The Darkest Hour


The Darkest Hour

Emile Hirsch mistakenly thought his scavenger hunt list said "gremlin."

(2011) Science Fiction (Summit) Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Joel Kinnaman, Veronika Ozerova, Dato Bakhtadze, Gosha Kutsenko, Nikolai Efremov, Vladimir Jaglich, Arthur Smoljaninov, Anna Roudakova, Pyotr Fyodorov. Directed by Chris Gorak

 

Some movies have little or no potential and make the most of what they have. Others take wonderful ideas and go absolutely nowhere with them. Which one would you rather see?

This is one of the latter. Hirsch and Minghella play a couple of net entrepreneurs who fly to Moscow to pitch an app to a bunch of venture capital bigwigs, only to see their idea stolen by Skyler (Kinnaman), a slimy Swede. The boys, furious and with uncertain futures, decide to go to a sleazy disco to drown their sorrows. There they meet Natalie (Thirlby) and Anne (Taylor), American and Australian (respectively) tourists who are apparently globe hopping in order to meet boys. Guess there weren’t enough slimy club hounds in their own neck of the woods.

While in the club, Moscow gets invaded by – wait for it – Christmas lights. Well, that’s what it looks like at first until the aliens actually arrive and are completely invisible. They are also deadly, reducing any organic matter they touch into ash. Whenever they’re around, they generate an electrical field that turns on car alarms, light bulbs and cell phones, all of which have gone dead (we assume an EMP has passed through the city but are never shown that definitively).

After a week in the club’s pantry, the four (who have been joined by Skyler who turns out to be even more of a dick than they thought) set out on foot to find other survivors and to find food, shelter and water. Eventually they learn of a nuclear submarine which intends to ferry survivors to a safe place (the aliens can’t see through machinery or glass – they detect humans by their bio-energy or some such gobbledygook) which I would imagine is somewhere in the middle of the ocean.

Director Gorak’s last film was the much-superior Right at Your Door which made a lot more from a lot less. That film adequately captured what humans do in impossibly stressful situations (in that case, the detonation of a dirty bomb in a metropolitan area) and made his characters non-heroic at times. Here, he also makes some of the characters non-heroic although Hirsch’s Sean character falls into the mold of the brainy hero.

The problem here is that none of the characters are given much in the way of characteristics. They’re all pretty much unremarkable, all given a single characteristic (Anne’s fear, Skyler’s amorality) in which their character pretty much uses as a means of reaction to every situation. They come off as one-dimensional not because the actors are bad, but because they’ve only been given one dimension to work off of. Whereas Gorak’s last film was filled with real human beings, that doesn’t happen here.

Another missed opportunity is the aliens themselves. They are invisible through most of the film, which gives the filmmakers an opportunity to develop a great deal of tension and paranoia. That also never happens here; the aliens appear with such regularity that you just assume that wherever the characters go there’s going to be an invisible alien trolling about waiting to turn someone to ash (including a hapless dog). When the aliens finally are revealed, they are less than satisfying.

This is pretty bloodless. Not only the humans turn to ash but when the aliens blow up they turn into hunks of what looks like volcanic glass. Even gorehounds will be irritated by this movie.

The Russian locations aren’t used to their best effect in most cases, although there’s a really nice scene in Red Square. By and large, producer Timur Bekmambatov (director of such fine films as Night Watch and Wanted) should have done a better job of showing off his city; for the most part it looks pretty dull and boring.

The concept was good here; the execution was lacking and mostly due to lazy writing and poor decision making on the parts of the filmmakers. If you’re going to use Moscow as your backdrop, don’t trap your characters in malls and pantries. If you’re going to have invisible aliens, use them sparingly – make our spines tingle. If you’re going to write a science fiction picture, don’t baffle us with bull-crap; cut down the scientific jargon to a minimum and give the poor actors something to work with. I was sorely disappointed here.

REASONS TO GO: Interesting premise and some nifty effects shots.

REASONS TO STAY: Missed opportunity; none of the characters are drawn all that well and the plot is awfully predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words, some disturbing images and lots of action violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Production was suspended for three weeks due to air pollution caused by the wildfires that surrounded Moscow in the summer of 2010 while production was underway. After production resumed, there was still some smoke in the air that had to be digitally removed in some shots.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 16/100. The reviews are extremely poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Skyline

ALIEN INVASION LOVERS: Should be high on your list but be warned that when you finally do see the aliens, it’s a bit of a letdown.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Roommate

Potiche


Potiche

Judith Godreche is miffed that Catherine Deneuve and Karin Viard are so amused at her mannequin imitation.

(2010) Comedy (Music Box) Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godreche, Jeremie Renier, Evelyne Dandry, Bruno Lochet, Elodie Freget, Gautier About, Jean-Baptiste Shelmerdine, Noam Charlier. Directed by Francois Ozon

Through the ages and across the continents women have had to put up with a second class status in nearly every culture. How far have we come in righting that wrong?

Suzanne Pujol (Deneuve) is the heiress to a successful umbrella factory in France. Her husband Robert (Luchini) is in charge of the factory and his autocratic tendencies have led his workers to a strike, egged on by the communist mayor and MP Maurice Babin (Depardieu) with whom Suzanne had a brief and torrid affair shortly after she was married.

She calls in a favor with Babin when angry workers take Robert hostage. He is not grateful in the least when he is released to the bosom of his family – the artistic son Laurent (Renier) who resembles a young Michael York and has been dismissed by his father as a non-entity, and Joelle (Godreche) who beneath her Farrah haircut hides a fear that she and her husband will divorce – and an all-consuming need to win her father’s approval, although again she is dismissed as just a girl.

When Robert suffers a heart attack, Suzanne is forced to take over the factory and resume negotiations with the workers. Not only does she give in to the demands which are remarkably fair, but she actually builds the business, expanding into new markets and updating the look of the umbrellas to add artistic flair and color. However, when Robert returns from his convalescence, he means to have control of his factory back (which is only his because he married the boss’s daughter) and doesn’t care what he does to get it back.

This is a light and frothy comedy, set in 1977 with all the camp and kitsch that it implies. Ozon has had a career that has spanned all sorts of movies, from comedies to suspense movies and dramas. Here, he affects a light, deft touch, basing this on a stage play that was written in that era. While he maintains the ‘70s setting, he has also updated the play somewhat to reference the social and political sensibilities of modern France.

It also doesn’t hurt that he has two of the giants of French cinema in his cast. Deneuve, in her late 60s, is still ridiculously beautiful and elegant. She plays the long-suffering Suzanne as a bit on the timid side to begin, doting on her children, supporting her husband and making a home. As she becomes more confident in herself, it is fun to watch her blossom and come into herself, a lovely butterfly.

Depardieu is an amazing actor who while no longer the lean leading man he was 20 years ago, still impresses. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and while he is somewhat cowed by Suzanne, he nonetheless stands up to her when she breaks his heart.

Viard, one of France’s most popular actresses, takes on a lesser role than she is usually used to but considering whom she’s supporting I imagine it wasn’t hard to convince her to do so – if she didn’t volunteer to begin with. She plays Robert’s put upon secretary who has also been the object of his philandering attention. She’s efficient and competent but like most of the women in the movie, disregarded.

The setting is note-perfect, from the scene where Depardieu and Deneuve do the Hustle at a nightclub to the bright colors and fonts of the graphics in the titles. The comedy is light and light-hearted and while there’s an underlying message of gender equality, it never gets in the way of a good time. Potiche isn’t the kind of movie that is going to be a game-changer; it has opened several film festivals here in the United States which is a bit mystifying, but it is still satisfying entertaining and way more funny than most of the comedies Hollywood will release this year.

REASONS TO GO: Any chance at seeing Deneuve and Depardieu (here in their 8th pairing) is worth taking. Reasonably funny and note-perfect recreation of the 70s.

REASONS TO STAY: Fluffy and disposable at best.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of sexuality but nothing overt. Lots of smoking though.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In French, “potiche” is a decorative vase but it is also a slang term for a trophy wife.

HOME OR THEATER: While this will probably get a decent-sized release, chances are you have a better shot at seeing it at home which is just fine.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Holy Wars