The Lost


Whatever happened to the red-meat, teens-in-trouble, blood-and-breasts American horror film? On the

evidence here, it’s been driven nearly underground. To be clear, The Lost,

which played the festival circuit and got a handful of theatrical showings in New York and Los

Angeles, isn’t a great film. It’s limited by its

budget, a general flabbiness around the midsection, and genre conventions that

serve as reminders of the film’s status as horror product. But, compared to the

cynical teen-scare flicks and semi-competent J-horror knock-offs clogging multiplex

screens, The Lost feels unhinged and even a little dangerous. Its climax has a

ferocity and evokes a sense of helplessness that’s hard to shake. If the ability to

genuinely disturb is any measure of a horror film’s quality, then The Lost is a

pretty good one.

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I’m not sure what to say about this pretentious, explicitly Freudian crime drama (when I say “pretentious” I mean “opens-by-quoting-Julius-Caesar-and-chess-theory” and when I say “explicitly Freudian,” I mean “ends-with-actual-psychoanalyst-types-lecturing-the-audience”) except that it’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a long time. Divorced from his usual ass-kicking context, Jason Statham loses most of his star appeal, and Ray Liotta has a gamely unhinged presence here that functions as a welcome distraction from his tedious narrative surroundings rather than an actual performance.

The story works on two levels. On one, it’s a bunch of generic hoo-hah about a casino owner (Liotta), a conman with a grudge (Statham), and a couple of mysterious thugs (Vincent Pastore and André Benjamin). On another, it’s a breathtakingly silly melodrama about the internal tensions between the ego and the id. Liotta and Statham’s high-decibel dramatizations of that conflict, seen in close-up and among quick edits — obviously devised as showpiece segments — are especially headache-inducing. Only a subplot involving a minor character, the stoic assassin Sorter (Mark Strong), who is eventually seen resolving his own internal tensions in spectacular, stylishly violent fashion, succeeds by at least delivering a gratuitous thrill. Otherwise, it’s an embarrassing failure.

Jack Bauer and the Power of Suggestion

The New Yorker has an interesting story on 24, real-world torture, and the politics of series creator Joel Surnow (hint: he has a big ol’ American flag under glass in his office). I still watch the show religiously, although I liked it better when Jack Bauer’s antics were so far over the top (“I’m gonna need a hacksaw!”) that it was obviously set in a world that bore only superficial resemblance to Planet Earth. The more earnestly the show trots out water-cooler debates about abridged civil liberties vs. the threat of overstated catastrophe, or wallows in alleged psychological gravitas (can Jack’s heart get any harder and still keep the blood pumping to his fists?), the more it seems to move away from the great, very dark joke(s) at the heart of its sociopolitical fantasia. Anyway, while I guess I can understand the concern in some quarters that 24 is sending the wrong message to the world about how America settles its ideological conflicts, I find it absurd and/or unspeakably disturbing that we would ever have to worry that real soldiers in a real war — and their military bosses — would take their cues vis a vis the physical treatment of the alleged enemy from a fictional television character. Is that really what it’s come to?

Funny Games


An upper middle class family — mother, father, young son, and dog — travel to their country home, boat in tow. Soon after they arrive, their household is invaded by a pair of young men in tennis whites who hold them hostage and torture and degrade them, both physically and psychologically. Relentless in its vision of brutality, the film questions the sanity and sensibility of the audience that pays to sit through such a display of human crudity and baseness.

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James Woods and Deborah Harry in Videodrome

Finally released in a widescreen video version (on DVD) and as crucial now as when it was first released, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is a dark parable for the television age as well as a horror movie about the very nature of horror movies. With clinical and allegorical relish, Cronenberg uses a gut-busting horror film to turn the oft-repeated claim that violence in the media catalyzes violence in society on its ear.

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