Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Keanu X 2, plus Toronto vs. rats

For reasons I cannot fully explain, I feel exhausted, run down, without energy. Maybe it's just a "holiday crash," where your system, given a chance to rest, immediately takes ill to guarantee you DO rest... but I haven't been working many hours, so that's not a very likely explanation... I hope I'm not coming down with something (but I think I am - I have this deep rattle in my chest that suggests a major bronchial event is going to go down, alas).
... but anyhow. Watched a few fun films this week, all better than I expected. Keanu Reeves, it turns out, directed a martial arts film in China a few years ago, called Man of Tai Chi. It somehow passed below my radar; possibly because the majority of it is in Chinese, it didn't seem to get much of a showing over here, but I thought it was pretty great, for what it was - a crisply-directed actioner about an idealistic young tai chi student, Tiger Chen - both the actor and his character have that name - who uses tai chi as an actual fighting skill; he attracts the attention of a very dangerous, even evil man (played to the hilt by a very chilly Reeves), who enlists him in a sort of underground fight club that is far more sinister than he realizes. More than that you need not know, but I enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed John Wick - indeed, I thought it the more interesting of the two films, since John Wick, when the chips are down, is basically a formula revenge film. There are elements of formula in Man of Tai Chi, too, no doubt, but when it's a formula I haven't had much exposure to - "idealist is seduced and corrupted, must fight back" - that's almost the same as being original, innit?
Also better than I expected: Eli Roth's Knock Knock. As readers of my blog will know, I was disappointed by The Green Inferno, possibly because my expectations were too high; I may have to see it again, to try to evaluate it more objectively - I think I still do care about the film, find it still lodged in my brain somewhere - but surely some of my criticisms of the film were valid, and that it is nowhere on a level with, say, Roth's Hostel films. Knock Knock also wasn't so well received - it made its theatrical debut in Vancouver playing for one week at a Hollywood Three cinema out in Surrey! - but it turns out it's the better film, funny, smart, suspenseful, well-acted by Keanu and its female leads (one of whom, Lorenza Izzo, is apparently Roth's girlfriend or something, and starred in The Green Inferno too. She's not bad!).  It's a less ambitious film, but harder, for that reason, to fuck up. To contextualize it is to spoil it, so be warned - if you understand the next sentence you will know more about the film than you ideally should. It's essentially a sexualized, exploitation-level variant on Haneke's Funny Games, where the intruders are sexy girls and their victim a family man, left alone at home for Father's Day; the punchline, meanwhile, owes just a wee bit to the last line of Panos Cosmatos' unsung Toronto tax shelter rats-versus-homeowner horror classic, Of Unknown Origin, but it's the sort of "theft" that makes me smile to learn that Roth must admire that film. Originality is over-rated, though: the film believes in itself, believes in its story, and tells it reasonably well. People who enjoy Keanu Reeves will doubtlessly find stuff to like in it.
Speaking, finally, of rats.... I was poking around one of HMV Metrotown's "twofer" shelves the other day, and found two Scream Factory releases on it, to my surprise; reading the back of the box of both made them immediate must-buys. The first - ratless, as far as I know, and as yet unseen by me - was Die, Monster, Die!, an adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Colour out of Space," starring Boris Karloff. I shouldn't really be buying new Blu's at all, but that's a three-point combination (sale/ Lovecraft/ Karloff) that I have a very hard time resisting; if I need extra rationalization for picking it up, Mom enjoys Karloff as much as I do, and we will presently have a great night together watching it. A less obvious winning combination applies in the case of Deadly Eyes, also purchased: Toronto/ tax-shelter/ killer rats (and sale, too!). I am partial to any movies where animals attack people, and am willing, even excited, to watch any horror films made in Canada in the 1970's and 1980's as part of the tax-shelter years, when investors could dodge paying taxes (and even make a fairly safe return) by investing it in cheapo exploitation. Deadly Eyes is certainly that, and part of my immediate fondness for it lies in its badness: to make its effects more "real," the filmmakers dressed a horde of Dachshunds in fur coats, to play the rats, intercutting scenes of them running in the sewers and such with close-ups of animatronic rats that look for all the world like evil muppets, maybe something from The Dark Crystal or such. The doggie rats are actually the superior effect, though the filmmakers should have taken more care to excise scenes in which they raise their heads in distinctively Dachshund-like ways, tipping the game. I am not sure why, as a non-Torontonian, I would find myself so charmed by this film, since it's not very good; but it's also better than a few of its kin, and has a small role for Lisa Langlois, who also appeared in a balls-out B-movie classic, Class of 1984, as one of the evil punks (she's in Happy Birthday to Me, too, but I didn't really enjoy that one much. as I recall). The director, Robert Clouse - better known for a couple of key Bruce Lee films - also made another animal-menace film called The Pack, which I thought was pretty great (marauding dogs vs. Joe Don Baker: Clouse does better with dogs when they're not dressed up in fur). 

Nothing else going on. As I finish this, it's 6am, and I'm on the couch, coughing: I'm electing to annoy and awaken the sleeping cat, rather than the sleeping girlfriend.  Merry Christmas...

No comments: