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 “Westworld” pilot (2016)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison suggested I give the Westworld” series (2016) a try, and I’m damn glad he did.  The first episode was superb, and it’s safe to say it’s reeled me in.  I’d give the pilot a 9 out of 10; this seems like it could be the best science fiction television show I’ve seen in a long time.

I still think the premise is just slightly cheesy — grown men and women spending a fortune to visit a western-themed amusement park with interactive android cowboys.  (I think maybe westerns were a more mainstream genre in 1973, when Michael Crichton’s original film was in theaters.)  And there are times when the show’s central western-themed motifs are a little annoying to me … even though I know the park is supposed to appear superficial and cliche.

But “Westworld” is a highly intelligent thriller — it looks like a hell of a lot of thought went into the script.  Just about every aspect of the show seems like it was well developed — everything from the actors’ performances to the set design.  And don’t let the gorgeous, idyllic, sunny landscapes fool you — there is no shortage of pathos here.  It’s brutally dark in its storytelling.  (By the way, if you happen to be a fan of this show, I must recommend 2014’s “Ex Machina” film — it is similarly cerebral and dark in its outlook.)

Anthony Hopkins is fantastic, as usual; Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton are all very good.  They’re all overshadowed here, though, by two stellar performances.

The first is Ed Harris as a black-clad psychopathic visitor to the park — I had no idea he could be so frightening.  Dear God.  Has he played bad guys before?  I’ve always associated him with nice-guy roles — even his antagonist in 1996’s “The Rock” was misguided and sympathetic.  I’d love to see him get a role in an upcoming “The Dark Tower” film, maybe as one of the Big Coffin Hunters, if they are ever featured.

The second is Louis Herthum, the ostensible “father” of Wood’s heroine.  (They are both androids within the park — I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s all over the show’s advertising.)  Herthum may be a lesser known actor, but he stole the show in a tour-de-force performance, in my opinion.  And that’s no small feat in a cast including Hopkins and this surprisingly vicious Harris.  I haven’t seen a performance that good on television since NBC’s “Hannibal” went off the air.

Anyway, I noticed something funny here.  Steven Ogg plays a bandit who invades people’s homes and murders them … this is basically the same role he plays as Negan’s chief henchman on “The Walking Dead.”  It must be weird to be typecast like that.

Hey … it is only just now that I realized the logo below is a riff on Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.”