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30 Days of Night / Into the Wild

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30 Days of Night and Into the Wild seem to have nothing in common, except they're both about survival in Alaska and they both suck.

The vampire horror movie 30 Days of Night distills genre tradition with indulgence—a minimalist musical score, no sense of humour, until it's no fun at all. It feels like a movie that I've seen many times before, it just never used to be this dull.

In a northern Alaska town, the 30-day period of darkness is a nocturnal haven for a tribe of vampires. This was the sure-fire premise of Steve Niles's successful comic on which the film is based. A group of human survivors, led by town sheriff Eben Olesen (Josh Hartnett) is holed up in one of the town's buildings where they try to live through the feeding frenzy. On screen, the paranoia and winter setting becomes a shoddy retread of John Carpenter's The Thing. After the first 10 minutes introduces the situation and charcoal-grey look, it begins to regurgitate itself.

Director David Slade's infatuation with facial close-ups doesn't give the action and atmosphere room to breathe. 30 Days of Night doesn't establish the heroes' location in the town with a clear sense of geography.

Into the Wild is director Sean Penn's version of the true story (with some heavy liberties) of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), a 22-year-old who gave up his family, money and possessions to try and make it in the Alaska wilderness. McCandless was young enough to think his rejection of civilization was virtuous. Penn is old enough that he should know better than to revere it. It requires a position of privilege to think that absolute material purging is an option. Penn and McCandless don't know what it's like to live with nothing, so they romanticize its "nobility."

It's a movie for rich college kids who have read too much Jack Kerouac. A lot of the praise heaped on Into the Wild is claiming the film is stunningly photographed. There's no appropriate response to this, except "No, it isn't." Penn never captures the grandeur of the wilderness; the documentary aesthetic is ugly. The fractured storytelling also keeps an unwanted distance between McCandless and the viewer. If Into the Wild had even the directness of a live-action Disney adventure movie, McCandless' struggle would have a palpable danger. Penn's self-importance only succeeds at being annoying.

The Darjeeling Limited

"From now on we say yes to everything." That witty, life-changing advice is shared between brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. Reunited for the first time since their father's funeral, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) cross India on a spiritual quest.

It's filmmaker Wes Anderson's new vehicle for addressing fractured family bonds and efforts to enter adulthood. There are beautiful moments along the way, such as the silent exchange as Jack and his crush look out their respective train windows to make eye contact, and a montage connecting characters' shared desires set to The Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire." But the whimsical pathos Anderson perfected in The Life Aquatic (his all-around best film) is replaced by The Darjeeling Limited's occasional delights. The heroes' arcs become less engaging as the movie progresses, because Anderson hasn't adequately distinguished them from his past works.

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