Quick Takes: The Happiness of the Katakuris, The Babadook, Terror Train

katakurisThe Happiness of the Katakuris [カタクリ家の幸福] (2001)
threehalfstar

Starring Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki
Directed by Takashi Miike

It’s a stretch to call Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris a horror movie, but it does require being something of a horror fan to truly enjoy its multi-genre insanity. The premise is pretty standard horror movie fare, but don’t be fooled; this is anything but a standard film. The Katakuri family has opened a Bed & Breakfast in a remote part of Japan and are very happy when they receive their first guest. They are not so overjoyed when they discover he’s killed himself, which plays out on-screen in one of the finest moments of movie musical I think I’ve ever seen. Yes, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a warped, horror-ish musical comedy… and it’s a blast. According to the booklet included in Arrow’s wonderful Blu-Ray edition, there’s apparently a whole genre of films similar to this in Japan, but until I see definitive proof I’ll regard The Happiness of the Katakuris as a unique product. Besides, even if wacky Japanese musicals are a thing, I can’t imagine the whole genre is quite this inspired. It’s also worthwhile to note that Miike’s film is a remake of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family, but I haven’t seen that one so I can’t offer any comparisons. If you’re into weird cinema that strays far, far off the beaten path, or you’re looking to completely baffle your conservative, mainstream friends and relatives, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a fantastic selection. Plus: Tetsuro Tamba (who I’m familiar with from his roles in Hong Kong films such as The Water Margin)!

babadookThe Babadook (2014)
fourstar

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters
Directed by Jennifer Kent

In general, I’m one of those people saying that modern horror just isn’t up to snuff. But then something like The Babadook comes along and proves me completely wrong. Artfully well-crafted and featuring an exceptional pair of performances from its leads (Essie Davis & Noah Wiseman), The Babadook is gripping from start to finish. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll remain vague, but what set the movie apart is that it engages as both a visceral horror movie and as an intellectual piece. I spent the whole film in rapt attention, creeped out to the hilt and always questioning and deconstructing what the film was feeding me. It’s even more impressive to learn that this is the feature debut of director Jennifer Kent! Cross your fingers, say the name of your favorite horror film three times into the mirror, and wish upon a star that The Babadook is the beginning of a stellar career and not a lone spark in the darkness. Either way, The Babadook is fan-fucking-tastic, and you need to check it out.

terror-train-movie-poster-1980-1020541661Terror Train (1980)
threestar

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, David Copperfield, Derek McKinnon, Sandee Currie, Timothy Webber, Anthony Sherwood, Howard Busgang, Steve Michaels, Greg Swanson, Vanity
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

You can quickly describe Terror Train as “a slasher set aboard a train,” but to do so is to overlook the fun of the movie. It’s a slasher on a train! With crazy Halloween masks, Jamie Lee Curtis and magic courtesy of the one and only David Copperfield! But maybe that doesn’t do it for you; you’re more of a discerning cinephile type. Well, Terror Train marks the directorial debut of Roger Spottiswoode, director of such cinematic classics as Turner & Hooch, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Tomorrow Never Dies! If that’s still not enough cred for you, Terror Train features cinematography by Oscar-winner John Alcott, who got his big break/promotion while working on something called 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to shoot such classics as A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend! As you might have figured out by now, I don’t have much to say about Terror Train! Nonetheless, it was a fun ride, and fans of late ’70s / early ’80s horror will most likely have a good time with it, too.

True Lies (1994)

trueliesStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston, Marshall Manesh

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: High. Haven’t since this in a long time.

threestar


True Lies is an interesting entry in the Arnold filmography for me. It’s one that I watched a gazillion times on VHS in the ’90s, but since I hit adulthood I’ve never even had the urge to re-watch it. I would often think back fondly on it, but unlike something like Predator, where a primal “MUST WATCH” urge overtakes me every once in a while, I’ve never longed to see True Lies again. And now that I’ve re-watched it, why I felt this way about True Lies is readily apparent: I’ve already seen it too many times to truly enjoy it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, an international spy working for the Omega Branch, an ultra-secret arm of the US government focused on counter-terrorism. His wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), is completely oblivious to this, firmly believing Harry’s cover-up story that all those late nights and weekend trips are diligently spent working at his computer sales job. Meanwhile, an Arab terrorist group called Crimson Jihad is up to no good, and before too long these three main components of the film all crash together with some big ol’ James Cameron action sequences.

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It’s Totally Perfect!

MOV_55b8ce66_bToday many movies are for entertainment and are not classically great. I believe a great movie is one that you can’t get enough of; you just have to watch it over and over again. The movie Perfect falls under the “great” category. Usually movies are categorized into one or two genres, but Perfect takes the cake and slices its way into three categories: drama, comedy, and romance. Too bad sexy isn’t a genre. Perfect is a great movie because it manages to capture a time period with its awesome history, radical setting, and bitchin’ acting. When we think of films rooted in history we often think Schindler’s List or Hotel Rwanda, but not Perfect. Perfect is, however, based upon a series of articles by journalist Aaron Latham that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in the ’70s and ’80s.

The movie’s two main characters are Adam Lawrence (John Travolta), a writer for Rolling Stone, and Jessie (Jamie Lee Curtis), a fitness instructor for The Sports Connection. The movie begins with Adam trying to persuade his boss Mark (Jann Wenner, real-life founder and editor of Rolling Stone) to send him to Los Angeles to get an interview with a notorious mobster. Mark agrees to send Adam to California with the stipulation that Adam will simultaneously write a story about fitness clubs becoming the new “singles’ bars” in California.

In the ’80s, the health and fitness craze was in full swing. Bally’s Total Fitness, Richard Simmons, Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical, and Nike’s Just Do It campaign were all introduced. The Sports Connection was a legendary institution, considered a main hub of America’s newfound obsession with StairMasters, dance aerobics, and sweatbands. It was the first club to give its members the total package, offering healthy foods, juice bars, instructor-led training sessions, and a place where singles could meet other singles. Although the film is not historical in the traditional sense, it captures the essence of the sun-soaked, sweat-drenched California of the eighties. The beaches, palm trees, roller skating, and overall California vibe are a constant backdrop, not to mention the blatant sexuality of living in California during the height of the fitness craze. Jessie also represents the archetypical fitness instructor, wearing leg warmers, headbands, tights, and leotards throughout the film. When a movie is able to weave non-fictional events into a fictional framework, there is much more substance.

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Perfect (1985)

perfect-movie-poster-1985-1020252039Starring John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jann Wenner, Marilu Henner, Laraine Newman, Anne De Salvo, Mathew Reed

Directed by James Bridges

Expectations: High.

threestar


I think it’s clichéd to open up with some variation of “Perfect was perfect!” but for what it was, Perfect was kinda perfect. Modern viewers are never going to understand what makes Perfect so exciting and entertaining; they’ll be lost in the sea of skin-tight, multicolored leotards and shaking asses. But where those modern viewers might call Perfect‘s dated and very ’80s vibe a bad thing, this was exactly what made it so enjoyable to me. It reminded me of my childhood when the aerobics craze was sweeping the nation, with hype so huge I thought aerobics had only just been invented. How proud I was at six years old to live in a time when we had discovered this new, fun way to tone our bodies.

Perfect tells the story of Adam Lawrence (John Travolta), a reporter for Rolling Stone who’s working on a huge story surrounding the investigation of a business man accused of shady dealings. While on an interview for this story, he happens to spot some 20-somethings heading for the gym in their wonderful ’80s aerobic wear. One article pitch later and Travolta is investigating the health club singles’ scene at The Sports Connection in LA, and ogling a furiously gyrating Jamie Lee Curtis.

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