Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews 288 – Ichi (2008)

February 17, 2017

ichiNot to be confused with Ichi the Killer, director Takashi Miike’s ultra-violent yakuza thriller, this Ichi is yet another variant entry of the Japanese Blind Swordsman lore known as Zatoichi. In this case the blind sword wielder is a lonely and depressed young woman whose day to day meanderings are driven by one solitary goal.

As a blind orphan, Ichi (Haruka Ayase) was rescued and trained by Zatoichi to master the sword. Unable to care for her himself he sent her to become a member of a goze – a term used for visually impaired women who have taken on jobs as musicians for hire – but left her with a little ‘calling’ bell with a promise to visit when rung to comfort her.  After being forced upon by a goze patron and accidentally killing him, Ichi is banished from the goze and began travelling the land in search of the lost Zatoichi.

On the road she meets Toma Fujihira (Takao Ohsawa) – a hapless samurai who cannot remove his saber from its sheathing, guilt ridden due to an accident he had as a child while playing with it.  Their journey brings them to a small resort, or “Inn” village ruled by a benevolent Yakuza known as the Shirakawa clan but now being held under siege by Banki (Shidô Nakamura), the scar faced gang leader of the Banki-to with a snivelling laugh.

That night, Toma decides to do some gambling at the local parlor and with the help of Ichi’s acute hearing Toma wins handsomely while the Banki-to participating in the game loose.  As Toma, Ichi and Shirakawa boy who has started clinging to Ichi depart into the night, the flustered Banki-to follow to reclaim their lost wagers. As Toma once again stammers with his sword, Ichi springs into action and slices to shreds the outskilled Banki-to. Moments after the battle, Toraji (Yosuke Kubozuka), the son of the reigning Shirakawa comes across the fallen Banki-to and, mistaking Toma as the adept swordsman, hires him to protect the Shirakawa and help rid the village from Banki’s oppression.

His secret now out having frozen in action when confronted by the Banki-to in the presence of the Shirakawa, Toma is beaten and berated. But when the elder Shirakawa is slain by Banki, Toraji decides that enough is enough and that the Shirakawa will finally stand up to Banki with a final, all out battle. Scorned by the Shirakawa members, Toraji lets Toma join the fight, goading him to act becoming of a samurai.

The direction is a bit uneven especially in the beginning as transitions between light comedy and poignant drama are somewhat awkward and untimely. But once they arrive in the village the story finds its footing. There are also plenty of solemn and introspective points, either with Ichi distancing herself from Toma, and when Ichi is briefly held captive by Banki. The battles are decent and bloody but don’t expect the usual acrobatics or gimmicks.

Movie Reviews 287 – Les Diaboliques (1955)

February 10, 2017

les-diaboliquesFrench director Henri-Georges Clouzot was probably the one director that could compete on equal footing with the great Alfred Hitchcock. And while not as prolific, Les Diaboliques “The Devils”, although it is universally distributed under the original French title – not only ranks as good as Hitch’s best, but in some ways even surpasses the master.

Right from the start we are confronted by the strange trinity between the headmaster of the Delassalle boarding school for boys, his wife and his mistress, both teachers there. Headmaster Michel (Paul Meurisse) openly both seduces and torments his mistress Nicole (Simone Signoret), while at the same time she befriends and consoles his wife Christina (Véra Clouzot). Christina, weak and ashen-faced and who actually owns the school is constantly bullied, dehumanized and degraded by Michel in front of everyone. As the school enters into a three day weekend holiday, Nicole convinces Christina to help her with a plan to murder Michel. Christina wavers, as she desperately wants to divorce Michel, yet is held back by her religious convictions. Meticulously planned and with deceptively crafted alibis in place, the women execute their scheme in which the last step is to place the body in the stagnant swimming pool at the school and then wait for someone to stumble across the remains.

They wait out for the anticipated discovery with ever increasing nerves until they all but order the emptying of the pool, only to be shocked that no body is to be found. But subtle clues and a body washed up on a nearby shore have the women scrambling. As they mount excuses and lies to cover their search for the body Christina is approached by a retired Police detective to help her find her ‘missing’ husband.  In a truly an unforgettable ending, the truth is more shocking than anything viewers can anticipate and fitting the diabolical title.

What make this film so great is the sustained tension, from beginning to end and so thick you can cut it with a knife. Christina (and sadly Véra herself in real life ) is further strained by a heart condition throughout the ordeal of the murder and the following turmoil. What we believe are just minute artistic nuances in the filming end up being perfectly fitting the character motivations that support the twist ending. Even then, with the very last scene after the big ‘reveal’, we are left with a sense that once again there is just a little be more to the story.

If that weren’t enough, the shot compositions are magnificently framed and there are plenty of subtle subtext devices throughout. I honestly want to watch it again now that I know the outcome. It is both an art film and a film that can be enjoyed by the masses. Filmmaking at it’s finest. I’m now looking forward to someday finding The Wages of Fear, another Clouzot film held in high regard.

My Criterion DVD contained excellent extra features that provided a background on both the director and the film itself which I highly recommend. The only bad news is that those features implied that Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, a film I already stated I was looking forward to, is essentially retelling of the Diabolique plot.

Les Diaboliques? C’est Magnifique!

Movie Reviews 286 – Battlefield Earth (2000)

February 4, 2017

Battlefield EarthMaligned by the masses. Ridiculed by the critics. As certain as I felt it would provide little entertainment or satisfaction, Battlefield Earth, the adaptation of Scientologist founder L. Ron. Hubbard’s novel has always been a scab that I knew I would have to peel back at some point in my life. That time has come.

As implied by its full title, Battlefield Earth: A saga of the year 3000, a millennium in the future Earth has been invaded by aliens who are mining the planet for gold. The Psychlos are nine feet tall, natty dreadlock haired, warrior like invaders that have decimated the human population on the planet. Of the few humans that remain, those that have not been captured by the Psychlos are now living in isolated tribes far from the Psychlos having regressed to a primitive state. The free humans have only the legends of gods that made their presence known to their civilization and are now punishing them for their sins. One savage among them, Jonnie (Barry Pepper), defies the tribe elder to forage for better resources and also answers to his questions about those reputed gods.

Jonnie is soon captured by the Psychlos and is brought to their massive enclosed base city in which there are many human captives. The Psychlos need a breathing apparatus when not in their base as exposure to Earth’s atmosphere can be deadly and reciprocally the humans need a similar filter while imprisoned there. The Earth is just a resource colony for the Psychlo home planet and ruthless head of security Terl (John Travolta) finds himself continually denied a return home because of some past indiscretion. When he discovers that his underling Ker (Forest Whitaker) had planned to keep a newfound gold deposit to himself he takes over the operation himself. But Terl cannot mine the deposit himself. He realizes that the recent captive Jonnie is smarter than the other vermin humans and subjects him to ‘learning machine’ hoping to get information out of him. To Terl’s surprise, Jonnie learns the Psychlos’ language and convinces Terl that he can lead a band of humans to mine the gold deposit for Terl without arousing suspicion from the Psychlos’ leader But Jonnie uses the opportunity to work outside to mount a rebellion with both the free humans still roaming about and the current captives.

If you combine the flaccid acting, moth-eaten dialogue, and cavernous plot holes, you begin to get a sense of the fiasco at hand. As I haven’t read the 1000 plus page novel (I guess we can no longer apply the ‘phonebook’ adjective as those are relics of the past), I can’t comments on how the adaptation adheres to the source or the quality of the source for that matter. But the journey from novel to film does shed some light. I refer to this film as Barbarino’s Folly, as Travolta, a devout Scientologist, was the one who flogged this movie to the movie studios for years, only to finally make a deal with Franchise Pictures, then a ‘studio of last resort’ catering to such vanity projects and also with him footing some of the bill as one of the producers.

Not quite making the ‘so bad it’s good’ list, the movie does have the cool looking Psychlos, and while the effect is not done perfectly, the oversized aliens set against normal sized humans does work at times. But the groan moments are to numerous and head slap inducing – what the hell was an actor as fine Forest Whitaker doing in this mess – for me to recommend even one mock viewing. I have no idea if the movie espouses Scientology doctrine as I suspect was Travolta’s goal in making it. But if that were the case I’m sure the list of people wanting their money back was longer than any new recruits to the cult.

Movie Reviews 285 – Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

January 26, 2017

Clan of the White LotusFor martial arts movie aficionados, what could be better than watching a battle featuring the great Pai Mei as the opening credits roll to begin a movie? Right from the first frame of Clan of the White Lotus we are treated to an awesome battle pitting two young men, Hu Ah-Biao (King Chu Lee) and Hung Wen-Ting (Chia-Hui Liu a.k.a the great Gordon Liu) battling the silver haired and lighting quick master. With dazzling acrobatics and breakneck speed the two determined antagonists finally overcome their seasoned foe and mete a final winning blow.

As the scene cuts to an emissary reading out a declaration from the emperor, a narrator explains that all prisoners that were followers of the Shaolin temple including Ah-Biao have been pardoned and are to be released. But the White Lotus Pai Mei (Lieh Lo who also directed the movie) does not take the news well and sends out his thug army to kill all of the prisoners that were released with the primary goal being to kill Ah-Biao, Wen-Ting seeming to have avoided incarceration. While the ambush is a slaughter for the newly freed Shaolin disciples marching their way home, Ah-Biao himself is spared having left the group earlier. But the clan of the White Lotus, eventually track him at his home where his pregnant wife Mei-Hsiao (Kara Hui), Wen-Ting the equally deft fighter Tsing-Tsing are welcoming the warrior back home.

No sooner does Ah-Biao settle in for a long awaited home cooked meal with his beloved and good friends does Pai Mei’s conscript’s arrive to settle the score with Ah-Biao and his his companions. But the two couples, each highly skilled fighters in their own right, put up an effective but eventual losing battle. Wen-Ting and Mei-Hsiao flee, leaving Ah-Biao and Tsing-Tsing to suffer the ultimate fate at the hands of Pai Mei.

The two take refuge with a relative of Mei-Hsiao, where she soon has her baby and as Wen-Ting endeavors to enhance his fighting skills so that he may one day enact revenge on the seemingly unbeatable master, so named after his bushy white eyebrows. Wen-Ting believes that the answer lies in combining Crane style and Tiger style fight manoeuvres, but every time he pits himself in battle against the silver haired Pai Mei, he still proves to be no match. Practicing against paper clothed bamboo mannequins, it is Mei-Hsiao that diagnoses his problem. His over aggressive, full force styles of conflict must be tempered with a soft touch. She teaches him that his Crane and Tiger stances must be abetted with tender, woman like strokes like that of threading a needle in order to have a comprehensive and effective fighting arsenal. The solution is further improved when Wen-Ting discovers acupuncture as a means of ‘threading the needle’. With that newfound technique in hand he takes one last stab (pun intended) at the villainous master.

While perhaps not as revered as other Kung Fu movies of it’s era, the Shaw Brothers studios’ Clan of the White Lotus (also known as both Fist of the White Lotus and Fists of the White Lotus) is the epitome of the genre. Superb and agile action sequences framing a quasi-realistic and passionate story line. The fighting and practice scenes are both streamlined and intricate along with a dollop of comic relief in the guise of a lazy relative and a few cliché Kung Fu grips such as the seven second death touch.

If some of the above seems familiar (as it should), the character of Pai Mei was more recently brought back into the spotlight in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2, and played by Gordon Liu for an ironic role reversal. Tarantino being a longtime fan of 70’s martial art films, often uses both characters and actors from the heyday of the genre and Clan of the White Lotus was obviously an influence.

While the English transfer does suffer some hiccups and slightly confusing bits (the exact nature of the opening sequence being one) presumably due to poor translation or actual scene omissions, the end result is still more than satisfying.This masterwork is not to be missed.

Movie Reviews 284 – Theater of Blood (1973)

January 8, 2017

Theatre of BloodThe late prince of horror Vincent Price had a knack for coming back from the dead and tormenting those who have crossed him in the past. He did it in the role of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in which he took revenge on the doctors who were unable to save his wife after a car accident injured her (and supposedly killed him). As professor Henry Jarrod, his partner at the House of Wax thought he had killed him for the insurance money before Jarrod started creating remarkably lifelike wax creations of his victims. In Theater of Blood Price once again becomes an afterlife tormentor, this time focusing his daggers on a circle of theater critics who denied him his due.

Rejected a theatrical award he believed was rightfully his, Shakespearian thespian Edward Lionheart (Price) confronts the circle of critics who humiliated him and, snatching the trophy that was withheld, makes one final dramatic posture as he throws himself into the river Thames to end his life. But soon after those very critics start dying one by one, in each case the fatal injuries exemplifying scenes from a Shakespeare play. It does not take long for the police detective on the case to tie the murders into a pattern, the common thread being a playlist of Lionheart’s oeuvres.

Luring his former detractors, Lionheart’s kills are as dramatic as his performances, first reading the defamers back their derisive reviews of particular past performances of his which he has meticulously clipped and saved from newspapers over the years. After each scalding review is brought back to remind the critics of their stinging scrutiny, Edward then fashions their impeding methods of dying based on the very acts of death in those plays. With the final recitals exhausted, his doomed victims get their comeuppance in grisly fates that include quartering, stabbing, heart extraction, force feeding, swashbuckling swords, vat drowning, and (my fave) decapitation.

The few leads the cops have in trying to apprehend Lionheart include tailing his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and vainly trying to sequester the remaining critics from opportunities to snatch them. But the dimwitted and vain ensemble each have their vices which, exploited by Edward, are often the eventual cause of their ruination.

The prose of Othello, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus are all delightfully mixed in with a few corny one liners to make this film enchanting. Whether you’re a fan of the Bard or not, you’ll relish this film. Honestly, this is the only way I can really sink my teeth into Shakespeare.

Movie Reviews 283 – Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

December 28, 2016

frankenstein-and-the-monster-from-hell

As a tail end baby boomer who loved genre films, when it came to horror the prevalent and easily accessible films were not the Universal studios classics but the Hammer gothic renditions that, pardon the pun, gave new life to the old staples. Those late sixties and early seventies Dracula flicks gushed with the blood the early censors forbade, gave glorious morbid colors to the black and white celluloids, and for good measure threw in a bit of sex taking advantage of that revolution as well. The Karloffs, Lugosis and Chaneys were replaced by Hammer principals Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and I loved every minute of it.

As much as I enjoyed The Curse of the Werewolf, The Horror of Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit or a personal nostalgic favorite The Reptile, it was impossible to catch them all in the pre-videotape, pre-DVD days. And Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was one of those movies that I never managed to catch. Until now…

Simon (Shane Bryant) is a young doctor infatuated with the work of Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and vainly tries to recreate some of his experiments in body reanimation as he studies Frankenstein’s notes and publications on the topic. When his hired body snatcher gets caught he leads the police to Simon’s makeshift home lab where he is arrested and brought before a magistrate who summarily sentences him to the local asylum for his crimes. Unfazed, Simon goes to the asylum and immediately runs afoul of the director, who instructs the guards to ‘give him a good washing’. But the spectacle of his torturous cleansing under a high pressured hose with an audience of the other inmates is interrupted by the asylum’s medic, who is none other than Baron Frankenstein himself.

Initially an inmate, Frankenstein had managed to usurp power over the director due to some indiscretions, and then had the director fake Frankenstein’s death in order to assume a new identity. Working within a secret lab in the asylum, Frankenstein has continued his experimentation. Simon immediately recognizes Frankenstein, and devoted as ever, begs him to let him learn more as his apprentice. With his own hands scared and useless, Frankenstein had been using the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith) as his hands for surgical procedures. Learning that Simon is a surgeon by trade, he agrees to let him help with his experiments. But Frankenstein does have some dark secrets he keeps to himself.

Simon soon learns of a monstrous creature (Dave Prowse, a semi Hammer staple himself having played a completely different looking Frankenstein creature in The Horror of Frankenstein) Frankenstein has caged in his lab, but is astounded by the progress Frankenstein has made. But Frankenstein is not as pleased with the shortcomings of his creation – feeble minded and with hands as useless as his own. Fortuitous events in the form of timely passing of other inmates allow Simon and Frankenstein to give the creature new eyes, dextrous hands, and finally a brilliant brain.

But just as Simon begins to take Frankenstein to task on his methods to acquire suitable body parts, the creature goes on a rampage. The end is grisly but almost without skipping a beat Simon and Frankenstein begin planning their next experiment …

While not as highly regarded as many other Hammer horrors, I must say that I was more than pleased upon finally seeing this one. There are a few additional angles lurking in the plot which includes Sarah’s secret, and the past of some of the other inmates. Cushing is more cold and callous than his usual Frankenstein, and the other actors all hold their own. One aspect that may have been received negatively is the unusual, grotesque non-traditional look of the Frankenstein monster, but I thought it’s uniqueness entrancing just the same. The Hammer touches are all present with the gore mostly delivered via the surgical procedures.

Sadly this was the last Frankenstein movie that Hammer made, a tragedy that may be corrected with the recent rivival of the studio.

Movie Reviews 282 – The Toxic Avenger (1984)

December 23, 2016

The Toxic AvengerThe Toxic Avenger was not only an indie horror sensation, it was what made Troma Entertainment a household name in the B-movie industry and introduced us to the straight-laced but dark minded Lloyd Kaufman, producer and frontman for the enterprise. The character of the toxic avenger, now revered and affectionately nicknamed Toxie by fans, became the de facto mascot for the company and spurned a number of sequels over the years, but it all started right here.

Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl) is a mop slopping human punchbag at the gym he works in, the perennial butt of jokes and target of muscled jocks and workout leotard wearing prima donnas alike. After one particular incident Melvin gets chased by the entire gym and thrown through a second storey window only to land in a barrel of toxic waste that is conveniently located on a parked truck out front. With oozing and bubbling skin he then transforms into a toxic monstrosity taking another dent in his already pathetic social life and any chance of getting a hot chick like those who surround yet despise him.

But things take a turn for the better when he rescues Sarah (Andree Maranda) from a bunch of thugs robbing a restaurant, an act that not only begins his career as a vigilante but ends his search for love and acceptance. From that point he begins to clean up the town of all evil, moving into a dilapidated makeshift home in a junkyard surrounded by bubbling slime and puffing swamp gases. But for a time he is happy as long as Sarah doesn’t accidentally kill him with her cooking.

Unfortunately his efforts to cleanse the town does not sit well with the evil mayor and his crony councilors who practice all manner of illegal activity and strong arm tactics backing their embezzlement and narcotics operations. Worried that Toxie will eventually get to them, they decide to throw all their resources to taking him down while he continues to aid the poor, the elderly, the downtrodden, and any victim of crime.

Pushed to the limits, the mayor manages to get the US army tanks and troops staring down their barrels as Toxie stands in front of his home as the town dwellers, friend and foe stand as an audience to the final showdown.

Like a modern day Frankenstein, Toxie is the embodiment of the outsider who only searches for acceptance in society. But instead of dark gothic drama The Toxic Avenger delivers the story amidst blowups, boobs, and flying bodies. The effects, while decidedly low budget are effective, but most of all fun.

The success of this movie gave rise to three sequels, a Saturday morning cartoon and even a musical. I especially looking forward to watching The Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie if only for the numerous celebrity cameos. And you may want to keep a lookout for Marisa Tomei as she is in this first film. My 15th anniversary DVD was chock full of goodies including a whole bunch of clips showing the Troma studio digs in Manhattan and what other goods lurk in the offices and corridors. I think I spent as much time checking out the Extra Features as I did watching the movie.

Movie Reviews 281 – Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 (1987)

December 10, 2016

silent-night-deadly-night-2Last year I reviewed Silent Night, Deadly Night, a great movie about an axe wielding Santa that begins with a great backstory, delivers innovative kills, and was overall a whole lotta fun. As my DVD also included the sequel, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, I thought it best to set it aside and save it for this year’s holiday horror viewing pleasure. As I began watching the sequel, I wondered if I would remember enough of the first movie to make sure I got any contextual references. To say I need not have worried is an understatement. Let me explain…

The original movie recounts the story of little Billy Chapman who watched in horror as his parents were slaughtered on a roadside by a Santa suit wearing convenience store robber. Traumatized, he gets shuffled to an orphanage run by a unscrupulous Mother Superior that and torments him at every opportunity and refuses to acknowledge his residual anguish when confronted by any image of Saint Nick . When he is finally old enough to leave Billy gets a job at a toy store and, as luck would have it, finds himself obliged to don the store Santa suit on Christmas eve. Pushed one time too many, he cracks and goes on a rampage as he makes his way to his final intended victim, the Mother Superior.

But on that night of his parent’s murder so long ago, Billy’s little brother Ricky (Eric Freeman) was also present, just a baby left crying in the back seat of the car as Billy endured the carnage. While this movie is about what happened to Ricky after the events of the first movie, the first 45 minutes (more than half of the 88 minutes in this film) are just flashbacks to the first movie as Ricky tells the story to a psychiatrist, himself now in a mental institution.

His interrogation by the psychiatrist then continues on to tell Ricky’s story of being adopted by a couple, seeming to blend in, but similarly traumatized on occasion by nuns and red Santa regalia. It’s only when his foster father passes away that Ricky becomes slightly unhinged. At first he just gets easily annoyed by any matter of contention, but even so manages to have a girlfriend and lead something of a normal life.  But his anger grows and eventually he too goes over the edge and goes on a short killing spree of his own. He soon manages to snag the obligatory Santa suit before heading towards fulfilling his brother’s last act -getting even with Mother Superior.

With the exception of some decent effects shots (death by umbrella!), Ricky’s binge is shoehorned into the plot and makes little sense. The best parts of the movie is the reprise of the first movie from which just about every decent scene was stolen.

So is it a good movie? Only if you haven’t seen the first movie. In fact the end credits had to include everyone that worked on the first movie along with those who created the limited additional content for part 2. Call this one “Silent Night, Deadly Night 1.5”!

Movie Reviews 280 – Fail-Safe (1964)

December 7, 2016

fail-safeDuring the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union the world sat around as the two superpowers constantly increased and intensified their respective nuclear arsenals. Beyond any sane tipping point, the discussions eventually became doomsday scenarios, with global obliteration should either side spark a conflict. If either side side sensed an immediate threat to their country it was clear that there would not be any winner left remaining.

When it came to films anyone could be forgiven if only Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove came to mind as it was, and remains, the categorical classic comedy on the subject. There have been a number of movies of a more serious nature – Seven Days in May comes to mind – but most have been action oriented and with spies and conspiracy theories as the driving forces thrown in for suspense. But there exists a film that in many ways is the exact opposite of Dr. Strangelove, plays out pretty much the same scenario, is just as good and yet has been largely forgotten by cinephiles and history.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, a masterful filmmaker in his own right, Fail-Safe is the definitive movie that depicts the threat of Cold War nuclear proliferation, and is presented without comedy, action sequences or surreal plot devices. Instead the drama is played out in monotone meetings with sombre faced dignitaries, sweaty brows, and tense knuckle wrangling when the unthinkable becomes imminent.

The premise of the movie has military brass conducting a presentation to dignitaries visiting the Department of Defense central command and explaining how airspace is constantly monitored by radar. Any anomalies elicit the deployment of retaliatory aircraft which, under usual circumstances, are simply recalled when the anomalies turn out to be stray airliners or other radar phenomena. They reassure everyone that fail safes have been put in place to ensure that should threats not be discounted, a presidential order is still required to have a counterattack proceed to any final target. Of course the scenario of an errant airliner then plays out live as everyone watches the big board and a cascading sequence of events lead to a blissfully ignorant rogue squadron, believing that the US is already under attack, dutifully continue to carry out orders to bomb Moscow . This leaves the president with some dire choices and the fate of humanity in his hands.

What makes Fail-Safe that much more interesting is when we compare it to Dr. Strangelove, noting the many parallels and yet at the same time being orthogonally different. The parallels begin with scenes depicting the central command showing symbolic planes against an outlay of a world map which eventually becomes concentrated on that last, lone squadron heading in with misguided intentions. We also have the lone strategist who continually posits that the situation, no matter how it changes, should call for an immediate first strike since war is imminent. And finally both have a president that has to try to convince the Soviet leader that it was all a mistake and that everything is being done to avert the drop.

But where this movie gets turned on its head when compared to Dr. Strangelove is just as interesting. Instead of having a comical Peter Sellers as president we have the stone cold portrayal of Henry Fonda. Instead of having George C. Scott as the warmonger, we have Walter Matthau, which is doubly ironic given that both of these actors were playing non-traditional roles, Scott doing comedy and Matthau playing a heavy. The role reversal continues with comedian Dom Deluise in a very minor early role but one that performs a critical act with all eyes on him.

The truth is, if you just want to watch a movie about imminent nuclear war you will be more than satisfied with Dr. Strangelove. But if you want to see a realistic movie that will scare the bejesus out of you as you consider how the fate of the world can be left in the hands of one person, the President of the United States (notwithstanding the fact that in a few weeks buffoon Donald Trump will be that man), you have to watch Fail-Safe.

Movie Reviews 279 – Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

November 27, 2016

chernobyl-diariesThe spectre of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster shocked the world in 1986 and that horror, while now contained in a man made ‘bunker’, still has lingering effects more than 30 years later. I recall reading Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl, a book detailing the disaster which was written by one of the American doctors called in to assist with the aftermath of the explosion. The book described in detail the effects of radiation and the grisly injuries inflicted on both some of the staff nearby when the explosion occurred and worse, the higher radiation doses subjected to the first responders called to address the situation, some knowingly sacrificing their lives to avert an even greater global disaster.

Another aspect dealt with in the book was how Pripyat, the small city neighboring the facility, basically created as a home for all the families of those who worked at Chernobyl and only a mere three kilometers apart, ended up being the epicenter of the crisis. A city literally vacated within hours, with residents dropping everything with minutes to spare as the evacuation roundup progressed.

Now that decades have passed since the disaster (sadly overshadowed by Fukushima), the area remains radiated but only mildly compared to the initial contamination. While still uninhabitable it has become safe enough to visit for brief periods. To serve the curious, the daring and perhaps the foolish, a small but vibrant tourist trade has sprung up in the last few years.  There, for very short periods, the curious and those seeking exotic adventure can briefly enter the restricted zone and linger for a few moments to take in the ghostly vistas of the desolate city ruins.

Chernobyl Diaries blends the tourism terrors of Turistas, the unseen dangers of The Descent and the bleak city landscapes of post-apocalyptic movies to deliver a quaint, semi-original tale.

A young couple Chris (Jesse McCartney) and Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) tote Natalie’s best friend Amanda (Olivia Taylor Dudley) to the Ukraine with plans to hook up with Chris’ brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) before heading of to Moscow as the next leg of their worldwind vacation. With great reluctance on the part of Chris, Paul convinces the gang to forego Moscow and instead take up the offer from his  friend Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) who has a small business that  provides semi-official tours of the dilapidated Pripyat.

As they embark on their excursion they are joined by another young couple of foreign adventurers, Michael and Zoe, and together the entire gang take a two hour trip in a van to the derelict city. After a few interesting and scenic sights, it’s time to head back to safety but the van falters leaving them in a sticky situation.

With no communication, nobody on the outside knowing that they have gone there, tens of kilometers away from the nearest civilization, the group ponders staying stranded for the night. But Pripyat has a few secrets and the noises emanating in the dark may only be the rabid dogs they’ve heard stories about, or something else altogether.

The plots devolves into characters that go missing, get injured and die, but other than glimpses of humanoids scurrying in the background, we don’t learn much more. There is some tension, some question of trust, especially that of Yuri, but once that is settled, the movie just becomes a chase and survival flick. Too easy.

There are horrors that eventually reveal themselves but the the real horror of the Chernobyl tragedy surpases this lifeless cinematic opportunistic film. Watch a documentary on Chernobyl instead.