(I didn’t see any movies at all in theatres this weekend, and while I do have a DVD review or two coming up in the near future, there are three movies coming out on DVD this week that are all highly worth seeing: The Host, Zodiac and Renaissance. the following reviews have appeared elsewhere before my work was picked up by The Fanboy Smackdown, but they still apply to all three of these movies… by the way, these three movies are all out this week in what is a true geek-gasm of a week on DVD- you also have a special 2-disk set of John Woo’s epic action film Hard-Boiled (very much worth seeing) and an 80s kids classic The Monster Squad (which I think is very entertaining).)
Theatrical Review: The Host (from Arpil of 2007)
The Hills Have Eyes 2 is one end of the extremes of movie viewing this weekend, then the Korean-made The Host is at the other extreme and is truly, to paraphrase a St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic, a monster movie that transcends the genre… and as far as I’m concerned, right up there with 300 as one of the best things that I’ve seen this year thus far… Do not miss this if you get the chance…
The Host details the story of a mutated sea creature that begins to terrify Korean citizens and supposedly in it’s aftermath, it leaves behind a virus that kills anyone who’s had contact. We follow the Park family through this saga, the father Gang-Du, his daughter Hyun-Seo, his sister Nam-Joo, his brother Nam-Il and Gang Du’s father, Hie-Bong, who runs a food stand. Gang-Du himself is sort’ve without direction, but his daughter is a true light in his life. And when the monster takes Hyun-Seo from him and his family- it obviously re-purposes this father… and the rest of his family.
What follows is an absolutely engrossing sequence of events which just left me in awe of just how much fun a good, old-fashioned monster film can be when it’s handled just right… The Host does just that, delivering one of the coolest movie monsters in recent years and giving you a group of characters that you actually give a damn about. Where I think it stumbles (but only so slightly), is in some of the accounts given about the virus, which is basically a bit where the movie tries to get a little political. Oh, it doesn’t bang you over the head with it, but then it doesn’t really have a lot of direction either- with some direction, and being well-done, it could give you a bit of something to think about, and yet the way it’s done here, it’s more in the way than anything else…
But do not let that get in the way of seeing this– Director Bong Jung-Hoo has crafted something extremely special here that’s all at once dramatic, funny, terrifying and exhilarating to watch. I think that Richard Roeper called the visual effects “cheesy” (which is something he likes to throw around every now and then) and frankly, here, he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about- from the first moments that the monster appears, it’s just as convincing as can be with not only great, grand effects moments but some real subtle ones as well. This is a thrill ride done right, and it features an ending that is both heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time…
You might have to work to seek this one out, but if you want to see a quality monster/science fiction movie, then make the effort (I got to see it at St. Louis’ premiere art house, The Tivoli, in it’s main room… next week it will be out of that room to make way for David Lynch’s Inland Empire, another one of the movies that I’m most anticipating this year) because honestly I have no idea how long this will be around in most theatres. This will be fun to watch on DVD later, but really don’t deprive yourself of seeing this on the big screen if you get the chance… highly, highly recommended…[
Theatrical Review: Zodiac (from March of 2007)
In the late 60s and the early 70’s the Californians between the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas were terrorized by the exploits of a serial killer known as the Zodiac. It’s a case that to this day remains technically unsolved, although there are many facts that point to one specific subject presented in Robert Graysmith’s book Zodiac.
Zodiac is David Fincher’s latest film and it details the efforts of the San Francisco Chronicle and various police departments in their search for finding the killer before he can terrorize again, focusing primarily on three key players, SFPD Detective David Toschi, San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery, and San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, with a lot more characters in tow. And it’s one hell of a film from Fincher…
A word of warning already, this is a very long movie coming in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, Fincher almost has this as two movies in one, with the first half of the film being very procedural and detailing efforts from all quarters in solving this. The second half though is focused around Graysmith and his point of view dealing with many of the prime characters a few years after the Zodiac was more in his prime. Like Craig Brewer does with Black Snake Moan, David Fincher does the same with Zodiac giving you a movie that visually invokes a lot of style of films from the 70s, even going so far as to using the logos for Paramount and Warners from that period in opening the film.
But it goes further than that… this film is intricately detailed, but not in a way that seems implausible or that it would be hard to follow. In fact I’d go out on a limb and say that this might be the most researched film that I’ve seen since United 93 with Fincher taking great strides to show you just how hard it was to even coordinate efforts in that time period compared to now, making this case extremely difficult to solve… there were no computers, very few fax machines, no internet, no DNA testing during this time frame, and it’s a wonder that all quarters made as much progress as they did.
Fincher’s got a great cast here, with Mark Ruffalo as Toschi, Robert Downey Jr. as Avery and Jake Gyllenhaal as Graysmith and they’re well supported by folks like Anthony Edwards, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, James LeGros and Chloe Sevigny. Special notice has to go to the always good as gold Brian Cox though for playing attorney Melvin Belli to a tee (there’s even a mention of his Star Trek appearance in the film).
Anyway, this was obviously a great weekend at the movies for me, without a doubt, Zodiac joins Breach and Black Snake Moan as one of the early best of 2007. I think that if you’re a fan of Fincher’s other films (Se7en, Fight Club and Panic Room) you really owe it to yourself to go out and see this in theatres just to watch a master filmmaker at work… highly, highly recommended…
Theatrical Review: Renaissance (from October 2006, a couple of weeks before Casino Royale opened)
It’s Paris in the year 2054. A high level scientist/executive for a leading corporation has vanished, and now it’s up to an intrepid police detective captain, Karas and the victim’s sister, Bislaine, to track her down and the mystery at the core of her disappearance.
And in brief, that’s the core story of Renaissance, an incredible new direction in computer animation from the French that is simply the most visually stunning movie I’ve seen this year. Basically the film has been shot using motion captured actors, then computer animated. But then the computer animation has been processed over in a stunning, stark black and white process that for many will invoke Frank Miller’s Sin City comic. Personally, I think the look of the film is closer to the work of artists like Steranko or Paul Gulacy- but it doesn’t matter, the end result is just beautiful and an effective way to tell a story for adults using computer animation.
The story itself owes much to past efforts like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell or even more recent films like Aeon Flux or Ultraviolet and it’s both complex and yet, as long as you’re paying attention, easy to follow. And the filming techniques are also evocative of past films, for me, most notably Hitchcock.
The animation though is the star of this show, and it’s really, really quite well done, especially with this process. Had this been animated in color with a traditional technique, it probably wouldn’t approach the efforts of a Pixar or a Squaresoft, but using the black and white process, there’s amazing life here, especially in the animation of Karas, where there’s a great deal of character subtlety.
Even though it’s been animated with motion captured actors, it’s been voiced by better known screen actors, with Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm and Johnathan Pryce leading the cast, and they’re all quite good here, in particular Craig- who even with his voice work here makes me look forward to what he’ll do as James Bond even more.
Without a doubt, this is definitely one of the best-looking movies I’ve seen all year. and even though it’s story is fairly traditional, the technique of the film is enough to make you want to follow this thing all the way through. Director Christian Volckman and his crew have really created something quite stunning here, and once again the possibilities in computer animation breaks new ground. Highly recommended.
(Happy viewing!!! There’s some great stuff here all worth seeing…)