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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
A future dystopia. You've been here before, and yet -
A man comes to despise his drudgery job, his countless hours of life draining away for nothing. He blames everyone. The world, his job, his boss, his friends, his girlfriend, and especially himself.
Then one day a strange yet familiar voice, inside his head, starts talking to him and that voice leads him on an adventure.
What keeps Director Tarik Saleh's movie fresh is the creepy animated look of it. METROPIA is a 3D digital puppet show using photo cut-outs of real people in a largely Adobe software environment.
Based on the story by Tarik, Fredrick Edin, Martin Hultman, and adapted into a screenplay by all three plus Stig Larsson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), there is little new to the tale presented here besides the environment. That said, this formulaic movie follows the recipe quite well.
Roger (Vincent Gallo: HIDE AND SEEK, STRANDED, MOSCOW ZERO) is the low-wage earning, stunted everyman hero stuck in the rut.
He feels himself falling out of love with his live-in girlfriend Anna (Sofia Helin), as she feels like part of the lethargy of his life. In his inexplicably increasing paranoia, she might be cheating on him.
Economically stricken Europe is connecting all of their undergrounds together as one to save on energy, but something about the plan creeps Roger right the hell out and he avoids them.
Whenever he gets too close to the tunnels, Roger hears a voice in his head that he knows is not HIS inner voice. It tells him to do things he wants no part of, and tells him to avoid things that interest him. In fact, the only thing that interests Roger is the model in the shampoo ads on TV. The voice told Roger to buy the shampoo and he did, began using it, even though Roger shaves his head and has no hair to wash.
One day, pointless vandalism to his bicycle leaves him plodding along. Time factors force him to take the underground subway. While there, he spots a woman who looks remarkably like the model on the shampoo bottle. This minor celebrity brush develops a crush in Roger and he pursues her, telling himself that he just wants to make sure whether or not it IS the shampoo woman. As it turns out, Nina (Juliette Lewis: CAPE FEAR, STRANGE DAYS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, COLD CREEK MANOR) IS the woman on the shampoo bottle. But even more than a mere model, Nina is a woman of mystery, possibly dangerous, and most likely a terrorist.
Nina's target seems like a worthy one. Ivan Bahn (Udo Keir: BLADE, END OF DAYS, MEGIDDO: THE OMEGA CODE 2, FEAR DOTCOM, GRINDHOUSE, Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN) isn't simply the benign manufacturer of the shampoo as well as many other products. He is attempting to control people's thoughts with his products. In this way he can manipulate people into buying more of his stuff. But it's an expensively tall order in economically depressed Europe and he can't afford to do it alone. So he brings together a conspiracy of wealthy men from around the world to dominate the earth through the mind control of neural monitoring. Where controlling a population is concerned, we don't need to control all of them, just enough of them. The rest will fall in line or reveal themselves.
Soon Roger abandons his boring life, job, even Anna, to follow the mysterious Nina into the tunnels and help her on her quest. He isn't sure if it's the right thing to do. He isn't even sure if Nina can be trusted. As Roger's barely suppressed paranoia simmers, the voice in his head (Alexander Skarsgård: TRUE BLOOD) tells him not to trust Nina. It tells him things that Roger knows he can't POSSIBLY know. Against the advice of the voice, Roger believes that Nina is telling the truth, because he believes the voice he hears is someone trying to control him. Now Roger wants to find that voice!
Is Roger losing his mind?
The characters and their movements in METROPIA are stilted and have a stop motion Toy Theater feel to them. There is zero fluidity to movement here. The environment is oppressive, Soviet / communist-style decay, skies perpetually darkened with the pollution of an indifferent bureaucracy. Stylistically, the puppet's emotions and reactions to what is said or happens is off by seconds or fractions of, revealing an amateur's inept timing or editing. Yet this entire movie clearly feels experimental and more: feels like a labor of love for Director Tarik Saleh. In modern cinema, homage is usually code for rip-off, but in METROPIA it feels right. As if Saleh is paying homage in many ways to both story-tellers and animators who have come before. There is genuine heart running through METROPIA that the story never betrays and is always earned right to the end.
If you like the dark, stop motion animation work of Terry Gilliam (BRAZIL), Jan Švankmajer (ALICE ), The Quay Brothers (STREET OF CROCODILES), and Fred Stuhr & Adam Jones (TOOL), then you might enjoy the dark crisp creepiness of METROPIA.
3 shriek Girls.
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