TRILOGY OF TERROR: Trilogy of Doom – review

Banging the Drum on All Hallow’s Eve

j lucas walker – a critic for our time

‘The horror, the horror.’  ~ Col. Kurtz

Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón (2006) *****

The Road directed by John Hillcoate (2009) ***1/2

Collapse directed by Chris Smith (2009) ****

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For those of us who do, why is it that we filmgoers like to tarry to the cinematic jugular when it comes to the thrill and the horror?    Is it the snuggled comfort of knowing that we will never actually fall victim to the boogeyman or whatever tangled web awaits us?   Or are we secretly preparing ourselves for something more, training our minds for the ultimate test of combat with the unknowing?

Three films make up this trilogy, this trilogy of terror.   They will not give in to cuddled giddiness or last second escapes from the snatches of the boogeyman.  Nor will we untangle ourselves from this horror very easily; at least not without some pertinent and much labored thought processes spurring one on to think about some things.   For any brave soul taking on this taxing trilogy, and with All Hallow’s Eve fast on the approach, fear is good.

The three films in question include two features with a grim take on the future, Children of Men, The Road, and a documentary called Collapse.  Taking one film at a time, all are quite unique with different themes, plot lines and characters. There are also monsters in each and every one of them, be it an armed storm trooper black bagging the head of an individual who is deemed a dissident, cannibals going after human prey or oil company execs that just don’t have a clue and never gave a care.  But taken as a trilogy, as a whole, there is an overriding message that could be framed in the silhouette of a great hourglass.  The sands are flowing fast and yes, Father Time appears to be madly on the run.

When I first saw Children of Men, it left me not with an anxiety and despair, but strange comfort.   The film was so direct in its accounts of a near future society that was so bleak, chaotic and hopeless, yet so strangely familiar, that this vision had to be embraced for what it presented.   The comfort is that this film ‘gets it’ and poses one very important question:  what are we going to do about it?

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s interpretation and many embellishments from the book were just a hair short of brilliant.   His themes of governed  totalitarianism,  a definitive caste separation between rich and poor,  and a jaded youth in disconnected overdrive are framed in a way that make the lights trip your brain fantastic.  Ebbing hope is an underlying theme, but will not present itself before the watcher has earned it, wading through many levels of brutality, sadness and terror.   This caustic tale offers up a horror so real that you simply will not forget the images seared into your memory; because they offer nothing fantastic or out of the ordinary, but only the dread of future possibilities.

The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s book, gave no quarter for the reader nor will it the filmgoer.   The subject matter, characters and plot lines are so hopeless and bleaker than bleak, and who would want any part  of it—and if you do, for crying out loud find yourself a place to weep.   A father and son journey through an ugly dystopian wilderness with only themselves to worry about.  Among the ruins and landscapes brimming with near empty tins of scraps, stalkers and thieves, everything is gone; and writer Cormac means everything, all gone, the end.

This is a study of a father and how he attempts to provide hope for a young boy swirling in a world gone wrong; a world that provides no chances or hope of making it.   The light is in the human relationship. Take away from it what you will… a joyless film experience because it drapes you in a bad dream that you can’t wake up from,  soaks you in sweaty bed sheets that you can’t remove yourself from.  It is inescapable horror.

Whether you believe or not what Michael Ruppert has to say in this very handsome documentary film, Collapse, it will still simply knock your socks off.    This is a one man show and its subject happens to be a carrier of abundant data that is dispersed through articulate, master storytelling.  Because you see, Ruppert is what in the old days used to be referred to as a town crier, albeit one with his own opinion.  Nowadays he is tagged a whistleblower, and boogeymen don’t like whistleblowers. His warnings are thorough and complete in their rendering.  Like it or not pay close attention. Think of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.  Then think of viewing it with a your body fever at 105 in a building that is already ablaze.   This is Collapse.

While the other two films open up to a setting of an already dismal future, this documentary will tell you why we may be headed there.   Director Chris Smith handles the camera work beautifully and with much invention during the interview sessions.  He has also placed the setting and backdrop of the film in a dank brick under-dwelling that sets the tone for a type of bunker mentality. The rest of it is filled with raw, archival footage, detailed formulas, spreadsheets and animation to help portray and add some insight to the subject matter at hand.

Michael Ruppert opens the film with a message, ‘What we need is not an Abraham Lincoln, but a Thomas Jefferson’, and goes on to explain what his interpretations of ‘peak oil’ will mean to all of us.   The picture he paints is not pretty and his opinions can easily be dismissed.  Maybe he’s a kook.  Obviously, he has led a somewhat troubled life and gives some background on himself during the filming.   The horror of Collapse is that, freak or not, he believes every word that you will hear and his passion is in his message and it is unquestioned.  And that is pretty scary… happy Hallow’s Eve.

J. Lucas Walker is the film critic for Addlestone Library Media Collections.  His editor, J. Alexander Seay (who is nowhere mentioned in this article), enjoys enabling J. Lucas to increasing heights of critical embroidery

The International: Film Review

a film review by j. lucas walker
Film Critic of the Addlestone Library

THE INTERNATIONAL was released in the late winter of last year but has lost none of the steely sheer of its timely subject matter.  A big corporate bank and its financial web of pain and deceit rule the day.  Included in the carnage is their own brand of ripple down economics and the collateral damage left in its wake.  This film demands the attention of the political thriller- enthusiast who appreciates multi-layered plot lines and smart film elements.

Big topics in cinema should sometimes be acquiesced with a film that carries the ‘big look’ and director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) delivers.

The story is scattered across many continents which include the cities of Luxemburg, Milan, Istanbul, New York, and Lyon among others.  The chase is on and the pacing is relentless.

Our heroes, Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant DA (Naomi Watts) are after the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC).  The executives that are running it are brokering small countries through arms trade, terrorist schemes and the coups that come with it.  The villain of interest who will neatly tie everything together for the Interpol bust is a highly capable and cunning assassin contracted by the IBBC.

It is unfortunate that The International passed under the radar upon it’s release.  The screenplay by Eric Singer throws out a few lines of cliché but for the most part keeps it moving with no nonsense-seriousness.  Pay attention to the details for there are many layers and quite a few players involved.  This is a serious look into the operations of a renegade financial regime and their ceaseless appetite for the power and the glory.  The visual feast that ensues from start to finish is definitely worthy of a look.

The photography balances out the big, bright long wide shots, beautifully framed by big city skylines, with saturated darks in low light shadings to emphasize the sinister back room scheming.  Frank Griebe provides some imaginative camera work throughout.  In one amazing scene he uses a birds eye aerial shot that ultimately renders a political rally crowd as useless against the powers that be as the ones who are in charge of policing the IBBC.

This thriller delivers the whole pie with a mix of Three Days of the Condor,  The French Connection and Coppola’s own The Conversation, useful ingredients for this type of film.  Be sure to keep your eye on the thrilling Guggenheim Museum sequence, one that would make iconic film directors Hitchcock and Peckinpah turn the tombstones with postmortem envy.

— j. lucas walker
Film Critic of the Addlestone Library

This film is part of our Media Collections.
Call Number: PN1995.9.S87 I58 2009


yellow brick road ii

(2006, 75 min.) This inspired and inspiring documentary, created by first-time filmmakers Matthew Makar and Keith Rodinelli, follows a group of young disabled adults as they prepare for a theatre production based on The Wizard of Oz. Their drama group is a component of a Long Island-based program called ANCHOR, an acronym for Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps Through Organized Recreation.  ANCHOR is available to all children and adults who range through the entire spectrum of disability. Because his younger brother Danny is a member of the drama group, Maker had been a volunteer for several previous summers.

During the five-month rehearsal period for Yellow Brick Road, the filmmakers focus on several of the individuals with starring roles in the production — in particular the Tin Man (Dave), the Cowardly Lion (John), and the Wicked Witch (Elizabeth), all three of whom give memorable performances.  Sandy Braun, one of the theatre group’s two managers, is interviewed extensively concerning her philosophy and style of directing.   She is excellent in getting the most out of the actors and treats them with great respect.  However, many will find it somewhat disconcerting that she continually uses the term “kids” when referring to the young adult actors. However, because she comes off as such a mother hen and is not at all patronizing, “kids” in this context is understandable.

Curious as to how many theatre groups use disabled actors, I checked on the homepage of The National Arts & Disability Center.  Most of the groups listed are based in the U.S., with a few international listings.  I was pleased to see the number is more than I would have guessed – 34 as of December 2009.  I hope this is a growing movement, because the actors did a great job and clearly loved what they were doing.  In a society where the disabled are marginalized, succeeding in a production such as this one must be a wonderful boost to one’s self esteem.

While the documentary itself does not show much of the production for which the actors prepare with such determination, the DVD includes a separate short documentary, A Return to Oz. It’s really a treat to watch the actors laughing and crying in recognition as they watch themselves shine on the big screen.  I’m glad to know that Yellow Brick Road played at several film festivals as well as on the Home Box Office channel, and thus the actor’s efforts disseminated into the larger culture.

This documentary will be of interest to Special Education, Theatre, and Sociology professors and students.  It would be fun for undergraduate students to combine Special Education with Theatre courses.  To direct such special productions as these would be such a fulfilling career choice.

– Cathy Evans



“Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” Thus begins the premise of 7-UP, a documentary directed by Paul Almond in 1964. Almond interviewed fourteen British schoolchildren from three different social classes, gauging their views about social class and gender, and questioning them about their future expectations regarding marriage, family, and career. Michael Apted, a crew member on the original film, decided to interview the same children seven years later to see if their views had changed. The documentary was so stunning that Apted has revisited these same people every seven years (49-UP is the most recent installment), asking them about their lives, their families, their jobs, and their children. The entire series provides an amazing window into the developmental process.

I watched the series on sequential evenings last summer while visiting my parents. Despite the fact that we all have different tastes in film, the three of us could hardly wait to watch each installment. As each human being continued to unfold before our eyes like a flower filmed in high speed motion, we worried about some of the people, rejoiced for others, and were quite surprised by some of the changes. I don’t know of any other medium that has so well captured the developmental process of a human being over the course of so many years. Any film in this series, as well as the series as a whole, makes a wonderful classroom tool for psychologists, sociologists, and educators.

Has the original premise of the film held up to scrutiny? It has in some ways, but it could not be known in 1964 that many social movements would arise later in that very era, prompting individuals to question indoctrinated assumptions about class, race and gender. Although today in Great Britain, the class system remains quite intact, the individuals who are portrayed in the UP SERIES are less deeply affected by it than they would have been in previous eras.

– Cathy Evans