THE HOST (2020)

January 16, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The success of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story” has inspired many writers and filmmakers to dive headfirst into the genre. The results have been mixed – some really creative works, and some ho-hum copycats. What has been interesting to watch is the genre-bending (or stretching) when what traditionally would have been a suspenseful drama or thriller, has elements of horror added to spice things up. That’s my best lead-in for director Andy Newbery’s film based on a story by Laurence Lamers, and adapted for the screen by Lamers, Finola Geraghty, Brenda Bishop, and Zachary Weckstein.

Sixty years ago this would have fit right in as an episode on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, even down to the bookend therapy sessions led by the fine British actor Derek Jacobi as Dr. Hobson. He tells his patient (whose face we don’t see) that his is “an unusual and disturbing case.” We then ‘see’ the story unfold … or maybe unravel is a better description. Robert Atkinson (played by Mike Beckingham, younger brother of Simon Pegg) is a bank employee enjoying a lunch break tryst with a beautiful woman. Sarah (Margo Stilley, 9 SONGS) just so happens to be married to Robert’s boss, and she clearly has only one use for Robert since he has no money and his life is a mess.

It’s not long before we discover Robert has many vices: gambling, smoking, drinking, and of course, romping with married women. In a moment that can be attributed to a desperate attempt to legitimize his existence, Robert nabs a 50,000 pound cash deposit from a new bank customer and promptly heads over to his favorite gambling hall. Things don’t go well, and dumb-as-a-rock Robert is soon cutting a deal with Chinese cartel leader Lau (played by the always reliable Togo Igawa).

Robert’s deal sends him to Amsterdam, a city where many things can go wrong – and often do. Local resident Vera Tribbe (Maryam Houssouni) offers Robert a room in her mansion, and, as we expected, things don’t go well for him. Both the cartel and Robert’s brother Steve (musician Dougie Poynter) are on the trail to find out what happened to Robert. DEA Agent Herbert Summers (played by Nigel Barber and his silky voice) is also involved, and what we find is a whole bunch of ‘nothing good’ thanks to the creepy rich Tribbe family,

Familiar faces pop up throughout the film, yet it’s difficult to buy into the sense of dread when most of the characters are making the kind of dumb decisions that Geico riffed in their commercial about ‘the running car’ and hiding behind the chainsaws. The lessons are pretty simple. Don’t steal money. Don’t sleep with your boss’ spouse. Don’t agree to run an errand for the Chinese cartel … or any other cartel flavor. Only if you can overlook the cluelessness of the characters will you find some entertainment value here.

watch the trailer:


EVERLY (2014)

March 8, 2015

Everly Greetings again from the darkness. If only drive-in theaters were still the weekend hang-out of choice for teenage boys, this latest from director Joe Lynch would be the perfect second feature after some horror or slasher designed to generate oohs and ahhs through gross-outs (elevators and grenades are not a good mix).

After beginning with its most unsettling scene – gang abuse of a female (fortunately via black screen and sound effects) – the rest of the film plays just like an ultra-violent, hyper-speed video game. The two main distinctions here are that all of the action takes place inside a loft apartment, and the lead character is played by Salma Hayek. Having appeared in Desperado and From Dusk Til Dawn, Ms. Hayek is no stranger to wild action sequences, but here she carries every carnage-filled scene … all while slinking around in a silk slip or her favorite yoga pants.

Gun, knives, swords, grenades, chemicals and various other implements of destruction are brandished by Hayek, masked killers, greedy hookers, a SWAT team, and Hayek’s ex-pimp/kidnapper. We even get a character called “The Sadist” (Togo Igawa) in one of the most straight-forward character names in movie history. There is even an attack dog named Bonzai that is well-trained in everything except the difference between a ball and a grenade. And therein lies the saving grace here … the movie has some absurd humor that prevents the ultimate tone of dread by such films as Saw. The humor isn’t so much clever as it is outrageous … and it helps offset the gruesome and blood-filled body count (at least 20 in the first 20 minutes!).

Director Joe Lynch is more comfortable with horror films than action films, but it’s clear he has a love with B-movies, and he is fortunate enough to have Salma Hayek front and center. The only way to watch this is with your brain shifted to neutral. The level of ridiculous is off the scale and includes too many “that makes no sense” moments to recap here. On top of all that, the action occurs around Christmas, and use of six traditional Christmas songs adds to the twisted humor that will probably keep you tuned in, despite your knowing better.

**NOTE: For those in the Dallas area, this will be playing at the Texas Theatre

watch the trailer:

 


THE HEDGEHOG (Le Herisson, Fr.)

October 1, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The directorial feature debut from Mona Achache is based on the French bestseller “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. The meticulous pace masks whirlwind of emotion and thought occurring in the three key characters. Three characters whom each of us might be guilty of overlooking on a daily basis.

For those who don’t know, the film defines a hedgehog as a prickly-on- the-outside, cuddly-on-the-inside critter that is often misjudged. Our three characters all fit this description in some manner. Paloma (Garance LeGuillermic) is an 11 year old artistic and observant girl who plans to kill herself on her 12th birthday because no one understands her.  Her life is filled with what are the minor inconveniences of being an 11 year old – her mother talks to plants more than she talks to her, her father is a distracted workaholic, and her self-centered teenage sister is, well, a self-centered teenager. Madame Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko) is the building’s caretaker. Self-described as old and ugly, she lives the life of quiet desperation, hiding with her cat and massive library of books and chocolate. The building’s new tenant is Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), a mysterious and elegant man who immediately sees through Madame Michel’s prickly exterior.

 Paloma spends much of her day documenting by video camera the goings on in her life and of those in her building. She often adds her insightful and humorous narrative to the scene as it occurs. Her view on life and its possibilities begins to change as she observes and gets to know Madame Michel and Mr. Ozu, and more importantly, observes their interactions.

 The underlying storyline of an 11 year old girl contemplating suicide can be quite disturbing, but director Achache never really lets that occur. Instead we focus on very simple acts of kindness and subtle smiles and gestures that indicate life can be rewarding and worthwhile. I also found Madame Michel’s surrender to the state of invisibility to be quite disturbing, but her awakening to be fascinating. She had not been rejected by society as much as simply overlooked.

Unlike many French movies that bombard us with rapid fire, overlapping exchanges, this one instead relies on patience and a sharp eye … think of it as the slight squeeze while holding a loved one’s hand.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are intrigued by a subtle intersection of three seemingly unrelated characters who happen to live in the same building and are brought together by a cat, goldfish, chocolate, books and a video camera.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: just the thought of a slow moving character drama in French with subtitles makes you yawn.

see the trailer: