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The Darkest Hour: off by 29 minutes.

The Darkest Hour, 2011 sci-fi film.


Being someone who experiences the occasional bite by the Kindness Bug, I feel the odd obligation to provide something of a public service to those of you: my long-suffering readers. This time around I'm going to dangle not one but two boons before your hungry faces.

poster for The Darkest Hour

First, it occurs to me that there might be one or two of you out there who have yet to experience the writing of Dorothy Parker. If you haven't yet done so then please back away from the screen and make your swiftest possible run to the nearest library or bookstore and hunt for her, refusing yourself bed and sup until you've located a collection of her work. "The Portable Dorothy Parker" is a dependable vein in which to mine, but I would further suggest that you narrow your search to any individual work which concentrates on her output as a literary or theatre critic. Her literacy was unimpeachable, her sense of comedic timing would humble Jack Benny and her eye for wit carried the exquisite accuracy of a top-drawer assassin.

Every so often the blues lap at my shores (yes! Even I, the effervescent Uncle Mikey, sometimes has clouds gathering overhead). Whenever such moments arrive I have a number of methods for chasing them away, and one of them is to spend some time reading Parker's criticisms. Even taking into account the fact that most of the books and plays (and people) she writes about have long dwindled into the shadowy past, her reviews are still worth poring over, If the good citizens of Georgia are ever open for a suggestion for what else to carve into the side of Stone Mountain, then I would suggest her write-up on Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner". Not only does it give people an honest excuse to avoid picking up the bedurnded thing, but it's a review small enough so that it can be carved in large letters (thus possibly freeing the State of Georgia the expense of providing and maintaining a box of binoculars within the park).

Parker was what polite society would call "an erudite wit". My father would've described her as a smartass, but in a not unkindly manner (he shared with his son an appreciation for a well-turned scathing remark). Anyone reading Parker's work and failing to produce at least one rich chuckle in response should definitely check into the nearest clinic for a thorough cleansing. They should also supply me with enough information that I can avoid being seen in public with them. Uncle Mikey does have a reputation. Perhaps not a good one, but one works with what one has at hand.

Mrs. Parker passed away in 1967, making her the oldest member of my Secret Girlfriend List (wait, and I'll check. Okay, Parker was born in 1893 and so . . . oops. Not quite. Edna May Oliver had ten years on Parker. Sorry, Dottie). She's been in Heaven for forty-seven years now, and has doubtless grown tired of being mobbed by those among her fans who've followed her to the Sylvan Glades. If I should find myself fortunate to pass Peter's muster I would very much enjoy seeking her out, but I'd want to be careful. Perhaps arrange to "accidentally" meet her while at the Celestial PX or Cosmic Commissary and inquire if she can make out the price on the carton of sour cream. Not even attempt to engage her in conversation but simply bask in her presence for a few moments. The absolute last thing I'd want would be to attract Parker's ire.

Describing herself as "a little Jewish girl trying to be cute", Parker admitted to not seeing movies, and more than once I've been able to see where she was coming from. Which brings me to Chris Gorak's "The Darkest Hour".

Mother Mary and Joseph!

And honestly, pumpkins, I should've known better. The movie came out in 2011 and has long been wearying the utter depths of Basic Cable. One of my invaluable rules of thumb (collect the entire series!) states that the quality of a movie is determined by the amount of time it takes to reach cable. The better the movie the longer the wait.

A little more research would've also spared me some agony. On the one hand, Chris Gorak was an art director on films such as "The Grass Harp", "Minority Report" and "Fight Club". All well and good. But he is living proof that Art Directors seldom make their talent jump to Film Direction.

As for the writing, the screenplay for "The Darkest Hour" came to us courtesy of Jon Spaihts, who had also written the story and screenplay for "Prometheus". That alone should've caused warning bells to ring in my head. Will I ever learn? Maybe is was because one of the co-producers of the film was Timur Bekmambetov, who was responsible for the somewhat interesting "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" (but he was also responsible for "Apollo 18" and "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", so karma tends to balance out).

There are good reasons and bad reasons for making a science-fiction film, pumpkins. One of the Absolute Worst Reasons for making a science-fiction film is because you've glommed onto a really neat special effect and want to write a movie around it.

No! Uh uh! Absolutely not!

Gird your loins a bit, we're now heading into Plotland. Ben and Sean are two Americans traveling to Moscow to try and sell their social networking software. Here is trouble rising from the get-go. For openers: the world needs another social networking system the way it needs a visit from Galactus. Second: if you've produced a piece of social networking software and are obliged to try and sell it in Russia, then the question is begged how good could the software possibly be?

From looking at Ben and Sean the suspected answer is "not much". Ben is played by Max Minghella, and Sean by Emile Hirsch; two actors who have done better in their careers. Here they're obliged to play a pair of two-dimensional losers who have more of an interest in Partying than in any sort of work ethic or passion which would result in worthwhile product. There's nothing wrong with being a hard-partying engineer . . . that is, if you're Robert Downey, Jr, and are in an "Iron Man' film. Otherwise . . .

So it sounds as if Uncle Mikey has little or no sympathy for the characters. Correct, and put a large slice of Uninterested on top of that. Simon Legree was a loathsome example of humanity, yet he could hold the interest of the reader. Not so with Minghella and Hirsch in this film. I can't understand the point of making such people the protagonists in a film other than that, somehow, Gorak and Bekmambetov were specifically aiming for the "retards with money" audience demographic. They even go so far as to have The Boys cheated out of their goal by a Swedish partner (here played by Joel Kinnaman, another example of someone who's done better things), underlining the total uselessness of Ben and Sean (if you have a partner, and he's not accompanying you on the way to a big business deal, then is he really a partner? Not in my book, pumpkins).

So Our Heroes have had the rug pulled out from under them. Do they slink back to America? Do they try to Get Even? Hardly. They decide to go to a Moscow nightclub and party. As I said: retards with money. There they meet up with soulmates Natalie and Anne: two nonfunctioning types who, I suspect, know more about Kim Kardashian than Dorothy Parker. The girls are played by Olivia Thirlby and Rachel Taylor: two people who I'm not all that familiar with, but who I desperately hope possess more to offer a movie audience than just flouncing around and making certain their hairdos get a full day's exercise.

(At one point, one of the girls complains that her cell phone has totally stopped working and she abandons it. Which was a pity as the phone was the most throroughly developed character in the film.)

(Or maybe it's just me. Maybe the proposed intention of the film was to create utterly meaningless characters, and I'm just not playing along. Certainly it's happened before.)

It's at this point that the Plot arrives. All over Moscow falls a rain of light: flowing masses of energy which can home in on the electrical field generated by living organisms, disintegrating them upon contact. Since human intelligence is biologically linked to electrical nerve impulses one is forgiven for thinking that our heroes are perfectly safe. But apparently the attacking lights can home in on the weak signals necessary to send text messages and order take-out, and so Ben, Sean, Natalie, Anne (and even Skyler: the Swedish partner) find themselves in hiding for a while.

The attacking lights are, by the by, the interesting special effect I alluded to earlier. Tres neat . . . almost reminiscent in a way of the Phantoms from "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within". Also potentially spooky. But neat and spooky enough to carry an entire film? Wrong-o, Mary Lou.

Back to the story. Our Heroes are finally driven out of their hiding place when the food and styling mousse are on the verge of giving out (and yes, I threw in the bit about the styling mousse, although it wouldn't have surprised me one whit to have that used as an excuse to break cover). They decide to try and make it to the American Embassy (probably having heard there were two-for-one Jell-O shots available in the lobby, and yes I'll try harder to behave) which, of course, leads to the obligatory Running Through the Apocalyptic Setting While Trying to Avoid the Menace bit. Naturally a few lives are lost but, since few people shed tears over the pruning of dead wood . . .

Okay, so it's a harder job than usual. I'm sorry.

The trip to the embassy is sidelined when the group stumbles upon a local who has hit upon a method for not only shielding people from the creatures, but has built a microwave gun that can destroy the beasts. This provides a modicum of interest (not much), and everyone prepares for the final push to make it to the Moscow River where a submarine is waiting to carry off survivors.

Do our heroes make it? Can they avoid the creatures? Will the microwave gun be able to make popcorn? Has the audience by now fallen deep asleep? These and other questions I leave to those of you who're possessed of enough of the completist urge to add "The Darkest Hour" to your genre film watching experience. For everyone else, here is my second public service: avoid the colossal and unyielding bore which is "The Darkest Hour". I can say without any fear of contradiction that there are far more interesting movies to watch. Or, if not a movie, one can try indulging in other far more rewarding pursuits.

Reading Dorothy Parker, for instance.

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