EW’s Criminally Underrated on Netflix

Entertainment Weekly’s current issue has several articles on criminally underrated television shows and movies. I thought that I’d highlight the ones you can watch on Netflix streaming.

Television: The Returned (The French series that spawned Resurrected), Peep Show, Harper’s Island (a slasher series where one or more cast members die each episode), The 30 for 30 series (picked by Bill Lawrence), Call the Midwife, Rectify

Movies: Flanders (picked by John Waters), Bandits, and two that would be on my personal list:

The Host

The Host (2006 – not last year’s abomination) – Rated R

A mutant creature has developed from toxic chemical dumping. When the monster scoops up the granddaughter of a snack-bar owner, he races to save her.”

Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009) – Not rated

A group of friends gets the scariest history lesson of their lives during a weekend getaway, where the party is interrupted by Nazi zombies.

Look for the sequel, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, later this year.

The Host – The Korean Connection

I have always loved Asian films, especially Japanese Samurai films and Chinese gangster films. Lately though I have been enjoying a wide range of Korean movies. the Host is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Host aka Gwoemul (2006) – Rated R

“In Seoul’s River Han, a giant mutant creature has developed as a result of toxic chemical dumping. When the squidlike monster scoops up the teenage granddaughter of humble snack-bar owner Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), he races to track down the murderous beast. With no help from the authorities, who are convinced the girl is already dead, Hie-bong and his family will have to band together to save her — and possibly the entire city.”

“This is alcohol!” – “You’re in middle school now.”

The Host opens with an American ordering a South Korean to dump Formaldehyde down a drain. Eagle-eyes will notice that the masked American is character actor Scott Wilson (currently Hershel on The Walking Dead). This dumping was based on a real incident of the U.S. dumping chemicals into the Han River. To offset this negative portrayal of Americans, the next one we meet is actually quite heroic.

The special  effects really sell the story. The creature was designed by Chin Wei-Chen. WETA (The Lord of the Rings) handled the modeling and the abundant CGI was handled by The Orphanage (Iron Man, Sin City). I really like that not only was the creature different but they also made it a different size. It is significantly larger than man-size but much smaller than a building (the two most common sizes for creatures). Another thing that really works is that the creature is seen early and often and it is a visual treat.

The initial attack sequence is a stunner, equal parts hilarious and terrifying, it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. They even stop the music and mute most of the sound at a crucial point.

Our hero is a dimwitted snack shack worker whose daughter is snatched by the creature and the other main characters are the family members. The dimwittedness gives this film kind of a slapsticky feel that is not usually found in American films, certainly not horror films. The family bond is a strong theme throughout the film. They bond together even though they are clearly dysfunctional normally.

The actors all acquit their roles well. The character of the daughter is quite clever as children often are in these films. Thankfully she is not annoying. The glimpses of Korean life and attitudes are fascinating as well. The story takes a few turns and the climax is both  riveting and satisfying.

The virus subplot does go on for too long. The movie could use about fifteen minutes or so of trimming. Other than that this is a fun and different monster movie.

The Host is the highest grossing film in South Korea (as of March 2009). In an odd twist, the North Korean government officially approves of this film. It is not hard to see why as the Americans are portrayed as arrogant (the dumping is based on a real incident) and the South Korean government as bumbling idiots. The Host 2 is due to be released in Korea this summer and is supposed to be a prequel in 3D.

The Host

Okay, time for a couple of giant monster movies, one about a toxic waste creature and one about a giant mummy.

The Host

WATCH: The Host (Gwoemul – 2006) – “In Seoul’s River Han, a giant mutant creature has developed as a result of toxic chemical dumping. When the squidlike monster scoops up the teenage granddaughter of humble snack-bar owner Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), he races to track down the murderous beast. With no help from the authorities, who are convinced the girl is already dead, Hie-bong and his family will have to band together to save her — and possibly the entire city.”

When you watch the beginning of this film, don’t feel that this is heavy-handed anti-American propaganda. The incident shown starting the film actually occurred in 2000. The heart of this movie is the relationship of Hie-bong and his family as they try to save their little girl. The monster effects are startling and quite well done. Many of the foreign touches make this a better film – the emphasis on family helps strengthen and ground the film, the details of life in South Korea are fascinating, and the cinematography is very attractive.  This is a serious film but be aware that the South Korean sense of humor is a little more slapstick than ours.

AVOID: On the other end of the giant creature scale, we have The Fallen Ones. What a complete ripoff of The Mummy (1999) which itself was just a merging of Indiana Jones and The Mummy. It seems clear that this film was meant to start a series of films for direct-to-DVD actor Casper Van Dien. He stars as one of the least believable archaeologists since Raoul Bova in Alien vs. Predator. That’s ok because he co-stars with Kristen (The Condom Killer – no I’m not kidding)  Miller as the least believable scientist/engineer since Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough. The special effects are anything but and Robert Wagner appears somewhat embarrassed to be in this. Written, directed and produced by Kevin VanHook, this is just plain awful.

People watchers: look for Tom Bosley in a small role.