October Blindspot: Cujo (1983)

Release: Friday, August 12, 1983

→YouTube

Written by: Don Carlos Dunaway; Lauren Currier

Directed by: Lewis Teague

Bad dog! Very BAD dog!

When man’s best friend becomes your worst enemy, you get Cujo‘ed — trapped in your 1983 Ford Gimp-mobile, fighting for your life against a rabid St. Bernard who can smell your fear and taste the salt of your sweat through the hot car windows and won’t stop attacking until he gets his treats.

Being the avid non-reader of Stephen King that I am, I’ll venture a guess that the modest thrills Cujo offers are not among the horror author’s most repeatedly sought out. The film’s gained a cult following over the years, and it’s not hard to see why even with the clunky narrative right-angles and the abundance of dull characters, not to mention an ending so abrupt it’s as if the filmmakers could NOT WAIT to get to the part where the audience applauds. Though if you ask me, what really makes Lewis Teague’s adaptation worth watching is how he presents the horror. As Michael Scott’s Fun Run Race for the Cure was so good at reminding us, rabies ain’t no joke.

As everyone but me has known for some time now, the story traces a cuddly pooch’s descent into madness after being bitten by a bat and the subsequent killing spree he goes on in a small American town. Famously the drama climaxes with a mother (Dee Wallace in an appropriately histrionic performance) and her young son (Danny Pintauro)’s terrifying encounter with the aggressive canine that imprisons them in the very car they’ve driven miles into the boonies to get repaired. With no easy escape in sight, a blood-soaked battle of wits ensues over the course of a couple of days.

Simplicity often works in the film’s favor, particularly as it concerns itself with that which is purely visually horrific: the transformation of Cujo from Ole Yeller to homicidal monster is surprisingly distressing. There’s not much more sickening than seeing dog fur matted with blood that’s not his own, eyes jaundiced from some level of psychosis only serial killers know. The horror in that way stems not from any supernatural force or alien-spawned violence but rather an animal succumbing to a real (nasty) disease.

When it comes to the human perspective, that’s where this monster movie struggles with its simplistic approach. The film’s pacing is so inconsistent it essentially becomes a tale of two halves, one that spends the first 45 minutes or so lounging about, exploring the dynamics of a rather boring family, and the other on the grisly, animal-related violence. In that first half, the Trentons are portrayed as a seemingly idyllic, loving household who inherit most of their character traits through their “fashionable” ’80s hairstyles and clothing. On the other side, we get a glimpse of the environment that breeds Cujo. (Spoiler alert: it’s not such a pretty picture.)

Only the broadest of brushstrokes are applied to the characters, with Daniel Hugh Kelly playing along as a likable and supportive father, while Wallace gets to have some fun with a more dynamic role as a distant housewife. The ones in closest proximity to Cujo, at least initially, are so obviously disposable. I will admit though it’s fun to watch them get turned into Cujo’s Kibbles and Bits. And as usual, the point of view of a child becomes a crucial lens through which a great many (if not all) King adaptations must be viewed. Cue a little more rolling around in cliché.

In Cujo, young Tad is convinced monsters are real. Of course, dear old dad — who is nearly subversive in his trustworthiness as a Horror Movie Dad — can’t possibly be expected to factor big-ass, ferociously rabid dogs into his anti-monster bedtime rhetoric. The film strains to connect it, but there’s an interesting enough parallel drawn between Tad’s imagination and the horror of reality he’s soon to experience.

Still, the loss of innocence is nowhere near as compelling as simply watching a wild animal confirm that sometimes one’s bite really is worse than his bark. Two thumbs up for the dog, woof. What a performance.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Chopper, sic balls . . .

Recommendation: Though it starts sluggish and takes its time to evolve from humdrum human drama into full-fledged, in-your-face bloody action, the back nine of this film is absolutely worth the wait. One well-trained animal makes it also well worth MY wait. But I wonder what organizations like PETA think of a movie like Cujo. I mean, yikes. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins. 

Quoted: “F**k you, dog.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.denofgeek.com 

High-Rise

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Release: Friday, May 13, 2016 (limited) 

[Netflix]

Written by: Amy Jump

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Chaos reigns supreme in Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, an adaptation of the 1975 novel penned by British author J.G. Ballard who envisioned a microcosm of society confined within a 40-story-tall luxury apartment building. After nearly four decades and several failed attempts at adapting material many considered ‘un-filmable,’ Ballard’s anarchical dreams have finally found a home on the big screen in 2016.

Despite several familiar trends, the 1970s-London-set High-Rise manages to differentiate itself by presenting an atypical dystopian society. Rather than prisoners of a faceless, nameless system, people are more often than not victims of their own circumstances, organized within the building according to their financial standing: the wealthy live on the top floors while the poor occupy lower levels. This isn’t a prison, for tenants haven’t been forced to abandon the conveniences of modern living nor have they been brainwashed into disassociating with the outside world. Rather, disaffection has occurred naturally, the conveniences of the building allowing those inside to gradually lose interest in anything it doesn’t provide. Additionally, and although it certainly feels like it at times, this isn’t a post-apocalyptic environment; the people who fill the frame represent only a fraction of society, those who we can safely assume actually wanted to come live here.

High-Rise is a movie of striking visual design, at times to a fault. Indeed, the building is a character unto itself, a looming entity with its upper five or ten floors precariously off-set from the rest. One look at this feat of civil engineering and you’re smitten. Even though it’s precisely the kind of physics-defying curiosity that has become old hat in these sorts of movies, the tower looks and feels right at home in our world. The cold, metal-gray interior features all the amenities you could imagine: shopping markets, gyms, pool-and-spa areas; there’s even a primary school. Parties are regularly thrown, often spilling over between floors, necessarily suggesting different economic classes still have the freedom to associate with whomever they so choose.

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is our way into the building. A 25th-floor resident, Robert is a lecturer on physiology and commutes daily to and from the city. He allows himself some distance from other people until his upstairs neighbor, single mom Charlotte (Sienna Miller), makes her presence known. The two quickly fall into a romance that eventually allows Robert to get to know her young but strange son Toby (Louis Suc). The first third of the film establishes the world inside this place and sees him getting acquainted with a few other eccentrics, including the Wilders, a family whose station in life seems to be being stuck on the bottom floor. Richard (Luke Evans) is a documentarian with a screw loose and more than a few probing questions. His wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) is heavily pregnant and wishes Richard weren’t always out getting himself into trouble.

Robert soon finds himself summoned to the penthouse, where high rise architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and his socialite wife Ann (Keeley Hawes) live. Well, flourish really. He’s brought up for an opportunity to get to know some of the building’s more prestigious fellows, a networking opportunity if you want to call it that. In some ways Hiddleston’s place within the narrative, especially with regards to his association with such characters, feels reminiscent of Jonathan Pine and his fraternization with dangerous types in the brilliant TV mini-series The Night Manager, a John le Carré adaptation in which a former British soldier is recruited by MI6 to infiltrate the ranks of a notorious international arms dealer in order to bring him down.

While a sense of impending doom is distinctly lacking with regards to Robert’s situation, part of the crux of this story does concern an evolving perception of who the doctor really is, particularly as he begins currying favor with some of the elites. (He even gets to play a game of squash with Mr. Royal!) It’s no coincidence his apartment is almost smack-dab in the middle of the building. The metaphor is almost too overt: Robert’s not like the rest, he plays as though the rules don’t apply and thus finds himself in the precarious position of not caring whether or not he improves his current life. His physical location within this building, like it does everyone else, says a lot about the opportunities he has been afforded.

This puzzling drama is an exercise in random visual stimulation, so it’s fitting that the central conflict arises haphazardly as well. It takes three months from the day Robert moves in for the social infrastructure to fail. Specifically what triggers the collapse isn’t made clear, but basic necessities are the first to go: electricity, clean water, food supplies, proper garbage disposal. A man throwing himself from the 39th floor onto the hood of a car is the most apparent indicator of things starting to go awry. And later: complete pandemonium as the irascible Richard Wilder stages a revolution to take down Royal, who he believes is the one responsible for things falling apart. More perceptive viewers will notice that, while all of this is going on, police are nowhere to be seen.

Lang isn’t exactly immune to the insanity, and it’s in his slow slide into a state of acceptance that maybe . . . just maybe, Royal’s plans aren’t completely sinister, that in some weird way society itself is what has failed him and failed the building. Wheatley ensures our perspective on the matter aligns with Robert’s, a tactic that allows us to remain as close to impartial as possible. And it’s not like Robert isn’t flawed himself. As the level of chaos increases we see his behavior change as well. A scene in the grocery store is particularly memorable, exhibiting a side of the doctor we haven’t yet seen: angry, desperate, and violent. He’s become overwhelmed by the survival instinct, protecting what matters most to him — in this case, a bucket of paint. At this point we are well beyond rules. Society is now left to fend for itself as Royal and his cronies continue to look for a way to improve the facilities.

High-Rise is an intensely visual piece that doesn’t quite resonate as the profound sociopolitical allegory it was clearly set on becoming and that the book has been heralded as. Nonetheless, it approaches a familiar subject with a gusto that allows us to overlook the fraying edges, offering up a hallucinatory experience that is as unpredictable as it is entertaining and thought-provoking.

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Recommendation: Fans of the weird and the dystopian need apply. High-Rise gets carried away with itself every now and then, with some sequences beginning and ending so sporadically you want to believe many of the transitions were done this way to add to the disorientation (and maybe this really was the thinking). Well-performed and even better shot. Cinematography is a high point, while Tom Hiddleston’s performance reminds us why this is an actor who should have more work. He’s too good. So is Jeremy Irons, but this is really Hiddleston’s movie. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “There’s no food left. Only the dogs. And Mrs. Hillman is refusing to clean unless I pay her what I apparently owe her. Like all poor people, she’s obsessed with money.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Kubo and the Two Strings

'Kubo and the Two Strings' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 19, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Marc Haimes; Chris Butler; Shannon Tindle

Directed by: Travis Knight

Kudos to Kubo for being a wee bit different. I mean, generally speaking his story isn’t one you haven’t seen before — unless of course you’ve had since your diaper days an elaborate scheme for avoiding all things Disney for the rest of your life, which just seems . . . excessive. The latest from Laika Entertainment does, however, carry with it an air of sophistication and maturity absent in many of its competitors’ products.

Travis Knight, in his directorial debut, paints an emotionally resonant portrait of a family plagued by wickedness in ancient Japan, a family represented by the young Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his mother Sariatu (Charlize Theron) who we see at the beginning of the film barely escaping with their lives from an unseen confrontation with her evil Sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara) and Kubo’s grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), who took one of Kubo’s eyes in an attempt to blind him to the world, a punishment that probably carries   with it some sort of metaphorical meaning that I just can’t be bothered to delve into here (either that, or it’s just . . . I guess, glaringly obvious).

Anyhoo, Kubo now lives in a cave atop a big mountain just outside a village, to which he travels daily to put on shows for the locals. He tells tales of a brave samurai who has to defend himself against monsters, stories based on what he has heard from his mother about his missing father Hanzo, a legendary warrior. Kubo attracts large crowds with his showmanship, his ability to manipulate colored pieces of paper into ornate origami figures with his shamisen (a three-string guitar) as impressive as it is perplexing. If only he could just come up with a conclusion to the tale. Each evening he returns to the cave where his mother, who has fallen into a trance-like state, awaits. Most of the time she remains frozen in place like a statue. When she does speak she reminds her son to never stay out after dark as that is when her wicked Sisters and other evil spirits cast by the Moon King prowl, awaiting the chance to take Kubo’s other eye.

One evening Kubo attends an Obon ceremony, a Buddhist ritual in which the living are able to communicate with and celebrate the spirits of their deceased loved ones. Observed for over 500 years, it has evolved into a kind of family reunion tradition. In a display of visual grandeur that rivals anything Pixar has created in its 17-film history, we watch the screen burst into plumes of orange, red and yellow, the spirits rising from glowing lanterns to greet a sky filled with stars. It’s got my vote as one of the most spectacular scenes in any movie this year. A moment of pure wonderment swiftly transitions into one of terror as day turns to night and, sure enough, Kubo is confronted by those vicious aunts of his, determined to permanently blind him. Again, both literally and metaphorically. Mother intervenes, imbuing her son with some of her own magical power before making the film’s obvious Big Sacrifice.

The narrative promptly shifts gears and finds us deep into a blizzard, waking up next to a living version of his monkey trinket, also voiced by Theron. The two form an awkward, tough-love kind of bond and soon they set out across the desolate landscape, Kubo in search of three pieces of armor that will protect him against the evil spirits. They’re led by “Little Hanzo,” an origami man modeled after his father. Little Hanzo leads them to Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a warrior who was cursed into taking the form of an insect and who has no memory of his past. He learns quickly Kubo is actually the son of his master which obliges him to help Kubo in his quest to defeat evil.

Only after this shift does it become obvious how deliberately Knight has been setting up the story proper. We’re halfway into the movie before what we’ve actually come for gets underway. (The argument could be made the incredible blend of stop-motion animation with creative applications of magic, like Kubo’s origami ship and origami birds, justifies the price of admission.) At the heart of the film lies the familial conflict, a fairly standard clash of good and evil that forces a frightened but resourceful youngster into making big decisions and taking on forces much greater than himself. Guiding him along the way are his newfound friends, friends that ultimately prove they have much more to offer Kubo than moral support.

It takes time for all the pieces to fall into place. Significant world-building must happen before we get into the nitty gritty. It’s not just the elaborate staging of the saga that almost feels obsessive. If the thematic elements Kubo trades in are steeped in the beauty and mythology of Japanese tradition, artistic expression is driven by the pursuit of perfection. The level of detail in the visual aesthetic evokes the pride and passion of creators over at the prestigious Studio Ghibli. Such comparisons might seem extreme, but they’re not without caveats. Kubo is so intensely visual it’s as though nothing else matters.

Some things certainly do seem to matter more to the filmmakers than others as we work our way through this dark and dangerous journey. Not all aspects are created equal; the villains feel like a significant comedown from the stratospheric heights reached by Laika’s graphic artists. Reputable thespians like Mara and Fiennes don’t quite sell the evil convincingly. Even still, and despite a climactic showdown between Kubo and the Moon King ending the film on a whimper rather than a bang, this is still a story well worth investing time in, especially with your little ones. In the end though, you’ll probably leave the theater just like them: all googoo-gaga over some of the most sumptuous visuals you have ever seen.

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Recommendation: Fairly heavy for a children’s movie as death lurks around every corner and reincarnation manifests as a prominent theme, but undeniably a quality experience for the whole family to share in, Kubo and the Two Strings rises above a few notable flaws thanks to an incredible animated style that gives rich texture to its culturally significant roots. The story falters towards the end but apparently never enough to divert attention to the fact this movie really should have featured Japanese dialogue if it was going for the whole ‘authenticity’ thing. Names like McConaughey, Theron, Fiennes and Mara actually become both enticing and distracting. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “I encourage you not to die.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.cartoonbrew.com

The Little Prince

'The Little Prince' movie poster

Release: Friday, August 5, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Irena Brignull; Bob Persichetti

Directed by: Mark Osborne

The Little Prince is a gem. It’s a crime it never received a theatrical release. It’s a heartwarming journey rivaling anything Pixar has created on an emotional and intellectual level, and perhaps it’s the complex, multi-layered animation that truly sets the film apart, interweaving crude stop-motion with crisp, computer-generated imagery to produce an aesthetic you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.

Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne’s enchanting tale is a reimagining of the 1943 French novella of the same name, penned by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a successful commercial pilot (and novelist, poet, aristocrat and journalist) prior to World War II. The man once traveled to American shores in an attempt to convince the government to bring the fight to Nazi Germany following his disenfranchisement from the French Air Force in the early 1940s. He spent a little over two years in the States writing what would later become three of his most popular works. He later would re-join the Force only to disappear mysteriously soon thereafter à la Amelia Earhart.

Saint-Exupéry’s experiences as an aviator factor into this modern interpretation of The Little Prince in curious ways. (It should be noted, however, that his original story was published before he enlisted.) Fantastical elements are of course front-and-center and the story is entrenched in the stresses of modern living, but under the surface lie untold mysteries and tales of bravery, heroism and self-discovery. Strong emotional hooks are drawn from an impressive, inspired voice cast and Osborne’s touch, though ultimately nothing unique, is just confident enough to steer the story in a direction that, come the end, very well may have you in tears. The good kind, of course.

We’re introduced to The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy, who thus far has Interstellar, The Conjuring and Ernest & Celestine on her résumé, and at the time of writing she’s yet to turn 16) who lives in a very grown-up world driven by rules, schedules and obedience. Her Mother (Rachel McAdams) wants her to attend the prestigious Academy so she can grow up and become an essential, contributing member of society. The initial interview does not go well as the panel, led by Paul Giamatti‘s intimidating and overly harsh instructor, springs an unexpected question upon her that causes her to panic. Mother has a Plan B: make her daughter cram so much studying into each and every day of her summer vacation she’ll be sure not to have any distractions (i.e. friends).

Mother draws up an impossibly elaborate Life Plan and constructs it so that each minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year is accounted for. Soon enough, The Little Girl rebels. She befriends their eccentric, hoarding and elderly neighbor, The Aviator (Jeff Bridges), who is introduced as the scourge of this SimCity-esque neighborhood — one comprised of identical blocky houses and roads filled with cars driving identical speeds and in organized right-angled patterns. Mother looks at the situation like so: “Just think about [his] house being the reason [ours] is available. This is the place where you’ll learn to grow up and become Essential.” (I paraphrase.)

The Aviator is a wonderful creation, and Bridges brings the character to life in ways that are difficult to fathom. Practically speaking, his performance is little more than a voice laid over/synced up with a cartoon character. It’s not the genuine article, and yet, he is mesmeric as he regales The Little Girl about his past experiences with an enigma he calls The Little Prince, whom he met after crashing his plane in the Sahara Desert many years ago. The Little Prince (voiced by the director’s son Riley) shows him a world where everything is possible, a reality that The Aviator has been trying for years to communicate to anyone willing to listen. Finally he has found someone who will, even if her intelligence means she’s skeptical about certain details.

The Little Prince is a space-traveling young lad who once lived on a tiny planetoid, a celestial object so small you could traverse on foot in a matter of minutes and whose existence is constantly being threatened by hungry tree roots eager to take over the entire planet. He left this world and a Rose he fell in love with (voiced by Marion Cotillard for some reason) in search of greater truths amongst the cosmos. In the present day, The Little Girl decides it is her responsibility to track down The Little Prince and prove to The Aviator that he still does exist, and that even though he has grown into a jaded, passive adult, he never abandoned the child within.

The Little Prince astounds on a visual level. It is an exercise in contrasts, the real world from which The Little Girl temporarily escapes suffocating with its seriousness and sterility, while the universe expands into this wondrous, strange space in which individual worlds are populated by simplistic, insulated communities comprised of childless, passionless adult drones. Scale is quirkily reduced to something almost tangible. We’re not talking interstellar travel here, more like a weekend road trip amongst the stars. You’ll find the stop-motion animation reserved for backstories concerning The Aviator’s relationship with The Little Prince while the rest operates in a pristine, colorful world that gives Disney a run for its money.

Much like a Roald Dahl creation, The Little Prince refuses to condescend to its pint-sized viewers. It strikes a delicate balance between entertaining youngsters while providing the more jaded a few different ways to look at the lives they’ve shaped for themselves. Occasionally the chronicle trips into the realm of the pretentious with a few overly-poetic spits of dialogue that attempt to spice up an already fairly advanced narrative. It doesn’t have to try so hard. The exploration of just what it was that caused the kid in us to go away is profound enough on its own.

The Little Prince

Recommendation: The Little Prince offers adventurous viewers something a little different. Generally speaking the story arc isn’t something you’ll be experiencing for the first time, but it’s the incredible nuance and the textures and the layers to the animation that make it one of the most original works this former animated-film-skeptic has seen all year. Stellar performances abound. There’s even a cute fox voiced by James Franco, a Benicio del Toro-sounding snake and Albert Brooks is along for the ride so the cast is reason enough to check it out. Also, stop-motion. Have I mentioned how awesome the technique is? Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. Available on Netflix.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “It is only with heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Witch

'The Witch' movie poster

Release: Friday, February 19, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Robert Eggers

Directed by: Robert Eggers

In Robert Eggers’ feature film debut a certain amount of faith is required. Faith in a relatively unfamiliar cast, in the Colonial-period pressure cooker a young writer-director throws us into; faith that something terrible is going to come of all of this. Much of that faith won’t go unrewarded, for The Witch, in all its creepiness, sends chills down the spine á la The Babadook, the magnificent debut of Aussie Jennifer Kent.

Unlike that stress-inducing exercise, Eggers’ film doesn’t quite manage to cap off 80-something minutes’ worth of nervous anticipation with a suitably nerve-shattering climax. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Witch is something special, containing its madness within a world so authentic you’ll find yourself walking out of the theater babbling in Olde English about what Ye have just witnessed. Indeed production design is crucial. The very environment itself is beyond creepy. Costuming, lighting, even the score — all are tinged with an archaicness that horror hasn’t seen in some time.

Story is set in the early 17th century, and follows the degradation of a family recently shunned from their Puritan village for their — and get this — extremist religious views (how intolerant do you have to be in order to get banned from a community that exiled itself from England because they wanted to exercise their own religious freedoms?). William (Ralph Ineson, who played essentially the European version of Dwight on the original, British version of The Office) is the head of his clan and is happy to take them — a wife and five children — to a cabin at the edge of the dark and ominous woods where they’ll be free to honor God as they so please.

It’s not long before strange things start happening. Disappearing infants. Blood-squirting goats (where there ought to be milk). Paranoia runs rampant, threatening to tear the entire family apart. The devout William and Katherine (Kate Dickie) believe these situations are tests of their faith and find that they must endure, even if it’s becoming increasingly obvious their trials are a result of witchcraft and black magic. The episodes almost seem to be stemming from behaviors exhibited by one of their own, a concern that in turn ramps up our dread ten fold as things get uncomfortably personal.

Sharing Kent’s affinity for building and maintaining suspense, Eggers spends much time depicting this particular family, one that, not unlike those they’ve left behind in the security of the gated community, feels a certain sense of longing for where they came from. The Witch thrives on emotional isolation as much as it does the physical, securing solid characters and a relationship dynamic between the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her stern parents: mother is far more hostile toward her than her gruff father. It helps that the acting is top-notch as well. The Witch proves to be yet another addition into contemporary horror, a genre in which scream queens are being drowned out by the long-suffering quiet child.

But Eggers posits that all of the bizarre activity around the settlement — crops of corn going bad, the aforementioned bloody goat (one goat in particular is likely to play a role in my nightmares tonight), and people wandering off into the woods — isn’t just a matter of circumstance. There’s an eerie connection associated with the strict adherence to religious doctrine and daily behavior. Thomasin likes to tease her younger siblings with tall tales of her being an actual witch, particularly her younger twins. Meanwhile there doesn’t seem to be a moment that goes by where William and/or Katherine aren’t questioning themselves and the innate goodness of their children.

Eggers is clearly of the thinking that less is more, employing several techniques to slowly tease out the phantasm from our minds and provide a physical rendering of it on screen. It’s an occasionally frustrating approach, given such technically impressive world-building and characters. We end up wanting more, and not for a lack of entertainment. Eggers simply concocts such an engrossing environment we want to see what kind of evil is out there, something that might intellectually match the physical authenticity of this place. Even if The Witch doesn’t quite delve deep enough into those dreadful woods, this New England folktale is likely to be seared into the memory for some time. It seems Eggers, like the witch, is for real.

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Recommendation: The Witch serves as a fascinating study of religious belief and how effective (or, if you are less trusting, ineffective) faith can be in the face of pure evil. Austere production design effortlessly transports us back to a time and place far less forgiving of human error (or weakness, for the lack of a better word). Given that there are multiple scenes in which you could cut the tension with a knife, it actually might be best to think of the film as a thriller with horror elements rather than as pure horror.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Voices

the-voices-poster

Release: Friday, February 6, 2015

[Redbox]

Written by: Michael R. Perry

Directed by: Marjane Satrapi

I always knew cats were inherently evil.

What with their pawing and purring and hairballs and general infatuation with chasing their own tails. Is evil the right word? In this case, yes . . . yes it is; cats take on an entirely darker role in at least one human’s life.

At the center of attention in this bizarre twist on an already twisted subgenre of horror known as horror-comedy is a fairly lonely man named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), who has just started working at a bathtub factory in a rinky-dink town we don’t know the name of. By all accounts a nice enough guy, he nevertheless shows some signs of detachment from reality and reluctance to interact with his coworkers. When he’s tasked with putting together a company barbecue and in the process meets the cute girl from accounting, a British babe named Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he is instantly smitten and asks her out.

Unable to flat-out tell him she doesn’t want to go out with him, she instead avoids him after work and goes with her friends from accounting, Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Alison (Ella Smith), to a karaoke bar. She’s left stranded afterwards in the rain when her car can’t start up and her phone has been soaked in the downpour. Serendipitously enough, along comes Jerry who’s heartbroken to say the least having been stood up yet offers a desperate Fiona a ride home. In striking up a conversation with her on the way back Jerry can’t see the deer in the middle of the road and unfortunately creams it. Antlers and all sticking through the windshield, we’re now entering spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, The Voices quickly flips the switch and starts to pursue, with unsettling fervor, the horror aspect.

As far as the comedy is concerned, a little asterisk might need to be placed beside that word. A twisted sense of humor will help enormously in enjoying what Iranian director Marjane Satrapi has to offer here; although the brightly-colored promotional poster for the film doesn’t really make that a secret. What might be more of a surprise is the quality of Ryan Reynolds’ purely tortured performance. He is something to behold — the days of Van Wilder are long since gone, boys and girls. Not that staying in school for the better part of a decade was ever a bad idea but this is a role that represents a remarkable sense of maturity.

If Reynolds’ masterful turn as an oddly empathetic Jerry is the peanut butter to this messed-up sandwich the jelly, then, surely is Satrapi’s commentary on the truly disturbing potential of mental illness to completely consume its victim. There’s no doubt something’s off about this man and while we do surpass the point where we in any reality could forgive him for what he does (let’s get one thing straight: this isn’t an Eli Roth production, death is not played up for laughs), we are able to get to a place where we understand where his problems stem from.

Sure, in order to get to the root of the evil that pervades Jerry’s life we must try to buy into some rather ridiculous scenes that could have benefitted from stronger writing, but the surrealism, the downright perverse entertainment value wins out time and again. Talking dogs and cats? This isn’t quite like Homeward Bound. Or maybe, if Sassy had more of a psychotic agenda.

At the end of the film, one thing was certain for this reviewer: I’m still much more of a dog person.

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3-5Recommendation: The best recommendation I can give here is that if you’re still wondering what the animals have to do with anything (especially that darn cat — yay, another movie reference!) then you should just watch and find out for yourself. Fan of Ryan Reynolds and black comedies? This just may well be a must-see for you.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Pretty complicated inside the human mind, huh?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Ernest & Celestine

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Release: Friday, February 28, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Ernest & Celestine may only be an hour and twenty minutes long, but within such a short time span a world is created that no viewer can possibly walk away from willingly. No, they’ll have to call upon the indie/arthouse theater bouncers to physically remove me from this theater seat! (And. . well, it looks like they are doing that right now so I’ll have to be brie. . . .)

The one word that perfectly sums up this adventure? ‘Adorable’ comes to mind. ‘Warm.’ ‘Fuzzy.’ Yes, these are all good. But the one that really sticks out:

‘Awwwwww. . . .’

Work with me, people. Onomatopoeia counts, especially if the film in question is an animated feature, because that’s the sound we make throughout most of these things. This one in particular is an English-language version of a French adaptation of a popular Belgian children’s book series. It tells the story of an intrepid little mouse, Celestine (voiced by the young Mackenzie Foy) who melts the icy heart of the big, lumpy bear Ernest (Forest Whitaker).

Neither of the two seem to really fit in to their respective societies: with the bears living above ground, and the mice being relegated to the network of sewage systems below. Each population must fend for themselves in a world dominated by fear and a hilarious misunderstanding of one other. Mice fear bears for bears love to eat mice, but the sheer irony of it is that bears are just as fearful of the little rodents they’d sooner throw their paws in the air and surrender than put up a fight.

Ernest is a poor bear who lives alone and is now having trouble finding any food to survive the winter that is officially upon his doorstep, so he scrounges his way through the local village in a feeble attempt at filling his tummy. Police aren’t having any of it, though, and justice is swiftly brought to the panhandling bear. However, Ernest and his problems aren’t the first things introduced to us. Instead, the film opens up and immediately immerses us in the underground society of mice, where Celestine is settling into bed for another unpleasant night at the orphanage overseen by a dreadful mousekeeper (yes, that’s a term invented by yours truly) mysteriously referred to as The Gray One (Lauren Bacall).

This misery of a mouse likes to tell her children all sorts of horrible stories about the bears, though Celestine is inclined to not buy into them. Her encounter with one in particular will affirm that indeed, not all bears are bad. In fact, they can be quite lovable.

As a member of a society that builds and chews things for survival, Celestine is studying to be a dentist. Her instructor, the Head Dentist (voice of William H. Macy), has taken a keen interest in Celestine, as she hasn’t been keeping up with her teeth collecting like all of the other students. He demands she go out and scoop up 50 in a single night. During this mission, Celestine finds herself in hot water when, in the process of taking a tooth from one bear cub, she is caught in the act and chased out of the house by the terrified bears. She proceeds to stuff herself into a trash can to sleep for the night, where she is later found by Ernest while he’s out looking for leftovers again.

From minute one, Celestine is intent on Ernest forming a different opinion of her, other than the one he probably already has thanks to his being a bear and all. But Ernest isn’t like most and would rather Celestine just disappear not because she’s a mouse but because he’s a grouch and prefers to be left alone. When the two find themselves wanted fugitives after breaking into a candy shop, Ernest has no choice but to put up with Celestine for the time being. He takes her back to his secluded woodland hut, where he at first puts her in the basement. . .below ground, where mice belong.

As days turn into weeks and weeks into months the odd pair’s bond only strengthens, with Ernest slowly warming to the mouse’s presence. . .after his initial reluctance to break the rules. And the little squeaky one is just happy that someone finally cares about her. Unfortunately, while all is bright in Ernest’s neck of the woods, the town has formed a search party (bear and mouse police forces remain segregated until a hilarious scene in which they all meet in pursuit of the pair) to arrest and jail the pair of perceived renegades. The proceeding adventure is incredibly endearing to watch unfold.

Joint directorial efforts from Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar ensure Ernest & Celestine is consistently charming, absorbing and gleefully funny. Imaginative use of animation, coupled with the film’s innocuous tone and subject, might make the film seem as if its catering to a young crowd. Yes, the film is relatively harmless, and yet there are larger themes at play here, even beyond the amusing comparisons to the outlaws Bonnie & Clyde. The friendship between the two animals certainly functions on the surface as an odd-couple dynamic. These characters are well-developed and well worth loving.

On the other hand, as the film develops, we see more than a. . e-hem. . .bare resemblance to the relationships in our world that often face judgment — relationships of a non-traditional variety. The beauty of the film is that it’s open-ended in what qualifies for ‘non-traditional;’ defining what these are doesn’t matter, but recognizing the parallel does. This is a concept that children won’t necessarily pick up on while watching mice and bears running around on a beautiful watermark palette. But the allegory is as obvious as a bear caught in a mousetrap.

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4-5Recommendation: A great little escape that features a terrific voice cast who turn in endearing work. There is no harm in bringing the kids along for a family viewing here, but a wide audience ranging from the single adult to the young married couple truly benefit more from some of the story’s subtler suggestions about coexisting in a judgmental and often misinformed society.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 80 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know the story of the little mouse who did not believe in the big, bad bear. . .?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com