May 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Hello movie fans.  This month I wanted to touch on a range of things.

First up is the latest K-Horror epic, "Arang," which hit Korean theaters last year.  This better-than-average Asian horror film mixes elements of detective drama, ghost story, and Korean folk tale, with some very stylish setups and direction by first-time feature film director Ahn Sang-hoon.  This one is just what the doctor ordered if you need some creepy ghosts, serial killers and desperate detectives on said killer’s trail.

Moving over to Japan, cult classic, and Tarantino inspiration “Female Prisoner #701” hits DVD in a collection gathering all three influential 70’s Japanese cult exploitation films.  These films feature the wrongly-convicted-but-out-for-vengeance Lady Snowbird.  With names like "Scorpion," "Beast Stable," and "Grudge Song," how could you not want to own these films on DVD?

For something a little more recent, let's talk about the best film of last year: "Pan’s Labyrinth," directed by Guillermo del Toro.  del Toro has directed mega-hits like "Hellboy" and "Blade 2," but has also been producing beautiful, classy ghost/fantastic movies in Spanish.  "Pan’s Labyrinth" is easily his most accomplished and stunning film.  It features a Franco dominated, post civil war Spanish setting (several years subsequent to the setting of his previous Spanish civil war ghost movie, The Devil's Backbone), and has a dreadful sense of inevitable claustrophobia that is beautifully balanced by its sumptuous visuals.   If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and do so as soon as possible.

The second best movie of last year was the dystopic nightmare that was "Children of Men," directed by Alfonso Cuarón, based on the novel of the same name by P. D. James.  Cuaron directed the third Harry Potter movie, and before that, established his indy bonafides with the stunning debut, "Y Tu Mama Tambien".  What is most exciting about "Children of Men" is that it shows that a young talented film maker who got a shot at a big budget Hollywood franchise can turn that big budget studio experience into something deeply personal, artistic and moving.  The flashes of audacious brilliance in "Children of Men" are something surprising from such a young director, and Cuaron never once allows the film to wallow in sentimentality, nor does he flinch away from creating a truly ugly, dystopic future.  This one had me choked up.  Do yourself a favor, and watch it (again, if you’ve already seen it).

And for something completely different, I want to bring to your attention "Strings," an epic fantasy from Denmark.  It's vaguely Shakespearean in nature.  Here’s the story:  The Emperor of Hebalon dies a dramatic death, taking a terrible secret to the grave with him.  His young son, Hal Tara, is set to take over the throne; however, his uncle leads him to believe his father was murdered by the Zeriths, their sworn enemy. Forced to set out to avenge his father's death, Hal is unaware of the perils he is facing, both inside his kingdom and out.  Sounds pretty stock, and could be pretty bad if it was not handled right.  Here’s the kicker: all the characters are marionettes.  The entire feature is cast with stringed puppets, beautifully manipulated.  Think "Wallace and Gromit," with strings, meets "Lord of the Rings".  Good stuff.  This one really needs to be seen to be believed.

On another note, I’ll point out that while the remake of "The Hitcher" hits DVD this week, we don’t have copies.  It’s not a good enough movie to justify the release-day price of $30.  Despite a strong performance by Sean Bean, the music video director who helmed this project got everything wrong that was right about the original, and brought absolutely nothing of his own to the table.  This is perhaps the worst remake since Gus Van Sant’s "Psycho".  If you want to see what a good movie is, be sure to check out the original version, from 1986, featuring Rutger Hauer.  Awesome does not begin to describe how great the original was and Hauer’s performance was perhaps a career best.

If you really have to see the original version of "The Hitcher" again, don't miss "The Highwaymen," also directed by Robert Harmon.  It’s a film from 2003 that you’ve never seen, and features a plot similar in nature to Quentin Tarantino’s "Death Proof".  It has muscle cars and serial killers to spare, and absolutely no CGI.  Real cars were hurt during the making of this film!

That should cover this month.  Be sure to join us at the Variety Children’s Charity Screening Room on Thursday the 10th, for the two best giant monster movies of the last 20 years;  "Lake Placid," and "The Host"!

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