Happy Friday the 13th, lovelies! This weekend should come with a few thrills to boot despite the fact that a smartphone app has now made its way onto the big screen…more on that later.
Seeing as it is the weekend of Friday the 13th, I would like to start with the horror film of the week, The Witch...inventive title, huh? The film carries with it a permanence of bleakness throughout its nearly 90 minutes, but as it is set in 17th-century New England, there is a puritan torchlight that rather comforts your soul through the ordeal. When a staunch father denounces the members of his Massachusetts plantation for not being Christian-enough, he and his family are quickly thrown out. Now banished, the patriarch constructs a farm on the edge of a dark forest and forbids his children to enter said forest. When their baby goes missing suddenly before their very eyes (literally!) and then a son disappears only to reappear knocking at death’s door, the Puritan family must accept the fact that their world is falling apart. Writer-director Robert Eggers, who was once a production designer, has a keen understanding about how to set the mood when there is very little to play with. Eggers claims he based the film on exact historical details, and even used dialogue from old records about personal encounters of paranormal occurrences. It is frighteningly true that some of the scenes are so tense you feel possessed, and the anguish the actress Anya Taylor-Joy shows in her performance as protagonist Thomasin is gripping, as it the usage of religious fanaticism in the film. You will be pleasantly freaked by this dark thriller. ###-1/2
Keeping in theme with the darkness, the latest film from cult English director Ben Wheatley is based on the J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise. Welcome to the hedonism of the Seventies, representing a noir-like dream world of class warfare, all set in a rather grim-looking and sparse high-rise building on the outskirts of London. The allure of the chic nature of that era does nothing to hide the neuroses plaguing the minds of the building’s inhabitants. Tom Hiddleston plays Dr. Laing, a physiologist and bachelor (strains of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman sometimes creep up, be warned!) who moves into the high-rise and gets caught up in this microcosm of debauchery and alienated mindsets. In a world of crazed allegories, class strife and sexual passions all strung along by a veiled attempt at black comedy, director Wheatley does everything to keep you watching, although the movie is a glorified art piece. We have a great ensemble cast here of wonderful British thespians: Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss and Luke Evans all gel so well into their roles that you have to wonder what the filming process must have been like…assuredly campy and moody, and there is such a wonderful mid-Seventies look to everything, don’t be surprised if you walk out of the cinema and the reality of the millennium hits you full-on. When director Wheatley and writer Amy Jump start tying everything to the rise of Thatcher at the film’s end, the decay of this cultural nightmare starts to surface. We have it displayed on celluloid here as the high-rise, but millions of Brits know what the hedonism of Seventies life led to under Thatcher’s Eighites rule, and Wheatley is strongly linking the two in an odd, yet enticing, manner. Not bad! ###-1/2
Absolutely Anything…a film starring Simon Pegg and Robin Williams as a dog in his last screen role. This is not the way to go, I must say. As well as Joanna Lumley from Absolutely Fabulous in a less than fabulous role. A little over a decade ago, Shaun of the Dead gave us Simon Pegg as the international odd-looking movie star from the UK who could easily be seen as an Everyman. In his latest romp though, he plays a teacher who receives god-like powers only to squander them on senseless acts. The film is not that terrible—it is too far-fecthed, silly, camp and riddled with famed actors to have it NOT whet your appetite a bit. But when you have the Monty Python crew voicing some badly-drawn versions of aliens, Kate Beckinsale again looking hotter than the sun and again in a thankless role, Pegg,Lumley and Eddie Izzard, and Robin Williams voicing a dog, I mean come on, that’s quite a lot of comedic acting chops right there! Perhaps the script by director Terry Jones and Gavin Scott, read as funny but wasn’t quite translated to the big screen? The plot has something to do with space beings finding a probe with info on the human race, so a specimen is chosen at random to determine mankind’s nature and also its fate. That specimen is Simon Pegg. With me here? Well, you can stop right there because what continues is not worth mentioning, although every cliche in the comedic Bible is used and not to funny aplomb, let me tell you. ##
Gambling movies rarely strike my fancy as I’m not one for the poker tables, slot machines and casinos. When we do see films revolving around that theme, they are often more about the emotional drama of those involved more than the game they are playing. Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck really take their time on this new movie Mississippi Grind (here in Spain entitled La Ultima Apuesta) to get a bit messy with the emotional pull behind the two protagonists here, Ben Mendelssohn and Ryan Reynolds. Assuredly banking on his now certified box office pull after Deadpool, this European release might not strike a chord with audiences, but it should. This is a film as much about odd friendships as it is about gambling. Gerry and Curtis (Mendelssohn and Reynolds, respectively) meet on a lonely night, each with their own demons to deal with, but then they eventually strike up a bond and somewhat use each other, travelling down to New Orleans, in order to make some cash and have some fun. The subtle nature of this friendship is part of this film’s charm. Typically, Reynolds has seemed lost in his character’s perspective whilst never fully retaining his own acting chops. However, that somewhat plays to his advantage here. Mendelsohn is a fantastic character actor and takes on his role with the real stride of a loner, middle class guy constantly down on his luck. You might not learn the greatest lessons on gambling tricks or things of that nature, but the directing duo here have given us a nice look into the bond between two guys who become friends just as they need an ally at that time in their life. Short and sweet. ###-1/2
Lastly today, I will give a keen shout-out to Angry Birds: The Movie, for though I am not a fan of most apps and certainly not one of video games where little birds go crashing willy-nilly into things, I am a fan of animation. That said, let’s look at the plot, for how can one be formed based on that silly app. On an island of flightless birds, the reason for which there are flightless we never discover but who cares, life is pleasantly calm and most inhabitants are good-natured to say the least. So when Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) is court-mandated to attend anger management classes headed by Maya Rudolph’s Matilda, you know you’re in for some laughs. Here’s the thing…the movie is actually quite funny. Now, I know that may come across as odd, but it is very obvious that this American-Finnish production knew what they were up against and writer Jon Vitti certainly has the background chops to do it. Serving as a writer for The Simpsons, as well as, King of the Hill, The Critic and movies Ice Age and Robots, he has had more than his fair share of success stories on the big and little screen…and on a weekly basis too! Here, the Harvard grad is really put to the test as being the sole writer of a big-screen wannabe blockbuster. He nails it. When a green pig arrives (voiced to perfection by Bill Hader) and his ship crew commence dispensing free food and gifts and catapults for fun into the sky, Red and his classmates get suspicious and get down to investigating. As the film is also quite geared to kids, the plot stays simple while always giving the adults some decent-sized jabs at humour that only adults could appreciate. The film sings and dances for its lunch, but for a jaded non-app player like yours truly, it is always nice to eat a tasty piece of humble pie with a lot of laughs! ###-1/2
The summer film season is apparently still five or six weeks away, but you could have fooled me as every weekend brings about a tasty heaping of cine delights. Catch one or more of these this week, and I’ll see you next weekend, kiddos!