Category Archives: 2000s

Sleuth (2007)

*. It should have been good, if not great. Anthony Shaffer’s play has a timeless quality about it. Michael Caine and Jude Law are more than capable of holding their own. Harold Pinter did the script and Kenneth Branagh was behind the camera. So what went wrong?
*. To answer that I want to go back to what I said about Deathtrap. Instead of that “timeless quality” Sleuth had that I just mentioned, Deathtrap was very much a film of its time (the early ’80s). The same goes here, with Andrew Wyke’s country manor now being redone as an ultra-modernist dream home that we could never imagine anyone actually living in, complete with a full suite of CCTV cameras (that, curiously, play no part in the plot). Only ten years later it looks silly.
*. Another thing that’s been lost is any sense of Andrew being an author possessed by his genre. Olivier in the original was someone who had trouble separating detective fact from detective fiction, he’d become so steeped in the latter. In both Deathtrap and this film Caine is playing a hack who doesn’t seem that interested in whodunits, which makes his obsessive gamesmanship (in both films) harder to understand.
*. More than this, what’s missing (again, as in Deathtrap) is the sense of fun. In the first Sleuth movie both Andrew and Milo were people who loved playing the game, putting on performances, and besting their rival. Here they just like being mean to each other.
*. The Shaffer/Mankiewicz Sleuth had its dark moments, but was still a comedy. Deathtrap tried to be funny, and maybe it was in 1982, but the jokes haven’t aged. This Sleuth, however, doesn’t even seem to try for laughs. There’s a laboured bit of stale Pinter in the “I’m you, you’re me” scene but aside from that there’s no attempt at levity that I can discern.
*. The homosexual couple in Deathtrap was obviously not a match made in heaven, but it was at least believable and didn’t play to stereotypes. The seduction scene here is, to use the cliché, cringe-inducing. The final third of the film plays the gay angle as something sick, making the nastiness even more distasteful.
*. Distasteful and dull. I mentioned how surprised I was in my notes on the 1972 version that it was so long. This movie is nearly a full hour shorter but actually feels the opposite. The final act (or, in the tennis lingo they use, set) of the original game is disposed of so that the icky and ultimately very boring homosexual angle can be played out, which was more lively and sincere in the original for being left unstated. Here the only thing that happens is that Andrew pretends (or does he?) to fall in love with Milo, who plays along in kittenish fashion until he finally calls Andrew a poofter, which gets him shot. How interesting is any of that?
*. For what it may be worth (and I don’t think it’s worth much in this case) Caine says on the commentary that he thought Andrew only wanted a companion and not a sexual partner in Milo. Hm.I think the sexual angle is played up pretty obviously from the moment he makes his proposition.

*. A proposition, by the way, that Branagh found “touching.” An older man offering to buy a rent boy? I doubt Pinter thought there was anything touching to it.
*. That’s Pinter (interrogating Branagh) appearing in a cameo as the detective on the crime show Andrew is watching on TV. I wasn’t paying much attention and thought it was John Thaw’s Inspector Morse.
*. Branagh wanted to keep things interesting without leaving the confines of the postmodern box of a set he’d constructed, which leads to a lot of irritating camera work. None of it seems natural and it has the effect, I found, of depersonalizing the leads when what should have been driving the film is their personalities. I mean, we don’t even see their faces until about eight minutes in.
*. I’ve mentioned how unnatural the sets and camera work is and I’d say the same about the acting. The way Law in particular uses his body and bellows some of his lines seems very much geared toward playing to a live audience and not to the camera.
*. So Sleuth (1972) is still there, despite Pauline Kael’s saying that only two or three people were still interested in it ten years after it came out. Deathtrap has dated less well but still has some admirers. This movie, however, is already almost entirely forgotten. Which is, I think, probably for the best.

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Beowulf (2007)

*. Wow. Ray Winstone has been working out. He’s looking pretty buff, even seven years after Sexy Beast.
*. I’m kidding. That’s not Ray. And that’s not Angelina Jolie, pumped (or pimped) up to look like the target demographic’s idea of an ideal woman. This is an animated film. And how you feel about that will determine what you think about the movie.
*. This is a shame, as there was an interesting script here, written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. As soon as we see Anthony Hopkins appear as a drunken Hrothgar we know they’re not going to be too reverent to the source material. This might even be a bit of fun, along the lines of what Sean Connery did with the 1984 film they made out of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Sword of the Valiant.
*. But then there’s the 3D and the CGI and all the rest of the stuff to make us think we’re only watching another video game. On the DVD box there’s a pull quote from Leonard Maltin calling it “cutting-edge moviemaking,” and I suppose it was in 2007. But nothing dates you faster than being on the cutting edge.
*. Ten years later, the look can fairly be called retro. Some elements, like the swimming scenes and the horses, are especially bad. Meanwhile, the bodies don’t move naturally at all and the faces look airbrushed and Photoshopped of all expression.
*. So while I’d like to say there’s more to this Beowulf than just the look, the look is so distracting and overwhelming that any other commentary is sort of pointless.
*. Even the script fails to live up to its initial promise. I thought changing the tone of the Old English poem made sense in places, and that’s all they did in the first half of the film. But then things just go crazy. Grendel is Hrothgar’s love child. Grendel’s mom then seduces Beowulf, who becomes the new king of the Danes after Hrothgar kills himself. The dragon turns out to be the spawn of Beowulf and Grendel’s mom. The whole thing is turned into an Anglo-Saxon soap opera.
*. That’s is too bad. This could have been an interesting cast if they’d been given the chance to do some acting, and there’s some cleverness sprinkled throughout (like introducing bits of Old English in various places, and making Grendel’s mom into a richer and more suggestive figure). But at the end of the day it really is just a cartoon, and not one that was made in a style that has worn well. At the time it was reasonably well received but I doubt many people watch it today. Ten years from now I suspect it will be totally forgotten.

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

*. At the beginning of the group DVD commentary on Beowulf & Grendel a couple of interesting things are said.
*. I’ll start with writer Andrew Rai Berzins, who says that he was drawn to the Beowulf story in part because it “had never been filmed.” Actually, it had been filmed twice just five years earlier: as The 13th Warrior and Beowulf. Now both of these were loose adaptations, with the former being a more realistic version of the legend based on Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead and the latter a post-apocalyptic fantasy starring Christopher Lambert, but they were still the Beowulf story. Given how much is changed in this telling I don’t think they can say they were the first and it’s hard to believe Berzins wasn’t aware of the others (from other things he says on the commentary it seems pretty clear that he was). [Note: Berzins responds in the comments below.]
*. The second thing I found interesting is when director Sturla Gunnarsson says that his initial inspiration for the film was the Icelandic landscape, which he describes as being a character in the film. I can see that, and if you’ve got a crush on such a landscape I guess there are only so many different stories that are going to work with it. Beowulf was one. Not because Iceland looks like Denmark, but because it makes such a wonderful fantasy backdrop.

*. The raw power of the setting gives the film both an otherworldly and realistic texture. This fits with the overall approach of the film, which was not to use any CGI. In other words it’s the opposite of the Robert Zemeckis animated Beowulf that would come out just a couple of years later.
*. Saying this is a more “realistic” and less mythical Beowulf doesn’t mean it’s any more faithful an adaptation. This is very much a modern re-interpretation, as I think you would expect. If you know the poem there actually isn’t much there to work with in terms of character. So Beowulf is a bit more conflicted here, while Grendel is given a more complicated back story. He’s a troll now, with Shakespeare’s Caliban as his literary model.

*. I was fine with most of the changes, and with the use of “fuck” throughout the script, and lines like “I tell you the troll must be one tough prick.” Some reviewers didn’t like this, but I don’t know what their objections were based on. How was it anachronistic? Nobody in the Middle Ages in this part of the world was speaking English anyway. I agree with Gunnarsson that it’s a silly convention that everyone in such historical epics deliver Shakespeherian lines.
*. I didn’t care for the character of the Good Witch Selma, and boy does Sarah Polley seem uninterested in the part. I think she’s a good actor, but she often looks like she’s bored by the roles she plays.
*. The movie has a wonderful big-screen look to it, and there are a lot of other things I enjoyed (like the script, in general, and Gerard Butler’s all-too-human Beowulf). But it doesn’t add up to a film I love. Perhaps because all the revisions take the story away from its roots in an essential way that The 13th Warrior and Zemeckis’s film didn’t (I should add here that I much prefer this film to Zemeckis’s, though I’d rank The 13th Warrior higher).
*. What I mean is that Beowulf is an action story and this movie doesn’t do action well. The fight scenes are quick, dark, and uninteresting, and the half-humanization of Grendel undercuts the heroic man vs. monster mythos.
*. A final note on the commentary. Berzins remarks that the way the film ends, with the child of Grendel and Selma being allowed to live, was introduced because they wanted to leave things open for a sequel. Really! Like Beowulf & the Son of Grendel. Or maybe Grendel: The Revenge. That’s incredible, but I didn’t get the sense Berzins was joking. [Note: Berzin expands on this point in his comment below.] My own take on the ending was that they just wanted to suggest the heroic-age revenge cycle of violence was doomed to continue. I think that’s the way I’ll continue to think of it. The idea of a sequel is too diminishing.

1408 (2007)

*. It’s not called Stephen King’s 1408, as movies based on his writings often are. It certainly applies here, because even though there were some significant changes made to his story (in particular the removal of Mike’s brother and the greater significance given to his daughter), this is so recognizably King territory it probably should have carried the brand label.
*. I say that not because of elements like the ledge walk from Cat’s Eye or the way Room 1408 at the Dolphin echoes Room 237 at the Overlook. These are just part of King’s stock-in-trade, and given that the story started out as a sort of finger exercise that he couldn’t let go of they’re not surprising.
*. Instead of that I’d point to more basic stuff. There are, for example, what are King essentials: the burnt-out writer battling personal demons, the inadequate defence of the threatened family, and the denigration of religion while insisting upon a sort of providential force in the universe that makes sure things never turn out all bad. With all of these you know you’re in King territory.
*. I thought there would be more of the Ghostbusters angle to it, as part of the inspiration was apparently a real-life paranormal investigator. We see author Mike Enslin (John Cusack) with a couple of gadgets for detecting spooks, and when he first enters 1408 he declares an intention to “Encylopedia Brown this bitch,” but in the end he doesn’t do much with his toys. Instead he falls apart with the first manifestations of evil and reaches for his bottle of 57 Deaths.
*. I also thought that they were going to play up the limitations of shooting most of the film in a single confined space, but since Room 1408 has the supernatural ability to change dimensions this goes out the window along with the lamps and jumping ghosts.
*. Nice to see Samuel L. Jackson, in what is little more than a cameo, taking a more restrained approach. I’ve gotten so used to seeing him playing crazy caricatures that I was taken aback, in a good way. Even if I don’t really understand his character.
*. I guess whatever you think of Mr. Olin is going to be coloured by which ending you get. I believe there were four: a theatrical version and three alternate endings. I think I’ve seen two. But it doesn’t make much difference because (as I’ve said before) if you have two, or three, or four endings then you really don’t have any ending at all.
*. 1408 is what I call a good little picture. It’s not violent or even all that scary but tries to be more of a character study. There’s not enough information for this to work (what was Mike’s relationship with his father?) and John Cusack seems a bit overwhelmed at times, but I think that overall it does what it sets out to do pretty well. If it never rises above that modest level then that’s no big thing. Most films don’t achieve so much.

The Strangers (2008)

*. “Inspired by true events.” Well, if you think about it, what isn’t? Even the Iliad and Odyssey could make such a claim, not to mention every fiction since.
*. The Strangers suggests something more, telling us by way of a pre-credit voiceover that “there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year” and that this is one of them. Don’t think about that too hard.
*. As far as I’ve been able to determine, it’s just the usual come-on. In other words, it’s total bullshit. The voice doing the voiceover actually sounds a bit like John Larroquette at the beginning of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, making his similarly bogus declaration in tones just as earnest. Texas Chain Saw Massacre was, perhaps, based on the totally unrelated story of Ed Gein, the same source crime as for Psycho. In this case writer-director Brian Bertino may have been thinking of the Manson murders, or, as he has claimed, some childhood incident, but really it could have been “inspired” by just about anything.
*. Critics also compared The Strangers to the French film Them, which was another movie inspired by true events, only in that case I think there was a bit more of a connection. The bottom line however is that this is just another home invasion thriller and it isn’t based on anything at all aside from the genre formula.
*. It’s not my favourite horror sub-genre. Even when they’re well done I don’t really like any of these movies, and they’re rarely well done. Funny Games was disturbing but at least it tried to do something a little different with the basic concept of the psychos knocking on the door of a happy, well-off family staying in a semi-remote home or cottage. Haneke’s film gave you something to talk about after. The Strangers . . . not so much.
*. There is literally nothing at all new here. There are things that go bump in the night. Kristen is left alone and then relieved when James returns, who at first doesn’t believe her about the people in masks. Then they are both terrorized. He tries to go for help, without her, telling her that “I’ll be fine.” Yeah. He isn’t. There is a failed rescue attempt by a friend of James that you know is going to fail, and exactly how it is going to fail, five minutes before it plays itself out. How many times do we have to see this Stephen King staple? I think it’s a plot element that can safely be retired now.

*. Kristen screams out “Why are you doing this to us?” Not once, not twice, but three times. Maybe more. I think James says it at one point too. I lost count. Once, I hardly need to say, would have been more than enough. We get the point. The masked killers are psychos. None of this makes any sense or has any purpose. That’s life.
*. One can only take so much cliché. Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) aren’t total morons but they’re pretty darn close. But it was when Kristen fell and twisted her ankle and had to crawl through the woods that I went from being bored with The Strangers to actively hating it.
*. Early on, Kristen decides to don the modern uniform of the last girl: jeans and a tank-top, with a flannel shirt to stay warm. But for some reason she feels that, despite the cold, shoes are unnecessary, even when running around outside. Which is when she falls and of course twists her ankle so she can’t run but can only limp and crawl away from the bad guys. You know the drill.
*. How was this even sold as a screenplay? It runs just 86 minutes and it’s well padded at that. I honestly don’t see where there’s anything to the script beyond an 8-10 page treatment. Indeed, you could pitch this movie in a single sentence — a young couple is terrorized by a trio of masked home invaders — and aside from that what would you add? Even the action/suspense sequences where there is no dialogue are very simple. As I’ve already laid out, it’s pure formula without a single twist to the set-up or any part of the plot.
*. Every now and then you get the sense of an actor who just doesn’t want to be in a movie. Boy did I get that feeling with Scott Speedman here.
*. As you would expect in this enlightened age of horror the ending is nihilistic and cruel. It is also, however, dull and anticlimactic. There’s no horror or tension or drama to it at all. And the final jump scare is both another cliché and stupid to boot. If the film’s “brutal events . . . are still not entirely known,” then how could there be a survivor? Or maybe Kristen is just giving us the twitch of the death nerve. I didn’t care. This movie is garbage and is too lazy to even try to be anything else.

The Tell-Tale Heart (2006)

*. There’s always been something a bit cartoonish about Edgar Allan Poe. You hear his stories in your head being read by Vincent Price and illustrated by Edward Gorey. And it’s fair to ask in a lot of cases just how seriously he intended them to be taken. He was a master of the spoof, and even sent up genres that he invented, at the same time as he was inventing them!
*. So in this version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” there’s nothing surprising about the humour. The art is Gorey-esque, but brightened with a lot of vibrant colour and vibrating animation. The narrator’s hair makes him look like he’s receiving electroshock while certain motifs, like the fly (perhaps borrowed from the moth in the 1953 version) and the giant eyes play up the sense of exaggerated, grotesque decay.
*. The jumping from different styles of animation and colour schemes gives the film even more energy to add to its already fierce pace, which tells the story in under 7 minutes (there are over a minute of end credits to fill out the rest of the running time).
*. There have been a number of film versions of “The Tell-Tale Heart” but this one by Annette Jung is perhaps the liveliest and most inventive. I like the attention to detail in things like the headboard of the old man’s bed being a spiderweb. And I don’t recall ever seeing it suggested before that the narrator is actually the old man’s son, though I guess it’s a fair enough reading.
*. As many different times as I’ve seen it done, however, there always seem to me to be avenues or possibilities in the story that remain unexplored. Credit to Poe. But credit to Jung for giving us this little bit of crazy fun.

Black Hawk Down (2001)

*. There’s a scene near the beginning of Black Hawk Down where one of the vets (played by Eric Bana) has to explain to the idealistic Sergeant Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) how war (and, incidentally, war movies) work. “Y’know what I think?” he says when Eversmann tries to draw him out on the U.S. mission in Somalia. “Don’t really matter what I think. Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window.”
*. This is an important, and telling, act of elision. The swerve it indicates is typical of how Hollywood handled the War on Terror and America’s adventures abroad during this period. And by “handled” I’m referring to their attempts to avoid being political. Black Hawk Down is not an anti-war movie, or even a movie that is critical of war. Once the bullets start to fly that shit just goes right out the window. The reasons for this are obvious but may be worth going over.
*. To begin with there is the line, usually attributed to François Truffaut, that there is no such thing as an anti-war film because war is by its very nature an exciting experience highlighted by individual moments of heroism and comradeship. Actually, I think a lot of military service is very dull, but movies cut those parts out. Politics is dull too, and complicated. In cases like Somalia or Yugoslavia or Libya or Syria I doubt any movie could hope to sort the various American missions out.
*. Hollywood is in the business of putting bums in seats, and you don’t fill theatres by making people think too much about where these soldiers are or what they’re doing there. Indeed, aside from Eversmann the characters in the film don’t seem that interested in such matters themselves.
*. Then there is the business of actually making the movie. At least since Top Gun (1986) the U.S. military has played a major role in such productions, and you don’t get the kind of logistical support they can deliver without surrendering some editorial control. These have to be stories the military wants told, in the way they want them told. For Top Gun the U.S. Navy played a crucial role in producing the film and had input on the script throughout. They later claimed it had been an extremely effective recruiting tool. For Black Hawk Down all the materiel was supplied by the U.S. Army, which also provided helicopter pilots and helped with the training of the actors. You couldn’t imagine a movie like this being made today without such assistance. So there was no way this was going to be an anti-war movie.
*. And finally there was the whole shift in the media after the Gulf War of 1991, which was seen as kicking what had been dubbed the Vietnam Syndrome. Part of the Vietnam Syndrome was the representation of that conflict in the media, so it was a Vietnam War Movie Syndrome too. Hollywood was expected to get in line, and in order to do this without compromising themselves too much they avoided politics like the plague. Instead they went with the tide, which meant creating action films drawing heavily on the look of comic books and video games.
*. Ten years after the Gulf War there was 9/11, which made things even simpler. American involvement abroad, anywhere, was seen through the lens of a response to Islamic terrorism. It didn’t matter that the events of Black Hawk Down didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, but then neither did the invasion of Iraq (despite the efforts of American Sniper to draw a direct link), and even less Libya in 13 Hours. Each of these films could be absorbed into the narrative of “America fighting back.”

*. All of this is just setting the scene, and isn’t meant as a fierce criticism of these films (which can be criticized on other grounds). Over the last hundred years most war movies, indeed the vast majority, have been openly propagandistic if not downright war-porn. The Vietnam-era war films (which would include movies like Patton) were the exception, and they tended to peter out around the time Top Gun took off (Platoon came out in 1986, and the anti-imperialist biopic Walker in 1987). I just want to underline that these were very political movies, and very effectively political, despite on their surface eschewing politics altogether.
*. Now on to the film itself.

*. I had a curious and telling experience watching it recently on DVD. I couldn’t watch it all at once and so I made a note of the chapter I was on and came back and watched the rest of it the next day. It seemed I had written the wrong chapter number down as I was a bit lost as to what was going on. But then I scanned around and figured I probably had it right. The thing is, I couldn’t be completely sure. The reason I couldn’t be sure is because “once that first bullet goes past your head” this movie is all the same. We see men running through streets or driving through streets being shot at by faceless natives from rooftops or doorways. After a while I even started to wonder if the streets themselves were different or if they were just being filmed from different directions or with different lighting. And it goes on for two-and-half hours!
*. Still, given how much of it is all the same I was surprised at how lively it all played. The action is chaotic and lots of times I had no idea where we were or what was going on, but such is the fog of war. You do feel caught up in the excitement of the events. None of the terror or pain, mind you, but plenty of excitement.
*. It’s also very beautiful to look at. The helicopters flying over the beach are lovingly photographed in a way that recalls the ride of the air cavalry in Apocalypse Now, albeit without any of that film’s operatic sense of parody. War never looked so good.

*. As for the enemy, I’ve referred to them as faceless. There are a couple of actors who get lines but for the most part they may as well be the Zulu hoards launching themselves in human waves against the frontier outposts of Western Civ. Despite the fact that the actual event being portrayed was a raid, it quickly turns into the familiar siege paradigm. That is to say, the Americans are on the defensive against the barbarians. If only the natives would leave them alone! This is another motif that is returned to time and again in the films of this period, presumably representing the idea of America being surrounded by enemies. I don’t think this is an accurate reflection of reality, but it obviously expresses some kind of widely-held perception.
*. The enemy also seem to be very poor shots. Given that they’re firing down on the grunts from the rooftops shouldn’t that be like shooting fish in a barrel? Instead everybody just seems to be ripping off rounds without even aiming.
*. The battle scenes are done in such a way that we’re meant to cheer when the bad guys get shot or blown up. This is cathartic if nothing else but it also made me think more of a narrative that was following a certain entertainment paradigm rather than attempting to do anything new.
*. Given that this is a movie that doesn’t really want to say anything I had a hard time relating to it or extracting any kind of a point. Eversmann ends up a sadder but I don’t think a wiser man. Poor Sam Shepard is left to suffer vicariously watching the events on TV but there is no sense of his character traveling any kind of arc or coming to a fuller understanding about what has happened. Perhaps no such understanding is possible. Perhaps he’s never quite sure whether he is an actor in the film or part of the audience. Or is there a difference? In this world we’re either shooters or targets. Once it gets going nearly every “shot” in the movie is composed in this way. But the roles are finally interchangeable. That may be the most apolitical thing about Black Hawk Down: its reduction of everything to a line of sight that goes both ways. Who needs politics in such a world? It’s all very simple.

Colour from the Dark (2008)

*. Colour from the Dark is another kick at the classic H. P. Lovecraft story “The Colour Out of Space,” and in my estimation it’s the worst of them all.
*. Why this particular story has been adapted so many times, when (as in this film) it is so loosely adhered to, is a mystery to me. Leaving that mystery aside, what we have here is the story of a small rural Italian homestead during the Second World War that awakens an evil force from the bottom of a well.
*. Two significant changes to the source story will have been noticed in just this brief description. In the first place there is no meteorite bringing the “colour” to Earth from “out of space.” Second: this is an evil force. Not just unhealthy, like the apparently radioactive glow in Lovecraft, but corrupt in a spiritual sense. The force doesn’t make humans sick, it possesses them and makes them spit on crucifixes and attack priests.
*. Just to expand a bit on this second point, I’ve written before about the almost comical inefficacy of religious officers in the battle against evil in recent films concerned with demonic possession. But the priest who comes to peform an exorcism in Colour from the Dark really outdoes himself, turning tail and running away as soon as he determines that “the devil is here.” Not a good showing for the Church, padre. Unfortunately, for him, he comes back and, despite being better prepared for his battle with the devil, gets stabbed in the head with his own crucifix. So much for God! In Italy even!
*. I can’t say much good about this one. It had no budget and tries too hard. I’ve read some people praising the photography but to me it looked like a telenovela. The script is a mess, full of people behaving in incredibly stupid ways and cluttered with extraneous plot elements that just distract us from the main story. The acting, espcecially by the male lead, is terrible. There’s far too heavy a reliance on dream sequences, to the point where you give up trying to figure out if something is “really” happening until you’re absolutely sure they’re not going to cut to the character involved jumping up in bed covered in sweat.
*. But I think the real problem is the one I mentioned about trying too hard. Director Ivan Zuccon is firing in too many different directions at once. Why make Alice a mental case? Why bother with the doll? Why have so many dream sequences? Why include all that stuff about the corpse in the forest? Indeed, why set this story during wartime at all?
*. Well, it’s not totally without interest. Not totally. The transformation of the farm into a dessicated wasteland looks OK, and the ending, though a downer, isn’t bad. But honestly, I think you really need to have some time to kill to want to waste any of it on this one.

Evil — In a Time of Heroes (2009)

*. There was some potential here. Not much, but some.
*. A zombie movie set in Athens (Greece, not Georgia) in the wake of the global financial crisis, with echoes of the classical past playing in the background. It might have worked.
*. Well, it sure doesn’t. This is one of the worst zombie movies ever made, and that’s not a very high bar being set.
*. It seems to have no story at all. There’s a countdown to a bombardment that inter-titles pop up to remind us of, but we don’t know what that’s referring to and nobody in the film seems aware of or at least concerned about it until near the end. What’s even more annoying, however, is the fact that none of the characters has anything to do, or anything they want to do. Nothing happens for a reason. This makes the action (a word I’ll use instead of story) completely incoherent.
*. Unforunately, the only way to really appreciate how scattered and confused a film this is, is to watch the whole thing, which is something I strongly advise against. It starts off bad and doesn’t get any better.
*. Actually, it starts off where Evil (2005) left off. Yes, this terrible movie is a sequel! But don’t think that having seen Evil will help you out very much with this one.
*. Apparently all the actors were unpaid volunteers, and in this case the filmmakers got what they paid for. None of the characters are memorable, or even distinguishable aside from their different uniforms (the well-dressed cook, the hero in the soccer jersey, the soldiers, Billy Zane as a Jedi cowboy). They also have an annoying habit of dying and coming back to life, and I don’t mean as zombies. This is all part of the incoherence I mentioned earlier, the sense that from one scene to the next there is no dramatic continuity, or really connection of any kind.
*. There’s a lot of blood splashed on faces and walls. This seems to be the film’s only purpose, or justification. I wouldn’t call the gore anything special though, as it’s mainly delivered by way of rapid editing with some CGI assists. In other words, the usual fare.
*. Maybe if they’d climbed up the Acropolis and had a battle royale among the ruins it might have been more interesting . . . but not by much. Really, you don’t want to waste your time with this.

High Maintenance (2006)

*. Everyone knows the famous montage in Citizen Kane as the table keeps lengthening between Kane and his wife, signaling the breakdown of their marriage. Dining at a distance, especially when it seems wildly impractical, has become a visual cliché for describing marital dysfunction, but I wonder if Welles was the first to make the connection.
*. In any event, it’s a motif that’s again being used in this short film, as a couple supposedly celebrating their anniversary are separated by a long candlelit table. We know right away that things aren’t working out. What we don’t know right away is that this dinner is even more of an empty, formal ritual than it seems. I mean, if Nicolette Krebitz is going to come on to you with that line about an aphrodisiac, how can you be so cold?
*. Part of the reason is that her partner is a robot lover, and one who isn’t even delivering on the “short, mechanical sex” part. Time to order up a new model online. A hunkier type who’s in to rock climbing and massage.
*. If that’s all there were going on here it would be a one joke quickie, even with the twist we get at the end. But I think there’s a more interesting point being made.
*. I don’t think the issue is how we relate to technology, at least directly. High Maintenance isn’t a nine-minute version of Her. Instead, the lovers one orders are more like pets. They have basic personality programming, but can’t be counted on to behave in the way you would like all the time.
*. And, just as with our relationships with our pets, they change us as much as we change them. We may even start to look like them.
*. So I guess in the end it is a story about how we relate to technology, and how in making it better at serving us we co-evolve so that we are better at serving it. Note, however, that evolution is not synonymous with progress. We may lock ourselves into a downward spiral. Our real anniversary may not end with even short, mechanical sex but rather in watching TV alone while drinking a beer.