I’m often given a stink eye when I proclaim “Reservoir Dogs” as one of my lesser liked Tarantino films. While I think it’s stellar, I also think it possesses a lot of the hallmarks of a fresh talent desperate to impress right out of the gate. That said, I would agree “Reservoir Dogs” is a wonderful example of crime cinema, and a wonderful exploration on the levels of brutal violence. All at once Tarantino explores cartoonish action movie violence, brutal realistic violence, and a personal kind of violence that people still talk about to this day.
Director/Writer Rob Jabbaz’s “The Sadness” is easily the starkest and most depressing commentary on humanity that’s been produced in the last ten years. Humanity during the COVID era (?) has revealed a lot about itself during a pandemic that’s almost proven apocalyptic, and Jabbaz jumps on true events to deliver a message to his audience. Sadly, the message isn’t hopeful. Or optimistic. And no, it’s not at all cynical. It’s truth. It’s a clear cut exploration of civilization, and how easy it is (and can be) for everyone within to turn on each other, and descend in to absolute chaos, sadism, and delirium.
“Playroom” is yet another horror movie with an identity crisis, and the apparent struggle for a solid identity is concocted by director Stephen Stahl who wants a coming of age movie, and a horror movie wrapped in one bizarre package. Paired with homophobic overtones, “Playroom” (also known as “Consequences”) is the story of a group of friends in the eighties (Stahl never lets us forget it’s the eighties) who bond and love one another, and eventually disconnect as life takes its toll.
Director Jeff Wadlow’s (“Truth or Dare”) big screen adaptation “Fantasy Island” is a mess of a genre picture that easily one of the most tonally confused movies I’ve seen in years. Its prologue sets it up as a horror movie, then it becomes a goofy comedy about wish fulfillment, then it’s a character study about a son reconnecting with his father, the next minute it’s a torture revenge thriller, and the next it’s a movie about looking back at what could have been. None of it is remotely creepy, none of it is remotely spooky, and to top it all off, it’s all so painfully boring from beginning to end.
I don’t know what you can chalk it up to. Maybe it was the unfortunate illness of the late great Sid Haig that caused Rob Zombie to re-write a lot of “3 From Hell.” Or maybe he just didn’t know where to take his characters next. For a movie that takes great pains to explaining in detail how and why the Firefly Clan survived, it’s disappointing when “3 From Hell” does absolutely nothing new with them. Rob Zombie has a lot of windows to basically re-invent his characters and present some kind of social commentary, but in the end it’s just Zombie treading water with middling results.
Park chan-wook is no stranger to delivering some of the best character studies that also pack a sense of sexual perversity, and pain within its seams. “The Handmaiden” is one of his most epic in scope dramas that also manages to be one of the most erotic romances I’ve seen in a while. “The Handmaiden” is pure ambition that succeeds in delivering something of a labyrinthian narrative of crime, salvation, and romance that begins as a simplistic drama. It takes a brilliant artist like chan-wook to handle a film that morphs in to various themes and experience various tonal changes without it completely falling apart, but Park chan-wook handles it by making each new turn around the corner absolutely suspenseful.
Jorge kidnaps Isabel and keeps her in his basement hoping that some conditioning and Stendhal Syndrome will make her his. Through torture and punishment, he tries to break her. The brutal story brought to the screen here is written by Marco Tarditi Ortega and directed by Diego Cohen. Together they create a kidnapping story where the victim is brutalized, violated, and tortured in many varied ways. The film brings an imaginative array of ways to make someone suffer and bleed. The way it is shot is relentless, keeping the camera directly on what is happening to victim Isabel at the hands of her captor Jorge who is a medical doctor, giving him better knowledge on how to make her suffer without killing her.
Pascal Laugier’s 2008 “Martyrs” was a grueling experience that masked blatant misogyny and torture as a pseudo-intellectual transcendental tale about the afterlife and the pressing question about where we go when we die. Kevin and Michael Goetz’s remake of “Martyrs” is not only a pointless exercise in futility, but it dodges any and all attempts to improve on the goofy ideas about spirituality by mostly dodging them. By dodging the torture and pegging this as cheap exploitation, and alternately dismissing the ideas about the afterlife and transforming this in to a spiritual horror film, it effectively renders itself pretty damn pointless and dull.