Newly released on DVD, Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea is no bad-taste epic, but still it benefits greatly from knowing, sardonic voiceover by John Waters — an expert in human folly. The film offers a crash course in the history of California’s Salton Sea, the inadvertent result of an irrigation project gone wrong in the water-starved American West. Once touted as a tourist mecca, the erstwhile resort is known today for the ruins of resort architecture, massive fish die-offs, and an overwhelming stench.
The Host arrives in the U.S. on the kind of advance billing that greeted Asian genre features like the stripped-down horror movie Ringu, the ultraviolent reality-tv parody Battle Royale, and the intensely scripted double-crosses of Infernal Affairs. Those films maxed out geek buzz because they were sterling examples of something Hollywood rarely gets right — the raucous, galvanizing, and uncompromising genre movie. Where Hollywood genre pictures increasingly call attention to their own ridiculousness, somehow the best of their Asian counterparts have managed to keep an unrivalled air of seriousness about them, even when the concept is ridiculously outré: Fukasaku kept the schoolchildren’s deathmatch that was Battle Royale under control by shooting it just like a war movie, and by casting Takeshi Kitano, Japan’s ultimate black-comic performer, in an important supporting role. Scorsese updated Infernal Affairs to great effect partly by working with a William Monahan screenplay that smartly made the story even more hard-boiled, and the Hollywood fantasy film got a boost from the largely po-faced (and intermittently excellent) Lord of the Rings series. With King Kong, Peter Jackson even made a go at rescuing the Hollywood monster movie from the Godzilla slums. But his movie was bloated and overly cutesy and felt, ultimately, ponderous in a way you wouldn’t expect a giant-gorilla movie to be. (Perhaps all those Oscars put the wrong ideas in Jackson’s head.)