Film Review: The Witch (2015)

Also known as: La Bruja (Spanish language title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Music by: Mark Korven
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Parts and Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Pulse Films, Special Projects, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.” – William

I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it. All I knew is it was about a witch and it starred Anya Taylor-Joy, who I first discovered in Split, but who I’ve grown to like a lot with each film I see her in. And part of me is really excited to see her play Magik in The New Mutants movie, whenever the hell that actually comes out. Magik is one of my favorite X-Men related characters of all-time and Taylor-Joy seems like really good casting.

Anyway, this film is dark and brooding on a level that most films just can’t get to. This is real horror and was able to capture true despair on celluloid.

The Witch is a fairly short film at just 93 minutes but it feels longer. It moves slow but it builds tension and dread exceptionally well. A lot of emotion fits snugly within this film’s 93 minutes. The time is managed adequately and I’d say that all the scenes matter, flow perfectly and this picture doesn’t end feeling like anything else needed to be added. It’s well written and executed with the skill of a master filmmaker, which is damn impressive as the writer/director Robert Eggers isn’t a well-known or seasoned veteran, this is actually his first feature length motion picture. He does have a film coming out next year called The Lighthouse, which I am now pretty excited to see.

Anya Taylor-Joy also didn’t have much experience before this and this was her first starring role. In fact, she guest starred on a television show and had an uncredited bit part in one other film. Needless to say, she makes a massive impact in this. She proved from the get go that she had the ability to draw people in and to command attention through her performance. While the actor who played the father in this, carried some scenes, it was Taylor-Joy that carried this movie and made it something better than what it could have been in the hands of a less capable actress. Being this good, right out the gate, is pretty unheard of but from everything I’ve seen her do, I’m convinced that she is a rare talent than can probably handle the demands of any role.

This film is also enhanced by it’s enchanting and haunting cinematography. The lack of color and the dry coldness of the environment makes it feel like these characters are already lying in their graves.

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t just horror, it is a mystery as things happen throughout the film that keep you guessing at what is actually unfolding. It isn’t as simple as there being a witch that’s messing with this family.

The ending is intense, surprising and having no expectations for this made it have a greater impact. I wasn’t expecting this to get as disturbing as it did but it was a breath or fresh air in a genre that’s been suffering for awhile.

I really liked The Witch. It looks great, is written great and stars someone who I could see becoming one of the best actresses of her generation.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: some of the better modern horror films: The BabdookItIt Follows, etc.

Film Review: Mandy (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Sam Louwyck, Hayley Saywell

SpectreVision, Umedia, Legion M, XYZ Films, RLJE Films, 121 Minutes

Review:

“You are a vicious snowflake.” – Red Miller

Everyone is raving about Mandy. Most of the comments I’ve seen have painted this as a modern surreal horror masterpiece. Well, it’s definitely not a masterpiece but it was a serious mindfuck and pretty enjoyable.

It’s almost two movies though, perfectly split down the middle and broken into two solid hours.

The first half of the film is romantic, sweet and then very fucked up and disturbing. It tells the story of Red and Mandy, shows their love for one another but also brings in the evil Jeremiah Sand and his cult. Sand has an obsession with Mandy, after seeing her walking through the woods.

The second half of the film deals with Red, having watched his woman burn alive due to the actions of Sands’ cult, walk into the mouth of hell for a one man revenge killing spree. And as enchanting and mesmerizing as the first half of the film was, this is where shit really hits the fan and it’s a balls to the wall blood feast.

What makes the film so surreal is the mixture of it’s bizarre plot and evil characters along with the use of color, lighting and overall cinematography. This mixture of narrative and visuals makes this feel like early David Lynch meets recent Nicholas Winding Refn. It’s a pretty interesting marriage of styles but at the same time, that alone can’t carry a film and this thing is more drawn out than it needs to be.

There isn’t as much action as the trailer might imply but the action is pretty good where it occurs. This is a bloody film and it really hits a raw nerve in several places. But one could make an argument that this is style over substance. I won’t necessarily say that but I will point to the fact that the things I found most interesting weren’t really expanded on or fleshed out enough, in my opinion. I definitely felt like I needed to know more about Sand and his minions.

The film’s score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, this was his final film, was a perfect compliment to the film’s visual and dark allure. Jóhannsson’s work here magnified the effect of key scenes.

This is definitely a memorable film that I know I will watch again in the future but it isn’t so compelling that I’ll fire it up again anytime soon. I do, however, wish that I could have seen this on the big screen.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Film Review: Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: James Ivory
Based on: Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Music by: various
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois

Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features, M.Y.R.A. Entertainment, Water’s End Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, Warner Bros., 132 Minutes

Review:

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” – Mr. Perlman

I didn’t get to see this in the theater, where I intended to check it out. It wasn’t the highest on my list of “awards worthy” films last year and I had a big list to work through. Plus, I’m not in an area where “awards worthy” films are looked at as all that important. But hey, everyone around here is really excited for that Bumblebee movie.

Anyway, I finally caught this on the Starz app, it’s still there, if you’ve been wanting to see this highly lauded motion picture.

The film is about an American named Oliver (Armie Hammer) that comes to live with an Italian family for the summer. The son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), quickly develops a crush on Oliver. As the film progresses, Elio’s feelings towards Oliver are found to be mutual and we go along with him on his journey of self-discovery: trying to understand what attracts him, what love is and how to deal with the overwhelming emotions of being a passionate young man.

The film is heartbreaking at its lowest emotional moments and not just for Elio but for a few characters. At the same time, there’s hope and positivity in Elio learning to accept and find comfort in who he is. Luckily for him, he has loving and understanding parents. And while this does end on a sad note, I guess there’s a sequel in the works for some reason, even though it really isn’t necessary and sort of takes the impact away from the ending, knowing that these two characters will meet again.

The framework of an uncertain future is pretty much what makes the final moments work. And yeah, I guess the future is still uncertain but this takes some of the story magic away. Besides, I had incredibly strong feeling for the first few people I had sex with but at 39 years-old, I’ve moved on a half dozen times. That’s what life does, it moves on, you meet new people and what was once intense emotional pain was just something that happened lifetimes ago. Elio should never forget the experience but he also shouldn’t be crippled by it as life moves forward.

I thought that both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet did a fantastic job. However, I thought their physical age differences, at least how they appeared in the film, were pretty drastic. Oliver is supposed to be 24 in the story but Hammer looks over 30. Elio is 17, which is well over the age of consent in Italy, but he looks 15. 7 years isn’t a big deal and Elio being 17 probably only seems weird in the U.S., where some states have the age of consent set at 18 and where the media is pedo crazy and we obsess over sex offenders. But in the film, the age difference looks greater than the original story intends. And I don’t think that their ages are actually mentioned in the film. It’s really not a big deal but Hammer looked much older than just being some college student living abroad for a few months.

The film moves kind of slow but it’s still well put together and it at least looks beautiful. Luca Guadagnino certainly has an eye for style and understands how to make his visuals a true accent to the narrative and the emotion unfolding on screen. While I was vehemently against anyone remaking Suspiria, I’m kind of intrigued by his vision for it after seeing this film and seeing the trailer for that film. I’m hoping that Guadagnino uses the same key crew members for that film, as this picture is so rich, visually.

In the end, I enjoyed this but it isn’t something I think I’d ever watch again. It looks beautiful, it told a good story but I feel it is also overblown due to its subject matter, which is the type of thing Hollywood snobs love because their progressive nature means that they have to push those politics and ideas into the mainstream. Which honestly, distracts from this just being a really good movie and just makes it one of many films that Hollywood has to prop up to prove that they’re not bigots anymore. But a lot of them are pedos and this doesn’t help that image, just sayin’.

Again, this is a good film. Picture of the Year nominee? Not really. But then again, most of the films that get that distinction aren’t worthy. Now if Timothée Chalamet fucked a fish man, this would have won all the big ones. Bestiality trumped gay sex this past year but gay bestiality would’ve broke the Academy.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: In recent years, Moonlight and Lady Bird.

Film Review: Hairat (2017)

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jessica Beshir
Music by: Tom Efinger (sound engineer)
Cast: Yussuf Mume Saleh

6 Minutes

Review:

If you love nature, animals and people not giving a crap about how much danger they are in, then this short film might be your cup of joe.

This is simple and really straightforward. The film follows an Ethiopian man named Yussuf who goes out every night to spend time with the wild hyenas near his village. He mostly just feeds them, teases them and tries to smooch them.

If you know anything about hyenas, it’s utter insanity to do this but Yussuf putting himself in mortal danger on a nightly basis is what makes this so interesting. Really, I would like to know more about Yussuf and why he feels compelled to spend time with these animals. I just feel like this sort of trust in dangerous wild animals will always eventually lead to tragedy. Watch the 2005 Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man for an example of this.

Regardless, seeing these animals so close is really cool. They are beautiful creatures even if they are savage carnivores always looking for unsuspecting prey.

The camera work and cinematography in this was great. It had a very high chiaroscuro effect to it but it served to highlight just Yussuf and his hyena friends, pushing everything else out of view, except for a few lights in the distance.

This is short, sweet but certainly quite compelling to look at.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: I paired this with a string of shorts from the last 3-4 years. It’s probably best to watch most shorts in a mini marathon or festival style.

Documentary Review: Grizzly Man (2005)

Release Date: January 24th, 2005 (Sundance)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: Werner Herzog
Music by: Richard Thompson
Cast: Werner Herzog (narrator), Timothy Treadwell

Discovery Docs, Real Big Production, Lions Gate Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

Grizzly Man is a documentary by Werner Herzog. It follows the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell, who was killed and partially eaten by grizzly bears along with his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard.

Herzog, like in his other documentaries, weaves a wonderful tale out of extraordinary events and a very interesting character. This is one of my favorite Herzog documentaries, as it showcases a man, who many believe was out of his mind, and his crossing the line into living among the wild.

Timothy Treadwell was certainly eccentric and you can clearly see that, as much of the film is made up of the home movies Timothy shot while living with Alaskan grizzlies over thirteen summer seasons. One could bring his sanity into question and as the film went on, the less I liked the guy and thought he was off of his rocker. Did he deserve to die? No, but his incessant stupidity at being “one with the bears” eventually lead to him being one with the bears’ digestive track.

The videos that Timothy shot of the bears over the course of his time with them is nothing short of exceptional but he died for his work and very idiotically so. I understand passion but I also understand mental illness and I’m not saying that he was mentally ill but he certainly wasn’t all there and lived in a fantasy world where he thought he could tame the wild and thrive in it and among its apex predators. Even with thirteen years experience, one day the wild had enough of Timothy Treadwell.

This is a tragic story regardless of how you feel about Treadwell. In the end, I am glad I got to go on the journey and see things through his eyes, even though he wore rose-colored glasses.

And there is an awesomely epic bear fight about halfway through the film.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Encounters at the End of the World, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Into the Inferno, The White Diamond and Into the Wild.

Film Review: The Accountant (2001)

Also known as: O Contador
Release Date: January, 2001 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ray McKinnon
Written by: Ray McKinnon
Music by: Rusty Andrews
Cast: Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Eddie King

Ginny Mule Pictures, 40 Minutes

Review:

“If a man builds a machine and that machine conspires with another machine built by another man, are those men conspiring?” – The Accountant

I didn’t know much about Ray McKinnon other than his role as the preacher on the first season on Deadwood and seeing him pop up a few times in Sons of Anarchy. But he was a powerful performer and really lured me in when he was on screen.

I’ve been a fan of Walton Goggins for a really long time. I remember seeing him for the first time in that terrible fourth Karate Kid film and that also terrible third Major League movie. However, he stuck with me. I then remember seeing him get an Academy Award way back in 2002 for a short film that he had produced. I figured I’d check it out, as I wanted to go back and see a lot more of his earlier indie stuff. To my surprise, that short film was written, directed and starred Ray McKinnon. Well, it stars Goggins too, as well as another actor, Eddie King.

Man, I don’t really know how to describe this but it takes you to a lot of places emotionally in forty minutes. It is the perfect length, however. Had this been stretched out to feature length it probably would’ve dragged on too much and lost it’s impact.

In a lot of ways, this is like a punch to the gut but not in a bad way. There is some serious stuff to deal with here but it leaves you with some hope and also taps into the nostalgia of those who love simpler times and classic Americana.

This really has a strong Southern spirit to it in the best way possible.

McKinnon is utterly f’n superb in this and Goggins was the perfect actor to play off of him. These guys have real chemistry, which is probably why they’ve been good friends for years and have done multiple projects together.

I also thought that the music made for the film by Rusty Andrews was damn good and really added to the emotions and feelings that this film successfully conveyed.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Ray McKinnon’s Randy and the Mob and Chrystal.

Film Review: Teeth (2015)

Release Date: January 25th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Tom Brown, Daniel Gray
Written by: Tom Brown, Daniel Gray
Cast: Richard E. Grant (narrator)

Holbrooks, Blacklist, 7 Minutes

Review:

“That which is neglected, is lost.” – tagline

This is a short animated film about a guy and his relationship with his teeth over the course of his life.

What made this work for me was two key things.

The first was the narration by Richard E. Grant. His voice was perfectly paced and pleasant to listen to even if the visuals weren’t welcoming in certain parts. Just thinking of the knife and teeth scene gives me a bit of a chill but Grant’s voice was very soothing and drew you in.

The other thing that worked for me was the animation style. I just loved the look of this, the toned down colors, the flow of the movement and most importantly, how the shaky animation lines added a certain level of tension to the proceedings.

This is definitely an art piece more than anything but this is a good example of short film as art. It is both beautiful and disturbing, soothing and stressful. How those things mixed so well together is due to the meticulous craftsmanship of the writing and direction by both Tom Brown and Daniel Gray.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Probably any of the other modern short films you can find on FilmStruck’s streaming service, where I watch most of the stuff I find like this.