South Korean film The Host follows an aquatic, man-made monster as it terrorizes people along the banks of Seoul’s Han River. When it captures a young girl, Hyun-Seo, her family resolves to find her, no matter what the cost.
Unlike Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake, The Host doesn’t suffer from its long running time. In two hours the film creates a rich story filled with believable characters, intriguing sub-plots and some very impressive CGI. The narrative progresses at an even pace as it slowly builds to a tense, unforeseeable ending. From start to finish, this is an attention-grabbing monster movie.
Perhaps The Host’s strongest element comes from its unique strain of dark humour. The initially laughable mistakes made by lead character Park Gang-Doo can often turn into genuine tragedy seconds later. This cements the notion that this is an average man, propelled into an extraordinary situation. His personality almost lampoons the typical traits main characters often possess in various blockbuster films.
This is one of the best-made monster movies in the last twenty years. It’s tense, character driven and unpredictable. Expect to find a beautiful and haunting addition to the horror genre.
Highlights: Hyun-Seo’s desperate attempts to escape the monster’s lair.
I can’t say I had high hopes when I sat down to watch Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Even the title was somewhat off-putting. I assumed it was another tiring flick from a strange Hollywood trend that’s already given us Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I expected to see an unimaginative, re-imagining of a classic fairy tale. Instead I got an enjoyably goofy movie.
The plot follows a grown up Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) as they travel from town to town hunting witches. Their childhood experiences have made them experts in their line of work and the opening credits presents us with a short montage depicting their rise to fame. The story starts as they take on a routine job: to find a witch that’s been terrorizing a town. Of course, things soon take a turn for the worse and they realize that there’s something bigger going on in Augsburg.
The simple premise may seem lackluster, but after the first ten minutes you’ll find yourself thoroughly invested. The main reason is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Director Tommy Wirkola avoided creating a too-cool-for-school film by adding in some much needed wacky elements. This leads to some hilariously over the top fight sequences and one-liners that really make the movie stand out.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters did well at the box office, and judging by its worldwide gross of over 200 million there’s a good chance many of you have seen it. But if you read the generally poor reviews and assumed it wasn’t worth a watch (like I did), think again. It won’t have stellar performances or an Oscar winning story, but if you want to watch a downright entertaining movie, look no further: this is the film for you.
Highlights: The fight sequences, hands down. Head butting? Skull crushing? Nose breaking? It’s all here, and it’s all gloriously silly.
Produced by the studio Bones, Sword of the Stranger isn’t the most well known feature to come out of Japan. Despite being released in 2007 to sporadic screenings, it still managed to pick up multiple awards around the world. In Ireland it was only screened a few times, most notably as part of the Irish Film Institute’s Anime Weekend back in 2009. Apart from this, the film came and went relatively unnoticed. Regardless of the few screenings it garnered outside of Japan, Sword of the Stranger is a powerful film worthy of your attention.
From the beginning, director Masahiro Ando propels the viewer into feudal Japan: a world filled with beautiful imagery, fearful monks and duelling samurai. The story centers on a nameless samurai hired to protect a boy named Kotaro from a band of warriors. Don’t let the fact that its an anime fool you, this isn’t one for kids. Characters you naturally come to care for hang in the balance amidst the impressively animated (and bloody) fight sequences.
Although it’s been released on DVD and Blu-ray, Sword of the Stranger isn’t an easy film to find. The only way you might find it in Ireland is by trawling through countless specialist shops. The easiest place to find it is online. For the average price (make sure you shop around!) of seventeen euros, it’s well worth the investment.