The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Night Train (2009)

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I was trying to find a third film for our Christmas celebration and saw that Night Train, with Leelee Sobieski and Danny Glover, was coming out on Tuesday, and it took place on Christmas. I just wasn't sure I'd get it in time to review it, so I didn't announce it on Monday, but here it is, so here we go.

Night Train is a Noir-ish type thriller about a guy who boards a train and dies with a mysterious package. In the same car as him is med student Sobieski and drunk salesman Steve Zahn. When conductor Danny Glover shows up and sees the body, they convince him to dump it in the river and keep what's in his box-- what we think are diamonds. Turns out the box isn't what it appears, and has mystical powers which can curse anyone who sees inside of it, leading to his or her death. At that point, the film devolves into a massacre where everyone kills everyone else.

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There are three types of films: the ones that start out great and end great; the ones that start out great and end poorly; and the ones that you can tell from the start that it's going to be a rough 90 minutes. Night Train was definitely the third type, but around the 40 minute mark it looked like it might make a turn for the better with the introduction of new characters, especially a one Mr. Gutman (named for Sydney Greenstreet's character in the Film Noir classic The Maltese Falcon). That lasted 8 minutes, before Gutman was killed, and it turned out the box wasn't just diamonds, but some mystical device with supernatural powers. Then the film devolved into the mess I described above. Beyond that, a lot of the scenes were poorly written too. Suspense was replaced by bad plot devices to keep information from us: you can't see what the characters see until we want you to; or the train is big so it takes forever for someone to get to the dead body they need to find. It was extremely tedious.

And that's too bad, because with a better written Film Noir, Glover, Zahn, and Sobieski would've been great. Glover might not have been a Bogart type, but definitely a Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity type, and he played that role really well. Zahn had the job of the Peter Lorre character, and he did his part just was well. And Sobieski was really great as the Film Noir black widow. Had the film kept the diamonds real and not devolved into a silly shoot out, it could've pretty decent, especially when the Gutman character came in. Instead it just sucked.

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Danny Glover was as good as you'd imagine him. As I said, he felt more like Fred MacMurray than Bogart, but his motives were totally different than MacMurray's were in Double Indemnity. Here he was doing all of this for his sick wife, and it was a constant struggle for him, as ramifications of the situation would escalate, to see whether or not the money was still worth it, or as the realization hit him that he couldn't turn back. The problem was, he was dealing with such a bad story, it made it hard for him to take that character to the level he should've been at. By the way, my all time favorite Danny Glover film is Predator 2.

Leelee Sobieski was really good as the Film Noir black widow. Again, it's too bad that based on the story her behavior was derived from some mythical box, as opposed to her just being a psychopath. She had all the elements: the sexiness, the art of manipulation, and the ability to become a cold-blooded killer when the need arose. I'd like to see her in more films like this-- preferably ones that are better written.

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I haven't gotten to the Christmas aspect, so I'll do that now. Though the film was set at Christmas time on this train, Christmas didn't play an overt role in the story, but was rather the backdrop. One could see the film as a metaphor for the need for wealth that consumes our society-- a need that's exacerbated during the holidays. You could almost say that this is in Film Noir form what the crime spree Arnold Schwarzengger goes on in Jingle All the Way was in bad comedy form. Again, had the box been real diamonds and not some mythical thing, it would've been a much better message, and much more believable, especially with the Glover angle and the need to care for his sick wife. To Night Train's credit though, they didn't have James Belushi and Sinbad, so they were better off there.

Throw out the box having mythical powers, and you still have a pretty poorly written story, even if the overall plot would've been better, but I think the box having mythical powers made this film unbearable. That sucks, because after Wrong Turn at Tahoe, we now have two consecutive bad new release Film Noirs in a row. I would say if you want some good, new Film Noir, check out Assassination of a High School President, if you haven't already.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1020055/

2 comments:

  1. I would totally agree with your assessment of this film. It had promise and a good cast but the writing was pretty weak. I did really enjoy Sobieski's performance, esp. when she turned into a full-on nutjob. It's a shame that after EYES WIDE SHUT her career never really took off like it should have. I guess picking projects like this one is why it hasn't.

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  2. In the Name of the King is a great example of that. Uwe Boll films are better left for Burt Reynolds and Ray Liotta. I just hope some good indie film makers see this and cast her in better parts.

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