Out of the Blue (2006) (R)

IMDb / Wong
Written by Robert Sarkies and Graeme Tetley
Directed by Robert Sarkies

I couldn’t find a still of the image I wanted to run with this review, so I’ll describe it. Helen Dickson, 73, sits quietly in her kitchen under a duvet as David Gray, 33, stands outside her window holding a rifle. She’s cradling an injured dog, and she grips her hand around its mouth to stifle its whimpers. David can be seen through a chink in the curtains, and for a second or two, he thinks he hears something and peers around into the house. His gaze is pointed directly down the camera at the audience. That moment is a metaphor (and I’m speaking for New Zealand residents here): we’re in that kitchen with Helen, hoping that this evil outside won’t notice us and come in to destroy us. It’s done all sorts of evil deeds elsewhere, but surely it’s not going to get us – is it?

I might be stretching things, but it’s a great moment – one of several in a quality film. Our national psyche might be a bit more wary now, but in 1990, we knew we were cut off from much of the world and the bad things that can happen. Then Gray lost his mind, and we wondered about that strange guy down the street in our town or suburb. I’m not old enough to remember exactly the strength of the impact this massacre had on our society, but Out of the Blue, despite a few loose treatments of the truth, suggests that it opened many of our eyes to nastiness.

The film is at its best when it follows Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) and his fellow frightened cops as they vainly attempt to neutralise the threat posed by Gray. The nervous behaviour of men on both sides rings completely true. Gray doesn’t really have a plan, he just wants to stay alive as long as possible; the policemen fear for their lives, and lack the grit (and training) to do him in. It’s appropriately shocking at times, too: the first killing is hand-over-the-mouth brutal, and a half-second shot where Gray appears in the distance behind someone is genuinely scary.

However, points are lost during the early scenes with Gray. He is filmed mostly in pointed close-up to emphasise how alone he is, which is okay up to a point, but starts to become forced; then we see how out of step he is with the rest of the world, as schoolkids on the bus laugh at him, and starts yelling in a bank (a scene so out-of-synch with reality I couldn’t help but smile). Matt Sunderland is impressive all the way through, though – it must have been an extremely difficult role to play, and I think he got it absolutely right.

Urban is good, too. He’s doing all right for himself over in the States, and that’s because he can play any part with strength and sensitivity. He has to carry large portions of this film almost single-handedly, and he manages that easily. The real diamond here, though, is Lois Lawn as Dickson. A non-professional, there isn’t a single second of her performance that doesn’t feel like documentary. The way she speaks on the phone, the fearful but pragmatic look in her eyes, her final glance at the bedsheets fluttering in the wind – it’s all perfect, and she ought to win awards.

Sarkies has taken a few cues from Paul Greengrass (United 93), but with a few cinematic additions, such as a complex sound design (sometimes overly so) and occasional shots of calm amidst the insanity. If there are missteps, they are over-balanced by even more impressive points in the film’s favour. And as the obligatory roll of names and ‘what happened next’ info came up before the final credits, I suddenly became choked up. They’re all real people, you know? Dickson really did crawl home twice; Chiquita Holden really did get shot and see her father die. Out of the Blue doesn’t function as entertainment; it’s a warning, a reminder of what could be just around the corner, and of what happens if we neglect the marginals of society.

(What most disappoints me is that the title of this film makes me think of that horrific Delta Goodrem song about Mark Philippoussis, which has been running through my head since I left the cinema. But I’m sure I’ll be all right.)

Doom (2005) (F)

IMDB / Ebert
Written by a Bunch of Hacks
Directed by a Talentless Mole

Here it is at last, the film I’ve been waiting for. A film to really sink my teeth into, to get me thinking clinically and brutally. This isn’t just the worst movie of the year; it’s possibly the worst movie I’ve seen in my entire life. Apart from a four-minute sequence that is like riding the Motion Master, and the abundant attention given to Rosamund Pike’s breasts, every last aspect is minimally thought out and ineptly executed.

Of its many sins, the most crippling is that it is painfully boring. It’s an action movie in which the action never threatens to excite or engage the viewer. Because it is shot mostly with very low lighting, it’s nearly impossible to get involved in any situation. Like, they’re moving along, and there are a lot of cold stares, then someone looks frightened, then there’s some gunfire and shouting, and then someone’s dead, and there’s more shouting. And I think to myself, what just… oh, I don’t even care. Is this the best you could do? Really? They are the laziest action sequences I’ve seen – put some guys in a dark space with guns, have them blind the audience with their flashlights (I shit you not, this happens several times), then get an unseen monster to kill one of them. It is insulting, but as I say, it is extremely boring, which is far worse. Insulting provokes a reaction in the individual; boring fails to do even that.

This film goes beyond asking you to fill in the gaps – rather, it asks you to create artificial bridges between chunks of information and make up a coherent plot as you go along. The names of the writers are Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, and I hope they never work again after this mess. The basic plot is a bunch of Marines are called to Mars to secure a scientific facility which has been breached; when they get there, they find that through some sort of genetic research program, the scientists have created a race of super-strong beings that have wreaked havoc. There are obligatory revelations as the narrative progresses, but you know how when you’re being told a story at great length and the teller keeps adding details that just don’t matter and you’re tuning in and out, waiting for the story to end? That’s what this movie is like. A story is there, but it’s so threadbare and poorly told that I couldn’t give a shit.

The dialogue, too, is truly woeful. The last line of the film is “Almost home…” – that’s it! That’s the big, epiphanic finale that we were all waiting for, hoping for, praying that something cool would happen at the end to leave us a little more satisfied. Nope. “Almost home…” is all we get. Prior to that it’s all insults, exposition, and irrelevant nonsense. To compensate for the poor dialogue, the actors SHOUT IT as often as possible. Sorry, Dwayne, but shouting and yelling do not constitute good acting. I tell you, it’s quite bizarre to be saying that I came out of a movie thinking, “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson wasn’t up to his usual standard.” He really wasn’t, though – after Welcome to the Jungle and Walking Tall I thought he was the new Arnie, but I may be sadly mistaken. He’s upstaged by our own Karl Urban, just, and by Rosamund Pike, particularly her fine figure. It sounds base, but seriously, that was all they were after when they cast her – not her evident acting skills, but because she is pretty and in good shape.

The so-called climax is the lowest ebb in a film of many bad scenes. Character A has just been injected with magic serum which makes him superhuman, and he comes up against Character B, his boss-turned-evil, who is supposedly equally strong. This limited logic that has been set up then goes out the window, as they alternate having the upper hand in new and ridiculous ways. You want to scream at the screen, “Can’t he just kick him off?” But they never do, the recovery is always something even more outlandish, usually involving a handy prop. At one point Character A is holding off death by sharp wire with one hand, and then – no shit – uses that hand to press a button, then brings it back to force back his opponent. What? Consistency with basic physical truths? Nah, we can leave that out – the audience won’t notice.

The director’s name is Andzrej Bartkowiak, a former cinematographer. He should never occupy the director’s chair again. It is appropriate that his (and everyone else’s) name is blasted by a shotgun in the closing credits, because that’s what his career should look like after this shit-fest. Most galling is that the games this film is based on (even Doom 3) are minimally referenced, such that this is almost completely separate from them. Except, of course, that four-minute first-person sequence. No sounds from the games – shit, hardly even any monsters, of which they had a great number of really cool ones to choose from.

I didn’t expect much, admittedly, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad. I suppose it doesn’t have any presumptions other than being a big, dumb action movie; thing is, it isn’t even that. It’s just dull, monotonous crap that we could all do without. Seriously, do not bother with this piece of shit, unless you have a desire to learn exactly what not to do with US$70 million. (Thankfully it didn’t come close to making that back, so there won’t be any sequel, or hopefully any word spoken of it ever again.)