DVD reviews
August 2007

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby

The Last Mimzy

New Line honcho Bob Shaye hasn't directed a film since the 1990 flop Book of Love. Since then, he has focused on milking the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and fighting with Peter Jackson over Lord of the Rings profits. It didn't seem likely that he'd get behind the camera again.

Shaye has affection for the Lewis Padgett children's story “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” however, and spent years trying to put together a film version. When everything finally fell into place, he hired himself as director. You get to do that when you're the boss

The resulting film, The Last Mimzy, has an intriguing storyline about a young brother and sister (Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) who find mysterious "toys" on the beach. As they develop astonishing new skills and knowledge, the children discover that these objects were sent from the future to seek help in healing the dying human race.

So far, so good. The kids are natural, likable actors and Shaye is a competent (if not very original) director. But he and his team of screenwriters keep mixing theoretical science with flaky New Age rambling, and the film ends up playing like a grade school version of The Secret. Everything from palmistry to wormholes is incorporated in a perfectly straight-faced manner, and by the time The Last Mimzy is over, your reaction will probably have gone from "hmm, this is interesting" to "man, this is weird."

Extras: A dry but informative commentary from Shaye; several very good making-of features; another set of features about the story's real-world influences; deleted scenes; interactive games, onscreen trivia and DVD-ROM features. (PG) Rating: 3.


The Host (Single-Disc Edition)

This South Korean sci-fi movie was a worldwide hit, and it's not hard to see why. A large city being terrorized by some grotesque mutant is a winning formula no matter where you happen to be.

Director Bong Joon-ho tampers with that formula just enough to make The Host stand out from the pack of Asian creature features. First, he doesn't waste time with a mystery about the monster's origins or appearance. The illegal toxic dumping that creates the thing is revealed in the first scene (and is apparently — and appallingly — based on an actual event). The monster itself appears in full view very early in the film, and it's a fantastic, fully realized creation. Even the authorities are quick to respond.

Most significantly, the script focuses not on intrepid action heroes, but on an average family whose youngest member (Ko Ah-sung) has been abducted by the creature. As they scramble to find her while dodging both her captor and the military, Bong gets to riff on family dysfunction, government insensitivity and the joys of a good monster mash.

The Host could legitimately be accused of having an anti-American bent since it's one of our guys who order the contamination and the U.S. response to the crisis is near diabolical. In both cases, there is no explanation for these actions except an apparent desire to do harm. It's hardly a fair portrayal, but it probably reflects the Korean attitude toward our presence in the country. The local authorities aren't much better. The monster almost seems like an innocent victim by comparison, yet another way in which Bong cleverly subverts the genre's conventions.

Extras: A commentary by Bong and critic Tony Rayne, which provides excellent insight into the film's cultural and cinematic background; deleted scenes that look like scraps from the editing room floor; fake news clips; an amusing "apology" to the faceless extras and inconvenienced citizens who helped The Host get made. (R). Rating: 4.


Premonition

Sandra Bullock is a good dramatic actress, but she always seems to have trouble finding serious scripts that aren't as funny as her comedies. German filmmaker Mennan Yapo's Premonition is a step in the right direction, but it ultimately gets crushed under the weight of its own gimmick.

Bullock plays Linda, a housewife whose husband (Julian McMahon) is killed in a car wreck on the way home from a business trip. The day after his death, she wakes up to discover that he's alive and well — and hasn't left for his trip yet. Every day is out of order, and Linda tries to piece together what's happening and how she can prevent the tragedy.

It's an interesting set-up, but as with most stories involving ESP and time travel, it doesn't make much sense. Yapo has no apparent interest in enlightening the audience, either, including only one vague scene with Linda's priest, in which he basically tells her not to try to understand what's happening. How convenient.

Premonition does have a few unusual twists, and Linda is a realistic character, equal parts tough, intelligent and traumatized. It is actually possible to care about her fate and the fates of those around her, instead of being hung up on the plot mechanics. That may be Yapo's way of avoiding the issue, but at least he puts a major effort into at least one aspect of the storyline.

Extras: A making-of doc; deleted scenes and an alternate ending; a helpful feature that straightens out the movie's timeline (as much as possible, anyway); a commentary by Bullock and Yapo. (PG-13). Rating: 3.


Zodiac

Through the late '60s and early '70s, the Zodiac killer kept California on edge, murdering five people in cold blood and taunting police and reporters with threatening letters. David Fincher's account of that era follows San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who becomes interested in, then obsessed with the case (the script is based on Graysmith's books). He continues investigating long after everyone else has moved on, always seemingly on the verge of solving the mystery.

Of course, he doesn't, as any student of modern criminal history knows. The Zodiac was never found or identified, and although Graysmith comes up with some good theories, the answers simply aren't there. This creates a challenge for Fincher, who has no real resolution to give to his story. People were killed, lots of other people tried to find the killer, they didn't. That's pretty much it.

Good thing Fincher is such a talented director, then, because it takes near-genius to hold audience interest when your film has no real end. That's almost literally true, in fact — Zodiac runs more than 2 1/2 hours, when 2 hours would have been plenty. How many times can you show characters pursuing false leads? It gets a little old.

What Fincher does right is build atmosphere, and not just by making his film disturbing and suspenseful (although he is very, very good at that). He also evokes the time period in an almost palpable way, and there are times when a viewer could forget that Zodiac wasn't actually made in the '70s. Even the studio logos at the beginning are in the older style. And after years of CSI and the like, watching people search for a killer without benefit of DNA analysis, cell phones or the Internet is almost as frustrating for us as it is for them.

That, more than any murder mystery, is what keeps Zodiac from becoming tedious. It's not really a film about solving a series of homicides. It's a film about what it feels like when you can't.

Extras: None, except a trailer for the 2-disc special edition, due out in 2008. (R). Rating: 4.

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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