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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The Sacrament

sacramentMagnolia Pictures (2014) 99 min. R

Director: Ti West

Screenplay: Ti West

Cinematography: Eric Robbins; Editing: Ti West

Production Design: Jade Healy; Set Decoration: Adam Willis

Costumes: Wendy Moynihan; Score: Tyler Bates

Stars: A.J. Bowen (Sam Turner), Joe Swanberg (Jake Williams), Kentucker Audley (Patrick), Amy Seimetz (Caroline), Gene Jones (Father), Kate Lyn Sheil (Sarah White), Talia Dobbins (Savannah), Donna Biscoe (Wendy Johnson), Lashaun Clay (Robert Evans), Dale Neal (Andre Evans), Shirley Jones Byrd (Lorraine Davis), Christian OJore (Pilot)

Personally directed, written and edited by Ti West, The Sacrament is very much an auteur piece and like his earlier, equally unpleasant House of the Devil, West has again returned to an ’80s milieu for inspiration. Despite its contemporary setting, The Sacrament is actually a none too thinly disguised reworking of the 1978 incident at Jonestown, Guyana in which the parishioners of a religious commune known as the People’s Temple committed mass suicide following the assassination of visiting Congressman Leo Ryan and several of his aides seen as outside threats by loyalist sect members.

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Boyhood

boyhoodIFC Films (2014) 165 min. R

Director: Richard Linklater

Screenplay: Richard Linklater

Cinematography: Lee Daniel & Shane F. Kelly; Editing: Sandra Adair

Production Design: Rodney Becker & Guy Studebaker; Set Decoration: Melanie Ferguson; Costumes: Kari Perkins

Stars: Ellar Coltrane (Mason Evans Jr.), Patricia Arquette (Olivia), Ethan Hawke (Mason Evans Sr.), Lorelei Linklater (Samantha Evans), Marco Perella (Bill Welbrock), Brad Hawkins (Jim), Jenni Tooley (Annie), Bill Wide (Steve), Zoe Graham (Sheena), Charlie Sexton (Jimmy), Richard Robichaux (Mason’s boss), Barbara Chisholm (Carol)

Released by IFC Films, writer-director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has the bittersweet, existential quality of European cinema, as well as an inclination to elevate the average and unexceptional in a life goes on way that has become a hallmark of indies. Meaning it will be a doubly trying experience for many moviegoers less interested in cinematic experimentation than a smooth evening’s entertainment. Linklater began filming in 2002, returning each year to map the aging process of his young subject Ellar Coltrane, who was cast in the leading role of Mason when he was six and wrapped shooting at the age of eighteen, capturing the most fascinatingly formative years in a child’s physical and emotional development.

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Gett

GettMusic Box Films (Israel/France; 2014) 115 min.

Director: Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz

Screenplay: Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz

Cinematography: Jeanne Lapoirie

Editing: Joëlle Alexis

Production Design: Ehud Gutterman

Costumes: Li Alembik

Stars: Ronit Elkabetz (Viviane Amsalem), Simon Abkarian (Elisha Amsalem), Menashe Noy (Carmel Ben-Tovim), Sasson Gabai (Shimon Amsalem), Eli Gorstein (Head Rabbi Salmion), Rami Danon (Rabbi Danino), Roberto Pollack (Rabbi Abraham), Rubi Porat Shoval (Rachel Amzalleg), Ze’ev Revach (Simo), Keren Mor (Galia)

Gett is an Israeli-French co-production written and directed by star Ronit Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi Elkabetz concerning a long-term court case in which a woman’s petition for divorce from her husband was repeatedly hindered by delays and dismissals, leading to her being personally persecuted (the subtitle of the film, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, can be taken in several different contexts).

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Birdman

bdmFox Searchlight (2014) 119 min. R

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Screenplay: Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki; Editing: Douglas Crise & Stephen Mirrione

Production Design: Kevin Thompson; Set Decoration: George DeTitta Jr.

Costumes: Albert Wolsky; Score: Antonio Sánchez

Stars: Michael Keaton (Riggan Thomson), Emma Stone (Sam), Edward Norton (Mike Shiner), Naomi Watts (Lesley), Zach Galifianakis (Jake), Amy Ryan (Sylvia), Andrea Riseborough (Laura), Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha), Merritt Wever (Annie)

Given the advance word of mouth, award accolades and promising premise, with Michael Keaton as a has been superhero movie star trying to reestablish himself as a serious actor by staging a Broadway play, I was expecting to like Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s surreal satire far more than I was ultimately able to. Perhaps I set my sights too high, persuaded by critical consensus (“The only opinion that matters is the critic.”) which seems to have accepted the film’s artistic pretensions at face value. Given the movie’s brutal representation of their own breed, reviewers appear motivated by a desire to prove what good sports they are, but there is such a thing as being too tolerant.

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Unbroken

Unbroken posterUniversal (2014) 137 min. PG-13

Director: Angelina Jolie

Screenplay: Joel & Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese & William Nicholson; based on novel Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Cinematography: Roger Deakins; Editing: Tim Squyres; Production Design: Jon Hutman; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson; Costumes: Louise Frogley; Score: Alexandre Desplat

Stars: Jack O’Connell (Louis Zamperini), Domhnall Gleeson (Phil), Finn Wittrock (Mac), Miyavi (Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe), Garrett Hedlund (Fitzgerald), Alex Russell (Pete Zamperini), Jai Courtney (Cup), C.J. Valleroy (Young Louie), Shinji Ogata (Japanese Translator), Taki Abe (Radio Tokyo Man)

From the title alone I should have had an inkling of what to expect from this Angelina Jolie directed adaptation of Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller about Italian-American bombardier Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) and his POW experiences in a Japanese internment camp on Tokyo during WWII.

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The Imitation Game

igWeinstein Co. (2014) 114 min. PG-13

Director: Morten Tyldum Screenplay: Graham Moore; based on novel Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Cinematography: Óscar Faura; Editing: William Goldenberg

Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald

Costumes: Sammy Sheldon Differ; Score: Alexandre Desplat

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Mark Strong (Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies), Charles Dance (Cdr. Alastair Denniston), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton), Rory Kinnear (Det. Nock), Alex Lawther (Young Turing), Jack Bannon (Christopher Morcom)

This British tale of Alan Turing, the English mathematician who masterminded a way to crack the WWII German encryption device known as Enigma, laying the groundwork for the modern fields of computer science and digital technology, is an intriguing story that’s been begging to be told and was, at least once before, in the far more fictionalized Enigma (2000). This version, based on the Andrew Hodges biography Alan Turing: The Enigma is slightly more faithful to the facts, but has still been criticized for its historical inaccuracies.

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Foxcatcher

fcSony Classics (2014) 134 min. R

Director: Bennett Miller

Screenplay: E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman

Cinematography: Greig Fraser; Editing: Jay Cassidy, Stuart Levy & Conor O’Neill

Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Costumes: Kasia Walicka-Maimone

Score: Rob Simonsen

Stars: Steve Carell (John E. du Pont), Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz), Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz), Vanessa Redgrave (Jean du Pont), Sienna Miller (Nancy Schultz), Anthony Michael Hall (Jack), Guy Boyd (Henry Beck), Brett Rice (Fred Cole)

Maybe I’ve watched one too many paranormal programs but I find it nearly impossible to separate in my mind the horrors said to haunt Fox Hollow Farm from what lies in store for the unsuspecting young men lured to Foxcatcher Farms, the du Pont family estate in director Bennett Miller’s new movie. Both true life stories seem subliminally intended to point up near identical morals regarding the fate that invariably befalls the sinful who are tempted into a life of drugs and sexual promiscuity.

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