MINI MOVIE REVIEWS
I’ve seen a bunch of movies lately and figured I’d post some mini reviews.
J.J. Abrams’ reboot of STAR TREK was one of the most talked-about movies of the summer, but I didn’t sit down to watch it until Christmas Day. Just about all of the buzz I’ve heard about this one had been positive, and I like Abrams, so I figured this movie would be a real treat. Actually sitting down and watching it, I was a little disappointed. I guess I expected to be totally blown away by it.
As it is, STAR TREK is a fun movie, and I think the idea of giving us the origin of how the original team met and became the crew of The Enterprise is a good one. Chris Pine was just fine as a young James Kirk, Zachary Quinto seems perfect as young Spock, and the rest of the main players (Karl Urban as Bones McCoy, Zoe Saldana as Uhura and Simon Pegg as Scotty) were all good fits. Even Leonard Nimoy as “Old Spock” was good, and justified in the storyline. The time travel/wormhole plot itself was kind of convoluted but you could follow it well enough, and Eric Bana does a good job as the chief bad guy, Nero,a Romulan soldier out to avenge the accidental death of his planet.
All in all a fun ride. But I didn’t watch it thinking, “This is Great! I need to buy this on DVD!” I can’t see myself watching it a second time. And while I think it was one of the best of the TREK movies (which is not that difficult – most of them are pretty lame) – my favorite is still STAR TREK II – THE WRATH OF KHAN from 1982, that’s the only one that captures the feel of the original series for me – it just wasn’t exciting as I’d hoped.
A good, fun science-fiction film, but nothing spectacular.
Another movie that got a lot of buzz (this time on the festival circuit) was Paul Solet’s movie GRACE. This is another one that failed to live up to my expectations. A woman is pregnant (after two miscarriages) and finally seems to be bringing a child to full term. Of course there’s a car accident to fuck things up. The accident kills her husband, and she finds out her new baby is also dead, but she insists on brigning it to term. Once the baby is born, she sort of “wills” it to life. The upside is she finally has a living baby. The downside is the only thing it will eat is human blood. Oh yeah, and the baby attracts an awful lot of flies! This was an okay flick, but most of its plot didn’t make a lot of sense, and it wasn’t strong enough to make me suspend disbelief. I even found some aspects of it annoying. If this sounds good to you, by all means, check it out. But don’t buy it – it’s a rental. And don’t expect a masterpiece.
Another horror film that involves a pregnant mother that I thought was far superior was the French horror flick INSIDE from last year. And I still think people should check that out, instead.
THIRST is the new movie by Park Chan-wook, the director who gave us some recent classics like OLDBOY (2003) and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002). He can be a top-notch filmmaker, so when I heard he had made a vampire movie, I was eager to see it. THIRST, is an uneven affair that involves self-sacrificing priest Father Sang -hyeon (Kang-ho Song) who allows himself to be a guinea pig for a vaccine for the Ebola Virus. Out of 500 subjects, he is the only volunteer who survives the ordeal and is instantly a celebrity of sorts (his “followers” see him as a healing priest).Sang-hyeon goes back to his priestly duties, expecting his life to go back to the way it was, but it’s not that easy. It turns out the reason he survived the testing was because he got a transfusion of vampire’s blood (something that is never explained), and he thus turns into a bloodsucker himself. The symptoms of the virus return to ravage his body, and the only way he can cure himself is through regular quantities of blood. He begins by taking small amounts from coma victims, but is clearly having a moral dilemma with all this.
The vampire blood also brings out his suppressed passions, which include his overwhelming lust for Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim), the wife of a patient he supposedly “cured” of cancer by prayer. While visiting the man at home, he becomes obsessesd with Tae-ju and eventually gives in to his desires, which result in her becoming a vampire as well.
THIRST is a little slow in the first half, and I wasn’t a big fan of the priest character. But once Tae-ju becomes a vampire, the movie shifts into high gear. All her life she has been treated “like a dog” – ever since she was left with another family when her own abandoned her at the age of 3. With her newfound powers, she no longer has to grovel through life and really takes joy in her ability to decide between life and death for her victims. Lacking the moral conscience that torments Father Sang-hyeon, she is able to fully enjoy her new “life.”
Whatever problems I have with the movie disappear once Tae-ju becomes a vampire. She is a revelation and the main reason to see this movie. She is so good in THIRST that it’s one of my favorite performances of 2009. So, despite its flaws, I liked it more than enough to recommend it.
John Harrison’s THE BOOKS OF BLOOD is based on a Clive Barker story. In fact, it’s based on two of them: “Books of Blood” (which was actually the introduction to the BOOKS OF BLOOD books) and “On Jerusalem Street.” But unlike last year’s MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, which I enjoyed a lot, BOOKS OF BLOOD is a tedious experience.
I’m a big Clive Barker fan, so I was looking forward to this one (there actually seems to be renewed interest in Barker’s early horror stories lately – which I think is great). While it does have a few good moments, it takes so long to get there, that it doesn’t seem worth the wait.
Some paranormal types are exploring a presumably haunted house. A scam artist agrees to be their subject, staying overnight in a haunted attic room while they watch him. At first, he perpetrates a hoax on them, but as the story progresses, the supernatural forces make themselves known, and end up craving words all over his flesh, turning him into a human book.
BOOKS OF BLOOD focuses more on the supernaturally-charged atmosphere than any gore effects, but it plods along so painfully slow that I lost interest fairly soon, and found it a chore to sit through. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.
MASKHEAD is the new film by Toe Tag Productions, the Pittsburgh film studio led by Fred Vogel, that is best known for the notorious AUGUST UNDERGROUND series of horror films that look like some psychos filmed themselves going on a killing spree. Where a lot of their other films seem like extended, simulated snuff films, MASKHEAD actually has a narrative to it. It was written and co-directed (with Vogel) by Scott Swan, who also wrote the two John Carpenter installments of MASTERS OF HORROR on Showtime (the episodes “Cigarette Burns” in season one – one of the show’s best episodes – and “Pro-Life” in season two). He also wrote the episode “Skin and Bones” (directed by Larry Fessenden), probably the best episode of the show FEAR ITSELF (which is what MASTERS OF HORROR mutated into when it went to network television for a season).
Toe Tag has done narrative film before (RESDIN TOWER in 2006), but I enjoyed this one much more. In MASKHEAD, two women, Syl and Maddie (who are also lovers), run a porn company/site and are looking for new “talent.” We then get a series of auditions, that are followed by these people making movies for the women. None of the movies actually ends the way the actors think, though, because at some point, a musclebound guy called Maskhead (Michael Witherel) always shows up (his head is covered in bandages and there is a barbed wire grill covering his mouth) and kills them in brutal fashion. I thought the character of Maskhead was appropriately creepy and I found myself looking forward to his sudden appearances. The performances overall are pretty good, (especially Shelby Vogel and Danielle Inks as Syl and Maddie), and it doesn’t skimp on the gore effects.
Since this movie is rather extreme and would fall into the “torture porn” category (man, I hate that phrase), it is not for the squeamish and is not going to appeal to everyone. But I liked it.