Thursday, November 29, 2012

November Quick Picks and Pans

The Hole (2009) My expectations for Joe Dante’s latest directorial effort were relatively low, regarding his film’s checkered history, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised.  Although The Hole was finished three years ago, it failed to find distribution in the States.  It was released theatrically in Europe, where it received mostly good reviews and performed reasonably well at the box office, but seemed to vanish without a trace.  That’s too bad, because American audiences missed out on a nifty little 80s throwback family horror flick.  It’s a nice little sleeper that compares favorably to other titles in Dante’s resume, with his trademark blend of light and dark elements.  It’s refreshing to watch a family flick that’s not afraid to go into dark territory that most similar movies tend to shy away from

Perhaps it was The Hole’s lack of bankable stars (Bruce Dern is the closest thing to a “big name” as Creepy Carl) that worked against it, although this didn’t seem to stop Super 8, which had a similar retro vibe, from becoming a hit.  Most of the story focuses on the younger performers.  There’s some nice work by the leads as Dane (Chris Massoglia), his pesky little brother Lucas (Nathan Gamble), and Julie (Haley Bennett), the girl next door.  The two brothers discover a padlocked trap door, covering a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement.  There are some good scares and suspense as we’re left to ponder what lies within the hole’s murky depths.  What secrets does it hide?  Now that The Hole is finally available on DVD and streaming, we can all watch and find out.  Don’t forget to look out for a (wordless) cameo by Dante regular Dick Miller about midway through the film. 

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix Streaming

Yobi: The Five-Tailed Fox (aka: Cheon-nyeon-yeo-woo-yeo-woo-bi) (2007) If Hayao Miyazaki had directed Lilo and Stitch, it might look a little like this.  This charming animated film by director Sung-gang Lee combines Korean folklore with a sci-fi twist.  The story focuses on a 100-year-old fox girl who befriends a group of aliens that have crash-landed on Earth.  Her capricious nature is the perfect metaphor for adolescence.   She detests humans, yet seems fascinated by them, using her shape-shifting skills to blend in as a student at a school for kids that don’t fit in elsewhere.  It’s an amusing, beautifully animated, frothy confection that will disappear the moment that it’s imbibed, but it’s sure fun going down.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on Netflix Streaming

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) This truly unique entry in the Hammer Frankenstein series stars Susan Denberg (in her final role), along with the ubiquitous Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein.  Frankenstein is still pursuing the elusive secrets of life, much to the chagrin of his fellow townspeople.  During the course of his latest experiments, he discovers a means of harnessing the soul, which he believes will be the key to conquering death.  Frankenstein Created Woman differs from the other Frankenstein films for a number of reasons.  Aside from the existential themes, the “monster” of the story isn’t monstrous at all, but alluring and genteel.  Instead of creating a disfigured creature, Dr. Frankenstein takes the body of a disfigured woman (and the soul of her wrongfully executed lover) and makes her beautiful.  What results is a conflict between souls, as she exacts revenge on the people that killed her father and framed her lover for the murder.  Even Dr. Frankenstein is more sympathetic this time around.  He’s still obsessed by his experiments, but seems genuinely concerned about the welfare of his latest creation.  There’s more emotional resonance as he watches the tragic consequences of her actions unfold.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD

Iron Sky (2012) I was intrigued and frustrated by director Timo Vuorensola’s sci-fi comedy about Moon Nazis, which never quite lives up to its decidedly ridiculous premise.  At the end of World War II, Nazis left Earth for the Moon, establishing a base on the dark side, away from prying eyes.  Similar to the Martians in The War of the Worlds, they quietly observe, while plotting their ultimate invasion of Earth.  Considering the film’s modest budget, many of the computer-generated visual effects are stunning.  The designs of the moon base and Nazi machinery are rendered in fetishistic, loving detail, but much less effective are the awkward attempts at social commentary. Julia Dietze and Götz Otto are good as Nazi elite, and Udo Kier does his best, in a small, but wasted, role as the new Furor.  Stephanie Paul as a Sarah Palin-esque president and Peta Sergeant as her adviser are less effective.  It’s obvious from the DVD commentary that Vuorensola and his crew put a great deal of effort into making this movie with limited resources, but something seems to be missing from the finished product.  Many of the jokes fall flat, and the overlong third act plays like a dull Star Trek parody (not surprising, considering that Vuorensola’s first film was the appropriately titled Star Wreck).  Iron Sky isn’t nearly as funny or clever as the filmmakers seemed to think it is, which leads me to wonder if the movie could have worked under the guidance of someone more attuned to the subject matter.  Maybe making fun of Nazis should be left in the hands of Mel Brooks. 

Rating: ** ½.  Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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