Gosh where do I start from this past weekend. I’ve seen 4 very different kinds of films between last Friday and today…Monday. Not only that but I’ve been going through the worst cold I’ve had in 4 years time. My head is swirling with sharply and poorly acted and written characters, dialogue, styles of directing, images of gore, of the fantastical, of 60’s and 70’s throwbacks, of comical and dramatic moments, of brutally hilarious disturbing images, of sexual intercourse (the kind that leads to really bad things). My weekend has been filled with tension and laughs, escapist fun and reality that’s almost too real to want to laugh at, and then reality that’s too real to watch. For one weekend at the movies, that’s a pretty crazy ride. I’m going to start with the most recent seen and perhaps the least favorite moment of the ride.
Being sick there’s that moment when you think you’re done using the bathroom, so you pull away and to your surprise realize that you may not have been done and end up having to wipe off the floor or your leg a little bit. Eli Roth’s “Hostel: Part II” felt like that dribble to me. Or at least parts of it did. Large parts of it. Only instead of cleaning those parts up and flushing them down the toilet with the other bad ideas, Roth kept it to show the world. Thank you Eli! In keeping some of those ideas there’s a certain kind of inspiration that you find in the Hostel films, one lacking in other films of this recently resurrected genre (Saw and it’s sequels). There’s a joy that Eli Roth takes in the carnage, and in that joy you see moments of someone who has the potential to be a really good filmmaker, which means there are moments of”Hostel II” in which we witness a great film, just as there were in the first “Hostel”.
“Hostel” surprised me. It was in fact a film that I intended not to see. It wasn’t until I was thoroughly creeped-out by the very simple teaser for “Hostel II”…
…that I started jonesing to see the first. That same level of psychological fear that I found in the teaser flowed underneath Roth’s surprise hit. Sure, there was gore to be had, but much of it was hidden in the shadows or cleverly built up to, or used to create emotional gravitas. And this is where Roth excels in part II.
Roth’s joy for being mischievously and joyfully creepy brings out that potential. When Roth is building to something gore ridden his pacing improves, his dialogue improves, his visual direction improves, and he allows us to enjoy the ride. Thankfully he takes his time to get to the gore. Where Roth fails in the Part II is everywhere else. The introduction to the main characters is sloppy, you can’t help but notice that this is the part of the film that bores him the most. There is a clever and sadistic sequence in which we get to find out who our torturers will be for the film. And as most people out there know this is the part of the film that finds new territory than the first did. We follow our would be torturers’ parallel story lines up to the moment when they cross paths with the unlucky torturees. Roth has some fun here and there with this concept, including the moment in which the two torturers finally arrive. To use the shifting perspective to advance the story was a smart choice and creates what is a wonderfully Hitchcockian moment (which there are a few in this film). But then, when Roth reaches his destination, and there’s no more building to be done his gore-ridden child-like mentality grips him and what he sees as playful becomes mind bogglingly gruesome and unsatisfying to watch. There was something cinematically satisfying about the torture scenes in the first film. He toyed with us, let us here things that we didn’t see or built plot points into what was happening. There are those moments here, but they are few in comparison to the one or two of them that are so staggeringly in your face that the only laughter you can hear in the theatre is Roth’s. Which is too bad, because while I think Hitchcock would have sincerely liked the first film, this one might have only amused him. I suppose it doesn’t hurt to say I enjoyed this outing and enjoy Roth’s dark sense of humor and his twisted psychological musings, but I recommend it to no one else.
I’ll continue with the horror genre, though I don’t see “Day Watch” as being much of a horror film. It feels more like a Gothic fantasy. I’m including here the trailer for the first film “Night Watch”, because it has to be seen before “Day Watch” can be and because in the trailer for “Day Watch” they get the story all wrong.
This was my fall back movie for the day as I was hoping to have seen Luc Besson’s “Angel-A”, but alas, LA doesn’t wish for me to see it as it was only playing all day long for a week. It’s now been relegated to a few showings here and there across the city. But let me tell you “Day Watch” didn’t let me down. I enjoyed the first of this trilogy “Night Watch”. I always found it funny to hear people say that they were confused by elements in the story. I think even Roger Ebert made such a comment. The one thing I appreciated most about this film is that it doesn’t take a ten minute scene to explain the world you’re in as the “Matrix” or “Dark City” did. It just sprints for the finish line and hopes that you keep up – I guess most people fell flat on their faces. The “Watch” series is full of invention. Around every corner there’s a new weapon or supernatural power that turns what you thought was rational on it’s head. You aren’t watching vampires and shapshifters battle for power here, you’re witnessing gods and demi-gods duke it out. Timur Bekmambetow uses his camera and editing to fashion his characters into bellowing larger than life archtypes that hold the fate of all humanity in their hands. In one particular moment these Gods drop frighteningly from the sky like rain shifting from crow to human swords ready to swing, and in another a parrot is released into it’s human form for the first time in who knows how long and we see him writhing and screaming crazily in the back seat of a limo as he tracks down his prey. It’s frightening. When you watch these events take place you don’t question the fact that someone can drive a sports car across the side of a building. I’ve really enjoyed the ingenuity, story and tone of these films. The performances are pure Shakesperean. And the fact that they were made with a budget of only 6million a piece should put all of America’s action filmmakers to shame. Another thing I’ll quickly mention is that not only has the director’s technique become more sophisticated but so has his choice in music. This is a director you can tell enjoys making the types of movies he’s making and wishes for us to enjoy it as well.
It continues to surprise me and upset me the level at which people don’t understand things, or refuse to enjoy something because they don’t understand, or because something wasn’t made understandable. Usually in a good film it’s left that way on purpose. “Day Watch” and “Night Watch” are such cases. Another case was “Cache”. I remember one guy standing up at the end of the film and asking anyone if they understood it, and left frustrated. First of all “Cache” wasn’t that hard to get, if you spend a moment or two thinking about it, secondly, why do you needs to understand every aspect of the world or the story when you understand the emotional through line of the characters. Do you need to know how they are fighting when you clearly understand what they are fighting for? It’s indicative of a culture used to being told how to think. Makes me a trifle sad at times.
Now I’ll shift to another sequel (hard to imagine this summer I know), “Ocean’s 13”. I enjoyed the second part of this series, but didn’t love it. 13 brings back a lot of the elements I loved from the first film, but I still don’t love it. I did really have fun watching it though. We already know the characters and we already know what kind of resources they have available to them, so this film takes no time getting to the point, which is great, but it also leaves a lot of blanks to be left unanswered, relying on it’s pithiness to entertain. But like a lot of the great sequels out there it doesn’t do a whole lot to further how the characters are seen or what we think of them or to really challenge them as living breathing human beings. It follows through with it’s very lucrative and simplistic premise, let’s have some fun. The problem is several of the obstacles they face aren’t all that enjoyable to watch. Thankfully there’s no one having more fun in this film than Al Pacino. In what could have been another over the top substandard Pacino performance he and Soderbergh tone down the theatrics, knowing that Vegas is glitzy enough as it is, and what we’re allowed to see with Pacino that lesser directors don’t take advantage of are those eyes. That’s all you need to make a movie are Pacnio’s eyes. With Willie Bank Pacino isn’t only the villain of the film, but he is the center of it. He’s the reason why we have so much fun watching the boys take him down. If it wasn’t for Pacino there may not have been a movie. That’s all I’m going to say about his performance, because it really needs to be seen to be appreciated. I’ll move on to Soderbergh. I’ve never found his heady arthouse laden films to be all that intriguing. Instead they come off kind of shallow and insignificant. I didn’t like “Traffic” and thought “Solaris” was appalling. But with the pulp material, with Hollywood fare like his “Out of Sight” he manages to create interesting character and throw them into really enjoyable situations. I’m okay with him making the occasional flimsy heady project if he continues to come back and make these delectable delights in between.
And then finally, the film that I enjoyed the most this weekend was one I saw back-to-back with 13, Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up”. This has got to be one of the most honest comedies to hit American cineplexes in a long time and one of the funniest without handing story over to comedy. Honestly there isn’t much I can add to what other people have been saying other than to talk about how stupid a lot of people are. To take this movie and turn it into a film about women’s rights and abortion rhetoric makes me sick. Finally we have a film with two heroes that actually want to take responsibility for their actions, something that’s almost completely unheard of in this modern day and age, and people want to turn it into propaganda. It was so refreshing for me to see that in a film, to use this situation to delve into relationships, love and sex. And to do all of that in a mature and completely honest fashion. So honest in fact that it’s almost frightening at times. How can two completely different 20 somethings fall in love in this day and age? When physicality wins over personality? When first impressions mean more than actually getting to know someone? Well. In a way that’s kind of how it works. Most twenty year old women like Alison Scott don’t see beyond the outside or the first impression. It’s not until later in life when they realize how beauty carries some of the biggest flaws that they begin to see inner beauty. The fact that she’s willing to make it work shows what kind of a person she’s forced and willing to suddenly grow up to become – that’s why we follow her. But there’s a two-sided coin to this. In many relationships that I’ve seen blossom into marriage there’s a part of the man that has to be tamed, in doing this it’s usually the man that has to make up more of the ground to meet the woman in the middle. That is also the case with Ben Stone. To be fair, the prototypical male isn’t as concerned with looks in the end just so long as he’s getting laid. It’s Ben’s luck that he happens to catch one of the most beautiful women in LA with her guard down. It doesn’t make it any easier for him to grow up. And what scares these two the most comes in the form of Alison’s sister and brother-in-law, played to absolute perfection by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, a married couple with two children of their own. I haven’t laughed at or with a movie couple as much as I have with or at these two. The painful honesty in their relationship brings out real laughs, not just jokey laughs. This movies doesn’t exist on jokes, crude or otherwise, but on strong characters that are so true to life you have to laugh, because, well, that’s just the way it is.
In the end though it’s a comedy, and in a comedy things have to end up the way they do, otherwise it would be a tragedy. That’s just the way it is, but because it’s such a smartly written and performed film they earn every second as this moment in their lives comes to a close and the credits roll. While I enjoyed all three films I enjoyed this weekend, they all had their flaws. Only “Knocked Up” comes as close to perfection as you can get and it does so by embracing it’s flaws rather than trying to hide them.