Eric Plaag and Matt Smith

Capitalist Impulse: A (brief) Review of THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

In Film, Reviews on March 18, 2017 at 11:02 am


by Matt Boyd Smith

The Belko Experiment opens just as the employees of Belko Industries are coming in to work. Their massive office building is a gleaming glass and steel structure that is conspicuously out of place in the middle of nowhere outside the city of Bogotá, Colombia. When they arrive at the office, protagonist Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) notices something is off: there is an extra level of security screening outside, and cars are backed up for some time as they are searched by men in military-style uniforms. The process is a lot more like attempting to gain access to a military base than simply getting into work for the day. And when Mike asks desk guard Evan (James Earl) what’s going on, all Evan knows is that there’s some sort of security risk they’re looking into, which means they’ve also sent all non-American employees home for the day. That leaves 80 people in the office, and their day gets very bad very soon.

Quick Hit: Eric Takes on Mad Max: Fury Road

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 at 12:40 pm

By Eric Plaag

Matt is off somewhere waxing poetic about this film, so while he’s still riding that high, I’ll bring us back down to earth with this brief, capsule shot at Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m sure he will follow with his own review, or perhaps we’ll engage in another kerfuffle for our TheSplitScreen readers. Bring your popcorn. In the meantime:

*From a technical achievement perspective, Mad Max: Fury Road is utterly mind-blowing, especially in 3-D.

*From a stunt coordination perspective, Mad Max: Fury Road is utterly mind-blowing, especially in 3-D.

*From a set and production design perspective, Mad Max: Fury Road is utterly mind-blowing, completely jam-packed with interesting–no, fascinating–gestures, nods, and bows to George Miller’s decades-long fever dream on dystopia and post-apocalyptic cultural re-emergence. The shapes on stilts in the remnants of the Green Place, in particular, were mesmerizing and deserved far more time and explanation.

*From a character development perspective, this film is a complete mess.

We get almost no information about who Max is or what the source of his (frequent) hallucinations might be, nor can we rely on the past Mad Max films, given that this one seems to function in an alternative universe where Max’s dead son was actually a daughter. As a result, never in the history of highly regarded action films has there been a more cardboard-composite leading character. Furiosa suffers in similar ways, even if she has a bit more to work with, and her fall into the sand on learning the news of the Green Place was preposterously purple screenwriting that caused me to guffaw out loud. Indeed, perhaps the best developed character (and the only one with an actual arc) in the whole film is Nux, whose religious views, social motivations, and associated doubts about all of it are palpable and curiously complex for a secondary character.

*From a plot and story development perspective, this film is empty and simplistic, and at times the sense of physics and its consequences embodied by this film strains credulity even beyond any of the mind-numbing Fast and Furious films. Further, I’d have found the Leche League characters to be much more believable if they weren’t ACTUAL SUPERMODELS, because, news flash: brainless, undernourished stick women are going to be a dime a dozen in this type of post-apocalyptic future and not at all desirable for producing the kind of behemoths that Immortan Joe hopes to be his heirs.

While I marginally recommend the film, I’ve seen all of this before–technical and stunt achievements notwithstanding–and was largely unmoved by either story or character elements, which to me are crucial for a film to be considered truly outstanding. Put simply, if you want to explore post-apocalyptic dystopia with armored vehicles, worthy villains, and leads you can actually care about, then put your money on The Book of Eli. It did all of this, on a much smaller but far more meaningful scale, and it didn’t feel, as my wife Teresa called Mad Max: Fury Road, like a two-hour-long music video.

3 out of 5 stars

“The green growth is gone from the hills, Maggie:” a review

In Film, Reviews on May 11, 2015 at 12:20 am


by Matt Boyd Smith

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-Governator career has been comprised of films that are at least interesting and worth your time even if they haven’t been particularly great. The Last Stand, the benign action-thriller from Korean director Jee-woon Kim (I Saw the Devil), gets by on its imported Asian action stylistics and pure adrenaline, the long-awaited team-up with Stallone, The Escape Plan (Mikael Håfstrom) is fun but forgettable, and last year’s Sabotage is an otherwise standard dirty cop yarn with some inventive twists and high-energy direction from David Ayer. But now with Maggie, a slow-moving and surprisingly emotional zombie tale from first-time director Henry Hobson, we have a film where the action superstar has ventured into uncharted waters and maybe discovered some long-dormant acting chops that got buried deep in Schwarzenegger’s pectorals somewhere around the time he was cast in the first Terminator and began playing emotionless killing machines in nearly every film from then on. Buoyed by some rather poignant moments with co-star Abigail Breslin as his viral daughter and the heretofore-unseen tears of Schwarzenegger himself, Maggie still isn’t the great film he’s bound to make in this period of his career, but it reaches far beyond its generic roots and mostly succeeds.
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