Focal Curve

Dog Soldiers, Garage Days, 1984

If you don’t already know, Netflix is a subscription-based online DVD rental service. You pay a monthly fee to get movies sent to you by mail, with prepaid return envelopes. You can keep the movies as long as you like, and you can pay a higher fee to get more movies out at one time, but if you send them back quickly you can see a lot of movies for your money. If you watch at least five or six in a month you break even on what it would cost you to rent them at the local video store. The selection is staggering, especially when you factor in all the imports, classics and anime that just can’t be found at Blockbuster.

I’m a Netflix Power User, by which I mean I’m the kind of subscriber that drastically cuts into Netflix’s profit margins by actually renting a lot of movies. I’m on the basic three-at-a-time plan, and I get three movies every week. They usually arrive on Thursday, I watch them over the weekend, and get them in the mail by Tuesday to get my next three movies by Thursday again.

This post marks my first attempt at a regular feature. I’ll post brief capsule reviews of my three weekly rentals, whatever they may be. My selections tend to be pretty ecclectic, and I deliberately arrange my queue to get a mix of moods and genres each week. I’ll use a 5-star rating scale for these reviews, so here’s the breakdown:

5 stars Excellent, goes on the All-Time-Favorites list.
4 stars Really Good, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
3 stars Pretty Good, I liked it but wasn’t especially moved.
2 stars Meh. Nothing special, tending towards suck.
1 star Bad movie, don’t bother..
SUCKED Really really bad. I feel violated. I want my two hours back.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

The plot: A squadron of British soldiers on a training exercise in a remote area of the Scottish highlands run into a pack of werewolves.

Yes. Well. That pretty much sums it up. It’s a movie about a bunch of soldiers fighting a pack of werewolves, what more can you say? This is by far the definitive work in the entire soldiers-vs-werewolves genre. In spite of that, it’s actually a pretty decent flick. The group finds themselves trapped in a remote farm house with limited ammunition and no communications, desperately trying to survive until sunrise under a constant siege of snarling lycanthropes trying to get in. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before in other movies with seige-type situations, the whole werewolf angle is just a bit of a new twist. There is the expected series of escape plans of varying levels of success, a likable ensemble cast to get picked off one by one, and a traitor in their midst. Suspension of disbelief is severely strained at one point when a character’s intestines get gnawed on by a dog (a normal dog, nothing supernatural about it) and the character remains alive. But overall it’s fairly entertaining, if your expectations are not too high.

Rating: 3 stars

Garage Days (2002)

The plot: A rock band in Sydney, Australia struggles to get The Great Gig that will make them famous.

This comedy was directed by Alex Proyas, the Aussie who brought us the brilliant and moody Dark City, the dark and brooding Crow, and the vapid and glittery I, Robot. As one might expect, it’s more about the relationships and conflicts between the band members than about their music. They sleep with each other, fight with each other, break up and make up, and rail against the establishment. It’s not quite uproariously funny, but neither is it completely bleak and depressing. It’s a light amusement, well made and well performed. Worth seeing.

Rating: 3 stars

1984

The plot: Surely you know this. Orwell’s original dystopian future, imagining a time when society is oppressed under the totalitarian thumb of Big Brother and the government propaganda machine.

The novel was published in 1949, when the year 1984 was a far-off future. The movie, however, was released in 1984, so its projected future was in fact the present day to the audience (now 20 years in the past). Yet this still works on every level, because the year isn’t really important, it’s just the idea of a future when such things occur. This movie is the very definition of the word “bleak.” Everything is grimy and used up, including the people. John Hurt’s performance as Winston Smith is suitably low-key, a picture of burnt-out resignation. Life sucks in 1984, and there’s nothing to be done about it. The film is true to the novel, both in content and spirit. There are a lot of unanswered questions, details from the book left out or glossed over in the translation to celluloid, but that ambiguity works well in this case. You don’t really need to know who Big Brother is, just that he’s there (or is he?) and that he is watching. Good movie, you need to see it, but it’s really just a supplement to the book.

Rating: 4 stars

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