The Witch

the witch (179)A24 (2016) 93 min. R

Director: Robert Eggers

Screenplay: Robert Eggers

Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke; Editing: Louise Ford

Production Design: Craig Lathrop; Set Decoration: Mary Kirkland

Costumes: Linda Muir; Score: Mark Korven

Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy (Thomasin), Ralph Ineson (William), Kate Dickie (Katherine), Harvey Scrimshaw (Caleb), Ellie Grainger (Mercy), Lucas Dawson (Jonas), Bathsheba Garnett (The Witch), Sarah Stephens (Young Witch), Julian Richings (Governor), Wahab Chaudhry (Voice of Black Phillip)

A true sleeper creeper, promos state The Witch is like watching something we shouldn’t be seeing, but see it for goodness sake! Having kept a low profile, the appeal of this movie should spread by word of mouth, the same way witch hunting hysteria did back in the day. One of the few horror films of recent vintage to genuinely unnerve viewers had to reach all the way back to the foundations of the country to find its scares.

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Bridge of Spies

bos-posterDreamWorks/20th Ct. Fox/Participant (2015) 142 min. PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay: Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen; Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski; Editing: Michael Kahn; Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo & Bernhard Henrich; Costumes: Kasia Walicka-Maimone; Score: Thomas Newman

Stars: Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan), Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel), Amy Ryan (Mary Donovan), Sebastian Koch (Wolfgang Vogel), Alan Alda (Thomas Watters), Austin Stowell (Francis Gary Powers), Scott Shepherd (Hoffman), Dakin Matthews (Judge Byers), Billy Magnussen (Doug Forrester), Will Rogers (Frederic Pryor), Mikhail Gorevoy (Ivan Schischkin), Jesse Plemons (Joe Murphy)

At the height of the Cold War, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is assigned the case of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy apprehended in the act of espionage. Though he’s pressured not to put together much of a defense, Donovan believes not to do so would be unethical. Arguing for imprisonment rather than execution, he convinces the feds Abel could be used as a bargaining chip with the USSR at some point in the future. Not long after, U-2 spy Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) is shot down and another American, college student Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) apprehended on the East German side of the Berlin Wall. Asked by his country to intercede on America’s behalf, Donovan attempts to negotiate an exchange of prisoners.

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Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak (2015) posterUniversal/Legendary (2015) 119 min. R

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Screenplay: Matthew Robbins & Guillermo del Toro

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen; Editing: Bernat Vilaplana

Production Design: Thomas E. Sanders; Set Decoration: Jeffrey A. Melvin & Shane Vieau; Costumes: Kate Hawley; Score: Fernando Velázquez

Stars: Mia Wasikowska (Edith Cushing), Tom Hiddleston (Sir Thomas Sharpe), Jessica Chastain (Lady Lucille Sharpe), Charlie Hunnam (Dr. Alan McMichael), Jim Beaver (Carter Cushing), Burn Gorman (Mr. Holly), Javier Botet (Ghosts of Pamela, Enola & Margaret), Doug Jones (Ghosts of Edith’s Mother, The Dowager Lady Sharpe)

Well-cast, sumptuous reimagining of the classic ghost story, Crimson Peak is classy entertainment, so we can forgive it the many delirious, unapologetic excesses into Gothic melodrama. There’s something decidedly refreshing about a film that accepts itself for what it is, as this one does, rather than striving to convince us it’s anything grander than that. Embracing the conventions of the genre wholeheartedly, the director Guillermo del Toro revels in his own richly absurd, deliciously overripe camp scares. He has no qualms about crafting a movie that’s a throwback to the most Victorian of haunted house humbugs.

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Room

Room (2015) posterA24 Films (2015) 118 min. R

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay: Emma Donoghue, based on her novel Room

Cinematography: Danny Cohen; Editing: Nathan Nugent

Production Design: Ethan Tobman; Set Decoration: Mary Kirkland; Costumes: Lea Carlson; Score: Stephen Rennicks

Stars: Brie Larson (Joy Newsome), Jacob Tremblay (Jack Newsome), Sean Bridgers (Old Nick), Joan Allen (Nancy Newsome), Tom McCamus (Leo), William H. Macy (Robert Newsome), Amanda Brugel (Officer Parker), Cas Anvar (Dr. Mittal), Wendy Crewson (Talk Show Hostess), Joe Pingue (Officer Grabowski)

I’m nothing short of ecstatic about Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, the story of a kidnapped woman, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson), who escapes the garden shed where she’s been held prisoner for seven years, along with her born in captivity son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), exposing him to the outside world for the first time. Though the movie, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her novel is fictionalized, she was inspired by so many similar cases that have come to light recently, it bears the ring of authenticity.

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Brooklyn

Brooklyn_1Sheet_Mech_7R1.inddFox Searchlight Pict. (2015) 111 min. PG-13

Director: John Crowley

Screenplay: Nick Hornby; based on novel by Colm Tóibín

Cinematography: Yves Bélanger; Editing: Jake Roberts; Production Design: François Séguin; Set Decoration: Suzanne Cloutier, Jenny Oman & Louise Tremblay; Costumes: Odile Dicks-Mireaux; Score: Michael Brook

Stars: Saoirse Ronan (Eilis Lacey), Emory Cohen (Tony Fiorello), Jim Broadbent (Father Flood), Julie Walters (Mrs. Kehoe), Fiona Glascott (Rose Lacey), Domhnall Gleeson (Jim Farrell), Jane Brennan (Mrs. Lacey), Eileen O’Higgins (Nancy), Eva Birthistle (Georgina), Brid Brennan (Mrs. Kelly), Jessica Paré (Miss Fortini), James DiGiacomo (Frankie)

Despite its title Brooklyn is not a Spike Lee joint but rather a twee little piece of loveliness adapted from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel of the same name about a wistful Irish immigrant from Enniscorthy, Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who feels bereft of home and loved ones in 1952 New York until meeting and marrying Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian-American. Returning home for a time following her sister Rose’s (Fiona Glascott) passing, Eilis’ faded love for all she’s been missing in her homeland is reawakened, threatening to severe the ties she’s established for a new life in America.

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In the Heart of the Sea

ItHotS poster Warner Bros. (2015) 121 min. PG-13

Director: Ron Howard

Screenplay: Charles Leavitt; based on story by Rick Jaffa, Charles Leavitt & Amanda Silver & novel by Nathaniel Philbrick

Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle; Editing: Dan Hanley & Mike Hill

Production Design: Mark Tildesley; Set Decoration: Dominic Capon; Costumes: Julian Day; Score: Roque Baños

Stars: Chris Hemsworth (Owen Chase), Benjamin Walker (George Pollard), Cillian Murphy (Matthew Joy), Brendan Gleeson (old Thomas Nickerson), Ben Whishaw (Herman Melville), Tom Holland (young Thomas Nickerson), Frank Dillane (Owen Coffin), Michelle Fairley (Mrs. Nickerson)

The aged survivor of a maritime disaster, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) recounts his tale of woe to a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw). When a boy (Tom Holland) in 1819 Nantucket he signed aboard the whale ship Essex, under the inexperienced command of George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker). Having been promised the post himself, resentful first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) has little respect for his captain, and the two men clash constantly over discipline and protocol.

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Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the Flash poster Sony/TriStar (2015) 101 min. PG-13

Director: Jonathan Demme

Screenplay: Diablo Cody

Cinematography: Declan Quinn; Editing: Wyatt Smith

Production Design: Stuart Wurtzel; Set Decoration: George DeTitta Jr.

Costumes: Ann Roth; Score: Mark Wolfson

Stars: Meryl Streep (Ricki Rendazzo), Kevin Kline (Pete), Mamie Gummer (Julie), Rick Springfield (Greg), Audra McDonald (Maureen), Sebastian Stan (Joshua), Nick Westrate (Adam), Ben Platt (Daniel), Charlotte Rae (Oma), Rick Rosas (Buster), Gabriel Ebert (Max), Joe Vitale (Joe)

Ricki and the Flash should have been so much better, perfectly encapsulating as it does many of the recurring themes that director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody have consistently gravitated to over the years. Cody, whose been amusingly open about her freewheeling past as a stripper before reinventing herself as an upstart intellectual and Oscar-winning screenwriter, has always stood out as something of a scandal even amid the less than provincial Hollywood community, the way Clara Bow did in the Roaring Twenties and Marilyn Monroe in the conservative 50s.

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The Visit

the-visit-movie-poster Universal (2015) 94 min. PG-13

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan

Cinematography: Maryse Alberti; Editing: Luke Franco Ciarrocchi

Production Design: Naaman Marshall; Set Decoration: Christine Wick

Costumes: Amy Westcott; Score: Paul Cantelon

Stars: Olivia DeJonge (Rebecca Jamison), Ed Oxenbould (Tyler Jamison), Kathryn Hahn (Paula Jamison), Deanna Dunagan (Nana), Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop), Benjamin Kanes (Robert Mendelsohn), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Stacey)

When director M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense was originally released, way back when, playing concurrent with The Blair Witch Project, the two movies went head to head in a standoff to determine which path horror would head down in the new millennium. The Sixth Sense was professionally put together and stylistically innovative, with a pull the rug out from under you sensibility that toyed with its own narrative form and the concept of visual storytelling itself. The Blair Witch Project on the other hand swung to the opposite extreme with its amateurish, low-budget, hardscrabble approach paring both horror and cinema down to their bare essentials in order to play on viewers’ most primal fears of the unseen and the unknown.

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The Gift

the gift posterSTX/Blumhouse (2015) 108 min. R

Director: Joel Edgerton

Screenplay: Joel Edgerton

Cinematography: Eduard Grau; Editing: Luke Doolan

Production Design: Richard Sherman; Set Decoration: Matthew Flood Ferguson

Costumes: Terry Anderson; Score: Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans

Stars: Jason Bateman (Simon Callen), Rebecca Hall (Robyn Callen), Joel Edgerton (Gordon “Gordo” Mosley), Tim Griffin (Kevin Keeler), Allison Tolman (Lucy), Adam Lazarre-White (Ron), Beau Knapp (Detective Walker), Wendell Pierce (Detective Mills), P.J. Byrne (Danny McDonald), David Denman (Greg), Busy Philipps (Duffy)

For some reason, I kept getting The Gift mixed up with The Box, which also used the Pandora concept as a basis to explore the untapped potential for darkness in seemingly ordinary, unthreatening people. In an overheated summer full of typically hotheaded action blockbusters, this low-key, largely introspective psychological thriller is the real surprise gift to moviegoers and it’s not even close to Christmas yet. Despite being riddled with horror movie clichés and transparent script convolutions which allow audiences to anticipate most of what’s coming, this remains an intriguing, quality sleeper attractively wrapped for our predilection.

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It Follows

IFposterRADiUS-TWC (2014) 100 min. R

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Screenplay: David Robert Mitchell

Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis; Editing: Julio C. Perez IV

Production Design: Michael Perry; Set Decoration: Joey Ostrander

Costumes: Kimberly Leitz-McCauley; Score: Disasterpeace

Stars: Maiko Monroe (Jay Height), Keir Gilchrist (Paul), Olivia Luccardi (Yara), Lili Sepe (Kelly Height), Daniel Zovatto (Greg Hannigan), Jake Weary (Hugh), Bailey Spry (Annie), Leisa Pulido (Mrs. Hannigan), Mike Lanier (Giant Man)

A dangerous sexual encounter results in teen Jay Height (Maiko Monroe) contracting a paranormal form of STD. A shape shifting apparition that only she can see attaches itself to her, shadowing her every move and threatening to slay her with its touch unless she can place the curse on someone else through another unsafe sexual encounter. Plagued by the hold hormones have over their lives, It Follows knows what scares most horny teens, the cause of most of their angst. Here, certain death is transmitted the same way it was in Larry Clarks controversial Kids, thematically returning us to the psychosexual roots of the horror film.

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