Tag Archive | movie review

Don’t Breathe Will Leave You Gasping for Air

 

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Took two of my teens to see the new thriller Don’t Breathe today and lemme just tell y’all, it was not what I expected. Even though I tried to go into the movie with zero expectations (all I knew was what I’d seen in the original trailer; I read no reviews and none of my immediate circle had seen it yet), I knew that Sam Raimi was a producer and I didn’t expect him to sign off on a piece of crap. So, while I knew the initial premise — three young adults decide to rob a blind guy in his own home — I went in expecting an average suspense. And then, I got the wind knocked outta me.

from gamesradar

Close quarters make for some very powerful dread.

Formula First

Roughly five minutes of set-up was all it took to make Rocky (very deftly portrayed by the cherub-faced girl-next-door, Jane Levy) the criminal you’re rootin’ for, due to the stock set-up. We’re not lookin’ at deep character development here, Friends, but that’s okay because Levy was aptly supported by her co-star Dylan Minnette who played her platonic, moon-eyed friend Alex. Daniel Zovatto, who played Money, gave us enough spot-on machismo to quickly decipher the fact that “ah, here’s the asshole boyfriend everyone wants to see get it.”

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Minnette and Levy give their most thrilling performances when they don’t have to rely on dialogue.

Going in, I couldn’t quite imagine a hunk like Stephen Lang being too thoroughly icky as The Blind Man. Menacing? Yes. Scary as hell? Yes. But gross? I was surprised what blinding Lang’s baby blues and slathering him with grime and sweat, and costuming him in a blood-stained wife-beater could do. In such close quarters, the viewers could almost smell his grime and rage. Nods to the costuming and lighting departments for the former, but all of the menace and rage should be squarely placed on the shoulders of Lang’s years of theater performances.

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It gets truly intense when Lang’s Blind Man levels the playing field.

Brace Yourself

After 10 Cloverfield Lane, I was a bit skeptical that writer/director Fede Alvarez was going to be able to keep us glued to our seats, but he did it. This gripping twist on the current Home Invasion trend delivers all the nerve-wracking anxiety, claustrophobia, and suspense a thrill seeker could hope for.

As I said, this isn’t a deep character study. This is an action-packed thriller with lots of long silent (and terrifying) silences. The momentum depends almost exclusively on the character’s action — or inaction, if you will. With so few principle characters and the limited space of a single family dwelling, it’s easy to wonder how the action and angst can be sustained. Don’t worry. This home-owner may be blind, but he knows his own home like the back of his hand. It’s believable when he appears everywhere and nowhere at any given moment. And, when he cuts the lights, those poor kids don’t stand a chance. There’s nothin’ as gratifying as a fair fight. Is there?

Before the crew of hopeful home invaders decide to execute their plan, Alex wonders whether or not robbing a blind man might be a skeevy move. Well, in hindsight I would advise, “Hey, you prolly shouldn’t disturb this guy. He’s disturbed enough.”

 

***Fierce Female Reblog*** Thoughts on… The Craft (1996) — FILM GRIMOIRE

This film is responsible for a generation of girls from the 90s experimenting with witchcraft and forming their own covens in order to levitate each other during sleepover parties. The Craft (1996, dir. Andrew Fleming) is one of those films that is so 1990s that it almost works as a time travelling device back to […]

via Thoughts on… The Craft (1996) — FILM GRIMOIRE

The Danish Girl: A Love Story

Expecting to see a biopic of Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first people to undergo gender transition via medical procedures, I was surprised to witness instead a remarkable and heartbreaking love story. The “inspired by” tagline translates into a “very, very loosely based” biopic, but that’s so okay. Especially if you’re a romantic.

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Lili Elbe, exquisitely portrayed by the adroit Eddie Redmayne, is not the star of this film, in this viewers opinion; no, Gerda Wegener, brought to life by Alicia Vikander, is the star of The Danish Girl.

I found myself frustrated, but only very briefly, that more attention wasn’t being paid to Lili as her at-birth-self, Einar, until I stopped resisting my preconceived notions and allowed myself to be allured into the love story unfolding before me. It would be naive to think that my status as wife wouldn’t influence my opinion of the story, and so I freely admit that I identified most strongly with Gerda’s plight. Her roller-coaster of emotions was painful and profound as she struggled to support, understand, and embrace the one she loved so deeply.

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Gerda lovingly prepares Lili for the party.

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“How do I look?” “Better than I ever manage.”

The Danish Girl is not a biopic. It is a coming of age story beautifully wrapped in a love story, garnished by deep and lasting kinship.

Further reading: The Tragic True Story Behind The Danish Girl.

THE VVITCH: A Deadly Descent into Paranoia

The Witch has been number one on my must-see list for some time, so of course I insisted on seeing it on opening day before my viewing could be influenced by critics’ reviews. Basically, I went in to Robert Eggers’ debut feature knowing only that it had garnered quite  bit of attention at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, that it was promoted as a horror film (a genre I gleefully admire), and that it was basically about a 17th-century New England family that had been ostracized from it’s village, banished to fend for themselves in the deep dark unknown.

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My highest praise for the film, aside from the claustrophobic and unnerving cinematography and brilliant period portrayals, is the fact that Eggers turns the modern horror formula on its head. Instead of having a long-drawn-out suspenseful build-up to observing the “monster,” we are very deliberately treated (if that’s the word) to seeing the title character in the first ten minutes or so of the film. What genius! It’s as if Eggers grabs his audience and warns, Make no mistake, this is what waits in the woods! Oh yes, we viewers know exactly what this unfortunate family is up against right from the get-go, and it’s creepy and disconcerting as hell.

What exactly is so disturbing about meeting our antagonist? Actually, what the viewer is not allowed to see. How’s that for a slap to the psyche?  Like Hitchcock, Eggers leaves just enough to the imagination that your own inventiveness immediately becomes your most horrifying assailant. For the first time in my 40-odd years of cinephilia, I actually thought I might have to walk out of a movie. As the film progressed, I was grateful I didn’t.

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Anya Taylor-Joy is outstanding as the sympathetically angst-ridden teen, Thomasin.

 

Overall, I found The Witch to be both cerebral and ironic. Cerebral because this is most definitely a film that begs deep philosophical and theological thought and debate, even long after the screen fades to black. And ironic, because the answers to said thought and debate are clearly antithetical.

As more and more misfortune plagues the deeply religious family, their paranoia understandably grows. As a modern audience, it’s easy to dismiss such archaic and zealous notions. But even as the paranoia reaches brutally relentless levels, we discover that arrogantly dismissing these religious notions may not entirely be the answer to what ails our pitiable family.

Superb dialogue, costuming, and setting aside, it is the masterful portrayals of our desperate family members by Ralph Ineson (father), Kate Dickie (mother), Anya Taylor-Joy (eldest daughter) and young Harvey Scrimshaw (eldest son) that deftly entice us to identify so strongly with this godforsaken family. Their fear is palpable. Their paranoia contagious; thus, their convincing performances serve to underscore Eggers’ talent for immersing us so thoroughly in the disturbing world of his “folktale.”

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The Witch’s paranoia is profoundly contagious. 

More than once I found myself thinking, No wonder it was so easy for early settlers to vilify their neighbors and loved ones. Their brutal and desperate reality, mixed with their deeply ingrained religious paranoia and shame, practically made it mandatory to persecute “others” as witches. Were my loved ones facing the same situations, I may have been the first to volunteer to strike a match.

The Witch is considered a  horror film, which in today’s industry usually equals shameful jump scares and gratuitous gore. I’m tempted to argue that this film would be best described as a visceral thriller. But because the primal fear The Witch elicits is both horrifying and supernatural — the kind of fear that twists its way under your skin and into your belly, perhaps horror it is.

In the final analysis, the real question we’re left to ponder is this: to our family’s way of thinking, the Devil is clearly to blame; but who, exactly, is the devil we’re dealing with?

 

Everything Old is New Again: A Review of It Follows

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Drop this enigmatic little thriller in any 70s or 80s creepfest and not only will its score feel right at home, but the budget and the story-line are likely to as well. The genius of It Follows is in David Robert Mitchell’s ability to take every (and I do mean every) horror cliche taught in the proverbial Scary Movies 101 class and amplify them with enough pure dread that completing this film is akin to taking a master’s class at the University of Psychological Thrillers.

Where the hell did this young pup (Mitchell) come from anyway? And, why have I never heard of him before? He obviously digested ample late-night horror shows as a kid because his knack for cloak-and-dagger paced suspense is remarkable. This is one talented writer/director, Folks. I suspect he is what you’d get if you magically mated John Carpenter and John Hughes. Carpenter for obvious reasons and Hughes for his innate ability to treat his young characters with dignity and a genuine respect for their very real world angst.

David Robert Mitchell

David Robert Mitchell

Prepare to push past the well-worn “Casual Sex leads to Death and Despair” surface and tread into the deeper, more cerebral, waters of the story. It Follows packs plenty of profound notions and shrewd foreshadowing that astute observers may catch the first time around. Childhood fears of water, the woods, abandoned buildings, being home alone, being followed, and the complete unknown morph into adult fears of growing old, being alone, disease, death … and, well, the complete unknown. “It” appears to be cryptic, but the undeniable dangers of reaching out for forbidden fruit resonates clearly throughout this shudder-producing film.

Caveat for fellow Horror fans: If you’re looking for scores of gore, slasherporn, and jump-out-of-your-seat scares, you best mosey on along. Blood, full frontal nudity, and Night of the Living Dead (1968) dread all receive adequate screen time, but the main focus is on the tension and anxiety you experience following Jay (deftly portrayed by Maika Monroe) and her small circle of loyal friends. I guarantee you’ll be watching the edges of your screen.

Photo by Chelsea Lauren - © 2015 Chelsea Lauren - Image courtesy gettyimages.com

Photo by Chelsea Lauren – © 2015 Chelsea Lauren – Image courtesy gettyimages.com

Above: Keir Gilchrist, Jake Weary, Maika Monroe, Olivia Luccardi and Daniel Zovatto at event of It Follows (2014)

Caveat for fellow Suspense fans: This film is a … slow … burn. And, yes, there are a few times you’ll be asked to suspend your disbelief; but overall, Mitchell’s methods work really well. And the climax is well worth the wait.

Bottom Line: What will follow after viewing It Follows is the palpable uneasiness that makes you want to crawl right out of your skin.


[Disclaimer: This is a copy of my original review posted on amazon.com]

Boyhood: As Painful as Adolescence Itself

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(Warning: profanity ahead) Finally saw Boyhood to see what all the buzz is about. Yes, it was intriguing to watch Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) grow from cherub-cheeked kiddo to lackadaisical young malcontent, but none of the characters of Boyhood were particularly likeable or even very sympathetic. The adults were either stupid assholes, pathetic narcisists, or sadly short-sighted victims. Final analysis? The whole thing gave me a tension headache and left me feeling empty and pretty damn gross.

I know I’m totally goin’ against the grain here, but if you’d like to be held captive by dreary strangers and forced to watch their repugnant home movies for the last 12 years for three solid hours, go for it. This gal was not impressed, and I usually love character-driven movies. But, unless you’re seriously interested in watching the disintegration of multiple familial units and witness what a total clusterf*ck parent/child, spousal, and peer relationships can be, without any comedic relief, save yourself the time and money and angst and watch something else. ANYTHING else.

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The one redeeming quality of the film is the fact that it is set in Texas, and we all know that Texas is the best. As far as I could tell, the two real reasons this movie has the critics and Hollywood award-givers/back-slappers buzzing is because it took 12 years to film (Richard Linklater probably deserves the award for this feat as, it does make cinematic history) and Patricia Arquette also deserves serious consideration for being able to accurately portray an honest to goodness shit-magnet for twelve looong years. Aside from the time span novelty and Arquette’s endurance, the movie was an unpleasant and depressing disappointment.

Bravo, Birdman!

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In one word, Birdman is brilliant. In several words it’s somber, intelligent, scathing, existential, satirical, breath-taking, allegorical, and hilarious. And that’s only in the first half of the film. After three viewings, I’ve found that the genius of this brutally dark comedy lies in the fact that I was blown-away by the desperately beautiful performances the first time I saw it; but I couldn’t stop thinking about the magnificently malignant characters. I simply had to revisit them. The film’s deliciously quote-worthy dialogue is so authentic and forceful, I had to relish it again and again. That’s not to say the film isn’t visually stunning. It absolutely is. The breath-taking special effects run the gamut from subtle to savage. Any viewer who enjoys exceptional cinematography will walk away well sated.

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Without a shadow of doubt, Riggan Thomson is Michael Keaton’s magnum opus. One can’t help but wonder if the utter desperation and regret Keaton flawlessly channels doesn’t come straight from the core of his own battered psyche. Keaton’s ability to project his character’s melancholia is so artfully expressed it practically seeps from his pores. But it’s delivered with a subtlety that still manages to gut-punch the viewer so well that Riggan’s weariness and depression can never be mistaken for ennui, even when the delivery is so ridiculously comical. Emma Stone is amazing in her uncanny ability to inhabit the uncomfortable skin of her discontent character, Sam.  As Riggan’s extremely jaded daughter, she suggests both cynicism and wisdom far beyond her years. The chemistry between these two actors lends itself to a poignant portrayal of a Father-Daughter relationship fraught with resentment and regret.  In fact, the performances are so masterfully depicted, at time they’re uncomfortably voyeuristic. The “basement” scene between Riggan and Sam is particularly difficult to watch. It is akin to accidentally walking in on a harsh family argument and having no way to intervene or walk away.

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Edward Norton has a notable reputation both for the intense characters he chooses to tackle as well as being difficult to work with. His spirited performance as the arrogant and volatile Mike Shiner, a stereotypical Broadway darling, only lends itself to proving those notions. Throughout Birdman, Norton seems to relish his opportunity to lampoon his own notoriety with aplomb. Mike has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, aside from his rakish grin. When he isn’t being a drunken bastard or trying to rape his ex-girlfriend, he’s plunging head-first into the method of his craft with no concern for anyone around him. In fact, he’s pretty pathetic. So, how does Norton manage to make the viewer care? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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The most surprisingly understated performances belongs to Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan. Galifianakis plays Riggan’s long-suffering lawyer and friend, Jake. Every time Jake walks into a room, he’s a stressed-out bundle of anxiety. Yet, Galifianakis miraculously manages to keep Jake the most centered person in the room. Ryan is Sylvia Thomson, Riggan’s ex-wife and mother of Sam. Sylvia’s genuine affection for the man who once threw a knife at her (hence their divorce) and her difficult daughter allows Ryan to bring to fruition the most tender and poignant moments found in Birdman.

For this lover of the golden age of the black and whites, Birdman quickly brings to mind an array of predecessors. With its long takes and clever cuts, it’s reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rope. Riggan’s irrelevance as a washed-up actor unable to cope with the changing world around him mirror’s that of Norma Desmond (played by the incomparable Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard. Theatre critic Tabatha Dickinson (deftly played by Lindsay Duncan) is practically All About Eve’s acerbic critic Addison DeWitt (portrayed by the debonair George Sanders) in drag. Birdman also boasts the kinetic frenzy seen in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, which as a side note won an Oscar for Dianne Wiest who played her own oversexed has-been, aka Norma Desmond, as Helen Sinclair.

So, with all of these notable forerunners, it’s a wonder Birdman solidly manages to prove itself something altogether unique — an authentic and admirable film about thespians for thespians that we’ve in effect never witnessed before. But will enjoy seeing again and again.