3 Day Weekend


No matter what, he’s got her back.

(2019) Suspense (Sleeper CellMorgan Krantz, Maya Stojan, Nathan Phillips, Scott MacDonald. Directed by Wyatt McDill

Sometimes a movie will show a tremendous amount of promise but end up sabotaging itself with the execution. 3 Day Weekend is just such a movie.

Millennial Ben Boyd (Krantz) decides that after a painful relationship break-up to go camping and get away from his heartache. Never mind that he really has no experience camping; how hard can it be to pitch a tent and set up a sleeping bag? Exactly.

However, he stumbles upon a deaf girl (Stojan) locked in the trunk of a car and intuits that a kidnapping is in progress. There is a menacing looking redneck (Phillips) with a gun involved and Ben’s attempts to rescue the damsel in distress go awry. When another redneck bearing a gun (MacDonald) shows up, things get even more lively, but Ben couldn’t possibly imagine the truth of what is happening; it certainly isn’t what it might seem to be to him at the time.

And there you have it; a simple concept, which McDill enhances by keeping dialogue to a bare minimum (there’s almost no dialogue at all in the first 30 minutes other than text messages which become important later), and to McDill’s credit he pulls it off. Also adding to the list of admirable qualities for the film is that it is told from the viewpoint of each character at various times with each character adding to the information that the audience has, changing our interpretation of events subtly until it ends up being quite a major shift. Kudos to McDill (who also wrote the script) for that.

Where the film loses its goodwill is in the camera work. McDill and cinematographer Brian Lundy rely a great deal on handheld cameras, leading to shaky cameras running through the Minnesota woods. He also utilizes some very questionable camera angles that end up annoying the viewer rather than impressing us with their skill. I’ve never been a big fan of shaky cam to begin with; it’s a much-overused camera technique. Used in moderation, it adds immediacy. Used to excess, it adds nausea.

It’s a shame because Lundy and McDill have some beautiful woods to work with, and McDill has written a very good film. However, movies are a visual medium and if that aspect of the project isn’t up to par, it really creates an unpleasant experience. The good news is that McDill shows a lot of potential here and if he just settles down a bit with the cinematography I’m positive he’s capable of delivering some really good movies.

REASONS TO SEE: Builds up the tension nicely.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some really questionable camera angle choices and way too much handheld shaky-cam.
FAMILY VALUES: This is some violence and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made its world premiere at the 2019 Twin Cities Film Festival, near where filming took place..
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blood and Money
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Musical Comedy Whore

Chernobyl Diaries


Chernobyl Diaries

Out of the frying pan…

(2012) Horror (Warner Brothers) Devin Kelley, Jonathan Sadowski, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Jesse McCartney, Nathan Phillips, Dimitri Diatchenko, Milos Timotijevic, Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Zinaida Dedakin, Ivana Milutinovic. Directed by Brad Parker

 

Some things are just downright bad ideas. Teasing the starving mother of bear cubs is one of them. Calling Mike Tyson a sissy is another. However, you’d pretty much have to put sightseeing at the sight of the worst nuclear accident in history right at the top of the list.

Chris (McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Dudley) and her good friend Amanda (Kelley) are touring Europe the way only young people can – like complete idiots. Relentlessly taping everything, acting like goofballs in front of the camera, they head into Kiev to visit Chris’ brother Paul (Sadowski) who has been estranged from his family for awhile. Paul shows them a good time, but the continuation of the tour to Moscow is interrupted when Paul meets an extreme tourism operator named Uri (Diatchenko) who proposes a trip to nearby Chernobyl.

Actually, the trip would be to Pripyat, the town near the plant where the plant workers and their families lived which became a deserted ghost town overnight when reactor #4 exploded on April 26, 1986, giving those who lived there no time to even collect their belongs. The town slumbered in radioactive peace for 25 years, the radiation too high to allow any sort of return until recently. The reactor itself is still highly contaminated and can only be approached in complete protective gear and even then only for a few hours at a time.

For Type A personality Paul, this sounds like his kind of adventure. Cautious Chris, who means to propose to Natalie in Moscow (can anyone say Lieutenant Deadmeat?) is reluctant to go but Paul convinces Amanda, who is a photographer, that she can get the shots of a lifetime in Pripyat so Amanda convinces Natalie at which point Chris caves.

At first it looks like the trip is over before it begins – the army has closed off the town and isn’t permitting Uri, who has conducted several tours there, into the town. However wily Uri knows a back way into town and drives the four Americans, along with Norwegian honeymooners Michael (Phillips) and Zoe (Berdal) into the deserted town.

Most of the vegetation is dead and they find a  mutated fish near a stream on the edge of town (had they stayed a little longer they might have seen a whole lot of ’em) but it’s the silence that’s eerie. No birds, few animal noises of any sort. There are feral dogs running around the area which can be dangerous if there’s a lot of them but nothing too dangerous (other than that big mofo bear that runs through one of the apartment buildings, scaring the bejeezus out of them). That is, until they return to their van and find out that the van won’t start – the leads on the starter have either melted or something is wrong with them – and neither Uri nor Michael can repair it. They call for help but nobody answers. It looks like they’ll have to spend the night in the van. And it soon becomes very apparent that they aren’t alone.

Oren Peli, who created the Paranormal Activity franchise, wrote and produced this (first time director Parker was behind the camera). There are several similar elements here; a microscopic budget (under a million, chump change for most Hollywood productions), unknown actors (unless you count pop star McCartney), a genuinely terrifying premise and shaky, hand-held cameras (at times the angles and shaky-cam perspective make this look kind of documentary-like). However, this isn’t nearly as scary as Peli’s previous film.

For one thing, none of the actors are really memorable, although McCartney bears a striking resemblance physically and also vocally to a young Leonardo di Caprio. Diatchenko also is strong and likable as Uri. The rest are mostly unremarkable but pretty competent.

I accept that for most horror movies to work, there has to be an instance of people doing dumb, stupid or irresponsible things and this film is no exception. I would not, for example, venture into the night from the safety of a closed and locked van armed only with a handgun to investigate strange noises when you are already aware that there’s a bear wandering around. You would definitely not do it if you had special forces survival training, which one of the characters supposedly had.

The monsters – you can pretty much figure out what they are – do not really act consistently which is another problem. In some instances they seem to be stalking the tourists with almost military precision. At other times they are mindless, shambling things out of a George A. Romero movie. We really only see them towards the end of the movie although we certainly know they’re there.

I liked parts of the movie and to be honest, with a little more care in the script, particularly in character development – if I can’t care about the characters, I have no emotional investment in their survival. In this case the audience become voyeurs at a Grand Guignol show and walk away merely feeling dirty instead of entertained, but thankfully there is sufficient entertainment value here. It could have used a lot more tension though – and a little less arguing.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific concept.

REASONS TO STAY: Inept script. Lacks real suspense.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, a surfeit of bad language and some pretty graphic and gruesome images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Oren Peli got the idea for the movie after seeing a photo blog of a girl riding through Pripyat on a motorcycle.  

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/13/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 21% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100. The reviews are pretty much all negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: [Rec]

ANTHONY BOURDAIN LOVERS: During a recent episode set in the Ukraine of his “No Reservations” travel program, chef/author Bourdain was taken to Pripyat and saw the amusement rides and vacant apartment buildings. There were no mutants caught on camera for the show however.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Snakes on a Plane


Snakes on a Plane

Rachel Blanchard reacts to the news that she's been cast in Snakes on a Plane.

(New Line) Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, David Koechner, Bobby Cannavale, Todd Louiso, Byron Lawson, Flex Alexander, Kenan Thompson, Keith “Blackman” Dallas, Lin Shaye, Bruce James, Sunny Mabrey, Terry Chen, Emily Holmes. Directed by David Ellis.

I’ve got two words for ya – guilty pleasure. That’s all you need know about Snakes On a Plane. The internet buzz on this was incredible as fans or would-be fans design trailers, posters and merchandise in perhaps the most interactive marketing campaign in the history of movies. All the hype has really kind of obscured the fact that there is a movie behind it.

Young Hawaiian surfer dude Sean (Phillips) has witnessed a murder and not just any murder. He watched crime boss Eddie Kim (Lawson) use a baseball bat to bludgeon the district attorney that is prosecuting his case. You know that’s gonna leave a mark.

Unfortunately, Fast Eddie and his generic thugs realize that there was a witness and go to do unpleasant things to him. However, he is saved by the unfortunately-named FBI agent Nelville Flynn (Jackson), a curmudgeonly all-business kind of guy. Hey, if I was named Nelville Flynn I’d probably be in a perpetually bad mood too. Nelville convinces Sean to fly back to Los Angeles from Hawaii to testify against Kim and put him away for good.

However, the nefarious crime lord has arranged a little surprise. He has managed to smuggle a load of poisonous snakes into the cargo hold of the flight that the FBI agent and his witness are taking, and not even ordinary poisonous snakes. No, he has arranged for the deadliest snakes from around the world to be the special guests aboard the flight (but he’s so cheap he makes them fly coach). These are the exotic snakes for which the anti-venom is terribly rare and hard to find in the States.

Basically that’s all the plot you need to know. The rest of the movie is made up of the terrified passengers and crew trying to keep the plane aloft while they get snakes attacking any and every orifice on the human body, not to mention every bit of genitalia they can find. Admittedly most of the human cast members are walking, talking cliches – the plucky stewardess (Margulies), the spoiled rich girl (Blanchard), the quirky rapper (Alexander) and his bodyguards – the big one (Dallas) and the video game-obsessed one (Thompson). Then there’s the matronly mentor stewardess (Shaye), the effeminate steward (James), the oversexed nymphet (Holmes), the slimy co-pilot (Koechner), the kick-ass FBI agent (Cannavale) and the nerdy snake expert (Louiso). The fun comes in trying to figure out which ones will still be vertical at the end of the movie.

Don’t think too hard about anything onscreen or your head will just explode, and who wants to see blood and grey matter on the couch? This is all concept and no plot, and logic takes a backseat to pacing. Once the snakes get loose, it’s a rollercoaster and the best thing to do is just sit back, enjoy the ride and ask no questions. How did Nelville know to rescue Sean at his apartment when he hadn’t reported the murder to the police? Don’t even think about it. You can feel the C-4 in your head beginning to burst if you do.

This is Jackson’s movie to carry and he does so with panache. He does the movie straight which is actually a good thing. Too much of that grin and wink stuff and the movie turns into self-parody and suffers because of it. Instead, he’s just serious enough to keep the movie in the realm of semi-serious. Most of the humor comes in the over-the-top approach the filmmakers and effects crew take. Why film a dozen snakes when you can film 450, and why have snakes chow down on human adults when they can swallow them whole. Are you questioning it? I can smell the smoke coming out of your ears all the way from here. Not worth it man. Just go with it.

This is pure empty-headed fun, the kind of thing that you watch, enjoy and forget about 15 minutes later. There was never a possibility of any Oscars for Snakes on a Plane unless they started handing them out for marketing campaigns, which they didn’t, but that’s okay by me. This is the kind of summer movie fun that wears it’s intentions on its sleeves and let’s face it; there is nothing wrong with a bit of harmless brainless visceral pleasure.

WHY RENT THIS: Pure empty-headed fun that never tries to reach beyond it’s grasp. Perhaps the walking talking poster boy for guilty pleasures. This is the ultimate Samuel L. Jackson movie with his ultimate line – “Get those motherbleepin’ snakes off my motherbleepin’ plane!”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Anyone who requires a dose of logic with their plot will find themselves banging their heads against the living room wall after seeing this.

FAMILY VALUES: To put it succinctly, no family has these kinds of values but let’s face it – it’s all in fun. Older teens will think it a bit dated (despite only being four years old) but enjoyable; just about anyone younger than that will have nightmares over the snakes, the drug use, the language, the sex, the violence and the acting.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s title originated at an after-work get-together at a local watering hole by several studio employees who played a game where each tried to come up with the worst possible pitch; the winner was Craig Berenson, who then worked at DreamWorks and eventually served as producer on the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Some of the fan films that helped fan the initial internet hype are included here.  There is also a gag reel, a music video of Cobra Starship’s title song and a making-of featurette of the music video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $62M on a $33M production budget; the film broke even.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Wendy and Lucy