Category Archives: 2000s

The Transporter (2002)

*. The Transporter had two directors, Corey Yuen (a Hong Kong action director) and, credited as artistic director, Louis Leterrier. Behind these names, however, it’s also easy to see the hand of writer-producer Luc Besson.
*. I’m not sure how comfortable any of these people were working in English at the time, which may help explain why the script is so laugh-out-loud bad. Or maybe it’s because the whole project was inspired by a series of advertisements (or “branded content”) produced by BMW called The Hire starring Clive Owen in the title role. Does this movie look like a car commercial? Well . . .
*. It’s hard to overstate just how mailed-in the script feels. You know Frank (Statham) and Lai (Qi Shu) are going to hop into bed, so when she forces the issue you get one of those laugh-out-loud moments I mentioned. Their coupling is simply what such a story as this demands. You knew it was coming from the moment they locked eyes. Add to that a plot that’s flimsy even by the standards of an action film, or car commercial. The shipping container isn’t even a decent MacGuffin. And what’s the story about why Lai needs to be transported around anyway? What does her dad want to do with her anyway?
*. Generic tripe like this calls for some star power to bail it out, and here the producers got lucky by glomming on to Jason Statham, who had just appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (his film debut) and Snatch. In The Transporter he launched as an official action star. Along with Dwayne Johnson and . . . Vin Diesel? other names don’t suggest themselves . . . he was one of the heirs of the ’80s icons he would later show up alongside in The Expendables franchise.
*. I like Statham, and he capably carries this movie. It’s not very special in any other way. The opening car chase struck me as very dull. Most of the rest of the action stuff was edited all to hell so I couldn’t even judge whether the stunt work was any good. There wasn’t anything original about any of it, with the possible exception of the oil fight in the garage, which I’ll admit was neat. Otherwise it’s quite predictable, and disappointing. Matt Schulze does well enough as the heavy to deserve a better death than simply to be thrown out of the cab of a truck. In the original French version he was at least crushed by the truck’s wheels, a better (though still not very interesting) exit that was oddly cut from the American release.
*. So, not a keeper. But it would go on to spawn a pair of sequels and a reboot (The Transporter: Refueled), the latter coming as Statham himself, no longer young, was replaced by a new generation of action star. In the meantime, Transporter 2 and 3 would look to improve on the original. All they needed was some more comfort with the star, some slicker action, and a slightly (if ever so slightly) less stupid script. Not a problem. Or at least so one would have thought.

The Scorpion King (2002)

*. The Scorpion King is usually described as a prequel to The Mummy and The Mummy Returns but I don’t see it fitting in the same universe. Apparently the character of Mathayus, a laughable CGI monster at the end of The Mummy Returns, is the same Mathayus who is the hero of this movie, and played by the same actor, but I had trouble making the connection (though the CGI in this film is almost as bad).
*. What I think is of more significance is the genre difference. This really isn’t a Mummy movie but a throwback to the swords-and-sorcery flicks of the 1980s. Not strictly a remake of Conan the Destroyer but very much pressed in the same mold.
*. Dwayne Johnson (still being billed as The Rock) in his first leading role. But is it the movie that launched his career? He would go on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but looking over his extensive filmography it’s hard to tell exactly when this happened. The Scorpion King did well enough at the box office, but nothing that demanded bringing Johnson back for any of the sequels (of which there have been four at the time of this writing). After this there were a string of action films that didn’t amount to much. And yet, despite not being in any movies that strike me as being memorable, in ten years he had fully inherited the mantle of the action heroes of the previous generation (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, etc.).
*. I’m not knocking Johnson though. A former pro wrestler, he moves better than Schwarzenegger or Stallone, and has a lot more charm. He’s also the only thing this movie has going for it.
*. The plot could not have been simpler or more formulaic. Johnson plays Mathayus, an Akkadian (don’t try and make sense of the history). He’s hired by one of the last free tribes to kill the Sorceress (she doesn’t have a name, and not much in the way of clothes) who is assumed to be the power behind the throne of Memnon, an evil dude whose hordes are raping and pillaging and burning villages. Mathayus picks up a nerdy sidekick, the Sorceress (Kelly Hu) falls in love with him, and together with a Big Black Man (Michael Clarke Duncan), a scientist who has invented explosives, and a bunch of Amazons, he kills Memnon and saves the world. If you’ve seen Conan the Destroyer you should recognize all of these characters.
*. No surprises whatsoever, and the unimpressive villains make it even weaker than it sounds. The lieutenants Takmet and Thorak are disposed of almost as afterthoughts, while Steven Brand as Memnon, despite being given flaming swords to play with at the end, just doesn’t have the requisite weight to go toe-to-toe with the People’s Champ.
*. I didn’t dislike The Scorpion King, but at the same time there’s nothing about it that stands out as being all that good either. It’s not as much fun as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, and only improves on the Conan movies by being a bit sprightlier. Still, that lightness is also part of the problem. As noted, there is virtually no story here at all, and indeed the original cut was apparently only 70 minutes long, requiring more scenes to be shot.
*. They literally had nothing here but the Rock kicking ass, flexing, and cracking jokes. And I guess he showed that he could carry a film like this on his own. Conan the Barbarian was Schwarzenegger’s calling card, and that was a movie that had a lot more going for it than The Scorpion King. So you have to give Johnson some credit here. Not a lot, but some. It’s a star turn.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

*. Domestic drama really isn’t my thing. Nor are weddings, at least of the kind Rachel is having in this movie. I think I would have tried to find any excuse to not attend if I’d been invited. But I wanted to see Rachel Getting Married because I was tired of seeing Anne Hathaway, an actor I enjoy, in movies where she was a square peg being pounded into a round hole. I mean, she was very good as the Catwoman, as a secret agent in Get Smart, and as an astronaut in Interstellar, but . . . really? And I can’t blame her for mailing it in on Serenity.
*. Jonathan Demme had his eye on Hathaway as well, and when Sidney Lumet sent him the script, written by his daughter Jenny, he had her pegged for the lead of Kym. I think she’s good, but I still don’t think it’s a role she can get much out of. Lumet’s script seems very humdrum to me, sort of like an Ordinary People for the 2000s. Kym is in rehab due to a drug problem that resulted in her killing her younger brother by accident some years earlier. Meanwhile, her more grounded sister Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt), is, as the title implies, getting married. Alas, Kym and her issues have the potential to ruin Rachel’s big day.
*. There’s really not a lot more to the story than that. Basically you just cringe along with the rest of the family as Kym’s train wreck threatens to blow everything up completely. Nothing is resolved but we get a send-off that leaves us feeling optimistic for the future. Love and family will surely see everyone through.
*. What either makes or breaks the movie for you will be the telling. It’s basically shot as a kind of home movie of the wedding, with a handheld (or shoulder-mounted) camera wandering about the nuptial carnival. There’s eating, dancing, music (some of it supplied by Robyn Hitchcock). And of course there are behind-the-scenes dramatic moments that jerk us back to the Buchman family’s Really Big Tragedy.
*. I credit the cast, and especially Hathaway and DeWitt, for convincingly portraying ordinary (albeit very affluent) people who I wouldn’t care to spend a lot of time with at a wedding or anywhere else. The proceedings do have an authenticity and naturalism. The camera even takes us into the bathroom so we can watch Kym sitting on the toilet, and shaving her armpits. But in the end nothing much seemed at stake, because I guess nothing was. Nor was a great deal revealed. I like the character of Kym, one of those truly unfortunate types who seem to want to do the right thing but keep messing up, but there’s just not a lot going on here aside from the fact that it turns out to be a very nice wedding despite the threat of bad weather.

Inland Empire (2006)

*. I think David Lynch is a genius, and that’s not a word I throw around lightly. I was a fan right from the night I saw Eraserhead at a rep cinema. Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. are landmark works of art. The first season of Twin Peaks is one of the best things there’s ever been on television.
*. As I would with any genius, I give Lynch latitude to make mistakes without excusing them or finding in them portals of discovery. No, as I said in my notes on Lost Highway, there is a good Lynch and a bad Lynch. And the bad Lynch can be very bad. I am not among those who now declare Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to be a misunderstood classic. It’s terrible.
*. You’ll have guessed where I’m going. Inland Empire is bad Lynch. Very bad Lynch. It was a movie he wrote and produced on his own, even shooting it himself on a hand-held digital camera. It developed episodically and some of it was made up as he went along, though I doubt it would have made any more sense if it had been plotted out. As far as I can tell it’s just the usual playing around with enjambed timelines and dark alternative dimensions with resident demons. Make of that what you will, since Lynch isn’t interested in explaining any of it.
*. I won’t be so foolish as to try to offer my own explanation, beyond observing that it seems to be about an actress who is having a breakdown on set. To say anything more would be to give some credit to the idea that there is a point to it, which I don’t believe there is. I also don’t want to offer an explanation because I really don’t care. I’ve read various interpretations of what is going on or what the movie is “about,” many of them wildly at odds, but none of them mean anything to me because of this fundamental lack of any personal investment in the story. Should I care if Nancy/Sue is just dreaming all this? That perhaps she’s dead? Or never existed at all?
*. I don’t find anything in Inland Empire interesting because confusion is not interesting. So when it drags on for three hours it gets very dull. It’s also ugly, underlit, and unimaginative, lazily bouncing us back again and again to Laura Dern’s shocked or uncomprehending face. Since Dern herself apparently didn’t know what was going on this wasn’t acting. I think we are meant to relate to her mystification. But who knows?
*. I’ll just stop here. I didn’t understand it. Even after having given up on understanding it, I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I had a very hard time sitting through it. Having done so I can only say that the experience wasn’t worth it.

Thr3e (2006)

*. I know what you’re thinking. With a title like that, it’s a rip-off of Se7en, right down to the digit replacing a letter in the title and the killer punishing his victims for their sins.
*. Well, it is. But the thing is, it’s an even bigger rip-off of Saw. There’s a serial killer named the Riddle Killer (or “R.K.” to the police) who leaves these taped messages that even sound like they’re being done in Jigsaw’s voice.
*. A final film to mention as an influence is Adaptation (2002). Yes, Adaptation. It’s been remarked that the plot here is quite similar to that of the garbage serial-killer screenplay written by dim brother Donald in that movie, which is titled The Three. And The Three is introduced to us as a joke: a script so dumb and conventional that we’re meant to laugh at. Could this have been an accident?
*. I could keep going. Thr3e is one of the most unabashedly unoriginal movies ever made. It’s a rip-off of everything it could get its hands on. Technically it’s an adaptation of a novel of the same title by Ted Dekker that had come out a few years previously, but it’s really a rehash of every psycho-thriller cliché ever put on film.
*. It was also, if you can believe it, the first theatrical release for Fox Faith, which was a division of 20th Century Fox set up to present morally-driven, “Christian friendly,” and Christian-themed movies. And by “Christian” they meant Evangelicals. Fox Faith’s motto was “Films you can believe in.”
*. In practical terms, what this means is no real violence. The psycho killer is a mad bomber, so you just see very bad CGI explosions with fake flames that don’t look like they’d hurt anyone. It also means there’s no bad language. The only bombs are those CGI bombs, not F-bombs. When people get angry they call other people bad names like “pukes,” “worms,” or “liar!”
*. Aside from that, I don’t see where this is a Christian film at all, aside from the presence of the not-very-bright philosophy professor Kevin has at the seminary. He doesn’t know what century Kant lived in? And he’s impressed that Kevin does?
*. If you’re amazed to find out that a movie whose most immediate forebears are Se7en and Saw was the debut of a Christian film company, you should be. It’s an odd fit and doesn’t work at all. It does, however, add to the general sense of goofiness.
*. Yes, this is a very bad movie. Websites that study these things found it to be one of the most critically panned films of the decade. It is, however, bad in a fun sort of way. Every five minutes you have to grin at another wild improbability, or a character doing or saying something totally unexpected. And the twist ending, while on the one hand just another cliché, takes the cliché to such an improbable extreme that you have to laugh out loud. It’s still probably not worth bothering with, but if you have a sweet tooth for awfulness it’s something you might enjoy.

The Grudge (2004)

*. I’ve re-watched The Grudge a lot over the years. I think perhaps in part because I have so much trouble keeping the story straight. The non-linear narrative is only one complicating factor. There’s also the fact that Ju-on: The Grudge was actually the third movie in what had become a horror franchise. So there’s quite a lot of back story that is only brushed at here in a pretty superficial way. Then there’s also the fact that the characters of Matthew Williams and Peter Kirk, played by William Mapother and Bill Pullman, look so much alike. And finally let’s throw in how Kayako is insane, leaving Peter (and us) struggling to understand exactly what is going on with her, and why he kills himself.
*. But in the documentary “A Powerful Rage” included with the DVD star Sarah Michelle Gellar says she was drawn to the material because it demands intelligence of the audience. So I take that as a challenge. I mean, has watching so many less-complicated movies made me too stupid to follow this one?
*. Usually I manage to get things straight by the end. Of course there are parts of the story to balk at. The first of these has to do with figuring out just what kind of a ghost Kayako is. Just like her shadowy appearance she seems kind of amorphous. Is she liquid or a gas? Her locus of power is the house she died in, but she can travel anywhere in a pinch. She can also teleport from place to place, but most of the time has to crawl around on the floor. Mainly, I think, so she can look scary.
*. Perhaps the biggest thing about her to flag though, at least for a Western audience, is that she kills indiscriminately. “It never forgives. It never forgets.” That was one of the film’s tag lines. But Kayako kills people who have done her no wrong and who she has no memory of. This is one of the themes of J-horror that seemed most alien at the time, but that American audiences would soon be embracing. We were used to monsters who killed sexually promiscuous teenagers or just plain assholes. But here you only have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to get iced. I think it says something about our evolving sense of justice that we adapted to this point of view so readily.
*. I should say that, given the general rules of the curse (screenwriter Stephen Susco: “If you go in the house, you’re doomed”), the real estate agent here must not be liking his chances. Poor John Cho didn’t get off so easy in the 2020 reset (or sidequel, or whatever you want to call it).
*. Another J-horror theme that was something a bit new was the revenge of the submissive/repressed woman. Not rape-revenge, because Kayako isn’t raped. Indeed her fantasy is to engage in an affair. She wants to break free. Was this something Western audiences identified with? Perhaps not as much.
*. “It is said in Japan . . .” I wonder if this is total bullshit. I suspect it is. I don’t think people in Japan are any more likely to believe in such stories as people living in any other country. Japan certainly has a long tradition of ghost tales, but the way Kayako behaves and is motivated seems new. Someone should make a horror movie where a police officer in a parka says “It is said in Canada . . .” before giving us some line about the Wendigo.
*. I like this version of The Grudge. In fact it may be favourite Western J-horror. Though the fragmented narrative is hard to follow it allows for a series of excellent mini-climaxes before the end, instead of having to wait, as in The Ring, for a big reveal. So I’ll totally disagree with Roger Ebert’s dismissal of the film’s pace and structure: “I eventually lost all patience. The movie may have some subterranean level on which the story strands connect and make sense, but it eluded me. The fragmented time structure is a nuisance, not a style.” Neither a nuisance nor a style, I would say.
*. The suspense is well handled in scenes that don’t blow us away with gore. Instead Kayako seems to mainly scare people to death, with scenes ending on a scream (or Toshio’s mouth hanging open, or the reveal of Yoko’s missing jaw, which both provide the same visual cue for screaming). This makes for some great chills, as seeing people being scared is itself scary. It’s silly that Susan wants to jump in bed and cover up her head to get away from Kayako, but it’s one of those things that knock us back down the stairs into childhood (as Stephen King would say). On the other hand, the way some characters become catatonic strikes me as less effective.
*. One thing I don’t much care for are the performances. Gellar is just OK. Jason Behr’s character is kind of pointless, and is even made to appear a bit ridiculous at the end, which is not at all how the original plays its final act. Some of the problem may have been due to director Takashi Shimizu not knowing English. The script, however, also leaves some of the characters with not much to work with. Behr and Pullman in particular seem a bit lost, left to wander around in a daze.
*. Wardrobe. I think most of the time if you don’t notice it, it’s doing its job. So why does Maria Kirk look so glammed up when Karen goes to visit her? That dress is really making a statement. I mean, I guess she’s planning on going out later, but I don’t recall there being any explanation for it and it just seems really odd. Especially in the middle of the day.
*. J-horror, at least the Western taste for it, didn’t last long. I’d call this movie its peak, at least among English-language productions. The sequels and sidequel would mark a falling off, just as the rest of the Ring franchise would prove to be. Nevertheless they were on to something here and Hollywood did at least manage to go carpetbagging for a couple of respectable remakes. That’s pretty good, and as much as we could have hoped for.

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

*. Is J-horror over now? And, if so, can we say, looking back, that it ever amounted to much?
*. I think most Western audiences know of J-horror only through its two greatest exemplars: Ringu (1998) and Ju-on: The Grudge (2002). Both movies were remade by Hollywood (as The Ring and The Grudge respectively), and both were only instalments in what turned into long-running horror franchises in both countries. Indeed, in the case of Ju-on: The Grudge we’re talking about the third feature in a series that actually began with a couple of shorts (Katasumi and 4444444444), though it was the first instalment to receive a theatrical release.
*. Outside of these two franchises the translation to English-language productions has been thin. Dark Water (2005) was good. One Missed Call (2008) wasn’t. Nothing to get that excited, or frightened, by. Since then Hollywood has gone back to making Godzilla Japan’s number-one entertainment export.
*. This being the third Ju-on movie, I think most people coming to it at the time probably already knew something of the back story or (as we like to style these things now) mythology. That would help, as none of it is explained here. But even if they were up to speed the narrative is so random they probably felt some confusion. There’s certainly more a sense of something episodic in this movie than was the case with the American remake, though it does hold together in a loose fashion. If you’re just coming to it cold, however, I think you’d likely be lost. I know I was, even having seen The Grudge several times.
*. Watching this movie alongside The Grudge I had much the same feeling as watching Ringu and The Ring. Some of the effects here are really crude. Kayako’s ghostly form hovering over the old lady looks especially bad. Hollywood was able to help things along in this department, as well as putting together a somewhat tighter ship in terms of the script (the opposite of what Gore Verbinski did with Ringu). I think the remake is a scarier movie. But, even with the language barrier, I much prefer the performances in Ju-on and think the presentation has a kind of honest simplicity about it that works. Kayako’s head looming out of the bathroom stall looks awful, but still manages to be terrifying.

*. Overall, I think this is an excellent movie. Some of the parts don’t fit all that well, especially the Izumi chapter. This adds to the episodic character of the story that I’ve mentioned. But it also has a strong sense of personal style, as in the delightful nod to Fuseli’s “Nightmare,” or the final montage of empty streets. But to return to my initial question, was J-horror really anything special? If Ju-on: The Grudge is one of its greatest achievements, and I think it is, it seems fair to ask.
*. I think J-horror was good, and important. Despite being derivative in some regards (even of itself, including some straight steals in this movie from Ringu), several of the qualities that would become typical of J-horror were necessary and new. Among these I’d flag the monstrous women (empowered? rising up against male oppression?), the importance of technology as a spiritual medium (these aren’t your grandparents’ ghosts, they can even use cell phones!), and the destruction of the innocent.
*. Hollywood would pick up on all of this, without doing much that was interesting with any of it. Despite having their pick of the crop, I don’t think the American version of J-horror was very successful. For some reason the male leads in both The Ring and The Grudge strike me as particularly weak, as though the producers didn’t know what to do with movies where men were secondary. Note, for example, that Rika doesn’t have a boyfriend in this film, and returns to the haunted house to save her female friend. Was that just not going to fly in the U.S.?
*. The real thing here however is that even twenty years and many films later this still holds up as great entertainment, with a handful of unforgettable moments. Rough around the edges to be sure, but nevertheless it’s proven durable.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

*. It’s a skit. There’s a perfunctory story about the champ taking a fall and having to achieve redemption. There are various characters who are just quick sketches, including Ricky Bobby himself. From this a series of gags are strung. Not physical gags so much, but the crude humour of people behaving stupidly or in a vulgar manner.
*. I say that without being censorious. I thought the foul-mouthed Bobby kids were fun. I just mention it because that’s really all there is to say. Talladega Nights isn’t a satire of anything or a movie that’s making any kind of bigger point.
*. Sacha Baron Cohen. Damn. Could they have given him a single funny line, or did they just think that having a gay NASCAR driver with a French accent would be enough? Given how he’s presented in the third act (his husband missing, his motivation in racing Ricky complicated) it seems as though the writers didn’t have any clear idea of what to do with him. Maybe they just figured he’d improvise.
*. The DVD comes with a lot of funny extras. Even the commentary with director Adam McKay and “friends” is done as a feature-length comedy track. Indeed, I found it just as funny as the movie itself. Which is to say, not hilarious but worth a smile or two. That said, the whole effort — movie, commentary, extras — is just a collection of random funny people saying and doing occasionally funny things. Also there are cars racing around a track and crashing. I thought it was OK, but I won’t be bothering with it again. It will live on in a couple of memes.

Insomnia (2002)

*. I mentioned in my notes on Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia that it had grown on me since the first time I saw it. Returning to Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia had the opposite effect. It didn’t make much of an impression on me when I first saw it and this time around I thought nothing of it at all.
*. You pretty much have to begin by making comparisons. Al Pacino is a total fish out of water playing an L.A. detective sent to remote Alaska to investigate a homicide. I had a really hard time buying that. Yes, in the first film Jonas was Swedish and working in Norway, making him an outsider as well, but here it seems especially weird.
*. Much more is made of the relationship between the detective, Will Dormer, and the killer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams). With such big stars in the leading roles they naturally wanted more interaction. But more is less.
*. For starters, there is none of the repressed sexuality that I saw fueling the two men in the first movie. Here Finch doesn’t seem sexual at all, or perhaps a bit gay. It’s hard to tell. Meanwhile, Dormer doesn’t come on to the high school girl but rather she makes a brief attempt at seducing him that goes absolutely nowhere. The hotel clerk apparently goes to bed with him as a pity fuck at the end but I thought that was just plain stupid and clearly didn’t mean anything. Except that she was wearing a cross and I suppose coming at that point in the story, after hearing his confession, it was meant to represent a kind of atonement. Or something.
*. That the film totally ignores this element of repression makes what screenwriter Hillary Seitz says on the DVD commentary so surprising: “for me this is a remake of the subtext from the Norwegian movie, it’s all that juicy stuff that was such an undercurrent in a very Scandinavian movie where it’s basically unsaid the entire time but you know it’s there, it’s crackling under the surface, that’s what I took to remake because I thought that was so fascinating.” But that juicy stuff is precisely what is excised here!

*. Instead of this angle, Seitz seems more interested in the question of Dormer’s culpability in the murder of Hap. Was it an accident, or an accident on purpose? I have to say I found this an inessential point in the original — I assumed, as I did here, that it was an honest mistake, and I don’t see where, as per Christopher Nolan, the scene in this film “sustains multiple interpretations.” As a result, I didn’t see the point in playing it up so much, culminating in an awkward scene at the end where Ellie doesn’t go after Walter but instead insists on getting a rambling, incoherent confession out of Will. The film would have been much better without that.
*. In furtherance of this problematizing of the shooting there is more background this time out, giving Dormer a motive for wanting to kill his partner. But where the first film left you guessing if there were something else going on, the extra information here only comes across as inadequate. We can understand Will being relieved that Hap won’t be able to testify against him, but can we really believe that he killed him to keep him silent? Another example of more being less.
*. Yet another example: In this film I found myself questioning why Kay’s friend was so reluctant to tell the police about the victim’s relationship with an older man. Why was that such a big secret? That’s something I might have asked about the original as well, but it never crossed my mind.
*. One more: Ellie is tipped off in Walter’s cabin by the sight of Kay’s dress, a moment that I’m sure is meant to recall Starling’s sight of the death moth at the end of The Silence of the Lambs. Only the dress didn’t register with me at all. How did Ellie recognize it? What was really going on here? I’m afraid I missed something, perhaps as a direct result of the movie trying to put too much in.
*. I’m guessing that the name “Dormer” was meant to make us think of sleep. The town’s name of Nightmute is even less subtle. We are not in the land of subtlety or understatement, as we were in the Norwegian original.
*. Critics liked seeing Robin Williams being cast against type as a psycho (a role he’d follow up immediately with One Hour Photo). I guess he’s OK, though he comes across as more just odd and distracted than dangerous. In my initial notes I had also scribbled something about whether he was playing a bit gay. I’m still not sure. According to Seitz “Walter has a bit of a crush on Will,” but that’s mainly down to his police envy and I’m not sure if it was meant in any kind of a sexual way.
*. By the way, why, on the DVD commentary, does Seitz refer to Walter as a loser? A loner, yes, but he’s an author of a series of crime novels, some of which have even received a hardcover publication. Wouldn’t that make him something of a local celebrity? Or is every single man a loser by definition?
*. Dormer, meanwhile, just seems dazed and sleepy. Actually, he looks like Al Pacino playing someone who is dazed and sleepy. I think this is very poor performance. Maybe one of his worst. And I was preparing my notes on Cruising the same week I was writing this movie up.
*. Hilary Swank fills out the leads playing a bright-eyed young detective. She’s a lot less interesting than the mature Hilde in the original, and again there is no hint of any romantic opening there for Dormer. Instead she is there to perform an annoying plot function and then be sent off a sadder and a wiser woman, having learned a moral lesson. I felt sorry for Swank. Oh well. She’d win an Oscar a couple of years later.
*. It’s nowhere near as interesting a movie to look at, opting for a postcard Alaska (actually Squamish, British Columbia except for some of the aerial shots). The light motif isn’t worked at all, with magnified aural cues and rough editing cuts made to do the work of representing Dormer’s condition. Again, less successfully than it was handled in the original.
*. We aren’t spared a Hollywood ending of sacrifice and salvation against an epic background. The very thing Skjoldbjærg had set out to avoid in his film. Again the ambiguity and reticence of the original is dispensed with and we get a keyed-up exchange between the dying Dormer and his student Ellie. Though I doubt Nolan had a lot of choice. When you get down to it, this is a movie that even judged on its own terms plays pretty slack and doesn’t register as very accomplished at all. But for Nolan it was a step toward a lot of bigger if not necessarily better things. He’d shown he could, and would, follow the rules, which is the kind of product you need on your CV need to fall upward in the movie biz.

Species: The Awakening (2007)

*. No number in the title, but this is Species IV. It was originally going to be called Species: Quattro, perhaps because it’s set partly in Mexico and was a U.S-Mexican co-production. As for The Awakening, I’m not sure what is being awakened here. Miranda isn’t waking up but dying, and the film itself seems more like a final chapter or epilogue to the series. At least it hasn’t been followed up (yet) with any further sequels.
*. Not a movie that I think many people saw when it came out (like Species III it premiered on the Sci Fi channel), and not one that I think many people think highly of today. But without wanting to just be perverse, I think it should be rated the most successful entry in the franchise.
*. I don’t mean that it’s the best Species movie. It was, however, done on a fraction of the budget of the first two films and without any of the star power. Ben Cross? Not a name I’d heard for a long time. It took a second for me to remember he was one of the runners in Chariots of Fire (1981). He’s been in a few things after that, none of them standing out very much. But I had seen him in Paperhouse (1988) — a film I’d mostly forgotten about, though I do have vague memories of thinking it was pretty good. He also played Spock’s father Sarek in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek.
*. What I mean by calling The Awakening the most successful Species movie is that it does a respectable job of the one thing that the other movies should have taken as their bread and butter: SF monster action. Again I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for saying this is very well handled, but there are several decent scenes in this movie where we get to see the aliens in action. In one Tom (Cross) is pursued by an evil flying nun and in another he has to go one-on-one against an alien cab driver. Then there’s a showdown between Miranda (Helena Mattsson) and Azura at the end that, again while not exceptional, is at least a decent slugfest. In the previous movies there was nothing as good.
*. The story takes the basic idea in a slightly different direction. Tom and an old colleague spliced Miranda together out of human and alien DNA. Tom went on to raise Miranda on his own (claiming to be her uncle) while his colleague . . . started a genetic chop-shop in a Mexican slum. When Miranda nears the end of her natural life cycle Tom has to hunt his old friend down to see if he can fix her up.
*. It’s not an idea that stands up to close inspection. I love how the reborn Miranda slimes her way out of her cocoon only to have perfect hair and makeup a few minutes later. Or maybe perfect hair and makeup are alien camouflage. Meanwhile, one of the few connecting points to the earlier films has Miranda able to absorb the contents of a book just by placing her hands on it (something that Sara did with a book on the rules of chess in Species III). And yet despite her vast knowledge (she holds “advanced degrees in biochemistry, comparative literature, and classics”) she has no self-awareness. Apparently she has never even questioned these abilities.
*. The movie is also coloured in the sickly blue-green aquarium tones that for some reason became very popular in SF movies around this time. Have we seen the last of them? They don’t seem quite as prevalent these days but I wouldn’t count them out.
*. In short, it’s cheap and silly but throws in some OK action sequences that are enough to make it, in my opinion, just as interesting as the other Species films. I certainly found it a big step up from Species III, and given what they had to work with I thought it did as good a job as Species or Species II. Looking back, this is a series that never made much out of its promising basic premise. None of these movies is particularly sexy or scary or funny or thrilling. I feel a little nervous about saying it, but a reboot wouldn’t be a bad idea.