Media | A2Q Archives | Blog | Twitter | A2Q #36: April 22, 2008: Welcome to this week's highlighted home video releases, focused entirely on the American market. Sorry, rest of the world.

Roundup by VsRobot | Posted April 22, 2008

Pick Of the Week

The Orphanage
It's fairly tricky to write about a movie like this. I want to convey enough to make you interested in seeing the film, but not so much that I spoil the film.

In the film, a Spanish-language movie with English subtitles, a woman grows up the abandoned orphanage in which she grew up, intending to turn into a home to care for sick and handicapped children. Among these kids are her adopted son, an HIV-positive boy named Simon.

Simon has many imaginary friends, including a child with a mask made out of a burlap sack. At first, his adopted parents think that he'll grow out of his invisible friends once the other children arrive at the orphanage. But when Simon disappears, his mother becomes increasingly convinced that the invisible children in the orphanage are the only ones who can tell her where Simon is. Despite the incredulity of her husband, she pulls out all the stops in trying to contact those supernatural forces, with terrifying results.

The film is directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, but the name on the poster I gravitated towards was producer Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pans Labyrinth and Devils Backbone, both of which explore similar themes: they're horror-tinged movies which involve children, but are most definitely made for adults.

The Orphanage excels at building tension. Unlike all the terrible horror films I'm always railing against, this film doesn't resort to cheap scares -- not once does a cat jump out while a loud noise is played on the soundtrack. Long stretches of unease play out naturally, and the soundtrack and film style don't broadcast the scares with obvious cues. Every scary moment in the film is earned.

For anyone who was a fan of The Devils Backbone or Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage is a must. However, I must advise some caution beforehand. Unlike most modern horror movies, The Orphanage is filled with truly disturbing moments and ideas that'll stick with you long after the shock of another film's graphic imagery or jump-scares has faded away.

Shame of the Week!

One Missed Call
When remakes of Japanese horror movies began popping up in American cinemas on a semi-regular basis, they seemed fresh, vibrant, and original. As it did many horror fans, The Ring blew my mind, not least of all because it managed to be an excellently-made horror film that fit within a PG-13 rating. Yet it was also a revelation because of its premise, and because of the character Samara. After seeing The Ring, I immediately sought out Ringu, the Japanese original, and while I thought the Japanese version of Samara (Sadako) was much scarier, over all the Americanized version of the film was better.

Unfortunately, The Ring was an isolated instance. With seemingly every major Asian horror film of note having been remade already -- at least, those that can be; we'll never see faithful translations in the US of Dumplings or Ichi, The Killer, for example -- admittedly second-tier Asian horror franchises like One Missed Call are getting the remake treatment.

While the original One Missed Call has the distinction of having been directed by J-horror autuer Takashi Miike (Audition, Imprint, the aforementioned Ichi), Miike is prolific to the extreme, sometimes directing eight or more full-length features in a single year. At that rate, they can't all be winners, and the original One Missed Call is a collection of J-horror cliches strung around a flimsy plot. The US remake doesn't even have the cachet of the director's name to help us overlook how utterly generic and unoriginal it is. Unless you really want to see The Grudge, The Ring, and Dark Water (etc., ad nauseum) thrown into a blender and spit up onto the screen, avoid it.

Also Out

Charlie Wilson's War
The first of two Philip Seymour-Hoffman releases to hit video this week (and the third in two weeks, going back to last week's excellent Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), Charlie Wilson's War is a "romp" through the events that led to the US arming Islamic militants in Afghanistan against the secular superpower of Russia. Surprisingly, the film isn't preachy at all, giving us the story at face value and letting us make our connections from those events to the modern world we live in.

Having only seen this in the theater, I have no idea if the experience translates effectively on home video. Cloverfield existed in a weird bubble when it was released, with the conversation about the film being as much about its storytelling style and marketing gimmicks as it was about the film's relative merits.

For those you might have been living in a cave, Cloverfield is part of the "giant monster attacks major city" genre, but it's been filtered through the Blair Witch Project found-footage conceit. While we can read into this and make labored comparisons to "the changing face of American culture, with citizen journalism, user-generated content, and blogs replacing traditional methods of getting information", we can also take it at face value and accept that it's a fun way to watch a monster smash stuff up real good.

Which is the only reason to even watch the film. For all its "viral marketing", the characters in the film are incredibly unlikable. Solipsist, selfish, braindead; it is difficult for us to relate to them on any effective level, and thus any opportunity for the film to build real tension is squandered. The monster's various degrees of reveal are worth the hype, however, and the film does something very clever in order to show us flashbacks and still retain its found-footage narrative hook.

For all that, the one thing that stuck with me as I left the theater was a simple question: where did they get the battery for their video camera? I could really use one of those.

Romulus, My Father
A young boy must navigate the tricky waters of a strict father and a mentally ill mother. Multi-layered family tragedy: Not my idea of a good time. Of course, that's a bit flip, because I know the film isn't meant to be "fun", but life has provided me with more than enough experience with mental illness, and I'm not yet ready to find any kind of catharsis on film.

The Savages
Another sadly common family tragedy -- that of caring for an elderly, ailing parent -- is the subject of this film. It's also the second film featuring Philip Seymour-Hoffman of the week! The Savages reportedly does a fine job navigating a tricky subject.

Blu Reyes

The Orphanage is the clear HD pick this week, as I wouldn't recommend One Missed Call to any but the most committed fan of J-horror tropes, and neither of the other two releases are particularly notable.


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