Hey folks, Harry here... THE HOST is one of my favorite films of the year. Just wonderful. Here ya go - Anton Sirius is getting witty again...
Greetings starkinder! Some quick hits before I get into the full reviews...
- Saw a Romanian film called 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006, directed by Corneliu Porumboiu). The production was a little, uhh, rough, but the movie wasn't that bad. I's about a small-town TV station's look back at the fall of Communism in that country - sort of a "where were you when Ceausescu fled?" themed talk show - that hits a kind of Christopher Guest-ish vibe in a couple of places, as foolish people prove to be completely oblivious to how small their pond is, and how big a fish they actually are in it. I can see why it won best first feature at Cannes this year.
- Also saw The Silence, cobbled together from a two-part Australian TV noirish police drama. The director, Cate Shortland, has some definite chops (her first feature, Somersault, was pretty darn good) and this production definitely had its moments - it's not often you see an Oedipal riff on Preminger's Laura - but the whole still didn't quite feel like a "real" film due to its origins. Whatever her next theatrical movie is though, I'm there. Oh, and the Silence is also a great reminder that Richard Roxburgh is a damn fine actor, and not just a silly accent from Moulin Rouge.
The Host (2006, directed by Bong Joon-ho)
The success of any monster movie relies solely on how good the monster is. Godzilla and Gamera haven't endured because of their great plots; they've endured because giant fire-breathing lizards and atomic turtles kick ass.
The Host understands that. Boy howdy, does it ever.
Beginning a few years in the past with a chemical dump into the Han River, a result of the almost gleeful venality and incompetence of the authorities both American and Korean (a running theme/gag throughout the movie, really) the Host quickly speeds forward to the present and introduces the protagonists. A not very bright narcoleptic runs a riverside snack stand with his understanding father, and both look after his spunky daughter. Auntie is an Olympic-caliber archer who freezes in the crunch, and who misses her chance at a gold medal while they watch on TV. An alcoholic uncle is mentioned in passing. These quick character sketches out of the way, the movie introduces the movie's *real* star, hanging from the underside of the bridge - a 30 foot long mutated catfish thing, with a prehensile tail and about a dozen legs sticking out in all directions. Almost casually, the creature drops into the water and climbs ashore for a quick snack and some mayhem. When the daughter is the last victim of the creature before it dives back into the river, the rest of the family is inconsolable; when a call from her cheap-ass cell phone lets them know she's still alive in the creature's lair, they go all Dirty Dozen (well, Filthy Four anyway) to bring it down.
The film's environmental subtext isn't subtle - although the panicked reaction from the useless authorities over a potential virus the creature might have been carrying, rather than over the creatire itself, is amusing - but then neither was Godzilla's. The family's dysfunctional and mostly futile efforts to find the lair drive the plot, but it's the appearances by the creature (who does backflips and possesses a devious intelligence) that keep you in your seat. This thing is BAD-ASS. How can you not like a beastie that pukes out the bones of its victims and messes with the heads of its captured prey?
Brand Upon the Brain! (2006, directed by Guy Maddin)
Canada's own Guy Maddin is a national treasure, in the cursed Aztec gold sense. His movies are sublimely demented, as fevered plots collide with bizarre visuals and damaged characters to form a body of work as rich as Jodorowsky's, but way funnier.
Brand Upon the Brain! is his newest, and maybe his weirdest film, yet. You'll never get to see it in theaters, in all likelihood - it's a (mostly) black and white silent film about... umm, well... imagine if, instead of making L'age d'or, Bunuel and Dali had collaborated on an adaptation of a Hardy Boys book (you know, the one about the smugglers) by way of a Shakespearian cross-dressing comedy and an episode of the Wonder Years. And for this one-off festival event, Maddin got the royal treatment - a screening at the gorgeous Elgin theater, live orchestra, live narrator, live foley artists (!) for the sound effects and a live castrato (!!!) to sing a plaintive tune.
To say this was a magical screening is to miss the boat. Horror film quotes, hilarious title cards ("Good for dippin'!"), a foot fetish from beyond the grave, brain milkings, young lesbian romance and Romania-shaped birthmarks all pile on top of one another until your mind melts. In a good way.
How Maddin tops this one I have no idea. But I have no doubt he will.