Choose Your Own Adventure: “Chernobyl Diaries”

In honor of the latest shaky cam schlock I subjected myself to, I decided to switch up the review format for this one. Let me know what you think.



Scene: Three starry-eyed youngsters, a man, his girlfriend and a newly single girl, are taking a trip across Europe. You play the role of the man. You and your companions are travelling to meet your brother in Kiev. Do you:

A. Meet up with your brother for a few days before going your separate ways.
B. Decide to call him instead of visit and bypass Kiev altogether.
C. Wonder aloud how you can afford this trip.
D. Hang out with your brother and risk his ill nature clouding the judgment of your companions.
(You choose D.)

You find yourself in a cafe trying to cure a hangover from the previous night. You are perturbed at the fact that the waitress doesn’t speak English despite the fact that you’re in, you know, Kiev. Your brother enters the cafe late and attempts to convince you and your companions to go on an “extreme” visit to Chernobyl instead of your planned trip to Moscow. You remember that, just the night before, you had told your brother that you planned on proposing to your girlfriend in Moscow. Do you:

A. Agree to go along and propose to your girlfriend in Chernobyl. Nothing says romance like an abandoned nuclear disaster site.
B. Ask to speak to your brother alone and appeal to his good nature to get him to drop the idea.
C. Continue to sulk about the lack of English-speaking help.
D. Allow your brother to hold a vote, straight out of third grade, and leave the choice up to your easily manipulated companions.
(You choose D.)

Your brother introduces you to the tour guide, Yuri, a gregarious fellow of Eastern European origin. He tells you that this tour is “particularly popular” and is excited to take you. Two other people, a vacationing couple, show up to join the tour. This is your last chance to turn back. Do you:

A. Make one final appeal to your companions that visiting an abandoned nuclear site may not be as fun as they think.
B. Scold your brother for Shanghaiing your plans to propose to your girlfriend.

C. Begrudgingly go along with their plans.
D. Be overjoyed that Yuri speaks English.
(You choose B.)

Don’t you get it? He’s the prototypical horror movie jerk. He laughs at you.
(You choose both C. and D.)

You and your companions arrive in Pripyat, a town outside of Chernobyl. The town is locked down with military personnel and Yuri is unable to convince them to let you through as the area is closed for “maintenance.” Do you:

A. Take this as a sign that you should forego your trip.
B. Attempt to bribe the guards. Since you’re American, you think every foreign official is corrupt.
C. Allow Yuri to take you his “secret way.”
D. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing is more romantic than being rejected at a military checkpoint.
(After carefully considering B., you choose C.)

You, your companions and Yuri travel a back road into Pripyat. You explore for a bit, eventually entering a house. Suddenly you hear a sound in another room and Yuri goes to investigate. Without warning, you see a shadow lumbering toward you! Is it:

A. A wolf.
B. A mutant.
C. A zombie.
D. A bear.
(The answer is D. Seriously. And this is never explained.)

You get back to the van and, wouldn’t ya know it, it won’t start. Yuri says it will be dark soon. Do you:

A. Start walking toward the guard checkpoint immediately so as to avoid the impending darkness.
B. Endeavor to fix the van before nightfall.
C. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing is more romantic than being in a dark van filled with people you barely know.
D. Wait until dark before making your decision.
(Feeling a sense of dread, you carefully weigh C. So carefully, in fact, that you end up choosing D. by default)
Yuri, who apparently has hearing like a Doberman, hears a noise out in the darkness. He takes a gun out of the glove box and goes to investigate. Do you:

A. Be shocked at the fact that he has a gun, despite the fact that it makes perfect sense for someone in his profession.
B. Wait patiently in the van for him to return. The enormous Eastern European man can handle himself, after all.
C. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing is more romantic than … ah, forget it.
D. Follow him irrationally into the darkness because … why not?
(After choosing A. you decide to go with D.) 

Ack! You get mauled offscreen by a pack of raging and radioactive dogs! Yuri disappears into the darkness as your brother drags you back to the van. After a “tense” night, your brother, the girl and the couple decide to look for help the following morning and leave you and your girlfriend in the van. Because your leg is mangled, you cannot follow. What do you do?

A. Defy conventions and follow them anyway.
B. Let your companions go and trust them to come back for you.
C. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing says romance like being alone in a dark van surrounded by raging forest creatures.
D. Despair.
(You choose A.)

Seriously, man. Your leg is messed up.
(You choose C.)

Cute. But no.
(You choose D.)

Probably the best course of action, but still no.
(You begrudgingly choose B.)

The perspective now shifts to your brother, since you are trapped in a van. 

You, the girl you just met but still wanted to hit on, and the couple you just met but didn’t want to hit on stumble into the daylight to look for help. After a while, you come across a parking lot filled with cars. Do you:

A. Look for the missing part of your van in hopes of getting it running again.
B. Try to roll start the cars so you can drive back.
C. Make ill-time Ferris Bueller jokes.
D. Jump scare!
(You choose D.)

Ooh! Scary.
(You choose A.)

Eureka! You find exactly the component you need. You head back, filled with the hope that you can finally make up for all of your years of sub-par fraternity. But egad! You arrive to find the van flipped over and nary a sight of your brother or his girlfriend. Do you:

A. Wait by the van so they can find you if they happen to come back.
B. Run around willy-nilly and scream shrilly into the night.
C. Keep your head and conduct a calm search of the surrounding area.
D. Propose to the random girl. At this rate you may not have much longer to get married.
(You choose B.)

You enter a dark, decrepit building and look around. You eventually come across your brother’s girlfriend, who is hysterical. There is no sign of your brother anywhere. What do you do?

A. Accept the obvious and mourn your brother.
B. Comfort his girlfriend, since she is obviously shaken.
C. Calmly stomach the situation and seek a way out of Chernobyl before anyone else gets hurt.
D. Run around willy-nilly and scream shrilly into the night.
(You choose D.)

As the night drags on, you continually get attacked by increasingly inconsistent zombies. Every one of your companions dies until it is just you and the girl you barely know. The Geiger counter Yuri gave you starts to go off, signifying dangerous levels of radiation. Do you:

A. Turn back and try to find a less dangerous way.
B. Push on regardless of the consequences.
C. Check to see why the counter only goes off when it’s dramatically convenient.
D. Look for a safe place to fortify yourself and make your last stand.
(You know nothing about Geiger counters, so you choose B.)

Ouch, the radiation is really starting to hurt.
(Still B.)

Your face is literally starting to smoke.
(La la la, can’t hear you, la la la.)

Salvation! Even in your radiation-blinded state, you see the shapes of members of the Ukrainian military. You plead for them to help you, but they shout at you in a strange language. What do you do?

A. Since you speak Ukrainian, you understand that they are telling you not to come any closer and comply.
B. You push on regardless of what they’re saying because … that makes sense.
C. You propose to the girl you barely know. Nothing says romance like radiation blindness.
D. You speak back at them in Ukrainian and explain what happened to you.
(You choose B. They open fire. Since you are dead, the perspective switches to the girl.)

You find yourself being whisked away on a gurney through a hospital. The doctors, who speak English, tell you that they will take care of you, before switching back to speaking Ukrainian. What do you do?

A. Question why they are switching languages. What are they hiding?
B. Just go with it. Whatever they have in store for you, it’s better than zombies.
C. Wonder why they didn’t shoot you when they had no qualms about shooting that other guy.
D. Ask why, dear god why, this movie isn’t over yet.
(Since option D. would shatter the fourth wall, you pick option B.)

Oh no! They’ve thrown you into a darkened room that is filled with zombies.

Bonus question! What was the worst part about this movie?
A. The pacing.
B. The lack of character development.
C. How horribly clichéd it was.
D. The overly xenophobic tone of the characters.
E. The fact that it cost almost $20 to see it.
F. The fact that it was still probably better than half of the other movies that are out right now.
G. All of the above.
(I answer G. A thousand times G.)


Review: Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Dark Shadows”

I have spent the better part of the past fortnight railing against the utter lack of creativity in Tim Burton’s most recent films. I even posted several videos parodying the fact that Burton seems satisfied to plagiarize his older work in order to churn out the next in a line of increasingly disappointing releases. Things got so bad that I began to bear Burton a level of video vitriol that I normally reserve for such schlockmeisters as Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. OK, it wasn’t that bad, but still.

I’m not entirely sure when I turned my back on Burton. After all, I can say without the slightest hint of sarcasm that he was the creative force behind several of my most favorite movies. “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” is, of course, a classic. His “Batman” is one of the best comic book movies of all time, and easily the second-best movie depiction of the Caped Crusader (if you don’t know what the best one is, you are missing out. Big time.) “Ed Wood” is one of my all-time favorites, and, though I don’t count them as favorites per se, I thoroughly enjoyed “Big Fish” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Then this happened.

Pictured: Average.

Followed closely by this.


As time went on, it appeared that Burton was allowing himself to be M. Night Shyamalan’d by public opinion. Much as M. Night fell into the habit of always making his films have a twist (since that was the popular perception of what kind of filmmaker he was) Burton has allowed himself to become a parody, someone so interested with bringing the darker aspects of light-hearted tales to the forefront that he’s forgotten what made some of his work so special. Now it’s nothing but Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter co-headlining a never-ending march of mediocrity.

Which brings us to “Dark Shadows” and, whew boy, this one hurt. This is easily Burton’s weakest film, and one of the most unenjoyable experiences I have ever had at the movies. Even my mom, who likes everything, turned to me when the film ended and said, “That was awful.”* It’s every bad aspect of Burton’s work rolled into a two-hour odious opus that overstays its welcome by … about two hours.

The performances are what makes the film virtually unwatchable. I haven’t seen this much overacting since my last high school drama camp. Every other line someone is wheeling dramatically away to deliver a line, usually one that doesn’t justify such heavy blocking.

The movie also suffers from an inability to properly distill its original episodic format. Plot points are introduced and then promptly dropped. Characters either do things without proper motivation, or react disproportionately to the events surrounding them. In short, it’s horribly directed, which I should have expected.

Bonham Carter’s performance is particularly necessary to single out because of how pointless her character is. Seriously, she does nothing aside from drink (get it? It’s funny because she drinks too much!) and participate in an erroneous, and quickly resolved, subplot. Oh, and she appears at the very end for an equally erroneous “shocking” end. How very fitting.

Depp, too, has allowed himself to become nothing more than a series of caricatures. He’s no longer an actor, not by his own standards set in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Ed Wood,” or “Secret Window,” anyway. He’s the equivalent of a community college student doing character creation exercises. If he’s not Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s … a character in a Tim Burton movie. It’s truly disappointing to see someone who is obviously so dramatically gifted fall into such a relentless and joyless rut. He chews scenery so thoroughly you would think he just came from a seminar on proper table manners. His mannerisms are so completely over exaggerated it’s like … he’s in a Tim Burton movie. Well, walked right into that one.

And while we’re on the subject of Depp, let’s take the opportunity to send a message to all filmmakers: The whole “he’s from the past and knows nothing about modern technology … I smell shenanigans!” plot device isn’t funny. It needs to stop. Like now. I’ll wait.

(A short time later)  

The best word to describe this film is joyless. It falls into the unfortunate rift where it isn’t campy enough to be enjoyable, but the source material isn’t strong enough to justify how serious the film takes itself. Overacting is overabundant and the film as a whole takes an unnecessarily overwrought tone and tries to be an enduring love story fraught with the cliche “what makes a man and what makes a monster” plot. And, in doing do, it fails by every conceivable standard of entertainment.

If you’re curious about the subject matter at all, do yourself a favor and just watch the original television series on Netflix. I caught a few episodes immediately after this drivel and was pleasantly surprised. I recommend giving it a watch.

Preview Review

And now a new addition: a recap of some of the trailers that preceded the film. Needless to say, with the extraordinary exception of “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” they range from average to awful. Of course there was the obligatory barrage of upcoming Burton works, featuring both the aforementioned adage to awesome Abe and the painful-looking “Frankenweenie.” Come to think of it, what was the last good animated film Burton had a hand in making?

There was also Ben Affleck’s new film, “Argo” which tells a story of trying to rescue some American refugees during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It looks like it could be interesting, especially after Affleck’s last directorial work (“The Town”) was surprisingly strong. Of course, it will probably fall into the ever-common trap of misrepresenting the complexity of the Iranian Revolution and making it a matter of “Iranians bad, bad Iranians kill good Americans, must save good Americans” but it might be interesting. Here’s the trailer if you’re interested.

*Note: I only put this in specifically because she asked me not to. What can I say? I’m a contrarian.  

Review: Harry Potter and The Woman in Black

Quick question, what scares you? Is it something classic like bugs, spiders or snakes? Something more abstract like failure? Or maybe you’re still haunted by the time you saw mommy and daddy “wrestling” in their room.

Well, hopefully it’s not windows, toys, or children, otherwise “The Woman in Black” is going to terrify you.


It’s hard to pinpoint where exactly this movie goes wrong. The acting isn’t bad, actually Daniel Radcliffe is relatively solid. It’s not the writing, which, though not Orwellian, is passable for a film of this genre. Honestly the worst part about this film is the pacing and the editing, both of which are so jarring that they rob the film of any real tension or drama.

“Oh glass, no one can know of our forbidden love.”

“The Woman in Black” also languishes under the delusion that well-dressed little girls are scary, because … I dunno, hygiene?

Pictured: The last time little girls were scary.

The movie also suffers from a lack of consistent tone. 99 percent of the film is a morose broodfest that is more sultry than scary, but it tries its darndest to have an uplifting ending. Yeah … it doesn’t work out.

And it’s about as subtle as this.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, an employee at a law firm who is sent to the Eel Marsh House to try and settle the affairs of the late owner so the house can be sold. If that sounds like the plot to any horror movie featuring a haunted or possessed house, it’s because it kind of is.

Now that’s not to say the movie is completely unoriginal, after all, it decides to make Kibbs a widower, who is trying to do right by his son. That’s super edgy and original … right?

Basically from there, it’s exactly what you would expect. The house is in a small town where the people are distrustful of outsiders, ones who blame Radcliffe for all of their problems since, you know, that’s logical. As a quick aside, though, it’s a shame that Radcliffe has been typecast as a pasty man who constantly travels throughout England by train.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the movie, one, because it’s a relatively new release and I don’t want to spoil anything, and two, because there’s not much plot to be had. Seriously, three-fourths of the movie is Radcliffe looking around wildly for the source of some strange bump in the night.


Now to be fair, the movie isn’t terrible, but it has the unfortunate distinction of being too bad to be good, and too competent to be funny. But I’m sorry, any movie that elicits laughs at any of its … ahem … tense moments isn’t worth paying upwards of $10 to see.

“Dragon Tattoo” leaves indelible mark on holiday movie season

Like any movie adaptation of a popular book, it is important to remember the differences between the two media forms, and to view each as a distinct entity, with their own advantages and limitations.

Luckily for me, I have never read the book so it was pretty easy to go into this film as a blank slate.

I know, I know, it’s bibliographical blasphemy to say that you haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s tattooed trilogy, but I just never had the time or the means to do so. However, I can safely say after watching this film that I have an even greater desire to rectify this mistake.

It’s no stretch to say that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is one of the most cerebral movies I’ve seen in a long time. Granted, when the most recent movies I’ve seen are “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” and “Shark Night 3D”, this isn’t much of a stretch.

"No, you see, the cage is a metaphor for my dissatisfaction with my career prospects."

One of the reasons I liked this movie so much is that I respect how hard to make a good mystery film. It’s easy for something to come across as too obvious or easy, robbing the audience of any drama, or to make the protagonist so seemingly infallible that the audience can’t hope to relate to or identify with him.


And that is what makes this movie so incredibly good. Too often characters become derivative, mere vehicles by which the plot moves forward. The subtlety and care it takes to make it clear that the plot is driven forward by the characters. The characters in this movie are complex, sometimes almost unduly so, mysterious, and, most importantly, believable. Granted, none of us might be the self-professed maniac that Lisbeth is, but we can sympathize with her present, and see how her checkered past may have driven her to such extremes.

But even the greatest characters can be undone by a sub-par performance.


But luckily “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is home to two powerhouse performances from its protagonists. Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist with painstaking care. His pain over his initial libel conviction, his desire for revenge, and later his obsession with the details of the case he is charged to solve all come across as genuine. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever seen him give, though that’s not saying much since I never much cared for him as James Bond.

The real revelation from this film comes via the performance of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Simply put, she nails it. The omnipresent rage bubbling just beneath a forcibly calm demeanor, the confidence (almost to the point of arrogance) in her abilities. But more than anything, it’s a marvel to see how organically her character develops throughout the film. Sometimes, it seems like characters change because the script tells them to do so, but Mara’s Lisbeth evolves in a way that is stunning. It is, without hyperbole, one of the best acting performances I have seen in a long time.

If I have one major complaint with the movie, it’s the lack of Swedish accents. It’s nitpicky, I admit, but I’m always distracted when a movie purports to take place in one country, and yet everyone sounds more like a wide-eyed tourist than an active participant in the plot.


I also didn’t much care for the opening scene, which features an industrial version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” It’s overly weird, and the song is incredibly jarring (particularly given how atmospheric and reserved the rest of the score is) but again, that’s a nitpick.

Bottom line, go see this movie. It has its disturbing moments, but top to bottom it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and deserves all of the praise it has gotten, and more.