Luciferina


There is beauty in wisdom.

(2018) Supernatural Horror (Artsploitation) Sofia del Tuffo, Pedro Merlo, Marta Lubos, Marlena Sanchez, Francisco Donovan, Stefania Koessl, Gastón Cocchiarale, Desirée Gloria Salgueiro, Tomás Lipan, Vando Villamil, Victoria Carreras, Juan José Flores Qulspe, Maru Zapata, Juan Vitali, Silvana Di Sanzo. Directed by Gonzalo Calzado

 

Roman Catholicism is a bit different in Latin America than it is in the rest of the world. In the area from Mexico south to the tip of South America, it is more old school than its counterpart in Europe and North America (above Mexico anyway). In some cases, Catholicism has merged with native pagan religions to form often bizarre hybrids, leading to such things as Voodoo and Santeria.

Natalia (del Tuffo) is a 19-year-old novitiate who joined the convent to escape a chaotic and stressful household. She is happy in her choice – until the Mother Superior (Carreras) who informs her that her mother (Salgueiro) died in some sort of accident and that her father (Villamil) was gravely injured. Natalia is loathe to return home but the Reverend Mother insists.

Back home Natalia finds her more worldly sister Angela (Sanchez) who is not at all happy that Natalia abandoned her. However, the bond between sisters is still strong and when Angela asks Natalia to join her and her friends in the jungle for a Shamanistic ritual involving the psychotropic drug ayahuasca (which some may remember from the documentary The Last Shaman last year) that will allow them to explore their inner selves and maybe, along the way, exorcize some demons. Boy, they have no idea how literally true that is.

So accompanied by Angela’s abusive douchebag of a boyfriend Mauro  (Donovan), the sweet Abel (Merlo), know-it-all Osvaldo (Cocchiarale) and the fragile Mara (Koessl), they trek into the Amazonian jungles of Argentina. There they find the shaman at a ruined and abandoned abbey which Natalia has been having nightmares about – that’s never a good thing – her friends begin to have some horrible visions and it becomes apparent that Natalia is up against a powerful supernatural force that is intent on killing her friends – and having sex with Natalia to father an abomination. Aided by the midwife (Lubos) who delivered the baby in Natalia’s visions, she will have to take on a foe that may just bring about the end of days.

This is a very Catholic film; the attitudes throughout reflect the influence of the religion on the Argentine culture. Natalia is a virgin which is an important component of the story. It is no coincidence that the two who survive to the end are both virgins and deep down in the Catholic psyche that’s the way it should be.

The movie is bookended by CGI images of a baby floating around in the womb. The CGI is a bit primitive but the symbolism is unmistakable when the two images are taken together – I’ll leave that to you to figure out because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. In fact, the movie is rife with symbolism (mostly of the Catholic variety). For example, Natalia’s mother before she died drew in her own blood crude drawings of the female uterus. Look more carefully and the shape is not unlike the Satanic ram’s head.

Del Tuffo is an amazing young actress who is absolutely fearless. She is required to be naïve innocent, pure of heart novitiate and eventually self-confident action hero and sexually rampant woman. There is a scene that other critics are referring to as a “sexorcism” (which is a bit cheesy but accurate) which is as graphic a sex scene as you’re likely to ever see from a Latin American film. Natalia is the most deeply defined character in the movie which helps del Tuffo but even without that she really plunges into the role and makes it her own.

Donovan is similarly strong as Mauro, although his character is a bit more cliché; so too is Cocchiarale who is the smart fat guy who is a bit of a know-it-all. Like most of Angela’s friends, he’s a bit of a jerk which is a departure from American norms for that kind of character; had this have been n American film, Osvaldo would have been sweet but annoying. He’s neither here, however.

The movie is a bit slow in the first half and relies overly much on jump scares. The score is a little too earnest, trying too hard to build up a sense of foreboding which is a good idea but could have been executed better. Given the jungle location, the Colonial architecture of the city and the hacienda-like home that Angela and Natalia grew up in, the images here range from really good to really, really good. I think if the movie had been paced a little better, this would have been one of the best horror films of the year. It’s not quite there – this has been a particularly strong year for horror movies – but it’s not far from the top.

REASONS TO GO: The performances are pretty solid all around. The gore and the special effects (for the most part) are spot on.
REASONS TO STAY: This isn’t as much of a roller coaster ride as I would have liked.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of profanity, graphic nudity, sex, graphic violence and gore as well as drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film in a proposed trilogy entitled The Trinity of the Virgins.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Now, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/7/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rosemary’s Baby
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Swimming With Men

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The Nun (2018)


When staying in a haunted abbey it is advisable to frequently check and see what’s behind you.

(2018) Horror (New Line) Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Ingrid Bisu, Charlotte Hope, Sandra Teles, August Maturo, Jack Falk, Lynnette Gaza, Ani Sava, Michael Smiley, Gabrielle Downey, David Horovitch, Tudor Munteanu, Lili Bordán, Scarlett Hicks, Izzie Coffey, Jared Morgan, Laur Dragan, Eugeniu Cozma, Manuela Clucur, Beatrice Peter, Ana Udrolu. Directed by Corin Hardy

This is the fifth film in the Conjuring universe to date. In it we explore the origins of the demonic nun first seen in The Conjuring 2. Is her story worth exploring further?

At a remote Romanian abbey a young nun is found hanging from the front facade by local villager and supplier Frenchie (Bloquet). Word gets back to the Vatican where Father Burke (Bichir) is assigned to investigate with novitiate Sister Irene (Farmiga) sent to accompany him. Father Burke has a bit of a past; during an exorcism that he performed a child (Maturo/Falk) died and he has been haunted by the memory ever since.

When they get to the village near the Abbey where Frenchie lives, they discover that the villagers have a healthy fear of the Abbey which is rumored to contain a terrible evil. Frenchie takes the to the abbey where the Mother Superior (Gaza) informs them that the nuns are in the midst of their vow of silence for the night and they can’t be interviewed until the following day. The two clerics will have to stay the night.

Of course during the night both of them are beset by nightmarish visions and Frenchie has issues of his own getting back home. The next day Sister Irene talks to some cooperative nuns but discovers that they have been tasked to hold back the evil entity dwelling below the abbey with the power of constant prayer and Father Burke has a close encounter with Daniel and being buried alive. There is most definitely an evil presence at the Abbey – and it will be up to Father Burke, Sister Irene and Frenchie to vanquish it before it escapes to cause all sorts of havoc in the rest of the world.

Hardy uses his Romanian locations to their full potential. Rarely have I seen a horror movie that exudes such palpable menace. You’re on edge from the moment that we arrive in Romania which is what you want from a horror movie. Unfortunately, you want a bit more as well and the promise of the genuinely creepy castle where this was filmed isn’t taken advantage of.

Hardy relies far too much on jump scares which, to be fair, is a trademark of the franchise overall but the effectiveness of those scares is diluted the more that they are used. While the make-up for the demonic nun is genuinely impressive, for the most part she just leaps out of the shadows with an accompanying WHOOM! on the soundtrack. In that sense what could have been a great character is reduced to a Halloween novelty device that you find in neighborhood homes that like to decorate for the holiday.

Thankfully, Farmiga, Bloquet and particularly Bichir didn’t get the memo that the movie wasn’t up to par with the other films. They all turn in solid performances with Bichir once again proving that he is perhaps the most underutilized actor in Hollywood. It makes me wonder if he wasn’t Hispanic he would be getting more high-profile roles. As it is he makes the most out of the roles he does get and he is nearly as memorable as the background here.

This ends up being a bit of a disappointment. Demonic nuns are always an extremely scary creature and there has yet to be a movie that I’ve seen that really makes full use of them, although I’m sure there are some out there that must. The franchise has been to this point pretty impressive in terms of the quality of the individual films but it has been slipping as of late. There are at least three new movies in the Conjuring universe in the pipeline and hopefully they will turn the quality factor around but if they continue to be as mediocre as this perhaps it just might be time to give the franchise a rest.

REASONS TO GO: The Romanian locations are truly creepy. Bichir is outstanding while Bloquet and Farmiga both give strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: There are way too many jump scares. The horror intensity is lacking from the other films in the franchise.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of terror and disturbing images, violence and some gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taissa Farmiga who plays Sister Irene is the younger sister of Vera, who plays Lorraine Warren in the original The Conjuring. It is not known whether the two characters are related.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/31/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 46/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Church
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Weed the People

New Releases for the Week of November 24, 2017


COCO

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos. Directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich

A young Mexican boy is obsessed with music but had the bad luck to be born into a family that didn’t care much for song and frivolity. A devotee of a recently deceased troubadour, he is accidentally sent to the Land of the Dead and must work out the mystery of why his family hates music so much before he can return to the Land of the Living.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements)

Last Flag Flying

(Amazon/Lionsgate) Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell, J. Quinton Johnson. Three ex-Marines who served together in Vietnam come together for one last mission; to bury the son of one of them who was killed in Iraq. This is the latest from director Richard Linklater.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong language throughout including some sexual references)

The Man Who Invented Christmas

(Bleecker Street) Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow. One of the great traditions of Christmas is the beloved novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. He wrote it at a time in his life where he was surrounded by tribulations but where did these ideas – a Christmas ghost story, after all – come from? Look for the review for this tomorrow.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some mild language)

Novitiate

(Sony Classics) Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron. A young woman in the early 1960s gets swept up by the idea of becoming a nun and so enters a convent just at a time when sweeping changes were overtaking the Catholic Church. You can check out my review for the film here.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs

Rating: R (for language, some sexuality and nudity)

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

(Columbia) Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Tony Plana. A former activist turned lawyer finds himself confronted with a crisis of conscience. Passed by and struggling to survive, a series of events leads him to consider extreme action.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Legal Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some violence)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(Fox Searchlight) Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones. When the police fail to discover the identity of the killer of a young woman, the victim’s mother frustrated by the lack of progress puts up three billboards near her home castigating the authorities for their inability to solve the crime. Her actions sharply divide the community in this latest darkly comic drama from Irish director Martin McDonagh.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a video feature here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Barnstorm Theater, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Balakrishnudu
Mental Madhilo

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Abracadabra
The King’s Choice
Mental Madhilo

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Mental Madhilo

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Balakrishnudu
Faces Places
Hey, Pillagada
Mental Madhilo

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Coco
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Novitiate
Roman Israel, Esq.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Novitiate


Melissa Leo looks ready to rap someone on the knuckles with a ruler.

(2017) Drama (Sony Classics) Margaret Qualley, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Melissa Leo, Denis O’Hare, Eline Powell, Morgan Saylor, Maddie Hasson, Chris Zylka, Ashley Bell, Rebecca Dayan, Chelsea Lopez, Marco St. John, Joseph Wilson, Jordan Price, Kamryn Boyd, Lucie Carroll, Lucy Hartselle, Carlee James, Adele Marie Pomerenke, Lisa Stewart. Directed by Maggie Betts

 

“Get thee to a nunnery” doesn’t have quite the same punch it once did. These days, Catholic nuns are women who feel a calling to serve God but minus the brutal discipline and somewhat arcane rules that once governed convents around the globe. One of the turning points in this evolution was the ecumenical council known as Vatican II which in its day revolutionized the Catholic church virtually overnight. Not everyone welcomed the changes that it brought, however.

Cathleen (Qualley) is a young woman who has been raised by her mother Nora (Nicholson) after her booze addled dad (Zylka) left which, in the 1950s and early 1960s was a much more unusual situation than it is now. She is not Catholic but when free schooling at a private Catholic school is offered, Nora – who is not religious in the least – takes it, hoping that it will give Cathleen a better education.

However, Cathleen finds the Catholic religion intriguing and feels that joining the novitiate is where her future lies – to become a bride of Christ. She joins the Sisters of the Blessed Rose, the convent headed up by a conservative old school Mother Superior (Leo) who takes her vows very seriously and expects her charges to do the same. All of their devotion is to be channeled towards God and Cathleen and her fellow postulates – the first stage of becoming a nun – are only too glad to comply.

The 18 fresh-faced dewy-eyed charges who are preparing to be symbolically married to Christ are trained by the flinty Mother Superior and the softer Sister Mary Grace (Agron) to be perfect wives to their husband-to-be because Christ deserves no less than perfection. This leads to terrifying sessions where the Mother Superior gathers the novitiates – who have graduated from the postulate rank to the second stage of becoming a full-fledged Sister – in a circle and orders them to confess their flaws that keep them from being perfect, reducing most of the girls to sobbing wrecks. Mary Grace is troubled by the brutal tactics of her Mother Superior and the two clash on a regular basis.

However, despite her mother’s disapproval Cathleen is determined to be the perfect bride of Christ and while that wins her the admiration of the Mother Superior, the discipline and self-starvation that Cathleen puts herself through begins to worry her fellow novitiates as she becomes dangerously thin.

To the film’s credit, it dispenses of the usual nun stereotypes that Hollywood generally utilizes; the Sister Mary Discipline knuckle rapping (although the Mother Superior at times comes close) or the singing nuns of The Sound of Music and The Singing Nun. Betts is cognizant that these postulates (and later, novitiates) are mostly teenage girls with all that implies; the girls are emotional ranging from ecstasy (celebrating like giddy brides after the ceremony that elevates them to novitiate status) to agony (falling apart when the stern Mother Superior gets in their face about minor rule infractions). These scenes tend to be the most memorable in the movie.

Much of the praise has to go to Leo, an Oscar winner who has a good shot at another nomination here for Best Supporting Actress; certainly this is one of the finest performances in a career chock full of them. When she reads the changes affecting her order wrought by Vatican II – including one that essentially demotes nuns to the same status as regular parishioners, giving them no standing within the church which, as the film notes at the end, would lead to more than 90,000 nuns renouncing their vows. Qualley, who most will know from her HBO series The Leftovers is also very strong and shows some confident screen presence. Agron from Glee also is impressive in a smaller role, but this even though the movie is about Sister Cathleen it is very much Leo’s performance that drives it.

The movie, a scoosh over two hours long, does drag in places, particularly during the middle. There is also a scene where Cathleen, desperate for intimacy and human contact, demands comfort from a fellow novitiate which leads to what feels like a prurient and unnecessary make-out session which felt like it didn’t need to be there.

The Catholic Legion of Decency has condemned the movie and I can understand why; the Roman Catholic church is portrayed as almost cult-like in places and devout Catholics may be uneasy watching this, although it should be kept in mind that the film takes place more than 50 years ago and things were a lot different in the Church and in her convents then than they are now.

Nonetheless this is a strong feature film debut for Betts and even though there are a couple of missteps and could have benefited from a little more trimming, she shows herself to be an exciting new voice in filmmaking at a time when Hollywood can use more powerful female directors – well, it always can but now more than ever.

REASONS TO GO: There are some very strong performances here, particularly from Leo who takes it to the next level. Some of the scenes are extremely powerful. The filmmakers generally refrain from using stereotypes of nuns.
REASONS TO STAY: Some Catholics may have some issues with the film. The film runs a little bit long.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, discussions of sexuality as well as brief nudity and sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie made its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/25/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Doubt
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness begins!