Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Recent genre stuff: Thale and The Host

Not really planning on having a theme to this one aside from "stuff I wanted to knock off before doing a big catch-up post", but it doesn't quite work out that way. Both wound up being genre films missing fairly important chunks of their story.

It's an odd coincidence, seeing these two in close proximity (albeit with a bunch of Brattle Schlock Around the Clock entries and Evil Dead in between). It's also kind of surprising to see how much better relative newcomer Aleksander Nordaas does than Andrew Niccol at both getting a story out of a setting and portraying a creature that looks human but is, underneath her appearance, quite alien.

To be completely honest, I don't think there's a lot of real plot to Thaleat any point; it's an hour of building a mythology and fifteen minutes of having the other part of it show up. But it's got Silje Reinammo being gorgeous and tapping into something about how, while Thale is not quite human, she is not exactly huldra either. There's tragedy to this movie.

Whereas with The Host... Ugh, that friggin' movie. There's never that sense of being not-quite-human with Wanda - heck, even calling her "Wanda" is a sign that the storytellers don't know what they're doing. "Wanderer" sounds strange and culturally-different and mysterious, which is exactly what you want your alien who has lived in all sorts of different biologies and had hundreds of years of experiences. Or at least, I think she has; Wanda says she's a thousand years old but the implication is that the Souls don't have faster-than-light travel, so maybe a large chunk of that lifespan has been spent between stars in a sort of stasis, and she's actually still fairly young. Or maybe what Souls have for a brain is mostly memory storage, and they do most of their thinking with the human brain they attach to.

That would be an interesting bit of science fiction. So, of course, it's ignored in favor of mooning over boys and cutting Wanda off the moment she starts to describe anything beyond Earth. It's not even like following up on this would take time away from important things happening, because of all the slow and stupid. Ugh, this friggin' movie. Plus...


Is it just me, or does the Emily Browning character whom Wanda winds up inhabiting at the end come across as creepily young? Which leads me to ask, is this a thing Stephenie Meyer does regularly - set up a pairing between the odd guy out in the love triangle and someone who is just Way Too Young? I seem to remember it being a point of contention where the last Twilight book/movie is concerned.


Not that I really know anything about Twilight beyond what I've been able to absorb from the air - the previews for the movies looked laughable and I've got a whole big pile of books that look interesting to geth through first. Still, when I saw that Niccol and Saoirse Ronan were attached to The Host, my first thought was that this was going to be a sort of battle over what the film would eventually be - Niccol on the side of good, Meyer on the side of bad. Now, I'm less confident of Niccol meaning "good" - Gattaca and The Truman Show were a long time ago, and what he's made since those films hasn't been nearly so impressive - but I don't think he makes something this terrible on his own. So it looks like Meyer won this battle.

I just hope Niccol can bounce back; he really needs to. And I hope that Nordaas can get something higher-profile, because he's got some potential.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (special presentation, Blu-ray)

"I think it would make a good short" is kind of a nasty thing to say about a feature film, a compliment so backhanded that the implied praise for how skillfully many things are done can seem completely obliterated by the implication that the filmmaker thought too highly of his minor idea. I admit, it was my first reaction to Thale. My second reaction, though, is that maybe writer/director Aleksander Nordaas should have reached a little higher.

Elvis (Erlend Nervold) is filling in for a friend with a cleaning service that specializes in taking care of human remains, and it's proving to be pretty rough on his stomach. He and his supervisor Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) are called to a remote house in the Norwegian woods where the resident seems to have met a particularly grisly fate. Inside, Elvis stumbles on a secret passage that leads to a secret basement with canned food, notebooks, a tape recorder, and a beautiful, silent girl (Silje Reinammo).

Nordaas has half, or even three quarters, of an impressive horror movie here: The set-up is great. The backstory he gives to the girl and the owner of the cabin is intriguing and becomes more creepy the closer the audience looks at it, with every new revelation stoking both the audience's revulsion and curiosity in roughly equal measure. He pulls the curtain back slowly, revealing just enough new information to keep the audience satisfied, recognizes a good, intense situation when he sees one, and gets excellent work from the design staff and passable results from the effects guys.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

The Host (2013)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2013 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

The Host is fairly awful, but in some ways the basic fact of its awfulness isn't the worst part. I hate that it and In Time back to back make me wonder if Gattaca was something of a fluke on screenwriter/director Andrew Niccol's part. I hate that it wastes the time of some talented people, including star Saoirse Ronan. I hate that this was made in part to cash in on the success of the Twilight franchise (the source material is by the same author), but the fans of that whom I know were so indifferent to its existence that it probably didn't end up pleasing anyone. And I really hate that there are moments when the story has the potential to go in interesting directions but instead runs in the blandest possible direction.

Sometime in the future, Earth has been colonized by an alien race that calls themselves "The Souls", parasitic invertebrates that take up residence in the human brain and continue on in an idealized imitation of human life. There are some free humans remaining; one, Melanie (Ronan) is captured near the start and has a Soul implanted. Melanie, however, has an incredibly strong force of will, and has soon convinced the "Wanderer" in her body to flee and seek out her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), and uncle Jeb (William Hurt) - with a Soul Seeker (Diane Kruger) in dogged pursuit.

Put aside all of the lack of ambition in this movie, just looking at it as a basic sci-fi B-movie, and it's still hard to overstate just how boring and flat-out stupid it can be. There's a long period in the middle where Jeb and his group have captured "Wanderer" (later called "Wanda") and locked her up but never, as far as I can tell, ask her any questions. The audience is told the same information several times, and when Wanda & Melanie argue, it's often cringe-worthily trite dialogue. A fairly important change comes out of nowhere, only to be quickly reversed and half-heartedly explained afterward. Melanie changes her mind on whether or not Wanda should tell her family that she's still around inside her head several times for reasons that either make no sense or contradict the idea that Melanie's consciousness survived out of force of will pretty strongly. It's a barrage of things that make no sense that don't even have the virtue of being exciting enough to distract from their stupidity.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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