Category Archives: suspense

Shark!

IMG_2469.jpgLet’s face it, sometimes we’re all in the mood for a good shark attack movie.

And by let’s, I mean me, and by sometimes I mean pretty much all the time. Since “The Shallows” bit me in June last year, I guess shark movies are just my jam. (Okay, to be fair I learned in my “research” for this post that Vox just published an article on “Why We Love Shark Movies,” but I maintain that I was first to sink my teeth into this trend.)

So much that I was probably the only person excited to see “47 Meters Down” this weekend. It’s not just a shark attack movie, it’s a shark horror movie. “The Shallows” is more of a suspense woman vs. shark tale focused on the vulnerability of Blake Lively’s character, Nancy, as she is stuck on a rock just off the shore in Mexico with the cousin of Jaws circling about.

“47 Meters Down” has all of the vulnerability and formulaic tropes of characters facing a life or death situation, combined with the claustrophobia of “Open Water” and “Panic Room,” (no sharks, but small spaces.)

I thought for sure there would be no one else in the theater at the 11:10 a.m. showing today (not early enough in my opinion,) but alas I had to get my shark on with some other weirdos and a guy who did not know how to eat popcorn without letting everyone else know that was what was going on.

I wish a shark would have attacked him in the theater and really brought the movie to life.

This brings me to a joke by Ian Edwards noting that shark attacks don’t happen on their turf.

“Sharks live in the water. If you get caught down there, you’re trespassing …  a real shark attack is if you’re somewhere you’re supposed to be, and a shark shows up.”

For example, if you decide to go on an excursion in which you get locked in a cage and dropped into the ocean to “see” some sharks, you can expect that they’re going to stalk and bite you.

Mandy Moore’s character was all like “I don’t know if I want to do this” to her sister Kate, but Kate changed her mind by saying Lisa’s ex-boyfriend would take her back because she would seem adventurous and “not boring.”

Yeah, well not if you’re dead.

I was not on board with that plot point but, to build suspense and empathy for the characters, these movies often find a way to include an extra layer of vulnerability to an already vulnerable situation the characters willingly put themselves in.

Lisa agrees to join Kate and, within probably minutes, the rope holding their cage at just five meters below the water breaks and they plummet to 47 meters with not enough oxygen and sharks EVERYWHERE!

Believe it or not (don’t believe it) there is actually some mystery as to whether the boat crew was in cahoots with the sharks to try to do away with Kate and Lisa. However, (again, if you can suspend your disbelief) most of the horror is set between a school of extra large ocean monsters, declining oxygen levels and getting the bends.

Love or hate the formula of these movies, I was truly scared on a few occasions and tried not to think about whether Captain Taylor ( finally a chance for Matthew Modine to return to the big screen) was a bad guy and orchestrated the whole thing. Let’s (again by let’s I mean me) be real, that would have been way too much effort for the plot of a shark attack movie. Plus, there always has to be room for a sequel.

I knew what to expect with this movie, but couldn’t resist seeing it in the theater. Coming from a true fin, I mean fan, shark movies definitely need to be eaten up at your local cinema house.

Being that “47 Meters Down” is billed as a shark horror film, you’ll see some other horror trailers like “IT” (terrifying) and “Happy Death Day” (not as terrifying), which helped amp up the underwater scares once the feature started.

While I haven’t seen it yet, I recommend “It Comes at Night,” the sophmore project from “Krisha” director Trey Edward Shults, who also plays with the idea of claustrophobia in his films.

After this dose of horror, even just the trailer for “IT,” I know you’ll need a little comedic relief. Try “Detroiters” on Comedy Central starring and created by Veep’s Sam Richardson.   I assume T.J. Miller’s new special on HBO, airing tonight, will also do the trick. “Oh, Hello,” I almost forgot, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll’s Broadway brilliance is now streaming on Netflix.

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And Kid Gorgeous himself just added some dates, including Minneapolis in September, to his tour this year.

Yas and k, bye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Movie Week in Review: From The Fog to Love

There were some flops last week as part of my movie challenge.

fog_poster_06It started out strong with John Carpenter’s The Fog, a film I knew little about but enjoyed both for its visual effects and solid scares. The film, based on a fable about shipwrecked—possibly murdered—men who attack the village of Antonio Bay on the 100-year anniversary of their death, builds slowly but it was an effective style choice.

As the Antonio Bay residents anticipate the anniversary, a green, thick fog approaches the village. By the time the fog is in full force, and night falls, the victims are only able to see glimpses of the disfigured monsters as they seek revenge for what happened 100 years ago.

Carpenter’s score, much like in Halloween, completes the fear factor in the film.

A test of a good horror film, in my opinion, is how often you think of it after the fact or feel the need to check if the door is locked or, even worse, if there is a mangled monster hiding in your closet. In other words, if a film has the power to send you back to age 10 and to thinking checking the closet or under your bed at nightfall is going to help you survive – it passes the test for me. Films are all about imagination and The Fog—again with its fable influence—is a creative story with just the right amount of fright that holds up today.

The Fog and Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (now streaming on Netflix) are loosely connected in the strength of their visual styles. In fact, a rarity for Hitchcock, I think the visuals of To Catch a Thief are one of its stronger points over the script and acting. Hitchcock, at least the films I’ve seen so far, usually presents a triple threat but some components of To Catch a Thief faltered a bit. Cary Grant, as a retired jewel thief bumbling away at his French villa, and Grace Kelly as a tourist who takes to him (and wants to solve a mystery behind missing diamonds) shine together on screen. It’s hard to top that but, given that the film won an Oscar for best cinematography, its stylistic points to depict the mystery burglar and capture the beautiful French countryside were more memorable components of this Hitchcock picture.

Other than the wonderful Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,  which I found by happenstance at the library, the memorable moments from the films I watched last week dwindled a bit after To Catch a Thief.

I’ll save Ali: Fear Eats the Soul for last so as to end a high note, but Margaret and Urban Cowboy presented some dark times for me last week in cinematic history. Maybe I’m being a little over dramatic but not as much as Anna Paquin in her role as entitled teenager Lisa after she witnesses, or possibly causes, a horrific bus accident in New York City in Margaret.

I am still kind of baffled about how a strong cast of Paquin, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon (although his role is small and he can be blamed for nothing wrong in this world) can deliver such forced performances that lack any depiction of real emotion. The film is nearly three hours long and I stuck with it hoping their character depictions would improve, with no such luck. Paquin and Ruffalo, as the bus driver, have the biggest roles and lack any real tension even as they are at odds with each other about what happened on the day of the accident.  At one point in the film it seemed like some of the actors with smaller roles knew how bad it was and just flubbed through their lines on purpose. It was almost like watching one take of the movie being made live and they had to release whatever they made it through. I hope to find other people who saw Margaret, and made it beyond the violent bus accident scene, to know if I am just imagining how bad it was or if there is a different take on the film that I am missing.

The same is the case for Urban Cowboy, starring John Travolta, because I didn’t even watch the last 20 minutes. I tried, but the last hour of the film really went downhill, in my opinion. The first hour delivered what I expected as far as a 1980s story of a rural man moving to the big city to ultimately do the same things he did before with the addition of falling in love and getting married. It was like a less-serious Saturday Night Fever with nowhere near the depth and strength in it’s story but, at least at first, entertaining nonetheless. Someday I’ll have to watch those 20 minutes to technically count it in my challenge, but for now I don’t feel like I missed much.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, however, redeemed my week of ups and downs as a perfect, unexpected love story between a Moroccan migrant worker and a German woman 20-years his senior after they meet at a bar. The description on the library DVD sounded interesting, but I had no idea the film is so well regarded or that it is so wonderful.

It’s a simple story made deeper with its commentary on culture and society shown through the responses of Emmi and Ali’s friends and family to their unlikely relationship. Stylistically, not counting teh dialogue and music, it was beautiful to watch the camera angles that provided a voyeuristic view into the characters’ lives. Of all the movies I watched last week, I definitely recommend Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. We could all use something unexpected in our lives now and then.

“Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?”

Edgar Allan Poe

Movie Week in Review: Spies and Romance

audreyhepburn-carygrant-charadeBig news from last week, I made it to movie 100! The film I watched wasn’t exactly what I intended to for such a milestone in this challenge; but after yet another stressful day at the office I wanted to see something at the theater I also work at (a place that is oddly calming for me) and unwind a bit.

The First Monday in May, a documentary about the celebrity-filled Met Gala organized to raise money for exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is for the most part an entertaining glimpse at art, fashion and film while presenting a small argument that they are one in the same. The curator for the exhibit at the center of the documentary and Met Gala hubbub, Andrew Bolton, said fashion especially should be considered as art and wanted to reflect that in his display of outfits and costumes inspired by Chinese culture.

Documentaries can be hit or miss and I will say this one perhaps could have went deeper into its subject matter and the development of the exhibit vs. the seating arrangement of famous people at the Met Gala and Anna Wintour wearing her sunglasses indoors. Those topics were a bit superficial to cover, while the portions of the film that provided a peek into her work on the Met board while leading Vogue and Bolton’s lifelong dream to be a museum curator were worth the coverage and left me wanting more. My favorite part (yes other than Rihanna’s appearance and the awkward moment with Larry David on the red carpet), was also a brief mention of how fashion was part of film in Chinese history and cinema’s influence in Bolton’s exhibit. If you want to check out more work by director Andrew Rossi, I (although I’m little bit biased here because of my former career as a journalist) prefer Page One: Inside the New York Times. The First Monday in May is a visual accomplishment in documentary film making, but lacks a little bit on the storytelling side.

Moving on, Charade, mixed with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, started a theme of movies about spies and romance during the week also including An Affair to Remember and Badlands (minus the spies and plus a very dark and unsettling “love story.”)

MCDCOOF EC032Charade is one of the top films I’ve watched this year now and I really loved the build to the true dynamic between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant’s characters as well as the secrets behind her husband’s death, his identity and the money at the center of everyone’s trust issues. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, from George Clooney and Charlie Kaufman, takes the memoir of game show host Chuck Barris to explore his rumored time as a CIA operative and how he balanced that with career and his love with Penny (Drew Barrymore.) In addition to being funny and mysterious, the film is visually on par using angles, close-ups on its characters and artistic technique to further tell the story. I’ve always liked Sam Rockwell, and this could be his best work that I’ve seen. He embodies Barris’ persona, yet makes it look effortless.

Badlands has the visual appeal carried by Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to say I like the film. I think that’s because the characters, primarily Martin Sheen as a murderous wayward soul from the wrong side of the tracks, are so dark and nonchalant about their actions that I found it very hard to relate to them on any level. I often associate films with how they make me feel and memories of when or where I watched them in addition to their cinematic quality, so Badlands is hard to fit into that complete picture. That said, Sheen and Sissy Spacek are dynamic together on screen as forbidden lovers whose characters are loosely based on a real-life couple on a crime spree that ends in the badlands of South Dakota. I think the film must have also inspired True Romance (definitely one of my favorite films of all time), if nothing else through the use of this song as Clarence and Alabama embark on their own crime spree.

I switched from romance and crime in the beginning of the week to a healthy balance of comedy, space, science and a little horror to make it to movie 106 on Saturday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar is worth the three hours of time and will keep you guessing as to what will happen; especially in the last hour. I think, while I haven’t seen every space-themed movie, it’s one of the most (pardon the overuse) visually-appealing while being scientific, emotional and plus Matt Damon is in it. MATT DAMON!

I feel as though I am rambling at this point, but I do want to cover my last two entries of the week spanning the comedy-horror-parody genres: Best in Show and The Final Girls.

Christopher Guest’s look at the world of dog shows, in a “mockumentary” style, is pretty flawless and I could watch Parker Posey’s meltdowns over her dog and issues with her husband all day. I know nothing about the dog show world, but Guest seems to be spot on in his depiction while adding just the right amount of drama and quirk to his characters while they fight to be Best in Show.

Finally (bad segue) The Final Girls … one of many horror movie parody/tributes (think The Cabin in the Woods or even Scream) out there takes it to another level with a movie-in-a-movie format where the characters are challenged to find their way out by following the classic plot points used in the genre. Thomas Middleditch’s performance was my favorite in the film and it overall delivers a unique addition to what can be an overly-formulaic genre of movies.

Up next this week I am going to explore more Cary Grant films and want to collect enough titles to go on a binge of sports movies. There are a lot in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (sadly Major League isn’t one of them) so it’s time I expand my horizons in that regard. I welcome any recommendations.

“When you are young, your potential is infinite. You might do anything, really. You might be Einstein. You might be DiMaggio. Then you get to an age where what you might be gives way to what you have been. You weren’t Einstein. You weren’t anything. That’s a bad moment.”

Chuck Barris – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

85-88 of 366: Edge of Tomorrow; Brief Encounter; Paris, Texas; Frankenstein

This is hard. Like Bob Harris singing More Than This in Lost in Translation while trying to process his feelings for Charlotte-hard.

For the sake of catching up on my movies today I decided to (try to) not spend so much time writing/obsessing about each one in individual blog posts.

I watched four movies today and challenged myself to only write short paragraphs about each one so I can get back on track to watching one per day. Soon I will be back to my regularly scheduled programming of pouring over each blog I write, (although this format is pretty tempting to continue), but for now here’s a summary of today’s cinematic adventures:

85 of 366: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

edgeThink of Edge of Tomorrow as an action version of Groundhog Day where the  characters have the ability to relive moments in time and therefore predict the future. The film is another display of Emily Blunt’s versatility as an actress as she completely owns a role as an action hero one minute and the next can star in a dramatic or comedic film (Your Sister’s Sister or The Five Year Engagement.) I enjoyed Tom Cruise’s performance as Major William Cage, who transforms from a man of power to kind of a bumbling idiot and back again as the world faces a devastating attack by aliens. Blunt plays Rita, (aka the Angel of Verdun), a soldier trained to end the war who was formerly afflicted by the same “power” Cage has to relive each day in order to ultimately outsmart the alien enemy. As Cage and Rita’s characters, and their relationship, build throughout the film and there is an equal combination of wit, solid special effects with a unique time travel/science fiction story at its core.

86 of 366: Brief Encounter (1945)

briefI thought Brief Encounter, based on what happens when characters meet for a moment in time only to never connect again and a one-act play by Noel Coward, was a good follow up to Edge of Tomorrow. In that film there is always uncertainty whether Rita and William will live or die and continue to save the world together, while in Brief Encounter director David Lean explores the romantic connection between Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) after they meet at a restaurant in New York outside the train station. Both are married but also quickly fall in love and meet in the city for a few weeks, having lunch and going to the movies. Lean had to expand upon Coward’s one-act play, Still Life, but the film still felt very much like a stage production with Laura’s narration and the classical score. It’s also known to have inspired many similar stories or the style of similar films and I did notice common themes and dialogue between it and one of my guilty-pleasure favorites, You’ve Got Mail. It is never to the point of imitating what Lean and Coward created, but rather is surely one of many tributes to a classic romantic film and accomplishment in cinematic history.

“It all started on an ordinary day at the most ordinary place in the world,” Laura Jesson. 

87 of 366: Paris, Texas (1984)

parisParis, Texas, is a telling road movie in three parts that defines the relationship between two brothers, a father and son and husband and wife. After disappearing for four years, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) resurfaces wandering in the desert in Texas. His brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) picks him up and they drive to Los Angeles together to reunite Travis with his son, Hunter. Starting with Walt and Travis’s trip, the characters learn about each other as a result of the missing presence of Travis in their lives the last four years.

Paris, Texas is a beautiful visual display of Texas and Los Angeles and Winders and cinematographer Robby Muller also tell the story using the camera to show each character’s point of view. The film brings to mind the theme of nostalgia as Winders and writers Sam Shepard and L.M. Kit Carson explore the family dynamic of the Hendersons and a man trying to rebuild his life.

“The dust has come to stay … you may stay or pass on through, or whatever.”

88 of 366: Frankenstein (1931)

frankensteinI really wanted to make it through five movies today, but there can be too much of a good thing — even my favorite thing. It was a rare nice day in Minneapolis so I wanted to fit in a walk outside and of course I spent more time than I planned for on my blog. Frankenstein, however, did make for a perfect conclusion to my catch-up day because it’s only a little longer than an hour and known as one of the classic horror films of all time that’s been on my list to watch. I would say it is more unsettling and suspenseful that scary but, taking into account its release in 1931, Frankenstein is certainly a cinematic accomplishment of the era and all time.

One of the most unsettling scenes was the father carrying his daughter’s lifeless body, at the hands of the monster (Boris Karloff), through the village streets toward the end the film; while the first sight of him close up and his dead eyes also carries a bit of fear factor.

I wonder what audiences originally thought of the film in the 1930s; but I do think it holds up in the horror genre and as an adaptation of a novel — something that is done perhaps too much in current times.

I wish there was a quote from the monster himself to end this with, instead I will resort to my standby from John Hodgman.

“That is all.”

 

 

84 of 366: Witness

witness
Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in Witness

“I didn’t kill my wife!” Oops, wrong Harrison Ford movie. I actually haven’t seen a lot of Dr. Kimble’s work now that a I did a deep-dive on his filmography, but I can at least cross Witness off the list for movie No. 84 of my challenge.

Witness probably would have been better to watch within a decade of its 1985 release, but it has some components that hold up and others that border on it being like a made-for-TV movie.

It does have a certain level of cheesiness in its attempt to mix a good cop vs. bad cop drama with a tale about life in Pennsylvania’s Amish country; but I’m willing to push that all aside for the forbidden will-they-or-won’t-they romance plot line between Ford (John Book) and Rachel (a pre-Top Gun Kelly McGillis.)

Rachel and Book meet after her son Samuel (Lukas Haas) witnesses the murder of a police officer and they are taken under his wing as he investigates the crime.

Spoiler alert for anyone who actually hasn’t seen it: This wasn’t a random crime and in fact Book’s boss Schaeffer (Josef Sommer) and narcotics officer McFee (Danny Glover) were behind the whole thing.

Book figures the safest place for them to go is back to their Amish farm so he can work on the case in hiding and recover from gunshot wounds at the hands McFee. Also, it’s clearly so he can fall in love with Rachel, only to learn that they cannot be together.

Book is not welcome on the farm at first, but n as he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to milk cows and takes it upon himself to fix a birdhouse on the property, Rachel’s family decides he’s not all that bad.

The investigation part of the story falls by the wayside a bit at this point because how is a cop supposed to do any work without a phone and a smoke-filled police station with the coffee flowing at all hours of the day?

The setting of the film in Amish country takes away the opportunity for most common cop movie themes to be in place, but director Peter Weir managed to sneak in a few.

For example, Rachel insists he keeps his gun hidden and unloaded so Samuel can’t find it and they have to mention it several times in the film. Of course that decision was destined to come back to hurt Book later when McFee shows up to try to finish what he started.

Luckily it wasn’t enough to prevent Book from being the hero and saving the day, at which point he is seen smoking a cigarette on the farm and leaning against a car with his other cop buddies.

The final scene concludes what I assume was also everyone’s favorite part of the story circa 1985, Book and Rachel’s future. Of course all you see is an extended stare between the characters before he heads back to the city and have to assume she wasn’t going to be able to follow him in the next buggy.

All in all I imagine Witness holds up for people who saw it before and I found it to be an entertaining flashback to 1980s cop dramas that also piqued my interest in watching more of Ford’s films from that era.

And now for a non-related quote my girl Brie Larson posted on Instagram. From poet David Whyte:

“Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is not stasis but the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually, but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to become present in a different way than through action, and especially to give up on the will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we put it right; to rest is to fall back, literally or figuratively from outer targets, not even to a sense of inner accomplishment or an imagined state of attained stillness, but to a different kind of meeting place, a living, breathing state of natural exchange…”

 

 

 

 

 

83 of 366: The Black Cat

MV5BMjM5MDcxNTkzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU3MTUyMjE@._V1__SX1303_SY583_
imdb.com

There is an owl hooting outside my window right now, which is fitting with my mood after watching the horror classic The Black Cat (and pretty creepy.)

The Black Cat (1934) has nothing to do with owls, rather an actual cat that causes episodes for Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) while staying at the house of his nemesis Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff.) The film’s plot is based on the concept from a story by Edgar Allen Poe.

Of course there is more to fear at Poelzig’s house than cats lurking in the shadows.

As fate would have it, Dr. Werdegast ends up there after a bus accident on the road just below the house along with a young couple who just got married.

Thinking they will all just be there for one night, it becomes clear for Dr. Werdegast and the couple, Peter and Joan Allison, that Poelzig has other plans in mind.

For one, he needs to settle a feud with Dr. Werdegast, or the other way around, going back at least 15 years when the doctor was in jail for a crime  he didn’t commit and meanwhile Poelzig was after his wife and daughter.

I won’t reveal their fate, but from the beginning it’s clear Dr. Werdegast is the good guy here and Poelzig is pure evil.

Lugosi, having played Dracula, and Karloff, known for his performance as Frankenstein, kept those personas in this film through their mannerisms and dialogue, even if it wasn’t intentional.

As far as horror films go, The Black Cat clearly paved the way for styles and plot points used in the genre today yet I don’t think anything like it has been made since then — at least that I’ve seen.

It could be inspiration on some level for any horror film starting with the premise that its characters are stranded in a remote cabin and forced to contend with evil spirits, a serial killer or one of their own. More often than not recent films have the characters willingly traveling to a locale that breeds bad things, The Cabin in the Woods, The Strangers, Creep; whereas The Black Cat truly places unsuspecting characters, at least at first, in a dangerous situation they don’t know is unfolding.

The film builds to be about the feud between Dr. Werdegast and Poelzig and then translates their issues with each other to the fate of the Allisons, who do slowly start to see something is amiss.

Stylistically, the film uses music in almost every scene that borders between light-hearted and a tone more fitting for a horror plot. It also captures the odd architecture and secret passageways in Poelzig’s home to show there is more than meets the eye throughout the whole story.

I will watch for characteristics of The Black Cat in horror films that I see from now on, but for now it’s clear the film set a precedent in the genre while keeping its own unique reputation after all these years.

 

80 of 366: The Housemaid (Hanyo)

housemaid
World Cinema Project

Manipulation, infidelity, desire and betrayal are all themes explored in Kim Ki-Young’s 1960 film from South Korea, The Housemaid (Hanyo.)

The original negative of the film was restored by the World Cinema Project, an organization with the mission to preserve films with cultural and cinematic significance, and the Korean Film Archive.

The original negative was missing two reels and, after being combined with another print found in 1990,  was released two years after the restoration process started. There is also a remake of the film from 2010 with Kim Ki-Young as the writer working with a different director, Song-soo Im. Young both wrote and directed the original film, referenced in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die as a marvelous discovery in film history.

The story centers on a couple in Korea in need of a maid to help care for their house and two children. The mother in the family, Mrs. Kim, is pregnant with their third child and is at first hesitant to have a maid there in fear it will be temptation for her husband, Dong-sik Kim to cheat.

Dong-sik is a piano teacher, often pursued by his female students, but the temptation of a younger woman doesn’t become real until they do hire a maid, Myong-sook, to help.

The temptation escalates solely because of Myong-sook’s obsessive and controlling behavior during the course of the film. It’s clear from the beginning she has deep desire to be more a part of the Kim family than a maid and will go to all lengths to take over the home and get what she wants.

The build to reveal her true character is slow in this suspense-thriller that uses its musical score to exemplify that something terrifying will happen at any moment.

The film’s visual style is complex with high angle and exterior shots through windows and doors that define the feeling you are looking in on a family’s secrets and struggles they don’t want anyone to know about. Dong-sik, at many points in the story, threatened to tell the police about Myong-sook’s obsessive and ultimately violent behavior toward the family but she, or even his own wife, influenced him not to act on his instincts.

The Housemaid is a haunting and beautiful story that delivers on the fact that something bad will happen, on many occasions, and goes full circle in exploring the idea of the problems temptation causes when put against people’s human instincts versus doing the right thing.

 

78 of 366: The Witch

thewitch
imdb.com

For fear of being truly haunted by the “witch of the wood,” and because I can’t get The Witch out of my brain, I am skipping ahead one post today. Hopefully my rewind blog on Your Sister’s Sister, movie 77, will push the remaining haunting images from The Witch out of my mind. I do apologize if there are any inadvertent mentions of the mumblecore movement or Mark Duplass here. For all I know, he and Jay Duplass are probably already coming up with a film like The Witch but set in a New York loft as some 20-somethings figure out their lives. I’ll watch it.

Back to the fear I was talking about, I at first didn’t think The Witch was that scary when the credits started rolling. There were a few moments I jumped in the theater, but in the end I was more focused on it being a well-done first feature film by Robert Eggers as he effectively used the mystery of the unknown to scare his audience rather than only loud noises and things that go bump in the night.

My walk to my car under the hazy moon on an otherwise dark street with silhouettes of people in their windows watching television (if they were in fact there) made how scary The Witch actually was set in. Of course the only parking when I got home was by the woods near my apartment building and I was sure I would be sucked in and possessed by something evil.

I could just have a wild imagination because I see a lot of movies and think about them even more, or I’m just a tad delusional, but I do measure the success of a scary film on the effect it has after the fact. The Witch is doing pretty well in that regard.

Eggers, known as a production designer on many short films, set The Witch in the 1630s with a family in New England slowly turning against each other as a supernatural being causes tragedy and cute babies to disappear into thin air (a terrifying scene early in the film.)

The slow burn style Eggers uses to tell the story, influenced by themes of New England folklore and witchcraft, with only glimpses of what is truly evil fits the bill for a horror film even if it doesn’t seem like one on the surface.

The use of the score and sound effects to instill fear was another strong point of the film. There was louder instrumentation even as nothing was really happening and then complete silence in the background of some of the more climatic moments resulting from the family’s strife and belief the children especially are turning into witches.

Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is really at the center of it all and her character truly exemplifies what the family is going through all in one person. She is the hero in some moments and shunned aside in others as Eggers keeps the mystery of her true identity at bay as long as possible.

My recommendation is to go into The Witch knowing things are not always at they seem and then try not to think too much about it afterward, if you have an imagination like I do. (Also park somewhere well-lit near theater.)

68 of 366: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10cloverfieldlane
rottentomatoes.com

The story in 10 Cloverfield Lane successfully spans across several genres of film including thriller, suspense, mystery and action all the way to a monster movie.

I am waiting until after I finish writing about it to go on a deep-dive about the ending and underlying themes so as not to influence my opinion of the film, but I am really excited to learn about the method behind director Dan Trachtenberg’s brilliant madness.

I won’t include the big spoilers in this review, but fair warning it’s hard to write about the film without including some of the specifics.

So you can stop reading now if you want … … …

The trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t give much away, which is imperative with this kind of film, other than to reveal that there is a car accident early on in the story (I think that’s in the plot description, too.) The character of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is introduced not long before the accident, which is one of the many moments that caused me to look away from the screen. I did see enough of it to know that it sets the tone for the suspense and surprises to expect during the rest of the film.

After the accident, Michelle ends up in a seemingly post-apocalyptic  bunker belonging to Howard (John Goodman) and soon learns there is another captive there – Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr.

I need a moment to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming and gush about Gallagher Jr., who is becoming my new “it boy,” or one of them as there is no way I can neglect the likes of Paul Dano, JGL, Matt Damon and don’t even get me started on my comedy crushes.

Gallagher Jr. was excellent in Short Term 12 and The Newsroom, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of that show and I like his beard in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Back to that subject, it is the directorial feature-film debut for Trachtenberg with J.J. Abrams producing and a host of story developers and screenplay writers including Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle (director of one of my favorite movies,Whiplash) on board.

After Michelle’s accident, the film explores whether what’s good and evil is inside of the bunker with Howard or outside where he says there has been an attack and the air is contaminated. He says he saved Michelle’s life after the accident by bringing her there.

Michelle always has some doubt that what Howard is saying is true and she is stuck deciding whether what is outside is a bigger threat or if it’s Howard.

For awhile the bunker even seems like a happy place with Emmett there and as the characters listen to music, play games and watch movies.

Of course the dark side of it all was never too far away and there was an effective build of anticipation throughout the story while the three characters were together. Then, the story took a new and unexpected turn that still fit in with the overall plot.

This is the part where I can’t get really specific (I know I haven’t done well with that so far), but just knowing there is a twist won’t ruin the complete surprises in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Winstead as the hero, Goodman as the creepy captor and Gallagher Jr. as the mysterious, good-hearted sidekick, give solid individual performances and work well together in the film. It also has a strong presence of music … not just the tunes playing on the jukebox …but in the score that fits perfectly with the most suspenseful moments. It’s especially prominent in the first scene with the accident, which is before the opening credits even start, and continues throughout, much like in It Follows or Drive.

I didn’t see Cloverfield before this film, and I’ve heard they are mostly not related, but I am intrigued by that story now and to compare the two. 10 Cloverfield Lane also opens up the franchise to include movies, not necessarily a sequel, and Dan Trachtenberg definitely has promise if he continues to lead the project in collaboration with Abrams and the aforementioned writers.

More advice from Emily V. Gordon, especially if you happen to find yourself stuck in a bunker stocked with craft supplies, “You have a choice to release your creative efforts into the world.”

 

 

 

 

 

63 of 366: Sicario

 

sicario
imdb.com

Every once and a while a movie comes along with a style and performances that make you lose sight of the fact you are watching something created on screen through special effects, makeup, acting, etc.

Sicario is that way nearly from the beginning as FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is thrust into fighting against the Mexican drug cartel as well as her superiors who are supposedly in that same fight with the same purpose.

Macer, after a FBI task force mission at a drug house with hostages in Arizona does not go entirely as planned, is recruited to put her tactical skills toward combating the drug cartel as long as she technically volunteers to do it.

She does so after much coaxing from Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and is soon in the midst of what could be a corrupt plan to stop the top drug lord in Mexico by, ultimately, any means necessary.

Graver and another agent Alejandro, played by Benecio Del Toro, are the force behind that plan while Macer tries to do her job and protect people.

The story is often told from Macer’s point of view in a literary sense as her character develops on screen as well as through the use of style points and cinematography to show the viewer what she is experiencing.

Director Denis Villeneuve keeps the camera at bay from the characters’ actions and conversations in other scenes, including one of the first times that Macer confronts Graver after one of their early missions.

In between the action of shoot-outs at the Mexican border and in Juarez, the center of what is happening in Sicario is focused on morals, right vs. wrong and power and who has enough of those combined to be in full control.

Alejandro’s character certainly comes into play there as he borders between Macer’s biggest defender on the surface to being her biggest enemy. He is always there, but is it for protection of a fellow agent or other reasons?

Villeneuve and writer Taylor Sheridan keep just enough mystery there until the very end when Macer is faced with the truth and a decision that brings trust, morals and revenge all into play.

I get chills just thinking about the final scenes in Sicario and how effectively the individual character dynamics are mixed with the larger themes of corruption and crime in the film.

The three stars of the film, Blunt, Brolin and Del Toro, are fantastic and contribute to the sense that their physical and moral struggles are real rather than a cinematic story.

It’s a film I wish I could watch again this year, but I know there is no time for that. At least I have other titles from Villeneuve to watch, including Enemy and the upcoming Story of Your Life with my girl Amy Adams. Sicario will hook you on Villeneuve’s style of film making and creative choices as well as Emily Blunt’s versatility as an actress who  can take on any role without flaw. (Check out Looper and The Adjustment Bureau if you haven’t seen those.)

To end this with a quote, which I am going to get back into doing, I turned to the final page of my signed copy of That Is All by John Hodgman.

He writes, “And thank you for your kind attention, all the way to the end. All I can say is THANK YOU. That is all.”