The Darkest Hour is the story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack. The 3D thriller highlights the classic beauty of Moscow alongside mind-blowing special effects.
Thanks to Rotana Home Entertainment, we have 3 Blu-rays of the movie to give away.
This holiday season, acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) directs an amazing and true story about a single dad who decides his family needs a fresh start, so he and his two children move to the most unlikely of places: a zoo. With the help of an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, the family works to return the dilapidated zoo to its former wonder and glory.
Thanks to Rotana Home Entertainment, we have 5 DVD’s to the acclaimed family film to give away.
In a horror movie, setting is one of the most important things that can make or break the film. ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ excels in that regard – in the sense that it’s set on a setting that no other horror movie has ever explored before. As a result, it’s a satisfying and creepy film that has a build-up that impresses and is engaging to see how things turn out. Too bad the payoff isn’t as strong.
The plot follows six American tourists looking out for a thrill abroad and discover the idea of ‘extreme’ tourism thanks to an overexcited foreign tour guide, who suggests them a tour of the city of Pripyat – which was the home to the workers of Chernobyl in the 70’s before the nuclear disaster led to them abandoning the entire city overnight. But though the tour for them is thrilling and fun when they first arrive there, things take a turn for the worse as they realise that they’re stranded there with no sign of rescue. And also, they’re not alone.
Producer Oren Peli is known for making ‘Paranormal Activity’ and producing ‘Insidious’, and this film feels like it’s come from the same brainchild because it feels more raw and organic than most horror films of this kind. Though you might mistake it as a found-footage film from the trailer, it’s actually a traditionally shot film with the camera not as a character. But it’s as close to a found-footage film that a movie can get while still being traditionally shot in terms of visual aesthetic and camera angles. It’s very raw and barebones and lacks those big aerial or panning shots but keeps the movements gritty throughout. In the horror genre, being raw and realistic actually helps crank up the tension in the film and that’s exactly the case here. It almost feels like a documentary without actually being one.
But it’s the unique setting that takes the cake here – the abandoned city of Pripyat rpat after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 70’s led to thousands of people abandoning it overnight. The movie wasn’t actually shot on location, but they re-create the city with surprisingly good detail for a low budget horror movie and gives the viewer the chills from the moment that the group of characters arrive at the scene. Something about the eeriness and unusually quiet nature of the place creates a haunting and atmospheric setting and the director is smart enough to mine the most of it during the first half of the film. There’s a very effective build up here that will keep you engaged as these tourists roam around the city taking pictures. Subtle clues left here and there clearly let the audience know there’s something clearly amiss here and these guys need to get out as fast as they can. You would think that the movie would quickly jump into horror movie mode after that exploration bit, but there’s a lot more buildup that the film has to offer after they realise that they’re stranded with no help to be found. Though the pacing ratches up a notch here, the film still holds back a lot of its secrets and we still don’t know who they’re really up against and what’s really going on here.
And I think that’s what works best in favor of the film – an element of mystery and anticipation that heightens the tension and we don’t know what’s actually going on. They say fear of the unknown is the most effective form of fear and this holds true with the film during the first two thirds of it. The progression of events are intense as they go along and things start to become like a traditional horror movie at this point. But it’s probably because the film itself was so effective till this point is why the third act pales in comparison. Once we are actually shown the enemy our heroes are against, it’s not as clever as we were led to believe that it was. In fact, it’s a theme done in a very popular horror movie franchise before and they did it better. It’s at this point that you realise that the creators just used the setting of Chernobyl to make a standard film that could have been made in any setting all the more interesting and high-concept. The final scenes are a mixed bag as well, even though there are some highlight creepy moments in there that have some great make-up effects. But the very final scene tries to go the route of ‘Rec’ and ‘The Last Exorcism’ where they introduce a brand new plot twist to the proceedings, but fails to give us any sort of lasting resolution and answers that feel satisfying which is something that ‘Rec’ did brilliantly.
Acting is pretty standard from everyone involved, but props to them for making it feel natural and organic instead of scripted since there was apparently a lot of improvisation and the documentary style lends to that. There’s that one blonde female as the exception who was only cast because of her ‘assets’ but thankfully doesn’t have that much to do compared to the other leads. It’s a low budget movie so there’s not much to expect glamor wise, but the CGI in the very few scenes that it actually appears is actually kind of mediocre and feels out of place.
But overall, ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ is another effective horror film from Oren Peli’s producing hand. It’s very atmospheric and unique in its setting, with a build-up that’s engaging and nail biting. If only it would have lead to a stronger conclusion, this would’ve been the highlight horror movie of the year. But as it stands, it’s still something horror fans will get a kick out of.
The original Spider-Man trilogy by Sam Raimi is a memorable one and the first film is generally credit for kickstarting the superhero movie genre as we know it today, because it was a fresh and accessible film that worked on many levels. What worked with Sam Rami’s Spider-Man series was the feel: when you experienced Spider-Man web-swinging through the tall skyscrapers of New York you felt it. For me, it was exhilarating, an achievement of top camera work and incredible CGI that encased a sense of speed and adventure. As a teen, I wanted to be Spider-Man after the movie ended. Despite its flaws, Sam Rami’s version had the correct ingredients that made an honest to goodness, superhero summer blockbuster.
The Amazing Spider-Man, however, falls just short of that.
The flaw begins with the plot itself. Fundamentally, it’s the same exact story with a slightly different twist peppered to make it look different. After they faced the bad buzz that a movie not even 10 years old and so fresh in everyone’s mind is being remade, the marketing really focused on the fact that this is ‘an untold story’. But don’t be surprised to know that this is essentially the exact same origin story told once again. Yes, Peter Parker gets bitten; yes, he wakes up find to himself powerful (and sticky); yes, Uncle Ben dies; and yes Spider-Man has to save the city from a green-colored monster by the end of it. But there’s no novel way in which this origin story is explored, pretty much hitting the exact same beats and plot points as the original. What results is an experience that you had before. You can predict what will happen next, and when that happens you know the film has failed to grasp you. I was looking at my watch for the most part of the movie’s 2 hours runtime. Even the “untold story” angle of Peter Parker’s parents felt inconsequent and unfinished, as if the writers did not know how to progress it further after amateurishly interconnecting it with the main story arc. For something that was the movie’s major marketing pull, this was disappointing and an incredible missed opportunity of interjecting a brand new angle into the age old story.
When the film works is when it is allowed to be original. The interaction between Peter Parker and Gwen are genuine. Marc Webb is the director whose previous film ‘500 Days of Summer’ was filled with great relationship moments between characters and that’s what got him a job on this project. And sure enough, it’s those moments that ultimately feel somewhat fresh and stand out. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry is fantastic, which makes their characters much more likeable that the script ever intended. Also, it’s quite impossible not to like Emma Stone. Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy is likeable too, and possibly is the only character that has received a fully formed arc. In fact, his scenes are the highlights of the film as he brings something new to know about and something new to experience. I guess it’s a testament to the fact that how much of an old-wine new-bottle the entire movie feels, and is.
While the plot remains more or less the same, Marc Webb did some changes to the tone of the story and the way it’s told. But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it improves upon the original in that sense. The film’s attempt to tell a darker and grittier Spider-Man story results in a more humanized version of the character, where Peter Parker’s approachability and teen-like demeanor ultimately overshadows actions of a superhero that is shoved into single-handedly saving the city. Marc Webb’s insistence on wanting to show Peter in the Spidey suit as much possible as opposed to a CGI stuntman is an interesting approach but doesn’t always work. His version of Peter Parker comes across as mopey and wimpy, even despite knowing his powers can help him overcome many situations, and belies Spider-Man’s true nature of an acrobatic web-swinger that is confident and assured in his actions, on foot and in mid-air. Even Spider-Man’s trademark wit feels weak, not because it’s delivered poorly, but you half expect Peter Parker to say it.
The film ultimately feels off. On one hand it desperately tries to appear more mature and dark, while on the other it wrestles with trying to set itself apart from the original film, and shave off the cartoonish sensibility that is normally associated with a Spider-Man movie. This makes the film three-toned, if there is such a thing, and you just don’t how to set yourself for it.
Also new to film is Curt Connors/Lizard played by Rhys Ifans. Again, much like Spider-Man, the character is let down by sketchy characterization. My main beef with Lizard was that he (it?) is too much of a good guy to be a bad one. His motives are not clear enough. Curt Connors believes in making a world without imperfections, but his formula – and we won’t spoil it here – is not perfect and flat-out does not work (it turns him into a bloody giant lizard, for one). His ultimate motive is at odds with his character’s nature that the film previously sets up for him.
These are not the only moments were the film just gets out-right dumb. For instance, nobody uses Bing. But jokes apart, there are other many things that make you go “what?”. For example, just how did Peter manage to get hold of the webbing, an undoubtedly expensive material that is only made in the high-class tech labs of Oscorp? How did Peter manage to produce more of it without any equipment to do so? Also, one would assume that after receiving the ability to web-swing for the very first time, you would test it on a small, more confined space to see if it works alright. But nope, Peter just flings himself off a high skyscraper and then effortlessly lands on a Starbucks canopy without raising any alarm from the pedestrians at all. Oh and aunt May, when your nephew comes home beaten up every day, you do something about it.
Visually, the movie has the good and the bad. The poorest bit of CGI is the Lizard, which looks improperly rendered into the background as if he was pulled from a work in progress build. The action sequences with him and Spider-Man are a highlight, but they lacked imagination. Webb ensured every bit of the routine were involved – hovering helicopters, smashed cars, damsel in distress, unrestrained destruction, a time-constrained objective – but none of them managed to thrill as much as the previous movies did. Even Spider-Man’s web-swinging antics felt flat with the far angled shots and a general lack of speed and excitement in the camera work. The first-person shots were pretty good but they were randomly placed and lacked purpose other than allowing the visual effects team to pop collars.
Where the film ultimately succeeds the most is the casting, in the sense that the filmmakers make sure that they got a very talented cast to fill in the void of the actors that are no longer here. The biggest question of course is whether Andrew Garfield plays a good Spider-Man and there’s no surprise in the fact that his take on the character is excellent and more humanized. Even though Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man in an excellent manner and will be remembered as that, Garfield is more suitable in the early stages of the character as an awkward teen and brings empathy to that element of the story. Emma Stone is impressive as the love interest as well and as mentioned, the chemistry works. Rhys Ifans does the villain very well, even if he didn’t have the best characterization to work with from the script. Irfan Khan more than makes for Anil Kapoor’s embarrassment in ‘Ghost Protocol’ with his cameo as an evil corporate hand-man. He is effective and plays his part well, although I had a hard time understanding what he was saying, which is weird because I am Indian too, and his accent was way off.
The Amazing Spider-Man is unnecessary in the end. It’s a shame because it could have provided a wholly different take on the origin story and added to the lore. It just was unwilling to take the risk. With great power, comes great responsibility but Sony neither wielded that power to make something great nor it took responsibility to give its loyal fans a different experience.
Note on 3D: It was good but nothing that makes it a must-watch. It is clear that the film was shot in 3D but restrains quite well from throwing stuff at our face randomly. When it does 3D, it does it well.