The Witch


Anya Taylor-Joy contemplates a role that might just kickstart her career.

Anya Taylor-Joy contemplates a role that might just kickstart her career.

(2015) Horror (A24) Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Julian Richings, Wahab Chaudhry (voice), Sarah Stephens, Jeff Smith, Ron G. Young, Derek Herd, Brooklyn Herd, Viv Moore, Madlen Sopadzhiyan. Directed by Robert Eggers

I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to make an exception; if you haven’t seen The Witch and are wondering if you should, the answer is yes you should. Don’t read another word – just go and see the movie and come back here and read this when you do. The less you know about what’s going to happen to you, the better.

There; I’m assuming most of you reading from here on out have already seen it, have no desire to see it or are choosing to ignore my warning. That’s on you then. The Witch is set on a farm on the edge of a dark sinister wood in New England in the year of our lord 1630 – and I’m not kidding when I say the year of our lord. For farmer William (Ineson) and his pious wife Katherine (Dickie), the Lord is ever present and watching over their every move, their every thought. Banished from the settlement because of some unspecified disagreement in terms of religious dogma – I got the sense that William and his family thought the Puritans were far too loose and relaxed about the worship of God and baby Jesus – they are forced to try and make it on their own with a few goats including an ornery ebony-hued one they call Black Philip – and crops of corn and whatever else they can grow.

But the crops are failing. The goat’s milk has turned to blood and worse yet the baby has disappeared literally right from under the nose of teen and eldest child Thomasin (Taylor-Joy).  Katherine is inconsolable and William stoically makes the best of things, taking son Caleb (Scrimshaw) hunting in the woods, or ordering the twins Mercy (Grainger) and Jonas (Dawson) about. The twins speak to each other in a secret language only they understand and constantly annoy Thomasin, whom they won’t listen to. But then something else happens in the woods, something dark and sinister and the family begins to turn on itself, their faith tested to the breaking point. Here, on the edge of darkness, they will look into the abyss with trepidation.

I won’t say the horror film has been undergoing a renaissance in the last few years because clearly the overall quality of horror movies tends to be been there-done that to a large extreme, but there have been several movies that have come out that have really invigorated the genre. This is the latest, having won raves at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and only now getting released. It’s very much worth the wait, folks.

First-time feature director Eggers makes some impressive accomplishments, conjuring forth the world of the early colonial days and 17th century New England, from the English speech patterns down to the rude farming implements, the primitive living conditions and the homespun costumes. More importantly, he builds a creepy atmosphere that begins with unsettling events and moves into things far more sinister. The family dynamic changes as we watch with suspicion being dropped from one family member to another as accusations of witchcraft and deals with the devil begin to fly.

The cinematography by Jarin Blaschke is top-notch. In fact, this may very well be the most beautifully shot horror film in history, which is saying a lot. The unsettling musical score by Mark Korven further enhances the mood particularly as the movie spirals deeper into its story. He utilizes a lot of unusual instrumentation, from Eastern European folk instruments to the hurdy-gurdy.

The actors are largely unknown, but there are some solid performances here. Anya Taylor-Joy is remarkable here, with an innocence about her that cracks from time to time; her expression in the very final scene simply takes the movie up another notch. Ineson is gruff and gritty as a farmer who knows he is incompetent at just about everything but chopping wood and his family is suffering from his inability. Dickie has the shrill look of a religious fanatic, neck veins bulging and eyes bugging out. She looks like someone who is wound far too tight and Katherine is definitely that. Finally, young Harvey Scrimshaw shows some incredible depth as young Caleb; hopefully he’ll appear in some big budget event films because he so has game for that kind of thing.

This is the first movie of the year that I think has a good chance to end up on my end of the year top ten list. It’s scary as all get out and has subtexts of religious intolerance, suspicion and family ties strained by adversity. It’s smart, well thought out and doesn’t waste an instant of it’s 90 minute running time. So yes, go out and see it if you already haven’t. Every horror film fan should be flocking to this one for sure.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderfully atmospheric. Really captures the feel of the era. A beautifully layered script. Some lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Takes awhile to build which may frustrate the impatient sorts.
FAMILY VALUES: Creepy atmosphere, some graphic nudity and violence as well as some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There were plans to use more of Black Philip (the goat) but because the animal proved to be not as well-trained as the filmmakers would have liked, those plans had to be scrapped.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blood on Satan’s Claw
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: The Last Rites of Joe May

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Goats


 

Goats

This is what it looks like when David Duchovney loses a bet.

(2012) Drama (Image) David Duchovney, Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, Graham Phillips, Justin Kirk, Keri Russell, Anthony Anderson, Dakota Johnson, Adelaide Kane, Evan Boymel, Justin Wheelon, Timothy Gibbs, Olga Segura, Nicholas Lobue, Ricardo Andres, Caleb Dane Horst. Directed by Christopher Neil

 

As the saying goes, we can choose our friends but we don’t get to choose our family. We’re kind of stuck with them, regardless of how much (or how little) we like them. That can be a bad thing but it can be a good thing too.

Ellis (Phillips) would probably lean towards the former if you asked him. His parents are divorced, and are none too friendly with one another. His mom Wendy (Farmiga) is a trust fund hippie who never met a new age concept she didn’t become obsessed with. She’s self-centered and vindictive; not the best mom on Earth (as Ellis normally is the one who has to pay her bills because she’s so flighty) but she’s not the worst either.

How his dad (Burrell) wound up with her is something of a mystery. He went to an exclusive prep school in New England where he’s used his connections to get Ellis accepted into. Although a snooty prep school would seem to be a completely alien environment for Ellis, who’s used to the desert psychedelics of Arizona, he recognizes that it would be a boon for his future so he goes but not without much whining from his mother.

Ellis isn’t particularly upset at being separated by so many miles from his mom, but he does feel something for Goat Man (Duchovney) who goes by Javier but who’s real name is Steve. Goat Man is a herbologist and botanist who look like a cross between Jerry Garcia, Grizzly Adams and Moses with a Smith brother thrown in for good measure. He lives in the pool house with his goats, in exchange for tending the pool and landscape for Wendy. Their relationship is strictly platonic. Goat Man is most interested in botany so that he can grow some amazing marijuana, which he shares with Ellis. Goat Man takes Ellis on treks which are essentially walkabouts with no particular destination in mind – just an exploration of the land and its inhabitants.

Ellis is doing well in school but the pressure is getting to him. His roommate Barney (Lobue) is clearly not a good influence on him; his father is making overtures at reaching out and establishing a relationship with his estranged son. Goat Man, who promised to send Ellis weed hasn’t sent him anything and Wendy’s obnoxious lout of a boyfriend (Kirk) won’t let Ellis talk to his mother.

But Frank turns out to be a decent soul even though his impending marriage to Judy (Russell) is doing the fandango in Ellis’ brain, almost as much as the impending birth of his half-brother to the very pregnant Judy has. And he’s been coerced by the coach (Anderson) of the track team to run cross country, which he’s not really comfortable with at first. How can you run towards a future if you don’t even know which way you’re going?

Based on a novel by Mark Jude Poirier, this is one of those quirky indie movies that really wanders aimlessly through the plot the way a Deadhead might wander through a pot field, with a benevolent smile and a lack of purpose. Ellis doesn’t really have to much of a major crisis; sure he drinks too much for a15-year-old, and he does way too much pot, but he’s getting straight A’s and for the most part is a pretty well-adjusted kid given to bouts of douchebagness from time to time which is not out of line with the behavior of most real life 15-year-old boys.

Duchovney has always been a big draw for me. His easy-going laid-back charm meshes nicely with his intelligence. That the X-Files movies didn’t make him a major movie star has more to do with what was going on behind the camera rather than in front of it; both he and Gillian Anderson have all the tools to be big screen power players. In her case, I think it’s a choice not to go down that path; that also might be true of Duchovney.

I don’t think Farmiga really knew what to make of her character and in many ways that’s my main frustration with the movie. She’s quite the self-centered bitch throughout but there’s no doubt that Wendy really loves Ellis with all her heart and soul; Frank’s betrayal, whatever it might have been (and it’s not really explained why they split up, at least not that I can remember) really devastated her and has been in some ways the focal point of her life. She has certainly poisoned her son towards her father, making it impossible for Frank to see him. Early in the movie, Ellis believes his mother about the behavior of his dad, but as the movie progresses and he gets to know not just his dad but also his sweet-natured fiancé his attitude towards him changes.

There are no real epiphanies here other than that adults aren’t perfect and that there’s nothing wrong with life that a little toke can’t fix. Phillips plays Ellis like he’s living in an “Afterschool Special” and doesn’t do too bad a job of it, but I never really got to know Ellis all that well and found Goat Man far more interesting. Now, I’m wondering if there’s going to be a sequel all about Ellis’ discovery of peyote.

REASONS TO GO: Duchovney is interesting, even behind all that hair. Dynamic between Ellis and Frank works nicely.

REASONS TO STAY: Too quirky for its own good. Meanders quite a bit. A movie for stoners.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of drug use, including teen pot smokers and alcohol drinkers. There is also plenty of bad language, some sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The producers had to hire someone to teach Duchovney to roll a joint like an expert – the actor claims he’d never rolled one in his entire life..

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/16/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100. The reviews are pretty poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Dead Poets Society

NEW MEXICO LOVERS: Several of the “trek” scenes are shot in the beautiful New Mexico highlights, doubling for Arizona.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Four-Warned: August 2012


August 2012Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE

1. TOTAL RECALL (1.2)
2. THE BOURNE LEGACY (1.5)
TIE. HOPE SPRINGS (1.5)
TIE. LAWLESS (1.5)
TIE. THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (1.5)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)

1. CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (1.4)
TIE. COMPLIANCE (1.4)
3. ROBOT AND FRANK (1.5)
4. CHICKEN WITH PLUMS (1.6)
TIE. GOATS (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

AUGUST 3, 2012

360 (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. Several intersecting relationships show love, betrayal, loss and redemption. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Oscar-nominated director Fernando Merirelles; Oscar-nominated writer Peter Morgan; a cast including Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz; could I be any more there?
ASSASSIN’S BULLET (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Thriller. When high-priority terrorists in Europe on America’s Most Wanted list start turning up dead, a former FBI field agent is brought in to investigate. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 I’ve always liked Christian Slater and it looks like it could be a top-notch thriller.
THE BABYMAKERS (Millennium) Genre: Comedy. When a man is unable to get his wife pregnant, he decides to rob a sperm bank where he made a deposit before he was wed in order to seal the deal. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Anything that advertises itself as being from the director of Super Troupers and Club Dread is in trouble.
CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER (Sony Classics) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple who married out of high school decide to divorce when they hit 30 but try to remain best friends; however things take a turn for the crazy. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 1.4 May well turn out to be one of the defining movies on broken hearts of the 21st century.
CRAIGSLIST JOE (CLJ) Genre: Documentary. A man sets out to survive for 31 days in December relying solely on Craigslist for food, clothing, transportation companionship and shelter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Could be transformative or just plain depressing.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Family. After another sad school year, Greg’s summer goes from bad to worse. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 The first two films in this series were uninspiring.
MOSQUITA Y MARI (Self-Released) Genre: Drama. Two 15-year-old Latina girls form a strong and sometimes confusing bond. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7Beaches for the young Latina set.
SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Adventure. A former Special Forces officer hired to protect a group of millionaires who want to experience war firsthand gets more than he bargained for. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks like it could be fun but who wants to root for a bunch of rich people?
TOTAL RECALL (Columbia) Genre: Science Fiction. A man who goes to have a memory vacation finds himself on the run from corrupt politicians and allied with rebels in a dystopian future. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.2 Not so much a remake of the Schwarzenegger film but one closer to the Philip K. Dick short story the first movie was based on.
YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED (Montrose) Genre: Documentary. A group of Scottish homeowners take on The Donald when he wants to move them from their homes to build an upscale golf resort. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 Documents bullying and intimidation on the part of Trump’s company in Scotland; may well be one of the most important documentaries of the year.

AUGUST 8, 2012

HOPE SPRINGS (Columbia/MGM) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple stuck in a marital rut go to a week-long intensive couples counseling session to find each other. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell? I’m so there!
MEET THE FOKKENS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. A pair of septuagenarian twins who have been prostitutes in Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light district for half a century recount their experiences and how the world’s oldest profession has changed over the years. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 Looks a little bit light-hearted and makes an interesting entry point (no pun intended) to the world of the professional sex worker.
NITRO CIRCUS: THE MOVIE 3D (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Stunt Documentary. The motorized spinoff of “Jackass” hits the big screen as Travis Pastrana and his band of adrenaline junkies risk their lives for…oh, whatever. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.9 Bread and circuses, dudes…bread and circuses.

AUGUST 10, 2012

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (Magnolia) Genre: Romantic Comedy. After breaking up with her boyfriend, a photographer moves to New York with her son, takes up with a new boyfriend – who is African-American – and deals with her families attitudes while preparing for an important show of her work. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The sequel to 2 Days in Paris stars Julie Delpy and Chris Rock; may be too charming for American audiences.
THE BOURNE LEGACY (Universal) Genre: Action. Another genetically enhanced agent finds himself the target of corrupt government officials trying to cover their tracks. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Superhot Jeremy Renner gets an action hero lead and it looks like he might just run with it.
THE CAMPAIGN (Warner Brothers) Genre: Comedy. A neophyte politician runs against a senator who is used to running unopposed in a satire of the political process circa 2012. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Will Ferrell versus Zach Galifianakis makes this something to look forward to.
FREELANCERS (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. The son of a slain NYPD officer joins the force and falls in with his father’s ex-partner, only to learn the shocking truth behind his death. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Pretty gritty stuff but didn’t really stand out among all the other rogue cop movies out there.
GOATS (Image) Genre: Comedy. A kid raised in a New Age environment is sent to the exclusive Eastern prep school his father attended with poignant results. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Looks surprisingly funny; has a great cast including David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga and Ty Burrell.
IT IS NO DREAM: THE LIFE OF THEODOR HERZL (Moriah) Genre: Documentary. The story of journalist and playwright Theodor Herzl who, horrified by the Dreyfus trial and other blatant acts of anti-Semitism in Europe, yearns to found a Jewish state – which 50 years later would become Israel. Release Strategy: New York City (opens in Los Angeles August 17). RATING: 3.1 I’m not sure but I think I’m beginning to burn out on these sorts of films.
THE LION OF JUDAH (JEC) Genre: Documentary. A holocaust survivor tells his story to younger generations, impressing with his resilience and determination. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Sounds like something worth seeing, but saw no trailer available anywhere.
RED HOOK SUMMER (Variance) Genre: Urban Drama. A young man from Atlanta’s middle class spends the summer with his grandfather, a pastor in Brooklyn. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Sounds a bit out of the box for Spike Lee; but then again, most of his movies are.
SUPERCAPITALIST (Self-Released) Genre: Thriller. A hedge fund trader orchestrates a massive deal that spirals rapidly out of control and threatens the economic stability of Asia and the trader’s life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Looks like a fairly ordinary financial thriller with decent production values; the lack of a distributor makes me nervous though.
THIS TIME (Village Art) Genre: Documentary. The story of Sweet Inspirations, the gospel-tinged backing singers for such icons as Cissy Houston, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 A look at the music industry from the inside – and not a pretty picture it is.

AUGUST 13, 2012

THE CHILEAN BUILDING (Magic Lantern) Genre: Documentary. Chilean refugees, children of parents fighting the Pinochet regime, find refuge in Cuba. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.4 The trailer doesn’t really give you a good idea of what the film’s story is.

AUGUST 15, 2012

EK THA TIGER (Yash Raj) Genre: Thriller. A secret agent, code named Tiger, shakes the world of espionage to its very foundation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 James Bond done Hindi/Pakistani style.
THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (Disney) Genre: Family. A childless but otherwise happily married couple find a new son at their doorstep – and that’s only the beginning of the magic. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Looks potentially like it could be a family classic – if the movie lives up to the trailer, that is.

AUGUST 17, 2012

THE AWAKENING (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A paranormal investigator in the 1920s who specializes in exposing frauds is summoned to an English boarding school where her beliefs will be put to the test. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks genuinely creepy.
BELOVED (IFC) Genre: Romance. A Parisian girl falls in love with a man incapable of returning it while her mother tries to rekindle a romance with her father, whom her mother left after his infidelities drove her from Czechoslovakia. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Very sexy, very French – and Catherine Deneuve. What more could anybody want?
CHICKEN WITH PLUMS (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. After the greatest violinist in the world is shocked when his beloved violin is broken, he takes to his bed to await death – and has some startling revelations about life. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Elements of the fantastic from the directors of Persepolis.
CO-DEPENDENT LESBIAN ALIEN SEEKS SAME (Self-Released) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. A trio of aliens sent to Earth to find emotional control instead find love with the same distaff sex. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.4 A mash-up of 50s space shtick and modern New York romance…we’ll have to wait and see since the teaser showed only a few seconds of footage.
COMPLIANCE (Magnolia) Genre: Thriller. A manager of a fast food restaurant follows phone orders from a person claiming to be a police officer to conduct an increasingly invasive investigation of a co-worker. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 The really chilling thing is that this is based on an actual occurrence.
COSMOPOLIS (EntertainmentOne) Genre: Thriller. A billionaire hedge fund trader who has cynically bet against economic stability finds himself being stalked as his fortune evaporates while on a cross-town trip to get his hair cut. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 David Cronenberg is always reliable for a thought-provoking, beyond-the-borders kind of film.
THE EXPENDABLES 2 (Lionsgate) Genre: Action. The mercenary team is betrayed during a simple job; now they’re looking for revenge and will stop at nothing to get it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.9 The who’s who of action stars – adding Jean Claude van Damme and Chuck Norris to the mix.
THE MATCHMAKER (Menemsha) Genre: Drama. In Israel of the 1960s, the assistant to a professional matchmaker finds love with an Iraqi visitor while the matchmaker yearns for a forbidden romance. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 A definite 60s vibe with a traditional Jewish story; very intriguing trailer.
PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION (Well Go US) Genre: Martial Arts Horror. A demon looking to become human battles for the heart of a princess. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Looks absolutely spectacular and surprisingly sensual for a Chinese film.
PARANORMAN (Focus) Genre: Animated Feature. A young boy is thought to be strange because he can talk to dead people turns out to be the only thing standing between them and a witch’s evil curse. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 From the people who brought you Coraline comes this feature that looks to have a shot at being a big hit.
SIDE BY SIDE (Tribeca) Genre: Documentary. A look at the digital revolution in filmmaking and talks to the leaders at the fore of the technological advances in the motion picture. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 2.4 Might only appeal to filmmakers and film geeks; fortunately I’m one of the latter.
SPARKLE (Columbia) Genre: Musical. In this remake, a young Detroit teenager achieves musical stardom at the expense of friends, family and love – and maybe worse. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 Whitney Houston’s final film.
TRUE WOLF (Shadow) Genre: Documentary. A young Montana couple adopt an abandoned wolf and adjust their lifestyle to the newest member of their family, who cannot be domesticated and in doing so redefine what being wild is all about. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.9 Sounds intriguing but I’m not sure whether they did a good thing or not; I’ll wait to see the film.
WHY STOP NOW? (IFC) Genre: Comedy. A piano prodigy must get his drug-addicted mother into rehab on the day of his most important audition. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Really good cast includes Melissa Leo, Jesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan.

AUGUST 24, 2012

THE APPARITION (Warner Brothers) Genre: Supernatural Horror. A couple is terrorized by an entity created/released by a collegiate experiment. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Looks to be inspired by J-Horror which is a good thing.
DEATH BY CHINA (AREA 23A) Genre: Documentary. Looks at the inequitable trade relationship between the U.S. and China and how destructive it has been to our economy. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 A very important subject which may well dictate world affairs for the next twenty years.
GENERAL EDUCATION (Well Go USA/Pelican House) Genre: Comedy. A young man set to attend university on a tennis scholarship hides that he failed to graduate from high school from his parents, taking a summer school course on the side to get his requirements in. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Trailer doesn’t really stand out much.
HIT AND RUN (Open Road) Genre: Action Comedy. A former getaway driver in witness protection tries to drive his girlfriend to L.A. for an audition while evading a former compatriot as well as the feds. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 For whatever reason Dax Shepard doesn’t really connect with me – but his fans are gonna love this!
LITTLE WHITE LIES (MPI) Genre: Drama. A group of 30-somethings gather at a summer house, all at crucial points in their lives as one of their fellows is gravely injured in a motorcycle accident. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A French take on The Big Chill with Oscar winner Jean Dujardin and nominee Marion Cotillard leading the stellar cast.
THE LONELIEST PLANET (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. A young engaged couple go on a hiking trip in the Caucasus Mountains where a tragic misstep threatens their relationship and their lives. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Sounds extremely compelling and Gael Garcia Bernal one of the world’s premiere actors.
PREMIUM RUSH (Columbia) Genre: Action. A bike courier is hired to deliver a mysterious package that has him involved in a life-or-death chase in Manhattan. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 The trailer looks high-voltage but it was moved from August all the way from its original January release date which isn’t a confidence builder.
THE REVENANT (Paladin) Genre: Horror Comedy. A soldier and his slacker friend are turned into zombies; rather than mindlessly seeking to eat the living, they decide to become vigilante crimefighters instead. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Horror comedy is notoriously hard to accomplish and from the trailer I’m not sure they accomplished it.
ROBOT AND FRANK (Goldwyn) Genre: Sci-Fi Family. A retired thief is given a robot attendant in place of being put in a retirement home and the two form an unlikely bond. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Frank Langella always seems to deliver a superior performance.
SAMSARA (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Documentary. Using no dialogue or narration relying strictly on imagery and music, the film seeks to examine modern life by linking the mundane with the miraculous, the natural with the man-made. Release Strategy: New York City/Seattle (Opening in Los Angeles August 31). RATING: 2.1 Startling imagery caught on 70mm film from the creators of Baraka and Chronos.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME (IFC) Genre: Dramedy. Stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia makes his directing debut in a semi-autobiographical tale of a comedian faced with a stalled career, a failing relationship and severe sleepwalking. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Looks really funny – and really raw.
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN (Long Shot Factory) Genre: Documentary. Four teenage girls, adopted by Americans from China, struggle to find their identity. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 The girls are remarkably articulate and have some compelling things to say – worth a look.
THE VICTIM (Anchor Bay) Genre: Thriller. Two women who witness a brutal crime flee into the woods where they find a recluse who could be their protector – or their worst nightmare. Release Strategy: New York City (Opening in Los Angeles September 7). RATING: 2.6 Kinda looks like indie neurotic New Yorker hipster chic.
WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE (Screen Media) Genre: Documentary. The story of a challenge that takes 100 wild mustangs and brings them together with 100 people who attempt to tame them and give them a better life beyond the Federal corrals. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Looks very heartwarming but I can’t help but wonder what Buck Brannaman would think.

AUGUST 29, 2012

THE AMBASSADOR (Drafthouse) Genre: Documentary. Armed with a phalanx of hidden cameras, a documentarian passes himself off as a European ambassador to the Central African Republic. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 May be the scariest film this year because it’s all true.
THE DAY (WWE/Anchor Bay) Genre: Horror. In a post-apocalyptic landscape a group of weary, starving survivors make a last stand against a group of ruthless predators. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Has that dusty Western look most modern post-Apocalyptic films have. Weird.
LAWLESS (Weinstein) Genre: Gangster. Based on the true story of the Bondurant Brothers, bootleggers during the Prohibition era who became folk heroes. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.5 Looks akin to Bonnie and Clyde; hopefully that means we’ll start seeing some good gangster movies again if it hits.
THE OOGIELOVES IN THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE (Kenn Viselman Presents) Genre: Animated Feature. Magical loving creatures hunt for five magic balloons to save a birthday party in Lovelyloveville. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 I understand kids will be encouraged to stand, talk, dance and sing; it already sounded bad and now it’s sounding worse.

AUGUST 31, 2012

FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… (Focus) Genre: Comedy. An uptight business sort realizes her roommate is a phone sex operator and realizes that the two of them are sitting on a veritable gold mine. Release Strategy: Limited (Expands September 7). RATING: 2.3 Looks just raunchy enough to be entertaining but not enough to really be too offensive.
THE GOOD DOCTOR (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. An ambitious young doctor develops an unhealthy obsession for one of his patients. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Might just be Orlando Bloom’s best role since Legolas.
LITTLE BIRDS (Millennium) Genre: Drama. Two young girls from a dying small town follow some wild young boys to the big city and find themselves well over their heads. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 A gritty coming of age movie for the fairer sex? Long overdue.
THE POSSESSION (Lionsgate) Genre: Horror. A young girl opens a box and unleashes a demonic entity known as a Dybbuk. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 Looks pretty damn scary – hope that this movie, which has been bouncing through the release schedule for a couple of years, is worth the wait.
THE TALL MAN (Image) Genre: Horror. In a small dying mining town where legend has it that children who have disappeared over the years were taken by a mysterious figure called The Tall Man, a nurse fights to find and rescue her son. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 While it does have Jessica Biel in the lead in kind of an action heroine role, there isn’t much else in the trailer to distinguish it from other similarly-themed films.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

Total Recall, The Bourne Legacy, The Campaign, Hope Springs, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Expendables 2, ParaNorman, Premium Rush, Lawless.

Babies (Bebes)


Babies

Laughing all the way to the bank.

(2010) Documentary (Focus) Bayar, Hattie, Mari, Ponijao. Directed by Thomas Balmes

 

As a species, we have a thing about babies. Now, that doesn’t differentiate us much from any other species – procreation is, after all, a survival imperative. However, what does is that we obsess about the babies of other people, not just our own. While other species will protect the babies of those within their own family or group, they don’t particularly show much interest beyond that. You don’t see a lion cooing over another lion’s cub.

Of course, lion’s don’t coo either. However, humans can and do and will. Here we have plenty of opportunity to coo. This is a French documentary about four babies born in four different parts of the world – Hattie in San Francisco, Ponijao in tribal Africa (Namibia to be exact) Bayar on the frozen steppes of Mongolia and Mari in bustling Tokyo. The film covers roughly the first year of their life, from shortly after birth.

What differentiates this movie is that there are no cute graphics, no narration and no attempt of some Hollywood star to read a script from a writer who purports to know what the babies are thinking. This is not a Disney nature film in other words. There are no statistics, nothing particularly depressing, just 78 minutes of watching babies do their thing, be it nursing, snoozing, smacking other babies about the head, playing with toys, crawling, crying and being cuddled.

While it is a fresh approach (and welcome to most), therein lies the issue for me. It really is completely observational of the babies themselves and while that can be fascinating for a short time by the end of the movie (and it’s a short movie folks) I found myself fidgeting. It’s really akin to watching someone else’s home movies, albeit with better production values. Most of us don’t have HD film cameras and high-end film stock; we mostly have to settle for digital cams and cheap home video recorders, even cell phone video cameras.

That said, there are a lot of people who are going to ooh and ahh over this and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you love babies in general, you will find your nirvana here. All of the kids have definable personalities and indulge in all manners of cuteness, whether they are in a yurt or a pricy Tokyo apartment. There is also a lot of nudity, both from the babies and their moms (and in the case of Namibia, most of the rest of the tribe as well although the men are rarely seen).

The cinematography can be quite beautiful, ranging from the gorgeous Bay Area shots to the majestic but desolate Mongolian steppes, the hyper-kinetic Tokyo cityscape to the dry and dusty African plains. You will certainly get a sense of the environment each baby is growing up in and no value judgments are made either – the ones growing up in abject poverty are no less happy than the ones growing up in the West.

I’m not really a baby person. They’re cute, sure, but I don’t need to spend a whole lot of time around them. I’ve kinda done my time. So take this with a grain of salt – I admire the technical end of the film, the filmmaker’s dedication to giving an unfettered, unvarnished look at babies around the world. I know that there are plenty of people who are going to love this movie.

I’m just not one of them. It was a little like watching paint dry from my aspect, and having a repetitive musical score didn’t help matters. Maybe I’m a little too MTV but I need a bit more than a static camera focused on a bunch of proto-humans who left to their own devices would eat dirt. Not my cup of tea – but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be yours, nor are you any worse a person if it isn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Cuteness personified. Reaffirms that we are more alike than not.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Is like a 78 minute home movie; if watching someone else’s baby isn’t your thing, you’re going to get restless.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is nudity here of the maternal sort; some nursing and such. If that offends you, this might not be the film for you..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ponijao belongs to the Himba tribe who live near Opuwo, Namibia.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an update on how the children are doing three years after they were filmed. There is also the winners of a studio-sponsored contest in which parents were urged to submit baby videos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie was almost certainly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: This Means War