Archive for the ‘2010 films’ Tag
“Now something so sad has hold of us that the breath leaves and we can’t even cry.”
-Charles Bukowski, You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense
Grief incites people to all sorts of mischief.
People in films kill for a boatload of reasons. They kill for money, love, sex, power, a black bird, a tanker full of gasoline, a witch’s broom, Cornel Wilde, and even a penmanship medal. If you watch horror films, you’re used to watching people, and dogs (please stop) die in creative and horrifying ways. What you’re not used to seeing is the aftermath. Sure, horror sequels often begin with the hero or heroine recovering in a mental ward after an ordeal, but seldom do the filmmakers dwell on the survivor’s feelings. Generally, the protagonist must hot foot it out of the hospital to avoid ending the franchise prematurely. A handful of terrific new horror films and filmmakers break that mold. These artists focus on grief as both a reason to kill, and an actual entity.
The films in this piece portray grief in terms of horror. That makes sense because it’s something scary that no one wants to talk about. Grief gets buried, not unlike a victim in a premature grave, who pops out at the most inopportune times. You think you dug the hole deep enough, but the little bastard manages to crawl out and invade your Christmas by wiping his muddy feet on your carpet, or ruin a perfectly nice dinner party by playing that tune you’re trying so hard to forget. Grief is also something everyone expresses differently, but is supposed to express the same. Friends study your affect and project their own feelings there. “How can he laugh at a time like this?” Police observe the spouses of murder victims and decide whether they’re reacting correctly. “She’s not even crying. We’d better investigate.” You can also overreact. In the 1946 drama, The Razor’s Edge, Gene Tierney comments on Anne Baxter’s character, Sophie, who’s sunk into despair and drunkenness after the loss of her husband and child in an accident. “Of course, it was a shock and everyone felt sorry for her, but a normal person recovers. If she went to pieces it was because she was always unbalanced.” With the weight of so much emotion on your shoulders, it’s easy to lose your footing and fall into that newly-opened grave. The best choice is conversation. When the beast is out in the open, he’s easier to fight—or embrace. The players in these films choose different paths and it’s enlightening to see how those choices affect them.
In The Babadook (2014), writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a frighteningly claustrophobic world for her heroine. Amelia (Essie Davis), a lonely widow with a troubled young son, struggles to get through each day. Once, a vivacious writer in love with her musician husband, Amelia now simply goes through the motions of living. She works as an attendant at a nursing home and tries to care for her incredibly high-maintenance son. Aside from his behavior issues, her boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) has terrible nightmares so, of course, his mom gets no sleep. Samuel is such a handful, no one else will watch him, so Amelia is on the hook 24/7. Everything is a chore and she gets no peace. As if loneliness, drudgery, and lack of sleep weren’t enough, Amelia also battles depression and a sort of delayed grief. Her husband died on the day their son was born so she’s been too busy to grieve properly. After six years of this, her embattled psyche has had enough. A scary pop-up book, The Babadook, appears mysteriously in her house and the book’s protagonist, a combination of Dr. Caligari and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, begins to haunt Amelia and Samuel’s dreams and maybe even their reality.
The Invitation (2015) begins when Will (Logan Marshall-Green) accepts an invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband in Will’s old house. Soooo many red flags there. Anyway, he and his new girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), along with the estranged couple’s old friends get together for a party complete with a gourmet supper, vintage wine, and weird oversharing. Throughout the course of the evening, we discover that Will and his ex, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), lost their young son a year or so ago. Eden tried to come to grips with her grief at a questionable retreat in Mexico where she met her present husband, David (Michael Huisman), who was there to deal with a loss of his own. The strange, incredibly tense vibe of the film is punctuated by the cringe-worthy stories the guests tell and Will’s occasional outburst questioning the goal of the evening. Director, Karyn Kusama does a phenomenal job of keeping you on the edge of your seat as Will vacillates between enjoying the lamb and suspecting the rest of the party-goers. The cast of lesser-known character actors works together well and includes the fabulously creepy John Carroll Lynch (Twisty!) as the guy you who you wish had RSVP’d in the negative. Despite the Jonathan Swift-levels of overcompensating for grief Eden and David learned at their slice of Spahn Ranch in the Mexican desert, The Invitation is a subtle, taut film that builds steadily toward a frightening end and dramatizes the lengths to which some people will go to avoid feeling that horrible ache.
Prevenge (2016) stars the most excellent Alice Lowe as Ruth, a very pregnant widow whose anger and grief mixed with a dash of hormones and a smidge of her already manic nature allow her to hear the voice of her unborn daughter. That sounds lovely. There’s just one thing; Ruth’s daughter is a sociopath who orders her to kill the people both blame for the death of Ruth’s husband. Like Look Who’s Talking meets Kind Hearts and Coronets, Prevenge follows Ruth as she assumes different identities to get close to her victims. At first, she’s energized by her mission, but later comes to question its value when she realizes all her efforts won’t change anything. Her husband is still gone. That sad fact looms in the background all through this darkly funny film. That Lowe manages to make her character funny, vulnerable, and a bit mad is evidence of her talent as an actress and a writer and a director. Yes, she did all three—while pregnant. Like in The Babadook, Ruth’s longing for her husband and her inability to cope with those strong, soul-crushing emotions create an autonomous life form. In Prevenge, that being’s sole purpose is revenge.
The Void (2016) mixes a story of grief with the supernatural, a weird death cult, and a siege, to create an original and referential horror film. Made by the same Astron-6 group that brought us The Editor and Manborg, The Void mixes Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, The Devil Rides Out, and Don’t Look Now and sprinkles it with a bit of The Mist. The fact that The Void pulls from all these films doesn’t lessen its impact in the slightest. It’s a terrific, edge-of-your-seat horror full of practical effects, characters you care about, and great scares. A small group of people defend a rural hospital against forces, both inside and out, they don’t understand. At the heart of the film is an estranged couple, played by Aaron Poole and Kathleen Munroe, who broke up after the loss of their baby. The ideas of loss and regret run through the film and it’s a testament to the filmmakers, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, that they could make a poignant character study within their cracking good horror film.
Sometimes making it through a crisis is the easy part. All that fighting and strategizing and looking for weapons fills your brain so there’s no room for dread. There’s a famous phrase, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Perhaps it should read, “Dying is easy, Surviving is hard.” It is hard, but it’s good. You just have to keep telling yourself that.
Recently, I joined a sold-out crowd at the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts for Waltham Film Factory’s showing of the documentary, Voices from the Basement. The museum, filled with antique typewriters, vintage lathes, and classic cars, is the perfect setting for this look at what was the hub of the bargain universe for decades, Filene’s Basement. It seemed right to watch a film about the former retail giant in a former textile factory. The film, a tribute to the retailer, tells the story of a place that became a landmark and even a way of life for throngs of Bostonians. Filled with historic footage from the Downtown Crossing shop, the film chronicles the opening of the Basement in 1908 to its closing in 2007 and is a fascinating look at retail history and Edward Filene’s radical corporate philosophy.
Filene’s original Downtown Crossing, Boston location
Edward Filene, the son of founder William Filene, opened Filene’s Automatic Bargain Basement in 1908 as a way to sell overstocked merchandise from his father’s main store in the unused basement. As the store gained popularity, buyers began purchasing high quality goods from other large department stores from all over the country and marking it way down for quick sale. That meant the stock was always fresh and consumers could buy designer goods at a fraction of the original prices.
A packed house in search of inexpensive, but not cheap suits
The automatic part came from the method of automatically marking down merchandise according to a fixed schedule. Filene had other new ideas too. He wanted to keep his employees healthy, so he opened a clinic across the street from the Downtown Crossing location. Sick workers could receive company-sponsored medical care years before any other business owners even considered it. Basement employees ran a store newsletter and the Filene’s Coop Association allowed workers to voice their opinions on store policy. Filene also started a credit union for his employees. This business-as-social-experiment also encouraged employees to stay on for fifty years or more. People started in the stockroom and worked their way up to the sales floor. Employees were fiercely loyal to the company.
A poster depicting the schedule of markdowns
The concept that hard work and ability led to promotion added to the store’s reputation as an egalitarian business. The wide range of shoppers cemented it. Everyone shopped there. The Boston Brahmin browsed next to waitresses, moms, and students.
Bargain hunters sift through the bins.
If you were a savvy shopper, you frequented Filene’s Basement. If you were a female savvy shopper, you got used to changing in the middle of the sales floor. Another of the idiosyncrasies of Filene’s Basement was the lack of dressing rooms for women. I can remember going to the store as a child. My mom would grab wraparound skirts in a larger size for us. We’d put them on over our clothes so we could try on pants and skirts under them without exposing ourselves. Brides-to-be grabbed deals during the yearly Running of the Brides event. There’s a funny edit during that part of the film that shows footage of the Running of the Brides cut with scenes from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Celebrities like Boston Mayor Tom Menino, actress, Estelle Parsons, reporter, Mike Wallace, Governor Mike Dukakis, and Boston broadcasters, Peter Mehegan and Carl DeSuze wax rhapsodic about the virtues of Filene’s Basement. They’re not the only ones. Voices from the Basement features longtime employees as well; many expressing their love and gratitude to managers and staff members who cared about their customers and each other.
Filene’s clock on Washington Street, Boston
After the film, director, Michael Bavaro and executive producer, Dr. Susan Edbril answered questions and listened to audience stories about their memories of the iconic hole in the ground. There were some great ones. A former marketing executive with Filene’s Basement recounted that once, when she was working, the fire alarm sounded, but no one would leave. They didn’t want to lose the bargains they’d found. Seeing this fun piece of Boston history in such a historic place was a lovely experience.
The Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation and the Waltham Film Factory will screen the film Voices from the Basement again on Wednesday, March 1. Tickets are on sale here.
In the vast wasteland of Australia’s post-apocalyptic desert, a powerful warrior liberates a harem from a water-hoarding despot with the help of a tortured nomad.
Yep. That’s it. I could probably end my piece right here, but I’ll go a bit deeper.
Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the ground troops defending the empire of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). She heads out into the sprawling desert with a raiding party, but instead of collecting slaves or heads or gasoline, Furiosa goes astray and it’s apparent that she has another agenda. She has Joe’s wives secreted away in the cab of her fortified semi and is on her way to the Green Place, an oasis Furiosa knew as a child. The women, abducted from other tribes, served as breeders and sex slaves for the evil Immortan Joe in his mountain cave hideout. Joe holds his power over the people below with force and by controlling the most important resource, water.
Not one drop of water on Arrak…no.
Immortan Joe and his merry band of genetic misfits discover Furiosa’s betrayal and before you can say “two men enter; one man leaves” they’re gamboling through the outback in a charming array of motor vehicles hoping to convince Furiosa and her charges to return. With a crew of war boys in mime makeup chasing her and gangs of motorcycle-straddling sand people hiding behind every rock, Furiosa needs all of her ingenuity and strength, along with a humongous cache of firearms, to repel the crazed hordes from her tanker truck and bring her charges to safety.
“Did you say Humongous?”
Will she make it through the gauntlet without losing the rescued women? Will she get to the Green Space? Will this guy learn another tune?
There’s also Max. Did I mention Max? He’s in this too. Good old Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), whose name and demeanor bursts from the imagination of a frustrated teenage motorhead, begins this adventure as a captive of the war boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Nux gets off with a little help from silver spray paint applied to his teeth. Apparently, the weird, powder-coated Immortan Joe devotees need a constant supply of new blood, so they capture vulnerable wanderers to use as permanent blood donors. Max is strapped to Nux’s car and hooked-up to an IV to keep him in hemoglobin.
“CALL MY AGENT!”
Max and Furiosa don’t hit it off right away. They try to kill each other until they realize their interests are better served by teaming up against the nutjob biker gang. That’s when it gets fun. Since this is a George Miller production, it’s chock full of nitrous-powered hot rods brimming with mutants with anger issues and massive car wrecks. Since I’m a fan of those, I found Mad Max: Fury Road entertaining. I’ve always loved the Mad Max franchise and hoped this would not be an exception. It isn’t. The Road Warrior/Handmaid’s Tale mashup worked and the action, for the most part, did not disappoint. I love Furiosa’s tricked-out truck cab. Her impressive armory makes sense and speaks to her strong warrior character. I also love the stilty flingy guys during the main chase sequence. In my notes, I call them pole vault warriors. That works too.
Hieronymus Bosch, cinematographer.
I wish I could say the film crushed it all the way through, but I found the first desert chase scene lacking. I think the stunt coordinator had a wardrobe malfunction because his CGI showed. It also looked like they sped it up for some reason. It was early in the film and we didn’t know the characters yet. That lack of involvement with the story coupled with the Benny Hill-like speed increase made the segment hard to watch. I have no qualms with the later stunts though. They quenched my Mad Max thirst.
“Say what again.”
A few character actors stood out in Fury Road. Nicholas Hoult as Nux adds a nice dimension to the film. He starts as your average war boy, but spends a good deal of the film trying to redeem himself. Since the whole Mad Max series deals with redemption, Nux fits. Riley Keough as Capable has an expressive and sympathetic face. She comes by it naturally. Elvis Presley is/was her grandfather. She says a lot without too much dialogue. Zoë Kravitz has a small, decent role, but doesn’t have much to do. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Joe’s favorite wife, The Splendid Angharad, has a nice supporting part as the leader of the harem who sets the example for toughness among the wives. As for the bad guys, Immortan Joe lacks the verve of a Toecutter, which is odd because he played that part in the original Mad Max film. John Howard and Richard Carter play The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer and I wish they had more screen time. They have Baron Harkonnen-levels of disfigurement. Miller comes up with great baddies, then he refuses to let us see them. He also makes up great names!
Toecutter and Immortan Joe: Together Again!
Charlize Theron as Furiosa and Tom Hardy as Max deliver. Theron looks hard and smart and fierce as a war-weary soldier who wants to go home. Hardy lets his guard down with Theron and they show great chemistry. It isn’t a romance. It’s two wounded souls recognizing each other. As soon as they realize how alike they are, Max has her back and Furiosa has his. It’s a loyalty based on loss and it works.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a terrific action film and I’m glad I finally saw it.
It’s Australia month here at Prowler Needs a Jump so get out your boomerangs!
Sentenced to house arrest after getting in trouble…again, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) returns to her childhood home in rural New Zealand to spend the next eight months at home with her mom and step-dad. Kylie’s a bit miffed about this and takes it out on her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). She sits around drinking all day and makes a mess for her mother to clean up. She resists counseling and is generally obnoxious. She won’t even let her mom watch Coronation Street.
Kylie says darn a lot.
Soon after her arrival, Kylie starts hearing things and gets the feeling she’s being watched. After talking to her mom she learns that she too has been hearing things for years. Their neighbor, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who is also the technician who fitted Kylie with her surveillance anklet, believes in the paranormal and begins to monitor the house. Kylie discovers her home once served as a halfway house for kids with psychological issues and that one of them was stabbed sixty-seven times with a carving fork. Now, she has something to think about. She and Amos think the spirit haunting the house belongs to the murdered girl. Kylie finds a cache of souvenirs under a floorboard. She also finds dentures. After reading old newspaper accounts of the crime, they learn the girl was bitten. Could the murderer have lost dentures while biting the child? Armed with this theory, Kylie and Amos come up with a possible killer. The two amateur sleuths launch an investigation with a lot of twists.
Director, Gerard Johnstone does a nifty job pulling you in different directions. As soon as you think you know the answer, he changes the question. Johnstone wrote the story as well and filled it with fun dialogue and tense situations. When Kylie says her method of dealing with a ghost is a punch to the face, Amos counters with, “You don’t punch ectoplasm.” Fun stuff.
“I ate Ted for lunch.”
The soundtrack by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper has a quirky feel during quieter moments, but builds rhythmically, pounding faster as the tension mounts.
HOUSEBOUND keeps you guessing and entertained. I like it a lot. Because of the surprises and twists, I’ll stop now before I give the game away. The film is a happy surprise full of flawed and interesting characters. Kylie is a strong woman who comes off as a real jerk at the start, but she doesn’t take any crap and that’s fun to watch. I hope Gerard Johnstone writes another film soon.
Brian Austin Green, Mena Suvari, Scut Farkus! (Zack Ward), and seven of their friends head up to a remote mountain lodge for a relaxing weekend. The inn, which should be full of guests, sits lifeless and it seems as if everyone left in a hurry. The gang find half-eaten breakfasts and a woman’s purse left in the empty dining room. As the group of friends try to find out what happened to the local population, a funny thing happens. People go missing. Then the people who look for them go missing. Soon ten becomes nine…eight…seven… You get the picture. As you might expect, those who are left go a bit nutty. One girl goes full Mist-Marcia Gay Harden and Scut Farkus, who makes the most sense throughout the early part of the film, totally loses his shit. That part was fun to watch.
Writer/director Travis Oates spends a lot of time watching the cast argue and it’s more gossipy than ghoulish. People pose and make statements a lot and no one has a clue.
Scut, the only character to offer a proactive plan, gets voted down because these buttheads would rather hang out in the nice hotel than go for help, arm themselves, or DO anything. We don’t get a lot of backstory on these characters and except for Scut, I didn’t care what happened to them. Tattooed Brian Austin 90210 becomes the de facto leader based entirely on his strategy of talking softly and not doing much else. The plot-driven script has characters acting counter to their own personalities just so 90210 can calm them down and take charge, then do nothing. It’s a real party.
I was waiting for an M. Night Shyamalan twist or a weird Whedony ending. No such luck. The end of DON’T BLINK is just as unsatisfying as the beginning and the middle. Big yawn.
“Don’t look at me.”
Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, STONEHEARST ASYLUM follows a medical student, Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) from Oxford University to the titular sanitarium in 1899. There, he meets Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a beautiful and refined woman who seems out of place in the rural institution.
“…making love to his tonic and gin.”
He falls for her instantly and all that impartial doctor stuff flies out the barred windows. Newgate also meets Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), an enlightened doctor who doesn’t hold with the treatments (read torture) the medical establishment favor for mental patients at the time. Lamb is far more progressive and humane than Newgate expects and the two men become close.
“And how long have you been Scott of the Antarctic?”
Odd events and strange noises prompt Newgate to take an unauthorized tour of the basement and his discovery changes everything.
Brad Anderson directs his stellar cast professionally. It’s hard to miss with Beckinsale, Kingsley, Michael Caine, Sinéad Cusack, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis. The actors live up to their reputations and the atmosphere is eerie, gothic, and shrouded in fog. I like this film a lot. It’s more of a thriller than a horror, but the asylum setting and thoughts of bedlam keep it scary. They could have done more to keep up the suspense, but the lead and character actors play off each other well. There’s wonderful chemistry between Beckinsale and Sturgess and Kingsley and everyone. He’s terrific.
STONEHEARST ASYLUM is a throwback of sorts and I mean that in a good way. The character-driven story builds naturally and Poe and screenwriter Joe Gangemi throw in a few twists to keep us guessing. I was drawn into the story and cared about the players. With a lot of modern horror resorting to jump scares and shaky cameras, this film with it’s intelligent dialogue and sensible characters stands out. If you like classic horror films with a bit of a modern twist, you’ll like this one.
“They’re all out of crullers.”