Hostel: Part II (Lauren German, Roger Bart, Bijou Phillips, Heather Matarazzo, dir. Eli Roth)
Yeah, so plot-wise this is virtually the same movie as the first one, with American girls swapped in for American boys, and despite Roth's posturing in the press, it'll never be mistaken for anything more than a cheap, trashy exploitation movie. But it's actually pretty good at being that, and the slight changes in structure make it a bit more successful than the first movie, I think. Roth has wisely pretty much ditched the political commentary (aside from one passing reference to New Orleans), which was muddled and unsuccessful the first time out, and allowed his main characters to be mostly sympathetic without embodying any ugly-American stereotypes. He also toys with audience expectations a bit, teasing the gore in amusing ways, and offers a good alternative to the ending of the first movie. The time spent getting to know the wealthy torturers is a little less successful, but it does open up the story a little. I don't think this formula would work again, but the second time around finds enough variation to be satisfying for those who don't expect too much.
As for the moralistic hand-wringing about so-called torture porn and the alleged misogyny of this film, I find it incredibly tiresome and a little laughable. From interviews, it's clear that Roth is a self-centered dick, and getting all outraged about the moral implications of his stupid horror movies just gives him license to be more of an arrogant asshole about his ability to push buttons. I am often the first person to call out misogyny in mainstream movies, but here the accusations seem based wholly on the idea that the victims are women. Is it not possible to have a woman in any sort of peril without being accused of woman-hating? Was the first film accused of man-hating? What happens to the females in this movie is no worse (or better) than what happened to the males in the first movie (or what happens to one male late in this installment). It's gross, sure, and if you find the bloody torture scenes distasteful then you should stay away from this movie. But its moral content is more about nihilistic despair (which is a point of view I can sympathize with) than any anger directed at a specific gender, nationality or ethnic group. Wide release
Surf's Up (Voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, dir. Ash Brannon & Chris Buck)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
No gruesome torture in this one, just cute penguins surfing cutely. It's all harmless fun, and probably perfectly acceptable for kids, but nothing to rush out to see. I think computer animation has become so ubiquitous now that there really needs to be some innovative movie to come along and shake up the form. This one isn't it, and I fear that with the immense resources and amount of time needed to make these movies, it'll be a while before one with a singular enough vision (although Brad Bird's The Incredibles comes close) comes along. Wide release