Monday, April 24, 2006

Movie Mon. - Takashi Miike Is Miike Takashi

Lots of low budget horror and SF this week; shocking, I know. Some were complete wastes of time, but some others had a few redeeming qualities here and there. But for those of you who couldn't care less about horror and SF, I'll lead off with the sole comedy of the week.

Mrs. Henderson Presents: Film based on the true story of a rich British widow (Dame Judi Dench) who decides to bankroll the Windmill Theater, which becomes famous for two things under her patronage: never closing during the London Blitz, and finding a loophole in British obscenity laws which allowed the Windmill to feature nudes on stage. A charming, funny film about the eccentric and mischievous Mrs. Henderson and her love/hate relationship with her theater manager, Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). As my one sentence synopsis suggests, yes, there are some nekkid women in this movie, but these scenes are handled tastefully . . . as tastefully as scenes with bare bosoms can be handled, that is.

The Scorned
: If this DVD doesn't get the "Commentary Tracks of the Damned" treatment from The Onion A/V Club, there's something wrong; from the instant the commentators say that Stacie J. did a great job, they lost what little credibility that remained following their actually being involved with this sorry excuse for a find themselves to be the victims of a horror flick. Unfortunately, while this is definitely a bad movie, it doesn't reach the "so bad it's good" level; most of the performances are merely mediocre, as opposed to laughingly bad. Not to say that there aren't some laughable scenes sprinkled throughout; Trashelle's "I know where you live!" scene was giggle-inducingly bad, as was Stacie J.'s little freak out with the poker scene, and don't even get me started on the "death by exploding lava lamp" fiasco. In the end, not even the joy of watching Jonny Fairplay get the crap knocked out of him could lift my spirits, especially since I knew it was just his female stunt double taking the hits.

Fabled: The story of Joseph Fable (Desmond Askew, who will always be "the British guy on Roswell" to me), a young man whose sanity is steadily eroding into a maelstrom of paranoia, set in counterpoint to a children's fable of a treacherous crow and scapegoat wolf which is narrated in bits and pieces throughout the film. Some of Fable's freak-outs were entertaining (like his work break-down), but the film as a whole left me cold. One reviewer on called this "The Machinist Lite", and I can't argue with that interpretation much.

House of 9: Thriller about a group of 9 people chosen randomly by a rich whacko to compete in a game for his amusement, a game that ends when only one of them is left alive. A film that alternately annoyed and pleased me; annoyed with its clich├ęd, over-the-top characters (in particular "angry black man") and their constant fighting; pleased me with some pretty unexpected deaths. But even more unexpected than the order of deaths was the fact that Dennis Hopper didn't drive me crazy in this one; that's probably due to the fact that, for once, he wasn't playing a crazy person. I think Hopper has been typecast as crazy and/or evil for so long that actually being chosen to play a fine upstanding priest shocked the scenery chewing out of him for a while. In the end, I don't know if I can in good faith recommend this film, which tried to cash in on the "psychological" aspects by slowing things down to a glacial pace, but while I didn't love it, there were a couple of redeeming ideas and twists that kept me from feeling like it was a complete waste of my time.

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis: Latest installment in the long dormant frequently tongue-in-cheek zed-word franchise; unfortunately, it's much closer in quality to the disappointing third film than the entertaining first two, and even the third film at least had some modicum of wit and originality. Bad acting, bad script, and an unbelievably atrocious performance by Peter Coyote make this a miss; I mean, seriously, how messed up is it when I see a more nuanced, layered performance from Dennis Hopper in a horror-thriller than I do Mr. Coyote? It's just wrong!

H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds: A while back I had heard that there was a truly faithful version of War of the Worlds being made (as in set-in-Victorian-England faithful), so when I saw the title H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds available for rental on Netflix I immediately thought that what it was; I couldn't be more wrong. Instead what I got was a lower budget, lower quality version of the recent Tom Cruise version. This time around it's C. Thomas "Ponyboy" Howell as the protagonist trying to make it across the blasted countryside to find his wife; at least in this version there weren't any annoying kids tagging along the whole time. Unfortunately, that's about all this version had going for it. I mean, Howell does a fairly good job with what he has to work with, which is a not-so-stellar script, and even the few good performances contained within are lessened by the clunky dialogue and scores of pitiful supporting actors. Add onto this some truly sub-par editing which failed in any respect to accurately represent the passage of time, and some laughable special effects, and you have quite a groaner.

Hostel: Horror film about a group of horny backpackers who become victims of a grisly business catering to wealthy men wishing to indulge their darkest and most murderous impulses. From the first time I saw a trailer for this film, I was actually kind of nervous about watching it; the implication of graphic torture sequences made my imagination run wild, and the more I heard about how over the top the film was, the more nervous I became. And now after watching the film all I can say is: what was the big fuss about? Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed the film a lot. Atmospheric, very well shot, and some nice surprises along the way. I just think that director Eli Roth summed it up best on one of the many, many commentaries on the disc when he said that he wished people could have gone into the movie knowing absolutely nothing about it. You see, all of those snippets of torture scenes in the trailers? The ones that could almost give you nightmares trying to picture what was going to be in the actual film? Well, for the most part, those snippets were about all that you did see; while there was a goodly amount of gore shown, the bulk of the action occurred off-screen. If I had gone into this movie with no expectations, never having seen any trailers, I probably would have been much more disturbed than I was seeing the cameras cut away before the "money shot." The only thing in the film that really made me squirm in my seat had to do with something that always freaks me the heck out: the injury to the eye motif. And believe me, while I've suffered through a lot of injury to the eye scenes over the years, I don't think there's been one quite as disturbing as Hostel's. Now, although the film wasn't nearly as hardcore as I had been expecting, it's still not for the squeamish, but as long as they don't buy into the hype I think most horror fans will appreciate the film for what it is. Interesting note: Japanese director Takashi Miike, who is well known for making some of the most disturbing films around and whose Audition Roth cites as one of his inspirations for making this type of film, had a brief cameo as a Japanese businessman partaking of the torture service; he's basically listed in the credits as himself.

Joshua: Horror film about Kelby Unger, a man who returns home for his convict father's funeral, only to have the long buried sins of his past come back to haunt him. My thoughts on the film can probably best be summed up as "Wow. Just . . . wow." I mean, as soon as the film opens up with the world's worst pratfall by the perpetrator of the world’s worst "drunk" acting, I thought to myself "here we go, low-budget horror at its finest!" Turns out, that thought might have been a bit more appropriate than I knew, if less sarcastic. Because once past the opening sequences, I found myself confronted with an intriguing, well-acted, likeable character in Kelby, followed quickly by off-beat performances from Kelby's two childhood friends, the creepy killer James and the off-kilter cop Wally; I know Wally's performance could be off-putting to some with its over-the-top quality, but as the story unfolds, his oddball behavior became more understandable. At the same time, as the story unfolds I found myself first drawn in by its unusual storyline, and then more and more disturbed by the directions the twists began to take. Now, I'm not going to say that this is the most disturbing film I've ever seen, but man, do a couple of aspects rank up there. Honestly, I felt more disturbed by the truth about Kelby's past than I did about just about anything that happened in Hostel. Now, on the downside, although the look of the "evil warrior" was pretty creepy, almost every other makeup and gore effect in the film was pretty sad. Also, there were a few scenes which screamed "low budget film/first-time writer-director" (mainly Kelby's dream sequences), and some things felt a little unnecessary (Uncle Tom being the prime example, although the part with him, the corpse, and the knife was interesting). But despite these shortcomings, there was a lot of potential here; this film is definitely not for everyone, but I think horror fans who go into it with an open mind might be pleasantly surprised, in a "dang, that was hella disturbing!" sort of way.


Redneck Diva said...

That particular eye scene in Hostel....yeah....ick.

We saw it in the theater and honest to gosh, there was a collective gag and groan throughout the theater. The gal part of the couple Mr. Diva and I went with, gagged and buried her head in my shoulder. I just gagged and buried my head in Mr. Diva's shoulder. He just laughed. And dug his hand further into his popcorn bag. That ain't right.

I thought the movie was definitely well done in the aspect of effects, but I really felt like it was a lot of hype. Good, but not that good.