Plastic Podcast

The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

The Plastic Podcast

An audio program about movies. Listen with your iPod or computer.

Plastic Podcast

The venerable and exceedingly intermittent Plastic Podcast, which has outlived the two blogs with which it was intertwined, and whose audio archives were difficult to ...

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Daily Plastic is a Chicago-based movie blog, a collaboration between Robert Davis and J. Robert Parks, the same pair who brought you the wearable movie tote, the razor-thin pencil pocket, and that joke about aardvarks. If you know the whereabouts of the blue Pontiac Tempest that was towed from the Plastic Parking Lot on the evening of August 7th, 2008, or more importantly if you've recovered the red shoebox that was in its trunk, please contact us at your earliest convenience.

Davis was the chief film critic for the late, great Paste Magazine (which lives on now as a website) from 2005 through 2009, and he counts this interview with Claire Denis among his favorite moments. Every once in a while he pops up on Twitter. He's presently sipping puerh in Chicago, even at this hour. Meanwhile, Parks, whose work has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, The Hyde Park Herald, and Paste, is molding unsuspecting, college-aged minds in the aforementioned windy city. Media types are warned to stay clear of his semester-sized field of influence because of the distorting effects that are likely to develop.

The © copyright of all content on Daily Plastic belongs to the respective authors.

Jose Haro/First Look Studios

A filmmaker can do a lot with two people on a train, especially if they’re a husband and wife still working out their relationship. The cramped quarters, the parade of strangers, the disorientation of a new environment all provide rich soil for character development and conflict. So it is with Transsiberian, a movie about Jessie and Roy (played by Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson) riding a train from Beijing to Moscow.

The two are relatively happy, but differences lurk over whether to start a family and how to deal with their respective histories (Jessie has led a much more colorful life). Things get more complicated when Carlos and Abby, a mysterious young couple, join them in their sleeping car. Carlos takes a liking to Jessie, while Jessie is trying to figure out what’s going on with Abby. Roy and Jessie soon get separated (is Carlos responsible?), leaving Jessie in a tenuous position.

Director Bran Anderson knows how to manipulate the audience. Hints abound that Carlos might be up to something bad. Drug smuggling? Maybe. Human trafficking? Possibly. But he also could just be a suave Lothario. No matter what, we know that Jessie shouldn’t go on that "innocent" walk with him when they get off the train, and soon she’s in a lot more trouble than she could have ever imagined.

But just when the movie should focus on characters and relationships, it takes a right turn into plot. And an ugly, barbaric plot it is, which is surprising. If you’re making a movie that stars Ben Kingsley (as a narcotics investigator) and features exotic railway travel and interesting characters, the likely target audience will be middle-aged arthouse fans. Last I checked, that demographic isn’t so big on brutal mutilation and punishing violence.

This shift in tone is particularly regrettable because Harrelson gives a wonderfully subtle performance as an earthy, religious husband. I’m not usually a fan of Harrelson’s wide-eyed approach, but here he creates a likable and genuinely interesting character. Roy wants to connect with his wife despite their contrasting pasts, and he’s willing to look like a fool and take some chances to make it happen. Kingsley doesn’t have much to do besides practice a different accent (Russian this time), while Mortimer is a nicely down-to-earth actress who’s a bit outmatched in the movie’s more intense scenes. Unfortunately, there are a lot of those.

One Response to “Transsiberian”

  1. Patrick Duerr says:

    Congrats on launching your web page...Some very nice reviews. Hope all is well

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