Riveting Rentals

To para-quote Paul Newman from the end of The Color of Money (a great movie by the way), I’m back, baby!  After a 3-year hiatus I am returning with renewed vigor to the business of writing about movies.  I took down everything on my WordPress blog and re-posted it, this time with a more organized approach, e.g. being careful to keep the order of previous writings.  I suggest reading “About this Blog”, above.

There is much to write on.  The previous 19 postings just ripple the waters of everything I’d like to swim into.  For this first posting direct-to-blog, I figured a good starting point would be to talk about a group of recommended movies that I’ve watched since entering my Apple TV phase, where almost all movies I watch at home are streamed over the internet.  These movies add on to prior posts Movies that’ll get ya and I still know some movies that’ll get ya.

The first and best of these is a harrowing tale called The Last House on the Left (2009 version, a remake of the original which I have not seen).  The journey begins in the world of ordinary happy vacation times, but quickly enough our main characters are in way over their heads, and there is no easy retreat from the ensuing foray into terror.

Basically the general story has been seen many times – some innocent people who just bump into the wrong folks.  These are some really wrong folks.  What struck me about this movie was its ability to captivate me, to drag me along on this journey with the characters.  When our heroine, the main character Mari, gets in over her head so do we.  As the trouble for her and her friend Paige begins, there are little blips of hope here and there that she will be able to extricate herself from the situation, that she and Paige will be able to save themselves.

But they are not so lucky.  Mari is forced further and further along a brutal path, and all the while the bad guys expand their region of terror.  As I write this it all sounds a little clichéd, but the big picture is that it is not clichéd, for it is done so well that it is elevated to become a standard-bearer of the terror/thriller genre.  Within what this movie is trying to do, you could even call it a masterpiece.

That I can recall so vividly the events of this movie speaks to its power.  If you believe in my recommendations, I strongly suggest looking into this one as little as possible.  The IMDb page I think gives away too much, as does the preview.  But this movie is so good that none of that should matter – you’ll still have a great time.

* * *

Along these same lines — in this case a couple just trying to have a little peace and quiet — is Straw Dogs (2011), with Kate Bosworth from Blue Crush.  A prevalent theme in these movies is a clash of classes, and in Straw Dogs our young, educated couple try to get along as best they can and not rub their new neighbors the wrong way — but it doesn’t take much to set the country lads off.  Employing them to help fix their barn roof only serves to worsen the situation.

You know right at the outset that a battle royal is brewing.  This take on a basic storyline is given a little extra depth from a local pariah of the community who is thrown nicely in the mix.  A lesser film than The Last House on the Left, but still quite well done.  Straw Dogs is a remake of a 1971 movie with Dustin Hoffman, which I am curious to see.

I Spit on Your Grave (2010) continues along this vein, except now, instead of a couple, we are presented with a single, attractive young lady who thinks it a good idea to spend some time in a ramshackle backwood for a little peace and quiet.  Why make it difficult for the local folk — just give them a single, defenseless, unattached woman.  Though this movie begins with the basic plot lines of Straw Dogs and The Last House on the Left, this one differs in that it is a revenge flick, which can be kinda fun.  A mild recommendation; see the preview first.  If ’tis what you’re in the mood for you may have a good time.

After that ringing endorsement, let’s move on to something truly riveting – Eden Lake (2008, with Michael Fassbender, now a big star).  This one I saw a while ago — so long ago that it came from a brick-and-mortar Blockbuster, and it was a Blockbuster exclusive straight-to-video type movie, though IMDb says it was shown on 10 screens in the U.S.  So you definitely don’t expect much going in.  But this one still resonates with me.  Another young couple trying to have a nice picnic by the lake… and then a a little run-in with a group of boys, nothing terribly consequential — at first.  Except that’s just the starting point of an ever-escalating world of terror and survival for this couple.  Fantastic ending too, which puts this one in the company of The Mist — high praise indeed.  Not on a greatness level of The Mist, but just as riveting.

A quick mention of Lake Dead (2007), another direct-to-Blockbuster DVD I watched around that time.  Not recommended per se, but worthwhile if you want a little fun camp and can’t get enough of the genre — you could do worse.

A Perfect Getaway deserves note;  2009, with hottie Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn, who’s been in a hunderd different things including HBO’s New Orleans, post-Katrina original series Treme.   Yes, as the title suggests, we have another vacationing couple, this time in lush Hawai’i.  Now instead of being isolated and alone, there are other vacationers around, as you might expect in Hawai’i.  But news has broke about psychopathic murderers loose on the island, and soon enough our couple becomes suspicious that the murderers might be their hiking partners.  The set-up is beautiful, quite Hitchcockian in fact, and this movie runs with it and takes us on a great vacation as well, until…

This was a fantastic movie…  until!  There is one hyper-plot twist that occurs about two-thirds through that I found rather unbelievable, despite a feeble explanation that the movie-makers patched together.  This plot twist ruined what was becoming one great story.  Still though, overall entertaining — and you might not be bothered by the plot twist.

Gone (2012, Amanda Seyfried) is about a young lady who, as a background story, a couple years back was kidnapped yet somehow escaped.  She comes home to find her sister missing, and is convinced her former kidnapper took her, mistaking her for herself.  Problem is, the police don’t believe her — apparently she has not always provided the best facts.  So she is forced to find her sister by herself.  The basic plot of this movie is not exactly original, but Gone was very, surprisingly good – a real whodunnit-type adventure with some juicy sequences.  Recommended.

* * *

All of the movies in this post so far stick to the world of the “real”, i.e. there are no ghosts, or goblins, no zombies or aliens; no paranormal involvement whatsoever.  Sure, some of the events are a little far-fetched, but so what — that’s how movies entertain us.  Make it both “real” and thrilling, as Last House and Eden Lake do, and you’ve got a great night at the movies.

As a teaser for my next post, on movies which reach to the “unreal”, I recommend The Uninvited (2009), a superb and “theatrical” movie which I somehow connect to Gattaca — because of the appearance of the water and the house I think.

At the center of the story is a young woman named Anna (Emily Browning), who has a disturbed recent past following the death of her mother.  She returns home from a mental hospital to live with her close sister, Alex, her father, and his girlfriend, conveniently their mother’s former live-in nurse Rachel, played  zestfully by Elizabeth Banks.  The sisters don’t like her — and neither does the audience.  Rachel seems to exude evil intent — do away with the mother and take over this new family.  Akin in that sense to the impeccable The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, but the story here is completely different.

This movie’s got a great feel to it, a movie you can relish.  Highly recommended.  The poster makes it look like a big haunted house/ ghost movie, but it really is not.  The haunting here is with Anna, not so much the house itself.  She has her own disturbed thoughts to exorcise — and reconcile with reality.


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