Friday, March 23, 2007

The House Between: Episode Four Trailer ("Visited")

Here's a sneak peek at next week's episode of The House Between, "Visited."

Get ready for the "scare" show!

I'll be blogging my director's notes on "Visited" next Thursday, and the episode will be up Friday, March 30, 2007.




Thursday, March 22, 2007

TV REVIEW: The Tudors

It's good to be king. And it's also good to subscribe to Showtime.

On April 1st, Showtime premieres The Tudors, a new historical series drama created by Michael Hirst. It's the intriguing and - at times - blazingly sexual story of young English King Henry VIII, played with commendable zeal and arrogance by Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, and the goings-on in his majesty's royal court.

The first episode, airing at 10:00 pm April 1st, begins with the assassination of an English Ambassador in Urbino, Italy by command of the French king. King Henry considers French policies "aggressive" and a "threat to every Christian in Europe" and thus decides he is "just" in going to war with France. But, after making such grave pronouncements from the throne, the King really just wants to "play" and so spends time in his bed chambers frolicking with a mistress, bedding a gorgeous blond.

After sex, he asks her - straight-faced: "how is your husband?"

Whew! The "Young Lion," Henry, also happens to be married to Queen Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy), a regal Spanish woman who seems much Henry's elder. Thus far, Katherine has been unable to produce Henry a male heir, and begs him to return to her bed chamber to try again. In one episode, Henry seems so inclined, until another sexy blond Lady in Waiting catches his wandering eye instead. And since Katherine's still at prayer, while the cat (or queen's) away...

Fundamentally, The Tudors is the profile of an intemperate young King, one who is drunk with power. The first episode establishes Henry at play in bed, on the tennis court, and in dangerous knightly jousts (all historically accurate activities of the monarch, by the way). Needless to say, since he's King, everyone always lets Henry win...and thus he actually believes he's God's gift to Earth, and Christendom. In the second episode, when Henry forges an alliance with France and indulges in a wrestling match with the French King, he pays the price for such arrogance and hot-bloodedness. When he loses, he throws a temper tantrum in his quarters, taking it apart like it's one of Johnny Depp's old hotel rooms.

The Tudors consists of exquisite period detail, crisp writing and fine performances, and sets up an interesting dynamic among the King's top advisers. On one hand is manipulative Cardinal Wolsey (Sam Neil), a high-ranking clergymen making back-room deals to become the next Pope, and who will do anything to grab and hold power. At this particular time, that means serving Henry, but one gets the feeling that's really just a means to an end. Another top advisor is Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam), a humanist, idealist and good man who rightly decries war as "an activity for beasts" and says that war costs "ruinous amounts of money" and that Henry would be better off looking "to the welfare of the people." If you think there's a metaphor for our times, here in the 21st century, with the Iraq War, you're absolutely right. Everything King Henry does or doesn't do is about his "ego" and that reminds me of a certain Unitary Executive who believes he's above the Constitution. At least Henry is practical (unlike our President): he realizes that to afford a war, he will have to raise taxes. It's sad when a King from 500 years ago has a better grasp of economic realities than a 21st Century Commander-in-Chief.

Anyway, The Tudors is smart, sexy and literate. I love, for instance, how in one episode, King Henry balances carefully his opposite influences. He discusses, on one hand, Thomas More's Utopia, which calls to the highest angels of human nature and is an outline of how good human society could be. On the other hand, the King discusses his other favored reading material: Niccolo Machiavelli's treatise on "realist" politics, The Prince. How many other drama series today bother to so carefully delineate opposing world views? And use such examples?

Also in the first couple of episodes, King Henry faces an insurrection from inside his court, from the bold (but foolish) Lord Buckingham (Steven Waddington). Later episodes involve an English Ambassador, Boleyn (Nick Dunning), pimping out his gorgeous daughters Mary Boleyn (Perdita Weeks) and the mysterious, dark-beauty, Anne (Natalie Dormer) to the hot-blooded King in an attempt to advance the family's rank and position in court. What's even more intriguing, and at times funny, is the rapidly shifting national alliances. The King signs a treaty for perpetual peace with France, but when humiliated after the wrestling incident, signs the same treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor. When the Emperor breaks faith, the King wants a new treaty with...France! It's enough to make your head spin, and makes you realize - oce more - how all these games are about ego, not what's best for a nation.

Hot-blooded, steamy and witty, The Tudors makes English history come alive in vivid, entertaining terms. One thing's for certain: this show ain't boring! It makes a fine companion piece to other Showtime triumphs such as Brotherhood and Sleeper Cell. I'm actually kind of bummed, because my wife and I have greedily devoured the first six involving installments of the series, and now we have to wait for new episodes to premiere. Damn!

The Tudors

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Author Interview: Paul Kane, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy

Recently, I reviewed here The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, one of the finest and most thoughtful (and enjoyable...) movie companion books I've read in a long while.

This week, I had the opportunity to interview the book's author, Paul Kane, about his work in print, and also the Hellraiser films in general:

MUIR: Tell me how you first came to the idea of writing a companion to the Hellraiser films. Obviously you hold the films in high esteem, but what inspired you to pick up pen and paper, so-to-speak, and engage in this serious, well-written analysis of the franchise?

KANE: The simple answer to that one was it didn’t exist. I’ve been a fan of the series and especially the original movie since I first saw Pinhead looming out at me from the video store shelves when I was in my teens. Over the years there have been some excellent publications connected with both Clive Barker and the series – two by Stephen Jones spring to mind, Clive Barker’s Shadows in Eden and The Hellraiser Chronicles but none that systematically traced the production history or examined the themes in great detail.

Just after completing my BA in History of Art, Design and Film in the mid-90s I got involved in a comprehensive A-Z book of directors working in the industry, and one of the entries I chose to do was Clive, which meant doing a bit of research on Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions. When the company I did that work for had plans to set up an imprint doing short examinations of major movies, I suggested one about the first Hellraiser, something I’d originally been working on with a view to pitching it to the British Film Institute (like the excellent one they’d published concentrating on The Exorcist written by Mark Kermode). I wrote about 15,000 words of this while I was finishing up my MA in Film Studies, so I was noticing more and more with each fresh viewing. Sadly, the imprint vanished and left me with a manuscript I couldn’t get rid of, particularly as the BFI was easing up on their Modern Classics series. I approached a number of film book publishers, but only McFarland suggested I expand the book to incorporate all the movies and the comic series, as well as collectables, and it pretty much took off from there really. I had a few doubts about taking on all that work, but my wife, the horror writer Marie O’Regan, persuaded me to go for it because she knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t. But all in all it’s taken about eight or nine years to get there. So, to answer the question – it’s a book I felt needed to be written and would appeal not just to those interested in film analysis, but to fans of Hellraiser and of Clive’s work in general.

MUIR: Among all the horror franchises out there today, what quality (or qualities) do you think differentiate Hellraiser from the pack? What is it about this series that keeps you coming back?

KANE: When it first came out in 1987, the thing that really differentiated Hellraiser from the rest of the horror pack was that it worked on more than just a superficial level. Compared to the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday 13th and Halloween sagas, this series had something quite serious to say about family life, about obsession, about love. It didn’t just have a killer ripping teens to pieces or quipping as they did so; which is no slight on those particular movies, I’m a huge fan of them too, I’m just saying that Hellraiser brought something new into the mix. A major reason for this was the Cenobites, who are actually not the villains at all when you think about it – Frank and Julia are much more ruthless and evil than they are! So I’d say the complex formula, and the mythology that’s grown from the original set up – introducing the dark god Leviathan, as well as other demons that serve him – is what continues to intrigue me and makes me want to return. It’s a mythology that can, and has, expanded in many different formats with many people adding to the creative pot.

MUIR: How do you feel the Hellraiser films have developed over time? I wrote in my review that I thought the films have gone downhill, but I hold the early entries in high regard. What is your perception of the films? Are they still worthwhile, and why? Was the fourth film the travesty I thought; or do I need to watch it again? Can you rehabilitate it for me?

KANE: I think anything that continues to add to a mythology like this one should be applauded; writers and directors have at least attempted to do something new with the material every time. Hellbound introduced us to Leviathan and the corridors of Hell only hinted at in the original. Hell on Earth gave us Pinhead’s back-history, which fans were crying out for. Bloodline showed the history of the box’s maker, Lemarchand, while Inferno grafted a detective/film noir storyline onto the source material. Hellseeker brought back Kirsty, Deader tackled what might happen if there was a group that could fight the Cenobites, and Hellworld looked at the fanbase and how this has stretched across the internet. Of course, all had their individual faults – from the ease with which Channard defeats the four original Cenobites in Hellbound to the teen killer scenarios of Hellworld, which are a far cry from Clive’s initial concepts. But at least some of the blame for the dip in quality was down to lack of money available and studio interference. The script for Peter Atkins’ original vision of Bloodline is phenomenal – if that had been made, and indeed there is a Yagher director’s cut in existence which was attempting just that, the series might not have gone the way of straight to video/DVD. But the ambition outweighed the budget and then the producers started to moan about Pinhead not being in it until the second section and, well, you get the picture. I think the people in charge of the later films thought they knew what fans wanted – stick Pinhead in there and they’ll be happy – and yet really didn’t understand what made the franchise so special in the first place. All the sequels have something to offer, though, as people will see if they read my book.

MUIR: What was it like getting to interview the great Clive Barker? Doug Bradley?

KANE: Oh, words can’t describe it. I’ve been fans of their work all my life so it’s hard not to get a little star-struck when you first meet someone you admire. However, after you get past the initial ‘wow’ factor, you get chatting and you discover that both Clive and Doug are really down to earth and such terrific blokes. I first met Doug when we approached him to do the introduction to the book. Marie and I invited him along to a British Fantasy Society Open Night and we had a whale of a time talking Hellraiser all night; he was telling us lots of stories about the series. The last time we saw him was last Christmas when we had a little mini-launch in London which Nick Vince (Chatterer) and Barbie Wilde (Female Cenobite from Hellbound) came along to. We all had such a nice night. Clive, we’d been in touch with since he did an introduction to one of our projects back in 2003/4, and we’d been trying to get him over to FantasyCon for a couple of years. Finally, he was able to make it in 2006 and I interviewed him on stage – that was such a brilliant and enjoyable experience for me. But even better was just having a quiet chat and drink with Clive and his assistant Julia away from the limelight. He then took time to go round all the tables at the banquet on the Sunday and sign things for people; he was just a lovely, lovely guy.

MUIR: You write in detail about the influence of Hellraiser on other films and television shows. Can you go into that a little bit here? Where are some of the places you find resonances of the franchise? Do you feel the films are generally more influential than they've been given credit for being?

KANE: Yes, I think that’s probably true. In the book I mention examples like Scorpius from Farscape. How can anyone look at him and not think: Cenobite. Similarly, it’s entirely possible that the appearance of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation could have been influenced somewhere down the line by the Cenobites – they’re just like futuristic versions of them. All of which is quite ironic, because, as I mention in the book, there are certain similarities between the Cenobites and some of the characters from David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, so it’s all kind of circular really. Even if these things are subconscious, they’re there and surely can’t just be coincidence?

MUIR: What would you personally want to see in a remake of Hellraiser? Is a remake a good idea? And if the film is re-made, do you think some elements (like the monster that chases Kirsty in the original...) should be discarded?

KANE: Well, the remake’s been announced, so it’s only a matter of when now. The good news is that Clive is writing it. I think I’d like to see him remain faithful to the concepts from the original, which I’m sure he’d do anyway, but at the same time inject new life into the series. The rubbery look of ‘The Engineer’ should be done away with, definitely, if they decide to bring him back. I reckon they’ll come up with a whole new design for him anyway now – but would be wary of using too much CGI and going down the Star Wars route. I like my monsters solid, and believable. The main sticking point, of course, will be how much money the makers will have to play with.

MUIR: I enjoyed reading your analysis of the Cenobites and particularly your study of how they exploit different human fears; I also thought your comment about them only appearing in seven minutes of the original film was very observant. Why do you think there's such a fascination with Pinhead and the other Cenobites?

KANE: Sometimes less is more, which is definitely the case with the Cenobites in the first film. They’re only on screen for a fraction of the movie, yet are the highlights of it. Much of this is down to the mystery of them – we know nothing about them at all in the original. But a greater part of their attraction is the way they look, the things they have done to themselves. Clive’s description of them as ‘Magnificent Superbutchers’ sums it up nicely. As an audience we want to know exactly how they came to be and why they look the way that they do. During the course of the next few films, we find that out, which I’d argue takes away a little of what made them scary in the first place. However, it did make their characters more rounded and real, so I guess there was a trade off. As for why Pinhead was so popular, well, it’s not every day you see a man with nails banged into his head – there’s something oddly compelling about that and, if you look at some of the Hellraiser messageboards and what the women write on there, quite sexy too. The actors beneath the make-up are also fundamental to the success of the Cenobites, for example Doug’s excellent speeches as Pinhead are part of what makes the character so great. He’s an intellectual demon, just as likely to spout Shakespeare as he is to slit your belly open. That kind of contrast is what people find so fascinating.

MUIR: Which do you think the most underrated Hellraiser film, and why? The most overrated?

KANE: Probably Bloodline. I know it looks a mess and was chopped to bits by the studio, but at the same time there are some wonderful ideas and moments in there. Pinhead in space might sound ridiculous, but I think it actually works here, and again it’s down to Doug’s performance and one of those speeches again as he gazes down and looks at the Earth: “A garden of flesh!” As it stands, it’s still better than the movies that came after it, but the potential of it makes you want to cry. It could have been the best addition since the original or
Hellbound.

MUIR: What do you think the Hellraiser films tell us about humanity, and the human condition?

KANE: On the negative side, it speaks to us about our greed, our appetites – however warped they may be – and the way we continue to sell each other out to save ourselves. But at the same time the mythos contains heroes and heroines that have integrity and courage; think of Kirsty and Tiffany venturing into Hell to try and save Larry – how many of us would have the guts to do that? They are role models to look up to and give us hope.

MUIR: Finally, do you have any other projects in the offing? Any other horror films you're hoping to study?

KANE: I always have projects in the offing, in fact I’m working on multiple books at the moment. Because I have the fiction string to my bow I have to divide my time been writing horror fiction and non-fiction. I have a couple of fiction books coming out soon, the first of which is a two-novella collection of stories featuring my humorous horror hero Dalton Quayle, and the second is a hardback collection of more serious psychological and supernatural stories. In the non-fiction stakes I’m working on one project with Marie that’s extremely exciting, but can’t say too much just yet. We’re really enjoying ourselves with it though. Another book I’m working on is more biographical in nature, and I’m doing some groundwork for another film book; but again, I can’t really say anything other than watch this space and keep checking my news page on the Shadow Writer site every month…

MUIR: Thanks, Paul, for joining us here to discuss your book. I found your analysis very involving and well-written, and I recommend your book wholeheartedly to readers on the blog. In addition, I will be looking forward to your next project with great interest.

Readers interested in ordering Paul Kane's book can order it directly from McFarland here. Or, get The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Return (2006)

I have a difficult time understanding Sarah Michelle Gellar's choices when it comes to appearing in movies. The actress, who has a nice, healthy relationship with the horror film given appearances in films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Scream 2 (1997) and The Grudge (2003), says she won't star in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, yet here she is, signed up for and starring in a relatively rote and predictable supernatural thriller called - blandly - The Return. There are probably about eighty-five episodes of Buffy that are better than this movie; more engaging, more fun, and better written.

Not that The Return is a terrible embarrassment (not in the age of The Wicker Man and When a Stranger Calls remakes..)
Instead, it's merely dreary. It's a low-key, somber, slow-moving, paranormal mystery that features that washed-out, metallic color palette which is apparently de rigueur - and all the rage - in the genre today. Consequently, the film looks like a lot of other films, and the story is as old as the hills: that of two souls (spiritually speaking...) crossing in the dead of night by coincidence, connecting and perhaps changing places.

The Return is the story of Joanna (Gellar), an aggressive saleswoman who harbors some very bad memories from her childhood, particularly a visit to a carnival where a stranger appeared to chase her and called her, menacingly "Sunshine." Joanna's response to the interloper's approach was to cut herself on the leg with a piece of glass, and she's been self-mutilating ever since. Whenever things get a little scary, she cuts herself to relieve the pressure. Personal note: I worked as an office manager in a psychology office for a time, and the most harrowing experience I ever had on the job involved a self-mutilator. She checked in at the front desk, asked to use the bathroom, and then proceeded to break the mirror there, take a shard of glass, and slice open both her arms - length wise. I'll never forget the amount of blood, when she stepped out of the rest room, or the clean-up of that event. So yeah, self-mutilation is pretty scary, and it's actually handled with a high degree of accuracy in the film...though the blood is minimized, this being PG-13 and all.

Back to the movie. On a business trip to Texas, Joanna begins to experience some strange visions. Her car radio mysteriously plays only one song repeatedly, (a Patsy Cline tune), and when she exits the car in terror, she happens upon a road-side accident between two other vehicles. In this scene, Joanna suffers from the horror movie malady of LPV (Limited Peripheral Vision) rather than self-mutilation, because she literally stumbles onto the scene (even though the other vehicles should have been visible from her windshield). Then Joanna blacks out and the next morning, she's sleeping road side and there's no evidence of the accident.

Later, Joanna experiences visions of a mysterious "red bar" and is again accosted by her bogeyman stranger, the "Sunshine" fella. So we're off into the journey to uncover her past, and learn all the dark secrets of a town called La Salle. This involves meeting a redneck stranger, Terry Stahl, and Kathryn perked up when he showed up on screen...she's got a thing for hot scruffy red-necks.

Anyway, It's not so much that the movie is bad...only that it's overly familiar. Horror aficionados will recognize the plot from at least one first season X-Files episode, and going back much further, it was the plot of the very first episode of One Step Beyond, back in 1959, "The Bride Possessed." Of course, there are no new stories, only new ways of telling them, and at times the mystery here is engaging. You want to see how things turn out. But I did find the movie infuriating at points. Too often, we seem to slip into an alternate reality and it is impossible to discern if the scary event that just happened is "real" or Joanna's hallucination. Such ambiguity can be handled well and consistently, but that's not the case here. Also, there's never an explanation given for the car radio going nuts and playing the Patsy Cline song. It's just there to make a creepy moment. Also, the movie has a stylistic hiccup: mini-zooms. At tense moments, the camera lunges forward just a hair, like it's a mini-zoom, and this quickly becomes annoying, and a little funny.

During The Return, I nodded off once, and Kathryn nodded off once. Then we tag-teamed each other and used the buddy system to make certain we could stay awake through the remainder of the picture. We sincerely wanted to finish the movie; it sparked enough interest that we wanted to see how it all turned out.

You can tell from The Return's alternate ending that it really wants to be about re-incarnation, but that's not quite the deal in the theatrical version we watched. I will say this, the alternate ending is better than the one on the movie. And when I researched my One Step Beyond book and looked into paranormal phenomena, the one that had the most anecdotal (and difficult to dismiss...) evidence was reincarnation. So The Return maybe should have stuck with the other ending. Oopsy.

Finally, the only way to deal with a problem is to admit you have one. So, I admit it, I'm an unreformed, unabashed Sarah Michelle Gellar fan. I think she's gorgeous and talented (and she's invited to my house anytime...), but she looks way too thin and a little haggard here. My advice, Sarah? Lay off the supernatural thrillers for a while, and eat a frigging cup cake or something. Oh, and make that Buffy movie.

Monday, March 19, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Host (2006)

When was the last time you saw a really great, new monster movie? Thanks to my buddy, Sam, I saw one this weekend: The Host (2006), from director Joon Ho-Bong. It's a Korean film, and one of the most amusing, entertaining ans scary roller-coaster rides I've seen in a good long while. It may be the most droll, effective and overall fun "monster on the loose" movie since Tremors (1990) came down the pike.

The Host commences in the Han River area of Korea in the year 2000. At a U.S. Base there, a prickly U.S. official orders a Korean underling to dispose of hundreds of bottles of toxic formaldehyde directly into the River. To no avail, the underling protests. Still, the chemicals go directly into the water. Long time aficionados of the "monster movie" format will understand that this is the crucial "bad" authority/government act which then precipitates the creation of a murderous creature. It was atomic testing by America that created Godzilla, for example, in the 1954 Japanese film. And, in the great era of the 1970s, hormone experimentation created giant, feral bunnies in Night of the Lepus (1972), crop dusting chemicals caused spiders to attack William Shatner in Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and, of course, environmental pollution angered an army of frogs in the Ray Milland-starrer, Frogs (1972). The "bad act" by an authority figure thus gets revived in The Host, and fits in with the tone of the entire film...which doesn't gaze kindly on 21st contemporary American leaders p their foreign policy decisions. But more on that later.

After the preamble in 2002 (and another one set in 2002 in which fisherman find a weird mutant in the river...) we cut to the Han River area in 2006. There, river-side, hapless Gang-Du (Kag-bo Song) runs a small food stand with Grandpa, his dad, and takes care of his cute-as-a-button little daughter, Hyun-Seo. Gang Du sleeps all the time (and apparently farts a lot, according to Grandpa...) and basically hasn't made much of himself or his life. He's saving coins to buy his little Hyun-Seo a new cell phone, instead of the malfunctioning one she already owns. Also in the family are Gang-Du's methodical (slowww.) sister - an archery expert named Nam Joo - and his disapproving but resourceful brother, Nam-Il.

On one normal sunny day, Gang-Du is delivering food to some people camping out by shore, when he notices they are all looking at something "dark" in the water, and also hanging from the underside of a nearby bridge. This scene occurs very early in the film, but it's mesmerizing, a show-stopper. On this normal, sunny day by the water (no perpetual rain fall to hide the effects, as in the 1998 American Godzilla...), a terrifying monster emerges from the River and goes on a vicious, sustained, five-minute attack. The way this set-piece is shot is extraordinary: Gang-Du is still carrying food to deliver when he sees folks running in the distance. There's something big and black behind them...at first just glimpsed...and it keeps getting closer. Then there's no hiding the monster, it's just suddenly there, in full view of the audience, on the rampage.

The monster runs through a trailer full of people (and there's some blood...), tosses people around willy-nilly, and - in a horrifying moment - catches young Hyung-Seo in its whip-like tail and leaps back into the river...gone. What I love about this action scene is that there's no "tease," no hiding the monster for the third act, but furthermore it features tremendous amount of naturalism in the way the beast just shows up and goes on the attack. I also love the way it moves. The monster stumbles on stairs, knocks into things, and generally acts like a confused but hungry animal. There's no attempt to make the beast "as smart as man," like many monster films...it's a MONSTER and it wants to eat. It's gathering food...

After the horrible monster attack at the Han River, the American government gets involved, convinced that those close to the beast have contracted a deadly virus, like SARS, and that they must be quarantined. Gang-Du and his family are duly sent to the hospital, but then - one night...after being poked and prodded by doctors all day, Gang-Du gets a garbled phone call, one that makes him realize his daughter is still alive...in the lair of the monster.

To share any more of The Host's story would ruin the surprise and the movie's fun, but honestly, I know of no movie that I can properly claim is a direct antecedent to this effort. The closest monster film I can think of, is Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), which told the story of a small-time con-man, played by Michael Moriarity, who found the nest of a giant lizard atop the Chrysler Building, and then attempted to exploit that discovery with the police. Now, The Host doesn't involve a con-man, but it utilizes the monster in much the same fashion: to illuminate a human character; to reveal the inner core of a man.

Only in The Host, it's not just Gang-Du that is illuminated, it's his whole crazy family: a bickering, hysterical, loving, very funny bunch. And again, I can think of no other monster movie in which a funeral memorial turns into a grieving free-for-all, with family members kicking and hitting each other, all while screaming hysterically. But that happens here. The Host moves easily from one tone to another, sometimes scary, sometimes grievously sad, sometimes incredibly funny. In that way, it mirrors our real lives.

And that's the reason why the monster, I think, and other characters too, sometimes stumble and fall down in the act of what they're doing. For instance, there's a very funny scene in which a Korean official wearing a bio-hazard suit, struts into a quarantine zone, and slips and lands on his ass. He then stands up and demands, of the surrounded crowd, "Attention!" Like he didn't have the attention of everyone all ready with his pratfall. This is not only an attempt to puncture bureaucracy, it's a nod to real life. People fall and get up and carry on. So do monsters.

Of course, monster movies always run the risk of being unrealistic, yet by setting his monster flick on sunny days, and by having characters say and do sometimes funny, silly things, director Joon Ho-Bing actually makes the scenario that much more realistic. We can recognize the Park family (Gang-Du's family) as one like our own, and you'll be rooting for them to rescue Hyun-Seo. And boy do they give it their all. And, let me just say...not everyone survives. So the comical family bickering gives way to family tragedy at points, and there's one monster-hunting scene by a sewer that will break your heart. Gang-Du makes a terrible, terrible mistake, and it costs him dearly when the monster goes after someone he loves. In that horrifying moment, The Host reaches the full-potential of the sub-genre, the monster movie. You're fully engaged with the characters, and hoping things had turned out differently. I love Godzilla movies and King Kong movies, but in many of them, it's just screaming masses running away, or caught under the monster's feet. You don't sympathize with each victim because you don't get to know them very well. Here, that's simply not the case. The characters feel more real than in most Hollywood movies, even though they're dealing with a "fantasy" situation, a monster.

For instance, there's a wonderfully authentic and human scene wherein Grandpa, Gang-Du and his siblings are sharing a dinner. Gang-Du has - again - dozed off, and Grandpa takes that opportunity to tell the siblings the reasons why they should not be cruel to this boy. Why, in fact, his failings exist, and why they should tolerate him. It's a beautifully played sequence that reveals the unconditional love of a parent, and explains why Grandpa feels so close to this particular man. The scene is honest at the same time it's howlingly funny, but that could be said of much that goes on in The Host.

Like the original Godzilla, there's also clearly a social statement underlying much of The Host, and it reveals, I'm sad to report, how far America has again fallen from the graces of the international community. Remember the Oxygen Destroyer Doomsday weapon in Godzilla? Here, the Americans attempt to deploy a similarly destructive countermeasure against the monster they created, in this case a toxin called "Agent Yellow." Thus, the end of the film depicts the release of this chemical agent, and many characters end up bleeding out of their ears from exposure...

Also, it's impossible not to read what occurs in The Host as a comment on the never-ending Iraq War. The Americans in the film create the problem (polluting the river...), much as we sided with Saddam Hussein and sold him American helicopters and chemical weapons during his war with Iran in the 1980s. (Trivia: did you know that Donald Rumsfeld was Reagan's envoy to Hussein? Or that Hussein received the Key to the City of Detroit for his "friendship" with America?) Then, once the monster is created in the film, America becomes convinced it has infected the community, and goes on a rampage to discover the source of the virus. Without going into further detail, just let me state that the "monster virus" hunt is about the same as WMD hunts in Iraq. Then, finally, America swoops into stop the monster (as we invaded Iraq...) and deploys Agent Yellow...thus causing a new round of terror. Yeah, our image has taken a hit....

I might be accused of reading this subtext into the film by some who would which it weren't so, but I'm surer than I've ever been; this ain't any liberal tendencies on my part: this is an accurate reading of the script's text. It's like a slap in the face to see how badly we are obviously regarded by the maker's of this film. But, we all have to pay the consequences of our actions, and obviously America is going to be paying for the misadventure in Iraq for a long time. And not just in monster movies, either.

There are some really great moments in The Host. One of my favorite images involves the monster disgorging torrents of bones from its maw after digesting some victims. It's a really gross regurgitation...and one that seems to never end. Yick. Another aspect I liked involves how the monster navigates bridges: it flips, tail-to-head, head-to-tail, while traversing their under-structures. I also appreciated the film's two exquisite jump scares, and - of course - the scene wherein Gang-Du attempts to convince the Americans he doesn't have the virus, but everything he says only confirms to the Americans that he's infected. Very funny stuff.

The Host is a particularly human monster movie, and if the film's final scene, set back in that tiny food stand, doesn't make you a little misty, then you might be the one who's a monster.