Vanishing on 7th Street

Hayden Christensen isn't apologizing for his Star Wars performances anytime soon.

Hayden Christensen isn’t apologizing for his Star Wars performances anytime soon.

(2010) Horror (Magnet) Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore, Taylor Groothuis, Jordan Trovillion, Neal Huff, Larry Fessenden, Arthur Cartwright, Hugh Maguire, Erin Nicole Brolley, Stephen Clark, Caroline Clifford-Taylor, Shana Schultz. Directed by Brad Anderson

It is engrained in our nature to be afraid of the dark. That is a legacy from our caveman ancestors, who were terrified by things in the night that were likely to eat them as not. But we live in civilized times. There’s nothing malevolent in the dark is there?

Paul (Leguizamo) is a projectionist in a Detroit movie theater. Like many in that particular profession, he can get quite bored on the job, so he brings with him a book to read and a hat with a lantern on it to read by. When there’s a brief power outage, he is for a moment the only one with light. When the lights come back on, he is shocked to discover that every person in the theater has vanished, leaving behind their clothes, shoes and jewelry. They’re just…gone

He meets a security guard (Cartwright) who had a flashlight on when the lights went out. As they investigate, the lights go out again. Then the guard’s flashlight fails and a shocked Paul watches him disappear before his eyes. Then Paul’s light goes out…

Luke (Christensen) wakes up to find the city deserted. A tough TV news reporter, he heads to the station to see if he can piece together what’s going on. He thinks that there is something in the shadows and that the key to survival is light. Before he is forced to flee the station in the receding light, he sees a video from Chicago that indicates that the Windy City may well be safe.

Luke makes his way to a bar which is one of the few places with light left in Detroit. A portable generator is running them and a suspicious 13-year-old boy named James (Latimore) is the only one there. His mother, the bartender, had stepped out but should be back any moment, a scenario Luke finds highly unlikely.

In short order, they are joined by Rosemary (Newton), a junkie whose baby disappeared, and eventually by Paul who reappeared at a lighted bus stop when his lantern hat re-activated. He is grievously injured however and Luke is obliged to rescue him by the skin of his teeth.

It turns out that there is a malevolence in the shadow that is capable of fooling those who remain alive to step into the dark. With a supernatural darkness enveloping Detroit, Luke knows it’s a matter of time before the generator fails and the only choice they have left is to make a run for it to Chicago, but that’s a dangerous proposition. And as Paul has discovered, what has the events in modern day Detroit have to do with the lost Roanoke colony of the 17th century?

Director Anderson has some pretty impressive titles to his credit, including Transsiberian and The Machinist. While this isn’t on the level of those films, it is pretty nifty nonetheless. It’s a great premise – aren’t we all scared of the dark? – and doesn’t require a lot of gaudy effects to pull off.

His Achilles heel here was casting. While Leguizamo and particularly Latimore do solid work, Christensen and Newton overact without any conscience whatsoever. While I agree that frightened people can act in a hysterical manner, there just doesn’t seem to be any reality to their portrayals. It pulled me out of the movie several times. By the way, don’t look for any explanations as to what’s going on – you won’t find any. While there are some critics who complained about it, I think it puts the audience in the place of the characters who wouldn’t have known what’s going on either.

This is a bleak movie, which is a trademark of Anderson. Some may find it too bleak, but I kind of liked the tone. While I appreciate needing to put some name actors in the lead roles, Christensen and Newton aren’t the two I would have cast. With a couple of different actors as Luke and Rosemary, this might have been a much better movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Genuinely creepy with good performances from Leguizamo and Latimore.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very bleak in tone. Christensen and Newton were poor choices for the leads.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of swearing and some pretty grim and gruesome imagery.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the film was a theatrical flop, more than one quarter of the box office came from South Korea.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a series of interviews conducted by Fangoria magazine.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on a $10M production budget; not the numbers the producers wanted.



NEXT: Pitch Black


Four-Warned: February 2011

February 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

1. DRIVE ANGRY 3D (1.8)
2. SANCTUM (1.9)
tie. UNKNOWN (1.9)

2. A GOOD MAN (2.1)
tie. ORGASM INC. (2.1)
4. OF GODS AND MEN (2.3)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

FEBRUARY 4, 2011

COLD WEATHER (IFC) Genre: Mystery. A young man who once was a promising forensic scientist turns detective when an ex-girlfriend goes missing. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 Could be charming if done right; no trailer yet so no clue.
DRESSED (OneRock) Genre: Documentary. The story of Nari Manivong, a formerly homeless young man pursuing his dream in the cutthroat New York clothing design business. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.9 This doesn’t interest me. At all. If it did, I’d watch Project Runway.
THE OTHER WOMAN (IFC) Genre: Drama. After a law clerk has an affair with her boss, they wind up marrying and she is forced to cope with a precocious stepson, an angry ex-wife and a personal tragedy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Natalie Portman is on a hot streak; that might wind up giving this film a higher profile.
THE ROOMMATE (Screen Gems) Genre: Thriller. A college freshman’s roommate becomes obsessed with her. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Didn’t I see this before and wasn’t it called Single White Female?
SANCTUM (Universal) Genre: Action Thriller. A group of cave explorers are trapped in an unexplored cave when a cyclone causes it to flood. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.9 The involvement of James Cameron will draw some crowds in; hopefully the movie will justify it.
WAITING FOR FOREVER (Freestyle Releasing) Genre: Romantic Comedy. When a failing actress returns home after her father becomes ill, she realizes the feelings of an old childhood friend are far stronger than just friends. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Rachel Bilson is moving upwards on my actress chart and the trailer looked charming.

FEBRUARY 11, 2011

CARANCHO (Strand) Genre: Thriller. The romance between an idealistic doctor and an ambulance chasing lawyer is threatened by corruption in the Argentine insurance industry. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 Argentina is proving to be adept at churning out good thrillers.
CARBON NATION (Clay Way) Genre: Documentary. Dedicated individuals seek solutions to reduce carbon emissions and help stave off climate change. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 While I’m a proponent for all the solutions the movie displays, I’m not sure they make a great case for them.
CEDAR RAPIDS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Comedy. An insurance agent comes out of his shell at a convention. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Ed Helms gets his first leading role; could be the one that makes him a star.
CERTIFIABLY JONATHAN (Self-Released) Genre: Mockumentary. A look at one of the most gifted and innovative comics of all time, Jonathan Winters and his quest to get his paintings hung in the Museum of Modern Art. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Not sure this is an adequate forum for the talents of one of the greatest ever.
THE EAGLE (Focus) Genre: Swords and Sandals. A young Roman yearns to learn the fate of his father, who disappeared along with his entire legion in Britain. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 This has been oft-delayed and has changed studios which isn’t a good sign.
GNOMEO AND JULIET (Touchstone) Genre: Animated. Shakespeare’s most famous romance as interpreted by lawn decor. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Could be too strange for its target audience.
IN HER SKIN (IFC) Genre: Crime Drama. When the body of a missing 15-year-old Australian girl is found in a neighbor’s yard, the ensuing realization her friend killed her sends shockwaves through the community. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A terrific cast and an intriguing plot make this high on my list of films to watch out for on Netflix.
JUST GO WITH IT (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. Adam Sandler has friend Jennifer Anniston pose as his wife in order to impress a girl he wants to date. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.0 Yeah, I’d be impressed too.
JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (Paramount) Genre: Horror. Teen pop sensation Bieber’s concert film. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 The fact that this will make millions is simply a sad fact of the continued unraveling of American musical taste.
ORGASM INC. (First Run) Genre: Documentary. A filmmaker covering the development of a female Viagra shows Big Pharma pursuing profit ahead of the health of the women using their product. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.1 A fascinating subject.
POETRY (Kino International) Genre: Drama. A free-spirited South Korean grandmother discovers she has Alzheimer’s as she is taking a poetry course. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 Sounds a bit schmaltzy but this could be another Korean cinematic gem.
VIDAL SASSOON: THE MOVIE (Phase 4) Genre: Documentary. The legendary hair stylists’ influence on fashion and grooming is documented. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.9 Because you’re worth it.

FEBRUARY 18, 2011

BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (20th Century Fox) Genre: Urban Comedy. Martin Lawrence returns as a detective with a penchant for going undercover in a dress. This time, his stepson is along for the laughs. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 I didn’t even like the first Big Momma – I have a feeling I’m really going to hate this one.
BROTHERHOOD (Olive) Genre: Drama. A fraternity pledge initiation goes horribly wrong and the pledge must stand up to save a friend’s life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Looked suitably intense, although I’ve seen a few too many fraternity-pledge-gone-wrong movies to be excited about this one.
THE CHAPERONE (Goldwyn) Genre: Action Comedy. A wheelman trying to go straight after a prison stretch and repair his relationship with his family runs into a few road blocks while chaperoning a field trip for his daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 This WWE funded film will probably turn up heavy on action and light on quality.
EVEN THE RAIN (Vitagraph) Genre: Drama. An interweaving story of Columbus’ discovery of America and the making of a movie. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Meant to be an allegory on the treatment of aboriginals in South America.
I AM NUMBER FOUR (DreamWorks) Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi Action Thriller. Alien teenagers develop their superpowers while hiding on Earth from the monsters that destroyed their world. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 2.0 Usually this would sound terrible, but D.J. Caruso’s directing so it might be good.
UNKNOWN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Thriller. A doctor wakes up from a coma in Berlin to discover his wife doesn’t recognize him and another man has assumed his identity. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 This looks awesome; Liam Neeson has his most kick-ass role since Taken.
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (Magnet) Genre: Horror. After a mysterious blackout in Detroit, people are disappearing into the darkness. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 The trailer looks terrifying; the cast not so much.

FEBRUARY 25, 2011

DRIVE ANGRY 3D (Summit) Genre: Supernatural Action. A criminal who is sent to Hell for his crimes escapes back to Earth to rescue his baby grandchild from a vicious cult. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.8 This looks over-the-top and insane – one I’ve been looking forward to since I first saw the trailer.
THE GRACE CARD (Goldwyn) Genre: Spiritual Drama. A police officer’s son dies in a tragic accident, causing a crisis of faith. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 Sorry, I don’t get into films that preach to me.
A GOOD MAN (Film Presence) Genre: Documentary. An Australian man weds his bride despite her incapacitation due to a stroke; he then turns his attention to helping his town reverse an economic downturn…by opening a brothel. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Sounds like a very unusual subject for a film; I like quirky in this case.
HALL PASS (New Line) Genre: Sex Comedy. A pair of wives gives their knuckleheaded husbands Hall Passes – free reign to do whatever they like for a week without repercussions. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 It’s the Farrelly Brothers…’nuff said.
HEARTBEATS (IFC) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A pair of best friends finds their friendship turning into rivalry over a new roommate. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 This sounds a bit pedestrian and without a trailer I’m wondering what it brings to the table for a fairly done-to-death concept.
OF GODS AND MEN (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A group of French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim neighbors until a massacre sets tensions high. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.3 Based on a true story – could be something special.
SHELTER (Weinstein) Genre: Supernatural Horror. An expert in multiple personalities is confronted by a patient whose personality may be more than human. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 This sounds like it could be really scary – just the way I like it!

Sanctum, Just Go With It, Gnomeo and Juliet, The Eagle, I Am Number Four, Unknown, Drive Angry 3D, Hall Pass