The “untold” war story is a fertile soil for any number of enterprising screenwriters, from the visionary to the hack… and everyone else in between, it seems. From the sublime heights of the The Dirty Dozen or Where Eagles Dare to the laughable dregs of Red Zone Cuba, fictional yarns about soldiers working behind the lines have always been easy to sell.
Near the end of the Second World War, a motley task force of Soviet infantry pushes into the scorched German countryside, drawn by an alleged distress signal from captured brethren. Wading through various scenes of battle carnage, they come at last upon a seemingly abandoned factory. Venturing inside, they soon encounter a series of walking, murderous abominations that bear faint human traces, but seem to straddle a line between mechanized warfare and the living dead. Somewhere in these dank, blood-caked corridors is a mad doctor (Karel Roden) sewing Nazi insignia on these horrors, who must be found and exposed.
Some day in the future, scientists will conclude that the signs of aquatic life recorded on Jupiter’s sixth moon, Europa, are sufficiently promising to risk a manned mission of something like two years (one way) to take environmental samples. This is the plain and simple premise of Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report.
Europa One is a high-tech exploration vessel funded by nebulous sponsors presumably more benign than the Weyland-Yutani Corporation of the Alien franchise. Framed as a declassified account of the mission, the movie begins with strong hints that while the astronauts outdid themselves in a high-risk situation, things did not turn out as planned. In fragments of onboard footage and explanatory asides from mission control experts, a harrowing account of tribulation among the stars unfolds. Continue reading →
Nicolas Winding Refn continues to flay back the skin of the Hollywood action movie in much the same way that Sam Peckinpah turned the tables on the triumphant westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks. However, even Peckinpah took time to acknowledge the tragic humanity of his characters, even when exposing the ugliness of the world they have made for themselves. Most of Winding Refn’s humans inhabit a world that has bled them of all but the bare traces of humanity. This austerity typically polarizes his audience into those who simply find the characters too soulless and unsympathetic to care, and those who enjoy the cold prickly feeling of a world stripped of romance and hope to make room for extra style.
Only God Forgives does not strike the balance as well as Bronson or Drive. In fact, it is a crawling ordeal of a film, and yet patient viewers may glean a certain perverse satisfaction from its searing execution. This assumes you are willing to sacrifice any sense of emotional gratification in favor of a keen exercise in the unrelentingly bleak. Even with its gripping moodiness and striking design, this film is easy enough to appreciate on the level of any depraved and sordid artwork, but it is a grueling challenge to enjoy. Continue reading →
James Wan, director of Insidious, Death Sentence, and the original Saw, has carved a checkered but significant niche in the most recent wave of high-polish horror thrillers. As a storyteller he has not generally chosen groundbreaking work, but he has an eye for detail that counts for a great deal, even when working elbow deep in schlock. He also has a demonstrable preoccupation with puppets and dolls, which mark him as a filmmaker dedicated to getting under his audience’s skin.
Despite what its austere title suggests, The Conjuring is not a sudden foray into slumber party black magic or card games about wizards. It is a reasonably old-school horror film about a house haunted, or rather oppressed, by unholy malevolence. There is nothing revelatory or innovative about The Conjuring, but there is a comfortable blending of the contemporary and the classic in the service of a quite a scary tale. Continue reading →
By the end of this year, film enthusiasts will never again have to explain the concept of kaiju to bewildered laymen. A Japanese word roughly meaning “giant beast” or “monster,” this blanket term refers to a popular genre of films about city-crushing creatures such as Gojira (Godzilla), Gamera, Megalon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. For decades, most people have known what a kaiju is, but until Pacific Rim, there were many who did not know that they knew.
This is only one virtue of a movie that gets almost everything right, and whose various minor flaws cannot dampen an overall sense of triumph. We will escape this summer with at least one fully satisfying action blockbuster, and this is it. Continue reading →