random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

DVD REVIEW: Talk to Me (2007) ***1/2

Talk to Me (2007) poster

R for pervasive language and some sexual content.
1 hr. 58 min.

written by: Rick Famuyiwa & Michael Genet
produced by: Joe Fries, Mark R. Gordon, Sidney Kimmel & Josh McLaughlin
directed by: Kasi Lemmons

I first noticed writer and director Kasi Lemmons for her acting work, playing Jodie Foster's fellow FBI trainee/student in Jonathan Demme's "Silence of the Lambs". It wasn't a standout performance but the movie left such an indelible mark that I found myself remembering almost everyone in it. She went on to build a reputable enough filmography as an actress but the next time her name caught my attention was for the 1997 film, "Eve's Bayou", her directorial debut starring Lynn Whitfield and Samuel L. Jackson. A critically lauded film set in 1960's Louisiana about a secret that tears apart a well-to-do family. I didn't see her 2001 follow-up film (also with Jackson) "The Caveman's Valentine" but it's a film that I been meanin' to check out. I'm always interesting in actors turned directors, usually the actors are more recognizable before they make the switch (Kevin Costner & Denzel Washington come to mind). This year, Focus Features released Lemmons' latest film which tells the true story of foul-mouthed, ex-con who became a sensation by just being himself.

Ralph Waldo "Petey" Green (Don Cheadle), a formerly imprisoned hustler would go on to become a voice as a radio show host in the late 1960s. While visiting his brother Milo (Mike Epps) at Lorton prison, radio producer Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) meets Petey for the first time, not knowing what an indelible mark he would make in his life. Petey asks him straight up for a job at WOL-AM, since he's been flippin' and spinnin' vinyl for the prison inmates. Dewey dismisses the convict, calling him a "low-life, miscreant", promising him he'd see what he could do, should the convict ever get out of prison. Of course we know where this is going, Petey does indeed "look up" Dewey and winds up hounding him for a DJ job with a ferocious tenacity. He soon shows up at the station, demanding a job, embarrassing straight-laced Dewey and laying the groundwork for a tumultuous relationship between the two men.

Eventually Dewey gives in, much to his dismay and in time Petey becomes a huge hit with the black community, who are taken with his tell-it-like-it-is persona. Station owner E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) has no idea what to make of Petey, but he loves the fact that the station's ratings are up. His success doesn't sit well with the other DJ's, Sunny Jim (Curtis Hondie Hall) or The Nighthawk (Cedric the Entertainer) but once Petey takes to the air to calm the violence that hits DC after the sudden announcement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he gains just about everyone's respect and even more intense fan-following. They love him because he's one of them and doesn't hold anything back while the station heads love him cuz of the ratings and flood of calls.

Don Cheadle in Focus Features' Talk to Me
He continues to tout himself as the voice of the people, urging callers, "Talk to me" as they call in to the station to commiserate and confide. With Dewey behind him as a guiding force, Petey eventually gets his own television show, which is more outrageous than his radio program. But, alas, with popularity and good fortune come many vices and temptations like booze and babes, which threaten Petey's career as well as his long-term relationship with girlfriend Vernell (Taraji P. Henson), But it's his friendship and partnership with Dewey that feels the most strain.
It's not until Dewey tries to make Petey out to be a comic sensation instead of the fast-talkin' commentator that he is that they both hit rock-bottom. It's their relationship that drives the film as it becomes a complex and fascinating character study. Petey represents a brash flamboyance and reckless disregard for the rules of society that Dewey longs to express, whereas Dewey possesses ambition and inner strength that Petey lacks. The two men balance each other out, creating a fantastic dynamic that is driven by the excellent chemistry between Cheadle and Ejiofor.

This all could've gone the wrong way and I give credit to the writers and Lemmons for delivering something genuine and real. Of course Cheadle is an amazing actor and he certainly shines here but he really is working from a great script. So often, biopics go wrong, often degenerating into sentimental slop that includes the classic rise and fall of any star. It can really just make a real person's life look like a series of ridiculous clichés. It would have been easy to play this story primarily for laughs, rather than exploring Petey or Dewey with any sense of depth or emotional complexity.

Don Cheadle , Chiwetel Ejiofor and Martin Sheen in Focus Features' Talk to Me

What Lemmons attempts and successfully pulls off is to create a pair of complex characters who are as interesting as they are flawed. Ultimately, the film is as much about Dewey as it is about Petey and that's perfect for such a fine actor as Ejiofor, who has been steadily building an impressive list of supporting roles in films like "Children of Men", "Serenity", and "Inside Man". He holds his own opposite Cheadle, and as the story shifts to focus on Dewey's story, he easily carries the film. It's a wonderful opportunity for both actors to showcase talents that would be relegated to character roles in lesser films.

Other films "inspired by a true story" often fall short in that they come across as some sort of summary of a larger story, but here there is structure which gives the impression of being more complete. There is more emphasis on simply entertaining the audience, character development, and pushing a few emotional buttons then there is giving a history lesson. Still, I did feel educated cuz I knew nothing of Petey Greene, who not only served as a pioneer in the world of radio shock jocks, he also helped inner-city black America find its voice during the post-Civil Rights years. He's not the most respectable character but I give him credit for not becoming a sell-out and staying true to who he was. The film ends up bridging the gap between entertainment and social enlightenment while never falling back on the trappings that often plague films of this nature which can leave them either too heavy-handed or too light-hearted. I dunno if Oscar will remember this movie but I could easily see this on some Top Film lists at the end of the year simply due to the performances.

Special Features:

I didn't check out the two featurettes but I did do some homework on them. The first is Who is Petey Greene? which has no inclusion of any actual Petey Greene footage nor is there any interviews with the real Dewey Hughes, and no participation by anyone other than the cast and crew. Lame. It's too bad they didn't include a short doc about Greene, and give viewers something unique and interesting. The other feature is Recreating P-Town is slightly more informative, but certainly no less pedestrian, as it explains how the costumes and the sets were designed. I did watch the deleted scenes (most of them were extended versions of existing scenes) which made me wonder why they were cut. For example, it woulda been nice to keep the minute or two trimmed from Martin Sheen's powerful moment following the murder of Martin Luther King. The same can be said for the two scenes that were completely omitted that help develop Petey's humanity as a character. It would have been really nice to have an audio commentary with Lemmons, Cheadle & Ejiofor for the entire film too.

The Skinny:

  • Back in 2000, there was a Petey Greene film in development with Martin Lawrence attached to star, now that woulda been a whole different take, I fear. Greene's biographer Lurma Rackley was to write the script but contract negotiations broke down.
  • Lemmons is married to actor Vondie Curtis-Hall who stars in the film. She cast him Eve's Bayou" and in the short-film that followed "Dr. Hugo". In turn, as director he also cast her in 1997's "Gridlock'd" and 2006's "Waist Deep".
  • Lemmons first name is pronounced "Casey"
  • filming for the movie took place in: DC, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Penny's Gas Station in Rush Valley, Utah, Tooele County, Utah, Toronto, Canada, and the Washington Monument

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

REEL REVIEW: Rendition (2007) **1/2

Rendition (2007) poster

R for torture/violence and language.
2 hrs. & 2 min.

written by: Kelley Sane
produced by: Steve Gollin
directed by: Gavin Hood

2007 just might be the year of a cinematic political siege. With all the movies released this year about the war on Iraq, politics post-9/11 as well as the physical and psychological after effects, you'd think that movie studios are satisfying audience demand for such films. Unfortunately, for these films, the box office results are showing that's not the case. People are not flocking to movies like "A Mighty Heart", "The Kingdom" or "In the Valley of Elah" and it doesn't matter what critics say about them. They just aren't finding audience like a Tyler Perry movie or "The Game Plan" is. Maybe it's due to the incessant barrage of war and politics the media serve viewers and readers, that make them opt for films that will have more of an escapism feel.

Since I don't pay much attention to 24/7 news channels and only vaguely cover news blurbs about the war and the politics related to it, these kind of movies rouse my curiosity. I'd much rather see a dramatization of something that is either inspired or based on true events then be bludgeoned with media scare tactics and body counts. I'd rather know the human element of all this senseless violence and confusion instead of the typical pie charts and statistics that are given. So, these movies don't bother me as they do some. The problem is with these (at times) message movies is that they either tend to be a little heavy-handed or labeled liberal agitprop.

That's the dilemma here with Award-winning, South African film director Gavin Hood's new film "Rendition". It's a well-enough made film that at times does force some themes but it at least the topic is something I haven't seen focused on before, that being the case of "extraordinary renditions", in which the CIA has permission to extradite those thought to be involved in terrorism without needing any sort of warrant. This started under Clinton's reign and has supposedly gotten out-of-hand under Bush after 9/11. I don't proclaim to be a political expert but that's at least what I gathered from the film.

The film uses the similar storytelling method as Crash, Traffic and Syriana which includes a number of seemingly disparate stories converging to show how small a world it truly is. Much of the story centers around a suicide bombing in North Africa, a deadly blast might immediately draw comparisons to "The Kingdom", although that was based on actual events and is a much stronger film in the way it deals with how the U.S. government deals with terrorists. So, sure we've seen an exploding market before but is it really something we've become desensitized to?

Because of this, Egyptian chemist Anwar El-Ibrahami (Omar Metwally), mysteriously disappears when the CIA removes him from his flight home from a conference in Cape Town. After they conveniently remove him from the flight records, he is interrogated and prohibited a phone call home. They deport him back to North Africa (Egypt, it seems) where he's imprisoned, stripped naked and tortured since he's suspected of having collaborated with the terrorists responsible. Basically, the case against him revolves around some random phone calls made from the suspected terrorist to Anwar's cellphone. Of course, they use extreme measures in order to find out details about these calls and of course Anwar has no idea why the calls are traced to his cell.

Reese Witherspoon in New Line Cinema's Rendition
Meanwhile, his pregnant wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) and 6-year-old boy back at home in Chicago has no idea what happened to him.Isabella contacts Alan Smith (Peter Sarsgaard) an old friend (and possibly former flame) in Washington who works for a high-powered Senator Hawkins (Alan Arkin) who might be able to unlock the mystery behind Anwar's disappearance. Typically, they both are hesitant about damaging their own image and career by supporting someone potentially with roots to terrorists.

CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) was in a vehicle in the Egyptian market when it exploded and say his supervisor die next to him. He's now reported to Lee Mayer ca(J.K. Simmons) the dead guy's superior, who is reported to CIA Head, Corrine Whitman (Meryl Streep), she's the one who authorized Anwars' rendition. Freeman is ordered to supervise the "questioning" of Anwar by an Egyptian official named Abasi Fawal (Igal Naor). But, there's another concurrent story, involving Fawal's daughter, Fatima (Zineb Oukach), who is caught up in a forbidden love story with Khaild (Moa Khouas), a passionate young boy who has some deadly secrets. I found this story the most interesting for some reason. It just seemed like these two young people had no one to turn to, no one on their side and I kept on wondering where their desperate decisions would lead them.

Igal Naor in New Line Cinema's Rendition

There are valid reasons for a movie like this to exist. It's sobering to see how my government can justify torturing "suspects" under the justification of a post 9/11 world. I kept on wondering who the terrorist really is in this storyline and for that, maybe the film did succeed. Still, the script by Kelley Sane isn't particularly impressive or convincing, everything seems to fall into place. Hood has made a good-looking second film and at times it is downright terrifying but it does wind up being a little predictable and redundant.

Despite having a superstar cast who for the most part deliver the goods. The weakest being Witherspoon and Gyllenhaal, neither of which really feel like they're in the right movie Gyllenhaal just feels miscast as a CIA analyst, he looks way too young and spends much of the film brooding or overseeing the torture without saying much or doing anything significant. He just broods. Witherspoon also seems way too young for her role, and she overcompensates with over-dramatic hysterics. Sure, her role is a lil harder as she is relegated to playing the worried wife on the phone or sitting in CIA waiting rooms. Streep and Arkin come in and do the bang-up jobs that you'd expect and even Sarsgaard does a decent job. There's just nothing really riveting here from the "known" talent.

They're just not nearly as not nearly as convincing as their Mideast counterparts. The two young unknown actors who play the desperate young lovers really do standout the most in the film. Metwally as the captured Anwar, gives a heart-wrenching performance as the tortured family man who feels hopeless. Just as strong is Naor as the man doing the torturing. At first he comes across as a poor man's Dr. Evil, but once his family life is shown we see the layers of his character and maybe why he is as hard as he is.

The "surprise twist" ending that I won't give away explains the important part the young lovers play in the story, but by that point--over an hour and 45 minutes into the movie--it starts to create way too many questions and possible flaws in the film's temporal logic, and it does very little to make up for some of the bland storytelling leading up to it.I haven't seen Hood's Oscar-winning last movie "Tsotsi" but I've been meaning to. It too succeeded so well with the use of non-actors, it's surprising he didn't try to search out unknown American talent rather than going with big names who tend to derail the story.

I knew nothing of the term "rendition" before this movie. I always thought of it as a musical term. So, the movie succeeded in educating me but it did lose me after a while due to it's miscasting. Regardless, I'd hate to see this movie ignored due to it's subject matter but I understand if some may feel a little "message fatigue". Films have come a long way in capturing current events. It took forever to release movies that really dealt with Vietnam. Movies that weren't glossing any reality over or hiding behind whatever propaganda was being sold. I have no problem with movies covering current events, a good story told well still makes a good movie. These topics aren't "too soon" or controversial to me, but just a reflection of how we need to try and understand what's going on in the world today.

Peter Sarsgaard , director Gavin Hood and Meryl Streep on the set of New Line Cinema's Rendition

The Skinny:

  • The movie was filmed in Anaheim, California at the Anaheim Convention Center, Cape Town, South Africa, Los Angeles, California, Marrakech, Morocco, and Washington DC.
  • The technical advisor for the film was ex-CIA Robert Baer, whose 2003 expose See No Evil inspired 2005's Syriana. Baer was reportedly the basis for the character played by George Clooney, who won an Oscar for his performance.
  • Director Gavin Hood's next film project is the X-Men spin-off "Wolverine" with Hugh Jackman back in the role that made him famous. It may seem an odd choice and that's why Hood was recently asked why he chose it.
  • There's also a 2007 movie called "Extraordinary Rendition" directed by Jim Threapleton and starring Omar Berdouni and Andy Serkis. The film was premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, Switzerland on August 8, 2007 and at the Edinburgh Film Festival on August 21, 2007 but is still awaiting a full commercial release.
  • An article published in the December 5, 2005, Washington Post reported that the CIA's Inspector General was investigating what it calls erroneous renditions.The term appears to refer to cases in which innocent people were subjected to extraordinary rendition.
  • Khalid El-Masri is the most well-known person who is believed to have been subjected to the process of "extraordinary rendition," as a result of mistaken identity. Laid Saidi, an Algerian detained and tortured along with El-Masri, was apprehended apparently because of a taped telephone conversation in which the word tirat, meaning "tires" in Arabic, was mistaken for the word tairat, meaning "airplanes."

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

DVD REVIEW: When a Stranger Calls (1979) ***

When a Stranger Calls (1979) poster

Rated R
97 min.
written by: Steve Feke & Fred Walton
produced by: Doug Chapin, Steve Feke, Larry Kostroff, Barry Krost & Melvin Simon
directed by: Fed Walton

I've been trying to get around to catching up on some suspense thrillers from the late 70's/early 80's lately. Some of the films on my list were seldom seen while others were eventually deemed classics. This film came a year and a day after John Carpenter's "Halloween" and has a similar feel to that slasher classic minus the body count. I can only imagine that once "Halloween" made it big both the idea of a teenage female babysitter being terrorized by some psycho became a hit for writers and parents had a hard time finding babysitters. Although, this is around the time that hack and slash films became popular and this film is often considered a horror film, it is definitely far from it.

Director Fred Walton creates a taut, uncomfortable, suspense thriller that steers clear of any bloody butchery or anything else that would become horror conventions of the genre. There's no sex scenes, no body counts, and really don't see any killing period. No instead we get proof that what is alluded to, what is unseen yet described is often more frightening.
The first 30 minutes or so of the film delivers one of the most real, eerie build-ups I've ever seen.

A young woman named Jill Johnson (
Carol Kane) shows up at the home of a wealthy doctor and his wife to watch their kids for the evening as they go out for dinner and a movie. As they're on their way out, the mother tells her that the kids are asleep and they've just gotten over bad colds and were a bit problematic, but that they shouldn't be hard to deal with as long as they don't wake up. Jill gets comfortable, talks to her friend on the phone about a boy named Bobby that she's interested in, and everything seems to be going just fine until the phone starts ringing.

Yes, hence the film's title and you know it's coming but Jill doesn't. That's what makes it all work. Sure, this kinda scenario has been played out but only because of this movie, least that's what it feels like. This isn't Drew Barrymore in "Scream" paying homage to all the classic phone scares of the past, no this is Kane before Simka and before she yelled "Humperdink! At first she doesn't pay much mind to the calls as they're just hang ups. But when the mystery man on the other end asks her 'Did you check on the children?' and then calls back a few minutes later only to ask her the same thing, she starts to get concerned. She calls the cops and after some pleading they agree to trace the call for her, only to report back to her with the news that whoever is harassing her is doing so from inside the same house. She runs outside, the cops show up, and in addition to a terrified babysitter they find a madman covered in blood and the corpses of two dead children.

Carol Kane-When a Stranger Calls (1979)

Seven years later, the man who killed the children, Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley), wasn't imprisoned because he was found insane. Instead, he was locked away in a mental hospital where he was subjected to electroshock therapy and a strict regiment of pills. Whether or not that was good for him or if his brain was fried, he managed to escape the and makes his way back to the city he once called home where he finds a place among the homeless population of the town and becomes obsessed with Tracy (Colleen Dewhurst), a barfly he meets at some dive. He's awkward and creepy yet seems somewhat unassuming and harmless, he's no Hannibal Lector that's for sure. The intense scenes where he harasses is all the more nerve-racking cuz the woman is a tough barfly (as Dewhurst usually is), you fear for her cuz you know what she doesn't. That's the sign of a successful thriller.

Former Inspector Clifford (
Charles Durning) who was involved with the original case is now working on his own as a P.I. and when the parents of the children that Duncan murdered find out he's free, they hire him to catch him. With the help of some of his old friends in the department (one of whom is played by Ron O'Neal, that's right, Superfly) he sets out to stop Duncan permanently. That's right, portly Durning is determined to be an action hero as we see him chasing his psycho up and down city streets. Whoa, easy there Charles, you're no Joe Don Baker! Here's where the film goes from "a stranger calling" to a winded detective one step behind.

The character of Duncan is played with the right amount of uneasiness but Beckley also makes you feel for him a little too. He's unhinged in his head but he knows he doesn't have a place in society and can't seem to figure out any kind of social skills. You'd figure he'd be an easy man to catch cuz he's just wandering about but of course if that wasn't the case that wouldn't bring him back to Jill Johnson. Sure enough, we catch up to Jill who's now married (to a Mike Brady, circa afro-sportin' look-alike) with two children of her own. Kane still radiates the same terror when she finds out Duncan is back, even moreso knowing what this could possibly mean for her family.

From the film's introduction to the coda, Kane is great in the role. She looks innocent and naïve and is the perfect counterpart to the maniac on the other end of the line. As she gets scared, so do we. While a lot of people are familiar with her from her more popular comedic roles, she had actually done a good amount of dramas even before this. She's delivers the serious tone of this film and her unusual speaking voice just adds to her character's naïve qualities.

While I do think it's a great thriller that should at least be seen once, the movie is not without it's flaws. There are a couple of moments where you wonder why the characters are doing what they're doing, particularly when Tracy opens her apartment door after Clifford pounds on it like a lunatic. Anyone with half a brain would be locking the deadbolt and calling the cops if someone came to their door and behaved that way. Also, even in the late 70's, it would seem odd that someone could escape from a mental hospital but then again Michael Myers did and so did Randal P. McMurphy. But really, a double child murderer? Wouldn't there even be any evening news coverage or public outcry? And how does Duncan find Jill again and for that matter why did he pick on her to begin with? Thankfully the movie gets more than enough right that we're able to overlook the logic gaps and enjoy the bigger picture for what it is – a tense and well made thriller that relies not on cheap effects or jump scares but on purely psychological suspense and effectively build tension.


Special Features:

Move along, nothing to see here. It looks like the DVD was just slapped with a new label, likely in hopes of cashing in on the 2006 remake.

The Skinny:
  • Walton has remained a minor director who has frequently dabbled within the psycho-thriller genre. Fred Walton’s other films of interest are:– the slasher film April Fool’s Day (1986), the excellent Catholic psycho-thriller The Rosary Murders (1987) and the radio talkback host psycho-thriller Dead Air (1994). Walton then went onto make a whole host of genre tv movies, including a remake of I Saw What You Did (1988), another psycho-thriller Trapped (1989), Homewrecker (1992) about a rogue AI, and The Stepford Husbands (1996).
  • Walton returned to make a TV movie sequel When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), along with Kane and Durning who were now investigators helping stalked babysitter Jill Schoelen. The film was later remade, along with a host of other 1970s/80s horror films, as When a Stranger Calls (2006) by director Simon West.
  • Filmed in Brentwood, Los Angeles and Sacramento, California.
    Originally planned as a sequel to Black Christmas (1974) when 'John Carpenter' 's film Halloween (1978), which had originally been planned as the sequel, became a stand-alone film in its own right. This movie enjoyed the same "promotion" and Black Christmas remained without a sequel.
  • The movie was heavily based on the urban legend, "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs".
  • Number 28 on Bravo Channel's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
  • This would be Tony Beckley's last film. He would die from cancer a year later.
  • The concept of a killer calling another telephone in the same house is a durable urban legend, and is also used in the films Black Christmas and Scream.
  • Although the movie is fictional, there was an incident happened similar to the plot once shown on a TLC special where a man keeps calling the babysitter as she is downstairs reading a magazine while the boy is in bed. The man called at least 5 times, then the Police, however unlike the movie, the, Police came immediatelly, the boy wasn't murdered but a sock was tied to his mouth, and the Police caught the man. The man said his last words slurred.

Here's a hilarious lil promo for the movie

The climax to the first part of "When a Stranger Calls" makes you

scared of Charles Durning instead of what Carol Kane is scared of!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

REEL REVIEW: The Host (2007) ***1/2

The Host (2007) Korean poster)

R (for creature violence and language)
119 min.
written by: Bong Joon-Ho, Ha Jun-weon & Baek Cheol-hyeon
produced by: Choi Yong-bae
directed by: Bong Joon-Ho

I remember hearing about this movie before it's U.S. release earlier this year in March. All I knew is that it was some kinda monster movie from Asia. I immediately assumed it was another desperate hope for American cinema to re-release a little-seen horror classic from overseas and capitalize on the success of films like "The Ring" or "The Grudge". I had the idea that this was gonna be a silly Japanese monster B-movie. Once I started reading and hearing positive reviews about the film, I came to see my American naivete. The film is not Japanese at all, it takes place in Korea and the monster in the film wasn't toppling over skyscrapers like child's play. Instead, it's a man-made, mutated fish creature the size of a truck that emerges out of the Han River, terrorizing anyone in it's path.

The DVD cover is mistaken as it advertises, "On a par with Jaws", a quote that shows American marketing has no clue how to spin the movie. How can anyone compare it to a movie where the terrorizing great white shark is scarcely shown? That's not what's happening here, this movie is unique in that it shows the slimy, grotesque, somewhat comical-looking aquatic creature from the start. Right away we see this thing clumsily stampeding it's way through civilians along the river. No, this is far from "Jaws" and unlike any monster I've seen before. It may seem clumsy with it's whipping tail bopping up and down but it has a speed and agility one would never imagine.

Indeed, this is a rare monster movie in that it lets you see the creature and then hides it away, letting the humans carry the story. It follows the Park family, forced together against both the monster and the government, to find their youngest member, Hyun-seo (
Ah-sung Ko), who was taken by the creature. Her dim-witted father Gang-du (Kang-ho Song) blames himself for her capture. He helps run the riverside snack-bar with his father, Hee-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), where the incident occured. His sister Nam-joo (Du-na Bae) is a national medalist archer who lacks confidence while his alcoholic brother, Nam-il (Hae-il Park) hasn't made much of himself since graduating from college. In their pursuit to find Gang-du's daughter, they run into various obstacles, as seemingly everyone they encounter does their best to prevent them from saving her.


Just what is the deal with this creature? Well, I'm not really giving anything away by telling you that the film starts out with an American military pathologist (Scott Wilson) commanding a Korean assistant to dispose of over 100 formaldehyde bottles down the drain. Hmmmm, guess where that flows into? So, this monstrosity is born of U.S. pollution in Korea, boy, we sure ruin everything. Now that's about as unsubtle a statement as could be made about the world's take on of the United States, as it puts a foreign country in peril through no fault of its own, and when it can't solve the problem, it needs America to step in, take over and clean things up.

Thankfully, the majority of the film really doesn't obsess over politics, it prefers the dysfunctional Park family over any type of statement. The story focuses on how fake blonde Gang-Du, his siblings and their father as they battle each other and this creature. At times these characters act as naturally frenzied as anyone would in a situation where a city is quarantined (due to the government's fear that this creature is "hosting' some plague) yet they also act just plain silly. I dunno if that's just their character or that the film is going for some comedy to add levity to a dark and tense setting. It may seem like the focus may be a lil off at times, bouncing between Hyun-Seo's struggle for survival in the monster's lair and her family's efforts to save her, but it works and it's still an exciting and involving thriller.

I didn't really find the moments of comedy upstaging the more serious or eerie scenes at all. In fact, the humor and fear elements combined really add a believable tone. It seems to me pretty common to try an add humor to a really horrible and uncertain situation. With it's beautifully kinetic and artistic cinematography, I can see this becoming quite a cult film eventually, if it hasn't already. The final climatic battle between the family and the beast alone is pretty compelling and would be enough to warrant a spot in the film history books. But, that opening scene when we first see the creature is one of the most original, well-filmed monster attacks in recent history.

At first, the creature may look kind of silly and dorky, like a cross between a catfish and a puppy dog, any thoughts of it being "cute" will quickly be abolished once it bares its teeth and starts attacking. It really is an amazing piece of CGI, the creature has as much real weight and depth as any of the creatures in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings." It might be surprising how such an odd-looking creature can be realized in such a realistic and life-like way but that makes it far more threatening than any stop motion or man-in-suit monster could ever be. That's what makes the terror so effective, especially in the scenes where Hyun-seo is trying to escape from the creature's lair in the sewers.

The sound design and score is noteworthy here as well as it complements the story successfully.
Byeong Woo-Lee's impeccable score adds just enough to bolster the tension in the movie. The movie looks as good or better than most Hollywood blockbusters, it wisely avoids most of the predictable clichés and plot twists that often ruin the best of them. Bong's monster movie is set in the real world where attacking giant monsters has its repercussions. I quickly realized it's not wise to get too attached to anyone here. While some of those decisions might not be so popular, they create a more believable story, even if it's just because the young girl is too busy trying to keep from being eaten by the monster to name it and treat it like a pet (standard tradition in many Japanese monster movies). Its these elements that should quickly dispel any easy comparisons, as "The Host" sets the really raises the level for any future movies in the genre.

It should be noted that the film is in Korean with English subtitles for all you who convulse at the idea of sitting thru a movie you have to read. As long as the movie is good, that kinda thing has no effect on me.

The film is filled with such a tremendous amount of heart and humor that it rises above its genre roots to be a truly unforgettable moviegoing experience. I found myself enamored by the film's characters and especially intrigued by its titular monster. Somehow it falls a bit short of a four star rating bu tI still highly recommend it. It takes the typical monster from below genre and really adds some unique layers, more than many films of any genre can say. This DVD looks and sounds great, which is a key for this film, while the two-disc set has every extra you could ask for the one disc rental that I watched was thoroughly suitable. It helps to be a fan of these kind of movies but here's a film that really can be seen by anyone, if anything it definetly makes you think twice about what you pour down a drain as well as how close you are to a river.



Special Features:

The copy I rented was the single-disc version of the film as the double-disc wasn't available for rental. The single disc did okay as far as features go. I didn't really have time for all of them but I couldn't really remember if it went into detail as to how the creature was made. The 2-disc version though has a slew of extra goodies.....

Disc One, starts out with an audio commentary by director Bong Joon-Ho, who is joined by film critic Tony Rayns, who covers Asian films extensively. Rayns acts as moderator for Joon-Ho, who thankfully delivers the commentary in English. Considering the complexity of the monster and the unique nature of the film, it only makes sense that Joon-Ho spends a good deal of time discussing the how and why of the special effects, along with info on the inspiration for both the film and the creature, and plenty of details about the production. Joon-Ho does an excellent job on the track, though Rayns' help is certainly part of why the track moves along so well.

The commentary is supplemented by Joon-Ho's "Reflections," of the director apologizing on-screen to actors and people he may have "wronged" in making the film. To say this is a unique extra is putting it lightly.

Also included on the first DVD are deleted scenes, (I think I saw these) which flesh out the affect of the monster's attack, but were appropriately removed from the final film. The best is the insight into how Joon-Ho planned to sculpt his story, with extra bits and pieces, instead of many full scenes or alternate takes. The cut monster scenes will likely be the most interesting to fans of the film though. They are joined by over four minutes of complete news clips, seen in the background (and occasionally foreground) of the film.

Disc Two kicks off with an eight-part documentary on the making of the film, which runs approximately an hour, and covers the film's storyboards, direction, production, set design, special effects and sound. If there's something you wanted to know about the movie, and it wasn't covered in Joon-Ho's commentary, it's probably in here, as the piece focuses in on most aspects of the production, with plenty of looks behind the curtain, at how everything came together. Or...

You can find it in "The Creature," another multi-part featurette, with seven parts totaling over 85 minutes, looking solely at the creation of the monster. Considering how much a part of the film's hype was the creature, it makes sense that the disc spends a lot of time covering it, and this featurette nails it, with tons of behind-the-scene footage and interviews, including a lot of material from the well-known Weta Workshop.

About 20 minutes of coverage of the crew is broken down into three categories: the staff, the production team and the visual effect supervisor. It's pretty obvious at this point that no stone is left unturned on this DVD, with the staff section being cute, as it's styled after a scene in the film. Another seven-part epic, looks at the cast, including the stars and extras, with casting videos, on-set footage and interviews with the cast presenting a full picture of the acting portion of the equation.

We're not done yet, as a gag reel, which features silly animation renderings and the cast goofing around, and a sentimental five-minute look back, titled "Saying Goodbye," are joined by Korean trailers for the film, wrapping up the extras.

The Skinny:

  • The event described in the beginning of Gwoemul is based on an actual event. In February 2000 at a US military facility located in the center of Seoul, a US military civilian employee named Mr. McFarland was ordered to dispose of formaldehyde by dumping it into the sewer system that led to the Han River despite the objection of a South Korean subordinate. The South Korean government attempted to prosecute Mr. McFarland in a South Korean court but the US military refused to hand over the custody of Mr. McFarland to the South Korean legal system. Later, a South Korean judge convicted Mr. McFarland in absentia. The Public was enraged at the South Korean government's inability to enforce its law on its own soil. In 2005, nearly five years after the original incident, Mr. McFarland was finally found guilty in a South Korean court in his presence. He never served the actual prison sentence, however. No sighting of a mutant creature has been reported in Han River -- yet.
  • The scene where Nam-il kicks Gang-du at the funeral ceremony was improvised.
  • The crew of "The Host" used metal barrels to make the splash effects whenever the monster would dive into the water.
  • Computer Graphics for the creature were done by Orphanage Inc.
  • The movie had the highest record for people who watched in South Korea, which had a population of 13,019,740. It means over 20% of the whole South Korean population watched the movie. Of course, there are people who watched it several times.
  • Director Joon-ho Bong and the designer of the creature nicknamed it Steve Buscemi, based on the actor's screen persona and the way he acted in the movie Fargo (1996).
    The director designed all the creature's movements. He compared it to directing an actor.
  • Joon-ho Bong was impressed with Scott Wilson after having seen him in, among other films, Monster (2003). He approached the actor by sending him a copy of the script and a DVD of his previous film, Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok (2003)). The actor later agreed to be in the film.
  • In the news montage that depicted public hysteria, the man following the shot of the Center for Disease Control is former Canadian deputy prime minister John Manley.
  • The film was shot on three bridges in South Korea: Dong-ho Bridge, Han-gang Bridge & Wonhyo Bridge.
  • While the budget was among the largest ever in a South Korean production, by international standards it was more modest. The director had to work around the budget-imposed restrictions, especially when it came to special effects. The creature itself was designed by Chin Wei-chen, the modeling was done by New Zealand-based Weta Workshop and the animatronics were by John Cox's creature Workshop. The CGI for the film was done by The Orphanage, which also did the CGI of "The Day After Tomorrow."
  • The monster was designed with some specific parameters in mind. The director's wishes were for it to look like an actual mutated fish-like creature, rather than have a more fantastical design. The monster also needed to be able to run and perform certain acrobatic movements during the film.
  • Some of the filming took place in the real sewers near the Han River, rather than on a set. The stars and crew were told they were being inoculated against tetanus by the medical officer, though the injections also included inoculation against blood-sucking tapeworms that inhabit the sewers. During filming, the crew had to deal with the effects of changes in weather and ambient temperature. This including the sewage water freezing in cold temperatures, so that it had to be broken up and melted; and during hot and windy periods, the water evaporated and the silt turned to dust, which blew around in the breeze and into the faces of the crew.
  • Because of its themes that can be seen as critical of the United States, the film was actually lauded by North Korean authorities, a rarity for a South Korean blockbuster film.
  • The Host premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2006 and was released nationally in South Korea on July 27, 2006. Having been heavily hyped and featuring one of the most popular leading actors in the country, Song Kang-ho, the film was released on a record number of screens and made the South Korean record books with its box office performance during its opening weekend. Its American release was March 9, 2007.
  • U.S. DVD was released on July 24, 2007 in both single disc and a two disc collector's edition in DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats.
  • On June 19th, it was announced that a sequel was in progress for a 2008 release, with a different director. It is planned to have a budget of about 10.7 million.

Interview with director Bong Joon-Ho

The Host (2007) American poster

Moving Pictures


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