For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
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Highway 240. Provided you’re already into the genre, it’s worth the
Directed by Dante Lam (The Stool Pigeon), the action-thriller revolves around the world’s last two surviving samples of the smallpox virus, one of which is an arm’s length away from being used to develop a biological weapon to unleash of five of the world’s seven continents.
Best known on our shores as Kato to The Green Hornet, Jay Chou stars as Jon, the International Security Affairs agent in charge of preventing disaster. In the exciting, extended prologue fueled by plenty of firepower, he takes a bullet to the head. He lives, but is in constant danger of full paralysis; complicating matters, one of his enemies turns out to be the brother he never knew (Nicholas Tse, The Stool Pigeon), a felon who earlier makes a daring courtroom escape by jumping four floors above ground level.
The proceedings put Jon’s family at grave risk, which is an element I’d like to have seen shaved from the story, but Lam at least makes up for that manipulation by staging one fast-break set piece after another, especially a great chase through a train station, where a microwave comes into play. Neither Chou nor Tse is in danger of becoming the next Jackie Chan or Jet Li, but Chou in particular continues to impress with his confidence and presence.
More Outbreak than Contagion as far as virus-driven movies go, this one wears its big-budget American influences on its sleeve. Like those influences, it’s longer than it needs be, but also louder than your mom would like it to be. —Rod Lott