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This Week in DVD: 4/10/12

The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour (2011, Chris Gorak) – Largely unseen and unremarked upon during its Christmastime release last year, The Darkest Hour pretty justly came and went without a trace. On a technical level, there’s quite a bit to admire, but the central conceit behind the film is so absurd that it’s impossible to be taken seriously even for a second. The thoroughly unlikable characters and ludicrous dialog almost make Gorak’s film so bad it’s good, but even at 88 minutes, this one’s a chore to sit through.

After the city of Moscow finds itself under attack from invisible, electrical monsters from space, a pair of American software developers (Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella), the Swede who screwed them out of an important deal (Joel Kinnaman), and two attractive American tourists (Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor) fight for survival and look for answers in the now mostly empty city.

Gorak and writer Jon Spaiths don’t understand the dynamics of the unseen villains in this film, who seem to follow no discernable logic to their attacks. They simply show up as unconvincing beams of light that turn everyone into ash, shown by using the exact same special effect for every single bloodless and tepid kill in the film. There isn’t much to praise in the acting department, either, as Hirsch seems to be channelling Christian Slater and Minghella looks as if he’s going to fall asleep at any moment. You can’t blame them, though, since they never get anything exciting to do except run around and act ignorant the whole time. At least it’s a good looking movie, directed with some slickness and some genuinely decent cinematography the nicely captures both local colour and the set design.

The Special Edition Blu-ray brings out the colours of the film more than its 3-D theatrical exhibition did and the sound design shows where most of the thought went regarding the creature design of the film. There’s also a shaky-cam shot short film focusing on survivors in other parts of the world that’s so awful and incoherently edited that even fans of the movie should probably skip it. The lone behind-the-scenes featurette and the audio commentary from Gorak mention some of the production’s financial woes, but the tone from everyone seems jovial.

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The Iron Lady

The Iron Lady (2011, Phyllida Lloyd) – You couldn’t pay me to sit through this movie again, let alone write anything new about it. But, you know, congrats to everyone giving Meryl Streep a completely undeserved lifetime achievement award at the Oscars this year for doing nothing more than donning a wig, some prosthetics, and playing up an accent in one of her worst performances. It just proves that if there’s one group of film types that’s as messed up as the MPAA, it’s the members of the academy.

Sleeping Beauty - Emily Browning and Rachael Blake

Sleeping Beauty (2011, Julia Leigh) – While still not very good, of this week’s releases Leigh’s erotic psychodrama fares the best of the bunch by leaps and bounds. Thematically, it’s got more weight to it than anything else, and its bolstered by a great leading performance from Emily Browning. The problems come mostly in the form of Leigh’s uninspired direction, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad looking film.

Browning stars as an irresponsible university student constantly on the look for new and easy ways to make money without ever landing a real job with real responsibilities. Her quest for easy money leads her into a world where wealthy older men pay large sums of money to act out various erotic fantasies, and our leading lady finds her niche as a “sleeping beauty,” a non-sexual, naked female equivalent of a teddy bear for older men looking to sleep with some young flesh.

Browning does some revelatory work here, but the script’s muddled post-feminist subtext doesn’t hold a lot of dramatic or thematic weight. Despite competent cinematography and a good sense of pacing, Leigh further lets down her star by simply aping the directorial approached of Michael Haneke and Stanley Kubrick almost note for note. There’s worse people to emulate, but despite the possibility of deeper conversations about womanhood that might arise from the film (both positive and negative), nothing feels terribly original.

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The featureless DVD also kind of disappoints since I’m quite certain that there’s some great material or at least a good commentary that could’ve come from this. For those who would like to know more about the film or are curious, here’s a link to an interview I did with Leigh shortly before the film’s theatrical release.

The Terror Experiment

The Terror Experiment (2010, George Mendeluk) – In a week filled with three stinkers for new releases, it pains me so deeply to say that they are all light years better than The Terror Experiment which is about as much fun as a crowbar to the face. This mind blowingly incompetent horror thriller attempts to remount 28 Days Later in a Die Hard style high rise, but comaring Mendeluk’s atrocity to either of those is like comparing walking a playful puppy on a sunny day to falling off a 30 story roof into a dumpster full of human shit and broken glass. It’s a film that shouldn’t be viewed by anyone for any reason whatsoever.

A domestic suicide bomber sets off a chemical weapon inside a US federal building around Christmastime that causes those that inhale it to become rage addled zombies. Inside the building, a security technician (Jeremy London, looking a lot like James Spader) leads a group of survivors trying to find a way out. On the outside, a power struggle ensues between a local police chief (C. Thomas Howell), a firefighter (Lochlyn Munro), the doctor responsible for creating the virus (Robert Carradine), and a mysterious federal agent (Judd Nelson, looking like Richard Crouse) over the best way to handle the situation.

Featuring a low budget that would make Ed Wood proud, but absolutely nothing goofy enough to place it on par with any of the famed directors best pieces of crap, the painfully obvious and hackneyed story gets no favours from a director who either isn’t trying or just doesn’t care. His cast certainly doesn’t give a shit since only the bare minimum is done across the board here; everyone simply content to take a paycheque and go home.

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The picture quality of the DVD shows that the movie was, in fact, shot with a camera, but the sound mix might be one of the worst in cinematic history, where people’s mouths move without dialog coming out, scenes that sound like the boom mic was held underwater, and sound effects that are flat out missing or behind the action. There’s also a commentary track from Mendeluk that’s completely delusional when he begins espousing the deeply political nature of his film and that nothing went wrong with the production. That is, when entire minutes don’t go by in silence. Actually, in this case silence is deeply preferable than anything in this ugly, insulting mess that wastes time and the plastic it took to make the cases and DVDs for it.

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