117: The Dark Knight Rises

I am fully aware of the fact that by proclaiming my misgivings about The Dark Knight Rises I run the risk of being told to go find some other line of work or, even worse, go die. So with that in mind, here goes: I liked The Dark Knight Rises for the most part, but there were moments I wanted to take Christopher Nolan by his lapels and implore him to not make this movie so convoluted and dark. I know comic book movies have grown up, but sometimes the growth has got to be checked to see if it is still healthy.

I refer to the overblown references to the occupy movement and the need for the common people to rise up and take the world back from the bankers and rich people who are all holed up in their fancy apartments and offices. Do we really need something this close to our real world infused into a world that is ostensibly a world where we go to escape the troubles of our every day life? I saw this as a need on the part of Nolan, after the delicious mayhem of The Dark Knight, to root his fantasy even more in reality, something that is extremely hard to do and he succeeds only in part. It always comes across as an attempt to win the hearts of the blue-collar folks who frequent the movies more than those despicable rich people. Why not knock on their door and drag all their belongings into the street, because who are they to create a nice life for themselves. It is an incredibly cynical look at a real-life movement that in all its ridiculousness still had a great point and a mostly non-violent point at that (let’s hope the people in Oakland feel the same way).

With that out-of-the-way I must also say I didn’t feel bored for a majority of The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan manages to keep the pace up during the whopping 170 minute runtime, which is a feat in itself. We find ourselves about eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman is still on the run after taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s (a.k.a. Two-Face) death, something only Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth about. Gotham City needs its heroes and Gordon decides to keep the truth to himself, a tremendous burden that reflects on his face. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is holed up in his enormous mansion. He doesn’t want to show himself anymore after the love of his life died and he noticed Gotham apparently doesn’t need Batman anymore.

It is a visit from a beautiful young woman called Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a burglar after some family jewelry, that sets a new sequence of events in motion that will lead to a situation that could be the undoing of Gotham City, a city that looks more like New York City than Chicago this time around. Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, leads Bruce Wayne to somebody called Bane (Tom Hardy), who wants to make some plans, that were initiated way back when Batman was also just starting out, come to fruition. Yes, to complete his trilogy Nolan goes back to the well and that leads me to one of the problems of this being a trilogy. But more on that later.

There is certainly a lot to like about The Dark Knight Rises. The music by Hans Zimmer is rousing as ever and the cinematography by Wally Pfister is eye-popping to say the least. Mind you, I did not see the movie in IMAX, so I can’t reach an honest verdict about the switching between IMAX and regular footage. The biggest problem I have, however, is with the screenplay. While intricately structured it is also incredibly clumsy at times. It is like in Inception, where every single step of the way was explained by the characters in dialogue. The possibility of an audience member not getting all the details is a horrifying idea to Nolan. He wants everything to be clear in the first viewing and that makes for some clumsy moments of overblown dialogue and situations.

Take for instance the moment that Jim Gordon has to address a crowd at the beginning of the movie. He has a speech in hand, but decides not to use it, because it contains a truth the city of Gotham is not ready for. Instead of having Gordon just put away the speech, Nolan has to have him explain to the crowd (read: the audience) that it contained a truth they would not be able to handle. This is all just to set up a plot point later in the movie that I will not divulge here. This is schlocky screenwriting at best. Nolan is said to be a director who trusts his performers to do their job, but in this instance he doesn’t trust in Oldman–arguably one of the best actors we have–to carry this scene. If he wants to create an intelligent comic book movie, he also has to allow the intelligence of the audience to work with him. And this is just one of several moments in the movie where you see Nolan standing in front of the screen in the theater screaming, “Do you get it? Good. Then we can move on!”

On a more positive note, I absolutely adored Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. I really like Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, but that was more because her Selina fit perfectly in Burton’s seedy world. Hathaway’s Selina is much more close to the Catwoman we know from the comics. She is a brilliant burglar, who literally has a love-hate relationship with Bruce Wayne. The way Hathaway plays her is fantastic. You never know from one moment to the next what she is up to. She can go from a kick-ass fighter to a whimpering victim within a heartbeat and that makes her a joy to watch. Hathaway is also the master of the understated look of disbelief and she uses that technique to great effect to undercut a lot of what the other characters are saying and doing. You always feel she is one step ahead of everybody, while in reality she really is not. She is cocky and far from perfect. She may be my favorite element from the movie and I hope to see more of her when the series progresses.

Then there is the whole connection to the previous installments. And, I guess, here be minor spoilers. To tie his trilogy neatly up in a bow Nolan goes back to Batman Begins with the return of the organization that trained Bruce Wayne in the first place. This weighs heavily on the plot of this movie and that leaves me to wonder what the purpose of The Dark Knight was other than to set up The Dark Knight Rises in its last few minutes. Of course, the return of The Joker would have been nearly impossible, but would it have been too much to ask to make a little more of a deal of this madman in the context of this third movie. After all, he was the one who trashed the city pretty good not too long ago. Also, he didn’t die in The Dark Knight, right? So he must still be locked up in Arkham for all I know. A little nod to this iconic character would have been nice and it would have made The Dark Knight a bit less useless in this trilogy. Heck, even Dr. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. The Scarecrow from Batman Begins) makes another useless appearance.

The cast is generally fine. Bale delivers his dependable moody Bruce Wayne who has to go through an all new set of troubles, including having to open his own door. Tom Hardy is enormous as Bane, Batman’s evil enemy who doesn’t hesitate to blow up a football stadium to show us even America’s favorite sport isn’t safe from harm. While Hardy is physically intimidating he still has to wear that mask at all times, which makes his on-set dialogue nigh unusable. In its stead we get a voice that sounds like a bad imitation of a young Sean Connery filtered through a Darth Vader mask. Every time I heard him speak I was ripped out of the movie due to its ridiculousness. Why did they go for this voice? Did they want to make him more sophisticated or something? This is a hired thug who was supposed to sound like the enormous hulky mass of human tissue he is, not some college professor from Glasgow, Scotland. On top of that there was no mention at all about what that mask really does. It somehow prevents him from dying, but how it does that is never explained. I also wanted the Venom poison to play some sort of role in Bane’s existence, but that also didn’t happen. Well, you can’t win ’em all, I guess.

I was, however, glad to see a pivotal scene from the comic make its way into the movie. What that is I will not say, but believe me, I wasn’t very sure whether Nolan and his friends would have the guts to put it in here. It was a feeling of great triumph for fans of comics to see that nod to the source material appear in The Dark Knight Rises. The fight that leads up to that moment is also a great sequence of events that will have you glued to your seat. Great stuff. Same goes for the chases and other spectacular scenes in the movie. There are enough chases through the streets of Gotham to keep you occupied. The inclusion of a flying device for Batman was a nice touch. Also, the (partial) destruction of Gotham City at the hands of Bane is a thing of beauty in all its sparseness.

I know that after reading everything I have said above it is hard to believe I actually had a good time watching The Dark Knight Rises. I just didn’t have a great time watching it. Something I was hoping for because The Dark Knight was so damn good. With a Justice League movie on the horizon it is hard to imagine Warner Bros. going right ahead with making another stand-alone Batman movie. They will probably mimic Marvel in making movies that will all fold into the Justice League. Is this a good thing? Time will tell. All I need to know is that Nolan is probably out of the director’s chair to make room for a fresh and maybe less heavy approach to this material. The possible inclusion of a certain sidekick should prove to be interesting in that regard. Let’s just hope Nolan doesn’t maneuver stooge Zack Snyder into the main position like he did with Man of Steel. I shudder at the thought.

> IMDb

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116: The Amazing Spider-Man

Remember that scene in The Social Network when Andrew Garfield, playing Eduardo Saverin, storms across the Facebook office, grabs Zuckerberg’s laptop and smashes it down on the table. Now replace the Facebook office with New York and Garfield’s suit with the Spider-Man outfit and you have the new Spider-Man. A more dark version of Tobey Maguire’s Spidey, more a moody teenager than a disgruntled twenty-something. The Amazing Spider-Man is a movie that is in many ways very similar to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, but also completely different… in a good way, that is.

In The Amazing Spider-Man we kind of retread the origin story we have already seen countless times. Peter Parker (Garfield) is a loner who is brilliant at what he does, but his social skills leave a lot to be desired. He lives with his aunt and uncle, because his parents upped and left when he was a kid for reasons that will probably become more clear as the movie and the series progress. This opening of Peter’s parents leaving sets the tone for the rest of the movie. This is not the Technicolor version that Raimi made back in 2002. This is a much more gritty view on Peter’s life and the turmoil he goes through.

Peter finds a briefcase in the basement that used to belong to his father. In it he finds secret documents that hint at Peter’s father being involved with some kind of genetic research. Peter discovers that his father used to work with a certain Dr. Curt Connors, a scientist at the infamous Oscorp, home of the Green Goblin. He decides to go look for this man in the hope to get some answers about the fate of his parents. At Oscorp he ends up in a room full of spiders and he is bitten, as always. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that by looking up Connors he also releases a monstrous beast called The Lizard, which is hellbent on wreaking havoc on the world.

As you can read not much is different from the previous incarnation of Spider-Man. Peter is bitten. He has to come to terms with his powers. He has to fight a terrifying menace. All the while tending to his romantic needs with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the daughter of a cop (Denis Leary). Ok, in Spider-Man it was Mary Jane Watson, but you get the point. Much of the difference between these two movies lies in the tone. Much like Batman Begins was the antithesis for Tim Burton’s Batman, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man is not exactly Raimi’s Spider-Man.

Well, with that established, we can judge The Amazing Spider-Man on its own merits. I thought this was a very entertaining superhero movie. Garfield did a great job of capturing the various emotional states he has to go through to become Spider-Man. Doubt, fear, hubris, arrogance; it all plays into the character that is Spider-Man. He is a fun-loving guy when he is wearing the costume, but when he gets home he is still covered in cuts and bruises. This Spider-Man doesn’t come home unscathed. Throughout the movie Garfield looks beaten. His hair is always a mess, there is always some kind of cut healing itself somewhere on his face and above all he looks really, really tired. Something we didn’t really get to see with Tobey Maguire’s Spidey. A definite improvement.

Another improvement comes in the form of Peter’s aunt May and uncle Ben, played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen. This time aunt May isn’t the annoying woman in the kitchen who dishes out all sorts of advice to Peter. Rosemary Parker and Cliff Robertson did an okay job, but Field and Sheen knock it out of the park. They are the bickering, lovable couple anybody would want for their foster parents. The omission of J. Jonah Jameson from this installment was also a relief. He’ll probably turn up in subsequent movies, but this time I was glad his anti-Spider-Man sentiments were left out. In his place we get Denis Leary as Captain Stacy and instead of being the anti-Spider-Man nut that Jameson always is he is actually quite receptive to the idea of Spider-Man as time goes by. I thought that was a great way of validating Spidey and not have him constantly be hunted down by some newspaper nutjob.

As with so many movies The Amazing Spider-Man does takes some nasty shortcuts to get where it is going. Having Gwen Stacy be the tour guide at Oscorp was a little too easy, having Peter take on the identity of some other intern without consequences, the way Parker could move freely through the Oscorp building was ridiculous. Come to think of it, it is really that whole sequence at Oscorp that bothered me. It is so badly written and full of obvious red herrings that I can’t really believe it fits into this movie, which for the most part is an excellent superhero movie. There is also the sequence in which a man, who Spider-Man helps earlier in the movie, happens to be a crane driver with connections across the city to align some other cranes to create a route to Spider-Man to reach Oscorp. Yeah, right, that’s stretching my suspension of disbelief a little too far. However, I can forgive these shortcuts, because the rest of the movie is so entertaining and well played by the entire cast.

As for Spider-Man’s evil nemesis, Dr. Curt Connors A.K.A. The Lizard, there is not really that much to say. British actor Rhys Ifans plays him to the best of his abilities, but you can’t help but feel he is a secondary villain only there to make Spider-Man’s initiation into the world of superheroes slightly harder. It is like Ra’s Al Ghul and The Scarecrow in Batman Begins, they were not really very interesting, and more tools for Batman to create his persona. The Lizard is a fun villain, especially his ability to shed body parts is great, but ultimately he is nothing more than a disgruntled scientist who wants to turn New York City into his personal terrarium. No clear reason is given for his actions. He is just there to set up the next movie, a movie that will present the first real villain for Parker to fight with (stay during the credits for a clue), just like The Joker in The Dark Knight.

I must admit that I actually got choked up by some scenes. I truly feared for the life of the little boy in the car that hangs off of the bridge. On the one hand I wanted to see that boy go down and see Spider-Man fail, because that would have been a tremendous dramatic opportunity for this movie. But as a father and a human being I also wanted Spidey to save him. The outcome should be quite obvious, although I will not tell it here in so many words. The moment Parker returns to the bridge and the father of the boy asks him who he is and he answers, “Spider-Man.” was a true Batman moment for me. After that traumatic event Peter finally finds his alter ego and embraces him, just like when Bruce Wayne went down into the cavern to let himself be engulfed by bats. It was that good a moment for me.

Despite its shortcomings I still highly recommend seeing The Amazing Spider-Man. To think that Raimi was already underway making Spider-Man 4. Then he and Sony decided to part ways and reboot the series. The result is a fine summer movie and an even better setup for future installments in the series. Fingers crossed for 2014.

> IMDb

115: Down By Law

Jim Jarmusch #3

This tale about three souls who meet each other in prison is Jarmusch third feature film after Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise. Jarmusch left New York and Ohio behind him and went out to Louisiana to film Down By Law, a movie in which he continues his distinctive style of film-making where he just lets the scene play out as it may. At least, it feels that way. Jarmusch says that “life has no plot, why must films or fiction?” and this movie once again shows that he lives by that motto.

Central to Down By Law are a lowly pimp, a down on his luck dj, and an Italian immigrant. All of them end up in jail after they are arrested for either did or did not commit. They quickly get on each other’s nerves. Especially Roberto, with his limited grasp of the English language and interminable optimism, is a force to be reckoned with. He is decidedly not somebody you want to be holed up with for any stretch of time. The only reason he is tolerated is his claim to know a way out of the prison. Once outside the men start on an adventure to outrun the law and start a new life elsewhere.

I found Down By Law to be much less impressive than Stranger Than Paradise, a movie that grew on me considerably while watching it. Down By Law had the opposite effect on me. It started great with the moody atmosphere of New Orleans framing the exploits of these characters who all choose to live in this seedy part of town and have no intention of creating a better life for themselves. It is funny at times, painful at other moments, sometimes both at the same time.

Tom Waits’ Zack is totally unfazed when his girlfriend, Ellen Barkin, starts throwing his stuff, including his vinyls, out the window. He just doesn’t care anymore. John Lurie’s Jack isn’t ready to quit the business of whoring his women, but he just doesn’t find any joy in it anymore (if he ever did in the first place). Zack gets arrested while driving some nefarious cargo across town and Jack when he checks out a prospect for his business, which turns out to be an undercover operation. They end up in jail together and a battle of gruff voices starts to play out between these two men. They clearly don’t like each other and don’t have any intention of becoming friends.

Then a common enemy shows up. It is Roberto Benigni as Roberto, an incredibly happy Italian who just won’t shut up. He starts reciting things like “If looks can kill, I am dead now.” and “Not enough room to swing a cat… Cat. The animal.” from a notebook in the hope the other men pick up on it. Jarmusch uses Benigni’s real life optimism to make Roberto incredibly irritating. He essentially plays himself in Down By Law. The man you saw at the Oscars in 1999 is the same he is in this movie and just about every movie since. I don’t like Benigni and I would venture to say he kind of ruined this movie for me. He felt so incredibly out-of-place in this movie.

Down By Law is not like Stranger Than Paradise, a movie that clung to a tone of voice and did not let itself be led by the mannerisms of its leads. I would have much preferred to have Lurie and Waits escape from prison and leave Benigni behind. From the moment the men escape from prison Down By Law is a little bit of a blur to me. I couldn’t get myself to care about the adventure these men embark on. Sure the photography is excellent as always, but it was in no way as interesting as the first half. The inclusion of the Italian woman (Benigni’s real life wife Nicoletta Braschi) at the end to give Benigni a home to stay in felt fabricated and, once again, out-of-place. As if Jarmusch had to find a way to put Braschi in the movie in order to get Benigni. This is probably not true, but it felt like that. Down By Law proved to be a disappointment.

> IMDb

114: John Carter

What happened in March of this year is an interesting study case. What caused John Carter to fail so miserably at the boxoffice? Where can we lay the blame? The studio, the audience, the marketing, the timing, the movie itself? Or was it a combination of all these? I think the latter will prove to be right. This was a unique confluence of factors that will prove to be interesting for years to come.

The Timing
There were no other big releases around that time, just The Lorax, Project X and 21 Jump Street. Hardly movies that you’d think could get in the way of a major release like John Carter. I think the fact that John Carter was the first big summer release (even as early as March) caused it to be scrutinized more than any other movie around that time. Critics and their followers went through the movie with a fine comb and brought up every little piece of the movie that didn’t work perfectly and made it into something that resembled the end of the world. John Carter certainly isn’t the epitome of perfection, but a 52% rating in Rotten Tomatoes is not deserved. But more on that later.

The Studio
It seems Walt Disney Pictures got a little too overzealous with John Carter. It so desperately wanted a new franchise that it went totally overboard with its budget. A $250 million price tag is excessive to attach to a property that isn’t proven in any way shape or form. Sure it was based on a classic science fiction series by a famed author, but the truth is that only hard science fiction fans know about this because these stories are almost a century old. That group is hardly enough to fill the seats to the amount that the budget could be justified. This was just stupid management on the part of Walt Disney Pictures. Another thing is the title, John Carter. This tells the general moviegoer absolutely nothing. The original title was John Carter of Mars, which tells you at least that the movie plays on Mars, not in some desert out in Arizona, or Utah. Again, a very dumb decision that made people go to Project X and 21 Jump Street instead.

The Audience
This continues my last point. Who was this movie made for? Beats me. Is it a science fiction adventure movie for kids? Is it Dances with Wolves on Mars? Is it meant for die-hard science fiction fans? I’m sure the only person who really knew this was Andrew Stanton, the director. He is the famed Pixar director of WALL·E and Finding Nemo, clearly he is someone who knows what he wants and how to get it. I just think he didn’t get what he wanted. At Pixar every movie is a collaborative effort and moving over to juggernaut Walt Disney Pictures must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but also an incredible disillusion. Now he had to contend with executives at the head of one of the most powerful media empires on a movie that is costing more than the general income of a small country. That must have muddled some of Stanton’s intentions for John Carter and created this unmarketable movie to the point where nobody knew who this was for.

The Marketing
A lot of money was spent to market John Carter to just about everybody. Everywhere you looked there was a billboard, a commercial, an interview and God knows what else to make people believe in this movie. A noble effort and I think some of the opening weekend boxoffice was saved by this. Unfortunately the negative reviews and the dreaded green tomato were too powerful for all the marketing in the world to overcome. Then the first people started this negative stream of word-of-mouth (the internet is very good at this) and John Carter‘s fate was sealed. Now, with the release of John Carter on blu-ray, it seems that this movie may actually get a new lease on life. At least, I’m hoping it is.

The Movie
The funny thing is that John Carter is hardly the atrocity everybody was meant to believe it is. As I said earlier, it is nowhere near the masterpiece it could have been, for that it needed a lot more work. Especially the first act could benefit from a major overhaul. Within the first fifteen minutes we are thrown back and forth between Earth and Mars without so much as an explanation. We are meant to figure out what’s going on on our own. This confused me and started the movie off on the wrong foot. Then John Carter gets transported to Mars and the movie kicks into high gear. The story is still a tough pill to swallow at times, but the sheer majesty of the visuals make up for a lot of the mistakes. In the third act everything seems to fall into place and a rip-roaring adventure commences with huge arena fights, chases across deserts and cities and enough intrigue to keep your mind occupied. I was thoroughly engrossed by what I was watching. If only the whole movie could have been this polished.

My fear is that Disney is not going to go along with subsequent installments of this franchise because of the way it performed. This is science fiction that deserves another go at it with one or two sequels. There is so much more material to mine for these stories and I would give up a lot of sci-fi drivel (e.g. Transformers 4) to get another John Carter. Here’s hoping they can maybe make it work within a budget that is a little bit more reasonable.

> IMDb

113: Sneakers

Believe it or not, but not so long ago there was no internet available to the masses. People needed to use modems and telephone lines to connect with other people around the world. One awesome example of this is John Badham’s WarGames, wherein a young Matthew Broderick uses his ancient computer and 8″ floppy discs to start a thermonuclear war. Another such example of outdated technology is Sneakers, a delicious relic from 1992. A movie I have revisited often over the years.

Martin Bishop and his college friend Cosmo want a better world. One night they are fooling around by transferring some funds from the rich to the poor through their mastery of the computermodem, like modern day Robin Hoods. While on a pizza raid, Martin sees how Cosmo is arrested for what they did. Martin decides to run and not help his friend who is thrown in jail for a considerable amount of years. Cut to present day. Martin is now head of a group of technical wizards who test the security of high profile businesses. Something very new twenty years ago. He comes across a box that seems to crack every single code on the planet. This is the beginning of a long game of cat and mouse between Martin’s team and every conceivable agency on Earth… and an old friend.

It is not such a coincidence that Sneakers seems like the somewhat grownup version of WarGames, because they are both written by the same guy, Lawrence Lasker. Maybe that’s the reason I just love this movie to death. There is a playfulness to it that is infectious, just like WarGames. The cast clearly has a ball with Lawrence Lasker’s words. From the thoughtful speeches by Cosmo, which are still relevant today, to the constant banter between the members of Bishop’s team. It just doesn’t get old. Seeing Dan Aykroyd verbally fight with Sidney Poitier is priceless. Oh, and Stephen Tobolowsky is in it.

And then there’s the tech. It may be hopelessly outdated, but Sneakers is totally OK with that. Sometimes you get the feeling when watching an older movie that the movie itself is ashamed about its dated nature. And you can’t help but go along with that. With Sneakers this is not the case. It is so convinced that this is the best tech for the job that you are as well. Using a telephone modem to track a phone call across the world, using thermal imaging to survey a building, using sound equipment to find the way to Cosmo’s company. It just all makes sense and that’s what makes Sneakers a great movie every single time I watch it. Like WarGames I can watch this over and over. Maybe I should make this a double feature someday.

> IMDb

112: Missing in Action

Let’s get it out there: Missing in Action is bad, really bad, but that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. As some of you will know by now I grew up in the ’80s and that’s when my movie sensibilities were formed. This meant growing up on masterpieces like E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future and so much more. It was a beautiful time to discover movies as a kid. It was also a time when cheap film-making became even more prolific than before because of the wide acceptance of the VCR. This meant that besides good movies I also saw my fair share of terrible movies. One of which was Missing in Action, although I must admit I don’t remember much of that initial viewing.

Some of the worst offenders of the ’80s bad movie boom were Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the guys who bought The Cannon Group in 1979 to indulge their adolescent fantasies of making movies in Hollywood. The result was a great many B-movies that were released during the ’80s that included several Death Wish sequels, the American Ninja series, Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top and Cobra and most famously a lot of movies with Chuck Norris, possibly one of the worst actors ever. His most successful movie was Missing in Action, which rode the wave of First Blood‘s success and even (literally) took a page from Rambo’s playbook.

Around that time rumors went around that there were still prisoners of war left behind in Vietnam somewhere in the jungle. An intriguing subject that was picked up by none other than James Cameron. He wrote a treatment about an ex-soldier going back to Vietnam to see of he could find these lost souls. The result would eventually be Rambo: First Blood Part 2, but not after the treatment passed through the hands of Golan-Globus. They figured they could also make a movie like this, but with their own muscleman Chuck Norris. They decided to put the first two Missing in Action movies directly into production in order to get them into the theaters before Rambo would and avoid some legal trouble.

Missing in Action turned out to be something of a hit. It undoubtedly made its money back and it managed to entertain a lot of people. Some still look back on it fondly, Lord knows why. I was definitely not one of them. I happen to like the Rambo movies much more, because as bad as the Stallone vehicles get Missing in Action tops it in sheer awfulness. There are some clever sequences, but those are few and far between. Like when Norris must leave his hotel in secret to pay a visit to a nefarious General and sneak back into the hotel. It is a fun sequence, but that is all there is to it. The rest is just ludicrous. For example: Norris tries to escape from a group of thugs and reach the boat he needs to take up the river to the camp. Instead of jumping on the boat and make his escape he jumps in a truck to start a whole new chase sequence that is totally out of context and just there to be filler. It is astonishing how badly written this movie is.

From that point on the movie is really just one big orgy of gunfire, stupid dialogue and senseless violence. The culmination of which comes when Norris rises in slow motion up from the dirty river water with an enormous gun in his hand to take out (supposedly very stealthy) three guards. There is literally nothing here to lend the movie a shred of credibility. Not that we expected that from Missing in Action, but you always hold out hope for that small glimmer of something that could resemble a decent movie. In the end Missing in Action just makes Rambo look like The Deer Hunter. It should be forgotten and never brought up again.

> IMDb

111: 388 Arletta Avenue

When you decide to make a movie utilizing the found footage/home video approach the first thing you should ask yourself is, “Does my movie need it?” Apparently the people behind 388 Arletta Avenue didn’t take the time to ask themselves that very question, because it is totally unnecessary in their movie. They are just capitalizing on the stupid notion that is going around that this type of film-making is what people want to see. All the while disregarding the fact that 388 Arletta Avenue could actually have been decent.

The title 388 Arletta Avenue refers to a house in Toronto where Amy (Mia Kirshner) and James (Nick Stahl) live with their cat. Unbeknownst to them they are under surveillance. Somebody is filming their every move. From outside, from inside the house, at James’ workplace, everywhere. This evildoer has a seemingly endless array of cameras installed to keep track of his or her victims. Then on one day Amy goes missing and James’ life starts crashing down around him. He starts to suspect everybody and nobody wants to believe him. A sick game is being played with him.

In The Blair Witch Project the campers had cameras with them to document their adventure. In Paranormal Activity the house seemed to be haunted so the owners installed cameras to see if anything happens. In Chronicle a good portion of the movie (the part that works) is kids messing around with their cell phones. All plausible ways to create the illusion that these events were recorded on the fly. Not so in 388 Arletta Avenue. We are somehow led to believe that everything in this movie was recorded by some malevolent force outside of James’ life, but the problem is that to make this believable you need motivation. Why does this person do this? What do they gain from this? Nothing of the sort is being explained here. We just have to accept the fact that this is so.

The most troubling part is that 388 Arletta Avenue could actually have been a decent thriller had it not been for the cheap way it was made. Director Randall Cole wants to make us feel dirty for spying on this guy’s life, for being there for every move he makes. He tries to do this by putting cameras everywhere he can think of. In clock radios, behind vents, in lamps. You name it, he thought of it. The idea alone that somebody is manipulating you whole life is scary enough as it is. Look at David Fincher’s The Game for example. There are no POV shots with hidden cameras in that movie and still it was tense and way better that 388 Arletta Avenue. The big difference is that The Game was made by a filmmaker with a clear vision and Randall Cole is just copying what other people have done while adding this found footage theme to it.

Would 388 Arletta Avenue have been much better without the camerawork added to it? No, for that the screenplay isn’t really all that original. We go through the motions of a thriller like this. We have seen it all before and adding some camera angles to it doesn’t alleviate the fact that this is just not new enough. I must say that Stahl holds his own for the duration of the movie. He manages to keep this ludicrous tale of mind manipulation fairly grounded. Seeing him pretend to blow his brains out just after he disappeared in real life is disconcerting. To be honest, the rest of the movie is just not exciting enough. Nothing much happens and the tension isn’t nearly as high as it should be. With the recent release of ATM, which is oddly similar, and now this I hope this trend is finally coming to an end. But hey, I’ve been saying that for years and nobody seems to be listening to me.

> IMDb