Transit (2012)


Diora Baird can run but she can't hide.

Diora Baird can run but she can’t hide.

(2012) Action (After Dark) Jim Caviezel, Diora Baird, James Frain, Elizabeth Röhm, Sterling Knight, Harold Perrineau, Jake Cherry, Ryan Donowho, Robbie Jones, Griff Furst, Douglas M. Griffin, Monica Acosta, Don Yesso, Rob Boltin, Beau Brasso, Ashley Braud (voice), John T. Wilson Jr., J.D. Evermore. Directed by Antonio Negret

In the 80s, when Arnold, Sly, Seagal, Van Damme and Snipes ruled the roost in Hollywood, action movies had kind of a unrealistic quality to them; indestructible heroes went up against whole platoons of villains who shot enough ammo to supply the Russian army for a decade without once hitting the hero anywhere vital. In the 90s, things got more gritty and a bit more realistic. Since then, action movies have more or less fallen out of favor at least to the extent of their popularity back in those days as the action stars grew longer in the tooth. We still see action movies today like the various Expendables films but by and large they are different with far more CGI in the mix.

This is more like a throwback to the 90s. Family man Nate Seedwell (Caviezel) is driving his family to a camping trip in Louisiana. Nate is fresh off an 18 month stay in Club Penitentiary for real estate fraud. He’s lost the trust his wife Robyn (Röhm) and the respect of his teenage sons Shane (Knight) and Kenny (Cherry) who would rather be anywhere else.

That wish is only going to grow more intensified. It turns out that a quartet of sullen criminals – Marek (Frain), Losada (Perrineau), Arielle (Baird) and Evers (Donowho) have just robbed an armored car of $4 million, executing the guards in the process. The police are after them and it’s only a matter of time before they catch up. In order to safely make it past police checkpoints, they stash their loot in a tent bag on top of a Land Rover in a truck stop parking lot. You’ll never guess who the Land Rover belongs to.

Once the bad guys get past the police checkpoint (the Seedwells sail through with no problems) they put on the afterburners to catch up with the unsuspecting family, and catch up they do. What follows is a series of action sequences punctuated by people doing dumb things that nobody in their right mind with more than two brain cells rubbing together in their brain would do.

This is a movie of lost opportunities. They set the movie in the swamp lands of Louisiana’s Cajun country, but for the most part this could have been set anywhere as they don’t really utilize the setting to its best advantage. There’s also a part of the movie when Robyn finds the money and assumes that Nate stole it and that the robbers were ex-partners of his trying to retrieve the money that Nate took. They really don’t do anything with this either, other than having Robyn drive off leaving Nate stranded at the side of the road literally holding the bag. That seems to be the end of her disbelief though, as the boys plead with her to go back and get their dad, pleas which fall on deaf ears.

And that leads me to my next problem with this movie. There are so many logical holes here and so many instances of people acting in ways no sane people act. Nobody whose family has been attacked multiple times would drive off and leave their spouse to face the music alone, no matter how mad they got. The instinct to survive and protect one’s children is too strong and when in a situation like that, you’re going to need all hands on deck, or in this case, on dock.

The saving grace for this movie other than the game performances by Caviezel and Röhm is the action sequences. Negret, who worked with After Dark previously on one of their horror films, has a good sense of pacing for action sequences and delivers some terrific fight sequences and some strong car chases. He realizes that he doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel here; he just has to keep the action moving. Far more experienced directors have not done so well in that department, so kudos to him for that point.

It’s a shame this wasn’t better written because the idea is sound and I like that they’re doing an action picture of the style that is much out of favor these days. The movie received only an excuse-me theatrical release before heading to home video and cable, where you can occasionally catch it from time to time. I don’t know that I can recommend this – too many script problems spoil this broth – but I wouldn’t mind seeing what Negret goes on to do in the business.

WHY RENT THIS: Delivers the goods in the action department.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Huge lapses in logic. A few too many cliches.
FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of foul language and violence, scenes of terror and brief teen drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Caviezel and Frain both previously appeared together in the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Röhm and Perrineau both worked on the TV show Lost.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental and Streaming), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Stash House
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Sneakerheadz

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Tomorrow, When the War Began


Red Dawn? Red Schmawn!

Red Dawn? Red Schmawn!

(2010) Action (Freestyle) Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin , Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings, Andrew Ryan, Colin Friels, Don Halpert, Olivia Pigeot, Stephen Bourke, Kelly Butler, Julia Yon, Dane Carson, Matthew Dale, Gary Quay, Michael Camilleri, Masa Yamaguchi, Andy Trieu, Yolandi Franken. Directed by Stuart Beattie

I have to admit that not that long ago Australia was producing some of the best action and adventure movies in the world. Of late they seem to be better at horror films but that doesn’t mean they’re not putting out some entries in the former category.

Ellie (Stasey) is a teenage girl living in a rural Australian community. She’s pretty much an ordinary girl, maybe a little bit precocious. She wants to go on a camping trip to a nearby isolated valley locally known as Hell but her parents won’t let her go unless it’s in a group, so she wrangles her bestie Corrie (Hurd-Wood), Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin (Lewis), Ellie’s next-door neighbor Homer (Akdeniz), the son of the owners of the local Thai restaurant (and a guy Ellie’s been crushing on) Lee (Pang), and her friends Robyn (Cummings) and Fiona (Tonkin).

They take off in the Land Rover of Ellie’s parents and spend an idyllic day in Hell. That night though, Ellie notices the sky filled with military planes. This is a little disconcerting to Ellie but she doesn’t put two and two together right away. It is only after they go home to find their town deserted and all power shut off that they begin to get worried. From a hilltop later that evening they notice the only places with lights on are the hospital and the local stadium. When they investigate the stadium they find that all the townspeople are being held there by a military group of a foreign nation, the insignias unrecognizable to Ellie although most of the soldiers look Asian.

Unfortunately, one of them is detected and now the army is after them. They hide out in the home of local stoner Chris (Ryan) who is so baked that he isn’t aware that anything is wrong. However they do discover that the invading force is moving in their supplies and personnel over a single bridge. And Ellie knows that bridge has got to go – and the only people who have a shot at getting it done are her and her friends. But can a bunch of party-hearty teens stand up to a highly trained military force?

This is based loosely on the first of John Marsden’s young adult series Tomorrow. A big hit over in Oz and to a lesser extent over here, it seemed like a natural fit for the Aussie film market and indeed it was. However, it never really connected with the global market and plans to film the second book in the series have stalled, at least for the time being.

Director Beattie made his mark initially as a screenwriter for such films as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, Derailed and 30 Days of Night (he’s also writing and directing the upcoming I, Frankenstein). This is his first time in the director’s chair and he actually doesn’t do too bad a job. This is an action-heavy film with sequences that include helicopter and fighter jet battles, dune buggy chases and of course gun fights. There isn’t anything that is going to rewrite the action movie manual here but there is certainly nothing that disgraces the filmmakers either.

The young cast has a lot of pressure on their hands and the results are fairly mixed. Partially because their characters aren’t given a lot of development time other than for the very basics, they don’t come off as fully formed personalities in most cases. Methinks that they were hoping to do more of that in the sequels that were planned from the get-go.

Still, the movie moves at a very heady clip and you aren’t really allowed to catch your breath for very long which is crucial for a good action movie. While the plot borrows perhaps too liberally from Red Dawn, this is certainly a different take on that type of film, being a little bit more specific to a single event and less about the arc of the characters over the course of the war although the full series of books is more in that vein. It’s not a bad movie although it got virtually no play over on this side of the Pacific but that is perhaps due to the distributors not quite knowing what to do with an Aussie movie that feels more like a Hollywood film, but when compared to Hollywood action movies might come off as a bit rougher around the edges than what cognoscenti here are used to.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-paced. Some fine action sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Déjà vu plot. Not terribly well-acted.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as more than a few situations involving peril to teens, not to mention some implied drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the highest grossing Australian film of 2010.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.5M on a $26M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Red Dawn

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Brake

The Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren)


Trolljegeren

This troll doesnt hang out in chat rooms or message boards.

(2010) Horror (Magnet) Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Morck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, Glenn Erland Tosterud. Directed by Andre Ovredal

Let’s get one thing straight. First of all, trolls are real. They’re not nice at all, either. Some live under bridges and others in mountains. Most are confined to the wild parts of Norway.

A couple of discs with over 183 hours of raw footage were mysteriously mailed to a Norwegian media outlet. After some investigation, the footage was deemed authentic. They depicted a trio of collegiate filmmakers – narrator Thomas (Tosterud), cameraman Kalle (Larsen) and sound engineer Johanna (Morck) – trying to make a documentary on bear poaching.

They get a lead on a prospective poacher and find him in the wilds of Northwestern Norway and trail him in his battered Land Rover, towing a particularly smelly and dilapidated trailer. His name is Hans (Jespersen) and he is quite rude at first, refusing to talk or to allow them to film.

One night they trail him into the woods near a campground. They lose sight of him but hear strange, terrifying noises and see bright flashes of light in the distance. Then, he comes running back and shouts “TROOOOOOOLLLLLL!!!!!” and then all hell breaks loose.

This is just the beginning of this well-made Norwegian horror/action/adventure/fantasy film. The “found footage” concept is one that has been used successfully in films like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield and this one easily bests either of those two movies in many ways. While it doesn’t ratchet up the tension quite as much as Blair Witch does, it also doesn’t have the long periods of lost in the wood meandering that the earlier film has. It also has a much drier sense of humor than the one found in Cloverfield. There are a lot of these types of movies in the pipeline and hopefully the genre won’t get overused.

In fact, one of the things I really liked about the movie was its droll sense of humor. It is discovered that Hans works for a government agency called the Troll Security Service and after slaying every troll he has to fill out a form.

He is not out to kill all trolls, only those that stray out of their designated habitat and threaten populated areas. For reasons never fully explained, the government agency – particularly in the form of a rather smug bureaucrat named Finn (Hansen) – want to keep the existence of trolls secret. They cover up the damage trolls do with increasingly ludicrous explanations, including bear attacks and tornados.

A word about the trolls; they are all done in CGI for the most part and are particularly realistic and dazzling. They sniff about, being able to detect the blood of Christian men (after the terrifying demise of one of the crew they hire a Muslim to replace him). The trolls are incredible and the filmmakers create a whole mythology about them, including medical explanations as to why they turn to stone in sunlight, and a variety of sub-species that range in size from about twenty feet tall to 100 feet tall.

This is one of the more innovative and imaginative horror movies I’ve seen recently. It allows for a sense of wonder as well as a sense of humor before swatting you over the head with a Billy club and tearing a sheep into Lamb McNuggets. It’s a roller coaster ride and like most roller coasters you hope it goes on much longer than it actually does. When it finally does end, you might be tempted to get right back on again.

REASONS TO GO: The trolls are visually amazing. Beautiful cinematography and a droll sense of humor.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might find it too Blair Witch Project for comfort.

FAMILY VALUES: The trolls may be too terrifying for the very young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie’s title and cast were kept secret until just before the premiere in order to create a viral buzz. Jespersen is a well-known comic actor in Norway.

HOME OR THEATER: The trolls are amazing and huge and the bigger screen you see them on, the better.

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

TOMORROW: A Beautiful Belly