Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Host

The Host is the latest film from South Korean director Joon-ho Bong and this is by far the best film of his of the three I’ve seen. The Host is kind of a hybrid film—part horror, part comedy, part social commentary and part family drama. What makes it work in the end is that you forget that it has all these “parts” and just enjoy the story as it unfolds.

The Host begins by letting loose some social commentary about an American military doctor who forces his Korean underling to pour lots of nasty chemicals down a drain that flows directly into the river. The Korean lightly objects yet does what he is told. Bad, no good Americans!

Then we meet the Park family, who run a food stand next to the river. There’s a lazy son, his daughter, grandpa and a sister who is on TV competing as an archer. The Host wastes no time by letting loose the “monster” as 10 minutes into the film this aquatic, lizard looking beast is sprinting all over the riverbanks knocking people down, stomping them and eating them whole in its giant mouth.

Mass panic ensues. Bong films the panic with a nod to Godzilla films the way people scream and run. There’s something comical to me to watch a throng of Asians screaming and running as a mutant fish monster creature kills them in various ways. Put the same scene in Miami Beach and I don’t find it nearly as comical. Although a beast taking out the beautifully tanned and the geriatric might have some humor in it now that I think about it.

The government swoops into the area in an attempt to quarantine those who were near the monster. The Parks and others are tossed into a government hospital/jail for observation and tests. Unfortunately, the littlest Part was taken by the monster and they believe she is still alive—so they all band together and go on a quest to get her back.

I loved the first hour of The Host but unfortunately it begins to drag some toward the end. I wish I would not have seen so much of the monster so early in the film but I’m not sure how they could have filmed that rampaging scene without showing the thing in all its glory. Seeing so much of it lessons the impact of seeing it later in the film. I’m a believer in the less is more theory when it comes to monsters in movies like this. The less you see it early the more it will frighten you later.

The Host finds a nice mix of elements that sort of catapult it out of the “Asian” film world and into a more mainstream one. It’s the monster. Any film with a mutant monster eating people whole is bound to crossover some but I think this one is playing in lots of places a film from South Korea doesn’t usually play—which is good!

Bong is a director to watch as he knows how to set up scenes and has a unique take on ordinary daily interactions between people. My favorite elements of the film were how these people related to one another as they fought the government and this monster in an attempt to save their family. They are dysfunctional but they are still a family. They are a family trying to kill a fish monster while hoping to find a member of their family.

The Host can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Horror, comedy, social commentary, family drama. It’s all of those things. It’s also good. Who cares what is in the mix as long as the mix is good?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


A couple of days ago, I went on a mini-rant about hollow stars and studios remaking a great film like I Love You Again. It must be the week of the rant because I feel another bubbling up after watching Idiocracy and the brunt of my confusion and anger lies with Fox, their absolute bumbling of this film, their complete disrespect for writer/director Mike Judge and us, the film going public.

Here’s the brief back story on Idiocracy: Judge’s first live action film since 1999 (Office Space) was long held back from release by Fox for reasons they never went into. They claimed the film wasn’t funny enough to draw enough people to make money. Considering the cult appeal in Judge’s past (he’s also behind King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead), this is a ludicrous stance, as Judge has his fans that would have turned out to watch the movie. I just watched it and while it’s not the funniest thing ever—it is still a funny, twisted, over the top farce that should have been in more theatres. Fox put it in about 150 theatres before burying it on the DVD release chart. Why?

My guess is that they were put off by the film’s brutal, unrelenting satire that takes an unflinching anti-corporate stance the entire movie. Basically, Fox agreed to finance a film by a man known for unconventional, original, off the wall humor—but also who has a stellar record of successful comedy—and then when they saw the scathing message of the completed film, Fox, being a bunch of self-promoting, corporate whores, took the gutless, cowardly way out and attempted to make the film disappear by not releasing it for a couple of years.

But the film has just come out on DVD and knowing how Fox attempted to bury the film makes it even darker as you watch it. Idiocracy is about an average “Joe” who is frozen in a capsule for 500 years. He awakes to discover a society so dumb, so devolved that we speak a language of hillbilly/valley speak/slang, we follow the command of various corporate entities (Carl’s Jr. rules, no one drinks water in favor of “Gatorade” like substances and there’s only one store to buy things—Costco’s that go on for miles and miles, the most popular show is called “Ow, My Balls!”) and garbage is piled so high we suffer from garbage avalanches.

I can just see the suits at Fox as they first saw a version of Idiocracy and the horror that swept across their brows as they realized that Judge has made a film that attacks every single thing they stand for as a company. There’s even a bit with Fox News as a shirtless male reciting the news, all pumped up and stupid, delivering the kind of gossip and mindless “news” that is not that far off from what is covered in great detail now. Did you happen to turn on CNN or Fox the past week when the death and funeral proceedings of Anna Nicole Smith were being covered 24/7 by any chance?

Is Idiocracy as farfetched in its future world as it seems? No! I don’t want to go too far off on a conspiratorial tangent but we are a culture that is increasingly under the thumb of corporations, political machines are everywhere, we are manipulated by various media, we’ll have barcodes/implants on us that identify us to an increasingly less free nation and we completely dumb ourselves down while unquestionably accepting the entire notion of lowest common denominator as being good enough. It’s not.

When I see a film like Idiocracy I can laugh at the “outlandishness” of the satire but I also get kind of angry, as there’s a lot of truth in its lunacy. I am pissed at Fox for thinking they can just bury the film because they didn’t like the message. I am mad at our culture in how we celebrate people with no talent (Paris Hilton anybody?) and other wastes of space. I am frightened there will come a point in which we will have nothing but a few corporation conglomerates that control the media, the items we buy, the food we eat and everything else in our lives. That stuff is already happening and it’s happening today!

Idiocracy, as a comedy, works sometimes and falls on its face as well. I laughed when I was supposed to and didn’t laugh when I was supposed to, but, Idiocracy, as a satirical statement, is a flamethrower to the corporate establishment and I’ve got even more respect for Mike Judge after seeing it. A lot of guts are required to make a movie that attempts to make us laugh by exposing the ways we are turning into a culture of force fed drones.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I Love You Again

Oh, how I enjoy an old fashioned romantic comedy made in the studio system era (early 1930s to about 1950). Some friends of mine are always surprised when I say how much I love romantic comedies as a genre. I think it’s because most of the ones made today are wretched formula. Where has the wit, the romance, the onscreen chemistry, the style and the class gone? I think it's gone away, like most of the talented, original filmmakers.

I Love You Again from 1940 is a whole different ballgame for romantic comedies. It’s got two stars—William Powell and Myrna Loy—who have chemistry to burn, it’s got a fun plot (Powell’s an amnesiac con man awaking from a 9 year slumber) and a nice twist (Loy’s the wife who wants a divorce).

I Love You Again is a pleasure on a lot of little levels. As a romantic comedy it has the quips, the teases, the hook of will she love him again after he’s revealed as his real self—not the penny pinching, teetotaler he’d been during their marriage but the devilish rogue—and all the effortless charms that make films from this era so timeless.

Watching Powell and Loy act in one of their romantic comedies is fun for me every single time I see one of their pictures. I have a hard time deciding which one I like to watch more, as they are both charismatic and appealing. They make a dynamite on screen duo, and luckily for us they enjoyed making movies together, as they paired up 14 times in their career, including the popular Thin Man series.

I Love You Again is in line to be remade and ruined (like many films have been recently). The thought of this makes me cringe. I’m sure some Hollywood producer drools at the thought of the pairing of a talented (in abdomen six-pack only) Matthew McConaughey and some equally untalented female costar. People now are just such complete suckers for below average mediocrity and it’s both a shame and a sham.

I’ll pass on the 2008 I Love You Again and all the other retreads that are coming down the pike. I’ll stick with the originals, the films that have held up to 67 years of aging as I Love You Again has, with stars of talent such as Powell and Loy. You can have the media overload of hype that makes for films and stars now. I’m losing interest in the barrage of the talentless that parade by in film after film. Call me an old fashioned romantic, but sometimes, the older stuff is just way, way superior.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

February movies

Film of the month: Withnail and I (1987, UK)
For some reason I'd never seen this dark comedy (I pride myself in seeing all the cult films after all) about two impoverished, out of work actors who go on a massive drunk in the countryside. I've never been a fan of Richard E. Grant but I admit he is absolutely dead on as the ranting, bitter and falling apart Withnail. After I saw this I found out Daniel Day-Lewis turned down the role of Withnail and I'm such a fan of his I'd loved to see his take. But, Grant is so good he couldn't have been much better. This is really English in its humor and quite funny & is February's film of the month.

The entire list of movies I saw in February, in order and with my rating (1-5).

Hell In the Pacific (1968, USA)--3
The Painted Veil (2006, USA)--4
Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, USA)--3.5
American Hardcore (2006, USA)--3.5
Noises Off (1992, USA)--3
The Wild Blue Yonder (2005, Germany)--3
Who the Fuck Is Jackson Pollock (2006, USA)--3
Withnail & I (1987, UK)--4
Rushmore (1999, USA)--4
Three Times (2005, Taiwan)--4