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Greetings again from the darkness. Him. Mother. Man. Woman. When those
are the identifiers of the four main characters (none have a real
name), one might assume that the filmmaker is lazy. However, after
watching the latest from the psycho-creative force known as Darren
Aronofsky, we understand that names weren't necessary, and even if they
had been, he was probably too mentally exhausted from finding ways to
torture those characters and confound the viewers.
The first half of the film is discomforting and creepy while the second half is downright crazed and deranged. You won't find many story details in this review, as the fun is in the shock. Most of the film is through the eyes of Jennifer Lawrence, and we share her confusion and disoriented state. She is married to a famous poet played by Javier Bardem (yes, the age difference is acknowledged). While she spends her days refurbishing their stunning country home, he battles severe writer's block. Needless to say, their domestic bliss goes wrong but it's not the kind of wrong we've ever seen before.
Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique (both Oscar nominees) confine us in excruciatingly tight shots resulting in further disorientation and claustrophobia through most of the film. By the time we get a single wide shot of the home's exterior, we've just about given up hope. And once Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer show up, we kick into full ROSEMARY'S BABY mode only more frenetic and hyper.
It should be noted that it's not a traditional horror film heck, it's hardly a traditional film at all. It's built on confusion, and metaphors abound. Aronofsky seems intent on causing endless post- viewing discussions and debate over what it "means". A case can be made for commentary on ego, fame, Mother Nature, deity/religion, and a sign of the times the entitled "takers" of the world. The most obvious explanation is that the price paid for creativity is quite dear, and often causes a release from reality. There is a vicious cycle occurring here and our realization happens after the crescendo of insanity that is the film's peak.
WTF moments are too many to count, and Ms. Lawrence pulls off what has to be the roughest on screen pregnancy we've seen. It's a real treat to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in form after being out of the spotlight for four years. The score from Johan Johannsson is remarkable and there are ground-breaking visual effects (easy to miss during the audacious, frenzied second half action). Aronofsky is clearly provoking us, though it's abundantly unclear to what end. His previous twisted, mind- benders include REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and BLACK SWAN both of which seem like mainstream family fare in comparison. This is a love it or hate it project, and most will likely fall into the latter. But for those who embrace the deranged and audacious, the love will be everlasting.
Greetings again from the darkness. Actor Alexander Bedria wrote,
directs, and stars in this short film that offers a history lesson
alongside some dramatic tension. We learn that in 1980, after 15 years
of Civil War, Zimbabwe finally gains its independence. By 2000, the
government is seizing property (especially white-owned property) from
those considered anything other than native Zimbabweans.
Daniel Silva (played by director Bedria) is a multi-generation land- owner/farmer, and he takes a stand to protect his land and loved ones when he becomes the next target of the government. William, his long time farm hand and "friend", is played by native Zimbabwean Tongayi Chirisa and remains loyal to his life-long friend and employer despite the fear (and reality) of brutal violence.
Amanda Wing plays Silva's pregnant wife, Constance Ejuma plays William's wife, Caroline Lagerfelt (memorable as the nurse in MINORITY REPORT) plays a family member, while Shawn Baker is Montanga, a terrifying government affiliate responsible for carrying out the evictions.
It's a well made and tension-filled short film that, at its core, asks the philosophical question: should those of today pay for the transgressions of those in the past? On the flip side, should they be allowed to benefit from those transgressions? Silva understandably asks, how many generations back must his family ownership go before he is considered native. It's a reasonable question with no easy answer in fact, your answer likely depends on which side of the issue you fall.
Greetings again from the darkness. A nice story set-up is always
welcome, and this one delivers a creative attention-grabber that draws
us in pretty quickly. Brothers and long-time filmmaking collaborators
Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne (TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT, THE KID
WITH A BIKE) edited the film a bit after its Cannes screening, and the
result is a quiet little whodunit with an interesting lead actress
A doctor and her intern have a disagreement at closing time, and opt not to answer the clinic door when a young lady rings after hours. The doctor's guilty conscience leads her to become obsessed with finding out the name of the lady when she turns up murdered the next morning. It's passionate and amateur sleuthing at its most awkward, unconventional, and dangerous.
Dr Jenny Davin has recently accepted a post at the prestigious Kennedy Hospital, replacing a retiring doctor. The tragedy causes a change of mind on the job so that she may focus on the case and on continuing patient care through her clinic. The filmmakers initially wanted Marion Cotillard for the role (what filmmaker wouldn't?), but Adele Haenel (LOVE AT FIRST FIGHT) brings her own approach, and though she doesn't come across as the warmest person, it's quite apparent that she is a dedicated doctor who cares very much for her patients. Even when she tells her intern Julien (Olivier Bonnaud) that "a good doctor must control his emotions", she is ever-stoic with her delivery.
The story is missing the usual Dardenne brothers' twist, and instead, at its core is an ill-advised detective story and a case of morality, guilt, and the drive to do the right thing. The house calls and open communication with doctors will confound some U.S. viewers, but the various vignettes during Dr. Davin's gumshoe work keep us engaged. The sub-plot with Dr. Davin reigniting intern Julien's passion for medicine also maintains the minimalist approach and restrained performances all with a very grounded approach with mostly hand-held cameras.
Greetings again from the darkness. There are two clown schools: Funny
clowns (Bozo, Ronald McDonald), and Terrifying clowns (the one in
POLTERGEIST, Pennywise the Dancing Clown). Stephen King first
introduced Pennywise in the 1986 novel, and the great Tim Curry brought
him to life (and our nightmares) in the 1990 TV mini-series (2
episodes). So, that's 27 years since the TV version. How fitting that
director Andy Muschietti (MAMA) introduces a new generation 27 years
later, since that's how often the supernaturally evil clown visits
Derry, Maine to frighten and feast on kids. It's a terrific update.
Horror films are similar to comedy films in that it often comes down to one's own personality quirks what makes you laugh, and what scares you. This new version covers the first half of King's novel, focusing on "The Losers Club" the seven kids who band together to fight their fears. Director Muschietti sets the story in 1989 (rather than the 50's) and the obvious comparisons are to THE GOONIES, STAND BY ME (another King story), and the recent hit "Stranger Things".
The opening sequence gets us off to a great start. You've probably seen it in the trailer. Young Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is joyfully splashing through the rain puddles following his paper boat as it disappears into the storm drain. It's there that he meets, and we get our first look at, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard, son of Stellan and brother of Alexander). Giving us an early peek at what we came to see creates time for the development of a long list of characters. Of course the mini-series and the novel didn't have the time restrictions of a feature film, so it's impressive how quickly we connect with the kids.
Georgie's older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberther, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL) is the leader of The Losers despite his propensity to stutter, and his belief that little Georgie may still be alive. Motormouth Richie (Finn Wolfhard, "Stranger Things") is the bespectacled wiseass, while Beverly (Sophia Lillis, an Amy Adams lookalike and star in the making) is the tough-on-the-outside female who deals with the rumors that accompany being a teenager. Hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), straight-laced son of the Rabbi Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), chubby brainiac new kid Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and home-schooled Mike (Chosen Jacobs) round out this group of outsiders who are all frequently the target of bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), creepy parents, and of course, Pennywise.
A couple of the set pieces are outstanding. Beverly's bathroom (especially the sink), the creek for the rock fight, and the rickety old house and its corresponding clown lair all contribute to the overall level of menace. Rising star composer Benjamin Wallfisch produces a score that guides us through the thrills and spills, as well as the quieter moments. As for Pennywise, even though the dancing clown had more screen time in the mini-series, Skarsgard is memorable, although the modern day special effects (those teeth!) often diminish the humanistic feel of Curry's clown and escalate things to an other-worldly level.
Expect more of the Halloween Haunted House type of scary rather than the emotionally crippling stuff of horror films like THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING. The sudden bursts of sinister are surprisingly balanced with the humorous one-liners from the kids, and the actualization of the infamous "you'll float too" is a stunning effect. The nostalgic feel complements the best part of the story the power of friendship and connected groups. Watching these kids face their biggest fears certainly provides a bit of a chill to the upcoming fall season and as a bonus, it's a fun time for viewers.
Greetings again from the darkness. "Holden Caulfield is dead." So
states Jerry's letter to his mentor. You likely know Jerry better as
J.D. Salinger, and he wrote that while hospitalized with Post Traumatic
Stress Syndrome after WWII. Of course, we know this proclamation is
premature, as Holden Caulfield is the main character from Mr.
Salinger's famous (and only) novel, "The Catcher in the Rye"
school literature staple for decades.
Imagine your dream is to become a great writer, but your own father continually reminds you that "meat and cheese distribution has been good for this family." Your restlessness often works against you, and though you are hesitant to admit it, a mentor for writing and life direction is desperately needed if you are to avoid the family business. Enter Columbia professor Whit Burnett (Kevin Spacey).
This is Danny Strong's first feature film as a director, though you would surely recognize his face from his frequent acting appearances often as a weasly character. He is also the creator of TV's "Empire" and wrote the screenplays for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY (Parts I and II) and LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER. Strong does an admirable job in showing the commitment required to hone one's writing skills and proving "the difference in wanting to be a writer and actually being one."
Jerome David Salinger is played well by Nicholas Hoult. His scenes with Spacey's professor are the film's best, and Hoult also shoulders the responsibility of Salinger's writing frustrations, personal life challenges, military service, and finally, his decision to become the most famous and long-lasting recluse (by comparison, Howard Hughes was an amateur).
We learn that Burnett was instrumental in getting Salinger's first short story published, which finally gave Jerry the answer needed for a writer's most dreaded question, "Have you been published?" Quite a bit of time is devoted to his odd romantic relationship with Oona O'Neill (Eugene's daughter and the future, long-time wife to Charlie Chaplin). Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson) plays Oona as an enigmatic lover attracted to Salinger's genius, but incapable of being patient for his career that might happen (and might not). She opts for the sure bet.
Salinger's military service included Utah Beach on D-Day, and nearly as remarkably, his toting the tattered manuscript 'Catcher' pages throughout his tour. He returned home in 1946, and in 1951 "The Catcher in the Rye" was published. It's been referred to as the Great American novel and a rite of passage, while also being banned and derided for its whiny Holden.
Director Strong emphasizes Salinger's turn to Zen Buddhism and his sessions with Swami Nikhilanda, as well as his evolving distrust of stalking fans and two-faced media. Support work is provided by Sarah Paulson as Salinger's salty agent, Lucy Boynton as his wife, Victor Garber as his father, and Hope Davis as his supportive mother. Just as in real life, we get nothing of Salinger's later years of solitude and isolation in New Hampshire, where he died at age 91.
The book has sold more than 65 million copies, and continues to sell well today. In a shift from the recent documentary SALINGER by Shane Salerno, and the book "J.D. Salinger: A Life Raised High" by Kenneth Slawenski, this dramatization doesn't dig too deep, but it does allow a new generation to personify the legend. Perhaps it even paints a picture of a better/nicer man than what his real life actions showed. Regardless, the older Salinger certainly seemed to embrace the cause of "write and get nothing in return".
Greetings again from the darkness. Let's just get this out of the way
upfront. There is a proved and established market for mindless fluff
designed to allow women to laugh at the messes created by "real life"
relationships, careers, and parenting. In fact, first time
writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is merely continuing the traditions
set by her bloodline. She is the daughter of filmmakers Nancy Meyers
and Charles Shyer who shared an Oscar screen writing nomination for
PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980), and collaborated on other Romantic-Comedies
such as FATHER OF THE BRIDE (I and II), and BABY BOOM (1987). Rom- Coms
exist to bring some balance to the universe of Comic Book film
adaptations for fan boys. It is possible to have quality filmmaking on
no matter how rare it seems.
Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney. It's her 40th birthday, and she's a chipper lady recently separated from her music industry husband (Michael Sheen) and moved with their two daughters (Lola Flanery, Eden Grace Redfield) from New York to Los Angeles. Alice is in full "starting over" mode, including kicking off a new home decorating business. During a drunken birthday celebration with her friends, Alice hooks up with a younger man. The next morning, Alice's mom (Candice Bergen) invites Harry (the young man played by Pico Anderson) and his two buddies (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky - all 3 are budding filmmakers) to move into Alice's house. What follows is a maybe/maybe not romance between Harry and Alice, a bonding between the fellows and Alice's daughters, new business struggles for Alice, the sudden return to the scene of Alice's husband, and an endless stream of movie-making meetings for the 3 guys.
That's a recap of the story, but it doesn't address the real issue. For years, we have been hearing that the good-old-boy Hollywood network needed to back more female-centric projects: movies about women, movies directed by women, movies written by women, movies produced by women. Well this one has ALL of that, and yet I can only imagine the outrage if a man had written/directed/produced this exact film. Let's discuss.
Alice is positioned as a "brave" and "strong" woman for moving her kids across the country and starting over. What allows this woman to be so courageous? Well see, she is the daughter of a deceased filmmaker who had a successful career and left her a multi-million dollar California estate conveniently, one with a guest house for the three young men to live in. And who in their right mind, and with two young daughters, would invite three total strangers to move in especially the night after - even if one of them looks to be yanked right out of an Abercrombie ad? There is also Alice's interaction with her first client (played by Lake Bell). Despite despicable treatment from the rich lady, Alice doesn't stand her ground until yet another drunken bout of liquid courage occurs. The two daughters are smart and cute, but there is an obvious shortage of daily parenting happening here the daughters seem to show up only when a dose of precociousness is required. The scenes with Alice and her estranged husband are appropriately awkward, but the communication seems hokey at least until we witness true hokeyness in the cartoonish exchanges between the (now) four gentlemen. In fact, all male characters are written as cartoons, which we might view as "getting even" with the many times female characters were poorly written; however, since the female lead here is just as unreal, that theory doesn't hold.
The paint-by-numbers approach carries through as we check all the boxes: cute kids, a pet dog, apologetic ex, hunky new suitor, no financial hardships, loads of delightful dialogue, Ms. Witherspoon flashing more facial contortions than Jim Carrey at his peak, at least two cheesy musical montages, a mad dash to the kid's play/recital/game, and even the cherry on top a Carole King song at the end. In a year with so many wonderful female-centric films, this one is difficult to comprehend except that maybe, given who her parents are, perhaps Ms. Meyers-Shyer is actually the beneficiary of that good old boy network of which we've heard tell.
Greetings again from the darkness. With all the talk about statues
these days, maybe it's career teachers like John and Amanda Leyden who
deserve their bronzed images displayed in public so that we may all pay
proper respect. The film follows the married couple during their 46th
and final year as educators at Headfort School, the only remaining
primary boarding school in Ireland. These two have been inspirational
and influential to so many students over the years, and now they find
themselves in a quandary about how to leave the only life they've known
since becoming adults.
Co-writers and co-directors Neasa Ni Chianain and David Rane, along with script consultant Etienne Essery, use a loose structure in documenting the daily activities, and the blending of traditions with modernity, within the somewhat imposing walls of Headfort. We find it pleasurable to focus on passionate, dedicated teachers rather than on what's broken with today's education system.
John's hard line stance and frequent use of sarcasm ("That wasn't entirely bad") effectively masks his caring nature and desire to help students learn and improve. He teaches Latin, Math and coaches the student band that plays many familiar rock songs. He considers this just as important as any class. Amanda takes a more traditional approach in teaching Literature. She uses a well-refined mixture of encouragement and books to facilitate the lessons and motivate students to read more.
The past and present are always on display here with both the institution and this couple. School and home are blurred lines for the students as well as for John and Amanda. "If we don't come here, what'll we do all day?" This line speaks to the uncertainty and wariness that are weighing on the couple as their career end approaches.
As viewers, we must keep in mind that these are privileged children, all of whom are likely to move on to elite secondary schools. In fact, the arrival of selection letters plays a role near year end. When alone at home, we hear John and Amanda complain about students, not unlike you probably complain about your co-workers. The difference here is that this man and woman are truly dedicated to helping each student become their best self.
The film style allows the day-to-day challenges to appear as they may, and while little is learned about individual students, it's clear that John and Amanda are lost about leaving the only working life they've experienced a devotion to helping kids develop. In fact, the Headmaster, Dermot Dix, is a former student of the Leyden's. The film's original title, In Loco Parentis, translates to "in place of parents" we wish these pseudo-parents nothing but the best in the biggest transition of their life. They certainly have earned happiness, and maybe even a statue.
Greetings again from the darkness. It's a very artsy beginning. Slow
motion movements by some very focused men in a barren, open field that
shows no signs of city life on the horizon. There is no dialogue; only
the sound effects of sportsmen grunts and feet shuffling in the dirt
after the most tension-packed 'drawing of straws' one is likely to see.
Italian director Also Iuliano and co-writers Alessandro Giuletti and Severino Iuliano show us what we soon figure out is a game of futbol, though we never see the ball. It's obvious something isn't right, as the players start sluggishly and only slowly does the aggressiveness pick up.
Halfway through the 10 minute run time, a flashback explains the initial player reticence and subsequent aggression accompanied by the moving music from Enrico Melozzi. The desperation of these immigrants stems not just from their dreams of freedom (or at least a better life), but also from the power-trip and lack of humanity by those who take advantage of their total dependence. Cinematographer Daniel Cipri and Editor Marco Spoletini deserve special mention for the stunning look of this startlingly powerful story.
Greetings again from the darkness. The opening screen informs us that
this short film from Writer-Director Santiago Paladines (from Ecuador)
is "Inspired by True Events". Twenty stressful minutes later, we are
left wondering just how many times situations like this are repeated.
Javier (Johnny Ortiz from McFARLAND, USA) is a driver for a group that transports undocumented immigrants from Ecuador into the U.S. Javier is trying to prove himself to the gang leader (Eduardo Roman) so that he can take on more responsibility. As you might imagine, it's not a pretty business and things get really tough to watch when 12 year old Cristina (Noemi Pedraza) is part of Javier's latest pick-up. It's at this point where the unthinkable occurs and human trafficking rears its head.
By design, there is no back story for any of these characters. All that matters is the moment. The haunting music of Erick del Aguila adds to the tension as this compelling story unfolds and we are reminded that no matter how dark the moment appears, we always have the choice to do the right thing. The story will likely stick with you, as will the complex issue of undocumented immigrants and workers.
Greetings again from the darkness. If the synopsis were phrased, "Based
on the real life story of a figure within a secret society", we would
likely be prepared for either a spy movie or yet another undercover
look at a cult. Instead director Joshua Z Weinstein provides a rare
glimpse into a community we outsiders rarely see: the ultra-Orthodox
Hasidic Jews of Brooklyn. He does so with a deft touch and due respect,
while bringing to light traditions that have existed for generations.
Supposedly shot in secret and featuring non-actors, the dialogue is almost entirely Yiddish (with subtitles), and the sets are mostly small apartments, back rooms, and the streets and stores of the community. There is no sound stage in sight. The story centers on Menashe, a sweaty schlub of a man. Menashe is neither matinée idol nor hero of the silver screen. He's a regular guy whose wife passed away, and who wants little more from life than to raise his son Rieven (Ruben Niborski). Unfortunately, tradition calls for every child to be raised in a home with a mother, so Menashe's former brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) has taken on the parenting role.
As the memorial for the one year anniversary of his wife's death approaches, we initially believe Menashe's actions may be related to his mourning. But we soon discover, he didn't really have things together when she was alive either, and his borderline incompetence at work, and failings as a father, simply define who he is. Menashe Lustwig plays the lead in the movie based on his life events, and his approach leaves us wondering if we are witnessing his worst days or merely his every day.
Menashe is hard-headed, but not ambitious. He is anxious to show his Rabbi The Ruv (Meyer Schwartz) that he is independent enough to organize the memorial and raise his son. The Rabbi is understanding and reminds him The Torah states what makes a good life: a nice wife, a nice house, and nice dishes. Menashe falls short on all three, and his actions on dates set by The Matchmaker prove that he has little interest in a new wife, despite that being one of the conditions to his regaining his son.
The tight camera shots throughout play up the closeness of the community and the claustrophobic feel of Menashe's life. The writers Alex Lipschultz, Musa Syeed, and Joshua Z Weinstein (director) detail the traditions that seem foreign to us in a way that evokes authenticity and realism, rather than compromise for a wide audience. There is an odd intensity to the film, and it's more naturalistic than sentimental. The violin pieces written by Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist complement the perspective that even in a close-knit community, every one of us goes through "stuff" in life that deserves a touch of empathy and understanding. Is it a happy ending? It's certainly not a Hollywood ending, but it does stay true to the vaguely hopeful tone.
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