"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos


Adrien Brody, a little worse for wear, in Wrecked.

WRECKED – directed by Michael Greenspan




Rating: 3 out of 5 Chaplins

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 08 April 2011}

In Wrecked, Adrien Brody plays an anonymous man who awakes from unconsciousness to find himself trapped in a mangled car that crashed down a forest embankment.  The man is bruised, caked with dried blood, and one leg is trapped under the car dash.  He is in the passenger seat, so he knows he probably wasn’t driving the car, but that is the extent of what he can glean from his horrible situation.  The man has no idea why the car crashed, why he is in the car and, worst of all, he doesn’t know who he is.  The man’s memory and identity seems to have been completely wiped out in the wreck.  In his frantic attempt to dislodge himself, the man discovers various things that further unnerve him: a loaded gun under the driver’s seat, a dead body in the back seat, another dead body just beyond the wreck, and, when he finally extricates himself from the car, a bag stuffed with cash in the trunk.  This makes no sense to the man, and neither does the presence of a young female hiker (Caroline Dhavernas) who discovers him and proceeds to irrationally berate him as he slowly drags himself, with a broken leg, through the woods in a painful attempt to escape the forest and seek help. 

This is an intriguing set-up that leads into a compelling first half of Wrecked, eliciting a palpable sense of curiosity combined with a subtle feeling of suspense for the plight of this unfortunate man.  As he musters the will power, and whatever physical strength remains in his beat up body, the man slowly pulls himself through the forest, over the dense brush, rocks and up daunting hills, in the hopes of at least finding the road from which he plunged from in order to flag down any passing car.  Along his disorienting journey, he encounters a dog that gives him comfort, and he continually runs into that badgering woman who seems to be either a random hallucination or the manifestation of someone closely connected to his dire predicament.  Fleeting images flash in his mind that suggests he was part of something very bad, gone very wrong, that may have brought harm to the woman whose apparition haunts him.       

With very little overt action, director Michael Greenspan – working from Christopher Dodd’s minimalist, but intelligent screenplay – skilfully crafts what amounts to a silent film.  Greenspan’s masterful, unadorned use of subjective camera framing (evoking the subjective camera work of Alfred Hitchcock) and tight editing expresses the story in purely cinematic terms, firmly placing the viewer into the mind and the dilemma of the man.  Adrien Brody, one of the finest and – despite his Best Actor Oscar win for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist – arguably one of the least appreciated A-list actors working in movies today, is riveting in his role, which requires much reacting to his character’s situation.  Other than his point-of-view shots, Brody is in virtually every frame of Wrecked and his subtly nuanced performance engenders pathos, sympathy and dread as to what the viewer may discover about his past.  This is a bravura performance that is restrained and passionate at once.

The first rate cinematography by James Liston contributes to the ironic mix of claustrophobia and overwhelming sense of space, shot in a damp, unmistakable British Columbia forest. 

Wrecked is only a 91 minute movie, but by the time it reaches the end of act two, it unfortunately begins to drag as much as Brody’s character physically does so through the forest.  The filmmakers seem to have run out of ideas, and all though there are enough red herrings peppered throughout the film to keep the viewer guessing, by the time the story comes to its revelation of the man’s true identity and what actually happened to him before the accident, the payoff is dramatically disappointing.  Though there is much I admire about Wrecked, I found it to be more of a filmic exercise rather than a full-blooded movie.  It doesn’t so much crash at the end of its narrative road, but simply runs out of gas.

Trailer for Wrecked


Rutger Hauer is a vigilante vagrant in Hobo with a Shotgun

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN – directed by Jason Eisener




Rating: 1/2 Chaplin out of 5.

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 25 March 2011}

Hobo with a Shotgun is a Canadian-made, exploitation feature film that started life as a fake movie trailer when American film director Robert Rodriguez triggered a contest for the best new grindhouse trailer when he was making his 2007 exploitation film called Grindhouse, with co-director Quentin Tarantino.  Three Nova Scotia filmmakers – Jason Eisener, Rob Cotterill and John Davies – took up the carnage-filled challenge and made, practically overnight, a trailer called Hobo with a Shotgun.  It won the contest and caught the attention of Rhombus Media, a Canadian film production company, who wanted to turn the internet sensation trailer into a full-blooded feature film.  And that is exactly what you get with the feature-length Hobo with a Shotgun; a lot of blood – full of it.  And when you’ve had your fill of blood, the filmmakers are very generous with topping you up to overflow. 

This is where I would normally encapsulate the film’s story, but there isn’t much to encapsulate as the story is in the title, Hobo with a Shotgun.  You buy your ticket and you will watch a hobo with a shotgun.  There is no way you can be disappointed for you will get exactly what is advertised on the package.  There is no story in this movie; it is a situation to hang cuts of bloody human flesh on.  Here is the sordid situation: Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, The Hitcher) is the titular Hobo.  One morning, Hobo gets off a railway boxcar that he stowed aboard (do hobos still sneak a ride on boxcars like in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and do we still call homeless people hobos?) to find himself in a small town terrorized by gruesome acts of violence led by a crime boss named The Drake (Brian Downey) with the help of his two equally sociopathic sons (Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman).  Hobo wants to make the town a nice place, so he begins to panhandle for money in order to buy a used lawnmower and cut grass for wages, in turn, sprucing up the community (I’m not kidding!).  However, Hobo`s dreams are dashed and slashed after saving a prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), from harm and, when he goes to the police to demand they stop all the criminals, the corrupt police captain has Hobo tortured to shut him up.  But you can’t keep a good Hobo down, so he takes justice in his soiled hands by acquiring a shotgun and, with the help of Abby, attempts vigilante justice by blasting apart the bad guys.  The Drake has had enough of the bum with bullets, so he puts up a reward for Hobo’s head and the hobo hunt is on.  Thrown into this stew of bullets, blood and butchery is little bit of the Bible in the likes of Drake`s enforcers, two iron suited characters simply called Plague.  Oh, it’s a kooky little movie!

Hobo with a Shotgun wants to be an outrageously offensive black comedy of ultra-violence, inspired by director Jason Eisener’s love for the American exploitation grindhouse genre films from the 1970s and 1980s.  Hobo is outrageous.  Hobo is offensive.  Hobo is black.  Hobo is ultra-violent (it makes the original grindhouse movies it draws its inspiration from look like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – which is actually a far more subversive movie than Hobo).  But Hobo, as hard as it tries, ain’t no comedy.  The movie thinks it’s funny, especially when it feebly contrasts innocuous dialogue with the crazed carnage, but the script has none of the edgy snap and wit of a Tarantino movie, like Pulp Fiction (1994), or the giddy insanity of Robert Rodriguez’s Machete (2010). 

Jason Eisener’s direction is crisp, but the over-saturated and garish colours of the movie's cinematography, as appropriate in idea as that is to further heighten the already heightened comic-book violence, actually looks crappy.  Cinematographer Karim Hussain photographed Hobo with a Red Mysterium digital camera, not with a motion picture film camera, and the digital photography was further pushed to extreme stylization in the digital colour correction phase of post-production, making the movie look like it was shot on videotape (all of the brightest practical light sources in any given scene - such as a table lamp in a dark room, for example - are severely blown out).  It seems the filmmakers were trying to give Hobo the super saturated look of classic Technicolor, but this old and beautiful colour process had a far greater dynamic range of detail and richness than the ugly digital appearance of Hobo’s cinematography, which looks like puked-up Fruit Loops. 

Rutger Hauer, who was so memorable as the icy and dangerous, immortality seeking replicant Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), evokes Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name character (in the case of the Hobo, he’s The Bum With No Name), but Hauer’s performance is not magnetically mysterious or coolly dangerous, it is just sadly atrocious.  Hauer’s manner of speech also suggests Eastwood’s quiet and astringent vocal delivery, but it sounds off – the cadences in his voice are bizarre and sound out of tune.  Brian Downey as the evil Drake is the opposite of Hauer’s Hobo; all foaming at the mouth, gnashing teeth and wild histrionics played at a fever pitch level.  It’s amusing at first, but gets wearisome after 15 minutes.  The rest of the actors are effectively hammy, appropriate for this type of genre movie.

The star of the Hobo with a Shot Gun is the psychotronic violence, which is amped up to 11.  If you enjoy decapitations (with a bikini-clad woman gyrating in a geyser of blood shooting from the neck of one poor sap who had his head yanked off), eviscerations, mutilations and a plethora of other gruesome-ations in your movies, then Hobo should delight you and your fellow hardcore gorehounds.  For me, Hobo went from mediocre tongue-in-blown-out-cheek humour to just plain heinously sick and stupid in a scene where one of Drake’s sons torches a school bus full of innocent children, and when a cowering homeless woman who is cradling her frightened baby are incinerated with a Molotov cocktail while trapped in a garbage bin.  When despicable and gratuitous violence is perpetrated on children in a movie for supposedly "wacky" entertainment, my high threshold for being offended is emphatically crossed.  In this regard, the filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves.   

With that said, and all things being relative, Hobo with a Shotgun may be the finest  grimy gore-porn ever produced north of the 49th parallel with the help of Telefilm Canada financing and Nova Scotia tax credits.  Splatter film fans will go nuts over the nastiness.  For everyone else - you have been warned. 

Trailer for Hobo with a Shotgun (Warning: graphic violence)


FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) - directed by Fred M. Wilcox

The 1950s saw a proliferation of science-fiction movies rife with Cold War concerns, such as the fear of communist infiltration and the threat of nuclear annihilation, all in the guise of radioactive monster mutations and the invasion of outer space aliens (due to several alleged flying saucer sightings during this time period). A few of the iconic sci-fi movies that entertained and frightened audiences in the Truman/Eisenhower era include: The Thing From Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still, This Island Earth, Them!, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, War of the Worlds, and The Incredible Shrinking Man—movies about the effects of atomic technology gone berserk, or space aliens taking over our planet, sometimes even abducting Earthlings for the proverbial posterior probe. Arguably, the most imaginative of the ’50s sci-fi flicks—and the most influential on future filmmakers of the fantastic—was the entertaining and intelligent MGM epic, Forbidden Planet (1956). Unlike its contemporary sci-fi counterparts, this Cold War classic was not completely driven by the socio-political dynamics of its day but was actually loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

In the 23rd century, Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen) and the crew of the United Planets Cruiser C-57D are on a mission to the planet Altair IV, to learn the fate of a lost expedition sent there from Earth twenty years earlier.

Upon landing on Altair IV, Commander Adams discovers that the lone survivor of the original expedition, the brilliant Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), is alive and well, living with his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis, who is hotter than the surface of Mars wearing galactic micro-mini dresses that  Lt. Uhura of the U.S.S. Enterprise would kill for) and their high-tech handyman, Robby the Robot. Morbius insists he will not leave Altair IV because he is staying to study the awesome Krell labs, the perfectly intact and fully operational remains of a long-dead civilization that was technologically thousands of light years ahead of humans. Morbius warns Adams that he and his crew are at risk for their lives due to an invisible monster that killed off the original explorers, yet mysteriously left him and his daughter alone. Eventually this "Id" monster—which only manifests itself when Morbius’s work is threatened and his daughter’s sexual awakening to    Commander Adams is realized—presents itself in all its horror, threatening the lives of Adams and his crew, but only ever seen as a fragmented outline illuminated by laser fire.  This memorable creature was powerfully animated by Joshua Meador of the Walt Disney special effects department on loan to MGM.  On a less visceral level than the "Id" monster, but truly more spectacular in scope, is the sequence where Morbius takes Commander Adams on a tour of the ancient, yet mind-boggling sophisticated Krell labs, the source of an incomprehensible power, which extends for miles deep into the planet.  These astonishing images were produced by seamlessly combining live-action film with beautifully detailed matte paintings epically framed in the wide-screen CinemaScope format.  Forbidden Planet will lose most of its visual power by viewing it on a small TV screen.

Forbidden Planet is at once a fun space adventure—boasting a handsome production design and finely executed visual effects—and an existentialist exploration of hubris, original sin and the irresponsible abuse of technology. Though not as artful and transcendental as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet predates the Kubrick masterpiece in its serious approach to questioning man’s inner space as related to his role in outer space. If this sounds reminiscent of Star Trek, that’s because its creator and producer, Gene Roddenberry, acknowledged Forbidden Planet as one of the inspirations for his iconic space exploration television series, not only in Planet’s general theme but also borrowing its idea of a federation starship commandeered by a heroic and stalwart leader.  In fact, Commander Adams even shares Captain Kirk's penchant for intergalactic nooky. 

 Forbidden Planet went on to influence several future filmmakers, especially those directors who would revitalize the sci-fi genre in the last decades of the 20th Century: George Lucas, Steve Spielberg and James Cameron. Though much of its dialogue is somewhat portentous (in the same manner as the dialogue in the Star Wars series), Forbidden Planet possesses a good sense of humour, is loaded with imaginative ideas and can still elicit a sense of wonder.


Trailer for Forbidden Planet


If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, you can rent the DVD of FORBIDDEN PLANET from the greatest video store in Canada, Videomatica - located at 1855 West 4th Avenue (phone: 604-734- 0411) in fabulous Kitsilano.  Website: www.videomatica.ca



Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper in Limitless

LIMITLESS – directed by Neil Burger




Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 Chaplins

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 18 march 2011}

Limitless is a new paranoid-action thriller with sci-fi undertones that presents an intriguing premise and questions: if you could take a top-secret drug that can harness 100% of your brain power, would you do it without knowing what the physiological side-effects could be, and what would you do with all that super enhanced intelligence anyhow?  Would you use the drug for selfish gain or for the acquisition of power or the betterment of humanity or to learn the cosmic un-learnable?  These are good premise questions for an intelligent science-fiction/thriller, but Limitless, directed by Neil Burger, is limited by sticking with the most obvious plot of making money fast and easy while nefarious characters want to exploit your power or see you dead.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a divorced, down-on-his-luck struggling New York writer.  He has become a free-loading loser to his magazine editor girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), who dumps him.  One day he runs into his drug-dealing ex-brother-in-law who offers Eddie an experimental black-market brain drug called NZT that will help Eddie with his writer’s block.  At first Eddie is reluctant to take the drug, but when he does, Eddie discovers that his powers of perception, logic, analysis and memory have become amplified to intense levels.  With his new braniac brawn, Eddie can write a book in 45 minutes, learn languages in brief amounts of time, carry on intense dialectical discourse and comprehend complex financial equations that enable him to make a killing on the stock market while impressing and bedding beautiful women.  Eddie’s drug supply comes from finding his murdered brother-in-law’s hidden stash and this begins a cat-and-mouse game of survival for Eddie as his social and business life massively improves while on the incredible, but dangerous,  NZT mind drug.

Eddie becomes a Wall Street wonder and he is eventually sought after by high-financer mogul, Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), to mastermind a merger of corporations that will bring massive profits and power to Van Loon and keep Eddie in a very comfortable life style.  All this newfound neurological aptitude comes with a stiff price as Eddie is aggressively hounded by a Russian mobster (Andrew Howard) who loaned a large amount of money to Eddie when he needed seed financing to build his investments.  The mobster takes one of Eddie’s NZT tablets and becomes hooked, demanding more drugs leveraged by the threat of a slow, tortuous death.  The horrible side-effects of the drug start to take a toll on Eddie; he suffers from mental instability and short-term memory loss; did he really murder an anonymous woman from a one-night-stand?  Eddie seeks the help of his ex-wife (Anna Friel), who has been using the drug too and is suffering from its side-effects, and help from his ex-girlfriend, the only person he can really trust, as nefarious forces threaten Eddie’s life.

The screenplay for Limitless was written by Leslie Dixon (screenwriter of the 1999 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, the 2003 version of Freaky Friday and the 2007 version of Hairspray), based on the 2001 novel, “The Dark Fields”, by Alan Glynn.  Dixon’s screenplay is fairly tight, as far as plot goes, but there is a heavy reliance on Eddie’s voice-over to carry much exposition and, unfortunately, telling the audience what they see which could have been creatively expressed with the camera.  The movie starts with the ending as Eddie is about to jump of the ledge of his Manhattan penthouse before the bad guys can cut through his steel door and torture him for his stash of drugs.  Through voice-over, we hear Eddie start to describe his situation and tell his story as a memory play.  It is never clear if Eddie is telling his story from a place of safe closure and redemption, from prison or from the dead.  It is clearly used as a device for quick and easy exposition.  I do not know if the voice-over was originally in Dixon’s screenplay or if it was added in post-production, as was done for the original 1982 release of Blade Runner.  Whatever the case, the voice-over in Limitless is lazy shorthand for filling in story gaps.

What really works in this film is Neil Burger’s (The Illusionist, The Lucky Ones) direction.  He has invested Limitless with a zeal that rarely flags.  To visually convey the drug taking its effect, Burger shows Eddie watching himself split into two or more super highly functional versions of himself.  Some of the visual effects get a little cute, such as when Eddie is rapidly writing his novel with great ease and we see letters from the alphabet float down into the scene, or when he realizes that he understands corporate financial numbers, Eddie looks up at the tiles on his apartment ceiling and they flip into stock market numbers. 

One of the more visually arresting effects is what I will call an “endless zoom”, where the camera lens seems to endlessly zoom down streets, which conveys a sense of everything approaching Eddie – thus the viewer – at the same rate; unlike a camera physically moving down the street which conveys a physical sense of moving through that environment.  Eddie is being expediently filled with information and this “endless zoom” visually expresses this idea. 

There is a neat twist on a fight scene when Eddie encounters a group of troublemakers on a subway platform.  They pick a fight with Eddie, who has never fought before, but because he is hopped-up on NZT, Eddie vividly recalls fight sequences from the Bruce Lee movies he watched in his youth.  So, from memory, Eddie uses Lee’s famous martial arts moves to succinctly dispatch his attackers.

The cinematography by Jo Willems is lush and his use of colour is creatively matched to Eddie’s circumstances.  When he is not on the drug, Eddie’s world is a palette of cool steely blues and shades of green.  When Eddie is on the drug and reaching heights of success, the photography is warm and rich in sunny amber tones.

As a thriller, Limitless moves along well, but the thrills are average and it is missing a sharp edge of paranoia.  As Eddie, Bradley Cooper brings an easygoing, if somewhat bland, likeability to the movie, but I never felt that pure anxiety his character is supposed to be experiencing as his life is running off the rails and the drug is taking its hellish toll.  And Robert De Niro is just sadly lumbering along in his dull role as the proverbial corrupt business tycoon.  What a shame it is to see such a powerful actor as De Niro once again choose a mundane, cliché role.  It is difficult to feel any real sympathy or genuine emotion for your lead characters when the drama revolves around stock portfolios and corporate takeover.  That seems like small stakes compared to the potential of grander, more epic issues of humanity when you can take a drug that works like mental steroids. 

The whole premise of Limitless is improbable, but that's okay because the first two-thirds of the movie are entertaining enough to suspend disbelief.  In its third act, Limitless succumbs to ridiculous comic book action and devolves into stupidity and just plain grossness in a scene involving Eddie and the blood of the Russian mobster.  The final scene between Eddie and his girlfriend is embarrassingly cute and completely negates the rest of the movie.  However, Limitless is flashy and easily digested; a superficial entertainment that is good-looking without much of a brain in its pretty head.  

Trailer for Limitless

















For those of you living in the Greater Vancouver area and need a break from reality, the Pacific Cinematheque will be screening two classic movies for which I will be introducing: the 1936 screwball comedy, MY MAN GODFREY, directed by Gregory La Cava, starring the witty William Powell and the gorgeous and loony Carole Lombard; and Walt Disney's 1940 experimental, classical music animated feature, FANTASIA.  Both films are essentials in their genres and are not to be missed on the big screen.  Here are the screening details:

The Pacific Cinematheque is located at 1131 Howe Street, downtown Vancouver.  For further details, visit the Pacific Cinematheque website: http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/

MY MAN GODFREY ~ Outtakes & Blooper Reel

FANTASIA ~ Original Theatrical Trailer (1940)