Connect with us
Toy Story 4 Toy Story 4

Film

‘Toy Story 4’ is a Fitting Farewell to the Series

After a rough start, ‘Toy Story 4’ finds a moving way to give the beloved Pixar series a fitting conclusion.

Published

on

Considering the depths of Hollywood greed, it shouldn’t be surprising that Disney and Pixar would feel the need to squeeze one more guaranteed success out of the Toy Story franchise. Of course, Toy Story 3 already ended on the most emotional note in the entire series, but that’s not enough to forestall a sequel. With Toy Story 4, it seems that Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the other toys have finally reached the end of their journey together. Like the entry that preceded it, the film divides neatly into an uninspired first half and a moving second half — but the movie’s best parts allow it to stand among Pixar’s greatest achievements.

Following the conclusion of the third film, Andy’s toys have found a new home, this time with a little girl named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). With their new home comes a new social order based on Bonnie’s toy preferences. Every day she pulls most of her toys out of her closet to play with and scatter over the floor, but Woody has found himself left behind in the closet day after day, while Buzz and Jessie (Joan Cusack) are among the lucky. Woody, though obviously disappointed, doesn’t seem to mind his daily exile too much. His place as the leader of the gang has been replaced by Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), who has been dubbed by Bonnie as “The Mayor.” She does her best approximation of the unelected office, trying to corral the other toys so that they don’t get caught.

Toy Story 4 Woody

Though Bonnie is not interested in playing with him, Woody still feels a strong devotion to her; when she experiences a bout of separation anxiety before her kindergarten orientation, he hides in her backpack to provide moral support. When she’s abandoned by the other kids during an arts and crafts session, he rescues some crayons, a red pipe cleaner, and a spork from the trash, which she crafts into a new buddy called Forky. In the world of Toy Story 4, all it takes is two googly eyes to become a sentient toy, but Forky (played impeccably by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale) can’t separate his new consciousness from his life as assorted waste. He has an overwhelming desire to jump into the nearest trash can, requiring Woody to shepherd him and fish him out whenever he goes dumpster diving. Though Hale is able to have some deeper existential discussions with Woody later in the film, at first he’s a simple (and comic) product of millennial memes about our desire for death.

When Bonnie and her family go on a road trip in a rented RV for the final week before school starts, Woody is tasked with rescuing her beloved Forky after he jumps out. He saves the former utensil, and the two even bond a bit before they make it back to the family’s next stop — a small town built around a carnival-style amusement park. But Woody is distracted by a local antique shop, which features a lamp that was once paired with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), a toy he was infatuated with before she was given away years earlier. There’s no sight of her in the store, which turns out to be more sinister than Woody initially realized. It’s patrolled by a squad of creepy ventriloquist’s dummies led by Gabby Gabby, a little girl doll from the 1950s who has been exiled to the antique shop because her voice box was defective. The doll, played by Christina Hendricks, is charming at first, but a darker side emerges when she realizes that Woody dates from the same era and still has a perfectly functioning voice box.

The early sections of Toy Story 4 are almost embarrassing in their lazy nonchalance. After a brief flashback to Bo Peep’s departure that tries to ring emotion out of a relationship that was never developed (Annie Potts wasn’t featured in Toy Story 3, despite being in the first two films), the true opening doesn’t bother to tell us much about the toys or their struggles and experiences living with their new child. It’s as if the first portion of the film were just the opening to a TV sitcom; everyone in the audience knows the characters, so they can just pick up on a new adventure that will have no consequences and will be forgotten when the following installment arrives.

These early moments also get uncomfortably close to the real-life illness that has plagued Pixar since its founding. Woody’s banishment to the closet brings to mind the fate of John Lasseter, the head of Pixar who executive produced most of its biggest film successes, and directed the first two Toy Story movies. In November 2017, he went on a six-month “sabbatical” from the studio after allegations emerged of a decades-long history of sexual harassment and assault while at Pixar. During his time away, he served as a consultant before his contract was allowed to expire at the end of last year, and Toy Story 4 is his final credit with the company (original story).

It’s likely that Woody’s plight was envisioned before Lasseter was put to pasture (although it may have originated in later drafts of the screenplay), but it’s hard not to think of a powerful man finally held accountable for his actions complaining about his treatment. To make matters worse, Woody has been replaced by a capable woman (Dolly) who seems to be a more conscientious and safe leader of the toys than the fun-yet-reckless cowboy. Lasseter wasn’t replaced by a woman — though for the first time in the franchise, three women are also credited with the movie’s story (The Office’s Rashida Jones, Valerie LaPointe, and Stephany Folsom, who’s also credited with the screenplay). The years-long rollout of the film makes it unlikely that Woody’s early fate was intended as a parallel to Lasseter’s, but it still sours these early parts.

Once the film is done feeling sorry for Woody, however, it takes off. Hale brings the comedic talents he’s displayed on Arrested Development and Veep to great effect, and his delivery is matched by the pleasantly bizarre character design. Buzz Lightyear is mostly sidelined in the film, and whether that’s a result of Tim Allen’s off-screen persona over the last few years or simply a storytelling necessity, it works just fine. His own existential crisis was neatly wrapped up in the first film, and his bumbling hubris has never been as intriguing as Woody’s unabashed earnestness. Yet amid all the film’s great voice talent, the most astounding performance belongs to Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby. It’s not a spoiler to say that her warm and inviting doll becomes the Toy Story 4 villain, but she’s a surprisingly complex character who is subtler and more compelling than any previous antagonist.

Toy Story 4 Review

Aiding the performances are Pixar’s usual unimpeachable visuals. There are a number of landscapes in the film that one wouldn’t even know were computer generated if seen in isolation. And cinematographers Jean-Claude Kalache and Patrick Lin, credited with “lighting” and “camera,” respectively, create gorgeous textures out of sunbeams in the dusty antique store and the kaleidoscopic lights of the fairground.

Toy Story 4 doesn’t hold up to the first two films in the series, and it’s not quite as tear-inducing as the third entry, but it’s a fitting ending (although plenty of people thought that about the last one). However, this time feels like it really is the end, and any future entry would require some heavy lifting to get all the toys back together again. Hopefully Pixar can quit while they’re ahead and focus on whatever their next success will be. Woody has earned this ending, and attempting to retroactively change that would only be a betrayal.

[penci_review id=”156113″]

Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema's Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He's a graduate of USC's master's program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear." Totally worth it.

Film

The Power of a Name in ‘The Hateful Eight’

Published

on

Quentin Tarantino Spotlight

What’s in a name? What kind of power and reputation does it hold? If a new movie is announced and it’s a whodunit western set in a blizzard, it may not have a lot of clout, but the moment the name ‘Quentin Tarantino’ appears in the teaser, its premise ceases to be the driving force for viewership. His name alone can create a wave of attraction, as well as trust in the movie that amounts to a whole new level of respect. This is not simply a western; it’s a Tarantino Western. Tarantino uses the power of a name and reputation in The Hateful Eight to establish relationships and trust.

Hateful Eight Blizzard

Everyone in The Hateful Eight is a mean bastard (except for poor old O.B., who suffers an undeserved fate), and after an epic blizzard landscape logically forces everyone into a closed environment, there’s no possible way to escape or engage in outward communication; there’s only the passage of time. John “The Hangman” Ruth is escorting Daisy Domergue, a fugitive, to the town of Red Rock to be hung dead, and the torrential Deus Ex Machina forces him to make a stop at Minnie’s Haberdashery. Along the lonely road he meets two unlikely guests at different points.

The first is Major Marquis Warren, a fellow bounty hunter and former Union soldier. Now, Ruth is a paranoid bastard, expecting anyone he meets to be after his bounty. After disarming Warren, they recognize one another, giving Ruth some comfort that his bounty is safe. However, there were ulterior motives for Ruth to bring Warren on the stagecoach. He heard that Warren supposedly once received a letter from President Lincoln himself, and the chance to play six degrees of separation is captivating enough to add to the pot. But, it’s with Ruth’s next passenger where the power of the name makes an important appearance.

Chris Mannix has also become a victim of the unrelenting blizzard’s tour de force. He lost his horse in the storm, and he also happens to be on his way to Red Rock. Ruth immediately lets his paranoia take over, as the coincidence of two separate people roaming the blizzard is too good to be true. When Mannix comes into view, Ruth recognizes him; he tells Warren he knows him “only by reputation.” His father is far more famous, as he was the leader of a renegade group of thugs and murderers called “The Mannix Marauders.” This notorious gang helped give Chris Mannix, the youngest son in the family, a reputation of his own.

Likewise, though Mannix doesn’t recognize Daisy either by name or face, as soon as he hears she’s being brought to the hangman, he immediately knows that he’s talking to John “The Hangman” Ruth. He then recognizes Marquis Warren, also known for his infamous actions during the war.  After a brief look at the stagecoach and the bodies, he correctly assumes that they are bounties, and without prompting, declares that he is the next sheriff of Red Rock. He doesn’t have the proof on him, and says all of it can be confirmed in town. He reminds them that in order to get paid, they need the sheriff, and if they don’t bring him along, they not only will not be getting the reward, but they will be accused of murder when they leave a government official behind to freeze to death in the winter wasteland.

Mannix’s can’t prove this claim, and conveniently they can only know if he’s lying for certain when they reach the fabled destination. Ruth and Warren ultimately play it safe and bring him along, just in case. Throughout The Hateful Eight, the importance of reputation permeates the proceedings; even when they enter Minnie’s Haberdashery, Mannix boasts about his upcoming new title, and makes friends with most everyone. He encounters Oswaldo Mobray, and is told that he’s a future colleague. Mobray (lying through his teeth) says he is in fact the actual hangman in Red Rock, and has cards to prove it. Mannix simply assumes that Bob, a Mexican cowhand, is just a worker at Minnie’s, and doesn’t take anything of value from his unassuming name. The most interesting person in the room to him is General Sanford Smithers, a confederate general.

Mannix is in awe of General Sanford Smithers, a former confederate leader. The younger man takes his time to wait on his elder, bringing him drinks and blankets out of respect. After the introduction, Smithers confirms that he is Erskine Mannix’s boy, and they both acknowledge their victories (despite the confederacy’s defeat). Smithers, with fondness for the Mannix name and reputation, tells Chris “I never knew your father, son. But I always respected his resolve.”

Though both confederate soldiers have committed atrocious crimes, there is no reason for them to lie; their reputations have traveled, and if they don’t lay the cards on the table, the paranoid Ruth would most likely come for them. Mannix asks Smither’s where he’s heading, and learns that Smither’s is heading to Red Rock for his son. Not once during their intimate conversation, however, does Chris Mannix reveal his intentions, or his goal. To preserve a rebel reputation? One would assume that Sanford would be proud that a young, confederate captain would be the sheriff of the town. Perhaps they simply already know what they need to know about each other, simply from reputation, and in the world of The Hateful Eight, that’s enough to trust.

This is why the only person Mannix is wary of is Joe Gage, a seemingly unremarkable cowpuncher writing his memoir in the corner. Mannix immediately takes a disliking to him, and while it’s initially played for laughs, there’s an even deeper meaning to it.

Joe Gage is an unknown. He’s a stranger in this story, and despite being an odd fellow, he doesn’t seem to have a reputation. Even when he is forced to introduce himself, Ruth treats his name with a questionable and aggressive “who?” When tensions are at their highest due to the bloody, disgusting death of Ruth, Chris Mannix immediately assumes that Joe Gage was the one who poisoned the coffee. After all, it couldn’t have been Warren, Mobray, or Bob, who all are known and seem to have a purpose in the world. They are of value. Joe Gage’s reputation of an unknown points all fingers on him. Who else but the stranger could have done something so heinous? As it turns out, Gage did in fact poison the coffee, but the guilt is only partial; Bob, Mobray, and Gage are all conspiring with one another to save Daisy from her fate.  

Even at the very end of The Hateful Eight, after all the bloodshed, fatal injuries, and racist slurs, there is still something quite odd about Mannix’s claim to be a sheriff. There is no one in the movie that can deny or prove it; it’s still all based on hearsay. Warren and Ruth are surprised that someone like him would be given such a responsibility; is he the sheriff of Red Rock, or is he simply a liar trying his hardest to save his own hide? There is a definite answer to that question, and Walton Goggins answers it in this interview:

Goggins recalls when he was given the script. Tarantino asked him what he thought, and Goggins had one question:

“I really only have one question for you. And that is, am I the sheriff of Red Rock or am I not the sheriff of Red Rock? And he said ‘I need for you to answer that question and I don’t want to know the answer you come up with to that question.’”

Goggins continues to not tell the interviewer what he comes up with because in many ways, the answer really doesn’t matter. What matters is that this claim allows Chris Mannix onto the stagecoach and into a fake safe haven. The Hateful Eight shows once and for all that a man’s name and reputation can establish a certain level of trust, even if his actions do not; being known lends more weight to one’s words than being a nobody. If Chris Mannix was a stranger, then there’s a good chance Red Rock would be without a sheriff. It just depends on whether you believe him.

Continue Reading

Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘Ride Your Wave’ Explores Mourning and Loss

Published

on

Writer/director Masaaki Yuasa continues to be one of the most distinctive voices in anime today, with a clear and unique style that has garnered him something of a fan following with both light family fare like Lu Over the Wall and the very, very not-family-friendly Devilman Crybaby. Yuasa’s films and series have a distinct and inimitable rhythm, a mile-a-minute pace that comes with a love of the surreal and the absurd that makes for delirious, breathless works. But rather than be boxed in with distinctive style, Yuasa often branches out to pursue different moods and atmospheres, which leads us to his latest work, Ride Your Wave.

It’s a more sedate film than some might be hoping for, a lovely tale of loss and family that still has many of Yuasa’s earmarks, but is a bit more measured and restrained than something like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. This could easily leave Yuasa’s fans a bit lukewarm on the film if they expect too much, but there’s still a lot to love here, and comparisons between this and Yuasa’s other, more lively works might lead some to not give the film its fair due.

Ride Your Wave

The action primarily follows Hinako, a scatterbrained young woman with a love of surfing. She moves to a seaside town and meets handsome firefighter Minato, who sweeps her off her feet and into a picturesque romance. A decent portion of the first act is devoted to their blossoming love, a relationship so chock full of romance and bliss that one can almost see the other shoe looming overhead, menacing passing airplanes. Sure enough, Minato tragically dies while rescuing a drowning swimmer, leaving Hinako devastated by grief. But Minato reappears as a kind of water ghost, appearing inside bodies of water whenever Hinako sings a certain tune. At first it appears as though this is their second chance, but dating a ghost made out of water turns out much harder than you’d expect.

As previously mentioned, Ride Your Wave doesn’t quite share the rhythm and tone of some of Yuasa’s other works, and it could be said that the director’s oeuvre is this film’s worst enemy. Comparing this work to previous ones like Mindgame or Tatami Galaxy will in the end only lead to disappointment, but taken entirely on its own merits, Ride Your Wave is a beautiful work of animation bolstered by a strong cast of characters. While Minato and Hisako’s romance is certainly idyllic and saccharine, it also feels very real and sincere. You can see what draws the characters to each other, as well as how they work as a couple, with their respective strengths and failings working in tandem. The relationship could have been the make or break of the film, with a shallowly developed central romance being fairly key in works like this one. Thankfully, the film sets aside enough time to help invest you in the pair, which generates enough emotional investment to help carry the rest of the work.

Ride Your Wave

On the animation front, Ride Your Wave is quite often breathtaking, combining Yuasa’s signature look of very flat, stylized character models with luscious, vibrant backgrounds to stunning effect. Some CGI effects are mixed in, but these are only rarely out of place or distracting. Again, there’s a divergence from Yuasa’s style, as seen in works like Devilman or Tatami Galaxy, but a divergence from the norm need not be a bad thing.

The harshest critics of Ride Your Wave will be those audience members expecting it to be something it isn’t — a stylistic continuation of works like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl or others of Yuasa’s more stylistically driven movies and series. But it’s important to weigh works like this on their own rather than comparing them to what came before, and when given its full due and recognized for its own merits rather than being unfairly compared to its fellows within Masaaki Yuasa’s body of work, the director’s latest can be seen as the fun, emotionally driven film it was intended to be.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

 

Continue Reading

Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘1BR’ and the Horror of Community

A harrowing, unnerving, experience but one nevertheless worth having.

Published

on

*This review contains minor spoilers*

Despite their name, most horror movies evoke — or at least try to evoke — two distinct reactions: horror and terror. Terror is more visceral, more immediate, causing us to flinch and cry out when a monster or knife-wielding maniac bursts out of the darkness. Horror, on the other hand, runs a bit deeper. True horror is that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see something deeply wrong, a subversion of the ordered way of things or pulling back of the curtain to reveal something monstrous and evil that previously appeared normal. Terror makes us recoil and averts our eyes, but when confronted with horror, it becomes almost impossible to look away. 1BR, from first-time director David Marmor, deals very explicitly in the horror side of the equation. Deeply disturbing and affecting, the film is more than likely to leave the viewer with a deep, lingering sense of dread and oppression, and a newfound mistrust of friendly strangers.

Nicole Brydon Bloom stars as Sarah, a young woman who has come to LA like so many others in search of a fresh start. She moves into an apartment complex with a seemingly friendly and outgoing roster of tenants who try and make her feel welcome. But strange noises abound in the night, and just as Sarah begins to suspect that her new home is not as idyllic as she had thought, she is plunged into a harrowing ordeal. Her neighbors reveal themselves to be a kind of cult, living an enforced communal lifestyle pioneered by a 70s self-help guru. Sarah is imprisoned in her apartment and tortured, with the end goal being indoctrination into their way of life.

1BR

1BR is a challenging film to get through, especially in the early scenes of Sarah’s capture and torment. While it isn’t as gruesome as something like Hostel or Wolf Creek, the film still devotes an amount of time to presenting our protagonist being subjected to bone-chilling cruelty. There’s a sense of utter helplessness and despair to these sequences that will leave many viewers running for the door, and that reaction is quite understandable. Watching someone be betrayed, dehumanized, and broken down both physically and psychologically is an incredibly difficult thing to watch. But it’s what comes after the more extreme sequences that the true horror begins, as Sarah learns more about her captors’ ways and secrets.

1BR is the kind of film that’s likely to leave you emotionally and physically drained.

Much of the tension in this section of the film comes from not knowing just how powerful the cult’s hold is on her. We see her early resolve to escape her horrible fate, but as time goes on it becomes harder and harder to tell where Sarah’s true loyalties lay. Much of this is thanks to the stunning performance by Nicole Brydon Bloom, who runs the gamut from utter despair and vulnerability to steely resolve, with a million shades in between. Opposite her, Taylor Nichols and Giles Matthey (among others) play the various members of the cult with sinister charm, going from friendly and welcoming to unfeeling monsters with alarming ease. In a really horrible, disturbing way, they remain charismatic even in their deepest moments of evil, and it becomes very believable that this group has brainwashed as many poor souls as it has.

1BR

For the most part, we all want a place to belong — a community that loves us and accepts us and pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves. 1BR takes this need and poses the question of what we’d be willing to endure to obtain that. Would we be willing to undergo the brutal events that befall poor Sarah? To potentially surrender a significant portion of our agency in order to find such a group? It seems like an easy question, but Marmour and his cast throw doubt into the mix — seemingly for Sarah, and in all likelihood, for much of the audience as well. Community and belonging are intoxicating things, and sometimes come at a high cost. But how high is too high? After seeing the film, you may not be so sure anymore.

1BR is the kind of film that’s likely to leave you emotionally and physically drained. It takes the viewer through a gauntlet of emotions and responses, many of them by all metrics deeply unpleasant, and because of this, it falls very firmly in the ‘not for everyone’ camp. But audience members willing to plumb the darker end of the emotional spectrum will find much to like in 1BR. It’s a harrowing, unnerving, experience, but one nevertheless worth having.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

Continue Reading

Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘A Good Woman is Hard to Find’ is a Thriller to Look For

Published

on

Though at times it may seem as quiet and unassuming as its main character, A Good Woman is Hard to Find knows how to draw attention to itself at just the right moments, expertly building tension from muted scenarios before punctuating them with bloody release. Though an anticlimactic end perhaps puts too neat a bow around the otherwise messy and fascinating package, confident direction and compelling performances bolster the deliberately paced story, resulting in low-key thriller that is rarely less than gripping.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find Sarah

After an ominous prologue that hints at a violent future to come, we are introduced to single mother Sarah as she navigates the supermarket on a small budget before enduring the latest in what is undoubtedly a string of small humiliations suffered by her due to a lower-class status and the drug-related assumptions surrounding her late husband’s murder. Though clearly life-worn and tired, Sarah tries to maintain a smile even in the face of those who would look down on her, focusing on her kids, including a young son traumatized by the incident that took his father.

Even as her mother accuses her of being too soft, Sarah inwardly soldiers on, frustrated by the lack of progress with the police investigation, but generally demonstrating a non-confrontational attitude and endearing patience with her situation in life. However, her perceived wishy-washiness is put to the test when a petty crook named Tito rips off a local crime boss and breaks into Sarah’s home in order to hide. Liking the anonymous look of the place — and his ability to bully the resident — he decides that he will keep his newfound drug stash there, whether she likes it or not.

Many stories pivot upon just how far one character can be pushed, and A Good Woman is Hard to Find falls squarely into this category. When this precarious arrangement inevitably goes south, what will this mild-mannered person do to achieve some sort of cosmic balance, to assert control over their life? Well, it turns out that upon reaching her limit for tolerating everyone’s abuse, Sarah is willing to go to some pretty distant lengths in order to stand up for herself and protect what little she has — probably to her own surprise.

What separates A Good Woman is Hard to Find from much of the empowerment pack is just how skillfully it paints its picture. It’s always easy to go overboard in garnering sympathy for a sad sack by putting a halo over their head as they’re besieged by cartoonishly brutal villainy (and there’s definitely a bit of the latter here), but writer-director Abner Pastoll mostly maintains a more grounded subtlety, not afraid to understand that human beings come in shades. So, while the sadistic crime boss might not feel too out of place in a Guy Ritchie film, the rest of the characters are given dimension enough to keep viewers on their toes.

This can lead to shocking moments of tension when people are faced with crucial decisions, as we can’t be quite sure that they’ll make the ‘right’ one. Sarah is obviously sympathetic, but her mired state leaves the door open to potential weaknesses. Stealing batteries from her kids’ toys to pleasure herself or contemplating a powdery high are innocuous actions in themselves, but taken as a whole these moments suggest lines that she can be tempted to cross. Likewise, Tito brings menace into the household, yet also some odd, blue-collar levity; like most people, he actually thinks he’s a decent enough fellow. That doesn’t alleviate or excuses his despicable actions but contributes to an impending, tragic vibe that A Good Woman is Hard to Find delicately simmers with.

This feeling does eventually come to a boil in a brilliantly staged and edited event that is appropriately bloody and squirm-inducing as it depicts a literal transformation while implying a spiritual one. This scene benefits greatly from the lack of sensationalism that precedes it, and makes for a satisfying culmination of what has taken place up to this point. Unfortunately, the later tidy conclusion, while cathartic, does undermine that overall grittiness a bit, ever-so-slightly stretching credibility while at the same time undermining the complexity of Sarah’s relationship with and memory of her husband. The ease of the wrapup is a small nit to pick, to be sure, and is — given how it’s achieved — arguably restrained, but it does come across as a bit anticlimactic.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find club

Regardless, such a brief falter does not diminish the rich tension that comes before it. Anchored by Sarah Bolger’s powerful performance as a suppressed woman finally discovering what she might be capable of, and showcasing Pastoll’s confident, steady direction, A Good Woman is Hard to Find is a subtle thriller to look out for.

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

Continue Reading

Fantasia Film Festival

Fantasia 2019: ‘The Prey’ — is a Lean and Mean Thriller

Published

on

The Prey Review

When The Most Dangerous Game was made in 1932, it was released in the era known as “Pre-Code Hollywood,” a time when filmmakers were able to get away with sexual innuendo, illegal drug use, intense violence, homosexuality, and other taboo topics without any fear of censorship. It was the first screen adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story of the same name, and ever since, it has been adapted both officially and unofficially several times. Of the dozens of screen versions made, that original film still stands as the very best— but there have been a few decent variations worth recommending including The Naked Prey and John Woo’s first Hollywood directorial effort, the Jean-Claude Van Damme thriller Hard Target. Now, nearly 90 years later, The Prey looks to take Richard Connell’s simple premise and put its own spin on the now tried and tested action movie formula. The good news, The Prey is a jolt of pulp entertainment that will satisfy genre fans who are looking for an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.

The fifth feature from Jimmy Henderson (Jailbreak) takes the classic story of survival and drops it in the jungles of his adopted home of Cambodia. Our hero Xin (Gu Shangwei) is an undercover cop who accidentally finds himself locked up in a remote prison where the sadistic warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) sells prisoners as human prey for wealthy businessmen men to hunt as a form of recreation. Unsurprisingly, Xin is chosen for the event and becomes an unwitting participant in the deadly game of cat and mouse.

As far as plot goes, there isn’t much else to say since characters are thinly drawn and other minor plot strands seem irrelevant to what is otherwise a very simple premise. The Prey has one thing on its mind: action. And for what it is going for, The Prey is a lean and mean thriller that offers fans a number of stunning martial arts showcases choreographed by Jean-Paul Ly (star of Jailbreak) – and terrific cinematography from Lucas Gath who manages to shoot from unconventional angles and places the camera as close as possible to the action while never once confusing the audience. Henderson never lets the pace falter either and captures some brutal hand-to-hand combat which makes great use of a wide array of makeshift weaponry. The Prey isn’t a triumph of fight choreography like say The Raid, but it is relentless and features some memorable scenes including an impressive extended single-take and a notably balls-to-the-wall prison brawl. Veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) is by far the most experienced performer on display but newcomer Gu Shangwei somehow manages to steal the show. For a first-time acting gig, Shangwei’s charisma and overall likeability make him a star on the rise.

The Prey Movie Review

What The Prey lacks in story and character development, it makes up for in suspense and genuine thrills. The spectacle of flying fists, deadly kicks, ricocheting bullets and spurting blood is just enough to recommend. It has been nearly nine decades since Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack shocked audiences with The Most Dangerous Game. Times have changed. Technology has advanced and filmmakers have easier ways to capture some truly electrifying action scenes but that doesn’t mean they always get it right. But like that classic, The Prey is constructed with hardly an ounce of fat as the filmmakers waste no time establishing the basic premise within the first few minutes and getting right to the bleeding heart of the film. It might be a mindless action movie but of the many big-screen adaptations, very few of those films boast the level of craft on display here. 

  • Ricky D

The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information.

Continue Reading

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

Advertisement

Goomba Stomp | Sordid Cinema

10 Shares
Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin