Category Archives: 2000s

The Hills Have Eyes 2 (2007)

*. The pattern holds. I wasn’t a big fan of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and his follow-up The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985) was truly awful. Alexandre Aja’s 2006 The Hills Have Eyes was a movie I much preferred to the original. This sequel to that movie (the hill folk are again mutant fallout from atomic bomb testing) isn’t as good as Aja’s movie, but it’s not bad, and much better than Craven’s own Part II.
*. Craven again produced here, and co-wrote the screenplay along with his son Jonathan. It’s a good story, not content with just rehashing the same idiot plot of young people who take a wrong turn and end up in slasher country. Instead, the army has been sent in to clear out Area 16, but before they can finish the job the mutants come out of their mine shafts and start killing people off.
*. Caught in the middle of this mutant uprising is a squad of National Guard soldiers on a training mission. They’re well armed and at least partially trained so you’d expect them to be able to hold their own. Alas, they are only partially trained, and that part not very well. Despite being introduced to us by way of an absolutely insane live-fire training exercise (seriously, that’s not even close to being realistic), they still seem pretty shaky on the basics. Not only do they leave their rifles lying around for anyone to pick up, they also lean them up against walls and tables. This is something you never do with an army rifle. You always lay it down flat. Even I learned that much basic training.
*. Well, we might say, despite their being green, they do as well as the space commandos in Aliens and Leprechaun 4: In Space, with the former being a movie very much on point with this one. Only Craven didn’t want tough-ass real soldiers but kids with guns instead.
*. I point to the connection not just for the soldiers-vs.-monsters idea, but for the way these particular mutants have a thing for nasty breeding practices. The movie begins with a really harsh birth scene where the chained mother is immediately killed by the chief mutant for some unspecified reason. Later, one of the two female National Guards will be raped in an equally horrific manner. So you could think of the mutants as like the Xenomorphs.
*. A note on rape. The original Hills Have Eyes had a scene where rape is threatened, and some see it as fitting in with the whole rape-revenge exploitation genre. The rape is taken further in Aja’s film, especially in the unrated version where it goes on for quite a bit. In this movie they ramp up the violence more, as the victim is beaten badly at the same time. Yes, the villain is killed — several times over — at the end, including having his crotch smashed in with a sledge hammer not once, not twice, but three times by the woman he raped, but it’s still a road I wish they hadn’t gone down. There’s just no need for it here.
*. The two female leads are, by the way, named Missy and Amber. Ah, man. Really? Plus it was standard around this time to have our heroines in horror movies running around in tight (and often wet) tank tops. Which happens again here, even though there’s no reason for Amber to have taken her combat shirt off.
*. I liked finding the guy in the basement of the outhouse, but that was another point I had trouble with. How did her get in there? “Who would do this to someone?” Napoleon asks. Good question. Also why?
*. What’s with Colonel Redding? He seems to know an awful lot about the mutants and their lifeways, yet is out stalking them with no back-up. There’s a hint with the Area 16 label that the government is up to some kind of dirty work out in the desert that they’re keeping secret, which may also explain why, given all the people the mutants have been killing, the area isn’t notorious for being the Bermuda Triangle of New Mexico.
*. Why is it that Papa Hades (he’s the biggest and baddest mutant, played by the same actor who played Papa Jupe in the previous film) can only bark out words like “Die!”, “Cunt!” and “Bitch!” and nothing else? Is this a result of years spent watching Divorce Court, which according to Aja’s movie is the only program they like to watch?
*. Apparently the mine shafts were designed by the same people who did the caves in The Descent. I was reminded of that (much better) movie a lot here. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the shift from the bright sunlight of Aja’s movie to so much darkness. In the earlier film the mines were just a place to go through to get to the town on the other side. Here they’re where we spend most of our time. Which isn’t as much fun.
*. Critics dumped on it, but I don’t know what they could have been expecting. It’s not great, but it’s head and shoulders above most of the other horror trash that was coming out around this time. They built on Aja’s work and managed to take things in a slightly new direction. Most of it is pretty conventional, but entertaining all the same. It also seems to have done pretty good box office. But there has, as of yet, been no sequel. I’m not sure why. Franchises have sputtered on with far less fuel in the tank.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

*. I’ve talked before about how the first decade of the twenty-first century launched a whole whack of short-lived horror franchise resets. There was a new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a new Friday the 13th, a new Prom Night, a new Omen, a new Amityville Horror, a new Nightmare on Elm Street, a new Halloween, a new Last House on the Left, and even a new I Spit On Your Grave. I think in every case these movies failed to step over the low bar that had been set. And I say a low bar because let’s face it, most of the originals were dreadful.
*. The one exception to this general rule of inferior remakes is Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes. In part this is because I’ve always been underwhelmed by Wes Craven’s 1977 original, but I think it’s also in large part due to the fact that Aja takes the material, does his own thing with it, and does it very well.
*. To be sure, Aja’s “thing” isn’t for everyone. The back end of this film is a full-throttle splatterfest, the gore doled out by a variety of weapons (shotgun, spiked tire trap, baseball bat, pick-axe). But given that this is what the audience would, justifiably, be expecting I didn’t have any problem with it and overall I thought it was handled very well. I also really liked the new wrinkle of making the feral family into mutants generated by atomic bomb testing in the New Mexico desert. Throw in some inspired art direction and you’ve got a bloody good time.
*. The mutation back story does have the effect though of undercutting the original juxtaposition of the two families. Are the mutants a family, or just townspeople too lazy to get out of the way of the bomb? Is Papa Jupiter, now a minor figure who can only growl and is left “quite far in the background” in Craven’s eyes, still the patriarch? And what relation is the gas station owner to any of them? In the original he was Jupiter’s father but here he becomes a somewhat superfluous character, for all the information he gives, and his initial act of treachery is mystifying. (According to Craven’s commentary it was because Lynn had seen his stolen jewels so he thought she was going to turn him in. But this wasn’t clear to me even on several viewings.)
*. In short, the political thrust of Craven’s film, insofar as it had a political thrust, is scrambled. In this movie Aja seems more interested in taking it to various American myths, like the frontier and the bright-and-shiny façade of life in the 1950s. Note the emphasis on the American flag flying from the SUV, which is later planted in a corpse’s skull, only to be dug out and used as a weapon in a re-enactment of Iwo Jima. And of course there’s the freak “Cyst” (Greg Nicotero) giving a raspy rendition of the national anthem. There’s still the family prayer before they split up after the crash, but American nationalism has become the new religion to be mocked. To which we might just say that the filmmakers are French and let it go at that.

*. More bothersome, sticking with the French spin, is that I don’t think Aja’s ear for English dialogue was all that good. He keeps a few of the lines from the original (though sadly loses the best), but they get run through by the actors without the proper emphasis. Which seems odd because I think most of the cast were American. But the director makes a difference in such matters.
*. Is it another bit of French business to have Doug casting an eye on the nubile body of his sunbathing sister-in-law? There really seems to be something going on there, and I thought it was a great touch for being both unsettling and sexy.
*. I kept wondering where I’d seen Big Bob before. It took a while, but the penny finally dropped. That’s Buffalo Bill himself, Ted Levine. Raw and then cooked.
*. Is it a movie that demands you silence your inner critic? Probably, but here’s some carping to go along with the praise.

*. Once again we have mutants who are clearly suffering from terrible deformities and radiation sickness but are also superhumanly strong and have Wolverine-like healing powers. Multiple gunshot wounds and stabbings don’t even slow them down. “That’s a mortal wound, right?” producer Peter Locke asks on the commentary as Pluto gets the broken bat stuffed into his abdomen. Alas, no. I thought they were at least being plausible with Lizard walking with a limp after being stabbed in the leg, but then (just as in the original), he’s out bouncing over the hills like a mountain goat chasing Ruby. And when he finally gets blown away with the shotgun, three times!, and is left lying there I was saying to myself “I don’t think even this movie can go so far as to have him get up again”. Alas . . .
*. Boy do I hate this cliché of the unkillable villain. I mean, I know it comes with the territory, but Papa Jupe gets vaporized in that trailer explosion and he’s still alive?
*. There have to be a couple of nominees for the award for biggest idiot in an idiot-plot horror movie in here. Like Bobby, with his pants drooping halfway down his legs, firing his gun blindly over his shoulder when running away from Jupiter. Though the sheer stupidity of the family was also very much an issue in Craven’s film, where the dog was the smartest character.
*. Speaking of the dog, Beast, he really has a hard time of it here. First he gets locked in a car in the burning desert, then he saves Doug only to have Doug run away, leaving him to fight Pluto on his own (something that even pissed Craven off). You have to wonder, as I often do, why dogs think humans are even worth it.
*. Man that fire extinguisher has a lot of agent in it. Sort of like one of those guns that never run out of ammunition. Of course there’s no way in hell a little kitchen unit like that would put a dent in the monster blaze that Big Bob is roasting on. But this is a movie.

*. They scouted sites all over the world but settled for shooting in Morocco. Because it looked just like New Mexico. They also scouted sites in New Mexico, but according to Locke on the commentary track the locations in New Mexico were too remote and hard to get to. Which seems odd when you’re comparing it to a town on the edge of the Sahara. Originally Craven had wanted to shoot at the same location as the original (in California) but condos had been built around it.
*. I’ve mentioned the neat art direction — sort of retro, ’50s Western gothic, right down to that awesome Airstream trailer — but the photography by Maxime Alexandre (who would go on to do two more horror remakes, shooting The Crazies and Maniac) is also worth mentioning. This is a surprisingly bright movie, which is something Locke mentions in passing, drawing the comparison to what movies looked like in the ’70s. “It’s the juxtaposition of something really gorgeous with something insane happening inside of it. If you look at the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre or the original Hills Have Eyes, it looks rough and mean and you know it looks like the landscape of it. This thing sort of made everything glossy and beautiful, and then something terrible happened within the glossy and beautiful landscape.” True, and I don’t think this approach works very often, especially when dealing with such grungy material. But here it does, reflecting the bright desert sun and post-WW2 atomic-age optimism that gave birth to these monsters.
*. In sum, Aja got it right. Which must have pleased Craven, who was producer (the fact that it made money probably helped too). Of course you’d expect a lot of it to be better than Craven’s original. Though this wasn’t a big production, the crash scene alone (three days of shooting for a few seconds of film!) probably cost more, adjusted for inflation, than the entire first movie did. And of course the mutant and gore effects, with CGI, make-up, and prostheses are miles ahead of what they’d been thirty years earlier. I was surprised that Ruby’s weird face was done by CGI, but it’s quite effective. Throw in some new wrinkles (I loved the mannequin town), decent performances (Aaron Stanford is very good as Doug, whose character was apparently patterned after Dustin Hoffman’s in Straw Dogs), lots of blood, and it’s altogether much better than the original. Craven should have been proud.

The Last Winter (2006)

*. Set in Alaska but filmed in Iceland. I wonder why. Is it that cheap to film in Iceland? Cheaper than staying at home? I suspect there were tax breaks involved. I mean, North Dakota could have stood in for the generic winter landscape here. It’s not like they were using Iceland’s spectacular natural features for a backdrop, as in Prometheus, Oblivion, and Interstellar.
*. It must have been a hard movie to bring to market, not fitting in any genre basket. It seems to have been promoted as a horror film, with the DVD box announcing “the scariest film of the year.” This it is not. As creator (producer, co-writer, director, editor) Larry Fessenden admits on the commentary track, the death of Maxwell is “the only scare in the movie.” “I guess it’s in the horror genre,” he later adds. “Call it what you will this is what interests me”
*. As much as the setting invites the comparison, this isn’t a film that riffs on Carpenter’s The Thing as much as Black Mountain Side, a later movie very similar to The Last Winter, would. So what is it then that interests Fessenden?
*. The most obvious analog is Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977). The title alone is all the hint you need, though Fessenden doesn’t mention Weir’s film once on the commentary. The connection is there in the ecological message, the role of native mythology, and the ambiguously (and curiously anticlimactic) apocalypse suggested in the final shot. Will the world end in fire (melting permafrost and ice caps), or ice?
*. But is this eco-horror? Global warming seems to have been Fessenden’s theme, but I don’t think it’s clearly developed. The ecowarrior Hoffman, for example, is the one who goes nuts, and as Fessenden makes clear what he sees as happening (the revenge of chtonic forces) is a totally subjective vision. So can we say that this is nature fighting back? It’s not like the caribou creatures are mutant bears or a plague of frogs brought about by dumping toxic waste.
*. I liked The Last Winter, but in ways like this I just found it to be not all that well thought out. Take the question of how objective the threat to the station is. Don’t both Maxwell and Hoffman see the same strange ghosts? Could it be sour gas that causes the plane to crash?

*. But then maybe these aren’t important questions. Maybe, like Weir’s movie, it’s meant to be a puzzle without a solution, only an attempt at suggesting a mood of dread or anxiety in the face of forces we can’t understand. If so, I can get behind it. Though I still don’t think it’s fully realized. I mean, paranoia is far more palpable in The Thing, a movie that is also a lot less subtle.
*. Another big theme Fessenden flags is that of nostalgia and homecoming. This is another example, at least for me, of the movie straying off target. Because the base, being so remote, clearly isn’t home to any of the people there, even the natives. And Hoffman’s final moment of vision, reminiscent of the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris for me, is something we haven’t been prepared for. Has Hoffman seemed like that much of a homebody?
*. It is different. How effective it is, and especially what you think of the ending, will depend on what you decide it was trying to do. That’s the sort of mystery that endears a movie to critics and leaves audiences out in the cold. I don’t think it had much of a release as it seems to have grossed next to nothing. Personally, I thought it needed to be a bit creepier to work. Ron Perlman’s earring really damaged the mood for me. I prefer the atmosphere of Black Mountain Side. But for a movie that presents a personal vision, an exercise in what Fessenden calls his “brand of melancholy horror,” it’s hard to shake.

The Lookout (2007)

*. The defining characteristic of the condition of the arts in the twenty-first century (thus far) mirrors what’s also been going on in the broader economy: the establishment of a winner-takes-all lottery where a few bestsellers, hit albums, or blockbuster movies get all the attention/audience/money and the rest essentially disappear.
*. I guess for a while when it was in development The Lookout seemed as though it might have been in the running for being one of these winners. There was a script by Scott Frank, who had an established record of writing major hits. There was talk of Spielberg being interested, and then of David Fincher coming on board. One can imagine the budgets being discussed.
*. But those deals fell through and that movie didn’t get made. Instead, Frank himself took the reins as director and the shoot traveled up to Winnipeg to stand in for Kansas, with a budget of around $15 million. What they ended up with is a fine little modern noir heist movie, but one that disappeared at the box office. As with the mid-list, the mid-tier (and the middle class in general) are getting squeezed.
*. This is disappointing, as there are some good performances here, especially by the two leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode. Where the movie falls down, ironically, is with Frank’s script. It just isn’t all that interesting. I think Amy Simmons, writing in Time Out, summed it up well as “forgettable fun”: “a straightforward genre piece in which double-crosses and surprise twists lead to the inevitable.”
*. As per the standard noir plot our hero Chris Pratt (not the actor) is a bit of a wimp and a loser after being in a car accident that has left him mentally impaired in a very slight way. The only job he can do is pushing a mop after-hours at a bank. This makes him an easy mark for Goode’s Gary Spargo, who wants to rob said bank. Things get messy, the thieves fall out, but (more than a little improbably) everything works out in the end for the good guys.
*. Franks wanted to make a movie more about character than story, considering this to be “European.” He may have been getting this idea from a distinction Roger Ebert made between American and European movies, with the former driven by story and the latter being about characters. Alas, while the story here is pretty thin and free of twists, I didn’t find the characters all that interesting either. Chris is bland. Gary is a bad dude, only made human or distinct by his asthma inhaler. Jeff Daniels is just a dude dude, and blind. Isla Fisher is “Luvlee” Lemons, who is about as deep a character as her name implies. Even the blind dude can see through her.
*. Also worthy of mention is Greg Dunham playing Geddy Lee playing the venomous gang member “Bone.” Movies like this need these silent, sinister figures to give them an extra spark. Bone is so bad he even wears shades in a dark basement. Maybe he’s blind too. You never know.
*. Still, this is a decent, clean movie, nicely photographed in a way that brings out the stark, barren atmosphere of Kansas/Manitoba in winter, places where people don’t go outdoors very much. I don’t think it stands out as anything special finally, but it’s better, and by that I mean both more substantial and more creatively executed, than many blockbusters. But has the non-blockbuster audience left the building? I don’t know where little movies like this fit anymore.

Get Smart (2008)

*. Get Smart isn’t so much a movie as a product. There’s a brand name, going back to a beloved television show from the 1960s. There’s a big budget (an $80 million comedy!) and an impressive collection of talent in front of the camera. Plot-wise there’s a little something for everyone. Necessarily, in the judgment of Brian D. Johnson, because as a summer blockbuster it was “obliged” to be not just comedy but action and romance. With all these boxes being ticked how could it go wrong? Or right?
*. Well, they really did blow it. There are maybe a couple of laughs here but the overall sense is that of waste. In my notes on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) I questioned the whole idea of putting “bigness” together with comedy. Watching Get Smart I was thinking the same thing. You can’t just throw stars at a big property and expect it’s going to work. To what purpose were all these players assembled? Bill Murray appears in a cameo as a lonely agent stuck in a tree. It isn’t funny. James Caan is the president, and he isn’t funny. Alan Arkin is an actor I miss, and I think he can be funny but he sure isn’t here. Terence Stamp was made to play the heavy but is given nothing to work with. Dwayne Johnson . . . you get the point.
*. There’s nothing interesting in the action part of the plot either. A terrorist organization (KAOS) is going to blow up Los Angeles with a nuclear bomb unless they get so many billion dollars. Our hero, Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), recently promoted to field agent, is sent along with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to stop them. So it’s a buddy flick with a mismatched pair of good guys. There’s a case of mistaken identity. A capture and an escape. A break-in to steal some important secrets. A bad guy with a giant sidekick. A race to stop the bomb from going off.
*. At least in the romance department there’s a bright spot. Anne Hathaway has the rare ability to project as both sexy and funny and she’s the only reason to watch this movie, totally upstaging Carell at every turn.
*. Where did things go wrong? The usual suspects. The script doesn’t seem to me to have anything worthwhile in it. Take the fat stuff. I guess seeing Carell paired with a large woman in the ballroom dance-off scene is basic odd-couple comedy, but I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be funny about Max having been obese once. Just seeing Carell in a fat suit?
*. Then there’s the direction. David Ansen in Newsweek referred to Peter Segal as “a comedy specialist lacking any apparent sense of humour.” That’s an assessment I’d agree with, and I was really surprised when I checked out Segal’s filmography. His big-screen directing debut came with Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994) and he then went on to Tommy Boy (1995), My Fellow Americans (1996), The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000), Anger Management (2003), 50 First Dates (2004), The Longest Yard (2005), this movie, Grudge Match (2013) and My Spy (2020). How can someone work for 25 years in this genre directing so many not-funny movies? He’s like the Rob Zombie of comedy.
*. Well, I mentioned the big budget and the fact is Get Smart made it all back and then some. So perhaps that answers my question. I guess three Austin Powers movies hadn’t killed audience appetites for retro-flavoured spy spoofs yet. There were (of course) plans for a sequel but Carell didn’t like the initial script, which I think means it must have been really bad. Then Carell wrote his own script but it never went anywhere. I think that’s fair, as this movie was more than enough.

Alexander (2004)

*. I have to start off by saying what version of Alexander I’ll be talking about here. There was an original theatrical cut that ran 175 minutes. The first DVD version was the “Director’s Cut,” which, in what may have been a first, was actually shorter than the theatrical cut, coming in at 167 minutes (18 minutes were cut and 9 added). There was then a “Final Cut” (Alexander Revisited) that ran a whopping 214 minutes but which was not, alas, final. An “Ultimate Cut” was released in 2013 which was 206 minutes.
*. The movie I watched was the Director’s Cut. I’m told the longer versions are better. I’ll never know. I thought it was too long at 167 minutes. Indeed, I think it would have been too long at any length, as it’s a bad movie.
*. But despite all that, it is a bit of fun, sort of like Showgirls done up as a historical costume epic. Every step of the way one can understand Oliver Stone’s creative decisions, and also how badly they backfire so as to only make a bigger mess.
*. Take the accents. Macedonian was a dialect of Greek that was all but incomprehensible to Greeks in Alexander’s day, so in order to reflect this Stone says (on the DVD commentary) that he wanted Irish actors doing the Macedonian parts because of the noticeable lilt. He also thought that playing the ancients with plummy British accents was a cliché. But a lilt is not what Macedonian would have sounded like, and Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Brian Blessed, and Christopher Plummer don’t have Irish accents anyway. Meanwhile, what sort of an accent is Angelina Jolie’s Olympias trying to affect? Epirote? Transylvanian?
*. Then there’s the treatment of Alexander’s homosexuality. It’s hard to fault Stone for introducing this, as that’s certainly there in the record and he ended up taking some flack for it. But then he plays coy with the whole idea. The thing is, Alexander seems not to have been much interested in sex at all, but preferred the companionship of men. But here his male friends/lovers are presented as looking like drag queens while Roxana (Rosario Dawson) is a babe. It’s hard to figure this out.
*. Finally there’s the matter of historical accuracy. I suppose some amount of condensation had to take place, with several of Alexander’s battles being collapsed into just the couple shown on screen. But this does play havoc with the record. Not to mention having the Battle of the Hydaspes taking place in a jungle.
*. The jungle may be a nod to Stone’s Vietnam, as Alexander is presented here as being on a mission, however misguided, of benevolent imperialism: “to free the people of the world.” Just as his overthrow of the Persian Empire may have some connection to the Gulf Wars. But again this makes a mush of history. To be sure, every age has imagined an Alexander in its own image. The one settled on here, of Alexander as sensitive warrior in the cause of multiculturalism is, I think, ridiculous, but it’s part of this same tradition.
*. Despite the running time much is left out. And much of what’s left out is rather important. I’m disappointed at not seeing any of the siege of Tyre, but that’s at least understandable from the point of view of production costs. But why no visit to the Siwa Oasis? Or burning of Persepolis? These are absolutely crucial parts of Alexander’s story that would go a long way into providing some psychological insight. Where is this Alexander’s pothos?
*. Perhaps pothos (or longing) was something Colin Farrell just couldn’t project. He is, I think obviously, miscast. But he isn’t helped by hair and make-up that have him looking like a refugee from an ’80s metal band. Or a script that doesn’t give him many opportunities to man up. This meek and sensitive Alexander just doesn’t wash. Alexander was a genuine hard case, and with all apologies to Farrell, he’s too damn pretty.
*. Oliver Stone is an odd cat, and seems to be getting odder all the time. I appreciate his passion for projects like this, but by this point in his career I think he was creatively shot. Still, it’s a movie that took someone with his kind of mad vision to make, and then continue for so many years to re-make. I think what he ended up with was a disaster, albeit with some wonderful moments, highlighted by some good battle sequences and Jolie’s unmissable, height-of-camp performance (“In my womb I carried my avenger!”). It was a box office bomb, but for some reason sold like hot cakes on DVD (a fact that may have played into its endless revising and reissuing). I think it’s very much a work of its time, which already seems hard to remember since so much has changed. And I doubt I’ll ever want to go back to it again.

The Invasion (2007)

*. Let’s kick things off with a bit of dialogue from 1978. Not from the Philip Kaufman version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but from the discussion of that film by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on Sneak Previews (as their first review show on PBS was called):

Ebert: “Why did they remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers? We’re both movie buffs, I think I’ve seen the original 1956 version two or three times. Sitting there appreciating the film I still didn’t know why it was necessary.”
Siskel: “Well what’s more amazing is that it’s sort of typical of this year. We have so many sequels, part two of this, part two of that, remaking an old movie . . . isn’t it amazing to you as we see these films that here’s this whole colony of filmmakers and they’re bereft of ideas? I don’t understand why it happens.”

*. I’ll repeat, that was 1978. One can only imagine what Gene and Rog would say looking out over today’s landscape, so dominated by sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots. An industry that, at least in so far as the major studios are concerned, is totally bereft of ideas.
*. Or is that a fair conclusion to draw? Since 1978 there were two more Body Snatcher movies to come (with more, I am sure, in the pipeline). But as Kaufman remarked of his version, the original story is sort of like Hamlet, infinitely capable of modern reproductions set in new contexts and having different meanings. And isn’t that what’s going on here?
*. The twenty-first century context is a world in conflict. There are problems in Afghanistan and Iraq, India and Kashmir, and a list of other hotspots that newscasters repeat throughout the film like a chorus of chyrons, albeit with no clear sense of how we’re supposed to feel about any of them (Roger Ebert: “How many references in the same movie can you have to the war in Iraq and not say anything about it?”). As things proceed, the takeover of the pods looks as though it’s going to put an end to all this, ushering in an age of global if not universal peace.
*. This isn’t a good thing because . . . well, because it means we’d no longer be human. The lecture of the Russian diplomat Yorish provides this version of the story with its theme, which is that civilization necessarily involves cruelty and carnage. It’s messy and there’s no cleaning it up.
*. That doesn’t strike me as very nice, or very profound. Nevertheless, the filmmakers (whoever they were, more on this later) thought it so important that they repeat Yorish’s lines at the very end just so we don’t miss the point.
*. The messy messaging doesn’t stop there. The politics are a muddle, as the aliens (they aren’t pod people this time because there are no pods) take over a high-ranking official in the government’s department of health first, who then organizes a mass flu vaccination program, enforced by cops who drive around beating people and hustling them off somewhere. The vaccinations will of course, lead to the spread of the alien virus, in effect making people sick. Wow. It’s an anti-vaxxer, Big Pharma plus Deep State, One World Government takeover fantasy!
*. In short, I’m not sure what the message is here, but it doesn’t feel right. Manohla Dargis thought she understood it well enough to call it “creepy” and “abhorrent,” which sounds pretty apt from where I’m sitting. Though I’d want to note that there’s an uneasiness you can feel in all of the Body Snatcher movies. Only in this one it feels somehow worse.
*. A happy ending, but is it? It’s so ridiculous and pat that I don’t think we’re meant to take it seriously (the infected are cured, with a convenient memory lapse concerning all that happened, with Kidman’s cute son being the golden child immune to their hostile takeover). Plus we get Yorish’s words returning to mock us. Is this what we really wanted? Well, if you’re high-priced D.C. doctors and look like Nicole Kidman or Daniel Craig I would say yes.
*. Not only can you not show any emotion while imitating an alien, you can’t sweat. What? Not even on a really hot day? Come on. Physiologically they’re still human.
*. It’s interesting that right from the start the Body Snatchers story has dealt with broken and imperiled families. In Jack Finney’s novel Miles and Becky are both divorced, but there are no kids involved, which is the same as in the 1956 movie. In the 1978 version it seems clear that Elizabeth is going to be ditching her boring dentist husband pretty soon so she can shack up with her co-worker Matthew, and again there are no children. The subject of dysfunctional families is brought up by Dr. Kibner at one point, but it’s hard to judge how to read him (in part because we can’t be sure if he’s still human). In 1993 the new step-mom is already a replacement before she’s replaced, and now parent-child relationships are the main focus. Which is again the situation here, with Dr. Bennell trying to protect her son from her sinister ex.
*. I bring this up because it’s such an essential part of the mythos and yet I’m not sure what point is being made. The loss of our emotional connections to our nearest and dearest should be what scares us the most, but instead we’re presented with a bunch of people who have already drifted apart.
*. More of this mouth-to-mouth vomiting stuff. I wrote about this in my notes on Annabelle: Creation, which came ten years later. I thought then that it might have got its start in Prince of Darkness or The Hidden (both 1987). You get something kind of similar when Robert Patrick infects Salma Hayek by puking a bug in her ear in The Faculty. It was also used in It Comes by Night and to spread the zombie plague in 28 Days Later. I guess it’s just gross. There’s really no reason why the aliens have to use such a crude form of transmission here, especially in settings like the press conference.
*. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure who the filmmakers were. The movie was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, but the studio was apparently so dissatisfied they demanded additional scenes written by the Wachowskis and shot by James McTeigue, at a cost of some $10 million. I’m not sure what the stuff that was added was, but I think it was mainly meant to juice the action. So maybe the car chase through Baltimore, which I actually thought was pretty good. Having all the people go flying off of the car was neat.
*. There are other things to like. I thought Kidman was good. And the movie isn’t terrible. But it is a mess in more ways than just its message. There are too many car chases, too much action, and not enough slow-developing horror. The cutaways to animation of the virus spreading through Kidman’s bloodstream was silly. The ending is a joke, no matter how ironically you take it.
*. Critics weren’t kind. Let’s face it, they’d had fifty years to sharpen their blades. But the previous three versions had actually been excellent, each in their own way. That this was clearly the worst of the four is in itself no harsh condemnation, but it allowed reviewers to finally vent some spleen. They probably went overboard trashing what is mainly just a mediocre muddle. Alas, you really can’t judge this movie on its own. It takes a seat with distinguished company, and has to suffer the comparison.

Leprechaun 6: Back 2 Tha Hood (2003)

*. Oh boy. I really don’t know why we needed six Leprechaun movies (and there would still be a couple more to come, what with the series reboot). And I really really don’t know why we needed two of them set in “Tha Hood” since I didn’t think they had enough material for one. And yet here we are.
*. Actually, and for what it’s worth, this entry was supposed to have the Leprechaun partying with college kids on spring break. But I think shooting another movie in the streets of L.A. was cheaper. So no Leprechaun Gone Wild. At least not yet.
*. I guess the first thing to say here is that this isn’t a sequel to Leprechaun in the Hood, even though that movie ended on a (unique for the series) open note with the Leprechaun still alive. Indeed not only alive but enjoying himself very much as a big-time rap impresario surrounded by fly girls. However, as I’ve had occasion to mention before, there is no consistent narrative being followed in these movies, to the point where it’s unclear if it’s the same leprechaun in each of the films. So we’re starting with a clean slate again here.
*. If the title is a joke it’s one of the few we get. There’s a noticeable swerve away from the lightness of the previous couple of movies. At times they almost seem to be trying to scare us. There are still some comic stretches, like with the Leprechaun’s first appearance at a house party where he gets stuck on a bong, but there are also nastier bits that play more like a traditional slasher horror film. There aren’t even any of the supernaturally grotesque kills that the wee fellow occasionally indulged. The Leprechaun just basically tears people apart with his bare hands. He’s a lot stronger in this movie, and less given to playing tricks.
*. There are carryover gags — like the way the Leprechaun keeps getting an eye torn out in these movies — as well as some new bits of leprechaun mythology. Apparently this leprechaun is an evil leftover of a tribe of earth spirits that were conjured up in medieval days, which is something we haven’t heard before. He is also indestructible except for clover. Religious rituals are of no use because, as the good witch tells them, “This creature predates Christianity.” I don’t think this is true, historically, and even if it was I don’t think it would make theological sense since the Christian God is supposed to be eternal.
*. Maybe I was just feeling burned out myself, but Warwick Davis seems tired of the part here. As well he might have been. Luckily for him this was to be the end of the line.
*. So . . . just as bad as Leprechaun in the Hood but in different ways. If you didn’t like all the jokes in the previous films then this one may appeal to you a bit more. But even though it’s different, it’s still nothing new.

Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)

*. I think at some point the producers of this series understood that they had nothing, so the only way to keep the franchise going was to throw the evil little bastard into various incongruous situations. So the Leprechaun (or a leprechaun, since they all seem to be different demons) went to Vegas, and then into space, and now, yes, he’s even gettin’ jiggy with it in the ‘hood.
*. You may find something in that premise funny. Or at least you might have found something funny in it twenty years ago. If so, it’s the only smile you’ll get out of this movie. Despite being a horror-comedy franchise that goes for broad laughs a lot of the time, I can’t think of any moment in this entire series that succeeded in being funny. On the one hand I’m glad that the Leprechaun is back rhyming in this movie, though not busting rhymes proper until the closing credits, where he sings his “Lep in the hood, come to do no good” with his zombie fly girls. But his rhymes are, alas, all lame. They’re not even groan-worthy.
*. Just to stick with his hip-hop moniker, it actually took me a moment to twig to “the Lep” being an abbreviation of leprechaun. I kept thinking of it as being short for leper. Not an association I’d have thought he wanted to make.
*. That said, the word that most came to mind watching this dreck is sloppy. It’s a sloppy movie. On a few occasions the actors appear to flub their lines, but I guess they didn’t want to do a retake. In other places there seem to be chunks of film missing that would have explained new directions in the plot. Who is it that kills the pawn-store owner Jackie Dee? One of the zombie girls? But they haven’t been introduced yet. I still don’t know.
*. Other points are just rehashed from earlier films. The scene where the Leprechaun rips off a guy’s finger to get his ring, and another scene where he launches through a doorway only to get trapped in a safe, are both taken from Leprechaun 2. As if such material was worth repeating.
*. Nothing about the plot makes sense. Again they’re making up new leprechaun folklore as they go along, this time adding a golden flute with some kind of magical properties. The heroes (a trio of aspiring hip-hop performers) read Leprechauns for Dummies and come up with a plan to destroy the Leprechaun by getting him to smoke a joint laced with clover. But all it really does is make him fall asleep. They go to a church to find sanctuary, but (as inevitably proves to be the case in today’s horror films) God is of no assistance.
*. Even the kills are mostly elided. There are only a couple of torsos bursting open for gore. Ice-T gets above-the-line billing as the rap promoter Mack Daddy. The kids wear droopy pants and ball caps and call each other “nigga” a lot. There’s a blind woman introduced for . . . comic relief? I wasn’t sure. Just a terrible movie. Perhaps not quite as bad as Leprechaun 4, but that’s the very best I can say for it. And that is low praise indeed.
*. Look, it’s clear these movies were never meant to be anything but cheap trash, but they did at least have some budget to work with here, and with Davis back as the Leprechaun they should have been able to come up with something better than this. But I really don’t know if, at this point, they were even trying.

Enter the Void (2009)

*. On the front of the DVD case there’s a warning: “This unrated film contains explicit sex, disturbing scenes, and drug use.” True enough, but why not a warning for epileptics? If those opening credits don’t send you into a seizure I don’t know what would. And don’t even think of trying to navigate the chapter selection menu. It’s even worse.
*. They might have also included a warning for anyone susceptible to motion sickness. Give a guy like Gaspar Noé a drone and see what you get?
*. Noé is a director who divides people pretty sharply. Enter the Void got a standing ovation at Cannes but did terrible box office. A critical darling, then? Not really. Critics were split too, though most saw something in it.
*. For the record, I did like I Stand Alone and Irréversible. I thought a lot less of Enter the Void. Why? In part due to the general sense I had that Noé was running on fumes for 161 minutes (the “long” version or full-length director’s cut).
*. There’s not a lot here. Basically it’s all a riff on the now rather old idea of the entire story being in effect a man’s dying moments and/or his immediate afterlife. Think Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” William Golding’s Pincher Martin, or the film Jacob’s Ladder (1990). Only here it’s not presented as a twist since the whole concept is introduced, pretty crudely, by the discussion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

*. The deceased is one Oscar, played by Nathaniel Brown. He’s basically a drug dealer in Tokyo who lives with his sister Linda (Pas de la Huerta). One night Oscar gets busted and (improbably) is shot by the police, expiring on the floor of a washroom stall. Flashbacks and flashforwards take up the rest of the movie as we learn more about Oscar and Linda’s history.
*. Perhaps the biggest problem here is that I didn’t find Oscar remotely interesting, much less relatable. Then as the film went on I curiously found the two siblings becoming even less sympathetic and more repulsive. And 161 minutes is a long time to be spent looking at this grimy, blurry world from Oscar’s point of view, or staring at the back of his head.
*. Yes, blurry. I thought the camerawork good and the editing excellent. I can understand why such a movie would take so long to assemble in post. Combining the invisible cuts with the gliding camera movement gives the proceedings a fluidity that Noé seems to have perfected. But I couldn’t see anything! What was up with that?
*. Because Oscar is taking a lot of drugs himself (he hasn’t heeded the warning from Scarface not to get high on his own supply) there are also a number of trippy sequences that critics thought recalled the Star Gate sequence in 2001. I guess. And I guess if you were on drugs while watching Enter the Void you might enjoy it more. But I wasn’t, so.
*. Despite the entire movie revolving around Oscar and Linda I didn’t feel I had any understanding of them as characters. Some sort of incestuous connection is hinted at, but it could just be that they’re weird. Or perhaps they’re just morons and there is no deeper level to explore. The fact, and I think it is a fact in evidence at least in this film, that neither Brown nor de la Huerta can act may also be contributing to this abiding blankness. Are they the void?

*. There are a few flourishes thrown in, seemingly to demonstrate Noé’s cred as an edgy filmmaker. Linda has an abortion and the camera dives into the dish containing the fetus. There’s a tour of a neon love hotel that’s like channel-surfing a porn network, only half as erotic. We get a sex scene at the end with an inside-the-vagina point-of-view money shot. Pointless really. My only thought as I was watching this was whether that was Noé’s dick thrusting in my face. I don’t know why I was wondering about that. I guess there was nothing else going on that seemed interesting enough to contemplate.
*. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where I spent so much time in the final fifteen minutes thinking “Is that the end?” before finding out that, no, there was still more to come. Which is another way of saying that the end of the movie really drags. Apparently Noé thought it was a flashback to Oscar’s birth, in the form of a false memory. Why a false memory? I thought it was Linda giving birth to her and Alex’s child, but (again) the picture was so blurry I couldn’t tell. It could have been anyone.
*. I guess this sounds like I’m putting the boots to Enter the Void so I’ll stop. On the plus side, I did manage to sit through it to the end without being bored out of my mind. But the whole premise here is nothing new or interesting, the characters are dim and drippy losers, and the point of it all is trite and whimsical. Birth is a kind of death, and vice versa. You see how Oscar dies in a fetal position? You could just keep watching this movie on an endless loop. And if you do, I salute you. But it’s not my thing.