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Monday
Jan022012

The Iron Giant (1999)

The (Emotional) Wrecking Crew

The other night, I realized a dream--a majorly minor dream, but a dream nonetheless: I finally saw The Iron Giant on the big screen. Like so many people who could have saved the film from flopping on initial release, I didn't catch Brad Bird's 2D masterpiece until it hit home video. But thanks to a two-night revival at Chicago's Patio Theatre, the film's scale and invention came to greater life for me than ever before.

Essentially a 1950's-set remake of E.T., The Iron Giant tells the story of Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), a latchkey kid who discovers that a several-hundred-foot-tall alien robot has crash-landed in the woods near his town. The only person he can trust with this secret is a beatnik artist named Dean (Harry Connick Jr.), who offers the giant sanctuary in his junk yard. Following up on satellite reports and eyewitness accounts is ultra-paranoid federal agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), who'll stop at nothing to destroy what he believes to be either an alien or communist menace.

Bird and co-writer Tim McCanlies (working from Ted Hughes' book) deliver a perfect blend of comedy, drama, and old-fashioned adventure. Hogarth's world doesn't fit pop culture's typical ideas of the era; he has no friends or father, and his mom (Jennifer Aniston) constantly works double shifts at the local diner to make ends meet. The threat of nuclear annihilation permeates his life, from overheard town gossip to TV shows and comic books about irradiated brain monsters. True, The Iron Giant looks like a cute nostalgia trip, but Bird and company infuse their story with enough unsettling background details to suggest a far more adult story.

Into this mix comes the giant (Vin Diesel), a metal-eating innocent who learns to communicate by imitating Hogarth. In a refreshing twist, we don't get an origin story--only a pre-climax revelation that beneath the kind-eyed, sleek exterior lurks an arsenal of futuristic killing machines that overreacts to the sight of weaponry. This paves the way for a pretty unique kids' movie lesson: Hogarth, taking a cue from Dean's Espresso-enhanced Zen philosophy, tells the giant, "You are what you choose to be".

Though I've seen the movie at least six times in the last decade, the climax never fails to choke me up. The giant's bond with Hogarth and Dean leads to a touching, beautifully conceived moment of sacrifice that's as powerful as any bit of live-action drama. Where many cartoons go for bombastic showdowns, The Iron Giant culminates in a moment of quiet panic and quick decisions; it's a testament to Bird's and McCanlies' skills that they perfectly balance a bone-chilling doomsday scenario with humor and heart-tugging.

One thing I noticed this time around is how jarring it is to see 2D animation nowadays. Most big-screen animated releases are CG, and even most children's TV programming has moved in that direction. In the last few years, I've been on a steady diet of Pixar (and Disney's attempts to become Pixar). It's all very impressive, but watching the scene in which the giant cannonballs into a lake and washes Dean away in his folding chair is a stark reminder that these things were once drawn by hand.

I don't mean to put down computer animators, but the trade-off of most films now being "made in the computer" is a diminishing of the How'd-They-Do-It factor. At a certain point, the audience takes for granted that the tech wizards behind a movie can make anything happen--which can make the extraordinary seem ordinary. But solid, traditional animation--in the right hands--wows every time.

Case in point: the giant is actually a 3D-animated character that's been shaded to look like his 2D co-stars. For the most part, the technique blends well--it's a bit wonky, but nothing so distracting that people will be pulled out of the movie. However, in the late-picture transformation scene, where the giant's big guns come out, the late-90s CG becomes a bit more glaring. Fortunately, the form and function of the weapons are so out-there that they contribute to the "alien" quality of the animation (the same can't be said for the animated ocean waves in the beginning and end of the film, which, by today's standards, practically look like unfinished effects).

These are just some things you may notice, and should in no way subtract from your enjoyment of this wonderful film. This is still my favorite film of Bird's, as it feels the most personal. The reality he paints here is so vivid, it's as if he'd lived the story and retained enough to retell it precisely; in a way, The Iron giant is also like Stand By Me--but with a big, metal Martian and three less messed-up kids. Even if you didn't grow up in the 50s surrounded by secrets and danger, chances are you'll appreciate the breadth and honesty of the storytellers' hearts.

Sunday
Jan012012

The Innkeepers (2011)

Haunt Con

Early last week, Ti West asked fans not to pirate his latest film, The Innkeepers--which came to Video On Demand Thursday, more than a month ahead of a limited theatrical release. After having paid ten bucks to watch it from my couch, I can honestly say the director needs to develop a stronger argument against illegal downloading and distribution.

I should clarify: I don't advocate piracy under any circumstances. But if West believes people should pay for movies, it's his responsibility to give them something worth paying for (not legally, of course, but in terms of the artistic/social contract that I just made up). As someone who loves The House of the Devil and the criminally ignored Cabin Fever 2, I relied very heavily on faith and good will to get me through The Innkeepers.* For newcomers to West's work, I can only imagine the confusion and cheated feelings that lie ahead.

The movie poster would have you believe that this is a haunted-hotel story; the last fifteen minutes are, for sure, but the hour-and-a-quarter leading up to it is like Clerks--minus the colorful customers and witty dialogue. Sarah Paxton and Pat Healy star as Claire and Luke, the two remaining staff members of the soon-to-be-closed Yankee Pedlar Inn. On the last weekend of operation, their clients include a mother hiding her son from an abusive husband, a former film and television star whose new calling involves crystals and spiritual awakening, and an elderly man determined to stay the night in the room he and his wife shared on their honeymoon.

Claire and Luke bide their time amusing each other with Internet videos and developing a Web site for paranormal-activity enthusiasts. In the wee hours, Claire wanders the downstairs rooms with EVP equipment in the hopes of capturing evidence of the ghost who supposedly haunts the inn. No points for guessing that the creepy piano in the parlor starts playing itself, or that the recorder picks up the muffled cries of a dead woman. And if you think the kooky former celebrity might have a connection to the netherworld after all, congrats on seeing at least two of the five thousand movies like this one.

What's remarkable about The Innkeepers is how unremarkable it is. The actors do really well conveying both the late-night snark of bored hipsters and the world-weary defensiveness of faded celeb glory, but the ghost part of this ghost story is heart-breakingly vanilla. It doesn't help that West tries to mix things up with comedy by having Claire and Luke play pranks on each other. I get that these are the stupid distractions of bored characters, but the audience shouldn't feel that way about the distractions themselves.

I was also surprised by the utter lack of creepy atmosphere. Until the tense but ultimately unsatisfying climax, The Innkeepers feels like one of the early-80s spook shows Nickelodeon used to run. The House of the Devil proved that West can terrify an audience by simply showing someone sitting in a creepy house, so to see a similar storyline come up short is a major let-down. This movie would make a great forray into more adult notions of horror for pre-teens who are used to excessive gore and ADD-editing--but for adults, the only suspense will come in hoping against hope that there's more to the story than a grade-school production of The Shining (complete with a closing push-in on a wall-mounted picture).

The one thing that sparked my interest was the psychic character, Leanne Rease-Jones, played by Kelly McGillis. A shrink could have a field day with West, whose screenplay draws uncanny comparisons to real-life actress (and House of the Devil co-star) Dee Wallace. The star of Cujo and The Howling has, in recent years, become a teacher of spirituality. I don't know much about it, but at conventions she sells crystals and consciousness-expansion books right alongside 8 x 10 glossies of herself posing with E.T.**

Claire and Luke are relentless in their critique of Leanne, calling her a washed-up phony clinging to relevance. But the movie finds her to be absolutely correct in her assertions about what's going on at the inn. One must question, then, West's true feelings about spirituality, celebrity, and Dee Wallace. A good chunk of this film--the compelling chunk--is like a love-hate letter written to a former co-worker, and I'd kill for a chance to watch these two hash out their issues on camera (assuming there are any, and that The Innkeepers isn't a purely fabricated work). At least that would carry some suspense and an unexpected outcome with it.

Again, this is a qualifier. If you knew nothing about Wallace's career, the Leanne storyline wouldn't hold any significance beyond the script's machinations. You'd just be left with a mostly atmosphere-free story about bitter clerks sitting in an empty building, waiting for something to happen. Getting back to my original point about piracy, this is exactly the kind of thing that hard-working horror fans don't need to go out of their way to spend money on. It's better left to Netflix Instant Watch.

As a huge Ti West fan, it hurts to say these things--especially since he needs asses in seats to continue making movies. But The Innkeepers is for completists only, a botched exercise whose supporters will pay twice for the writer/director's mistakes.

*I also relied on a fifteen-minute cat-nap at the half-way mark--which, depending on your point of view, is either a major perk or a major flaw in the Video On Demand system.

**This isn't a dig, merely a fact. From the few interactions I've had with Dee, she's a lovely lady who doesn't push her beliefs on anyone--but who is eager to discuss them once invited to do so.

Saturday
Dec312011

The Descendants (2011)

Sly and the Family Tree

The Descendants spends so much time thinking about itself that it often forgets to act like a movie. Thank God for that. This is a moving, reflective picture that cares more about hitting emotionally pure notes than story beats; it's anti-Oscar Oscar bait.

George Clooney stars as Matt King, a wealthy attorney living near his estranged wife and daughters in Hawaii. When his better half, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), is knocked into a coma following a boating accident, he must tear himself away from work and finally figure out how to become a dad. His pre-teen daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), is a social misfit; his oldest, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), struggles with drug addiction and a penchant for hooking up with losers.

Matt and Alexandra's relationship is strained almost to the breaking point, and we soon learn that this is mostly due her having kept a big secret from him: up until the crash, Elizabeth had been cheating with a real estate broker named Brian (Matthew Lillard). Further complicating matters is an impending land deal involving the King family selling half a billion dollars of land to one of two resort developers--as trustee of property that dates back centuries, Matt's relationship with his numerous, money-hungry cousins is also on the line.

Much of The Descendants sees Matt clumsily stalking his wife's ex with Scottie, Alexandra, and Alexandra's dim-bulb buddy, Sid (Nick Krause), in tow. He's unclear as to what he'll say, or even why he wants to confront Brian, but the mission gives him forward momentum in a life marked by constant waiting. The pretense he gives Alexandra is that he wants Brian to be able to visit Elizabeth in the hospital before she dies, but one gets the feeling that Matt is more interested in seeing how he does or does not stack up against the man with whom his wife had built an elaborate secret life.

Fortunately, Payne and co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (working from Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel), fill their story with emotional profundity rather than wacky situations. Payne has built a career out of mid-life-crisis road pictures, but The Descendants is even less plot-heavy than Sideways or About Schmidt. In the screenplay's wanderings, we learn so much about the characters that inserting artificial situations and scene resolutions would feel like overkill.

In fact, two of the biggest scenes are cut short. In one, Matt and Alexandra confront Brian and his family; a lesser film would have seen a comically awkward dinner, flying fists, or both. But Payne and company defuse the situation naturally, while not robbing the audience of the satisfaction it craves from the encounter. The other big scene, in which Matt shares his decision about the land with his family, builds to a climax that we never see. The writers get away with this by jumping right into a far more important scene involving Elizabeth, as if to remind the viewer that the land deal is the lesser obstacle of Matt's journey. Given Matt's disposition, we can assume that he's made some kind of peace with whatever happened with his cousins.

The film's last shot of Matt, Scottie, and Alexandra sitting on the couch, watching TV is the perfect capper to one of the story's central themes. Throughout The Descendants, characters discuss or look at pictures of several generations of Kings. Each implies a story that's been sewn into the family legend, even though their ancestors were probably just regular people with oversized problems and annoying relatives, too. The movie closes on a new portrait that only we can see; instead of a freeze-frame, the Kings shift and settle and carry on with their lives. For the first time, they feel like they belong in a family that's lasted for generations.

While I love much of The Descendants, it's plagued by a mediocre opening half-hour. Clooney spends half of it doing voiceover that sounds very novel-y (i.e. so clever that it seems out of place in a movie about a regular guy and his problems); the other half he spends trying to shake his dashing movie-star persona. I understand that movies are often filmed out of sequence, but it really feels like Clooney was working his way towards naturalism during the first thirty minutes. He's to stiff, as if constantly working out in his head, "Now, real people, when they're expressing concern, hold their arms out like THIS, and they...um...slouch one shoulder, kind of like THIS." It's very odd, especially since he melts completely into the Matt character by film's end, latching onto an honesty that brought me to tears.

Similarly, this first half-hour is plagued by a few truly awful actors in minor roles. I won't name names, but you'll be able to spot them instantly. It's as if Payne and the casting director wanted to lend some authentic Hawaiian/surfer culture to their movie by casting genuine locals--which is fine, as long as they're genuine local actors. These look to be folks off the street, giving it their all. There's a reason you don't see new members of your local gym competing in the Olympics; at a certain level, audiences expect at least competency, if not proficiency. This same ill-conceived stunt helped cripple Gran Torino and Up in the Air, too.

Minor quibbles aside, The Descendants is a lovely little film with a terrific cast that deserves all the accolades they're in for. Clooney has never been better. Woodley is leaps and bounds more mature an actress than her work on The Secret Life of the American Teenager implies. And Judy Greer, playing Brian's oblivious wife, is a terrific revelation; she busts free of the rom-com supporting-role mold and upholds the movie's standard of surprising, great performances. Sure, this film is Oscar bait, but it's also very touching, relaxed, and (mostly) free of contrivance.

Thursday
Dec292011

The Artist (2011)

Silence is Golden

2011 may be remembered as the year of the Great Nostalgia War. I'm not here to lament the endless remake assembly line or bash comic-book and action-figure movies; it seems I get that opportunity at least once a month. No, this battle involves filmmakers trying to recapture the magic of the movies they grew up on, or grew to appreciate in their creative education.

For awhile, I thought Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris would top my Year's Best list; it may still. But in Michel Hazanavicius' transcendent modern silent film, The Artist, I've found the year's most perfect expression of how the past can inform the present and shape the future. Presented in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio (meaning the image appears as a square-like center-third of the movie screen) and popping off the screen in crisp black-and-white, the film throws the audience right back into 1927, the year our story begins.

Silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is one of the biggest names in Hollywoodland. His characters dash through one exotic spy thriller after another, rescuing damsels and getting bailed out by his ever-present, faithful terrier. At a public appearance, where a crowd of reporters and fans strain to get a look at Valentin's infectious smile, an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) drops her purse and gets pushed into the star and his limelight. They share a playful kiss for the cameras and she winds up on the front page of Variety as the mysterious new "It" girl.

This doesn't sit well with Valentin's sour-faced wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller), who offers our first hint that the leading man isn't as happy-go-lucky as his adoring public--or even co-workers--assumes. Meanwhile, Peppy uses the profile boost to muscle her way into George's next film as an extra. They become fast friends and tiptoe into something more--a development that George's butler/driver, Clifton (James Cromwell), doesn't care for.

Not that either actor has time for love. One day, studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) pulls George into a screening room and offers a preview of a stunning new technology: for the first time ever, audiences will be able to hear actors speak in their roles, instead of having to read key dialogue on intrusive title cards. George laughs off the idea, insisting that no one wants to hear actors talk. His refusal to take the coming audio tide seriously sees him quickly washed up, an instant relic who's replaced by the hot, young face of the "Talkies", Peppy Miller.

From here, The Artist becomes a brilliant, moving mash-up of elements from Tim Burton's Ed Wood and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane. George's fall from silver-screen titan to props-hocking alcoholic is hard to watch. His gifts as a performer and radiant enthusiasm succumb to pride, confusion, and despair. He spends a fortune on directing himself in an exotic jungle adventure, which loses out on opening day to Peppy's bursting-with-sound modern romance flick.

To give anything else away would be criminal. The Artist is a wholly immersive experience that begins with Ludovic Bource's transportive score and Guillaume Schiffman's vivacious cinematography and ends with a screenplay that manages to capture the joy and exploration of a young art form, while also building on the ninety-plus years of that art form's innovations. The best example of this is a massive spoiler, so please skip ahead one paragraph if you want to go into The Artist pure.

Shortly after George learns of the "Talkie" technology, he has a dream in which he's sitting at the mirror in his dressing room. He knocks over a cup, and for the first time in the film, we hear a "thud". George sits, stunned, and we begin to wonder if the sound was a mistake. He knocks something else over--another "thud". George runs into the street and hears cars, footsteps, and giggling chorus girls. He screams in agony, but nothing comes out of his mouth. This wonderful narrative trick wouldn't have been possible in the silent era, and it may have been too "meta" for the early sound era--but it's just right for today's deconstruction-obsessed popular culture; when inserted into such a perfect recreation of period filmmaking, it's jarring, thrilling, and downright futuristic.

Technical and narrative achievements aside, the big reason to see The Artist is for Dujardin's award-worthy performance. It's no secret that silent film actors relied heavily on gesture and facial expressions to tell the story more than the title cards, but that's not to say that Dujardin plays George ham-handedly. He eases in and out of different modes of silent performance, demonstrating the exaggerated eyebrow arches his spy character relies on in A German Affair and the just-a-notch-above-depressingly-realistic sad face George wears when he sees Peppy on a date with a strapping, young boy. Dujardin exudes good will and empathy from frame one, and uses this iron hook to drag the audience down into George's personal Hell; his performance is so winning that Hell becomes a captivating place in which to hang out.

As great as he is, The Artist wouldn't be nearly as successful without Bejo as George's best friend/potential love interest. She sells Peppy as a no-nonsense dreamer who genuinely cherishes her success in the movies. I'd half expected her arc to involve some kind of corrupting change of character, but she's a good person through and through (one minor, human misstep aside). Bejo's smile, sass, and infectious energy keep Peppy firmly in three dimensions; by extension, her pairing with Dujardin makes for what I hope will be an iconic silver screen couple for the ages.

So how does all of this figure into the Great Nostalgia War? Put simply, The Artist is the winner, triumphing handily over the splashier, higher-profile failures of Hugo and The Adventures of Tintin. I understand that "failure" is a strong word, especially when applied to the work of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. But there's a huge difference between verbose, hacky screenwriting masked by 3D-enhanced, cutting-edge special effects and breezy sentimentality that covers new ground while reminding the audience of what was so great about the director's object of nostalgia in the first place.

For all the claims of Hugo and Tintin being "love letters" to bygone eras, they sit on the screen, lifeless and uninteresting. Sure, there are lots of pretty things to look at and frequent bursts of kineticism, but it's crucial to remember that a movie can be bright, loud, and flashy and boring as hell (see Green Lantern). Had I not been able to guess the director/screenwriters' intentions from about minute ten, or had the films' characters not fallen so lazily into archetypes that I'd grown tired of twenty years ago, I might have appreciated what Spielberg and Scorsese were trying to say.

But one only has to look at Midnight in Paris and The Artist to realize how important innovation is to spinning a tale of nostalgia. We've all seen the struggling, neurotic screenwriter story, but how often have we seen it as a Twilight Zone-style time-travel piece that doubles as a meditation on arrested development? Yes, silent movies used to be all the rage, but we've got color and digital effects now--so why not fashion a movie that capitalizes on that technological evolution; not only storywise, but in the fabric of the film itself?* Spielberg and Scorsese meticulously and mechanically capture the look of their respective golden eras, but Allen and Hazanavicius nail the spirit--with a fraction of the budget and hype.

With digital filmmaking advancing leaps and bounds every year, it's no surprise that old-school directors are looking to the safety of a simpler past for reassurance. But if the CGI boom has taught us one thing, it's that great stories and characters still matter. They are the spark of imagination and dreams, the stuff that fills some audience members with the desire to go out and make their own films. The Artist shows us what movies were by using the best of what they are, thus mapping out a funky, cool direction of where they might go, full steam ahead.

*Dancing around another spoiler here. See the movie, and watch out for its closing moments to see what I mean.

Wednesday
Dec282011

Hostel Part III (2011)

Splat Roulette

It's nice to close out the year with a surprise. The third Hostel movie is the first to go straight-to-video, but director Scott Spiegel and writer Michael D. Weiss don't treat it as second-tier material. This film could have easily made it to theatres, if the torture-porn genre hadn't gone out of fashion a few years ago.

So, if torture porn is dead, why make Hostel Part III? That's a great question for which I don't have an answer. But I can say that this is the headiest and least torture-porn-y of the trilogy, a God's-honest attempt to say something new. You're correct in calling me crazy for calling the film a ninety-five-percent success, because I'm sure you haven't seen it yet. Believe me, my eyes were in full roll-mode during the opening scene--until Spiegel and Weiss pulled the first of about five major curtains on the story. Within ten minutes, I had no idea where things were headed, and I actually cared to find out.

Series creator Eli Roth was not involved in this production (aside from the obligatory "characters" credit), and it's really interesting to see someone else take the reins. The first Hostel introduced us to a Czech torture club in which a trio of frat-guy-type backpackers are seduced, drugged, and kidnapped for the purposes of being sold to incredibly wealthy sadists. Men dress up in rubber suits and butchers' smocks to chop, bludgeon, and solder their victims anonymously and with complete abandon.

The sequel delved further into Elite Hunting Club, the organization behind the kidnappings. Rather than being simply "Hostel with chicks"--which many people unfairly dismissed it as--Hostel Part II upped the complexity of the characters, plot mechanics, and, yes, gore. It further cracked the door on a world whose guiding principle is amassing enough wealth to buy experiences that will squeeze emotions from the long-dead souls of the mega-wealthy.

In the years since Hostel Part II came out, the era of big-screen horror came to a quiet, sputtering end. In its place, arguably, came boundaries-pushing "R"-rated comedies--specifically, The Hangover. Hostel Part III is essentially a Hangover knock-off set in the Hostel universe. A week before his wedding, Scott (Brian Hallisay) goes on a trip to Las Vegas with best friends Carter (Kip Pardue), Mike (Skyler Stone), and Justin (John Hensley). As a further nod to Todd Philips' debauched buddy comedy, Scott's fiancée, Amy (Kelly Thiebaud) thinks the boys are headed to Palm Springs for a golfing retreat.

On arriving in Vegas, the guys meet two escorts who invite them to an exclusive club "waaay off the strip". It's obvious that this quartet of obnoxious, quip-happy douchebags have seen The Hangover and Swingers many times, but somehow missed both Hostel films: they take a cab to an abandoned factory in the middle of nowhere, expecting a party. Of course, they wind up as cattle for Elite, the American version of which sees victims put on display in bright glass rooms with state-of-the-art maiming equipment hanging from pristine walls. Scores of wealthy businessmen place bets on the Wheel of Misfortune game, wagering on everything from which weapons will be used to kill the prey to how long a victim will last before telling their torturer that they have a wife and kids.

Yes, it's all very sick stuff, and the thing I love most about Hostel III is that instead of being a gore-effects showcase, Spiegel and Weiss focus on Elite's logistics, hierarchy, and the notion of entertainment as a hotter commodity than customer loyalty. I'm also a sucker for the way the screenplay messes with audience expectations of the genre and the Hostel universe. I'm staying fully clear of spoilers here, as half the fun of the movie is watching it far exceed its perceived direct-to-video limitations.

The other half of the fun concerns the Hangover-style wackiness of the four male leads. There's very little here that's intentionally funny (excepting some great lines of male chauvinism), but the intricacies of the guys' relationships create unexpected story developments and one very surprising action scene. Instead of our heroes trying to figure out what happened to them the night before, their big mystery is how they ended up friends in the first place; one bad decision leads to another and another, until eventually people start losing limbs and faces. These aren't the dumb, scared teenagers of the previous movies, but they're just as arrogant and developmentally arrested.

It's fitting that Spiegel's previous claim to fame was writing Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi's genre-bending horror/comedy. There's a lot of playfulness here in weird camera tricks and a drinking-game-like obsession with the bountiful rear ends of cocktail girls. This could have easily been a hastily thrown together cash cow--which, in fairness, it may have been planned as--but Spiegel pours more creativity and production value into this film than most genre releases I see in the theatre. From right about the hour mark, up until the bullshit ending, Hostel III is a solid, ambitiously scaled action movie that comes very close to greatness.

Sadly, there's that ending. I can't be sure, of course, but it feels like someone at the studio insisted that the movie close on an uplifting note. Granted, "uplifting" in the Hostel universe can involve dismemberment and lots of screaming--still, the tacked-on closer is so pathetic and antithetical to the previous eighty minutes that I couldn't believe my eyes. Worse yet, Spiegel and company could have cut things short the moment before the final scene and had a terrifically sadistic ending on their hands. But, no, we can't have torture-porn audiences feeling bad about themselves, can we?

There's a good chance eighty percent of you won't even bother with Hostel III, even after reading this mostly glowing recommendation. That's fine. I'd expected the worst, too. But if we only ever watch movies we assume will be good, our experience as film lovers would be largely devoid of surprise. And that, more so than direct-to-video horror movie sequels, is the death of art.