“The Darkest Hour” is mostly a dim bulb.

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SPOILER ALERT!

image from the Russian movie, "The Darkest Hour"

Cover for “The Darkest Hour”

I watched this movie on DVD rather than in the theater so perhaps that’s why I feel a tad more charitable than the critics. Rather than experimenting with genre like “The Cabin in the Woods,” an experiment that fizzled, stinking up the lab, “The Darkest Hour,” a joint Russian/American production directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, is a paint-by-numbers alien invasion film.

Rather than the US, the invasion is shown from the Russian side of things. We follow the imperiled twenty-something Americans who number among a handful of survivors after Earth is invaded by balls of light that chase people down and shred them into pixie dust (check out Night of the Comet–a much better film with red-pixie dust former people and zombie department store stock boy geeks). As they run from building to building, hiding from the x-ray vision of the light balls, the Americans (okay there’s also one Australian and a double-dealing Swede) luckily encounter English speaking Russians.

It makes you wonder if a few more education dollars ought to be devoted to us learning more than one language. When they encounter an old lady who shouts in Russian and tells them they’re all going to die, I was surprised to recognize a couple of words from those long ago two years of high school Russian. However, too much science knowledge would probably get in the way when they make it to the American embassy and discover a recorded message sitting in a birdcage. Yes I said a birdcage. The message is “There’s a Russian sub coming up the river in a few hours. Get there or be left behind.”

Next they meet an old man named Sergei who is a plumber. Sergei has put together what looks like a paintball gun, but instead of paint, it shoots microwaves. The light balls don’t like microwaves. This totally went over my head, but . . . okay. Being from the Russian point of view led to some great early scenes in Moscow, portrayed as an ultra-modern city with great nightclubs. Like here in Los Angeles, you have to look camera-ready to get in. The Russian perspective led to lines like “Eat this Russian bullet” and “I’ll stay here (a good guy Russian cop); I have all of Moscow at my back.” Russian exceptionalism. All in all–mildly entertaining.

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Fly me to the DUNE The House Atreides

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ImageI loved the prequels but not the sequels.

Like many sci fi lovers I read Frank Herbert’s Dune–a book I loved for its richness and detail with all of the subcultures, traditions and intrigue centered on the spice–the eye-blue-ing, mind-altering and space-bending drug of drugs. Add the aristocracy and royal “Houses” murdering, betrayal, plots within plots and I did little else but read for days. It seemed that sequels were not as compelling and when Herbert died, I assumed a grand story was finally done. Then the “prequels” came out and I was delighted with how engrossing they were. Each House has its own saga leading up to Dune and then, more in prequels to the prequels with three novels detailing the machines. House Atreides was the first Dune novel other than the original that I really liked. Now if they would just come out with a decent DUNE movie . . .  You’d think if they could do justice to The Lord of the Rings that someone could figure out how to bring DUNE to life. The first film was a big mess and the TV miniseries was pretty icky. In the meantime, if you haven’t read DUNE, I hope you’ll take a look.  It grabs you on the first page and like all good fiction transports you to a different realty and DUNE is a really different, layered mystical place. Peter Jackson, fly me to the DUNE please.