By G. Michael Dobbs
Two frustrating movies are featured in this week's DVD column.
When I was teaching a film class at Western New England College, I frequently showed one of the worst movies I had in my collection: an obscurity called "Terror in the Amazon."
I showed that film to illustrate what constitutes good direction. I learned my students couldn't really tell what good direction is like because they didn't have a benchmark of really terrible direction for comparison.
"Terror in the Amazon" provided that. It's truly incompetent.
The difference a director makes to a film can be crucial and that's the problem with "Stolen," a murder mystery that takes place over the course of 50 years.
"Stolen" features a pretty intriguing script. John Hamm plays a present day cop who is still grieving for the disappearance of his son eight years ago. He suspects an incarcerated child killer, but can't prove it.
His obsession with solving the case increases when a construction crew discovers the corpse of a young boy who had been murdered about 50 years ago. Through flashbacks we learn of the boy's story.
While I thought Glen Taranto's script had much merit, director Anders Anderson made a bit of a mess of it. An average episode of "Criminal Minds," has a better use of production value and a closer attention to detail.
Because this is partly a period film, one can't help but notice the haircuts and clothing are too far off, something a good director would notice. The use of a roadside diner supposedly a busy location is on a dirt road. Huh?
There is never a true sense of location established or that these events are actually taking place in a "real" place.
The film has a fine cast, but too many characters have too little to do and have been given throwaway roles, such as the lovely Morena Baccarin whose talents are completely wasted.
This is Anderson's first film and he has a lot to learn.
While flawed, mystery fans might find some interest in "Stolen."
This horror movie from Belgium came with some high recommendations and I was expecting a lot. While it also has many good points, watching it was fairly irritating.
Marie is a young runner who is headed for great things when she contracts an unknown ailment. Her doctor recommends a month's worth of rest and Marie decides to move in with her new boyfriend.
Slowly but surely she discovers the apartment building in which they live on the left bank of the river in Antwerp has a disturbing history. It is supposedly built on the site of literally a hole to Hell and the place where generations of devil worshippers have conducted ceremonies.
Now Marie, in the worst traditions of the horror film protagonist, sticks around even as she realizes that things are not what they seem. A sensible person would have tried to escape well before she does.
That's where this film is frustrating. There are some good performances and some good ideas that hole in the basement is pretty damn creepy but the film is agonizingly slow. The writer and director apparently want to stick with the conventions of the genre rather than do something new.
This film is unrated and while the violence isn't explicit, there are a number of sex scenes and ones with nudity that are fairly revealing. While low-budget director Fred Olen Ray once accurately said that "nudity is the cheapest special effect," these scenes certainly don't make "Left Bank" a better story.
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