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Notes from the Back Row

Trainwrecks and alien invasions



Train accidents happen all the time, around here it's usually derailings and, according to a guy I met once, it's often due to cost-cutting decisions.

"Take a piece of string, lay it on a table and put a few curves in it," this guy said to me. "Now pull on one end of the string, what happens?"

"The string wants to straighten out!" (I excel at the scientific process.)

"Exactly, and so does a train when you cheap out and don't put the extra engines in the middle of it," the guy explained. "When a train 'straightens out' it comes off the track."

This was right after that last derailment when those caustic compounds got dumped in the Cheakamus canyon and fish were apparently jumping onto the shores to escape the superheated water. Now I don't want to point fingers on that one but this guy had just quit his rail job in disgust.

Corporate buggery is also the villain in Unstoppable , a runaway train movie starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine ( Star Trek) that opens this Friday at the Village 8.

Somewhat based on a true story, Unstoppable is a blue-collar action flick about a couple of working Joes who stop a speeding runaway train carrying eight cars of toxic chemicals just before it derails and explodes in a quiet rural town. Of course, the unmanned train smashes through all kinds of vehicles and debris along the way, all the while heading straight for another train, which happens to be full of school children. Oversights, coincidences and bad luck combine to create this deadly circumstance and while the true event wasn't this bad, these kinds of unexpected things happen all the time - just ask British Petroleum.

Both Washington and Pine act well in this flick, as does Rosario Dawson as the feminine voice of reason, and director Tony Scott ( Domino, Days of Thunder) uses faux Fox news footage to tell much of his tale, which is a new twist to his usual jumpy, cutty style. Overall, Unstoppable is a bit predictable and takes a while to get up to speed but the last half is solid action entertainment and it beats the heck out of The Taking of Pelham 123 -Scott's last crap-heap of a subway train movie starring John Travolta.

Speaking of crap, it's no secret Hollywood is hurting for ideas these days but at the same time independent film is flourishing. Skyline, also opening Friday, is an independently made alien-attack film - a real humdinger, end-of-the-world flick made outside the big studios by journeymen effects-supervisor brothers Colin and Greg Strauss.

There were no preview screenings but from scouring the internet I can tell you that giant organic aliens so badass they make dinosaurs look like sea monkeys arrive and use sweet blue lights to lure 99 per cent of the population out into the streets where they are vacuumed up and abducted.

Most of the action is based in and around this one apartment building in LA and there's a voyeuristic angle to the story about a group of 20-somethings watching the world end from a sunny rooftop. Using lesser known actors and a shitload of special effects, the Strauss Bros don't appear to have reinvented the aliens genre (like District 9 did last year) but they haven't done it a disservice either and to make an event flick like this independently is a sign of things to come - a good sign.

The next Harry Potter: Wizards-in-Puberty movie starts next week but I'm pretty sick of that franchise. As Jimmy Cliff said in The Harder They Come ( it's the DVD of the week), "Stop that train, I wanna get off."