Friday, September 01, 2006

reviews cont.

Final Destination 2 - Pretty much the same exact deal as the first movie, but without the level of star power. Fans peg this one as the most vicious of the trilogy. Certainly death seems to be enjoying his work a little bit too much here, especially as the climax ramps up.
Look for a pointless cameo by unsung genre hero Tony Todd as an...uh...Undertaker? Coronor? Death hobbyist? Gurney repairman?
It wasn't all that clear.


Final Destination 3 - "X-Files" and "Millennium" writing duo Morgan and Wong helm this, the final Final Destination film, and the results are something of an improvement. Some spectacular set-pieces and hilariously gory ends for our largely disposable cast add a bit of life to the proceedings, but ultimately, the same old questions arise.
For example, if Death is prepared to take time out of his busy reaping schedule to hunt down the "ones that got away" to such a (frankly anal) degree, why bother sending clues ahead of time to his doomed quarry? Are there other forces at work?
And are the characters supposed to be thoroughly unlikeable so the audience can laugh at their elaborate eliminations (some are admittedly enjoyable), or is it just a case of lazy writing?

None of it really matters, since the series has now been put to bed.
Not a bad sendoff, all things considered, but would it have killed them to throw us a quick shot of headless Stifler?


The Ghouls - This rancid no-budget shot-on-video sickpuddle should be avoided at all costs.
It tells the "story" of a hateful paparazzi-type lowlife who drunkenly witnesses a brutal attack on a woman by a pack of cannibalistic homeless men.
Some deludedcreative souls who enjoyed this thing point to its social message in regards to the film's title; the question being "Who are the real ghouls, them or us?", but when the cover of a DVD box practically screams "Zombies Attack!", forgive me for resenting the filmaker's decision to substitute hamfisted social relevancy for actual zombies.

This ain't no Dawn of the Dead, folks.
It looks like crap, sounds like crap, and made me seriously consider asking for my rental fee back. I nearly sprained my thumb holding down the fast-forward button.
If there was any redeeming value in the splatter effects, I missed it.



Night Watch - This is apparently the first installment in a planned trilogy from Russian writer/director Timur Bekmambetov.
I can't wait. For a film to set up its very own unique mythology and let it play out as originally and elementally as it does here is a rare and wonderful thing.

The characters (even when not showing off their supernatural gifts) are idiosyncratic and appealing, without being condescendingly quirky for the sake of it. The motivations of the Night Watchers (the good guys) are simple and plausible, and even more refreshingly, the Day Watchers are given sympathetic character treatment as well. Neither campy nor arch, the villainous witches and vampires of the dark side are believable players in the struggle to keep the balance of good and evil in the film's cosmology.

The clashes between factions of Others aren't flashy or epic, either.
Encounters are catch-as-catch-can gritty, and more reminiscent of Fight Club than the exaggerated gallantry of most fantasy combat choreography.

Another sly, singularly Russian twist is the inclusion of a workaday bureaucracy in which the protagonists are forced to act as de facto civil servants; issuing licenses, granting access, and keeping scrupulous tabs on supernatural activities.
Sort of a Ministry of Magic by way of Kafka. It lends a certain revolutionary idealism to the activities of the disaffected Dark Side.

There is a whole lot going on in this movie, and sometimes I felt as though too many threads were being woven into an already rich tapestry of plot, particularly during the lead-up to the final sequences, but nothing was purely extraneous, nor did the cinematic flash and stylistic flourishes detract from the central themes of personal responsibility and redemption.

Konstantin Khabensky as Anton makes a terrific lead, and his evocative, Romanesque profile bears a striking resemblance to another of my favorite underexposed European actors; Moritz Bleibtreu:
KonstantinMortiz
That's Konstantin on the left, and Moritz on the right.

Apropos of nothing, here's another fun comparison:
Night WatchDevil's Backbone
(Someone's been studying his Guillermo del Toro movies!)

Now that the backstory is in place, and the mythos introduced, I think it's safe to predict that Dusk Watch and Day Watch will prove to be a hell of a barn-burning pair of sequels. Bring on the vodka gimlets!


The Hills Have Eyes (2006)- All set was I to classify this sick puppy as the latest symptom of the dreaded scourge "Retreadus Inanius"; but shockingly, it behooves me to retract what was clearly an erroneous and premature diagnosis.
And no, I'm not being a smartass. This flick truly doesn't suck!

It's icky and brutal, sure. To say the violence is gratuitous is like saying the Himalayas are 'a bit hilly'. But somehow it worked for me.

Not that I'm drawn to this type of movie. Hostel was quite good, but Wolf Creek and 2003's Texas Chainsaw remake left me cold and achey.
To be honest, I had no intention of watching this Hills version like, ever, but I had offhandedly asked a friend of a friend for a "Silent Hill" pirate copy, and mistakenly ended up with this.

I might have given Craven's original a pass, too, but it was so regularly spoken of in reverent tones among horror fans, that I ended up watching it more out of genric peer-pressure than any real interest in the storyline. It wasn't all that memorable.
Certainly any deeper subtextual significance lurking within the middle-class family v.s. sociopathic-outcasts dichotomy was lost on me. Besides, this same "victim turns-the-tables in act three" device was used identically in his previous film, Last House on the Left, and it was just as improbably staged.

But here we have a director (High Tension's Alexandre Aja) who has the money and technology to exploit the vast potential for some shockingly visceral set-pieces that the slapdash, low-budget original was unable to capitalize on.

Tobe Hooper's Chainsaw brought the cameras into the parlor (and pantry) of his degenerate clan, and audiences were both repelled and delighted by the candid-looking results. Humanizing the sub-humans was a tidily perverse perspective twist that worked in the film's favor. It was a beat that didn't sync at all in Craven's Hills. Let's face it, no matter how fucked-up the Hills gang looked, they were still a tribe of organized mercenaries.
I mean, as satisfying as the hitchhiker's melon-squashing comeuppance is in TCM, you still feel a bit sorry for the batshit little bastard. By contrast, characters like Pluto and Jupiter deserve everything that's coming to them. And then some.

The Hills remake gladly cranks up the indignities and piles on the outrage, to a point where the payback these (much more mutated, but equally amoral) freaks receive becomes a near orgasmic experience for the viewer.



This level of audience bloodlust generated in the payoff scenes has some critics crying foul. They say that this type film is supposed to shock people because the heroes have become the savages, not turn the audience into voyeuristic sickos by cheering for them. Is the whole thing an exercise in cultural desensitization?

That may depend on how you view pornography -- when you're beating off to Scrotomaniacs do you like a thoughtful reality-check in lieu of a ball-busting climax? I sure don't.
If a horror flick lets you "cum" (this subject was raised in the "Hostel" commentary), is it less valuable? If we leave our seats basely, brutally satisfied, are we leaving our souls behind as well?

Of course not.
Let's face it, we're not exactly watching this shit to better ourselves, are we?