return of the Living Dead” films (1985, 1988).  (I first saw Jones as the creepy kid in 2010’s “The Last Exorcism;” I suspect that more of my friends will recognize him as Banshee from 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”)

The problem is this — although many of the characters are engaging, they populate a subdued, disconnected movie that is frequently quite slow.  Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s heart is in the right place — assembling this oddball ensemble cast for the mashup I mentioned above is actually a terrific idea.  But “The Dead Don’t Die” ultimately lacks punch, and even a tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy needs a minimum of tension.  The movie is a bit too lethargic to become the truly great film that the trailer led us to hope for.

Complicating matters is the fact that that several groups of characters follow story arcs that go nowhere — sometimes literally.  (Where did the kids from the juvenile detention center run off to?  Why were they included at all?  Not much happens to them and they have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.)  This movie often felt like a number of comedy skits stitched together — some were admittedly quite funny, but they didn’t add up to a cohesive story.

Oh, well.  It’s possible that you will like “The Dead Don’t Die” much more than I did.  I might be the wrong audience for this, as I’ve never cared much for horror-comedies.  (The aforementioned “Return of the Living Dead” films are on the short list of those that I like.)  Your mileage may vary.

 

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A short review of “Bad Samaritan” (2018)

As I believe I may have mentioned, I have a love-hate relationship with David Tennant’s onscreen performances.  I find him inexplicably, positively grating whenever he plays a protagonist.  (See 2011’s “Fright Might” remake, or his cringe-inducing stint as “Doctor Who.”)  But it seems to me that the man is absolutely fantastic when he plays a bad guy.  (See his frightening and hilarious role as Kilgrave the first season of “Jessica Jones” in 2015.)

“Bad Samaritan” (2018) thankfully presents us with the latter Tennant.  He musters an intensity with his eyes and his voice that are incongruous counterpoints to his innocent-looking face, and this makes him a damned good antagonist in a thriller.  (He is a highly organized, sociopathic kidnapper in this film.  I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as all of the film’s marketing make it clear.)  He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch — and listen to.

With that said, “Bad Samaritan” is an average movie — not altogether bad, but not awesomely good, either.  (I suppose I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.)  It benefits a lot from another very good actor in Robert Sheehan as its anti-heroic young protagonist.  (The plot setup here is interesting — a mild-mannered burglar discovers a psychopath’s captive while in his house, then struggles with how he can help the terrified victim of a far worse criminal than he is.)  The movie’s biggest sin seems to be that it borrows heavily from comparable genre-defining works from the likes of Thomas Harris and James Patterson.  But it’s still an enjoyable enough movie in its own right.

There’s someone else here that’s great fun to watch too — Kerry Condon as the kidnapee.  Her voice is amazing, and she’s a superb actress; I think she’s strong enough to carry another movie like this.  I just knew she looked familiar … it turns out she played Clara, the really weird woman that Rick found in the woods during Season 3 of “The Walking Dead.”  (He asks her the show’s signature “three questions.”)

She is also to voice of F.R.I.D.A.Y., Tony Stark’s on-board A.I. in several of Marvel’s “Avengers” movies.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Weird world.

 

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A few quick words about “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” (2017)

I was skeptical about “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” (2017), and I’m not sure why — maybe because I assumed it would be a failed and shameless imitator of “Black Mirror” (2011).  But I’m happy to be proven wrong — the first episode was damned good.  It isn’t quite as good as “Black Mirror” (the success of which doubtlessly helped this series reach fruition), but it looks like it could be a great show in its own right.  (None other than Ron Moore and Bryan Cranston are among the producers for “Electric Dreams,” so that should make us optimistic about the show’s quality.)

I’d rate the first episode a 9 out of 10.  (The entry I’m referring to here is the “Episode 1” with which Amazon Video audiences will be familiar — the episodes appeared in a different order when this series first aired last year on Britain’s Channel 4.)  It’s got a great cast, including Anna Paquin, Lara Pulver, and the incredible Terrence Howard.  (His acting skills are among the best I’ve ever seen.)  And its story is damned neat, even if it employs a Dick story device that we’ve already seen in some other adaptations.  (Can I write “Dick story device” without my Facebook friends snickering?)

This was good.  I recommend it.

 

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