Friday, October 28, 2011

Top Ten Foreign Horror Movies

Halloween TV listings gettin’ ya down? It’s such a shame, but I feel like the networks are slacking a little bit this year. Obviously Halloween is always the best time for watching scary movies. It’s easy to get extra scared seeing the fog onscreen match the fog outside your home or hearing the wind(?) rattle your windows, and the scary decorations everywhere certainly don’t help. In fact, perhaps one of the reasons that horror films are so terrifying in the first place is the fact that the audience realizes the monster/murderer/zombie/(insert foe here) is a totally unknown quantity. Most people have never been in contact with an alien from outer space, a serial killer, or a walking mummy, making them that much more unpredictable and menacing. Even the settings of scary movies can get to you. The isolation of a corn field or an abandoned forest is enough to make you go crazy wondering where the heck that muderer went.

But what about reeeaallly foreign settings? Like Romania? Or Japan? Or France? For some reason, seeing a Romanian teenage girl calling for her mother, who has just disappeared into the woods, is far more terrifying than seeing an American do the same. The language barrier kind of makes you think “Oh CRAP, they have those over THERE too!?”

So taking advantage of my Netflix and the high availablity of foreign films these days, I set out looking for some truly terrifying foreign horror films. Here’s my top ten if the Halloween franchise is getting you down:

10. HIDDEN (translated from CACHE) (2005) French

Tensions rise between wife and hubby
In this film, a married couple is haunted by the past of the husband. This movie runs on pure suspense, as it is never truly clear who is surveilling them. They are left a series of video tapes of their house, and then start receiving post cards with subliminal messages on them. I’m not going to give anything away, but ye be warned, don’t watch if you are impatient.

9. HAIR EXTENSIONS (translated from EXTE) (2005) Japanese

Interesting to see Asian horror camp. This film is about a man who, after discovering a cadaver whose hair still grows, sells it to a salon for use as hair extensions. Well, little do they know that the hair is cursed because the girl was brutally murdered so people start dropping like flies. Interesting film, but try to watch it with a sense of humor, it’s a bit odd. The ending is kind of hilarious but the movie itself is pretty creepy, and the use of hair in murders is gross in a new and inventive way.

8. DUMPLINGS (translated from GAAU-JI) (2004) Chinese/Hong Kong

I wouldn't eat that if I were you...
Wow, this film is not for the squeamish. Mrs. Lee, a has-been television star, is trying to save her marriage by looking younger and so seeks the help of Aunt Mei and her “special dumplings”. What makes them special you ask? Oh, y’know, she fills them with baby fetuses. As Mrs. Lee becomes greedier and greedier, she goes to higher and higher extremes to find what she needs. Not so much scary as deeply creepy and disturbing. Stay away from Chinese food when watching this one.

7. SHEITAN (2006) French

Is it creepier cuz they're French? It's highly possible.
You might recognize Vincent Cassel from OCEAN’S 12 or maybe more recently from BLACK SWAN, but the dude is straight-up 100% French, and started his career off there with LA HAINE (Translates to HATE. very good film. Highly recommend.). In this film, a group of teenagers (typical) have a really late night at a club in Paris and decide to follow some girl home to her house in the countryside. Little do they know that she’s luring them into a den of Satan-worshippers. Bizarre movie with a lot of scares that make you want to take your chances in the ghettos of the nearest city rather than visit the nearest farm.

6. THE RED SHOES (translated from BUNHONGSIN) (2005) South Korean

My feet are killing me!....No but really...
We all know from THE GRUDGE how deeply Asian cultures are rooted in the belief that trauma causes hauntings. Whether it’s a house like in THE GRUDGE or a pair of cursed shoes like in this film, for some reason the ghosts are always really pissed off. Sun-jae has just discovered her husband cheating on her and decides to live alone with her daughter until she can get back on her feet (haha, puns..). Then one day, while riding the subway, she discovers a pair of “red” shoes (I only use quotations because in the film they are blatantly pink, I don’t know why they used that title..). The shoes possess her and her little girl to the point where they fight over them like dogs, and Sun-jae starts acting very differently from who she was before. But the shoes never seem content with letting someone wear them for too long.. An interesting story with an interesting twist at the end and a lot of scary long-hair-in-the-face ghosts.

5. CINDERELLA (2006) South Korean

Sometimes plastic surgery is not the answer
South Korean film is one of my personal favorites (if you get the chance, check out JOINT SECURITY AREA and PEPPERMINT CANDY) but in this film they really creep it up. Yoon-hee is a successful plastic surgeon, and very rich. Her daughter, Hyeon-su, seems like a likeable girl and all of her friends seem to take advantage of the fact that her mother is a plastic surgeon. Everything seems great until Hyeon-su starts being haunted by a ghost that claims it wants its face back. A commentary on the dangers of self-image and the price of beauty, this movie has a crazy ending and the terrifyingly classic Asian ghosts keeping its audience on the edge of their seats.

4. THE DESCENT (2005) UK

American? No. Covered in blood? Very.
Okay, okay, don’t come at me with torches and pitchforks, but this film is just foreign enough to be on this list. In fact, being filmed in the United Kingdom, the cast only really has one American actress and the others seem to have been born in a plethora of different countries (you’ll notice immediately that none of them have the same accent). However, justification aside, this movie is both psychological and scary. A year after the deaths of her husband and child, Sarah decides to go on a spelunking trip with her friends in Pennsylvania (not actually filmed in PA, but whatevs). But two girls in the party have mislead the group and the caves that they are exploring have never been charted before. Before they know it they have entered territory as uninvited guests. Lots of jumpy shots and great effects. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish about blood!

3. THE ORPHANAGE (translated from EL ORFONATO) (2007) Spanish

Would not want to be haunted by this kid...
Okay, I don’t know where Spanish directors get their material from, but they are seriously doing something right. In this film, a small family of three moves to an old orphanage where the mother used to live as a child hoping to turn it into a home for children with special needs. But as soon as they move in, odd things start to occur. Their child, Simon, has been making friends with children he claims are in the house and they like to play games with him. But on the day of the opening Simon goes missing, and his mother is left hysterically searching for him. Did the children in the house take him? Are there children in the house? The acting by Belen Rueda is done incredibly well as Laura, a terrified but determined woman trying to find her son, and the ambiance of the creepy orphanage is enough to freak you out for weeks.

2. ILS (translated from THEM) (2006) French

Ain't no hiding from these guys
This movie had me freaking out from the first five minutes in and it maintains that mood throughout its entirety. A French teacher and her boyfriend are terrorized (emphasis on the word TERROR) in and around their home in Romania. Their attackers seem to have no other motif than to simply mess with them. Wait ’til you see who the attackers are. No breaks from suspense in this one, nail-biters warned: you will have nothing but stubs left.

1. [REC] (2007) Spanish

I wouldn't stand so close to him if I were you...
Once again, those crazy Spaniards have done it right. A cinema-verite look at a young news crew doing a story on fire houses when all of a sudden they ride with the fire trucks to a site that they’ll wish they’d never have visited in the first place. As they learn the apartment complex they received a call from is falling under quarantine, everyone is stuck in a building in which the residents are turning into zombies. The entire movie keeps you on your toes wondering who will be the next to turn and where the hell the reporter and her cameraman will go. Lots of moments that will make you jump half a foot in your seat and extremely convincing acting done by the entire cast. I dare you to watch it with the lights off.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Like, Totally Bitchin': Nostalgia Movies and Why They Do and Don't Work

Nostalgia is starting to become a huge part of our culture these days and it looks as though that whole "good ole days" bug is starting to leak into our movies as well. After watching Take Me Home Tonight and actually really liking the two main characters, I couldn't really figure out why I couldn't get into the story. Then I realized that it is almost impossible to make a rom com set in the 80's unless it is either: A. Making fun of itself or B. Actually extremely serious.

Unfortunately for the target audiences of the majority of these 80's nostalgia movies, a lot of the material is pretty foreign, unless you happened to watch a lot of I Love the 80's on VH1 back when that was a thing (seriously, after that show, I found The Wedding Singer 50% funnier). Additionally, the 80's, to people that didn't experience them, seem kind of...well...funny. Obnoxious colors, big hair, unflattering mom-waisted jeans and the like are so foreign today that they seem ridiculous. Why do you think 80's parties are so big?

This is where Take Me Home Tonight got it wrong.

Trying to be something along the lines of a lighter Dazed and Confused and a retro Can't Hardly Wait, the movie failed on both areas. Instead of the fun-loving stoners of the 70's or 90's, Take Me Home Tonight featured cocaine as its recreational drug of choice.

Word to the wise: people don't associate coke with fun-loving, they associate it with crazy.

The comic relief of the movie crashed hard amidst physical comedy based around his first use of cocaine. Not only uncomfortable to see a guy look like a moron because he thinks he's on top of the world but throughout the majority of the movie I was waiting for him to form an addiction. Not the fun stuff you want to be fixated on during a romantic comedy.

The other major problem seems to be using actors that were obviously alive during the 80's, even if they were only teenagers. Why did they use 30-year-olds to play high school kids when they were probably in high school (or at least middle school) during the actual 80s? All Hollywood's usual nonsense aside, that was weird.

Despite Take Me Home Tonight's obvious mistakes in its efforts, I will say that there is at least one movie that gets the formula right. If you're going to do the full 80's movie, you have to go balls to the wall.

The Wedding Singer. Filled to the brim with pop culture references, this movie knows how to poke fun at the 80's without losing the integrity of the entire film. Even though everything is realistic-yet-over-the-top, it has enough realism to keep the audience engaged and enough flamboyance to keep the audience entertained.

There are also a good number of movies, though, that have strong references to the 80's without going the full monty, as it were.

Thirteen Going on Thirty is a classic when it comes to 80's references, especially since its from a kid's view. Done in the style of Big but with an added time warp bonus, Thirteen Going on Thirty is a nostalgic 80's movie that ties in the past with the present, which is very interesting. Jenna (Jennifer Garner) thinks of the 80's as cool, bringing back everyone else's memories of what cool was when they were 13 years old. However, this movie never really takes a full leap into the era without coming back directly afterwards and making sure things end in the present.

Hot Tub Time Machine is another recent film that just couldn't go all the way into the 80's but is still hilarious. Despite the main characters retaining their adult facades for each others (and the audience's) sakes, they relive their pasts during a ski trip in the 80's through a magical hot tub. Lots of hilarious over-the-top 80's fashions and a nod towards self ridicule.

But what about option B? The serious 80's movie?

Well, I could only really come up with the cult classic Donnie Darko, whose plot reminds me of psychedelic songs from the late 60's. One wonders why they set it in the 80's? Oh well, still very well done in the style of a period piece and not necessarily a farce.

Unfortunately, I deem it nearly impossible to have a good-humored movie set completely in the 80's unless it has some kind of flash forward where people can be like "Oh my! Did I really wear those leggings? I had crimped hair? What was I thinking!?" Without this kind of a flashback there is really only one of two routes that will do successfully, as film history seems to have proven: either to make fun of the era and go overboard or to dedicate fully to honoring the era and making it a drama. Either way is totally bitchin'.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More Delightful Predictable Fluff from Hollywood (Kinda)

Just went to see What's Your Number last night with my mom and though Anna Faris's work is usually a cheap laugh for me (see The House Bunny and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) I actually really enjoyed the movie.

The plot revolves around Ally Darling (Faris) reading a magazine article that states that women who have over 20 lovers never get married. Panicked at the fact that she's already had 20, Ally tries to remedy her problem by going back to every guy she's ever slept with and trying to patch things up. Helping her find these guys is her neighbor Colin (Chris Evans), who is constantly trying to find a way to escape his seemingly endless one-night-stands by hiding out in Ally's apartment. All of this takes place against the backdrop of Ally's sister's wedding.

Hilarity then ensues. Ally bumps into ex after ex with something going slightly wrong with every next person she meets up with. The fat slob who is now a successful engaged doctor, the Brit who has found her out (definitely the hardest I've laughed in a WHILE, DON'T MISS THAT SCENE!), the OB-GYN who only recognizes her lady parts, and a handful of others. Serious laughs, and Faris is great as a girl who is so self aware. It's hard to find a film with that kind of character un-self-consciousness, especially when it's a girl in a romantic comedy.

Obviously this film is not about to win an Oscar, but there was a heart to it that was hard to ignore. Ally tries so hard to make it work with so many gross and incompatible guys and I feel like that's something that's not often brought up in movies, especially when you're dealing with such a hot lead actress. I mean, granted, she ends up with a really hot guy at the end but he's also kind of what society might brand as a loser: jobless, goal-less, and kind of a slut throughout the beginning of the movie.

But that's what made this movie kind of refreshing. It's so easy for films to go overboard with romance and heartache (like in 27 Dresses, another film based around a sister's wedding) that it was nice to see one that gave the characters a chance to be weird. Never before has the prospect of watching Mexican wrestling all day with margaritas and huevos rancheros seemed so romantic! I really liked the sloppy messy characters in this "fluffy" movie, who made me feel like "hey, sometimes Prince Charming slugs back beers and plays the guitar naked" and that not everything has to be covered in rose petals.

A very dumb, but fun movie.

probably 2 outa 5 for most people but a 3 outa 5 for me!