Friday, September 23, 2011

September Quick Picks and Pans

Them (2006) Not to be confused with the classic 1950s giant bug flick, this modern horror film from France really gets under your skin.  It was purportedly based on a true story, but I’ll leave it to you to determine the veracity of the events depicted here.  We first witness a mother and her annoying teenage daughter stranded on a dark road somewhere in the middle of Romania.  They subsequently fall victim to some unseen assailants.  The story shifts to a 20-something French couple, Clem and Lucas, living in an isolated old house in Bucharest.  Things start to get weird when Clem receives a strange phone call in the middle of the night and shadowy figures start lurking around the house.  During the course of the night they’re terrorized by the invaders. 

Them builds tension slowly, keeping us on edge up until the very end.  For the majority of the film, we never get a good look at the invaders, nor do we see any clues about where they came from.  The plot isn’t very original; if you’ve seen other home invasion movies, you probably know what to expect.  The two leads keep doing dumb things like splitting up when it’s obvious that this is precisely what their tormentors want them to do.  The chase, however, leads up to an ending that’s not quite what you might be expecting, and the implications of the last scene are especially chilling.  Definitely worth a look!

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.   

Streets of Fire (1984) This movie was touted as “A rock & roll fable,” which I suppose is just as good a description as any other.  Audiences stayed away in droves when this was originally released, but it’s gained a bit of a cult following since.  It’s hard to imagine how the film, with its strange mashup of genres, was marketed towards an unsuspecting audience with its1940s aesthetic meets 1980s glitz.  

Diane Lane plays up-and-coming singer extraordinaire Ellen Aim.  When Ellen’s kidnapped by maniacal motorcycle gang leader Raven (Willem Dafoe, in an early role), it’s up to her ex-boyfriend Tom Cody (Michael Paré) to come to her rescue.  The usually likable Rick Moranis plays the most unlikable (and unlikely) role of his career, as Ellen’s manager and current boyfriend.  Streets of Fire is never really as audacious as it aspires to be, but it’s amusing enough while it lasts.*  Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but the 80s power ballads seem incongruous with the retro setting.  Like cotton candy, it’s a sweet confection that dissolves on the tongue the moment it hits the palate.  The ending, which will probably leave you crying foul or applauding the script’s bold choice, actually sort of surprised me.  Good dumb fun!

* Two scenes must be seen to be believed: Watch for Dafoe, dressed in what resembles glossy hip waders, or a woman resembling Gozer the Gozerian as she attempts to perform an exotic dance.  Ahhh… the 80s!

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

First Man Into Space (1959) Despite its dated premise (Just two years after the film’s release, Yuri Gagarin became the first actual man into space), First Man Into Space is a nifty little sci-fi/horror flick from a more naïve era.   Bill Edwards stars as brash test pilot Lt. Dan Prescott, who pushes his test plane to the limit.  When he takes his craft into the edge of space, he encounters cosmic rays and returns to Earth as a hideous, blood-sucking fiend.  Marshall Thompson co-stars as his brother and superior officer Commander Charles Prescott, and Marla Landi is Dan’s long-suffering girlfriend Tia (who has what might possibly be the quickest relationship rebound in film history).  Although this film was obviously made on the cheap, it’s obvious that the filmmakers took some pains to ensure that everything looked reasonably good.  They did a better than average job juxtaposing stock footage of the Bell X-1A rocket plane with shots of a model plane, along with Edwards in a cockpit.  The action is supposed to take place in sunny White Sands, New Mexico, but was actually filmed on a sound stage in England in the dead of winter.  The gruesome deaths in the film are also suitably gory, by 1950s standards, at least.   Good Saturday matinee fun… Just forget everything you know about manned space exploration.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD.

Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman (aka: Kuchisake-onna/A Slit-Mouthed Woman) (2007) This film is based on a Japanese urban legend about a mysterious woman known as kuchisake-onna who wears a gauze mask that covers her hideous gaping mouth, luring her victims with the line, “Am I pretty?”  Too bad that the filmmakers squandered this intriguing premise with scenes completely devoid of subtlety.  It’s often hard to watch.  Most of the violence is directed at children, with several school kids becoming the Slit-Mouthed Woman’s prey.  Much of the abuse is left on screen, when implied violence would have been more effective.  I suppose it could be argued that it’s making a statement about child abuse, although I personally doubt that the filmmakers put that much thought into this film.  I kept wondering how the movie would have been if the victims had been grown men instead of children and the themes had been approached from a more Freudian angle.  Of course, that would surely have been a better film than what they ended up with.  The whole production just looks cheap, as if it had been filmed with someone’s camcorder, and the ending seems tacked on as a final parting shot for blatant shock value.  Avoid it!

There’s a better movie somewhere, but this isn’t it.

Rating: * ½.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

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