Log in

Reviews: June 24

24 Jun, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

The Host

The Host
Prebook: 6/26; Street 7/24
Magnolia, Horror, B.O. $2.2 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 two-DVD collector's edition, $34.98 Blu-ray or HD DVD, 'R' for creature violence and language.
Stars Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, Ko A-sung.

The Host may have capitalized on the recent trend of horror titles from Asia, but the South Korean film really shouldn't be classified as horror. It's a monster movie in the grand tradition of Godzilla and King Kong.

The Park clan, led by Hie-bong (Byun), runs a fried-squid stand near Seoul's Han River. Hie-bong lives with his eldest son Gang-du (Song), a bumbling half-wit, and Gang-du's young daughter (Ko).

When a terrible creature emerges from the river, launching into an eating-and-killing frenzy, Gang-du is the only one dumb enough to try to fight it. Unfortunately, the creature takes his daughter, bringing Hie-bong's other two children — a frustrated graduate (Park) and a bronze-winning archer (Bae) — home to grieve.

As everyone exposed to the monster is quarantined, the film throws in some social commentary on chemical warfare and misinformation regarding the monster possibly spreading a disease.

While quarantined, Gang-du receives a call from his daughter. She's alive and in a sewer, inspiring the Parks to fight the beast and find the girl themselves when no one listens to their story. The battle ultimately brings the Parks together, and although these aren't necessarily fully formed characters, there's a lot more than just monsters and pyrotechnics at play.

The monster is a terrific work of CG graphics, coming off like a sleek, amphibious velociraptor with nasty fangs and a slithering tail. Its movements recall film critters from Alien to Alligator.

This is one film that makes the case for high-def. Those battles between the Parks and the creature won't look right on a computer screen; you need the whole setup to really appreciate a film such as this. Billy Gil

Shadow Puppets
Street 7/24
Starz, Horror, $26.97 DVD, NR.
Stars James Marsters, Jolene Blalock, Tony Todd.

Sci-fi/fantasy fans will recognize a lot of what they see in Shadow Puppets. It stars Marsters of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Blalock of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” and Todd of Candyman, who also was a frequent “Trek” guest star.

Random characters begin to wake up in what appears to be a medical facility. They don't remember how they got there, don't know who they are and are clad only in their underwear.

Shadow Puppets' central conundrum plays on the idea of tabula rasa (blank state), which presumes those without the benefit of experience will resort to instinct and latent ability.

The confused individuals quickly discover each other and try to piece together what is going on, but they find themselves hunted by a strange entity that manifests as the living embodiment of shadows, and looks a lot like the smoke monster from “Lost.”

The plot doesn't make things any more complicated than they need to be. Problems that arise are solved quickly and efficiently.

The movie flows with a predictable logic. The first hour effectively builds the tension, but soon the secrets are revealed, and the final act is a letdown. This may have been unavoidable; considering the level of intrigue established by the setup, any explanation would probably have seemed disappointing and perfunctory.

Blalock has been busy, between this film and Lionsgate's Slow Burn (also due July 24), while Marsters' presence is always welcome. John Latchem

The Chambermaid
Prebook 6/26; Street 7/24
MTI, Horror, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for strong sexual content, nudity, some violence including rape, language and drug use.
Stars Fiona Horsey, Paul Conway, William Rowsey.

Film critic David Ansen recently stated that he believes marketing and public relations hype — in other words, getting people to go to a theater or buy/rent a DVD — is where the state of the art in filmmaking is.

Creative interpretation of a film's tone to drum up business is nothing new. Plenty of people have seen films that they might not have normally chosen based on the box art. Sometimes the choice is a positive one, sometimes it is negative.

The recent British (by way of a German director) film The Chambermaid is being marketed as a straight-up sexy horror film. The box art features the beautiful body of a provocatively dressed woman clutching a shiny knife, a tried and true classic example of how to sell a film.

Any movie that features an attractive woman on the box will rent well, any movie with a knife or a gun on the cover will rent well, but to come as close as possible to a guaranteed hit, it never hurts to have a beautiful woman holding a weapon.

So, people will probably rent The Chambermaid (also known as Lovesick: Sick Love) expecting an erotic horror film about a dangerous and sexy woman. What they will get, however, much to their surprise, possible disappointment, but hopefully delight, does feature a very sexy woman (a spectacular Horsey), some genuine unpleasantness, kinks and overall darkness.

But, the film is so intelligent, character driven and, believe it or not, funny that the casual viewer might not know what to make of it. Director Wolfgang B?ld demonstrates a really sure hand, delivering a stylish, witty and disturbing film. — David Greenberg

Prebook 6/27; Street 7/31
Lionsgate, Drama, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for pervasive language, violence, some nudity and drug use.
Stars Val Kilmer, Gabriel Byrne, Vinnie Jones, Patrick Bergin, Anthony LaPaglia, Bruno Kirby, Mick Rossi.

Law-abiding filmgoers never tire of the crime genre and, in particular, those films that flip the traditional dynamic and focus on the behavior of characters who are less concerned with morals and social guidelines.

The magic of the movies is their ability to transport an audience into someone else's shoes for an hour or two. It is a hallmark of Screenwriting 101 that crime or action films live and die on the strength of their antagonist, the bad guy, often an appealing sort with class, charm and/or a dedication to his or her principles, crooked though they may be.

Movies allow the audience to walk in the bad guy's shoes for a little while, to taste the danger amorality that few dare to experiment with in their day-to-day life.

Played fits in well with a long line of good movies about bad guys, from Howard Hawks' classic Scarface to DePalma's endlessly popular remake, on through to much of the work of Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie and the wonderful recent Layer Cake.

This new film by Sean Stanek actually seems to combine that recent British smash with the work of Ritchie and Tarantino, taking on the story of a low-rent English crook who takes the fall for a robbery gone bad, serves his time, gets released and seeks revenge both at home and among a community of countrymen now settled in Los Angeles.

The film is effectively stylish without becoming overbearing and eclipsing the genuinely compelling story. Relative newcomer Rossi holds his own and then some in the lead role alongside some terrific extended cameos by heavyweights Kilmer, Byrne, LaPaglia, Jones and the late, great Kirby. — David Greenberg

Nixon: A Presidency Revealed
Street 6/26
A&E, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

Henry Kissinger described him as “a man with a considerable vision and a great ability to achieve it, who destroyed himself but also was destroyed by pitiless enemies who never gave him the benefit of any compassion.”

Bob Dole suggests he was too liberal or moderate to be taken seriously by the Republican Party today.

Richard M. Nixon, a man plagued and ultimately undone by his inner demons, was certainly a polarizing figure in American politics. Most are familiar with the bigger picture of his resignation following the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. But many don't know all the details, and this History Channel documentary does a good job of shedding light on a crucial period in our history.

At one point, we see footage of Nixon at his daughter's White House wedding, and we can't help but be reminded of a similar scene in The Godfather.

A Presidency Revealed makes great use of Nixon's secret White House recordings to reveal the inner thoughts of the 37th president, painting a clear picture with candid interviews with insiders and historical footage — some little seen, some ingrained in the national consciousness.

In one enlightening anecdote, we learn Nixon was so desperate to escape his embarrassment at home, he ignored his doctor's advice about a potentially fatal blood clot in his leg to take a risky trip to Egypt. Chief of staff Alexander Haig remarks he wasn't sure Nixon wasn't ready to die to make the whole mess just go away.

Later in his life, Nixon came to express regret over his actions, and came to accept the responsibility of his shame.

The program doesn't take sides, but rather gives Nixon the credit he was due for his successes, especially the easing of tensions with the Soviet Union and China.

The DVD also includes the program Inside the Presidency: Eisenhower vs. Nixon, a nice companion piece about Nixon's role as vice president from 1953 to 1961 and his unlikely alliance with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. John Latchem

No Limit: A Search for the American Dream on the Poker Tournament Trail
Prebook 6/26; Street 7/24
Passion River, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

Coming a little late to cash in on the poker craze of a few years ago, No Limit is nonetheless an engaging documentary about the gambler's mindset and its effects on those around him or her.

The film documents the adventures of Susan Genard and Tim Rhys, a former couple now living on opposite coasts while running their indie production company, Camden Pictures.

With their company's financial future in doubt, Susan hits upon the idea of entering a series of poker tournaments and filming the experience. Tim knows nothing about poker, but Susan is confident in her skills, having won low-stakes tournaments in the past, and convinces him to go along with it. Even if she doesn't win, she reasons, they will still have the movie of their experience.

Interspersed between the tournaments are interviews with celebrities of the poker world, such as Doyle Brunson, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Annie Duke, Phil Gordon and Scotty Nguyen. They primarily provide the context of how professional poker is a job, that players have to grind out meager wages every night to have a chance at the big pots, and that losing is a more common occurrence than winning.

No Limit spends no time explaining the rules of any of the poker games played, and only briefly defines a few words of the jargon Susan throws out left and right. One need not be an established poker enthusiast to appreciate the movie, however, as the human interaction is enough to sustain interest. John Latchem

Live Free or Die
Prebook 6/28; Street 7/24
ThinkFilm, Comedy, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for pervasive language including sex references.
Stars Aaron Stanford, Paul Schneider, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Dunn, Zooey Deschanel, Judah Friedlander.

Reminiscent of now-classic indie-flavored crime comedies such as Bottle Rocket and The Big Lebowski comes the low-key, laid back and frequently hilarious Live Free or Die.

Set, not surprisingly, in New Hampshire, the film uses the state's motto as both a device to define the location and, perhaps, a statement of the characters' philosophy of life. Without unfairly stereotyping those who turn to a life a crime, criminals overall do seem to be defined by a certain “outsiderness” — an inability to successfully play by the rules, get with the program and color within the lines.

Live Free or Die certainly concerns outsiders, focusing on petty thief and gangster-wannabe John “Rugged” Rudgate (Stanford from X-Men: The Last Stand, The Hills Have Eyes and TV's “Traveler”), a grungy n'er-do-well who is as concerned with his image as a fearsome criminal as he is with committing crimes that might help him pay the rent.

When he reunites with a former schoolmate, the dull-as-a-log Lagrand (Schneider from The Family Stone, Elizabethtown and the upcoming Assassination of Jesse James), who has returned to inherit and “manage” his family's storage-locker business, Rugged feels that he has found his true partner in crime, the guy who is going to take him to the next level of the rural crime underworld.

Of course, when two dim bulbs are placed together, at least a few people are going to find themselves in the dark.

The clever, convoluted plot is as intricate as the best film noir, and the droll pacing of the comedy meshes perfectly into what might be called ridiculousness or slapstick.

Written and directed by “Seinfeld” alumni Gregg Kavet and Andy Robin, the film is a comic delight. — David Greenberg

Driving Lessons
Street 7/3
Sony Pictures, Comedy, B.O. $0.2 million, $24.96 DVD, 'PG-13' for language, sexual content and some thematic material.
Stars Rupert Grint, Laura Linney, Julie Walters.

A shy teenage boy is able to emerge from the dark shadow of his deeply religious and domineering mother when he meets an aging actress who is willing to do or say anything for an adventure.

Linney reprises the chilly and chilling persona that was so effective in The Truman Show and The House of Mirth. In Driving Lessons, she is a reverend's wife who imposes her extreme religious convictions on her family despite the fact that much of her private behavior flies in the face of godliness.

Her son (Grint) takes a job as an assistant to an aging actress (Walters), best known for a stint on a soap opera more than 20 years earlier. But her gusto for escapades and antics slowly rubs off on the boy, opening him to new experiences and allowing him to see a life beyond the walls of the rectory.

Walters, best known as the title character in ,I>Educating Rita, has a ball chewing the scenery as the aging diva who is willing to say anything to have her own way. And Grint demonstrates that he has acting chops that extend beyond Ron Weasley in the “Harry Potter” series.

Driving Lessons is a small independent film that has had a successful life at film festivals and recalls, in its themes, Harold and Maude, a cult favorite that baby boomers remember very fondly. —Anne Sherber

Poison Friends
Prebook 6/28; Street 7/17
Strand, Comedy, B.O. $0.01 million, $27.99 DVD, Unrated.

For the most part, movies about college students break down into just a few categories — the wacky-hijinx films and the bad-kids-getting-chopped-up movies.

In one department, there is the classic Animal House, the genuinely delightful Legally Blonde, and the Van Wilder types, not to mention the countless frat-boy/sorority-girl sex romps.

On the other hand are the dark films, like Urban Legend, The Skulls and any number of kids-on-the-road-take-a-wrong-turn films.

Somewhere in between is a handful of films like the atrocious soap-orgy of hedonism The Rules of Attraction.

Now, nearly 25 years since its release, Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing, an unofficial re-make of the classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night, is one of the best films about life in college.

Leave it to the Europeans, then, to deliver a really unique, intelligent, engrossing and challenging film about young people in academia.

Director Emmanuel Bordieu's Poison Friends focuses on an intense, intelligent, close group of friends, classmates and lovers studying literature and drama, and discussing books and writers.

They write with such passion, energy and drive that they all seem ready to explode — either from their creative excitement/frustration or the pressure-cooker environment of being on the verge of their entrance into the dark and formidable world of real life, and meeting the expectations of their renowned professor or mentor or famous writer parents — not to mention the inevitable boy-girl scenarios.

With an attractive, appealing cast and cool European locations, it could have been easy to coast on atmosphere, but Poison Friends is not content to slack off and is packed with enough emotional, intellectual and professional drama to fill two movies. — David Greenberg

Quick Take: Groomed for Gore

Sometimes just getting people in front of the camera and having fun can yield some interesting results.

For example, check out Trinity Home Entertainment's recently released Bachelor Party Massacre (DVD $14.99), an earnest effort about a group of friends who are cornered by an escaped serial killer during a celebration in an isolated tavern.

The campy horror-fest is a little light on gore and suspense, but features some decent dialogue and its share of naked dancers. John Latchem

Add Comment