By Adam Lippe

transsiberianpicIt is not always a mystery why some films manage to creatively avoid widespread distribution. Brad Anderson’s Transsiberian, a mix of travelogue, relationship drama, Runaway Train, and Renny Harlin’s hilariously anti-Russian Born American, doesn’t fit into a specific category. The movie is well made, has terrific, snowy photography, and its minimal ambitions are an asset. Perhaps it was betrayed by its B-level cast, Woody Harrelson (do you think he has to reserve an extra seat at a restaurant for his various wigs? “I’ll need a seat for myself and a +1”) and the realistically plain looking Emily Mortimer as a couple of churchy Americans do-gooding across Asia. As they train through Russia, they meet two better looking than them backpackers (never trust good looking people in a thriller) and a tense friendship results. The contrivances that follow include Ben Kingsley as a Russian detective, heroin, a deluge of Russian dolls, and my personal favorite visual, bloody snow.

The bloody snow is where the thriller aspects kick in, deflating the paranoid feeling of the first forty-five minutes, which had really gotten that “you are in a country which controls you” feeling, before settling into drug smuggling nonsense. You’d think that these generic elements would help the movie appeal to a wider audience, but the film is mostly downbeat and depressing, and the action limited. There’s also an unfortunate lack of fighting on top of the moving train, a staple of the genre.

So what exactly went wrong? Nothing in particular, and maybe that’s the issue. It isn’t a great film but it doesn’t pander… Mostly. A compromised ending that ties everything up and feels tonally wrong with the rest of the film destroys the tension of what had been a far-fetched but tense thriller. One hopes they could have ditched this concession and replaced it with a darker closing note. A nasty kick might have distinguished it from the pack of high visibility DTV titles.

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.