Movies: 'Chernobyl Diaries,' 'Crooked Arrows' & 'Headhunters'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Protest demonstrations are the best thing that could happen to evoke interest in this dreadful thriller, making one wonder if the producers actually hired the picketers/petitioners claiming that an infamous nuclear catastrophe shouldn't be sensationalized.
The story begins in Kiev as six "extreme tourists" impulsively decide to forgo a trip to Moscow in order to visit the Ukrainian ghost city of Prypiat, which underwent a government-mandated evacuation shortly after the April, 1986, accident at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power Ppant.
"Ever heard of Chernobyl?" Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) asks fellow travelers, including his brother, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his long-time girlfriend, Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and Natalie's best friend, Amanda (Devin Kelley), along with an Australian couple, Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Bernal). "It's where the nuclear disaster happened." But that was more than 25 years ago.
They're escorted into the eerily deserted, post-apocalyptic "Zone of Alienation" by tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), a burly, ex-Special Forces operative who assures them that there's no danger from radiation contamination. As they walk around during the day, peering into debris-strewn apartment complexes and speculating what it must have been like, all goes well. But as dusk approaches and they're ready to depart, their van won't start.
In the ensuing darkness, they discover to their horror that, perhaps, dilapidated and supposedly uninhabitable Prypiat isn't so deserted after all. There's a deformed fish, a large bear, a pack of ravenous dogs and, worst of all, cannibalistic, radiation-mutated creatures are stalking them.
Co-written and produced by Oren Peli ("Paranormal Activity") and directed by visual effects supervisor/first-time feature filmmaker Bradley Parker, it takes formulaic plotting, shaky camerawork, cliched dialogue and repetitive film-making to a new low, although the location choice of Serbia and Hungary lends credible atmosphere. Even the title is misleading, since there's no `found footage,' like "The Blair Witch Project."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Chernobyl Diaries" is a dismally contrived 2. It becomes rapidly obvious why it was not screened for critics before it was released on the unsuspecting public.
It's a bit misleading to say this is the best movie about lacrosse, because it may be the first mainstream movie ever made about the fastest-growing participant sport in America. Utilizing the ever-popular David-vs.-Goliath inspirational theme, it reveals the Native American legacy of lacrosse, which is said to combine the speed of soccer with the hand/eye coordination of basketball and the physicality of football.
Opening with glimpses of the Haunenosaunee (a.k.a. the six Iroquois nations) -- including the Cayugas, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas and Tuscaroras -- in the forest playing an ancient version of lacrosse "to entertain the Creator" in A.D. 1200, the story commences on the (fictional) Sunaquot Nation reservation in upstate New York. That's where half-Native American John Logan (Brandon Routh), driving a snazzy red sports car with the license plate WAMPUM, is promoting the expansion of Lucky Indian Casino on tribal land. His traditionalist father (Gil Birmingham), negotiates approval for the deal only if John, a former lacrosse hotshot, agrees to coach the struggling team, noting: "The game has been in our blood for 1,000 years."
While the ill-equipped, underfunded Sunaquot team is in the New York Prep League, pitted against elitist prep schools, their most formidable rival is the Coventry Academy team, one of whose members blindsided John's younger sister Nadie (Chelsea Ricketts), causing her to break an ankle while filling in for one of the boys. Supervised by Grandma Skye (Kakaionshta Betty Deer) John Logan's spiritual quest to reconnect with his cultural heritage invigorates the team and reunites him with his former girlfriend, Dr. Julie Gifford (Crystal Allen), now teaching high school on the reservation.
Scripted by Todd Baird and Brad Riddell and directed by Steve Rash, it's thoroughly engaging, like other sports underdog stories, including "The Bad-News Bears," "The Mighty Ducks" and "Cool Runnings." It's also significant is that not only Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns") but also all the Crooked Arrow players are Native American descendants.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Crooked Arrows" is an authentic, uplifting 8, a feel-good family movie.
Introducing himself in voice-over narration, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a smug recruiter for Oslo corporations. He lives in a spectacular modernist house with a statuesque, trophy wife, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), and maintains a mistress on the side. In order to finance his extravagant lifestyle, Roger is also an art thief. Working with a sleazy, sex-crazed accomplice, Ove Kikerud (Eivind Sander), Roger steals extremely valuable paintings from the homes of the highly paid executives whose job interviews he has arranged and adroitly leaves replicas in their place.
But his life goes completely awry when Roger targets formidable Danish businessman Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister on HBO's "Game of Thrones"). A GPS technology expert and former Dutch special-forces mercenary with a history of cold-blooded killings, Clas possesses a priceless Peter Paul Reubens painting that was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941 and passed on to his grandmother. Roger wants his wife, who owns an art gallery, to evaluate it but -- thanks to a misplaced cellphone -- Roger suspects that suave Clas may be having an affair with beautiful, blonde Diana.
Basically insecure and dorky, Roger is honest about his shortcomings, particularly his 5-foot, 6-inch height, but even as a self-described "risk taker," he soon realizes he's way out of his depth. In one particularly memorable ordeal, as the paranoid hunter becomes the degraded hunted, he finds himself covered, head-to-toe, in outhouse excrement.
Screenwriters Ulf Ryberg ("The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest") and Lars Gudmestad ("Liverpool Goalie") cleverly set up the provocative premise, mixing art history, technology and humorous psych pathology, while director Morten Tyldum tries to make the overly tense-and-twisted, preposterous plot somewhat credible with the help of cinematographer John Andreas Andersen and editor Vidar Flataukan.
In Norwegian and Danish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Headhunters" is a sleek, relentless 7 -- with an Americanized remake already in pre-production.